Tuesday, January 30, 2007

We are to be re-brainwashed!

Those in charge of the political affairs of British capitalism are worried. The nationalist propaganda that their predecessors pumped out for years -- justifying the British Empire on the grounds that the colonised peoples were inferior -- has come back to haunt them. A large section of the native working class still believe this crap, long after it has ceased to be any use to the ruling class. Now that there is a large minority of workers from or descended from people from the old Empire, our rulers want them, in the interests of national unity, to be regarded as fellow Britishers. So now they are going to "educate" workers that it is nasty and wrong to go on thinking that black people are inferior and cannot be British.

Of course people who have dark skin are not, and never were, inferior. All human beings are members of the same biological species -- homo sapiens -- and we all have the same capacity to learn. There is, if you like, only one race -- the human race. We are all citizens of the world, Earthlings.

But this is not what the politicians are proposing should be taught in the schools. They want to teach working-class kids "what is means to be British" as Jack Straw put it in a speech at Oxford University. According to Times (26 January), in true Jingo fashion he "called for a strong 'British story' to reflect the heroic nature of the country's history and foster a greater sense of citizenship".

So, although racism is now out, equally divisive nationalism is still in and is in fact to be stepped up. Schoolkids are to be taught, as before, that they are primarily members of a supposed "British nation" all of whose members allegedly have a common interest different from the subjects of other so-called "nation-States". The only difference will be that they will be taught that this British nation now includes dark-skinned people from the former Empire and that such people too can now proudly look down on "foreigners".

Socialists will try to do what we can to counter this nationalist state-propaganda by pointing out that nationalism is an ideology which ruling classes use to try to obtain the acquiescence and support of those they rule over and that wage and salary workers from all countries have more in common with each other than with their rulers. Ultimately, they have a common interest in establishing a socialist world commonwealth where there'll be no frontiers or nation-States just people speaking different languages and enjoying different tastes in dress, music, culture and the like but which everybody will be entitled to share in.

The Basement Timewasters

A former Socialist Party member (S. Coleman) used to bemoan the documentaries about socialism/communism in his monthly Socialist Standard TV column "Between the Lines." The June 1989 issue is a typical example:

Somewhere int the basement of Channel Four there is an office in which is to be found a team of timewasters whose lifelong project is to make lengthy documentaries about "socialism" or "Marxism". Over the years the C4 audience has been subjected to numerous programmes of this kind. We wait excitedly, expecting a serious analysis of the subjects so seductively advertised in the titles - and with regularity we are left feeling frustrated, cheated and wondering when the case for socialism would at least be mentioned in passing.

"Utopias" [(C4, 10.45 pm, 1 May) was the broadcast time, funnily enough on the Workers' International Day of Struggle - gray] was a classical production of the basement timewasters. The programme lasted for over an hour. It was clearly produced with enormous technical care, using props and recordings of speakers which looked like they were going to serve as a backdrop for something more than superficial. The title was intriguing. Socialists are often called utopians....Within the first few minutes that sinking feeling began.

I understand Coleman's frustration. Recently, Danish TV (DR 2 precisely) had an evening of programmes and discussion under the umbrella title of "Utopia." (20 January.)

I didn't understand why three quarters' of the programmes were shown as they were manifestly out of place in relation to the subject under discussion; e.g. the tediously boring documentary about some New Agers who have built a temple in a mountain.

The best part of the entire evening was the (all too brief) studio discussion related to Thomas Moore, his book and the other utopias of his age. (Utopia derives from Greek and has the meanings: 1)"no place" or "a place that does not exist" ; 2) or "the Good Place." Different from the usage common today, whereby utopia is envisaged as an impossible, unrealistic society.)

People write utopias because of injustices they see around them and from a fundamental belief in the equality of all members of humanity. Quite common for the Utopias and their writers was the abolition of private property and money, and the establishment of common ownership of societal wealth. The argument was very straight forward - where there was property, there could exist a minority exercising control over others simply due to that ownership. The Utopians argued that a society of common ownership, where all the wealth of society is owned by the members of society or, put in a different way, where no-one owns property, would provide the basis on which to build a fair, egalitarian society that would meet the needs of its populace.

This lovely bit of honest tele was then utterly ruined by the studio "expert",a Philosopher, going on to tell the host Utopia is impossible because human nature militates against it - we want to accrue property for our own, individual ends - and that the utopias have been banished now anyway because everyone is rich (sic) and that we live in the best of all worlds. (Whether e.g. the 39 million people living in official poverty in the USA, or the parents who helplessly see their children die of starvation each year, would agree with that was not touched upon.)

Predictably, the absolute worst contribution of the evening was about Soviet Russia, Lenin and the Bolsheviks. (Speaking of bad contributions, the DR 2 studio presenter claimed Marx and Lenin were comrades!) It was a French documentary, well an episode at least, from 1999 called La Foi du Siecle. Literally "The Mistake of the Century."

The writers proposed to understand the attraction of "communism". What that meant was they were prepared to call anybody and any society "communist" without needing to indulge in such trivial academic procedures such as definition and rigorous, logical analysis. The long standing socialist analysis of these lands and leaders being state capitalist dictatorships and non-socialists wasn't mentioned.

So it was the programme opened with footage of Lenin, Stalin, Mao, Castro, Ho Chi Minh, etc and a voiceover asking how people could be attracted by the ideals of "communism" despite the brutalities it perpetrated. The narrator asked how it could be that the "communist" lie could continue, despite the fact that the ideals of communism were betrayed and that this had been pointed out quite early on.

Why left-wingers support the myth of Bolshevism is an interesting question for sure. The SWP et al continue to attract youngsters who hate capitalism yet abandon verifiable history and facts for the make belief of the discredited, anti-socialism of Leninism. (A partial explanation is that Trotskyism allows the Left to support the Leninist theory of party and revolution whilst distancing themselves from the Stalinist legacy which clearly developed from it.)

The documentary made some points, not followed up in depth if at all, which I must paraphrase from the scribbles I made as I watched (going from French to Danish to English obviously means things would get lost in translation!):

- the Bolshevik takeover was like a beacon to the workers after the brutalities of the War

- the storming of the Winter Palace as portrayed by e.g. film maker Eisenstein was far from historical reality, yet that sort of disparity between fact and mythology appeared often and impacted on unquestioning Western Parties, who went on to push the mythology to workers

- a fiction was that the Soviets held power, and people believed it, when in reality power was held by Lenin and the Bolsheviks; revolutionary institutions were emptied of influence

- whilst the workers of the world dreamt of a classless society, the party eliminated opposition, held power alone and created a secret police

- visitors to Russia from the Western left-wing intelligentsia developed an almost myopic love affair with the Bolsheviks and what they were allowed to see

- Comintern established 21 points for inclusion, one basic point being those prospective parties had to be Bolshevik in outlook and practice

- Bolshevism was declared to be not only correct but also of universal application

- Stalin deified Lenin and created the religion of "Leninism" with the latter's passing in 1924

- "Communism" and the Party become a religion where all doubt is extinguished, for the good cannot do any wrong

- "The revolutionaries without a revolution mimic the Soviet model"

At one point in the documentary, we are treated to the spectacle of a small group of men dancing on the head of a Czar statue on the roof of a Moscow building. These men, at the 1920 meeting of Comintern, had declared themselves the leaders of the working class. The authoritarian and leadership based nature of the Leninist Party is not compared to that quintessential Marxian idea of the working class acting consciously, politically and through democratic self-organisation for the abolition of capitalism.

As a documentary about the supposed failure of communism "La Foi du Siecle" is miserably dishonest TV. The points it raises about Leninist political psychology are pertinent and depressingly familiar to this writer who has met, talked with and debated numerous Lefties down the years.

Coleman remarked in his article: "We can only hope that the men in the basement (or wherever they are) take a long time before they produce their next intellectual tease."


Saturday, January 20, 2007


Blair said it. Now Brown has repeated it.

In his notorious militarist speech of 12, January before an audience of trained killers aboardthe warship HMS Albion, Blair compared Islamic terrorism to "revolutionary communism in its early and most militant phase", and said it should be dealt with in the same way

In his pre-prime-ministerial tour of India Brown declared that "Islamic extremism had to be fought at all levels, 'just as we learnt we had to fight communism at all levels'" (Times, 19 January).

What can they have in mind? Of course by "communism" they don't mean communism in the proper sense (which is just another name for what we call socialism), even if, as faithful servitors of UK Capitalism PLC, they are just as much opposed to this. What they meant was the ideology under which state-capitalist Russia and China sought to challenge the world hegemony of the Western capitalist powers.

And just how was "Leninist state capitalism" (to give it its proper name) combatted? During the Cold War period it was by building up military might and confronting Russia and China militarily whenever they sought to expand their spheres of influence. Hence, the Malayan War, the Korean War, the Vietnam War. It also involved destabilising regimes that were seen as actually or potentially pro-Russia, as in Cuba, Nicaragua, Angola and Afghanistan (where Islamic extremists were paid to do the job).

And there was an ideological battle too. Universities were endowed and literary figures bribed to rubbish not just Lenin but Marx too, falsely portrayed as a forerunner of Russian and Chinese state capitalism. Then the so-called "Communist" parties were infiltrated and files kept on anyone talking of capitalism and socialism (including no doubt us).

In referring to "revolutionary communism in its early and most militant phase", Blair is going back even further -- to the period before Lenin's death when the Bolshevik regime still hoped to be saved by the world revolution Lenin had mistakenly thought was on the cards. The one good thing that the Bolsheviks did was to try to stop the slaughter on the Eastern Front in WWI by taking Russia out of the war. How did the Western powers react? By themselves invading Russia.

In 1924 the British secret service even helped to topple the first Labour government -- even though it had demonstrated its commitment to the defence of the British Empire -- by forging the notorious "Zinoviev Letter" and putting it in to circulation just before the 1925 General Election.

So, what Blair and Brown are in effect proposing is to maintain and build up Britain's armed forces, to send them to do battle whenever needed, to bribe "moderate Muslims", and to generally employ dirty tricks in a bid to beat off the latest challenge to the world hegemony (and oil supplies) of the Western capitalist powers. To such an extent have they assimilated themselves to the job of running a capitalist state and furthering the interest of its capitalist class.

While in India, Brown revealed that he can be just as hypocritical as Blair. He was photographed laying a wreath in memory of Gandhi. As he could himself see the contradiction between advocating the build-up and use of armed forces and Gandhi's reputation as an apostle of non-violence, he explained that it was not Gandhi's non-violence that inspired him but the way he dealt with the challenge he faced (as if he didn't do so non-violently). What a hypocrite! But this is only par for the course from the canting Christian that he is. In any event, he only did it to curry favour with the Indian government to try to get contracts for British capitalist firms to make a profit by selling their goods in India.

"Blair Must Go!" proclaims the current SWP poster given away free on demonstrations. No doubt they are already preparing new ones saying "Brown Must Go!" just as before they had "Major Must Go!" and "Thatcher Must Go!". Meanwhile, as we know that prime ministers come and go but it makes no difference as they're not the cause of the problem but the capitalist system of competitive struggle for profits is, we offer the only logical socialist slogan: CAPITALISM MUST GO!.

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Who Needs 007?

The world of Ian Fleming is characterised by SMERSH and SPECTRA and fantastic weapons used by the villains to attack military or civilian installations.

Who the hell needs Bond when a guy gets poisoned by Polonium and China blow a satellite up? Capitalism's realities are if not stranger then definitely far more sinister than fiction.


Monday, January 15, 2007


Former Labour Cabinet Minister, Claire Short, describes Tony Blair as"delusional". We don't know about that, but he does seem to think that he too, like his buddy George Bush, is the commander in chief of his country's armed forces.

Last Friday he was televised making a speech on board a warship in the Plymouth naval base surrounded by khaki-clad soldiers and camouflaged armoured cars. Exactly the sort of background Bush chooses to make his pro-war pronouncements, but he has an excuse in that, constitutionally, he is the commander-in-chief. Blair is just the Queen's first minister.

Blair told the assembled military personnel that he wanted them and the rest of Britain's armed forces to be "warfighters" and not mere"peacekeepers" and pledged, to prepare for the future wars he foresees, "increased expenditure on equipment, personnel and the conditions of ourarmed forces".

It was an extraordinary display of gung-ho militarism from the head of a Labour government whose first Foreign Secretary declared that Labour, unlike the Tories, would pursue "an ethical foreign policy" and from thel eader of a party that once used to pride itself on being the peace party. But, given world capitalism, his argument has a ruthless logic.

Blair drew a distinction between "hard power" (military might) and "softpower" (diplomacy) and argued that if Britain "retreated" into maintaining its armed forces merely for peace keeping then "inexorably" its "softpower" would be weakened too. According to the Financial Times (12 January), he said that "the main risk for the future was not gung-hol eaders too keen to embark on military adventure - but those who concluded that military engagement was too difficult and thereby fall into a passivedis engagement"; in which case "the result would be 'Britain's reach, effect and influence qualitatively reduced'".

It's an argument that can't be faulted. Capitalism is a world-wide system involving a competitive struggle for profits in which all states vie with each other to influence the course of events in favour of profit-seeking enterprises from within their borders. Normally this takes the form of diplomatic initiatives and manoeuvrings but the weight other states attach to these depends on whether they think the state in question has the means- and the determination - to back them up.

The means can be - still in the realm of Blair's "soft power" - economic retaliation or sabre-rattling, but to be credible a state must ultimatelybe prepared to do more than merely have big sabres or just rattle them. Blair's model, Mrs Thatcher, understood this well (even if at the time he himself didn't, sporting as he then did a CND badge). Which is why when third-rate power Argentina took over the Falkland Islands she sent out the"task force" to recover them. If she hadn't, Britain's credibility and standing in the international pecking order would have gone down.

So Blair is right. Without armed forces trained and equipped for "warfighting" (and killing and dying) beyond its frontiers, Britain's "reach, effect and influence" to further the interests of its capitalist class in the international arena will be weakened. The terrifying fact is that it is not him who is deluding himself (at least not on this point) but those who believe that an ethical foreign policy is possible. The internationa lstate-system that world capitalism has engendered is not one where there are any rules. It's every state for itself, no favours given and woe to the weak. If Britain's rivals on the world stage thought that its government had moral scruples about going all the way in employing its armed forces they would give less weight to its diplomatic initiatives indefence of its capitalist class.

So, what are we to conclude? By all means let those who want a worldwithout war denounce every war that takes place but without the illusion that we can get states within capitalism to renounce war as a policyoption. This will never happen as it goes against the whole logic of the capitalist state-system. Once again, it is quite literally true that world-wide socialism is the only framework within which a lasting peace can exist. Let us, therefore, work for it as the priority of priorities.
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Thursday, January 11, 2007

David Ervine - an Obituary

David Ervine, Member of the Northern Ireland Assembly for the Loyalist area of east Belfast, died of a stroke and massive heart attack on January 8th.

Ervine recounted how as a young man on what came to be known as Bloody Friday he watched as the IRA carried out 22 bomb attacks in Belfast killing innocent people and ripping the commercial heart out of the city.

For him it was the final straw; he decided to join the protestant UVF then engaged in a sectarian war against innocent Catholics whom it regarded as the soft underbelly of the IRA. Ironically, Ervine was reacting to the other side of the same politico-religious stimuli that had created the material basis for the emergence and recruitment of the Provisional IRA in 1970. His ’war’ ended when he was caught ferrying a bomb and was sentenced to 15 years imprisonment.

David Ervine was a Shankill Road Protestant, inured to the poverty and sub-standard life that loyalists there shared with their Catholic class brethren on the nearby Falls Road. That the hatred that fuelled their bigotry and anger of one another was based on deliberately fabricated fictions was something he and many of his enemies learned in the long days of their imprisonment.

In his wry way, Ervine was to show the extent of his learning when a few years ago he said publicly that he looked forward to the day when he and Gerry Adams could have a pint together. It was a demonstration of just how far he had travelled.

A few evenings ago, in a club he frequented in east Belfast, some of those drinking there praised him as ‘a socialist’. That he wasn’t, but he was motivated by the same political honesty and concern for his class that motivates socialists; he had learnt to detest the political and economic realities of capitalism and we could have hoped that ultimately the courage that conquered his militant sectarianism would have brought him to an appreciation of the fact that the problems of his class, including the generation of division, were inevitable aspects of that system.

It is ironic, too, that while those on both sides of the internecine war have shown some willingness for peace and reconciliation, Paisley and his ilk, whose fascist style opposition to elementary democratic rights played midwife to the birth of the Provos hold rigidly to the historic dissension that is the sole muscle of their political strength.


Monday, January 08, 2007

Pig Shit and Profits

The autocratic ruler of Jordan, King Abdullah II, enjoys barbecuing in the palace garden. Recently, however, he felt obliged to send a letter of complaint to Israel's environment ministry regarding an unwanted and unsavoury export from that country. Indeed, the stench of manure from a kibbutz was so objectionable that he cancelled a planned international conference at the Aqaba palace as well as, presumably, further BBQs.

Needless to say, as a right royal parasite he has the freedom to complain about whatever he wants - a privilege not shared by the vast majority in his country. In fact, somewhat surprisingly for an allegedly 43rd-generation direct descendant of Mohamet (see http://www.worldsocialism.org/spgb/dec01/booksdec.html ), not showing proper respect to Abdullah bin al-Hussein is considered a much more serious offence than criticizing Islam. But this is to digress.

When it comes to bad smells, few things can compete with "..the largest and most profitable pork processor in the world.." Truly, if such an abomination as Smithfield Foods did not exist it would take the combined imaginative talents of a George Orwell and Upton Sinclair to come up with something similar. Consider the stink and waste resulting from the raising and slaughter of tens of millions of hogs (27 million in 2005). Inconceivable? OK, Take then, if you can, the smell associated with the mere 500,000 pigs at one Smithfield subsidiary in Utah, a stink which is strong enough to poleaxe people:

"We are used to farm odors," says one local farmer. "These are not farm odors." Sometimes the stink literally knocks people down: They walk out of the house to get something in the yard and become so nauseous they collapse. When they retain consciousness, they crawl back into the house."

The company with estimated total sales of $11.4 billion (US) in 2006 is spreading malignantly to other areas of the world such Eastern Europe:

"The usual violations occurred. Near one of Smithfield's largest plants, in Byszkowo, an enormous pool of frozen pig shit, pumped into a lagoon in winter, melted and ran into two nearby lakes. The lake water turned brown; residents in local villages got skin rashes and eye infections; the stench made it impossible to eat. A recent report to the Helsinki Commission found that Smithfield's pollution throughout Poland was damaging the country's ecosystems. Over application was endemic. Farmers without permits were piping liquid pig shit directly into watersheds that fed into the Baltic Sea.

"When Joseph Luter [the chairman of Smithfield Foods] entered Poland, he announced that he planned to turn the country into the 'Iowa of Europe.' Iowa has always been America's biggest hog producer and remains the nation's chief icon of hog farming. Having subdued Poland, Luter announced this summer that all of Eastern Europe -- 'particularly Romania' -- should become the 'Iowa of Europe.' Seventy-five percent of Romania's hogs currently come from household farms. Over the next five years, Smithfield plans to spend $800 million in Romania to change that."

Greens and Vegetarians will, no doubt, squeal in horror at the environmental damage, the slaughter and bleat about cleaner alternatives whilst ignoring the fact that this is business as usual, just one hideous aspect of a worldwide system where profit is king. Myopic reformists, they forget the plight of workers in such factories, where the " temperature inside..is often hotter than ninety degrees. The air, saturated almost to the point of precipitation with gases from shit and chemicals, can be lethal to the pigs. Enormous exhaust fans run twenty-four hours a day. The ventilation systems function like the ventilators of terminal patients: If they break down for any length of time, pigs start dying."

Sinclair wrongly saw reform rather than revolution as the answer to 'problems' which are endemic to the capitalist system. Orwell too, despite observing that "men exploit animals in much the same way as the rich exploit the proletariat" fell into the same trap. In a world of plenty, none need go without: "we have enough food to provide everyone in a world with a least 2,720 kilocalories per person per day" (The Independent, 16 October 2006) Smithfield Foods, and the like, will not exist in a Socialist world. With the desire to minimise dirty work and suffering, we might turn to biotechnology and by doing so even please groups such as People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals:

"no one who considers what's in a meat hot dog could genuinely express revulsion at eating a clean cloned meat product" (Ingrid Newkirk of PETA) . But before we can be free to develop sustainable, desirable ways of living we must bury King Capital.