Monday, March 31, 2008

Poles Apart: Capitalism and Socialism As The Planet Heats Up

Socialist Party London Day School

We are pleased to inform you that the Socialist Party will be holding a half-day school on the politics of Climate Change at the Conway Hall, Holborn (nearest Tube station is Holborn) on Saturday the 5th of April 1pm - 5 pm.

There will be a guest speaker followed by a speaker from the Socialist Party, plus plenty of opportunity for questions and discussion on this critically-important topic. We aim to make this event engaging, educational and thought provoking.

The guest speaker, Glenn Morris of Arctic Voice, is a frequent visitor to Greenland and during the last 20 years has stayed with the indigenous Inuit people as a guest and a valued friend of the community. Glenn confirmed it was possible for the Inuit to travel through the pack ice by kayak by completing himself a 2000 km journey through the North West passage from Inuvik to Greenland. During his visits to the Inuit he has witnessed the disappearance of their traditional culture and how the impact of consumerism and market forces is bringing about rapid social change between generations and even within families. His presentation will focus on how climate change influences social change, including having a profound impact on the Inuit concept of the common ownership of land and the natural resources of Greenland.

Brian Gardner from the Socialist Party will then look at how capitalism is coping with the political, social and economic challenges of a rapidly-warming planet. Is there a solution available within the market and money system? What sort of society would socialism have to be to address this global challenge? And will Climate Change threaten or assist the likelihood of a global socialist society being established.

During the evening there will be a social - with free food and refreshments and possible entertainment - at the Head Office of the Socialist Party: 52 Clapham High St. All we ask is that if possible you make a small contribution to cover the cost.

For further information contact:

The Socialist Party, 52 Clapham High Street, London, SW4 7UN

Tel: 0207 622 3811


Sunday, March 30, 2008

Ronald Raygun

On this day in 1981 newspapers and other media outlets were filled with reports concerning the shooting of President Reagan. By way of contrast, the event received scant and scathing coverage in the Socialist Standard of May that year:

"As for the shooting of Ronald Reagan, we have no sympathy for the figureheads of the most violent and barbaric society the world has ever known: world capitalism. America is one of hundreds of states competing to see who can exploit their population most efficiently, and organising wars all in the interests of the privileged minorities (including Reagan himself) who profit from expanding markets. American expenditure on weapons of violent destruction is rapidly approaching $400 billion a year, that is more than twenty million pounds an hour. Massive military aid is given to murderous military regimes such as that in El Salvador. Each year millions die of starvation, while millionaires like Reagan are prepared to use any kind of violence to defend their privilege and profits. He represents a system in which those with power are free to kill, free to exploit.

So we will not shed any tears over Reagan's wounds; unlike his fellow capitalist rulers, President Brezhnev sent a telegram from Russia: "I wish you, Mr. President, a full and early recovery". President Zhao Ziyang of China was "shocked to hear of your being wounded...I wish you a speedy recovery", while the Pope and Prince Philip both organised prayers for Reagan...there are thousands of others being murdered all the time, for it is the poverty, the coercion and the frustration of the present system which provokes theft, despair and violence. Let Reagan think of that the next time he orders the murder of a few thousand people from Latin America or Vietnam or anywhere else in the name of "freedom".

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Vaux Populi

The Socialist Party is fielding a candidate in the coming Greater London Assembly Elections. Our election campaign blog Vaux Populi is up and running again.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Common Ownership - the only solution to world problems

On this day in 1957 the Common Market was established by the agreement of six west European countries. The editorial in the March Socialist Standard of that year drew a parallel with the gradual formation of the German Customs Union over a century earlier and scoffed at the notion of a united Europe leading to a warless, united world.

An article titled Britain on the Brink in the November 1961 edition of the same journal commented amusingly:
"British capitalism has decided to take its chance with the Common Market. After shivering at the water's edge for a long, long time it has at last ventured as far as the end of the diving-board. It even shows signs this time that it is really going to take the plunge..."
Well, those signs were misleading: British capitalism did join, but not until January 1973 after two attempts to do so were vetoed. However, the very same article did point out correctly that "..the motive force of the Common Market and the events now associated with is economic interest - the drive for profit. The task of the working-class, whether Britain joins or not, will still be to get rid of the system that generates this drive for profit. And in setting about that task the workers of Britain and the Common Market do have a common interest."

The Socialist Standard of May 1975 posed the question 'The Common Market In or out - does it matter?' and stated clearly that the issue was (is) of no concern to our class.
The related article did not fail to mention the infamous butter mountains and wine lakes and concluded by stating: "Away with all the trappings of capitalism - tariffs, customs duties, monetary union, competition, buying, selling etc. Vote for nothing but Common Ownership."

Monday, March 24, 2008

Political Economy

One interesting feature in "the Independent" newspaper is its You Ask the Questions column. Joseph Stiglitz was "grilled" in the latest. For example:

What are the implications of recent economic developments for the teaching of economics?

John Baxter

London N1

The idea that markets are "self adjusting," that free, unfettered markets lead as if by an invisible hand to the well being of all, has been repeatedly refuted (the Great Depression was the most telling refutation). But it is a lesson that has to be learnt over and over again.

The challenge is to get the right balance between markets and government, to get the right form of regulation that allows for innovation – but not the kind of financial innovation that we have just seen. Instruments that were supposed to reduce risk actually increased it.

Stiglitz is a Nobel Laureate in Economics. That's worth noting; economics is regarded as being as scientific as chemistry, medicine and physics! (Maths has to make do with the Fields Medal.) Marx called the subject "political economy" - it is far more apt as it shows economists are really peddlers of ideological mumbo-jumbo. As an editorial in "the Economist" from 2nd June 1973 put it (quoted in the SPGB pamphlet on Marxian Economics)

If economists today took more trouble to explain in simple language what they are trying to prove and what relevance it might have, the gulf between theory and practice might be closed somewhat. As it is, more and more economists fill more and more pages of learned journals with an endless stream of ill-written, verbose, half-baked mumbo jumbo which has as much value to policy makers as the chattering of starlings.

Stiglitz's answer is an explicit attack on standard, free-market economics. The market, argue some defenders of capitalism, possesses this "invisible hand", which secures prosperity and democracy for all; the concept dates back to Adam Smith.

Quite what he has in mind on the right balance between market and government is not clear. History has shown Keynesian economics to be just as big a failure.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

More of the same

The Dalai Lama has stated that he regards himself as "..half-Marxist, half-Buddhist.." and after reading further (, this Socialist would add 'half-baked'! Patrick French, author “Tibet, Tibet: A Personal History of a Lost Land,” writing in the New York Times ( is not so blunt but, notably, his critical comments extend to include groups such as the Free Tibet Campaign. These groups, French and Tenzin Gyatso, to use the DL's less well known name, see Tibet's history through rose-tinted glasses, something which could be corrected by reading
"Tibet – from feudal theocracy to a market economy"
"Repression—in exile" .

Socialists regard independence as merely an exchange of rulers, as the Socialist Standard article below, dating from April 1989, explains:

"Chinese troops patrol the streets of Lhasa to clamp down on yet another group of men and women clamouring for Independence. But what exactly has "self-government" meant to those around the world who have managed to achieve it?

Since 1947, thirty-six territories previously part of the British Empire have become independent sovereign states, although most of them decided not to forego the economic aid and trade advantages inherent in being a member of the Commonwealth. What have these countries gained from the change?

Various types of one-party dictatorships exist, and bloody civil wars have raged in Biafra and Somalia. In the latter there is wholesale denial of the most elementary political rights and more than a million refugees have fled into equally poverty-stricken Ethiopia and Sudan. New independence movements indiscriminately slaughter those of different groups or tribes in India and Sri Lanka as well as Somalia. Corruption is rife in so-called democracies. Abject poverty is the rule among the vast majority, while the new ruling class who control the economy grow rich. To celebrate Independence in 1984 the Sultan of Brunei built the world's largest palace with 2,000 rooms and 257 lavatories. His subjects have been provided with a "Welfare State" and pay no income tax; even so, it is safe to say that independence has made little difference to their lives. The government of Sierra Leone is so concerned for the health and welfare of its "independent" people that it has accepted, against payment of course, the dumping of tons of British lethal toxic waste just outside its capital, Freetown. It is very doubtful whether the "mother country" would have dared to do this while Sierra Leone was a British responsibility.

Lesotho (Basutoland) and Swaziland are completely dependent upon South Africa, have repressive regimes and widespread poverty. No Independence here and certainly no benefits for any but the ruling clique. Even in those few states where material and political circumstances of workers have been maintained or improved, changes have been minimal. The fact that some of the most repressive regimes refer to themselves as socialist is, of course, a mockery.

When asked why we do not support struggles for Independence by fellow workers in other parts of the world, we point out that, at best, they will simply be exchanging one lot of masters for another. They may win or be allowed a little more freedom within the system but while it remains they must depend on the capitalists - state or private - for their subsistence. For workers, independence is merely a change of rulers."


Friday, March 21, 2008

Arthur C. Clarke (1917-2008)

Rather than write an obituary of Clarke, who died Wednesday, I thought I'd reproduce some quotes of his that caught my eye:

CNN is one of the participants in the war. I have a fantasy where Ted Turner is elected president but refuses because he doesn't want to give up power.

There is hopeful symbolism in the fact that flags do not wave in a vacuum.

A hundred years ago, the electric telegraph made possible - indeed, inevitable - the United States of America. The communications satellite will make equally inevitable a United Nations of Earth; let us hope that the transition period will not be equally bloody.

Every revolutionary idea seems to evoke three stages of reaction. They may be summed up by the phrases: 1- It's completely impossible. 2- It's possible, but it's not worth doing. 3- I said it was a good idea all along.

It is not easy to see how the more extreme forms of nationalism can long survive when men have seen the Earth in its true perspective as a single small globe against the stars.

I don't pretend we have all the answers. But the questions are certainly worth thinking about.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

The Socialist Party Annual Conference

The Socialist Party
Annual Conference

Socialist Party Head Office, 52 Clapham High St, London SW4 (nearest tube:Clapham North).

Friday 21 March 10:30–17:30. Saturday 22 March 11:00–16:30.

1904 - 2008 Over a century of socialist activity.

About us - Our Principles

What is Socialism ? - F.A.Q. - What is Capitalism?


journal: socialist standard

Visitors welcome at all Socialist Party meetings.

The FARC “Marxist” farce

Socialists are accustomed to reading nonsense in their newspapers, not least in the so-called 'heavies' or serious papers. A case in point has been the claims that the insurrectionary 'army', the misnamed Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, is a Marxist or the contradiction-in-terms, Marxist-Leninist, organisation, and that its leaders are Marxist socialists. One such claim was made by one Phil Gunson in the Guardian (6 March) in his obituary of Raul Reyes (born Luis Edgar Devia Silva), who was killed by Columbian armed forces in a cross-border into Ecuador.

Wrote Gunson: "A committed Marxist from an early age, he joined a communist youth organisation as a teenager". At about the time that Reyes became a 'communist' or so-called Marxist, the Communist Party of Columbia had about 9,000-10,000 members, and the dissident Communist Party of Columbia (Marxist-Leninist), founded in 1964, had about 2,000 members. Although Reyes is said to have spent some time in Eastern Europe, it is not known whether he was pro-Soviet or pro-Maoist. However, although Gunson asserts that Reyes was a Marxist, he also states and claims that he was "a terrorist and drug-trafficker" who wore camouflage fatigues, "with a Kalashnikov across his knees". Gunson adds: "The two dozen or so warrants that were issued for his arrest covered a chilling range of crimes, including murder, kidnap, and drug-trafficking. He was wanted, for instance, for the El Nogal nightclub bombing in Bogotá in 2003".

What then has Reyes, or FARC for that matter, have in common with Marxist socialists who oppose terrorism, individual, group or state, guerrilla 'armies' and so-called national liberation struggles, but who are organised for, and propagate, worldwide common ownership and democratic administration and control of the land, means of production and transportation and the abolition of the wages system? The answer is: none at all. But obituarist Phil Gunson is not likely to know that.


Sunday, March 16, 2008

Jockeying to avoid being put at a competitive disadvantage

In a interview with the Times (13 March) just before the summit of EU leaders in Brussels over the weekend, José Manuel Barroso, the (ex-maoist) President of the Europe Commission, revealed, perhaps inadvertently, one of the built-in obstacles under capitalism standing in the way of international agreement about what to do about the threat of climate change brought about by global warming.

Barroso told the Times that:

“the EU could take protective measures sector by sector to safeguard European production of cement or steel. We do not want to put our energy-intensive industries in a situation of disadvantage in competitive terms, so that is why we will have measures that we are ready to take if there is not a global [climate] agreement”.

What the EU wants to avoid, the report stated, was “big companies relocating from Europe to countries that refuse to join a post-2012 climate change agreement in order to avoid the EU’s tough CO2 targets” and so “gain a competitive advantage by continuing to allow cheap, high-pollution production”.

Who’s going to get a competitive advantage? That’s the bottom line in the negotiations between capitalist states about what to do about global warming. America refused to sign up to Kyoto because its government reckoned that to do so would place it at a competitive disadvantage vis-à-vis China (which was not required to sign) and Europe (which burns proportionately less fossil fuels for energy than the US). They were probably right that this would have been the case. As an alternative way to reduce CO2 emissions than cutting back on burning fossil fuels, the US, which has easy access to coal and oil within its borders, proposes to continue burning them but to develop a way of extracting the CO2 before it is released into the atmosphere.

The EU seems to have decided that this time China, which has access to huge reserves of coal, has to be included along with other big developing capitalist countries. In fact the Times report, headlined “EU threatens to punish climate deal rebels”, made it clear that China as well as America was in their sights. “America and China”, it began, “face trade protection measures from Europe if they fail to join a global climate deal to replace the Kyoto Protocol”.

Kyoto expires in 2012 but the EU has already committed itself to reducing CO2 emissions after that date. But it is beginning to be concerned that this commitment may put its energy-intensive industries - particularly cement and steel, as mentioned by Barroso - at a competitive disadvantage if some countries refuse to sign up to a new Kyoto. Clearly influenced by intense lobbying by the European capitalist corporations with money invested in steel producing and cement making, Barroso was clear enough:

“We want a binding decision now that we will take measures to protect these industries in 2012 in case there is not agreement. It would be completely foolish for the European Union to export the pollution and the jobs because globally the effects on climate change will be just the same, only we lose the jobs and our industry”.

True, if steel production and cement making were transferred from Europe to some country with no or lesser restrictions on CO2 pollution this would leave overall world CO2 pollution the same. This is known as “carbon leakage” and the EU leaders, in a statement issued after their summit, backed Barroso’s threat, declaring that they “recognize[d] that in a global context of competitive markets, the risk of carbon leakage is a concern in certain sectors such as energy intensive industries particularly exposed to international competition that needs to be analysed and addressed . . . so that if international negotiations fail, appropriate measures can be taken”.

So, watch out then for tough negotiations at the conference in Copenhagen in 2009 when a replacement to the Kyoto Protocol is supposed to be negotiated, when each capitalist state will be trying to ensure that it is not put at a competitive disadvantage by what is agreed. Will an agreement be reached? Perhaps. Will it go as far as scientists say it should? That must be open to serious doubt.


Saturday, March 15, 2008


Today, 15th March, people have travelled the length and breadth of Britain to protest at the continuing bloodshed in the Middle East.

No doubt many will be veterans of that mass anti-war protest in London on an icy February morning 5 years ago and which attracted an estimated 2 million people - people fully aware at the time that the events of 9/11 had no link to Saddam Hussein and that he posed no military threat to the West. Likewise, the many who marched to Hyde Park that day were right in believing that Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction, that the “45 minute dossier” was a sham—a fact that has now been proved—and that any war in Iraq would fully destabilise the country. And you would have been in a minority had you not realised the link between the intended war and the fact that beneath the sands of Iraq lay huge oil resources.

Undoubtedly, after five years of campaigning you will be revolted by the incessant lies of the British government as it has tried to justify the occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan and the continuing chaos. Week in, week out, the government has distorted the truthand sunk to all manner of low tactics to justify its position. And now, after all of your campaigning efforts, the meetings and demos you have attended, the petitions you have signed, the umpteen arguments with your friends and neighbours, you are here protesting again, having been proved right; marching today, demanding a withdrawal of US and British forces from Iraq, hoping to halt a looming attack upon Iran and urging freedom for Gaza.

Five years of solid protest and your cause is not one inch further forward! Indeed, the anti-war cause has taken a step back. Within weeks of a similar anti-war demo last year, calling for a troop withdrawal, a confidential planning document drawn up by defence chiefs called the Operational Tour Plot, revealed that British troops would be in Iraq until 2012. Moreover, paying no heed to the hell that has been let loose in Iraq, the masters of war are all too keen to escalate the conflict and support a US-led attack on Iran, even if this means the use of nuclear strikes.

Whoa, hold on! Do you not think you might just be wasting your time here today? Granted, the Iraq War has resulted in the deaths of well over a million, with innocent Iraqis still being killed in scores every day, and with four million displaced. And yes, Brown has increased the British troop presence in Afghanistan. And yes, the current crisis in Gaza is every bit upsetting as the conflict in Lebanon, that last year’s demo demanded an end to. But do you not think you’re asking the wrong questions, making the wrong demands and repeating the mistakes of the past? We’re not saying you are wrong for asking questions, only that you do not ask enough. Indeed, question everything! We’re not suggesting you are demanding too much today—in truth, you are not demanding enough!

Whilst this march demands the withdrawal of western forces from Iraq and Afghanistan and pleads that Iran is not attacked, it supports the very system that creates war by not questioning the very premise of war. War is a bedfellow of the system we know as capitalism, being waged over trade routes, areas of influence, foreign markets, natural resources, the strategic points from which all of this can be defended and the profits that can be had via the same. By not taking issue with the nature of capitalism, and the root of war, this gathering is making the mistake of every previous anti-war demo and meeting and paving the way for more in the future. Wars will continue as long as capitalism exists. Furthermore, by demanding the British and American governments listen to us today we further give them legitimacy by acknowledging their right to make war and indeed end it, and in this respect we are acquiescing in the continuation of a system that depends for its existence on conflict and conquest for profit, regardless of the cost to human life

Now we’re not being churlish here. It is heartening to see so many here today, united in common voice - it reveals the workers can be mobilised around issues they feel are important. But from our experience - and we’ve had over 100 years’ experience of observing campaigns and demonstrations and protests around every kind of reform and demand imaginable (we’re the oldest existing socialist organisation in Britain, having been formed in 1904) - we can confidently say that this demonstration is just one of hundreds over the years that address the symptoms, not the cause of the problem, and will make no significant difference to the established order, either here or in Iraq, Afghanistan or Gaza, or to the way politicians think. Let’s be realistic – the British government is simply the executive arm of Britain’s capitalist elite, charged primarily with securing profits at home and abroad. Five years ago, two million marched all over Britain; there were demos and vigils every night in opposition to the war. Over one-hundred Labour MPs voted against Blair’s war, and to top it all the push for war received no UN sanction, but still the troops were sent. So much for one of the biggest protest movements in labour history!

Consider this. Across the globe there are literally hundreds of thousands of campaigns and protest groups and many more charities, some small, some enormous, all pursuing tens of thousands of issues, and their work involves many millions of sincere workers who care passionately about their individual causes and give their free time to support them unquestioningly. Many will have campaigned on some single issue for years on end with no visible result; others will have celebrated minor victories and then joined another campaign groups, spurred on by that initial success.

And, considering the above, two things stand out: firstly, that many of the problems around us are rooted in the way our society is organised for production, and are problems we have been capable of solving for quite some time, though never within the confines of a profit-driven market system. secondly, that if all of these well meaning people had have directed all their energy—all those tens of billions of human labour hours expended on their myriad single issues—to the task of overthrowing the system that creates a great deal of the problems around us, then none of us would be here today. Instead we would have established a world without borders, without waste or want or war, in which we would all have free access to the benefits of civilisation, with problem-solving devoid of the artificial constraints of the profit system.

If you are now confused forgive us if we come across blunt, but which part of “to end war we must end capitalism” do you not understand? It’s simple! Every aspect of our lives is subordinated to the requirements of profit - from the moment you brush your teeth in the morning with the toothpaste you saw advertised on TV until you crawl into your bed at night. Pick up a newspaper and try locating any problem reported there outside of our “can’t pay—can’t have” system. Crime, the health service, poverty, drug abuse, hunger, disease, homelessness, unemployment, war, insecurity - the list is endless. All attract their campaign groups, all struggling to address these problems, and all of these problems arising because of the inefficient and archaic way we organise our world for production.

You’ve got it! We’re unlike any other group here today out to reform capitalism, who beg governments to be just a little less horrid, who ask our masters to throw us a few more crumbs from the bread we bake. We are not into the politics of compromise and we certainly are not prepared to be satisfied with crumbs. We demand the whole bakery!

We are here today to urge you to stop belittling yourself and your class by making the same age-old demands of the master class. Demand what until now has been considered “the impossible”! Join us in campaigning for a system of society where there are no leaders, no classes, no states or governments, no borders, no force or coercion; a world where the earth’s natural and industrial resources are commonly owned and democratically controlled and where production is freed from the artificial constraints of profit and used for the benefit of all; a world of free access to the necessaries of life. Wouldn’t such a campaign movement not only address the real root of every campaign and protest currently ongoing?

The choice is yours – the struggle for world socialism and an end to our real problems or a lifetime attached to the ‘pick-your-cause’ brigade and the certainty you will be retracing your footsteps here today in years to come.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

What next?!

Spot the difference between the Labour Party today and the Tory Party of 20-25 years ago - if you can. First, a minister suggests that council tenants should be evicted if they don’t look for a job. Now, an ex-minister proposes that schoolkids should have to swear an oath of allegiance to the queen when they leave school. Clearly, over 10 years’ experience of governing capitalism has led to them completely absorbing capitalist values and priorities.

“Pupils ‘to take allegiance oath’”, read the headline of a new item on the BBC website:

“School-leavers should be encouraged to swear an oath of allegiance to Queen and country, says a report commissioned by Gordon Brown on British citizenship. Report author, ex-attorney general Lord Goldsmith, says it would give teenagers a sense of belonging” (

The Daily Telegraph (10 March) had already explained what might be involved:

“The proposals are similar to the classroom ritual in America in which children make a pledge to the national flag, while standing to attention with the right hand of the heart”.

Next they’ll be bringing back playing the national dirge in cinemas and expecting everyone to stand up for it.

The queen is the figurehead of the British capitalist state. So, swearing allegiance to her is swearing allegiance to that state. But why should we have to pledge loyalty to an institution that doesn’t represent our interests, but those of the rich few who own the means of production? Maybe they should, but not the rest of us who, with no other source of income, have to sell our working skills for a wage or a salary.

They want us to do this as it’s in their interest that we should accept their rule and accept the legitimacy of what their state does in their interest, especially military interventions abroad to protect their sources of raw materials, markets, investment outlets and trade routes.

(And of course Lord Goldsmith was the man who as attorney-general came up with clever lawyer arguments as to why the invasion of Iraq five years ago was perfectly OK).

Inculcating “Britishness” into us, especially when we are young, is part of the conditioning process to make us loyal subjects of the British capitalist state. Socialists reject and oppose this. We don’t see ourselves as “British” or “German” or “American” or whatever. We belong to the international working class and want to see a world no longer divided into competing, armed states but one where all will be citizens of a united world, members of a united human race, Earthpeople.

We reject nationalism and its ridiculous, xenophobic ceremonies and rituals.

The BBC quoted one teachers’ union official as saying that the proposal was “a half-baked idea that should be left to go mouldy”. Hopefully, that’s what will happen.


Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Our boys - or theirs?

Shock! Horror! The commandant of an airbase near Peterborough has ordered those under his command not to visit the town in uniform as this has attracted verbal abuse from a section of the population. The media went crazy. How dare they insult our brave boys (and girls) who are prepared to sacrifice their lives in Iraq and Afghanistan to defend us from terrorism! What a disgrace! Something must be done about it!

But do the armed forces really exist to protect us? To protect the great majority of those who happened to have been born or to live in this part of the world and who have to obtain a living by selling their ability to work for a wage or a salary?

The answer is, no, they don’t. The armed forces are part of the State machine, and the State machine exists to protect and further the interests of the rich few who own and control the means of production, the minority class of capitalists who have interests to defend at home and abroad, interests which are not those of the majority of the population.

The armed forces are the core of the State, the threat and reality of coercion that defines the State as the only social institution that can legitimately employ physical violence; they are “the armed bodies of men” that constitute a ruling class’s last resort.

These days capitalism is maintained not so much by brute force as by the work of what has been called “the ideological apparatus of the State”, i.e. the schools and media, which teach and encourage capitalist values. But even if capitalism continues because most people have been brought up to consider it to be the only way the modern world can be run, the State is still there to uphold and enforce capitalist property rights, first through the courts, then by the police and as a last resort by the armed forces.

It is true that the last time the armed forces were used to coerce (and shoot down) workers was before the First World War, under the last Liberal government when Asquith was Prime Minister. But they have always been there in the background in case the police should be unable to cope. It was just that during the Miner’s Strike of 1984-5 the police were able to manage without the support of the armed forces.

That, abroad, the armed forces don’t serve our interests as wage and salary workers is obvious as we don’t have any interests abroad or any quarrel with people like ourselves in other parts of the world.

Everybody knows that the attack on Iraq five years ago this month was mainly about oil, about overthrowing a regime that was hostile to Western capitalism’s influence in the Middle East and which controlled the world’s second biggest reserves of this key energy resource. A secondary consideration was Iraq’s strategic position as a place from which to dominate the oil reserves of the Caspian Sea as well as those of the Middle East. It’s the same in Afghanistan, which has always had strategic importance as the gateway from Central Asia to the sea.

“Our” boys are in these places not to defend our interests - we’ve not got any quarrel with the people in Iraq or Afghanistan - but to defend the economic interests of US and European capitalism, even if this is disguised as a war against terrorism.

Because the armed forces are so important to them at home and abroad the ruling class want and need to cultivate what used to be called “militarism”: the glorification of the armed forces and their exploits, cheers for them as they march past robot-like to martial music, pressures to join them - and respect for their uniforms. It’s all part of the conditioning to get us to support capitalism and the military actions the capitalist State takes in defence of capitalist interests.

This is why the media made such a fuss over what’s been happening in Peterborough: it represented a set-back for militarism. And why we Socialists didn’t mind at all. We don’t want people to respect the armed forces. We want them to be seen for what they are: hired killers.

It is true that in the end they are “our boys” but only in the sense that most of them (even amongst the officers, despite the occasional royal lout) are recruited from our class of wage and salary workers. Men and women in the same position as the rest of us, with no other source of income and so obliged to find an employer. Only they have decided to accept the “queen’s shilling” and become hirelings of the coercive arm of the capitalist State. Many may just want to learn a trade or to do something more exciting, but what they are being trained to do is to be a part of a killing machine. And for this they don’t deserve our respect, even if, as fellow workers, we understand that they need a job to live.


Monday, March 03, 2008

Casino capitalism

In last month’s Socialist Standard, in an article on the price of bread (, we commented on the fact that under capitalism a basic foodstuff such as wheat was “a world commodity traded on world markets and so subject to international speculators betting on its future price going up or down”.

Last week the news broke that a “rogue trader” calling Dooley working for a firm called MF Global had lost his employers $141.5 million. Rather foolishly, it might be thought, he bet that the price of wheat would go down. But it went up:

“He had bet on the price of wheat declining by entering into about 4,000 futures contracts, which would require him to deliver about 20 million bushels of wheat at an agreed time and price. The greater the decline in the price between agreeing the contract and delivering the wheat, the cheaper the cost of satisfying the delivery and the larger the profit Mr Dooley stood to make. But instead, the price of wheat kept on rising . . .” (Times, 29 February)

It should not be thought that MF Global is in the business of delivering wheat. It doesn’t run a fleet of ships or trucks. It is a financial institution specialising in speculating on how the price of wheat - and anything else - moves. When the delivery date of, in this case, wheat comes near they pass the contract on to a shipping or delivery firm. As Marx once pointed out, the capitalist is not interested in any particular product. All they are interested in profit and they don’t care whether they make it from producing and selling bibles or producing and selling whisky. Firms like MF Global, with no connection with actual production, illustrate this point well.

In the Middle Ages this sort of thing was frowned on and was even illegal. In his other socialist utopian novel A Dream of John Ball William Morris has his visitor from the future explain to John Ball, the priest with communistic views who supported the Peasants Revolt, that the feudal society he opposed would eventually be replaced, but not by a society, as Ball wanted, where people could “have the goods of the earth without money or without price” but by capitalism.

John Ball has difficulty in understanding capitalism and, to give him an idea, Morris’s character says that, unlike under feudalism, “forestallers and regraters” will be praised as benefactors. Morris explains in a footnote what a “regrater” was:

“one who both buys and sells in the same market, or within five miles thereof; buys, say a ton of cheese at 10 a.m. and sells it at 5 p.m. a penny a pound dearer without moving from his chair”.

This is not a description of an industrial capitalist, but it was the best example Morris’s character could find to explain to someone living under feudalism what a capitalist was. It is, however, an accurate description of what firms like MF Global do. Their “traders”, whether rogues or not, buy and sell without leaving their computer desk. A mediaeval peasant would have regarded them as worse than regraters. They are the equivalent of a man sitting in a marketplace inn betting on what price a regrater would be selling at 5 p.m the cheese he had bought at 10 a.m. In fact, MF Global’s traders would also bet on what price that the regrater would pay at 10 a.m. In other words, they are mere gamblers, gambling on the price of an essential foodstuff for millions throughout the world - while millions starve.

Here’s proof, as if any more were required, that capitalism is not a system geared to meeting human needs but one where profit always come first.

Saturday, March 01, 2008

Murder Safari

The news for the last few days has been full of the gripping exploits of Prince Harry, who it seems has been serving a short apprenticeship in the death factory (otherwise known as the Royal Army). In particular, it seems that he has been directing others far overhead to drop fire on people, from a hilltop far away, managing to participate in the slaughter of 30 people by all accounts.

There is some debate about whether he should be there at all. Unfortunately, that debate is not about whether he or anyone else should be participating in the Great Oil War, but rather whether his presence has been endangering his own side! One would think the Taliban would realise that a precious asset like that would never be put in a position of vulnerability – not without body armour anyway, which would mark him out from the rest.

What seems to have been missed here is that there is a difference between a war – where two armies are fighting – and an occupation: moreover, there is a difference between combat – where two groups of people are fighting – and murder at a distance for the sake of one’s future career in UK PLC. There are only three people standing between him and the crown: why murder ten times that many just for a CV entry, when he could go direct? Hell, that’s a war I could get behind.

I bet the bastard sleeps like a baby tonight. Hopefully when the war’s effects come home to roost, they’ll have to sleep more lightly, and instead of being seen as a war hero he’ll be seen for what he is – another inbred fool with blood on his hands.

Tony Cakes.