Friday, May 30, 2008


Under the headline ‘Epidemic of debt spreads to Britain’s middle class’, Jill Insley, writing in the Observer (18 May), notes that a decade of cheap credit is now causing problems for once relatively well-off people; and that debt advice agencies are being swamped by demands for help from a new type of customer--‘the cash-strapped middle income family’. Like many other commentators, she refers to such people as belong to the ‘middle class’.

As the cost of credit rises, and fixed-rate mortgages end, ‘middle class’ borrowers are turning to such charities as Community Money Advice and, where they exist, the Citizens Advice Bureaux. In such towns and cities as Cambridge, Horsham and Tunbridge Wells, where there is no Citizens Advice Bureau, Community Money Advice report that they are ‘seeing a new type of client’: teachers, police and ‘service sector workers’, many of them struggling with mortgages, secured loans and credit card debts. Most were already financially stretched, but have been ‘pushed over the edge by dearer credit, and big increases in food and utility costs’.

Insley cites a television producer with an annual income of £70,000, an IT support consultant with an annual income of £28,500, and a retired bank manager now with an income of £40,000, of whom all have debits of between £25,000 and £110,000. Another couple, who between them earn £48,500 a year, have a mortgage, six credit cards, two secured loans and debts of almost £200,000

Most of these people, and many millions more, generally imagine that they belong, not to the working class, but to some mythical middle class, often because many of them have salaries in excess of the average. Such ideas are of course also peddled by the media, on the radio, TV and in the newspapers. It is only when capitalism’s ‘good times’ give way to the inevitable downturns that the so-called middle class are forced to realise, often in debut and also sometimes unemployed, that in reality they have but little or no ownership in the means of life, or even their ‘own’ home. To use an old socialist phrase, they are propertyless proletarians; wage and salary slaves, just like bus drivers, refuse collectors or shop assistants.

Hopefully, more of them will realise this and seek a solution to their poverty, and never-ending struggle to make ends meet; of ending the present production-for-profit, capitalist society and organising for a world of common ownership of the means of life. Middle class, they ain't!


Thursday, May 29, 2008


The King has been given 15 days to leave his palace as Nepal becomes a republic.

What does this mean for the average Nepalese worker?

But as the result became clear Maoist leader Prachanda told journalists “I will be declared the acting President of this country very soon…which will be followed by occupying the post of the all powerful President of New Nepal…this is the peoples’ mandate…no force on earth can disobey this mandate”. ( 26/4/2008); the man who has long talked of his wish to 'abolish royal autocracy' now speaks of his "all powerful" role.

Recent news reports reveal the wages and expenses of the newly elected members of the Assembly. While they spend an indefinite period drawing up a new national Constitution they will be paid - by Nepali standards - enormous wages; each CA member will receive net salaries of 23 thousand one hundred rupees per month [£176/$345/Eur224]. On top of this they'll get expenses for drinking water, electricity, telephone, rent, newspapers & "miscellaneous". These expense allowances bring the total income of a CA member to 45 thousand 98 rupees [£345/$674/Eur437] each per month.

The CA President (probably Maoist Party boss Prachanda) will have a monthly salary/expenses income of 60,600 rupees [£463/$905/Eur588] - plus a petrol allowance of 24,500 rupees [£187/$366/Eur237]. The vice president will scrape by on a few thousand less.

So the ruling class, led by the Maoist 'proletarian vanguard', feather their nest. These salaries must be compared with the Nepali average wage of just $200 a year [£102/Eur129]; Nepal is the poorest country in Asia. Around 10% of the population takes 50% of the wealth, the bottom 40% takes 10%. 85% of Nepalese people don’t have access to health care. So the monthly income of a CA politician is well over three times the annual national average wage! Jobs within the CA are already being allocated by all the various member parties to their friends and family.

(via Spaces of Hope.)

Arctic Declaration

A story we've been following.

Arctic nations were yesterday accused of paving the way for a polar "carve up" when they signed a deal aimed at resolving territorial disputes.

The agreement was signed in Greenland by ministers from Russia, the US, Norway, Denmark and Canada, and sought to cool down an increasingly heated scramble for the Arctic, driven by the prospect of oil and gas reserves made newly accessible by the melting of the polar icecap.

"The five nations have now declared that they will follow the rules. We have hopefully quelled all myths about a race for the North Pole once and for all," said the Danish foreign minister, Per Stig Møller, who co-hosted the meeting.

Last year, Russia sent a submarine under the icecap to plant a national flag on the seabed to underline its territorial claims. Denmark has planted a flag on Hans island, a territory Canada also has claims on and has announced plans to set up a military training base and a deep sea port in the disputed region.

Yesterday's declaration said that all five nations would abide by the 1982 UN convention on the law of the sea, which determines territorial claims according to coastlines and undersea continental shelves. A UN panel is due to decide on control of the Arctic by 2020.

the Guardian

So all's well that ends well? Well, not exactly...

The law of the sea is unlikely to resolve all the territorial disputes in play as the Arctic melts. Both Denmark and Russia claim the Lomonosov ridge under the pole is part of their territory. The Danes seek to prove it is a geological extension of Greenland, a self-governing Danish territory.

Critics also questioned the inclusion of the US, which has not ratified the law of the sea. Rob Huebert, of the Centre for Military and Strategic Studies in Calgary, argued: "The move by the Danes to invite the Americans to the meeting about the northern continental shelf raises the possibility that the Americans may gain the benefits of the convention without having to shoulder any of the responsibilities. Although this may not be the Danes' intent, one needs to ask why they want to hold a meeting to discuss the Arctic continental shelf with a country that refuses to become a party to the treaty."

Friday, May 23, 2008

Eichmann: Who is Responsible?

The 15 year-long hunt for Adolf Eichmann, a former Gestapo chief, was successfully concluded on this day in 1960. The press at the time made much of the event. Socialists however regarded the capture of Eichmann as of no importance, understanding then as now that "..the inhumanities which man inflicts upon man are not the actions of people who were born monsters, but rather the consequence of inhuman policies and doctrines which a monstrous system conditions human beings into accepting as answers to its economic and political problems." They saw that "Eichmann was a product of German capitalism which made a scapegoat of the Jews for the failure of Germany to win the 1914-18 war and for the mass unemployment which followed. The massacre of the six million attributed to him was not the work of one 'evil genius.' History cannot be so simply explained. But there is significance in the fact that Eichmann is to be given the mockery of a 'trial'. What a perversion in the name of justice it is which allows the victors in the 1939-45 bloodbath, in which mass murder was committed by both sides, to condemn the leaders of the conquered for the same crimes they perpetuated themselves." This perspective was developed in a Socialist Standard Editorial of the time (July1960):

"It is impossible to condemn too strongly the terrible brutality of the killing of millions of people, Jews and others, of which Adolf Eichmann is accused. The majority of people have reacted to the press reports with a demand for his punishment. Learning of Eichmann's deeds, they take the short-sighted view that to deal with him as an individual is enough. But Eichmann is the end product of a vast process; he arose from the inhuman conditions of capitalist society. The very people who condemn him are content to leave those conditions untouched.

The working class, not only in Nazi Germany but in post-war Germany - and throughout the world - blindly support capitalism. None of them can escape responsibility for the consequences. For the power wielded by the rulers of world capitalism is a reflection of the political ignorance of the working class everywhere. It is absurd to blame one man, when he is only the instrument of a policy supported by millions.

After a war, the defeated leaders are vilified, some imprisoned and others executed. The victorious leaders are enshrined as heroes. It is fortunate for the leaders of the 1939-45 Allies that no cloak-and-dagger men are hunting for them. They, too, are responsible for terrible slaughter. President Truman gave the orders for the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Churchill, Attlee and Stalin supported this atrocity. In Hiroshima alone, 80,000 people were incinerated in a flash and hundreds more have since died - and are still dying - from various causes. Thousands of Germans were killed in the bombing of Hamburg and in the destruction of Dresden.

These are the vicious conditions which make possible the race hater and the mass exterminator. Although tens of millions of people have been butchered in the last two great wars, the world is not safe. The fear of war is still with us. Nowadays, many nations have vast armaments poised in readiness to exterminate each other. How many future Eichmann's wait to stalk upon the scene?

If only workers would find out why all this madness takes place! War is caused by the struggles between national capitalist Powers over markets and economic resources. This can only be cured by the abolition of capitalism. As long as workers support this system, so will they be vulnerable to the racial theorist who, on nationalist grounds, gets support for his programme of mass murder. The dictators of yesterday, and the dictators and leaders of today, with their frightening military machines, only reflect the preparedness of their workers to ignore the bloodshed of two world wars and still to die for capitalism.

It is futile to punish an individual whilst ignoring the vicious conditions which made him possible. Eichmann was involved in some terrible things - but the exterminations which he so methodically organised are only a part of the greatest atrocity of all - the capitalist system of society. As the movement for a classless world - for Socialism - takes root and spreads,so will the possibility of inhuman murderers like Adolf Eichmann decline and die."
[Eichmann's trial began April 1961. He was hanged in Israel at the end of May 1962]

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Labour embraces militarism

At one time - a long, long time ago now - the Labour Party used to project itself, and was even seen as, the party of peace. The present series of Labour government, having committed British troops to two unpopular wars (Iraq and Afghanistan) is now seen by many as the party of war. Far from being ashamed of this, the Labour Party is revelling in it. According to a report in the Times (20 May):

"A Bank Holiday to celebrate the work of the Armed Forces is under consideration by the Government as part of a drive to improve relations between the military and the public. Legislation is also to be introduced to make it a criminal offence to discriminate against military personnel in Service dress or combat fatigues. This is an attempt to encourage members of the Armed Forces to wear their uniforms in public as often as possible. Anyone who physically attacks a serviceman or servicewoman in uniform will also be charged with an "aggravated offence", to underline the seriousness now attached to the well-being and security of Armed Forces personnel when in the public eye.

The recommendations are in an official report, National Recognition of Our Armed Forces, drawn up by Quentin Davies, the MP and former Tory defence spokesman, who switched to Labour in June last year. He was asked by Gordon Brown to investigate ways of improving the relationship between the military and the civilian public ( . . .)

Bob Ainsworth, the Armed Forces Minister, confirmed that the government had accepted all the recommendations in the report."

This is a logical enough position for any government of capitalism to take. The armed forces don't exist just for decorative purposes. They exist to allow a country to have some credibility and clout in the rivalry built-in to capitalism between all capitalist states over sources of raw materials, trade routes, markets, investment outlets and strategic points and areas to protect these. Normally this involves peaceful diplomatic negotiations but always against a background of threats, direct or understood. Sometimes it involves sabre-rattling. But sometimes it involves war, the organised use of force to kill and destroy. In any event, an effective fighting force is a valuable thing to have in a world where might is right.

Although governments can ignore "public opinion" over going to war (as the Blair government did over Iraq), hoping to win people over once it's started, they'd like to have this support from the start. One way to achieve this is to glorify the armed forces and present them as heroes doing their duty to defend the rest of us.

But it is equally logical for Socialists to reject and combat such militarist propaganda because we don't want workers to kill workers from other countries in pursuit of capitalist interests. We want the members of the armed forces to be seen for what they really are: trained hired killers for the ruling, capitalist class.

It is not clear whether the Labour government's planned Bill to encourage militarism will mean that in future it will be a crime to make this point.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Biofuels…What the hell’s goin’ on?

A series of media reports indicate that fuel produced from food crops to replace fossil oil is far from the panacea it was hoped to be. For example Guenter Verheugen, a vice president of the European Commission, stated recently that "It makes no sense to make car fuel from plants that ought to provide human and animal food." Indeed, the 'moral' question of diverting food and using fertile food-growing land to produce fuel, while 850 million people in the world today are hungry, is a cause for concern.

The explosion in demand for food crops to be converted into biodiesel and ethanol in America and Europe is backed by government subsidies and enticements. Farmers, of course, have no compunction in chasing higher returns for their produce so food prices will be driven up by the biofuel industry. General Motors (USA) are already creating fleets of vehicles designed to run on ethanol by 2012. four hundred million tonnes of food will burn as a fuel substitute each year by 2020…equivalent to the entire rice harvest of the world, or the complete American wheat crop.

The destruction of the world’s remaining jungle, forest and native vegetation, especially in South America, Malaysia and Indonesia, to grow palm oil and other such crops is a further worry. A Western Australian biofuel company intends to convert 400,000 tonnes of wheat, the entire harvest of mid-west farmers, when they commence production in 2009.

Research indicates that these activities in changing land use will actually increase greenhouse emissions. Advocates of biofuels counter that this is not a factor because existing crops will be used for conversion to ethanol etc. but, of course, replacement sites will then be in need to grow food crops for those who are able to afford escaping starvation.

Australian government involvement in biodiesel is now showing signs of caution and restrain by encouraging investigations into non-food waste biofuel production, possibly from garbage and sewerage. Strange, then, that the only operating biodiesel company in Australia has ceased production, citing financial non-viability, crippling difficulties in securing contracts with major oil companies and a 50 percent price increase to obtain tallow, the animal abattoir waste that is the main ingredient for its biodiesel. What will happen to this waste now?

Despite having to repay over $7 million in government grants, this company now plans on moving to New Mexico (USA), enticed by government financial incentives there and a compulsory rule that makes all diesel fuel to have five percent biofuel content.

Most of our food--vegetables, root crops, fruit, fungi, spices and animal meats--originated in forests; nearly all our healthcare products-- medicines, vaccines, drugs, ointments etc--are from forest plants; forests absorb carbon and noxious gases, control ground-water levels thereby preventing surface salinity; they transpire oxygen and moisture which attracts rainfall and thus play an instrumental part in the recycling of ocean water and preventing drought. And they keep rivers flowing. Yet it is said the ‘surface has hardly been scratched’ with regard to the treasures that forests still hold. But they are being destroyed, all in the name of profit.

RON STONE, Western Australia

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Boom and Bust

Once upon a time, former PM Blair would stand defiant at the dispatch box in the Commons and say there would be no boom and bust under Labour.

I once put it to a Labour functionary, a guest on a phone-in held by "Sky News" (and that was several years ago), that Capitalism has its ups and downs despite politician's rhetoric. He scoffed at the thought that the economy is beyond Government. He was on about Labour having sensible policies, etc, ad nauseum.

It really was a fairy tale as this piece illustrates.

Boom and bust are part of the system, and thus it matters nowt which party is in office.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Capitalism in the 21st Century

Edinburgh - Glasgow Socialist Party Day School

Saturday 10 May, 1pm to 5pm

Community Central Hall, 304 Maryhill Road, Glasgow

Why Capitalism Can’t Go Green (1.00pm till 2.15 pm)
Speaker: Paul Bennett (Manchester Branch)

Capitalism is simply unable to run on green lines, as its motive force is expansion and domination, with no thought for the consequences for the people or the environment. In this talk Paul Bennett, Manchester Branch,will argue that capitalism is unable to cope with the ecological challenges that lie ahead, from global warming,to depletion of resources.

Some writing on this subject
Pepper Standard Bennett Eco-socialism

The Tyranny of copyright (2.15pm - 3.45 pm)
Speaker: Tristan Miller (Central London Branch)

Tristan Miller, Central London Branch looks at copyright laws and recent attempts to have ideas free to all by developments in the internet. The internet was devised as free for all to access but capitalism fears this development in the 21st century and has tried to restrict free access.

Some more writing on this subject
Chomsky Miller

Another Century of War (3.45pm till 5.00 pm)
Speaker: Gwynn Thomas (South London Branch)

The new century opened with the promise of a "peace dividend".Tensions between the Super-powers had relaxed and the risk of interstate war seemed to have receeded only to be replaced by an increasing number of wars within states.Wars in which 90% of the casualties are civilians and 80% of those are women and children. Of the 50 major conflicts fought during the 1990's small arms were the weapons of choice in 46 of them.

Gwynn Thomas, South London Branch, will argue that these are wars on the cheap.
Some writing on war
Orwell Thomas War

Each speaker will speak for 30 minutes. The rest of the session will be devoted to questions and discussion.

Free tea, coffee and light refreshments will be available throughout the afternoon.

Admission free, all welcome.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Dien Bien Phu

Some 9500 people were killed and 20000 wounded in the battle for control of Dien Bien Phu. This Vietnamese village fell to Viet Minh on this day in 1954, and later the same year a new local grown ruling class replaced the French exploiters nationwide. The Socialist Party opposed the war, as it does with all such conflicts. Wars are not fought in our interests: we are the losers whoever wins. In this particular example the French capitalists lost, although at the time it was not portrayed this way.

"..Insofar as propaganda is concerned, a defeat can be as useful as a victory. The Battle of Bunker Hill is still celebrated, at least in Greater Boston, as a great 'turning point' in the American Revolution., even though that battle was won by the British. In World War II, the rout and evacuation of Dunkirk in France by the British Army was hailed in the 'Western hemisphere' as an 'heroic retreat,' a 'masterful piece of strategy,' etc.

In the same way, the siege of Dienbienphu is proclaimed in the so-called Free World as a feat of great heroism, on the part of the French Foreign Legion, Newsweek for May 17, 1954 calls it: THE GREAT STAND: UNFORGETTABLE DIENBIENPHU and gives an account of the heroic defence put up by the Legionnaires and of the success the poor devils had in slaughtering as many of the Viets as was possible before they themselves were slaughtered or otherwise overcome. We haven't seen any of the Russian, Chinese or Vietminh newspapers but we think it is safe to wager that in those countries Dienbienphu is also glorified and memorials are read and toasts proposed to the rebels who died so gallantly in the heroic conflict.

In this way, war itself is glorified to all concerned and a romantic and religious aura is built up in the effort to capture the minds of those who must do the fighting.

A certain military 'genius' by the name of Moltke, a field marshal in the Prussian army which defeated France in 1871, was credited with the following astute observation:

War is holy and of divine institution; it is one of the sacred laws of nature; it keeps alive in men all the great and noble sentiments, honour, disinterestedness, virtue, courage, in one word it prevents them from falling into the most hideous materialism. (quoted in Sur L'Eau, by Guy De Maupassant).

Although the ruling class of our times may seem to be more refined than von Moltke, at least between wars, they certainly use much the same type of pitch when the guns are roaring and the bombs dropping. And despite the protestations of their peaceful natures and intentions, every government in the world today, maintains schools in which is taught the art of killing, of killing from vast differences and even by means of remote control, thousands and even possibly millions of people at one time with a minimum of wasted effort.

Back in the last decades of the '80s, De Maupassant answered Moltke with, among others, the following words:

"Therefore to collect a heard of some four hundred thousand men, march day and night without respite, to think of nothing, learn nothing, read nothing, be of no earthly use to anyone, rot with dirt, lie down in mire, live like brutes in a continual besotment, pillage towns, burn villages, ruin nations; then meeting another similar agglomeration of human flesh rush upon it, shed lakes of blood, cover plains with pounded flesh mingled with muddy and bloody earth; pile up heaps of slain; have arms and legs blown off, brains scattered without benefit to anyone, and perish at the corner of some field while your old parents, your wife and children are dying of hunger; this is what is called, not falling into the most hideous materialism!" (Sur L'Eau)

And horrible as were the 19th Century wars, DeMaupassant had seen nothing compared with the slaughters of the 20th century up to now, slaughters which will themselves undoubtedly become mild affairs with what lies ahead. For now we have arrived at the point where H-bombs can be detonated, wiping out whole cities. Theoretically, we have also reached the point where a cobalt bomb can be produced and detonated. A cobalt bomb is an H-bomb encased in a shell of cobalt rather than steel. This, of course, would make the H-bomb old fashioned and antiquated, for, unlike steel, cobalt will disintegrate very rapidly and it is estimated that it would only take about 30 such bombs to eradicate all life on earth.

So much for the glory of war!..." (The Western Socialist, May-June, 1954)

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Capitalism kills

Jessie Tafero's life ended on this day in 1990. His death in Old Sparky was a particularly gruesome and protracted affair: three jolts of electricity were required and flames were seen to shoot out of Tafero's head and 6.5 minutes passed before he was declared dead. He like other convicted murders would, in time of war, have been rewarded with a medal, promotion or both. Some reformers say the death penalty is barbaric and call for life sentences instead, others propose supposedly less inhumane methods of execution. Tragically there are as yet too few revolutionaries calling for the swift termination of the global capitalist system which legally robs, slaughters and degrades billions, one in which earning a wage is a prison occupation. This Socialist perspective is developed in the article below.

"The recent legal, ritual putting to death of Caryl Chessman in San Quentin gas chamber, after twelve years' occupation of a death cell, brings into morbid focus the irrational and negative character of the death penalty. Those who defend the death penalty act on the base assumption that human nature is essentially anti-social and that only "the fear of the rope" deters us from asserting our instincts" to wantonly murder and rape. On the contrary, it was our own society, which institutes at every level of social life struggle and competition, that nurtured the violence in Caryl Chessman's make-up during his earlier years. Twelve years ago, Chessman was a hardened criminal, a product of slum poverty, brutalised by a childhood history of reformatory schools. His own criminality was in itself a negative response to the injustices of his own environment. Yet by Chessman's own efforts through education, the man they executed was a thousand cultural miles from the man they originally condemned. But blind retribution had to proceed. For an individual to offend against morals by committing rape, as Chessman was convicted of having done, poses a social problem. But when organised society in all its brutal ignorance exacts primitive vengeance from the life of an individual after twelve years' incarceration, that constitutes a nightmare. The significance of the case of Caryl Chessman will be missed if we fail to condemn the society which first produced him and so brutally destroyed him." (Socialist Standard, June 1960)

Saturday, May 03, 2008

Marxism or Machiavellianism?

More than five hundred years after his birth (3rd May 1469), it can be said that Niccolo Machiavelli's political philosophy is alive and well. Indeed, as one Socialist remarked, "the old master of deceitfulness would be quite proud of his modern disciples in the Palace of Westminster." You might expect that Niccolo, an admirer of Cesare Borgia, has little if anything in common with Marx, but this would be incorrect.

Both realized that "..morality is socially determined by the needs of the ruling class, and that as society is constantly changing so is morality. The difference between Marx and Machiavelli is that whereas Marx told workers to forget moral values and view society materially, Machiavelli, as an adviser to the rising bourgeoisie of late medieval Italy, sought ways to manipulate existing moral values.

Today workers are still swallowing the morality of the capitalist class - a morality which condemns robbing banks, but encourages mass murder during war time, which censors books but shows every night news of disgusting crimes against humanity in the name of profit, which shows contempt for the workers who produce the wealth of society, and idolizes useless parasites who reap the profits of production. The Machiavellian advice that deluding the masses is the way to retain power is still cherished by political leaders throughout the world. Stalin, Nixon, Mao, Churchill, Thatcher, Powell - all successful masters of the art.

But the delusion of the working class relies upon one factor: the workers' capacity to be deluded. When the working class of all countries unite in class consciousness no attempts, either by force or political cunning, will stop the revolution for Socialism. For the establishment of Socialism lies and deceit will not be necessary. The only words which the Socialist Party of Great Britain have for the working class are simple: toss aside the morals of your masters and organize for a rational society." (SC, Socialist Standard, October 1977)

Election News

The Socialist Party received 1588 votes (0.95%) in the Lambeth and Southwark ward in the London Assembly election. There will be reflections on the campaign at Vaux Populi.

What will be a terrible result is if those who voted socialism don't follow up on their vote by taking out subscriptions to the Socialist Standard, by coming along to a party meeting, and perhaps with a view to joining.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

1 May

Happy May Day to our readers.

The Socialist Party will be at various events around the country, so do pop by for a chat! In London today, voters will be marking their ballots in the GLA election; we urge you to vote for yourself, for a change: vote for socialism.

The latest Socialist Standard is now available online. It looks at events 40 years ago. We would be interested in hearing about what you got up to back in '68, so feel free to leave a comment.