Monday, August 31, 2009

Doing porridge

Risking the wrath of the pro-NHSers and hoping not to be aligned with the health service free-marketeers , but SOYMB found it too tempting not to post this news item .

People are far more likely to go hungry in an NHS hospital than in a prison.This is despite prisons spending less per person on meals than hospitals do.

Professor John Edwards said around 40% of patients going into hospital were already malnourished but this situation did not tend to improve while there.
"If you are in prison then the diet you get is extremely good in terms of nutritional content."

Saturday, August 29, 2009

media moguls mixing it

News Corporation chief James Murdoch has called for a radical overhaul of broadcasting in the UK to preserve journalistic independence and fuel innovation.He highlighted the scale of the BBC as a "threat" to independent journalism and hit out at its governing body BBC Trust and media regulator Ofcom, which he described as "unaccountable". He said: "As Orwell foretold, to let the state enjoy a near-monopoly of information is to guarantee manipulation and distortion...The only reliable, durable and perpetual guarantor of independence is profit."

Hmmmm...,of course this is not at all related to an earlier annoncement that "News Corp is set to start charging online customers for news content across all its websites...."

SOYMB does not exist to defend the BBC but however the blatant hypocrisy of Rupert Murdoch media empire required a comment .

A "near monopoly of information "? See here for the far reaching extent and diversity of the tentacles of News Corporation holdings.

"Accountability" ? News Corp has 152 subsidiaries in low-tax or no-tax countries, one of only four companies to have more than 100.In 1999, The Economist reported that Newscorp Investments had made £11.4 billion ($20.1 billion) in profits over the previous 11 years but had paid no net corporation tax. It also reported that after an examination of the available accounts, Newscorp could normally have been expected to pay corporate tax of approximately $350 million. The article explained that in practice the corporation's complex structure, international scope and use of offshore tax havens allowed News Corporation to pay minimal taxes.

Murdoch has a history of hosting private meetings with influential politicians and endorsing those favourable to his own political views and objectives and has as the effective owner of his multinational decided editorial policy .

Through the media, the working class is constantly exposed to a significant flow of mind-numbing drivel and misinformation. Important issues of the day are distorted, totally ignored or relegated to the margins of page eleven or broadcast as minor news items on the TV. Sensationalism is used to increase market shares and sell adverts, which thus brings in profits. In this latter regards newspapers can be said to be a means of exposing us to advertisers rather than of telling us what we need to know.. The market for a newspaper is advertisers – other business out to make a profit – and the product us! It would be no bold assertion to say that the editor of a daily tabloid is far more interested in the number of advertisers he attracts than the news he reports – though the latter pulls in the former.

Needless to say the likes of Rupert Murdoch have interests that conflict with those of the workers. Thus it is in their interests that news and important issues we should know about are distorted and kept from us, or presented to us in such a way that we end up with tunnel and distorted vision, unable to make informed decisions or engage in intelligent discussion. Thus the media is very much a part of the indoctrination system, reinforcing the basic social values that ensures the survival of capitalism – passivity and sub-missiveness to authority, the virtue of greed and personal gain, lack of concern for others, fear of real or illusory enemies, a suspicion of anything outlandish or threatening to the status quo and national pride, etc.

Because people are misinformed, they are oblivious to the real nature of the system that exploits them. This then makes it easy for the media to confuse the workers by hiding real power from view. The result is – and this is intentional – is that they blame governments, their allegiance to political parties often switching overnight because of a newspaper's slanted coverage of certain policies and social conditions. A newspaper like the Sun can make all the difference to a political party's electoral chances. Hence Tony Blair's visit to Australia to prostrate himself in front of Rupert Murdoch in 1997, fully aware that the Sun can run post election headlines such as “It was the Sun what won it” (which followed one Tory election victory). The fact that it is the capitalist system that is seriously faltering, creating problems governments just can't cope with (because it is the system controlling them, not vice versa) would be too dangerous to print or report.

The mass media, though, has effected another change in the political scene. Where once parliament was intended to function as a forum, representing the views and analysis of “the people”, this can now be achieved by the mass media. Whenever a story breaks, or significant events are occurring, the media produces “community leaders”, and “representatives” of consumers, fishmongers or whatever so-called “interest groups”. Thus, the media can claim to represent the divergent views on a particular topic.
This claim, however, is undermined by the fact that the media self-selects these “representatives”, and by the fact that more often than not, these representatives are not even vaguely appointed by the people they claim to represent. In selecting who can speak, the media exercises power similar to that of the medieval monarch determining who gets to sit in their parliament. Indeed, the modern mass media presents itself as a forum for the people, as the place for representation and for determining legitimacy. It is effectively a third house of parliament, the House of the Mass.The media always lies within the hands of the ruling elites, and so ensures that representation remains within the bounds of holding the existing social relations together.

Will the capitalists be able to stem the flood of working-class socialist consciousness by simply putting an article in the Sun or running a scare story about socialists on the TV? It is precisely when the socialist movement is growing that such tactics will be counter-productive. The more lies an intelligent human is told the more he or she will rebel against the liar. It is now, at a time of majority political ignorance, that such tactics may work, not when workers are getting up off their knees.Sure, those who are deluded can be made more deluded by the media of delusion-making; but can a whole movement which is so strong that the media needs to attack it be forced to regress intellectually as a result of the cunning efforts of the Murdoch press?

Friday, August 28, 2009

61 Million , and rising

The UK population grew by 408,000 in 2008 - the biggest increase for almost 50 years, according to the Office for National Statistics.The total number of people passed 61m for the first time with changes in birth and death rates now a bigger cause of growth than immigration.

Felipe Fern√°ndez-Armesto, the author of Civilisations and Food: A History,writes in The Times: "Population anxiety is usually ill informed and often ill intentioned — targeted against the poor who “breed like rabbits” or immigrants who “swamp” natives... .. the latest figures are a source of hope — showing that relatively fertile immigrants can, at least for a while, replenish the new generation of young people the country needs. In these circumstances, population fear-mongering is a kind of terrorism and the “population bomb” is a hoax. The real danger is that as people multiply, we will value them less. We should prize human life and try to continue to count it as precious, no matter how much of it we have. " He also says "Population increase causes none of the problems commonly ascribed to it....We have selective food shortages — but because of unfair distribution and warped priorities..."

The “Too many old people” or the “People living too long” doom merchants are making the same mistake as Malthus made two hundred years ago with his completely wrong predictions about “overpopulation”. They are ignoring that productivity also increases over time, so that whereas there are indeed proportionately less workers engaged in production they are able to produce proportionately more wealth. It is the increasing productivity that will go on between now and when existing workers retire that will mean that society, even capitalist society, will be able to support the expected increased proportion of retired people in the population. There is in principle no problem here.

Malthus's contemporary William Godwin, was the first to point out that every extra mouth brought with it an extra pair of hands.

For more read here


It's Official - Banks are Socially Useless

In a searing critique of the industry, Lord Turner described much of the City's activities as "socially useless" and questioned whether it has grown too large.

Before we get too excited, this isn't a call for a society of common ownership, production for use and free access. Lord Turner is merely calling for taxation to prevent bankers' excessive profiteering (sic) if they continue to take risks.

Lord Turner is correct, though: banks are socially useless. They don't feed people, care for people, build homes or anything else of use.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

The Unequal World

A recent analysis of the 2007 financial markets of 48 countries has revealed that the world's finances are in the hands of just a few mutual funds, banks, and corporations. Stefano Battiston and James Glattfelder extracted the information from the tangled yarn that links 24,877 stocks and 106,141 shareholding entities in 48 countries, revealing what they called the "backbone" of each country's financial market. These backbones represented the owners of 80 percent of a country's market capital, yet consisted of remarkably few shareholders. Glattfelder and Battiston's analysis found that the owners varied little from stock to stock, meaning that comparatively few hands are holding the reins of the entire market.

Based on their analysis, Glattfelder and Battiston identified the ten investment entities who are “big fish” in the most countries. The biggest fish was the Capital Group Companies, [ one of the world’s largest investment management organizations with assets of around one trillion USD under management ,a figure the company will not confirm because it eschews publicity.] , with major stakes in 36 of the 48 countries studied. In identifying these major players, the physicists accounted for secondary ownership -- owning stock in companies who then owned stock in another company -- in an attempt to quantify the potential control a given agent might have in a market. Glattfelder added that the internationalism of these powerful companies makes it difficult to gauge their economic influence. "With new company structures which are so big and spanning the globe, it's hard to see what they're up to and what they're doing,” he said.

In 1998 ,the United Nations produced a report that the world's 225 richest people now have a combined wealth of $1 trillion. That's equal to the combined annual income of the world's 2.5 billion poorests people.The wealth of the three most well-to-do individuals now exceeds the combined GDP of the 48 least developed countries.

As of 1995 , Federal Reserve research found that the wealth of the top one percent of Americans is greater than that of the bottom 95 percent.Microsoft CEO Bill Gates has more wealth than the bottom 45 percent of American households combined.

In 1998, weekly wages were 12 percent lower than in 1973 on an inflation-adjusted basis. Productivity rose 33 percent over that period. Had pay kept pace with productivity, the average hourly wage would now be $18.10, rather than $12.77. That translates into a difference in annual pay of $11,000 for a full-time, year-round worker. Between 1970 and 1990, the typical American worked an additional 163 hours per year. That's equivalent to adding an additional month of work per year - for the same or less pay. [ from here ]

Wage slavery

"There Are More Slaves Today Than at Any Time in Human History". Socialists can only agree. However, the interview is limited to the kind of slavery banned in the 19th century and again during the last! Today’s slavery focuses on big profits and cheap lives. It is not about owning people like before, but about using them as completely disposable tools for making money. This is actually a pretty good description of worldwide wage slavery endured at best by billions rather than the 27 million stated. There are none so blind as those who will not see! Below is a personal account of one such slave.

Some people don't like the term "wage slavery". It's not nice to be called a slave. They think you're insulting them and they might want to smack you in the eye. Other people recognize how accurate a phrase it is. They get all bitter and maudlin about their "wasted life" . They normally want to smack their boss in the eye. (The boss, unconcerned, smacks his lips and carries on counting).

But "wage-slavery" is what we are in, whether we admit it or not - even those accountants in their fancy cars are only a few months from the breadline if their boss decides to dispense with their services, as well they realize. For the kind of money they're on, they've got to pull out all the stops. The family? Leave it to the wife. Interests? Two hours on Sunday and be thankful for that. Peace? Relaxation? Self-determination? Forget it.

Wage-slavery is a condition of capital and of capitalism. Capitalism itself is, you might say, the latest refinement of a popular illusion that there is something called "ownership" and something else called "property", rather in the same way that there is something called "gravity" and something else called "weight". As long as we accept the illusion that this is a physical law, then we are also obliged to accept the working conditions, to say nothing of all the other catastrophes we keep meaning to join Greenpeace, etc, etc, supposedly to prevent.

Well-adjusted people take it philosophically. After all, if you were sent to prison for forty years without parole your best strategy would be to learn to like it. Look on the bright side. Things could be worse. At least I get fed. At least I 've got a roof over my head.

If you don't like being a wage-slave but you aren't rich enough to have other options it's a bit tough. Bad for stress. That attitude won't get you anywhere. Don't let the boss catch you talking like that.

It seems to me that there is such a thing as collaborating against yourself, like a Quisling in your own personal Class War. lt's as if by some awesome mental self-deceit you can trick and trip into reverse the normal emotional process, with the result that employed work becomes life itself and you the employee come to define and subjugate you the person. You con yourself into thinking you are doing something useful and worthwhile with your life, whereas in reality you are keeping some capitalist's books for him and nothing more. Thus, you live to work rather than work to live. It's not really a matter of cheap fuck-you-Jack materialism either, even if some people do dribble and slobber over fast cars occasionally. "You've got to work", they would argue, "you might as well enjoy it". So every morning, bright and early, you get up and shoot the resistance fighter in yourself and lace up the jackboots.

Nope, can't do it. I can't learn to love wage-slavery. I do think it's a prison, and I think of the Socialist Party as a somewhat understaffed Escape Cornmittee. But I've emulated the capitalists and adopted sound business principles in seiling my skills - we agree on eight hours, they pay for seven hours, I give thern six and hope they don't notice. As for the solitary confinement of the dole, that's hardly an improvement.

I know there are a hell of a lot of workers out there who feel exactly like I do, but they either won't admit it or aren't saying anything for fear of being labelled a bad worker. Their attitude can be summed up as "OK, so it's all bullshit, but you've got to play the game."

The thing which really pisses me off is that if I object to the terms of this "game" I'm told by the likes of Michael "Mr Shithouse" Portaloo or Blue Peter Lilley that it's because I'm just a lazy feckless git who won't get out of bed to do a decent day's hard graft. This is true, in a way. Most of the "hard graft" which is on offer I wouldn't cross the road for, except maybe to avoid. But that doesn't mean I don't like work at all. I simply dislike employment on someone else's terms.

Let me have the sort of work I can see a useful point in, in which I have a say, which I can enter into freely and without obligation, which is creative, which I can take a pride in, which I can do when I want and stop if I want, which I can change when I like to something else I want to try. With half the world starving and the planet poisoned it's not as if there isn't anything useful that needs doing. It's my body and my labour, after all. Why the hell shouldn't it be me that decides when and where to apply it? Money doesn't even come into it. That sort of work I would do for nothing if I could, and what's more if you're honest about it, so would you. Without the "property" fetish, that is how socialism would be able to do things. But that's not how it is, and in this stick-and-carrot society we've got there is no real opportunity, for most of us, to find this kind of work. Employment is for the most part a dreary, oppressive, soul-destroying way of paying the rent and the food bills, but it's the only game in town until we decide to change the rules,

So we carry on playing the game. Some of us even manage to like it. But we might as well recognize that we, the working class, are not holding any of the boss cards. We're not supposed to, because this is a game devised by the owning class which we cannot ever win. Therefore, we must kick the table over once and for all.

(Socialist Standard March 1994)

Monday, August 24, 2009

Birds of a Feather : the Russo-German Bombshell

THE London newspapers on Tuesday, August 22nd (except the Communist Daily Worker, which was busy ringing up Moscow) reported with astonishment the announcement from Berlin that Germany and Russia had negotiated a non-aggression pact, and that Herr von Ribbentrop, the German Foreign Minister, was flying at once to Moscow for the formal signature of the Treaty. This announcement, which came immediately after the completion of a trade agreement between the two Governments, was confirmed by the official Russian Tass News Agency in the following terms : —

After the conclusion of the Soviet-German trade and credit agreement there arose the problem of im¬proving political relations between Germany and the U.S.S.R.

An exchange of views on this subject, which took place between the Government of Germany and the U.S.S.R., established that both parties desire to relieve the tension in their political relations, eliminate the war menace, and conclude a non-aggression pact.

Consequently, the German Minister of Foreign Affairs, von Ribbentrop, will arrive in Moscow in a few" days for corresponding negotiations. —(Evening Standard, August 22nd, 1939.)

The Pact was duly signed in Moscow on August 23rd, thus realising a possibility suggested in these columns more than once.

That the capitalist Press was, for the most part, genuinely surprised is undoubtedly true — though this betrays some simplicity on their part and remarkably short memories. They had reasoned on the basis that Russia and Germany were fundamentally divided over the issue of Communism and that, consequently, Russia could be counted on to help British capitalism in its difficulties with Germany, Italy and Japan, the three principal members of the Anti-Comintern Pact. The reasoning was superficial in the extreme and overlooked the ease with which Stalin, Hitler and Mussolini had arranged pacts of friendship on earlier occasions, for example, the Russo-Italian "Pact of Friendship, Non-Aggression and Neutrality" of September 2nd, 1933, and the ratification and continuation on May 5th, 1933, of a German-Russian Agreement of earlier date. Though Hitler was then in power and was ferociously crushing Communists in Germany, the Russian Government could put its signature to an agreement which affirmed that the two Governments, by prolonging the Berlin 1926 treaty of neutrality and non-aggression, " intend to continue the existing friendly relations between the Soviet Union and Germany."

The Press should also have remembered Stalin's speech of March 10th, 1939, in which he made it very plain that Russia had no intention of falling a victim to what he declared was British - French policy, the policy of enmeshing Russia in war with Germany and Japan.

Yet when all these facts have been allowed for, it cannot be denied that, for Stalin to choose this moment, when a German army waits on the Polish border, to enter into a new 10-year Pact with Hitler represented a staggering affront to all those people who had believed that the Russian Government was above the disreputable ways of traditional diplomacy and that for that Government opposition to Fascism and aggression was a matter of principle. As Mr. Lloyd George — a supporter of the policy of alliance with Russia, who has been much praised by the Communists — says, the German - Russian Pact "is a stunning blow to Britain's Peace Front " (News Chronicle, August 22nd). It was so regarded by supporters of the " Peace Front " in Britain and other countries and, according to Press accounts, was received with jubilation in official circles in Germany and Italy.

Sordid Pacts Secretly Arrived At

The method by which the Stalin-Hitler Pact was reached merits a little attention, if only to expose the Communist hypocrisy of denouncing " secret diplomacy." Without being so naive as the Evening News (August 22nd), which says that the Pact " appears to have, been arranged without the (British) Foreign Office having the slightest inkling of what was going on," it is unquestionable that Germany and Russia must have been negotiating secretly for some considerable time, simultaneously with public declarations by Russia that all they wanted was the Peace Pact with Britain and France against aggression. The Daily Herald (August 22nd) reports from Berlin that, according to German accounts, the secret negotiations began in June, though the Evening News thinks they probably began even earlier, in April, when the Anglo-German Naval Treaty was denounced by Germany. Here we have an example of the cynical indifference of the Nazi and Bolshevik rulers to the views of the masses, so cynical that they can arrange in secret a Pact which must shock millions of simple-minded Germans and Russians alike. These rulers will, however, live to regret their action, for it will have repercussions as yet undreamt of by them.

Taking a long view, this is the outstandingly important feature of the Russo-German Pact, in spite of the fact that at no distant date both signatories to the Pact, having served their immediate purpose, may seek to explain it away as of no particular significance. The fact remains that Hitler, who built himself up on the slogan of protecting Germany against Bolshevism, and Stalin, who built himself up on the slogan of anti-Fascism, will have exposed themselves to their own sincere followers as being prepared to shake hands with their allegedly implacable foes, and to compromise with what they have denounced as the worst of all evils. From this realisation may flow the progressive demoralisation of both the dictatorships, with resulting revived hopes for democracy and Socialism.

Thieves Falling Out

Behind these negotiations are intrigues involving all of the Great Powers, an all in game of international blackmail. It is easy enough to reconstruct what has been going on, with reasonable confidence of substantial accuracy. The British and French capitalists, with interests in Europe, but with great interests in and on the way to the East, have long been vulnerable to an attack in both quarters at once. How, then, to gain the greatest measure of security? Equally the game of the German and Italian capitalists was to mass as many allies and potential allies as possible to keep the ring for their expansion. Russia's rulers, on the other hand, have feared that both groups might settle at the expense of Russian territory when various small nations had been gobbled up. After Munich, and the disappearance of Czecho-Slovakia, British policy veered towards a Russian alliance (though this still did not prevent private and " unofficial " conversations between the Secretary of the Overseas Trade Department, Mr. Hudson, and Herr Wohltat, Economic Adviser to General Goering, about possible economic assistance and a loan to Germany, these discussions being suddenly brought to light towards the end of July. Nevertheless, British capitalist interests in and about China necessitated some action against, or compromise with Japan. Russia not desiring to be isolated, has retaliated with the Russo-German Pact, intended no doubt as a final warning to the British Government of a real Russo-German alliance unless the British Government would line up definitely with Russia and against the German-Japanese group. But in the international scramble every new alignment of forces provokes further jostling for position, so now Japan will have an increased fear of herself being isolated through loss of German backing, and the Japanese capitalists will have to ask themselves whether to crusade under the banner " Asia for the Asiatics," line up still closer in the Anti-Comintern Pact with Germany against Russia, or revert to the British alliance, and divide the Chinese market with the British Empire. Germany, having used the Russian Pact to try to bring Japan to heel, may drop it as quickly as it was taken up, in which case Russia, Britain and France may yet be forced into a close alliance. At the moment this still seems the most likely outcome, with, as a minor phase, a further attempt by Britain and France to detach Italy and Spain from the Axis. That the Pact is supposed to endure for 10 years will not disturb either party for 10 minutes if they want to break it.

One feature of the situation which has received less attention than it deserves is the trade agreement which preceded the German-Russian Pact. The Manchester Guardian's Moscow Correspondent (August 22nd) states that the trade agreement, under which Germany advances Russia a trade credit of £16,000,000, was delayed because Russia insisted on being supplied by Germany with "equipment of a strictly military nature " in return for Russian exports to Germany. The Guardian's Berlin correspondent states that, according to German accounts, the agreement arose out of Russia's great need of industrial machinery, which Germany can supply," and out of Germany's need for Russian exports. It may well be that economic difficulties in both countries are forcing the two Governments to revise their policies of recent years and, indeed, one German newspaper states that the Russian Government has recently decided to reorganise its foreign trade and aim at expanding it. (Quoted in Daily Express, August 22nd.)

In the meantime, the rights and wrongs of Danzig and Poland fall into their true perspective as mere counters in the sordid international scramble of the capitalist Powers — not omitting the Bolsheviks. One thing at least should be gained, a growing refusal by the workers to be influenced by the shoddy propaganda alike of " big-business democrats " and Nazi-Bolshevik believers in totalitarian capitalism.

The Apologies of the Communist Party

After their first reaction — one of utter consternation — the British Communist Party Central Committee published a .remarkable statement in the Daily Worker (August 23rd). Its claims were so amazing and the evidence on which they were based is so negligible that the statement is no less amazing than if the Communist Party had decided to deny everything and declare the whole affair to be an invention of the capitalist Press. (They might just as well have taken this line for all the effect their apologetics seem to have had on most of their followers.)

During recent weeks the News Chronicle has several times reported statements that the German Government was making approaches to Russia for a Pact. Each time the Daily Worker has ridiculed the suggestion and put it down to pro-Nazi influences in Great Britain. Now, when it transpires that the statements were correct, and the Russian Government had secretly been negotiating such a Pact, the Daily Worker (August 23rd) blares forth in great headlines that the German-Russian talks are a " Victory for Peace and Socialism," a " Blow to Fascist War Plans and the Policy of Chamberlain." In brief, the argument is that Mr. Chamberlain's policy was that " of endeavouring to strengthen Germany to attack the U.S.S.R., and to refuse the Peace Front," and that " the action of the Soviet Union in its present negotiations with Germany has spiked the guns of the pro-Fascist intrigues of Chamberlain and has strengthened the hands of the British people in their fight for the Anglo-Soviet Pact. Now is the time and the hour to develop the mass movement for the immediate signing of the Anglo-Soviet Pact."

The statement further declares that it represents a climb-down and defeat for Hitler, and that the Pact is fully in line with past declarations of Russian foreign policy. To show this the statements made by Stalin in March last are quoted. One in particular will show the hollowness of the Communist Party's defence. Stalin is quoted as having said : —

We stand for the support of nations which are the victims of aggression and are fighting for the independence of their country.

To justify the present attitude Stalin should have added, " We also stand for Pacts of Non-Aggression with the aggressor State (Germany)." He did not do so, but that is what the Communists are now seeking lamely to defend.

If, as the Communist Party say, the Pact means defeat and "capitulation," of Hitler and the Axis Powers, they signally fail to explain why, in their own words, " the Berlin papers spread the news in the largest of type across their front pages. "

Altogether, the whole of the Communist Party's explanation fails to explain away the glaring impossibility of reconciling the action of the Russian Government with the propaganda of the Communist Party.

One true statement— but only half the truth— is this : —
What kind of discussions are proceeding to-day in German factories, shipyards and mines ? What a strengthening of the mass opposition to the Hitler regime the negotiations will present ? What an exposure of Hitler they represent.

For the other half of the truth read " Russia " for German and " Stalin " for Hitler, for it will be just as disconcerting in Russia as in Germany.

Socialist Standard September 1939

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Corby and China and Capitalism

More than 1,300 children have been poisoned by a manganese factory in central China, the state media reported today . Tests of children living near the smelter showed that 60-70% had unhealthy levels of lead in their blood. Blood of 1,354 local children was found to have more than 100mg of lead per litre, the limit considered safe. The exposure of mass lead contamination in is the second case in as many weeks, prompting accusations that the authorities have failed to adequately regulate toxins that build up over time. The plant reportedly opened in May 2008 without the approval of the local environmental protection bureau within 500 metres of a primary school, a middle school and a kindergarten. Many poor districts ignore environmental regulations to attract investment.

Nothing similar to that is likely to happen in the UK , is it ? Or would it ?

Children who blamed their disabilities on their mothers' exposure to a "toxic soup" before their birth today won their High Court case against Corby borough council . Mr Justice Akenhead ruled that the council had been liable for the defects in the children, now aged between nine and 22. The victims suffered disabilities, ranging from missing or underdeveloped fingers to deformities of the feet, in the early stages of foetal development.

The judge criticised the council for a “dig and dump” approach to disposing of the waste from the former British Steel plant. He accepted the evidence of experts who said 15 years of poorly regulated “muck shifting” had polluted the town’s environment. The judge said: “There was a period between 1983 and 1997 in which Corby borough council was extensively negligent in its control and management of the sites.”

The council had denied it had been negligent and refused to accept there was a link between the work and the deformities. Lawyers argued the mothers had been exposed to an "atmospheric soup of toxic materials" created by the redevelopment of the town's former steel works between 1985 and 1999. Lawyers said the Corby scandal was the biggest child poisoning case since thalidomide.

Chris Mallender, the council chief executive, said “We are not yet at the point of saying sorry because nobody yet is responsible.”

Friday, August 21, 2009

cant and hypocrisy

"Compassion? Compassion for him?" She cannot comprehend why a mass murderer of such infamy would be freed rather than treated for his cancer in prison. And she understands even less why he would be allowed to return to the country she holds ultimately responsible for the bombing. A natural reaction of the family of one of the 270 victims of PanAm 103 atrocity.

The White House said it "On this day, we extend our deepest sympathies to the families who live every day with the loss of their loved ones. We recognise the effects of such a loss weigh upon a family forever."

Iran Air Flight 655, was a civilian airliner shot down by US missiles from the USS Vincennes commanded by Captain William C. Rogers ,on Sunday July 3, 1988, over the Strait of Hormuz, killing all 290 passengers and crew aboard, including 66 children.

National Geographic Channel broadcast a documentary which confirmed that the airliner was transmitting an Identification friend or foe code for a civilian aircraft.
John Barry and Roger Charles of Newsweek wrote that Captain William C. Rogers acted recklessly and without due care in their 13 July 1992 article. They also accused the U.S. government of a cover-up.
An analysis of the events by the International Strategic Studies Association described the deployment of an Aegis cruiser in the zone as irresponsible and felt that the expense of the ship had played a major part in the setting of a low threshold for opening fire.The Vincennes had been nicknamed 'Robocruiser' by crew members and other US Navy ships, both in reference to its Aegis system, and to the supposed aggressive tendencies of its captain.
Admiral William J. Crowe admitted on American television show Nightline that the Vincennes was inside Iranian territorial waters when it launched the missiles.
Commander David Carlson, commanding officer of the USS Sides, the warship stationed near to the Vincennes at the time of the incident, is reported to have said that the destruction of the aircraft "marked the horrifying climax to Captain Rogers' aggressiveness..."
Craig, Morales & Oliver, in a slide presentation published in M.I.T.'s Spring 2004 Aeronautics & Astronautics, as the "USS Vincennes Incident," commented that Captain Rogers had "an undeniable and unequivocal tendency towards what I call 'picking a fight.'"

In 1990, Rogers was awarded the Legion of Merit "for exceptionally meritorious conduct in the performance of outstanding service as commanding officer ... " The award was given for his service as the Commanding Officer of the Vincennes

The U.S. denied having any responsibility or liability for what had happened.

In August 1988 the then Vice President George H. W. Bush said of the incident "I'll never apologize for the United States of America, ever. I don't care what the facts are."

Groups conducting terrorism of the violent kind take their cue from the tactics of their State enemy who have engaged in acts of terrorism against them or their people.

Thursday, August 20, 2009


The New Statesman is urging us to reject the status quo in favour of 'big changes'. And what has prompted them to do this? Have the contributors removed their reformist goggles and come to realise that the many and varied 'problems' that beset us are endemic to capitalism? Alas, no. The last straw is not endless war or persistent poverty but Conservative MP Alan Duncan's gardening expenses! The New Statesman wants 'real reform' and urges us to, er, sign a petition. Way to go! Result - same shit, different day. However, they do get one thing right: "politics is truly too important to be left to politicians."

Most people are fed up with politicians. Millions didn't vote in the recent Euro-Election. In fact, far fewer will read this blog because they think it's just some more political trash from leaders looking for gullible followers. The Socialist Party does not promise much, but we can promise you that we don't want you to follow us. In fact, what we are talking about can't be brought about by leaders or politicians but only by people acting for themselves — for a change.

When we talk about change we mean real change. Isn't it time that society was run differently? Aren't you tired of the same old problems: poverty, pollution, unemployment, homelessness, inadequate services, more wars, more children starving to death, a no-hope society? All these problems stem from one root cause.

The politicians are elected to run a system. And the golden law of the system is PROFIT FIRST, PEOPLE SECOND. This is how capitalism works whoever runs it. The Socialist Party could run it no better than the rest. And that is why we don't seek to do so. We want to see the system ended. And only you can end it.

The Labour Party will not end it. Indeed, they say that they are out to run the profit system in the interest of everyone. But the profit system can only work by exploiting the workers. Profits come from the legalised robbery of the wealth-producing majority. (Muggers are mere amateurs compared to the so-called Captains of Industry — the capitalists.) Labour is out to run capitalism; Socialists want to end it.

The pseudo communist and socialist parties (who we've opposed from the outset) offer to "lead the toiling masses". We reject such stupid arrogance. Workers are able to think and act for themselves. We can and so can you. Socialism, as we understand it, has nothing to do with state dictatorships like the one that used to exist in Russia and still exists in China. If that's Socialism, then we are against it. In fact, all it ever added up to was state-run capitalism.

The Socialist Party is a movement of and for workers. We are not here to make the millionaires richer. The vast majority of people own little more than their abilities to work. We are part of that majority. We say that the world (not just Britain or Europe) should belong to us all. Why should we be tenants in a world owned and controlled by a small, exploiting minority? Why should we have to sell ourselves to them for wages and salaries? Why should their profits come before our lives? The Socialist Party seeks to change all this. But, unlike other parties, we don't seek to change things for you. We have no leaders. If you join the campaign for socialism it will be because you want to play your part in changing society yourself, not because you want a leader to do it for you.

Real change means the end of the profit system. If you think that we are wrong, then tell us why. We'll argue with you, but we'll listen to what you think. If we're right — or may be right, or worth knowing more about — it's your duty to yourself to play your part in changing the world.

Socialists stand for a world where all resources are owned in common — where social affairs are decided democratically, not by the few with big money; where production is solely for use and not for sale or profit; where we work for the common good, not because we have to earn a wage or salary; where markets and money are things of the past. Think about it — it will be a real change.

When a majority understands and wants this new way of running society we can bring it about democratically. Who can stop the majority, who already run society from top to bottom through our work, from taking it into our own hands? It will be the most exciting change in human history.

We are not asking you to fight on the streets, but to fight with your brains — they are the most valuable weapons workers possess. The politicians expect you not to use them. We hope that you will.

(With thanks to SC)

Monday, August 17, 2009

The New Model Army ?

The Irish journal Sunday Business Post carries a story about possible future developments of the EU ,one which will be greater European defence integration and co-operation .

''The EU," the Finnish defence minister observes, ''is likely to have a much stronger security and defence dimension in 2020 than it has now."

We read that a new publication from the Paris-based European Union Institute for Security Studies warns of ''explosive tensions'' between a rich, globalised group of countries and poorer, alienated states. If technology is turning the world into a global village, it is a ''village on the brink of revolution'', for reasons of inequality and competition for resources like water, fuel and usable farmland.

The EU will need to pursue the ''morally distasteful, losing strategy'' of strengthening our barriers, if it cannot solve the problems of global misery at their roots. The less developed parts of the world may need ''barrier operations'', or operations to ''shield the global rich from the tensions and problems of the poor''.

It is recommended that the EU should commit itself to have a sizeable force with adequate equipment ready to deploy at any time - over 100,000 in a constant state of readiness, or 300,000 troops allowing for rotation, by 2020. EU member states spend some €250 billion on defence annually, according to 2005 figures .

"Of course, no right minded person wants war," they say, but then turn round and lay down their plans for just that. Plans for achieving their policy ends by cold-blooded murder. Where all other parties utter their sanctimonious opposition to war yet endorse slaughter after slaughter we have asserted that war and organised violence are not the means by which a civilised society can be achieved.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

much ado about nothing

The media in the UK froths at the mouth as it reports on the health-care debate in the US and defends the NHS from attacks from certain Americans.
What we have have said previously here at SOYMB.

Although socialists recognise the benefits the NHS brings to workers who otherwise would not have access to healthcare, they are far from the ardent uncritical supporters that the membership of the Labour Party and the other Leftist parties tend to be. We see that although the NHS suggests possibilities for how a service free at the point of use and based on needs could be organised, fundamentally, it is not free from the market system and a long way from being the fount of joy NHS supporters proclaim it to be.

To some extent , socialists have to acknowledge that NHS made the living standards for some sections of the working class better than they had been under rampant capitalism and its early ideology of laissez faire ( although these ends should never be confused with socialism ). But Socialists also argue that all reformist activity is subject to the changing nature of capitalism. To fight the same old welfare reform battles over several decades is demoralising enough, but when previous reforms are put into reverse the case against the system which puts profits before needs is stronger than ever. The NHS decline would support the argument that capitalism cannot sustain meaningful reform.

Contrary to popular belief, the NHS is not dedicated to satisfying the human need for health care, or the eradication of disease. Medical practice and research in capitalist society is strongly influenced by its role in maintaining a healthy labour force, and in socialising and controlling people in a class-divided society. The NHS keeps us fit for work so we can produce profits for our bosses. It is an integrative mechanism that helps hold class-divided society together.The need of individual bosses to make as much profit as they can from us has to give way, to a certain extent, to the long-term needs of capitalist society as a whole.

In Marxist terms, medical care is important for the reproduction of the forces and relations of production. The reproduction of labour power is provided for through the payment of wages - which enables us to feed, clothe and house ourselves at a historically and culturally specific level - but also through the state, which has, to an extent, taken responsibility for the collective reproduction of labour power by providing education, social security, and other welfare services. The development of the NHS was in part a recognition that a shift away from unskilled manual work to other forms of employment would require a healthier workforce and a more stable and qualitatively superior one. To put it more plainly, the NHS helps keep us fit for work so that we are forced to keep on selling the only thing of real value we own - our creative abilities - to our employers.

But to read more ,however ,see Socialist Standard article Who Pays For Health Care ,written on the 60th anniversary of the NHS creation

The proponents of the NHS are sincere (for the most part) in believing that it brings a massive benefit to society. Certainly, it helps the Labour Party by being a threatened cherished item to rally their supporters around and with which to beat the Tories. The wages system, though, which will only return to the workers the price the market will bear for sustaining their ability to work can snatch with one hand what the state gives with another. Our health and well being only matters so far as it enables employers to use us for profit, as can be seen in those parts of the world where surplus population is left to rot...It is clear that the effects of poverty, and the associated lifestyle are deleterious to health, and that simply having the services available of the NHS isn't sufficient to stop the theft of years from the working and unemployed poor.

Independence Day - India

Losing the Jewel
To-day ,the 15th , is India's independence day . When India achieved independence little changed except the personnel of the State machinery.

What the WSM/SPGB has said

Independence solved none of the problems resulting from exploitation. Indian governments were wedded to the same set of priorities and subject to the same constraints as any other capitalist government. Poverty in the midst of a potential for plenty remains a running sore, exploitation and massive disparities of wealth continue to exist, war with Pakistan claimed the lives of those with no class interest in the outcome, environmental degradation continues virtually unabated.

Great Britain's period of rule in India can be seen as a period of arrested economic development, but the subsequent period of "Five Year Plans" for economic self-sufficiency have only been partially successful. Projected growth rates failed to materialise. Business and industry now account for one-third of national income compared to 5 percent in 1947. Of the 70 percent still engaged in agriculture, half suffer from poverty and malnutrition and many have been subjected to harassment and evictions to make way for commercial agriculture. The number of landless labourers increased from 17 percent in 1961 to 26 percent of the population (37 percent of the rural labour force) in 1971 when Mrs Gandhi was campaigning on the slogan "get rid of poverty". Reforms intended to put a ceiling on the size of land-holdings have been subject to legal challenge and evasion by subterfuge and have proved ineffective.

It can be seen in retrospect that independence for the vast majority of the people of India has simply meant the exchange of one set of exploiters for another. As we pointed out in this journal and elsewhere in the years prior to 1947, independence would solve no peasant or working-class problems, only the establishment of Socialism could do that.

The Socialist Standard wrote in 1930

Indian capitalists want to have the profits of the developing Indian capitalism for themselves. They wish to be able to control the Indian system of taxation, and the Indian system of tariffs, and use them to further their own interests. They do not object to the exploitation of the Indian workers, but they do object to British investors getting the lion's share; and they do object to British traders, exporting British-made goods to India, enjoying preferential treatment.
Fundamentally, the Indian Nationalist movement represents the interests of Indian capitalists. It is naturally supported by the Indian educated castes, who see the promise of fat jobs in the Indian Army or Civil Service, and in the legal profession.
As the Manchester Guardian's special Indian correspondent wrote on 7 February,
1930, Indian independence "would mean the government of India by men drawn almost entirely from the urban Hindu capitalist and professional classes." These are the men who control the Indian Nationalist movement.

To the Indian workers we extend our sympathy in the sufferings which fall to their lot. We ask them, however, to recognise that their poverty is the result not of foreign rule—which is merely one of the evil by-products of capitalism—but of the capitalist system itself. Dominion status or Independence for India will not solve any working class problem. It will merely be a substitution of "India for the Indian capitalists" in place of "India for the British capitalists." The only sound policy for the Indian workers, the only policy in line with their calls interests, is to keep clear of the Nationalist movement, and carry on steadily with the task of organising themselves on the economic field for the defence of their interests against their employers, and organising on the political field for the ultimate achievement of Socialism in cooperation with the rest of the world's workers.

Our watchword is not "Britain for the British" and "India for the Indians," but "the world for the workers."

Friday, August 14, 2009

He is to Socialism what Groucho was to Marxism

My wife Caroline put the Communist Manifesto in my Christmas stocking one year. I had never read it before and I found it offered the best possible explanation of what the world was about that I had ever read. It pointed out that the real conflicts in the world were not between black and white, men and women, Muslims, Christians and Jews, Americans, Russians and Chinese; it was about the conflict of economic interest between 95 per cent of the population of the world, who create the world's wealth, and the 5 per cent who own it. I think of Marx as a prophet: the last of the Old Testament prophets. And we should think of him as a teacher. Many political leaders, such as Stalin, have tried to steal him, but he is immune to that, because ideas survive without requiring the endorsement of kings, emperors, dictators or presidents. Karl Marx discovered it all long before I did, and I am very grateful to him

So near and yet so far, but beware these are the words of a seasoned political con-man, one we interviewed nearly thirty years ago. We have been warning our class of such jumped-up moralists long before this particular one was born:

"...Fastening upon the cruder manifestations of working class instinct - he gives this instinct a Bourgeois Reformist turn and so hampers its growth. As 'breadth of thought' and 'toleration' he conceals the shallowness and superficiality common to his class: under the name of socialism he preaches State-capitalism. In place of Revolution he urges Reform. Upon the half-hearted and partially conscious efforts of the workers to organise the political party of their class he fastens as a 'leader' - and all development is arrested..." (Socialist Standard, July 1906)

We have repeated this message ad nauseum for over a century. And say again, "enough is enough. If the working class would behave like thinking human beings, instead of like sheep, then bougus shepherds like Benn would no longer fleece them." (Socialist Standard, April 1981)

But do not accept what we have to say: consider what this political equivalent of a snake oil salesman is selling you along with our reply:

The irony of Tony Benn's position is that by dismissing as impossible Marx's conception of a society without state or government he ends up in the same contradictory tangles as the "establishment" he seeks to criticise. This is all the more unfortunate since his only grounds for dismissing Marx's particular contribution to the working-class movement is a warning, attributable to Lord Acton, about the effect of power on those who exercise it. Lord Acton, and even Benn himself, may be able to vouch for the dangerous effects of possessing power, but for the working class as a whole it is not a pressing problem. The democratic seizure of social power by the whole community will not be prevented by members of the privileged class who currently hold it warning us of such dangers.

The first stage of Benn's argument is clear and correct. Defenders of capitalism distort marxism because they fear it. He lists six aspects of marxism on which such fears are based: the understanding of the class struggle, the nature of the state, social consciousness, opposition to nationalism, opposition to religion and the use of democratic channels for a revolutionary transformation of society. Defenders of capitalism, he argues, fear these strengths held by Marxism as a way of looking at society, and therefore label it as violent and anti-democratic in order to discredit it.

Taking these points in order, consider first Marx's class analysis of society. In the world today, as in Marx's day, there are broadly speaking two social classes with conflicting interests facing one another: the buyers and the sellers of labour power. In other words, the employers and employees. Workers in Britain share a common interest with their fellow workers in other countries, and not with British bosses. Yet all of the policies ever advocated by Benn and the party of which he is a leading member are based on a denial of this first, fundamental principle of marxism. When the Labour Party speaks about, "us" coming out of the EEC or having import controls or tax re-adjustrnents, they are talking about British employers, with their workers faithfully in tow. Such an unequal alliance is based on the nine-tenths of the population who have to work for a living (or sign for the dole) continuing to work not for each other, not for the commnunity as a whole, but for the companies and nationalised industries which steadily accumulate the proceeds of our labour.

Next Tony Benn points to Marx's theory of the state. You do not need to read three volumes of Capital to understand Marx's key point, that the police, army, courts and prisons do not and cannot run in the interests of all. They are the means of coercion, the violence which lies at the roots of a society in which a minority monopolises social power. Here again, we find a sad rift between marxist principles and capitalist comprornise. Benn and the Labour Party offer us a "People's state" in which we will still be beaten up, locked up and kept down, only this time it will really be in our own interest at last, because we will have voted Thatcher out and Foot in.

Thirdly, Marxism "arouses political consciousness". Marx argued that while it is highly necessary for workers to organise in democratic trade unions in order to prevent the downward pressure on wages and the worsening of work conditions, it would also be necessary to organise a political movement to abolish the wages system itself. (See his Value, Price and Profit, 1865.) Yet over the last few years, together with the politicians of all of the other parties of capitalism, Benn has been promising to increase the level of employment. He has not devoted a single line in any of his speeches to Marx's idea that the struggle over wages and jobs should be extended into a struggle to end the very system of employment itself.

The revolutionary potential of marxist thought is indeed based on its global appeal. As the expression of the universal interest of the working class of the world, the abolition of capitalism means the end of all national boundaries. How does this relate to the cause championed by Benn, that "we British" should "get out of Europe"? His is merely a reactionary plea on behalf of British industrial interests who may profit more outside, rather than inside, the European Common Market. Getting workers to line up and take sides on such issues is in principle no different from King Edward and the Kaiser lining up "their" workers to fight their First World War.

Fifth, marxism is feared because it is anti-religious. Perhaps Marx's main contribution to philosophical thought was to advance beyond earlier forms of atheism, to develop a coherent theory which could in itself explain the historical rise and decline of religion. It is well known that Marx described religion as the opium of the people, but what he said merits quoting more fully:

"Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the sentiment of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless eonditions. It is the opium of the people. The abolition of religion, as the illusory happiness of men, is a demand for their real happiness. The call to abandon their illusions about their condition is a call to abandon a condition which requires illusions..."

Marx made his criticism of all religion and idealism clear enough, one might have thought, to avoid being redrawn as the "last of the Old Testament prophets". Benn's main concern in relation to Marx is to rehabilitate the reputation of religious morality, which he feels is missing from Marx's materialism. He is right - it is missing, but not for the reason he thinks. Far from describing the universe as being composed solely of economic forces, Marx acknowledged the enormous forces of human consciousness in the shaping of human history. But rather than bow blind to the dictates of "reason" and "morality" and "conscience", he sought to transcend these categories and understand how they arose.

The sixth and final feature of Marxism to which Benn refers is the possible transformation of the ballot box from an "instrument of trickery" (as Marx called it) into an "agent of emancipation". Marx repeatedly referred to the self-emancipation of the working class, without leaders, as the necessary precondition for a socialist (that is, communist) society. Again, in this regard, the party Benn urges us to vote for was set up as a trade union pressure group in parliament and to this day continues to base its support on workers acting as followers, voting for leaders to solve the problems of capitalism without genuine, majority, democratic action.

Having warned us of those who present a distorted picture of what they oppose even though they "have never studied Marx", Benn proceeds to caricature marxism as a mechanical economic determinism. In one sense, we are told, Marx was a "utopian" because he envisaged the end of the oppressive state machine. A familiar but thread-bare dichotomy is set up between democratic, parliamentary, reformist action and violent, anti-dernocratic, revolutionary action. So the "establishment" distortion of marxisrn as terrorism is ultimately endorsed here too. The third choice, of politically conscious workers using democratic channels to institute volutionary change, is overlooked, even though it had been referred to as one of the six strengths of marxism. Instead of opposing the religious ideology exposed by Marx, Benn writes of "inherent rights" and "moral values and obligations" as the basis of socialism, and of the need to reform the "actually existing socialist societies".

The Russian government may call itself socialist. The Nazis also used the term. Does this mean that the description has to be accepted? There are no "actually existing socialist societies", and the suggestion serves to fuel the pens of "the establishment" already referred to. By stating we must always retain the state, earlier defined as "an expression of the interests of the established order", Benn gets into considerable confusion. The Russian government depends on "state enforcement" and yet it is referred to as "socialist". Morality is introduced as a comfortable promise, for innocuous moderation to be dressed up as radical change. And yet morality has traditionally been what the ruling class call on when they want the majority who produce but do not possess to pull our weight even harder. It is the denial of our self-interest as a class. The attempt to define what is "good" and what is "bad", what we "should" or "should not" do has baffled philosophers for centuries, precisely because there are no such moral absolutes. Decisions about what is desirable and what is not are arrived at subjectively by different individuals and classes through the constantly changing development of human history.

Religion tries to solve the problem by inventing an all-powerful force which lays down for us what we should and should not do, with the most terrible tortures threatened for those who disobey this crude, primitive, moral law. In the case of christianity, which Benn holds up as the model morality to be adopted by socialists, those whose scientific perception made it hard for them to have blind faith and worship one of their fellows were threatened with nothing less than everlasting hell-fire. The morality Benn supports has been upholding property society for thousands of years, by consoling the poor with the virtues of thrift and hard work and the hope of receiving some charitable crumbs from the rich. Christian morality does not involve the ending of the class division between rich and poor. As long as there is a need for wealth to be "redistributed" from rich to poor, it follows that these two classes of people still exist. The Bible, which is the only source-book for the "moral teachings of Jesus", does not stop at openly defending slavery, property, profit and war.. To add insult to injury, it offers the following advice to the millions who are starving:

"Go to the sea and cast a hook, and take the first fish that comes up, and when you open its mouth you will find a coin." (Matthew, 17.27)

Small wonder that Bakunin felt moved to write, "If God existed, it would be necessary to abolish him".

What, then, is the Marxist theory of morality and religion? "For too long" Marx wrote "has religion explained history; let us with history explain religion." Like so many others, Benn tries to excuse his idealism according to which history is made by free-floating moral absolutes, by first painting Marx as being a crudely rnechanical materialist who "seerned to identify all social and personal morality as being a product of economic forces". But this was not case. It was Marx who found the dialectical balance to solve these contradictions. He referred to "the reciprocal action of these various sides on one another" (The German Ideology. Of course, marxism recognises that the conditions of life in society determine the modes of thought rather than the other way round, otherwise the hungry could simply think themselves full overnight and be satisfied. But it is the developing class consciousness among workers which itself becomes the material force for creating a new society:

"Communism is for us not a state of affairs which is to be established, an ideal to which reality will have to adjust itself. We call cornmunism the real movement which abolishes the present state of things. The conditions of this movement result from the premises now in existence..."liberation" is an historical and not a moral act, and it is brought about by historical conditions." (The German Ideology)

Having effectively dismissed Marx in both the genuine and the distorted forrns, Benn finally advocates the reform of the Eastern bloc so that it appears a little more like the West, and the reform of the Western bloc so that it appears a little more like the East. What we are left with is layer after layer of compromise, with materialism softened by morality, capitalisrn cushioned by a paternalistic state sector, and socialism turned into the distant millenarian hope of nationalising the heartless sentiments of the world's religions.


(Socialist Standard, March 1983)

Did Trotsky Point the Way to Socialism?

The debate between the Socialist Party (represented by Adam Buick) and Hillel Ticktin has been uploaded to YouTube for your viewing pleasure.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Water Wars

The BBC carries this report

Egypt is defending its historic rights to extract more from the Nile than any other country against calls for change to long-existing agreements. After a recent meeting at Alexandria failed to resolve differences, ministers from the nine main Nile states are allowing six months to agree a new legal framework for sharing the waters of the Nile .

"This is a national security issue," says Deputy Foreign Minister Mona Omar. "The Nile is life for Egypt." and adds "no way" Egypt will allow a reduction of its water quota.

A 1929 agreement with Britain - representing its then East African colonies - gave Egypt the right to veto upstream projects that would affect its water share.

The International Rivers Network identifies the Nile Basin as a global hotspot for potential water conflict. Several Nile countries are among the world's poorest nations and there is a history of fighting in and between them. Water scarcity is already an issue but is becoming more pressing.In Egypt a new official report predicts that if no action is taken the country's water needs will surpass its resources by 2017

The looming prospect of water wars has not gone unnoticed or uncommented upon by socialists and what we of the WSM/SPGB have said previously

Egypt anticipates that its population will double to 110 million within 35 years. Even now it is faced with a water shortage and has for some time imported "virtual water"-grain and other foodstuffs which removes the necessity to use water for home-grown food. Egypt finds itself in the unique position of being totally dependent on the Nile, a river whose flow and tributaries are controlled by 8 other countries.

Already, Egypt has rattled its sabre at Ethiopia, which controls 80 percent of the supply and which has embarked upon a series of dams and irrigation schemes along the Blue Nile and, which if extended, would also interfere with Sudan's supply.

With Egypt looking to irrigate reclaimed desert along its northern coast and needing to increase its share of Nile water by 15 billion cubic metres per year, and with a further 8 countries seeking to increase their share, it takes no great leap in the imagination to see how water is increasingly dominating Egypt's foreign policy and why Egypt sees the taking of more water by its neighbours as an act of war.

Ismail Seageldin, vice-president of the World Bank, made a disturbing prediction in 1995: "Many of the wars this century were about oil, but the wars of the next century will be about water."

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

The Roots of Roots

Alex Haley the author of Roots and 'The Autobiography of Malcom X' , who should be rembembered for describing China detonating its first atomic bomb as the greatest thing that has ever happened in the 20th century to the black people, was born on this day in 1921. The following article concerning Roots first appeared in the Socialist Standard of May 1977.

IN HIS CLOSING WORDS to the Author's Foreword of Foundations of Christianity (dateline Berlin, 1908), Karl Kautsky wrote:

". . . with the aid of the materialist conception of history . . . the study of the past, far from being mere dilettante antiquarianism, will become a powerful weapon in the struggles of the present, in order to hasten the attainment of a better future."

The future that the Socialist pioneers outlined is not brought any nearer by the widespread employrnent of Marxist terminology by self-styled socialist or cornmunist governments in the world today. But the Kautsky statement remains sound, nevertheless. A clear understanding of social forces, by the working class, will help enormously in clearing away obstacles to the movement for world Socialism. As it is now, prejudices of many kinds keep workers of varied ethnic and cultural backgrounds apart. The Marxist admonition: "Workers of the world, unite!" is difficult to heed when workers do not understand the significance of the forces that divide them. It is an all-important duty of Socialists to spread knowledge and understanding on this subjeot. One of the latest examples, in America, of mass confusion is that phenomenal best-seller historical novel and TV extravaganza, Roots.

Now, this is not intended as a review of the book. Suffice it to say that Mr. Haley had set out on a prospecting adventure to unearth his personal roots - a tricky business at best, as we shall see, presently. But if the soundness of his genealogical research is questionable there is no doubt that he has found gold - a veritable gold mine. For, according to press reports, the book has earned him a cool 3 million bucks thus far, with no end to the profits in sight.

And even if most who buy the book never actually read it (many blacks, even illiterates from backwæter areas, seem to regard it as another Book of the Bible - their personal Gospel), an estimated 130 million people have seen at least a portion of the twelve hours of TV presenoation and black Americans now know - or think they know - their roots. This fact, some writers believe, may serve as a spark to kindle a programme of black vengeance against "whitey." The "Establishment" (white and black) can go only so far of course in dispelling the mythology of roots. In this instance a lot of knowledge can be more dangerous than little. Consider:

The central hero, "Kunta Kinte," according to oral "historian" who gave him the "facts", was Haley's grandfather seven generations back. Now, "Kinte" may have been real and a direct ancestor of Haley's but it is a safe bet that not even Kinte's roots we all black let alone Alex Haley's. For remote as Kinte's village may have been it was obviously not that remote and white traders, particularly slave traders, were frequent visitors to the area as long and longer ago than seven generations. But Haley, as do militant "Afro-Americans" generally, prefers to disown - or least not acknowledge - his "white" genes. (In that departrnent, of course, he is no worse than "whites" who prefer not to contemplate their "black", or "yellow" or whatever ancestors). The fact is, that one need do is estimate the number of one's ancestors ten or fifteen generations back to burst bubble. Only through a practice of strict in-breeding through the generations could any of us, today be considered "pure"! There can be no question about it: we all have the same roots. Migrations and invasions throughout history, have assured that.

But there is more to the confusion surrounding Haley's opus than one's genealogy. "Kunta Kinte", in the Haley chronicle, epitomizes the resistance which modern black-oriented historians prefer to believe black chattels gave their masters. That this was actually the case remains, at best, debatable. What is unquestionable, however, was the callous brutality of the slave trade. But even here is confusion because it is difficult, indeed, to surmount the morals of one's times. Trading in human chattels was legal (in varying degrees) for centuries and in pre-Civil War America some of the most highly respectable families were engaged in one or another facet of it. The morals of a society are established, generally, by the ruling class. Chattel Slavery was Big Business and, therefore, respectable. It was the Abolitionist, who was the non-conformist and trouble-maker, not the slave owner or slave trader. William Lloyd Garrison and Wendell Philips have schools named after them, today, but it was a different matter when they were flaying Slavery and its beneficiaries in pre-Civil War United States of America.

And ponder, for a moment, on how few in our times see anything abbhorrent about the relationships of wage-labour and capital, how few see it as a "higher" form of slavery. The chains are figurative but nonetheless real. Most of the population is bound for life to a class that owns the means and instruments of wealth production and distribution. An end to all slave relationships, including capitalism in all its forms, is possible but not without unification of the working class for the express purpose of establishing world sociaism, immediatey. And the dispelliing of the mythology of roots will be a big help toward that goal.

HARMO, WSP Boston.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Mein Kampf

Germany's Central Council of Jews has taken the unprecedented step of backing a proposal to republish Adolf Hitler's infamous autobiographical manifesto Mein Kampf, which has been strictly outlawed in the country since the end of the Second World War.

Although many German Jews still oppose reissuing Hitler's anti-Semitic work, Stephan Kramer, the general secretary of the country's leading Jewish organisation, supports a new scholarly edition of the work designed to inform future generations of the evils of Nazism.

"It makes sense and is important to publish an edition of Mein Kampf with an academic commentary," Mr Kramer said. "A historically critical edition needs to be prepared today to prevent neo-Nazis profiting from it."

The Indy looks at this contentious issue today.

Of course Mein Kampf should be re-issued; it should also be read. The way to understand history and defeat today's scumbag racists is not through bans or sweeping things away under a carpet. Racism, in fact, depends upon such ignorance. Bans and censorship never really achieve the aims they seek anyway for that reason as well as driving the subject underground.

As the Indy leader column put it so pithily: publish and let Hitler be damned.

Sunday, August 09, 2009

change the system , not the climate

The New York Times reports that changing global climate will pose profound strategic challenges to the United States in coming decades, raising the prospect of military intervention to deal with the effects of violent storms, drought, mass migration and pandemics, military and intelligence analysts say.War games and intelligence studies conclude that over the next 20 to 30 years, vulnerable regions, particularly sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle East and South and Southeast Asia, will face the prospect of food shortages, water crises and catastrophic flooding driven by climate change that could demand an American humanitarian relief or military response.

A growing number of policy makers say that the world’s rising temperatures, surging seas and melting glaciers are a direct threat to the national interest.

John Kerry , ex president hopeful , said the continuing conflict in southern Sudan, which has killed and displaced tens of thousands of people, is a result of drought and expansion of deserts in the north. “That is going to be repeated many times over and on a much larger scale,” he said.

An exercise at the National Defense University last December explored the potential impact of a flood in Bangladesh that sent hundreds of thousands of refugees streaming into neighboring India, touching off religious conflict, the spread of contagious diseases and vast damage to infrastructure, according to The Times.
"It gets real complicated real quickly," the report quoted as saying Amanda Dory, deputy assistant secretary of defense for strategy, who is working with a Pentagon group assigned to incorporate climate change into national security strategy planning.

Arctic melting also presents new problems for the military. The shrinking of the ice cap, which is proceeding faster than anticipated only a few years ago, opens a shipping channel that must be defended and undersea resources that are already the focus of international competition.

Sport and Show

Further to this post on our African companion blog concerning the South African 2010 World Cup to promote the prestige of the ruling elites , SOYMB now reads India plans to round up beggars to shield foreigners from New Delhi's rampant poverty during the 2010 Commonwealth Games.
In seeking to beautify the city, thousands of slum dwellings have already been demolished, evicting countless residents. The Games village has been built on the site of a demolished slum. A plan to screen the city's sprawling slums is being studied that would involve planting bamboo trees along roads leading to the 17 Games venues. Delhi has up to 200,000 homeless people -- many displaced by construction linked to the Games and the city's flagship metro service. Many beg for a living.

The campaign is part of a drive by civic authorities to turn the capital of 16 million people into a "world-class city." 12 teams of government officials to track down beggars, a mobile magistrate's court to hand out instant sentences and a control room for people to report anyone asking for money.

"The government's mentality is that beggars are garbage and they must be put away to show foreigners what a clean city we have," said Kailash Satyarthi, founder of Save Children Campaign, an Indian non-governmental organisation.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Ronnie Biggs and the Straw-man

The Justice Secretary Jack Straw yesterday granted Biggs release from prison on compassionate grounds and, as of today, he is no longer a prisoner. The announcement marks a major U-turn by Mr Straw, coming just a month after he refused Biggs parole.

In a statement Mr Straw said that the two decisions "involved different considerations". He added: "I made the decision to refuse parole principally because Mr Biggs had shown no remorse for his crimes nor respect for the punishments given to him and because the Parole Board found his propensity to breach trust a very significant factor."

What We Said
from here
Ever anxious to still any doubts about him going soft on crime, Straw recently grabbed the headlines by overturning a Parole Board recommendation to release Ronnie Biggs, the last of the Great Train Robbers. The usual reason for such a decision is that the person concerned is likely to be a danger to the public by committing further serious offences. But Biggs is said to be frail and sick, unable to walk or talk or feed himself, which is done through a tube into his stomach. So Straw had to come up with some other justification – that Biggs is “wholly unrepentant” and “outrageously courted the media” about his escape to Brazil.

Well, if we are looking for repentance we might have expected Straw to regret his ready acceptance of the government's lying excuse for attacking Iraq, with all the consequent destruction and killing, for in January 2003 he wrongly asserted that the Blix report “contains the clearest possible evidence that Saddam has weapons of mass destruction...Several thousand rockets are unaccounted for”. Does he regret his decision to allow General Pinochet to return to Argentina, although he was wanted elsewhere for trial for thousands of people being tortured and murdered, on the grounds that the dictator was too sick to stand trial? What does he think now about his rejection of an asylum application from an Iraqi man with the advice that “we have faith in the integrity of the Iraqi judicial process and that you should have no concern if you haven't done anything wrong” ? And will Alistair Campbell have to flee to Brazil now that Straw has ruled that “outrageously courting the media” constitutes a reason for him to lock you away?

Is the working class still the agent of socialism?

G A Cohen departed this world on the 5th of August and one of his major works has been reviewed in the Socialist Standard which is worth a peruse

If You're an Egalitarian, How Come You're So Rich? By G A Cohen. Harvard University Press, 2001.

In 1978 Cohen wrote a basically sound (if tedious) book called Marx's Theory of History: A Defence. In this series of lectures given in 1997 but only published as a paperback last year he explains why he now thinks Marx was wrong after all.

He claims that Marx's agency for the socialist revolution was the "industrial" working class which would form the majority of the population but that this has not come about because of the rise of modern technology which has resulted in the "industrial" working class forming a shrinking proportion of the working population. However, Marx was well aware that the development of the division of labour and specialisation would lead to the development of a section of the working class not involved in direct factory work.

When workers are trained to perform certain tasks for example, they have to be taught and instructed, and this involves teachers and instructors. The teacher or instructor can teach or instruct inside the factory or outside it in a school or college. It is absurd to regard the teacher as an industrial worker when employed inside the factory but a "middle class" professional when employed in a school or a college. The function they perform is exactly the same and so also is their relationship to the means of production – they are still teaching or training future workers and they are still reliant on a wage or salary in order to survive.

As industry becomes more complex and as technology develops there is a need for an increasing army of educators, organisers, researchers and the like. As a result the proportion of "front line", factory workers shrinks. This change in the composition of the working population does not alter one iota their relationship to the productive wealth of society, nor does it alter the fact that it would be in their interest to overthrow capitalism. There is no justification for regarding factory workers as being exploited whilst teachers, lecturers, organisers, researchers, etc are able to escape this exploitation. It is true that most of these "white collar" workers would deny that they are being exploited but so also would most factory workers.

Cohen claims that workers in advanced industrial countries are no longer exploited (not that he defines what he means by exploitation). His claim is that exploitation now takes place in the factories and sweatshops of underdeveloped countries and that only these fit Marx's description of the industrial proletariat. However, he goes on, these again cannot be regarded as the agents of revolutionary change as they do not constitute the majority of the population in these countries because they are swamped in a sea of peasants. He does not pay any attention to the fact that the "exploitation" of his workers in the underdeveloped world has led to the undermining of the incomes of factory workers in the advanced countries.

He concludes from this that there is no hope of a revolutionary transformation of capitalist society and that only a development of altruistic attitudes can usher in a better and different world. He can only come to this pathetic conclusion by either ignoring or not understanding the capitalist system.

Most liberal political philosophers who claim to strive for "a just and equal society" view modern society as being stratified from top to bottom into different income and status groups ("social classes") and that it can only be a question of redistributing wealth more "fairly" within these groups. Other political philosophers see this as posing a potentially serious problem in that it could lead to a slacking of effort on the part of the top strata as this could affect their efficiency and effectiveness "in the pursuit of the general good". In other words, that there is still a need for some inequality in order to provide an incentive for those able and willing to take on demanding, responsible positions in society.

Volumes and volumes are written on this theme and writers like Cohen demonstrate their learning and cleverness by finding loopholes in each others' theories and developing their own irrelevant versions of the same. What they have to say and write has no bearing on what is happening in the real world. For the real world is not merely made up of a population stratified into different income groups. It is true that the working class can be divided into different income groups. But between these groups there is no direct opposition, tension and conflict – they are just groups of people having different characteristics in terms of income, education and status.

The real world is a world in which the population is divided into two main groups obtaining their incomes in distinct and completely different ways. One group obtains its income from the ownership of the productive wealth of the world and the other group obtains its income from the sale of its labour power to the owners of productive wealth. The first group has to attempt to continually increase the productive wealth its owns by continually revolutionising their productive techniques and by attempting to reduce or limit the income of the non-owners. To do this they have to accumulate as much wealth as possible under given market conditions. The whole system depends upon, and is defined by, this compulsive need of capitalists to accumulate wealth. To think that it is possible to intervene or halt this process through any system of redistribution of incomes – either through taxation or "rich" egalitarian political philosophers foregoing part of their incomes – is unrealistic nonsense. The social system such philosophers wish to reform bears no resemblance to the social system they conjure up in their analyses.

Nowhere is Cohen's pathetic position more clearly demonstrated than in his belief that he and his fellow philosophers are "rich". They are not rich even by comparison with other salary earners; when compared with the incomes of the capitalist class their incomes are pitiful. What is more, like most workers they have to consume their incomes in order to survive at the prevailing standards of comfort of their peers. The individual consumption of the capitalists, on the other hand, although often colossal when compared to the individual consumption of workers, is normally only a small proportion of their income as they are compelled to accumulate most of it in order to survive as capitalists.
Lewis Hopkin.

Hiroshima in the making

On the 6th August 1945 at 0816 local time an atom bomb was dropped over the city of Hiroshima. The 40th anniversary of this event was marked by the following essay in our journal.

The idea that the material world is composed of enormous numbers of exceedingly small entities called atoms was first propounded about 450 BC by the Greek philosopher Leucippus and his pupil Democritus. It was not until 1911, however, when Ernest (later Lord) Rutherford published a paper putting forward the nuclear model of the atom, that the proposition gained general acceptance. It may seem hard today to realise that the paper caused no commotion in the world of physics - Rutherford himself does not appear to have considered this discovery as the epoch-making event it tumed out to be. In fact, this is not surprislng since no commercial application could be envisaged for the work, unlike x-rays and radium which had obvious medical uses and were soon seen as potential sources of profit.

Where no such profitable application appeared the research was funded largely out of universities' private resources and co-ordination between researchers .depended largely on their own individual efforts. This situation was not to change until the stage had been reached when it began to look as though this decomposition of matter, occurring naturalIy in the radioactive materials, could be achieved artificially in a controlled manner to the extent required for a large explosion. The relevant work between the two world wars led to the discovery of the fission process and the possibility of a chain reaction.

It would be too long a story to detail the steps by which these discoveries were made, but it is worth noting that the whole process, even jf unco-ordinated, involved a large number of scientists of many nationalities. En route the dream of the old alchemists, of transmuting one element into another, was realised although the end product was not as they had envisaged, By 1939 it had been shown that nuclear combustion, releasing a million times the energv of chemical combustion, was indeed possible.

When war broke out the scientists involved expressed considerable scepticism about whether an atomic bomb was feasibie. The politicians were even more doubtful. - Margaret Gowring recalls that Churchill at this time was more concerned that the so-called "fifih column" might exploit fears about "a terrible new uranium explosive" to force Britain to accept a surrender! (Britain and Atomic Energy, 1939-45, Macmillan, 1964.) Many scientists were directed to other vital war work at places such as the Royal Aircraft Establishment, although some uranium research continued at a very slow pace. A change in attitude was brought about as much by the fear that Germany might get a head start as any more rational consideration. A number of scientists who had fIed from Nazi persecution gave assistance to the Allied powers and the teams competing in this grim race were truIy international both in the sense of their composition and in the debt they owed to past knowledge.

Eventually, in early 1940, the British government set up a small sub-comrnittee under the Committee for the Scientific Survey of Air Warfare - which was to be known by its code name of the Maud Committee - to examine the available evidence and report back to the government on the chances of success. Their report, issued in July 1941, gave a positive answer and was remarkable in its prescience. Only in two respects was it deficient: it was two years early in its foreeast of when a bomb would be ready and it erred in its assessment of the prospects of plutonium as a fuel (the Nagasaki bomb used this method).

The stage had now been reached when uranium research was no longer the exclusive concern of a few individuaIs in universities. The horrors of atomic warfare could be envisaged fairly clearly, even though practical demonstration was still some way off. The Maud Committee were able accurately to compare the devastation expected from an A-bomb with known effects of TNT and they also had a reasonable understanding of the effects of radiation. They commented: .

"It is very difficult to estimate the extent of their [fission products] effect especially as the most important substances would be those of long life, which are the hardest to study under laboratory conditions. It does however seem certain that the area devastated by the explosion would be dangerous to life for a considerable time."

The conclusions of the Maud Committee and similar work in America led to a decision to manufacture. After Pearl Harbour, America went onto a full war footing, and they no longer saw any need to share their secrets with the British. Already they were looking ahead to the post-war world and resurned industrial competition - an attitude which led to considerable friction within the Alliance. The American capitalists saw the chance to supplant British interests in the latter's erstwhile colonies and Roosevelt appeared to side with Stalin against Churchill at some of the wartirne conferences. The British reluctantly had to accept a very junior role in the A-bomb project, and virtually none in the dedsions about dropping one in anger.

Before any bombs were ready, however, Germany and Italy had surrendered and so the question was whether the weapon should be used against Japan. The politicians and militarists were still riddled with sceptidsm and it did not therefore figure prorninently in their strategy. At first the British and Americans wanted Russia to enter the war with Japan. There were obvious problems about Russian entry, as clearly Stalin wanted to strengthen Soviet influence in Manchuria and in the territories lost to Japan in the 1904-05 wars. The Chinese government of Chiang Kai-Shek was party to negotiations over these issues and any agreements reached at the Yalta conference were cLearly of an unstable nature.

The first successful test on 16 july 1945 caused a change in the attitude to Russia, as the possibilitv of forcing Japan to surrender without help now loomed. Considerable disagreements surfaced over how Japanese resistance could best be ended. As early as September 1944, Roosevelt and Churchill agreed that "when a bomb is finalIy available it might perhaps, after mature consideration, be used against the Japanese who should be warned that this bombardrnent will be repeated unill they surrender ." (Gowring, M., op. cit., p.370). In May 1945 a brief but heated debate began in America, involving scientists as well as politicians and the arrned forces, The case for warning Japan was argued in front of President Truman himself, A "harrnless" demonstration of the bomb's power, perhaps with Japanese observers present, was proposed but the idea foundered on two main counts: there was still no certainty that the bomb would work, or that if it did it would induce surrender.

Deep divisions still existed after the successful test and it was impossible to get a consensus view in the necessary time. This may have been the reason why Trurnan later came to exaggerate and indeed to glory in the personal part he played. When Robert Oppenheirner regretted his part in the project, saying that he felt he had "blood on his hands", Truman told Dean Acheson. "Don't you bring that fellow around here again. After all, all he did was to make the bomb. I'm the guy who fired it off' (Pringle, P. & J. Spiegelman. The Nuclear Barons, Sphere 1985, p.95).

One factor that is often understandably underplayed by official accounts was the strength of the "Peace Party" in Japan. It is quite incorrect to think of the country as completely dorninated by a military caste headed by an autocratic Emperor. Gowring reports:

"The Peace Party had ernerged within the Japanese Cabinet as early as April 1945, but it had to move with extreme circumspection in the face of fierce opposition from the military. However in ]uly, whlle the Allied leaders were assembling at Potsdam, the Japanese Emperor himself authorised peace feelers through Russia. Japan, it was ernphasised, would never accept unconditional surrender but was anxious for discussions about a negotiated peace. Stalin gave Mr Churchill an accurate account of these approaches ... "

Deterrnined efforts to encourage the Peace Party were hindered by disunity in the Allied camp, and the Potsdam Proclamation to Japan, following the conference of that name, was a solernn warning of the destruction to comeijf they did not surrender forthwith. However it did not describe the new weapon and when Trurnan, after yet more intemal debate, informed Stalin he merely said that America now had "a weapon of unusually destructive force". The Russians and Japanese, through their intelligence networks, probably had a good idea what was meant, but they could not say so openly. The Russians had in fact already started work on their own atom bomb.

Three days after the Potsdam Proclamation, on 29 July, the Japanese Prime Minister announced that his government would ignore it, but four days later further peace feelers were sent through Moscow with "qualilled adrnission of the Potsdam Proclamation as a basis of discussion". This however brought no response before the Hiroshima bomb was dropped on the now infamous 6 August a further appeal for surrender followed, failing which more bombs would be dropped

The Japanese militarists had in the past been accustomed to dictate terms to the Emperor; now however Hirohito sided with the Peace Party against the influence of the arrned forces. The Japanese cabinet was hopelessly split, and even Hiroshima did not break the deadlock. Communications had been cut and the hawks refused to believe what they had been told and had to visit the area themselves to be convinced. No agreed statement could be made. The Allies responded by advandng the date for the bombing of Nagasaki, which coincided with the entry of Russia into the war. The last stand of the armed forces was at an end. The atornic bomb which fell on Hiroshima killed 64,000 people within four months and the bomb on Nagaski 39,OOO people.In addition, 72,000 people were injuted in Hiroshima and 25,000 in Nagasaki. At Hiroshima four square miles were totally devastated and nine square miles were very badly damaged.

It is futile to speculate on how the destruction compares with what might have occurred had non-nuclear options been adopted - all the altematives were terrible in terms of the killing and mairning of workers on both sides. Such conjecture would merely encourage the notion that saving lives was a major consideration.


Further reading:

Hiroshima and after!

Why they dropped the bombs