Wednesday, September 30, 2009

precursors and antecedents

On Saturday 12 September , two of our London members went by train from Waterloo station to Cobham in Surrey, for the unveiling of the Gerrard Winstanley plaque in the local parish church of St Andrew .

Fortunately we had a map of the area with us, as the god-box is situated about a 20 minute walk from the rural station. Judging by the property details in estate agents' windows, the average house price here is around £600,000, and as we passed one such shop one prospective buyer was heard to say to the other, "This one has only an outdoor pool not an indoors one"! Yes, Cobham is a salubrious location, no car is little, au pairs out with baby and typical so-called middle-class ambience, in what is said to be the wealthiest county in the land.

We arrived at our destination in time to have a chat with the local resident historian, David Taylor, stating that we were from the Socialist Party and had come to the unveiling ceremony. He allowed us to leave photocopies of the June 1978 Socialist Standard article, "Winstanley: a 17th Century Utopian Socialist" in the small exhibition display table inside the C of E building, at the front of the table and therefore prominent surrounded by about 10 or so books about the Digger Movement published over the past 60 years or so. Of the 50 copies taken by us, about 36 were taken by visitors to this Cobham Heritage Day event, probably because it was the only literature amongst the few items for sale that was free.

Daniel Boulton, the local vicar and the Professor of Biblical Exegesis at Oxford University made three speeches about Winstanley and he even stressed that Gerrard was not opposed to private property but only wished for common ownership of common lands !! Needless to say even this got up the noses of the local gentry. The plaque itself was designed by a wine-label designer who lives locally and is about 2' wide and 18" high, hardly at all conspicuous and the writing cut around the border of the small tablet is scarcely legible at a distance.

There were several dozen people apparently, according to David Taylor, from all over the country, interested enough to attend the unveiling. We talked to a London Party councillor representing a Labour History group, and another woman, a Christian Socialist teacher, whose most ardent desire was to bring history into the classroom, emphasising the importance of the mythical ascension god Jesus on her charges.

We bought copies of "Gerrard Winstanley and the Republic of Heaven" by David Boulton, Dales Historical Monograph, 1999 at £9.00 and "Gerrard Winstanley in Elmbridge", Appelton Publications, 2000, at £4.95.

Amongst the works in the exhibition were:
"The Works of Gerrard Winstanley". Ed George H. Sabine. Cornell UP, 1941
"The Alchemy of Revolution. Gerrard Winstanley Occultism and 17th century English Radical Christian Writings". Ed Andrew Bradstock and Christopher Rowland.
"Winstanley and the Diggers 1644-1999". Ed Andrew Bradstock. Frank Cash, 2000.
"Digger Tracts 1649-50". Ed Andrew Horton, Aporia Press.

I must also mention "The Digger Movement in the Days of the Commonwealth" , H. Berens, reprinted Dodo Press recently, and "Brave Community. The Digger Movement in the English Revolution", John Gurney , Manchester UP, 2007, reviewed in the Socialist Standard .

Throughout the day, "Winstanley" , a film directed by Kevin Brownlow and Andrew Mollo, published by the BFI as a DVD, was showing in the exhibition area.

P.S. Even a food faddist enjoyed the cream tea in the Community Hall garden, but what really took the biscuit was the Duck Race – ducks flying, swimming or walking you might wonder? but no; hundreds of numbered yellow bath-ducks in Cobham mill-pond the vast majority becalmed and bunched at the side of the pond with only 5 or 6 of such creatures drifting slowly to the finishing line, the winner receiving a prize from the gold-chained mayor of Elmbridge. Has the memory of the Levellers and the Diggers been reduced to this – but it was anyway.
For more about the Diggers see here

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

waste & want - 2

Following from the previous post and also from earlier ones , we read :-

THERE are 6.6 billion people in the world, of which 4 billion live in poverty or on the borderline. Close to a billion people are starving today. But the amount of food we produce could feed 12 billion people. In a world of plenty, a huge number go hungry. One of the major causes of hunger is poverty itself, people cannot afford to buy food and hence go hungry.

The Challenge of Hunger Report (2008) finds 33 countries with "alarming" and "extremely alarming" levels of hunger. Another 32 countries come in the bracket of a "serious" hunger situation. When over 9 million people die worldwide each year because of hunger and malnutrition some 1.2 billion, mostly in developed countries, suffer from obesity. Many countries are faced with food shortages and food riots, while other countries throw away food. Eliminating the wastage of the millions of tonnes of food that are thrown away annually in the US and UK alone could lift more than a billion people out of hunger.

In the UK, 6.7 million tonnes of wasted food amounts to £10.2 billion each year. WRAP in UK estimated that the Britons toss away a third of the food they purchase, adding up to 4.4 million apples, 1.6 million bananas, 1.3 million yoghurt pots, 660,000 eggs, 440,000 ready meals, 1.2 million sausages and 2.8 million tomatoes.

Official surveys indicate that every year more than 350 billion pounds (lbs) of edible food are available for human consumption in the United States. Of that total, nearly 100 billion pounds are lost by retailers, restaurants and consumers. 35.9 million people live below the poverty line in America .

In Sweden, families with small children throw out about a quarter of the food they buy, a recent study found.

In India , an estimate from the ministry of food processing says that 580 billion Rupees worth of agriculture food items get wasted in India every year, resulting in artificial demand, price hike and food shortage. 200 million people in India suffer from malnutrition yet India supplies 80% of Switzerland's wheat . Food stocks are piling up in India, and yet the country is home to a fourth of the world's poor and hungry.

In a globalised food system, where we are all buying food at the same international market place, that means some nations are taking food out of the mouths of the poor.

Waste & want

Last Thursday (24 September), next to a photo of Belgian farmers spraying milk on a field in protest against low milk prices, the Times reported:

"An emergency meeting over the collapse in the price of milk will be held by Europe's agriculture ministers in Brussels on October 5 (Carl Mortished reports). The crisis talks have been convened by Sweden as farmers in mainland Europe continue their 'milk strike', dumping hundreds of thousands of litres of milk on farmland.The sudden fall in the price of milk products worldwide is causing pain for dairy farmers at a time when the European Commission is unwinding its dairy support regime."

Mortished ended by pointing out, revealingly:

"The recent price collapse follows a surge in 2007 in global prices for milk powder and butter. This led to more production, which came on the market as the recession hit demand."

This is typical of what regularly happens under capitalism. It's how "the market" works. When the price goes up in some sector of production each business in that sector, in the hope of making more profits, plans to expand production assuming that it rather than its rivals will get the extra sales. The result is that, in the end, when the new productive capacity comes on stream it is found that more has been produced than can be sold.

There is "overproduction" in relation to paying demand not to real needs of course. In this particular case, no one can argue that there is not a crying need for milk powder in some parts of the world, as the papers are full of reports of famine in the Horn of Africa and of appeals for money to relieve this.

It is true that the small milk producers in some European countries, like small primary producers everywhere, are also victims of the vicissitudes of the world market which can't be controlled and of which we all have to suffer the consequences.

Yet another proof, if one were needed, that capitalism is not a system geared to meeting people's needs, and so should be replaced by one that is.


Monday, September 28, 2009

Reporting Poverty

The Guardian has an article on new Joseph Rowntree Foundation report on UK poverty and the media and its findings that there isn't much popular concern over UK poverty and places much of the blame on the media, saying there is little appetite to address themes of poverty. In newspapers, the subject is "worthy, not newsworthy", and journalists found it was often "difficult to give poverty a focus, since it is ongoing and amorphous rather than a specific 'event'". In other words , to paraphrase the Bible , the poor are always with us .

Why don't we have celebrities singing "Let them know it's Christmas time" to raise money for the 3 million or so children in this country living below the poverty line? Why is there no Bono or Bob Geldof marshalling the campaign to end child poverty? Why can't campaign groups rouse sufficient outrage to get the public marching on the streets.

"The voices of people with experience of poverty...are severely under-represented in media coverage," says the report. On television, there is a danger of poverty turning into a "spectator sport" that entrenches an "us and them" mentality, the report also warns.

"There is very little sympathetic portrayal of poor people. And people are looking for reassuring images, that things are OK, things are fair and that people at the bottom are there because it’s their fault and therefore we’ve all earned on merit our position." (Political commentator)

As a result of this information shortage, many doubt whether there is "real" poverty in the UK and are unconvinced by the concept of relative poverty – the measure by which the government measures deprivation here. The public is either "harshly judgmental" towards people living in poverty or views poverty and inequality as inevitable.The trend of judging individuals as creators of their own poverty seems to be increasing. Journalists quite often used stereotypical pictures and words to refer to people living in poverty. Public awareness of the extent and reality of UK poverty is limited. People often see it as the individual’s responsibility to get out of poverty because they are not aware of the obstacles to achieving this. However,those suffering from poverty and being in receipt of benefits are stigmatised, so people are reluctant to speak out.

While the nature of poverty is very different from 50 years ago in the UK and from absolute poverty in developing countries, not having what most people take for granted is what many find difficult. Perhaps the starkest examples are the cases of parents going without or falling into debt so their children can have what others have, or their children being bullied at school for not having the latest trend.This may not be the poverty of material destitution. But if the measure of a human being consists in the accumulation of material possessions to which he or she may claim then , by that token, we are demeaned. And, ultimately, it is in this devaluation of our human worth — not simply in the fact of material inequality but in the meaning this society attaches to it.
The JRF calls for a debate that goes beyond building awareness of poverty. This needs the presentation of narratives exploring the causes of poverty and inequality. Over the decades the answer to the cause of poverty has been staring all those NGOs and charities and researchers in the face . It is capitalism .

Are all reforms doomed to failure and do not really make a difference to workers’ lives? Of course not - there are many examples of ‘successful’ reforms in such fields as education, housing, child employment, conditions of work and social security. But while there has been some ‘successful’ reforms, none of them have ever done more than keep workers and their families in efficient working order and, while reforms have sometimes taken the edge off a problem, they have very rarely managed to remove that problem completely. There have been some marginal improvements, but the social problems that the reformers such as JRF have set out to deal with have generally not been solved - hence the need for an uncompromising socialist party to pursue revolutionary change.
Nobody would deny today that poverty exists in the UK as many JRF reports provide ample evidence of . But does it make sense to argue that because we don't have socialism yet , we should , in the meantime , fight for reforms to at least reduce the worst effects of poverty. This argument has been voiced by so many for so long that `in the meantime' has become forever. The time is long past and too many people have suffered, are suffering, and will continue suffering until we attack the cause itself.

There is one way, and one way only, to abolish poverty, and that is to establish a socialist society in which the tools of production will be commonly owned and administered by the population as a whole in their own interests. In such a world, not only poverty but all the social evils created by the profit system will be abolished.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Population, the Environment and Socialism (again)

The latest New Scientist has a feature on population.

It confirms what we blogged about in June
: (female) education, gender equality and the eradication of poverty will play key roles in creating a stable world population. The Ehrlichs (famous for the Population Bomb) argue that point.

The articles also discuss other aspects of the population question. One of them, unintentionally, highlights a problem with the very framing of the issue - when is there a population problem? Well, when there are too few people about, for example! Reiner Klingholz argues that Europe is facing a problem of low fertility rate and ageing populace, which will trouble economies:

High population growth, such as that now taking place in many African countries, is not sustainable. But very low fertility rates are unsustainable too. It will be hard for countries with persistently low fertility to remain competitive, creative and wealthy enough to keep ahead of their country's environmental challenges....[I]t is important to focus less on human quantity and more on human capacity; not on how many people there are, but on how productively they live their lives. Working life must be extended and Europe must invest heavily in education, as fewer young brains will have to deliver increased creativity and productivity. (My emphasis.)

Note how the population issue gets a sort of nationalist slant to it and how it is directly linked to the interests of Capital.

The population question obviously cannot be divorced from other issues (which does happen) such as changes in technology and production, as shown in this interview with Jesse Ausubel. One such change could be the use of farming techniques that give higher yields whilst using less land. There is a whole vista of new possibilities which could be utilised to their full potential in a socialist society.

Possibly the hardest aspect is that of consumption. It is becoming obvious that a large meat diet is taking a toll on the environment. However, socialists don't tend to make lifestyles a central part of their argument. Who are we to tell others what they should or should not eat? Rather, we limit ourselves to arguments along the lines of getting rid of capitalism so that the, at present, billion malnourished people around the world can actually get the luxury of thinking about what to eat.

The population question is, in the final analysis, inextricably linked to how we live and how we could live. The editorial puts it thus: "Critically, it ... means basing success on stability - recognising that economic growth at all costs, not population growth, is the real root of all evil." Economic growth is, frankly, production for profit and Capital accumulation. New Scientist is not arguing for the abolition of capitalism, obviously; it is up to socialists to point out that capitalism cannot function without economic growth and, since that is the case, we need a different and sustainable mode of production.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Boomerang Trade

From the New Economics Foundation

5,000 tonnes of toilet paper from the UK to Germany, but then the UK imports over 4,000 tonnes back again from Germany.

22,000 tonnes of potatoes imported from Egypt to UK and then the UK exports 27,000 tonnes back to Egypt .

4,400 tonnes of ice cream gets exported from the UK to Italy, and 4,200 tonnes is then imported back .

116 tonnes of ‘Sweet biscuits, waffles and wafers, gingerbread and the like’ comes into the UK, rumbling passed 106 tonnes headed in the opposite direction.

Ships, lorries and planes wastefully carrying often identical goods from city to city across the globe and back again . The waste of capitalism .

The needs of consumers are always needs for a specific product at a specific time in a specific locality so we can assume that socialist society would leave the initial assessment of likely needs to a delegate body under the control of the local community . When needs arise in local communities in socialism , the supply of many of those needs will take place within the local community and in these cases production would not extent beyond this , as for example with local food production for local consumption .

In a stable society such as socialism, needs would change relatively slowly. Hence it is reasonable to surmise that an efficient system of stock control, recording what individuals actually chose to take under conditions of free access from local distribution centres over a given period, would enable the local distribution committee to estimate what the need for food, drink, clothes and household goods would be over a similar future period. Some needs would be able to be met locally: local transport, restaurants, builders, repairs and some food are examples as well as services such as street-lighting, libraries and refuse collection. The local distribution committee would then communicate needs that could not be met locally to the bodies charged with coordinating supplies to local communities.

The individual would have free access to the goods on the shelves of the local distribution centres; the local distribution centres free access to the goods they required to be always adequately stocked with what people needed; their suppliers free access to the goods they required from the factories which supplied them; industries and factories free access to the materials, equipment and energy they needed to produce their products; and so on.

Production and distribution in socialism would thus be a question of organising a coordinated and more or less self-regulating system of linkages between users and suppliers, enabling resources and materials to flow smoothly from one productive unit to another, and ultimately to the final user, in response to information flowing in the opposite direction originating from final users. The productive system would thus be set in motion from the consumer end, as individuals and communities took steps to satisfy their self-defined needs. Socialist production is self-regulating production for use.


Slum tourism is taking off in Kenya. Several local organisations have started selling guided trips through Kibera, a short drive from the luxury hotels that serve most foreign visitors in Nairobi.

According to The Guardian for about £20, tourists are promised a glimpse into the lives of the hundreds of thousands of people crammed into tiny rooms along dirt paths littered with excrement-filled plastic bags known as "flying toilets", as one tour agency explains on its website.

Critics say Kibera's sole attraction is its open-sewer poverty – with residents on parade like animals in a zoo.

The film "Slumdog Millionaire" set in the slums of Dharavi in Mumbai resulted in boom times for tourist agencies . The hottest draw for western tourists in search of India’s “squalor and misery”. The “highlights” of Dharavi sight-seeing include a stop at a stall of six toilets that serves 16,000 people and a stroll alongside a river so black and septic that it oozes rather than flows.

But after reports of malnutrition in children at Bhandup it have strangely added to the curiosity of foreign tourists, leading to a demand for an expansion of slum walkthroughs through that area as well.

"The slum tourism of Mumbai paves the way for the curious tourists from all over the world to know and explore the life of people living here, that is full of struggle for existence but still make them happy." says one website

A new word has arisen, "POORISM" or in other words voyeuristic "poverty porn"

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Moore's muses

We might not agree with Michael Moore upon everything in his new movie "Capitalism: A Love story" but in this interview there are points in which we do share . One of those is that the capitalist class rule by virtue of the consent of the many.

" Capitalism is not only an economic system that legalizes greed, it also has at its foundation a political system of capitalism that is, 'We have to buy the political system because we don't have enough votes. We're only 1% of the votes. We have to buy the people, and we have to buy the people by convincing them if they work hard, they too can be rich one day.' "

"I think they [The wealthiest Americans] exposed themselves to a lot of middle class people who did believe in their system and they showed everybody the Ponzi scheme that it is. It's set up like a pyramid, so that the richest 1% at the top have more financial wealth than the 95% beneath them.
But the trick here is to get the 95% believing that if they work hard and slave away, they would get to the top of the pyramid. Of course, as we know, only a few people can stand on top of a pyramid. The fact that this crash exposed our economic system as a corrupt scam was something I didn't intend on happening while I was making the movie."

"Where's the cure for cancer? Where's the bullet train to take us from New York to L.A. in 10 hours? Where are the alternative energy systems to save us when we run out of oil? I wish these were the priorities. But when Wall Street sucks up our best mathematicians, physicists, engineers, when they should be working on these other things and instead they're working to create derivatives ... c'mon. We're in deep, deep trouble. We need the best minds working on these things."

In the movie , Moore ends with this conclusion: "Capitalism is an evil and you can't regulate evil. You have to replace it with something that is good for everyone." He is not quite there yet on understanding what that "something" is but hopefully , he is getting there and also hopefully so are many others .

Hot Gospel

Pope Benedict XVI is to visit Britain in 2010, the BBC has learned. A spokesman for the prime minister said he was "delighted" and "it would be a moving and momentous occasion for the whole country".
Gordon Brown extended a formal invitation to the Pope during a private audience in February and was linked to the beatification of Cardinal Newman . Earlier this year, Pope Benedict approved as a miracle the cure of a US Roman Catholic deacon from a crippling spinal disease, bringing Cardinal Newman, who died in 1890, one step closer to sainthood. Deacon Jack Sullivan said he became completely free of pain after praying to Cardinal Newman in 2001. SOYMB can only reflect on this piece of Divine intervention by repeating the Pope's own words during a visit to the Nazi death camp at Auschwitz. "In a place like this, words fail. In the end, there can only be a dread silence - a silence which is itself a heartfelt cry to God. Why Lord, did you remain silent? How could you tolerate all this?" . It is a good question, but we doubt if the Holy Father has had any reply. God has remained singularly silent since biblical times!

SOYMB takes this opportunity to reprint an April 1954 Socialist Standar article by R Coster on the visit to the UK of another religious showman , Billy Graham .

Hot Gospel

This writer enjoyed his visit to the evangelist crusade at Harringay. He listened to Billy Graham, the newest American revival preacher, and went home feeling that sin had a lot to be said for it.

It has been impossible for even the most uninterested to know nothing about the London revivalist campaign, in the same way as it is impossible to be unaware of the Cup Final or the Derby. For three months the hoardings had giant yellow-and-blue Billy Graham posters; for three weeks before he came the papers reported, praised and—mostly—blamed Billy Graham. "He runs religion like big business" said The People, and called him "Silly Billy." The Mirror thought London "a poor sort of Sodom and Gomorrah for such fervid cleansing treatment." The New Statesman's versifying wit sparkled with "Jesus Inc." "Start your crusade among your own people. London can wait," growled the Pictorial; Reynolds' had the same line—"Now this Yank says we're heathens!" And, though most of them agreed about his film-star charm, Nathaniel Gubbins wouldn't even allow that. " I have seen," he wrote, " many butchers with kindlier faces."

The unfriendliness of the Press has disturbed the Graham entourage but little: "You can say what you like about me. I will not hate. My Christian heart will not allow it." Mrs. Graham was possibly a little nearer the real heart of the matter when she said: "Billy would rather people said bad things about him than that they said nothing at all." It sounds a pleasant and naive euphemism for the familiar business maxim that there is no such thing as bad publicity. The campaign is, indeed, a very business-like affair. The reported cost of the London meetings is a hundred thousand pounds. American and British supporters, most of them business men, are the backers; a shipping line provided free first-class passages from America for Mr. and Mrs. Graham, and his own salary is five thousand a year.

At the time of writing, in the early stages of the campaign, Harringay Arena has been filled every night. Few of the eleven thousand free seats were empty on the night we went; nor should they have been, with all the advertising and all the showmanship. Loudspeakers everywhere; snappy brochure-like hymn books passed round; in the centre, over the spot where Tommy Farr fought Max Baer, a huge red box-kite proclaiming " Jesus says 'I am the way and the life'." At one end was a railed-in pulpit (with an American Broadcasting Corporation placard), and behind it, sweeping down from the roof, rank upon rank of white-bloused choristers.

Everything was bigger, better, brighter. The announcer was a breezy, salesman-like young American. He talked and boosted and wisecracked for half an hour. Introducing the publisher of Billy Graham's book, now on sale; informing mothers we have a room where children may be left; tomorrow night an evangelist from Hollywood will tell his experiences among the stars (one visualised Miss Monroe, all a-flutter and cooing "The Scriptures is a girl's best friend"). The announcer conducted the choir. His arms waved high: "Gee, that was grand, folks! How about the last chorus again? All together ..." But the singing was magnificent.

And finally Billy Graham. He was preceded by Beverley Shea, who sang a religious song in the Perry Como manner; and, as the last treacly note died away, Graham stepped into the pulpit. Everybody stand up; everybody be still; let no man or woman make a sound. Now you may sit. Hold up your Bibles—we wanna see that everybody's gotta Bible. That's it.

The timing and the psychology were marvellous. Billy Graham himself was a disappointment. It could reasonably be said that he had to be, that the build-up was too good; nevertheless, the Manchester Guardian's comment was fair enough—"he lacks the oratorical gift." The expected storm of hellfire gospel materialized as a mere stiff breeze. This writer heard hotter Bible-thumping one Sunday in a local mission hall, from a preacher whose name was that of a famous murderer.

Billy Graham's pulpit manner, in fact, reminds an East Londoner of nothing so much as a market cheap-jack's. He talks loud and fast, holding his Bible aloft as if to emphasize its startling value and slapping it with a knocked-down-to-you-madam finality. His approach is that of a man with a wonderful bargain who will nag you into buying it. In one respect, however, he is different from the street salesman and from most orators: instead of working up to his climax, he works down to it. In the last few minutes he became calm, he heeded Hamlet's advice "Do not saw the air too much with your hand, thus"; he talked in a soft, persuasive voice and asked for silent prayer. People bowed their heads, and the organ played softly. It was in this skilfully created atmosphere of churchy calm, of sentiment and "uplift," that he asked the converts and witnesses to come forward.

At first there was only a trickle; it would be uncharitable, but probably correct, to surmise that some at least hoped to encourage others. The trickle grew, until in ten minutes a good three hundred stood in front of the pulpit. They were led away to have their names and addresses taken, presumably because the Crusade knows conversion is likely to be short-lived. There was another hymn, and the meeting was over.

What prompted the three hundred, and their counterparts on the other nights? Billy Graham claimed, before the meeting ended, that over sixty per cent, of those who came forward were genuine first-timers in religion. What, then, prompted the two hundred? Without doubt it was curiosity for some; possibly, considering the size of Harringay Arena, the desire for a closer look at the preacher. For most of them there are two suggestions to make. The first is sentimentality: the agreeable, maudlin sentimentality that we all indulge on occasions. It is mainly a matter of surroundings and properties; moonlight, babies, cats and dogs and draught beer are notorious stimulants of it; and at the revival meetings, the circumstances for religious sentimentality are organized with scrupulous care. The splendid choir and the rich-toned organ, the soloist's lush crooning, the handsome, fervent preacher and the culminating silence of thousands of people give a feeling of elevation, of being in touch with higher matters, and warm the heart. And that is just what they are meant to do.

Nevertheless, many of the converts undoubtedly are attracted by the appeal which is made from the pulpit. A century ago, preachers could and did attract poor starved creatures in the nineteenth-century industrial abyss with hopeful fantasies of what was astutely nicknamed "pie in the sky when you die." Social circumstances have changed a little since then, and popular consciousness has generally rejected whatever concern it had over heaven and hell. Who asks for pie in the soup-kitchen world of the Welfare State? Most people want this life to be much better—and that is what Billy Graham claims to offer. Peace, happiness, contentment; accept the gospel, and these desirable conditions are yours. It is not surprising that people should be willing to try it, and it will be surprising if they have any luck.

But what is Billy Graham's—still more to the point, what is his backers' object? A revivalist, but what is he hoping to revive? He says his first aim is to bring people back into the Churches, but working people in this country have never gone to Church to any extent worth talking about. They went when they were made to, and a minority of them has always been susceptible to " the hope of what is called heaven and the fear of what is called hell"; otherwise they never have participated much in religious observances other than weddings, christenings and funerals.

There is no reason for doubting Graham's sincerity of conviction that his purpose in life must be inducing others to religious belief. It does not follow that his backers are paying out so handsomely to the same end. Probably some of them are; the rich seem to observe religion a little more than the poor, and most people want to see their own beliefs spread. The clergy, too, are anxious to have more people in their Churches. There have, however, been reports of other motives. Mr. Alfred Owen, a wealthy industrialist who is treasurer to the Crusade, asked other businessmen to support it because "the growth of Communism ... is seeking to infiltrate the whole of our national life." Billy Graham has spoken against Communism in America—"because he thinks it is evil," says Mrs. Graham.

It is curious how many people look on Communism as an irreligious affair, when contrary evidence is before their eyes. Christianity flourishes under State benefaction in Russia and the "democracies" of Eastern Europe, and the Dean of Canterbury maintains a dual priesthood. Religious belief is always good for the regime (that is why it was not long out of favour in Russia); religious people do not seek to change the world much, and are usually prepared to worship temporal as well as spiritual rulers. Some American and British businessmen are willing to pay for a campaign which promises to confirm people's acceptance of capitalism in the western world; Russia's rulers support religious work for exactly the same reason. Certainly Billy Graham has no objection to capitalism: " There's nothing wrong in being rich," he told his audience at Harringay. It was very surprising, considering his insistence on literal acceptance of the Bible and the Bible's insistence that the rich do not easily enter the kingdom of Heaven.

Yes, religion is still "the opium of the people." even though there are other narcotics for this day and age. Schools still teach prayers before they teach letters, religious observance is still magistrates' criterion of fitness for the care of children. Billy Graham's opium-peddling has had its share of success, and probably will continue to have it. Capitalism makes the world a pretty poor place for most working people, and consequently they are given to grabbing at even remote possibilities of fulfilling their needs. Some buy a shillings-worth of hope in the pools, some live vicariously at the films and the speedways, and some "take it to the Lord in prayer." These, however, are the symptoms and not the cure. And while evangelists are on their knees, while the confused seek comfort in a fable which came (in strict rotation) from primitive man watching his shadow to the medicine man with his painted face, to the temples of the ancient East, to Pythagoras, to Plato, to Jesus if he ever lived—the wicked materialists are learning and telling how mankind's sickness may really be cured.

(Socialist Standard, April 1954)

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Leo Tolstoy: author and anarchist

Leo Tolstoy is famous not only for his novels but for his moral and political beliefs which have inspired, and continue to inspire, both anarchists and pacifists.

He was born on 9th September, 1828 into a family of rural aristocrats at their estate at Yasnaya Polyana, near Tula in Russia. His mother, a princess, died when he was barely eighteen months old and his father, a count, died when he was nine. A distant relative, Tatyana Yergolskava, brought up Tolstoy, his sister Maria and his three brothers.

From 1844 to 1847 Tolstoy studied oriental languages and law at the university of Kazan but failed to take a degree. He returned to his estate, his health in decline because of dissipation, where he stayed until 1851 when he went to live with a brother in the Caucasus who persuaded him to join the army.

In 1852 Tolstoy's first story, Childhood, met with considerable success and was followed by Boyhood in 1854 and Youth in 1857. His account of the fighting at Sebastopol made him a national celebrity and on the orders of the Czar he was sent back from the front to St Petersburg where his literary fame enabled him to meet the most distinguished writers and poets of that period.

From 1857 to 1861 Tolstoy traveled abroad, visiting Germany, Italy, France, Switzerland and England. During his travels he met the anarchist Proudhon, the author Auerbach (known for his stories of peasant life) and the Russian revolutionary Alexander Herzen.

His return home in February 1861 saw the emancipation of the serfs and, encouraged by the reforms of the times, he attempted to carry out educational experiments on his estate which ended in failure after two years.

On this day in 1862 Tolstoy married Sophia Andreyevna Behrs and for nearly twenty years he lived a settled life on his estate, raising thirteen children and writing some of his best known novels such as War and Peace and Anna Karenina.

During the last two decades of the nineteenth century, until the end of his life, Tolstoy became preoccupied with moral and ethical questions and much of his later works such as My Confession (1879); The Gospel in Brief (1880); What I Believe (1884) What Shall We Do Then? (1885); On Life (1887); The Kingdom of God is Within You (1889); What is Religion? (1902) increasingly concentrated on putting across his idiosyncratic theological views.

His last long novel, Resurrection (1899), written on behalf of the religious sect, the Doukhobres, was instrumental in ending their persecution and gaining permission for them to emigrate to Canada, but its hostile and outspoken criticisms of Church and State led to his excommunication from the Russian Orthodox Church in 1901. But even during this period of his Iife when Tolstoy the propagandist had largely taken over from Tolstoy the novelist, he was still able to produce such masterpieces as The Death of Ivan Ilyitch (1886); The Power of Darkness (1886); Master and Man (1895); Father Sergius (1898); Nedji Murat (1904); The False Coupon (1905.

Finally, on 28th October 1910, in a dramatic flight from his home, Tolstoy went to the convent of Shamardino near Kaluga, where his sister Maria was a nun. He then traveled towards Novo-Cherkask but developed pneumonia and died at Ostapovo railway station on 7th November, 1910.

Toistoy's political and ethical views developed partly as a result of his experiences in the Crimean war, his later pacifism resulting from his participation in the siege of Sebastopol. But it was the witnessing of a public execution in Paris in 1857 that led to his opposition to organised state rule. Woodcock states:

"The cold, inhuman efficiency of the operation aroused in him a horror far greater than any scenes of war had done, and the guillotine became for him a frightful symbol of the state that used it. From that day he began to speak politically - or anti-politically - in the voice of an anarchist." (Woodcock, G. 'Anarchism' 1963, Penguin Books, Harmondsworth.)

Tolstoy was influenced by the French anarchist, Pierre-Joseph Proudhon and his ideal of the free peasant life; on a trip to Western Europe he made a detour to visit him in Brussels. They talked mainly about education, a subject which had interested Tolstoy from an assiduous reading of his childhood hero, Rousseau. He was also impressed by Proudhon's book 'La Guerre et la Paix' which was nearing completion, the title of which he was to borrow for his longest and best known novel.

The years of Tolstoy's youth coincided with the economic and political changes arising from the ending of serfdom and the development of capitalism in Russia, which threatened to change the way of life for the landed gentry who found themselves dependent on hired labour in competition with industry.

Besides the economic threat to the landed gentry Tolstoy saw encroaching industrialisation as a threat to the simple life, close to nature, which he loved and which is described in The Cossacks, written in 1852 but not published until ten years later:

"Oleninm had entered into the life of the Cossack village so fully that his past seemed quite foreign to him. As to the future, especially a future outside the world in which he was now living, it did not interest him at all. When he received letters from home, from re1atives and friends, he was offended by the evident distress with which they regarded him as a lost man, while he in his village considered those as did not live as he was living."

But even though the simple life is eulogised in 'The Cossacks', Tolstoy's natural exuberence breaks through the narrative:

"It's all nonsense what I have been thinking about - love and self-sacrifice and Lukaska. Happiness is the one thing. He who is happy is right", flashed through Olenin's mind, and with a strength unexpected to himself he seized and kissed. tbe beautiful Maryanka on her ternple and her cheek."

These two opposing tendencies were to plague Tolstoy for the greater part of his adult life. On he one hand was the sensualist; the lover of life; the dissipated youth who failed to obtain a degree at university; the father of thirteen children, with a strong sexual appetite. On other hand was the brooding moralist; the relentless critic of organised religion; the puritanical advocate of celibacy; the anarchist, castigating the rule of law, privilege and power.

Tolstoy put his own moral doubts into his characters in 'Anna Karenina' which was completed in 1877. The country-loving, goodhearted Levin, after a Titanic struggle to find meaning and purpose to life, eventually finds happiness and contentment with Kitty, whilst the lovers Anna Karenina and Vronsky are crushed by their adulterous relationship, which ends in despair and disaster with Anna's suicide.

In 'Anna Karenina' Tolstoy put political opinions into the mouths of his characters in addition to his moral views, in the character of Levin:

"You know that capitalism oppresses the workers. Our workmen the peasants bear the whole burden of labour, but are so placed that, work as they may, they cannot escape from their degrading condition. All the profits on their labour, by which they might better their condition, give themselves some leisure, and consequently gain some education, all this surplus value is taken away by the capitalists. And our society has so shaped itself that the more the people work the richer the merchants and landowners will become, while the people will remain beasts of burden for ever. And this system must be changed."

His views on education are also voiced by Levin:

"Schools are no remedy, but the remedy would be an economic organisation under which the people would be better off and have more leisure. Then schools would come."

But although 'Anna Karenina', 'The Cossacks' and also 'War and Peace' portray Toistoy's love of the countryside. a life' close to nature, his distrust of industrialisation and an occasional attack on capitalism they are not anarchist novels or propagandist novels in the same way that most of his later books were.

In 'What Shall We Do Then?' published in 1885, he attacked money:

"Money is the new form of slavery, distinguished from the old solely by its impersonality, by the lack of any human relation between the master and the slave.

..the essence of all slavery consists in drawing the benefit of another's labour force by compulsion, and it is founded upon property in the slave or upon property in money which is indispensable to the other man."

In his last long novel Tolstoy enlarged upon moral attacks under capitalism:

"People usually imagine a theief, a murderer, a spy, a prostitute, knowing their occupation to be evil, must be ashamed of it. But the very opposite is true. Men who have been placed by fate and their own sins in a certain position, however irregular that position may be, adopt a view of life as a whole which makes their position appear to them good and respectable. In order to back up their view of life they instinctively mix only with those who accept their ideas of life and their place in it. This surprises us when it is a case of thieves bragging of their skill, prostitutes flaunting their depravity or murderers boasting of their cruelty. But it surprises us only because their numbers are limited and - this is the point - we live in a different atmosphere. But can we not observe the same phenomenon when the rich boast of their wealth, i.e. of robbery; when commanders of armies pride themselves on their victories, i.e. on murder; and when those in high places vaunt their power - their brute force? We do not see that their ideas of life and of good and evil are corrupt and inspired by a necessity to justify their position, only because the circle of people with such corrupt ideas is a larger one and we belong to it ourselves."

In 'The Kingdom of God is Within You' Tolstoy's anarchist ideas and his opposition to organised religion is clearly stated:

"Christianity in its true significance abolishes the state, annililates all governments.

Revolutionary enemies fight the government from outside; Christianity does not fight at all, but wrecks its foundation from within."

He attacked power in the same book:

"All men find themselves in power assert that their power is necessary in order that the wicked may not do violence to the good, and regard it as self-evident that they are the good and are giving the rest of the good protection against the bad. But in reality those who grasp and hold the power cannot possibly do the better.

In order to obtain and retain power, one must love it. But the effort after power is not apt to be coupled with goodness, but with the opposite qualities, pride, craft and cruelty. Without exalting self and abasing others, without hypocrisy, lying, prisons, fortresses, penalties, killing, no power can arise or hold its own."

In response to the inequalities of wealth and the injustices of the capitalist system Tolstoy proposed that the remedy should be:

"If you are a landlord, to give your land at once to the poor, and, if you are a capitalist, to give your money and your factory to the working-man; if you are a prince, a cabinet minister, an official, a judge or a general, you ought at once to resign your position, and, if you are a soldier, you ought to refuse obedience without regard to any danger." ('The Kingdom of God is Within You')

Three years earlier, in 1890, Tolstoy had tried to put his principles into practice by renouncing his property, although he continued to live in comfort on his estate, the management of which passed to his wife. In the following year he gave up the posthumous rights on his books written after 1881.

To the end of his life Tolstoy continued to propagate his views regardless of his personal safety, for it must be remembered that the Czarist government frequently imprisoned political opponents without trial for periods of twenty years more. The reason why Tolstoy remained unscathed is unclear but it is possible that the police did not wish to make a martyr of a writer of such international fame. Whatever the reason, Tolstoy took advantage of the situation to attack the government at every opportunity.

In 'Christianity and Patriotism'(1894)he stated:

"Patriotism in its simplest, clearest, and most indubitable mneaning is nothing but an instrument for the attainment of the government's ambitious and mercenary, aims, and a renunciation of. human dignity. common sense. and conscience by!the governed, and a slavish submission to those who hold-power, That is what is really preached wherever patriotism is championed. Patriotism is slavery."

And in his 'Address to the Swedish Peace Congress' in 1909 when he was turned eighty, he was still able (despite the emotional turmoil of his domestic life) to write eloquently in support of his views:

"...the military profession and calling, not withstanding all the efforts to hide its real meaning, is as shameful a business as an executioner's and even more so. For the executioner only holds himself in readiness to kill those who have been adjudged harmful and criminal, while a soldier promises to kill all whom he is told to kill, even though they be dearest to him or the best of men."

Tolstoy's influence is difficult to sum up: he advocated giving up one's personal wealth to help the poor in spite of having realised that it is the exploitation of workers' labour power which is the cause of poverty; he was a pacifist, but in practising non-violence his supporters were slaughtered and imprisoned by the Bolsheviks in the years following the Russian revolution; he wrote of "Christian love" but had a chauvinistic attitude to women and advocated celibacy which would lead to the extinction of the human race instead of its advancement; his simple, rural existence may be to the taste of some people but it avoids the problems of capitalism instead of solving them.

The most enduring Tolstoyan community has been the Catholic Worker group which was established in the USA in the 1930s. And in Britain the Christian anarchists who held meetings at St. Paul's Church, Bow, in East London in 1967 all belonged to established churches. And though this may seem surprising in view of Tolstoy's hostility towards organised religion, his own rationalist religious beliefs were so individualistic that they have been accepted less readily than his other teachings.

Socialists wish to end capitalism, only it will not be done by individuals withdrawing from society, but by the mass of workers understanding, wanting, and working for socialism.

Socialists reject religious beliefs because they postpone the struggle to achieve a better life in the hope of finding rewards in a mythical after-life. Such practices stop workers from questioning their exploitation, hence their enthusiastic endorsement by the state.

The literary gifts of Tolstoy have assured him of a place in history. His work is rightfully admired by all who appreciate good literature, and will continue to do so for generations to come. But Tolstoy, the pamphleteer. is rapidly being forgotten and already many of his religious and political tracts are unobtainable.

Towards the end of his life Tolstoy said to Gorky:

"I write a lot and that's not right because I do it from senile vanity, from the desire to make everyone think as I do."

Perhaps that is why his pamphlets are being forgotten, because the imperious aristocrat in Tolstoy's personality dominated how he would have wished to be, and people do not like being bullied.

Nearly·eighty years after his death we can admire the moral courage of Tolstoy and his literary genius, and continue to do so long after Tolstoy the prophet has been forgotten.

(CARL PINEL, Socialist Standard, May 1987)

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

No change

Do you remember 2005? Cast your mind back .540 NGOs, unions . church and charitable organisations marching in Edinburgh during the G-8 government conference to "Make Poverty History" with minstrel Bob Geldof providing the soundtrack. A quarter of a million on the streets expressing good will and empathy with suffering fellow humans. They had no blueprint for change other than the three demands put forward by the Make Poverty History campaign – fair trade, more aid and debt cancellation. All failed to address the root cause of the problems of capitalism and , regardless of whatever good intentions , they ended up promoting the damnable system they were all so critical of by applauding any meagre reform that emerged from Gleneagles.

What is the situation in Africa today in 2009 ?

The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said nearly 20 million persons in Uganda, Kenya, Ethiopia and Somalia had become dependent on relief following poor harvest this year, combined with armed conflicts and population displacements.

FAO's Food Security and Nutrition Analysis Unit said Somalia was facing the worst humanitarian crisis in 18 years, with approximately half the population--an estimated 3.6 million--in need of emergency life-saving assistance.

Mozambique's National Institute of Disaster management (INGC) said on Tuesday about 275,000 people in the country need food aid.

Capitalism cannot be reformed in the interests of the world’s suffering billions, because reform does not address the basic contradiction between profit and need. It is now no utopian fantasy – but a practical, revolutionary proposition – to suggest we can live in a world without waste or want or war, in which each person has free access to the benefits of civilisation.We certainly have the science, the technology and the know-how. All that is missing is the will – the global desire for change that can make that next great historical advance possible; a belief in ourselves as masters of our own destiny; a belief that it is possible to free production from the artificial constraints of profit and to fashion a world in our own interests.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Pass the Barclays

Yesterday whilst sitting in the smallest room of my abode I perused a copy of a document pertaining to a Barclays PLC Annual General Meeting of some years ago. The Notice of Meeting detailed a proposed Performance Share Plan (PSP) that shareholders were to vote on at a forthcoming AGM. If approved the PSP would replace an existing Barclays Incentive Share Option Plan. The PSP, a bonus payment with a value of between 50% and 100% of the employee's salary, would awarded to (quote) 'highly marketable individuals'. It was envisaged that the bank executive directors, senior managers, and approximately 1600 other Barclay PLC employees would be eligible to receive the PSP award.

I nearly fell off of the porcelain throne when I noted, in one illustrative example of the workings of the PSP, that the base salary of an executive director was in the order of £500,000 p.a. Half a million quid! Blimey (I thought) I bet I've only earnt a fraction of that amount since pulling on long trousers, joining the workforce, and (premature) consignment to the industrial scrap heap. Subsequent calculation showed my gross income as a wage slave of 35 years, that included many periods of unemployment, was £138,000, give or take a few brass buttons.

Mind you for half a million quid that's lot of grovelling, hoop jumping, arse licking, yes sirs - no sirs, burning the candle at both ends, etc., for a Barclays PLC executive director. And besides which half a million quid does not go far nowadays what with the cost of private schooling, two weeks in the Bahamas, renovating the Provence farm, piped Bollinger, the Limo - petrol's not getting any cheaper either, etc. etc.. Yes it is a hard life for some.

The Barclays PSP smells of the age old carrot-on-a-stick device used to encourage competition amongst the workforce, that ultimately is at their cost e.g. the instigator benefits by increased production, a reduction of the workforce, and no doubt a tax lurk, etc.. Personally I can't see any logic in one teller counting bits of coloured paper faster then another teller. Paper should be put to better use.

I do not recall in my life a monetary bonus performance scheme such as the Barclays model being waved in front of my face by my previous assorted paymasters. Discounting the weekly topknot touching for a wage slave pittance it was a more stick then a carrot, a do it or else ideology with appropriate physical encouragement gleefully administered by the Sturmfuhrers in the army as well as in the workplace.

Persons who earn their daily bread by selling their labour, whether they are 'highly marketable' or not, might wake up to the absurdity of a system that pits worker against worker not only in the workplace but also on the battle field, solely for the benefit of a few. One wonders what size alarm clock is needed to wake 'em up?

Whether the Barclays PLC PSP had or had not been endorsed by the AGM I cared not, but in keeping with my philosophy of putting paper to better use, their proposal was soon behind me.

George Brunker

Sunday, September 20, 2009

44000 Dead Americans a year

While Obama endeavours to overcome the special interest groups and bring about health reform in the USA , SOYMB came across this new report.

More than 44,000 Americans die every year — 122 every day — due to lack of health insurance.
Said lead author Dr. Andrew Wilper. “We doctors have many new ways to prevent deaths from hypertension, diabetes and heart disease — but only if patients can get into our offices and afford their medications.”

Co-author Dr. Steffie Woolhandler said "...Politicians in Washington are protecting insurance industry profits while sacrificing American lives.”

hat tip Dissident Voice

Friday, September 18, 2009

still it climbs higher and higher...

Reported in the New York Times

People living below the poverty line will be more than 1.3 billion people, up by more than 100 million in 2009.

222 million workers run the risk of joining the ranks of the working poor, earning less than $1.25 a day, according to an estimate by the International Labor Organization.

Hunger rates are up in every region in the world, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization. The most recent increase in hunger is not the consequence of poor global harvests but is caused by the world economic crisis that has resulted in lower incomes and increased unemployment. This has reduced access to food by the poor, the UN agency said.

400 million hectares of Guinea Savannah land that spreads across 25 countries is ripe for farming. At the moment only ten percent of the Guinea Savannah zone, a vast area of around 600 million hectares of land from Senegal to South Africa is actually cropped. Changing the use of land in the Guinea Savannah to agriculture will inevitably bring some environmental costs. Intensification brings with it risks of environmental damage through destruction of vulnerable ecosystems and the excessive use of fertilizers and pesticides but agriculture can also benefit the environment by slowing the spread of agriculture into fragile and/or environmentally valuable lands.
“Fortunately, there is a wealth of experience from other countries on which to draw,” said the FAO

Thursday, September 17, 2009

The problem of poverty

Yet another telling news snippet .

Children who grow up poor are more likely to get chronic diseases later in life.That's the conclusion of a new study by a team of researchers at the University of B.C., which has found that early life experience is a key predictor of health challenges 50 or 60 years down the road. And even though the poor person may have climbed up the social ladder, the negative health consequences can still show up.
People who grow up with low social status in early childhood have a greater risk of getting heart disease, stroke, diabetes and some cancers.

"What happens to people in their early years of life have long-standing and far-reaching consequences," Co-author Gregory Miller, associate professor of psychology at UBC, said

It gets higher and higher and sadder and sadder

The global recession is expected to push 89 million more people into extreme poverty by the end of 2010, the World Bank said.

Extreme poverty is defined as living on less than 1.25 dollars a day

Politics and starving children

The World Food Programme says US curbs are in part behind its move to shut its Somali feeding programmes for more than 100,000 acutely malnourished children. Aid workers have told the BBC the cuts are the result of a freeze on funding by the United States Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance. The US embargo is stopping American aid funds from reaching the vast areas of southern and central Somalia, where the UN estimates half the population is now in need of food aid.

The US restrictions affect funding for areas controlled by groups designated as terrorist. Washington has imposed sanctions on the hardline Somali Islamist group, al-Shabab.

"We take all precautions to ensure that our food only goes to the most needy and is not handled by any particular political groups in Somalia or elsewhere and in particular al-Shabab in Somalia," Sheeran, executive director of the WFP said . "The WFP is working with the USA to try to resolve these difficulties."

In the meantime the children of Somalia are going without the food they so badly need.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Royal Mint

Prince Harry , third in line to the British throne, had a low-key 25th birthday on Tuesday, when he became eligible for some of the £6.5 million inheritance left by his mother, Princess Diana.
Not short of a few pounds , it is understood Prince Harry will not touch the money for now -- it has been invested.

Capitalist swine

The next general election in the UK is months away, yet like yesterday's in Norway the result is already known: they won, we lost. But for some members of the UK's present government, whether or not our class is duped into voting for them again, it is a win win situation:

Gordon Brown may be less sought-after by City headhunters than his first secretary. But the good news for the prime minister, should he be cast out of Downing Street next year, is that he can expect a warm welcome as an after-dinner speaker, earning up to £100,000 an hour in the US.

Lord Mandelson will face invitations to earn a small fortune in the private sector if Labour loses the general election, according to top headhunters....Andrew Garner, who chairs Norman Broadbent, said Lord Mandelson could earn hundreds of thousands if not millions of pounds a year for the rest of his life.

Such swine bring a certain image to mind.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Norway before and after the election: business as usual

There is a general election taking place in Norway today. The result is already known: they won, we lost. The Socialist position is that 'all political parties are but the expression of class interests' and, those contesting
are in the business of protecting the status quo.

The largest of them is the Labour Party, who, after a brief flirtation with
Moscow in the early twenties, embraced conventional reformism thoroughly.
Remarkably, given that they have over fifty years of government experience still
claim to hold 'a vision of a just world without poverty, in peace and ecological
balance, where people are free and equal and have influence on the conditions
affecting their lives'. They are part of the current 'centre-left' governing alliance.

The much younger, smaller, and mis-named Democrats profess to be what they
are not. The thoroughly democratic Socialist Party, by way of contrast, has never had let alone wanted a leader, knowing that working class emancipation necessarily excludes the role of political leadership.

The Progress Party's ideological father is Anders Lange, a campaigner
for low taxes and a supporter of apartheid-era South Africa! The
Socialist Party has since its inception in 1904 claimed that the establishment
of a classless world 'will involve the emancipation of all mankind, without
distinction of race or sex'. With regard to taxation, it is our contention that the burden of payment falls on the propertied class and profits.

The Conservative Party has as one of its policies to increase the number of
policemen/women. Great! More jobs for the working class! But viewing
working for a wage as a form of prostitution, the Socialist Party want a world
of unemployment. And one without police or law. Marx is worth remembering
"The criminal moreover produces the whole of the police and of criminal
justice, constables, judges, hangmen, juries, etc; and all these different lines
of business, which form equally many categories of the social division of
labour, develop different capacities of the human spirit, create new needs and
new ways of satisfying them. Torture alone has given rise to the most ingenious
mechanical inventions, and employed many honourable craftsmen in the
production of its instruments."

The Christian Democrats are against abortion, and clearly have not read an
essay titled "Pro-life" hypocrites.

The Coast Party wants to keep all resources in Norway, along with key
industries etc. in Norwegian hands. This is, of course, utterly irrelevant to
the interests of the working class: wage slavery will continue whether the
means of production and distribution are owned by 'natives' or not. Has the new ruling class of native black capitalists in South Africa ended crass exploitation? No! That the Coast Party is anti-immigration should come as no surprise.

The Green Party have yet to learn that pollution, like war, is endemic to the
profit system

Another minor group, the Pensioners' Party, is all in favour of prisons. UK
readers may recall the soundbite tough on crime and the causes of crime. Well,
as one Socialist Standard article on this subject stated Whichever side of the law you're on, whether you're in or out of jail, if you're poor there is one sound-bite that will always ring true: Tough on you.

Norges Patriotene, a name which does not require translation, are marching
alongside other far right parties such as the BNP, the Front National and Vlaams Belang.

Red are state capitalists who have recently absorbed the Workers' Communist Party. Much can be said about the WCP, but the Norwegian newspaper Aftenposten's headline from the 28th August 2005 probably cannot be
bettered: "They worshiped Stalin, Mao and Pol Pot".

The Centre Party are actually a left of centre group and coalition members of
the present government alongside the Labour Party and Left Socialists. The CP
want, among other things, Norwegian soldiers to desist from travelling the
world, meeting interesting new people and killing them. The only conflict the
Socialist Party supports is the class war.

Venstre, despite their name which translates as left, are a Liberal Party,
favour a minimum wage. This of course means minimum wages for us - and maximum
profits for them

The Socialist Left Party, part of the centre left alliance, apparently want
a world without class differences. Here, like their fellow reformists in the Labour Party, they are being utterly Utopian.

These parties, like others elsewhere, seek to con us into continuing to ride their reformist bandwagon. Workers of the world wake up and embark on the revolutionary road to a world of free access!

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Food , food , glorious food describes how each day , at least 35,615 died from the worst possible death, starvation. Somewhere around 85% of these starvation deaths occur in children 5 years of age or younger. If the next two leading ways the poorest of the poor die, water borne diseases and AIDS, were added we would be approaching a daily body count of 50,000 deaths.One person every 2 seconds needlessly dies from starvation, water borne diseases or AIDS.Farmers around the world grow more than enough food to feed the entire world adequately. Global grain production yielded a record 2.3 billion tons in 2007, up 4% from the year before, yet, billions of people go hungry every day. Since 1961 the world’s cereal output has tripled, while the population has doubled. Stocks are at their lowest level in 30 years. The bottom line is that there is enough food produced in the world to feed the population. The problem is that it doesn’t get to all of those who need it. Less than half of the world’s grain production is directly eaten by people. Most goes into animal feed and, increasingly, biofuels
The global financial crisis appears to be abating. Not so, the hunger crisis. The situation remains grave for the one billion hungry who are growing hungrier every day.That’s one in six people, every day . 80% of the hungry are either farmers or farm labourers, those who produce food.

The following is taken from website.

The food crisis has been misrepresented as basically a production problem, and all the answers amount to the same imperative: produce more food. In capitalist thinking, that means commercial seeds, vast uniform lands for monoculture, lots of chemicals and unfettered trade and investment routes. As a result, a lot of money is being thrown at this recipe to “feed the world”. Throughout the latter part of 2008, donors and UN agencies called incessantly for “more investment in agriculture” as the solution to the food crisis. The French government has just set up, through the African Development Bank, a new private equity fund to invest in African agriculture. The African Development Bank is putting its own capital into private equity funds to spur agribusiness ventures on the continent; the Asian Development Bank is doing the same. The World Bank is increasing its agricultural spending from US$4 billion in 2008 to US$12 billion in 2009–10.At the same time, its commercial arm, the International Finance Corporation, has teamed up with Altima Partners to create a US$75-million fund to invest in agribusiness “to increase food supplies”.

Agricultural policy has completely lost touch with its most basic goal of feeding people. In reality, most of the investment is going into agribusiness development. All these funds and programmes emphasise getting corporate seeds, a handful of Western livestock breeds, and crop chemicals (especially fertilisers) on to the fields, so it is not hard to see who the big winners are. The agricultural input suppliers must be rubbing their hands with glee over these new indirect subsidies. Feeding people is only a distant preoccupation of this investment rush into agriculture. If anything, it is consumers in export markets who are being considered, and a big chunk of the money isn’t even going into food production at all, but into the production of biofuels. Industrial monocultures produce more commodities, not more food. This is good for Cargill and Conagra. It is bad for farmers, the poor and the planet.

Hedge funds and other sources of money are pouring billions of dollars into commodities to escape sliding stock markets and the credit crunch, putting food stocks further out of poor people’s reach. According to some estimates, investment funds now control 50–60% of the wheat traded on the world’s biggest commodity markets. One firm calculates that the amount of speculative money in commodities futures – markets where investors do not buy or sell a physical commodity, like rice or wheat, but merely bet on price movements – has ballooned from US$5 billion in 2000 to US$175 billion to 2007.

It seems that nearly every corporate player in the global food chain is making a killing from the food crisis.Profits at Cargill’s Mosaic Corporation, which controls much of the world’s potash and phosphate supply, more than doubled last year.The world’s largest potash producer, Canada’s Potash Corp, made more than US$1 billion in profit, up more than 70% from 2006.Cargill's biggest profits come from global trading in agricultural commodities, which, together with a few other big traders, it pretty much monopolises. On 14 April 2008, Cargill announced that its profits from commodity trading for the first quarter of 2008 were 86% higher than the same period in 2007.Bunge, another big food trader, saw its profits of the last fiscal quarter of 2007 increase by US$245 million, or 77%, compared with the same period of the previous year. The 2007 profits registered by ADM, the second largest grain trader in the world, rose by 65% to a record US$2.2 billion. Thailand’s Charoen Pokphand Foods, a major player in Asia, is forecasting revenue growth of 237% this year. NestlĂ©’s global sales grew 7% last year.UK supermarket Tesco reports profits up 12.3% from last year, a record rise. Other major retailers, such as France’s Carrefour and the US’s Wal-Mart, say that food sales are the main factor sustaining their profit increases.Wal-Mart’s Mexican division, Wal-Mex, which handles a third of overall food sales in Mexico, reported an 11% increase in profits for the first quarter of 2008. (At the same time Mexicans are demonstrating in the streets because they can no longer afford to make tortillas.) Monsanto, the world’s largest seed company, reported a 44% increase in overall profits in 2007.DuPont, the second-largest, said that its 2007 profits from seeds increased by 19%, while Syngenta, the top pesticide manufacturer and third-largest company for seeds, saw profits rise 28% in the first quarter of 2008.
Such record profits have nothing to do with any new value that these corporations are producing and they are not one-off windfalls from a sudden shift in supply and demand. Instead, they are a reflection of the extreme power that these middlemen have accrued through the globalisation of the food system. Intimately involved with the shaping of the trade rules that govern today’s food system and tightly in control of markets and the ever more complex financial systems through which global trade operates, these companies are in perfect position to turn food scarcity into immense profits. At the heart of the food crisis , a few megacorporations, investors and speculators can take huge payoffs.

The investments are not so much about producing more food but about changing the way food is produced and who it is produced for. Take China, for instance. Beijing has made the political decision that it wants big agribusiness, not peasants, to supply its growing market for meat and dairy. All levels of government are doing everything possible to lay out a red carpet for food corporations, both Chinese and foreign, from providing subsidies to rewriting land laws and food regulations. Investment in the Chinese dairy and livestock sectors has exploded as a result.A small number of Chinese corporations and foreign joint ventures are emerging as the titans of the industry, often bankrolled by high-rolling foreign private equity firms such as Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley and Kohlberg Kravis Roberts (KKR). Meanwhile, the tremendous feed requirements for these farms are supplied by the likes of Cargill and Bunge, who import GM soya from their operations in the Americas. The integration of China into the global agribusiness web is so complete that COFCO, the country’s largest grain company, is rumoured to be negotiating to take over US-based Smithfield Foods, the largest pork producer in the world, of which COFCO already owns 5%. While agribusiness thrives in China, people are suffering, particularly peasants. Millions of peasants will be driven off the land.

University lecturer Alejandro Nadal said : “Today conglomerates like Archer Daniels Midland, Cargill, Bunge, Monsanto and Syngenta have so much control over markets and infrastructure that they can manage stocks, invest in grain futures and manipulate prices on a world scale so that they can obtain huge profits. But neither the WTO or the FAO are interested in tackling this problem.”

We have allowed food to be transformed from something that nourishes people and provides them with secure livelihoods into a commodity for speculation and bargaining. The perverse logic of this system has come to a head. Today it is staring us in the face that this system puts the profits of investors before the food needs of people.

Back in 1996, heads of state gathered at the World Food Summit committed themselves to halve the number of hungry people in the world by the year 2015. Back then, the number of hungry people in the world stood at 830 million. Today, 13 years later, it becomes clear that we are probably heading towards doubling, not halving, that number.

Friday, September 11, 2009


"The reality is that 6 in 10 poor children live in families where someone works. That's shocking isn't it -- you go out to work, perhaps two or even three part-time jobs, and you're still living below the poverty line," said Lesley Ward, president of Britain's Association of Teachers and Lecturers "Life mirroring the times of Dickens."

Anything else change since Dickensian days ? No , not much , it appears .

The link between poverty and early death is as strong today as it was a century ago, a study shows. Despite major changes in the causes of death since the 1900s, the association between deprivation and mortality remains "firmly entrenched", it found.

Despite widescale reforms such as the introduction of the NHS and social security in addition to large rises in standards of living and huge advances in medicine the patterns from the Edwardian era are still strong predictors of ill health today. Although people's experience of poverty changed over the years - in the 1900s it meant not having the bare necessities for existence but a century later poverty is defined as relative to society as a whole - the association between deprivation and high mortality did not change.

Professor Alan Maryon-Davis, President of the Faculty of Public Health said to some extent the gap may have got even worse in recent years."The health threats may have changed, but the gap between the haves and have-nots is still there, and so too is the difference in mortality.This research really drives home the message that the surest way to reduce the health risks of poverty, is to reduce poverty itself."

The outward appearance of capitalism may change but its essence doesn't .

The death of Krushchev

Nikita Sergeyevich Khrushchev died on this day in 1971. Our journal of October that year carried the following related article.

The former dictator of Russia, who died last month, was not a member of the SPGB so this is not that kind of an obituary. Nor is it a salute to the passing of a "great man" in the manner of the capitalist press (whether so-called left or right). Rather do we take the opportunity of the passing of the former despot (one of the rare cases in the Soviet Union of an ousted top man who managed to die of old age), to point out that this man, who started to climb the ladder of Russian power nearly fifty years ago, has contrived to die with his country as far from justifying its assumed title of Socialist as ever it was. In fact it is probably true to say that nowadays there are far more people around who fail to register shocked surprise at our contention that Russia is a capitalist country, like all other countries in the modern world. The fact that it is state capitalist (instead of only partly thus and partly private enterprise capitalist like England) is a matter almost of indifference compared with the salient fact that it is not socialist and has never remotely justified its cIaim to that title. Krushchev's country is just as much a wageslave economy as the USA.

The capitalist papers (such as the Morning Star and the New Statesman) can safely be left to recount the career of the Stalinist today who danced the gopak for his master (and also acted as his henchman in the slaughter of untold thousands of his fellow countrymen). The most illuminating incident in his career was one which does not appear to have been noticed in the obituaries. This was the argument with Molotov at the time when Krushchev was establishing his power which involved smashing the "anti-party group". His rival had just gone on record as saying that Russia had by then (some forty odd years after the revolution) laid the foundations of Socialism. Krushchev seized the opportunity to slam into him. Foundation be damned. We have built Socialism. And as Molotov was the one who was exiled into Outer Mongolia (a welcome change from Outer Space, of course, where previous failed leaders went), it was Krushchev's version which carried the day. It was an argument which had a lot of fascination but it attracted little or no interest in the papers, What can you think of a house when two people can look at it and one says it's a fine house and the other says it's a fine foundation? (And not just lay people mark you. These were a couple of architects of this kind of edifice.) The only possible answer is that Lenin and his heirs were frauds. There is no Socialism in Russia and all the millions of deaths have been merely establish a capitalist tyranny where, pre-Krushchev and post-Krushchev, the propagation of Socialism is punished as treason. A grisly and tragic story.

L. E. Weidberg

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

The Passing of Mao

Mao died on this day in 1976. Here is what the Socialist Standard of October that year had to say regarding his demise and the state capitalist dictatorship in China.

The death of Mao Tse-Tung has been anticipated for many years in speculations over who would be his successor. Now it has happened and drawn worldwidede attention to China. Ostensibiy the interest is in the passing of a celebrated national leader; practically, it is in whether there will be changes of policy and how they will affect China's relationships with the rest of the world.

The history of China since 1949 closely resernbles that of Russia thirty years before, The Communist rerolutions in both countries were the taking of political power so that capitalism could develop and the entry to the modern world be made. Like Lenin, Mao provided a figurehead, and as with Lenin a version of Marxism was put out in his name to create a social vision to gain mass support for modernization. The projection of Mao's personality has been carried much further than Lenin's; but behind this cultivated charisma has stood a ruling class strongly conscious of economic aims.

The phrase for China in these conditions is "Mao's China", implying that his personal and political qualities have been the chief factor. The effect of this "great man" view of history is to make it dependent on the emergence of outstanding individuals; but the opposite is true. Individuals are given opportunities by crises and the pressure of new developments, and these make them "great". But for the 1939-45 war Churchill would have remained an unpopular minor statesman. Napoleon was the product of post-revolution conditions in France. The rise of Mussolini and Hitler was primarily the result olf the failure of social democracy in Europe and the effects of the 1929 depression on Germany. In some circumstances history appears almost to go looking for some nonentity or a lunatic to elevate into a "great man".

Of course the day-to-day behaviour of individuals, once they have political power, produces effects of its own. But what makes them "great" is precisely that their ambitions and whims are not incompatible with the wider requirements of the time. The shifts and innovations in Chinese policy under Mao have a plain coherence in aiming at the achievement of world power status as quickly as possible. Like Russia in the nineteen-twenties, China in the 'sixties had to put every effort into increasing agricultural production and speeding-up capital accumulation, The slogans and mystical dicta of Mao provided a sanctified image of the methods necessary to reach these goals.

The "power struggle" expected after Mao's death is a feature of one-party states. In nations with the traditional structure of parliamentary democracy the struggles for political power are among parties with electoral prograrnmes. Where this does not exist, the conflicts are among small groups and the individuals they nominate. This reinforces the idea of personalities triumphing through strength, though in practice they may be only puppets. In both cases, what are they struggling for? Political power means control the state machinery which administers capitalism. We know that whoever wins the American election is charged with doing his best for capitalism in the United States. The same is true of whatever political change takes place in China. The new figureheads, and whoever may depose them, will inevitably claim that they are the true heirs and interpreters of Mao. However, if Mao's doctrines do not suit the future development of China they can be revised and even rejected. The Chinese leadership twenty-five years ago were wholehearted Stalinists. The split was not simply a political one, but a realization that Stalin's own bending of Marx's theories and Lenin's viewpoints were not applicable to the situation in China.

As was the case with Russia, the leaders of other countries have realized what they are dealing with in China - a capitalist state differing from their own only in scale. In a China Quarterly essay reprodueed in China Under Mao (1966) Benjamin Sehwartz remarked: "Among many Americans there is in fact the latent assumption that a fully modernised society will look exactly like the United States with all its social and cultural specificities." The reactions to Mao's death were particularly interesting since in the last five years the Chinese government had become amiable to the west. Thus, on television in Britain Edward Heath spoke about his meeting with Mao: a Conservative leader singing the praises of a Communist one. The Arnerican President said Mao "had the vision and imagination to open the doors to the United States". The obvious interest of the western nations is in whether Mao's successors will carry on this policy with its economic and military potentialities; while the Russian leaders hope for a change advantageous in the same way to them.

It is, of course, a tragedy that these developments of capitalism have taken place in the name of Marxism. Marx's vision of "human society" has provided an attractive wrapping for power-seekers, and his unique analysis of the capitalist system has been used in the so-called Communist countries as a guide to exploitation. However, workers all over the world have the opportunity to find out for themselves what Marx wrote and meant - most of all, that capitalism in whatever guise cannot be run in their interests.


Monday, September 07, 2009

Manchester Day School

Manchester One-day School

Saturday 12 September, 1pm - 5pm

Speaker - Adam Buick

Why it’s dangerous to hope for the worst.

Speaker - Paddy Shannon

Friends’ Meeting House , Mount Street , City Centre
(next to Central Library and Manchester Town Hall)

However, bear in mind that there are road works in Manchester city centre at present, and no trams running between Piccadiily or Victoria Stations and St Peter's Square. If you come by train, it will be easiest to take a free shuttle bus.
Members will be meeting for lunch from around 12.15 at the cafe downstairs in the Central Library (the School venue is just behind the library). If you arrive a bit earlier, there is a small but interesting exhibition about Peterloo on the first floor of the Library.

Friday, September 04, 2009

a waste of food

We have previously drawn attention here to the waste of food within capitalism and The Herald runs an article highlighting the problem in Scotland .

Families in Scotland are wasting an average of £550 every year by simply throwing out food, the majority of which could have been eaten. The mountain of rubbish, including bread, milk and ready meals, adds up to a "shocking" £1bn every year, according to The Food We Waste in Scotland, a report published by Waste and Resources Action Programme .If the food had been consumed, the equivalent of 1.7m tonnes of carbon dioxide would be prevented from entering the atmosphere - roughly the same as taking one car in every four off Scotland's roads.
Milk is the most common item to be thrown away, accounting for 31,000 tonnes of rubbish, while sliced bread, meat and fish add to the piles and 96,000 tonnes of fresh fruit and vegetables are binned each year. In total, some 570,000 tonnes of food waste ends up in the bin every year.More than two-thirds of what is thrown away could have been eaten if people simply stored their food properly or planned and prepared their meals better.
"People go into the supermarket and they see all these promotions and buy it all, but it just ends up going in the bin."

We're just a market and so they bombard us all the time with appeals to “buy, buy, buy”. You can't escape this pressure. Advertising is everywher , on the television, on the radio, in the papers, on billboards and hoardings, as junk mail. All this turns life into one big supermarket.Socialism will be a very different society. The buy-buy-buy advertising industry will no longer exist.