Friday, October 30, 2009

No change !

At times SOYMB grows weary at having to repeatedly expose the weakness and failure of those who support Capitalism to reform and eliminate social problems .

We once again read " Despite endless initiatives aimed at halting economic decline, the most deprived communities in Scotland remain among the poorest in the country five years after they were identified "

The number of income-deprived people has risen compared with previous reports in 2004 and 2006, with one in six people defined as income- deprived nationally and almost one in two in the poorest areas. 312,865 are classed as income deprived. The figures, contained in the Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation, will raise questions about the effectiveness of policies formulated at both Holyrood and Westminster to lift the most disadvantaged out of poverty.

Robin Tennant, of the Poverty Alliance, the anti-poverty campaign group, said: “One in five people and one in four children in Scotland experience poverty — not enough work has been done.”

SOYMB can only share Natalie Evans' , the editor of Poverty of Ambition, a report into child poverty , pessimism about yet another endeavour to legislate poverty out of existence with the Child Poverty Bill currently making its way through Parliament. A perverse aspect of one of its targets – a reduction in the number of children living in households below 60 per cent of the median income – is that a recession will even appear to reduce child poverty, as the median income falls whilst the incomes of those on benefits do not.

Yet even she fails to distinguish between cause and symptom, "living in a jobless household, low educational attainment and truancy, family breakdown, teenage smoking and obesity, to name but a few. Instead of drawing an arbitrary poverty line and fiddling with income distribution around it, we would do far better to address these root causes".

But these are simply symptoms , not root causes . Capitalism is the cause and without challenging the social system head-on then it is all the tinkering with symptoms that Evans condemns.

SOYMB also notes Noam Chomsky's comments that far-right political groups could use rising poverty to attract support for their extremist policies.

"There is now a mass of people with real grievances, who want answers but are not receiving them. The far-right is providing answers that are completely crazy: that rich liberals are giving their hard-earned money away to illegal immigrants and the shiftless poor."

"A common reaction in elite educated circles and much of the left is to ridicule the right-wing protesters, but that is a serious error. "The correct reaction is to examine our own failures. The grievances are quite real and should be taken seriously."

Chomsky said history showed that it would be a mistake to fail to answer those calls.

"If the protesters are getting crazy answers from the hard-line right-wing extreme, the proper reaction is to provide the right answers, and do something about them," he said. "An organised public can achieve a great deal, as we see right now in many places.

His is certainly not a call to ban BNP-like political parties but an appeal to engage in debate over the issues and the solution.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Aunty Beeb

The British National Party could be invited to appear on Question Time about once a year, BBC director general Mark Thompson has suggested. Speaking to the Lords communications committee, Mr Thompson said audiences should ask questions of "politicians from across the political spectrum".
Mr Thompson said he believed "that the objective criteria that we would typically look to be fulfilled if we were inviting a minor party onto Question Time had been fulfilled.And on the basis of that we decided to extend the invitation." As with other smaller parties, "there will be occasions where it feels right to invite them (on the) programme", .

SOYMB eagerly awaits the invitation to the SPGB to be invited on to Question Time , since after all , it is the oldest UK socialist party in existence.

The Beveridge Committee on Broadcasting in 1949 suggested there
should be the opportunity “for minorities to turn themselves into
The BBC has been purposefully ignoring this recommendation .

Monday, October 26, 2009

Time for One Big Union

Having just witnessed the postal strikes against job cuts and wage cuts and read the press stories of TNT desiring to strike break with scab mail delivery it was little reported that TNT themselves faced industrial action over similar issues .

HUNDREDS of workers at delivery firm TNT staged a protest rally against pay cuts which union leaders claim are crippling the workforce. About 400 TNT employees at the parcel delivery company marched through Atherstone Town centre before demonstrating outside the firm’s head-quarters . Claims were made that full-time staff will lose more than £400 a month which could amount to a reduction of around £5,000 a year from their salary.

Paul Davies, national officer for Unite, claims the company is exploiting the recession for their own gains – at a huge cost to its workers. He added:
"No workman or woman can afford to lose this much money, it is a massive drop in pay .The firm is taking advantage of the current economic climate to justify making pay cuts. "

The WSM can only sadly reflect that at this moment in time , there is no united action by members of both the CWU and UNITE to make common cause against their respective employers .

Taking Liberties

Police are gathering the personal details of thousands of activists who attend political meetings and protests, and storing their data on a network of nationwide intelligence databases.

The hidden apparatus has been constructed to monitor "domestic extremists".... Detailed information about the political activities of campaigners is being stored on a number of overlapping IT systems, even if they have not committed a crime.

Senior officers say domestic extremism, a term coined by police that has no legal basis, can include activists suspected of minor public order offences such as peaceful direct action and civil disobedience.

Three national police units responsible for combating domestic extremism are run by the "terrorism and allied matters" committee of the Association of Chief Police Officers (Acpo). In total, it receives £9m in public funding, from police forces and the Home Office, and employs a staff of 100.

the Guardian

Questionable Time

Last Thursday's BBC Question Time programme (with Nick Griffin of the British National Party) has, not surprisingly, been the topic of the past few days. The QT viewing figures were the highest in 30 odd years; the episode was put on YouTube by a number of people within hours of being aired.

We noted earlier that we are not against the BNP having time to put their views and so disagree with Peter Hain and with the SWP and its front organisations, who protested outside the BBC studios. The point is this - even if the BNP were to vanish down a wormhole, the material causes that give rise to BNP ideas would still be about. Also, do the SWP and Hain think people are so bloody stupid they will turn BNP if they hear that racist politics?

What was lacking, as we also noted, was a socialist critique of the BNP. The socialist participant would also have examined the ideas of the other panelists.

Griffin was a complete fool, to put it mildly, so any worries that he may become respectable were amiss. His anthropological and biological nonsense on aboriginal English, his homophobic bigotry and his obvious lie about the KKK stick out. Within hours, he was saying QT was a sort of "Get Griffin" stitch-up (awww, diddums, he wanted the strawberry) and that London isn't English anymore, which is racist code for part of the population of the capital being non-white. The comment sections to the YouTube videos are awash with BNP'ers who are not as shy about making explicitly racist comments on the QT audience. Nor is the BNP legal advisor Lee John Barnes, who has been commenting and making an even bigger fool of himself and the BNP, on Harry's Place blog.

What has not been picked up is that the Libs, Labs and Cons are also just as anti-immigration. They differ simply because they do not look like boneheads or make (overtly) racist comments. Something else not picked up was Jack Straw yapping on about being from an immigrant family of "Jewish stock". Jewish stock? That is frankly an own goal! There is no more a Jewish stock than there is an English stock.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

the land barons return?

The Telegraph carries a business report that indicates where it thinks the next big boom will be .

" is a good time to buy into many areas of food production and distribution..."

A recent report called The End of Cheap Food, analysts and economists from Standard Chartered have calculated that food production would need to rise by a 70pc by 2050 if the world’s population is to remain adequately fed. The bank argues that water will become scarcer and restricted availability of arable land will increase imbalances in food production, while rising biofuels production will deny an increasing amount of grain output for human consumption. (Biofuel refineries in the US have set fresh records for grain use every month since May. Almost a third of the US corn harvest will be diverted into ethanol for motors this year, or 12pc of the global crop. )

It concludes that feeding the world is an achievable goal at a global level, but at a cost which will inevitably mean higher prices. While higher prices have positive implications for farm incomes and investment incentives, they will hinder the drive to improve food security for the poor. A matter of "Can't Pay - Can't have"

Food prices are likely to rise and stay high and it will mean owners of arable land will see the value rocket and companies involved in the global supply chain will benefit . You can also trade the "Ag" rally by investing in exchange traded funds , which is stock market speculation on food. Or you can invest in the bio-tech, fertiliser, and land services companies that will make money.

Strictly speaking , says The Telegraph , the world has enough land to feed everybody. The Soviet Union farmed 240m hectares in Khrushchev's era. The same territory now farms 207m hectares. Crop yields could be doubled in Russia, and tripled in the Ukraine using modern know-how.

In another article on food production and profits The Telegraph says "...the terms of trade between country and city will revert to the norms of the Middle Ages. Landowners will be barons again..."

Over the past 50 years, governments in the developed countries have intervened massively in farming. They have used subsidies, compensation and strictly enforced quotas to limit production. This has resulted in food being destroyed and land taken out of production to keep output more or less in line with market capacity. The amount of food that can be sold on the markets is always much less than could be produced directly for needs. The "profits before people" laws of the capitalist system are always going to come before the needs of the hungry.

Our inability to make full use of productive powers is a permanent feature of capitalist farming but in socialism this restriction will be removed. Through voluntary co-operation and with the ability to freely organise and use all the factors of production and distribution, communities across the world will have no barriers against producing food in the amounts required for needs. With the ending of rival capitalist states and the market system the world community in socialism would have the great advantage of being able to make the best use of the land resources of the planet in whatever location may be considered best. With food, it is possible to increase production rapidly because a lot can be done with hand labour. Local initiatives could mean more people using their local land resources for more intensive production. Local initiatives would greatly improve the supply of food within a very short time.

On this socialist basis the work of increasing food production and ending hunger would be straightforward and immensely rewarding.

Would Churchill have supported the BNP?

I am strongly in favour of using poisoned gas against uncivilised tribes. The moral effect should be so good that the loss of life should be reduced to a minimum." (1919 War Office memo)

"If I had been an Italian, I am sure I would have been entirely with you from the beginning to the end of your victorious struggle against the bestial appetites and passions of Leninism." [To Benito Mussolini in a press conference in Rome (January 1927), as quoted in Churchill : A Life (1992) by Martin Gilbert]

"One may dislike Hitler's system and yet admire his patriotic achievement. If our country were defeated, I hope we should find a champion as indomitable to restore our courage and lead us back to our place among the nations." ["Hitler and His Choice", The Strand Magazine (November 1935)]

"We cannot tell whether Hitler will be the man who will once again let loose upon the world another war in which civilisation will irretrievably succumb, or whether he will go down in history as the man who restored honour and peace of mind to the Great Germanic nation." ["Hitler and His Choice", The Strand Magazine (November 1935)]

In 1937, Brigadier Packenham Walsh reported that 'Winston says at heart he is for Franco'.

Two years after the infamous Nuremberg Laws, in 1937, Churchill said that “he hoped Great Britain would have a man like Hitler in times of peril” (quoted in the Times obituary of Leni Riefenstahl, 11 September)

On Hitler's coming to power: 'The story of that struggle, cannot be read without admiration for the courage, the perseverance, and the vital force which enabled him to challenge, defy conciliate or overcome, all the authority of resistances which barred his path', said Churchill. Asked about Germany's anti-Jewish laws in 1938, Churchill thought 'it was a hindrance and an irritation, but probably not an obstacle to a working agreement'.

Churchill saw the Soviet Union was a 'tyrannic government of these Jew Commisars', a 'worldwide communistic state under Jewish domination', 'the international Soviet of the Russian and Polish Jew', or just 'these Semitic conspirators'.

On race: Churchill said 'the Indians in East Africa are mainly of a very low class of coolies, and the idea that they should be put on an equality with the Europeans is revolting to every white man throughout British Africa'.

In February 1954, he told the cabinet 'the continuing increase in the number of coloured people coming to this country and their presence here would sooner or later come to be resented by large sections of the British people'.

And from the 'Churchill in perspective' article (Socialist Standard, March 1965):

"..It was he [Churchill] who called out the troops during the Dock Strike in 1911. He was Chancellor of the Exchequer in government which put on the statute book the 1927 Trades Disputes Act, prohibiting strikes by one group of workers in sympathy with another, curtailing the right of picketing, and preventing the Civil Service unions affiliating to the T.U.C....In 1927 he was "charmed,..., by Signor Mussolini's gentle and simple bearing, and by his calm, detached poise in spite of many burdens and dangers."

By way of conclusion, from the same article:

"Churchill was a member of the British capitalist class and he served his class well. He maintained a constant anti-working class attitude throughout his life....In death, as in life, he served our rulers well. The pomp and ceremony of his funeral was a circus for the diversion of the working class. The entire pulpit - religious, political, press and radio - have been loud in his praise. Here was a man, they said, for workers to look up to, to recognise as a leader, and in doing to pay homage to future leaders and the principle of leadership...Where did Churchill lead the workers? Where will any leaders take them? Workers have only to reflect on their experiences - not for Churchill and his class, but for those they dominate, is it a life of blood, sweat, toil and tears. And it will remain so, until the same workers who are deluded into hysterical hero worship of men like Churchill, learn that their interests lie in dispensing with leaders and setting up a social system in which all men stand equally."

Some of these statements and others by Churchill can be found here.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Seal of Royal Approval

Prince Andrew has defended the bonuses given to British bankers, claiming they are “in the scheme of things, minute”.

Andrew , special representative for trade and investment, was quoted as saying: “Bonuses, in the scheme of things, are minute. They are easy to target.” He added “So get rid of the excesses, but don’t throw the baby out with the bath water.”

What is a trifling few million to one of the royalty ?

fascism- its an anorak issue

Having witnessed the uproar concerning the participation of the BNP leader and Holocaust -denier on the BBC's Question Time , it is up to a small article in the Guardian to expose the Conservative Party's political alliances with ultra-nationalists such as the For Fatherland and Freedom party , prime movers behind the annual parades which celebrate the Latvian legion of the Waffen-SS – that included men who roamed the country gunning down Jewish men, women and children in their tens of thousands. The Fatherland and Freedom admire the Waffen-SS so much, they tried to get its veterans rewarded with a military pension.

Michal Kaminski, the Polish politician who leads the new Conservatives and Reformists grouping in which the Tories sit has said that Poles should only apologise for the horrific 1941 pogrom at Jedwabne ( 300 Jewish men, women and children were pushed inside a barn . Villagers looked on as others poured in fuel before setting it alight. ) only once the Jews have apologised for all that they inflicted on the Poles. "As a local MP, Kaminski played a key role in the campaign questioning the Polish responsibility for the Jedwabne massacre. The campaign had strongly antisemitic overtones," said Dr Rafal Pankowski, a member of the Never Again Association

Oszkar Molnar, an MP from Hungary's main opposition party – on course to form the country's next government – told a TV interviewer that "global capital – Jewish capital, if you like – wants to devour the entire world, especially Hungary". His party leader said there was no need to discipline him because he'd broken no rules. As proof of his assertion that Jews are plotting to take over Hungary, Molnar claimed to have discovered that the language of instruction in Jerusalem's schools is Hungarian, and when asked why, students said they were "learning their future homeland's language."

"It was all a long time ago," the Tories say when confronted. "It was terribly complicated." Or, as Ken Clarke put it, airily brushing aside concerns about the party's EU chums: "It's all an anorak issue."

So there we have it , hypocrisy and cant from the Conservative Party concerning the neo-Nazi BNP when thwy are fully prepared to co-operate and collaborate with similar political parties in the European Union .

Protests without end

To-day members of the SPGB will be attending the anti-war demonstration in London and will be distributing socialist literature. Our leaflet reads


Most believe the sickness of war can be sorted out within the usual channels offered – either a UN force moves in or the troops come home. The former will only compound the problem. The latter can only leave the region concerned more unstable, with warlords and the varying shades of the region's religions vying for political power.

We need to address the root of the problem – the capitalist system itself and vicious competition for profits – and how the problems capitalism creates can only be solved when we abolish the capitalist system itself.

While it is important that workers oppose war, we need to recognise in whose interests wars are waged. It's hard to think of a single war that did not have its roots in the need of small elite to make profits. All wars, even small-scale conflicts tend to be fought over resources, outside markets and areas of influence, trade routes or the strategic points.

To end war – and the need to demonstrate against it – capitalism has to be ended. It needs to be replaced by a global system where the resources of the Earth are common to everyone. Competition and conflict between elites over resources must give way to cooperation for the benefit of all the world's inhabitants.

If you lend your support to a political party or organisation that fails to oppose the real nature of capitalist society, how our world is organised for production and how power is distributed, then you are, in effect, supporting a system that breeds wars.

The Socialist Party asks: Do you want to protest endlessly against each new war as it arises? Or work for a new world of common ownership, democratic control, peace and human welfare?

If you are opposed to war, either oppose capitalism in all its forms or settle down to a life of protests . . .

THE SOCIALIST PARTY aims at the establishment of a system of society based on the common ownership and democratic control of the means and instruments for producing and distributing wealth by and in the interest of the whole community.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Marx for Pope

We read , Karl Marx, who famously described religion as “the opium of the people”, has undergone a reappraisal by the Roman Catholic Church. Professor Sans’s article was first published in La CiviltĂ  Cattolica, a Jesuit paper, which is vetted in advance by the Vatican Secretariat of State. The decision to republish it in the Vatican newspaper gives it added papal endorsement.

L’Osservatore Romano, the Vatican newspaper, said that Marx’s early critiques of capitalism had highlighted the “social alienation” felt by the “large part of humanity” that remained excluded, even now, from economic and political decision-making.
Georg Sans, a professor of the history of contemporary philosophy at the pontifical Gregorian University, wrote in an article that Marx’s work remained especially relevant today as mankind was seeking “a new harmony” between its needs and the natural environment. He also said that Marx’s theories may help to explain the enduring issue of income inequality within capitalist societies.
“We have to ask ourselves, with Marx, whether the forms of alienation of which he spoke have their origin in the capitalist system,” Professor Sans wrote. “If money as such does not multiply on its own, how are we to explain the accumulation of wealth in the hands of the few?”

Professor Sans argues that Marx’s intellectual legacy was marred by the misappropriation of his work by the communist [sic] regimes of the 20th century.

SOYMB is minded of James Connolly in 1908 and his article Roman Catholicism and Socialism where he says :-

" ...when it [ the Roman Catholic Church ] realises that the cause of capitalism is a lost cause it will find excuse enough to allow freedom of speech and expression to those lowly priests whose socialist declarations it will then use to cover and hide the absolute anti-socialism of the Roman Propaganda. When that day comes the Papal Encyclical against socialism will be conveniently forgotten by the Papal historians...and the communistic utterances of the early fathers as proofs of Catholic sympathy with progressive ideas. Thus it has been in the past. Thus it will be, at least attempted, in the future. "

Socialism or World Co-operative Commonwealth ?

As an organisation which campaigns exclusively for socialism (as we understand it of course) we are in a unique position to know how people react to the word. Many more people think that Russia was socialist than agree with our definition of socialism.

Many think that we should therefore give up the word and find some other term to describe our aim. Don't think that this hasn't occurred to us. Various other terms have been suggested—"world co-operative commonwealth", "world of free access". Others, outside our ranks, have come up with "economic democracy", "self-managed society", "free society".

Our experience is that, when people first hear us saying we stand for socialism, most do indeed take us to be standing for "state ownership and rule by a socialist party" (a far broader concept than what existed in Russia) but, when we explain what we do stand for, quite a number say "oh, you mean true socialism" or "pure communism". Significantly, those who have experimented with other terms are often met with the same reaction.

This reflects the fact that, despite the former regime in Russia dragging the name of socialism through the mud by associating it with dictatorship, secret police, gulags and the rest, to many people the word "socialism" still retains an association with maybe vague ideas of social justice, equality, democracy, community and production for use not profit. In other words, despite Russia, socialism still has an underlying positive image for many people.
Besides, we are part of an unbroken tradition going back to those who first used the word and which has retained the original meaning they gave to it despite and in face of Russia and Labour and similar governments. Why should we surrender the word, especially as Russia has failed and Labour-type parties are now openly pro-capitalist? The field is now free for us to assert the word's original meaning. A society where the means of production belong to everybody and run by democratic councils, that's socialism. With common ownership, nobody or no institution exercises exclusive ownership rights over resources; it is, in effect a condition of "no ownership". Further, with common ownership, what is produced, as well as the means to produce it, is commonly owned, so that it does not need to be sold. It, too, is simply there, to be distributed to where it is needed, whether this be another workplace for further transformation into a finished product or a distribution centre to which people can come and take what they need. Common ownership means the disappearance of buying and selling and so also money, markets, banks, wages, profits and the rest.

To make decisions—i.e., to exercise democratic control—the members of society need to set in place procedures which allow every member of society the chance to have an equal say in the way things are run. Although this can be envisaged as involving "direct democracy" in neighbourhoods and workplaces, for wider decisions it would also have to involve "indirect" democracy via elected delegates. If such procedures for exercising "democratic control" did not exist, then it would not be possible to talk about "common ownership" either, since, in that case, ownership of the means of production would be in the hands of those who did have the power to make the decisions about how to use productive resources. So, for us "common ownership" and "democratic control" of the means of production by all the people are one and the same thing; they are in the end just two ways of describing the same situation.

Having said this, we don't make a fetish of the word , "socialism" . On occasions we are prepared to use some other term to express what we stand for since what is important is what we stand for and not what it is called. So we have and do use alternative terms such as "world co-operative commonwealth" .

Should the BNP be banned?

The Socialist Party is wholeheartedly in favour of the fullest freedom of speech. This is because we hold that out of full and free discussion of today's social problems only one valid conclusion can emerge: that socialism alone will provide the framework within which they can be solved.

Full free speech means exactly what it says: any and every view should be allowed expression so that it can be examined and shown to be wrong. One of the more obnoxious views current these days is racism, the idea that some human beings are inferior to others and ought to be treated as such.

Many well-meaning people, appalled at the growing support for the BNP and determined that a racist party should never again be permitted to gain political power anywhere, have been prepared to listen sympathetically to those who call for the BNP and its views to be banned. This is an understandable gut reaction but a little dispassionate reflection will show it to be wrong.

Would banning the BNP lead to a diminution in racist sentiments and ideas? Indeed, have the various Race Relations Acts banning the expression of racist ideas in their cruder forms led to this? The anti-racist legislation on the statute book has only led to racists being more careful about the words they use. Ideas cannot be suppressed by legislation.

The real problem is why do certain sections of the working class hold racist views and how can they be got to abandon them. It is fairly clear why certain workers entertain anti-black prejudices. Suffering from bad housing, poor hospital services, poor schools, etc., and having seen an immigration of black people into their areas they mistakenly link the two together to conclude that it is the coming of black immigrants that is the cause of their problems.

The various racist Immigration Acts which have been passed by both Labour and Tory governments to keep black people out, together with their campaigns against “illegal” immigrants, have done much to give respectability to the view that immigration rather than capitalism is the cause of today's social problems.

So workers with racist ideas are workers who, in their search for an explanation of and solution to their problems, have reached a mistaken conclusion. How can they be convinced that they are wrong? If they can't be convinced by legislation they can be convinced even less by the tactic of the SWP and others of insulting and even physically assaulting them. The only way is to try to demonstrate to them that their conclusions are wrong.

This is the approach the Socialist Party has always adopted and why, rather than physically fighting with the British Union of Fascists, the Union Movement, the National Front or the BNP, we have exposed their dangerous racist nonsense before an audience of interested workers.

People who deny the validity of our tactic of combating racism in calm, open argument are in effect denying that workers are capable of being convinced rationally of the error of racism. Many of these people have been influenced by Lenin and his contemptuous claim that left to themselves the working class is capable of evolving only a trade union consciousness. They believe that the working class is only fit to be led, in one direction or another, by some minority or other, and so need protection from those who like the BNP seek to "mislead" them.

The ultimate basis of all arguments for censorship (and the call for the BNP to be prevented from expressing its views is a call for censorship) is such an assumption that people are too stupid or irresponsible or immature to make up their own minds and that some superior body must therefore decide for them. For the SWP and others this superior body is themselves—the self-appointed vanguard of the working class. If they ever came to power the application of this claim to decide what the working class shall and shall not hear would mean the end of free speech for workers just as it did in Lenin and Trotsky's Russia.

Mere anti-racist propaganda on its own, unlinked to propaganda for socialism, can't be effective. It offers no solution to the problems and frustrations which drive some workers to embrace racism. It leaves unchallenged the cause (capitalism) while trying to deal with the effect (racism).

The only effective way to combat racism, then, is to propagate socialism.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Who's Afraid of the BNP?

The following article is from the July 2009 edition of our journal the Socialist Standard. The Socialist Party has long held the view that the far-right should be debated as we are quite certain a working class audience is quite capable of seeing through the bigotry and capitalist politics of organisations like the British National Party. Too bad Question Time has never felt the need to invite a socialist onto its show. We would have shown up the BNP for what it is, not to mention the other guests and their parties, whilst still having the time to sip our lemonade. - Gray

The BNP's racist ideology is hateful and it is understandable – and to be welcomed – that most people don't like it. But what's the best way to deal with them?

Despite the high profile media campaign supported by the churches and all the other parties to try to stop this, the BNP did manage to get two MEPs elected to the European Parliament in last month's elections. The BNP is an obnoxious outfit and people are stupid to vote for it. It is no more able to provide an answer to workers' problems than the other parties. The problems facing working people and their families are not caused, as the BNP claims, by immigration or immigrants and will not be solved by the Fortress Britain they advocate with "British Jobs for British Workers". They are caused by capitalism which the BNP, like the other parties, supports. Even if all immigration was stopped and all (recent) immigrants expelled this would not make things better for those the BNP calls the "indigenous population".

The other parties had a cheek in asking people to vote for them to keep the BNP out. That's because they all support capitalism and it is capitalism's insoluble problems that the BNP exploits to gain votes. Voting for some other capitalist party to keep the BNP out is as stupid as voting for the BNP. That’s to vote to maintain the conditions which allow the BNP to flourish.

Others, on the Far Left, want to take a more confrontational attitude towards the BNP. They say it is a fascist party and that it should be physically "smashed" before it has a chance to smash political democracy. One problem with this is that the BNP is not a fascist party. Some of its leaders have expressed pro-Nazi sympathies in the past (and may well still harbour them) but, unlike the Nazi party in pre-1933 Germany, the BNP is not blaming parliamentary democracy for causing working-class problems. If it did, it wouldn't get the votes it does. It blames workers' problems on immigration and immigrants. So, it is anti-foreigner and racist, which is objectionable enough, but that's not the same as fascism.

The only effective way to deal with the BNP is to confront their arguments head on and that includes their nationalism. The other parties cannot do this because they too are nationalists. The BNP is only expressing in an extreme form a nationalist position that they themselves share. They have even tried to steal the BNP's clothes here by emphasising that they are against "illegal" immigrants and vie with each other to boast how many they have, or should have, deported. They encourage nationalism by describing members of the armed forces as "heroes" and by flying the Union Jack or even the flag of St George (a traditional fascist emblem) on public buildings. All grist to the BNP's mill.

Like the BNP, the other parties claim that all "British people" have a common interest as against the people of other countries, i.e. as against "foreigners". But this is not the case. UK citizens are divided into two classes, on the basis of their relationship to the means of production – those who own them and those who don't –, whose interests are quite opposed. It is in the interest of those who own Britain to convince the rest of us living here that we share a common interest with them in them acquiring and protecting outside markets and investment outlets. To get us to support them is the role of the nationalism that is inculcated into us from birth and reinforced every day by the media.

The semblance of justification for this is that, if employers are successful in this, then they can offer more and more secure jobs. In actual fact, however, those in one country who have to work for a wage or a salary have a common interest with wage and salary workers in other countries rather than with our employers. That is the socialist, anti-nationalist position which the Socialist Party maintains against all other parties, not just the BNP.

Bash the Fash?
The Far Left have made two mistakes in trying to counter the BNP. The first has been to adopt a policy of physically fighting with them. The second has been to invoke the BNP as a bogey to try to gain recruits amongst post-war immigrants and their families.

Beating somebody up never changed anybody's mind. It probably reinforces their views. In any event, this is defeatist in assuming that people can't change their minds. Which, fortunately, has been disproved many times. For instance, the actor Ricky Tomlinson, who introduced the Scargill Labour Party's Party Political Broadcast in the recent elections, was once a member of the National Front, even a candidate for them in a local election. Now he thinks that the EU not immigrants cause working-class problems. Still wrong, but no longer a racist.

What BNP members need is not a kicking, but putting right. And the best way to do this is to confront the ideas of their leaders in open, public debate. That's why the Socialist Party is opposed to the policy of "No Platform for the BNP". On the contrary, we want them up on a platform to face socialist criticism of their erroneous ideas and futile policies.

Organising particular immigrants as a group, as the SWP tried to do with Muslims through Respect (before George Galloway threw them out and continued this with the aid of other Trotskyist groups), is dangerous and plays straight into the hands of the BNP by introducing "communalist" politics. If, says the BNP, Muslims can organise as a "community" to defend and further their "communal" interests, why can't the "indigenous" (read: "white") working class do the same? Indeed, under Nick Griffin, this is the successful strategy the BNP has pursued. The BNP, he argues, seeks to represent the interests of "indigenous" workers as against immigrants who, he claims, are being given preferential treatment by the "liberal Establishment". It's untrue, but it finds an echo amongst some sections of the working class, though not amongst those living and working in close proximity with immigrants who have learned to regard second and third generation "immigrants" as fellow workers.

In other words, two can play at "communalist" politics and the BNP will always be able to make more progress at this than the Far Left since they are appealing to a majority "community". It is possible to detect a certain jealousy amongst Leftists at the ability of the BNP to "mobilise" workers they would like to be able to mobilise themselves. Indeed, the rivalry between the BNP and the Far Left, which sometimes finds expressed in physical fighting, can be seen as a rivalry between two leadership groups – one calling itself a "vanguard", the other a "spearhead" – to lead workers. To which workers should adopt "a plague on both your houses" attitude.

As capitalism is the cause of the problems workers face these problems will continue as long as capitalism does. And as long as capitalism continues there will always be parties like the BNP which scapegoat other workers as the supposed cause of these problems. The answer is not to stop these parties by voting for other parties or by physically fighting or banning them. It is to organise on a world-wide class basis to end capitalism – which, necessarily, involves a rejection of nationalism.


Governments - organ grinders or monkeys ?

We read that research from the Department of Energy and Climate Change has confirmed that one in four families in the UK are now trapped in "fuel poverty" whereby at least 10% of their income is spent on gas and electricity. This figure has risen by 15% since 2007 and now takes in 4 million people although projections for this year suggest the figure could rise to as high as 6.6 million people. This is almost 3 times the figure from 2004 and is starting to alarm the authorities. Despite the fact that the UK government has promised to address the problem of fuel poverty and energy prices, in reality little has been done to rein in the power of the UK energy companies in the short to medium term. As a consequence, more and more people are now falling into the fuel poverty trap.

Campaigners said ministers would miss their target of removing all households containing the elderly, disabled and poor from fuel poverty by next year.

Age Concern warned that this winter many of the 2.5 million fuel poor pensioners would be forced to choose between "eating or heating". Andrew Harrop, its head of policy, said: "Their health will suffer and they will be wracked with anxiety about how they will manage to pay the next energy bill."

Citizens Advice announced the number of people falling behind with fuel bills had increased by nearly 50% in the past six months, and by more than 80% over the past three years. The majority of people seeking help over debts to energy companies were of working age; just 5% were over 65 years old, while a quarter had a disability.

Energy prices rocketed by £381 or 42% last year, but price cuts this year average out at £54 or 4%. In January 2008 the average household energy bill was £912. Today it is £1,239 - £327 or 36% higher .

All government promises to control capitalism , in the end , come to nothing.

City bankers have not lost a penny of their multimillion-pound bonus packages so far, despite the credit crunch which has caused the worst financial crisis in 80 years, new figures show.
Official statistics reveal that, in the financial year to April, City workers took home £16bn, almost exactly the same as in 2007 . The remuneration figures were released only days after Gordon Brown vowed to wage war on the "irresponsible" bonus culture. Brown also said financial systems must reflect the values of "fairness, stewardship and co-operation" cherished by families and communities.

Meanwhile, the charity Credit Action urged the Treasury to put pressure on Northern Rock to adopt a more flexible approach towards borrowers who fall behind on their mortgage payments.
The charity said that Northern Rock, which was nationalised in the wake of last year's catastrophic bank-run, was more than twice as likely to repossess homes as other lenders. Of the 19,000 homes repossessed in the first half of this year, around 4,000 were by Northern Rock.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

age old problems

The UK state pension age should increase to 70 as soon as possible because people are living longer, the Institute of Directors has said.

It was becoming increasingly expensive to cover the cost as people lived longer, the IoD's chief economist Graeme Leach said.
"Startling increases in longevity in recent decades also mean that it is unrealistic to expect to be able to fund a potential 25 to 30 year retirement from an effective 30 to 35 year working life,"

Will society be unable to cater for future pensioners at the same standard of living as they have today? Is there going to be a sort of class war between the generations, between those at work and those who have retired over how the national income should be divided between wages and pensions? The short answer is: No. These are scare stories put around by employers, who want to reduce the contributions they pay into company pension schemes and the taxes they pay for state pensions, and by insurance companies, who want to sell more private pensions. There are too many old people. They are becoming an unsupportable burden on the pensions and health systems. If nothing is done about it there will be a generation war between pensioners and the decreasing proportion of those of working age. So runs the argument consistently put over by the media. But it's a myth based on faulty statistics, disguising a hidden agenda by people who want to cut pension and welfare benefits for other reasons and/or want to make money by selling private pensions. The "pensions time bomb" is an imaginary threat stirred up by vested interests.

The source of all such unearned income is what Marx called the surplus value produced by wage and salary workers over and above what they are paid, which generally speaking corresponds to what they need to keep themselves fit to work at their particular trade or profession. It is out of this unpaid labour that not only the idle rich but the whole non-productive superstructure of capitalist society has to be maintained. What allows capitalism to maintain an enormous non-productive sector is the high level of productivity in the productive sector, a productivity which increases slowly but steadily all the time, historically at a rate of one to two percent a year. One of the non-productive activities that the capitalist State has to undertake is the maintenance of the poor, those members of the working class who are unable to work and therefore have no income from a wage or salary paid by an employer: the sick, the handicapped, the unemployed and of course the old. Pensioners too are maintained out of this surplus but pensions are not paid for by ‘workers paying taxes’ since the burden of taxes paid by workers is in the end passed on via labour market forces to employers. Pensions are a transfer payment from the profits of the capitalists, even if ultimately these profits come from what workers produce. Put another way, though, with the reality of the class struggle in mind, the problem looks more like: workers living longer means that the share of the national income going to the working class and away from the capitalists will rise if the current settlement is maintained. But, even if the ‘over-burdened pension system’ was to be reduced, this would not benefit the working population since the capitalist class would not dream of passing this on as higher wages and salaries.

We need to be clear: raising the retirement age of workers is a very real pay cut. We will be asked to work more years and for a greater proportion of our lives than we expected.

The proportion of over-64s in the population is indeed rising and this is mainly a reflection of a reduced birth rate in the past, which has meant a fall in those now in the 16-64 age range. This has happened before in the last century without the dire consequences now being predicted. Most estimates don't take into account the reduced expenditure on the under 16s that a fallen birth rate means nor the fact that a significant proportion of the 16-64s are also not working, not just the disabled and the recorded unemployed but also many who are on "incapacity" benefit as early retirees to whom capitalism denies a job. Nor does it take into account the fact that over time the productivity of those at work rises nor that the health of the over-64s is improving.

The advances from our labour – including an increased life span – are being clawed back by capital to its advantage.

TUC general secretary Brendan Barber said that such a move would leave many older people in limbo, where they were too old to work and too young to claim a state pension.
"The better off you are, the longer you live and the more years you get to claim a state pension," he said.
Already there is a marked difference in life expectancy across income groups, with unskilled manual male workers having an expectancy of 71 years as compared to an average of 79 for professionals , and if the normal pension age to be raised from 65 to 70 this would mean that pensions wouldn’t have to be paid for so long and no pension at all would have to be paid to those who die between 65 and 70, as one in five existing pensioners do .

The motto of the ancient Roman slave owners was that slaves should work, or sleep. It seems the modern capitalists’ version of that term is that wage slaves must work till they drop.

Monday, October 19, 2009

ANC terror

We are reminded that on this day in 1992 African National Congress President Nelson Mandela acknowledges that prisoners in congress military camps had been tortured during the 1980s and early 1990s. The camps, located in other African countries, had been training sites during the congress's guerrilla war against the South African government.

Our journal, this blog as well as Socialist Banner have commented on capitalist South Africa, pre- and post-apartheid. We said that the ANC would fail to solve any 'problems' endemic to this social system, and after 15 years of power a recent report stated South Africa remains the world's most unequal society . And, should any more evidence be needed, with echoes of Sharpville and those ANC terrorist training camps, we read:

The ANC has invaded Kennedy Road. We have been arrested, beaten, killed, jailed and made homeless by their armed wing. This is what it took for Yakoob Baig and Jackson Gumede to finally take back the settlement....It is an attack on our politic. This attack is an attempt to suppress the voice that has emerged from the dark corners of our country. That voice is the voice of ordinary poor people. This attack is an attempt to terrorise that voice back into the dark corners....For the ANC harmony means their power and our silence. For us our silence means evictions, shack fires, children dying of diarrhoea and the organised contempt that we face day after day. Therefore we have to speak. We have to break the 'harmony' that is our silence in the face of our oppression.

"..the emancipation of the working class will involve the emancipation of all mankind, without distiotion of race or sex.." (From our 1904 Decleration of Principles)

Sunday, October 18, 2009

A new dark age?

Marx made a number of famous statements including this one on the subject of religion:

‘Religion is the sigh of the oppressed, the feeling of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless circumstances. It is the opium of the people… The abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of the people is the demand for their real happiness. The demand to give up the illusions about their condition is a demand to give up a condition that requires illusion. The criticism of religion is therefore the germ of the criticism of the valley of tears whose halo is religion’ (Introduction to A Contribution to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right, 1844).

The A-Z of Marxism also notes "that this psychological critique of the social function of religion could have been put forward by an Enlightenment philosopher of the eighteenth century, and many modern anti-socialist atheists could concur."

Earlier this month in a Scientific American blog post titled God's in Mississippi, where the gettin' is good
Jesse Bering comments on the related and soon to be published work of two Harvard University psychologists, Kurt Gray and Daniel Wegner, who "..created a state-by-state “suffering index” and found a positive correlation between a state’s relative misery (compared to the rest of the country) and its population’s belief in God. To create an objective measure of such relative misery, the investigators used data from the 2008 United Health Foundation’s comprehensive Health Index. Among other manifestations of human misery, this regularly compiled index includes rates of infant mortality, cancer deaths, infectious disease, violent crime and environmental pathogens. What Gray and Wegner discovered was that suffering and belief in God were highly correlated, even after controlling for income and education . In other words, belief in God is especially high in places like Mississippi, Alabama and South Carolina--and so is misery, at least as it was operationalized in this particular study. And that, say the authors, is no coincidence."

Socialist Party membership is open to all who understand and desire to see the establishment of a world of free access, but anyone refusing to eschew the opium of the people cannot join. This reasoned position may well be challenged as a result of the UK equalities watchdog arguing in court that the British National Party is discriminatory! According to this report, BNP leader Nick Griffin has agreed to ask his party to amend its constitution so it does not discriminate on grounds of race or religion, a court heard.

Some Socialists are concerned that we might have to start accepting religious members for similar reasons. One contributor on the SPOPEN discussion forum
is not worried:

"We do not discriminate against peoples 'religious' views. What we do is
insist that applicants for membership agree with our materialist outlook,
which is a different thing altogether. A rejection of membership would not be discrimination against belief in gods, or fairies, or unicorns or whatever, it would simply be because the applicant disagreed with our political views."

Another member is concerned about the rise of a new dark age:

"The problem isn't what the act is meant to do, but what it does. It specifically
treats "not having a religion or belief" as *being* a "religion/belief" - the
effect of this must be to prevent the irreligious - us - from asserting our
position as privileged. It spells, in short, the end of the scientific method, and the rise of a new dark age. If you have no right to discriminate between ideas, point out which of them are not true, and consign them to the dustbin of history, then you wake up in the middle of the 14th century."

Socialists share in the Enlightenment inheritance of respect for reason and evidence against its traditional foe, religion. But at the same time we recognise that the main source of irrationality and exploitation in the modern world is to be found in the capitalist system of society. For socialists, therefore, the struggle against religion cannot be separated from the struggle for socialism. We fight religious superstition wherever it is an obstacle to socialism, but we are opposed to religion only insofar as it is an obstacle to socialism.

signing on - unemployment lines or front lines

For the first time since the draft was suspended the US military has enlisted as many new soldiers as it needs. In the Bush administration’s second term, recruitment was so difficult that military analysts seriously considered whether the Army might be overstretched to breaking point. The maximum age of enlistment was raised from 35 to 42. Standards for physical fitness, mental aptitude and emotional stability were drastically lowered and a record number of convicted criminals received a waiver that allowed them to serve their country.

The defence department undersecretary in charge of personnel, Bill Carr, admitted the recession has played a major part in helping recruiters achieve their goals, adding that “the unemployment we had not directly forecast allowed us to be, for much of the year, in a very favourable position”.

The Pentagon’s director of accession policy, Curtis Gilroy, went further, saying that widespread redundancies and a chronic lack of entry-level jobs are driving school-leavers into the armed forces.

Last month, veterans gathered outside the Army Experience Centre, in a Philadelphia shopping mall, to object to the computer simulations inside, which let youngsters pilot a Black Hawk helicopter, play at counter-insurgency on games consoles and “take part in an authentic battle scenario”.
Vietnam veteran Bill Perry told reporters that teenagers “can’t really handle something like this and understand that war is not a game. It’s not going to be like an arcade when you’re in Iraq or Afghanistan.”

Saturday, October 17, 2009

International Day for the Eradication of Poverty

Yesterday was World Food Day , and now to-day is the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty.

The poverty rate in the United States has now risen to 13.2 percent, the highest level in eleven years and forty million people without healthcare . And around the world, two billion people, or a full third of humanity, are poor, living on less than two dollars a day. One billion live in extreme poverty, earning less than a dollar a day. Half-a-million women die every year giving childbirth or for pregnancy-related reasons. And pregnancy is not a disease. A billion people in the world live in slums, and that number will double in the next twenty years. Kibera in Kenya is Africa’s largest slum. There are a million people living there. There are water pipes that go through Kibera to provide water to the rich neighborhoods, and yet the people of Kibera don’t have clean drinking water.

All the approaches to eliminating poverty—foreign aid, technological development, trade, increased trade and investment have failed. In Africa, for example, investing in countries like Chad or the Democratic Republic of Congo has only enriched the powerful.

Non-Governmental Organisations in general come in to assist where governments fail. Many of them claim they are now shifting their focus to the economic development of poor countries. But it is common knowledge, from the concrete situation on the ground, that the main thrust of NGO activity is still within the framework of alleviation and not eradication of poverty and want. NGOs can neither transform or reform the nature of capitalism. Poverty and want are necessary offshoots of the capitalist socio-economic formation. Trying to get rid of the former whilst leaving the latter intact amounts to putting the cart before the horse.

The only genuine assistance the NGO community could offer to the suffering people of this capitalist world is to stop collaborating with the owners of capital and instead, join forces with socialists to get rid of this system based on money. NGOs could use their resources to help usher in a system where production is not for profits' sake but for the satisfaction of needs. Under such a system nobody will have to run around begging for funds in order to help the needy—in fact there wouldn't be any more needy people.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Saving the Earth


The world has failed to slow the accelerating extinction crisis despite 17 years of national and international efforts since the great hopes raised at the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro.


...The Conference that is taking place in Brazil this month has been hyped by the media as "the Earth Summit" but is nothing of the sort. It is merely a conference of the leaders of the various capitalist states into which the world is artificially divided. All those present are supporters - indeed administrators - of the capitalist system which caused the problems in the first place. Each of them is there to defend their own particular sectional, national capitalist interests. In these circumstances whatever is decided will be totally inadequate...

Before anything constructive can be done, capitalism must go and, with it, the artificial division of the world into separate, competing states. The Earth, and all its natural and industrial resources, must become the common heritage of all humanity. A democratic structure for making decisions at world as well as at local levels must come into being.

When such a united world has been established (or is about to be established) a real Earth Conference can be called to decide how to repair the damage capitalism has done to the biosphere. Then what scientists already know should be done can be done, and humanity can begin to organise its relationship with the rest of nature in a genuinely sustainable way. (Socialist Standard June 1992)

The message remains the same.

UN World Food Day

We read that 300 food experts attended a two day conference hosted by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the World Food Programme (WFP). which reached the conclusion that we have all the answers to address human hunger - we only lack the political will.
Hunger, concluded participants at the conference, is not just caused by environmental conditions, such as drought, which impact how much food can be produced. Hunger is also caused by "insufficient political will to address key food security concerns, structural problems, and weak governance."
“The State of Food Insecurity,” produced by the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the World Food Programme (WFP), explains that the sharp increase in global hunger is not the result of poor harvest or natural disasters, but the man-made causes of high food costs, growing unemployment, and declining incomes. “Even before the food crisis and the economic crisis, the number of hungry people had been increasing slowly but steadily,” the report notes. Although extreme hunger is most intense in less developed nations, social misery is on the rise among workers and the poor in the advanced economies, where the report estimates 15 million will have experienced undernourishment by the end of 2009. In the US alone, 36.2 million people lived in households defined as facing “food insecurity” in 2007—before the onset of the economic crisis— among them 12 million children, according to statistical analysis of US Department of Agriculture and Census Bureau data.

There was a world goal set in 2000 to cut global hunger by one-half by the year 2015. Instead of nearing that goal, there are more hungry people than ever before. At present, there are 1 billion people in the world who are hungry, the highest number ever , an increase of 100 million in just over a year, one sixth of humanity. A child dies every six seconds of malnutrition. In India 47 percent of its children under the age of six malnourished.

It is expected that next month's meeting of the Food and Agriculture Organization will see a new goal to eliminate hunger by 2025 adopted.
SOYMB sadly can only say that this too will be a failure since all those experts are incapable of seeing the wood for the trees . It is capitalism , the profit-making system , that is in existence throughout the world that is the root problem of world hunger . Instead we have a failure to comprehend what capitalism is .
“We have the economic and technical means to make hunger disappear,” said FAO Director-General Jacques Diouf. “What is missing is a stronger political will to eradicate hunger forever.”
This statement is only half true. While it is certainly the case that science and technique have increased agricultural productivity to the point that all the world’s population could be easily fed, what stands in the way is not a lack of “political will,” but a system of social organization—capitalism—that subordinates social need to the profit drive of the rich.

“It’s the role of the state and not the level of wealth, that determines progress on hunger,” said Anne Jellema, ActionAid’s policy director, launching the scorecard report Who’s Really Fighting Hunger? “Every six seconds a child dies from hunger, but this scandal could easily be ended if all governments took determined action.”

The state exists to protect and promote the creation of wealth in the interest of the few at the cost of the many . The wealth of the capitalists arises directly from the impoverishment of the great majority . What we have seen here are the effects of a system that is structured for the benefit of a few corporations at the expense of the many. Inevitably the food crisis will continue to grow for an ever-increasing number of the world's population unless and until the causes of the crisis are eliminated.

Politicians of diverse leanings, human rights advocacy groups and pundits of various persuasions offer a medley of fixes. Level the playing field. Fair trade, not free trade. Restore national sovereignty to international trade. Limit the power of global corporations. Strengthen human rights laws to prevent eviction of people from their land. Allow landless peasants access to and ownership of privately owned, unused land. Make the international institutions more accountable to citizens not to capital. Increase regulation of outsourcing. Force companies despoiling the environment to clean up the mess and pay compensation. Implement tougher environmental standards at all levels. The problem common to these and other 'solutions' is that none of them are comprehensive, none are for all time and none are for all people. Unlike the UN and numerous international agreements, all those multi-lateral accords and protocols which are repeatedly undermined by one or more powerful states consistently overruling decisions and agreements the ethic of socialism is rooted in the people. As more and more of the common wealth is taken from the people more and more people experience the food crisis first hand. Cause and effect. Removing money, the incentive and purpose of accumulation (the raison d’ĂȘtre of capitalism) and transforming world society into one of free access and common ownership – the world belonging to all and to none – will be to eliminate the causes of hunger and to effect an end to further speculation about a world food crisis.

For more see How We Could Feed The World

Who do you think you are?

Records show your Grandpa Tom
Took a bullet on the Somme
Fell like lead upon the ground
No remains were ever found

Not for him the Nation's cheers
For surviving all those years
Not his face upon our screen
Congratulations from the Queen

Who do you think you are?

Records show great-uncle Jock
Ran from battle, ran from shock
No-one heard his cries to God
Facing firing from the squad

Not for him the celebration
Held by a nostalgic nation
Not for him a special treat
Children listening at his feet

Who do you think you are?

Records show your own boy Jack
Faced a sniper in Iraq
Back home now, and on the dole
Broken body, broken soul

Not for him a National asset
Through the streets of Wootton Bassett
Was he lucky to return
To people who will never learn?

Who do you think you are?

Stephen Collier

Thursday, October 15, 2009

The Museum Piece

Let's let Mr Money retire from the management of our mode of survival and find shelter in a museum niche to rest beside flint stone hammers, anvils and bronze axes. Visitors might then like to stop a while in front of the niche, ponder over the antique family accommodated therein and discover Mr Money among them; but this time with a difference. For the old, Mr Money might still rouse great reminiscences, but for the young merely an inquisitiveness about an odd article, now stripped of any individuality.

Our kids would surely be much amused to observe the currency note with printing on the paper and ask "What's that, mummy?", "Papa, what is it?" and we "papas" and "mummies" would be prompt enough with our ready knowledge: "That was money."

"Well, what was money?" our kids would wonder.

"Money was what money did."

"What did it do?"

We should then recite what we had to memorise by rote from the lecture-notes of, and texts written by, our revered professors in the lately-dead economics departments of universities—"Money had four functions: exchange, measure, payment, store."

"Exchange? Peculiar." "What did it mean?"

"Buying and selling."

"And, what was it that buying and selling stood for?"

"You see, in actual fact, functions do not define a thing; they only describe its form; but it has also its content which has to be sought in its source. The source of money was exchange-value that expressed value that stood for the social labour necessary to produce something useful. Exchange, or to sell to buy, so to say, was engendered by private property relations. You couldn't sell what wasn't exclusively yours; you couldn't buy what was exclusively yours. Money couldn't be eaten; money couldn't be worn. You couldn't use money to build houses. Money did not lay and hatch eggs, or bear fruits, or produce young. You couldn't sow money and reap a harvest. Nothing useful could be produced merely by laying and sowing money. Money did not even produce money."

"Why was it necessary, then?"

"Because there was a social alienation—an owner/non-owner divide."

"Why was society divided that way?"

"Oh Dear! Why do you need to know all this here and now? It'll take a lot of time to explain the whole lot. Anyway for the time being, try to understand just a difference. Nowadays, as and when we feel hungry, what do we do? We just take what we need from where it is stored; and that's all, simply because we all have free access to them, we all collectively own and control them. But in those days when only a few people privately owned and controlled all means of production and distribution, the vast majority of us had little or nothing to own or control but our ability to work, which we were obliged to sell for a wage or a salary which was always less in terms of value than what we produced, and then we had to spend the money thus received to buy what we ourselves had produced and stocked at the behest of our employers—our food, clothes and all that we needed."

"Really, very interesting! But, what happened when you couldn't find a buyer for your ability to work?"

"Can't you follow? We had to starve. It's as simple as that!"

"Starve? A strange word, but what did it mean?"

"It meant to die of hunger. Understand?"

"Did it? Die of hunger? Even if there were enough stocks to meet everybody's need? And that merely because you didn't possess these coloured pieces of worthless paper to buy the products of your own labour? Horrific! What a shame on you!"

"Indeed! Quite so, the state of affairs was exactly what you've just stated. Yet, my sweet little observers, money wasn't just coloured pieces of worthless paper. In itself it might have been worthless, but it represented a great worth—private property. It was the ultimate form of expression of a relation between people mediated as though it was a relation between things. A relation between active social forces carried through a unique, indirect and roundabout manner working exactly like natural forces, irrespective of people's will, forcibly, coercively, destructively, blindly, behind the backs of the producers themselves. A totally inhuman relation reigning over humanity."

"And, that day, when we were listening to you reading off a passage from your school history book, we heard the author boast, claiming such a society to be civilised, and you said you were required to go on cramming such stuff for your exams. How stupid you were!"


(Socialist Standard April 1998)

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

This year's Nobel Prize for Economics

Every year the Bank of Sweden awards a prize to some economist, often called the Nobel Prize for Economics even though it wasn’t established by the old merchant of death himself. It has in fact only been going since 1968. Usually the prize goes to some obscure economist for work on some obscure aspect of the market economy. Sometimes it goes to a big name such as the Keynesian Paul Samuelson (1970) or the Monetarist Milton Friedman (1976). Even the mad marketeer Baron von Hayek got one, in 1974.

Very occasionally it goes to someone who has done some interesting work, as when in 1998 it went to Amartya Sen who had shown that famines were caused by a collapse in legal access to food (via money or direct production) and not by any actual shortage of food or overpopulation. This year, too, it has gone to someone whose work sounds interesting – Elinor Ostrom whose 1990 book Governing the Commons: The Evolution of Institutions for Collective Action refuted the so-called “Tragedy of the Commons” parable that is often used to try to show that socialism wouldn’t work.

In 1968 an American biologist Garrett Hardin conceived of a parable to explain why, in his view, common ownership was no solution to the environmental crisis and why in fact it would only make matters worse. Called “The Tragedy of the Commons”, his parable went like this: assume a pasture to which all herdsmen have free access to graze their cattle; in these circumstances each herdsman would try to keep as many cattle as possible on the commons and, in the end, its carrying capacity would be exceeded, resulting in environmental degradation.

Hardin’s parable was completely unhistorical. Wherever commons existed there also existed rules governing their use, sometimes in the form of traditions, sometimes in the form of arrangements for decision-making in common, which precluded such overgrazing and other threats to the long-term sustainability of the system.

One of the conclusions that governments drew from Hardin’s armchair theorising was that existing cases where producers had rights of access to a “common-pool resource” the solution was either to privatise the resource or to subject the producers to outside control via quotas, fines and other restrictions. Ostrom took the trouble to study various common property arrangements some of which had lasted for centuries, including grazing pastures in Switzerland, forests in Japan, and irrigation systems in Spain and the Philippines.

According to The Times (13 October),

“Based on numerous studies of user-managed fish stocks, pastures, woods, lakes and groundwater basins, she asserts that resource users frequently develop sophisticated mechanisms for decision-making and rule enforcement to handle conflicts of interest”.

In other words, common ownership did not necessarily have to lead to resource depletion as predicted by Hardin and trumpeted by opponents of socialism. The cases Ostrom examined were not socialism as the common owners were private producers. In socialism the producers, the immediate users of the common resources, would not be trying to make an independent living for themselves but would be carrying out a particular function on behalf of the community in a social context where the aim of production would be to satisfy needs on a sustainable basis. But the rules they would draw up for the use of the grazing land, forests, fishing grounds and the like would be similar to those in the cases she studied.


Thursday, October 08, 2009

A cold thought

According to the Fuel Poverty Advisory Group, the number of households in fuel poverty – where more than 10 per cent of income goes on heating and lighting – has trebled in five years, from 1.2 million in 2003 to 4 million last September.

Polling of pensioners by the charity Age Concern found that 38 per cent were cutting back on gas and 41 per cent on electricity this year because of fears that they could not afford the prices. With 13 million pensioners in the UK, the charity's findings suggest that 5.2 million people over 60 will go cold at some point this winter.Faced with a choice between food and fuel, many opt not to switch on radiators or gas fires – at a cost to their health.The Office for National Statistics has calculated there were 24,995 "excess winter deaths" between December 2007 and March 2008. Three quarters of those that die each year are aged 75 or over.

Age Concern spokesman Stefano Gelmini said: "If older people cut back on their heating during a colder winter this could raise the numbers affected by cold-related illness, which contributes to thousands of excess winter deaths of older people each year."

Alan Maryon-Davis, president of the Faculty of Public Health Medicine, explained: "If people live in the cold – particularly the elderly and those living alone – they are more likely to to get cardiovascular problems, heart attacks and strokes, and chronic lung conditions like bronchitis.They can become less mobile. They try to keep one room warm, and because they don't move about so much and don't go out so much they can get quite depressed, so there are mental health problems too." He added: "The harder it is for people to heat their homes, the more deaths there will be. A particular concern for the Faculty of Public Health Medicine is that higher energy prices are unequal in their impact and hit the poor more."

According to the Fuel Poverty Advisory Group, rising fuel prices mean ministers now have no hope of hitting their target of removing all "vulnerable" households from fuel poverty by 2010.

Another broken promise , another failed palliative .

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

slumming it

Further to an earlier post on poverty tourism we now read this report

Rich tourists are being offered a chance to live like a beggar in India to teach them about poverty.

For £150-a-night they can live with members of the so-called untouchable Dalit community, eating their food, and sleeping in one of their makeshift homes made of cardboard and plastic.

But the squeamish can pay a £100 supplement for an upgrade to a deluxe beggar's home - complete with clean sheets, a brand new mattress, fresh mineral water and insect repellents.

The holidays - in India's poverty stricken Uttar Pradesh state - are designed to mark the 140th anniversary of Indian human rights hero Mahatma Gandhi's birth.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Billon dollar bribery

The news that the Serious Fraud Office have asked the Attorney-General to prosecute BAE on corruption charges has raised a hornets nest of speculation in the British press about ethics, bribery and business practices. BAE is accused of paying millions of pounds in bribes to win contracts for aircraft in South Africa and the Czech Republic and the sale of air traffic control equipment in Tanzania.

In the past the SFO have investigated allegations of bribery by BAE in Saudi Arabia to win the £43 billion al-Yamamah deal. This was eventually dropped when Prime Minister Tony Blair intervened to retain the fighter contract on the grounds that thousands of British jobs were threatened. He never mentioned the real reason for turning a blind eye, Christian gentleman that he is - the immense profits that were in jeopardy!

So how come the SFO are prepared to proceed with the prosecution of BAE in this case? It would seem that BAE and the SFO were in negotiations about an out-of-court settlement that would have seen BAE pay an enormous great fine of millions without admitting any guilt, but these behind the scenes negotiations have broken down probably over the size of the fine or the extent of admitted culpability. We will probably never know the full extent of the skulduggery and chicanery that is going on in these behind-the-doors trickery, but it has been reported that the SFO was looking for up to a £1 billion fine and the BAE was only offering in the region of tens of millions.

The reaction of the British press has been interesting. Some of them have suggested that bribery is the accepted modus operandi with some foreign governments and that Britain should not tie its hands behind its back when dealing with rivals for these lucrative contracts. Others have claimed that if guilt is admitted this may harm BAE in future negotiations for contracts with the USA - their single biggest customer.

The journalist Antonia Senior in her support for BAE is particularly frank in her analysis of the past practices of British commerce. "We may be incorruptible at home, but when dealing with Johnny Foreigner all bets are off. The moral transgressor is the receiver of bribes, not the payer. It's Johnny's fault, of course; we can't expect the same standards from a foreigner. This jingoistic hypocrisy has long been a feature of British adventures abroad, whether they are in the military or economic line. We lied, bribed and slaughtered our way to an empire that we subsequently imbued with Christian piety. The pursuit of profit at the expense of morality has been the basis of our foreign policy for as long as we called ourselves British." (Times, 2 October)

The BAE bribery case is by no means unique. At the end of September the SFO successfully pursued Mabey & Johnson, the bridge builders for a bribery deal in Iraq and obtained a £6.6 million fine. Indeed this success may have emboldened the SFO to turn the screws on BAE. Whether BAE is eventually prosecuted or some old pals act wins the day it is impossible to tell, but this latest episode is just another example of the duplicity, fraud and criminality that lies at the heart of world capitalism.


Monday, October 05, 2009

One Man's Meat...

"They use everything about the hog except the squeal", joked the guide. He was showing the wonders of the Chicago stockyards and packing plants to a group of Lithuanian immigrants at the start of the 20th. century. In The Jungle Upton Sinclair gives a graphic description of what that joke meant for those who worked in the appalling conditions of the packing plants, and also of what went into the cans:

"and if that were not enough, there was a trap in the pipe, where all the scraps of meat and odds and ends of refuse were caught, and every few days it was the old man's task to clean these out, and shovel their contents into one of the trucks with the rest of the meat!"

The Jungle was published in 1906. Socialists would not deny that since then there have been considerable improvements in the standards of public health and hygiene and the exploitation of the working class appears less blatant. But given that the same unhealthy social system remains, it is not unsurprising to read in Saturday's edition of The New York Times of a young woman who after eating a hamburger went on to develop bloody diarrhoea, loss of kidney function as well as seizures so bad they rendered her unconscious and lead doctors to put her in a medically induced coma for nine weeks. The specific pathogen which nearly killed 22 year old Stephanie Smith and left this former dance instructor paralysed sickens tens of thousands annually. The same article goes on to provide a description of practices and procedures which would not appear out of place in 'The Jungle':

"..a single portion of hamburger meat is often an amalgam of various grades of meat from different parts of cows and even from different slaughterhouses,"

"..the hamburgers were made from a mix of slaughterhouse trimmings and a mash-like product derived from scraps that were ground together at a plant in Wisconsin. The ingredients came from slaughterhouses in Nebraska, Texas and Uruguay.."

"..Those low-grade ingredients are cut from areas of the cow that are more likely to have had contact with feces, which carries E. coli, industry research shows. Yet Cargill, like most meat companies, relies on its suppliers to check for the bacteria and does its own testing only after the ingredients are ground together. The United States Department of Agriculture, which allows grinders to devise their own safety plans, has encouraged them to test ingredients first as a way of increasing the chance of finding contamination. Unwritten agreements between some companies appear to stand in the way of ingredient testing. Many big slaughterhouses will sell only to grinders who agree not to test their shipments for E. coli, according to officials at two large grinding companies. Slaughterhouses fear that one grinder’s discovery of E. coli will set off a recall of ingredients they sold to others..."

After reading the above you should not need a doctor to tell you that "ground beef is not a completely safe product". Socialists however would like to draw your attention to the fact that evidence of the grisly machinations of the profit motive at work is clear throughout the six page long article.

Contrary to popular belief prices cannot be set at the whim of manufacturers. If it were so they would not need to worry about production costs. Concern for the contents and accurate labelling of meat products should be seen in the context of a social system where the motive for producing food, and every commodity, is sale and profit; where the choice of what anyone eats is qualified by what they can afford to pay. Food produced cheaply enough for 'most people' to easily afford means that a privileged few have a different choice.

(Based on an original article by P. Deutz)

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Decent housing - "all but impossible"

We read that eight years ago, the government pledged to bring all social housing in England up to a basic standard by 2010. According to a manifesto pledge, all homes would be made warm, weatherproof and have reasonably modern facilities.

But there are 700,000 properties in England which the National Audit Commission projects will miss the target.

According to the latest data from the Homes and Communities Agency , 22 councils across England have as many as one in two "non-decent" social homes. In East Durham, nearly nine out of 10 homes fail the standard.

The Audit Commission report on social housing published in September said the government's "high ambitions" for the Decent Homes scheme had not been "matched by reality". It concluded that, given the deterioration in the economy, meeting the 2010 deadline was now "all but impossible".

For a socialist approach on housing see here , Building Profits Versus Building Homes

Good for the goose...?

We have Obama making those soothing calls for less nuclear weapons and castigating Iran for its supposed alleged weaponisation of nuclear power, yet where does he stand on Israel's nuclear weapon possession ? We read in The Wshington Times

Under a four - decade understanding, the U.S. has not pressured Israel to disclose its nuclear weapons or to sign the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) .

Netanyahu let the news of the continued U.S.-Israeli accord slip last week when he was asked whether he was worried that Mr. Obama's speech at the U.N. General Assembly, calling for a world without nuclear weapons, would apply to Israel.

"It was utterly clear from the context of the speech that he was speaking about North Korea and Iran," the Israeli leader said. "But I want to remind you that in my first meeting with President Obama in Washington I received from him, and I asked to receive from him, an itemized list of the strategic understandings that have existed for many years between Israel and the United States on that issue. It was not for naught that I requested, and it was not for naught that I received [that document]."

The accord amounts to the United States passively accepting Israel's nuclear weapons status as long as Israel does not unveil publicly its capability or test a weapon. There is no formal record of the agreement nor have Israeli nor American governments ever publicly acknowledged it. A memo from national security adviser Henry Kissinger that comes closest to articulating U.S. policy on the issue says, "...what we really want at a minimum may be just to keep Israeli possession from becoming an established international fact."

Iran has frequently accused the U.S. of having a double standard by not objecting to Israel's arsenal.The rulers of Israel have their own agenda and can, and do, act independently of their protector , the US .

Capitalism is a war-prone society with a built-in clash of interests between states over markets, sources of raw materials, trade routes and strategic points to protect these. In the Middle East the conflict is over oil, and strategic points to protect its supply and transport, which has already led to many wars there. A conflict over which states and ruling classes should dominate the region where no working class interest is involved except in so far as it is they who are its innocent victims .

Friday, October 02, 2009

Nothing New Under the Sun

Competition for resources in the Arctic Circle could provoke conflict between Russia and Nato, a newly appointed commander at the alliance warned today.

Russia has recently been aggressive in its pursuit of claims to parts of the regions and in February sent a submarine to the floor of the sea in order to symbolically plant a flag. In March Russia announced plans to establish military bases along its northern coastline.

Admiral James Stavridis said that military activity and trade routes would also both be potential sources of competition around the polar cap.

the Times

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Food colonialism

Rich nations are practising a modern form of colonialism by acquiring farmland in poorer countries, ex-New Zealand prime minister and former director-general of the World Trade Organisation , Mike Moore has said .

"I think it is the wrong policy because I don't think food security will be guaranteed in the future because you own colonies overseas," he told the Gulf Times. "The English found that out with sugar".

Grain prices soared to record levels last year, causing riots and hoarding in some countries, and sparking a move for import-dependent rich countries to secure farmland in mainly poorer regions to ease food security.
Environmental analysts are worried that water shortages for irrigating crops caused by drained aquifers and melting glaciers could threaten wheat and rice harvests in China and India, and put pressure on global prices and the availability of food.
Fears of food shortages prompted moves to strike land deals in Africa and parts of Asia, with big investments offshore by Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, China, India, South Korea and Egypt. Some of the largest deals include Saudi’s acquisition of 500,000 hectares of land in Tanzania, and the UAE’s purchase of 400,000 hectares in Sudan.

"I am a free trader and what if someone comes in and says I want everything?" said Mr Moore. "At what point is there such a thing as sovereignty? You can argue that the land is one thing they can't take.It has not been tested but it is a hell of a thing to sell politically in free societies".

“I think this could well end in tears. It’s a simplistic sort of food security, and it didn’t work for the British Empire which was built on it. My country was a bloody farm for years." Moore is quoted elsewhere

Moore also defended globalisation and revealed the true beneficiaries when he stated that :-
"The poor have helped the rich by putting half a billion more consumers into the market in China and India,"

Being Impossible

Across at Socialist Standard @ My Space reproduces a chapter from the book 'Non-Market Socialism in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries',edited by Maximilien Rubel and John Crump , detailing the tradition of impossibilism that is best represented by the Socialist Party of Great Britain . The chapter was written by Stephen Coleman .

The full article is at the link but here is a few extracts .

The possibilists regarded socialism as a progressive social process rather than an 'all-at-once' end. Those who regarded capitalism and socialism as mutually exclusive systems and refused to budge from the revolutionary position of what has become known as 'the maximum programme' were labelled as impossibilists.The SPGB contended that the real impossibilists were the self-proclaimed realists who sought to humanise capitalism by means of legislative reform.

The SPGB has tended to refrain from extensive speculation about the precise organisation of the stateless society, pointing out that such decisions must be made by those establishing socialism, in accordance, no doubt, with ideas and plans formulated in the course of the revolutionary process. Many different kinds of bodies might be used by the inhabitants of socialist society:

"..there is intrinsically nothing wrong with institutions where delegates assemble to parley (Parliaments, congresses, diets or even so-called soviets). What is wrong with them today is that such parliaments are controlled by the capitalist class. Remove class society and the assemblies will function in the interest of the whole people..."

Advocates of soviets or council communism will note that their insistence upon how socialism would have to be organised is not ruled out by the SPGB...

...Whatever may be thought of the SPGB's case for the working class, in the course of the socialist revolution, sending mandated delegates to parliament as well as organising industrially to keep production going, it is clearly those who insist that ballot boxes and parliaments can play no part in the establishment of socialism and assert that socialism can only be established via industrial organisation alone, who are being dogmatic and historically fetishised in their thinking about revolution...

... The record of accurate prediction and sound analysis for which the SPGB can claim credit is an impressive one. Before 1906, when the Labour Party was founded, the reformist nature of that political movement was predicted. In 1914, when 'socialists' across the world succumbed to the temptation of national chauvinism and supported the imperialist war, the SPGB stood out in unqualified opposition to the war, producing at the time probably the finest anti-war manifesto ever to be published in English. In 1918, shortly after the Bolsheviks seized state power in Russia, the SPGB presented a Marxist analysis of the 'revolution' which foresaw its state capitalist outcome. In the 1920s, the SPGB was virtually the only British contender for the theory of Marxism against its Leninist distorters within the Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB). In 1926, the SPGB predicted that syndicalism, or trade-union militancy without conscious political action, was doomed to failure. In 1939, another world capitalist war was exposed as being nothing like a 'war for democracy' and was opposed and, subsequently, the bogus socialism of Labour government nationalisation and welfare reform policies was predicted and charted. It has been, in one sense, an impressive record of predicting historical failures: national liberation, CND, environmentalism, charities - the SPGB warned them all that, even on their own terms, these possibilist movements would end up faced with frustration...