Monday, March 29, 2010

The Saint of Glasgow

A former academic ">described as “The Saint of Glasgow” has attacked Prime Minister Gordon Brown for forgetting the Christian roots of socialism.Bob Holman, a former social policy professor with Bath University, famously gave up a comfortable middle-class life of academia to live in Easterhouse, one of Glasgow’s most deprived communities, where he spent almost 25 years following his religious convictions and working among the poor.

Holman, who has just published a book on Keir Hardie, one of the founders of the Labour Party, insists New Labour has forgotten the values which were once the bedrock of the party.
“If Hardie was alive today he would be very critical of Blair and would be publicly critical of him because here’s a man who has got enormous numbers of properties while others are homeless, and gets £15 million a year. Hardie would definitely say that that was inconsistent with Christianity.”

He also believes the party’s working-class roots have been neglected by Mr Brown and Mr Blair, and that there is an increasing number of career politicians who have been educated at elite schools and Oxbridge. A report published in January by the Speakers’ Conference on Parliamentary Representation found the number of working-class MPs had decreased sharply.
Mr Holman added: “There are now career politicians who go to university and then work for a party as a researcher or for a think-tank and then get the ear of politicians and are then parachuted into a seat.If you look at the Labour Cabinet, it’s predominately made up of people who come from the less than 1% of the population who went to Oxbridge or posh schools. It’s a reversal of what Hardie wanted and thought, because he wanted people in Parliament who knew about life at the bottom. Nowadays that doesn’t seem to happen.”

SOYMB , I am afraid do now have any dewy eyed nostalgia for old Labour or the politics and beliefs of Keir Hardie. A 1961 Socialist Standard article can be read here

Time after time Hardie fed workers the lie that they were part of a "nation " and as such were bound up in the quarrels of their masters. Not "International Working Class Solidarity", but "Class Collaboration" was his rallying cry, for Hardie was a patriot and proud of it. "I am not a pro-German". he wrote, "and still less am I a pro-Russian. I am a pro-Briton, loving my country and caring for her people. Any war of aggression against the rights and liberties of my country I would resist to the last drop of blood in my veins."

Hardie's Christian values , indeed !

Sunday, March 28, 2010


Struggling Farmers Say Drop in Strawberry Prices Makes Destroying Crops More Economical Than Shipping to Market

Such waste is a just one aspect of the capitalist system in which production for profit is supreme.

We've been here before...

Next time you pay 3p. (at least) for a peach, remember that the sight of a tractor crushing huge mounds of these plump, juicy fruits prior to their mass burial is boringly familiar to those who live in the "California of Europe", Italy's main fruit-growing area in the Romagna.

We all know, of course, from those regular newspaper reports and prompt television documentaries that the practice is not confined to this area of Italy, or even of Europe. But this year's slaughter of unmarketable fruit threaten to assurne vaster, even more unimaginable proportions than in the past. Last year's figures of several hundred thousand tons of peaches, pears and apples destroyed may well look small when this season's wastage is revealed.

Even more dramatically, figures of "slaughtered" fruit only represent a small proportion of all the fruit actually "withdrawn from sale". The rest of it is used mainly for fruit juices, wine-making and animal feed (although the animals obstinately refuse to understand that peach stones are for spitting out not swallowing and that they are not supposed to turn their noses up at regular feed when the seasonal supply of succulent pears runs out).

EEC Policy

When membership of the Common Market guaranteed Italian farmers markets and high fixed prices for all the fruit they could produce, fruit growing underwent an Eldoradan boom from one end of the peninsula to the other. As was to be expected however, the mad scramble for sales and profits quickly subordinated quality to quantity with the result that Italian fruit soon developed a reputation for being second best to more tasty varieties produced in other parts of the world. So when unpalatability plus inefficient and overbureaucratic distribution methods caused sales to drop, the EEC authority was forced to step in and in accordance with their price-fixing agreement to buy up the 'surplus' and put it to the 'uses' described above.

They could not (and cannot) allow it to be released for sale at rock-bottom prices, as the immediate effect, of this would be to competitively force down the price of other fruit on the market and hit the farming profits they are in business to support.

Don't Give it Away

But why, instead of destroying the surplus fruit, don't they distribute it free to the wide areas of the world which have food shortages and malnutrition as a permanent problem? Low quality food, after all, is better than no food at all and such a practice could scarcely have a direct effect on market prices in the countries where the fruit is actually sold. They don't, quite simply because the expense involved in such a procedure would exceed the cost of allowing the unsaleable fruit to be grown and then destroying it. Besides a solution like this would be entirely unacceptable to the governments of "shortage" countries, as free goods would constitute the most dangerous kind of competition to goods being sold on the market there. And who knows, apart from the damage to these countries' economies (i.e. the profit prospects of those owning and controlling the means by which commodities are produced), a taste of free access, even on such a limited scale, might cause highly inconvenient social unrest?

So with production and distriibution tied to the need to maximise profit, such a method of disposing of "surplus" goods is right out. In our present worldwide system of buying and seIling human need is a poor match for market demand, that is, need backed up by ready cash.

Italian fruit, French vegetables, Common Market milk and butter, British eggs and potatoes, Canadian wheat and Japanese rice. It's the same depressing and wasteful story the earth over (including no doubt, if information were released, Russia with its so-called "planned" economy). And nothing on earth can be more anarchical and anti-social than a system which dumps and destroys all it cannot seIl at a profit. What but working-class ignorance and inertia stand in the way of a society which would plan its resources rationally for the satisfaction of worldwide human needs?


(Socialist Standard, October 1972)

Saturday, March 27, 2010

The case , not the face

In 1997, Blair , the new PM , said to Labour MPs “You are not here to enjoy the trappings of power but to do a job and to uphold the highest standards in public life. You are all ambassadors for New Labour and ambassadors for the Government.” . After which we had Derek Draper selling his influence , Bernie Eccleston buying access to Number 10, the purchase of peerages , 'yo-yo-he-is-in-he-is-out' Mandelson accepting suspicious loans , the gravy train expense claims scandal of sitting MPs , Tony Blair's own nefarious business dealings and now ex-ministers whoring their influence out to whoever can pay .
We have also witnessed capitalism becoming a dirty word again because of the recession and banking collapses and the credit crisis and simple out and out company fraud .

Yet even if every politician were up-standing , honest and genuinely interested in improving the lives of ordinary people rather than in furthering their own careers , filling in their inflated expenses claims and enlarging their bank balance , this would not make any difference. The problems we face doesn’t arise from governments being composed of dishonest or self-serving politicians. What a government can do depends, not on the honesty or determination or competence of its members, but on the way the capitalist system works and on what, as a profit-making system, it requires any government – even one composed of selfless saints – to do. Capitalism just cannot be made to work in our interest.

What’s wrong with capitalism is that it is based on class privilege and exploitation.What’s wrong with capitalism is that its competitive struggle for profits leads to speed-up, stress and insecurity at work, to damage to the environment, to wars .Capitalism simply cannot be reformed to work in the interest of the majority of workers. In regards of the candidates in this election , whether perfectly sincere or not , it’s not a question of what they want to do, but of what they can do – or rather cannot do – within the framework of the profit system. Politicians are constrained to operate within parameters set by the economic system for which they stand. Politicians are merely the errand boys and girls of the rich and powerful .Based upon minority ownership of the means of living, capitalism can only ever operate in the interests of the capitalist minority, not the electorate as a whole.

Politicians have long been attempting to cope with this anarchic market volatility since the beginning of the modern day industrial state two hundred years ago and havent yet succeeded. Their job is to manage the day to day chaos of capitalism little more. It makes not an iota of difference whether they are honest, clever, stupid, or educated. Nor does it matter if they are well meaning. If good intentions or any of these other things were all that were required to fix capitalism there would be no problem.The forces of the economy are beyond the management of the politicians. Changes in world market conditions and the natural booms and busts of the capitalist commercial cycle brings them back to the grim reality of business.

The Socialist Party are not interested in upholding capitalist economics. We are not asking anyone to vote for us who does not understand and want socialism. We are not in the business of providing reformist promises to patch the system back together. We are asking you to study the case for socialism so that when you do vote for socialism, you will, in effect, be voting for yourself for your own interests. Rather than dither in a futile panic between one bunch of hopeless corrupt careerists and another, why not use the vote properly and effectively and opt for a real alternative?

Vote for the case not the face.

Friday, March 26, 2010

nuts in brazil

A UN report says Brazil is the most unequal country in Latin America

The richest 10 percent of the population own 50.6 percent of the country's wealth, while the poorest 10 percent possess only 0.8 percent of the wealth.

Health is Wealth

"People who are poor have the highest rates of nearly every disease we know about," said Len Syme, professor emeritus of epidemiology at the University of California, Berkeley.

Research reveals that social status and income level play a crucial role in a person's health. Syme has spent his academic life researching the underlying causes of disease and his conclusion is that health is directly related to your income and social status.

Of two people in the same state of health, but different socio-economic spheres, the wealthier one is less susceptible to disease, according to Syme. Residents of lower income neighbourhoods have higher mortality rates and higher prevalence of mental and physical illness, according to a 2009 Manitoba RHA Indicators Atlas report.

"The people at the bottom have less resources available to them and less training on how to use resources," said Syme."We really need to empower people to navigate the world."

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

work til you drop

And so we had Darling's budget which included a proposal for consultation on reform of employers’ right to make people retire at 65, which examines options including scrapping the default retirement age, raising it or giving employees stronger rights. This , of course , leading to keeping older workers in harness for longer. Already three million people will delay their retirement because of the economic climate or because their savings were wiped out.

Martyn Bogira, a director at Prudential , touting for business , said "It's one thing to want to continue to work, but quite another to be forced to as a result of not having saved enough money to be able to retire,"

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

The Politics of Fear

SOYMB reads in The Independent that Britain is facing an increased threat of nuclear attacks by al-Qa'ida terrorists, according to three counter-terrorism reviews .

There was the threat from a radiological "dirty bomb". The report suggested that bomb makers that have been active in Afghanistan could already have the ability to produce a "dirty bomb" using information available over the internet.Terrorists could transport an improvised nuclear device on the Thames and detonate it in the heart of London. Other areas thought to be vulnerable included Bristol, Liverpool, Newcastle, Glasgow and Belfast. A counter-terrorism report said security around stockpiles of decommissioned material was "variable and sometimes inadequate leaving materials vulnerable and to theft".

Since September 11 Britain has been warned of the inevitability of catastrophic terrorist attack. A major new TV documentary claims that the perceived threat is a politically driven fantasy - and al-Qaida a dark illusion.

The Guardian reports that since the attacks on the United States in September 2001, there have been more than a thousand references in British national newspapers, working out at almost one every single day, to the phrase "dirty bomb". There have been articles about how such a device can use ordinary explosives to spread lethal radiation; about how London would be evacuated in the event of such a detonation; about the Home Secretary David Blunkett's statement on terrorism in November 2002 that specifically raised the possibility of a dirty bomb being planted in Britain; and about the arrests of several groups of people, the latest only last month, for allegedly plotting exactly that.

Yet the BBC2 three-part documentary series The Power of Nightmares: The Rise of the Politics of Fear takes a different view of the weapon's potential.

"I don't think it would kill anybody," says Dr Theodore Rockwell, an authority on radiation, in an interview for the series. "You'll have trouble finding a serious report that would claim otherwise." The American department of energy, Rockwell continues, has simulated a dirty bomb explosion, "and they calculated that the most exposed individual would get a fairly high dose of radiation, not life-threatening." And even this minor threat is open to question. The test assumed that no one fled the explosion for one year.

Much of the currently perceived threat from international terrorism, the series argues, "is a fantasy that has been exaggerated and distorted by politicians. It is a dark illusion that has spread unquestioned through governments around the world, the security services, and the international media." The series' explanation for this is even bolder: "In an age when all the grand ideas have lost credibility, fear of a phantom enemy is all the politicians have left to maintain their power."

The Power of Nightmares argues Al-Qaida is not an organised international network. It does not have members or a leader. It does not have sleeper-cells. It does not have an overall strategy. In fact, it barely exists at all, except as an idea about cleansing a corrupt world through religious violence.

The press has become accustomed to publishing scare stories and not retracting them; politicians became accustomed to responding to supposed threats rather than questioning them; the public became accustomed to the idea that some sort of apocalypse might be just around the corner. Bill Durodie, director of the international centre for security analysis at King's College London, says "Insecurity is the key driving concept of our times.Politicians have packaged themselves as risk managers. There is also a demand from below for protection." The real reason for this insecurity, he argues, is the decay of the 20th century's political belief systems and social structures: people have been left "disconnected" and "fearful".

SOYMB can only say that capitalism is a society of fear .

More people die from unsafe water than from all forms of violence, including war, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said to mark World Water Day.

"These deaths are an affront to our common humanity, and undermine the efforts of many countries to achieve their development potential," Ban said as the issue was discussed at a high-level UN General Assembly dialogue."Day after day, we pour millions of tons of untreated sewage and industrial and agricultural wastes into the world's water systems," he said, noting that clean water has become scarce and would be even scarcer as a result of climate change.

Ban stressed that the world has the know-how to solve the challenge and urged nations to "become better stewards of our water resources."

A forlorn hope since in the same article we have Hilary Clinton explaining part of the problem - "Access to reliable supplies of clean water is a matter of human security. It's also a matter of national security," she said.[our emphasis]

Yet another false START

Obama's vision of a world without nuclear weapons is naive. He along with other leaders and groups such as CND, the ANSWER Coalition, etc., are powerless to eradicate war or any other 'problems' endemic to the capitalist system....

Pass the Salt II

"God will not forgive us if we fail."

IN ENGLAND there is a principle called the sanctity of contract, which means that if two parties make a binding agreement for, say, the sale and purchase of a house and ane seeks to renege, then the court will enforce the provisions of the contract. The losing party cannot thumb their nose at the decision of the court because they know it to be the servant of the all-powerful state. While many people think they can apply this principle to contracts between capitalist states (usually called treaties), the analogy is false for the simple reason that here each party is a power in its own right and there is no superior power or court which will hold the scales - and the even more important sword - of 'justice' between them.

Capitalist states nevertheless do make treaties when it suits thern (which usually means that one side is strong and the other weak). History is littered with treaties, and when it is convenient they may even be adhered to, sometimes for long periods. But history is also littered with broken treaties. There was one to respect the 'neutrality' of Belgium in 1914. And again, that of Norway in 1940. In each case Germany broke the pact; the western allies were most indignant and accused Germany of regarding treaties as scraps of paper. How right they were; scraps of paper is just what treaties are.

The indignation is of course faked and fraudulent. In both cases the western powers had been seriously contemplating doing the violating themselves. Germany just got in first. And, as we mentioned in a recent issue of this journal, the ballyhoo surrounding the signing of a treaty at Camp David between Israel and Egypt could not hide the fact that while both sides clearly thought the piece of paper was worth having, there were simultaneous arrangements whereby both sides made sure they had enormous armaments on the new Sinai dividing line. These capiitalist states were not going to defend thernselves with a scrap of paper.

Such facts are a necessary correetive, should anyone be foolish enough to imagine that thle Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty (SALT) recently signed bctween Carter and Brezhnev is going to bring peace to the capitalist jungle. The treaty Russia and America have just solemnly entered into is SALT II; there was once a SALT I, and already the papers are telling us that the next stage is SALT Ill. If two neighbours agree to love each other, or at any rate not to strike each other, that's fine. But if they need a complete series of agreements to say they won't hurt each other, their sincerity is clearly a sham. It all sounds too much like the dictum of that puritan militarist Cromwell: trust in god, but keep your powder dry.

The question may well be asked: why do these superpowers go through this meaningless rigmarole? The answer is that, as with Camp David, a piece of paper can have some value. It can give a breathing space. Sometimes it can be respected if it suits the parties - for a very long time. The 1704 Treaty of Utrecht gave a piece of Spain called Gibraltar to England, whose ruling class still own it (much as they would like to get shot of it!). The reality behind SALT II is that it has dawned upon both super-powers that the cost of continual 'improvements' of nuclear weapons is becoming astronomical - and more and more ludicrous. Each side clearly has in its arsenals enough H-bombs and nuclear subrnarines and missiles and impregnable silos to ensure that if it came to the crunch, both sides could be wiped out - and the rest of the human race too - in a short, sharp, mutually destructive holocaust .

In 1956, at the time of Suez, when Khruschev was sabre rattling against England, CNDers and leftists generally were quick to point out that Russia would have no difficulty in blowing England off the map, and 'our' little H-bombs could not stop her. But it is a leftist defect not to see what does not suit their arguments. The fact is that ane little British Polaris submarine carried sixteen warheads, each ane of which packed a punch a hundred times as violent as the pea-shooter which devastated Hiroshima and killed about 100,000 'littie yellow bastards', as they were then affectionately called. A Polaris submarine is almost undetectable in the depths of the oceans and would have no problem in hitting - and wiping out Moscow or Leningrad.

So the balance of terror, though overwhelmingly on the side of Russia, still left Khruschev with same tricky problems; for example, would he and the rest of the red fascist gang in the Kremlin be there to smell the roses after the ball was over? Capitalist politicians (which term includes Brezhnev, of course) may not be very clever, but it does occur to them from time to time that continuous multiplication of the 'overkill' factor is enorrnously expensive. It is therefore in the interests of both sides to see if they can reach same accommodation on the matter. Leftists tend to think that states belong to armament makers and militarists and that consequently the more money that is spent on arms, the more the capitalist class likes it. This is nonsense, The enormous costs are paid out of the collective pocket of the capitalist state. If one section - the arms manufacturers - make huge profits, the others have to pay huge taxes. So it is in the interests of the state as a whole to try and curb all expenditure - on H-bombs·as well as on the NHS. But it's a tricky job because neither side is so stupid as to trust the other. Even the capitalist class can't win 'em all, so they do the best they can.

If you want to see the best commentary on the whole ludicrous negotiations, read Punch (16 May) with its article headed "SALT talks break down in utter confusion or maybe success". But it is nearly as hilarious to read serious papers. The Guardian (21 June) had an article by Hella Pick (their Russia expert , whose writings would always look better in Punch) headed:

"Pravda warns against changes to letter or spirit of SALT". The following piece of the article is worth quoting:

"Pravda also sought to convince Americans of the Soviet Union's good faith by prornising not only to observe the treaty itself', together with its accompanying 'common statements of understanding' but also all other commitments signed by Brezhnev in Vienna ... Pravda evidently tried to insist that Brezhnev's word, even if not put altogether into writing, was good and would be carried out."

So it seems we can now not only trust our lives to politicians' scraps of paper, but even to the breath that comes out of their lying lips. No doubt if Brezhnev reneges (or Carter, of course) we can send him a summons to appear in the Small Claims Court.

That other journal for leftist would-be intellectuals, The Observer, had one of its most ponderous leading articles on the subject (24 June), headed: "We must back SALT". It gave a number of reasons. The first will be enough:

"While SALT II is a disappointment because it allows both sides to build new weapons systems, it is a necessary step towards arms reductions in future."

The entire article reads like a satire worthy of Swift or Volaire. The appalling thing is that these highly paid pundits take their own guff seriously, and no doubt Observer readers nod as they read these words of wisdom. This is very sad; as ordinary people allow thernselves to be fooled by this, so long will this horrific social system remain.

As an addendum, I must not forget to give the ascription to the little quote in the sub-heading to this article. It is taken from The Observer (24 June) 'Sayings of the Week'. I fancy it is really the saying of the century. It was uttered by one of the two Great Men at the SALT talks. Carter. No - it was the other fellow. And no newspaper - not even the Morning Star - saw fit to comment on it. The mind, in this case, does not boggle.


(Socialist Standard, August 1979)

Monday, March 22, 2010

Religious Mania

God's Own Copper

God works in mysterious ways. Given my love of God and my belief in God and in Jesus Christ, I have to accept that I may well be used by God
in this way.
( James Anderton, Chief Constable
of Greater Manchester, 18 January 1987)

It has been quite a while since God has chosen a human prophet to inform us mortals what is going on in his supernatural mind. A couple of thousand years ago he chose a popular illusionist (virgin birth, turning water into wine, making the blind able to see: the usual tricks) who told the oppressed to submit to their masters and wait for eternal happiness in a paradise beyond the grave. The meek shall inherit the earth, said Jesus. The meek are still waiting for the inheritance to occur. The wise have more sense than to accept a morality of meekness. According to his evidence in the dock at The Old Bailey, Peter Sutcliffe, the Yorkshire Ripper (mass murderer of women) heard a voice from God telling him to commit the murders. The Judge was unimpressed and tried to decide whether the defendant was insane. Odd really, when you consider that Judges accept evidence in courts as being more likely to be truthful because it is sworn on oath to this invisible Big Man called God. The latest recipient of God's message is Chief Constable Anderton, who by his own account was on his way to a seminar on AIDS when God forced his words into his mind, leaving the poor copper no alterative but to make a fool of himself repeating them in public. Said the divinely-inspired officer,
"Why do these people freely engage in sodomy and other obnoxious sexual practices knowing the dangers involved? As the Years go by I see ever increasing numbers of them swirling around in a human cesspit of their own making. I worry intensely about the real possibility of whole generations being wiped out and nations decimated."

He may worry intensely about this curious vision of increasing numbers of human beings creating their own cesspits with a view to wiping out future generations. He would however do better to worry intensely about the whole generations who stand in immense risk of being blown to pieces by capitalism's bombs and the chemical and biological weapons which are sick and murderous, but which have received no condemnation to date either from God or his specially picked, uniformed messengers. Needless to say, the moral totalitarians who are ready and waiting to tighten the chains on the recently too-permissive wage slaves were quick to bow down to the newly-discovered prophet. The Sun, the paper printed by scabs and read by dummies, quoted Anderton's words and declared that

"All these words were exactly right. Mr Anderton was merely giving voice to what every reasonable man and woman feels."
(Editorial, Top Cop's Words of Wisdom, 22 January 1987).

So you either agree with God's top cop or you are by definition unreasonable. According to the Gospels (a confused assortment of unhistorical stories and reported hallucinations), Christ said that those who did not agree with his every word would be eternally damned - left to burn in Hellfire forever. It seems as if Jesus had a conception of compassion and tolerance similar to that of the Sun. Indeed, the paper which is so crazy that it has to be printed behind barbed wire was not slow to point out the similarity between Christ and Anderton:

"There are suggestions that James Anderton is mad. The same charge could just as easily have been brought against Jesus Christ when He came to Earth."

Indeed, it could. Let us for a moment entertain this religious fantasy that the world and all of us who inhabit it are the children of a Holy Father - never seen, but ever feared - who rules over us and must be obeyed to the letter of his commandments. Now, it tells us something about the condition of millions of workers if they can be persuaded that they are the little children in need of an invisible Father, but let us examine the Christian Anderton conception of fatherhood. God, The Father (he also works as a Son and a Holy Ghost) tells us those certain forms of behaviour are wrong. Some of his children disobey the God-Father and do what is "wrong". His fatherly response is to invent a fearful, painful disease which will wipe out vast numbers of his children, thus teaching them to obey him in future. In recent years we have read in newspapers like the Sun about fathers who have acted in this way: they have beaten their children, put out cigarettes on their bodies, locked them in drawers. These constitute a small minority of fathers but we all know of these cases and our response is that of horror and outrage. How can a parent, however frustrated they might be at the behaviour of their children, be so cruel and vicious and crazy? But according to the Christians like Anderton, this is precisely what we should expect a father to do, the only way to teach workers the right way to behave is to kill off a few of them for behaving the wrong way. If God was a father he would need to be given help by others less deranged than himself; his children would need to be taken into care. That is what those who think they are God's children need: to be taken into care - not the care of another phoney god-image or of the state or of offensive and fascistic police chiefs but of themselves. Transcending religious folly means learning that we are not little children destined to obey a Master, but that we are capable of controlling our own lives. As a devout Christian prophet and as a leader of uniformed state coercion, James Anderton will not like the sound of that, people making their own decisions - no gods, no cops, no bosses? That will give him something to worry intensely about.

In the USA, where the God Squad make plenty of dollars out of screwing up workers' minds, there is no shortage off Anderton-style fanaticism. Last October seven Christian families won a case against the State of Tennessee on the grounds that books used to teach children to read were "heathen". They argued that letting children read Goldilocks and the Three Bears encourages breaking and entering. Other objections - upheld by the court-were to a picture of a boy cooking and a story of a wife challenging her husband's authority, both of which were held to be contrary to God-made Nature. The State of Louisiana has a law, passed in 1981, forcing schools to teach the theory of creation to the exclusion of other, scientifically based, theories. It seems that the current moral backlash in the USA is leading to a number of cases being brought to court by Christians aiming to censor ideas from state education. According to a report in The People (22 November 1986)

"Thirty-nine per cent of the (legal) attacks occurring in the last year have led to the actual removal or restriction of the "offending" material. Curricula dealing with subjects like nuclear war and the Nazi holocaust have been attacked. Literature from Homer to Hemingway has been attacked and sometimes removed from library shelves. Texts mentioning evolution have been vetoed by school boards. Some science text publishers are already practising “self-censorship". One study found that half of all biology texts today don't cover evolution adequately and one-sixth don't cover it at all."

So much for The Land of the Free. Religion and morality have always been about forcing people to conform in their ideas. The conformity required is that which meets the needs of the profit-stealing ruling class. From James Anderton to the anti-scientific Christian bigots of the USA "God's word" is the sermon of ignorance and unconsciousness. No self-respecting worker will fall for it for long. Let us banish the Gods from our minds and the capitalists from the earth. Without such impostors on our freedom to live as brothers and sisters, humankind will discard our bosses' stinking morals as we learn to live together as a human family of equals.

Socialist Standard March 1987

poisoned air

More could be done to prevent the early deaths of up to 50,000 people each year hastened by air pollution.

A Commons Environmental Audit Committee report said the UK should be "ashamed" of its poor air quality which was contributing to conditions such as asthma, heart disease and cancer. Pollutants such as ozone, nitrogen oxides and tiny particles - from transport and power stations have been blamed for contributing to early deaths.

Particle matter is estimated to reduce people's lives by an average seven to eight months, while in pollution hotspots vulnerable residents, such as those with asthma, could be dying up to nine years early, the report says.

EAC chairman Tim Yeo said: "Air pollution probably causes more deaths than passive smoking, traffic accidents or obesity, yet it receives very little attention from government or the media. In the worst affected areas this invisible killer could be taking years off the lives of people most at risk, such as those with asthma."

Air pollution also leads to damage to wildlife and agriculture, with ground-level ozone estimated to reduce wheat yields in the south of Britain by 5% to 15%.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Gulag America

SOYMB has posted before on the America prison population and on our cyber travels we came across this interview conducted by the Boston Globe with Robert Perkinson author of a new book, “Texas Tough: The Rise of America’s Prison Empire,’’ , a history of American punishment from slavery to the present and the result of a decade of research and of hundreds of interviews that he conducted throughout the prison system.

Q. How large is that [US prison] industry?
A. It’s on a scale unlike anything attempted by a democratic government in human history. There have been larger prison experiments — the Soviet gulag, for instance — but only in totalitarian states. The total prison population in the US is about 2.4 million; if you count those on probation and parole, it rises to almost 8 million. We have chosen to lock up more people for longer than any other country in the world. And those incarcerated are not just disproportionately African-American and Latino but increasingly so. In that sense, the US criminal justice system has become not more, but less equal over the last 40 years.

Q. Is there simply more crime?
A. There is not more crime. Crime has been declining since the 1990s. What really drives up prison populations is politics; the sentencing decisions that politicians and judges make. For instance, the majority of offenders who go to prison for illegal drug use are black or Latino, whereas roughly 70 percent of users are white. This reflects how the US has come to deal with inequality and intractable social ills, not with Great Society solutions but with hard power solutions.

Q. Why do you focus on Texas?
A. Texas is ground zero of the prison boom. It locks up more people than any other state; it executes more people than any other state...

Q. How do you explain that?
A. I think it’s rooted in the legacy of violence, historically speaking, in the settlement of the West, and, more importantly, in the cultural and political inheritance of slavery. In the South, the rehabilitative model pioneered in the North never took hold. Instead, punishment traditions were tied to hard labor, racial subjugation and retribution. After Emancipation, courts turned former slaves into felons who were sold to mining and railroad companies, to sugar and cotton planters and that system dominated the Southern criminal justice system into the 20th century. In the wake of the civil rights era, the same politicians that fought integration immediately began increasing sentences...

Q. You also describe a prison guard culture.
A. That has started to change, but one of the things that made Texas unique and preserved the lifeways of slavery into the 20th century was that prisons were primarily plantations, many of them operating since the 1830s with unfree labor. The white guards would live on the prison plantation; they would have houseboys, even babysitters who were prisoners. This lasted into the 1980s and persists to some extent.

Q. In all your travels, were there particularly striking moments?
A. I remember the first time I saw a line of prisoners in Texas, most of them black, going out to the fields with an armed white guard on horseback. In a juvenile unit on the Gulf Coast, I met a skinny 16-year-old who had been sentenced to 99 years. I’m sure he committed murder or something, but the fact that we’re locking juveniles up for life suggests that we’ve given up on the idea of reforming them.

The Socialist Standard relates how more than half of the 4,000 executed since 1930 have been black — some five times the proportion of African-Americans in the US population as a whole. Forty-two percent of all back men on death row are black, even though they make up some percent of people living in the U.S. Almost 85 percent of those executed since 1997 have been convicted of killing whites. In that same period only one person has been executed for killing an African-American. In the history of executions in the USA, of 8,000 executions carried out, only 8 have involved a white person killing a black person.
Not so long ago, the US General Accountancy Office , the alleged non-partisan audit, evaluation, and investigative arm of Congress, put out a report addressing the racism endemic in capital cases. It stated: “Our synthesis of the 8 studies shows a pattern of evidence indicating racial disparities in the charging, sentencing and imposition of the death penalty . . . In 8 percent of the studies, race of victim was found to influence the likelihood of being charged with capital murder or receiving the death penalty”, and “those who murdered whites were found to be more likely to be sentenced to death than those who murdered blacks.”

The death penalty rarely targets the rich and never the company directors knowingly responsible for corporate manslaughter. If you are wealthy, then you can afford the best legal representation money can buy.The working class is murdered and battered and robbed and dehumanised every day. Our duty is to respond by urging our class to end capitalism and, in so doing, finally eliminating all the social problems that presently plague us; forever changing a society that sees its poorer and more desperate members killing one another and thus ending up victims themselves at the hands of the capitalist state’s killing machine.

Bomb Bomb Iran

SOYMB has mentioned before the strong possibility of war on Iran and that in the words of Scottish CND “It is clear that the US government continues to beat the drums of war over Iran, most recently in the statements of Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton. It is depressingly similar to the rhetoric we heard prior to the war in Iraq in 2003.”

The Sunday Times , not content with the usual scare-mongering of Iran's potential nuclear weapon threat , adds that Iran ( but also using its weasel get-out clause "or elements in Iran" ) is now actively supporting the Taliban in Afghanistan with military training .

In the Sunday Herald we read that hundreds of powerful US “bunker-buster” bombs are being shipped to the British island of Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean in preparation for a possible attack on Iran. 387 “Blu” bombs used for blasting hardened or underground structures such as Iran's nuclear development installations.

“They are gearing up totally for the destruction of Iran,” said Dan Plesch, director of the Centre for International Studies and Diplomacy at the University of London. “US bombers are ready today to destroy 10,000 targets in Iran in a few hours,” he added.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Tony £lair

SOYMB reads that Blair has made at least £20 million since leaving Downing Street in June 2007. The full extent of his income is cloaked in secrecy because he has constructed a complex web of shadowy companies and partnerships which let him avoid publishing full accounts detailing all the money from his commercial ventures. The former Prime Minister tried to keep the public in the dark over his dealings with South Korean oil firm UI Energy Corporation and went to great efforts to keep hidden a £1 million deal advising the ruling royal family in Iraq's neighbour Kuwait.

Although not the SOYMB's favourite paper the Daily Maily writes about the secret contracts, shady oil deals, foreign multinationals, Middle Eastern rulers and a former prime minister whose cosy relationship with the U.S. was bought with the blood. He is profiting from taking Britain into a war in Iraq that much of his country was against, and doing so on the false premise that we were under threat from weapons of mass destruction.Blair is now using his official role as Middle East Envoy to drum up business in the region. Blair prostitutes himself for money.

The Times also recently reported Blair's wealth . His consultancy, the London-based Tony Blair Associates (TBA). One friend of Blair said: “TBA has been set up to make money from foreign governments and major companies. There’s a focus on the Middle East, because that’s where the money is.” He flips his roles on a daily basis in official meetings: one hour, he is the official peace envoy meeting a Middle East minister or ruler; the next, he is a representative of the banking giant JP Morgan.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Cities of the future , or future slums

A new report by the United Nations organisation UN-Habitat had some good news - that in the past deccade 228 million people ( mostly in India and China ) no longer lived in slums yet the bad news is that the number of people living in shantytowns and ghettoes increased by 55 million to 827.6 million as population growth and migration from the countryside outstripped the effect of upward mobility . “The progress made on the slum target has not been enough to counter the growth of informal settlements in the developing world,” UN-HABITAT says.

Anna Tibaijuka, the executive director of the U.N. Habitat program played down the achievement of beating the Millennium goal of pulling 100 million people out of poverty, calling it "totally inadequate."

Barring drastic action, the number of slum dwellers in the world's cities is expected to grow by 6 million a year over the next decade to hit 889 million by 2020, the report said.

The world's urban population now exceeds the world's rural population.Potentially, cities can make countries rich because the high concentration of people enables industry to produce goods more cheaply. Urbanization appears to be a must for industrialization, sustained economic growth and social development. Urban-based enterprises are able to mass produce goods.Seoul accounts for almost half of South Korea’s GDP; Budapest (Hungary) and Brussels (Belgium) each for roughly 45%. Tokyo alone accounts for almost 2% of the world’s GDP , similar to Spain's or Canada's. London's GDP is higher than that of Sweden or Switzerland.

Yet in "First World wealthy" America for many people moving up from the lowest economic ranks to the middle class, and from the middle class to the top income echelons, is becoming increasingly difficult. The richest 1 per cent of households now earns more than 72 times the average income of the poorest fifth of the population, and 23 times that of the middle fifth. In just one year, between 2005 and 2006, the richest 1 per cent of the U.S. population increased their earnings by US $95,700, while the bottom fifth took home only US $600 more than the previous year, and the middle fifth stagnated, earning only US $300, or 0.6 per cent, more than they had in 2005. In “the other America”, poor black families and the chronically unemployed are clustered in ghettos, lacking access to quality education, secure tenure, lucrative employment and political power. Higher inequality often corresponds with greater segregation, especially for black residents. The most unequal city, Atlanta, Georgia, has the third-highest degree of black segregation. In Chicago, discriminatory mortgage lending and public housing development from the 1960s onward conspired to isolate many low-income black families in the central city. Lack of affordable housing outside the city centre, coupled with high unemployment and poor education, has further undermined social mobility and economic advancement. In Washington, D.C., the vast majority of black residents live on the eastern side of the metropolitan area, far from the economic prosperity, wealth, job growth, and quality schools now concentrated in the west.

Political leaders, public servants and the rich in three of the world’s regions benefit most from urbanization, effectively denying millions of fellow citizens their full rights to the city, UN-HABITAT said .The urban poor in general get only minimal access to the benefits of urbanization.Generally, planning and policies appear to favour the empowered, mainly the local and regional economic elite. In the developing world, this pattern is more often than not linked to historical and cultural hegemony.In addition to gentrification, a number of other large projects and events have created cityscapes that hardly benefit the poor. These have included large infrastructure projects (water, sanitation and roads), “city beautification”, riverfront development, and facilities for major global sports and cultural events.
In the Mexican city of Guadalajara, recent research confirmed the findings of the UN-HABITAT survey. Because of relentless expansion of developments on the outskirts of the city, some 30% of this new housing stock remains unoccupied, even as in the inner city a similar percentage goes underused. This situation highlights the speculative patterns of investment at work, which are largely influenced by powerful interests.It also has to do with rent-seeking groups that lobby for their vested interests to the loss of other residents.

Data collected between 1990 and 2007 shows that serious malnutrition has been widespread in urban slums of Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean. Children in the poorest income brackets are malnourished at twice the rate of their counterparts in the richest ones . Even in many countries with serious malnutrition, children from rich families are much less affected than those from lower-income households.Poor sanitation and hygiene, as well as unsafe water supply kill many slum dwellers each year. Many succumb to malaria, diarrhoeal and respiratory diseases.
Social and cultural barriers continue to deny many slum dwellers the chance to enroll in school and complete primary education and youth living in the same communities plainly have slimmer prospects to attend secondary school than non-slum residents.Humankind today is younger than it has ever been with half of the global population under the age of 25.Poorer young people have unequal access to basic services, housing, education and employment, contributing to the growing problem of “idle youths” who do not work or study.Those who live in low income areas have no choice but to attend poorly taught and badly equipped schools.

To solve the above problems in socialism will require a massive expansion of every part of production connected with housing. Given the integrated nature of modern world production, this again will have to be co-ordinated on a world scale.Cities are dirty and noisy places where all is rush, rush, rush. There is no real sense of community. Apathy is rife. People don't think that anything can be done to change things or even that it's worth trying to. We are all of us on our own, competing individually to try to do the best for ourselves and our families. Everybody feels that this is not a satisfactory way to live but can't put their finger on what precisely is wrong.What is wrong is that we are living in a society where to survive you must have money . We need money because we can only access the things we need if we can afford to pay for them.

Fortunately, there's a way out. Nobody can do it for us – no leader, no politician. We've got to do it ourselves. That means understanding what causes the problem – the profit system – and then getting together to do something about it. Not just complaining about how the system treats us and asking for a few improvements here and there. Not founding the Labour Party again. Not some amorphous “anti-capitalist” movement which is against everything but for nothing. But organising to get rid of the whole profit system and replacing it by a new and different system. A new and different system geared to meeting people's needs. We'd be co-operating to produce what we needed and then we'd have free access – without money – to what we produced.
Tinkering with the present system has always failed, and always will. What is needed is not reform but a revolution in the basis of society to make all the natural and industrial resources of the Earth the common heritage of all humanity. World socialism is the only way to restore the balances with the rest of nature that the profit system has upset.

socialism - a sporting chance

The BBC webpage has a story about the Gaelic Athletic Association and describes it as part of the local Irish community. Unlike other sports these days such as football and rugby and cricket its a volunteer organisation, which doesn't pay its top players anything. The GAA survives and thrives as an amateur game.

"We are conscious that we are an association built on a wholly voluntary movement," said Christy Cooney, president of the GAA.

"It's all about people putting their time and effort into the club for free," said Stephen Corrigan, a teacher who plays for Kiltegan senior Gaelic football squad.
All auxilary labour associated with the clubs is also unpaid.

The Gaelic Athletic Association in Ireland was founded in 1884 and now has over 1 million members in 2,600 clubs .

Unlike football, clubs cannot be bought and sold and there can be no private club owners.
On the administrative side, club members elect an executive committee to carry out the running of the club on an annual basis.
At a community level, local competent professional people who are sympathetic to the GAA often do administrative jobs, such as a local physiotherapist who rubs down bruised muscles or local accountant becoming the club treasurer.
At the higher echelons of the GAA, such members must vacate their post after four years.

Dr David Hassan of the University of Ulster explains how the "The clubs and games are based in the community and operate on behalf of those people who are based in the community. If the grass roots say some policy proposal is a move in the wrong direction, the administrators cannot just say - as may be the case in English soccer - 'This is just business'."

"Many people have predicted the demise of the GAA model, but it is actually getting stronger..." says Hassan

So once again when those Doubting Thomases and cynics declare that people are unable of running society without the motivation of money or only through the coercive authority of their betters we can point them in the direction of existing examples of successful democratic voluntarily run co-operation even in the competitive fields of team sports .

Thursday, March 18, 2010


imagine - To form an idea or notion with regard to something not known with certainty…(Oxford Dictionary)

It has been said that the first victim of war is the truth, but surely the first victim of orthodox education is imagination. From a very early age every worker is taught to be “practical”, “realistic” and stop “dreaming dreams”. And yet imagination is the very act of being human. Whatever other aspects make human beings different from other animals, the human capacity to imagine is one of the most striking. “I imagine, therefore I am a human being”, is a better aphorism than Descartes’ “ I think therefore I am.”

Imagination is not only the wellbeing of all poetry, music and art; it is the source of all science. Where would science be if Newton hadn’t imagined an invisible force called gravity? Or, if Einstein hadn’t imagined the concept of relativity? Indeed it was well after the original flight of imagination that his view that light was bent by gravity was factually proven. Darwin’s view of evolution wasn’t really proved conclusively until the discovery that the process of heredity, as earlier shown by Mendel, backed up his view. In a sense Darwin had imagined what was true. This new way of looking at the natural world was achieved by a leap of imagination.

The stifling of imagination is essential if the owners are to retain their class monopoly of the planet. The great revolutionary act for the working class is to imagine an alternative to present day society.

Elsewhere in this issue very practical analyses of society, of economics, and politics are made, but let us indulge ourselves here in that most human of all pursuits – let us imagine the future.

A socialist view of the future society is one where the whole earth and all its resources are owned and controlled in common by the whole world’s population. Socialism is a world without money, prices or wages. Let us take a trip into that future. Let us take a leap of the imagination.

A Future

Having arranged that he wouldn’t be needed for a couple of days Billy decided to take Jane’s kids to the Museum of Ancient Artefacts.

The children loved it, but the trouble was that they kept asking awkward questions. “Why did people use stone tools?” “Billy, Why did people walk about in suits of armour?”

By reading the cards that accompanied the exhibits he managed to answer most of their questions.

“You see , Susan, stone tools and weapons became redundant with the discovery of smelting metals. The iron age succeeded the stone age.”

“Well , Jack, suits of armour were used for warfare inside feudalism. They became useless, with the discovery of gunpowder and the improvements in the manufacture of artillery in the 17th century. "

What was a dollar?

It was then that they came to the Hall of Capitalism. Now that was more difficult. There were so many baffling exhibits. What was a cheque? What was a cash register? The children had lots of questions as they played with the cash registers on display.

“Billy, what was a dollar? What was a pound note? " Billy, had a lot of difficulty answering the questions and was a bit relieved when the kids got bored and asked to go to the cafĂ© for an ice-cream.

What was a cash register?

As Susan and Jack ate their ice-cream. Billy sipped his coffee and wondered how this cash register thing could have worked in the Old Days. How did it tie in with the other astonishing exhibits in the Hall of Capitalism.

Did people who wanted an ice-cream have to bow to the Queen? Or did they have to recite a verse from the Koran? Now this seemed daft. Did they have to give tokens to the cash register? No matter how you looked at it, it was a bizarre business. It seems today an obvious thing – if you want an ice-cream you take an ice-cream. Tomorrow Jane and the children were going to the South of France to pick fruit an he was going to visit Stephen in Amsterdam about the wood carving course. He wondered what the role of the cash register was in aeroplane trips in the Old Days. If you didn’t have enough tokens for the cash register did they throw you of the plane? Did they forbid you from entering the plane even though there were empty seat.

Why not eat fruit?

It surely couldn’t have been as bad as that though. No, surely not. But then again, inside capitalism they starved children…..killed them because they hadn’t enough tokens to put in the cash registers. Children died because their parents hadn’t enough tokens.

“No!”, thought Billy. “Perhaps I’ve misunderstood those exhibits in the Hall of Capitalism.” But then, there was that ghastly photograph of tiny children starving as they sucked their mother’s empty teats.

Young Jack had asked him, “Billy, these people lived in warm places. Fruit grows in warm places, doesn’t it? Why did they not eat the fruit?” Come to think of it Billy wasn’t sure it was a good idea to let young children see such horrible images. Still, they had to learn about the Old Days he supposed.

“The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there” - L.P.Hartley

RICHARD DONNELLY Socialist Standard June 1994

debt-ridden workers

A total of 5.4 million adults , 11% of the adult population , spend more than they earn, according to a survey , a rise of 600,000 or 12% from the 4.8 million adults found to spend more than they earned when the survey was carried out in 2008.

A further 13 million just break even at the end of every month.

26 million have less than £100 left in their bank account after paying all their bills.

Of those who needed to borrow to plug the gap between what they earned and what they spent, almost half used an overdraft while just over a third resorted to their credit cards.

People struggling to stay afloat financially are unlikely to be rescued by wage rises, with pay rise averaging 1.9% while inflation accordingt to the CPI measure was 3.5% .

Whatever the reasons for which people get in debt, it is likely to become a spiral from which extrication is hard: continually half-robbing Peter to half-pay Paul . Most people under capitalism exist in “quiet desperation”, hair-breadths away from financial calamity. To talk of the proliferation of debt as a consequence of irresponsibility, of failing to cut coats according to the cloth, is beside the point. For the great majority, there chronically isn’t enough cloth to keep out the cold. The respectable with credit cards and no histories of default are in debt just the same, paying monthly for what they cannot otherwise afford. Debt is a demonstration of the inescapable poverty problem of the working class.

The Afghan Message

SOYMB came across this article by Dave Lindorff .

Three months after it lied about the execution-style murder by US forces of eight high school students and a 12-year-old shepherd boy in Afghanistan, and a month after it lied about the slaughter by US forces of an Afghan police commander, a government prosecutor, two of their pregnant wives and a teenage daughter, the US military has been forced to admit that these and other atrocities were the work of American Special Forces, working in conjunction with “specially trained” (trained , of course , by the US) units of the Afghan Army.These incidents were not mistakes; they were planned actions and the US carries the guilt of having committed war crimes. Statistics show that the US has routinely killed more civilians than actual enemy fighters.

It is the way the US has always done counterinsurgency. In a war in which the insurgents are a part of the people the goal is to drive a wedge between those fighters and the rest of the population. In Pentagon propaganda parlance, this is referred to as “winning the hearts and minds” of the people, but in reality, the US military doesn’t give a damn about hearts and minds. It simply wants the people to become unwilling to hide or support the enemy fighters it is facing. If it can accomplish that by making people afraid, then that is what it will do, and making people afraid is much easier than “winning hearts and minds.”

How do you make people afraid of supporting or hiding and protecting enemy fighters like the Taliban? You terrorize them. You bomb their homes. You conduct night raids on their homes. You bomb their weddings and their excursions to neighboring towns or markets. You shoot them when they get too close to your vehicles.

It simply wouldn’t do to tell Americans that their country is conducting a war of terror. They are supposed to be the good guys who are bringing peace and democracy to a benighted land.So let’s just face the facts squarely. The US is not the good guy in Afghanistan.

The message is clear: allow the Taliban to operate in your town, and we’ll kill you--not just your men -- but also your wives and your children, too.

The SPGB has said the agenda is same as it always has been – US global domination in the military and economic fields and woe betide anyone foolish enough to think otherwise.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Less beds in the NHS

Nearly 30,000 hospital beds in England should be axed to save money and improve care, a think tank says.This would mean London, the north east and north west removing about a quarter of their beds.

Dr Mark Porter, chairman of the BMA's consultants committee said "Cutting beds for purely financial reasons would be immoral and catastrophic for patient care."

Ever since its inception the history of the NHS has been a story of trying to provide adequate funding. Every government has looked for ways to find the money and cut the costs, and every government has failed. The original set-up has been modified, tinkered with or altered repeatedly, all, we are told in the interests of efficiency. And every government produces a fresh plan with a fanfare of trumpets that promises to solve all problems.

Shared Outrage

Socialism Or Your Money Back blog frequently encounters commentaries that come close to the realisation that whats needed is a revolution but not quite reaches the conclusion that what is needed is socialism . This article in the magazine Pschology Today by Roy Eidelson president of Eidelson Consulting and Psychologists for Social Responsibility is such an example .

"We have to tolerate the inequality as a way to achieve greater prosperity and opportunity for all." These are the words of Lord Brian Griffiths, Goldman Sachs international adviser.

Scientific research reveals a sharply different reality: inequality is a driving force behind many of our most profound social ills. The Equality Trust reviewed thousands of studies conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau, the World Health Organization, the United Nations, and the World Bank. Consistent patterns emerged, both between and within countries. Inequality is associated with diminished levels of physical and mental health, child well-being, educational achievement, social mobility, trust, and community life. And it is linked to increased levels of violence, drug use, imprisonment, obesity, and teenage births.

In short, Lord Griffiths' claim was a self-serving fiction. Many of those perched atop the social and economic ladder, accustomed to the access and resources entrenched power bestows, have little interest in climbing down a rung or two. For them, preserving the inequality they welcome depends upon suppressing shared outrage. This is routinely accomplished by promoting an alternative narrative that supports and glorifies the current system. "The world is the way it should be." "Claims of injustice, illegitimacy, or wrongdoing are unfounded; they overlook a deeper logic and necessity." "Inequality is a good thing."

In this world of skillfully crafted illusions, rags-to-riches stories are like gold to those who own the mines. When they are sufficiently persuasive, we're inclined to overlook the words of people such as Bangladeshi Nobel Laureate and micro-lender Muhammad Yunus, who explained, "Poverty is not created by poor people. It has been created and sustained by the economic and social system that we have designed for ourselves; the institutions and concepts that make up that system; the policies that we pursue." Those who defend current structures of inequality--whether their status derives from political power, outsized salaries, or inherited wealth--have many other tactics at their disposal. Sometimes the disadvantaged are blamed, ridiculed, and reprimanded for the adversity they face. When the victims accept these false accusations as true, their outrage is smothered and their disempowerment is nearly complete. Sometimes powerful elites overburden potential allies of the underprivileged with obstacles and worries that prevent them from looking beyond their own circumstances and joining cause with those who are even worse off. And sometimes the status quo's winners conspire to pit everyone else against each other, thereby extinguishing the possibility that shared outrage might unseat them.

The barriers to justice are further strengthened by the well-intentioned and risk-averse when they fail to become partners in moral outrage with the worst victims of an inequality-perpetuating system. When such sympathizers take to the sidelines and become mere bystanders, they tragically help society's wealthiest and most powerful avoid the full force of broadly-supported and insistent demands for meaningful change. For a movement working to build momentum, apathy and indecision from prospective allies can be as destructive as outright opposition.

It is shared outrage that the author of the article wishes to encourage and spread. Change requires a stubborn, passionate, and broadly embraced commitment to greater equality as a moral necessity. Although regularly overlooked and misunderstood, the catalyst for such a transformation is often surprisingly simple: shared outrage. Indeed, when shared by the disadvantaged and oppressed on the one hand and by those with greater security and resources on the other, outrage can spur the concerted action required to overcome the injustice, insensitivity, and inhumanity that foster inequality around the world.
Outrage shared between groups that otherwise differ in many ways creates the solidarity vital to forcefully challenging a destructive status quo. This shared emotion is so powerful because it breaks the established boundaries that separate the "haves" from the "have-nots." Outrage over inequality can unite the direct victims of discrimination with those who find discrimination morally repugnant even though they themselves have not experienced it. Similarly, outrage can bring together in common cause people struggling to make ends meet and those who while better off are convinced that it's simply wrong for anyone to go without adequate food, shelter, or healthcare. What also makes this shared moral outrage special is its collective action orientation--it pushes for sustained engagement against the individuals, groups, and institutions that benefit from inequality and seek to perpetuate it. As a political force, shared outrage takes us beyond the mere acknowledgement of regrettable circumstances in the world. It insists on explanations for what's wrong, and it seeks accountability for the wrongdoing. And the chorus of voices rising up in shared outrage prevents any single group from becoming an isolated target for condemnation or retribution from the powers that be.

Shared outrage over inequality is not the same as irrational anger. Rather, it's an entirely reasonable response to an outrageous situation.
Profit-driven global polluters, their lobbyists, and their political defenders block effective responses to climate change while the poor suffer disproportionately from environmental disasters and devastation. It's not only those whose lives are destroyed by drought or flood who should be outraged. Unethical politicians protect the privileged and the wealthy by embracing falsehoods and obstructionism to prevent legislation that would address inequality in such arenas as pre-school programs, student aid, worker rights, and the minimum wage. It's not only those denied an adequate education, a decent job, or a chance at a brighter future who should be outraged. With support and funding from powerful elites, hate-mongers take to the airwaves and the print media. They condemn, ridicule, and arouse fear and hostility toward minority group members already disadvantaged by prejudice, discrimination, and infringements of their civil rights. It's not only the targeted groups who should be outraged.

Compassion is another common and important reaction--but alone it's not sufficient to promote meaningful and lasting social change. Part of the problem, as demonstrated by the research of psychologists is that our natural tendency to experience compassion is quite limited in breadth. We tend to respond most strongly to the misfortune of a single identified individual. Unfortunately, these feelings of care and concern quickly diminish in strength as the number of victims increases. So even though compassion can lead to crucial short-term efforts to help the needy, it doesn't readily translate into a sustained movement. It doesn't truly unite groups in common purpose over time.Compassion does not search for, identify, and hold accountable those responsible for conditions of inequality and injustice. In short, feeling bad for those less fortunate isn't enough. Shared outrage goes much further. It combats illegitimate attempts to blame the victims for their plight.

Many readers of SOYMB will recognise the above in our own terms - class consciousness - when the working class becomes aware of its shared antagonistic relation to the capitalist class. In capitalist society there is a contradiction, or conflict of material interests, between the class monopoly of the means of wealth production and distribution and the social process of production. Capitalism, in other words, subordinates production to privileged class interests; profits take priority over needs. From this essential contradiction of capitalism others follow, such as: famine amidst plenty, homelessness alongside empty buildings, pollution as a way of ‘externalising’ (i.e. reducing) costs and maximising profits, and so on. Socialist society will end these contradictions because it will bring social production into line with social ownership and therefore into line with social needs.

The article quotes Frederick Douglass who more than a century and a half ago said "If there is no struggle there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom and yet depreciate agitation, are men who want crops without plowing up the ground, they want rain without thunder and lightening. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters."

SOYMB also calls for us all to be outraged about our exploitation and urges us all to engage in the class struggle for socialism .

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Great Men and greater nonsense

Albert Einstein was born on this day in 1879.

By and large, socialists have little truck with what is sometimes called the "Great Man Theory of History", much preferring the Materialist Conception of History. Propounded by Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, this offers a much more satisfactory explanation of the forces that have shaped and changed human societies since the beginning of written history, which Marx pointed out was the history of private property society.

It still remaims a fact that there are libraries of literature, and hosts of avid readers, concerned with the biographies of men and women whose lives have captured the public imagination for one reason or another, probably because most of us feel our own lives to be lacking in romance or significance and we like to escape from our own humdrum stories into the larger canvases of supposed "larger" lives.

The largest slice of this literary market is concerned with the enthralling inner secrets of film stars, hitters or kickers of balls, criminals in a variety of fields and the guardians of law and order who have never, "honest, guvnor", fitted-up anyone in their unblemished careers. Now and again there is a blockbuster about a Cromwell or a president, or some scientist, whose lives or discoveries seemed to leave their mark on a changed world.

Mathematically, it should not be too surprising that, in a species which is as richly and variously talented as humanity and is numbered in multi-millions, there should be the occasional supremely talented individual, just as from week to week there are men and women who win the pools.

Of course the materialist conception of history acknowledges the different qualities and contributions of individual men, women and groups in the developmentof society throughout the ages, and socialists would far rather pass an evening in the company of Louis Pasteur and his wife, than share a pint with Heinrich Himmler, Joseph Stalin or Alfred Krupps, but they recognise that the society in which these individuals operated were the greater forces in the equation.

Apart from anything else, genius or talent is not inheritable. It is unlikely that the grandchildren of Puccini would qualify for lifetime free tickets to La Scala, Milan, and even the descendants of Pavarotti are not too likely to inherit his magical tonsils. But there is one property that even the completely talentless can inherit, and that is private property and the public use of power this entails. This is why humanity has had to suffer the dynastic rule, in politics and industry, of so many Neros and Caligulas.

Karl Marx and Albert Einstein

However, back to Great Men. Columbus discovered America and Newton discovered the gravitational forces, though both America and gravity had been there for some time before their "discovery". Nonetheless Columbus and Newton are worthy names in the history books. Karl Marx revealed the nature of the forces that operated to affect the human societies in the political and economic field, and postulated a society where poverty would be abolished along with buying and selling and money. He has been scorned, and ridiculed since for his ideas.

A more recent Great Man was Albert Einstein, who set the world of physics ablaze with his theory of relativity. Few informed people would deny that Einstein was a twenty-four carat genius. Shortly after other Great Men had ended four years of ordering men to butcher and be butchered, an eclipse of the sun enabled Einstein's postulates to be confirmed. He then became news, as quotable as Garbo or Valentino, and journalists in popular science had a field day. Relativity was a strange concept, but no-one hated Einstein for it. Karl Marx envisaged a society where poverty would be abolished, and a lot of people still hate him for that theory, and we mean hate. Weird.

Einstein did not confine himself to physics. He also had views on politics and world affairs. When he was interviewed by the world press arriving off some liner or aircraft he would tell them to "never forget to mention that I am a pacifist". He was scathing in his contempt of the military mind, stating that the magnificent human brain was wasted on such who only needed a broomstick for a spine and a place to support their helmets. But genius or no, he had, as we all do, to live in the real world, and that real world had made him a political refugee, as earlier it had Karl Marx.

In time the developments of that real world led Albert Einstein, genius and avowed pacifist, to pen a letter to the President of the United States, who was also Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, pleading that he set up research into a super-weapon.

Thus was the Manhattan Project started, Hiroshima devastated and a climate of cold-war fear and fever created that threatened the very survival of all life on planet Earth. Many of the team that built the atomic bomb were, like Einstein, pacifists and some (enough to worry the military mind of Colonel Groves) had "leftwing" views. It is obvious that not only has the Ultimate Weapon which arose as an antidote of the Final Solution failed in its purpose, but that there are still some very nasty political ideas and regimes thriving yet.

Karl Marx did not appeal to men and women of genius, or leaders. He addressed his message to the working class of the world, as his words show - "Workers of the world, unite! You have nothing to lose but your chains, you have a world to win!"

Marx was not a pacifist. Einstein was. How strange that one led to the possible losing of the world and the other is still hated for pleading for it to be won. Like Einstein, Marx was a man of exceptional talent, but he knew that changing the world would not be the work of exceptional men and women. That is why we emphasise in our Declaration of Principles that "this emancipation must be the work of the working class itself" . We may not be a party of exceptional men and women, but we are a party with an exceptional idea.

We would like ordinary men and women (and geniuses, too) to read our case, then help us spread it, any ordinary way they can.

(Socialist Standard, December 1990)

High Noon for Gun Law ?

In the Herald we read that on an average day, 85 Americans die from gunshot wounds – more than 30,000 each year.

Every few weeks a mass shooting occurs which would scandalise a nation. In February, professor Amy Bishop shot dead three colleagues after being denied tenure by the University of Alabama. In November, Maurice Clemmons walked into a coffee shop in Parkland, Washington, and murdered four police officers catching up with administrative work before the start of their shifts. Last March, Michael McLendon shot his mother, uncle, grandmother, five neighbours and two passers-by in the towns of Samson and Kinston, Alabama. On Tuesday, in Ohio, school caretaker Nathaniel Brown shot two of his superiors and then killed himself. On Wednesday, police in Dallas charged Barinder Singh with murdering his wife in front of their two small children after an argument at home. Scan a local newspaper in any state on any day and there is likely to be a report about a shooting.

Across the country, states are loosening local firearm laws. The Supreme Court is poised to declare all handgun bans unconstitutional. Federal gun regulations have been weakened through a series of congressional compromises, to push through items further up the Obama administration’s agenda.The Democratic regime has been a letdown to gun control groups. Obama’s campaign promise to require background checks at gun shows has been shelved. Plans to reintroduce an assault weapons ban have been abandoned. It is now legal to carry concealed weapons in National Parks because of a clause in the small print of a bill regulating credit card firms, added to secure the votes of gun-friendly senators. Amtrak trains will soon let passengers check in bags containing firearms, thanks to the latest transportation funding bill.

The biggest changes in gun law are taking place at state level. Montana and Tennessee have introduced laws exempting guns and ammunition produced, sold and used within the state from any federal regulation at all. Arizona and Wyoming will soon allow residents to carry concealed weapons without a permit.any agent of the U.S. who "enforces or attempts to enforce" federal gun rules on a "personal firearm" in Wyoming faces a felony conviction and a penalty of up to two years in prison and up to $2,000 in fines.
Virginian politicians want to end the ban on “buying one hand-gun a month” so people can buy more than one weapon every four weeks if they want to.The Virginia Citizens Defence League is keeping up the pressure, have a proposal to allow gun owners to carry concealed weapons in bars, providing they do not drink.
In states where it is legal to carry a gun openly, customers at Starbucks , McDonald’s, Walmart, Home Depot and even Barnes & Noble bookstores can wear their .45s with pride.

US gun owners are not content with having a firearm in their house should a burglar attack, they also want to walk down Main Street with a revolver on their hip in public sight – preserving the standards of the Wild West in 21st century USA is the essence of the open-carry movement.They equate the cause with the civil rights movement, framing it as a libertarian crusade.

How capitalism can create a climate of such fear and an atmosphere of such paranoia !

Saturday, March 13, 2010

World Capitalism

The Mexican , Carlos Slim is the richest man in the world yet only 18% of Mexicans are untouched by want . The National Council for Evaluation of Social Development Policy, or Coneval, a decentralized government agency found only 19.5 million Mexicans have an adequate level of economic well-being and do not endure some form of privation in terms of housing and furnishings, food, income, health or education.The latest figures indicate that 47.2 million people in Mexico are below the poverty line and 35 million more are at risk of falling into the ranks of the poor.

Estimates by financial analysts in 2008 indicated that just only 39 Mexican families controlled a fortune of $135 billion, equivalent to 13.5 percent of the country’s gross domestic product.Slim’s fortune is estimated at $53.5 billion, while Forbes’s list also includes nine other Mexicans, including fugitive drug crime-lord Joaquin “El Chapo” (Shorty) Guzman. In total, those 10 individuals are worth $90 billion, just under 10 percent of Mexico’s GDP.

“Mexico is a clearly unequal country and has been so historically. There are very few people with a large amount of resources,” Coneval’s executive secretary, Gonzalo Hernandez Licona. He added it is “very probable” that poverty levels will rise when the 2008-2010 period is examined.

And in America , the land of opportunity where many Mexicans seek an escape from their destitution the inequality persists . A report by University of California, Berkeley economics professor Emmanuel Saez concludes that income inequality in the United States is at an all-time high, surpassing even levels seen during the Great Depression.
Income inequality is worse than it has been since at least 1917. The top 1 percent incomes captured half of the overall economic growth over the period 1993-2007.In the economic expansion of 2002-2007, the top 1 percent captured two thirds of income growth.

The average wage of Americans, adjusting for inflation, is lower than it was in the 1970s. The minimum wage, adjusting for inflation, is lower than it was in the 1950s.

Of the 535 members of Congress, over 44% - 237 to be exact - are millionaires. Fifty have net worths of at least $10 million, and seven are worth more than $100 million. By comparison, around 1% of Americans are millionaires. Therefore, no other minority group is as overrepresented in Congress as the rich.

The current global financial and economic crisis once again confirms the fact that during economic upheavals the rich get richer and the poor become even more destitute.As of late 2009, the number of billionaires soared from 793 to 1,011 and their total fortunes from $2.4 trillion to $3.6 trillion.
Gates and Buffet increased their fortunes by $13 billion and $10 billion, respectively.Despite the crisis, the list of billionaires has grown by 200 people and their aggregate capital has expanded by 50%.Anti-crisis measures essentially implied massive infusion of money into the economy. The United States alone spent over $10 trillion. Against the backdrop of a global recession, the funding could only be put to good use on stock and raw materials markets, leading to the creation of new financial bubbles.Consequently, oil prices which had hit an all-time low of $47 per barrel in December 2008, now stand at about $80. Global financial indices are also climbing steadily.

The Russian stock market grew by over 100% over the course of 2009.The number of Russian billionaires correlates with raw materials prices, primarily oil and metals prices.The numbers almost doubled, from 32 to 62. Igor Nikolayev, head of strategic analysis at FBK, a private auditing firm in Russia, said the country used the same methods to fight the crisis as the others, but that it has achieved better results.The volume of federal allocations injected by the Russian government into the economy was much higher than in Europe and the U.S. Forbes tactfully referred to this as the government's cooperation with big business, primarily raw materials companies.However, even high-ranking Russian officials have repeatedly complained that anti-crisis allocations were either used for stock market operations or deposited in foreign bank accounts.

China is now home to 64 billionaires.

The inequality which exists under world capitalism is simply breathtaking, and it is increasing.The world has never been so unequal as it is today. Governments exist essentially to defend the interests of the rich and powerful. A small number of people are rich beyond the imaginations of ordinary people. A few hundred billionaires own as much wealth as the world's poorest 2.5 billion people. This is the way the world is. But it should not and need not be this way. Instead, the world could be run on socialist lines, without rich or poor, without wages or money, without countries or governments.