Thursday, September 30, 2010

workers begin to fight back

Workers across Europe yesterday vented their anger against government spending cuts and tax hikes that unions said would punish the poor. Rallies were called in 13 capital cities. Unions said that 10 million people joined the general strike in Spain. Many small businesses shut their doors in solidarity. Protests against austerity measures have been held in Greece, Italy, the Irish Republic, Portugal, Belgium and Latvia.

Trade unions say EU workers may become the biggest victims of a financial crisis set off by bankers and traders. Many governments across the 27-member bloc have imposed punishing cuts in wages, pensions and employment. Workers in many EU countries are frustrated that they are paying for the mistakes of the banks and the financial sector.

"We didn't cause this crisis. The bill has to be paid by banks, not by workers," The European Trade Union Confederation said.

"Why should the workers have to bear all the costs of this crisis?" asked Kazimierz Grajczarek, a miner from Bielsko-Biala in Poland, who came to Brussels by bus on Tuesday. "They give all the money to the banks and we have to carry the costs."

The cost of bailing out Anglo Irish Bank, at the centre of Ireland's financial crisis, could rise to €34bn (£29.1bn) , the Irish central bank admitted today. The country's finance minister warned that the failure of the nationalised bank would "bring down" Ireland, and warned of further austerity measures. The bailout will take government debt to over 100% of GDP.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

"Manufacturing dissent"

SOYMB blog frequently comes across political observations that reflect much of the socialist case and one such commentator is Michel Chossudovsky who in this article is worth quoting and recommending.

"...Under contemporary capitalism, the illusion of democracy must prevail. It is in the interest of the corporate elites to accept dissent and protest as a feature of the system inasmuch as they do not threaten the established social order. The purpose is not to repress dissent, but, on the contrary, to shape and mould the protest movement, to set the outer limits of dissent.To maintain their legitimacy, the economic elites favor limited and controlled forms of opposition, with a view to preventing the development of radical forms of protest, which might shake the very foundations and institutions of global capitalism. In other words, "manufacturing dissent" acts as a "safety valve", which protects and sustains the New World Order...

...The anti-globalization movement is opposed to Wall Street and the Texas oil giants controlled by Rockefeller, et al. Yet the foundations and charities of Rockefeller et al will generously fund progressive anti-capitalist networks as well as environmentalists (opposed to Big Oil) with a view to ultimately overseeing and shaping their various activities. The mechanisms of "manufacturing dissent" require a manipulative environment, a process of arm-twisting and subtle cooptation of individuals within progressive organizations, including anti-war coalitions, environmentalists and the anti-globalization movement. Whereas the mainstream media "manufactures consent", the complex network of NGOs (including segments of the alternative media) are used by the corporate elites to mould and manipulate the protest movement...

...The objective of the corporate elites has been to fragment the people's movement into a vast "do it yourself" mosaic. War and globalization are no longer in the forefront of civil society activism. Activism tends to be piecemeal...Dissent has been compartmentalized. Separate "issue oriented" protest movements (e.g. environment, anti-globalization, peace, women's rights, climate change) are encouraged and generously funded as opposed to a cohesive mass movement. This mosaic was already prevalent in the counter G7 summits and People's Summits of the 1990s...

...The people's movement has been hijacked. Selected intellectuals, trade union executives, and the leaders of civil society organizations (including Oxfam, Amnesty International, Greenpeace) are routinely invited to the Davos World Economic Forum, where they mingle with the World's most powerful economic and political actors. This mingling of the World's corporate elites with hand-picked "progressives" is part of the ritual underlying the process of "manufacturing dissent". The ploy is to selectively handpick civil society leaders "whom we can trust" and integrate them into a "dialogue", cut them off from their rank and file, make them feel that they are "global citizens" acting on behalf of their fellow workers but make them act in a way which serves the interests of the corporate establishment...

...Many of these NGO leaders are committed and well meaning individuals acting within a framework which sets the boundaries of dissent. The leaders of these movements are often co-opted, without even realizing that as a result of corporate funding their hands are tied. Global capitalism finances anti-capitalism: an absurd and contradictory relationship..."

The extracts quoted above has often been highlighted in the past by the World Socialist Movement.In an article from 2005, the Socialist Party echoed some of Chossudovsky's criticism when we said "Making Poverty History has been so linked to the government as to be rendered toothless."

Expressions such as ‘anti-globalisation’ and ‘anti-capitalist’ are all very well, but they clearly prompt the question: pro-what? The slogan ‘another world is possible’ needs to be complemented by some real ideas about this other world if it is to be anything more than an empty catchphrase. It is all very well being against something but if this is to be anything more than permanently protesting against some never-ending problem you've got to be for something too. Most of those who organise the "anti-capitalist" and "anti-globalisation" protest demonstrations don't seem to have thought it through this far, and those that have show themselves not to be against capitalism. What they are against is what some of them call "neo-liberalism"—by which they mean the return of laissez-faire economic policies. What they are for is to go back to a more regulated capitalism. They merely want states to intervene to try to control capitalism, to make it more human, to suppress what they see as its worst excesses.

The Anti-Globalisation groups may know what they are against, but regrettably they know not why nor what to replace world capitalism with and still call for modifications in existing society, reforms. In addition, they cannot yet distinguish between globalisation and capitalism. Many thus end up either supporting the deadbeats who only want to tinker with the capitalist economy, reformers, and who have all in the past failed miserably even with their limited demands. It is not enough just to be “anti”, but that to get anywhere you have to have a clear idea of where you want to go. The reformists propose a list of reforms that they deem would necessary as preliminary measures before more radical programs could be considered. These included renegotiating trade agreements, a Tobin tax, changing company law, tax incentives to encourage co-operatives, ending nuclear power, etc. This is the approach of the campaigning charities and non-governmental organisations such as OXFAM, Christian Aid and the others who are the most vocal section of the “anti-globalisation” movement, probably reflecting the views of most of those active in it. Not only does such a reformist approach lead to compromise with capitalism but the reforms proposed are piddling compared with what is needed to end world poverty, protect the biosphere and stop the waste of armaments. That it leads to compromise with capitalism can be seen by the number of activists who have switched sides and gone to work for government bodies and private corporations, believing that you can do more to get piddling mini-reforms from within the system than by pressure group politics from outside. No doubt such individuals are for the most part entirely sincere since they never really did think that there is any practical alternative to the profit-motivated market system.

What is now clear is that the anti-globalisation movement, however well-meaning, does not seek to replace capitalism with any real alternative social system. At best it attracts a myriad of groups, all pursuing their own agenda. Some call for greater corporate responsibility. Some demand the reform of international institutions. Others call for the expansion of democracy and fairer trading conditions. All, however, fail to address the root cause of the problems of capitalism. One thing is certain: capitalism cannot be reformed in the interests of the world’s suffering billions, because reform does not address the basic contradiction between profit and need.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Feminist theory - a socialist critique

Sylvia Pankhurst died on this day fifty years ago. You can read a socialist assessment of her life here along with her views on future society. Below we offer a socialist critique of feminist theory.

To attempt to write a socialist critique of feminist theory is difficult. This is not the result of any ambiguity in the attitude of socialists towards the role of women workers in capitalism, but because of the difficulty in finding a single body of theory that can be identified as feminist. While most feminists would agree that women are frequently discriminated against in such areas as employment, education and pay, and by the laws relating to taxation and social security, and would also argue that women feel oppressed in other ways too (for example by their frequent depiction in the media as either sex-objects or housewives), their analyses of the causes of such inequality vary considerably as do the strategies they adopt for overcoming it. Broadly speaking though, feminists can be categorised into three groups: liberal feminists, radical feminists and socialist feminists.


Liberal feminists tend to regard women's inequality as an unfortunate relic of former, less civilised times at a point in history when such attitudes are no longer appropriate. Their remedy for this situation is large doses of "justice" and "equal opportunities" for women backed up by the appropriate legislation. Such equal opportunities legislation as already exists on the statute books in most developed countries is indicative of this approach and, indeed, shows its inherent limitations. Equal opportunities and pay can be, and have been, granted and then withdrawn in accordance with what employees think they can afford and what they think they can get away with. Since the Equal Pay Act was passed in Britain in 1975 the gap between male and female earnings has actually widened. Liberal feminists seek equality between the sexes but within the context of the existing capitalist economic system. So the division of society into the capitalist dass (the minority who own and control the wealth and the means of producing and distributing it) and the working class (the majority of us who produce the wealth through our labour but do not benefit from it) would still remain, together with all the suffering and injustice that that system entails.

It is true that equality of opportunity might result in more women as company directors, judges, politicians, financiers and other capitalist parasites, but this is irrelevant to women in the working class. Most working class women already work, selling their labour power in factories, offices, schools and hospitals. For them it is not equal opportunities legislation which has given them a new "right to work" but economic need which has forced them to do so. While their lives might be made a little easier if they received equal pay for their work and if there were better child care facilities, it should be remembered that their pay and conditions of work could only, ever be equal to male members of the working class - they would never be equal to those of their employers, male or female. Similarly the oppressive necessity that forced them into the labour market in the first place would remain. Equal opportunity within capitalism amounts only to the equal opportunity to be exploited.


Radical feminists claim (with little evidence to back up their claim) that there is a fundamental and deep-seated conflict of interests between men and women and that this is the main division of society cutting across divisions of class, race or religion. They maintain that all women are exploited by all men; that men, whatever their status or class, are always in the role of the oppressor and women always in the role of the oppressed; that it is in the interests of men to maintain this system of patriarchy and that they will endeavour to do so at all costs using violence or the threat of violence to defend their privileged position if necessary. Radical feminists have revitalised traditional stereotypes of men and women, suggesting that men are naturally aggressive, competitive and hierarchical while women are pacific and co-operative. As a result they claim that most social ills such as war, violent crime and racism arise out of patriarchy and so the overthrow of male domination would cure not only sexual inequality but also just about every social problem.

The focus of radical feminists has been the sexual abuse of women by men, the use of violence and the threat of violence. Their solution, apart from short-term attempts to draw attention to their cause by means of attacks on sex-shops (seen as symbols of aggressive male sexuality) and the picketing of cinemas showing films deemed to be offensive to, or exploitative of, women, is rarely made explicit in practical terrns. Most do not actively seek to bring about the feminist revolution that they advocate in theory, but instead often choose to live within the existing system in separatist, all-women enclaves. This reflects their mistaken analysis of the problem - that is that men are necessarily the enemy. Most women know from their own experience that this is not the case. To suggest that all men are in more powerful positions than all women is clearly ridiculous. Is Margaret Thatcher to be considered to be in a less powerful position than a male factory worker just because she is a woman? Is Ronald Reagan powerful because he is a man rather than because he is president of the United States? Are factory bosses more powerful because they are male or because they own wealth and are therefore in a position to exploit the work force? And what of women bosses? Do they have no power over their male employees?

Radical feminists constitute a tiny minority of women; the society they want to bring into being has little appeal for the majority of the population, male or female - not only does it seek to separate the sexes but also to regulate in a totalitarian manner their sexual relations, literature, films and theatre; their analysis of the causes of sexual inequality is crucially flawed with their own "revolutionary programrne" such as it is, does not specify what it is to be its motive force.


"Socialist-feminists" have attempted to reconcile socialism with feminism. On the one hand, most of them would accept the fact that capitalist society is necessarily a class-divided society from which the working class can never benefit. But, on the other hand, they want to incorporate the notion that society is also divided by gender. For this reason they reject the kind of Marxist analysis that the World Socialist movement has found useful in trying to understand the nature of capitalist society on the grounds that it fails to take account of what they see as the specific nature of women's oppression, or their particular position within capitalism. Women workers, they argue, because of their roles as unpaid mothers and domestic workers, do not have as strong links with their class as they do with their sex, and socialism, with its emphasis on class, cannot be the means of achieving their liberation.

This strand of feminism grew from three roots. Firstly, many "socialist-feminists" received their early political education in the left wing political movements and parti es of the late sixties and early seventies. Within these organisations women of ten found themselves subjected to the same kind of abuse and belittling of their abilities that they had come to expect from those on the right of the political spectrum. They felt that their concerns were being dismissed as "women's issues" and therefore as trivial and unimportant. They correctly recognised that such organisations which spoke of freedom and equality but which failed to show respect towards their own women supporters, had little to offer. However, such women unfortunately drew the further conclusion that this was a fundamental shortcoming of socialism rather than of the particular organisations which had mis-appropriated that name to describe a politics which had very little to do with socialism as we understand it in the World Socialist movement: that is, a system of society based up on the common ownership and democratic control of the means and instruments for produeing and distributing wealth, by and in the interests of the whole community.

Secondly, many women had seen how, despite some early improvements in their position, women in the Russian empire were no better off under "communism" than they had been before 1917 and in many ways they were even worse off. Again it was wrongly believed that this meant that socialism had nothing to offer women since its apparent application in other parts of the world had so singularly failed to bring about women's liberation: women were still work-horses on the one hand and breeders of the next generation on the other. What they failed to see however was that Russian-style "communism" had not brought about the liberation of the male workers either. This was hardly surprising since the essential elements of the capitalist system remained intact production for profit and the wages system.

Feminists also looked at the writings of socialist theorists like Karl Marx and criticised them for seeming not to take into account of what they regarded as the different circumstances which affect women as workers, most notably the fact that most women are, at least for part of their lives, not directly engaged in "productive" work outside the home because they are bringing up children and doing the multipli city of chores that are entailed by "housework". It was felt that this difference between men and women was sufficiently wide to render women's links with the working class at best tenuous.

This is a mistaken view and one which plays into the hands of the capitalist class by causing divisions amongst workers. What was Marx's view of women workers? While it is true that he did not address himself to the question of women's oppression as women, he did consider the role of women in so far as they are a part of the working class, and, where they are exploited in some way differently from men by virtue of their gender, then he also deals specifically with women. Further, Marx thought that women's entry into the production proeess was necessary, and ultimately progressive, development within capitalism. It was a necessary development in that capitalists constantly strive to reduce their production costs in order to maximise their profits and since women's (and children's) labour could be bought more cheaply than that of men's it was inevitable that they would be recruited as wage-labourers as soon as the level of sophistication of machinery in factories was such that physical strength need no longer be considered. (lndeed, when labour was in short supply, women and children have been, and in some places still are, employed regardless of their physical fitness to do the job and the damage to their health that results.) So far then, it does not seem that women's role in capitalism is very different to that of men's: they are hired and fired, and exploited in accordance with the dictates of capital.


Although many women spend a considerable part of their lives engaged full or part-time in domestic labour and child care, this does not make them any less members of the working class. Part of the problem is caused by the fact that housework is under-valued and is frequently regarded as not really work at all. This in turn is partly due to the ignorance of many men as to what is entailed in housework and child care. (It happens in other cases too, that someone else's job seems less arduous than our own because we don't fully appreciate what it involves.) A further cause of confusion is the idea of "productive work". Marx writes:

"The only worker who is productive is one who produces surplus-value for the capitalist, or in other words contributes to the self-valorisation of capital." (K. Marx, Capital, Vol.I, Chapter 16, Penguin Books, 1976, p.644).

But to say that a person is "productive" in this senes is to say nothing about that person's class position - a person may be productive or unproductive on this view and yet still be a member of the working class if they do not own or control the means to produce or distribute wealth and are forced to sell their labour power for a wage or salary or to draw state benefit if capital no longer needs their labour, or if they must depend for their livelihood on the wages or salary of someone else. Also the first part of Marx's statement quoted above is modified by the second part so that it includes those who contribute to the production of surplus value. Marx saw that as capitalism develops, the production proeess becomes more co-operative in nature as labour becomes more specialised and the division of labour more highly developed:

"In order to work productively, it is no longer necessary for the individual himself to put his hand to the object; it is sufficient for him to be an organ of the collective labourer, and to perform any one of its subordinate functions (K. Marx, Capital, Vol.I, pp.643-4).

Similarly Marx recognised that reproduction of labour power was an important part of this total process:

"The individual consumption of the worker, whether it occurs inside or outside the workshop, inside or outside the labour process, remains an aspect of the production and reproduction of capital, just as the cleaning of machinery does..." (K. Marx, Capital, Vol.I, Chapter 23, p.718).

On this analysis then, the working class should be regarded as the "collective labourer" contributing to production either by making goods themselves, by contributing one of the many services needed to keep the wheels of the capitalist machine running smoothly, or by forming part of the reserve army of the unemployed. Even if we then make a distinction between those who receive a wage for what they do and those who do not (such as housewives) both groups can still be seen as productive in that they contribute to the overall capitalist proeess.

Domestic workers clearly are productive in this sense but in any case should con sider themselves as full members of the working class since they do not have any share in the wealth owned by the capitalist class. It is also important to recognise that domestic work and child care are not in themselves uninteresting or menial (certainly not more so than many paid jobs) but it is often the context in which they are carried out which makes them seem so (e.g. the isolation of many young mothers and their lack of money).

"Socialist" feminists are thus creating a theoretical problem, and divisions within the working class where none really exists. Their tactic of forming women's caucuses, within trade unions for example, is misguided and counter-productive since it both divides the working class, making it appear that men and women have conflicting interests, and also marginalises women and so-called women's issues.


The extent to which feminist theories have highlighted the ways in which women's subject status is reinforced and maintained through social and cultural conditioning should not be under-estimated. Women need to be confident of their ability to engage in political activity and to believe that they are not the passive, helpless creatures that much of their education and conditioning has encouraged them to be. But to use these insights as the basis for arguments in favour of all-women political movements, or women's sections, however socialist their proclaimed intent, rests on a faulty assumption about society and has politically damaging results. That assumption is that in some way women's oppression is fundamentally different from that experienced by working class men. Whilst it is undeniable that women do experience certain forms of economic, cultural and social oppression and discrimination as a result of their gender, the economic basis for exploitative social relations is not gender-specific. To argue that women's experience of capitalism is crucially different from that of men risks falling into precisely the same trap of sex stereotyping that the feminist movement itself has struggled to resist. That is to say that women's roles as wives and mothers define them more completely than do their roles as workers..

If socialism is to have any chance of success and if the causes of oppression of women and every other oppressed group within society are to be removed for good, then we should seek to emphasise the essential similarities in lives and experiences of members of the working class irrespective of sex or race, rather than to draw attention to any superficial differences between them.

Socialism must include the liberation of women as a crucial part of the wider project of human emancipation, but of course that is not going to happen in an automatic or inevitable way. The World Socialist movement cannot permit sexism to flourish within itself. For a political organisation to be at all credible it must embody the attitudes, values and practices that it seeks to institute in a future socialist society. Socialism is about liberation of the whole human race, men and women, which is why the socialist movement. in theory and practice makes no distinction between people on the basis of sex or race. Our strength lies in unity and co-operation, not in separatism and division.

Janie Percy-Smith

(World Socialist No.5 Summer 1986)

Sunday, September 26, 2010


Chinese Poverty
Nationally, there were 40.07 million Chinese living under state poverty level, which was raised to 1,196 yuan (178 U.S. dollars) per person per year in 2009. Nearly 36 million rural residents, or 3.8 percent of China's rural population, lived under the poverty line.

Energy Poverty
The city of New York, for instance, with 8 million habitants today uses the same amount of electricity as that of the Sub-Saharan Africa which has a population of about 800 million. This means that electricity consumption per capita in NYC is more than 6,000 Kwh/person while it is only 63 kwh/person in Sub Saharan Africa - a ratio approaching 1:100.
The Indian population, representing almost 17 percent of the world population, consumes only 4 percent of the planet’s energy. In 2005, 20 percent of the population still had no access to electricity.
20 percent of the global population — 1.4 billion people — lack access to electricity. Some 40 percent of the global population — 2.7 billion people — rely today on the traditional use of biomass for cooking. Some 1.2 billion people, equivalent to China’s population, would still have no electricity by 2030 if governments made no change to existing policies
André Caillé, World Energy Council's former chairman, said "If 30 percent of the world population is to achieve North American living standards, the energy supply must be tripled.”
Pierre Gadonneix, the president of the World Energy Council , conceded during an informal chat in Montreal recently. that this divide is now one of the major concerns that the energy world is faced with today and could trigger upheavals in many societies too with serious implications.

Water Poverty
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon warned today that hundreds of millions worldwide still live with an absence of clean water, perpetuating poverty. Water, he stressed,"is not only a basic necessity, it is a human right."
Nearly 900 million peopole still do not have access to clean water. 2.6 billion people not having access to basic sanitation services such as toilets and basic sanitation. If the current trend continues, the number is expected to climb to 2.7 billion by 2015. "Living in these conditions increases the likelihood of disease and death" Ban explained

New Labour leader promises the impossible

“I’ll make capitalism work for the people,” promised the new Leader of the Labour Party Ed Miliband in his bid to become leader (Observer, 29 August). He explained:

“Britain’s big question of the next decade is whether we head towards an increasingly US-style capitalism – more unequal, more brutish, more unjust – or whether we can build a different model – a capitalism that works for people and not the other way round.”

Apparently, “in 2008, a consensus existed that we should understand the lessons of the financial crisis, not just about regulation, but about the kind of capitalism we needed to build”.

The Labour Party has always tried to make capitalism work for the people but, every time that it has been in office, it has failed miserably. What is new is that previously Labour leaders rarely admitted that this was what they were trying to do. They said they were trying to gradually reform capitalism out of existence, not building a new kind of capitalism.

Still, an open recognition of what they are trying to do can only help clarify things. It is, however, indicative of how far Labour has changed that Ed Miliband was the candidate supported by the Left in the party and the unions. Even they have bought into the idea that there is no alternative to capitalism, only a choice about what sort of capitalism, and dropped the anti-capitalist rhetoric.

The reason Labour fail to make capitalism work for the people is that this is an impossible mission. Capitalism just cannot be made to work in the interest of all. It is a profit-making system that can only work as such, in the interest of those who live off profits and to the detriment of those who live off wages and salaries.

Instead of Labour gradually changing capitalism into something else, the experience of running capitalism changed the Labour Party – to the extent that today you are labelled a left-winger if you just mention the word “capitalism”, even to support it.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Pocket money

“TAXMAN WANTS ALL OUR WAGES. We would just get pocket money” screamed the front page headline in the Daily Express (22 September). As the Times had explained five days earlier:

“HM Revenue & Customs is considering plans to deduct tax directly from workers’ pay packets before salaries reach their bank accounts”.

So what’s new? Income tax is already deducted before wages reach worker’s bank accounts, only this is now done by employers not the government. This in fact is one reason why we have said that, as far as income tax on wages and salaries is concerned, workers don’t even pay it. They never see the money. It’s paid by employers.

PAYE (Pay As You Earn) was introduced as part of the war-time Beveridge Plan to “redistribute poverty”, i.e. to try to ensure that the total wages bill was distributed efficiently, from a capitalist point of view, amongst the working class, so that no worker got either too much or not enough to reproduce their working skills taking into account their family circumstances.

Basically, it involved cutting the take-home pay of single workers or workers whose wife worked as they didn’t need to be paid to maintain non-existent dependants. Employers couldn’t be expected to do this themselves as their only concern was the quality of the labour power they purchased, for which they paid the going rate irrespective of the family circumstances of its seller. So it was done through the tax system

The Marxian theory of taxes and the working class is one of the most difficult concepts to get over. Sometimes it’s mistakenly expressed as “the workers don’t pay taxes”. The accurate and scientifically correct way of expressing the concept is that “taxes are not a burden on the working class”.

Even if workers don’t pay the income tax that is deducted from their pay packets before any money reaches their bank accounts”, workers do physically pay other taxes. For instance, workers in employment pay council tax in that they themselves have to pay this either in cash or by a cheque or transfer from their bank account.

Workers also pay indirect taxes such as excise duties on alcohol and tobacco and VAT on the goods and services subject to it. These, insofar as they increase prices, increase the cost of living and so the cost of reproducing labour power. This is passed on to employers as higher than otherwise money wages. It is in this sense that taxes on wages and on goods and services workers consume are ultimately a burden on employers.

We’re talking here about average expenditure. Only taxes included in expenditure on goods that enter into the general average cost of living are passed on to employers, not all the indirect taxes that an individual worker might pay. Just because a worker spends more than average on alcohol and cigarettes does not mean that economic forces will lead to their employer paying them a higher wage or salary.

So, yes, individual workers can be affected, adversely or favourably depending on their spending habits, by changes in the taxes they pay. Naturally those who end up worse off will complain, but this is not a class issue as an issue that concerns workers as a whole.

Whether income tax is deducted by employers or by the government is certainly of no concern to workers. What’s relevant is not the gross pre-tax figure that appears on their pay slip, but their take-home pay as that’s what they have to spend on reproducing their working skills. “Pocket money” is rather an apt description of this but surprising coming from a rag like the Daily Express.


The stinking rich

The 400 people on Forbes magazine's list of the richest Americans saw their combined net worth climb 8 percent this year. The good news for the wealthy comes as the poverty rate has reached a 15-year high and unemployment remains stuck near 10 percent.

Timothy Noah defines the wealthy in three categories: the sort-of rich are those who make more than $100,000; the rich — those in the top 1 percent — earn more than $360,000; and stinking rich — those in the .01 percent — make more than $1 million.

"A lot of people say, 'So what if we have unequal incomes? We have a great deal of mobility in the United States. Anybody can grow up to be president.' But in truth, social mobility has actually decreased over the last 40 years," Noah says. "There's still a fervent belief that that is what defines the United States, but it is less true now than it used to be."

Americans vastly underestimate the degree of wealth inequality in America. "Building a Better America -- One Wealth Quintile At A Time" by Dan Ariely of Duke University and Michael I. Norton of Harvard Business School , shows that across ideological, economic and gender groups, Americans thought the richest 20 percent of our society controlled about 59 percent of the wealth, while the real number is closer to 84 percent.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Can you buy happiness?

Day SchoolSaturday, 25th September from 12.00 noon

Socialist Party premises, 52 Clapham High St, SW4 7UN
(nearest tube:Clapham North)

Happy Shopper

Ed Blewitt (Clinical Psychologist) will look how our understanding of happiness is closely related to consumerism. Ed’s talk on the ‘Happy shopper’ is taking a look at how the happiness industry developed in the 19th century in the form of the good life through to its modern guise of an ‘individual feeling’. This shift in the social perspective is compatible with the capitalist notion of an atomistic individual separated from society where the search for happiness is the individual’s goal in life.

Manhattan for a handful of beads

Peter Rigg (Analytical Psycho-therapist) He's titled his talk 'Manhattan for a handful of beads’ in a systematic approach which argues and illustrates how we’ve been sold consumerism in the form of cars, mobile phones, holidays, etc., in exchange for true democracy. Peter will be drawing a parallel between infantile functioning and consumer culture and between psychological maturity and democracy, besides touching on the illusion of being a sovereign consumer. In short, Peter will be putting consumerism on the couch!

The consumption of capitalism

By Brian Johnson (retired Disability Counsellor) We’ve all heard the phrase, ‘Keeping up with Jones’ but rarely established how such phrases have impacted on the social relationships within the family and wider society. Brian will investigate the social drives that set consumerism in motion with a thorough analysis on how consumerism affects all classes. His talk on ‘The
consumption of capitalism’
delves into how consumerism is having an effect on our expectations and aspirations, lifestyles, perceptions of reality and much more.

Refreshments will be available during the talks. There will be a social in the evening with some light musical entertainment by Peter Rigg along with food and drink. All in all this half day school promises to be an event full of insight; engaging and entertaining.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Against Religion

One of the first things the pope did as soon as he got off the plane was to launch into a bitter attack on “aggressive secularists” and “extremist atheists”. Here’s our reply.

The only reasonable position to adopt towards any religion is one of atheism: unbelief. There is a presumption in favour of not believing fantastic claims. It is up to the believer to present proof for the existence of God or life after death. After all, few are agnostic about Father Christmas, fairies or unicorns; we know they don't exist. The same scepticism should also apply to the extraordinary beliefs of religion. With religious believers, however, there is a willingness to believe despite the lack of evidence. And it is this gullibility which socialists find to be dangerous and objectionable.

Of course religious believers do claim to have evidence, and they cite their holy texts as proof of the infallible word of God. But these writings contain so many contradictions and absurdities that no reasonable person can take them seriously. Traditional interpretations of the Bible, for instance, are highly selective and leave out the inconsistencies. In the Old Testament there are two different creation stories (Genesis 1-2, 4;2, 4-24) and two different versions of the Flood (Genesis 6,5-9,17). Needless to say, geological evidence does not confirm the Biblical accounts of the Earth's age or the Earth being flooded to a depth of five miles all over its surface.

Nor do the prophecies fare any better. No unicorns or dragons have been found, as foretold (Isaiah 13,22;34,7). God promised the Jewish people that they will never lose their land (Psalms 89,3-4), that no uncircumcised man will ever enter Jerusalem (Isaiah 52,1) and that Jerusalem will always be a quiet place, undamaged by war (Isaiah 33,20).

In the New Testament Jesus is often reported as saying that the world is about to end, and that the end will come in the lifetime of his listeners (Matthew 4,17;10,23,-16,28;24,34). This is why he advocated giving away personal possessions, and forms the basis of the myth that Jesus was an early socialist. There is nothing socialist about making yourself deliberately poor in any case. Jesus is usually portrayed as peace-loving, but he also said: "Think not that I come to send peace on earth: I come not to send peace, but a sword" (Matthew 10,34). Carl Lofmark, from whom many of these examples are taken, comments in his book What is the Bible?:

"This passage has been useful to army chaplains and church leaders who have had to persuade people that they should go to war in spite of all that Jesus said about peace and forgiveness."

But if the Bible and other religious texts are not literally true, as many theologians now accept, are they true symbolically? As with the above examples, do they have a "deeper" meaning? The trouble with this line of argument is that it is even more selective in choosing what to believe. It means turning a blind eye to the contradictions and obscenities and choosing to believe something you know is not true.

Once you have rejected the special authority of the Bible (or whatever text) as the infallible word of God, how do you know that you have interpreted the symbolism in the way the writers intended? Fundamentalists have a point when they say that this changes religion into a form of art appreciation.

Then there is morality. Many who would not describe themselves as religious will, nevertheless, have their children given religious indoctrination at school on the grounds that it will give them a moral education. In this country the law requires that Religious Education be "broadly Christian" in content. But would you want your child to be stoned to death for being disobedient, as God commands (Deuteronomy 21,18-21)? This is the morality they keep quiet about. If a husband finds that his bride is not a virgin on her wedding day, then she shall be stoned to death on her father's doorstep (Deuteronomy 22,21). God instructed Moses:

"Now therefore kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman that hath known man by lying with him. But all the women children, that have not known a man by lying with him, keep alive for yourself" (Numbers 31,17-18).

Not only does God give this approval of the murder and rape of children, but slavery also (Exodus 21,1-11). Jesus says that to be a true believer you must hate your mother and father and "yea, and his own life also" (Luke 14,26). For the unbeliever, "thou shalt eat the fruit of thine own body, the flesh of thy sons and of they daughters" (Deuteronomy 28,53). Jesus says that anyone who does not believe him will burn forever in hell (Mark 16,16). It has frequently been said that it is a very sick morality which can punish by sending people to hell. Even Hitler and Stalin only had their victims tortured and killed and then their suffering ended, but God wants the suffering to continue - literally - for an eternity.

Faith is the last refuge of a believer. Religious faith, however, would only make sense if what was believed in were plausible. Neither the existence of a God nor life after death are plausible, though faith in them undoubtedly offers solace to many. It can make the unbearable seem bearable. But why should an all-loving God allow so much suffering, so much pain in this world - including the so-called "Acts of God" - earthquakes, hurricanes, floods and the rest? If God really did exist, we have no reason for supposing that he cares for us.

For some in recent years religion has combined with New Age beliefs, largely at the expense of the traditional religions whose emphasis on personal guilt, sexual repression and the inferiority of women have become unacceptable. This pick and mix approach can combine elements from the New Testament, Buddhism, psychoanalysis, paganism, astrology and various other bits of the occult. So why, the, the persistence of religious belief?

The socialist analysis of religion derives from our basic materialism (not in the acquisitive sense, but how we view the production of wealth in society and the sort of ideas it gives rise to). Historical materialism traces how religions have evolved, from their beginnings in ancestor worship and private property in primitive societies, to established social institutions. Marx hit a number of nails on the head when he described the social psychology 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 in therefore the germ of the criticism of the valley of tears whose halo is religion."

For the materialist, in other words, society is not really under human control and humans really are at the mercy of blind, impersonal forces - in ancient times the forces of nature, in the modern world the economic forces of capitalism. Under capitalism people feel, rightly, that they are governed by forces they can't control but attribute this, wrongly, to forces operating from outside the world of experience. Churches of all types are then at hand for the sustaining of fear and superstition. For the socialist alternative to our lives being controlled by impersonal forces we must bring about a society in which humans consciously control the forces of production.

It is on this basis that we can say, rather than being abolished, religion can be expected to (as Engels put it in another context) "wither away". And it can be seen that the socialist case against religion differs from the usual humanist position: there are rationalist superstitions as well as religious. For humanists, criticism of religion is a process towards the eventual "triumph of reason". But they ignore the material circumstances which give rise to superstition:

"Consequently, in his worship of the 'Idea' the bourgeois freethinker is, like the Christian, attributing miraculous powers to the figments of men's brains" (Socialism and Religion, Socialist Party pamphlet, 1911, ).

Capitalism has many opiates to offer the unwary. Reject the pedlars, reject the product, but above all, reject a society which can create such an unhealthy psychological dependency. On the new basis of material security and social co-operation individuals can gain a sense of meaning in their lives, and hope for a future free from the dead hand of religious belief and tradition.

Noam Chomsky - Rights & Lefties

There has been some debate recently on the WSM Discussion Forum concerning Chomsky. Socialists disagree as to value of his political oeuvre.

Socialists aren't the only people pointing out that it is useless pleading with governments to end the problems which are endemic to capitalism. Noam Chomsky reiterated this during a recent talk - pity his audience didn't appreciate his point!

There was something vaguely comical about the atmosphere in the Central Hall, Westminster on the bright June evening when Prof Noam Chomsky was to deliver his talk on the theme "Human Rights in the New World Order". All the fashionable stewards wore black T-shirts with the following imperative in small white lower-case letters: "defend diversity". There were scores of people dressed in this uniform.

Chomsky’s address was part of a Human Rights convention which had been sponsored by the Observer and the legal campaign group Liberty. This event was attended by a wide range of left-wing lawyers, radical journalists, professional campaigners, and post-post-modern pundits. Most of the famous names were there to lead seminars or workshops.

Noam Chomsky, often dubbed as the world’s greatest living philosopher, is a man who is steadfastly opposed to icons of any description, to human sheep following political shepherds. He even opposed the superb documentary about the book he co-wrote with Edward S. Herman (Manufacturing Consent) on the grounds that it personalised grand political issues. It was therefore incredible to witness the degree of personal adulation bestowed on this man by many of the people there. The man in front of me kept taking photographs of Chomsky during the talk. At the end of the talk hundreds of people tried to get the philosopher's autograph.

We do not underestimate the immeasurable contribution that Noam Chomsky has made, and is making, to radically change the world, but to treat him as a saviour is to misunderstand his arguments. Chomsky was on his feet for two hours. He gave a coruscatingly good analysis of modem capitalism, and showed how the origins of sustained human rights violations can all be traced to struggles over property rights, land rights, rights of trade and so forth. It was, therefore, utterly dispiriting for socialists in the audience (and probably for Chomsky himself) when his blisteringly articulate condemnation of capitalism drew nothing but fairly dull questions from the audience. Each of the few questions seemed to come from various left-wing, reformist activists, and betrayed an apparent incomprehension of what had been said in the talk.

Chomsky's arguments

Chomsky began by pointing out that in capitalism "politics takes place in the shadow east by big business". He concentrated on American foreign policy showing how, for example, such policy in Haiti was formed and reformed in accordance with the interests of the super-rich both there and in America. The ordinary population of Haiti was treated as a dispensable element in the process of making a few people very rich. The American government likes countries with which it does business to be "stable". The stricter the government, the better. A strong military government is fine, a fascist regime will do nicely. No trade unions to interrupt the wealth-creating process and a large, armed police presence all the time will produce just the sort of disciplined order and reliable "economic miracle" that American investors would be prepared to rely upon.

With fastidious detail, and supporting his every proposition with demonstrably accurate data (often adducing facts and figures released by the American government itself), Chomsky showed how "liberals" like Jack Kennedy and Bill Clinton had condoned mass murder, torture, and savagery by the deals they did, in Brazil and Colombia respectively. "If the Nuremberg laws were applied," as Chomsky commented on another occasion, "then every post-war American president would have been hanged."

He then gave a frighteningly grim picture of life today for many Americans. The recession has produced armies of politicians and "experts" who favour social policies of "tough love". This means being cruel to be kind. Taking away the nanny state in order to teach people the virtues of self-dependence. No free school, no free medicine. Win in the rat race or curl up and die. "Tough love is what they call it for a good reason," said Chomsky, "because the rich love it and it's tough on everybody else." The irony is, as he pointed out, that these policies were put forward in the name of "family values" and yet their direct and c1early predictable result has been to assist in the destruction of that institution in America. Fathers who have been conditioned to see themselves as breadwinners have no employment, mothers work long, part-time sessions, and children are supervised by television sets. Fathers get drunk and depressed, wives work themselves into a torpor, and the kids end up as unsocialised, illiterate delinquents. And all this in the cause of promoting God and the family.

Why should workers be afforded the luxury of employment contracts and their associated legal rights? Ask the new economists. We should all become part of a more "flexible economy". Chomsky explained the rationale for this: "the bosses want you anxious as hell when your head touches the pillow each night, worrying whether you'll be at work the day after tomorrow, as there's nothing quite like that worry to get you working like mad".

Chomsky's opposition to the wages system is always very clearly put. "I don't think that many people ought to be forced to rent themselves in order to survive", as he once put it. Many of his ideas appear succinctly in a book which is a commentary on the documentary Manufacturing Consent. The book is Noam Chomsky and the Media edited by Mark Achbar (Black Rose Books, Montreal/London) and the "rent" quotation is on page 215. Again, consider his views on the need for government:

"presupposing that there have to be states is like saying, what kind of feudal system should we have that would be the best one? What form of slavery would be the best kind" (p. 208).

At the meeting Chomsky revealed two telling figures from a recent opinion poll in the United States. He noted that 82 percent of the respondents thought that most politicians were in politics for their own gain, and that 83 percent of respondents thought that "the current economic system is inherently unfair". It could hardly have been plainer that Chomsky's identification of the reason for human-rights violations was the essential nature of capitalism. It was not an unacceptable face of capitalism, something that needs adjusting with a legal instrument; it was the system itself.

Yet, after two hours of quietly, cogently, and often hilariously, showing that the social system was necessarily slanted against human rights, campaigners stood up at the end of the talk and asked for Chomsky's blessing for a variety of foredoomed crusades. Chomsky had argued that the problem of human rights abuse was just a necessary consequence of having a system run by bankers not by philanthropists or moral philosophers, yet the reformers wanted him to approve of huge human efforts to plead with governments to act more kindly.

To his great credit, Chomsky seemed to treat legal interference with capitalism as an unreliable solution to the problems of human rights violations. Although he spoke for two hours he only came to the matter of law in the final sixty seconds of his talk. He picked up a piece of card and referred to some specific questions ·involving legal strategies which he had been invited to address by the organisers, said, in effect, that they weren't very important in the context of capitalism, and concluded his opening remarks. Those lawyers who had been manning the expensively-decorated recruiting stall of the Law Society (the solicitors' trade union) in the foyer before the talk must have felt rather let down.

The first questioner, from the audience of 2,000, introduced himself as a spokesperson for the "Luton Peoples' Collective". He said that some people in Britain had been victimised by the police for illegal drug use. Was this branch of human rights designed to intimidate all deviants from conventional behaviour into conforming to capitalism? Having travelled 3,000 miles to talk about human rights in a world suffering from such enormous problems as starvation (a child dying every second from starvation somewhere in the world), carnage, ethnic cleansing, forced female circumcision, and the catalogue of crimes exposed by Amnesty International, Chomsky was visibly disappointed with the first question. But the questions did not improve.

The second questioner asked whether Chomsky favoured the London-based campaign to stop the Cuban government buying certain sorts of missiles. A possibly rather gutted Chomsky patiently explained to Private Eye's Dave Spart that, as had been pointed out in the talk, there was no convincing evidence that governments could be persuaded by moralists to run capitalism in accordance with anything but the principles of accounting. And so the questions continued. I wanted to ask Chomsky to comment on the sort of society he wanted to see at the end of the "long road" he had said we would have to travel before becoming civilised; and how we should travel there. Alas, despite 20 minutes of impersonating a flagless semaphorist, I was still not chosen by the steward to ask a question. Perhaps I should have been wearing a T -shirt bearing a single demand from capitalism as its slogan.

Many people on the left in politics have an unwarrantedly optimistic view of what can be achieved by using the law to tame and control commerce. The law cannot do that. As a socialist I do not support the campaign for human rights, for two reasons.

First, the whole idea of getting down on your knees and asking someone or something for your "rights" is undignified. It presupposes that the giver or rights (he, she, they, or it) is superior to the supplicant. I am a human being and I don' t want a society where I have to depend upon John Major, the Lord Chancellor, Bill Clinton or the chief judge in Strasbourg to finish a plate of lobster and then tell me whether I have the right to breathe, work, be free, protest, or anything else. Rights are for the meek.

They are also for the unrealistic. The second objection to rights is that history has shown them to be nothing but instantly disposable guarantees, The American constitution in 1776 declared that "all men are born free", yet slavery was still an institution for almost another century, swiftly followed by universal wage-slavery. The left's hapless "right to work" campaign fizzled out in the 1980s when it became apparent to even the most bigoted SWP member that capitalism does not and can never guarantee such rights. Go to any country in the world which boasts a constitution guaranteeing the right to life and you will find the bodies or the statistics to debunk the paper right.

Jeremy Bentham, the nineteenth-century reformer, and the man who wrote that "property and law are born together and die together", had a clear understanding of legal rights. He said that they were "nonsense" and that the idea of basic human rights was "nonsense upon stilts". There's no point in calling them rights if getting them enforced is only a pious hope. A call for rights is a plea to a recognised superior. Let's forget "rights", and get up off our knees. •


(Socialist Standard, August 1995)

Further reading:

Chomsky's weakness

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Double Speak Blair

As his autobiography rapidly becomes a remainder, these quotes remind us of Tony Blair's very selective concern for human rights.

Jeremy Paxman: So there is a distinctive British foreign policy. Does it have an ethical dimension still?

Blair: Of course it does, yeah.

Paxman: How then can you publicly endorse a country which bans political parties, bans trade unions and uses institutional torture?

Blair: The country being?

Paxman: Saudi Arabia? You called it a friend of the civilised world.

Blair: Yes, but it is also important to realise that if we want a secure progress in the Middle East, we should work with Saudi Arabia. I don't decide— An ethical foreign policy doesn't mean that you try to decide the government of every country of the world. You can't do that.

Paxman: You called it a friend of the civilised world.

Blair: It is. In my view, what it is doing in respect of the Middle East now—

Paxman: It chops people's arms off. It tortures people.

Blair: They have their culture, their way of life.

And another occasion

Time Magazine:
Your wife chaired a press conference about the treatment of women in Afghanistan. What about Saudi Arabia? Do you approve of the way women are treated there?

Blair: I'm not going to get in the business of attacking the Saudi system.

Time: But you do attack the Afghan system.

Blair: yes, but we are in a conflict with the Taliban regime...At. the present time I don't think it's very helpful for us to tell the Saudis how they should live

Feeding the World

Who, actually, feeds the world? According to the ETC group (formerly Rural Advancement Foundation International) in November 2007 the figures were approximately 50 percent peasant farmers; 13 percent hunter gatherers; 8 percent urban gardeners; and 30 percent the industrial food chain. These figures clearly show the warped view of the market approach to feeding the world, an approach which constantly seeks more access and more control, continually striving to accumulate more wherever it spies opportunity or potential despite the fact that the last 20 years of expanding agribusiness has resulted in 200 million more hungry people.

Here are some of the consequences of agribusiness:

Contract farming: Regarding the growth of contract farming 'extreme market power' leads to 'near bondage-like conditions' (‘Global Agribusiness: Two Decades of Plunder’, Seedling, July 2010). Because the farmers are not directly employed by the companies these do not have to comply with labour laws or deal with unions. Currently 50 percent of world pork production and 66 percent of poultry and eggs are now in industrialized farms either owned by large corporations or under contract to them. Dairy, coffee, fruit, vegetables and staples (grains) are some of the expanding areas. Consequently there are plenty of examples of worsening wages and conditions for workers around the world.

Commodity crops: Between 1990-2007 commodity crops increased to the detriment of food crops. The top five – oil palm, rape seed, soya, sugar cane and maize together increased by 38 percent whilst all other crops decreased by 4 percent and total crop land increased by only 2 percent. The increased volume of the top five were for biofuels and animal feed, not food for humans. Result? Bringing more corporations into agriculture whilst depriving small-scale farmers of a living.

Prices: Between 1974-1994 the difference between world prices (what is charged by traders) and domestic prices (what is paid to farmers) doubled. (UNCTAD) 'The past two decades of globalisation has…been about the concentration of wealth and power in the hands of Wall Street and other financial centres propelling the expansion of agribusiness…harnessing them ever tighter to the logic of fast and high returns which are made off the backs of workers, consumers and the environment' (Seedling).

Accumulation: This same Seedling article, shows that the average GDP for 135 non-G20 countries in 2005 was US$49 billion compared with average annual sales for the top 20 retail corporations of US$75 billion:

“Speculative capital in agricultural commodities coupled with corporate control at all levels of the food chain result in food distribution becoming separated from need. The corporate global food system is organised according to one principle only. Profit for the owners of the corporations.”

Capital is pushing hard to accumulate all it can from the remaining food system around the world still in the hands of peasants, indigenous peoples and small-scale farmers, but as they accumulate so, too, poverty increases. Twenty years of expanding agribusiness control has resulted in 200 million more hungry people. There are now more than 800 million small-scale farmers and farm workers who do not have enough to eat.

The first 'Green Revolution', focussed mainly in south Asia from around the 1970s, pushed genetically modified seed, chemical fertilisers, pesticides and herbicides. One of the main players from the philanthropic arena was the Rockefeller Foundation, a family with links among others to the fossil fuel industry. Initially they were able to claim increased yields but over a short period of time the farmers were locked into a debt cycle having to purchase seeds and chemical inputs on an annual basis. Then the soil became impoverished requiring greater input, leading to more debt, suicides, migration to cities and increased poverty. Now we see the birth of the 'Second Green Revolution.' This time it is Africa's turn. Again one of the main philanthropists is the Rockefeller Foundation, this time in partnership with the Bill and Melissa Gates Foundation and various transnational agricultural corporations such as Monsanto and Syngenta. Again genetically modified crops are being heralded as the way forward. Students in Africa are being trained in biotechnology (and lobbying). Again the transnationals are queuing up for business. Independent science warning of high social, environmental and financial costs is struggling to be heard raising its voice against the giants.

If these arguments are not enough agribusiness is a well documented cause of climate change and other environmental disasters. The world's people don't need it. They need to be free from it. Free to determine their own methods of food production away from any commodification process. At liberty to produce and/or consume food without the strictures of capitalist corporate control as part of a life of self-determination and free association.

What the big agribusiness companies won't tell you
A look at some ecological agricultural studies, organic or near-organic, will reveal results contrary to agribusiness claims.

2001 – Of 208 sustainable agricultural projects around the world 89 had reliable yield data showing substantial increase of 50-100 percent for rain-fed crops and 5-10 percent for irrigated crops.

2007 – A study involving 286 projects in 57 countries of both the developed and developing world showed that by adopting ecological agriculture productivity went up significantly in the developing world. Whilst the ratio of organic to non-organic in developed countries averaged at 92:100, in developing countries organic methods produced 80 percent more than conventional farms. Further, the study showed that with average yields the global food supply could be grown organically to provide for a larger population without increasing farmland area. With a range of organic fertilisers as available, in particular leguminous crops could fix enough nitrogen to replace current levels of synthetic fertilisers.

So, there is the potential for enough food globally without the negative environmental impacts of conventional chemical-input agricultural production. (Chemical fertilisers, herbicides and pesticides, monocrops for biofuels and animal feed, highly mechanised production are all heavy on fossil fuel use and emissions.)

2008 – The original data from the previous year's study was re-analysed to produce a summary of the impacts of organic and near-organic projects on agricultural productivity in Africa where the crop yield proved to be even higher than the global average of 79 percent. All-Africa – 116 percent, East Africa – 128 percent, Kenya – 179 percent, Tanzania – 67 percent, Uganda – 54 percent, 'challenging the popular myth that organic agriculture cannot increase agricultural productivity' (Lim Li Ching, senior fellow, Oakland Institute).

Ecological agricultural practices
Data on compost use as opposed to no input or chemical fertiliser use show increased yields in staple crops of both grain and straw (grain for food, straw for compost or animal use). General conservation methods of water and soil, biological pest management, crop diversification, restoration of terracing, mulching, composting, no-till production; four large studies between 2001-2008 in Africa, Latin America and Asia all show significant increase in production, raising living standards for small-scale farmers.

Ecological agriculture is proved to be productive and has the potential to meet food security needs, particularly in developing countries. These methods allow farmers to improve local food production with low-cost readily available technologies and inputs without causing environmental damage whilst cutting out the big corporations, boosting the positives and reducing the negatives.

Which logic benefits humankind?
Why is it though that many urban dwellers, those removed from the land, distanced from their food believe that big agriculture is better? Could it be the unrelenting propaganda and advertising sound-bites from mega-corporations? Living in the so-called developed world of giant supermarkets and blanket media advertising one could be forgiven for believing that the whole world was already in the hands of the corporations – but no, not yet, it's not. Capital is working very hard to that end, competing to accumulate as fast and furiously as possible whatever remains available. The struggle remains unequal. Governments in thrall to vast corporations, philanthropic foundations and mega-wealthy individuals versus underfunded action groups, farmer and peasant affiliations and independent scientific studies available to individuals interested in learning the truth. But usually the mighty wins the PR battle.

If, individually, or even collectively as a minority, one prefers the mass produced, chemically-rich foods of the major corporations, how legitimate is it to attempt to force it onto a majority too? Whose legitimacy will win out? If world trade agreements and international laws serve the corporation deemed a person above the vast majority of world population can they not be declared illegitimate? The market approach seeks to impose an alien process of food production which, for solely economic reasons, completely changes the traditional way of life for many and totally disenfranchises others. The issue is heavily weighted against people in favour of capital. That is the norm in capitalism. But it doesn't make it right. And it isn't written in stone that it will always be so.

This argument has no need for the standard economics discussion about manpower, monetary inputs, annual growth and potential profits as it is being offered from the logic of socialism. When did farm workers anywhere in the world ever choose their vocation/livelihood from a 'normal' economic standpoint ? They have always been low earners. Why not instead accept the logic of having more people, not less, involved in farming in the widest sense – plant and animal husbandry, sustainability, healthier lifestyle, reinstating degraded areas, repairing damage done, re-localising and protecting against environmental hazards – all requiring increased human, not monetary, input? Why not accept the logic of everyone working for the common interest in all areas, not just food production?

Why not aim for outcomes that are beneficial for the whole human race, not just profit for the few?

The good news for both farmers and the consumers of food is that growing healthy food is also good for the soil, for water and for environmental sustainability in general, ensuring a much better outcome for all humankind.

Friday, September 17, 2010

India poverty

Around a quarter of the world’s population who are deprived of food live in India and 43 per cent of all children in the country under the age of five are malnourished, claims a recent report published by an international non-profit organisation.

While India’s per capita income tripled between 1990 and 2005, the number of hungry people also increased by 53 million, bringing the total numbers of chronically hungry people in India to a staggering 270 million, says the study by Actionaid International.

The report predicts that India cannot halve its number of people starving until 2083 - nearly 70 years after the Millennium Development Goals target date.

“Two inferences are clear from this: the growth has failed to reach the poorest of the poor; and along with massive rise in food prices and agriculture distress, the focus on industry and resource intensive growth has widened the bracket of poverty,” said Sandeep Chandra, executive director of Actionaid India.

Israel - the unequal society

The richest 20% of Israelis made 40.6% of total household income last year, while the poorest 20% earned only 6.3% of the total.

Average household income is also dropping. The average household income from all sources - work, investments, allowances and other sources - is NIS 13,578 per month, a 1.5% drop in inflation-adjusted terms from 2008.

From Haaretz

The Great Leap Forward

Frank Dikötter, a historian who teaches at the University of Hong Kong, said he found that during the time that Mao was enforcing the Great Leap Forward in 1958, in an effort to catch up with the economy of the Western world, he was responsible for overseeing "one of the worst catastrophes the world has ever known".

Dikötter, who has been studying Chinese rural history from 1958 to 1962- The Great Leap Forward - explains that at least 45 million people were worked, starved or beaten to death in China over these four years.

His book, Mao's Great Famine; The Story of China's Most Devastating Catastrophe, reveals that while this is a part of history that has been "quite forgotten" in the official memory of the People's Republic of China.

Members of the rural farming communities were seen by the Party merely as "digits", or a faceless workforce. For those who committed any acts of disobedience, however minor, the punishments were huge.

State retribution for tiny thefts, such as stealing a potato, even by a child, would include being tied up and thrown into a pond; parents were forced to bury their children alive or were doused in excrement and urine, others were set alight, or had a nose or ear cut off. One record shows how a man was branded with hot metal. People were forced to work naked in the middle of winter; 80 per cent of all the villagers in one region of a quarter of a million Chinese were banned from the official canteen because they were too old or ill to be effective workers, so were deliberately starved to death. One piece of evidence revealed that 13,000 opponents of the new regime were killed in one region alone, in just three weeks.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

high prices - low wages

Clothing and footwear prices rose at their fastest monthly rate for an August since 2001. Debenhams said that the entire UK clothes retail industry faced higher prices, thanks to the rising cost of cotton and the weak pound. The warning was echoed comments by retailer Primark on Monday that rising costs may eat into its profit margins over the coming year.

However, clothes retailers today came under fire from the charity War on Want over their warnings that rising costs of cotton will increase prices as campaigners signal that stores continue to exploit overseas garment workers struggling to survive on poverty pay.

War on Want pointed to its research which revealed that workers making Primark clothes in three Bangladeshi factories earned well below a living wage - as little as 7p an hour for up to 80-hour weeks. Another Primark factory in Bangladesh where workers toil up to 84 hours a week and earn as little as £19 a month – less than half a living wage.

Nor were they alone.

Last month the Observer claimed Indian workers faced hardship toiling up to 16 hours a day for 26p an hour making clothes for Next and Gap and 25p an hour producing Marks & Spencer clothes. The Sunday Times in January cited Sri Lanka workers toiling six days a week, producing M&S and Next garments for take home basic pay of less than £50 a month.

War on Want senior campaigns officer Simon McRae said: "Clothes retailers will continue to pile up big profits, despite hikes in cotton prices. Yet the workers making their clothes will remain trapped in dire poverty..."

bosses wages

A shareholder at the Cable and Wireless AGM claimed "All the money and all the profit seem to be going toward the salaries of the board and I didn't necessarily think that they were worth that amount of money."

Management writer David Bolchover believes high pay is sustained by an ideology that he calls the "talent myth" which states that there are a small proportion of high flying employees who make a huge impact on their companies success and that those employees are extremely difficult to replace. But lots of people have the characteristics needed to be successful, Mr Bolchover insists, so why should they be so hard to replace? The answer, he reasons, is that there is a whole industry consisting of other high-paid people, institutional shareholders, pay consultants, even journalists and academics who have a vested interest in sustaining high pay.

Kit Bingham, who recruits top people for executive head-hunters Odgers Berndtson reasons, companies need to persuade the City that they are ambitious. One way of doing that is to try and recruit top people, paying top salaries, even if the person is not actually a top person in reality.

Jon Terry, head of reward at Pricewaterhouse Coopers, says weak or low-quality remuneration committees setting vague or unchallenging bonus targets can easily allow high bonuses to be paid, even when companies have performed poorly.

According to Sarah Wilson, head of Manifest, which advises institutional investors on how to vote on such things as executive pay company shareholders are not always interested, either. Many are based overseas and even some of those based in the UK "do not see companies as things that are necessarily generating wealth for the economy, but as things that they just buy and sell and trade".

The biggest source of the growth of high pay and wider inequality has been bonuses, according to some recent research. And those who have benefited have been "the people already within the top 10%, and then even within that group the top 5% and the top 1%" of the income scale, according to Brian Bell, a Research Fellow at the London School of Economics' Centre for Economic Performance. But bonuses do not even work as intended.

Professor Dan Ariely, a leading behavioural economist explains his research shows that while people jump higher or perform better on manual tasks if they are offered greater rewards, "on tasks that require concentration, thinking, memory, any kind of cognitive skills… the more money we put in front of people, the worse they do".

We also read Joel Gemunder, the chief executive officer of Omnicare, retired on July 31, almost exactly one year after his company announced a wide array of wage cuts and layoffs. The former head of the nation’s top provider of pharmaceuticals for seniors won’t have to worry much about his own personal economic security. He’s walking off into his golden years with a getaway package worth at least $130million. 50 major US corporations have each axed more than 3,000 jobs. Yet their CEOs, as our just-released report for the Institute for Policy Studies documents, last year took home 42 percent more pay on average than the S&P 500 CEO average. At America’s top 50 companies, CEO pay - after adjusting for inflation - is running at quadruple the 1980s average and eight times the average in the mid-20th century.

Old and poor in California

The cost of living for California's elderly population is significantly higher than the amount set by the federal poverty level, according to a new report from the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research reports

According to the Elder Index from the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research, seniors who rent a one-bedroom apartment in San Diego County need an income of at least $23,434 a year for basic necessities like food, housing, health care and transportation. More than 40 percent of seniors in San Diego County are living on incomes below that level, according to the report. The standard for determining income eligibility for public assistance programs is the Federal Poverty Level, which is $10,830 a year.
Susan Smith, co-author of the report and Director of the California Elder Economic Security Initiative, said the poverty line measurement is inadequate. "We have a huge number of older adults whose income might be a dollar over the poverty line, but far below what they need to get by," said Smith. In San Diego, that’s more than 100,000 seniors, she said. "If your income is below this amount than you can get access, but if your income is above this amount, then you cannot."

Some seniors are making compromises to adjust to their cost of living. She said, "They're splitting their pills so medications last longer, they're forgoing paying the utility bill in a month so they can pay rent. They're skipping a meal."

In God They Trust

The Pope heads an organisation with 1.3 billion followers who are encouraged to put their trust in a god and to pray to this god to solve the major problems of the day, thus diminishing people's faith in their own ability to sort out their own problems and undermining the likelihood of workers uniting and organising with a common objective. It has been part of the foundation of reaction since the start, whether it was urging the masses to obey the Caesars, supporting the feudal hierarchical order, opposing the Protestant reformation or siding with the capitalist class against the workers, determined always to stifle the anger of the oppressed with promises of reward in heaven for their sufferings if they struggle on uncomplainingly, and an eternity in the sulphurous pits of hell if they organised to better their lot. The Roman Catholic Church, like the Protestant churches is a whole-hearted supporter of private property. The Roman Catholic Church arrogated onto itself the role of arbiter in things appertaining not only to matters of what it called ‘morality’ but to all forms of human behaviour and even juridical practice. According to Pope Leo XIII (Encyclical, Immortale Dei ‘On the Christian Constitution of States’, November 1885) canon law is effectively superior to the civil law, having derived from Jesus Christ through Peter and the apostles to the Church.

While people have become disillusioned about political realities, it hasn't inspired them with revolution, just revulsion. Religion may profit from this, since it feeds on despair like flies feed on cow-shit. Ignorance is still rife, despite our literacy and sophistication. Our culture has certainly not kept pace with our discoveries. But it is having to change, whether people like it or not. We aren't cowed by the priests like we used to be. Science made fools of them. The Pope will not end the Catholic Church's stance on abortion, for example, even though every Catholic with a rudimentary scientific education knows that there is no divine spark at conception, unseeable until nine months later; the entire process of human reproduction is now well known and it would be expected in any doctor's surgery that in practice no-one would hold such a belief. Few believe in the Pope, as being anything but a left over from bygone times. But nevertheless rather than obeying the Pope, we choose the form of our own mental domination, just as in work we no longer slave for one master but can choose from hundreds to slave for. The pagan backdrop of Catholicism is filled by that of Hinduism or Buddhism removed from their own social contexts of native exploitation, generating a thousand and one cults and sects.

Tom Paine wrote, tolerance is for Popes: it implies someone with the power or right to ‘tolerate’. Socialists seek a society of universal equality - the world over - based upon the free association of producers. For us, the whole community means the whole community. Which necessarily excludes working with ‘faith groups’ whether Catholic, Christian or Islamic whose antiquated views serve only to divide the working class, and conceal the real causes of their social subordination. The Catholic Church's calls for “just" wages, "just" prices and "just" profits instead of real change .

Pope Benedict XVI raised an interesting question when he visited Auschwitz. "In a place like this, words fail. In the end, there can only be a dread silence - a silence which is itself a heartfelt cry to God. Why Lord, did you remain silent? How could you tolerate all this?" A good question, but we doubt if the Holy Father has had any reply. God has remained singularly silent since biblical times.

Karl Marx, who so famously described religion as “...the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people”, underwent a reappraisal by the Roman Catholic Church in La Civiltà Cattolica, a Jesuit paper, which is vetted in advance by the Vatican Secretariat of State in an article that was republished in L’Osservatore Romano, the Vatican newspaper, to add further papal endorsement. The article reads “We have to ask ourselves, with Marx, whether the forms of alienation of which he spoke have their origin in the capitalist system. 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?”
The Pope himself has said "The emergencies of famine and the environment demonstrate with growing clarity that the logic of profit, if predominant, increases the disproportion between the rich and the poor and leads to a ruinous exploitation of the planet. Capitalism should not be considered the only valid model of economic organisation."
The Vatican has always tried to position itself as a helper of the poor. As James Connolly explained as far back as 1908 "...the Catholic Church always accepts the established order, even if it has warred upon those who had striven to establish such order...the Church 'does not put all her eggs in one basket' and the man who imagines that in the supreme hour of the proletarian struggle for victory the Church will definitely line up with the forces of capitalism, and pledge her very existence as a Church upon the hazardous chance of the capitalists winning, simply does not understand the first thing about the policy of the Church...When that day comes the Papal Encyclical against socialism will be conveniently forgotten by the Papal historians..."

SOYMB does NOT offer its welcome to The Pope on his visit to the UK.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

low pay in uk

More than five million people -more than a fifth of all employees- in the UK earn less than a low pay threshold, highlighting the huge level of wage inequality in the country, according to the TUC.

Since 1997, the poorest 10% of households have seen their weekly incomes fall by £9 a week and as real wages have fallen, the gap between what workers earned and what they needed had been increasingly filled by debt.

poor in us census

The American government sets the poverty line at £14,000 a year for a family of four.

45mn Americans officially designated as poor - One in seven below the poverty line

Child poverty also increased to more than one in five. That compares to one in three children in developing African nations.

One analyst said: 'The official poverty level grossly underestimates the amount of money needed to live a decent life in America today. The real number of people dealing with severe financial hardships is probably nearer 100 million.'

SOYMB also reads that one in seven rural households struggles with hunger and an estimated 2.8 million households in rural America need food assistance.
"In an area that prides itself on food production, it's hard to imagine that children go hungry," says Karen Rathke, President of Heartland United Way. "However, this past year we saw more than 50 percent of our youth in Hall County qualify for free and reduced meals at school, an indicator of stretched family budgets..."

Tuesday, September 14, 2010


Latest figures from the UN Food and Agricultural Committee show that the number of hungry people worldwide has dropped by 98 million to 925 million in the past year. However, Oxfam warns that the decline - the first in 15 years and down from a record high in 2009 - is largely down to luck, such as two years of favourable weather patterns, as opposed to concrete action from world leaders. In the ten years since the Millennium Development Goals were agreed, the proportion of hungry people in the world has decreased by just only half a per cent from 14 per cent in 2000 to 13.5 per cent today.

"Despite there being enough food in the world to feed everyone, 925 million people are hungry today...” said Phil Bloomer, Oxfam’s director of campaigns and policy. “It is an outrage that in the 21st century men, women and children are still going to sleep with an empty stomach. There has been virtually no change in the proportion of hungry people now compared to 2000 when the MDG agreements were made...It is shameful that ten years since world leaders vowed to halve global hunger by 2015, we are no closer towards achieving this goal."

health or wealth

The magazine New Scientist reports that a new wave of biotech firms in developing countries has sprung up to meet an urgent global need: affordable drugs and vaccines for the poor. But there's a danger that market forces will push them to just make more drugs for the rich.

Rahim Rezaie and Peter Singer of the University of Toronto, Canada, studied 78 small, innovative biotech firms in four leading economies of the developing world: India, China, Brazil and South Africa. The companies have 69 affordable drugs and vaccines on the market, and another 54 in the pipeline, for local problems such as tuberculosis and tropical diseases. These diseases have been neglected by pharmaceutical companies in Europe and North America because most of the people who get them cannot pay much for treatment, making their development economically unattractive.[SOYMB emphasis]

Drugs and vaccines are expensive to test and bring to market, so the small companies are increasingly partnering with large pharmaceutical companies to do so. As a result, Singer and Rezaie warn, they may shift to making the products to treat the diseases of the rich world that big pharma prefers. Rezaie cites a company in India working with a Danish firm on a treatment for diabetes, and another in China working with US firms on drugs for inflammatory bowel disease. Both are diseases that are major problems in the west.

The working poor

Thousands of families are living in poverty despite people being in employment, a new study has shown. Blame for the situation has been laid at the door of companies freezing people’s pay and reducing their hours, rather than laying them off, during the recession.

The Institute for Public Policy Research paper, In-work Poverty and the Recession, shows 14% of working households in the West Midlands are officially in poverty. The figure for the North East was 13%

More than 60% of poor children now live with parents who work, demonstrating that poverty is not simply the result of joblessness.

The figures also show the number of working adults who are “working poor” rose by 200,000 to 3.4 million.

IPPR’s Nick Pearce said “these figures clearly show that being in work is no guarantee of being out of poverty”.


"Growth has seen the poor get poorer," says Dunu Roy, of Hazards Centre, an independent thinktank in Delhi.

Despite the investment of billions each year and initiatives ranging from employment guarantee schemes to school meals, malnutrition in India is rife. Figures for child mortality, underweight children and other basic health indicators have showed no significant improvement in seven years. This, despite the world's biggest organised feeding schemes for young children, which according to government estimates reaches 58 million children. A Unicef report published this month said "In India… there was no meaningful improvement among children in the poorest households..." According to the World Bank, 43% of Indian children are underweight – the highest level in the world and a figure that has remained constant for at least 20 years. In sub-saharan Africa it averages 28%.

One reason for the persistence of malnutrition in India is that the schemes set up to combat it are hugely inefficient. Corruption on the part of both food distributors and officials, combined with administrative incapacity and poor logistics all impede delivery. The entirely predictable monsoon rains destroyed around £8bn of food because of poor storage.

"We estimate that around half the food actually gets distributed," says Roy.

Nurmila, a NGO worker explained "Very few of the families with ration cards actually get their rations. The shops are never open or they just don't hand over the right amount. Some families go for months without the food the government says they should get."

Better-quality wheat purchased by the government is often replaced with a poor substitute by the shop owners. As for the food doled out on the doorsteps by the anganwadi, many complain it is often inedible.It is also, being largely rice, pulses or wheat porridge, unsuited for very young infants.

There are more poor in the eight poorest states of India – 410 million people – than in the 26 poorest nations of Africa. Levels of poverty in the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh are roughly comparable with those in the Democratic Republic of the Congo despite economic growth that has more than quadrupled India's per capita gross domestic product since 1992.