Tuesday, December 31, 2013

The Capitalist System Violates Whatever It Means To Be A Human

This article has been sitting patiently on my desktop for several years. It caught my attention again today as being the perfect start to a new year's reading list.
From Howard Zinn in 1993, it should reinvigorate any weakening optimism of tired socialists. Let's raise a glass to Zinn, to Marx and to socialism. JS
Howard Zinn on Marx

For a long time I thought that there were important and useful ideas in Marxist philosophy and political economy that should be protected from the self-righteous cries on the right that "Marxism is dead,” as well as from the arrogant assumptions of the commissars of various dictatorships that their monstrous regimes represented “Marxism.” This piece was written for Z Magazine, and reprinted in my book Failure To Quit (Common Courage Press, 1993).

Not long ago, someone referred to me publicly as a "Marxist professor.” In fact, two people did. One was a spokesman for “Accuracy in Academia,” worried that there were “five thousand Marxist faculty members” in the United States (which diminished my importance, but also my loneliness). The other was a former student I encountered on a shuttle to New York, a fellow traveller. I felt a bit honoured. A “Marxist” means a tough guy (making up for the pillowy connotation of the “professor”), a person of formidable politics, someone not to be trifled with, someone who knows the difference between absolute and relative surplus value, and what is commodity fetishism, and refuses to buy it.
I was also a bit taken aback (a position which yoga practitioners understand well, and which is good for you about once a day). Did “Marxist” suggest that I kept a tiny stature of Lenin in my drawer and rubbed his head to discover what policy to follow to intensify the contradictions o the imperialist camp, or what songs to sing if we were sent away to such a camp?

Also, I remembered that famous statement of Marx: “Je ne suis pas Marxiste.” I always wondered why Marx, an English-speaking German who had studied Greek for his doctoral dissertation, would make such an important statement in French. But I am confident that he did make it, and I think I know what brought it on. After Marx and his wife Jenny had moved to London, where they lost three of their six children to illness and lived in squalor for many years, they were often visited by a young German refugee named Pieper. This guy was a total “noodnik” (there are “noodniks” all along the political spectrum stationed ten feet apart, but there is a special Left Noodnik, hired by the police, to drive revolutionaries batty). Pieper (I swear, I did not make him up) hovered around Marx gasping with admiration, once offered to translate Das Kapital into English, which he could barely speak, and kept organising Karl Marx Clubs, exasperating Marx more and more by insisting that every word Marx uttered was holy. And one day Marx caused Pieper to have a severe abdominal cramp when he said to him: “Thanks for inviting me to speak at your Karl Marx Club. But I can’t. I’m not a Marxist.”

That was a high point in Marx’s life, and also a good starting point for considering Marx’s ideas seriously without becoming a Pieper (or a Stalin, or Kim Il Sung, or any born-again Marxist who argues that every word in Volume One, Two and Three, and especially in the Grundrisse, is unquestionably true). Because it seems to me (risking that this may lead to my inclusion in the second edition of Norman Podhoretz’s Register of Marxists, Living or Dead), Marx had some very useful thoughts.
For instance, we find in Marx’s short but powerful Theses on Feuerbach the idea that philosophers, who always considered their job was to interpret the world, should now set about changing it, in their writings, and in their lives.
Marx set a good example himself. While history has treated him as a secondary scholar, spending all his time in the library of the British Museum, Marx was a tireless activist all his life. He was expelled from Germany, from Belgium, from France, was arrested and put on trial in Cologne.
Exiled to London, he kept his ties with revolutionary movements all over the world. The poverty-ridden flats that he and Jenny Marx and their children occupied became busy centres of political activity, gathering places for political refugees from the continent.

True, many of his writings were impossibly abstract (especially those on political economy; my poor head at the age of nineteen swam, or rather drowned, with ground rent and differential rent, the falling rate of profit and the organic composition of capital). But he departed from that constantly to confront the events of 1848, the Paris Commune, rebellion in India, the Civil War in the United States.
The manuscripts he wrote at the age of twenty-five while an exile in Paris (where he hung out in cafes with Engels, Proudhon, Bakunin, Heine, Stirner), often dismissed by hard-line fundamentalists as “immature”, contain some of the most profound ideas. His critique of capitalism in those Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts did not need any mathematical proofs of “surplus value.” It simply stated (but did not state it simply) that the capitalist system violates whatever it means to be a human. The industrial system Marx saw developing in Europe not only robbed them of the products of their work, it estranged working people from their own creative responsibilities, from one another as human beings, from the beauties of nature, from their own true selves. They lived out their lives not according to their own inner needs, but according to the necessities of survival.

This estrangement from self and others, this alienation from all that was human, could not be overcome by an intellectual effort, by something in the mind. What was needed was a fundamental, revolutionary change in society, to create the conditions – a short workday, a rational use of the earth’s natural wealth and people’s natural talents, a just distribution of the fruits of human labour, a new social consciousness – for the flowering of human potential, for a leap into freedom as it had never been experienced in history.
Marx understood how difficult it was to achieve this, because, no matter how “revolutionary” we are, the weight of tradition, habit, the accumulated mis-education of generations, “weighs like a nightmare on the brain of the living.”

Marx understood politics. He saw that behind political conflicts were questions of class: who gets what. Behind benign bubbles of togetherness (We the people…our country…national security), the powerful and the wealthy would legislate on their own behalf. He noted (in The Eighteenth Brumaire, a biting, brilliant, analysis of the Napoleonic seizure of power after the 1848 Revolution in France) how a modern constitution could proclaim absolute rights, which were then limited by marginal notes (he might have been predicting the tortured constructions of the First Amendment in our own Constitution), reflecting the reality of domination by one class over another regardless of the written word.
He saw religion, not just negatively as “the opium of the people,” but positively as the “sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, the soul of soulless conditions.” This helps us understand the mass appeal of the religious charlatans of the television screen, as well as the work of Liberation Theology in joining the soulfulness of religion to the energy of revolutionary movements in miserably poor countries.

Marx was often wrong, often dogmatic, often a “Marxist.” He was sometimes too accepting of imperial domination as “progressive,” a way of bringing capitalism faster to the third world, and therefore hastening, he thought, the road to socialism. (But he staunchly supported the rebellions of the Irish, the Poles, the Indians, the Chinese, against colonial control.)
He was too insistent that the industrial working class must be the agent of revolution, and that this must happen first in the advanced capitalist countries. He was unnecessarily dense in his economic analysis (too much education in German universities, maybe) when his clear, simple insight into exploitation was enough: that no matter how valuable were the things workers produced, those who controlled the economy could pay them as little as they liked, and enrich themselves with the difference.

Personally, Marx was sometimes charming, generous, self-sacrificing; at other times arrogant, obnoxious, abusive. He loved his wife and children, and they clearly adored him, but he also may have fathered the son of their German housekeeper, Lenchen.
The anarchist, Bakunin, his rival in the International Workingmen’s Association, said of Marx: “I very much admired him for his knowledge and for his passionate and earnest devotion to the cause of the proletariat. But…our temperaments did not harmonize. He called me a sentimental idealist, and he was right. I called him vain, treacherous, and morose, and I was right.” Marx’s daughter Eleanor, on the other hand, called her father “…the cheeriest, gayest soul that ever breathed, a man brimming over with humour".

He epitomised his own warning, that people, however advanced in their thinking, were weighted down by the limitations of their time. Still, Marx gave us acute insights, inspiring visions. I can’t imagine Marx being pleased with the “socialism” of the Soviet Union. He would have been a dissident in Moscow, I like to think. His idea of the “dictatorship of the proletariat” was the Paris Commune of 1871, where endless arguments in the streets and halls of the city gave it the vitality of a grass roots democracy, where overbearing officials could be immediately booted out of office by popular vote, where the wages of government leaders could not exceed that of ordinary workers, where the guillotine was destroyed as a symbol of capital punishment. Marx once wrote in the New York Times that he did not see how capital punishment could be justified “in a society glorifying in its civilisation.”

Perhaps the most precious heritage of Marx’s thought is his internationalism, his hostility to the nation state, his insistence that ordinary people have no nation they must obey and give their lives for in war, that we are all linked to one another across the globe as human beings. This is not only a direct challenge to modern capitalist nationalism, with its ugly evocations of hatred for “the enemy” abroad, and its false creation of a common interest for all within certain artificial borders. It is also a rejection of the narrow nationalism of contemporary “Marxist” states, whether the Soviet Union, or China, or any of the others.
Marx had something important to say not only as a critic of capitalism, but as a warning to revolutionaries, who, he wrote in The German Ideology, had better revolutionise themselves if they intend to do that to society. He offered an antidote to the dogmatists, the hard-liners, the Piepers, the Stalins, the commissars, the “Marxists.” He said: “Nothing human is alien to me.”
That seems a good beginning for changing the world.

'Serving Your Country' - Behind The Facade'

The US military has been engaged in a policy of forcing wounded and disabled veterans out of service to avoid paying benefits and to make room for new able-bodied recruits.  Identifying injured combat soldiers as delinquent and negligent has lead to a practice called “chaptering out” which results in those soldiers being forced to leave the military without an “honorable discharge.” Because of this, thousands of soldiers have been chaptered out, losing federally sponsored benefits including health care, unemployment and educational programs.

Dave Phillips, a reporter for the Colorado Springs Gazette, exposed this practice through his story of Purple Heart recipient Sergeant Jerrald Jensen. Jensen, a decorated two-tour Afghanistan war veteran and recovering active-duty Sergeant, was forced from the Army without benefits for what Army officials called “a pattern of misconduct.” Jensen failed to pass a urine test after being prescribed drugs for his injuries. He was also written up for being late to an appointment. Jensen made numerous attempts to be retested but was chaptered out by his superiors. “They told me that I didn’t deserve to wear the uniform now, nor did I ever deserve to wear it,” Jensen told Aljazeera America.

Phillips has followed several stories of wounded soldiers who have been kicked out of the military and left with nothing. “Many have been diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and some also have traumatic brain injuries (TBI), both of which can influence behavior and judgment,” said Phillips.  He estimates that 76,000 soldiers have been chaptered out since 2006 and that number has increased every year since the war in Iraq began.

While the military declined to be interviewed denying any policy that targeted disabled soldiers to be forced out without benefits, an insider from the U.S Army Medical Command confirmed that this does happen. According to Phillips, “These commanders are stuck in this position where if they try to get them out medically, they are still stuck with them, maybe for a long time. If they decide to kick them out for misconduct instead, they could be out in weeks.”  Some soldiers like Jensen have had success appealing their discharges but many others are left without any support from the nation they served.

from here

Armed forces are just one section of the working class, to be used, abused and spat out like the rest when they are worn out, broken down, surplus to requirements and of no further use. 

Fact of the Day - the 1%

According to the Tax Policy Center, if your annual household income is $107,628, you are in the top 20% of income earners. If your income exceeds $148,687, you are in the top 10%. You are in the top 5% if it is $208,810. And if your household income is $521,411, congratulations. You are in the top 1%.

According to the Federal Reserve Survey of Consumer Finances, a net worth of $415,700 puts you in the top 20% of American households. You are in the top 10% if your net worth is $952,200. If your nest egg totals $1,863,800, you are in the top 5%. And  if you have a household net worth of $6,816,200, you are again in the top 1%.


Luxury in London

London now has more multi-millionaire residents than any other city, according to WealthInsight, with more than 4,000 with more than £20m each.

Yevgeny Chichvarkin is the owner of Hedonism Wine in Mayfair, London. His customers are in the money no object category and to him spending £120,000 on a bottle of wine is not an absurd extravagance. "Why?" He says, adding he knows several people who would happily spend this much on the Penfolds Ampoule of 2004 Australian cabernet sauvignon. "For some people who have been rich for a long, long time, it is quite hard to make an impression." It's not decadent. "I know families who spend more than £100m for a yacht," he says.

His customers are wealthy bankers, lawyers and rich residents, who would be able to spend £16,777.80 on a bottle of 1882 Chateau d'Yquem. The customers at Hedonism do not look at the price, and that's what he likes about it – that people will walk in and possibly spend £98,000 on a bottle of Chateau d'Yquem.

He is irritated by things Britons take for granted: that you can't get a plumber at the weekend, even if you're prepared to pay extra. "They charge crazy money, very lazy people...”

There is the rich and then there are the rest of us

From the end of 2008 to the middle of 2013 total U.S. wealth  increased from $47 trillion to $72 trillion. About $16 trillion of that is financial gain (stocks and other financial instruments).

The richest 1% own about  38 percent of stocks, and half of non-stock financial assets. So they've gained at least $6.1 trillion (38 percent of $16 trillion). That's over $5 million for each of 1.2 million households.

The next richest 4%, based on similar  calculations, gained about $5.1 trillion. That's over a million dollars for each of their 4.8 million households.

The least wealthy 90% in our country own only  11 percent of all stocks excluding pensions (which are fast disappearing). The frantic recent surge in the stock market has largely bypassed these families.

 In 2009 the average wealth for almost half of American families was  ZERO (their debt exceeded their assets).

In 1983 the families in America's poorer half owned an average of about $15,000. But from 1983 to 1989  median wealth fell from over $70,000 to about $60,000. From 1998 to 2009, fully 80% of American families  LOST wealth. They had to borrow to stay afloat.

It seems the disparity couldn't get much worse, but after the recession it did. According to a  Pew Research Center study, in the first two years of recovery the mean net worth of households in the upper 7% of the wealth distribution rose by an estimated 28%, while the mean net worth of households in the lower 93% dropped by 4%. And then, from 2011 to 2013, the stock market grew by  almost 50 percent, with again the great majority of that gain going to the richest 5%.

Today the US wealth gap is worse than that of the third world. Out of all developed and undeveloped countries with at least a quarter-million adults, the U.S. has the 4th-highest degree of  wealth inequality in the world, trailing only Russia, Ukraine, and Lebanon.

From here

For those who have trouble imagining what a trillion actually looks like this short video gives you an idea.

Drugging the children

Boosted by marketing from pharmaceuticals, prescriptions for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)  drugs have skyrocketed since the early 1990s, alongside a significant rise in the diagnosis of ADHD in general.

According to new data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 15 percent of high-school-age children have been diagnosed with the disorder, with roughly 3.5 million currently taking medication. These numbers stand in stark contrast to the 600,000 or so children diagnosed with ADHD in 1990.

“The numbers make it look like an epidemic. Well, it’s not. It’s preposterous,” Keith Conners, a psychologist and professor emeritus at Duke University, said to the Times earlier in December. “This is a concoction to justify the giving out of medication at unprecedented and unjustifiable levels.”

One of the reasons medication has been used so often to treat the disorder is that, at the cost of $200 a year, it’s significantly cheaper than therapy, which can run up to $1,000 a year or more and isn't covered as comprehensively by insurance companies. According to psychologist Ruth Hughes of the advocacy group Children and Adults With Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder, medication may make a child ready to learn important skills, but it still requires someone to teach them.

 Two co-authors of the highly influential study – called the Multimodal Treatment Study of Children With ADHD – have come forward to express concern that the original report downplayed the benefits of behavioral therapy.

“There was lost opportunity to give kids the advantage of both and develop more resources in schools to support the child — that value was dismissed,” said co-author Dr. Gene Arnold, a child psychiatrist and professor at Ohio State University.

“I hope it didn’t do irreparable damage,” added a second co-author, Dr. Lilly Hechtman of Montreal’s McGill University. “The people who pay the price in the end is the kids. That’s the biggest tragedy in all of this.”

“My belief based on the science is that symptom reduction is a good thing, but adding skill-building is a better thing,” Stephen Hinshaw, a psychologist at the University of California, Berkeley, said to the Times. “If you don’t provide skills-based training, you’re doing the kid a disservice.”

While medication can be helpful, it also has its consequences – potential addiction, anxiety, depression, insomnia and, in some cases, suicidal tendencies and hallucinations. 

The Art of the Impossiblists

Al Jazeera carries an interesting article about capitalism and the artists, those they call the creative ‘class’, and particularly those centered in New York:-

Patti Smith - "New York has closed itself off to the young and the struggling,"
David Byrne - "the cultural part of the city - the mind - has been usurped by the top 1 percent".

 The New York Times recently profiled Sitters Studio, a company that sends artists and musicians into the homes of New York's wealthiest families to babysit their children. "The artist-as-babysitter can be seen as a form of patronage in which lawyers, doctors and financiers become latter-day Medicis."

The creative class plays by the rules of the rich, because those are the only rules left. Credentialism, not creativity, is the passport to entry to the gated communities of the 1%.

Success is dependent on survival, and it is hard for most people to survive in an art world capital like New York, where some homeless people work two jobs. Success by geographical proxy comes with a price: purchased freedom for the rich, serving the rich for the rest.

 Fields where advanced degrees were once a rarity - art, creative writing - now view them as a requirement. Unpaid internships and unpaid labour are rampant, blocking off industry access for those who cannot work without pay in the world's most expensive cities.

 Artist Molly Crabapple remembers being told by a fellow artist - a successful man living off his inherited money - that a "real artist" must live in poverty. "What the artist was pretending he didn't know is that money is the passport to success," she writes. "We may be free beings, but we are constrained by an economic system rigged against us. What ladders we have, are being yanked away. Some of us will succeed. The possibility of success is used to call the majority of people failures."

Failure, in an economy of extreme inequalities, is a source of fear. To fail in an expensive city is not to fall but to plummet. In expensive cities, the career ladder comes with a drop-off to hell, where the fiscal punishment for risk gone wrong is more than the average person can endure. As a result, innovation is stifled, conformity encouraged. The creative class becomes the leisure class - or they work to serve their needs, or they abandon their fields entirely. But creative people should not fear failure. Creative people should fear the prescribed path to success - its narrowness, its specificity, its reliance on wealth and elite approval. When success is a stranglehold, true freedom is failure. The freedom to fail is the freedom to innovate, to experiment, to challenge.

 To "succeed", one is supposed to leave a city like St Louis - a Middle-American city associated with poverty and crime. To "succeed" is to embody the definition of contemporary success: sanctioned, sanitised, solvent.

But sanctioned success is dependent on survival, and it is hard for most people to survive in an art world capital like New York, where some homeless people work two jobs. Success by geographical proxy comes with a price: purchased freedom for the rich, serving the rich for the rest.

Creativity is sometimes described as thinking outside the box. Today the box is a gilded cage. Perhaps it is time to reject the "gated citadels" - the cities powered by the exploitation of ambition, the cities where so much rides on so little opportunity. Reject their prescribed and purchased paths...Reject the places where you cannot speak out, and create, and think, and fail. Open your eyes to where you are, and see where you can go...."

The article’s author ‘imaginative’ solution is to re-locate from places like New York to the less popular cities but which are more suited to the budget of a struggling artist, such as St Louis. Surely Sarah Kendzior could have been a little more ambitious and come up with a bit more of a creative suggestion...perhaps such as changing the system and creating socialism!

Monday, December 30, 2013

We Want Socialism Now!

What is socialism? What do the socialists want? Socialism  means peace, security, prosperity, freedom and equality- all the things that the working people have always wanted and longed for.

These are the things that the socialists want and that socialism aims to achieve. The socialists differ from all others who want the same things in three respects.
First, because they show why we do not have peace, security, prosperity, freedom and equality today and why we cannot have them for so long as the present social order exists.
Second, because they show just what the great mass of the people have to do
in order to get what they want.
Third, because they work unceasingly to bring together in an organisation all those who are able and willing to fight for the things we want.

Socialism is the common ownership of the means of production and their democratic organisation and management by all the people in a society free of class divisions. Socialism is the democratic organisation of production for use not for profit, of plenty for all, without exploitation. It is now possible to organise our economic life to produce in abundance for all. Where there is abundance for all, the nightmare of insecurity vanishes. Where there is abundance for all, and where no one has the economic power to exploit and oppress others, the basis of classes, class division and class conflict vanishes. The need for a government of violence and repression, with its prisons and police and army, also vanishes. Police and thieves, courts and prisons are inevitable where there is economic inequality, or abundance for the few and scarcity for the many. They disappear when there is plenty for all. Where there is abundance for all, conflicts and wars between nations and peoples vanish.

Where men and women are  free of economic exploitation, of economic inequality, of economic insecurity, they are is free for the first time to develop as a human being among their fellow human beings.

What is worse is that the longer capitalism is allowed to exist, the greater becomes the inequality;social, economic and political; and the lesser becomes the freedom of the people. What more. damning indictment of capitalism can there be that in peacetime, there exists wholesale insecurity, wholesale destitution while in wartime, wholesale death, wholesale destruction is offered up too. This is the bankruptcy of capitalism.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

The New Year Dishonours

From 2006 to 2012, donors giving £50,000 or more were 6,000 times more likely to receive a peerage than the man on the street.

Unless you believe that big donors are just very, very lucky, year after year, there has to be an underlying explanation.

Tony Blair’s chief of staff Jonathan Powell, it’s “clearly true” that your chances of a gong are “greatly enhanced by donating to a political party”.

“Every one of the donors had done other things for the party”, says a former Liberal Democrat fund-raiser Lord Razzall. But, he adds, “if they’d done just those other things and not given the money, chances are they probably wouldn’t have ended up in the House of Lords”.

It’s the money that talks.

Quote of (yester) Day

Capitalists employ labor for the amount of profit realized and workingmen labor for the amount of wages received…This is the only relation existing between them; they are two distinct elements, or rather two distinct classes, with interests as widely separated as the poles. We find capitalists ever watchful of their interests-ever ready to make everything bend to their desires. Then why should not laborers be equally watchful of their interests-equally ready to take advantage of every circumstance to secure good wages and social elevation?”
If workingmen and capitalists are equal co-partners, composing one vast firm by which the industry of the world is carried on and controlled, why do they not share equally in the profits? Why does capital take to itself the whole loaf, while labor is left to gather up the crumbs? Why does capital roll in luxury and wealth, while labor is left to eke out a miserable existence in poverty and want? Are these the evidences of an identity of interests, of mutual relations, of equal partnership? No sir. On the contrary they are evidences of an antagonism. This antagonism is the general origin of all “strikes.” Labor has always the same complaints to make, and capital always the same oppressive rules to make and powers to employ. Were it not for this antagonism, labor would often escape the penalty of much misery and moral degradation, and capital the disgrace and rin consequent upon such dangerous collisions. There is not only a never-ending conflict between the two classes, but capital is in all cases the aggressor. Labor is always found on the defensive because:
Capital enjoys individual power and in the exercise of that is given to encroach upon the rights and privileges of labor.
“Labor is individually weak and only becomes powerful when banded together for self-defense”
Capital knows no other commercial principle than that…which ways “buy in the cheapest market and sell in the dearest” but which if applied to labor means “keep down the price of labor and starve the workingman.”
If there is a mutuality and oneness of feeling, I ask, sir, what means this universal uprising of the workingmen of this continent who are rushing together as with the power of the whirlwind, towards one common center—a union of workingmen?
William H. Sylvis, Speech to the Ironmolders International Union Convention, 1864

Troubled Thailand

Demagogues arouse the passions of the disaffected. They voice popular grievances and articulate demands questioning the legitimacy of the incumbent rulers, while all the time laying the groundwork for their own  rule. They use street protests to block, intimidate, or drive from power the dominant faction in the government. Throughout the ages, the choreographed  so-called 'mass revolts' played many roles: (1) it served to destabilise an electoral regime; (2) it provided a platform for its oligarch funders to depose an incumbent regime; (3) it disguised the fact that the oligarchic opposition had lost democratic elections; (4) it provided a political minority with a ‘fig-leaf of legitimacy’ when it was otherwise incapable of acting within a constitutional framework and (5) it allowed for the illegitimate seizure of power in the name of a pseudo ‘majority’, namely the protesters.

Some  have argued two contradictory positions: One the one hand, some simply reduce the oligarchy’s power grab to an ‘inter-elite struggle’ which has nothing to do with the ‘interests of the working class’, while others maintain the ‘masses’ in the street are protesting against an 'elitist regime'. Some support the masses ‘in revolt’ simply because of their ‘militancy’, their numbers and street courage, without examining the underlying leaders, their interests and links to the elite beneficiaries of a ‘regime change’. A few even argue that with popular, democratic demands, these revolts are progressive, should be supported as 'terrain for class struggle'. In other words, join the uprising and contest the oligarchs for leadership within the stage-managed revolts. What they are unwilling to recognise is that the oligarchs orchestrating the mass revolt are authoritarians who completely reject democratic procedures and electoral processes. Their aim is to establish a ‘junta’ (in the case of Thailand’s opposition couched  in the non-elected but radical sounding title a 'peoples council'), which will eliminate all democratic political and social institutions and freedoms and impose harsher, more repressive and regressive policies and institutions than those they replace. Not all the elected regimes are progressive.

Many ‘democracies’ are ruled by one set of oligarchs.  In Thailand, the democratically-elected Prime Minister, Yingluck Shinawatra, represents a section of the economic elite with ties and support in the rural areas, especially the North-East, as well as deep trade relations with China. The opponents, led by Suthep Thaugsuban, are urban-based elite and favour a more neo-liberal agenda linked to the US against the rural patronage-populist agenda of Ms. Shinawatra.
"We are rich and our children are educated in Bangkok," said Nonthapan Suwananon, an anti-government protestor who manages an office. "They are poor, uneducated and have been bought out by Thaksin and his lot."

The  vote in 2011 was  Pheua Thai 15,744,190 votes and the Democrat Party 11,433,762. The overall turnout was over 71% - a large number compared to the USA. The final margin was 4.2 million votes. It was, by any comparative standard, a landslide with a giant rebuke to Suthep who had been involved in  running the country for the previous 3 years. All observers agree that Pheua Thai will win any future election.  Hence the opposition to the calling for any election and the boycott and obstruction of the process to have an election in February.

 While neither the ruling or opposing factions represented the interests of the wage workers, the principle of representative government is the best we have got at present. When the oligarchs ‘stage-manage’ mass revolts and take over the regime, the big losers include the democratic electorate and most of the protesters. Liberals who had thoughtlessly supported the ‘mass revolts’ will later publish their scholarly essays on ‘the revolution betrayed” without admitting to their own betrayal of democratic principles.

Greatly adapted from here

One Class United

In spite of a surge of anti-immigrant rhetoric from leading politicians, according to a new poll, British people are happy to accept migrants from the east of Europe who learn English, get a job, pay taxes and become part of their local community.  68% of those asked said they would be happy for migrants to come on those terms. That sentiment was particularly strong among people aged between 35 and 44, with 72% supporting their right to come to live and work in the UK. Despite a barrage of negative publicity about the arrival of migrants from Romania and Bulgaria, the new poll finds that only one in four Britons (24%) believe that restricting the free movement of people, while staying in the EU, should be one of the government's priorities. A similar proportion (26%) said leaving the EU should be a priority if it does not change its rules on allowing people to come to the UK.

 Immigration laws are being tightened up in every country. New immigrants are increasingly finding admittance difficult and many existing ones are now living precariously. At the same time as the governments are tightening up the law on legal immigration, the traffic in illegal immigrants is intensifying.  The authorities are well aware that the division between legal and so-called illegal is one to exploit in their policy of intimidation.

Life is becoming tougher and tougher as the threat of repatriation is actually being used against such migrants as the Roma.  There has been a sharp increase in violence against the foreigner in every country and as the recession deepens we can expect racialist hysteria to increase. The employers, the governments and their attack-dogs in the media have got ready-made targets.

The ruling class hope to keep the worst-off sections of workers in fighting with each other over shrinking pieces of a small pie instead of uniting to fight for a decent life for all.  Much has been done to stoke fears and hostilities against migrant workers. If one was susceptible to conspiracy theories then it would be very easy to accept that it suits the employers much better to avoid integration so to have a permanent rootless and weak stratum in the workplaces.

 We have to oppose all laws that divide the working class into legals and illegals.  We need a united struggle of all workers against the capitalist attacks. It is clear that capitalism cannot afford the  working class as a united force in the world today and it is out to destroy it.

'Jobs for our own people first.' How often is that heard? Our people cannot be defined by their place of birth, the place where they live, the language they talk or the colour of their skin. Our people are the dispossessed all over the world and the common factor that binds us together is our exploitation at the hands of the employers. For far too long, workers have listened to  politicians who have pandered to their fears and insecurity.

We believe that the answer lies in socialism. Socialists is not a system where people are forced through economic circumstances to leave the homes and cultures they know and understand but where movement between regions of the world will be in the real sense voluntary.  Nor will there be need for ‘integration’, to make others 'live like us', robbing people of their culture and customs. Socialism is about building a way of life where the highest standards of life and living exist for all workers.

In a letter to Meyer and Vogt in 1870, Marx describes the situation with a previous arrival of immigrants.
Marx wrote: “Every industrial and commercial centre in England now possesses a working class divided into two hostile camps, English proletarians and Irish proletarians. The ordinary English worker hates the Irish worker as a competitor who lowers his standard of life. In relation to the Irish worker he regards himself as a member of the ruling nation and consequently he becomes a tool of the English aristocrats and capitalists....This antagonism is artificially kept alive and intensified by the press, the pulpit, the comic papers, in short, by all the means at the disposal of the ruling classes. ..It is the secret by which the capitalist class maintains its power....”

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Against Redistributionism

An interesting debate by non-World Socialist Movement theorists who however share much of our economic analysis. In their opening speeches the four speakers virtually put our case against "underconsumption" theories of crises and of an increase in popular consumption as the way-out.
One of them coins the new word "redistributionism". I think that might convey better what we mean as it's a good description of the policies of those who say "Tax the Rich to pay for the Crisis they caused", e.g. the trotskist groups and left-wing trade union leaders.

All the speakers call for the abolition of wage-labour (as opposed to higher wages, which like us they are all for, though not for "redistributionist" reasons), though only one (McIntosh of International Perspective) explicitly spells out that this involves the abolition of money too. He also rejects "labour-time vouchers" (which Kliman and the Marxist-Humanist Initiative don't, but they didn't rise to the bait). [ALB]

For World Socialism and Global Solidarity

“What they do, they escape from some warlord in Somalia, walk across Africa, row in a bath to Spain, sneak through Europe in a crate of pigs, slip into England by clinging to the side of a hovercraft, then we’re expected to look after these people who aren’t prepared to make an effort.” Mark Steel in The Independent 

People do not lightly uproot themselves and move across the globe. They will have good reason. They could be refugees fleeing persecution at home like the Jewish people early this century escaping pogroms in eastern Europe. The first legal regulation of immigration into the UK this century, the Aliens Act 1905, was aimed at such Jewish refugees and even back then the justification was that they might be a burden on the state.

While Labour continues to pose as the softer alternative to the more explicit anti-immigration voices on the right, be they UKIP or Tory, deep down  Labour is just as much illiberal and suspicious of foreigners. The Labour Party, true to its capitalist masters, supported, and when in government, introduced many exclusionary immigration controls against foreign-born workers. In 1968 the Wilson Labour government brought in an Act which banned Kenyan Asians, who held UK passports, from entering Britain. After 1974 Labour home secretary Merlyn Rees introduced ‘virginity tests’ on Asian women arriving to marry their fiancees.

The legal system has always reflected the class interests of the ruling class, and indeed the need for laws reflects the tensions between the classes. Immigration law has always been determined by the requirements of the capitalist economy.  The capitalists oppose free entry into the UK of peoples because they are poor, and if they don’t require the extra labour see them only as a drain on their economy. Immigration policies under capitalism serve not only the economic but also the political interests of the ruling class.

Initially the needs of the British capitalists for extra labour in their expanding industries was supplied by dragging the rural poor to the growing towns. After the Second World War the British economy needed rebuilding, and expanded again in the post-war boom, and was once again short of labour. The British capitalists looked to their colonies for more labour. They actively recruited in the West Indies and on the Indian sub-continent for cheap labour to fill up the jobs British workers could now afford to turn down. These immigrant workers filled vacant jobs in transport, the health service, factories and mills.

In its attempts to maximise profits, the capitalist class shifts production to low-wage Asian countries while seeking out the cheapest sources of labour at home: foreign-born workers, women and young workers.  Anti-immigrant racism is a time-worn method of the capitalist rulers to divide the working class and paralyse it in the face of the capitalists’ attacks.

When migrant workers enter the work force...that is, if there are any jobs available, they learn that it is seniority that counts and it is “last hired, first fired", that native co-workers are generally afraid of them as "competition", and that management is watching them even more closely than other workers, while at the same time fueling petty squabbles and competition between native-born and foreign-born workers. In addition, many workers are supportive of racist right-wing politicians who promises to protect their jobs at the expense of immigrants.

Capitalism leads to national chauvinism, but socialism is different. Socialists do not advise the capitalist class in Britain how best to keep foreign-born workers out. Until socialism eliminates economic scarcity it is impossible to abolish the state. The capitalist state apparatus cannot be wielded in the interests of the working class. So it would be impossible for the ruling class to abolish or open the borders.

Workers of the world unite in the fight for global socialism!


Friday, December 27, 2013

The Anarchy Label

Anarchy In U.S.A.
By Mickey Z.

Like so many words and concepts, “anarchism” seems to mean something different to everyone who spouts it. As my vegan/anarchist/yogi friend Jessica once said: "Sometimes people think that yoga and anarchism is about 'doing whatever you feel.' but actually, it's about taking great care of others, which takes a tremendous amount of discipline and courage.”
To which I add: Anarchism is not synonymous with violence. Capitalism is.

Capitalism (and most of its rivals) is a system based on the relentless exploitation of finite resources. Anarchism? Well, here's how Noam Chomsky puts it: "Anarchists try to identify power structures. They urge those exercising power to justify themselves. This justification does not succeed most of the time."
While the mainstream, the liberals, and the squeamish all take turns spouting uninformed slander about anarchists (and the now-mythical Black Bloc), the truth remains: It requires an incredible amount of optimism to be an anarchist.
Anarchists are the only ones with enough faith in humanity to believe we can co-exist with all species peacefully -- without coercive institutions and hierarchies.** How much more fuckin' optimistic can you be? It never ceases to amaze me when I'm labeled "negative" for documenting reality, when the path I'm suggesting couldn't be more positive.

This positivity, though, is based on action -- both individual and collective -- and perhaps therein lies the rub. Until the pervasive presence/threat of cultural violence is diminished and ultimately eradicated, we must never stop exposing it, factoring it into our words and actions, and finding ways to sabotage it.

 ** Sorry to say but Mickey Z hasn't heard of SOYMB and the World Socialist Movement yet! We definitely believe in living in peaceful co-existence without coercive institutions and hierarchies. But that's the shame about labels, they can be misunderstood and divisive; however, come the revolution no doubt there'll be a coming together on a grand scale with positive action for the benefit of all.

Homes For The Homeless

As the holidays come, many of us will draw closer to friends and family, basking in their generosity, caring and warmth. For the country’s homeless, the holidays are much less friendly, and the streets are much, much colder.
What if it didn’t have to be like this? If homelessness is really, at its core, the lack of having a home, then isn’t providing a home the most elemental way to end the crisis?
That’s exactly what the state of Utah is doing. For years, Utah has addressed its homeless problem by simply offering apartments to those who lack a home, worrying about the details of the exchange later. The plan, called Housing First, was launched by then Governor Jon Huntsman and started providing apartments to the homeless in 2005. The hope was that by having a home and a caseworker to assist them, the chronically homeless would be able to regain their footing, allowing them to find it more easy to find jobs, access healthcare and other issues that are impossible without a stable address. Even if they fail to turn around their lives, however, they can still keep their new home.

What about all of those people who would say there is no such thing as a free home? Well, the cost to taxpayers, according to Utah, is far less than the costs of hospitalization or prison, actually saving the state on a per person basis. According to the state, a social worker and an apartment comes to a rough savings of $5000 per participant.

Utah projects that by the end of 2015, the state will no longer have any homeless population, having essentially eliminated homelessness within their borders. Now, Wyoming is thinking they will give the plan a try, too. For them, the need is drastic. “Wyoming has been going the opposite direction than Utah has: its homeless population has increased by 213 percent in the past three years,” writes Kerry Drake at Wyofile. “In 2012, the state managed to provide shelter for only 26 percent of the homeless, which was the lowest rate in the country. The next state on the list, at 35 percent, was California, where the climate is obviously much more conducive to sleeping outside than ours.”

The state is in the process of remodeling apartments in Casper to prepare for the first batch of selected applicants, and after that will allow roughly a dozen to launch the pilot program. For Utah, it will take about a decade to reduce the number of chronic homeless to zero. If Wyoming follows the same trajectory, it would be in the same place around 2025.

Could such a project be implemented in every state? If so, what could that do to change our entire culture when it comes to those in need? Imagine a country where state-subsidized hospital emergency rooms aren’t flooded with patients in part because of the physical and mental harms associated with living in a car or on the street? Where children would have permanent addresses to help them register for school? Where appling for a job is easier because you have a permanent address for potential employers to contact, a closet to hang clothing and an accessible shower before an interview?

For the Scrooges of the world, the idea of providing an apartment “no questions asked” is unfathomable. After all, this is a country where politicians believe elementary school children should have to sweep the cafeteria floor if they get a subsidized meal so they know there “is no such thing as a free lunch.”  Too many honestly believe that it is better to spend more in resources keeping homeless on the streets until they have somehow “earned” a hand up.
We could end homelessness if we all agreed that it is in society’s best interest to do so. The problem is, too many people still don’t think that  practicality and compassion should outweigh their conviction that the poor are poor simply because they have somehow failed morally.

From Here

One small step - - - one example showing another way is possible and that there are those who believe it is not only possible but necessary. This model is being set up within the capitalist system and it is successful within that system because it is proving to be cheaper. The generally accepted view that there will always be homeless to deal with goes out of the window when dealt with like this.
 Just imagine that giant leap - - - when the majority recognise that, along with homelessness, we can also eliminate poverty at a stroke - by simply changing the system. There is an alternative - socialism.


A union brings strength

Despite  sustained, well-funded attack on unions by big corporations and billionaires evidence by a new Field Poll show that many who don't have a union still feel that working people standing together is a powerful way to combat the growing inequality. Sadly though more Californian voters now saying they do more harm than good, 45% to 40%.  Although 47% feel that transit workers should have the right to strike a strong minority of 44% wish to deny them this democratic right.

Last year, more than 100,000 workers joined a union in California. Just this month, a thousand nurses voted to join a union in San Francisco. Young people, in particular, see unions as a way to stem this growing income gap that has led so many to face an economic future worse than their parents. And Latino voters understand that when working people stand together to bargain for fair wages and decent benefits. Unions are a last line of defense and the labor movement is focused on improving the quality of life for all. Unions serve as a powerful counterbalance to corporate CEOs and their lobbyists. Corporate control of the economy has led to the greatest level of income inequality since the Great Depression. The only thing that stands in the way of the corporate elite is what stood in their way in our grandparents' generation: working people standing together.

Those who have lost out due to the recession might harbor some resentment toward those who still earn a decent wage, but it's a dangerous path. The problem isn't that working people are getting too much. It's that big corporations and wealthy CEOs are taking the whole pie and leaving the rest of us to fight over the crumbs. Corporations enrich themselves while workers struggle.

Adapted from here

Argentina's Poverty

Over a quarter (10 million)  of the Argentine’s 40 million  population live in poverty conditions, with no formal job, poor quality education, dreadful housing and insufficient healthcare, according to the latest paper from the Buenos Aires Catholic University Social Debt Observatory.

 Three million people are mal nourished, and one in ten houses does not have running water and three out of ten is not connected to sewage network.

Half of Argentine workers have a precarious job or 'indigence jobs' (i.e. collecting cardboard and paper) and over half of the upcoming adult generations is excluded from the social security system.

37% of young adults has not finished high school and 20% are the 'ni-ni' category of 'no job, no school'; 12% of children aged 5 to 17 are involved in some kind of job and two out of ten need government assistance, with 23.5% needing a program of standing social assistance.

“Structural marginality did not improve in Argentine despite all the years Argentina expanded at 8% annually. Structural poverty has crystallized as has the impossibility of achieving basic levels of social integration and well-being”, according to Agustin Salvia head of the Observatory research. “Most of the social conflicts have to do with inequality and unsatisfied expectations. Crime, robbery, looting are part of a social decomposition context for people who believe the system does not include them and the distance with the well-off is ever widening”.

Guarding the Gates

Wrong is wrong, no matter who does it or says it. –Malcolm X

All inhabitable territory in the world has now been demarcated, and all humanity has been corralled into well-defined regions. Indeed, most people cannot now conceive of a world not divided into national patches. Some capitalists want the free movement of capital, but not the accompanying  free movement of labour that some other employers actively seek. The development of the internal control of nations is the other side of the coin to increased “globalisation”. Whether the economy is expanding or contracting determines the interests of the State and those of the world demand for labour. In boon-times many countries liberalise entry procedures (although essential formal controls are retained), and with the onset of a recession protectionism in trade is matched by a protectionist restriction of foreign labour.  But for the local-born workers the existence of immigration does have negative effects, tending to raise native unemployment rates, forcing natives into poorer paid work. It is an unpalatable fact.

Nevertheless, immigrants face a legislative and bureaucratic structure of quite amazing complexity and there is the delegation of considerable authority to Immigration Officers, a job itself that is defined from the outset as one of control and exclusion. The passport and visa, with the whole complex of subsidiary controls, become an instrument for the control and direction of the worker.

Throughout the history of capitalism, workers have moved in search of work, or been driven to work, in areas other than those where they were raised. This common phenomenon becomes an issue when national boundaries are laid down and become of sufficient importance to impede, block or shape the international movement of workers. That is, political controls are imposed in the attempt to break a movement impelled by the operation of a world labour market. Controls can work provided there is sufficient police power but leaving aside the waste involved in employing a bureaucracy and police force to implement the regulations, regulations drastically reduce just that flexibility which is one of the main advantages of immigrant labour to capitalism, hence again the divide amongst the ruling class, the split between the bosses who benefit and gain and those who do not, yet have to contribute to the costs.

Populism is one of the most loosely used and abused terms in politics, but it has a real substance. Populism caters to a mass anger and anxiety by championing the struggle of the “people” against “Big Brother” government,  yet for all its appeals to the “average”, “ordinary” Briton, populism represents no solution for the plight of the workers. Racism and national chauvinism, beating the drums for patriotism and continually reminding the poorer British worker of their own misfortunes in contrast to the coddling of the in-comers has become its more prominent features. Populist politicians re-channel mass anger through their own nationalist prism, which is ultimately protectionist. Immigrants are the most immediate targets of efforts to divide and conquer the working class by marshaling other sectors of the “people” – worried about being undercut economically – to see “foreigners” as their enemy. Not infrequently immigrants are portrayed as bearers of not only low-paid labour but also of criminality and diseases who are turning the country into a land littered with languages that are not English. However, in the real world populist politicians can promise change, but delivery is incompatible with the system they defend. The argument that immigrants are the cause of the British-born and raised miseries is of the same logic as blaming the poor for their poverty, the unemployed for being jobless.

Indigenous workers who grow up in a particular social environment, tend to absorb the defensive ethics developed by preceding generations to protect themselves from the ravages of capital. There are jobs they will not do,  hours or conditions of work they will not accept, moves from one locality to another that they will not make for the sort of wages and terms on offer. A worker torn out of this environment is much more appropriate to the needs of employers. Migrant workers are is less able to support themselves during unemployment such as by borrowing from local networks of relatives and friends (although that is an important reason for new arrivals living together in particular localities), and less likely to have reserves on which to fall back in hard times, less likely to have possessions that can be sold or pawned. Such workers are likely to be much more responsive to differences in wages – regardless of conditions -and, lacking local social ties, much more geographically mobile in response to changes in the labour market. They are also entitled to less social benefits, despite rumours to the contrary. These – as well as overt discrimination – are the factors in the general picture of immigrants working longer hours, inferior working conditions, with a higher rate of job changing and of geographical mobility than native workers.

One purpose of the governments introduction of new regulations applying to new foreign workers appears to be to appeal to the native population by the continual demonstration of the “disprivilege” of the foreigner. These restrictions and limits on entitlements are more related to the need to secure the loyalty and vote of the natives than actual effectiveness. Controls can work  provided there is sufficient police power. But they do so with paradoxical results. First, they have negative effects for native employment (tending to raise native unemployment rates, and force natives into poorer paid work) and for the economy as a whole, the expense involved in employing a bureaucracy and police force to implement the regulations. But secondly, regulations drastically reduce just that flexibility which is one of the main advantages of immigrant labour to capitalism.

Few issues today so sharply differentiates world socialists and nationalist reformists as that of the cross-border migration of workers. At stake is a challenge to the very existence of the nation-state and its prerogatives in the control of a territory and the inhabitants. Much of the political agenda is concerned with government policy and its power over its inhabitants, not with abolition of the State. Accepting the right of the State to control immigration is accepting its right to exist and the right of the ruling class to exist as a ruling class, and its right to exploit. Deploring the ill treatment of immigrants should be seen as an attack on the State.

 The task of the Socialist Party of Great Britain is to combat nationalism in whatever form it takes. The UK is by no means homogeneous. The biggest and most important difference is that it is made up of just two classes - the wealthy capitalists and the rest of us.

It is the task of all workers regardless of their place of birth to unite and present one front to the common enemy in the common struggle — the fight against the exploitation of those who work by those who own — the fight against capitalist slavery.

The bosses have tried every imaginable remedy for the crisis. To no avail. Now they hope to find a lever to raise their profits by lowering taxes by cutting government spending. They want “cheap government” and the support of the working class to force a curtailment of expenses. As far as the crisis is concerned, the capitalists are constantly shifting the burden (unemployment, wage-cuts) to the workers but their attempt to shift the tax burden to the workers will not succeed. Each section of capitalist robbers in attempting to shift the tax burden to the other sections of their class is endeavoring to line up the workers on their side. All the .capitalists would like to shift it to the workers but are unsuccessful in this task, at least they desire to rally the workers behind them in an attempt to correct their office boys’ “excess spending”. When the capitalist robbers fight each other they want us to help them. We workers would be more than foolish to help one section of the capitalist robbers against another section on the question of war, taxes or any other struggle. The capitalist robbers as a whole rob the workers and the robbers’ division of the spoils is not our problem. Rather, our problem is to expropriate the expropriators.

 The capitalists are cheapening their government and increasing the means of suppression of the working class.  Immigration problems now assume an importance.  Are we to help the capitalists make a cheap government to suppress the workers? Import migrant labour at less cost by denying them benefits that they are rightfully entitled to? Would any class-conscious worker take part in such a game?

The aims of the capitalist drive against the great mass of foreign workers are plain. First, the exploiters want to lower the standard of living and the conditions of employment of millions of our workers who happen to be migrant workers. Then they will blame and attack these worse oppressed and more ruthlessly exploited foreign workers to the native workers for the degrading conditions they themselves have forced upon these labourers. The capitalists are thus hoping to sow dissension in and divide the ranks of the working masses in order to crush more easily all the workers — indigenous or newly-arrived alike. All workers regardless of place of birth have but one enemy, the employing class.

The Free Trade policies of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund have left millions of workers unemployed and wiped out millions of small farmers, turning them into landless refugees. Those forced to leave their homelands and families have every right to seek refuge and jobs wherever they can.

Capitalists here are happy to out-source and  invest in factories in the Third World countries where they can pay rock-bottom wages,  undermining wages at home. They are happy to import workers from those lands, since they can be pressured to work for low wages and little benefits and  dare not file complaints. In turn, the capitalists use these low wages to undercut the living standards of the rest of the working class.  Immigrant workers, no matter what country they come from, must be employed at ruling wage rates and conditions. In no circumstances must they be used by unscrupulous employers to lower wage standards or worsen conditions. There must be no barriers placed in the way of their joining the trade unions or participating in the economic and political activities of the labour movement.

Capitalists try to turn groups of workers against each other, competing ever more fiercely for dwindling jobs and falling wages in a war of all against all; whites against Blacks, native and foreign-born workers. Workers of each country are forced to compete with each other in order to force down wages everywhere. Working people have only two choices: either let the bosses play us off each other until we hit bottom, or to unite and fight for decent wages and benefits for all. Such a struggle threatens profits and can ultimately succeed only by overthrowing their system. When economic decisions are made on the basis of profit, human needs are disregarded. Only a revolutionary society run by the working class can solve the crisis.

One wing of the ruling class calls for vicious repression and whips up racism. They seek to drive wedges between sectors of the working class, telling lower-paid workers that immigrants threaten their jobs.

Divide and conquer has ever been a capitalist weapon against the working class. Nothing could have been more dangerous for the ruling classes than that indigenous and migrant workers should make common cause and instead of fighting each other join forces and fight the employers.

The Socialist Party counters such xenophobic propaganda to convince the workers of the world they will only be able to secure a decent life, free of poverty and discrimination, by the revolutionary overthrow of capitalism and the building of a classless, socialist society.


Thursday, December 26, 2013

Merry Crisis and a Happy New Fear

In these times of crisis, it is crucial to remember that the seeds of a better society already lie embedded in the contradictions of the current one.

In the Western world, at least, Christmas is a profoundly schizophrenic time of year. On the one hand, the holidays bring out some of the best aspects of what it means to be human: people coming together to share food and gifts in a communal spirit that temporarily breaks with the alienation of everyday life. But, at the same time, the holidays shine a light on some of the worst elements of consumerism and false pretense that have come to pervade the social fabric: endless lines of zombified humans stumbling mindlessly through pretentiously decorated shopping malls in search of the latest useless gadget or gift card, confirming once again that the only way to express value in late capitalist society is through the accumulation of entirely useless commodities, even as countless people to go sleep in the cold streets at night.

When Charles Dickens waxed poetic about death, greed and misery in his classic Christmas Carol, he very much had in mind the societal dislocation wrought by early industrial capitalism. Of course the Dickensian critique of capitalism lacked a thorough political economic analysis and ultimately failed to move beyond moral outrage at poverty and the decline of human virtue. But, that said, even Karl Marx opined that Dickens in his lifetime “issued to the world more political and social truths than have been uttered by all the professional politicians, publicists and moralists put together.” A Christmas Carol was published in 1843, just five years before The Communist Manifesto and the revolutionary wave of 1848. If we were to write A Christmas Carol for our time, would the story really look so different?

Next follows the meat of the article by Jerome Roos to be found here - an interesting take on how communists/socialists could view our way to the future, recognising the positive aspects all around us in our everyday lives, and using them in our struggle in order to overturn capitalism. Let's end with his words:
The Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come

We are living through a moment of judgement in which the fate of humanity is to be decided. In these dark days, when all hope seems lost and even the most communistic of social rituals are succumbing to the spectacle of shallow-minded consumerism, it is crucial to remind ourselves that the seeds for a better world already lie sown in the scorched earth of the present one; and that our challenge as “radicals” or “revolutionaries” is not necessarily the creation of a whole new society from scratch, but rather the liberation and actualization of the hidden potentialities for altruism and communal living that are currently being repressed at the barrel of a gun. This should give hope for the struggle: we do not necessarily have to innovate the new so much as we have to crush the past and intensify the already-existing.

In A Christmas Carol, Scrooge was ultimately transformed into a better man, embracing the Spirit of Christmas and the sense of joy and community it represented — but not before being visited by three phantoms: the Ghost of Christmas Past, the Ghost of Christmas Present, and the Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come. The first showed him his own past self, the child within who had relished in the spirit of sharing; the second confronted him with the thoroughly despicable man he had become, clinging to his money as if there were no tomorrow; and the latter presented him with a terrifying image of what lay ahead if he persisted in his cold-hearted and tight-fisted ways:
The Phantom slowly, gravely, silently approached. When it came near him, Scrooge bent down upon his knee; for in the very air through which this Spirit moved it seemed to scatter gloom and mystery. It was shrouded in a deep black garment, which concealed its head, its face, its form, and left nothing of it visible save one outstretched hand. … It thrilled him with a vague uncertain horror, to know that behind the dusky shroud there were ghostly eyes intently fixed upon him, while he, though he stretched his own to the utmost, could see nothing but a spectral hand and one great heap of black.
Let us be this gloomy spirit; the cloaked phantom of the future tormenting the miser before bedtime. Let us be the Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come — the specter of already-existing communism haunting the capitalist present from the firm grounding of a future yet to come. Let us be the Spirit of Revolution reincarnated, striking down upon the Scrooges of our time right as darkness seems to envelop the world. Merry Christmas everyone. May 2014 mark the year of our ghostly reappearance.

Fact of the Day

 A fifth of the planet's population still faces extreme poverty.

A self-reported poll by Gallop showed household income data across 131 countries indicates that more than one in five residents (22%) live on $1.25 per day or less -- the World Bank's definition of "extreme poverty". Around one in three (34%) live on no more than $2 per day, says Gallup. 

The ten countries with the highest proportion of residents living on $1.25 per day or less are all in sub-Saharan Africa. In each of them, more than two-thirds of residents are living in extreme poverty; in Burundi and Liberia, that proportion nears 90%. Combining results from 27 sub-Saharan African countries for which data are available reveals that 54% of residents are living in extreme poverty -- easily the highest proportion among global regions worldwide.

Dickensian Britain

Action for Children has seen the biggest calls for help for food and clothes banks since the 1940s and warns British society was heading to the Victorian era crisis. Charity spokesman Jacob Tas said it was now showing a "staggering" number of families where to obtain emergency help with many choosing between having to eat or paying for heating or the rent. It's painful and unfortunate that we have now entered in a time when we go back in comparison to the 1940s. It's really horrible for those families who are basically already at the bottom of the food chain that they have to go to go to food banks to get their food."

He said while Britain was in the top 10 richest nations in the world it was supporting a two-tier society with others struggling to feed and clothe themselves.

"We can't go back to the times of Charles Dickens where at Christmas time we are handing out food and clothes. We should be more advanced in our opinion of society where we take care of those who need help the most."

Trussell Trust chairman Chris Mould said half of those attending food banks were from working households so the issue was not unemployment but the average minimum wage had not kept up with rising cost of living including food, fuel and rent.
"The cost of living is going up and the amount you have to spend is flat lining or going down and we anticipate things will get worse," he said.

Since April this year, 500,000 people - of which one third are children - have received emergency supplies from the 400 food banks run by Trussell Trust charity.

The Guardian carries a very relevant article by  denouncing an underlying belief that greed of the few means prosperity for all:
"Tory MP Esther McVey, Iain Duncan Smith's deputy, insisted it was "right" that half a million Britons be dependent on food banks in "tough times". Around the same time, the motor racing heiress Tamara Ecclestone totted up a champagne bill of £30,000 in one evening...The rich are not merely different: they've become a cult which drafts us as members. We are invited to deceive ourselves into believing we are playing for the same stakes while worshipping the same ideals, a process labelled "aspiration". Reaching its zenith at this time of year, our participation in cult rituals – buy, consume, accumulate beyond need – helps mute our criticism and diffuse anger at systemic exploitation. That's why we buy into the notion that a £20 Zara necklace worn by the Duchess of Cambridge on a designer gown costing thousands of pounds is evidence that she is like us. We hear that the monarch begrudges police officers who guard her family and her palaces a handful of cashew nuts and interpret it as eccentricity rather than an apt metaphor for the Dickensian meanness of spirit that underlies the selective concentration of wealth...Cults rely on spectacles of opulence intended to stoke an obsessive veneration for riches...They help us forget that wealthy British landowners, including the Queen, get millions of pounds in farming subsidies while the rest of us take back to the modest homes, which we probably don't own, lower salaries and slashed pensions. Transfixed by courtroom dramas involving people who can spend a small family's living income on flower arrangements, we don't ask why inherited wealth is rewarded by more revenue but tough manual labour or care work by low wages....Enter "austerity chic" wherein celebrity footballers are hailed for the odd Poundland foray, millionaire property pundits teach us how to "make do" with handmade home projects and celebrity chefs demonstrate how to "save" on ingredients – after we've purchased their money-spinning books, of course...Cultish thinking means that the stupendously rich who throw small slivers of their fortunes at charity, or merely grace lavish fundraisers – like Prince William's Winter Whites gala for the homeless at his taxpayer-funded Kensington Palace home – with their presence, become instant saints. The poor and the less well-off, subject to austerity and exploitation, their "excesses" constantly policed and criminalised, are turned into objects of patronage, grateful canvasses against which the generosity of wealth can be stirringly displayed. The cult of the rich propounds the idea that vast economic inequalities are both natural and just: the winner who takes most is, like any cult hero, just more intelligent and deserving, even when inherited affluence gives them a head start...The demonising of the poor is the flip side of the cult of the rich ... It is time to change it through reality checks, not reality shows.”

Workers of the World Unite

In a highly critical document, the office of the United Nations high commissioner for refugees, António Guterres, raised concerns that the immigration bill will damage communities and lead to the marginalisation of refugees and asylum-seekers. The UN refugee agency condemned David Cameron's proposed immigration laws over fears they could stigmatise foreigners, deny housing to people in need and create a "climate of ethnic profiling".

Cameron has proposed the immigration bill in order to crack down on illegal immigrants, restricting access to bank accounts and private housing, as well as forcing temporary migrants to pay for public services such as the NHS. However, the commissioner is worried that legal refugees and asylum-seekers will be caught up in the new restrictions, as landlords, GPs and banks will find it difficult to interpret their immigration status. The commissioner said these protected groups would suffer discrimination if the legislation went ahead.

"The provisions of the bill appear likely to result in asylum-seekers, refugees and beneficiaries of subsidiary protection being stigmatised in the public mind and in their being denied access to housing or bank accounts," the UNHCR said. “The UN high commissioner for refugees is concerned that if introduced, such measures could contribute towards a climate of misunderstanding and ethnic profiling that could undermine the longer-term prospects for integration of such persons and prove detrimental to social cohesion. Additionally, the UN high commissioner for refugees is concerned that the types of documentation carried by asylum-seekers, refugees, beneficiaries of subsidiary protection and stateless people can be varied and complex, and landlords and other service providers are likely to misinterpret the legality of their status. It will also impose an additional administrative burden on them. These challenges may have unintended consequences such as the denial of housing and other services to asylum-seekers, refugees, beneficiaries of subsidiary protection that result in their marginalisation and inhibit their integration in the United Kingdom."

The Home Office has been forced to defend the immigration bill against accusations it will turn GPs, banks and landlords into the equivalent of border guards by forcing them to carry out immigration status checks. Earlier this month, the home affairs committee warned that millions of landlords may be unwilling to rent properties to immigrants if coalition proposals requiring them to carry out immigration checks were put into practice. The cross-party group said the measures were designed to create a hostile environment for illegal migrants and could discriminate against all immigrants, regardless of their status.

In another move, British government ministers have decided not to join 16 nations, including the United States, France and Germany, which have pledged to allow a total of more than 10,000 refugees from the bloody three-year civil war in Syria to move to their countries. The Refugee Council said only about 0.1 per cent of Syrians fleeing the violence had found safety in the UK. It is worth recalling that even if the UN wanted us to take in all 10,000 – which is not the case – this would still be only a fraction of the 2.4 million Syrians who are already refugees in Lebanon, Jordan and elsewhere.

There is also no doubt that the popularity of calls to curb immigration weighs on their minds, especially as an election approaches and they are no doubt spooked by the prospect of adverse headlines about another foreign “influx” at a time when debate rages over how many Romanians and Bulgarians may arrive in 2014.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Ho Ho Ho - The Goldman Sachs 2013 Christmas Story

Live from Bethlehem
Swaddled in Baby Gap, little Jesus appears to be crying.  Mary tries to gently rock him in her hands, certainly a great moment to remind viewers that you are in good hands with Allstate.    The carpenter Joseph is trying to protect Mary and Jesus, he could certainly use the system he just won from our sponsor ADT.  The cow you see behind them is brought to you by ConAgra, the donkey by Halliburton.  The angels on high in the sky, magnificent 3D computer generated imagery, are from Pixar.  Walt Disney has remixed the angel songs so they sing praise to the shopping opportunities this event has created.

Earlier, there were reports of shepherds in the area but ICE agents stopped and frisked them and are now herding them on your right into the Fox News freedom of expression fenced off area.  Some appear to be singing a protest song about peace on earth.  Over on the left, a panel of MSNBC experts are talking about the shepherds and talking about the shepherds and talking about the shepherds.
In front of us you can see the Republicans, decked out in Brooks Brothers, who have brought gifts of big cutbacks in food stamps to make this couple and others like them more independent and self-reliant.  Democrats, clad in casual elegance from Ralph Lauren, are doing their part tonight by firing drones all over the Middle East and Africa and snooping on the private communications of the family all the while assuring the family this is for their own protection.

Oh look, here come representatives of the rich and powerful!  Both Republicans and Democrats are bowing down to them.  They promise the next time Jesus is born they will provide a better site in Davos, Switzerland so he can get his message out to those who really matter.

Finally, the church people arrive, clerics from Christianity, Judaism, and Islam decked out in fine clothing.   They quickly start arguing among themselves over the importance of the event and who is more closely related to the family.  UN Peacekeepers pry them apart and send them to separate parts of the country so they can pray in their own separate peace.

All the while, representatives from Apple are pushing Iphones on the lovely parents.  Microsoft assures Jesus he can be happy with his own Xbox.   Amazon mini-drones hover with books, groceries, clothing, and jewelry.  While Walmart and Costco assure everyone they have all the same stuff at guaranteed lower prices.

Wait.  Mary and Joseph have picked up baby Jesus and are stepping over the piles of presents.  They are leaving the spotlights and the microphones and the piles of presents.  Where on earth are they going?  What is wrong with them?
Well, that is all for Christmas 2013.  Tonight’s good cheer brought to you by Budweiser.

A Merry Marxmas, Comrades

The Night Before Xmas

"What are you dashing about like that for, Santa? Haven't I told you dozen of times it's bad for your heart?"

"Please, Sarah, there's nothing the matter with my heart. I have work to do. Don't you know what night this is?

"Of course I know what night this is. It's — it's — Heavens, it's the night before Christmas! How could I have forgotten!"

"Yes, it's the night before Christmas and you're holding me back with your empty chatter."

"You must let me help you pack, Santa. My, what lovely toys you have. And so many."

"Yes, my boys and I did a wonderful job this year. Here, hold the bag while I put these in."

"That toy limousine — isn't it beautiful! It must have been costly to build. Who's it for, Santa?"

"Let me see. It's marked here, someplace. Oh yes, it's for a little boy who lives on top of the hill. Name escapes me at the moment. But I'll remember it. Splendid family. Oceans of wealth."

"And the tiny wooden sailboat — who is this for?"

"Well, there's a family of poor people at the other end of town. In fact, there are many — ah — underprivileged children there and I have a lot of little things for them."

"But no limousines."

"Well, the children can't all have limousines, can they?"

"I suppose not. What a lovely party dress! What little girl would not give the world to own it! Who is this for, Santa?"

"Well — um — ah —"

"Oh, yes, I know; it's for some little girl on top of the hill, isn't it?" "Ye —es, but —"

"And these cotton hankies and rag dolls are for the children at the other end of town?"

"Now you don't understand, Sarah —"

"The nicest things go to those who have the nicest things and the poorest things go —"

"Don't jump to conclusions! Let me explain. It's like this — Goodness, it's getting late; I have to go! Don't wait up for me, dear; I'll be home about dawn. C'mon, Prancer! C'mon, Dancer! C'mon, Rudolph! Away we go!"

The sleigh bells tinkled cheerfully, speeding over the silent snow; but Sarah was sure the Santa's "Ho, ho, ho!" coming back through the starry night, had a hollow sound.

J. M. (Jim Milne)
Socialist Party of Canada