Monday, October 16, 2006

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Friendly Fascism

Fascism is Fun

Funny, funny video.

Feel free to repost, as it hits the spot.

all the best,
Inveresk Street Ingrate Blog

PS - If you don't get the joke, then I've got these magic beans that I would like to sell you. 

Saturday, October 14, 2006

A Parable by Leo Tolstoy

I see mankind as a herd of cattle inside a fenced enclosure. Outside the fence are green pastures and plenty for the cattle to eat, while inside the fence there is not quite grass enough for the cattle. Consequently, the cattle are tramping underfoot what little grass there is and goring each other to death in their struggle for existence.

I saw the owner of the herd come to them, and when he saw their pitiful condition he was filled with compassion for them and thought of all he could do to improve their condition.

So he called his friends together and asked them to assist him in cutting grass from outside the fence and throwing it over the fence to the cattle. And that they called Charity.

Then, because the calves were dying off and not growing up into serviceable cattle, he arranged that they should have a pint of milk every morning for breakfast.

Because they were dying off in the cold nights, he put up beautiful well-drained and well-ventilated cowsheds for the cattle.

Because they were goring each other in the struggle for existence, he put corks on the horns of the cattle, so that the wounds they gave each other might not be so serious. Then he reserved a part of the enclosure for the old bulls and the old cows over 70 years of age.

In fact, he did everything he could think of to improve the condition of the cattle, and when I asked him why he did not do the one obvious thing, break down the fence, and let the cattle out, he answered: "If I let the cattle out, I should no longer be able to milk them."

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Food For Thought

From the Socialist Party of Canada monthly newsletter:

Once again with feeling - the poverty issue.

The Toronto Star launched an Anti-poverty campaign entitled, "Ask Why" to bring attention to the plight of the working poor in Canada.

It describes the life of a Sri Lankan woman who holds down two cleaning jobs (she was a teacher in her native land and holds a degree in the liberal arts)), and who has to leave her two children with others during the day and the night, and manages to bring home a grand total of $1,150/month.

The apartment rent is currently $850 and in eleven years in Canada she has never been able to afford real furniture but relies on plastic patio chairs. It should be noted the response that followed was tremendous with offers of better jobs, donations and gifts of furniture, a testament to the humane response of the populace, but, I think, even the hardliners would agree that this is no solution.

The Toronto Star is a liberal paper, perhaps just to the Left of Centre, and has along tradition of highlighting the injustices of our economic system. It has high quality reporters with a conscience producing very good and thorough articles. It perhaps could be compared to the Guardian. On page two, it printed articles from the end of the 19th. Century on poverty.

For example, "Families in dire want of food because the husbands and fathers have been unable to obtain work" (1894); "Nineteen thousand undernourished children attend Toronto schools" (1931); "Three hundred jobless sleepnightly along Don river's banks" (1931); "Shameful! Here is a very small boy with very large spectacles! They cover the whole eye and have little discs on each lens to correct an astigmatism. He can see better in a cellar than in the open sunlight because he works 6 hours of the day in almost Cimmerian darkness" (no date).

There are many similar articles. The shocking point is, for all the heartfelt desire that the editor and writers have put into this theme, which has covered two weeks, there is never any connection made to the fact that what the paper attacked in 1894 is still going on today as evidenced by the lead story. We are told facts such as there are 650,000 working poor in Canada, or that 40% of the country's poor have jobs but cannot make enough to make ends meet. One reporter actually cited the following, "Writing in the latest edition of the journal Healthcare Policy, University of British Columbia economist Robert Evans points out that over this period (25 years), most of the economic gains recorded in Canada were appropriated by the super-rich. Between 1976 and 1990, the average per capita income in Canada barely budged. But over the same period, the top 0.01 per cent of earners saw their incomes more than doubled."

The last 25 years! Just who the hell do they think was appropriating the workers' income for the last three hundred years and will continue to do so for the next three hundred unless the workers wake up! The editorials made the usual offerings - raise the minimum wage, raise the tax thresholds for the low earners, more language training for immigrants. Again, no connection to the nature of capitalism.

To me, it's all so very simple - wealth produced is split between wages and profits and because the capitalist class own the whole lot, they take the lion's share - that it seems or the whole world is daft.
For socialism,
John Ayers

For more information on the Socialist Party of Canada, please click on the picture below:

Thursday, October 5, 2006

Das Kapital (2006)

Book Review from the October 2006 issue of the Socialist Standard

Marx's Das Kapital by Francis Wheen. Atlantic Books, 2006.

In a series of "Books That Shook The World" which includes Paine's Rights of Man and Darwin's Origin of Species, Wheen's biography of Das Kapital (to give Capital its original German title) is fairly short at 130 pages including index. Wheen has already had a critical and commercial success with his biography of the man himself, Karl Marx (1999) and this work seems likely to do the same.

Das Kapital was planned to be the first of six volumes, but Marx only saw the first volume through to publication. The second and third volumes, and the volumes entitled Theories of Surplus Value, were all compiled from Marx's notes after his death. Apart from a brief Introduction, Wheen's book is divided into three chapters: gestation, birth and afterlife. There are no notes, bibliography or guide to further reading and although Wheen is mostly content to let Marx speak for himself he does occasionally paraphrase and in one place he is seriously mistaken. Wheen explains that value (socially necessary labour-time) may differ from price and sometimes price may be higher than value, but Wheen adds, "under a socialist system this surplus would be redistributed for the benefit of the workers" (p.33). Marx never argued this and the whole thrust of Das Kapital is that value, price and profit can never work for the benefit of the workers. Marx also, incidentally, never argued for redistribution, preferring instead to judge the success or failure of a social system by its ability to produce for human need. Wheen is rightly critical of commentators who read into Das Kapital things which are not there (e.g. increasing "immiseration" or impoverishment of the proletariat), but that has not stopped him falling into the same trap here.

Controversially, Wheen claims that Das Kapital should be thought of as a work of art and this was Marx's stated intention. Das Kapital is usually depicted as a work of science, but Marx seems to have considered art and science to have similar objectives - that is, to see through surface appearances ("the veils of illusion") to reveal the underlying reality. And yet it was the late Louis Althusser who maintained that there was an "epistemological break" in Marx's writing, with the early artistic or philosophical work being only of marginal interest, whereas the later works such as Das Kapital contained his mature and scientific thinking. But as Wheen points out, in Althusser's posthumous memoir he admitted to being "a trickster and deceiver" and only ever studying "a few passages of Marx." Althusser and his work on Marx was a fraud. But even if Althusser was not a con-man, the distinction between an early and a mature Marx does not withstand serious scrutiny.

The alleged impact of Das Kapital on twentieth century politics is well summarised, including the fall of the Russian empire and China's contradictory claim to be "Marxist-Leninist" (Wheen insists that "'Market-Leninist' would be rather more apt"). The framework for viewing these and other events, argues Wheen, is to be found in Marx's writing on capital.

For as Wheen puts it:
"Far from being buried under the rubble of the Berlin Wall, Marx may only now be emerging in his true significance. He could yet become the most influential thinker of the twenty-first century."
Lew Higgins

Tuesday, October 3, 2006

Pathfinders Column - High and Dry

From the October 2006 issue of the Socialist Standard

Water World 1

"We were just standing around in our shorts, stunned and amazed, trying to make sense of it". Thus spoke one Inuit villager, on describing winter temperatures of 9 degress celsius that should have been -30 degrees celsius (Independent on Sunday, 27 August). As the Arctic warms up twice as fast as the rest of the world, and sea ice has shrunk in area by a quarter and in thickness by a half, its inhabitants are discovering that their igloos are heat traps, their water supply needs wells and their workplaces need air-conditioning. Meanwhile Greenland farmers - for they do exist - are starting to grow broccoli, cauliflower and Chinese cabbage, while having to make up, among their thousand words for reindeer, some new words for the salmon which are appearing in their rivers, and the barn owls, hornets and robins which are now adventuring to the far north. What the Inuit think of global warming can be surmised by the number of their houses and snowmobiles that have started falling through the ice, and one can easily see why they think "the world is slowly disintegrating." Meanwhile in Siberia, roads and buildings built on the permafrost are starting to collapse, and the Permafrost Institute in Yakutsk has recently suffered a major flood (BBC Online, 12 September).

Greenland is the second biggest ice mass after Antarctica, with glaciers as large as Manhattan and as high as the Empire State Building, and it is now melting at a rate that has alarmed even the alarmists. Evidence from NASA satellites and ground-based researchers concluded in February 2006 that Greenland's glaciers are melting twice as fast as they were five years ago. If the ice cap were to completely disappear, which it is quite likely to do by the end of 2100 at this rate, global sea levels would rise by 6.5m (21 feet) (BBC Online, 11 August). If this happens, New York, New Orleans and half of Florida including Miami, Tampa and Fort Lauderdale will be underwater.

Not surprisingly perhaps, Washington is facing rebellion from state governors all over the country to stop stalling over Kyoto and do something, not least because their own oil and gas companies are already one jump ahead with 'greener' technology and need the relevant legislation to be enacted so they can capitalize on it. Leading the way is Da Governator, Arnold Schwarzenegger, who when not terminating crooks by state execution is so keen to display his green credentials he sided with the Democrats against his own party in order to pass the Global Warming Solutions Act, which aims to cap emissions in California, the world's 12th largest CO2 emitter, by 25 percent by 2020 (BBC Online, 1 September). But even Arnie is unlikely to hold back the Arctic flood, because capitalism just doesn't sit down and listen to reason, as his Republican ex-buddies know perfectly well. The reason they opposed his cosy Californian carbon-capping caper was because they knew perfectly well that unless such a plan was federal, so that nobody could get out of it, all the investment would leak out of the state into neighbouring ones which were not required under their state law to worry so energetically about the problem.


Water World 2

While the Inuit are fast running out of ice, a third of the world's population are faced with a shortage of any water at all. The situation has arisen twenty years earlier than projections forecasted, according to a report by the International Water Management Institute in Colombo, Sri Lanka (New Scientist, 26 August). The report states that while in some places physical shortage of water is to blame, in others it is a question of lack of financial investment. So are they talking billion-dollar pipelines from the water sources to the dry interiors in Africa, Asia and parts of China? Not a bit. The state-of-the-art technology is, wait for it, plastic buckets and bags, lots of big ones, to catch the stuff as it falls out of the sky. Storing roof and road run-off, they argue, could double or triple food production in sub-Saharan Africa and south-east Asia. Not only that, but saving water for 'unrainy days' in this way could slow the expansion of rain-fed agriculture into virgin habitats from 60 per cent by 2050 down to 10 per cent.

The predictable response of most people reading this would be a Homer Simpson-like 'Duh'. You don't need to be an engineering genius to figure out that water butts are a good way of saving water, so why in hell aren't they doing it already, you cannot resist asking? Presumably because in the capitalist scheme of things, poor Africans, Indians and Chinese peasants don't have the price and don't rate the price even of a plastic bucket.


Water World 3

Socialists always welcome any sincere attempt to solve the world's problems, even if some of these attempts are inevitably misguided. One doesn't in all honesty expect a great contribution to be made by new-age mystics so it is no surprise that when Madonna and husband Guy Ritchie approached the UK government with a scheme to clean up nuclear waste, using a deeply mystical Kabbalah water which they claimed had received extensive testing in a Ukrainian lake, the government didn't show much interest in the Ritchies' esoteric knowledge of Jewish mystical liquids and in fact showed them the door (New Scientist, 26 August). One might expect however that the government official who recounted this story would show the appropriate respect for such eminent celebrities, or at least a cool and precise scientific detachment. Instead, the official described the encounter as follows: "It was like a crank call . . . The scientific mechanisms and principles were just bollocks." Lovely to see scientists descend to plain English occasionally.

Sunday, October 1, 2006

Travelling People

Book Review from the October 2006 issue of the Socialist Standard

Caroline Moorehead: Human Cargo: a Journey among Refugees. Vintage.

The title says it all really: human beings shunted from one place to another, in response to political events, and treated as objects to be kept at arm's length or sent back as quickly as possible to wherever they came from. There are perhaps 12 million refugees in the world today, and twice that number of internally displaced people (IDPs), who get less attention, and also less financial support when they return to their homes.

Caroline Moorehead visited a number of areas where refugees live (or survive is perhaps a better word) and talked to many people. She starts in Cairo, full of 'lost boys' from other parts of Africa, originally mainly from Sudan but now increasingly from Sierra Leone, Ivory Coast, and elsewhere. Many asylum-seekers from Africa travel first to Italy, to Sicily and to Lampedusa, a small island less than 100 miles from the coast of Tunisia; many drown on the way there.

Between Mexico and California is a fence designed to reduce the flow of Mexican migrants northwards. The border is deliberately kept semi-closed, as the US needs some (but not too much) cheap Mexican labour power. But it is still policed in a draconian manner: for instance, a canal which provides a possible crossing point has been converted on the US side so that it's hard to climb out once you've swum over. Over two thousand people have died trying to cross the border, ten times the number who lost their lives trying to escape over the Berlin Wall.

Meanwhile, Australia has an extremely tough line on asylum, following its earlier racist 'White Australia' policy. Would-be migrants from Indonesia and elsewhere in south-east Asia have a hard time even getting there, following the introduction of Operation Relex, which involves naval vessels and aircraft turning back boats of asylum-seekers. Many of those who actually make it to Australia may be locked up indefinitely, despite having committed no crime.

Some Palestinians who fled their homes when Israel was established in 1948 have spent over fifty years in refugee camps - not many, though, because life in a refugee camp is hard and few can survive that long. Many more in number are the children born in camps, to parents who were themselves born there too.

Often, also, refugees are driven to suicide since their stories of violence back home may not be believed. One young Iranian killed himself in Newcastle in 2003, leaving a note that said, 'You have to kill yourself in this country, to prove that you would be killed in your own country.'

One encouraging aspect of the book is the way that local people, from Sicily to Australia and Newcastle, have rallied to support and help refugees in their midst. It is one thing to rail against those who are allegedly coming to steal jobs or live as scroungers, but it is quite another to encounter the hopelessness and destitution of people who just want somewhere to live without persecution and bring up their family.

Moorehead makes a number of good points: that migration is 'the unfinished business of globalisation', and that nobody wants to be a refugee. 'Why', she asks, 'should something as arbitrary as where one is born determine where one is allowed to live?' The answer, sadly, is that under capitalism, artificial lines on maps divide the world into different camps, which enable those who own the earth to defend their bit of it and to make claims on other bits. A sensible society would have no concept of refugeehood or any of the other states of oppression so movingly described here.
Paul Bennett