Friday, February 29, 2008

Still in Chains: South Africa After Apartheid (2008)

From the March 2008 issue of the Socialist Standard

"They never freed us. They only took the chain from around our neck and put it on our ankles." Anti-aparthied activist Rassool Snyman to Naomi Klein.
The fight against the system of racial segregation and white supremacy called apartheid ("apartness" in Afrikaans) was one of the great liberal and left-wing causes of my generation. It was a fight not only for political democracy in South Africa but also for socio-economic reform.The Freedom Charter, adopted by the African National Congress in 1955 (www.anc.org.za), called for "restoring national wealth to the people" (understood as nationalization of the mines, banks and "monopoly industry"), "re-dividing the land among those who work it to banish famine and land hunger," improved pay and working conditions, free healthcare, universal literacy, and decent housing for all.
Apartheid as a political and legal system was dismantled in the early 1990s. South Africa's capitalists did not on the whole object. Apartheid had brought them immense profits from the exploitation of a cheap captive labour force. But it had its drawbacks. By denying training and advancement to a large majority of the workforce, it created a growing shortage of skilled labour. Capitalists are often willing to accept a measure of social change, provided that they can set its limits.
Little change
Although apartheid is gone, economically South Africa is still one of the most unequal countries in the world. Almost all the land, mines and industry remain in the same (mostly white) hands. Almost half the population lives below subsistence level. Unemployment is widespread; children scavenge on dumps and landfill sites from sunrise to sunset seven days a week. Life expectancy is falling (a drop of 13 years since 1990) as AIDS, drug-resistant TB and other diseases spread.
Even segregation still exists in practice. The wealthy take shelter in "gated communities" from the violence pervading the shantytowns. As the wealthy are no longer exclusively but only predominantly white, the proper name for this is class rather than race segregation.
True, efforts have been made to improve living conditions. Close to two million new homes have been built. (Whether they count as "decent housing" is another matter.) Water, telephone and electricity networks have been expanded. But while millions were rehoused, millions were also evicted for rent arrears.
Nine million people were connected to the water supply, but during the same period ten million were disconnected as the price rose out of their reach.
Caught in a web
How did the main reform goals of the Freedom Charter come to be abandoned? Political journalist William Mervin Gumede tells the story in his book Thabo Mbeki and the Battle for the Soul of the ANC (Cape Town: Zebra Press 2005).
While political negotiations, conducted in the glare of publicity, moved the ANC toward government office, parallel and almost unpublicized economic negotiations, led on the ANC side by Thabo Mbeki (now president), ensured that when the ANC did take office it would be unable to act against white business interests. A new clause of the constitution made all private property sacrosanct. Power over economic policy was ceded to an "autonomous" central bank and international financial institutions.
"The ANC found itself caught in a web made of arcane rules and regulations… As the web descended on the country only a few people even noticed it was there, but when the new government … tried to give its voters the tangible benefits they expected the strands of the web tightened and [it] discovered that its powers were tightly bound"(Naomi Klein, The Shock Doctrine pp. 202-3).
Relentless pressure
The ANC hierarchy came under "relentless pressure" from local and international business, the (business controlled) media, foreign politicians, the World Bank and IMF, etc. It was "an onslaught for which the ANC was wholly unprepared" (Gumede, p. 72). This does not mean that crude demands and threats played a crucial role. It was a process more of seduction than intimidation, aimed at integrating a set of new partners into the institutional structure and social milieu of the global capitalist class.
This meant providing opportunities for ANC officials to go into business or train at American business schools and investment banks. Leading figures were lavished with hospitality:
"Harry Oppenheimer [former chairman of Anglo American Corporation and De Beers Consolidated Mines] was eager to entertain Mandela at his private estate, while Anglovaal's Clive Menell hosted him for Christmas (1990) at his mansion . . . While separated from his wife, Mandela's home for several months was the palatial estate of insurance tycoon Douw Steyn . . . His daughter Zinzi had a honeymoon partly financed by resort and casino king Sol Kerzner, and Mandela spent Christmas 1993 in the Bahamas as a guest of Heinz and Independent Newspapers chairman Sir Anthony O'Reilly." (Gumede, p. 72).
It seems churlish to begrudge Mandela a little luxury after 27 years in prison. But what were his benefactors' motives?
The markets: stern taskmasters
Nevertheless, the most effective form of capitalist influence was the impersonal pressure of "the markets." As Mandela told the ANC's 1997 national conference: "The mobility of capital and the globalization of the capital and other markets make it impossible for countries to decide national economic policy without regard to the likely response of these markets" (Klein, p. 207). And the markets punished the slightest sign of deviation from the "Washington consensus" with capital flight and speculation against the Rand.
Mbeki was the first to grasp what was needed to win the markets' confidence. Precisely in order to live down its "revolutionary" and "Marxist" past, the ANC leaders had to prove themselves more Catholic than the pope. "Just call me a Thatcherite" – quipped Mbeki as he unveiled his new "shock therapy" programme in 1996.
South Africa could not afford the protectionist measures with which Malaysia, for instance, warded off the Asian financial crisis of 1997. Orthodoxy, however, was never rewarded with the hoped-for flood of foreign investment. The markets are stern taskmasters: they demand everything and promise nothing.
A sell-out?
It is not altogether fair to say that Mandela or Mbeki "sold out." They simply saw no escape from the "web" spun by global capital. Indeed, at the national level there is no escape. Reformers in other countries, such as the Solidarity movement in Poland and Lula's Workers' Party in Brazil, have gone through much the same experience on reaching office. Socialists have long said that socialism cannot be established in a single country. Now we also know that under conditions of globalization even a meaningful programme of reform cannot be implemented in a single country.
Capital is global. That is its trump card against any attempt to defy its dictates that is confined within national boundaries. The resistance to capital must also be organized on a global scale if it is to have any chance of success.
Stephen Shenfield

Thursday, February 28, 2008

UN predicts food aid rationing

From the Class Warfare blog:

The Financial Times has reported that the UN's World Food Programme, charged with relieving hunger in underdeveloped countries, is drawing up plans to ration food aid in response to spiralling prices.

"The World Food Programme is holding crisis talks to decide what aid to halt if new donations do not arrive in the short term.

"Josette Sheeran, WFP executive director, told the Financial Times that the agency would look at 'cutting the food rations or even the number or people reached' if donors did not provide more money. 'Our ability to reach people is going down just as the needs go up,' she said.

"WFP officials hope the cuts can be avoided, but warned that the agency's budget requirements were rising by several million dollars a week because of climbing food prices."

Back in November, Josette Sheeran said (Guardian, 3rd November 2007):

"There are 854 million hungry people in the world and 4 million more join their ranks every year. We are facing the tightest food supplies in recent history. For the world's most vulnerable, food is simply being priced out of their reach."

One major factor, impacting food prices and mentioned elsewhere on this blog, is that pertaining to the growing of crops to supply the biofuels industry.

As Food First reports today on its home page.

"FACT: Ethanol is helping drive food prices out of control without lowering the price of gas – Corn planted for ethanol competes for farmland with corn for food production and with other food crops. This drives up the price of all food crops, especially those that contain corn products—which is most of our processed food. Meat is more expensive because our beef cattle eat corn, not grass. Food prices have increased by 25% over last year! Gas prices still went up by 80%..."

The insanity is that the UN is introducing rationed food aid programmes because it exists as part of a system in which the rationing of commodities is the order of the day. Indeed, rationing has been the order of the day since capitalists realised they could make huge profits by limiting supply.

Food shortages are very much rooted in a system that manipulates supply and demand to keep prices high. Stories are legion about farmers being paid to take land out of production, of governments stockpiling food, to keep prices low. I remember not so many years ago writing a lengthy letter to the local press screaming my anger at the EC's decision (back then) to destroy 3 million tons of fruit and at the cost of £52 million, because, quite simply, too much had been produced and, it if it was allowed to enter the market, prices would have crashed. And now arable is being used for the biofuel matket!

And its nothing new. This has gone on for decades. John Steinbeck's Pulitzer Prize winning The Grapes of Wrath (1939), set against the backdrop of the Great Depression, highlighted the issue in California, where tens of thousands of hungry, migrating farmers and their families, encountered mountains of rotting fruit, guarded by law enforcement officers instructed to shoot anyone who dared pick so much as a decomposing apple.

Organisations like Food First (Institute for Food and Development Technology –) are clear that the world today produces enough grain alone to provide every human being with 3,500 calories a day. "That's enough to make most people fat!" they assert. And this estimate does not take account of many other universally eaten foods—vegetables, beans, nuts, root crops, fruits, grass-fed meats, and fish. Indeed, if all foods are considered together, sufficient is available to provide at least 4.3 pounds of food per person a day. That includes two and half pounds of grain, beans and nuts, about a pound of fruits and vegetables, and nearly another pound of meat, milk and eggs. Put that on a platter in front of most people and ask term to eat it and the thought of it makes them quite nauseous. This much is asserted in a 2006 document entitled 12 Myths About Hunger.

The document further observes how "the problem is that many people are too poor to buy readily available food. Even most 'hungry countries' have enough food for all their people right now. Many are net exporters of food and other agricultural products."

In other words, if you're hungry in this world it is inevitably because you lack the purchasing power to buy food. The golden law of capitalism as ever comes into play – "can't pay, can't have". Poor people simply do not constitute a market; no profit can be had for them. It is far simpler, and far more lucrative, to create an artificial shortage which maintains prices at a profitable level. And with biofuel crops entering the equation of late, the problem is only exacerbated.

John Bissett

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Weekly Bulletin of The Socialist Party of Great Britain (35)

Dear Friends,

Welcome to the 35th of our weekly bulletins to keep you informed of changes at Socialist Party of Great Britain @ MySpace.

We now have 1191 friends!

Recent blogs:

  • 'Pro-life' hypocrites
  • How We Live and How We Could Live
  • Upton Sinclair and 'The Jungle'
  • This week's top quote:

    "But first, I will say what I mean by being a Socialist, since I am told that the word no longer expresses definitely and with certainty what it did ten years ago. Well, what I mean by Socialism is a condition of society in which there should be neither rich nor poor, neither master nor master's man, neither idle nor overworked, neither brain-sick brain workers, nor heart-sick hand workers, in a word, in which all men would be living in equality of condition, and would manage their affairs unwastefully, and with the full consciousness that harm to one would mean harm to all - the realization at last of the meaning of the word COMMONWEALTH." William Morris, How I became a socialist, 1894.

    Continuing luck with your MySpace adventures!

    Robert and Piers

    Socialist Party of Great Britain

    Tuesday, February 26, 2008

    Profit Laundering: what’s justice got to do with it? (2008)

    From the February 2008 issue of the Socialist Standard
    "Tax Havens Cause Poverty" proclaims the home page of the Tax Justice Network. No, they don't. The profit system does.
    The Tax Justice Network thinks that world poverty can be effectively tackled by reforming the international system of taxing profits so as to eliminate tax havens and tax dodging – "profit laundering" as they aptly call it – by capitalist corporations.

    This would make no essential difference. World poverty is not caused by corporations behaving badly. Their "bad" behaviour as identified and described by the Tax Justice Network is not bad from a capitalist point of view. It is normal, and in fact it is not possible to alter it – either by legislation or by appealing to the "morality" or "ethics" of corporate leaders. It's the way the capitalist profit system works and can only work. As long as you've got capitalism, in the famous – or infamous – phrase, there is no alternative. No alternative, that is, to capitalist corporations pursuing the maximisation of profits above all else. This is not a matter of choice by corporate executives. It is not because they are personally greedy or insensitive and deliberately choose to run their corporations in this way. It's the reflection in their minds of the underlying logic of the system of which in the end they – like the rest of us in fact – are just cogs.

    But what is this underlying logic? What is capitalism?

    Capitalism
    Basically, it's the market system. Not just markets – they existed before capitalism – but a whole economic system where every aspect of the production and distribution of wealth takes place via the market, by means of a vast network of buyers and sellers. This includes the buying and selling of labour – or, more accurately, of labour-power, of a person's ability to work. In fact, capitalism is based on the existence of a class of people whose only productive resource is our ability to work in some capacity or other (whether so-called manual or so-called intellectual) which we are obliged to sell on the labour market for a wage or salary. But sell to whom? To those who own the other resources essential to production: land and natural resources, and mines, factories, transport, communications. In other words, capitalism presupposes the division of society into two classes: those who own the means of wealth production and those who don't. This is not a 50:50 division, more like a 5:95 one. So capitalism is a class society. Like everything else under capitalism, the relationship between these two classes is a market one, one of buying and selling.

    But there's more to this particular market relationship than to that between other buyers and sellers. In other cases, it is a simple exchange of something of one value for something else of an equal value. Such an exchange of equal values is also involved in the wage contract – we get as our wage or a salary more or less the value of the labour-power we are selling – but human labour-power has the unique property of being able to create new value. The difference between wages and salaries and the new value added in the course of producing some good or service is the source of profit, which it is the aim of every capitalist and every capitalist enterprise to extract and maximise.

    Some of this profit is creamed off by fat cat directors and owners to support an extravagant life-style but most of it is re-invested. If a capitalist firm did not do this with a view to keeping its productive methods up to date so as to be able to produce as cheaply as possible, it would lose out in the battle of competition with its rivals and, eventually, either go bankrupt or be taken over by one of them. So, under the pressure of market competition, capitalist firms are forced to accumulate most of their profits as more capital.

    This competitive struggle to make and accumulate profits as more and more capital is the essence of capitalism. It's an impersonal economic mechanism that imposes itself on all enterprises involved in producing for the market, whether they are owned by individuals, corporations, the state or even by a workers' co-operative. The logic of profit always ends by imposing itself, even on governments, and there's nothing that can be done to stop this as long as capitalism lasts.

    Taxes
    Despite what some ideologists of a "pure capitalism" claim, capitalism cannot exist without the existence also of a coercive state – and never has. In fact, the state helped capitalism come into being, as by establishing trading monopolies like the East India Company and as by driving peasants off the land and into factories. But the state produces nothing (unless it is itself involved in production, as it sometimes has been) and so has to be financed by a levy on those who possess wealth or who control the production of wealth, i.e. by taxes. As the 19th century economist (and MP) David Ricardo showed a long time ago, in the end the burden of taxation falls on property and property-incomes such as rent and profit (any taxes on wages are passed on to the employer). Taxes on profits of course reduce the wealth of capitalists but they generally accept the principle of paying taxes as they recognise the usefulness of the services that the state provides them, not least the armed force to back them up in conflicts with other capitalists supported by their state over markets, trade routes, sources of raw materials and investment outlets. But they are not masochists; they'll only pay the taxes they absolutely have to. And a whole business has arisen to advise them how to minimise their tax burden.
    Some companies are better able to do this than others, and the Tax Justice Network have a point when they say that:
    "The ability of transnational corporations to structure their affairs through paper subsidiaries in tax havens provides them with a significant tax advantage over their nationally or locally based competitors. Local businesses, no matter whether they are technically more efficient or more innovative than their transnational rivals, will be competing on an uneven field. In practice, of course, differential tax treatment favours the large business over the small one, the international business over the national one, and the long-established business over the start-up". (John Christensen and Richard Murphy, Development Journal, September 2004).
    Quite true. But why should we, as wage and salary workers, worry about this? Why should we get involved in this dispute between two sections of the capitalist class as to how the tax burden should be shared between them? Why should we take the side of small business as against large business, or national business or businesses in the Third World against international business? Taxation is not our concern as wage and salary workers. Even if multinational corporations were forced to pay more taxes (which is not inconceivable), this would not benefit us, It would only benefit their smaller, national-based competitors. And it wouldn't benefit the mass of the people in the Third World either. Only the business and political elites there who would then have more money to spend on their armed forces and their privileged lifestyles. "Tax Justice" is not our concern.

    Corporations
    The profit logic imposes itself irrespective of the type of enterprise. In Adam Smith's day – the middle of the 18th century – most enterprises were run by individual capitalists who risked all their money; there was no distinction between their personal wealth and that of their business. So, if their business failed they were ruined. As capitalism developed more and more capital was needed to start and sustain a business. This problem was partly overcome by partnerships, but this was complicated legally and partners were also still personally liable for the debts of the business; so, if it went under they went under too.

    The solution, found and implemented from the middle of the 19th century, was the limited liability company. This was a legal business entity in which people could invest money to be used as capital but only be liable in the event of bankruptcy for the amount of their shareholding. Hence the name in Britain of limited liability company. In France it was called a "nameless [i.e. impersonal] society" and in America a "corporation". Whatever they were called, all had a separate legal personality, allowing them to sign contracts, pay taxes, sue and be sued as if they were real people. Even if, as the recent film The Corporation has underlined, they were real people they would be locked up as dangerous psychopaths. No real person is so cold and calculating and so obsessive about pursuing a single aim.
    As might have been expected, many of the early company promoters and directors were rogues who swindled and robbed those who put up the money for their companies, i.e. the shareholders. Legislation was therefore introduced to protect shareholders. Company directors were required to act in such a way as to exclusively further the financial interests of the shareholders, i.e. to make as much profit for them as they could. All their acts as directors had to be justified by this end: they had to try to maximise profits and were not allowed to siphon off money for themselves nor, it could be added, to spend it on "ethical" objectives which they might personally favour.

    As Christensen and Murphy noted in their article:
    " … tax minimization through elaborate and frequently aggressive tax avoidance is regarded as one of the prime duties that directors are required to perform on behalf of their shareholders."
    "Compelled by the profit logic, and by a legal principle that asserts that tax payers may organize their affairs in such a way as to pay the least tax possible under the law, the majority of large businesses have been structured so as to enable tax avoidance in every jurisdiction in which they operate."
    The Tax Justice Network thinks that this can be changed, both by changing company law and by appealing to corporate executives to behave"ethically", but they are wrong. Company law – and the legal obligation on corporations to be "a pure money-making machine" – is a reflection of the underlying economic reality of capitalism which, as we saw, is the impersonal economic mechanism of the making and accumulation of profits as more and more capital. No law will ever be passed that goes against this impersonal logic of profit – and, even if it were, it wouldn't work. Any government which tried it would cripple industry within its borders by rendering it less competitive internationally, so provoking an economic crisis and mass unemployment – and the coming into office of a government that would repeal the legislation in question. Within capitalism there is, quite literally, no alternative to corporations being pure money-making machines.

    So, if there's no way out under capitalism what are we in the Socialist Party proposing? Basically, to end capitalism, not trying to patch it up or trying to make it work in some other way through tax reforms. Capitalism. So, we're talking about a world-wide change, a global change in both senses of the term. Both world-wide and thorough-going.

    To end the operation of the impersonal economic mechanism of the pursuit and accumulation of profits as capital, the first thing that must happen is that the natural and industrial resources of the planet must stop being the property of rich individuals, corporations or States and become instead the common heritage of all humanity. On this basis, the productive resources of the world can be freed from the tyranny of profit-driven market forces and become available to be used, under democratic control, to simply turn out the things that the world's population needs to live and to enjoy life, in accordance with the principle "from each according to their abilities, to each according to their needs".

    In the current atmosphere of cynicism, apathy and alienation, to talk in terms of a world-wide democratic revolution to replace world capitalism with world socialism must seem incredibly utopian. Be that as it may, it is the only way out and until people organise to abolish the capitalist profit system the problems we have been discussing will continue. The real utopians are not us, but those like the Tax Justice Network who still think that you can doing something constructive within the capitalist framework of class ownership and production for profit. You can't.
    Adam Buick

    Saturday, February 23, 2008

    Kosovo: Open for Business

    From the Socialism Or Your Money Back blog:

    After decades of uneasy existence as part of Serbia the newly independent state of Kosovo has emerged with its inevitable new anthem and new flag. But there are real political concerns best not forgotten in the ballyhoo and hopes for a brighter future.

    One man interviewed by the BBC's Mark Mardell described how during the war he fled his village with many relatives under attack by Serbian troops. He had to leave his aunt behind and she was burnt to death. He said: "Kosovo is rich in minerals and rich in farming land, is rich in all other aspects. Here, we provided wealth for so many years for the whole of Yugoslavia, there is no reason why we cannot provide now for just Kosovo. That's why I'm saying Kosovo has a bright future." (Mark Mardell's Euroblog: 'Mining Kosovo's Future' 29 January)

    Alongside the declared humanitarian reasons for the UN intervention in the Balkans in the 1990s there were other, economic and political, considerations also in play. It is these interests that will shape future developments in the states of the former Yugoslavia and dominate the lives of workers there.

    The New York Times (8 July 1999) carried an article by Chris Hedges about the Stari Trg mining complex in Trepca, Kosovo. Possibly inadvertently, it gave an insight into some of the considerations that surrounded the decision to intervene. According to Hedges, "The sprawling state-owned Trepca mining complex, the most valuable piece of real estate in the Balkans, is worth at least $5 billion."

    It was the reported view of the mine's director, Novak Bjelic, that "The war in Kosovo is about the mines, nothing else. This is Serbia's Kuwait - the heart of Kosovo. In addition to all this, Kosovo has 17 billion tons of coal reserves." The Yugoslav web site www.yugoslavia.com (now defunct) described Trepca as having the "richest lead and zinc mines in Europe." The capacity of the lead and zinc refineries ranked third in the world and the area as a whole represented some 80% of Yugoslavia's mineral deposits. The problem was they were old and inefficient and seriously polluting.

    According to Michael Palairet of the University of Edinburgh, a leading authority on the economic and social history of the Balkans,

    "The Trepca system 'as a rule' lost money under Yugoslav socialism … Because of Trepca's incapacity to generate funding of its own for investment, all investment funding had to be financed externally, by fund providers who did not anticipate that they would see any return on (or of) their capital."

    In his opinion the $5bn figure quoted above was exaggerated. However while Trepca consistently performed poorly, this was not because it could not have been managed more effectively: "Unlike most heavy industry… Trepca had good mining assets and low cost access to energy, so on the face of things there were no structural reasons for its inability to trade profitably." (From European Stability Initiative)

    Further insight may be gained into the economic underpinnings of the UN intervention from a report by the International Crisis Group. The report is interesting in that it provides further evidence that the breakup of the former Yugoslavia was in large part motivated by conflicting economic interests. The various regions of the Federal Republic had fallen out over how their assets and liabilities were to be divided and allocated. The differences were long standing and could not be resolved peacefully. In other words it was a fight among competing capitalists interests. One of these interests lay in Kosovo - the supposed "heartland of Serb identity."

    "Trepca is a sprawling conglomerate of some 40 mines and factories, located mostly in Kosovo ... Its great mineral wealth is the basis of the economy of Kosovo, but the complex is badly run-down as a result of under-investment and over-exploitation by governments in Belgrade." (From Trepca: Making Sense of the Labyrinth ICG Europe Report N°82, 26 November 1999)

    In 1974 Tito's new constitution accorded the province near-republic status, with its own parliament and courts, Kosovo elites enjoyed a period of greatly increased control over their own resources. They used their enhanced authority to build factories in Kosovo that capitalised on their mineral production, created thousands of jobs, and brought some income into the province.

    After Tito's death, pressure grew for more rights and greater political and economic autonomy, but with little success. Belgrade reasserted control of the mines. Kosovo Albanian workers were accused of having stolen vast quantities of gold and silver and many engineers and technicians were fired.

    "From 1981-89, Belgrade monopolised the export of Trepca's minerals to Russia and elsewhere, reaping the profits in hard currency and oil, while compensating the Kosovars only with electricity and other non-fungible forms of payment.…

    "Trepca's Kosovar management attempted to sell its products on the European market and to modernise the facilities' modes of production, only to be foiled time and again by the Serbian government, which was in the process of "integrating" Serbia's economy - that is, of tethering all economic sectors even more closely to Belgrade.

    "By the late 1980s, with the final integration into the Serbian system of the power generating system, Kosovars had lost virtually all control over their economy, as they would over their politics and civic freedoms." (Trepca: Making Sense of the Labyrinth (ICG))

    In 1996 Trepca had exported $100 million of products, making it the largest exporting company in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia and an invaluable foreign exchange earner at a time when the country was experiencing grave economic difficulties.

    Throughout the 1990s the ownership of Trepca conglomerate was never entirely clear. In November 1997 Trepca was under consideration for privatisation by the federal government in Belgrade. This process stalled when the 'red business man' Zoran Todorovic, was murdered by a gunman in Belgrade. Todorovic had been a close confidant of Slobodan Milosevic and was one of the richest men in Yugoslavia. He was one of a group of state capitalists who had been able to use their political connections to purchase state assets at bargain prices. (He was also director of Beopetrol, another state firm in the process of being privatized.) This was in effect a conversion of state owned assets into de facto privately owned ones by the ruling capitalist class.

    Officials of the UN Interim Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK), who took over governing Kosovo in 1999 after the withdrawal of Serbian troops, concluded that the complex was overall public property and therefore came under their authority in accordance with its mandate. The then head of UNMIK, Bernard Kouchner (now French Foreign Minister), confirmed that an international consortium had been appointed to run the plant. A $16m (£10.7m) investment package was also announced, funded by Britain, France, Spain, Germany, and the EU. The money was to be spent on a full-scale refurbishment of the plant prior to it being sold off. "We have no intention of closing any part of the Trepca mining complex. On the contrary, we're going to make it safe and profitable." he said. (From The Guardian, 15 August 2000)

    But it was not only the mines that capitalist interests had their eyes on. In July 2000 it was announced that a fund run by the billionaire George Soros was to invest $150 million (most backed by U.S. guarantees) in companies in the Balkans. Soros Fund Management would invest $50 million of it own equity in new businesses, expansions or privatization in the region and would have full autonomy to choose the investments in a whole swathe of South East Europe. Soros had invested millions of dollars in philanthropic endeavors in the region, but said this fund would practice "tough love," and be driven purely by profit.

    The U.S. Overseas Private Investment Corporation had agreed to provide a loan guarantee for another $100 million of investments. OPIC describes itself as a self-sustaining federal agency that sells investment services to American businesses expanding into emerging markets around the world. It provides a level playing field for U.S. businesses in emerging economies.

    "Since 1971, OPIC has supported nearly $130 billion worth of investments that will generate over $61 billion in U.S. exports." (From here.)

    The Soros investment was conceived at a "donor" conference in Sarajevo in 1999. It was one of a series of efforts to take advantage of emerging investment opportunities in the Balkans. "A year ago, after NATO won the war in Kosovo, more than 40 leaders came together in Sarajevo determined to win the peace with economic investments", according to National Security Advisor Samuel M. Berger.

    George Munoz President and CEO of OPIC said he was pleased that they were making the region safe for international capital. It was a demonstration that

    "Southeast Europe is an important region on which we should focus our efforts, to enable it to rebuild and enter the global marketplace as a full partner. The Southeast Europe Equity Fund is an ideal vehicle to connect American institutional capital with European entrepreneurs eager to help Americans tap their growing markets."

    The Soros Private Funds Management, he said, was sending "a strong, positive signal that Southeast Europe is open for business."

    Gwynn Thomas

    The Radical Cinema of Peter Watkins

    Cut and pasted from A Very Public Sociologist blog. The blogger, Phil B-C, is a member of the SP/CWI Trotskyist tradition.

    Keele MCC heard from John Cook of Glasgow Caledonian University this evening. He spoke on the little-known work of the radical film maker, Peter Watkins. Watkins was part of the amateur film movement that grew up in the mid-late 1950s and found himself taken on at the BBC on the strength of his short film on the Hungary uprising, The Forgotten Faces. Released in 1961 it was, contrary to popular belief, among the very first films - if not the first - to pioneer the documentary-drama style. Rather than being a straight apologia of either side, it showed how revolutions are necessarily very messy, how circumstances can transform the downtrodden and oppressed into people fired by murderous rage. In one key scene, we are shown crowds coming under fire from uniformed snipers. When they surrender the people wreak bloody vengeance by crushing them beneath their heels and boots. As a tribute to Watkins style, when Forgotten Faces was shown to the founding chairman of Granada, Sidney Bernstein, he quipped "if we showed that film, no one would believe our documentaries anymore".

    Having secured a position at the BBC he became the centre of controversy in 1965 with The War Game. This film imagined the dropping of a nuclear bomb on Kent and its aftermath. Immediately it was banned and remained so for 20 years. Watkins was convinced this decision was taken on political grounds, and was so disgusted by the experience that he left Britain in 1968, and hasn't worked here since. But the hallmarks of his film making had been established. The docudrama style (also seen in his earlier film, Culloden, which involved scenes where participants of the famous 1746 battle were interviewed by filmmakers), his preference for hand held camera work, and the casting of "ordinary" people, not professional actors, have continued to mark out his oeuvre from the mainstream.

    Post-BBC Watkins has continued to make films outside of the conventional production process and on very tight budgets. Typical of this is 1971's Punishment Park. Inspired by the trial of the Chicago Seven, it is set in a future where subversives and hippies jailed for political offences get the chance to have their sentences commuted if they complete a desert wilderness course. All the while they're being pursued by law enforcement as part of their training in tracking, shooting, and apprehending suspects. The clip shown this evening's audience is taken from the trial scene. The defendants are arrayed before a tribunal and time after time the presiding judge disallows pleas and defences guaranteed under the US constitution. Contemporary criticism attacked Watkins for exaggerating the violation of basic democratic rights, but post-Guantanamo these seem rather quaint objections. The film itself was on general release in the states for four days until it was mysteriously dropped, so obviously somewhere the film spoke an uncomfortable truth to power.

    Watkins' last major film is La Commune (Paris 1871). Filmed in 1999 the 200-strong cast was populated almost entirely by non-professional actors, and casting was done to type. The roles of the communards were taken by leftists and students, and the counterrevolutionary forces recruited from adverts placed in Le Figaro. Like previous work, in the battle scenes the film crew interview 'communards', who would alternate between acting as a participant and commenting on current affairs. Furthermore Watkins filmed La Commune chronologically so the actors knew what was coming and helped simulate a more authentic feel, albeit one anachronistically juxtaposed to interventions by modern media.

    Throughout his presentation Cook compared Watkins to Ken Loach, arguing of the two the former was a more radical film maker. Though Loach is famed for the controversial nature of his subject matter how he makes and presents his work is far more conventional. Furthermore Loach's films are very clearly of the left. However, Watkins is a bit more problematic. He describes himself as a leftist, and a superficial acquaintance with the above films seems to reinforce that. But for Cook, Watkins' work is a comment on polarisation and the politics of hate. In Punishment Park for example, there are multiple scenes of the radicals and agents of the state attacking one another verbally and physically. There is a certain even handedness in their portrayal as reaction gets just as much time to put its case against subversion. The same is the case in La Commune - there are scenes capturing the Versailles troops berating and polemicising against the communards and leftism. In both Watkins manages to make visible the polarisation between the two - to take sides and start shouting (as he does in his role as a cameraman in Punishment Park) is to become seduced by hate. What is needed is some middle ground, a space for dialogue between the two antagonistic camps. Only then can real progress be made.

    What to make of this? I don't think Watkins has retreated into the wishy-washy liberalism/populism that tries to be all things to all people. Instead it is a call to the left to realise the views of our opponents are as convincing to them as our politics are to us, that we should not forever hector or starkly oppose our views to theirs but rather take the time to address their concerns and win them over through persuasion. As he puts it, "the ideological left is as flawed as the right - any politics that doesn't take on the views of ordinary people is playing at politics".


    Phil B-C

    Friday, February 22, 2008

    The Spectre of Communism

    From the Marx and Coca-Cola blog

    160 years ago today The Communist Manifesto was first published (has it been 160 years already!). Here's a section I think is apropos to today:


    2. Conservative or Bourgeois Socialism

    A part of the bourgeoisie is desirous of redressing social grievances in order to secure the continued existence of bourgeois society.

    To this section belong economists, philanthropists, humanitarians, improvers of the condition of the working class, organisers of charity, members of societies for the prevention of cruelty to animals, temperance fanatics, hole-and-corner reformers of every imaginable kind. This form of socialism has, moreover, been worked out into complete systems.

    We may cite Proudhon's Philosophis de la Misère as an example of this form.

    The Socialistic bourgeois want all the advantages of modern social conditions without the struggles and dangers necessarily resulting therefrom. They desire the existing state of society, minus its revolutionary and disintegrating elements. They wish for a bourgeoisie without a proletariat. The bourgeoisie naturally conceives the world in which it is supreme to be the best; and bourgeois Socialism develops this comfortable conception into various more or less complete systems. In requiring the proletariat to carry out such a system, and thereby to march straightway into the social New Jerusalem, it but requires in reality, that the proletariat should remain within the bounds of existing society, but should cast away all its hateful ideas concerning the bourgeoisie.

    A second, and more practical, but less systematic, form of this Socialism sought to depreciate every revolutionary movement in the eyes of the working class by showing that no mere political reform, but only a change in the material conditions of existence, in economical relations, could be of any advantage to them. By changes in the material conditions of existence, this form of Socialism, however, by no means understands abolition of the bourgeois relations of production, an abolition that can be affected only by a revolution, but administrative reforms, based on the continued existence of these relations; reforms, therefore, that in no respect affect the relations between capital and labour, but, at the best, lessen the cost, and simplify the administrative work, of bourgeois government.

    Bourgeois Socialism attains adequate expression when, and only when, it becomes a mere figure of speech.

    Free trade: for the benefit of the working class. Protective duties: for the benefit of the working class. Prison Reform: for the benefit of the working class. This is the last word and the only seriously meant word of bourgeois socialism.

    It is summed up in the phrase: the bourgeois is a bourgeois — for the benefit of the working class.

    Weekly Bulletin of The Socialist Party of Great Britain (34)

    Dear Friends,

    Welcome to the 34th of our weekly bulletins to keep you informed of changes at Socialist Party of Great Britain @ MySpace.

    We now have 1182 friends!

    Recent blogs:

  • Cuts, cuts and more cuts
  • Why the Daily Mail Hates Karl Marx
  • The white death
  • This week's top quote:

    ""A commodity appears, at first sight, a very trivial thing, and easily understood. Its analysis shows that it is, in reality, a very queer thing, abounding in metaphysical subtleties and theological niceties. " Karl Marx, Capital, Volume 1, 1867.

    Continuing luck with your MySpace adventures!

    Robert and Piers

    Socialist Party of Great Britain

    Thursday, February 21, 2008

    Voice From The Back

    Voice From The Back column from the February 2008 issue of the Socialist Standard

    TEN WASTED YEARS

    Socialists have always stressed that supporting schemes of reforms will not fundamentally change the nature of capitalism and here comes an official capitalist institution whose findings back up that view. "There are 1.4 million children living below the poverty line in Britain, even though at least one of their parents has a job. Despite the changes to taxes and benefits, and the introduction of the national minimum wage, the number of poor children in working households is no lower than in 1997, a report by the Institute for Public Policy Research says." (London Times, 3 January)

    NO IMMIGRATION PROBLEM

    Politicians ever ready to seek the votes of little-Englanders often speak about the problem of immigrants from abroad coming to this country and causing problems such as housing, medical care and education. We imagine these politicians will completely ignore this type of immigration though. "Lev Leviev, who until a week ago was classified as the richest man in Israel, has joined the growing list of Israeli billionaires who have made their homes in London, where wealthy foreigners are not asked to pay tax on income earned overseas. This month, Mr Leviev officially moved into a bullet-proof house in Hampstead, which he bought for £35m. His near neighbours include several other mega-rich Israeli tycoons who prefer UK tax rates. In Israel, they are liable for tax on all their income, no matter where it is from. ...News of his departure has shocked the Israeli business community and created a political headache for its government, because of the drain of wealth from Tel Aviv to London. Among those who have made their homes in London are Zvi Meitar, the founder of one of Israel's biggest law firms; Benny Steinmitz, a diamond dealer and property tycoon; Yigal Zilka, head of Queenco Leisure International; and the real estate developer, Sammy Shimon." (Independent, 8 January)

    THIS IS COMMUNISM?

    Socialists have always maintained that countries like Russia and China that have claimed to be establishing socialism were in fact building up state capitalism, and now a pillar of US capitalism agrees with us that China has nothing to do with socialism. "The spending choices for China's rich are multiplying as quickly as the world's fastest-growing major economy can mint new tycoons.In the latest sign of China's rising upper crust and its growing appeal to international marketers, Robb Report, a self-declared catalogue of the best of the best for the richest of the rich, is making its pitch here with a Chinese-language edition. The 200-plus-page Chinese monthly, published under the name Robb Report Lifestyle, is packed with news, product placements and advertising that promotes elite brands such as Volkswagen AG's Bugatti sports cars and Lürssen yachts." (Wall Street Journal, 9 January)

    CHINESE BOOMING DEATH RATE

    "Accidents in China's notoriously dangerous coal mines killed nearly 3,800 people last year, state media reported Saturday – a toll that is a marked improvement from previous years, but still leaves China's mines the world's deadliest. A total of 3,786 were killed in mining accidents in 2007 – 20 percent lower than the 2006 toll, indicating the effectiveness of a safety campaign to shut small, illegal mining operations and reduce gas explosions, the Xinhua News Agency quoted the head of China's government safety watchdog as saying. Coal is the lifeblood of China's booming, energy-hungry economy. The mining industry's safety, which has never been good, has often suffered as mine owners push to dig up more coal to take advantage of higher prices." (Yahoo News, 12 January) The development of capitalism in China has led to more deaths amongst the working class. Surprise, surprise?

    PROPHETS AND PROFITS

    The future of global warming is a complex subject, but many experts believe the growth of carbon emissions could lead to disaster. One of the supporters of that notion is the World Bank with its various schemes to halt or lessen these emmissions, but their difficulty is that they also support the profit system so they are left in a contradictory position. "The World Bank has emerged as one of the key backers behind an explosion of cattle ranching in the Amazon, which new research has identified as the greatest threat to the survival of the rainforest. Ranching has grown by half in the last three years, driven by new industrial slaughterhouses which are being constructed in the Amazon basin with the help of the World Bank. The revelation flies in the face of claims from the bank that it is funding efforts to halt deforestation and reduce the massive greenhouse gas emissions it causes. Roberto Smeraldi, head of Friends of the Earth Brazil and lead author of the new report, obtained exclusively by The Independent on Sunday, said the bank's contradictory policy on forests was now clear: "On the one hand you try and save the forest, on the other you give incentives for its conversion." (Independent on Sunday, 13 January)

    PROGRESSING BACKWARDS

    In a sane society technological advances would be looked upon as a step forward for humanity, but we don't live in a sane society. We live in capitalism. Simon Caulkin the Management Editor of the Observer reveals some alarming outcomes of such technical progress. "More than half of all UK employees – 52 per cent – are now subject to computer surveillance at work, according to research from the Economic and Social Research Council's "Future of Work" programme. That's a remarkable figure, and it has lead to a sharp increase in strain among those being monitored – particularly white-collar administrative staff. ... Substantial pay rises for most managers contrast with static or even declining wages for low-end computer-monitored workers, who are working harder, and longer hours, into the bargain." (Observer, 13 January)

    POOR AND DESPERATE

    Men and women because of poverty are forced to work for wages. Inside Europe and North America they have to do as they are told by their masters, to turn up on time to be respectful and if asked to do so cringe, but it is even worse for our African comrades."Last year roughly 31,000 Africans tried to reach the Canary Islands, a prime transit point to Europe, in more than 900 boats. About 6,000 died or disappeared, according to one estimate cited by the United Nations." (New York Times, 14 January) Men and women of the working class are dying to be exploited. Let us get rid of this mad society. 6.000 died last year, how many this year?

    What it is ain’t exactly clear

    From the World Socialist Party of the United States website:
    If we may go by the trend emerging from the presidential primary results so far, we very likely will see the end of the CheneyBush era next November. Voters both Democratic and Republican have turned out in large, often record-breaking numbers to make preliminary choices from among the presidential candidates who have offered themselves. This is a healthy democratic trend.
    According to the Pew Research Center, the upsurge in voter interest is sharpest and heaviest on the Democratic side and therefore concerns a much larger constituency than on the Republican side. More interesting, younger Democratic voters "are considerably more likely than their elders to be Hispanic, and slightly more likely to be black, more apt to say they have no religious affiliation and more likely to say they are 'liberal' in their political orientation."
    Not only that, but across the board regardless of race or ethnicity, "Barack Obama won a majority of the 2008 vote among this [younger] age group in every state that has held a primary or caucus thus far with the exception of California, Arkansas, and Massachusetts Obama also had a 54%-43% advantage among the next youngest age group, those ages 30-44."
    Does this suggest that the Democratic Party is about to become the party of the working class, the sacred vessel of its political interests? Hardly. The Pew Center also notes that their attitudes with respect to the 2008 campaign are not very different from those of their elders and their issue priorities very similar to those of older voters. There is every likelihood, in other words, that young voters will hand over their brains to Those Who Think About These Things.
    That said, turnout records "have been smashed in Iowa and New Hampshire" and many other places since then. So we are apparently about to witness another exercise in Throwing The Rascals Out (to get New Rascals in). But as the above analysis make clear, the pristine energy that is obviously emerging onto the political scene will have nowhere to go and is likely as not to dissipate in a flounder of confusion.
    The CheneyBush Administration is an easy villain. The corporate/religious right alliance, as the Mitt Romney debacle suggests, is about to come unglued. Even now, Republicans are scrambling to whitewash themselves as "moderate" (without, however, ceding the point that political elections are mainly about economic issues, which would condemn them to outsider status in perpetuity). But while seeing a light at the end of the tunnel might bring a sigh of relief, the fine points of the above trend imply anything but a radical shift in perspective.
    Still less, therefore, do they imply any increased receptiveness to the socialist point of view. Abolishing capital and wages in favor of community ownership of the means of production, real democracy and free access to the means of life are still on another planet, in another universe or in the "distant future" for most people. Take off the blindfolds, of course, and the changeover is already practically at hand. As it is, the night is only perhaps a little less dark again. It will probably take a much bigger crisis (global warming maybe?) to rock the capitalist political establishment. So treat yourself to an extra beer, but don't get too ecstatic.
    Ron Elbert

    Buying People

    Book Review from the February 2008 issue of the Socialist Standard

    'Selling Olga: Stories of Human Trafficking and Resistance' by Louisa Waugh

    The Olga of the title is a Moldovan woman who was earning 35p a day working in an outdoor market. In desperation she and a friend replied to a newspaper ad promising well-paid jobs abroad, and were told they would be caring for elderly people in Italy. They ended up being sold to a bar-owner in Kosovo, where they were forced to work as prostitutes. After two years Olga managed to escape and returned to her home town, where she was housed and supported by the International Organisation for Migration. During her time in Kosovo she was beaten so badly that she lost almost 70 per cent of her sight.

    Louisa Waugh's book is full of appalling stories such as this, of women trafficked into the sex industry and forced to 'repay' those who arranged their journey and employment. Not all trafficking involves sex slaves, however, and many of those smuggled to other countries work in construction and agriculture, among other industries. The International Labour Office estimates that two and a half million people are caught up in trafficking, though others give far higher figures. In Moldova it has become one of the largest national industries, while Albania is another big source of trafficked women.

    And what are the causes of this shocking 'industry'? One is the fact that many men are willing to pay for sex, so pimps can make a profit from it. But on the supply side the answer is one simple word: poverty. Waugh quotes the director of an organisation called the Useful Women of Albania: "Women are trafficked from Albania because they are desperate to leave in the first place . . .if women are living here in poverty and they have nothing, then they will sell the only thing they can make money from: their own bodies." The line between those who are trafficked and those who migrate 'freely' is a thin one. A report for Save the Children referred to "a steady rise in emigration for voluntary prostitution abroad in order to escape poverty and bleak futures in Albania." But prostitution can rarely be voluntary in any real sense, and few of the women who migrate in order to earn money from selling sex are prepared for precisely what awaits them.

    Many governments in Western Europe, including the UK, have addressed the problem of trafficking by cracking down on illegal immigration. But this has only led to the creation of an underclass of undocumented migrants, a group which includes those who died in Morecambe Bay in 2004. Forced labour — not confined to sex work — is an important part of the British economy, for capitalism wants cheap and pliant labour power. The extremes to which it will sometimes go to obtain it, graphically depicted in Waugh's pages, show why it's necessary to get rid of this diabolical system.

    Paul Bennett

    Further Reading:

  • Use My Name "Two women, Olga in Moldova and Bright from Nigeria, talk to Louisa Waugh about their experiences." (From the September 2007 issue of the New Internationalist.)
  • Wednesday, February 20, 2008

    The Price of Bread

    The Cooking the Books column from the February 2008 issue of the Socialist Standard

    The price of bread went up by 10 percent last year and is likely to go up again this year. Wheat is a commodity, something produced primarily for sale not use; in fact it is a world commodity traded on world markets and so subject to international speculators betting on its future price going up or down. Its price is fixed by trading in Chicago where speculators as well as genuine buyers and sellers meet electronically. The Times (18 December) reported that "the Chicago wheat price has risen from about $5 a bushel in the fourth quarter of last year to reach $10.09 yesterday".

    As wheat is the main ingredient of bread what happens in Chicago in the end affects the price of bread too. That the price of such an everyday item depends on world developments is a striking illustration of the world-wide nature of production today and one of the reasons why socialists say that the basis for a world socialist society already exists today.
    The price of wheat is fixed in Chicago because the US is the biggest exporter of wheat, from its highly productive prairie farms. According to estimates by the International Grains Council, in 2007 of the 56 million tonnes produced in the US, 32 million were exported. The other major exporters were Canada (15 million), Russia (12 million), EU (10 million) and Argentina (10 million). (See the following link). Normally Australia would be the second biggest exporter but a prolonged drought there reduced its 2007 output.

    The IGC forecasts that world wheat consumption in 2007/8 will be 611 million tonnes whereas production in 2007 will only have been 603 million. So countries have been digging into their reserves and will be looking to replenish them. Hence the current rise in the world price of wheat. There is even talk of this being the biggest wheat shortage in history.

    As the price of wheat rises so it becomes profitable to plant more land with it, either by switching from something else or by bringing previously unused land back into cultivation. This latter is what has happened in Europe. Meeting in Brussels on 26 September EU agriculture ministers agreed to fix a zero "set-aside" rate for the autumn 2007 and spring 2008 sowings. The press release went on: "The change comes in response to the increasingly tight situation on the cereals market. It should increase next year's cereals harvest by at least 10 million tonnes".

    Set-aside is the scheme under which EU farmers are paid not to grow food. In the past they were encouraged just to let the land lie fallow but, more recently with the rise of an environmentalist conscience, the scheme has been justified in terms of creating nature reserves and restoring "natural" wildernesses. That the whole scheme is in effect being suspended and previously set-aside land brought back into cultivation, in response to rising world wheat prices, exposes the real reason for set-aside: maintaining crop prices by reducing supply – while the world poor starve.

    Which confirms what socialists have long said, that the world could produce more food if the aim of production was the satisfaction of human needs. People are starving simply because they lack the means to pay, not because the food cannot be produced – as this new output demonstrates, there is plenty of scope for increasing supply.

    Tuesday, February 19, 2008

    Activity in Captivity

    February 2008 Socialist Standard


    Editorial


  • Democracy matters

  • Regular Columns

  • Pathfinders Emission control we have a problem

  • Cooking the Books 1 Ever heard of tryvertising?

  • Cooking the Books 2 The price of bread

  • Material World Nuclear weapons are still here.

  • Greasy Pole The mass debaters

  • 50 Years Ago Old familiar faces

  • Main Articles

  • Work as it is (and could be) Work is a "four-letter word" today under capitalism, but our view of it might change in a society where it is solely a means of improving the quality of our lives.

  • Profit laundering what has justice got to do with it?? "Tax Havens Cause Poverty" proclaims the home page of the Tax Justice Network. No, they don't. The profit system does.

  • Social responsibility and corporations Can corporations be trusted, or even expected, to have any social responsibility?

  • Thicker than water/Obituary of a capitalist The Stagecoach story: a lesson in the random nature of business success.

  • Capitalism Chinese-style Chinese capitalism is becoming less and less different from the kind found in the West.

  • The last time the police went on strike What we said in 1919 about the police unrest and strikes of that time. Ironically today's demonstrations are organised by the Police Federation, the company union set up in 1919 to stop a real union being organised.

  • Ire of the Irate Itinerant Cartoon Strip

  • Letters, Reviews & Meetings

  • Letter To The Editor: Social Improvement?

  • Book Reviews: 'Multi-nationals on trial' by James Petras and Henry Veltmeyer; 'Selling Olga' by Louisa Waugh; 'Economics transformed' by Robert Albritton;'Bronterre O'Brien and the Chartist Uprisings of 1839' by David Black

  • Socialist Party Meetings: West London & Manchester:

  • Voice From The Back

  • Ten Wasted Years; No Immigration Problem; This Is Communism?; Chinese Booming Death Rate; Prophets And Profits; Progressing Backwards; Poor And Desperate

  • Saturday, February 16, 2008

    Emission Control? We have a problem

    The Pathfinders column of the February 2008 issue of the Socialist Standard

    Socialists have for years railed at capitalist market production for being on a relentless collision course with the environment, and have been more than once guilty of tired clichés like 'profits of doom' and 'merchants of menace'. Nobody expected, twenty or so years ago, that the fat cats in their plexiglass palaces would lift their noses from their account books long enough to notice that, outside the window, the last tree was dying in a desert. Now, mysteriously, we see 150 of the world's largest corporations, including Nestle, Coca Cola, General Electric and Shell, enthusiastically demanding carbon emission cuts of up to 50 percent by 2050 (New Scientist, Dec 8, 07). And in the wake of the recent Bali accord, we have most of the world's countries behind a global effort to cap carbon emissions and prevent disastrous global warming. What is behind this sudden laudable concern for the environment, and how are they going to achieve their aims? Simple, the only way capitalism can think of doing anything. By making loads of money out of it.

    Now the way you make money out of anything in capitalism is to deprive everyone of it, and then charge them for access to it. Thus, at Kyoto, was born the idea of depriving everyone equally of the right to emit greenhouse gases, and then charging a flat rate for access to metered pollution rights. It would work, so long as all countries signed up to it. This last proviso is of course what has taken so long to resolve, which is why Kyoto never really worked and Bali, which was strong on emotion but weak on hard targets, still might not.

    So how do businesses make money out of a carbon tax? By developing 'green' technologies that produce less pollution, allowing countries to save money on buying or sell on their spare credits to the belching giants like China and the USA. Hence all the new debate in the UK about nuclear power. Hence also the probable Second Coming to Europe of GM technology, previously scorned but now about to return with a vengeance. Agriculture is the largest contributor to global warming, not through carbon directly but through nitrogen in fertiliser, which, apart from the considerable problems of nitrate pollution, algal blooms and dead zones in coastal waters, has the unhappy effect of oxidising into nitrous oxide, which is a greenhouse gas 300 times more potent than carbon (New Scientist, Jan 5). Genetically modified crops which don't need so much fertiliser, or which can take up more nitrogen and waste less of it, are seen as one way to reduce this huge impact.

    And genetic modification of crops won't stop at a few strains of cereal. Rice feeds half the world, and in a more drought-prone world, rice cultivation will be seriously at risk, so drought-resistant strains will have to be developed. And as with salt-resistance, another important factor in coastal areas more prone to flooding, what happens when modifications migrate, as they are known to do, to wild and weedy cousins? Crops could in the future be strangled by superweeds that can withstand flood, drought or weedkillers to threaten the world's food supplies.

    But one of the biggest money-making production bonanzas is biofuels. Transport is responsible for roughly one quarter of all global human emissions, but the oil is running out and the much-vaunted hydrogen option requires unfeasibly massive infrastructure changes for storage and filling-station delivery. Besides, biofuels are close to carbon-neutral, absorbing as much in growing as they emit in burning. Better still, with some strains such as switchgrass offering up to 540 percent more energy than is required to grow them, leading to a carbon-saving of 94 percent compared to petrol, the smart money is in inedible crop-growing (BBC Online, Jan 8). Already large swathes of North America are switching to corn-based biofuel production, both to earn carbon credits and as a future hedge against Arab and Chinese-controlled petroleum, while Latin American countries, in particular Brazil, are gearing up to sugarcane-based ethanol harvesting.

    So lucrative is this potential market that, not to be outdone, developing countries like Indonesian Sumatra are hurriedly destroying what's left of their last vestiges of rainforest in order to cash in on palm oil production for diesel fuel. And who could blame them when, prior to Bali, there was no agreement under Kyoto to recompense 'green' countries for preserving such unprofitable natural forest. As much of Sumatra's richest forest is bulldozed, the peat that it has lived in for thousands of years is ripped up, and this releases more carbon than will ever be saved by the palm oil grown on it (New Scientist, Dec 1, 07). The Bali accord hurriedly attempted to address deforestation for the first time, but much of the damage has already been done and it remains to be seen whether forest-rich countries stand to gain more by sitting on their green growth or churning it up for the bio-barrels.

    Nor are these the only problems. Subsistence farmers pushed off land to make way for biofuel production, and given no help or financial aid by regional governments, have no choice but to invade natural forest and clear it by slash and burn in order to live. And food supplies are threatened on a larger scale too, as biofuels, though efficient in some ways, are the most land-hungry method of producing energy, many times more than fossil, wind, nuclear, hydro or solar. There is only so much arable land, and the population is rising. What happens to human food supplies as the world's engines groan ever more hungrily to be fed? According to recent research, the total availability of suitable undeveloped land for biofuels is between 250 and 300 million hectares, but even using the most efficient crops it will take 290 million hectares to produce 10 percent of the world's projected energy requirement in 2030. But by then, the world will also need 200 million of these same hectares to feed the extra 2 to 3 billion people who will then be alive (New Scientist, Dec 15, 07). And this is to say nothing of all the extra nitrous oxide being emitted by fertilised biocrops, if suitable GM alternatives are not developed or are not accepted for use. On top of all that, there is the problem of water supply. Switching 50 percent of transport and electricity requirement to biofuels by 2050 will require up to 12,000 cubic kilometres of extra water per year, close to the total annual flow down the world's rivers (New Scientist, Dec 15, 07). All this and in a drier world too where water wars are already widely predicted.

    The truth is, nobody really knows if the pros of biofuel production really outweigh the cons. Like all capitalist economics, it is largely guesswork. All capitalism really knows for sure is that, in the words of the aforementioned large corporations, "the shift to a low-carbon economy will create significant business opportunities", or in plainer language, there's gold in them thar green hills. Besides, the subtleties of comparative studies may be lost on governments keen to assuage a growing public demand that they 'do something' about the environment. Australia, already suffering the longest drought in its recorded history, has recently turfed out its long established climate-sceptic government in favour of one which, within weeks, signed up to Kyoto. As Bob Dylan would say, "it don't take a weatherman to know which way the wind blows".

    Paddy Shannon

    What about the Meantime?

    From the World Socialist Party of the United States website.

    Originally published in the March-April 1955 issue of the Western Socialist.
    To the Editors:

    I read your magazine regularly and find it interesting, informative and also puzzling. What puzzles me is that you advocate socialism and at the same time oppose social reforms. I always thought that socialists saw nothing inconsistent in working for the establishment of socialism while at the same time participating in the fight for immediate demands.
    I believe democratic socialism can be achieved when and if a majority of the people become convinced that it is a desirable alternative to the present order. But I rather doubt that I shall see socialism in my time. In fact I doubt if the generations, old and young, living today will see socialism in their time.

    Meanwhile people must live in the world as it is here and now. By nature most people desire to improve their lives and the lives of their children; they want to live in decent homes equipped with modern conveniences; to wear fairly good clothes, to eat wholesome food and to offer their kids better advantages. This is why working people turn to politics. That's why I vote for Democratic Party candidates endorsed by labor. I work in an automobile factory in Michigan. I also belong to a union and my union fights for better wages, hours and working conditions for me and my fellow workers.

    Because I worked in 'the shop before we had a union. I know that the gains we made through our Union have been considerable and I expect we shall continue to make more gains in the future.

    But there are groups in Michigan - mainly corporations and their Republican allies in the state legislature - who want to pass. anti-Union labor laws which would serioUsly weaken the union. Seventeen other states have already Passed "Right to Scab" bills and as a result the workers in those states cannot improve their wages and working conditions nearly as much as they might if those bills had been defeated.

    Should workers in Michigan ignore attempts by big business and the Republican politicians to pass a similar bill in this state? Or should the workers support labor-back" candidates in the Democratic Party Pledged to do all in their power to defeat anti-union legislation?

    Another example. During the last year there has been much unemployment and part-time employment in Michigan; consequently thousands of workers and their families suffered hardship, especially those work; ers who remained jobless long after their unemployment benefits were exhausted.

    Currently auto factories are rehiring work. ers by the thousands in order to step the tempo of production for the next months or until new 1955 models flood their market faster than they can be sold. TIll once again there will be mass layoffs.

    If labor had enough friends in the state legislature they would press for unemployment compensation amendments to increase, weekly jobless benefits and to extend duration of payments. Similarly, if labor-supported legislators were in the majority they could push through other important reforms, such as a public works program for more jobs and better schools, hospitals, improved roads, etc.

    Yet you say that in the area of politics workers should strive only for socialism and should spurn reform measures designed to! make their lives and the lives of their children a little better while they still live. Somehow this reminds me of those religious groups who admonish us to spurn the day-to-day life of this world and think only of a future in heaven.

    Or do I misinterpret your position on political action? If so, please clarify.

    INTERESTED READER

    AN AUTO WORKER REPLIES

    [Editorial note: The task of answering this letter has been turned over to a worker in a Detroit automobile plant. inasmuch as, being "on the spot" he is in a position to deal familiarly and directly with the issues raised by "Interested Reader."]

    Dear Fellow Worker:

    During the many years I have spent in the auto plants of Detroit, I have come into contact with literally thousands of workers organized in the United Automobile Workers (CIO) who believe, in part, as you do: that to improve their lot in life they must work not only through 'the unions on the job, but also through Labor-endorsed candidates for political offices who presumably will pass legislation in favor of the workers.

    The encouraging, refreshing - and challenging - part of your letter is that it goes much further than this limited union thinking. The question you raise is whether or not this fighting for immediate demands or social reform legislation conflicts with the movement to establish socialism.

    The 99%, and more, of the auto workers who favor union-sponsored and union-controlled political action have not reached the stage where socialism enters into their thinking at all. They believe they can find a solution to their problems of living costs, unemployment, old age security and the like within the framework of the capitalist system.

    To be sure, they gripe and bitch over high prices, short work weeks, inadequate income, long layoffs, and so forth, but when someone at a union meeting dares to take the floor and suggest that perhaps socialism is the answer to their problems, they greet him with cries of "throw him out," "sit down," or "send him back to Russia."

    The auto workers, like the rest of their fellow workers, want capitalism today, and capitalism tomorrow. You, Interested Reader, believe in working to get the good things of life under capitalism today, and postponing socialism to the indefinite future.


    CONVINCING THE MAJORITY
    You admit that "democratic socialism can be achieved when and if a majority of the people become convinced that it is a desirable alternative to the present order." Thus, we are in agreement on the ultimate goal: socialism, and since you do not question our definition of socialism- common ownership and democratic control of the means of production and distribution- we assume that you are in agreement with this also. What separates us is this one point: What do socialists do in the meantime, until the majority become convinced of their case? In a word: will the socialists win over the majority of people to their case by fighting to improve their lives under capitalism - as you advocate - or by spending all their energies in educating the workers to the necessity of eliminating capitalism and establishing socialism?
    Just as you cannot see why there is nothing inconsistent in working for the establishment of a socialist society at the same time participating in the fight for immediate demands, we from our viewpoint can see nothing consistent in advocating a complete overthrow of the capitalistic conditions of life, at the same time offering programs to make , these conditions more tolerable to the workers, or in brief, to fight for reforms.

    All through your letter you state that "workers" should fight for more unemployment compensation, against "right to work" legislation, for better roads, and other reforms. You do indeed misinterpret our position on political action, if you believe we, as socialists, are opposed to workers going after 'these reforms. We do not set ourselves up as opposing the attempts of the workers to improve their status under capitalism. We know the limitations of these attempts, and the limitations of the unions. Our fellow workers have yet to learn them.

    But it is one thing to say that socialists should not oppose the non-socialists fighting for reforms, and quite another to state that socialists should place themselves in a position of trying to make capitalism work in the interests of the workers, when all along they know it cannot. There are so - called "socialist" organizations which seek to gain leadership over the workers by aiding them to improve their position under the present order, at the same time they know this is a futile struggle. We hope you have not confused us with these "socialists," when you admit being bewildered at our policy of advocating socialism, and not fighting for reforms.


    TWO-DIRECTIONAL APPROACH

    Not only is it inconsistent, in our opinion, for socialists to seek to solve problems for the workers under a system which they say cannot solve these problems, but in a practical sense, such a two-directional approach would never bring about socialism. And the latter, we recall, is our goal, as well as yours.
    Suppose the World Socialist Party were to embark on a high-powered Campaign to obtain better housing, hospitals, roads, and so forth. Perhaps we would get a lot of people to Join our organization. On what basis would they Join? The same basis on which we appealed to them. We would in the end have an organization consisting of workers who were seeking continUal improvement under capitalist methods of production and distribution, under a price, profit, and wage economy. What happens when such an organization is voted into political power as a majority? It merely uses the power of the state to carry on capitalism under different forms state- ownership or 'nationalization. It cannot use the control of the state to abolish capitalism, because its own members who Joined on a reform basis, would be in opposition to it. The Party would have to carry out reform of capitalism, or lose its members to another organization which advocated remedial measures.

    Is this a theoretical approach? Not at all. If space permitted, we could cite example after example where a party calling itself "socialist," but advocating immediate demands now and "socialism in the future" came into political power, and instead of abolishing exploitation, merely altered the form of it. For five years, the British Labor Party was in power in England, but it made no attempt to establish socialism. History proved once more that the means sought social reforms - were identical with the ends sought - a state capitalist society. For another important illustration, we recommend Integer's introduction to Rosa Luxemburg's Reform or Revolution, in which he proves that the social reforms advocated by the German Social Democratic Party before Hitler were inseparable from their ultimate goal - more reforms under state control.


    METHODS OF THE SOCIALISTS

    Now let us turn to the method advocated by the socialists. They appeal for members on the one plank of obtaining state power for the purpose of abolishing capitalism. Whereas, if elected to office, we would not oppose social reforms, at the same time we would not advocate them. By the same token, by putting forth a program of immediate demands, we would not be educating any workers to the necessity for socialism. We would instead be educating on the need to get all they can under the capitalist system. This latter type of education has never produced socialists from among the workers, altho it has contributed more than its share of members to the trade union officialdom. If you but take a glance around you in our union, the UAW-CIO, you would see many union officials who started out in the unions with your idea of "reforms today, socialism tomorrow." They originally viewed reforms as a means to an end, but reforms became ends in themselves.
    The socialists, where they are employed in shops which are organized, do not spurn the day to day struggle, as you put it. By the very nature of the fact that they are workers they participate in the fight for better Wages and working conditions. But with two qualifications, which qualifications arise from the fact that they are socialists first, and members of unions second. First, socialists understand that this economic struggle against the capitalists is merely a defensive struggle, to keep capital from beating the working class living standards down. For this reason they couple their struggle on the economic front with political education of the workers in the shops. They point out the limitations of wage increases.

    Socialists point out the limitations of the latest union demand, the guaranteed annual wage, in that it would prove an annual wage, at best, for those who have enough seniority to remain on the job, and that it will merely stimulate employers to introduce new methods so that they will have fewer workers for which they will have to guarantee.


    NO LEGISLATIVE REFORM

    Second, socialists in unions do not advocate political legislation to reform capitalism. To do so would put the socialists in a position, not only of advocating reforms - which is opposed to socialist thinking - but also of educating, or rather miseducating, the workers to believe that the capitalist state can function in their interests, when it is in the final analysis the agency by which the capitalist class maintains its domination over the working class.
    So the socialist is involved in the economic struggle by the fact that he is a member of the working class which naturally resists capital. But this is not the same thing as stating that the socialist party engages in activity for higher wages and better conditions. This is not the function of the socialist party. Its task is to fight for socialism, and the method it employs is education of the majority. The socialist party is not concerned with reforms under capitalism.

    This is the concern of the ruling class which uses reforms to bribe off the working class, and the concern of those groups, such as the unions and their political arms, which seek to get all they can out of the present system. Were the socialist movement to vanish from the earth, the capitalist, by the very class nature of the system, would still grant reforms to forestall the development of revolutionary thought among the workers. On the other hand, a rapidly rising socialist movement would force the capitalist class to grant more and more reforms.

    It is not true that the socialists "spurn the day to day life of this world and think only of the future in heaven." Rather it is those who postpone socialism to the unlimited generations ahead who are spurning day to day life. By this we mean that socialism today is a practical proposition. As you know yourself from working in the automobile plants and living in the industrial area of Detroit, modern technology has reached the point where people can receive what they need for themselves and their children - today, and on this earth. It is the profit system which prevents workers from obtaining decent homes, clothes, education - all the things you say the union is fighting for, but which we say they cannot obtain because it is limited by its support of the profit system.

    Those who call themselves realists, and call the socialists dreamers and utopians, are in truth unrealistic themselves in believing they can gain the good things of life under capitalism. By the way, if the latter be true, then why fight for socialism at all?


    A CONTRADICTION

    As a final point, we would like to suggest a contradiction in your approach. You believe in socialism, but because it is so far in the future, you think it best to spend your energies in the reform movement. Multiply yourself by thousands upon thousands who have thought, and do think; in the same way. Had all these people spent one tenth of the time for socialism that they spent in fighting for reforms, the socialist movement today would indeed be a large one, and as you yourself implied, the bigger the socialist organization gets, the closer we are to socialism.
    Only if people see the need for socialism, and work actively for it, will we ever obtain socialism. On the other hand, if everyone who reaches a socialist understanding comes to the conclusion that socialism will never come about in his lifetime, this is this the best guarantee that we will never see socialism. Indeed, workers who admit they believe in socialism and then fight for reforms under the excuse the workers are not ready for socialism, are in an unexplainable contradiction. They really mean to say that they themselves are not ready for socialism.


    AT LEAST ON THE ROAD
    In not fighting for reforms but in expending all our energy in educating workers to socialism, we know we are at least on the road to socialism.
    This is our case for not advocating reforms at the same time we advocate socialism. We ask that you consider it.
    DETROIT AUTO WORKER

    Friday, February 15, 2008

    Hyde Park and human nature (2003)


    From the March 2003 issue of the Socialist Standard

    “Bliss was in that dawn to be alive” was how Wordsworth described, in his Prelude, the death of the Ancien Régime in 18th century revolutionary France. He was expressing a popular held belief that his was the dawn of a new age and the birth of an era that would see the overthrow of tyranny and oppression throughout Europe. Many of the million-plus demonstrators on the 15 February anti-war demo in London clearly were feeling similar sentiments after their many hours long march to Hyde Park on a bitterly cold and damp day. People power, it was widely hoped, would deprive Tony Blair of the war he craved.

    To the right of us SPGBers at the entrance to Hyde Park (we had leafleted the demo since the multitudes had been gathering at Embankment six hours earlier) an SWPer, megaphone to lips, optimistically announced to the thousands upon thousands pouring through the main gates that two million had turned up to march to Hyde Park and that 140,000 had marched on Glasgow and, more, that three million thronged the streets of Rome. Each proclamation was greeted with a roar from the crowd, perhaps on a par with the cheers that greeted the holding aloft of the severed heads of Louis XVI and co. And again his claim that “we” could bring down the Blair government brought another roar and a tidal wave of dancing banners and placards.

    Tired, cold, their bladders bursting, their banners held high and often proclaiming their allegiance to the thousands of groups who had turned up, most were already aware that they were taken part in the biggest demonstration in British political history and that something – maybe not yet defined – was happening.

    The once unheard of Stop the War Coalition had had its ranks swelled with 400 affiliated organisations ranging from CND and the Socialist Alliance to Artists Against the War and the Colombia Solidarity Campaign. Palestinian flags waved beside a colourful and intricate banner proclaiming the presence of the Sex Workers Union and Class War flags could be found amidst a thousand home made placards. The young, elderly and infirm, people from all walks of life were on the march determined to show the masters of war that any coming conflict would not be fought in their name. The political parties and organisations aside, this was a demonstration at which the common people were expressing their anger.

    It was difficult not to feel proud to witness this demo, to gain comfort from the fact that people were actually asking us for leaflets, hoping they could learn more about the madness at which they were protesting and to ponder whether or not the masses were at last waking up from their state-induced sleep; for few we encountered could not locate the Iraqi crisis in a simple political and economic context – namely, that Bush and Blair were intent on invading Iraq with no other desire than to secure the world's second largest oil reserves. Even the neo-nazis of the BNP, arch enemies of ''the left'' and the scourge of a thousand Moslem communities, and previously forewarned that they were not welcome, had a presence and were claiming this would be a war for oil – well, there's opportunists on every demo!

    As we left Hyde Park at 5.30pm, our stock of 15,000 leaflets depleted and darkness rapidly falling, we passed thousands still marching, including a huge Welsh contingent. Clearly fatigued, they walked at a pace those who had preceded them hours earlier would have envied, intent on reaching their destination even if the day's speakers had departed, their platitudes to be read in the Sunday broadsheets. They had come this far and were not going to be deterred by the fact that the demo was at an end.

    It would be easy to dismiss this demonstration as a mass gathering of well-meaning reformists, some of whom would happily give Blair their backing for the carpet bombing of Iraq once the contentious “second UN Resolution” was secured. Similarly, it would be simple to point to the immense single-issue focus of many of the demonstrators and to observe that they were unaware that to end war we must first end capitalism. However, at a time when British elections are attracting their lowest turnouts since records began and the mass media regularly speak of the apathy of “Joe Public”, this was Joe Public marching and with no requirement for anyone to define their politics other than to vote with their feet against yet another war in which blood and oil will again be weighed on the scales of profit.

    Undoubtedly a march attended by one million-plus in London does not constitute a mass movement bent on charge any more than the massive demonstration in Genoa in July of 2001 signalled the death knell for capitalism And whilst this was clearly no rallying call to socialism, we can at least draw comfort from the fact that the workers cannot now be dismissed as totally apathetic and that people, as we have always maintained, can unite in common cause; that humans are at their best and will work together, when faced with the worst.

    Whilst out on the streets promoting the case for socialism, we often encounter jibes from experts on human nature to the effect that “humans are selfish and aggressive and not capable of co-operating in their own interests'. In London on 15 February, one million workers walked together peacefully, and as one, and in opposition to, aggression. Around the world, from New York to Brussels and from Kiev to Sydney, demonstrators took to the streets in their tens and hundreds of thousands in 600 cities to protest their disapproval of the proposed killing of thousands.

    What was that about Human Nature?
    John Bissett