Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Workers against the Bolsheviks

Book review from the July 2008 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Russian Revolution in Retreat, 1920-24. Soviet workers and the new communist elite. By Simon Pirani, Routledge, 2008.

One of the consequences of the fall of state capitalism in the USSR at the beginning of the 90s has been the opening up of the archives of the old regime, including those of its secret police. This book is a fascinating study, based on the minutes of meetings of soviets and factory committees as well as police reports, of the fight put up by factory workers in Moscow in the period 1920-24 to defend their interests under, and at times against, the Bolshevik government. Pirani also describes the beginnings of the emergence of members of the Bolshevik Party as a new, privileged elite.

In 1920 and 1921 during the civil war and its immediate aftermath, conditions in Russia were dire. Workers were paid in kind, but the rations often arrived late and were sometimes reduced. This led to protests and strikes, which the Bolshevik government was prepared to accommodate as long as these were purely economic and did not challenge their rule. The government was particularly edgy in 1921 at the time of the Krondstadt Revolt, whose demands for free elections to the soviets and a relaxation of the ban on private trading, had the sympathy of many workers. In fact, in the still not entirely unfree elections, to the local soviets that year members of other parties (Mensheviks, Socialist-Revolutionaries, anarchists) and non-party militants made gains at the expense of the Bolsheviks. Pirani concentrates on these “non-partyists” who seemed to have been factory militants who wanted to concentrate on economic issues, but with an acute understanding of the balance of forces and what could extracted from the government.

In 1923 the government cracked down on the other parties, including their factory activists, and stopped them carrying out any open activity. Pirani notes that “no non-communist political organization worked openly in Moscow again until the end of the Soviet period”. The non-partyists survived a little longer while the Bolsheviks tried to co-opt them into their party. What political opposition there was was confined to dissident Bolsheviks, inside and outside the party, some of whom adopted a pro-working class stand over wages and conditions, but eventually they too were silenced and many of them joined the members of the other parties in the labour camps of Central Asia and Siberia.

Lenin’s attitude was typical of the one he had displayed twenty years earlier in his notorious pamphlet What Is To Be Done? : that workers were not to be trusted to know their own best interest; judging this had to be left to an intellectual elite organised as a vanguard party. Pirani summarises part of Lenin’s speech to the 11th Bolshevik Party Congress in 1921:

“Lenin argued that the Russian working class could not be regarded as properly proletarian. ‘Often when people say ‘workers’, they think that that means the factory proletariat. It certainly doesn’t’, he said. The working class that Marx had written about did not exist in Russia, Lenin claimed. ‘Wherever you look, those in the factories are not the proletariat, but casual elements of all kinds.’”

Pirani comments that “the practical consequence of this was that political decision-making had to be concentrated in the party”. This distinction between the actual working class (who cannot be trusted) and the “proletariat” (organised in a vanguard party who know best) has been inherited by all Leninist groups ever since and used to justify the dictatorship of the party over the working class.

Pirani’s book should be read by those who think, or who want to refute, that the state in Russia under the Bolsheviks could ever have been described as “workers”. The workers there always had to try to defend their wages and conditions against it, even in the time of Lenin and Trotsky.

Adam Buick

Weekly Bulletin of The Socialist Party of Great Britain (57)

Dear Friends,

Welcome to the 57th of our weekly bulletins to keep you informed of changes at Socialist Party of Great Britain @ MySpace.

We now have 1319 friends!

Recent blogs:

  • Marx's Basic Theory
  • Another world
  • Marxian Economics in the Modern World
  • Quote for the week:

    "In conflict with them ['social democrats'] for a generation are those who would sacrifice immediate success to sound principles, who have been content to be fewer in numbers if clearer in understanding, who have given transient political issues the 'go-by' and have harped upon social revolution, who have expounded economics and the class struggle, when others were shouting against taxes and tariffs, who have earned for themselves the name of Impossiblist, and have been content therewith. The war has justified them. . . The 'practical socialists' are cutting one another's throats in the trenches." [Manifesto of the Socialist Party of Canada, 4th Edition, 1915.]

    Continuing luck with your MySpace adventures!

    Robert and Piers

    Socialist Party of Great Britain

    Profits Before Homes

    From the July 2008 issue of the Socialist Standard

    “One of Britain’s biggest brick makers is to close two of its largest factories”, reported the (London) Times (9 June). A few days later the same paper was reporting, as an example of what is happening all over the country in the building trade, that “Heatco Midlands has laid off its apprentices and told its employees that it cannot afford to pay them for a full week’s work because building work has dried up in the space of a month” (12 June).

    Why? Why are brickworks being closed? Why are building workers being laid off or put on short-time? It is certainly not because the need for new or refurbished houses has been met. According to Shelter, “England is suffering a massive housing crisis. There simply aren’t enough decent, affordable homes.” Here are some of the figures they provide to back up this statement:

  • 8.1 million homes in England fail to meet the Government’s Decent Homes Standard.
    more than one million children in England live in bad housing.
  • in 2006/07, 554,000 households in England were overcrowded.
  • in 2007, almost 100,000 households were found to be · homeless by local authorities - almost twice as many as in 1997.
  • at the end of December 2007, 79,500 households were living in temporary accommodation arranged by local authorities. Nearly 60,000 of these households had · dependent children.
  • Nearly 1.7 million households are currently on local authority housing waiting lists.
  • So, the need for more houses and better housing is still there. The problem is that under capitalism houses are not built with the primary aim of providing somewhere for people to live. They are built to be sold on a market with a view to profit. And, at the moment, there’s a slump in what is openly called “the housing market”. Which is expected to last for years; at least that’s what the speculators think. On the futures market, “traders are betting that house prices will fall 50 per cent in four years and they do not expect prices to recover until 2017” (London Times, 12 June).

    Wienerberger’s chief executive, Wolfgang Reithofer, was perfectly frank about why the two factories were being closed: “It is a question of finance and this has impact. It will impact the strategy of housebuilders. They will not start new projects or will delay some other project.”

    He thinks that demand will eventually recover but by “demand” he doesn’t mean the needs identified by Shelter but only paying demand, what the economists cynically call “effective” demand. The demand of the millions of people suffering from bad housing doesn’t count – isn’t effective – because it’s not backed up by money. This, in accordance with the harsh economic law of capitalism of “can’t pay, can’t have”.

    The building industry has set up a charity to help the homeless called, ominously, “Crash” (www.crash.org.uk). This handing out of a few pennies to charities for the homeless while cutting back on housebuilding is just adding insult to injury.

    Not that the solution to the housing crisis is to give people more money to spend on housing. That’s not going to happen anyway. The solution is simple: build houses just for people to live in. But that’s not going to happen until and unless we move on to a society where things will be produced precisely to satisfy people’s needs instead of, as under capitalism, to make a profit and leave people homeless or in bad housing if they can’t pay.

    Saturday, July 26, 2008

    Stimulating packages

    From the Marx and Coca-Cola blog


    Remember that $600 check we all got that was supposed to stimulate the economy? Well, it stimulated something all right:
    An independent market-research firm, AIMRCo (Adult Internet Market Research Company), has discovered that many websites focused on adult or erotic material have experienced an upswing in sales in the recent weeks since checks have appeared in millions of Americans' mailboxes across the country....Jillian Fox, spokeswoman for LSGmodels.com, one of the sites reporting figures to AIMRCo, added, "In a June 15, 2008 survey to our members, thirty two percent of respondents referenced the recent stimulus package as part of their decision to either become a new member, or renew an existing membership."

    While our tax dollars go to subsidize naughtyasianschoolgirls.com this story has appeared in my local paper: Stretch SUV carries shoppers on tour of foreclosed homes.

    Tourism: can it be green?

    For those ‘green consumers’ who have adopted the principles of a green lifestyle eco-tourism fits neatly with the now familiar slogan to ‘Think Globally – Act Locally’ as a counter to environmental destruction. The adoption of a green lifestyle can include: Buying only organic food; keeping a record of your carbon footprint; using bio-degradable products; ensuring your savings and pension fund is ‘ethically’ invested in bio-diversity products or sustainable projects; supporting ‘fair trading’; participating in recycling schemes; be sparing on the use of plastic bags; and even endorsing the Body Shop empire. The solution is presented as an individual act rather than the collective action of individuals struggling for social change to put a stop to environmental destruction. Of course you can do all of these, but you shouldn’t think that such activities will necessarily lessen the impact on the environment.

    For instance, despite the claims of the eco-tourism operators that their priority is sustainability and biodiversity, the green consumer lifestyle facilitates the opening up of a new market where environmental concern is transformed into a commodity. When the market is presented as the saviour of the environment then green consumers, and eco-tourists in particular, need to be aware that they cannot disregard the logic of production for profit. Nevertheless, for socialists the idea of adopting a green lifestyle is not to be derided, because – despite these shortcomings - it is a tentative step towards working with nature, rather than against it.
    By increasing our understanding of the interaction between the natural environment and the impact of human activity society will be in a better position to minimise the damage on natural resources, and be able to arrive at rational judgements on whether or not any interference in the natural environment is justified and warranted. But be warned that such environmental concerns are not on the capitalist agenda. For the priority under capitalism is to make a profit by exploiting the environment through market forces.

    We travel for relaxation. We travel for adventure. We travel to escape the familiar and venture into the unknown. Tourism brings in money and creates employment: one in 16 jobs worldwide is directly or indirectly related to tourism. In Thailand, tourism is the leading source of foreign exchange. And although tourism can help to maintain a country's interest in its own cultural and artistic heritage and, at it its best, can foster genuine friendships between different members of the human family this all comes with a price attached.

    Increasingly, 'alternative travel' as eco-tourism is known in the tourist trade, is being marketed as the only way to see the world these days. And as more and more people venture off the beaten track to experience unique cultures and unspoiled nature, ecotourism is considered the fastest growing market in the tourism industry, with an annual growth rate of 5 percent worldwide. According to the World Tourism Organisation this represents 6 percent of the world gross domestic product and 11.4 percent of all consumer spending.

    Whereas, previously, you enjoyed the values of the natural environment by joining the Ramblers or Youth Hostel Association, now its considered more adventurous (and expensive) to take part in white water rafting down remote rivers, or to go native in the Australian bush, stay with the indigenous people in the Amazonian rainforest, enjoy the delights of the local wildlife and the taste of organic food at an eco-lodge in India. These eco-travellers are setting out on foot safaris in Africa, camping in the Mexican rainforest, and trekking to hill tribe villages in Thailand. You can also have a holiday in a tree-house in Costa Rica and enjoy the delights of a ropeway through the jungle canopy. And if none of these at to your taste what about some whale watching in Victoria B.C. where you can disrupt the breeding habits of the grey whale and walrus?

    There are many more such holidays on offer and they are increasing by the day. At the last count taken in 2007 ten percent of the global travel market is now eco-tourism. And though the 21st century is considered an era of environmental sensitivity and climate change remains firmly on the global conscience, with remote locations becoming more and more accessible many countries are beginning to promote their natural wonders to bring in the eco-minded tourist. But in doing so the market system is faced with a conundrum of trying to preserve natural resources and also try to accommodate the vast numbers of tourists they will attract.

    The ideal of eco-tourism, as defined by Martha Honey, the executive director of the International Ecotourism Society, reads like a travel agents dream:

    "Travel to fragile, pristine and usually protected areas that strives to be low impact and usually small scale. It helps educate travelers; provides funds for conservation; directly benefits the economic development and political empowerment of local communities; and fosters respect for different cultures and human rights."

    However, this ideal in many instances fails miserably to achieve its aim and in fact contributes to environmental destruction. For the reality is that in terms of human impact eco-tourists are no different – other than in scale – to the everyday tourist on a package holiday to the Costa Bravo. This is what an official for the World Wildlife Fund told Leo Hickman about on the impact of tourism in Thailand:

    “The tsunami was nothing compared to the impact of tourism. It is a much larger, long-term problem. . . . I was born in 1972 and when I was eight or nine it was still largely virgin rainforest here on the island. By the late 1980s, though, it was mostly developed. We have now lost so much of the biodiversity and primary forest and the soil is destabilising in many places. The construction of hotels upstream is creating a lot of sediment in the water and this causes damage to the coral reefs when it washes out to sea. It also affects the mangroves on the east coast. A lot of our waste water – about 40 per cent – is still being pumped out to sea on the west coast where all the resort areas are.

    Land is now so expensive here due to tourism; the cost of living is even higher than Bangkok – it has meant that many local people have been forced to sell off their ancestral home and have now lost their only real asset. There is even competition for schools here for the first time. And there is a lot of overfishing here; this is for export rather than for the tourists per se, but lobsters are now being brought in from Burma to meet the tourists’ appetite for these vulnerable creatures. The corals are also damaged by tourism. Snorkellers actually cause more damage than divers because they touch the coral more often….”

    (Leo Hickman, The Final Call – In Search of the True Cost of our Holidays, 2007).

    In Costa Rica, whose parks are wildly popular with the millions of people who visit the country each year, the behaviour of some wild animals has been altered - some monkeys attack and bite tourists when not fed. Along the trail to the Mount Everest base camp in Nepal, deforestation is getting worse as locals cut down trees to heat meals and to provide hot showers for foreign eco-trekkers. And Mount Everest itself is becoming infamous for the amount of discarded rubbish left on the routes towards the summit. Some estimates put it at over 2000 tons which don’t include the remains of a helicopter. And in the lower regions of the Himalayan foothills the popularity of backpacking is not only causing serious soil erosion but water pollution.

    And what has happened in Nepal is only one example where eco-tourism is becoming transformed into eco-vandalism through the insanity of the profit system. Another example is what is happening in Kerala in India which is marketed either as, ‘God’s own country’, or as, the ‘Gateway to Paradise’. Kerala is a unique water region famous for its lakes, rivers and back waters and distinct wildlife and fauna and is also an attractive stopover or base for the eco-tourists who visit the nearby National Reserve. However, what is not marketed by the Kerala Tourist Board is the lack of sewerage facilities and rubbish collection for its thousands upon thousands of houseboats and hotels and so called eco-lodges. Before Kerala became invaded by tourists the indigenous population ensured their impact on the natural environment was sustainable or recyclable. Now water courses are becoming heavily polluted with sewerage and the plastic debris of a throwaway society.

    Besides environmental damage there can be profound social and cultural consequences to travel as well. For example, what is occurring in Northern Thailand, home to many different 'hill tribes,' is a case in point. Uniquely individual in language, customs and dress, these semi-nomadic peoples share a history of ancestor worship and a close relationship with the land. However, with the introduction of eco-tourism they also share the experience of being in something akin to a human zoo. Hill tribe trekking operations sell 'authentic visits’ to see 'primitive peoples`. But what the eco-tourists are not told is that much of the so called culture on show has a tenuous relationship with the actual culture of the people they are visiting, for in actual fact the ‘traditional’ culture has been transformed into a commodity to meet the demands of the tourist market. In short the eco-tourist is being sold an illusion that the culture on display is ‘authentic’.

    The ravages of eco-tourism and tourism in general are becoming so self-evident it raises the question what can we do to lessen the impact of human activity but nevertheless still enjoy a holiday – both at home and overseas? Firstly, it is essential to acknowledge that when market forces literally encourage an irrational human impact on the environment and natural resources, how can you also realistically expect those self-same forces to solve the environmental problems they created in the first place? Therefore, in the search for solutions it’s become vital that we look outside of the capitalist box where the social relationships of private ownership of the means of living constrain and restrict our constructive abilities to remedy environmental destruction.

    In socialism where the principle of free access underpins the common ownership of the means of living our options and choices on travel and holidays would be extended and influenced by what positive contribution we can make to the country we are visiting. And with package holidays and mass tourism a thing of the past it is most likely holidays in socialism would not be restricted within a timescale of 10 to 14 days of hectic hedonism but transformed into an unique opportunity to stay in a particular location for as long as it takes to understand the history and culture of that region. In effect the transformation in the social relationships from private property ownership to common ownership will radically alter our perception of travel.

    Under such conditions eco-tourism will come into its own with visits to particular regions becoming combined with studies on the wildlife, fauna and local culture. On the other hand you may wish to take part in making housing improvements by demolishing shanty towns or transforming a former holiday hotel into flats for the local population. Alternatively you could help out in a health clinic, or even give a hand to clean up polluted waterways. In effect whatever your particular choice of holiday the aim will be to combine it with an understanding that the framework of socialism will assist everybody on the globe in meeting their needs for shelter, food, clothing, education and health. Indeed it’s time to start thinking of trashing capitalism not the planet.

    Brian Johnson

    E. Hardy's lecture on Monetarism

    The final lecture from Edgar Hardcastle's series of talks on economics:

    First Part
    DOWNLOAD LINK: Monetarism (Part 1)

    FILE NAME: 02 Monetarism.mp3

    FILE SIZE: ~58.36 MB megabytes

    LENGTH: 1:03:21

    Second Part
    DOWNLOAD LINK: Monetarism (Part 2)

    FILE NAME: 03 Monetarism - Part Two.mp3

    FILE SIZE: ~ 48.76 MB megabytes

    LENGTH: 52:54

    Further Reading:

  • Edgar Hardcastle's Marxist Internet Archive page
  • Thursday, July 24, 2008

    E. Hardy's lecture on Rent, Interest and Profit

    The third economics lecture from Edgar Hardcastle:

    First Part
    DOWNLOAD LINK: Rent, Interest and Profit (Part 1)

    FILE NAME: 04 Rent, Interest And Profit.mp3

    FILE SIZE: ~57.81 MB megabytes

    LENGTH: 1:02:43

    Second Part

    DOWNLOAD LINK: rent, Interest and Profit (Part 2)

    FILE NAME: 05 Rent, Interest And Profit.mp3

    FILE SIZE: ~38.25 MB megabytes

    LENGTH: 41:29

    Further Reading:

  • Edgar Hardcastle's Marxist Internet Archive page
  • Wednesday, July 23, 2008

    The SPGB and the Guesdists

    From the La Bataille socialiste blog

    When the Socialist Party of Great Britain was being founded in 1904, as a breakaway from the Social Democratic Federation which had pioneered Marx’s ideas in Britain, the main issue confronting the international Social Democratic movement was “Ministerialism”, or whether or not Socialists should participate in a “bourgeois government”. In 1899 a prominent member of the French section, Alexandre Millerand (a later President of France), accepted a ministerial post in a left-of-centre Radical government. This led to a split in the already rather amorphous movement in France, with the walk-out of the “Guesdists”, as the Marxist Parti Ouvrier Français (French Workers Party) was known after its most prominent member, Jules Guesde, but which also included the more well-known, outside of France, Paul Lafargue, Marx’s son-in-law.

    The Guesdists had once before, twenty years previously, split off from the reformists, who they called “possibilists” and were in return dubbed by them “impossibilists” (probably the origin of the term). They were implacably opposed to socialists participating in a government of capitalism and in 1902 joined with other anti-ministerialist Social Democrats to form the Parti Socialiste de France (Socialist Party of France). The ministerialists, led by the parliamentary orator, Jean Jaurès, joined together in the Parti Socialiste Français (French Socialist Party) which was a pure and simple opportunist, reformist party.

    The issue had come up at the congress of the Social Democratic International in Paris in 1900 when a resolution, proposed by Kautsky, was passed which, while opposing as a general principle socialist participation in a capitalist government, left the door open for this in exceptional circumstances. Naturally, the ministerialists pleaded that the situation in France in 1899 had been exceptional. The Guesdists were not satisfied and at the next congress of the International, held in Amsterdam in 1904, moved a stronger anti-ministerialist resolution, which was passed. The SPGB was represented at this Congress (but didn’t like having to sit as part of a single British delegation, alongside representatives of the ILP and the SDF from which they had just broken away) and applauded the carrying of this resolution.

    Later that year an SPGB member obtained an interview in Paris with Paul Lafargue, mainly about the implications of the Russo-Japanese War that had just broken out. This was published in the November 1904 issue of the SPGB’s monthly journal, the Socialist Standard. In his write-up the member, after roundly condemning the attitude of Jaurès, commented:

    “It was not for nothing that our comrades of the Socialist Party of France moved the resolution at the recent International Congress, which declared against compromise and intrigue with capitalist parties. The Socialists of France have fought and are fighting the same battle against treachery and folly of opportunism, which we of The Socialist Party of Great Britain are waging in this country.”

    The Socialist Standard was still calling the Guesdists “our French comrades” in 1908. The January and February 1905 issues carried a translation of Guesde’s basic socialist pamphlet The Social Problem and its Solution.

    Although the Guesdists had succeeded in pushing through a strong anti-ministerialist resolution at Amsterdam this turned out to be something of a pyrrhic victory for them in that the congress also voted that all the affiliated organisations in one country should take steps to unite into a single organisation. The SPGB refused this in Britain and eventually (1907 conference) decided not to be represented at the next International Social Democrat congress, in Stuttgart in 1907, but to try to enter “into communication with the known representatives of that uncompromising policy of which the SPGB are the exponents in Great Britain” and who one delegated named as “Ferri, Michels, Guesde, Lafargue and others”. The Guesdists, however, went along with unity call and in 1905 the Socialist Party of France and the French Socialist Party united to form a party with the unwieldy title of “United Socialist Party (French Section of the Workers’ International)” or, in French, SFIO, by which name it was known until the 1970s.

    In the beginning the Guesdists were able to dominate the united party’s executive but soon the open reformists under Jaurès got the upper hand, relegating the Guesdists to a minority tendency within the SFIO. In 1907 the Guesdists started their own publication, Le Socialisme. The SPGB hoped that the Guesdists would split off from the reformist-dominated SFIO and form their own independent party. An article on “The International” in December 1907 commenting on the proceedings of the SFIO’s congress in August predicted:

    “In France there was until the International Congress in 1904 at Amsterdam, a body of real revolutionaries, the Guesdists. But in consequence of the ‘unity’ craze these revolutionary fighters fused with the Reformers, the followers of Jaurès, about two years ago ( . . . ) The Reformers have, at least temporarily, bamboozled the Guesdists; but judging from the proceedings at the last Congress of the Party, some weeks ago, there are already many bad sores which can only lead to a split in the future.”

    This never happened and the Guesdists remained in the SFIO. Despite seeing this as a mistake, the SPGB continued to regard them as “real revolutionaries”. In the year 1908 the Socialist Standard carried in separate issues five articles translated from Le Socialisme and a sixth from Lafargue. A further four articles or news items from this journal were published in the following years, the last appearing in November 1912. The translations were done by French-speaking SPGB members, at least two of whom were working in France at the time.

    What was Guesdism?

    What was it that the early SPGB found in the Guesdists that led them to regard them as “real revolutionaries” and “our French comrades”?

    Firstly, their Marxism. The Guesdists were the group which first introduced Marxist ideas into France in much the same way, and during the same period (1880s, 1890s), as the SDF in Britain. So, some of the articles chosen for translation were on aspects of Marxist theory. Three of them were translations of articles by Charles Rappoport on historical and philosophical subjects: “Evolution and Revolution” (July 1905), “The Society of Tomorrow” (September 1908) and “Fatalism and Historical Necessity” (given front page treatment in April 1911). Another theoretical article, on “The Evolution of Society”, by the leading Guesdist Eduoard Fortin, had appeared in the September 1905 issue. Lafargue’s article, in May 1908, dealt with “The Law of Value and the Dearness of Commodities”. In February and March 1912 the Socialist Standard carried a translation of an 1882 article by Lafargue on “Socialism and Nationalisation” in which he argued that nationalisation was a capitalist reform not socialism. In fact, although the early SPGB did contain German as well as French speakers and the German Social Democratic Party was generally considered the most Marxist of such parties, apart from a translation of Karl Kautsky’s The Erfurt Programme (published in the Socialist Standard and then as the Party’s first three pamphlets) most translated articles on Marxist theory were from French not German.

    Secondly, their position on socialist tactics. This was “the economic expropriation of the capitalist class by their political expropriation”; in other words, that the way to socialism lay via the conquest of political power by the working class. To this end, said the Guesdists, the working class needed to organise into a mass socialist party and it was the first duty of socialists (the title of an article by Charles Verecque, translated in the June 1908 Socialist Standard) to build such a party by incessant propaganda and organisation. Socialists were, in a perhaps unfortunate phrase of Guesde’s, to act as “recruiting sergeants” for this party. “It cannot be too often repeated”, wrote Verecque,

    “that what keeps the proletariat from its emancipation is the fact of its ignorance. If it could only understand it would free itself. The new form of Society is ready to take shape under its direction and for its benefit. Its consent is the only thing lacking. The daily task of Socialists is therefore to prepare the workers for the historic mission which they have to accomplish.”

    “The vote,” wrote Guesde in an article on Legality and Revolution published on the front page of the February 1908 Socialist Standard, “however legal it may be, is revolutionary when on the basis of class candidatures it organises France of labour against France of capital”.

    Thirdly, and as a consequence of this basic position, their implacable opposition to anarchistic notions of minority “direct action” and “the general strike”. Of what might be called the leftwing of pre-WWI international Social Democracy—the intransigent anti-Revisionists, anti-ministerialists, and anti-reformists—the Guesdists and the SPGB were almost alone in taking up such a position. Others such as Rosa Luxemburg and Anton Pannekoek were influenced by these ideas, though they talked about “mass action” and “the mass strike” to distinguish themselves from the anarchists. In America Daniel De Leon embraced industrial unionism to “take and hold” the means of production rather than “the economic expropriation of the capitalist class by their political expropriation”. So too, in fact, did some of the founding members of the SPGB, one of whom, EJB Allen, became a prominent “industrial unionist” and “revolutionary syndicalism”. This tendency was represented in the SFIO by Gustave Hervé (and in the Italian party by one, Benito Mussolini).

    The Guesdist position, shared by the SPGB, was put in an article by Paul-Marius André translated in the November 1908 Socialist Standard. Entitled “The Two Possibilisms”, it argued that the anarchist direct-actionists were just as much reformists as the parliamentary gradualists since they, too, were not prepared to knuckle down to the longish haul of winning majority support for socialism and of building up a strong socialist party that would eventually be able to gain control of political power and abolish capitalism, but wanted “something now”—reforms; the only difference between them and the parliamentary reformists was that they favoured “direct” as opposed to “parliamentary” action to try to get them. Not only was this ineffective as a reformist strategy, but it unnecessarily put working class lives in danger.

    The Socialist Standard of the period carried a number of articles, some written by members on the spot in Paris, recording the failure of the tactics of the anarchist leaders of the main French trade union grouping, the CGT, to hammer home the same point as the Guesdists: that the way to expropriate the capitalist class was not by industrial action with the state still controlled by their representatives but by political action once socialists had won sufficient working-class support to take over the state.

    Were they really real revolutionaries?

    But were the Guesdists the “real revolutionaries” that the early SPGB considered them to be?

    While the SPGB was an organisation of a few hundred working men and women, the Guesdists had thousands of members, more than a dozen MPs and controlled a number of local authorities, including Lille, the third biggest city in France. This reflected itself in the different attitude towards reforms, which the Guesdists party had some chance of influencing. On paper, the Guesdists took the view that, as long as capitalism lasted, working-class problems would continue so that reforms would at most only be palliatives and single-issue campaigns were diversions from the struggle to win political power to expropriate the capitalist class and make the means of production the common property of society, which alone could provide the framework within which these problems could be solved.

    However, unlike the SPGB, they did advocate reforms. So, their MPs, mayors and councillors had not been elected on a straight socialist programme but on a programme of socialism and reforms. Which meant that, in practice, they were just as much the prisoners of their reform-minded, non-socialist voters as were Jaurès and his supporters. No doubt this was why in the end, contrary to what the early SPGB hoped and urged, they were not prepared to break away from the reformist-dominated SFIO and branch out on their own in opposition to it. So they stayed in, with the result that, as an article in the Socialist Standard in October 1910 on the Copenhagen Congress of the Social Democrat International (the same article which represented the SPGB’s definite break with the International, which was described as having been taken over by pro-capitalist elements), noted:

    “In France, the Guedists, who at one time, in spite of their small numbers, wielded enormous power for Socialist enlightenment, are absorbed by the reformist followers of Jaurès and Vaillant”.

    Another mistaken, or at least ambiguous, position of the Guesdists was their attitude to patriotism. This was an issue that had been discussed within the SFIO in the light of the anti-militarist and anti-patriotism campaign launched by Hervé. Even though Hervé was not a Guesdist, the members of the SPGB who followed affairs in France were aware that some of his views on this question were similar to ours. Thus, the June 1907 Socialist Standard carried a translation of his views:

    “The workers are disinherited and ill-treated in every existing country. All nations are equal, or nearly so, in this respect, particularly now that the capitalist regime renders more and more uniform the material, intellectual, and political conditions of life for the labouring class in all countries; and now that the introduction of the capitalist system in Russia will compel even Tsarism to accord to the Russian workers the essentials of political liberty. No country at the present day, is so superior to the others that the workers of that country should get themselves killed in its defence.”

    The article agreed with this position, but went on to disagree with Hervé’s conclusion that, in the event of war breaking out, the workers should stage an armed uprising to try to overthrow capitalist rule (“Rather insurrection than war”, as he put it), pointing out that this “would be courting a shambles that would make war peace by contrast”, with workers sacrificing their lives in “a fruitless and bloody” action. The article also pointed out that as militarism was the product of capitalism the only way to end it was to end capitalism; the efforts of socialists should be aimed at this rather than at mere anti-militarism.

    Guesde and the Guesdists made the same two points in the debate within the SFIO, but they did not join Hervé in denouncing patriotism. The full implications of this refusal to denounce patriotism did not become evident until the First World War broke out. Guesde himself entered the French War Cabinet. Hervé, it has to be added, did a complete U-turn and became an ardent patriot and nationalist, joining the army to go and fight. Jaurès, who was assassinated before the war started, went down in history as an anti-war hero, even though there can be no doubt that had he lived he too would have rallied round the French flag and joined the war cabinet instead of Guesde. This of course completely discredited Guesde and the Guesdists with the SPGB.

    After the war, some Guesdists, Charles Rappoport for instance, went over to the Communist Party. Others remained in the SFIO (including Guesde who died in 1922 at the age of 77) and represented a strand of anti-Leninist Marxism in France that survived until a few years ago.


    E. Hardy's lecture on the Labour Theory of Value

    The second economics lecture from Edgar Hardcastle:

    First Part
    DOWNLOAD LINK: Labour Theory of Value (Part 1)

    FILE NAME: 12 Labour Theory of Value.mp3

    FILE SIZE: ~59.58 MB megabytes

    LENGTH: 1:04:40

    Second Part

    DOWNLOAD LINK: Labour Theory of Value (Part 2)

    FILE NAME: 13 Labour Theory of Value - Part Two.mp3

    FILE SIZE: ~33.49 MB megabytes

    LENGTH: 36:21

    Further Reading:

  • Edgar Hardcastle's Marxist Internet Archive page
  • Weekly Bulletin of The Socialist Party of Great Britain (56)

    Dear Friends,

    Welcome to the 56th of our weekly bulletins to keep you informed of changes at Socialist Party of Great Britain @ MySpace.

    We now have 1314 friends!

    Recent blogs:

  • The Bilderberg Group
  • Did Jesus ever live?
  • What we should not do
  • Quote for the week:

    "The society which organizes production anew on the basis of free and equal association of the producers will put the whole state machinery where it will then belong - into the museum of antiquities, next to the spinning wheel and the bronze axe." F. Engels, Chapter 9, The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State, 1884.

    Continuing luck with your MySpace adventures!

    Robert and Piers

    Socialist Party of Great Britain

    Tuesday, July 22, 2008

    E. Hardy on Crises And Depressions

    From the Inveresk Street Ingrate blog

    The internet connection should go down more often. Not only did it prompt me to pick up a book to read, but I also happened to stumble upon an old data CD hiding at the back of the bookcase that includes a series of audio files of economics lectures given by the late SPGB member, Edgar Hardcastle.

    The talks date from the early eighties - I'm not sure of the exact date - when Hardcastle, himself, was in his early eighties, and I'm pretty certain that these Economics Education classes were organised by the old Islington Branch of the SPGB. They may or may not have been organised around about the same time as Steve Coleman's 'Socialist Thinkers' series.

    To be honest, I'm not sure how many talks Hardcastle gave in this lecture series, but I do have five of the talks on the disc and I will post them on the blog over the next five days.

    Maybe anyone out there with bound volumes of the Socialist Standard close at hand can fill in the gaps: (I.E.) When the meetings were held . . . Where they were held . . . In which chronological order the meetings were held . . . And which meetings have I missed in the series.

    As mentioned above, Hardcastle was in his early eighties when he gave the talks. As his linked to obituary outlines, he was the:

    ". . . son of a founder member, he went to prison as a socialist conscientious objector in the First World War, formally joining the Party in 1922. After studying at the London School of Economics under Professor Edwin Cannan he worked all his life as a researcher in the trade union movement, first for the Agriculture Workers Union, then for a short while for the international trade union movement in Brussels, then till his retirement for the Post Office workers' union where he was chief adviser to a succession of UPW General Secretaries."

    He served on the Editorial Committee of the Socialist Standard for over forty years, and represented the SPGB on many occasions in debate. His pen name, when writing articles for the Standard, was 'H', and when he spoke for the Party he was listed as 'Hardy' in the meetings pages of the Standard.

    The use of 'H' as a pen name dates from time in the SPGB's publishing history when the overwhelming majority of Party writers would sign their articles with either their initials or with a pseudonym. I can only guess that he used the Party name of 'Hardy' when speaking for the SPGB because of work commitments.

    To give some sense of the span of his political life, speaking as a representative of the SPGB, he debated an Economic League speaker in 1927; a New Party speaker in 1931; Dr Edward Conze (speaking on behalf of the Labour Party) in 1937; Sir Keith Joseph in 1975; Arthur Seldon in 1981; Paul Hirst in 1983; and Kelvin Hopkins in 1988. (That's from an incomplete wiki list here.)

    A word of warning about the recordings: the sound quality is not the greatest. They are rips from cassette recordings, and it may be a case of having to crank up the volume to number 11 to hear the talks. And if you can hear the questions from the audience on the recordings, you're a superhero character from a marvel comic and i claim my five dollars. If you're a techno geek who can polish and improve the sound quality of these recordings, thanks in advance for any input.

    First Part
    DOWNLOAD LINK: Crisis and Depressions (Part 1)

    FILE NAME: 27 Crises And Depressions.mp3

    FILE SIZE: ~58.16 MB megabytes

    LENGTH: 1:03:05

    Second Part

    DOWNLOAD LINK: Crisis and Depressions (Part 2)

    FILE NAME: 28 Crises And Depressions - Part Two.mp3

    FILE SIZE: ~50.87 MB megabytes

    LENGTH: 55:11

    Further Reading:

  • Edgar Hardcastle's Marxist Internet Archive page
  • Suffer the little children – under New Labour (2008)

    From the July 2008 issue of the Socialist Standard

    Despite the promises child poverty is still widespread under Labour

    Beginning a letter to Labour Party Prime Minister Harold Wilson on 22 December 1965, AF Philip, Chairman of the newly-formed Child Poverty Action Group wrote: “There is evidence that at least half a million children in this country are in homes where there is hardship due to poverty.” He ended his plea on behalf of Britain’s deprived minors thus: “We earnestly beg you to see that steps are taken at the earliest possible moment to help these families.”

    So confident that child poverty would be quickly eradicated by the amazing magical wand that Wilson often wielded, Labour suggested the CPAG would be obsolete within a year, the problem it was set up to help eradicate a thing of the past.

    In 1997, when the Labour Party took political power from the Tories, Britain had the highest rate of child poverty in the industrialised world – ostensibly the result of 18 years of Conservative attempts to make capitalism work in Britain, via Friedmanite policies. Prime Minister Tony Blair castigated the Tories for their past treatment of Britain’s poorest families and promised to make ending child poverty a ‘New Labour’ priority.

    In March 1999, Blair famously remarked: “Our historic aim will be for ours to be the first generation to end child poverty forever, and it will take a generation. It is a twenty year mission, but I believe it can be done.” He went on to commit his government to a series of targets: New, caring Labour would reduce child poverty by a quarter by 2004-2005, halving it by 2010.

    Fast forward forty-plus years and the Child Poverty Action Group is amazingly still in existence, despite Harold Wilson having optimistically predicted its death four decades earlier, and we find Blair, despite no dent at all having been made in child poverty figures since Labour had taken power, confidently replying to a letter from the CPAG on 20th January 2006:
    “I can promise you that we share your ambition to make child poverty history in our country. It is why we have publicly said we want to halve child poverty by 2010 and eradicate it completely by 2020.”
    What was nauseating about this is that here was Blair is telling the CPAG, who in 1965 complained that there were officially half-a-million children in poverty, that by 2010 he will halve child poverty – in other words, slash the number of impoverished children from 3.4 million– the figure for child poverty reported that year - to 1.7 million. So over 40 years after Labour said they would end child poverty, here is ‘New’ Labour setting a figure which was three times the actual 1965 child poverty figure as an achievable target!! Well, at least Blair was cautious in saying child poverty would be eradicated within 20 years – Wilson, after all, promised a year! Moreover, this was Blair writing a year after Labour had failed to keep their promise of reducing child poverty by a quarter by 2005.

    That same week, in early 2006, the United Nations would report that children growing up in the United Kingdom suffer higher deprivation, poorer relationships with their parents and are exposed to more risks from alcohol, drugs and unsafe sex than those in any other wealthy country in the world. The report compiled by Unicef said that the UK was bottom of the league of 21 economically advanced countries, trailing the United States which came second to last.

    Worse was to come on 10 June this year when the government reluctantly released a plethora of figures in a 200-page report known as the Households Below Average Income statistics – and that was before Scotland's situation was documented. The Scottish figures aside, the report revealed that there are up to 6.4 million children and pensioners in Britain below the poverty line.

    The statistics were originally scheduled for release around the time of the 10p tax debacle and before the Crewe and Nantwich by-election, but it seemed there was only too much bad news the public could take and perhaps Labour now realised there will never be a good day in the foreseeable length left of this parliament on which to bury the proverbial bad news.

    Commenting on the latest figures, the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) noted that inequality in Britain was equal to its highest level since figures were available in 1961. They reveal that across the UK, the number of children in ‘relative’ poverty rose by an average 100,000 year on year to 2.9 million (or 3.9 million after their family housing costs are taken into account). 2006/7 was the second year in a row that child poverty had drastically shot upwards.

    As in 2006, with the Unicef lambasting Britain’s record on the treatment of children, and at a time it was revealed there had been no impact on the reduction of child poverty in Britain, so too now do we find Britain’s treatment of its minors coming under scrutiny in the week that the new child poverty figures were released.

    A report to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child from the four UK children's commissioners, on 9 June, painted a harrowing picture of life for Britain’s kids.

    Sir Al Aynsley-Green, England's children's commissioner, said: "Poverty is, in our view, the single most pernicious influence that is blighting the lives and prospects of our young people. We are one of the richest countries in the world. Yet Unicef has found that we have some of the highest levels of poverty. Poverty underpins most of the other social issues we are concerned with."


    The report demanded that the Convention on the Rights of the Child to be incorporated into UK law so that children's rights are recognised and legally binding, observing how children's rights have deteriorated in many regards since the last time the UN committee reported on the Government's track record.

    Kathleen Marshall, the commissioner for children in Scotland, demanded the UK fully implements the UNCRC, saying: "We have highlighted areas that remain a concern, including significant differences in juvenile justice in some parts of the UK and the public's attitudes towards children and young people.”


    The commissioners argued for “urgent reforms” noting that that the age of criminal responsibility is among the lowest in Europe: eight in Scotland and ten in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. Neither, did they feel, was custody being used as the very last resort, predominantly in England and Wales, where there are presently 2,837 children in custody.

    Frances Cook, director of the Howard League for Penal Reform, was one of many already aware that the governments hankering after more juvenile justice contradicted the reported drop in juvenile crime and urged that the use of physical restraint on children be banned.

    With Labour keen to be seen “tough on crime and tough on the causes of crime”, though few in government will openly admit that poverty causes crime, ever ready to ride the waves of moral panic, it is no more likely that we’ll see cops giving ‘hoodies” and infantile chavs a friendly pat on the head than we’ll see the total eradication of child poverty in Britain by 2020.

    Rather than distributing wealth and claiming to have, as its priority, the eradication of child poverty, improving the education and prospects of our children, Labour in fact redistributes poverty like no other government in the industrialised world.

    Of course, come election time, Brown and co will make the same staid old pronouncements on their commitment to eradicate child poverty, hoping working class historical amnesia will carry them through to a fourth victory, confident their lies and betrayals and rampant hypocrisy will be concealed by an excess of promises for the future and pathetic excuses for past failings. Meanwhile, their Tory and Lib-Dem detractors, ever critical of New Labour’s record on children will be presenting us with their own visions of smiley face capitalism in which the profit-driven market system will be magically made cognizant of the needs of children.
    John Bissett

    Monday, July 21, 2008

    Weasels at Westminster (2008)


    The Greasy Pole column from the July 2008 issue of the Socialist Standard
    “Ambitious” is a chameleon word, adapting itself to demands and conditions. An ambitious doctor may nurture an obsession to cure ravaging diseases. An ambitious sociologist may set out doggedly to unravel misconceived theories about the causes of crime, depression, homelessness. But…an “ambitious” estate agent? An “ambitious” tabloid hack? An “ambitious” politician?
    James Mark Dakin Purnell is the Labour MP for Stalybridge and Hyde. Succeeding to the seat in 2001, he was swept into the Commons by an electorate not then recovered from the hysteria of the 1997 slaughter of Tories and the raptures of Tonylove. Purnell’s was a well-worn path to Westminster; a “first class” degree at Oxford (Balliol College) in Politics, Philosophy and Economics, an Islington councillor, part-time holiday researcher for Tony Blair and then, after a couple of intimidatingly titled jobs, the dizzy heights of speech-writer to Prime Minister Blair. Being by then known as a “media expert” could have done him no harm but some may have reflected that twenty years before he could, with the same type of background, have fitted comfortably into the pattern of those other Oxford Firsts who, weighing up their chances, opted to favour the Tories with their talents. In the 2005 election, as the experience of Labour government induced a more stark realism in the voters, Purnell’s majority was reduced but still held firm at 8348 – although, as the Labour vote crumbles away, even his seat cannot be considered to be entirely safe. But Balliol graduates are renowned for their superiority so there is reason to believe that his survival and future have been carefully planned.
    The DWP
    Firstly, there is his experience in government, from more junior jobs in Creative Industry and Tourism (in which he “liberalised” alcohol licensing laws) and Culture, Media and Sport (which enabled him to offer to bemused Labour delegates vacuous speeches which included both the words “culture” and “community” without acknowledging any historical dependence between them). And then, in January 2008, replacing the sacked Peter Hain in charge at the massive, challenging and unhealthy Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) – a promotion described by TV’s Andrew Marr as “from threatening the BBC to threatening the unemployed”. Purnell had in fact done a previous stint at the DWP, which had earned him a commendation in Which magazine as Consumer Champion of the Year – something the unemployed may soon wonder about. He was given the testing job of opening the recent Budget debate, although a measure of his standing in the party was that this was to conspicuously unpopulated Labour benches. And now he is being spoken of as a possible replacement for Gordon Brown as Labour Leader – which cannot be entirely because the MPs are desperate about their security.
    Purnell’s future may depend on his success or failure in carrying through what Labour’s welfare guru Frank Field, among others, once called “thinking the unthinkable” – to so “reform” the benefits system as to virtually force the unemployed (including the incapacitated) back to work. Purnell is in no doubt about his contribution to this. In his interview with Andrew Marr he promised : “For people who can work, we’re going to require them to look for work, we’re going to get a million people off capacity benefit into work, 300,000 more lone parents into work…so it’s a major reform of the system”. This “ major reform” is planned to include roping in all claimants of incapacity benefit, who will have to submit themselves to a rigorous assessment of whether their claim fits in with what the government thinks should be incapacity. If it doesn’t fit in they will be provided with something menacingly called “extra support” to get them into work. And what if they still don’t toe the line? Purnell replies: “For those who don’t play by the rules, there will be clear consequences from their behaviour”. Those who are not on Incapacity Benefit but simply unemployed will be tested for their suitability for training; if they refuse to attend for this they will also face clear consequences – a reduction in their benefit.
    On 28 February, presenting something going by the resounding name of a Commissioning Strategy, Purnell proudly announced his own contribution as a minister to the unemployed statistics – “headcount reductions” (more precisely known as sacking people) of DWP employees leading to “increased productivity” of 11 per cent (more precisely known as making those who are not sacked work harder). And he summed up “Beveridge would be familiar with our goals, but not the methods by which we deliver them”. Beveridge is not, of course, available to comment on this piece of historical distortion.
    Deception
    Purnell is not the first government minister, and he will not be the last, to blame the unemployed for being out of work and to ascribe unemployment to the eagerness of the workless to luxuriate on meagre state benefits instead of to the intractable vagaries of capitalism’s economic system. He is not the first to try to bolster his own ambitions and to try to conceal his own impotence by diverting popular anxiety and prejudice about a problem onto handily identifiable scapegoats, if at the cost of driving them deeper into apathy and despair.
    So how does his own behaviour compare to the standards he sets for others? In September 2007 it was arranged for the five local MPs to pose for a group photo at the construction at the new Tameside General Hospital, But only four turned up for the photo; Purnell was 20 minutes drive away when the shutters were clicking and by the time he arrived the others had left. So a separate photo of him was taken and digitally added to the group shot, which appeared in the hospital newsletter. But a vigilant local editor noticed the deception, which meant that Purnell had some explaining to do – at which his customary confidence seemed to have deserted him. Grilled by a news presenter on BBC North West he squirmed as he doggedly insisted that the whole matter was a “misunderstanding”, the deception was done without his knowledge. However the interviewer just as doggedly reminded him that his own press office had said repeatedly that he had consented to the doctored photo. This was a trivial matter compared to other New Labour deceptions – some of which Purnell will have to promote as a loyal minister and MP – such as cash for honours, bribes to sell arms to the Saudis, Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction due to take off in a few minutes. But it illuminates the obsessive trickery bound up with capitalism’s politics and, for Purnell, must raise the question of how many other “misunderstandings” should he own up to?.
    Weasels
    Perhaps to avoid such distressful episodes in future Purnell has engaged an aide – Phill Collins, who is not the famed multi-millionaire warbler of pop songs but an aspirant who recently upset a local Labour Party by sulking when he was not joyfully selected to stand as their MP. But the prospects of a constructively harmonious partnership between Purnell and his adviser are not good for they seem to have crucial differences on important matters. Purnell rates Gordon Brown as a leader who “has the strategy and determination to be a great Prime Minister” while Collins thinks “Brown doesn’t need a speech writer. He needs a magician”. On the wider issue of whether Labour has a future Purnell sunnily informs us that it “is not a tired government. This is a government which is excited about the reforms that we are bringing in” but Collins thinks that “Labour’s future, after three terms, looks bleak”. This confusion is a matter for Purnell and Collins to reconcile with their claim to have a clear-headed, consistent remedy for capitalism’s inhuman anarchy. Meanwhile, it will be instructive to keep an eye on these two Westminster weasels – ambitious, ruthless, calculating but not yet clever enough to avoid the pitfalls which expose them for what they are and the system they represent.
    Ivan

    Saturday, July 19, 2008

    Now and again, and again, and again...

    From the Reasons To Be Impossible blog

    Then:
    The man opened a door. It was some kind of storeroom, and he walked Peter inside and slammed the door behind him. "Now, out with it!" he said. The man thrust into his pocket the printed circular, or whatever it was--Peter never saw it again, and never found out what was printed on it. With his free hand the man grabbed one of Peter's hands, or rather one finger of Peter's hand, and bent it suddenly backward with terrible violence. "Oh!" screamed Peter. "Stop!" And then, with a wild shriek, "You'll break it."

    "I mean to break it! mean to break every bone in your body! I'll tear your finger-nails out; I'll tear the eyes out of your head, if I have to! You tell me who helped you make that bomb!"

    Peter broke out in a storm of agonized protest; he had never heard of any bomb, he didn't know what the man was talking about; he writhed and twisted and doubled himself over backward, trying to evade the frightful pain of that pressure on his finger.

    "You're lying!" insisted Guffey. "I know you're lying. You're one of that crowd."

    "What crowd? Ouch! I dunno what you mean!"

    "You're one of them Reds, aint you?"

    "Reds? What are Reds?"
    Upton Sinclair's 100%: The Story of a Patriot (1920). And Now:
    The signs of something uglier here were apparent first in superficial ways. Some officers had traditional fascist songs as ringtones on their mobile phones and talked enthusiastically about Mussolini and Pinochet. Repeatedly, they ordered prisoners to say "Viva il duce." Sometimes, they used threats to force them to sing fascist songs: "Un, due, tre. Viva Pinochet!"

    The 222 people who were held at Bolzaneto were treated to a regime later described by public prosecutors as torture. On arrival, they were marked with felt-tip crosses on each cheek, and many were forced to walk between two parallel lines of officers who kicked and beat them. Most were herded into large cells, holding up to 30 people. Here, they were forced to stand for long periods, facing the wall with their hands up high and their legs spread. Those who failed to hold the position were shouted at, slapped and beaten. Mohammed Tabach has an artificial leg and, unable to hold the stress position, collapsed and was rewarded with two bursts of pepper spray in his face and, later, a particularly savage beating. Norman Blair later recalled standing like this and a guard asking him "Who is your government?" "The person before me had answered 'Polizei', so I said the same. I was afraid of being beaten."
    Nick Davies in the Guardian

    Wednesday, July 16, 2008

    Weekly Bulletin of The Socialist Party of Great Britain (55)

    Dear Friends,

    Welcome to the 55th of our weekly bulletins to keep you informed of changes at Socialist Party of Great Britain @ MySpace.

    We now have 1307 friends!

    Recent blogs:

  • Tomorrow's Enemies
  • Open prison
  • Meat, Money and Malnutrition
  • Quote for the week:

    "Money has no motherland; financiers are without patriotism and without decency; their sole object is gain." Napoleon Bonaparte, 1815

    Continuing luck with your MySpace adventures!

    Robert and Piers

    Socialist Party of Great Britain

    Saturday, July 12, 2008

    Meeting Spain's last anarchist

    From the BBC News Americas Website

    Meeting Spain's last anarchist

    By Alfonso Daniels

    San Buenaventura, Bolivia

    Hours after flying on a rickety 19-seater propeller plane and landing on a dirt strip, you get to the village of San Buenaventura in the heart of the Bolivian Amazon.

    Here, in a simple one-storey brick house next to a row of wooden shacks, is the home of Antonio Garcia Baron.

    He is the only survivor still alive of the anarchist Durruti column which held Francoist forces at bay in Madrid during the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939) and the founder of an anarchist community in the heart of the jungle.

    Mr Baron, 87, was wearing a hat and heavy dark glasses. He later explained that they were to protect his eyes, which were damaged when he drank a cup of coffee containing poison nine years ago.

    It was, he said, the last of more than 100 attempts on his life, which began in Paris, where he moved in 1945 after five years in the Mauthausen Nazi concentration camp, and continued in Bolivia, his home since the early 1950s.

    Stateless

    He was keen to share his views on 20th Century Spanish history with a wider audience.

    "The Spanish press has covered up that the (Catholic) Church masterminded the death of two million Republicans during the civil war, not one million as they maintain," Mr Baron said before launching into one of his many anecdotes.

    "I told Himmler (the head of the Nazi SS) when he visited the Mauthausen quarry on 27 April, 1941, what a great couple the (Nazis) made with the Church.

    "He replied that it was true, but that after the war I would see all the cardinals with the Pope marching there, pointing at the chimney of the crematorium."

    On the walls of Mr Baron's house is a picture of him taken in the camp. Next to it is a blue triangle with the number 3422 and letter S inside, marking the prisoners considered stateless.

    "Spain took away my nationality when I entered Mauthausen, they wanted the Nazis to exterminate us in silence. The Spanish government has offered to return my nationality but why should I request something that was stolen from me and 150,000 others?" he said angrily.

    Mr Baron arrived in Bolivia on the advice of his friend, the French anarchist writer Gaston Leval.

    "I asked him for a sparsely populated place, without services like water and electricity, where people lived like 100 years ago - because where you have civilisation you'll find priests."

    Some 400 people, mostly Guarani Indians, lived there at the time, but in fact also a German priest.

    "He was a tough nut to crack. He learnt of my arrival and told everyone that I was a criminal. They fled and made the sign of the cross whenever they saw me, but two months later I started speaking and they realised I was a good person, so it backfired on him."

    Convinced that the priest still spied on him, a few years later he decided to leave and create a mini-anarchist state in the middle of the jungle, 60km (37 miles) and three hours by boat from San Buenaventura along the Quiquibey River.

    With him was his Bolivian wife Irma, now 71.

    They raised chicken, ducks and pigs and grew corn and rice which they took twice a year to the village in exchange for other products, always rejecting money.

    Dunkirk

    Life was tough and a few years ago Mr Baron lost his right hand while hunting a jaguar.

    For the first five years, until they began having children, they were alone. Later a group of some 30 nomadic Indians arrived and decided to stay, hunting and fishing for a living, also never using money.

    "We enjoyed freedom in all of its senses, no-one asked us for anything or told us not to do this or that," he recounted as his wife smiled, sitting in a chair at the back of the room.

    Recently they moved back to the village for health reasons and to be closer to their children. They live with a daughter, 47, while their other three children, Violeta, 52, Iris, 31, and 27-year-old Marco Antonio work in Spain.

    They also share the few simple rooms arranged around an internal patio with three Cuban doctors who are part of a contingent sent to help provide medical care in Bolivia.

    The hours passed and it was time to take the small plane back to La Paz before the torrential rain isolated the area again.

    Only then, as time was running out, did Mr Baron begin speaking in detail about Mauthausen and the war - as if wishing to fulfil a promise to fallen comrades.

    How the Nazis threw prisoners from a cliff, how some of them clung to the mesh wire to avoid their inevitable death, how the Jews were targeted for harsh treatment and did not survive long.

    His memory also took him to Dunkirk where he had arrived in 1940, before he was caught and imprisoned in Mauthausen.

    "I arrived in the morning but the British fleet was some 6km from the coast. I asked a young English soldier if it would return.

    "I saw that he was eating with a spoon in one hand and firing an anti-aircraft gun with the other," he laughed.

    "'Eat if you wish', I told him. 'Do you know how to use it?' he asked since I didn't have military uniform and was very young.

    "'Don't worry,' I said. I grabbed the gun and shot down two planes. He was dumbstruck.

    "I'll never forget the determination of the British fighting stranded on the beach."

    Thursday, July 10, 2008

    World Poverty

    From the July 2008 issue of the Socialist Standard

    Why it will never be eliminated from the capitalist system

    Everyone has a notion of what global poverty is. Many tut-tut and wish someone would do something about it. Some give funds, a little or a great deal, in the hope of relieving some of the worst effects here or there. Governments and global institutions spend vast sums of money on getting together regularly in luxury hotels to discuss, repeatedly, what could/should be done, where and how it should be done and how much in money terms each of them will pledge for the current initiative. The bottom line – how much of these pledges the donors actually divest themselves of compared with the self-seeking public pronouncements they make about their grand schemes – reveals huge discrepancies.

    Apart from concerns of absolute poverty of billions living on less than one or two dollars a day there are also plenty living in relative poverty who know only too well the feeling of sinking deeper and deeper in the last two or three decades into unmanageable debt through falling incomes (in real terms), through job-loss and no hope of replacement, through long-term illness or injury, through losing their homes from natural disaster, conflict or falling house prices and foreclosures, through unfavourable global tendencies, through simply always having more months than money. Awareness of global poverty, whether relative or absolute, has probably never had as high a profile as currently but much of the data compiled by such institutions as the World Bank and available in publications geared to promoting an unquestioning belief in the continuation of the economic norms of the capitalist system convey information slanted to support particular agenda. That schemes are afoot to tackle and abolish the worst ravages of poverty is an illusion manufactured to veil the truth.

    In an article in Dissent winter 2008, “Growth and Inequality” Thomas Pogge (of the Centre for Applied Philosophy and Public Ethics at the Australian National University and soon to be in the Philosophy Department of Yale University) debunks the myth, promulgated by the Economist, the World Bank and others who subscribe to this unfounded belief, that “growth is good” for all across the spectrum. Statistics can be and are manipulated and displayed to back up a pre-chosen outcome. Pogge shows example after example of how this is done. The cherry-picking that follows is designed to present a part of what he reveals about growing inequality without misrepresenting his main thrust. An early example compares figures from the World Bank tabulating the Gross National Income of the high-income countries alongside the rest of the world, with his own figures extrapolated from the World Bank’s data placing the Gross National Income of the richest countries alongside the GNI only of the poorest countries (each group constituting 10 percent of the world’s population). The difference between the two comparisons is striking. Over a 25 year period, 1980-2005, in the World Bank’s table, the high income countries had between 15.8 and 23.2 (fluctuating up and down slightly in different years) times more than the rest of the world; however, in the same period in Pogge’s figures derived from the World Bank’s World Development Reports, he shows the difference between richest and poorest increasing from 60:1 to 122:1. In an example from the Economist whose author sets out to prove that faster growth is more beneficial for the more populous poor countries (e.g. China and India) than the less populous ones Pogge explains that the Economist’s author is erroneously comparing Gross Domestic Product rather than Gross National Product/Gross National Income, thus inflating the figures and grossly misleading the readers about the true state of income of the world’s poorest. (Gross Domestic Product includes the earnings made by foreigners which is leaving the country and also includes earnings that residents derive from abroad – hardly relevant in an assessment of the wealth of the poor).

    Within countries the variations in income inequality generally happen to be greater in developing countries rather than in wealthier countries. It is shown that “substantial improvements in the position of the poor are possible at tiny opportunity cost to the rich” e.g. Bolivia’s richest 10 percent have almost $13,000 per capita whilst the poorest 10 percent have $77. Shifting $200 from each of the rich to the poor would make an enormous difference to the poor raising their average income from 2.8 percent to 10 percent of average income whilst the rich would hardly notice the difference. A study by the Asian Development Bank in 2007 concluded that China’s economy is actually 40 percent smaller than previously thought. Purchasing power had been grossly overestimated and therefore the number of Chinese living on less than a dollar a day is three times more than previously thought, at 300 million. The same study also shows that the numbers in India on less than a dollar a day are double those thought – 800 million. Similar discrepancies occurred for those living on $2 a day. These are huge errors in the World Bank’s figures and this shows only two countries. As for the true worldwide figure we are left to make our own conclusions. One conclusion Pogge comes to is that growth conceived from the standpoint of the poorer population segments would achieve far better results in avoiding poverty on the one hand and would reduce environmental degradation on the other.

    Global, i.e. international, inequalities prove to be even wider than intra-national ones. Figures for 2000 show the personal wealth of the bottom 20 percent to be 0.12 percent, and that of the bottom 40 percent to be 0.62 percent in contrast to 39.9 percent being held by the top 1 percent of world population and 70.6 percent by the top 5 percent. Fascinating as the figures are, the reality is that to double the wealth of the bottom 40 percent of world population only 1.55 percent of the top 1 percent would need to be transferred. And to double the wealth of the bottom 80 percent would still only take 15.3 percent of the top 1 percent or 8.7 percent of the top 5 percent. This is not to suggest that such a redistribution of wealth should take place or even that it would much improve the standing of the impoverished in the short or long term but it is another simple demonstration of the sheer scale of the gulf between rich and poor and a reminder of the huge numbers of populations on the ‘wrong’ side of the equation because the current system requires the imbalance in order to function.

    With regard to attempts at eliminating poverty; first, at the 1996 World Food Summit in Rome, 186 governments pledged to achieve food security for all and to halve the present level of hunger no later than 2015; second, at the U.N. in 2000, 192 governments came together to “proclaim the Millennium Development Goals” – the commitment to halve world poverty by 2015 referred to by Pogge as “the grandest global initiative.” The sleight of hand from 1996 to 2000 is one example Pogge reveals as to how these governments (Britain included) simply pay lip service to the goals they set. Apart from the U.S. immediately disavowing the 1996 ‘agreement’ suggesting that a fundamental right to be free from hunger is a goal to be aspired to and realised progressively but not one to give rise to any international obligations, the 192 governments committed to the Millennium Development Goals changed the goalposts by subtly changing the wording from halving the number to halving the proportion, in one word vastly reducing the target. The 1996 promise was to reduce the extremely poor from 1,087.8 million to 543.9 million by 2015. The MDG in 2000 promised a 17 percent reduction from 1,089.6 million in 2000 to 905.2 million in 2015. In real terms at least 361.3 million have been ‘lost’ in the revamping of the figures from number to proportion – the 361,300,000+ still being people remember, and extremely hungry, vulnerable people at that. In addition, as each year goes by more millions are included in reports as being chronically undernourished. “Creative accounting” Thomas Pogge maintains, “is sustaining in affluent countries the belief that global poverty is disappearing and therefore does not require our attention.” His disgust is palpable; “thus far official concerns about poverty and inequality are mostly rhetorical.”

    Aside from the obvious fact that extreme poverty engenders widespread hunger, malnutrition, lack of clean water, death from easily preventable diseases, lack of access to healthcare, inadequate shelter, illiteracy and general lack of education, the poor also suffer from a plethora of other, less obvious inequalities. They have no influence in international decisions which affect their lives and livelihoods. They have no bargaining power. They have no lobbyists. They have no importance alongside foreign governments and corporations. They are there to be ignored, discounted.

    The marginalisation of masses of the global population is no accident, no simple mistake or miscalculation but an inevitable consequence of the deliberate policy of those who hold the power; those whose aim is to accumulate more and more of the world’s land, resources, wealth of any kind or just money, because this is what the capitalist system from which they benefit requires of them; and deliberate policy, too, of those in governments who do their utmost to assist, sometimes in the hope of gaining a few steps on the ladder. There is no altruism here. Even accumulating and then giving away $x billion to a ‘worthy cause’ will only address a fraction of the problem for a short time (e.g. $50 billion between 500 million people is $100 each) and if, of the world’s wealthiest 1 percent, more than a handful were giving away such sums the world’s media would broadcast it large. No, there is no philanthropy on that scale. As the figures showed earlier a tiny proportion from the top 5 percent’s vast wealth would make differences that would not go unnoticed. It is Thomas Pogge’s opinion that “it is for the sake of trivial economic gains that national and global elites are keeping billions of human beings in life-threatening poverty.” His solution would be economic institutions and policies prepared to sacrifice “aggregate economic growth” as a “moral imperative.”

    The facts are out there. The national and global elites understand the facts only too well. When the facts show that there are no moral aspects being factored in it must be time for the common people to realize that they, too, are part of the problem for having continued to swallow the bait proffered. Not the 1 and 2 dollar a day billions, as stated earlier they have no bargaining power; they are, as yet, dispensable. But what of the huge middle and upper sections, the 55 percent between the elite 5 percent and the 40 percent at the bottom? The vast working class of the world, lied to over and again by their own governments and by governments collectively in their pompous commitments on our behalf, is a sleeping giant. When it awakens, thoroughly sick and tired, this giant will be a force to be reckoned with. We can’t wait for a change of heart from the top. The top has no will to fix the system except to their own advantage and only a complete change will suffice. A world of free access for all and common ownership of the common wealth is the only way to eliminate poverty. The solution is in our hands.

    Janet Surman

    Sunday, July 6, 2008

    Disaster capitalism

    Book Review from the July 2008 issue of the Socialist Standard

    The Shock Doctrine. The Rise of Disaster Capitalism. By Naomi Klein

    The author of No Logo has written another book strongly criticising features of capitalism while still arguing for reform of the system rather than for its replacement. In her earlier book Naomi Klein concentrated on the spread of globalisation. In The Shock Doctrine she aims to show that disaster capitalism treats natural and man-made disasters as exciting market opportunities.

    She illustrates the main theme and associated sub-themes of the book by events in various countries over the last few decades.

    In the USA the attack on the Twin Towers and the Pentagon that came to be known as 9/11 resulted in some 3,000 deaths. It also led to Bush’s War on Terror, featuring big strides in privatisation, notably of the security industry. 9/11 exposed the security failures resulting from outsourcing government functions to profit-driven corporations: “the Bush team devised a new role for government, one in which the role of the state was not to provide security but to produce it at market prices.”

    After the New Orleans flood disaster in 2005 the public school system was almost completely replaced by privately-run charter schools. The teachers’ union was shredded, the teachers were fired, and only some were rehired at reduced salaries. “Katrina was not unforeseeable. It was the result of a political structure that subcontracts its responsibility to private contractors.”

    In Chile in 1973 General Pinochet seized power by a coup d’état against the previously elected regime which was called “socialist” but was really welfare-state capitalism. Before the coup Chile’s US-trained economists had tried to introduce a policy of privatisation, deregulation and cuts to social spending peacefully. When that policy was democratically rejected the ruling class resorted to the use of force. Pinochet’s battle was one-sided: more than 3,200 disappeared or were executed, 80,000 were imprisoned and 200,000 fled the country. Government spending was cut by 25 percent, accompanied by a package of pro-business policies.

    The Falklands war in 1982 was fought between Britain and Argentina over possession of some tiny islands off the Atlantic coast. It cost several hundred military lives. It also served to boost the reputation of Mrs Thatcher as the Iron Lady. She went into Churchillian battle mode: after defeating “the enemy without” (the Argentine forces) she turned her attention to what she called “the enemy within” – the trade union movement and particularly the National Union of Mineworkers. Between 1984 and 1988 the Thatcher government privatised, among others, British Telecom, Gas, Airways, Airport Authority and Steel.

    Klein takes 57 pages and quotes over 200 sources to analyse the complex, chaotic and profit-driven situation in Iraq. Here are some highlights:

    “Develop the private sector, starting with the elimination of subsidies… investors could take 100 percent of the profits they made in Iraq out of the country, they would not be required to reinvest, and they would not be taxed… [the Iraq experiment] transformed the invasion, occupation and reconstruction into an exciting, fully privatized new market… BearingPoint, an offshoot of the major international accounting and consulting firm KPMG, was paid $240 million to build a ‘market-driven system’ in Iraq.” (pp342-8)

    In 2005 a hugely destructive tsunami caused much loss of life, suffering and hardship for many people, especially in Sri Lanka. When the emergency subsided and fishing families returned to where their homes once stood, they were greeted by police who forbade them to rebuild. Hotels were encouraged to expand onto the valuable oceanfront where fishing people had lived and worked. An $80 million redevelopment project was to be financed by aid money raised in the names of the victims of the tsunami. Loans from the World Bank and IMF were offered in exchange for agreements to open the economy to privatisation and public-private partnerships.

    Stan Parker

    Thursday, July 3, 2008

    The world could produce more food

    From the Socialism Or Your Money Back blog:

    Socialists have always contended that the world could produce enough to feed every human being on the planet. This has been confirmed time and again by bodies such as the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation and World Health Organisation as well as by agronomists and other specialists in the field. So, why is the world price of wheat, rice and other agricultural products rising? Surely this shows that enough food can’t be produced? No, it doesn’t. What it shows is that food is not produced today to meet people’s needs but to be sold on a market with a view to profit.

    World food prices are rising, and this does reflect the fact that paying demand is currently exceeding supplies. But this does not mean that enough food cannot be produced. It means simply that enough food has not been produced.

    Various explanations have been offered for this imbalance between demand and supply. Extra demand resulting from the migration of millions of people from the countryside to the towns in places like China and India. Diversion of land to growing biofuels instead of food. Such explanations concentrate on why demand has increased. An article in the (London) Times (26 June) by Ross Clark offers an explanation why not enough food has been produced.

    Clark is a supporter of the market (who thinks that any opponent of the “free” market is a “Marxist”) and so expects that sooner or later food supplies will increase to satisfy the paying demand. No doubt it will (but this will still leave those who can’t pay either to starve or to have to rely on minimal hand-outs from charities and from the UN and other agencies). He argues that food production has fallen because in previous decades it had been overproduced. It is of course obscene to talk of “too much” food being produced when there are millions in the world who are starving, but he means “too much” in relation to paying demand. Even so, his explanation is still interesting in showing the irrational way in which the capitalist system works.

    According to him:

    “The reason for the fall in cereal production over 15 years has not been soil degradation or climate change: while crops yields are not increasing as fast as they were doing in the 1960s, they have still risen by 1-2 per cent per annum over the past 15 years. Rather, the decrease in production has been a straightforward response to overproduction. Remember the grain mountains of the 1980s? They resulted in a collapse in prices that in turn persuaded grain producers to contract their operation. Now that prices are rising again the opposite has happened: the FAO estimates that this year's wheat harvest will rise by 13 per cent as a result of extra planting, putting downward pressure on prices next year.”

    He points out that today:

    “the background to rising food prices is the shrinkage of global agriculture over the past decade and a half. Globally, less food is being produced on even less land than was the case in the early 1990s. Take the US, which according to the FAO was producing 1,210kg of cereals per person per year between 1990 and 1992 and 1,104 kg between 2001 and 2003. Or Canada, at one time the “world's bread basket”, where cereal production fell from 1,905 kg per person per year in 1990-92 to 1,384 kg in 2001-03.”

    Given the current strong paying demand for food, the 1990s levels may well be reached again but, as we just said, this will satisfy only paying demand. What about those who can’t pay?

    Though it is far from his intention, Clark provides information which shows that enough food could be produced to satisfy their food needs too. Of course it won’t be, and never will be, under the capitalist market system which he supports. But it could be in a socialist world where production would no longer be limited to what can be sold.

    Clark writes:

    “the total landmass cultivated for arable crops in 2006, according Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO), was 1.402 billion hectares - or 14 million sq km. In other words, all the world's cereals and vegetables are grown on an area equivalent to the USA and half of Canada. A further 34 million sq km - equivalent to the rest of North America, South America and two thirds of Australia - is given over to grazing, much of it extensive, unimproved grassland. The rest of the world - equivalent to the whole of Europe, Asia, Africa, Indonesia plus a third of Australia - is not used for food production in any way. Some of this land, of course, is desert, mountain or rainforest, which either cannot be used for agriculture at all or would require irrigation, engineering or clearance. But a vast amount of it could quite easily be converted into agriculture, but has until now not been needed.”

    What does he mean “has not been needed”? Of course it’s been needed! What Clark means again is that it has not been needed to meet paying demand. We say that it is needed to end world hunger but will only be able to be used for this when once the resources of the Earth have become the common heritage of all humanity. That’s the only basis on which these currently unused resources can be used to meet the food needs of everyone, not just of those who can afford to pay.

    Adam Buick