Wednesday, October 29, 2008

What food crisis?

From the October issue of the Socialist Standard

Those suffering most from the “current world food crisis” may not know why they are but they probably do know that they can have very little impact on the outcome as the world is structured currently.

Corporate control

In 1921 36 companies were responsible for 85 percent of US grain exports. By the end of the 70s six companies controlled 90+ percent of Canadian, European, Australian and Argentinian grain and currently Cargill and Continental each control 25 percent of the world's grain trade. While 37 nations have been plunged into food crisis Monsanto has had record sales from herbicides and seeds and Cargill's profit increased by 86 percent. On the one hand these corporations use, wherever there is a perceived advantage, the poorer countries for cash crops, manufacturing using cheap labour, cheaper processing and they take advantage of huge subsidies for which they lobby constantly, and on the other show indifference to the employees and labourers in these countries. Wages are kept as low as can be managed and conditions of employment are almost non-existent. Long working hours, enforced, often unpaid, overtime, no sick-pay non-existent or poor compensation for accidents and no pension.

Of the world's people as a whole, 70 percent earn their livelihood by producing food, their own included. From these a growing number are now producing crops for fodder or alternative fuels, reducing the amount of land available for human food production and thereby increasing its cost. Profit is the bottom line.

Monsanto is huge in soy bean production having a virtual monopoly with their 'Roundup Ready' seeds. Genetically modified seeds grown to be used for cattle feed, fish feed, all manner of industrial uses plus 80 percent of processed foods contain soy bean. Why would you promote an oil-seed that has a relatively low oil yield – 18 percent, compared with coconut (75 percent), groundnut (55 percent) and sesame (50 percent), if it wasn't simply linked to your ownership of the means of their production? The health risks associated with soy bean consumption are becoming clearer, especially an oestrogen problem. One test revealed that soy-based infant formula yields a dose of oestrogen equivalent to 8-12 contraceptive pills daily.

Monsanto (originators of Agent Orange) acquired Unilever's European wheat-breeding business in 1998. They have a large stake in India's largest seed company and have also bought Cargill's international seed operations in Central and Latin America, Europe, Asia and Africa thus virtually monopolising production, limiting choice and pushing genetically engineered wheat. Their intellectual property scams, internationally infamous, banning the saving and trading of seed (something done for thousands of years with no problems of ownership attached) have been followed by many court cases usually to the detriment of small farmers in both poor and ‘developed’ world. The infamous 'terminator' gene which makes plants' seeds infertile has perhaps been the most cynical invention, forcing farmers into buying seed every year, putting them in hock to the big corporations and resulting in penury.

Around the world farmers have been pressured by large companies to grow cash crops. Cotton started to displace food crops in India after trade liberalisation was introduced in 1991. Aggressive advertising campaigns were conducted by Monsanto, for one, to introduce hybrid cotton seed which, being more vulnerable to pest attack, required the use of more pesticide than the varieties traditionally grown. Having borrowed on credit for both seed and pesticide and finding themselves in unresolvable debt following crop failures, according to Vandana Shiva in Stolen Harvest, many hundreds of farmers committed suicide by ingesting the very pesticides that were supposed to have protected their crops. Suicide deaths of Indian farmers continue to be a huge problem.

Ecologically unsound

There are ecological issues surrounding the current world food system. Here there are many links between this and the previous section. In their pursuit of profit worldwide mega-corporations have been responsible for some of the worst degradation of land, water, air and sea. Particularly relevant to food production, however, it is being recognised in more quarters that industrial farming damages the environment (as well as concentrating profits in fewer hands) and that small farms are actually more productive and much less damaging. Only this year a UN commission of 400 agricultural experts concluded that the world needs to shift from current agribusiness methods to a more ecological and small-scale approach. It comes as no surprise to learn that neither the US government nor agribusiness agreed to endorse the recommendations. A US dairy farmer allied to Via Campesina which is a global movement of peasant and farm organisations said words to the effect that at last it's recognised that industrial GM crops and globalisation methods have led to more hungry people but why hadn't they listened to farmers instead of corporations in the first place? Good question, to which we know the answer.

The (mainly GM) soy bean comes in for another attack here. To produce its oil requires solvents – bad for the environment; producing it creates saturated fats – bad for health. To ensure that maximum benefit (i.e. maximum profit, not maximum nutrition) is derived from the humble soy bean a US company is now also producing look-alike pulses, lentils etc from some of this bulk. Mono-crops and intensive farming by their very nature create havoc with the land, with the soil, requiring an input of fertilizer to fulfil the role that mixed farming does automatically. The soil gradually becomes impoverished leading to the necessity for more fertilizer, itself a problem from leaching into and contaminating water. Fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides all alter the nature of the soil, the ecological balance, ultimately denuding the area of the very plants, microbes, insects, worms, birds, small animals etc that determine its replenishment in a natural cycle. Traditional farming is shown to be far superior both for the health of the soil and also for crop yield. Animals manure the land, worms and other creatures turn and aerate it, insects assist pollination, other insects, birds and small animals dispose of many of the pests naturally whilst also replenishing the soil with nutrients and crops of different types in rotation take nutrients from and return nutrients to the soil. In many parts of the world the 'weeds' that grow among crops are crops themselves, not to be sprayed and killed but to be picked and eaten by humans and animals or else to be ploughed back into the ground returning natural organic matter.

One obvious negative effect of growing mono-crops for export or as non-food products such as biofuels is that it impacts on the amount of land available for growing food for local consumption, pushing small farmers off the land altogether or to patches of less productive land. Aggressive growth in agricultural exports has been linked to increasing poverty and hunger in the exporting country. Examples include the Philippines where the acreage for growing cut flowers was massively increased with a corresponding decline in acreage for food staples resulting in the destruction of approximately 350,000 livelihoods and increasing rice imports by a factor of ten; Brazil, when soy bean exports increased dramatically (1970s) as animal feed for Japan and Europe, hunger increased from one third to two thirds of the population. By the 90s Brazil became the third largest exporter of soy bean having increased acreage by 37 percent over 15 years displacing millions of small farmers and decreasing rice production by 18 percent further exacerbating hunger and poverty. On this topic Vandana Shiva gets right to the point, “The food security of the US and other wealthy food-importing countries depends largely on the destruction of other people's security” (in Alternative Globalization, ed. By John Cavanagh and Jerry Mander),

Other ecologically unsound farming practices such as raising animals intensively leads to massive problems for the animals, for the humans raising them and eating them and for the environment in which they are kept. For instance, as fish farms have become more extensive in acreage and more intensive in production bacterial infections have spread to fish in the wild. Whereas it used to be recommended to eat fish regularly as part of a healthy diet there are now warnings to limit drastically intake of farmed fish. Shrimp farming is known as a 'rape and run' industry because of its unsustainability and the inevitability that after a handful of years the site will be ecologically devastated and susceptible to massive outbreaks of disease, leaving hectares of former good fishing coastline unfit and unable to supply locals with a catch of any kind – coastal wastelands.

Shrimp farms and fish farms require more wet fish, processed into meal, pro rata than they ultimately produce, consuming more resources than they produce. The fish caught by trawling and purse-seining for the production of meal deprives people of both food and livelihood, depletes fish stocks drastically, kills all kinds of aquatic life – and this to provide shrimp for people living a long way from the devastation and knowing little about it. Mangroves, crucial in many coastal areas for protection against storms, preventing erosion and recognised as important habitat for much marine life have been devastated around the world in order that some of us may eat shrimp. Sri Lanka lost nearly half their mangrove area in 10 years; Vietnam lost more than 100,000 hectares in 4 years; most of Ecuador's shrimp comes from former mangrove swamps; a third of Thailand's lost mangroves was as a result of shrimp farming over 30 years up to 1993. Ecological and environmental man-made disasters. Intensive shrimp farming also leads to permanent salinisation of groundwater and has created water famine in formerly water abundant areas in India, causing death of cattle and gradual contamination of former productive rice paddies. Because of intensive shrimp production in Bangladesh rice production fell from 40,000 to only 36 (not 36 thousand) metric tonnes between 1976-86 with similar losses reported in Thailand. Shrimp and prawn have been 'farmed' traditionally in India for hundreds of years without this serious adverse effect on the ecology. The traditional methods have proved effective and have produced good income for farmers combining paddy growing in the monsoon season with shrimp 'farming' in other seasons when the fields are filled temporarily with saline water. Whether aquaculture or agriculture, natural methods prove to be more economical in terms of input, more productive in terms of output showing biodiversity and labour intensification to be both more efficient and sustainable.

The deregulated global market.

There is a raft of trading practices stacked against the poorer 'developing' countries, which incorporate the majority of the world's population, in favour of corporations in the ‘developed‘ countries. The international monetary organisations, World Bank, World Trade Organisation, International Monetary Fund all function to ensure maximum returns flow into the coffers of and trans-national corporations including agribusinesses. All loans have to be paid back with interest. Aid is tied to agreements, purchases and long-term commitment to remittances back to the donor country. Subsidies to agriculture flow freely in the ‘developed’ world, especially to agribusiness; in the poor world subsidies are called a barrier to free trade and have to be removed. Markets must be open – to subsidised products from the rich. Traditional local production systems have been consistently undermined to favour global corporations causing increased landlessness in the process. Many of these landless, former farmers now work for poverty wages in factories sub-contracted to big-name sportswear labels, unable to grow any food of their own now, just part of the growing number of consumers struggling to buy enough food to put on the table.

Vandana Shiva commented aptly on the root causes of hunger and poverty in 2007 thus, “A combination of loss of land and loss of control of local resources like water, seeds and bio-diversity. All of these are basic to farming communities but are now in the hands of global corporations.” IMF loans to poor countries are channelled into export subsidies for US agribusinesses thus further assisting multinationals to dominate smaller, local businesses whether domestic or foreign.

The main goal of the WTO and its allies has been to remove all and any obstructions which may hamper corporations. National laws, standards and environmental protection rules have been subsumed by the WTO's rulings resulting in laxer rules across the board, reduced labour, environmental, food and health regulations. In effect deregulation has led to decreased local control, a worsening general environment, an increase in poverty and hunger whilst concentrating power, wealth and influence among the global corporations.

Biofuels

Biofuels were originally heralded as the wonder fuel, something to challenge fossil fuels and a way to save the world from its dependence on oil, a greener product, sustainable and easily grown around the world. David Moberg, in an August 2008 article “Let them eat free markets” in ,These Times, writes, “once seen as a way of using up European and US surpluses biofuels are now threatening to become a global, corporate-controlled, industrial farming and export business that could put US SUVs in competition with food for poor people in other countries whilst degrading tropical forests.” So, here again is monoculture on a grand scale, degradation of the environment, cash crops taking the place of food crops and small farmers forced off the land to increase production and profit. A further downside to biofuels and a good reason to take another look at the topic for those who still believe it to be a 'green' fuel is that it actually takes something like 18 percent more energy to process the fuel than will be available in the finished product. Not best use of agricultural land, resources or manpower.

Buying Power

Simple buying power – or rather lack of it – is a fifth factor.. If you're not growing your own food it has to be bought. One way or another customers have to pay. When half or more of your income is already spent on food, as it is for the majority world, then rising prices of basics like rice and wheat are an immediate threat. The priority becomes what can I eat? Not what can I cut out in order that might eat, just what is there I can afford to eat? In 2007 the price of rice on the world market rose 16 percent. Between January and April of 2008 it rose a further 141 percent. Rice is the staple diet of Haitians, Haiti, being one of the poorest nations on the planet, is also one of the countries that was devastated from the loss of domestic farm incomes when highly subsidised US rice was dumped on them following WTO instructions. There is a photograph showing a Haitian woman sitting on the ground mixing and spreading out row upon row of biscuits to dry in the sun. Biscuits made of clay, salt and vegetable fat. Let them eat cake!

Similar stories from around the world reveal how previously solvent farmers have been reduced to penury. Mexicans cannot compete with US maize and cotton. Jamaican dairy farmers can't compete with EU subsidised milk powder. Mali, Benin, Burkino Faso etc. have lost double from the fall in cotton prices than they receive in US foreign aid. All of these and similar unfair practices drastically reduce the buying power of millions of people. According to the environmental pressure group, the International Forum on Globalisation, “The ultimate sustainable agricultural solution is transition to non-corporate, small-scale organic farming as practised for millennia.”

Cause and Effect

What we have seen here are the effects of a system that is structured for the benefit of a few corporations at the expense of the many. Inevitably the food crisis will continue to grow for an ever-increasing number of the world's population unless and until the causes of the crisis are eliminated. Politicians of diverse leanings, human rights advocacy groups and pundits of various persuasions offer a medley of fixes. Level the playing field. Fair trade, not free trade. Restore national sovereignty to international trade. Limit the power of global corporations. Strengthen human rights laws to prevent eviction of people from their land. Allow landless peasants access to and ownership of privately owned, unused land. Make the international institutions more accountable to citizens not to capital. Increase regulation of outsourcing. Force companies despoiling the environment to clean up the mess and pay compensation. Implement tougher environmental standards at all levels.

The problem common to these and other 'solutions' is that none of them are comprehensive, none are for all time and none are for all people. There is already a UN charter for human rights which, in theory, covers all possible scenarios, which is ostensibly for the protection of the well-being of all but which, in practice, cannot work because it is not controlled by the democratic will of the people but by a few strong countries pursuing the economic policies of their elites.

The principles underlying socialism, whilst not offering an immediate panacea, do address all the issues of the rights of all individuals, “by the conversion into the common property of society the means of production and distribution and their democratic control by the whole people.” Unlike the UN and numerous international agreements, multi-lateral accords and protocols which are repeatedly undermined by one or more powerful states consistently overruling decisions and agreements the ethic of socialism is rooted in the people. As more and more of the common wealth is taken from the people more and more people experience the food crisis first hand. Cause and effect. Removing money, the incentive and purpose of accumulation (the raison d’être of capitalism) and transforming world society into one of free access and common ownership – the world belonging to all and to none – will be to eliminate the causes of hunger and to effect an end to further speculation about a world food crisis.

Janet Surman

Weekly Bulletin of The Socialist Party of Great Britain (70)

Dear Friends,

Welcome to the 70th of our weekly bulletins to keep you informed of changes at Socialist Party of Great Britain @ MySpace.

We now have 1375 friends!

Recent blogs:

  • A professor defends capitalism
  • A call to action
  • 'The fruits of labour'(John McCain)
  • Coming Events at SPGB Head Office, 52 Clapham High St, London SW4 (nearest tube: Clapham North):

    A Season of Free Film nights from Sunday 14th September to Sunday 23rd November at 52 Clapham High Street, London.


    All films start at 4 p.m.

    Sunday 9 November: Zeitgeist

    Sunday 23 November: The War on Democracy

    Quote for the week:


    "You think this man is the enemy? Huh? This is a worker! Any union keeps this man out ain't a union, it's a goddam club! They got you fightin' white against colored, native against foreign, hollow against hollow, when you know there ain't but two sides in this world - them that work and them that don't. You work, they don't." From Matewan, 1987.

    Continuing luck with your MySpace adventures!

    Robert and Piers

    Socialist Party of Great Britain

    Tuesday, October 28, 2008

    Canadian interested in socialism? Socialist interested in Canada? Read On . . .

    Latest issue of 'Imagine', the journal of the Socialist Party of Canada, is now available.

    Click on the image for the PDF of the issue.

    Articles featured include:

  • National Ownership Or Common Ownership?
  • The Long Commute To Nowhere
  • Free Trade Or A Free World?
  • Honesty Is The Worst Policy
  • Tales From The Class War
  • Via the Socialist Party of Canada website:

    Wage Slave News: 2008 Federal Election Comment

    $300 million of government money, plus tens of millions of dollars more spent by each party to pay for advertisements that largely attempt to discredit their opponents, has just been spent in an exercise in futility. The new parliament will be almost identical to the last minority government that lasted just two and a half years. The voter turnout was among the lowest on record at just 59%. Why are voters so turned off? In the first place you often hear people say that it doesn’t make a difference. They are right. All the major parties support the current economic system, capitalism. As this system is based on the private ownership of the world’s riches and resources and the mechanisms for turning them into useful goods, all in the interests of those same owners, and as all parties compete to run and maintain that system, then we can say we have a choice between Private Property Party A, B, C, D, or E, i.e. no real difference and no real change. Not one party, outside The Socialist Party of Canada, has proposed any alternative to this current system in which billions live in poverty, millions starve to death or die from easily-treated diseases, hundreds of millions lack adequate housing or medical care, and even in our own rich country, over a million are forced to line up at food banks for paltry hand outs. All this, mind you, in the midst of plenty and signs everywhere of the ostentatious wealth of the owning class.

    Secondly, there is a sense that our system is undemocratic. Voting every four years or so doesn’t cut the mustard. The largest voter block was the ‘did not vote’ group at 41%, added to the estimated 8% who don’t bother to get registered, that makes 49%. The Tories got something less than 40% of 51% of voters equals about 22 % of all adults. In other words, practically 4 out of 5 didn’t want Harper as Prime Minister. I’m sure most candidates are genuinely expecting to go to Ottawa to serve their community and country. Alas, they only get to serve a small cadre of party insiders who, with one ear to the capitalist class and their lackeys, the lobbyists, decide party policy. All members are under the discipline of the party whips and are told how and when to vote, as they are needed, and to jump up and shout and applaud whenever their leader speaks in the house. Is this democracy? Don’t they ever disagree with their leader, or think he gave a lousy performance and refuse to act like cheerleaders? The big event of the election season is the leaders’ debate. Elizabeth May of the Green Party, who put candidates in every riding, was refused permission to participate for the second time. Only a large outcry reversed this decision. But what about all the other parties? In a democratic society we should listen to all sides, shouldn’t we? Those who vote and do not back a winner feel that their votes do not count at all and representation does not match the popular vote. The Green Party polled almost one million voters but didn’t get one seat in the House. Proportional Representation would make every vote count but The Toronto Star editorialized against this system on the grounds that groups like Alberta First or religious groups might get represented in parliament! That system wouldn’t, of course, make any difference unless we had real choices to vote for. With universal suffrage, we have the potential for democracy, but our convoluted system, the influence of money, and the bias of the media all converge to prevent any chance of real democracy. When socialism and common ownership are established, there will be no need for political parties as they are expressions of the class system. Socialist parties around the world, when elected to power will use state legislatures, presently the tools of oppression of the working class, as an instrument of emancipation, ending private property, giving power to local councils, and then disbanding. We do not attempt to lay down any blueprint for future generations to follow as that would be undemocratic, but it seems plausible that local elected, accountable, recallable, councils would organize production and distribution of goods based on needs, and their decisions and performances would be subject to daily scrutiny. In other words, real democracy, from the people up will be the order of the day. This can only happen, though, when you, reader, agree with our position and decide to do something about it.

    The Socialist Party of Canada

    Presents

    Socialism as a Practical Alternative

    A discussion on the problems of society and how to solve them.


    Friday November 14th

    5.00pm-6.30pm

    The Barrie Public Library

    60 Worsley St. (at Owen St.)


    (@ blocks north of Dunlop St.

    For more information on the Socialist Party of Canada:

  • Email:canadiansocialism@hotmail.com
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  • Cuba’s wage system (2008)

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

    Earlier this year, when in June the Cuban government, now under Fidel Castro’s brother Raul, announced a new system of wage payments, the Guardian (13 June) wrote that Cuba had “abandoned its egalitarian wages system”. This brought a response (20 June) from Helen Yaffe, author of Ermesto Che Guevara: The Economics of Revolution:
    “In reality, there has never been an ‘egalitarian wage system’ (i.e. one where every worker was paid the same): Che Guevara himself devised a new salary scale, introduced in 1964, with 24 different basic wage levels, plus a 15% bonus for over-completion”.
    In other words, Cuba never had practised wage equality, not even when Guevara was Minister of Industry. Not that socialists favour equal wages. As long as the wages system – the sale of people’s working skills for money – exists there will be a different price for the different types of skill. We want the abolition of the whole wage system, an end to the buying and selling of people’s working abilities, and the application of the principle “from each according to their ability, to each according to their needs”.

    Yaffe made a claim about this too:
    “Like Marx himself, Che recognised the socialist principle: ‘From each according to his ability, to each according to his work’ – which your article associates exclusively with Raul. Cuba has never claimed to be communist and therefore never embraced the principle ‘from each according to his ability, to each according to his need’, which expresses the attainment of communist society”.
    While it is true that Marx thought that it would not have been possible to implement “to each according to needs” immediately had a “co-operative society based on the common ownership of the means of production” been established in his day, he never drew a distinction between a socialist society (where this principle couldn’t yet be applied) and a communist society (where it would be). He actually spoke of two “phases” of the same society, which he called “communist society”. Engels and the later socialist movement adopted the term “socialist society”, but both terms referred to the same type of society; they are interchangeable.

    In any event, the temporary measure until distribution according to needs became possible which Marx mentioned in the private notes he wrote in 1875 known as The Critique of the Gotha Programme was a system of “labour-time vouchers”. This would probably have proved unworkable but it was not the same as “to each according to their work”. It would have been “to each according to their working time”, with people being given a consumption voucher based on the time spent at work not for the particular kind of work they did. There wouldn’t be 24 different levels, just one. An engineer and a cleaner who put in the same number of hours would get the get the same number of consumption vouchers. In this sense it would have been “egalitarian”.

    But what Lenin, Stalin, Castro and Guevara called “socialism” did not even correspond to Marx’s “first phase of communist society” since it was based on the state, not the common, ownership and control of the means of production, the majority remaining propertyless and having to sell their working skills to live. As the state was controlled by the leaders of a minority vanguard party, these leaders became in effect the employers of the excluded majority. As employers they had to devise some system of pricing the different kinds and qualities of labour-power they purchased. Hence schemes such as Guevara’s and the one just introduced in Cuba. This was state capitalism, not socialism/communism.

    Saturday, October 25, 2008

    The Corporation (2004)



    Sunday 26th October at 4pm
    The Corporation
    A film critical of the modern-day corporation, considering it as a class of a person and evaluating its behaviour towards society and the world at large as a psychologist might evaluate an ordinary person. This is explored through specific examples.
    A Season of Free Film Evenings
    From Sunday 14th September to Sunday 23rd November
    Radical Film Forum - 52 Clapham High Street, London SW4 (nearest tube: Clapham North)
    - Tired of mainstream films?· Bored of the blockbuster?
    - Want more than just passive consumption?
    Find out about other films featured in the Radical Film Forum season here.
    Review of The Corporation from the December 2004 issue of the Socialist Standard
    The Corporation, a recently released film directed by Mark Achban, Jennifer Abbot and Joel Bakan, begins with a little US political history, observing how, in the 19th century, a “corporation” was a “benevolent” association of people with a government charter to serve “the public good”. When, in the late 1860s, the 14th Amendment to the US Constitution recognised the slave as having human rights, the nascent corporate elite of the time had their lawyers stake a claim to the same rights with the Supreme Court. They fought and won, and the state henceforth recognised the corporation as a human being, a person in law, with the same right to life, liberty and property.
    This leads to one of the big questions of the film: if corporations are legally defined as people, then what kind of people are they? One way the film addresses this question is to call in the FBI’s Consultant on Psychopaths, Dr Robert Hare. Hare proceeds to run through a check-list of the traits of your run-of-the-mill psychopath before concluding that the modern corporation, bearing no moral responsibility for its actions, is very much the prototypical psychopath.
    Much of the remainder of the film is given over to proving this claim beyond all reasonable doubt and many authoritative witnesses are wheeled in to testify. And what a selection of witnesses there are! Noam Chomsky, Howard Zinn, Naomi Klein, Anita Roddick, Vandana Shiva, Michael Moore; experts from every field and all manner of labour rights organisations and grass roots activists, economists such as Milton Friedman and many CEOs. Their statements amount to a damning examination of the nature and personality of the modern corporation, charting its growth, its extending influence and downright indifference to democracy and how, as one commentator observes, it has turned into a “monster, trying to devour as much profit as possible at anyone’s expense.”
    No such thing as enough
    What we are presented with is an image of all-powerful organisations running wild, rabid with greed, superpowers, for whom there is “no such thing as enough” (Moore), for whom “everything is legitimate in the pursuit of profit” (Roddick). Modern corporations are presented as the “new high priests”, more powerful than governments and accountable only to their shareholders, their brand labels protected by more legislation than covers the rights of the children who sew them onto their overpriced merchandise.
    The film pits competing ideas on the modern corporation against one another. We are at one stage shown the offices of the National Labour Committee and hear Executive Director Charles Kernaghan revealing the level of exploitation of workers in the Dominican Republic (who for instance earn 75 cents for each Nike jacket that sells for $178 and 3 cents for a tee shirt that retails at $14.) We are shown the living conditions of those same desperate workers and hear their own testimony as to the level of their destitution and then listen to Michael Walker of the corporate think-tank, the Fraser Institute, expounding his views on the role competitive markets play in providing for the economic and social well-being and how he believes firms such as Nike are an “enormous godsend” to people in the Dominican Republic.
    The film contains much that is totally fascinating. One section looks at big business and its penchant for the dictatorial regime. We are shown how a punch card system devised and regularly maintained by IBM (operating out of New York) processed millions of concentration camp victims, and how Coca Cola, faced with the possibility of having its operation curtailed in Nazi Germany, simply changed its name to Fanta. Much evidence is presented as to how corporate allegiance to profit transcends its loyalty to national flags and we are presented with one startling fact: that in one week 57 US companies were fined for trading with enemies of the US. Contemplating big business’s links to tyrannical regimes, one commentator asks “is it narcissism that compels them to seek their reflection in the regimented structure of fascist regimes?”
    One of several cases studies the film presents is that relating to Monsanto (famous for Agent Orange and 50,000 birth defects in Vietnam) and its manufacture of Posilac. This was a drug which, when injected into cows, increased their milk yield. That the world was awash with milk did not concern Monsanto; they were far more interested in profits and eventually were supplying a quarter of US dairy herds with the product. But because cows were not meant to produce so much milk, their udders went into overdrive and became infected with mastitis, the pus from which infected the milk. Not only were humans suffering the effects of the chemicals injected into the milk, their milk was now infected with mastitis pus. Monsanto’s reaction was to deny all allegations and to lie like condemned murderers.
    Reckless pollution
    The modern corporation is perhaps most vilified for its total lack of respect for the environment and biosphere on which all life on Earth depends. Ray Anderson, the CEO of Interface Inc, who has won much acclaim promoting the idea that environmental responsibility makes good business sense, is seen addressing an audience of business leaders in North Carolina. Greeting them as “fellow plunderers”, he goes on to tell them that there is “not an industrial company in the world that is sustainable.”
    Robert Weismann of Multinational Monitor reminds us that the cost of getting caught for their corporate transgressions – i.e. environmental pollution – is, more often than not, less than the cost of complying with existing environmental legislation. Dr Vandara Shiva, physicist and ecologist, despairingly contemplates the suicide gene built into new strains of cash crop seeds, the new terminator technology that makes the third world farmer dependent ever on the seed supplier (instead of traditionally putting aside a portion of the harvest as seeds for the following year), and calls them inventions of a ear), and calls them inventions of a “brutal mind”.
    For the corporation, nothing is sacred. Even the US Patent Office has conceded defeat in its attempts to stop them patenting life forms, bearing out Roddick’s sentiment that every means is legitimate if the end be profit. Climbing down from one seven-year battle with big business, the Office had this to say: “You can patent anything in the world which is alive except a full birth human being.”
    The film nears an end with a case study of the privatisation of the water supply of Cochabamba, Bolivia, at the behest of the World Bank, focusing particularly on the town’s residents and their run in with the forces of the state acting on behalf of Bechtel, a San Francisco based company who bought the water company. So keen were the powers that be to force the people to bow to the power of Bechtel that they demolished their homes for non-payment of their exorbitant water rates and made the collecting of rain water illegal. The frustration spilled onto the streets with huge demonstrations and riots and violent clashes with the police. Eventually, though, Bechtel were forced to pull out of their Bolivian venture, but not before they had put in a claim for $25 million in compensation.
    Weakness
    It is from this case study and other cited instances of green activism that we are meant to draw inspiration; the message being that the corporation should not underestimate the power of the people, that “the workers, united, can never be defeated”. Of course, corporations are advised to tidy up their act too. Michael Moore tells us that there should be more governmental controls and the film ends with Moore hoping the film will prompt people “to do something, anything, to get the world back in our hands”. This suggests that Moore, and others who promote similar ideas in the film, are missing the point. Granted, it is commendable, heroic even, that workers are prepared to often risk life and limb to defend themselves and to confront the most harrowing acts perpetrated by corporations. But it is a dangerous to believe that such grassroots action amounts to wresting control of the world away from its current owners.
    If anyone considers this film a trumpet call for social change, a reveille for revolution, they are mistaken. The capitalist system is left unscathed. Nowhere is the market-driven profit system as such challenged. Nowhere are all of the case studies and criticism of corporate power and abuse rooted in a wider context. Nowhere does a commentator lambast the global “can’t pay, can’t have” society that consigns the greater portion of the population of the planet to lives of abject misery. And no interviewee comes near to demanding the abolition of the capitalist system and its replacement with a system of society based on free access. Capitalism is taken for granted as being immutable and all that is being asked at the end is that corporations wear a smiley face and stop behaving so horridly.
    Moore may well contemplate why such films are broadcast by TV corporations, in spite of the fact that they attack corporate power; for the record, he suggests it is because there is profit to be made by them and he may be partly right. But he fails to grasp that this, and similar films like Fahrenheit 911, nowhere query the basis of class society – the set-up that allows the ownership of property by one privileged class, and the consequent enslavement of one class by another, is in no way threatened and the TV company broadcasting programmes that reveal corporate crimes is aware of this.
    I don’t really want to rubbish the whole film but, in truth, The Corporation simply echoes the sentiments of the anti-globalisation movement – the demand for greater corporate responsibility, reform of international institutions, expansion of democracy and fairer trading conditions, for instance – while allowing capitalism to carry on perpetrating every social ill that plagues us.
    The Corporation is undoubtedly a remarkable exposé of the modern corporation at its ugliest, of the lengths corporations will go to and the depths they will stoop to in the search for profit. The film stands as a brilliant critique of corporate power and everything we associate with it and is a much needed resource in revealing the insanity of the present system. And as far as enthusing green activists and lending weight to the anti-globalisation cause is concerned, the film is a powerful tool. But that’s not the way out.
    John Bissett

    When You’re Smiling…

    The Greasy Pole column from the October 2008 issue of the Socialist Standard

    It is likely that a lot of people would be noticeably happier if Gordon Brown would stop smiling. Those startling, carefully orchestrated facial arrangements – inflicted on soldiers in Afghanistan looking after the oil supply lines, on Olympic athletes calculating how much their status as gold medalists will be worth when they get back home, on bewildered parents taking their offspring for a quite sea-front stroll in Southwold – are not a pretty sight and convince nobody that the Prime Minister is relaxed and happy with his ability to grapple British capitalism out of its present crisis. Less disturbing would be the funereal countenance recently so characteristic of him.

    To take the question further – what is there for Gordon brown to smile about? Among the “experts” who expect to be trusted to correctly prescribe remedies for the ills of capitalism, there is general agreement that the situation can only get worse and that we are about to be overwhelmed by a slump. A couple of months ago no less a person than the governor of the Bank of England warned us that “The nice years of the 60s are over” – an assessment which would have impressed only those whose memories of those years – the boom and slump economy, the Cuba missile crisis, the war in Vietnam – are anything but “nice”. More recently Alistair Darling, Brown’s choice to succeed him as Chancellor of the Exchequer rocked the governmental boat when he declared, in an interview with the Guardian, that “The economic times we are facing are arguably the worst they’ve been in 60 years and I think it’s going to be more profound and long-lasting than people thought” and later, bemoaning Labour’s fall out of electoral favour “People are pissed off with us”.

    Resilient

    Chancellors of the Exchequer are not supposed to be so frank about what goes on in the economy, so that Darling’s comments were open to being dismissed as a “gaffe” – which was in fact an admission that his comments were nearer the truth than Brown’s persistent assertion that the government has so effectively strengthened the British economy that it will weather the storm – unless the voters are so ungrateful that they put in a Tory government to undo all his good work. His government, Brown said, is ”resilient” in the way it is dealing with the present problems (expect to hear more of “resilient” – it has all the hallmarks of a word essential to any Labour Party weasel with ambitions to slither up the greasy pole).

    The best that Labour MPs can offer in this appalling situation is to grumble that it is all Brown’s fault; get rid of him, by whatever means, and things will get better. The most recent of these was, notably, the discarded, embittered ex-Home Secretary Charles Clarke. The intellectual contortions required in this come easily to the practised amnesiacs on the Labour benches but we should remember that it is not very long ago that these same representatives of the people were clamourous in their praise of Brown as the greatest Chancellor of the Exchequer in history. This was the leader whose superhuman powers had constructed an economy virtually free of unemployment, with an uninflatable price structure and interest rates so low that thousands were tempted to leap into the void of unaffordable mortgages. Now that those happy delusions have been blown away by cruel reality Labour is turning to the equally bankrupt notion that their party’s salvation lies in ridding itself of Brown. Adjustments like that are effective conditioning to the dishonesty inherent in trying to run British capitalism. The problem is that no leader can be any more successful, can cook the books, deny reality and deceive the voting people, any more effectively.

    Miliband

    This will not prevent them persisting in their endless search for the unobtainable. And while they do this, each one will harbour, somewhere in their feverish self-assessment, the ambition that they are the ideal leader the party has been waiting for – the one with the insight and the power to succeed where historically everyone else has failed. For their own peace of mind, it must be hoped that these delusions will not endure beyond one or two sleepless nights. David Miliband, possibly enjoying in his abrupt promotion to the heady, if cynically seamy, job of Foreign Secretary, recently let it be known that he is ready to accept the crown. In an article in the Guardian he began in the pose as a fearless confronter of reality – although perhaps unsettling more stubbornly myopic Labour supporters– with the admission that “The odds are against us, no question” but then mollified those he had disturbed with a generous measure of re-assuring platitudes: “Every member of the Labour party carries with them the simple guiding mission on the membership card: to put power, wealth and opportunity in the hands of the many, and not the few” and later he expanded on this platitude with some more “…the challenge to society – to build a genuine sense of belonging and responsibility on the back of greater protection from outside risks and greater control of local issues”. Perhaps, in spite of this, Miliband will succeed to the leadership. But it will not take long for the surge of capitalist society to expose him as just another discredited politician.

    This doleful procession of ecstatic expectations followed by rumbling doubts then exposure and rejection, seems to feed on a self-perpetuating energy originating in an apparently limitless capacity for working-class self-deception. There have been many victims of this, of eminent leaders fallen into the dustbin of history. Gordon Brown looks like being only the latest in this dismal line. How long can he keep smiling?

    Ivan

    Friday, October 24, 2008

    Profit versus the Planet

    *Launch of new pamphlet -- Saturday 25 October*


    Saturday 25 October, 6pm

    SOCIALISM AND THE ENVIRONMENT

    Speakers: Brian Morris (guest speaker) and Adam Buick (Socialist Party)

    Chair: Gwynn Thomas (Socialist Party)

    Forum followed by discussion.

    Socialist Party Head Office, 52 Clapham High Street, London SW4 (nearest tube: Clapham North).

    Questions regarding the environment are constantly in the news. If it's not global warming and climate change, there is concern over future energy resources and rain forest depletion. The environmental list seems never-ending with the increasing human impact making serious inroads on finite resources. Hardly a day goes by when politicians, economists, environmentalists and the scientific community are not voicing their opinions and offering various explanations for the continual global degradation. The Oscar winning film by Al Gore, 'An Inconvenient Truth' exemplified not only these concerns but also the solutions on offer. Without exception none of the solutions query the root cause of global environmental destruction. Consequently, all of the solutions are pro-market and pro-profit and the degradation continues unresolved.

    Obviously, what is needed is an alternative solution outside of the capitalist mindset and one that takes into consideration the ownership and control of our productive processes; in short the social ownership of the means of life. Only then will we be able to address solutions which will not only benefit all of humanity but also the global environment. To this end the Socialist Party have recently published a pamphlet: 'An Inconvenient Question - Socialism and the Environment' .

    You are cordially invited to attend the official launch of the pamphlet at our head office at 52 Clapham High Street, Clapham, London, on Saturday the 25th of October at 6 pm. The guest speaker, Brian Morris is Emeritus Professor of Anthropology at Goldsmiths, University of London and is well known for his fieldwork on human interaction and the environment. The Socialist Party speaker, Adam Buick, has written many articles on the environment, human behaviour and political economy. With both speakers holding different political perspectives, the launch promises some lively discussion on what positive action is required to replace the market incentives of putting profit first and the environment second. If you acknowledge that we are just as much dependent on the environment as the environment is dependent on us you will find this discussion forum educational and engaging.

    Free refreshments and free literature.

    New Pamphlet

    An Inconvenient Question. Socialism and the Environment

    In recent years the environment has become a major political issue. And rightly so, because a serious environmental crisis really does exist. The air we breathe, the water we drink, the food we eat have all become contaminated to a greater or lesser extent. Ecology - the branch of biology that studies the relationships of living organisms to their environment - is important, as it is concerned with explaining exactly what has been happening and what is likely to happen if present trends continue.

    Since the publication of our Ecology and Socialism pamphlet in 1990 environmental problems facing the planet have got much worse. We said then that attempts to solve those problems within capitalism would meet with failure, and that is precisely what has happened. Recent research on increasing environmental degradation has painted an alarming picture of the likely future if the profit system continues to hold sway. Voices claiming that the proper use of market forces will solve the problem can still be heard, but as time goes on the emerging facts of what is happening serve only to contradict those voices.

    In this pamphlet we begin with a brief review of the development of Earth and of humankind’s progress on it so far. We then examine the mounting evidence that the planet is now under threat of a worsening, dangerous environment for human and other forms of life. The motor of capitalism is profit for the minority capitalist class to add to their capital, or capital accumulation. Environmental concerns, if considered at all, always come a poor second. The waste of human and other resources used in the market system is prodigious, adding to the problems and standing in the way of their solution.

    Earth Summits over the last few decades show a consistent record of failure - unjustifiably high hopes and pitifully poor results sum them up. The Green Party and other environmental bodies propose reforms of capitalism that haven’t worked or have made very little real difference in the past. Socialists can see no reason why it should be any different in the future. Finally we discuss the need, with respect to the ecology of the planet, for a revolution that is both based on socialist principles of common ownership and production solely for needs, and environmental principles of conserving - not destroying - the wealth and amenities of the planet.


    Contents

    Introduction

    What is ecology?

    Earth under threat

    Profit wins, the environment also ran

    The waste of capitalism

    Earth Summits - a record of failure

    Green reformism

    Socialism - an inconvenient question?

    To get a copy by post send a cheque or postal order for £2.50 (made out to “The Socialist Party of Great Britain”) to: The Socialist Party, 52 Clapham High Street, London SW4 7UN.

    Wednesday, October 22, 2008

    Weekly Bulletin of The Socialist Party of Great Britain (69)

    Dear Friends,

    Welcome to the 69th of our weekly bulletins to keep you informed of changes at Socialist Party of Great Britain @ MySpace.

    We now have 1371 friends.

    Recent blogs:

  • Ballyhoo and Baloney (US National Conventions)
  • Gordon Brown’s solution : “ethical” markets
  • Crime and the causes of crime
  • Coming Events at SPGB Head Office, 52 Clapham High St, London SW4 (nearest tube: Clapham North):

    A Season of Free Film nights from Sunday 14th September to Sunday 23rd November at 52 Clapham High Street, London.


    All films start at 4 p.m.

    Sunday 26 October:The Corporation

    Sunday 9 November: Zeitgeist

    Sunday 23 November: The War on Democracy

    Quote for the week:


    "Well, if crime fighters fight crime and fire fighters fight fire, what do freedom fighters fight? They never mention that part to us, do they?" George Carlin.

    Continuing luck with your MySpace adventures!

    Robert and Piers

    Socialist Party of Great Britain

    Tuesday, October 21, 2008

    Growing old disgracefully

    From the October 2008 issue of the Socialist Standard

    In primitive society one of the greatest sources of human survival was the knowledge of the elderly. If you lived in a gathering/ hunting society the knowledge of where plants occurred, where animals existed and at what times of the year was essential for human society. Knowledge was power. So much was this the case for human survival that one of the first forms of religion was Ancestor Worship.

    We no longer live in a gathering/hunting society, we live in a modern capitalist society. This is a society where the majority work for a wage or a salary and a tiny minority live off the surplus value that they produce. Inside this society attitudes towards the elderly are completely different. If they are poor they are looked upon as a burden by the capitalist class and some sort of creature, that had they any decency would just disappear.

    Away back in 1908 when state pensions were first paid in the UK there was the view that this piece of reform would end old-age poverty. People like David Lloyd George and Charles Booth hailed the legislation as a mayor breakthrough on the abolition of old-age poverty.

    "Yet 100 years on, 2.5 million pensioners – more than a fifth of all those aged over 65 – still struggle to pay their bills and keep their home warm" (London Times, 31 July). Such is the nature of capitalism and the lick-spittles that operate it that they have come up with a great new idea that will save the owning class millions.

    "People will be forced to work until they are aged 70 if the basic state pension is to survive into the next century, according to the Government' s pension supremo. Lord Turner of Ecchinswell, the architect of radical reform in which the retirement age will rise to 68 by 2046, said that with no limit in sight for life expectancy, people are going to have to work even longer than he proposed" (London Times, 31 July).

    When I was very young an elderly man taught me about capitalism. One of the lessons he taught me was – the owning class need young men and women to provide for them, but we don't need them. As in primitive society we must heed the elderly – knowledge is power.

    Richard Donnelly

    The great crash of 1929 (1979)

    From the October 1979 issue of the Socialist Standard
    Fifty years ago, on Tuesday 29 October, the boom in the price of stocks and shares on the New York stock exchange came to an abrupt end in what has gone down in history as the Great Crash.
    Stocks and shares are titles to ownership of part of a business. They entitle their owners to a percentage of the profits of that business in the form of dividends or, in the case of certain kinds of shares, fixed interest payments. In theory the price of a share reflects the value of the firm's assets. In practice it fluctuates with the firm's profit-making record and expected profits. It is this latter that introduces an element of gambling into shareholding, since the firm can never know in advance whether or not it will in actual fact make the hoped-for profits. If it doesn't then the price of its shares will fall and the shareholders will suffer a loss. If it does then the price of its shares will increase and the shareholder will receive a capital gain as well as a dividend.
    A stock exchange boom is essentially a period of speculation for capital gains on rising share prices. It need have nothing whatsoever to do with the profit-making record or prospects of the firms whose shares are traded. It is enough that there is a sustained excess of buyers over sellers on the stock market. With prices continually rising, capital gains can be made simply by buying shares one day and selling them the next. A telephone call is all the effort required.
    Until October 1929 there was such a boom on the New York stock exchange. Share prices were rising, and everybody expected them to go on rising. Stories of people 'getting rich quick' from buying and selling shares encouraged others to try their luck. Actually, as long as the boom continued it was not a question of luck at all but a matter of having money. If you didn't have ready cash, you could borrow the money to buy the shares. Certainly you needed some collateral, but there were cases of shares already bought on loans - and even of the shares to be bought by that loan — being accepted as collateral.
    The trouble with a speculative boom of this sort is that it cannot go on for ever. Sooner or later the excess of buyers over sellers must disappear. Everybody knows this, but investors can't resist the temptation to make easy money.
    The Great Crash was followed by a severe industrial depression, summarised by J.K. Galbraith in his very readable book on the subject:
    “After the Great Crash came the Great Depression which lasted, with varying severity, for ten years. In 1933, Gross National Product (total production of the economy) was nearly a third less than in 1929. Not until 1937 did the physical volume of production recover to the levels of 1929, and then it promptly slipped back again. Until 1941 the dollar value of production remained below 1929. Between 1930 and 1940 only once, in 1937, did the average number unemployed during the year drop below eight million. In 1933 nearly thirteen million were out of work, or about one in every four in the labour force. In 1938 one person in five was still out of work. (The Great Crash 1929, Pelican, p. 186.)
    One school of thought, the monetarists, sees the Great Crash and Great Depression as the outcome of government interference in the 'natural' workings of capitalism. According to them, the stock exchange boom and its inevitable crash were caused by the monetary policy pursued by the US government and central bank (the Federal Reserve Board). What gives monetarist explanations of this crisis, and of crises in general, a semblance of plausibility, is the fact that monetary bungling can aggravate a crisis. And there is no doubt that in the years up to 1929 the Federal Reserve Board, in pursuing a cheap money policy with easy credit and low interest rates, did encourage the stock exchange boom, and so helped make the crash all the greater when it came. A stricter monetary policy might have cut short the boom at a much earlier stage and thus prevented so great a crash, even if not a minor one, but the question is: would it also have avoided the Great Depression?
    Here the answer must be no. For a slowing down of economic activity was evident in the summer of 1929, some months before the Crash (a knowledge of this must have been a factor in bringing the stock exchange boom to an end). This downturn was particularly evident in the consumer goods sector, where the firms concerned had overestimated demand and were finding themselves lumbered with excessive stocks. In other words, the depression was going to happen anyway, whether or not there had been the stock exchange boom and crash. More fundamental economic factors were at work than speculations on the stock market or the monetary bungling of the Federal Reserve Board.
    An attempt to identify these fundamental economic factors using the categories of Marxian economics has been made by Sydney H. Coontz in Productive Labour and Effective Demand (1965) and by Ernest Mandel.
    A depression is the result of an unbalanced growth of one sector of the economy having expanded too fast for the other sectors. Simplifying matters, the economy can be divided into two main sectors, the one producing means of production (sometimes called 'capital goods' or, more accurately, 'producer goods'), and the other producing consumer goods. The conditions for steady, balanced growth under capitalism can then be stated to be:
    “The purchase of consumer goods by all the workers and capitalists engaged in producing capital goods must be equivalent to the purchases of capital goods by the capitalists engaged in producing consumer goods (including in both categories the purchases needed to expand production). The constant reproduction of these conditions of equilibrium thus requires a proportional development of the two sectors of production. The periodical occurrence of crises is to be explained only by a periodical break in this proportionality or, in other words, by an uneven development of these two sectors.” (Mandel, Marxist Economy Theory, Vol.1, p.349.)
    What happened in America in the 1920s was that the producer goods sector expanded too fast for the consumer goods sector. Production and productivity increased while wages and prices remained comparatively stable. Wages did in fact rise, but the main benefits of the increase in productivity went to the capitalists in the form of increased profits. Most of these additional profits were reinvested in production (though some found their way to the New York stock exchange). It was this that led, according to figures quoted by Galbraith, to the rapid extension of the producer sector as compared with the consumer goods sector:
    “During the twenties, the production of capital goods increased at an average annual rate of 6.4 per cent; nondurable consumers' goods, a category which includes such objects of mass consumption as food and clothing, increased at a rate of only 2.8 per cent.” (pp. 192-3)
    An expansion of the producer goods sector at a faster rate than the consumer goods sector is not in itself a situation of disproportionate development. Indeed, it has been precisely the historical role of capitalism to build up and develop the means of production at the expense of consumption. But so-called 'production for production's sake' cannot in practice continue indefinitely, since it demands either a sustained series of new inventions and innovations or a continually expanding market for consumer goods.
    The relatively full employment in America in the 1920s — unemployment was officially only 0.9 per cent in 1929 — did mean that the market for consumer goods expanded, but the falling share of wages and salaries in National Income meant that this was not going to continue. The expansion of the producer goods sector levelled off, further retracting the market for consumer goods since its workers now had less to spend. Expressed in terms of the formula for balanced growth stated above, the purchase of consumer goods by the workers (and capitalists) in the producer goods sector had come to be less than the purchase of producer goods by the capitalists in the consumer goods sector. In other words, an overcapacity had developed in the consumer goods sector, which expressed itself in an overproduction of consumer goods and the build-up of stocks. As Coontz puts it (using the language of academic economics):
    “. . . stagnation in the capital goods industry, the displacement of labour in this sector, meant that worker and entrepreneurial consumption expenditures failed to rise pari passu with investment in the consumer sector. It was this disproportionality that generated the Great Depression.” (p. 154)
    The Great Depression — which occurred all over the world and not just in America — was not an accident, but simply capitalism working in a normal way. It exposed capitalism for the irrational, anti-social system that it is. While millions were unemployed and reduced to bare subsistence levels, food was destroyed because it could not be sold profitably. It was in the 1930s that the Roosevelt administration introduced the notorious policy of paying farmers not to grow food, a policy accurately described by a later President, Kennedy, as 'planned underproduction'. Even in limes of boom and prosperity capitalism underproduces, but in times of depression this is even more flagrant.
    The Depression eventually came to an end — with the war and preparations war.
    Adam Buick

    Gordon Brown’s solution : “ethical” markets

    From the Socialism Or Your Money Back blog

    Writing in today’s Daily Torygraph, he begins by buttering up his Tory readers assuring them that he too is pro-capitalist:

    “I admire the market's ability to release the dynamism and enterprise of people and so this new Labour government is pro-business and pro-markets and always will be.”

    He then goes on to say that he doesn’t believe in “unbridled free markets” (a rather odd term since if something is “free” then surely it is “unbridled” ?). So he wants to “bridle” free-market capitalism (not that he dares to use the c-word) . . . by ethics, those his father preached as a Presbyterian minister in the local kirk: “fairness, stewardship cooperation” :

    “Markets work best when underpinned by an ethic of fairness. The institutions of the market place need to be founded on the ethic of stewardship. And this new interdependent global economy cannot work for the world's people without an ethic of cooperation.”

    Markets certainly can and do work without being underpinned by any “ethic” save that of getting the best price and making the most money. They are completely impersonal and work according to the principles of “can’t pay, can’t have” and “no profit, no production”. If Brown thinks his appeal to market operators to apply Presbyterian ethics in their dealings will be heeded he’s just a fool. How in fact this man has achieved a reputation for being a financial and economic genius is hard to understand. His claim to have engineered the end of boom-and-bust cycles has just blown up in his face as Britain and the rest of the world are now faced with the biggest bust for 80 years. And now he is proposing “ethical markets” as the way out.

    His “ethical market economy” will go down in history as a joke to rival the “ethical foreign policy” preached by his fellow Scotsman, the late Robin Cook.

    Adam Buick

    Wednesday, October 15, 2008

    Socialist Party meeting: 'Capitalism in Crisis'

    There'll be a meeting on "Capitalism in Crisis" this Saturday 18th October 7.30 p.m. at the Socialist Party Head Office, 52 Clapham High St, London SW4 (nearest tube: Clapham North)

    Capitalism in Crisis

    With the banks refusing to lend to each other the flow and circulation of global capital is being disrupted on scale not seen since the depression of the 1930's. Share values have declined and major financial concerns are under pressure from the credit crunch. There have been massive bail-outs and buy-outs or state intervention and nationalisation in an effort to save the situation for capitalism. But whatever happens the short-term prospects for capitalism globally look bleak now that the consumer bubble fed by easy credit has finally burst.

    The only course of action now open to the powers that be is to get us to tighten our belts till the economy starts picking up. How long this will take is anybody's guess for in the cutthroat world of competition the market determines who survives and who goes under. What is clear is that millions of workers will be unemployed. And consequently poverty will increase, health will deteriorate, homelessness will grow, deprivation and destitution will accelerate, crime will multiply and, in the so-called Third World, food riots become a regular occurrence.

    This is nothing new because throughout the history of capitalism there is only one course of action available. In short - no profit no production. However, despite what the supporters of capitalism would have you believe there is one course of action available to the workers. The capitalist class won't even contemplate it because it means a future without profits, private and state ownership, borders, money and inequality. Find out more about the economic crisis we now face by coming to the meeting.

    More information about the Socialist Party:

  • Email: spgb@worldsocialism.org
  • The Socialist Party of Great Britain website
  • Sunday, October 12, 2008

    Capitalism: not for recycling

    From the Socialism Or Your Money Back blog

    It would be hard to imagine any assortment of lunatics devising a scheme for organising the political and economic affairs of humankind that would be more absurd than the system of world capitalism, currently exposed in all its rottenness.

    Outside its appalling boom-slump syndrome (which currently and conclusively demonstrates that it is beyond the control of its alleged experts, its politicians, the capitalists themselves and their agents) it gives us wars, world hunger, insecurity, alienation and the monumental waste which now threatens the entire biosphere.

    Historically, capitalism, despite it inherent evils, played a progressive role in that it banished feudalism and made the means of production social. Today its lunacies are simply an embargo on the rational production of goods and services. Real wealth is produced, and can only be produced, by the application of human labour-power to nature-given resources. The claims to ownership of the latter by a relatively small class of money shufflers derives from the historic usurpation of those means.

    We, the working class, the producers of all real wealth, now have the power in our numbers to democratically reject the spurious claims of ownership of our means of life. With the political will we can create a world where goods and services will be used to provide the needs of humanity rather than accumulating even more wealth for an economically redundant class of parasites.

    John Bissett

    Thursday, October 9, 2008

    In Toronto tomorrow night?


    What the Other Political Parties Don't Know or Won't Tell You

    A discussion on society's problems and how to solve them


    Friday, October 10, 2008

    Time: 7:45pm - 9:15pm

    Location: The Toronto Reference Library

    Street: 789 Yonge Street (One block north of Bloor, east side)

    City/Town: Toronto, ON

    For more information about the Socialist Party of Canada:

  • Email: SPC@iname.com
  • Visit the Socialist Party of Canada website
  • Visit the Socialist Party of Canada MySpace page
  • Visit the Socialist Party of Canada Facebook page
  • Wednesday, October 8, 2008

    Weekly Bulletin of The Socialist Party of Great Britain (67)

    Dear Friends,

    Welcome to the 67th of our weekly bulletins to keep you informed of changes at Socialist Party of Great Britain @ MySpace.

    We now have 1361 friends!

    Recent blogs:

  • Who needs finance?
  • Rights Act is promise to pay of the bankrupt
  • Imagine a world without law
  • Coming Events at SPGB Head Office, 52 Clapham High St, London SW4 (nearest tube: Clapham North):

    A Season of Free Film nights from Sunday 14th September to Sunday 23rd November at 52 Clapham High Street, London.


    All films start at 4 p.m.

    Sunday 12 October: Judgement Day: Intelligent Design on trial

    Sunday 26 October:The Corporation

    Sunday 9 November: Zeitgeist

    Sunday 23 November: The War on Democracy

    Quote for the week:


    "You see things as they are and ask, "Why?" I dream things as they never were and ask, "Why not?" George Bernard Shaw, Back to Methuselah, 1921.

    Continuing luck with your MySpace adventures!

    Robert and Piers

    Socialist Party of Great Britain

    Monday, October 6, 2008

    S-C-A-ISM minus O-I-L?

    The Pathfinders column from the October 2008 issue of the Socialist Standard

    Oil is the super-fuel. Nothing else does all the things oil does, from heating, fuel, plastics, food, chemicals, pharmaceuticals and clothing. It has the highest energy conversion rate of any fuel and it constitutes 40 percent of global traded energy and 90 percent of transport (Financial Times, 4 January, 2004). But aside from its contribution to global warming, it's also running out.

    Or so we are told. Despite the record rise of oil recently, this is mainly speculator-driven and not due to any real shortage of oil. What is running out is cheap oil. In fact the world has only used 15 per cent of known reserves, with at least another 20 per cent recoverable by today's technology (BBC Online, 21 April 21, 2004). Though pundits talk about hitting peak oil, estimates for this turning point range from already to as far away as 2050. As supply diminishes and prices rise, more expensive options like the Canadian and Venezuelan tar sands, with capacities rivalling Saudi Arabia, will become profitable to extract. But the rise in costs will be mirrored by a rise in the price of everything dependent on oil, and for the world's poorest billion people, this could be a sentence of death by starvation, with a likely proliferation of food rioting, instability in liberal democracies and an upsurge in the ruling class's faithful stand-by, fascist repression. Meanwhile, as the stakes rise, so do the international tensions. Oil is already determining many countries' domestic and foreign policy, and few people doubt its role in recent wars. Governments are increasingly jumpy. Oil production plants, and bottleneck sea-lanes, are particularly susceptible to guerrilla attack, and with no in-house reserves Europe or America could be reduced to chaos in weeks (New Scientist, 28 June). Worse still, the ruling elites' increasing inability to keep their oil-starved military up to scratch may make wars more likely rather than less, as weakened capability could provoke opportunistic pre-emptive attacks by rivals.

    Socialism faces a rather different problem. It is predicated on communal sharing and participation, which in turn rely on the fact of material sufficiency. Should anything threaten this sufficiency, the basis of socialism itself would be threatened. Today, for example, over 50 percent of world rural populations have no access to electricity (UNDP World Energy Assessment, 2000). Though not a problem to capitalism, which doesn't care about non-effective, i.e. non-paying demand (for more on this see page 19, this will be of the first importance in socialism. Even allowing for waste reduction in the west, that electricity must be found.

    There is no single alternative to oil, so a suite of alternatives will have to be employed. Of the non-renewables, gas won't last much longer than oil, and coal, the chief source of electricity globally, though there is up to 250 years worth at present usage, is dirty stuff to burn. Carbon capture technology may mitigate this, but is at an early stage.

    The main problem with renewables is that the oil-addicted capitalist economy has hitherto starved them of funds, because set-up costs are prohibitive and returns long-term. This is true of geothermal heating systems, but also of wind and tidal systems, ocean thermal electricity, biowaste to oil reconversion plants, solar thermal and solar photovoltaic technology. Only nuclear fission, with its potential for weapons, has found success, though its waste problem remains intractable, and biofuels, though their impact on food crops and deforestation is well known. Nevertheless, so-called 2G biofuels that use waste feedstocks of lignin and cellulose are beginning to put in an appearance (New Scientist, 21 June), while algal fuels are also showing some promise, though expensive in land area (New Scientist, 16 August). The central problem of collection and conversion in solar energy is being addressed with 3G tech involving plastic panelling which can be printed cheaply on any surface and may offer up to a 60 percent conversion rate. Hydrogen, much vaunted in the press as a cheap fuel, is really an energy vector not an energy source, being only as clean as the energy used to create it, currently coal-fired electricity, and the problems of storage and distribution are enormous. Currently there are a small handful of hydrogen filling stations in the whole of Europe (EurActive.com, 4 September)

    There is some hoopla about the renaissance of the electric car (New Scientist, 20 Sept ember) with its macho speed and mileage performances, but aside from the £100,000 price tag, there is something about the electric car that utterly misses the point.

    Probably the biggest difference between socialism and capitalism as regards energy would not be how we produce it but how we consume it. Instead of developing electric cars that do 0 - 60 in 4 seconds, socialism would be developing ways of getting cars off the road altogether, because abolishing paid employment and the need to make a living would also abolish the commuter madness on the roads and motorways. Homeworking, or just doing something useful in one's immediate local area, would be a much more practical solution than hi-tech boy-racing.

    Similarly, there's no need and no point having, as a norm, private kitchens all cooking the same food at the same time, when socialising the process in the form of volunteer-run restaurants could cut energy hugely and save on waste as well as time. Many people detest cooking anyway and eat pre-packaged and expensive rubbish as a result. There's no need either for each household to possess identical music or DVD collections, books, clothes, tools or any other item that could be shared via public library systems. The life-span of a domestic power-tool in use, from purchase to a 10,000 year career in landfill, is estimated at just 10 minutes (New Scientist, 6 January 2007). Waste is simply energy misused, and capitalism does a lot of that because privatised materialist consumption is how it makes its money.

    Then there is what we literally consume. Socialism has to feed everybody and it is obvious it won’t be able to do so on a western-style meat diet. Even now we are starting to be told to reduce our reliance on the meat industry not simply because of its clear link to obesity, or to rainforest clearance, or greenhouse gas emissions (18 percent - more than transport, according to the UN Food and Agricultural Organisation - BBC News Online, 7 September) but also because of its global impact on water and oil usage. Aside from any ethical considerations, meat is simply too expensive a way of feeding people when for every kilo of meat protein you need approximately 8 kilos of grain protein (New Scientist, 14 June)

    If capitalism really uses up the obtainable oil in its customary spendthrift way, then socialism is going to have to employ a suite of solutions, both in means of supply and modes of consumption. Whether this will involve a generation without coffee, or cricket fields under cloches, a communally-managed planet is going to be better placed to deal with these issues than the privately-owned one we have. Socialism will do whatever works, and whatever it takes. Capitalism just does whatever pays, and devil take the consequences. Only one of these systems has a future.

    Saturday, October 4, 2008

    Anti-war Morris

    Book Review from the October 2008 issue of the Socialist Standard

    Crossing the ‘river of fire’ : the socialism of William Morris. By Hassan Mahamdallie. (Redwords 2008.)

    This is an SWP take on William Morris. Reasonably accurate, it emphasises (as might be expected from the SWP, at least in its current period) Morris’s anti-war and anti-imperialism stance. And Morris’s statement in the January 1887 issue of Commonweal does bear repeating:

    “Meantime if war really becomes imminent our duties as socialists are clear enough, and do not differ from those we have to act on ordinarily. To further the spread of international feeling between workers by all means possible; to point out to our own workmen that foreign competition and rivalry, or commercial war, culminating at last in open war, are necessities of the plundering classes, and that the race and commercial quarrels of these classes only concern us so far as we can use them as opportunities for fostering discontent and revolution;. that the interests of the workmen are the same in all countries and they can never really be the enemies of each other; that the men of our labouring classes, therefore, should turn a deaf ear to the recruiting sergeant, and refuse to allow themselves be dressed up in red and be taught to form a part of the modern killing machine for the honour and glory of a country in which they have only a dog's share of many kicks and a few halfpence, - all this we have to preach always, though in the event of imminent war we may have to preach it more emphatically.”

    For most of his active period as a socialist Morris was an “impossibilist” in that he favoured a policy of “making socialists” and “education for socialism” rather than seeking working class support on the basis of reform demands. Committed as they are to reformist agitation, the SWP find this an embarrassment just as much as E.P. Thompson did in both his CP and post-CP days. Mahamdallie argues that the correct tactic for Morris and the Socialist League would have been to do what the SWP does today: to get involved in the non-socialist, day-to-day struggles of workers with a view to directing them. He also claims that in 1890 Morris realised the “dreadful mistake” he had made in not doing this.

    But did Morris admit this? His November 1890 resignation statement from the Socialist League (which had been taken over by bomb-throwing anarchists) “Where Are We Now? “does not say this. It says rather that he still thought he was right, but that as the working class seemed to have chosen a different path, so be it; that was their choice.

    To be frank, Engels thought that Morris was wrong and preferred the reformist ILP to both the Socialist League and the SDF as a step towards the formation of genuine mass socialist party. But who was right? Morris or Engels? The ILP led to the Labour Party, which has been and gone, and we are still no nearer to socialism. The urgent need is still, as Morris insisted, campaigning for socialism not reforms.

    Adam Buick

    Thursday, October 2, 2008

    Ballyhoo and baloney

    From the October 2008 issue of the Socialist Standard

    The National Conventions of the Democratic and Republican Parties have become forums for putting the finishing touches on the “cult of personality” of the candidates, culminating with the vacuous speeches of the candidates themselves.

    A demagogue, H.L. Mencken once said, is someone “who will preach doctrines he knows to be untrue to men he knows to be idiots.” This is a pretty good description of the US presidential candidates in action at their late-summer conventions. Although, to be fair to those who listened to the convention speeches, it was more a case of preaching idiotic ideas to people who wished those ideas were true.

    The contrast between the gassy rhetoric of the politicians and the weighty problems facing workers was particularly striking at this year’s conventions, highlighted further by the juxtaposition between jubilant delegates inside the convention hall and the pepper-sprayed protestors outside.

    The candidates from both parties employed the same basic template for demagoguery in writing their convention speeches. We encounter the same sorts of rhetorical techniques and the logic of “public relations” shapes every line. The candidates are less interested in conveying ideas than manipulating them to fashion images to sell the product – in this case, the candidates themselves.

    Family lies

    The first chapter of Convention Speeches for Dummies, if such a book were ever to be written, would probably be entitled: “Making the Most of the Family.” Each candidate, without exception, began with extravagant praise for the family – the candidate’s own family, that is. The candidates informed the American people that they too have spouses who are loving and loyal, children and grandchildren they are proud of, and hardworking parents as wise as they are kind. (Perhaps this convinced the sceptics who thought that the candidates had been hatched in a secret laboratory in North Dakota.)

    Behind my plastic exterior, each candidate seemed to be saying, is a real live human being, just like you. Just like us, but even better. Thanks to the “quintessentially American” values of hard work, perseverance and personal integrity that the candidates acquired as children from their saintly mothers.

    In his speech, Joe Biden described his 90-year-old mother as a person “defined by her sense of honour” who “believes bravery lives in every heart” and that “it will be summoned.” She taught little Joey the “dignity of work” and that “anyone can make it if they try” and emphasized that it is important to “live our faith and treasure our family.” Biden said that his “mother’s creed is the American creed: No one is better than you; you are everyone’s equal; and everyone is equal to you.” (And US Senators are more equal than most.)McCain mentioned his mother too, saying: “I wouldn’t be here tonight but for the strength of her character.” Thankfully he was not as long-winded as Biden – perhaps to secure adequate time for another thrilling episode of “John McCain: War Hero” – but he did mention that his mother taught him some patriotic claptrap about how “we’re all meant to use our opportunities to make ourselves useful to our country.”

    Obama praised his mother “who raised my sister and me on her own while she worked and earned her degree; who once turned to food stamps but was still able to send us to the best schools in the country with the help of student loans and scholarships.” For good measure, Obama threw in his grandmother too, “who worked her way up from the secretarial pool to middle-management” and taught him “about hard work.”

    The mother featured in Palin’s speech was Palin herself, who “was just your average hockey mom” whose political career began when she “signed up for the PTA” because she “wanted to make my kids’ public education better.” Palin had a small-town upbringing that encouraged “honesty, sincerity and dignity” and she thanked her parents for teaching her that, “this is America, and every woman can walk through every door of opportunity.”

    It wasn’t just the parents who were mobilized for the cause: children and grandchildren served as useful props too. Palin’s 4-month old son, who suffers from Down Syndrome, was brought to the raucous event and passed around on stage for the photo op. Obama made use of his two daughters, who told daddy how much they love him. And Biden said that when he looked at his grandchildren, and at Obama’s daughters, he realized: “I’m here for their future.” Many watching this strange spectacle must hope that the candidates’ love for those little ones will be enough to keep their powerful fingers away from “the button.”

    But, lest we feel too safe, in the next breath these politicians are talking about their sons who are headed off to war, such as Beau Biden or Jimmy McCain. Palin also got some good mileage out of her son Track, who not only is headed to Iraq but will conveniently ship out on September 11 “in the service of his country” (by securing the Starbucks in the Green Zone).

    It is rather sickening to see how willing the candidates are to squeeze out whatever political advantage can be had from their children. Even the pregnancy of Palin’s teenage daughter – and shotgun wedding – is good election fodder, appealing to those families who have experienced that common side-effect of “abstinence education.”

    We feel your pain

    Once the family motif had been fully exploited, right down to the last grandchild, the candidates shared some snapshots of “less fortunate” families and individuals in the US. Luckily for them, there are literally millions of hard-luck stories to choose from!

    Obama, for instance, spoke of “a woman in Ohio, on the brink of retirement [who] finds herself one illness away from disaster after a lifetime of hard work” and “a man in Indiana has to pack up the equipment he’s worked on for twenty years and watch it shipped off to China, and then chokes up as he explains how he felt like a failure when he went home to tell his family the news.”

    Notice how careful Obama was to choose examples from crucial “swing states” (and also throw in China as a convenient scapegoat). One can easily imagine political advisors sifting through such evidence of capitalist misery to get to the political gold, weighing each situation carefully.

    Biden said in his speech that he looks out at people’s homes during his evening train ride home from work and “can almost hear what they’re talking about at the kitchen table after they put the kids to bed,” imagining the following sorts of conversations:

    “Winter’s coming. How we gonna pay the heating bills? Another year and no raise? Did you hear the company may be cutting our health care? Now, we owe more on the house than it's worth. How are we going to send the kids to college? How are we gonna be able to retire?”

    Biden’s little story (punctuated with his “gonna’s”) is meant to highlight his compassion and solidarity for working folk – and he is so proud that he rides a train that he had Obama mention it too! – but the image of a powerful US Senator breezing through town, as he daydreams about stick-figure citizens in between sips of coffee, only underscores the distance separating him from those kitchen-table conversations.

    McCain tried his hand at this compassion stuff too, recognizing that “these are tough times for many of you.” Unfortunately there was no train window separating him from a heckler (and Iraq War veteran) who proceeded to berate the candidate for his poor record on veteran’s rights. After the ungrateful citizen had been dragged out of the hall, and the chants of “U.S.A! U.S.A.!” to drown out his heckling had subsided, McCain continued reading from his teleprompter: “You’re worried about keeping your job or finding a new one,” the monotone voice intoned, “and you’re struggling to put food on the table and stay in your home.” And later, McCain threw in a few swing-state stories of his own, such as “Bill and Sue Nebe from Farmington Hills, Michigan, who lost their real estate investments in the bad housing market” so that now Bill has a temporary job and “Sue works three jobs to help pay the bills.”

    In recounting these stories, the candidates showed no hint that their own political parties bear any responsibility, nor did they recognize any connection between such problems and our current social system. The whole point was just to show off their own compassion, which Bush Sr. tried to do on campaign trail back in 1992 when he succinctly said, “Message: I care.”

    Policy promises

    Only around the middle of their speeches did the candidates finally begin to sketch some of the policies they plan to implement if elected. But these promises are so vague as to almost defy analysis.

    For the few ideas that they did discuss in any detail – regarding taxation, education and foreign policy – the similarities between the candidates far outweighed the differences. Both McCain and Obama pledged to lower taxes for the “middle class,” improve education, and somehow win the war in Afghanistan (while keeping Iran and Russian in their place).

    Obama kicked off his list of policy solutions with the vow to reform the tax code so as to “cut taxes for 95 percent of all working families.” Even setting aside the question of whether sweeping tax cuts will be possible, while waging two wars in the midst of deep recession, it is telling that Obama and the Democrats focused so much of their attention on the issue of taxation, which is not a working-class issue to begin with (as taxes ultimately come out of the surplus-value created in production). Moreover, Obama is quietly stepping back from an earlier promise to rescind Bush’s tax cuts for the wealthy in recent months.

    After listing many of the grave problems facing the country earlier in his speech – and harping on the need for “change” throughout his campaign – ultimately the best that Obama can come up with is to steal a page from the Republican playbook and call for tax cuts as an economic cure-all. This is change that John McCain can believe in, who also promised to cut taxes in his speech.

    And the two candidates are on the same page for other issues as well. Both call for something called “energy independence” and made the usual pledge to root out corruption and eliminate corporate loopholes as a means of securing the necessary government funds.

    Both also promised to improve education, although there was a difference between Obama’s promise to “recruit an army of new teachers and pay them higher salaries” and McCain’s vow to “shake up failed school bureaucracies with competition [and] empower parents with choice.” Still, Obama is reluctant to veer off too sharply from the current administration and in his speech he threw in a line about calling for “higher standards and more accountability,” which indicated his agreement with aspects of Bush’s “No Child Left Behind” policy.

    Perhaps the biggest policy difference concerned health care. McCain ignored the issue, except to say that he opposes “government-run health care system where a bureaucrat stands between you and your doctor,” while Obama emphasized the need for improvements. Yet Obama only calls for an expansion of access to medical insurance, not a reform that would drive out the private insurance companies.

    The candidates seemed a little bored by such domestic issues, but warmed up when it came to demonstrating that they are reckless and bloodthirsty enough to be “Commander-in-Chief.” Both promised, repeatedly, to keep America and its people safe. Neither expressed any hesitation in sending troops to war and pledged to strengthen the armed forces. Both vowed to continue the fight against Al-Qaeda and issued threats to Iran and Russia. It seems that Obama’s days as the “anti-war candidate” are long gone.

    This discussion of policy, which should have made the distinction between the two candidates clear, only underscored their similarities, while again revealing the enormous gap between the severity of the problems faced – whether economic, diplomatic or environmental – and the meagre “solutions” that both parties are offering.

    Orchestrated response

    No sooner had the candidate uttered the obligatory “God bless America” to end the convention speech than TV commentators were breathlessly informing viewers that it was a “homerun” that electrified the crowd and will energize the base of the party. It was as if the pundits were frightened that, if given a split-second for reflection, viewers might reach the alternative conclusion that the speech was rather pointless and insipid.

    Both parties made every effort to generate the most favourable reaction to their candidate’s speech. Even before it was delivered, there were newspaper articles revealing what the speech would discuss, with titles like: “Obama to Get Specific” or “McCain to Strike a Bipartisan Note.” At first glance this custom of disclosing the content of the speech in advance seems rather bizarre, as it makes the speeches even less interesting to watch, but it gives the TV commentators an idea of how they should frame the discussion.

    The entire process surrounding the convention speeches is hermetically sealed from the public and from reality itself. If the candidates manage to “hit one out of the park,” as the cliché goes, it is only because US politics is a game played on a narrow field of little-league proportions.

    Michael Schauerte