Sunday, May 30, 2010

Pieces Together

From the May 2010 issue of the Socialist Standard

HOUSING MADNESS

"Charities are demanding an urgent rethink of government housing policy after a Guardian investigation found that almost half a million homes are lying empty in the UK enough to put a roof over the heads of a quarter of the families on council house waiting lists. The startling picture of neglect (we estimate that more than 450,000 properties have been empty for at least six months at a time when there is an acute housing shortage) was pieced together using information gathered from local councils under the Freedom of Information Act" (Guardian, 4 April).

TAX DODGERS INC.

"As you work on your taxes this month, here's something to raise your hackles: Some of the world's biggest, most profitable corporations enjoy a far lower tax rate than you do – that is, if they pay taxes at all. The most egregious example is General Electric. Last year the conglomerate generated $10.3 billion in pretax income, but ended up owing nothing to Uncle Sam. In fact, it recorded a tax benefit of $1.1 billion. Avoiding taxes is nothing new for General Electric. In 2008 its effective tax rate was 5.3%; in 2007 it was 15%. The marginal U.S. corporate rate is 35%” (Forbes.com, 1 April).

BUSINESS AS USUAL

"German carmaker Daimler has pleaded guilty to corruption in the US and will pay $185m (£121m) to settle the case. The charges relate to US Justice Department and Securities and Exchange Commission investigations into the company's global sales practices. Daimler, the owner of Mercedes-Benz, admitted to paying tens of millions of dollars of bribes to foreign government officials in at least 22 countries" (BBC News 1 April).

THIS SPORTING LIFE

"Thousands of homeless people are being forced off the streets of South Africa to hide the scale of poverty there from World Cup fans. More than 800 tramps, beggars and street children have already been removed from Johannesburg and sent to remote settlements hundreds of miles away. And in Cape Town, where England face Algeria on June 18, up to 300 have been moved to Blikkiesdorp camp where 1,450 families are crammed in a settlement of tin huts designed for just 650 people. Johannesburg councillor Sipho Masigo was unrepentant. ‘Homelessness and begging are big problems in the city,’ he said. ‘You have to clean your house before you have guests. There is nothing wrong with that’" (Daily Mirror, 28 March).

Puppets on a string

From the May 2010 issue of the Socialist Standard

Despite women-only lists and quotas for minorities does it matter who the politicians running capitalism are?

Capitalism, without a doubt, is unpopular. It would be strange if it were anything else. A system under which a small percentage of the people own just about everything worth owning, while everyone else has to spend his or her time working for the support of this small minority of owners, could hardly expect to win any popularity stakes. That is why everyone trying to seize power, whether in democratic countries or in despotisms, always proclaims that change is desperately needed. (When did you hear of any new leaders taking over a country with the slogan, “Let’s keep everything just as it is”?)

It is true that some changes, some reforms, may benefit some groups, though at the same time other groups may be worse off. It is also true that some changes may benefit some groups in some ways, but make those same groups worse off in other ways. One big change certainly is needed – a change from capitalism to socialism, that is to say abandoning a system organised for the advantage of a small minority, and introducing a system that works for the good of all: but since enormous propaganda machines are operating full-time to persuade people that any change like that is not possible, the result is that the reforms introduced with such fanfares are doomed to be futile, or at best merely cosmetic. If most of the people in Parliament, or in the government, are white, then the cry arises – let’s have more black people. If most of the people running the country are men – then let’s have more women. If most of the top politicians are Christian – then let’s have Muslims, or Buddhists, or Hindus, or atheists. Whatever they are now, let’s have the opposite. If most people in Parliament were women, the cry would probably arise for more men; if most were black, people might well demand more white faces; if most were Muslim, the cry would go up for more Christians, and so on.

If we are talking about the future of Britain, or of the world, then a person’s skin-colour, sex, religious or cultural background, or any other consideration, is of small importance compared with the question of what that person does. A person’s actions, which follow on from their ideas and their attitudes – these are the things that matter.

Take the case which is exercising the government, and the courts, and the newspapers, at the moment: the case of Binyam Mahomed, who is an Ethiopian who lived in Britain from the time he was fifteen. He was arrested in Pakistan in 2002 on suspicion of being a terrorist; he was then smuggled out by the Americans to Morocco and Afghanistan, finally being imprisoned in Guantanamo Bay in 2004, where he stayed for the next five years, without trial. During that time he was tortured by the Americans, or by their allies. Last year a US District Court judge accepted as accurate Mahomed’s account of his treatment, which “included being beaten with a leather strap, subjected to a mock execution by shooting, being punched and kicked, listening to other prisoners screaming and being cut on his chest, penis and testicles with a scalpel. He was also deprived of sleep and had drugs put into his food” (London Times, 11 February).

The UK Court of Appeal has agreed with “Mr Mahomed’s assertion that the UK authorities had been involved in and facilitated the ill treatment and torture to which he was subjected while under the control of the US authorities”. The Master of the Rolls, presiding at the court, also said in his draft judgment that MI5, the British security service, “operated a culture of suppression and disregard for human rights; that it deliberately misled a Parliamentary committee and that its assurances could not be trusted”. The Foreign Secretary sent high-paid lawyers to the court to get this criticism cut out of the judgment. The British government, indeed, has been trying to keep everything secret, on the grounds that the US government would be annoyed if these things came out – despite the publication of the judgment of the US District Court. The American government would not be so friendly and co-operative, thinks Gordon Brown, if everyone knew how they behaved; which raises the question, how friendly and co-operative do you want to be with a government that tortures its prisoners – and imprisons them without trial?

So we have the unedifying spectacle of a member of the Labour government, the Foreign Secretary David Miliband, defending the collaboration of Britain’s “security” services in the torture by the Americans, or their allies, of a “terrorism” suspect. This is justified by officialdom because of the need to preserve our democratic freedoms. In other words, Britain is justified in going along with torture, to make sure we are not overwhelmed by other states, which use completely unacceptable methods such as torture. It is justifiable to use torture in order to save us from – torture. If the Foreign Secretary really believes this, he is in line for a starring role at the next Clowns’ Reunion.

There are in Britain numerous racial or religious or cultural minorities: in fact everyone belongs to a minority of one kind or another. David Miliband is from a Jewish background; his forebears came from eastern Europe, with its grim history of racialism, of oppression, of pogroms against minorities. Who, in the past centuries in Europe, has suffered more than the Jews from despotic regimes which think you can justify torture if you look at from the right angle? But David Miliband has become Foreign Secretary by joining a party which in effect appeals for support at election times by declaring it will run capitalism better than the other contenders for the job. If it is thought that the interests of the British capitalist state demand kow-towing to the Americans, then the British government – including Miliband – kow-tows to the Americans, even to the extent of accepting and colluding in the torture of its own residents. Having a Foreign Secretary from one of the many UK minorities makes absolutely no difference to the final result.

Black people, too, have suffered horribly under the private-property system of society, to the extent that many Africans were actually violently seized and forcibly made into private property, slaves who were owned by – for example – the American and West Indian landed gentry. Surely if a black person was running affairs (it was once said), things must improve. Well, the President of the United States is now black – his father was a Kenyan African. Does anyone think American capitalism is now somehow less capitalist? And many African states which were once ruled by foreign white empires now have black leaders. In South Africa, for example, Nelson Mandela became president, and was succeeded by Thabo Mbeki and then by Jacob Zuma. Numbers of people with black skins appear to have done very well out of the change-over. “Last year South Africa overtook Brazil as the country with the biggest gap between rich and poor” (London Times, 11 February).

We also used to hear that capitalism would somehow be more tolerable – more kindly, more benign – to the vast majority of non-capitalists if a woman was running it. But in the last few decades we have seen numbers of women running countries – among those who have risen to the top of the political pile have been Isabel Peron in Argentina, Gro Brundtland in Norway, Sirimavo Bandaranaike in Ceylon, Indira Gandhi in India, Golda Meir in Israel, Angela Merkel in Germany, and of course Margaret, now Lady, Thatcher in Britain. What difference did it make?

In 1975 Isabel Peron ordered the Argentine armed forces and its secret services to “annihilate . . . subversive elements”, and there followed more than a thousand kidnappings, assassinations, and “disappearances” of people who either opposed the government or who it was thought might oppose it in future. (Isabel Peron’s allies abroad included the benign and kindly quartet Ceausescu of Romania, Gaddafi of Libya, Mobutu of Zaire, and the Shah of Iran; she fled to Spain after leaving office, and two years ago the present Argentine authorities tried, but failed, to get her extradited.) The history of Mrs Thatcher alone would explain why the so-called “feminist” argument – that a woman Prime Minister would somehow make capitalism softer, gentler, more acceptable – has now been exploded. In fact it is the accepted view now that the methods of the Thatcherite cabinet were tougher and harsher than those of most other governments which had men as Prime Ministers.

If you are running capitalism, the fact that you are a Jew or a Gentile, or black or white, or Christian or Muslim, or Hindu or atheist, or male or female, is completely irrelevant. Whoever you are, you can’t run a turkey farm for the benefit of the turkeys.

Alwyn Edgar

Bullshitters

Book Review from the May 2010 issue of the Socialist Standard

Bad Science. By Ben Goldacre. Fourth Estate

In 1986 an American philosopher called Harry Frankfurt wrote an essay “On Bullshit” in which, according to Goldacre who writes a “Bad Science” column for the Guardian, he drew a distinction between lying and bullshitting. A liar knows the truth and seeks to disguise it. A bullshitter doesn’t know or even care about the truth but is out to impress.

Most of those Goldacre criticises in this book are bullshitters rather than liars – though not all, there are some genuine fakes and frauds amongst them. He starts with an easy target, homeopathy, which is patently absurd (as if bottles of diluted water shaken in a particular way could cure anything) but relatively innocuous (drinking diluted water won’t harm you). Some homeopathic practitioners, however, are not and, Goldacre reports, can be very nasty towards critics.

Their argument – and that of all the other ‘alternative’ medicines – is that their treatments work. They certainly seem to in some cases. People do get better after taking the pills or whatever. But the question that needs to be answered is why. Is it because of the pills or is there some other reason? There are a number of possible explanations other than the theory of the ‘alternative’ practitioners. Sometimes the body recovers spontaneously. Some ailments go in cycles, so a bad period will be followed by a less bad one. In others, any therapy, no matter what the theory behind it, will work: any therapy or even sympathetic listening will help. Then there is the ‘placebo’ effect (people getting better because they believe they are being given a certain treatment when in fact they haven’t been) which Goldacre discusses in interesting detail.

Much of the book is devoted to his criticism of popular TV and other ‘nutritionists’, who he identifies as prize bullshitters. Why? Because there is no verified, or even verifiable, evidence for their claims. Some of them may sincerely believe in what they say but their main aim is to make money. Goldacre is quick to add that the same applies to the pharmaceutical companies who are always inventing new ‘syndromes’ for which their pills are the best cure.

Goldacre also criticises scientifically-illiterate journalists who are more interested in a story that will keep readers or pander to their prejudices, so maintaining newspaper or magazine sales, than with the real situation. This can be dangerous as over the MMR scandal as it was because of them that a number of parents left their kids unprotected against measles which they and others later contracted.

The socialist angle on all this is that under capitalism people are forced to make money, one way or another, in order to live and, given this, some will adopt dubious and even dangerous ways of doing this. And that there’ll be no snake-oil salesmen in socialism.

Adam Buick

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Much ado about nics

The Cooking the Books column from the May 2010 issue of the Socialist Standard

Shortly before the election was announced a mock fight broke out between Labour and the Tories over an increase in National Insurance contributions from 2011 announced in the budget. The Tories said that, if elected, they would reduce the increase and wheeled out a number of their business donators to support their position. Labour, unwisely, retorted that these business leaders had been deceived. Which brought protests from more of them. And so the saga went on for weeks.

The employers hadn’t been deceived. They knew exactly what they were doing – opposing a measure that would eat into their profits even if only modestly. National Insurance contributions are formally a payment, made by both employers and workers, into a notional fund out of which pensions, incapacity and other benefits are paid. In practice they are a tax, and indeed the “tax on jobs” that employers and the Tories claim, which by increasing labour costs decreases profits. Which is why the employers squealed.

But that’s not how things were presented. The Daily Telegraph (28 March) wrote:

“Economists say that rises in employer Nics are effectively passed on to workers in the form of lower wages or job cuts.”

Naturally, employers will seek to avoid a decrease in their profits by trying to reduce their labour costs but, if this was that easy, the question arises as to why they hadn’t done this before. The answer must be that they can’t reduce wages just like that. For a start, it would provoke the active or passive resistance of their workforce leading to a reduction in production and productivity, so turning out to be counter-productive. The pressure will be the other way too. An increase in the workers’ part of Nics means a decrease in their take-home pay, the effective price of their labour-power, what they have to live on to reproduce their working skills.

In the end the matter will be settled by the balance of forces on the labour market. It’s called the class struggle.

But what about “job cuts”? In German the word for employer is Arbeitgeber, literally “work-giver” (correspondingly, the word for employee is Arbeitnehmer or “work-taker”). Counter-intuitive as this is, since it’s workers that give their labour and employers who take it, it accurately sums up the position. Jobs belong to employers, not workers, and are for them to give and take away. Employers give workers jobs not because they are philanthropists who recognise that workers need a job to get money to live on, but in the hope of making a profit out of their labour. They can’t do without workers as it’s the unpaid labour of workers that’s the source of their profits.

Their professed concern for jobs in this instance is the height of hypocrisy. They want the government to find the money they accept is necessary to repay their fellow-capitalists who own the National Debt by … cutting civil service and local government jobs.

The whole episode was a charade because employers are not protesting against the lesser increase proposed by the Tories which, according to their arguments, ought also to have a harmful effect on wages and jobs even if not so much. They are prepared to absorb the Tory increase because they are making profits – those that weren’t and had no hope of recovery have gone out of business with their sales passing to their competitors – and so can afford to. They can afford the Labour increase too but, like any interest group, were protesting in the hope they won’t come off too badly.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Suffer, little children

From the May 2010 issue of the Socialist Standard

There really is no reason why society could not provide for, care for and value all children, but capitalist society doesn’t.

One thing I am certain of is that I would give my life for my children, such is the power of my feelings for them. I did not take to the nappy changing or the enforced insomnia and as they grew older I resigned myself to the fact that during their teens I was embarrassment personified to them; so much so that I had to drop them a few hundred yards from the school gates in case 'someone might think they knew me'. I tried to explain that for the past fourteen years their mother had led me to believe that I was their father, particularly in financial matters, so it was not unreasonable to conclude that I did know them. They have now reached their twenties and, it would be fair to say, have come a full circle and I don't think I would be unduly flattering myself if I say that they are slightly proud of me.

Given the bond between parents and their children why is it, then, that those who have power and control over our society fail to comprehend that the untold damage wrought on our fragile environment will be there as a legacy for their own children as well as ours? Does it not strike them as disturbing that their children are likely to witness irreversible and escalating environmental catastrophes, possibly beyond our imagination?

Even if we give the politicians, the huge corporations and those whose decisions so directly and terrifyingly affect the rest of society, the benefit of the doubt and assume that they genuinely believe that the way we currently order our world society might, eventually, prove capable of solving the manifestly awful aspects of this arrangement, surely they must now be questioning the very safety of their children, when scientists of all disciplines are talking in tens of years when describing the time we have before our seas become too acid to support life, our primary forests disappear along with countless species, glaciers retreat or disappear causing massive water shortages and temperatures rise to levels that would prevent successful pollination of rice, one of the world's staple food crops.

But then why should I feel surprised? After all, this is a society that allows innocent children to die in their thousands every day; If not by allowing them to slowly starve to death or die of easily cured diseases, then by literally blowing them apart. Are the mothers of those children less likely to feel the pain and anguish of losing a child any less than we would?

There really is no reason why a society could not provide for, care for and value all children. But while human beings are prepared to accept a system that values profit and business interests before children then we can expect to go on hearing of dying children all over the world until we become so numb to the awfulness that we begin to believe that it is a natural state of affairs and accept it with no more thought than the sunrise at the start of the day.

Postscript

I occasionally make notes in my diary of odd news reports; for most of us these are heard and quickly forgotten. Here are a few from early last year which perhaps exemplify how children fare under capitalism.

  • Food companies have started to realise that it might be more profitable to work with groups to encourage children to eat more healthily. At present, within a short time, 90 percent of children will be obese due to junk food, lack of exercise etc. and will die 10 years earlier. Therefore food companies that produce junk food have realised that killing children is not such a good idea as if they live 10 years longer they will buy more food thus producing more profit for the companies.(BBC Radio 4 news: 2 January 2009)
  • The Prince's Trust found that 10 percent of children see no reason to live and 25% are depressed. (BBC Radio 4 news: 5 January 2009)
  • 1000 people were killed in Gaza; 400 of which were innocent women and children. (BBC Radio 4 news: 13 January 2009)
  • Every year, in Africa, 6,000,000 children die from malnutrition before their fifth birthday. (World Bank Stats.)
  • Unicef's website describes the deaths of millions of children that could easily be averted as 'baffling'.
  • Food giant Nestlé actively promotes artificial infant feeding around the World, breaking the World Health Organisation's code of marketing and, in pursuit of profit, contributes to a child dying every 30 seconds as a result of unsafe bottle feeding. (www.babymilkaction.org.)
  • John Simpson reported recently on BBC Radio 4 that 1,000 children a year in Falluja are being born with deformities. (One baby was born with three heads.) It is thought that they are as a result of depleted uranium left from the bombing of 2004 (when white phosphorous was used). Bombed houses were bulldozed into the river which is used for drinking water.
  • 200,000 child slaves are sold every year in Africa. (Source United Nations.)
  • This list could go on and on. Anyway, on a brighter note (although it will be of little use to the children of India and sub-Saharan Africa), the British government are introducing 'Personal Financial Management' into the primary school national curriculum this September – may as well get them to understand the importance of profit early on in case they begin to use that innocent logic common to children and ask too many awkward questions.

    Glenn Morris

    Tuesday, May 11, 2010

    Weekly Bulletin of The Socialist Party of Great Britain 146

    Dear Friends,

    Welcome to the 146th our weekly bulletins to keep you informed of changes at Socialist Party of Great Britain @ MySpace.

    We now have 1567 friends!

    Recent blogs:

  • Mass media and mass politics
  • More pain ahead?
  • Bigotry - as good as gold
  • Quote for the week:

    "I have continued directing the unpopular fight for the rights of agitation, as director of the American Civil Liberties Union.... I am for socialism, disarmament and ultimately for abolishing the state itself as an instrument of violence and compulsion. I seek the social ownership of property, the abolition of the propertied class and sole control by those who produce wealth. Communism is, of course, the goal." Roger Nash Baldwin, 1935.

    Continuing luck with your MySpace adventures!
    Robert and Piers

    Socialist Party of Great Britain

    Life On Earth

    Book Review from the May 2010 issue of the Socialist Standard

    Ground Control. By Anna Minton. (Penguin Books)

    As new shopping malls and blocks of flats are built in city centres, they represent an extension of ownership by investors and private companies at the expense of local councils. Docklands in London, for instance, is privately-owned, and the flats there are mostly in gated enclaves. The Liverpool One shopping development belongs to Grosvenor, the Duke of Westminster’s property company. These places are patrolled by private security guards and rigidly control what is or is not allowed to be done there (skateboarding, for instance, or selling political journals).

    These and similar changes are the focus of Minton’s book, which gives a good overview of the situation, particularly with regard to housing and general control of behaviour in public. Despite the spread of CCTV (Britain has more cameras than the rest of Europe put together), people do not feel safer in the streets; in fact, fear of crime has been increasing as crime rates themselves fall. Stop-and-search powers are used more and more, but overwhelmingly in poorer areas. Breaching an ASBO can lead to a prison sentence for doing something which was not in itself a crime.

    As far as housing is concerned, one consequence of gated communities is increased control over tenants. For instance, people may be forbidden from hanging out their washing or placing pots on exterior window sills. More seriously, profits for builders and property companies take priority over satisfying people’s housing needs. As Minton says, ‘house builders have greater guarantees of profits if they limit supply and so keep prices high’. The government’s Pathfinder programme is intended to solve problems that the market cannot tackle, but in practice it can mean houses being demolished and replaced by new ones that can be sold at higher prices. If a council declares that an area is due for demolition, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, with residents keen to move away and others unwilling to move in. At the same time, newly-built homes are unsold, as mortgages are much harder to obtain during the credit crunch.

    The number of official homeless is nearly 100,000, though councils restrict who counts as ‘homeless’ in order to avoid their rehousing responsibilities. The bottom of the private rented sector includes many, many properties that are damp and overcrowded. In the worst cases, this can lead to ‘buggy babies’, left in their buggy all the time because there is no proper room for them to sit or play. Their heads may get misshapen because they spend so much time lying down. What a comment on the realities of destitution under capitalism.

    Paul Bennett

    Saturday, May 8, 2010

    Asteroid Wars

    The Material World column from the May 2010 issue of the Socialist Standard

    On April 15, in a speech at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, President Obama outlined plans for the U.S. space program. He rejected proposals to “return” to the moon in favour of a plan to develop by 2025 new spacecraft for manned missions into deep space. The first destination will be “an asteroid”, followed by Mars in the mid-2030s.

    So perhaps I was wrong when I called the moon “the next capitalist frontier” (Socialist Standard, December 2008). Why is an asteroid landing being given top priority?

    Near-earth asteroids

    Obama was certainly referring to one of the “near-earth asteroids” (NEAs). These are asteroids that have been dislodged, usually by the gravitational pull of Jupiter, from the main asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter into orbits that approach or intersect the orbit of the earth. About 7,000 NEAs have been discovered so far. Some are known to be fantastically rich in valuable metals and other minerals. In fact, many metals now mined on earth originated in asteroids that rained down on our planet after the crust cooled.

    Consider, for instance, the NEA known as 1986 DA. A mile-and-a-half in diameter, it is estimated to contain ten billion tons of iron, one billion tons of nickel, 100,000 tons of platinum and over 10,000 tons of gold. The platinum alone, at the current price of £35 per gram, is worth £3.5 trillion. True, the price would fall rapidly once exploitation was underway, but at first the profits would be truly astronomical.

    Given the scale of expected revenues, costs are unlikely to be prohibitive. Mining asteroids may even be more competitive than mining on the moon. Thanks to the very low gravity, a round trip to an NEA passing nearby will require less energy than a round trip to the moon. Processing might be carried out on site and only processed materials brought back to earth. True, a way will have to be found to “tether” machinery to the asteroid so that it does not drift off into space.

    Window of opportunity

    Another problem with mining an NEA is that operations will have to be confined within a “window of opportunity” – that is, the few weeks or months when it is passing close enough to earth, for it may not return our way for many years to come (if ever).

    However, there is a way around this problem. Because NEAs are at most 20 miles in diameter, nuclear explosions can be used to change their course. This might be done if one were on a collision course with earth. (The Russian Space Agency is considering an attempt to deflect the asteroid Apophis, which has a tiny probability of hitting earth in 2036 or 2068.) A resource-rich NEA could be “captured” – that is, transported into earth orbit, where mining could continue for as long as it remained profitable.

    Recalling Murphy’s Law (“If anything can go wrong, it will”), I shudder at the thought of the calamities that may descend on us from above as a result of accident or miscalculation.

    An asteroid war?

    For a socialist world community, mining asteroids might be an attractive option. It would offer not a supplement but an alternative to mining on earth, with its attendant ecological and work-related costs (costs in the sense of consequences running counter to communal values, as opposed to financial costs). Of course, a socialist world would have no use for the gold. Under capitalism, however, the approach of a resource-rich NEA might well be an occasion for conflict between the U.S. and another space power (Russia, China or India), precisely because of the enormous profits at stake.

    “With adequate profit, capital is very bold. A certain 10 per cent. will ensure its employment anywhere; 20 per cent. certain will produce eagerness; 50 per cent., positive audacity; 100 per cent. will make it ready to trample on all human laws; 300 per cent., and there is not a crime at which it will scruple, nor a risk it will not run, even to the chance of its owner being hanged”.(Marx quoting P.J. Dunning, Capital, Vol. 1, Ch. 31)

    The use of celestial bodies remains unregulated by international law. There is a treaty designed for this purpose (the Moon Treaty of 1979), but it has never come into force because only a few states – not one of them a space power – have ratified it. An attempt in 1980 to get the U.S. Senate to ratify the treaty was defeated following lobbying by activists of the L5 Society, which was formed in 1975 to promote space colonization and manufacturing on the basis of private enterprise.

    The danger of war over a resource-rich asteroid may well be greater than the risk of war over lunar resources. First, the moon is large enough to accommodate rival mining, processing and transport operations, but a small asteroid may not be. Second, an NEA will have to be exploited while it is within easy reach, so there will be little time for manoeuvring, negotiations and the application of indirect pressure.

    An asteroid war need not be waged openly. It is more likely to take the form of covert and deniable efforts to sabotage rival operations by various means (laser and other rays, radioelectronic warfare, etc.). Simultaneous attempts by different space/nuclear powers to capture an asteroid may have the unintended consequence of the asteroid hitting the earth.

    Stefan

    Friday, May 7, 2010

    The election: who wins?

    Editorial from the May 2010 issue of the Socialisr Standard

    By the time most read this, the election will be over and our new “leader” will have emerged from the deal-makings that follow it. We cannot predict the exact outcome – whether Tweedledum or Tweedledee won or whether neither of them emerged as the outright winner – but we can say that, unfortunately, the capitalist class will have won.

    Elections to national law-making assemblies are ultimately about which class is to control political power. Capitalist political control is essential to the continuation of capitalism as, while this does not give them control over how the capitalist economy works, it does give them control over what laws are made and over the deployment of the armed forces.

    In Britain for nearly 150 years now wage and salary workers have formed the majority of the electorate, so the capitalist class have been obliged to win working class assent to their political control and rule. Of course it is not presented in such a crude way. Capitalists do not come before the working-class electorate and say “Vote to hand over political control to us”. They have intermediaries, professional politicians, who present the election as a choice of which team of politicians – these days, even which leader – can best further the interests of the “nation” or the “taxpayers” falsely portrayed as a community with a common interest.

    While there are historical reasons for the existence of the separate parties into which these career politicians are organised, the differences between them are superficial and often sham. All of them stand for capitalism, its wages system and its production for profit. The capitalist class are not particularly concerned over which of them wins as long as one of them does (even if they don’t like one party to stay in power too long in case the politicians involved overdo the cronyism and the corruption). It doesn’t matter to wage and salary workers either, even if many are tempted to choose the “lesser evil” – Tweedledum in preference to Tweedledummer – generally perceived by critics of capitalism to be the Labour Party despite its dancing to the tune of capitalism every time it has been in office.

    It is true that the Labour Party did not start as the openly capitalist party it is today. It was originally a trade union pressure group seeking improvements within capitalism for trade unionists and workers generally. But, as they began to take more and more votes from the Liberals, it was not too long before it was taken over by professional politicians and became the alternating government party to the Tories. Tweedledee to their Tweedledum.

    Here we can venture another prediction: the miserable failure of RMT leader Bob Crow and Militant and the SWP to launch a Labour Party Mark II with their “Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition”. We are not disheartened by this since if this ever got off the ground the result would be the same as last time.

    Reformism is a dead-end. What is required is an openly socialist, anti-reformist party aiming at socialism and nothing but. In view of yet another capitalist victory at the polls the working class still needs to organise into such a party to challenge the capitalist parties for political control and use it to usher in socialism.

    Wednesday, May 5, 2010

    Socialists are working for a different and better world (2010)

    From the April 2010 issue of the Socialist Standard
    The Socialist Party is contesting both the general election and local elections in London.
    This is a message to those who are fed up –

  • Fed up with the failures of this dreary system
  • Fed up with leaders and the false promises of career politicians
  • Fed up with poor hospitals, poor schools, poor housing and an unhealthy environment
  • Fed up with having to live on a wage that struggles to pay the endless bills
  • Fed up with serving the profit system and seeing poverty amidst luxury
  • What happens in any local council depends mainly on what happens in the country and even in the world. That is why socialists are working for a different world. But it can't happen unless you join us. The job of making a better world must be the work of all of us.
    The world we want is a one where we all work together. We can all do this. Co-operation is in our own interests and this is how a socialist community would be organised – through democracy and through working with each other.
    To co-operate we need democratic control not only in our own area but by people everywhere. This means that all places of industry and manufacture, all the land, transport, the shops and means of distribution, should be owned in common by the whole community. With common ownership we would not produce goods for profit. The profit system exploits us. Without it we could easily produce enough quality things for everyone. We could all enjoy free access to what we need without the barriers of buying and selling.
    Most politicians blame our problems on lack of money, but this is not true. Money doesn't build hospitals, schools, decent housing and a healthy environment. The things that make a good community can only be created by the work of the people. We have an abundance of skills and energy. If we were free from having to work for the profits of employers we would be able to work for the needs of everyone.
    The profit system is oppressive; it dominates our lives. It plagues us with bills. The rent and mortgage payments, the food bills, the rates, gas, electricity, water and telephone bills. Money is used to screw us for the profits of business. If we don't pay, we don't get the goods. Without the capitalist system, a socialist community would easily provide for all of its members.
    The challenge now is to build a world-wide movement whose job will be to break with the failures of the past. It won't be for power or money or careers. It will work for the things that matter to people everywhere – peace, material security and the enjoyment of life through cooperation.
    This is the challenge that could link all people in a common cause without distinction of nationality, race or culture.
    We in the Socialist Party reject the view that things will always stay the same. We can change the world. Nothing could stop a majority of socialists building a new society run for the benefit of everyone. We all have the ability to work together in each other's interests. All it takes is the right ideas and a willingness to make it happen.
    If you agree with this you can show it by voting for our candidates.

    _______________________________________________________________


    The socialist General Election candidate in Vauxhall is: Daniel Lambert
    The socialist candidates in the London borough elections are:
  • Ferndale ward (Lambeth): Daniel Lambert, John Lee, Jacqueline Shodeke
  • Larkhall ward (Lambeth): Oliver Bond, Adam Buick, Stanley Parker
  • Kentish Town ward (Camden): William Martin
  • Weekly Bulletin of The Socialist Party of Great Britain 145

    Dear Friends,

    Welcome to the 145th our weekly bulletins to keep you informed of changes at Socialist Party of Great Britain @ MySpace.

    We now have 1565 friends!

    Recent blogs:

  • Working for a different and better world
  • Election Madness
  • How would you like your capitalism served?
  • Quote for the week:

    "All forms of the state have democracy for their truth, and for that reason are false to the extent that they are not democracy." Marx, Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right, 1843

    Continuing luck with your MySpace adventures!

    Robert and Piers

    Socialist Party of Great Britain

    Tuesday, May 4, 2010

    Socialism: A Class Interest or a Human Interest? (2010)

    The Material World column from the April 2010 issue of the Socialist Standard

    Sometimes socialists argue for socialism as being in the interest of the working class. Sometimes socialists say that socialism is in the interest of humanity as a whole. Surely there is a logical contradiction here? What about the capitalist class? Is socialism in their interest too, or is it not?

    I see no real contradiction. After all, what is an “interest”? The dictionaries, rather unhelpfully, tell us that an interest is a benefit or advantage. Short-term benefit or long-term? Self-perceived advantage or advantage in some objective sense? How we understand all these words depends on how we view human beings, on what we think makes them happy or miserable.

    Clearly, the great majority of capitalists do consider it in their interest to preserve – and, indeed, expand – their wealth and all the privileges that go with it. What many of them value is not so much a life of luxury and indulgence (some prefer to live modestly) as power and superior status, the sensation of towering way above the common herd (see: “Why they keep piling up manure: the psychology of wealth accumulation,” Material World, Socialist Standard, October 2009).

    Socialist capitalists
    However, a minority of capitalists have been socialists. Some have made important contributions to the socialist movement. The best known is Friedrich Engels, the friend and collaborator of Karl Marx. Before Marx and Engels there was Robert Owen, whose ideas had enormous influence on socialist thinking and are still relevant today. There are quite a few others.

    Did these socialist capitalists see themselves as altruists sacrificing their own interests for the sake of higher ideals? Or did they think that socialism was in some sense in their own interest? No doubt the answer varies from case to case.

    For the writer and artist William Morris, or the writer and playwright Oscar Wilde (who inherited substantial property though he died in abject poverty), the most important things in life were beauty and creativity. From this point of view, they regarded the replacement of capitalism by socialism as being in the interest of everyone, regardless of class. In his essay The Soul of Man Under Socialism (1891), Oscar Wilde wrote:
    “ The possession of private property is very often extremely demoralising... In fact, property is really a nuisance. It involves ... endless attention to business, endless bother... In the interest of the rich we must get rid of it... [Under socialism] nobody will waste his life in accumulating things, and the symbols for things.”
    The interest in human survival
    The emergence of weapons of mass destruction and the ecological crisis have radically changed the calculus of interests. There is now a very material sense in which all people and classes have a common interest in socialism as the sole means of ensuring the survival of the human race.

    Unfortunately, the common interest in human survival does not eliminate the difference between the real interest of humanity and the working class and the perceived interest of the capitalist class. The interest in human survival is a relatively long-term interest, while capitalists tend to focus on the short term. This tendency was reflected in a famous riposte that the economist John Maynard Keynes once made to an argument about the long term: “In the long run we are all dead.” In other words, the fate of future generations counts for nothing.

    In the short term the working class bear the brunt of environmental degradation, while those who are the most responsible for causing it are the best protected from its effects. It is working class areas that are exposed to chemical and radioactive pollution from mining operations, factories, toxic waste dumps and other sources. The capitalists maintain their country estates in idyllic, unspoilt surroundings – although even they cannot escape the ultraviolet rays that penetrate through holes in the ozone layer. In the imaginary future world of Alexander Zinoviev’s The Human Anthill, nature survives only in small enclaves that people must pay to enter, the price being such as to exclude all but the wealthy.

    Interests and interests
    So there are interests and interests. In several very important senses, socialism is certainly in the interest of every human being. In other senses socialism remains above all in the interest of the working class. Both aspects of the matter require emphasis. There is no conflict between them.
    Stefan

    Election Madness (2010)

    From the April 2010 issue of the Socialist Standard
    If we simply moan and complain from our armchairs what will change?
    Mention politics and you'll probably get a shrug of the shoulders, a huff of contempt or a rebuff that tells you they're just not interested. And why would they be? World politics of any colour, as currently structured, equates to lies, corruption and furtherance of the aims of a minority. Think of any country from A to Z and someone will come up with an example of corruption, cronyism, nepotism or deceit somewhere on the scale from petty and fairly insignificant (in comparison), to in-your-face, downright perversion whether for money or power.
    Likewise all countries from A to Z are organised on the capitalist system, from China to Venezuela, as it is impossible to exist as a socialist entity in isolation – whatever the aims may be for the future. The system has developed as intended and has been shaped to be ideally suited to advantage the few at the expense of the vast majority so we really shouldn't be surprised to discover politicians scrambling for their piece of the pie. It's just part of the logic of capitalism.
    Personal enrichment or the quest for ongoing power and access to what that brings, whether of elected representatives and their cronies or of self-imposed dictators, can be achieved in many different ways: profitable deals with arms corporations; involvement in or control of drugs smuggling; siphoning off aid donations; accusations, imprisonment or execution of opponents (on home or foreign turf); fact-rigging (e.g. about reasons for invading other countries); rigged elections; removal of opposition from candidate or ballot lists; conflict of interest as with advisory posts to companies or seats on boards of corporations whilst supposedly representing their constituents' interests. In some countries the electorate can't even criticise, lampoon or caricature the elected without risking arrest, a court case, imprisonment or disappearance.
    Why do these different degrees of lack of openness or downright oppression result in some of the electorate thinking that “theirs” isn't that bad after all? So what that I can use our flag as a floor cloth without reprisal or ridicule the prime minister in print? It may release frustration and tension but it doesn't improve the democratic content of my daily life. How ludicrous the lengthy list of UK representatives found to have had their snouts in troughs – the ‘expenses scandal’. This simply made them a laughing stock in the US and various other countries around the world where their 'false accounting' antics were seen as small fry. But not so by many of the British electorate who had expected better. An electorate, many of which were scandalised by the unwanted invasion and occupation of Iraq, and which will probably also be bitterly let down and disappointed at the likely outcome of the Chilcott enquiry. Is there anyone left out there who seriously believes these people are working in our best collective interest?
    With a general election coming up soon what exactly will be on offer from the main contenders? No doubt more of the same but couched in terms intended to give us confidence that this time promises will be kept, regulations will be tightened and adhered to, unemployment will be tackled and reduced (figures can be manipulated). A minor change here, a cosmetic tweak there, but the status quo will endure regardless. As for the fringe parties, they will have strictly limited agenda; get out of the EU, ban immigration, make some concessions to cleaning up industry and creating greener jobs but what else they will want for us will remain a mystery.
    When reading or listening to the pre-election promises and then thinking back rationally to other, similar pledges by previous candidates and recalling the reality of U-turns, excuses and failure to deliver over the years, how could anyone doubt the absolute imperative of addressing the question of what’s gone wrong with politics with the utmost seriousness? If we simply moan and complain from our armchairs what will change? A compliant, too passive electorate is repeatedly defrauded. At the other end of the scale we have seen that, en masse, out on the streets campaigning for peace or an end to global hunger or action on climate change, dissenting heads get cracked by the armour of the state.
    At this time of election madness if you think you've been cheated over the years you're right; capitalism is nothing but a racket. The proof of the failure of the world capitalist system to meet the needs and aspirations of the majority of the population of every country of the world is there for all to see, clear and manifest, if only they will open their eyes wide and acknowledge the overwhelming evidence.
    Politics, the activities associated with how a country or an area is run, is something which should engage the interest and activity of every citizen world-wide as it bears directly on all aspects of life. The reason for contempt or indifference towards politics comes from a history of being excluded, the expectation of being excluded and the acceptance of being excluded. To be heard, to be considered, to be represented honestly we need to be involved in the decision-making processes, not to be told what is in our best interest by such as those described above. We need a system that works for us all, of which we're all an integral part, a system we're prepared to work to attain. What we need is socialism.
    Janet Surman

    Sunday, May 2, 2010

    Urban myth or Trotskyist fabrication

    From the March 2010 issue of the Socialist Standard

    Londoners and visitors to London may have noticed last year a big poster of Engels on the Underground next to a quote, allegedly from him, that “An ounce of action is worth a ton of theory”. No source is given. Which is not surprising since this is not a quote from Engels but a long-standing English-language proverb that has been mistakenly attributed to him. It has also been attributed to Ralph Waldo Emerson, Lenin and Gandhi.

    It's first recorded use dates from 1748 when Jared Eliot, a New England clergyman, wrote in Essays upon Field Husbandry that “It used to be the Saying of an old Man, That an Ounce of Experience is better than a Pound of Science.” (See link here.)

    But it is all over the internet as something Engels said, usually without a source. The more serious collections of quotes give the source as a book published in 1975 by Reg Groves entitled The Strange Case of Victor Grayson, which presumably is the earliest attribution their researchers have found. Groves was a pioneer British Trotskyist, expelled from the Communist Party for Trotskyism in 1932.

    In fact Groves does not actually say that Engels said this but is even slightly interrogative and rhetorical. What he wrote was “and did not wise old Frederick Engels once say: An ounce of action is worth a ton of theory ?” (chapter II, p, 115). He gave no source for his supposition.

    Another Trotskyist, Terry Fields, who managed to become a Labour MP, also used this proverb, only he attributed it to Lenin. “The Red Russian leader, Vladimir Hitch [sic!] Lenin, said that an ounce of experience is worth a ton of theory.” (Hansard House of Commons Debates, 29 April 1987 vol115 cols 314-8)
    “An ounce of experience is worth a ton of theory, as Vladimir Ilyich Lenin once said.” (Hansard 27 November 1989 col 489)

    It probably wasn’t said by Lenin either but it does appear in an article in the Weekly Worker, the paper of the Communist Party of Great Britain, on 13 February 1925 by T. A, Jackson as “An ounce of practice is worth a ton of theory“ (See link here.)

    Jackson (incidentally an SPGB renegade) didn’t attribute it to anyone. He was well read and was probably just using an old proverb he felt appropriate to his argument (summed up in the next following sentence: “A successful stand of the workers in any given factory will prepare them more for a united stand of all the factories in an industry than years of theoretical preaching”.)

    Groves joined the Communist Party in 1927, so this would be where he would have picked up the phrase. Attributing it to Engels would be his own mistake just as attributing it to Lenin was Field‘s.

    It is not surprising that Trotskyists like this saying as it well expresses their theory and tactic that it is not worth trying to put the straight socialist case before the working class (as we do) as this is too theoretical for them; workers, according to the Trotskyist theory of ‘transitional demands’, can only learn by experience, the experience of fighting for reforms within capitalism and learning that capitalism cannot grant these reforms; at which point they are supposed to turn to the Trotskyist vanguard party and follow it in an armed uprising against the capitalist state. Hence their conclusion that what socialists should be doing is not putting the case for socialism, but proposing attractive reforms for the working class to follow. It is an argument for a reformist practice.

    Weekly Bulletin of The Socialist Party of Great Britain 144

    Dear Friends,

    Welcome to the 144th of our weekly bulletins to keep you informed of changes at Socialist Party of Great Britain @ MySpace.

    We now have 1565 friends!

    Recent blogs:

  • The Massacre of Fruit
  • The Meaning of Social Revolution
  • Modern Technology and Socialism
  • Quote for the week:

    "These bastards who run our country are a bunch of conniving, thieving, smug pricks who need to be brought down and removed and replaced with a whole new system that we control." Michael Moore, 2003, Dude, where's my country?

    Continuing luck with your MySpace adventures!

    Robert and Piers

    Socialist Party of Great Britain

    Saturday, May 1, 2010

    Mayday ...mayday ...

    Cross-Posted from the Socialism Or Your Money Back blog

    The First of May is the day when the workers’ movement celebrates its internationalism, and affirms the unity of their class across all boundaries. The Socialist Party of Great Britain celebrate the day in those terms. But the tradition has been debased by modern realities.

    Mayday as a cultural event seems to be dying. It has become increasingly dissociated from the cultural horizon of the vast majority of the working class. If they demonstrate on Mayday at all it is for the wrong motives. Mayday has fallen into the hands of the Labour hierarchy and its trade-unionist minions, and has become a celebration of their organisations, a day for Labourite triumph and self-congratulation, an act of lick-spittlery, and kow-towing to their political masters .The reason why Mayday has become dissociated from relevance and meaning to most working class lives is that the bodies associated with it, and with the whole way of life it typifies, have become divorced from the lived and meaningful experience of most workers. The process is one of continual removal of the working class from any real control over their own economic lives, alienating institutions they created into state domination. As such people become increasingly alienated from the cultural manifestations of workerdom, enabling Labour and their union lackeys to make Mayday their day.

    However, all need not be lost. Remembering that 364 days a year belong to their employers, workers can take steps towards wrenching Mayday from the grasp of alienated union officialdom, and making Mayday our day once more.Mayday belongs to the workers. Although that means admitting that the rest of the year belongs to the capitalists it also means that we know who we are.That Mayday is commemorated by workers across the globe reminds us that we have a world to win and that we can win it.The task confronting us is to build up a union of the working class, organised to put an end to the property system that divides and oppresses us.

    Alan Johnstone

    More pain ahead? (2010)

    The Cooking The Books column from the April 2010 issue of the Socialist Standard
    “The true engine of job creation will always be America’s businesses”, declared President Obama in his State of the Union message (London Times, 29 January). We don’t know about the “always” but will let him off because he presumably thinks that capitalism will always exist and, on this assumption, he is right. As long as capitalism lasts the engine of job creation will be business, not just in America but everywhere.
    Not that the aim of businesses is to create jobs. That’s only incidental to their aim of making profits. Since profits arise out of the unpaid labour of those who actually provide wealth, making profits involves employing workers. In short, job creation is a by-product of profit-creation.
    When business is booming, i.e. when good profits are being made, more jobs are created. But it works both ways. When business is not booming then jobs are destroyed and unemployment grows, as has been happening for the past couple of years. In recent months the economy (as measured by GDP) has begun to grow again slowly in the major capitalist countries, so employment should increase too. But will it? In America there’s talk of a ‘jobless recovery’:
    “in which GDP growth is not matched by a larger workforce as employers extract more labour from their existing employees rather than take on new recruits.” (LondonTimes, 12 February)
    That’s one way of describing increased exploitation for those with a job.
    Obama went on “but government can create the conditions necessary for businesses to expand and hire more workers.” This in fact is the economic rôle of governments under modern capitalism: to try to create and maintain conditions for businesses to expand, i.e. to make more profits from which to accumulate more capital. It doesn’t always work and it brings governments into conflict with the majority wage and salary working class as it means giving priority to profit-making over meeting people’s needs. So, governments oppose strikes, urge (and sometimes impose) wage restraint, and cut back services to keep taxes down.
    But can’t governments also “create jobs”? Yes. They can either directly by themselves taking on more workers or indirectly by increasing their spending on goods produced by businesses. This has eventually to be financed out of the wealth created in the business sector and so has its limits (if carried too far it reduces profit creation and so job creation too). In this sense government jobs are ultimately dependent on business activity.
    In the present crisis the government has borrowed extensively to bail out the bankers. Sooner or later this borrowed money will have to be repaid. Given the limits as to how far taxes can be raised, this means the government cutting back on its spending. Already observers are suggesting that this could mean a ‘jobless recovery’ in Britain too, with GDP going up without unemployment going down. A report in February by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development “indicated a worsening outlook for workers and jobseekers, despite tentative growth in the economy”, and “said that there was more pain ahead for workers as savage cuts start in the public sector” (London Times, 15 February).