Thursday, December 5, 2019

Material World: The Enclosure of the Sea (2019)

The Material World Column from the December 2019 issue of the Socialist Standard

The oceans remain the last unexplored region of the Earth. But the recent advances in technology and knowledge are pushing back the boundaries so that humans via capitalism are now within sight of opening up yet another part of the planet to exploit. However, the availability of resources has given rise to new international quarrels about how to divide up the spoils of the seas. Disputes over territorial limits of national waters are now commonplace.

We are accustomed to the concept of land-grabbing by corporations but now it has expanded to capturing the possession of the assets of the ocean, stealing resources and denying local fishing communities access. A report has been published by the Transnational Institute (TNI) which is a research and advocacy organisation.

It defines ocean grabbing as a ‘major process of enclosure of the world’s oceans and fisheries resources, including marine, coastal and inland fisheries. Ocean grabbing is occurring mainly through policies, laws, and practices that are (re)defining and (re)allocating access, use and control of fisheries resources away from small-scale fisher-folk and their communities, and often with little concern for the adverse environmental consequences… Another important driver of ocean grabbing is the increasing demand and the increasing scarcity of resources and new technologies that enable the extraction of resources in formerly inaccessible areas…’

Global fish stocks that feed hundreds of millions of people are dwindling and it is explained by some that ‘Overfishing is… an example of the ‘tragedy of the commons’. Advocates of this theory assume that because there is no owner and so resources are freely accessible to all, it leads to abuse of those resources in the short-term disregarding the longer-term welfare. The ‘tragedy of the commons’ however takes place within the context of capitalism which is a system based on individual self-interest rather than to manage resources as the collective heritage of communities and this leaves the commons vulnerable to private interests. Thus, the TNI report explains it would be more correct to speak of the ‘tragedy of the private exploitation of the commons’ which undermines sustainable traditional management practices.

An earlier 2014 report by the TNI, on Ocean Grabbing shows how the rise of market-based fishing policies that favour large-scale aqua-industries is systematically dispossessing fishing communities of the means to livelihood. The report cites examples of luxury beach-resorts in Sri Lanka where fishers can no longer get to the coast, the destruction of mangrove areas in Ecuador to promote export-oriented shrimp aquaculture that has destroyed fishing habitats, and the dramatic rise of Rights Based Fishery (RBF) policies that have handed over large tracts of ocean to industrial fishing companies in Europe, Canada and elsewhere.

India’s coastline is more than 7,500 km long, and about 3.5 million people make a living from fishing and related activities. There are more than 3,000 fishing villages along the coast. Changes to India’s Coastal Regulation Zone rules in 2017 have lifted the ban on land reclamation for commercial purposes. Fishers say the changes will lead to environmental damage, displace coastal communities and hurt the livelihoods of millions who depend on the sea for their survival. ‘The coastal lands are ours by tradition. The state plans to take them away with this law,’ said Rajhans Tapke, ‘Our land will be lost, our access to the sea will be affected, our catch will be affected. How will we live? … We protect the sea, the coast, the marine life; now our lives, our livelihoods are threatened because they want to give our land to movie stars and wealthy people who want sea views and beach sports’ (LINK).

Only when we reach a rational economic system where the wellbeing of all is the guiding principle and we are no longer subjected to the blind market forces of capitalism can the natural resources of the land and oceans be used to benefit all of humanity. Only socialism goes further than pious hopes and wishful thinking that our planet is not going to be abused in pursuit of profit.
ALJO

Lexiteers: Left meets Right (2019)

From the December 2019 issue of the Socialist Standard
We look at those on the left – the Lexiteers – who campaign for Britain to leave the EU.
Brexit left?
In all the hullaballoo over whether workers in the United Kingdom should be exploited within the European Union or exploited outside of the European Union, it is often overlooked that it is not only right-wing cranks who are extolling the virtues of Brexit.

There was, and remains, a considerable ‘Lexit’ chorus, chipping their two pennyworth into the debate (and part of the reason they are overlooked is that the millionaires backing the right-wing version of Brexit chipped in their two millionworth).

Of course, they’ve been there since the beginning. When Harold Wilson’s Labour government tried to take the UK into the EU (then the European Economic Community (EEC)), the Labour Party was substantially split.

Joining the EEC was seen as joining a rich man’s club, with some leftists suggesting alignment with the former Empire (by then rebranded as the Commonwealth), and some even angling towards alignment with the state capitalist economies in COMECON. There was a recognition that capital concentration was being constrained within national boundaries.

Tony Benn voiced worries that membership of the EEC would disrupt the Whitehall departmental balance of power, giving undue prominence to the Foreign Office over others. However, behind all such concerns, there was ultimately a rump patriotic being expressed.

Basic nationalism
The New Left historian E.P. Thompson saw the move into Europe as an attempt to undermine and escape from the relatively unified working class in Britain. Even such a class line, though, was often tinged with a basic nationalism. Indeed, Ted Grant writing for the Militant Tendency was a shining example of this:
  ‘On capitalist policies and methods there can only be suffering and privation for the working class. ‘No to the EEC’ must be linked with the struggle for a socialist plan of production in Britain. The taking over of the 250 monopolies, banks and insurance companies, with compensation on the basis of need only would be the first step. Then a monopoly of foreign trade would be established. On this basis the road would be cleared for an appeal to the workers of Europe and the world. A continental plan of production, with a democratic socialist Britain, ending the scarecrow of Stalinist Totalitarianism would open the road to the underdeveloped world. A Socialist United States of Europe would be the first step to a Socialist World’
Arguably, part of this is developed from a reading of one line in the Communist Manifesto ‘Since the proletariat must first of all acquire political supremacy, must rise to be the leading class of the nation, must constitute itself the nation, it is so far, itself national’ perhaps neglecting the continuation ‘though not in the bourgeois sense of the word’.

Such positioning was also helped by the fact that it was the Tories that first mooted joining the EEC, it would be natural for the left to reflexively shy away from a project associated with their brand rivals. This became an article of faith for the Labour left, especially within the Campaign Group (hence Corbyn’s basic oppositional position to the EU). The converse was also true, and under the Blair years, support for the EU became a position Blairites could use to position themselves against the left in their own party and against what was then known as the Eurosceptic right. It even had the virtue of presenting itself as an intrinsically internationalist position. Hence the Labour Party became a predominantly pro-EU party, such that whatever ‘Lexiteers’ took part in the Brexit referendum, they were drowned out.

It should be noted that in the 2016 referendum campaign, it was the slightly strange Kate Hoey, far, far from being a Labour leftist who was the face and vote of Labour within the official Leave campaign, allowing herself to be pictured sailing down the Thames with Nigel Farage. The Labour Leave group itself was largely made up of the old Labour right, rather than its left.

Brexity noises
That didn’t mean that the likes of Arthur Scargill’s rump ‘Socialist Labour Party’ weren’t out in the woods making Brexity screeching noises. ‘Left leave’ were supported by the Communist Party, SWP and the SWP break-away Counterfire. Their propaganda focussed on the EU as an undemocratic neo-liberal club. The same could be said of the UK by groups campaigning for independence for Yorkshire and Cornwall, but logical consistency is not the point. As usual, doubtless, such an organisation was more about building recruits for their own parties than a consistent position. All their complaints about the EU would still exist if the UK leaves, and walking away would be abandoning fellow workers who are in the continuity EU.

Len McCluskey
The most prominent Lexiteer has been Len McCluskey. As the general secretary of Unite he has been the biggest voice for Leave in the Labour movement, and the one with the most clout. Calling for ‘Brexit on our terms’, these terms amount to what has become the Labour Party position, to leave with retention of protected guaranteed workers’ rights, a customs union and access to the single market and ‘For the ending of austerity, and a proactive strategy of investment in public services to mitigate the impact of Brexit. The principle of well-funded, publicly owned and freely accessible public services must be central to this strategy’ (LINK).

It is perhaps unsurprising that the culmination of the left’s flirtation with Brexit was the various leftists who have joined the Brexit Party, as instanced in particular by Claire Fox, now an MEP for the party. This is less surprising than it first sounds. Fox is one of the members of the former ‘Revolutionary Communist Party’ clustered around Spiked! magazine, that in the 80s turned away from traditional leftism and towards a form of libertarianism and contrarianism (a path also trod by the late unlamented Christopher Hitchens).

It has proved an effective way of getting attention as pundits, since their left pose gets themthrough the balance door, to eventually talk right. In 2018, the Guardian journalist George Monbiot uncovered that Spiked! had received $300,000 from the Koch brothers foundation (7 December, 2018). The Koch brothers’ money is notoriously used to further oligarchic billionaire ends in US politics. The Spiked! crowd maintain the money was for ‘free speech’ events (and opposing no-platform and defending free speech is a core part of the Spiked libertarianism).

Fox maintains that she stood as ‘a democrat, a supporter of liberty, agency and sovereignty,’ noting the RCP was a long time ago. She also maintains the core of her vote was ‘solid Labour voters’ including trade union officials. We can only take at face value her claims that her positions are genuine and not providing pinkwash to the Brexit Party (though that is hard to reconcile with the known public positions of the Party’s founder and leader Nigel Farage).

Fantasies
There remains an anti-establishment kick to the Brexit movement, a reflex that says if only we stood alone, things could be so much different. Into that void is projected all sorts of fantasies of an authentic British democracy, freed from the binding rules of treaties. Left and right alike see opportunity in that space. The reality is that the integration in practice of the UK with the EU means the scope for independent action will be constrained for the foreseeable future.

The lesson of Ireland is obvious, which broke away politically from the UK, but which still found itself economically close to Britain for decades. Even today, it is the part of the EU most threatened by Brexit. The fantasy that a breakaway country can rework itself and spread to the world is pernicious and persistent: any real change can only come from a movement that is international in form and practice.

To refuse to deal with the reality of the need for an international perspective leaves the workers at the mercy of the patriotic pretenders who will cloak the failings in the flag.
Pik Smeet

Manifestos: The Socialist Alternative (2019)

Party News from the December 2019 issue of the Socialist Standard

CARDIFF

What is this election about?

The wide view
Our world contains massive resources – raw materials, systems of manufacture, communications technology, sophisticated transport. Enough to give everyone a comfortable and fulfilling life.

It’s also beset by perennial problems – wars, never-ending poverty, economic and other kinds of insecurity. The profit motive of society means that life is becoming more and more commercialised and people are increasingly isolated from one another with drug abuse and mental illness on the increase. Capitalism – and governments – are proving incapable of dealing with climate change and other threats to the environment. The standard of living may have risen for some but the quality of life deteriorates.

Why don’t we change our world so that we can have the benefit of the resources without the problems?

How can we do that?
   We can do that by holding the world’s resources in common and using them directly to serve everyone’s needs instead of just producing ad nauseam to create ever greater profits for a tiny minority. This is genuine socialism – a moneyless society of free access to goods and services. Forget about the other uses of the word.

So, we vote you in and you create this wonderful world for us. How can we trust you to do that?
   You can’t and neither can we. The new society we’re putting forward can only be created when a majority of people like you actively decide to do it. You can use us, the Socialist Party, as an instrument of the democratic revolution we are advocating, but you yourselves must be in control of what happens.

But isn’t this all fantasy politics? People are too selfish to put everything at risk for the sake of pie in the sky?
  Stick to the case you know best – yourself. Are you too selfish to realise that your on interests (as well as those of the people around you) can be advanced by making an alliance with others and pursuing joint interests? Are you sufficiently open-minded to consider alternatives to our present social arrangements? If you want to prove you can do this, one way is to take advantage of the free subscription to our journal, the Socialist Standard, offered on this leaflet.

Hasn’t socialism been tried and shown not to work?
   No. Small political minorities have tried concentrating resources in the hands of the state, but that has just continued the profit system in another, often more oppressive, form. That isn’t socialism. Instead we are talking about a world where we all democratically decide how to use those resources directly for our own mutual benefit and in a way which minimises the impact on the environment.

  This is all a long-way off. In the meantime shouldn’t ‘progressive’ organisations sink their differences, defend working people against attacks on their living standards and eventually work towards a socialist society?
It’s true that we all have to live in the here and now, but how far off the socialist society we advocate is depends on when people are prepared to take democratic action (i.e. vote) to establish it. More than a century of attempts to reform capitalism have shown that none of its major problems can be removed. So it’s clear that if we do nothing about socialism ‘in the meantime’, the meantime lasts forever. And we are putting off perhaps for all time the greatest advance that human society could ever make.

So does this election matter? Does Brexit matter?
  This election is about one way or another of organising the profit system, capitalism, so it doesn’t matter which of the major parties is elected. Nothing will change. Brexit is a small detail in that system, so it doesn’t matter that an arrangement has been made to manipulate that detail in the interests of the tiny minority who hold most of the wealth. What does matter is how many voters understand the case we are putting for a real social upgrade – a world community without states or frontiers based on participatory democracy – and show their preference for that by casting their vote for the Socialist Party candidate, Brian Johnson.

We are talking about a society of material abundance, without buying and selling, where everyone has access to what they need without the rationing system called money.

We are talking about a rational and sustainable society where people are the Earth’s custodians, not its destroyers, where they contribute the knowledge, skills and effort to maintain it.

This is a system that will make 21st century capitalism look like the Dark Ages. Hardly anyone dares conceive of a society after capitalism, so powewrful is its hold on the collective mind. But we do and that is why we are putting the debate out into the open.

Capitalism will do all it can to discredit the idea of world socialism. Don’t let it succeed. Take a first step by voting for our candidate, Brian Johnson.



FOLKESTONE

Profit or Needs, not Leave or Remain, is the real issue

This election, we’re told, is about Brexit. Whether ‘we’ will be richer or poorer, freer or more subservient if we stay in or leave the European Union, with or without a deal.

But does anyone seriously expect that Leaving or Remaining will end child poverty? Homelessness and food banks? Collapsing health and social services? Unemployment – or the mass insecurity of zero-hour-contracts? War and forced migration? The destruction of the Earth’s wildlife and natural resources? The threat of disastrous climate change?

The Brexit ‘debate’ simply obscures the real issue: a failed economic system where nothing is produced unless a profit can be made from it. Where human needs are everywhere subject to the inhuman demands of market forces. And this system will continue to rule our lives whether our new leaders are based in Brussels or London, Belfast or Edinburgh.

The Socialist Party stands for putting an end to this profit system. For replacing it with a society based on the common ownership and democratic control of the world’s natural and industrial resources.

We live in a world of potential plenty, where we could meet our needs by freely cooperating on the basis of ‘from each according to their ability, to each according to their needs.’ There is no need for anyone anywhere in the world to go without what they need to live a happy, healthy and fulfilled life. What prevents this is the ownership of resources today by a privileged few and production for sale with the aim of making a profit.

 The parties committed to running the market system – and that includes the Labour Party and the Greens – are making empty promises. A vote for them is a wasted vote as this system operates on the basis that making profits must always come before meeting needs, whatever those in government might want or have promised.

We are standing here to give you a chance to show that you reject the profit-driven market system and want a classless society of equal men and women geared to directly satisfying people’s needs.

To show this, vote for the  Socialist Party candidate, Andy Thomas, and then come and join us, not to mend the present system but to bring a movement strong enough to end it.

Write The Socialist Party, 74 Linden Crescent, Folkestone, Kent CT19 5SB
Email spgb.ksrb@worldsocialism.org


How you can help
South Wales branch will be holding an election stall on Saturday 7 December from 1 pm to 3pm in Queen Street (Newport road end) in central Cardiff. There will also be leafletting elsewhere in the constituency. More information and offers of help contact Richard Botterill, election agent, at botterill@gmail.com

Kent and Sussex branch will be meeting on Sunday 1 December from 2pm in The Muggleton Inn (Wetherspoon), 8 High Street, Maidstone, ME14 1 HJ (first floor) to discuss the campaign. Offers of help with leafletting and other activities in Folkestone: email spgb.ksrb@worldsocialism.org or write to The Socialist Party, 74 Linden Crescent, Folkestone, Kent CT19 5SB.

The Socialist Party also has leaflets for distribution outside the two constituencies saying that socialists will be casting a write-in vote for «World Socialism». Copies for distribution available from spgb@worldsocialism.org or write to the Socialist Party, 52 Clapham High Street, London SW4 7UN or phone 020 7622 3811.


Voice From The Back: Pollution And Capitalism (2011)

The Voice From The Back Column from the November 2011 issue of the Socialist Standard

Pollution And Capitalism
In their mad demand for profit the capitalist class are polluting our world more and more. “Ozone loss over the Arctic this year was so severe that for the first time it could be called an ‘ozone hole’ like the Antarctic one, scientists report.  . . . Ozone-destroying chemicals originate in substances such as chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) that came into use late last century in appliances including refrigerators and fire extinguishers.  . . .  The ozone layer blocks ultraviolet-B rays from the Sun, which can cause skin cancer and other medical conditions.” (BBC News, 3 October) On the face of it a scientific report on the BBC may not appear to mean that much to you, until your child develops skin cancer or some other awful medical condition. It will mean a lot then.


The Sick Society
Inside capitalism everything has a price. If you can afford it you can get the best food, clothing, housing and entertainment. Conversely if you don’t have the money you have to do with the cheap, the shoddy and the second-rate. Regretfully this applies to health-care too. “Half of hospitals ‘failing to feed elderly patients properly’. Staff forgetting to give food and water, while dignified care is lacking at 40% of hospitals, Care Quality Commission says. … The figures for England, compiled from reports published over the summer, will be officially released next week by the CQC. At Sandwell general hospital inspectors found serious issues with nutrition, especially for people who needed help with eating. Staff did not check whether patients had eaten and did not keep track of their fluid intake. One nurse said: ‘Sometimes I am the only staff member to feed on the ward. How can I feed all these people? Sometimes by the time I get to the last bay, either the food is cold or it has been taken away.’” (Guardian, 8 October) They call it the National Health Service: the national ill-health service would be more accurate.


From Dream To Nightmare
As they near retirement age many workers console themselves with the notion that they will at last be free from money worries, but recent research may lead them to reconsider their dreams of rocking-chair contentment. “Research published today suggests that many people with private pensions will be as much as 30 per cent worse off compared with those with similar savings who finished work in 2008, because of a combination of tumbling stock markets and interest rates at a record low. PricewaterhouseCoopers, the accountants, said those facing retirement this year would be left ‘between a rock and a hard place’, forced to consider putting off claiming a pension until market conditions improve.” (Daily Telegraph, 8 October) Even after a lifetime of work and money anxiety capitalism still holds no respite for many workers.


Empty Promises
Politicians vie with each other in claiming that they can solve capitalism’s boom and burst cycle of trade. Beyond their empty boasts there is a reality that they dare not recognise in their bombastic promises. It is that booms and bursts are the way capitalism operates and politicians are powerless to do anything about it. A recent survey by the Institute for Fiscal Studies shows what the future is likely to be. “Falling incomes will mean the biggest drop for middle-income families since the 1970s, says a report from the Institute for Fiscal Studies. The IFS forecasts two years ‘dominated by a large decline’ in incomes, pushing 600,000 more children into poverty. By 2013 there will be 3.1 million children in poverty in the UK, according to the IFS projections.” (BBC News, 11 October) All the politicians can do is make empty promises while we suffer empty pockets.


Skint But Not Poor
For centuries politicians, philanthropists and social observers have tried to solve the problem of the poor, but poverty has remained despite their best efforts. Now, however, a so-called think-tank has ridden to the rescue. “One of Britain’s foremost think-tanks wants to ban the phrases ‘poor people’ and ‘the poor’ to describe those in poverty, claiming they amount to discrimination akin to racism and sexism. The Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) says politicians and members of the public are guilty of ‘povertyism’, an unacknowledged form of prejudice which stigmatises deprived people.” (Sunday Times, 9 October) The findings of this think-tank must be a great consolation to those workers who find themselves unemployed, homeless and desperate. They may be skint but they are not poor. Thanks very much JRF!


Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Beyond the Cutbacks (2011)

Editorial from the November 2011 issue of the Socialist Standard

It’s simple really. Your wage or salary is the money necessary to reproduce your ability to work. Your pension is your wage or salary deferred until you retire. Concerns over the effect of increasing life expectancy – sometimes described as a “burden” – are only a smokescreen. We need to be clear. Lowering pension levels and raising the retirement age are cuts in real pay.

Pensions are a transfer payment from the profits of the capitalist class, which come from what workers as a whole produce. That there is at present a “problem” once more proves that the market economy is incapable of going beyond the limits of the wages system. It cannot adequately provide for the needs of the class that produces and distributes all the wealth in the first place.

Advances gained from the increased productivity of our labour – including an increased lifespan – are being clawed back by capital to its advantage, pushing the burden from the capitalists onto the workers.

The capitalist class encourages us to see their interests and problems as ours. As a result we find our lives opened up to the chaos and uncontrollable insanity of the market. The market system cannot provide any security for us in the long run, which is why we need to turn the current struggle over wages, salaries, and pensions into a politically organised movement for a society based upon the direct satisfaction of human needs.

It is encouraging to see the fight-back. The gains made by wage and salary workers on pay, pensions and other related issues have not, after all, been granted by benevolent governments or employers. They had to be fought for. If those gains are to be defended, democratic and unified action by workers is necessary. If governments and employers win on pensions and wages they will try it again with something else.

Nevertheless, important as activity of this sort is today it still does not get to the crux of the question.

The Socialist Party urges all workers to consider their position. As workers we have to strike because they are wage slaves to the capitalist class who buy our lives by the week or by the month. So, besides making the greatest possible use of trade unions, we ask for recognition that even at their best such action cannot bring permanent security or end poverty. No strike can overcome the power of the market. In the end the logic of capitalism will always win out.

While trade union activity, including strike action, is necessary as long as capitalism lasts it can’t work miracles. There can be no lasting solution to the problems the market economy creates within the market system itself. Austerity and insecurity in a world of potential plenty is always the lot of the working class. In addition to trade union action socialist political action is needed on the basis of a clear understanding and awareness of our class interests.

Unions cannot make revolutions. Only the working class themselves can do that, through clear, democratic, determined political action.

Reform is no answer.

The single, simple fact we urge working people to recognise is that capitalism generates problems it is incapable of solving. The remedy – the only remedy – is to consciously end the property system that divides and oppresses us.

Pathfinders: Bones of Contention (2011)

The Pathfinders Column from the November 2011 issue of the Socialist Standard

Bones of Contention
You’ll often find that socialists take a special interest in history and the ancient past. It’s something to do with taking the ‘long view’.  But you don’t have to be a socialist (or 6 years old) to be interested in dinosaurs, and with today’s computer generated images (CGI), it’s all a lot more fun than it ever used to be. The BBC’s new series Planet Dinosaur uses the kind of Hollywood-style special effects that made its 1999 Walking With Dinosaurs such a success. New technology and new discoveries have added hugely to the knowledge about dinosaurs in recent years, and the show’s star attraction will no doubt be the representation of feathered dinosaurs, until very recently the subject of heated controversy.

In the 1999 series too many unqualified assertions were made about dinosaur behaviour which could only have been guesses. This time the BBC has been careful to back up claims with evidence, letting the viewer follow the chain of reasoning, and making proper distinctions between fact and conjecture.

Yet still there’s a propaganda gloss on the scientific process, as if the audience somehow wouldn’t buy the real thing. The obsession with carnivorous monsters, and heavy repetition of words like ‘killer’ and ‘deadly hunter’, seem to assume the audience is on a five-second boredom timer and can only be motivated by blood and guts (ie that we are 6 years old). There is a curious moment when, in magisterial tones, we are informed that the fearsomely spiked tail of a stegosaurus is known as a ‘thagomiser’. What they don’t tell us is that this term started life as a joke by Gary Larson, in whose Far Side cartoon the caveman professor explains to the class that it is named ‘after the late Thag Simmons’. The Smithsonian Institute, having a sense of humour and no prior name of its own, promptly adopted Larson’s term, which is now semi-official. Joke names abound in science, but the BBC seems to disapprove.

What’s even more interesting than feathered dinosaurs is the row that scientists have been having about them. Consider the archaeoraptor debacle. When this fossil turned up from China in 1999, National Geographic reported that it was the missing link between birds and dinosaurs. This elicited a furious response from the Smithsonian which, losing its sense of humour for once, accused the magazine of reaching ‘an all-time low for engaging in sensationalistic, unsubstantiated, tabloid journalism’.  Why were they so upset? First, the link between dinosaurs and birds was at that time highly speculative; second, the article had preceded the scientific paper into print, meaning that according to the rule of precedent the rightful naming of the species had been effectively filched by the magazine; third, a term like ‘proto-feather’ committed the teleological fallacy, as if genes had a sense of predestination; fourth, the fossil had been illegally exported and should not have been touched by any reputable institution anyway.

Embarrassingly, the fossil turned out to be a fake, a fact that National Geographic might have learned if it hadn’t been in such a fever to publish. The story was reported with glee by the creationist lobby, ever desperate to find leverage. Though the dinosaur-bird link has since been established, the real scandal that came to light was not only the rampant trade in illegal and stolen fossils but the large numbers of forgeries that were appearing on the international market, mainly from unregulated China. The trade in fossils continues unabated, to the continued frustration of real knowledge, as much of the traffic is destined for the private collections of the rich and is thus unavailable for study.

You don’t have to be a 6 year old to like dinosaurs, but you do have to be a socialist to understand a world where people will steal and fake old fossils for the sake of a few dollars or yuan.  ‘Archaeoraptor’, by the way, means ‘old robber’.


E=MC3?
It’s something when you go down the pub or the supermarket and everyone’s talking Einstein. But it happened recently after a world headline splash that some CERN physicists had sent some neutrinos on a faster-than-light trip through an Italian mountain. Not that anybody could make any sense of the story, not even the expert commentators. Assuming it wasn’t a mistake, either it was possible to travel faster than light, in which case the standard model of physics was in trouble, or the neutrinos were somehow skipping out the side window of another dimension and back in again, in which case the standard model of physics was still in trouble. Cosmology is in big trouble anyway, as 97 percent of the universe is officially missing (dark matter, dark energy) and large chunks supposedly keep disappearing (dark flow). And the quantum theorists are ready to string themselves up too, not having had a sniff of a decent theory in 30 years. Could life get any worse for physicists? Well, let them take a lesson from socialists. We’re optimists. We look forward to the day when everybody down the pub is talking Marx. That’s when the standard model of capitalism will be in serious trouble.


Finding fault among the fault finders
Where there’s blame there’s a claim, so now they’re prosecuting scientists for not predicting an earthquake (www.nytimes.com/2011/10/04/science/04quake.html). This seems a tad unfair since nobody is suing the bankers for not predicting a global economic disaster, even though they helped cause it.

“No one expected to be told the exact time of the quake”, said one plaintiff, “We just wanted to be warned that we were sitting on a bomb.”

You would have thought that 400 tremors in the previous 6 months would be a sizeable clue, and that only a lit and sparking fuse leading directly up into the rectal cavity could give greater cause for alarm. But you’d be wrong, because the local seismic survey team reported that the risk was still low. This low risk was however translated by local officials into ‘no risk’, a prediction which turned out to be spectacularly wrong, and the writs started landing before the masonry had finished falling. The problem was that people wanted a categorical yes or no statement, and the fact that you can’t expect that kind of answer from a seismologist somehow got lost in the ensuing uproar.

People have strange ideas about science. Half the time they hate it and don’t believe a word of it, the rest of the time they seem to think it is capable of performing miracles. A bit like how people see capitalist politicians, come to think of it. It seems inconceivable that any law court would really convict the scientists, but if they do then presumably we can all start suing the Met Office every time the rain ruins our washing.
Paddy Shannon

What is Wrong With Using Parliament? (2011)

From the November 2011 issue of the Socialist Standard
 The anarchist paper Black Flag recently reviewed our pamphlet on this under the title “We use it as a Dung Market”. We reply.
It seems ironic that the review should start with a romantic nod in the direction of William Morris when one of the things that Morris is well known for was his passion for “making Socialists”, something that the Socialist Party is rightly or wrongly often simplistically ridiculed for.

In essence, Morris’s socialist “propagandising” was about making sure that there was a strong body of socialists who had a good understanding of the workings of capitalism and a clear understanding of the components of a society in contrast to it. He happened to call this socialism, as we do, and it rested on the view that there needed to be a mass of opinion in favour of it as a classless, stateless, moneyless society.

If people start to believe in the possibility of a future society beyond the market and the state then it seems sensible that they should cover all bases and rob any ounce of legitimacy that the capitalist class (including leftist would-be managers with their own statist dreams) will try to bestow upon themselves. The icing on the cake is that we don’t allow them that privilege and that we should go into in parliament as rebels. Of course this implies a mass of anti-capitalist opinion outside parliament of which those elected would be the mandated delegates.

The anarcho-communist Alexander Berkman once pointed out that:
  ‘Our social institutions are founded on certain ideas and as long as these are generally believed, the institutions built on them are safe. Government remains strong because people think political authority and legal compulsion necessary. Capitalism will continue as long as such an economic system is considered adequate and just. The weakening of the ideas which support the evil and oppressive present-day conditions means the ultimate breakdown of government and capitalism.’
In other words, the big holding power that capitalism in more “developed” countries has over many is in people’s heads in that the majority believe that there is no alternative or/and that they are “free” and living in a “democratic” society. It is precisely in the countries that have a semblance of democracy that seem to be the most stable in capitalist terms, for the reasons stated by Berkman above. So if that’s the case, what’s wrong with using the platform offered by parliament to call their bluff about being democratic?

The common objection to this raised by anarchists is the “corrupting effects of politics”. If that’s a problem then anarchists wouldn’t be able to trust their own mandated recallable delegates either, since such delegates is what we propose when we seek the platform of parliament to further articulate that desire for a society free from capital and the state and ultimately capture those powers that could be used against us. And if who controls the state is not important then why are so many anarchists concerned about the BNP getting hold of it?

The Socialist Party doesn’t have a blueprint for how a future society may come about but isn’t it wise to minimise as much as possible the risk of violence that states which, if left at the disposal of those who currently control them via their own “delegates”, could more easily deploy against the development of a new society?

Any process that has as its aim the revolutionary transformation of society has to have a future vision as a realisable possibility. This has to increasingly gain ground by being articulated in workplaces, the community, shops, pubs, in the arts and culture in general. As that future society gains ground as a tangible possibility then the conversation, discussion and plans will be increasingly enthused about how best to organise and adapt in all areas to meet society’s needs.

What’s the best way to help this process? Should we go down the route of fetishising every struggle going as, according to many on the left, struggle in itself is going to magically transform the consciousness of those involved into hardened revolutionaries? But if struggle alone is supposed to incrementally revolutionise us all then what’s the reason why so many workers who’ve gone through a lot of struggle, the miners, construction workers and others, have not reached radical conclusions but sometimes very reactionary ones such as “British jobs for British workers”?

To focus on explaining the root cause of society’s problems rather than tinker around with the edges (symptoms) is one of the most important reasons for an organisation like the Socialist Party to exist. That’s why we think it important not to spend endless amounts of time campaigning as a party to try to deal with the inevitable aspects of what capitalism throws at us as workers.

Anyone would think from reading the review that all our members do is campaign to persuade people to resort to the ballot box .The conception that the review has of the Socialist Party supposedly thinking that strikes are a “diversion” is a complete red herring. What fairy tale was that whisked up from? Strikes are an inevitable part of the class war that workers can sometimes utilise to defend or improve their working conditions or rates of pay. Our members are involved in these as workers. What’s wrong thinking that all these things don’t necessarily lead to revolution? Surely if they did then, with all the struggles on the economic front that the working class is forced to engage in every day since it came into existence, we should already be there in the review’s (for want of a better term) “councillist utopia”?

This rosy view of the working class doesn’t accord with reality. Most workplaces in the developed world are not one big “comradely experience” although most people are pretty decent despite the competitive environments they find themselves in. In the UK for example it’s the “Service Sector” that accounts for 73 per cent of GDP. I have worked in it and wonder why the reviewer has not been able to see what I see. Low pay, poorly unionised, competitive and non-stop, target-driven bullshit for many. Hierarchies built-in all over the place, where managers believe they’ve got a better deal than other workers who they generally view as their subordinates, and where often in return the other workers have respect or/and fear of the “higher ups”. In many cases the view is that the way to improve one’s position is done not as a class but as a rat in the rat race up the ladder. The effect is that the higher up the worker goes, the more they are forced to compromise and conform and get those beneath them to do the same.

Try openly putting across revolutionary or even militant ideas in workplaces like this (and many typically are) and you will be seen as “different” by your fellow workers who generally have very reactionary ideas in their heads. There’s also the problem of all the informal hierarchies that are there as well as the real ones. Ever seen The Office? It’s a brilliant example of this kind of behaviour. Once the bosses get an idea that there may be a “real revolutionary” in their midst, one that can’t easily be compromised that is, then they’ll soon “come up” with a “plausible” reason to get rid of them.

In addition, the figures for part-time work, temporary contracts and self-employment pose severe problems with the various “down tools” scenarios. And what about the unemployed, those on benefits, the retired or those dependent on partners or parents who may well go along with the way things are?

Those pushing papers around in the world of academia or those working out how to push some product onto the “consumer”? What clout do they or will they have if just tied down to a concept of revolution as a purely economic struggle?

What was probably most offensive about the review is the final paragraph where the reviewer sites the Socialist Party “slap bang in the middle of the Marxist vanguard groups whose characteristics it shares – authoritarian structure, party chauvinism and so on”. One of the reasons I joined the Socialist Party was because I didn’t like the de facto personality-dominated politics that often crept into groups that deemed themselves to be “anarchist”, with little or no structure to get the “personalities” to come down from their privileged positions. In this respect at least, I felt that the Socialist Party was actually more “anarchist” than the anarchists! An important part of my “anarchism” meant allowing for the widest conception of democracy possible to suit the needs of society.

The Socialist Party is merely a tool to be used by those who want socialism and who think that organising democratically is more important than seeing yourself as bigger than the society that you want to inhabit and think it important to have a voice for the possibility of a future that is so often buried.

Ultimately, what socialist conscious workers decide to do will be for them to decide. If they decide that parliament is an irrelevance then they will ignore it. On the other hand, if they see that to ignore it could be dangerous and also that it has potential, then they will make use of that potential.
Stair


Rowan Williams v New (and old) Atheism (2011)

The Halo Halo! column from the November 2011 issue of the Socialist Standard

You almost have to feel sorry for the Archbishop of Cant. It seems that the Church of England is on its knees. With declining attendance, internal disagreement about God’s wishes regarding women and gays becoming bishops, and clergy defecting to the Catholics he has the job of holding the whole circus together and trying to present it as a credible organisation with something useful to say.

Back in February, in response to a report highlighting the problems the Church faces in trying to convince us to take it seriously, he put much of the blame on what he calls ‘new atheism’. How this differs from old atheism he didn’t say but presumably he was referring to the numerous books published recently attacking the antiquated beliefs that he and his cronies expect us to accept. What was needed, he said, was for the clergy to be more vocal in countering the arguments put by such writers as Dawkins and Hitchens.

Unfortunately he didn’t give any suggestions as to the kind of counter-arguments he expects them to use against the flood of rationalism and science that they face so it’s difficult to imagine exactly what he has in mind. He certainly didn’t volunteer to step in himself and debate against Dawkins on the question of ‘Evolution or Creationism?’ That would be worth hearing.

Maybe he’s busy behind the scenes praying for some undeniable evidence that the story of Adam and Eve and the talking serpent IS true, that the earth really IS only a few thousand years old, and that Noah DID collect together two elephants, two aardvarks, two duck-billed platypus, two orangutans, two hippopotami, etc, etc, etc, and take them all for a ride in his ark.

To be fair to the Archbishop and his mates though, it’s unlikely that many of them believe this tosh any more than we do. And it must be difficult to keep a straight face when they have to mention it. But that’s the problem they are saddled with. Rowan Williams can hardly turn round now and say, “Sorry folks, it’s just a load of old cobblers we’ve been using to remind you of your place in a class divided society”.  Well, he could; but he’s not going to. He may like to be seen as an affable old leftie but he’s certainly no socialist.

As for ‘new’ atheist Richard Dawkins, well, as a scientist and academic he is of course concerned that such unscientific nonsense as ‘intelligent design’ is being taught in schools. And while we agree with him, from a socialist point of view the problem is much deeper.

It’s all very well to point out the lack of logic in religious beliefs, but religion is not simply a jumble of confused ideas. It is a powerful weapon in the hands of the capitalist class. It divides us and blinds us to the class action that is required to overcome the menace of capitalism.

Religion is the ideological expression of a long-gone world and its ancient social conditions, a world of superstition, slavery and little education. Far from providing an answer to today’s problems, it tells us to put our faith in the supernatural hopes of a past age. Instead of uniting us as a class we are to become meek and mild, and to submit to the whims of an ancient god that was dreamt up in the bronze age.
Nick White

Tiny Tips (2011)

The Tiny Tips column from the November 2011 issue of the Socialist Standard

Jenny Nicholson is tired of hearing how the poor are poor because they make poor choices. Let’s see what kind of choices you make when it’s your turn to be flattened by the economy. That’s the idea behind Spent, an online game Nicholson created to challenge popular misconceptions about poverty. Play it at www.playspent.org.

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Some children in the North [of China] live ferally: they are known as kotjebi, or “fluttering swallows”, and roam in packs. When they cannot steal in the markets, they eat dead dogs and rotten food (reportedly chewing toothpaste in the belief that it prevents food poisoning).

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A typical prize for a children’s contest might be a backpack, a lunchbox or maybe some toys. But not in Somalia. Over the weekend, a Somali radio station run by the Shabab, the most powerful Islamist  militant group in the war-ravaged country, held an awards ceremony to honor children who were experts at Shabab trivia and at reciting the Koran . The prizes? Fully automatic assault rifles and live hand grenades.
[LINK]

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What makes individual stockbrokers blow billions in financial markets with criminal trading schemes? According to a new study conducted at a Swiss university, it may be because share traders behave  more recklessly and are more manipulative than psychopaths:
[LINK]

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A Saudi Arabian ministry statement carried by the state news agency, SPA, stated that Abdul Hamid al-Fakki “practiced witchcraft and sorcery,” which are illegal under Saudi Arabia’s Islamic sharia law. Al-Fakki was beheaded in the western city of Medina on Monday, the interior ministry announced:

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Mr. Daisey’s trip to Shenzhen, China, where he posed as a wealthy businessman to infiltrate factories where Apple products and other electronics are made. He says he witnessed inhumane conditions and interviewed workers outside of factories who said they were as young as 12.
   ‘What was shocking to me was the level of dehumanization built into the systems that have been put into place by American corporations in collusion with suppliers…… There’s a hunger in very controlling companies like Apple to create planned obsolescences sooner rather than later, so it will become more and more difficult to stay functional’:
[LINK]

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Eight in 10 British workers are overweight or living with long-term illnesses that limit their productivity, according to early findings of a 25-year study of people’s wellbeing:
[LINK]

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Tobacco companies knew that cigarettes contained a radioactive substance called polonium-210, but hid that knowledge from the public for over four decades, a new study of historical documents revealed:
[LINK]

Is 20 Years of the Big Issue Something To Shout About? (2011)

From the November 2011 issue of the Socialist Standard
  This September saw The Big Issue magazine ‘celebrate’ 20 years of trying to tackle homeless issues.
The Big Issue was started back in 1991 by Gordon Roddick (husband of Body Shop owner Anita) and John Bird (not the John Bird of TV comedy Bremner, Bird and Fortune) who was himself a victim of homelessness when young. Its initial aims were to help the homeless by allowing them to help themselves. The basic concept of the magazine is simple: a homeless person is given 5 copies to start for free. They sell these for £2 each and can then buy further copies from the magazine for £1 each, re-selling for £2 and keeping the difference. In time the vendor can eventually build up for themselves a small client base and earn reasonable enough money to eventually get themselves set up in a home of their own, thus ‘solving’ the homeless crisis one person at a time. For some this method indeed works and there have been many successful vendors over time. However as a wider solution to the housing and homeless crisis, this kind of work-for-your-supper thinking is really a very poor quality sticking plaster over a wide, gaping wound and is fundamentally flawed.

Homelessness is a complex issue. For every homeless person there is a raft of interrelated reasons why they may be in that situation. Some are simple: loss of housing through relationship breakdowns, inability to pay for housing, drink, drugs, mental health issues, abuse and domestic violence. For some, all they really need is a house or flat. For others, more complex social help is required from specialists perhaps in drink and drug rehabilitation, or social workers to support individuals through crises. In fairness to the Big Issue, they never set out to deal with these problems, although the later founded Big Issue Foundation has tried to expand its approach.

Many of the issues homeless people face are centred around their ability to pay for their accommodation and to maintain those payments. Whether buying or renting, housing takes a disproportionate amount of income and in recent years has sailed close to the maximum 30% as recommended by most financial experts as a percentage of income. These costs coupled with spiralling food and fuel expenditure, mean the ability to maintain housing is getting increasingly harder for many families. Loss of a job, reduction in working hours or wages can have a devastating impact and can often result in homelessness. Exact figures for homelessness are difficult to obtain due to the transient nature of the people involved, the various bodies doing research and the changing way the government classifies homelessness. However, as a rule of thumb, in times of economic downturn the number of homeless persons increases exponentially. No amount of charity, magazine sales or campaigning will alter the root cause of the problem and the profit driven nature of housing.

So in 20 years how has the Big Issue helped with solving the problems of homelessness? According to their own website:
 The Big Issue is a business solution to a social problem, demonstrating that an organisation can succeed whilst being simultaneously driven by commercial aims and social objectives. It has helped thousands of individuals to regain control of their lives and has simultaneously altered public perceptions of homeless people (http://www.bigissue.com/History_34.php)
No doubt on an individual basis the Big Issue has helped some of the thousands it has had contact with to be able to better their own situations, but in the bigger picture it, like so many other homeless charities, is unable to achieve anything of real and lasting value. There was a huge homeless problem 20 years ago in the UK and there is still one now. Unless capitalism is swept away, there will still be one in 20 years time.

Under capitalism, housing, like everything else, is a commodity to be bought and sold on the market. For those unable to afford it, homelessness is the only option unless bailed out by limited council and state help or charitable donations. These are not solving the problem, merely at best reducing some of its ill effects. Business has no interest in solving social problems, contrary to the statement by the Big Issue. Its goal, always, is profit. If housing was fairly distributed according to need rather than via a market, then the problem of homelessness would disappear and there would be no need for such ‘social entrepreneurship’ as lauded by the Big Issue and similar organisations.

A telling quote comes from John Bird himself:
  I am a self appointed grandee of the poor. I am one of them who got out and got into a position to help, so I will mollycoddle Lord Mandleson, Cameron, Blair, and Brown, anyone if it helps. I don’t want to read The Big Issue and read how miserable it is living under capitalism. I want to know what you’re going to do about it, how you’re going to dismantle it (Independent, 5 September).
In socialism, a society based on people’s needs not profit, housing like everything else would be free and open to all. The masses of empty homes would not stay empty because people couldn’t afford to live in them anymore. Homelessness will be a thing of the past and consigned to history, and with it will be the well-intentioned but ultimately self-perpetuating charities. Hopefully in another 20 years there will be no need for a ‘celebration’ of the continuing need for charity.
David Humphries

Where Will It End? (2011)

From the November 2011 issue of the Socialist Standard
The Occupy movement is a sign of spreading unrest.
Just last month ago we asked in our editorial whether we were beginning to see the “red shoots” of recovery in the class struggle. At the time, the annual conference of the Trades Union Congress (TUC) had just called for joint industrial action, street protests and a campaign of civil disobedience, and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) had warned that America and Europe were facing the worst jobs crisis since the 1930s and an ‘explosion of social unrest’. We said then that there was no way of predicting with any confidence whether this expected ‘explosion’ would go off, or turn out to be a damp squib, depending, as it did and does, on what millions of people think and decide to do.

Since we wrote those words, you’d have to be a dour cynic indeed not to be heartened and encouraged by world events. Truly has it been said that there are decades when nothing happens, and weeks when decades happen. It’s hard to believe that in just one year we have seen a series of democratic uprisings across the Middle East and north Africa threaten or topple dictatorships; strikes and increasingly militant protests against austerity in Greece and across Europe; strikes, demonstrations and riots across Britain; and mass protests and occupations against anti-union legislation in Wisconsin, USA, to name just the most obvious and inspiring examples.

And then, in September of this year, the anti-consumerist magazine Adbusters and the activist group Anonymous announced an occupation of Wall Street. The bourgeoisie – along with the older, more senile, battle-weary ranks of class warriors and socialists – barely had time for the sneers to settle on their faces before the ‘anarchism as usual’ action had morphed into what some commentators are already calling the most significant populist movement of the left since the 1930s. On Wall Street, a decade happened in just a few weeks, and a small activist action exploded into an ever-growing movement that the mainstream media and ruling-class establishment eventually and reluctantly decided it could no longer ignore.

Ignoring it didn’t work, and neither did a rapid police attempt to suppress it with violence. Every attempt to silence and repress the Occupy Wall Street movement – including mass arrests and rioting cops pepper-spraying young girls – merely led to new waves of support. More and more workers from all kinds of backgrounds – nurses, sacked cleaners, doctors, serving and former soldiers, unemployed graduates, poor youth from the city’s most impoverished districts, even sympathetic Wall Street traders – have poured into New York’s financial district to see what’s happening, listen to talks, take part in democratically organised general assemblies to plan actions and decide upon demands (if any), and generally build solidarity, communication, and mutual aid. (For informative news reports, see the Democracy Now channel at www.democracynow.org.) The example in Wall Street soon spread throughout the country, and there are now copycat occupations in Boston, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Wisconsin, and many others, and attempts to repeat the success are spreading around the world, soon to arrive in London and the rest of Britain.     

With what result? Well, of course, no one but fake Cassandras and Nostradamuses know. It may be that the whole thing will have fizzled out before this journal hits your doorstep. Or perhaps the movement will turn lamely reformist and be bought off. Perhaps, like the civil rights movement, it will prove not at all lame, even if reformist, and win some essential gains for our class. Or perhaps even, if some of the more radical demands and ideas put up on the Occupy movement’s websites become reality, we will see a genuine anti-capitalist movement develop worldwide. These are exciting times.

The key, of course, will be whether the protest movement can involve the rest of the working class and organise to take democratic control of the whole of social life, including winning control of  the powers of government. With the potential for the Occupy movement spreading to this country and a nationwide day of action, including strikes, on 30 November, organised by the TUC, these are days of precious opportunity for the working class in Britain. It’s time, as the poet Shelley once put it, to rise like lions after slumber, in unvanquishable number. We have a life to win.
Stuart Watkins

All Keynesians now? (2011)

Book Review from the November 2011 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Political Economy of Development. Edited by Bayliss, Fine and Van Waeyenberge (Pluto Press) 2011

The subject of this book is the World Bank. Along with the International Monetary Fund, it was created by a UN conference at Bretton Woods USA in 1944. The original purpose of the Bank was to encourage post-war investment for reconstruction and development by making loans to governments. The Bank, based in Washington, went on to develop financial aid packages for the less developed countries around the world. Critics complained that this aid was conditional on accepting the ‘Washington Consensus’ on the need for implementing neo-liberal ideology – deregulation of markets, privatisation and a reduced role for the state. Since 1998 this has been replaced by the ‘Post-Washington Consensus’ in which the Bank promotes the market through state intervention. As the authors explain, ‘neo-liberalism has never been short of state intervention’. What is new, they argue, is the state-sponsored expansion of private financial institutions and services over the last three decades.

This book challenges the neo-liberal assumptions which still guide the Bank, and they provide detailed evidence of its failures. But what is the alternative? The authors pose the rhetorical question ‘Are we all Keynesians once more?’ with the clear implication that it is the only alternative. However, this conclusion lacks historical perspective. Keynesian economics (after the economist JM Keynes) is basically the belief that governments should intervene in the economy to spend their way out of trouble, and its failure to solve the problems of capitalism led to its replacement by faith in the market in the 1980s. (In practice, governments – even those who have formally repudiated Keynesianism – have intervened to prop-up their markets when necessary; especially in the current recession.) Neo-liberal faith in the market was bound to end in disillusion, but that does not vindicate an equally misplaced faith in Keynesian economics. Keynesianism and neo-liberalism are merely two policies for running capitalism.
Lew Higgins

Djanogly – One Of The Family (2011)

The Greasy Pole Column from the November 2011 issue of the Socialist Standard

Around that legendary city of Nottingham there is a name which is very difficult to avoid and even more difficult to forget. Djanogly. There is, for example, the Djanogly City Academy, previously the Technology College. Then there are the University Djanogly Gallery and Lecture Theatre and a Djanogly playground. Even more splendidly we might come across the Sir Harry and Lady Djanogly Learning Resource Centre – a daringly circular building on an island platform. All this reminds us that the said Sir Harry, apart from owning the largest collection of Lowry paintings in the world, has also been an habitual sponsor of technology and learning and if we ask how he can afford this we need to know only that he has interests in, apart from anything else, the massively famous textile company Coats Viyella (now Coats plc), which he is said to have founded. Another family investment has been their son Jonathan who, after an unexciting academic experience, qualified as a solicitor and is now a partner in the corporate department of a city law firm as well as the Conservative MP for Huntingdon – one of the safest seats in the country previously represented by Prime Minister John Major, who is a close personal friend of Sir Harry.

Millionaire
The Djanogly family fortune is put at £300 million; Jonathan is himself a millionaire, recording shareholdings in companies including Imperial Tobacco and BP. However it has not all been unyielding happiness for among the rural bliss of Huntingdon there has been mutinous gossip on the theme that Sir Harry’s close bonds with John Major may have allowed some subtle arm-twisting to ensure that his son was selected to stand for the Tories after Major gave up. Any such resentment could not have been soothed by the new MP’s subsequent rapid rise up the Greasy Pole, in opposition and government, until Cameron’s victory in 2010 saw him blossom into Under-Secretary of State at the Justice Department, dealing with matters including legal aid, family justice and the law courts.

But at some stage – there were quite a few incidents to explain it – the dizzying rise and rise of Djanogly stalled. Perhaps it was when, as one source of information has it, he caused local opinion to sour to the extent of describing him as “lazy, with no political convictions or beliefs”. Or when one leading party member, possibly nostalgic for the battles between John Major and his Eurosceptic bastards, thought that he “works very hard not to give an opinion… nobody knows where he stands on anything. He is a wet fish…” and again he was damned for winning the candidature because “…party members voted for him as a favour to John Major. He has been a disaster and we need to deselect him”. With which the local “Ditch Djanogly” Facebook campaign, whose membership included the “estranged” son of a Tory big-wig, will heartily agree. In his own defence Djanogly can give examples of his performing with very adequate energy and commitment, except that this was not always on matters and in a style likely to justify the approval of the Huntingdon Tories.

Expenses
There was, as a start, the scandal of his expense claims in which, along the green benches, he was not alone. Djanogly had claimed something over £77,000 on his “second home” in Cambridgeshire while giving his main home as in London. This claim entailed a certain adjustment of the facts, because that £3.7 million Maida Vale home is owned, or rather held in trust, by his parents who allowed him to live there rent free. Then there was the sum of £4,936 to install a set of automatic gates at his home in Alconbury, which he said were needed to keep him safe from animal rights campaigners protesting at his links with the notoriously animal-testing Huntingdon Life Sciences. Gardening costs accounted for £400 a month, two digital TV boxes £846…

And then there was the item which attracted the most intensive media scrutiny – his claim for over £13,000 for students described as cleaners for his constituency home, although it emerged that one of them was an au pair who advertised herself as such and spent most of her time in their London home or on holiday with them, looking after their children and waiting on visitors at constituency events. Under pressure from the exposure of his breaches of the rules on expenses, Djanogly had to repay £25,000 while local party members were angry that he – a Minister of Justice – had lied to them.

Their Honourable Member’s response to this was to employ, at a cost of £5,000, private detectives who worked their well-honed deceptive skills to trick Djanogly’s most serious critics (who included his constituency agent) to reveal their identity. And any energy he had to spare from this subterfuge he devoted to pushing through the Commons a Bill which, by slashing legal aid entitlement and changing the procedures in cases of claims for damages after accidents and the like, promises effectively to benefit the insurance industry by as much as hundreds of millions of pounds. Djanogly did not seem to be embarrassed by being likely to profit from this as a partner in his family’s underwriting firm – although, seven days after the matter was publicised in the Guardian, he moved his shares in the Djanogly Family LLP to a “blind trust”. Just another incident in the political career of Jonathan Djanogly, with its ripples of confusion, doubt and outrage among even his closest supporters, to put his parliamentary future in serious doubt. By even the accustomed standards, it has been a sad and sterile affair, nurturing the myths of capitalist politics – that privilege and charity are proper and adequate adjustments to enduring poverty, that society’s rulers wheedle into power over us on the pledge that the outcome will be to our benefit when it will remorselessly aggravate the damage and repression we already know so well.
Ivan

10 Years of the "Peoples" Republic (1959)

From the December 1959 issue of the Socialist Standard

This year marks the tenth anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China and is probably as good a time as any to review the events of the past decade. For ten years the 650 million population of the largest country in the world has gone through an amazing process watched with intense interest by many millions particularly of other oriental people.

China has been somewhat of a mystery to Westerners A land of cheap labour, widespread and constantly recurring famines and civil wars, with a society that seemed in a stale of perpetual arrested development and a written and spoken language that usually proved an effective barrier to understanding.

But in 1949. the Communist Party of China won the civil war against the Nationalist Party and seized control of the reins of government, to the horror of the God-fearing and the respectable. Since then, the sleeping giant that was China seems to have woken up, and hardly a week goes by without this country coming into the news and sometimes making the headlines. But this is a process that has crept up, in typical old-time Chinese style, by stealth and almost without notice, although it has a background of tremendous growth and change.

But many people wonder what the Chinese workers themselves think of living under “communism” and whether, in fact. China really has a new system of society.

What Happened
In Chinese agriculture, which employs more people than any other occupation, the tempo of development has been rapid. There have been great technical improvements in irrigation, in deep ploughing, soil improvement, pest control, use of chemical fertilisers, farm machinery and specialisation in high-yielding crops, such as rice, corn and potatoes. The productivity in rice in 1949 was 1,668 lbs. per acre; by 1958 it had increased to an estimated 3,000 lbs., whilst the productivity in cotton during the same period rose from 143 lbs. to an estimated 300 lbs. per acre. State investment in agriculture rose from U.S.$389 million in 1952 to U.S.$892 million in 1958.

There has also been, it is said, an improvement in the standard of living of the agricultural worker which the government proudly proclaims as one of the ways that Communism works for the benefit of the under-privileged. With the improvements claimed for the Western worker here is usually a snag — things are not always what they seem. So with the Chinese agricultural worker. He has to work nearly twice as many days in the year for his increased standard of living—from 172 days for a full- time agricultural worker (Dr. Lossing Buck’s survey in the 1920's) to around 300 days at the present time. But this is not all. Through the organisation of the communes (of which more later) about 100 million women in the country districts are said to have been released from household chores to become wage-slaves.

To cure any impression that they may be living in the very lap of luxury, it should be noted that the staple diet of rice, as well us cotton (used for practically all forms of clothing) are still both rationed.

Development of Agrarian Communities
The changes that are going on are not all of a technical nature. In education, for instance, primary enrolment increased from 24 million in 1949 to 86 million (estimated) in 1958. and there has also been a heavy increase in the number of higher standard students of agriculture as well as research workers.

The vast changes have been preceded by widespread social reforms which have removed many obstacles, such as the irrational land system, superstitious practices and the previously inferior position of peasant women. The domination of the landlord-gentry and the power of the patriarchal heads of the village, have been reduced.

There have also been far-reaching changes in the organisation of the countryside. These started with mutual-aid teams whereby the peasants—those die-hard independent individualists were induced to perform the main work on their farms in groups working together. The peasant still owned his own land and the produce from it. This form of organisation was the thin end of the wedge and led to further development. Then followed various forms of farming, such as co-operative producers' societies and collective farms. In some, the peasants pooled their land and implements and were credited with their value and with their labour. The crops were shared out on that basis. The peasants could withdraw if they wished.

As time went on these organisations developed until the peasant was not much more than a shareholder in a large community farm without the option of withdrawal. These changes, incidentally, eased the task of tax collecting and governmental control.

The Communes
The present form of agrarian organisation is the commune, which the Peking Government have the effrontery to describe as the transition stage from Socialism to Communism. An analysis of the organisation of the communes shows how worthless and misleading is the claim and reminds one of the somewhat parallel claim by the British Labour Party that capitalism plus the reforms they propose makes Socialism.

The commune is now the basic unit for agrarian China and averages from 10,000 to 40,000 members. The commune has centralised control and unified management and engages in all spheres of activity, including industry, agriculture, forestry, credit, public health, communications and military training. Communal kitchens and nurseries release the women for wage-labour. Even private garden plots are taken over along with the peasants’ farms. Payment is purely by wage on a variety of “piece-work plus bonus” system. Thus, almost at a stroke has the peasant of China been converted into a wage-labourer—as much a member of the working-class as any Western man-in- the-street, despite the fact that the government confuses the issue by describing these community sweat-shops as Communism.

The Peking government (reported in The Far Eastern Economic Review, December 4th, 1958), requires each commune member to be “obedient, enthusiastic, overfulfil production quotas, struggle against evil personalities and practices, think progressively and work at least 28 days per month.” What a lot they expect for a handful of rice and a bowl of chop-suey! Moreover, there will only be one employer in the country districts and that will be the commune management. Under these conditions the boss has very much the whip hand and the worker has to jump to it, for if he falls foul of his boss there is no other to offer him a job. In his spare time, military duties are prescribed.

It is in the use of bonuses and rewards that the commune leadership can exert the greatest control. 80 per cent. of the basic wage of each member will be paid him directly, but 20 per cent. will be withheld, to be returned only in the event of outstanding performance. A worker who fails to display the proper “enthusiasm” or is lax or fails to work the requisite number of days, not only loses this 20 per cent. already withheld, but runs the risk of being demoted to a lower wage grade or of having further wages deducted.

According to one commune’s draft regulations “the distribution of income shall be based on the principle of ensuring high speed in expanded production.” While the regulations call for increased wages as the rate of production goes up, the regulations prescribe not only that the rate of wage increase must be slower than the rate of increase in production, but also that when living standards reach the level of “well-to-do middle peasants” the rate of wage increase should be reduced so as to leave more for the development of industry.

Industry
The expansion of industry in the past ten years is almost as marked as the changes in agriculture. According to official claims, steel production has increased fifty fold since 1949—from 158,000 tons in 1949 to 8 million tons in 1958. The annual pre-war production of 35 million tons of coal had increased to 270 million tons in 1958; and the reserves are vast. In mid 1958 the Vice-Minister of Geology claimed that China ranks first in the world in reserves of many important minerals and metals. China is now successfully exporting machinery (in addition to many other products) in competition with other capitalist countries.

The working-class standard of living during the ten years under review has certainly been rising, but not so quickly as their output. From this we must except the vast numbers in labour camps whose plight horrified some of the Labour Party M.P.s when they visited China a few years ago. Those victims work at a killing speed in slave conditions.

China is entering the ranks as a great industrial country with all that that implies.
Frank Offord.

To be concluded.