Wednesday, April 17, 2019

50 Years Ago: The Coming Election (2014)

The 50 Years Ago column from the February 2014 issue of the Socialist Standard

It would be a very dull person indeed who did not notice a certain something in the political air; a flurry of optimistic statements from members of the government, a series of sober suggestions which are supposed to help improve the world from the opposition. The two great political parties resemble nothing so much as a couple of shopkeepers who, anxious to attract the larger share of a spending spree, are frantically decorating their windows with every tawdry piece of tinsel they can find in their lumber rooms.(…)

There is no point in our trying to predict who will win—even if that were possible. But we can confidently forecast what will follow the election, whichever party forms the next government.

The working class will continue to struggle over their wages and other working conditions; in other words there will be more strikes and similar disputes. The government will attempt to hold wages in check and to persuade the working class that any rise they may have should be only a small one, and one related to a more intensive productive effort. There will be more tension on the international field—more clashes at places like Berlin, Cyprus, Borneo. There will be more conferences on how to ease these tensions and how to disarm capitalism. None of them will come to anything.

The working class, afflicted by the usual struggle to live, will become dissatisfied with their new government and may express this dissatisfaction by defeating government candidates in by-elections and replacing them with those of another party pledged to carry on the capitalist social system. This dissatisfaction is an inevitable part of capitalism because the problems which give rise to unrest are also part of the private property system.

The only solution to this calamitous muddle is the establishment of Socialism. It is simply not possible for any leader to make glamorous promises about that because the key to Socialism is the knowledge of the people who will set it up. In the election campaigns of the capitalist parties, knowledge is an alien word. How many people, among the mass who are hypnotised by the tinsel, will stand out by knowing and understanding and voting for Socialism?

(Socialist Standard, February 1964)

For better for worse . . . (2014)

The Halo Halo! column from the February 2014 issue of the Socialist Standard

One of the functions of government is to ensure the existence of an adequate supply of the next generation of workers; suitably trained to know their place, and with no aspirations for anything more fulfilling in life than a place on the capitalist machine’s profit production line.

And if a state mis-education alone is not enough to guarantee young workers a job stacking shelves in the local pound shop, politicians assume that regular religious interference in their lives to further confuse and demoralise them will help.

It’s no surprise then that the state takes an interest in the institution of marriage and legislates on where parents of the next generation of workers can get hitched. Register Office weddings are no problem, nor are the mainstream church weddings or those carried out in synagogues or mosques. Some of the premises of the lesser known, and the more bizarre gods however, just don’t come up to scratch, however luxurious or opulent they are.

It shouldn’t really matter these days which god workers are indoctrinated in, you might think. One non-existent god is as good as another, but no, it’s not that simple. The next generation of workers need to be born to parents who, if believers, are only married in the premises of a properly government approved god. At least, this has been the position until now.

In December, however, there was a court case where for some unknown reason a couple decided they wanted to get married in the Church of Scientology. Unfortunately there was a 1970 High Court ruling in the way which said that Scientology services were not ‘acts of worship’.

However after duly reflecting on the nature of the gods and their need to be suitably worshipped, the Supreme Court Justices decided that the 1970 ruling was out of date. It was not the job of the Registrar General of Births, Marriages and Deaths to venture into ‘fine theological or liturgical niceties’ they said. Which is fine as far as it goes. Less state interference in our lives is always welcome.

But, unleashing a can of theological worms they added, ‘Religion should not be confined to religions which recognise a supreme deity’. What’s that? Jesus Christ! The God bothering business is overloaded with self-proclaimed prophets and Holy Joes jumping on the Jesus bandwagon already. Are L Ron Hubbard and his ilk going to be allowed to officially join this con-man’s circus as well?

There may be more to this story than meets the eye. Religious establishments are exempted from paying business rates. Is it possible that this is why the ‘Church’ of Scientology, with its vast property holdings is so keen to conduct marriages? Local Government minister Brandon Lewis said he was ‘very concerned’ about the ruling and its implications for business rates. We bet he was.

Signs that religious mumbo-jumbo is becoming a free for all are appearing in the USA as well. Following the installation of a monument inscribed with the Ten Commandments at the Oklahoma state Capitol, a Satanic group have submitted an application to erect a seven foot tall statue of Satan on a throne complete with horns, wings and a beard. ‘The statue will have a functional purpose as a chair where people of all ages may sit on the lap of Satan for inspiration and contemplation’ they said.

Requests to install a monument have also been made by the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster. This won’t end well, will it?
NW

Davos Elites Think Globally, Act Greedily (2014)

From the March 2014 issue of the Socialist Standard

At the annual World Economic Forum, global elites gather to dream about solving the problems of capitalism through cooperation.
  Every capitalist knows this about his worker, that he does not relate to him as producer to consumer, and [he therefore] wishes to restrict his consumption, i.e. his ability to exchange, his wage, as much as possible. Of course he would like the workers of other capitalists to be the greatest consumers possible of his own commodity. But this is just how the illusion arises – true for the individual capitalist as distinct from all the others–that apart from his workers the whole remaining working class confronts him as consumer and participant in exchange, as money-spender, and not as worker. (Grundrisse; my emphasis)
Apologies for plunging straight into a quote from Marx to begin this article, but it seems related to the illusion that animates the World Economic Forum, an annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland of capitalist movers and shakers, movie-star wankers, professional do-gooders, and Bono.

One striking thing about this elite gathering is how its participants believe that capitalists (or at least other capitalists) might look beyond their own profit interests to solve some of the problems that their beloved profit system generates.

Professor Schwab has a dream
The first WEF was held in January 1971, under the impetus of Klaus Schwab, a German economist who remains the event’s executive chairman. At first the meeting only brought together European capitalists, and it was called the European Management Forum (renamed the World Economic Forum in 1987).

The official WEF website says that Professor Schwab’s ‘‘inspiration’’ for creating the Forum was the ‘stakeholder principle,’’ which states that ‘‘the management of an enterprise is not only accountable to its shareholders but must also serve the interests of all stakeholders, including employees, customers, suppliers and, more broadly, government, civil society and any others who may be affected or concerned by its operations.’’

You might say, then, that the Forum’s underlying concept is the idea – or the plea, really – that capitalists should broaden their vision beyond the narrow realm of their own profit chasing.

Today the WEF describes its mission as ‘‘improving the state of the world by engaging business, political, academic and other leaders of society to shape global, regional and industry agendas.’’

‘‘We live in a fast-moving, highly interconnected world, and our existing systems, structures and formal institutions no longer suffice,’’ Schwab notes. ‘‘Pressing global problems can arise quickly and without warning. . . . Today, to address these issues, the world needs a level of global cooperation that is increasingly difficult to attain, precisely due to the growing complexities and interdependencies in the world.’’

The WEF is meant to serve as a mechanism for this global cooperation. And it would be hard to argue against the need for cooperation, or to disagree with the description of today’s world as increasingly interdependent and interconnected.

But it is also pretty clear that there are some serious limits to the degree of cooperation possible between business leaders (and their political lackeys), not only in different countries but within their own.

And the reason is again related, in some ways, to that quote from Marx. As he points out, although it might seem logical for capitalists to cooperatively raise the living standards of workers (as potential consumers), each capitalist firm must also extract from its own workers as much surplus value as it can to remain competitive – for the unprofitable capitalist will not remain a capitalist for long.

Genuine cooperation to solve fundamental problems is out of the question in a society where there are not only irreconcilable class differences, but conflicts between the capitalists themselves, who are competing against each other in domestic and global markets.

Lots of problems, few solutions
Yet the WEF remains upbeat about the potential for alleviating global problems through cooperation spearheaded by business leaders. Its website claims that the ‘‘Forum’s experience since its foundation in 1971 shows there are few issues that cannot be adequately progressed by convening the most relevant actors from all sectors – business, government and civil society – in a high-level, informal environment of trust.’’

But the experience of seeing the WEF, every year, address the same sorts of global problems – unemployment, environmental devastation, gender inequality, poverty, corruption, armed conflict, and so on – suggests that some issues have hardly been ‘progressed’ at all.

The gap between the awareness of the problems, and the inability to do much about them, is striking. In its numerous reports, the WEF list up issues that attest to the dismal reality of capitalism, but in most cases offers only the vaguest proposals or wishful thinking in response.

For instance, its Global Agenda Council on Fragile States and Conflict Prevention notes that, ‘‘Some 1.5 billion people in an estimated 40 countries live in an environment marked by persistent conflict and fragility . . . confronted by a myriad of simultaneous and often overwhelming challenges, including armed conflict or political violence, serious and persistent human rights violations, and threats from organized crime and terrorist networks.’’

And then, in the very next sentence, we are told that, ‘‘Viewed through a different lens, however, today’s fragile states are potentially tomorrow’s emerging markets. More than three-quarters of states classified as ‘fragile’ possess extensive mineral and energy resources and post impressive growth rates.’’

Similar examples can be found in the WEF report, ‘Outlook on the Global Agenda 2014,’ ‘which lists the ten ‘‘most pressing issues’’ of the coming year; these include widening income disparities, persistent unemployment, diminishing confidence in economic policies, and a lack of values in leadership.

After the report notes, for instance, how ‘‘growing income inequality is an issue of central importance’’ and lists various concrete manifestations of this inequality, it clings to the haziest of solutions:
  In order to counteract income inequality, it’s essential to tackle poverty in an integrated way that has a long-term impact. We need to give people the capacity to be resilient, to take on challenges and to learn the skills they need to work toward more prosperous futures.
Similarly, the report recognizes that the world faces ‘‘persistent structural unemployment’’ (and is careful to warn that it will escalate social unrest if not addressed), but can only offer the vague hope that governments will ‘’create regulatory structures that encourage employment and economic stability.’’

The same contrast between a fairly clear recognition of the problems and a lack of solutions is on display in the WEF’s Global Risks Report, listing the ‘‘ten global risks of highest concern.’’

The top risk for 2014 is ‘‘financial crises in key economies,’’ followed by such problems as ‘‘structurally high unemployment/underemployment,’’ ‘‘severe income disparity,’’ and ‘‘global governance failure,’’ as well as problems related to the natural environment. The report reads like an indictment of capitalism, even though it tries to claim that the problems can be solved or alleviated, provided there is adequate global leadership.

Conspiracy or dunces?
The conspiracy theorist might like to imagine gatherings such as the Forum at Davos as rather sinister events, where corporate elites hatch their evil plans. But that is almost a comforting notion; as if the capitalist system could yield to plans or control, rather than simply being the composite of all the narrow-minded economic actors chasing after their own profits by whatever means necessary.

In fact, the business savvy of global corporate elites does not lend them the power to shape, or even foresee, the future direction of capitalism. They are along for the ride like the rest of us, although travelling first-class.

‘‘Cautiously optimistic’’ is the verdict most likely to be offered by one of these elites when asked to comment on where the global economy is headed in 2014 and beyond. In other words, ‘‘Fuck if I know.’’

But that is not to suggest that the problem comes down to a lack of intelligence on the part of those elites, as Leftists are prone to argue. None of us can predict, exactly, what the coming years will bring for the capitalist economy, just as Marx, in his day, was not able to predict the exact moment when a general crisis might break out. Certainly we can be ‘‘confidently pessimistic,’’ as Marx was, about what our life will generally be like under capitalism, knowing its fundamental contradictions, but that does not make us fortune tellers.

What we can feel safe to predict, though, is that the comforting talk at Davos about working together to improve the world for all ‘‘stakeholders’ ‘won’t do much if anything to change the actual behaviour of capitalists and capitalism.
Michael Schauerte

Mixed Media: Bermuda Triangle Test Transmission Engineers (2014)

The Mixed Media Column from the March 2014 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Bermuda Triangle Test Transmission Engineers (BTTTE) are the live performance extension of a trio of sound artists: Melanie Clifford, Howard Jacques and Nick Wilsdon who produce the BTTTE radio programme for the London radio arts station Resonance 104.4 fm. Last October BTTTE presented their Little Red Set: ‘dialectical cabaret in song, sound and exquisite hope’ at the Club Integral at the Grosvenor pub in Stockwell, South London.

BTTTE sang in Magyar Hidegen Fujnak a Szelek (Cold Winds are Blowing), a Hungarian folk song, the music collected by Zoltan Kallos in 1969 in Ördöngösfüzes in Mezoseg, today in Romania. The folk song is a prisoners’ song, a yearning to be free, to break the chains of oppression, reminding us of the Magyar working class attempts at controlling their own lives in the 1919 Hungarian Soviet Republic or the 1956 Hungarian revolution which was crushed by the Russian Army.

The Song of Investment Capital Overseas written by Chris Cutler and Fred Frith of Avant-rock group Art Bears in 1980 is a satire on capitalist globalisation: ‘I empty villages, I burn their houses down, I set up factories, Lay out plantations, And bring prosperity to the poorer nations.’

BTTTE sang in German Epitaph 1919: Die rote Rosa written by Bertolt Brecht and set to music in 1928 by Kurt Weill as The Berlin Requiem: ‘Red Rosa now has vanished too. Where she lies is hid from view. She told the poor what life is about, And so the rich have rubbed her out.’ Marxist revolutionary Rosa Luxemburg was murdered by Freikorps troops during the Spartacist working class uprising in Berlin in January 1919.

The Spanish El derecho de vivir en paz (The Right to Live in Peace) was written by Chilean folk singer Victor Jara who was murdered in the coup which overthrew the Allende government in 1973.

They finished with The Internationale written by Eugène Pottier: ‘if these vultures disappeared one of these days, the sun will shine forever, this is the final struggle, let us group together and tomorrow the Internationale will be the human race.’ It was written during the 1871 Paris Commune, of which Edouard Vaillant wrote: ‘If socialism wasn’t born of the Commune, it is from the Commune that dates that portion of international revolution that no longer wants to give battle in a city in order to be surrounded and crushed, but which instead wants, at the head of the proletarians of each and every country, to attack national and international reaction and put an end to the capitalist regime.’
Steve Clayton



Film Review: ‘Utopia’ by John Pilger (2014)

Film Review from the March 2014 issue of the Socialist Standard

Utopia by John Pilger

John Pilger’s recent film Utopia about the Aboriginal ‘Nation’ (the ‘First Australians’) is an emotional and unrelenting look at ‘apartheid’ in Australia today with graphic footage of police tasering and brutalising young black Australian men in custody. The shocking racism in modern Australia is in stark contrast to the sympathetic and positive portrayal of the Aborigines in such films as Nicolas Roeg’s Walkabout and Wim Wenders Until the End of the World.

Pilger identifies the huge inequality between the rich whites and poor Aborigines by contrasting the affluent suburb of Barton in Canberra with the township of Utopia 200 km from Alice Springs in the Northern Territory which is home to the ‘First Australians’ . Barton was named after Australia’s first Prime Minister Edmund Barton who declared in 1901 ‘The doctrine of the equality of man was never intended to [apply to] those not British and white-skinned.’ The Aboriginal peoples live with sub-standard sanitation, shelter, public transport, water, light, and serious eye disease in children, and one third of Aboriginal people die before the age of 45. Pilger states that ‘Black Australians are the most imprisoned people on earth’. He recounts how in Western Australia in 2008 an Aborigine man ‘cooked to death’ in a police van, how a new all-Aboriginal prison is being built and how the treatment of the Aborigines is a ‘punishing of the poor, a punishing of indigenous difference.’

Pilger identifies capitalism as the major factor in the racist brutalisation of the First Australians. The Aboriginal Land Rights movement was subjected to a vicious TV campaign funded by the Mining companies and would lead eventually to Prime Minister Bob Hawke dropping Land Rights legislation. Mining capitalist Lang Hancock stated ‘Nothing should be sacred from mining whether it’s your ground, my ground, the black fellow’s ground or anybody else’s. So the question of Aboriginal Land Rights and things of this nature shouldn’t exist’. Pilger shows a 1984 television interview where Hancock advocates the sterilisation of Aborigine people.

Pilger discusses the 2007 Northern Territory National Emergency Response known as ‘The Intervention’ where on the pretext that there were widespread paedophile gangs operating in Aboriginal communities, the Australian Federal Government sent troops in, suspended the 1975 Racial Discrimination Act and introduced ‘special measures’, and there was ‘compulsory acquisition of townships currently held under the title provisions of the Native Title Act.’ The ‘Intervention’ was a Trojan Horse in order that the Federal Government could regain control over disputed land and then grant mining concessions to the capitalist class. In the same period the mining capitalists ensured the Federal Government’s Mineral Resource Rent Tax would not take too much of their profits, in fact the Mining companies saved 60 billion Australian dollars. The United Nations said that ‘the Intervention’ was racially discriminating and infringed the human rights of aboriginal peoples.

Pilger believes there is a beacon of hope by concluding with the ‘hidden history of aboriginal resistance’ with accounts of the 1966 Gurindji strike at Wave Hill and the 1973 cotton chippers strike at Wee Waa. Utopia is a grim catalogue of crimes against a people but when it comes to the insatiable lust for profit in the mining of bauxite, iron ore, and uranium nothing can stand in the way of capitalism.

The Aboriginal people believe the earth and people are one but capitalism cannot understand such a concept. Only socialism can realise the Aboriginal ‘Dreamtime’ when ‘the earth is made a common treasury’ for all peoples.
Steve Clayton

The Top of the One Percent (2014)

Book Review from the March 2014 issue of the Socialist Standard

Plutocrats: the Rise of the New Global Super-Rich by Chrystia Freeland  (Penguin £9.99.)

Chrystia Freeland has no objection to the current social system and those who benefit from it: ‘we need capitalists, because we need capitalism’, she writes. And she is now a Liberal MP in Canada. But her book does have some interesting things to say about the very wealthiest people in society and the increase in inequality. 

It is quite common nowadays to refer to the 1 percent who form the top of the class pyramid. But even within this 1 percent there is a distinction between a plutocratic super-elite (which is overwhelmingly male) and those who are ‘merely wealthy’. In 2005, for instance, Bill Gates and Warren Buffett had a combined wealth of $90bn, not far short of that of the 120 million people who formed the bottom 40 percent of the US population. In 2008, the top 2 percent of the 1 percent in Britain, which must be only about ten thousand people, received almost one-seventh of the income of the 1 percent. The super-elite set up ‘philanthropic’ foundations, such as the Gates Foundation, as status symbols.

Also, the higher echelons of the elite mostly operate at a truly global level, with English as their lingua franca. Its members may have been born in one country and educated in another (quite likely at a university such as Harvard or Oxford). They may own a multi-national company with its headquarters in a third country and have homes on two or three continents. So possibly the biggest capitalists are becoming less tied to particular countries and identify less with a national capitalist class. But many of them make sure to attend top British social events, such as Ascot and Wimbledon.

More controversially, Freeland claims that many plutocrats are the ‘working rich’. They are chief executive officers or top bankers or lawyers, rather than just people who own masses of shares. Though few come from truly impoverished backgrounds, their enormous wealth is not inherited, so they are supposedly ‘self-made men’. They mostly work in newish industries such as computing or other kinds of technology, or else in finance. Perhaps it is more accurate to say that these ‘alpha geeks’ often had some idea for a website or a piece of software, but they were just lucky in getting into a position where they could exploit others, and that is what really made them so fantastically wealthy.

So Freeland’s book does have some interesting things to say on ways in which capitalism is changing, and on how it is not.
Paul Bennett

Mixed Media: Children of the Sun (2014)

The Mixed Media Column from the March 2014 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Maxim Gorky play Children of the Sun directed by Howard Davies was performed last year at the National Theatre in London.

The play captures the unease and violence of what the historian Lionel Kochan called the ‘dress rehearsal for revolution’ in Russia in 1905. Gorky wrote the play while imprisoned for accusing the Tsar of the massacre of 1,000 workers on ‘Bloody Sunday’ in January 1905 outside the Winter Palace in St Petersburg. For Kochan ‘this was the spark that set alight the flames of revolution. In all social groups revolt flared up. By the end of January nearly half a million workmen were on strike. The professional intelligentsia joined in.’ A ‘soviet’ in St Petersburg ‘formed of some 500 delegates elected by about 200,000 workers, represented the peak of working-class achievement. It was a spontaneous creation. But it was a lesson in revolution, not the revolution itself’.

The Children of the Sun are a group of privileged, self-absorbed, middle class intelligentsia who are floundering and philosophising about the world, who sense revolution is in the air but lack vision, energy and dynamism. Geoffrey Streatfield is amiable as Protassov, the ‘student of natural science’ who is prescient about the role of science in the future but blind to romantic advances, and the philandering around him. Protassov’s sister Lisa played by Emma Lotfield is anguished by the harsh reality of the suffering peasantry while his wife Elyena played by Justine Mitchell knows something is wrong, of the need for action, and embodies the revolutionary spirit.

When the play had its premiere at the Moscow Art Theatre in October 1905, the atmosphere was tense, and ‘the audience panicked when they mistook the arrival of the protesting workers at the end of the play, for a real demonstration entering the theatre from the streets’ (Cynthia Marsh). Stanislavsky wrote that the role of the Moscow Art Theatre was ‘not a simple private affair but a social task. Never forget that we are striving to brighten the dark existence of the poor classes.’

Gorky’s father was a joiner, and Tolstoy called Gorky ‘a real man of the people.’ Gorky had worked as a skivvy in a shoe shop, in a bakery, as an errand boy, a stevedore, a dishwasher on a River Volga steamer, and a railway night-watchman before educating himself and becoming a jobbing journalist and a Marxist.

The 1905 Revolution was suppressed with 14,000 people executed and 75,000 imprisoned. Gorky wrote ‘our sick society will not become healthy until the sources of light, beauty and wisdom have become accessible to everyone.’
Steve Clayton


Channel Hopping The Shopping Channels (2014)

The Proper Gander Column from the March 2014 issue of the Socialist Standard

If you find an advert particularly irksome, at least it’s over in a few seconds before you can return to your cosy ITV drama. There’s no such relief if you venture on to one of the many shopping channels cluttering up your digibox, where life is one long advert after another. Here, each stretched-out infomercial is presented by a chirpy wannabe Channel 5 continuity announcer. The presenters will babble on for half an hour about the virtues of a mystic peacock quartz sterling silver ring with 3D conical facets, or how a baked brow tones set with a double-ended brow brush will transform your eyebrows.

They will go into more detail than you ever wanted about the cleverly-designed drainage holes at the bottom of a plastic plant pot, or how 82c is the optimum temperature for cleaning a carpet. It takes either some skill  or some medication to keep up the bland bonhomie, even if the enthusiastic descriptions end up  meaningless. Most of the products are ‘amazing’; others are ‘collectors’ quality’ or ‘professional grade’,  apparently.

On Bid TV, every sentence the presenters say ends with an exclamation mark, while over on QVC they talk in block capitals. Weirdly, the infomercials are broken up with ‘commercial breaks’ which only have adverts for the channel itself.

At least the shopping channels are upfront about being nothing more than intermediaries between your bank account and another dose of retail therapy. Within a few minutes of tuning in you’ll be wondering how you  ever coped without a faux fur colour changing cushion with a seven LED colour cycle. Channels like Gems  TV and Rocks & Co try to muster up the ‘ooh, I’ve got a bargain’ feeling by starting out with an over-inflated price for their latest bit of bling.

Then, helped with a countdown and heartbeat sound effect, the price drops – often by thousands of pounds – to whatever they were going to charge everyone anyway. Plus P&P. Plus the cost of the phone call to order it. What you can get from the shopping channels, without spending anything, is an example of how vacuous the market system can be. Hurry while stocks last!
Mike Foster

The Maoist Insurgency in India (2014)

From the March 2014 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Adivasis, the original people of India, are among the poorest people in the country. Infant mortality amongst Adivasis (from adi meaning from the earliest times or Scheduled Tribes – of which there are 635 distinct groups) is 57 percent, and child malnutrition 73 percent (the national average is the highest in the world at 48 percent), and 42 percent of under fives are undernourished.

The objective of the ‘Communist Party of India (Maoist)’, also called the ‘Naxalites’, is the armed overthrow of the Indian state and the creation of a ‘socialist-communist’ government. The Maoists insurgents do not consider the Indian electoral system to be democratic, but rather a tool that benefits the landlord and capitalist classes. The Naxalite insurgency (numbering around 20,000 armed fighters with 50,000 supporters) has spread over 40 percent of India’s land area, encompassing 20 of the country’s 28 states. The seven most affected Indian states in terms of fatalities are Chattisgarh, Jharkhand, West Bengal, Maharashtra, Orissa, Bihar, and Andhra Pradesh, in that order. The Indian state’s response to the Maoist challenge has been to send 81,000 paramilitary troops. In addition to paramilitary troops, the state has also used death squads known as Salwa Judum (SJ), meaning Purification Hunt. (The Indian Supreme Court declared the SJ illegal in 2011 and ordered the Chattisgarh government to disband it).

The state of Jharkhand in eastern India is a main focus of the insurgency. Deep within the Saranda forest in the state (where Adivasis make up 26 percent of the population) lies the world’s largest deposit of iron-ore. The Jharkhand government has signed 42 Memorandums of Understanding with various large iron and steel companies. The mining giants are firmly in residence in the north eastern state, which is now a fully militarised zone, and there are over a hundred bases with a total of 50,000 official paramilitary troops involved in military action, plus the mining corporations’ security forces.

Says Indigenous activist Gladson Dungdung, convener of the Jharkhand Indigenous Peoples’ Forum:
  The government has been helping in securing land, water, and minerals for the corporate giants through military operations. In Saranda in June, July, and August 2011, there were three massive operations: Operation Monsoon, Operation Bravo Boy, and Operation Anaconda. The security forces killed two Adivasis, raped several women, and tortured more than 500 Adivasis. They also disrupted the Adivasis food grain supply, destroyed the harvest, ate livestock, and destroyed all official identification papers of the Adivasis (ration cards, voter ID, land titles). The Adivasis were forced to leave their villages and they only returned after our intervention. The end result is that the government gave mining leases to 19 mining companies in the region including Tata, Mittal and others.’ Dungdung goes on, ‘Today, we live in the corporate Indian state, not in a welfare state. The government makes all the laws and policies in favour of the corporate houses… The state is simply not bothered about its people. See the example of the state of Chattisgarh, where 644 villages were forcibly vacated by Salwa Judum and handed over to corporations.
According to Xavier Dias, spokesperson for the Jharkhand Mines Area Coordination Committee, the insurgents also attack Adivasi villages, extort money from mining companies, and protect the ones that are grabbing land from Adivasis. He says:
  No corporate boss has so far been killed by the Maoists. When the Maoists call a general strike, those companies that pay levies to them are allowed to function and the rest are attacked. I do not believe that a mining company can function here without paying levies to the Maoists. Jharkhand is the place from where Maoists finance their operations in other states, too.
Xavier Dias, however, admits that ‘there are places where the Maoists are providing some good services to the Adivasis, such as Bastar [a town] in the state of Chattisgarh’. According to Al Jazeera in many of these places the insurgents have organised the Adivasis and taken up community projects to provide services the government doesn’t. One village leader told Al Jazeera that the Maoists frequently visited their villages, and ‘treated everyone equally.’ Dias does not think that the Maoists are corrupt, but considers them ‘misguided’ and disagrees that armed struggle is the way to solve India’s class and Adivasi problems.

Dungdung is also critical of the Maoists:
  As far my knowledge and experience is concerned, they are not fighting for the Adivasis. Instead, they have created more problems for the democratic people’s movement. It’s very easy for the government to call these democratic struggles Maoist and suppress them. I think the Maoists are part of the problem, not the solution.’ As Dungdung points out ‘The government claims that its troops are there to counter the Maoists, but in actuality it is the democratic movements such as people resisting land grabs or fighting police repression that are intimidated into silence. By creating this drastic panic among the people, the corporations are free to suck out the minerals and forest resources.
Some Adivasi groups have now formed their own resistance movements – in Orissa for example, several tribes came together to form the Chasi Mulia Sangh, a 5,000 strong tribal land movement unconnected to the Maoists (they assert). Armed with traditional weapons they are fighting for human rights and collective tribal ownership of their ancestral lands. They ‘claim they are caught between the two fires of an escalating Maoists/Naxalite insurgency and the government’s paramilitary backlash’.

Marx described ‘primitive accumulation’ as ‘The expropriation of the agricultural producer, of the peasant, from the soil, is the basis of the whole process.’ It is still going on. Capitalism is an insatiable monster as far as profits are concerned. Human misery is of no concern where the profit motive reigns supreme.

Sources: Maoist Insurgency Spreads by Asad Ismi; Land Conflict And Injustice: Development In ‘New India’ By Graham Peebles
ALJO

Flooding, Gay Marriage, St Medard and Mormons (2014)

The Halo Halo! Column from the March 2014 issue of the Socialist Standard

Help for people in various parts of the country who were flooded out during January and February may have been slow to arrive, if it came at all. But at least they do have ex-UKIP councillor David Silvester to thank for bringing the cause of it all to the nation’s attention. And, as it turns out, it was nothing to do with climate change or the lack of dredging. It was all the fault of the gays. Or, more specifically, according to Mr Silvester, because David Cameron acted ‘arrogantly against the gospel’ in bringing about the Equal Marriage (same sex) Act.

‘I don’t have a problem with gay people’ he explained. ‘My prayer for them is they will be healed’. ‘I am a man who prays every day for every member of the cabinet and for every member of the royal family and when, two years ago, I wrote to the Prime Minister to warn him there are repercussions for serious breaches of the coronation oath, such as this one has been, when I saw what followed I naturally assumed this was the result of them going against God’s laws’. ‘This is not new, this happened in the Old Testament – they were warned if they turned against God there would be pestilence, there would be war, there would be disasters’.

Well, you can’t argue with that can you? Bloody gays. Perhaps UKIP will send them all home before it gets any worse.

One Lincolnshire vicar, though, who obviously believes there is not enough scientific evidence to blame gays for the flooding, has a different solution. According to the Guardian (1 February), the vicar got her flock to pray to St Medard to sort the problem out. St Medard, apparently, was a French bishop who died in 545 AD, and who has some clout in controlling the weather because he was once sheltered from the rain by an eagle.

Obviously if you want your prayers to be heard at the very top you’ve got to go through the proper channels. It’s not what you know, it seems, it’s who you know.

Our reliance on God to help us out, though, may soon be in jeopardy. Or, at least, any help from the Mormon God. A summons has been issued for him to appear before Westminster Magistrates Court on14 March (or, rather for Mr Thomas Monson, the Mormon God’s prophet on earth, to make the trip over from Salt Lake City to attend the court).

The summons, described in the Telegraph as ‘one of the most unusual documents ever issued by a British court’ came about because a disgruntled ex-member of the flock now believes that some of the Mormon’s more bizarre teachings may amount to fraud.

The teachings in question include the ‘fact’ that Adam and Eve lived just six thousand years ago, that Native Americans are descended from a family of ancient Israelites and that the Book of Mormon was translated from ancient gold plates and revealed to their founder, Joseph Smith, by an angel.

The Church said that Mr Monson had no intention of attending the court hearing and dismissed the summons as containing ‘bizarre allegations’.

Well, the Mormons should recognise bizarre allegations when they see them shouldn’t they?
NW


Obituary: Florrie Barwick (2014)

Obituary from the March 2014 issue of the Socialist Standard

Florrie was a socialist who enjoyed being with other socialists at meetings and conferences and always brought cakes as a contribution to refreshments. During one Conference lunch break Florrie related how on return from evacuation at age 13 she had been given a copy of the Socialist Standard by her father, and became a lifelong supporter of the socialist aim. She was proud to have a letter published in the Standard (‘World Without Money’ June 2012) where she wrote of a better way to live ‘on this great planet of ours. A global moneyless society for the whole human race. Co-operation not competition.’

Over the years she took every opportunity to pass on copies of the Standard and various leaflets. Her neighbours as well as family were all aware of her views, with Florrie even speaking of socialism to the paramedic on the way to hospital after her accident sustained when at Head Office for a meeting in September. Florrie recovered well from the injury and subsequent operation, but sadly died from pneumonia on 10 January aged 85 years.  We extend condolences to her family and friends.
Pat Deutz

Municipal reformism (2014)

Book Review from the March 2014 issue of the Socialist Standard

Militant Liverpool: A City on the Edge by Diane Frost and Peter North, Liverpool University Press, 2013, 218 pages, £13.22

Frost and North look in detail at the Militant Labour Liverpool City Council of the 1980s but also set it in the context of the 1970-80s world capitalist crises. The authors rightly point out that Liverpool’s ‘urban problems derive from broader structural factors’ such as the shift in world trade, and were all part of the ‘long term decline of its industrial and commercial bases.’

For the Trotskyist Militant Tendency ‘capitalism had failed the population of Liverpool’ but what had failed was Keynesian capitalism in Britain which was unable to prevent mass unemployment and ‘stagflation’ (stagnation and inflation of over 25 percent). Labour Cabinet Minister Tony Crosland said in 1974 that ‘the party is over’ while Labour Prime Minister James Callaghan said in 1976: ‘we used to think that you could spend your way out of a recession and increase employment by cutting taxes and boosting government spending. I tell you in all candour that that option no longer exists.’

The stage was set for the return of economic liberalism and free market capitalism with the election of a Conservative government in 1979.

The authors see the 1983 Liverpool Labour/Militant council as a ‘socialist labour council with a radical socialist programme’ which is absurd as the Council were operating municipal capitalism. The Liverpool Trots believed large amounts of money would be needed from government to fix the city’s problems, they fixated on the Tories having ‘stolen Liverpool’s money’ and ‘the council resolved on confrontation to provide the resources it argued the city needed.’ A lot of the book deals with local government finance and there is even a need for a definition of ‘capitalisation’ as ‘moving spending from day to day spending – revenue – which needs to be raised from the rates to long term spending on infrastructure that did not count against day to day spending – capital.’ There is the grim irony of reading about the Trots in Liverpool securing £30 million from a consortium led by nationalised French bank Banc Paribas, negotiating a £30 million facility from London stockbrokers and getting a £60 million loan from Swiss banks described by the Guardian as ‘the gnomes of Zurich have rallied to the Trotskyists on Merseyside.’

The Militant Trots in Liverpool wanted to turn the Labour Party into an explicitly Leninist party. It used it as a recruitment vehicle, while their ‘democratic centralist tendencies left little room for dissent or reflection, even when mistakes were made’ and they described in exaggerated fashion how Liverpool 1984 was ‘Petrograd-on-Mersey’ or the Paris Commune. Eventually the trade unions realised they were being used by the Trots as a stage army, foot soldiers and cannon fodder, and were especially shocked by ‘the grotesque chaos of a Labour council hiring taxis to scuttle around the city handing out redundancy notices to its own workers’ (Kinnock).

Former Liverpool City Councillor Paul Lafferty’s inquest on Militant in Liverpool said ‘all the lighting on pavements point out onto the road and we thought why don’t we turn them around and point them on the people? And I think that says everything about us really.’ It does.
Steve Clayton

Letter: Benefits Street (2014)

Letter to the Editors from the March 2014 issue of the Socialist Standard

Dear Editors,

Well done for attacking awful programmes like ‘Benefits Street’ (Socialist Standard, February).

Apart from profit, the aim of such programmes is clear: it’s to turn working-class people against each other, and try to discredit the welfare state. If you can get ordinary people to resent other workers, then the propaganda has worked.

The system we live under gets let off the hook, thanks to sections of the media. And some tabloid newspapers are even worse in misrepresenting the working-class. Compare this to the totally uncritical coverage of the Royal Family in the media.

During the 1970s and 1980s Birmingham lost thousands of jobs. And like most working-class cities, people have been hit hard by the latest recession.

Blame the system not ordinary people!

Graeme Kemp, 
Wellington, Shropshire

Party News: Socialists to Stand in Euro-elections (2014)

Party News from the March 2014 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Socialist Party is planning to contest Wales and the South East Region of England in May’s elections to the European Parliament.

The South East Region is the biggest in the country. It covers the counties of Oxford, Buckinghamshire, Berkshire, Hampshire, the Isle of White, Surrey, Sussex and Kent and so big urban centres such as Southampton, Reading, Brighton and Oxford.  There are some 6 million electors (more than in many EU Member States) and 10 MEPs (among the current ones the notorious Nigel Farage).

If we contest Wales that will entitle us to a Party Election Broadcast in Wales, the first time in our history that we will have had one.

The election is by proportional representation of party lists. We will be presenting a full list of 10 in the South East and 4 in Wales.

Election day is Thursday 22 May, so most of the campaigning will be from the end of April on. Any offers of help to distribute leaflets, write to the press, phone in to radio stations and the like, please contact election committee, by email at spgb@worldsocialism.org or by post to: The Socialist Party, 52 Clapham High Street, London SW4 7UN

Action Replay: Power Play (2014)

The Action Replay Column from the March 2014 issue of the Socialist Standard

We’ve written before about the power struggles in rugby union, among clubs and national and international associations, especially over who gets the money from TV coverage (Action Replay, November last year). Now we turn our attention to cricket, where a comparable clash of interests is being played out.

The International Cricket Council (ICC) is the international governing body. It has 106 members, including countries such as Bulgaria, which has only eight clubs. So naturally it is dominated by the ten full members, those that play Tests, from Australia to Zimbabwe. But within these there is an inner elite, Australia, England and India. And now these three have proposed a new system that concentrates the money and power even more in their hands. South Africa is currently the top-ranked Test team, but the country is not such a big player financially.

Under the new system, which was agreed by the ICC on 8 February, there will be an executive committee to run the Council, and this will be dominated by the elite three. There will be two Test divisions, incorporating some of the current associate members such as Ireland, and the elite cannot be relegated from the first division, wherever they finish. The income from broadcasting rights is to be redistributed, with the top three becoming relatively wealthier than the other ICC members, and with India doing particularly well in financial terms.

In fact India has been generally seen as the villain of the piece. Cricket is the national sport there, with enormous crowds and TV audiences and the massively popular and lucrative Indian Premier League. The Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) have been described as acting like ‘lawless thugs’ (Scyld Berry, Telegraph online, 1 February). The whole idea may well be an attempt to stop the BCCI from picking up their bat, stumps and ball and walking away from world tournaments and tours to other countries.

Berry went on to say that, if the BCCI were to leave and refuse to defend their World Cup title, ‘India’s government and people will not allow them to get away with it’. Which is a rather optimistic approach to how the power-brokers and money-men operate.
Paul Bennett

50 Years Ago: Big Stamp Wrangle (2014)

The 50 Years Ago column from the March 2014 issue of the Socialist Standard

The biggest battle for a long time is now being fought in the retail trade in this country—and all, on the surface, over a little piece of green, or pink, or gold, sticky paper called a Trading Stamp. Yes, on the surface. The real cause of the battle is to be found much deeper than any newspaper cares to dig.

Trading Stamps have been going in this country for a long time with Green Shield, a British company, having the big hold. But the stamps were mainly confined to small shops; they had no really big retail organisation to issue them. What started the present fuss was the decision of millionaire Garfield Weston (ABC, Fine Fare Supermarkets) to issue the American Sperry and Hutchinson pink stamps in his supermarkets.

This started a flood of stamps, among them another American concern—King Korn—and another British—Super Yellow, owned by the same John Bloom who has made a lot of money out of direct selling washing machines. One gimmick followed another—Mr. Weston, for example, had glamorous pink-coated hostesses outside his supermarkets dishing out the S.H. gift catalogue. (…)

As long as the working class are deluded by the gimmicks of capitalism in all their many shapes and sorts—there will be no end to them. Perhaps some enterprising firm will try white balloons next. For saving so many white balloons you can get so many black stamps which you can exchange for so many pink discs which you can swap for … and so on, and so on, until they get wise to it, and it dawns on them that a better, saner way of making and distributing humanity’s wealth is so that it is strictly for use instead of for sale and letting all human beings have free access to it.

(Socialist Standard, March 1964)

Is capitalism collapsing? (2019)

Book Review from the April 2019 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Coming Revolution. Capitalism in the 21st Century by Ben Reynolds (Zero Books)

‘Capitalism is not destined to go on endlessly accumulating until the sun burns out. Capitalism will collapse of its own internal contradictions within the 21st century, within the lifetime of children born today,’ so claims Ben Reynolds, author of The Coming Revolution. Capitalism in the 21st Century published by Zero Books last year. The first sentence is true, but what about the second which Reynolds bases on something Marx wrote? Is there anything in it?

Falling prices
Under capitalism wealth takes the form of ‘value’, the economic value of a commodity (as an item of wealth produced to be sold) being determined by the time it takes to produce it from start to finish (i.e., including to extract and transport the materials, the wear and tear of the machines used to produce it, etc.). Spurred on by competition between capitalist firms in pursuit of more profits, the tendency under capitalism is for productivity in the sense of the amount of wealth produced per worker to increase, or, from another angle, for the amount of time it takes to produce items of wealth to decrease. If it wasn’t for currency inflation this would manifest itself as a fall in the prices of commodities; when inflation is discounted the real price of most items of wealth has in fact been falling.

In the Grundrisse, some notes Marx made for himself in 1857-8, there is a passage that has come to be called the ‘Fragment on Machines’ (LINK), where Marx speculated on what would happen if this process of increasing productivity and falling prices continued to its limit. His conclusion was that it would lead to prices becoming zero or as close to zero as to make no difference. It also implied an enormous development of technology and its application to production. But if prices fell to zero, this would undermine the whole basis of capitalism as a system of producing wealth as value measured by labour time. Capitalist development, Marx wrote, was contradictory in that ‘it presses to reduce labour time to a minimum, while it posits labour time, on the other side, as the sole measure and source of wealth.’ The enormous development of the forces of production to the point where little direct human input was required would bring this contradiction to a head:
  As soon as labour in the direct form has ceased to be the great well-spring of wealth, labour time ceases and must cease to be its measure, and hence exchange value [must cease to be the measure] of use value … With that, production based on exchange value breaks down …
In other words, commodities would be so cheap that they would have to be given away free, which would remove the incentive of capitalist firms to produce them as there would be no profit to be made by doing this. Production for sale with a view to profit would come to a stop.

This, in fact, is the only place in the whole of Marx’s published and unpublished writings where he used the words ‘break down’ (zusammenbrechen) in connection with capitalism as an economic system. Not that this is how he expected capitalism to come to an end. This passage was a thought experiment about what would happen if capitalism were to continue indefinitely and which showed that in fact it couldn’t. Marx’s view about how he expected capitalism to end is set out at the end of the last-but-one chapter of Capital on the ‘Historical Tendency of Capitalist Accumulation’ where he wrote that the working class would end capitalism by ‘expropriating the expropriators’, i.e. by human action not mechanical breakdown.

On the basis of this fragment, a whole school of critics of capitalism has grown up. Reynolds is one of them and argues that capitalism has nearly reached the end point in Marx’s thought experiment. Hence his prediction that it will collapse before the end of the century, paving the way for
  A state of society in which wage labor and the production of value have been abolished. Each person contributes what they can according to their abilities and each person receives according to their needs.
What we call ‘socialism’ but which he calls ‘communism’, not that we have any objection to that as for us the two terms mean the same and are interchangeable; though not for him as we shall see.

Technological developments
Reynolds bases this prognosis on two ongoing technological developments: 3D printing via the internet, and robotics and artificial intelligence. He points out that already the written and spoken word, moving images and music are, in principle, free for anyone with a computer linked to the internet (‘in principle’ because in practice states try to prevent this through artificial ‘intellectual property rights’). What permits access to these is access to a computer code which, once drawn up, costs nothing to reproduce. The same applies, he emphasises, to 3D printing, to produce physical things; this too depends on a computer code that costs nothing to reproduce. Still in its infancy, this will allow anyone with a computer linked to the internet, and plastic material to work on, to make things of everyday use. He expects this to catch on and then, when it does as he expects it will in the course of this century, a whole range of products will be taken out of commodity production as people will be able to produce them directly and more cheaply for themselves.

The other technological development he sees as undermining capitalist production is robotics and artificial intelligence. He mentions a factory in Japan which operates 24/7 without human presence, known as a ‘lights out’ factory since, because no humans are there, the lights don’t have to be switched on. These, too, he says are going to spread and affect not just the physical production of goods but office work, teaching and health care as well. Mechanisation has gone on since the beginning of capitalism but, because capitalism continued to expand, the displaced workers were able to find jobs in other or new sectors of the economy. Reynolds says that this won’t happen this time due to this ‘radical automation’ which he defines as ‘a long-term decline in the demand for inputs of labor caused by automation’, a decline in total hours of labour across the whole economy, that is, not just to produce particular commodities. In other words, the demand for labour-time won’t increase through the continued expansion of capitalist production as before; capitalism has reached an impasse, which is manifesting itself in rising unemployment, even if partly hidden by David Graeber’s ‘bull-shit jobs,’ and in a lack of profitable outlets which means that capitalism is in a state of permanent ‘overaccumulation’ (‘when so much capital accumulates in a capitalist economy that there are few possible outlets for profitable investment’).

Are we really there?
Is this correct? Is capitalism approaching the end-point in Marx’s thought experiment? No, as productivity is nowhere near as high as Marx posited. An appreciable amount of labour-time still has to be spent to produce most goods. Reynolds does not seem to believe it either as he doesn’t see capitalism being immediately replaced by communism but by something he calls ‘socialism’ (defined as ‘a socioeconomic system where the means of production are owned by, controlled by and operated for the benefit of the working class’). Under this, commodity production (production for sale) and value measured by labour-time will continue, but organised by workers’ cooperatives. As he admits:
  The form of socialism outlined previously is still built on labor, with the workers instead of capitalists reaping its fruits. It still requires forms of money, coercive taxation and meaningful scarcity to function (pp. 248-9).
The transition to Marx’s theoretical end-point of capitalism is to take place under this ‘socialism’:
  Ultimately, labor-time will be reduced to zero. The means of production will be commonly held, work will be purely voluntary, and goods and services will be provided free for all who need them (pp.251-2, emphasis added).
The trouble is he doesn’t say how long this is to take. It could in fact take longer than by the end of this century for productivity to rise so high that the labour-time cost of goods falls to zero, even sometime in the 22nd century. So, all he is saying will happen this century is that capitalism (as we know it) will collapse and be replaced by his ‘socialism’ which is in reality the sort of ‘market anarchism’ advocated by Marx’s contemporary and rival Proudhon, an unnecessary and ultimately futile attempt to create a commodity-producing economy without profits or capital accumulation.

Already developed enough
In any event, it is not necessary for production to be ‘fully automated’ for a communist (or socialist, in its proper sense) society to be feasible. For this, what is required is that the means of wealth production should be owned in common and production geared to meeting people’s needs directly instead of as now for sale on a market. True, it does require the forces of production to be able to turn out plenty to adequately feed, clothe and shelter every man, woman and child on Earth, a point reached years ago.

Despite not being ‘fully automated’, such a society would not produce wealth as value. As Marx put it:
  Within the co-operative society based on common ownership of the means of production, the producers do not exchange their products; just as little does the labour employed on the products appear here as the value of these products, as a material quality possessed by them… (Critique of the Gotha Programme, 1875, his emphasis).
Marx wrote this with reference to an early stage of communist society when the productive forces were not yet sufficient, as they wouldn’t have been in his day, to go over to full free access based on the principle of ‘from each according to their ability, to each according to their need’. In other words, he for one did not think that a communist society would not be possible until the end-point in his thought experiment had been reached. What disappears in a communist society is not work, but value-producing work, or ‘labour’ (Reynolds in fact brings out well this distinction between ‘work’ and ‘labour’). People will still need to work in a communist society, only this won’t produce ‘value’ as the products would not be being produced for sale and so would not have an exchange-value. Such work will simply be producing use values as useful things and services.

What is encouraging about books such as Reynolds’ is that they represent a return to discussing a society without production for sale, measurement by labour time, and value, as a practical possibility opened up by the continuing development and application of science and technology to production.
Adam Buick

Thinking of Becoming a Trotskyist? (2019)

Image from Trotsky For Beginners.
From the April 2019 issue of the Socialist Standard

Becoming a Trotskyist is an option often considered by those young people wishing to develop an interest in becoming ‘political’. Other options do however exist. For those who have a loathing of their fellow human and a deep uninterest in anything other than their own personal advancement, the Young Conservatives may be the appropriate choice. However, if your interests lie more towards activities such as table tennis and playing Dungeons and Dragons the Young Liberal Democrats may be the outfit for you.

One of the advantages of choosing the Trotskyist option is that you can have all the joy of being a member of a major political party by joining a Trotskyist organisation which is in the Labour Party, or you can enjoy the kudos of being in a different, minor party, but supporting the Labour Party anyway. It’s a bit like trying to be cool and saying you support Luton Town, but then cheering and whooping every time Chelsea win the league.

A word of warning for you. Although it may seem that becoming a Trotskyist is the ideal way for a socially incompetent individual to suddenly develop a windswept and interesting persona, generally speaking most people will still think you’re a bit of a twat.

So many choices
So then which Trotskyist group to join? Well there is no doubt that this is an area where Trotskyism really excels. Trotskyism certainly has the Adam Smith Institute Award when it comes to the issue of choice. You may want to join one of the bigger Trotskyist groupings, for instance the old perennial the SWP, or if you don’t have enough UCAS points to join what’s left of the SWP you could go slightly down market and join one half of what used to be the Militant Tendency, the Socialist Party of England and Wales (commonly known, quite appropriately as SPEW). For those with more outlandish tastes there are groups such as the Workers International to Rebuild the Fourth International (which has very few builders in its ranks) or perhaps the Socialist Appeal group (which doesn’t seem to appeal to many people). Sadly the option of joining the Socialist Solidarity Group is no longer available, as it appears there was a lack of solidarity.

One thing to make note of is that in every Trotskyist group there is one bloke who is wearing John Lennon glasses, has swept-back hair and a goatee. But please remember the unwritten rule that there can only be one Trotsky lookalike in each Trotskyist group. Also note that if you say to the Trotsky lookalike ‘you look just like Trotsky’, in an act of faux modesty the lookalike will of course say ‘who, me? I never realised’ and then walk away as happy as a dog with a tin dick.

Another option is to ‘grow your own’. This may appeal to those with a more environmentally friendly disposition as it allows you to recycle the names of previous Trotskyist sects (and there are loads to choose from) and recycle old ideas from those sects. This option also has the additional bonus of allowing you to be the leader, which means you can claim to be the leading edge of the vanguard of the working class, and you can begin collecting your own small group of devotees who will admire you and if you’re lucky elevate you to guru-like status.

This brings us neatly to the idea of internal party democracy within Trotskyist groups. The short answer is that there isn’t any. A phrase you will hear very early on in your quest to become a Trotskyist is ‘Democratic Centralism’, but don’t be fooled by the title, it is democratic in the same way that the Isle of Dogs is an island, i.e. it isn’t.

The late, great Brian Clough once said that if he had a disagreement with a player, they would sit down, talk it through thoroughly, look at both sides of the argument and then agree that Clough was right all along. Democratic Centralism works exactly the same way, with the membership taking the role of the player and the Central Committee taking the role of Brian Clough (minus the charisma).

Be an activist
As a young recruit to the ranks of Trotskyism don’t think that your life will now all be beer and skittles. One thing that Trotskyists admire above all other things is activism, to be part of the struggle one has to be active. It doesn’t really matter what the activity is, it doesn’t matter whether it is useful or not, it shows that you are part of the class struggle (as if you had any choice!). One of the activities that must be undertaken is ‘selling the paper’. All Trotskyist groups have a paper, usually with a very striking title and a big red banner top. The paper will have lots of angry headlines stating things like ‘we demand’, ‘we show solidarity with’ or ‘stand up against’ and of course the inevitable appeal for donations to the fighting fund. However quite what is done with the fund or who it is actually fighting is never explained.

Alongside ‘the paper’ Trotskyist organisations usually have a ‘theoretical journal’. As a callow recruit to this new world you will probably get the latest copy of the theoretical journal and try and plough your way through it. This may lead you to worry that you cannot read an article all of the way to the end and that the sheer repetitive tedium causes your whole being to begin to fracture, your mind to want to strangle you for putting you through this torment in the first place and that your bowels start to loosen at the thought of reading any more. Don’t worry that you cannot finish reading one of these articles; the truth is no one ever has. The theoretical journal is not there to examine intricacies of economic or political theory; no, these journals exist to boost the fragile egos of the authors, who are usually described as ‘leading comrades’. These articles will also act as the basis of lecture notes when these ‘leading comrades’ take up their future careers as part-time lecturers in sociology at the University of Mid-Wankthwaiteshire (formerly Wankthwaite Polytechnic), where, ironically no one will ever read them either.

Activities are collected by Trotskyist groups in much the way that boy scouts collect badges. It is a kind of bizarre left-wing virtue signalling. Activity that you may well take part in usually involves ‘supporting workers in struggle’. What this means in practice is that your group of Trotskyists turns up uninvited at some local strike or protest group, to be greeted by the sounds of workers welcoming you with words like ‘oh fuck, here they come again’ or ‘shite, pretend you haven’t seen them’. You can then spend the next hour or two patronising your hosts by explaining your ‘superior knowledge’ of their struggle, attempt to extract as much money from them as possible for your fighting fund, and generally get on everyone’s tits before fucking off to the pub half-way through the protest.

Another type of activity you will probably be involved in is the rally. This is a chance for you to vent your anger and vitriol at all things and everyone, with chants and heckles galore. Although you may be protesting or angry at the symptoms of capitalism, it is important you don’t lose sight of the main focus of your overwhelming hatred and anger, other Trotskyist groups. Because of the schisms and splits that are a regular occurrence in Trotskyist groups most of the Trotskyists at any rally will have at some time or another been in the same party as each other. The rally therefore becomes a bit like a family funeral, in that there are lots of people who used to be in relationships but who now deeply despise each other. For the new recruit to Trotskyism this can be a bit of a social minefield. End up talking to the wrong person and you can be ostracised by your own group for evermore.

Another interesting point about rallies is that this is the only time when the unwritten rule of Trotskyism can be broken. At rallies it is possible for two or more Trotsky lookalikes to be in the same place at the same time. However be warned it is not a good idea to gather all of the Trotsky lookalikes together and take a selfie with them. It might seem funny, but Trotskyism is no laughing matter.

World domination
Let us now turn to the international dimension. In 1938 it was decided by Trotsky and his followers that the way forward was to bring together Trotskyists of all nations to form an international organisation uniting all Trotskyists in a spirit of harmony, cooperation and fraternity, recognising the need to move away from the localised splits and schisms of Trotskyism that had occurred at national level. As a result of that great step forward in harmony, cooperation and fraternity, the last 80 years have offered Trotskyists the opportunity to fall out with each other on an international scale, giving you the same degree of choice at an international level that you have experienced at the national level. As this is a guide, it might be useful to outline some of these ‘internationals’.  At the last check the list of ‘Fourth Internationals’ is as follows:
  • Committee for a Workers’ International (CWI)
  • Coordinating Committee for the Refoundation of the Fourth International (CRFI)
  • United Secretariat of the Fourth International (USFI)
  • Fourth International (ICR), also called FI (La Verité) or FI (International Secretariat)
  • International Bolshevik Tendency
  • International Committee of the Fourth International (ICFI)
  • International Communist League (Fourth Internationalist) (ICL-FI), previously the International Spartacist Tendency
  • International Marxist Tendency (IMT), previously the Committee for a Marxist International
  • International Socialist Tendency (IST)
  • Internationalist Communist Union (ICU)
  • International Workers League – Fourth International (IWL-FI)
  • International Workers’ Unity – Fourth International (IWU-FI)
  • League for the Fourth International (LFI) [split from (ICL-FI)]
  • Revolutionary Communist International Tendency
  • Trotskyist Fraction – Fourth International (TF-FI)
  • Workers International to Rebuild the Fourth International (WIRFI)

And if you fancy being a little bit avant-garde there is also

  • The League for the Fifth International (L5I)

Do bear in mind however that by the time you have finished reading this there will probably be a few more. Therefore when you join a Trotskyist movement, it is important to check regularly which international they are part of this week, as it can cause embarrassment if you think you’re in the wrong international and end up talking to the wrong people.

Having a bit of a swagger when talking about the Trotskyist grouping you belong to is also vital to your image as a Trotskyist. Back in the day members of Trotskyist groupings often claimed to be affiliated to a party in some far-flung corner of the globe which was a ‘mass party’. This ‘party’ was usually in places such as Bolivia or Tanzania, etc. Nowadays, with the advent of the internet, bullshit such as this is easier to sniff out. Therefore being a little circumspect with your claims of mass influence for your grouping is the strategy to adopt. A popular approach to this problem amongst Trotskyists is to make the claim about being part of a mass party, but then state that it is not possible to divulge any further information, so as not to endanger comrades in your affiliate party. This not only adds kudos to your one-man-and-a-dog party, but also adds to the sense of paranoia so vital to the Trotskyist experience.

By this point in the guide you may be thinking to yourself, ‘what is the bloody point of all of this Trotskyist nonsense?’ This doesn’t mean that the issues that made you interested in politics have gone away. You probably still realise that there are huge contradictions between how the world is and how it could be. You’re probably genuinely concerned that war and destruction continues despite all of the peace initiatives put forward by organisations such as the UN. You may still find it unbelievable that many people in the world are starving when food is being destroyed and ploughed into the ground and that it is beyond belief that in Britain in the twenty-first century millions of people are relying on food banks. You might start thinking wouldn’t it be better to have an open and genuinely democratic approach to politics, one without leaders or led, without posers and factions and schisms? You might then start to look at the socialist case, put forward by the Socialist Party, the case for a world without guns, borders, leaders, money and markets, the case for a system of common ownership and genuine democratic control. If that is the case, why not join with us and join in the real political struggle, the struggle to win the working class of the world to the ideas of socialism and overthrow this hateful system of capitalism.
T. K.

Heartland of a heartless world (2019)

Halford Mackinder
The Pathfinders Column from the April 2018 issue of the Socialist Standard

What connects next-generation 5G technology with a geographer’s theory of world conquest from 1904?

If you enjoy intellectual breakfast snacks delivered in 5-10 minute videos from the BBC, and you can stomach the usual assumptions of the institutional elite, you could do worse than munch through bbc.com/ideas/playlists, which offers everything from a history of the nipple to an A-Z of -isms (there’s a flash-doc on Is capitalism here to stay? though at just 3 mins 23 seconds don’t expect it to blow your mind).

In the section Ideas that shaped the world you can find a two-part mini-doc called The blueprint for world domination that spooked America. This is an exposition of the Heartland theory, first put forward by geographer Halford Mackinder in 1904, which argued that since land transport had been revolutionised through railway networks, classical sea power (in particular British sea power) was no longer the key to world domination. Instead, access to land-based resources and minerals located in Eastern Europe and Russia – the Heartland – would in future dictate politics across the Eurasian continent or ‘world-island’, and ultimately across the entire world. As Mackinder memorably put it, ‘Who rules Eastern Europe commands the Heartland. Who rules the Heartland commands the World Island. Who rules the World Island commands the World.’

Mackinder is credited as one of the founders of the ‘science’ of geopolitics, and although he wasn’t really saying anything that would have been a revelation to the likes of Caesar or Genghis Khan, his cold-blooded big-picture approach allegedly had a profound effect on those convening at the 1919 Versailles peace treaty, who were otherwise being bombarded with idealistic, one-new-world rhetoric from the likes of the US president Woodrow Wilson. At all events, the conference attempted to drive a wedge between Germany and Russia by creating intervening buffer states in order to divide power in Eastern Europe along the lines of the Heartland theory. Of course it didn’t work, and besides, Mackinder’s theory was arguably soon rendered obsolete by its own reasoning – if sea power was superseded by land-based transport, this itself was also superseded by air power and then by nuclear ballistic missile power. Though America became paranoid about all things Soviet, control of Ukrainian grain and Siberian forestry supplies no longer had much to do with it.

Now, however, the Heartland hypothesis has been revived in a new form.

Huawei kidding?
There’s been a lot of hype lately about 5G or fifth-generation internet technology, and bold claims have ranged from it being ‘orders of magnitude faster than 4G’ to being the next industrial revolution. Donald Trump, pretending far-sightedness beyond the capability of mere mortals, has even been talking about 6G, which has left industry insiders scratching their heads in bafflement as there is no such thing as 6G and probably never will be (this was Trump’s fatuous equivalent of the Buzz Lightyear catch-phrase ‘To infinity and beyond!’).

There are good reasons to think that much of the hype around 5G is complete nonsense, and that in many cases its massive increase in bandwidth won’t deliver any significant speed improvements. But it’s not really about speed, it’s about capacity, and the coming ‘internet of things’ is going to need a lot of that.

That means every house, domestic appliance, autonomous vehicle, traffic light, industrial component, digital watch, phone, banking system and national power grid, all combined in an interactive network communicating at near light-speed, in the background, for our human convenience, but also fostering our total human dependence.

It’s not hard to reapply the Heartland theory to the new territory of 5G cyberspace. Who controls the internet of things controls the world.

Imagine if any or all of this is hacked. It’s not just a matter of turning the lights and data off. A hostile hack could theoretically weaponise your house against you, cause traffic pile-ups, drive planes into stadiums, melt down nuclear power stations, you name it.

It’s also not hard to see, from this, why the US is so paranoid about the shadowy Chinese telecom giant Huawei (pron. Who are we), which is building 5G core tech for much of the world’s emerging 5G networks, and which for all anyone knows is building ‘backdoors’ into its software for future exploitation by the Chinese military. Huawei is keenly playing the innocent and blaming the West for its ‘pride and prejudice’ (ie racism), while protesting that they would never give such access to the Chinese government. Founder (and Communist Party member) Ren Zhengfei insists that any such skulduggery would be bad for the firm’s overseas business.  But who is he kidding? Chinese companies are legally obliged to cooperate with state security services, and Huawei like all Chinese companies has a Communist Party committee, whose leader is a senior member of the Huawei board.

There is probably a hint of venerable ‘Yellow Peril’ racism here, in truth. All capitalist states connive in mutual surveillance and dirty tricks to give themselves a military and market edge. If the US bought all its 5G tech from Japan, Sweden or Britain, there is no reason to suppose firms in those countries couldn’t be induced to do the same thing Huawei is being accused of. Indeed, something like this may well have happened back in 2016. When the FBI asked Apple to create an iPhone backdoor so they could hack the phones of terrorists, Apple refused to create the software, and the federal government issued a writ. Apple was lauded for defending customer confidentiality, but was probably bricking it behind the scenes, being caught between a rock and a hard place. Very conveniently however, just a day before the case went to court, the FBI announced that it had found a mysterious third party which could hack the phone, and promptly called off the lawsuit, thus saving Apple’s bacon. What seems more likely in reality is that a deal was struck privately whereby Apple gave the FBI what it asked for, on condition the FBI didn’t reveal the surrender in public, thereby leaving Apple’s reputation intact.

So is Huawei being scapegoated for what all capitalist companies would do anyway? Probably. But western-style countries have good reason to fear Chinese power, because it is not subject to periodic government change, does not tolerate effective unions or political dissent, and is thus able to pursue single-minded market policies more efficiently and over longer terms than any liberal democracy can match. And socialists ought to worry too. If Chinese totalitarianism can be shored up by hi-tech surveillance and control of 5G, other countries might get the idea that democracy is no longer necessary for running capitalism. If that happens, workers could face increasing attacks on basic democratic rights including perhaps even the right to vote. Just one more reason why we need to work for that revolution for common ownership now, before it slips too far out of reach.
Paddy Shannon