Sunday, March 26, 2006
Friday, March 24, 2006
Wednesday, March 22, 2006
That's my twopenneth, I consider the debt settled.
For World Socialism,
Tuesday, March 21, 2006
- 'Certainly,' said he; 'How else could we settle them? You see in matters which are merely personal which do not affect the welfare of the community how a man shall dress, what he shall eat and drink, what he shall write and read, and so forth there can be no difference of opinion, and everybody does as he pleases. But when the matter is of interest to the whole community, and the doing or not doing something affects everybody, the majority must have their way . . . in a society of men who are free and equal the apparent majority is the real majority, and the others, as I have hinted before, know too well to obstruct from mere pigheadedness; especially as they have had plenty of opportunity of putting forward their side of the question.'"
Whether or not the fears of residents in this instance were well founded, the near impossibility of finding legal stopping places means that Gypsies and Travellers have been forced into confrontational situations with local authorities and with members of the settled community in the areas where they are encamped.
It is estimated that in England there are between 4,000 and 5,000 vans and from 16,000 to 20,000 Travellers and Gypsies either in transit or without a legal place to stay (Environmental Health Journal, April 2005, online). The shortage of sites means that Travellers are forced to move on, to the detriment of their health and their children's education. It also means that many more than were intended are stopping on legal sites. This for example is the situation at Crays Hill in Basildon, also in Essex, where there are some 30 legal plots on a site but more than sixty are occupied illegally. Similar situations can be found in various parts of the country.
The plight of Gypsies and Travellers is not a popular cause. In 1973 Jeremy Sandford wrote in his book Gypsies of the situation for Gypsies who had always been vulnerable to attack from those who "perhaps from envy of their free and easy ways" want to drive them from "our hedgerows, commons and public places" but were now faced with legislation which effectively outlawed their way of life. He also stated in his conclusion that at the present rate of progress "it may well be into the 2000s' before there was a place on a site for every British gypsy". However far from there being progress the situation has become much worse.
The 1960 Caravan Sites and Control of Development Act had "forced families to move off agricultural land onto lay-bys and car parks." A government survey revealed the extent of traveller poverty: more than two thirds were living on sites without access to running water or rubbish disposal (Helen O'Nions, The Marginalisation of Gypsies, 1995). The 1968 Caravan Sites Act had the prime purpose of remedying this situation. Local Authorities were mandated to provide "adequate accommodation for Gypsies residing in or resorting to their area". However, the sites that were provided by councils were not necessarily to the liking of Gypsies in that they made insufficient allowance for their lifestyle. For example the collecting of scrap metal and keeping of animals could be forbidden, and there would not be room for the gathering together of extended family groups. Councils had additional powers to remove Gypsies not on designated sites. The Act did not work as intended, not least because councils found ways around the duty to provide sites. By the time the Conservative government removed the statutory obligations in 1994 one third of Travellers had no legal place to stay. During the Thatcher era thousands of traditional stopping places disappeared.
In what is seen as an attempt to make Gypsies abandon the nomadic way of life the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 ended the duty for local authorities to provide sites and removed government funding for them. It also became a criminal offence for caravans to stop on the highway, unoccupied land, common land or land without consent. Gypsies were encouraged to buy land and develop their own sites, but because of the restrictive criteria set by councils some 80 per cent of these applications are turned down. This is why some have resorted to buying and moving on to land before seeking planning permission. The position whereby green-belt land could be considered for Gypsy sites ("a recognition of the difficulty of finding suitable sites in suburbia") was ended on the grounds that "Gypsies enjoy a privileged position in the planning system". Ironically councils were given encouragement to allow building and development on green-belt sites.
The Labour government has resumed the funding of sites and has increased the amount it intends to spend on them. However it has not put the responsibilities of councils back to the pre-1994 position. The Housing Act 2004 placed a duty on local authorities to include Gypsies and Travellers in their local housing assessments and "demonstrate how these needs will be met", with the Secretary of State having powers to direct a local authority to produce a plan. Brentwood is the first council to be challenged in this way. If the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister is successful in getting Brentwood to comply it will encourage other councils "to get on with the job". Many councils do not need encouragement; the Environmental Health Journal cites the example of Norfolk, whose Traveller Liaison Group has already produced a Traveller protocol and has five authorised sites and is planning a transit site.
Basildon council has 106 authorised sites but still does not have enough places for all of the Travellers who wish to stop in the district. Wakefield claims to have one of the largest authorised Traveller sites in the country and is the first council to announce plans to apply Anti-Social Behaviour Orders to particular illegal encampments. These require a lower standard of proof than normal court proceedings but the Gypsy Council is advising Gypsies to challenge the orders through the courts.
In some instances local people protesting about illegal traveller sites are also sympathetic to the plight of Gypsies and Travellers; for example, the Cottenham Residents' Association and the Gypsy and Traveller Law Reform Coalition forwarded a joint statement to the Government pointing out that the provision of adequate sites by all local authorities would address the acute shortage of sites and also bring an end to illegal and unauthorised encampments.
Whilst emphasis is put on the problems caused by illegal sites and the excess numbers who are stopping on authorised sites, the widespread perception is of Gypsies and Travellers as people who live outside of the constraints which the settled community are bound by, who do not contribute in work or taxes but commit crime, spoil the environment with their rubbish and generally cause trouble by their very presence in an area.
Gypsies and Travellers are much like other people; most of them do work, though not necessarily in full-time wage labour, and they do pay taxes. A study for the Rowntree Foundation among New Age travellers found that nearly half of those surveyed were in work and many more had worked at some time during the year. Most of the accusations regarding criminal behaviour are unsubstantiated but as in the rest of society some commit crimes. Ironically many thousands of Gorjios (non-Gypsies) choose to take caravan and camping holidays, and cook meals in their gardens; some dump their old sofas and other rubbish in country lanes.
Gypsies have maintained their identity through many centuries of prejudice and discrimination. They may choose to call themselves Travellers but not all Travellers are Gypsies and not all Gypsies are of a single group. Changes in their lifestyle have inevitably been made. The most obvious being the disappearance of horse-drawn caravans which had earlier replaced bender tents. We have shown some of the things which have made the itinerant life more difficult over recent years including legal restrictions, the disappearance of traditional stopping sites (some after hundreds of years in use), constantly being moved on. Other factors are the reduction in casual farm work, and restrictions imposed on scrap metal dealing.
I live in that cul-de-sac in Billericay but as a Socialist did not take part in the anti-Traveller action of the others. That would be to target a group of fellow workers for problems caused by capitalism. Could the reasonable enough demands of the Travellers be met within capitalism? Possibly. It may be that local authorities will be persuaded to fulfil their obligations but, since they are faced with competing demands on their finances, probably at the expense of other local services. But what will never be able to be ended under capitalism is the competition between workers for jobs, housing and amenities arising out of the artificial scarcity that is built-in to it and which gives rise to and sustains divisive prejudices amongst those who are not socialists. It was precisely because there are so many problems which cannot be solved within the capitalist system that I became a Socialist.
The National Health Service is trumpeted as the finest achievement of the Labour Party throughout its entire history. For years Labour supporters when tackled on the non-socialist and pro-capitalist nature of the Labour Party would reply with the one riposte, 'Ah, but what about the NHS?' Regarded by many Labour supporters as a socialist measure and holding out a promise of solving one of the most distressing problems of being a worker, being looked after when you were ill, it is hardly surprising that it was seen as a huge step forward in working class emancipation. One reform out of the multitude of reforms put into practice by a reformist party has survived — has it worked?
What did the NHS claim to do at its inception? Its chief architect Aneurin Bevan was very sure of his aims: it was to be an institution which would take care of all the medical needs of the working class for evermore and, hold your breath, without charge. However expensive the treatment might be medical attention could be obtained for all. For free! But it left a question hanging in the air, why was it only the working class who needed this ambitious solution? There was no problem for the capitalist class, who didn't need a health service. They could obtain all that was available from existing medical services by paying for it.
Saturday, March 18, 2006
Today, 18th March, campaigners across the world will be demonstrating against the carnage that Bush and Blair have brought to Iraq since the invasion of that country, demanding that allied troops are brought home and that the current war drive against Iran is halted.
Many here today will be veterans of the mass protests in London and elsewhere on 15th February 2003 which attracted many millions— people fully aware at the time that the events of 9/11 had no link to Saddam Hussein and that he posed no military threat to the West. Likewise, the millions who marched that day were right in believing that Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction—a fact that has now been well established—and that any war in Iraq would fully destabilise the country. And you would have been in a minority had you not realised the blatant link between the intended war and the fact that beneath the sands of Iraq lay huge oil resources.
Three years of campaigning will have left you revolted at the incessant lies of the Bush and Blair governments as they have tried to justify the war on Iraq and the continued imperialist occupation of that country. Week in, week out, the British and American governments have distorted the truth and sunk to all manner of low tactics to justify the massacre of innocents.
Now, after all of your campaigning efforts, the meetings and demos you have attended, the petitions you have signed, the countless arguments you have had with friends and neighbours, you are back here again - your objections to the invasion of the Iraq war vindicated, yet still ignored - marching today, still demanding a withdrawal of US and British forces from Iraq and pleading for US bombers not to drop their payloads over Iran. In spite of all your hard campaigning, we now face a full blown Middle Eastern war.
But, whoa, hold on! Do you not think you might just be wasting your time here today? Granted, the Iraq War has resulted in the deaths of a hundred thousand and innocent Iraqis are still being killed every day. But do you not think you're asking the wrong questions, making the wrong demands? Repeating the mistakes of the past? We're not saying you are wrong for asking questions, only that you do not ask enough. Indeed, question everything! We're not suggesting you are demanding too much today—in truth, you are not demanding enough.
Whilst this protest demands the withdrawal of western forces from Iraq and pleads that Iran is not attacked, it supports the very system that creates war by not questioning the premise of war. War is a bedfellow of the system we know as capitalism, being waged over trade routes, areas of influence, foreign markets, natural resources and the profits that can be had via the same. By not taking issue with the nature of capitalism, and the root of war, this protest is making the mistake of every previous anti-war demo and paving the way for more in the future. Wars will continue as long as capitalism exists.
Now we're not being churlish here. It is heartening to see so many here today, united in common voice—it reveals the workers can be mobilised around issues they feel are important. But from our experience—and we've had 100 years' experience of observing campaigns and demonstrations and protests around every kind of reform and demand imaginable—we can confidently say that this demonstration, no matter how well meaning, no matter how sincere its supporters, is just one of hundreds over the years that address the symptoms, not the cause, of the problem and will make no significant difference to the established order, either here or in Iraq and Iran, or to the way politicians think.
Three years ago, many millions marched all over the world, united in their objection to more capitalist bloodshed; there were demos and vigils every night in opposition to the war. The issue was debated in parliaments and senates and to top it all the push for war received no UN sanction - but still the troops were sent. So much for one of the biggest protest movements in labour history.
Consider this. Across the globe there are literally hundreds of thousands of campaigns and protest groups and many more charities, some small, some enormous, all pursuing tens of thousands of issues, and their work involves many millions of sincere workers who care passionately about their individual causes and give their free time to support them unquestioningly. Many will have campaigned on some single issue for years on end with no visible result; others will have celebrated minor victories and then joined other campaign groups, spurred on by that initial success.
And, considering the above, two things stand out: firstly, that many of the problems around us are rooted in the way our society is organised for production, and are problems we have been capable of solving for quite some time, though never within the confines of a profit-driven market system. Secondly, that if all of these well meaning people had have directed all their energy—all those tens of billions of human labour hours expended on their myriad single issues—to the task of overthrowing the system that creates a great deal of the problems around us, then none of us would be here today. Instead we would have established a world without borders, without waste or want or war, in which we would all have free access to the benefits of civilisation with problem solving devoid of the artificial constraints of the profit system.
If you are now confused forgive us if we come across blunt, but which part of "to end war we must end capitalism" do you not understand? Its simple! Every aspect of our lives is subordinated to the requirements of profit - from the moment you brush your teeth in the morning with the toothpaste you saw advertised on TV until you crawl into your bed at night. Pick up a newspaper and try locating any problem reported there outside of our 'can't pay—can't have system". Crime, the health service, poverty, drug abuse, hunger, disease, homelessness, unemployment, war, insecurity….the list is endless. All attract their campaign groups, all struggling to address these problems, and all of these problems arising because of the inefficient and archaic way we organise our world for production.
And let us never forget, therefore, that Capitalism is a war-prone society, in that built in to it is the perpetual conflict between rival states over markets, raw materials, trade routes, areas of influence and the strategic points from which the same can be defended. You simply can't have capitalism without wars, the threat of war and preparations for war. To end war we must end capitalism.
You've got it! We're unlike any other group out to reform capitalism, who beg governments to be just a little nicer, who think you can have capitalism without the horrid bits, satisfied if our masters throw us a few more crumbs from the bread we bake. We are not into the politics of compromise and we certainly are not prepared to be satisfied with crumbs. We demand the whole damned bakery!
So if you're just demonstrating against war, then take our advice and invest in a sturdy anti-war banner, for if you are prepared to oppose war without opposing the very system that gives rise to it, then you'll be demonstrating for quite some time to come - that is if the state will continue to allow such a mass voice of dissent at times of crisis. In recent years, in the US and Britain, the state has been demanding more and more control over our lives, limiting our freedoms and insisting we must be placed under moiré and more scrutiny. At the end of the day governments, as the executive of capitalism, represent powerful interests and quite simply we, as a potentially revolutionary class, need to be watched, our thoughts controlled and our actions monitored. The day may well come when workers look upon such demonstrations as this one as a luxury never to taste again.
We believe that protestors should not belittle themselves or their class by making the same age-old demands of the master class. Be realistic! Demand what until now has been considered "the impossible" – a world without waste or want or war! Join us in campaigning for a system of society where there are no leaders, no classes, no states or governments, no borders, no force or coercion; a world where the earth's natural and industrial resources are commonly owned and democratically owned and where production is freed from the artificial constraints of profit and used for the benefit of all - a world of free access to the necessaries of life. Wouldn't such a campaign movement address the real root of every campaign and protest currently being waged? We think it would.
We hold out to the workers a real revolutionary proposition. The choice is yours – the struggle for world socialism and an end to all our problems or a lifetime attached to the 'pick-your-cause' brigade and the certainty that, freedoms permitting, you will be retracing your footsteps here today in years to come. Please use the contact details overleaf for more information.
For more information about the World Socialist Movement, check out of the following websites and webpages:
Socialist Party of Great Britain
World Socialist Party of the United States
Socialist Party of canada
World Socialist Party of the United States on MySpace
Socialist Standard blog on MySpace
Friday, March 17, 2006
Will socialism be a society in which people passively consume rather than actively create art? In a postcapitalist society, will art exist at all?
The first attempts by early humans,some 35,000 years ago, to represent aspects of their lives through cave paintings show that art served a useful social function, as did the use of early jewellery to enhance sexual attraction. Many of the purposes of art in capitalist and pre-capitalist societies, such as self expression, beautification, recording history, education, entertainment and social comment, will doubtless exist in socialism, although perhaps not as we now recognise them.
The nature of post-capitalist art has been discussed by Engels, Marx and Morris, to name only three. As an artist himself, William Morris was particularly enthused by this subject. In Art and Socialism (1884) he contested that "the greater part of the people have no share in Art" because "modern civilization" had suppressed it. Defining art as "the expression by man of his pleasure in labour", Morris believed that art should be the intrinsic part of the labour process it had been before the capitalist division of labour had divided art from craft, and when craftsmen still worked with a sense of beauty. Socialism would not have art as such but 'work-art', and people would produce objects that were not merely useful, but also had some artistic merit.
Looking at society as it now stands, it is a fact that most children and young people are very creative. For many, childhood will prove to be the most creative time of their lives. As they get older, however, their creative output lessens until by adulthood they engage in few artistic pursuits. Instead of producing art they consume it in all its various forms, and some go on to learns skills of appreciation and criticism. Most, after their formal education is complete, rarely put pen to paper, brush to canvas, or whatever. Creativity seems to have withered away, perhaps because after years of secondary schooling when they are prepared for life as an adult worker in capitalism, creating art - unless they intend to become employed as artists - seems to lack purpose. When the young adult emerges from the education system, art is not likely to be pursued for its own sake, for what is to be gained by it? The chances are that the nearest a person may come to creativity is in an art therapy class, when it is used as a form of curative. But once the troubled mind has been soothed, it's back to a life devoid of creativity.
In contrast to this, socialism may prove to be an artistic renaissance in which more people produce more art than in any previous time in history. The things which historically have prevented them creating art will no longer exist: schooling, the art institution's failure to take seriously some forms of art, the art industry's failure to see beyond the profit motive, and people who may think that there is little point creating art unless someone is prepared to cross their palms with silver. But it will not be a renaissance in the style of the 16th and 17th centuries, which was restricted to an artistic and scholarly elite, and which had very little impact on the vast majority of people. Socialism may generate a workers' art renaissance or, more specific to a classless society, a people's renaissance, at a level which touches everybody and to which no one is denied access. But that does not mean that socialist art will be good art.
The Great and the Good
Art in capitalism has a dualistic nature. On the one hand there are The Greats: the Old Masters, the Pre-Raphaelites, even the Young British Artists, and so on, plus the various schools of art such as Metaphysical poetry, Augustan satire, and Naturalism. These comprise a small minority, but because they constitute an intellectual ruling class their ideas dominate thinking about art and their works are highly revered and among the best-known. Then there is all the rest: the vast majority of artists and people creating art whose output is either ignored or unrecognised. Because the people who create this art lack the privileges and advantages of the artistic elite, their work is considered substandard, if it is considered at all. It is also unknown to the wider public, or ignored by them, for they have been seduced by the cult of the great artists about whom films have been made, books written and songs sung. Van Gogh is a good example of this (although he achieved nothing like this sort of recognition in his lifetime).
Galleries and museums, or theatres and concert halls, seem more like temples to the idols of art, and the contemplative act of experiencing art almost becomes a form of prayer. In socialism, art will be complementary not competitive. Some artists may acquire small-scale status, but socialism contains no mechanism to allow individual artists to acquire privilege or power. So with no art institution which effectively decides what art is and isn't, and no art industry judging the quality of a work by its cost, people may be encouraged to create art. This art, however, may lack the very high quality of art produced in capitalism. Simply, most post-capitalist art may not be as good as capitalist art. Historically, artists of the greatest skill would be more likely to find patronage and success than those of less talent. Art became conceptualised as an activity of high skill restricted to a few gifted individuals of supreme talent. The art of the overwhelming majority of people, who were equally capable of producing art but who lacked the privileges of the Great Artists and whose work was inevitably of a different standard, became marginalised as rough and ready 'folk art' and not a serious aesthetic form.
It is likely that a post-capitalist society will generate a climate of tolerance and appreciation for art which lacks the skill of The Greats. We may even come to view their works not as highly capable but as highly compromised, undermined by the need to compete against other artists of equal talent for limited opportunities in a market place, or we may see them simply as expressions of an obsolete system. This does not mean that in socialism people will no longer try to produce works of great quality and indeed some may equal in skill the art of The Greats. The idea of doing one's best will translate into socialism, but how much of the desire to do one's best is generated by the desire to out-do the best of the rival artists and compete for the few opportunities available in a crowded market? So if art in socialism is not as good as art in capitalism then it is not something which should concern us.
Art is an institution as well as a massively profitable industry, worth billions of pounds every year. This institution has a number of functions, none of which would be particularly welcome in socialism, or particularly feasible. Currently, it defines what art is, and consequently blocks what it does not consider to be art. It promotes a cult of the individual artist as gifted genius whose brushes we are not worthy to clean. It finances profitable art and refuses to finance art from which a profit cannot be realised regardless of its quality or importance. Because the practices it engages in are inherently antisocial, divisive and pro-capitalist, no such organisation could survive the transition from capitalism to socialism.
With this removed along with its privileges, then something like folk art or 'people's art' will emerge, that is art created by the average person without state sponsorship or the support of the institution, and created not for purposes of individual gain or acclaim, but for other reasons such as self-expression, ornamentation, beautification and so on. The person who creates such art may not even be called an artist, for that term signifies a privileged occupation producing nothing of any practical value and necessitating community support. That a person could be only an 'artist' and produce nothing except art seems unlikely and the continuance of such practices into socialism a highly remote possibility. Just as there will be no workers, only people, in a post-capitalist society, perhaps also there will be no 'artists'. Or perhaps in socialism, everyone will be an artist.
In socialism, it is likely that art will be produced for many of the reasons it has always been produced in capitalist and pre-capitalist societies. Socialism will not be a society without emotion and people will still be moved to express themselves in one form or another and art will surely be one of those forms. Socialism will have its problems, although on a massively reduced scale compared to any previous form of society. Conflict between individuals and possibly between communities may exist. As mentioned above, the problems of capitalism have provided no end of material for artists to comment upon, as the problems of socialism may also do. But socialism will deal fairly and sensibly with its problems and will not try to disguise them. If any 'unfairness' exists, it will not require a great painting, novel or song to expose it; it will be there for us all to see and deal with. In socialism, it is therefore highly unlikely that art which protests against large-scale social wrongs will exist.
Such works as Gulliver's Travels, A Christmas Carol, North and South, Grapes of Wrath, 1984, Look Back in Anger, and Salvador could not exist in post-capitalist society, for the issues they address equally could not exist. Similarly, there would be no socialist Kitchen Sink Dramas, Mike Leigh or Ken Loach films such as Cathy Come Home or Bread and Roses, and no Bob Dylans or Woody Guthries. And the sort of science fiction which reflects the fears and paranoias of society by turning hostile countries into hostile planets and suspicious foreigners into aliens would find little purchase in socialism, and such works as War of the Worlds would exist only as fantasies that have no connection to the real world. Art which reflects and comments upon alienation, war, competition, injustice and inequality, as all the above do, is ideally suited to a society of alienation, war, competition, injustice and inequality, but not to socialism. It is to be hoped, however, that socialism will produce works of the same intensity, profundity and emotional depth as the ones mentioned above.