Monday, December 31, 2007

The thoughts of Premier Brown (thirty years ago) (2008)

From the January 2008 issue of the Socialist Standard

In 1975 Gordon Brown edited The Red Paper on Scotland, a collection of articles by leftwing Labour activists. He wrote the introduction (“The Socialist Challenge”) from which the passages below are taken.

“[T]he basic questions which face the Scotland of the nineteen-eighties remain unasked as well as unanswered: who shall exercise power and control the lives of our people? How can we harness our material resources and social energies to meet the needs of five million people and more? What social structure can guarantee to people the maximum control and self management over the decisions which affect their lives, allowing the planned co-ordination of the use and distribution of resources, in a co-operative community of equals?”

“It is argued that what appear to be contradictory features of Scottish life today—militancy and apathy, cynicism and a thirst for change—can best be understood as working people's frustration with and refusal to accept powerlessness and lack of control over blind social forces which determine their lives. It is a disenchantment which underlines an untapped potential for co-operative action upon which we must build.”

“[T]he discontent is a measure of the failure of both Scottish and British socialists to advance far and fast enough in shifting the balance of wealth and power to working people and in raising people's awareness—especially outside the central belt of Scotland in areas where inequalities are greater—about the co-operative possibilities for modern society.”

“[T]he question is not one of structures not of territorial influence, but of democracy — how working people in Scotland can increase the control they have over the decisions which shape their lives and the wealth they alone produce — and in doing so aid the struggle for a shift of power to working people elsewhere.”

“If the prospects for the least fortunate are to be as great as they can be, then they must have the final say—and that requires a massive and irreversible shift of power to working people, a framework of free universal welfare services controlled by the people who use them.”

“But socialism will have to be won also at the point of production—the production of needs, ideas and particularly of goods and services. And that demands ending the power of a minority through ownership and control to direct the energies of all other members of our society.”

“[T]he experience of the sixties shows that the market can no longer be seen as the efficient allocator of resources and indeed that the productive forces within our economy have outstripped the capacity of the market.”

“The more automation there is, the greater is the need to deal with the social consequences by increased public expenditure; yet the more the government raises in taxation, the more urgent is the need for more automation. Thus, increasingly, the private control of industry has become a hindrance to the further unfolding of the social forces of production. Consequently, Michael Barratt Brown has convincingly argued that increased state intervention in social and economic affairs implies that it is no longer realistic to envisage a socialist commodity exchange market in a transition from capitalism to socialism . . .”

“Workers’ Power”

“What has often been cited as an irresoluble clash in socialist theory between regulating material production according to human needs and the principle of eliminating the exploitative domination of man over man can only be met through producers controlling the organisation of the production process.”

“Gramsci's relevance to Scotland today is in his emphasis that in a society which is both mature and complex, where the total social and economic processes are geared to maintaining the production of goods and services (and the reproduction of the conditions of production), then the transition to socialism must be made by the majority of people themselves and a socialist society must be created within the womb of existing society and prefigured in the movements for democracy at the grass roots. Socialists must neither place their faith in an Armageddon of capitalist collapse nor in nationalisation alone. For if the Jacobin notion of a vanguard making revolution on behalf of working people relates to a backward society (and prefigures an authoritarian and bureaucratic state), then the complexity of modern society requires a far reaching movement of people and ideas, acting as a stimulus for people to see beyond the immediacy and fragmentation of their existing conditions and as a co-ordinator for the assertion of social priorities by people at a community level and control by producers at an industrial level. In such a way political power will become a synthesis of—not a substitute for—community and industrial life. This requires from the Labour Movement in Scotland today a positive commitment to creating a socialist society, a coherent strategy with rhythm and modality to each reform to cancel the logic of capitalism and a programme of immediate aims which leads out of one social order into another. Such a social reorganization—a phased extension of public control under workers' self-management and the prioritising of social needs set by the communities themselves—if sustained and enlarged, would in E.P. Thompson's words lead to ‘a crisis not of despair and disintegration but a crisis in which the necessity for a peaceful revolutionary transition to an alternative socialist logic became daily more evident.’”

Pretty radical-sounding stuff. We can’t go so far to say that he was a socialist, but he did employ the language of socialism, talking in terms of “ending the power of a minority through ownership and control to direct the energies of all the other members of our society”, of “eliminating the exploitative domination of man by man”, of “the producers controlling the organisation of the production process”, of “the wealth that they [working people] alone produce”, of “workers’ power”, and that “the market can no longer be seen as the efficient allocator of resources” as well as the solution as lying in the establishment of “a co-operative community of equals”.

His present views, as Chief Executive Officer of British Capitalism PLC, are far, far from those expressed here. But the question is: is this is a personal failing of an individual who has betrayed their earlier views or a predictable consequence of the views outlined in the last extract?

In that extract Brown outlined a gradualist strategy for getting from capitalism to what he called socialism, a series of reforms “to cancel the logic of capitalism” and “a programme of immediate aims which lead out of one social order into another”. That was the original aim, many years ago, of those in the Labour Party who wanted to do more than just trying to tackle immediate problems as they arise, as any government has to. But instead of the various Labour governments – since the first one under Ramsay MacDonald in 1924 until the last but one under Callaghan voted out in 1979 – taking measures to cancel the logic of capitalism, they were obliged by economic and political circumstances to apply the logic of capitalism. Which involved giving priority to profits and profit-making and taking various anti-worker measures in pursuit of this aim (wage freezes, strike-breaking, anti-union laws, benefit cuts). Having no mandate to do anything else but govern capitalism, they had do this, inevitably on capitalism’s terms. Gradualism didn’t, doesn’t and can’t work.

In the end the Labour Party itself came to embrace the logic of capitalism and to drop all pretence of trying to replace capitalism with some other social arrangement. Under Blair, and with the full support of Gordon Brown, Labour became the open supporter of the market economy and capitalist economic system that everyone today can see it is.

There will also have been an element of opportunism involved. The Labour Party is a party of professional politicians, and one thing professional politicians want is to be able to enjoy the fruits of government office from time to time. Some time after Labour lost the 1992 election Brown must have decided that Labour was unelectable with the sort of programme he had embraced in the 1970s and 80s and that any such talk had to be abandoned if he was ever to become a Minister of the Crown. Which he duly did, but his past is still there to haunt him.
Adam Buick

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Film and the Anarchist Imagination

Book Review from issue 54 of Organise, theoretical journal of the Anarchist Federation

Film and the anarchist imagination by Richard Porton (Verso 1999)

It's quite rare to come across an academic work with anarchism as its subject matter. It is rarer still to find an academic work that exhibits any in-depth understanding of the authentic history and developing theory of anarchism. Most academics don't get past calling the IWW the International Workers of the World. Those who do are usually happy to repeat the lies of the ruling class and to maintain the 'anarchist' caricatures that serve to maintain a false image of what we actually are.

This book, however, written by a teacher of cinema studies at the College of Staten Island in New York, exhibits an unusually deep understanding and wide knowledge of the historic movement and the political arguments within anarchism. The author in fact sets out to consciously deconstruct the stereotypes of anarchism and anarchists that have appeared in both mainstream and 'alternative' cinema.

Extremely readable, the text rarely uses pretentious-git-speak to intentionally, or otherwise, obscure the core meanings of the arguments. The introduction gives a good historical background to the development to anarchist ideas during "¼ more than a hundred years of labour agitation and revolutionary struggles" (p2), and offers the reader who has not come across anarchism before an informative background to the subject matter of the book. It is obvious from the beginning that the author actually knows what he's talking about!

There are five sections: Anarchism and Cinema: Representation and Self-Representation; Cinema, Anarchism, and Revolution: Heroes, Martyrs, and Utopian Moments; Anarcho-syndicalism versus the 'Revolt against Work'; Film and Anarchist Pedagogy and The Elusive Anarchist Aesthetic. Each section can be read independently which makes it a great book to dip in and out of.

This reviewer must admit to not having heard of, never mind having seen, many of the films mentioned and it is fascinating to learn that Malatesta, for example, has been the subject of a highly sympathetic movie (Peter Lilienthal's Malatesta, 1971) or that Alexander Berkman unsuccessfully hawked a 'swashbuckling' screenplay based upon Nestor Makhno's life around Hollywood! It's also interesting to see how some film makers who consider themselves 'sympathetic' to anarchism have played a role in reinforcing the stereotype of the anarchist as irrational and impulsive, if not slightly mad (Wertmuller's Love and Anarchy, 1973 for example).

But far from merely being an encyclopaedia of anarchists in the cinema, the book discusses the contradictions within anarchist film-making and anarchists/anarchism as subject matter. Few perspectives aren't tackled intelligently and the research is exhaustive. Critics might suggest that this is a simply an academic exercise and that the cinema is Spectacular representation at its worst. However, to have such a clued-up and sympathetic text in circulation which may bring revolutionary ideas into areas where they don't usually see the light of day, can only be useful.

Try and get it into your local public or college library.

Food to make you fast (2008)

Book Review from the January 2008 issue of the Socialist Standard

Chew on This. By Eric Schlosser and Charles Wilson

Schlosser is the author of Fast Food Nation (reviewed in the Socialist Standard for November 2002), and this book covers some of the same ground as the earlier one. That's to say, it looks at the power of fast food companies, especially McDonald's, and the nature of the food they serve.

McDonald's is the largest purchaser of beef in the United States, and this position has enabled them and the other big meat-packing companies to drive down the price paid to ranchers, many of whom have gone out of business. The raising and slaughtering of pigs, cattle and chicken has been aimed squarely at making profits, with little regard for the conditions of the animals or the workers. Chicken, for instance, will live barely six weeks and never see a blade of grass. They die increasingly of heart attacks, caused by a thick layer of fat around the heart.

Of course the fast food companies don't want their customers to think about where the food comes from and how it's made. They'd rather you didn't reflect on the manufactured flavours that are added, or the fact that food for children is made as sweet as possible. Massive amounts of advertising are aimed at kids, who are naturally very susceptible and can influence where their parents take them to eat. Further, the advertising isn't confined to food, as giving away or selling toys is another means to get the kids in.

The employees are often not much older than children, given the fast food industry's reliance on teenage labour. Teenagers are simply cheaper and easier to control. They mostly earn the minimum wage, which in the US is worth less in real terms than it was fifty years ago. There is a large turnover of staff, and the derogatory label 'McJob' sums things up well.

It may even be a McWorld that is developing, as the fast food chains expand outside the US and Europe. The first Burger King opened in Baghdad just nine weeks after the US-led invasion in 2003. The UK has long been part of the McDonald's empire, with 2.5 million people eating there every day.
Capitalist-style fast food treats appallingly the animals that it raises and kills. It's also bad for the workers it employs and bad for the consumers who eat it.
Paul Bennett

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Why the Green Party is wrong (2008)

Editorial from the forthcoming January 2008 issue of the Socialist Standard

People are right to be concerned about what is happening to the environment. Materials taken from nature are being transformed by human activity into substances which nature either can't decompose or can't decompose fast enough. The result is pollution and global threats such as the hole in the ozone layer and global warming.

There really is a serious environmental crisis. The issue is not whether it exists but what to do about it. The Green Party has one view. We have another.

The Green Party sees itself as the political arm of the wider environmental movement, arguing that it is not enough to be a pressure group, however militant, like Greenpeace or Friends of the Earth. Greens, it says, should organise as well to contest elections with the eventual aim of forming a Green government that could pass laws and impose taxes to protect the environment.

We say that no government can protect the environment.

Governments exist to run the political side of the profit system. And the profit system can only work by giving priority to making profits over all other considerations. So to protect the environment we must end production for profit.

Pollution and environmental degradation result from the inappropriate ways in which materials from nature are transformed into products for human use. But what causes inappropriate productive methods to be used? Is it ignorance or greed, as some Greens claim? No, it is the way production is organised today and the forces to which it responds.

Production today is in the hands of business enterprises, all competing to sell their products at a profit. All of them—and it doesn't matter whether they are privately owned or state-owned—aim to maximise their profits. This is an economic necessity imposed by the forces of the market. If a business does not make a profit it goes out of business. "Make a profit or die" is the jungle economics that prevails today.
Under the competitive pressures of the market businesses only take into account their own narrow financial interest, ignoring wider social or ecological considerations. All they look to is their own balance sheet and in particular the bottom line which shows whether or not they are making a profit.

The whole of production, from the materials used to the methods employed to transform them, is distorted by this drive to make and accumulate profits. The result is an economic system governed by uncontrollable market forces which compel decision-makers, however selected and whatever their personal views or sentiments, to plunder, pollute and waste.

Governments do not have a free hand to do what is sensible or desirable. They can only act within the narrow limits imposed by the profit-driven market system whose rules are "profits first" and "you can't buck the market".

The Green Party is not against the market and is not against profit-making. It imagines that, by firm government action, these can be tamed and prevented from harming the environment. This is an illusion. You can't impose other priorities on the profit system than making profits. That's why a Green government would fail.
The Green Party fails to realise that what those who want a clean and safe environment are up against is a well-entrenched economic and social system based on class privilege and property and governed by the overriding economic law of profits first.
If the environmental crisis is to be solved, this system must go.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Weekly Bulletin of The Socialist Party of Great Britain (26)

Dear Friends,

Welcome to the 26th of our weekly bulletins to keep you informed of changes at Socialist Party of Great Britain @ MySpace.

We now have 1127 friends!

Recent blogs:

  • Modern Technology and Socialism

  • Religion: dying but not yet dead

  • Anthropology and politics

  • This week's top quote:

    At length the hour of shutting up the counting-house arrived. With an ill-will Scrooge dismounted from his stool, and tacitly admitted the fact to the expectant clerk in the Tank, who instantly snuffed his candle out, and put on his hat.

    "You'll want all day to-morrow, I suppose?" said Scrooge.

    "If quite convenient, sir."

    "It's not convenient," said Scrooge, "and it's not fair. If I was to stop half-a-crown for it, you'd think yourself ill-used, I'll be bound?"

    The clerk smiled faintly.

    "And yet," said Scrooge, "you don't think me ill-used, when I pay a day's wages for no work."

    The clerk observed that it was only once a year.

    "A poor excuse for picking a man's pocket every twenty-fifth of December!" said Scrooge, buttoning his great-coat to the chin. "But I suppose you must have the whole day. Be here all the earlier next morning." Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol, 1843.

    Continuing luck with your MySpace adventures!

    Robert and Piers

    Socialist Party of Great Britain

    Julius Martov and the Anti-Bolshevik Approach To Revolution

    From the Inveresk Street Ingrate blog:

    Final talk from the 'Socialist Thinkers – People Who History Made' lecture series and, aptly enough, the lecture dates from 25 years to the day.

    Socialist meetings on a Boxing Day? Those were the days.

    The sound quality of the recording is not the greatest but, remember, when I did originally introduce these old recordings on the blog, I did introduce them as, The SPGB: the basement tapes. The political quality of the recordings has been immeasurable, and I hope that other comrades in the SPGB tradition will look to upload further talks and debates on the Party website and/or their blogs.
    Martov was an important socialist thinker and activist from the first two decades of the twentieth century, and I hope that readers will also take the time to check out the links below for further information about Martov and the period under discussion.

    First Part
    FILE NAME: martov part one.mp3
    FILE SIZE: ~67.40 megabytes

    Second Part
    FILE NAME: martov part two.mp3
    FILE SIZE: ~27.24 megabytes
    LENGTH: 29:34

    Further Reading on Julius Martov:

  • Julius Martov on the Marxist Internet Archive

  • Julius Martov page at Spartacus.Net

  • The State and the Socialist Revolution by Julius Martov

  • Review of Martov's 'The State and the Socialist Revolution' (From an issue of the Socialist Standard that dates from 1940.)

  • Martov: a Russian Social-Democrat (A review of Israel Getzler's biography of Julius Martov that first appeared in the November 1967 issue of the Socialist Standard.)

  • The role of the soviets in Russia's bourgeois revolution: the point of view of Julius Martov by Adam Buick (Originally published in the French political journal, Economies et societes, cahiers de l'ISMEA, Paris, serie S, Number 18, April-May 1976 issue.)
  • Tuesday, December 25, 2007


    From the Marx and Coca-Cola blog:

    From Reuters:

    "Between railroad tracks and beneath the roar of departing planes sits "tent city," a terminus for homeless people....The noisy, dusty camp sprang up in July with 20 residents and now numbers 200 people, including several children, growing as this region east of Los Angeles has been hit by the U.S. housing crisis."

    It's not just people who have lost their houses who are facing hardship. The housing crisis has caused a slew of problems for everyone. The abandoned houses have become a magnet for drugs and other crime, lowers property values, and property tax revenue which could force cities to cut spending in areas like policing or fire prevention. And renters could face homelessness themselves due to an increase demand for apartments. Foreclosures are even started to affect public health.

    "All those empty swimming pools in California's Inland Empire have become breeding grounds for mosquitoes, which can transmit the sometimes deadly West Nile virus, Riverside County officials say."

    Sunday, December 23, 2007

    Belfort Bax and the "Ethics of Socialism"

    From the Inveresk Street Ingrate blog.

    Down to the final three talks in the 1982 'Socialist Thinkers – People Who History Made' lecture series. Once again, the speaker/lecturer is Steve Coleman, and this time the socialist thinker under discussion is Ernest Belfort Bax.

    Down the years, Bax is someone who has been pretty much written out of the history of the nineteenth century British Socialist Movement.

    Whilst Hyndman is always on hand to take on the role of the Victorian villain for the failure of the Marxist Left in Britain for not fully integrating into the wider Labour Movement, and William Morris gets rediscovered every generation via a new biography and/or a new exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum, Bax, who was a comparable heavyweight figure in the Social Democratic Federation in the 1880s and was a major player - alongside Morris, Aveling and Eleanor Marx - in the Socialist League split from the SDF in 1885, if he is known at all, is best known these days for his virulent anti-feminism in the latter years of his political life, and his capitulation to British chauvinism at the outbreak of the First World War.

    In recent years, Old Skool Trotskyist, Ted Crawford, (Officer Class), has done sterling work in creating a Bax archive on the Marxist Internet Archive which is comparable to many of the better known socialist writers on the website. And more background on Bax is available via Ted's autobiographical sketch on the Marxist Internet Archive website.

    First Part

    DOWNLOAD LINK: Belfort Bax and the "Ethics of Socialism"

    FILE NAME: 02 belfort bax and the ethics of socialism part 1.mp3

    FILE SIZE: ~59.47 megabytes


    Second Part

    DOWNLOAD LINK: Belfort Bax and the "Ethics of Socialism"

    FILE NAME: 01 belfort bax and the ethics of socialism part 2.mp3

    FILE SIZE: ~41.88 megabytes

    LENGTH: 56:01

    Further Reading on Ernest Belfort Bax:

  • Bax on the Marxist Internet Archive

  • From the August 2005 issue of the Socialist Standard: Eleanor Marx, Belfort Bax and "the Woman Question"
  • Friday, December 21, 2007

    Karl Kautsky and the Socialist Critique of Religion

    From the Inveresk Street Ingrate blog:

    Another talk in the 1982 'Socialist Thinkers – People Who History Made' lecture series. Once again, the speaker/lecturer is Steve Coleman.

    Don't mind the accompanying picture for the post. Thought I'd indulge myself by using the front cover of Dick Geary's 1987 biography of Kautsky that was published as part of the 'Lives of the Left' series.

    Those were the days . . . when I used to read books.

    First Part

    DOWNLOAD LINK: Karl Kautsky and the Socialist Critique of Religion

    FILE NAME: 02 karl kautsky and the socialist critique of religion.mp3

    FILE SIZE: ~46.17 megabytes


    Second Part

    DOWNLOAD LINK: Karl Kautsky and the Socialist Critique of Religion

    FILE NAME: 03 karl kautsky and the socialist critique of religion part

    FILE SIZE: ~51.61 megabytes

    LENGTH: 56:01

    Further Reading on Karl Kautsky:

  • Kautsky on the Marxist Internet Archive
  • Thursday, December 20, 2007

    Christmas Gifts For Africa

    From the Socialist Banner blog:

    Ethical gifts are billed as the perfect antidote to the conspicuous consumerism of the festive season. Whether buying a goat for a family in Africa, or the materials to build a toilet, we are told that these simple items can make a big difference to people in developing countries.Such presents have been growing in popularity and last year Oxfam sold £3.9 million worth of ethical gifts . The charity has this year launched a celebrity-led campaign to encourage more of us to send useful gifts - which may include items such as dung, condoms or even a can of worms - to help communities in the developing world.

    However UK-based education charity Worldwrite says that far from being welcome, these gifts are often seen as "demeaning and patronising". Worldwrite also argues that far from encouraging development, buying someone a goat or a hoe for Christmas only conspires to keep recipients at the same subsistence levels year after year. "People in the developing world are like us - they know the sorts of things we have and they want them too " . They felt some projects epitomised "low horizons" and irritated locals who say they are offered "peanuts" with endless "accountability" and "target" forms to fill out.

    Worldwrite's views are echoed by Ghanaian De Roy Kwesi Andrew, a teacher and translator, who says: "Our people and government have become merely the passive, obedient pupils to be preached to."

    As a local teacher in Ghana , Godbless Ashie , puts it : "Africans have big brains, big aspirations and want to live in liberty."

    We at Socialist Banner say the best Xmas present for everybody would be for all of us to put an end to capitalism and for us all to achieve socialism and put an end to exploitation and pauperism .

    Alan Johnstone

    American Nightmares I & II

    From the Socialist Courier blog:

    American Nightmare (I)

    The so-called American dream wherein once poor immigrants became wealthy is turning out to be a nightmare for many American workers.

    "The current deflation of home prices is changing America. It's a real estate storm that made landfall like a slow-moving Gulf Coast hurricane here in south Florida and in other once-booming housing markets last year. In recent months it has gathered momentum and spread, shaping up to become perhaps the worst home-price slump since the 1920s and '30s. The bust promises to have lasting effects. Among them: It is defining the limits, for now, of what President Bush has called the "ownership society." A surging foreclosure rate means that the rate of home ownership, after a historic rise, is falling." (Yahoo News, 10 December)

    American Nightmare (II)

    "More people are requesting emergency food aid and more homeless families with children are seeking shelter, concludes a 23-city survey released Monday by the U.S. Conference of Mayors. Four of five cities say requests for food aid rose an average of 12% from the previous year, according to the survey for the period covering November 2006 through October 2007. Most cities had reported a jump in such requests the prior year as well. Ten of 14 cities with data on homeless families say more families with children sought emergency shelter and transitional housing. About half of the cities say their overall homeless problem increased. Collectively, the cities report giving shelter to 193,183 people." (USA Today, 17 December)

    Richard Donnelly

    Saturday, December 15, 2007

    Socialist Party Meeting: Neighbours (1952)

    The Socialist Party of Great Britain will be hosting a special screening of the classic 1952 short film, 'Neighbours' by Norman McLaren. The film will be followed by a talk on the socialist attitude to war.

    Date: Sunday, 16 December 2007 from 19:00 to 21:00

    Speaker: Gwynn Thomas

    Location: Socialist Party Head Office

    52 Clapham High Street, London, SW4 7UN

    Nearest tube:
    Clapham North

    Nearest rail: Clapham High Street

    For more information about the Socialist Party:



    Friday, December 14, 2007

    Weekly Bulletin of The Socialist Party of Great Britain (24)

    Dear Friends,

    Welcome to the 24th of our weekly bulletins to keep you informed of changes at Socialist Party of Great Britain @ MySpace.

    We now have 1073 friends!

    Recent blogs:

  • The politics of climate change

  • A challenge to Leninism

  • Is common ownership against human nature?

  • This week's top quote:

    "You cannot buy the Revolution. You cannot make the Revolution. You can only be the Revolution. It is in your spirit or it is nowhere." Ursula K. Le Guin, The Dispossessed, 1974

    Continuing luck with your MySpace adventures!

    Robert and Piers

    Socialist Party of Great Britain

    Wednesday, December 12, 2007

    Weekly Bulletin of The Socialist Party of Great Britain (24)

    Dear Friends,

    Welcome to the 23rd of our weekly bulletins to keep you informed of changes at Socialist Party of Great Britain @ MySpace.

    We now have 1033 friends!

    Recent blogs:

  • Reformism or Socialism?

  • Saving Earth or saving Profits

  • The BNP: a product of reformism's failure
  • This week's top quote:

    "Nature builds no machines, no locomotives, railways, electric telegraphs, self-acting mules etc. These are products of human industry; natural material transformed into organs of the human will over nature, or of human participation in nature. They are organs of the human brain, created by the human hand; the power of knowledge, objectified. The development of fixed capital indicates to what degree general social knowledge has become a direct force of production, and to what degree, hence, the conditions of the process of social life itself have come under the control of the general intellect and been transformed in accordance with it." Karl Marx, The Grundrisse, 1857

    Continuing luck with your MySpace adventures!

    Robert and Piers

    Socialist Party of Great Britain

    Sunday, December 2, 2007

    Running riot: Britain’s urban violence (1981)

    From the August 1981 issue of the Socialist Standard

    Bristol, Brixton, Southall, Toxteth, Moss Side, Wood Green, Woolwich, Brixton again . . . A wave of civil disturbances has erupted in England. As livelihoods go up in flames and mindless destruction explodes on the streets, there is a stampede on to the political stage from both wings by politicians and assorted spokesmen. They hold forth loudly to the audience—the “general public”—about what must be done. They shake their fists and point angrily at each other. They make ominous warnings and each tries to win the support of the audience with promises to carry out the right policy. Political commentators arise and plaintive vicars descend to offer their planned remedies in the din.

    A stern attitude has been struck by the government: “the law must be upheld, people must be protected” said Margaret Thatcher in her recent broadcast. Such a kind concern for people’s welfare doesn’t exactly square with her policy of closing down emergency casualty departments in hospitals and spending milions of pounds on murderous armoury, but then consistency is not one of her strong points. The Home Secretary, William Whitelaw, is planning measures to suppress the street violence. He advocates the use of water cannon, CS gas and increased power for the police to enable them to arrest anyone found in the area of a disturbance. He suggests that parents of those on the rampage should be punished for not controlling their children. There have also been cries from Conservative quarters to bring back the birch and to introduce the Army to “pacify” civil disorders. The idea behind these sorts of proposals seems to be that if some people become so frustrated with the dehumanising lifestyle which capitalism imposes on the majority that they rebel violently, then you have to teach them that violence is wrong and immoral. And the way you must teach them that violence is wrong and immoral is by beating them with truncheons and spraying them with gas.

    On the other hand, supporters of the Labour Party argue that the real causes of the disorders are the reactionary economic policies of this Conservative government. Inner city decay, urban deprivation and high unemployment are all identified as precipitating the riots and the Tory administration is held responsible for having bred the causes. It is true that the economic policy of this government has done much to exacerbate living conditions for many in the working class, but this government has not caused the problems of unemployment and inner city decay and its removal and replacement by a Labour administration will not solve the difficulties of life in the profit system. Not so long ago there were less than half a million unemployed in Britain. Now there are almost three million living on the dole. There are approximately 30 million workers registered as unemployed across the continent of Europe, in countries operating a great variety of economic and political administrations of capitalism from totalitarian state control to “liberal democracies” with comparatively low degrees of state intervention in the economy. The evidence is clear enough that the trend of high unemployment, during periods of glutted production for the market, is one which moves on largely unaffected by the different economic schemes used in running production for profit. Similarly, the urban deprivation of places like Brixton, Toxteth and Moss Side was not something which grew out of the paving stones after May 1979 when the Tories won the General Election. Squalid housing and unemployment are problems which have been developing for decades and which successive Labour governments have been unable to alleviate. The recent spate of civil violence is the tip of an iceberg of discontent and frustration and it is a delusion to imagine that the problems which face us—the working class—can be eradicated by Labour plans to provide more employment (more exploitation) and more second-rate housing.

    Supporters of left-wing organisations like the Socialist Workers Party have been greatly enthused by brick-throwing at policemen, which is somehow regarded as the kind of anti-establishment action of which revolutions are made, or at least from which they can be begun. The attempts to manipulate this collective aggression and stoke up more disturbance are made by ambitious crusaders who believe that if they could be elevated to positions of power on the shoulders of the angry masses, then they could charitably set to work on implementing revolutionary policies for the good of those who know no better than to oppose capitalism with damage and injury. As people who declare their support for the working class, those left-wingers have an offensively patronising view of the capacity of workers to reach socialist consciousness.

    A similar enthusiasm for the rioting has been shown by the various extreme right-wing organisations like the National Front who, like the Left, regard the fury of the riot as fertile ground from which to recruit violent rebels. The nature of the political philosophy of parties like the SWP and the NF, and the degree to which the role of the rank and file membership is simply to put forward the changing slogans of the leaderships, means that enrolment to membership can be based on having yo” or “The Blacks”.

    The first riot in Southall was different from the others. The violence began there when several coachloads of racialists were ferried into the area, ostensibly to attend a pub concert. Shops owned by Asians were damaged and the proprietors assaulted. The violence was committed amid barked racialist slogans and provocative Sieg Hiels. Local Asian residents managed to organise themselves against their aggressors while the police had taken almost their entire force away to another district, allegedly on a tip-off. In all of the other riots in London, Liverpool and Manchester, black and white workers were in the broil together. They were not race riots but poverty riots. Poverty, that is, both of wealth and ideas. The riot in Southall did not rage because local black and white residents found it impossible to exist peaceably side by side. It was fomented by violent thugs imported for that purpose. And to those who insist that there will always be an underlying tension when different cultures exist in the same district, let them travel to somewhere like cosmopolitan Kensington in London and witness how privileged “Englishmen” have no resentment living in the same community as wealthy Arabs and Nigerians and Iranians. They have no poverty to blame on anyone, and must feel quite safe so long as we blame ours on each other.

    Priests and vicars have not been slow to get off their knees to give vacuums of sympathy to victims of violence and sinister warnings to the sinners. The practicality of their advice in the aftermath of the violence is well summed up in the words of the Archbishop of Liverpool, the Most Reverend Derek Worlock, who after the destruction in Toxteth proclaimed “Out of the ashes of these last days must come new life and new hope.” But then if you believe that the ultimate control of the affairs of mankind lies with a force beyond the skies, what else can you offer those suffering from socially produced hardship, but hope?

    In certain degrees of poverty, especially at a time of economic crisis when there is no hope on the horizon, pent up frustration will be likely to burst into violence among those who have not considered the cause of their problems and sought to remove it. The dashed hopes and bitterness of most of those in the recent upsurges were not so much to do with the conditions of employment as the condition of unemployment. Hundreds of thousands of young members of the wealth producing class have left school in recent years to go directly on to the dole queue. The feeling of rejection and uselessness which this creates contributes to their resentment of their environment. In Toxteth, to take one example, with thousands of young people leaving school, significantly just about the time the riots broke out, the local career office was offering only 12 jobs. In the city of Liverpool, according to the latest unemployment figures, 81,000 people were chasing 1,019 job vacancies. Other factors like aggressive policing and routine stop-and-search tactics will have obviously aggravated the tensions.

    The fact that the bursting frustration and desperation expresses itself in the ferocity of the riot is understandable. Capitalism is a social system which is shot through with everyday forms of “respectable” and institutionalised violence from the teacher’s cane and the policeman’s truncheon to the government’s tanks and bombs. From the most lighthearted comic book to the late-night documentary on the brutalities of Northern Ireland or Afghanistan we are confronted with images of violence as a method of trying to cause social change. The deeds of those participating in the riots were thoughtlessly destructive. Cars, shops and homes of fellow members of the working class were irrationally ruined. It was a foolish misdirection of anger.

    Where do we go from here? It is possible for capitalism to attempt to quell the areas of extreme deprivation by pumping money into housing, industry and welfare for the poverty to become just endurable. The riots which broke in southern America in the late 1960s had their immediate causes treated with giant expenditure on welfare relief payments to the poorest families and training programmes for ghetto youngsters. The profit-system will not be burnt away, neither will it be dislodged or smashed with bricks. A few riots, even large scale rebellions, can easily enough be quashed by the authorities, and usually the rioters will be in a worse condition after the insurgence than before it. But, to borrow from Friedrich Engels, there is no power in Britain which could for a day resist the British working class organised as a body.
    Gary Jay

    50 Years Ago: Sputnik Lunacy: LET’S LIVE ON THE EARTH FIRST! (2007)

    The 50 Years Ago Column in the December 2007 Socialist Standard

    The sound made by the Sputniks is, in fact, not of man triumphant over nature but of one nation gaining prestige against another. Nobody knows whether Sputniks are weapons or not, but that isn’t the point anyway. The big bangs, the bomb tests and the other push-button horror displays are the nations making muscles, like boys preparing for a fight that each hopes to scare the other out of; and now the Russians have made the biggest muscle of all, the visible proof of incredible technical development.

    The implications go farther than to America and Britain. The “uncommitted” nations – i.e., those which have not declared or had to give allegiance to the western powers or to Russia – have to take notice. The Sputniks, flashing in the Russian shop-window, have made the American one suddenly dull by comparison. The conception of Russia as a backward, semi-barbaric nation has been pushed aside for one – equally mistaken of a great atomic-age civilization. Inevitably the competition has intensified: America now must have satellites at all costs. Did any space-fiction writer envisage a race to the moon?

    There is, indeed, kudos to Russia all along the line, most of all because the Anniversary celebrations served to underline the fact that there were only forty years between the fall of the Czars and the launching of the Sputniks. To keep things in perspective, it should be realized that the development of Russia has been only that of a huge nation in the upsurge of capitalist growth. Within the limits of an earlier time, the growth of Britain in the nineteenth century was equally remarkable; or Germany between 1870 and 1914, from a collection of three-halfpenny states to a great power.

    (From front page article by R. Coster, Socialist Standard, December 1957)

    Thursday, November 29, 2007

    Workers Have No Country (2007)

    Editorial from the December 2007 issue of the Socialist Standard

    Whether Polish plumbers, Portuguese hop-pickers or Chinese cockle-pickers, migrant labour in the UK is undoubtedly higher profile now than it has been for many decades. The focus groups and private polling used by the major parties are confirming immigration as the No 1 issue for voters at the moment.

    In some parts of the UK the influx may well have resulted in increased unemployment for existing workers and appears to be putting a downward pressure on wages in some sectors.

    It’s worth noting that there has been an enormous effort made to vilify, criminalise and erase racist language and ideas over the last few decades. World socialists have not opposed these developments but we have argued that racism – like other the so-called "hate" crimes – is usually fuelled and ignited by poverty and fear, and therefore cannot be removed until the cause is.

    For workers fighting over crumbs in lower wage unskilled jobs, the temptation to blame your unemployment or wage level on foreign labour may be strong. But nevertheless such views are false. The blame lies elsewhere. In order to stay profitable, UK employers are demanding cheap labour. It makes good business sense to welcome cheap labour from overseas – you didn't have to pay for its education, and after you have exploited it for a lifetime, you still won’t have to pay its pension.

    In many ways the government is only repeating at the national level what has been happening at employer level for many years with out-sourcing of staffing costs.

    And while the free movement of labour is restricted, capital is of course expected to roam the globe looking out for ever better rates of exploitation, sniffing around the sweatshops for signs of harsher working conditions or longer hours. But if these chickens come home to roost – if little pockets of the third world's poor actually have the gumption or bravery to start popping up on our doorstep – then our local administrators of capitalism start to get a bit edgy.

    As with so many issues, politicians are slowly realising that governments must simply accommodate to capitalism with regard to migration and accept it. They can only try to control it but if they are to have any hope of effectively securing borders and finding those who slip through they must expend vast sums as on ID cards and the like.

    The World Socialist Movement didn't get its name for nothing. Unique amongst all political parties left and right we have no national axe to grind. We side with no particular state, no government, no currency. We have no time for nationalisation or privatisation, for border controls or for migration incentives. The world over, workers must do what they can individually and collectively to survive and resist capitalism. In many parts of the world that means escaping the tyranny of political terror or economic poverty. Politically however, workers should try and resist taking sides in the battles of the economic blocs who just happen to be named on the front of your passport. You must not blame another worker for your poverty. Instead we would argue that workers should recognise that – whether migrant or not, whether illegal or legal.

    The Politics of Climate Change (2007)

    From the December 2007 issue of the Socialist Standard

    The links between governments and business are inextricable, often murky.

    Fundamentally there are three elements to the climate change debate, elements of dissimilar weight and influence: first there are the governments and the economy to which they are bound; second is business and the corporations, including the media; and third are the citizens.

    There is deliberately no mention here of the planet, the environment, changing weather patterns or natural catastrophes as the planet itself is in no imminent danger. The Earth will continue to survive in one form or another. Humans are not destroying the planet, merely hastening its change and their own demise if they destroy and poison the environment that supports human and other animal species.

    Perhaps it is more pertinent and pressing to address the question, why is so much said about global warming and climate change? See this year’s IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) reports, Al Gore’s highly publicised film and world tour, George Monbiot’s book. Yet at the same time, why is so little done to implement a halt, a reversal, a slowing of the trend?


    A look at the first element: governments and the economy are connected by an umbilical cord with the sustenance free flowing, but starve one and you starve the other, although which is the mother and which is the offspring is impossible to tell. Which kind of government is immaterial. This is a truism and not cynicism. China or the US – both with vast economies and influential governments; tiny Monaco and Oman; totalitarian, appointed, partial or universal suffrage, all run to the same rules of capitalism.

    According to Neil deMause in the US media report Extra! (August 2007), “Tony Blair’s government has long been an outspoken advocate of cutting carbon emissions to forestall climate change”, with no comment on subsequent (non)action. The Bush administration is well known for withdrawal from the Kyoto Agreement and for weak Environmental Protection Agency reports. The overriding mission of governments and politicians is to stay in place, to remain in control of the agenda, enriching themselves and their cronies and furthering their ambitions for the future.


    The second element is business. We live in a homogenised, corporate world, run entirely on capitalist principles. Simply put, everything has to turn a profit at each stage of the line, otherwise it is worthless, expendable. Raw materials, service, investment, packaging, transportation, advertising, marketing, point of sale, with labour at every step, all need their profit in order for a transaction to be viable. Media, run on these same lines, have to toe the line by necessity, not choice, so it is illogical to expect independent, impartial coverage of any topic which may expose inconvenient truths and embarrass important clients. Climate change deniers and sceptics are hired by industry, foundations and government think tanks in order to denounce or reduce the impact of scientific reports of global warming, i.e. to put a positive spin on a negative subject. The Chicago Tribune had their chief business correspondent report on “investments in companies likely to benefit from new, stricter environmental laws”.


    The third element to this climate change argument is people, the workers, the workless, the citizens. Along with natural environments and all kinds of plant and animal life, the human species faces a grave threat, although this could be easily missed when listening to politicians and business leaders. It seems, in general, that ordinary folk pay more heed and give more credence to the real authorities when they get the opportunity to hear from them. Hence the growing “green” movements around the world, community self-help groups, pressure groups and the like. Politicians, happy to pass on the responsibility for action rather than tackle it themselves at the root, encourage citizens to turn off lights, TV sets and computers and share cars to work. Businesses talk comfortingly about self-regulation, green up their corporate image and spend inordinate amounts of money yet create ever more emissions from advertising campaigns designed to increase sales of bio-fuels, low energy light bulbs etc. and attempt to assuage consumer guilt with spurious carbon-trading schemes. The onus is put squarely, but not fairly, on the consumer’s shoulders.

    It is immediately apparent that these three elements don’t operate in isolation, but are related in various ways. The links between governments and business are inextricable, often murky. The IPCC issued three reports between February and May 2007. This was a joint project between the UN and the World Meteorological Organisation, offering evidence of likely consequences and avoidance of the most catastrophic events of global warming. At the same time the Guardian (2 February) reported that the Exxon Mobil-backed American Institute “had offered $10,000 apiece for scientific articles contradicting the IPCC’s findings.” In April the New York Times, whilst reporting negative effects of global warming – heatwaves, floods, storms, fires and droughts – was also keen to balance this with the positives, “some benefits to health such as fewer deaths from cold” and “the greening of cold areas.” One link noted by informed, independent media is that of the ever-revolving-door syndrome, enabling easy passage in either direction between government and business. Much commented on and much complained about examples in the US include the huge K Street lobbying industry, the movements of both unelected appointees, governmental advisors and elected politicians from or into the oil, energy and arms industries board rooms. This has included Rumsfeld, Rice, Cheney and the Bushes themselves. Some parallels in the UK are John Major and the Carlisle Group, Geoffrey Robinson, Peter Mandelson and the Powergen/Enron scam and Walmart’s acquisition of Asda with a little personal help from Tony Blair. (Thanks here to Greg Palast for The Best Democracy Money Can Buy.)

    Regarding the differing stances taken by the print media, Extra’s July/August 2007 investigation into the IPCC’s reports backs up their contention that in this instance the UK media covered the reports more thoroughly and accurately than the US. For example, with regard to the second report, the Daily Telegraph and Guardian noted such details as government interference, alterations made at the behest of several government delegations to state that millions rather than billions would be at risk from coastal flooding, and that China and Saudi Arabia insisted on diluting some of the wording. But US media (New York Times) were criticising China’s influence on the dilutions in the report while at the same time commenting positively on the US’s mostly constructive role. Compare this with the UK Times’ report that the following statement “North America is expected to experience substantial ecosystem, social and cultural disruption” was removed at the insistence of the US delegation leader Sharon Hays, a White House science aide. Following a number of these insistences of changes to the report several scientists, including one of the co-authors, walked out of the drafting session, refusing to have any more truck with it.

    Following the final report in May, media in the US, still clearly in thrall to big business, cite economists and experts linked to the Cato Institute and the American Enterprise Institute who argue that, counter to all the scientific evidence, climate change would actually be good for the US economy. (Bring on the disaster – it’s great for GDP.) It’s often a fine balance for governments needing to be seen and heard to be concerned for the people’s welfare whilst keeping corporate business happy. On this issue a lot of the noise they are making is about cost, monetary cost. Here, with the revolving door in evidence again, is a former power-industry lobbyist, now White House environmental advisor: “there is no leader in the world that is going to be pursuing a strategy that would drive their economies into a deep recession.” So, let’s look at the cost of acting, advise the politicians. Not ‘let’s act’, not ‘let’s ask our populations what they want’, not ‘let’s put humanity first in the frame’. Insurance companies, likewise, are busy assessing and projecting the likely costs of the future.

    The third link to be considered, that between corporations and citizens is of a purely commercial nature. Citizens (workers) are a necessary part of the transactions all the way along the line. They are essential as labour for extraction, transportation, production and marketing, etc. and they are also vital as end users, consumers. If they can fill one of these requirements, fine – two, even better. However, for the millions who have no chance of factoring into this equation there is no place at the bargaining table either. They are surplus to requirements, superfluous, not worth considering apart from their use as an example and clear warning to those “fortunate enough” to be inside the loop. In the developed world prisoners are more valuable to business than are the flotsam and jetsam of human society living on the edge in some of the hardest of all places to survive. These are the ones initially who, in great numbers, will bear the brunt of the effects of global warming. To whom can they look for protection – recognition even? Corporations have no interest in nil returns, only in repeat business. And loyalty is as long-lived as profit, corporate allegiance to which will trump allegiance to any flag.

    As to what can be done, should be done, will be done . . .

    It’s easier to say what won’t be done by corporations legally bound to put the profit motive above the public good and by governments dismissive of the collective aspirations of their electorate. Without a doubt certain sections of world society deserve their own speedy demise. People, collectively, have the power to bring about that demise. Governments and corporations are made up of individuals who are, in the main, diametrically opposed to and totally disinterested in the views and opinions of most of the world’s people. But it will be the people, who, by sheer weight of numbers, will end the tyranny that is being waged now by international capitalism on their habitat. People everywhere are shouting Ya basta! “Enough!” and are beginning to realise that their loyalty is to each other and to the maintenance of a protected, sustainable world environment, not just for now, but for all future generations.
    Janet Surman

    Wednesday, November 28, 2007

    Weekly Bulletin of The Socialist Party of Great Britain (22)

    Dear Friends,

    Welcome to the 22nd of our weekly bulletins to keep you informed of changes at Socialist Party of Great Britain @ MySpace.

    We now have 988 friends!

    Recent blogs:

  • The bogey of taxes
  • "All This Hard Graft No Longer Makes Sense"
  • Workers have no country

  • This week's top quote:

    "Nobody has combatted State Socialism more than we German Socialists, nobody has shown more distinctively than I, that State Socialism is really State capitalism!" Wilhelm Liebknecht, 1896

    Continuing luck with your MySpace adventures!

    Robert and Piers

    Socialist Party of Great Britain

    Monday, November 26, 2007

    Gods, ancient and modern (2007)

    Book Review from the forthcoming December 2007 issue of the Socialist Standard

    UFO Religion. Inside Flying Saucer Cults and Culture. By Gregory L. Reece. (IB Tauris. 2007.)

    Why should socialists be interested in UFOs? Well, if they really are alien spacecraft then all humans should want to know the truth about them. UFOs should really be called UAPs – unidentified aerial phenomena rather than unidentified flying objects – since there undoubtedly are unusual aerial phenomena that do need explaining, and generally can be in terms of weather balloons, reflections, optical illusions, etc. To call them “flying objects” is to beg the question.

    Reece is not really interested in those he calls the “nuts and bolts” ufologists – those who seek to employ scientific methods to gather verifiable evidence that they are alien spacecraft – even if he thinks that haven’t had any success in this. His interest is those who believe in all sorts of weird and wonderful stories about them – the abductees, the contactees and those who say that aliens built the Pyramids and lived in Atlantis.

    His is a book about why some people believe these things in the same way as others believe in the myths propagated by the various religions. Hence the book’s title. His style is gently mocking. For him, those who claim to have been abducted and experimented on or had sex with aliens are either hoaxers, fantasists, attention-seekers or in need of psychiatric help.

    It’s the “contactees” – those who claimed to have met aliens and to have come back with a message from them – who really interest him. In the 1950s and 60s the message they reported was that the visiting aliens wanted us humans to achieve world peace and harmony and to stop testing atomic bombs in the atmosphere. Those who think that aliens built the Pyramids and the like also saw aliens as higher beings trying to help us.

    Reece’s conclusion is that these imagined aliens are “modern gods” with a modernised version of what the god(s) of traditional religions are said to teach. Like them, they are the creation of the human mind, a reflection of a human aspiration for a world of peace and harmony.

    He is concerned, however, that, in recent years, some of these new gods have turned out to be as nasty as the old ones. He instances Scientology and the Heaven’s Gate cult, both of which preach, in a modernised form, the old anti-human dogma that our bodies are evil and that the aim of life is to prepare for our “souls” (considered by these two cults to have come from outer space) to leave them so that we can progress to a higher dimension. I hadn’t realised before that the Mormons believe that their god was originally an extra-terrestrial. One now wants to become the US President as if the present incumbent didn’t have nutty enough religious views.
    Adam Buick

    Wednesday, November 21, 2007

    Weekly Bulletin of The Socialist Party of Great Britain (21)

    Dear Friends,

    Welcome to the 21st of our weekly bulletins to keep you informed of changes at Socialist Party of Great Britain @ MySpace.

    We now have 950 friends!

    Recent blogs:

  • Capitalism is not superior to socialism
  • Religion and the limits of the State
  • Socialist Principles Explained
  • This week's top quote:

    "Capitalism is organised crime, and we are all its victims." The Refused, The Shape of Punk to Come, 1998

    Continuing luck with your MySpace adventures!

    Robert and Piers

    Socialist Party of Great Britain

    Tuesday, November 20, 2007

    Capitalism is not superior to socialism (2007)

    From the November 2007 issue of the Socialist Standard:
    The Socialist Party speaker’s contribution to a recent debate at University College Dublin on the motion “That Capitalism is Superior to Socialism in the Modern World”.
    I should state at the outset, to avoid confusion, that my party has no connection to the party associated with Joe Higgins the former deputy for Dublin West. The Socialist Party of which I am a member has been existence for over 100 years offering a critique of capitalism.
    I think most people can broadly agree on what capitalism or the market system is. As against that, there are many definitions or opinions on what Socialism is. So while other speakers in tonight’s debate will line up on my side of the motion, I think that the socialism I will talk about has no relationship to what other people will put forward. I can illustrate the confusion by noting throughout the years various people from Oscar Wilde, James Connolly, Joseph Stalin, George Bernard Shaw, Muammer Gadaffi, Gerry Adams to more recently even Bertie Aherne have described themselves in one form or another as socialists!
    So what is socialism? Socialism is a worldwide system of society based on common ownership and democratic control over the means of producing and distributing wealth. The means of producing and distributing wealth include all the manufacturing and service industries, agriculture, transport infrastructure, communications, the internet etc.
    Common ownership does not mean state ownership or what is sometimes referred to as ‘public’ ownership. State ownership as was tried in Russia and now in places like Cuba is just another method of running capitalism. Common ownership means we all own the productive assets which is the same as ownership by no one in particular.
    Democratic control will ensure that these means of production and distribution are operated in the interests of everyone. So what that means is that we decide on how the economy is run rather than, as is the case now, the prevailing economic circumstances, being outside our control.
    By system of society we mean that human society as a whole must be changed on a world wide basis and we are not interested in establishing and do not support co-operative living schemes as were associated with Quaker colonies or the early days of the kibbutz movement.
    A whole spread of consequences follows from these basic changes. When everybody owns and controls the production of goods and services, there will be no point in charging themselves for taking or using them. There will be no buying or selling and hence no money system. So if we consider shopping in a supermarket, you will as now move your trolley through the aisles, go to the checkout to get your goods scanned but you won’t pay for them. The scanning is just for stock control.
    Some people may object that this is unrealistic but we should remember that it is possible to produce enough for everybody but capitalism can only operate by creating artificial scarcity. A good example of this is housing. Although house prices are falling now, the cost of a home is still prohibitive for many people because demand exceeds supply. But the limit in supply is artificial; builders only build the houses when they expect a certain rate of return. In Ireland, there’s plenty of land, building materials and labour to actually construct enough houses for everybody.
    Furthermore socialism will be a co-operative world wide system. Nations and frontiers and governments and armed forces will disappear. Groups of people may well preserve their languages and customs but this will have nothing to do with claiming territorial rights or military dominances over pieces of the world surface. So there will still be an Ireland though we won’t have ‘our’ Government and any other person, from anywhere, will be quite free to come and work here.
    Socialism can only come about when the majority, and a significant majority, of the world’s population understand what it means, are ready to accept and take part in it. That’s the reason I’m here.
    In socialism, there will be no government or leaders. Decisions that concern society and the allocation of resources will be taken on a local, regional, super-regional (‘national’) or global basis as appropriate. Socialism will be a democratic and participatory society; in fact it will be democracy in its truest form.
    People when they first hear about the socialist type of society usually comment that it sounds like a good idea in principle but that it’s just not realistic or practical. They list objections along the lines of the operation of human nature and the scarcity of resources etc. However, humans are inherently adaptable and co-operative; that is our hallmark compared to other species.
    When we consider fundamental political change, people can be conservative and afraid to throw away what they have for what may appear to be uncertain benefits. They don’t realise how much we can change. Consider that up to 300 years ago, the vast majority of humanity were governed by unelected rulers. If someone in 1700 said that in 300 years time we would be electing our leaders, rather than being given them, and that each person would have one vote, no matter what their position in life is, you can imagine that the listeners would have been extremely sceptical. But that’s what we have now thanks to the combined efforts of all those people who struggled for basic democratic changes.
    A long time ago parties that now call themselves Labour Party or Social Democratic Party used to subscribe to different versions of what I describe as Socialism but they have abandoned this over the last 100 years. They have accepted capitalism and now concern themselves with putting forward various ideas for modifying the system, to promote fairness - most of them completely impracticable.
    Nationalisation is not socialism; in many countries parties of the right have nationalised certain industries and services. These are not owned by ‘the people’ but by the nation’s whole capitalist class together.
    At the moment we should realise that society is divided into two classes; those who own or control the means of production (capital) and those who have to work for a living.
    Well over 90 percent of people are in the working class, whether they’re relatively high-paid workers or on the dole. So the vast majority of middle class people are essentially working people; they must work to obtain a living. If you have to work for a living, irrespective of your occupation or salary level, you are a worker.
    Currently under capitalism although we can vote for parties in elections, huge chunks of our lives are beyond our influence. The politicians have no control over the economy and so neither have we. We can’t decide on our standard of living or our level of prosperity. Democratic control means all the resources of the world will be used to meet the needs of everyone rather than being controlled by the few.
    More specifically, what are the drawbacks of capitalism? If I had been asked to speak here, 20 years ago the manifest problems in Ireland would have been an unemployment rate of near 20 percent, heavy forced emigration of our young people and widespread poverty, at least by developed world standards. Nowadays people’s concerns are the long days of commuting and working, stresses associated with work and the need to maintain a family life, the unavailability of affordable housing and good services, the widespread fear of crime, etc. On a world scale there are still huge amounts of malnutrition in many parts of the globe, terrible poverty, wars and ethnic struggles, forced migrations, dangerous levels of environmental damage, etc.
    Consider the waste of capitalism. There is an enormous amount of people involved in doing jobs that are essential to capitalism but that don’t add anything useful to humanity as a whole. All the armed forces of the world (maybe 100 million people). Then add to that all the workers in the defence and associated industries. That is pure waste as no wealth is being created by this. And add to this the massive financial sector; banking, insurance, tax affairs, accountants. You can throw in marketing and advertising. Also the vast majority of the legal system; guards, security people, prison officers, criminals, solicitors etc. These are all existing occupations, necessary because we have a system of exchange, i.e. money, but fundamentally not adding anything to society.
    A simple illustration of what’s wrong with capitalism: if someone is hungry and needs food but has no money and if someone else has a field, will the owner of the field grow crops to feed the hungry person? No, they won’t or can’t, because it would not be profitable for them to do so. It’s not that they are a good or bad person; it’s just that the system doesn’t work that way.
    I should finish by saying that our appeal to people to become socialist is not based on ethical considerations or compassionate feelings for people who are less well off than them. You should become a socialist for your own self interest, for a better life for yourself.
    Check our website at
    Kevin Cronin

    Suicide Epidemic Amongst US Veterans

    Originally posted on the Class Warfare blog:

    One story making the international news at the moment is that relating to the Pentagon's concealment of the number of US troops that have committed suicide since the war with Iraq. According to the CBS Investigative Unit, the true figure for US troops killed since the invasion of Iraq - their new suicide figures added - is now above 15,000 – far in excess of US troops officially reported killed since the US hostilities with Iraq began.

    Apparently CBS applied to the Dept, of Defence under the Freedom of Information Act, in an attempt to ascertain the true military suicide figure. The DoD responded by supplying grossly erroneous data, suggesting here had been 2,200 suicides among "active duty" soldiers in the past two years.

    Unhappy with the figure, CBS then began investigating suicide data state by state. They requested data from 50 states and 45 responded. The findings revealed that in 2005 alone there had been 6,256 Iraq War veteran suicides – 120 per week. Who the hell needs the Iraqi resistance!

    The story unfolds at CBS here.

    These figures are not unique, nor is the story new. While 58,000 US troops were killed in the Vietnam War, it has been estimated that 700,000 of the soldiers who served in that war have since suffered from some form of mental disorder. According to figures published by the Washington State Department for Veteran Affairs, over 100,000 of these soldiers have committed suicide since returning from Vietnam.

    Even a 'small-scale' war like the Falklands revealed a post-conflict suicide epidemic. The number of British troops killed defending that tiny rock in the south Atlantic was 255. Since then 264 have committed suicide. The current Argentine suicide toll is 454, according to an Argentine film (Iluminados por el fuego by Tristán Bauer, 2006) about the suicide of a Falklands veteran.

    But war does not only result in the death of the combatants and the civilians caught up in the killing game – as I write an estimated 1,112,000 deaths are attributed to the Iraq War – the madness continues long after hostilities cease, affecting the mental health of hundreds of thousands of ex-military personnel, blighting the lives of tens of millions of families for many years. Add to this the unnecessary production given over to the global war machine (in Britain alone it involves 100,000), the destruction of endless resources, the trillions of wasted hours of human labour power (i.e. bridges, roads, airports, power stations indeed entire cities) and vast areas made uninhabitable, unable to support fauna or flora (the jungles of Vietnam come to mind, sprayed by the toxic defoliant Agent Orange).

    You could cite to the masters of war all the statistics you want, but still they would beat their drums to summon the next generation to the battlefield, their appetite for blood never satiated, ever regurgitating their hackneyed cant that it is noble and fitting to die for one's country, never letting on that the cause of conflict has nothing to do with the peace and freedom and democracy they cite, but in reality the trade routes, foreign markets and areas of influence they wish to monopolise and the oil and mineral wealth they hanker after.

    And Bush wants a war with Iran? What the acceptable death toll from that coming conflict? What the true cost to humanity?

    A few poignant quotes on war:

    "I dream of giving birth to a child who will ask, 'Mother, what was war?"'" - Eve Merriam

    "Give me the money that has been spent in war and I will clothe every man, woman, and child in an attire of which kings and queens will be proud. I will build a schoolhouse in every valley over the whole earth. I will crown every hillside with a place of worship consecrated to peace." - Charles Sumner

    "Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its labourers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children. This is not a way of life at all in any true sense. Under the clouds of war, it is humanity hanging on a cross of iron." ~ Dwight D. Eisenhower, in speech to the American Society of Newspaper Editors, 16 April 1953

    "If we let people see that kind of thing, there would never again be any war." -Pentagon official explaining why the U.S. military censored graphic footage from the Gulf War.

    John Bissett

    Sunday, November 18, 2007

    Writers Strike, Silence Falls by Barbara Ehrenreich

    From The Nation Website

    In solidarity with the striking screenwriters, there will be no laugh lines in this blog, no stunning metaphors, and not many adjectives. Also, in solidarity with the striking Broadway stagehands, no theatrics, special effects or sing-along refrains.

    Yes, I realize the strike could deprive millions of Americans of news as Jay Leno, Jon Stewart, and the rest of them are forced into re-runs. If the strike and the re-runs go on long enough, the same millions of Americans will be condemned to living in the past and writing in Kerry for president in 08. But are re-runs really such a bad thing? After opening night, every Broadway show is a re-run in perpetuity, yet people have been known to fly from Fargo to see Mamma Mia.

    And yes, it's a crying shame that so many laugh-worthy news items will go unnoted on the late night talk shows: The discovery of Chinese toys coated with the date rape drug. The news that pot-smoking Swiss teenagers are as academically successful as abstainers and better socially adjusted. Bush's repeated requests for Musharraf to take off his uniform. Could there be a simple explanation for the powerful affinity between these two men?

    True, a screenwriters' strike is not as emotionally compelling as a strike by janitors or farmworkers. Screenwriters are often well-paid--when they are paid. All it takes is for a show to get cancelled or reconceptualized, and they're back on the streets again, hustling for work. I know a couple of them--smart, funny women who clamber nimbly from one short-lived job to another, struggling to keep up their health insurance and self-respect.

    But my selfish hope here is that the screenwriters' action will call attention to the plight of writers in general. Since I started in the freelancing business about thirty years ago, the per-word payment for print articles has remained exactly the same in actual, non-inflation-adjusted, dollars. Three dollars a word was pretty much top of the line, and it hasn't gone up by a penny. More commonly in the old days, I made a dollar a word, requiring me to write three or four 1000-word pieces a month to supply the children with their bagels and pizza. One for Mademoiselle on "The Heartbreak Diet." One for Ms. on "The Bright Side of the Man Shortage." One for Mother Jones on pharmaceutical sales scams, and probably a book review thrown in.

    There was a perk, of course--the occasional free lunch on an editor's expense account. These would occur in up-market restaurants where the price of lunch for two would easily exceed my family's weekly food budget, but I realized it would be gauche to bring a plastic baggie for the rolls. My job was to pitch story ideas over the field greens and tuna tartare, all the while marveling at the wealth that my writing helped generate, which, except for the food on my plate, went largely to someone other than me.

    For print writers, things have gone steadily downhill. The number of traditional outlets--magazines and newspapers--is shrinking. Ms., for example, publishes only quarterly now, Mother Jones every two months, and Mademoiselle has long since said au revoir. You can blog on the Web of course, but that pays exactly zero. As for benefits: once the National Writers' Union offered health insurance, but Aetna dropped it and then Unicare found writers too sickly to cover. (You can still find health insurance, however, at Freelancers Union .)

    So, you may be thinking, who needs writers anyway? The truth is, no one needs any particular writer, just as no one needs any particular auto worker, stagehand, or janitor. But take us all away and TV's funny men will be struck mute, soap opera actors will be reduced to sighing and grunting, CNN anchors will have to fill the whole hour with chit chat about the weather, all greeting cards will be blank. Newspapers will consist of advertisements and movie listings; the Web will collapse into YouTube. A sad, bewildered, silence will come over the land.

    Besides, anyone who's willing to stand up to greedy bosses deserves our support. A victory for one group, from Ford workers to stagehands, raises the prospects for everyone else. Who knows? If the screenwriters win, maybe some tiny measure of respect will eventually trickle down even to bloggers. So in further solidarity with striking writers, I'm going to shut up right now.

    Barbara Ehrenreich

    Wednesday, November 14, 2007

    Weekly Bulletin of The Socialist Party of Great Britain (20)

    Dear Friends,

    Welcome to the 20th of our weekly bulletins to keep you informed of changes at Socialist Party of Great Britain @ MySpace.

    We now have 933 friends!

    Recent blogs:

  • Co-operation not competition
  • Taxing problem
  • Che's nuclear winter or a Socialist summer?
  • This week's top quote:

    "Marx discovered the law of development of human history: the simple fact, hitherto concealed by an overgrowth of ideology, that mankind must first of all eat, drink, have shelter and clothing, before it can pursue politics, science, art, religion, etc." Engels at Marx's Funeral, 1883.

    Continuing luck with your MySpace adventures!

    Robert and Piers

    Socialist Party of Great Britain

    Tuesday, November 13, 2007

    Hammersmith and Islington (1985)

    Book Reviews from the September 1985 issue of the Socialist Standard

    William Morris’s Socialist Diary, edited and annotated by Florence Boos, (Journeyman); “Don’t Be A Soldier!” – the Radical Anti-War Movement in North London 1914-1918 by Ken Weller (Journeyman)

    Both of these books are worthy additions to the library of working-class historical scholarship. Too often so-called labour history amounts to little more than the uninspiring story of how Labourism and/or Leninism made their impact on the workers of Britain. Beyond these two main currents of Leftism there are aspects of the history of working-class thought and action which have received insufficient attention.

    Morris’s socialist ideas and activities were long ignored or distorted by historians on the Left, but there can be no doubt that his politics and the history of the Socialist League (which began its effective existence exactly one hundred years ago) offer us a valuable insight into the evolution of socialist thinking and activity. William Morris’s Socialist Diary was compiled between January and April 1887. It contains a record of Morris’s work as a propagandist (addressing indoor and outdoor meetings and writing and editing socialist literature), his activities within the League (which at the time was debating whether or not to become a “parliamentarian” organization) and his impressions of the political scene of the time.

    In his diary Morris conveys a degree of pessimism about the effectiveness of socialist propaganda which socialists today can understand, but would not agree with, particularly since Morris was able to convince a solid body of workers to become revolutionary socialists. Describing a lecture which he gave on the class-war at the Chiswick Club on 4 February, Morris commented that “ . . . the men at present listen respectfully to Socialism, but are perfectly supine and not in the least inclined to move except along the lines of radicalism or trades unionism” (p.26). Again, commenting on an outdoor meeting which he addressed at Beadon Road, Hammersmith, Morris wrote that “a very fair audience . . . gathered curiously quickly” but, not quite believing that they were attracted by what he was saying, he noted that the workers were “listening attentively trying to understand, but mostly failing to do so” (p.27). How could Morris be so sure of this? After all, in Hammersmith he was able to recruit quite a few conscious socialists to the cause – workers who would remain untempted by reformism for years to come, as shown by the records of the Hammersmith Socialist Society in the 1890s. On 27 March Morris gave his lecture on “Monopoly” at the Borough of Hackney Club, which had 1,600 working-class members, but here again, despite reporting in his diary that “the audience was civil and inclined to agree”. Morris goes on to write that “I couldn’t flatter myself that they mostly understood me, simple as the lecture was” (p.45). Unlike the conceited and pompous old devil, Hyndman, from whom remarks of the sort mentioned would have been an indication of typical arrogance, in the case of Morris it was more likely undue modesty which led him to underestimate the effect which his propaganda work had on the working class. For example, Jack Fitzgerald, a young worker whose revolutionary enthusiasm was a major contribution to the formation of the Socialist Party of Great Britain in 1904, was one socialist whose ideas were formed, at least in part, as a result of listening to Morris talk about socialism.

    Florence Boos is clearly not a remote academic, picking a few extracts from Morris’s writings out of apolitical curiosity; it is clear from her very interesting and readable sixteen-page introduction to the diary that she has more than a little sympathy with Morris’s political outlook. On page 2 she refers to Morris as leader of the Socialist League, which is inappropriate considering Morris’s professed disinclination to be a political leader and his clear non-leadership conception of socialism, but apart from that minor fault the introduction makes several useful points. She deals with Morris’s “deep opposition to electoral politics” (p.6), but explains that this did not amount to opposition to socialists entering parliament “as rebels”, but to their using it as a body for reforming capitalism, supposedly in the workers’ interests. Morris is quoted writing to Jospeh Lane on 20 March, 1887:

    . . . I believe all palliative measures like the 8 hours bill to be delusive, and so, damaging to the cause if put forward by socialists as part of socialism: though of course they will put forward and carried at some time by some party, and we shall then have to take the good and the bad of them. But we should be clear that they are not our measures. I think the duty of the League is educational entirely at present, and the duty is all the more important since the SDF has entirely given up that side of things. (p. 7; Morris’s emphases)

    Boos provides a valuable analysis of Morris’s anti-reformism which avoids the error made by E.P. Thompson, whose biography of Morris tends to go in for the usual Leftist incomprehension of revolutionary principle, which is dismissed as “purism”. A useful supplement to the Diary and to Boos’s introduction is the article entitled “Morris and the problem of reform and revolution” written by ALB in the February 1984 Socialist Standard.

    Ken Weller’s history of the North London anti-war movement between 1914 and 1918 contains the kind of careful details which one expects from serious historical research. It is clear from the book that Weller knows North London and has spent years collecting information on the political activists of the period, most of whom have been neglected for too long. Although he claims to deal with North London it would be truer to state that the book is about Islington with occasional references beyond. Without doubt, the references to the history of Islington exhibit a wealth of useful knowledge about “those thousands of ordinary men and women who fought against the 1914-1918 holocaust and who, without a thought for their own future prospects, made enormous sacrifices for what they knew was right” (p.7).

    But this review would not be complete without a serious criticism which throws into question the historical bias of his work. Why, in a book seeking to explain the opposition to the First World War, is there so little reference to the one party which unequivocally opposed the war from the moment of its outbreak: the Socialist Party of Great Britain? There are several footnotes referring to ex-SPGBers who joined other anti-war bodies, but, despite the inclusion of a whole chapter dealing with the IWW – whose existence in North London was insignificant compared with that of the Socialist Party – there is not a single reference to the ideas and activities of our party in the entire text. The Socialist Party receives one single reference – in a footnote to chapter 3:

    "It is difficult to integrate the Socialist Party of Great Britain into any account of wider working-class politics because its policy of hostility to all other political groups, and rejection as an organization of participation in any partial economic or social struggles, effectively excluded it from association with other tendencies. But no account would be complete without some reference to them. Before the War, they were a substantial presence in the area. Their Tottenham Branch had over 100 members, and there were also effective branches in Islington and Hackney. The SPGB also had a very high proportion of the ablest open-air speakers, notably Alex Anderson of Tottenham, who by common consent was the best socialist orator of his day. The SPGB’s principled Marxism had perhaps a wider influence than it would like to admit. (p.23)

    This is acceptable as far as it goes (although the final sentence is based on a peculiar assumption), but there can be little excuse for excluding detailed reference to the sole British anti-war party active in the North London area.
    Steve Coleman