Sunday, September 30, 2007

Double-Header: August and September Socialist Standards

Apologies. Been a bit slack lately with posting details of the Socialist Standard on the blog. Details of the August and September issues are listed below. That brings me up to date just in time for me being late posting details of the October issue.

September 2007 Socialist Standard

  • Competition Rules?

  • Regular Columns

  • Pathfinders Earth Version Two
  • Cooking the Books 1 Turmoil At The Stock Exchange
  • Cooking the Books 2 How To Undermine Socialism
  • Greasy Pole Like Father, Like Son
  • 50 Years Ago You and the Rent Act

  • Main Articles

  • Who Controls the World: the Illuminati or the Market? Why do some people think the world is run by a shadowy group called the Illuminati? Who were they?
  • Can Capitalism ever be Green? Yes, say a new school of green economists. No, say socialists.
  • One-party rule in Japan at an end? Politics in Japan has reached a turning point—or a dead end—with the crushing defeat of the Liberal Democratic Party in the upper-house election on 9 July
  • The Scramble for the Arctic On August 3, the oceanographer and polar explorer Artur Chilingarov declared that "The Arctic is Russian."
  • Too Much Hot air Since the 1997 Kyoto Protocol little substantial has been done to address the the problem of climate change.
  • The Single Issue The futility of the ever-increasing single issue campaigns is clear for all to see. Could it be because they are being reactive rather than proactive?

  • Letters & Book Reviews

  • Letters to the Editors 'Socialist MPs'
  • Book Reviews: 'Why We Hate Politics' by Colin Hay; 'Pirates of the Caribbean – Axis of Hope' by Tariq Ali; 'The Anarchist Geographer: An Introduction to the Life of Peter Kropotkin' by Brian Morris

  • Voice From The Back

  • Outdated Marxism?; Loads of Money; USA: Worked To Death; Same The World Over ; Homeless Heroes; Illusion and Reality

  • August 2007 Socialist Standard

  • World Without Borders

  • Regular Columns

  • Pathfinders Conspiracy of Dunces
  • Cooking the Books 1 Brown Means Business
  • Cooking the Books 2 Strictly For The Birds
  • Greasy Pole Goldsmith Gives Up
  • 50 Years Ago Mr Hutchinson Investigates

  • Main Articles

  • Borders Crossed Does immigration cause working-class problems, or is it rather that capitalism needs immigration?
  • "Old McDonald's had a brand..." The world's biggest fast-food chain trains customers in its own image – but we don't have to be part of its assembly line.
  • The Perils of Moralism Pharmaceutical companies' promotion of baby formula in the Philippines.
  • The right to be homeless "A homeless man who argued that begging is a form of free speech has won his case" (Scotsman, 1 June).

  • Free Access To Services Apart from material things, socialism will bring many intangible benefits that capitalism denies us.
  • Smile, smile smile! But why?
  • It's the system! To many the socialist criticism of the capitalist system may seem like a crude act of oversimplification, if not a type of scapegoating.

  • Letters & Book Reviews

  • Letters to the Editors 'Some Defining Features of Socialism'
  • Book Reviews What's In Your Shopping Trolley? by Andrew Simms; Six Degrees. Our Future on a Hotter Planet by Mark Lynas; We won't pay! by Gary Mulcahy

  • Voice From The Back

  • The Filthy Rich; Wealthy Get Wealthier; Biblical Weather Forecasting; The Failure of Reformism ; The Church Goes Commercial; Big Brother Is Watching You; Charity As A Symbol Status
  • Saturday, September 29, 2007

    Burma and "democracy"

    Latest post from the SPGB blog, Socialism Or Your Money Back

    Burma (or Myanmar as the present rulers want it to be called) is, and has been since 1962, a military dictatorship, one which even has had the cheek to claim to be socialist. Now, once again, sections of the population are demonstrating for there to be more elbow room for people to organise politically and to express critical political views.

    Naturally as socialists we would welcome this as freedom of movement and expression, the freedom to organise in trade unions, to organise politically and to participate in elections are of great importance to all workers and are vital to the success of the socialist movement.

    We must, however, warn workers in Burma against becoming the pawns of capitalist interests, both home-grown and external.

    Burma is the largest country in South East Asia and is of strategic importance, especially for its north-eastern neighbour, China (which also has the cheek to claim to be socialist), as it provides Chinese capitalism with an outlet to the Indian Ocean. In April this year the Chinese authorities approved the construction of an oil pipeline from the Burmese port of Sitwe to China (see here). According to an article in Asia Times (27 September), other economic interests are involved too (see here).

    The current regime in Burma is pro-China. The US, anticipating that its main rival for world hegemony this century is likely to be China, has been pursuing a policy of trying to encircle China with a ring of military bases. They are anxious for "regime-change" in Burma, to one favourable to them, so as to further hem in China. And to this end are encouraging, and no doubt financing, the Burmese opposition.

    China, on the other hand, is anxious to maintain the present regime and is likely to use its position as one of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, with the power of veto, to prevent Burma being given anything more than a slap on the wrist for shooting down demonstrators.

    Neither the US nor China care a fig about "democracy" in Burma. They are both concerned merely with their own strategic interests. So, workers in Burma should not be taken in by Bush when he says he wants to see Burma become a "democracy". What he means is that he wants to see a regime installed in Rangoon that will be pro-US and pro-market capitalism. And there is no reason whatsoever why workers should help him do this.

    Nevertheless, workers should still try, independently of pro-capitalist groups, to take advantage of this rivalry between China and the US to gain a little more elbow room to pursue their own class interests.


    Wednesday, September 26, 2007

    Weekly Bulletin of the Socialist Party of Great Britain (13)

    Please feel free to repost or forward the following message:

    Weekly Bulletin of The Socialist Party of Great Britain (13)

    Dear Friends,

    Welcome to the 13th of our weekly bulletins to keep you informed of changes at Socialist Party of Great Britain @ MySpace.

    We now have 791 friends!

    Recent blogs:

    - FAQ on the World Socialist Movement

    - Never a follower be

    - Can capitalism ever be green?

    This week's top quote:

    "Under Capitalism you sell your piss to the urinal." Attributed to Bertholt Brecht (1898-1956)

    Continuing luck with your MySpace adventures!

    Robert and Piers

    Socialist Party of Great Britain

    Monday, September 24, 2007

    Opportunity Costs (2007)

    From the forthcoming October 2007 issue of the Socialist Standard

    It has always seemed strange to hear of Women’s Rights as if it were a minority issue.

    Isn’t it a fact that it is actually the male population which is falling behind in numbers generally around the globe? Women are certainly in the majority in being the primary carer of children, usually unpaid at that. They ’bear the burden’ of bringing up children, being the ones who take time off from work in the early years or to tend to a sick child. In addition many also care for elderly parents, juggling the various responsibilities as best they can. In most parts of the world it’s accepted that women do the bulk of the household chores in addition to any other paid or unpaid labour. As for labour, statistics show that most low-paid, part-time work is undertaken by women and that there is still a wide gap in rates of pay in certain fields - unequal pay for the same work. Also not to be ignored is the perennial difference of work opportunities between the genders because of the ongoing negative female profile. This is a meagre attempt in a short space to encapsulate some of the elements which feed the need amongst women to pursue their own separate agenda.

    Now note the spring 2007 UNICEF report regarding children in ’Developed Countries’, a report which set out primarily to measure child poverty in the world’s richest countries. The results showed the UK to have "the lowest level of child well-being among 21 of the world’s richest countries." Among the factors being cited were family break-up and growth in single parent and step-families. Another report recently revealed that (whatever the government might say to the contrary) an extra 100,000 children were lowered into poverty in the last year in the UK. Ongoing economic difficulties cause stress within families. Emotional and social problems are heightened putting added strain on relationships. Economic hardship compels both parents to seek work to keep pace with financial obligations. For one-parent families (mostly mothers) there is the added burden of no one to share responsibility for taking care of the children, so they are often forced into part-time employment with the consequential reduction in pay. Then there is the category of family, with one or two parents, with or without skills, seeking work in an opportunity-lite environment, living on state benefits and therefore belonging to an underclass of ’spongers and scroungers.’ Families are also degraded through lack of time, especially quality time. Children and parents both are trapped in situations not of their own making but born of a system that has evolved to ensnare the majority, male and female, to use them for its own ends, just another commodity from which to squeeze as much profit as possible. Trapped in situations they don’t understand, don’t even recognize that they can learn to understand. Somehow they think they are, even accept being, an unchangeable, integral part of the system and believe they’re just not doing very well out of it.

    Some say living standards have been gradually improving but what’s the tangible difference between today’s - say 35-45 - age group with children and the generation of their grandparents who were raising their families in the 40s and 50s? Today’s families expect to possess or to be able to acquire all contemporary mod-cons for their own centrally heated home, suitable vehicle(s), to have holidays abroad, to shower their children with the latest fads and technology and to clothe them in the latest fashion trend. And they probably expect, nay need, both parents to work. Plus, they expect to live with an enormous debt burden, juggling mortgage, car(s) and credit card payments which include most regular purchases like food and fuel as well as Christmases and holidays. In the 40s and 50s material expectations were much lower; many more households rented property than owned (ownership being a clever trick of capitalism to create an illusion of the affluent working class); more people saved up enough prior to buying goods in order to buy at cost rather than with interest although hire purchase was also popular with some; there were few vehicle-owning families amongst the workers; holidays, if taken, were more simple affairs, travelling by train or coach; debt was considerably less and the family budget ran from Friday to Friday when the pay packet - of the (mostly) single wage earner - was paid. The mothers mainly stayed at home - there wasn’t the economic pressure to earn another wage - and worked as unpaid domestics.

    (Another interesting phenomenon: job opportunities for women were fewer. In two or three generations work has opened up enough to occupy the majority of both genders and just enough to ensure a large pool of necessary unemployed to keep a cap on wage increases.)

    So, today’s relative affluence brings more creature comforts, more comfortable homes, more exotic holidays --- for some. The downside is more debt, more time spent travelling to work in worsening conditions, less time to spend together as a family, in a word, more stress --- for most.

    And did the promised coming of technological advances, at which time there would be well-remunerated employment for all, work to be shared giving us all ample leisure time to pursue our favourite pastimes, happen yet? Or has it been and gone in the blinking of an eye?

    This is one of life’s enigmas. We all know that things should be better as a result of advances in technology, science, medicine etc. etc. but many see that they are working harder and longer to remain static or even go backwards. At the same time people want the best for their children but where do they look for the opportunities? Down the same road from which they have just come! Get a good education, get a good job, get into the same old rut, just make it a bit deeper and longer!

    Children are the women and men of the future, the ones who will decide the inheritance of the, as yet, unborn generations. What shall our legacy be to them, our children - the same old well-worn path to nowhere or the clear vision of another way, inclusive of majorities and minorities alike, men and women, young and old, a way to a world of free access and for the benefit] of all?
    Janet Surman

    Thursday, September 20, 2007

    New World Socialist Party of the United States website

    Just thought I tip a wink in the direction of the new WSPUS website: World Socialist Party of the United States website

    Course you can always go the roundabout way of checking it out via my plug for it on the Inveresk Street Ingrate blog: New Socialist Website

    Wednesday, September 19, 2007

    Weekly Bulletin of The Socialist Party of Great Britain (12)

    Dear Friends,

    Welcome to the 12th of our weekly bulletins to keep you informed of changes at Socialist Party of Great Britain @ MySpace.

    We now have 773 friends!

    Recent blogs:

    - How did we get here?
    - FAQ about Socialism
    - Message for filesharers

    This week's top quote:

    "Fear and Hope those are the names of the two great passions which rule the race of man, and with which revolutionists have to deal; to give hope to the many oppressed and fear to the few oppressors, that is our business; if we do the first and give hope to the many, the few must be frightened by their hope; otherwise we do not want to frighten them; it is not revenge we want for poor people, but happiness; indeed, what revenge can be taken for all the thousands of years of the sufferings of the poor?" William Morris. How We Live And How We Might Live, 1884.

    Continuing luck with your MySpace adventures!

    Robert and Piers

    Socialist Party of Great Britain

    Tuesday, September 18, 2007

    This Year's Moral Panic

    This summer has seen a moral panic grip the UK media. The death in Liverpool of Rhys Jones, the 11-year old boy killed by a bullet from a teenage gang was preceded by a number of gang-related murders, and resulted in much circulation-driven hyperbole about “what sort of society we live in”.

    This is nothing new. In the 60s it was Glasgow’s razor gangs that made the headlines. The technology has advanced a little now, that’s all. There have in fact been countless episodes of social panic because of a perceived rise in violent crime. A recent Home Office study (National Crime Survey) found that when polled, people always over-estimate the crime rate in their locality. (Unsurprisingly the greatest disconnect from reality was for tabloid readers).

    Nevertheless, law and order is back at the top of media and voters’ concerns. The media debate – and politicians’ response – has focussed on the problems of youth, their schools and their parents. One suggestion amongst the various boot camps being proposed, is to lower the age of criminal responsibility from 10 to 8 years old. The Prime Minister himself has commissioned a study into the effect of violent videos on children. The last ten years has seen an unprecedented 2700 new laws introduced. We can expect that trend to continue.

    Why people behave the way they do is of course a hugely complex and multi-faceted subject. World socialists don’t lay claim to any specialist understanding in this respect, suffice to say that how people behave is usually down to what they have learnt, be that formally or informally. This learning may be psychological (e.g. secure emotional attachment and nurturing with a parent in the first few years of life), or it may be material, in terms of (for example) the physical environment, or nutrition during childhood.

    Much has been made of the fact that gang-members dripping with “bling” (an average teenager on the street may wear close to one thousand pounds-worth of digital accessories) don’t appear to fit the traditional image of impoverished and desperate members of the working class such as the Glasgow razor gangs. It is likely however that the foot soldiers of the gangs do not make that much money, and this certainly applies to the very young members who are the focus of so much media concern.

    However, in a world that increasingly only looks at the price tag, the outward display of some sort of wealth masks perhaps a desperate cry for some sort of recognition. For the market system a pair of training shoes accords status and belonging. This skewed perspective is a measure of just how warped capitalism is. But in any case, world socialists have never just viewed poverty as being about the absence of things, such as cars or money. Increasingly in the older capitalist nations at least, poverty may owe more to an absence of less concrete – but no less critical – human needs such as self-esteem, a sense of belonging or a purposeful, creative and productive life. (There is plenty of evidence that above a certain level, as a society becomes economically better off, it simply becomes a less healthy place for humans in terms of mental wellbeing).

    It is likely then, that membership of a gang provides its members with some of the things that this society denies them outright. However warped or misplaced, a gang may provide some sort of shared experience and common purpose, a little excitement and a lot of status. After all, the apparent cause of most of these gang murders is not usually down to drug-related battles, but appears to be summed up in one word: respect.

    Certainly it would be churlish to ignore that a lot of the gangs are commercially-focussed, profit-driven drugs operations. According to Assistant Commissioner Tarique Ghaffur, head of the specialist crime directorate, this is an expanding economy. “It is a huge growth industry and it has not peaked. The challenge is when you do a big operation there are people, gangs, ready to replace and replace and replace". Take away the market system by abolishing money and wages and commodities, and you end at a stroke most of the “drugs” problem.

    The market system allows us only limited access to wealth. At the same time it bombards us with images and messages of what we could be having. It pressures us into valuing ourselves against everyone else, then offers an arbitrary set of rules to be followed.

    Predictably, less media attention was given to the death – only a few weeks after the killing of Rhys Jones – of 18-year old Ben Ford, who was the youngest soldier to die in Afghanistan. Perhaps if we want to genuinely try and understand what sort of society we are bringing our children into we could start by asking why a youth with a gun in his hand defending “his” turf in Moss Side or Brixton is viewed so very differently from the uniformed youth in Afghanistan or Iraq with an Army issue rifle.


    Monday, September 17, 2007

    Northern Clay

    Latest post from the SPGB blog, Socialism Or Your Money Back:

    Currency cranks claim -- echoed in some badly edited economics textbooks -- that banks have the power to "create credit" by a mere "stroke of a pen": that if someone deposits, say, £100 in a bank, then the bank can lend out many times this amount. This is not the case. Banks are essentially financial intermediaries making a profit from borrowing money and lending it at a higher rate of interest to others. They have no power to "create credit" as they cannot lend more than has been deposited from them, than what they have in effect borrowed from depositors.

    This is obvious in the case of other financial institutions such as a building society or a credit union. A building society accepts deposits from savers, which is lends out to others to buy a house (originally it was only to its members, the savers, a principle still maintained in credit unions). Everybody, even currency cranks, accepts that building societies can only lend what has been deposited with them. They seek deposits by offering savers an attractive rate of interest. Without these deposits they cannot function, and the amount of the deposits they have determines how much they can lend to home buyers. Building societies make a surplus (which in theory belongs to their members) by charging house-buyers a higher rate of interest than they pay their depositors. Which is why when interest rates go up and they have to pay more to depositors, they also have to charge house-buyers more and mortgage rates go up too.

    Northern Rock used to be a building society, but in 1997 they "demutualised" and became a bank. From then on the surplus it made from charging borrowers more than it paid depositors became "profit" which belonged to its shareholders and the explicit aim became to maximise this. This essentially legal change did not change its economic function as a financial intermediary nor free it from the limitation of only being able to lend what it had borrowed. It didn't suddenly acquire any right to create credit by the stroke of a pen. But it did allow it access to a wider range of sources from which to obtain money to lend. Instead of being restricted to savers it could now borrow money on the "money market" where short term debts that can easily be converted into cash are traded. It was still a financial intermediary borrowing at one rate and lending at a higher one, only it now had a wider range of who to borrow from.

    In recent years Northern Rock seems to have based its whole strategy on taking advantage of the relatively low rates of interest on the money market. The papers are reporting that while its loans and assets are worth £113 billion, only £24 billion of this was covered by depositors. The rest -- well over three-quarters -- coming from money borrowed on the money market.

    The trouble has been that since the beginning of August the money market, like other financial markets, has been in turmoil. Banks and other financial institutions have been reluctant to lend money on it, so institutions such as Northern Rock who have been relying on it to borrow cheaply have been in trouble. So much trouble in the case of Northern Rock that it has had to go cap in hand to the Bank of England which as the "lender of last resort" to banks has loaned them the money -- or rather opened a credit line for them -- but at 6.75 percent, one percentage point above the bank rate.

    Northern Rock is probably not so worried about its depositors withdrawing their money as it is about its inability to continue borrowing money from the money market at a lowish rate of interest --since it is from the difference between this rate and the rate it charges house-buyers that it makes a profit. Already it is forecasting lower profits. And because its share price has fallen -- due to some of its shareholders bailing out too -- is liable to be taken over by some rival. In fact, this is what the papers are predicting.

    One thing that won't happen -- because it can't -- is that Northern Rock's beleaguered chief executive, Adam Applegarth, will not be taking out his pen and simply creating the missing credit.


    Friday, September 14, 2007

    Check out this event: Introducing The Socialist Party (Salisbury, Wiltshire)

    Hosted By: Socialist Party of Great Britain
    When: Saturday Sep 15, 2007
    at 2:00 PM
    Where: "The Village" Pub
    33 Wilton Road
    Salisbury, SW SP27EF
    United Kingdom
    Public Meeting introducing the Socialist Party, and discussing the formation of a West of England Branch.

    Click Here To View Event

    Thursday, September 13, 2007

    Who controls the world: the Illuminati or the Market? (2007)

    From the September 2007 issue of the Socialist Standard

    Why do some people think the world is run by a shadowy group called the Illuminati? Who were they?

    Capitalism is a system where the means of production are owned by a minority class and are used to turn out goods for sale with a view to profit. As a result market forces come into operation. These ultimately determine what is produced, how it is produced and where it is produced. As they used to say of God: Man proposes, God disposes. Under capitalism, Man proposes, the Market disposes.

    Faced with this situation, the socialist draws the conclusion that capitalism can only work in the way it does work, that is, as a system which puts profits before the needs of the working class, and that the most constructive thing to do is therefore to work to end it and replace it with a system of common ownership, democratic control and production for use.

    But what about the non-socialist? At one time, many workers in Europe used to believe that it was possible to reform capitalism and make it work in the interest of the majority. That was the time of mass Labour and, in other countries, Communist parties. But as these failed to deliver - as socialists had always predicted they would - workers began to give up any hope of changing things collectively and on a national scale. Or, put another way, they gave up any belief in the efficacy of political action to tame market forces. This hasn't just affected the workers who merely voted for mass Labour and Communist parties but also those who were activists in them.

    This is the sort of atmosphere - a feeling of helplessness in the face of uncontrollable forces – in which conspiracy theories can flourish. Not just conspiracy theories, but other attempts to give meaning to a situation where people feel they have no control over what happens to them such as religion, gambling and astrology.

    These amount to attempts to make some sort of sense of a situation where people know they have no control over what happens to them and want to understand what's happening to them and why. The socialist understands that we are in the grip of uncontrollable impersonal economic forces, the Market, and knows that this grip can be broken only by establishing socialism and production for use not sale. Some non-socialists seek an explanation in the mysterious hand of God, the Stars, Fate or Luck. Other non-socialists can't accept the socialist view that our lives are controlled by the impersonal forces of the Market. They find it easier to think that these forces are personal; in other words, they personalise the Market and you have some shadowy group – financiers, Jews, the Illuminati – controlling the world and manipulating events.

    This view and the socialist view are rival explanations of the same experienced happenings - economic slumps, financial crises, political revolutions, wars. In one sense perhaps the conspiracy theory is the easier to grasp: that some group of people are deliberately causing these events rather than their being the result of impersonal forces acting as if they were forces of nature. It is what in religion is called "anthropomorphism" – the attribution of human form to a natural force or thing – as, for instance, in the Ancient Greek, Roman and Norse gods, which everywhere preceded the more abstract concept of a single god. In other words, conspiracy theories are a more primitive explanation of current events than the socialist theory of impersonal economic and historical forces. Or, as the pre-WWl German Social Democratic leader, August Bebel, put it less generously, anti-semitism is the "socialism of the fool". It would have been better if he had said it was "the anti-capitalism of the fool" but his meaning is clear: anti-semitism attributes the problems of the worker - or farmer or small businessman - not to the capitalist system but to the machinations of a particular group of people, in this case the Jews.

    On further reflection, however, attributing economic and historical events to a conspiracy doesn't seem so simple or so reasonable. The conspiracy theory needs to explain how the conspiratorial group bring about these events and how they can keep their existence secret. To control the whole world - plot economic crises, wars and revolutions, let alone spreading AIDS and causing global warming - would require hundreds of thousands of operatives and some of these must be expected to spill the beans at some point. The fact that none ever have - and that therefore there is no verifiable or even unverifiable evidence that the conspiracy exists - is a powerful refutation of it.

    The Illuminati
    Most people have heard the theory that it is the Jews who control the world and manipulate events. Since the consequences of Nazism, to embrace this view is now bad form, though a glimpse at the internet will show it still exists. Nowadays, it is the 'Illuminati' who are often said to control things.

    The Illuminati were a group that really did exist mainly in the German-speaking world for a short period in the late 18th century, but there is no evidence whatsoever that they continued to exist after that or that they still exist today. But who were they and why did some people distrust them so much?

    One of the features of the 18th century was what in English is called the "Enlightenment". It is mainly associated with French thinkers such as Voltaire, Diderot and Rousseau who used "reason" to try to dispel the superstitions of the Dark Ages as propagated in particular by the Catholic Church. The word "Illuminati" is the Latin word for the "Enlightened" and those who formed the secret society (masonic-type lodge) of this name in Bavaria in 1776 aimed to spread and implement the ideas of the Enlightenment in Germany and Austria.

    The founder and chief of the Illuminati was Johann Adam Weishaupt, a professor of canon law at the University of Ingolstadt, a town to the north of Munich. No biography exists of him, but we do know that he was born in 1748 and that his father was a professor at the same university. What we know of the ideas and ceremonies of his organisation comes from the writings and correspondence of members who fell out with him and from his own writings justifying his actions after the group was banned by the King of Bavaria in 1786. These formed the basis of two books which were published in 1797, one in English, the other in French, and which argued that the French Revolution had been engineered by the Illuminati as part of their plan to overthrow all religion and all governments and establish a universal republic, or cosmopolis.

    What they were accused of is well summed up in the full title of one of these books, by John Robison:"Proofs of a Conspiracy against all the Religions and Governments of Europe, carried on in the Secret Meetings of Free Masons, Illuminati, and Reading Societies, collected from Good Authorities, by John Robison, A. M., Professor of Natural Philosophy, and Secretary to the Royal Society of Edinburgh".

    This book and the other, by Abbe Barruel, which in English was called Memories illustrating the History of the Jacobins, are both on the internet in full but there's a need to distinguish between what the Illuminati said they stood for and what they were accused of standing for.

    What they said they stood for was the happiness of the whole human race, to be achieved by "enlightening" them by freeing them from "superstition" (i.e. supernatural religion and loyalty to dynastic rulers). This done, a world society of liberty and equality would come into being in which all men would be brothers and citizens of the world.

    As to their methods, the form of organisation chosen was the hierarchical secret society and the tactic was to infiltrate and seek recruits from the freemasons. There were the usual oaths, ceremonies and degrees of membership that exist in freemasonry generally. Weishaupt called himself - and this must mean something - "Spartacus" after the leader of a slave revolt in Ancient Rome.

    The aim seems to have been what they said it was, i.e. to dissipate "superstition", by winning over people of influence, rather than by them seizing power and trying to impose this on people.

    However, the secret and hierarchical nature of their organisation did lay them open to the charge and that they wanted to become new rulers through conspiratorial methods.

    There is of course nothing wrong with the stated aim of achieving a world society - a cosmopolis - in which people would be politically free and morally equal (i.e. of equal worth). Nor with terms such as "Brotherhood of Man" and "Citizen of the World". Socialists are in some ways the direct descendants of such ideas.

    Barruel devoted Volume Three of his 5 volumes to the Illuminati and says that in it he is exposing "the conspiracy of the sophists of Impiety and Anarchy against all religion and allgovernment without exception not even republics, and against all civil society and all property whatsoever". Later, he summarised the views of the Illuminati as follows:
    "Equality and Liberty are the essential rights which man, in his original and primitive perfection, received from nature; the first attack on this original Equality was brought about by property, and the first attack on Liberty was brought about by political societies and governments; the only supports of property and government are the religious and civil laws; so to re-establish man in in his original rights of equality and liberty, one must start by destroying all religion, all civil society, and end by abolishing all property".

    The Illuminati probably didn't do this in reality. Barruel was trying to frighten his readers into opposing the French Revolution which he regarded as an antichristian plot.

    Robison's aim seems to have been to cleanse freemasonry from the taint of "illuminism" (though he was also a loyal supporter of the British monarchy and State against revolutionary France). He records what some former members told the King of Bavaria the Illuminati stood for:
    "The Order was said to abjure Christianity, and to refuse admission into the higher degrees to all who adhered to any of the three confessions. Sensual pleasures were restored to the rank they held in the Epicurean philosophy. Self-murder was justified on Stoical principles. In the Lodges death was declared an eternal sleep; patriotism and loyalty were called narrow-minded prejudices, and incompatible with universal benevolence; continual declamations were made on liberty and equality as the unalienable rights of man. The baneful influence of accumulated property was declared an insurmountable obstacle to the happiness of any nation whose chief laws were framed for its protection and increase".

    Here again, the suspicion must be that this is something attributed to them in order to prejudice people against them. Robison and Barruel also questioned the motives of Weishaupt and the others, saying that the real aim was not the happiness of the human race but their own rule over them.

    That the French Revolution was the result of a conspiracy organised by the Illuminati was the first conspiracy theory, and it should be noted whose interests it served. As we know, the French Revolution was an anti-feudal, bourgeois revolution and, as such and at the time, a progressive historical development. Those who sought to discredit it were supporters of feudal privilege and dynastic rule. In short, reactionaries trying to turn back the clock of history.

    Of course the French Revolution was not a conspiracy, but the outcome of a class struggle, arising out of a clash of economic interests between the rising bourgeois of emergent capitalists and the privileged feudal aristocrats. The ideological reflection of this was the battle between the ideas of the Enlightenment and those of the Catholic Church.

    To single out the Illuminati as Utopian plotters aiming to rule the world is to fight yesterday's battles on behalf of the aristocracy and the Catholic Church against those of the bourgeoisie and the philosophers of the Enlightenment. It is a reactionary position.

    Modern-day conspiracy theorists have invented a link between the Illuminati and the Jews. Thus, one conspiracy website has said that the Illuminati were set up and financed by "the House of Rothschild". Another says that Weishaupt's father was a rabbi. Another that he was a converted Jew. Even the Spanish-language Wikipedia article on him says his ancestors were of Jewish origin. There is not a shred of evidence for any of this.

    Conspiracy theorists can't offer an adequate explanation of what's going on it the world. If we are going to change the world successfully we are going to need to understand it properly. And the only way we can do this is on the basis of verified evidence and logical thinking. This is what socialists do (or at least try to do). Using this method, we can see no evidence of world events being organised by a conspiracy. In fact, we can see that the world is not organised at all. We can see everywhere the anarchy of capitalism and its effects.

    Competition is built-in to capitalism. This brings into being the World Market which ultimately determines what happens. But it's an impersonal mechanism not a conspiracy. And it is the cause of wars, revolutions and other conflicts in that these are by-products of capitalist competition, not the machinations of some occult group. That's the socialist analysis.

    So the enemy is not the Illuminati (or the Jews, the Jesuits or Aliens from Outer Space). It's not even the individual members of the capitalist class. It's the capitalist system. What needs to be done, to put things right, is to move on to another system, one based on the common ownership of the world's resources with production to meet people's needs, not for profit. On that basis, all the things that the conspiracy theorists attribute to their chosen group of conspirators will no longer exist.
    Adam Buick

    Weekly Bulletin of The Socialist Party of Great Britain (11)

    Weekly Bulletin of The Socialist Party of Great Britain (11)

    Dear Friends,

    Welcome to the 11th of our weekly bulletins to keep you informed of changes at Socialist Party of Great Britain@MySpace.

    We now have 740 friends!

    Recent blogs:
    - Interview with Paul Lafargue
    - It's The System!
    - Fitzgerald and Hardcastle

    This week's top quote:
    "We know only a single science, the science of history. One can look at history from two sides and divide it into the history of nature and the history of men. The two sides are, however, inseparable; the history of nature and the history of men are dependent on each other so long as men exist. The history of nature, called natural science, does not concern us here; but we will have to examine the history of men, since almost the whole ideology amounts either to a distorted conception of this history or to a complete abstraction from it. Ideology is itself only one of the aspects of this history."Marx & Engels. The German Ideology, 1845.

    Continuing luck with your MySpace adventures!

    Robert and Piers
    Socialist Party of Great Britain

    Sunday, September 9, 2007

    Friday, September 7, 2007

    How To Undermine Socialism (2007)

    From the Cooking the Books Column of the September 2007 issue of the Socialist Standard

    In the "Dear Economist" column of the Financial Times Magazine (4/5 August) a correspondent asked:
    "I suffer ridicule from economist friends when visiting a local restaurant. The restaurant supplies complimentary tissues and toothpicks to customers. My friends freely use them and even take some for later use. I feel this is wasteful and not 'playing the game' but their arguments seem more logical - there's no extra cost to taking more, it is included in the costing for the meal, and I'm the mug subsidising everyone else. How can I overcome my hang-up and become a maximising consumer?"

    In his somewhat tongue-0n-cheek reply Economist wrote:
    "You have already realised that your friends are correct. Perhaps more persuasive than the pure logic is the knowledge that by grabbing tissues and toothpicks, they are holding back the forces of communism. I dimly recall - but have not been able to confirm - that Lenin held up free condiments as an example of the way goods could be free and yet not rationed. It is up to right-thinking people to prove him wrong by walking off with the entire stock. By grabbing toothpicks, your friends are chipping away not only at bits of salad but at the ideological foundations of communism. They deserve your support."

    Very funny. But there is a serious point here. In socialism, where not just condiments but nearly all available goods and services will be there for people to take and use freely, if people did try to behave as the "maximising consumers" in the economics textbooks then socialism (or communism, the same thing) would collapse. People would not necessarily take more than they needed, but they would make the "rational choice" for them as individuals of not working to help produce things but leave this to the "mugs" who didn't exploit the fact that they could get something for nothing. In other words, they would be free-loaders.

    But this just shows how wrong is the theory that people do (and should) behave as "maximising consumers", only taking into account their own perceived short-term narrow self-interest. People don't behave in this way even under capitalism and no society, not even capitalism, could survive if they did, precisely because it wouldn't be a "society", but simply a mass of competing, back-stabbing individuals.

    Human beings are social animals. All our social attitudes and behaviours are derived, in one way or another, from the society we were born into, brought up in and live in. Certainly, as individuals we want to live the best life we can, and, certainly, we are capable of making rational choices and, at the individual level, do so most of the time. But would free-loading be a rational choice in a society of free access?

    Those who had just established a socialist society must be assumed to have done so because they wanted to live in such a society and to have understood that it could not survive on the basis simply of "to each according to needs" without its counterpart of "from each according to ability". In these circumstances to choose not to contribute to producing what was needed would be an irrational choice. Not that all work would be the "pain" that bourgeois economics assumes it must be, the "cost" we must pay for the "pleasure" of consumption. That's another myth propagated in economics textbooks.

    Even "games theory", which starts from the typically capitalist assumption of a group of isolated self-seeking individuals, ends up concluding that "reciprocal altruism" – do as you would be done by or, more vulgarly, you scratch my back and I'll scratch yours - would be "the rational choice".

    The FT's witty economist is right on one thing: the "maximising consumer" would have no place in socialism.

    Wednesday, September 5, 2007

    Weekly Bulletin of The Socialist Party of Great Britain (10)

    Feel free to repost or forward on.

    Weekly Bulletin of The Socialist Party of Great Britain (10)

    Dear Friends,

    Welcome to the 10th of our weekly bulletins to keep you informed of changes at Socialist Party of Great Britain@MySpace.

    We now have 706 friends!

    Recent blogs:

    - Maximising Consumers
    - The end of pre-history
    - The Utopists

    This week's top quote:

    "I spent 33 years and four months in active military service and during that period I spent most of my time as a high class muscle man for Big Business, for Wall Street and the bankers. In short, I was a racketeer, a gangster for capitalism. I helped make Mexico and especially Tampico safe for American oil interests in 1914. I helped make Haiti and Cuba a decent place for the National city Bank boys to collect revenues in. I helped in the raping of half a dozen Central American republics for the benefit of Wall Street. I helped purify Nicaragua for the International Banking House of Brown Brothers in 1902-1912. I brought light to the Dominican Republic for the American sugar interests in 1916. I helped make Honduras right for the American fruit companies in 1903. In China in 1927 I helped see to it that Standard Oil went on its way unmolested."Major General Smedley Darlington Butler (1881-1940)

    Continuing luck with your MySpace adventures!

    Robert and Piers

    Socialist Party of Great Britain

    Tuesday, September 4, 2007

    Can Capitalism Ever Be Green? (2007)

    From the September 2007 issue of the Socialist Standard

    Can capitalism ever be green?

    Yes, say a new school of green economists. No, say socialists.

    During the last hundred years more irreversible damage has been done to the natural environment by human action than in any previous period in recorded history. Rarely a day goes by when our attention is not drawn to the various issues of environmental degradation and how the increase in human activity is impacting on large areas of the natural environment globally. Among these are: climate change; the increase in pollution; the depletion of fish stocks; over-reliance on fossil fuels; nuclear energy; soil erosion and desertification; the pace of species extinction; the increase in skin cancer; forest and wetland depletion; etc.

    This has led a dedicated band of economists, with an ecological bent, to make a study of natural resources (which they label "natural capital") and of the long-term, societal and possible profitable benefits resulting from their careful management. Their premise is that, if capitalism continues on its present course of destroying natural resources by continuing to ignore the real "costs" of the negative effects on the natural environmental and human health, in the long-term it will lose out big time.

    Which is a fair conclusion but comes as no surprise to anyone who understands the basic economics of capitalism. However, what these "green economists" propose as a supposedly viable solution - and one which is being vigorously advocated globally - is the creation of an artificial cost-benefit market by the international enforcement of a mixture of environmental taxes and regulations, so there is long-term protection and management of natural resources through market forces. The present trade-offs of carbon emissions is just one example of putting these proposals into practice, and it has been taken up by those who are of the opinion that market forces hold all the solutions to the problem of environmental and health "external costs", i.e. the money that has to be paid for clearing up the environment or on health care that don't have to be paid for by capitalist firms whose activities cause them.

    There's a lot more of such proposals in the pipeline, but when stripped of their jargon, in practice it means that for capitalism to go green it must factor in all the possible and the expected environmental and health "external costs" and in effect set limits on the accumulation of capital. If the green economists have their way - and it's a very big if - it would mean that a brand new set of market conditions will have to be enforced, ignoring the realities of how capitalism actually operates.

    The two most difficult problems that would have to be confronted are measuring the value of these external costs and tracking the specific offenders. Obviously to try putting a price tag on natural resources is going to be extremely difficult for several reasons. How do you arrive at a monetary value of the air we breath when it is freely available? Or measure the value of the disappearance of a particular species of wildlife? Or even of a view of a snow-capped mountain peak? What exactly are you going to compare and value it against?

    The green economists are seemingly unaware that a measure of value can only be ascertained once labour power is employed to transform 'natural capital' into a commodity. For instance, the deserts of the world have little or no value. However, once labour power is used to make them productive and profitable by extracting the mineral properties that deserts may contain either below or above ground, they come to have a use value and exchange value. Until then they remain deserts. In short, it is only possible to measure and apply value through the use and exchange of commodities. Anything outside of this, like attempting to measure the true external costs - and especially as regards the natural environment and human health - only arrives at a value which is largely subjective.

    Cooperation versus competition
    This lack of understanding of the workings of capitalism and the production of commodities does not stop here because the premise of the green economists also includes the false assumption that a so-called 'common interest to protect natural capital' can be created within capitalism and adopted by society as a whole. Obviously, no sensible person is going to deny that the sooner we work with nature, rather than against it, the better. By increasing our understanding of the interaction between the natural environment and the impact of human activity, society will be in a better position to minimise the damage on natural resources, and be able to arrive at rational judgements on whether or not any interference in the natural environment is justified and warranted.

    But capitalism is not a rational system when you consider that the capitalist class have their own agenda which is totally blind to the creation of a common interest. The only interest the capitalist class have is to obtain profits through the quickest and easiest way possible so that the accumulation of capital continues. A fundamental contradiction of capitalism is that although the capitalist have a common interest - as a class - to cooperate to keep the system going, by necessity they also have to compete within the market. If they don't compete they go under or are at best taken over by other capitalists.

    This built-in rivalry between the sections of the capitalist class always results in casualties in some form or another. At one end we have the everyday casualties of lay-offs and redundancies. Whilst at the other end from time to time inter-capitalist rivalry erupts into a full scale war - with extensive human casualties, refugees, communities being destroyed - and extensive damage to the environment and the destruction of wealth on a tremendous scale.

    It is these conditions of competition which make it extremely difficult to reach any regulatory agreement which can have a global application. But not impossible. When it has been in the common capitalist interest to facilitate an expansion in the global market capitalist governments have drawn up international agreements, for example on postal services, maritime law, air traffic control, scientific research at the poles, etc. These agreements are generally abided by, specifically because they do not reduce the rate of profit. It's when any such proposals come into conflict with the rate of profit that the competitive self-interest of the various national sections of the capitalist class becomes focused on the problems of winners and losers appears. This is usually announced in the media as, "There was a failure to reach an agreement over who is to pay the bill".

    If they do arrive at some agreement on the international regulation of environmental external costs they can only adopt one of two options. Either an approximation of the real external costs is to be shared out amongst the global capitalist class as a whole through a general environmental taxation. Or the costs are to be paid by the individual capitalists, and managed through the nation-states acting as the main agents and international bodies set up to supervise payments and trade-offs and also to regulate environmental impacts and damage. It's the latter that's in the early stages of being adopted with the "carbon trading".

    If market forces essentially cause and create environmental damage by literally encouraging an irrational human impact, how can you realistically expect those self-same forces to solve it? This conundrum will almost certainly intensify if globalisation picks up pace and the competition gets even tougher for the possession of scarce resources, especially energy and water. But the conundrum does not end there since the system of capitalism is also dependent on economic growth and the accumulation of capital on a larger and larger global scale. And in order to achieve an accumulation of capital, market forces must not only create and produce commodities on a mass scale but also destroy them in a systematic fashion never known in human history. When confronted by barriers of environmental legislation which are designed to diminish the rate of expected profits and the accumulation of capital, the capitalists will do what they have always done in their search for short-term profits: finding or creating loopholes, moving the goalposts, corrupting officials, trying to bribe the local population with empty promises, or shifting the whole concern to an area or region where a more favourable reception is expected and profits maintained.

    Unlike the green economists, socialists conclude that in a class-divided society where the means of living are used to serve the interests of the owners of private property any talk of finding a 'common interest', so that there is a change of course of market forces and consequently a greening of capitalism, is a fool's errand. We have, therefore, consistently argued that, where classes exist, there are class divisions in the production and distribution of wealth with the subsequent inequality manifesting itself in a class struggle between two classes with diametrically opposed interests.

    Arising out of this analysis we recognise the need for a majority of the workers to actively engage in a political struggle to bring about a revolutionary change in the social relationships - from private property ownership to a system of common ownership, a society of free access where wage slavery has been abolished, money is obsolete, hierarchical structures pointless, class laws transformed into social rules, and production is geared to satisfying human needs. Only when we are living in such a society will we be in a position to minimise any environmental damage caused by human activity.

    Once we have reach this stage in human development and social evolution - where our interaction with the natural environment not only enhances our understanding of ourselves but also converges with a social recognition that we are as much dependent on nature as is nature dependent on us - so we will be able to start to tackle a rational clean up of the environmental damage which capitalism will have left in its wake.
    Brian Johnson