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

    Monday, November 12, 2007

    Marx's Capital (2007)

    Book Review from the November 2007 issue of the Socialist Standard

    Francis Wheen: Marx’s Das Kapital. Atlantic

    Wheen wrote a well-received biography of Marx and here he turns his attention to Marx’s greatest work.

    He traces the influences on Capital, the labours Marx went through in writing it, its main ideas, and its subsequent reception and reputation. He gives a decent account of how surplus value comes about: labour power creates more value than it has itself. To the capitalist, the labour market is just another branch of the commodity market. The effects of machinery are invariably malign: the worker is deskilled and forced to work longer hours. Wheen is particularly good in discussing the idea of ‘increasing misery’, and shows that this has to be understood in relative terms. Marx did not claim that there would be an absolute decline in wages, only a relative decline in comparison with profits. And as another example, workers in Britain now work longer hours than was the case in the early 1980s, so we are indeed more degraded as time (and capitalism) goes on.

    In the chapter on the ‘Afterlife’ of Capital, Wheen discusses Marx’s fall-out with Hyndman, who had plagiarised from him with no acknowledgement. He also demonstrates that Bolshevism bore little relation to Marx’s ideas. Citing Lenin‘s arguments that workers should place themselves under the leadership of professional revolutionaries, he notes that here ‘one can see in embryonic form what eventually became a monstrous tyranny’.

    Marx’s great triumph, says Wheen, lies in revealing the nature of capitalism, and this makes his work still valid and relevant today: he concludes that Marx ‘could yet become the most influential thinker of the twenty-first century’.
    Paul Bennett

    Sunday, November 11, 2007

    Co-opting the Co-op (2007)

    The Cooking the Books column from the November 2007 issue of the Socialist Standard

    Robert Owen, the person who introduced the word “socialism” into the English language, must be turning in his grave. “What we have to create is a different kind of capitalism” read an extract in big type introducing an article in the Co-operative Movement Magazine (Autumn 2007). The author was Sir Jonathon Porritt (knighted for his services to Prince Charles).

    In the article Porritt wrote of the "worsening inequality, collapsing eco-systems, negative climate change, unchecked self-interest, obscene spending on arms and war, the protection by world leaders of the inconceivably rich minority, and the failure of globalisation to deliver its promise to the world's poorest countries" and that this provided "an ideal opportunity for the ethos of the Co-operative Movement to inform and inspire a very different kind of globalisation, one which puts people first, prosperity and planet next, and profits after that.”. He went on:

    “The truth of it is that our particular model of capitalism today is stuffed! It's inconceivable that it could deliver the kind of equitable, sustainable society that nine billion people will be hoping to live in by 2050. However, capitalism is – quite literally – the only economic game in town. So what we have to create (ideally over the next ten years) is a different kind of capitalism – and what better inspiration is there for that kind of transformation than the principles and practices of the Co-operative Movement?”

    The theorists of the original co-operative movement saw it as a movement that would eventually outcompete and replace ordinary capitalist businesses, leading to the coming of “the Co-operative Commonwealth” (which was an alternative name for socialism, and not a bad one at that).

    We know what happened. Instead of the “ethos of the Co-operative Movement” transforming capitalism, it was the other way round: the ethos of capitalism transformed the co-ops. This was because they had to compete with ordinary capitalist businesses on the same terms as them and so were subject to the same competitive pressures, to keep costs down and to to maximise the difference between sales revenue and costs (called “profits” in ordinary businesses, but “surplus” by the co-op). The co-operative movement was outcompeted and is now trying to survive on the margin as a niche for “ethical” consumers and savers, leaving the great bulk of production, distribution and banking in the hands of ordinary profit-seeking businesses.

    Porritt says that it is not capitalism as such that is stuffed, but only “our particular model of capitalism”. But, in the end, there is only one model of capitalism: the one we’ve got, where production is in the hands of competing enterprises which are forced to reduce costs so as to maximise profits in order to have the resources to invest in further cost-cutting. Making a profit, not satisfying needs, is the aim of production, and as measures to protect the planet add to costs they are not taken.

    The political and legal framework within which this economic system operates does vary, but the above is a feature of all possible forms or “models”. In all of them, profits can never take third place, as Porritt would like, to people and the planet. They must always come first, with the luxury consumption of the rich second, and the planet and the needs of the rest of the people third. To avoid the negative effects that he lists, the whole profit system itself must go.

    See Also:

  • Society does exist, admits Tory leader

  • Saturday, November 10, 2007

    Why Gould was wrong, and why Dawkins might be even more wrong (2007)

    The Pathfinders column of the November 2007 issue of the Socialist Standard

    A science writer who knows how to communicate to a lay audience is a rarity. But to find two in the same field, battling each other’s ideas in the public domain, is a real treat, and the long-running contest on evolutionary theory between the late Harvard palaeontologist Stephen Jay Gould and the Oxford ethologist and biologist Richard Dawkins was a gem of the first rank. If the modern science-inclined public has better than a cartoon Darwinist grasp of the complex story of evolution it is in no small thanks to these two outstanding writers.

    Their disagreements were neither feigned nor frivolous. They argued about whether evolution worked at the level of the species animal or group (Gould) or the individual gene (Dawkins). They argued about whether evolution went in fits and starts (Gould) or as a continuum (Dawkins). They argued about whether evolutionary mutations were as often as not meaningless aberrations or freaks of ‘historical contingency’ (Gould) or purposeful and deterministic adaptations (Dawkins).

    While the debates were never quite this simplistic, it’s fair to say that the two men followed distinctive trends in their thinking. For Gould life was largely a series of existential accidents, without purpose or goal, and with many evolutionary jokes and anomalies thrown in. One has only to consider the Permian extinction, which killed 95% of all species on the planet, to understand how capricious nature can be. And that was only one of five great extinctions, each clearing the decks for an explosion of new and unprecedented life-forms, each a blind roll of the dice. As Gould was fond of saying, if you rewound the tape of evolution back to the beginning and replayed it, humans would probably not appear, and nothing would come out the same.

    For Dawkins, in comparison to this a galloping determinist, such randomness was anathema. Though never a crude ‘adaptationist’ of the sort Gould ridiculed, the sort who looks for an evolutionary purpose behind everything, Dawkins would still tend to look for the angle. And there are reasons for thinking there are reasons for things. As James Marden, professor of biology at Pennsylvania State University put it, when writing of ‘constructal theory’ in August 2006:
    "Our finding that animal locomotion adheres to constructal theory tells us that -- even though you couldn't predict exactly what animals would look like if you started evolution over on earth, or it happened on another planet -- with a given gravity and density of their tissues, the same basic patterns of their design would evolve again,"(From here.)
    Thus, for Gould, the world was a matter of sheer luck, for Dawkins, a matter of rules. What made it interesting was that they were both right. But what makes it even more interesting is to reflect how their vastly different approaches manifested themselves when considering the festering problem of religion.

    If the world was a random lottery of chance, as Gould saw it, with species doing their best to keep their fingers crossed and fit into whatever niche they could find, then surely one’s only hope was to make the best of a bad lot and accommodate oneself to the world in whatever way one could. Seeing that society was redneck-deep in religious ignorance and superstition, and seeing that the outnumbered forces of reason and science had no realistic prospect of defeating them, then the best survival strategy must surely be to reach an accommodation with them.

    Thus the idea of ‘non-overlapping magisteria’, or NOMA. The term ‘magisterium’ is ecclesiastical, meaning ‘area of authority’. The idea was that science had its area of undisputed authority, and religion had its area, and provided that science did not interfere on the priests’ turf and religion didn’t interfere in science, everyone should be happy. Gould was hoping at best for some form of symbiotic equilibrium, which was a faint hope, and also something of an irony. If there was one man alive who was least likely to believe in the viability of long-term equilibrium in anything, it was Gould. Thus, the chief proponent of the idea that such ‘equilibria’ in nature were forever getting themselves ‘punctuated’ to devastating effect (the extinctions, for example) now found himself uncomfortably proposing the very opposite.

    Needless to say, Dawkins treated Gould’s notion of NOMA with undisguised derision, branding it the ‘Neville Chamberlain school’ of appeasement (The God Delusion, p. 67). For, argues Dawkins, the religious side would never stick to their side of the partition, partly because beliefs such as the belief in miracles require real-world alterations to the laws of physics, and partly because the canting hypocrites constantly seize and flourish any scrap and gobbet of scientific evidence that appears to support their nutty ideas. But Dawkins doesn’t merely distrust the religious theologians, he actively despises them and refuses to accord their area of ‘authority’ any respect at all. Where Gould appeared to ‘bend over backwards to be polite’, Dawkins retorts: ‘I don’t think we should even throw them a sop’.

    Delightful and refreshing as this undoubtedly is for thinking atheists everywhere, others, scientists among them, are bemused by Dawkins’s belligerence. But, unlike Gould, in Dawkins’ world there are rules. And if the world is built on a base of rules, then it follows that there is an optimal or correct structure or order, and a sub-optimal or incorrect structure. Two different structures would be mutually exclusive, and therefore inevitably in conflict, a conflict only resolvable upon the death of one or other of them. It is in consequence an evolutionary directive for incompatible systems to attempt to destroy each other. For Dawkins, if science doesn’t kill religion, religion will surely kill science.

    The same argument can be had among socialists, some arguing that religion can be ‘accommodated’, others that it must be destroyed. Not surprisingly, Gould and Dawkins didn’t agree about politics either. Gould was a progressive liberal with socialistic tendencies, not unlike the class-savvy Carl Sagan. Dawkins is a conservative who identifies the processes of capitalist trading as being prefigured in our ‘altruistic’ or ‘dealing’ genes, and whose conception of social history betrays no recognition of the role of class struggle. Thus he celebrates, in The God Delusion, how the ‘zeitgeist’ has changed remarkably, but in the absence of the dynamic of class can offer no explanation for it beyond feeble references to ‘charismatic leaders’ and ‘role-models’. This failure to grasp the real forces of social relationships, more than anything else, is what sidelines Dawkins’ polemic against religion. Gould may have been wrong in trying to compromise, but in his better understanding of the totality of the conflicts in capitalism he had his eye on a much larger picture. For Gould, as for Sagan, the imperative was not mutual ideological destruction, but consensual growth. Put simply, you have to take people with you, or they will desert you. For socialists too, who rely on a consensual understanding to effect socialist change, it’s not just a matter of beating the other guy in the argument. For all his engaging chutzpah, Dawkins is arguably fighting the wrong battle, in the wrong way, in the wrong war.
    Paddy Shannon

    Friday, November 9, 2007

    Society does exist, admits Tory leader

    From the SPGB blog, Socialism Or Your Money Back:

    Almost twenty years later to the week after she made it, the current Tory leader, David Cameron, has repudiated one of Madame Thatcher's more notorious remarks that "there is no such thing as society". In a speech in Manchester yesterday (8 November) he declared: "there is such a thing as society -- it's just not the same thing as the state"" (Actually, this is something that we ourselves have always insisted on.)

    Cameron's whole speech was in fact a repudiation of the ideology of "free market liberalism" embraced by Thatcher and the Tories in the 1980s. No doubt his media advisers and focus groups had told him that this sort of thing no longer down very well these days and that, if he wants to have chance of winning the next election, he is going to have to come up with some other, less harsh message.

    He was in Manchester to launch the Conservative Co-operative Movement. "The co-op movement", he said, "has generally been associated with the political left. I think that's a shame", explaining:
    "because there have always been people on the centre-right concerned about the effects of capitalism on the social fabric. Men like Carlyle and Disraeli, following the tradition of Edmund Burke and Adam Smith himself, who recognised at the outset of the industrial revolution that profit was not the only organising principle of a healthy society".
    The free-marketers at the Adam Smith Institute must be cringing and "to the right of Genghis Khan" might be a more accurate description of the views of Thomas Carlyle than "centre right".

    Carlyle (who invented the term "the cash nexus") and Disraeli (who wrote a novel about there being "two nations" in England) were prominent members in the 1840s of a group of Tories who called themselves "Young England". They got a mention in the Communist Manifesto:
    "Owing to their historical position, it became the vocation of the aristocracies of France and England to write pamphlets against modern bourgeois society . . . In order to arouse sympathy, the aristocracy were obliged to lose sight, apparently, of their own interests, and to formulate their indictment against the bourgeoisie in the interest of the exploited working class alone. Thus the aristocracy took their revenge by singing lampoons on their new master, and whispering in his ears sinister prophecies of coming catastrophe . . . The aristocracy, in order to rally the people to them, waved the proletarian alms-bag in front for a banner. But the people, so often as it joined them, saw on their hindquarters the old feudal coats of arms, and deserted with loud and irreverent laughter. One section of the French Legitimists and 'Young England' exhibited this spectacle".
    No doubt, him being a Tory Toff that went to Eton, there is a feudal coat of arms on Cameron's hindquarters, but much more prominently displayed will be the words "Opportunist Professional Politician" -- which workers should equally greet with loud and irreverent laughter.
    Adam Buick

    Thursday, November 8, 2007


    From the Class Warfare blog:

    I've written several times over the years on the insanity of a system that forces underdeveloped countries to grow cash crops - for instance coffee and cocoa beans - for export to the west while millions starve.

    George Monbiot in Tuesday's Guardian writes a timely piece on the matter, focusing on how our "appetite for biofuels is causing starvation in the poor world."

    Swaziland is a prime example of the problem. Here, 40% of its population is facing hunger, while the country's staple crop – cassava – is being grown with the intention of producing ethanol for export to the west. Elsewhere, rainforests, the lungs of the earth, are being cleared for the production of biofuel crops.

    At a time when the UN's Food and Agricultural Organization is reporting that global food stocks are the lowest in a quarter of a century, the biofuel problem just makes you want to wretch.

    The current problem is not helped by the rising price of oil (as I write it is nearing $100 a barrel), growing populations, extreme weather and ecological problems. Last week the UN Environment Programme announced that the planet's water, land, air, plants, animals and fish stocks were all in "inexorable decline". Fifty seven countries, including 29 in Africa, have been hit by floods and crops have been wiped out by drought and heatwaves in Asia, Europe, China, Sudan, Mozambique and Uruguay.

    All of which means the laws of supply and demand become more pronounced. John Vidal wrote in Saturday's Guardian:

    "Record world prices for most staple foods have led to 18% food price inflation in China, 13% in Indonesia and Pakistan, and 10% or more in Latin America, Russia and India, according to the UN Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO). Wheat has doubled in price, maize [the US produces 70% of the world Maize crop, a staple diet in many countries. Last year 20% of the maize yield was given over to the production of ethanol] is nearly 50% higher than a year ago and rice is 20% more expensive, says the UN.

    Lester Brown, the president of the Worldwatch Institute said: "The competition for grain between the world's 800 million motorists, who want to maintain their mobility, and its 2 billion poorest people, who are simply trying to survive, is emerging as an epic issue."

    Says Josette Sheeran, director of the UN’s World Food Programme, "There are 854 million hungry people in the world and 4 million more join their ranks every year. We are facing the tightest food supplies in recent history. For the world's most vulnerable, food is simply being priced out of their reach."

    Meanwhile the EU has set itself targets that directly impact on the world’s starving millions: 5.75 per cent of transport fuel must come from biofuels by 2010, and 10 per cent by 2020. This is all to do with reducing the European carbon footprint. But this switch to biofuels hardly helps matters as Monbiot observes:

    "In principle, burning biofuels merely releases the carbon the crops accumulated when growing. Even when you take into account the energy costs of harvesting, refining and transporting the fuel, they produce less net carbon than petroleum products . . . If you count only the immediate carbon costs of planting and processing biofuels, they appear to reduce greenhouse gases. When you look at the total impacts, you find they cause more warming than petroleum.

    "A recent study by the Nobel laureate Paul Crutzen shows that the official estimates have ignored the contribution of nitrogen fertilisers. They generate a greenhouse gas - nitrous oxide - that is 296 times as powerful as CO2. These emissions alone ensure that ethanol from maize causes between 0.9 and 1.5 times as much warming as petrol, while rapeseed oil (the source of more than 80% of the world's biodiesel) generates 1-1.7 times the impact of diesel. This is before you account for the changes in land use."

    Monbiot finishes with a warning:

    "If the governments promoting biofuels do not reverse their policies, the humanitarian impact will be greater than that of the Iraq war. Millions will be displaced, hundreds of millions more could go hungry. This crime against humanity is a complex one, but that neither lessens nor excuses it. If people starve because of biofuels, Ruth Kelly [Secretary of State for Transport] and her peers will have killed them. Like all such crimes, it is perpetrated by cowards, attacking the weak to avoid confronting the strong."

    While I welcome Monbiot's criticism of this issue, It is not so much the "strong", the oil and biofuel, the transport and food production industries that need confronting. it is more a case that the damned system that allows them to operate as they do, that allows them to put profits before human and environmental interests, needs to be abolished.

    John Bissett

    Friday, November 2, 2007

    Wealthy Human Rights Abusers Welcomed in Britain by a Rich Octogenarian in a Red Hat

    Cut and pasted from the Class Warfare blog.

    BBC online news at 2.30 pm today reported:

    "King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia has been welcomed ceremonially to Britain by the Queen . . . The Queen greeted him on Horseguard's Parade at the start of his first visit to the UK in 20 years . . . Prime Minister Gordon Brown, Home Secretary Jacqui Smith and Minister for the Middle East Kim Howells joined dignitaries to welcome the king as he arrived at the central London parade ground with the Prince of Wales".

    Nothing wrong with this you may think; perfectly normal high level diplomacy that goes on, week-in, week-out, without comment. That is until you recall the words of Gordon Brown at the Labour Party Conference just over a month ago. Speaking of dictatorial regimes, the prime minister said: "A message should go out to anyone facing persecution, anywhere from Burma and Zimbabwe: human rights are universal and no injustice can last forever."

    By comparison Saudi Arabia is arguably a far worse human right abuser than the ruling juntas in Burma and Zimbabwe. So what’s going on here? Why is the British ruling elite kowtowing to some of the world’s worst human rights abusers?

    Well, perhaps human rights activist Peter Tatchell hits the nail on the head when he says: "The Killer King''s visit is about business, very big business. And under Labour, as with their Conservative predecessors, money-making trumps human rights every time."

    Mr Brown and Mrs Windsor, like the true representatives of British capitalism plc that they are, will grovel in front of King Abdullah and his hangers on knowing full well that in Saudi Arabia people are detained and tortured without trial, that gays are beheaded, that women who commit adultery are executed, that trade unions and non-muslim religions are proscribed and that the death penalty awaits those alleged to be guilty of a hundred "crimes".

    Of course, Saudi Arabia has a lot of what Zimbabwe has not - namely oil. It is also a big purchaser of British weaponry, a very big purchaser, and where there are mega profits to be had you can bet your bottom dollar those human rights abuses can be quietly brushed under the carpet. Brown might honestly hate what he is doing, but he’s "batting for Britain" here. He simply has to bite his lip because his job as the front man for the executive of British capitalism is to represent the interests of big business.

    As Johann Hari wrote in yesterday's Guardian: "The truth is that the British Government – and all Western societies – are so addicted to Saudi Arabia's oil that they feel they can't speak back. They are terrified of seeing the petrol that lubricates our economy (or the arms deals that butter it) being turned off, as it was in 1973 oil crisis."

    And with this in mind you begin to appreciate why, in December 2006, the Labour government shut down a Serious Fraud Office investigation into the £40 billion al-Yamamah arms deals, which purportedly involved backhanders of £1 billion being paid to Saudi government representatives.

    Again, last month the Saudis arranged to buy 72 Eurofighter Typhoon fighter planes from Britain at a cost of almost £4.5 billion - the biggest export order yet for the aircraft, and a lot of that is sheer profits, and if you want to stay in power, if you want big business supporting your election campaigns, then you shut your mouth and don't mess with those profits.

    So while the human rights campaigners demonstrate and newspaper columnists kick off about more Labour Party hypocrisy, the truth is that this is the business world functioning normally; this is what it does.

    And of course, chumming it with fascists, dictators, state terrorists and human rights abusers is nothing new. Blair had a very close working relationship with the leader of the world's number one rogue state George W Bush. Margaret Thatcher thought the moon shone out of General Pinochet's arse.

    Go back in time and we find Churchill saying this of Hitler's coming to power: 'The story of that struggle, cannot be read without admiration for the courage, the perseverance, and the vital force which enabled him to challenge, defy conciliate or overcome, all the authority of resistances which barred his path'.

    And commenting on Spain in 1937, Churchill, Brigadier Packenham Walsh, said "Winston says at heart he is for Franco'".

    And, Edward VIII, after giving up the throne to marry divorced American Wallace Simpson in 1937, visited Germany and met Hitler, voicing admiration for his policies. He once remarked while on a visit to the USA: "It would be a tragic thing for the world if Hitler were overthrown."

    Even the late Queen Mum, sending a copy of Mein Kampf to a friend in the pre-war years, commented: "Even a skip through gives a good idea of his obvious sincerity."

    If you want to get to the core of the problem then campaign to abolish the damned profit system. Don't whinge about the flies hovering about the shit - get rid of the damned turd. At the end of the day big business, profits and class privilege go hand in hand with corruption, hypocrisy and human rights abuses.

    John Bissett