Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Obituary: Pieter Lawrence (2007)

Obituary from the May 2007 issue of the Socialist Standard

We regret to report the death at the end of March of comrade Pieter Lawrence of South London branch. He was born in Western Australia in 1932 where his parents had emigrated to try to make a living as farmers (his mother was Dutch, hence the spelling of his name) but the great slump of the 1930s forced them to return to England. In 1951 he joined the Socialist Party, of which his elder brother, Charles, was already a member. A conscientious objector to National Service, after a short spell in Wormwood Scrubs he agreed to go into the medical corps. Then, disliking being a wage slave to an employer, he worked on his own, first as a tree surgeon then as an antiques dealer. He was for many years an active member of the school parents association in his local village.

In the Party he was a writer, outdoor speaker, indoor lecturer and a memorable contributor to Party conferences. He served on the Executive Committee on a number of occasions, most recently in 2006, as well as on the Editorial Committee of the Socialist Standard, and the World Socialist, and also on the Party’s Education Committee. Arising out of the latter he was instrumental in the setting up of an ad hoc committee about Production for Use, to examine the evidence for how, once the barriers of minority class ownership and production for profit had been removed, the world could produce enough to supply all its inhabitants with adequate food, housing, clean running water, medical services, education and other amenities. The committee also looked into ways in which socialist society could organise the production and distribution of goods and services without money, involving a self-regulating system of stock-control. One result of this was the Party’s pamphlet Socialism As A Practical Alternative, the first edition of which was published in 1987 and which Pieter drafted.

The practicality of socialism as a solution to the problems created by capitalism remained his primary concern thereafter. This was reflected in the publication last year of a political novel The Last Conflict (reviewed in the December 2006 Socialist Standard) and of an on-line book Practical Socialism: Its Principles and Methods which can be found at He also actively promoted the view that socialists needed to reflect on our attitude towards the need for some coercion and restraint in a socialist society (particularly its early days), though not all aspects of his views on this found majority support within the Party, especially regarding whether law and legal institutions would continue into socialism.

Our sincere condolences go to his partner, comrade Phyllis Hart, and to their son and grandchildren.

Chomsky on Hegemony (2004)

Book Review from the May 2004 issue of the Socialist Standard

Hegemony or Survival: America's Quest for Global Dominance. By Noam Chomsky.

This is the latest in a long line of books by Chomsky on US 'foreign' policy. Like the others, it presents a devastating critique of the American ruling class's support for dictatorships and readiness to use military might to get their way.

One of the key points of this text is the extent of the USA's current ambitions. With effectively no rivals, the US can aspire to 'permanent global hegemony by reliance on force where necessary'. This strategy involves 'preventive war': invading (or just threatening to invade) countries which step out of line or present any kind of challenge to US power. The US has a virtual monopoly of large-scale violence, can almost do what it likes in the global arena, and intends to keep things this way.

While the exact degree of US aims is new, it is of course just an extension of previous policies. In the early part of the 20th century, British companies were driven out of Venezuela, leaving US firms in charge of its vast oil industry (as they still are today). While other countries were weakened in the Second World War, the US emerged as economically dominant and strategically secure. It moved to gain effective dominance over the Middle East, which had the extra advantage of giving it control over Japan's energy supplies. In 1958, independent Arab nationalism was fought with help from Israel and Turkey, while the same year mass slaughter in Indonesia 'eliminated the mass-based political party of the poor and opened the doors wide to Western investors'. This last quote unfortunately reveals one of Chomsky's shortcomings: his uncritical enthusiasm for reformist anti-Western movements which in reality stand for a more nationalist version of capitalism. (This kind of logic has reached its nadir in his endorsement of John Kerry for US president, as a lesser evil than Bush!)

In more recent years, the US has consistently supported tyrannical dictators and then claimed credit for their overthrow. At the same time it has done its best to undermine any government that did not bow down before it, as in Cuba and Nicaragua, leading to the conclusion that the US is 'a leading terrorist state'. Domestically, the tactic has been for whichever faction is in power to maintain it by instilling fear in the population - 9/11 of course made this much easier. At the same time, the government has cut back on welfare spending, from schools to social security. Chomsky's summary of all this is:
"Maintaining a hold on political power and enhancing US control of the world's primary energy sources are major steps toward the twin goals that have been declared with considerable clarity: to institutionalize a radical restructuring of domestic society that will roll back the progressive reforms of a century, and to establish an imperial grand strategy of world domination."

Note that this passage again shows Chomsky's support for allegedly-progressive reforms which in fact do not challenge the power of the capitalist class or modify the subordinate status of workers.

The ambitions of the US rulers are no longer confined to terra firma, as they wish to extend their control to space. This is not an arms race exactly, as the US is the only real competitor in the militarisation of space. Ballistic missile defence (BMD) is yet another tool for global dominance, designed to make the US practically impregnable yet able to strike almost anywhere. In some variants, BMD will be so all-embracing that the US will effectively 'own' space (the jargon is 'full-spectrum dominance'). US hegemony is apparently seen as more important than mere human survival (hence the book's title).

Chomsky's persistently ironic style will not be to everyone's taste, but his book does give a thorough picture of the leading superpower's plans for all our futures.
Paul Bennett


From the Socialist Banner blog.

Interesting read from Alec Russell, the southern Africa correspondent of the Financial Times, in the New Statesman.

The economic policies of the African National Congress have moved to the right, embracing capitalism with such relish, particularly through "Black Economic Empowerment" (BEE), a key part of the government's policy to level the economic playing field.

Even President Thabo Mbeki, the very man who unleashed this capitalist fervour, is expressing unease. Last year he used the annual Nelson Mandela Lecture to castigate those for whom "success and fulfilment means personal enrichment at all costs and the most theatrical and striking public display of that wealth".

Moeletsi Mbeki, the president's younger brother, one of the government's more trenchant critics is appalled by the Black Economic Empowerment policy. It is, he says, just a cosy arrangement between white business and the black elite.

Many "struggle" veterans have appreciated that after years of fighting the good fight they do not need to stay poor. What is more, it is rather easy to become rich, given the desperation of white businesses to prove their commitment to the new era by finding a black partner, and, in many cases, any old black partner.

"We [black South Africans] must have business role models," says one of the better-known members of the ANC billionaire elite, who has had dozens of directorships handed to him on a plate primarily because of his "struggle" credentials.

"Are you denying us the right to make money?" says another. "This is banker heaven"

For the past two years the economy has grown at about 5 per cent. Consumer confidence is at a 25-year high; the Johannesburg Stock Exchange's top 40 index has gone up nearly 250 per cent in the past three years.

House prices are up more than 125 per cent since 2003.

New car sales soared by nearly 16 per cent to an astonishing 714,000 last year. There are 55 BMW dealerships in the country (plus one Rolls-Royce and two Porsche showrooms).

According to figures quoted by the business magazine Finance Week, the number of "super-rich" (those earning more than four million rand - £285,000 - a year) has risen by 50 per cent in the past five years. 16% increase in number of dollar millionaires in 2005. There are 3 South African billionaires on Forbes's 2007 Rich List.

While blacks, Asians and people of mixed race accounted for less than 25 per cent of this category in 2001, they now account for 34 per cent; that figure is expected to rise to over 40 per cent by 2011.

After ten years of ANC government, income differentials in South Africa remain the second widest in the world. Fully half of South African households are classified as poor, earning less than R355 per adult per month [about £28 or US$52]. This poverty is not confined to any one race group but is concentrated among blacks - 61 percent of Africans and 38 percent of Coloureds are poor, according to Julian May of the University of Kwazulu, Natal. He also points out that the poorest 40 percent of households account for only 11 percent of total income while the richest 10 percent of households, making up only 7 percent of the population, accrue 40 per cent of total income.

Indeed, that is the crux of the question. For a few to achieve riches, the rest of us must remain in poverty.

As the Socialist Party prophetically said in a pamphlet on Racism from 1988:-
"South Africa will become another developing African capitalist state (perhaps one of the most powerful and influential) where the ruling class are predominantly black . . . [The people of South Africa ] will have thrown off the shackles of apartheid to become 'free' workers. The chains they will then have will be those of wage slaves all over the world".
Alan Johnstone

French presidential election: now for round three?

From the SPGB blog, Socialism Or Your Money Back

When Francois Mitterrand was first elected President of France in 1981 there was dancing in the streets. Last Sunday when Nicolas Sarkozy was elected there was rioting in the streets. Perhaps there would have been dancing again if Segolene Royal had won. But, if so, it would have been as deluded as it was in 1981 - since within a year or so France had gone through three devaluations and the Mitterrand government imposed austerity on the working class.

As Socialists, who know from Marx's analysis how capitalism works, we know that what is decisive in determining what happens to the living standards and working conditions of wage and salary workers is not the political colour of the party or person in office but the workings of the production-for-profit system. It is not governments who determine how the economy works but the capitalist economy which determines how governments act. Sooner or later capitalism forces all governments to put profits before people and to attack the working class on behalf of the capitalist class.

The only choice in Sunday's French election was between somebody who said openly he was going to do this and somebody who'd be forced to it despite what she said. So our advice to workers in France was: it wasn't worth voting for either, but as always keep your powder dry for the struggle on the economic field over wages and conditions.

Sarkozy is unpopular because he has made no secret of the fact that he's going to impose austerity on the working class from the start. He has presented himself as a French Mrs Thatcher. Things, he argues, have been too comfortable for the French people; what they need, if France is to survive in the fiercely competitive arena of world capitalism, is not measures aimed to protect them from the effects of world capitalism (as Royal was promising, but wouldn't have been able to deliver any more than Uncle Mitterrand could) but measures to adapt to and go along with world market pressures. The working week must be lengthened, the welfare state cut back, employment protection weakened - and, in addiction, the suburbs where immigrants live must be cleared of yobbos with a pressure hose.

Sarkozy has got a mandate for this, but only from 53 percent of those who voted. This will surely prove insufficient to push through these measures without resistance from the other 47 percent (and from those who didn't vote). So, expect turbulent times in France over the next few years as the class war, initiated in this case by the capitalist class against the workers, hots up.
Adam Buick