Thursday, January 31, 2008

Weekly Bulletin of The Socialist Party of Great Britain (31)

Dear Friends,

Welcome to the 31st of our weekly bulletins to keep you informed of changes at Socialist Party of Great Britain @ MySpace.

We now have 1166 friends!

Recent blogs:

  • The making of "killing machines"

  • Why governments can't just spend and spend

  • The Continuing Trade Cycle

  • This week's top quote:

    "But capital not only lives upon labor. Like a master, at once distinguished and barbarous, it drags with it into its grave the corpses of its slaves, whole hecatombs of workers, who perish in the crises." Karl Marx, Wage Labour and Capital, 1847.

    Continuing luck with your MySpace adventures!

    Robert and Piers

    Socialist Party of Great Britain

    Saturday, January 26, 2008

    “Socialism is Illogical and Irrational” (2008)

    From the January 2008 issue of the Socialist Standard

    Free-market capitalism, left to its own chaotic and predatory devices would self-destruct in very short order.

    I’ve been told this on a number of occasions when attempting to discuss the pros and cons of socialism and capitalism . . . not that the proponents of that view can offer any evidence that the present system of free-market capitalism is either rational or logical. Theirs is the response of the semi-secure, semi-comfortable, and semi-informed; they sit within the bubble that the system allows them, observing the world through the reversed telescope of capital’s media machine. What they see, hear and read “informs” them and shapes their world-view. When compared with much of the rest of the world their semi-existence looks infinitely better than that of the vast majority of humankind. Better not to rock the boat, better not to question, better to be satisfied with one’s lot, better to follow the advice of our leadership, after all, didn’t we elect them to take the difficult decisions in our name? Following the crisis of “9/11” didn’t Bush suggest that the best contribution the citizenry could make was to kick-start the economy back into top gear? Don’t think, don’t question – consume!

    The capitalist system is rather like an onion. At the centre sits the elite controlling the system and drawing to themselves the fruits of the labours of the rest of us. From this centre each skin or layer gets progressively bigger with those nearest the centre being granted the largest share of the remunerations and benefits that form a part of the “overhead costs” that capital incurs, and those at the outside who are deemed to be totally non-productive by the elites, receiving nothing – not even the right to exist.

    Whilst those who are near to the centre refuse to see the faults and failures of the system, there are two groupings who recognise the failings only too well – those on the outside who are robbed of everything, often even their lives, and those at the centre – the thieves and murderers themselves, aka the elites.

    We are conditioned to believe that the free-market capitalist system has always been around and because it’s the only system that actually works, will always be around. First, it actually doesn’t work. Free-market capitalism, left to its own chaotic and predatory devices would self-destruct in very short order. Second, there really is no free-market capitalist system in the developed world – the “free-market” is reserved for the rest of the world, the people and resources that are there to be exploited and plundered.

    In the developed world the elites have established a system of protectionism and state intervention through subsidies that pass as government contracts; the defence industry with its associated satellite firms is perhaps the definitive example. Through these and similar routes the elites can regulate their economies in an attempt to balance the short-termism that is inherent in the “maximum-profit-now-regardless-of-consequences” free-market. Whilst scorning “big government” in public the capitalists are creaming off vast amounts of money from the so-called public purse through government contracts and through bail-outs for “vital” industries where greed, fraud and ineptitude has resulted in the likely collapse of part of the capitalist’s empire. Witness the revolving door that allows the so-called Captains of Industry or key managers within the bureaucracy to be “fired”, handed huge severance payments and then immediately rehired somewhere else on even higher remunerations. Could there be a better indicator that the elites recognise that there really is no skill in “working” the system, only chance. As long as you are a paid-up member of the free-market masonic club there will be warm hand shakes and even warmer hand-outs as you head off for your next boardroom appointment.

    The logic and rationale of socialism is that at its heart lies the principle, not of maximising profits for the few, but of meeting the needs of everybody on the planet. From that it follows that exploiting people or the environment upon which they depend for the short-term benefit of a few chosen individuals is purely illogical and irrational. Witness that illogicality, that irrationality of capitalism in the following comment by Noam Chomsky in conversation with David Barsamian, “Keeping the Rabble in Line” on a news item in the business section of the New York Times (7 February 1992) about a report prepared by Lawrence Summers, chief liberal economist at Harvard, for the World Bank setting out its position for the Rio conference in June that year:

    “The idea is that the rich countries should take the position, led by the World Bank, that the problem of pollution is that the poor countries, the Third World, don’t follow rational policies. ‘Rational’ means market policies. Many of them are resource and raw material producers, energy producers, and they sometimes try to use their own resources for their own development. That’s irrational. That means that they are using resources for themselves, often at below market rates, when there are more efficient producers in the West who would use those resources more efficiently. That’s interference with the market. Also, these Third World countries often introduce some measures to protect their own population from total devastation and starvation, and that’s an interference with the market. It’s an interference with rational market policies. The effect of this Third World irrationality is to increase production in places where it shouldn’t be taking place, to increase development where it shouldn’t be going on, and that causes pollution. So if we could only convince those Third World countries to behave rationally, that is, to give up all their resources to us and stop protecting their own populations, that would reduce the pollution problem. This document was produced with a straight face” (author’s emphasis).

    The same day on the same page of the New York Times there was another unrelated article, reproduced from Economist magazine, about a World Bank internal memo, written by the same Lawrence Summers, which had leaked. The NYT included an interview with Summers in which he claimed that the article was meant to be sarcastic. Chomsky commented:

    “The World Bank memo added to what had been said in the article about Third World irrationality. It said that any kind of production was going to involve pollution. So what you have to do is do it as rationally as possible, meaning with minimal cost. So suppose you have a chemical factory producing carcinogenic gases that are going into the environment. If we put the factory in Los Angeles, we can calculate the number of people who will die of cancer in the next forty years. We can even calculate the value of their lives in terms of income or whatever. Suppose we put the factory in Sao Paulo or some even poorer area. Many fewer people will die of cancer because they’ll die anyway of something else, and besides, their lives aren’t worth as much by any rational measure. So it makes sense to move all the polluting industries to places where poor people die, not where rich people die. That’s on simple economic grounds.”

    Summers did point out in his memo that there might be some counterarguments based on human rights and the right to a certain quality of life. But he further points out that if we allow these arguments to enter into our calculations, then just about everything the World Bank does would be undermined.

    In the fifteen years since that report there is plenty of evidence of its principle thrust, the export of hazardous production processes to poorer areas of the world, in action. The same principle works in all areas of production. Capital is international, it goes where the profit is and in the process it undermines the position of the workers in the areas it leaves behind opening them up to greater exploitation as wage and benefit costs are driven down ready for whatever menial service jobs may be introduced for some in the next stage of the capitalist merry-go-round. Capital has no conscience and neither do those who function at the higher levels of the system who benefit from it.

    So, there you have it, on the one hand the rationality and logic of free-market capitalism, a world devoid of humanity in every sense. Corrupt, polluting and choking to death on the consequences of its own greed and immorality. On the other hand you have the rationality and logic of socialism, a world where humanity can thrive, where the challenges of meeting the needs of every human being on the planet are balanced against the needs of the planet. Where everyone, including Mother Nature, has a voice and a place at the table, where there are no weak and poor, where there are no needy, where there are no outsiders . . . and no money. The choice is ours; we have to want change enough to bring it about. We have to build socialist thinking one brick at a time, spread the message one person at a time. Last November pundits were predicting the “Perfect Storm” economic collapse scenario due to the convergence of high oil prices and the credit crisis. Both of these events were triggered by the logic and rationality of capitalist greed and corruption; the first through an illegal attempted grab of resources and the second through greed for the easy money to be made out of sub-prime mortgages and the subsequent selling on of re-packaged and concealed risk to other greedy “suckers”. In both instances the capitalists are making vast fortunes or are being bailed out from the “public purse”, screened from the consequences of their greed and crimes. Some might feel that this “event” will provide a window of opportunity where the masses will suddenly get the socialist message by osmosis. Don’t hold your breath! Socialism is about spreading the truth, about making socialists and only socialists can do that. Socialism is logical, rational, pro-people, pro-environment, and above all + pro-active.
    Alan Fenn

    Dreaming of a super cycle (2008)

    From the January 2008 issue of the Socialist Standard

    Cooking the Books (I)

    On 19 November the (London) Times published a special supplement on “Minerals and Mining”. One optimistic article “Boom time for world-wide mining” raised the prospect that world mining was entering a “super cycle” and that “we are now in the early stage of a prolonged upward shift in prices, fuelled by the industrialisation of China and India”.

    Industrialisation involves not just the building of new factories but also the uprooting of people from the countryside and their move to urban industrial centres to work. One expert spoke of “the movement of anything from around 10 million to 20 million people per year into an urban setting” in China, so increasing the demand for new houses, roads, administrative buildings and the other features of an urban infrastructure.

    Copper is used extensively in the construction industry, for electric wiring and the like. Recent years have seen a boom in the price of copper and the other base metals, zinc (used for galvanising steel and batteries) and nickel (also used in steelmaking), attributed largely to the increased pace of industrialisation in China since 2003. The optimists believe that their “super cycle” will be the third in the last 150 years, “the previous two occurring around the end of the 19th century as the US became a major economic power and the second being the post war expansion of the Japanese and European economies after 1945”.

    Three days later, the headlines of the Times business section read: “Fears of recession in US spook commodity markets” and “The wheels are coming off the supercycle”:

    A metals analyst, Nick Moore gave his opinion:

    “’The supercycle has a flat tyre,’ Mr Moore said, referring to a theory promoted by some analysts and mining groups which suggested that extraordinary demand from China and India would sustain continued long-term growth and prevent the traditional boom and bust cycle of the mining industry. ‘China is not the tooth fairy that can absorb all the ore’”.
    Of course since, as on all markets, speculators operate on the commodities market, too much store should not be set on short-term changes there. But the state of the US economy is relevant since China is not industrializing on its own: the motor is exports. If, due to a recession in the US, these fall off so will China’s demand for copper and zinc and the mining industry will suffer from “overcapacity”. Hence the comment of the Times Business Editor, James Harding, that “in the longer term, there is concern that the industry has retained its tendency towards oversupply, adding production capacity and removing the squeeze that props up prices”.

    In other words, the classic scenario under capitalism. When the market for some product is expanding, all the firms supplying it assume that this will continue and invest in new productive capacity; when all this comes on stream it is found that supply exceeds demand and boom turns to bust and slump. The mining industry has traditionally been prone to this because of the longer time needed to explore for, find and extract minerals than to build a factory. The last time the world mining industry went through a slump was in the 1990s:

    “At that time, with lower demand and lower prices, and in the midst of technological change, metals were, as Tulpulé [chief economist at Rio Tinto] puts it ‘passé’. This of course led to a lack of investment in plant, a fall off in exploration, and a declining growth on the supply side” ( London Times, 19 November).

    As long as capitalism lasts, this zigzagging between boom and slump will always be the course of economic activity.
    Adam Buick

    Wednesday, January 23, 2008

    Bobby's Discretion (1919)

    Editorial from the June 1919 issue of the Socialist Standard

    So, the bobbies have funked it. We are not, for the present, at all events, to be treated to the comic spectacle of strike processions of bluebottles being shepherded through the streets by their own blacklegs, the "specials." The world has lost an entertainment.

    Of course, we are not blind to the difficulties of the policemen's situation. Their bosses had got the strangle-hold on them. By the simple expedient of stopping sixpence in the pound of their wages, confiscating their fees for the service of summons, and in other dubious ways, the capitalists provide a pensions fund at poor Booby's expense. The loss of this pension, together with the "sack," is the first threat the bosses hold over the bobbies' heads. Bobby is a man with no other trade in his hands in the vast majority of cases. So the threat of losing a regular job has special terrors for him. In addition, the loss of his pension—a pension designed, as most pensions are, to get a disciplinary grip upon the subject which probably no other expedient possible in a "free country" could afford, is a prospect requiring a quite uncommon type of mind to withstand.

    The bosses, of course, played the game for all it was worth. They said they were flooded with applications from soldiers and ex-soldiers to take the policemen's jobs. They also talked loudly but vaguely about the arrangements that were being made to meet Buttons' grievances. It was the old, old game of bribe some and threaten others—the game played from the beginning to the end of the recruiting for the war—the game played to kill the demobilisation trouble after the Armistice. As, in the earlier case, the single and the young were promised jobs and preferment if they enlisted, and the married and the older ones were threatened that they would have to go if they did shove the others in; as, later, the older men were promised early demobilisation if they kept quiet, and detention till the last if they did not, while the younger men were soothed with extra money, so the older policemen were threatened more particularly with the loss of all that was so nearly won, while the younger men were soothed with promised improvements in the longer road before them.

    Meanwhile the policemen played their cards just about as badly as they could. They have climbed down under threats—than which hardly anything could more completely have exposed their weakness and fear. Added to this they have climbed down before their bosses had committed themselves to the vaguely talked-of concessions, and in face of this confession of funk and weakness those concessions are going to shrivel up considerably. The bosses have found out all they wanted to know—that the reward they are offering their bulldogs is sufficient to secure their allegiance to their odious duties. If they dare not decline those duties for themselves they can never dare to decline to perform them for others. So, when labour troubles come Bobby will not, the masters are assured, be a trade unionist, and they have secured this, thanks to their cunning, at about the lowest possible price.

    The Daily Chronicle in its issue of June 2 tries to point out to the policemen why the Government can never recognise the Police Union, and, as usual, it reveals only half the truth. "The police exist," our contemporary says, "to support the State. That is what they are for. . . They cannot strike and agitate, or even become public politicians, without ceasing to be policemen." Which is true enough as far as it goes, but does not dispose of the not unimportant fact that the policeman is so essentially a member of the exploited class that he cannot get his admitted grievances redressed until he threatens to cease to be a policeman.

    The more important matter, however, is the statement that a policeman is only such to support the State. The complement of this half truth is, of course, that the State is only an instrument for keeping the workers in subjection. Directly this position is realised it becomes obvious how far the police are from getting recognition for any police union that could possibly link them with the unions of the industrial world. The position of police force affiliated with the industrial trade unions would indeed be a tragic one in a time of strife. This the bosses have sense enough to perceive, if the underlings have not. And it is for this reason rather than that they are afraid of being dictated to by the men that the Government will never recognise the Police Union.

    It was probably a lie that the police authorities are inundated with blackleg applications from soldiers, but the capitalists have a deep pocket, and, as long as their control of the instrument of the State lasts will have no serious difficulty in obtaining men who will carry out their behests. It is simply a question of the price.

    The only thing that can deliver the policeman—as the rest of us— from the tyranny of his tormentors is for the working class to assume control of the State, and to use its forces, including the police, to abolish capitalism and establish the Socialist Commonwealth.

    Weekly Bulletin of The Socialist Party of Great Britain (30)

    Dear Friends,

    Welcome to the 30th of our weekly bulletins to keep you informed of changes at Socialist Party of Great Britain @ MySpace.

    We now have 1158 friends!

    Recent blogs:

  • Russia was never socialist - and why

  • The Futility of Reformism

  • The Cause of Violence

  • This week's top quote:

    "Governments are not social organizations that represent all people. They are class institutions. They do the work of the class that owns and rules." J.A. McDonald, Western Socialist, 1960.

    Continuing luck with your MySpace adventures!

    Robert and Piers

    Socialist Party of Great Britain

    Sunday, January 20, 2008

    Jack London’s The Iron Heel (2008)

    From the January 2008 issue of the Socialist Standard

    London's widely read book of this title was published a hundred years ago. But how realistic was it and how much of a socialist was Jack London?

    By the time he had published The Call of the Wild in 1903 and White Fang in 1905, Jack London had established a reputation as the author of highly profitable popular fiction and adventure stories. He had risen to become the highest-paid American author of his era and with his income secure he set about writing a novel expressing his individualistic brand of militant politics. Aroused by the failure of the 1905 Russian Revolution, the inability of the Socialist Party of America to build on earlier electoral successes and the popularity of the serialisation of The Jungle, Upton Sinclair's novel about working conditions in the meat-packing industry, London quickly completed a new novel, The Iron Heel, which was published one hundred years ago in 1908. After his death the work became an influential classic of anti-capitalist literature with prophecies and warnings that, according to the introduction to the most recent Penguin edition, 'Aryan nationalists and communists alike have championed' ever since.

    The novel combines two narrative themes: an inner autobiographical narrative set mainly in the period 1912-1918 and a secondary narrative providing an historical commentary on the fictional 'Everhard Manuscripts' from centuries in the future. The work is essentially the autobiography of Avis Everhard, a woman steeped in social prejudice who falls in love with and later marries a 'socialist leader' and then discovers the realities of capitalism. Under the guidance of her husband Ernest she becomes a revolutionist seeking to overthrow the 'Oligarchy' – the combination of the large monopoly trusts that had bankrupted smaller capitalists and reduced farmers to serfdom and the majority of workers to slaves.

    This elite has created a military caste – the 'Mercenaries' – as a private army and undermines working class solidarity by establishing a privileged 'labour caste' from skilled workers in essential industries. The 'Oligarchy' has absolute authority over civil law and political institutions, exercising power through force and intimidation, bolstered by the prejudices propagated through the press, church and education system. The novel ends after the unsuccessful 'First Revolt' against this elite.

    The Iron Heel was not an entirely original work, heavily influenced by the work of other authors. London took inspiration from H.G. Wells' apocalyptic fantasy When the Sleeper Walks (1899) and from the idea of a 'double-view' achieved by opening a second narrative in the future, in Edward Bellamy's Looking Backward (1888). To this he adds images of summary executions and unrestrained violence from the 1871 Paris Commune, using this as a historical model for his 'Chicago Commune' that stirred memories of the infamous Chicago Haymarket Massacre of 1886.

    The novel was also closely modelled on Ignatious Donnelly's Caesar's Column (1890), a melodrama set in the New York of the future which, like London's later work, revolved around political intrigue, secret agents, disguises and spies. Both novels are interwoven with love stories and end in cataclysm. London relocates the scene of this cataclysm from the New York to Chicago. His central theme was drawn from W. J. Ghent, the author of Our Benevolent Feudalism, a work 'which foresaw the "complete integration of capital" into an iron fisted dictatorship'(Richard O'Connor, Jack London – A Biography). Even London's title, The Iron Heel, which is the condemnatory phase dramatically used by London's hero Ernest to describe the 'Oligarchy,' turns up in many other contemporary political and literary works as a symbol of oppression.

    Much of what is related in the narrative of Avis Everhard London gleaned from newspaper articles and the printed views of 'muckrakers' such as Lincoln Steffens and regular contributors to the Oakland newspaper Socialist Voice, including William McDevitt and Austin Lewis. London's opportunistic reliance on this newspaper was demonstrated in 1906 when at a time when it was publishing articles denouncing organised religion, London – for the only time in his literary career – denounced the church, and he devotes several chapters in his novel to the theme.

    'Borrowing' ideas and phrases was second nature to London and he was repeatedly accused of plagiarism. Moreover his habit of appropriating the work of others was not just confined to newspaper articles. Chapter seven of his novel, The Bishop's Vision, is almost identical to Frank Harris's essay 'The Bishop of London and Public Morality', published years earlier. London tried to explain his tendency to plagiarise to Elwyn Hoffman, by saying: 'expression with me is far easier than invention. It is with the latter I have the greatest trouble, and work the hardest' (Andrew Sinclair, A Biography of Jack London).

    London was not widely read in the works of socialist literature and he never really understood socialism. His politics were a blend of conflicting theories: a mixture of emotional demands for 'social justice' acquired during his early life, interwoven with ideas of racial superiority and social Darwinism. He had joined the Socialist Labor Party (SLP) in 1896, a period in which the SLP supported a programme of 'immediate demands'. When these were dropped in 1900, London was one of those who left the Party and after standing as the Social Democratic Party's candidate for the mayor of Oakland in 1901 he joined the reformist Socialist Party of America (SPA). London's 'socialism' was always overshadowed by the conviction that the strongest must inevitably triumph over the weak and by a resolve to drag himself out of the 'social pit' by becoming a prosperous writer even when this meant being criticised for compromising his principles and political convictions.

    After completing People of the Abyss, an account of working class life in the East End of London and arguably the only truly 'sincere work' that he ever wrote, London became increasingly disillusioned with the 'underfed parodies of humanity' who refused to 'fight' for a new society. By 1903 his frustration with the working class and his views on social Darwinism were widely acknowledged and drew criticism from the membership of his own political party. He responded with accusations that the SPA leadership was weak and doomed to fail and though he stood as its candidate for the mayor of Oakland in 1905, it was clear, even before he began his novel, that his sporadic flirtation with 'socialism' was over.

    Although he remained a Party member, believing his 'socialist credentials' enhanced his reputation, it is certain that by 1906 that London had already 'parted ways with the idea of a mass working-class movement to overthrow capitalism and establish a new society' (Robert Barltrop, Jack London, the Man, the Writer, the Rebel). The Iron Heel's reputation as a 'socialist' classic, deriving from London's scathing attack on capitalism in the first half of the novel, does not conceal the fact that it was 'also his statement why socialism was not achievable in the foreseeable future' (Barltrop). The novel is London's pessimistic declaration that the working class is incapable of self-emancipating and in it he does not even credit the 'socialist' movement with the eventual downfall of the fictional 'Oligarchy,' which instead implodes under its own internal weaknesses and divisions.

    London unquestionably believed that capitalism should be replaced, but never explains 'socialism' or how it can be achieved. His main indictment of the capitalist system in The Iron Heel is that it is managerially incompetent, 'blind and greedy', and wasteful. As well as this, London is convinced that an alternative society cannot be achieved without leaders. He creates the character Ernest as his alter ego, a 'socialist leader' (a contradiction in terms) who stands above the working class as an embodiment of London's image of 'socialist' man, a 'blond beast such as Nietzsche has described', the personification of self-sacrifice and martyrdom.

    Ernest is the leader that London always wanted to be. But Ernest is betrayed – in the same way that London felt he had been - by comrades who refuse to listen to him and by an irresponsible working class, 'the refuse and scrum of life', incapable of helping itself and unworthy of his leadership. London's fictional 'socialists' view the working class with dread and refuse to build class solidarity with what they see as an abject and uncontrollable mass. The novel concludes on a note of disgust aimed less at the detested 'Oligarchy' than at the working class, whose mindless behaviour is said to have contributed to the defeat of the 'First Revolt.' The remnants of the 'socialist' movement are driven away to continue a terrorist war for centuries into the future until the weakened 'Oligarchy' finally yields.

    The vision articulated in The Iron Heel is the social Darwinian struggle in which the strongest must always be supreme. It is developed within the framework of a quasi-religious fable. The setting is summed up by one critic in the following way: 'For the individual capable of it, a transforming moment of inspired vision; for those in society incapable of such a vision, a providential catastrophe and ultimately the regeneration of society through martyrdom' (Charles N. Watson, The Novels of Jack London). The work is peppered with biblical phraseology and religious symbolism as Avis experiences 'a new and awful revelation of life'. The story builds towards an apocalyptic conclusion reminiscent of religious deliverance when the 'evils' of capitalism will be purged from the world and, through sacrifice and martyrdom, society will be reborn as 'The Brotherhood of Man.'

    The dramatic idealisation of the main protagonists, the heightened romanticism of the action, and the virtual absence of the working class for much of the novel all accentuate an infatuation with leadership. Some have justified the novel's lack of realism in various ways. Trotsky, for example, explained the work as a didactic tale where the author was interested 'not so much in the individual fate of its heroes as in the fate of mankind' (Joan London, Jack London and His Times). But is this an adequate defence for a tale whose core message is one that consigns the working class to an essentially passive and insignificant role in the social revolution?

    So The Iron Heel is a decidedly anti-socialist work by an author who wrote more from his heart than his head. When it was first published the novel received unfavourable reviews even from so-called 'socialist' journals and the International Socialist Review described it as 'well calculated to repel many whose addition to our forces is sorely needed'. It is difficult to disagree with Robert Barltrop's judgement that London's 'socialism' was always a self-deception where 'the pleasures of intellectual company, of being lionised, of always having a platform waiting, caused him to set aside or rationalise the differences which were plainly there'. It is perhaps not surprising that London's egotism, overblown self-esteem and overriding preoccupation with his personal finances led Mark Twain's to remark: 'It would serve this man London right to have the working class to get control of things. He would have to call out the militia to collect his royalties.'

    Jack London died in 1916 at the age of 40. In 1945, George Orwell said that had he lived 'in our day, instead of dying in 1916, it is hard to be sure where his political allegiance would have lain', and went on: 'One can imagine him in the Communist Party, one can imagine him falling victim to the Nazi racial theory, and one can imagine him the quixotic champion of some Trotskyist or Anarchist sect.' The Iron Heel, still open to all kinds of unsettling interpretations, will undoubtedly continue to be considered a classic of its time, although worryingly perhaps for all the wrong reasons.
    Steve Trott

    Friday, January 18, 2008

    Weekly Bulletin of The Socialist Party of Great Britain (29)

    Dear Friends,

    Welcome to the 29th of our weekly bulletins to keep you informed of changes at Socialist Party of Great Britain @ MySpace.

    We now have 1147 friends!

    Recent blogs:

  • Artificial scarcity

  • Nationalisation or Socialism?

  • Socialism and the State

  • This week's top quote:

    "The slave frees himself when, of all the relations of private property, he abolishes only the relation of slavery and thereby becomes a proletarian; the proletarian can free himself only by abolishing private property in general. Engels, Principles of Communism, 1847.

    Continuing luck with your MySpace adventures!

    Robert and Piers

    Socialist Party of Great Britain

    Monday, January 14, 2008

    The Mass Debaters

    From the WSPUS website:

    Who has seen whiter, glossier, teeth and lies whiter and glossier still than those that were bared on television during the recent debates between Democrats and Republicans? The race culminating in the presidential trophy in late 2008 is solidly on, with these wealthy members of the capitalist class vying for leadership of the world's most prosperous land, brought to them by the generous contributions of our dear readers' unpaid surplus value.

    These sellers of capitalist reforms are so impeccably dressed and groomed, so charming and witty, so passionate in their determination to give a structurally exploitative society a new lease on ideological life, that it might well take an Odyssean resistance to temptation on your part to keep from falling for their well-oiled sell, written and rehearsed with a large team of marketing professionals from behind the curtains.

    Senator Obama, for all his oozing liberal rhetoric and strong likeability factor, while an Illinois Democratic senator has always supported a free market system. Isn't that the one in which most of us must work so hard to produce free surplus value for our employers that we don't even have enough free time to ourselves? One of the most popular bills that he signed in 2007, the Shareholder Vote on Executive Compensation Act, also known as "Say On Pay," allowed shareholders to limit the inflated salaries of corporate CEOs but while this was easily and incorrectly perceived as a Robin Hood move, the reality was that studies in the Wall Street Journal had previously demonstrated that poorer CEO performance was correlated with more inflated salaries, and also that in economically troubled companies, worker morale suffered the most when CEOs were receiving pay of exceptionally bloated dimensions. In short, fiscal policies and laws must attempt to look after the interests of the capitalist class as a whole, even at the minor expense of individual capitalists. Behind each liberal dream sits a wallet somewhere waiting to bulge.

    Mr. Obama was further criticized and praised last year for spending $18 billion on promoting merit pay of the nation's teachers by cutting costs from the NASA Constellation Program, delayed now by 5 years. On the surface, noble and caring, no? Well, in capitalism the only nobility are the ones who still own parts of the land, and even the most caring sentiment finds a way out of the heart and into the coffers of the rich. His plan to improve merit pay for teachers was harshly criticized by the National Education Association (the largest labor union in the U.S.), the Urban Institute and the Cato Institute, on the grounds that merit pay could actually end up favoring schools in better neighborhoods whose track records were stronger as a result of the inflow of local resources, could lower the morale of teachers owing to the resulting competition between them, and could create a new expensive bureaucratic superstructure overseeing the program itself. Isn't it sickening that in capitalism resources cannot be directly accorded to those who deserve it the most, our children's teachers, without producing such negative consequences upon the institutions and atmosphere in which our children are learning?

    Mr. Obama is also on record for stating that he is not opposed "to all wars, only dumb wars" (famous Fall 2002 speech at the anti-war rally at Chicago's Federal Plaza). While urging for a date by which de-escalation of the militarization of Iraq should begin, Obama has also consistently refused to actually cut funding for the Iraq War. Capitalism makes it hard for seemingly honest, intelligent and good-intentioned politicians such as Obama to take a solid stance against the murder of the innocent (who are always the ones in war to die in greater numbers than the intended targets), even for those politicians who would likely come across as largely anti-war in a private conversation (if they too openly challenge the status quo, they may be attacked for undermining the war on terrorism – and as a result of their careful public maneuvering, their platform always seems unpredictable and inconsistent).

    Ron Paul, a Republican presidential candidate, actually came out in the recent debates the strongest opponent of the Iraq War. His opposition seemed partially fiscal in nature, as he deplored the 300 billion dollars spent on it thus far. But it was also ideological, as he felt the arming of groups who later turn against the United States (e.g., the Kosovars who aided Islamic terrorists, or the Afghan jihadists themselves, and their friend Osama bin Laden) had acted to fuel increased national insecurity rather than security, and increased terrorism rather than less. And of course, Ron Paul is probably right on this score, surprisingly coming from a member of the Republican Party, the party that always advocates small government but seems in each office hell-bent on creating a bureaucratic gigantean proto-fascistic war economy state.

    However, Ron Paul, like the rest of the Republicans or Democrats, feels that capitalism can somehow behave more rationally than it does – or at least they want us to believe that with our vote they can transform its foul waters to fine wine. The reality is quite the opposite, as history shows again and again. Tensions between nations are always present over shifts in political allegiances between countries that may benefit some better than others. Global politics is a macrocosm of the local economy, with each company vying to get as much of the business as it can, such as trade, material resources and opportunities for future economic growth. From the perspective of a capitalist enterprise or a nation, the planet is a great big hamburger to chow on, with the unneeded parts thrown away on the landfill – children, nature, women, the elderly, education, health, and common sense. It is bottom-line a violent and wasteful way for humans to treat both each other and their world. It benefits only those in control of the resources and keeps the rest of us in a state of emotional tension about the relative lack of security that exists around the planet, at any time potentially plunging us all into another world war or terrorist attack. It is a world gone mad.

    At the moment, Hillary Clinton has lost the Iowa caucus but won the Democratic Party primary in New Hampshire. She is thus very much in the race to become her party's presidential candidate at this time, with the biggest next date that may tip the scales in favor of Clinton or Obama what is dubbed by the press Big Tuesday on February 5th (something to get so excited about when we get home from work that day, not). Clinton is garnering a lot of support for her life-long struggle to medically insure all Americans, however she no longer advocates a single-payer insurance system as she once did and as all other capitalist nations around the world presently provide. Another example of the compromise she had to make to remain a viable leader of the Democratic Party, and a perfect example of how the needs of capitalism so taint the original ideals of those running for big offices that by the time they arrive there, they look, smell and sound like anyone else in the White Lie House. Indeed, the only Democratic Party candidate who does presently advocate a single-payer insurance plan is Kerry Edwards, who is presently tailing significantly behind the other two in the race.

    Hillary Clinton is assuredly not going to be making the world any safer from war, either. It is true that she has worked to improve the medical and psychiatric treatment benefits available to veterans, thus leading one to assume that she is more willing to improve in the patching up of those who fought abroad than in preventing their being massacred physically and emotionally there in the first place. However, as the potential leader of one of the world's great powers, her job will be to make sure that she protects the economic interests of this country's industries and their standing in the marketplace as a whole. Rather than attempting to make the world safer from war, her own website recites the same sort of patriotic dribble one finds frothing out of the mouths of every other leader running for president, in her case: "every member of our armed forces will receive a fair shot at the American dream when their service is over." We all know, of course, how "fair" the American dream is, especially the millions of American presently failing to pay off their mortgages at a landslide rate, and the volunteers at the 51,000 food pantries across our "fair" land that are presently providing food assistance to the millions of extra customers turning up at food banks in recent years (according to America's Second Harvest "2006 Hunger Study").

    Why should we believe these leaders, anyway? After the colorful streamers from the election victories have been swept away from the convention centers, life seems to return to its previously conventional grey pallor. Most of us (those of us with nothing to sell but our ability to work) continue our 9 to 5 existence for the employer class as though the election had never happened. Back to budgets. Back to traffic. Back to balancing medical benefits and food for the kids. Back to two to four weeks off a year for every forty-eight or fifty of work. Back to international tensions. Back to the continued slide into ecological devastation. Back to the feeling that no one was listening and no one cared the whole time.

    Though they won't hold their breath waiting for it to happen, socialists are nonetheless hoping that 2008 will be the year that citizens of this country appreciate that it is a fact as real as gravity that capitalism cannot be reformed in the interest of the working class. Read my lips. Only about half of the eligible electorate has even voted at all during the presidential elections for the past few decades. You cannot deny that there is a certain sliminess to the electoral pledges for the future, and a certain disbelief that you know is well justified when looking at the past. Whatever laws get passed, whatever economic priorities of governments of different political shades, our basic day-to-day lives remain constant. And the worries we have about "the world" remain as before. At what point are you going to admit that the leaders, whether or not they believe their own rhetoric, are simply not capable of making the changes they promised you as a condition for your handing over your power to them?

    Socialists take a very different position. They try to understand the world more as social scientists than as members of a flock of faithful. They notice, for instance, that humans are already producing enough food for everybody and hence that starvation cannot be a technical problem, but rather a problem of how the economic system hinders the production and distribution of social wealth. They see millions of buildings standing around that could easily be used for homeless people to live in, but which have no purpose at this time but to act as headquarters for banks and insurance companies devoted to the acquisition of monies that cannot be eaten, worn, or lived in (though they can certainly provide access to food, clothing and shelter in supply directly proportionate to your ownership of them). They notice that humans are very clever at solving problems that seemed insurmountable just years ago – in fact, our scientific know-how continues to explode at an exponential rate, while the economic reality of our world seems to plod on at the same slug's pace. Why is that? Why is it that complex knowledge, exciting and revolutionary, should continue to be spun from the brains of humans around the planet, while relatively simple things like permanently solving the problem of our getting fed, clothed, housed, cared for medically, or stressed, hardly budge?

    The answer should be as plain as the end of your nose. What holds back our economic progress as a species is the type of economic relations we have – our maintenance of the institution of ownership of the production of social wealth. That is it. Pure and simple. We have been screaming this from rooftops for the past 105 years (and others from similar movements for 105 years before that) and history again and again would suggest that we are right. What we are proposing is a change in ownership of all socially produced wealth from private or state ownership to common ownership, which means ownership by the community at large. This can only be organized in a democratic way, utilizing democratic principles, to make sure that decisions remain in the hands of the community, and not of leaders, hierarchies or centralized authorities.

    What we are saying is that once ownership of the production and distribution of socially produced wealth has transferred with your own political will from private and state hands to the community, we will be able to enjoy the fruits of this production directly. There will no longer be a need for money. Just like you see them do in Star Trek – do you ever see Captain Picard scrambling in his pocket for a $5 bill before he asks his replicator for a cup of Earl's Grey? We will contribute to the store of wealth, and take from it what we need. Having solved the problem of getting what we need on a material level, we will spend the rest of our lives doing what we love best – raising our children, renovating buildings and furniture, improving technological systems, teaching, researching, expressing ourselves creatively and artistically, making love, taking a nap, whatever we want!

    The point is that we will have brought the production and distribution of wealth to the same level of sophistication as we presently spend on other technical projects. We will no longer as a species be bogged down in the daily grind merely in order to feed, clothe or house ourselves, which only enslaves us because those of us who work now do not enjoy the same status as those we work for, those who own the factories and other work sites and technological processes required for production and distribution. Unlike the hugely wasteful and cumbersome system of commodity production, this is a solution likely to work very well too. It is very feasible, it is very realistic, it liberates our economics from the hindrances and wastes that are intrinsic to commodity production, and allows us to really move ahead, both individually and as a species.

    The solution is very obvious. Very simple. So are a lot of other facts that you accept every day without question – friction, planetary motion, the chemistry of sexual attraction, the behavioral laws that govern human attachment, and so on and so forth. Here is another law – a system based on production for sale will always cause poverty, wars and stress. Will ALWAYS cause poverty, wars, and stress. Think about it for a bit, think about how it makes sense and what problems you anticipate with it and then, as you assume your right as a citizen to take part in the body politic, help build this future for yourself, your family, your friends, and the human family.

    What socialists are urging you to do during this 2008 presidential election race is to start thinking outside of the box. We want you to suspend your disbelief in socialism until the November election, and during the next 10 months to try going on the assumption instead that the reason the world does not change much from one election to another is probably because the leaders are leaving out some significantly important piece of information. Think further about this. Ask yourself what kind of world you would like to see. Ask yourself what kind of life you would like to have. Ask yourself if there is any relationship between the difficulty achieving these dreams and the rules that govern the present economic system. Ask yourself how long this system has existed and whether the idea that we cannot have a better one stems only from your social conditioning and not from actual evidence of any kind you can think of. Try stepping outside of your usual political assumptions, and ask yourself what you can personally do to make the world a better place for us all. Look into alternative models of social and economic organization. Read many books about these ideas. Chat with others with similar revolutionary theories via email. Ask yourself if these people only seem "radical" because their ideas are simply less prevalent at the moment, and if their ideas make any sense?

    In short, socialists urge you to put the entire spectacle of the Presidential race on the shelf for now (until the socialist population is a majority and can nonviolently vote to introduce a new society based on common ownership). We propose that you not prolong the economic status quo, an outmoded social organization based on haves and have-nots that reached its pinnacle in Dickensian England and that has long outlived its usefulness in light of the promise of modern science. Instead, we recommend that you help to create a future more consistent with our advanced technology and the democratic ideals of a global world. This future will be based on democratic principles, the prioritization of needs, built-in concern for sustaining our ecosystem for ourselves and other species indefinitely, economic as well as psychological security, lasting peace, a profound sense of brotherhood and sisterhood among world citizens, and human life in the poise of balance between the twin existential forces of responsibility and freedom.

    Socialists urge you from the bottom of their heart to not throw away your hard-won vote on perpetuating capitalism for four more years. A vote is a terrible thing to waste.


    Idle Idols: Paul Lafargue

    From the issue 7 1994 of the Idler Magazine:

    The French labour activist dreamed of a three hour day for everyone, was thrown in prison for subversion and in 1883 wrote a searing attack on the work ethic called The Right to be Lazy.

    If you think you work too hard now, spare a thought for the French factory workers of the late 19th century. Despite the prevalence of new machines that the Industrial Revolution had produced, the workers - including women and children - slaved away for as long as 16 hours in hideous conditions for subsistence wages.

    Onto this scene came the brilliant thinker and labour activist Paul Lafargue. The son of a Bordeaux landowner, he was born in Cuba in 1842 but grew up in a swiftly industrialising France. He became politically active in 1865 when a medical student in Paris. Following his involvement in the first ever International Congress of Students, he was banned from his studies for two years for "individual and collective insults to Church and Government". Trouble with the authorities would be a fact of life for Lafargue for many years.

    In 1868, after completing his studies in England, Lafargue married Laura Marx, son of Karl, a man who, along with the French anarchist thinker Proudhon, was a great influence on Lafargue and his gang. Around this time Lafargue also became involved with the newly formed International Working Men's Association which campaigned tirelessly for a shorter working day.

    In common with many who try to follow their own path, Lafargue was poor for years. His writings at this time were for underground periodicals and didn't bring in the cash. In 1872, he and Laura opened a photographic shop in London to try and earn some money. But for the next ten years it was only the financial support of their friend the wealthy Engels that kept them alive. When they returned to Paris in 1882, things got so bad that Lafargue had to take a McJob with an insurance firm. Luckily the firm folded after a few months and Lafargue was released from wage drudgery.

    In 1883, his subversive activities landed him with a six - month jail stretch. But far from being an intolerable burden, Lafargue's months inside were relatively luxurious; he and his friend Guesde, a magazine editor, were given the best rooms and sent brimming hampers of food and wine by friends. Crucially, the sentence also gave him the time to finish a pamphlet he had been working on. It was called The Right to be Lazy (the title was a parody of the socialist plea for the "right to work") and argued passionately against the evils of work. Lafargue rallied against the capitalist system of production and consumption, which led people to believe that harder work led to greater prosperity. "Work, work, proletarians, to increase social wealth and your individual poverty," he wrote. "Work, work in order that by becoming poorer, you may have more reason to work and become miserable. Such is the inexorable law of capitalist production."

    Lafargue noted that in England, the recent, shortening of the working day had not led to economic disaster. On the contrary, England was leading the way in production. "But if the miserable reduction of two hours has increased English productivity by almost one third in ten years, what breathless speed would be given to French production by a legal limitation of the working day to three hours?"

    Lafargue even went so far as to recommend that we "forge a brazen law forbidding any man to work more than three hours a day".

    What really troubled Lafargue was the lust for work which people seemed gripped by:

    "Let a chance for work to present itself, thither they (the proletariat) will rush; then they demand 12 or 14 hours to glut their appetite for work, and the next day they are thrown out on the pavement with no more food for their vice." It was this masochistic drive, Lafargue believed, that robbed machines of their liberating potential. "The blind, perverse and murderous passion for work transforms the liberating machine into an instrument for the enslavement of free men. Its productiveness enslaves them."

    As well as exposing the tyranny of work, Lafargue wrote eloquently on the nobility of idleness, calling on the ancient Greeks to bear witness. "The philosophers of antiquity taught contempt for work, that degradation of the free man, the poets sang of idleness, that gift from the Gods." He gleefully quoted from the poet Antiparos; "Let us live the life of our fathers, and let us rejoice in idleness over the gifts that the Goddess grants us."

    Lafargue also used the Bible to add weight to his thesis: "Jesus, in his sermon on the mount, preached idleness; 'Consider the lillies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin: and yet I say unto you that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.'" God, said Lafargue, was the ultimate Idler: "After six days of work, he rests for all eternity."

    The next ten years were a continuous round of trials, fines demonstrations, leaflets and jail stretches for Lafargue and his revolutionary friends. It was only in 1895, when Engels left Laura some money and Lafargue came into a little inheritance that life became a little easier for them.

    Lafargue continued writing and campaigning into the early1900's. But he and Laura began to feel that they were too old to be of use to the campaign, and in 1912 each injected themselves with a lethal dose of potassium of cyanide.

    There may be those on the left who feel that because the ideas of Lafargue and others like him contributed to the installation of the 40 hour week in this country - an unthinkable luxury in the 19th century when a 60 or 70 hour week was the norm - we can therefore forget his polemic. He has done his job. But today Major's government is bringing in yet tougher regulations to force people to take any crap job when they are on the dole or risk losing allowances. Currently, you are not allowed to claim the dole if you leave your job voluntarily. This is slavery by the back door, and it is inhuman and unjust. The ideas of people like Lafargue, therefore, are as relelvant as ever and deserve a rereading by as wide a public as possible.

    Today we have inestimably more machines than in Lafargue's time: surely then we should share his rage that the capitalists "do not understand that the machine is the saviour of humanity, the God who shall redeem man from the sordidae artes and from working for hire, the god who shall give him leisure and liberty"

    Further Reading:

  • Introduction to The Right To Be Lazy
  • Sunday, January 13, 2008

    Cages for animals - boxes for workers

    From the Socialism Or Your Money Back blog:

    Mary Riddell is just one of many journalists who have passed comment of late on the 'nasty, short and brutish life' of the factory farmed chicken. She is certain that Jamie Oliver's and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's related tv programmes will convince people to pay an extra £1 for the 'high-welfare' variety. Jim Plumley, head of sales and marketing for the Channel Islands Co-operative Society, disagrees:

    "There are people who are less fortunate than others and are concerned about the price of free range chickens,' he said. 'People who are perhaps more fortunate will have a better choice."

    Indeed. People starve while food rots. But what is interesting about Riddell's position in the reformist quagmire is that she goes on to compare the cramped living conditions of the 855 million meat chickens reared in the UK every year with those often suicidal unfortunates in that country's overcrowded prisons. This is, alas, as far as it goes. She does not come close to recognizing that the profit system is the cause of such animal and human suffering. As D.H.Lawrence said, earning a wage is a prison occupation. She does not, therefore, make the more pertinent comparison: cages for animals - boxes for workers:

    "...But bad living conditions are not suffered by animals only. Look around the world and see the shanty towns, tenements, back-to-back slums, tower blocks and jerry built council and private estates. The majority of the working class live and die in cramped, overcrowded, unhealthy conditions, lacking privacy or quiet, and often in an environment of depressing ugliness. There are some workers who can negotiate a set of wages that allows them to live in some degree of comfort, rather as the race-horse or pedigree breeding animal may be housed in special quarters. More than a century agitation and legislation have not however eradicated cramped and inadequate living conditions for the majority of humans.
    "Yet it would seem a simple matter to provide comfortable living conditions for people - and for animals. The arguments against doing so are couched in accountant's jargon -alternative methods are dismissed as 'uneconomic', 'too labour intensive', 'not viable', 'unprofitable'. Members of the working class hardly need reminding that resistance to higher wages is the first principle in the code of every employer. Economic self-interest and competition override all finer feelings.

    ". . . The human race and society are not superior to,or apart from, nature but a product of of the universal process of evolution. As the only living creatures on this planet capable of consciously changing the environment and with an insight into the laws of nature we have a special interest in protecting and conserving the earth which is our means of life. Such an outlook will permeate socialist society - a true respect for our environment and fellow living creatures."
    (From the article, 'Livestock Liberation', Socialist Standard, June 1979)

    Rob Stafford

    Thursday, January 10, 2008

    Iran in the crosshairs (2008)

    The Material World Column from the January 2008 issue of the Socialist Standard

    Preparations for a US attack on Iran are well advanced. American planes probe the country's air defences. Commandos infiltrate Iran on sabotage and reconnaissance missions. A new military base is built close to the Iraq/Iran border at Badrah. The Fifth Fleet patrols in the Gulf and along Iran's southern coast.

    Political preparations also continue. Accusations against Iran are elaborated and repeated ad nauseam. Pressure is exerted (with variable success) on other countries to assist in the war plans. Aid and encouragement are given to separatists in ethnic-minority areas of Iran: Arab Khuzestan in the southwest, "southern Azerbaijan" in the northwest. Resolutions are pushed through at the U.N. Security Council and in the US Congress to create a "legal" justification for aggression.

    Why are the dominant capitalist interests in the US so bent on war with Iran? The war propaganda provides a highly distorted and incomplete picture of the real reasons.

    "War against terror" – Stage 3?
    An attack on Iran will be sold as the next stage, after Afghanistan and Iraq, of the "war against terror." What does this mean?

    As with the attack on Iraq, the claim may be made, explicitly or implicitly, that the Iranian regime is connected in some way with Al-Qaeda. This time round the claim would be even more deceptive, as Iranian leaders denounced 9/11 and helped the US depose the Taliban in Afghanistan. The terrorism charge is also based on the real Iranian support of Hizbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Palestine. This, however, means enlarging the meaning of "terrorist" to cover any armed movement that opposes the regional interests of the US and its allies. Finally, the US Congress has passed a resolution – supported, incidentally, by leading Democratic presidential contender Senator Hilary Clinton – declaring Iran's Revolutionary Guards (an elite section of its armed forces) a terrorist organization. This justifies military action against them as part of the "war against terror."

    Another "disarmament war"?
    Above all, the Bush administration claims that Iran is very close to acquiring nuclear weapons and that a nuclear-armed Iran would be an unprecedented threat to world peace. The same claim was used to justify the attack on Iraq. No nuclear weapons capability was discovered after the invasion, but the claim had served its purpose. Iran is enriching uranium for a civilian nuclear power program under IAEA supervision, but there is no evidence that its leaders seek nuclear weapons and it will not be in a position to produce them for several (perhaps ten) years. This is a consensus view of specialists not only at the IAEA but also at the CIA and Pentagon.

    Nevertheless, Iran is a rising power with ambitions of exerting influence in a region crowded with nuclear powers (Israel, Pakistan, India, Russia and China, not to mention the US nuclear presence). As such it is very likely to acquire nuclear weapons at some point. It might be willing to barter the nuclear weapons option for international recognition of its status as a regional power, but that is precisely what the US and its allies are unwilling to grant.

    While the risk of accident or miscalculation does increase with the number of nuclear powers, there is no serious reason to suppose that Iran would be more dangerous than any other state with nuclear weapons. All nuclear states are prepared to resort to nuclear weapons under certain circumstances.

    "Nuclear non-proliferation" started as an international agreement to confine nuclear weapons to the members of a small exclusive club. It has now come to mean "disarmament wars" to deny nuclear weapons status selectively to regimes considered hostile to US interests (listen to an interview with Jonathan Schell on The US seeks to prevent Iran from going nuclear because it would shift the balance of power in the Middle East, making American nuclear capabilities less intimidating and depriving Israel of its regional nuclear monopoly.

    Oil and gas, dollars and euros
    While the US does want to prevent Iran from eventually acquiring nuclear weapons, this does not explain the urgency of the preparations for war. The key factor is control over resources, in particular oil and natural gas. The US seeks to restore and maintain control over the hydrocarbon resources of the Middle East, a region that contains 55 percent of the world's oil and 40 percent of its gas.

    The occupation of Iraq marks an important step toward this goal. The petroleum law that the US is imposing on Iraq will give foreign companies direct control of its oilfields through "production sharing agreements". Iran, which alone accounts for 10 percent of world oil and 16 percent of world gas, is the main remaining obstacle to regional domination.

    Control over oil has various aspects. One is control over price – gaining the leverage to ensure the continued flow of cheap oil to the American economy. Another is control over who buys the oil. The country that buys the most oil from Iran is now China, a situation that upsets those in the US who view China as a major rival and future adversary. Arguably, however, the most important issue is which currency is used to price and sell oil.

    As the position of the dollar in relation to other currencies weakens, the dollar is ceasing to function as the world's main reserve currency. Countries are shifting their foreign exchange reserves away from dollar assets toward assets denominated in other currencies, especially the euro. Dollar assets now constitute only 20 percent of Iran's reserves.

    Similarly, oil producers increasingly prefer not to receive dollars for their oil. In late 2006 China began paying for Iranian oil in euros, while in September 2007 Japan's Nippon Oil agreed to pay for Iranian oil in yen. Continuation of this trend will flood the US economy with petrodollars, fuelling inflation and further weakening the dollar. It is feared that the result will be a deep recession.

    Occupying oil-producing countries may seem like an obvious way to buck the trend, although the effect is bound to be temporary. In 2000 Iraq began selling oil for euros; subsequently it converted its reserves to euros. Since the US invasion it has gone back to using dollars. This may be an important motive for attacking Iran too.

    The shifting geopolitical map
    The collapse of the Soviet Union enabled the US to establish a temporary global geopolitical predominance, though at the cost of enormous military expenditure that exceeds that of all other countries combined. Like the dominant position of the dollar, this cannot last very much longer in view of the progressive economic decline of the US.

    The geopolitical map of the world has begun to shift, and Iran occupies a central place in this process. The framework of a potential anti-U.S. axis exists in the shape of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, which brings together Russia, China and post-Soviet Central Asia. American strategists fear further consolidation and militarization of the SCO and its expansion to draw in other major Asian states and, first of all, Iran, which already has close ties with both Russia and China. (India, though for the time being firmly aligned with the US, may follow.) So here too attacking Iran may be seen as a way of averting a threat to US predominance.

    Senseless wars
    There is a certain logic to the motives that drove the US to war in Iraq and may drive it to war with Iran. Nevertheless, these wars make no sense even in capitalist terms (let alone from the working class and human point of view). It is not just that costs are likely to exceed benefits, as was the case in Vietnam, for instance. They are senseless because under current world conditions the goal of securing long-term US predominance is unattainable. At most, the loss of economic and geopolitical primacy may be deferred for a few years, but it will be all the more precipitous when it does come.

    The faction of the American capitalist class currently in power refuses to recognize this reality. Even their "mainstream" opponents in the "Democratic" Party are rather reluctant to do so. Admittedly, the top brass do not want another quagmire. Perhaps their resistance will save the day.

    Wednesday, January 9, 2008

    MoD denies recruiting school kids for the state’s killing machine

    From the Class Warfare blog

    Jimmy, over at Patience and Perseverance, alerts us to a piece that appeared in Monday's Independent and relating to criticism levelled against the Ministry of Defence over the way it 'glamorizes war'.

    The Independent tells how a new report by the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust reveals that "young people are being recruited into the Army with misleading marketing, and the disillusionment which follows has led to a huge number of them leaving the service."

    The report claims that MoD advertising campaigns "glamorise warfare, omit vital information and fail to point out the risks and responsibilities associated with a forces career." It goes on to say that promises made to those enlisting in the forces are often not kept and the recruits are also not told of their legal rights. Moreover, the report claims that army recruitment teams are targeting kids as young as seven, observing that the UK is the only EU state to recruit those aged 16.

    The MoD, however, denies recruiting in schools. Lying bastards! Even I know they do! The report claims: "The Ministry of Defence's youth policy contradicts this, describing military curricular activities in educational establishments as a 'powerful tool for facilitating recruitment especially if the skills developed through curricular activities have a direct bearing on military requirements'."

    I've been to a few parents/careers evenings at the local comprehensive school over the years – three of my kids have been pupils there and one still is. The first people you meet when you enter the doors of the building where they host such events are bloody soldiers, or rather teenagers in army uniforms, handing out brochures promoting the benefits of enlisting in the state's killing machine; kids in uniform who, by the looks of them, couldn't punch their way out of a paper bag. Brushing aside their outstretched leaflets I'll turn to my child and, quite audibly, inform them that I'll kick their arse if they ever contemplate joining this bunch of hired killers.

    So, there they stand, apple pie faces, clearly not even old enough to vote by the looks of them, in their gang colours, trying to lure kids, stressed out with exams and the pressures to hurry up and get exploited by some capitalist, into their ranks. Which figure of authority sends them to the school is beyond me, for they are always totally bamboozled by the questions I ask them; there again, I'd imagine their higher ups would be bamboozled by the same questions. But they'll always hook some kid, aware of their own lack of prospects and who can be conned into believing that an honest living can be had by killing for your country.

    Now and again they'll have some display on view, exalting the merits of "joining up" - how you can learn a trade, get a decent salary that you can bank-up for when you come out (coz the army provides you with clothes and shelter and food), and there'll be photos of soldiers playing rugby and paddling about in canoes and abseiling down mountains and having a right old merry time of it. And missing from this display are the photos of death and destruction that armies bring in their wake, the blood and guts and tears and mourning, the homelessness and waste and carnage. Missing too are the true facts about life in the army, the ones about the suicides (since the Falklands War and since the invasion of Iraq, more soldiers have committed suicide coming home from those battles than have been killed by the "enemy") and the mass desertions (i.e. in Vietnam and Iraq) and which the army would rather were kept hush-hush.

    And they're standing there happily recruiting, not really knowing why, because a small group of people - known only as the capitalist class - rely on violence to enforce their rule over patches of the Earth's surface and the people living on it. They need muscle to keep their power, and to wrest power from others.

    Think about it: whatever gang war in history wasn't started over some competition for turf or property? The Gulf War was fought over oil, the Falklands War over naval access to the south pacific, the Second World War over access to the raw materials required by competing industrials nations. Like any mobster, the capitalists will tell you the war was fought for honour, justice, for family, but ultimately, it's always just business.

    So, there's no point blaming the hired killers, they're just latching onto a very profitable business, a business the competition of the world capitalist system promotes. If you don't like the idea of your kids being murderers, or if you don't want to see them end up as collateral damage or the victims of "friendly fire", then the answer is for them not to join in these wars, or start a new one against these gangs, but to struggle to abolish the basis for their wars.

    The common and democratic ownership of the wealth of the world by the entire population of the world would eradicate the incentive to fight. Why struggle to control resources which you can co-operatively use to your own and everyone's mutual benefit? It would give kids the hope and prospects for themselves that they would no longer see the murder of their fellows as a valid career move. The hired killers don't have to be about forever.

    But don't wait for the people at the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust to use this critique against recruitment, or to offer some class-conscious analysis of war. As the Independent tells us, they have no qualms with the killing machine as such for they recommend "sweeping changes to the MoD's current policy, including a new charter setting out the responsibility of the state; a radical review of recruitment literature; phasing out the recruitment of minors and new rights for recruits to leave the services."

    The report entitled Informed Choice can be downloaded here in pdf format.

    John Bissett

    Weekly Bulletin of The Socialist Party of Great Britain (28)

    Dear Friends,

    Welcome to the 28th of our weekly bulletins to keep you informed of changes at Socialist Party of Great Britain @ MySpace.

    We now have 1142 friends!

    Recent blogs:

  • Science versus spoon-benders

  • Questions Answered - and Asked

  • The waste of maintaining capitalism

  • This week's top quote:

    "The idea that the "Soviet system" is equal to a definitive break with all the former, bourgeois, forms of revolution, therefore, serves as a screen behind which - imposed by exterior factors and the inner conformation of the proletariat - there are again set in motion methods that have featured the bourgeois revolutions. And those revolutions have always been accomplished by transferring the power of a "conscious minority, supporting itself on an unconscious majority," to another minority finding itself in an identical situation." Julius Martov, Decomposition or Conquest of the State, 1921.

    Continuing luck with your MySpace adventures!

    Robert and Piers

    Socialist Party of Great Britain

    The Iowa caucuses: Wrong end of the crystal ball?

    From the WSPUS MySpace page

    We read in the Boston Globe (Friday, January 4th) that the results of the Iowa caucuses among Democrats and Republicans are important for the unprecedentedly intense grassroots interest they reveal in the upcoming presidential election. But more to the point, to the extent voters in Iowa are still trying to make those two creaky old suits of armor work, they remain profoundly clueless.

    On the surface, they appear to be lining up once more to perform the symbolic ritual of Throwing the Rascals Out. This time, it is true, the Rascals are a smelly bunch of radical pro-corporates quaintly christened "neoconservatives" - but who are in fact capitalist revolutionaries in the service of the military-industrial complex, out to stack the transnational energy deck in its favor. They have teamed up with an early protg, Osama bin Laden, to give political insurgency a slick new retro cachet, privatizing terrorism, which before the era of liberation struggles had always been the prerogative of the state. Now the whole corporate sham is tottering at the hustings.

    The Iowa Democrats who made Barack Obama's day have never learned that the capitalist system is not designed to deliver the goods to the Little People who make up the working class. Nor have they learned that the same system has no compelling need to balance the interests of conflicting economic sectors. Gazing into the Globe's statistical crystal ball, we notice that "affluent, highly-educated voters" and blue-collar workers have seemingly patched up their quibbles of the 1960s. While this sounds superficially encouraging, that they have joined forces against a common enemy matters far less than that they still see the future as a little box in which capital rules their lives.

    Iowa Republicans who on the other hand swooned over Mike Huckabee, the Baptist minister from Arkansas, portend a dark thundercloud of antagonism, a constituency that feels the Corporates in the Republican Party have swindled them. Huckabee's success brings the threat of a split to the policy level. The Cheney/Bush faction's last best hope, Mitt Romney, threw an awful lot of money down a hole in a frantic effort to sew the corporate-evangelical alliance back together again. Without the religious right there to deliver the votes, rolling back the New Deal will die on the vine, and Republicans will have to resume jumping through their Moderate hoops.

    The only big question for the moment, therefore, is not whether workers will finally wake up and realize that capitalism is a bad system that is going to kick their butts no matter whom they elect, but only whether they will manage to reinstate economic issues as a political vehicle and end the Great Hijack of the ballot box launched by the New Right in 1960. With global warming heating up political dialogues around the world, moral character is going to seem like an awfully stale talking point anyway to a majority that approaches, with a sick feeling in the pit of its stomach, the question of whether human society still has a future. But in the meantime it has a certain sci-fi feel to see the media drawing such absurdly tiny conclusions from such enormous questions.

    Ron Elbert

    Further Reading:

  • WSPUS website
  • Tuesday, January 8, 2008

    Thought For Food

    What could the production of food be like in a society without the need for profit, without competition from big businesses, without promotional advertising, without any money changing hands?

    Capitalism has been and continues to be, the cause of tens of thousands of people worldwide moving into towns and cities on a daily basis, seeking to find a replacement for income and livelihood lost in the countryside. Likewise economic decisions tempt millions into international migration in the hope of gaining access to the means of producing a livelihood in more prosperous regions. The vast majority of both internal and international émigrés, if assured of a comfortable, fulfilling life for themselves and their families in their "home" region would no doubt prefer to return to where the culture fits them like a glove. Capitalism denies or overrides local needs and wishes and is responsible for the devastation of farmers and farming communities worldwide, evidence the year on year increase in suicide by farmers in both developed and developing countries. In the present system many, many people living in cities are employed in work that is irrelevant to socialism, non-productive jobs entailing transactions with money. In socialism these will be people freed up, a huge labour resource free to live and work in a location of their choice unrestricted by commercial constraints. It is probable that demographics would change quite rapidly and dramatically, with the outflow of citizens making choices that will affect their lives positively.

    One of the first tasks of socialism will be to rectify the worst effects of capitalism on populations, to ensure that local needs are satisfied in all locations. On the agricultural issue this may, at least initially, curtail the growing of (now-called) "cash" crops such as tea, coffee, tobacco or bananas whilst local populations stabilise their ability to feed all their own inhabitants. Emphasis would be placed on the quality, health and fertility of the soil, sustainability being paramount. Farmers in the developed world would be freed from the constraints of capital, quotas, restrictions and above all competition, enabling them to produce foods required by the local populace and, if need be, in other parts of the world.

    The technology and infrastructure for moving food around is currently well established globally, although in capitalist hands. (Where it is not well established then it will be a priority to increase or establish it.) Processing plants, packing houses, transport vehicles from local to international, cold storage, warehousing facilities, stock keeping know-how, all the necessary components are already on hand with individuals well-versed in logistics adjusting supply to demand and ensuring sufficient supplies for each and every area, the main difference from now will be satisfying need not profit.

    The local scene

    Where capitalism hasn't yet forced farmers to grow cash crops for sale on world markets, local food needs are still largely met locally. This could continue in socialism, though without markets and buying and selling. For instance, here in one small, typical rural area in Turkey some distance from any large towns, small farmers are not materially rich but large, extended families live comfortably, with daily work shared. Women mostly take care of the animals – cows, goats, sheep, chickens, whilst the men do the field work – ploughing, harrowing, sowing etc. The high intensity seasonal work brings everyone out en masse, often in the hottest weather. Their own dietary needs are taken care of to a large extent. The cow provides milk for home consumption and to be turned into yoghurt, butter and cheese with any surplus being sold daily to the milkman who collects it and sends it on to the processing plant. In return the cow is fed on home grown maize, barley and wheat and in springtime taken for a leisurely walk around the lush green edges of fields and lanes. The grain from the cereals will be milled locally for producing home made bread. The hens run free range anywhere and everywhere and produce abundant eggs and chicks several times a year.

    There are fruit orchards – citrus, pomegranate and olive – and greenhouses for succession crops or vegetables and salad stuff for own use and for selling to the local wholesaler. Olives can be pressed for oil locally and many are stored in jars for yearlong eating. Beehives are all around and they say the pine honey is the best in the world. One free and abundant crop is "ot" – wild herbs, vegetables, leaves and berries from trees and bushes. No one goes walking without a knife and a bag or two in hand. Meat isn't eaten daily. Rice, bulgur wheat, pasta and bread are the staples with seasonal vegetables, salads and always fresh dairy foods for the daily fare. The occasional chicken will have its neck slit and a larger animal will be sacrificed on high days and holidays. It's a way of life.

    Animals are generally tethered so it's rare to find an enclosed field or orchard. Often the shortest distance between two points is across someone else's land but it is not seen as trespassing, far from it. If spotted, visitors, neighbours and even strangers will be pressed into helping themselves to whatever produce is available and, if reluctant, the owner will no doubt produce a bag and fill it with whatever is going, saying words to the effect that "my garden is your garden."

    Local town markets are supplied by local and regional farmers. Very few imports are seen in this region, notably year-round bananas from Central America. What is available is an abundance of fruit and vegetables in season with cold stores to lengthen the season for fruit. These towns, populations up to 20,000, have markets once a week on different days as most of the stallholders travel the rounds between several of them, 4 or 5 days on, 2 or 3 days off. Some stalls are run by middlemen who buy from the wholesaler and sell on but the most interesting are the stalls manned by "village people" who bring their own produce which may include home produced bread, butter, cheese, yoghurt, milk, eggs, honey, dried beans, grain, peanuts, pumpkin slices, olives, oil and various items picked from the hedgerows and around the trees in the orchards. These attractive displays of produce give eating food in season a definite appeal.

    After the summer heat, when choice dwindles to three or four varieties of peppers, aubergines, courgettes, umpteen varieties of beans, masses of salad greens, cucumbers, red, juicy tomatoes, peaches and melons, nectarines and grapes, it's time to look forward to the autumn vegetables – new potatoes and onions from the yayla (high meadow areas), spinach, leafy greens and huge cabbages (if they're too big then pickle some or give half to a neighbour), caulis, broccoli and radishes the size of turnips. Now the summer vegetables are offered as a course soup mix after being baked in a dough mixed with yoghurt, dried in the sun and ground into crumbs. And dried food of all kinds is available, legumes, fruits, aubergines, peppers, okra, nuts, figs, etc. The winter will be well supplied. When shopping the trick is not to go with a specific shopping list, just a loose idea of veg, fruit, salad, then wander around to see what looks good and plan menus after the event rather than before as you can't guarantee you'll find all your requirements every time. Buying local is almost an imperative. The best broccoli, figs and walnuts come from four hours north, bananas four hours east, potatoes and apples from the high land three hours away. Rice has possibly the longest journey – from the northeast. Meat is local, beef, goat and lamb except for factory chickens – fresh, live ones are available at a premium price.

    The wider world

    Out in the wider world, different hemispheres and different climates yield different crops and different staples and according to the United Nations Food Organisation (and other studies) all but the most hostile regions are capable of sustaining their populations. In areas where there are sometimes crises causing malnutrition for some and starvation for others the problem is not lack of food but lack of will to transport food into these areas because the customers have no money. In many areas there are food shortages because farmers have become trapped in the cash-crop market for economic reasons. Without the burden of having directly or indirectly to produce crops for bio-fuels, heroin, cocaine, flowers and unnecessary food crops for elite markets people would have ample land for meeting their own and others' needs. Without coercion from state governments millions of people would continue to farm their land and feed their families rather than move to make way for mega-dams or building projects to house the newly rich or create vast new factory complexes.

    Taking care of the environment is what farmers (not agri-businesses) are all about. Protecting the health of the soil to ensure sustainability and putting local needs first. Which is better for both human health and the environment – fresh food or processed? local foods or transported in food? Whilst it may be useful and even advisable to process certain types of foods to preserve them, fresh foods are generally more health giving and place less stress on the environment. Local foods will always be fresher and therefore healthier than transported food – and transportation is one of the biggest problems for the environment.

    Consider the production of food in a society without the need for profit, without the competition from big businesses, without promotional advertising, without any money changing hands. How might eating habits change? Without sponsorship and freebies as at sports events, music festivals, even some educational establishments, how could tastes change? In some areas there is already a rejection of the fast-food syndrome with a renaissance of the appreciation of good food in the form of the 'Slow Food Movement', started in Italy a few years ago and now sprouting up in various other countries. Farmers markets are expanding in numbers in Europe and US, more people are demanding fresh, home produced, organic foods with a groundswell of opinion pushing the movement against genetically modified food, use of pesticides and chemical fertilisers.

    People are deciding what they want to eat and feed to their children rather than be dictated to by big name manufacturers pushing their profitable lines. It is these same companies which are responsible for dreadful waste and rape of the planet with excessive packaging simply to catch the eye of the customer. Not to protect the item, simply to make it more appealing, more marketable. In fact packaging could be reduced enormously and will be when people decide it will be so. Certain foods, for instance rice, lentils, sugar, dried food of all kinds could simply be dispensed from huge, hygienic hoppers directly into one's own reusable containers, standard sizes not necessary, just let the individual take what's required for their particular situation.

    With emphasis on quality of environment and quality of life rather than on the rat-race, with more opportunities and choices open for all in how to contribute to society rather than scramble for dead-end jobs or work that takes over life rather than enhances it, maybe food would have a different emphasis for vastly more people. No one would go without. There would be absolutely no reason to. More would see it as a necessary route to a healthy life. Cooking and eating as a social activity to be shared and enjoyed. You are what you eat after all. It's food for thought.

    Janet Surman