Sunday, May 31, 2009

Electrickery (2008)

From the December 2008 issue of the Socialist Standard

Catweazle was a television comedy series produced by London Weekend Television in the early 1970's. The series was conceived, and written by Richard Carpenter and ran for two seasons starring Geoffrey Bayldon as the irrepressible Catweazle. If, like me, you grew up in the constant presence of Doctor Who and the Goodies it is very likely you will also have fond memories of this well written and charming series.

Catweazle was a magician, who lived in the eleventh century, but however hard he tried, his spells hardly ever worked. One day was different. When Norman soldiers tried to capture him, in desperation he used magic to escape, and it worked! The only trouble was that instead of flying through space to flee his pursuers, he flew though time. Catweazle finds himself nine centuries into the future. Being a magician, everything he experiences in the twentieth century such as motor cars, telephones ("telling bone"), and electric light ("electrickery"), he believes is the result of magic. This basic premise and Catweazle’s quest to return to his own time, drives much of the humour in the series as Catweazle finds himself in situations that often become, well, hilarious.

Catweazle came to mind following the Socialist Party’s recent showing of the film “Who Killed the Electric Car”, as part of its season of free film evenings exploring issues and problems affecting our daily lives. This documentary covers the history of the battery electric vehicle: its birth, limited commercial development, and subsequent death, focusing mainly on the General Motors EV1 which was made available for lease in Southern California following the 1990 ZEV mandate of the California Air Resources Board. It also explores the role played in limiting the technology’s development and adoption by the US and Californian governments; manufacturers of conventional automobiles, hydrogen vehicles, and batteries; the oil industry; and of consumers, whilst also considering the implications of these events for Middle East politics, environmentalism, air pollution and global warming.

Electric car technology has been around for a long time: the first crude electric carriage was invented by Scotsman Robert Anderson in about 1889 and the electric car subsequently caught on in the US, enjoying success into the roaring 1920s with production peaking in 1912.

Its decline was brought about by several major developments. By the 1920s America had a better system of roads that now connected cities, bringing with it the need for longer-range vehicles. The discovery of Texan crude oil reduced the price of gasoline making it cheap and affordable to the average consumer. The initiation of mass production of the internal combustion engine as developed by Henry Ford (Fordism) made these vehicles widely available. And electric vehicles, by and large, were made with expensive materials the cost of which continued to rise: in 1912 an electric roadster sold for $1.750 while a gasoline car sold for $650.

Human-induced air pollution has been around at least since humans discovered fire; and everyday five hundred million car exhausts blow out some very nasty emissions as well as CO2, in fact roadside emissions are if anything on the increase. Traffic pollution has been blamed for tens of thousands of deaths every year. The Lancet has estimated that 6 percent of all deaths per year are due to air pollution. Half these deaths, it says, were linked to traffic fumes. In Britain researchers estimate that traffic fumes were responsible for more than 25,000 new cases of chronic bronchitis and more than 500,000 asthma attacks. Asthma is a chronic disease, in which sufferers have repeated attacks and difficulty in breathing and coughing, which is becoming common place amongst children. In Britain the cost of treating illness associated with traffic pollution amounts to 1.7 percent of the gross domestic product, exceeding the costs arising from traffic accidents.

California has almost perfect conditions for photochemical smog with the necessary ingredients: the type of pollutants put out by cars, and abundant sunshine. So here at least you would have thought the introduction and development of General Motors EVI would have been rationally embraced.. California already leads in electricity generation from hydroelectric power, that accounts for close to one-fifth of State electricity generation, and non hydroelectric renewable energy sources, such as wind, geothermal, solar energy, fuel wood, and municipal solid waste/landfill gas resources. (Interestingly, due to strict emission laws, only a few small coal-fired power plants operate in California, and the Mojave Desert is said to be one of the best sites in the United States for solar power plants. A facility known as “The Geysers,” located in the Mayacamas Mountains north of San Francisco, is the largest group of geothermal power plants in the world, with more than 750 megawatts of installed capacity.) These resources could have been harnessed to support the EVI, an emissions free vehicle. But we don’t live in a rational or even a remotely reasonable world. Profit and greed of the market are both master and ruler today.

Just ask yourself what short of a world is it where up to one billion people worldwide consume less than the minimum critical daily caloric intake needed to avoid hunger. In Africa in particular, hunger and disease are a vicious cycle. Hunger, along with many other effects causes the immune system to weaken, making the body more susceptible to other diseases. What kind of a world denies millions the medication to fight off illness and disease? What kind of world is it? Rational and Reasonable? Who killed the Electric Car?

The killers of the electric car are roaming the planet freely plundering it of its resources and all for profit – they will destroy a rain forest, pollute a river and poison the sea let alone empty an oil well or kill a car if there is a profit in it. It’s not “Electrickery.”

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Euroelections: the case for the Socialist Party of Great Britain (2009)

Originally posted on the Labour supporting blog, Dave's Part
We don't want your vote. We don't want your vote if you think socialism means nationalisation, higher taxation, welfare state, council estates, national liberation, legalising marijuana or anything of that sort. In short, we don't want your vote if you think we need to keep and act within existing capitalism.
On the other hand, if you do want a sociaty of common ownership and democratic control; a worldwide co-operative commonwealth; the emancipation of labour from the chains of capital; then we're your people, because that's all we stand for.
Well, there's a further catch, because all we're doing is holding the banner aloft. If you want to make socialism happen you've got to prepared to do the work yourself - we're not leaders, and don't want to be. If you need someone to lead you into the promised land, some other bugger'll lead you straight back out again.
That's the choice in this election in a nutshell. A choice between confusing the issue, like whether it's better to be dominated by British capitalists or European ones; whether it's better to only allow capitalists to exploit us for a third of our waking hours, rather than a half; whether the state is the one that extracts profits from our labour, or private employers; or, making our demands crystal clear.
If you call yourself a socialist, why do you want to waste time trying to figure out how to make capitalism run better, anyway? The power to change the world lies in your hands, you don't need to be bound by accepting things as they are – the point is to change them. If a majority decided to remake the world, no force on Earth could stop them.
A vote for the Socialist Party is a vote that says you are ready to act to make this change. A signal to your fellow socialists that they are not alone. A signal to your fellow workers that some people take the actual idea of socialism seriously, rather than relegating it to some bedtime fairytale never-never for after the work of running capitalism is done.
Let's end on William Morris:
“One man with an idea in his head is in danger of being considered a madman: two men with the same idea in common may be foolish, but can hardly be mad; ten men sharing an idea begin to act, a hundred draw attention as fanatics, a thousand and society begins to tremble, a hundred thousand and there is war abroad, and the cause has victories tangible and real; and why only a hundred thousand? Why not a hundred million and peace upon the Earth? You and I who agree together, it is we who have to answer that question.”
Pik Smeet
The Socialist Party of Great Britain is contesting the London constituency in the forthcoming Euroelections. You can view its election manifesto here.
Socialist Party candidates will be speaking at the following hustings meetings:
On Monday 1 June there'll be two, organised by local trade unions:
(1) Council Chamber, Stratford Town Hall, 29 The Broadway, E15 at 6.30 pm. Pat Deutz will represent us.
(2) Phoenix Cinema, 52 High Road, East Finchley, N2 at 6.30. Bill Martin or Adam Buick will represent us.
On Tuesday 2 June at 6pm Danny Lambert will represent us at a meeting organised by the Public & Commercial Services Union in Committe Room 14 in the House of Commons. Don't know if any "ordinary" members will be allowed entry but if you try don't forget to bring a nose-peg with you.
On Wednesday 3 June at Harrow Baptist Church, College Road, HA1 (nearest tube: Harrow on the Hill). Our representative will be Adam Buick.
Be sure to also check out Vaux Populi, the SPGB election blog.

Weekly Bulletin of The Socialist Party of Great Britain (99)

Dear Friends,

Welcome to the 99th of our weekly bulletins to keep you informed of changes at Socialist Party of Great Britain @ MySpace.

We now have 1498 friends!

Recent blogs:

  • Flying pigs and the Euro elections
  • Orwell's nightmare
  • The Class Struggle
  • Quote for the week:

    "Those who say religion has nothing to do with politics do not know what religion is." Mahatma Gandhi, 1869-1948.

    Continuing luck with your MySpace adventures!

    Robert and Piers

    Socialist Party of Great Britain

    Too late? (2009)

    Book Review from the May 2009 issue of the Socialist Standard

    Too Little, Too Late. The Politics of Climate Change. By Colin Challen. Picnic. 2009

    It’s not going to happen. CO2 emissions are not going to peak by 2015 which, according to some scientists, will mean that the average world temperature will rise by more than 2ºC by the end of the century. Will rise? Actually, what the scientists say is that, according to the assumptions of their computer models, there is a high probability that this will happen. It is not a definite prediction. It is only amateur environmentalist campaigners who say that it will happen and that the end of the world is just about nigh.

    The fact is that we don’t really know. We don’t know how realistic the scientists’ models really are and we don’t know what other, relevant events might happen between now and 2100, including what people and governments might do. To influence governments to do something is of course why campaigners sometimes exaggerate the dangers. They may well sincerely believe their own exaggerations.

    If you really believe that civilization will collapse in 2100 as a consequence of the effects of global warming, then it’s logical for you to see this as the only issue worth campaigning on. You will be led, like James Lovelock, author of the Gaia hypothesis, to embrace nuclear power, despite its dangers, as the main alternative source to burning fossil funds for generating electricity. Or, like the author of this book, Colin Challen, Labour MP for Morley and Rothwell and chairman of the All Party Climate Change group, to envisage a coalition government and a committee presided over by the monarch – King Charles III? – to deal with the issue. You will certainly tell us – as we were told by CND in the 1960s – that we can’t wait for socialism as this won’t come in time, so that we should suspend campaigning for socialism in favour of campaigning on the single issue of climate change.

    But this is to assume that this could be avoided without getting rid of capitalism. Challen himself provides grounds for seriously doubting this: that, in intergovernmental negotiations, “trade always trumps conservation” (p. 71) and that competition impedes agreement (“Nobody wants to see their economy damaged by another’s which itself dos not face the extra costs of reducing greenhouse gas emissions”, p. 93).

    Which is why he himself is rather pessimistic about the prospects of CO2 emissions peaking by 2015. But even on the worst scenario – rising sea levels, displacement of populations, shifts in the balance of geopolitics – only socialism would provide the framework for dealing with the problems.
    Adam Buick

    Thursday, May 28, 2009

    Exhibition Review: Rank or Class? (2009)

    Exhibition Review from the April 2009 issue of the Socialist Standard

    "Rank" is an art exhibition organised by Alistair Robinson of the Northern Gallery for Contemporary Arts in Sunderland and on display across the North until the autumn. Its subtitle, "Picturing the Social Order 1516-2009", pretty much describes its content – a collection of visual depictions of class throughout the centuries. The early material, including a full set of Gustave Doré and Henry Mayhew prints, as well as fascinating and detailed Booth's poverty map, is excellent and well worth seeing. Sadly nothing so complimentary can be said about the modern material. Where not dominated by slickly produced but impersonal graphs and charts, it is crude, amateurish and incomprehensible.

    However, it is not simply a difference in style but a difference in message. Despite the statement by the organisers that "Rank, Situation, Class and Hierarchy are still with us" the message of the moderns is nothing of the sort. Instead of the notion of social class - us and them, whether for good or bad – butchly depicted by the traditional material, we are presented with mere economic inequality – a range of economic states from the long term unemployed (17.5 percent of the population apparently) to the professional or manager. The slogan "No Them - Only Us" prominently displayed in "Rank" becomes one of ersatz social inclusion, a brushing over of the real divisions between owner and owned, a con job which no recipient of a wage, pension or dole - payments from our masters - should take in.

    Class is not a moral issue of inequality as depicted here but a social question of ownership and control, whose effects are not just poverty in the narrow economic sense but have echoes throughout society: the machine-like, distorted nature of work – the hellish grind we call wage slavery, the degradation of family and social life; the subjection to the tyranny of the state power; above all, the sense that life under capitalism is not a full human one but one in which the worker is reduced to a unit of production and consumption.

    The reduction of class to mere economic inequality – the patronising image of the starving little black baby and the single mother living on baked beans (which thankfully we were saved from in "Rank") – minimises and marginalises the results of class divided capitalist society. Without the knowledge of class as a social relationship with real personal effects, the worst of which we can mitigate through collective action called the class struggle, the socialist movement would becomes little more than a charity.

    Particularly irritating in "Rank" was the obligatory Karl Marx quotation. The Big Beard's works are literally crammed with punchy one liners yet this is a (deliberately?) dull and long winded quote from The Communist Manifesto, which as even the dumbest social science graduate knows was written by Marx and Engels (the latter possibly having a larger contribution). It accompanies a Dyson cartoon depicting John Bull happily dancing to Master Capitalism's tune. Given his well known interest in class struggle - resistance to the gay dance – this doesn't really show much respect to Chucky does it?

    “Rank" is on display at the Leeds Art Gallery until 26 April, then at the Northern Gallery for Contemporary Arts in Sunderland from 15 May to 11 July, and finally at the Grundy Art Gallery, Blackpool from 24 July to 5 September.

    Shoulder to shoulder

    From the socialist blog, Socialism Or Your Money Back

    France is soon to open a military base in the Persian Gulf including facilities for their navy, an air force installation, and a barracks for several hundred French soldiers.

    The French at last standing shoulder to shoulder with the Brits and the Yanks against potential nuclear threats from Iran perhaps? The Iranian government want to develop a nuclear capability just like the Brits, and the Yanks, and the French. President Sarkosy has, hypocritically, labelled this as “unacceptable”.

    Well that's partly the reason but there is of course an upside to all the expense this will entail.

    For the past fifty years or so French foreign policy has concentrated on the continent of Africa. But of late the emphasis has shifted to the Persian Gulf and the Indian Ocean because “In addition to being sources of oil and potential markets for French technology, these areas are key to France's security...” according to Edward Cody of the Washington Post.

    The move will help “capture a share of the region's rich arms market for the French defense industry.” In other words a nice little earner for the likes of Dassault Aviation whose chief executive, Charles Edelstenne, accompanied Sarkozy and two members of the Dassault family to the inauguration of the military facilities.

    They hope to sell 60 Rafale warplanes manufactured by Dassault Aviation which have until now been slow movers in the arms market. They have been on sale for more than a decade but, as yet, only the French military have been willing to stump up up the readies.

    Gwynn Thomas

    Tuesday, May 19, 2009

    The theology of interest (2009)

    The Cooking the Books column from the May 2009 issue of the Socialist Standard

    Sharia-compliant Islamic banking is apparently expanding with even non-Muslims switching to Islamic banks, reports the London Times (12 March). According to the article’s author, Alex Wade, “under Sharia law, the charging or paying of interest is prohibited”. But, since banks do business by borrowing money at one rate of interest and re-lending it a higher rate, how can a bank which does not pay or charge interest exist?

    This is to underestimate the subtlety of Islamic theologians, following in the footsteps of their end-of-Middle Ages Catholic and Protestant counterparts. In the Middle Ages the dogma of the Catholic Church banned usury, defined as charging money for a loan. Well, but not quite:
    “No man, again, may charge money for a loan. He may, of course, take the profits of partnership, provided that he takes the partner’s risks. He may buy a rent-charge; for the fruits of the earth are produced by nature, not wrung from men. He may demand compensation - interesse - if he is not repaid the principal at the time stipulated. He may ask payments corresponding to any loss he incurs or forgoes. He may purchase an annuity, for the payment is contingent and speculative, not certain” (RH Tawney, Religion and the Rise of Capitalism, ch 1(ii)).
    What was banned, then, was only the certainty of being paid a pre-fixed sum of money for the loan. As Tawney pointed out, the very word “interest” derives from one of the ways of getting round the ban on usury.

    Islam, too, allows partnerships as well as a number of other arrangements which allow the payment of a pre-fixed sum of money for advancing money. Wade’s article mentions: salaam (“sale contract with deferred delivery”), arboum (“sale contract with a non-refundable deposit”) and murabaha (“deferred sale financing”).

    So, while Islamic banks do not borrow money on the money market, they can still make what are in effect loans which bring in money for them. In any event, Islam is not opposed to profits and profit-making since these are regarded as non-certain rewards for advancing money.

    In the end the Catholic church was obliged to face reality and, to try to keep the poor from being exploited by usurers, from the middle of the 15th century itself set up bodies to lend money to the poor. These were called monts-de-piété (literally “mounts of piety”), which is still the French word for pawnbroker, though on the Continent these are state-run bodies. They did not spread to England as Protestantism, which triumphed here in the 16th century, had no qualms about lending at interest. As a result pawnbroking has always been a private business here.

    And these days in fact a profitable business which, along with cheapo shops like Aldi and Lidl, is doing well in the current depression. The leading pawnbroker firm in Britain is H&T, whose shares are quoted on the Stock Exchange. It has 105 stores and made £10 million profits in 2008 compared with £7.1 million in 2007. It charges 8 percent interest per month.

    Wade doesn’t say if there are any Islamic pawnbrokers, but it shouldn’t be difficult to find some imam or mullah to justify this as a form of “deferred sale financing”.

    Weekly Bulletin of The Socialist Party of Great Britain (98)

    Dear Friends,

    Welcome to the 98th of our weekly bulletins to keep you informed of changes at Socialist Party of Great Britain @ MySpace.

    We now have 1490 friends!

    Recent blogs:

  • The Worker
  • The Capitalist
  • The Oceans: New Dumping Grounds for Capitalism
  • Quote for the week:

    "Someday I want to be rich. Some people get so rich they lose all respect for humanity. That's how rich I want to be." Rita Rudner, Comedian and writer.

    Continuing luck with your MySpace adventures!

    Robert and Piers

    Socialist Party of Great Britain

    Thursday, May 14, 2009

    Greatness – perceived and real (2009)

    From the May 2009 issue of the Socialist Standard
    The “Great” are only great because ruling-class historians tells us they are.
    Great men and disproportionately fewer great women are defined and refined for us by those whom we deem to be worthy of lording it over us every four or five years. They stand upon manifestos that promise much but deliver little. What they do deliver, but never talk about beforehand, is war or conflict, reduced public services, cronyism, personal enrichment, self aggrandisement and the ability to write or rewrite history. “He who controls the present controls the past. He who controls the past controls the future!” as Orwell memorably wrote.

    So, the history books of our nation-states are filled with tales of derring-do by champions of our establishment class; pages are given over to the wisdom and fortitude during times of conflict of our political leaders. Pages are dedicated to politicians and generals who, by and large, seldom or never come within range of an armed enemy. In contrast, “the poor, bloody infantry” get a line or two when mention of casualties is glossed over. Churchill stayed in London during the blitz, a political decision, to boost morale in the civil population but was in a hole so deep under the Admiralty as to warrant honorary membership of the National Union of Mineworkers, a group he had once turned armed troops upon for daring to defy the Establishment. Yet he, along with others like him, are perceived by many to be great.

    Lloyd George
    David Lloyd George – the “Welsh Wizard”, so named for his fine oratory and political acumen, but despised by political friend and foe alike for his deceit and cunning –became Prime Minister in 1916 having schemed the downfall of his then Liberal Party leader and Prime Minister Lord Asquith.

    At the conclusion of The Great War, in opposition to former allies the US, France and Italy, he set about the punishment of what he referred to as the “deplorable Turks” by the dismemberment of Turkey and what remained of the former Ottoman Empire whilst at the same time serving Britain's imperial aims in the region. Part of his strategy was to encourage then Greek Prime Minister, Venizelos, whom Lloyd George considered “the greatest statesman Greece had thrown up since Pericles”, to attack mainland Turkey and establish a Greater Hellene Empire. In the event his strategy failed; thousands died needlessly on both sides of the conflict, animosity simmers between Greece and Turkey to this day and with the exchange of populations in 1926 formerly mixed and peaceful communities were torn apart, friends were made into strangers and enemies.

    Within days of the signing in 1922 of the articles of agreement between Turkey and the British, French and Italians for full withdrawal of troops (the French and Italians were long-gone and the Greeks were defeated), Lloyd George resigned, forced out by colleagues who “[could] not afford to keep him anymore. He is too expensive.” The legacy of David Lloyd George is one of death and destruction, of double-dealing and strategic failure. And yet the casual reader of history would see him writ large as a statesman and master politician. There is page after page in the “official” history books and biographies and even a parody of a repetitious song.

    Granny Ayse
    Compare this with the story of Ayse (pronounced. Aysher) of Kaya village near Fethiye in SW Turkey. (I am indebted to long-term resident of Kaya, John Laughland for much of the following information contained in his moving tribute-cum-obituary)

    She died on 20th March 2009, in Izmir, aged around 104, although records and registrations in those days were not punctiliously kept. As she grew older she became known as Aysenine “Granny Ayse” and she was greatly loved by those who knew her. All of her life was spent in the Kaya valley until about five years ago when infirmity dictated that she move from her tumbledown house to the care of her family in Izmir. When she married she moved from one area of this small valley to another and knew little of the world outside. Hers was the life of a village smallholder, working to provide for her family and herself. Some would say she led an unremarkable life of little note or consequence and yet her face has featured in a book that records Fethiye Faces and Places by Turkish photographer Faruk Akbas, poems have been inspired by her words and two renowned authors, Jeremy Seal (in Santa; A Life) and Louis de Bernieres (in Birds Without Wings) have written about her and her life and you might ask why. (de Bernieres is presently working on a screenplay for “Birds Without Wings”)

    Ayse lived through and dealt with the consequences of David Lloyd George's arrogance and perfidy; she was about seventeen years old when the exchange of populations took place. When asked of her memory of those awful times, when friends and neighbours were torn apart, she responded “The cats were crying.” There were some 500 houses in what is now known as Kaya village, formerly Levissi, which remain empty to this day, and it's probable that hundreds of cats in need of food were left behind. Ayse kept in trust the wedding chest of her Greek childhood friend Maria in the belief that one day they would be reunited and it could be returned. Her integrity, honesty and trust, her faith in her fellow human beings are in direct contrast to the murderous contempt for the lives of others that is the legacy of Lloyd George.

    Those who knew Granny Ayse remember her golden personality and sparkling wit that made her a pleasure to be around. Popular history through photos, poems, books and films will record her real greatness as a starring member of the human race; someone who contributed to the well of human kindness and left the world a better place for having lived. David Lloyd George on the other hand is remembered as a cunning bombast with the blood of thousands on his hands, a failure who contributed nothing of value. He may feature in the “official” histories bathing in perceived greatness but Ayse lives on in the hearts and memories of so many because she contributed so much and represented the true nature of humanity.

    Seldom do “histories” reflect reality; in the US there lives a species known as Political Historian whose job it is to address the problems that actual recorded facts cause to the established ruling elite. No doubt they thrive in most other nation states in one guise or another drip-feeding us and our kids via schools and the media with their perceived version of reality. NEWSPEAK is alive and well all over the world. As memories of recent events fade the Political Historians will wave their wands and Bush and Blair et al will transmogrify into great leaders who saved civilisation yet again from the barbarians. Records go missing, new facts are added and repeated over and over in the spirit of Dr Goebbels and the Ministry of Truth.

    As socialists we understand only too well the power of oft repeated misinformation in the minds of many people; when people understand the real nature of our philosophy as opposed to their perceived notions drip-fed to them via the establishment then the system will come crashing. Our task is to keep our own candle burning and to “make socialists” whenever and wherever we can. The values of Ayse of Kaya sustained her as she waited for the return of her friend; the values and integrity of our World Socialist Movement sustain each of us as we battle the legacy of David Lloyd George, the Establishment and the spin of the Political Historians.
    Alan Fenn

    Wednesday, May 13, 2009

    How not to stop the BNP

    From the SPGB election blog, Vaux Populi

    The editorial in Monday's (London) Times argued:

    The British National Party is both an ideological disgrace and hopeless in practice. The main parties must do more to encourage voting in the European elections.

    We can agree that the BNP is an ideological disgrace and is hopeless in practice (though the ideology of the main parties is not up to much and they're pretty hopeless too). But we can't agree that voting for one or other of "the main parties" would be a way of discouraging the growth of the BNP.

    That would be to ignore the lessons of history, particularly of Germany in the late 1920s and early 1930s. Then, the failure of the democratic, reformist parties to make capitalism work in the interest of the wage and salary working class (an inevitable failure given that capitalism can't be reformed in this way), in particular to prevent a deepening economic crisis, opened the way for anti-democratic parties advocating dictatorship and racial discrimination to blame political democracy, not capitalism, for their problems, with, in Germany, some ssuccess but disastrous results.

    There is of course no prospect of the BNP coming to power in Britain but it can certainly grow stronger than it currently is. Naturally, people are concerned about this, but what the Times and others are urging is that the answer is to vote for one or other of "the main parties" (apparently, it doesn't matter which). But since it is the failure (and, at the moment, the blatant corruption) of these parties that allows BNP propaganda to make some headway, more of the same is not going to stop the BNP. It is more likely to encourage it.

    In the end the only effective way to counter the BNP is to confront its arguments directly by pointing out that it is capitalism -- not immigration or immigrants or Muslims or Poles -- that is the cause of the problems workers face. That's what we do all the time and why we say a vote for any of the main parties, as a vote for capitalism, is worse than a wasted vote.

    Adam Buick

    '(What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love, and Socialist Understanding?'

    The Socialist Party is standing a full list of 8 candidates in the London Region in the coming elections to the European Parliament on 4 June.
    Two meetings have been arranged so far.

    SUNDAY 17 MAY at 6.00pm
    Speakers: Tristan Miller and Danny Lambert (candidates)
    at 52 Clapham High Street, SW4 (nearest tube: Clapham North). All welcome. Refreshments available.

    TUESDAY 19 MAY at 8,00pm
    Speakers: Adam Buick and Simon Wigley (candidates)
    Committee Room, Chiswick Town Hall, Heathfield Terrace W4 (nearest tube: Chiswick Park)
    You can follow the progress of the campaign via our election blog, Vaux Populi.
    Our election manifesto can be read at the following link.

    Saturday, May 9, 2009

    Weekly Bulletin of The Socialist Party of Great Britain (97)

    Dear Friends,

    Welcome to the 97th of our weekly bulletins to keep you informed of changes at Socialist Party of Great Britain @ MySpace.

    We now have 1484 friends!

    Recent blogs:

  • Greatness - perceived and real
  • Crassness
  • Beggar's belief
  • Advanced notice:

    The Socialist Party of Great Britain holds its annual Summer School 26 - 28 June 2009 at Harbourne Hall, Birmingham. Members and friends from across Britain and beyond will gather to exchange ideas and experiences in all aspects of socialist activity and thought. The theme this year is "Revolution: The Theories, The Past, The Future".

    Quote for the week:

    "If a working class Englishman saw a bloke drive past in a Rolls-Royce, he'd say to himself "Come the social revolution and we'll take that away from you, mate". Whereas if his American counterpart saw a bloke drive past in a Cadillac he'd say "One day I'm going to own one of those". To my way of thinking the first attitude is wrong. The latter is right." Kerry Packer, Australian billionaire.

    Continuing luck with your MySpace adventures!

    Robert and Piers

    Socialist Party of Great Britain

    Global Warming: Is it (or will it soon be too late?) (2009)

    The Material World column from the May 2009 issue of the Socialist Standard

    On 28 February, a sizeable chunk (400 sq. km.) of the Antarctic ice sheet toppled into the sea. This was just the latest sign that the planet is heating up more rapidly than the quasi-official forecasts of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) have led us to expect.

    Reality outpaces prediction
    Why does reality outpace prediction?

    For one thing, scientists are trained to be cautious. Most are reluctant to “speculate” – meaning to think a possibility through to its logical end result. They are especially reticent when addressing a broad public. Those who occupy positions in or close to government are under pressure to avoid “alarmism” and be “politically realistic.” To preserve a modicum of influence on the ruling class they must maintain an impression of respectable complacency.

    It is, of course, extremely difficult to form an adequate understanding of such a complex interactive system as the global climate. Scientists rely on computerised forecasting models to simulate such systems. But such models can only incorporate factors that are already well understood and not subject to excessive uncertainty. There is an inevitable lag, often a lengthy one, between the discovery of a new danger or feedback mechanism and its adequate representation in the models.

    Continuous and abrupt change
    Thus, the usual prediction for rise in sea level by 2100 is a little under one metre. We can cope with that, surely! But the only factor that it takes into account is thermal expansion, which is fairly easy to calculate. The big rise that will inundate coastal cities and vast lowland areas is that which will follow collapse of the Arctic and Antarctic ice sheets, but no one knows when it will occur.

    Standard mathematical models are designed to analyse continuous, relatively gradual change. The greatest dangers, however, are posed by abrupt changes that give further sudden impetus to climate change. The collapse of ice sheets is one example. Another likely near-term event of this kind is a conflagration, sparked by increasingly hot and dry summertime conditions, that destroys much or even most of the remaining Amazonian rainforest, turning an important carbon sink into yet another carbon emitter.

    Danger – Methane!
    Probably less imminent but even more terrifying is the prospect of the release into the atmosphere of massive amounts of methane as a result of the breakdown of frozen gas-ice compounds in the permafrost as it melts and on the ocean floor as it warms up. Methane is by far the most powerful of the greenhouse gases. It is also poisonous to life, at least as we know it.

    These dangers explain why some scientists fear that global warming may reach a “tipping point” beyond which it will become irreversible – that is, beyond all hope of effective human counteraction. Within a few generations, “runaway” climate change would then generate extreme conditions that human beings will be unable to withstand.

    This fear is fuelled by our knowledge of the geological record, which contains abundant evidence of past climatic disasters in which numerous species became extinct. It seems that when the biosphere of our planet is jolted out of its not very stable equilibrium – whether by collision with a meteorite or asteroid, by a supervolcanic eruption or by the insanity of capitalist production and consumption – it is susceptible to catastrophic climatic upheaval.

    Too late?
    Environmentalists often warn that unless adequate action to arrest global warming is taken within a clearly specified and relatively short period it will be “too late.” Some socialists say the same thing, with the important proviso that “adequate action” must mean, above all, the establishment of world socialism. The urgency of the warning, it is hoped, will rouse people from lethargy to frenetic activism, though I suspect it is more likely to reduce them to despair.

    These warnings have been repeated for quite a few years now, so it is natural that they should escalate. First, the time horizon shortens – from 15 – 20 years to ten or even five. Then the idea surfaces that time must surely have run out by now. Is it not already too late?
    In my opinion, the current state of scientific knowledge does not permit us to make categorical declarations of this sort. We cannot exclude the possibility that it will soon be, or already is, too late. Capitalism may have set in motion processes – perhaps processes that we do not yet even clearly perceive, let alone understand – on which no human ingenuity will have a significant effect. But nor can we exclude the possibility that it is not too late, that even 30, 40 or 50 years from now it will not be too late.

    Socialism – our only chance
    Discussions of runaway climate change rarely take into proper consideration the potential of cosmic engineering projects such as giant space mirrors to divert the sun’s rays. Although these projects may entail risks of their own, the longer the transition to world socialism is delayed the more urgently the space agency of socialist society is likely to pursue them.
    For all the uncertainties, we can be certain regarding some vital points.

    • If we do have a chance of survival, it is contingent on the establishment of world socialism. If capitalism continues indefinitely, then sooner or later we are doomed.
    • The sooner we establish socialism the better. But better late than never.
    • The climatic and environmental threat to human survival will come to occupy central place among the concerns that inspire people to work for socialism, overshadowing all else.


    Friday, May 8, 2009

    Free Work versus Forced Employment (1998)

    From the December 1998 issue of the Socialist Standard

    Why do you go to work? Is it because you enjoy what you do? Did you choose to work at what you do in the way you do? Would you do your job were it not for the money?

    A few lucky people can do what they like. These include a certain class of people who have the economic privilege of not needing to work. They can live by exploiting the work of others. This exploitation enables them to live by appropriating rent, interest and profit. They can do what they like with their lives. They can sleep all day. They can travel. They can spend their time shooting animals for fun or shooting drugs into their bodies. If they wish, they can be philanthropists and "do good" for the poorwho are poor only because the rich are rich.

    While the capitalist minority who own and control the means of producing and distributing wealth are free not to have to work, the majority of us are unfree. We are dependent upon working in order to obtain a wage or salary. We sell our mental and physical abilities in a relationship called employment.

    Work and employment are not the same. Humans need to work because work is the expenditure of energy and unless we use some of it we rot away. Even the most parasitical aristocratic layabout occasionally does the odd stroke of work. Looking after a garden or painting pictures or cooking fine food are all work activities, but if you do them freely they are not employment. To be employed is to work for someone else: to be at their beck and call; to be given money by them in return for producing values for them. Capitalists will only employ workers if there is a prospect of them making a profit out of us. They make their profit by receiving from us more value than the value of our wages or salaries. Without this surplus value they would not employ us - which is why millions of able-bodied and skilled people who want to find jobs are unemployed; there is no prospect of a profit in making them work. There is no point in asking the capitalists to give everyone employment regardless of profit. That would not be in their interests and we should not expect them to invest in us unless they can exploit us.

    So, the majority works not by choice but in an unfree relationship of employment. We are wage or salary slaves. We are employed not for the good of our health but so that capitalists can live in luxury without working. Employment is a form of institutionalised exploitation - or legalised robbery.

    Increasing Misery - How Works Getting Worse
    Karl Marx, who was the first to explain scientifically how capitalism turned the producers of wealth into exploited wage slaves, argued in the last century that conditions for workers would get worse: the increasing misery of the working class. Some reformists believe that Marx was wrong: that life under capitalism has been greatly improved for the workers as a result of philanthropic legislation and higher wages. Even certain pseudo-Marxists have declared that Marx was wrong about this and that capitalism has produced a working class which, though technically exploited, is pretty affluent and no longer in poverty. Even discounting the condition of the majority of the worlds working class who live in conditions of poverty comparable to those suffered in Victorian Britain (which such pseudo-Marxists do, because they are essentially only interested in British rather then global capitalism), it is nonsense to suppose that the exploited working class is now somehow well off. In fact, in many respects, the late 1990s are one of the worst times to be employed this century.

    Employment is the sale of time. Capitalists want to be sure that they get their full chunk of our lives, down to the last second. So theyve invented new electronic timesheets, such as Tempo, VizTopia and Carpe Diem, which measure what we are doing during every minute of their day. Arthur Andersen, the management consultants (the new holders of the foremans whip) have invented a new 70-unit day, divided up into six-minute periods, each of which must be accounted for by the employee. At a recent socialist meeting we heard from a worker at one of the major banks whose useless job was to sit in front of a computer transferring money. There is a button labelled "More Work" which she had to press on her computer each time she had completed a task. By comparison, the Victorian factory sounds pretty civilised--certainly no worse. The New Labour-supporting Daily Mirror reports enthusiastically on the Nissan factory in Sunderland where workers have a fixed 35-minute lunch break (16 July).

    The "good old days" when even the humblest wage slave got an hour off for dinner and a chat have been replaced. All over the industrialised world workers are being encouraged to arrive on the job earlier, stay later and take less time out for a pee or a pie. Little wonder then that the same newspaper reported that "soaring stress levels at work are making it Britains biggest health hazard . . . It is affecting a third of the countrys workforce and costing industry 90 million working days a year" (19 October) The TUC report from which the newspaper quoted this information also stated that nearly a quarter of Britains firms were not meeting legally required safety obligations. And with trade-union membership having fallen--largely due to the smaller full-time workforce and increased job insecuritymost workers simply have to grin and bear it. Without organisation for self-defence the bosses can impose whatever lousy conditions they think they can get away with.

    In the Post Office in North London workers, whose paid job began at 6 am, were arriving half an hour early in order to complete the extra workload that management was expecting of them. They didnt arrive early because they were insomniacs and couldnt sleep; they were scared that unless they delivered what the managers were demanding theyd be replaced by other wage slaves fresh off the dole queue. Now the managers (who are merely the errand boys for Capital) have insisted that the official working day must begin at 5.30after all, most workers are arriving then anyway. So, more work will be piled upon them and the next step will be for some to have to arrive at 5 am to deliver their pounds of flesh. This is the increasing misery of the working class.

    A World Without Wages
    Most of us want to work. What we hate is employment. We want to work for ourselves, our families and friends, our community, not some thieving parasite who can laugh as long as were dependent on his wages.

    The abolition of wage slavery is no less than the abolition of class society. Because there are only two main classes left in society today--capitalists and workersthe abolition of capitalist exploitation must mean the beginning of free labour.

    How will work be organised in a socialist society? Everyone who can work will work. They will work at what they do best, not for wages but as co-operative contributors to society. In return for giving according to their abilities they will be free to take from the common store according to their needs. There will be no wages. There will be no money. Instead of the market there will be free access for all to goods and services. It will be a more relaxed society. People in a socialist society will not have jobs but will do work. It is unlikely that any of us will choose to do only one kind of work all week or between the ages of sixteen and sixty-five. It is quite probable that the hours each week that each of us will be needed to work will be less than at present. Certainly, working conditions will be pleasant--because the object of work will be social satisfaction and not pumping as much toil out of each person as is humanly possible. People in a socialist society will have much more control than now over how their work is organised; the labour process will be democratised and no longer under the dictatorship of Capital and its managerial Gestapo.

    Under capitalism what we call leisure is a snatched period of free time to use for rest and relaxation. In a socialist society the distinction between work and leisure will diminishperhaps even disappear. People will have an opportunity to use their hobbies and enthusiasms for the social good: to enjoy being useful. Whereas now much of the work that most workers perform is totally uselessfrom counting money to making munitions to guarding propertyevery human in a socialist society will know that their work is part of a process of producing for use.

    We are not presenting the socialist alternative of a world without wages as a utopian dream for the century after next. This is practical now. Socialism is the sensible next step for humankind to take, away from a social system that wastes our energies, abuses or skills and stunts or creativity.

    The Great Money Trick

    Taken from classic working class novel, The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists by Robert Tressell, which was originally published in Britain in 1914. The text was found via the website of the Manchester Branch of the Socialist Party of Great Britain.

    "Money is the real cause of poverty," said Owen.

    "Prove it," repeated Crass.

    "Money is the cause of poverty because it is the device by which those who are too lazy to work are enabled to rob the workers of the fruits of their labour."

    "Prove it," said Crass.

    Owen slowly folded up the piece of newspaper he had been reading and put it in his pocket.

    "All right," he replied. "I'll show you how the Great Money Trick is worked."

    Owen opened his dinner basket and took from it two slices of bread, but as these where not sufficient, he requested that anyone who had some bread left should give it to him. They gave him several pieces, which he placed in a heap on a clean piece of paper, and, having borrowed the pocket knives of Easton, Harlow and Philpot, he addressed them, as follows:

    "These pieces of bread represent the raw materials which exist naturally in and on the earth for the use of mankind; they were not made by any human being, but were created for the benefit and sustenance of all, the same as were the air and the light of the sun."

    "Now," continued Owen, "I am a capitalist; or rather I represent the landlord and capitalist class. That is to say, all these raw materials belong to me. It does not matter for our present arguement how I obtained possession of them, the only thing that matters now is the admitted fact that all the raw materials which are necessary for the production of the necessaries of life are now the property of the landlord and capitalist class. I am that class; all these raw materials belong to me."

    "Now you three represent the working class. You have nothing, and, for my part, although I have these raw materials, they are of no use to me. What I need is the things that can be made out of these raw materials by work; but I am too lazy to work for me. But first I must explain that I possess something else beside the raw materials. These three knives represent all the machinery of production; the factories, tools, railways, and so forth, without which the necessaries of life cannot be produced in abundance. And these three coins" - taking three half pennies from his pocket - "represent my money, capital."

    "But before we go any further," said Owen, interrupting himself, "it is important to remember that I am not supposed to be merely a capitalist. I represent the whole capitalist class. You are not supposed to be just three workers, you represent the whole working class."

    Owen proceeded to cut up one of the slices of bread into a number of little square blocks.

    "These represent the things which are produced by labour, aided by machinery, from the raw materials. We will suppose that three of these blocks represent a week's work. We will suppose that a week's work is worth one pound."

    Owen now addressed himself to the working class as represented by Philpot, Harlow and Easton.

    "You say that you are all in need of employment, and as I am the kind-hearted capitalist class I am going to invest all my money in various industries, so as to give you plenty of work. I shall pay each of you one pound per week, and a week's work is that you must each produce three of these square blocks. For doing this work you will each recieve your wages; the money will be your own, to do as you like with, and the things you produce will of course be mine to do as I like with. You will each take one of these machines and as soon as you have done a week's work, you shall have your money."

    The working classes accordingly set to work, and the capitalist class sat down and watched them. As soon as they had finished, they passed the nine little blocks to Owen, who placed them on a piece of paper by his side and paid the workers their wages.

    "These blocks represent the necessaries of life. You can't live without some of these things, but as they belong to me, you will have to buy them from me: my price for these blocks is one pound each."

    As the working classes were in need of the necessaries of life and as they could not eat, drink or wear the useless money, they were compelled to agree to the capitalist's terms. They each bought back, and at once consumed, one-third of the produce of their labour. The capitalist class also devoured two of the square blocks, and so the net result of the week's work was that the kind capitalist had consumed two pounds worth of things produced by the labour of others, and reckoning the squares at their market value of one pound each, he had more than doubled his capital, for he still possessed the three pounds in money and in addition four pounds worth of goods. As for the working classes, Philpot, Harlow and Easton, having each consumed the pound's worth of necessaries they had bought with their wages, they were again in precisely the same condition as when they had started work - they had nothing.

    This process was repeated several times; for each weeks work the producers were paid their wages. They kept on working and spending all their earnings. The kind-hearted capitalist consumed twice as much as any one of them and his pool of wealth continually increased. In a little while, reckoning the little squares at their market value of one pound each, he was worth about one hundred pounds, and the working classes were still in the same condition as when they began, and were still tearing into their work as if their lives depended on it.

    After a while the rest of the crowd began to laugh, and their meriment increased when the kind-hearted capitalist, just after having sold a pound's worth of necessaries to each of his workers, suddenly took their tools, the machinery of production, the knives, away from them, and informed them that as owing to over production all his store-houses were glutted with the necessaries of life, he had decided to close down the works.

    "Well, and wot the bloody 'ell are we to do now ?" demanded Philpot.

    "That's not my business," replied the kind-hearted capitalist. "I've paid your wages, and provided you with plenty of work for a long time past. I have no more work for you to do at the present. Come round again in a few months time and I'll see what I can do."

    "But what about the necessaries of life?" Demanded Harlow. "We must have something to eat."

    "Of course you must," replied the capitalist, affably; "and I shall be very pleased to sell you some."

    "But we ain't got no bloody money!"

    "Well, you can't expect me to give you my goods for nothing! You didn't work for nothing, you know. I paid you for your work and you should have saved something: you should have been thrifty like me. Look how I have got on by being thrifty!"

    The unemployed looked blankly at each other, but the rest of the crowd only laughed; and then the three unemployed began to abuse the kind-hearted capitalist, demanding that he should give them some of the necessaries of life that he had piled up in his warehouses, or to be allowed to work and produce some more for their own needs; and even threated to take some of the things by force if he did not comply with their demands. But the kind-hearted capitalist told them not to be insolent, and spoke to them about honesty, and said if they were not careful he would have their faces battered in for them by the police, or if necessary he would call out the military and have them shot down like dogs, the same as he had done before at Featherstone and Belfast.

    Further Reading and Viewing:

    From the December 2003 issue of the Socialist Standard -

    Robert Tressell and the Ragged Trousered Philanthropists

    Andy Vine's graphic illustration of the Great Money Trick that originally appeared in issue 3 of the political comic, Warning This Is Propaganda.

    Robert Owen: paternalist utopian (2008)

    From the December 2008 issue of the Socialist Standard
    1998 marked the 150th anniversary of the death of Robert Owen. The Owenites introduced the word “socialism” but Owen himself always opposed the class struggle.
    Owen’s key idea, indeed perhaps his only one, was: “Man’s character is made for and not by him”. He thought that it was therefore possible to give a person any character you like. He was, in short, a ‘man moulder’.
    Robert Owen was born in Wales. He had little formal education but through hard work and nous (including marrying the boss’s daughter) soon became a big cheese in the cotton spinning business. In 1800, at the age of 29, he moved to New Lanark in Scotland.
    This was the real era of the dark satanic mills. Sans unions and sans factory legislation, the workers toiled endlessly for a measly pittance, existing in a degraded condition in filthy slums. Owen took New Lanark (which it must be said was even at the start one of the better mills) and made it a model factory estate. Nice Mr. Owen became well known as a genial entrepreneur and benevolent philanthropist. At his factory at Lanark he improved hours and conditions, introduced schooling, and banned ‘morally harmful’ out of hours activities (outlawing pubs and books and fining extra-marital sex). He raised the minimum working age from six to ten years. Entertainment for his workers was a little harmless music, some dancing and physical jerks. Military drill was introduced to “give them an erect and proper form, and habits of attention, celerity, and order”. In addition “firearms, of proportionate weight and size for the age and strength of the boys shall be provided for them”. A key element in the workplace was the public display of a block showing the behaviour of the individual (shades of Maoist self-criticism). This was said to be character building but also produced a disciplined and productive workforce. (All quotes are from A New View of Society Owen's account of New Lanark).
    The aim at New Lanark was made absolutely clear in a letter from Owen to The London Times in 1834:
    “I believe it is known to your lordship that in every point of view no experiment was ever so successful as the one I conducted at New Lanark, although it was commenced and continued in opposition to all the oldest and strongest prejudices of mankind. For twenty-nine years we did without the necessity for magistrates or lawyers; without a single legal punishment; without any known poors’ (sic) rate; without intemperance or religious animosities. We reduced the hours of labour, well educated all the children from infancy, greatly improved the condition of the adults, diminishing their daily labour, paid interest on capital, and cleared upwards of £300,000 of profit.” (quoted in GJ Holyoake’s History of Cooperation).
    Like Lord Leverhulme at Port Sunlight, Owen found that treating your workers better makes better workers which makes better profits. The rest of Owen's life was an attempt to recreate the Lanark Mills experience on a large scale. True later on for different reasons. But Owen never really understood that at New Lanark he was able to impose ‘nice’ upon his workers by their very status as workers.

    The end of the Napoleonic Wars brought a period of crisis including mass unemployment. This resulted in a high poor rate. Owen, being a businessman, sought to lower this with a plan for solving unemployment. Again this was the 5 percent philanthropy at work. Concern for the suffering was tempered by profit making – in the form of a lowered tax burden. Some time around 1817 this tax plan became a general scheme for the changing of society.

    Essentially society was to be transformed by means of experimental communities. These self-contained and self-supporting complexes were to be built as grand squares, the parallelograms. In the communities the precise form of ownership of property was left open, leaving the way open for ‘community of goods’. However Owen was averse to this. Economics, like the precise form of internal administration in the colony, was unimportant. Education was the key to Owen's scheme and its purpose was to mould the individual into an ideal social character. Finance was to come by an appeal to the rich and influential. Such was not forthcoming. Owen blamed his failure on his relatively mild criticism of the established church and the family. Doubtless this had some effect but the rich really had no particular interest in solving the problem of poverty. So far as they were concerned the poor could rot.

    From 1824 Owen poured his own money into setting up a community in America. New Harmony, in Indiana, failed within a few years, essentially due to lack of discrimination in choosing occupants (the great problem of freeloaders). Without the power that goes with being a factory owner, Owen was unable to make the communists behave as he wished, particularly as, despite his own high opinion of himself, he was not a particularly good organiser, often leaving deputies to deal with problems while he swanned off for parties with the wealthy (Owen was always fond of the Great and Good, dedicating the New View to the appallingly corrupt Prince Regent).

    When Owen returned to Britain in 1829 after the dismal failure of his American experiment, he found the situation somewhat altered. Throughout the country the working class was making use of the repeal of the anti-combination laws to set up trade unions. These were as yet little more than local self-help clubs, often carrying out some form of cooperative trading venture. Many of those involved looked to Owen as a source of inspiration. Owen himself had lost virtually all his money and whatever slight influence he may have had amongst the wealthier classes. Bandwagonning a little, he began to associate himself with the various self-help schemes – co-operatives, barter schemes and trade unions. Although so far as he was concerned these were only of use in ‘preparing the public’s mind for community’, this short period (1829-34) was the making of Owen as a figurehead of the old Left.

    Within a short time Owen had set up his own cooperative (Association for the Promotion of Cooperative Knowledge), union (Grand National Consolidated Trades Union) and labour exchange (National Equitable Labour Exchange) organisations. The latter functioned as an extension of the cooperative store, surplus coop produce forming the basis of its activities. Essentially goods brought in were valued by a committee and a note issued indicating the amount of labour required to produce the item. This could then be exchanged for other goods in the bazaar of the same labour time value.

    The various groups were viewed as fund raisers and mind openers – fronts in modern parlance – rather than useful in themselves. Strikes were certainly not on Owen's agenda. And when the true class war came to a head in the summer of 1834, Owen bailed out, disassociating himself from the GNCTU. Extreme pressure from employers led to the failure of the union, which brought down in its wake the cooperatives and labour exchanges. The latter were probably fatally flawed in any case due to their limited ability to satisfy needs, most goods making their way there being unsaleable on the open market.

    In 1835 Owen renewed the attempt to found a community. This time the attempt was made through a distinctly working class body. This was variously named the Association of All Classes of All Nations (1835-39), the Universal Community Society of Rational Religionists (1839-42) and the Rational Society (1842-46). At its peak in 1841 there were 70 or so branches spread throughout Great Britain. In key centres, such as Manchester and London, meeting halls were built (the Halls of Science) and regular indoor and outdoor propaganda meetings held under the auspices of ‘Social Missionaries’. By late 1839 the efforts bore fruit with the opening of a community at Queenwood in Hampshire. This became known as Harmony.

    Harmony was however distinctly unharmonious. Owen regarded the whole enterprise as a means towards the perfection of humanity, a great experiment in making people nice. The workers however saw Owenism in general and the community in particular, as a way of abolishing their own poverty. Conflict was inevitably the result, with control of the enterprise swinging back and forth between the paternalist Owen and the self-organising proles. The true downfall of Harmony however was really Owen’s responsibility. Having selected a hopeless site in the chalk uplands, he proceeded to build a hopelessly ornate ‘super workhouse’, burdening the society with unsustainable debts. In the summer of 1845 Harmony was sold off. Further details of the Harmony scheme can be found in Edward Royle’s excellent Robert Owen and the Commencement of the Millennium (Manchester University Press, 1998).

    Historically the attitude to the Owenites of the 1830s and ‘40s has been determined by the semi-religious millennial language that was used and group dismissed (e.g. by GDH Cole) as nothing more than a sect. Although there were elements of this, Owen as the secular saviour leading his chosen people to the glorious paradise of Community, the reduction is a rather unfair slur. Many contemporary organisations, including the Chartists, used flowery language. And the image of Owen as unquestioned leader was certainly far from the truth.

    Owen has further been criticised for paying no attention to the main mass movement of the day – Chartism. Chartism was a movement for political democracy and as such was irrelevant to Owen’s aim – setting up experimental communities. It must also be said that so far as the starving worker of the day was concerned the issue of mere possession of the vote in itself would not have brought them food. The demand for the ballot was resisted by the upper class largely because it was believed anti-capitalist measures would follow in its wake. Owen recognised, unlike most Chartists, that political democracy is not the solution in itself to capitalist misery. He did not however recognise that it could be a means to this very end.

    After 1845 Owen went into a form of retired senility. Seances, bumpreadings and other such garbage were the order of the day. Perhaps his greatest contribution of these years was his autobiography The Life of Robert Owen by Himself, published in 1857. Although obviously biased it is a great from the horse’s mouth source.

    The principal practical result of Owen’s life was the setting up of utopian communities. The Owenite communities, both the official ones detailed above and the numerous examples in which Owen had no hand, failed to demonstrate Owen's theories of character formation, which was of course their main aim, because they never became properly established. What they do demonstrate however is how easy it is for such a community to fail. And since such communities would primarily be a demonstration of cooperation, providing a haven for a few from capitalism, the amount of enthusiasm and resources invested was surely wasteful.

    Perhaps surprisingly, although Owenism was unfruitful in achieving its specified aims its by-products were far from inconsiderable. The Rochdale Pioneers, founders of the modern cooperative movement, were Owenites and the modern secularist movement can also trace its ancestry back to the Owenite movement of the 1840s.

    The importance of the Owenites is that they marked a watershed; for the first time a complete change in the nature of society was contemplated by a section of the working class. We also owe them our name. Although previously in use, the name ‘socialism’ was adopted by the Owenites in 1837 to describe their aims and within a few years Owenism and Socialism were synonymous. The connection was so strong that Marx and Engels were forced to have a Communist Manifesto rather than a socialist one. The meaning of the phrase has altered much since then, primarily due to the influence of Marx and Engels, however the underlying assumptions of Owen and the Owenites that human nature is not eternally fixed and therefore a better world is possible remains the basis of socialism.

    Thursday, May 7, 2009

    What is to be done? (2009)

    From the April 2009 issue of the Socialist Standard

    As capitalism loses some of its legitimacy, what should those who want to get rid of capitalism be doing?
    After the battle of El Alamein, Churchill famously said “This is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning”.

    In some ways, the socialist position on the latest slump should be similar (minus, of course, the celebration of mass slaughter). Capitalism has lost its veneer of invincibility, which is much of its strength. Pundits who a couple of years ago would have referred to “the economic system” – as if there was no other – have started to refer to capitalism. And as the possibility of pensions fades out of view, job security becomes a memory (to those who ever had it), people lose their houses, their savings, we can expect a similar reaction amongst those members of our class who had previously had no cause to question their life's trajectory within capitalism.

    It is therefore imperative to use this opportunity, as capitalism's feet of clay are broken, to build afresh rather than patch up the past. And we are building from a weak base. Across the entire spectrum of political opinion membership numbers in parties are down – the working class has been demobilised politically, and often only ageing cadres remain, preserving political traditions rather than engaging in productive activity, recruitment and debate.

    The battle of ideas
    The first, most important battle is to continue the destruction of capitalism's legitimacy in the minds of our fellow class members. That is, to drive the development of our class as a class-for-itself, mindful of the fact that capitalism is a thing that can be destroyed and a thing that should be destroyed. As it rapidly crumbles from a high peak to a lower base, most workers “shouldn't need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows”, as the song has it.

    The second is to develop an effective medium of engagement between workers and politics. A great deal of energy has been expended on this topic in the past, mainly because all political parties which lose membership will, understandably, see this as an institutional failing. This is frankly hubris. For an organisation to think that it is capable of single-handedly failing the working class is to reject the materialist approach, that our ideas come from our life circumstances and not from an all-knowing vanguard. This medium of engagement has to take account of society's development; open-air meetings at Hyde Park, for example, may be superseded by Second Life. The only way to establish this is to explore all avenues and reinforce those that work, while remaining confident in the class's revolutionary potential.

    The third is to ensure that the right ideas for the working class win out, and constitute the basis for the overall class struggle. Historically this battle of ideas has been waged both in the mind – in debates, lectures and social events – and on the streets. We of course favour the first approach, and do all we can to keep activity there. This is not just a matter of aesthetics. All of capitalism's power, including its coercive power, is in the hands of the working class; fighting can only firstly divide us and secondly weaken us.

    Capitalism digs its own grave
    While socialists have few resources, capitalism's own failings have far more reach and power to convince our class of the folly of capitalism than we possess – the largest organisations claiming to be revolutionary may just about win a couple of column inches with a large demonstration, as opposed to daily front page news of corruption, failure and despair from the mainstream press. Capitalism will provide its own gravediggers. Existing organisations can at best address points two and three above – re-establish a mass political culture amongst our class, whilst engaging in debate between the various political traditions and throwing the matter open to our class, that the best ideas win in terms of membership.

    This also determines the level of cooperation between these traditions. All, presumably, want a climate in which working class ideas can flourish. Though some may be powerful enough to have their own mass papers, in practice preaching is only to the converted.

    Authoritarian parties are hostile at the second level: rather than defending their own ideas, they create their own political ghettoes, such as the old Communist parties which denigrated and suppressed their opposition so as not to compete (and fail) at the level of demonstrating the relative values of their ideas. This is where streetfighting plays its role: physically removing opposition that one cannot overcome in a battle of hearts and minds, whilst destroying the climate in which the working class can find its way. The revolution is aborted in the process, not defended. This is another reason why a socialist revolution must be peaceful, at least as far as our class is concerned.

    By contrast, a genuine revolutionary party in capitalism is, by definition, a party of the working class. A depoliticised working class cannot make a socialist revolution. It must be a party that operates at the level of discussion between workers, not so as to fetishise a particular political form but because a successful socialist revolution is made by the working class coming to revolutionary ideas.

    Let’s have a party
    This brings us to defending our own political tradition. We are a party of the third part, so to speak: we focus on debate between traditions, engaging workers in the process, whilst maintaining the medium (finding out how people engage in politics, making the process a positive one). Even if we had the power to affect the news, we would have no need to engage in 'propaganda' in its pejorative sense; the simple facts damn capitalism amply enough, and it is enough to shout these facts from the rooftops along with our call to action.

    We focus our differences at the level of ideas. Front organisations are only organisations that suppress debate and engage in conflict at a lower level. Classic cases are the recent Socialist Alliance, and Respect, coalitions which have been the means for various Left traditions to draw working class support together, all to then vie with each other to recruit for members within this pool. Only in such an environment could one use the word 'comrade' to refer to an organisational enemy. The Weekly Worker often carries records of physical ejections from meetings, even beatings, amongst these supposed comrades. The working class is profoundly deterred by these antics; perhaps more importantly, the idea that workers can never attain more than “trade union consciousness” is made self-fulfilling by denying debate.

    The coming months and years will see many organisations, calling themselves working class, trying to establish or re-establish themselves. Calls will be made to support this or that country, this or that leader, this or that party. There is a simple way to negotiate this maze: those that do all they can to make space for the working class themselves to become revolutionary, are revolutionary: all others are impostors. The object must be nothing short of a society that has the liberation of our class from capitalism as its precondition: the abolition of wage slavery. We have the power to do this if we are confident and not distracted. We as a class must be trusted with our own decisions, and credited with the ability to know our own interests. And there should be no preaching of violence within the class; we fail when our energies turn against each other. In effect, this means that the revolution should be as peaceful as possible; all those who now bear arms are workers like ourselves, and history has shown how unwilling workers can be to fire on each other unless backed into a corner. But we should be hostile to all those who try to sow defeatism amongst our class, doubt our revolutionary ability or ability to organise ourselves, who attempt to turn our energies to their own ends.

    We have, of course, more to say than this. Lessons from history that have been learned, the writings of past revolutionaries, and more. But these things are a touchstone to avoid the errors of the past: the revolution should be for the class and by the class, together as comrades. We may not, this time, end capitalism. But we can sense the beginning of the end; and get going a political party with socialism as its objective, not small reforms but the overthrow of capitalism – that is the end of the beginning.

    Food: commodity or need? (2009)

    From the April 2009 issue of the Socialist Standard

    Enough calories are already produced in the world today to avoid anyone having to starve. It’s just that millions can’t afford to buy the food containing them.
    Air, water, food; the three essential requirements of life. Humans can survive for barely 2-3 minutes without air, several days without water and at most a few weeks without food. In our earliest days all were born with totally free access to these most basic necessities of life – access as required. Now we still have free air, if of questionable quality, although it is possible to buy a refreshing booster session of pure, clean oxygen in such cities as Tokyo. Water is still freely available to some – an ever-shrinking number – although many of these have to manage with a contaminated or disease-ridden supply, daily risking serious illness or even death. It has become a commodity denied to many, a basic requirement of life withheld, leading to aggressive acts in local, national and international arenas. Food, like water, finds those at the end of the supply chain, those who need the commodity rather than those who desire the profit, are the least likely to be consulted regarding the supply.

    According to T. Lang in The Ecologist (March 2008) food is a $6.4 trillion-a-year economy, selling a necessity of life, which impoverishes more people than any other sector. There has to be a moral conundrum here if some of us are reduced to a daily recurring position of no money, no meal.

    The discussion as to whether the world does or can produce enough food for the current population is generally heard through the loudspeaker of the economic/political sector which suggests that overpopulation is the problem. However, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation's figures for 2006 there are enough calories for everyone even in most of the poorer countries, pointing to the fact that hunger is simply a problem of the barriers to distribution.

    For example, in India between 2001-3 where 20 percent of the population (212 million) were undernourished there were 2440 available calories per person per day.

    Another example is that in Ethiopia in 2001-3 with 46 percent of the population (31.5 million) undernourished there were 1860 available calories per person per day.

    So, if enough food to feed domestic populations is available, why do so many have to go without and where does the surplus go? Lack of money is the answer to the first part and export to the second. Remember the Irish 'potato' famine when thousands upon thousands died of starvation as a result of potato blight decimating the crops of the indigenous population? Food was not scarce, there was plenty of production of food for export and for the wealthy but beyond the means of the local poor whose staple diet was potatoes. What's different but the century, the geographical location and the sheer scale of the iniquity of the market? The “market” – as if this were a lifeless entity with no human input. The market – in control or out of control, controlling or controlled – can have no moral or ethical standards for these are human qualities to be included or discounted at the decision-making, policy-making processes.

    The export of food from the South on a grand scale is part of what leaves millions undernourished but export is a two-way process. The North also exports food to the South, highly subsidised food which makes it untenable for farmers in the importing country to compete, forcing them to switch to crops for export or go out of business. Thus the cycle continues. More impoverishment. More hunger. A glance at the 2008 subsidy figures of the US reveals $50+ billion given in particular to export crops. In diminishing order, corn, wheat, cotton, soybeans, rice, sorghum, barley, peanuts. Absent from the subsidy list are fruit and vegetables and crops grown for local US markets.

    One of the legacies of the colonisation of the South by the North has been the imposition of methods of farming along with the types of crops to be grown. Huge areas of previously diverse multi-crop forests were reduced to plantations growing single crops specifically for export – bananas, sugar cane, pineapples – decimating the land through soil erosion from this unsuitable method of farming and taking away the land and livelihood of local peasants. The heavy-handed, arrogant approach of incomers showing no regard for centuries old successful sustainable methods of farming.

    Reinforcing food's place as a commodity rather than a right to a need is the way decisions are made by transnational corporations with respect to environmental consequences. The North's subsidised food puts populations in poor countries off their lands and into urban environments where they then work in manufacturing; manufacturing that has been exported there for their cheap labour. A World Commission on Environment and Development in 1987 reported that transferring manufacturing to the South was the same as exporting pollution. Lawrence Summers, when at the World Bank (he’s now Obama’s chief economic adviser), put his name to a document which only half-jokingly suggested that exporting pollution to the poorer countries was a good idea financially on another count – people in those countries died younger anyway from other diseases and we would be saving on our own pollution clean-ups and health-care bills by so doing. Had Southern pollution control met minimal Northern standards the annual bill would have been $14.2 billion more. In other words, make it impossible for peasant farmers to compete with your highly subsidised food crops, watch them migrate to cities where they can no longer even grow food for themselves and employ them cheaply in polluting manufacturing jobs producing goods for export back to you.

    “You are what you eat” or “Food is Life” may be seen as mantras of diet-obsessed wacky people but on a science-based, physiological level they happen to be true. To be effectively nourished and maintain decent health requires an adequate supply in reasonable balance of carbohydrates, protein, fat, vitamins, minerals and fibre. Fresh, whole foods, uncontaminated by polluted air and water or dozens of chemical sprays and manufactured additives. More and more studies contradict the conventional view of the industrial agricultural complex, generally upheld by politicians, which pushes farming on a huge scale and uses manufactured fertilisers, pesticides, herbicides, hormones and genetically modified seed, promoting the idea that bigger is better. It may yield more profit but that is about all. Outside the industrial agricultural complex it is recognised that organic methods are more favourable to producers, soil, sustainability of the environment and to the consumers. A 2007 report from the University of Michigan said that an organic world could yield over 2,641 calories per person per day and that small farms are the most productive. This could be interpreted that food viewed as a need rather than a commodity is a viable prospect and enough could be available for all when the requirement for profit is removed. Unfortunately, as yet, this is a disparate group of movements and pressure groups worldwide which has far from the political clout of the entrenched industrial agricultural complex and transnational corporations' lobby which leaves us with the obvious conclusion that the only solution is the urgent dismantling of the system of commodities in favour of one of free access for all.

    (References from Wayne Roberts' “The No-Nonsense Guide to World Food” – one of a series from New Internationalist).
    Janet Surman

    Wednesday, May 6, 2009

    Glasgow May Day School (Saturday 9 May 1.00pm till 5.00pm)

    May Dayschool 2009

    Saturday 9 May 1.00pm till 5.00pm

    Banks:Who needs them?

    Community Central Hall 304 Maryhill Road Glasgow

    Capitalism in Crisis:

    1.00 - 2.15pm 2009: The Year of Economic Crisis.

    Speaker Brian Gardner

    Glasgow Branch.

    This year has seen the collapse of banks, of building societies and the closure of factories and retail outlets. As millions of workers throughout the world face the re-possessions of their homes and the grow-ing fear of unemployment we ask why the economic bubble has burst. We look at the various "solutions" that are offered to alleviate the problems and analyse what can be learned from previous eco-nomic slumps. Previously abandoned by political econo-mists the old ideas of Keynes have made a startling come-back to the extent that many politicians are now espousing his ideas as a solution to the present economic woes. We look at the problem from a Marxist viewpoint and con-sider whether these ideas have value in today’s context.

    2.15 - 3.30pm The Environment in Meltdown?

    Speaker, John Cumming

    Glasgow Branch

    How serious is the threat to the global environment? Is the melting of the polar ice pack a product of global warming caused by natural causes or the over production of carbon gases? Is the growing water shortage as serious as depicted and is there any possible solution? Is man-made pollution the cause of the threat to the world's oceans and the possible destruction of the marine food chain? All these inter-related pollution problems are examined from a socialist analysis and some of the proposed solutions are examined.

    3.30 - 3.45pm Tea break

    3.45 - 5pm Can Socialism Solve the problems?

    Speaker Paul Bennett

    Manchester Branch

    Modern society has produced immense social problems. We have millions of people existing on less than a $1 a day in-side a system that could produce enough food, clothing and shelter to satisfy all human needs. We have magnificent ad-vances in human knowledge but seem incapable of solving problems like world hunger, poverty and war. Wealth today takes the form of commodities - articles produced for sale with a view to making a profit. The Socialist Party is unique in that its only aim is world socialism - a society where everything is produced solely to satisfy need not make a profit. How would this new society based on common ownership operate? Could it solve the problems of capitalism?

    Looking forward to seeing you all there.

    For more information about the Glasgow Branch of the Socialist Party, please visit their Branch Website.