Friday, September 6, 2013

Greasy Pole: All That Stuff – And Nonsense (2013)

The Greasy Pole Column from the September 2013 issue of the Socialist Standard

In the 1945 election the Labour Party offered a manifesto with the title blazoned across the front cover – Let Us Face The Future – which provoked the more retentive voter to comment that this was because they dare not face their past – Ramsay MacDonald, Philip Snowden, Jimmy Thomas, the 1931 'National' government... Now Ed Miliband is trying the same desperate technique – concentrating on the promised future and ignoring the indefensible past –Tony Blair, Gordon Brown, Alistair Campbell, Iraq, Afghanistan...And if anyone anywhere is still doubtful there is Labour's paddock of developing talent, presented so as to include A Future Leader Of The Party.


One of the brightest and most pyrotechnic of these is Stella Creasy, whose present prospects are for a steady whizz up the Greasy Pole –unless she turns out to have gone too far too fast. It all began when she was asked, at school, to join a noisy protest about the export of sheep from the docks at Brightlingsea. She underwent a political 'epiphany' leaving her dissatisfied with the idea of shouting and waving posters: 'you had to get stuff done'. Any excitement for her in this flash of conversion should have been calmed when in 1989 she joined the Labour Party – at a time when it was sliding towards New Labour with its immovable resolve to win votes by keeping stuff as it was and always had been. If she had any reservations on this whole issue she controlled them, taking jobs as a speech-writer for, among others, Douglas Alexander and Charles Clarke. Elected as a councillor in Walthamstow, she wrote herself a speech which unwisely argued that the nascent recession was passing so that 'We're already starting to see movement out of it...' Such loyalty to that fading government justified her nomination for the parliamentary seat at Walthamstow, which she won in the 2010 election with a majority well over nine thousand.


Perhaps she was unaware of the enormity of it but she began her time in the Commons by trying to use a lift. Another MP (Conservative and male), apparently unable to accept that a blonde younger women could also be an Honourable Member, informed her that the lift was reserved for MPs. Outrageous as this was it should have been useful to Creasy as an introduction to the prejudice and arrogance rife among those who have such power to regulate our behaviour in the interests of a ruling class. How she responded to that fool is not recorded but a guess can be made from the opinions of others. The Spectator named her Campaigner of the year 2011: 'an example of how to do opposition politics'. The Conservative Home website rated her as 'one of the few genuine Labour stars of the 2010 intake'. Even more impressive (and unnerving) Iain Duncan Smith thought that 'She has certainly got a bright future. Stella will go all the way'. After some delay, Ed Miliband gave her a minor job – Shadow Minister for Crime Prevention.


Any doubts on whether her promotion would devitalise Creasy's ambitions were answered when she joined Caroline Criado-Perez in her agitation for a female image to appear on the new£10 bank note –which provoked a storm of Twitter abuse and threats of violence, including rape, toward both of them. The consequent panic obscured the fact that the monetary system is a necessary appendage to capitalism's commodity economy with all that means in terms of poverty and disaster, compared to which the style of bank notes is drastically irrelevant. Creasy has also spoken out about the problem of domestic violence, which on average results in the deaths of two women each week. This is one of the ugliest problems in this society, persisting whatever efforts are made to ease it. But it is not so straightforward; it is often in the confines of a home that the despair, the fear and the frustrations of an impoverished existence overrun all restraints, leading to behaviour which is internal and illegal as distinct from other, more damaging, violence for which people are clothed in uniforms and decorated with medals.


These are just samples of the 'stuff' which Creasy has involved herself in, on the assumption that there was something to be achieved in this way. She regarded Alexander as 'incredibly intelligent and kind' but the fact is that during his time in Parliament under Blair he rose through a series of ministries and is now Shadow Foreign Secretary, apparently complacent to have been part of that wretched experience. There is nothing better to say about Charles Clarke, who was Home Secretary under Blair. He made himself notorious for his readiness to undermine some of the most important legal safeguards of people up against criminal charges. He closed down the Stephen Lawrence Steering Group, set up by Jack Straw to oversee the implementation of the recommendations of the MacPherson report on that racist murder, on the grounds that the majority of the Report had been implemented – which Stephen's mother, did not accept: ' I cannot believe we have achieved anything near what we should have done in the Steering Group'. Creasy's overall view of that government's record was crudely inadequate; on the murderous war in Iraq, and the lies, she '...didn't agree with the decision to go to war. I think, however, that we have moved on and we have a duty now... to both learn from that experience and address where Iraq is...'

To understand the working of this social system, enabling its passage into a sorrowful history, it is not necessary to experience anything like an 'epiphany'; the case for the abolition of capitalism now is constructive of past systems and human abilities within them. For example animals are exported, often with cruel suffering, for breeding or to be sold for profit. That is part of the nature of capitalism's wealth, always and everywhere as commodities. This is a fact which does not respond to shouting on the dockyard or elsewhere and it needs more than 'stuff' to change it.

Policing the Proles (2012)

From the February 2012 issue of the Socialist Standard

All coppers might be workers but their role is helping maintain capitalist law and order.

“Evening All”. That was the opening catchphrase of PC George Dixon the eponymous hero of the homely television series Dixon of Dock Green that ran from 1955-73. Crime was of the petty variety. The real crux of the show amounted to the perception of Dock Green “nick” as an extension of George’s cosy semi-detached. Each episode ended with a homily about being a good citizen, a dutiful salute and the final vigilant "Goodnight all". Entertainment? Maybe. But the by-product amounted to a masterful PR campaign for the police force, one that nowadays they would swap their tasers for at the drop of riot shield.

The police force is barely a couple of hundred years old, but the Special Constabulary dates back to “Anglo Saxon times, when people policed themselves”. In 1673, King Charles II brought in an Act which deemed that “any citizen might be sworn in as a temporary peace-officer for a specific occasion, in particular when there was a threat of great disturbances”. Essentially the neighbourhood bobby had become politicised.

The existence of private property is why the police exist. As property devolved more and more in to the hands of the few, property owners began to fear for their property. Jeremy Bentham suggested a Ministry of Police, but an 1818 Parliamentary Committee saw it as "a plan which would make every servant of every house a spy on the actions of his master, and all classes of society spies on each other"(E. P. Thompson, The Making of the English Working Class). One year later 400 Special Constables joined a military presence of hundreds of armed men to confront a crowd of protestors seeking the reform of parliamentary representation at St Peters Fields, Manchester. Fifteen people were killed and 400-700 people were injured as the Cavalry charged with drawn sabres to disperse the crowd.

In 1829 Sir Robert Peel established the Metropolitan Police Force with 1000 constables. By 1857 all of the UK’s cities had formed their own police forces. Peel is said to have developed the “Peelian Principles” an ethical philosophy that supposedly underpins policing. At the forefront of the code is the principle: “The police are the public and the public are the police”. This could be interpreted as another meaningless slogan like the millionaire David Cameron’s jingle “we’re all in it together”. But the police are workers; just as much a part of the 99 percent as bank workers, dustman, nurses, bricklayers, miners, etc.

Discussing the Police Strike of 1919, the Socialist Standard pointed out 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”. And in addressing a point that is frequently made nowadays: "the statement that a policeman is only such to support the State” it commented, “The complement of this half truth is, of course, that the State is only an instrument for keeping the workers in subjection.” (Editorial, June 1919)

The state was busy subjugating workers in 1910 when: “Riotous scenes without parallel in a South Wales Coalfield were enacted last night in mid-Rhondda and at Aberaman. At both places, the police and the mob were in fierce conflict for many hours, charge after charge being made by the constabulary upon the crowd. In the mid-Rhondda alone over a hundred casualties were reported, injured strikers being conveyed to local surgeries for treatment." (South Wales Daily News, 9 November 1910)  The state was at it again in 1919 when the City of Glasgow Police repeatedly baton-charged workers who were campaigning for shorter working hours to alleviate unemployment. On “Bloody Friday” a mass meeting was to be held in George Square, but the state intervened, initially with the police. But by Friday night the police had been reinforced with the state’s military muscle when "10,000 troops armed with machine guns, tanks and a howitzer arrived”. Ruling class paranoia revealed itself when the decision was made that: “No Glaswegian troops were deployed, with the British government fearing that fellow Glaswegians, soldiers or otherwise, would go over to the workers' side if a revolutionary situation developed in Glasgow” (Wikipedia).

The 1926 General Strike demonstrated how all pervading state power can be when profits are threatened. A warship was sent to Newcastle and 226,000 special policemen were recruited. Police baton-charged strikers in Hull, Preston, Liverpool, London, Edinburgh, and Glasgow. The government “seized all supplies of paper, which hindered publication of the TUC's paper, “The British Worker”. The Catholic Church declared the strike “a sin”. And the Prime Minister, Stanley Baldwin, declared the strike an attack on Britain's democracy.

During the NUM strike of 1984-5 Margaret Thatcher speaking to Parliament said (as Stanley Baldwin before her did) that “giving in to the miners would be surrendering the rule of parliamentary democracy to the rule of the mob”; she referred to the striking miners as ‘the enemy within’. Demonising your opponents is a well-worn tactic of the ruling class, made considerably more effective when it is aided and abetted by a tame media. "By the time the strike was over the miners had experienced at first hand the way in which the coercive power of the state can be, and is, used in defence of ruling class interests. The police, the judiciary, criminal courts and civil courts, even the DHSS were all used against the striking miners” (SPGB, The Strike Weapon: Lessons of the Miners’ Strike. 1985).

The NUM strike of 1984 to 1985 was a watershed in the class war. The power of the unions was on the wane. And the “rolling back of the state” was underway. The ruling class was on the offensive in the defence of profits. The Selsdon Group of right-wing Tories was at the centre of the ideology dubbed Thatcherism. And Margaret Thatcher was its public image. Perhaps her speech in May 1988 to the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland reveals the callousness of the ruling class when she proffered a biblical validation for her view on how capitalism should work. Quoting St Paul she said, "If a man will not work he shall not eat". This ideology has driven state policy ever since and is peddled to workers as part of a divide-and-rule strategy.

The Director-General of MI5, Dame Stella Rimington, revealed in her autobiography how “counter-subversion” tactics were employed against the striking miners. Seumas Milne’s book The Enemy Within: Thatcher's Secret War Against the Miners reveals a great deal more, including phone tapping, forged documents, informers, phoney bank deposits and the use of agents provocateurs. The use of agent provocateurs to infiltrate working class organisations is not new. Marx described how the state spy, Joseph Crémer, was expelled from the German Workers’ Educational Society in 1852.

Baton charges, and the panic created by charging mounted police has been reinforced by the methodical use of surveillance techniques and the controversial policy of kettling. It is no longer just the striking worker that has been looked upon as a threat to ruling class power—any group that might threaten profits is now judged to be the “enemy within”. The use of agent provocateurs is perhaps the most despised of all ploys used by the state. And the police are loath to be exposed as employing such tactics because it undermines their self-image as impartial. The reality though is very different.

In June 2008, in a letter to the Home Secretary, Jacqui Smith, the then MP George Galloway accused the “Metropolitan Police of engaging in ‘a deliberate conspiracy to bring about scenes of violent disorder’ during President George W. Bush’s visit to the UK last week."

Liberal Democrat MP Tom Brake who joined G20 protestors in London saw what he believed to be two plain-clothes police officers go through a police cordon after presenting their ID cards. “When I was in the middle of the crowd, two people came over to me and said, 'There are people over there who we believe are policemen and who have been encouraging the crowd to throw things at the police’” (Observer 10 May 2009).

Mark Kennedy an undercover Metropolitan police officer was the subject of a Channel 4 documentary aired in October 2011. By his own admission he stated that he spent seven years infiltrating, befriending, and informing on peaceful environmental groups in Britain, Ireland, Germany, Spain, Italy and Iceland. He claimed that he “knew of fifteen other undercover police officers operating in protest groups during the last decade” (Ecologist 9 February 2011). A quote from the Channel 4 documentary by Michael Meacher, former Labour Environment Minister reveals the real motivation behind these police tactics “. . .behind it are corporate interests. . .who don’t want interference, and they don’t want public opinion aroused against a product that is extraordinarily profitable for them”. And who are these corporate interests? The Guardian reported on the 14 February 2011 that: “The energy giant E.ON, Britain's second-biggest coal producer Scottish Resources Group and Scottish Power, one of the UK's largest electricity-generators, have been paying for the services of a private security firm that has been secretly monitoring activists”.

The Occupy Movement has the potential to become a real threat to capitalism. Theirs isn’t simply a strikers or eco-protestors threat to profits. They can expect the state to employ all its powers and guile to discredit and destroy their nascent movement. New York Police Departments recent raid on the “People’s Library” at Zuccotti Park reveals how frightened our masters are of ideas.  Police “confiscated approximately 4,000 books. . . 1,275 books of the 4,000 books seized had been recovered; of those, one-third was damaged to the point of being unusable. It’s estimated that 2,725 books had been destroyed "(

For too long now our class has been lied to, tricked, beaten, tortured and murdered by the ruling class through the agency of the state. It must end. It’s up to you to bring that about?
Andy Matthews

Material World: Mexican Drug Wars (2013)

The Material World Column from the April 2013 issue of the Socialist Standard

In the late 19th and early 20th century opium was imported into Mexico, mainly by Chinese immigrants. But by the 1920s and 1930s Mexicans were growing the poppies. Opium, cocaine, heroin and marijuana crossed the border into the United States with relative ease. With the outlawing of narcotics in the US, exporting became a very profitable line of business for those prepared to take the risks.

During the Cold War, a number of top officials of the Dirección Federal de Seguridad (DFS) were involved, together with elements of the CIA and the World Anti-Communist League (WACL), in trafficking drugs into the United States. This apparently continued for at least 40 years.

Nevertheless, the Mexican army was used as part of a national campaign to eradicate the drug trade, and the growing of poppies. Much of this was ineffectual as growers bribed officials to leave their crops alone. In some states, such as Guerrero, the army was involved in armed conflict with local peasants. Indeed, when I was in Guerrero in 1979, travelling in a bus between Acapulco and Monelos, we were stopped by a unit of the army and forced to get out. In fact, the army was as much, if not more, concerned with combating ‘subversives’ as drug traffickers.

In Drug War Mexico: Politics, Neoliberalism and Violence in the New Narcoeconomy (Zed books, 2012) Peter Watt and Roberto Zepeda detail what, in 1976, was called Operation Condor, which involved the aerial spraying of opium fields with such chemicals as paraquat. It was a partial success. For a while the volume of drugs entering the United States was halved. But the demand for drugs in the US was, and still is, insatiable.

The Mexican state and drug traffickers have had, as the authors note, ‘a long history of collaboration, and it was generally state actors who supervised the entire business.’ This increased in the 1980s. Interestingly, the actual consumption of drugs including marijuana is and was lower in Mexico than in other Latin American countries and insignificant compared with the United States.

Since the 1980s, however, the poverty of the working class has exacerbated and perpetuated both drug production in Mexico and export to the US. According to Watt and Zepeda:

‘The prevalence of drug production, combined with economic reforms that essentially excluded much of the rural workforce from legitimate commercial activity, meant that it was very difficult to create suitable alternatives within the formal economy.’

By the mid-1980s Colombian drug cartels joined Mexican traffickers in establishing smuggling operations into the United States.

The election of Vincente Fox to the Mexican presidency in 2000, brought with it massive opportunities for the increasing and expanding of business by the narco-traffickers. And it allowed Joaquín El Chapo Guzmán Fuentes, the Capo of the Sinaloa cartel, to become the world’s most powerful and richest trafficker. ‘Perhaps the most significant charge in narcotrafficking as the new millennium began,’ say Watt and Zepeda, ‘was the cartels now started to treat members of the army, police forces, bankers and political officials as their employees,’ a reversal of the old arrangement. The development of a limited, bourgeois democracy in Mexico from the old authoritarian regime actually increased the power of the wealth of the narcotraffickers! As a result, Mexicans now live in a society characterised by ever-rising crime and insecurity.

The authors of Drug War Mexico note that although narcotics have been prevalent in Mexico since the 19th century, the level of illicit drug production and trafficking has now reached unprecedented proportions. For example, 90 per cent of all cocaine consumed in the US is trafficked through Mexico.

Many towns and cities in Mexico are suffering from organised crime. The exact number of deaths related to drug cartel violence is not known. Between 2006 and 2011 it was officially estimated at 39,000. More than 5,000 persons were reported as missing or disappeared, and 9,000 corpses have yet to be identified. My guess is that up to 100,000 Mexicans have died since 2005. More than 500,000 Mexicans are now directly or indirectly involved or employed in organised crime related to drugs. According to Juan Ramóde la Fuente in Foreign Affairs Latinomérica (2009), ‘We are confronted by a brutal and very sophisticated force, which has submarines, helicopters, airplanes, and sophisticated weaponry.’ The anti-drugs activities and efforts of both the Mexican and United States authorities have had little effect to date; although the Mexican army appears to have had more success in combating the so-called Zapatista uprising in Chiapas (the Zapatistas oppose the consumption of both narcotics and alcohol).

Is there a solution or solutions to Mexico’s drug wars, violence and killings, or the trade in drugs? Watt and Zepeda see some hope in legislation and in pressure groups – but not much. The brutal facts are that, within capitalism, in Mexico, the United States and globally, the commodification of drugs will continue as long as there are big profits to be made from their production, sale and trafficking.
Peter E. Newell

Material World: Mexico – The Disappeared (2013)

The Material World Column from the September 2013 issue of the Socialist Standard

In the article ‘Mexican drug wars’ (Socialist Standard, April) we noted that between 2006 and 2011 it was officially estimated that, in Mexico, the number of deaths related to the drug wars was 39,000. We suggested that up to 100,000 Mexicans have died or disappeared since 2005.

We don’t seem to have been far out. Jo Tuckman, writing in the Guardian (17 July) reported that ‘The violence is estimated to have killed more than 80,000 people’ since 2006. It is not just the number of corpses discovered (more than 9,000 unidentified). It is the disappeared.

On Sunday, May 26 this year, 12 young people were abducted in Mexico City from an after-hours nightclub called ‘Heaven’, in the district known as Zona Rosa. About 17 assailants drove up in a number of cars, and just bundled the youngsters into the vehicles, all of whom were from the impoverished neighbourhood of Tepito. None of them has been seen since. But they are far from alone, despite the fact that Mexico City is said to be safer than Washington in the United States.

Oakland Ross, in a feature (Toronto Star, 22 June), highlights the disappearances, and known murders, in Mexico from 2006 to the end of 2012. He notes that at least 26,121 individuals have vanished. And he adds:

‘During the same six-year period, roughly 70,000 additional people are reckoned to have died in drug-related violence – slain by either the feuding drug cartels, or else by Mexican soldiers or police, or possibly by ‘disorganised’ criminals using the central drug-fuelled fray as a cover to settle scores.’

Ross notes that the likely abductors – police or soldiers – were probably responsible in more than half the disappearances. ‘Convictions have been recorded in only two cases during the past six years’, according to figures released by the Federal attorney general’s office. Duncan Wood, director of the Mexico Center in Washington, says that there is a breakdown of law and order in Mexico. And, continues Wood:

‘People believe they can get away with anything – and they are right! There's a great likelihood, if you carry out a crime in Mexico, that you will get away with it.’

But Ross notes that the severity of the problem varies from region to region. The most violent parts of Mexico are, not surprisingly, along the United States border; and, as I have witnessed , such states as Guerro, where feuds between drug gangs are particularly violent – and not forgetting the activities of the police and army.

Most of the disappearances are, of course, related to the illegal narcotics trade with the US. But not all. As the Toronto Star relates: ‘The exceptions involve migrants – mostly Mexicans, but also people from other Latin American countries or even farther away – all trying to sneak across the border to the United States.’ Most of the human trafficking, however, is mainly controlled by the same gangs that supply the US and Canada with cocaine and other narcotics.

Most of the disappeared within Mexico never reappear. The families are left to conduct the investigations into their vanished relatives – where possible. The government agencies are either overworked or just incompetent; and not ignoring where the state itself is responsible for the missing persons.  Lopez Portillo of the Institute for Security and Democracy blames ‘slow bureaucratic procedures, as well as chronic institutional divisions between the police and Federal prosecutors’.

No one, it seems, blames the real culprit – capitalism and the profit system where people are forced to get money, one way or another, to survive.
Peter E. Newell