Sunday, April 17, 2016

Pathfinders: Blam! Kerpow! Trump! (2016)

The Pathfinders Column from the April 2016 issue of the Socialist Standard
If life sometimes imitates art, then politics sometimes imitates a Marvel comic.
Those sinister cowled crusaders of the hacker group Anonymous, who have in the past tilted at the windmills of the Vatican and the Turkish state, recently decided to declare cyber-war on Isis. Whether Isis felt any frisson of alarm at this development has not been reported, but you've got to love the showboating chutzpah of pimply computer geeks in Guy Fawkes masks who think they can take on real murdering thugs in ski masks. Did we say Marvel comics? More like the IT Crowd meets the Sopranos. Fingers crossed the geeks don't come a cropper. If the thugs ever find out who they are, there'll be more than connections getting cut off.
Not content with waging holy jihad, now Anonymous have also declared war on Donald Trump. Now, as much as anyone else we loathe that ruddy, right-wing billionaire bigot, who like some cartoon antichrist rampages across the headlines with the reckless arrogance of the untouchably rich. He really is Marvel material - Spiderman's newspaper boss J Jonah Jameson brought hideously to life. Nothing would be too bad for that man. We hope that acute poverty descends and crushes him like a comet from heaven. We hope he puts all his cash into an Armenian Ponzi scheme. We hope his balls drop off.
But still, and for the sake of balance, there is something we need to ask the keyboard bandits of Anonymous - something quite important which they apparently are not asking themselves.
Just who do they think they are?
The thing is, nobody asked them to be vigilante heroes. Nobody elected them. They don't have a mandate. They don't have the right to make unilateral decisions about who the world's renegades, rats and scumbags are and then declare war on them on our collective behalf. And if they are not doing it on our collective behalf, well then they are renegades themselves, which makes them part of the problem, not part of the solution.
Because the solution has to be democratic action, open, accountable, informed, discussed, participated in, agreed upon. Whatever Anonymous are up to, it isn't this. However good these 'good guys' think they are - however good we think they are - when they act as if democracy doesn't matter that's the same as perverting it. When you hack a computer system – just because you can – you are not asking, you are dictating. The problem with a world that runs on computers is that there are suddenly a lot of people who, with a bit of tech knowledge, could decide to dictate from their bedrooms. And seeing that the democratic process seems able to trump forth a bad smell like Donald may make these bedroom activists even less likely to believe in democratic processes and more likely to play politics via the virus and the DOS attack. And that way, as they say, madness lies.
It's not just the hackers. Last month we saw Tim Cook's Apple Corporation stick two fingers up at the FBI who, as you will recall, wanted Apple to break its own phone security protocols so that the Feds could read the private messages of two Islamic assassins. Apple made huge play of civil liberties issues, of their 'right' not to be coerced by federal government, and of their 'responsibility' to their customers. Rather surprisingly, or perhaps not, the press sided with Apple. In fact Apple felt entitled to take the high moral ground as defenders of 'liberty' by calling the FBI request a 'stretch' of the law that would have appalled America's founding fathers .
That's pretty damn rich coming from a capitalist corporation run by unelected tycoons whose own workers certainly don't have a company vote and whose future intentions are about as far from democratic liberalism as it's possible to get. Just ask the Chinese Apple workers throwing themselves off rooftops.
Anyone would think the corporations really run capitalism and politicians are nothing but dumb finger-puppets. But take heart, Hilary Finger-Puppet and not Donald Duck Finger-Puppet will probably get the top job in the White House, so that's alright then. Oh, wait…
10-4 Good Buddy
Excitement is revving in UK transport quarters as George Osborne has announced trials of driverless lorries on a quiet stretch of the M6 in Cumbria (BBC Online, 16 March). The potential fortune saved in the cost of goods distribution – through not having to pay driver wages or stick to tachograph hours – is pushing autonomous road technology ahead despite reservations by many stakeholders, including even Google, whose own unblemished driverless record perished recently when their car hit a bus. For one thing, it's by no means certain that sensors in driverless vehicles are good enough yet to cope with all weather and light conditions, nor is it clear that they can correctly interpret the gestures of human traffic cops. Worse, they are still rather too easy to hack, or fool with lasers into swerving to avoid non-existent objects. And if they run you over, who exactly is liable? As we've seen before with downloading and also with 3D printing, the technology has already raced round the world while the legal framework is having breakfast in bed.
The Cumbria trial, however, hopes to avoid most of these problems by going in convoys of ten trucks, with a human driver in the lead truck. Cue for a particularly cheesy 1970s song about convoys at this point. But the AA points out that, with more entrances and exits than any other motorway system in the world, the UK is not going to be able to accommodate 10-truck convoys, because of all the other vehicles trying to get on and off the motorway.
There's an obvious hi-tech solution to this. Create a special single lane for these truck convoys, then link all the trucks together and mount them on steel rails to save fuel and reduce drag. Instead of driving the lead truck, the driver would be driving the entire chain, or you might call it a 'train'. You could probably run passenger versions of these 'trains' too, with perhaps quiet coaches and restaurant cars.
Funny that nobody's ever thought of this before.
Paddy Shannon

Protection Racket (1980)

From the July 1980 issue of the Socialist Standard

Superintendent Maigret of the Paris police:
  “You know, Pardon, people imagine we're there to track down criminals and get confessions from them. That’s just another of the mistaken notions that drift around until everyone is so used to them that nobody thinks of calling them into question. In point of fact our chief job is to protect the State in the first place — whatever government is in power — with its institutions; in the second place the currency, public property and private property; and then, last of all, the lives of the individual private citizens.”
  “Did you ever take a look into the Penal Code? You have to read as far as page 177 before you come to anything about crimes against human beings. One day later on, when 1 retire. I’ll work it out precisely. But let’s say that three-quarters of the Code, if not four-fifths, is concerned with goods and chattels, real estate, forged currency, forgeries of public and private documents, falsification of wills, etc., etc. In short, with money in all its shapes and forms . . .  to such an extent that Article 264, on mendicancy, comes before Article 295, on wilful homicide.”
   “The newspapers give the greatest amount of space to my service—the Crime Squad, as it has come to be called—because it’s the most sensational. But in actual fact we’re less important, in the eyes of the Minister of the Interior, for example, than General Information or the Finance Section.”
From Maigret and the Lazy Burglar by Georges Simenon.

Greenham reconsidered (1984)

From the July 1984 issue of the Socialist Standard

The women at Greenham Common have surprised cynics by their determination not to give in to any attempts to remove them. They have come to be admired by many as a symbol of peace in the shadow of a military base, a courageous flicker of human feeling, around the perimeter of a wire fence enclosing some of the most barbaric weapons of destruction.

Sincerity and determination are not always very useful things in themselves. It depends what aim they are turned towards. Thatcher is sincerely determined to run British capitalism without any concession to workers’ demands or to easing misery and discontent. The women of the peace camps, on the other hand, have the far more worthy aim of opposing a collective human suicide. Who could disagree with this? But having arrived at a general aim, such as disarming the world and ending war. it is then necessary to decide what is the best way of achieving it.

The multi-lateralists, who believe that the best way to achieve peace is to prepare for war, claim that “deterrence” has worked. True, there has not been a global nuclear holocaust yet, but this of course does not prove that there will never be. The multi-lateralists always fail to mention that since 1945 not a single day has passed without a major war between two or more nations being fought somewhere in the world. Millions of people have died in those wars. Even during the past four years, in the Iraq-Iran war alone, nearly half a million people have been killed. With its smug faith in arms negotiations and treaties which have gone on for many years and produced no reduction in arms at all, the theory of multi-lateralism is not just conservative, it is insane. It regards the wars of the world as the unavoidable outcome of a mysterious disease called “human nature” and wants to see the game of human annihilation played to the rules of cricket or croquet.

Sadly, the often quoted, unilateralist “alternative” to all this is not as different as CND would have us believe. Still thinking within the rigid framework of capitalist society, divided as it is into competing nations, the unilateralists want the British ruling class to show their true colours, play the gentleman, and agree to defend their profits, their markets and lucrative trade routes with more moderate, “conventional” weapons of destruction. For example. a CND leaflet called Questions And Answers About Non-Nuclear Defence asks the question: "Could Britain defend itself without nuclear weapons?” and gives the answer: "Yes . . . There are various options available for a real defence policy”, suggesting that Britain could "take up new ideas about purely defensive military policies and weapons using new technologies”. It would be interesting to know just how peaceful and harmless defensive militarism would be; as for new technologies, there is of course a great deal of research being carried out into “non-nuclear defence" using nerve gas and other chemical and biological weapons.

The problem, then, with the popular alternative to the multi-lateralist bomb squad, is that CND accepts the international rivalry of capitalism which produces war as surely as night follows day. They embody the same nationalism which is used to persuade workers to go periodically to settle their employers' trade wars on the battlefield. CND have issued a statement complaining about the government's acceptance of a second assignment of cruise missiles . . . on the day after British women have been rounded up for peacefully protesting against cruise missiles" and a woman from the peace camp. Lyn Jones, was quoted as saying ". . . the British people do not want these cruise missiles" (Guardian, 6 April 1984). As long as workers believe that there is such a thing as “the British people", who don't want cruise missiles, "the American people", who, presumably, according to Lyn Jones, can keep "their" cruise missiles. and “the Russians", who have got "their" SS-20s. then we will remain cannon fodder. The workers of the world have no country: a mortgage, a rent-book, a UB40. these things look the same everywhere even if their labels are different, and they produce the same misery. Ninety per cent of the people of the world share a global common interest, economically and socially. It is the ten per cent who invest in our labour, in whose interest it has been to divide the planet into areas of control called "nations".

What, then, of the women at Greenham? They have had the support of CND, but their protest was not organised by that body. They have failed to prevent the arrival of cruise missiles. They have failed to prevent cruise being made operational. . What has their presence at Greenham achieved? There are two things they claim to have achieved. Firstly, to increase public awareness of the real horror of the nuclear threat and the urgent need to do something about it. Second, to build up strong bonds of solidarity and confidence among those who seek peace, and between women in particular. In other words, to create an alternative culture, in which the values of present-day society, of violence and aggression, are rejected and people are instead creative and care for one another.

It is much harder to measure what success has been had in relation to these two secondary aims. Even before Greenham, there was a growing awareness for many years of the threat of nuclear war, as the number of nuclear weapons in the world spiralled. But spreading information about the nature of a threat to millions of lives cannot be separated from ideas about how that threat is to be dealt with. The Greenham Common women have opposed the idea of working-class political organisation, men and women together, to dispossess the world's capitalist class of their ownership of the means of life. Instead, there has been a tendency to sneer at such ideas and to favour spontaneous acts of peacefulness within a society rooted in property and violence, with the control of the state left in the hands of the agents of capital.

This brings us to the second aim, of promoting an alternative culture of co-operation. Like the Welsh hippy communes of the sixties, this is an idealist and utopian hope that a world-wide system of competition and profit can be escaped from, without the political and democratic action of a socialist majority. The Greenham women have been divided as to what place, if any, men are to have in this alternative culture. Only a minority fell for the dangerous biological determinism, which says that it is men who are genetically programmed for violence and women for peace. Most of the women a Greenham are united, though, in the feeling that men have been conditioned into aggression and violence and should therefore generally be excluded from the birth of this new culture of peace.

This is just the kind of irrational judgement which justifies war. Was it not women who waved white feathers at the men [who] would not fight in the 1914-18 war, to taunt them for their refusal to kill for "our country"? Was it not women who proudly kissed their sons and husbands into the depths of the Atlantic Ocean in the Falklands war? The fact is both women and men are taught, in different ways, to support the capitalist system the world over. This conditioning will only be destroyed by men and women workers joining together to face a common enemy, rather than allowing conflicts between workers to blind them to what is really happening. What makes men flock like sheep to their death in wars is not really strength or aggression but the most pathetic weakness. After all, militarism is based on the strict obeying of orders, which is hardly a model of self-assertion.

These two aims, then, of alerting public awareness and building a counter-culture of peaceful solidarity have not been at all successful in removing the threat of annihilation from the human race. But, in any case, these were not the original aims of the Peace Camp: the object of preventing the arrival and preparation for use of cruise missiles has failed miserably, and is being gradually forgotten. Any movement must be judged, in the end, by the success or failure of its strategy. By that standard. Greenham has been a total fiasco. It would be patronising in the extreme for us to continue any longer to pat them on the head, and admire their sincerity. If their strategy for getting rid of nuclear weapons is not effective, then to encourage the continuation of that strategy is nothing less than collective suicide.

Unfortunately, as with CND in general, there is a smug self-righteousness about the women at Greenham, which treats all criticism of their policy with the same pious smirk. Having been branded by the media as the "Peace Women" they seem to feel that anyone who dares to question their approach must be a warmonger, defending male attitudes of aggression and oppressive forms of political organisation. Perhaps they don’t know, or don't care, that socialists alone have opposed every single war this century, not just before they began, but during and after them too, even where this meant incarceration in prison for many of our members during both World Wars. We do not sneer at the opposition to war of millions of our fellow workers. But how is this opposition to be turned into a practical movement, which will be effective in ending all war?

The Greenham Common and other peace camps have degenerated into tourist attractions, because they present no real threat to the forces of mass destruction around which they are gathered. The weapons of war will only be dismantled when the cause of war the way society is presently organised — is removed. Nothing short of a social revolution will prevent humanity staggering from one mass grave to another
Clifford Slapper