Thursday, June 23, 2016

Being Dumped (2012)

Book Review from the February 2012 issue of the Socialist Standard

When a Billion Chinese Jump by Jonathan Watts, Faber and Faber, £9.99

Don’t judge a book by its cover – or by its title. This is actually a well-researched investigation of the environmental crisis in China based on visits to many different parts of the country.

Western companies have outsourced a great deal of manufacturing to China, from iPods to shoes and toys. In addition, a lot of waste from production in the West is sent to China: ‘It was cheaper to send a container of waste from London to Guangdong on an otherwise empty ship than it was to truck it to Manchester.’Computers and mobile phones (e-garbage) are transported to China, and dangerous chemicals extracted from them.

One town, Qiaotouin Zhejiang province, has become the world centre of zip and button production. Making zips islabour-intensive and requires relatively little by way of capital investment, but, at least when practiced without proper environmental controls, it is highly polluting, and on some days flakes of white plastic fill the Qiaotou air.

It is fairly well known that working as a coal miner in China is extremely dangerous, with a death rate pertonnemined thirty times that in the US. This is partly because the economy depends greatly on coal for almost 70 percent of its energy needs. Hydroelectric plants may be cleaner in theory, but they tend to attract dirty factories in their vicinity and coal-fired power stations, too, which provide electricity in the dry season, something dams cannot do. President Hu Jintao is a hydro engineer, and the company he used to work for is now the world’s biggest dam-building corporation. 

It is not just a matter of dirty industries being moved from the West to Japan and Taiwan and then to China, for within China they are increasingly being shifted from the coastal areas to more remote inland provinces where environmental regulations are even laxer and local politicians are keen on ‘development’at almost any cost.

It’s little wonder that even other capitalist countries are becoming concerned at China’s record on the environment: it contributes massively to polluting the globe and enables Chinese capitalists to undercut many Western companies.
Paul Bennett

Anarchist history (1998)

Book Review from the June 1998 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Spanish Anarchists. The Heroic years 1868-1936 by Murray Bookchin. AK Press. £13.95.

This is a reprint, with a new introduction, of a history of anarchism Spain until the outbreak of the Civil War in 1936 that first appeared in 1976.

Spain was the one European country where the organised working-class movement embraced anarchism rather than Social Democracy as its ideology. Bookchin traces the historical reasons for this. One was that everywhere the workers' movement emerged out of the leftwing of the bourgeois radical movement and in Spain the bourgeois radicals were Federalists, i.e. wanted a constitution for Spain similar to that in Switzerland where power would rest with cantons rather than with a central state.

Anarchist ideas were introduced into Spain at the end of the 1860s by the followers of Bakunin within the First International. Contrary to the myth cultivated by anarchists, the dispute between Marx and Bakunin within this organisation was not between an authoritarian Marx and a libertarian Bakunin but between a Marx who saw the workers' movement as an open democratic movement and Bakunin who advocated that it should be directed behind the scenes by a secret society of dedicated revolutionaries. Bakunin was booted out of the First International not for being a libertarian but for being a proto-Leninist vanguardist. Even Bookchin, who writes as an anarchist, is compelled by the facts to concede:
"Bakunin's 'International Brotherhood' has been dealt with derision as a hierarchical, elitist organization which stands in blatant contradiction to his libertarian principles. This contradiction in my view is very real. Bakunin had intended the 'International Brotherhood' to be a secret organization of Anarchist militants, led in tightly disciplined fashion by a highly centralized group of initiates—indeed, by what amounted to a revolutionary general staff" (p. 41).

This idea that revolutionaries should organise as a masonic-type secret society was another bourgeois-revolutionary tradition inherited by Spanish anarchists which lasted right down to the 1930s when the FAI (Iberian Anarchist Federation) infiltrated and came to control the syndicalist CNT (National Confederation of Labour) which had been set up by militant trade unionists in 1911.

The CNT was not an anarchist body but anarchists had an input in its organisation and ideology. As a result the CNT adopted as its long-term aim "libertarian communism" rather than state-capitalist nationalisation as elsewhere in Europe. This did allow it to avoid the mistakes made by trade unionists elsewhere of supporting and even sponsoring parties that stood for state capitalism, but it was only a long-term aim and in practice the CNT acted as a militant trade union seeking immediate improvements for workers within capitalism.

The FAI—which was essentially a secret anarchist terrorist organisation set up in 1927 under the Primo de Rivera dictatorship—regarded this as reformism and sought to use the CNT in its plans for insurrection. This met resistance from within the ranks of the CNT by trade unionists who, according to Bookchin's account, seem to have had a better grasp of reality:
"Not only did the CNT lack the support of a majority of the Spanish people, they argued, but it lacked the support of the majority of the Spanish working class. Anarchosyndicalists were a minority within a minority. Even within the CNT membership, a large number of workers and peasants shared only a nominal allegiance to libertarian ideals. They were members of the CNT because the union was strong in their localities and work places. If these people, and the Spaniards generally, were not educated in Anarchist principles, warned the moderates, the revolution would simply degenerate into an abhorrent dictatorship of ideologues" (p. 193).

The FAI brushed such objections aside and in 1931 succeeded in capturing the CNT and, applying classic Bakuninist tactics, in Bookchin's words, "dragged" the CNT into a number of "insurrectionary adventures". The results were disastrous. Not only were hundreds of workers' lives sacrificed but the CNT split. In fact, reading Bookchin's account the thought springs to mind that the disaster that was to befall the Spanish working class might have had a chance of being avoided if the anarchist vanguardists of the FAI had left the CNT alone.

Even Bookchin questions whether an "anarchist revolution" could have been sustained in Spain in 1936. Certainly, the workers showed that they could take over and run the factories and the peasants that they could take over and cultivate the land without capitalists and landlords but, Bookchin asks, could it have lasted:
"But what would happen when everyday life began to feel the pinch of economic want of the material problems imposed not only by the Civil War but by Spain's narrow technological base? 'Communism will be the result of abundance,' Santillan had warned in the spring of 1936, 'without which it will remain only an ideal'. Could the ardor of the CNT and FAI surmount the obstacles of scarcity and material want in the basic necessities of life, obstacles that had limited the forward thrust of earlier revolutions?" (p. 284).

Bookchin only hints at a negative answer, but in the event the matter was not tested. The "anarchist revolution" was first stopped by the Republican government with the Stalinist "Communists" in the lead and then savagely crushed by the Franco fascists.

Adam Buick