Sunday, April 2, 2017

Democratic scarcity? (2013)

Book Review from the April 2013 issue of the Socialist Standard

Remaking Scarcity: From Capitalist Inefficiency to Economic Democracy, by Costas Panayotakis. Pluto Press, 2011

Economics, as taught in schools and colleges, defines itself as the study of the allocation of limited resources amongst competing wants where these are greater than resources and teaches that markets and prices arose as the best way to do this. In fact, since it assumes that human wants are infinite, it teaches that scarcity – and markets and prices – will always exist.

Panayotakis rejects the traditional socialist argument that ‘scarcity has been conquered’ because ‘the problem of production has been solved.’ He sees scarcity as a fact but argues that free market capitalism is not the most efficient way to deal with it. Naturally, he has no difficulty in showing that capitalism does not allocate resources efficiently to meet human needs.

This, he points out, is due to the fact that ‘the true goal of capitalist economies is not to satisfy the wants of consumers, but to pursue profit and a never-ending accumulation of capital.’ This ‘logic of capital accumulation escapes people’s control and subordinates them to its imperatives,’ including even the owners and top executives of capitalist firms:
‘... the pressure of capitalist competition means that, even to preserve their capital and continue enjoying the privileges, prestige and power associated with their class position, capitalists must tirelessly pursue profit and capital accumulation.’
This makes them essentially ‘functionaries of capital,’ who don’t have a free hand to do what they might want, but only a greater power than the rest of society ‘to influence the terms under which they and all other socio-economic groups are subordinated to the logic of capital.’ So far, so good.

Panayotakis’s thesis is that capitalism fails to deal with the problem of scarcity efficiently because it is an economic oligarchy. The alternative to capitalism is, then, an ‘economic democracy’ where everybody would have an equal say in how scarce resources are used. He recognises that this implies that the means of production should no longer be owned and controlled by a minority but seems to favour particular productive units being run by workers’ co-operatives or councils.

The two models of ‘economic democracy’ he discusses in detail are so-called ‘market socialism’ (as in David Schweickart’s proposal) and Michael Albert’s ‘Parecon.’ He can see the drawbacks of retaining production for the market, but doesn’t make the point that, with market competition, workers’ co-operatives too would be forced to behave as ‘functionaries of capital’ if they wanted to survive.

He is more favourable to ‘Parecon’ but mentions one critic’s description of it as an ‘off the shelf utopia.’ As indeed it is, though ‘off the wall’ might be a better description given its endless form-filling and voting to try to fix prices and pay that conform to some ideal allocation of scarce resources.

Panayotakis and the others have got themselves into this position of discussing how to calculate prices and pay because they reject the traditional socialist view that, given the abolition of capitalism, enough to satisfy people’s needs could be produced and that therefore a socialist society would not have to price or ration goods but could implement the principle of ‘from each according to their ability, to each according to their needs’.
Adam Buick

Pathfinders: Selling History By The Pound (2015)

The Pathfinders Column from the April 2015 issue of the Socialist Standard
You have to hand it to Isis, in a way, for their orgiastic ability to outpace the world’s sense of shock-fatigue. Now they are bulldozing cities and sites which are among the most ancient in the world, sites like Nimrud, an Assyrian city dating from 1250BC, and Nineveh, capital of the Assyrian Empire and the largest city in the world until it fell to a coalition of Babylonians, Persians, Medes and Scythians. This at a time when Rome was still a village and western Europeans lived in hill-forts and hide tents.
It turns out though that Isis have not simply gone insane with cultural bloodlust against anything un-Islamic. They are canny operators in the capitalist marketplace. In public and on camera, they are weighing into ancient statues and monuments with pick-axes and sledgehammers. Privately and away from view, they are looting archaeological sites and making a fortune selling artefacts to western collectors through a black market administered by organised crime (New Scientist, 14 March). With sculptures, mosaics and coins fetching anything up to $60,000 a piece, it’s not hard to understand the incentive, and a bit of public vandalism is a very useful way to drive up black-market prices. Any socialist comment would be redundant.
Let’s Get Medi-evil
That Isis are total unmitigated bastards intent on clocking up crimes against humanity is hardly news, but nevertheless some liberals, ever cautious when faced with absolute statements of any sort, are tempted to look for mitigating factors. In an interview with the cast of BBC’s Tudor drama Wolf Hall, one actor observed that Islam was approximately 500 years behind Christianity in terms of age, and that if one were to look 500 years or so backwards in English history, what were we doing to each other then? The answer: beheading, burning, hanging, drawing and quartering. The intention of this observation was not to excuse Isis as such, but merely to provide some sort of historical context. The unfortunate effect, though, was to patronise the great majority of western Moslems who are quite at home with modern values, thanks very much, and don’t appreciate being described by well-meaning white actors as medieval barbarians.
It’s a silly argument anyway. The post-Columbian United States is around 1,500 years younger than Christianity, so on this logic American policy-makers should still be crucifying people, sacrificing goats and reading the future in chicken guts.
The reality is that societies don’t necessarily develop at the same rate nor independently of each other. Ideas don’t stop at frontiers and societies at different stages of development are forever cross-fertilising each other – that’s why socialism will spread geometrically and not serially. As for what ‘we’ did to each other in Tudor England, it was no different from behaviour across the whole of ‘civilised’ Europe at the time. When these forms of behaviour later came to be regarded as brutal, they fell out of favour in all related societies. (For an interesting historical account of the birth of Islam, see page 12 in this issue).
Isis are out of step with modern times and modern ethical values not because they are somehow psycho-historically underdeveloped but because they have a calculated and steely resolve to scare the living shit out of everyone they meet. As a strategy of terror you just can’t beat biblical brutality, and that’s something Isis probably did learn correctly from history, theirs and ours, unlike some people who act in plays.
Death Row Dispatches
They might not be crucifying people or burning them at the stake, but some American states are having trouble choosing ways to execute them, now that European pharmaceutical companies have almost unanimously grown a spine and refused to supply the US with lethal chemicals for use on Death Row inmates. Now Utah is proposing bringing back the firing squad, despite liberal objections that it is an inhumane method of murder (BBC Online, 11 March). Hmm, really? In Oklahoma they’re considering using gas, a method with unpleasant historical resonances. Well, we’ve got news for the liberals. All methods of murder are inhumane, by definition. It says a lot about the mentality of ‘reasonable’ people in capitalism that this is even considered a negotiable question.
Nuts to Bosses
Here’s an idea what we can do in socialism with all those ex-aristocrats and ex-CEOs who remain narcissistically devoted to their own self-importance. Such people will undoubtedly exist, and while the majority of us will just ignore them or, perhaps cruelly, laugh at them, some will find it in their hearts to pity the petty Napoleons, flapping like fish out of water in a society that has no use for them. Assuming that they are addicted to power like junkies are to smack, we must also assume that going cold turkey will be an unbearable torture for them.  So how could we make it easier on them? Simple. Give them robot flunkeys to order about. AI will make a terrific Jeeves to their Bertie Woosters, grovelling tastefully on cue and getting them out of all sorts of scrapes, thus saving the rest of us the trouble of minding them.
Think this is a joke? Just look at the behaviour of some of these people today, like the lunatic executive of Korean Air who forced a plane to taxi back to the departure gate and worse, forced an air steward to kneel in front of her and receive a humiliating barrage of vilification over a stupid bag of nuts (BBC Online, 11 March). If businesses in South Korea are really run by preening princesses like her, and workers put up with it, it makes you understand how the North Korean junta gets away with it. Happily though the steward didn’t put up with it, and sued for damages. Even more happily, the executive ended up in jail, though for obstructing aviation safety rather than for behaving like an arrogant tit.
So, no reason for the likes of Stephen Hawking to fear that AI is going to kill us all in a Terminator-like Armageddon. Just get the robots to wear morning suits and eat lots of fish, and the world’s ex-bosses can be kept in delusional bliss while the rest of us get on with the important matters of life.
We Dream of Gini
Socialists are always looking for ways to make the case simpler, and here’s one approach we haven’t tried before: Object: to set the Gini coefficient to zero. It’s fifty years since Italian statistician Corrado Gini devised his index for measuring inequality, which charts the distribution of income in any given society, deriving a number between zero, where everybody earns the same, and one, where all the income is earned by just one person (BBC Online, 12 March). The zero figure is entirely putative, since no capitalist society would or could ever fix all incomes as equal, and in fact the only real way to achieve this ultimate equality would be to abolish incomes and the wages system altogether – which is one definition of socialism. Capitalism’s logical end point is similarly obvious, whether any capitalists care to admit it or not: to set the Gini coefficient to 1.  That such an outcome is not only undesirable and unsustainable but in fact globally suicidal ought to be glaringly obvious to any schoolchild, and never mind the political sophistries.

Russia 1917: As We Saw It (2017)

From the April 2017 issue of the Socialist Standard

In February 1915 pro-war 'Socialists' organised a conference in London to which the Bolshevik section of the Russian party was not invited due to their anti-war stance. Only the Socialist Standard was prepared to publish their declaration.

Comrades, – Your Conference calls itself a conference of the Socialist parties of the allied belligerent countries, Belgium, England, France and Russia.

Allow me first of all to draw your attention to the fact that the Social-Democracy of Russia, as an organised body, as represented by its Central Committee and affiliated to the International Socialist Bureau, has received no invitation from you. The Russian Social-Democracy, whose views have been expressed by the members of the Russian Social-Democratic Labour Group in the Duma, now arrested by the Tsar’s Government (Petrovsky, Muranoff, Badaeff, Samoiloff representing the workers of Petrograd, Yekaterinoslaff, Kharkoff, Kostroma and Vladimir districts) have nothing in common with your conference. We hope that you will state so publicly, as otherwise you may be accused of distorting the truth.

Now allow me to say a few words with regard to your conference, i.e., to tell you what the class-conscious Social-Democratic workers of Russia would expect from you.

We believe that before entering upon any deliberations with regard to the reconstruction of the International, before attempting to restore international bonds between Socialist workers, it is our Socialist duty to demand:

(1) That Vandervelde, Guesde and Sembat immediately leave the Belgian and French bourgeois ministries.

(2) That the Belgian and French Socialist parties break up the so-called “block national” which is a disgrace to the Socialist flag and under cover of which the bourgeoisie celebrates its orgies of chauvinism.

(3) That all Socialist parties cease their policies of ignoring the crimes of Russian Tsarism and renew their support of that struggle against Tsarism which is being carried on by the Russian workers in spite of all the sacrifices they have to make.

(4) That in fulfilment of the resolutions of the bale conference we hold out our hands to those revolutionary Social-Democrats of Germany and Austria who are prepared to carry on propaganda for revolutionary action as a reply to war. The voting for war credits must be condemned without any reserves. (...)

The German and Austrian Social-Democrats are committing a great crime against Socialism when, after the example of the bourgeoisie they hypocritically assert that the Hohenzollerns and the Hapsburgs are carrying on the war of liberation “against Tsarism.”

But those are committing a crime no less stupendous who assert that Tsarism is becoming democratised and civilized, who are passing over in silence the fact that Tsarism is strangling and ruining unhappy Galicia just as the German Kaiser is strangling and ruining Belgium, who keep silent about the facts that the Tsar’s gang has thrown into gaol the parliamentary representatives of the Russian working class, and only the other day condemned to six years penal servitude a member of Moscow workers for the only offence of belonging to our party, that Tsarism is now oppressing Finland worse than ever, that our Labour press and organisations in Russia are suppressed, that all the milliards necessary for the war are being wrung by the Tsar’s clique out of the poor workers and starving peasants.

On behalf of the Central Committee of the Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party, London, February 14th, 1915. M. MAXIMOVICH. (Full version here.)

50 Years Ago: A Letter To An Irish Worker (1997)

The 50 Years Ago column from the October 1997 issue of the Socialist Standard

I think you’ll agree that all the “heroic” national struggles that have been waged in Ireland have—so far as the Irish worker and his family is concerned—achieved absolutely nothing. Today, behind the brave talk of the politicians, behind the backs of the cultured gentlemen of the Gaelic League and the language revivalists, beneath the cloak of nationality and religion, lies the stark reality of the slum, of rampant disease, of poor wages, of high prices, of dole and emigration queues— poverty is the daily companion and bed-fellow of the majority of men and women in Ireland.

Yes—of course—there have been changes, that strategically-important seaports are no longer the legal property of the British Government, the British Governor-General is gone, the tricolour now flutters triumphantly in the breeze over Government House in Merrion Square . . . Changes? Well, of a sort; changes which certainly haven’t changed your wage-slave position in the least—and, surely, that’s the one thing worth changing?

No, nationalism has nothing to off you—except a change of masters. Whether the Eire Government of De Valera or the Northern Ireland Government of Basil Brooke rules the whole, or only part, of Ireland, whether the flag be the tricolour or the Union Jack, whether partition ends or continues, you, as a worker, will in no wise be any better off.
(From an article by Chris Walsh, Socialist Standard, October 1947)

The Last Word: No need for cops and robbers (1997)

The Last Word column from the October 1997 issue of the Socialist Standard

Policing is a feature of a society at war with itself. The police, far from being the agents of stability, are the guardsmen of iniquity. The vast majority of their time is spent defending property and attacking those who dare to violate it. Just as the Law is principally the rule-book of property relationships, so the police are the relationship counsellors for an enforced marriage between the possessing, oppressing minority and the productive majority which must be kept in its place.

A society which needs police is immature: a playground culture in which the principles of adult cooperation are abandoned and people are encouraged to settle their conflicts by running crying to the prefects. The bullies and the cowards are content to be policed; the co-operative simply want the freedom to be allowed to enjoy their lives in peace.

There are those who say that without the police there would be no peace. Society would be a nightmarish world of predatory rapists on every other street corner, gangs of hooligans roaming the precincts looking for elderly victims to taunt and rob, and endless thievery. Only the police save us from such a fearsome scenario. But we have plenty of police and still these crimes occur. In fact, they occur precisely because we live within a social order of aggressive competition and possessive exclusion which requires police to uphold it. The police are not the solution to antisocial behaviour, they are guard dogs of the system which creates it.

Most violence or other forms of aggression which face the vast majority of people are of absolutely no concern to the police. For instance, try going into a police station to complain that you are being robbed on a daily basis (by your boss who exploits you by robbing the fruits of your labour) or that you are being threatened with murder (by the defence industry which has millions of weapons and uniformed thugs standing in readiness for international slaughter for the protection of profits) or that you are the victim of fraud (by politicians) or poisoning (by environmental pollution, in pursuit of profit) or defamation (by the commercial media which stops at no vicious insult in its attack upon workers who stand up for themselves). In any one of these cases the police would not only do nothing but may well arrest you for the crime of wasting their time.

So what about that anti-social behaviour which is against the law? Go into a police station and tell them that your house has been burgled and, in the vast majority of cases, they will simply refer you to your insurance company and tell you that they stand next to no chance of finding your possessions or the people who took them. (Their statistics bear this out.) The same goes for street robberies and other acts of petty theft. As far as the police are concerned, the measly possessions of wage slaves, usually stolen as acts of opportunism by other even more impoverished wage slaves, are of no practical consequence. The same is true for domestic violence or aggression, the police want to keep well away from the seedy conflicts bred in the impoverished environment of a class frustrated by lack of money, opportunity and self-respect.

The police are not to be blamed. They are just workers in uniform. They can no more eradicate the consequences of class deprivation than can teachers in schools.They are there to do their best to keep some order—or, at least, the appearance of order—in a society which causes the offensive behaviour which it then institutionalises as crime.

Crime is no more a part of the human condition (“human nature”) than poverty or the aggressive violence of militarism. Yet each is depicted by the apologists for the profit system as exactly that. Army generals, responsible for untold deeds of callous slaughter, defend “Defence” as a protection against precisely the behaviour which they engage in. Welfare providers defend their role as “providers” because otherwise the impoverished would starve. It does not occur to them, perhaps, that without socially-created poverty welfare would be redundant. And police chiefs award themselves glittering medals in self-praise for attending to problems which will exist for as long as an outdated system which needs to be policed is allowed to survive.
Steve Coleman

Dirty Tricks Department (1997)

Book Review from the October 1997 issue of the Socialist Standard

In Defence of the Party: The Secret State, the Conservative Party and Dirty Tricks by Colin Challen & Mike Hughes. Medium Publishing Co., I Main St, East Ardsley, Wakefield. £3.95.

The authors of this 60-page booklet are largely sympathetic to the Labour Party which they consider to be socialist or social democratic and is concerned with "dirty tricks" by the Conservative Party and its "front" organisations against the Labour Party.

It contains much useful information on generally little- known aspects, and activities, of the Tories, not just against the Labour Party but against whom the Conservatives consider to be subversive to the Nation and the State. The authors also comment upon the traditionally close connections of the Conservative Party with the British state, secret and open.

Hughes traces the career of Admiral "Blinker" Hall, former Director of Naval Intelligence, who leaked the infamous Zimmermann Telegram and Roger Casement's diaries to the press, assisted in the founding of the Economic League, became a Tory MP. and was involved in the publishing of the forged Zinoviev Letter. And much more besides.

Colin Challen writes of the large number of top Tories (and mentions that there were also a few Labourites) involved during, and after, the Second World War with MI5. the SAS. MI6 and other agencies of the British State; and how they, and members of these agencies, were used against their opponents, again not just in the Labour Party, but against other groups and individuals. The infamous Charles Elwell. former head of MI5's F Branch, Brian Crozier, and onetime pet of Mrs Thatcher. David Hart, who campaigned against the National Union of Mine Workers during the 1980s, are mentioned for their various "Dirty Tricks" on behalf of the Tories and, of course, British capitalism.

There is a particularly interesting, but too brief, account of how the Tories secretly and, therefore, undemocratically, raised millions of pounds through various fronts such as the "River” companies. British United Industrialists and other organisations, although, surprisingly, no mention is made of the millions of pounds donated to the Conservative Party by rich, and sometimes crooked, capitalists in Hong Kong. Northern Cyprus and elsewhere.

The Conservative Party is the traditional party of British capitalism. Nevertheless, every so often, despite the "Dirty Tricks", the British Labour Party (now called New Labour) wins power to attempt to run capitalism. Maybe it will become the "natural" party of government in Britain; and then we shall get books by Tory journalists listing all Labour's "Dirty Tricks". Who knows?
Peter E. Newell

Letter: Gradualism or Revolution? (1997)

Letter to the Editors from the October 1997 issue of the Socialist Standard

Gradualism or Revolution?

Dear Editors,

While the commitment to socialism underlying your beliefs is entirely admirable you must see that the revolutionary action you advocate would end in inevitable failure. A socialist system can be put into place only by popular consent, and consent necessitates gradual change because people live within the current system and cannot be forced to accept something that is wholly alien to them. In the present climate there is, unfortunately, a general indifference to socialism even among the poorer elements of society: and as you point out little can be achieved without the support of the working classes.

Socialism can therefore be achieved by education and by gradual—though ever-increasing—social change. The 1997 general election broke the hold of Conservatism on the population, but it will take much longer to break the hold of (small c) conservatism so that real and lasting change can be brought about. The violent—or at least revolutionary—uprising predicted by Marxism will therefore be self-defeating as well as unjust because it will collapse from lack of popular support. This is where Marxists and more realistic socialists part company.

As for a socialist state being a contradiction in terms, how do you suggest that the growth in public ownership and worker control be organised? Current government apparatus is over-centralised, but that can be remedied by a generous return of power to local government and the creation of a new tier of regional administration. Without some central institutions such as parliament, the banks and the legal system society would descend into chaos. Liberty is not only the right to be free but the responsibility to live in a way that respects the freedom of others, and a society without organisation is no society at all.

We sympathise with your disillusionment and your concern at the state of society, but your magazine seems to be full of nothing but criticism. Until you have something constructive to say we suggest you stop preaching to others whose commitment to socialism is just as strong as yours, but who have a great deal more sense.
Alex Ismail & Shehnoor Ahmed.

We agree that socialism can only come by popular consent. It cannot be imposed on people who don't want or don't understand it. and any uprising to try to do this would fail (fail to achieve socialism that is, though it might succeed in installing the uprising’s leaders as the new rulers).

This is why we have always said that socialism can only come about democratically, when a majority want it and organise democratically, using existing institutions such as Parliament and local councils, to get it.

It is not this that is the point at issue between you and us. The disagreement is about whether or not socialism could come about gradually as a result of an accumulation of social reforms. You say it could, despite all the evidence to the contrary that has accumulated this century.

Some of the early members of the Labour Party understood more or less what socialism was (a society of common ownership and democratic control, with production for use and distribution according to need) but rejected the view we put forward (we were founded in 1904, about the same time as Labour) that you needed to have a majority that wanted socialism before socialism could be established.

They argued that all you needed was to elect a majority of Labour MPs to Parliament, not on a straight socialist programme but on a programme of social reforms. Once in power. Labour would begin the process of transition to socialism "by education and by gradual— though ever increasing—social change", as you advocate again today.

What happened? Including the present one, there have been six Labour governments, but who will dare claim that we are any nearer to socialism? All previous Labour governments failed to make any progress towards socialism (and the present one doesn’t even aspire to). All of them left office—or rather were booted out by a dissatisfied electorate—with unemployment higher than when they entered it. Some of them brought in some social reforms but many of these have since been whittled away by successive governments. Labour as well as Tory (free prescription charges, free higher education, for instance).

Instead of Labour gradually transforming capitalism, it has been the other way round. Labour’s experience of governing capitalism gradually reconciled it more and more openly to capitalism, its market system and its profit motive.The end product of this process has been Blair and New Labour.

Labour governments did not fail because Labour Ministers were self-serving or traitors or weak or incompetent (even though some were) but because capitalism cannot be gradually reformed into socialism.

Capitalism is a system, not a chance collection of good and bad features whose bad ones can be lopped off piecemeal. It is an economic system of production for profit which runs, and can only run, as a system whose economic laws dictate that priority be given to profits and profit-making over all other considerations. including improving people’s lot by social reform measures.

Further, where social reforms and profits come into conflict it is the reforms that have to give way. This is what has been happening since the post-war boom came to an end in the early 1970s. Since then there haven’t been any social reforms. Just the opposite in fact: there has been a whittling away of those that existed at the time.

This is why we advocate a policy of "revolution" rather than gradual reform. By revolution we mean a rapid and complete change in the basis of society—from class ownership to common ownership and democratic control—and not street-fighting and civil war with an armed minority trying to seize control of political power. We are for a democratic, majority revolution which makes a once-for-all clean break with capitalism.

Capitalism cannot be abolished gradually. It has to be abolished in one go. What is gradual, though hopefully at an ever-increasing pace, is the emergence of a socialist majority. This does indeed build up over time, as more and more people come to realise that capitalism can never be made to work in their interests. We are trying to accelerate this process so, sorry, we are not going to stop criticising reformists who mistakenly preach that capitalism can be gradually reformed into a socialist society.

As to the term "socialist state", our objection is based on the definition of the state as a institution having a monopoly in the use of force within a given area which serves to maintain the rule of one class over the rest of society. As a classless society, socialism has no need of such an instrument of coercion. This does not mean that there will be no administration or organisation in socialism. Of course there will be (as you point out. without this there would be no society), but this will be democratic and unarmed and so not a state in the above sense of the term.

Greasy Pole: Now where were we? (1997)

The Greasy Pole column from the October 1997 issue of the Socialist Standard

Say what you like about Tony Blair but nobody can accuse him of missing a trick when it comes to persuading the voting public that he is the most competent and caring Prime Minister in the history of this country. Despite all his other worries—like the devolution campaigns and the sleaze in the Scottish Labour Party—Blair was quick to seize the opportunity offered by the astonishing hysteria and grief over the death of Princess Diana. On issues like the royal family the working class seem to have locked themselves up in a prison of self-delusion: Blair saw there was a lot to be gained by talking to them through the cell door, telling them he understood how they felt and would do something about it. So he pushed for a funeral the size of which enabled millions of people to participate—there in person or watching it on TV. So successful was this for Blair that William Hague, whose position as leader of the Conservative Party is almost as peculiar as all that emotion over the dead princess, protested that this was making political capital over a royal event.

Of course Hague had a point, even if it was not the one he thought he was making, because the big parties agreed to suspend all political activities until after the funeral—as if to carry on as usual would be unseemly when the nation was absorbed in leaving flowers in public places, signing books of condolence and so on. But there are some questions to be asked about that truce, one of them being why politicians should regard their profession of getting people to vote for empty promises to control capitalism to everyone’s benefit as being so disreputable that it should not be allowed to intrude on public grief. This brings us to another question about the nature of politics, its uses and its effect and whether the death of a princess can be separated from it.

Princess Diana stood out from the rest of the human race because she was so caring, so compassionate. We know this is true because so many people told us so, among them the princess herself. "Nothing gives me greater happiness." she told Le Monde a few days before she died, "than helping the most vulnerable members of society. If anyone in distress calls me I will run to help no matter what." Nobody knows whether she ran to Dodi Al Fayed because she thought he was vulnerable or whether that was why. on the evening of the fatal accident, she helped him through the distress of dinner at the Paris Ritz.

But wasn’t she the princess who warned about the suffering of the homeless? Who took Prince William to see the vagrants who spend their days hanging around Kings Cross station—to show him that there is another life outside Buckingham Palace, Sandringham, Balmoral, Eton? The victims of this kind of patronising did not seem to mind. Among the first of the overnight campers to get a good view of the funeral was a 49-year-old hostel resident from Whitechapel who told the Guardian, “Princess Diana helped the homeless, and I'm homeless myself. She put herself out for so many people. I’d have loved to have met her." After the funeral, still homeless, still loyal, still deluded, he went back to his hostel. There is no record of whether Prince William was impressed by his visit to Kings Cross, whether he had ever wondered about how all those faded, malnourished people he had noticed in their cramped-up, unhealthy abodes survived and whether any of them cracked up under the strain of trying to get by as members of the working class.

Rich people 
There is no record, either, of what the prince thought when his mother told a Labour MP, a few months ago. that "Rich people just want more and more. It makes me sick." From his room at Eton, did Prince William worry whether Diana was so caught up in the media fantasies about her that she was going to give it all away and begin looking for a real job? There was an awful lot to give, if this woman who was made sick by rich people ever wanted to dispose of it. A fortune estimated at £40 million, made up partly from a £17 million divorce settlement and what she inherited from her father. Jewellery worth over £16 million. A private collection worth £1.5 million and a wardrobe—over 500 dresses, 150 evening gowns—priced at more than £3 million. Clearly she was a rich woman: was she also one who wanted more and more? She recently told an enquiring Lord that her "... investment portfolio from the divorce settlement is doing very well, thank you."

In fact that remark was made while she was in Bosnia, where she busily publicised the campaign to ban land mines. This was another basis for the image of her as a caring woman, waking up the world to the horrors of a ghastly weapon of war. Well nobody is going to argue in favour of land mines—there are said to be 110 million buried somewhere or other in the world—but they are not the only weapons. There are no friendly armaments, guaranteed to kill people in a way which a compassionate princess would approve of. Diana could apparently see no reason to question why capitalism produces wars—she was colonel-in-chief of the Welsh Guards, who were caught in a terrible incident in the Falklands—nor why this had led to monstrosities like nuclear bombs, which she seemed to find no difficulty in accepting. It was almost as if she reasoned, in her caring way. that wiping out a few million people in a minute or two is OK but blowing off people’s feet with land mines is going to far.

Maybe Diana was sincere about her campaigns and her charities: what is clear is that she was confused. Just like, in fact, her subjects—all those people who do all the useful work in this society but are denied the full fruits of their labour yet are grateful when someone they are taught to regard as superior to them condescends to be charitable towards them. While the media were spewing out their nonsense about the princess an official report (Health Inequalities) told us that for the first time since Queen Victoria was on the throne, the life expectancy of poorer people has stopped rising and in some cases has actually fallen. This report did not dominate the newspapers, there was no day-long TV coverage of it. It was about the lives and the deaths of people who are not important in capitalist society so it was not news.

And that is the political issue—it is what politics should be all about. The existence of a society of two classes, in one of which there are people as rich as Princess Diana and in the other the poor, the sick, the homeless, is not just the biggest political issue—it is the only one.

These Foolish Things: Criminals (1997)

The Scavenger column from the October 1997 issue of the Socialist Standard


Profiles of 700 women in prison and hostels confirm that the majority are involved in "survival crime”, fraud and theft. In 84 percent of cases the women’s offending was associated with drink or drug dependency. Many have endured extreme adversity: two-thirds reported physical and sexual abuse, and nearly 80 percent were on medication (Guardian, 24 July).

Standing room only

Last year M&S stores made an average profit of £560 a square foot, but the company says high-earning stores earn "far in excess" of that figure (Financial Mail on Sunday, 20 July).

Producing new workers

Bringing up a child from birth to the age of 17 costs on average £50,000, according to a study by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation . . . However the study found that the difference between the better-off and families without much income was surprisingly small, as poorer parents tried to protect their child from poverty . . . Often by going without themselves . . .  One in 20. particularly lone mothers on Income Support, sometimes go without food to ensure their children have enough to eat (Guardian, 10 July).

International relations

It was the CIA's favourite coup. "We really had the T's crossed on what was happening," says James Critchfield, the head of the agency in the Middle East which organised it. "We regarded it as a great victory . . . " It started Saddam Hussein on his climb to power . . .  After General Abdel Karim Kassem, the country’s populist leader for five years, surrendered he was summarily tried in a studio in Baghdad radio station, tied to a chair and shot dead. In a new book [A Brutal Friendship: The West and the Arab Elite, Gollancz] Said Aburish, a writer on Arab political affairs, has gathered details of how the coup against Gen Kassem was organised and fine-tuned by the CIA. "We came to power on a CIA train," said Ali Saleh Sa’sdi, the Minister of the Interior of the regime which replaced Gen Kassem (Independent on Sunday, 29 June).

Big Brother

Elizabeth France, the Data Protection Registrar, made it clear she was deeply concerned about her lack of powers as the public faces increasing threats to privacy from computer banks building up in Whitehall and elsewhere. Mrs France said she was writing to Tony Blair over the continuing refusal of the security and intelligence services, including MI5 and GCHQ to register with her office. The agencies argue that they are exempt on grounds of “national security", and that the public has no right of access to personal information held by them (Guardian, 17 July).

The wastemakers

Russian. American and European and other space agencies have been firing stuff into orbit since 1957. Now a United States radar programme has to keep track of 3.000 tons of hardware racing round the planet at 18,000mph. There are about 9,000 objects ranging from a cellphone to Mir. But these, too. tend to collide with each other. Some—such as rocket casings—seem to explode of their own accord. So in addition to the big stuff, there are probably another 100,000 bits of stuff bigger than a fingernail. Even something this size is lethal.The calculation is that a £1 coin at six miles a second has the same impact as a minibus at 60mph. When one of these hits another, there are more fragments.There could be 17 million bits of garbage bigger than a millimetre and each of these packs the punch of a high velocity bullet (Guardian, 26 June).
The Scavenger

Fifty years of loot, plunder and intrigues (1997)

From the October 1997 issue of the Socialist Standard

Pakistan, meaning a "land of the pure”, turned fifty this year. Looking back over the past five decades of Pakistan’s political history, a picture of utter hopelessness, disillusionment and decay in almost every field, flashed into the mind. A land which was carved out on the map of the world after enormous sacrifices were rendered in the form of precious human lives stands today in utter contrast to the ideals and goals which were promised by the pioneers of the Pakistan Movement and which were so gullibly believed by the people of that time.

Recalling the promises about independence and the high enthusiasm of the people at the time of partition 50 years ago, the present anxieties about the way things are drifting and about an uncertain future certainly cause dismay. Pakistan is almost on the verge of being declared a "failed state”. Public faith in the political leadership has been completely eroded and the working class are not sure about what they have to celebrate on the occasion of the "Golden Jubilee”.

Pakistan has floundered from crisis to crisis during its 50 years of existence. Over this period Pakistan has been a hotbed for self-seeking politicians, military adventurists and a corrupt bureaucracy, all of whom have played their full share in wreaking havoc on the country’s political and social fabric. More than half of the country’s lifespan has been under the rule of military dictators who in their bid to stay firmly in power left everything shattered and utterly ineffective.

Brutal and oppressive martial law regimes have made the country pass through a furnace of afflictions, but the civilian governments were no less corrupt. Every successive government simply brought more miseries to a country which was already suffering under the unbearable burdens of poverty, state oppression, and the worst kind of exploitation at the hands of those whom they have voted into power. The faces changed, the people’s lot didn’t. The policies which were framed during the last 50 years have been ineffectual and no serious attention has been given to the most pressing problems like health, education and other civic facilities. Today, the situation has reached a point of no-return. A country with a literacy rate of not more than 20 percent does not have the right to dream of progress and prosperity. Pakistan may have equipped itself with mass weapons of destruction and a powerful military, but the great majority of the country are poor. More than 70 percent of people have no access to clean drinking water, and about 70 percent of the population live below the poverty line.

Pakistan’s economic problems have gone from bad to worse. Its per-capita income is one of the lowest in the world. It is a debt-ridden country and has to pay enormous loans which it took from the World Bank and IMF. Every successive government has borrowed almost unlimited loans from these agencies at very high interest rates.The result is that the country lies as a hostage in the hands of the World Bank and IMF who dictate their terms and conditions at will.

To make matters worse every institution in Pakistan bleeds from wounds inflicted by greedy and corrupt politicians. According to a recent international report, Pakistan ranked second as the most corrupt country in the world. At the same time Pakistan governments have beaten the drum for holding criminals accountable for corruption. But how can a thief catch a thief?

Today the people of Pakistan feel betrayed and cheated. They didn't expect the kind of mess that has developed over the last decades.There is a class of a few who have amassed enormous wealth and monopolised all the resources while the majority remain in miserable conditions.

Political dynasties have been established and the same names appear again and again on the political stage every time elections take place. Pakistan is said to have democracy. But what is going on inside the parliament is a mockery of democracy. These ‘‘patriotic" politicians have made themselves a laughing stock for the rest of the world. The government machinery has failed to provide for the needs of the people.The police are the lords of the land.They are at liberty to round up anyone and implicate him or her on false charges. Recently extrajudicial killings became an issue as hundreds of political workers and innocent people were murdered by the state police. No-one has yet been brought to book. Pakistan is a strange land where the mighty and powerful seem to get away with anything because no-one dare lay their hands on them. The people of Pakistan have become so fed up with their rulers that they have lost their hope and are apparently awaiting some miracle to come to their rescue.

The widening gap between the rich and the poor has frightening dimensions. The lava boiling within the inner core of this land can explode at any time. The rulers have for a very long time cornered or ignored the masses of this country and further testing their patience might have disastrous consequences.

Many people are now questioning the rationale behind the very existence of this country as the promises given to the masses have not materialised. People are suffering due to price hikes, corruption, sectarian killings, and an utter collapse of state institutions. How can they now be expected to feel jubilant when they have been denied the basic amenities like food, shelter, education and health? The state apparatus stands to secure and guard the interest of those who are the unquestioned masters of this land. The entire country may go to the dogs. It may starve to death but it will not stir any emotion in their politicians’ hearts. These heartless monsters have played with the working class’s future for too long. Today all of them stand condemned at the bar of public opinion and they have been stripped of their pretentious and apparent supremacy. A time will come when they will face the wrath of the people.Then their wealth and riches will not save them.—
A Socialist correspondent from Pakistan

Power, corruption and pies (1997)

From the October 1997 issue of the Socialist Standard

The science behind the BSE scandal
It is well known that the “mad cow disease" or Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy appeared due to the feeding of sheep carcasses infected with the brain disease Scrapie to cattle as a protein supplement. This was done because it was a way of producing meat as cheaply as possible, thus yielding a higher profit margin. It was done with callous disregard for dangers to human health, which were predictable.

Since the resulting appearance of connected cases of Creutzfeld Jakob Disease (the human equivalent of BSE) a programme of government propaganda has been instituted, never hesitating to bring in the pronouncements of official "scientists" to keep a lid on the looming crisis, while marginalising those who have warned of the real danger to human health. In spite of this, a picture of what the profit system has unleashed has peeped through.

Some background may be useful. All healthy mammals have within their brains prions, an unusual type of protein in that it contains no DNA (the code that allows for cell reproduction). It is a bit of a mystery, but what has become less so is that they seem to exist to prevent wasting of the brain. Mice bred free of prions have quickly exhibited signs of coordination problems, inevitably leading to total loss of movement and death. In addition vital areas of the brain have shrunk to a third of their normal size. All of these signs are hallmarks of BSE and CJD and other prion-related illnesses. As the problem with BSE and CJD is not the absence of prions, but the presence of mutated or “bad" ones it can be presumed that, when mutated, the prions cease to function in the proper way and this leads to the damage to brain matter which eventually gives rise to the now ominously familiar sponge-like appearance of the brain the final stages of infection. Worth bearing in mind is that all methods of killing proteins have failed to rub out prions (perhaps because of lack of DNA). All very interesting, but so what?

Rogue prions
Well, these problems are often hereditary (perhaps genetic), but mutated prions can also act as rogue disease agents. When transmitted to a new host the "bad" prions can lock into healthy ones, turning them into diseased prions and then spreading the process throughout the brain.The final destruction of the brain can take up to 30 years or it can proceed much more rapidly. The crucial point is that this transmission isn’t restricted to members of the same species, but can occur from one species of mammal to another, as long as the prions are similar enough. Now for the heavy stuff: humans do not share key prion similarities with sheep, but we do with cattle. Therefore sheep prion disease like Scrapie cannot be passed on to humans, but this does not mean that humans can’t catch the brain diseases of cattle or other animals. Quite the opposite in fact.

In this light, the government and their "establishment scientists" longtime insistence that BSE was merely a form of Scrapie can be seen for what it was: a smokescreen to throw people from realising the true nature of BSE and its implication for human beings (Scrapie being no threat). In other words a lie—a lie sanctioned by the dubious “science” the state and food and agriculture capitalists rely on for their credibility. Credibility that is beginning to look as solid as, er ... cow shit.

So, although we are not vulnerable to the sheep-form of this prion disease, cattle evidently are and, as we will look at later, we are vulnerable to the form the disease/mutation takes in cattle. And if we were not then why have the official agencies been so eager to obscure the true nature of BSE with theories like the above? Could the fear of economic crisis, the peril to profit, the world-wide collapse of industrial meat production and the inevitable knock-on effect on the major northern political apparatuses be behind it?

The full implications of what has been unleashed are suggested by findings which show that 16 species of mammal, including primates and pigs (close genetic relations to ourselves) can pick up the prion disease causing BSE/CJD via eating infected material. Such tests carried out by the World Health Organisation early this decade led to the conclusion that risk to humans from infected matter entering the food chain was unacceptably high.

All the more alarming. 1994 saw over 146,000 official cases of BSE and up to last year the WHO suggests that up to 40 percent of cases were not even reported and out of those that were up to 40 percent were left out of the statistics. The latter point again raises the question: Why? In addition government guidelines on what constitutes "safe" meat may be wrong by up to 10,000 percent. All of which means the amount of infected carcasses that actually entered the human food chain can only be guessed at. especially over the period it was being treated as of no threat to "consumers”, i.e. working-class people.

However, a rough estimate is that by 2001 up to 1,800,000 infected cattle may have been consumed on the British market alone. And this may be a bit too much on the rough side as methods of transmission to cattle and incubation periods are not fully know. Further, the susceptibility of pigs for instance to mutated prions may also mean that other types of livestock are possible infected. Recent government measures affecting sheep and goats can perhaps be viewed in this worrying context, although once again these are being presented as "Scrapie" control.

Infected food
The consequences are already working their way through.The recent spate of tragic deaths in young people with no family history of CJD can’t be explained by the state’s cover-up agents, especially as it is usually a disease of old age. These heartbreakingly young deaths suggest that exposure has led to a galloping form of brain degeneration almost without precedence.Why some people should develop CJD to such an extent, so quickly, is worrying and indicative and raises questions about who may be most susceptible to what sort of level of exposure to infected food before rogue prions take hold.

Is this a new thing? In scale maybe, but in 1978 the US government stopped supplying their troops with beef from certain sources. They must have seen these as “suspect" and we can only wonder just how aware the authorities everywhere have been of the danger to humans from potentially diseased livestock in the industrial capitalist system of food production. Still stateside, there are suggestions that many people diagnosed as having certain forms of Alzheimer’s Disease are in fact suffering from a type of CJD. We should not be surprised.

The ethics of those with socio-economic power and the ethos of their system have been thrown into the spotlight through their handling of this affair. Not least by the fact that the little research now being done on the problem has come so late in the day. The truth has surfaced through a cloud of bogus findings by the government and the Ministry of Agriculture Farming and Fisheries and the rubbishing of independent findings detrimental to those with economic and political interests at stake.
Those scientists who are not willing prostitutes to capitalism’s official bodies are only now getting across the probability of cases of CJD being a result of exposure to BSE-infected beef and related products. The view of BSE being on a par with Scrapie has gone down the toilet and other official pronouncements are gradually going the same way, especially ideas about only certain cattle body-parts carrying a risk to people. It is becoming clear that it is not just brain matter that is a danger. Exposure to the brain and nervous system of infected animals is the most potent, but ingestion of any part of a BSE-positive carcass must be viewed as a danger. At the least the previous line about liver, kidneys and flesh being unlikely to carry a health risk has no grounding in scientific proof. The reverse seems more likely, as the recent proscription of certain cuts of lamb seems to reaffirm. And this, again, raises questions about wider livestock contamination: has the brain disease returned to its source?

That this danger could arise, that health disaster is in the offing and the official abuse of "science" to sanction effective cover-up jobs tells us more than enough about just where the needs of people for safe, healthy rood rank in the priorities of food production in capitalism.