Friday, May 17, 2019

Hugo Chavez: ‘21st Century Socialist’ or Populist Strongman? (2013)

From the April 2013 issue of the Socialist Standard

The formula ‘socialism of the 21st century’ encapsulates the hopes that many leftists throughout the world placed in President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela and his so-called ‘Bolivarian Revolution’ or ‘Bolivarian Process.’ (‘Bolivarian’ refers to Simon Bolivar, commander of the army that defeated the Spaniards in 1821 and won independence for Venezuela and other Spanish colonies in the north-western part of South America.)

The term ‘21st century socialism’ was coined by Mexican sociologist Heinz Dieterich Steffan, who served as an adviser to Chavez for several years but fell out with him in 2011. It conveys the idea that Venezuela is pioneering a new and exciting ‘socialism’ for the new century, based on grassroots participation, in contrast to the stodgy bureaucratic ‘socialism’ (what we call state capitalism) of the 20th century.

Defying the Yanquis
The regime established by Chavez in Venezuela over his 14 years in office also has appeal as a less tarnished substitute for Castro’s Cuba. Chavez was a charismatic leader with much of the flamboyance of Che Guevara and Fidel Castro—and the same penchant for making speeches of inordinate length. His speeches, like theirs, thundered defiance of the Yanqui tyrants to the north. Unlike Castro, however, Chavez won office by electoral means (after an earlier attempt to seize power in a military coup failed). Nor did he have the embarrassing habit of imprisoning his domestic critics.

Given the long history of US domination and aggression in Latin America, the continuing appeal of anti-US rhetoric is understandable. Nevertheless, in the 21st century it is rather out of date. US hegemony over the Americas has already given way to a new and more complex structure of capitalist competition. The US remains actively involved in this new game, but the players also include rising regional powers like Brazil –and Venezuela itself –and Eurasian powers like China and Japan. Pretending to refight old battles is a way of obscuring the new reality.   

The social missions
This is not to deny that Chavez’s appeal derived partly from his achievement of real social reforms. Venezuela is a major oil exporter and the oil industry has been nationalised since 1975. Chavez was able to devote a part of state oil revenue to social programmes. Funds were allocated mainly to a series of ‘social missions’ that were established in 2003 in order to improve healthcare, education, housing and nutrition in the barrios (shanty towns) surrounding Caracas and other cities.      

Observers take different views of the impact of these social programs. The account by German Sanchez, Cuban ambassador to Venezuela, is peppered with superlatives like ‘tremendous’ and ‘magnificent’ (Cuba and Venezuela: An Insight Into Two Revolutions, Ocean Press 2007, Ch. 4). The Venezuelan anarchist Rafael Uzcategui talks more about the limitations of the programs. For example, slum dwellers now have easier access to treatment for relatively minor ailments at neighbourhood clinics staffed by Cuban and Venezuelan physicians. But when they fall seriously ill they still have to rely on public hospitals that remain overcrowded and underfunded. Housing standards are still grossly inadequate (Venezuela: Revolution as Spectacle, See Sharp Press 2010).

Uzcategui also points out that many poor people, especially in Venezuela’s vast interior, have received no benefits from the missions and that spending on social programs has been dwarfed by military expenditure, including costly arms imports.

Clearly there has been a modest but significant improvement in the material conditions of ordinary people under Chavez. According to official statistics, in the course of the 2000s the proportion of the population in ‘extreme poverty’ fell from 23 percent to 9 percent and the unemployment rate from 15 percent to 8 percent. Real wages rose on average by 1 percent per year against a background of rapid inflation. 

Trotsky, Mao, Marx, Jesus, Bolivar
Chavez defined his political credo in different ways at different times. Soon after being sworn in as president he declared that he was a Trotskyist. When he visited China in 2008 he assured his hosts that he was a Maoist. In a speech to the national assembly in 2009, he explained: ‘I am a Marxist to the same degree as the followers of the ideas of Jesus Christ and the liberator of America, Simon Bolivar’—in other words, in an extremely loose sense.

The longest-lasting influence on Chavez was undoubtedly the legacy of his hero and model, Bolivar, remembered as a social reformer as well as a fighter for national independence. He also enthusiastically admired the Castro regime in Cuba, denying that it was a dictatorship. On a visit to Cuba in 1999 he declared: ‘Venezuela is travelling toward the same sea as the Cuban people –a sea of happiness, real social justice and peace.’ It is therefore very difficult to argue on the basis of Chavez’public statements that he really had a vision of socialism radically different from twentieth-century state capitalism. 

Deals with capitalists
Despite all his talk about revolution and socialism, Chavez’ relations with capitalists at home and abroad were by no means wholly confrontational. The most that can be said is that he was in conflict with some capitalists some of the time.

In particular, telecommunications magnate Gustavo Cisneros, whose fortune is estimated at $6 billion, was initially hostile to Chavez. Observers suspect that Cisneros was behind the failed coup of April 2002. Then in June 2004 the two men met. It is not known what was said at this meeting, but they seem to have come to a deal. Commentators on Cisneros’television station Venevision suddenly switched from an anti-Chavez to a pro-Chavez line. Presumably in exchange, Chavez refused to renew the broadcasting license of Cisneros’main competitor, in effect granting his new ally a monopoly.

Chavez never tried to keep out foreign companies. In March 2009 McDonalds had 135 outlets in Venezuela and was selling more fast food there than in any other country of the region.

Chavez posed as a defender of Venezuela’s natural resources against the machinations of greedy foreign corporations. In reality, he concluded agreements with Chevron, BP and the Spanish oil company Repsol. He also pushed through legal and constitutional changes that may open the door to the gradual re-privatisation of Petroleos de Venezuela, the state oil company. It is now possible to establish mixed state-private enterprises with up to 49 percent foreign ownership for the development of new oil and gas deposits.

‘Petroleum socialism’
Chavez was committed to continued reliance on hydrocarbon exports—indeed, so deeply committed that he christened this model of capitalist development ‘petroleum socialism!’ Venezuelan leftists had never been fond of ‘the devil’s excrement’ and were especially concerned with the social and environmental consequences of an oil-based economy, but they stopped expressing these concerns after Chavez came to power. A documentary on the oil industry by Italian film-maker Gabriel Muzio (Our Oil and Other Tales), though sponsored by government agencies, was suppressed when they learned that Muzio had focused on these issues.

Besides oil and gas, there are also plans for a large-scale expansion of coal mining in Zulia State. Before these plans can be implemented, however, the Venezuelan government will have to overcome stiff resistance from environmental groups and local indigenous communities trying to defend their homes against the steamroller of endless capital accumulation.

In a world divided into competing states, of course, the government of any country—however ‘socialist’ it may claim to be—is naturally going to be highly reluctant to renounce the potential financial gain from selling its country’s natural resources. Only collective action at the global level can establish the fundamentally new society that we call socialism.    

The priority that the armed forces enjoy in the allocation of state funds has already been mentioned. This is not the only militaristic aspect of the ‘Bolivarian’ regime.

Chavez appointed hundreds of military men to state posts, including some notorious for their abuses. For instance, Air Force Lieutenant Colonel Luis Reyes Reyes, as governor of Lara State from 2000 to 2008, oversaw the formation of police death squads that carried out five massacres of civilians. In 2008 Reyes Reyes was recalled to Caracas and promoted to ministerial level.

According to records kept by the Committee of Victims Against Impunity, ‘the police have committed more murders during the so-called Bolivarian Process than during the presidencies of Betancourt and Leoni, whose regimes are remembered as the most repressive of the Fourth Republic’ (Uzcategui, p. 198).

Chavez began his career as an army officer and at heart that is what he remained. He made constant use of military expressions in civilian contexts—for instance, calling election campaign groups ‘Units of Electoral Battle’. He liked the title of ‘commander president’ (comandante-presidente) and frankly sought to monopolise power. Appealing in 2001 on the radio to his supporters to form ‘Bolivarian circles’ in various walks of life, he saw fit to remind them: ‘Remember that I’m going to start giving instructions as the leader’ (Uzcategui, p. 173).   

Thus, there are good reasons to question not only Chavez’credentials as a socialist (of any century) but even his attachment to democratic principles. He bore a strong resemblance to the traditional Latin American image of the charismatic populist strongman or caudillo. In Venezuela this image is rooted in the foundational myth of Simon Bolivar. It is also embodied in a long line of popular heroes who adorn the history of Latin America, from the Mexican revolutionary leader Emiliano Zapata to Argentina’s Juan Peron.

Popular power?
And yet many people have been impressed by the appearance of extensive popular participation under Chavez—surely the diametrical opposite of a personal dictatorship. How can these things be reconciled?

The public scene in Venezuela does indeed abound in active social movements—trade unions, cooperatives, neighbourhood groups, campaigns for human rights, environmental organizations and many others. An upsurge in grassroots activity did coincide with the rise of Chavez and the consolidation of his power, but that leaves open the question of the relationship between the two processes.

In rhetorical and symbolic terms, Chavez always appeared sympathetic to popular participation. This helped him build and maintain his support base and get elected president.

An example of participatory symbolism was the insertion of the phrase ‘of popular power’ into the names of government ministries. Thus, the Ministry of Education became the ‘Ministry of Popular Power for Education’ (Ministerio del Poder Popular para la Educacion). This, of course, did nothing to make ministries less bureaucratic or more participatory.

Co-optation, surveillance, repression
The real policy of the Chavez regime regarding social movements was a mixture of co-optation, surveillance and repression. Efforts were made to incorporate grassroots activists into official structures such as the community councils. Those who allowed themselves to be incorporated lost their autonomy and came under the control of the state bureaucracy. Those who resisted co-optation, smeared as supporters of the ‘fascist’ right-wing opposition, were harassed and intimidated by vigilante groups trained, armed and funded by the state. These groups also collected ‘social intelligence about workers, homeless people, street vendors and other social sectors with a proclivity to generate conflict’ (Uzcategui, p. 202). Finally, increasing use was made of the police and army to suppress protests and demonstrations.

The ‘Bolivarian’ leaders who succeed Chavez, lacking his popular charisma, may well resort to even greater use of repression. We hope that the demise of the hero will awaken leftists outside Venezuela from their trance and enable them to take a more critical and realistic view of the situation in that country.

There is no need to deny that in all likelihood Hugo Chavez was motivated by the best of intentions, or that worthwhile social reforms were achieved under his presidency. Nevertheless, like all other mortals, Chavez was susceptible to the corruption of power. That is one of the reasons why even the most benevolent tyranny cannot lead to a free classless society. The emancipation of the working class is the task of the working class itself.

Pathfinders: Telepathy – the Demolished Ego (2013)

The Pathfinders Column from the April 2013 issue of the Socialist Standard

In Alfred K Bester’s celebrated 1951 sci-fi novel The Demolished Man the antihero plans a murder and, knowing he will be a suspect and fearing interrogation by the telepathic police, commissions a jingle writer to create a musical ‘earworm’ so compulsive that the police interrogators will not be able to ‘see’ past it into his deeper thoughts. Now, it seems, the first tentative step towards such telepathic intrusion has been taken.

The final frontier is not space, it is the wall between neurology and psychology, the physical brain from the outside and the subjective mind from the inside. MRI scans have shown that different parts of the brain ‘light up’ when we have different thoughts and feelings, giving researchers clues that there is indeed a correlation between brain geography and function and thus allowing the recent revolution in brain mapping to take place. A new study in North Carolina has gone further, using implants in rats, by reading the signals from one rat brain and communicating them to a second brain, allowing the recipient in effect to ‘read’ the sender’s thoughts. The recipient can then complete a task as directed by the sender’s brain, whether the sender is in the next cage or a continent away (‘Telepathic animals solve task as one’, New Scientist, 9 March).

The study reports a success rate of around 60 to 70 percent, placing it well above random chance but considerably short on reliability, and the reason is that the ‘reading’ is only an aggregate of the local brain region’s signals, aimed at the same region in the recipient’s brain. Given the crudeness of the procedure it is surprising that it works at all, so the success rate is actually remarkable. If it ever becomes possible to map the signal of each individual neuron and aim it at an equivalent target neuron, accuracy could theoretically jump to near 100 percent. An analogy that may occur to some readers is the first wide-frequency Marconi blast across the Atlantic that heralded the beginnings of radio.

Were we now living in a peaceful, creative society of socialist common ownership, such news would doubtless excite interest and debate among the informed and engaged population. As it is, forced to endure the heartless world of money slavery and ruthless competition at every level among a misinformed, alienated and paranoid population, debate can only take a darker form.

Already there is talk of military applications, including using mind-controlled animals and even insects as surveillance and ‘assassination drones’. Advertisers of the future will be wetting themselves at the potential for subliminal persuasion and stratospheric profits. Civil Rights groups will be passing sleepless nights bathed in beads of sweat at the idea of Orwell’s Thought Police coming to life.

Surely not in a liberal democracy? people will cry. But who says the future of capitalism involves democracy? Liberal democracies are only liberal because police states are too inefficient and expensive and popular consent is by far an easier thing to manage. With surveillance that can peer right into our private thoughts, what capitalist state would need to bother asking our consent? Imagine a future ruled by China or North Korea, but without their present hearts and flowers liberalism. Or worse, a global theocratic regime along the lines of Iran or Saudi Arabia, or if the Christian fundamentalists get their way, the Second Coming of the Catholic Church, with free inquiry replaced by a fearful Inquisition. Surely, once the final frontier is breached, our minds will not be our own, our ego will be demolished and our slavery will be complete.

Of course it’s quite possible that this sort of conspiracy theorist’s porn fantasy won’t happen for the simple reason that we will have killed ourselves off long before the technology gets to that point. If global warming doesn’t do it, nuclear war might, or a viral pandemic or an antibiotic-busting pestilence, or even just cyberhacked chaos and civil collapse. The end of the world will be a dying whimper across a desolate landscape crawling with cockroaches and escaped laboratory rats living on corpses and old chewed copies of the Daily Mail.

Lots of workers are so depressed that they do think like this. If you ran an MRI scan of their brains it would show a black cloud around the words ‘I give up’. Or it would be a sign saying ‘Not at home – on holiday in la-la land’, because the result of a depressing outlook is a retreat into denial. Wouldn’t it be better to contemplate a future that’s just as plausible as any of the above, but one which is infinitely more positive? Instead of conspiring in our own oppression we should be aspiring to our collective liberation, by discussing how the amazing developments of science could be used for good in a society based on the common good. Optimists embrace the future while pessimists run away from it, and socialists are optimists by definition. The technology of telepathy doesn’t have to be threateningly invasive, or about mind control. It could be the path to a truly neural internet, the power of the brain unleashed in a cognitive and communicative revolution that would make our present state of knowledge look like Stone Age flint scrapings. If you can’t feel inspired by that you’re just not trying hard enough. Now, on the doorstep of such breakthroughs, is the time for us to talk about taking the world away from its reckless clique of billionaire rapists and putting it under new collective management, where such breakthroughs can truly prosper and give benefit. Because if we don’t make our dreams come true, our nightmares surely will.
Paddy Shannon

Voice From the Back: The Great Divide (2013)

The  Voice From The Back column from the April 2013 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Great Divide

The class division in capitalism is well summed up by the millions trying to survive on less than $2 a day and the following news item. ‘Mexican tycoon Carlos Slim has topped Forbes magazine’s list of the world’s richest billionaires for a fourth year. The magazine estimates that Mr Slim, whose business interests range from telecommunications to construction, is worth $73bn (£49bn)’ (BBC News, 5 March). If you attempt to live on less than $2 a day your kids will probably die. That is a powerful reason why we need a new society.

A Billionaire Gets Angry

You would think it would be in the interests of billionaires to keep quiet about their riches, but not a bit of it. ‘One of the world’s richest men, Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, has severed ties with the Forbes rich list, claiming it understated his wealth. The Saudi investor, ranked 26th in the billionaires’ list released on Monday, accused Forbes of a “flawed” valuation method that undervalued his assets and “seemed designed to disadvantage Middle Eastern investors and institutions”‘ (Guardian, 5 March). They estimated that Alwaleed is worth $20bn (£13bn), putting him behind Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin. Alwaleed estimates his own wealth at $29.6bn. C’mon why get so upset, Alwaleed, what’s a mere $9.6bn to the likes of you? There’s lots of other workers to exploit and billions still to be made.

Hunger In The USA

Whenever one hears of children going hungry it is assumed this is a reference to some backward country in Asia or Africa, but recent events show that it applies to even advanced countries like the USA. ‘Child poverty in the US has reached record levels, with almost 17 million children now affected. A growing number are also going hungry on a daily basis. Food is never far from the thoughts of 10-year-old Kaylie Haywood and her older brother Tyler, 12. At a food bank in Stockton, Iowa, they are arguing with their mother over the 15 items they are allowed to take with them … The family are among the 47 million Americans now thought to depend on food banks. One in five children receives food aid’ (BBC News, 6 March). It speaks volumes about the nature of capitalism when even the most advanced country in the world has hungry kids.

Harsh Reality

Politicians love to paint a picture of a Britain of steadily improving standards of living and a gradually more equitable society, but recent statistics show that this is a complete fraud. ‘Millions of families will be no better off in 2015 than they were in 2000 due to a devastating attack on household finances, according to Britain’s leading think tank. The average worker will have suffered the worst squeeze on incomes in memory by the time of the next General Election, warns the Institute for Fiscal Studies’ (Daily Mail, 14 March).

The Roots Of War

The first world war was supposed to be the war to end all wars. 1939 showed the nonsense of that notion, but some claimed the second world war was a war to end fascism and to protect democracy. That now looks like an equally stupid idea. ‘As Austria prepares to mark the anniversary of its annexation by Nazi Germany, an opinion poll has shown that more than half of the population think it highly likely that the Nazis would be elected if they were readmitted as a party. A further 42 per cent agreed with the view that life “wasn’t all bad under the Nazis”, and 39 per cent said they thought a recurrence of anti-Semitic persecution was likely in Austria’ (Independent, 10 March). Wars are not fought for splendid humane principles they are fought for markets, sources of raw materials and political and military reasons. Foolishly workers today are still conned by the nonsense of nationalism and capitalism.

Another Phoney Socialist

The BBC described him as a revolutionary and media coverage has referred to him as a socialist. ‘Venezuela has announced seven days of mourning for Hugo Chavez, who has died aged 58 after 14 years as president. Thousands of Mr Chavez’s supporters took to the streets of Caracas to express their grief … A self-proclaimed revolutionary, he was a controversial figure in Venezuela and on the world stage. A staunch critic of the US, he inspired a left-wing revival across Latin America’ (BBC News, 6 March). In fact Chavez was no socialist. Like other phoney revolutionaries, he introduced whole-scale programmes of nationalisation that have nothing to do with socialism. Socialism means production solely for use. It is a classless, propertyless society. Venezuela remains mired in capitalism despite the media nonsense.

Proper Gander: Christianity’s Inanities (2013)

The Proper Gander Column from the April 2013 issue of the Socialist Standard

Greetings, beloved! As we struggle through the End Times, let God TV be your spiritual guide. Broadcasting worldwide from Jerusalem, and available on Freeview and online, God TV brings you the most hyper-enthusiastic speakers and evangelists, filmed at happy-clappy conferences in Britain, Australia and America. Each show is set to an uplifting soundtrack of saccharine God rock and hypnotic muzak.

First, we can go over to the Audacious Conference, where we’ve been listening to those touched by the Lord. Sarah has been telling us how she was saving up for a family holiday when God told her to empty her bank account and give all her money to the church. Every year since then, she’s been blessed with a free holiday. There’s no need to worry about throwing away your savings, as God always provides.

And here’s God TV’s well-provided-for founder Rory Alec, starting his sermon by quoting from the book of Proverbs that money is the answer to everything. He wants there to be a ‘greater portion of anointing’, paid for by a greater portion of your incomes. Yes, beloved. He must be right because his disciples are praying and swaying along in the background.

The next inspirational speaker is Jane, at the Influencers Conference. She wants us to accept that we’re all unwell by inviting us to stare at those around us: ‘Look at the other person on the other side of you. If you look closely, they’re shrivelled up’. God can give us the strength to take ownership of our shrivelled-upness and forgive.

Now, we can join Dr Jonathan Sarfati giving a lecture entitled ‘Are Miracles Scientific?’ He shows us how he earned his doctorate by telling us that miracles must exist because otherwise the notion of a ‘hoax miracle’ wouldn’t make sense. Hear him hilariously call the Enlightenment ‘the Endarkenment’. And listen open-mouthed as he teaches us that during the Great Flood ‘the ground was cursed’, and that God took six days to create the universe because he wanted to give us a handy length for our working week.

Bless you, beloved. Just remember to tune in again, and send in your money.
Mike Foster

Mali: the Background (2013)

From the March 2013 issue of the Socialist Standard
A correspondent originally from the wider region comments.
What is now Mali has a long history. The Malinke Empire ruled the area from the 12th century to the 15th century. Then, the powerful Songhai empire ruled over the Timbuktu-Gao region. In 1591 Morocco conquered Timbuktu and ruled the city for two centuries. In the 19th century the land became a French colony after the Berlin Conference and the Scramble for Africa. In 1946, the land became part of French Union.

Mali, situated in West Africa, lies in the Sahara region. It has a land area of 1,240,000 sq km, which is four-fifths the size of Alaska in the USA. Mali is land-locked and shares a border with Algeria, Burkina Faso, Ivory Coast, Mauritania, Niger, and Senegal. The north has a porous soil and dry weather, while the only fertile soil is in the south where rivers Niger and Senegal provide water for irrigation. Its natural resources are cotton, maize, millet and groundnuts. These crops are mainly produced from the south because of the irrigation system around them.

It is estimated that Mali as of 2012 is 15,000,000 people (growth rate is 2.6 percent; birth rate is 4.6 percent). Infant mortality rate is 11.36 percent. Life expectancy is 52.1. Density per sq km 10. Mali has about 51 tribes such as Madinka, Bambara, Kunta, Soninke, Arabe, Pere, Sarahule, Bobo, Bozo, Kado, Sawraye Tamachec, Kroloboro, Tuareg, Arabs, etc. As to religion, 90 percent are Muslims, 7 percent Christians and 3 percent animists.
The capital is Bamako with 1,325,300 in the metropolitan area and the currency is the CFA franc that is used among francophone countries in West Africa.

Mali became independent on 20 June 1960 under the name of Sudanese Republic. This Republic was joined by Senegal in the Mali Federation. However after two months Senegal seceded. As a result the Sudanese Republic changed its name to the current Republic of Mali.

The first President of Mali, Modibo Keita was born to a Madinka Moslem family in Bamako. He took over power as an elected President on independence in 1960. Keita  introduced a single party state and Pan-Africanism, like other presidents that promoted Pan-Africanism in their various countries: Azikiwe in Nigeria, Nkrumah in Ghana, Sekou Touré in Guinea-Conakry, Nyerere in Tanzania, and Kenyatta in Kenya.

On 19 November 1968 General Moussa Traroré removed President Keita in a bloodless coup d’état.  He spent some weeks in detention in Kidal in the northern of Mali and died in May 1977. Keita’s death attracted demonstrations that were violent. These were organised by his party and the Madinka ethnic group that felt humiliated and maltreated by General Traroré and his cohorts.

Malihas been on a barrel of gun powder for years since independence. The northern part of the country which is comprised of cities like Timbuktu, Kidal, Gao, Sevare, Tesalit, Djabali, Konne, and Mopti has been protesting to the Bamako government about the lack of development in their region. They feel marginalised by the government. Each time they rise up against the government, they are decimated.

In the 1980s the Tuareg rebels were the only force confronting the Bamako government, demanding their independence in the north. But, because the rebels lacked sophisticated weapons to go into full offensive against the Mali regime, the Mali government did not bother to counter them. Northern Mali has been the zone of terrorists for years. There was no border control in the north. Ansar-Dine was formed by a Tuareg rebel called Iyad Ag Ghaly in July last year in order to bring in more jihadist fighters into their region for support to invade northern Mali.

In 2006 the Tuareg rebels looted weapons from the army depot in the town of Kidal for their struggle, but that did not send a signal to Bamako that trouble was on the way. The regime in Bamako has been on soft pedal with the Tuareg because of a lack of weapons to confront them. And the rebels, noticing that the regime was handicapped and incapacitated to confront them, started seeking support from other jihadists from other countries like Boko Haram of Nigeria, Al-shaabab of Somalia, Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb. These terrorists have the common goal to achieve Sharia law in Islamic religion. They are better organised than the government because of their belief in sharia.

In January 2010  an offensive was started by the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA). The movement assumed momentum after the fall of Gaddafi in Libya in 2011. These terrorists stole many sophisticated weapons from the Gaddafi regime and crossed the desert to start a rebellion in the northern Mali. So these weapons, sold to Libya government by the French government, ended up into the hands of bandits and terrorists.

And to worsen the situation, on 22 March 2012, a group of angry army officers led by Captain Amadou Sanogo did a coup d’état and appeared on television to announce that they had seized control of the country. They said their reason for taking over the country was because President Dioncounda Traoré was not handling the conflict in the north very well. The coup d’état did not succeed as the military only controls the south of Mali, leaving the north, known as Republic of Azawad, to MNLA, Ansar-Dine and Al Qaeda terrorists to control. Dioncounda Traoré, who had been forced by the junta to go into hiding, was re-instated. The Tuareg rebels that used to be in control of the north were chased out by MNLA, Ansar-Dine and Al Qaeda Maghreb as they had no weapons to hold on to the region.

French and African military intervention  

In January, the Islamist fighters decided to take more cities from the south in order to build a well-balanced Azawad republic. They captured the central town of Konna and planned to push further south to Bamako. The government of Bamako had no other choice than to ask France for help and Paris responded as a colonial father by sending 550 troops and tanks, at the same time carrying out air strikes on rebel positions in the north. 

A rebellion that could have been crushed within one week of its existence stayed ten good months before French intervention and other allied forces such as Nigeria with 1200 soldiers. Other African states such as Benin republic, Niger, Togo, Chad, and Burkina-Faso also sent troops. Other western countries like USA, Britain, Germany and Belgium are supplying the logistics.

In April 2012, when the jihadists took the north of Mali, they committed human right abuses by amputations, flogging, stoning to death those who oppose their interpretation of Islam. All these severe pains inflicted on innocent people could have been avoided if UN had done their work well. But it is a waste of time for any nation in crisis calling the UN for intervention.

Malians are nice and hardworking people with beautiful music and culture. They welcome and respect people. Malians have nothing, but the little they have is shared among people that are around them, even to a piece of bread. It is callous and total negligence by the entire world that resulted in Malians facing the brutality of the Islamic jihadists.  I am convinced that if Mali had oil in their soil, a lot of capitalist powers could have gone to Mali a long time ago without waiting for UN security council approval.

On 25 January, France promised to give $452 million to the Mali government. How is this money going to help an ordinary citizen of Mali from south to north? A lot of millions have been donated to African leaders by the West. And this money ended up in pockets of individual leaders while the masses are left to rot. If the money given to Mali government passed through the village Alkalis, or village heads, of every community this would help ordinary Malians and mean that they would reject every offer coming from jihadists, be it food or cash.

The jihadists donated some food items to some people in order to win support and it worked for them. They used that trick and won the hearts of some parents who voluntarily gave their children to jihadists as child soldiers. But those that refused to give their children, their children too were forced to join the rebels.

Whatever the French government’s motives for intervening, there can be no doubt that most Malians welcomed it. The spokesperson for Malians living in Orleans, France, Habib Doucouré,  said that they were happy with French and African military intervention as it saved Mali from Al Qaeda destruction.
Cebiloan Hyacint, 

Letter: Mali clarification (2013)

Letter to the Editors from the April 2013 issue of the Socialist Standard
  We have received two emails about the article on Mali in last month’s issue. One said  that it gave the impression of approving the French intervention and asked if this was the Socialist Party’s position or just that of the writer. The other criticised the article for ‘giving theocratic reasons for a materialistic event, a war, indeed denying there are any material causes’ adding that ‘the statement that there is no oil in Mail is simply untrue’.
The Socialist Party does not support armed intervention by any capitalist state. The article was essentially informative and descriptive and the author simply recorded that most  Malians seem to approve of the intervention. This was a factual statement, not an expression of support.

Regarding the reasons for the intervention, the key thing is that the internal conflict in Mali isn’t a simply mechanistic one over economic resources. While there is oil it would probably cost more to get it out of the ground that it can be sold for, like a lot of oil, and hence why none of the major capitalist powers have shown a developed interest in it despite colonisation in the 19th century. That was the point the author was trying to make. A bigger factor was probably elements in the North hostile to the general interests of the Western capitalist powers controlling the area and who wanted to impose sharia law. In short, although we don’t think the conflict is mainly about narrow economic issues there are, of course, material factors in the background explaining why factions in the country have developed the way they have, as was explained in the article – Editors

Fowler reorganises poverty (1985)

From the August 1985 issue of the Socialist Standard

When the Welfare State was created on the basis of the recommendations contained in the Beveridge report, the declared intention was to abolish "Want", to provide a "cradle to grave" system of income maintenance so that no-one would fall below what was deemed to be the poverty line as a result of sickness, unemployment, old age or raising a family. Since that time the system of welfare benefits has been altered and added to, new benefits have been tacked on and others cut off in accordance with changing economic conditions and the prevailing political climate. At present the Social Security system is a ramshackle maze of numerous benefits often carrying different conditions for entitlement: insurance based benefits, means-tested benefits, discretionary payments, payments as of right, universal benefits, selective benefits. It is administered by thousands of civil servants working in different government departments. themselves under pressure from the increasing numbers of claimants, cuts in their staff numbers and the complexity of applying a system which few fully understand. Many civil servants dealing with claimants in social security offices are themselves in receipt of benefits such as Family Income Supplement (FIS) because their pay is so low. At the same time there are millions of people in Britain who continue to live in a state of poverty and insecurity despite social security benefits and have to suffer the additional indignity of investigation of their lives by social security officials. Beveridge's declared intention has dearly not been fulfilled.

The present minister at the Department of Health and Social Security, Norman Fowler, has promised us in his Social Security Green Paper (Reform of Social Security: Programme for Change, HMSO) “the most substantial re-examination of the social security system since Beveridge". The government's particular concerns in conducting this review were as follows:

Rising Costs: the Social Security budget presently stands at 40 billion pounds. Since the Conservatives took office there has been a 30 per cent increase in real terms due to both higher levels of unemployment and more people becoming entitled to means-tested benefits because of low income.

Poor Targetting: the government believes that benefits are going to people who are not genuinely in need while those paid to poor people with families are too low.

Work Incentives: people claiming state benefits are thought to be deterred from seeking employment since some are as well off. or even better off, claiming benefits than they would be were they in work.

Complexity: the system is not fully understood by either claimants or staff.

Underlying these declared concerns is the belief that rising social security costs will threaten the carrot of tax cuts that the Tories have dangled before the electorate for so long and hence adversely affect their chances of re-election. They also reflect the so-called Victorian values that the government seeks to uphold; namely, the notion that individuals should provide for themselves rather than have the state do so and that families should be responsible for their dependants. This totally ignores the lessons learnt in the Victorian era. which eventually gave rise to Beveridge, namely that people cannot provide for themselves or their families in capitalist society when they are likely to become the victims of unemployment through no fault of their own, or of long term sickness, itself frequently related to poverty, bad housing and unhealthy working conditions.

The new measures proposed in the Green Paper do not represent the radical restructuring of the benefits system that was promised. The exact impact of the changes in terms of who will gain or lose in financial terms is difficult to assess since no figures for benefit levels were provided. But it can safely be assumed from this that there is no good news for the poor — if the changes were going to benefit substantial numbers of people then the figures would have been given prominence. Instead the government does not propose to give exact figures until existing benefits have received their annual uprating in line with inflation. The intention can only be to obscure the facts.

Despite this lack of hard evidence in the Green Paper two observations can be made. Firstly the proposed changes are to be introduced at "nil-cost''. This means that no extra money will be made available for the social security system as a whole, so if any benefits are to be increased they will have to be paid for by cuts in other benefits. Thus "targetting" of benefits, primarily towards poor families, will mean taking money from one group of poor workers in order to give it to another group of poor workers who are deemed to be more "deserving". The only result of this will be that many already poor workers will get even poorer. Secondly, no attempt has been made to examine the system of "fiscal welfare" whereby the very rich are subsidised by the state by means of huge tax concessions. We can be quite sure that their benefits will not be reduced in order to "target" resources on those most in need. In fact, as suggested earlier, at least part of the reason for this whole exercise is to provide the cash for increased state benefits to the better off by means of tax cuts.

It is only too easy when looking at social security to let our sense of outrage at the cynical and callous ways of governments cloud the fundamental question of why we have a system of Social Security at all.

Capital needs workers, but it doesn't need us to be employed as wage slaves all our lives. First we must be trained and socialised as children within the family and education system and then, when we slow down, capital wants us to be replaced by younger, faster workers. At other times during our working lives we may be sacked when our skills or labour power become temporarily or permanently surplus to capital's requirement. The most efficient way for the capitalist class to maintain us during those times when we are not directly producing surplus value is through a state scheme of income maintenance. The type of system provided will be determined by economic factors, the prevailing political climate and electoral considerations. What the social security system is not intended to do is to meet workers' needs in any meaningful sense. Benefits are fixed at the lowest level that political considerations will permit forcing claimants into a state of real poverty. To be forced to make a choice between paying an electricity bill and buying your child a new pair of shoes is not meeting needs. To force the elderly to choose between turning on the heating and eating a good meal is not meeting needs. To force the young unemployed to return to family homes by stopping housing benefits is not meeting people’s needs. Life on social security benefits is insecure, deprived in both material and social terms and subject to humiliating bureaucratic interference.

The Fowler review will not change these features of the system at all. It is a particularly blatant example of manipulation of social policy to meet short term economic and political ends, with callous disregard for the hardships caused to the poorest workers. Workers don't need a review of social security. What we do need is a review of the system of society which creates the need for such benefits in the first place. That system of society capitalism cannot meet the needs of the working class, whether they are in work or out of work, sick or healthy, old or young; it cannot meet our needs because that is not its intention. Its purpose is profit, and production, distribution and all the supporting services that maintain it are directed towards that end. In that total process workers are just more cogs in the wheel that must be maintained in reasonable working order at minimum cost, forced to work or not as and when capital dictates. But unlike machines, workers have the capacity to reproduce themselves, thus providing a never-ending supply of new workers to feed capital. Workers also have the unique ability of creating more wealth than it costs to produce their labour power. And it is part of this surplus value, created by workers ourselves, that is used to provide us with state benefits when capital does not pay us a wage or salary.

Any number of reviews of social security, or simplifications or changes in benefit entitlement cannot eradicate this crucial feature of capitalist society. Workers will continue to live in poverty and watch their children grow up deprived of the things that make life worthwhile until we, the working class, organise together not to change the benefit system but the whole basis of society so that the sole aim of production will be to meet people's needs. But above all socialism will enable everyone to participate democratically in running society, in making decisions that affect us and our communities. No longer will we be impoverished and rendered impotent by the activities of bureaucrats and politicians.
Janie Percy-Smith

Profit the goal (1985)

From the August 1985 issue of the Socialist Standard

From the Report, published on 6 July, of the Special Commission set up by the Belgian Parliament to investigate the incidents that led to the deaths of 38 football supporters at the European Cup final at the Heysel Stadium on 29 May:

Further, the immediate cause of these incidents is to be found in the fact that English and Italian supporters were side by side in blocs X, Y and Z, which was impossible to foresee given that bloc Z was reserved for Belgians. 
The Belgian Football Union and the UEFA seemed to have been motivated more by preoccupations of a lucrative and commercial nature than by their duty to ensure the safety of spectators. 
Ticket sales, as it emerges from many statements and in particular that of Mr Roosens, were completely uncontrolled. A large number of tickets allowing entry to the Z zone (a neutral zone where under no circumstances should there have been Italian supporters) were sold to Italians. 
The sale of tickets at the Heysel Stadium (where in theory only 5 tickets could be sold per person) was organised in such a way that anyone - including Italians — could without problem buy tickets for the Z bloc. This went against not only the UEFA directives but also against the measures decided before the match. Such a procedure necessarily led to a black market.

Blogger's Note:
See also the article, 'Putting the boot in', from the same issue of the Socialist Standard.

Russian Capitalists (1969)

From the May 1969 issue of the Socialist Standard

Members of the discussion group on the Wellington waterfront have been debating the question of the Russian ruling class with members of the ‘Socialist Unity Party’ (Moscow devotees) who claim that the exploitation of man by man has ceased to exist in Russia. The fact that man can exploit man through the state is not acceptable to them.

While they agree that an individual in New Zealand investing 600,000 dollars (about a million Russian roubles) in government loans is a capitalist and a member of the ruling class, according to the SUP someone in Russia investing a million roubles in state loans and bonds is a patriot and not a surplus-value-eater. At 2 per cent per annum his million roubles would return him 20,000 in interest. But, according to a visiting Russian trade unionist, when asked at a work-stop meeting of the Wellington Waterside Workers Union, “How much could a Russian watersider earn?” a good waterside worker could earn 300 roubles a month At 3,600 a year he gets less than a fifth of what the ‘patriot’ gets in interest on his investment. The SUP had no explanation for this position. How gullible can they get? It certainly puts the owner of a million roubles in state bonds in a different category to a waterside worker earning 300 a month. How else is a privileged class constituted?

However, the SUP is undaunted. They claim these things are the birthmarks of Socialism. According to our book they are the obvious marks of capitalism. Wellington SUP are circulating a pamphlet by Vasili Garbuzov, USSR Minister of Finance, entitled USSR: National Income and Budget. It also is crammed full of of 'birthmarks of Socialism'!
Ron Everson
(Socialist Party of New Zealand)

Our record recognised (1969)

From the May 1969 issue of the Socialist Standard

Tibor Szamuely, the Hungarian-born lecturer, broadcaster, and Tory pamphleteer, wrote in a letter to the Jewish Chronicle of February 14 that
  “the most consistently anti-Communist record in this country and elsewhere since 1917 is that of Leftwing organisations, like the Socialist Party of Great Britain”.
This is worth recording so that it can be drawn to the attention of ignorant Tories and others who try to tar us with the Russian brush.

Two other points. Although we understand what Szamuely means by ‘anti-Communist’ that is not how we would put it. With Marx and Engels we hold that Communism and Socialism are interchangeable terms to refer to the society we wish to set up. Our case against the Russian government and its so-called communist parties is that they are anti-socialist and anti-communist. Again, we do not regard ourselves as 'leftwing’, a meaningless tag that only adds to political confusion. We are a socialist organisation opposed to the ‘left’ as well as to the ‘right'.

Confess the Source! (1969)

From the May 1969 issue of the Socialist Standard

The New Zealand Rationalist and Humanist for August-September 1968 reprinted our article 'A Quack's Confesssion'. We remind other journals that they can freely do this but we would prefer a full acknowledgement.

The Use of Politics (1969)

From the May 1969 issue of the Socialist Standard

The recent flounderings of politicians have brought one inevitable result. As Labour have shown how impotent they are to control the anarchies of capitalism, and as the Tories have failed to convince with their policies, there is growing up an impatience with politics itself.

This is dangerous because the way out of society's mess must be a political one. The trouble is not in politics but in the way we use it.

Plaid Cymru fallacy (1969)

From the May 1969 issue of the Socialist Standard

The basic argument of Plaid Cymru is that our problems are caused by London government and the political link with England; that the London parties are bound to fail because they work within this system. The only solution, they say, is to set up a separate state in Wales.

It is true Labour, the Liberals, and the Tories are bound to fail but not because they they work within the so-called United Kingdom. They fail because they work within the economic system of the class ownership of the means of production and the profit motive. As long as they do this, it is the economic system that says what governments shall do, not the other way round, as the miserable failure of the Labour government shows with its record of continual backsliding on its promises in the face of economic pressures.

If you accept that it is the economic system, and not the political set-up, that causes our problems then the fallacy of Plaid policy is obvious. A separate state would not more solve them than a change of government in London. Any government in Cardiff would be in the same position as any in London: trying to see that goods produced in its state sell as cheaply as possible on the world market.

Comrades at Arms (1969)

From the May 1969 issue of the Socialist Standard

The communist parties have always had a lot to say about war and peace, but when their words get translated into action they usually mean war.

When the second world war started they were against it, claiming that it was an imperialist war. But after Russia was attacked, all the communist parties of the world were in favour of the war—that is, war against Germany. One would have thought that if the last war was an imperialist war before Russia was attacked it was still an imperialist war after this event, for this act could not affect the nature of the war once it had started.

But of all the past inconsistencies, the latest threat which Russia has given to China—the threat to use nuclear missiles —is surely the most comradely which one so-called communist nation has so far given to the other.

You would have thought that such a diabolical threat, which could blot out half the world and slowly poison the rest, would have needed great provocation. But apparently not so, for the threat concerned a minor border incident in an isolated area — a relative no-man’s-land. The place is the small Damansky island in the Ussuri river which forms part of the boundary between Russia and China. The island is practically barren and is uninhabited. It cannot hope to grow much food and for half the year it is covered with ice.

It used to be stated by Mussolini that his principle was “shoot first and talk afterwards." This measure both Moscow and Peking evidently believe in using. The day after Russia made her threat of nuclear persuasion she asked China what she could do again Russia’s might, for all the world knew that Russia had missiles of deadly accuracy which could pin-point any area and destroy it from a distance. Chairman Mao replied that China could retaliate with nuclear weapons. So now we had two great nuclear imperialists talking business in a language which both understood.

One factor which appears to be behind these border clashes is the undoubted fact that China is developing nuclear weapons at an alarming rate, and it has been stated that in a year China could have missiles with nuclear warheads capable of striking at Moscow from Sinkiang, where their nuclear experiments are taking place.

Another fact which is worrying the Russians is that the official Chinese broadcasts in Russian call upon the Russians, to overthrow the Kremlin ’revisionist clique of imperialists’. Moscow must feel very pleased about this after all they did in the past to assist the Chinese Communists against the Nationalists.
Horace Jarvis

Cooking the Books: Hoping for Profits (2013)

The Cooking the Books column from the April 2013 issue of the Socialist Standard

Since the current crisis broke out in 2008 some commentators have been prepared to admit that Marx was right about globalisation and even about capitalism being an unstable economic system that swings between booms and slumps. It is rare, though, for them to admit to a conflict of interest between workers and capitalists over the share of the wealth the workers produce. But an article by Chris Dillow in the Investors Chronicle (7 March) did.

Dillow wrote that ‘high unemployment could see profits grow nicely.’ His argument was that ‘there are more people out of work than headline figures suggest’ and that this ‘could force down real wages even further in the next 12 months.’ He added gleefully, ‘for investors, however, there’s an upside to this—lower real wages could mean a rising profit share and hence decent profit growth even if the economy grows only slowly.’ He explained:
  ‘There’s a simple reason for this. In conventional economic terms, an excess supply of labour bids down its price, increasing consumer surplus for its purchasers. Or in Marxian terms, mass unemployment shifts bargaining power from workers to capitalists.’
It certainly does. Since wages are a price (of someone’s ability to do a particular job), increased unemployment is a sign that the supply of this commodity has exceeded the demand for it. In accordance with the law of supply and demand, and despite trade union resistance, its price will tend to fall and with it the workers’ standard of living.

As investors like to think that investing in the stock exchange is a science, Dillow provided a more detailed prediction for them:
  ‘History suggests this usually happens. Since the data on economic inactivity began in 1993, there has been a good correlation (0.51) between a wide measure of unemployment—the unemployed plus ‘inactive’ who want a job as a percentage of the working age population—and the non-oil profit share four quarters later. High rates of joblessness, such as in the early 1990s, led to high profit shares. And lower rates, in the mid-2000s, led to lower profit shares.’
We don’t know that the link between unemployment and the share of profits in GDP is that precise, but there clearly is one. Lower real wages (what they will buy) do not necessarily mean higher real profits, since in a slump GDP falls (that’s what a slump is). So, both real wages and real profits can fall at the same time. Which is what does happen at the start of a slump. Eventually, however, the lower wages will be one of the factors helping to restore profitability, a necessary condition for any recovery.

Dillow concluded: ‘I suspect this year might be a better one for corporate profits than for workers.’ This is based on assuming that GDP will grow in 2013. In which case, with lowered wages, both real profits and profits share would increase. But he could be wrong. There could be a triple dip or a flat-line in 2013. If this happens, then 2013 would be a bad year for profits as well as wages. But, either way, it is going to be a bad year for workers.

Mixed Media: William S Burroughs – All Out of Time and into Space (2013)

The Mixed Media Column from the April 2013 issue of the Socialist Standard

The William S BurroughsAll Out of Time and into Space exhibition at the October Gallery in London recently showcased his abstract expressionist paintings, drawings and talismanic art objects created  in Lawrence, Kansas in the last years of the life of the writer who Mailer hailed as ‘possessed by genius.’

Orpheus Don’t Look Back (1990) can be seen as key to his artistic creativity: Burroughs as artistic outlaw in the lineage of Villon, Rimbaud’s ‘derangement of the senses’ and Baudelaire’s soaring ‘heaven or hell’ who visits the underworld of junkies, pimps and thieves and returns, although tragically Burroughs killed Eurydice, his wife Joan, in 1951.

Self Portrait (1987) is a vague representation and recalls Burroughs’ nickname in Tangier, ‘El hombre invisible,’ when he turned his back on his bourgeois upbringing and Harvard education, advocating Hassan I Sabbah’s dictum: ‘Nothing is true, Everything is permitted,’ and his heroin addiction inspired the writing of his novel Naked Lunch published in 1959.

Death by Lethal Injection (1990) highlights Burroughs’ antipathy towards to all forms of control and authoritarianism be they political, economic, religious or sexual; his rejection of the puritan morality of bourgeois Christian civilisation and his aim to ‘make people aware of the true criminality of our times.’

Radiant Cat (1988) is a red, green and yellow dayglo painting. The Burroughs ‘weltanschauung’ was shaped by the Atomic bomb and the Cold War world of the military industrial complex. Burroughs was influenced by Spengler’s Decline of the West, Vico’s circular theory of history (Marx: ‘a whole mass of really inspired stuff ‘) and Wilhelm Reich’s Cancer Biopathy.

Untitled (1988) is spray paint and gunshots on a ‘No Trespassing’ metal sign. Burroughs opposed rapacious capitalism, detested social class and was an egalitarian with anarchistic and Emersonian individualist traits. He wrote that the Industrial Revolution with its ‘quantity and quantitative criterion’ was a ‘death trap’. He saw that international capitalism ‘always creates as many insoluble conflicts as possible and always aggravates existing conflicts.’

The Prison Scribe (1990) is a paint and photo collage depicting Madagascar Lemurs, highlighting his growing concern for the planet, ecology and the environment.

23 (1992) is marker pen and gunshots on watercolour paper and refers to the ’23 enigma,’ which is a key to understanding the Burroughs universe where ‘synchronicity’ unlocks the dead thermodynamic ‘hostile war universe of winners and losers.’

Burroughs wrote in Nova Express (1964): ‘Listen all you boards, governments, syndicates, nations of the world / And you powers behind what filth deals consummated in what lavatories, / To take what is not yours, / To sell out your sons forever! To sell the ground from unborn feet forever?’
Steve Clayton

Halo Halo!: Sins of the Fathers (2013)

The Halo Halo! column from the April 2013 issue of the Socialist Standard

First there were the black and white smoke signals from the Vatican; then a bloke in a posh frock on the balcony announced in Latin (because these things have to be communicated in ways otherwise unused in the modern world) ‘Habemus papam’ which, roughly translated, means ‘We’ve got a new one.’ And out stepped the new Pope and asked the crowd of nuns and tourists, all weeping with joy because they’d got a new one, to pray for him.

He’ll need more than prayers to deal with all the stories of abuse, blackmail, bullying, gay rent boys and other dirty deeds in the Vatican, and in the Catholic Church generally, that beset the previous Pope’s last days in the job.

After deflecting the world’s attention from the widespread abuse of children in the Church, his job will be to deliberate on God’s latest thoughts on such things as abortion, celibacy, sin, sex, sodomy and contraception (or, when involving the priesthood, any combination of these).

But while the cardinals were still weighing each other up for the job, an organisation named SNAP (Survivors Network of Abuse by Priests) had come up with a list of a ‘Dirty Dozen’ candidates who, they say, because of their failure to deal with the problem, should not become Pope, or even be involved in the selection process. Their website ( makes interesting reading.

The new Pope Francis was not on the list. But one who was got singled out for his ‘complete and utter failure’ to act against paedophile priests, allowing them to ‘act like wolves in a flock of sheep.’ And in a legal case, the Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles agreed to a $10 million pay-out to settle four cases of sexual abuse by a former priest. But ‘as part of this settlement, no parties admit any wrongdoing,’ reported the BBC news website. Perhaps those concerned will go to confession to get it off their chests.

SNAP points out that although most of the abuse allegations and revelations have so far come from Europe and America, where the media and investigative systems are fairly robust, Africa and Asia also have huge Catholic populations. It doesn’t help, they say, that one of the cardinals from Africa claimed: ‘We don’t have that problem here because we don’t have homosexuality.’

How seriously they took SNAP’s concerns may be judged by a Vatican spokesman’s reply that they were ‘well aware’ of the accusations, but ‘it is not up to advocacy groups to determine who should participate or not in the conclave.’

And it’s not only the abuse of minors that diverted attention from the Pope vote. While the sexual preferences and peccadilloes of priests that include other consenting adults are, of course, their own business, they can’t get away with damning a particular practice as evil and then secretly practicing it themselves, especially when the subjects of their attentions are not the same way inclined.

One archbishop who could always be relied on to thunder out the Church’s condemnation on what he saw as immorality was Cardinal Keith O’Brien. His views on such issues as same-sex marriage: ‘a grotesque subversion of a universally accepted human right,’ on homosexuality: a matter of being ‘morally disordered,’ on the abortion rate: ‘two Dunblane massacres every day,’ on the human fertilisation and embryology bill: ‘grotesque’ and akin to ‘Nazi-style experiments,’ won him the title of ‘Bigot of the Year’ from the gay rights charity Stonewall.

But the Cardinal became an ex-Cardinal when news of his unwanted ‘sexual misconduct’ towards three priests and a former priest hit the headlines. Despite initial denials and reports that he ‘contests these claims and is taking legal advice,’ within a few days he announced: ‘I wish to take this opportunity to admit that there have been times that my sexual conduct has fallen below the standards expected of me as a priest.’

Actually, his standards were pretty much what we have come to expect from the Catholic Church. Especially the blatant hypocrisy.