Sunday, September 13, 2020

Right Here (2020)

Book Review from the September 2020 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Far Right Today by Cas Mudde (Polity £14.99.)

The term ‘far right’ as used here refers to organisations which accept that inequalities between people are natural and positive. It covers both the extreme right (which includes fascism and rejects democracy) and the more numerous radical right (which is mostly populist and opposes liberal democracy, which in turn involves rule of law and respect for minority rights). In the EU, the far right has gained support in recent decades, from around one percent of the vote in the 1980s to seven percent in the 2010s. As Mudde says, they are ‘here to stay’. The radical right, in particular, is more or less part of mainstream politics. An example of an extreme right political party would be Golden Dawn in Greece, while the Austrian Freedom Party (FPÖ) would be radical right.

The book deals with a lot of parties and other organisations, in many European countries but also the US, Brazil and India. Thus it is on the whole more of a helicopter tour, though a useful and informative one, than a detailed look at specific movements or individuals. While there are plenty of differences among them, many views common to the far right can be identified.

They are nativist, combining nationalism and xenophobia, and often advocate ethnocracy (where citizenship is based on ethnicity). They are authoritarian, wanting law and order, a strictly-ordered society where infringements are severely punished, though they are themselves quite often violent. Immigration and the ‘refugee crisis’ (Mudde’s quotation marks) are central issues, with so-called security of nation or race seen as vital and as having a cultural component. They advocate familialism, with the traditional family seen as the foundation of the nation and – yet more jargon! – femonationalism (‘the use of women and women’s rights in support of nativism, in particular Islamophobia’). Their support for the family implies opposition to abortion, but they are increasingly tolerant of homosexuality.

One issue about populism is that its supporters claim to oppose an elite, the definition of which is not usually clear. Mudde states that mainstream politicians are viewed by the far right as a corrupt elite who steal from ‘the people’. He says also that much academic research shows that voters for the far right are motivated less by economic anxiety than by ‘cultural backlash’, which refers to mass immigration and the supposed rise of a multicultural society. So it seems in fact that little support for the far right is based on the existence of inequality or resentment at the power of the one percent.

Mudde describes the radical right as reformist but the extreme right as revolutionary, though without explaining or justifying this latter label. His final conclusion is that the response to the far right should be the strengthening of liberal democracy. Instead, it would be better to argue for a truly democratic classless society.
Paul Bennett

Capitalism’s World (2020)

Book Review from the September 2020 issue of the Socialist Standard

A History of the World in Seven Cheap Things: a Guide to Capitalism, Nature, and the Future of the Planet by Raj Patel and Jason W. Moore  (Verso £9.99.)

The seven cheap things are nature, money, work, care, food, energy and lives. ‘Cheap’ does not just mean low-cost, it is a strategy that provides as little compensation as possible in return for transforming production. This is part of the Capitalocene, a term the authors prefer to Anthropocene and which emphasises the way capitalism has changed the relations between humans and the rest of nature.

Each chapter provides a rapid run-through of various aspects of history. For instance, the chapter on cheap nature observes that indigenous people, in the Americas and elsewhere, were often regarded as part of nature and so should be enslaved, ruled and exploited by Europeans. In the seventeenth century, the productivity of labour in English agriculture grew massively, and far more people came to work outside farming; as part of cheap food, they were fed by grain imports from the US. Even a century ago, food made up a far greater proportion of average household expenditure than today. Rural people, as in Ireland and Peru in the sixteenth century, were often forced to move to towns and villages.

Cheap work involved far more than low wages. The spoils of war often involved slaves, including women for sexual purposes, and capitalism imposed longer working hours than people in earlier forms of society had been used to. There was cheap care too: the important work of caring for others was seen as appropriate for women. In the US much caring work is performed by low-paid immigrant workers, and it was recently reported that 4.5 million people in the UK have been forced under coronavirus to become unpaid carers.

Cheap energy resulted in a big reduction in the cost of producing iron, leading to cheap tools and machines. The sixteenth century saw a transition to large-scale coal mining in England and peat-digging in the Netherlands. Despite environmental objections, burning coal to power sugar refineries was legalised in Amsterdam over a century later, as coal was cheaper than peat. Controlling energy costs was one way of sustaining cheap work. Currently a switch to solar power would require a massive investment, and capitalists prefer to rely on cheap oil.

Cheap lives included racist characterisations of some humans (see above on cheap nature). More broadly, force and ideology combined to maintain cheap labour, cheap care, and so on. For instance, in 1575 Francis Drake participated in the murder of every inhabitant of an Irish island before acquiring greater wealth in the Americas and a knighthood. The nation-state became a technology of social control.

Patel and Moore’s book contains a great deal more, which we can’t cover here. The conclusion, though claiming to be revolutionary, discusses the idea of ‘meaningful, pleasurable work’ without saying much about what would be needed to realise such a ‘reparation ecology’.
Paul Bennett

What is poverty? (2020)

The Cooking the Books column from the September 2020 issue of the Socialist Standard

‘Huge rise in destitution for the poorest’ ran the headline in the Times (27 July) reporting on research by the National Institute of Economic and Social Research. According to this think-tank:
  ‘Destitution is defined as income that is so low that a household is likely to lack essential provision of shelter, food, heating, lighting, clothing/footwear and basic toiletries in the immediate future’.
Destitution is a word socialists have tended to prefer to describe the situation of ‘the poor’ as the word poverty has a wider meaning.

In fact capitalism can be said to be based on poverty in that the vast majority of the population does not have enough of their own resources to live; as a result they are obliged by economic necessity to sell their mental and physical energies to an employer in exchange for money to buy what they need. In this sense all those in the working class are poor; it is part of the definition of the working class.

Other definitions of poverty don’t take the analysis as far back as this, but assume that most workers do have a more or less steady job and so do have resources to satisfy their basic needs. This is not entirely unreasonable as most workers do have a job and the regular income it provides and so are not deprived of some or all of the basic necessities of life. They are not destitute.

Academic, legal and popular definitions of poverty start from this point and define the poor as those who, for one reason or another, do not have enough money to satisfy all their basic necessities. In this sense most workers aren’t poor. Only those on very low wages or who are unable to find an employer or who are unable to work are poor. In other words, essentially what the NIESR mean by destitution.

Ever since the sixteenth century the state has had to make some provision for people in this position. For centuries it was called the Poor Law; today it’s Income Support as the minimum level to which the state will bring up a person’s income. When Marx was writing and right up until the 1920s such people were officially called ‘paupers’. Marx regarded one section of paupers as part of what he called capitalism’s ‘industrial reserve army’, i.e., that section of the working class that could be called on to serve as wage-workers in periods of capitalist expansion but which had to be maintained by the state in times of contraction. The NIESR report confirms that the number of the destitute does rise in a period of contraction (even though the present one is government-induced rather than a part of the boom/slump cycle).

It is not just socialists who feel the need to distinguish between poverty and destitution. Reformists have come up with the concept of ‘relative poverty’: ‘those who can scrape by on the basics but who cannot afford the normal activities and opportunities that average earners have access to’ (Big Issue, 21 February 2019). In Britain you are considered to be in this position if you are in a household whose income is less than 60 percent of the median average (i.e., of the mid-point of the range of incomes).

This concept has a number of drawbacks. First, it assumes that those with incomes above this level don’t have restricted opportunities. Second, it’s a moving poverty line as a household can find itself reclassified as not being (or being) in poverty without their income changing simply because the average income has. It is probably better called ‘relative low income’. Still, according to the government’s own statistics some 14 million people, or over 20 percent of the population, are in this position. Which is quite an admission and a condemnation of capitalism by its own standards.

Material World: Vaccine development: another market failure (2020)

The Material World Column from the September 2020 issue of the Socialist Standard
‘There is just not enough profit margin in it for pharma companies. They live by profits and the rules of capitalism. And capitalism has no interest in human beings other than as consumers’
(Nobel laureate and immunologist, Professor Peter Doherty, Sydney Morning Herald, 13 April).
The pharmaceutical corporations would have us believe that without their investments in scientific research, millions of people would not benefit from the medicine they sell. These businesses are built upon a business model of maximising shareholder value — and hinges on short-term returns to seek maximum profits so their investors can achieve higher prices for their stocks and pursue higher returns for their dividends. We are told that without the pressure from competition and the promise of riches, drug companies would not invest in research.

Capitalists imagine a world in which free enterprise and free markets promotes a race to the top but this isn’t quite how things are in practice. It may sound counter-intuitive but the laws of capitalism deliberately restrict innovation, information and knowledge. Many in the pharmaceutical industry are bound by non-compete agreements in their employment contracts which prevent employees when switching jobs using prior experience to make meaningful contributions to a new employer. Patent protection allows the patent holder to charge high fees for the direct use or licensing of their discovery and to sue anyone who doesn’t buy this permission. Competitors are discouraged from trying to improve on products, knowing they would need legal permission and considerable time and money is spent on acquiring such permission. So the patent system shrinks the overall pool of innovators, slowing down progress.

Public health experts have warned for years that the world is at risk of a major pandemic, and the drug corporations showed little interest in preparation until this latest outbreak of COVID-19 offered an opportunity to rake in government subsidies and enjoy profits with minimal risk. Governments have eliminated many risks that had dissuaded drug companies from vaccine investments by bankrolling research, sponsoring clinical trials, and reducing liability for drug corporations.

Back in 2016, doctors at the Texas Children’s Hospital Center for Vaccine Development created a potential vaccine for one deadly strain of coronavirus which they believed could be effective against the strain we face now but the project stalled when it struggled to secure funding for human trials. The lead researcher, Dr Hotez, told NBC, ‘We’ve had some conversations with big pharma companies in recent weeks about our vaccine, and literally one said, ‘Well, we’re holding back to see if this thing comes back year after year.’”

It is business logic which reflects the belief that vaccines for recurring seasonal illnesses, like the flu, are the more attractive investment. They promise a client base that can be mined over and over again. Capitalism steers R&D toward the largest profit in the shortest amount of time.

In 2017 a plan to speed up the development and approval of vaccines for priority diseases such as MERS and SARS, both of them coronaviruses, was put forward by EU officials on the Innovative Medicines Initiative (IMI), a public-private partnership, but it was rejected by industry representatives of the European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industries. Informed sources commented that rather than compensating for market failures by speeding up the development of medicine, as per its remit, the IMI has been ‘more about business-as-usual market priorities’ and that the influence of pharmaceutical companies has led IMI’s agenda to becoming dominated by industry priorities, and side-lining poverty-related and neglected diseases, including coronaviruses. Drug companies have historically pleased investors by promoting vaccine development projects during disease outbreaks, then quietly dropping them later. Had there been more sustained interest, researchers would have more tools for combating the current outbreak.

The COVID-19 pandemic has revealed the workings of capitalist economics, laying bare the pharmaceutical industry. When faced with a global threat, one would expect worldwide cooperation and collaboration to contain it. The United Nations, International Red Cross and others said it was a ‘moral imperative’ that everyone have access to a ‘people’s vaccine.’ Sadly, such aspirations are unenforceable, despite the launching of some international initiatives.

While the World Health Organization has called for a COVID-19 ‘patents pool’ where intellectual property rights would be surrendered so pharmaceuticals could freely share data and technical knowledge and numerous participating countries have begun revising their licensing laws to allow them to suspend intellectual property rights, the response from the industry has been cool. Pfizer and some other major drug makers say they oppose suspending patent rights for potential COVID-19 vaccines.

The UK and the US refuse to support the WHO initiative and are more interested in siding with big pharmaceutical corporations than turning vaccine research into a genuinely collective endeavour. For the British and American governments the patent system is sacrosanct and they appear determined not to upset their own pharmaceutical corporations or the financial sector that makes substantial returns from these companies, which spend more money on share buybacks than on researching drugs. Now, a new term has entered our lexicon – ‘vaccine nationalism.’

National governments are neglecting the most effective and safe route to discovering speedy cures for coronavirus: by forgoing corporate profitability and intellectual property rights in favour of global cooperation through open and shared research.

The minority interests of economic and financial groups has placed profits for themselves above the common good. The chaos of the market must be superseded by a more rational system of planning – a socialist system, where drugs are produced to meet the needs of humanity. When it comes to the crunch, pharmaceutical companies treat healthcare as a commodity. For the pharmaceutical companies Covid-19 is a business opportunity.

Our competitive capitalist market is not a suitable approach for solving the problem. Socialism would apply an open, collaborative strategy to coronavirus vaccine development to assure a safe and effective vaccine will be made accessible to all and it would speed up the process of discovery as well.

Capitalism and Democracy : Part 1 (2020)

From the September 2020 issue of the Socialist Standard

Capitalism: incompatible with democracy

Capitalism’s relationship to democracy is similar to a conversation in a film set in apartheid South Africa, where a lawyer addressing a client described the relationship between the law and justice in general as being similar to distant cousins who were not on speaking terms. Capitalism, as we know, is a world-wide system. However, the type of political system that underpins it differs in various parts of the world. In many places it operates on the basis of what are clearly totalitarian regimes, although even here terms such as ‘Peoples’ Assembly’, as in China, try to create the illusion that it contains democratic features. The dominant political system for organising capitalism is the mostly Western mode of liberal democracy (LD). It is this system that we will focus on here as it claims to be the only democratic system on offer, and organisations such as the Westminster Foundation for Democracy and National Endowment for Democracy attempt to export and promote this model to other parts of the world.

It seems that there is a widely held belief that capitalism and democracy go together almost as well as bread and butter and that therefore totalitarian regimes are seen as something other than capitalist. China and similar systems are labelled, quite incorrectly of course, as ‘Communist’. This linking of capitalism with democracy seems to be contradictory when one considers that it is based on the minority ownership and control of the means of producing and distributing wealth; meaning of course that the majority are separated from those means and therefore from any real control over their lives. So immediately the system of LD defines democracy in very limited terms. It is clearly undemocratic in terms of wealth production and distribution but claims to be democratic on the basis that on the political level it allows for a multi-party political system where a majority of the population, restricted generally only by age qualification, can vote political parties in and out of government, which normally occurs every four or five years. So the general opinion is that this is more democratic than the parts of the world that are governed by one-party states.

However, it can also be argued that this multi-party system does have advantages for a smoother running of capitalism. To begin with, the state can be described as little more than an executive committee to ensure the overall interests of the minority who monopolise the means of living. If a particular government is seen to be failing in this respect, normally due to some problem with the economy, those who hold economic power have at their disposal an alternative to take its place, and generally they have enough control over the prevailing ideas in existence to persuade the majority to vote in line with their thinking. So a multi-party system is a good arrangement for the minority capitalist class. Secondly, it is probably less costly in economic terms not to have to resort to maintaining the kind of state apparatus needed to support a totalitarian state. As the majority are convinced that they live in a free and democratic society, control over the population is easier.

Illusion of Political Democracy

However, it can be argued that even the limited democracy allowed for in the LD system is a sham. Whilst LD does allow for multiple political parties for the electorate to choose between, perhaps there is less difference than many might think between a one-party state and a situation where multiple political parties exist but stand for more or less the same thing. For example, there is little difference in real terms between the Democrats or Republicans in the United States or between the parties who might reasonably be expected to compete for government in places such as Germany, France or Italy. Here we are merely considering differences limited to the running of capitalism and not anything more radical. In the years running up to the election in December 2019 the situation in Britain was arguably somewhat different and so is worthy of examination.

Margaret Thatcher once suggested that one of her major accomplishments had been Tony Blair. It seemed that the Labour Party had been moving rightwards prior to Blair but it was under his leadership that the concept of New Labour really began to take shape. The policies advocated by this seemingly new version of the Labour Party meant that it was now in a position to challenge and perhaps end the Conservative Party’s long reign of political power in Britain. It was now seen by those who mattered most to be a party fit to take power and run capitalism in the right way. Things radically changed in 2015 when, after Labour’s defeat in the general election of that year, a subsequent leadership election led, much to the surprise of most people, to the election of Jeremy Corbyn, a long standing left-winger.

Whilst the background to these events is of interest, the relevant point to be teased out here is that the Labour Party under a left reformist programme was a rather different animal and definitely not one the capitalist class would be willing to accept as suitable for forming a government. From almost the moment he was elected there were moves to discredit his leadership abilities and most definitely his suitability to be a prospective Prime Minister; that was apart from personal attacks and for good measure his dress sense. The anti-Corbyn campaign was mainly administered by the mass media but was also supported by many of those close to the top of Corbyn’s own party including a substantial number of Labour MPs, so much so that after only about a year as leader Corbyn had to seek re-election. Despite all of this the Labour Party gave the Conservative Party a good run for their money in the snap general election called by Theresa May in 2017.

If a fairly recently leaked report into the internal strife in the Labour Party is anywhere near accurate, the surprisingly good showing of the 2017 Labour election campaign was the last thing that many near the top of the Labour Party wanted. Those who were totally opposed to the elected leader of their own party had to wait until the end of 2019 to achieve their goal when a disastrous election result for Labour signalled the end for Corbyn and led to another leadership election early in 2020. The election of Sir Keir Starmer who has been described as ‘soft left’ is probably seen as the beginning of the process to return the Labour Party to a situation where it can be viewed by those who matter in the capitalist system as a party fit to form an alternative government if the need arises.

This points out something about the level of democracy within capitalism. LD may be a multi-party system but to have much or even any chance of gaining political power the policies put forward have to be inside a very limited framework. A party needs to operate in very narrow confines even when it is only concerned with running capitalism. Take for example the Labour Party’s slogan for the 2019 General election ’For the many not the few’. That slogan, along with the way in which the Labour Party under Corbyn thought they could administer capitalism, not only sounded the alarm bells for much of the capitalist class but also caused dissent for many in the hierarchy of the Labour Party who saw even this kind of mild reformist programme for running capitalism as meaning they would very likely be unelectable despite the fact that they performed quite well in 2017.

By 2019 the Brexit issue was more at the forefront of the campaigns. Some have argued that the programme put forward in 2019 was much less radical then those of the 1960s and 70s. Following on from the Blair governments the dominant attitude of many in the Labour Party was that to win an election they had to advocate policies that either mirrored or were at least not that far removed from those on offer by the Conservative Party. The important issue now was not even trying to represent the many but who could run capitalism to the benefit of the minority who really mattered. After all, the only time that Labour had been in power in over forty years was the Blair administrations. Elected in 1997, the prime ministerial role was passed over to Gordon Brown in 2007 who was then defeated by Cameron’s Conservatives in 2010, following another periodic capitalist economic crisis in 2008. To be blunt, the Blair governments were more or less conservative in everything but name. So the last Labour government that was elected with something close to a traditional Labour programme was way back in 1974. Many of course will blame this on neo-liberalism but that is just capitalism operating in the only way it can.

As pointed out previously, LD has advantages over more authoritarian systems for running a society based on the rule by and for a privileged minority. As it is based on a multi-party political system it manages to create the impression that people live in a free and democratic society, thus making it easier to manage any opposition to it. For people have little to object to as they seemingly have the right to vote governments in and out of power and the right to protest and there exists a media which is seen as being independent of the state.

However, the right to vote on its own is no guarantee of democracy. As for the freedom to protest, whilst as with voting it is an important right, history has tended to show that whilst there have been many protests on many issues they have changed very little and fundamental change needs more than just protest movements, especially as they normally focus on single issues campaigns. As for the media such as television and the press, whilst it is, in theory, free from the state it is a powerful weapon in the hands of capitalism.

Managing Democracy

As capitalism operating under LD permits a limited form of democracy it needs to find a way of making sure that it can control the majority who are divorced from ownership, It needs a mechanism to replace the outward repressive state apparatus generally found in totalitarian societies, in order to maintain a compliant society; otherwise the democratic practices it does allow could be used by a politically conscious population to overturn the rule of capital. This is where the work of Chomsky (Manufacturing Consent) or more recently a book entitled Managing Democracy, Managing Consent edited by Rebecca Fisher come in very useful. This process could also be termed as the Construction of Reality. This is not a form of conspiracy theory where a group of powerful individuals meet and make certain plans to hold the population in check but is the natural outcome of a system of minority control operating with limited democratic rights which need to be controlled within.

To begin with, it is stating the obvious to say that in a capitalist society the means of communication are owned and controlled by members of the capitalist class who have no interest whatsoever in undermining their system. Not surprisingly as in capitalism the tendency to monopoly is an unstoppable force the media is owned and controlled by very few companies. This is highlighted by a report published in 2019 by the Media Reform Coalition on the ownership of the media in the UK. This states that just three companies, Rupert Murdoch’s News UK, Daily Mail Group and Reach, the publisher of the Mirror titles, dominate 83 percent of the national newspaper market. This is up from the figure of 71 percent only four years earlier. When online readership is included it means that five companies – News UK, Daily Mail Group, Reach, the Guardian and Telegraph control nearly 80 percent of the market. To quote from the Media Reform Coalition:
  ‘We believe that concentration in news and information markets in particular has reached endemic levels in the UK and that we urgently need effective remedies. Concentrated ownership creates conditions in which wealthy individuals and organisations can amass vast political and economic power and distort the media landscape to suit their interests.’
From time to time media outlets may question the way that capitalism is operating or favour one particular political party over the rest but any criticism it makes is within the boundaries which suggest that capitalism is the only game in town. In line with all capitalist companies, the corporations who own the mass media exist on a profit priority basis and much of their revenue comes from selling advertising space to their fellow wealthy corporations. The income from this source is estimated to be around 75 percent of a newspaper’s total income, even for the so-called quality press such as the Guardian or Independent. So there is no wish to bite the hands that feed them. (The source for much of the information on the media is Media Lens).

(continued next month.)

What do protests signify and why so many? (2020)

From the September 2020 issue of the Socialist Standard

Just what is wrong with the world today, so wrong that there are huge numbers of protests in numerous countries with millions of people crying out for change? Some of these protests get much publicity, others in different parts of the world are rarely heard of except locally. A brief search on the internet for protests will supply reams of information from countries many people from the West will not be able to point to on a map, let alone be aware of the protest and its purpose – but they are there in great numbers and appear to be growing annually.

Nuclear Weapons

Different generations may have different perspectives as to the significance of any particular protest but as each generation grows older they can look back and possibly/probably have a different view from those of younger generations who are viewing the same events but as historical events. If we recall the early days of CND (Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament) and the ‘Ban The Bomb’ banners, initially started by Bertrand Russell all those decades ago with the aim of stopping development of nuclear weapons and protecting the planet and humanity, and then we give serious thought to the years in between then and now, what do we find? In those six to seven decades research and development of such weapons has continued and a significant number of countries, including the UK, continue to produce and sell them at great profit. The humble atomic bomb of 1945 has now become a bomb of the past, superseded by incendiaries of much greater capacity. Since then waste nuclear materials have become a favoured product for use in depleted uranium weapons as used in Iraq for example.

Following on from the initial CND campaign, which clearly hasn’t seen success yet, came more generalised protests such as the Greenham Common women’s attempts to bring ongoing attention to the US Airforce base from where nuclear weapons were being deployed.

Year on year since the first atom bombs were dropped by the United States on those two towns in Japan, more countries of the world either developed or simply bought those weapons from countries willing to sell them for great profits.

And where are we now? How has protest affected the decisions of those in power to pay attention to calls for abolishing nuclear weapons? Some talks to limit the kind and size and numbers – talks but no action to speak of.

Global Warming/Climate Change

Around six decades ago there were strong warnings regarding the coming problems for the globe connected to human-made global warming. At that time the emphasis of growing movements and writers was on the rape and pillage of the worldwide environment and the urgent need to protect the planet for future generations. The result? A year on year increase of emissions, increased degradation of forests, over use of water leading to the increased disappearance of aquifers and huge increases in the number of migrants having no choice but to move away from such diversitiesadversities as drought, gradual inundation and loss of land for basic food stuffs.

Recently we have witnessed the Extinction Rebellion and global protests with the expected kick-back from media entrenched with the status quo. This topic now seems to be taken more seriously by many more individuals as time slips by but the action required against it is not being taken. Warning after warning is signalled telling of the enormity of the problem and still production for profit continues regardless whilst continuing to ignore the degradation of the planetary environment and the plight of climate refugees.


Surely no one now can be totally unaware of the history of slavery and the following knock-on effects continuously displayed and currently witnessed in the Black Lives Matter protest movement. Whilst the previous two paragraphs related to all life on Earth this topic reveals the division specifically between black and white individuals as a result of the despicable history of European colonialism. The evidence is clear that the legacy of colonialism of one form or another has left indigenous and black and brown people in positions of severe inequality. Both the US and UK’s statistics reveal inequalities in employment – from the securing of a job interview to rate of pay, education, housing, stop and search by police and especially imprisonment where numbers by percentage of population are highly disproportionate.

This protest has been alive for generations. Now we continue to witness an ongoing series of horrific deaths – murders(?) – of black individuals who happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Of course there will be protests. Such an urgent matter does need to be addressed but this isn’t what is happening.

Why are there protests?

It becomes more apparent as time goes by that huge sections of the global population are standing up and shouting because they want to be seen and heard calling for action different from what their leaders are offering. Democracy, so-called, as it is displayed around the world is obviously not democratic enough for many. Voting for a candidate once every four or five years, for example, and then hoping that something will be achieved eventually is surely not how most would want it. They know their voice is not heard and is not likely to be heard or acted upon.

In one way or another all these various voices of protest seek to improve human society. Let’s assume that at some point one or more of the objectives are resolved to the general satisfaction of the protest’s supporters. Will those supporters be satisfied or will they then discover another problem to be solved? Recognising that any move in the direction of satisfying the protesters is likely to be insignificant, how long are supporters, or even generations of supporters, prepared to continue with their fight against what they consider to be wrong? Many protest movements have evolved over the years and are still unresolved. Some will be prepared to compromise and accept crumbs from the table leaving future protesters to attempt to take the protest further.

Reformism seems to have become acceptable to many as a way to achieve a particular end step by step but consider the track record of another attempt to improve things within the system, trade unions, a collective of workers pressing for improved conditions, better pay and other concessions from employers. Some will look back at the headier days some decades ago but the reality is that there are fewer union members year by year as new rules and regulations from governments are applied plus the downgrading of the general work force following massive offshoring of manufacturing. The bottom line is profit for employers and companies, not improved conditions for workers.

It should be noted that one of the issues referred to above, that of global warming, has suffered for years now from the added effects of reformism. Recall the long list of COP meetings (Conference of the Parties) established in 1985 supposedly in order to address the pending global climate problem. So many agreements to no avail, so much negative influence from corporations, so many more emissions, including those from the thousands of people attending from all parts of the planet, as delegates, media, protesters – and every meeting registering more annual negative effects.


Current systems of ‘democracy’ around the world are seen by many citizens as worthless and lacking in what’s required of a true democracy, thus leading to increasing numbers of protests annually. All of what we can refer to as ‘single issues’ have relevance to any debate, however in isolation they face the power of the opposition, that is the power of the wealthy, the corporations, the capitalists and our elected representatives in hock to the capitalists. Many things are not allowed to change because that would affect ongoing profits. The capitalist system is far from democratic and must be overcome. Rather than be divided by all such single issues what is required is that as members of a global population we recognise that all of these issues are just parts of the whole, all should be gathered together under the umbrella of a true and inclusive democracy.
Janet Surman