Wednesday, February 17, 2021

Pathfinders:The Machine inside the Ghost (2010)

The Pathfinders Column from the February 2010 issue of the Socialist Standard

Enthusiasm continues apace for the online movie-cum-movement phenomenon Zeitgeist, with its articulate, clean-cut and photogenic presenter Peter Joseph touring even harder than Bob Dylan, it seems, to bring word to the world about the ‘resource-based economy’ idea which sounds so new to everyone else and so uncannily like socialism to us. Socialists should applaud and encourage the efforts of Peter Joseph and Zeitgeist activists everywhere to popularise the ideas of non-market production for use, especially because anti-socialists everywhere will do their best to discredit them with any damn-fool argument they can think of.

That’s not to say that there aren’t issues of disagreement, of course. There is a strange emphasis on the technological aspects of the case for a post-capitalist future and proportionally little to say on the role of human activity and decision-making. It’s clear from recent lectures by Peter Joseph (‘Where are we now?’ et al, 2009, YouTube), that far from being merely a matter of emphasis, this bespeaks a quite different perspective on history:
  “I think it is safe to say … Technology is the fundamental catalyst for progress and change. It is by far the primary factor driving the development of human civilisation not only in the facilitation of achieving specific ends but also in the more subtle manifestation of our belief systems, philosophy, frames of reference and how we interpret the world around us.”
It is not safe to say any such thing. If technology was the fundamental catalyst for change then Ancient Greece would have had steam locomotives and China would have ruled the world since the Renaissance. The problem for the ‘technologist’ is to explain why these things didn’t happen.

Socialists are materialists, and materialists look at history as a process of general underlying ‘tectonic’ shifts in material conditions which give rise to often drastic changes, growths or collapses of superstructures built on them, for example, political, social, cultural and technological outgrowths. In this view, technology doesn’t determine change but is both determined by and proactive on underlying material conditions.

In giving technology this unique driving power, Zeitgeist risks overlooking other motors of history, not least the importance of human organisation itself. “Everything in regard to social organisation is a technical process” says Peter Joseph, adding for emphasis: “Society is a technical creation. Science and tech is the overarching element that governs the entire mechanism of social organisation.” From this the conclusion automatically follows that “Those who study those attributes should be given, not control, but the forefront of participation.”

He pours scorn on those ‘paranoid’ types who would fear abuse of power by this implied class of technocrats, asking “What would be their incentive?” Well, who knows? What would be the incentive for crime? We don’t know that either, but that’s not to offer a cast-iron guarantee that there wouldn’t be any. Given the Zeitgeist apparent indifference to human self-determination as a key factor in society and given also a hundred centuries of brutal oppression by power-mad elites who monopolised knowledge among other things, is it really so unreasonable to feel disquiet over this? While the technicians are minding the machines, who’s minding the technicians?

The emphasis on technology develops into a more serious problem however, and one that needs addressing now.  Zeitgeist argues that capitalism is opposed to technological progress, hence the need to abolish it. To take one example, Peter Joseph uncritically repeats the claims of the popular film Who Killed the Electric Car? (2006). This film argues that in the 1990s there was a huge potential American market for electric vehicles (EVs) but that the carmakers and government-backed oil industry deliberately sabotaged it. The problem with the film is that it is the arguments of General Motors (GM), not the pro-EV lobby, which are being borne out by events. Market demand, production costs, technology and the supplies and fuelling infrastructure really were not viable in 1996, and we know that because they are still not ready today (see for instance ‘Drivers resist the electric switch’, Guardian, 16 January). Even as the dust settles over the electric car ‘scandal’ there is a raft of new EV products on the market from GM competitors and from GM itself. Even if GM really were as dumb and parochial as the conspiracy-buffs like to think, the Japanese and the Indians certainly weren’t. The market is maturing. Capitalism is working in just the way that Zeitgeist says that it can’t. It’s changing.

All that’s a matter for capitalism and car nuts, and of no interest to socialists. But they are of huge interest to Zeitgeist, appearing as they do to back up the central argument that capitalism relies on inefficiency and outmoded technology.

This proposition is so demonstrably wrong as scarcely to be worth spelling out. Incredibly, Peter Joseph implies that capitalism will never find a cure for cancer because it will undermine cancer industry profits, and ditto for cheap solar panelling and the power industry. Logically, if capitalism was so anti-progress there would never have been any technology in the first place, nor any industrial revolution. To attack its ‘inability’ to promote technology is to attack it not at its weakest but at its strongest point. Alarmingly, Zeitgeist is choosing precisely the worst ground for its battle-line.

In fact, capitalism has cured or eradicated plague, typhus, syphilis, cholera, polio and smallpox, regardless of the money already being made in treating those diseases. It abolished steam power, horse power and gas light despite its huge investment in those infrastructures. Its achievements cannot and should not be denied unless one wants to look ridiculous. Indeed its greatest achievement is its potential undoing: it has embraced technological progress so successfully that productive processes now make it entirely feasible to move beyond capitalism altogether. 

Workers need to know their enemy, not underestimate or misunderstand its methods. Most of the problems humans have are not caused by lack of technology, but lack of equal access to resources. Millions die because they can’t afford food or clean water or basic cheap medicines. War, violence and oppression are not technological problems, they exist because there are power elites who get their power from private property we humans should not allow anyone to own in the first place. These are the real weaknesses of capitalism, the ones which will not go away, the ones Zeitgeist really ought to be attacking instead of, like EV-nuts, bewailing its ‘failure’ to deliver the latest tech.

It’s possible that Zeitgeist are reluctant to confront the reality of ruling class power, in case the merest hint of conflict causes the enthusiasm to evaporate and the followers to melt away. But we’re not making the class war up, and we can’t wish it away: “There’s class warfare, all right,” Mr. (Warren) Buffett said, “but it’s my class, the rich class, that’s making war, and we’re winning” (New York Times, 26 November, 2006). Tiananmen Square students innocently thought they could win freedom by pushing flowers into gun barrels. In their zeal to promote a vision of a happy-tech cyber-future, the Venus visionaries are tip-toeing on a dangerous edge. In replacing class struggle with a faith in machines, Zeitgeist has created a spectre which will return to haunt them.
Paddy Shannon

Letters: Abolishing money (2010)

Letters to the Editors from the February 2010 issue of the Socialist Standard

Abolishing money

Dear Editors

Why on earth should there be cuts in any or all of the public services, as intimated by the main three political parties vying for votes in the forthcoming general election? These public services are essential to our health and social wellbeing. At the same time each party advocates and provides support to the very institutions that sap the lifeblood of the nation and spawn malpractices.

The N.H.S, Education, Housing, Old Age Pensions, Transport, Childcare, Single parents, Care of the elderly, are among the most obvious worthy of ongoing and increasing investment and support yet these are being targeted for reductions or, at best, stagnation. This need not be the case. A change is needed, indeed a change is essential and long overdue. And not a weak-kneed Barack Obama style change.

This is an extremely wealthy country in terms of development, infrastructure, skilled technology, inventiveness, art, theatre, sport, social cohesiveness and friendliness etc. but it is gradually losing its way on the altars of greed and possessions and a me-first doctrine. So much of all the wealth derived from the pluses is dissipated and wasted. We have a nation that is engulfed and at the mercy of a monetary system. So many of our recent generations have been persuaded that the pursuit of personal financial advancement is the requisite lifestyle (in the Thatcherite mode of devil take the hindmost) that whatever may be their preferred interests occupationally they gravitate to those which patently offer the greatest scope for achieving fast and vast income providing your scruples are on a back burner and there is no consideration for general wellbeing.

Thus we now have a potentially actively and productively caring and sharing extremely wealthy society based on a powerfully intellectual platform becoming a downgraded self-seeking one that is willing to be antisocial and wasteful and, if need arises adopt criminality, in reaction to an overbearing self important administration which has lost any plot to which it might have once aspired.

The answer, the only feasible answer, is to remove those institutions referred to above by removing the tools of their trade. Abolish money and in doing so recover the personnel space and resources which rightly belong to the people of this country. Consider the beneficial knock on effects of such a move. If you need me to itemise them my phone number is 01793 82XXXX.

E. W. Reynolds, 

We agree that money is a barrier to getting things done but we don’t simply want to abolish money. We want socialism – the common ownership and democratic control of productive resources – where money will be unnecessary. And we don’t think that this could be done, as you seem to be suggesting, just in one country –Editors.

No Alternative

Dear Editors

I’d like to contribute to the debate/discussion on globalization.

Marx wrote ‘The handmill gives you society with the feudal lord and the steam mill gives you society with the industrial capitalist,’ and if writing now he might well say that the microchip gives you society with the global capitalist – in accordance with the materialist conception of history as formulated by Antonio Labriola in 1897.

As Marx wrote and as anyone who has made a sustained study of capitalism knows, the centrifugal expansionism of the capital system’s dynamic will drive the system to its ultimate limits.

What the capitalist class and their administrative arm (Maggie Thatcher, Frederick Von Hayek, Francis Fukuyama et al.) want most to instil in the minds of the working class is that capitalist production and distribution of life’s necessities and wants is a natural and, above all, moral system. It is their heart’s desire and ‘wet dream’ that capitalism is viewed as an entelechy, developing itself in a process of self-realization, thereby reducing history to a process without an active, creative, doing subject; an automaton driven by the dead laws of history and nature, i.e., There Is No Alternative.

Globalization, I suggest, is not a tendency nor a phase of capitalism, but the logical progression of the system. Capitalism is almost at its non plus ultra – the only move left it is either to turn and eat out its own guts, devolving into barbarism, or to be replaced with socialism. Our message surely must focus on the planetary destruction and global warming resulting from production for profit that will annihilate the only liveable world we know to exist.

There Is No Alternative – to socialism
J.R. (by email)

The Ire of the Irate Itinerant (2010)

From the February 2010 issue of the Socialist Standard

Pieces Together: A Frightening World (2010)

The Pieces Together column from the February 2010 issue of the Socialist Standard 

A Frightening World

“It is Europe’s dirty secret that the list of nuclear-capable countries extends beyond those that have built their own weapons – Britain, France and Russia. The truth is that Belgium, Germany, Italy and the Netherlands store nuclear bombs on their air-force bases and have planes capable of delivering them. There are an estimated 200 B-61 thermonuclear-gravity bombs scattered across these four countries. Under a NATO agreement struck during the Cold War, the bombs, which are owned by the U.S., can be transferred to the control of a host nation’s air force in time of conflict. Twenty years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, Dutch, Belgian, Italian and German pilots remain ready to engage in nuclear war” 
(Time, 4 January).

The Oil Invasion

“British companies have benefited from the award of oil contracts in Iraq because of the decision to help to overthrow Saddam Hussein, Gordon Brown’s chief foreign policy adviser told the Chilcot inquiry yesterday. Simon McDonald said British companies had “done pretty well” in a recent auction of oil rights and that Britain had “privileged access” to the Government of Nouri al-Maliki, the Prime Minister” 
(Times, 6 January).

Merchants of Death

“Two UAE orders for military helicopters and guided bombs capped a remarkable year for procurement in which the Emirates became the largest foreign purchaser of US defence equipment, a Pentagon agency said. The UAE, which has peacekeepers in Afghanistan, awarded Sikorksy Aircraft a US$171 million (Dh628m) contract for 14 UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters, which are used for tactical transport. Separately, the US defence security co-operation agency, a unit of the Pentagon, said last week it had notified Congress of a potential sale of enhanced guided bomb units, parts, training and support to the UAE for about $290m. The same agency said in November that in the last fiscal year the UAE became the largest foreign purchaser of US defence equipment with sales of $7.9bn, ahead of Afghanistan ($5.4bn), Saudi Arabia ($3.3bn) and Taiwan ($3.2bn)” 
(The National, 2 January).

Haiti – an un-natural disaster (2010)

From the February 2010 issue of the Socialist Standard
Earthquakes are inevitable, but the death toll is not
The earthquake in Haiti and similar misfortunes are presented as unavoidable natural disasters. To some extent, this is true. But it ignores the consequences of the deliberate pursuit of profit at the expense of environmental protection. It is not a coincidence that the number of victims of recent disasters such as the Asian tsunami and the Katrina hurricane and now Haiti are clearly related to the degree of their poverty.

The reality with earthquakes is they kill only if we let them. They are inevitable, but the death toll is not.

It is collapsing buildings that take lives, not tremors in the ground. Throughout the animal kingdom, creatures have adapted to survive in their surroundings, but in our environment, where earthquakes are a fact of life, though nature challenges us to do something to protect ourselves, capitalism compels us to surrender safety to monetary profits and savings. No matter how severe earthquakes are, if buildings were properly built in the first place, then the vast majority of people would survive.

This does not happen under capitalism, particularly in poorer countries, since the unavoidable pressure to make and save money affects what does, or more importantly, does not happen. There are pressures to build quickly and slapdashly to meet housing needs by landless labourers forced by poverty to find work in urban areas; inferior materials and construction methods are used in accordance with market forces, with poor people getting poorly-built homes; building inspectors are persuaded by politicians or back-handers to ignore breaches of rules so that businesses get the cheap employees they want and workers get hovels they can afford; landowners lobby governments, hand over party ‘donations’ or resort to simple bribery to have new housing built on their land, even if it is unsuitable or downright dangerous. With, moneyless, socialism human needs and safety come second to nothing.

Though seismologists don’t know precisely where or when earthquakes may strike, general areas of risk are identifiable. In a socialist society, how we respond to this information would be very different. There would be far greater freedom for those in danger to move to safer areas—action under capitalism that can involve huge financial losses from writing off unsafe homes, shifting businesses to where workers then live, adapting that region’s infrastructure to aid in exploiting the new workforce etc. And those who, for whatever reason, chose to reside in seismic zones, they would then have access to the best buildings capable of withstanding the most powerful of quakes.

Although Japanese and Californian architects have designed ‘active buildings‘, some on top of massive rubber shock absorbers or with computerised counterbalancing systems that identify and counteract seismic shocks, what’s the likelihood of such sophisticated technology being used under capitalism on multi-storey dwellings in poverty-stricken areas for workers on subsistence wages? Using superior designs, building methods and materials, there is no reason why populated areas should suffer any loss of life or major disruption after experiencing very powerful quakes.

The surviving victims of the disaster in Haiti need food, fresh water, clothing, medication and many other items. Some of those needs are being met, but not nearly enough. Governments of the richer countries have offered niggardly help. Ordinary citizens, appalled by the extent of the tragedy as revealed by the media, have responded generously to appeals by the charities. In times of natural disasters volunteers are never lacking, nor slow to offer assistance, whether practical or monetary. Humans are endowed with the ability to sympathise and empathise with their fellow humans. Humans derive great pleasure from doing good, are at their best when faced with the worst and will go to extraordinary lengths to help alleviate the suffering of others.

Most natural dangers are well known and socialism would not need to leave communities exposed to them. This would avoid many disasters. Also, contingency plans would exist throughout the regions and at a world level for the relief of any catastrophe. Emergency supplies of food, clean water, medical supplies would be maintained at strategic points whilst machinery, equipment and helpers would be moved quickly to the area of crisis. The present appeals for money are a pathetic substitute for the availability of real resources and the freedom that communities in socialism would have to immediately use them.

We have access to more comprehensive information and news coverage about world disasters than any previous generation of humans, and yet it appears that people don’t feel driven to bring about an end to such catastrophes. It seems our society has been influenced to believe that nothing can be done. That big death tolls from quakes, volcanoes or droughts are inevitable. What efforts do the media make to change this, by explaining both capitalism’s culpability and socialism’s solutions? If people don’t understand, then all there will be are yet more channel-changing ‘Not-another-disaster. There’s-nothing-I-can-do’ indifference.
– from the Socialist Party’s blog Socialism or Your Money Back .

The market versus cooperation (2010)

From the February 2010 issue of the Socialist Standard
Difficulties with cooperation arise when the restrictions of the market start to operate
A neighbour goes on holiday and another keeps her greenhouse watered. Then he goes away and she willingly feeds and waters his cat. The local school recruits volunteers from the community for a reading programme to benefit the students. A rota of parents run extra-curricular sports options. An army of volunteers delivers regular meals to the housebound and incapacitated via ‘meals-on-wheels’. Volunteer drivers take the infirm and elderly to doctors’ and hospital appointments or for occasional outings. Youth groups, sports clubs, drama societies, music groups, choirs and orchestras, baby-sitting circles, car-pools, annual fĂȘte organisations, donations of books, clothes and household items to charity shops, staff in charity shops, community gardens, environmental projects – all thrive on willing cooperation, on people pulling together for the mutual benefit of all. It’s what people do. It’s what people like to do. It’s what gives many a sense of purpose; to be a useful part of society; to add to the general well-being of a group of people who together make up a community. Cooperating is easy. It’s natural and it’s a vital element in building enriched communities, strengthening ties through shared purpose.

Difficulties with cooperation arise when the restrictions of the market start to operate. Take, for example, the mindset of those who wish to employ a similar cooperative outlook in their search for universality in the routine task of shopping. For those who wish to uphold a universal standard in dealings with others making the ‘right’ choices is a road littered with obstacles. The universal standard that says what’s fair for you is fair for me; that decries the double standards of much of transnational trading; that believes that all people have a right to the dignity of adequate food, water and shelter. The connections along the production-delivery-consumer chain are many, often intricate and invisible to the end-user. To assess the true picture of the impact of any purchase the consumer would need to know the details (in the case of food) of the seed and chemical suppliers, growers, processors, packers, transporters, wholesalers, retailers and any other in-between handlers. The universalist would need to know the working conditions, rates of pay, living conditions etc. of all those involved at each step of the process including auxiliaries; cleaners, maintenance workers, shelf stackers and cashiers and to know that each of them could also be in a position to choose to be a consumer of this product – and if not, why not? If each of those contributing work along the chain are not in a similar position to be able to consume the end product then the question must be what makes one work day or one job that much more ‘valuable’ than another. Universality sees something awry when one worker has to work a mere ten minutes in order to earn enough for a burger, another must work all day and yet another will never have enough money accumulated for such a luxury. Same for a pair of big-name trainers, designer-labelled clothes or simple everyday foodstuffs.

So, those who happily cooperate within their communities find themselves in a position where their efforts to apply some level of universality in their dealings with fellow humans along the supply chain are thwarted by the market. The market is not in the control of universalists; it belongs to capital and capital prefers to buy cheaply and sell dear. It is more profitable to produce in the poorer countries where weaker labour laws and less regard for human rights ensure longer working hours for miserable wages; where the externalities of poor air quality, contaminated water and degraded environments can be disregarded; where the simple ‘accident of birth’ can condemn an individual to lifelong drudgery.

It is possible to campaign and have some limited success against some of the outrages, but here, also, accident of birth dictates who is the campaigner and who the object of the campaign, the victim to be saved. It is much more difficult for impoverished populations to organise and campaign and get a result than it is in the more developed world. Different standards apply as is evidenced in the massive amounts of dangerous waste exported to poorer countries to be dealt with by their even poorer communities. The particular geographical spot on the globe of each accident of birth will determine for a large majority the outcome they can expect, be it Europe, Asia, Africa or the Americas. Apart from geography historical, cultural and socio-economic norms can be other constraining factors. Expectations and aspirations are passed down culturally as in large parts of the world where male dominance is still overwhelming, enabling the entrapment of young females into the semi-slavery of sweatshops for barely a living wage. The socio-economic group into which one is born within the larger geographical context, urban slum or leafy, spacious suburb, also determines to a large extent the educational alternatives and possibilities, the earning potential and therefore the lifestyle of the individual.

To bring the benefits of more widespread cooperation into the whole of our lives will take a simple shift of emphasis. It will require us to focus more careful attention on the ‘us-and-them’ syndrome. What’s holding us back are the confused and confusing ideas we hear regarding the many and varied ‘us-and-them’ scenarios. Some believe “they” are immigrant workers taking “our” jobs; some that it’s “those” non-union groups who are undercutting “us”; some that younger, cheaper employees are taking the jobs of the more experienced and expensive; and yet others blame governments for allowing “our” jobs to be outsourced to some other “them”. Every country has a different set of immigrants to blame, legal and illegal and one population can easily be misled to wrongfully blame another.

What we really need to recognise is that we are all fellow human beings, fellow workers who are being used by capital in whatever manner suits their ends. When “we”, the massive worldwide majority, shift our mindset and focus together on the removal of the real “them” unfettered cooperation can truly come into its own.
Janet Surman

Tiny Tips (2010)

The Tiny Tips column from the February 2010 issue of the Socialist Standard

The migrants are managed by a Mafia-run employment system, the caporalato, that operates like a 21st century chain gang. Saviano says that those who object to low wages or poor working conditions are simply eliminated — and not just by a pink slip. “It’s a military system. The farm and factory owners employ the Mafia caporali to bring the workers. The immigrants wait on the roads, the caporali pick them up and take them to the work. If they complain, they get killed.” 
[Dead Link.]

Despite more than a dozen international conventions banning slavery in the past 150 years, there are more slaves today than at any point in human history:
[Dead Link.]

Civil freedoms around the world lost ground for the fourth straight year in 2009 with Iraq improving, Afghanistan falling back and China acting as if it were under siege by its own citizens, Freedom House said on Tuesday. Bahrain, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Yemen moved into “not free” category, raising the total to 47 from 42 in 2008. The number of electoral democracies fell from 119 to 116, the lowest since 1995: 
[Dead Link.]

Workers at a Sussex-based electronics firm were today left “devastated” after being told in a video message that manufacturing at their factories is to end and 220 jobs moved to Korea and the Czech Republic:

Zuma famously likes to spend as much time as possible among his cattle in his native homestead at Nkandla, in northern KwaZulu-Natal province, where he is building a huge palace. In South Africa, R3m (£250,000) buys a pretty decent house, but Zuma’s new house there is costing R65m (£5.4m). ..It is a strange sight. Zuma, brought to power with the support of the ANC left, the trade unions and communist party, is ever more imitative of the Zulu monarchy – even down to the leopard-skin attire. It may have nothing to do with socialism, but then nor do, or did, the quasi-royal dynasties of many communist states such as the Kims of North Korea, Romania’s Ceausescus and the Zhivkovs of Bulgaria. And it should not be thought that these contradictions are embarrassing to Zuma. On the contrary, he is having the time of his life: 

One of the most callous reactions to the Haiti disaster thus far has come from televangelist Pat Robertson, who told viewers of his Christian Broadcasting Network on Wednesday morning that he knew the real reason for the quake: The country’s long-standing pact with Satan: 
[Dead Link.]

It has emerged that Kim Kardashian, the American reality television star, commands at least $10,000 per post. Many of Kardashian’s tweets are mundane - “I must have pinched a nerve in my neck . . .  I need a massage” - but when she mentions advertisers such as Nestle or the fast-food chain Carl’s Jr, she receives four-figure sums:
[Dead Link.]

50 Years Ago: “You’ve never had it so good” (2010)

The 50 Years Ago column from the February 2010 issue of the Socialist Standard 

What is really astounding about Macmillan’s boast is that, at least on average, it contains an element of truth, remembering however that the rich too are in the average figures. The state of most British workers really is a little better than it has ever been before. Of course there are large numbers of clerical workers (including most of the civil service, bank clerks and others) who are worse off than they were before the war, and some industrial workers, including London busmen, are also worse off. But with fewer unemployed and several million married women enjoying the dubious advantage of doing two jobs, home and away, working class purchasing power has gone up. But what a commentary on capitalism that this small advance can be hailed as a social revolution and set the church worrying about the corrupting influence of working class “riches”!

Just about the turn of the year agricultural workers advanced to £8 a week for 46 hours toil. Hundreds of thousands of other men in industry and transport are on much the same level. The average earnings of women of 18 and over in manufacturing industry is £6 17 0 a week—hardly a corrupting level of affluence. And there are over 2 million people who in the course of a year are poor enough to qualify for National Assistance—with wives and children the number is much larger.

(from article by H, Socialist Standard, February 1960)

Greasy Pole: Hoon or Buffoon? (2010)

The Greasy Pole column from the February 2010 issue of the Socialist Standard 

It may not have been too clear to him, in those anxious days when he was wheedling his fellow Labour MPs to consign Gordon Brown to a future spending more time with his memoirs, but Geoff Hoon was not alone. One of the many ways in which the Labour Party is not unique is that its history is cluttered with such plots which failed through a crucial hesitation to dispose of a leader who is sheltering behind the ramparts of Number Ten. The problem for the plotters – as it was for Hoon and Patricia Hewitt – was that they could not argue that their leader was responsible for unacceptable levels of poverty, sickness, massive casualties in war; instead they had to rely on the single calculation about electoral liability. If Brown was able to show that the majority of workers will still vote Labour in spite of all the stresses they have to face there would simply not be grounds for conspiring to change the leadership. As it is, Hoon was left to argue that he has the ideas to make him more attractive electorally than Brown. So how does he match up to this?

To begin with – Hoon or Buffoon? A rigidly principled, sacrificial leader inspired by an all-dominating obsession with human welfare? Or another one of those tiresome temporary left-wingers who in their youthful exuberance traded on the assumption that within the universal horrors of capitalism there is a simple remedy – trust them with the power to socially massage us with those uncomplicated policies which sounded so convincing at Labour Party conferences but which are always rather more complex in what turns out to be practice? According to a Diary item in the Guardian of 8 January an old associate of Hoon’s, an MEP with him in 1984, recalls where he fitted in then: “His reputation was that of a smart arse know-all…He would use other people’s faces as a stepladder to get what he wanted”.

Slick Lawyer 
In the beginning Hoon had a lot going for him; the son of a railwayman he was the first person in his family to go to university – to Cambridge to study law – then a lecturer in law at Leeds University during which time he qualified as a criminal barrister. Years later his fellow Labour MP Chris Mullin could comment that “. . . everyone knows that, like all slick lawyers, he could make the opposite case with equal dexterity”. Thus usefully equipped he followed his time as an MEP by election to the Commons and in 1999 his first big job as Minister of Defence. Perhaps too big, for his time in that office was notable for the attack on Iraq and all the lies, betrayals and bigotry which are yet again being glimpsed, painfully and bitterly, in the Chilcott Enquiry. How did Hoon deal with the pillage, savagery and fear in that desperate place?

In tune with the other cowed dummies on the Labour benches front and back he satisfied himself with a robotic insistence that, whatever the facts the invasion was necessary because Iraq had developed weapons which under the control of Saddam Hussein, were an immediate threat to other countries. On the BBC Breakfast With Frost on 2 February 2003 he asserted that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction which “. . . present a real threat not only . . . to the people of Iraq and surrounding regions . . . but also to the safety and security of the world”. On 23 June 2003 he stated in a Written Answer to the Commons that two trailers had been observed in Iraq which were mobile weapons laboratories. In fact information had been passed to weapons inspectors and to Dr. David Kelly, the scientist whose death later in that year remains a source of menacing controversy, that the trailers were for inflating hydrogen balloons to be used in artillery ranging and had been sold to Iraq by the British company Marconi.

Cluster Bombs
When it was suggested to him in an interview on BBC Radio 4 that an Iraqi mother whose child had been killed by one of the hundreds of cluster bombs which had been dropped there might not thank the British army Hoon dismissed the matter: “One day they might.” In October 2001, commenting on civilian casualties in the invasion of Afghanistan Hoon boasted about “the astonishing accuracy of the bombing” and when he was asked how it came about that in the small hamlet of Kumar as many as a hundred people had been killed he brushed the question aside as Kumar was “…not a village in any normal sense of the word”.

But “astonishing accuracy” was not a phrase used by Hoon when he was under pressure to explain some apparent discrepancies in his expense claims. These claims were completed, in a manner by now familiar, with a keen regard for detail with the popular “flipping” between one home and another but in this case with some individual embellishments. For example putting in a variety of claims for a whole year in advance for a home in Derbyshire (his constituency is at Ashfield) before stating that another house was his second home. For example when he was allocated – for security purposes – a luxurious rent-free grace-and-favour flat in Admiralty House he let out his other home in London which, as he had registered it as his main home, he had been allowed to claim for. When these affairs came to light Hoon said it had all been caused by an “inadvertent overlap in bill payments” or an “inadvertent administrative error”. Amid rumours of a possible police investigation he repaid £384.

Last October, as a former Defence Secretary, Hoon joined other callous and ruthless cynics from what are known as the great and the good at St. Paul’s Cathedral in a memorial service for the British service men and women killed in Iraq. It was a typically cruel display of the contempt in which the working class, who do the fighting and dying at such times, are held by their rulers. And Hoon, in case anyone had any wrong ideas about what was happening in that cathedral, and about what had happened in Iraq and Afghanistan and in all the other outrages in 21st century capitalism, contributed by checking his mobile phone during the service. There is, unhappily, no reason to hope that he received the kind of message which he and the others deserved.