Sunday, March 6, 2022

Threats and threats (2009)

From the March 2009 issue of the Socialist Standard
Are there really terrorists round every corner or is this just government hype to scare us into supporting them?
What’s the biggest threat in the world today for most of the world’s population? Judging by the airtime allocated by news media, the column inches of print media, the numerous books published in the last handful of years and the massive budget allocated worldwide to its defeat, it must be terrorism. Terrorism is good for sales and viewing figures. “Breaking News” is a sure-fire attention catcher. At the end of November Mumbai experienced a series of horrific, coordinated acts of violence which killed over 180 people, mainly civilians.

Sri Lanka has its ongoing struggle with the Tamil Tigers, Turkey the PKK, Spain ETA, Colombia the FARC, etc; all named “terrorist organisations.” Acts of terrorism occur daily in both Iraq and Afghanistan, individual suicide bombers, car and truck bombs killing single figures, dozens or scores of victims whilst guided missiles from the coalition forces create death and destruction for countless thousands of innocent victims. Since September 2001 the world’s biggest powers have allowed themselves every possible opportunity to wreak retribution wherever they have deemed there to be a terrorist threat, even against the will of the majority of their electorates. Around 3,000 deaths in New York and Washington, horrific, inexcusable deaths, have been the precursor to untold thousands since – each one as horrific and inexcusable as the originals – but most of these excused as collateral damage by the powerful.

President Obama has vowed to carry on the fight against terrorism in Afghanistan and to capture or kill Osama bin Laden. No doubt UK forces will be expected to continue to play their role too. By continuing the occupation many argue that more Afghanis are and will continue to join the insurgency, the Taliban, because what they want more than anything is to remove the foreign occupiers from their soil. This is one of the poorest nations on Earth but it is seen as one of the greatest threats to the richest nation on Earth. Coincidentally, of the aid money actually contributed 40 percent has found its way back to the donor countries as consultant salaries and corporate profits. A mere $9 billion of aid has been spent in Afghanistan since 2002. Aid commitments have fallen well short of the promises; US still owes half of its pledged $10.4 billion; the World Bank still owes nearly half of its pledged $1.6 billion; UK is one of a few which has nearly met its commitment. (Matt Waldman/ACBAR Advocacy Series ‘Falling Short: Aid Effectiveness in Afghanistan’ March 2008 – from New Internationalist, November 2008)

War, invasion or occupation is excellent business, especially for the wealthy and the wealthy are very happy to keep the media on board to help cultivate misconceptions and broadcast them loud, clear and often, subjecting consumers to manufactured threats until most of us believe the unbelievable: – That there is a terrorist threat. That there are terrorists around every corner, at every airport, in every subway, maybe even living in your street. But look at the numbers, at the actual threat. (The following statistics relate to the US and are taken from Michael Moore’s Dude, Where’s My Country.) For Americans, in 2001, the chance of dying in an act of terrorism was 1 in 100,000; as a result of murder 1 in 14,000; by suicide 1 in 9,200; in a car accident 1 in 6,500; or from flu or pneumonia 1 in 4,500. Statistics like these will vary from country to country but the general risk of death as a result of terrorism is much, much lower than that of death on the road or from heart disease or even from suicide, but you don’t see people getting paranoid about getting into cars day after day. Even if you are born in Afghanistan you are more likely to die of malnutrition or health-related factors – 25 percent of children die before they are 5 years old and maternal mortality is 1,800 per 100,000 (compared with 8 in the UK). To repeat: even in the year of the biggest terrorist act in the US the chance of dying from terrorism was 1 in 100,000, but year on year the chance of dying in childbirth inn Afghanistan is 1,800 in 100,000. (UNICEF 2008)

Who knows this? Does it make any difference?

We need to get a sense of reality and balance. We need to recognise these manufactured, hyped-up threats for what they are. Terrorism will not be overcome by state-sponsored terrorism. Recognizing all lives as having similar worth would be an excellent start for world leaders – as they like to hear themselves called; even recognizing their own electorate as having worth on a par with their own would be an improvement.

A different threat, one which could claim the lives of untold numbers, suddenly and possibly without warning, is the nuclear threat. This threat is impossible to quantify. Proliferation is the name of the game now. Those with most of the nuclear weapons don’t want those without to have any but keep on stockpiling themselves, refining and upgrading, supplying their favoured clients whilst insisting that those without shall remain without. That the industrial-military complex is so vast and carries such clout with governments (politicians are prized among board members), coupled with the readily available terrorist threat with which to alert and frighten the public forever increases the possibility of disaster. Depleted uranium weapons have been in regular use for a number of years causing death outright to immediate victims, a slower, painful death following debilitating illness for other victims, war veterans and local populations alike and massively increased numbers of severe birth defects in the “theatre of operations” – not to mention environmental disasters. But this is only the tip of the iceberg. We can tolerate such horrors. The slow drip of outright cruelty and inhumanity on mankind and its habitat can be borne, it seems.

Dr. Helen Caldicott, founder of ‘Physicians for Social Responsibility’ and a nominee for the Nobel Peace Prize explains in her book The New Nuclear Danger in clear and unequivocal language how close the world has already been to all-out nuclear war and how simple human or computer error could trigger the destruction of the planet at any time. It used to be called the nuclear “deterrent” but terrorists, especially suicide bombers, are hardly likely to be deterred. They haven’t been so far.

If we do manage to progress without mutual nuclear annihilation then the other great threat is the one that millions of ordinary folk are focussed upon but which is being treated far too lightly by world governments, that is the challenge of global warming and climate change. Both the pamphlet An Inconvenient Question – Socialism and the Environment and the DVD “Poles Apart? Capitalism or Socialism as the planet heats up”, recently published by the Socialist Party address this subject convincingly. There can be little doubt in anyone’s mind that the threat to our environment is real and urgent.

Whether there is political will to confront this threat with the same enthusiasm and almost unlimited budget thrown at the war against terrorism and the continued development of nuclear weapons of all kinds is most definitely in doubt. It’s clear there is repeat business and plenty of profit in weapons of all kinds but the environment is just another poor relation leaving us with the obvious conclusion that, in fact, it is capitalism itself which is our greatest threat.
Janet Surman

Pieces Together: Out of sight, out of mind (2009)

The Pieces Together column from the March 2009 issue of the Socialist Standard

Out of sight, out of mind

“From the steam grates of Pennsylvania Avenue to the porticoes of the city’s grand buildings, homeless Washingtonians who live inside the nation’s tightest security zone are being encouraged to decamp during the inauguration for shelters in the city’s outer neighborhoods. The security sweeps will probably begin Monday. Buses will make one-way trips to two of the District’s largest shelters, which will remain open round-the-clock, said D.C. Council member Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6).”Everyone has to be out of the perimeter by then,” Wells said.” (Washington Post, 15 January)


Growing old disgracefully

“Miriam Gorman wanted to retire more than a year ago, but steep financial losses in her retirement savings mean the 71-year-old bookkeeper now plans to work on indefinitely. ‘I would have preferred to retire at the end of 2007, and then I was thinking at the end of this year, and now maybe it’s next year. I really don’t know,’ said Gorman, who’s been with an advertising company in Bethesda, Maryland, for 15 years. Across America, older workers are postponing retirement plans, dismayed by huge losses in the value of the investments they had depended on to fund their retirement. The U.S. recession has compounded the problem, with home values too low to provide the nest egg many seniors need and interest rates on safer assets close to zero.” (Yahoo News, 17 January)


Hard times

“Think pawnshops, and you probably conjure up old jewelry, desperate customers, and seedy storefronts. Hardly, it would seem, the ingredients for innovation. Yet amid recession, the country’s largest chain, Cash America International (NYSE:CSH – News), is using the credit-crunch boom time to lure new customers and expand. To woo the growing number of consumers facing a credit squeeze, Cash America is boosting the amount of short-term loans it offers online, and is adding a cash-advance feature to electronic payroll cards. Such cards are gaining popularity among employees with poor credit, or those without traditional bank accounts.” (Yahoo News, 5 February)


Mortgage misery

“One house was repossessed every ten minutes in the third quarter of last year as the rate of seizures almost doubled, the Financial Services Auithority said yesterday. The City regulator said that 13,616 homes were repossessed in the three months to September last year, a 92 per cent rise on the third quarter of 2007. There was also a rise in the number of homeowners in arrears, indicating that hundreds of thousands of borrowers could lose their homes. The FSA said that 340,000 borrowers were behind on mortgage repayments, a 10 per cent rise compared with the previous quarter of last year and a 24 per cent rise on the same period in 2007.” (Times, 23 January)

Obituary: Ambrose Cowap (2009)

Obituary from the March 2009 issue of the Socialist Standard

Central London [branch] are saddened to have to report the death in January, at the age of 75, of Comrade Amby Cowap. He joined the old Hackney branch in 1967 but left a few years later on returning to Ireland, where he hailed from. Back in London he rejoined in 1983. A roofer by trade, he redid the roof of our head office in Clapham and was always available to deal with repairs to it. On his retirement he left London to live in Lowestoft in Sussex. Our condolences go to his widow and family.

A Basic Mistake (2009)

Pamphlet Review from the January 2009 issue of the Socialist Standard

Basic Kropotkin – Kropotkin and the History of Anarchism. by Brian Morris. Anarchist Communist Editions, 2008. 32 pages. £2

Russian √©migr√© Prince Kropotkin, pioneering advocate of “anarchist-communism”, is probably best known for his work Mutual Aid: A Factor of Evolution. This short pamphlet takes us on a fleeting tour through the many strands of Anarchism as related to his theories.

Firstly we are presented with a sketch of the “libertarian impulse” throughout human history; Lao Tzu, classical Greek philosopher Zeno of Citium, the Diggers and even an Islamic sect, the Najadatam, all possessed an “anarchist sensibility” and were forerunners of Anarchism proper, it is claimed. For Kropotkin it is William Godwin who first stated the basic principles of Anarchism in his 1793 “Enquiry Concerning Political Justice” though he did not use the term – it was first used by Pierre-Joseph Proudhon.

In the next chapter we meet Bakunin whom, rather confusingly, we are told “was at heart a communist” even though he defended a form of private property where the products of labour are traded between individual – and therefore competing – labour associations or “free communes”.

Finally we come to Kropotkin’s dispute with the mutualists, most notably Proudhon, Warren and Tucker. Kropotkin applauded their “vigorous defence of the rights of the individual” but in defending private property they opened up the way “for reconstituting under the heading of ‘defence’ all the functions of the state.”

The main flaw of the pamphlet is in Morris’s failure to see the distinction between Marx’s thought and the Leninist concept of the vanguard party. Marx is falsely lumped together with the Blanquists of which Engels commented “Blanqui’s assumption, that any revolution may be made by the outbreak of a small revolutionary minority, follows of itself the necessity of a dictatorship after the success of the venture. This is, of course, a dictatorship, not of the entire revolutionary class, the proletariat, but of the small minority that has made the revolution… These conceptions of the march of revolutionary events have long become obsolete.” (The Program of the Blanquist Fugitives from the Paris Commune).

For Marx and Engels the ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’ meant a politically organised and conscious working class democratically controlling the transformation of the state; not the totalitarian rule of the vanguard party, as Lenin, the Anarchists and others have claimed. However, circumstances have changed since Marx and Engels put forward this concept, it is not a term the Socialist Party would use today.
 
By still claiming that the theories of Marx are akin to those of Lenin and other vanguardists the Anarchists are doing a disservice to the truth.
DJP

Letters: Trade unions (2009)

Letters to the Editors from the March 2009 issue of the Socialist Standard

Trade unions

Dear Editors

With reference to the Socialist Standard (50 Years Ago, February) referring to February 1959 showing Trades Unions in Maoist China were in practice organs of the State, Trotskyists in the SWP and other Trotskyists argue for unions to have power and rights. Yet when Trotsky was Lenin’s right-hand man he argued for the banning of unions to represent workers’ interests on the grounds it was not necessary in a workers state: instead they should express the state’s viewpoint to workers. He advocated forced labour and military discipline to be attached to labour units. Hitler and Mussolini had similar ideas.

Please assure that even under socialism and communism you would recognise free powerful Trades Unions to advance workers’ and other people’s rights as a Fundamental Human Right.
Andrew Harvey, 
Carlisle.


Reply: 
We can’t give you the assurance you ask for since trade unions, as organisations to negotiate with employers over the price and conditions of use of the commodity labour-power that their members are obliged to sell to get a living, will not exist in socialism. Neither will employers, nor wages. Instead, production will be under democratic control on the basis of the common ownership of the means of production. No doubt there will be workplace bodies – which will be free and powerful – to ensure this democratic control but these will not be trade unions.

We hope you don’t think we’re Trotskyists. We are not but have always opposed Leninism and its 57 varieties including Trotskyism. We agree with you in denouncing Trotsky’s attitude towards trade unions when he was a member of the state-capitalist Bolshevik government of Russia in the early 1920s – Editors.


Kropotkin

Dear Editors

I much appreciated DP’s review of my Kropotkin pamphlet (January Socialist Standard). Of course Kropotkin, like myself, was clearly able to distinguish between Marx’s advocacy of parliamentary government (State socialism) and Lenin’s vanguardist approach.

What is important to recognise, however, lost on DP, is that Kropotkin and the anarchists repudiated both Marxist politics and Bolshevism and other anarchists (libertarian socialists) opposed Marxist State socialism – clearly spelled out in Iain McKay’s recent An Anarchist FAQ (AK Press, 2008) and other pamphlets by the Anarchist Federation.
Brian Morris, 
Lewes, Sussex,


Reply: 
We would argue that Marx was not an advocate of “parliamentary government” but of the abolition of the state. As he wrote in The German Ideology “[The proletarians] find themselves directly opposed to the form in which, hitherto, the individuals, of which society consists, have given themselves collective expression, that is, the State. In order, therefore, to assert themselves as individuals, they must overthrow the State”. It is unfortunate that after so-called “Marxism” became the official ideology of the ruling class in Russia his anti-state sentiments have been downplayed or distorted. “State socialism” is a contradiction in terms and was never used by Marx.

In all essentials, we would say the theories of Kropotkin are closer to those of Marx than are some others from the Anarchist tradition; the difference is one of means and not ends – a classless, stateless, moneyless, wageless common ownership society. However what it is more important, as we hope you’ll agree, is not what Marx or Kropotkin said or meant to say, but how we can improve our current theoretical understanding by studying their works and criticising them in the light of later developments and our experience of the present. – Editors.

Silly money (2009)

The Cooking The Books column from the March 2009 issue of the Socialist Standard

We mentioned last month that currency crank ideas flourish in a slump as the problem appears to be a lack of money, as implied by the term “credit crunch”. The government itself seems to accept this view as it thinks that pumping money into the banks will solve the problem. As this is not working (because banks are not going to throw good money after bad by lending to firms they think won’t make enough profit, due to the slump, to be able to share some of it with them as interest) others are coming up with other proposals.

One of these is the Green guru, George Monbiot. In his column in the Guardian (20 January), headed “If the state can’t save us, we need a licence to print our own money”, he endorsed the proposal for local communities to be able to issue their own money. He mentions various historical examples from Germany, Austria and Switzerland (he was discussing a book on money by a German author that he had just read). All these happened to be linked to the ideas of the German currency crank, Silvio Gesell, mentioned in this column last month, whose pet theory was that money should lose its value if it wasn’t spent within a give time period. But they don’t have to be.

Monbiot makes the following claim for local currencies :
“We need not wait for the government or the central bank to save us: we can set this system up ourselves. It costs taxpayers nothing. It bypasses the greedy banks. It recharges local economies and gives local businesses an advantage over multinationals”.
Last September one such scheme came into operation in Lewes, Sussex. A “Lewes Pound” was issued and started circulating. But it seems more a scheme to get people to use local shops than an alternative, local, “green”, way of encouraging people to spend the way out of the crisis. As the organisers themselves say on their site (www.thelewespound.org/):
“[I]t is easiest to think of it as a gift voucher or a book token: A Lewes Pound is a voucher worth 1 pound that can only be redeemed at locally owned participating stores.”
The Lewes Pounds get into circulation by people buying them for ordinary pounds and  are convertible back into pounds on demand. In answer to the question “What happens to the sterling pounds that are taken when people buy Lewes Pounds?” the organisers explain: “All Sterling pounds are held in a safe deposit box with a local bank, so that we can access them at any time should people wish to trade their Lewes Pounds back into Sterling”. They go on to say that this means that the introduction of Lewes Pounds won’t have an inflationary effect “as there is no additional currency added to the total pool because for each Lewes Pound that is brought into circulation a Pound Sterling is taken out of circulation.” In that case, then, it’s not an alternative way of pumping more money into the economy for people to spend a way out of the crisis.

The organisers themselves don’t make the wild claims for local currencies that Monbiot does. In fact they are surprisingly honest. In answer to the question “Isn’t it just silly money? Lewes Pounds aren’t going to make a difference” they reply “initially, it won’t make a difference from an economic perspective, as the number of Lewes Pound released is minimal compared to the size of the Lewes economy”.

That in fact is the whole point. All such schemes are only ever going to be marginal compared with the total amount of local buying and selling, debt settling and tax paying transactions. They are not going to make any difference in a depression. Their aim is essentially, as Monbiot puts it, to “give local businesses an advantage over multinationals”. Another inter-capitalist dispute not to get involved in, then.

50 Years Ago: Mikoyan’s bluff called (2009)

The 50 Years Ago column from the March 2009 issue of the Socialist Standard 

Recognition of the truth sometimes comes out of strange places and no one could have been more surprised than Mr. Mikoyan that it should have been Mr. Dulles who told him that he, Mikoyan, does not know what Socialism is. But so it happened.

It was at the end of the Russian Deputy Prime Minister’s visit to America. When all the dinners and interviews, the speeches and cocktail parties were over, the time came to part. Mr. Mikoyan gave his farewell message to reporters at the airport, and said :—
“Socialist society in our country will develop whether you like it or not, and whether we want it or not. American capitalism is still strong. The conclusion is that we must be tolerant of each other and come to agreement.” (Daily Telegraph. 21st January, 1959.)
Then came the slap in the eye from Mr. Dulles, in a telegram to Mikoyan :—
“The President is aware that you operate under a system of State capitalism, and he hopes that has been useful to you to have seen the progress of our people under our system of individual capitalism. We are sure that you have found the experience interesting.” (Daily Telegraph, 21st January, 1959.)
We have no doubt that Mr. Mikoyan found it a novel and interesting experience to have his bluff called at top level about the fake “Socialism” of Russia, and bluntly to be told that Dulles sees it for what it really is, “State Capitalism.”

May we hope from this beginning that the representatives of all the countries will, at U.N. and other international gatherings, develop the habit of calling State and private capitalism by their proper name everywhere and on all occasions ?

(Editorial, Socialist Standard, March 1959)