Saturday, July 2, 2022

Manchester Branch Resolution (2022)

Cross-Posted from the Socialism or Your Money Back blog

The Tories are planning to make it possible to use agency workers as strike-breakers. This will restrict trade union activity further, thus affecting the entire working class in this country. 

Manchester branch calls on the EC to publish a statement on the party’s position, which should include support for democratic union action to resist this plan, along with our argument that such action will only ever be defensive.

Supporting statement

The branch realises that the support we can offer will be minor. However, without any statement from the EC, we shall be absent from an important moment in the class struggle. Any statement should of course be distributed via all of our social media outlets

Manchester branch suggests the following wording:

We are approaching a new phase in a long history of anti-union legislation, from both Tory and Labour governments.

The SPGB opposes any attempt to restrict workers’ ability to take collective action to protect or improve conditions  of employment.

We will therefore support union efforts to resist the current government’s declared aim of allowing agency workers to be used as scab labour.

We urge all of our fellow-workers to join an appropriate union, but remind them that this can only ever be a defensive response, that equity is not possible for wage slaves and that the only way to ensure sustained well-being for us all is by replacing the crazed pursuit of profit for the few with a classless society of cooperation, where everything is produced solely to meet human needs.

Jubilee Junket (2022)

From the July 2022 issue of the Socialist Standard

To paraphrase a recent radio comedic comment, had Napoleon really wanted to take over Britain, rather than an army all he needed was to offer an extra two days’ bank holiday. Then he would have been welcomed with cheers and bunting.

This satirical response was a none-to-serious explanation for the popular enthusiasm for the present monarch’s platinum jubilee. Indeed, it can be difficult to understand why people who are increasingly struggling against economic challenges should wish to celebrate the present wealthy incumbent of a feudal institution adapted to the political needs of capitalism.

At the recent state opening of Parliament, due to the absence of the queen, the throne was occupied by her crown, an object of monetary value enough to ease the fuel poverty of a huge number of her impoverished subjects. Yet many will have spent some of their sparse and dwindling financial resources on plastic bunting made in China.

As Brexit and the 2019 general election demonstrated, there remains a strong nationalist resonance, a significant bulwark protecting the status quo. There will have been very many who did not deck their homes in red, white and blue, or watch the seemingly endless sycophantic ‘news’ items and kitsch TV programmes, yet still were broadly sympathetic to the event.

The jubilee is an indication of the seemingly Sisyphean task facing socialists arguing that the working class needs to take responsibility for, and actively pursue, abolishing capitalism in favour of a new, true commonwealth. This will be a worldwide society of democratically achieved common ownership of production for need not profit.

It will certainly be a world without leaders, monarchs or otherwise. Those who count themselves republicans will have taken exception to the jubilation, demanding the hereditary monarchy be replaced by an elected president. While superficially this appears more democratic, effectively it changes little.

A cursory glance at countries with presidents is not encouraging. The USA is the self-proclaimed land of the free, but it’s a freedom to live in dire poverty for all too many, with racial divisions and a small financial elite hell bent on preserving their freedom to remain obscenely wealthy.

The ineffective nature of the US presidency when it comes to helping resolve social issues is shown by the continuing slaughter of school children to preserve the free market in assault rifles. The president may weep, but it’s nowhere near the flood of tears shed by grieving parents.

President Putin is as readily seduced by martial ambitions as ever the Tsars were and presides over a country afflicted by poverty, be it of workers not peasants. In France nationalism remains a curse and is no more economically progressive, whatever that might mean, than Britain. The challenge to republicans is to identify one republic that is a significant improvement on British monarchy.

The problem is that a huge effort would be required throughout the UK to convince enough of the electorate to trigger a referendum and then vote for the abolition of the monarchy in favour of a republic. Having achieved that, then nothing would have significantly changed. Capitalism can comfortably continue with a presidential head of state as it does in most of the world. As Belloc suggested, most people will ‘always keep a-hold of nurse for fear of finding something worse’.

Here lies the nub of the issue. It is not that monarchists are more deluded than republicans, rather it’s the fact the working class has not yet grasped its potential to look or move beyond capitalism. To do so there needs to be an ideological shift to an understanding that leaders, actual or symbolic or both, cannot deliver such a transformation on behalf of the working class. New political forms will have to be developed, transcending present institutions.

This is what is meant by revolution, not barricades and street fighting, the storming of Winter, or any other, palaces. The revolution comes about by men and women democratically making their own future through a radical change in thinking that emerges from an understanding of the material reality of the present. Monarchs and presidents are both barriers that will have to be overcome through a popular understanding of their role in preserving present social, economic and political arrangements.

In any society, the seeds of the future are sown even if the social soil is not so fertile as yet. Many of the jubilee events, street parties, community picnics and the like, were people freely working together cooperatively without any incentive of financial reward, often the opposite, for a common goal. Such examples show that people can and will work without being wage slaves requiring the threat of the lash of poverty.

A street party works because people contribute what they can – sweet, savoury, alcoholic or non-alcoholic, bunting, music and so on. Then people take what they need, even those who didn’t contribute due to their particular circumstances, too elderly for example.

While there are no moments of socialism while capitalism exists – all those elements for the street party will have been commodities produced for the realisation of profit – there is social motivation that gives a glimpse of what is possible.

This is not to suggest in any way that the motivation behind jubilee events was socialist-inspired. However, socialists must be aware that no matter how much they might deplore the overt motivation behind the events, the capitalist state’s ideological reinforcement of its legitimacy, there is nonetheless an underlying if presently unconscious potential.

The jubilee weekend came and went. By Monday the bunting was already starting to look incongruous and, like street party memories, beginning to fade. Capitalism is already reckoning the balance sheet, lost production due to time off set against increased retail sales.

As the present monarch becomes increasingly frail the state will have plans in place for the succession. Should the royal family then prove to be as dysfunctional as its recent history suggests it might be, republicans may get their moment. Then, no doubt, there’ll be an extra bank holiday to mark the inauguration of the new president. More plastic bunting from wherever capitalism has shifted production to by then.

Or, maybe, a different way of doing things altogether…
Dave Alton

Not Just Festivals (2022)

Book Review from the July 2022 issue of the Socialist Standard

Afropean: Notes from Black Europe. By Johny Pitts. Penguin £10.99.

Pitts was born in Sheffield, to a white mother and black father, but he is not keen on the term ‘mixed race’, on the grounds that everyone is a mixture and there are no ‘pure’ races. Here he reports on a tour around some of Europe’s cities, Stockholm to Marseilles, Moscow to Lisbon, in search of ‘the banal humanity of everyday life’, rather than just street festivals and carnivals. Among other topics, he also discusses the history of Portuguese colonialism and the life and ideas of Frantz Fanon (for more information and background, see afropean.com and johnypitts.com).

In France many poor people, especially immigrants, have been shunted out to the suburbs, away from city centres. Pitts visited Clichy-sous-Bois, an area of Paris not served by trains or the M├ętro, and which is far worse than any deprived estate in Britain. For instance, the unemployment rate there is almost one-third, much higher than the national average. Some people live in dilapidated tower blocks where many of the windows have no glass in them. Second-generation black immigrants are angry as they are treated as foreigners, despite being taught to believe they are French.

The largest ethnic community in the Netherlands is Surinamese, the descendants of people brought by Dutch slave ships from West Africa to the north coast of South America. Many live on the Bijlmer estate near Amsterdam, where they squatted because few others wanted to live there. When black people complain about Dutch racism, some of the rest of society feel victimised, since the Netherlands is of course not a racist country.

Berliners pride themselves on living in a ‘super-open society’. But carnivals seemed to be more about young people having fun, while genuine resistance by black people had a more dangerous hue to it. The city does have an Afropean area, with lots of different kinds of restaurants and music.

There are many African and Asian students in Russia, carrying on a tradition from the USSR. But in Moscow they may be spat at or attacked, are reluctant to be seen out with white friends, and prefer to stay in at night. (As a girlfriend later reminds Pitts, solo female travellers generally also have to be careful where they go and to look out for unwanted attention.)

The worst behaviour that he encountered was from British men, such as stag-dos in Amsterdam and drunken football supporters on a train in the south of France (he was addressed as ‘Mr Afro-man’). His book provides a personal and depressing picture of the lives of so many black workers in Europe.
Paul Bennett

Music Review: Tainted Lives (2022)

Album Review from the July 2022 issue of the Socialist Standard

Happiness Not Included by Soft Cell (BMG, 2022)

Soft Cell began their career when punk’s angry energy was being channelled into then-new musical styles, such as the synth-based sound which has accompanied their songs of suburban angst. Since the band’s peak of popularity in the early ’80s, Marc Almond and Dave Ball have reunited for an album every couple of decades, now with Happiness Not Included. As its title suggests, their slant on society and its mood is even more jaded than before, although not without optimism.

The appeal of looking backwards is the subject of songs Polaroid, Nostalgia Machine and opener Happy Happy Happy about sci-fi’s off-kilter past dreams of the future (‘a better life with little strife, and very little meaning’). The album’s title track is a call to snap out of other stagnant ways of thinking (‘Every opinion is seen as offensive. That’s why we’re always on the defensive’, ‘Times have moved and shifting sands. The future’s in another lunatic’s hands’), and is more directly political than the other songs.

The theme of living in an alienating world is found throughout Soft Cell’s work, especially Happiness Not Included. Being hardened or numbed by life runs through tracks such as Heart Like Chernobyl, I’m Not A Friend Of God and, most effectively, Tranquiliser, one of the band’s kitchen sink dramas. This treads similar ground to 1981’s Bedsitter, although the escape from a lonely, hollow existence isn’t in a nightlife to ‘kid myself I’m having fun’ as in the earlier song, but now with taking downers so ‘I feel nothing at all’. Other tracks are more positive about finding a way out of a rut, such as Bruises On All My Illusions, Purple Zone (a collaboration with the Pet Shop Boys) and closing track New Eden. The album also avoids being too depressing by its lyrics not always taking themselves seriously (‘I feel like North Korea in the winter’, ‘It’s all the fault of the media and all the fear they feed ya’) and upbeat arrangements, particularly on Nostalgia Machine and Purple Zone. While Happiness Not Included isn’t a concept album, its songs hang together as a commentary on how people can react to these uneasy times. The result is probably Soft Cell’s best album since their first, and hopefully it won’t be another twenty years until their next.
Mike Foster

50 Years Ago: Is Mankind Doomed? (2022)

The 50 Years Ago column from the July 2022 issue of the Socialist Standard

When a religious group predicts the end of the world in the near future very few people sit up and take notice. But what happens when a group of scientists make it clear that they expect the breakdown of present society within the next fifty years? And, that when they are on about the Ecosphere they evince a deep knowledge of their subject and it seems that Man needs to wake up from the present dream and to do some serious thinking indeed. The group have formed a political movement called the Movement for Survival which they hope will become international. They may contest the next General Election. In the meantime they are trying to persuade governments, industrial leaders and trade unions throughout the world to face the facts and to take appropriate action while there is yet time. Their aim, according to their manifesto, Blueprint for Survival, is a new system of society seeking stability rather than expansion. (…)

On pollution the Doomwatchers make out an impressive case. Essential to the environment are such features as stability, organisation and complexity, but present trends suggest that “Industrial Man’’ is counteracting these basic requirements of the ecosphere and is thus bringing about its ruination as a fertile means of life. Marx pointed out the trend years ago and since he wrote pollution has multiplied. But the ecologists mis-state the real cause of pollution, which is capitalist profit-motivated production. Instead, they point to certain characteristics and symptoms of capitalism such as expansion, urban drift, and the increased ratio of capital to labour (here they mean the non-profit-creating to the profit-creating part of capital). (…)

Another result of the ecologists’ failing to face up to capitalist reality is that they appear to believe in miracles. By implication, they wish to retain the fundamentals of the present system; i.e. money, profit-making, capital, a ruled and a ruling class, yet they expect to freeze expansion and to substitute stability under it. They seem to have in mind a form of elitist society in which small self-sufficient and self-regulating communities would take the place of large cities and centralised government. (…)

The sane and sensible method of using the ecological resources to meet the needs of all the people of the world is Socialism.

(Socialist Standard¸ July 1972)

Material World: Signs of things to come (2022)

The Material World column from the July 2022 issue of the Socialist Standard

Much of our planet is suffering from heatwaves and droughts with record-breaking temperatures and the experts say it is not isolated incidents but a harbinger of weather events that will become increasingly common in the future as global warming increases.

Namrata Chowdhary of the environment activist group, 350.org, stressed that ‘the truth behind these heatwaves is searingly clear: fossil fuels did this. While these temperatures are quite literally shocking, they come as no real surprise to communities that have long since lived on the frontlines of the climate crisis.’ Chowdhary continued, ‘This is the latest spike in a rapidly worsening disaster, one that was foretold by climate activists the world over.’

Nushrat Rahman Chowdhury, co-author of a Christian Aid report, said: ‘Drought is not new, but its intensity and frequency have increased over the last 30 years due to global warming. It is a real danger; it threatens lives and livelihoods of some of the poorest people in the world, who have done the least to cause the climate crisis’.

Over 1.2bn poor people across the globe are highly vulnerable to extreme heat, which is 28 million people more than in 2021, according to Sustainable Energy for All (SEforALL).

The western states of the United States are suffering one of the worst droughts in a thousand years. California is in its third year of drought and virtually all areas of the state are classified as either in severe or extreme drought. However, US farmers will get insurance payouts, although this means rising premiums, and also are entitled to government tax subsidies.

European countries such as France and Spain are also being subject to punishing drought conditions. However, in Africa it leads to hunger and migration, since it is the poor who are the most vulnerable victims.

One Karachi-based urban planning advisor said the urban poor would suffer most from extreme heat, probably due to the ‘urban heat island effect’, where concrete-built landscapes push up temperatures: ‘Unplanned densification, automobile intensive mobility choices and rapidly reducing green cover are worrying urban trends.’

The poor do not have access to indoor cooling and the infrastructure in the slums makes life even harder, plus they often do outdoor construction and agricultural work with no shelter during the worst of the day’s heat. Heat is a silent killer, often responsible for more deaths than higher-profile disasters like floods, hurricanes or tornadoes, and the rising toll is expected to worsen as the world warms. In 2010, a heat wave in India killed 1,344 people in the western Pakistan city of Ahmedabad alone. In 2015, a heat wave killed more than 1,000 in the capital, Islamabad. However, due to inadequate death registration procedures this is likely to represent an undercount for the whole region.

According to the Lancet, 356,000 people died of extreme heat in 2019 alone.

The World Weather Attribution group analysed historical weather data and suggested that early, long heatwaves that impact a massive geographical area are rare, once-a-century events. But anthropogenic climate change has made these 30 times more likely. That may be a conservative estimate as another study by the UK Met Office said climate change makes heatwaves in north-west India and Pakistan 100 times more likely. That means the region may now see such events in excess of record 2010 temperatures every three years. If it were not for climate change, these events would happen just once every 312 years.

In 2018 Cape Town, in South Africa, was the world’s first big city to almost run completely out of water. That problem hasn’t gone away. The charity Christian Aid warned that in addition to Cape Town, London, Sydney, Beijing, Cairo and Phoenix are all in danger of running out of water as the climate crisis takes hold, according to its report, ‘Scorched Earth: the impact of drought on 10 world cities.’

Two-thirds of Africa is desert and dry savannah with 45 percent of Africa’s land area affected by desertification, more than half of which is at very high risk of further desertification. Africa has suffered from drought more frequently than any other continent with 134 droughts between 2000 and 2019, of which 70 occurred in East Africa, 14 extreme cases in the past two years alone. A fourth season of failed rains is causing one of the worst droughts East Africa has seen in decades and the UN’s World Food Programme says up to 20 million people are at risk of severe hunger. In Somalia, 40 percent are facing starvation as the food and water supply becomes desperate. Millions of children are malnourished, while the domestic animals that families depend on have died. While in southern Africa Angola is facing the worst recorded drought in 40 years, with southern provinces where 1.58 million people are suffering high levels of acute food insecurity having experienced the fifth consecutive year of drought conditions.

Droughts are being fuelled by climate change, and so only global action can make a difference. Our urgent need is building a world of coordinated mutual aid which is integral to our case for a cooperative commonwealth for the future – world socialism. As explained in last month’s Material World, socialism may be Africans’ last hope to change their dire situation and conditions.
ALJO