Friday, February 16, 2024

Anti-immigrant party gains in Danish elections (2002)

From the January 2002 issue of the Socialist Standard

Elections are such depressing things. Once again the power to register a desire to change society in a fundamental way was open to the workers (in the shape of their vote) and once again it was squandered on capitalism. Of course it was not going to be otherwise – Danish workers, as elsewhere, are sadly not showing any high degree of class consciousness. The events in the US and Afghanistan have helped put a rotten breath of life into so-called “immigration debate”. And it didn’t exactly help matters when it was revealed one of Saddam Hussein’s generals – responsible for the 1988 gas attack on a Kurdish village – lives in Denmark.

The Danish election was on 20 November . It was a historic election. The turnout was a record; the Social Democrats were massacred, losing power everywhere, for example, for the first time in 82 years there isn’t a Social Democrat mayor in my home town of Aarhus; and the new government is the first “borgerlig” (literally “bourgeois) majority administration since 1926-29. In fact, the Social Democrats are the second largest party now; the neo-liberalists of Venstre have taken over first place.

Rasmussen has been replaced as PM by Rasmussen. (Tweedledum and Tweedledee spring to mind.) Not only did the two main actors have the same name, a lot of TV time was spend looking the lack of differences in the parties’ manifestos. (We say they are fundamentally the same anyway since both seek to administer capitalism.) It is the same spectacle of New Labour being the new Tories. Nyrup Rasmussen, the ex-PM, claimed in one election broadcast – when presented with a 30-year-old quote of his – that he has always stood for regulated capitalism . . . which is true, but at least he didn’t call it socialism.

The Danish Peoples’ Party has become the third largest party, and provides the Venstre/Conservative government with the extra mandates it needs for the “borgerlig” majority. (The Danish Folketing is built up on a complex PR system where posts and policies are negotiated by the parties.) The DPP is a nasty, nationalist outfit. Social Democrats are secretly hoping the DPP will scupper the government. And if you think that sounds like intrigue, what about the Socialist Peoples’ Party mayor who was backed by the DPP and a capitalist . . .

The whole tone of the election has led the Swedish and Norwegian liberals to call for Venstre’s exclusion from the liberal movement. International reaction has been negative too, some going to far as to compare Fogh Rasmussen with Haider. Venstre had put an ad in a national broadsheet about seven Arab boys who raped a 14-year-old girl in Aarhus not so long ago, which was roundly criticised for its suggestion that Arab boys are gang rapists. Immigration and taxation played a large role in the election. The ideas was: Danes pay high taxes; the Welfare State is in trouble, and we have waiting lists and our pensioners aren’t looked after; immigrants come here, do nothing, and get loads of taxpayers’ cash to live the life of Reilly. A few people realised that immigrants are an essential part of the labour force, which was vindicated by the post-election news that the firm Novo Nordisk are seeking qualified engineers in the immigrant population, even promising them support if they require a masters education. (There are too few engineers to cover industry” requirements at present.)

The need for a socialist on the debate programmes, in order to blow such nonsense arguments to bits, was obvious. But there were no socialists, just the sight of Frank Aaen of the Unity Party being foolish. The Unity Party is a ragbag collection of old Trotskyist and Stalinists, who married when the Eastern Bloc collapsed. Anders Fogh Rasmussen (the new PM) was harangued by Aaen. Fogh was quick to reply: “It’s obvious that the only thing you know about liberalism is what you learned at the Party school in Moscow.” It was a devastating hit. Aaen served the Kremlin Empire in his capacity as a leading Communist Party member. Socialists have pointed out that the silly gits who lionise Lenin do the socialist cause enormous harm. Fogh didn’t need to give a serious answer to Aaen – it was enough to use imagery.

There were some positive things. I produced a couple of hundred leaflets which were snatched up, made some contacts, and I sold a number of copies of this journal. An interesting thought to ponder: when the new government fails, as its predecessor did will workers begin to see that no matter which bunch you put in, it is King Capital first and the working class nowhere?
Graham C. Taylor

The White Death (2002)

From the January 2002 issue of the Socialist Standard

Common salt is composed of sodium and chlorine of which, it seems, there was plenty locked up in compounds within the basalt rock that formed most of the Earth’s crust as our world cooled from a chemical soup over 3.5 billion years ago. Years of weathering, erosion and corrosion then produced the salt that readily dissolved into masses of water that flowed over and settled, as oceans, in the low-lying areas.

Tiny salt particles have, ever since, been blown from the sea directly onto coastal and adjacent regions of land or have been lifted into the upper atmosphere where they then fall everywhere with rain. Over aeons of time, in dry areas unflushed by regular rainfall, the soil has become sprinkled with minute salt particles extending to a considerable depth.

Unique vegetation has evolved in Western Australia which created a natural “equilibrium” or balance that maintains the ground-water level (water-table) at a depth beyond the salt zone. Native deep-rooted, perennial plants are highly efficient absorbers of moisture, allowing very little rainfall to seep down into the water-table. Native trees have two root systems which absorb both surface and deep groundwater. These are just part of an undisturbed eco-system that produced stability for millions of years.

The clearing of native vegetation and trees for farming and grazing has produced vast areas of shallow-rooted annual crops and pasture which use far less water. Most rainfall now percolates down into the groundwater which raises the level of the water-table. Similarly, in irrigation areas the applied water mostly filters down and lifts the level. As the water-table climbs it dissolves increasing amounts of salt within the soil profile until maximum salinity is concentrated at, or near, the soil surface. Capitalism’s profit-motivated “economic efficiencies” in the timber industry has introduced the disaster of “clearfelling”. Bulldozers uprooting trees, wrecking the understorey, wildlife habitat, soil structure and complete eco-system of vast areas of forest, simply magnifies the problem still further.

The impact of a rising water-table and dryland salinity has far-reaching effects long before the ultimate “White Death” of a lifeless, shining white desert studded with dead trees, is created. Saline water with four feet of the soil surface reduces plant growth. From this point there is a loss of agriculture production, destruction of bush vegetation and native habitat leading to loss of wildlife and biodiversity. Drainage from the soil causes salinity of waterways which affect streams, rivers and water resources in dams and reservoirs . . . eventually making the water unusable. Water plants, aquatic life (frogs, fish, water birds, turtles etc), algae, microbes and invertebrates are destroyed. Rising concentrations of salt damages the soil structure and will corrode the foundations of all infrastructure causing buildings, roads, footpaths, railways, bridges and sewage pipes etc to crumble. Rising water-table also makes land more prone to waterlogging and flooding. The social impact is enormous.

The worst-affected Australian state is Western Australia with 70 percent of total salinity problems. In 1902 the clearing of native vegetation was suspected of causing salinity. This was proved in 1909 and verified in 1924. Despite this knowledge land-clearing increased. The echoes of past capitalist politicians here are heard today when President Bush states, “I am more concerned with the economy than with ecology”, when referring to global warming . . . itself another major factor in the salinity equation.

Seventy-five percent of natural bush in the south-west has been cleared for agriculture of which 10 percent is now salt-affected, which has reduced crops by 50 percent. Over 80 percent of resource water there is salty to some degree and groundwater rises 20-150 cms annually. If allowed to continue 30 percent of farmland will be wiped out, 30,000 kms of road and railway and 27 towns will be ruined by shallow water-table by the year 2050. Many mammals, reptiles, insects, aquatic life and 450 endemic plant species will be lost from one of the most biodiverse areas of the world.

In 1985 a new State government department, CALM (Conservation And Land Management), was created. Syd Shea was appointed executive director. CALM pursued a simple policy of managing the forests for the benefit of the timber industry. Clearfelling was adopted on a grand scale and still continues today. In November 1999 Syd Shea accepted a new post created in the Premier’s office—”Head of Combating Salinity”. This is tantamount to putting a serial arsonist in charge of the Fire Service. Shea is now involved organising “carbon credits” and uses his “ecological expertise” in cracking deals for big corporations.

High technology is being used to acquire facts and statistics on salinity but the shocking details are not being publicised. The information written here was extracted from various official sources. The remedy to salinity is basically simple, groundwater levels need to be reduced (discharged) and rainfall needs to be used more efficiently to prevent recharge. Large areas of farmland need to be revegetated and forest should be allowed to regenerate. Additional proposed engineering and horticultural remedies should be applied immediately.

Capitalism, based upon cost/profit/jobs, which causes these problems, is not equipped to respond to simple need. Balance-sheet profit has always ignored the cost of environmental destruction, which never appeared on the debit pages of the ledger. Landowners are reluctant to lose portions of their land to non-income-producing native vegetation, despite their chance of losing the lot if their unsustainable farming methods do not change. So billions of dollars will be spent over many years on a strategy of compromise. The hunt is on for salt-tolerant fish and plants to farm, alternative deep-rooted crops and pasture and long-term cash-crops of plantation trees to supply the timber industry. It is hoped many areas can be contained and eventually some areas of salinity reversed, other regions are already doomed. But only a socialist society based upon unrestricted need has any chance of lasting success. Speed the day when such political awareness amongst the vast majority of the population will exist.
Ron Stone,

Minimum wages for us – and maximum profits for them (2002)

From the January 2002 issue of the Socialist Standard

When the minimum wage of £3.60 (adult) became law in 1998 many of capitalism’s apologists predicted widespread unemployment and bankruptcies galore. No such disasters occurred. On 10 October the rate was increased to £4.10 and the prophets of doom were once more out in force.

Like all reforms of capitalism the minimum wage legislation leaves intact the basic mechanism wherein a small handful live of the surplus value produced by the working class. However even by comparison with previous capitalist reforms this piece of legislation has proved woefully unsuccessful.

In the two years since it was first introduced the Inland Revenue has had to talk to 16,000 companies about non-compliance with the Act. Peter Grattidge, head of national minimum wage operation at the Revenue, reckons that staff have been paid under the minimum wage level in about 40 per cent of cases. The catering trade is notorious for sharp practices, such as counting tips in calculating minimum wage levels.

A recent example of how this reform works in practice is the swank London hotel The Sanderson. The rates for staying at this hotel vary from £210 per night for a double room to £2,000 a night to stay in the penthouse suite, a sharp contrast to the conditions of the cleaners and porters in the hotel. “From next month the hotel is proposing to switch from a shift system to a rate that will be fixed at £2.15 an hour. And rather than giving a guarantee of 38 hours a week the staff will see the minimum cut to 32 hours. A cut in hours might benefit some staff, but their contract commits them to work 48 hours a week if they are needed.” (Guardian, 24 November)
Richard Donnelly

Resistance (2002)

From the January 2002 issue of the Socialist Standard
Is it possible to imagine a world without resistance, oppression and poverty? What would this world be like?
Can we imagine a world in which resistance would be unnecessary since there’d be nothing to resist—a world without oppression or poverty? Why not? The Earth already possesses enough resources to properly feed, clothe and house every single man, woman and child on the planet. There’s no need for anybody anywhere to go without adequate food, drinking water, health care, housing or education. What, then, might be the features of this new and different world?

First, it would have to be a world in the literal sense. The answer to “global” warming and “world” poverty and the other problems caused by “global” capitalism can only be found within a world framework. So we are talking about a united world without frontiers, no longer divided into separate and competing states. This will save the enormous amount of resources currently wasted on armed forces and arms, that could be redirected into satisfying the basic human needs that are now so scandalously neglected.

Second, all the productive resources of the world should become the common heritage of all the people of the world. They must no longer be owned by corporations, rich private individuals or states. There are already treaties saying that Antarctica and the Moon cannot be appropriated by individuals or states. The same principle should apply to the whole planet, not just to its natural resources but also to the industrial plants and means of transport and communication that humans have built up by their collective labour over the centuries.

Third, appropriate democratic institutions will need to be set up to control the use of this common heritage. World bodies to deal with inherently global questions such as the state of the biosphere and energy supply (as well as, initially, the urgent temporary problems such as world hunger, disease and lack of education that will be inherited from global capitalism). Regional bodies (replacing existing states and respecting cultural and linguistic differences) to organise industrial production. Local bodies to arrange access for people to the things they need for everyday living. Starting with democracy at local level, people will be able to create and maintain a genuinely people-based society.

Fourth, goods will have to be produced, whether globally, regionally or locally, solely and directly to satisfy people’s needs, not as at present to make a profit or for sale on a market. In fact, the whole market system of buying and selling, and the whole wasteful structure of financial and commercial institutions that arise on its basis, must go. As long as the market exists we will be dominated by its uncontrollable economic laws. As long as money exists financial and commercial, not human, values will prevail. So, we’re talking about a moneyless society in which, instead, people would contribute according to their abilities and take, freely as their right, from the common store what they need to live and enjoy life.

A world without frontiers or separate states, a world based on its resources being the common heritage of all humanity, a democratic world governed by what people decide they want and need not by money, profit and market forces, that’s the alternative to global capitalism that would render resistance unnecessary.

University Challenge 2002 (2002)

Party News from the January 2002 issue of the Socialist Standard

Ever complained about the Socialist Party never doing enough to propagate the case for socialism? Ever wanted to do some useful, productive work to help spread the ideas of world socialism?

Course you have. And now you have your chance. Twenty minutes of effort on your part is all that is needed to help with the Socialist Party's "University Challenge" 2002 campaign. The campaign is an open invitation to student political groups/societies to hear the world socialist case at one of their meetings. This campaign has been successfully run previously and resulted in a number of very positive discussion meetings, putting the distinctive case for a world of free access in front of interested minds. So this year we want to really try and get as many meetings as possible.

Don't be put off if you don't want to be a speaker yourself — a local speaker can be found. All we need at the moment is for you to contact your local college or university (via their general telephone enquiries) and get the address for the student association or main society's body.

The Campaigns Department has produced a range of standard letters to be sent out to different types of interested student groups (Third World First, Labour Students, Greens etc). These can be Word format from You can amend the letter for it to be returned to yourself, or to Head Office, whichever suits you.

Two new pamphlets from the Socialist Party (2002)

Party News from the January 2002 issue of the Socialist Standard

Socialist Principles Explained, which explains what we mean by our object and declaration of principles (see page 18), is now available.

Send a cheque for £1.50, made payable to the Socialist Party of Great Britain, to Head Office, 52 Clapham High Street, London SW4 7UN. Tel: 020-7611 3811.

A Socialist Life is a collection of 28 published and five unpublished short stories by Socialist Standard writer Heather Ball.

It will soon be available for £3. Order from he Socialist Party of Great Britain, to Head Office, 52 Clapham High Street, London SW4 7UN. Tel: 020-7611 3811.

Greasy Pole: Pornography and Politics (2002)

The Greasy Pole column from the January 2002 issue of the Socialist Standard

Kenneth Clarke was a Front Bench star in the Thatcher and Major governments – Home Secretary, Chancellor of the Exchequer and all that – but he has now decided that he does not like the members of his own party. A lot of them, he complains, are elderly people who never attend meetings and vote after reading the Daily Telegraph – as if that kind of political self-instruction had not always been worth a hat full of Tory votes. One of Clarke’s aides – Nick Kent – has been more explicit in his dislike of the Tory grass roots: “nasty old people” was his description of the party faithful (who) “cannot be reasoned with”. These outbursts are not accidents; they have been provoked by those nasty geriatrics electing Iain Duncan Smith to the Tory leadership in preference to Clarke and to the fact that Clarke now senses the time has come for him to make another bid for the top job – which cannot be unconnected with a dawning awareness in the party that by choosing Duncan Smith they made a mistake of historic stupidity.

The reasons for Duncan Smith’s victory will be a field for endless analysis, which is probably only waiting for the Tories to lose the next election as decisively as they lost the last one. Perhaps it was in reaction against William Hague, who was notable for what Nick Kent called “a teenage cocktail of tabloid populism and raving anti-Europeanism”. Perhaps it was because, although Duncan Smith had upset quite a few people (like John Major) in the party he had done so for what they considered the right reasons, in contrast to Clarke and Portillo. Perhaps they simply took to Duncan Smith’s soldierly stiff upper lip, his smart suits, his background as an officer in the Guards. They must have forgotten that political leaders are not elected to be well-mannered and expensively dressed. What leaders must be good at is telling lies, twisting arms, blackmailing their supporters, convincing the electorate that a calamitous past was not their fault.

Some months after he got the job, Duncan Smith is plainly failing to turn his party round. He is in deep trouble, with political correspondents openly musing on the likelihood that at the next election the Tories will be reduced the third ranking party, behind the Lib Dems. So Duncan Smith should be looking over his shoulder, organising his retreat, setting up his rearguard or whatever it is they do in the Guards at such times. And to make things a little more difficult there is Clarke in pursuit, declaring that he is reconsidering his refusal to accept a shadow post under Duncan Smith: “Never say never in politics” he said, ” It depends what job and depends on what he (Duncan Smith) expects me to say about the policy of the party”. It might be asked, how Clarke reconciles this with his previous assessment of Duncan Smith as a “status quo” politician, one of the “headbangers” on the issue of Europe, who would send the party into a “lurch to the right”. Politicians are of course skilled at forgetting their former declarations of immutable principle if it will help them get into power. Clarke is not offering to support his leader but to line himself up for the leadership if, with a little help from Clarke, Duncan Smith should be ousted.

Clarke will have learned from history that it will not be that simple, that there will be other hopefuls sharpening their knives, a few of them – like the oily, odious Michael Howard – already well known. Other possible candidates will have to work a bit harder to get themselves known but so did Margaret Thatcher when she beat Ted Heath in 1975, when few people expected a woman to come through to lead the Tory Party, especially one who had been jeered at in the media as the minister who snatched away the schoolkids’ free milk. So step forward, as they say in the gutter press, Theresa May, who sits for the lush Thames-side seat of Maidenhead. It is apparent that she is being groomed for stardom, if that is how to describe being leader of this political rabble. Her publicity drive may or may not be assisted by her having a name very close to that of a celebrated queen of porn. Get onto the internet and search for Teresa (no h) May and you will be viewing some lurid, unreal images of a female who does not appear to be taking part in a dreary Commons debate. As a result Theresa (with the h) May has been invited to participate in some raunchy TV programmes and has received some pretty forthright correspondence meant for her near-namesake. A typical letter ” . . . asked (her) to expose herself in public, to do things with men that most of us wouldn’t consider in the privacy of our own homes, and to force herself into weird, unnatural positions for the camera”.

Porn Queen 
This raises a few questions. How justified is the outrage at being confused with a porn queen and at Teresa May’s way of earning her living? One thing which can be said is that she is perfectly open about what she does, which is some way better than politicians who, if they are at all interested in hanging on to their job, cannot be honest about their work. If they were honest they would have to own up to a persistent catalogue of deception and failure and in the end to their own inability to control, or even affect, the social system which they claim to be able to fashion to our benefit. And what, after all, can we name as pornography and who are the pornographers?

Theresa May is the daughter of a clergyman. She went to Oxford (like Thatcher) then worked in a bank. Her ambitions were clear early on; she was a councillor in Merton, had to go through the mill of contesting some hopelessly solid Labour seats, like North West Durham in 1992 and Barking in a 1994 by-election before, against some strong opponents, she won the nomination for the rock-solid Tory seat of Maidenhead. “Very bright, hyperactive and witty” was how Andrew Roth described her in the Guardian. “Sloane with City flash” was another’s less kind assessment. The parallels between her and Thatcher have been noted; a Eurosceptic, she may see her road to power in carrying on where the mad handbagger left off. In the Tory leadership fight in 2001 she was careful not to be too prominent about her support for Portillo. In any case Duncan Smith did not hold this against her and gave her the shadow job of Transport and Local Government, belabouring the hapless, floundering Stephen Byers.

Bearing in mind that one function of the pornographer is the selling of talents for questionable purpose, how do we assess Theresa May? What does this supposedly vibrant and capable woman have to offer about this society and what it does to people? So far her comments have been preoccupied with blaming the Labour government for policies which are simply a continuation of what the Tories did when they were in power. On 7 November she spoke out about the government’s suggestion that people might be encouraged to vote if it was made easier for them, by having polling booths in places like supermarkets. Her comments were less than original. The way to get people to vote was not, she said, by “inventing new electoral systems or new types of politicians . . .The underlying cause of voter apathy is growing cynicism with the political process . . .” This banality does not even approach the question of why voters should be cynical. One obvious reason is that experience of a Labour government has made it clear to thousands of people that there is no difference worth influencing a vote between the big parties. People who voted Labour in 1997 under the impression that they were opting for social change are now realising that they were wrong but they have no idea of any other way. That is the root of their cynicism.

Bombs and Poverty 
There is a kind of pornography in this social system, which has nothing to do with a few women being paid to perform a variety of sexual acts for the entertainment of others. The kind of socially organised, premeditated state violence that has devastated the wretched country of Afghanistan in the interests of the oil industry is a kind of pornography; it excites all manner of morbid responses which are stimulated and exploited by political pornographers like Blair and Bush. It is a kind of pornography that in this country, which our leaders assure us is a model of civilised advancement, a third of the children live below the official poverty line. It is a kind of pornography that voters should be cynical about the political system when they have the power to use it to transform society, to liberate the human race into a society based on human needs.

Meanwhile we are left with the same dreary procession of impotent leaders who tell us, one after the other, that the way forward is to hand over to them our power to change society so that they can keep it as it is. Major for Thatcher; Hague for Major; Duncan Smith for Hague; perhaps one day May for Duncan Smith. And that is just the Tory Party. The other Teresa May, and those who do the same work, do far less damage.

50 Years Ago: “Racial Myths” – Pamphlet Review (2002)

The 50 Years Ago column from the January 2002 issue of the Socialist Standard

Whatever may be said about the sorry record of the United Nations in other spheres, UNESCO has certainly succeeded in implementing its resolution of 1948 to disseminate scientific facts designed to bring about the disappearance of race prejudice. Four of its recent publications on various aspects of this question [are titled] “Racial Myths”, “Race and Culture”, The Roots of Prejudice” and “Race and Psychology”. All are worth reading, but the first, written by Juan Comas, gives the most general approach to the whole subject, providing a useful introduction to the other three more specialised pamphlets.

The author shows that race prejudice is of comparatively recent origin, being developed as a doctrine only in the last two or three centuries. Before the 15th century the division of mankind was not so much into antagonistic races as into “Christians and infidels”. The colonization of Africa and the discovery of America, with the resulting demand for cheap and slave labour, let to the first real growth of racist ideas. Comas describes how the Darwinian theory of the survival of the fittest was suitably adapted at the time of great Colonial expansion to justify the enslavement of the “inferior” human groups:
“. . . the truth is that with coloured societies becoming potential competitors in the labour market and claiming the social advantages regarded as exclusively the heritage of the whites, the latter were obviously in need of some disguise for the utter economic materialism which led them to deny the “inferior” peoples any share in the privileges they themselves enjoyed.”
Thus the immediate cause of racial discrimination is acknowledged to be a social-economic antagonism. Yet having gone so far as to admit this, Comas is reluctant to go farther into the matter to determine the reasons for this antagonism. Possibly he regards this as being outside the scope of his subject, but more likely, at least from the point of view of the organization for whom he writes, he knows where to stop.

(From front page article by S.R.P., Socialist Standard, January 1952)