Wednesday, August 31, 2011


You don't often hear of university professors praising Karl Marx or this business journal reporting it, but we must give credit where credit is due. "Economist Nouriel "Dr. Doom" Roubini, the New York University professor who four years ago accurately predicted the global financial crisis, said one of economist Karl Marx's critiques of capitalism is playing itself out in the current global financial crisis. ..."Karl Marx had it right," Roubini said in an interview with "At some point capitalism can self-destroy itself. That's because you can not keep on shifting income from labor to capital without not having an excess capacity and a lack of aggregate demand. We thought that markets work. They are not working. What's individually rational ... is a self-destructive process." (International Business Times, 13 August) Being a university economic professor he couldn't get it all correct of course. Marx never claimed that capitalism would "self-destroy itself". That destruction can only come about by the political action of the working class. RD

Who owns the North Pole- Part 40

Within the next year, the Kremlin is expected to make its claim to the United Nations in a bold move to annex about 380,000 square miles of the internationally owned Arctic to Russian control. At stake is an estimated one-quarter of all the world's untapped hydrocarbon reserves, abundant fisheries, and a freshly opened route that will cut nearly a third off the shipping time from Asia to Europe. But in the absence of a regional deal, tensions are mounting. Alexander Konovalov, president of the independent Institute of Strategic Assessments in Moscow, says "... time is running out to make an orderly division of the territories."

This month, Canada holds Operation Nanook, an Arctic military exercise designed to send a message to Moscow. Canada also has plans for its own territorial claim. The US, which has not signed the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, under which any territorial divisions would be made, is also beefing up its regional military might.

From here

Monday, August 29, 2011

banking on repression

The 84% state-owned Royal Bank of Scotland faces damaging revelations about its ethical record after it emerged that the bank was part of a deal to issue more than $800m (£489m) in Belarusian government bonds earlier this year, a month after the country's leader, Alexander Lukashenko, ordered the brutal repression of pro-democracy campaigners. In Belarus, hundreds of opposition activists were arrested and many of those who stood against Mr Lukashenko in last December's disputed elections have since been thrown in jail after a series of show trials that have been condemned by international observers. Many pro-democracy groups have urged Western businesses to shun the regime until their demands for reform are met.

RBS is the only British bank to have recently done financial deals directly with the Belarusian government. The scandal of raising bonds for Belarus, a country with by far the worst human rights record in Europe, cannot be described as a one-off lapse of judgement on the bank's part. The bank's apologists, no doubt, will claim that it has done nothing illegal because the government of Belarus is not under international sanctions, apart from a feeble EU travel ban placed on top officials.

Natalia Koliada, from Free Belarus Now, said: "When British businesses invest in Belarus, or RBS sells their government's bonds, it helps support an authoritarian regime."

Full details here

Sunday, August 28, 2011


One of the illusions dreamt up by supporters of capitalism in the USA is that whilst in backward Europe you may have remnants of the old class struggle, in modern America they have left all that behind them. Recent developments there seem to give the lie to that notion. "Unions reacted furiously Friday to a proposal by the Postal Service to lay off 120,000 workers by breaking labor contracts and to shift workers out of the federal employee health and retirement plans into cheaper alternatives. Labor experts and other unions also sounded the alarm that any move by Congress to break postal contracts would further wound an already ailing labor movement, much as President Ronald Reagan's firing of striking air traffic controllers did in 1981." (Washington Post, 13 August) Many US workers are about to learn that in a time of economic crisis it is they who will suffer the consequences. For 120,00 of them the American dream is about to become the American nightmare. RD

Saturday, August 27, 2011


Times are hard for some sections of the capitalist class as markets crash and profit margins shrink, but there is one section of the exploitation machine that is doing very well. "Tiffany & Company's net income rose 30 per cent in the second quarter, propelled by strong growth across all regions as high-income shoppers continued to be drawn to its jewelry and other goods. The Tiffany's detailed quarterly and first-half results handily beat Wall Street's expectations, and the company raised its full-year profit forecast again as a result." (New York Times, 26 August) The reason for Tiffany's success is that it caters for the extremely wealthy and they are still in a shopping frenzy over such essentials as high-priced jewels. RD

Friday, August 26, 2011


Newspapers love to run stories about some member of the working class who unlawfully claims state benefits. "Benefit dodgers" and "claimant crooks" scream the headlines. In fact the amounts claimed are usually very small-time compared to the dodges that the owning class get up to. "Britain and Switzerland have agreed a ground-breaking deal that could bring in £6 billion for the Treasury and which marks the end of an era where the super-rich used the country to shelter their wealth." (Times, 25 August) The Treasury estimated that in 2006 the tax evasion and avoidance came to £14 billion using the Swiss banks. So big is the evasion that the Swiss banks have agreed to a one-of payment of £384 million to the Treasury. "This doesn't mean the end of tax dodging of course. The world's wealthiest will always be able to find smaller, more obscure territories with a firm attitude on privacy." (Times, 25 August) RD

who owns the north pole - part 39

Two major Arctic shipping routes have opened as summer sea ice melts, satellites have found. The European Space Agency's Envisat shows both Canada's Northwest Passage and Russia's Northern Sea Route open simultaneously.

Shipping companies are already eyeing the benefits these routes may bring if they remain open regularly. A number of major shipping companies are looking to the opening of these routes to shorten journey times and make their businesses more efficient. The Northern Sea Route has been free enough of ice this month for a succession of tankers carrying natural gas condensate from the northern port of Murmansk to sail along the Siberian coast en route for Thailand.

"But this time they've really been open, with a proper Suez-size tanker going through the Northern Sea Route with a full cargo - that's a real step forward" observed Peter Wadhams, an Arctic ice expert from the University of Cambridge.

Thursday, August 25, 2011


Amongst the many promises made by the coalition government was one to increase the number of apprenticeships and education facilities for the 15 to 18 year olds. Like many other plans of the government this one has run into the realities of capitalism."The proportion of 18 to 24-year-olds in England not in employment, education or training (Neet) has risen to 18.4%, official figures suggest. The figure from the Department for Education is the highest for the second quarter since 2006, and is up from 16.3% last year. Nearly a million (979,000) 16 to 24-year-olds were Neet between April and June this year, the figures show." (BBC News, 24 August) RD

Wednesday, August 24, 2011


Fashion conscious shoppers in the smart streets of Madrid may see themselves as trend setters as they buy clothes from the Zara stores. but Zara is under investigation over the use of "slave labour" at factories in Brazil. "Workers discovered to be producing clothes for the Zara label in sweatshop conditions in Sao Paulo are to receive compensation, Inditex, the parent company of the retail chain, confirmed. Authorities said they rescued a team of workers (14 Bolivians and one Peruvian) from an unlicensed factory that sewed garments carrying the Zara label. The 15 immigrant workers, one of whom was reported to be just 14 years old, were said to be living in dangerous and unhygienic conditions on the factory floor, forced to work 12-hour shifts for between $156 (£95) and $290 (£176) a month. The minimum wage in Brazil is $344." (Daily Telegraph, 18 August) This is typical of the hypocrisy of capitalism. Behind the glitter of high fashion lurks the exploitation of defenseless children. RD

Tuesday, August 23, 2011


A common fallacy about capitalism is that the problems are geographical not social. Some areas of the world may have endemic problems like Africa or Asia but here in Europe we are OK goes the argument. This is of course nonsense - take the example of South Africa. "More than a quarter of all South Africans are jobless, according to official statistics. More than 65 percent live on less than 550 rand ($75) per month, or $2.60 a day. And yet, the gross domestic product, on a per capita basis, is $10,700. What those figures suggest is that South Africa isn't a poor country: It's a country where the wealth is concentrated in a few hands.(Christian Science Monitor, 6 August) Capitalism is a worldwide social system - its problems are worldwide, so is the solution to these problems. RD

empty houses and homeless

About 23,000 houses are lying empty across Scotland, while more than 160,000 households are stuck on waiting lists for properties, according to Shelter. There are over 840,000 empty homes in the UK.

Monday, August 22, 2011


In the USA, like every other capitalist nation, politicians love to tell us during an economic downturn that "we are all in this together" or some such vote-catching piece of nonsense. The recent spending spree in New York by the owning class gives the lie to that piece of codswallop. "Nordstrom has a waiting list for a Chanel sequined tweed coat with a $9,010 price. Neiman Marcus has sold out in almost every size of Christian Louboutin Bianca platform pumps, at $775 a pair. Mercedes-Benz said it sold more cars last month in the United States than it had in any July in five years. Even with the economy in a funk and many Americans pulling back on spending, the rich are again buying designer clothing, luxury cars and about anything that catches their fancy." (New York Times, 2 August) RD


Capitalism has many contradictions. Murder is judged to be unethical and punishable by law, but if you do it in uniform fighting for your master's economic interests it is seen as heroic and can earn you a medal. In order to justify murder amongst its airmen the USA government has run a course on the subject for many years. "Air Force pulls 'Jesus Loves Nukes' Training. The Air Force has suspended decades-old Bible-centric ethics training intended to make Christian officers comfortable with the possible use of nuclear weapons. The training program was given to all new missile officers by Air Force chaplains. "We're in the process of reviewing that training and we'll make a determination whether or not to continue [it] or if it will be a different course," Air Education and Training Command spokesman Dave Smith told" ( 2 August) RD

shops and shoppers disappear

One in nine Scottish shops is lying empty as the retail sector slowdown shows no sign of easing, new figures have revealed. Scotland’s store vacancy rates stand at 11.1%.

Stephen Robertson, British Retail Consortium Director General, said: “Fewer people are shopping because households are facing high inflation, low wage growth and uncertainty about future job prospects.”

Colin Borland, spokesman for the Federation of Small Business in Scotland, said “Hard-pressed families are reviewing every pound in their weekly budget. People are thinking before they buy and that, of course, has a knock-on effect on foot-fall and wider business confidence. As soon as people start to see vacant units appearing in high streets, it is almost as if they are contagious. It gives the impression the area is on the way down and means there is less economic activity to sustain remaining businesses.”

The Lairds of the land still rake it in

Scotland’s aristocrats are earning millions of pounds from windfarms on their estates , according to figures from the Renewable Energy Foundation, a charity that promotes sustainable development.

Fallago Rig in the Lammermuir Hills in the Borders, will earn landowner the Duke of Roxburghe £720,000 a year. In the course of the 25-year lifespan of the windfarm, the Duke of Roxburghe could earn something between £18 million and £62.5m.

Sir Alastair Gordon-Cumming will earn £435,000 from the 29 turbines on the Altyre estate near Forres in Moray.

The Earl of Seafield also has eight turbines on his estate near Banff in the north-east which are estimate to be able to earn him £120,000 annually.

The Earl of Moray receives £540,000 a year from 36 turbines at Braes O’Doune near Stirling.

Sunday, August 21, 2011


Capitalism is at present going through one of its recessions. We have rising unemployment, businesses threatened with bankruptcy and mortgage foreclosures leading to re-possessions. However its not all doom and gloom, some capitalist concerns are doing well despite the recession. "Sales of London homes that are so luxurious they contain temperature-controlled cupboards for storing fur coats has helped profits to rise 20 per cent at Saville. The upmarket property group said that demand from foreign millionaires had enabled it to sell more homes than ever in the £5 million-plus bracket ... Saville said that first-half profits rose from £17.2 million last year to £20.6 million." (Times, 19 August) RD


It was a media sensation. The newspapers and television coverage was immense. The heroism of the miners existing in awful conditions on the brink of death was lauded internationally, but this is capitalism and the heroes were members of the working class so the outcome was predictable."One of the myths surrounding the 33 miners who were so dramatically rescued after being trapped for 69 days deep inside a Chilean mine is that they're all millionaires and no longer need to work. The truth: nearly half the men have been unemployed since their mine collapsed one year ago Friday, and just one, the flamboyant Mario Sepulveda, has managed to live well off the fame. Most have signed up to give motivational speeches. Four, so far, have gone back underground to pound rock for a living." (Associated Press, 4 August) RD


The newspapers are full of stories about half a million children dying of lack of food, clean water and basic medical care in East Africa. We can also read about millions of people trying to survive on less than $1.25 a day. Contrast all that with how our parasitical masters live."Supermodel Linda Evangelista is asking French billionaire Francois Henri-Pinault for $46,000 a month in child support. He's the father of Ms. Evangelista's four-year-old son, Augustin James. And Ms. Evangelista argues that $46,000 is the minimum required to provide for young Augustin in the manner to which he has grown accustomed." (Wall Street Journal, 3 August) RD

Saturday, August 20, 2011


Capitalism is an extremely volatile society and it is impossible to predict when and where the next military explosion will occur. The Middle East is a likely candidate because of its oil resources but there are other potential battlegrounds. "Rapidly expanding oil exploration looks likely to escalate territorial disputes in the South China Sea , which is suspected of containing vast oil and natural gas resources. A Philippine company, Philex Mining Corp., announced Tuesday that it plans to drill at least two wells and expand its surveys in Reed Bank, in one of the most contested areas of the South China Sea, the Wall Street Journal reports. China claims the sea in its entirety and several other countries in the region, including the Philippines, Vietnam and Taiwan claim parts of it." (Christian Science Monitor, 1 August) No doubt if a military conflict arises it will be depicted as one of democracy, justice or some such high-sounding principle. It will of course be a naked scramble for profits. RD


Whenever socialists point out that socialism will be a society wherein everybody will work to the best of their ability and take according to their needs; a society without ownership, wages or prices, we are invariably taken to task for our naivety. What about human nature? we are asked. It is human nature to be greedy. At various times we have explained our position using many illustrations from history but it is unlikely we could improve on this argument by the writer George Orwell nearly 70 years ago. "The proper answer, it seems to me, is that this argument belongs to the Stone Age. It presupposes that material goods will always be desperately scarce. ....but there is no reason for thinking that the greed for mere wealth is a permanent human characteristic. We are selfish in economic matters because we all live in terror of poverty but when a commodity is not scarce, no one tries to grab more than his fair share of it. No one tries to make a corner in air, for instance. The millionaire as well as the beggar is content with just so much air as he can breathe." (Tribune, 21 July 1944) RD

Friday, August 19, 2011


It is the stuff of movie legend. How those devilish foreigners torture our gallant British soldiers. It is not the sort chicanery that our chivalrous lads would engage in. Alas, it is just movie nonsense. "A top-secret document revealing how officers were allowed to extract information from prisoners being illegally tortured overseas has been seen by the Guardian. The interrogation policy - details of which are believed to be too sensitive to be publicly released at the government inquiry into the UK's role in torture and rendition - instructed senior intelligence officers to weigh the importance of the information being sought against the amount of pain they expected a prisoner to suffer. It was operated by the British government for almost a decade." (Guardian 4, August) This revelation makes the claims of a number of men who said that they were questioned by MI5 and MI6 officers after being tortured at Guantanamo Bay seem highly likely. Capitalism is a filthy system and isn't run according to any rules of fair play. RD

Thursday, August 18, 2011


One of the defenses of modern capitalism is that although it is far from perfect it is gradually improving. Improving for whom? "The richest one per cent of Americans earn nearly a quarter of the country's income and control an astonishing 40 per cent of its wealth. Inequality in the US is more extreme than it has been in almost a century - and the gap between the super-rich and the poor and middle class people has widened drastically over the last 30 years." (ALJAZEERA, 2 August) Socialists would disagree with a few things in this article. The use of the term "earn" for the parasitical capitalist class and the usual confusion about a non-existent "middle class". Despite these disagreements we still think it well illustrates the gigantic gap between the working class and the capitalist class. RD


Nurses are "propping up" the NHS by repeatedly working more hours than contracted and providing last-minute shift cover, a union has claimed.

The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) Scotland said a survey of its members found just only one in 10.

96% reported working in excess of their contracted hours, with 27% saying they did this every shift.

More than a quarter said they provided last-minute cover for absentee staff at least fortnightly.

29% of nurses said they missed their meal time at work at least three times a week.

One in six said they rarely or never took the breaks they were entitled to.

One in five nurses said that in the past six months they had spent a week or more at work despite feeling too ill to be there.

Let hear it for the lazy workers once again!!!

Women and children first

Women now make up almost one-third of Scotland’s unemployed. The number of females out of work north of the Border has soared 20% in the past 12 months. 47,000 women aged 16 and over in Scotland are now claiming Jobseeker’s Allowance out of a total claimant count of 146,900. The figure compares with 39,000 in July 2010.
Public sector cutbacks were blamed for the growing toll of female unemployment. The rate of female redundancies is also accelerating, according to separate figures for April to June this year which showed that women accounted for 45% of all those laid off

Youth unemployment north of the Border is racing ahead of the UK average, with the statistics revealing that Scots aged 18 to 24 accounted for more than 30% of Scotland’s JSA claimants, compared with a national average of 18.5%. There were 45,000 young Scots claiming JSA in July, a rise of more than 5000 on the previous month. Youth unemployment is up 10% on July 2010 and there has been a 40% rise in the number of 18 to 24-year-olds in Scotland who have been claiming JSA for between six months and a year.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

independence from what?

Ex-Labour MP and the man who raised the West Lothian question on devolution, Tam Dalyell, says independence is now inevitable.

Socialists don’t take sides in the debate about whether it is better for workers there to be ruled from Edinburgh or from London. The SNP argues that the problems facing workers in Scotland are due to “Westminster rule”. If only there was an independent Scotland, they say, separate from the rest of Britain, then there would be full employment, higher wages, job security, better state benefits, a healthy health service and all the other things politicians promise at election times. This view is echoed by the so-called Scottish “Socialist” Party and Tommy Sheridan’s Solidarity. Nor should our opposition to the nationalist parties be interpreted as support for the Union or the Labour, Liberal or Tory parties that support it. A plague on all their houses.

Independence would be a purely political, not to say mere constitutional, change which would leave the basic economic structure of society unchanged. There would still be a privileged class owning and controlling the means of production with the rest having to work for them for a living. Just as now. An independent Scottish government would still have to operate within the constraints of the world capitalist system. It would still have to ensure that goods produced in Scotland were competitive on world markets and that capitalists investing in Scotland were allowed to make the same level of profits as they could in other countries. In other words, it would still be subject to the same economic pressures as the existing London-based government to promote profits and restrict wages and benefits. Ireland, which broke away from the UK and things have never been any different.

The Scottish nationalists see themselves as visionaries but they cannot see beyond the narrow confines of the nation-state, conceived in pre-medieval times and as outmoded as the clan system it replaced. It is the Socialist Party who are the true men and women of vision, who look forward to and struggle for a new world of common ownership and democratic control of society's resources.

If only we had known

According to ex-Labour MP Tam Dalyell memoirs, the veteran Labour politician's suspicions about Blair were first aroused when he spoke to one of the former prime minister's teachers at Fettes.

The teacher said: "Be careful of Blair – he's a superb actor, he's good at getting others into trouble but avoiding it himself. In fact, he's a shit..."

Pigs in the trough

Finance Secretary John Swinney, whose main home is in his North Tayside constituency, bought the four-bedroom apartment on one of the capital’s most desirable streets for £355,000 in December 2003 while SNP leader. At the time, the two-storey terraced property was the most expensive second home ever bought by an MSP. Mr Swinney, who earns £100,000 a year, used parliamentary allowances to pay the interest on his RBS mortgage, ultimately claiming more than £60,000 from the public purse. He also claimed around £10,000 to pay council tax for the Band G property on Morningside’s Hermitage Terrace. (Only former Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Tavish Scott used Holyrood expenses to maintain a more expensive second home after buying a £380,000 house in 2005.)

The sales prospectus praised its “magnificent” 23-foot drawing room, private front garden, “delightful leafy outlook” over Blackford Hill to the rear and it was sold for £430,000 was made to Registers of Scotland on August 1. After capital gains tax, Mr Swinney made a profit of around £57,000. Mr Swinney’s gain on the property is one of the largest ever recorded by an MSP.

The largest was made by fellow SNP minister Alex Neil, who made £105,505 before tax when he sold up last year, after billing taxpayers for more than £87,000 for mortgage interest, security, utilities, council tax, factoring and insurance on a two-bedroom flat over a decade. Mr Neil’s ministerial responsibilities at the time included affordable housing and homelessness. He and his wife had stumped up just £4720 for a deposit on the property.

Swinney and Neil’s claims were made under the Scottish Parliament’s discredited Edinburgh Accommodation Allowance, which paid for MSPs to stay overnight in the capital.
Some stayed in hotels or rented flats, but some bought homes, reclaimed mortgage interest, and sold at a profit. Past beneficiaries of EAA who sold for a profit include former LibDem deputy first minister Jim Wallace, who made £69,400 before tax; Tory MSP Alex Johnstone (£60,000); SNP MSP Gil Paterson (£50,000); and former SNP homelessness minister Stewart Maxwell (£34,500). After an outcry over MSPs cashing in, since May they have only been able to claim for rent or hotel costs. The change is prompting some MSPs to sell.

Announcing a Treasury-imposed £1.3 billion cut in public spending in February, the Scottish Cabinet Minister Swinney said “Hard choices must be made.” Now he has made one of those "hard"choices, making a lot of unearned money while he’s currently freezing public-sector salaries and squeezing public services.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Warts and All

Since the SPGB was founded in 1904 generations of its members have had to examine whatever social, political and economic events arose.

For example, there were two world wars, the Bolshevik  seizure of power in Russia, the rise of fascism, the Wall Street crash, the Social Credit movement of the 1930s, the election of Labour governments, the threat of nuclear weapons, inflation and much more.

Of course the party has made a few mistakes none of which were serious, but these are nothing compared to its successes which are truly remarkable since they were achieved by ordinary working class men and women and they did this by simply applying Marxist theory when most of the phoney Marxist floundered in reformist politics.

The branch meeting is at 8pm in the Community Central Halls, 304 Maryhill Road.
admission free, be there by 8.30pm to hear comrade Vanni's accounts

Sunday, August 14, 2011


A street of unassuming terraces in St Andrews will this week cement their reputation as a millionaire's row when a double upper flat goes on the market for £1.75 million. Its panoramic views across the famous Old Course and its hallowed 18th green - where Open Championships are won and lost - have brought the 2011 valuation of the three-bedroom property with no garden that will only appeal to the very wealthy. Just a few yards away, luxury apartments in the Hamilton Grand, a former St Andrews University halls of residence being redeveloped by American billionaire Herb Kohler, start from £1.35m. Some of the properties do not even have a view of the Old Course but are still highly prized for their location at the centre of the traditional Home of Golf.

The last home to be sold on The Links, which changed hands for almost £4m last year, became the priciest property per square foot in Scotland at £1,350, putting it among the most expensive property markets in the world, such as London and Monaco.

Saturday, August 13, 2011


Drug companies like all other capitalist concerns like to portray themselves as selfless benefactors of mankind. The image of dedicated men and women in white coats researching in a ceaseless bid to rid the world of disease is one they constantly try to project. In reality of course they are ruthlessly trying to increase their profits by any means whatsoever. "US pharmaceutical giant Pfizer has started making long-awaited compensation payments to families over a 1996 drug trial blamed for the deaths of 11 children and disabilities in dozens of others. ...The payments were part of a $75 million out-of-court-settlement reached between Pfizer and Kano state government in July 2009 over the drug trial." (Daily Telegraph, 12 August) In order to survive inside capitalism companies have got to beat of competition from their rivals. If that means the death and disability of some children in some far-off underdeveloped country - so what? RD

Friday, August 12, 2011

Reading Notes

Tim Flannery in "Here on Earth – A Natural History of the Planet"
provides some good reading and worthwhile scientific information. But as is usual for the reformers of the world, he gets the solution all wrong. After detailing the environmental problems we face, he writes, " In light of this sorry history, it would be easy to blame the Medean nature (i.e. self destruction) of the post-war period on unconstrained human ingenuity, or a rampant capitalist system (yeah, he's got it!). But evidence from the communist countries suggests that something far deeper was at work, for those countries mounted their own wars on nature which were, despite the lack of chemical weapons, as lethal of those of the West. (Oh no, he's lost it!) In Mao's China, brute human effort was the tool of choice, following the aphorism ren ding sheng tian (Man must conquer nature), in just a few decades, turned China into an environmental basket case." He goes on to show how little efforts here and there are making a difference but was deeply disappointed in the outcome of Copenhagen. How is it that intelligent, well-educated writers cannot grasp the simple nature of the problem? John Ayers

Thursday, August 11, 2011


The economic downturn has led to a bizarre piece of legislation in Belarus. Because of worsening conditions workers there had to come up with subtle ways of expressing their displeasure. All political protest in Belarus has to have a government permit and that is never given if the demo has any criticism of the government. They tried suddenly breaking into crowd clapping or having their cell phones all ringing at the same time but the government arrested them so the authorities have come up with this weird legal enactment. "Belarus have responded to a burst of creative modes of protest by young protesters with a rather surreal innovation of their own: a law that prohibits people from standing together and doing nothing. A draft law published Friday "prohibits the joint mass presence of citizens in a public place that has been chosen beforehand, including an outdoor space, and at a scheduled time for the purpose of a form of action or inaction that has been planned beforehand and is a form of public expression of the public or political sentiments or protest". Anyone proven to be taking part in such a gathering would be subject to up to 15 days of administrative arrest, the draft says." (New York Times , 29 July) Plainclothes police officers have detained nearly 2,000 people since the so-called clapping protests began in June, in many cases because they were seen clapping or standing near people who were. More than 500 have received sentences of 5 to 15 days. Capitalism is an extremely restrictive society but making a crime of just standing still takes a bit of beating.RD

Scotland on the Dole

There has been a dramatic rise in people out of work in Scotland's poorest areas, including Glasgow.

In North Ayrshire, Scotland's worst-affected area, unemployment rocketed to 11.9 per cent - an increase of 5.5 percentage points in the three years covered by the survey. In Glasgow, the jobless rate rose to 11.7 per cent, up 4.8 points. A total of 6.3 per cent of Edinburgh's population was unemployed at the end of 2010, which represented an increase of two points over the three years. In Dundee, unemployment stood at 9.2 per cent - up 2.6 points.

Scotland's overall unemployment figure had increased from 4.7 per cent in 2007 to 7.7 per cent in 2010. Scotland's levels of economic inactivity, which includes all those who are not in work or claiming unemployment benefit, such as people with long-term illnesses or disabilities rose from 22.5 per cent in 2007 to 23 per cent over the three-year period covered by the survey. Figures also showed that the percentage of people in work in Scotland fell between 2008 and 2010, with the figure going from 73.5 per cent to 71 per cent.

There were also tens of thousands of young unemployed, aged 16-19, who were not in any sort of education of training. The survey showed 36,000 - or 13.7 per cent - of 16-19 year-olds were not in education, employment or training (NEET) - a figure that remained unchanged between 2009 and 2010.

Tough Times Ahead

Charities have warned that more Scots will be forced into poverty by soaring prices after the Governor of the Bank of England said inflation could reach 5% by the end of the year. Mervyn King said Britain faces a long slow recovery from its financial woes. Families and pensioners will be among the worst hit as fuel, food and clothing costs soar should the prediction by Mervyn King come true. With consumer spending being squeezed and wages failing to keep pace with the rising cost of living, charities believe many families and pensioners will be the worst hit.

The Child Poverty Action Group in Scotland claimed many children could suffer as parents struggle to make ends meet. “If prices continue to rise, we’re going to see a significant increase in child poverty and this is going to have an impact on factors such as children’s health and education outcomes. Families are really struggling as living costs are rising rapidly and incomes aren’t moving to match them. Lots of families are worried about the future, they’re struggling to make ends meet and that’s going to lead to a lot of debt”.

Charity Age Scotland said that more older people could be facing poverty if bills continue to rise. Doug Anthoney, of Age Scotland, said: “If inflation reaches that point, it will have a significant impact on older people, many of whom are really struggling to pay for energy and food. “This is coming on the back of massive increases in fuel costs and it could well mean that more older people are found to be living in poverty.”

Peter Kelly, director of The Poverty Alliance, claimed that the poor would be the worst affected. “Not surprisingly higher rates of inflation will hit some of our poorest families hardest. The increases in fuel costs will make life increasingly tough for these families. When we add to this the fact that the costs of many other basic goods and services are rising, then it is clear our economic and social policies are not protecting those most in need."

A survey conducted by information management firm Nielsen showed that almost one-third of householders claim that they have no spare cash due to rising prices and the Consumer Confidence Survey also showed that 65% of shoppers are switching to cheaper grocery brands in a bid to save money.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011


For thousands of years small tribal groups have lived in the forests between what is now Brazil and Peru. They are looked upon by many as "backward" or "primitive", but nevertheless they have survived in isolation in relative security. The advent of capitalism has changed all that. "The head of Brazil's indigenous protection service is to make an emergency visit to a remote jungle outpost, amid fears that members of an isolated Amazon tribe may have been "massacred" by drug traffickers. .... On 5 August Brazilian federal police launched an operation in the region, arresting Joaquim Antonio Custodio Fadista, a Portuguese man alleged to have been operating as a cocaine trafficker.But after the police pulled out, officers with the indigenous protection service (Funai) decided to return fearing a "massacre". They claimed that groups of men with rifles and machine guns were still at large in the rainforest. Reports suggest the traffickers may have been attempting to set up new smuggling routes, running through the tribe's land." (Guardian, 9 August) RD

Free Access

A spirit of free comedy has broken out in Edinburgh as performers and festival-goers shun expensive venues in favour of free shows. 607 out of 2,542 shows at the Edinburgh Fringe, which began last weekend, are free of charge, the highest proportion in the festival's history. The Free Fringe, a spin-off under the overall Fringe umbrella, has 40 per cent more participating shows than last year.

"Smaller venues, which are lent to artists free of charge, represent a better deal for the public and artist," said Free Fringe founder Peter Buckley Hill. "It's always the case that if you have good shows at zero pounds a ticket, and good shows that cost more, people will come to the free shows. It's more in keeping with the spirit of the festival." Buckley Hill, says “is almost a moneyless exercise”, adding, “we have found the right way of doing this – it is taking the Fringe back”.

The Free Fringe was founded in 1996 as a counterpoint to the high hire costs charged by the city's best-known venues. Performers are typically forced to hand over 40 per cent of their box-office takings to such venues.

workers defy management

Workers at Scottish Water have rejected a pay freeze. The GMB union said there were fears the ground was being laid for a wage freeze which could last for five years.

“Members resent the fact that five directors will share a bonus pot of £90,000 each while they are being asked to accept a pay freeze.” Richard Leonard, the GMB organiser for Scottish Water said.

The union's membership had rejected the pay freeze offer, which came with a one-off payment of £250 for employees earning less than £21,000, by a margin of 62 to 38 per cent. Strike action could see key employees such as emergency call-out staff and water sewage treatments workers staying away from work during the winter.

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Food for thought

The Toronto Star editorial (July 6, 2011) revealed that the Afghanistan War has cost Canada $20 billion, plus $2 billion in aid, 157 lives and many more injuries. The editorial concludes that it was worth it because Canada had the courage to confront terror at its source and the grit to work wonders in a violent, lawless land! Obviously they could look closer to home to confront terrorists.
In China, the desire to run for office as an independent rather than on the "communist" platform seems to be on the rise. No problem for the government – simply make them disappear. That was the fate of 43 year-old businessman Cao Tian. The government wants to keep the status quo by giving only "communist" candidates just as we have only capitalist
In an excellent series on mining by Jennifer Wells of the Toronto Star, she tells of Toronto-based Banro Corporation who has spent $450 million developing the Congo's first industrialized gold mine in 50 years. It sent former child miners to school and built a new village. But soon, jobs will be replaced by machines and education will be out of reach. Capital only works in its own interests – no labour needed, no benefits.
Heather Mallick writes in the Toronto Star about buying Ikea furniture and inadvertently tells us how capitalism works, " So why am I buying it? Because it costs next to nothing. The backs of Billy bookcases are now made of what can only be called fancy cardboard, which is why Ikea can boast that one of its classic items gets ever cheaper." Crapitalism is a good synonym for the products we get today. John Ayers

The air you breathe is poisoned

Air pollution is risking the lives of thousands of Scots, the Scottish Government has been warned.

A lethal pollutant, nitrogen dioxide, is being spewed out by traffic in such large quantities in four areas of the country that Scotland is in breach of levels set by the European Commission. The pollutants have been found to reduce the life expectancy of everyone in the UK by an average of seven to eight months and in central Scotland alone 600 deaths each year are attributed to air pollution. The EU restricts emissions of NO2 and other pollutants because of their health impacts. High levels of air pollution are associated with respiratory illness and are estimated to cause premature death for up to 50,000 people a year in the UK.

The Scottish Government plans next month to ask for an extra ten years to meet the targets in Glasgow city centre, and five more years for Edinburgh city centre, central Scotland and the North-east. In total, 82 miles of roads in Scotland exceed the pollution limits. If air quality in these areas does not improve, the government could be taken to court by the commission and risk hefty fines.

Dr Dan Barlow, head of policy at WWF Scotland, said: "It is shocking that in the 21st century so many people are still being exposed to unhealthy levels of air pollution in Scotland. Scotland has had plenty of time to take preventative action, so it is completely unacceptable that not only are we set to breach air quality targets, but attempts are being made to delay compliance by a further decade. This situation is a direct result of Scotland's failure to produce a sensible strategy that adequately addresses air pollution and climate emissions from road traffic." He added: "With air pollution already responsible for bringing forward the death of hundreds of people in Scotland, the longer we delay action to address this, the more lives will be put at risk."

The environmental law organisation ClientEarth has issued legal proceedings against the UK government for its failure to meet air pollution targets. Chief executive James Thornton said: "Since air quality laws were introduced, successive governments have failed to clean up the air we breathe. We cannot afford to waste any more time by ignoring this invisible killer."

For all of us concerned with the degradation of our lived-in environments by air pollution removing the link between money and work will us free to address these matters.

Monday, August 08, 2011


During the present economic crisis many capitalists have looked for alternatives to the stock market to invest their money in. Some have bought up gold or silver as a hedge against the following dividends. Some have even taken up stamp collecting. Stanley Gibbons the stamp sellers have reported increased profits as the rich scramble for stamps. "It's a horrible time to be rich," said Michael Hall, the company's chief executive. Not that I'd complain." (Times, 6 August) Apparently China is proving to be a big market with 24 Penny Blacks sold there for six figure sum and a particularly rare local stamp fetching £625,000. RD

Food for thought

As mentioned previously, Toronto's mayor was elected on the "stop the City hall gravy train in Toronto" which is right-wing speak for slashing  programs for the needy and saving the rich from tax increases. Mayor Ford commissioned a $3 million report which failed to find much in the way of gravy but lots in program cuts, such as closing branch libraries and cutting the hours of operation at others, closing day care for low-income families so they could to go out to work, recreation programs for city children and youth, breakfasts for needy children, cutting transit routes. Ford gave the people a chance to present their cases – an all night session, designed so that many would go home and get ready for work rather than stay up all night. But the voters fell for his pitch and may well do so again as the Conservatives are challenging in the upcoming provincial election with a 'tough on crime line', i.e. full serving of sentences that will crowd the jails, and getting prisoners to clean up the highways, Georgia style. Time for the electorate to wake up and start afresh with common ownership and real democracy. John Ayers

"this is an announcement..."

Angry Edinburgh call centre staff have hit out after being told by bosses they were getting the sack - over speaker phone. Up to 200 workers at Sykes (Europe) offices in Calder Road were told that they had 90 days to find new jobs after a major account was lost to a rival firm.

Workers said they were told there would be no further employment opportunities at Sykes unless they spoke a second language. After the call ended on the speaker phone one of the team leaders just said 'right, go back to your desks and log in'. The worker added: "We have been told that there are no other opportunities unless you speak German or Italian."

One worker said: "We were packed into a conference room, about 80 of us, and the account manager for O2 came on the speaker phone to explain that a firm in Ireland had come in to do the work cheaper and we would have 90 days before the contract was ended...People were really shocked because we were never told losing the account was a possibility and we are mostly on permanent contracts but they were also really annoyed that they didn't tell us face to face"

Caring capitalism at work.

War Brutalises

Further to this blog post

Socialist Courier reads that the Ministry of Defence is investigating claims that a soldier sliced fingers off dead Taliban fighters to keep as souvenirs. The allegations relate to a soldier from the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders who was serving in Afghanistan.

Sunday, August 07, 2011

Food for thought

 In the 'futility of Reform' Department – five months after their "Revolution", Egyptians are back in Tahrir Square protesting lack of movement on democracy and justice, and low living standards. If only they had a class consciousness and put themselves in charge instead of waiting for the next great leader to screw them again.
In Toronto, the strike by workers against Infinity Rubber reaches twenty Months. The strikers have an average of 30 years service with the company and rejected no surprise, a 25% wage cut and the demand that they pay half their benefits, effectively reducing their wages from $20 to $13 per hour. The company is facing many economic challenges, such as competition from China-based companies, and thus have to wring concessions from workers to keep up. Thus goes the capitalist system where the worker always gets the short end of the stick.
- Meanwhile, the workers at the former telecommunications giant, Nortel, have to settle for 57 to 75 % of their pensions and about half their benefits. They were lucky to get that much as only the sale of the company's patents put enough into the fund to bring it up to that.
- On the other hand, while workers are getting shafted at every turn, the executives are doing very well, particularly if they fail. David Olive, writing in the Toronto Star (23/07/11) tells us that the top managers at News of The World scandal got $9.7 million severance pay with Rebekah Brooks taking $3.9 million; between 1976 and 2009 Canadian workers' pay rose just 5.5% while median pay for the top 500 CEOs jumped 35% last year alone to $8.4 million (Olive asks if they got 35% smarter or worked 35% harder! Good question); General Electric shares have dropped 60.8% during the tenure of CEO Jeffrey Immelt who was rewarded with $37.2 million in free stock; drugmaker Pfizer's shares dropped 48.1% in the past decade yet CEO Jeffrey Kinder retired with a 434.4 million severance package; ExxonMobil's shares showed a 5.8% negative return in 2010 but Rex Tillerson got $88 million. And the list goes on and on with the same old tales. No money for social programs and health, plenty of money for the already rich. No, reforms won't work, only a revolution will do the job as socialists continually point out. John Ayers

Saturday, August 06, 2011


It is the stuff of movie legend. How those devilish foreigners torture our gallant British soldiers. It is not the sort chicanery that our chivalrous lads would engage in. Alas, it is just movie nonsense. "A top-secret document revealing how officers were allowed to extract information from prisoners being illegally tortured overseas has been seen by the Guardian. The interrogation policy - details of which are believed to be too sensitive to be publicly released at the government inquiry into the UK's role in torture and rendition - instructed senior intelligence officers to weigh the importance of the information being sought against the amount of pain they expected a prisoner to suffer. It was operated by the British government for almost a decade." (Guardian 4, August) This revelation makes the claims of a number of men who said that they were questioned by MI5 and MI6 officers after being tortured at Guantanamo Bay seem highly likely. Capitalism is a filthy system and isn't run according to any rules of fair play. RD


Newspaper editors have a difficult task every day - what should be their front page headline? Millions starving in a famine in East Africa? Demonstrators gunned down in Lybia? A difficult choice perhaps but the editor of The Times led with a really important headline. "Welfare in chaos as thousands live to 100" (Times, 4 August) In any sane society the news that human beings are managing to live a little longer would be the cause for celebration, but this is capitalism and there will be no dancing in the street at the news. The news that the working class who produce all the wealth of the world are tending to live longer is bad news for the capitalist class who live on the surplus value that the workers produce. To the owning class the perfect worker is one who goes to work after they leave school, works two nights overtime and a Sunday and on the day he retires goes to the Post Office to collect his state pension and drops dead at the counter. No pension, no drain on the owning class's surplus value - Perfect! RD

capitalism won't collapse

Official figures released last month by the Accountant in Bankruptcy showed that a record number of Scottish firms went to the wall in the three months to 30 June. The number of Scots companies failing rose by 19.7 per cent quarter-on-quarter.

Matt Henderson, business recovery and insolvency partner at accountancy firm Johnston Carmichael, said: "This makes for truly miserable reading, particularly when we see the stock markets in global meltdown."

"I believe that many of these failures are among smaller Scottish firms and that some will simply be victims of larger firms going bust. The 'domino' effect of larger firms taking smaller firms with them is well known but I have seen many examples of firms who were not massively in debt but who simply lost their order book when a larger company went bust." Bryan Jackson, corporate recovery partner at accountancy firm PKFwarned: "I have continued to see many long-established, well-known businesses going bust. Some of the owners, who may have been through two or three or more recessions in the past, have tended to believe that they can ride out the recession as they have in previous years. Unfortunately, this recession is unprecedented and its impact is still being felt by many businesses across Scotland. The much-anticipated upturn may be some way off."

Iain Fraser, Scottish spokesman for insolvency practitioners' trade body R3, added: "What these figures reveal is corporate Scotland is really struggling to cope with the after-effects of the recession."

Once the recession is upon us, conditions that are favourable to a recovery become apparent. Companies that declare bankruptcy sell off their assets cheaply to their rivals. Less demand for producer goods means lower prices. The reserve army and many others are laid off creating a competition for jobs and thus lowering wages. Lower demand for loans reduces interest rates like any other commodity. The large stocks built up before the advent of the recession gradually decline to a point where production is again necessary. All of these factors make investing in production more attractive and the cycle begins its upward swing. It is evident then that the seeds of every boom are to be found in every recession and, conversely, the seeds of every recession are to be found in every boom. This boom and bust cycle is an entirely natural occurrence of the capitalist mode of production. It hasn’t collapsed capitalism yet, and, in fact, recessions tend to strengthen the system by weeding out the weak and inefficient enterprises.

Humanist marriages

For the first time in history, the number of humanist weddings has outstripped Roman Catholic marriage ceremonies. There were 2092 humanist marriages held in Scotland in 2010 compared to 1776 Roman Catholic weddings. The Humanist Society of Scotland claimed yesterday that the numbers of such non-religious marriages would surpass Church of Scotland weddings by 2015, which last year totalled 6005.

Tim Maguire, marriage celebrant and spokesman for the society, said: “The difference is that people can choose exactly what they want to say and they can make the celebration very personal. We believe humanist weddings will be the most popular type of celebration in Scotland within four years.”

Friday, August 05, 2011

Food for thought

India is the new poster boy for capitalism as prosperity there raises all the boats. Wrong. India today produces 436 grams of food grain per person per day, a drop from 445.3 grams in 2008. As much as 40% of fruit and vegetables are wasted owing to the lack of refrigerated trucks and infrastructure. As an example, a truck loaded with 27 metric tones of pineapple travelling in 50 degree temperature had to throw out at least 20% of its produce to be fought over by cows, dogs, and starving children. In recent months, thanks to rising oil and gas prices and rampant corruption, food prices have risen by 20% and those who actually grow the food can't afford to buy it. It is estimated that 200 000 Indian farmers committed suicide between 1997 and 2009 because of the hopelessness of their situation.
Then there is North Korea. While the people starve, Supreme Leader Kim Jong-il and his friends have McDonald's hamburgers flown in and the amount of luxury clothing, cigarettes, watches, and cognac from China has doubled in a year. Of all the effects of the capitalist mode of production, poverty, hunger, and death by malnutrition has to be the one that should make everyone a socialist. John Ayers

Banning the SDL

Anti-racism groups are demanding the banning of a planned parade by a far-right organisation through the heart of Edinburgh. The Scottish Defence League is seeking permission for a lunchtime parade on 10 September, from Regent Road to the east end of Princes Street next month.which would see activists gather around the Duke of Wellington statue. (the Welly Boot)

Opponents claim the Scottish Defence League (SDL) has deliberately chosen the day before the tenth anniversary of the 9/11 terror attacks on New York for the parade, which is understood to pass the American Consulate.

Luke Henderson, spokesman for the Unite Against Fascism group, said he is "appalled" to learn of the SDL's plans for another demo in Edinburgh. "We don't think the SDL should be given permission to march in Edinburgh and will be urging people to write to the council to make their view clear before a decision is taken."

Human rights lawyer Aamer Anwar, spokesman for the Scotland United anti-racism alliance, added: "Our view is absolute condemnation of this application in light of what has happened in Norway. This is a violent and extremist organisation."

The SDL's racist ideology is hateful and it is understandable – and to be welcomed – that most people don't like it. But what's the best way to deal with them? The Socialist Party takes a very unpopular position with the Left. We in the Socialist Party have always insisted on the advantages, for the advancement of the cause of socialism, of the fullest possible freedom of expression of political and social ideas. No view should be prevented from being expressed. We have always practised what we preach. We opposed the banning of the Daily Worker in 1941. We have criticised the policy of “no platform for fascists” as censorship by direct action. We have debated against fascists and Islamists. The best condition for the emergence of socialist understanding remains free and frank discussion. The only effective way to deal with the SDL is to confront their arguments head on and that includes their nationalism. The other parties cannot do this because they too are nationalists. The SDL is only expressing in an extreme form a nationalist position that they themselves share. When capitalism fails to deliver, when despondency and shattered hopes arise from the stench of the failed promises and expectations that litter the political landscape, is it any wonder that workers fall for the scapegoating lies of fascists and the quick fix they offer? The answer is not to stop the SDL by banning them or physically fighting them. It is to organise on a world-wide class basis to end capitalism – which, necessarily, involves a rejection of nationalism. That is the socialist, anti-nationalist position which the Socialist Party maintains against all other parties, not just the SDL.

Thursday, August 04, 2011


The illusion that many workers share is that as they reach retirement age they will be able to live in a sort of rocking-chair contentment but in reality most of us will live even more parsimonious existences than we do at present whilst we are surviving from pay-day to pay-day. "Millions of people face a "bleak old age" because they are falling through the cracks of private sector pension provision, a review suggests. The Workplace Retirement Income Commission says 14 million people are not saving into a workplace pension scheme at all." (BBC News, 1 August) Working for a wage or a salary as we all have to do is a precarious existence but when we are finally thrown on the industrial and commercial scrapheap the future for most workers according to the Commission is apparently even more awful. RD

Food for thought

As is the general rule of capitalism, poverty and hunger raise their heads on a regular basis, even though it is, of course, ever-present. In the last few weeks, the Toronto Star has reported on hunger in Toronto where the Parkdale (downtown Toronto) food bank is in trouble. A volunteer who recently lost his job was shocked to see the shelves empty when he applied for help. He was told that donations are way down and they needed $2 315 for the monthly rent and $100 000 to keep operations going into next year. The bank has 2 800 clients in the Parkdale area. Even food banks feeding the needy are challenged by the money system. John Ayers

Wednesday, August 03, 2011


The abolition of the hateful system of Apartheid in 1994 was correctly celebrated throughout the world, but capitalism remained intact and as long as capitalism survives it will throw up problems of exploitation and inequality. "South Africa celebrated Nelson Mandela's 93rd birthday on Monday with songs by millions of children and calls for public service, but the nation he led out of apartheid is divided by poverty and his ANC movement seems to many to be losing its moral compass. ... Mandela's calls for greater access to the economy for the poor black majority have been dealt blows by corruption eating into welfare programmes and entitlements that benefit a sliver of the black elite with close ties to the ANC." (Reuters, 18 July) There is no social reform that can end poverty and exploitation - only world socialism can accomplish that. RD


Hollywood was always fond of depicting the heroic GI coming home to his loved ones. A full military band would play him from the railway station up the High Street of his local town while adoring residents joined in a rousing chorus of "When Johnny Comes Marching Home". Unfortunately that idyllic picture is far from the truth. "Military personnel, especially those with mental illnesses, are now facing the predicament of homelessness in the US. Data published by the United States Department of Veterans Affairs shows that over 75,000 US military personnel could be homeless after they return from foreign wars. The psychological effects of war upon veterans are now being coupled with problems in the economy. Studies have recently revealed that 300,000 American veterans suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder." (Big News, 16 July) It would seem that far from a heroic welcome Johnny quite often comes home to homelessness or even a mental hospital. RD

Spare parts for sale

People should be allowed to sell their kidneys for £28,000 in an NHS-regulated organ market Dr Sue Rabbitt Roff, of Dundee University said in an article published online today by the British Medical Journal. She called on the health service to offer financial rewards to individuals willing to give up a kidney as a means of speeding up the rate of transplants and reducing the cost of treatments and dialysis to the NHS.

Dr Roff, a senior research fellow at Dundee’s department of medical sociology explained “We already allow strangers to donate kidneys out of the goodness of their hearts. They get their costs covered, they don’t know who the recipient is, there’s no publicity, no public acknowledgement of what they do. We’ve moved away from the notion it has to be a family member or a close associate who can give you a kidney. We’ve already moved into the zone of allowing the general public to make good-hearted donations. What I’m suggesting is, why don’t we add money to this equation in order to increase the amount of provision which is there...I came to this figure of £28,000 because that’s the average national income in Britain at the moment, so it seems a fair price across all the social strata..."

The British Medical Association said it would not support money being offered in exchange for kidneys.

Dr Calum McKellar, director of the Scottish Council on Human Bioethics said: “A legal, regulated market in human body parts would end up exploiting those who have very restrictive financial means, such as many students and foreigners.”

There are currently 725 people in Scotland waiting for a new kidney but the number coming up for transplant has plateaued at around 200 in recent years. How much smaller would be the number if those in various industries (chemicals, oil, tobacco, pharmaceuticals etc) had not poisoned and polluted our bodies for profit for decades?

Everything inside capitalism takes the form of a commodity, everything has its price, so it doesn't come as a surprise to Socialist Courier to read Dr. Roff's proposal.

Tuesday, August 02, 2011


The economic experts on television and in the press regale as with the facts and figures of the economic downturn in Greece, but behind the dry statistics lurks a daily tragedy for many members of the Greek working class. "At precisely 3 p.m., Father Andreas, a 37-year-old Greek Orthodox priest, opens the doors of the food bank in downtown Athens. At this hour, the line of hungry people stretches all the way across the large square outside and into the street. Needy people of all ages are waiting patiently -- pensioners, unemployed people, mothers with children, immigrants, asylum seekers. But in just under half an hour, all of the kitchen's 1,200 servings have been taken, causing several dozen people to leave with empty hands and growling stomachs. They can only hope to be among the lucky ones next time. Katarina was one of the lucky ones. The 44-year-old got her hands on eight servings of a salad made of carrots, potatoes and peas, several yoghurts and a bag of bread -- the only food her family will have today. Katarina is ashamed and prefers not to give her full name." (Spiegel On Line, 19 July) Katarina was laid off from her job at a biscuit factory roughly a year ago. Since then, she's been forced to rely on the handouts paid for by what Father Andreas calls "holy money." Katarina says there are no more jobs to be had. The plight of Katarina is shared by millions throughout Greece who are the latest victims of capitalism's slump and boom cycle. RD

Monday, August 01, 2011


Much is made in the press of how India is rapidly joining the most advanced capitalist countries in the world as a creator of more and more millionaires, indeed of billionaires, but there is another side to this development. Underneath a photograph of her family we can read this chilling caption. "Dhanuk's family are Mahadalits - members of India's lowest and most marginalised social caste. She says she sometimes has to ask her employers for the leftovers from their meals - a source of deep embarrassment to her." (Guardian, 19 July) RD

The lie of the land

Six months before South Sudan officially declared its independence, becoming the world's newest nation on 9 July, eight people met in an boardroom in Glasgow to plot one of this fledgling country's most defining features – its borders. The people at that meeting in Glasgow were not freshly appointed South Sudanese officials, members of Africa's governing bodies, or international diplomats. In fact, many of them had never even been to Sudan. Instead, these boardroom attendees were British cartographers, experts in geopolitical policy, and members of the Collins Geo division of Harper Collins, the publishing company responsible for creating and selling one of the most authoritative reference maps in circulation, The Times Comprehensive Atlas of the World. The atlas and its related products are used as key reference tools by governments, the United Nations, the World Bank, aid agencies and classrooms across the globe

They would attempt to define South Sudan's borders for a new issue of the atlas to be published in September – a task easier said than done. They would need to draw up a finalised map of South Sudan to meet their publishing deadline in May, despite the fact the country itself would not yet officially exist. They would need to commit to a boundary line between Sudan and South Sudan, despite the fact that areas of that border continue to be violently disputed.

"Where a new boundary is created, and a new country, there will always be small-scale disputes along it. There will always be villages along that boundary line – it happened after the Second World War – where people don't really know which country they belong in. But the boundary line needs to go somewhere and as large-scale mapping is not a top priority in Sudan at the moment, the administrative lines are as accurate as we can get."

To achieve that level of accuracy, Ashworth and the committee rely on a team of around six news-gatherers to monitor constantly the geopolitical developments to help to inform their decisions, and ultimately, the authoritative depiction of nations. They carefully examine the projections of the UN, international governments, aid agencies, geopolitical experts on the ground, and specialist academic institutions such as the International Boundaries Research Unit at Durham University.

Despite this vast amount of fact-finding, Peter Barber, head of maps at the British Library, once said that a map is, essentially, a lie. "...every map is subjective, and always will be," he explained. "You have to select what you put on it."

Mick Ashworth agrees. "Maps are a very powerful tool for presenting an agenda and propaganda," he says. "People often believe maps more than what they see in the real world. But we are aware of that, and we are aware that if we get things wrong, or don't represent things in the way that they should be, then we will hear about it."