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Showing posts from April, 2013

What is capitalism?

"If wealth was the inevitable result of hard work and enterprise, every woman in Africa would be a millionaire."George Monbiot

"Capitalism is the natural system of humanity, it's all these small businesses and people coming together to compete. Everyone gets the amount of money they deserve because they've earned it, or if you're poor it's because you're lazy and if you're rich it's because you've earned it. The system works perfectly. It grows as long as the government stays out of the way; technology is just going to make the system better. And it's the only way to organise a society that's not going to be living in caves and rubbing two sticks together."

That's the catechism of those hopeless apologists who support the status quo and advocate the unreal laissez-faire philosophy of no governmental interference with business (as if they are not dependent on governmental interference!), a balanced budget, lower taxes, en…

The Price of Profit

Yesterday was Workers Memorial Day when we highlight the bloody toll capitalism inflicts upon us.
In New Zealand a coal mining company, Pike River Coal, was found guilty of nine health and safety violations over a 2010 explosion that killed 29 miners.
A government investigation found the company ignored 21 warnings that methane gas had accumulated to explosive levels in the mine and it was exposing miners to unacceptable risks as it strove to meet financial targets. Each of the charges comes with a maximum penalty of 250,000 New Zealand dollars ($211,000). But since the company is bankrupt, just who will pay the penalty?

Former chief executive Peter Whittall has pleaded not guilty to 12 charges. His case has yet to be heard.

We Are All Leaders

These are not times for reform and tweaking the system. Capitalism is in the process of destroying the Earth. The Socialist Party knows that no leaders are going to pull the workers into socialism. Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the change that we seek. Mainstream politics cannot comprehend the absence of leaders in the movement and that it is not a weakness but a strength, testifying to our determination not to be followers.

Forget about looking for leaders. What we need is a movement that rises from the people and empowers ourselves. People need to stop looking up, and start looking around. There is an old adage, if the people lead, the leaders will follow. People need organisations, and people need to come together. But by self-organisation from the root, you will find that you have got no leaders - and do not want them because you do not lead them.

A leader may say “all that our organisation…

Scotland's Slave Traders

Socialist Courier has previously drawn attention to Scotland’s role in the slave trade and the fortunes made from it, here and here .
Ian Bell in the Herald reminds us again of that dark period of Scotland’s history.
Richard Oswald trafficked at least 13,000 Africans, although he never set foot on their continent. By the time he bought Auchincruive House and 100,000 acres in Ayrshire in 1764, he was worth £500,000, "roughly equivalent" to $68 million (about £44m).

The mercantile class got rich twice over: despite fortunes made from stolen lives, they were quick to demand compensation when slavery was ended in 1833. Britain's government decided that £20m, a staggering sum, could be raised. Glasgow's slave traders got £400,000 – in modern terms, hundreds of millions.

30% of Jamaican plantations were run by Scots. Few realise that the behaviour of Scots busy getting rich in the slave-holders' empire was actually worse – routinely worse – than the worst of the Amer…

Rich And Arrogant

The arrogance of the extremely wealthy knows no limits. You would think as their wealth comes from the exploitation of the working class they would try and keep their obscene accumulation of surplus value a secret. Not a bit of it. "Britain is now the home of nearly 10 times as many billionaires as we featured in the first Sunday Times Rich List, published in 1989. Their collective wealth and that of all of this year's 1,000 richest has now reached nearly £450bn, the highest on record." (Sunday Times, 21 April )RD

to Bee or not to Bee

Has the Scottish rural affairs minister, Richard Lochhead , fallen victim to the chemical pesticide industry’s vigourous and vociferous lobbying effort against a ban on neonicotinoids. Surely not.

Forget his sympathetic rhetoric about supporting the precautionary principle. A two-year moratorium on stopping the use of this type of pesticide, waiting until the stock-pile of pesticides is used up means two more years of damage to bees and their hives.

Can we expect better from an independent Scotland? Or will it be business as usual for the multinationals?

The class struggle

The strike has long been labour's most powerful weapon. Strikes put pressure on the employer - which needs the employees' labour to run the business - to agree to employees' demands for fair wages and working conditions. Strikes are also a public form of expression. Seeing picket lines in front of a workplace sends a message to the employer, to the public and to the workers themselves. It says that the workers stand together to fight for decent working conditions and that their dispute with the employer is so important that they are willing to lose pay to fight for a fair workplace. It tells the public and other workers that they might not want to patronise, or work for, the employer unless changes are made. Strikes build solidarity among the workers and help them maintain their resolve under the severe pressure of losing income while on strike. Strikes are also an expression of control by the workers, who may feel that the employer treats them as if they were nothing mor…

The Socialist Challenge

Masses of the people are being ruined by Big Business and their millionaires. Poverty, unemployment and insecurity threatens the majority. There is no need for a single worker to be overworked or in dread of losing his or her job; no reason why an unemployed worker should lack the necessaries of life. All over the world millions of workers are coming to realise these facts and to see that nothing except the existence of capitalism prevents them building up for themselves a decent and stable world. Everywhere the workers are becoming less and less willing to put up with an entirely unnecessary state of deprivation. They are showing themselves more and more determined to insist upon their right to food, clothing and shelter for themselves and their families. But to get this, capitalism must be overthrown. To get this, is only possible by the building socialism.

When the fight for their interests has reached the stage when capitalism is being overthrown, then, in order to do it, and in …

Still Auld Reekie

The number of Edinburgh streets affected by transport pollution has increased.

There are now an additional six miles of streets that have been deemed officially polluted in the capital. Tourist areas Princes Street, George Street, most of the Royal Mile and the Grassmarket are all now included. Gorgie Road, London Road and some of Easter Road also make up the additional six miles of polluted streets.

Dr Richard Dixon, Friends of the Earth Scotland's director, said: "Pollution from cars, vans, buses and lorries are still making the capital's air bad for our health...”

What's On The Other Side?

To those workers in Britain bored out of their skull by party political speeches on TV here is a word of consolation. It could be worse you could live in Russia. 'Vladimir Putin doled out parenting advice, mused on the difficulty of pork imports and compared the struggle for happiness to a massive drinking bout, in another of the marathon question and answer sessions that have become a hallmark of his authoritarian rule. Sitting in a shiny studio peopled with uniformed soldiers, athletes, doctors and more, a heavily bronzed Putin held forth for four hours and 47 minutes, beating his previous record by 15 minutes.' (Guardian, 26 April) Can you imagine the boredom of Cameron or Milliband spouting for over four hours? RD

Democratic Production

Socialism, a society based upon the planned organisation of production for use by means of the common ownership and the democratic control of the means of production. If, however, production were carried on for use, to satisfy the needs of the people, the question immediately arises: Who is to determine what is useful and what would satisfy these needs? Will that be decided exclusively by a small board of government planners? A technocratic elite? Both would make for the benevolent regimentation of the people “for their own good.” No matter how high-minded and wise they might be, they could not plan production for the needs of the people.

Production for use, by its very nature, demands constant consultation of the people, constant control and direction by the people. The democratically-adopted decisions of the people would guide the course of production and distribution. Democratic control of the means of production and distribution would have to be exercised by the people to see to …

The Deadly Profit Motive

Capitalism is a ruthless system and one that puts profit before anything else - including human life. 'Hundreds of garment workers employed in factories that supplied high-street shops in the west, including Primark, the discount clothing store, are feared dead after an eight-storey building collapsed on the outskirts of Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh, on Wednesday. Officials said the death toll had topped 160 by Thursday morning and 2,000 people had been rescued from the ruins.' (Guardian, 25 April) Dilara Begum, a garment worker who survived the accident, said workers had been ordered to leave after a crack appeared in the wall of the building on Tuesday but on Wednesday morning supervisors had told them to return to work, saying the building had been inspected and declared safe. "We didn't want to go in but the supervisors threatened to dock pay if we didn't return to work," she told the Guardian. RD

Europe In Disarray

Capitalism is often hailed as the most efficient way to run modern society, but recent unemployment figures from Spain show what a waste of human resources it is. 'Spain's unemployment rate soared to a new record of 27.2% of the workforce in the first quarter of 2013, according to official figures. The total number of unemployed people in Spain has now passed the six million figure, although the rate of the increase has slowed.' (BBC News, 25 April) These unemployment figures are mirrored in other European countries and illustrate what a wasteful society capitalism is. RD

Marx and Engels on Ireland

Marx (and Engels) supported Irish nationalism and the Socialist Party’s position on Scottish independence is often criticised by those on the Left who claim to be Marxists because we ignore that fact. But to be a Marxist means, to apply the Marxian analysis to continually changing social conditions Too many so-called socialists are reluctant to apply the Marxist materialist conception of history in their thinking.
Indeed, Marx did support Irish independence, we do not dispute it, but he did so primarily because he thought it would hasten the completion of the democratisation of the British state. At the time the bourgeois democratic victory over feudalism was far from complete even in Britain, and on the continent of Europe what progress had been made was continually threatened by three great feudal powers, Russia, Austria and Prussia. In these circumstances Marx considered it necessary to support not only direct moves to extend political democracy but also moves which he felt would…

Still a mean city

Glasgow has been ranked as the UK's most violent area in a new report.

The city had the highest rates of homicides and violent crime. The study, which looked at 10 areas, described it as "the least peaceful major urban centre", with London and Belfast in second and third place.

In 2012 there were 2.7 homicides per 100,000 people in Glasgow. This compared to a 1.67 per 100,000 in London and a rate of 1.0 across the UK as a whole. However, in 2007 Glasgow's homicide rate was much higher at about 4.5.

The study said continuing problems with gangs and knife crime contributed to Glasgow's rating. Describing the city as one of the poorest areas in the UK, it said there was a strong link between crime and poverty. Scotland had the highest homicide rate of any of the four UK nations, as well as the highest violent crime rate, at more than 1,500 per 100,000 people, the report said.

West Dunbartonshire and Renfrewshire were the most violent areas after Glasgow.

The rise of the soup kitchen

In 2004 the Trussell Trust, a Christian charity, operated just one UK food bank. Today there are more than 300. In Scotland there are 15, with another 15 opening soon. The numbers receiving emergency food from the charity have increased from less than 6000 to more than 14,000 in a single year.

29% of the Trussell Trust's Scottish clients have been caught short by delays in their benefits and another 15% have been hit by benefit changes. There is worse to come as changes such as the bedroom tax kick in and as prices continue to rise faster than pay and benefits.

21st Century "Progress"

Workers are often told by the media that they are lucky to be alive in 2013. Think of how awful it was to be a worker in Victorian times and be glad you live in the enlightened 21st century we are told, but is this an example of progress? 'More than 350,000 people turned to food banks for help last year, almost triple the number who received food aid in the previous year and 100,000 more than anticipated, according to the UK's biggest food crisis charity. The Trussell Trust said the dramatic increase in the use of its food banks was set to continue in the coming months as poorer families struggle financially as a result of the government's welfare reforms.' (Guardian, 24 April) RD

Dublin Uprising

After one week of fighting, the 1916 Dublin Uprising was bloodily suppressed. Lacking any real basis of support, the insurgents did not have the slightest chance of victory. Connolly was wrong when he thought that it would ignite the class movement in Europe. The idea that any group of workers can be incited into action by heroic example and martydom is a false one. Only when the conditions for struggle actually exist, only when the majority of people are prepared to do battle and make enormous sacrifices, can a revolution movement take place. Many of those who advocate the false tactics of the barricades and street-fighting today draw, in part, their inspiration from the Easter rising. If they removed their blindfolds they would discover that the actual experience of the rising proved the futility of such action. The conditions for revolution action expressly did not exist in 1916. They did not exist in Ireland and they did not exist in Europe. In Ireland, the IRB and the Citizen Ar…

Lazy Workers?

The present coalition government is concerned about high unemployment figures and all sorts of solutions have been proposed. One of the daftest notions in circulation is that workers are just too lazy, but this news item contradicts that idea. 'A new Tesco store has been swamped with 4,300 applications for just 150 jobs in the latest example of Britain's desperate job market. There were almost 30 applicants for each job at the supermarket in Rowner, near Gosport, in Hampshire, which is due to open in May. Due to the overwhelming response, Tesco asked 826 to attend an interview after applicants filled in answer a series of questions online.' (Daily Mail, 23 April) RD

Greedy Workers?

One of the fallacies peddled by supporters of capitalism is that the working class are greedy and lazy. The recent research by the hotel chain Travelodge seems to deny this. 'Three quarters of British employees spend an extra ten unpaid hours at work each week giving businesses a £142 million boost. Many staff would also be willing to miss a family holiday or a child's school play to manage their workload, according to a study of 2,000 workers in 12 cities across the UK.' (Times, 22 April) RD

We are all chiefs

In the previous post Socialist Courier discussed the democracy of Greece but the Iroquois tribes, before its social relations were shaped by the European colonisers, were according to Engels, perhaps even more democratic than the Greeks."There cannot be any poor or needy--the communal household and the gens know their responsibility toward the old, the sick, and those disabled in war. There is no place yet for slaves, nor, as a rule, for the subjugation of other tribes" wrote Engels.

Marx and Engels used much of the field research of the early anthropologist, Lewis Henry Morgan.
The status of women in communal societies like the Iroquois' was far higher than in class societies that followed. Among the Iroquois, a woman could dissolve her marriage simply by placing her husband's belongings outside the household door. As Gary B. Nash notes in his fascinating study of early America, Red, White, and Black: "Thus power was shared between the sexes and the European …

Workers United

Scab is the number one worst thing one we can call a fellow worker, and we need to be very careful how we use it. It is the worst thing that can be said about a fellow worker, akin to "traitor." It does not mean non-union worker.

Poor workers from other countries are not scabs, they are our fellow workers. Only when they actually cross a picket line are they scabs. And when the strike is over, they stop being scabs and we need to get back to trying to organise them.

Migrant workers are our fellow workers, exploited by capitalists in both multinational corporations and in domestically-owned businesses. They are not crossing picket lines and we never can fall into divide and rule arguments advanced by those whose interests are served when we are divided by colour, by gender, by ability, by sexual preference, by country of birth. United we fight, divided we crawl!

Our enemies are not our fellow workers that are being exploited, our enemies are the ones that are destroying our …

Democratic Centralism - Generals looking for privates.

Socialist Courier previously discussed the concept of democracy. Those familiar with the Left will no doubt come across claims that the Trotskyist and Leninist political groups exercise a form of democracy called “democratic centralism”

Socialism’s crisis is a crisis in the meaning of socialism. Many label themselves “socialist” in one sense or another; but there has never been a time as now when the label was less informative. The range of conflicting and incompatible ideas that call themselves socialist is wider than ever.The nearest thing to a common content of the various “socialisms” is a negative: anti-capitalism. But even anti-capitalism holds less and less of a meaning in most cases.

Nowhere else than on the Left is the term “-ism” more extensively and frequently used. We are asked to adhere not only to anarchism, or syndicalism, or socialism, or communism, but also to Marxism, Leninism, Trotskyism, Stalinism, Maoism, Luxemburgism, and a host of much lesser theorists’ “isms”…

The Scottish Capitalist Class get 58% Richer

This year’s Sunday Times UK rich list, which includes a total of 78 people from Scotland in its top 1,000, the most to feature in a decade. There are now six billionaires from north of the Border on the list, one more than in 2012. £21bn of wealth has been accrued by the top 100 millionaires.

Scotland’s rich are getting richer as the rest of Scots continues to struggle economically. The most affluent Scots saw their personal wealth soar by up to 58 per cent.

Highland Spring owner Mahdi al-Tajir is still Scotland’s richest man, and the 44th wealthiest in the UK, now boasting a fortune of £1,656 million up £56 million on 2012.

Banffshire distiller William Grant remain in second place on the list with family wealth totalling £1,400 million.

Sir Ian Wood’s, former chairman of Aberdeen-based Wood group, personal wealth now stands at £1,200m.

Ian Coxon, the rich list editor, said: “The 2013 rich list shows that business is booming in Scotland from Aberdeen to Ayr.”

Yup, capitalism is okay …

Socialism and Social Democracy

What is democracy? We can do no better than use the familiar explanation “It is the rule of the people, by the people, and for the people.”

When the Athenians talked about demokratia, “rule by the people” (the dêmos) they did not just mean the election of “representatives”, to rule on behalf of the electors, but actual, direct rule by every citizen. An Assembly, which actually took decisions, voted on all major issues, passed laws and voted on foreign policy. When it met, about once a week, every citizen could have his say, speaking for as long as he liked – until people got bored with his speech and pulled him off the platform.

From the study of history it is found that the public assembly of all the citizens made all important decisions. They organized the administration of the state, appointed officials and kept check on them. The public assembly of all the citizens was the government. The vast majority of officials were chosen by lot which amounted to putting names into a hat an…

A Chartist Tour of Scotland

Robert Gammage was a Chartist activist and is best known for his History of the Chartist Movement, published in 1854. In 1843 he embarked on a speaking tour of Scotland, lecturing in many small towns. It makes an interesting read and an insight into the history of the working class in Scotland.

'Recollections of a Chartist'

Now I was about to go to Scotland —
“Land of brown heath and shaggy wood,
Land of the mountain and the flood."

I walked to Annan, a little town about half way between Carlisle and Dumfries, and addressed a well attended open air meeting, and I was congratulated at the close on my lecture and its reception. I stayed at an inn, at that time the principal inn in the town. I had but rarely seen such a 'spread' for supper as was set before me, brought on one of those old-fashioned mahogany trays which I had indeed seen in my boyhood, but never supped off. There was meat in abundance, bread and cheese, and a jug of 'good Scotch ale.' I slept well…

Tough At The Top?

Rich Ricci, head of Barclays' investment bank has been made redundant. Unlike members of the working class who suffer this fate this is not a financial blow to him. He "earned" £44 million in 2010. If he doesn't find another post this year he will still receive his £700,00 annual salary. He has other consolations. 'Less than a month ago, Mr Ricci pocketed an £18 million windfall, selling 5.7 million shares received as part of annual bonus and long-term incentive schemes.' (Times, 19 April) He is estimated to have a personal fortune of £100 million so redundancy is hardly a shattering blow. RD

No Profit - No research - No Cures

Resistant to existing antibiotics, superbug-related infections worldwide result in thousands of deaths each year—an estimated 99,000 in the U.S. MRSA kills an estimated 19,000 people every year in the U.S., compared with the 17,000 who die from AIDS, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

"We are in a crisis situation," said Dr. Cesar Arias, an associate professor of infectious diseases at the University of Texas Health Science Center. "The World Health Organization says this is one of the top three health threats to the world in this century, and I can't argue with that," said Arias, who has researched and written extensively on superbugs.

Dr. G. Richard Olds, dean of the school of medicine at the University of California-Riverside, explains "Pharmaceutical companies like to push drugs in advertising to make money, and a patient often thinks if a doctor doesn't prescribe antibiotics he's a bad doctor," Olds said. "But the medic…

Over-population? Too Many People?

In 2011, the United Nations population division predicted a global population of 10.1 billion by 2100, an increase of nearly 50 percent from the earth's current population of 7 billion. But a new study out of Spain suggests those estimates may be way off—we're talking several billion people off.

Scientists at the Autonomous University of Madrid and CEU-San Pablo University say their estimates,  shows global population peaking in 2050 slightly above eight billion, and then falling back to 6.2 billion by the end of the century, the same as the total world population back in 2000.

The Danger of State Capitalism

In an earlier post we discussed nationalisation, it is worth going into such an economy where the state is the main owner.

Socialists envisage a society in which there will be no classes and no state. Many on the Left, including Lenin, have regarded state capitalism as a stage on the way to socialism. They view it as a necessary transitional stage. But history has the grave dangers of state capitalism.

State capitalism concentrates an overwhelming power in the hands of the State, and places workers completely at the mercy of the State. The State is not in the hands of the working-class but an all-mighty bureaucracy.

Under private capitalism in a democratic State the government has no substantial direct income. It raises revenue and makes expenditure by the authorisation of Parliament. This gives to Parliament a degree of control over the executive.

Under state capitalism, the government derives its income automatically from the economic enterprises of the State. It thus has a tende…

Personal Memories

When i first joined the SPGB in 1971 Edinbugh branch in fair weather held two outdoor meetings at the Mound on Sundays. 30 years after those, the influence still existed. During a casual chat during tea break a co-worker recalled listening to a socialist at the Mound telling the audience that the dummies in the shop-windows along Princes St were better dressed that most of them - so who were the real dummies? My colleague concluded "I felt slightly insulted because i thought i was a dapper dresser but looking back now, damn it,  if he was right!"

The branch i joined reflected the alternative counter-culture that prevailed at the time, students, "hippies" and bikers probably out-numbered actual members with steady employment. At times the branch appeared polarised betwen the druggies and the drunks. I was a school-boy back then when i first came in contact with the the SPGB. The other political group that first Sunday evening at the Mound was the International Mar…

The Co-Op Cop Out

“We are private companies that work in the same market as everybody else. We are exposed to the same conditions as our competitors.” - Mondragón’s human-resources chief

Many regard the co-operative movement as being in some way linked up with socialism. Socialists have come to realise that co-operatives cannot be used as a means for establishing socialism and that they only flourish to the extent that they can be successfully accommodated within capitalism.

The idea of the workers’ co-operative has flourished since the early days of the labour movement and has been seen by many as a possible alternative to nationalisation. The originators of the co-operative movement saw it as a movement that would eventually out-compete and replace ordinary capitalist businesses, leading to the coming of “the Co-operative Commonwealth” (which is an alternative name for socialism occasionally used by both Karl Marx and the Socialist Party). The co-ops would constitute, as it were, little oases in the …

Let us now bury capitalism

What Is Socialism? It is not nationalisation

“It was our lifelong dream coming true. It was a utopia. We were for it 100 per cent. What celebrations there were! The industry which had broken generations of miners was ours at last.”

On the 1st January 1947 miners took an unofficial holiday. The red flag was hoisted over the pits and the miners social clubs rang to choruses of the workers’ anthems of the Red Flag and the Internationale. The euphoria did not last.

Nationalisation (or in some cases municipalisation), is sometimes called “state socialism”, but more accurately it amounts to a form of state capitalism. The Post Office, would serve as an example of a “socialist” public service or the National Health Service. Or the BBC. But in the past we have had coal mines, the railways, the electricity and gas networks and tele-communications all owned by the state. Nationalisation has been wrongly equated with socialism. State ownership does not mean socialism. Nationalisation is a complete distortion of the idea of common ownership…