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Showing posts from June, 2013

Pensioners And Penury

With the present government thinking up new ways to cut welfare benefits a new target has arisen. Politicians are starting to talk about cutting benefits for elderly workers and getting a lot of support from the media. Free TV licences for the over 75s, free bus travel and winter fuel assistance are amongst their targets. So who are these "wealthy" pensioners? 'According to Age Concern, more than 1.7 million pensioners live below the poverty line, with incomes of less than £215 a week; more than 26 per cent of pensioner couples have less than £1,500 in savings between them.' (Times, 26 June) The same newspaper reports that according to the charity BAPEN, more than 1.3 million over-70s suffer or at risk from malnutrition. Hardly "wealthy" is it? RD

The Socialist Party case for democracy

People talk incessantly about “The System”. “The System is bad”, “The System must be changed”. “Vote for me, because I am going to change The System”. What system, exactly?

The original theory of democracy envisaged popular participation in the running of affairs, what is called "participatory democracy". This is the sort of democracy the Socialist Party of Great Britain favour but we know the most we will get under capitalism is the right to vote, under more-or-less fair conditions, for who shall control political power— a minimalist form of democracy that at least provides a mechanism whereby a socialist majority could vote in socialist delegates instead of capitalist politicians. This  form of politics is an effective antidote to bureaucratism, radical in the sense that it is not simply concentrating on the issue of democracy but upon the whole concept of leadership. Socialism is not the result of blind faith, followers, or, by the same token, vanguards and leaders. Noth…

Loan Sharks and Pay Day Lenders

It is estimated that 165,000 households in Britain use illegal money lenders and that many thousands are in serious debt to them. The borrowers are people with a bad credit history or who cannot manage their finances or whose income is very low. The current recession is blamed for the squeeze on people’s incomes and state benefits are rarely enough to fill the gap. In extreme cases, parents resort to stealing food.

The poor are fertile territory for doorstep lenders. If you are desperate and the kids haven’t eaten for three days, a person coming to the door and offering a loan seems like the Messiah. In fact, they are a pack of wolves.

Demands for action against loan sharks led to the establishment of official Illegal Money Lending Teams which operate across the country. They claim to have secured 222 prosecutions, assisted 19,000 victims and secured prison sentences on perpetrators totalling 150 years.

Debra Wilson wanted to buy a computer for her daughter as a Christmas present. Th…

Until Tomorrow

A 1961 sci-fi short story from the archives of the Socialist Party of Canada 

"The destruction was so near complete that plant and animal life crept back over the earth slowly. The soil itself was to a great extent polluted by the fall-out. But that portion of humanity which escaped was truly fit, and brought with it memories, and a resolve never to repeat the fatal mistake of society divided against itself."

The speaker was Hubert Brodkin, venerable sage and keeper of the archives; the time, the year 1000 A.H. (after the holocaust); the place, Entrada Island, large western neighbor of a country once called Kanata. Professor Brodkin's listeners, several thousand in number, were gathered on the sea-shore and along the sandy estuaries of two great rivers; yet so near perfect was his voice transmitter that all could have heard had he spoken in a whisper. Behind them lay a lush land and all shared in common those things commonly used. There was plenty for all, with no rich, …

Trotting after Trotsky

Socialist Courier has recently posted a number of articles on Leninism. Its equally evil twin, Trotskyism,  should not be overlooked.

"Permanent Revolution"

Trotsky acquired the phrase from Marx’s writings and very much like Lenin and his use of “dictatorship of the proletariat” from Marx, applied it in such a way that it was not originally intended to be used by Marx.

Marx first used the phrase in the following passage from The Holy Family, 1845 He wrote:

 “Napoleon represented the last battle of revolutionary terror against the bourgeois society which had been proclaimed by this same Revolution, and against its policy. Napoleon, of course, already discerned the essence of the modern state; he understood that it is based on the unhampered development of bourgeois society, on the free movement of private interest, etc. He decided to recognise and protect this basis. He was no terrorist with his head in the clouds. Yet at the same time he still regarded the state as an end in …

No more war - No more armies

Parades, medal ceremonies and fly-pasts over three Scottish cities are being held to mark Armed Forces Day. The main celebrations centre on Edinburgh, Glasgow, Dundee, Inverness, Perth and Aberdeen on Saturday, with other events around the country. The UK's fifth Armed Forces Day is being held to show support and appreciation for the armed services.

 One must be quite starry-eyed, in fact, delusional, to see war as the humanitarian instrument of peace.

The United Kingdom  decides whether or not to wage war according to the chances of succeeding and to their own assessment of their strategic, political and economic interests. And once a war is begun, they want to win at all costs. It makes no sense to ask them to carry out only good interventions, against genuine villains, using gentle methods that spare civilians and innocent bystanders.  It makes no sense to ask them to protect but not to bomb, because armies function by shooting and bombing. Those who say “support our troops” s…

Lenin and the Russian Revolution (Part 4)

Revolution or Putsch?

The insurrection that gave power to the Bolsheviks was strictly speaking the work of the Military-Revolutionary Committee of the Petrograd Soviet. The Bolsheviks used this more subtle approach of disguising its seizure of power as an assumption of power by the Congress of Soviets and it was through the organ of the Military Revolutionary Council, NOT the Soviet. The storming of the Winter Palace, was not done by a mass of politically aware workers, but by a few hundred pro-Bolshevik soldiers. Trotsky admitted that the insurrection was planned by the Military Revolutionary Committee of the Petrograd Soviet, of which he was the chair and which had a Bolshevik majority. Trotsky describes how this Committee took its orders directly from the Central Committee of the Bolshevik Party. So, although the soviets had played a part in overthrowing Tsarism and opposing the Kerensky government, the events of 7 November were a Bolshevik take-over. Were the mass of the Petrograd…

The Year of Revolution?

We watch on our television and read about it in our newspapers. Mass protests the world over. It began a few years ago in Spain, then there was the Arab Spring, on to Greece against austerity and from there to the Wall St and St Pauls Occupy movement. Now it is taking place in Turkey and Brasil. Sadly, however,  it is not enough to have millions  of demonstrators on the streets.

That's no basis upon which to build socialism as we understand it We argue that socialism should be set up and run through the consent and cooperation of an overwhelming majority of the world's population. Above all the working class must have a clear understanding of what socialism entails and what methods are effective in overthrowing capitalism. A grasp of socialist principles by the vast majority of the workers is a minimal condition for going forward to socialism. The socialist revolution can only be democratic, in the sense of both being what the majority of people want and of being carried out by…

The Poverty Gap

Politicians love to paint a picture of steadily improving living standards, but it is a complete illusion as a recent report has revealed. 'Living costs have risen 25% in the past five years and placed an "unprecedented" financial burden on the poor, a report has found. The Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) said rising costs of childcare and energy, coupled with stagnating wages and benefit cuts, has created a widening poverty gap.' (BBC News, 28 June) RD

Lenin and the Russian Revolution (Part 3)

What should be be considered when discussing the October Revolution is how the rapid time-table of the Bolsheviks revealed they had no intention of having workers' rule but only party rule and exposes the misrepresentations of the Leninists and Trotskyists.

"... just four days after seizing power, the Bolshevik Council of People's Commissars (CPC or Sovnarkom) "unilaterally arrogated to itself legislative power simply by promulgating a decree to this effect. This was, effectively, a Bolshevik coup d'etat that made clear the government's (and party's) pre-eminence over the soviets and their executive organ. Increasingly, the Bolsheviks relied upon the appointment from above of commissars with plenipotentiary powers, and they split up and reconstituted fractious Soviets and intimidated political opponents." [Neil Harding, Leninism, p. 253] ...the Bolsheviks immediately created a power above the soviets in the form of the CPC. Lenin's argument in T…

The Free Access Movement

A study of history shows that from the earliest recorded times to the present, human society has had a process of change, now slow and gradual, now violent and dramatic, during which the existence of classes with opposing interests has been revealed. A fundamental Marxian position is that class struggle is the motor that drives change. Built into capitalism is a class struggle between those who own the means of wealth production and those who don't. These classes struggle for the control of society, for the power to govern society in their own interests.

What has taken place over the last few years of workers spontaneously resisting the State is indeed heartening. In the last couple of weeks and past few days we have witnessed workers in cities of Turkey and Brasil acting in their class interests.

The socialist revolution may start from some street protests spreading to the whole of the working class. Which leads to the importance of who controls the state. At the moment, this is…

All Right For Some

We are constantly being told that we are living in an economic downturn and we should all be prepared to cut our costs during this crisis, but according to the chief executive of Harrods this does not apply to the luxury side of retailing. 'Michael Ward, chief executive of the Qatari-owned retailer, has shrugged off fears of a downturn in demand for luxury goods, pledging to make the Knightsbridge department store more expensive and upmarket. ...... Speaking at the British Retail Consortium symposium, Mr Ward said that the average amount spent at Harrods had nearly doubled since the onset of the financial crisis.' (Times, 26 June) Mr Ward went on to illustrate how they sold more exquisite skins and diamond-encrusted iPad covers but also more modestly sold shirts at £75 and sweaters for £1,000. Some members of the owning class seem to be managing despite the financial downturn. RD

A Heartless Society

If you are a member of the owning class you can enjoy the best of everything. Food, clothing, shelter, education and health care of the best available are all yours.  However if you are a member of the working class you can only afford the cheap and the shoddy as this news item illustrates. 'Overflowing NHS emergency wards means desperately ill treated in cupboards and corridors. ..... Scores are feared to have lost their lives or suffered serious harm. One patient left in a hallway for two hours without appropriate treatment died after having a heart attack.' (Sunday Express, 23 June) RD

Dundee - the city's culture is deprivation

More than a quarter of Dundee children are living in poverty, according to latest figures.In some areas of the city, one in three youngsters are below the poverty line as parents struggle to feed their families. The East End has 36% of kids classified as being in poverty, while Lochee and the North East of the city both have 30%. On average across the city, 26% of children are poverty-stricken — more than one in four. Coldside has 29% of children suffering, while Maryfield has 28% and Strathmartine 27%. The lowest figure for a Dundee ward was the well-off Broughty Ferry, at 7% Mary Kinninmonth, director of Dundee Citizens Advice Bureau, said that some parents in the city were forced to make the choice between heating and food. She said: “There are people who often don’t eat properly themselves, to make sure they can feed their children. “Sometimes it is a stark choice between heating and eating." John Dickie, head of the Child Poverty Action Group in Scotland, said problems were…

Home security?

Just a single percentage point rise in interest rates would be enough to force nearly 10% mortgage-holders to take drastic action so they could afford debt payments, such as cut essential spending or earn more income (for example, by working longer hours or a second job ) in order to afford their debt payments the Bank of England has warned – while a two point increase could affect those holding around 20% of mortgage debt.

Bank Deputy Governor Paul Tucker said: "If interest rates were to rise without an improvement in income, the debt servicing burden would increase."

Lenin and the Russian Revolution (Part 2)

An article on the  Libcom website called “The Soviet State myths and realities 1917-21“ is well worth quoting at length

"The history of the Russian Revolution as told in Soviet textbooks takes place in two phases: the rising of the masses against tsarist oppression, then against Kerensky's bourgeois democracy, engendered a process of radicalization of which the Bolsheviks were both inspirers and spokesmen, preparing the ground for the second phase of the revolution, October 1917. In other words, the communists perceive an historical and theoretical continuity between the autonomous origins of the councils and the Leninist theory of the State, a view which is held even by the anti-Stalinist Marxist-Leninists.

This misrepresentation of the true course of events was essential in order to paper over the divergences between the masses and Bolshevik policy insofar as the Bolsheviks claimed, and still do claim, to incarnate the dictatorship of the proletariat. It was vital to create…

The world class struggle

Is there a commonality between the Spanish Indigados, the Occupy Movement, hosts of other social protests from Israel to Greece, and now showing itself in Turkey and Brasil?

The current economic and social crisis is certainly a deep one and is driving capitalist states and capitalist companies towards some desperate measures to try and stabilise the system and restore (and where possible) increase real profit levels. But this is not to assume that particular capitalist governments or companies are stuck with only one set of inflexible policies. The problem is that isolated struggles by workers in the context of intense capitalist competition will give the capitalists more abillity to offload any gains made by one sector onto other workers The generalisation of struggle will make that harder for them to achieve this and can potentially push back the austerity measures accross a wider front at least on a temporary basis.

Alexander Berkman, the author of the ABC of Anarchism, put it &qu…

Lenin and the Russian Revolution (Part 1)

The SPGB view expressed repeatedly is socialism could not be established in backward isolated Russian conditions where the majority neither understood nor desired socialism. The takeover of political power by the Bolsheviks obliged them to adapt their programme to those undeveloped conditions and make continual concessions to the capitalist world around them. In the absence of world socialist revolution there was only one road forward for semi-feudal Russia, the capitalist road , and it was the role of the Bolsheviks to develop industry through state ownership and the forced accumulation of capital . The SPGB would classify the Russian Revolution as a bourgeoise revolution without the bourgeoisie. The Bolsheviks, finding Russia in a very backward condition, were obliged to do what had not been fully done previously, i.e. develop capitalism. The Bolsheviks performed the task of setting Russian capitalism on its feet .

"No social order ever disappears before all the productive for…

Patients are not Widgets

Dr Brian Keighley, chairman of the British Medical Association (BMA) in Scotland, hit at the NHS Trusts.

 "We now see health boards talking about 'their' patients, almost implying that the doctors it employs or contracts with are mere technicians in the pursuit of their corporate aim. What an insult to those of us who came into medicine to treat patients to the best of their ability." He said: "Bean counting and clinical direction by managers with top-down politically-inspired targets are not compatible with relationships founded on trust between physician and patient. Patients are not widgets and I get upset when they are treated as such, and when I am considered a mere tool within a corporate design. This slavish addiction to an ethos of corporatism and managerialism has led to doctors, nurses and other clinicians becoming progressively disempowered." He added: "What I want to see for my successors in the NHS is a return to what is at the heart of l…

Imperialism: Plague on both houses

The Left-wing have just not been interested in any criticism of what has become a dogma in their circles: that socialists are duty-bound to support struggles for "national liberation". The "revolutionary" Left simply "trot" out the old anti-imperialism position of supporting the weaker country against imperialist aggression which refuses any real class analysis of war.

Lenin wrote a pamphlet which he entitled Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism. In it he argued that, through a process which had been completed by the turn of the century, capitalism had changed its character. Industrial capital and bank capital had merged into finance capital, and competitive capitalism had given way to monopoly capitalism in which trusts, cartels and other monopolistic arrangements had come to dominate production. Faced with falling profits from investments at home, these monopolies were under economic pressure to export capital and invest it in the economically …

The choice is ours to make

Marx’s motto was to “Doubt everything”.

In an age where the internet provides us with unlimited access to the direct sources there appears to be no limits to the misunderstanding and distortion of Marx. In books and articles there is continuous reference to Marx, attacking him from all sides for claims that he never made. Many critiques basically accuses Marx of a economic determinism which makes men puppets in the hands of economic forces and the Materialist Conception of History interpreted as economic determinism is found in a collection of Marx’s critics.

Marx’s approach to history is explained in his Preface to a Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy and in the Communist Manifesto. Marx’s scientific method was to proceed by simplifying concrete and complex manifestations into an abstraction, which becomes less and less complex until reaching the simplest conception. Then, by systematically adding complicating factors there is a return journey towards empirical realit…

Food for thought

Who's to blame for this sorry state of affairs in Bangaldesh? The New,York Times (26/05/13) comes up with the answer – we are because of our hunger for cheap clothing. Others have blamed the greedy clothing retailers. No one yet that I have seen has targeted the capitalist mode of production because the retailers are absolutely doing the right thing for maximizing profit. That's what they are there for and their investors are quite happy with it.
The 'World Section' of "The Toronto Star" of April 27th. 2013, contained the encouraging news that many of the poor farmers in Guerrero State, Mexico, are waging a successful war against drug-fueled crime. Prior to January, this part of Mexico had one of the highest murder rates in the world, until residents declared they had had enough and organized into vigilante armies. They donned masks, picked up weapons, hunted down criminals and put them on trial before the community. They now claim that…

Why hunger and famine?

" As a member of Oxfam's humanitarian support team, I can be deployed globally at short notice. My job is to provide short-term leadership or support in emergencies or humanitarian situations. From last October, I have been based in West Africa as the senior humanitarian adviser for the Sahel region - Mauritania, Mali and Niger...The food crisis was widely perceived in the media to relate to food shortages which then caused widespread hunger and malnutrition...Although this played an important role at a local level, it wasn't the main cause as the following example illustrates. During the crisis, Niger was still exporting food and staple cereals were available in the markets. The problem, however, was the poorest and most vulnerable people hadn't produced enough grain to survive and couldn't afford to buy it in the markets. Once people run out of money they turn to "coping strategies", for instance getting into debt or selling off their assets including …

Food for thought

In the article "The Real Cost of T-shirts" (Toronto Star, 25/05/13), author, Hasnain Kazim, reveals that the cost of a polo shirt sold by Mango stores in London is $46 while Mango pays just $4.45 to the producers in Rana Plaza, Bangladesh. Danish brand Jack's sells shirts for $32.66 and pays $5.08 to the producer. Minimum monthly wage in Bangladesh is $38 per month. Hourly cost of making garments in Bangladesh is 32 cents, and in China, $1.44. That's the reason China is outsourcing work to Bangladesh. Bangladesh will outsource work to the anthills of Africa were costs are two jars of honey per day for ten million workers ants! Some bloody system! John Ayers

Fact of the Day

In "1066: The Year of the Conquest" historian David Howarth notes that the average 11th century British serf worked one day a week to pay for his house, the land that he fed himself off of, his access to his lord's wood for heating fuel, and a host of other provisions, including a barrel of beer for him and his neighbor on each Saints day.

The Peoples Assembly and Left Unity

No one is going to hand workers socialism on a silver platter...least of all the Socialist Party of Great Britain. Workers have been fighting year after year, and needing better organization and class unity more than ever.  The gravity of the situation confronting people with austerity cut backs is such as to require the fullest solidarity, the utmost measure of unity among all sections of the trade union movement.  “Unity is Strength” is the most basic lesson of working class struggle.  If our class, as a whole, does not fight the only ones who gain are the capitalists.

This is the reason for the Peoples Assembly Against Austerity taking place in London today. Trade-unionists supported by an assortment of left-wingers hope to provide an alternative to the cuts in living standards being imposed upon the working class.

Has it a chance?

 While union members must understand the strength of unity they must also realise their weakness in the economic field against the power of the employe…

A Wasteful Society

Recent figures released by the UK Trade & Investment's Defence and Security Organisation illustrate just how wasteful capitalist society has become. 'The statistics show that defence exports surged by 62 per cent to £8.8 billion last year, easily outstripping growth in the global defence market of 45 per cent. A large chunk of the expansion is down to two deals struck by BAE Systems - a £1.6 billion sale of Hawk training jets to Saudi Arabia and a £2.5 billion order for 20 Typhoon and Hawk aircraft placed by the Omani Ministry of Defence.' (Times, 20 June) This manufacture of death machines is worldwide with Britain only producing about a fifth of the global total and ranking second to the USA. RD

Political Posturing

Politicians love making grandiose claims that have nothing to do with reality and the president of the USA came up with a wild one recently. 'President Obama used the backdrop of the Brandenburg Gate yesterday to urge Russia to leave the Cold War behind by agreeing to a one-third reduction in its nuclear arsenal.' (Times, 20 June) The USA has 7,700 nuclear warheads and Russia has 8,5000, so a one-third reduction would still leave enough nuclear warheads to burn the world to a crisp. RD