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Showing posts from November, 2014

Conflict And Its Cause

Now that China has become a major economic power, it needs powerful armed forces (to match other super powers) to protect and further its economic interests and ambitions. Recently released statistics show that China spends $188 billion annually on the military, second only to that of the US. This is pushing other Asian countries to increase their 'defense' spending. Viet Nam's budget has increased 83% in the last five years, Japan's $48 billion budget is the biggest ever, expanding its main coast guard fleet from forty-one vessels to three hundred and eighty-nine. Its proximity to China and Russia is driving the spending. The capitalist class in every country needs access to raw materials and markets to gain its share of the profits. Conflict and war are inevitable at some point, as we have seen many times in the past. John Ayers.

Nuclear Weapons Renewal

Thought we were getting safer as the cold war ended and nuclear weapons arsenals would be de-commissioned? Think again – the US for one is ramping up nuclear weapon production to replace the aging stockpile. A sprawling, state-of-the-art plant in Missouri has thousands of employees working on nuclear weapons and their delivery systems. This comes under a president who made disarmament a main goal of American defense policy. Capitalism needs to show who is boss when it comes to discussion of treaties. It is an antagonistic system that can never change. John Ayers.

A Crazy Society

Ever wondered how the owning class spend their leisure time? After all they can't spend all their time counting their money. They have teams of accountants, financiers and lawyers for that purpose. 'A 600-year-old silk tapestry from the Ming dynasty has sold for £28 million, a world record for a work of Chinese art and four times its estimate. ..... The artwork was sold at Christie's of Hong Kong in a bidding war that lasted 22 minutes. The hammer fell in favour of Liu Yigian, a billionaire business man.' (Times, 27 November) A pleasant day out bidding at Christie's spending millions of pounds while millions of workers try to survive on $2 a day. Capitalism is crazy! RD

Time to stop sitting on the fence

All around us we see a terrible spectacle of decay, desperation and social squalor. The SPGB is the only party that places the responsibility for this situation where it really belongs -- on the capitalist system. At the root of all the problems of modern society—inequality, poverty, war, disease—is a social and economic system, capitalism, in which everything is subordinated to the interests of a tiny elite. If this system cannot provide the basic needs of the great majority -- and it cannot -- then it has failed and must be replaced. The alternative to capitalism is socialism: the reorganisation of all economic life under the democratic control of the working class, to serve social needs, not profit. Every socialist has surely indulged in speculation about an ideal society from time to time. The realities of our own society certainly encourage such flights of fancy. But they should not be considered entirely fanciful: without imaginative thinking, it is quite impossible to see how …

No Problems For Some

While workers are anxiously trying to keep up with rising costs and low increases in pay, there's no such problem at the other end of the scale. Two former vice presidents of the Pan-Am games committee left after less than four years on the job and managed to win severance payments of over $300,000. John Ayers.

Political Nonsense

POLITICAL NONSENSE                                        One of the notions beloved by politicians is that they can control capitalism, although Ian Duncan's recent efforts should disabuse them of that idea. His idea was to replace six of the existing seven means-tested benefits covering unemployment, housing and children by an all-embracing Universal Credit. According to him it would all be in place by 2017, but The Times' journalists Phillip Collins recently exposed its failures. 'On its original prospectus , one million people should by now be receiving UC. The actual number 17,850 in a pilot project in Ashton-under-Lyne. A completion date of 2017 has been put back to 2020. The DWP (Ian Duncan) has already been upbraided for writing of £40 million in failed IT software and £91 million in other assets. The projected cost so far is £500 million.' (Times, 28 November) RD

Mother Of The Free?

Misguided workers can often be spotted in a nationalistic frenzy singing "Land of Hope and Glory, Mother of Free", but recent official figures have shown that this is a complete farce.'As many as 13,000 people in Britain are being held in conditions of slavery, four times the number previously thought, it has been revealed. In what is said to be the first scientific estimate of the scale of modern slavery in the UK, the Home Office has said the number of victims last year was between 10,000 and 13,000. They include women forced into prostitution, domestic staff and workers in fields, factories and fishing boats.' (Daily Telegraph, 29 November) RD

Socialists for a free society

“The affairs of the world are ordered in accordance with orthodox opinions. If anyone did not think in accordance with these he soon discovered this fact for himself. Owen saw that in the world a small class of people were possessed of a great abundance and superfluity of the things that are produced by work. He saw also that a very great number--in fact the majority of the people--lived on the verge of want; and that a smaller but still very large number lived lives of semi-starvation from the cradle to the grave; while a yet smaller but still very great number actually died of hunger, or, maddened by privation, killed themselves and their children in order to put a period to their misery. And strangest of all--in his opinion--he saw that people who enjoyed abundance of the things that are made by work, were the people who did Nothing: and that the others, who lived in want or died of hunger, were the people who worked. And seeing all this he thought that it was wrong, that the syste…

For a World Without Borders

The large-scale movement of people has a long history. Migration has always been high on the agenda of the ruling classes, particularly in the core capitalist economies, as they have sought to balance the need for migrant workers to fuel expansionary periods of capitalism against picking up the bill for reproducing and maintaining these workers. The use of migrant workers also allows the receiver country to externalise the costs of renewing the labour force. The state uses migrant workers to fill gaps in the labour market but does not pay any of the costs of them or their families settling. Migrant workers play a distinct role in capitalism both as a “reserve army of labour” and as a means of raising the rate of exploitation for some employers will try to employ migrant workers even when indigenous workers are available because they assume that migrants’ status will make them easier to exploit. There is nothing new about the idea of a reserve army of labour. In 1845 Federick Engels w…

Genetic Damage in Jadugora, India

The town of Jadugora, India, supplies most of the country's uranium needs. There, the ore is mined, refined into yellow cake, and sent to the nuclear fuel complex in Hyderbad. There, the tallow cake is converted into uranium oxide, processed into nuclear fuel, and sent to one of India's two dozen nuclear reactors. Uranium is at the center of India's energy ambitions. Coal reserves are limited and gas and hydro are considered unreliable. If the monsoon season is weak, hydro- power output drops and energy experts say nuclear power is cheaper then coal. Exposure to uranium and the difficulty of getting it without bringing up two dozen other radioactive materials that are far more dangerous than uranium, have taken their toll on the people of Jadugora. Many children cannot walk, or hold anything. They can't even feed themselves, bathe or use the toilet. Children with birth deformities live on every street in the town. There are many young women who …

Distorted Values

Bill Clinton is credited with bringing his family back from the edge of bankruptcy. How, by hard work? Not on your nellie. In seven days he gave speeches to corporate executives in Switzerland, Denmark, Sweden, Austria and the Czech republic and was paid $1.4 million. In fact, since 2001 when he left the White House to January 2013, he has made $104 million for 542 speeches. Lots of talking, maybe, but less of value than a day in the factory and a hundred times more lucrative. Hilary's standard fee is $200,000. Values are distorted in capitalism. (Toronto Star, June 28.) John Ayers.

We still have the dream of socialism

Many on the left lack a vision of a fundamentally different society. Utopia is a whole narrative of profound change in the lives we lead involving our work, leisure, bodies and relationship to nature. Where are the utopian responses to everyday alienation - the lives we would lead if we were free from alienated exploitative labour. Where is the socialist imagination we so desperately require.
Marx's acknowledged at the 1872 Hague Congress that socialism could be voted in, precluding a revolutionary cataclysm. But workers of the world didn't unite but became more divided by nationalism when workers wrapped themselves around their various flags and capitalism developed reformist coping mechanisms such as the welfare state, as a temporary respite. People though are now again more open to socialist ideas.
Socialism is an economic system in which the means of production are commonly owned and controlled co-operatively. As a form of social organisation, socialism is based on co-ope…

Perverse Effect

Thirty-six hours after the Obama government banned the importation of the AK-47 rifle as part of the sanctions against Russia, gun stores in the states sold out of them. Some customers bought eight to ten rifles at nearly $1000 each, stockpiling them as investment. " The great irony here is that the threat of regulation has the perverse effect of stimulating sales, and not by a little," said Philip Cook, a Duke University gun researcher and the author of, "The Gun Debate That Everyone Needs to Know." Whatever the intentions of the purchasers, two things are clear – the fact that there are so many guns out there regardless of whose hands they are in is indicative of a dysfunctional society, and the need for a society where no guns are needed or even produced. John Ayers.

A Diseased Society

It is typical of capitalism that even the awful scourge of Ebola is overtaken by the money system. Bodies of Ebola victims have been dumped outside a hospital in Sierra Leone by burial workers, who are protesting at the failure of authorities to pay them bonuses for their hazardous work, residents have said. 'Tensions in the eastern town of Kenema reached new heights with the action by members of the burial teams. Local residents said three bodies were abandoned in the hospital doorway, preventing people from entering. There were reports that 15 bodies in total had been left in the street.' (Guardian, 25 November) Healthcare workers have repeatedly gone on strike in Liberia and Sierra Leone over lack of pay, unfulfilled promises to pay them more and their dangerous working conditions. RD

Time For A Change

Around this time of the year charitable organisation like Oxfam and War on Want launch appeals for funds to deal with world hunger. Alarming tales about families trying to exist on the pittance of a couple of dollars a day are widely reported. However In contrast there was  a gathering in a Geneva lakeside hotel of extremely rich individuals attending an auction that lasted for a very exciting 15 minutes.  'A gold pocket watch made by Patek Philippe for a New York banker in the 1930s fetched 23.2m Swiss francs (£15m) at auction on Tuesday, smashing the record for a timepiece it previously set 15 years ago, Sotheby's said. Henry Graves commissioned the famed Swiss watchmaker to produce the world's most complicated watch and surpass one made for James Packard, the American automobile manufacturer.' (Guardian, 11 November) Very modestly, the seller and buyer chose to remain anonymous . RD

Political Duplicity

Politicians like to  make great play about how they will crack down on tax-avoiding companies but in practice they are much less thorough. For instance David Cameron has been getting cosy with executives of both Facebook and Google. 'Cameron appointed former Facebook head Joanna Shields to the Lords. Facebook has not paid any corporation tax in the UK for a second year, Tories are close to Google, which has also been accused of avoiding tax.' (Daily Mail, 26 November) RD

More Severe Cuts

Jeremy Hunt, the Health Minister speaking during a debate in the House of Commons said the NHS is entering a crisis even before the winter sets in. 'Health Secretary says he takes his own children to the Accident & Emergency at weekends because the wait to see a GP takes  too long.' (Daily Telegraph, 25 November) When even the Health Secretary admits to the inadequacy of the NHS it shows how severe the cuts have become. RD

For Common Ownership, For Free Access

"From each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs" is commonly attributed to Karl Marx, but "à chacun selon ses besoins, de chacun selon ses facultés" was also written by Louis Blanc (1811-1882) as a rebuttal to Henri de Saint Simon who claimed that each should be rewarded according to how much they work. It is speculated that the phrase was inspired from two lines from the Bible: “All that believed were together, and had all things in common; And sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all men, as every man had need.” (Acts 2:44-45)
The contradiction in capitalist society is between the means of production, which are socialized in this society, and private, not social, accumulation. This inherent contradiction is the basis of society’s division into classes, into the rich and poor. It’s also the source of the crises of capitalism. Marx and Engels’ vision was that socialism would do away with this contradiction by doing away with p…

Endemic Distress

The government has cut the NHS so severely that it is now forced to re-fund the service. The NHS in England should be given £2bn more next year, the King's Fund health think tank has said. Extra money for the service are called for after the latest figures showed the deficit growing as performance deteriorates. 'Halfway through the 2014-15 financial year the service's deficit had reached £630m - up from £500m a few months ago. It comes as targets are being breached for A&E, hospital operations and cancer treatment. In a briefing document, the King's Fund said the levels of deficits - revealed in official NHS board papers - were "unprecedented" and showed financial distress had become "endemic".' (BBC News, 26 November) RD

World Hunger

There are many reasons to get rid of capitalism. War, crime, preventable diseases - the list is endless. The greatest plight of all though is probably world hunger. 'We grow enough food right now to feed about 10 billion people, yet according to the UN, nearly 1 billion people suffer from significant malnutrition, in a world of plenty. They are hungry because they are poor, and they are poor because they are (by and large) either small-scale farmers without enough land, credit, extension services, or investment, or they are unemployed workers with income too low to support their families.' (Christian Science Monitor, 23 October) One billion suffering from malnutrition. It must end!   RD

Hospitals In Crisis

Experts said hospitals were "full to bursting," with latest quarterly statistics showing hospitals operating at the highest capacity levels recorded for the time of year. 'NHS leaders said that many hospitals had become so busy that it would take little more than "a gust of wind" to bring some to collapse. Accident & Emergency doctors said many of the problems stemmed from lack  of social care, with too many elderly patients stuck in hospital for lack of   help to get them back home.' (Daily Telegraph, 20 November) Lack of NHS funding could lead to a real medical collapse this winter. RD

This Is A Ceasefire?

The hostilities continue in the Ukraine  despite a so-called ceasefire. 'An average of 13 people have been killed daily in eastern Ukraine since a 5 September ceasefire came into place, the UN human rights office says. In the eight weeks since the truce came into force, the UN says 957 people have been killed, amid continuing violations on both sides. A new report by the office describes a total breakdown of law and order in rebel-held Donetsk and Luhansk.' (BBC News, 20 November)  The catalogue of human misery is horrendous - 4,317 deaths since April, 957 of them since the 5 September ceasefire, and 9,921 people wounded. Capitalism's conflicts always lead to working class suffering. RD

A Poisonous System

Under the shocking headline 'Supermarkets still selling chicken contaminated by deadly bacteria', we learn of the awful risks of disease and death as desperate retailers push for bigger and bigger sales. 'Supermarkets are selling chickens they know to be contaminated with a bacterium  that causes food poisoning and kills more than 100 people a year.' (Times, 19 November) The British Retail Consortium, which represents major retailers, said that its members were not required by the Food Standards Agency (FSA) to withdraw contaminated batches.  Which is very convenient for them but hardly reassuring for potential customers. RD

Economic democracy and freedom

The Earth’s greatest single resource is its people. The world could be a paradise for its inhabitants but it definitely is not a paradise for the majority of people. Who and what is responsible? It is the capitalists and their profit-seeking system. Our planet is ruled for and by capitalists for their own interests. What is wrong with the world is the way society is organised, the “system of society” which prevails. Two  main features of this society are it is divided into rich and poor—a tiny handful of rich (1 per cent of the population own more than half the wealth) who need not do any work, and the overwhelming majority who toil their whole lives through and that wars,  involving incalculable suffering to the people, are a regular occurrence.
It is a system of exploitation. By exploitation we mean living off the labour of other people. There have been previous forms of exploitation. In slave society, the slave-owners lived off the labour of the slaves who were their property. In …

The Clydesiders - Book Review

Book Review from the January 1967 issue of the Socialist Standard
The Clydesiders by R. K. Middlemas
In the general election of 1922 twenty Independent Labour Party members were elected from Glasgow and the West of Scotland alone. As a vast, hymn-singing crowd saw the new MPs onto the London train one of them, Emmanuel Shinwell, was aware that "they had a frightening faith is us . . . we had been elected because it was believed we could perform miracles and miracles were needed to relieve the tragedy of Clydeside in 1922." (Conflict Without Malice by E. Shinwell) The miracles, of course, failed to come. Capitalism proved more than a match for the reforms of the Independent Labour Party. Mr. Middlemas traces the gradual decline of that organisation.
The cover announces his book as "an important contribution to contemporary political history." This claim would not be so wide of the mark if he had got a few more of his facts right. Take, for example, his confusion of …

Dirty Tricks

During his five-decade-long leadership of the FBI bureau the Director J. Edgar Hoover was virtually unassailable. Presidents could come and go but Hoover still retained his supreme position. It is only now that some of the dirty tricks and double-dealing that kept him in power have come to light. One of Hoover's targets was the civil rights leader Martin Luther King whom the FBI had originally started monitoring because of suspected ties to the US Communist Party but after King began criticising the government for failing to enforce civil rights in the American South and his participation in the 1963 March on Washington the range of the FBI's surveillance spread. 'Now revealed are brazen threats to smear King by making details of his numerous extramarital affairs public and hints at an audiotape that may have accompanied the letter.' (BBC News, 20 November) Who knows what other surveillance and threats may have been used in the past or indeed in…

Wage Workers, Beware

Government officials  like to boast of an economic recovery, but the pathetic level of wages gives the lie to that notion. 'The wage rise, in the 12 months to April, was the smallest growth in 17 years and puts the average weekly salary full-time workers at £518, official figures show. Annual increases averaged around 1.4 per cent a year between 2009 and 2014, but this latest rise - the lowest since 1997 - is only 0.1 per cent, said the Office for National Statistics.' (Daily Express, 19 November)  The depth of decline highlights just how tentative any recent recovery remains, with the bottom 10th of full-time staff earning less than £288 a week, compared with £1,240 for the top 10 per cent. RD

Wellfare And Food Banks

A study commissioned by the Church of England, the Trussel Trust food bank network, Oxfam and Child Poverty Action Group contradicts the governments insistence that there is no connection between the increasing use of food banks and welfare cuts. 'At least half of all food bank users are referred because they are waiting for benefits to be paid, because they have had benefits stopped for alleged breaches of jobcentre rules or because they have been hit by the bedroom tax or the removal of working tax credits, it finds.' (Guardian, 19 November)  The study is the most extensive research of its kind yet carried out in the UK and makes the government look foolish. RD

Religion As A Business

It is traditional for religious leaders in the West to at least claim to reject the material things of the world and embrace only the spiritual values but that is not the case for many in the East. Some of the gurus in India are also successful entrepreneurs and run massive business empires, selling traditional medicines, health products, yoga classes and spiritual therapies. 'They run schools, colleges and hospitals. Some of the gurus, according to Dr Vishvanathan, can make India's best-known companies "sound like management amateurs". A guru from Punjab, Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh, who heads a popular religious sect, even performs at rock concerts and acts in films.' (BBC News, 19 November) RD