Sunday, 31 August 2008

What is Socialism?

We live in reactionary times. Times, in which, the political left appears to be unable to respond to the dominance of the political right. Capitalism is everywhere triumphant. The left is in crisis. So what has happened?

Firstly we need to go back to 1989 the year in which the Soviet Union collapsed. The champagne corks must have been popping in every capitalist boardroom. Why? because as long as the Soviet Union existed it was possible to believe in a viable alternative to capitalism. That gave the left an awful lot of strength. There isn't the time and space here to go into the pro's and cons of the Soviet Union. Was it really a workers state? Was it state capitalism? Was it just a brutal dictatorship? Suffice to say the Soviet Union was not a bad as Western Capitalist propaganda made it seem. People had housing and healthcare and it was a much more equal society than anything we have ever experienced. An awful lot of good people gave their lives trying to create a better world. Their efforts deserve to be acknowledged.

But back to the left. After 1989 it became seized with doubt - trapped like a rabbit in the headlights of the oncoming capitalist juggernaut. But how did things fold so easily? I think there are a number of reasons. One key one is the fact that a lot of the old Marxists and Socialists, people like E P Thompson simply died out. The people who replaced them didn't have the experience of war, conflict and struggle that those those old Socialists did, they were tough cookies. Socialists had gone soft and Socialist politicians in Europe had been sucked into the Eurocracy, expense accounts, and (largely) meaningless debates in Strasbourg.

So where do we go now? What next for the left? Well socialism of course! But hang on isn't that a bit 20th century? Isn't socialism dead as Martin Kettle claimed recently? Well no it isn't. Broadly speaking there are two kinds of socialism; Socialism with a big 'S' and socialism with a small 's'. Socialism with a big 'S' - the Socialism that arose from the work of people like Marx, Engels and Lenin.
By the the late 1960s Socialism had become dogmatic, doctrinaire and sterile That does not mean that Marx, for example, was dogmatic, just that Socialism had become riddled with a particularly deadening kind of dogmatism. Socialism had ceased to be empowering and vibrant. Changing economic circumstances and disillusionment with the Soviet Union helped to bring about the decline of this mainstream Socialism.

But socialism with a small 's' is, and always has been, alive and well. Socialist ideas pre-date Marx by a very long time. Wat Tyler was a socialist, so was John Lilliburne. Because socialism with a small 's' is simply the politics of putting people first - of need not greed. You don't need to have read Das Kapital to understand that kind of socialism - anyone can.

Of course Socialism is so unpopular that some people believe the 's' word should never be mentioned. If they can think of a better word to describe the politics of need not greed then I'd like to hear it. 'Progressive' politics just isn't enough. If David Cameron can call himself a progressive - he's not really - then that's a good reason for not using the word. The fact that Cameron would never dream of calling himself a socialist is good enough for me.

To be honest I'm glad that doctrinaire Socialism is dead. Too much focus on theory, rather than practice, too much self indulgence, too many varieties, too many meetings, too much sectarianism - too much baggage by half. We need to learn from the mistakes that Socialists made in the past without underestimating the great value and contribution of socialists like Marx. We need to unite and move forward with the simple politics of social, economic and environmental justice. That's what socialism, at its core, is really about.

Friday, 29 August 2008

Organic food is not only good for you its essential for the future

The looming recession has re-ignited the debate about organic food. We are told that people are turning away from organic food because it is too expensive. This is just not true - it isn't too expensive. The reality is that we are used to stuffing ourselves with cheap food which is bad for our health. Instead of it being - you are what you eat - we have treated food like any other commodity in our consumer capitalist society. Well it isn't just a commodity. How do poor people get to be so obese? Answer they eat cheap processed food which is slowly killing them. What we need to do is eat better and eat less. We would be healthier and happier and our wallets would not be lighter.

What we also need to do is get agribusiness out of farming because its destroying to fertility of our land, causing soil erosion and feeding us stuff that is getting lower and lower in useful vitamins and minerals i.e. the stuff you buy in a supermarket. Not to mention the poor standards of animal husbandry and the fact that the animals we eat are being pumped full of antibiotics and other drugs.

Only organic farming provides a viable way for the future. Unfortunately organic farmers have to deal with the massive agribusiness PR machine plus governments and the well salaried scientists who have a vested interest in supporting it all.

Big business hates organic farming because it doesn't allow them to make megabucks out of all the pesticides. GM technology and other stuff we don't need to grow decent food.

But there is light at the end of the tunnel. We have passed peak oil. Try supporting factory farming in the absence of oil - it can't be done.

Monday, 25 August 2008

How capitalism creates poverty

In response to an earlier comment on my blog I said I was in the process of writing a paper on how I believe Capitalism creates poverty rather than wealth. I've been working on that for several years now and progress is slow because I'm doing a lot of other things as well, but I intend to try and finish it within the next six months or so.

Of course, in a sense it is obvious that Capitalism creates poverty - you only need to look around the world to see that! We have a small number of very rich people and a very large number of poor people.

For those who want to know more, here is a brief explanation. Firstly, its important to understand that when I talk about capitalists I don't mean the man (or woman) who runs the corner shop, the local restaurateur or farmer, or any one of thousands of small and medium sized businesses. I mean Capitalism with a big C. That is the multi-national corporations, the banks and financiers, the speculators and people who have inherited large amounts of wealth. In the earlier to mid part of the 20th Century, after the great crash of 1929, these Capitalists were subjected to democratic controls and regulation through Franklin D Roosevelt and the New Deal in the USA, and also by the post-war settlement in the UK. Those controls were matched by an increase in public provision, nationalisation, and welfare, notably the National Health Service in the UK.

The result of this change brought about a more equal society and led to the development of what we call Middle Britain in the UK today. Millions of people were given opportunities - such as a University education - they would never have had if things had been as they were before all this happened. This, combined with relatively strong trade unions lead to a narrowing of the gap between rich and poor, and a much wider distribution of wealth.

Ever since it happened the Capitalists have been trying to roll back the gains that your parents and grandparents made through these changes. They want to get ever richer and to do this they need to make all of us poorer. For a while, the Soviet Union acted as a brake on the ambitions of capitalists. The Capitalists were terrified that communism might spread and were content to allow us in the 'West' to get better off (it was all right for them to continue to screw people in Asia, South America and Africa). Capitalist materialism had to be contrasted with the misery of life under the communists. The Soviet Union may not have been good for Russians, Ukrainians and Georgians but it was good for people in the West.

The collapse of the Soviet Union in the late eighties gave Capitalists the green light to begin the process of screwing the rest of us. This process had already started in the UK in the 1970s with the removal of the controls imposed on the movement of money (exchange controls) and the hobbling of the trade unions in the 1980s under Margaret Thatcher. In the decade after the collapse of the Soviet Union the retreat of the political left, which failed to respond to these changes, meant that big business was able to capture the EU just as it had gained control (once more) of the USA under Ronald Reagan.

Now that Capitalists make the rules they are making sure that we will soon be working as cheap labour for them. How do they do it? Well through governments such as New Labour, through the European Union and most especially through the the World Bank, International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Trade Organisation (WTO). These bodies enforce the globalisation of the world economy. They do it through a set of rules which force countries to open up their economies to big corporations through privatisation and deregulation. Health, education, pensions and welfare programmes are slashed, the natural resources of these countries are expropriated by the big corporations. The result is increasing poverty for the people and increasing wealth for the Capitalists. This is not business, or trade or commerce nor is it even economics - it is economic imperialism, it is the looting of countries on an unimaginable scale, it is the greatest heist in history.

What happens to countries that resist? their governments get overthrown, crises, are engineered and if that doesn't work bombs are dropped. Because make no mistake about it the Capitalists have an army - it is called NATO. Take Yugoslavia for example. Before the break up of the Soviet Union Yugoslavia was relatively prosperous. Now it consists of a handful of small impoverished states. When NATO troops invaded Kosovo they forcibly privatised the collective factories. The Iraqis, after the American invasion, are now poorer than they were under Saddam Hussein. Under the new Iraqi government trade unionists are being suppressed. And so the pattern is repeated.

I guess you probably believe it can't happen here. Er... well yes it can and it is. We have already seen the gap between rich a poor increase massively since New Labour came into power. A programme of privatisation and deregulation is rolling back the gains that our parents benefited so much from. Of course people in the UK have been conned on a massive scale. These changes have been sold to them as inevitable, as progress, as the bright shiny new private future, as opposed to the bad old days of the dreaded 1970s - when the UK was a much more equal society than it is now.

Firstly, we have the millions of de-unionised low paid workers who work for the pittance of the minimum wage, and the cheap labour imported from the poorer parts of Europe. Privatisation of public services is weakening the remaining Trade Union base. Now they are going for the middle classes. Privatisation of health and legal services means that the once independent doctors and lawyers are going to end up as employees of Tesco and Virgin. We are going to end up as mere customers rather than stakeholders in health and education, and we are going to end up paying more - for less.

Of course there is still someway to go but the end result of this is that you are going to end up poorer than your parents and your children will be poorer than you are. Its not too late to halt and reverse this process but we need to start doing something about it and soon. That is why I joined the Green Party. Because it has policies which will reverse what is happening to us now.

I've been doing some reading and research recently and I'll just leave you with a couple of things that are well worth looking at. The first is a lecture by Dr Michael Parenti. Although I was aware of the issues he discusses in his lecture I had never heard of him before I came across the video whist surfing the web recently. The lecture, delivered in 2002 before the Iraq war, is one hour long but is an hour well spent. The second is a book I'm reading called The Gods That Failed by Larry Elliot and Dan Atkinson. Although I've not finished it yet it is a book I could warmly recommend to anyone who wants to know more about how and why Capitalism creates poverty. I just want to finish this with part of a quote I found in that book. It was written by Jeremy Seabrook in Unemployment ( Quartet Books 1982) :

" The persistence of poverty in spite of the enormous material advances shows that the poor are there for reasons that have nothing to do with scarcity of resources (in any way that scarcity could be interpreted by common sense) but everything to do with ideology.

The very idea of sufficiency is one that capitalism cannot acknowledge. The possibility that a society could produce enough to ensure the well-being and comfort of all its people is a terrible blasphemy against the deep purposes of capitalism. The drive for more, for accumulation, for increase, the generation of wealth, imply dearth, wants and loss elsewhere; and the unchanging symbiosis of rich and poor only reflects this simple equation

Wednesday, 20 August 2008

Who breaks a butterfly upon a wheel?

Forty years ago it was Mick Jagger, now it is Pete Doherty. The police's move to ban Babyshambles's performance at the Moonfest would be laughable were it not serious. Police persuaded magistrates to back a ban by using experts who said that Doherty could 'gee up' the crowd into a dangerous frenzy! Well excuse me Mr Plod but 'geeing up' a crowd is what rock music is all about.

Comparisons with the prosecution of Jagger and Richards don't go very far though. The police action then was crude and backed by a 'moral panic' about rock music - but we have er.. moved on since then - generations have been 'geed up' in the meantime. No, this is something more dangerous - the police as arbiters of our conduct and behaviour - that is a police state.

Saturday, 16 August 2008

Hats off to Johann Hari

Johann Hari has done us all a service in his latest polemic. If you believe in living in a free society his argument is simple and irrefutable - no religion is above criticism. Its strange how, in the 21st century, that many people still don't seem to get this. Either they are religionists and can't cope with critical comment about their religion, or they are unable to discriminate between say, criticism of Islam and 'islamophobia'. Islamophobia literally means 'fear of Islam' and I can sympathise totally with people who fear the Islamist fanatics who claim to speak for all Muslims, and seek to impose their reactionary, misogynistic, totalitarian theocracy on all of us. But in the context that is is popularly used it means a prejudice against Islam, and Muslims in general. I've no doubt that there are many people including those who support the BNP who are Islamophobes. However, criticism of Islam and Islamophobia are not one and the same thing.

We need to understand that Muslims are trying to stifle dissent and criticism of Islam on a global scale, through the UN. They demand 'respect' which means that they cannot tolerate unfavorable views on Islam, and seek all such views to be censored . After the Danish cartoons debacle, which was deliberately blown out of all proportion by Islamic extremists, death threats were issued not just against the publishers, but anyone else who dared to print the cartoons. Guess what  - not many people did. The 'free' press caved in.

When Osama Bin Laden threatened to kill westerners for political reasons George W Bush and Tony Blair both spoke out in condemnation, and vowed to bring him to justice. But when Islamic extremists threatened to kill westerners over the cartoons i.e. for religious reasons, Bush and Blair were silent. Why?, is it OK to kill for religious reasons? Of course not, but Bush and Blair are religious themselves, hence the silence. These double standards have given Muslim extremists the confidence to think they can silence dissent  with their bullying  threats. That is why it is so important that  all those who believe in free speech should support what Johann Hari has done.

Wednesday, 13 August 2008

Don't call it the nanny state, call it what it is...

Great article by Victoria Coren in the Observer last Sunday about the kicking that smokers are getting at the moment. I've often thought the intolerance shown to smokers has crossed the line into persecution. Well worth reading all the piece but here is an extract:

"Since we have a priggish, disapproving, bullying, absolutist government, which refused to bring in a (good, correct) smoking ban by stages, the Farningham smokers were technically breaking the law even by having a crafty snout on an outdoor platform. But why was this Mrs Buchanan's problem? Anyone who didn't like it could have moved further down, in the fresh air. Nobody was getting hurt but the smokers themselves. They weren't breaking the Ten Commandments".

Recently, some old folks were threatened with an ASBO for feeding birds in their garden.
The Guardian reports today that local authorities and government bodies will soon be allowed to snoop on your emails, texts, and the websites you visit. Police at the Kingsnorth climate camp have harassed and bullied peaceful protesters. We are being threatened with the introduction of ID cards and a national database that will contain information about every one of us. The New Labour government has created over 3,000 new criminal offences since 1997. The prison population has exceeded 80,000 for the first time. Thirty years ago it was half that. So what is going on?

We are living in an authoritarian society where we are becoming more and more regulated and criminalised. The government has recently used the terrorist 'threat' to introduce a raft of legislation which which criminalities dissent and legitimate protests. This 'threat' was comprehensively debunked by Adam Curtis in his documentary 'The Power of Nightmares' in which he showed that the 'threat' was deliberately exaggerated in order to increase the hold of politicians over the population.

Environmentalists are a particular target because they are a threat to capitalism because the policies they propose to fight climate change would end globalisation and threaten the profits of large corporations.

In addition to all this we have the 'Health Police'. The premise is simple - you can legitimately be banned from doing anything if it is 'harmful to you' - and we decide for you. So, we can stop you from smoking, and soon we will be aiming to stop you from drinking. What this means is that we have ceased to be adults in a 'free' society. The government has decided to take these decisions for us because we can't be trusted to do it ourselves.

But this is unacceptable in a free society. I could decide that its bad for you (and me) to be a Tory. So how about banning conservatism? You may laugh but the government now has such draconian powers at its disposal that it is possible to snoop into every aspect of our lives and ban any kind of dissent. That is a totalitarian police state, something that E P Thompson warned was coming in the 1970s and 1980s. You should read Writing by Candlelight (Merlin Press 1980) for an excellent account of the way the government was, even then, seeking to curb our freedoms.

Don't call it the nanny state, call it what it really is ....... the authoritarian state, one step removed from the totalitarian state.

Sunday, 10 August 2008

The end of deference?

As an avid grazer of the internet blog scene, one of the things that really cheers me up amongst all the angst about climate change, the credit crunch etc - is the fact that, politically, we have really got to the end of deference - at last!

The internet is to blame for this. Of course there are plenty of loonies out there, but there is also shed loads of intelligent comment if you choose to look for it. We have suddenly realised through this global community, what we always knew anyway, that the people who run society are usually no better than the rest of us.

Yes, its not just Gordon that is flawed but Vladimir, Barack, Nicolas, Hu, and Andrea. You see, they are just people like us, and some of us might just be better at running things than they are. Or could we run things better for ourselves?

So, now that we know, why should we leave it up to Gordon to decide for us? He is clearly cocking it up on climate change and peak oil - which I mention because they are our pre-eminent global problems.

What do you do in a 'democratic' society when you know that the people running things are taking you to hell in a handcart by failing to tackle these issues? Wait five years, or even eighteen months, for an election?

I don't think so. You do what people have done in the past - you have a revolution. But that's illegal isn't it? Well yes - but that isn't going to matter much longer - despite all the anti terror legislation. Because if what we are being told about climate change is true (see 100 months - below) - we're looking at the breakdown of society in the UK, and that will mean the collapse of the British state anyway. So the sooner we start the better - right?

The revolution we need is one which is going to enable us to make a transition to the post-oil world. And we need to start it now.

Wednesday, 6 August 2008

Just 100 months.....

According to a report from the New Economics Foundation we have just 100 months to save the planet from climate change. That is 8 1/3 years which takes us to about 2017. Its well worth reading the article by Andrew Simms which explains why we have such a short time left to take effective action. Here is a quote from part of that article:

The concentration of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere today, the most prevalent greenhouse gas, is the highest it has been for the past 650,000 years. In the space of just 250 years, as a result of the coal-fired Industrial Revolution, and changes to land use such as the growth of cities and the felling of forests, we have released, cumulatively, more than 1,800bn tonnes of CO2 into the atmosphere. Currently, approximately 1,000 tonnes of CO2 are released into the Earth's atmosphere every second, due to human activity. Greenhouse gases trap incoming solar radiation, warming the atmosphere. When these gases accumulate beyond a certain level - often termed a "tipping point" - global warming will accelerate, potentially beyond control".

In the UK we know that we can save 30% of our energy needs just by having effective insulation in all our homes. What is being done about this - nothing! While politicians prevaricate and appease their chums in the energy industry with promises of coal fired plants and nuclear reactors we are going to hell in a handcart. Even if the 100 months prediction is wrong, in a time where we have passed peak oil, energy conservation measures and greater use of renewables are essential measures, which we need to take to prevent fuel poverty, and to make us all more energy efficient.

If the 100 month prediction is correct be very afraid because at the rate we are going we have no chance of constraining atmospheric CO2 to 400 ppm by 2017 and we are heading for social breakdown. Our politicians are far too wedded to the kind of capitalist solutions that enable the energy industry to make big bucks to take energy conservation measures. The government's policy of shifting to nuclear is bad enough - now we have government support for coal in the form of the proposed Kingsnorth power station in Kent!

The Kingsnorth debacle has attracted the attention of climate change campaigners, who have set up camp near the proposed power station. The camp, which runs from 3-11 August, has already been subject to police harassment. The police have raided the camp, kept the campaigners awake at night and even stolen the campaigner's bicycles! This is typical of the increasing criminalisation of legitimate protest brought about by a New Labour government.

I wish the protesters at the camp every success and I hope that they manage to persuade the government to think again. But I doubt if they will. Energy conservation, de-centralised energy generation (e.g. using your own solar power) all threaten to reduce the massive profits of the energy companies in the long run, or that how they see it, so it can't be allowed to happen.

The energy companies could take a different tack. They could sell us insulation and renewables instead of fossil fuel alternatives,. Enlightened governments might even be able to push them down that road. But not ours - it will still be fiddling with itself while the planet burns.

The war on trade unions

Heard of the war on drugs? You probably have. But have you heard of the war on trade unions? If not, you should have because its going on all over the world. A recent report from Iraq showed that eight trade union leaders were forcibly transferred from Basra to Baghdad, where their lives are thought to be in danger. What is their crime? To oppose the sell-off of Iraq's oil to foreign corporations.

Meanwhile in Korea, top leaders of the Korean Federation of Trade Unions (KCTU) have been arrested by the government. Their crime was to call for a general strike, which the Korean Government has decided is illegal.

As a trade unionist I'm concerned about this but not in the least bit surprised because everywhere trade unions are under threat from global capital and the politicians who do its bidding. After all, we can't have trade unionists affecting profits can we? And all those employment rights and all that social justice just get in the way of making a buck or two. And that's what really matters in a capitalist world - isn't it?

One of the major reasons why there are so many low paid people in the UK, and there is a widening gap between rich and poor is because trade unions have been hobbled by Thatcherite anti-union legislation. Here we don’t lock up trade unionists, we just make sure they can’t defend the livelihoods of their members.