Thursday, February 11, 2016

America - the frightened country

Chomsky has been commenting extensively on the 2016 US presidential elections. On the one hand, Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders – who has brought income inequality on to the table – is drawing considerable support. He has managed to raise about $33 million for his campaign, shattering individual donor records. On the other, someone like Trump on the Republican side is leading in the polls.

In Chomsky’s view the apparently contradictory trends are reflections of the same phenomenon.The impact of the neoliberal programmes of the past generation almost everywhere has been to undermine democratic participation, to impose stagnation or sometimes decline on the majority of the population and to concentrate wealth very narrowly, which of course then in turn affects the political system and how it works.”

And this is seen in different ways, in different places, but some phenomena are common. In Europe, the mainstream more or less traditional parties – Social Democratic, Christian democratic – are declining. “At the edges you are getting increased activism and participation, both Left and Right. Something similar is happening here [in the US].”

An ever-growing anger among wide sections of the population and a hatred of institutions is visible. “There is plenty of anger and good reasons for it, if you look at what is happening to people.” Citing a recent study in the United States that points to increasing mortality rates of less educated, white men in the age range of 45-55 years, he says: “that just does not happen in developed societies.”

“It is a reflection of depression, hopelessness, concern that everything is lost – nothing is in our lives, nothing is in our futures, then at least show your anger.” The propaganda system in the US, in England, in continental Europe is designed to focus that anger on people who are even more deprived and miserable – such as “immigrants, ‘welfare cheats’, trade unions and all kinds of people who somehow you think are getting what you are not getting”.

The anger then is not focused on those who are really responsible – the power-hungry private sector or the huge financial institutions which are basically supported by tax payers. “But don’t look at them, look at the people who are even below you – like a mother with dependent children who lives on food stamps, she is the one who is a problem. Some of the immigrants fleeing from the destruction that the US caused in Central America and are trying to survive, so look at them – and that’s the Trump phenomenon,” says the political theorist, presenting his analysis of Trump’s ever-growing hate speeches that seem to resonate with some sections of the US’s population.

The other group that leaders like Trump seek to please are the nativists, according to. Chomsky. Therefore, they employ the rhetoric of “They are taking our country away from us.” ‘They’ being, minorities, immigrants and others. “It used to be a nice white Anglo-Saxon country but it’s gone.” That sentiment, he says, makes the US an increasingly terrified population, probably the most frightened country in the world.

Monday, February 08, 2016

What is Socialism?

Contributions to this thread 

We envisage socialism as being established globally and almost simultaneously. As fr back as 1847 Engels wrote:
“Will it be possible for this revolution to take place in one country alone?
 No. By creating the world market, big industry has already brought all the peoples of the Earth, and especially the civilized peoples, into such close relation with one another that none is independent of what happens to the others.
Further, it has co-ordinated the social development of the civilized countries to such an extent that, in all of them, bourgeoisie and proletariat have become the decisive classes, and the struggle between them the great struggle of the day. It follows that the communist revolution will not merely be a national phenomenon but must take place simultaneously in all civilized countries – that is to say, at least in England, America, France, and Germany.
It will develop in each of these countries more or less rapidly, according as one country or the other has a more developed industry, greater wealth, a more significant mass of productive forces. Hence, it will go slowest and will meet most obstacles in Germany, most rapidly and with the fewest difficulties in England. It will have a powerful impact on the other countries of the world, and will radically alter the course of development which they have followed up to now, while greatly stepping up its pace.
It is a universal revolution and will, accordingly, have a universal range.”

Ideas are a social phenonomen and cross borders. How music genres arise and then travel the globe, or how fashions are adopted across cultures?

We will not buy off the capitalists and that somehow governments will nationalise and pay compensation to the capitalist class. Some maysay it would be immoral to do anything other but we would disagree. We are the dispossessed, we are taking back what is rightfully ours in the first place. A look at history demonstrates how the capitalist acquired their wealth. An even the argument that self-made men deserve their riches is false. Apples Steve Jobs ideas would have remained just that...thoughts in his head if it was not for the millions of workers in China building his phones etc...they made his wealth. 
"But if blood be the price of all your wealth,                             
Good God! We have paid it in full!"

Can you tell me when the Rockerfeller family, founders of Standard Oil, dirtied their hands drilling for the oil? You should study the history of that dynasty to see just how they acquired their wealth. Perhaps you may refer me to the family of Saud who "discovered" and invested his money to extract the oil under "his" land. I may be wrong but isn't Saudi Arabia the only country named after a ruling family clan? Another history for you to read about.  

It is labour that transforms natural resources into wealth. Muscle, sweat and toil and more often than not, blood. Research your mine disters in Virginia. 2010 negligence by Massey Energy was only the last example of the expendibility of the miner. CEO Blankenship was never ever a miner but an accountant.

 The importance of labour in creating all wealth was a fact recognised long before Marx and was acknowledged by Adam Smith. But why heed classical economists. Didn't Abraham Lincoln say "Labor is prior to and independent of capital. Capital is only the fruit of labor, and could never have existed if labor had not first existed."?

Why not study "the Enclosures" of England (a similar process took place worldwide and is still going on) Stealing common land from the poor and driving them to seek work in the cities...factory fodder...It was the Chinese worker in the Foxconn factories that created Steve Jobs and of course we all "know" that Apple pay their due in taxes, don't we?

The 19thC industrialists were rightly called "Robber Barons"

"The law locks up the man or woman
Who steals the goose off the common
But leaves the greater villain loose
Who steals the common from the goose.

The law demands that we atone
When we take things we do not own
But leaves the lords and ladies fine
Who takes things that are yours and mine."

When a so-called self-made man says hard work brought him riches, ask whose hard work?

Perhaps it has been wrongly emphasised but it is labour both of the hand and the head that transforms nature into useful wealth.  Marx gives the example and talks of the conductor of an orchestra as being also vital to this you and we do agree that there requires to be co-ordination and co-operation and in particular occasions someone is selected to administer affairs.   Engels also suggests that a captain of a ship is still going to be in charge and he no doubt would say a pilot of an aircraft is necessary to be the person with the final say. Even the anarchist Bakunin agrees to the competence of the cobbler to decide for him the best shoe. But are they leaders in the way you seek to explain? We say no. We are against the political power function of leadership, not against the acquired authority of those with special skills and learning being recognised as someone to heed the advice and knowledge of. Which of us would reject the surgeon’s expertise? But remember, these people have taken years to acquire the privilege of bestowing and sharing their talents, school, university, professional training...but tell me exactly where the University of Prime Ministers is? (a wit would say Eton and then Oxbridge)...But anyone with a glib tongue and a sales-persons demeanour can be elected and then impose his or her will upon others, using force if necessary, which is legitimate and legal under the law.You discuss the dawn of time when it comes to organising...Simply look at how the American First Peoples organised for war...they followed someone they respected as a war chief...not as a political chief...if he proved successful they were with him...when he failed to bring victories, they deserted him...he could not impose his leadership upon his warriors by conscription or the draft only by accomplishments.

We are for the abolition of private property and the implementation of one of the oldest customs and traditions humanity has developed for its collective survival, the principle "from each according to ability, to each according to need." , an end of the exchange economy and the introduction of free access  this means the abolition of wage and money and those working in occupations related to commerce/capitalism transferring to socially productive work. And the emphasis is on socially productive and not simply shifting  money around to benefit a small minority of people , or speculatiing which is very basic...buying cheap and selling dear...yet ignoring the fact that the value of the object is in its manufacture , not its circulation. We stand for the free common wealth...or as another put it

"Store-houses shall be built and appointed in all places, and be the common stock...And as every one works to advance the common stock, so every one shall have a free use of any commodity in the store-house, for his pleasure and comfortable livelihood without buying and selling or restraint from any." - Gerrard Winstanley in the 17th C

It may be easy dismiss the term "wage-slave" so easily...countless numbers of people follow their hobbies without payment because they enjoy it. People have their gardens and their allotments and happily tire themselves out working...but place that person on a farm and demand he or she exhaust himself for a wage by denying any other way to support him or herself and their family and that the fruits of this work is taken from him and the rewards of placing it on the market to be sold and bought then ask if that person is not a slave. Someone who well knew what it meant to be a chattel slave and a wage slave explains it thus

 "The difference between the white slave, and the black slave, is this: the latter belongs to ONE slave-holder, and the former belongs to ALL the slave-holders, collectively. The white slave has taken from his, by indirection, what the black slave had taken from him, directly, and without ceremony. Both are plundered, and by the same plunderers" - Frederick Douglass 19thC

Can you tell me a CEO who was elected by his or her work-force rather than being appointed by a board of directors acting on behalf of investors? No, they are not comparable but yes it is debatable that some CEOs may well be technically the same as wage-slaves bound by golden chains, in the sense that they can be hired and fired. However, most CEOs, the vast majority, are in the capitalist class themselves, a large proportion of their salary being in the form of stocks and shares along with their enormous basic salaries where they can afford to invest elsewhere.

Politicians are appointed and political influence and power is bought. They are part of a political party machine, who are vetted by a committee to ensure they are "suitable" candidates where upon a whole campaign is financed to get them elected with much of the cash coming from donors in various ways, some very opaque such as financing a members supposed researchers. Even i don't need to tell you that prime ministers go cap in hand and touching their forelock to such people as Rupert Murdoch for their endorsement. A politician is not a delegate but a representative. He is not elected to carry out your instructions but to act on behalf for you as he thinks fit. 

People behave differently when they are in different situations...there is nothing innate about behaviour, we change when the world around us changes. Most inventors, artists have usually died in poverty. Or they are now part of an R and D team, paid a salary and have no intellectual ownership over a new device or application. The company benefits.

Have you thought of the numbers of people who do voluntary work, from the little old lady in your local charity shop to those on gap-years helping out abroad on aid work. For sure, they receive something in return... self-esteem and respect from peers but what is usually lacking is any cash reward. Work and employment are not synonymous terms. We could have used the example of those who achieve job satisfaction over pay-scales or and the self-employed who enjoy being their own boss. When we talk of working conditions in socialism we are not equating it with capitalist working conditions. We will see a great reduction in the working week, the introduction of automation and relationships within the factory or office changing to one of equality. Work will for the first time in history become voluntary. We do possess the technology even today to provide for practically all the needs of every person on the planet. We can even carry the burden of the idle and lazy. Unpleasant social tasks, the 3-D, dirty dangerous and demeaning, if a machine can't do it will be shared out amongst the community, not imposed upon a person as a livelihood for the rest of his or her life.

But the demand for luxuries will diminish because when everything is available to everyone, there can no longer be excuses for conspicuous prove your status by showing of your possessions. Certain things may well be shared as in the example of car-pools and time- share apartments...We'll book our weekend on the yacht and wait our turn. Look in your shed at all those tools which are only used occasionally. Even in capitalism, hire-companies recognise we don't need to own everything.

Socialism will not work if no-body works, society would fall apart. Part of our case is that socialism cannot be imposed but that people have to democratically decide they want socialism and are prepared to help make it work. This pre-supposes that it cannot be led by a minority but come into existence only via a mass movement who have a profound change in outlook so it is our belief that it is inconceivable that with this desire for socialist change on such a large scale it would not influence the way people behave. Ask yourself this, would having struggled so determinedly to bring socialism about, would people be so ready to jeopardise the new society they helped to create by sabotaging it?

According to William Morris a socialist from the 19th C it is even more lovely to use your own two hands, some simple tools ...and create your own lovely things. He was a person who took pride in the handicraft traditions of earlier ages rather than what we would do these days, buy a flat pack from IKEA...use an Allen key and think we built our book-case ourselves. We will always appreciate nice things and socialism is not about doing away with personal possessions.

We have been brought up to accept the status quo as practically sacred...natural and something that has always been and will always be, but social systems change, peoples' ideas change, our concepts of how we want to live changes, our world-view changes, we acquire more and more knowledge and gain more and more actual experience. Socialists are anti-capitalists but, believe me, we understand the benefits it has provided society over its life, but we simply have come to understand that it is now out-lived its own usefulness and we should now proceed to the next level, a higher civilisation called socialism.

Maybe we are dreamers as John Lennon and many others have said both for and against us but as Lennon also said, we are not the only ones and some day we hope you will join us.
In socialism we can support free-riders or to put it more positively, we don't need everybody to pitch in. We can let the poets and the painters, the writers and the musicians, all the arts in fact, have all the time they require to bring culture and their individual expression to this world...if they so wished. The pessimists think over-population is a problem but every person in the world is an extra pair of hands and an additional brain. We don't condemn individuals to a life on the road-gang as capitalism does. More and more division of labour will dissolve (not entirely disappear, for sure) Marx said a free person should be able to “hunt in the morning, fish in the afternoon, rear cattle in the evening, criticise after dinner without ever becoming hunter, fisherman, herdsman or critic.” He foresaw that the separation of town and country merging into one.

What we propose is that the whole system of money and exchange, buying and selling, profit-making and wage-earning be entirely abolished and that instead, that instead community as a whole should organise and administer the productions of goods for use only, and the free distribution of these goods to all members of the community according to each person’s needs.

Since money would not exist, and wealth could not, therefore, be measured in terms of money, no person could say that he or she owned a share of such-and-such value in the people’s means of production.

The main features of the World Commonwealth are really quite simple, so I’ll proceed to sum them up for you in a few sentences.

Firstly, the new social system must be world-wide. It must be a World Commonwealth. The world must be regarded as one country and humanity as one people.
Secondly, all the people will co-operate to produce and distribute all the goods and services which are needed by mankind, each person willingly and freely, taking part in the way he or she feels they can do best.
Thirdly, all goods and services will be produced for use only, and having been produced, will be distributed, free, directly to the people so that each person’s needs are fully satisfied.
Fourthly, the land, factories, machines, mines, roads, railways, ships, and all those things which mankind needs to carry on producing the means of life, will belong to the whole people .

Suppose that the new social system were to start tomorrow; the great mass of people having already learnt what it means, and having taken the necessary action to bring it about.

Everybody would carry on with their usual duties for the time being, except all those whose duties being of an unnecessary nature to the new system, were rendered idle, for example, bank clerks, salesmen, accountants, advertising and insurance agents etc. These people would, in time, be fitted into productive occupations for which they considered themselves suitable wirh appropriate re-training if necessary.

When people first hear of how radically different society is being proposed, with all work being voluntary, and free access to whatever we need, most immediately view this as bizarre and impossible. Unsurprising, given that we have spent our entire lives being brainwashed and conditioned by the education system, by the media, by politicians and employers, into swallowing capitalism’s propaganda that this is the natural way of things. For those who can get beyond the initial shock of first hearing about moneyless real socialism, by simply comparing what both the present and new system offer the majority of us, it should be obvious that outdated capitalism must be scrapped and replaced with the real socialist alternative.

Although money will disappear in socialism this does not mean that there will no longer be any need to make choices, evaluations and calculations. Our argument is that these evaluations and calculations, including those conceding the non-monetary "cost" of objects in terms of the effort and materials used to produce them, will be done directly in kind, without any general unit of account or measurement, neither money nor labour-time. Wealth will produced and distributed in its natural form of useful things, of objects that can serve to satisfy some human need or other. Not being produced for sale on a market, items of wealth will not acquire an exchange-value in addition to their use value. In socialism their value, in the normal non-economic sense of the word, will not be their selling price nor the time needed to produce them but their usefulness. It is for this that they will be appreciated, evaluated, wanted… and produced. So estimates of what is likely to be needed over a given period will be expressed as physical quantities of definite types and sorts of objects. Decisions apart from purely personal ones of preference will be made after weighing the real advantages and disadvantages and real costs of alternatives in particular circumstances. The belief that without money nothing can work is flawed. The truth is that production is carried out by people not money. Problems are solved by human beings, not money.

Monday, February 01, 2016

Meet your Meat

97 per cent of the world's soya crop is fed to livestock. It would take 40 million tons of food to eliminate the most extreme cases of world hunger, yet nearly 20 times that amount of grain is fed to farmed animals every year in order to produce meat. In a world where an estimated 850 people do not have enough to eat, it is criminally wasteful to feed perfectly edible food to animals on farms in order to produce a burger rather than feeding it directly to people, especially when you consider that it takes roughly six pounds of grain to produce one pound of pork. As long as a single child goes hungry, this kind of waste is unconscionable.

Countries around the globe are bulldozing huge swathes of land in order to make room for more factory farms to house all the additional chickens, cows and other animals as well as for the huge quantities of crops needed to feed them. But when you eat plant foods directly, instead of indirectly eating bushels and bushels of grain and soya that have been funnelled through animals first, you need a lot less land.

Vegfam, a charity which funds sustainable plant-food projects, estimates that a 10-acre farm can support 60 people by growing soybeans, 24 people by growing wheat or 10 people by growing maize, but only two by raising cattle. What's more, Dutch scientists predict that 2.7 billion hectares of land currently used for cattle grazing would be freed up by global vegetarianism, along with 100 million hectares of land currently used to grow crops for livestock.

Factory-farmed animals are disease-ridden as a result of being crammed by the thousands into filthy sheds, which are a breeding ground for new strains of dangerous bacteria and viruses. Pigs, chickens and other animals on factory farms are fed a steady diet of drugs to keep them alive in these unsanitary, stressful conditions, increasing the chance that drug-resistant superbugs will develop. A senior officer with the UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation called the intensive industrial farming of livestock an “opportunity for emerging disease”, while the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention declared that “much of antibiotic use in animals is unnecessary and inappropriate and makes everyone less safe”. Sure, the overprescribing of antibiotics for humans plays a part in antibiotic resistance. But eliminating the factory farms from which many antibiotic-resistant bacteria emerge would make it more likely that we could continue to count on antibiotics to cure serious illnesses.