Thursday, August 30, 2007

Break for a joke

Caught my eye on this blog a couple of political jokes .

No.1 Two anarchists are making molotov cocktails. One says to the other, "So who will we throw these at then?"
The other replies "What are you, some kind of fucking intellectual?!?"

No.2 An old revolutionary walks across the Brooklyn Bridge one day, and he sees man of a similar age standing on the edge, about to jump.

He runs over and says: "Stop. Don't do it."
"Why shouldn't I?" he asked.
"Well, there's so much to live for!"
"I'm just depressed, I've been a Communist all my life and the revolution seems as far away as ever"
"You're a Communist?"
"Yeah, why?"
"I am as well!! Did you originally join the Communist Party USA?"
"Me too! Did you join the pro-Trotsky Communist League of America in 1928, which later merged with the American Workers Party to form the Workers Party of America in 1934?"
"Spooky, Me too! After the WPA was expelled from the Socialist Party of America in 1936 did you then go on to join the Socialist Workers Party USA and the fourth international?"
"I did actually…"
"Me too! In the 1940 dispute did you side with Cannon or Shachtman?"
"Me too! In 1962 did you join Robertson's opposition caucus, the Revolutionary Tendency?"
" Holly shit! And of course like me you were expelled and went on to join the International Communist League (Spartacist)"
"Well that goes without saying!"
"In 1985 did you join the International Bolshevik Tendency who claimed that the Sparts have degenerated into an 'obedience cult' "
"No way!"
"Nah, me neither. In 1998 did you join the Internationalist Group after the Permanent Revolution Faction were expelled from the ICL?"
"Yeah! I can't believe this! Maybe I won't…."
"Die counterrevolutionary scum!".

And he pushes him off the edge

American Poverty

American poverty has often featured on this post for the simple reason that the nation that claims to be the richest , the most democratic and the most socially mobile also demonstrates the contradictions of capitalism and how it fails to provide for not just a few but for many .

Latest figures confirm the failure of capitalism

More than one in ten Americans, or 36.5 million people, live in poverty in the United States, with children and blacks the worst hit, an annual report by the US Census Bureau .

12.8 million children under the age of 18, or around one-third of the poor, existed in 2006 on incomes below the threshold used by the Census Bureau to determine who lives in poverty.

Total number of Americans without health coverage had risen by three million to 47 million.

Three times more black people -- 24.3 percent -- lived in poverty than the 8.2 percent of white people who did.

To put the figures in perspective - The number of poor out of the total US population of 302 million was equivalent to the entire state of California , one-and-a-half times the population of Malaysia or nearly everyone in Poland living in poverty.

Analysts argue that economic growth was benefiting only the already-haves, and slammed the reports findings, on children in particular, as unacceptable.
"I looked at the bottom 20 and 30 percent, and income is not rising," Ron Haskins of the Brookings Institution think-tank told AFP. "At the very most, I would say the story at the bottom is mixed but I certainly would not say we are improving either income or, certainly not, earnings at the bottom," he said.

A new WSM logo ?

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

a musical interlude

This blog drew my attention to the American singer , Dean Reed , called the Red Elvis . Once again it demonstrates the manipulation of the media that the West was never exposed to this show-biz personality . Some might say - "what a relief ! " , others may be angered by the compliance of the musical press .

Other videos available on Your Tube

Cyber Censors

The Internet as not such a liberating experience for some .

A human rights group in the US is suing Yahoo for alleged complicity in rights abuses and acts of torture in China. The World Organization for Human Rights says Yahoo's sharing of information with the Chinese government has led to the arrests of writers and dissidents. One journalist cited in the case was tracked down and jailed for 10 years for subversion after Yahoo passed on his e-mail and IP address to officials.

The human rights group has brought the case in San Francisco on behalf of the journalist, Shi Tao, and another named Wang Xiaoning. The men's defence lawyer said Yahoo should have asked the Chinese government why it wanted information about the two men before handing it over. He said Yahoo had failed to live up to its ethical responsibilities . Shi Tao was jailed for posting comments critical of government corruption on the web.

Yahoo is not the only internet company accused of collaborating with Chinese authorities. Rivals Google freely admit to blocking politically sensitive items on their China website. Whole websites - including media sources - are eliminated from Yahoo and Google in China. De-listed sites are skipped over when the search engine trawls the web for results.

Regardless of the defence of their actions that search providers try and present , the simple fact is - cash - China has potential for massive profit and that is sufficient motive for Yahoo and Google to co-operate with the Chinese dictatorship .

Monday, August 27, 2007

Murray Bookchin and Communalism

Read a sympathetic critique of Murray Bookchin here and a more critical review of Bookchin here .

Bookchin was an exponent of what he called libertarian municipalism . Consequently , he would criticise Anarchism as being too individualistic . Here he describes his differences with many anarchists

"Democracy is something that anarchism often seems to have problems with. This is one area in which I differ with authentic anarchists, who emphasize an individual ego and the fulfillment of its desires as the overriding consideration. Many anarchists reject democracy as the "tyranny" of the majority over the minority. They think that when a community makes decisions by majority vote, it violates the "autonomy" of the egos of the individuals who voted in the minority. They seem to think that somehow those who voted against a decision, because they are "autonomous," shouldn't have to follow it.

I think that that idea is naive at best and a prescription for chaos at worst. Decisions, once made, have to be binding. Of course minorities should always have the right to object to majority decisions and to freely voice their own views. Majorities have no right to try to prevent a minority from voicing its views and trying to win majority support for them.

The question is, what is the fairest way to make communitywide decisions? I think majority voting is not only the fairest but the only viable way for a face-to-face democratic society to function, and that decisions made by majority vote should be binding on all the members of the community, whether they voted in favor of a measure or against it.

And unlike many anarchists, I don't think a particular individual or municipality should be able to do whatever it wants to do at all times. Lack of structure and institutions leads to chaos and even arbitrary tyranny. I believe in law, and the future society I envision would also have a constitution. Of course, the constitution would have to be the product of careful consideration, by the empowered people. It would be democratically discussed and voted upon. But once the people have ratified it, it would be binding on everyone. It is not accidental that historically, oppressed people who were victims of the arbitrary behavior of the ruling classes — "barons," as Hesiod called them in seventh-century B.C. Greece — demanded constitutions and just laws as a remedy...

...I don't want to go back to the past. I am not a primitivist...I think that the main causes of our problems lie in social relations — in capitalism, the nation-state — and in the commodification of all things and relations. If we organized social life along cooperative and humanistic lines, technology could be one of the major solutions to our problems. Primitivists believe we have too much civilization. I believe we're not civilized enough. Some primitivists are even against "society," but I think that without society you are not a human being. They believe in personal autonomy, I believe in social freedom. They seem to believe that there is a "natural man," an "uncorrupted ego," which civilization has poisoned. I believe that competition and other class and hierarchical relations have corrupted society, and that we need instead a cooperative civilization...

In the same intervew , Bookchin describes his ideas :-

"...The overriding problem is to change the structure of society so that people gain power. The best arena to do that is the municipality — the city, town, and village — where we have an opportunity to create a face-to-face democracy. We can transform local government into popular assemblies where people can discuss and make decisions about the economy and society in which they live. When we get power at the neighborhood level in a town or city, we can confederate all the assemblies and then confederate those towns and cities into a popular government — not a state (which is an instrument of class rule and exploitation), but a government, where the people have the power. This is what I call communalism in a practical sense. It should not be confused with communitarianism, which refers to small initiatory projects like a "people's" food cooperative, garage, printing press — projects that often become capitalistic when they don't fall apart or succumb to competition by other enterprises.

People will never achieve this kind of face-to-face democratic society spontaneously. A serious, committed movement is necessary to fight for it. And to build that movement, radical leftists need to develop an organization — one that is controlled from the base, so that we don't produce another Bolshevik Party. It has to be formed slowly on a local basis, it has to be confederally organized, and together with popular assemblies, it will build up an opposition to the existing power, the state and class rule. I call this approach libertarian municipalism...

... We live in a very confusing time. Sometimes people look for easy answers to complex questions. If a machine or item functions poorly, it is easy to blame technology rather than the competitive corporations that try to make money, or to blame people's attitudes rather than the mass media that shapes people's thinking, or to say we should go back to old ideologies — Christian fundamentalism, Islamic fundamentalism, orthodox Marxism, orthodox anarchism, even orthodox capitalism — for solutions.

People need new ideas based on reason, not superstition; on freedom, not personal autonomy; on creativity, not adaptation; on coherence, not chaos; and on a vision of a free society, based on popular assemblies and confederalism, not on rulers and a state. If we do not organize a real movement — a structured movement — that tries to guide people toward a rational society based on reason and freedom, we face eventual disaster. We cannot withdraw into our "autonomous" egos or retreat to a primitive, indeed unknown past. We must change this insane world, or else society will dissolve into an irrational barbarism — as it is already beginning to do these days."

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Where have all the middle class gone...far , far away

There's been an explosion of wealth creation in the U.S. in recent years. But it's not about trickle-down economics. It's more a matter of gusher-up capitalism, rivaling the days a century ago when business barons such as Carnegie, Ford and Rockefeller built empires and fortunes.

Three hedge fund managers earned one billion dollars or more as reported here .

Now the so-called middle classes are disappearing according to this newspaper article.

California became a more unequal place over the past generation, according to a new report released today by the California Budget Project, with about two-thirds of the state's recently created jobs at either the very top of the pay scale, or at the bottom. Relatively few jobs were created in the middle of the wage scale, resulting in a California of more haves and have-nots, with relatively few middle-class jobs available.

"When the middle rungs of the ladder are missing, it makes it hard to move up that ladder," said Jean Ross, executive director of the budget project, a non-profit research group .

Data in the report shows a decoupling of the connection between productivity gains and pay increases.
Across the state since 1979, the income gap widened between whites and Latinos, between those with a bachelor's degree and those without one, and between the purchasing power of those who hold the best-paying jobs and those who hold down the worst.
And while a four-year college degree still pays off, the study found that since 2000, new graduates have seen their pay decline by about 5 percent.

Few economists dispute that income inequality in California has increased over the past generation, particularly between the few at the very top of the income scale and everybody else.

A report by Public Policy Institute of California , "A Generation of Widening Inequality," found that the gap between low-wage and high-wage workers widened to a greater extent in California than in the nation because the state's low wage workers have fared worse than their counterparts in the nation overall.

The respected blog Huffington Post details :-

The top 10 % of income earners in the United States now owns 70 % of the wealth
The wealthiest 1 % owns more than the bottom 95 % .
In 2005, the top 300,000 Americans enjoyed about the same share of the nation's income -- 21.8 % -- as the bottom 150 million.

The top 20% of earners in Manhattan now makes 52 times what the lowest 20% makes -- $365,826 annually compared with $7,047 -- roughly the same as the income disparity in Namibia.

The ratio of average CEO-to-worker pay in the U.S. shot up from 301-to-1 to 431-to-1 in 2004.

The average CEO now earns substantially more in one day than the average worker earns all year.

The New York Times reveals :-

Americans earned a smaller average income in 2005 than in 2000, the fifth consecutive year that they had to make ends meet with less money - nearly 1 percent less . Many Americans are also paying a larger share of their health care costs and have had their retirement benefits reduced, adding to their out-of-pocket costs.

Those making more than $1 million , individuals who constitute less than a quarter of 1 percent of all taxpayers, reaped almost 47 percent of the total income gains in 2005, compared with 2000.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Notes for Talk on Trotsky and Trotskyism

1. "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 itself and civil life only as a treasurer and his subordinate which must have no will of its own. He perfected the Terror by substituting permanent war for permanent revolution. He fed the egoism of the French nation to complete satiety but demanded also the sacrifice of bourgeois business, enjoyments, wealth, etc., whenever this was required by the political aim of conquest. If he despotically suppressed the liberalism of bourgeois society — the political idealism of its daily practice — he showed no more consideration for its essential material interests, trade and industry, whenever they conflicted with his political interests. …. Paris exchange- brokers forced him by means of an artificially created famine to delay the opening of the Russian campaign by nearly two months and thus to launch it too late in the year.

In this passage, Marx says that Napoleon prevented the 'bourgeois revolution' in France from becoming fulfilled: that is, he prevented bourgeois political forces from achieving a total expression of their interests. According to Marx, he did this by suppressing the 'liberalism of bourgeois society'; and he did it because he saw 'the state as an end in itself', a value which supported his 'political aim of conquest'. Thus, he substituted 'permanent war for permanent revolution'. The final two sentences, however, show that the bourgeoisie did not give up hope, but continued to pursue their interests. This tells us that, for Marx, 'permanent revolution' involves a revolutionary class (in this case, the bourgeoisie) continuing to push for, and achieve, its interests despite the political dominance of actors with opposing interests.

The March 1850 Address
Marx's most famous use of the phrase 'permanent revolution' is his March 1850 Address of the Central Committee to the Communist League. He enjoins the proletariat in Germany, faced with the prospect that 'the petty-bourgeois democrats will for the moment acquire a predominant influence' - i.e. temporary political power -

to make the revolution permanent until all the more or less propertied classes have been driven from their ruling positions, until the proletariat has conquered state power and until the association of the proletarians has progressed sufficiently far - not only in one country but in all the leading countries of the world - that competition between the proletarians of these countries ceases and at least the decisive forces of production are concentrated in the hands of the workers

In the remainder of the text, Marx outlines the content of his proposal that the proletariat 'make the revolution permanent'. In essence, it consists of the working class maintaining a militant and independent approach to politics both before, during and after the 'struggle' which will bring the 'petty-bourgeois democrats' to power .
What permanent revolution in this sense means is that the proletariat should organise autonomously

Marx is concerned that throughout the process of this impending political change, the petty-bourgeoisie will seek to ensnare the workers in a party organization in which general social-democratic phrases prevail while their particular interests are kept hidden behind, and in which, for the sake of preserving the peace, the specific demands of the proletariat may not be presented. Such a unity would be to their advantage alone and to the complete disadvantage of the proletariat. The proletariat would lose all its hard-won independent position and be reduced once more to a mere appendage of official bourgeois democracy
Marx outlines how the proletariat should respond to this threat. First, he says that 'above all the [Communist] League, must work for the creation of an independent organization of the workers' party, both secret and open, and alongside the official democrats, and the League must aim to make every one of its communes a centre and nucleus of workers' associations in which the position and interests of the proletariat can be discussed free from bourgeois influence'. That is, 'it is essential above all for them to be independently organized and centralized in clubs'. Marx does say that 'an association of momentary expedience' is permissible if, and only if, 'an enemy has to be fought directly' - though this is not an excuse for a long term alliance, since emergency alliances will arise satisfactorily when needed.

In an article two years earlier, Marx had referred to 'a programme of permanent revolution, of progressive taxes and death duties, and of organisation of labour' This confirms the impression that Marx's theory of 'permanent revolution' is not about revolution per se, rather more about the attitude that a revolutionary class should adopt in the period of their political subjection, including the programme of political demands they should propose. This aspect is raised in the Address. As well as overtures for organisational alliance with the petty bourgeoisie, Marx is concerned about attempts to 'bribe the workers with a more or less disguised form of alms and to break their revolutionary strength by temporarily rendering their situation tolerable' Therefore, the workers' party must use their autonomous organisation to push a political programme which threatens the bourgeois status quo, along the following lines:

1. They can force the democrats to make inroads into as many areas of the existing social order as possible, so as to disturb its regular functioning and so that the petty-bourgeois democrats compromise themselves; furthermore, the workers can force the concentration of as many productive forces as possible - means of transport, factories, railways, etc. - in the hands of the state.
2. They must drive the proposals of the democrats to their logical extreme (the democrats will in any case act in a reformist and not a revolutionary manner) and transform these proposals into direct attacks on private property. If, for instance, the petty bourgeoisie propose the purchase of the railways and factories, the workers must demand that these railways and factories simply be confiscated by the state without compensation as the property of reactionaries. [...] The demands of the workers will thus have to be adjusted according to the measures and concessions of the democrats

In this passage, we can see that Marx believes the proletariat should refuse to moderate its demands to the petty-bourgeois consensus, and advocate extensive nationalisation. Furthermore, the demand of the workers should always seek to push the bourgeois further than they are prepared to go.
To put the Address in context Marx concludes his Address by summarising the themes elucidated above:

Although the German workers cannot come to power and achieve the realization of their class interests without passing through a protracted revolutionary development, this time they can at least be certain that the first act of the approaching revolutionary drama will coincide with the direct victory of their own class in France and will thereby be accelerated. But they themselves must contribute most to their final victory, by informing themselves of their own class interests, by taking up their independent political position as soon as possible, by not allowing themselves to be misled by the hypocritical phrases of the democratic petty bourgeoisie into doubting for one minute the necessity of an independently organized party of the proletariat. Their battle-cry must be: The Permanent Revolution.

It is worthwhile to have some idea of how Marx saw the context in which he advocated 'permanent revolution'.
It seems that he believed that 'the first act of the approaching revolutionary drama [in Germany] will coincide with the direct victory of their own class in France and will thereby be accelerated'. That is, the petty-bourgeois are expected to come to power in Germany at the same time as the 'direct victory' of the proletariat in France. Furthermore, Marx seems to believe of the former (and hence, of both) that it is 'imminent' (c.f. the third paragraph of the Address ). Marx clearly believes, therefore, that Europe is entering a time, and is at a level of development of the 'productive forces' in which the proletariat have the social revolution within their reach. If Marx is understood to be consistent about his emphasis on historical circumstance, it is unclear how the relevance of his theory of permanent revolution should be evaluated in times in which the social revolution is not expected to be imminent. Indeed, after 1850 there is no record of Marx or Engels ever using the term .
Summary, Marx's theory
Marx advocated 'permanent revolution' as the proletarian strategy of maintaining organisational independence along class lines, and a consistently militant series of political demands and tactics. It will be noted that at no stage does Marx make the central claim with which Trotsky's conception (see below) of 'permanent revolution' is concerned - i.e. that it is possible for a country to pass directly from the dominance of the semi-feudal aristocrats, who held political power in Russia in the early part of the 19th Century, to the dominance of the working class, without an interceding period of dominance by the bourgeois. On the contrary, Marx's statements in his March 1850 Address explicitly contradict such a view, assuming a 'period of petty-bourgeois predominance over the classes which have been overthrown and over the proletariat' .

Marx does claim, as does Trotsky, that socialism is impossible in one country, but they also say that 'in all probability, the proletarian revolution will transform existing society gradually and will be able to abolish private property only when the means of production are available in sufficient quantity' (Engels' The Principles of Communism, Sections 17 and 19 ).

The Communist Manifesto alludes to Marx's view that the dominance of the bourgeoisie is a necessary prelude to that of the proletariat: 'the bourgeoisie therefore produces ... its own grave-diggers. Its fall and the victory of the proletariat are equally inevitable' .

In this sense, Trotsky's version of the theory represents both a different development and a contradiction of the expressed opinions of Marx

Trotsky’s theory

The basic points of this theory rest on the assumption that power could be held by Socialists in Russia long enough to enable the workers of the more advanced Western countries, helped, of course, by their Russian comrades, to introduce Socialism. Then the material backwardness of Russia could be overcome through the united efforts of a Socialist Europe.
None of the Bolsheviks, including Lenin, accepted this view until after the seizure of power in October, 1917. Trotsky in fact only joined the Bolsheviks in August of that year.

Trotsky accepted the Bolshevik view that the only revolutionary class in Russia were the working class. But he argued that if, in the course of the bourgeois revolution, the workers were to get power they would not stop at introducing democracy but would begin to make inroads into capitalism. The revolution would begin as a bourgeois one and finish up socialist. This was what Trotsky meant by “permanent revolution” (a phrase borrowed from Marx as we have seen above ). Trotsky did not think that Socialism could be established in Russia alone. The success of the socialist revolution in Russia would depend, he said, on that of the socialist revolution in Europe. Trotsky's conception of Permanent Revolution is based on his understanding, drawing on the work of fellow Russian Alexander Parvus, that in 'backward' countries the tasks of the Bourgeois Democratic Revolution could not be achieved by the bourgeoisie itself. This conception was first developed in the essays later collected in his book 1905 and in his essay Results and Prospects

Trotsky's theory was developed as an alternative to the accepted Social Democratic theory that undeveloped countries must pass through two distinct revolutions. First the Bourgeois Democratic Revolution, which socialists would assist, and at a later stage, the Socialist Revolution with an evolutionary period of capitalist development separating those stages. This is often referred to as the Theory of Stages, the 2-Stage Theory or as Stageism.
Lenin and the Bolsheviks initially held to a version of the Stagist theory, since they were still connected to the Social Democrats at the time. Lenin's earlier theory shared Trotsky's premise that the bourgeoisie would not complete a bourgeois revolution. Lenin thought that a 'Democratic Dictatorship' of the workers and peasants could complete the tasks of the bourgeoisie. Lenin was arguing by 1917 not only that the Russian bourgeoisie would not be able to carry through the tasks of the Bourgeois Democratic Revolution and therefore the proletariat had to take state power, but also that it should take economic power through the Soviets. This position was put forward to the Bolsheviks on his return to Russia, in his April Theses. .
Trotsky later generalised his Theory of Permanent Revolution, which had only been applied in the case of Russia previously, and argued that the proletariat needed to take power in a process of uninterrupted and Permanent Revolution in order to carry out the tasks of the Bourgeois Democratic revolution.

His position was put forward in his essay entitled The Permanent Revolution . Not only did Trotsky generalise his theory of Permanent Revolution in this essay but he also grounded it in the idea of combined and uneven development. This argument goes, again in contrast to the conceptions inherent within Stagist theory, that capitalist nations, indeed all class-based societies, develop unevenly and that some parts will develop more swiftly than others.

Taken from the wikipedia entry on Permanent Revolution

This theory is still the kernel of "Trotskyism," and from the S.P.G.B. standpoint that kernel is rotten with error.

Lenin himself had to admit that their hopes for a Socialist revolution in the West had been frustrated, but he and Trotsky blamed this on bad and treacherous leadership.
What the Bolsheviks did not grasp, then any more than their would-be imitators can do to-day, is the need for an understanding of Socialism by a majority of the .working-class. This understanding alone would make leadership, good or bad, impossible. We would also argue that ideas are social and that world wide interaction would reduce this uneven development
But Trotsky who himself failed to grasp all the implications of Socialism, continued to nourish these illusions to the end.

Fundamentally, Trotsky fell from power because his theory of Permanent Revolution and his consequent insistence on continued revolutionary agitation abroad would have cut off all technical aid from the Western world, and so made any attempt at industrial development more difficult in Russia.

As their dreams of a European revolution faded the Bolsheviks were forced to pursuea more realistic policy. Their aim became to get international recognition as thelegitimate government of Russia. In March 1921 an Anglo-Soviet trade agreementwas signed and in 1922 the Bolshevik government was invited to an internationalconference in Genoa. Later in the year the treaty of Rapallo with Germany wassigned. The Bolsheviks justified these moves as a means of gaining time by playingoff capitalist states against each other. But with the failure of the insurrection led bythe Comintern in Bulgaria and Germany in 1923, failure in China too , the Bolshevik government, now coming increasingly under the control of the Stalin group, began to abandon all hope of a world revolution and to concentrate on building up industrial strength at home.During the years that followed the Bolshevik government gradually gainedinternational recognition
From Socialist Standard :-Trotsky , the Prophet Debunked

2. Nature of Russia

His view that Russia under Stalin was a Workers State, not a perfect one, certainly, but a Workers State nevertheless, was set out in his book The Revolution Betrayed first published in 1936. This is the origin of the Trotskyist dogma that Russia is a "degenerate Workers State" in which a bureaucracy had usurped political power from the working class but without changing the social basis (nationalisation and planning).

This view is so absurd as to be hardly worth considering seriously: how could the adjective "workers" be applied to a regime where workers could be sent to a labour camp for turning up late for work and shot for going on strike? Trotsky was only able to sustain his point of view by making the completely un-marxist assumption that capitalist distribution relations (the privileges of the Stalinist bureaucracy) could exist on the basis of socialist production relations. Marx, by contrast, had concluded, from a study of past and present societies, that the mode of distribution was entirely determined by the mode of production. Thus the existence of privileged distribution relations in Russia should itself have been sufficient proof that Russia had nothing to do with socialism.

Trotsky rejected the view that Russia was state capitalist on the flimsiest of grounds: the absence of a private capitalist class, of private shareholders and bondholders who could inherit and bequeath their property. He failed to see that what made Russia capitalist was the existence there of wage-labour and capital accumulation not the nature and mode of recruitment of its ruling class.

As Engels explains “the state is an organisation of the possessing class for its protection against the non-possessing class.” from Origin of the family , private property and the state …

Trotsky's view that Russia under Stalin was still some sort of "Workers State" was so absurd that it soon aroused criticism within the ranks of the Trotskyist movement itself which, since 1938, had been organised as the Fourth International. Two alternative views emerged. One was that Russia was neither capitalist nor a Workers State but some new kind of exploiting class society - Bureaucratic collectivism . The other was that Russia was state capitalist. The most easily accessible example of the first view is James Burnham's The Managerial Revolution and of the second Tony Cliff's Russia: A Marxist Analysis. Both books are well worth reading, though in fact neither Burnham nor Cliff could claim to be the originators of the theories they put forward. The majority of Trotskyists, however, remain committed to the dogma that Russia is a "degenerate Workers State". Cliff popularised the state capitalist thesis within the British Trotskyist movement, first of all in a discussion paper within the main Trotskyist party in Britain at the time, the Revolutionary Communist Party, and then in his book Russia: A Marxist Analysis, . The reality is that Cliff`s description of the Soviet Union as state capitalist was not even "unique" within the Trotskyist movement itself let alone outside it. Furthermore, it is a matter of record that the theory of state capitalism when applied to the Soviet Union was not an invention of the Trotskyist movement at all

Trotsky entirely identified capitalism with private capitalism and so concluded that society would cease to be capitalist once the private capitalist class had been expropriated. This meant that, in contrast to Lenin who mistakenly saw state capitalism as a necessary step towards socialism, Trotsky committed the different mistake of seeing state capitalism as the negation of capitalism. For Trotsky, economic democracy was not an issue. It played no role in determining the socialist nature of a society. Rather state ownership did. Thus he did not question one-man management in the workplace nor the capitalist social relationships it generated.
For Trotsky, it was :-

"necessary for each state-owned factory, with its technical director and with its commercial director, to be subjected not only to control from the top -- by the state organs -- but also from below, by the market which will remain the regulator of the state economy for a long time to come."

In spite of the obvious fact that the workers did not control their labour or its product, Trotsky asserted that :-

"No class exploitation exists here, and consequently neither does capitalism exist."

Ultimately, it was not self-management that mattered, it was :-

"the growth of Soviet state industry which signifies the growth of socialism itself, a direct strengthening of the power of the proletariat"

[The First 5 Years of the Communist International,

Trotsky's "opposition" in no way presented any real alternative to Stalinism. Indeed, Stalinism simply took over and applied Trotsky's demands for increased industrialisation. At no time did Trotsky question the fundamental social relationships within Soviet society. He simply wished the ruling elite to apply different policies while allowing him and his followers more space and freedom within the party structures.

What system of society exists in Russia? Trotsky, in exile, argued that although Russia was not socialist, as Stalin claimed, it could not be described as capitalist either. He held that in 1917 the working class in Russia had seized power and had begun the transition from capitalism to Socialism. However, owing to backwardness and isolation, what he called a ‘bureaucratic caste’ managed to usurp power. According to Trotsky, Russia was thus between capitalism and Socialism; it could either go forward to Socialism, but only with the rest of the world, or return to capitalism. He kept this view till his murder in 1940. Some of his followers still argue this. Others say Russia can now only be described as State capitalism. The Socialist Party of Great Britain too argues that this is the best description. We do not, however,think that Russia set off for Socialism and ended up as State capitalism, that Russia did not, and could not, have established Socialism in 1917. Capitalism has always existed in post-revolutionary Russia and theworking class there has never had political power.-
Additional Reading See:-The nature of Russian state capitalism

3. Leadership and corrupt leaders

Trotskyist theory and practice is rather neatly summed up in the opening sentence of the manifesto the Fourth International adopted at its foundation in 1938. Called The Death Agony of Capitalism and the Tasks of the Fourth International, and drafted by Trotsky himself, it began with the absurd declaration: "The world political situation is chiefly characterised by historical crisis of the leadership of the proletariat". This tendency to reduce everything to a question of the right leadership (Trotsky once wrote a pamphlet on the Paris Commune in which he explained its failure by the absence of a Bolshevik Party there) reminds us that Trotskyists are 102 per cent Leninists and believers in the vanguard party. They believe, in other words, that workers by their own efforts are incapable of emancipating themselves and so must be led by an enlightened minority of professional revolutionaries (generally bourgeois intellectuals like Lenin and Trotsky). Thus they fall under the general criticism of Leninism and indeed of all theories which proclaim that workers need leaders.

Tactics, said Trotsky, should have been framed so as to win workers over from their Social Democratic leaders, under the command of the Communist Party:-

“We must understand how to tear the workers away from their leaders”. According to Trotsky, the official Communist leaders would not follow his policies because they were constituted of “not a few cowardly careerists and fakers whose little posts, whose incomes, and more than that, whose hides, are dear to them” (Trotsky, 'For a Workers United Front Against Fascism', December 1931)

“Uneven consciousness” among workers necessitates the need for leaders, and for an organisation that can bring it together with non-socialist workers in the name of immediate given ends, be those organisations trade unions, or – as above – workers' councils. Thus, the Soviets beloved of Leninists, and trade unions too, become locations for 'united front' work. This admirably demonstrates that Julius Martov's accusation in his State and Socialist Revolution that Bolsheviks supported soviets in order to help seize power as a minority was acknowledged by the very leaders of the Russian coup d'├ętat. -

See Socialist Standard Trotsky and Stalin

"The revolutionary dictatorship of a proletarian party is for me not a thing that one can freely accept or reject: It is an objective necessity imposed upon us by the social realities -- the class struggle, the heterogeneity of the revolutionary class, the necessity for a selected vanguard in order to assure the victory. The dictatorship of a party belongs to the barbarian prehistory as does the state itself, but we can not jump over this chapter, which can open (not at one stroke) genuine human history. . . The revolutionary party (vanguard) which renounces its own dictatorship surrenders the masses to the counter-revolution . . . Abstractly speaking, it would be very well if the party dictatorship could be replaced by the 'dictatorship' of the whole toiling people without any party, but this presupposes such a high level of political development among the masses that it can never be achieved under capitalist conditions. The reason for the revolution comes from the circumstance that capitalism does not permit the material and the moral development of the masses." [Trotsky, Writings 1936-37, pp. 513-4]

In relation to the soviets , in Terrorism and Communism. 1920 we discover Trotsky arguing that:-

"We have more than once been accused of having substituted for the dictatorships of the Soviets the dictatorship of the party. Yet it can be said with complete justice that the dictatorship of the Soviets became possible only by means of the dictatorship of the party. It is thanks to the . . . party . . . [that] the Soviets . . . [became] transformed from shapeless parliaments of labour into the apparatus of the supremacy of labour. In this 'substitution' of the power of the party for the power of the working class these is nothing accidental, and in reality there is no substitution at all. The Communists express the fundamental interests of the working class."

And to demonstrate this remained his view he again writes in 1937

"Those who propose the abstraction of Soviets to the party dictatorship should understand that only thanks to the party dictatorship were the Soviets able to lift themselves out of the mud of reformism and attain the state form of the proletariat." [Trotsky, "Bolshevism and Stalinism"

More at Anarchist faq Macnally and Socialism from Below

See Anarchist faq Left opposition and Trotsky

4. Trotsky the Stalinist

Without entering the debate of Trotsky’s role in the destruction of the Kronstadt Commune or the Ukrainian anarchist Makhnovists guerrilla movement , which were expressions of non - Bolshevik resistance , how did Trotsky respond to internal dissent within the Bolshevik Party before he himself became to be the Opposition within the Bolshevik Party . Trotsky in fact actively denounced other oppositionists.

His reaction to the state repression of Miasnikov's Workers' Group as Deutscher notes in The Prophet Unarmed
Trotsky "did not protest when their adherents were thrown into prison . . . Nor was he inclined to countenance industrial unrest . . . Nor was he at all eager to support the demand for Soviet democracy in the extreme form in which the Workers' Opposition and its splinter groups [like the Workers' Group] had raised it."
Dzerzhinsky was given the task of breaking the opposition groups by the central committee. He found that even party members of unquestioned loyalty regarded them as comrades and refused to testify against them. He then turned to the Politburo and asked it to declare it was the duty of any party member to denounce to the GPU people inside the party engaged aggressive action against the official leaders.
Trotsky "did not tell the Politburo plainly that it should reject Dzerzhinsky's demand. He evaded the question."

Trotskyist Tony Cliff presents a similar picture of Trotsky's lack of concern for opposition groups and his utter failure to support working class self-activity or calls for real democracy. He notes that in July and August 1923 Moscow and Petrograd

"were shaken by industrial unrest . . . Unofficial strikes broke out in many places . . . In November 1923, rumours of a general strike circulated throughout Moscow, and the movement seems at the point of turning into a political revolt. Not since the Kronstadt rising of 1921 had there been so much tension in the working class and so much alarm in the ruling circles."

The ruling elite, including Trotsky, acted to maintain their position and the secret police turned on any political group which could influence the movement. The strike wave gave a new lease of life to the Mensheviks and so "the GPU carried out a massive round up of Mensheviks, and as many as one thousand were arrested in Moscow alone."

When it was the turn of the Workers Group and Workers Truth, Trotsky:-

"did not condemn their persecution" and he "did not support their incitement of workers to industrial unrest." Moreover, "Nor was Trotsky ready to support the demand for workers' democracy in the extreme form to which the Workers Group and Workers Truth raised it." [Trotsky, vol. 3, ]

Trotsky did not call for workers' democracy in any meaningful form.

Indeed, his "New Course Resolution" even went so far as to say that "it is obvious that there can be no toleration of the formation of groupings whose ideological content is directed against the party as a whole and against the dictatorship of the proletariat. as for instance the Workers' Truth and Workers' Group."

Thus we come to the strange fact that it was Lenin and Trotsky themselves who knowingly destroyed the groups which represent what modern day Trotskyists assert is the "real" essence of Leninism.
Furthermore, modern day Trotskyists generally ignore these opposition groups when they discuss alternatives to Stalinism or the bureaucratisation under Lenin and Trotsky .

This seems a strange fate to befall tendencies which, if we take Leninists at their word, expressed what their tradition stands for. The "Workers' Opposition" did have some constructive suggests to make as regards combating the economic bureaucratisation which existed under Lenin. Yet almost all modern Trotskyists (like their mentors Lenin and Trotsky) dismiss them as "syndicalist" and utopian.

See Anarchist faq What does these Oppositions tell us about Leninism

5. Reformism

One important point of the Fourth International was the concept of "transitional demands" , i.e. advocating reforms known not to work, in order to draw workers into “Communist” ranks through their inevitable disappointment . The manifesto contained a whole list of reform demands which was called "the transitional programme".

Trotsky urges that transitional demands should include the call for the expropriation of various groups of capitalists- sometimes translated in modern terms into the nationalisation of various sectors [ Demands for the nationalisation of the 200 big companies and banks by the Militant Tendency during the 70s and 80s ] - under the control and management of the workers. Transitional demands should include opposition to imperialist war. Such demands intend to challenge the capitalist class's right to rule. By fighting for these "transitional" demands, in the opinion of the Trotskyists, the workers will come to realize that capitalism cannot meet their needs, and they will then embrace the full program of the Fourth International.

This reform programme was said to be different from those of openly reformist parties like Labour in Britain and the Social Democratic parties on the Continent in that Trotskyists claimed to be under no illusion that the reforms demanded could be achieved within the framework of capitalism. They were posed as bait by the vanguard party to get workers to struggle for them, on the theory that the workers would learn in the course of the struggle that these demands could not be achieved within capitalism and so would come to struggle (under the leadership of the vanguard party) to abolish capitalism .

Actually, most Trotskyists are not as cynical as they pretend to be here: in discussion with them you gain the clear impression that they share the illusion that the reforms they advocate can be achieved under capitalism (as, indeed, some of them could be). In other words, they are often the victims of their own "tactics". Trotskyism, the movement he gave rise to, is a blend of Leninism and Reformism, committed on paper to replacing private capitalism with state capitalism through a violent insurrection led by a vanguard party, but in practice working to achieve state capitalism through reforms to be enacted by Labour governments. As a tiny minority, they get to work with organisations which can more easily attract members, and can thus be part of campaigns and struggles that reach out well beyond the tiny numbers of political activists in any given situation .The salient fact remains, though, that despite providing all this assistance, the “revolutionaries” are incapable of taking these campaigns and trade unions further than the bulk of the membership are willing to tolerate .

Thus - Failure of Entryism , first into the ILP during the 30s and post war , into the Labour Party attempted by Militant and by the I.S [SWP]. through “rank and file committees “ in the 70s and now Stop the War Movement and Respect or SSP /Solidarity

6. Personal attributes

From the 1940 obituary in the Socialist Standard we have this to say

Trotsky's personal qualities are of minor interests to Socialists. As a political pamphleteer he was outstanding and he was also a first-class orator.

But unless the world-proletariat can harness such gifts to serve the struggle for Socialism, they will be wasted and even harmful to workers' interests , although, and as in the case of Leon Trotsky, there is no doubt that his whole life was sincerely dedicated to their cause.
His talent for military organisation and strategy helped to save the Bolsheviks from being defeated by the armies of the Czarist generals and the half-hearted intervention of the Allies.
This was often asserted by Lenin and, at the time, admitted by Stalin.

But Trotsky did not achieve this military success without ruthless discipline, a ruthlessness which showed itself again in his suppression of the revolt of the sailors at Kronstadt.
When charged by Kautsky with using methods of terrorism, Trotsky replied with a defence justifying the means by the end, as if the two could ever be separated.

Socialism, the pinnacle of human development, can never be achieved by methods that are themselves reactionary and anti-human; it is more than the irony of his logic that Trotsky himself should have met his end in such a violent manner.

Live by the sword , die by the sword - or in Trotsky’s case an ice pick .

Trotskyism, the movement he gave rise to, is a blend of Leninism and Reformism, committed on paper to replacing private capitalism with state capitalism through a violent insurrection led by a vanguard party, but in practice working to achieve state capitalism .

In the words of the Trotskyist Harry Ratner - "So were Kautsky and the Mensheviks right to oppose the October Revolution from the start, as an attempt prematurely to go beyond the 'bourgeois' stage of the Russian revolution? Were they right to declare a socialist working-class revolution in a backward Russia premature and doomed to failure because the conditions for socialism were not ripe-both as regards the economic base and the social and cultural level of the working class? On the face of it, subsequent history would seem to justify them…All one can say is that the 'workers' state' that was born in October 1917 was premature and infected from infancy. Unfortunately, as it degenerated, it infected the working-class movement internationally, and proved an obstacle on the road to socialism. My old comrade, the late Alex Acheson, who joined the movement in the 1930s and remained a committed Trotskyist till his death last year, once told me: 'It might have been better if the October Revolution had never occurred'".- New Interventions

See SWP/Trot history and politics
Where is the SWP Coming From
Anyone ready for the Vanguard's/html/93Vanguard(SWP).html
Obituary of Tony Cliff
Obituary of Ted Grant

The Myth of the Permanent Arms Economy
Respect , the unity coalition
Who are the Socialist Alliance

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Another one for science

Reason and rationality was once again strengthened when Experts found a way to trigger an out-of-body experience. Earlier debunking of the ESP qualities of Out of Body Experiences reported on this blog here is now added the following report .

Two teams used virtual reality goggles to con the brain into thinking the body was located elsewhere. The visual illusion plus the feel of their real bodies being touched made volunteers sense that they had moved outside of their physical bodies.

For some, out-of-body experiences or OBEs occurs spontaneously, while for others it is linked to dangerous circumstances, a near-death experience, a dream-like state or use of alcohol or drugs. One theory is that it is down to how people perceive their own body - those unhappy or less in touch with their body are more likely to have an OBE.

But the two teams, from UCL and the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne, believe there is a neurological explanation.

Their work suggests a disconnection between the brain circuits that process visual and touch sensory information may thus be responsible for some OBEs.

Dr Ehrsson said: "This experiment suggests that the first-person visual perspective is critically important for the in-body experience. In other words, we feel that our self is located where the eyes are."
Dr Susan Blackmore, psychologist and visiting lecturer at the University of the West of England, said: "This has at last brought OBEs into the lab and tested one of the main theories of how they occur.
"Scientists have long suspected that the clue to these extraordinary, and sometimes life-changing, experiences lies in disrupting our normal illusion of being a self behind our eyes, and replacing it with a new viewpoint from above or behind."

USA - Free health care ? Not even for kids

The Bush administration, fighting efforts by states and Congress to expand a popular U.S. health program for children in low-income families, is making it more difficult for families to sign up.
In an Aug. 17 letter to state health officials, the administration imposed new standards that White House spokesman Tony Fratto said today would prevent the State Children's Health Insurance Program, or Schip, from becoming "essentially a middle-class entitlement.''
President George W. Bush has threatened to veto bills passed by the House and Senate to expand funding for Schip, which now covers 6 million children. [SCHIP was created in 1997 to help insure children whose families earned too much to qualify for Medicaid but not enough to afford insurance on their own.]

The new policy sets more-restrictive standards for states that want to expand eligibility to households above 250 percent of the poverty level, which amounts to $51,625 in annual income for a family of four. Tens of thousands of children would become uninsured in at least 23 states that provide, or plan to provide, coverage exceeding these limits . Under the new rules, a state must show that a child whose family earns more than 250 percent of the poverty level has been uninsured for at least one year before being signed up for coverage. In addition, the state must demonstrate that at least 95 percent of its children from families making less than 200 percent of the poverty level have been enrolled either in Schip or Medicaid.

"This drastic change in policy sets states up to fail and jeopardizes coverage for tens of thousands of children in low- income, working families,'' said Senator Max Baucus, a Montana Democrat and chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, in a statement.

"I can't try and guess what kind of mind-set would foster this, but it's certainly penny-wise and foolish,'' said Representative Pete Stark, a California Democrat, in a telephone interview today. The proposal "cuts down the ability of the states to provide medical care to children."

Howard Zinn on good bombing and bad bombing

Letter to the New York Timesby Howard Zinn; NYT; August 21, 2007

To the Editor:
Samantha Power has done extraordinary work in chronicling the genocides of our time, and in exposing how the Western powers were complicit by their inaction.

However, in her review of four books on terrorism, especially Talal Asad’s “On Suicide Bombing” (July 29), she claims a moral distinction between “inadvertent” killing of civilians in bombings and “deliberate” targeting of civilians in suicide attacks.

Her position is not only illogical, but (against her intention, I believe) makes it easier to justify such bombings.

She believes that “there is a moral difference between setting out to destroy as many civilians as possible and killing civilians unintentionally and reluctantly in pursuit of a military objective.” Of course, there’s a difference, but is there a “moral” difference? That is, can you say one action is more reprehensible than the other?

In countless news briefings, Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney, responding to reporters’ questions about civilian deaths in bombing, would say those deaths were “unintentional” or “inadvertent” or “accidental,” as if that disposed of the problem. In the Vietnam War, the massive deaths of civilians by bombing were justified in the same way by Lyndon Johnson, Hubert Humphrey, Richard Nixon and various generals.

These words are misleading because they assume an action is either “deliberate” or “unintentional.” There is something in between, for which the word is “inevitable.”
If you engage in an action, like aerial bombing, in which you cannot possibly distinguish between combatants and civilians (as a former Air Force bombardier, I will attest to that), the deaths of civilians are inevitable, even if not “intentional.”

Does that difference exonerate you morally?

The terrorism of the suicide bomber and the terrorism of aerial bombardment are indeed morally equivalent. To say otherwise (as either side might) is to give one moral superiority over the other, and thus serve to perpetuate the horrors of our time.

Howard Zinn

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Slave Labour in Scotland

From The Prague Post

The life many migrant workers find in Scotland is not what they had envisioned. They are frequently abused and coerced into accepting illegal working conditions, said Beth Herzfeld of Anti-Slavery International. According to Herzfeld, debt-bondage is one of the tactics used to traffic people. Trafficking is when someone is taken to, or freely goes, from one place to another by means of deception, coercion or violence. Often, as in the case of many Czech workers in Scotland, their passports are confiscated, they have a debt to repay and, being unsure of their legal right to work, they are controlled by threats.

Paul Millar, a Czech-born honorary consul in Scotland, estimated that about 2,000 to 3,500 Czechs work in Scotland. Often, these people are lured by unscrupulous employment agencies promising well-paid jobs. The most common form of abuse is debt-bondage, Millar said. This is the illegal practice of paying an employer up-front for work, rent and food.

Dangerous housing and miserable pay are often the hallmarks of foreign workers’ lives in Scotland, according to Ian Tusker, assistant secretary of the Scottish Trade Union Congress .
“You could work all day for a pittance, basically."

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Thought for Today

From the Guardian Comment

"...Why do they continue using after losing their home, family, job, and even their limbs? ... my experience of life when not on drink or drugs got progressively worse. The world became an increasingly hostile place, relationships got more difficult and an all-encompassing sense of dread and paranoia set in..."

Such is the world we live in .

Monday, August 20, 2007

Trotsky's dead

August 20th is the anniversary of Trotsky's untimely demise from the point of a ice-pick .

For those interested this is how the September 1940 Socialist Standard reported the death .

"...Trotsky's personal qualities are of minor interests to Socialists.

As a political pamphleteer he was outstanding and he was also a first-class orator.

But unless the world-proletariat can harness such gifts to serve the struggle for Socialism, they will be wasted and even harmful to workers' interests, although, and as in the case of Leon Trotsky, there is no doubt that his whole life was sincerely dedicated to their cause..."

[ The pic isn't real though]

Sunday, August 19, 2007

The State of America

Some extracts from Wage Stagnation, Growing Insecurity, and the Future of the U.S. Working Class by William K. Tabb which was in Monthly Review .

Over the three decades from 1972 to 2001:-

The wages and salaries of Americans at the 90th percentile (those doing better than 90% of their fellow citizens) experienced income gains of only 1 % a year on average.

Those at the 99.9th percentile saw their income rise by 181 % over these years (to an income averaging almost $1.7 million).
Those at the 99.99th percentile had income growth of 497%

Between 1997 and 2001:-

The top 10 % of U.S. earners received 49 % of the growth in real wages and salaries;

The top 1% got 24 % of the total ;

While the bottom half of workers received less than 13 %.

This trend is of longer duration. Based on a somewhat different calculation the share of income going to the top .1 % quadrupled between 1970 and 1998

By the mid-1990s CEO pay was about 5 percent of corporate profits. In 2003 their share was 10 percent of all profits

In the 2006 holiday season the top Wall Street firms together paid out an estimated $36 to $44 billion to their employees.
From 2000 to 2006, all 93 million American workers—all production and non-supervisory workers as defined by the government—had real earnings increases of less than half of the combined bonuses awarded by the top Wall Street firms for just one year.

Edward Wolff has documented that the top 10 % of wealth holders own 85% of the value of taxable stocks and mutual funds, the top 1 % own about half.

Thomas Piketty and Emmanuel Saez have demonstrated that the share of pretax income going to the top 1 % of Americans doubled between 1980 and 2004. (The last time the top 1 % had such a large share of the total was in 1937.)

Between 2001 and the spring of 2006 worker hourly productivity rose by 24 %

Men with less than a high school education saw their wages fall in the 1980s in real terms by 20%.

From 1979 to 1992 real yearly wages for male high school dropouts fell by over 23 %

High school graduates with no additional education experienced a fall in real wages of 17 %.

During that 1980s decade, 13 % of Americans between 40 and 50 years of age spent at least one year living in poverty,

But by the 1990s, 36 % did.

In 2004, 1.6 million people filed for personal bankruptcy, twice the number of a decade earlier, and half of those filed after a major medical expenditure. Other prominent causes of debt were divorce and job loss.

The American Dream

Two-thirds of Americans in a 2002 poll believe that success depends on forces within their own control—double the percent who respond this way in Italy or Germany and triple those who respond this way in Turkey or India.

Another 2002 poll found that 81 percent thought they would be richer than their parents.

Three-quarters of poor Republicans, who as a group make up some 10% of the electorate believe that people can make it on their own through hard work and good character.

One poll taken in 2000 found that a quarter of teenagers in the United States believed they would be millionaires by the time they were forty. At the time the poll was taken there were 150,000 millionaires in the country. If the teenagers were right about their future, nine and a half million people would have to jump to this status.

And of course there is always just luck

By the start of the 2000s , Americans were spending more on gambling than on theme parks, video games, spectator sports, and movie tickets.

Data from the late 1990s shows households with incomes under $10,000 a year spend three times as much on lottery tickets as those with incomes of more than $50,000.

The article describes the state of America in these terms

"The most important promises used to justify capitalism are that your children will have a better life than you do, and in President Kennedy’s famous words, “a rising tide lifts all boats,” meaning everyone benefits from the accumulation of capital. These promises ring hollow...

...No longer does economic growth mean increases in the real earnings for the working class as their productivity rises...

... For working people the issues are not simply the stagnation of real wages and growing inequality but the worsening insecurity that permeates many aspects of their lives as labor market conditions change and government abrogates more and more elements of the social contract...

...The U.S. economy is always creating and destroying jobs [Every three months 7 % of all jobs are destroyed and roughly the same number are created. ] . The question is how much trouble do the unemployed have in finding work? What kind of jobs are available? What do they pay? What is the work like? What are the benefit packages, if any? If they are laid off how much pain do workers endure when they are involuntarily separated from employment? How long does the period last? What sort of job did they lose, did they get, and again at what pay and with what benefits?...The true cost of job loss must be measured not just in money as economists do in their limited calculations. For many people there is a spiral pattern in which layoffs lead to not only financial insecurity but to feelings of powerlessness and hopelessness, depression, sleepless nights, headaches, chronic stomach aches, and fatigue that cause lasting harm...Even after getting work some people have trouble talking to the boss and dealing with job demands. The damage done by job loss, even the threat of job loss, along with the worries about how people will live after they are no longer able to work, or if they have a serious illness how they can pay for the doctor and a hospital stay, produce anxieties that permeate working-class existence. There is a rise in escapist pursuits as the economy produces greater uncertainty...

...On the whole, life grows ever more insecure for working people...

...Americans are frustrated that their incomes are not keeping up with the cost of living and that they are being squeezed. They are critical of corporate greed and dishonesty. They want the government to call these corporations, especially pharmaceutical and oil companies, to account. They are worried that things will not get better. But they are not, in great numbers, hostile to the system. They express faith in the American Dream and continue to believe that individuals can overcome obstacles. A majority envy the rich and famous...

...The unspoken assumption underlying the liberal approach is that everyone else is doing just fine. The poor are viewed as a separate group excluded from the benefits of a system that is working for everyone else. This was not a true picture in the 1960s. It is certainly not the case today. The poor are numerous and in need of help, but it is the class nature of society that produces and replenishes the reserve army, that forces some to work full time year round and still be poor, while it excludes others from even this prospect. This makes all workers insecure about the future and fearful of losing what they have...

...The penchant for people to see the basic unfairness of the capitalist system and at the same time accept it and to believe that they can do well against the odds is a difficult reality for Marxists... Why does the working class refuse to take on its historical obligations and instead seek individualistic or escapist alternatives? While the progressive segments of the middle class and some working-class militants are willing to struggle for meaningful change, most working people are not...

Plenty of questions , damn few answers .

Friday, August 17, 2007

Psychological torture

What type of ethics do some psychologists possess .

We have the War Against Terror using mind control techniques on its captives .

Forensic psychiatrist Dr. Angela Hegarty talking about the interrogation methods used on Jose Padilla .

"What happened at the brig was essentially the destruction of a human being's mind," said Dr. Hegarty. "Padilla's personality was deconstructed and reformed."

We have the refusal of the American Psychological Association to bar its members from participating in interrogations at military and CIA prisons.Unlike the American Medical Association and the American Psychiatric Association, the American Psychological Association allows its members to participate in detainee interrogations.

"...the APA has not said one single word of concern about the role of psychologists, the role of psychology in abusive interrogations, in torture..." said Dr. Stephen Soldz , professor at the Boston Graduate School of Psychoanalysis.

They now follow a long tradition where we had , in the name of science and research and progress , kids being mentally tortured by so called members of the caring professions.

A secret study was conducted during the 30s where orphans in state care were tormented for six months and subjected to prolonged harassment to try and induce stuttering by Iowa University researchers.

The purpose - to test the theory that children develop speech impediments because of psychological pressure. None of the children became stutterers but some became self-conscious and reluctant to speak . The experiment had left them with psychological and emotional scars.

Easy for some so-called psychologists to treat the human mind as something to manipulate without care for the consequences . We are , after all , just disembodied specimens .

Chomsky on Class

Michael Albert of Parecon doesn't accept the "two-class" theory of Capitalism . In addition to the Capitalist and Working classes he also counter-poses the Coordinator class - " doctors, lawyers, engineers, managers and others who have a monopoly on empowering labor are a class above workers who do overwhelmingly disempowering labor". What makes classes real for Parecon is that different classes have "very different economic situations, power, income/wealth, views of one another" . Therefore , there are certain part of the population in particular occupations who have their own interests and aspirations and thus they constitute a separate class - the Coordinator class .

Noam Chomsky who has been quoted as being sympathetic to Parecon , however , in this interview he appears to have some different views on class than Michael Albert .

"...there was substantial discussion—not just in the United States but in Europe, too—of what was then sometimes called ‘a new class’ of scientific intellectuals. In that period of time there was a level of knowledge and technical expertise accumulating that allowed a kind of managerial class of educated, trained people to have a greater share in decision-making and planning. It was thought that they were a new class displacing the aristocracy, the owners, political leaders and so on, and they could have a larger role—and of course they liked that idea.

Out of this group developed an ideology of technocratic planning. In industry it was called ‘scientific management’. It developed in intellectual life with a concept of what was called a ‘responsible class’ of technocratic, serious intellectuals who could solve the world’s problems rationally, and would have to be protected from the ‘vulgar masses’ who might interfere with them. And it goes right up until the present.

Just how realistic this is, is another question, but for the class of technical intellectuals, it’s a very attractive conception that, ‘We are the rational, intelligent people, and management and decision-making should be in our hands.’ ...

...It’s not an entirely new conception: it’s just a new category of people. Two hundred years ago you didn’t have an easily identifiable class of technical intellectuals, just generally educated people. But as scientific and technical progress increased there were people who felt they can appropriate it and become the proper managers of the society, in every domain. That, as I said, goes from scientific management in industry, to social and political control...

...My feeling is that they’re nowhere near as powerful as they think they are. So, when, say, John Kenneth Galbraith wrote about the technocratic elite which is taking over the running of society—or when McNamara wrote about it, or others—there’s a lot of illusion there. Meaning, they can gain positions of authority and decision-making when they act in the interests of those who really own and run the society. You can have people that are just as competent, or more competent, and who have conceptions of social and economic order that run counter to, say, corporate power, and they’re not going to be in the planning sectors. So, to get into those planning sectors you first of all have to conform to the interests of the real concentrations of power...

...People do not want—or often are not able—to perceive that they are conforming to external authority. They feel themselves to be very free—and indeed they are—as long as they conform. But power lies elsewhere. That’s as old as history in the modern period. It’s often very explicit.

Adam Smith, for example, discussing England, quite interestingly pointed out that the merchants and manufacturers—the economic forces of his day—are the ‘principal architects of policy’, and they make sure that their own interests are ‘most peculiarly attended to’, no matter how grievous the effect on others, including the people in England. And that’s a good principle of statecraft, and social and economic planning, which runs pretty much to the present. When you get people with management and decision-making skills, they can enter into that system and they can make the actual decisions—within a framework that’s set within the real concentrations of power. And now it’s not the merchants and manufacturers of Adam Smith’s day, it’s the multinational corporations, financial institutions, and so on. But, stray too far beyond their concerns and you won’t be the decision-maker.

It’s not a mechanical phenomenon, but it’s overwhelmingly true that the people who make it to decision-making positions (that is, what they think of as decision-making positions) are those who conform to the basic framework of the people who fundamentally own and run the society. That’s why you have a certain choice of technocratic managers and not some other choice of people equally or better capable of carrying out policies but have different ideas..."

Which is a rather different proposition from Albert's Coordinator class .

The so-called Coordinator is nothing more than the monkey and not at all the organ-grinder , that Albert assumes . And to acquire and maintain the comforts and a privileges a "coordinator's" status within capitalism offers , he or she must act in the interests of the real ruling class , not independently and in opposition to , as the working class must . It is not a matter of the tail wagging the dog as Albert would make us believe but the Coordinators are being simply the mere overseers and facilitators and intellectual apologists at the service of those who really own and control . Just glorified workers who align themselves with the master class and who can just as easily recognise their own actual powerlessness and subjugation and desert the capitalists for the solidarity of the working class ranks .

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Water and Doom and Gloom

With all the flooding being reported here in the UK , in India and in North Korea and elsewhere , a conference concentrates on the real problem with water supply - its scarcity .

Addressing the 17th annual World Water Week, executive director of the Stockholm International Water Institute (SIWI) Anders Berntell warned that 1.4 billion people now live in regions where there is a real, physical water scarcity, and an additional 1.1 billion live in regions where there is water stress due to over-consumption.
And the conference reports the real problem of solving the this water shortage .
"We are not prepared to deal with the implications this has for our planet. There is a security component in this that is not fully understood or addressed internationally yet.And I am not talking about water security," he said. "I mean political security."

Berntell blamed both international aid donors and governments for their skewed priorities on development spending -- with water and sanitation getting the least. He contrasted this with the phenomenal 37 percent increase in military expenditures globally during 1997-2006, reaching close to $1 trillion annually.
"When we look at these figures, I think it is time that we ask ourselves 'Why?'. Why don't governments in developing countries, donor agencies and financiers prioritise water higher? Why are other issues, other sectors higher on the political agenda?" he asked.
I think we know why - Capitalism
Every day 34,000 people die in diseases related to deficient water and sanitation. Today, more than 1 billion people are said to lack access to safe drinking water and more than 2.4 billion lack access to basic sanitation.

Irrigated farmland produces 40% of the world's food supply . less than 5% of all aid goes to water and sanitation projects .

It is not through well-intentioned declarations of human rights to access to the means of life .

We have :-

United Nations General Comment 12 clarifies the rights related to food in the International Covenant on Economic Social and Cultural Rights similar obligations are stated in General Comment 15 in relation to the right to water. International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (1966) (article 1,3,11,12) . This treaty recognizes that "in no case may a people be deprived of its own means of subsistence." It requires states to take all steps within their ability to realize the rights set forth in the treaty. The treaty asserts that men and women should have equal realization of all rights. The treaty defines the right of all people to an adequate standard of living, including food, and the right to be free from hunger. The treaty commits states to developing specific programs and obligations to the people to ensure these rights. In the treaty, states are obligated to work toward reducing infant and child mortality and disease control.

Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) (article 3, 21, 23, 25). The Universal Declaration not only asserts the human right to life, but also an adequate standard of living. This standard includes the right to food. Each person is also entitled to public services and social security.

Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989) (article 24) .This treaty was drafted to identify and protect the best interests of the child. Article 24 of the treaty that recognizes "the right of the child to the highest attainable standard of health" is immensely important. State parties commit to taking steps toward ending child and infant mortality, and eliminate the circumstances that lead to child death including illness and malnutrition. Governments must provide children with food and water security. This treaty ties the rights of the mother to the well being of the child. Article 24 acknowledges the mother’s right to appropriate pre and post-natal health care, as well as access to information and education regarding child health and nutrition, the advantages of breastfeeding, hygiene and environmental sanitation.

Rome Declaration on World Food Security (1996). This declaration recognized the need to establish world food security. The participating heads of state reaffirmed "the right of everyone to have access to safe and nutritious food, consistent with the right to adequate food and the fundamental right of everyone to be free from hunger." Following this affirmation the heads of state committed "an immediate view to reducing the number of undernourished people to half their present level no later than 2015."
World Food Summit Plan of Action (1996) .The Plan of Action is comprised of seven commitments made by participating states to begin reducing the number of undernourished people in the world. Objective 7.4 of the plan calls for clarification and implementation of the right to adequate food in the CESCR.

The Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food was appointed by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights in 2000. It is the Special Rapporteur’s job to receive information on violations of the right to food and identify emerging issues related to the right to food, including the right to clean drinking water. The Special Rapporteur visits countries, and makes reports to the High Commissioner for Human Rights and General Assembly every year. There is a Research Unit on the Right to Food that supports the Special Rapporteur with research and reports.

African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (1990) (article 14) .This treaty commits state parties to realizing, to the best of their ability and with all available resources, the child’s right to health, nutrition and safe water.

European Code of Social Security(1964) (article 42) .This article ensures the provision of food to children. Addendum 1 (Division 5) stipulates that states will provide water and sanitary services.

Charter of the Organization of American States (1948) (article 34) .This article guarantees access to proper nutrition by increasing production and availability, and diversifying production.
Additional Protocol to the American Convention on Human Rights in the area of Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (Protocol of San Salvador) (1988) (article 12) Recognizes the human right to adequate nutrition. States must take steps to increase food supply through improved production and distribution.
Innocenti Declaration on the Protection, Promotion and Support of Breastfeeding (1990). This declaration asserts that women have the right to breastfeed their babies, and infants from birth to 4-6 months have the right to be breastfed. World Declaration and Plan of Action on Nutrition (1992) .This declaration promotes food security and disease prevention for infants through support of breastfeeding.

Protocol Additional to the Geneva Conventions of 12 August 1949, and relating to the Protection of Victims of Non-International Armed Conflicts (Protocol II) (1977) (article 14) .This protocol is part of humanitarian law, which protects people in situations of armed conflict. Article 14 prohibits "starvation of civilians as a method of combat".

Even , Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (1955) (article 20) .Recognizes prisoners’ rights to food and water provisions.

In addition to all those well-meaning laws and treaties we have international organisations funded to solve the problem food and water access.
World Health Organization. The World Health Organization (WHO) was established in 1948 as a branch of the UN specifically committed to promote good health. The WHO’s Constitution states the agency's objective as to help "the attainment by all peoples of the highest possible level of health." There are 192 states represented in the governing body of the WHO, the World Health Assembly. Since good nutrition is imperative in the attainment of good health, hunger, water and nutrition issues are a large concern of WHO.

Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) was founded in 1945 to raise nutrition standards and the standard of living globally. There are 183 member countries of the FAO, dedicated to providing services such as technical assistance projects; nutrition, food, agriculture, forestry and fishery information; agricultural and development planning. The Committee for Food Security (CFS) is responsible for monitoring member states’ level of commitment of and follow through with the World Food Summit Plan of Action of 1996.

United Nations Children’s Fund. The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) is the UN agency dedicated to protecting the rights of the child. UNICEF has implemented specific programs to improve child nutrition, water quality environment and sanitation. UNICEF works to improve nutrition standards by forming community based programs that supply information and education, as well as emergency care to women and children.

World Food Program. The World Food Program (WFP) was established in 1963. The WFP is the UN agency that provides food aid and relief to victims of natural and manmade disasters.

International Fund for Agricultural Development. The International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) branch of the UN was established in 1977 as a direct result of the 1974 World Food Conference. IFAD was created to provide the means to implement rural agricultural development projects. The fund provides loans and grants to help small, struggling agriculturists stabilize, develop and help themselves.

International Committee of the Red Cross. The independent and neutral entity of The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) is a humanitarian organization that assists and protects victims of war. ICRC provides medical care to victims and also arrange exchanges of family messages. The ICRC provides protection and assistance to civilians, supervise visits to detainees, medical assistance, food aid and restoration of family links between persons separated by war.

CARE International. CARE is a non-governmental organization with a mission to reduce world poverty. CARE’s work includes programs that address issues that exacerbate poverty and attempt to identify sustainable solutions. They help families increase food production and proper management of resources, teach techniques and practices that help prevent malnutrition, provide food for relief in emergency situations and build and maintain clean water and sanitation systems.

Save the Children. Save the Children is a non-governmental organization that tries to fix the root causes of food insecurity to prevent hunger and malnutrition through increase in agricultural production, education and distribution of food in emergencies.
Foodfirst Information and Action Network. Foodfirst Information and Action Network (FIAN) is an NGO that works closely with the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. FIAN receives and researches right to food violation claims. FIAN will intervene in cases of violations of the right to food. In doing so, FIAN holds governments accountable for ensuring the violation is rectified, and publicizes the violations.

Then , of course , all those myriads of charities from Oxfam to WorldVision and campaigns such as Red-Nose days and pop concerts like Feed The World .

So it has not been from the lack of trying that society has been unable to end hunger and thirst .
Yet , in Egypt and Peru, access to a flush toilet reduces the risk of infant death by 57% and 59% respectively.
About a third of people without access to an improved water source live on less than $1 a day. Twice this share lives on less than $2 a day. In sanitation, too, there is a strong association between poverty and access: Nearly 1.4 billion of people without access live on less than $2 a day. In Jakarta, Lima, Manila and Nairobi households living in slums and low-income settlements typically pay 5-10 times or more for their water than high-income residents of the same city. Moreover, poor people in urban areas of developing countries not only pay more for their water than high income residents of the same city –they also pay more than people in rich countries. Poor people living in the slums of Manila or Accra are paying more for their water than people living in New York, London or Rome.

The Human Development Report 2006 “Beyond Scarcity: Power, poverty and the global water crisis”, a title reflecting the view that poor governance lies behind water problems rather than any shortage of the resource , in an unusually hard-hitting analysis, the HDR asserts that the “global crisis in water……reinforces the obscene inequalities of life that divide rich and poor”, casting doubt about the appropriateness of “big centralised projects controlled by power”.

They know the problem but cannot solve it while continuing to support and and persisting to preserve this Capitalist System that has long ago exceeded it Use-By-Date .
It is time for a change