Wednesday, October 31, 2012


 Terminology is important to discussion and bandying words around without fully comprehending their meanings won’t be fruitful. Capitalism is the social system under which we live. Capitalism is primarily an economic system of competitive capital accumulation out of the surplus value produced by wage labour. As a system it must continually accumulate or go into crisis. Consequently, human needs and the needs of our natural environment take second place to this imperative. Capitalist investors want to end up with more money than they started out with, but why? Is it just to live in luxury? That would suggest that they aim of capitalist production was simply to produce luxuries for the rich.

Capitalism is an ever-expanding economy of capital accumulation. In other words, most of the profits are capitalised, i.e. reinvested in production, so that production, the stock of means of production, and the amount of capital, all tend to increase over time ( in fits and starts). The economic circuit is thus money - commodities - more money - more commodities, even more money. This is not the conscious choice of the owners of the means of production. It is something that is imposed on them as a condition for not losing their original investment. Competition with other capitalists forces them to re-nvest as much of their profits as they can afford to in keeping their means and methods of production up to date. As a result there is continuous technological innovation. Defenders of capitalism see this as one of its merits and in the past it was insofar as this has led to the creation of the basis for a non-capitalist society in which the technologically-developed means of production can be now—and could have been any time in the last 100 years—consciously used to satisfy people’s wants and needs. Under capitalism this whole process of capital accumulation and technical innovation is a disorganised, impersonal process which causes all sorts of problems—particularly on a worldscale where it is leading to the destruction of the environment.

The result is waste, pollution, environmental degradation and unmet needs on a global scale. The ecologist’s dream of a sustainable ‘zero growth’ within capitalism will always remain just that, a dream. If human society is to be able to organize its production in an ecologically acceptable way, then it must abolish the capitalist economic mechanism of capital accumulation and gear production instead to the direct satisfaction of needs.

Back from the brink

Iran has drawn back from its ambition to build a nuclear weapon Ehud Barak, the Israeli defence minister, said but added thatthe respite is only temporary and Tehran will still have to be confronted.  Iran chose to use over a third of its medium-enriched uranium for civilian purposes. Tehran has amassed 189kg of uranium enriched to 20 per cent purity, a vital step towards weapons-grade material. In August, the country’s experts took 38 per cent of this stockpile and converted it into fuel rods for a civilian research reactor, thus putting off the moment when they would be able to make uranium of sufficient purity for a nuclear bomb.

Mr Barak insisted that Iran was still resolved to build nuclear weapons, predicting that success would trigger an arms race in the Middle East and “make any non-proliferation regime impossible.Saudi Arabia will turn nuclear within weeks – according to them. Turkey will turn nuclear in several years. The new Egypt will have to follow”

Saturday, October 27, 2012

cash in the bank

Many technology outfits are sitting on huge piles of cash. Hoarding it—or using it to fund share buybacks.

 SanDisk, a maker of flash memory, and Nvidia, which produces video chips, have net cash (cash and securities less any debt) equal to more than 40% of their stock-market values.  Cisco Systems stands out because its $32 billion of net cash and securities equals 36% of its market capitalization.

 Apple, Microsoft, and Qualcomm have more than 20% of their market values in cash and securities, while Google's percentage is down to a still-ample 16%, following its $12.5 billion cash purchase of Motorola Mobility last week. Apple leads the world with a cash balance of $110 billion.

                            Net     Mkt     Net    
    Recent         2012E     Cash*     Val     Cash/     Div
Company          Price     EPS     P/E     (bil)     (bil)     Mkt Val     Yld

SanDisk / SNDK    $32.92    $2.10    15.7    $3.8     $8.0    47.5%    None
Nvidia / NVDA    12.44    0.72    17.3    3.1    7.7    40.3    None
Dell / DELL    12.49    1.96    6.4    8.2    22.0    37.3    None
NetApp/ NTAP 1     28.17    2.23    12.6    3.7    10.2    36.3    NoneYahoo! / YHOO 2     15.38    0.95    16.2    6.7    18.7    35.8    None
Juniper Networks / JNPR     17.23    0.85    20.3    3.2    9.1    35.2    None
Xilinx / XLNX 3     32.07    2.00    16.0    2.2    8.4    26.2    2.7%
Electronic Arts/ EA 2     14.69    1.12    13.1    1.3    5.0    26.0    None
Corning / GLW    12.77    1.35    9.5    3.7    19.4    19.1    2.3
Super Cash-Rich                            
Cisco Systems / CSCO 4     $16.69    $1.83    9.1    $32.1    $89.4    35.9%    1.9%
Microsoft / MSFT 5     29.11    2.72    10.7    56.7    244.5    23.2    2.7
Qualcomm / QCOM 6     58.14    3.76    15.5    26.6    99.7    26.7    1.7
Apple / AAPL 6     570.56    46.97    12.1    110.2    533.5    20.7    None
Google / GOOG 7     609.46    43.35    14.1    31.4    199.4    15.7    None

Friday, October 26, 2012

The Pirate Party Walks the Plank

When the German Pirate Party was founded in 2006, the battle for civil liberties and a less regulated Internet were at the forefront. Computer users were under threat from Internet censorship and data storage, and the party successfully took up this subject that other political parties were largely ignoring. Not until  later did the Pirate Party  present itself in election campaigns as an anti-establishment party, with demands for civic participation, transparency and grassroots democracy. That change did win over many protest voters. The Pirate Party was triumphant in Berlin state elections a little over a year ago, emerging as a protest movement against the establishment, promising transparency instead of backroom politics. This spring the party was polling at 13 percent. Since then, though, it seems voters have come to recognize that the Pirate Party often offers little more than a spectacle. In practice the transformation has proven difficult. Voters can't tell what the party stands for, and even the party's members don't seem entirely sure.

 The Pirate Party is now at risk of failing to meet the "five-percent hurdle," the percentage of votes a party needs in order to take seats in Germany's parliament, the Bundestag. The Pirates' successful run at the regional level seems to have slowed to a stop. After electoral victories in the federal states of Berlin, North Rhine-Westphalia, Schleswig-Holstein and Saarland, the party now looks to be in danger of defeat in the state of Lower Saxony, which will go to the polls in January. The Pirate Party has dropped to 4 percent in the polls in Lower Saxony. Endless debates and power struggles within the party have taken their toll, wearing down members and scaring off voters.

"What we're offering is not a program, but an operating system," Marina Weisband, the party's ex-political director, confidently declared a year ago. In North Rhine-Westphalia the Pirate Party have used  voting software called LiquidFeedback to gather general opinions on a proposed law to regulate circumcision which showed 17 in favor of fighting the proposed law, two in abstention and one against -- 20 votes in a federal state with nearly 18 million inhabitants.  A request from the party's national leaders for members to submit ideas to a working group on the election campaign produced few suggestions from the party's ranks -- and not even half of the party's regional-level groups participated. It's a grassroots democracy where no one is showing up to participate.

 Sebastian Nerz, currently second in command, has announced that he will not be running for office again. "Our biggest problem is that, aside from personal scandals, we can't seem to manage to communicate anything," he says.

Julia Schramm, another prominent party member in Berlin, likewise plans not to participate in the next election. Schramm angered many members of her party when her publisher took action against people downloading pirated copies of a book she had written -- which goes against the Pirate Party's anti-copyright stance.

The election in Schleswig-Holstein in May swept Pirate Party members into the state parliament who seem more like independent candidates than members of the same party, each pursuing an individual agenda. One, who also works as a customs official, tends to represent the interests of customs officials, while Angelika Beer, former national party chair for the Green Party, focuses on environmental policies just like in the old days. One party member Patrick Breyer, the Pirates' parliamentary group leader in Schleswig-Holstein. Breyer battles against government surveillance of any kind, from data storage to drones. He opposes Germany's strict address registration requirements and cell phone tracking. Not even fellow party members know precisely where Breyer lives, and he regularly switches out his cell phone's prepaid SIM card.

It seems that no-body in fact knows where the Pirate Party is located.

Adapted from Der Spiegel 

Share the revolution

The earth’s ecological problems stem largely from the failure to share. The principle of sharing has always formed the basis of social relationships in societies across the world. We all know from personal experience that sharing is central to family and community life, and the importance of sharing. There exists a growing body of anthropological and biological evidence that human beings are naturally predisposed to cooperate and share in order to improve our collective wellbeing and maximise our chances of survival.

In fact, sharing is far more prevalent in society than people often realise. Charities and co-operatives, self-help and mutual aid organisations abound. We have collaborative knowledge sharing websites like Wikipedia and many other forms of peer2peer information technology.

Ecological chaos, poverty and inequality are related outcomes of an ill-managed world capitalist system. Given the urgency why are we still failing to manage the world’s resources in a more sustainable way? Every year, numerous international conferences take place and endless reports are published but the international community has not managed to remedy the problems we face. Nothing seems to change. We are unable to overcome the vested interests.  For too long, governments have put profit and growth before the welfare of all people and the sustainability of the biosphere.

Given the scale of the task ahead it is impossible at this stage for socialists to put forward a blueprint of the specific policies and actions we need to take. But in order to inspire support for transformative change, it is imperative that we outline a vision of how and why changes to production and distribution should be based firmly on the principle of sharing. The first element is for the community to recognise that natural resources form part of our shared commons, and is for the benefit of all. Humanity has to move away from today’s private and state ownership models, and towards a new form of resource management based on non-ownership. Common ownership would embody the principle of sharing on a global scale, and it would enable the all communities to take collective responsibility for managing the world’s resources. Currently, the world still lacks a broad-based acceptance of the need for planetary reconstruction. Without a global movement of ordinary people that share a collective vision of change, it will remain impossible to overcome the influence of the vested interests of the capitalist class.

How will change happen? The historic recent events of 2011 provided concrete evidence of the potential power of a united ‘people’s voice’. The world witnessed millions of people in diverse countries declaring their needs and highlighting issues of social and economic inequality, greed, financial corruption and the undue influence of corporations on government. In city squares across the developed world, Occupy, the Indignados and a host of other people’s movements focused the world’s media on the plight of the ‘99%’ and gained widespread public support in the process. The Arab Spring demonstrated the power of public opinion. The rapid spread of these mass movements reflected a growing recognition of humanity’s unity and propensity to share, and paid testimony to the power of a united struggle. The next step is a planetary Tahrir Square.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Bitter Truths

The current crisis is the most serious since the 30s. The global economic crisis started not in the periphery but in the capitalist centre of the world. Banks and corporations on the brink of collapse were everywhere saved with cash from central government and temporary nationalizations by it . The ruling classes are now trying to do their best to solve the economic problems at the expense of the workers, at the expense of the wage earners. Austerity policies, anti-crisis measures, "cost saving" reforms aimed at dismantling the welfare state.

So how did wage workers responded to this offensive? The attacks on our earnings and rights are so blatant, aren't they? One could hardly come up with a better test of the revolutionary potential of the masses of workers.

 Whether anarchist, Trotskyist, Maoist, Stalinist, or whatever there ha been the  over-optimist commentaries.  "The workers stand up for their rights!", "General strike, the first one for...(a number of years follows)", "All the trade unions mobilise " "Revival of the working class spirit!", etc., etc. Yet many on the Left are already looking for those responsible for the failure although the struggle seemingly far from over. It's clear why. General strikes (especially in the countries which hadn't seen those for decades) and multi-million demonstrations are impressive, of course, but the result is always the same: the ruling class quietly ignores them and continue their cuts and reforms.

We can see it in Greece, and in Italy, and in France, and in Spain, and in Portugal, and in Britain, and in Ireland. Elections will not change anything, except serve as a bone tossed to the embittered people: Labour may take over from the Conservatives but that does not matter; whoever forms the government, it keeps pursuing (and even intensifying) the same policy of cutbacks despite the widest and most impressive protests of the population.

Why is it happening? Because those protesting make no attempt at the founding principles of the System and are quite satisfied with capitalism, and all they want is to have capitalism with a "human face". That means their protest is purely defensive (and even conservative where it comes to preserving the vanishing welfare state under capitalism), they think in terms of conformism and reformism.

Let us recall what was the first response of British workers to the crisis? It was “wildcat” strikes and pickets by energy sector workers clamouring against the employment of foreigners (i.e. their class brothers!), those protests being spontaneous, not organized and not inspired by any right-wing groups, parties, publications. The British left should asked themselves what have they been doing all these decades?

Let us compare today's behaviour of the wage workers of  today with their precedessors from the past. Take, for example, the Spain of the early 20th century.  A vast number of specialized studies and a larger number of memoirs show us that the Spanish workers were setting themselves a direct and express task of overthrowing capitalism. They saw strikes and demonstrations merely as a first stage, as a necessary step on their way to the said end. And even if it was struggle for higher wages or shorter working hours, everyone knew--this is not the real goal, this is only an interim, tactical goal, the real goal is a social revolution, destruction of the power of capital. Therefore, every such manifestation, every such strike could easily escalate into armed hostilities and armed uprising (as was the case in Asturias in October, 1934).

 It is highly demonstrative that the contemporary Left have failed to offer strategies for the struggle other than reformist ones: struggle for minorities’ rights, for women’s equality, for the rights of immigrants and homeless, defending the environment and so on, that is they have offered actions aimed at improving capitalism partially (which helps to make capitalism more attractive to a greater number of people and thus decreases the number of socialist fighters) not at destroying it. And certainly all this, does not pose any threat to the rule of capital. A socialist revolution, which can only be worldwide and which will not run in the same pattern common for the previous bourgeois and state-capitalist revolutions is not a matter of the distant future. The  Left, at best, talk of the need to "transcend" capitalism in general, in some distant future but do not call for immediate struggle for social revolution. There are those (although few in number and weak in influence) and who do. But somehow their calls fail to ring the bell with wide, and even narrow, masses of the workers. When the ruling classes are forced to take such a measures against the workers that will inevitably blow up the class peace, i.e. to refuse to limit the working day, to terminate the dole system, to actually eliminate the social infrastructure of the welfare state, to crack down on protests, these circumstances may lead to the class organisations of workers (such as trade unions) radicalising, to the capitalist society betraying its class nature, to the general public opening up to the revolutionary propaganda, and consequently, to the class struggle reviving and then to a social revolution.


Sunday, October 21, 2012

Against Apathy

Many have noticed that whoever gets elected in America, nothing much really changes. This is because politicians usually have no intention of changing anything. It has been borne out by hard and painful experience that for the most starry-eyed of us that the politicians we have voted for are not only unable to make good on promises but have actually carried out unwelcomed and unwanted policies. Why should we believe that another would be any more successful? The working class persist in choosing between different versions of the same weary, discredited political leaders. This is masochism.  The American electorate hasn't had the true experience of having had their voices heard at any significant level in their so-called democracy. Rather than an expectation of involvement in decision making there is apathy, cynicism or a complaining mantra heard far and wide that governments don't listen to the people, or pretend to listen pre-election, to then later make excuses for the broken promises and not fulfilling manifesto pledges. Decisions have long been made for the people but not by the people, with electorates distanced from their representatives and decisions made with no consultation process. It's taken for granted that once elected the politician decides on behalf of the electors. There is scant reference to the masses in times of major decisions –  whether to embark upon an invasion or how to deal with the effects of a harsh economic downturn. Even mass demonstrations against unpopular decisions leave the elected unmoved and intransigent. As a result there has long been a culture of complaint, a collective feeling of impotence with no expectation of being heard, much less listened to. The capitalist system may have nominally democratic institutions, but it relies upon working class compliance, passivity and lack of involvement in the process to carry out its worst work.

 Ordinary working people are to be targeted with propaganda and public relations exercises to induce acceptance of things that are contrary to our interests. The effectiveness of this propaganda is illustrated by the widening gap between people’s preferences and government policy which often result in the quiet acceptance of unpopular cuts in social spending. It is hardly surprising that working people become increasingly disillusioned with "democracy" and politics and register their frustration by declining participation in elections. We start to believe that if our vote is so ineffective in changing things there can be little point in casting it. We become exactly what our master class wants us to be, obedient and silent.

Do the trappings of democracy really guarantee a truly democratic way of life? Do they ensure rule by the people? Socialists argue that the answer to these questions is a resounding "No!" and that real democracy involves far more. It is true that the vote, together with other hard-won rights such as the rights of assembly, political organisation and freedom of speech, are most important. At the same time we must recognise that genuine democracy is more than these freedoms and the right to vote. Whilst ‘one person one vote’ is an essential ingredient of democratic society, democracy implies much more than the simple right to periodically choose between representative of political parties. We are not under any illusion about the nature of democracy inside capitalism. Can the act of electing a government result in a democratic society? To govern is to direct, control and to rule with authority. Operating as the state this is what governments do. But to say that democracy is merely the act of electing a government to rule over us cannot be correct because democracy should include all people in deciding how we live and what we do as a community. Democracy means the absence of privilege, making our decisions from a position of equality. Democracy means that we should live in a completely open society with unrestricted access to the information relevant to social issues. It means that we should have the powers to act on our decisions, because without such powers decisions are useless.

As socialists, we do not regard political democracy in itself as sufficient to emancipate humanity. But we do recognise that it provides by far the best conditions for the development of the socialist movement. The realisation that genuine democracy cannot exist in capitalist society does not alter the fact that the elbow room already secured by past struggles can be turned against our masters. The right to vote, for instance, can become a powerful instrument to end our servitude and to achieve genuine democracy and freedom. Socialists want a social revolution, sweeping and fundamental change in political and economical organisation. Marx said that you cannot carry on socialism with capitalist governmental machinery; that you must transform the government where the worst features must be lopped off immediately the working class obtains supremacy in the state. The vote is revolutionary when on the basis of class it organises labour against capital. Parliamentary action is revolutionary when on the floor of parliament it raises the call of the discontented; and when it reveals the capitalist system's impotence and powerlessness to satisfy the workers wants. The duty of the Socialist Party is to use parliament in order to complete and to bring to a conclusion the revolution. Parliament, is to be valued not for the petty piecemeal reforms obtainable through it, but because through the control of the machinery of government the socialist majority will be in a position to establish socialism. Where it is available to workers we take the viewpoint that capitalist democracy can and should be used.

The Power of the Vote

In our Declaration of Principles we stress the necessity of capturing the machinery of government including the armed forces. That is the fundamental thing. The method, though important, is second to this but, nevertheless, winning control of the state through the ballot-box is central to the Socialist Party. The ballot box is a tactic. The working class being the key political class, whoever wins its support, wins the day, hence why the different factions of the capitalists vie for working class votes.

Fewer and fewer people are bothering to vote in elections correctly realising that it will have little effect on their everyday lives. Attempts to reform capitalism have failed. Mnay activists accept that voting in elections are a waste of time? After all, as anarchists say,  if voting changed anything it would be illegal? Many militants argue against contesting elections on the grounds that this inevitably leads to it becoming reformist and that revolutionary politicians, whatever may have been their original intention, end up merely administering capitalism because “power corrupts” and have in the past, and in the present, and in the future, too, will  betray the working class. It is also claimed that that Parliament is not the real seat of power but a mere "talking-shop" charade. Certainly, political democracy under capitalism is not all that it is purported to be by many supporters of the system and it is severely limited, from the point of view of democratic theory, by the very nature of capitalism as an unequal, class-divided society. Certainly, "democracy" has become an ideology used to give capitalist rule a spurious legitimacy . But it is still sufficient to allow the working class to organise politically and economically without too much state interference and also, we would argue, to allow a future socialist majority to gain control of political power. It is the quality of the voters behind the vote that, in the revolutionary struggle, which is important.

The capitalist class are the dominant class today because they control the state (machinery of government/political power). And they control the State because a majority of the population allow them to, by, apart from their everyday attitudes, voting for pro-capitalist parties at election times, so returning a pro-capitalist majority to Parliament, so ensuring that any government emerging from Parliament will be pro-capitalism. If the workers (the vast majority of the population) are to establish socialism they must first take this control of the State (including the armed forces) out of the hands of the capitalist class, so that it can be used to uproot capitalism and usher in socialism.

Workers should not turn their back on the electoral system as such. The electoral system can be utilised to effect the revolutionary act of abolishing capitalism by signalling that a majority of ordinary people fully understand and want to effect that change. Critics of the Socialist Party's position fail to appreciate the different content of the term "parliamentary" as applied to orthodox parties and to the Socialist Party. We indeed hold it essential that the transformation to a new society be started by formal democratic methods—that is, by persuasion and the secret ballot. For there is no other way of ascertaining accurately the views of the population. The result of a properly conducted ballot will make it clear, in the event of an overwhelming socialist vote, to any minority that they are the minority and that any attempt to oppose the desires of the majority by violence would be futile. The formal establishment of the socialist majority's control of the state avoids the possibility of effective use of its forces against the revolutionary movement. An attempt to establish a socialist society by ignoring the democratic process gives any recalcitrant minority, the excuse for possibly violent anti-socialist action justified by the.claim that the alleged majority did not in fact exist or that the assumed majority was not likely to be a consistent or decisive one. Ultimately, force is on the side of the numerical superiority of ordinary working people and will make their demands unstoppable

Despite its shortcomings, elections to a parliament based on universal suffrage are still the best method available for workers to express a majority desire for socialism. The ruling class who monopolise the ownership of wealth do so through their control of parliament by capitalist parties elected by workers. Control of parliament by representatives of a conscious revolutionary movement will enable the bureaucratic-military apparatus to be dismantled and the oppressive forces of the state to be neutralised, so that Socialism may be introduced with the least possible violence and disruption. Representatives elected by workers to parliament have continually compromised to the needs of capitalism, but then so have representatives on the industrial field. The institution is not here at fault; it is just that people's ideas have not yet developed beyond belief in leaders and dependence on a political elite. When enough of us join together determined to end inequality and deprivation we can transform elections into a means of doing away with a society of minority rule in favour of real democracy and equality. The vote will merely be the legitimate stamp which will allow for the dismantling of the repressive apparatus of the state, heralding the end of bourgeois democracy and the establishment of real democracy. It is the Achilles heel of capitalism which makes a non-violent revolution possible. Using the vote workers will neutralise the state and its repressive forces.

The Socialist Party adopted the policy of trying to gain control of the machinery of government through the ballot box by campaigning on an exclusively socialist programme without seeking support on a policy of reforms; while supporting parliamentary action they refused to advocate reforms. This has remained its policy to this day. Mandating delegates, voting on resolutions and membership ballots are democratic practices for ensuring that the members of an organisation control that organisation – and as such key procedures in any organisation genuinely seeking socialism. Socialism can only be a fully democratic society in which everybody will have an equal say in the ways things are run. This means that it can only come about democratically, both in the sense of being the expressed will of the working class and in the sense of the working class being organised democratically – without leaders, but with mandated delegates – to achieve it. The socialist movement must stand firmly by democracy, by the methods of socialist education and political organisation, and the method of gaining control of the machinery of government and the armed forces through the vote where possible and only with the backing of a majority of convinced socialists.

 The Socialist Party has never held that a merely formal majority at the polls will give the workers power to achieve socialism. We have always emphasised that such a majority must be educated in the essentials of socialist principles. The Socialist Party does not propose to form a government and so does not call for people to "vote us into office". Socialist candidates stand as recallable mandated delegates at elections to act as little more than messenger boys and girls sent to formally take over and dismantle the State. not as leaders or would-be government ministers.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

The Labour Party Illusion

The object of socialists is to assist in the emancipation of the workers from its enslavement to the capitalist class. To those who support the Labour Party we would appeal to reconsider their position. What does its boasted achievements amount to after all? With many on the Left calling for the re-formation of a Labour party, members of the Socialist Party ask "why bother?"  In office and out, Labour is a party for capitalism. It is a party that has regularly and routinely acted against the working class. Yet we are constantly told not to give up hope. Every time an election comes round the different left wing groups tell us to vote Labour. Can Labour be changed? We think that its history proves the impossibility of changing Labour. Labour long ago gave up any pretence at wanting to get rid of capitalism. Equally they have got rid of any notion of nationalising it.

The  Labour Party hasn't lost its way because what is currently the direction of its leaders has been part of its thinking throughout its existence. Labour has not betrayal of its core principles or "values". Its socialist credentials were always weak. The Labour Party was not created by people calling themselves socialists. In fact in its early days it made no claim to being a socialist party at all.  It was set up by the Trade Unions, to act in the interest of those unions.  The TUC agreed to the set up a Labour Representation Committee in 1900. Its aim was to get independent labour MPs elected who would change the law in the unions interests. It was in 1918 that the party adopted what it claims to be a "socialist" constitution that contained the famous Clause Four. This said it was the party's aim: To secure for the producers by hand and brain the full fruits of their industry, and the most equitable distribution thereof that may be possible, upon the basis of the common ownership of the means of production and the best obtainable system of popular administration and control of each industry or service. We would claim that it has never been a socialist party.

At its formation and in its early years the Labour Party had little connection with the growth of a socialist minority or even with the more militant sections of reformists. There were always some trying to build a "fairer" society but what emerged from years of effort was not a slowly evolving socialism but a labourism which increasingly judged itself on its electoral success, which depended on its ability not to rock the capitalist boat it was trying to captain and steer.

The Labour Party became associated with the name of socialism largely because of its history of supporting nationalisation, misleadingly called "public" or "social" ownership. Quite what was hoped to be achieved by bringing industry into state instead of private ownership was not very clear apart from as a vague and fuzzy means to "greater equality". Central planning under nationalised industries  was supposed to transform capitalism into something that could be controlled by the state. This did not happen of course. Labour governments were clothed in the misleading garb of collectivism but they were always managers of capitalism. As part of the state wanting more state control the party attracted to itself those sections of the ruling class who would benefit from it. Nationalisation is not, and never has been, Socialism. Socialism means the common ownership of the means of production and distribution. It means getting rid of the bosses, getting rid of working for a wage or salary, getting rid of the whole rotten buying and selling system. It means that people will freely come together to produce what is needed and will freely take from the abundant products of their labour. It will involve the abolition not only of the ruling class, but also their state. It will not mean that state being replaced by a new state. Nationalisation is just one form of state capitalism.

It is often argued the welfare state, social security provision and council housing are examples of Labour's success in "doing something". The simple fact is that social welfare do not change the exploitative character of capitalism or even touch the surface of its symptoms. Poverty was not reformed away and poor housing, unemployment, job insecurity and related ill-health remained very real concerns for the working class. Faced with the reality that is capitalism workers want to do something about it. Clearly the solution needs to be at least partly a political one, so they look for a party which seems to offer change. Labour are most able to offer this because they are usually a party of opposition. Being out of office so frequently they can always claim that next time things will be different. However, things never can be different. The time has come to give up on the pretence of any hopes that remain for Labour. To successfully change society the working class will have to do away with all capitalist parties and institutions. This inevitably means that they will have to do away with the Labour Party

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Our Fight

Trade unions co-operate in the exploitation of their members by accepting the premise that the international capitalist class has the unquestioned and legally enforceable ‘right’ to exploit the working class. Of vital importance is the mental conceptions of revolutionary change held by workers and without a change in what people think about the prospects for change there can be no alternative other than a continuance of some form of capitalism. Socilists claim, that there is a way to reconcile our conflict with our masters, and it is to build on our economic and social power and organise collectively and politically to end the dangerous madness of the market system once and for all, rather than trying to beat the capitalists at their own game.  Any gains made in the class struggle for better pay and conditions are still open to being eroded by the inevitable capitalist counter-attack, and without a socialist understanding, the workers will not be able to climb out of the rut of capitalism. So the cycle would continue, with workers making some gains, but then the capitalist class launches a counter offensive by either attacking the gain itself or attacking from some other direction.

A fundamental Marxian position is that class struggle is the motor that drives change. Built into capitalism is a class struggle between those who own the means of wealth production and those who don't and who are therefore forced by economic necessity to sell their ability to work to those who do. The class war, between the owners of the means of production (the capitalists) and those compelled by threat of poverty to sell their capacity to work (the workers) is an essential and continual feature of capitalist society. The class struggle is the irrefutable antagonism of interests in present society between the class that owns and profits from the means of production, and the class that creates the wealth but does not possess any means of producing wealth of their own. Those who yearn for change are aware of some form of injustice or antagonism inherent in present-day society. This class struggle is not just over the price and conditions of sale of the commodity workers are selling. Ultimately, it's about control over the means of production. The strength of the argument is that it puts the power and potential for change back where it belongs and where it in fact really lies: in our own hands. The problem we have to face is that, in the class struggle, the odds are nearly always against us, and that to build a socialist future, we need a mass organisation of people who know what it is they want and are prepared to work to achieve it. As Engels put it, “The period for sudden onslaughts, of revolutions carried out by small conscious minorities at the head of unconscious masses, is past. Where the question involves the complete transformation of the social organisation, there the masses must be consulted, must themselves have already grasped what the struggle is about, and what they stand for.”

Groups pursuing the tactic of trying to reform capitalism by concentrating on adjusting it is a wasted effort, since the entire system is based on a minority exploiting a majority. To expend all energy in demands for a more "friendly" capitalism is not what socialists should aim for, as, even in the event of success, the primary evils of capitalism would still remain i.e. production for profit and extraction of surplus value. The main effort of socialists should be aiming for socialism itself. Socialists should get involved in industrial struggles but without illusions, in particular the illusion that they can have a revolutionary outcome. The socialist revolution may start from some strike over wages spreading to the whole of the working class and certainly workers can learn from the experience of industrial struggles against employers that socialism is the only way out so, in this sense, strikes can contribute to a growth of socialist consciousness. But so can the many other experiences of the way capitalism works againt the interests of workers (bad housing, poor health care, pollution, wars, etc).

Which leads to the importance of who controls the state. At the moment, this is in the hands of people favourable to the continuation of capitalism, itself a reflection of the fact that most workers too don't see any alternative to capitalism. The state, therefore, upholds legal private property rights. The end of capitalism can only come as a result of a consciously socialist political movement winning control of political power with a view to abolishing all capitalist property rights and ushering in the common ownership and democratic control of the means of production. The preconditions for ending capitalism are a majority socialist consciousness and workers democratically self-organised in a large-scale socialist party. Neither of which, unfortunately, exist. There is no way that an anti-capitalist social order can be constructed without seizing state power, radically transforming it the constitutional and institutional framework that currently supports private property. To ignore the state is a ridiculous and dangerous idea for any anti-capitalist movement to accept.

Questioning the future of capitalism ought to be in the forefront of current debate. Socialist ideas have to be communicated to other workers, but not from outside the working class as a whole. They have to be communicated by other workers who, from their own experience and/or from absorbing the past experience of the working class, have come to a socialist understanding. It is not a question of enlightened outsiders bringing socialist ideas to the benighted workers but of socialist-minded workers spreading socialist ideas amongst their fellow workers.  Our mission is to show clearly both how we are robbed and exploited by the system ruled by capital and how we can untap the wealth of our collective productive power by taking control of the means of production directly. Socialists recognise the necessity of workers' solidarity in the class struggle against the capitalist class, and rejoice in every victory for the workers to assert their economic power. Both raising and defending of workers' wages affects the amount of time and resources at the disposal of workers for control of their own lives. Romantic notions of class struggle – of battles on the barricades – concentrate on the exceptional forms, rather than the dull reality of the class struggle of every day life. Workers do have to engage with the issues of pay and work conditions and pensions, but the main issue is the overthrow of capitalism, not picking away at it and then having our gains eroded sooner or later. In thinking of the class war as an actual war, the drive for a socialist understanding in the working class and the creation of a socialist society should be the main front, demanding the most effort, while everyday issues of pay and conditions and defending the gains that have been made would be a secondary front. We should never lose track of the actual aim of the socialist movement, the overthrow of capitalism and its replacement by a democratic association of peoples.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

hard working rich

Corporations doubled their profits to $1.9 trillion in less than ten years, but since 2008 they've reduced their tax payments from a twenty-year average of 22% to just 10%. the Tax Justice Network estimated that up to $32 trillion is hidden offshore. In regards to America thats an estimated tax loss of about $260 billion.

But don't the rich people EARN their money through hard work and innovation and deserve it? No. 60 percent of the income for the Forbes 400 came from capital gains. A lot more of it came from other forms of deregulatory subterfuge. CEOs have used carried interest , performance-related pay , stock options , and deferred compensation to make off with extra money.

Studies reveal that relatively few business startups are initiated by the very wealthy. Only 3 percent of the CEOs, upper management, and financial professionals were entrepreneurs in 2005, even though they made up about 60 percent of the richest 0.1% of Americans. Instead, they invest over 90% of their assets in a combination of low-risk investments (bonds and cash), the stock market, and real estate.

 Restaurants like Subway, McDonald’s and Starbucks avoid millions in taxes each year by claiming that their products are intellectual property.  Franchises pay money to companies to sell their product and use their logo. But, as Waldron writes, “instead of collecting the fees in the United States, where the intellectual property filings were created, Burger King, McDonalds, and other chains often house the fees in other low-tax countries in order to save millions of dollars.”

For example, take Burger King’s Whopper, the fee the European units pay to use it goes to Burger King's main European office in Zug, Switzerland. There the effective tax rate could range from 2 percent to 12 percent. Subway and McDonald’s operate thousands of stores overseas, but those companies, too, have become good at avoiding  taxes to the tune of millions. Subway International B.V. reaps around $150 million each year in royalty payments from franchisees in Europe. However, accounts show almost all the income flows to its parent, a partnership registered in the Caribbean island of Curacao which offers tax exemptions on overseas income, according to accountants Deloitte. McDonald's overseas subsidiaries generate over $17 billion a year in revenues.

Starbucks has paid no tax since 2009 despite sales of £1.2bn.Since opening  in the UK in 1998 and opening 735 outlets, it paid just £8.6m in income taxes - a rate of 0.3 per cent overall. In the past three years alone, Starbucks paid no tax whatsoever on sales of £1.2bn. Its nearest UK rival, Costa, tax bill came to £15m, or 31 per cent of profits.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

What is socialism?

There are no supreme saviors,
Neither God, nor Caesar nor tribune;
Producers, let us save ourselves,

The International

Capitalism, as its name suggests, is quite simply, the system of capital.  Its sole purpose is the accumulation of capital through the exploitation of human labour.  It is a system that accumulates capital in one phase simply so that it can accumulate still more capital in the next phase -- always on a larger scale. Capitalism requires unlimited economic growth. It cannot stand still. The capitalists task is to expand their profits, capital, wealth. Corporations are machines for accumulation. It is as simple as that. 

Capitalism is also a system of periodic crises. Capitalism has a tendency to break down. The fact that production is organised not to satisfy human needs but to make profits for the capitalist class is the ultimate cause of the system's recurrent crises. The alternative is a real socialism in which workers replace production for profit with production to fulfill human needs and create a society with democratic control over workplaces and society as a whole. We need an ecological and social revolution.  We have all the technologies necessary to do this.  It is not primarily a technological problem, because the goal here would no longer be the impossible one of expanding our exploitation of the earth beyond all physical and biological limits, ad infinitum.  Rather the goal would be to promote human community with the earth.

Few words can have suffered as much as "Socialism". There have been countless claims for having implemented Socialism. If Socialism as a word is to have any meaning, by its nature it must be a precise one. Contrary to a widespread, but wrong idea, socialism is not a transitional society preparatory to communism. Socialism for Marx is communism (including the two stages). Marx called  post-capitalist society identically and indifferently, communism, socialism, republic of labor, cooperative society, union of free individuals, society of free and associated producers, or simply association - all equivalent terms for the same society.

The victorious outcome of the workers’ self-emancipatory revolution is the socialist society. A socialist revolution is according to Marx, the “dissolution of the old society” It is not the so-called `seizure of power' by the oppressed, least of all by a political party in the latter's name. There is also no political power, no state, and so no “workers’ state” in the new society. InMarx already wrote in the 1840s that the “proletariat can and must liberate itself  and that “the consciousness of a profound revolution, the communist consciousness, arises from this class (itself)” As Engels  summed up Marx's ideas: “For the final victory of the ideas laid down in the Manifesto Marx counted only and singularly (einzig und allein) on the intellectual development of the working class as it necessarily had to come out of the united action and discussion"

So what is Socialism? Simply stated the means of production would be held in common, with people giving voluntarily to that society whatever they were able and taking that they required to satisfy their self defined needs. The productive forces in such a society would be so developed to meet those needs, liberated from the restrictive necessity to accrue surplus value, profit. It is not enough to take productive property into state ownership, for this merely transfers property from private to public control. The essential relationship between that property and the actual producers, the workers, remains unaltered.

  A productive enterprise transforms raw materials into saleable commodities: trees into furniture, for instance. In simplistic terms, the raw material arrives at the entrance to a factory, undergoes various processes throughout the factory and emerges from the exit as a product ready for sale. The raw material remains inert unless subjected to labour which transforms it into the finished article. It is the labour that gives the item its value. The process is enacted not to produce any particular commodity, the final product is irrelevant. It is the realisation of the acquired value of the commodity through sale that is the objective and the consequent profit it entails. For the labour is bought at a rate less than the value it creates in the product so that the eventual sale brings a greater return than that paid for labour. This is surplus value, profit, the whole purpose of the enterprise. This surplus value accrues to the holders of the productive process, those with title to the "economic" property that is the social relation for making profit.

 In classical capitalism the owners of the factory might be an individual, a family, a partnership or a group of shareholders. It is clear that in terms of the factory's raison d'etre it is irrelevant which of these are the legal owners. The twentieth century brought forms of ownership that apparently blur such a simple distinction. Transport the factory to the Soviet Union and the claim would be that the social relations had significantly altered. The Dictatorship of the Proletariat, having abolished private ownership in all its forms, had freed labour from its former exploitation, ie it being robbed of part of the value it created. However, it had done nothing of the sort. The State fulfilled the function of owner, buying labour and accruing the surplus value created. Essentially, the factory operates in precisely the same manner, the "economic" property is unaltered. What has changed is the "juridical" property, who has legal title to the factory. Even if the Soviet authorities used all the profit for the benefit of the workers, building hospitals, schools etc., the essential element, the accumulation of surplus value, remains central. How a capitalist spends profit is irrelevant, it is still capitalism according to the "economic" property no matter how the "juridical" property is altered. In this country, miners remained bought labour after nationalisation as much as before under private ownership. The same is true of co-operatives who must realise profit or go bankrupt. The legal ownership of things, factories and machines etc., does not determine the operation of "economic" property. The only way a significant change can be made is to bring all "economic" property under the democratic control of society so it can be deployed to produce to meet need and not profit. 

With the fall of the Soviet Union and the capitalist transformation of China and Vietnam, the lauded  triumph of capitalism  is a hollow victory in that it was bound to win in one form or other, private or state. Socialism cannot have been defeated or proved invalid as it has never been tried.

 Marx identified the working class as the liberators of society. In the latter part of the nineteenth century they were easily recognisable as factory workers. A century later the worker has become as diverse as the modes of work. However, they are still in that crucial relationship with the means of production, having to sell labour for less than its actual value. If this were not so, there could be no profit at all in the world. The suburban house-owner ith a mortgage or the rented council house tenant have that relationship in common no matter how different all other aspects of their lives might be. It is that common element that makes socialism a possibility.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

The Struggle

Much of the left today has abandoned Marx’s Capital.  Many people against certain aspects of capitalism snatch pieces of Marxism to give themselves a progressive legitimacy. Being anti-capitalist does not say much.  It only begs the question: how do we describe capitalism and from what angle are we criticizing it?  Much of the Left chooses to divide capitalism between good and bad ones. They replaced Marx's criticism of capitalism with a host of reformist and even reactionary demands peddled under this name. Marxism stands for the abolition of wage labour. Academics have tried to convert it into a scientific sociology or an alternative economic science for the left wing of the bourgeoisie. Pseudo-socialist presented workers with repulsive examples of despotic societies in the name of socialism, like the Soviet Union, China and Albania. The result was to alienate workers from communism, cut the connection between worker and communism.

 Capitalism is defined in many ways. Each of these definitions of capital leads to a specific political conclusion. The term capitalism has been increasingly replaced by the more clever-sounding “free enterprise,” or " free markets". One definition of capitalism is based on private property. This definition equates capitalism with private ownership and is also defined in terms of market economy and competition. That is a mistake. Those who define capitalism as private property ownership think that to abolition capitalism, state ownership must replace private property. Some others think that we can do away with capitalism if we abolish market and institute a central planning system. Capitalism can just as be run by the government through state-owned companies as privately-owned enterprises. Defining capitalism by market and private property ownership is a misleading characterization of Marx's criticism of capitalism that led to the failure of the revolution in Russia. Nowhere does Marx says private property ownership is an essential  characteristic of capitalist exploitation. What he says is that capitalist  exploitation requires that productive labourer to be separated from the means of production and it is irrelevant whether the state owns the means of  production or a person or a group of people. Many take disparity in income level as way of defining a capitalist society and unequal political power can be also taken as a criterion to defining capitalism. Those who define capitalism as unequal income level seek redistribution of wealth via taxation reform.

All these definitions of capitalism are all alien to Marx. What is socialism? Marx defined socialism as the abolition of wage slavery and the creation of a society based on common ownership.  Socialism is humankind's liberation from all forms of deprivation and bondage.

Marx’s theory of surplus value is the cornerstone of his analysis of capital.  For him, class means the production of surplus value by the worker and its appropriation by the industrial capitalist. When Marx talks about exploitation, this is what he has in mind. When Marx talks about class exploitation, he has in mind the extraction of surplus-labour from direct laborer by the capitalist enterprise. This surplus is the unpaid labour of the laborer that the capitalist lines up in his/her pocket. Marx's entry point to analyze  capitalism was neither private ownership nor market but rather exploitation of  labour power and appropriation of surplus value by industrial capitalists. 

Capitalist exploitation does not occurs in the market. Buying and selling of  labour power is a "fair and equal exchange."  Buying and selling of other commodities produces no surplus value. Whether means of production is owned  privately or owned by the state is irrelevant to capitalist production. Capitalist production is production of surplus value and its appropriation by people other than the productive worker.

Marx’s theory of surplus value identifies non surplus-value producing capitalists, for example, merchants and money lending capitalists (the bankers) and where they stand in regards to the production and appropriation of surplus value. To expand his/her production, the capitalist may have to borrow money from money lender who in return gets a portion of the surplus-value in the form of interest.  Moreover, the industrial capitalist can sell his/her products to a merchant to speed up the capital turnover.  The merchant, in return, receives a part of the surplus value in the form of a discount, and the capitalist enterprise can concentrate on the production of surplus value rather than being involved in commodity exchange process. Another part of the surplus-value goes to the state in the form of tax to secure the necessary stability and protection for capital, and so on.

While the capitalists whose capital is directly engaged in the production of surplus-value,  the industrialist, is engaged in the production of surplus value, the merchant performs the transformation of commodity into money.  In other words, merchants do not produce surplus-value, for buying and selling a commodity simply represents the exchange of value between two equals. However, merchants make the realization of surplus value possible because they turn products of labor into capital. Similarly the money lender does not produce any surplus value, but he/she may lend his money to the industrial capitalist who may lay it out for the expansion of production and creation of more surplus-value.  In other words, the financiers transfer their money to capitalist enterprise only temporarily.  By putting their money at the disposal of industrial capitalist, money lender provide the condition of existence of production and appropriation of surplus-value.  Therefore, merchants and money lenders neither are the appropriators of surplus value nor its distributor.  They are recipients of portions of the surplus value in the forms of discount and interests, respectively.  Therefore, neither buying and selling, whether in domestic or international markets, nor lending or borrowing money, creates surplus value.  In other words, Marx uses his theory of surplus value as a principle tool in locating various segments and groups of people in the capitalist society and where they stand in relation to production and appropriation of surplus value.   

The last bricks of the Welfare State are being dismantled and even the existing basic level of society's responsibility towards the individual, in terms of social welfare and economic security, is being challenged by employers and politicians. In many part of the world nationalism and religion are on the ascendance. Yet in other regions of the globe orkers are gradually emerging out of their previous political apathy. The world is entering a turbulent period of intensified worker protest movements. Today the destructive results of the recession and government austerity policies for the workers - unemployment, loss of social services, etc. - are felt more than ever. In the whole of Europe questions such as unemployment and lack of job security and so on are becoming a focus for a renewed surge of workers' movement, and the ruling class is losing its capacity for the political intimidation of the workers' movement through its once tried and tested populist mobilisation of the "middle-class" strata. The decline of trade unionism, while having immediate detrimental effects on the life of millions of workers, has created an environment for new thinking and alternative practices in worker organisation in Europe. The workers' movement has already moved towards more radical actions organised outside the traditional union structure, creating alternative organisations, as witnerssed by the recent Walmart protest wildcat strikes. The worker is realising that it is the worker and worker alone who should take care of his economic interests and political rights, without hoping for anything to come from the politicians who fill parliamentary seats or the bureaucrats in their professional union posts. The era of workers' strength on the political stage is once again arriving.

Many political activists shrug their shoulders at socialism and socialist organization, preferring participation in the host of one-issue struggles and while socialists should actively be involved also in these fields, this doesn't preclude theoretical work for communism. Capitalist society will assimilate protests and re- formulate them after its own image, incorporating them into the establishment. To resist this requires the existence of independent socialist parties. The issue of the primacy of theory over movement, or vice versa, has little meaning. They are the different levels of a single social movement. Socialism is a movement for working-class and communist revolution. We regard this revolution possible and on the agenda right now. But as a class which is under pressure, we also fight for every improvement in the social situation which enhances workers'  political and economic power and promotes their human dignity. We also fight for every political opening which may facilitate the class struggle. We are activists of the worker's protest movement. We are fighting for the establishment of the worker's social and economic alternative as a class. The worker's position in production does not change. The economic foundation of society does not change. This class's alternative for the organization of human society does not change. The worker still has to sell his or her labour power daily in order to live, and thus views the world from the same standpoint and offers the same solution to it. Socialism is the worker's movement to destroy capitalism, abolish wage-labour and do away with exploitation and classes.

There is a need to express the socialist vision in more concrete terms where more practical models of economic and political organization in socialist society be elaborated.  Many socialists say it is not for us to devise blueprints and utopias, that our task is to organize a revolution against the existing system, to make our goals clear but it is the process of workers' revolution itself which will provide the practical forms of their realization.  Nevertheless, to some degree, we must offer positive alternatives. Socialists should, firstly, communicate the precise meaning of socialist aims, and, secondly, to show the feasibility of their realization. It must explain that the abolition of bourgeois ownership does not mean introduction of state ownership, and show how the organization of people's collective control over means of production is practical. It must stress that socialism is an economic system without money and wage labour, and then shown how organizing production without labour power as a commodity is possible. Our job is not to make models and utopias and prepare a detailed blueprint of production and administration in a socialist society but to show in what ways socialist society differs from the existing one. For example, we show the process of the withering away of the state following a socialist revolution by explaining the material basis of the state in class society and its superfluousness as a political institution in a classless society, and not by producing a step by step guide programme for the dismantling of state institutions and its departments.

Friday, October 12, 2012

land grab in China

According to Amnesty International, expropriation and home demolitions in China have risen dramatically, as local governments have been trying to cope with structural budget deficit since the reform of the tax system in the 1990s and pay off enormous debts by selling off land rights, often secretly, to real estate developers.

Moreover, China’s ruling Communist Party leaders defend those who contribute to economic growth, even at the expense of the poorest, as a necessary step of country’s modernisation process. According to the report, the “public interest” often constitutes an excuse for local officials and property developers to increase their revenue and profit. Projects aiming at China’s high-speed expansion of cities and infrastructure often lead to the eviction of hundreds of families who usually are not offered alternative accommodation or adequate compensation.

Residents who try to seek redress have little hope of gaining justice. Collective protests have emerged as the only way to oppose coerced evictions of people from their homes.

The dark side

Seven Royal Marines have been arrested on suspicion of murder while serving in Afghanistan. The victim was not posing a threat and that he may have been unarmed at the time he was killed. Earlier this year a Territorial Army soldier was investigated on suspicion of murder for killing a suspected Taliban insurgent but it later emerged he could have been a farmer.

Louise Thomas, an official working with the Iraq Historic Allegations Team (IHAT), which was set up in the wake of the killing of Baha Mousa, an Basra Iraqi hotel worker who died in 2003 while in British custody, and the Battle of Danny Boy in 2004 where it is alleged that British soldiers tortured and murdered Iraqi gunmen after a firefight and in response to a growing number of abuse complaints from former prisoners held in secret interrogation centres, said recently "I saw a really dark side of the British army,"

War brutalises

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Jewish history

Sixty years after its foundation, Israel refuses to accept that it should exist for the sake of its citizens. For almost a quarter of the population, who are not regarded as Jews, this is not their state legally. They hold Israeli ‘citizenship’ but not nationality. Palestinian Israelis are discriminated against socially, educationally and economically. The Palestinian inhabitants of annexed Jerusalem, meanwhile, have neither nationality nor citizenship, but residence permits which are frequently revoked. At the same time, Israel presents itself as the homeland of Jews throughout the world, even if these are no longer persecuted refugees, but the full and equal citizens of other countries.

Every Israeli knows that he or she is the direct and exclusive descendant of a Jewish people which has existed since it received the Torah in Sinai. After the destruction of the second temple, in 70 AD they spent two thousand years of wandering which brought the Jews to Yemen, Morocco, Spain, Germany, Poland and deep into Russia. According to this story their uniqueness was never compromised. Any descendant of the people forced into exile 2,000 years ago is a Jew. Palestine belonged to the Jews, rather than to an Arab minority that had no history and had arrived there by chance. The wars to reconquer their land were just; the violent opposition of the local population was criminal.

The Jews of the world, white, black and brown, are the sons of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Moses, after leading the Jews out of Egyptian enslavement, gave them laws. Emerging from the desert, the Jews conquered the promised land of Canaan, which became Judea and Israel, later the mighty kingdom of David and Solomon. In 70CE the Romans destroyed the temple at Jerusalem and drove the Jews from their land. A surviving Jewish remnant was expelled when Muslim-Arab conquerors colonised the country in the 7th Century. And so the Jews wandered the earth, the very embodiment of homelessness. But throughout their long exile, against all odds, the Jews kept themselves a pure, unmixed race. Finally they returned, after the Holocaust, to Palestine, “a land without a people for a people without a land.”

Is the Bible a historical text? The first modern Jewish historians, such as Isaak Markus Jost (1793-1860) and Leopold Zunz (1794-1886), did not think so. They regarded the Old Testament as a theological work reflecting the beliefs of Jewish religious communities after the destruction of the first temple. It was not until the second half of the century that Heinrich Graetz (1817-91) and others developed a “national” vision of the Bible and transformed Abraham’s journey to Canaan, the flight from Egypt and the united kingdom of David and Solomon into an authentic national past. The idea of the Jews as a race was formed in the 19th Century in response to the ethnic-nationalisms burgeoning throughout post-Napoleonic east and central Europe. As Russians, Poles and Germans claimed their respective sets of heroic precursors, stressing their Orthodox or Catholic heritage to the exclusion of the Jews, certain Jewish intellectuals set out to invent their own national mythology. Scripture was a key tool. By constant repetition, Zionist historians have subsequently turned these Biblical “truths” into the basis of national education.

But discoveries made by the “new archaeology” discredited a great exodus in the 13th century BC. Moses could not have led the Hebrews out of Egypt into the Promised Land, for the good reason that the latter was Egyptian territory at the time. And there is no trace of either a slave revolt against the pharaonic empire or of a sudden conquest of Canaan by outsiders. Nor is there any trace or memory of the magnificent kingdom of David and Solomon. Recent discoveries point to the existence, at the time, of two small kingdoms: Israel, the more powerful, and Judah, the future Judea. The general population of Judah did not go into 6th century BC exile: only its political and intellectual elite were forced to settle in Babylon.

Then there is the question of the exile of 70 AD. There has been no real research into this turning point in Jewish history, the cause of the diaspora. And for a simple reason: the Romans never exiled any nation from anywhere on the eastern seaboard of the Mediterranean. Apart from enslaved prisoners, the population of Judea continued to live on their lands, even after the destruction of the second temple. Some converted to Christianity in the 4th century, while the majority embraced Islam during the 7th century Arab conquests. Yitzhak Ben Zvi, a president of Israel, and David Ben Gurion, its first prime minister both stated on several occasions that the peasants of Palestine were the descendants of the inhabitants of ancient Judea. Today more than half of Palestinians live outside Palestine, most in refugee camps. Those who remain on their land experience military occupation and varying degrees of apartheid. Israel is a state which forbids marriage between a ‘Jew’ and a ‘non-Jew’,

But if there was no exile after 70 AD, where did all the Jews who have populated the Mediterranean since antiquity come from? From the Maccabean revolt of the mid-2nd century BC to the Bar Kokhba revolt of the 2nd century AD, Judaism was the most actively proselytising religion. Centres of converted Jews bloomed in Damascus and Alexandria and all around the east Mediterranean. Aggressive proselytising in Rome – where the religion was particularly popular among women – irritated the conservative pagan classes as much as Christianity would later, leading to several expulsions of Jews from the city. But Judaism continued to grow, unwittingly preparing the way for Christianity, a Jewish heresy which preached an even more universalist message and gave up the demand for converts to be circumcised.

The Judeo-Hellenic Hasmoneans forcibly converted the Idumeans of southern Judea and the Itureans of Galilee and incorporated them into the people of Israel. Judaism spread across the Middle East and round the Mediterranean. The 1st century AD saw the emergence in modern Kurdistan of the Jewish kingdom of Adiabene, just one of many that converted. During the 5th century, in modern Yemen, a vigorous Jewish kingdom emerged in Himyar, whose descendants preserved their faith through the Islamic conquest and down to the present day. Arab chronicles tell of the existence, during the 7th century, of Judaised Berber tribes; and at the end of the century the legendary Jewish queen Dihya contested the Arab advance into northwest Africa. Jewish Berbers participated in the conquest of the Iberian peninsula and helped establish the unique symbiosis between Jews and Muslims that characterised Hispano-Arabic culture.  The most significant mass conversion occurred in the 8th century, in the massive Khazar kingdom between the Black and Caspian seas. The expansion of Judaism from the Caucasus into modern Ukraine created a multiplicity of communities, many of which retreated from the 13th century Mongol invasions into eastern Europe. There, with Jews from the Slavic lands to the south and from what is now modern Germany, they formed the basis of Yiddish culture. Clearly this history does not fit with ‘Palestinian’ Jewish nationalism.

The Israelis who seized Jerusalem in 1967 believed themselves to be the direct descendents of the mythic kingdom of David rather than, for instance, of Berber warriors or Khazar horsemen. The Jews claimed to be a specific ethnic group that had returned to Jerusalem, its capital, from 2,000 years of exile and wandering.and   supported by biology as well as history. Since the 1970s supposedly scientific research, carried out in Israel, has striven to demonstrate that Jews throughout the world are closely genetically related.  Eran Elhaik, PhD of Johns Hopkins University  applied a wide range of population genetic analyses (principal component, biogeographical origin, admixture, identity by descent, allele sharing distance, and uniparental analyses) and concluded that "our findings support the Khazarian Hypothesis and portray the European Jewish genome as a mosaic of Caucasus, European, and Semitic ancestries"   Michael Hammer of University of Arizona. They looked at Y-chromosome haplotypes - this is the genetic material passed from father to son down the generations. What they revealed was that Arabs and Jews are essentially a single population, and that Palestinians are slap bang in the middle of the different Jewish populations. Another team, lead by Almut Nebel at the Hebrew University, Jerusalem, took a closer look in 2001. They found that Jewish lineages essentially bracket Muslim Kurds, but they were also very closely related to Palestinians. In fact, what their analysis suggested was that Palestinians were identical to Jews, but with a small mix of Arab genes - what you would expect if they were originally from the same stock, but that Palestinians had mixed a little with Arab immigrants. So, as far as male lineage goes, the genetic story is very clear. Palestinians and Jews are virtually indistinguishable. Analysis of elements in mitochondrial DNA (which is passed from mother to daughter) seemed to show that Jewish populations around Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East were derived from at least 8 unrelated 'founding mothers'. The most likely explanation was that they were from local populations that bred with immigrant Jewish males. Their offspring became absorbed into the Jewish community.

Sand himself wrote "As of today, no study based on anonymous DNA samples has succeeded in identifying a genetic marker specific to Jews, and it is not likely that any study ever will. It is a bitter irony to see the descendants of Holocaust survivors set out to find a biological Jewish identity: Hitler would certainly have been very pleased!"

No human group remains ‘pure’ over hundreds of years with an admixture of southern Arab, Greek, Persian, Egyptian, and Frankish blood, today’s Palestinians are of Judean ‘stock’. This means the population closest ethnically to the ancient Israelites are the Palestinians. The same Palestinians the Jewish state expelled en masse in 1947 and 48, and again in 1967.

Adapted from this article by Schlomo Sand, professor of history at Tel Aviv university

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

happy capitalist

In 2007, the richest 1 percent owned 36.5 percent of all the private wealth in the United States and over 42.4 percent of all financial assets. Part of this estimated $20 trillion in wealth was in the form of land, houses, artwork, jewelry, private jets, and other private property. But an enormous fraction of it was in the form of stocks, bonds, and ownership stakes in the world’s corporations.

Almost everyone in the 1 percent has investment professionals who advise them about allocating their invested wealth. Imagine for a moment that you’re a member of the 1 percent, with $200 million in wealth.  A typical asset allocation strategy is to park a portion of your wealth in stable investments that are a bulwark against serious market downturns. These include insured deposits in banks and credit unions and bonds backed by local, state, or federal governments. This guarantees that you will always be rich, even in tough times. The problem is that these have relatively low rates of return. In fact, in 2005, we’re talking 2–3 percent returns. Another portion of your $200 million is invested in some long-term growth equities—companies that have been around for a long time. These include Ford, General Motors, and General Electric, the “blue chip” or seemingly stable companies. But it’s the same problem again: modest returns on investment, maybe 5–6 percent. With another portion of your funds, we’ll start to increase risk and return, looking for a diversified mixture of small- and large-capitalization new companies outside the stock market. These have the potential for higher returns, in the 7–10 percent range.

However, a new class of investments that are generating very high returns. These new investment vehicles are complicated but highly lucrative— returns of 10 or 15 percent. Some funds have even had 20 percent returns for five years in a row. To get those returns, however, we have to make speculative, high-risk investments. These include investments in hedge funds, derivatives, and credit default swaps—some of the financial innovations that some very smart young fellows on Wall Street have designed. These are not investments in the “real economy,” in which firms make actual things or provide services that people use. Rather, these are ways to place financial bets on the movement of money and markets.

Think about your $200 million. If all you had was $20 million, you would be able to live a very wonderful life, meet all your material needs, and guard against most possible problems. You might not be able to buy eternal life, though you’ll probably live longer. With another $20 million, you will be able to provide the same to your progeny. So, setting aside that $40 million, you have $160 million you’re willing to gamble with. So we allocate a large portion—let’s say $80 million—to the new financial instruments. Add to this the trillions in cash accumulated by the world’s corporate 1 percent—banks, insurance companies such as AIG, and the finance arms of corporations such as General Electric. As a result, huge amounts of wealth shifted into the speculative market.

Wall Street drove this process by seeking more and more high-risk deals. One of their favorites was high-interest mortgage debt, known as subprime mortgages. Investment banks and brokers such as Morgan Stanley, Citigroup, and Bank of America called up mortgage lenders and people who bundled mortgages together and said, “Bring us more of those high-return, high-risk deals!”

By 2007, the speculative bubbles had grown, not just in the housing market but also in other sectors of the economy. Commodity futures rose, pushing up the cost of foodstuffs and triggering food riots across the world. Speculation in oil futures drove up the cost of oil, and a gallon of gas during the summer of 2008 topped $4 a gallon. Americans spent hundreds of billions of dollars more on gas in 2008 than they did the previous year.4 Funds that could have financed a transition to a green economy went to the oil industry, which enjoyed unprecedented profits—in 2008, ExxonMobil set records with profits of $45.2 billion.

It hasn’t stopped. As long as the 1 percent has excess money to bet with, they will continue seeking speculative investments.  And the people paying the price with ruined lives are not in the 1 percent.

Adapted from here

Saturday, October 06, 2012

Fact of the Day

when McDonald's was the No.1 hamburger chain and Burger King was No.2, a marketing study revealed that Burger King had developed a highly cost-effective way of deciding where to locate new restaurants. While McDonald's would spend millions of dollars carefully determining ideal spots in which to build, once that decision was made and construction began, Burger King would simply build a new restaurant across the street. By smartly leveraging McDonald's research, Burger King achieved a virtually identical location outcome at a fraction of the cost.

Fighting conspiracies

Scientific issues can be vulnerable to misinformation campaigns. Plenty of people still believe that vaccines cause autism and that human-caused climate change is a hoax. Science has thoroughly debunked these myths, but the misinformation persists in the face of overwhelming evidence.

Straightforward efforts to combat the lies may backfire as well. A paper published on September 18 in Psychological Science in the Public Interest (PSPI) says that efforts to fight the problem frequently have the opposite effect.

"You have to be careful when you correct misinformation that you don't inadvertently strengthen it. If the issues go to the heart of people's deeply held world views, they become more entrenched in their opinions if you try to update their thinking."
says Stephan Lewandowsky, a psychologist at the University of Western Australia in Perth and one of the paper's authors.

Psychologists call this reaction belief perseverance: maintaining your original opinions in the face of overwhelming data that contradicts your beliefs. Everyone does it, but we are especially vulnerable when invalidated beliefs form a key part of how we narrate our lives. Researchers have found that stereotypes, religious faiths and even our self-concept are especially vulnerable to belief perseverance.

A 2008 study in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology found that people are more likely to continue believing incorrect information if it makes them look good (enhances self-image). For example, if an individual has become known in her community for purporting that vaccines cause autism, she might build her self-identity as someone who helps prevent autism by helping other parents avoid vaccination. Admitting that the original study linking autism to the MMR (measles–mumps–rubella) vaccine was ultimately deemed fraudulent would make her look bad (diminish her self-concept). In this circumstance, it is easier to continue believing that autism and vaccines are linked, according to Dartmouth College political science researcher Brendan Nyhan. "It's threatening to admit that you're wrong," he says. "It's threatening to your self-concept and your worldview."

It's why, Nyhan says, so many examples of misinformation are from issues that dramatically affect our lives and how we live. Ironically, these issues are also the hardest to counteract. Part of the problem, researchers have found, is how people determine whether a particular statement is true. We are more likely to believe a statement if it confirms our preexisting beliefs, a phenomenon known as confirmation bias. Accepting a statement also requires less cognitive effort than rejecting it. Even simple traits such as language can affect acceptance: Studies have found that the way a statement is printed or voiced (or even the accent) can make those statements more believable.

Correcting misinformation, however, isn't as simple as presenting people with true facts. When someone reads views from the other side, they will create counterarguments that support their initial viewpoint, bolstering their belief of the misinformation. Retracting information does not appear to be very effective either. Lewandowsky and colleagues published two papers in 2011 that showed a retraction, at best, halved the number of individuals who believed misinformation.

 Despite countless findings to the contrary, a large portion of the population doesn't believe that scientists agree on the existence of human-caused climate change, which affects their willingness to seek a solution to the problem, according to a 2011 study in Nature Climate Change.  Although virtually all climate scientists agree that human actions are changing the climate and that immediate action must be taken, roughly 60 percent of Americans believe that no scientific consensus on climate change exists. "This is not a random event,"  Edward Maibach, director of the Center for Climate Change Communication at George Mason University says. Rather, it is the result of a concerted effort by a small number of politicians and industry leaders to instill doubt in the public. They repeat the message that climate scientists don't agree that global warming is real, is caused by people or is harmful. Thus, the message concludes, it would be premature for the government to take action and increase regulations.

To counter this effort, Maibach and others are using the same strategies employed by climate change deniers. They are gathering a group of trusted experts on climate and encouraging them to repeat simple, basic messages. It's difficult for many scientists, who feel that such simple explanations are dumbing down the science or portraying it inaccurately. And researchers have been trained to focus on the newest research, Maibach notes, which can make it difficult to get them to restate older information. Another way to combat misinformation is to create a compelling narrative that incorporates the correct information, and focuses on the facts rather than dispelling myths—a technique called "de-biasing."

Although campaigns to counteract misinformation can be difficult to execute, they can be remarkably effective if done correctly. A 2009 study found that an anti-prejudice campaign in Rwanda aired on the country's radio stations successfully altered people's perceptions of social norms and behaviors in the aftermath of the 1994 tribally based genocide of an estimated 800,000 minority Tutsi. Perhaps the most successful de-biasing campaign, Maibach notes, is the current near-universal agreement that tobacco smoking is addictive and can cause cancer. In the 1950s smoking was considered a largely safe lifestyle choice—so safe that it was allowed almost everywhere and physicians appeared in ads to promote it. The tobacco industry carried out a misinformation campaign for decades, reassuring smokers that it was okay to light up. Over time opinions began to shift as overwhelming evidence of ill effects was made public by more and more scientists and health administrators.

The most effective way to fight misinformation, ultimately, is to focus on people's behaviors, Lewandowsky says. Changing behaviors will foster new attitudes and beliefs.