Saturday, June 29, 2013

Reducing Rabies

Rabies is a global health issue, claiming fifty to sixty thousand lives every year. Most of these deaths occur in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia. The rabies virus is usually transmitted to humans through the bite of an infected dog. Because children are the most susceptible to attacks by rabid dogs, they account for the vast majority of deaths.

Veterinarian Guy Palmer is conducting research in Tanzania on a sustainable rabies vaccination program. Palmer explained, “If we can get around 60% we can actually control a disease outbreak. We don’t need to vaccinate every dog. We need to vaccinate somewhere around 60%. So, the question becomes, can you actually achieve that level of vaccination in a low resource setting?”

It costs us about three dollars to vaccinate a dog in those regions, and about one dollar of the vaccine cost is keeping  it cold and that’s not something that’s, at the moment, sustainable by either the individuals nor by the government.

 Silk polymers have the potential to revolutionize the storage of vaccines. Strands of silk proteins are purified from silkworm cocoons and are incorporated into the vaccine serum. The silk polymers don’t affect the vaccine’s effectiveness, but they stabilize the serum so that it doesn’t degrade under high temperatures. These polymers can protect vaccines at up to 45 degrees Celsius for more than six months. The vaccines remain more than eighty percent potent despite storage at these temperatures.

Other major costs is transport so the aim is to actually get the vaccines to the local communities and  they can maintain them locally and do the local vaccinations.

Rabies vaccination studies may present other healthcare opportunities. The vaccination clinics could also be used to provide care and treatment for children when they bring their dogs to be vaccinated.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

We are all Spartacus

The following is extracts adapted from the International Communist Current article found here 

"Spartacus emerges as one of the best characters in the whole of ancient history. A great general, a noble character, a genuine representative of the ancient proletariat" -  Marx letter to Engels.

The information that we have on Spartacus and the slave war is very limited - a few thousand words, written by ancient historians from the ruling class: Sallust, a Roman Senator (1st century BC), Plutarch and Appian were wealthy aristocrats (2nd century AD). The very fact that these members of the ruling class felt the need to deal with this revolt demonstrates how important it was. The slave revolt saw 100,000 or more slaves waging war on their Roman oppressors and defeating the seeming invincible legions time and time again. This revolt, though bloodily crushed, has inspired revolutionary movements. The main grouping of revolutionaries in Germany who opposed World War 1 adopted the name of the Spartacus League to express their determination to wage war on the ruling class; and like Spartacus and the slave army the revolutionary struggle of the workers in Germany was drowned in blood. Thus the name Spartacus became synonymous with the revolutionary aspirations of the exploited.

The rising of the slaves between 73-71 BC did not come out of nowhere. It reflected the wider social turmoil rocking the Roman Republic. By the second century BC the Roman army had conquered the Mediterranean and was extending itself throughout Europe. These ever-expanding conquests brought with them an increasing supply of slave labour, which was used to replace the peasantry that had been the bedrock of the Roman Empire. Instead of the old system of peasant small-holdings, there was a growth of huge estates that used slave labour to extract raw materials and produce agricultural goods. In the cities the artisans were increasingly being replaced by slave labour. At the same time, a very small minority of the ruling class was able to take over the control of the exploitation of the resources of the newly conquered territories. This produced powerful social tensions: between the ruling class and those driven into unemployment in the cities or to the cities from the countryside, and also between the different interests within the ruling class.

 These tensions lead to a series of bloody civil wars from 130 BC. During that period the Gracchus brothers led movements of the dispossessed, particularly the former legionaries who had once received parcels of land for their years of service, against the state: "The private soldiers fight and die to advance the wealth and luxury of the great; and they are classed the masters of the world, while they have not a foot of ground in their possession" (Tiberius Gracchus, quoted by Plutarch). In 132 BC Tiberius and his supporters were slaughtered by the ruling party, and in 121 BC his brother Caius and his supporters met a similar fate. In the following years, massacre and bloody civil war became the norm as tens of thousands were killed as different fractions of the ruling class fought each other for control of the state.

It was in the middle of this turmoil that the slave war led by Spartacus broke out. But again this has to been seen in the context of the two previous slave wars that had taken place in Sicily. In these wars tens of thousands of slaves on the massive estates that covered the island rose up and defeated their Roman masters, and then fought wars against Roman legions until being crushed with great violence. At the time of the first war, in Asia Minor in the Kingdom of Pergamum, Aristonikos, the half-brother of the former king, faced with the Romans, freed the slaves and set up the Sun State, which was taken to mean a 'communist' order. There was "complete political democracy; the whole of the inhabitants, native and foreign, property-owning and disinherited, received the franchise and the independent administration of their State". From 133 to 129 the Romans waged war against the Sun State until they finally crushed it.

Initially, Spartacus and 70 odd other gladiators broke out of their gladiatorial school in Capua, after their plan for a bigger break-out had been discovered. The fact that such a group of gladiators from different ethnic backgrounds, trained to kill each other, could have formed such a plan, testifies to a real solidarity between them. Once free they fled to mount Vesuvius. Here Appian says many slaves and some freemen joined them "Since Spartacus divided the profits of his raiding into equal shares, he soon attracted a very large number of followers"

In the end, after being forced into the very south of Italy by Crassus and with the arrival of more legions from abroad, Spartacus and the slaves were faced with either capture or making a last stand. The slave army chose the latter. They turned in full battle ranks and marched on the pursuing legions. 36,000 died on the battlefield and many more after, as the ruling class relentlessly hunted down all those that had had the audacity to defeat their legions, to kill their generals and nobles, and to stand up to the ruling class. As a warning to all other rebels, the ruling class crucified 6,000 survivors of the slave army along the main road to Rome.

Unlike Kirk Douglas in the acclaimed movie, Spartacus did not die on the cross but fighting his way towards Crassus, the very symbol of the Roman ruling class - he was the richest and most powerful man in Rome - in the final battle. "When his horse was brought to him, Spartacus drew his sword and shouted that if he won the battle, he would have many fine horses, but if he lost, he would have no need of a horse. With that, he killed the animal. Then, driving through weapons and the wounded, Spartacus rushed at Crassus. He never reached the Roman, although he killed two centurions, who fell with him" (Plutarch).

 Howard Fast, a good Stalinist and Arthur Koestler,  an ex-Stalinist, depict Spartacus as the revolutionary leader leading a rabble not up to his ideals and  responsible for the failure of the war. Dalton Trumbo,  the film's screenwriter and also a Stalinist, equated Spartacus with Stalin.

The eventual defeat of the slave army was not simply the results of internal divisions or tactical errors. It reflected the historical limitations of the epoch: despite being the most advanced civilisation the world had yet seen, Roman slavery could never have developed the productive forces to the point where a truly universal communist society could have come out of it. The downfall of slavery could only have been replaced by a more progressive system of exploitation (thus, following its decline, there was the development of feudalism in Europe). Within this framework, it has to be understood that the slaves were not a revolutionary class in the sense of carrying within their struggle the foundations of a new social system, still less a conscious programme for its realisation. Their hopes for a society where private property would no longer exist were doomed to remain dreams, based on memories of a lost tribal order and on myths of a primordial golden age. This does not mean that Marxists look down on the revolts or the communistic dreams of previous exploited classes: on the contrary, these revolts have rightly inspired generations of proletarians, and these dreams remain indispensable stepping stones towards the scientific communist outlook of the modern working class.

In Germany  "Spartacism" became synonymous with Bolshevism and world revolution and the name “Spartacist” was  adopted by the German Communists.  Echoing Rome's bloody suppression of the original Spartacus movement, the Germany bourgeoisie crushed the modern day wage-slave war with great brutality.

Friday, June 07, 2013

Would you credit it

A number of reformists want to solve the problems of capitalism without changing its relations of production and instead find the flaws in some part of the monetary mechanism. For some with their roots in the Social Credit movement of Major Douglas it is in the banker’s credit monopoly that is at fault. The currency reformers of the Social Credit type wish to save capitalism by making changes in the monetary system alone. While the Social Creditors exonerate  the industrialist capitalists they concentrate their attacks upon the bankers and financiers. The Social Credit propose to socialise credit only and leave the capitalists in control of industry,and the proposed lever for this social transformation is an alteration in the monetary mechanism.

 Social Creditors had the merit of recognising that the productive forces of capitalist society are being strangled in an economic strait jacket: that poverty in the midst of potential plenty is shameful and unnecessary. They sincerely desire to abolish war, poverty, and the miseries of exploitation, but without upsetting the existing social relations of production and without compelling anyone but a handful of bankers to yield up their power and  privileges.

They find the scapegoat in “the money power”, the credit monopoly of finance capital. They insinuate that bankers deliberately create panics and crises by contracting credits or withholding them. They do not know that the calling in and curtailment of credit is simply evidence that the crisis is already under way, instead of being the fundamental cause of its occurrence, and they pass over the fact that bankers, like other capitalists, can only invest money where there is the prospect of profit.

The problem before society to-day is not a financial problem. It is a property problem. The banks belong to the superstructure of capitalism. Private property is the foundation. The financial crises, consumption crises, credit crises and the like are nothing more than the reflections of the fundamental economic crisis arising from the anarchy of production. No amount of credit supply to manufacturers, no amount of currency manipulation which leaves the question of property ownership untouched, can do other than aggravate the crisis of capitalism.

They are mistaken in the belief that money is not (or should not be) a commodity, but a system of worthless tokens, fiat money. They mistake the superficial forms of modern money (its paper dress as currency or its phantom bookkeeping existence as checks) for its inner nature. They completely fail to comprehend the function of money in a commodity producing society, and particularly under capitalism, the most developed form of a commodity producing society. As the general equivalent of value, money is not only a commodity but the king among commodities, destined to reign so long as capitalism endures.

Nor do the Social Creditors understand that money is also subject to all the laws of capitalism. Chief among these laws is the necessity of transforming money into capital, and using capital to appropriate surplus value. The financier accomplishes this by loaning money to the industrialist or the merchant, who, in their turn, appropriate their share of surplus value directly from the working class. The self-same capital is used for exploiting purposes by both groups of capitalists, and yet the Social Creditors condemn the bankers alone. Their position amounts to this: the capitalist may exploit the working class, but the finance capitalist must not exploit his fellow capitalists.
 Social Credit preys on the fear of the small businessman presenting the monster of finance capital which threatens to destroy them. Hence, the Social Creditor’s assault upon the credit monopoly,  which is merely a specialised extensions of the monopoly of the means of production by the capitalist class. The credit monopoly is the means by which large aggregates of capital exploit the lesser capitalist groups, and through them, the working class. The credit monopoly at the apex of exploitation could be overthrown only by an overthrow of the general monopoly of the means of production in the hands of the capitalist class.

The Social Creditors, however, have no quarrel with any other form of the power of private property but “the money power”. They charge the banker with converting “the communal wealth into financial debt”, although that process is only a special case of the continuous transformation of social wealth into private property under capitalism. They speak of “the communal credit” as though such a thing existed in a social system based upon the institution of private property. Marx disposed of such nonsense once and for all with the remark that “the only thing which enters into the collective possession of the people under capitalism is the national debt”.

Douglas’ chief contribution to the science of economics is his discovery of a flaw in “the price system”. This flaw is formulated in an alegbraic theorem, A over A plus B. According to Douglas, all purchasing power is distributed in the course of the productive process, as follows: Let A represent payments made to individuals..(whether workers or capitalists) in wages, salaries, and dividends. Let B represent payments made to other organizations for raw materials, bank charges, and other external costs. Then A, the rate of flow of purchasing power to individuals, must obviously be less than the rate of flow of prices, A plus B, by a proportion equivalent to B. This permanent deficiency in purchasing power is supposed to be bridged by the banker’s extension of credit against production. When the banks withdraw credits, the gap between prices and purchasing power grows wider and wider, until the crisis occurs.

This theory fails to explain why, if there exists a permanent deficiency in purchasing power, capitalist crises break out periodically. The Social Creditors attempt to get around this difficulty either by asserting that the present crisis is altogether unprecedented, a phenomenon peculiar to current times , or by accusing the bankers of anti-social conduct. Neither of these explanations will hold water. Fourier over a century ago described the first capitalist crisis in the same phrase used by the Social Creditors, “poverty in the midst of plenty”. The financial magnates are as helpless as any other capitalist group to start or stop a general capitalist crisis, although they have induced temporary credit stringencies for their private purposes.

But even as it stands, the fallacy in Douglas’ discovery is not difficult to detect. This lies in the fact that B payments (raw materials, bank charges, and other external costs) are A payments (wages, salaries, dividends) at a previous stage of production. So long as some other, more fundamental flaw does not interrupt the production and circulation of commodities, B payments will continue to be transformed indefinitely into A payments; banks will keep extending or renewing credits; and the industrialist will continue producing profitably. The fundamental cause of capitalist crises is to be found in the antagonisms of capitalist production, which generate all the relatively superficial flaws discovered by Douglas in “the price system”.

Except for scientific purposes, it does not much matter whether the reader grasp this part of the Douglas theory. His panacea does not necessarily follow from it, nor is it understood by most Social Creditors. They put their trust in the scientific attainments of this quack doctor of economics because his remedy is so cheap and palatable.

There are three proposals in the Social Credit program: the socialization of credit, the National Dividend, and the Adjusted Price. First, the power of creating credit is to be taken away from the private bankers and vested in the state. Then the state is to be incorporated and a National Credit Account set up. Out of the Social Credit, calculated from the excess of productive capacity over purchasing power, National Dividends will be periodically distributed to all eligible stockholders of the corporative state. The inflationary rise in prices which would follow the issuance of National Dividends (a fancy name for unsecured currency) will be prevented by the Adjusted Price. The Adjusted Price requires all retailers to sell their goods at a decreed discount and to be reimbursed at the average rate of profit by the government. Thus, Social Credit combines the best features of the dole, perpetual price-cutting, and a bull market.

The scheme is utterly Utopian. If credit was nationalised, as it is for all practical purposes in many capitalist countries today, it would simply put a more powerful weapon in the hands of the monopoly capitalists who control the state, and be used, as it is in those countries, to protect the profits of national capitalists against foreign competition. The closest the workers will ever get to a National Dividend under capitalism is the national dole, a subsistence pittance to keep them alive until capitalist production or imperialist war needs them. To put the Adjusted Price into effect would entail the regulation of the .entire national economy, and, short of proletarian revolution, this could only be attempted by a dictatorship of monopoly capital. Credit could only be successfully socialised, however, after all the instruments of production had been socialized.

In the Draft Scheme for Scotland, Douglas proposed to reduce all wages in organized industries twenty-five percent, to deprive the membership of any trade union violating a wage agreement of the National Dividend, and to compel every worker to remain at his present trade for five years after the initiation of the scheme on penalty of losing his dividend. The National Dividend is supposed to compensate the worker for this loss of wages, freedom, and the right to strike.  Social Credit is radical in form and reactionary in substance. Its propaganda panders to all the confused  pseudo-socialists covering for their outspoken hatred of finance capital. The Douglasites walk with their heads in the clouds, filled with rosy dreams of the future  in which, by their financial feat, there is enough of everything for everybody, God’s in his heaven, and all’s right with their world. Social Credit propaganda has influenced certain sections of the labor movement, who substitute speeches about “holding the the banker’s to account” and the nationalization of the banks of England for a revolution. The bankers won’t flinch from this “onslaught”, but people may be diverted from that which matters more than all else to-day, namely, the struggle to secure the social ownership of the means of production.

Social Credit have ruled two provinces in Canada for a number of years. In New Zealand they had a number of MPs. In both countries they  proved themselves to be loyal servants of the ruling class and ardent defenders of the capitalist system.