Friday, April 25, 2014

Our Task

In the next 30 to 40 years, we must make significant progress toward solving one of the world’s grand challenges by providing a safe, affordable, nutritious food supply for a growing population. It is estimated the earth will have 9 billion people by the year 2050. Even today, almost 1 billion of the 7 billion inhabitants are malnourished. Global climate change could make the situation even more dire.

Specifically, food production will have to increase 60 percent to 100 percent as population grows and people in developing countries consume more meat and dairy products. (It takes a lot of acres to rear life-stock.)

It is likely that new acres won’t be as productive, so we’ll need to raise yields on the land we have. Otherwise, there won’t be very much wild habitat left for future generations.

A recent study by the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) says, “As experts have been suspecting for a while, people’s diets around the world have become very similar and in the past 50 years the world has come to rely increasingly on just a few crops for most of its food supplies.”   While rice remains a top cereal, people in several countries are increasingly moving from rice to a wheat and meat-based diet due to changing lifestyles and economic growth. According to the CIAT study, many local crops that used to be important in Africa or Asia such as sorghum, millet, rye, sweet potato, cassava, and yam are being eaten less and less;the same could be said of rice as is seen in Japan, South Korea and several other Asian countries. Some major crops like soybeans and corn are mostly used for animal feed and energy production, a trend blamed on urbanization and economic development.  

Globalized food poses several health risks, but the real danger of relying upon just a few crops increases the risk of food crises. Similar to the concept of portfolio diversification in finance, a diversified agriculture is more resilient to major threats like drought, insect pests, and diseases, all expected to worsen with climate change. And can we rule out a food crisis due to war, or war due to a food crisis?

Prior to globalization, the risk was a local crop failure could endanger the lives of local people and trade was much more cumbersome and expensive.  Now, relatively speaking, many consumers have the world at their fingertips but the vulnerability of the food system has become global.  We take it for granted that we can go order a pizza because the restaurant assumes it can buy flour, and the flour mill is betting on a good wheat crop…on the other side of the world.

The socialists task is to feed the world and  protect the planet

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Socialism in the Euro-Elections

Open the Borders

Willie fort

The influx of eastern Europeans is nothing new to the labour movement, particularly in Scotland. Upon reading “class-struggle trade unionist” Willie Hunter’s letter, what struck me was the absence of a class response, and particularly a trade union one, to foreign workers. Instead there is an expectation that the capitalist state will protect the ‘privileges’ of the native-born worker.

At the beginning of the 20th century in Lanarkshire, there was much vitriol against Lithuanian incomers. They were employed in the iron works and the coal pits, and they too were accused of wage-cutting and scabbing. Nevertheless, the Lanarkshire County Miners’ Union, in the space of some 15 years, went from offering support to miners willing to strike against Lithuanian workers to demanding that Lithuanian miners in Lanarkshire should not be deported. During those 15 years, the Lithuanians had joined the union in large numbers and were active in it. Unionisation was the key to improved relations between the Lithuanian labour force and the LCMU.

Once the Lithuanians began to respond positively to local strike demands, the other allegations made against them were simply not an issue. The adoption of a more class-conscious attitude and the strength of their new found loyalty to the union was in part due to the fact that the union had taken some very positive steps to encourage Lithuanian membership, such as printing the rules in Lithuanian and offering entitlement to claim full benefits.

I suggest Willie refreshes his class-struggle credentials with a read of A voice from the aliens from 1895 and one of the earliest appeals against immigration controls (

Yes, Willie, we are worlds apart. Fear-mongering and divisive politics play well in creating more xenophobia and it has a long history, as I have shown. But those who fall for the propaganda should know that keeping out immigrants with a ‘fortress Britain’ (or a ‘fortress Europe’) has not and will not solve our problems and make us better off.

Alan Johnstone
Socialist Party of Great Britain


I cannot escape the conclusion that there exists a nasty xenophobic undertone to Dave Vincent’s reply (Letters, March 13).

First, has Dave never heard of the Irish immigration to Scotland and in particular to the Lanarkshire coal pits? So the Lithuanians were indeed not the only immigrant population used as cheaper labour by the bosses. Indeed many encouraged the division and the bitter consequences are still felt today every time an Orange Walk takes place locally.

But, that aside, he writes: “[Lithuanians] joined unions in their own defence” (my emphasis). How’s that for a jaundiced interpretation? The local union sought them out to join for everybody’s mutual defence, Dave. He then goes on to claim that “many foreign workers coming here readily line up with the employers and Tories by denigrating the British unemployed as lazy and workshy”. Perhaps some do, but I hazard to guess that they are heavily outnumbered by native-born who are just as ready to point the finger at those on the so-called ‘Benefit Streets’ as shirkers.

Many years ago I would hear seasoned trade unionists justify pay differentials between women and male workers by claiming they worked only for pin-money and stole jobs from those who had families to raise. Dave’s argument proves to be little different from those against these earlier ‘interlopers’ into the labour market.

The plea that immigration controls should be imposed and certain foreigners excluded should have no place in a workers’ movement that is calling upon the exploited of all the world to unite for their emancipation. Any policy for the exclusion of other suffering wage-slaves is more consistent with the attitudes of the callous capitalist class rather than of the movement whose proud boast it is that it stands uncompromisingly for the oppressed and downtrodden of all the world. Immigrants have just as good a right to enter this country as British workers have in exiting it.

The Socialist Party of Great Britain will not sacrifice principle and jeopardise our goal for some immediate advantage. We will not spurn fellow workers lured here by the glimmer of hope that their burdens may be lightened by the promise of some improvement in conditions. If revolutionary socialism does not stand unflinchingly and uncompromisingly for the working class and for the exploited of all lands, then it stands for none and its claim is a false pretence.

If the Socialist Party risk losing support because we refuse to call for the border gates to be closed in the faces of our own brothers and sisters, we will be none the weaker for spurning such tactics to acquire false friends. All the votes gained would do us little good if our party ceases to be a revolutionary party, yielding to public opinion to modify our principles for the sake of popularity and membership numbers.

In the centenary year of when other supposed socialists abandoned the workers’ internationalism and embraced national chauvinism - with one group under HM Hyndman going as far to demonstrate their patriotic ardour by setting up a National ‘Socialist’ Party - we in the Socialist Party are the party of all workers, regardless of place of birth. We stand resolutely for world socialism and if this is too encompassing for some despite them paying lip-service to the claim - so be it. We shall leave them to their various national ‘socialisms’.

“Marx didn’t advocate open borders because at the time he wrote border controls didn’t exist. So no-one can definitively assert what he would have said then!” True enough (and fortunately for him nor was there any asylum-seekers legislation for political refugees), but Eleanor, his daughter, was particularly active in distributing the statement, “The voice of the aliens’, which I recommended as a read.

I will end with a quote from it: “To punish the alien worker for the sin of the native capitalist is like the man who struck the boy because he was not strong enough to strike his father.”

Alan Johnstone
Socialist Party of Great Britain

Same evils

I’m pleased that many correspondents also disagree with Dave Vincent that the nation-state is a necessary evil (Letters, March 27). It has been asked what Marx would have done. We can easily answer by describing what the First International, of which he was a member, did. They organised!

The International announced that “the emancipation of labour is neither a local nor a national, but a social problem, embracing all countries” and that “Each member of the International Association, on removing his domicile from one country to another, will receive the fraternal support of the Associated Working Men”. Furthermore, “To counteract the intrigues of capitalists - always ready, in cases of strikes and lockouts, to misuse the foreign workman as a tool against the native workman - is one of the particular functions which our society has hitherto performed with success. It is one of the great purposes of the Association to make the workmen of different countries not only feel but act as brethren and comrades in the army of emancipation.”

The International consequently addressed fellow workers: “Help us, then, in the noble enterprise, help us to bring about a common understanding between the peoples of all countries, so that in the struggles of labour with unprincipled capitalists they may not be able to execute the threat which they so often indulge in, of using the working men of one country as instruments to defeat the just demands of the workmen in another. This has been done in the past, and seeds of discord and national antipathies have been thereby created and perpetuated. A part of our mission is to prevent the recurrence of such evils, and you can help us to achieve our aims.”

Marx, in the name of the International, writes: “If the Edinburgh masters succeeded, through the import of German labour, in nullifying the concessions they had already made, it would inevitably lead to repercussions in England. No-one would suffer more than the German workers themselves, who constitute in Great Britain a larger number than the workers of all the other continental nations. And the newly imported workers, being completely helpless in a strange land, would soon sink to the level of pariahs. Furthermore, it is a point of honour with the German workers to prove to other countries that they, like their brothers in France, Belgium and Switzerland, know how to defend the common interests of their class and will not become obedient mercenaries of capital in its struggle against labour.”

There is never an appeal to the capitalist state to impose immigration laws, but a call to the workers to unionise.

Borders are a means by which capitalists protect their assets, which include us. It is immigration controls that give employers greater power over migrants, particularly new arrivals or those who are dependent on them for their visa status, a power they do not always have over native workers. Nationalism is a huge barrier to developing class-consciousness. Borders cause workers in countries to care less about the other workers in the world. Across the world, national states are imposing ever more restrictive immigration policies. Nevertheless, people have become more internationalised and are acquiring a cosmopolitan identity.

Making the demand, ‘No borders’, reveals the importance of border controls to capitalist social relations - relationships dependent on the practices of expropriation and exploitation. The rights of property consist of the right to exclude others, while anti-nationalism is a part of a global reshaping of societies in a way that is not compatible with capitalism or of the state. Socialists must reject the concept of borders that are used as control devices over labour. By opposing the idea of borders we begin to perceive nation-states as ‘theirs’ and not part of ‘our world’.

I’ll end with another quote from the First International: “The poor have no country; in all lands they suffer from the same evils; and they therefore realise that the barriers put up by the powers that be, the more thoroughly to enslave the people, must fall.”

Alan Johnstone

First here

Firstly, if I recollect correctly, nobody in this exchange about immigration has tried to deny that supply and demand has an effect on the price of labour - which is a commodity, after all, to be bought and sold on the market.

Stephen Diamond (Letters, April 10) refers to Peter Turchin, who gives us a history lesson, in that the Black Death killed half of the population and consequently real wages tripled. Turchin also refers to high birth rates in the past as an additional cause of an increase in labour supply. Surely Stephen Diamond is not suggesting enforced eugenics as a means of protecting our living standards.

Likewise I previously mentioned in passing that the entry of women into the labour market lowered wages. In the US the demands for job equality of African Americans also had its own effect in slowing down wages. Should the labour movement have supported discrimination on the grounds of sex and race? Or shall we allot blame to those older workers who insist upon staying in their jobs, while youth unemployment soars? After all, young people do not possess the sort of savings, paid-off mortgage or upcoming pension that the elderly allegedly enjoy, do they? Let’s be ageist in our search for scapegoats.

It is often pointed out that immigration rules are largely in the interests of businesses - they let in workers from low-wage countries so they can be more easily exploited and used to drive down the wage levels of the locals. But we must realise that the only way to change this would be through a powerful working class movement which had the ability to force change upon the government. And if this were the case, then it could also force change on the concrete material issues which migration impacts on (low wages, less jobs to go around, lack of affordable housing) - and, of course, a united working class is much more effective at fighting for its own interests, as opposed to one divided along national/racial/citizenship lines. So we are more likely to actually achieve something by being internationalist in regards to immigration.

The reasonable-sounding position that ‘There’s not enough to go around for everyone, so what we have should be kept solely for those first here’ is totally antithetical to a socialist perspective. A truly working class perspective leads us to resent not each other, but what causes the shortages of resources in the first place.

Migration, for sure, generates a lot of problems, but what is the alternative? Any attempt to simply curtail it leads to a lot of suffering and plenty of draconian policies. From a working class perspective, workers from another country are not qualitatively different from workers from another gender, younger workers or workers from a different area of the same country. We are socialists for one reason only - to remove the root cause of our social problems: capitalism. The solution doesn’t lie in withdrawing into these sectional interests of (simplistically put) ‘First here, first served’.

Alan Johnstone
Socialist Party of Great Britain

From an exchange on the Weekly Worker Letter Page 

Saturday, April 19, 2014

India Votes

India’s elections promise business as usual for the country’s wealthy and ongoing grinding poverty for its most poor of poor.

 As of 2010, some 68.8 per cent of the population lived on less than $2 per day and 32.7 per cent lived on less than $1.25 per day. That amounts to nearly 400 million people still living below the World Bank’s poverty line. To put that figure in perspective, it’s a third of the whole World’s extremely poor.  This poverty persists despite the fact that India registered an average annual GDP growth rate of 6.5 per cent from 1990 to 2010. As in many Western countries over the last 20 years, is that a disproportionate share of the gains from this economic growth has gone to the very wealthiest. Just 100 of the richest Indians are worth a staggering US$ 250 billion.

In the 2009 general election, the Left Front – comprised of the two main Communist parties and a number of smaller left of center parties – had its worst performance since independence in 1947. From an average of 45 seats in the Parliament over the previous 13 general elections, in 2009 it obtained only 24. In 2010, the country’s last two explicitly left-wing state governments, in Kerala and West Bengal, fell. Pre-election polls suggest it is unlikely that the left will reverse the decline in the present elections.  Their mantle has been taken over by the other parties making up the Third Front. They include the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), known for its anti-corruption stance; the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), the lower caste party of Mayawati in Uttar Pradesh; and the Trinamool Congress and the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIDMK), the regional parties of Mamata Banarjee in West Bengal and Jayalalitha in Tamil Nadu respectively. These parties do not, individually or collectively, have a coherent policy agenda that would address India’s need for inequality-reducing economic development. Even the AAP, more a party of the upwardly mobile middle class than of the poor, hardly promises to challenge the growing privatisation of India’s public wealth.

The long-accepted wisdom that in the long run economic growth decreased inequality is now discredited. There is no reason to expect that inequality will decline simply as a result of market forces.

taken from here

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

Evolving Humans

Humans will evolve in 1,000 years into giants between 6ft and 7ft tall, he predicts, while life-spans will have extended to 120 years, Dr Curry claims.

Physical appearance, driven by indicators of health, youth and fertility, will improve, he says, while men will exhibit symmetrical facial features, look athletic, and have squarer jaws, deeper voices and bigger penises.

Women, on the other hand, will develop lighter, smooth, hairless skin, large clear eyes, pert breasts, glossy hair, and even features, he adds. Racial differences will be ironed out by interbreeding, producing a uniform race of coffee-coloured people.

 In 10,000 years time humans may have paid a genetic price for relying on technology. Spoiled by gadgets designed to meet their every need, they could come to resemble domesticated animals. Social skills, such as communicating and interacting with others, could be lost, along with emotions such as love, sympathy, trust and respect. People would become less able to care for others, or perform in teams. Physically, they would start to appear more juvenile. Chins would recede, as a result of having to chew less on processed food. There could also be health problems caused by reliance on medicine, resulting in weak immune systems. Preventing deaths would also help to preserve the genetic defects that cause cancer.

 In 100,000 years' time people would become choosier about their sexual partners, causing humanity to divide into sub-species. The descendants of the genetic upper class would be tall, slim, healthy, attractive, intelligent, and creative and a far cry from the "underclass" humans who would have evolved into dim-witted, ugly, squat goblin-like creatures.

Thursday, April 03, 2014

Doomed !!

Over the Earth’s history, about 99.9 per cent of all species to emerge have gone extinct. Many humans, however, cherish a notion that this doesn’t apply to us. Typically, species survive for about 10 million years before they succumb, exceptions being sharks (420 million years), jellyfish (550 million years) and algae (2+ billion years).

To-day prominent figures warn of the possibility of human extinction as a result of man-made climate change. How could it come about that a species so intelligent, flexible and well-equipped could potentially destroy itself? But extinction theory doesn’t depend entirely on climate change, at least in the first instance; rather, it depends on human behaviour and our responses.

The idea that man-made carbon emissions could trigger catastrophic global warming is based on two particular facts:
1. The fact that it has happened before, about 50 million years ago during an event called the Palaeocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum, PETM for short, when the  Earth’s temperature increased by at least 5 degrees, and possibly as much as 9 or 10 degrees. This lasted about 200,000 years. The icecaps vanished, the oceans warmed as high as 35 degrees, corals almost disappeared. PETM was probably driven or accelerated by a vast release of seabed methane – a greenhouse gas more than 20 times more potent than CO2. Although PETM caused a severe setback to life in general, it wasn’t as bad as the KT extinction which occurred about 10 million years earlier and removed the dinosaurs.
2. The fact that there are vast stores of methane in the Arctic permafrost and as frozen gas deposits on the sea bed, known as clathrates or gas hydrates. These are basically the accumulated detritus from billions of years of decomposition of dead organisms – plants, animals and algae. Clathrate deposits are estimated at between 500-2400 billion tonnes of methane – or around three times the size of the planet’s estimated natural gas reserves. On top of these are tundra methane deposits estimated at 1500 billion tonnes. Together these two immense sources of carbon could boot global temperatures up by 5-10 degrees if they melt as a result of man-made warming of the Arctic and shallow seas around the continents.

What happens next is somewhat speculative, because it depends on incalculable factors in the Earth’s system – and in the human character. The issue is whether such large increases in global temperatures in turn trigger further irreversible feedbacks, releasing yet more greenhouse gases, in an episode known as runaway global warming. For example, the oceans begin to evaporate more rapidly and water vapour, being another greenhouse gas, accelerates warming.
The current scientific worst case scenario here is an increase in global temperatures of about 16 degrees, which would render much of the planet uninhabitable by humans and eliminate agricultural food production. Such a scenario might not spell extinction however – Siberia, the Canadian north and Antarctica might remain habitable for survivors using advanced technologies to produce food.

However our own behaviour is liable to be a far more immediate determinant of human survival or extinction. Above two degrees – which we have already locked in – the world’s food harvest is going to become increasingly unreliable, as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warned this week. That means mid-century famines in places like India, China, the Middle East and Africa. But what scientists cannot predict is how humans living in the tropics and subtropics will respond to this form of stress. So let us turn to the strategic and military think tanks, who like to explore such scenarios, instead.

The Age of Consequences study by the US Centre for Strategic and International Studies says that under a 2.6 degree rise “nations around the world will be overwhelmed by the scale of change and pernicious challenges, such as pandemic disease. The internal cohesion of nations will be under great stress…as a result of a dramatic rise in migration and changes in agricultural patterns and water availability. The flooding of coastal communities around the world… has the potential to challenge regional and even national identities. Armed conflict between nations over resources… is likely and nuclear war is possible. The social consequences range from increased religious fervour to outright chaos.” Of five degrees – which the world is on course for by 2100 if present carbon emissions continue – it simply says the consequences are "inconceivable".

Eighteen nations currently have nuclear weapons technology or access to it, raising the stakes on nuclear conflict to the highest level since the end of the Cold War. At the same time, with more than 4 billion people living in the world’s most vulnerable regions, scope for refugee tsunamis and pandemic disease is also large. It is on the basis of scenarios such as these that scientists like Peter Schellnhuber – science advisor to German President Angela Merkel – and Canadian author Gwynne Dyer have warned of the potential loss of most of the human population in the conflicts, famines and pandemics spinning out of climate impacts. Whether that adds up to extinction or not rather depends on how many of the world’s 20,000 nukes are let off in the process. These issues all involve assumptions about human, national and religious behaviour and are thus beyond the remit of scientific bodies like the IPCC, which can only hint at what they truly think will happen. So you are not getting the full picture from them.

However in a classic case of improvident human behaviour, a global energy stampede is taking place as oil, gas, coal, tar sands and other miners (who, being technical folk, understand quite clearly what they are doing to the planet) rush to release as much carbon as possible as profitably as possible before society takes the inevitable decision to ban it altogether. Thanks to them, humanity isn’t sleep-walking to disaster so much as racing headlong to embrace it. Do the rest of us have the foresight, and the guts, to stop them? Our ultimate survival will be predicated entirely on our behaviour – not only on how well we adapt to unavoidable change, but also how quickly we apply the brakes.