Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Old Mr. Capitalism (1977)

A Short Story from the July 1977 issue of the Socialist Standard

Poor old Mr. Capitalism. He was in a very bad way indeed. Pains all over his body, from head to toe. He put on his hat and coat and decided yet again to see his doctor.

Poor old Mr. Capitalism. He could hardly walk, dragging his feet along as though each step were his last, and causing many a sympathetic eye to glance knowingly in his direction. After all, he had been around a very long time. Too long, he had heard some say—sometimes discreetly, sometimes openly for all to hear.

"Not you again, Mr. Capitalism," the doctor shrieked, and rose from behind his desk to help the wheezing old man into a chair.

"I'm afraid so, doctor," Mr. Capitalism sighed. "I've been having those same old pains again. All over me they are. I just can't get rid of them."

"Take a breath and tell me all about the,," the doctor said. So poor old Mr. Capitalism gathered as much strength as he could muster and poured forth his troubles.

"Well, to start with," he began, "I've got those Conservative pains in my  . . . you know, doctor . . . "


"Yes, that's right. I've tried everything. Exercise, hot flannel, the lot, but they're always there—as though they sort of like me the way I am, old and decrepit. It's hard to explain really. All I can say is that they're nothing but a pain in the  . . . the  . . . "

"Ar . . . posteria?"

"Yes, that's right. Then there's those Labour pains I get in my stomach. If I wasn't a man I'd swear it was  . . .  They double me up at times. It's a queer sensation. I get the feeling they're trying to change my basic metabolism—you don't mind me saying that, do you? trying to change the way i walk and things like that. Yet fundamentally they're just the same as the Conservative pains in my  . . . my . . . "

"Go on," urged the doctor impatiently, getting a little tired of the same old complaints. "What else is the matter with you?"

"Well there's this other pain, the one in my neck. You called it the Liberal pain, I think. I get it when I'm undecided, you know, like when I can't make up my mind. It's as though it doesn't quite know whether it wants to be a Conservative pain or a Labour one, if you can see what I'm driving at? Then there's the same old CP ailment, those red rashes that keep appearing at odd places on the surface of my body."

"You've been sleeping under the bed again, haven't you?" the doctor said chastisingly. "What have I told you about the little bugs that dwell under mattresses and on bedroom carpets?"

"I know, doctor, but sometimes I get to thinking that perhaps if I sleep that way my other pains will disappear and I'll only have to worry about the rashes."

"Rubbish. I've told you before that they're really no different, and will give you exactly the same suffering."

"I know," old Mr. Capitalism acceded with a groan. "But I've tried everything else, haven't I? I took those reform pills you gave me but the relief only lasted for a very short while. It hardly seemed worthwhile taking them. Then there was the anti-inflation medicine and the wage-policy drug. Even the TUC capsules didn't make a scrap of difference. I don't know what's going to become of me, doctor. What kind of future has a man in my position got to look forward to?"

He left, and the doctor shook his head. "Poor old fellow, he's not long for this world." He rang the bell and asked: "Where's my next patient, nurse?" 

"There aren't any," she said.

"No patients! Nobody ill! What's happened?" said the doctor.

"A new crowd moved into the neighbourhood today", said the nurse. "They say they don't need any pills or potions, and the've got a big van waiting to—"she whispered in his ear.

"Bury Mr. Capitalism! He's not dead yet."

"As good as," said the nurse." I'm thinking of helping them actually. They're re-naming their house 'Socialism'."

"I'll come with you," said the doctor. "Old Mr. Capitalism was as much as I could stand."
Paul Breeze

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Hot Potatoes or Cold Tatties?

According to scientific surveys in Switzerland, 300 kg of perfectly good food ends up in the bin per person each year. However, this number encompasses the entire shopping basket, from yoghurt to drinkable leftover wine and two-day-old bread. From this basket, scientists have now identified one product that is discarded disproportionately often: the potato. On the way from field to fork, more than half of the potato harvest is lost. Until now, precise figures on potato waste were only available from England, where around two thirds of potatoes end up in the bin. However, researchers says that these figures cannot be compared with the situation in Switzerland.

The study breaks down the losses of this staple food along the entire supply chain. Losses occur at all stages of the supply chain: up to a quarter of the table potato harvest falls by the wayside even at the producer stage. A further 12 to 24 percent are rejected by wholesalers during sorting. Just one to three percent fall between the cracks at retailers, and a further 15 percent are wasted in households. Although private households account for a relatively small proportion of potato waste, Willersinn says their contribution has the most impact: in private homes, most of the unused potatoes end up in the bin bag or on the compost heap. Producers, traders and processors, on the other hand, recycle the vast majority of waste into animal fodder or, to a lesser extent, into feedstock for biogas plants.

"Overall, potato waste is also very high in Switzerland," From the field to the home, 53 percent of conventionally produced table potatoes are wasted, and this figure rises to 55 percent for those produced organically. For processing potatoes, the figures are lower: 41 percent of organic potatoes are discarded, compared to 46 percent of those from conventional production. The higher waste proportion for conventionally farmed processing potatoes is connected to the overproduction of this crop, which barely ever occurs with organic farming. Waste is greater for organically farmed table potatoes because these fail to satisfy the high quality standards more often than conventional ones. "After all, consumers have the same expectations of quality and appearance for organic production as they do for conventional."

The blame lies primarily with consumers' high quality standards, especially when it comes to fresh potatoes. This accounts for two thirds of the waste in respect of fresh potatoes from conventional farming. For organic potatoes, this figure rises to three quarters. Misshapen or deformed potatoes would be edible butare fed to animals for aesthetic reasons.


Saturday, October 17, 2015

The Afghan Lie

Afghanistan is America’s longest war and it is a war that by every measure has been a failure, especially for the people of Afghanistan. One in three Afghans lives in absolute poverty. Half the urban population doesn’t have access to safe water. So, America's longest occupation has done nothing for the people of Afghanistan, and that is why there is no security.

The number of US troops will be reduced from 10,000 to 5,500 by 2017. Obama makes no mention of there now more than 30,000 US paid contractors in Afghanistan. That’s huge and it’s much larger:  the contractors used to be of equal number to the troops - now there are three times as many.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Proper Charlies (video)

Post Office woes at it goes

 Workers are decrying the demise of "one of the great inventions of our social history," after the British government announced on Monday that it was completing the privatization of the UK's state-run mail service by selling off its final 14 percent stake.

The Communications Workers Union (CWU) issued a statementsaying the privatization underscores the Tory party's commitment to austerity "ideology" over the interests of the British people.
"This fire sale nails the lie that the Tories stand up for the interests of ordinary people," said CWU general secretary Dave Ward. "By their actions today they have made it abundantly clear that they are only interested in privatization dogma and making the rich richer—even when their actions place public services at risk."

Sadly throughout my time as a postal worker, the union failed to offer an alternative to all the various versions of state-ownership that Royal Mail had experienced. No thought was ever given to one of its earliest postions that it should be follow the proposals of GDH Cole to create a Guild Socialist model of organization. 

Friday, October 09, 2015

Gone fishin'

According to FAO, about one billion people – largely in developing countries – rely on fish as their primary source of animal protein. And in 2010, “fish provided more than 2.9 billion people with almost 20 percent of their intake of animal protein, and 4.3 billion people with about 15 percent of such protein.” And in some countries, especially small island states, fish accounts for over 25 percent of animal protein intake, the U.N. agency reports. 12 percent of the global population – or 875,000,000 people – depend directly or indirectly on fishing and aquaculture.

Nearly one-third of the world’s fish stocks are over-fished. Around eight million tons of plastic bottles, bags, toys and other plastic waste is dumped into the oceans every year, killing innumerable marine animals and sea birds.


Food cannot be pushed aside or forgotten for more than a few hours. Food is political. We make laws about what children should be served at school, how animals should be raised, what crops should be grown and what foodstuffs imported and exported. Food, and especially the lack of it, has been a major force in history, sparking wars, revolutions, migration, invention and technology. Socialists say we can do better. We can fix all the problems.

In 2006 a report from the UN’s Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) threw the climate change effects of farming into the spotlight. It claimed that the meat and dairy industries are responsible for more greenhouse gases than the whole transport sector. The majority of ensuing studies have only considered emissions released directly through farming. Yet when supporting industries such as transport, packaging and retail are included, agriculture is responsible for around half of total human-made emissions, not to mention other ecological degradation such as water scarcity and biodiversity loss. Farming itself is also a victim of climate change, as shifting temperatures adversely affect farming conditions and crop yields, particularly in the global south. Despite the severity of the situation and although food security is stated as a core objective of the UN climate negotiations, agriculture is still off the agenda at COP21 in Paris this December.

Industrial agriculture is at the heart of social and ecological costs of farming and integral to this are monocultures. These vast areas of production of one type of crop entail systematic deforestation and require machinery, fertilizers and pesticides which are highly reliant on fossil fuels. As more and more crops are cultivated for agrofuels, the interrelationship between big agriculture and energy firms is increasing and fields are viewed more like oil wells than as places of food production.

These harmful effects are intensified with meat and dairy production, which requires huge amounts of grain feed and bring belching cattle into the equation, which accounts for a huge chunk of direct emissions. This problem has deepened over the last fifty years with the increasing “meatification” of diets. The situation is only likely to worse. National states and agribusiness have been key drivers of increases in meat production and industrial farming. For example, the swing towards meat and dairy consumption in the twentieth century is directly related to the search for a market for the vast grain surpluses produced by U.S. farmers. Expanding measures to open up markets to free trade and private investment, such as the G8’s recent New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition, also illustrate how corporations, facilitated by the state, are responsible for the intensification of industrial agriculture.

Researchers, including the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, are confident that traditional or smallholder production can help to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions while increasing food security. For example, a recent report from Global Justice Now found that the Soils, Food and Healthy Communities Project, a participatory agriculture and nutrition program in northern Malawi, has succeeded in improving child health, crop diversity and food security through sustainable agriculture techniques. And mitigation practices from indigenous communities also have adaptation effects according to a group of scientists and small-scale farmers that met last year at the Lima climate talks. Their voices are likely to remain systematically ignored in the negotiations in favor of business lobbyists.

Thursday, October 01, 2015

The Lincoln Myth

Most Americans believe that the Civil War was fought over slavery and that emancipating the slaves was its primary purpose. Yet Lincoln in his clearest statement on the subject was made in his debate with Senator Stephen Douglas in 1858, in Ottawa, Illinois.

“I have no purpose to introduce political and social equality between the white and black races. There is a physical difference between the two, which, in my judgment, will probably forever forbid their living together upon the footing of perfect equality; and inasmuch as it becomes a necessity that there must be a difference, I, as well as Judge Douglas, am in favor of the race to which I belong having the superior position. I have never said anything to the contrary.”

Lincoln supported the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, according to which runaway slaves were to be captured and returned to their owners. Slaves were property and slaves’ owners had the right to claim their property. Owning slaves was a right guaranteed by the Constitution. “I acknowledge them [the slave owner’s rights], not grudgingly but fully and fairly; and I would give them any legislation for the reclaiming of their fugitives.” The Fugitive Slave Act was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court and the supreme courts of every northern state. As late as 1860 none of the four parties fielding presidential candidates favored abolition of Southern slavery. Lincoln, himself, was clear on the matter, “My paramount object in this struggle [the Civil War] is to save the Union, and is not either to save or to destroy slavery.”

Blacks in the North were discriminated against just as they were to be once liberated in the South. As Alexis de Tocqueville observes, “the prejudice of race appears to be stronger in the states that have abolished slavery than in those where it still exists …” Lincoln opposed black immigration into his state and supported the laws that denied blacks citizenship. According to Lincoln, freed blacks should be sent back to where they came from: Africa, Haiti, Central America. Eliminating every last black person from American soil would be a “glorious consummation.”

On January 22, 1861, the New York Times announced that it was opposed to the abolition of slavery. Blacks should be taught to read and write and save money, making slavery “a very tolerable institution.” The New York Herald speaks of “the good treatment and happy, contented lot of the slaves.”

Both Henry J. Raymond, editor of the New York Times and Horace Greeley, editor of the New York Tribune favored peaceful secession. Said Greeley, “We hope never to live in a republic whereof one section is pinned to the residue by bayonets.”

Says Lincoln:
“Any people anywhere, being inclined and having the power have the right to rise up and shake off the existing government, and form a new one that suits them better…. Nor is the right confined to cases in which the whole people of an existing government may choose to exercise it. Any portion of such people that can may revolutionize and make their own of so much territory as they inhabit:

But he is talking about the right of Texans to rebel against the Mexico. Isn’t that what the Confederacy did?

But don’t forget the Emancipation Proclamation. Lincoln liberated the slaves. 

Yet in the words of William Seward, Lincoln’s own Secretary of State, “We show our sympathy with slavery by emancipating slaves where we cannot reach them and holding them in bondage where we can set them free.” Seward is referring to the fact that the “Emancipation” was selective in its application, not universal. Slaves living under the Confederacy, that part of the country at war with Lincoln, were “liberated,” in quotes because there was little or nothing that Lincoln could do to actually set those slaves free. However, those states or parts of states that were loyal to the Union or under Union control were exempt from “Emancipation.” Slave owners in those states were free to continue to enjoy the benefits of their human property. As observed in the London Spectator, at the time, “The principle [of the Proclamation] is not that a human being cannot justly own another, but that he cannot own him unless he is loyal to the United States.”

Why would Lincoln have done such a thing if he were truly concerned with the suffering of slaves? Lincoln was up for re-election in 1864, he did not want to alienate allies by depriving them of a benefit. The “Proclamation” did not grant full citizenship to the ex-slaves (called freedmen). But, “such persons of suitable condition, will be received into the armed service of the United States to garrison forts, positions, stations, and other places, and to man vessels of all sorts in said service.” In other words, blacks who found their way to freedom could offer up their bodies to fight in Lincoln’s war.