Posts Tagged ‘Capitalism’

Whenever the media open their mouth about Greece, behind the cookie-cuttered cliches (“exploiting public anger at austerity”, “police attacked during demonstrations”) there are several criticisms of Syriza’s plans that come out – criticisms that say a lot more than the critics intended.

Here they are, in a nutshell. Please comment below if there are any I’ve missed.

According to the mainstream media:

– Syriza shouldn’t tax the rich, because then the rich will just take their money out of the country.

– Syriza shouldn’t seek debt write-offs, because then they’ll be kicked out of the Euro.

– Syriza shouldn’t reverse the massive attacks on workers’ rights, pay and conditions over the past few years, because then employers will stop investing.

– Syriza shouldn’t undertake any radical measures at all, because that will scare investors and rattle the markets.

All these criticisms can be summed up as follows:

If Syriza acts in the interests of working-class people, then rich people will take revenge by doing unspeakably anti-social things. 

So, taken together, these criticisms and dire warnings make up the most sharp and devastating exposure of the capitalist system that we can put into words. There is a tiny percentage of humanity that holds too much power: the capitalist class (AKA “investors”, “markets”, “employers”, “world leaders”, “the wealthy”). This class, this powerful minority, will sabotage justice if justice interferes with profit.

So their “criticisms” of Syriza’s “radical”, “reckless” and “irresponsible” policies actually expose the injustice and irrationality of the whole system we live under. Far from being “reckless”, aren’t Syriza being a little too soft in trying to make accommodations with this system?

Instead of trying to find common ground with this anti-social robber class, Syriza should be trying to find common ground with working-class people across Europe, and with the maximum number of working- and middle-class people in Greece. Instead of basing themselves on what the the rich are willing to concede, the bottom line should be what the Greek people need. Yes, even though that goes beyond the limits of the capitalist system.

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With over 400,000 people hitting the streets of New York and marching for climate justice, with resistance to the Keystone XL pipeline, with Naomi Klein’s book This Changes Everything hitting the shelves, with this blogger finally getting a free Sunday morning away from the assembly line, it’s a good time me to write an article that I’ve wanted to write for some time, a furious review of a terrible book. It’s also the first long-ish article I’ve written in a long time, so put on the kettle, sit back and relax.

People's Climate March New York

The book is 10 Billion by Stephen Emmott (Penguin 2013). It is basically a long essay that manages to take up a whole book by having a strange format that leaves a lot of blank space on each page. It also makes what Emmott is saying seem more vehement, clear and serious. Like this:

DSCF0773

Another benefit of this strange format revealed itself to me as I read.

Though if you care to read it, the above page might seem innocent and informative, the book as a whole is absolutely infuriating. Emmott, a computational scientist who knows a lot about the climate and the economy, leads a lab at Cambridge, etc, has huge and astonishing blind spots. As I read on and on I found I couldn’t stand it; I couldn’t leave his stupid statements unanswered anymore, and I started reading it with a pen in my hand, scribbling furiously in the wide, empty spaces of the book. Like this:

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First, the good points of the book. It contains a large amount of information that makes it abundantly clear how unsustainable human society is right now. Emmott doesn’t just talk about climate change or greenhouse gases, though he does deal with these in some detail. He talks about the unsustainability of land use, food production and water supplies, of a world economy in which hundreds of millions of shipping containers travel around the world zig-zagging between cheap labour and rich consumers, polluting the earth, the skies and the seas. It also contains powerful pictures, like this:

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It looks like hell in some old painting, but it’s actually a burning tyre yard like the one in The Simpsons.

The negative aspect of the book, the one that makes it toxic, offensive and anti-human, is suggested by the title. Stephen Emmott believes that there are far too many people in the world. Far too many people, who consume too much land, energy, food and water. He sees absolutely no solution to the problems the Earth faces. The only advice he gives, on the last pages of the book (we are down to one or two sentences per page by now) is as follows: teach your children how to use firearms.

He has made it clear what he means by this: when society collapses and food riots erupt, your children will need to protect themselves from the seething, violent mass of humanity.

He makes it clear that in the book he is only addressing “rich people (like us)”. That is an actual quote. We get to page 185 of a 200-page book before Emmott lets us in on the fact that when he’s been talking about “us” and “we” for the entire book, he’s been talking not about the human race but about “the people who live in the north and west of the globe”. The rest, in his eyes, either don’t read, or don’t count.

An infuriating blind spot: his assumption that everyone in Europe and North America (not to mention Australia and New Zealand) is a “rich person” (like Stephen Emmott). The homeless, the unemployed, the working poor, the low and middle-income workers, in short, the majority of people in “the north and west of the globe” are walking evidence that Emmott in some very important ways doesn’t have a clue what he’s talking about.

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A welfare line in the USA: “Rich people” who live in “the north and west of the globe” who need to “radically” cut their consumption.

Blaming Humanity

He blames the sustainability crisis clearly and squarely on humanity itself: “our cleverness, our inventiveness and our activities are now the drivers of every global problem we face.” In actual fact, the problems he outlines throughout the book are very obviously problems created by private ownership of wealth, by corporations, by neo-liberal governments, not by humanity itself. He doesn’t mention such facts as the following: since the industrial revolution, just 90 companies have been responsible for two-thirds of human-made global warming emissions.

But far more criminally, he points out many facts that are just as interesting, that are just as much a condemnation of the capitalist system and of private corporations; and having pointed these facts out, he then draws the conclusion that humanity is to blame, that our “cleverness” and “ingenuity” are responsible.

Water Use

Let’s start with a small example from page 74. “It takes something like four litres of water to produce a one-litre plastic bottle of water. Last year, in the UK alone, we bought, drank and threw away nine billion plastic water bottles. That is 36 billion litres of water, used completely unnecessarily.”

bottle thumb

How to save these 36 billion litres of water? First you have to grasp the absurdity of private companies selling us bottles of water in the first place. Next think about how we replaced plastic shopping bags with big, sturdy, re-usable shopping bags. Everyone should have a re-usable canteen of water, like the filter-headed Bobble bottles you can buy, which you can replenish at a clean public fountain on every street, or a free tap in every shop or bar or restaurant.

This is a small example of how re-orienting services along collectivist, socialised lines immediately cuts out waste. Of course, it also cuts out a huge slice of private profits for Volvic, Evian, etc. But what’s more important, private profits or maintaining access to water for the human race?

Never once in the book does Emmott consider the possibility of stepping on the toes of corporations, of getting in the way of private profits. Emmott contemplates the collapse of society, he imagines billions of people rioting as they starve to death. He imagines teaching his son how to kill others in order to stay alive. But never once does he even begin to contemplate socialising resources or nationalising industries to cut out waste and re-orientate to sustainable goals.

Let’s move on to a bigger example.

Greenhouse Gases

Emmott is rightly worried about the use of fossil fuels, which as we know contribute to global warming. He laments that Exxon Mobil has just signed a deal with the Russian government worth $500 million for oil and gas exploration in the Kara Sea. He says the British government has issued 197 licenses to drill for oil and gas in the North Sea. He quotes then UK energy minister John Hayes as saying that “The government is taking the right action to offer certainty and confidence to investors.”

offshore-drilling-4

Exxon Mobil and Putin sign a deal to wreck the environment for private profits; a British minister defends a similar move in the North Sea by saying that private corporations need to have “certainty” and “confidence” about their future profits. Corporations and ministers, driven by the private profit motive and the subservience of governments to the rich, all ignoring the scientific certainty that greenhouse gases will wreck the planet, all for a short-term increase in the wealth of a tiny number of people who are already far too rich. Has there ever been a clearer illustration of how capitalism is responsible for the destruction of the environment?

Emmott doesn’t think so. The connection never even seems to occur to him. He never once uses the word “capitalism” in the whole book. The fault, he makes clear many times, lies with us stupid, stupid humans.

3.5 billion under capitalism or 20 billion under socialism

Another massive problem is Emmott’s hang-up about the number of humans who live in the world. He has this really basic, stupid, doltish conception of things that crudely says that (1) more humans equals more consumption, and (2) more consumption equals more destruction.

But it’s obvious that this isn’t true. A community of a hundred people who are well-organised, cooperative and efficient will consume less than a community of fifty that is segregated into different economic units, that is inefficient, that duplicates labour and that does not re-use or recycle. The progress of human history has been in a large part the story of collective and social production methods overcoming petty, wasteful individual economic units.

I scribbled a note on page 117 that wasn’t intended to sound as alarming as it does: “The number of humans is secondary. How these humans are organised and relate to one another is primary. Even if we killed half the human race and enforced a draconian one-child policy, the destruction of the environment would continue if those 3.5 billion people were organised in a capitalist mode of production.”

And of course, on the other side of the same equation, even if there were 20 billion people on the planet, if they were organised in a reasonably harmonious, collective, efficient manner, with a maximum of democracy and a minimum of large-scale private wealth, these 20 billions could live in peace and relative prosperity.

(In such a society, of course, it would be unlikely that the population would reach 20 billion. Greater opportunities for economic advancement would lead to lower birth-rates.)

Emmott devotes some pages to casting about for a technological fix to these crises. He doesn’t entertain the possibility, not for one minute, that the problem is social and economic, and therefore that the solution must be social and economic.

Revolution

The food riots of 2010-2011 he simply describes as “violence and unrest”, more signs of the end times. The fact that this “violence and unrest” led to massive political revolutions is not of interest to Emmott. Our unsustainable economy is already pushing people onto the streets, sparking revolutions and uprisings. Those who took part in the march in New York were largely people from communities effected by climate change and pollution.

Tunisian Revolution, 2010-2011. Sparked largely by high food prices.

Tunisian Revolution, 2010-2011. Sparked largely by high food prices.

These billions of people, these multitudes of humanity, who Emmott sees as the problem, are in fact the solution. Faced with these massive ecological and economic problems, people are not just going to knuckle under and starve. They’re going to seek for an alternative, a democratic, ecological socialist society. Unless Emmott’s children shoot them first.

Tragedy of the commons?

Emmott claims that the destruction of the environment is a “tragedy of the commons”. Paraphrasing The Economist, he says that climate change “is a textbook case of the commons-despoiling tragedy.”

What he means by this is that the environment is like a field owned in common between a bunch of farmers. All of the farmers profit from the field but none wants to fork out money and time to maintain it, each hoping someone else does it. So the field degrades over time and in the end there’s no more field and no more profit.

Does this comparison work? Are the world’s resources owned in common by all the people of the world? No. They are owned primarily by private companies, or sometimes by state-owned companies that operate exactly like private companies. They are motivated in the final analysis by the profit motive, and all destruction of the environment, all damage to the sustainability of human life, is an externality that doesn’t show up on the balance sheet.

Garret Hardin’s theory of the tragedy of the commons is a criticism of the profit motive, and an argument that “rational” self-interest works against the interests of the collective good. The climate crisis is the tragedy of private ownership, the tragedy of the profit motive. It is applicable to the climate crisis in this sense. But not entirely. I see the tragedy, but where are the commons? We are not all farmers exploiting a field on an equal basis. Most of the human race are workers without large-scale property, who have no control over resources or means of production. How can we despoil what we don’t have access to?

Claiming that we’re all “despoiling the commons” places the blame on the species. But our incredibly creative and brilliant species is more than capable of reorganising society to overcome these problems. The will is there and the technology is there. But the means of making this a reality are held in the hands of private individuals, and directed toward private profit.

Capitalism has had twenty-five years to implement the Kyoto protocols, to make some kind of a dent in carbon emissions. But the only dents capitalism has made in carbon emissions have come about accidentally, because of massive economic crises and collapses.

At the same time, the Stalinist countries, the USSR, Eastern Europe etc, had a terrible record in terms of the environment. Maybe this is one of the ways Emmott and those like him justify the fact that they do not even begin to contemplate socialism, or any kind of system change, as a way of guaranteeing sustainability. But this argument doesn’t stand up; the economy in these countries was not managed democratically by the working class, but by a small isolated layer of privileged bureaucrats.

But in the early years after the Russian Revolution, and during other events such as the Spanish Civil War, power has been wielded by elected councils of workers. Industries were run and cities managed in the most democratic – and robustly effective – systems ever devised. This raises the idea of a future in which the economy is run not by profit-hungry capitalists or distant bureaucrats but by the people themselves. Answering not to shareholders but to the people, there would be no “externalities” for these delegates. Discussing problems reasonably and sanely, not each trying to wrestle against everyone else for private profit, issues of sustainability and the environment will become technical, not political, problems.

How do you re-orientate the whole of the economy toward sustainability and eco-friendly production without creating mass unemployment and economic chaos? Under capitalism, we’ve had 25 years since the Kyoto protocols, and the most capitalism has allowed are carbon-trading schemes that became just another financial con-trick. Under socialism, re-training workers and re-equipping workplaces would be just ABC stuff.

Talk of “too many people” and the “tragedy of the commons” is nonsense. Humanity is not in control of the resources of the world. A tiny percentage of humanity is, the capitalist class, those who own and manage large amounts of wealth. When they exploit and damage people in order to maximise profits, there’s a clear comparison to be made with the way they exploit and damage the environment. This means that humanity and the environment are not enemies. They are natural allies against the 1%, against an obsolete and destructive system.

“Is human nature compatible with socialism?”

Usually I say that a question is a good question before I answer it. But this is not a good question. It’s a totally irrelevant one.

The idea behind the question, which I hear often, is that for a socialist society to work human beings would have to be superhumanly selfless and good. It’s a stupid question because socialism is the exact opposite: it’s about creating a society which, in contrast to capitalism, does not demand insanely utopian ideas about human nature, which we will examine below.

I stand back from making any bold pronouncements about “human nature” because that’s something that operates completely differently in different contexts, in different situations. Children brought up by dogs find it very difficult to function among humans. Humans living in, say, Ireland, tend almost universally not to eat one another. Humans on life-rafts, isolated in the ocean, or trapped in plane-wrecks in mountains, often eat their dead or even kill the weakest for food. In famines cannibalism becomes widespread.

The dispossession of the rich and the rational planning of the economy by the people themselves would provide for full employment, shorter working hours, better pay, better services, full access to education at all levels and more democratic participation. This is a new context in which people live out their lives and form their characters. It’s unreasonable to say that it would not produce a different, better human being.

We can generally count on people to want to earn wages and have good consumer products and public services, and to learn as much as possible. Where are the conflicts with human nature? Where does socialism place too great a burden on people’s self-interest?

On the other hand, the shockingly innocent demands capitalism places on human nature are very clear.

 

  1. Pro-capitalists believe that if one small group of people has the lion’s share of the money, they will tend to invest it in socially-useful areas. Of course this is utopian: these people, left to dispose of the riches of the planet as they see fit, will tend to look after themselves. This means corruption, environmental destruction, exploitation, war, gambling and economic chaos. It’s pro-capitalists, not socialists, who ignore self-interest.

 

  1.  Or on the other hand, they believe that when people only look after themselves, it actually benefits everyone! So today in Europe there are trillions sitting in bank vaults and tens of millions unemployed. If one measly company then invests and creates 100 jobs, this is hailed as a great vindication of capitalism. Bosses don’t create jobs, they corner the market on jobs. The boss’ self-interest means I only get a job when it suits him to give me one, and I only get it on his terms. The workers’ collective interest is to own the wealth in common and invest it according to need, not short-term profit.

 

  1. That if someone’s born in poverty they have just as much chance as someone well-off of making it. Never mind the pressures of survival and various cultural pressures that exert themselves as well. Never mind the fact that rags-to-riches stories are freakishly rare. The idea that we can all succeed if we put our minds to it goes against both cold hard figures and any experience of human nature.

 

  1. The other side of the coin from number 3: that if the vast majority of us don’t become rich, it’s due to a lack of motivation or some other innate inferiority. Any skipping, smiling innocent idea is always joined by a dark, sick, twisted evil twin of an idea.

 

  1. There’s another funny idea that the problems of capitalism all arise from something called “crony capitalism”. That if you leave the capitalists to themselves without state interference, there will be no (or at any rate fewer) monopolies, corruption, price-fixing, reckless gambling, bail-outs, oil-spills or financial crises. This is rooted in the utopian idea that an unregulated boss class will ever be able to resist corrupting and co-opting the government, or that figures in the state will all be able to resist the temptations toward cronyism.

 

  1.  The idea that democracy can function when there is massive wealth inequality. The people who believe this would be the first to call a government irresponsible and tyrannical if it failed to look after the interests of big business first and foremost. The rich fund the main political parties and provide the personnel. Not only have politicians close personal contact with huge numbers of the rich minority, they are forced by the demands of running a capitalist economy to take care of their interests first and foremost.

 

Fundamentally, any defender of capitalism must hold utopian assumptions about human nature. Capitalism as a system, on the other hand, encourages and rewards humans for behaving in an anti-social way. It spends hundreds of billions on advertising, much of this consisting of appeals to our irrational or vicious instincts. It actively degrades human nature even while it propagates the stupid idea that sucking up to the rich will make you rich too.

Those who attack socialism pretending to be hard-headed realists don’t actually know how loose the ground they stand on is. In fact, they typically don’t have any kind of a grasp of the facts, just a preconceived schema. Look at the following, from an article on the Russian Revolution:

http://frontpagemag.com/2012/steven-plaut/just-what-was-fundamentally-wrong-with-bolshevism/

“The other problem of the Bolsheviks was that, at least in the early stages of the “Revolution,” they were truly captivated by utopian delusions.  The problem of all utopians is that they advocate systems and ideas that can only work with imaginary idyllic humans, but never with real human beings.”

Notice how the author deals in generalities, not specifics. This is because the specifics don’t uphold the argument. The Bolsheviks made no utopian assumptions about human nature. Enough said. The problems with the Russian Revolution were not in fact problems of “human nature”. There was no sudden epidemic of laziness or whatever other unspecified problems the above author implies.

“When they discover that real human beings refuse to knuckle under and behave according to utopian expectations, the utopianists respond with violent rage […]The most violent terrorists and oppressors of others have always been the utopians.  The French Revolution turned violent and the guillotine was introduced to attempt to terrorize actual humans into behaving according to the expectations of the utopianists.  The leaders of the Soviet Revolution were no slower or more squeamish in following the same route.”

Again, this is based on a schema, not on reality. The wealthy classes in Russia, funded and backed by foreign governments and armies, tried to overthrow the revolution, which had the undoubtable support of the majority.

A vicious civil war took place, which the Bolsheviks obviously couldn’t win without violence! Failure to “knuckle under” didn’t feature as a major issue. Failure of the already-backward economy to withstand nearly ten years of continuous war, well, now we’re talking. That was an enormous issue, one the Bolsheviks dealt with better than a chaotic capitalist economy could have.

The French Revolution turned to terror, similarly, as a result of huge military pressure and internal plots. The author here is talking about the guillotine, not the Vendée or the Federalist revolts, the terrors which killed far more people. None of these terrors, however, were a result of frustrated utopianism. The most “utopian” project of the French Revolution, the abolition of feudalism, was a roaring success.

Here’s my favourite piece of the article:

“The greatest strength of capitalism is that it actually works with real human beings, people who are lazy, base, narcissistic, self-indulgent, foul-smelling, mean-spirited, and unsophisticated.  Capitalism does not require idyllic fictional humans in order for it to work.”

I don’t know where “foul-smelling” comes from, but anyway. For capitalism to work we would need a world in which a small number of very powerful and wealthy people NEVER take advantage of their wealth and power, and ALWAYS put workers’ interests and environmental concerns before profit.

A world in which everyone has a superhuman dogged determination to succeed in business and an impossible amount of luck. A world in which for some reason – like too much social welfare, or laziness – they choose not to employ this luck and determination.

A world in which, despite the massive inequalities that exist, ALL politicians and civil servants stand above, detached from and disinterested from society as a whole, and are totally impartial.

The pro-capitalists impose this vision on society, and when human nature resists, explanations must be found. Strikers are demonized as selfish, lazy and undemocratic. Great revolutions, when the masses shape history, are dismissed as the conspiracies of “utopians” and “terrorists”. Their problems and limits, rather than being discussed, are latched onto to fill out a prefabricated explanation.

Capitalism is utopian. Socialism is hard-headed realism.

There’s a report that’s seen a lot of coverage in the British media that tries to outline a “new model” of social class in the UK. It’s very interesting to read and provides some useful facts and analysis.

http://soc.sagepub.com/content/47/2/219.full.pdf+html

At the same time it’s got massive problems that make its conclusions border on raving nonsense.

It identifies seven classes in society, ranging from the “elite” to the “precariat”. This is based on economic capital, but also cultural and social capital. These last two are foggy and uncertain concepts but still worthy of studying. Basically they mean, respectively, how much “high culture” does the person enjoy and how many rich friends do they have.

As a consequence, a person with an OK amount of money but who doesn’t have much cultural or social capital gets put in a separate class. Sure, it’s significant how many rich friends you have, though this is likely to be a reflection of your own wealth ninety-nine times out of a hundred; is it significant what type of culture people have access to and enjoy, significant enough that you have to make up a whole class?

How the classes relate to one another and through their interactions make up the society we live in; I’d have thought that was a really important matter, but the survey isn’t really interested in it.

The survey poses itself as against a “traditional” view of classes. Now I hold to what they might call a traditional view, that there’s a working class (a class that gives labour for wages), a capitalist class (a class that gives wages for labour) and intermediate layers of professionals, small businesspeople, etc. Imagine if the breakdown was as follows:

Capitalist class – 6%

Working class – 63%

Intermediate layers – 31%

 

As it happens, these figures are not from my imagination, they’re from the Great British Class Survey. Only that survey imposes artificial divisions. It pretends there are seven classes, rather than essentially two:

 

Elite – 6%

Established Middle Class – 25%

Technical Middle Class – 6%

New affluent workers – 15%

Traditional working class – 14%

Emergent service workers – 19%

Precariat – 15%

 

So the biggest group are the Established Middle Class! The report says that the “Traditional working class” is over-represented in old industrial areas and “traditional working-class occupations” are over-represented in it.

“It is for these reasons that we might see this class as a residue of earlier historical periods, and embodying characteristics of the “traditional working class”. We might see it as a “throwback” to an earlier phase in Britain’s social history, as part of an earlier generational formation.”

We’ll come back to that.

But why are four categories of workers divided into separate classes? The only significant difference between “traditional working class” and “emergent service workers” that the survey notes is that “traditional working class” people seem to have “reasonable house price” while “emergent service workers” earn about £8,000 more per year. “New affluent workers”, meanwhile, earn only about £7,000 more than “Emergent service workers.” The “Precariat”, meanwhile, have very low income as well as cultural and social capital.

Do these differences signify separate classes? Do these layers have distinctly separate interests? Do they have clearly differentiated roles in society?

No, of course not.

If you chop the working class into four and stick the words “emergent” and “new” onto two of the categories, is that enough to convince me that there are seven classes?

No, of course not.

The working class makes up the majority in society, in Britain around 63%. Some are poorer than others and some know a bit more about opera. But we haven’t entered a classless world just because they’ve closed the pits and the mills.

What is the Working Class?

The authors of this report seem to think that Working Class is a historical stereotype, a vague memory, a ghost haunting the present rather than a living social force.

I was once handing out leaflets on a street when a man stopped to challenge me on the use of the word “working class” in the leaflet. He was only interested in needling me, the way some people are, so the discussion wasn’t fruitful. However from that conversation and many other sources I’ve built up some of the general ideas that people seem to associate with the phrase “working class”:

Living in a city, working in a factory (or sometimes a mine), the working-class person wears overalls and a flat cap and is probably racist. Another variety of working-class person is one who lives in a council housing estate and is unemployed, improvident, substance-abusing and sexually irresponsible.

These are historically-originated and politically-loaded stereotypes, the latter enjoying little existence outside the Daily Mail. They are not scientific designations of class.

Society under capitalism is fundamentally divided in two. On the one hand a small class controls credit and most of the wealth in society, and its members invest that wealth as they please. This is the capitalist class. On the other hand the majority use their physical abilities to create the goods and provide the services to keep society running. Each individual in this class must find a capitalist to hire them, or they will not have access to wealth.

This is the key distinction in capitalist society. Not how many rich friends you have or whether you can play the piano. The question is: do you work or do you own? Which side of the equation “labour + capital = product or service” are you on?

There are nuances of course. What about farmers? What about students? What about small businesses? What about academics? These are subordinate questions.

To state that society is divided into labour and capital is not to paint the final portrait of capitalism; it is to draw the first faint lines on the canvas which will be entirely invisible when the painting is completed, but which determine the position of every major feature of the picture. All minor details are dependent on, necessary adjuncts to, or irrelevant deviations from it.

Logically, the position that there are no classes anymore, or just shades of middle class, is nonsense. How could Capitalism function without a working majority to create the products and provide the services?

How could it work with a majority that was idle, or who were significant property owners? Academics, administrators, salespeople etc all play an important role. But how could a society function that was made up entirely or mostly of people working these kinds of jobs? What would they have to administer, and what would they eat, and what would they wear? How would they get to work and who would have built their houses? Where would their energy supplies come from?

Such a society could not exist.

How then can you possibly say that there is no working class, or only a very small, dwindling one that belongs to another age?

The confusion arises to a large extent because of the international, globalised nature of capitalism today. The workers who make most of my consumer goods live thousands of miles away. Their factories collapse and burn and I hear about them on the news, and that and the t-shirt touching my skin are the only individual connection we have.

 

Those who say that Ireland (or indeed Britain) has no working class are forgetting not only that without workers, no society can function. They’re forgetting that the Bangladeshi, Chinese and Saudi working classes (and those of many other countries) play a very serious role in the Irish economy.

 

The scarcity of the stereotype of the industrial worker in many advanced capitalist countries is not therefore a sign that “we are all middle class now”.

We have reached a level of technological sophistication in which a complex machine is assembled in several different places; we have reached a level of organisational sophistication and market lunacy in which products are flown all over the world chasing the cheapest labour and the most profitable consumers; we have reached a level of financial sophistication (and again, lunacy) in which unviable capitalist economies can be propped up for years by a gambling capitalist class.

 

But we have not reached a stage in history where consumer goods and machinery fall from the sky. We have not moved beyond class or towards “A New Model of Social Class”. To slice up the working class into four separate classes is nonsense.

At the same time as the political establishment is grudgingly apologising for the horrors of the Magdalene Laundries, in Ireland today thousands of totally innocent people are living in confinement and enforced poverty, without basic rights or freedoms.

It’s always the same: a politician can safely condemn and express horror at atrocities committed in the past, but those happening now are “a complex issue” or “a sensitive matter”.

Today a relatively small but colourful and eager demonstration took place in Dublin, with others happening in other towns and cities.

DSCN5284

The march (organised by the Irish Refugee Council) gathered at the Dail and when it set off to Justice Minister Alan Shatter’s office it was around 300-strong. Shatter promised before the election to change the system blissfully known as “direct provision”, aka confinement. Needless to say, two years later DSCN5293nothing has been done.

Well, almost nothing. During the summer hundreds of asylum seekers in the Ibis in Galway were in danger of being forcefully moved to distant parts of the country with the stroke of a bureaucrat’s pen, just to save a few euros. Local people stood up for them and so did a TD or two. When the news came through that the relocation wasn’t going to happen some of the residents – or  we might say the semi-prisoners – cried and embraced the significant few Irish people who’d come out to stand with them.

    A friend of mine observed, or heard somewhere, that one of the reasons Ireland doesn’t have a far right party like the BNP is because while the BNP in England can crib about asylum seekers “taking jobs” and “Islamifying” the country, in Ireland the government just plain locks up asylum seekers for years on end with no right to work, no privacy or independence and a tiny bit of money to live on.

   Of course, the establishment gives a reason for this, just as there were reasons given in the 1950s for locking up “fallen women”. The crimes of the present, like those of the past, did not fall from the sky. Terrible things happen because they suit powerful people. The justification is essentially that treating asylum seekers as nastily as possible will mean that other asylum seekers will be reluctant to come here.

It is a tragedy that so many millions of people have to leave their homelands due to poverty, starvation, war, persecution and crime. If the migration from East to West Germany when the wall came down was an indication of the bankruptcy and inherent flaws of Stalinism, then surely the mass migration the world has been going through for the last few decades is the most certain condemnation of Capitalism.

But for some reason a lot of people – including, it seems, the vast majority of government TDs and senior civil servants – see the whole issue from a totally backward perspective. What a terrible thing, say the far-right parties of Europe, that immigration should happen to us! As if the migrants were the culprits for this terrible crime of mass enforced migration, rather than the victims. And even though most of our political establishment – with big exceptions – have held back from overt racism, they see the question in fundamentally the same way. “They” (migrants) are coming “here” (this side of a line on a map inherited from history and geography) – and what are “we” going to do to stop this happening or minimize the effects?

DSCN5285Why do our media and political establishment adopt this inhumane and totally un-intuitive mindset? No rational person will have a problem with people of a different culture or appearance coming to live here.

The real issue is usually that people coming from poorer countries will willingly work for lower wages and be less socially integrated and thus more vulnerable and easy to exploit. So if you’re an Irish worker, your job and wage may be in danger from mass migration.

But this is also an un-intuitive and frankly arseways way of looking at the problem. The criminal here is obviously the boss, the one who’s paying the wages. The state isn’t willing to counter this horrible divisive exploitative behaviour, and the trade union movement isn’t powerful enough to hold the bosses to account. The bosses make a quick buck and whip up racism in the process. Any boss that fails to do this falls behind and risks going out of business. These are totally obvious facts to anyone with a brain in their head.

So why do the media and the political establishment carry on with such a convoluted and anti-human way of looking at the issue of forced mass migration?

Well, let’s look at the implications of what I’ve just outlined. Firstly: that global capitalism is so dysfunctional and cruel that millions of people have to leave their home countries. Secondly: that the undercutting of labour is clearly the fault of the bosses; not of any individual boss but of the capitalist system itself.

Fianna Fail and Fine Gael are funded by… those same bosses. Labour are funded by a cosy layer of bureaucrats at the top of the trade union movement who have no desire to rock the boat. Sinn Fein take an ambiguous position  because their status is ambiguous – champions of the workers down south, Tory stooges up North. Why take a position in defense of a few thousand people who have no money and no power if the trade-off is that you alienate the very bedrock of your power? The whole logic of the capitalist system trends in the direction of grinding down and oppressing the powerless and this is just one case in a million.

And some of these politicians, naturally, are just plain racist:

http://www.independent.ie/irish-news/senator-withdraws-his-racist-comments-29022092.html

http://www.breakingnews.ie/ireland/naas-mayor-refuses-to-represent-black-africans-529297.html

http://www.anphoblacht.com/contents/5524

The only way we can end this cruelty is by increasing the power, confidence and organisation of working people of all colours and nations. If migrant workers are actively recruited by a militant trade union movement, we can enforce equal wages. If we all compete to please the boss not only are we pathetic and contemptible creatures, we get less in the end. If we get organised, confident and powerful enough, we can take over and run businesses and services democratically. The riches created by the work people do would not be sucked out into the loot the bosses call “profits” – we could rationally plan how to use this vast wealth. Instead of swimming pools, mansions and fancy restaurants for a tiny few we could have jobs, services and homes for all, and this insane division along racial lines would disintegrate.

DSCN5287

Forbes is a magazine and website whose purpose is described in its motto, “The Capitalist Tool.” The purpose of this particular tool is to allow rich people to win any battle with their conscience. Forbes puts out a steady stream of articles whose audience is the rich, whose purpose is to arm them with the arguments that explain why it’s OK to have more wealth than you could possibly earn or use in your lifetime.

It’s no surprise that such a magazine exists. That’s the magic of capitalism; if a small number of very rich people want a balm for their conscience, then they’ll get a Forbes. If a large number of people – let’s say 29,000 children every single day – want not to die of hunger or preventable diseases, but they have no money, well then the market isn’t interested.

The latest example is an article by Wendy Milling entitled “Without Question, Capitalism is Supremely Moral” (http://www.forbes.com/sites/realspin/2013/03/21/without-question-capitalism-is-surpremely-moral/). It is notable for its naivety on the one hand and its viciousness on the other, which are very closely related.

Naivety

“Being born in unfortunate circumstances does not prevent a person from becoming successful. It just doesn’t. […] Upward mobility is a reality that is easily observed in the countless rags-to-riches stories that dot Americana. People have risen from the slums to become wealthy.”

Yes, “people” have risen from the slums to become wealthy. “People” have also been born with eight limbs. “People” have become Olympic Gold medallists. “People” have become serial killers. “People” can fly over the city of Rome in a helicopter and then sit down with a piece of paper and draw every detail of the city flawlessly from memory. Go onto Youtube any day and find yourself a hundred examples of things “people” have done. What Milling actually means is that a statistically insignificant minority of “people” from the slums get rich.

The vast majority of people born into slums have not become wealthy. Even the vast majority of people born into middle-class communities have not become wealthy. The vast majority of people born into wealthy families, however, have money, opportunity, support and contacts to develop their talents, and they stay rich.

Imagine me walking for days into the middle of a steaming equatorial jungle, then setting yellow tape around a five-foot square piece of clear grass and saying, “Look at my five-foot square piece of grass, this proves that we are not in a heavily wooded area!” That’s a precise analogy for Milling’s argument.

We also need to take issue with her talking about people “born in unfortunate circumstances.” The majority of our species are “born in unfortunate circumstances”! Half of us earn less than two dollars a day. And most of the remainder are unemployed or in jobs that won’t set the world on fire pay-wise. Capitalism doesn’t just fuck over a small number of people “in unfortunate circumstances” who we have to look after. “Unfortunate circumstances” are nothing less than the conditions of real life. The wealthy are removed from the conditions of real life, which is why they swallow garbage like this article.

Directly following the passage we just quoted comes:

“The only true impairment is a lack of motivation, and that is not the responsibility of an economic system, or government, to fix.”

Now in refuting this argument I’m not going to push it to ridiculous extremes. It goes pretty far in that direction without any help from me. The only impairment to success is lack of motivation. Just think about that. So when the recession hit Ireland and hundreds of thousands of people lost their jobs it must have been due to… Hundreds of thousands of people suddenly losing their motivation! This is not a caricature, it is the logical implication of what she says.

Of course I’m talking about people as workers – but you’ll forgive me because that’s what the majority of people are. Maybe what Milling is talking about is success in business rather than success in finding and holding down a job, which is enough of a challenge for most of us.

At least at school they told us if you wanted to set up a business you needed “land, labour and capital” as well as some cloudy, undefined thing called “enterprise”, which I believe is a personal quality close enough to “motivation.” Forbes has printed an article which insists that the only reason why everyone in the world is not a successful businessperson is because the vast majority of us are lazy.

What about the factors that already motivate people to desire to get rich? What about hunger, misery, poverty, Christmas, advertising, a popular culture that presents average people as losers, drudgery of work, children, pressure from family and partners… It’s very difficult to imagine anyone lacking the motivation to be “successful”, ie, to have money.

There are people who are utterly demoralised by generations of poverty and unemployment; there are a small layer of people who work comfortable jobs for comfortable pay, who have no desire to change anything. These are the closest thing that exists to what Milling imagines is a chronic condition afflicting the vast majority of our species who have not “succeeded.”

Viciousness

In an article that focuses on a “moral argument” for Capitalism, it’s interesting how horrible and anti-human most of Milling’s ideas are. For a start, if everyone has an equal shot at getting rich, what does that say about those of us who aren’t? That is, at least 95% of the human race?

As Forbes itself points out, most of the world’s billionaires are from the USA. Most of those are white. Now let’s, just for a second, look at the world through Milling’s eyes and just ignore slavery, sexism, all power relations, thousands of years of human history and capital accumulation, the massive differences in opportunity between the rich and the rest and between one country and another, the vastly different economies and societies that exist in the world, and the exploitative relationship between worker and capitalist. Are you seeing what I’m seeing? Milling’s world view can’t explain why white males remain the richest people in the world. If capitalism provides equal opportunities for everyone and the only variable is motivation, then white people must be more motivated than everyone else. Men must be more motivated than everyone else. Milling should write for Stormfront, not Forbes.

As always throughout history, one group of people being more powerful than another forces the powerful group to come up with “moral” reasons why this should be the case. European domination of the world in the 19th century gave birth to pseudo-“scientific” racism. Likewise the spectacular monopoly of wealth in the hands of the 1% leads to a theory of “enterprise” and “motivation” that is evil in its own right, as well as logically shading into racism.

Milling continues:

“The moral obligation of government is to provide equality under the law.”

This paradoxically means that the government has to apply vicious moral double-standards. How can you treat two people as legally equal when one has very little money and another has many times more than they need? If one has a relatively easy life and the other has a frustrating, bitter, difficult life? If a millionaire mugs someone it’s obviously a different story than if someone whose parents have been unemployed for thirty years mugs someone.

A capitalist, who by definition owns a lot of money, is socially a different species from a worker, who has to rent out their body in order to get money. “Equality under the law” is like a racing track, on which one contestant gets a racing car and the other nine get only their own two feet. But it’s OK, because they all have to race an equal distance.

No, Capitalism is not “Supremely Moral” but if Milling is anything to go by it is Supremely Moralistic. In trying to outline a moral vision that justifies capitalism, of course Milling ends up doing the opposite and just showing how cruel and wrong the system is. Justifying capitalism demands a worship of power, a worship of the accomplished fact, a removal of all things from context. It demands a hatred of the weak.

It’s similar to medieval Europe, when the priests and monks preached to the peasants that the wealth of the nobles was justified because the job of the nobles was to protect them… from other nobles. Or under Hinduism, in which anyone who’s rich or powerful must have been unbelievably good in a previous life. Well, at least they had a bit of imagination. Not like today’s priests of Capital, Forbes, who just come out with a mix of the naive and the nasty.

 

This is going to be a morbid and gruesome little blog post. I need to write it, though, to redress the balance.

The Monopoly on Mass Killings?

I have a google alert down for the word “socialism” – basically google e-mails me every day with links to every article that mentions the word in its title. The majority are letters to local American newspapers warning that Obama and liberals are bringing socialism to the USA.

When I engage in debate with this type of American I invariably get accused of ignoring “the fact that Marxist regimes killed some one-hundred million people during the twentieth century and the beat goes on in N. Korea.” That figure of 100 million is, of course, stupidly, impossibly high.

Figures such as Leon Trotsky and Che Guevara, who fought wars and killed large numbers of people in the course of those wars, are described as sociopaths, psychopaths, sadists, murderers – charges that the same accusers would never throw at any American general, CIA chief or wartime president with a body-count ten or a hundred times higher.

Victims of the Bengal famine of 1943. An atrocity comparable to Stalin's Ukrainian famines, yet rarely acknowledged

Victims of the Bengal famine of 1943. An atrocity comparable to Stalin’s Ukrainian famines, yet rarely acknowledged

Blatant lies work when selectivity doesn’t – I recently read an article which said that Lenin killed “millions of people” during his life-long “reign” over… Poland.

Apparently to refute the methods of Marx and the ideas of Socialism, all you need to do is recite lists of X million killed in China, X million killed in Russia… under systems not remotely resembling Socialism or Marxism. Round up tens of millions, never round down, and never, ever engage with actual Marxist ideas.

But let’s allow for the sake of argument that since the Chinese and Russian dictatorships arose out of attempts to build genuine workers’ states, their crimes and disasters do somehow reflect indirectly on Socialism. They don’t but let’s assume that they do just so that we can bring some perspective to the claim that “Communism”/ “Collectivism”/ ”Leftism” have the monopoly on mass killing.

And let’s play this sick little game by the same rules as those who invented it: anyone killed by a capitalist regime or by famine or disease under a capitalist regime goes down on the capitalist score-card. There’s no use protesting that “that was because of dictatorship not because of capitalism” or “those were special circumstances” or “that was an accident” or “they couldn’t have prevented that” – I agree that it’s not fair, but I didn’t write the rulebook here, you did.

Bloodlands

I’m reading a very good book at the moment called Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin by Timothy Snyder. It examines the mass killing policies that the two dictators inflicted on a swathe of Eastern Europe from 1933 to 1945. It’s really harrowing and it shows the viciousness and cruelty of both states.

Nazi Germany, of course, was Capitalist. The state played a big role in the economy but the rich remained in control. Anyway, who funded the Nazis and helped them to power? Who benefited from the slave labour of millions of Jews and other prisoners? Fascism, worldwide, is the last resort of the Capitalist class when faced with revolution. Hitler was not only incidentally Capitalist, but essentially Capitalist.

But the Nazis are not the only Capitalist mass killers. I want to see a sequel to Bloodlands. How about Bloodlands: Indochina Between Japan, France and the USA? This book would examine the estimated 1-3 million people killed by the American war

Aftermath of a Napalm attack in Vietnam, early 1970s

Aftermath of a Napalm attack in Vietnam, early 1970s

machine in the 1960s and ‘70s as it struggled to prop up a series of horrible dictators in Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos. It would also look at the occupations by (Capitalist) France and “Capitalist) Japan from the 19th century to 1945. The USA not only committed mass killings, but mass deportations and concentration camps; mass destruction of forests and the poisoning of land for generations through unexploded ordinance and pesticides; and bombing on an unimaginable scale.

How about Bloodlands: South Asia Between Britain and Japan? Britain’s deliberate, man-made famine in Bengal, which killed 3.5 million people in 1943, could be the centrepiece of this work. However it would also examine the notorious atrocities of the Japanese, and the bloodbath of British rule in India. It could conclude with the rape of Indonesia in which Japan and Britain collaborated at the end of the war. Maybe the murder of a million Communists by Suharto twenty years later could round it off.

Bloodlands: Latin America under the USA would be one of the most gruesome. US interventions, direct or indirect, in Panama, Granada, Dominican Republic, Cuba, Guatemala, Brazil, Colombia, Bolivia, Chile, Argentina and Uruguay far outweigh the brutality of the Stalinist repressions in Czechoslovakia (1968) and Hungary (1956). In almost every case all that happened was that the majority of the people chose a government that US big business didn’t like, and as a consequence either US invasion or US support for fascists and crooks meant hundreds of thousands were killed in bloody civil wars.

The death toll continues because US intervention left behind a legacy of violence that continues to kill unbelievable numbers of people every year. This plus poverty, inequality and the cocaine business. And remember the rules of the game: the capitalist client states of the USA in Latin America are presiding over spectacular murder rates, so let’s tack those on to the total. The media like to pretend it’s only happening in Venezuela, and that it’s happening there due to anti-poverty programmes, but no author has yet shown me how literacy and better housing increase murder rates. In any case, the rich in Venezuela actually own a greater share of the economy today than they did in 1998. Venezuela is still Capitalist. Add ’em to the list.

Bloodlands: Africa under Imperialism would be the bloodiest of all. The six million killed in the last 15 years in the Congo in resource wars would be just a drop in the ocean. From the mass-murders of the Belgian Congo to the famines in the Horn of Africa; from the blood diamond wars of West Africa to the German genocides in Angola; from the concentration camps of British South Africa to the disemboweling of Libya in 2011. And the many, many people killed by Gaddafi himself would have to go onto the capitalist scoreboard as well, I’m afraid; the “Great Libyan Arab Jahamariya” redistributed nationalised oil wealth, but remained capitalist.

Those with a taste for gory histories of mass killing and famine have for too long confined their sadism to “Communist” countries. They are missing out on oceans of blood that have been shed under Capitalism. They also confine their researches in time as well as place. Equally big famines took place in Russia and China before the revolutions; equally vicious repressions took place before “Communism”; and in China, an even more vicious and undemocratic state has taken hold since the restoration of Capitalism. Today China, the world’s most successful Capitalist state, is also one of the most oppressive.

Why should a single person starve in a world with the agricultural capacity to feed 12 billion and highly-developed transport technology? Answer: the free market which only listens to the highest bidder. And this kid here isn't the highest bidder

Why should a single person starve in a world with the agricultural capacity to feed 12 billion and highly-developed transport technology? Answer: the free market which only listens to the highest bidder. And this kid here isn’t the highest bidder

Drowning the Debate in Blood

Take a look back over the mass killings and atrocities we’ve just described. If such horrors as happened and happen in those lands had taken place in the USSR, we’d have shelves full of books about them and they would be rightly remembered as an indictment of Stalinism. We’d have hatchet jobs of LBJ, Nixon, Kissinger and Churchill in every bookshop shelf currently occupied by Robert Service’s ludicrously hostile Trotsky. But the fact that human beings starve and fight for resources in countries of plenty and in a world of abundance, while Goldman Sachs makes $300 million gambling on the price of food and driving it up — and on top of this, the complete absence of any solution from the political establishment — well, it doesn’t bat an eyelid or make the learned academics question capitalism.

George Orwell, a revolutionary socialist whose works are so often quoted as if he was a fervent pro-capitalist, made the point that whoever controls the present controls the past. The only reason why Marxist ideas are supposed to have this taint of blood on them, and is contrasted to some idealistic notion of a “liberal democracy” that has never existed, is because Capitalism itself is unchallenged, and gets to set the consensus. In the face of this it is hard to maintain objectivity and a dialectical, all-sided approach.

Next time anyone spouts this nonsense about “Communism”, “Socialism”, “Leftism” and “Collectivism” at you, just think about how unbelievably naive they are. Pity them. And don’t go on the defensive. Attack. How is the blowing-up of entire villages in Pakistan and Afghanistan justified? Why’s it OK that Africa, a continent rich in natural resources, is stuck in worsening poverty, violence and famine because the people don’t own those resources?

Orwell went on to say that whoever controls the past controls the future. I disagree. The future does not belong to those who control the narrative about the past – it’s one weapon in their arsenal, but not an all-powerful one. A new challenge to Capitalism on a global scale is already in its early stages, recovering from twenty years of capitalist hegemony. As we reclaim the political arena, reclaim the workplace, reclaim the streets and reclaim the communities, we will reclaim history too.

Today I remembered that unbelievable thing Angela Merkel said last year about Swabian housewives. She was saying that cutbacks and bailouts were OK because governments should be like housewives in Swabia, which is a part of Germany where they are apparently good at balancing the books.

 

If Eurozone governments are Swabian housewives then I don’t know what kind of messed up household Angela Merkel grew up in.

 

So the housewife finds that the books aren’t balancing. What does she do? She starts starving the whole household to death, starting with the kids. Then she stops sending them to school.

 

This is a traditional household where the man works. Only not anymore. The housewife tells her husband to quit his job. Why? Same reason they can’t send the kids to school: the money they spend on petrol is an expense and expenses must be cut.

 

She doesn’t kick her online gambling habit. She doesn’t make any kind of plan for getting the books balanced again, or figuring out what got them into this mess, or thinking about what brings in money. Even though she’s built up a load of debt already, her plan revolves around getting loans off the bank, the credit union, friends, family, the mob, anyone!

 

…and meanwhile hoping beyond hope that some miracle falls from the sky.

 

She starts selling off the furniture and the tiles on the roof just to pay the interest. When the kids get sick, she says she can’t afford to bring them to the doctor but still there’s a flashy car (that they can’t even drive) sitting in the garage.

 

The kids are starving, sickening and dying. And whenever they beg for food she throws up her arms and says “That’s all well and good but where are we supposed to get the money?”

 

I never, ever, ever want to go to Swabia.

 

One day a mysterious man with scars on his face comes knocking at the door and the Swabian housewife and the man talk for twenty minutes or so. Then the man comes out and takes two of the kids by the hand. The housewife nods at the kids and says it’s OK.  The man brings them out to his car and drives off.

 

The husband asks what the hell is going on. The housewife tells him that man was from the mafia. “We came to a deal on the money I owe him. He takes the kids and we get another two months to pay back the debt, with interest.”

 

The husband goes ballistic. She soothes him.

 

“Let there be no doubt, this is no silver bullet to end all our problems,” says the Swabian housewife, “Today, we have secured a vastly better deal on the cost of paying back the mafia. This plan will lead to a substantial improvement in our debt position over time. It will likely materially improve perceptions of our debt sustainability.

 

“What today shows is that the more we are prepared to help ourselves, the more others will assist us along the difficult path we still have to travel.

 

“It can give us confidence that our goals are achievable, that our hopes are realisable. Today’s outcome is an historic step on the road to recovery.”

There’s a country in this world in which the government can lock you up indefinitely and kill you without trial. If it comes to a trail it can fix them using secret evidence and “expert” witnesses whose testimony and identities stay hidden. This government can and does spy on its people. Its brutal, corrupt security forces keep people in fear by conceiving, funding and organising, then miraculously foiling “terrorist plots” and bribing, convincing and threatening deranged or deluded people to take the fall. Protestors are brutally beaten off the streets. Peaceful activists are hounded and harassed.

In the whole world, this country has the largest percentage of its people in prison and also the largest absolute number of prisoners. It stands side by side with the Stalinist USSR in the 1930s for the highest rates of imprisonment in human history. This country has launched wars of aggression based on deliberate lies which have killed hundreds of thousands of innocent people and laid waste to whole nations. It blows up villages to punish one or two people who have stood against its will. It abducts and tortures its perceived enemies, flying them around the world with aid from dozens of other states including my own, Ireland.

Its economy has tanked, with massive deindustrialisation and a spectacular over-reliance on finance and credit turning it from a powerhouse to a basket case in a few decades. Now it borrows unbelievable amounts of money to keep itself from collapsing and its political elites have absolutely no way to tackle this problem. Meanwhile unemployment soars and tent settlements accumulate. A huge chunk of the population has to choose between housing and healthcare.

You’ve probably guessed that this poverty-stricken, dreary, repressive and divided land is the United States of America.

Things have gotten so bad for Americans economically, socially and politically, that cracks are beginning to show. While obviously the conditions the majority are living in are terrible, the potential is opening up for serious changes for the better.

Outsiders can sometimes get a distorted impression of events in another country and magnify the importance of some things while minimizing others. But the radicalisation that’s taking place in America is unmistakeable.

Occupy and the Tea Party

Let’s take a balance sheet of Occupy on the left and the Tea Party on the right. Yes, Occupy had faults: a certain world-defying naivety – which is a positive fault, because you can learn a lot from it. This movement has receded. But the Tea Party got massive corporate funding and didn’t get physically destroyed by the police… and it still receded. The conservative “Restoring Honor” rally in Washington in 2010 was dwarfed by the progressive “Restoring Sanity” rally and a massive trade union demonstration in the same year.

Young American radicals believed in Obama in 2008 and were betrayed. Then they believed in Occupy in 2011-12 and learned a lot of lessons. The next outburst of anger will be more mature and effective, and like the last two, it will echo across the world.

Nostalgia is poison

The last great period of radicalisation in America was of course in the 1960s and ’70s. If today we’re seeing the opening of another period of radicalisation, my guess is it’ll be much more significant and effective. The “New Left” of the 1960s, despite rising to magnificent heights, alienated the white working class with its focus on alternative lifestyles that stressed self-indulgence and individualism rather than sacrifice and collective action. A complacent and conservative labour movement meanwhile shunned the black civil rights struggle.

The strangely complementary utopianism and conservatism of Occupy did reflect some of the hippy baggage of the left. But the openness to ideas and to political parties and trade unions that was evident in the US Occupy movement signals that, if this is any indication of what the future holds for America, then the disproportionate nostalgia for the deeply-flawed radicalism of the 1960s will dissipate.

As well as the Occupy movement the US has seen the massive Wisconsin struggle, the Chicago teachers’ strike, the fast food workers’ movement in New York City and the strike at 1000 Wal-Mart stores. Remnants of Occupy in Minnesota are taking direct action against evictions. A resurgence for the labour movement occurring alongside a political ferment generally could lay the basis for a strong movement with massive appeal and working-class credibility.

Socialism vs Capitalism

Kshama Sawant, a member of the Trotskyist organisation Socialist Alternative who won 29% of the vote in Seattle in November, is herself evidence of a massive change of mood. She reports that while two years ago you wouldn’t have heard people talking about Capitalism very often, there’s much more discussion and insight today. Webster’s online dictionary reports that its two most frequent searches in 2012 were Capitalism and Socialism.

Those right-wingers who have been condemning free healthcare as Socialism have done a massive favour to Socialists. While obviously the understanding of the word “Socialism” is still very mixed and confused in the US as elsewhere, the American right has helped to redefine it as a concept. In most Americans’ minds it seems now to conjure up not an image of a Stalinist Gulag, but of a state-funded hospital. This is of course a much more accurate image so we should thank Glenn Beck and the rest of them.

There’s political paralysis at the top and massive ideological ferment at the bottom, and those at the top are bringing in ever more clumsy dictatorial methods to crush dissent. I’m not predicting revolt tomorrow but nobody can deny that it must be an exciting time to be a Socialist in the US.

International effects

And consider how Americanized Irish society and culture are. Occupy spread to five or six cities here in a click of the fingers once it kicked off in America. It was a weaker movement here of course but the fact remains. And remember how big the demonstrations against the Iraq War were here in 2003.

It’s possible that in the years of crisis Irish people’s attention has turned to Europe rather than the US. It’s correct of course that we should look at massive actual struggles in Greece and Spain rather than potential struggles in the US. But a century of listening to US music, watching US films and TV and reading US authors can’t be undone so quickly. Imagine if a serious socialist/left movement got off the ground in America, what an electrifying effect that would have in other countries.

Children playing soccer, Dogon region, Mali

Children playing soccer, Dogon region, Mali (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Whenever a war comes, take a good long keen look around at the various political forces and see what position they take. While it’s true that war is just the continuation of politics by other means, those means are the enforcement of death and terror on whole groups or populations. The bomb-blasts blow away all the cobwebs and bullshit and you see where people’s priorities really lie, which side they are really on.

Many on the left supported the overthrow of Gaddafi because the media presented this black-and-white situation: revolutionaries in Benghazi who were apparently about to be massacred by Gaddafi’s army in an orgy of slaughter. It seemed so clear-cut when you put it like that! Now Melenchon of the Left Front in France, a serious left contender who got a strong vote in the presidential elections last year, is supporting the French intervention in Mali.

It’s sad that even older lefts are falling for the oldest Imperialist trick in the book. Look back through all of human history and it puts the Malian “intervention” in perspective. Look particularly at Imperialism in the 19th century and in the early 21st. There’s always a pretext for a war of conquest. A country is presented like a carefully-positioned diorama with bad guys on the brink of doing terrible things and nobody to stop them except the wealthier, more powerful and more lethal nations of the advanced capitalist world.

The greatest empires in history were rarely built through naked, or even conscious, conquest. There was always an internal conflict to take sides in or a pressing “humanitarian” reason to intervene.

The poverty of Mali stems directly from its former subjection as a colony and, following on from “liberation”, its inability to develop a functioning economy and society. It was unable to develop these things because Capitalism crushes Capitalism. How the hell is Capitalism supposed to develop in a country in which most of the resources are owned by foreign companies or local corrupt despots, and any flowering of industry or agriculture must immediately compete with the 500 biggest companies who control 70% of world trade? How, except for falling into a debt trap, is it to finance public spending when the 50 biggest banks control 60% of global capital?

(These figures are for 2006 and the situation might well be worse by now. However the paragraph above takes a long historical perspective of several decades and we give the statistics just as an indication.)

The arrival of the French “saviours” will no doubt bring some benefits to the army officers who lead the present dictatorship in Mali, and secure French uranium and mineral extraction companies in their position. It will give the US and particularly Europe military bases from which to dominate the whole region. Coming on top of the Libyan oil bonanza this is a windfall for Imperialism.

For Malian people it means the return of direct foreign military domination. It means white guns and ammo to back up the brutal rule of some of the worst elements in their society. It means investment and development according to the demands of big business and the further crumbling of the economy from the point of view of everyone else.

It could very well mean a very long, very terrible war between guerillas and occupiers in which civilians will bear the brunt of the pain and any young person with any courage and sense will join the rebels, no matter how bad they are, as a way to fight the occupation. David Cameron has spoken of the prospect of a “generational war” in North Africa. Our latest crusade. If it turns out to be a long, painful war running alongside the continuing social and economic war on workers and youth within Europe, it could be a massive political issue in coming years.

What’s the way forward then if we reject Imperialism along with all that Islamist crap?

Algeria and Burkina Faso, neighbouring countries to Mali, showed the way forward in 2011 with their enormous but often neglected movements during the Arab Spring. So when I say that a mass movement of workers and the poor to seize the resources and means of production for democratic control and management by the people, I’m not talking in abstractions.

Mali is a predominantly agricultural country without a huge working class so like Afghanistan it can be a  problem to call for a working-class revolution. But a movement of poor and middle farmers with the urban poor, in alliance with Tuaregs who fight for their own state, is a possibility. Moreover just as Pakistan with its enormously powerful working class represents a possible saviour for Afghanistan, so Mali’s more industrialized neighbours could forge a way forward in the future.

So it’s not the stupid question of are you with the Islamists or are you with the other crowd, no matter how bad they are. Don’t answer that ages-old question that’s been used to paralyze and tongue-tie opposition to the wars of vultures for millennia. It’s an academic question that’s not based on reality, that simplifies a whole society to the level of a Hollywood movie. The question is whether you’re with the Imperialist powers whose fingerprints are all over the disasters of Africa, or whether you’re for the democratic socialist alternative.

Imperialism is essential to Capitalism. In the first half and middle of this century a lot of former colonies won political independence. But what good did it do them in a world still economically dominated by vastly powerful corporations and governments? Now the inherent vulture-like qualities of Capitalism are asserting themselves again as the scramble for Africa is back with the same actors in new costumes. As long as

The Rhodes Colossus: Caricature of Cecil John ...

The Rhodes Colossus: Caricature of Cecil John Rhodes, after he announced plans for a telegraph line and railroad from Cape Town to Cairo. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

you’ve got powerful and rich countries that answer to the demands of corporations alongside puny and poor countries run by corrupt figureheads, you’re going to have imperialism.

 

 

A long time ago if someone was beginning to draw conclusions that all was not right with the world they might have bought a pamphlet or gone to a meeting, or debated with people down the pub or at work. Today unfortunately the path of least resistance for many people is to go on Youtube and watch some mental little video.

A few lads have told me that the problem with the world economy is interest-bearing debt. Everything flows from this and anyone who doesn’t highlight this, however radical they may seem on other issues, is either a coward or is in on the plot. They got this all from Youtube.

Some Videos

The ultra-monetarist arguments aren’t the worst of the theories, by a long shot, but there’s a point at which they shade into more sinister territory. From the financial system to Jewish people is for some reason often a short step for conspiracy theories. I found one video which started by touching on the history of the Jewish mafia in Illinois. Of course Obama has spent a lot of time in Illinois and  Chicago’s zip code is 60606. The chilling conclusion, via some photoshopped images the author found online and some quotes from the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, no less, is that Obama was appointed president by the Rothschild family! And God tried to warn us..! At that point I changed to another video. Life’s too short.

The next video, The Money Masters, was a bit more sober, but only a bit. It laboured the point for ages about how the US Federal Reserve is bad and is a private institution. I started getting bored and skipped ahead two hours or so – the video is 3½ hours long! – and was greeted by grainy Russians waving placards of Lenin. But all was not as it seemed! I was informed that the Russian Revolution was financed and created by the Fed. “The Wall Street-London axis” controlled all Communist groups by “feeding them vast quantities of money when they obeyed”. The evidence for this was as follows:

1-      A quote from a “Gary Allen, author”, in which by a superficial and abstract argument he proves that “Communism, or more accurately socialism, is not a movement of the downtrodden masses but of the economic elite” whose purpose is to concentrate all wealth and power in their hands.

2-      A quote from Lenin saying “The state does not function as we desired… It moves as another force wishes.”

3-      Evidence that international banks gave loans the Soviet government to build a hydroelectric dam in Ukraine in 1927-32.

Sound compelling? No? Well the massive gaps between these pinpricks of “evidence” are filled in by the narrator.

None of this is new, of course. Lenin spent 1917 under constant accusations of “German gold” from all his political opponents. Later the Nazis resurrected the charge in a new form, claiming that Communism was a Jewish conspiracy. This video rehashes the same charge: if you don’t like mass movements and revolutions, claim they are not authentic and are being funded by something else you don’t like. As well as the fact that it’s convenient, if you can’t conceive of history being decided by ordinary workers, soldiers and peasants then you’d rather invent a conspiracy, however far-fetched.

The “vast quantities of money” evidently supplied by the banks/Germans/Jews, by the way, was never in evidence. The Bolsheviks were incredibly cash-strapped and had to fund themselves off donations from supporters. Trotsky recalls Lenin poring over the party newspaper, counting every line to make sure it didn’t go over their financial limits.

Lesson #1 for conspiracy theorists: Ignore History

We’ll stick with the Russian Revolution just for a second, just to give an example of how very many conspiracy theories are formulated. Firstly, a total ignorance of the actual facts can lay the groundwork. But more than this is required to create a truly compelling conspiracy theory. Never mind that the Bolsheviks dispossessed, disenfranchised, exiled, imprisoned or killed the “economic elite” of their country; never mind that the landowners and capitalists returned in force and waged a vicious and bloody civil war to crush Bolshevism – to crush, apparently, their own conspiracy. Never mind that the Bolsheviks’ opponents in this civil war were bankrolled and supported by the “economic elites” of America, Western Europe and Japan. Never mind that the Bolsheviks’ base of support was indisputably the Russian working class.

For one thing, the intellectual climate of the last 20 years or so has made it possible to say pretty much anything you like about any socialist movement in history, as long as it’s bad. For another, an examination of the facts of history might necessitate and inconvenient re-thinking of one’s world-view. But more crucially a conspiracy theory must be creative, answering the immediate political needs of the day and according with a certain world-view which we’ll define later.

Today- a great time to be a conspiracy nut

Conspiracy theories of our time can spread very far, very fast through the internet. I own a book from the ‘80s which combines Catholicism, anti-Capitalism and a credulous attitude toward the anti-Semitic forgery The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. I can’t think where the average person would ever come across this book or have much time to read it. Youtube, because I watched a few of these mad videos out of curiosity, now drops something equivalent to this book into my lap every time I go online. This is one feature of the current period in history that affects the question of conspiracy theories.

The extreme difficulty for the majority of living a happy life under a crisis-ridden Capitalism, the widespread hatred of the banks and the absence of class-consciousness and socialist ideas are all outstanding features of people’s attitudes today. The sell-out of Social Democracy and the massive crimes of Stalinism have in the eyes of many discredited the ideas of Socialism, the logical solution to the failure of Capitalism. It is today’s special hopelessness and confusion that breeds belief in conspiracy theories, but Capitalism generally gives rise to them.

A feeling of being on the outside with no control over what happens in society; a sickened attitude towards parliamentary democracy; frustration at people around you who are just focused on their own lives, livelihoods and lifestyles without regard for the bigger picture; contempt for those who swallow the tales told by the media and politicians; above all a humiliating sense that you and all those around you are being played for fools.

All these feelings flow naturally from living in a society in which our “democratic rights” don’t seem to channel our needs at all; in which the economy is totally out of our control; in which a small class owns most of the wealth and makes most of the decisions.

But if you don’t try to get to the root of the problem from a scientific perspective of class and of the actual facts about the ownership of wealth and the conditions of survival under capitalism, you’re not going to understand what’s going on. On the points listed above the average Marxist is in full agreement with the conspiracy theorist; on the points below there is fundamental disagreement.

A Scientific World-View

While the owners of property and wealth are the most privileged and powerful class in society, they are not in control. Each capitalist competes against all others; each company against all others; each nation with all others. Conspiracies obviously exist in such a system but the system itself couldn’t be further from a conspiracy. It’s chaos and while some are more powerful, nobody is in control.

History is not determined by the wonderful plans of powerful people sitting behind closed doors. It flows through processes which we have to describe in terms of science and impersonal nature, because they involve so many people with such contradictory desires and ways of seeing the world. History is, like nature, observable and up to a point predictable, but not conscious.

The desires and consciousnesses of people living in similar conditions and playing similar roles in society and doing similar things to put bread on the table are, not all, but generally, identical in how they behave socially and politically. A Marxist speaks in terms of classes because we call a forest a forest even if there are a couple of clearings. Likewise we call a class a class because, while everyone is a beautiful and unique snowflake, etc, etc, we call a class a class because economics – questions of survival, prosperity, how you feed yourself and the kids – ensure that a class acts generally as a whole.

So Capitalists are not secretly evil lizards who sacrifice children; they are a class of normal warm-blooded human beings who are capable of doing great harm without ever bloodying their fingers, and without us having to prove that a single one of them is consciously evil. Competition and the profit motive punishes them for not acting in an anti-social way, for not exploiting and corrupting.

The predominant role in history is played by classes, and only by institutions and people insofar as they are representatives and instruments of a class. To be a Capitalist, an exploiter, demands of the human conscience a cycle of convenient myths that justify that position – rugged individualism, innovation, entrepreneurial spirit, job-creator, a rising tide lifts all boats, the wealth trickles down, all that crap. All classes in fact need myths to justify their position. These myths are the source of all off-the-wall conspiracy theories. A growing realisation that these myths are false can be the spur to the creation of a new myth that is fundamentally rooted in the same assumptions.

They Must be up to Something!

The next objection to the conspiracy-theory scene, not just of Marxists but of the vast majority of people, is: For fuck’s sake, leave the Jews alone. For every Jewish person occupying a high position in the US in business, media, finance or politics I’ll name you five Irish-Americans, five German-Americans, five Italian-Americans and twenty WASPs. If you follow the logic of “Jewish conspiracies” even two steps you’ll immediately multiply your first absurdity by a hundred. This might seem painfully obvious to a lot of people out there, but anti-Jewish attitudes permeate conspiracy theories. The Freemasons, a glorified old-boys’-network-cum-church, is another common target. Medieval mapmakers used to put scary monsters in to fill up the blank spaces on maps, and this is basically the same thing.

Power of the Working Class

The greatest objection of Marxists to conspiracy-theorising is that it’s a view of the world that totally ignores the potential power of the working, downtrodden majority. To return briefly to Russia: events there were not determined by “gold” from whatever sinister foreign source but by the self-organisation and activity of tens of millions of otherwise powerless and unremarkable people.

“Lectures, debates, speeches – in theatres, circuses, school-houses, clubs, Soviet meeting-rooms, Union headquarters, barracks… Meetings in the trenches at the front, in village squares, factories… What a marvellous sight to see Putilovsky Zavod (the Putilov Factory) pour out its forty thousand to listen to Social Democrats, Socialist Revolutionaries, Anarchists, anybody, whatever they had to say, as long as they would talk! For months in Petrograd, and all over Russia, every street-corner was a public tribune […] gaunt and bootless men sickened in the mud of desperate trenches; and when they saw us they started up, with their pinched faces and the flesh showing blue through their torn clothing, demanding eagerly, ‘Did you bring anything to read?’” (John Reed, Ten Days That Shook the World, Penguin, page 40).

Capitalist countries can fund armies of millions, nuclear weapons and missions to the moon. They can’t fund that. They can only create such a situation by the unintended and unforeseen consequences of their own system.

“Look how that turned out,” says the cynic. The masses of the former Russian Empire, who made the Revolution, were destroyed, dispersed and demoralized by the Civil War and the isolation of Russia, which laid the basis for the Stalinist dictatorship. It was not the organisation and militancy of the working class but rather the absence of that mobilisation which allowed the Stalinist clique to rise to power. But the conspiracy theorist is generally demoralized and it does not occur to them that such mobilisations can take place at all, and they are willing to believe that the whole thing was a conspiracy.

Lesson #2 for conspiracy theorists: Create a compelling metaphor

If a conspiracy is being cooked up by those in power, and we find irrefutable proof of it, as for example with the contents of the Wikileaks cables, we should of course make it public. For instance, it would be fascinating to know what is said at the secret Bilderberg Group meetings. But it’s very different to believe a story which is not adequately proved, and which is inherently far-fetched because it assumes the Capitalists and their lackeys have more power, knowledge and foresight than they actually do. There is nothing rebellious or subversive in insisting, on flimsy or no evidence, that rich and powerful US citizens rape and kill children at Bohemian Grove, in between Satanic and Pagan rituals, and as a warm-up to plotting world domination.

Fundamentally this is an example of religious thinking. I mean that people who don’t understand the world try to explain it in terms that make sense to them. In ancient times, when as a species we had no way of scientifically understanding or explaining the natural world or human society, we invented myths. That’s why we needed a god of thunder, of the ocean, of war: to explain vast impersonal forces in simple, human, personal terms.

In the same way today in the mind of the conspiracy theorist a person or institution acquires godlike power and significance. The Federal Reserve caused the Russian Revolution! The US government controls the weather! Rothschild appointed Obama as president! The US government packed a building full of thousands of tonnes of explosives without anybody seeing, then flew a hologram plane into it! With a sweep of its mighty hand it knocked down the twin towers and WTC 7 and punched a hole in the Pentagon and swatted another plane right out of the sky.

What is thunder? A big man in the sky with a hammer. What is revolution? A conspiracy by Jews and financiers. Why do wars happen? Mars inflames the passions of mortals. Why did 9/11 happen? The US government did it.

A Conspiracy Theory is a Metaphor

A good conspiracy theory takes root because there is a demand for it. The 9/11 theories do not have their roots in any great amount of evidence. There are no more strange occurrences and coincidences than you would associate with any event so huge. I believe that to say “9/11 was an inside job” is unconsciously to speak in metaphors. What you want to say is “The establishment’s narrative of a ‘War on Terror’ is bullshit.” You can intuitively sense this latter point, but not prove it or spell it out because your political understanding is at a very low level. If you oppose US foreign policy but accept the establishment claim that the 9/11 attacks would justify invading another country, then you are compelled to believe that the 9/11 attacks were a false flag operation. One very prominent 7/7 conspiracy theorist told author Jon Ronson that it was racist to say that Muslims committed the 7/7 attacks (Jon Ronson, The Psychopath Test).

I should qualify my earlier comments about Bohemian Grove by making the point that Jimmy Saville was probably just the tip of the iceberg. Abuse flows from unaccountable power. But the Bohemian Grove myth is a fine example of the conspiracy theory as a metaphor. Yes, there is a ruling class that has inordinate control over our lives. Yes, their actions are largely hidden from us. Yes, in many indirect ways, they abuse our children, in some cases even literally and directly. People without a scientific understanding of how and why this happens, and how we can end it, follow their intuition further than anyone is supposed to. They dream up a “theory” which is actually a metaphor. They portray the rich literally meeting up and conspiring and raping children. For good measure they hedge this around with sinister rituals.

In ancient times people had a literal belief in gods that had been simply dreamt up as a substitute for science. Today liberal Christians cling to a god they freely admit has no substance except as a personalized metaphor for love. Likewise, today the conspiracy theorist actually believes their own metaphors. Matt Taibbi of Rolling Stone described Goldman Sachs as a vampire squid latched onto the face of humanity, relentlessly jamming its blood funnel into anything that smells like money. Imagine if he meant this literally! Then you get an idea of what in my view a conspiracy theory is.

In at least two cases that I know of leading conspiracy theorists have also believed at some point in their lives that they were Jesus. This shows us not only an additional link to religion but proves that some of the most dogged compilers of conspiracy theories are in fact insane. However, perfectly sane people, because the metaphor and the symbol are attractive and confirm their world-view, and in no small part thanks to the vast array of “evidence”, believe.

The Conspiracy-Theorist Mindset

To conclude I should make it clear that I’m willing to believe anything that there is enough evidence for. I believe the US ruling class has done worse things than the September 11th attacks and are capable in a “moral” sense of carrying out such an atrocity. But there is no compelling and decisive evidence that they actually did and nor does it make much sense in context. I don’t want to say that everyone who believes in a conspiracy theory must fit my model, because I’m open-minded about what might happen at the top rungs of society where so much wealth and power are concentrated. The test is whether you can prove it by evidence.

My aim in this article has been to expose the conspiracy-theorist mindset itself, which rejects a scientific understanding of society in favour of symbols and metaphors. To this mindset I counterpose the Marxist method. If you want to understand what’s happening behind all the propaganda, you don’t need to prove that the elite are all paedophiles or that a secret society is controlling everything. Just look at what happens when you go to work and create wealth you only get a percentage of back. Look at the open division, which is absolutely no secret, between those born rich and the rest of us. Listen to the politicians when they say we have to satisfy the markets and incentivise investment, but when it comes to our jobs, our services and our pay, it’s “unpopular” and “a difficult decision” to slash it all to hell, so they deserve a pat on the back for doing so.

These are things we don’t have to theorize on; we don’t have to sneak into Bohemian Grove or examine every frame of every 9/11 video. We live in an oppressive, exploitative, unequal Capitalist society. But we are many while they, the Capitalist class, are few. The only thing standing between us and a democratic socialist society is a realisation that we can fight and win. The conspiracy-theory mindset pretends the rich and powerful are gods, and portrays the working class as sheep, not dormant lions.

English: One of the first steps taken on the M...

Footprint from the first moon landing- humans haven’t gone back since 1972, prompting some soul-searching on the death of Neil Armstrong. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The recent death of Neil Armstrong, the first man to step onto the surface of the moon, is kind of an embarrassing reminder to modern Capitalism. The spectacular achievements of past generations are bringing about a sense of nostalgia, regret and even a kind of shame throughout Europe and America. I could pick quotes from this newspaper or that- “Tributes and a lament for lost era”, says the Irish Times– but an e-mail sent to me by a friend of mine captures the mood best:

Neil Armstrong epitomises the (possibly mythical) “greatest generation” – survive the depression for an appetiser, defeat fascism for a main course, then finish up with splitting the atom, discovering the sequence of DNA, walking on the moon, containing communism and setting in place decades of relatively egalitarian prosperity.

What the fuck have WE done lately!

Now, I don’t agree with my friend’s view of history. But this perception is obviously based on a lot of truth, and I think his e-mail captures the mood and sense of shame at the death of Armstrong perfectly.

This sense is ultimately that the human race/ Western Civilization/ America/ White People (the entity represented by the “We” so beloved of college debaters) reached a kind of peak with 1969 and the moon landing. Since then, we’ve been on a slide backwards, a turn inwards; the decadent children of heroes, forever in their shadows, more interested in small steps and giant leaps up the property ladder than onto the surface of the moon.

This sense of shame and nostalgia are becoming widespread among those provoked into deep thoughts by the worldwide crisis of capitalism. An article by Mike Lofgren in The American Conservative bemoans

the present regime of downsizing, offshoring, profits without production, and financialization… in the 1950s the country eked out higher average GDP growth rates than those we have experienced in the last dozen years.

Lofgren talks about how the rich are abandoning conservative values with an “inverted Marxist” belief in the free market. In the forties, even a Yale man had to hump a backpack through battlefields, but

Now the military is for suckers from the laboring classes whose subprime mortgages you just sliced into CDOs and sold to gullible investors…

Amid American trade Unionists there seems to be a habit of demanding “mid-century” conditions for workers. Michael Moore’s Capitalism: A Love Story has a moving clip of Dr Jonas Salk, who invented the polio vaccine but refused to patent it (“Would you patent the sun?”). Today, as Moore makes clear, the Salks and Armstrongs are headhunted by financial institutions and their genius is set to work making rich old men even richer through gambling.

Like Ostalgiya (nostalgia for the Stalinist past in Eastern Europe) there’s some elements of this sense of generational shame that are totally correct and some that are spectacularly wrong.

 

What’s Right

Here’s the reply I sent to the question, “What the fuck have WE done lately!”:

Forty years of financialisation, deindustrialisation and credit binge 🙂 not much else.

To set against the myth, however, this was the generation that super-exploited Latin America as well as parts of Asia and Africa, the generation responsible for bloody proxy wars the world over.

BUT, and it’s a big but, the “greatest generation” periodization is very useful because it points out that since the 60s, early 70s, when the post-war boom ran out of steam, I’d say Capitalism has been essentially decadent […]

We’ve had huge leaps forward in electronics and mobile phone technology, to be fair. Also (in many countries) attitudes towards people of minority races and sexual orientations, and obviously the position of women, have vastly improved.

I’d have to add that Capitalism didn’t give us these great advances in social attitudes- people had to fight for them, tooth and nail, for decades, and they still do have to fight.

The spectacular explosion of finance capital at the expense of real capital investment; the flight of capital from social democracies to brutal anti-worker autocracies and poverty-stricken hells where they’ll work for anything; the massive extension of credit to cover all this up- this massive shift in Capitalism since the free-market reaction of the ‘70s and ‘80s is covered well elsewhere. This, in a nutshell, is what this sense of generational shame and angst comes from. And shame at Thatcherism and Reaganism really is the only appropriate feeling.

 

What’s Wrong

But there’s other elements that can creep into this whole idea. Firstly, this kind of romanticizing of the past is always ridiculous. Romanticizing is what happens when you refuse to take a scalpel to the past and separate, as far as you can, the good from the bad. Also, the past comes to us heavily burdened with lies and distortions.

I’ll give as an example my friend’s decision to talk about “containment of Communism” in the list of the achievements of the “greatest generation”. Neil Armstrong flew 78 combat missions in the Korean War. Woohoo, containing Communism. Or you could say that he was part of an international counter-revolution that partitioned Korea, slaughtered its people, “contained” only the desire of the majority for socialism and independence, and laid North Korea under siege, creating the mad, horrible, backward dictatorship that exists there today.

http://www.marxists.org/archive/pablo/1950/09/korea.htm

It does say a lot about economics that we saw the moon landing in the sixties while the following decades saw stagnation on the space frontier. But let’s not forget that it was primarily a very spectacular propaganda stunt. I see the moon landing as an extremely wasteful gesture with little scientific or economic payoff. It was part of a pissing contest, pure and simple, between Stalinism and the USA. “We came in peace for all mankind,” reads the plaque. I don’t know, they should put one of those plaques at Mai Lai or the Bay of Pigs.

This kind of talk about the past always takes on a “Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire” feeling. We get that a ponderous, pretentious, sweeping narrative of virility and decadence; the replacement of the Legions with foreign mercenaries; the abandoning of the pantheon for weak, liberal Christianity; the temptations of “Oriental” luxury; mad, cruel Emperors and ravaging hordes of barbarians… Superimpose this narrative on today and you get a crazy ultra-conservative vision.

Remember that Marine Le Pen likes to pose as a scourge of the bankers, that the BNP laments the deindustrialisation of Britain… The turn from industry to finance can be presented as a loss of “virility” and national pride. And who is responsible? The hummus-eating, sandal-wearing pretentious elites, the same ones who opened the gates to the immigrants! Breivik’s dreaded dictatorship of “Cultural Marxists”!

This is all just to make the point that these generational discussions and talk of the good-old-days can take on a brainless, ultra-conservative character as well as having the potential to be actually informative discussions. In Ireland it’s not so much of an issue because we have no Golden Age to hark back to. But in Europe and the USA, see Michael Moore, it can be an easy precedent for Socialists or what the Americans call “progressives” to refer to.

There are obvious and massive limitations to this harking-back-to-the-past tactic. Let’s not forget that, as well as the subjection of women, workers were, then as now, a majority economically separate from, inferior to, and dependent on the rich. In other words, it was Capitalism, and it was shit for most people.

To cut myself short, because I and plenty others have made these arguments before, I’ll say that in addition to not being desirable these “good old days” are totally unattainable today. I’m not saying this to depress you, I’m saying it to point out that we need to be much more ambitious if we want to end the dictatorship of the financial markets and create a better life for all.

Why and how?

Tune in over the next few days for my next article examining these questions and more.

March 24th, 2012. The National Boxing Stadium, which has a maximum capacity of around 3,000, is packed out for a mass meeting. Hundreds have to spill over into the car park for a second, simultaneous meeting. But, aaahhhh, the Irish people are too passive, they’ll never stand up and fight…

1. People are too worried about dealing with their day-to-day lives to worry about politics.

When new taxes and charges are ripping people off, when there’s barely any jobs, when there’s overcrowded, understaffed hospitals and schools; then it’s mad to say that “politics” and “day-to-day life” are somehow separate.

People’s options are closing off as the crisis deepens, and if we give a clear lead and outline a clear alternative, they will enter into the struggle for a Socialist society.

 

2. But the Irish people will never stand up and fight for themselves. We’re too apathetic in this country, we’re not like the Greeks.

In Ireland the dizzying heights of the boom and two decades of Social Partnership have turned the trade union movement into cynical defeatists, which has held back the movement. In other countries they have big problems too but not to the same extent.

As well as this people are still hoping beyond hope that a recovery is on the way. The government and the billionaire-owned media encourage these vain dreams.

Another problem is a lack of a mass working-class party that’s ready to put forward a clear Socialist alternative for people to fight for.

All these conditions are temporary. They were saying the same thing about the Egyptians.

 

3. It’s terrible the situation the country is in, but there’s not much we can do about it.

There’s actually loads you can do, and it would make my life as an activist a lot easier if you did.

The relatively small number of Socailist activists in Ireland plays a vital role in mass campaigns like the Household Tax boycott. Over the years we have given valuable help and leadership to workers in struggle. We have struck blows against racism, war and the corporate theft of our natural resources.

We were warning about the property crash for years, and at every point since the austerity drive began our analysis has been correct and that of the government, the media and the right-wing economists has been wrong.

 

4. Yeah, fair play. But what do ye want me to do?

If five hundred, a hundred or even fifty of the people who are right now just ranting in front of the TV or suffering in silence were to get active with us, it would be a massive boost to the work we do.

We don’t want admirers or voters. We want comrades- we want activists who will stand beside us and help us fight for a better world.

When huge sections of the people become actively involved in the struggle for a fairer society, that is a revolutionary situation. When the majority become actively involved in the running of society and the economy on a day-to-day basis, that is Socialism.

 

5. You’re crazy to think you’re going to change the world.

Most of our ancestors in medieval times lived in squalid huts growing food and raising livestock for parasitic, violent aristocrats. They had short, dreary, painful lives, vulnerable to hunger, disease and war.

Our species has clearly achieved massive change for the better since the Middle Ages, even if progress has brought with it new problems. Everything is in a constant state of transformation and the only thing that is certain in history is change.

But the lesson is that revolutionary changes in social systems are possible, that a vast improvement in living standards for humanity is possible. In fact they’re not only possible, they’re a recurring feature throughout history.

 

6. Hang on, sorry, are you defending Capitalism now?!

Capitalism transformed the world, bringing huge benefits to the majority of people. Obviously this came at a massive price and as a system it creates its own terrible problems. It’s become obselete, an obstacle to further progress. Today the Capitalist class is not an enterprising, progressive force but an entrenched, decadent class of speculators and exploiters that’s dragging down the world economy.

 

7. But no alternative has ever succeeded.

The 20th century saw Stalinism, Social Democracy and statist regimes like those of Perón or Nasser. These systems all had massive problems, as we’ve outlined before. But all of them demonstrate the same thing: the massive potential of the planned economy and the possibility of achieving a more equal society.

These victories were not given to us by wise politicians or enterprising bosses, but by mass struggle and the militancy of working people.

As HSBC point out in their London underground ads, of all the people who have ever lived to be 65 years old, two thirds are alive today. What this financial company does not point out is that this was achieved by the welfare state, the planned economy and the victories of the workers’ movement. Another statistic relating to life expectancy spells out this point: the biggest peacetime rise in mortality of the century was in Russia following the collapse of the Soviet Union.

 

8. Have you not noticed the last forty years? The collapse of Communism, the end of Social Democracy and the victory of free-market Capitalism.

There have been terrible reverses and setbacks in the last thirty to forty years which demonstrate the hideous bankruptcy of Stalinism and the impotence of Social Democracy. Nothing, however, has discredited Socialism itself, the idea of an economy democratically planned by an equal society.

All the free-market era had to offer us was massive speculative and credit bubbles. We’re now living with the consequences of that.

We are determined that the massive changes in store for our generation will be for the better, that we will establish an international democratic socialist society.

We will build a world where everyone has access to a well-paid job with good hours and fully-funded, efficient public services; where we have democratic control over the economy; where we can save the planet from climate change by a planned transition to a green economy.

If you’re sick of paying through the nose for other people’s gambling debts; if you’re being pushed around and exploited at work; if you can’t find a job; if you owe piles of money on your house; if you’re sick of the tyranny, injustice, poverty, disease and hunger in the world, join us today.

1. We have a parliament and democratic elections. If people want change they can achieve it without breaking the law.

Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil are funded by business, Labour are funded by the cosy clique in the leadership of the trade union movement. Then they also give themselves millions in state funding.

So you have the right to vote every few years for parties with millions to spend in running and massively promoting a huge number of primarily party hacks and careerists.

2. So if the government bans corporate donations, will you be happy then?

Firstly, they won’t. Secondly, even if they do, parties supported by the wealthy will still get bigger individual donations. Fine Gael fundraisers involve having golf or dinner with a TD for €100 or more.

Thirdly and most importantly, these politicians admit that they can’t represent us. Their capitalist dogma requires them to treat “wealth creators,” multinational companies and billionaire speculators like royalty, even if it means trampling on the rest of us.

They are more concerned with satisfying credit ratings agencies and “the markets” than with satisfying the disabled or the unemployed. Nobody can deny this.

3. You can still vote, protest, petition and run for office. Count your blessings. 

No. If you don’t control the economy, you don’t control the conditions of your existence and you have very little say in the running of your society.

If you agree with our politicians and leave the economy in the hands of business, with some greater or lesser role for the state, you’re leaving over control in society to a tiny minority. Your job, your education, what you do if you get sick, how safe your streets are- all these things depend on an economy that’s beyond our control. That’s not democracy.

4. We live in a democratic society with a free press. 

You have freedom of the press, if you have access to the massive, complex, expensive operation required to print a newspaper, promote it, pay the writers and distribute it to every newsagent in the country.

If you are lucky enough to be stinking rich and have this freedom of the press, you can then print a lie, a slander, an exaggeration or a distortion on a piece of paper that millions of people will read.

5. You’re lucky you don’t live in X or Y country, where you’d be locked up for saying these things. You’re lucky to live in a society so tolerant and liberal.

Yes, most of the world’s population live under dictatorships or else very repressive regimes.

And guess what? The clothes you and me are wearing were made by those people, in those countries. The fuel in our cars probably came from a place where women can’t drive. Dictatorship is a fundamental part of our society, even if people in the advanced capitalist countries aren’t the ones worst hit by it.

Our Taoiseach refused to condemn the Chinese totalitarian regime when one of its figureheads . He didn’t want to scare off investment.

6. Why do ye talk about working-class people all the time? What about everyone else?

A member of the Kazakh security forces in Zhanaozen, where an unknown number of striking oil workers were shot, beaten and tortured. Liberal defenders of Capitalism never seem to realise to what extent the system relies on murder, violence and terror. The moral of the story for all the Liberals out there is: drop liberalism or drop capitalism.

Labour is the only thing that can transform natural resources into commodities we can use and trade. Labour operates machines and runs all vital services. As such the working class is the only real creator of wealth in society.

Workers have great power- if they are organized and act as one, nothing can happen without their say-so.

The working class is the most exploited but the largest and potentially the most powerful class in a Capitalist society. That’s why Socialists seek to place that class in control.

7. Socialism doesn’t work because greed is a natural part of human nature and it’s no good trying to force people to go against that. 

Who the hell knows what “human nature” is? It operates differently in different countries, different times in history and different classes.  Human nature is defined by its circumstances.

People are often greedy because Capitalism rewards and encourages greed.

Under a system which rewarded and encouraged cooperation, people would behave differently.

8. History shows that extremes of left and right are both equally bad. 

The far right have given the world racism, prejudice, war and industrialized genocide.

The “far left”, meaning revolutionary Socialists, have always been in the frontlines of the struggle for democratic rights; for the welfare state; for labour laws and trade union rights; against fascism, racism, sexism, LGBT discrimination and sectarianism.

There really is no comparison, no way of equating these two “extremes” with each other.

9. Hang on, what about Russia?

We have achieved planned economies in Russia, China and elsewhere, which have transformed the economies of those countries, adding decades to the average life expectancy. Even the horrors inflicted by the dictatorships cannot cast a shadow over the massive achievements of the planned economy in huge parts of the world.

10. You’re defending and justifying dictatorship!

No. Genuine Socialists have always been uncompromising opponents of the Stalinist dictatorships. We defend the planned economy. This means we sought the overthrow of the dictatorship which was a parasitic growth on it, but also opposed the restoration of capitalism in the early ‘90s, which saw living standards in Russia drop by two decades in two years.

11. But it’s best to be moderate rather than extreme.

Being “moderate” just means supporting the most powerful force in a given situation. What’s considered “moderate” at any given time is not dictated by “common sense” but by the business-controlled media.

We don’t live in an academic paradise where all things are equal. We live in a deeply class-divided, dysfunctional, fucked-up society. Letting everyone do what they want just means letting the richest and the most evil do what they like to everyone else. This means that most of us, never mind doing what we want, can’t even do what we need.

The morning after the violent eviction of Occupy Dame Street in April 2012. This solidarity protest was the biggest Dame Street had seen for months- the movement had long since run out of steam, with only 5 or 6 protesters left for the Guards to drag out. After this protest, it fell again into oblivion. We need to assess the weaknesses of Occupy if we want to reclaim the energy and enthusiasm it released at the beginning.

1. If we want to fight the state and the corporations without becoming like them, we need loose, informal organisation, without leaders. 

The trouble with having no formal leadership is that an informal one will spring up- you get unaccountable unelected busybodies or people with no merit except the fact that they have lots of time on their hands, and that becomes your leadership.

Especially with Occupy, you’ve got those who have time and energy to spend at the camp taking de facto control. People with families, people with jobs, people who are dedicated activists- these are excluded.

In reality, some tasks need to be delegated to a minority. That’s the only way things can work and the Occupy movement proves that. The only choice is whether you want these people to be elected or self-appointed.

2. We need to work on the basis of consensus, where you move forward only when 100% of people agree, not on the tyranny of the majority. 

This sounds great at first.

What you get in the end are long, pointless debates that suck all the time and energy out of the movement. What you get is the dictatorship of the minority- frankly, one idiot can hold back the whole movement from actually doing anything.

Instead of everyone’s voice being heard, you get dissenting views silenced. Nobody wants to be the one to stall the meeting yet again- so they just pretend to agree, and no real open debate takes place.

Meanwhile everyone’s gone home because it took too bloody long and nothing was done.

3. I don’t subscribe to any “ism”. I think political labels are inherently limiting. I am neither left-wing nor right-wing. 

OK then, stop using the wheel and come up with something else.

Labels and “isms” are not comprehensive and I’m sure none can fully convey the nuances and complexity of your individuality. But chances are your views are generally in agreement with a lot of people who have previously explored these ideas and left behind a “label” for the convenience, not for the oppression, of others!

4. I think for myself rather than blindly follow any idea or thinker.

Outstanding revolutionary theorists and activists like Marx, Lenin, Trotsky, James Connolly and many others left behind excellent writings with vital lessons for today.

No-one is “blindly” following anyone, just engaging critically with their ideas. The real blindness is an ignorant, egotistical refusal to do so.

If you’re a revolutionary you should engage with an ongoing debate, rather than being like those idiots who come barging in half-way through a discussion, ignoring what everyone else has already said.

 5. I don’t want to subsume my individuality into any political party. 

We want you to join a democratic organisation and maximise your impact by working alongside others.

If you’ve got some incredible insight or ability that will be damaged by you doing that, then please, please share it with the world.

6. I was occupying that square for so long I got frostbite! And where were all ye Socialists in the meantime? Just dropping in now and then when it suits ye. 

We were busy doing things that are a hundred times more important. We were empowering thousands of people through mass civil disobedience campaigns. We were organising protests and meetings on a huge range of issues. We were building our organisation and selling our paper. We were discussing ideas constantly between ourselves and with others.

The Occupy protests were an inspiration to the world- but they ran out of steam because they couldn’t be decisive and take the struggle forward. Those of us who have jobs to go to and families to feed couldn’t really take part. Of course we would have made sacrifices and tried to come to every General Assembly, but after the first few weeks it was clear there was no real point.

7. The environment is more important than the economy. 

Climate change is the most urgent problem facing the human race. But we can’t save the environment without getting rid of capitalism. It is just not profitable for any individual capitalist, let alone the system as a whole, to make the required investment in green energy. This demands a Socialist plan of investment.

Moreover, the switch to a green economy would displace possibly hundreds of millions of people from their jobs. There’s no way people would accept that.

Under Socialism we could retrain all those workers and re-equip all those factories on a planned, coordinated basis without chaos or unemployment.

8. If you’re so much against capitalism, then why do you use money, live in a house built by capitalists, work in a job where a capitalist pays you and buy goods and services from capitalist companies? 

Because we’re revolutionaries not hermits. If you can live a more ethical lifestyle, then good for you. But it’s not going to change the world.

All our officials are on the average worker’s wage or less and none of our members live the high life. But at the end of the day we don’t look for the perfect “lifestyle” but for an organic connection, in workplaces and communities, with the working class, and a basis for struggle.

We are not concerned with “saving our souls” or being cleansed of the system.  Our goal is to unite the majority of the people and replace the system.

9. We want to leave the movement broad, inclusive and open, so we don’t want to tie ourselves down to any ideas that might alienate people. 

The Occupy Movement kept itself too broad, too uncommitted. It appeared indecisive and vague. It appeared not to do anything.

In fact my local Occupy was so “inclusive” that there were neo-fascists camping there.

Debate on a programme was impossible because of consensus-based decision-making. Demands were set out, but it was not explained how they would be achieved.

If Occupy settled on a programme and course of action then of course some would disagree and might leave the movement. But with nobody sure what the movement stands for, and no victories being won, why would large numbers of people bother joining the movement in the first place?

10. We are against politics and parties entirely.

Socialists, despite the fact that we’re organized in parties and are of course political, see this as a healthy attitude.

By “parties” people mean the cynical establishment parties which are just self-interested machines for managing, not destroying, our messed-up society. We can’t look to them for solutions, we have to organise ourselves.

By “politics” people mean the scams, lies, privilege and corruption that characterise the way society is run under Capitalism.

11. All political parties are cynical and want to hijack our movement.

The establishment parties didn’t want to hijack Occupy, they wanted to destroy it.

They succeeded at least partly because of the paranoid, sectarian attitude of some people in Occupy who were hostile to other groups and parties who were fighting for the same goals.

12. But you’re as bad as any of them.

We’re the same as you- angry as hell and determined to do something about it. But we’ve been at this a while, and learned a few important lessons.

We organize ourselves not as an occupation of a city square but as a party, just as stubborn, just as determined, but infinitely more flexible.

We organise democratically- we elect members to branch, regional and national committees. We work on the will of the majority, with the minority free to argue their case and to continue to do so after the vote is taken.

We run in elections, and our members speak to thousands of people on the doorsteps. Our deputies and Councillors and MEPs use their positions to fight for ordinary people. We don’t think we can change things through electoral politics, but we see it as an aid to the real work in the streets.

A revolutionary party has all the self-sacrifice, defiance and energy of a makeshift tent-town protest in a city square.

But it can’t be destroyed by one night of police violence. It can discuss with full openness and give air to all ideas. It can state its message clearly. It can then act with unity, determination and organisation.

1.     Personally I’m a Social Democrat and I believe in a fairer and more equal society. But right now we’ve got to pay off our debts and balance the books. Then once we’ve got the country back on its feet we can worry about those other things. 

So, deep down in the cockles of your heart, you have some left-wing inclination and you think that means you’re on the same page as us.

But if your Socialist heart has absolutely no influence on issues like austerity, the markets and the eurozone crisis; if reality and your “Socialism” exist in separate universes; if the “national interest” comes before the interests of the majority of the people in the nation (and in every other nation), then why should anyone care about what you believe in “personally”?

2.     The ideas of Marx are out of date- we now enjoy much better living conditions than people did in the 19th century.

Who’s “we”? Practically all the clothes you and me are wearing were made by underpaid, exploited, non-unionized workers living in dictatorships.

Even in the more “developed” countries, a tiny minority controls most of the wealth (the Capitalist Class) while the vast majority does all the real work to create that wealth (the Working Class).

Huge numbers of people live in poverty and misery, and most of us have no real say in politics. With the terrible price of this crisis of capitalism being forced onto our shoulders, we have nothing to look forward to but our jobs disappearing, pay and welfare being cut, our towns and neighbourhoods falling apart and the cost of study soaring way out of reach.

3.     It’s better to reform society slowly than to risk revolution.

You can’t reform society slowly- you can’t defeat your enemy then leave him armed and at large. If you do, he’s going to come back with a vengeance.

We campaign for every reform within the capitalist system to make life better for ordinary people- but these battles are only to embolden and organize the working class to fight for a final break with Capitalism.

4.     It’s best to control and regulate capitalism, not get rid of it. 

The right-wing fearmongers have a point. If you keep the power of the capitalists intact while hedging them around with regulations, they WILL stop investing.

If you try to make them behave reasonably, while at the same time leaving all the wealth and power in their hands, they will use that wealth and power to sabotage the country in every way they can, from a strike of investment to a military coup.

5.     Are you in favour of violent revolution?

Throughout history the capitalist class have used violence to defend their unjust privilege, even bringing to power Hitler, Mussolini, Franco, Pinochet and a host of other fascists and mass-murderers just to prevent revolution.

If it’s necessary to suffer or inflict violence to end the permanent violence of exploitation and oppression, then we are prepared to do so.

6.     Rich people aren’t all evil oppressive exploiters. 

If a capitalist is not prepared to oppress and exploit, his business is far less likely to survive. It’s not a question of personal morals but of what this sick system forces people to do.

The logic of capitalism means that the worst exploiters, scam artists and crooks are rewarded not punished. Studies have found that there’s more psychopaths in high positions in business and finance than any other part of society apart from prison.

7.      I’m a Socialist personally but you shouldn’t talk about Socialism because it puts people off.

We’re revolutionaries not advertising executives. Our job is to challenge and to change the way people are thinking, not to patronize people, underestimate people’s understanding or pander to the lowest common denominator.

8.      If working-class people are so brilliant, why do they vote for right-wing and far-right parties?

Mostly because the Social Democratic and Labour parties around the world have totally stopped representing working class people and on economic matters become nearly identical to Conservative and Liberal parties.

Where class issues are thrust into the background, all that flag-waving crap takes centre stage.

9.     You’re right, austerity alone isn’t working. We need a stimulus package and growth clauses and a financial transactions tax. But Socialism and revolution, that’s going a bit far!

How the hell can you have austerity and stimulus at the same time? That’s like donating blood to someone while leaving their wound gaping open.

And most “stimulus” measures so far have been just huge handouts to banks.

We need to scrap the debt. We can’t do this without practically destroying the international financial system. We can’t stop austerity without seriously pissing off the gamblers in the financial markets. We can’t invest wealth in society unless we get it from somewhere.

In short, we can’t solve this crisis without starting a huge struggle against the markets, the banks and big business- a class struggle for the ownership of wealth in society.

Stay tuned for Arguing About Socialism, Part Three: The Hippy, coming soon

The fascist coup in Chile, 1973- the bloody birth of the neo-liberal, free-market era.

1.     You want to take people’s hard-earned money off them.

Capitalism doesn’t reward genius or hard work a fraction as much as it rewards simply having rich parents, so that’s really a non-issue.

Mathematically, it’s crazy to think that someone could actually work hard or long enough to earn millions or billions of euros in a single lifetime.

2.     The profit motive encourages people to come up with new ideas, products and services that are of benefit to society.

Nobody should be any richer than they need to be to live a comfortable life with their family and friends. And in fact, beyond that point, it’s been proven that pay rises DO NOT improve performance at work.

People come up with new ideas and work harder when they’re given more freedom at work and more control over their workplace- when they identify with their work instead of just clocking in and clocking out.

In fact, the profit motive encourages middle-of-the-road thinking and safe, unoriginal ideas rather than innovation.

3.     The profit motive encourages the rich to invest.

The profit motive encourages investment only on the basis of greed, not social need.

So we have massive speculative bubbles and little capital investment.

We have incredible amounts of money spent on guns and bombs which could be educating and employing billions of people.

And right now, there’s mass unemployment while trillions of euros sit idle in bank vaults across the world.

The profit motive means trivial or harmful things will be provided as long as there’s a market for them. Things people need to survive don’t get a look-in.

4.     Why should everyone earn the same amount of money, regardless of how hard they work?

Many high-earning professional and managerial jobs are in fact easier and more fulfilling than manual labour.

Anyway in a Socialist society the key thing is not wage equality but workers’ control of wealth and democratic planning in the economy.

The key thing will be the “social wage” allowed by workers’ control of the wealth of society- vastly improved schools, hospitals and transport; massive economic development, full employment and the transfer to sustainable energy.

5. Centralized economic planning is clumsy because economies are too complex. The market, on the other hand, provides constant feedback to businesses and ensures supply meets demand.

We can see all around us that big companies and banks manage their internal economies on a vast scale. They gamble on the stock market using staggeringly complex financial instruments.

If all our IT geniuses and our finest mathematical brains worked on a plan of production and distribution rather than in financial institutions that gamble to make greedy rich old men even richer then, absolutely, we could manage an economy.

6.  Capitalism guarantees the individual freedom from the power of the state. 

Most of the world’s Capitalist countries today are in fact oppressive and tyrannical regimes. China, the world’s most successful Capitalist state, brutally attacks, monitors and oppresses its people.

In many countries workers have fought hard and managed to achieve limited democratic rights- the right to vote once every few years. This did not come as a gift from Capitalism but as a concession.

7. State control over the economy means state control over every aspect of life. Socialism means dictatorship.

Socialism means the massive extension of democracy far beyond the bounds of a parliament. People will have the power of direct democracy through councils controlling every major business and service, every community, town, city and region.

Democracy is the lifeblood of a Socialist economy- without it you’d get the massive inefficiencies and horrible crimes of Stalinism.

8. That’s all great in theory, but who’d have the time to go to all those meetings and committees and votes?

Socialism will guarantee those freedoms not only on paper but through shorter working hours and a comfortable income for everyone, and therefore the ability, and not just the formal right, to participate in the running of society at any level.

9. It’s the State that creates monopolies, corruption and unaccountable corporate power. With a much smaller State there would be free competition and less corruption. 

Yes, a Capitalist state is always in the pocket of big finance and big business.

And no, a smaller state within Capitalism means the pure, unaccountable power of those with the most money, elected by nobody and responsible to nobody.

10. Nationalised companies and public services are unaccountable, lazy and inefficient. 

That’s an enormous myth- in fact such services and companies are the foundation-stones of most economies.

There’s an element of truth in it though because nationalised companies are often run by government-appointed bureaucrats.

Socialist nationalisation on the other hand means that everyone in authority is elected by those under them, subject to instant recall and on no more than the average wage.

11. Tax breaks and hand-outs for the rich are good for the rest of us- we should create a good environment for the rich to invest. 

The most obvious problem with that idea is that we give the rich whatever they want but we are guaranteed absolutely nothing in return.

Before you know it they’ll relocate the local factory to a dictatorship where people have to work for chicken feed.

They’ll drive down your wages and hike up their bonuses. They’ll destroy the planet, they’ll buy off politicians, they’ll start wars for oil.

They’ll invest in finance capital and create massive bubbles and rack up huge debts for the rest of us to pay off.

12. The crisis didn’t happen because of Capitalism!! It happened because of the cronyism in the banks, ie. the opposite of the free market! The banks got bailed out by the government, which is against the rules of Capitalism! 

Capitalism isn’t a rulebook- it’s a way of organizing society where a small privileged class control most of the wealth and the supply of money.

The government ripping off society in a doomed attempt to bail out a failed financial system- that’s Capitalism.

Capitalists spending 30 years gambling on the stock market while investing less and less in actual wealth creation- that’s Capitalism.

Kids dying of malaria, diarrhea and starvation while Capitalists invest in a hundred identical hair-care products with different labels and a thousand identical movies, and ads to create a market for products nobody would otherwise want- that’s Capitalism.

Please tune in for Arguing about Socialism, Part 2: The Social Democrat, coming soon

I’ve skim-read yet another article in the Times which tries to explain the objective shiteness of Ireland by blaming it on a mash of vague “cultural” factors- how we see the state, how we engage as citizens, how we should be more like Scandinavia. The memorable bit of the article (which is available here: http://www.irishtimes.com/newspaper/opinion/2011/0820/1224302759014.html) is when he says if we had had a Norwegian finance minister for the past twenty years we wouldn’t be in this mess. I heard another guy on the radio this morning bemoaning the fact that we’re “on our knees”, considering we were one of the world’s most competitive countries just a few years ago.

This is what passes for commentary right now. No suspicion on the part of that second guy that there might be an intimate connection between our “competitiveness” and our failure. Being “competitive” in the capitalist market means being on your knees.

The other guy, the Scandinavian-ministers-guy, looks at our credit binge and says the Scandinavians would never have done this. That’s the same attitude which breeds articles full of lazy, spend-happy, feckless Mediterraneans and disciplined, austere Germans. At its worst it breeds the Myers brand of African, a black haze of angry incompetent irrationality.

A more sensible analysis shows us that after the Irish Gombeen class accidentally recovered from the crisis of the 1980s, the credit binge was the only option. How else to achieve prosperity in Ireland than to fake it? When world capitalism became fundamentally unprofitable in the 1970s and ’80s, this was the route taken by most of the advanced capitalist countries. The Age of Credit (c.1989-2008) was the historical blink-of-the-eye in which the weak, tiny Irish Capitalist class found conditions in which it could thrive. Never before had it provided full employment or such huge tax revenue. As a historically weak class of gombeens and chancers, not quite capitalists, the Irish ruling class naturally found its niche in an age when con artistry was seen as viable economic policy.

That age has passed. Debt mountains; rows upon rows of dead, empty houses- dramatic contributions from an apparently unpromising class. It’s all we could ever hope to get from them, even if there had been a Norwegian on Merrion Row. It’s all we ever will get from them; talk of export-led growth and our “enterprizing spirit” should be disregarded out of hand. If only this failed class had the grace to bow out now.

[ps: a short post from politics.ie on the word “gombeen”- I think I pass the test for precise usage of the term… http://www.politics.ie/forum/culture-community/166759-why-do-posters-misuse-word-gombeen.html%5D

A rising tide lifts all boats and drowns underpaid stranded cockle-scavengers.

Comparing economies to tides is dodgy enough, playing into the idea that the boom-bust cycle is a sterile process, and all we need to do now we’re in the deepest crisis since the 1930s is “balance the books” and wait for “things” to pick up again.

There’s another way we can employ the “rising tide” metaphor. Imagine the tide coming in on a beach, rising slowly. Imagine it rises far beyond the usual line of dark sand and seaweed, and just keeps rising- past the dunes, across the fields, then pouring in mud and foam into the streets. Imagine that terrifying video from Japan, only in slow motion, taking place over months. That’s kind of what the last few years has felt like- a freak event that the usual “authorities” are totally unable to explain or reassure us about.

Éamon Gilmore recently enough reassured us that “Ireland is not Greece”. Last time we heard that we were not the Greeks, we will recall, the Greek politicians were insisting within a few short months that Greece was not Ireland.

(Just in case history forgets some of the more bizarre moments Gilmore has contributed to it, it’s worth recording here that one of Labour’s most concrete economic proposals during the election was to transform Ireland into a “hub” for “cloud computing”. Another idea in the Labour manifesto was the plan for another “transformation” for Ireland, to create “not just a knowledge economy, but a knowledge society”.)

Of course, this little story does not necessarily prove that “Ireland is Greece”. It proves that politicians are a similar breed internationally, deploying the same lame, callous, faintly racist excuses the world over. All the same, Ireland is Greece, at least in the sense that these careerist butchers insist it isn’t. Like in Greece, our economy tried to overcome its limitations with a credit-binge that, when it ended, actually made things worse; we’re not far behind them on the road to default; we’re part of the crumbling European periphery that proves the impossibility of European integration on the basis of Capitalism. There are important differences (Ireland’s trade unions are sluggishly awakening from a social-partnership-induced stupor) but the two countries are on the same trajectory.

Most fundamentally, Greece will today (29/6/11) or tomorrow answer a question that faces Ireland too, a question with revolutionary implications.

The Greek parliament is voting on the latest “unpayable loan+ vicious austerity EU/IMF debt trap” (They don’t actually call them that). The people they are supposed to represent have been thronging the streets and squares every day since mid-May saying they can’t possibly take it. Only 11% approve of the government party’s policies. 6% approve of the opposition.

If the parliament says yes to the debt trap, what are the people going to do next?

If the parliament listens to its people and says no, what’s the next step for the EU, the IMF and world capitalism as a whole?

Put this way, Greece illustrates the revolutionary struggle that is in the making around the world. The cuts and hikes and layoffs demanded to safeguard the bosses’ profitability and the integrity of capitalism are far in excess of what we can take. In this sense, Ireland certainly is Greece. For example, look to a recent story, that of the hospital budget “overspend”- a disgusting misnomer.

“Austerity” and “tough decisions”- those phrases, so easy for politicians to spit out, don’t really capture the extreme misery that must be inflicted on society if the banking system and the capitalist system in general are to be saved. Think of the closure of vital hospitals, and realize it’s just one of many of the effects of the last budget. Consider that FG/Lab are waiting until after the silly season to stick the knife in seriously, and you get a picture of what we’re up against.

A lot of commentators say that according to “the rules of capitalism”, banks and bondholders should take their losses like any investor who loses out. But nobody ever sat down and wrote a rulebook which Capitalists have to abide by. It’s not an ideology which everyone agreed on but an economic reality, backed up ideologically.

It’s a system whereby wealth is in the hands of a few private individuals whose role is to “create” jobs, services and products through their “enterprise”, which apparently is unique to them. If you accept the proposition that Capitalists are the “wealth creators” in society, that without them and their system no economy could function, then you accept the implications of that. Our politicians certainly do: since capitalists and their “enterprise” are so damn valuable, the working and middle classes must be prepared to sacrifice everything, even their lives, to defend the “greater good” that the interests of the rich represent. Very convenient if you happen to be wealthy and not of a sharing disposition. If you’re in favour of Capitalism, what that means at the dawn of the 21st century is that you think society should be ripped apart to keep the system staggering on for a little while longer.

There are people, however, who identify this class-based nature of society and see that it’s possible to control democratically the wealth of society. We believe in real grassroots economic democracy, under which we could set fair wages, save the planet, avert economic crises long before they happen and divert the billions from boob jobs and pet psychiatrists to solving world hunger. The whole world would no longer have to answer to the interests of a mob of billionaire shareholders who are in constant paranoid competition with each other. Instead, the working class itself would manage production and distribution through participatory democracy on all levels. This is Socialism, and it’s not a utopian vision, it’s just common sense. Or we could stick with the EU/IMF deal and the “cloud computing hub” idea. Whatever.

The tide is rising. Ireland, Greece and others are slipping under faster than, say, Germany, because Ireland and Greece have tiny, weak capitalist classes who had to indulge in the credit binge more than any other advanced country- like socially awkward people at a party drinking too much.

The tide is rising and our leaders can’t explain it or make it turn around. They don’t actually understand what’s happening (see articles, “They’re making it up as they go along,” parts one and two, on this blog). They’re just hoping the tide will recede before it drowns them, career-first.

We’re not Greeks. Nor are we Irish, and we’re not Libyan or American or Chinese either. We are the forces of the international working class, which needs to mobilize to defend itself and society at large. Changing the world is not going to be easy, but the idea that society will conform to the plans of the bosses and their puppets is laughable. Reality is becoming incompatible with the interests of an outdated ruling elite that still holds political power in its hands. Capitalism is a millstone. We have come to a supremely fucked-up historical moment. Wait until America goes under, and wait until China’s insane growth hits its limits and collapses, and the world’s biggest working class expands on the struggles that it’s fighting already. Realize that Greece is only the first shuddering of a European earthquake that’s already in these early days shaking loose the peripheries. The tide is rising.

Typed out below are notes from the two plenary sessions of the United Left Alliance forum in Liberty Hall, June 25th, 2011, giving a report, noted down on the spot, of the main points made by speakers from the podium and the floor. These are for the perusal of anyone interested who couldn’t make it. More importantly, in a few years there may be great interest in what exactly was said by whom. Let’s look back on this and see how well we anticipated the challenges and opportunities, and learn from that. Also I have in mind issues of democratic accountability and minute-taking, which were recurring themes in speeches.  

The Left Response to the Crisis- 10.30-12.00

Chair: Ailbhe Smith (PBPA) Speakers: Professor Terence McDonagh (NUIG), Kieran Allen (SWP), Kevin McLoughlin (SP)  

Ailbhe Smith (PBPA) Acknowledged Gay Pride parade on the same day, displayed the lgbt flag and apologized for not showing up in costume! Stressed need for “generosity of politics” and spirit of compromise between constituent organisations. Sent message of solidarity to comrades on the Gaza Flotilla including Paul Murphy MEP and Cllr Hugh Lewis.  

Prof Terence McDonagh Will outline an economic programme that can be implemented within 48 hours and turn the economy around

1-Default, 2-Leave the Euro, 3-build a good public bank, 4-guaranteed job for everyone, 5-nationalize corrib gas

Default- by 2014 debt will be €80 bn private banking debt, €40 bn sovereign debt and further €80 bn interest on borrowing Can’t possibly pay back, shouldn’t pay back

Leave the Euro- control over own currency, fall of value of new punt, fiscal control for public works

Good Public Bank- public bank to provide credit for people, bad private bank for the bondholders & shareholders of private debt [applause and laughter]

Job guarantee- control over punt gives leeway to govt. Little risk of inflation because inflation is created by bidding against the private sector- not applicable

Nationalize Corrib gas- Nobody loses except Shell

Endorses end goal of Socialism- this programme is a step in the right direction  

Kevin McLoughlin (SP) Emphasis on mass uprising creating basis for programme to be implemented- Perspective of such an uprising taking place in Ireland in coming years

Outlines crisis of capitalism since the 1970s- shift to finance, credit to fuel consumer spending, fundamentally unproductive capitalism resulting in the bubble bursting

No way out under capitalism Debunking 2 myths on which the right-wing discourse rests: Recovery through 1) MNCs, 2) Exports

Multinational Corporations- account for 7-8% of labour force but 90% of exports in Ireland- profits sent abroad, equipment and raw materials mostly ordered from abroad

2005-2011: 11% growth in MNC sector- no corresponding job growth.

Exports- Indigenous Irish Capitalism & “entrepreneurship” accounts for only 10% of exports

2000-2007: 11,000 jobs lost in indigenous enterprises ULA must debunk these myths, as a starting point  

Kieran Allen Economists compared to priests, interpreting “the signs” of the markets for the benefit of the rest of us ignorant masses- with no offense meant to Prof. McDonagh- “He’s one of the best ones! It’s unusual to see an economist like him!” Economics is not a technical matter- it’s about choices

Eg. Last budget took €100 million from corporations but took €1 billion from PAYE workers

Need for wealth tax

Middle East- North Africa revolutions presented by mass media as being for “Western-style democracy”- in fact the demands of the revolutionaries, little-publicized, are for better wages and social conditions, “for democracy and against neo-liberalism”

The €18 billion sovereign deficit that commentators always go on about: if 450,000 people were working instead of on the dole, we wouldn’t have that deficit

The rich are effectively on strike, demanding major reforms and threatening to sabotage society if their demands are not met

2007: investment in economy of €50 bn, 2010: only €14 bn- collapse on the scale of the Great Depression

Economist John Fitzgerald says: Irish people apparently have loads of savings, economy would recover if only people went out and spent more! In fact Irish people have been hit very hard, repeatedly

Capitalism is insane- €613 spent on advertising, which would solve world hunger if invested Need for democratic public ownership  

Over to the floor—  

Anne McShane (CPGB) Need to hold ULA TDs to account Membership-led organisation

Debate on what we mean by socialism

Internationalist agenda  

Alan Gibson (IBT) Accusations of stage-ist approach in economic programme  

Sinead Kennedy (SWP) Need to present concrete alternatives to people

Slavoj Žižek says that now, Socialists are the realists and the Capitalist class are the new utopians  

Kerry Cuskelly Need to go beyond economics to civic engagement and social development

As a social worker, she works in communities where they wouldn’t get what we were talking about, communities with serious problems like racism and drugs

Can’t just frame it in terms of economics but involve underprivileged people in a real way  

Brian Gould Don’t pay back the banking debt

State should honour debt but not private debt

Question to Prof. McDonagh: leaving Euro or leaving EU? Need to express economics in simpler terms  

Anne Connolly In a simple capitalist default, working people will still be hit hard- not enough to argue for a default

Need for a 32-county workers’ republic Condemn Union ldrship  

Spirit of James Connolly

Brendan Young Use of the word “socialism”- link abstract to concrete

Getting rid of Euro would result in speculation against the punt

Ireland in the European economy, need for a Europe-wide solution

Control over currency would not mean control over economy or capital  

Paddy Healy (WUAG) Victories and achievements of ULA TDs

Govt has deferred the JLC bill

Substantial differences from the 1080s when WUAG was formed- people now far more qualified  

Mary Smith (SWP) A revolutionary socialist, but not hung up on the word “socialist”- must not be “abstract”

Need for mass organisation and building of campaigns

“It’s wonderful to be swimming in a sea where people agree with you”

People don’t have the confidence to call themselves socialist, while they do agree with us.  

Cian Prendiville (SP) Vital need for a programme that represents reality and will solve our very real crisis, rather than simply chasing opinion polls

Key problem: strike of capital

“telling the truth” demands that we talk about socialism

We need not to demand a limited public sector “tangential” to the capitalist system but the end of capitalism

Eg. Sinn Fein/Unite: €2 bn public works programme proposed- would still only restore economy to 2010 levels  

Amal Nasser [apologies. I missed her name and I’m certain I have it wrong here- please correct me by commenting below] Egyptian revolution- revolutions are a progressive force in society

Problems: Middle East, petrol. Imperialists/Capitalists will not allow revolution to survive

Ruling class planning Islamist regime

Military govt arresting, torturing activists

Female activists arrested and subjected to virginity tests

Attacks on Copts allowed by military govt., no investigations

Young officers leaked documents on how military govt,. Is pushing a plan drawn up with Soudi Arabia and the USA

Revolution in Egypt is only the beginning  

Summation

[Alibhe Smith says that time is up and we must return to the main speakers. an attendee proposes that he be allowed two minutes to speak before return to podium for summation. Refused by chair. Persists. Shouted down by audience. Sits down, heard to grumble: “…not very democratic.”]  

Prof. Terence McDonagh Leaving the € and leaving the EU inseperable.Costs vs. Benefits- Benefits of leaving Euro outweigh costs

Outlines conflict between broader and narrower range of demands  

Kieran Allen (SWP) Private &state debt now too closely intertwined to continue slogan of “burn the bondholders”

Must default on all

Blackmail about being kicked out of the EU must be answered

Believes People Before Profit is a better name than Socialist Party or Socialist Workers’ Party

Not about words, it’s about methods

If we say socialism, we must explain what it means, not be abstract  

Kevin McLoughlin (SP) SP is not “abstract”- delivered detailed, worked-out manifestos to 250,000 homes in the country during election

If SP is abstract, it got 2 TDs elected on that “abstractness”- but SP is not abstract- history of linking concrete proposals to the need to change society

Should be no hesitation about using the word socialism or having a socialist programme

People are not turned off by socialism- socialism has never dissuaded people from voting for Socialist Party  

14.15-16.00: The ULA: What kind of party do we need? Chair: Laura Fitzgerald, Speakers: Declan Bree (Cllr), Richard Boyd Barrett (SWP, TD), Seamus Healy (WUAG, TD), Joe Higgins (SP, TD)  

Declan Bree (Cllr) Outline of general situation- Huge crisis of capitalism, austerity, union sellout EU/IMF diktats

Attempts to divide public and private sector workers Social Democrats and Republicans who see the state as neutral must soon see the error of their ways

ULA must be the new force on the Irish left Amid growing radicalisation, it must definitely be socialist ULA as it is now- only an initial step

Must be prepared to fight capitalism, not just fight for a more humane form of capitalism

Must create a new party, as soon as the ULA has built a base through campaigning

New level of cooperation Non-aligned members- a democratic participatory structure is vital

Industrial, social and community action  

Joe Higgins (SP, TD) Filling the vacuum left by the shift to the right of the Social Democratic parties across Europe

Recognition that capitalism is “a diseased system” that is wounding economy and society NO solution within capitalism

Yes to reformist demands, but these demands, to be consistent, must be led into the need for a socialist alternative Orientation toward working class & youth Unions, communities, action groups

ULA must not crudely control campaigns as has happened in the past with some organisations, but assist in a leadership capacity, also provide logistics, resources Building a mass workers’ party

NO COALITION with right-wing parties -labour totally discredited -anomaly of Sinn Fein opposing cuts down here, implementing them in Northern Ireland with the “lame” excuse that they are in a power-sharing government ULA must act with principle, honesty, consistency

Raise criticism of an SWP leaflet- ULA should give no platform to any Labour  Party TD or Cllr- they are supporting the govt, even if they are willing to criticize it

Parliamentary limitations have been frustrating for ULA- technical group rather than party etc.

However, Dail intervention on many issues, eg, the JLCs, has been excellent ULA will work for new party- November 2010 was very good timing for the launch of the ULA- the launch of a mass party demands equally good timing

Limited numbers currently- need to build the ULA Vital need to represent non-aligned members on the steering committee

Launching a mvmt of thousands against double taxes

Great success so far- 5 TDs, 20 Councillors, 1 MEP

Must work towards the ending of the “diseased, sclerotic” system of capitalism  

Richard Boyd-Barrett (SWP, TD) Come a long way in the past year- achievements so far still relatively modest, but still it’s a very exciting time

Lots of hope invested in the ULA

New force outside of the ”cosy club” of the political establishment

Context & basis of this alliance: Egyptian revolutionary movement- coalitions of diverse groups on the basis of what unites them rather than what divides them- we should be the same, the 90, 95 % we agree on should be the basis

Vast majority of people agree with us that austerity and the overall policies of the govt are bad

That is is unjust that we are paying the gambling debts of rich people

Need to win over people who are not used to the same tradition and language as we on the left are

People furiously angry- most favourable situation for the left since the foundation of the state

Problems: we’re not big enough

People want to resist, need leadership- starting from a starting-point that may not be close to us but on a trajectory toward us

Party of struggle- we’re all here on the basis of broad movements

Answer concrete questions, break the strategy of fear

There is an alternative- cancel the debt, tax the wealth, default

“captains of enterprise” are vultures, parasites- take wealth, invest it, struggle mass movements, power of workers

“wage war on jargon”- language& traditions of the left can be off-putting- suspicion of political parties  

Séamus Healy (WUAG, TD) ULA must be grass-roots and bottom-up

Comparison to birth of South Tipperary WUAG- workers, unemployed, housewives got together and got active

Local and national electoral success of group- many borough, county and town Cllrs as well as a TD

1980s- “no alternative” mantra- real alternative

The bailout is to benefit British, French, German banks

Not a “good Samaritan” deal- paying off bad debts of international gamblers

Default, burning the bondholders, wealth & assets tax

Building through campaigns- water, JLCs etc

Importance of building personal& political relationships

Good start today, great turnout

Must be all around the country, not just Dublin  

Over to the floor…  

Eddie Conlon (PBPA) Tremendous success, very encouraging

Ppl looking towards us

Ldrship-responsibility and opportunity

Constituent organisations must concentrate on building the ULA

intervention into campaigns and independent ULA-launched campaigns

We can build 40 branches, very soon

Serious democratic structures, get ppl on board

Great opportunity, let’s not blow it  

Shane Fitzgerald Presenting view of an independent participant, unaligned to a constituent organisation

Need to bring in loads more people Open question: how many in the room are non-aligned members?

Some proposals- doesn’t want to press for huge changes but just suggestions

One branch meeting per month is not enough for independent members, while SP and SWP members meet every month.

Unaligned members fall out of the loop

Proposal: E-mail newsletter. Contact @ weareragbags.wordpress.com or weareragbags@gmail.com  

Ruth Coppinger (SP, Cllr) Campaigning party first and foremost

Lively, interesting discussions at branch meetings

Meetings should be about the ULA

Programme- Boyd-Barrett’s comments on “war on jargon”- heard the same thing years and years ago in another party- one called Labour Youth. Same things said about scaring ppl away and being too extreme

We need to politicize, not depoliticize- not abstract demands, but demands that make a bridge   

Gerard Lawlor (SIPTU Shop Steward) Piece of EU legislation regarding Unions- demanding democratic participation from membership, information sharing systems

Works in a private hospital, struggled very hard over recent years bringing membership from 10% to 60%

Local union branches not implementing this very important piece of legislation

Union leadership holding back movement

David Begg- on board of Irish Times, Aer LIngus and Central Bank, yet still General Secretary of ICTU! David Begg must go!  

John Lyons (SWP) Lots of ppl voted Labour to take the edge of Fine Gael, while many voted Sinn Fein because they believed SFs radical rhetoric- many times more than voted for us voted for those two parties

Lots of disappointed Labour voters will be coming over to our side- target labour supporters

Andrew Keegan, Larkhill candidate for PBPA- campaign to save the no. 3 bus, public mtg- 70 present

Labour TD Róisín Shortall came to meeting, read out info given to her by Dublin Bus- proposed nothing concrete- people just listened politely

Bus campaign will expand and Labour will have little to do with it 

 Dermot Connolly (PBPA) ULA is a process for now, not a party

We need to build not over a scale of years but over a short space of time

Build party culture, build trust between organisations

Campaigning together will be successful- eg. Of general election

Next local elections- double number of councillors

Build branches, not just a Dublin project– 15 present at Mullingar launch- that’s a branch, in somewhere the Left has never truly been active outside the Labour Party

Unaligned ppl need control over branches- we should have 40-50 branches soon

Proper communications network for unaligned- regular forums- rank & file must control  

Annette Mooney (PBPA) Question of gender representation- only 9 women speaking at ULA forum out of 25 total- undemocratic

What is ULA policy on gender representation? Issues like childcare& education get ignored without representation for women  

Matt Waine (SP, Cllr) Not the 1st time the left has got together- previous left parties

Immediate demands to mobilize around are not enough- mistakes of past Social Democratic and Labour parties- same mistake of current left formations

Socialism is not something for the dim and distant future

Consciousness lags behind the situation

Example of youth mvmts in Greece and Spain- independent youth movements totally bypass the left because the “left” was too conservative

Gareth Fitzpatrick (ULA North Kildare) Need for taking minutes at meetings Information for individual members- steering committee needs more contact  

Mick Barry (SP, Cllr) Busy week next week- vote in council, protest, 2 meetings

Class issues opening up, vital to build ULA on these issues

Saturday- ULA day of action in Cork- 18 on the streets- credibility through campaigns

We fight for reforms, but we are not reformist

Election programme- a step forward, a left anti-capitalist programme but not a socialist programme Emphasis not on jargon but on content- whether you call it socialist or whatever else you want to call it, what’s the content?  

Madeleine Johansen (SWP) Need for grassroots, democracy Discussions at branch mtgs in which everyone puts forward their opinion ULA must be revolutionaries ULA must have “A vision of a future society that is better for all”  

Summation [Same guy as before wants 2 minutes to speak. Chair refuses, time is pressing. Persists. Lots of shouting from the audience. A handful seem to be shouting “Go back to the workers’ party”, “Go back to Labour”, even “go back to your IMF”. One individual stands up and says it’s unfair that this guy wants special treatment. Applause. Dermot Connolly stands up and proposes that the guy is given just a minute to speak. Less applause. Shouting continues for some time until the guy finally sits down.]  

Séamus Healy (WUAG, TD) Vital to get information to members and take minutes of meetings Campaigns vital to knit together the organisations  

Richard Boyd-Barrett (SWP, TD) Building branches- 40-50 branches- key unit of democracy and accountability

Branch delegates to a national council which would make decisions, coordinate

Local groups should decide their own regularity of meetings- no central diktat

Public reps and delegates must be kept accountable to branches.

Agreeing on action & campaigns, ideological ferment  on IMF etc Forces moving toward us, not as left-wing as us, but getting there Socialism about the deed, not the word, eg. Socialist parties in Greece and elsewhere, who are in govt bringing down cuts, what does the word “Socialist” mean there?  

Declan Bree (Cllr) Urgent need to develop ULA internal democracy- hopes that the steering committee can provide that  

Joe Higgins (SP, TD) Gender balance points raised- 9 women out of 25 is not undemocratic. Would not advocate Fine Gael-style gender quotas – what is needed is an open and welcoming atmosphere. Further, ULA should choose the most able candidates, and the ones most willing to make sacrifices in their personal lives for politics

Unions- ULA must reclaim them for workers- activist networks forming in unions

Rest over the summer- in September things will heat up- opposition to local charges and water taxes

Water charges, ‘94-’96- great victory, but we’re fighting that battle again. Why, because it’s the same system. Critical need to bring together all our demands and campaigns with the aim of a Socialist world

  [this is all taken from notes I jotted down while sitting in the audience- inevitably I will have made some mistakes and misrepresented some things. If you’re reading this and want to propose an amendment to it, feel free to comment below. Sorry if I misunderstood or misleadingly rephrased anything anyone said]