onsdag den 31. december 2008

The Conflict in Gaza

An immediate ceasefire is to be desired. The victims of conflict are always the working class who will be injured or killed, who will live in fear whilst it is ongoing, who will see the birth of even more hatred.

The real solution to the continuing carnage in Gaza and the wider area is for Palestinians and Israeli workers to understand their class position and recognise they have more in common with one another than they do with their ruling classes, be they Israeli or Hamas. Two States, One State or similar is not a solution. Zionism and other nationalisms (compounded by religious superstitions) only divide the working class.

"The workers have no country, they have a world to win" is as true a maxim today as it was in 1848. But such an internationalist position will only emerge when workers adopt the socialist position.

Within the tormented area of the struggle Arab and Jewish workers have already given evidence of where the chains rub them by the strikes that have taken place against Jewish, Arab and alien masters. These Jewish and Arab workers form the vast mass of the population of the territories involved; they are the poverty-stricken exploitable material without which neither the Jewish nor Arab capitalists and landowners, nor outside capitalists, would be able to reap their harvest of profit from those rich areas.

Industrially and commercially Jewish capitalists have been the progressive force. They have brought highly developed Western methods to a backward area, and in places have made the desert bloom. But with Western methods they have brought Western forms of wage-slavery and expanded under cover of nationalist ideals. For the Arab and Jewish worker neither Arab nor Jewish national independence will remove the mark of subservience from their brows. Their only hope of a life of comfort and security lies in joining with their brethren of other countries in a world socialist movement to overthrow capitalist domination in all its forms and establish Socialism in its place. Only a world Socialist system can remove from society the machinations of the oil and other capitalist interests that periodically turn the world into turmoil and bring greater misery to the millions of the workers.

(from an article "Palestine and its Problems", Socialist Standard, June 1948.)

The SPGB published a pamphlet in 1947 called The Racial Problem: A Socialist Analysis. (.pdf file.) It has three chapters on anti-semitism and Zionism which provide useful background information

lørdag den 27. december 2008

Mission to Mars (aka Beckham "sells" soccer to the States)

I am tired of this Beckham failed to sell soccer to the Yanks stuff. Truth is, he didn't need to go to the USA to interest people in the round version of football.

A few weeks ago, Eurosport showed matches from various female football championships (from the adult level to teens). The USA girls, all ages, do very well at football. They are always a force to be reckoned with. Their teen girls lost a final to North Korea in one of the tournaments just televised, for example.

Something tells me "promoting football in America" is gender specific, with an eye on $$$. American girls like football and want to play? Doesn't matter, doesn't count. "The guys matter." If you don't get guys off NFL or baseball and interested in football, it is deemed a failure, it seems.

It was nice that the North Korean teens won their cup. That country is a secret to us all, after all. Around the time, I saw a documentary about the last time the adult male North Koreans achieved in football. A British crew were allowed to visit the country and interview the boys who played in the 1966 World Cup. It was a great film.

The North Koreans were stationed in Middlesborough and the 'borough faithful took them to their hearts, something these elderly Koreans still have not forgotten. They pulled off a real shock - a win versus Italy in the qualifiers. They gave Eusebio's Portugal a real scare, going 3-0 up in the first quarter, before the legend scored 4 whilst a fifth from Augusto ended the Korean's hopes.

Sport should be played for fun, by both genders, nothing else.

Beckham didn't fail in the USA because his "mission" was chauvanist in nature. Maybe "they" should have asked Yank girls: " Did you like the Bend it Like Beckham" film? Chances are, some of the girls would have said " Yes", because they like football.

That Mr. Pulis is a very nice man

Danish TV showed the Stoke - Man U game on Boxing Day. It wasn't the greatest of games, but various sporting matches can be like that. (Man U won 0-1.)

I was rooting for Stoke to get at least a point. Potteries goalie is Danish nr.1 Thomas Sørensen and Tony Pulis is their manager. More on Pulis anon.

I am getting fed up with the way officials cop out because it is United; and I am getting tired of Shrek Rooney.

When Aalborg (AaB) played at Old Trafford in the Champions League a few weeks ago, a great 2-2 result for the Danish team, there was an incident where Rooney stamped on an AaB player and got away with it. The AaB player said something on the lines: any other team would have seen a Red Card, but not United at home. Yesterday, Rooney elbowed a Stoke player, and in full view of the Referee's assistent as they were by his touchline. No flag and no card given. (Also, Ronaldo tried kicking a player when he was tackled; nothing happened. In the 1998 World Cup, David Beckham connected with an Argentinian player when he did something similar to what Ronaldo did yesterday and he saw red.)

I don't understand Sir Alex. He ought to sort Rooney out with one of his famous ticking offs. Rooney is, IMHO, Steve Bull but with talent. Maybe Rooney needs that "Beckham moment"? Kim Milton, the Danish ref in the England-Argentina game, produced the card and Beckham changed. Beckham became a more relaxed player after that match and worthy of the captain's armband. Rooney oozes striking talent, however he comes across as a dirty bastard right now.

I hope Stoke fans appreciate Tony Pulis and what he has done for their club. He's a wonderfully articulate and softly spoken guy who got well and truly shafted by the Gillingham board.

In 1994/5, the Gills (in Division 3, what is League Two now) were an hour away from bankruptcy. They were literally saved in the 11th hour (by a Millwall supporter, of all people) and Pulis got the gaffa's job. Gillingham's 95/96 season was just amazing. They were promoted. That great season is remembered in e.g. this video

Pulis is actually a United fan! I heard a pre-match interview with him on BBC 5 Live on Thursday. He has only good words to say of Sir Alex. I only have good word to say of Pulis!

Tony Pulis, the ex-GFC player and ex-GFC manager, is welcome at Priestfield any day of the year. We love the guy and wish him well.

torsdag den 25. december 2008

Is the World Slump Over Yet?

In 1994, David Perrin reviewed a book which argued that the worst had yet to come in the then present world economic crisis. 14 years later, "ring of truth" comes to mind. - Gray

The Great Reckoning by James Dale Davidson and William Rees-Mogg (Pan, London, 1994 £7.99), subtitled "How the World Will Change Before 2000", aims to be prophetic. It forsees rocketing taxes, worldwide stock market crashes, a further fall in the property market, a collapse of the welfare state, social disintegration writ large, petty nationalist squabbles and terrorism.

The odd thing is that its authors are both gung-ho supporters of the very system - capitalism - that is capable of unleashing such horror, and find no contradiction in their position. They view the economic basis of capitalism as being fundamentally unstable, yet their advice is only to those already wealthy enough to be able to use their capital to their own advantage in the coming economic crunch. No talk of revolution here.

Nevertheless, The Great Reckoning is a fairly sophisticated book, which is unusual for one that prophecies a Doomsday scenario. Central to its analysis is its prediction of a 1930s-style economic crisis from which other dangers will follow. Davidson and Rees-Mogg claim that there are two main reasons why the world capitalist economy is in for a major period of slump. One is taken from the Austrian Physicist Cesare Marchetti who has spent time analysing the penetration of innovations and products in the capitalist economy. Marchetti dispenses with price-analysis and deals only in physical quantities, claiming that the penetration of commodities into markets can be equated with the spread of living species. He has, for instance, argued that the growth and spread of motor-cars into Western Europe can be explained by the same logistic equation that describes the penetration of, say, rabbits into Australia. Ten years ago Marchetti claimed that most of the markets that provided the spur for the post-war economic boom, like motor-cars, had become saturated. This, he reasoned, would mean economic slowdown.

Economic Slowdown

Marchetti'a argument doesn't fully take into account that technological innovation is itself a spur to capitalist growth and that the "old" industries are forever being replaced by new ones - and continue to be so. If capitalism is true to its development so far, the industries supposedly at the point of market saturation today will be heard of only in history books in the future. It should also be noted that devices exist - from proverbially "reinventing the wheel" to built-in obsolescence - which ensure that the long-term growth in cars, televisions and many other lines of production continue apace. There used to be near-physical market saturation for black-and-white TVs, but did that stop growth in the market for television? - Hitachi, Sony and Ferguson are testament to the fact that it did not. The manufacturers replaced black-and-white with colour, then brought out VCRs, then replaced colour mono with colour stereo, then stereo with surround-sound. Market saturation disappeared in a flurry of pound notes and dollar bills.

In truth Davidson and Rees-Mogg have a far better argument than Marchetti's to justify their view of the major world economic slowdown. Their second, more plausible view, is that capitalism is currently drowning in an ocean of debt:

Debt cannot go on compounding faster than output forever. At the rate it expanded in the United States in the 1980s, interest payments would consume 100 per cent of GNP by the year 2015. No such thing will happen. Long before debt reaches that extreme, it will be wiped away...One way or other we expect a great reckoning. A settling of accounts. We expect the long economic boom and credit expansion that began with World War II to come to an end. The end, when it comes, will not only reveal the insolvency of many individuals and corporations, it may also bring bankruptcy to the welfare state and breakdown of authority within political economies.

There is more than a grain of truth in this. In many world economies, debt is compunding at a faster rate than income and total world indebtedness, by every yardstick that can be named, was heavier at the start of the present slump than at the beginning of any other. In the United States alone the rate of debt to national GNP is now 195 percent, compared with 120 percent before the 1929 crash.

History has demonstarted that sustainable recoveries only begin when a considerable portion of debt built-up during the boom has been liquidated. If debt liquidation is insufficient, growth will remain sluggish even when "recovery" has supposedly begun, such as at present. Davidson and Rees-Mogg estimate that the amount of debt still to be liquidated during this slump in the US is three to four trillion dollars-worth.

The extension of credit effectively delays the onset of capitalism's periodic economic crises only to make them worse when they finally occur. In all economic booms some industries over-extend their operations in the pursuit of further profits and find that they have overproduced for their particular markets. A case in point in the present slump was the commercial property sector.

Perilous Situation

While some industries get into difficultie, other sections of the owning class find that their profits are increasing. The banks, acting as intermediaries between the buyers and sellers of money capital, lend out their accumulated capital to the enterprises in difficulty to keep them going. But this cannot generally correct the fundamental disproportion in growth between the industries and uneven expansion in relation to market demand. Through knock-on effects in industry overproduction spreads and the demand for money capital rises, pushing interest rates up. In this way, the mechanisms of credit extension in the capitalist economy papers over the underlying weaknesses in the productive sphere and buys firms some breathing space before the crisis comes - and this usually comes when the demand for credit is highest and interest rates are at their peak. However, the ultimate outstanding debt increases through this process, requiring a much greater "correction" in the slump as capital assets are devalued to bring productive capacity back into line. The result is not merely an industrial slump, but a financial, banking and property crash as well, as in the 1930s.

Davidson and Rees-Mogg see this as the present outlook for world capitalism. Mounting corporate, government and personal debt has placed the world economy into its most parlous situation for decades. They are all too aware that the only way out for capitalism, sooner or later, is a financial reckoning which will bring about a growth in poverty, a reduction in social welfare programmes and possibly more armed conflict between nation states.

Their analysis of the situation ends there. There is no prescription for how the slump can be avoided - e must just let it wash over us. The authors are completely blind to how the world might be organised to avoid financial slumps, without the market mechanisms which causes them in the first place. They dismiss the Soviet Union's model of capitalist planning out of hand, as well they might, but in doing so claim that this proves socialism to be an impossible dream. Particularly crass is a chapter on the fall of the Eastern Bloc - which socialists predicted - containing the assertion that this demonstartes the failure of Marxism. Indeed, some of the cooments in this chapter, like the assertion on page 188 that workers exploit capitalists rather than the other way around, defy rational analysis and are completely at variance with the otherwise coherent account presented. But, of course, the likes of Davidson and Rees-Mogg want workers to think that there really is no alternative to capitalism, however bad it may be, and that, despite everything, workers still get a good deal out of the system. Unluckily for them some of us know different.

Dave Perrin. Socialist Standard, August 1994.

onsdag den 24. december 2008

An Alternative Queen's Speech

(A text to be read before the real thing on Christmas Day.)

I'm speaking to you today from Sandringham - or is it Balmoral? No matter, it is one of the big houses or palaces I own and every Christmas Day I intrude on whatever enjoyment you might be having to foist a boring speech on you which is supposed to strike a thoughtful, humane note among the celebrations. I'm sitting in a sort of study and behind me is a window which opens onto the lush estate where my house stands.

I own these places because I'm a very rich woman - in fact about the sixth wealthiest person in the world and I'm worth about £3,340 million. Although I was born into this wealth and have never known what it is like to be poor, I shall be talking to you as if I was the sort of ordinary, everyday mum you're likely to have a chat with in the bus queue or in the doctor's waiting room or at the supermarket check-out. Except that I am the mother of the nation (for my recent ancestors it was the Empire) unless Margaret Thatcher manages to take that bit over as well.So for this broadcast I compose my face into the maternal expression - calm, caring, perceptive, wise.

A lot of people seem to believe it is my speech, all thought up by me. Well I do have a say in it but it's really what the people I work for tell me to say. I'm what is called a constitutional monarch - I do what the government tell me - and if I kick over the traces I will end up like my Uncle Edward.

Whatever is in my speech the media will report it as if it's really profound, earth-shattering, historical. They'll dredge through the frigid platitudes in the hope of finding some small nugget of humour, or controversy or intelligence. Then they'll blow it up into a big headline - "Queen Says War's A Killer", that sort of thing. I don't blame them; media people are like everyone else - except those like me - they have to work for a living.

In case my speech comes over as too boring and trivial I try to touch on some real problems which you might be experiencing. Like being homeless or struggling with life in a slum or in a high rise or battling to keep up with the mortgage on a regimented semi somewhere. This is a bit of a cheek, coming from someone who owns these big houses but I can't let on about the real housing problem - like shopping at the supermarket or having to queue for the doctor it's part of the wider poverty of all who work for their living.

This being Christmas I have to say something about children, to fit in with all that schmaltz about liitle faces aglow around the tree and so on. I drop hints that childhood is not like that - about violent, broken families, drugs, crime, dead-end years in comprehensive schools. It wasn't like that for my children; they had the best of everything, their schools carefully chosen and their whole lives based on the confidence that they would never want for anything. Perhaps that's why I get so upset at all those news items about Koo Stark and so on.

I often refer to problems abroad which, I say sadly, are casting such a blight across the joys of this great Christmas festival. Like war, famine, epidemics - always easy to talk about because they are going on somewhere all the time, wiping out millions every year. I pretend they're like social quirks which would go away if the Christmas spirit- peace on earth, goodwill to all, and so on - were allowed to last all year. Some people might be awkward and ask about these problems being knit into the fabric of the social system which awards these great privileges to me and forces degradation onto you. But they're obviously suffering from a lack of Christmas spirit.

And that brings me to Christmas itself. All those singing cash registers. All that rubbish being sold. All that nonsense spouted from pulpits and in programmes like this one. I try to forget that Christmas is only a short break in the routine, year-in year-out, exploitation, poverty, conflict and insecurity which you endure and the wealth and capital accumulation which keeps me so cosy. That's what destroys people's hopes, distorts their lives, represses them, kills them. And I'm one of its most prominent figureheads.

But I mustn't go on like this. My job is to encourage the most massive diversion of your attention from reality into a circus world of noise and colour. Remember my wedding? My coronation? The jubilee? The weddings of my children? You loved them all, they made you forget where you stand in the social order, what your lives are really like. And that is what I'm supposed to do, in this Christmas Day broadcast for example.

Well it's been nice getting this off my chest - a change from the usual twaddle. Oh, there's something else... Merry Christmas Suckers.

Socialist Standard editorial, December 1988.

lørdag den 13. december 2008

All those moments will be lost in time like tears in rain. Time to die

The big media story this week has been the documentary, shown on Sky, about the terminally ill man who chose assisted suicide at a clinic in Switzerland. He wanted his last days filmed in order to provoke discussion about euthanasia and death.

If Radio 5 Live phone ins are something to go by, opinions about euthanasia and screening such a documentary in the first place were pretty divided and a cause for great emotion. I am sure Denmark will see something similar because the channel DR1 has bought the rights to show the documentary here. (I have no idea when it will be screened though.)

One question asked on 5 Live was "What will be next?", i.e. are certain boundries being eroded when such a film is broadcasted. The cynical answer is "That which gets profit and ratings." Socialists do not think TV in capitalist society works purely on the mores of public education and democracy. That should be obvious enough, really, given Sky is a Murdoch buisness, and we all know what standards Fox works on!

The thing that perhaps scares people and gets them upperty is having to face up to a fact of life: one day we die. Yup. We stop breathing, our bodies decompose and that is that. No ever after as religious idiots (all faiths) preach. An eternity of not existing awaits. (Epicurus, a Greek philosopher whom Karl Marx wrote a thesis on, liked to point out there was an eternity of not existing before birth, so death would be no different. It is called the Mirror Argument.)

Talking about death is not such a bad thing as it sharpens, I think, thoughts on living life as best you can. It is carpe diem. You cannot do anything dead so do things whilst you have puff! (The political here is socialism will be a society that grants all the opportunity to live a full and rich life.)

I do have my fears though.

We do not choose when and where and how we die. For all I know, I could be run over tomorrow. There would be no chance then for me to say goodbye and settle something to and for my loved ones. Smash, bang and I am dead. That thought is mortality providing a mirror to view life. Knowing one is dying, as opposed to an accident or a murder, allows preperation for that event. Taking care of things each day as if it were the last makes even more sense.

Another fear is dying in utter pain. I have taken sheds load of pain playing Rugby Union but I never did like the ouchies. I think I am like many others when I wish for slipping away, peacefully, in my sleep or else being murdered at 112 years of age by a jealous lover, for shagging his 21 year old girlfriend.

Death gives me a tinge of sadness. I would love to see where humanity is in 2099. There are things I will not see, alas. And when I do pass on, will all I know and have seen be lost like tears in rain?

The euthanasia film reminded me of a song from a mid 80s, classic thrash album by the band Dark Angel. Take a look at the lyrics of Death is Certain (Life is Not)

Respecting your wishes
My brother, you wish to die
In a bed surrounded by tubes
Immobility's cast its shadow
In your body numbness reigns
You've calculated your demise
Your future racked with pain
I'll take the life behind your eyes
There was a time when death was distant
And the fire of life burned bright
Now we realize life's no constant
No will to life, death's a right
Euthanasia, not murder
Act of mercy to escape
Society's form of torture
To let you live this way
Death is certain
Life is not
Your mind's in torment
Waiting to rot
The final curtain
Always draws it close
When death is certain
The end unfolds
From the neck down, you're senseless
From the neck up, you're alive
And the politics of humanity
Refuse to let you die
And all the while you plot your death
With me at your side
Your last wish, your brain to rest
Your bondage ropes untied
And the prayer for miracles is through
For there's no god to care
Do unto others as done to you
Without a doubt he isn't there
I won't make a mistake with faith
Christ's a waste of time
How can I put my trust in god
With innocent people dying?
Paralytic disease infests your brain
Debilitates your mind
A vegetable wasting, decaying
You're running out of time
All I know is what you said
Before the comas' grip
Don't want to live your life brain dead
To death you crave to slip
The needle's pulled from in your arm
The pulse of life has stopped
Your granted plea, a painless death
To arrive at the end you'd sought
The cryptic statement - bonded truth
Lie peaceful in your grave
Did we just give up on you?
I hope you have been saved...
Death is certain
Life is not
Your mind lies dormant
Proceeding to rot
The final curtain
Has drawn its close
When death is certain
The end unfolds!

fredag den 12. december 2008

Back Soon!

Apologies for the long break; I shall be back blogging soon as I saved up for a new laptop.