Friday, November 30, 2007

India joins the scramble for Africa

Reposted from Socialist Banner:

A delegation from Chad, which met external affairs minister Pranab Mukherjee and minister of state for commerce Jairam Ramesh, has expressed willingness to allow India to participate in oil exploration in the country. India has offered Chad training in various sectors, including the petroleum sector, in exchange for participation in oil exploration in the West African country.

The Chad government, which wants Indian expertise in setting up a fertiliser plant, a cement factory and technical know-how in the dairy and leather industry, is only too willing to trade with oil blocks. Sources said the Chad government in response to the Indian interest has said it will look at giving oil blocks to India.

Chad also has a huge reserve of minerals, including uranium. "Yes, we have uranium reserves. We have already signed contracts with three companies for carrying out exploration activities. There are more blocks, and I would invite Indian companies,"

India is looking at raising its oil and gas imports from energy-rich Africa. To meet its growing domestic demand, the country is planning to import nearly 38 per cent more crude oil from the region in the next three years. The Petroleum Secretary said India wants to acquire more oil and gas fields as well as other energy projects like refineries, petrochemical plants, and pipelines in the region.

To unlock Chad's oil wealth, a 1,000 mile pipeline from Chad through Cameroon to the coast was constructed. The project was backed by the World Bank, which lent money and support on condition Let's use oil revenues to benefit all that much of the revenue from the oil wealth would go to poverty alleviation programmes.
This was written into Chad's laws.The particulars of the agreement (actually the law) were that 80 per cent of oil revenues would be spent on development projects, particularly in the social sector. The money would be kept in a Citibank account in London.
It looked like a foolproof deal. Barely two years later in 2005, the Chadian government changed the law and gave itself more discretion to spend the oil revenue as it pleased. As is to be expected in the circumstances, some of the money was used to purchase arms to shore up efforts to beat off a rebellion against the government. So on July 14, 2006, the World Bank and Chad signed a memorandum of understanding (another agreement) under which the Government committed 70 per cent of oil revenues to poverty reduction programmes.

But some top oil producers, which include Angola, Chad and Nigeria, did not make any gains in GNP , prompting the World Bank to conclude that mineral resources "do not always determine success".

Gods, ancient and modern

Book Review from the forthcoming December 2007 issue of the Socialist Standard

UFO Religion. Inside Flying Saucer Cults and Culture. By Gregory L. Reece. (IB Tauris. 2007.)

Why should socialists be interested in UFOs? Well, if they really are alien spacecraft then all humans should want to know the truth about them. UFOs should really be called UAPs – unidentified aerial phenomena rather than unidentified flying objects – since there undoubtedly are unusual aerial phenomena that do need explaining, and generally can be in terms of weather balloons, reflections, optical illusions, etc. To call them "flying objects" is to beg the question.

Reece is not really interested in those he calls the "nuts and bolts" ufologists – those who seek to employ scientific methods to gather verifiable evidence that they are alien spacecraft – even if he thinks that haven't had any success in this. His interest is those who believe in all sorts of weird and wonderful stories about them – the abductees, the contactees and those who say that aliens built the Pyramids and lived in Atlantis.

His is a book about why some people believe these things in the same way as others believe in the myths propagated by the various religions. Hence the book's title. His style is gently mocking. For him, those who claim to have been abducted and experimented on or had sex with aliens are either hoaxers, fantasists, attention-seekers or in need of psychiatric help.

It's the "contactees" – those who claimed to have met aliens and to have come back with a message from them – who really interest him. In the 1950s and 60s the message they reported was that the visiting aliens wanted us humans to achieve world peace and harmony and to stop testing atomic bombs in the atmosphere. Those who think that aliens built the Pyramids and the like also saw aliens as higher beings trying to help us.

Reece's conclusion is that these imagined aliens are "modern gods" with a modernised version of what the god(s) of traditional religions are said to teach. Like them, they are the creation of the human mind, a reflection of a human aspiration for a world of peace and harmony.

He is concerned, however, that, in recent years, some of these new gods have turned out to be as nasty as the old ones. He instances Scientology and the Heaven's Gate cult, both of which preach, in a modernised form, the old anti-human dogma that our bodies are evil and that the aim of life is to prepare for our "souls" (considered by these two cults to have come from outer space) to leave them so that we can progress to a higher dimension. I hadn't realised before that the Mormons believe that their god was originally an extra-terrestrial. One now wants to become the US President as if the present incumbent didn't have nutty enough religious views.

Adam Buick

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

A Psychologist Critical Of Capitalism

The latest book by David Small, "Power, Interest and Psychology" which came
out last year (PCCS Books, Ross-On-Wye, England, 2005; also available as a
free read on his website at, but only
recently to our attention, constitutes the perfect synopsis of the ideas he
has been developing in all his prior works, in particular, "Taking Care"
(J.M.Dent & Sons, London, England, 1987) and "The Nature of Unhappiness"
(Robinson, London, England, 2001). Because of their importance in the
overall field of clinical psychology in stressing society over individuals,
and also the potential assistance they may accord to those of us advocating
a new society with relative difficulty for the past century, it was felt
justifiable to examine his ideas in more than the space normally accorded in
our journal to a book review.

David Smail is a psychologist, now retired from his position as Special
Professor in Clinical Psychology at the University of Nottingham in England
from 1979 to 2000, little known either within his field or to those outside
of mental health who are critical of capitalism. However, his books have
over the years made giant contributions, in this writer's opinion, to an
understanding of the psychology of oppression. Also, his description of the
psychological effects and requirements of capitalism reads as though it came
right from the pen of a socialist in this very journal, and indeed comes
highly recommended for our readers, differing only, and unfortunately, in
the specific political conclusions he draws in the last fifteen or so pages,
as we shall see later.

Smail has been a longstanding critic of psychotherapy, in particular the
way it values an interior view of humankind (one based on a fictitious inner
world with false claims of influence upon the world, what he calls
"ideality") over an exterior view of humankind (one based upon the existing
social relations of power, or "reality"). Smail is very aware that
psychotherapy does provide some valuable elements, such as empathic
listening, and the solidarity that a therapist offers a patient, however as
a social materialist (as he calls himself) he criticizes the "magical
voluntarism" inherent in psychotherapy, which no matter what clinical
orientation (psychodynamic, behavioral, cognitive, humanistic) communicates
a false message that "you can change the world you are responsible for in
order to lessen the distress you feel"). This message, says Smail, is
essential to the underpinning of capitalist relations, which depend upon the
producers or dispossessed experiencing their misery as essentially owing
either to something that is fundamentally wrong with them, or to a product
of their choice or will, or to something somehow alterable through greater
conviction, will-power, analysis or insight on their part. Changing people
or their reactions to our stressful world is after all what therapists do.
Indeed, they possess an economic interest in promoting such a goal, since
therapy is by definition that professional service. Smail feels clinical
psychologists should be focusing more on helping humans understand their
social natures and how the world inevitably produces certain emotional
reactions. He feels with good reason that clinical psychologists stressing
individual psychopathology and vulnerability and therapeutic assistance for
these (which is mostly what they have done) have wrought a gross disservice
to humanity by in this fashion serving the ideological needs of capitalism
that requires us to adopt an atomized conception of our citizenship, atoms
that look after themselves and their families, competing with other atomic
consumers and workers in the marketplace.

Smail mourns (as we do) the resulting the loss of our understanding of the
material reality we inhabit, which has been substituted in clinical
psychology by the fiction of our exaggerated powers as individuals, even
though most of the "proximal" (local) powers we do exert, for example upon
our children, friends, family or in the workplace, are limited in relation
to the "distal" (far away) powers of states and corporations which much more
significantly define the nature of our condition as working people. The
reason this happens, according to Smail, is partly owing to the ease with
which humans fall prey to certain illusions because of the nature of their
"embodied" existence (we do after all experience ourselves as "minds"
"inside" "bodies" looking "out" "into" the "world outside"), and of their
minds as being the products of bodies interrelating with environments. In
the limited "proximal space-time" we inhabit, it is easy for each of us to
experience our world as "self-as-centre" (much as our ancestors were fooled
into believing the geocentric view of the universe that appeared quite
rational according to the input from their senses – it certainly does look
as though it is the sun rising). See Figure 1 called The Impress of Power
for an encapsulated explanation of what we have discussed thus far.

The Embodiment balloon illustrates what we as bodies experience – our
feelings, abilities, dispositions, perceptions, memories, reflexes and
impulses – products of our peculiarly human neurological wiring. At the
same time, we also develop (and mostly acquire from our culture) a set of
beliefs, ideas, or ideals that evolve along with the development of our
language. One might legitimately view these as linguistic constructions.
Because we have an ongoing internal self-talk (which Smail calls
"commentary") about our embodied experience, it is easy to construe our
commentary as somehow causing our ongoing actions or emotional reactions.
In short, it is easy for us to assume a personal agency that we may not
actually possess, at least not to the extent we imagine personally, or we
are brainwashed into believing by society's ideologues. Smail suggests that
the most powerful influences that end up impinging upon the individual tend
to be those further from him or her, such as the economic, political and
cultural that help to define the nature of our actual worlds (physical as
well as mental). This is where Smail is at his most brilliant – discussing
how biological and cognitive limitations of humans are so easily exploited
by the ruling class to create the sort of dream-world humans inhabit more
and more, and which create such a lasting hold upon them especially in terms
of their beliefs and allegiances.

Smail suggests that "power (the means of obtaining security or advantage)
is the fundamental dynamic of social structure." He suggests that our
embodied existences certainly do provide some basic powers that some may
exert over others, for example physical attractiveness or muscular strength,
however such powers as the economic, the legal, the coercive and the
ideological (the latter being the control of meaning, language, perspective
and horizon) which define the nature of our existences to the greatest
degree tend to be distal influences, which control us considerably even
though we possess no meaningful control over them (as individuals). Smail
understands the blinders that workers have on not only because of the
immense economic interests that the owning class has in maintaining them,
but also because workers too in their states of dispossession have emotional
interests to avoid seeing the brutal, naked, painful, truth, and so to
accept the manufactured dream world of endless commodities, entertainment,
celebrities, religion, and of course psychotherapy (which helps individuals
to view their disturbances in entirely individual terms, which they falsely
think to be correctible through changing ideas and through being
sufficiently motivated to do so). In essence, the dreams workers inhabit
that are mostly produced by the capitalist class feed real emotional
interests workers may have in accepting powers that may help them overcome
their status, their loneliness, or their anxiety.

Smail states that our preoccupations are with things closer to home than
the real world, such as with our own economic survival and that of those
close to us, with our status within the social groups we occupy locally,
with everyday personal satisfactions and discomforts, with ambitions,
dreams, and wishes. Our immediate interests, then, may blind us cognitively
to the wider picture, but Smail also attributes such blindness to the distal
nature of the actual centers of power – just as the commentator in the
socialist video Capitalism and Other Kids Stuff discusses how easy it is not
to think about the millions of starving children in other continents because
of their distance from our everyday lives, so we also typically never step
into the corporate boardrooms or mansions where critical decisions affecting
our daily, ordinary, lives are made.

Smail writes especially powerfully when discussing the psychology of
oppression. He writes: "The material of subjectivity is indeed raw, and its
significance is lost without a public world that can structure it and give
it expression. For our private experience to mean anything, for its value
to be realized, it has to be accommodated within a "commons" – within public
space – that recognizes it as a contribution." He writes a bit further on
that a "life is given meaning and value not by being enjoyed in private, but
by being lived and appreciated in public." Such recommendations by a
clinical psychologist are of course a breath of fresh air not enjoyed since
Erich Fromm wrote "The Sane Society" in 1955, and are thus heartily welcomed
by those of us who work for a world of common ownership that we feel might
better realize not only our material needs in our world of relative poverty,
struggle to make a living, and economic insecurity, but also might more
effectively nurture our emotional needs for participation, validation,
creativity, and freedom.

Smail, however, makes a few points with which socialists must disagree.
Indeed, they appear to spring out of errors in his analysis (even though his
understanding of the psychological requirements of capitalism is truly
brilliant and highly recommended to other socialists). His political
recommendation ends up being a moral prescription that "a rearrangement of
the ways in which we act towards each other could bring about a very
significant lessening in the degree of emotional pain and anguish." This
would seem in contradiction to his main thesis that the idea of a change in
our basic constitution (at least in a class society) is a psychological
fallacy. Meanwhile, while certainly praising Marx earlier for his very rich
social psychology, he also condemns him for naively assuming that capitalism
contains the seeds of its downfall, and for not foreseeing its ability to
produce "movable goalposts." But of course, it was precisely because Marx
understood psychological life as emerging from existing material conditions
that he felt revolutionary ideas would forever spring out of them. In other
words, how else may we interpret even David Smail's insights (more "seeds"),
if not reflecting the social conditions of capitalist exploitation and
alienation and supporting Marx's thesis that the contradictions of
capitalist production produce socialist consciousness?

Smail thinks persuasion is a waste of time, but his pages on this matter
appear to be in attack mostly upon the idea that persuasion of existing
political and economic institutions falls upon deaf ears owing to their
interests, with which we would agree. But what of persuasion urging for our
liberation from capital attempted by working people to others in their
class? Furthermore, why if Smail considers interest of such prominent
influence upon action does he not conclude that working people should be
more receptive to revolutionary ideas if indeed they do possess an economic
and presumably also an emotional interest to abolish the conditions that
limit their power so significantly? At one point, Smail admits to having no
idea how to achieve social change, but then shortly later he wonders if
perhaps solidarity action will arise from our having nothing to lose but our

The greatest problem with Smail's thesis appears to be in his understanding
of power. While it may be true that capitalism is able to exert power in
different ways (legal, economic, coercive, ideological), his theory views
capitalism in not a very socially relational manner at all. He falls prey
to the same errors of modern anti-capitalists and leftists who view
capitalism as having entered into a unique neo-liberal globalization phase
that is qualitatively different from previous forms. Indeed, his book
contains an illustration of one theoretically improved society that is
basically a form of capitalism in which wealth is more fairly distributed
(fair, presumably, only for those who see the system as potentially fairer),
taxation more progressive, and public services more extensive. After his
powerful critique of the role of capitalism upon the human psyche, this
appears to be one very anti-climatic vision of a society "Taking Care" (the
title of a previous book). This shows how he views the corporate
capitalists and the states that make political decisions on their behalf as
basically the bad guys because of their noxious influence upon the quality
of our lives, and not the relations of capitalism themselves which produced
and required such institutions. This view of capitalism does not account,
for example, for how workers are actually complicit in this process by
actually providing the system with power at every election (we have no
argument with Smail about the extensive influence of ideological power upon
their choices or upon how they think about the election).

Smail sees society's significant power as sort of floating powerfully from a
distance but does not appreciate how this power originates in the ownership
of the means of production. So many leftists and anarchists share this
incorrect view of power, and so spend the bulk of their time trying to
reform capitalism rather than to replace it outright with a new society
geared exclusively toward meeting human needs and not toward selling
commodities. When the means of production are owned by a minority, that
minority requires a coercive, legal and ideological machine to protect its
property. When the means of production are owned in common (or by no one,
same thing), then an ideological, coercive or legal apparatus will no longer
be necessary. Just as money will no longer be necessary, since wealth will
be produced and consumed by the same global population that owns it. And
along with such common ownership, all citizens will possess equal access to
the decision-making process. Surely Smail does not find evidence in our
past or in countries elsewhere in our present that state capitalist regimes
are more democratic and participatory? That people in such regimes are any
less likely to be sent to therapists when they get depressed or fed up
living their nine to five existences?

How can Smail as a psychologist so critical of capitalism not see that it is
not the type of capitalism that his patients find so miserable, but the very
relations of that society, whatever government is in power? Does working
for a small company necessarily mean workers feel less dependent, less
excluded, less exploited, less overworked, less bored? Socialists postulate
that no matter what type of capitalism (private, state, or mixed) the basic
relations of the system are identical – the majority must work for the
minority in order to buy back some of the wealth from its wages that it
produced as a class. Also, without understanding such relations of
capitalism, Smail is not able to even consider an alternative, a society
without employment, money or states, even though he is so understandably
nauseated by their effects upon us admittedly psychologically vulnerable

Smail has therefore done a fantastic job (and is a lone voice in the field
of psychology doing it) in attempting to explain what appear to be the
cognitive errors humans make that frustrate their ability to understand the
workings of the entire system (for example, their tendency to view the
"outside" in terms of "selves" in the center of their worlds), and also what
we may term the existential experiences that keep them focused on day to day
concerns of their own economic and psychological survivals. How else could
they not be so focused, given their deprivation from the means of life?
Surely slaves and peasants were similarly focused in prior exploitative

Still, hundreds of thousands of workers have thus far over the past few
centuries understood that they have an interest in collectively putting an
end to such a society and replacing it with a society of common ownership
and production for use instead of sale, even though at no time were they
ever sufficient in numbers to actually do so. A poignant question to
address a psychologist such as Smail is: "Why do some workers possess these
insights and work for such a future, while others remain blinded?" Another
question that comes to mind is: "In what way may existing psychological,
cognitive, knowledge serve socialists in terms of what they should be doing
to more effectively convey socialist understanding to other humans?" As a
psychologist, is Dr. Smail not aware of other forms of cognitive distortions
and biases that cognitive scientists have reported humans frequently engage
in (the fundamental attribution bias to name only one) other than the
experience of self-as-centre that may have further explicated the process
that keeps humans from seeing the bigger picture of their exploitation or of
their membership in an international class if not in a worldwide family with
common ancestral origins? Smail writes at length of the ways science is
used in the interest of supporting capitalism's ideology or profit-making
(we would not argue with him here) but what of scientific thinking that
encourages skepticism and demands evidence before accepting claims, which
Smail does seem to discuss briefly in positive terms – may the rise of such
thinking as part of mainstream culture not act as an important antidote to
humans' natural propensity to think in limited ways that capitalism clearly
exploits? If capitalism produces greed, as Smail argues (and of course we
agree here) then why does he not argue for its complete abolition if he
desires humans to behave in more cooperative and caring ways?

Dr. Who

Chicago, 2006

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Bushmen - the attempted genocide continues

reposted from Socialist Banner

We have posted before here about the harrassment and oppression of the indigenous peoples of southern Africa , the Bushmen . We sadly report that this is continuing .

The Bushmen of the Central Kalahari Game Reserve have been forced from their ancestral lands in a wave of evictions by the Botswana government. In 2006 they won an historic legal victory when Botswana's High Court ruled that their eviction was 'unlawful and unconstitutional'. Yet , since then the government has arrested more than 50 Bushmen for hunting to feed their families, and banned the Bushmen from using their water borehole during one of the fiercest droughts in years. Hundreds still languish in resettlement camps, unable or scared to return home. Survival's director Stephen Corry said today, "The Botswana government has had nearly a year to implement the court's ruling. It's now clear it has no intention of doing so..."

There are 100,000 Bushmen in Botswana, Namibia, South Africa and Angola. They are the indigenous people of southern Africa, and have lived there for tens of thousands of years. In the middle of Botswana lies the Central Kalahari Game Reserve, a reserve created to protect the traditional territory of the 5,000 Gana, Gwi and Tsila Bushmen (and their neighbours the Bakgalagadi), and the game they depend on.
In the early 1980s, diamonds were discovered in the reserve. Soon after, government ministers went into the reserve to tell the Bushmen living there that they would have to leave because of the diamond finds. In three big clearances, in 1997, 2002 and 2005, virtually all the Bushmen were forced out. Their homes were dismantled, their school and health post were closed, their water supply was destroyed and the people were threatened and trucked away. There is plans for a massive diamond mine worth $2.2 billion on the Bushmen's land.

They now live in resettlement camps outside the reserve. Rarely able to hunt, and arrested and beaten when they do, they are dependent on government handouts. They are now gripped by alcoholism, boredom, depression, and illnesses such as TB and HIV/AIDS. Unless they can return to their ancestral lands, their unique societies and way of life will be destroyed, and many of them will die.

Details emerged of the torture and beating of a group of Bushmen in Kaudwane resettlement camp, Botswana. Fifteen men were arrested in late September for hunting, and at least ten of them were tortured. Police and wildlife guards took three of the men , made them run through the desert for several hours in high temperatures, following them in vehicles. They beat the three with sticks, kicked them, jumped on them and tightened car inner tubes around the necks . Another group of three were made to run through the desert in a separate incident. Other Bushmen were beaten with sticks, threatened, punched, slapped, held without food or water, and had handcuffs tightened around their wrists until they were forced to confess to hunting. A Bushman died in 2005 a few weeks after he was beaten and tortured by wildlife scouts.

Stephen Corry said , 'Botswana's police and wildlife guards have tortured or beaten at least 63 Bushmen for hunting over the past three years, and they've arrested 53 this year alone. Their policy couldn't be clearer – to terrorise the Bushmen so that they're too afraid to go home. It's a policy that is both brutal, and doomed to failure.'

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Why Gould was wrong, and why Dawkins might be even more wrong

From the Pathfinder column of the November issue of the Socialist Standard

A science writer who knows how to communicate to a lay audience is a rarity. But to find two in the same field, battling each other's ideas in the public domain, is a real treat, and the long-running contest on evolutionary theory between the late Harvard palaeontologist Stephen Jay Gould and the Oxford ethologist and biologist Richard Dawkins was a gem of the first rank. If the modern science-inclined public has better than a cartoon Darwinist grasp of the complex story of evolution it is in no small thanks to these two outstanding writers.

Their disagreements were neither feigned nor frivolous. They argued about whether evolution worked at the level of the species animal or group (Gould) or the individual gene (Dawkins). They argued about whether evolution went in fits and starts (Gould) or as a continuum (Dawkins). They argued about whether evolutionary mutations were as often as not meaningless aberrations or freaks of 'historical contingency' (Gould) or purposeful and deterministic adaptations (Dawkins).

While the debates were never quite this simplistic, it's fair to say that the two men followed distinctive trends in their thinking. For Gould life was largely a series of existential accidents, without purpose or goal, and with many evolutionary jokes and anomalies thrown in. One has only to consider the Permian extinction, which killed 95% of all species on the planet, to understand how capricious nature can be. And that was only one of five great extinctions, each clearing the decks for an explosion of new and unprecedented life-forms, each a blind roll of the dice. As Gould was fond of saying, if you rewound the tape of evolution back to the beginning and replayed it, humans would probably not appear, and nothing would come out the same.

For Dawkins, in comparison to this a galloping determinist, such randomness was anathema. Though never a crude 'adaptationist' of the sort Gould ridiculed, the sort who looks for an evolutionary purpose behind everything, Dawkins would still tend to look for the angle. And there are reasons for thinking there are reasons for things. As James Marden, professor of biology at Pennsylvania State University put it, when writing of 'constructal theory' in August 2006:

"Our finding that animal locomotion adheres to constructal theory tells us that -- even though you couldn't predict exactly what animals would look like if you started evolution over on earth, or it happened on another planet -- with a given gravity and density of their tissues, the same basic patterns of their design would evolve again,"(From here.)

Thus, for Gould, the world was a matter of sheer luck, for Dawkins, a matter of rules. What made it interesting was that they were both right. But what makes it even more interesting is to reflect how their vastly different approaches manifested themselves when considering the festering problem of religion.

If the world was a random lottery of chance, as Gould saw it, with species doing their best to keep their fingers crossed and fit into whatever niche they could find, then surely one's only hope was to make the best of a bad lot and accommodate oneself to the world in whatever way one could. Seeing that society was redneck-deep in religious ignorance and superstition, and seeing that the outnumbered forces of reason and science had no realistic prospect of defeating them, then the best survival strategy must surely be to reach an accommodation with them.

Thus the idea of 'non-overlapping magisteria', or NOMA. The term 'magisterium' is ecclesiastical, meaning 'area of authority'. The idea was that science had its area of undisputed authority, and religion had its area, and provided that science did not interfere on the priests' turf and religion didn't interfere in science, everyone should be happy. Gould was hoping at best for some form of symbiotic equilibrium, which was a faint hope, and also something of an irony. If there was one man alive who was least likely to believe in the viability of long-term equilibrium in anything, it was Gould. Thus, the chief proponent of the idea that such 'equilibria' in nature were forever getting themselves 'punctuated' to devastating effect (the extinctions, for example) now found himself uncomfortably proposing the very opposite.

Needless to say, Dawkins treated Gould's notion of NOMA with undisguised derision, branding it the 'Neville Chamberlain school' of appeasement (The God Delusion, p. 67). For, argues Dawkins, the religious side would never stick to their side of the partition, partly because beliefs such as the belief in miracles require real-world alterations to the laws of physics, and partly because the canting hypocrites constantly seize and flourish any scrap and gobbet of scientific evidence that appears to support their nutty ideas. But Dawkins doesn't merely distrust the religious theologians, he actively despises them and refuses to accord their area of 'authority' any respect at all. Where Gould appeared to 'bend over backwards to be polite', Dawkins retorts: 'I don't think we should even throw them a sop'.

Delightful and refreshing as this undoubtedly is for thinking atheists everywhere, others, scientists among them, are bemused by Dawkins's belligerence. But, unlike Gould, in Dawkins' world there are rules. And if the world is built on a base of rules, then it follows that there is an optimal or correct structure or order, and a sub-optimal or incorrect structure. Two different structures would be mutually exclusive, and therefore inevitably in conflict, a conflict only resolvable upon the death of one or other of them. It is in consequence an evolutionary directive for incompatible systems to attempt to destroy each other. For Dawkins, if science doesn't kill religion, religion will surely kill science.

The same argument can be had among socialists, some arguing that religion can be 'accommodated', others that it must be destroyed. Not surprisingly, Gould and Dawkins didn't agree about politics either. Gould was a progressive liberal with socialistic tendencies, not unlike the class-savvy Carl Sagan. Dawkins is a conservative who identifies the processes of capitalist trading as being prefigured in our 'altruistic' or 'dealing' genes, and whose conception of social history betrays no recognition of the role of class struggle. Thus he celebrates, in The God Delusion, how the 'zeitgeist' has changed remarkably, but in the absence of the dynamic of class can offer no explanation for it beyond feeble references to 'charismatic leaders' and 'role-models'. This failure to grasp the real forces of social relationships, more than anything else, is what sidelines Dawkins' polemic against religion. Gould may have been wrong in trying to compromise, but in his better understanding of the totality of the conflicts in capitalism he had his eye on a much larger picture. For Gould, as for Sagan, the imperative was not mutual ideological destruction, but consensual growth. Put simply, you have to take people with you, or they will desert you. For socialists too, who rely on a consensual understanding to effect socialist change, it's not just a matter of beating the other guy in the argument. For all his engaging chutzpah, Dawkins is arguably fighting the wrong battle, in the wrong way, in the wrong war.

Paddy Shannon

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Green Without Being Green

October 25th's New York Times contained a special full-color insert titled "Corporate Social Responsibility - Designing a Sustainable Future". The introduction, given by the President and CEO of Business for Social Responsibility Aron Cramer, tells us that "Consumers are paying more attention to the sources of the food they eat and the safety of the products they buy for their children", implores business to heed "a new urgency for business strategy integrate social and environmental impacts with opportunities", and goes on to say "The most exciting chances to leverage business success for broad social benefit involve innovations that deliver new products…"

You don't have to be fluent in business-speak to realize what he is saying; people are buying more and more "green" goods and services, and capitalists can make money from it if they pay attention. The insert contained other articles on the following: Yahoo! Green's Carbon Footprint calculator, Greenpeace helping Coca-Cola revamp its refrigeration technology, DuPont's latest efforts in Frankenfoods, delivery of women's reproductive health care to under 25 year-old sweatshop workers in Asia, and some marketplace innovations made by an outdoor apparel and a household chemical company. All of these are intended to show you that companies big and small are changing their practices to become more "sustainable" - part of what capitalism means when it says "green". Just to drive the point home are small green graphics of a globe, a 3-member family, the recycling symbol, and what looks like a tulip. Finally, nestled at the page bottoms (but by no means hidden) as if it was some kind of sick inside joke, the sponsors of this insert reveal themselves in ink-intensive splendor - Shell and ConocoPhillips.

Make no mistake, capitalism isn't sustainable, and it isn't suddenly going to start caring about the environment. In fact, it has been systematically exploiting and destroying whatever it touches since the Industrial Revolution. But they want you to believe it so that you buy their new "green" products (and hopefully don't sic your congressman on them) and pretend everything is ok. It's the newest frontier in branding. See, they realize that buying products and services that are associated with the "green" phenomenon has quietly become a way for the affluent West to assuage the guilt some feel when they realize what the results of their lifestyles of conspicuous consumption have been to the planet and its less fortunate population. For example, the concept of buying carbon credits, where people or corporations pay to invest in companies researching some green technology or another in order to "offset" their massive carbon dioxide emissions is the fashionable equivalent of the old 10 Hail Marys after confession. It does nothing to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by one molecule, but it looks like one is kinda-sorta-maybe doing something about the problem of way too many greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Regardless, the credit buyers feel and look better and capitalism gets healthier for it. If I go on, I could turn this into an exposé of the various ways capitalism tries to make green by seeming green, but it will probably just depress you and is not my point.

Capitalism can never really be green, so it has to try really hard to make you think it can so you keep on playing along. Actually reducing the amount it pollutes the world affects capitalism's ability to produce the most amount of products for the least amount of labor - so environmental costs are never supposed affect the bottom line and so are hopefully passed along to the public in one way or another. After avoiding any real effort on the part of governments to make it do so for decades, capitalism is now sensing some backlash at the marketplace by actual consumers, if only just a trickle. This is enough to spur the captains of industry into action…to seem green without being green, and at the same time get the consumer to pay for it.

Socialism as an economic system is also green without being green, but for an entirely different reason. Being a completely different economic system, its motivations and actions come from a different point of view. A system designed to meet the needs of the entire human population would actually be working against itself by polluting the planet and its people, so negative environmental impact costs must be factored into a socialist administration of production. Since profit is not the objective, and property law no longer pits people against each other, socialism avoids the "tragedy of the commons" by distributing the benefits among the same ones bearing the costs. Society as a whole decides just how much environemental damage is worth it, and then has to deal with the outcomes directly.

How would socialism solve the problems addressed in the articles contained in the insert? Yahoo! Green's (misleading because it makes one think individuals are the causes of greenhouse gases) calculator would be irrelevant because everyone's carbon footprint would be pretty much the same and calculated ahead of time as a tool to administer production. Coca-Cola's army of refrigerators would no longer be needed to keep an army of Coca-Cola cold as it's waiting to be sold, since things will only be produced in quantities that are needed. A socialist society may just even decide it's no longer worth it to continue making caffeinated sugar-water any more. Frankenfoods will no longer be necessary, as people in "Third World" will become part of the only world and can start growing their own food again, they way they want to, instead of the export crops demanded of them by global neo-liberal capitalist markets; the massive amount of food wasted waiting to be sold will also be avoided by producing enough to satisfy needs and making it freely available. Eliminating sweatshops will go a long way towards safeguarding women's reproductive health around the world (and stop fucking assholes like Aron Cramer from blaming problems on "ignorance and cultural taboos"). Production of all products will automatically have "superior design, factoring in sustainability" instead of depending on hipster start-ups like Nau and Method make them seem so cutting-edge and marketable.

Hopefully, if you are reading this, it is because you too are concerned about the fate of humanity and the planet we live on. Perhaps you already see the hypocrisy in the marketing of mass-produced green products and services to be sold for profit. We think that socialism can provide real, practical solutions to the problems caused by capitalism (not the least of which is environmental degradation) through eliminating their causes rather than selling salvation. If this possibility interests you, check out what we have to offer or contact us!


Thursday, November 8, 2007

Market Madness

Food monitors are concerned that people in West African countries who rely on international imports of wheat and rice are going to struggle to buy enough to eat this year due to high commodity prices.

Poor global production of wheat means worldwide prices reached a record high in September 2007 and remained volatile in October. Rice prices have also risen steadily since January 2007 according to the FAO, and high fuel prices have added higher shipping costs .

"We're concerned," said Henri Josserand, head of the FAO's early warning unit in Rome. "We see that prices are going to be quite high and that's going to mean that there are big problems of access to food for people in some West African countries this year."

Mauritania and Senegal are the two countries in the region which rely the most on international markets rather than domestic farming. Wheat is a staple food in both but all of it is imported. Mauritania grows just 30 percent of the food its 3 million people need and imported wheat prices have exploded by over 75 percent there this year, from US$200 for a ton to US$356, according to the food monitoring group FEWSNET. Wheat is used to feed humans and animals in Mauritania.
"The main reason people moved to eating wheat was because it was less expensive. It became very important in basic diets," said Salif Sow, Sahel representative of FEWSNET.
In Senegal, the government has cut import tariffs on wheat yet there has still been a 12 percent increase in the cost of bread in the last month.
In Guinea Bissau, where imported rice is a staple, there is also a concern. The World Food Programme has warned that prices for rice have increased by 40 percent in 2007 compared to 2006.

"Good harvests in one country in West Africa does not necessarily mean food security for the people that live there as West Africa's highly integrated markets mean food moves freely from one country to another."

A large part of the grain grown in Niger will pass over the border to Nigeria , and Niger could be left with a shortage as happened in the major crisis in 2005. In that instance, much of the grain grown in Niger was found to have been used to feed chickens in some of Nigeria's vast chicken farms, even as people starved in Niger.

Once again , experts confirm that the capitalist market of buying and selling does not satisfy the basic human needs of society .

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Ethics and the Class Struggle

From the Socialist Standard, July 1905.

Among the middle-class "Socialists" who run the so-called labour movement in this country, it is hardly fashionable just now to deny the reality of the class struggle; yet when it is shown how necessary it is to base working-class political action on that reality, these Utopians wriggle like eels to escape such a logical conclusion. When driven by argument from their objections on practical grounds to the class war basis, such sentimentalists often fall back on the assertion that it is immoral, that it stirs up strife and sets one class against another.

Now, with those who profess to base their "Socialism" on the New Testament, such a position is not to be wondered at; for to them the injunction applies, to "Resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on they right cheek turn to him the other also. And if any man sue thee at law, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloak also. And whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain."– Matt. V. Obviously, the only logical attitude for such people is that of absolute non-resistance to the capitalists. And there the working-class may leave them.

As is only to be expected, the capitalist and his satellites strongly deprecate any hostile attitude on the part of the worker. The proper conduct of the working-class should be, according to capitalist ethics, duly sheep-like. According to this code, working men should be thrifty (that they may work cheaply and keep off the rates), they should be industrious (that they may pile up wealth for others), and above all, they should be meek and obedient (that they may duly obey the laws kindly made for them by their masters). The prevailing code of ethics has its foundation in the material interests of the ruling class, and may be summed up in the words, "Whatever injures capitalist interests is immoral." The charge that the class struggle is immoral is founded on such a code. For us, then, it is necessary to look at the matter from a higher standpoint, that we may see whether an insistence on the class struggle is immoral or not in the light of humanity's interests.

What is the basis of the modern class antagonism? It is based on the fact that one section of society owes its income and its superior position to property, to the ownership of the means of producing wealth; whilst another section, so vast as to be practically the nation, owes its inferior position to the fact that it owns no property but is compelled to live by the sale of its labour-power to those who own the means of life. Out of the total product of labour the worker cannot obtain, in general, more than his cost of subsistence. Those who own the instruments of labour appropriate the rest. Thus there is born a class struggle, pursued consistently by the capitalists, but, as yet, ineffectively and spasmodically by the workers. The scientific Socialist urges a more consistent waging of this struggle because (to put it shortly) only by the defeat of the enemy can peace be obtained.

All classes will, as in the past, fight bitterly to retain their superior position to the workers'. The only class that can be relied on for the abolition of privilege and power to exploit, is the unprivileged propertyless working-class. The recognition of the class struggle is consequently the only effective basis of working-class action, for it is childish indeed to expect that the capitalists will of their own accord get off the backs of the workers. Obviously, the immediate interests of all except the working-class are opposed to the abolition of private property in the means of life.

The strife of today is, then, not created by the Socialist, but is the result of economic conditions maintained by the ruling class. The Socialist seeks to enlighten his fellows on the causes of this struggle, and to show how utterly futile it is to expect the owning class to abolish the cause of strife, or abandon in any way its own interests. He wishes to point out above all, that since the interests of all sections of the capitalist-class are fundamentally opposed to the interests of the workers, therefore the sane policy of the working-class must be in consistent opposition to all capitalist political factions however these may name themselves. The struggle is already going on. The Socialist endeavours to give it definite and consistent aim, that the conflict may the more speedily end.

Those who would, on moral grounds, have the workers refuse to recognise the class struggle should, to be logical, refuse to struggle against parasites of any other kind. For in society the class which lives by the ownership of the means of life of the workers is a parasitic class, sucking to itself by its monopoly the fruits of the industry of the people. Not, indeed, that one need hate the individual capitalist, for he is the product of his circumstances; but in the interests of toiling humanity the firmest action must be taken. The power to exploit must be wrested from the parasites. They will, of course, oppose this by cunning and by force and will have to be fought, for non-resistance is the policy of the weak-minded.

Clearly then, the cause of the present struggle (i.e., the private ownership of the machinery of wealth production and distribution), can only be abolished by waging war on the class which defends and maintains private ownership. And since the only class that, by its material interests, is unfettered to the maintenance of private property is the proletariat, on this class must fall the toil and the battle for freedom.

Thus the only means of ridding mankind of conditions which now bind the mass in degradation and slavery, is the active opposition of the workers to the parasitic class as a whole; and what is this but the prosecution of the class war?

The victory of the Socialist working-class is the only possible ending of this great struggle. This, however, does not mean the subjection of the capitalist-class by the workers; it means the abolition of capitalism and an end of classes, for the great unprivileged masses cannot secure equality of opportunity without abolishing class privilege, and privilege is based on private property. The triumph of the great working majority thus involves the emancipation of all from class oppression, for the interests of the toiling masses are fundamentally the interest of humanity.

The workers are now the only necessary class in society, and upon them all tasks are devolving. To the capitalist remains the task of tearing the coupons from his shares, and reaping the reward of his abstinence – from labour.

The democratic ownership of the means of wealth production must necessarily abolish the economic basis of classes and of class antagonisms, and unite all in a bond of labour with identical interests, Under such conditions it must be unnecessary and above all unprofitable for the vast majority to exploit a few. Hence society will have but one aim, to lighten the toil and increase the well-being of all by the greatest possible economy of labour and life. In the society of harmonised material interests that must result from the abolition of class parasitism, the greatest well-being of the individual will only be possible by promoting the well-being of all. Thus will the welfare of all become, for the first time, the immediate interest of each.

Socialism is, then, the ethics of humanity, the necessary economic foundation of a rational code of morality. The interests of the human race are bound up with the aspirations of the oppressed working-class in its struggle with capitalist domination. As it has very truly been said: "Militant, the workers' cause is identified with class; triumphant, with humanity."


Saturday, November 3, 2007

The Dead Russians Society

From the July 1992 issue of the Socialist Standard

(Thanks to Gray for scanning the article for redistribution.)

Anyone want to buy a dozen statues of Lenin? The recent recession in the Lenin-statue works is terminal. Now that Sir Nikolai Ceauceascu and his mates have bitten the dust or headed off to their holiday homes in North Korea, only a few fossilised Chinese and Cuban academics are still paid to sing the praises of dead Russians.

In the 1920s Lenin-worship was all the rage. Naive leftists from Tottenham to Turin would dutifully repeat the Bolshevik liturgy to whoever could be persuaded to listen. Russia, it was said, had had the first ever socialist revolution. It was led by Lenin who had translated Marx's theories into practice. If you wanted to see socialism in all its living glory, look no further than the centralised hell-holes of the Kremlin-ruled state dictatorships. That was "the lin"". Here was the leading Labour politician, George Lansbury, returning from Moscow as a born-again Bolshevik:

" In my judgement, no set of men and women responsible for a revolution ever made fewer mistakes or carried their revolution through with less interference with the rights of individuals, or with less terrorism and destruction, than the men in control in Russia."(What I Saw In Russia, p. xii, 1920).

Lenin, wrote Lansbury, exhibited "devotion to the cause of humanity" and Trotsky, whom he never even met, was said to be "one of the greatest leaders of men ever." This elevation of demagogic Russian history-makers was one of the most sickening characteristics of the ecstasies with which the deluded praised their gods. Of course, you had to be up with the fashions. One year Trotsky was your main man and Bukharin on historical materialism was second to none; a little later Trotsky was a viper and Stalin repaid Bukharin's servility by liquidating him.

In the 1970s the present writer went to a "Marxist Conterence" where sects prepared to become vanguards while the world outside listened to Gary Glitter and wore flowery ties. It was a day-long event and a conveyor belt of gesticulating gurus were taking turns explaining how the storming of the Winter Palace by the war-weary Russian peasants (known in leftist circies as the brave proletarian masses) could be reproduced in Manchester if only the Trots could fiddle enough votes at the forthcoming regional NALGO conference. One speaker accused another of being a Stalinist. A woman selling papers at the door told a rival paper-seller that he was clearly unfamiliar with Preobrazhensky, at which he retaliated devilishly with the wounding observation that she had clearly more in common with Zinoviev and Kamenev than Lenin. I pointed out that she had a voice not unlike Cilla Black's and was instantly dismissed as a Menshevik stooge. Half a century after the Bolshevik coup and even the vocabularly of abuse was stale Russian.

Sterile dogma

As long as the Leninist Empire remained, the blood-flow into this queer movement of dead-Russian worshippers did not cease. Cheap editions of Lenin's anti-socialist speeches and writings rolled off Moscow printing presses like Bibles from the Catholic Truth Society. Now that it has become apparent that the victims of state capitalism were the first to want to cast off religious Leninism, only the most entrenched believers can carry on the faith. The present writer paid his annual visit to the Hampstead Morning Star bazaar at the end of last summer. It is always a good place to pick up some cheap editions of long-wanted volumes. But last year, with the Berlin Wall gone, the August coup failed and "Communist" economists busy planning the free market, there was something unusually bizarre about the bazaar.

Old women sitting behind stalls muttered about how Gorbachev would see them through and a man of eighty boasted that he was a hundred years before his time and looked forward to the when starving East Germans would turn to Lenin and repent for their disaffection. An old Stalinist addressed a young Morning Star reader (perhaps the young Morning Star reader) about how he had visited collective farms in Bulgaria and never seen such happiness in his life. Looking around the bazaar, the cemetery of lost dreams, it was easy to see that even ignorance is not always bliss. Their god had died. A bust of Lenin was on sale for fifty pence; I bought it to put next to the burglar alarm and the flick-knife that are being carefully preserved for the Museum of Capitalist Madness that needs to be set up once we have a socialist world.

The bizarre, fetishised attachments of geriatric Bolshevik dogmatists need not detain us. They will die. and with them their illusions. Nobody will be selling Soviet Weekly in the year 2000: in fact, the paper no longer exists and never will again. But what of young Leninists? Why young Leninists? What can it be that makes any one with genuine hatred for capitalism and a desire for social transformation still adhere to these sterile dogmas?

Part of the answer lies in the development of a mythology about the Russian revolution: wishful belief has replaced verifiable history and the end result is a statement like this one, in a leaflet handed out by the International Communist Current: "October was a revolution in the real sense of the term: the overthrow of one class by another". Of which class by which? In the Russia of 1917 the vast majority of the population were illiterate peasants who wanted peace, land and bread. They wanted property society, not socialism. The Bolsheviks pandered to these non-socialist millions, and they won acquiescence from the politically unconscious workers. Especially after the Kornilov coup of August 1917. But when the Constituent Assembly elections came in 1918 a majority of Russian workers and peasants did not vote for the Bolsheviks who, regardless of the majority will, took dictatorial state power.

Undemocratic arrogance

In a remarkably absurd eighty-page article in the SWP's International Socialism (Autumn 1991), John Rees attempts to defend the tactics of the Leninist dictators over the proletariat. Rees and the SWP realise that everything they stand for depends upon the validity of the strategy adopted by the Dead Russians of 1917. Rees, following Lenin, argues that the problem facing the Bolshevik revolution was the failure of the workers in the rest of Europe to follow the Bolshevik lead. This failure is explained thus:

" What was lacking in these revolutionary upheavals was not the objective European-wide crisis. Neither was it the willingness of workers to struggle for power. What was lacking was a leadership of sufficient clarity and an organisation with a core of sufficiently experienced members to successfully lead these movements to power."(p. 9. Our emphasis).

So, all across Europe in 1917 the workers were rëady for socialist revolution, but what they needed, says this SWP leader, were a gang of good leaders - like Lenin and Trotsky, like Rees and the SWP. If only they were there at the time. In the course of this defence Rees justifies the Red Terror of the Cheka and the GPU, supports the massacre of the sailors at Kronstadt who wanted an end to Bolshevik totalitarianism within the soviets ("Had the Kronstadters demands for soviets without parties been realised théy would have expressed the ferocious, elemental hostility of the peasants to the Bolsheviks" (p. 63)) and argues the case for the 1921 ban on parties dissenting from the leadership on the grounds that "the Workers Opposition's plans could only have led to a disintegration of the regime" (p. 67). Such explicit support for such disgustingly undemocratic politics should he enough to dismiss the SWP from the minds of anyone whose conception of socialism is not perverted by deeply authoritarian beliefs.

Rees defends most ot the Bolshevik actions against the workers (his article is entitled "In Defence of October", after all - even though the revolution was in November), but even he will not openly defend the Bolshevik closure of the Constituent Assembly because they lost the election. Instead, historical myth is invoked and we are told that the Bolsheviks really won the 1918 election, but the results did not reflect this. Other Leninists are rather less coy about the crushing of the elected Assembly by the Bolsheviks: the ICC's World Revolution (November 1991) argues that the soviets, not the Bolsheviks, closed down the Assembly and were right to do so because the parties elecied to sit in it would not represent the working class. Apart from the historical fact that the Bolsheviks were the ones who smashed the Assembly by order of their own Central Committee, the ICC must be congratulated for their honesty: if you don't trust the views of the workers at the ballot box you tell the workers to take a running jump. This is clasical Leninist undemocratic arrogance.

What future can there be for this subworld of 1917-set Russian fantasies?

For how much longer will gurus like Tony Cliff draw in bewildered young workers, attracted to the notion of socialist politics by real experiences under real capitalism, to listen to obsolete orations about the ten days which shook the world and put world socialism back for a century? How much longer can Lenin and Trotsky exercise a sort of mystical influence upon people searching for a way into the creation of a new social system and not a tour of the ruins of failed ideologies?

The most unsuccessful merchant in the modern world must surely be the jerk standing in Red Square selling copies of What Is to Be Done?, the handbook for professional authoritarian revolution-wreckers. The most foolish political thinkers around now must be those who imagine for one moment that they can build a revolution upon the rotting corpses and stale rhetoric of long-dead Russian leaders. The Socialist Party is hostile to all defenders of capitalism, but none more than those who preserve capitalism in the name of fighting for socialism. They are not only crazy, they are dangerous.

Steve Coleman

Further Reading:

  • Russia 1917-67 (a classic SPGB pamphlet)
  • The Revolution in Russia - where it fails (Socialist Standard, August 1918)