Into the national security state with New Labour

Sent to the Shields Gazette, 27/01/05
Dear Sir,

As I write, it is with having just heard that the Home Secretary has proposed the house arrest of UK citizens ‘suspected’ of involvement in terrorism, inclusive of curfews and tagging. British citizens are being included in these proposed changes after the law lords declared the present powers were discriminatory because they could only be used on foreign suspects.
Currently we are witnessing Labour politicians taking measures calculated to turn the United Kingdom into a national security state. The impact of this on those millions of decent working people who have over decades voted for the Labour Party must be utterly shattering. Socialists oppose the Labour Party because we stand for social ownership and democratic control of the means of life, while Labour promotes the flawed idea that capitalism can be legislatively humanised. That said, we sympathise with the motives of workers who vote Labour even if we wonder at their credulity as Labour aims to outdo the Tories in every area of repression of working class aspirations.

Now we have to ask Labour voters are they concerned, even frightened, at this savage curtailment of personal freedom and democratic rights? These authoritarian careerists in the Labour Party need your vote in the forthcoming elections; in exchange they will grant you the freedom to do what you are told.

Labour is attempting to induce in us the psychosis of threat, such as now exists in the USA where fear has become the natural condition of many Americans and which lends legitimacy to Bush's repressive actions. Just as Bush told the world, "either you're with us, or with the terrorists", so to is Labour telling us "either you're with Tony or you're with the terrorists." Blair's logic is that we will be so afraid of terrorists that we will gladly agree to anything he claims to do in our name. How long before pacifists, human rights activists and critics of Labour are denounced as unpatriotic?

It is surely ironic that at a time when the media is urging us to think about Auschwitz and the growth of fascism the Labour Party takes its first bold steps down the road to the savage denial of basic democratic rights.


John B


Open Letter to Michael Howard

Sent to the Shields Gazette, 25th January 2005
Dear Sir,

This is a piece I have just written in response to Michael Howard's call for a debate on immigration and which I'd be obliged if you could consider it for publication (personal details at the end of the open letter).

John B (Gen. Sec., SPGB)

Dear Mr Howard

Fully aware that the Tories face another electoral pounding in the coming election, perhaps also aware that the racist BNP are contesting 105 seats and the recent victories they have enjoyed, you are making immigration the main focus of the Tory election campaign in the full knowledge that your party is bankrupt of new ideas, desperate for support and fully aware just how popular xenophic scaremongering can be at election time. Shame on you!You now boldly announce you want a debate on immigration in the hope you can outflank the racist hierarchy of New Labour.

Okay, Mr Howard, let's start by acknowledging that the fundamental cause of immigration is global capitalism. It causes huge inequality in the world, inflicting poverty and deprivation on billions of people. It also creates endless wars over natural resources, strategic areas and other "vital interests". This inequality, uncertainty and conflict impels people to escape to better lives and safety. Who can blame them?

Let us also acknowledge, Mr Howard, that capitalism in Britain also causes inequality, poverty and deprivation, which affects millions of working class people who, unaware of the real cause of their suffering, are prone to believe power-hungry politicians playing the "race card" and blaming immigration for their problems.

When capitalism fails to deliver, when despondency and anger arise from the failed promises and expectations that litter the political landscape, is it any wonder that workers will fall for the scapegoating lies of the far right and the quick fix they offer? That you can even think of making immigration part of the Tory election strategy is thus utterly despicable. Moreso at a time when we remember the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz and the mass slaughter resulting from Hitler's xenophic rantings.

I'm sure many of my fellow South Tynesiders, hearing your comments on immigration, remembered the fate of one popular local family, the Reys-Prado family, who have recently been forced into hiding in Venezuela not more than a year after they were deported from their home in Laygate, South Shields, following a ruling by immigration chiefs that it was safe for them to return to their native Colombia. Their case is only one of many.

My solution, Mr Howard? By switching to a classless, moneyless society (socialism), where the people themselves directly owned and controlled the means of production and distribution (farmland, oil fields, factories, power stations, railways etc), the global population could use those assets to provide for all their needs. Goods and services would all be freely available. And with an end to deprivation, wars and money problems, people would no longer be compelled to leave regions they were born in.
John B


A Fantasy of Freedom

Sent to the Shields Gazette, 24th January, 2005

Dear Sir,

GY (A Fantasy of Freedom, 24th January) highlights well the hypocrisy that punctuated President Bush's inauguration speach. What Mr Y failed to consider was that President Bush also declared that freedom overseas was a precondition for freedom in the USA.

I can only presume the words 'freedom' and 'liberty' (used 42 times in Bush's speech) have taken on new meanings in the White House dictionary. History testifies that as soon as the US takes an interest in your country then you can say goodbye to freedom. Since 1945 the US has leant its support dictators and tyrannical regimes on every continent, from Pol Pot and Suharto to Saddam Hussein and Pinochet. Since 1945, this same defender of the global well-being toppled 40 governments and helped crush 30 populist movements, assassinated scores of prominent individuals and perverted elections in every corner of the globe, turning a blind eye to the most horrendous affronts to the democratic process. During this same period the US has armed terrorists, trained right-wing guerrilla movements in the art of torture and financed armies intent on overthrowing democratically elected governments.

Perhaps Bush was telling the truth, considering the growing restrictions on personal freedom in the USA - i.e. the Patriot Act. If freedom is not allowed to thrive overseas, then why the hell should it be allowed to exist in the USA




The Coming Elections in Iraq

Since the end of the Second World War, when the US forced the Italian government to discharge its communist cabinet members as a prerequisite for aid, to its support for the coup attempt in Venezuela in 2003, the US has been regularly subverting elections around the globe for the benefit of its own corporate elite.

Ever fearful that foreign governments should respond to the real needs of their people, for instance introducing labour and environmental legislation, instead of the wishes of US investors, Washington has opposed the principle of democracy on every continent on the planet, even helping to overthrow democratically elected governments whenever it felt its interests threatened (i.e. Iran in 1953, Guatemala 1954, The Congo 1960, Ecuador 1961, Bolivia 1964. Greece 1967, Fiji 1987).

Neither has its methods been peaceable. Indeed its agents, in the CIA, have carried out assassination of prominent individuals with as much indifference as its embassies have supported right-wing death squads and bloody coup attempts throughout Central and South America. Across the world, the US has backed dictators of every hue, turning a blind eye to their horrendous affronts to the democratic process.

We are now to believe that the US, presently occupying “sovereign Iraq” (for President Bush has declared Iraq is now “sovereign”), a country with sizeable oil reserves, and which has lost 100,000 of its people since the US-UK invasion, will see free and democratic elections to take place on January 30th. Moreover, President Bush has since informed the people of Iraq—the same Iraq in which the CIA helped Saddam Hussein pull of a military coup: “We will help you build a peaceful and representative government that protects the rights of all citizens. And then our military forces will leave."

John Negroponte, the US Ambassador in Iraq, was adamant that the US would not allow a delay in the Jan. 30 vote, a necessary step toward establishing the first “broadly accepted” government in Iraq since the demise of Saddam Hussein and would honour Bush’s promise.

Speaking to reporters at the Embassy in Iraq he assured them that the elections would go ahead and that the security situation would be improved by then and went so far as to say that conditions in 15 of Iraq's 18 provinces were already safe enough for elections to be held.

He said:” I think once they realize that the elections will go forward as planned, then they [Sunni opponents of the election] are going to have to deal with that reality. Do they want to really opt out of an electoral process that is going to pick a National Assembly that drafts the constitution and shapes the political future of their country?” (Washington Post, 1st December).

Perhaps Negroponte is unaware that the resistance looks set to spiral, his comments coming just after it was reported that US deaths in Iraq matched the post invasion record set in April – 135 troops dead.

In Washington and London, the claim is that the ongoing attacks by insurgents is an all out attempt to disrupt the coming elections, when in truth the overriding fact is that many Iraqis still see the US as an army of occupation whose presence they have a right to oppose. An opinion poll carried out in September by the US-led Coalition Provisional Authority confirmed that opposition to the US presence was widespread. It revealed that just 2 per cent of Iraqi Arabs—minus the Kurdish population—agreed wholeheartedly with the occupation. If anything this shows that in spite of the age-old hostilities between Sunnis and Shiites, one thing that could unite them is their hostility to an occupying army of 138,000 – a figure set to increase in time for the election.

Securing the peace in Iraq in time for the elections has so far meant installing a pliable puppet regime, and implementing Order 39, which The Economist described as “a capitalist dream” and which opened up the Iraqi economy to complete foreign takeover. It has meant the deliberate bombing of homes, hospitals and religious buildings by squadrons of bombers and helicopter gun-ships, turning cities into rubble (Fallujah was napalmed), cutting off water, electricity and medical supplies and spreading hunger and disease.

A comprehensive new study by the British-based charity organisation Medact, that looks at the impact of war on health, reveals that acute malnutrition among Iraqi children between the ages of 6 months and 5 years has increased from 4% prior to the invasion to 7.7% since the invasion and that about 400,000 Iraqi children are suffering from 'wasting' and 'emaciation' ­ conditions of chronic diarrhoea and protein deficiency.

A recently published UNICEF report reveals that, "Before 1990 and the imposition of sanctions, Iraq had one of the highest standards of living in the Middle East". Now "at least 200 children are dying every day. They are dying from malnutrition, a lack of clean water and a lack of medical equipment and drugs to cure easily treatable diseases".

Despite such facts as these, Washington would have it that people in Iraq—who, on the face of it—faired better under Saddam, are being irrational in not supporting US organised elections. And little wonder that various groups of rebels have promised to upset the elections with waves of attacks around the country, including Baghdad, where many insurgents are claimed to have fled as Fallujah fell.

As we go to press, Iraq's delicate political arrangement looks to be on the brink of collapse, with Sunnis, Shias and Kurds at odds over whether elections can take place on January 30th as planned. Iraq's 60 per cent Shia majority, who clearly suffered worst under the reign of Saddam Hussein, are keen for the elections to go ahead on time, knowing they are likely to consolidate the increased power they have enjoyed since the Sunni president's overthrow.

However, as rebels have continued their assaults on other towns since the fall of Fallujah, a campaign led by Sunni politicians has gathered momentum, with Shia leaders claiming that a postponement of the election date would only play into the hands of the insurgents.

The head of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, has said he would discard calls to delay the elections to choose a national assembly. He has been backed by 42 mainly Shia and Turkmen parties who have issued a statement to say moves to delay the elections were illegal.

Contemplating the stalling of elections, Al-Hakim said: 'This would mean the terrorists have been able to achieve one of their main objectives; that there be no elections and that a suitable political process does not start…We will insist on the necessity of holding elections and that a delay will not be in the interests of the Iraqi people.' (Observer, 28/11/04)

Conversely, Adnan Pachachi, a former Sunni minister, is heading a group of 17 political parties asking that January 30's vote be delayed by six months because of the violence, fearing the insurgency in Sunni towns will discourage people from voting, thus disenfranchising them. Significantly, the two major Kurdish parties have also signed up to the delay

Pachachi claimed it was “unthinkable that a large and important section of Iraqi society be left out of the political process…Security has to improve to enable people to vote without fear.” (Observer, ibid).

Iyad Allawi, the interim leader appointed by Washington to run Iraq, has said that in centres of resistance like Fallujah elections could be “delayed” until stability existed there, without the vote being invalidated, or in other words Washington-style Democracy would will be available in the first instance only to those who did not resist the occupation by US forces.

Alawi, it seems, has no real control over the situation and though it is said he has the power to cancel the election if he wished, there still exists the US hand-picked seven-member commission set up to run the elections, and which has the power to bar any candidate or party from standing and which will be deciding who is and who is not eligible to stand as a candidate.

Under the rules, the Iraqi electorate will vote for a 275-member Transitional National Assembly. Political parties will submit a list of candidates and every third name has to be a woman's. Those Parties with alleged connections to militias are disqualified from taking part, along with former leading members of the Baath Party.

Only recently has the US taken into consideration the fact that the elections will coincide with the haj (one of the five tenets of Islam), when millions of pilgrims are en route to Mecca via Iraq. Many of these pilgrims will be fundamentalists, aware that numerous mosques across Iraq have been bombed by US forces and with fresh memorises of Fallujah, Najaf and Samarra and other instances of US hard-handedness and with 120 parties allegedly contesting the election, many “foreign” fighters are expected to be smuggled in amidst the mayhem. Shopkeepers who have been asked to take on the job of distributing election registration papers have been threatened with death should they comply

The US hopes to have 150,000 troops in place in time for the election, evidence if ever it was needed that the crisis in Iraq is escalating. It was not so long ago that Bush was boasting how US troops had been greeted as liberators and projected that the country could be policed with 50,000 troops by the end of 2003. Now military analysts are cautioning that the Iraq army and police force will not be in a position to police the country for another ten years. So much, then for Bush’s claim that once a legitimate Iraqi government is up and running the troops will be on their way home

And as for the post-election situation, make no mistake, any government elected in Iraq will be permitted to function only so long as it kowtows to the dictates of Washington and any member of a forthcoming Iraqi parliament will be allowed to breathe only so long as he does not point to US corporate designs on the country, or mention words like “trade unions” or “accountability”. Whatever, government is elected to ‘rule’ Iraq on January 30th it will only be allowed to do so with the endorsement of the White House.

Here in Britain, Bush’s sidekick, Tony Blair, is likewise looking forward to a post-election regime in Iraq that has no real say on foreign investment. Moreover, Blair is desperate for elections to take place in Iraq for the simple reason that he needs something resembling a foreign policy success to present to voters in the run up to the election. Indeed any good news at all at the moment would be welcomed by New Labour.

The essential goal of the Bush regime in the Middle East remains the same as that of preceding administrations going back to WWII, and that is to reinforce control of the region’s oil reserves and the profits that arise from them. Furthermore, Washington is well aware that control of Middle East oil gives the US enormous leverage over its economic rivals, Europe, Japan and China, all of whom are more dependent on Middle Eastern oil than the US, the latter expected to have the same oil demands as the US within 25 years.

That Iraq has huge oils supplies is the sole reason the US cannot allow a government—freely elected by its people and one advocating a US departure—to exist.

Bush and freedom

Sent to the Shields Gazette, 22nd January 2005

Dear Sir,

Speaking at his inauguration on January 20th, President Bush declared that freedom overseas was a precondition for freedom in the USA. He certainly never elaborated on this theme and made no reference to the utter misery the US has, in the last few years, brought to Afghanistan and Iraq. He moreover, in his short speech, used the words “freedom” and “liberty” 42 times.

I can only presume these two words have taken on new meanings in the White House dictionary. History testifies that as soon as the US takes an interest in your country then you can say goodbye to freedom. Since 1945 the US has leant its support dictators and tyrannical regimes on every continent, from Pol Pot and Suharto to Saddam Hussein and Pinochet. Since 1945, this same defender of the global well-being toppled 40 governments and helped crush 30 populist movements, assassinated scores of prominent individuals and perverted elections in every corner of the globe, turning a blind eye to the most horrendous affronts to the democratic process. During this same period the US has armed terrorists, trained right-wing guerrilla movements in the art of torture and financed armies intent on overthrowing democratically elected governments.

Perhaps Bush was telling the truth, considering the growing restrictions on personal freedom in the USA – ie the Patriot Act. If freedom is not allowed to thrive overseas, then why should it be allowed to exist in the USA?


Prince Harry

Sent to the Shields Gazette, 20/01/05

Dear Sir,

With the "Prince Harry the Nazi" story still making the news, what is noticeably absent from the debate about whether Harry was right, wrong or silly to wear a Nazi uniform, is that pertaining to the very existence of the Royal Family. It is taken for granted that we have one, we need one, they have always been there etc.

In truth, the sole purpose of this parasitical and unscrupulous family is to serve as a repository for ‘history’ and ‘tradition’, which of course provides the glaring iniquities of capitalism with some form of moral authority.

Honestly considered, the contribution made to society by Harry and his greedy and insensitive clan is zilch. Each one is happy to consume in a day as much resources and commodities as 100 members of the working class, indeed 10000 times as much as a small African village. Yet we are encouraged to bow with suppliant’s before this bunch of indifferent, self-seeking leaches like imbeciles, crying and sobbing at their misfortune, debating their transgressions, negligent of the immense global suffering of our own class?

What real loss to society would there be if the entire House of Windsor was abolished overnight? None. Though I would certainly not oppose the abolition of the monarchy, I would hardly find much to celebrate. For we would simply exist in a republic as wage slaves, every aspect of our lives still subordinated to the worst excesses of the profit system.

One thing is certain, however. If the injustices that plague our world were given one tenth the media coverage afforded royal gaffes, then the case for world socialism would have been well publicised and our ranks greatly swollen, and real injustice would at last be nearer a solution.
John B


Tsunami and early warning systems

Sent to the Shields Gazette, 19/1/05

Dear Sir,

The head of the UN's cultural and scientific agency has said an Indian Ocean early warning system, similar to one used by countries bordering the Pacific Ocean to warn of tsunamis would cost $30 million. Considering the number of lives this could save, the cost is a pittance, more so when one realises the cost is equivalent to about two and half hours worth of US occupation of Iraq.

Whilst the world’s governments will heed calls for such an early warning system that can warn of natural disaster which we have no control over, they are deaf when it comes to those blaring in our ears, the man-made early warning systems. For instance, did we not also have fair warning of the devastation in Iraq? Did not President Bush telegraph his message to the world, over a year in advance, that Iraq would be invaded with a US military tsunami? Over one hundred thousand have been killed in Iraq since the US led invasion and now we are getting warnings that the US is just about ready to attack Iran.

Early warning systems have been sounding for decades. It was known in the mid 70s there were 400 chronically malnourished on the planet and there was a promise to eradicate hunger within 10 years. That figure now stands at 870 million. We know that today 17,000 children will die from hunger and many more from hunger related disease, and that this figure will be repeated tomorrow and the next day, and a year from now. The world is aware of the Aids epidemic in Africa, of increasing deaths from malaria, of the diseases facing the 2.4 billion with poor sanitary access, and we know that such problems will be with us in years to come.

These are not new problems. They have existed for so long that the statistics seem hackneyed and you feel something of a prat quoting them repeatedly. The point is, these early warning systems are ringing non-stop. Capitalism’s problems are hitting the human race with the force of a dozen tsunamis a day, killing millions.

And the reason governments fail to respond to the countless deaths caused by the very system they tenaciously defend is because it is unprofitable to do so. The victims, in the main, don’t constitute much of a market. For instance, it is more profitable to destroy thousands of tons of food than to give it to the starving. It makes more sense to have vacant buildings remain unoccupied than to allocate them free to the homeless.

The only early warning system that can prevent non-natural human disaster is one that frees production, science and technology from the artificial constraints of profit, using them for the benefit of humanity, allowing all people to have free access to the benefits of civilisation; a system that can allocate resources and the necessities of life where and when needed, as quickly as possible, and not on the prior estimate of cost. Such a system, world socialism, is the only system that can realistically address the myriad problems facing the human race, heading of disaster in advance.

John B


The Beauty Myth

I was born facially disfigured with neurofibromatosis (a kind of "spontaneous mutation" in my case, the affliction usually being congenital) and the condition it is believed that seriously deformed John Merrick, the Elephant Man. Being thus afflicted it was more or less evident that my trek through life was never going to be smooth and that I would meet with a fair bit of subconscious, inbred prejudice.

The school career service in 1976 somehow failed to notice that I was different, even if most of the kids had, and negligently forgot to inform me that you can only get the job you want if your “face fits”. It was hardly their fault – they were on piece-time and the state-run conveyor belt that year had a large consignment of wage slaves to package for the sweat shops of the future. Neither did these experts on my future tell me how my disfigurement would impinge upon every aspect of my life, although I’d had a fair few hints by then, and how in capitalist society you are constantly judged by your appearance.

I know for a fact that I failed my first 13 interviews in late 1976 on my looks alone. In one instance I was talked out of entering the interview room—where I would be questioned by a panel, having been short-listed—by an assistant manager in the corridor. Even years later, when I gained a degree, I discovered that my access to a respectable job was barred on the grounds that I looked “intimidating”.

The first and only time I tried to enter a night club I was stopped by a doorman who said: “You’re not fucking getting in ‘ere with a face like that.” On another occasion a woman in a cafe asked if I would sit at another table and face the other way as I was putting her child off his meal. On several occasions during my post-school years I was stopped and searched by the police because I looked different. I could fill many pages with such instances – though many would be too painful and embarrassing to recount. It was enough to leave me with a feeling that my true vocation in life was to swing from the bell towers of Notre Dame cathedral screaming “sanctuary”. However, you learn to roll with the blows, and after each knock-down you pick yourself up, dust yourself down and proceed to the next encounter, angry of course, but in the growing awareness that it is society’s standards that are wrong.

When you’re an ‘outsider’ you inwardly celebrate every success of your kind. You see a small victory in every encroachment the outsiders make into the ‘normal’ world. Your powers of empathy are heightened and you silently share in every triumph over a system in which external appearance is paramount. In a culture that encourages compliance with idealised criteria of beauty, people with disfigurements and deformities clearly present as a distinct group of people more likely than others to suffer psychological problems and social stigma as a result of their appearance. That they can rise above this, that they can wriggle free from the niche society has allocated them and make their mark says a lot and perhaps offers hope for the rest of society caught up in the beauty trap.

I (pictured some years and many ops ago) was thus delighted to read in the broadsheets of mid-March, that after 150 years of debate, a panel of judges had decided upon the sculpture that will grace the fourth and hitherto vacant, plinth in London’s Trafalgar Square. The successful artwork is Marc Quinn's marble statue of Allison Lapper, naked as the day she was born, eight months pregnant and disfigured with a condition known as phocomelia, the outward appearance of which gives armless Allison the form of a victim of the 1960s maternity drug thalidomide.

As could be imagined, the decision met with much criticism, largely from those campaigning for the plinth to be given to a statue of the late parasite of Buck House, the Queen Mum, The Daily Mail included. Others, including the Disability Rights Commission, welcomed the forthcoming statue as a blow against the culture of perfection. From what I have read of the criticism, the choice of Quinn's sculpture has been slated chiefly on the grounds that the work is ‘all message but no art’. Undoubtedly much of this disapproval is rooted in uneasiness with the subject matter, a popular held belief being that representations of disabled people should only be deemed satisfactory when the significance relates to charity.

Being interviewed in the Guardian (17th March), Alison was quite upbeat about her deformity, commenting that there was not a single thing about her body that she would change. "If you told me I could have any bit of plastic surgery that I wanted, I wouldn't take it because I'm just fine as I am, thank you very much.” It is an exceptional and brave outlook to hold in today’s world – but there again Alison is an exceptional woman. She works as an artist and lives the life of a single mum, looking after her 4-year-old son Parys.

In a video that accompanied one of her exhibitions, in which her own disability takes centre stage, she commented: “Why do I use myself? That's a good point. My body isn't this ugly…I had always assumed it was because I'd been told it was…You are disabled so therefore you are ugly. So now, I think I almost throw myself at the public, if you like, for want of a better word, then say, well actually, look again...I don't feel ugly, and I forget that people become quite shocked by my nudity and by what I'm doing, but then great ... if that's had an impact ... good.”

Though Alison has found significant success as an artist in her own right, consider when you last saw a disabled newsreader, a crippled Miss World hobbling onto the stage in an ill-fitting bikini, a facially disfigured Club 18-30 rep or a compeer at the Oscars fumbling as he passes the golden academy award to best supporting actor with his misshaped hands. You could think all night and not recall any such moments because, quite honestly, the general public would find them unsettling, having been conditioned to see them as inappropriate. Instead, we expect the above to look about as perfect as it is possible to look.

Of course Alison, and certainly myself and others not cast in the generally accepted human mould, are not that unique. Indeed, ‘normal’ people everywhere feel less than perfect and intimidated by society’s notion of what is and what is not beautiful and feel their expectations and opportunities are limited because of their physical appearance.

Every day of our lives, everywhere we go—whether reading a newspaper, watching TV, looking at bill hoardings or the elongated adverts on buses as they pass—we are constantly inundated with idealistic images of how we should look. Our opinion of ourselves is under relentless attack from the advertising and media industries and our insecurities sharpened and thus easily exploited by those who seek to make a profit out of our fears, whether it be from dieticians and food and clothing manufacturers, the cosmetic industry or the plastic surgery fraternity.

We are conditioned to aspire towards quite impossible standards of beauty and are exposed daily to the myriad miracle products and procedures that exist to refashion us. We are weaned on the benefits of liposuction, tummy tucks, breast implants, manicures, Botox parties, face lifts, lip collagen injections for a fuller pout, vibration beauty therapy – the list is endless. Our email is bombarded with penis enhancement spam. We buy products that remove hair from our legs, nostrils and crotches, restore it to our heads and change it to any colour of the rainbow. Just pick up any glossy-paged Sunday supplement and try looking for someone who resembles, in outward appearance, yourself.

Women in particular are bombarded with images of what the ‘perfect woman’ ought to look like. She is a stunning blonde, a sensuous looking brunette or dark, mysterious and exotic looking, aged in her mid-twenties, tall and slender with two rows of gleaming white, film star teeth, devoid of any visible flaws and with her clothes hugging her body like a second skin.

I know women who have spent a small a fortune visiting beauticians, sometimes for complete makeovers - all to enhance their own self-esteem and the fancied image of themselves in the eyes of others. Every external inch of our bodies are shown to be inadequate and in need of improving, from our eyelashes to our toe nails. If a woman has a rounded, shapely, Rubenesque body—perfectly acceptable in the 1950s—she has too much cellulite. If her breasts don’t measure up they require liberal dollops of silicone and if her face shows the lines of maturity she is made to feel like a wizen-faced hag. Meanwhile, men enter the dressing room with trepidation, the member they once felt comfortable about now derisory.

Under constant attack from the media and advertising industry, women are left feeling happiness equates only with looking beautiful, whilst men can only find contentment in being affluent and powerful, there being no generic look to male success. In short, today’s beauty culture creates needless anxiety for people, women in particular, maintaining that if you don't look perfect, or make some effort to improve you appearance, there must be something wrong with you, that you lack self-respect and have “let yourself go”.

All of this needless anxiety, stress and concern with, what is after all truly superficial, represents a terrible waste of human energy. How much good is lost to society for the want of a little confidence and self-esteem is anyone’s guess. Again, we can only speculate how far the working class have been steered away from their historic mission by the obsession with such false needs.

What a wonderful tool of suppression the master class have at their disposal – our opinion of ourselves. What marvellous instruments of counter-revolution are the insecurities we have and which they know they can target. What better distraction from the really pressing issue in life – how to establish a world free of waste and want and war and to displace from power our ruling elites – than to deflect any outward thoughts the workers have inwards and on to themselves.There are many ways we can help shape the socialist society of the future in the here and now. One is to recognise that there are powerful forces at work night and day (the media and advertising industries, cosmetic companies and food manufacturers, for instance) with only one objective in mind – to profit by making us feel less than normal.

If Alison Lapper and many like her can feel good about themselves and challenge some of the most basic assumptions society holds head on, why can’t we all? As the final battle with the master class is to be waged on the battlefield of ideas, what better way to limber up for that offensive than to gain confidence in ourselves as individuals by liberating our minds from false notions of what it is to be perfect? As a class, united by the same basic needs and desires, we stand as perfect as any revolutionary class before us, and as much in need of a philosophy of beauty dictated from on high as a medieval peasant was his oppressive religion.


Aftermath of the Tsunami: Querying “American Values in Action”

Realising that upwards of 100,000 of the estimated 165,000 victims of the Tsunami disaster were Muslims, the US wasted no time in sending US Secretary of State Colin Powell to the scene of the devastation. There was much to gain from this mission at a time when the US has been accused of an anti-Muslim crusade in the wake of the devastation it has wrought on Afghanistan and Iraq.

Powell was keen to show the world’s 1.2 billion Muslims that the Bush administration is not islamophobic, even if its military machine did seem to have a penchant for the slaughter of Muslims. He said “We’d be doing it [participating in the relief effort] regardless of religion, but I think it does give the Muslim world and the rest of the world an opportunity to see American generosity, American values in action.”

As for the US “values” Powell’s mission aimed to promote we need only mention Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay for starters before moving on to the myriad international treaties, on gun control, nuclear proliferation, the environment, human rights etc. that the Bush administration has flicked the proverbial V’s to since 2000.

While Powell bangs on about US aid, it is worth remembering that 40 per cent of US aid goes to Israel, a US military ally, a country in breach of numerous UN resolutions, and given in contravention of a Congress ruling that no foreign aid goes to a nuclear power.

US “values” have prompted successive White House administrations to support dictators and tyrannical regimes on every continent, from Pol Pot and Suharto to Saddam Hussein and Papa Doc Duvaliere. Between 1945 and 1999, this same defender of the global well-being toppled 40 governments and helped crush 30 populist movements, assassinated scores of prominent individuals and perverted elections in every corner of the globe. During this same period the US has armed terrorists, trained right-wing guerrilla movements in the art of torture and financed armies intent on overthrowing democratically elected governments. Some values!

When asked on US television whether the death of 500,000 Iraqi children as a consequence of Western sanctions was acceptable, Madeleine Albright, Powell’s predecessor under President Clinton, replied: “I think this is a very hard choice, but the price - we think the price is worth it.”
It seems there are American “values” and “values”. Those Powell is charged with furthering are those of a corrupt elite operating in the interests of corporate America. He was certainly not sent to Indonesia on a show of hands of the US public. His attempt to seek political capital out of present US offers of help to the disaster region is thus opportunistic and utterly despicable, nay, nauseating.

Powell further commented in Indonesia: "I've been in war and I've been through a number of hurricanes, tornadoes and other relief operations, but I've never seen anything like this." This from the man who rose to prominence trying to cover up the My Lai massacre in Vietnam, when US forces slaughtered 500 Vietnamese women and children in the village of My Lai; part of a larger conflict that left 2 million dead, many from the use of napalm and agent orange! We can only assume that Powell is suffering from selective amnesia.

He added: “I cannot imagine the horror that went through the families and all of the people who heard this noise coming and then had their lives snuffed out by this wave.” Neither, it would seem, could he imagine the horror of the thousands trapped in Fallujah as US planes bombed it, napalmed it and American artillery shelled it from every angle, raising that city – once with a population 300,000 – to the ground. And we can only assume that Powell was oblivious to the fact that the 100,000 dead of Indonesia is matched by the 100,000 Iraqis killed since the US invasion of Iraq.

While he feels a surge of pride in the knowledge the US government has promised $350 million to the stricken areas, what is to be made of the fact that this is only a minute fraction of the amount spent on the US invasion and occupation of Iraq? Or, to put it another way, the world is meant to applaud the Bush administration for paying out $350 million in one hand to save Asia’s Moslems, while forking out $150 billion (http://costofwar.com/) with the other to kill their counterparts in the Middle East.

If you consider that we err in comparing the war in Iraq with the rescue mission in the Indian Ocean, then remember the reason for the invasion of Iraq. Bush and Blair both claimed that this was a humanitarian intervention, a rescue mission, aimed at restoring democracy and freeing the Iraqi people from years of oppression. On this count it stands as the most expensive humanitarian mission in history, considering the size of the Iraqi population, and what does this make of the people who opposed that invasion, the 35 million across the world who marched and protested at the Bush/Blair rescue mission to Iraq in February of 2003?

When Jan Egeland, the UN emergency relief co-ordinator, criticised the initial US offer of $15 million in aid as “stingy”, Bush’s response was to claim Egeland was “very misguided and ill-informed”. Bush later had the figure raised to $35 million, with this figure later increased ten fold – a figure, incidentally now dwarfed by private donations in the US. All Egeland was saying was that in times of disaster Western governments do in fact appear parsimonious. Clearly Egeland was thinking of statistics compiled by the Paris-based Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development which reveal the amount of a country’s GDP given in overseas aid. Of the wealthiest countries in the world, none give more than 1% of their GDP in foreign development aid. Egeland was also aware that his own Norway had the best showing at 0.92% and that down at the bottom were the US of A with its "stingy" 0.14%.

Many radical commentators backed Egeland’s “stingy” claim, pointing out that the Bush administration would be spending far more on the president’s inaugural celebration on January 20th and how the Republican Convention in New York last year cost a staggering $166 million (inclusive of $70,000 for donuts and coffee for the press). We can perhaps better set the US aid promise in context by considering that the occupation of Iraq is costing the US an estimated $270 million per day, and that the Pentagon’s military budget is $1.5 billion per day – this spent with a view to killing people, not saving them. What else are guns and bombs, tanks and warships for? One F22 Raptor fighter costs $225 million. It does not carry food parcels and medicines but surface to air missiles and cannons. According to the US-based International Action Centre’s estimates, "for what the US is spending for less than one second of bombing and destruction, it could construct a system that could have prevented thousands of needless deaths [caused by the Tsunami]."

As in Britain, so to in the US have the general public humiliated their governments with their generosity. If we accept that the invasion of Iraq was a humanitarian step, that Bush and Blair were motivated solely by the plight of the suffering Iraqi people under Saddam, why did they not set up a charity and see how much the public would have donated to this mother of all rescue missions? Simple, because they realise that people, though often conned at election time, are just not that stupid, and that they couldn’t have collected enough to feed a regiment’s mascot goat.

The generosity shown towards the victims of the Tsunami disaster are not Bush administration “values”, which Powell seems to have been inferring in his damage limitation exercise in Indonesia, but rather the basic values of human beings in America, indeed, the world over. Unlike other animals, humans are endowed with the ability to sympathise and empathise with their fellow humans. Humans derive great pleasure from doing good, are at their best when faced with the worst and will go to extraordinary lengths to help alleviate the suffering of others. Across the US, as in other countries, there have been all manner of fundraising events, in all sections of society, inclusive of nursery schools, prisons, universities and impoverished communities. In some instances people have queued for over an hour to put money in a plastic collection bucket.

According to a survey by Independent Sector a US coalition of non-profit organisations, the percentage of volunteers in America is the largest of any country, almost 56%. The average hours volunteered per week by an individual is 3.5 hours. According to Charity America, donations to charity for 2002 were $241 billion, 76.3 per cent of this given by individuals.
If governments depended for their existence on us promoting our real values, they wouldn’t last a week. That is why they spend so much time trying to divide us as a class, lying to us, instilling in us false needs, a false consciousness, appealing to patriotism and the rest of the rot. When it comes to values, there are only class values, ours and theirs. That Powell had to go to Indonesia to try to hijack any US initiated relief effort, before it was credited to the workers of the US, shows perhaps that they fear not only class solidarity across the world but the very values that have come to the surface in recent weeks.