Jews, a race?

Sent to the Shields Gazette, 29/03/05

Dear Sir,

Further to Mr B's letter of March 29th (To wander is a way of life), I would like to inform this confused gentleman that there is no such thing as a "Jewish race". Judaism is a religion, like Christianity or Islam.

Looked at from a scientific and biologocial perspective, Jews do not conform to any uniform recognisable physical type. If anything, their migratory history has had the effect of making them resemble the groups among which they have settled. Nevertheless, over centuries, they have managed to preserve something of a seperate identity for themselves. This means that they might best be described as a socio-religious group which, I would add, has in its struggle to survivve often become as racist as its own detractors.

Mr B is further keen to remind us that "these wandering Jews illgally walked into Palestine and set up a state." I suppose Mr B sees nothing wrong with the post-1918 carve-up of the Middle East, the subsequent British occupation of Palestine and Iraq, for instance, and the British occupation of countless countries for centuries?

Neither, might I add, did the Jews illegally "walk into Palestine". They in fact entered the region known as Palestine as nomadic cattle-breeders about 1400 BC.

Mr B's says that "for thousands of years we've read stories of wanderers of all nationalities across the whole world." For the record, nationhood is largely a 19th century concept. Thousands of years ago there were no 'nationalities' and no national boundaries people could identify with.

John B


Only Sheep Need Leaders

I was standing at the SPGB stall at the Miner’s Gala, talking to a member from one of the many left-wing groups in attendance, and who had been sent out to try and sell their weekly paper. He was clearly a new member, for he had not yet been told to avoid our stall – an instruction pummelled into the heads of new recruits before they attend such gatherings. I had swapped him one of our publications for his and I wondered how his comrades would react when he arrived back at their stall with our journal rolled up and stuffed in his pocket. (Perhaps as Jack’s mother did when he was sent out to sell a cow and came back with a handful of “magic” beans. They might have called him an oaf, and clouted him but they couldn’t have sent him to bed without any supper?) We’d been talking a couple of minutes when he asked:
“So, who’s in change of the SPGB?”
“In charge?” I replied.

“Your leader. I mean who’s the leader?”

“We have no leaders. We never have. We have a membership of equals who arrive at decisions democratically and who elect delegates to act on their behalf, or to administer party affairs on behalf of the membership. But no leaders in the sense that someone sits on high giving out orders and deciding on policy on behalf of a passive membership.”
He looked confused. “So who makes the decisions?”

“No one person – all decisions are arrived at democratically. We elect an Executive Committee and General Secretary each year, but these have no powers or authority that marks them out from other members. They are simply ordinary members who have been delegated to administer the affairs of the Party and in the interests of the entire membership. Other than that the party meets twice yearly for conferences and branches send delegates to contribute to whatever debate there is and to vote on behalf of their branches”

“But you must have someone in charge. What about the really big decisions?”

“Why? What can one person do that could not be done far more efficiently by the entire membership deciding together. Surely hundreds, thousands of brains weighing up a problem is a much better way to come up with the best answer than one person alone. We all know the task at hand and what is expected of a member and we all share the same stance on capitalism and how it must be abolished. The really big decisions, you mention, would be those pertaining to party policy or changes of rule and in these instances we decide by a poll of the entire party – one member having one vote and each member being allowed the same chance of input into any ongoing debate.”

He looked pensive and his eyes searched for a reply.

“Do you need someone telling you what to do, what to think,” I asked. “Is the membership of your party so incompetent, so distrustful of their own powers of reasoning that they need a leader to think on their behalf? It just seems to be to be a daft way to run a supposed revolutionary organisation. And it seems that your organisation does have a leadership making the big decisions otherwise you would not have raised the issue.”

“Well, they don’t make all the decisions. We’re allowed to decide on our own activity ourselves.”
“That’s kind of them of them. Look, I’m not being an arrogant bastard. I’m not having a go at you, but look at it another way,” I said pleadingly. “That paper under your arm – how much control does the membership have over it? I can tell you now it is zilch. If you wanted to put a contentious issue on your party’s conference agenda, just how successful would you be? Again, I can tell you you’d be lucky if you didn’t get a slap off your regional leader for stepping out of line, and even if it was accepted by your regional bosses it would then have be vetted by some central committee.”

Our conversation was cut short. My visitor spied a friend and made his excuses and left, promising to read The Socialist Standard cover to cover and to think over what I had said. He seemed a decent enough bloke and I just hoped his friends would not spy our journal in his back pocket, but that he would be allowed to read it in his own time at some point and reach is own conclusions.

This visitor to our stall was not unique. It is honestly amazing just how many visitors to our stalls, wherever we set them up, just cannot come to terms with the idea of a revolutionary political organisation having no leadership. Query their assumptions on leadership and it becomes clear they are the disseminators of a cruel myth, a popular myth, that dates back thousands of years and which echoes around the globe; and it is that wherever humans congregate, wherever they settle, wherever they organise, a certain group of people will be exclusively marked out to be the leaders; that we would be unable to look after ourselves without such leaders. The origin of this myth, regardless of the societal organisation it has taken root in, has been the existence of private property in the means of living.

With the beginning of private property and class society and the concentration of the ownership of wealth into fewer hands, certain groups found themselves in a privileged position by virtue of their ownership of the wealth they had seized. They found they had command over others. They could deprive others of the means of living – food, water, shelter, the necessities of life - and thus were in a position to get others to do their bidding. In short they realised they could control the entire village or city or country. They had power to choose who lived and who died.
They developed a philosophy to justify their rule – rooted it safely in religion to show they ruled by divine right – and hired others, at first usually the biggest and toughest, to defend their power and ownership of wealth. They became utterly convinced of their ability and right to rule and looked down with contempt upon their followers. As time passed by they became more and more powerful and people took them for granted, saw them as wise beings and blessed with an insight into affairs which were beyond the ken of mere mortals, and thus in need of palaces castles and the best of everything. The followers were only too happy to be followers of their own special leader and soon learned to treat with suspicion the followers of other leaders. They wondered how thy would ever survive without leaders telling them what to do and asked their gods to protect them.

The leaders looked around and saw the threat posed by other leaders, who might usurp their power, envied the scarce resources they controlled, the power they too had, and so declared war on them, sending their followers against the armies of other leaders. The victors became even greater leaders and acquired a wider following.

After thousands of years the myth still prevails and leaders still abound. Indeed, they are the greatest defenders of the leadership myth. They are still powerful, still wealthy and will still urge their followers go to war to further their interests. Millions idolise them, look up to them, pay homage to them, sing songs about them, sculpt their images in stone and marble and bronze, and will happily die on their behalf if asked to do so.

Of course the leaders that exist now are not the leaders that existed during the days of slavery or feudalism or when capitalism was first brought screaming into the world. The leaders then were emperors and kings and queens, generals and great landowners. Today’s leaders, though powerful, are not as powerful as the class whose interests they represent – namely the capitalist class. Today’s leaders, the world’s political leaders and their governments, serve as the executive for the capitalist class and it is the capitalist class who has the real power. It is they, like the kings and emperors of old, who control the necessaries of life, deciding who lives and dies and it is in their interests that governments will wage war and decide upon whichever piece of legislation is necessary to protect the wealth of the capitalists.

Across the world, billions still support leaders and aspiring leaders. They will argue and fight and campaign for whichever leader they think can best manage the affairs of the capitalists – though few see things in this light. Billions invest a lot of trust in leaders and are content with a set up that allows them to vote for a leader every few years, satisfied this is democracy at work. A minority – socialists – urge the followers of the leaders to think for themselves and to imagine a better world without leaders, but their efforts bring mostly derision.

The philosophy of leadership has had a bad influence on workers. Not only does it incline them to mental laziness as they distance themselves from the important issues of the day, delegating problems to others for solution, it also numbs the critical faculties, so much so that when modern-day leaders fail to deliver what they promise, it is they and not the political and economic system that is seen to be at fault. After all, leaders do not control capitalism – it controls them – so their hands are really tied. Apathy, disenchantment, frustration and mistrust ensue, and this is often reflected at election time with a bigger proportion of the vote going to the abstentionsits, who refuse to exercise their right to vote. Many workers often switch off and turn away from politics, convinced anyone standing for election is a two-faced, self-seeking scoundrel. All of which is even more exasperating for the socialist contesting an election and standing in opposition to the defenders of capitalism, who is tarred with the same brush as that used to blacken the mainstream politician, and thought of as peddling the same wares.

This is a great sadness. The working class have been led and betrayed and disillusioned for so long that they have become apathetic. Moreover they have lost all sight of their own collective strength. Workers still look up to their betters though, and will support royalty, wave the flag of their masters when asked to do so and argue over which politician will make the best leader and agree with their leaders that the leaders of other countries need to be overthrown. Workers are constantly being urged to obey and follow orders, to trust the advice of others who know better how they should organise their lives, to mistrust their own intelligence and to look with suspicion on anyone who challenges the status quo, particularly those who urge them to think for themselves.

This is a great step for many people – thinking for themselves. Perhaps that first liberating wiggle from the strait-jacket of subservience that binds the working class, is when workers look around and realise it is not leaders who run the world, but they themselves, the everyday people on the streets, in the offices and factories, the people next door. Yes, that subservient, exploited majority run the world from top to bottom.

It is we, the working class, who plough he fields and plant the plantations. It is we who dig the mines and fish the oceans, who build the factories, ships and aeroplanes the ports and airports. It is we who dig the tunnels, who build the roads, the railways and bridges, the schools, universities and hospitals, the palaces and mansions. It is we, the working class, who produce everything society needs to function from a pin to an oil rig, providing humanity with all the services it needs. It is we who fix and mend and invent, who produce the fine music and art that so many of our class are deprived the enjoyment of. All of this is carried out by an exploited majority, who thinks it is not capable of taking care of its own affairs, whose only input into the democratic process is to be allow to place an ‘X’ – the mark of an illiterate – on a ballot paper every four or five years. Everything we see around us is the product of workers applying their physical and mental abilities in order that human needs, real and imaginary, are satisfied – not thanks to leaders, but in spite of them.

Look at how far science and technology has advanced in the last 100 years! Look at the inventions that have benefited humanity. How many were dreamed up by leaders? How many dreamed up by Stalin or Hitler, Pol Pot, Idi Amin, Suharto or Saddam Hussein or even Thatcher, Blair and George Bush? Isn’t it the case that inventions are the mind-work of ordinary people, thinking up faster and more efficient ways to complete a difficult, dangerous or time consuming task, improving on techniques they were taught by others who had, themselves, improved on them previously?

In spite of all this, there are some who recognise all of this – they like to call themselves “socialists” – yet still maintain that workers need to be led, that workers are not capable of thinking for themselves and deciding what is in their own best interests, and that workers can only ever achieve a ‘trade union consciousness’, pursuing minor objectives, and that they must be led by a vanguard of professional revolutionaries - a chosen few, blessed with a unique knowledge - to the promised land. Such people could be found trying to establish socialism in the Russia of 1917, by force, and in a country upon which capitalism had hardly impinged and thus defying the very historical laws they themselves claimed to have knowledge of. Their descendants can still be found today in numerous left wing organisations, ever ready to lead the way – to confusion.

These Leninists and Trotsykists believe it possible to establish socialism in one country. They claim that socialism can come about by violent revolution. They even urge workers to campaign for myriad reforms, whilst ironically holding to the view that these same workers can only attain trade union consciousness. They claim to be the most ardent followers of Marx and Engels and are wont to bludgeon their opponents with quotes from the bearded duo themselves. However, they tend to pick and choose whichever quote best serves their ‘revolutionary’ philosophy and will most certainly not be found citing a circular letter from Marx to the leaders of the German Socialist Workers Party back in 1879:“When the International was formed, we expressly formulated the battle cry ‘the emancipation of the working class must be achieved by the working class itself.’ We cannot therefore cooperate with people who openly state that the workers are too uneducated to emancipate themselves and must be freed from above by philosophical leaders.”

Neither will they point their listeners to a passage written by Engels in the 1895 Introduction to Marx’s Class Struggles in France:

“The time is past for revolutions carried through by small minorities at the head of unconscious masses. When it gets to be a matter of the complete transformation of the social organisation, the masses themselves must participate, must understand what is at stake and why they must act. But so the masses may understand what is to be done, long and persistent work is required.”

And so to with Clause 5 of the Socialist Party’s Declaration of Principles – “That this emancipation must be the work of the working class itself” – a statement socialists take seriously, and based on the realisation that socialism can only be established by a majority of the world’s people when they understand what socialism means, when they are prepared unite and work together and without leaders to further their class interests.

The Socialist Party says no more than before you can have socialism you need a majority of workers with a revolutionary class consciousness to help establish it – this entails no more than workers understanding the nature of the system that exploits them, that capitalism is not the “end of history”, as some of its apologists would assert, and that another world is possible if we organise consciously and democratically to help bring it into being.

Give us a million rifles and they will be totally useless. But give us the minds of a million workers who have at last pulled away the veil of deceit capitalism cloaks itself in and we will be on our way. A socialist revolution will never be won on the barricades, as some on the left believe, where workers squat like fugitives, the sites of their Kalashnikovs pointed in all directions, Molotov cocktails at the ready, red flags waving high and the leaders in some far off hide away directing the struggle. The battle against capitalism is to be fought on the battlefield of ideas. It is thus important that our case against capitalism must be watertight and that the workers who will establish socialism know exactly what is at stake. It is we, the working class, the exploited global majority who must work together, freely and consciously, and without leaders, to establish socialism.

The wording of one banner the North East Branch regularly attached to its stall was: “Only sheep need leaders.” If you want to be sheep, then prepare to be fleeced.


Size Counts (or never mind the quality feel the width)

One question I’m certain every socialist activist will have been asked is that regarding the “size of the party”. To be honest it’s a question that no member is over happy to answer, because we are, after all, relatively small, minute, compared to the mainstream parties who can count there membership in the hundreds of thousands. You just know the Labour Party member, who has asked you this question, is trying to keep a straight face, but already anticipating telling his friends down the local what he has just learned

Size matters for the general public too: “So how big are you then?” is often asked of us by enquirers. But nowhere is this fixation more apparent than with our dealings with left wing groups, who seem to have that obsession with size you would associate with a class of adolescent boys in a changing room after a sports lesson. The latter (assorted Leninists and Trotsyists) tend to put the question in a manner of contemptible decisiveness, the revelation that they are larger, and therefore ‘far more revolutionary’, being a form of political check-mate that terminates the confrontation: “We’re ten times as large. Get out of that if you can!”

We have nothing to hide! Though some members may feel a slight embarrassed about The Socialist Party being relatively small after such a time in existence, our answer is short and candid. But this is one of the things that distinguish us from organisations like the Labour Party, the SWP or the SLP – we simply have no obsession with size, will not try to hype our numerical strength and will not grovel on our hands and knees to anyone looking our way to fill out a membership form.

The disclosure as to out the size of our membership is often greeted with ridicule from our political opponents. “What, you’re that small?” they’ll exclaim, somewhat jubilantly, “and after 100 years? Just shows your ideas are not working, that no one is listening.” I can’t recall the number of times I’ve found myself in such a situation!

When the manifest logic of this shallow approach is spelled out, our opponent usually relinquishes his or her previously expressed view on size. It must be realised, that if the main criterion of the validity of a political party and its policy is the number of supporters it attracts, then the Labour Party are presently the ‘most right’ and before them the Tories were the ‘most right’ for eighteen years. Moreover, consider this: in the elections to the National Assembly in Germany on 6th June 1920, the Nazis polled 1,918,300 votes, or 6.5 per cent of votes cast. On 12th November 1933 they polled 39,638,800 votes, or 92.2 percent of votes cast and took every one of the 661 seats being contested. Is it sensible then to conclude that Hitler’s repressive, bigoted, militarist and nationalist policies were watertight, totally sound and commonsensical?

Our opponent now allows that neither Blair, Thatcher nor Hitler was “right” and that the support the various political parties enjoy tends to ebb and flow depending on many factors. New parties can come from nowhere – i.e. consider the UKIP’s victories in the 2004 Euro Election - and take support away and win votes from long established ones, which helps to bear out our claim that voters are not automatically inclined to the policies of the party with the largest membership.

It is then obvious that the constraints placed on the Socialist Party for being small are really a snide way of attacking our socialist principles and indeed afford the critic an escape hatch from constructive debate they feel uncomfortable about engaging in: “Why should I argue with you? You are nothing.”

What the size obsessionists fail to grasp is that the key to understanding the ebb and flow of political membership can be found in the materialist conception, or view, of history. New political parties, and the rise and fall of their memberships, arise from new ideas, which in turn stem from changing economic and social conditions.

Consider the ascendancy of the trade union movement in the latter part of the 19th Century. This was directly due to the intensification of industry in the larger towns and cities and the decimation of an agricultural workforce. The concentration of tens of thousands of workers into industrial centres in which poverty was the norm meant that sooner or later they were going to organise in defence of their common interests, whether it be working conditions or the length of the working day. And this in turn led to the creation of reformist labour parties to pursue their further interests via parliament. Again the rise of the Nazis in Germany in the inter-war years was attributable in part to the austere social conditions the country endured after the Treaty of Versailles.

The formation of the Socialist Party in 1904 was also due to changing ideas and changing social conditions – namely the advance of capitalism and the realisation amongst workers that the powers of production had developed to such a stage by then as to make socialism a viable system of society. Furthermore, workers were seeking to establish a political party that had socialism as its only goal; a party not dependent on a leadership for guidance and not out to reform capitalism, but to abolish it.

So changing social conditions give rise to new ideas, but it does not follow that these new ideas spread like wildfire overnight, with a huge majority accepting them in a short space of time. On the contrary, they are only accepted by relatively few people and often for a long time. This relates not simply to political ideas, but all ideas, whether they be political, scientific or religious. The more profound the new idea, the greater it challenges the ideas people had hitherto held and the longer it takes for its appeal to spread. Hence the low appeal of revolutionary socialist ideas. The Socialist Party is not advocating a few slight changes to capitalism, a few minor reforms, like the mainstream and leftwing parties, but demanding an end to the present system and everything associated with it. This, at the moment, is just too radical for many people.

And neither does the Socialist Party, as previously mentioned, pull all manner of stunts to increase its membership and secure votes. Mainstream parties, for instance, are known for signing dead people up as members and for sending their supporters into aged persons homes to get unwitting residents to sign up for membership. The SWP will stop anyone approaching their stall and ask if they want to join – they might even be recruiting BNP and NF members! The Socialist Party, on the other hand, is unique in having a membership test to ascertain the socialist knowledge of the aspiring member on a number of points considered very important to members – i.e. the socialist position on reforms, war, the former USSR and religion. Neither does the Socialist Party overtly ask people for their votes at election times. The Socialist Party makes no pledges, no promises, advocates no grand reforms, but stresses there is nothing it can do for the workers that they are not capable of doing for themselves and urges voters only to cast their vote for socialism if they fully comprehend and agree with the socialist case against capitalism.

So, the membership of The Socialist Party is small, but does this diminish the importance of its ideas or contribution to political theory? Hardly; its ideas are in keeping with social evolution – the future of humanity when capitalism is at last recognised as an outdated and ridiculous way in which to run the affairs of the world. This makes the ideas its members defend so powerful as to be ultimately indisputable. Thus, the Socialist Party’s members feel privileged to be members, convinced they are making a genuine contribution to the struggle for socialism. This is not to suggest the Socialist Party considers itself, as so many Leninist groups do, to be some revolutionary vanguard, blessed with an insight the masses can only dream of, ready to lead them to victory when the final hour comes. On the contrary, Socialist Party members believe a revolutionary class consciousness can be attained by any member of the working class who is prepared to begin thinking for themselves and to start questioning the most prevalent assumptions of the day. The Party may be small, but this is the price it has paid for refusing to compromise any of its revolutionary principles in 101 years and for not offering quick-fix solutions to the problems of capitalism. It remains small because it is not impatient for social change, realising that before you can have a social revolution you need a revolution in the way people think. At this moment in time, although the case for socialism has never been so pressing, it remains a sad fact that too many workers still think capitalism can be made to work in the interests of all if enough tinkering here and there is a carried out.


It's human nature, innit?

Imagine this:
Scene: The High Courts of Justice, London. On trial is a 30 year-old man, charged with 3 armed robberies, 3 counts of attempted murder, and 12 charges of assaulting police officers and another of incapacitating a police dog. The QC for the prosecution has finished summing up. He sits down, satisfied he had done enough to see this psychopath imprisoned for 350 years, and now the defendant’s barrister approaches the jury, one hand in his pocket and fidgeting with his car keys.

Barrister: Members of the Jury! It’s an open and shut case as far as I can see. It’s human nature, innit? Humans are by nature greedy, selfish and aggressive. We’ve been like this for donkey’s years. Nothing you can do about it, eh? He can’t help it (points to defendant) – he’s naturally predisposed to be a violent robber. I, therefore, urge you to find my client not guilty on account of this ‘ere human nature thing.

The jury retires and the judge adjourns. Five minutes later the jury returns. The foreman of the jury hands the usher a note which is then passed to his Lordship Justice Fairlaw. The judge looks at the slip of paper, raises an eyebrow and puts the note to one side.

Justice Fairlaw: Have the ladies and gentlemen of the jury reached a verdict on which you are all unanimous?

Foreman of the Jury: Yes, M’Lud.

Justice Fairlaw: And it is?

Foreman of the Jury: We find the defendant not guilty, M’Lud. We’re all agreed it’s not really his fault. Like his barrister said, it’s human nature, innit?’

Justice Fairlaw: In that case you’re free to go Mr Stabbemall If you read this account of a trial in a newspaper you would be flabbergasted. You’d think this some huge joke or, if not, that the judge, barrister and jury were completely and utterly bonkers. Your faith in the criminal justice system would be shattered into a billion pieces.

This, however, is just the kind of logic socialists come up against when trying to convince people of the benefits of a socialist society. People will hear us out, agree that capitalism is insane and that our vision of a future society sounds perfect, and then wallop you with their evolutionary psychological analysis of human society, saying:

“Yeah, I agree with everything you say. But it ain’t gonna work, is it, coz of human nature? At the end of the day, humans are greedy selfish and aggressive. Always have been, always will”

Which immediately puts your socialist on the defence: “Are you greedy, selfish and aggressive?”

“No, but…err…I’m…”

“Good to hear it. Neither am I. Hold on a sec, I’ll ask this guy here.” And the socialist holds out an arm and attracts the attention of a passer-by. “Sorry to bother you. I wonder if I could ask you a question.”

“Yeah, why not?” The passer buy joins the socialist and his critic.

“Right, would you consider that you are greedy and selfish?”
“Most certainly not.”

“Maybe aggressive?”


“Thanks. That’s all.”

“That it?”

“Yes, thanks. Have a leaflet.” The socialist turns back to the evolutionary psychologist. “I’ll ask this woman crossing the road.”

The evolutionary psychologist walks off, muttering under his breath that the socialist is distorting his words.

The ‘human nature’ objection to socialism manifests itself in numerous ways, though it is more frequently the human nature of others, the wider society, which is acting as the barrier to socialism, never that of the model citizen and objector.

Let’s look briefly at the argument that humans are “by nature greedy, selfish and aggressive.”

So are humans naturally aggressive?

Well, if this is so then why do government s have to bring in conscription to force young men and women into their armies during times of war? At previous times, in Britain’s history, people have woken up from a drunken night to find themselves clutching the ‘king’s shilling’, turned into cannon fodder overnight, having been tricked into the army, and others have woken up in the holds of war ships which had already put to sea. Here, in Britain, where there is no conscription, very few people join the army with a view to killing others. Most join because they see it as an alternative to the dole queue or because they seek adventure or believe the army can teach them a valuable trade.

Moreover, one real problem armies have is that of desertion. In the Vietnam War, 50,000 US soldiers deserted. In other wars the army hierarchy has had to introduce the death penalty for deserters in an attempt to prevent so many fleeing the front line. So much for innate aggression.

Again, if humans are naturally aggressive, then why is there so much opposition to war? Surely our inborn aggressiveness compels us to cheer on “our boys” into battle, but this is not so. The February 2003 Anti War demo in London became the biggest ever demonstration in British political history, with almost 2 million anti-war protestors taking to the streets of the capital, having travelled from all over the country. They were not alone; there were coinciding demonstrations in cities right across the globe. Hundreds of thousands carried placards saying “Not in my name” – determined to make clear their opposition to conflict.

Critics may counter by citing the rising levels of physical violence as evidence of a violent trend amongst humans. But even this can be attributed to the fact that well over 90% of this violent crime is carried out when the perpetrator is drunk or high on drugs. The remainder tend to be violent crimes of desperation, rooted in poverty. When for instance, did you hear of a member of the aristocracy jumping an old lady on her way out of the bingo hall and snarling, “righto, missus, let’s ‘ave yer bag”?

The human aggression argument is looking pretty dubious, so we’ll move on.

So humans are greedy?

Our objector assumes that in a free access society, which socialism would be - where people give freely of their abilities, taking from the stockpile of communal wealth according to their own self-defined needs – that there would be an orgy of consumption. It is assumed that people would simply go mad and grab at anything that did not have to be bought; running home with 20 loafs of bread and five walkman cd players.

Have you ever watched a mother and say a two year old child in a corner shop? The mother will be at the counter, momentarily distracted, paying for her groceries, and her child heads for the confectionary display. The child has no real conception of the buying, selling and exchange game that parents play; one penny might as well be a pound coin – they’re just little fiddly things adults play with. Children simply take so much for granted. The mother will call the child away from the sweet display, and the child, wanting something, brings an item back- a packet of Smarties maybe - to her mother in the hope the parent will approve. Now note, it is just one packet, not ten and six packets of crisps! Just one packet of Smarties! Surely a child would be more predisposed to fill his or her arms with a stash of chocolate than an adult – believing this to be simply for the taking. But no, the child will take what he or she thinks will satisfy his or her immediate needs. For him or her there is always another day and it doesn’t look like all this free access confectionary is going anywhere in a hurry.

What possible benefit could there be to storing goods that were in plentiful supply and freely available? Take more than you need by way of perishables and you’ll end up with a cupboard full of stinking and rotting vegetables. Water is generally considered to be “free” – you can for instance go into a public building and get a free drink at a water fountain – but no one runs in with 10 gallon containers in order to hoard it at home. Air is free, but when did you last hear of anyone extracting it and storing it in warehouses?

In a free society it is far easier, just to take for you immediate needs and to return when you require more.

It is only in class society as exists today, where commodities have two values, a use value and an exchange value, where the profit motive results in artificial scarcity, that people display characteristics associated with greed. But establish as society in which the artificial constraints on production are removed (profit), in which goods have a use value only, and are produced for no other reason than people need them, and people’s approach to obtaining them will change.

Humans are selfish?

Are we really self-seeking, self-centred and egotistical? Well, let’s begin with a few facts.
1) In Britain there are 180,000 registered charities. These charities involve millions of people who give their free time, unpaid, for what they believe are worthy causes that benefit others. 2) 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.

Now let’s go back to December 26th, 2005, when the Asia Tsunami hit, killing upwards of 200,000. Overnight charities mobilised all over the world to get food, medical aid and other supplies to the millions left homeless in the disaster zone. The generosity shown towards the victims of the Tsunami disaster by, say the people of the USA, were not Bush administration “values”, which Colin Powell, US Secretary of State, seemed to imply during his damage limitation exercise in Indonesia, but rather the basic values of human beings in America, indeed, the world over, who had been motivated by the sorry plight of their fellows overseas.

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 were all manner of fundraising events, in all sections of society, inclusive of nursery schools, prisons, universities and impoverished communities. In some instances people queued for over an hour to put money in a plastic collection bucket.

People raised hundreds of millions of dollars to help people they had never met before, nor knew anything of, and it was the same during the Ethiopian Famine of 1984, with millions around the world mobilising to help the starving of Africa.

Several years ago, when the Yangtze River in China threatened to burst its banks, seven million people came out and began to fill sand bags, pillow cases, anything, to build up the river banks that threatened their community.

Here in Britain, and indeed elsewhere, millions attend donor centres to give blood – usually every 17 weeks. Others put themselves on bone marrow registers and carry donor cards. All of this to help people they know they will never meet.

There have been cases where a small animal, a cat or puppy, sometimes even a child has become lodged in some deep underground pipe. Hundreds of people have mobilised to rescue it – fire crews, ambulance personnel, rescue services of every description. Contractors have freely sent in mechanical diggers. In most cases these people work endlessly, sometimes for days on end, sometimes without sleep, more often than not unpaid, until the cat or dog or even the small child is rescued. You can’t get near the site for TV crews and newspaper camera men – all desperate to capture the ‘human interest’ story, in the knowledge that this makes big news (as well as profits for the newspapers and TV networks it must be said).

So the evidence hardly suggests that humans are selfish, greedy and aggressive. Indeed, if this was the case, if we could just not help ourselves, then we would very much see the type of court case we began this episode with far more often. What most critics of human nature are actually referring to is human behaviour, behaviour exhibited in varying circumstances, and sometimes this reveals humans to be displaying behaviour that is aggressive or selfish.

For instance, if you go to Newcastle on a Saturday afternoon you’ll see thousands of people out shopping, strolling along quietly, minding their own business. Return ten hours later when the pubs and night clubs empty, when the same streets are full of drunks and you’ll see behaviour that is quite blatantly aggressive. This is not natural aggression, but aggression which is arising because the normal functioning of thousands of brains is being upset by an overdose of the chemical alcohol and other drugs. Anti-social behaviour is also influenced by our social circumstances at any given time, i.e., when we are poor, depressed, lonely, afraid, angry or frustrated – sometimes a spontaneous overflow of powerful emotion arising from abnormal and unfamiliar circumstances.

Socialists maintain that human behaviour is shaped in general by our surroundings, our circumstances, by the kind of system people are conditioned to live in – that it is not our consciousness that determines our social existence but our social existence which determines our consciousness. Nobody, for example, is born a racist or a patriot, a bigot, or with a belief in gods – this has to be learned. Nobody is born a murderer, a robber or a rapist, and our assumed greed for money is no more a function of the natural human thought process than were slavery or witch burning.For instance, Labour lost the Smethwick, Birmingham seat in the 1964 election to the Tories because of the racist hysteria the Tories had whipped up in the constituency and the false fears they had spread about immigration. Their candidate had as his election logo: “If you want a nigger for a neighbour, vote Labour.”

During the Falklands War, in the early eighties, if was not the people on the streets who wanted to celebrate the murder of thousands of Argentinean soldiers - it was the prime minister, Margaret Thatcher, who urged us to “Rejoice!” The Sun even printed the words as their headline in support of the Tories’ raw brand of jingoistic patriotism and millions of readers thought rejoicing at death was thus acceptable.

Ordinarily, the reactionary ideas the common people hold have been acquired second-hand, passed down from the ruling class above us. This is because, as Marx observed, the class which owns and controls the productive process also controls the intellectual life process in general. .In most cases, those who produce the world’s wealth (some 95 percent of the world’s population) have had that second-rate education that makes free-thought difficult – an upbringing that conditions us to accept without question the ideas of our betters and superiors. Indeed, the education system is geared to perpetuate the rule of an elite, insofar as it never encourages children to question and take issue with the status quo. Children may well cite that 8 times 8 equals 64, but how many will ask about the cause of wars or query the destruction of food? Moreover, the master class is allowed to hold onto power by controlling exactly what we think to the point that we imbibe a false class consciousness and readily acquiesce in our own exploitation. They control the TV, the radio, the newspapers, the schools. They perpetuate ideas that become so ubiquitous many people accept them as their own, uncritically. Many of these ideas are reactionary and, once imbibed, provide fertile soil for other reactionary ideas. A young man, who might have had no interest in politics, may well find himself regurgitating the racist remarks he has read in an election leaflet. He may find himself boycotting the local “Paki shop” and then joining the BNP or the National Front. Before you know it he is shaving his head, donning a black windcheater and Dr Marten boots and going out with his fascist mates for as spot of aggro.
Socialists hold that because we can adapt our behaviour, the desire to cooperate should not be viewed as illogical. We hold that humans are, “by nature”, cooperative and that we work best when faced with the worst and that our humanity shines through when the odds are stacked against us. Today, world capitalism threatens the human race with extinction. The reason this obnoxious system survives is because we have been conditioned to accept it, not born to perpetuate it. Rest assured, no gene inclines us to defend the profit system.



Saturday gone, I took my son to see the Holocaust Exhibition located on the third floor of the Imperial War Museum in South London. I was stopped at the door by a member of the museum staff and asked how old my son was.

“Eleven,” I replied.

“I’m sorry, but the exhibition is unsuitable for under-fourteens,” he says, apologetically.

“This is his fourth visit here. He’s been coming here for two years.” I answered and, before he could reply, said: “you can’t go setting an age limit on the truth.”

He waved me in.

I wasn’t lying. This was his fourth visit and just how old is a child supposed to be before they can be exposed to the harsher realities of history? Was his school erring in selling him his copy of the Diary of Anne Frank at a bookfair two years ago? For the record, the law would have it that a child reaches the age of criminal responsibility in this country at 10, so just how old do you have to be allowed cognizance of the more heinous crimes of your fellow humans?

Each time I have taken him he has viewed the exhibits and used the interactive material with the required solemnity and with an adult’s empathy. Of course he is a child, so naturally impatient to get on to the next exhibit. But, the exhibition is punctuated with video monitors. set into the walls at strategic points, playing looped film of Nazi leaders poring fourth their foul cant to cheering crowds, Jews being rounded up in Warsaw, lines of nameless victims being stood against trenches and machine gunned, and these I’m determined to talk him through, again:

“That’s Goebbels, Hitler’s propaganda minister.”


I repeat the name and explain his function within the Nazi heiarchy.

Goering he can identify and already knows the final solution was given his nod.

We stop in front of a display highlighting the fact that the Nazis killed something like 170,000 people with physical and mental handicaps – Hitler’s way of ridding the ‘master race’ of impurities – and I explain, again, just who was included.

He asks why the framed post card poem in our passage-way at home does not refer to this fact – it’s the famous Pastor Noeller one - “First they came…” - and shares a wall with a dozen other such hangings.

“I reckon he hadn’t heard of these crimes when he was writing the poem. a lot of them were carried out hush-hush”

“Would they have come for you?”

“Probably – but more likely because of my politics.”

He gives me one of his frequent frowning looks of incredulity. It comes across his face when you tell him a blatant huge porkie, but also when he hears something that challenges his conception of the world around him.

Later, downstairs, he sits at one of a dozen or so desks that has a monitor built into it, the touch-screen interactive type that allows you to ask questions or hazard a guess at a question. I watch on as he takes out a piece of paper and a pen and begins to jot down figures that he prompts on to the screen and pertaining to numbers killed in the concentration camps by category. I ask what he’s doing.

“Working out how many were killed.”

“Don’t be silly. You’ll be there all day. There are millions from every section of society not even listed on there.” And I try to explain it is far more important to try and understand what made people think these were their enemies, why they hated them and treated them so. History is not just facts.

The latter is a statement not lost on him – he can readily rebuff the popular misconception that wars are fought for freedom and democracy, countering it with an infantile Marxian recognition that military conflict has its root in disputes over trade routes, areas of influence, foreign markets, mineral wealth or the strategic points from which the same can be defended.

The model of Auschwitz is the exhibit he spends most time at. It’s a huge display, a scale model, painted white, perhaps in excess of 30 feet in length. Every detail has been accounted for. There are thousands of minute figures – no two seemingly alike - alighting from their cattle trucks on the sidings just inside the gates of this hell – and many more walking, heading to the far end of the display, descending the steps to the gas chambers and certain death. There are the barbed wire fences, the barracks and the camp guards. We both can’t help but wonder at the dedication, passion and love that went into making this magnificent model. And at the end of this display there is a glass case housing a rusting canister of Zyclon- B pellets and just round the corner a couple of the ill-fitting, striped pyjamas concentration camp prisoners wore, right next to a display case with a mountain of ageing shoes.

When we leave the exhibit, he’s quiet, though not subdued, and not at all interested in the other displays, the sundry tanks and military vehicles and the fokke-wolfes hanging from the rafters, though the word "fokke" makes him smile. These are only part of the story of the insanity of war. We leave and go for lunch and the continuation of the history lesson over sausage, egg and chips.

Call me a sick, insensitive bastard, but this is one kid that is not going to wear a soldier’s uniform, or wave a flag, or ridicule another because of their skin colour, race or religion. I am preparing him for war, though - the class war. He and his school mates have been neck-deep in it since birth; they just don’t know it yet.

More on the Holocaust Exhibition:

The Holocaust Exhibition commences with the tumultuous political scene in Europe just after World War One, looking at the ascendancy of the Nazi party, how anti-Semitism as a Europe-wide phenomenon became fertile in Hitler’s Germany, giving birth to twisted anti-Jewish beliefs, the distortion of science to shore up Nazi race supremacy theory, the isolation of German Jews, the refugee crisis and the introduction of so-called 'Euthanasia' policies in 1939.

The exhibition contains eye-witness accounts, written and oral, and all manner of documents. There are photographs, diaries, newspapers and artefacts of every description and film from most every country the Nazis occupied. The exhibition contains a funeral cart, a deportation railway truck – that could have carried victims to Auschwitz – concentration clamp clothing and much more.

Hey, and if you do go, take a few tissues!

Imperial War Museum, Lambeth Road London SE1 6HZ United Kingdom. Email: General enquiries: mail@iwm.org.uk Telephone: +44 (0)207 416 5000General enquiries: +44 (0) 207 416 5320Fax: +44 (0) 207 416 5374http://london.iwm.org.uk/


The Landlord Wore a Dressing Gown

A certain Glaswegian - and a fellow barricadist (nah, not him on the left) - has suggested I recount the night we held a branch meeting in Sunderland (‘we’ being the North East Branch of the Socialist Party). Well, here goes.

About 6 years ago, when the North East Branch of the Socialist Party was quite an active branch, the toast of their southern comrades and the envy of less formidable lefty groups in the region, we boldly decided to commence holding meetings around the borough - taking the mountain to Mohammed, so to speak (in those days we met regularly at The Swan, just off the Heworth by-pass, a pub that backs onto the cemetery that contains the grave of legendary 1832 miners’ strike leader, Thomas Hepburn). The branch contained a mixture of Geordies*, Makems**, monkey hangers*** and exiled Scots; the Makems forming perhaps the largest contingent.

We decided at one branch meeting, on a member’s advice, to hold a meeting in Sunderland, in a public house in Roker and not far from the famous black cat football ground (long since replaced with the Stadium of Shite****). The comrade who suggested the pub – buggered if I can remember the name of it – used it as his local and was a friend of the landlord and offered that there would be a decent turn-out there.

The night of the meeting came and I set off early for the venue – unsure just where it was and a slight apprehensive, as the last time I had ventured through the area a gang of nutters were ripping the scaffolding from a building that was being renovated, and hurling it each other for a laugh, and some little gobshite, no more than seven-years-old, asked if I could light his fag. Anyway – I digress – I eventually found the pub, or should I say ‘pothole’?

There are messy pubs and there are right bloody dives and then there are pubs like this one. This one was unique in so far as not two tables or chairs in the entire place matched. The tables clearly hadn’t been cleaned in weeks, there were fag ends on the floor and fish supper wrappers and empty crisp packets stuffed down between and at the back of the seating where it met the wall, and the wallpaper was in the kind of condition you would expect if you had been scraping it off for an hour. And sitting amidst this detritus was the oddest looking bunch of people I have ever seen assembled in one spot.

When I walked into the bar at about 7 pm the place went deadly silent, just like in that scene in the film An American Werewolf in London when the two young Yanks venture into the Slaughtered Lamb pub on the Moors to escape the encroaching evening. Even the juke box paused and looked at me. And then everything returned to normal and the locals carried on their conversations.

I knew I looked strange to them – I do to everyone and am always guaranteed a second, third and even fourth glance – but as I looked around me I knew I just had to be at a convention of Last of the Summer Wine***** fanatics, and at which some members had decided to come as Eli Duckett (pictured above - the short-sighted old guy with the jam jar glasses, who wears the long white mac and shuffles along, and who’ll stand for half an hour talking to a post box, thinking it’s a woman in a red coat and saying something like: “Eee, missus, you’re on wrong side of road for bus stop.”) There were ‘Compos’ there as well as a few dodgy looking characters who could successfully have auditioned for walk-on parts in Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels.

The landlord came out of a back room to serve me, looking like he’d just got out of bed – hair ruffled, unshaven and clad in a blue dressing gown, open and untied at the front and revealing boxer shorts and a pot belly.

“Is this where the socialist meeting is being held?” I asked, half hoping he’d tell me I was in the wrong pub and that someone had stuck the meeting’s advert to the entrance for a laugh.
“Aye, mate, upstairs,” he replied, as he looked me up and down.

I chatted to him as he poured me a half glass of lager and mixed it with a half pint glass of lemonade, and the Eli Ducket Appreciation Society occasionally looked over and wondered why a man was drinking a girl’s drink.

My host eventually directed me to the stairs for the “function room” above and off I headed in that direction, with a glass of shandy (I’m teetotal) and my heavy hold-all of party literature which I was now regretting having brought – I was thinking a flare gun, commando knife and 24 hour survival pack would have been more appropriate for this night exercise.

The upstairs room was no different – resembling someone’s attempt at furnishing a room from stuff found in skips. It was a lot brighter than downstairs, however, being painted sky blue, but more cluttered with assorted junk piled up and filling one half of the room.

The meeting was not due to commence until about 8pm, but there was already a few comrades there, chatting with a couple of locals who had spied the home-made A4 poster advertising the meeting - ‘All Wellcome’ - and wishing to investigate. The former were pleased to see me – it being evident that their company were giving them a hard time – and thought maybe I, with experience of speaking in daunting settings, could explain the party case to them in a way they could understand.

Like any battle-hardened socialist worth his or her salt, I was again and, for the thousandth time, defending ‘the case’ against charges that “socialism had already been tried and had failed,” that “socialism was dead” and that nobody would want to “live in the Soviet Union” and how “human nature” would always be a barrier to a system of society based on cooperation. But, like making an omelette with one arm tied behind your back and without breaking the eggs, there are something you just can’t do – like converting people with a reformist, Labour Party mentality, their only source of information being The Sun and Sky TV, to ‘the case’. These guys were not having it and proved just as confrontational as the trio of BNP****** members who once came over to the Party stall one afternoon in Jarrow to show off their neo-Nazi tattoos. So I told them just to wait until the evening’s talk was over and there would be a discussion on the same and that maybe they would have a different slant on what I was saying by then.

I set out the stall – we do this at every meeting, and I tend to go over the top and bring more literature than it is possible to sell – handed out some free literature and sat back and waited for the speaker to show up and generally chatted with whoever came into the room. When our speaker did turn up he was an hour and a half late, which really pissed off everyone there, myself included. I had previously said I could not stay late and we were now 90 minutes behind schedule.

I can’t recall the topic of the talk or what was said; I have heard so many that I focus more on the debate and question and answer session afterwards, anticipating, from what the speaker has said, just which direction the questioning will take. In the event, I had to make my farewells, just after the speaker finished. I packed the stall away – literature sales zilch - and left the comrades to the questioning and ventured out into the cold Wearside evening looking for a bus stop. It had been a disappointing evening, with our speaker turning up late and only half a dozen members turning up in addition to our four visitors, who were really only there out of amusement.

There was only one bus going my way and after almost an hour waiting anxiously for it, standing at a semi-derelict bus stop in the cold of night, the echo of distant drunken screams occasionally sounding as if they were getting closer (it was a half hourly service), I assumed it must have been ambushed somewhere and jumped on the first one heading in a northerly direction. This just happened to be a South Shields bus, which on its way to South Shields market place took us on a tour of Seaburn and Whitburn first. Along the route I kept looking out of the window into the darkness for a familiar landmark, convinced I was miles off target and swearing we’d never venture far from The Swan for meetings again, without having well advertised that meeting and checked out the location properly beforehand and secured some decent transport. But eventually we stopped in South Shields. I’d missed any bus going my way and headed for the Metro to Hebburn and once there I had a half an hour walk home, arriving there just after midnight.In the warmth of my home, relaxing with a coffee, I checked an A-Z of the area and discovered I could have walked it home from Roker quicker and contemplated the evening and the lessons we could learn from it - there is no grand plan for the perfect branch meeting; mostly it’s all part of one long learning curve - and hoped the Eli Ducket Appreciation Society got home safely.


*Geordie – someone born on Tyneside.

**Makem – affectionate Geordie term for someone born on Wearside and who speaks the local dialect ( i.e.’You make them and I’ll take them, coming out as “Yee makem ‘n’ aall takem.”) and originating in love the two local football teams - Newcastle United and Sunderland – have for one another.

*** Monkey hangers – affectionate term the above groups of people use to greet people from Hartlepool (it’s a long story, but do a Google search for ‘Hartlepool Monkey’).

**** Stadium of Shite – affectionate Geordie term for Sunderland’s football ground, the Stadium of Light.

*****Last of the Summer Wine – a long running BBC TV comedy series based on the trials and tribulations of three elderly gentlemen in a sleepy Yorkshire village.

****** BNP – British National Party – group of semi illiterates and Neanderthals whose lifetime obsession is the colour of people’s skin, who admire Hitler and speak a strange monosyllabic language. The only claim to fame this group has is that the Conservative Party keep stealing their ideas. Not to be confused with human beings.



I must be getting touchy in my old age, cantankerous even. Someone uses the word “socialism” out of term and it’s like a red rag to a bull. I can’t help it – the word means something definite to me.

I’ll be talking to someone in the street, a Labour Party member for instance, and he’ll say something like: “We socialists should stick together,” and I’m off on my high horse. Or someone on the letters page of the local paper will advocate some policy which he or she thinks is ‘socialist’, like “let’s renationalise the railways”, and that’s it!

I’m not being an awkward git, confrontational for the hell of it. It’s just that to me if socialism means anything then it is the antithesis of capitalism. If capitalism means commodity production, production for profit, wage slavery, then socialism as a competing political ideology (I hate that bloody word) must stand for something else. And it does. It is everything capitalism is not and everything every mainstream political party does not stand for. The Labour Party certainly has nothing to do with socialism. As Tony Benn said, writing in The Independent not to many years ago: “Labour is not now nor ever has been a socialist party. Individual members do not decide its policy and neither are its election promises meant to be taken seriously.”

Socialism to me means a global system of society based on the common ownership and democratic control of the world’s natural and industrial resources. It means a world in which each person has a free and equal say in how their society is run. It means a world without borders or frontiers, social class or leaders, states or governments, force or coercion. It means abolishing the money system, releasing production from the artificial constraints of profit and establishing a world of free access to the benefits of civilisation. It means a world in which people give freely to society whatever skills or abilities they have, for the betterment of society, and taking in return whatever they need, according to their own self-defined needs, from the stockpile of communal wealth. And I keep referring to “a world” because socialism can only exist on a global scale, just as capitalism, does. It can’t exist in one country, in isolation.
Socialism, you hear!? Not bloody capitalism. Show me when the Labour Party has ever advocated any of the above and I’ll eat this keyboard!

I’ve came across dozens of organisations claiming the socialist title and spreading all manner of reformist gobbledygook. I have a decent collection of their leaflets and publications. I’m damned right to be livid. They spread nothing but confusion and make the job of genuine socialists all that more difficult when it comes to untangling the mess of ideas they have created in people’s minds. I mean, I’ll meet someone who’ll buy a pamphlet from me, or who’ll take a leaflet, and who will then tell you his ‘socialist’ ideas about pulling Britain out of Europe, saying ‘no’ the Euro or nationalising the top one-hundred-and-fifty companies, and when you ask him where he gets these ideas he’ll say, “Oh, the Socialist Party of England and Wales” or “the Socialist Labour Party,” as if there are a set of policies on which all socialists, of whatever hue, agree are‘socialist policies’ - and you wince!

And it’s at this stage you get to realise just what a sisyphean task being a socialist really is.
Put it this way: Back in 1997, we were contesting the Jarrow Parliamentary Seat at the General Election. We had a stall up in Jarrow shopping centre, with a banner attached to the front of it. We were handing out leaflets, selling the Socialist Standard and generally engaging the public in quite friendly discussion as they stopped by our stall. The people of Jarrow are generally affable. We were doing okay and then along come the SWP. They set up a stall 20 feet in front of ours, attach a banner to the front of it advocating support for the Labour Party and then start selling the Socialist Worker, which is also promoting the Blairite cause.

Christ! In 1997 Tony Blair had stolen Thatcher’s clothes and left her stark staring naked. Labour was moving to the right of the Tories and there was this allegedly socialist group urging the workers to vote for Labour, urging them to acquiesce in their own exploitation.
I went across and challenged them. I showed them the editorial of the Socialist Review they were selling – it’s their monthly magazine – which says: “We urge our readers to support socialists wherever they are standing and the Labour Party where they are not.” And I ask what the bloody hell they are playing at.

“Don’t you realise we’re trying to put the socialist case to the workers in this town and that you’re undermining our efforts by urging them to support capitalism?”
The only reply I get is that I am an “abstract propagandist.”

Of course there is logic in the SWP approach. The idea is that: 1) you urge the workers to support Labour; 2) The workers support Labour as asked; 3) Labour gets into power, fucks up and can make no improvements to capitalism; 4) The workers then get disillusioned and turn away from support of Labour’s brand of capitalism and turn to the SWP 5) Who also support capitalism, albeit state capitalism in which the revolutionary hierarchy will manage the exploitation of the workers instead of private capitalists, shooting anyone who will not comply for being a counter-revolutionary.

And you wonder why I get vexed over the use of the word ‘socialism’? Okay, I’ll relate another situation.I’ll be standing at the Party pitch at the Annual Durham Miners’ Gala – we’ll have the Gazebo up and a display with literature and banners - and around the field there’ll be half a dozen lefty groups in attendance. I’ll be talking to a visitor to the stall who is querying the number of different ‘socialist’ groups at the event and she’ll say “Why don’t you socialists all get together and form one big Socialist Party?” And I just want to cry.

So you spend quarter of an hour explaining that there are not just little differences that separate, say, ourselves from the SWP, or the SPEW or the SLP or the WRP or the CPB or the RCP or the AWL or the RP, and which stop us from joining forces, but an unbridgeable ocean. They defend capitalism and we support socialism. They all want to reform the system, to ameliorate the harsher effects of capitalism. We are alone in wanting to abolish it. It’s like asking why we don’t get together with the Conservative Party – we, after all, all breathe oxygen. And the poor woman will walk away totally bewildered; under her arm half a dozen newspapers from the various stalls she has visited and which you know she is just not going to read.

This may lay me open to the charge of sectarianism. But we, the SPGB, have been around for 101 years and are the oldest existing socialist organisation in Britain. Most of the leftist groups out there are the result of a split from a split from a split, Johnny-come-lately. We have not compromised out position in those 101 years. Our standpoint is as it was in 1904 - the abolition of the wages system - whereas many leftist groups change their policies more times than they change their underpants, as if the generals of capitalism are forever changing their battle plan prompting them to retreat, regroup and attack again in a different formation. In truth, Capitalism has not changed – it is still the same social system it was 100 years ago and to which the time-honoured Marxian critique still applies.

And yet another anecdote. You’ll be out spreading the message, so to speak, and someone will turn on you and call you an “opportunist” and lambast you for jumping on every bandwagon going. “You’re all the bloody same,” they’ll snap, infuriated at having been offered a leaflet. And, before you get a chance to ask them to explain their criticism, they are off. But you know what it is based on – its based on their experience of having been asked to sign a thousand petitions outside of Sainsbury’s on a Saturday morning, in support of everything from a ban on fox hunting and the lifting of immigration restrictions to the legitimisation of cannabis and bringing the troops home. Moreover, they will have seen a hundred demonstrations in which the usual suspects march along holding aloft the same old placards in one hand and their party paper in their other, led by others with loudspeakers through which they encourage the faithful to chant the mantra of the day.

Once more, you are the victim of the confusionists who have sullied the socialist title, guilty by virtue of the fact you call yourself a socialist and to whom some rule-of-thumb syllogism can be applied: socialists latch on to any lost cause; this man is a socialist, therefore he must have latched on to some lost cause.

So I think I’ve a right to be vexed. Your average genuine socialist spends more time explaining who he or she is not than the message he or she set out to impart in the first place:
“No, I’m nothing to do with New Labour….No, I have no petition for you to sign… No, I’m not asking for money from you…No, I’ve no leaflets in support of abolishing student fees….No, I don’t think Che Guevara was the bees knees….No….”

And all of this before you have to regurgitate your explanation of how Lenin and Stalin never established socialism in the Soviet Union and how human nature is not a barrier to a communistic system of society.

Being a socialist means you become a myth shatterer – because you spend the greatest portion of your activity shattering myths, dispelling illusions, setting the record straight. And sometimes its like trying to sweep up leaves in a park on a windy autumn day – sweeping them into a nice pile which is then scattered a moment later – because you go along carefully trying to show people the insanity of capitalism, explaining how a different world can come about and what it might be like, and behind you this whirl-wind of leftist confusion is on its path of destruction, undoing your work.

So forgive me if you hear me scream now and again.


Whoops Apocalypse

The beginning of February saw the world’s top experts on climatic change descend on the Met Office’s HQ in Exeter for a meeting called by Tony Blair and in advance of the coming into force of the Kyoto Protocol two weeks later. They painted a picture of a world not unlike that portrayed in the film The Day After Tomorrow, where humans have destroyed their own planet through their disregard for the environment – melting polar ice caps, rising sea levels, global warming and drought.

Evidence was presented by Professor Chris Rapley, director of the British Antarctic Survey, showing that the West Antarctic ice sheet is beginning to melt, threatening eventually to raise sea levels by 15ft. He reminded his audience that 90 per cent of the world's people live near current sea levels.

Other scientists presented evidence that the world’s oceans are turning acidic, threatening marine life and there were many experts on hand ready to present their latest findings on the effects of global warming on ecosystems. Significantly, the number of scientific papers that have recorded changes in ecosystems due to global warming have increased from 14 to over a thousand in just five years.
Blair did not need to call a meeting in Exeter to find about the threat to the environment. Experts from every field have been flailing their arms around frantically for years trying to get governments to sit up and notice.
While Blair pursues policies aimed at securing Britain’s share of Iraq’s oil stores for the foreseeable future, we are warned by scientists that oil production will peak within 10 years; that half of the earth’s available oil is estimated to by used by then, and that within another 20 years countries like China and India will have huge demands that will far outstrip supply. Consider the conflicts this will create!
Far worse than a shortage of oil is a shortage of water. We already know that 500 million people live in regions prone now to chronic drought. Scientists now warn us that within 20 years that figure is expected to increase fivefold to between 2.5bn and 3.5bn people. Already over 5 million people die - including 2 million children - from diseases caused by drinking contaminated water. Again, what desolation does this foreshadow for the human race?
In the oceans, almost 50% of fish stocks are fully exploited, 20% are over-exploited, and only 2% are recovering. On land, soil erosion and degradation mean that half a billion people live in countries whose arable land can no longer support their own crops. The natural habitats of many animal species are being lost on an alarming scale, which with the decline of bird species, plants, forests - on which, ultimately, the human race depends - signals a real crisis for biodiversity.
Back in 1997, to head off some of these problems, governments met in Kyoto, Japan, to negotiate a treaty according to which the industrialised countries each agreed a target to control emissions of six gases know to cause global warming.
The Kyoto protocol, for those countries which have ratified it, came into effect on 16th February this year, with Russia finally signing up after a EU bribe in order for the 55% quorum to be reached before the treaty could come into effect, but minus the support of the USA who, with only 5% of the world’s population produces 36% of carbon emissions. And the reason for US obstinacy? They simply felt that China and other developing countries, not facing the costs of cutting emissions, would gain a competitive edge on them.
The agreement, the first “legally binding” treaty on the environment, gives each of the industrialised and ratifying countries of the world their own limit to the greenhouse gas emissions they can pump into the atmosphere. It is envisaged that this will eventually lead to a situation in which the world produces no more greenhouse gasses than the environment can tolerate.
Will the Kyoto treaty stave off the unimaginable? Well, it would seem that not only are the treaty’s formal greenhouse gas emission reduction objectives infinitesimal compared to what scientists say is actually necessary, the treaty’s corporate-friendly, market-based mechanisms to achieve these reductions appear counterproductive.
To start with, the treaty requires that Annex One countries (the industrialised countries), which have hitherto been the biggest polluters, reduce their greenhouse gas emissions on average to just 5.2% below their 1990 levels by 2012. However, even though a 60-80% reduction is said to be needed by 2050, no additional reduction goals or timetables are in place for beyond the year 2012.

Plenty of opportunity is provided by the treaty’s “flexible mechanisms” for the governments of richer countries to indulge in creative accounting. It is possible for governments, with a bit of nifty handwork, to claim cutbacks in their country’s overall greenhouse gas emissions although actual reductions may not have taken place. Furthermore, a country might even increase its emissions and still be credited with a reduction.

Industrialised countries who find they have in fact made reductions in greenhouse gas emissions below that required of them are moreover entitled to sell on their spare polluter credits to those countries either unable or unwilling to adhere to their own set reduction targets. This arrangement – to sell the right to pollute –also became the privilege of corporations in January when European carbon markets became operational.

Emission measurements are by and large taken from a starting date of 1990, and the targets for each country must be reached by the period 2008-12. Former state capitalist countries (ie the former Soviet Union) , referred to in Kyoto jargon as "countries in transition", were allowed to chose a different date since, after the collapse of the Kremlin’s empire, a lot of heavy industry closed, resulting in a 40 per cent fall in emissions. This means that countries such as Russia and Ukraine will be in a position to sell other Annex One countries the right to increase their greenhouse gas emissions by that figure.

There are numerous accountancy tricks that help countries reach their Kyoto commitments, without them actually reducing their very own emissions. Little wonder that since 1990 annual greenhouse gas emissions from the Annex One countries have increased overall by more than 7%.

Consider the treaty's ‘Clean Development Mechanism’. This will allow the governments of highly industrialised countries to claim credits if they can prove they have invested in schemes aimed at reducing emissions in underdeveloped countries.

Wealthy countries will be able to finance the planting of fast growing forests in poor countries and then claim credits for the amount of CO2 they claim these will absorb.

Again, corporation’s investing in new technology will be able to palm their decrepit technology off onto poor countries, to whom such technology is an advance on what they currently have, and again demand emission credits. And of course, there is further logic to this – with such outdated technology, factories in poorer countries are hardly going to steal a competitive edge on their western counterparts.
Greenhouse gasses are suddenly commodities to be bought and sold on the world market, a market in which the underdeveloped countries are duped by the richer ones and their corporate elites. And when the time comes for underdeveloped countries to make reductions they will find themselves in a fix, unable to afford the technology needed to curb their own rampant pollution.
Kyoto is hardly going to save the planet as it stands. For one thing it was only ever foreseen as a first step to curb global warming and to be replaced after 2012 with tougher legislation. But even in seven years time there will be trouble. At last year’s climate summit in Buenos Aries, China and India could be found joining the US, the major villain of Kyoto, in an attempt to scupper any post-2012 agreements. Interestingly, and as The Christian Science Monitor recently noted, by 2012 coal-fired plants in those three same countries will be emitting 2.5 billion tonnes of CO2 annually, five times the cuts ordered by the Kyoto protocol
Add to this projections from the International Energy Agency that there will be a 60 per cent rise in global energy within 25 years, the bulk of this coming from carbon-emitting fuels and you begin to wonder just what lies ahead.
Currently, global CO2 levels are the highest they have been for 20 million years. Meanwhile the Intergovernmental Panel on Climatic Change predicts that by the year 2100 temperatures will have risen by anything up to 5.8 degrees centigrade.
Kyoto looks nothing more than some environmental monopoly board on which governments can buy and sell and trade the air we breathe.

Ironically, 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 - such as one warning of tsunamis in the Indian ocean - they are somewhat deaf when it comes to those blaring in our ears, the early warning systems scientists have been shouting about for decades: acid rain, soil erosion, poisonous seas, melting glaciers, a hole in the ozone layer etc.

And it’s not as if these are new problems. The world has known about them for so long that the facts seem hackneyed and you feel something of a wally 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 many tsunamis a day, killing millions, and more, threatening global disaster. Yet governments believe the problem can be traded away, camouflaged by a creative accounting that ‘mother nature’ won’t notice.

And the simple truth is that we place our trust in governments to solve environmental problems within the context of capitalism at our peril. They serve to administer the present system on behalf of a minority for whom environmental protection is an obstacle to profit, to whom any means is legitimate in the pursuit of that profit.

When you consider the future of the planet you are faced with two choices. You can continue to support the defenders of capitalism – they come in many disguises - and acquiesce in the destruction of the natural global environment or stand in their way by joining the struggle for socialism and the destruction of a system that will nonchalantly prioritises profit over not only human well-being but the world we live in. But, hey, don’t wait until your living room is a foot deep in water to make up your mind. Think hard and now. Capitalism, and with it the worsening of every environmental problem we cite, or socialism, a world social system that places control of the earth in the hands of a global majority who will tend to it with respect and without the barriers profit places in the path of production?