Monday, February 28, 2011

Revolution renews itself

The people’s revolution sweeping north Africa and the Middle East has entered a second phase, gathering a momentum of its own in country after country.

In Tunisia, where it all began with the suicide of a stall holder, workers battled in the streets over the weekend and finally ousted prime minister Mohamed Ghannouchi. Some died in the streets of Tunis, as police and troops - backed by tanks - use tear gas to disperse hundreds of youths protesting against the caretaker government. The protesters who brought down dictator Zine al-Abedine Ben Ali only weeks ago rightly saw Ghannouchi as part of the dictatorial regime and demanded his removal.

In Egypt hundreds of thousands occupied Tahrir Square once again last Friday as they demanded the resignation of interim prime minister Ahmed Shafiq, a cabinet member under Hosni Mubarak. Military police used stun guns and batons to attack those rallying in the capital. Yesterday, after “apologising” for the violence the ruling generals announced a number of constitutional changes.

In oil-producing sultanate of Oman six protesters were killed over the weekend as they demanded political reforms and better pay. Around 1,000 had blocked the road leading to the main export port and refinery area in a state where strikes are banned.

In nearby Bahrain, crowds today have been chanting “down with the King” and waving flags outside the Ministry of Information in Manama. Others gathered outside the Bahrain Ministry of Education, shouting: “Let the palaces hear, we fear not your prisons." With youth unemployment standing at nearly 20%, Bahrainis have caught the revolutionary fever.

Most dramatic of all, in Libya the anti-Gaddafi movement that began in the east of the country and saw the fall of Benghazi, threatens to become a civil war as Colonel Muammar Gaddafi, his family and his followers continue to hold out in Tripoli and Sirte. In Benghazi, local committees have taken over the running of the city after the collapse of Gaddafi’s state structures.

As we have noted, events in Libya have a particular significance in the light of Gaddafi’s earlier role as a supporter of anti-imperialist people’s movements world wide. Until only a few weeks ago, the Gaddafi regime was obsequiously courted by pillars of the “world community”.

Now Gaddafi and his supporters are out-of-control forces standing in the way of the big power exploitation of Libya’s oil and gas. The British government (Blair and Mandelson in particular) and Italian PM Berlusconi, followed closely by Sarkozy of France, the US, Brazil and Germany suddenly forgot their dislike of Gaddafi. The very same world leaders who are now denouncing him and baying for his blood were only too thrilled to welcome him back into the fold of the “world community”.

It makes your hackles rise to hear Hague and Cameron’s oily tones pontificating that "of course, it is time for Gaddafi to go, that is the best hope for Libya”. US secretary of state Clinton has the astonishing arrogance to condemn the murder of innocent civilians in Libya while the US supports Israel’s state terror against Palestinians in Gaza and elsewhere. The US, Britain and the EU continue to wage war in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The degeneration of the Gaddafi regime over the last 20 years, from anti-imperialist to brutal dictatorship, marks the close of a period of post-colonial history. Now the struggle for democratic and human rights merges with a global crisis of capitalism. The new Arab revolution has only just started and it will have to go beyond fair and free elections to find solutions to the pressing problems of soaring food prices, mass unemployment, poverty and inequality.

Corinna Lotz

A World to Win secretary

Friday, February 25, 2011

Revolt heading your way sometime soon

When the wave of revolutions and resistance reaches Europe from North Africa and the Middle East, as it surely will, what happens in Britain depends on how we prepare for the eventuality.

The Coalition government is clearly in some disarray and its longevity is unpredictable. A crisis government from the off, and one without a mandate for most of its policies, it is even incapable of organising the repatriation of its citizens from Libya in a timely fashion.

Prime minister Cameron was too busy boosting arms sales to sheikdoms while foreign secretary Hague was preening himself for his trip to Washington (now cancelled). They are self-evidently political lightweights in an increasingly heavy situation, with Nick Clegg more like a tailor’s dummy than a deputy prime minister.

Now the economic crisis has taken a turn for the worse, with the release of figures today showing that the contraction in the economy in the fourth quarter of 2010 was sharper than at first thought.

It can only get worse as public spending cuts made in a desperate attempt deal with the gargantuan budget deficit take their toll. Councils all over Britain are reducing their workforces and services, led in the cities by Labour-controlled authorities.

Households are on living on a knife edge. Families' disposable income dived by a record £9 a week during January as inflation continued to outstrip wage growth, research by supermarket giant Asda shows.

The average family had £174 a week left to spend after meeting all of their essential outgoings, down from £183 a week in January last year. It was the 13th consecutive month during which people suffered a year-on-year fall in their disposable income, well before the last election.

Rising prices outstripped wage increases and it’s only the start. The research does not take account of last month’s VAT rise, while gas, electricity and petrol prices will continue to rise, driven in part by the revolts in the Middle East. The Bank of England is considering interest rate rises that could prove the final straw for people with mortgages.

With a million young people are out of work, record numbers of people working part-time and, according to the TUC, doing unpaid overtime to keep their jobs – 5.26 million workers are missing out on almost £5,500 a year – the conditions for a social explosion are rapidly maturing.

At that point, the obvious political options are extremely limited (and even dangerous).

Labour is committed to the same market capitalism that led to the present crisis, while its own policies on tuition fees, business involvement in the NHS and academy schools led to a Cameron-Clegg government. Green MP Caroline Lucas today described Coalition policies are the “logical conclusion” of Labour’s. It’s hard to disagree with her.

Add in a parliamentary system which is a sham and a façade behind which corporate power is exercised, you can see there is a problem. It’s not free speech or the right to vote that is the issue, either in Britain (and now not in countries like Egypt either). It’s about who owns and controls the country’s resources and for what purpose.

The global economic crisis is so deep that one-off taxes on the banks and attacks on corporate tax-dodgers, the TUC’s policies for the March 26 anti-government demonstration, come nowhere near a solution.

Capitalism isn’t working and it isn’t sustainable. Trying to fix it or make the banks and corporations change their spots is futile. The preparation we need to make can be not limited to simply challenging existing economic and political power but directed towards actually taking it out of their hands altogether. And that will require leadership, organisation and a revolutionary strategy.

Paul Feldman

Communications editor

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Palm oil forests good for business, bad for the planet

The Adam Smith Institute has stepped in to the palm oil plantation debate with an astonishing report suggesting that bio-fuels should be welcomed by those concerned about the planet’s future.

In what amounts to a press release on behalf of the multi-million dollar Malaysian palm oil industry, the institute claims that bio-fuels can replace fossil fuels to keep the wheels of industry turning.

But whatever these free booting, free marketeers claim, the reality is that the development of the bio-fuel industry is a potential disaster for the eco-system, including human beings.

Far from being a way of reducing greenhouse emissions, this profit-driven agri-business is increasing them. Every hectare of primary rainforest cleared and replaced with oil palms releases around 65 times as much carbon into the atmosphere as can be saved annually by using the palm oil as a biofuel.

The clearing of forests to plant palm oil is itself a major source of emissions. It is estimated that up to 15% of all global CO2 emissions come from Indonesia's peat fires when the forest substructure starts to burn. Satellite images have shown that 75% of the fire hotspots are on plantation land, which largely grow palm oil.

The Malay peninsula produces more than ten million tonnes of palm oil per year, over half of the world's supply. In the last 30 years, palm oil has grown to be the second biggest vegetable oil behind soybean, and increasing demand will soon put it in first place.

Malaysian estates yield up to 5 tonnes of oil per hectare every year, more than double the yield of any other oil crop under intensive cultivation. This is done through effective plant breeding but also by heavy application of pesticides and fertiliser – made from oil!

And just as with any other intensively-farmed crop, biodiversity is reduced throughout the area of cultivation.

The Adam Smith Institute report focuses a great deal on campaigns to save the orangutan from extinction in its last fastnesses of Borneo and Sumatra.

They make the astonishing claim that the campaign is misplaced in the case of Malaysia, as there are no orangutans in the main palm oil producing areas on the Malay peninsula.

This is a typical neo-classical economic argument, where everything is taken out of both its historic and economic context and viewed in isolation. Because if there are no orang-utans in those areas, it is because they have already been wiped out – they were formerly common.

In fact, there are orangutans in the Malaysian provinces on the island of Borneo and the government helps fund a rescue centre for those displaced by forest clearing. And on the Indonesian part of the island, a whole eco-system of unique plants and animals are under threat.

Why is the ASI rushing to the defence of palm oil interests? Could it be because this is the fastest growing, most potentially profitable commodity in the capitalist marketplace? The biodiesel and ethanol markets could be worth as much as $247 billion by 2020, up from $76 billion in 2010.

Not only palm oil, but the pushing of so-called marginal lands into intensive growing of plants to provide ‘bio-mass’ for burning, is driving the planet towards some dangerous tipping points in terms of sustainable bio-diversity – as well as increasing greenhouse gas emissions.

Only a system as reckless as capitalism could respond to the existential crises of climate change and peak oil with a profit-driven business initiative that will make the situation even worse.

As a certain Adam Smith once said of the capitalist system whose early days he was recording: "It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own self-interest. We address ourselves not to their humanity but to their self-love, and never talk to them of our own necessities, but of their advantages.”

At Saturday’s Beyond Resistance teach-in – Kicking Capitalism’s Growth Habit - we will be discussing how we can stop addressing ourselves to the butcher, and instead bring about democratic control of resources, and urgent responses to climate change that will tackle the problem, not just boost markets and profit at our and the planet’s expense.

Penny Cole

Environment editor

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

'Devil's excrement' has its revenge

The revolutionary upsurge in North Africa and the Middle East is having a direct impact on the global crisis of capitalism.

Oil prices have surged as much as 6% since Monday, rising to their highest since the collapse of demand in the global crash of 2008. If this rise is maintained, it is certain to trigger a renewed slowdown in global production.

Oil companies in Libya are in the process of shutting down the 2% of the world’s production that come from the country. Western oil companies have suspended oil production and BP has started evacuating workers from Libya.

The Libyan mission to the UN is in disarray, the country’s generals are resigning along with many ministers. As in Egypt, the army is going over to the side of the revolution

Every part of the transnational capitalist class – global corporations, capitalist governments, unaccountable global agencies - is watching events with a mounting horror. They were horrified by the revolution that brought Gadaffi to power in 1969, now they are horrified by the revolution that will end his rule.

Mostly they are desperate to find a way of halting the contagion of revolt against autocratic governments which have provided safe haven for the global oil corporations and built their family fortunes from the proceeds. Nervously they assess the risk of the infection spreading to Saudi Arabia, which is the source of close to 10% of current oil supplies.

Interviewed on Al Jazeera, a former UN official spoke for the capitalists. Now they don’t mind people having rights, they’re even in favour of them having the same “democratic”, “human” rights enjoyed by people in the West. But above all they want stability, they want to see investment, they want people to keep their jobs, they want to see economic growth. They fear a revolution that could end the for-profit system. They are wondering what they can do to stop it.

Any disruption in oil supplies increases the power of the Organisation of Petrol Exporting Countries (OPEC) consisting of Algeria, Angola, Ecuador, Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Libya, Nigeria, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Venezuela. As of November 2010, OPEC members collectively hold 79% of world crude oil reserves and 44% of the world’s crude oil production, giving them major influence over the global market.

Juan Pablo Pérez Alfonso was a prominent Venezuelan diplomat, politician and lawyer primarily responsible for the inception and creation of OPEC. In 1975 he warned that “oil will bring us ruin… Oil is the Devil's excrement” – “the devil’s. He wasn’t far off.

In the 1970s, the inflationary printing of dollars to buy its way out of a historic economic crisis forced the US to abandon the relationship between the paper currency and gold established in 1944. The value of the dollar crashed from $42 for an ounce of gold in 1971 to $800 in 1979. OPEC acted to defend the value of its commodity which was emerging as the essential, cheap and plentiful foundation of the post-war economy. The price of oil quadrupled by 1973.

Four decades later, the situation is very different.

Exponential growth – the global success story of credit-funded huge corporations pouring previously unimaginable torrents of products into the hands of debt-burdened consumers has ensured that the world’s oil is half gone.

Much of it has been used to transform agriculture from a system of food production by millions of small farmers to a global business controlled by small number of corporations whose hunger for profit puts food prices beyond the reach of billions.

Industrialised agribusiness like the rest of capitalist manufacturing is addicted to oil. The burning of oil to fuel the capitalist growth mania has brought the planet to the limits of its ability to sustain life. The revolutionary upheaval now under way brings the possibility of a different future. We have to grasp it.

Gerry Gold

Economics editor

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Welcome to the market state

From welfare to market state is the name of the project that Thatcher began, Blair and Brown continued and Cameron is intent on completing. The words he uses – “choice”, “diversity” and “freedom” – seem harmless. But the real purpose is barely disguised.

Just before he jetted off to Egypt and a tour of the Middle East with arms manufacturers in tow, the prime minister announced the plan to end the public sector as we know it. A “vital part of our mission to dismantle Big Government and build the Big Society in its place”, he announced.

“Diversity” is another warm word. But when Cameron applies it to public services, he means one thing – opening them up to “a range of providers” through competition. In other words, services delivered by the central and local state will be up for auction. Corporations, large charities and others will then compete to run them.

As Cameron acknowledged: “This is a transformation: instead of having to justify why it makes sense to introduce competition in some public services – as we are now doing with schools and in the NHS – the state will have to justify why it should ever operate a monopoly.”

To say, as TUC general secretary Brendan Barber did, that the plan was simply a "naked right-wing agenda that takes us right back to the most divisive years of the 1980s" is to miss out, conveniently, what took place between 1997 and 2010 when New Labour was in office.

Not only did the former state industries like rail, gas, electricity, water and telecoms remain privatised, they were subjected to even more competition and profit making. State subsidies for public transport were run down. As a result, for example, train fares are now the most expensive in Europe.

Not only that, Blair and Brown expanded the infamous “private-public partnership” and "private-finance initiative" arrangements under which companies provide services with the state guaranteeing their profit margins. The value of these contracts is an estimated £90 billion a year, making private involvement in the public sector the largest in any major economy and saddling the state with enormous debt.

Now the Coalition is taking the next logical step, using the cover of the massive regulatory bureaucracy that New Labour created as an excuse for what is certain to be a feeding frenzy for capitalists desperate for new areas of profit making as the recession deepens.

All this amounts to the end of the role of the capitalist state that developed after 1945. Then its purpose was to maintain a kind of class peace, provide services and prop up British capitalism where it could. With corporate-driven globalisation from the early 1980s came a profound change.

In Britain in particular, the state’s former role lost its relevance. Global corporations and a new financial system transcended borders and became more powerful than governments. The state began to assume the task of facilitating the operations of the global economy. Deregulation was its form, especially in relation to finance. Who can forget how Brown denationalised the Bank of England in 1997 as soon as he sat down at his desk.

The harsh world of the market state that Cameron envisages will more than a throwback to pre-1945. It is more like the early 19th century, when the modern state did not exist. What will be left are the forces of repression – the police, the spy agencies, armed forces and the prison and courts system.

This begs the question as to what use a state like the present one is to the mass of people. The short answer is none at all. Its democratic side is shot through and now it denies responsibility for the welfare of its citizens. Our strategy has to be the dismantling of the market state and the transfer of political as well as economic power to the majority.

Paul Feldman,
Communications editor

Monday, February 21, 2011

The point of no return

The anti-government demonstrations sweeping Libya mark a stunning turn of events in the revolutionary upsurge sweeping North Africa and the Middle East. With diplomats defecting and the army split, Muammar Gaddafi’s regime is rocking.

A bizarre appearance by Saif Gaddafi on state television last night only adds to the sense that Libya’s leaders will soon suffer the fate of those in Egypt and Tunisia.

Gaddafi’s eldest son, while saying that “untrained” soldiers had made mistakes, claimed the “seditious” demonstrators were under the influence of foreign powers or even drugs and claimed that only a few people had died. He warned of civil war and a fight to the finish.

But with an estimated 200 plus deaths and many more wounded, events in the Libya – and the Arab world as a whole - have reached a point of no return. Those who are being gunned down in the streets of Libya’s second city Benghazi share the grievances affecting all of the Arab states from the largest (Egypt) to the smallest (Bahrain) – the lack of democratic rights, growing inequality and economic want.

The crackdown by the Libyan regime has been particularly brutal, much of it hidden as internet services are closed down and foreign reporters banned. One CNN report said that helicopter gunships have been used to fire at protesters.

The turning of the Gaddafi regime against its own people in this way is a turning point in the fortunes of the Arab people. Libya, despite its small population of 6.5 million, has played a special role on the world stage. After taking power in September 1970 in a military coup that overthrew the monarchy, Gaddafi fought hard to implement the ideals of Pan-Arabism championed by Gamal Abdel Nasser in Egypt.

With his concept of jamahiriya – “state of the masses” or “republic of the masses”, he sought to foster a direct democracy in which the people would rule through local councils and communes. During the 1970s and early 1980s, Libya became a anti-imperialist force which supported liberation movements throughout the world, especially the Palestine Liberation Organisation. Libya became subject to US oil and export sanctions from 1982. The UN trade embargo was to last until 2004.

Not only did Libya face punishment by the major imperialist powers. Gaddafi’s campaign for Arab unity was undermined and betrayed by Egyptian leader Anwar Sadat’s and Hafez al-Hassad in Syria. He was denounced by his neighbour, Tunisian president Habib Bourguiba. He was punished further for opposing the Iraqi invasion of Iran during the genocidal Iran-Iraq war in the early 1980s.

In April 1986, the US ir force bombed the Libyan capital Tripoli in revenge for a bombing at a Berlin discotheque frequented by US troops and Gaddafi’s family was targeted, with his daughter being killed. Political and economic pressure on Libya increased after the downing of the Pan-Am flight over Lockerbie in December 1988 for which Libya was framed.

Libya’s political and economic isolation produced a reactionary political turn. The 1990s saw increased inequalities and loss of political freedom for ordinary Libyans. A nepotistic dynastic elite grew up in which the rich enjoying freedoms denied to ordinary Libyans. Rights for opponents became non-existent, with political prisoners being shot down at the Abu Salim jail in 1996.

The sight of Gaddafi making deals over oil and immigration with oil-hungry authoritarians like Blair and Italian leader Berlusconi has been particularly shocking. The possible collapse of his regime is sending shock waves down those in the British establishment and corporate world, who have been supplying many of the weapons used against the demonstrators

Events in Libya sound not only the death-knell of liberation leaders turned autocrats. It also creates a crisis for those who conspired against them while they were revolutionaries but embraced them when they turned against their own people. With both eyes on Libya’s oil, the major capitalist powers do not give a damn for democratic rights, which is why their remarks are not worth listening to.

Corinna Lotz
A World to Win secretary

Friday, February 18, 2011

How Cairo connects to Wisconsin and Britain

As people battle tanks and security forces in Bahrain, Libya, Iran and Yemen, and hundreds of thousands gather once more in Tahrir Square in Cairo to “protect the revolution”, you might wonder how this connects with struggles in Britain, the United States and other major capitalist countries.

While it seems that the upsurge in North Africa and the Middle East is mostly about the demand for political freedom and democratic rights – things we are said to “enjoy” already in this and other countries – this is too limited a view. The connections are more direct and just as explosive in their potential.

As we pointed out yesterday, the prolonged world recession which now includes rampant food inflation, falling living standards and mass unemployment in countries like Egypt and Yemen, is a key determining factor in the street revolts. Since Mubarak was overthrown a week ago, a wave of strikes over pay and conditions has gripped Egypt. The economic and the political are now joined together.

The global crisis has undoubtedly weakened the political standing of United States and its ability to influence events. This is sensed by protesters everywhere. Washington lagged well behind events in Egypt and although its Fifth Fleet sails out of Bahrain, the masses there clearly don’t give a damn either.

Now the proverbial chickens are coming home to roost. Anti-cuts campaigns proliferate in Britain and some unions are preparing strikes against the Coalition over jobs and pensions. The middle classes are on the move over library closures and the threatened government sell-off of forests.

With a million young people on the dole and record numbers working part-time, the number of working households close or to or below the breadline is increasing daily. Channel 4 News found dozens of US-style charities are handing out food parcels in Britain’s cities.

The latest estimate is that 53% of working age households in poverty have at least one working adult. “What the foodbank experience suggests is that these individuals are finding they plummet into crisis situations suddenly and more frequently,” the report said.

One woman who has been forced to use the foodbanks in Salisbury said: "Because I've always worked, I never expected to be in that position where I would be so grateful for somebody else giving us some food."

In the United States, where there are 10 million out of work, there is a growing revolt against attempts to make workers pay the entire price for the crisis, nowhere more so than in Wisconsin

This week, 30,000 public employees overwhelmed the state capital in an action against plans to strip them of benefits and collective bargaining rights. The Republican Governor failed to get a quorum for his bill when Democratic senators made themselves scarce. Similar attacks on the public sector are taking place across the country as budget deficits mount up.

In Washington, meanwhile, the Obama administration is preparing to end the Federal government’s involvement in social housing. The plan is to hand over the mortgage banks founded by Roosevelt in the 1930s to the very same banks responsible for the crash of 2008.

What we experience in Britain and the US more sharply than ever before is a form of dictatorship just as oppressive as the one overthrown in Egypt and under attack elsewhere. It is the dictatorship of the banks and the corporations, whose political front is provided by the likes of Obama, Cameron, Clegg and Miliband.

As Mahatma Gandhi said, when asked what he thought about Western “civilisation”: “I think it would be a good idea.” The real lesson from Egypt, Tunisia and other revolts is that we should get ready for our own Tahrir Square if we are to achieve a democracy of ownership and control that strips big business of its hold over us.

Paul Feldman
Communications editor

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Climate change will 'overwhelm governments'

Anger over soaring food prices was a major factor in the Egyptian uprising and the United Nations’ top climate official warned this week that without action on climate change, more governments will fall and the danger of military conflict will grow.

Christiana Figueres told a top-level meeting of defence chiefs and strategists in Spain that climate change-driven drought, falling crop yields and competition for water were fuelling conflict and without aggressive action to reduce emissions causing global warming they would increase.

“It is alarming to admit that if the community of nations is unable to fully stabilise climate change, it will threaten where we can live, where and how we grow food and where we can find water,” said Ms Figueres. “In other words, it will threaten the basic foundation – the very stability on which humanity has built its existence.”

She added: “All these factors taken together mean that climate change, especially if left unabated, threatens to increase poverty and overwhelm the capacity of governments to meet the basic needs of their people, which could well contribute to the emergence, spread and longevity of conflict.”

The world’s food supply is already increasingly fragile, as a result of extreme weather events affecting crop yields. In January world prices rose for the seventh successive month, up 3.4% from December, to the highest level since the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) began measurements in 1990.

And more increases are on the way. The FAO issued a special alert this week that provinces of northern China, the country’s main wheat producing area, are suffering a drought that could destroy up to one third of the summer wheat crop. The absence of snow cover and ferociously low temperatures, means dormant wheat will be killed by frost. Not only crops but 2.57 million people and 3 million livestock animals are affected by a shortage of drinking water.

The weather is the same in the US Great Plains and Midwest. Kansas and Oklahoma have had has less than half of normal rainfall in January and there is intense cold. China is the world’s biggest wheat producer but also its biggest consumer. If China starts buying wheat in the world market prices will be pushed even higher.

FAO economist and grains expert Abdolreza Abbassian warned: "High food prices are of major concern especially for low-income food deficit countries that may face problems in financing food imports and for poor households which spend a large share of their income on food."

But for capitalist agri-business, including companies whose activities are financed by Chinese and Saudi sovereign wealth funds and by investment funds launched by the likes of Goldman Sachs, high food prices are good news.

Delegates attending the World Social Forum at Dakar in Senegal, cheered wildly at news of the fall of Mubarak. The global land grab was their main focus with representatives of peasant and worker movements from across the world reporting on their struggle to hold on to land and livelihoods.

Veteran food campaigner Susan George highlighted the situation in Europe, where unemployment is rising along with food price inflation. Europeans, she said, are beginning to learn what it is to live with an IMF structural adjustment programme.

Of course whilst UN may find toppling governments a terrifying prospect, the majority of the world’s people would be delighted to get rid of rulers whose ruthless support for the financial system overwhelms any concern for their populations.

People know the priority is neither climate change nor hunger, but kick-starting growth and restoring profitability. The market in food offers one of the best opportunities to do that, since the onset of the global economic crisis. The price of restarting the global capitalist economy by expanding the globalisation of land and farming will be hunger affecting more and more of the world’s population. So help work out alternatives at our “Beyond Resistance” teach-in Kicking capitalism's growth habit - building a sustainable economy on February 26.

Penny Cole
Environment editor

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Obama's stimulus plans deepen debt crisis

As the political front man for the world’s most powerful capitalist nation, you might expect President Barack Obama to have some degree of control, or at least influence, over the future direction of both US and global economy.

But his proposed budget for 2012 shows exactly the opposite to be the case. The trajectory of the global capitalist economy is beyond the control of Obama or anyone else.

The first big number of note is the projected government budget deficit for 2011 which the White House expects to soar to $1.65 trillion (1 trillion = a thousand billion), equal to 11%of the country’s annual output (just about the same as the UK’s deficit, by the way).

By themselves the two numbers don’t tell us much. But in the era of sovereign defaults or state bankruptcies, it’s important to note that this will turn out to be the largest deficit as a share of the US economy since World War II.

The projected figure is significantly larger than the $1.48 trillion recommended by the non-party Congressional Budget Office (CBO) only a few weeks ago. And it will be 28% higher than last year’s deficit of $1.29 trillion. Unless this week’s battle in Congress manages to achieve what the Republicans want: a savage and immediate programme of slashing cuts for the spending programmes on which millions of Americans impoverished by the crisis increasingly depend.

Some 48 million are already receiving food stamps and the rate of repossessions is increasing. (Incidentally, the more people there are on food stamps, and the more who are driven out of their homes, the more financial corporations like JP Morgan Chase, who are paid to process them, make in profits).

There’s not a lot Obama can do about all this without enraging the people that elected him. The projected deficit is the result of many factors. The most obvious amongst them is the $600 billion printed to offset the effects of the deepening recession, declining tax revenues and the refusal of Republicans to accept the end of tax concessions for the rich.

The budget for 2012 - and the ten years beyond - is based on fairyland estimates of growth (high) and inflation (low), so the details underpinning the intention to reduce the 2012 deficit to $1.1 trillion are hardly worth considering.

But the progress of the ongoing struggle over reducing the deficit is itself directly influenced by the rising cost of servicing the debt charged by lenders. The CBO warned last month that debt interest is "poised to skyrocket" without drastic cuts. Even if Washington faces up to the crisis by raising taxes by a third, it said, debt interest costs alone will still jump from 1.5% to 3.3% of annual output.

But there’s a longer term chronic problem: the one that blew up in 2007. For more than 50 years, each additional dollar of credit issued (and there have been an awful lot of them) bought a declining amount of growth. There lies the insoluble contradiction for Obama and all those trying to solve the problems the crisis presents.

Attempts to stimulate the economy end up costing more than can be repaid. They have failed to reduce unemployment. Youth unemployment in the UK has risen to a fresh record high, with more than one in five 16 to 24-year-olds out of work after a rise of 66,000 to 965,000 without jobs. Printing money has helped send the price of food soaring around the world and inflation is taking off, as yesterday’s figures from Britain confirm, with interest rates sure to rise soon. In Egypt, these were key factors behind the uprising that ousted the Mubarak regime.

China has now become the world’s second largest economy, behind a faltering US. The tensions between the two are palpable. The challenge before us to end a system of production that has entered a deeply destructive mode before trade conflict takes an altogether more aggressive form.

Gerry Gold
Economics editor

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Bigger state no answer to 'Big Society'

David Cameron’s crusade for the “Big Society” should compel its opponents to question and reconsider the role of the state in our corporate-owned, profit-driven society. Unfortunately, it has done nothing of the kind.

Though difficult to pin down, the BS project could be understood as Cameron’s libertarian response to a top-down, bureaucratic state that vast swathes of the population despise and want nothing to do with.

Perhaps Tory prime minister Cameron understands that should this attitude to the state continue unchallenged, there’ll come a time when it loses remaining legitimacy. And that point, anything could happen, as events in Egypt have shown.

So the Coalition’s plan is to shed the state’s responsibility for things like forests and involve the unelected, unaccountable “third sector” of charities and the like to bid for services currently provided by local councils. Other community projects will be able to access funds from a BS bank and the rest of us simply have to volunteer.

Labour and trade union leaders like Brendan Barber have simplistic responses which reveal much about their fondness for the capitalist state and litle else. Labour crudely says the BS is a “cover for the cuts”, which is a bit rich for a party implementing the government’s draconian policies at local level without any resistance.

Just for the record, the previous New Labour government contracted out huge chunks of formerly state-provided services at vast cost to the taxpayer. Private Finance Initiative (PFI) schemes became a licence to print money for companies building hospitals and schools while Londoners are weighed down by the cost of rescuing a failed Tube modernisation contract.

Now it turns out that 25 for-profit Independent Sector Treatment Centres created by New Labour to do non-essential operations on behalf of the NHS have been overpaid by up to £250 million in the five years to 2010. This is because they were paid a fixed sum, even though the centres carried out fewer operations than the contract specified.

So the Coalition is deepening a trend set by Blair and Brown, which makes the claims that Cameron wants a “smaller state” more than slightly ludicrous. Barber, general secretary of the Trades Union Congress, who bizarrely says the BS will create a failed state like Somalia, favours the Scandinavian approach, consisting of a massive (and oppressive) state apparatus and a welfare system paid for by taxing ordinary workers at around 50% of their incomes. (If he cared to check he would find Scandinavia is moving towards market states).

But we should we allow ourselves to be placed in a position of defending the role of the existing state (Scandinavian or otherwise) in opposition to the BS project? The present state reinforces the capitalist status quo, with its gross inequality and exploitation. It sanctifies profit by legally obliging corporations to put shareholder interests first. The “welfare state” in turn legitimises the notion of the deserving poor, forever dependent on the charity of the state.

Other parts of the state apparatus supply judicial and police powers to control the population lest they resent what passes for democracy, fitting up activists where necessary as they did over the Nottinghamshire power station action. So who’s for a bigger version of this wretched state? Only Ed Miliband and Barber because access to the state gives them privilege and limited power without ever having to challenge how things are.

We are obliged to develop concrete ideas for an altogether different system of ruling, one that does not sit above society while operating on behalf of the powerful and the rich. What is wanted as an alternative to the BS and Labour’s love of the state is a thoroughly democratic system based on a network of People’s Assemblies as a transition to real self-rule. At the heart of such a democratic system would be co-ownership and control of all society’s resources, including land, banks and corporations. Then we could truly say that society was much, much bigger than it is today.

Paul Feldman
Communications editor

Monday, February 14, 2011

'You Go - We Stay' fits the bill everywhere

The Egyptian revolution continues its unfinished business. Before but especially since Hosni Mubarak was overthrown, a situation of dual power prevails in a country where eight million people – a tenth of the whole population – took part in the mass uprising that broke the back of the dictatorship.

The sweeping out of not only the despised Mubarak, but his entire regime, including the five million in the security apparatus and the military top brass, is in progress, but is still to be completed.

The military has announced that it is dissolving parliament which was stuffed full of Mubarak’s cronies and suspending a constitution that banned political activity, thus conceding some of the principal demands put forward by those who occupied Tahrir Square in Cairo.

But groups such as, amongst others, the Coalition of the Youths of Egypt’s Revolution, the Revolutionary Youth Council and Revolutionary Command Council are insisting on further changes. They remain wary about the army – which propped up Mubarak – being in charge until promised elections are to be held in six months’ time.

Leading activist Khaled Abdelkader Ouda, while welcoming the army’s initial steps, said a council of trustees would be announced on Friday, the date when organisers want millions on the street to celebrate Mubarak’s removal. The council is being set up to guard "the people's revolution".

In the 48 hours run-up to Mubarak’s ousting, organised workers began to move and go on strike around the country. Transport workers in Cairo walked out on Thursday and some 24,000 textile workers struck in the town of Mahalla al-Kubra. Over the weekend, workers at the National Bank of Egypt struck, demanding the resignation of the bank's directors and restructuring of the wages.

Other groups taking action include oil workers, public transport workers and environment ministry civil servants. But while the mass movement is flexing its muscles, the army is reportedly preparing to ban strikes and other actions in a challenge to the popular will.

Egyptians were first inspired by the success of their fellow north Africans in Tunisia, who saw off President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in January. Like the Tunisian masses, they were motivated first by economic demands – an end to unemployment and poverty. This then turned into a political struggle – led and coordinated by young people making full use of the internet and social networking to defy and bypass state media censorship.

The focus is presently on a political revolution: the departure of the regime, its cronies and state apparatus. People want the dissolution of parliament to be followed by a new constitution and untainted forms of representation and democracy for all sections and political organisations in Egyptian society.

But the economic demands of the Egyptian revolution must still be formulated and achieved. They include the right to employment, good working conditions, a living wage and free trade unions. Attaining these means taking on those who own and control the banks, major industries and installations, such as the Suez canal. Elections to a new Parliament alone cannot fulfil these aspirations.

The calm determination of the Egyptian masses over the past 18 days, their courage in the face of state terror, their inventive and witty slogans such as “Day of Departure”, “No You Can’t”, “You Go - We Stay”, their insistence on remaining in Tahrir Square, has demonstrated unequivocally that when masses of people act together they become an unstoppable force.

So far the movement has been characterised by a skilful combination of face-to-face communication together with social media (sometimes used for deliberate deception), secrecy and strategic maneuvering has succeeded in outwitting the security apparatus.

The outcome of the Egyptian revolution now depends on the development of a leadership that can unite the networks of young people in the cities together with industrial workers for the purpose of a social revolution.

The demands of the movement must be broadened and deepened to articulate the economic and social needs of the Egyptian masses. This means liberating Egypt’s resources from the capitalist classes, one third of which are in the hands of the military.

The revolutionary and community councils and militant workers must appeal to the army rank-and-file, who have until now remained largely neutral, to join the revolution and remove Mubarak’s generals. These organisations can become the basis of a new democratic state to replace the existing, corrupt and big business state.

In this way Egypt can show the way, not only to the hundreds of thousands already stirring on the streets of Algeria, Yemen and Jordan, but to workers throughout the world who are fighting the impact of the world economic recession. 'You Go - We Stay' should be our common refrain.

Corinna Lotz
A World to Win secretary

Friday, February 11, 2011

Economic 'growth' a very dirty business

If anyone needed convincing about the direct link between the in-built growth drive of capitalist economy and climate change, they can thank the European Union’s energy chief for clearing up any confusion.

Who can forget the dramatic graph in Al Gore’s film, An Inconvenient Truth, which showed the upward curve in greenhouse gas emissions from about the mid-1980s. What Gore did not bring out was that this curve was matched by another showing the growth in commodity production during what became known as globalisation.

In other words, the reckless expansion of production regardless of fossil fuel burning and other carbon emissions, the ruthless exploitation of resources for profit, was too much for nature to cope with. Climate change kicked in. Yet another of capitalism’s unintended consequences, except this was one is deadly for all of humanity and every species.

As we know, climate change talks aimed at negotiating a new treaty to replace the half-hearted Kyoto agreement have collapsed, first at Copenhagen and then at Cancun. It’s every country and region for itself now.

That’s the context behind the statement by Günther Oettinger, the EU's energy commissioner, that increasing the notional target for cutting emissions from 20% to 30% by 2020 was not on because it would weaken fabled “growth” prospects and force industries to move to Asia.

If we go alone to 30%, you will only have a faster process of de-industrialisation in Europe," adding: "I think we need industry in Europe, we need industry in the UK, and industry means CO2 emissions." Europe could only adopt a tougher target if other major economies were also willing to do so, he said. "We are willing to go to 30% if big global partners will follow us, but if not we won't."

In others, competition with countries like China for markets to sell more goods to people who can barely afford their utility bills as a result of the crisis, is the only way to go. And damn the consequences. Emissions have fallen during the recession, and a cynical
Oettinger’s response was to say: “So do we need longer and deeper crises?" Look at our deficit – we need growth, and we need more industry."

In their increasingly desperate bid to kick-start economies deep in recession and weighed down by household, corporate and government debt, the capitalist class will drive down not only wages and working conditions but also environmental standards.

These are viewed as an additional cost of production and so will be ditched, circumvented, ignored or abandoned in an attempt to increase profit margins. That was clearly the case with the Gulf of Mexico disaster, where BP and others were indicted for cutting costs at the expense of safety considerations.

So even if there is a resumption of “growth”, it will be an extremely dirty business in every sense. That’s another good reason why society has to kick capitalism’s growth habit. As the call-out for our February 26 teach-in says:

Capitalism’s relentless, in-built drive for continuous expansion is destructive in every sense. It inevitably leads to its opposite – contraction – and with it the destruction of jobs, living standards, pensions and public services that we are seeing now.

And it’s destructive because profit-driven growth always comes before the sustainable use of resources. Insatiable growth has a direct connection to climate change and habitat loss. So how can we kick the growth habit? What’s the alternative to profit as an incentive? How can we create a natural relationship with nature?
Register for “Kicking capitalism's growth habit - building a sustainable economy” and help work out the answers.

Paul Feldman
Communications editor

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Glasgow occupation leads fight for survival

Students occupying Glasgow University’s Hetherington Research Club building, have called for a mass protest on February 16 to oppose devastating cuts.

This is when the University Court – a kind of Trustee Board – will review proposals to axe altogether courses in nursing, anthropology, social work and several modern languages. History, archaeology and classics will be merged into a single department. Evening and weekend classes for 5,000 adult learners will disappear, and at the university’s Dumfries campus, liberal arts courses are to go.

In a particular blow to Glasgow, where drug abuse continues to be a massive health and social problem, the university is considering the future of its Centre for Drug Misuse Research.

The proposals aim to save £3m. The university says it has to cut a total of £20m from its budget by 2012-13. It is looking for voluntary redundancies, but compulsory redundancies are not ruled out, as libraries, student support and other departments are told to save between 11% and 15%.

Glasgow’s proposals will be repeated across Scotland in the coming months. Already research budgets have been cut by £67m for next year with newer universities suffering the brunt.

After the University Court meets, managers say they will consult “within the context of the university meeting its strategic ambitions”. Those ambitions are nothing to do with education as a whole. The slick managers running universities today are enthusiasts for the role of the market and the need to service big corporations. Glasgow Principal Anton Muscatelli is a classic example.

The Glasgow branch of the UCU union, which represents lecturers, said economic factors should not be the only criteria for deciding what happens in a university, and that the management must also take on board the views of students and the wider community the university serves.

Staff at the Department of Adult and Continuing Education are now “fighting for survival”, and Liam Kane, one of the lecturers, accused the University of contempt for their work when in fact “the students we are teaching are the people who pay their taxes to pay for the University in the first place”.

“Their strategy appears to be all about internationalisation, foreign students and research, but we are providing real education to real people in challenging subjects,“ he said.

Occupation spokesperson Caron Bell, a student on the threatened anthropology course, said: “This latest round of cuts amounts to only £3 million in so-called savings, as part of a plan to save £20 million over the next three years. What department will be next? This wholesale attack on education will be resisted, both by staff and students. The occupation is the first stage of a long battle to defeat these cuts.”

Nursing student Stuart Tuckwood added: “The staff in the Nursing Department are dedicated and hard-working and do an excellent job of developing talented nurses who go on to provide a high standard of care......we will not be ‘axed’ quietly. We will fight [this] business model for the University every step of the way.”

The only way to halt these cuts is to unite the community as a whole with staff and students to challenge the management’s right to carry them out and at the same time consider a new approach to education and governance. A resolution passed by last month’s National Assembly for Education provides a model for doing this. It says:

This National Assembly for Education urges communities throughout Britain and Europe to build inclusive People’s Assemblies that can:
 unite students, education workers, trade unionists, community groups and all those resisting austerity and ConDem cuts, as well as climate change activists, campaigners for human rights, migrant support networks and anti-racist groups
 develop an alternative democratic voice and long-term presence to effectively challenge corporate/financial power and its grip on the existing political system.

Penny Cole

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

'Slavery' behind the food on your table

In the two years since the global crisis erupted, conditions in Spain for migrant workers from Morocco, West Africa and Eastern Europe that were already appalling have deteriorated further.

The crisis has driven unemployment in Spain to 20%, forcing Spanish workers to compete for work in the huge plastic-covered farms which grow salad and vegetables destined for sale in all the major supermarkets in Britain and other parts of Europe.

As the recession and inflation bites into living standards across the world, and the cost of competition amongst the supermarkets like Tesco and Sainsbury drives their buyers to put the squeeze on the price they pay to farmers, payments to the workers have been reduced to less than half of the legal minimum wage.

Research by investigative journalist Felicity Lawrence and charities reveals that migrants in Almeria, adjacent to the main tourist destination of the Costa del Sol, with families left at home dependent on their wages are now living in unbelievable squalor.

They live in “chabolas”, shelters made from used vegetable boxes covered in plastic, without food, water or work. Increasing numbers are reduced to taking handouts from charities like the Red Cross and groups of nuns just to stay alive.

Spitou Mendy, who was himself an illegal migrant from Senegal until he gained his papers in an amnesty, now helps run Sindicato de Obreros del Campo (SOC), a small union for migrants. He thinks the numbers have swollen to more than 100,000 due to the recession.

In Mendy's eyes the conditions are slavery. "You don't find the sons of Spain in the hothouses, only the blacks and people from former colonies," he says. "The farmers only want an unqualified, malleable workforce, which costs absolutely nothing. Only one part of the business is benefiting from this. It's the big agribusiness that wins. It's the capitalists that win. And humanity is killed that way. This is slavery in Europe. At the door to Europe, there is slavery as if we were in the 16th century."

Farmers argue that the supermarkets have squeezed their margins even harder during the downturn, while costs for fuel and fertiliser have gone up. They have no choice but to cut wages, which is the one element of their production costs they can control. Farmers trying to employ people legally and at the proper rate find it hard to compete or make a profit.

Wages approaching zero, and declining profits shine a bright light on the unsustainable character of food production using capitalist methods.

Rather than weep for the supermarkets, or try to find solutions to their problems, there has to be another way. Food production is undergoing a dramatic turnaround in Venezuala. The Bolivarian revolution led by Hugo Chavez is establishing a food system free of corporate control, rejecting the free market, capitalist ideology and developing alternative systems of international trade and co-operation.

With a state controlled system, cheap agricultural credit has increased from $164 million in 1999 to $7.6 billion in 2008. In a new system of particaptory democracy, more than 35,000 community councils as well as councils of farmers and fishermen are enabling communities to monitor their food needs, shape food policies and take control of their local food systems.
These, and other examples, have to be the way forward.

Gerry Gold
Economics editor

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Uniting theory and practice

At a recent meeting of students who had come together from a range of occupations against the rise in tuition fees, a proposal about creating People’s Assemblies (PAs) was described as a “deeply philosophical” question. The remark, which was not made in a derogatory way, was spot on.

Advancing a concept like PAs is both practical and theoretical at the same time, which appears as a philosophical conundrum. That’s a good sign because all revolutionary ideas – and PAs are just that – are rooted in both the present as well as the future. They are, therefore, a real contradiction.

But isn’t that bad? Aren’t contradictions harmful? Wouldn’t the world be better off without them? Can’t we come up with a simpler proposal that everyone can grasp immediately without further reflection and put into practice?

In the struggle against the Coalition’s draconian public spending cuts – made in a bid to rescue capitalism from itself – “simpler” proposals and plans have emerged spontaneously. Anti-cuts campaigns have spread throughout the country. Protests and lobbies take place on a nightly basis. Students and education workers reacted to the cuts with strikes, marches and occupations.

Now that movement is at a turning point. The cuts are going through town halls – many of them Labour controlled. Tuition fees rises have passed through Parliament along with the abolition of educational maintenance allowances. Planned cuts in higher education spending will devastate the universities.

The weakness of the direction of the movement so far is that it is largely restricted to the “present” situation. It is aimed at stopping, halting or reversing the cuts made by a government that has staked its existence on carrying through a massive reduction in the budget deficit. The deficit itself is a product of the global crisis of capitalism and the devastating way it has impacted on the British economy.

The government has made it clear that it is not for turning. Indeed, were it to collapse under the weight of events, a likely outcome would be a national government rather than some mythical formation that would immediately start on a programme of public spending. As we know, Labour is also committed to reducing the deficit and is doing so with gusto at local government level.

So where do we go from here? Putting all our hopes on the results of the March 26 demonstration called by the Trades Union Congress would be a mistake. One demonstration, however large, is not going to change the world. Ask those who took part in the two-million strong march against plans for the invasion of Iraq in 2003.

That’s where PAs come in. They are connected to the present by presenting an opportunity to all those with grievances that the Parliamentary system tied to corporate and financial power is incapable of addressing. These include trade unionists, service users, students, the unemployed, minorities and climate change activists.

They also build on the struggle for democracy and representation that dates at least from the Levellers and Diggers of the English Revolution – and in other ways is traced back to the Peasants Revolt of 1381 and the Magna Carta of 1215. But PAs go further in proposing new forms of democracy beyond the existing capitalist state framework, which can then begin to transform how the economy is owned and run.

They are a philosophical question in the sense that PAs require a leap in thinking out of the present ideological framework which is dominated by impressions and acceptance of the capitalist status quo. But they are also deeply practical because they offer a way forward to an alternative, progressive future.

Paul Feldman
Communications editor

Monday, February 07, 2011

Egypt’s unfinished revolution

The future of the Middle East is being fought out in Cairo's Tahrir Square. The Egyptian people’s determined struggle for economic and political freedom against a regime of dictators and torturers goes on.

Their 14-day struggle is fuelling the flames of revolt throughout the Arab world, from Gaza and the West Bank where Hamas and the Palestine Authority have banned protests, to Yemen and Jordan.

So, is the drama being played out in Egypt and reverberating throughout the Arab world, a true revolution? The answer must be an unequivocal Yes.

Not only in Cairo but throughout the country, millions have been involved in demonstrations and, equally crucial, in organising barricades to enforce security and stop provocations by Mubarak and his secret police.

Does the revolution need to go further to truly succeed in its aims of bringing political and economic freedom to the majority of Egyptians? The answer is also a decisive Yes.

The Egyptian ruling classes backed by an equivocating United States, want to preserve Egyptian capitalism. They are playing a war of attrition, hoping that the “silent majority” will tire of disruption and will remain neutral or even back the ruling elite with or without Mubarak at their head.

The keys to real power remain in the hands of the regime. It controls the rubber stamp parliament, the television and official media and the army. Those occupying Tahrir Square are only too aware that the army is the decisive factor in Egyptian politics.

They have climbed up on the tanks and greeted the soldiers as their allies. At present protesters are sleeping and camping under the tanks. They see the army as their protection against Mubarak’s thugs. After all it was the army under Abdel Nasser who overthrew the Egyptian monarchy in the 1952 revolution. But the history of revolutions – and of Egypt itself – shows that this is a perilous path. In no way can the army, even though it consists mostly of conscripted workers, be relied upon to support those demanding the end of not only Mubarak but his entire state apparatus, including the hundreds of thousands of secret police, spies and torturers. The army has done very well under Mubarak. Last year the Egyptian armed forces received over $1.3 billion from his US backers.

Over the weekend, Vice President Omar Suleiman, Mubarak’s intelligence chief, met with opposition leaders and is likely to announce that a new constitution is being drafted. Amongst the 50 people who took part in the discussions were members of the hitherto-outlawed Muslim Brotherhood. Many have suffered imprisonment and torture at the hands of Mubarak’s army of spies and torturers and had only just been freed last week. But the Brotherhood originally refused to support the anti-government demonstrations and is only now trying to regain its credibility.

Egypt’s uprising is indeed virtually leaderless. A new generation who have known nothing but Mubarak’s repressive regime broke unexpectedly onto the world stage. Initially inspired by the revolutionary events in Tunisia, young people have organised through Facebook, following the call of Asmaa Mahfouz and Ahmed Maher in the April 6 Youth Movement, which campaigned for the Million March on February 1. Many, including the newly-formed Centre for Trade Union and Workers’ Services, are rightly demanding the dissolution of the current parliament, 97% of whose seats are controlled by Mubarak’s National Democratic Party.

The Egyptian revolution had to break free of its old leadership elites to challenge the dictatorship. The urgent need is for the spontaneous movements, including the community-run barricades, to develop a strategy for economic and political power through people’s assemblies.

Corinna Lotz
A World to Win secretary

Friday, February 04, 2011

Dogma gives Marx a bad name

The merit of veteran Financial Times writer and noted economist Samuel Brittan is that he is not a dogmatist. He may not have all the answers when it comes to today’s crisis. But Brittan believes that summoning the writings or reputations of dead economists to back a policy is hopelessly wrong.

Vince Cable, Liberal Democrat business secretary in the Coalition government, claimed in the January 17 issue of the New Statesman that “Keynes would be on our side”. Two economists promptly called this “foolhardy”. Others, says Brittan, too often cite Karl Marx to justify a view.

“What a reflection all this is on the would-be scientific standing of political economy,” says Brittan who served in Labour as well as Tory governments. He himself was taught by Milton Friedman, the father figure of the monetarist theories of the 1980s implemented by Thatcher and Reagan.

There is indeed no merit in citing what Keynes or Marx (or even Friedman) said at a certain point in history if the aim is to prop up a preconception about today’s world. As Brittan says: “Can one imagine physicists trying to advance their views by showing that they were implicit in some obscure passage in Einstein or Isaac Newton?”

This is true. But any half-decent physicist will know that a modern understanding of the material world would not be possible without the advances made by earlier scientists. Their theories are incorporated into modern physics – not simply rejected as old hat.

So it should be with Marx, a revolutionary communist as well as a political economist. Turning his ideas into a tenet, a dogma to be repeated on suitable occasions, was not the responsibility of bourgeois economists like Brittan. Principal blame for this rests with the Stalinist movement, particularly the bureaucracy of the former Soviet Union. They did this to Lenin too, taking a phrase here and a quotation there to provide a rationale for every twist and turn.

Brittan himself is not averse to throwing out the baby with the bathwater, declaring that if Marx were alive today he would be 193 years old and, therefore, no one could know what he would say. This is indisputable; and the likelihood of Marx returning is not even up for discussion.

What Marx left, however, was a legacy of a philosophical method, an approach to understanding constantly changing reality. Marx himself, in the afterword to the second German edition, could do no better than cite with approval a critical review of Capital in 1872:

“The one thing which is of moment to Marx, is to find the law of the phenomena with whose investigation he is concerned; and not only is that law of moment to him, which governs these phenomena, in so far as they have a definite form and mutual connexion within a given historical period. Of still greater moment to him is the law of their variation, of their development, i.e., of their transition from one form into another, from one series of connexions into a different one. This law once discovered, he investigates in detail the effects in which it manifests itself in social life.”

This dialectical method enabled Marx to reveal the contradictions inherent with the system of capitalist production. The tendency of the rate of profit to fall, the continuous drive to global expansion, the inevitable formation of monopolies – these and other scientific laws were expounded by Marx. They naturally need verification through a study of today’s conditions. Rescuing Marx from the dogmatists is essential in our preparation to transcend a capitalism that is in its deepest-ever and most threatening crisis.

Paul Feldman
Communications editor

Thursday, February 03, 2011

A disaster waiting to happen

The Deepwater Horizon disaster was foreseeable and preventable and was a result of systemic failures in the oil and gas industry, according to the White House enquiry into last year’s oil spill.

In a report which is a model of clarity, the panel notes that for the past 20 years, the oil and gas industry moved into ever deeper and riskier areas of the Gulf of Mexico. This generated huge revenues for corporations and for the federal Treasury.

But during the same period there was growing complacency and absence of regulation, which ended with the death of 11 oil workers and the destruction of eco-systems, livelihoods and the health of unknown numbers of people in states and countries bordering the Gulf.

There were errors and misjudgements by all three major oil companies involved – BP, Halliburton, and Transocean. They failed to properly interpret warning signals; to see flaws in their own testing processes and pushed ahead with untested last-minute design changes.

Deepwater happened, the report says, because the US government let it happen. The Department of Interior Minerals Management Service both regulated the industry and collected tax revenue. Only income tax delivers more cash to the US government, and revenue collection consistently “trumped safety in the Department’s priorities”.

Science was virtually shut out of regulation and decision-making. This was also the case in March 2010, when President Obama agreed to expand drilling in the Atlantic and eastern Gulf.

While Democrats want to implement the report’s recommendations, the Republican majority are determined to prevent any limits on the US oil and gas industry.

And at a recent closed-door meeting, right-wing billionaire activists Charles and David Koch brought the oil and gas industry together to plan a full-on campaign against improved environmental regulation.

BP is still failing on the safety front. An improvement order was issued by the UK Health and Safety Executive (HSE) after incidents in the North Sea. On the Shiehallion oil platform for example, BP left corroded equipment in place until it ‘failed catastrophically’.

So 10 months on from the disaster, how are those affected faring.

BP reported a loss for 2010 but will resume paying out dividends at 4.34p per share. It is on course to return to profit, after signing a deal with the Russian state oil firm, Rosneft to drill in the Arctic.

Halliburton, doubled its profits in the last quarter of 2010, and Transocean, is still active in the Gulf and in many other emerging areas. Reporting on their activities this year, CEO Steve Newman said they were expecting demand for deepwater, ultra-deepwater and ‘hostile environment’ drilling to go on growing.

The US Government agencies (Environmental Protection Agency, Food and Drug Administration and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) and Obama have declared the Gulf of Mexico, its waters, beaches, and seafood, safe and open to the public.

But residents of the Gulf states are facing a different future. Widespread health problems are reported, including children covered with lesions and people with very high levels of deadly ethyl benzene in people’s bodies.

States close to the disaster are also amongst those where unemployment is continuing to rise, at a time when the Republicans passed laws immediately on being elected to Congress that cut taxes for the rich whilst placing a new time limit on unemployment benefit.

For capitalism, the drive for profits will always trump environmental concerns and governments are only concerned with ‘growth’. Only a transformation of ownership and control of the oil industry can prevent another Deepwater Horizon, which could easily be in the North Sea where deepwater drilling is powering ahead. In May 2010, gas entered a well being drilled by the Norwegian state oil company and according to the Petroleum Safety Authority, only luck prevented the incident evolving into a disaster.

Penny Cole
Environment editor

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Uprisings deepen capitalism's crisis

Attempts to solve the global debt crisis have sent food prices soaring, driving impoverished masses onto the streets throughout the Middle East. Now a wave of political revolutions dashes remaining but false hopes of economic “recovery”.

Oil prices are rising sharply as the upheaval that began in Tunisia and now grips Egypt threatens to spread to major producers Algeria, Libya and even Saudi Arabia. Stock markets are jittery as they take in the consequences, including any threat to oil tankers which use the Suez Canal.

In Egypt, workers, the unemployed, young and old, artists and athletes, Christians and Muslims have united in their determination to bring the 30-year old autocratic regime of Hosni Mubarak to an end. His determination to hang on until September pleases neither the Egyptian people nor the White House, which fears the consequences of an unstoppable revolutionary process the longer Mubarak’s regime clings to power.

This fact is recognised by the International Monetary Fund too, which helped impose harsh market “reforms” on Egypt in the 1990s, which have only deepened inequality. IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn warned governments to tackle economic strains or risk instability and even war.

“This protest won’t end in North Africa; it will spread in many countries because of high unemployment and increasing food prices,” Hamza Alkholi, chairman and chief executive of Saudi Alkholi Group, a holding company investing in industrials and real estate, said in an interview in Davos, Switzerland.

As Nouriel Roubini, the leading economics analyst who forecast the global financial crash, notes: "What has happened in Tunisia, is happening right now in Egypt, but also riots in Morocco, Algeria and Pakistan, are related not only to high unemployment rates and to income and wealth inequality, but also to this very sharp rise in food and commodity prices."

In Egypt, 40% of the 80 million people live on less than $2 a day. Prices of basic foodstuffs have soared by over 17%, putting basic necessities beyond the reach of many. The average Egyptian now spends 40% of his or her income on food while economists put the unofficial jobless rate at about 25%.

The worldwide surge in commodity prices is being driven by stock markets and investment banks desperate to find new areas for profit-taking. With the 2008 financial meltdown still unravelling, speculators have turned to basic commodities. They have used funds pumped into the system by the US Treasury and the Bank of England, also known as QE or “quantitative easing”.

QE was designed to boost economic growth. Instead, it has helped to create a 32% increase in the average cost of food in the second half of 2010, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO). Wheat prices alone jumped 70% between June and December.

Despite Mubarak’s televised claim that the protests had been manipulated by political forces this is a completely Egyptian, largely secular, wholly grass roots movement. With its roots in a strike by textile workers in April, 2008, a popular revolution is under way. The country is at a standstill as events unfold. The economy is paralysed. People’s committees have taken charge of the security of their streets and neighbourhood.

Even when Mubarak shut down the internet and mobile phone networks last week the 70,000 strong April 6th Facebook group of mostly young people continued to organise the protest, calling for the “million man march” that brought more than two million Egyptians onto the streets of Cairo, Alexandria, Suez, Sinai and Upper Egypt demanding that the president should leave.

People on the street demand change to “every element of the system” but lack a developed leadership that can transform the Egyptian capitalist state. As soaring prices and unemployment make clear, revolutionary social and economic change is required along with the end of the Mubarak dictatorship.

Gerry Gold
Economics editor

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

When marching is not enough

The contrast couldn’t be clearer. In Egypt, they gather in hundreds of thousands and strike with the aim of bringing down the Mubarak regime. In Britain, the leadership of the trade unions wants workers to walk through London at the end of March – and then go home.

By March 26, the date of the march called by the Trades Union Congress (TUC), up to 200,000 public sector workers will have lost their jobs, as councils – many of them Labour controlled – implement government cuts, wrecking local services.

By then, those keeping their jobs will have suffered a massive erosion in their standard of living as food and fuel inflation takes off.

By then, university and college lecturers will be staring at closures and redundancies.

By then, the astronomical increase in university tuition fees will be a reality facing the next generation.

By then, the Coalition government would have forced through further marketisation of the National Health Service, building on the work of New Labour.

In other words, by then Cameron and Clegg will be halfway to imposing the burden of the capitalist crisis on the backs of ordinary working people.

Last week, the TUC called member unions together to discuss its response to the effects of the spending cuts announced last October. Talked up by the media as a planning meeting for a wave co-ordinated strikes against the cuts, it was nothing of the kind.

TUC general secretary Brendan Barber stood on the steps of Congress House and ran up the white flag. Frightened by the existing anti-union laws – and alarmed by the threat of further legislation – Barber and the right-wing led major unions ruled out a confrontation with the government.

All Barber would say was that there could be action around “specific disputes” but none were planned. What are scheduled, however, are talks with the government over planned changes to public sector pensions.

A World to Win supports the TUC demonstration but not simply to register a protest against the government’s policies which are directly driven by the deepening capitalist economic and financial crisis.

We will campaign on the march for a way forward beyond March 26 that is not dependent on the manoeuvres of the TUC leadership. AWTW will urge:

 Leaders of trade unions opposed to the TUC right wing to call their own conference to plan joint action against the Coalition
 Occupations of town halls, universities and colleges to block job losses and the destruction of services
 The removal of discredited local councillors and their replacement by trade union and community representatives
 The creation of a network of People’s Assemblies to build a sustained challenge to the government’s authority.

As the resolution adopted at the weekend National Assembly of Education said, People’s Assemblies can:
 unite students, education workers, trade unionists, community groups and all those resisting austerity and ConDem cuts, as well as climate change activists, campaigners for human rights, migrant support networks and anti-racist groups.
 develop an alternative democratic voice and long-term presence to effectively challenge corporate/financial power and its grip on the existing political system.

A key role for Assemblies would be the development of alternative economic models to the failed profit system. We have to take the opportunity presented by the crisis to set out what we are for as well as what we are against, and to create strategy to put that into practice.

The revolutionary upsurge in North Africa, prompted by worsening economic and political conditions, will make its appearance in Britain. With the TUC on its knees, preparation for that eventuality is everything.

Paul Feldman
Communications editor