SOCIALIST STATEMENT ON THE RUSSIAN INVASION AND THE ENSUING WAR IN UKRAINE
Introduction: Ukraine: 'What are we fighting for?'
During the Vietnam War, Country Joe and the Fish sang "What are we fighting for; Don't ask me I donâ€™t give a damn, The next stop is Vietnam". They sang it to the crowd at the Woodstock festival some of whom had been fighting in Vietnam. The punch line was that the soldier obediently going to war only came home "in a box". As in Vietnam in 1968, so it is too in Ukraine in 2022. "What we are fighting for?" has the cruel answer: "a body bag".
Socialists do not fight in capitalism's wars. Socialists reject the naive liberal political view that nation states can coexist in international harmony with an agreed system of laws. Such a view is nothing more than utopian idealism. Capitalism is a global system of class exploitation in which war is a natural outcome.
Competing nation states and the ruling class within them articulate conflicting class interests around territory, trade routes and resources. Nation states all aspire to be "top dog" and impose their will, economically, politically and militarily on other nation states. The Russian invasion of Ukraine in February this year is no different to wars fought over the past four centuries or so.
The method of war, shown by the systematic destruction of towns and cities by Russian forces in the Ukraine, is to annihilate or disperse the armed forces of its Ukrainian army; destroy its armaments and means of supply; starve, terrify and undermine its civilian population with bombs and missiles, and by propaganda to spread panic and defeatism.
Socialists have always held that conflict and war are inevitable features of life under capitalism and that their abolition can only be accomplished by the establishment of socialism.
"The First Casualty of War"
There is a cliche that the first casualty of war is the truth. However, the second casualty of war is the loss of critical analysis and historical context. And it is singularly a more important loss than the truth. All governments lie and all use deceitful propaganda. When war breaks out do not believe government pronouncements. Do not believe a servile media.
For the capitalist media propaganda is everything and there can be no dissent, no questioning and no interest outside the national interest and obedience to political leaders. Any criticism of NATO or the capitalist politicians that run NATO then you are "pro-Putin" and fair game for smears, innuendo and disinformation.
This stupid reasoning can be found in the speeches of Kier Starmer and in the writings of the journalist Nick Cohen.
In the war between Russia and Ukraine the world is black and white. Russia is the aggressive invader while "plucky" Ukraine is beyond reproach. It is a fight between good and evil. Monsters are in mortal combat with angels. We are encouraged to boo the baddies and cheer the hero like attending some festival pantomime. The conflict is portrayed like a 1950s Western where the sheriff wears the white hat and the baddies wear the black hat. It is a childish politics that conveniently omits sound reasoning, questioning and critical analysis of history and events.
The media have located the monster as Vladimir Putin. It is Putin's war, Putin's missiles and Putin's fault. Does not Putin have support? Is everything down to him alone? History is full of monsters whose narratives are told without historical context, the actions of others and the play of economic forces. Historians become moralists. And they give more power and influence to evil dictators than they deserve. No serious questions are posed and none answered.
Well, Putin like ourselves, lives in a world capitalist system which has violent international rivalry and competing interests built into its very structure. Capitalism has a history. Nothing comes out of the blue. Defenders of capitalism want their system to be seen as natural like the air we breathe. This was Blair's view of Globalisation and its future. Tony Blair co-architect with George Bush of the Iraq war. Liberal capitalism is supposed to be beyond question. So are its politicians. And so are the capitalist class they represent.
It should not be forgotten that Ukraine is a capitalist country in which the means of production and distribution are privately owned, where the interests of the capitalist class and the working class are diametrically opposed and where there is a day-to-day class struggle. Workers in Russia have identical class interests with workers in Ukraine. They have no class interest in fighting each other. They have so much more in common than the capitalist class in Russia and Ukraine and their political representatives. Workers in Russia and Ukraine should be struggling together for socialism.
Marxists do not lose their critical thinking during times of war. We do not roll over and surrender our analysis of a world system riven through with class interest, class struggle and the exercise of class power and privilege. We refuse our consent.
And we have nothing to do with the capitalist left, who do take sides in capitalism's war. They do so by the use of a political scale. US imperialist atrocities are weighed on one side of the scale and Russian Imperialist atrocities on the other. The scales always tip heavily towards the US.
There are those on the capitalist left who want Putin to win in Ukraine in order to humiliate western capitalism and the United States in particular. Putin might be a totalitarian thug but for the capitalist left the US and its allies are far, far worse. The capitalist Left use the doctrine "The enemy of my enemy are my friends". Historically, it has meant siding with genocidal maniacs.
Socialists do not take sides in capitalism's wars. We say a plague on both your houses. We may be damned by both sides but our socialist principle against capitalism's wars remains the same, such wars nothing to do with the interest of the working class.
Might is Right
Under capitalism might is right. If you are a world power you use your power to get your way, so, as it has always been will and until capitalism is replaced by common ownership of the means of production and distribution by all of society.
The capitalist media from the safety of their armchairs want a no-fly zone introduced in Ukraine. That would lead to a Third World War and a nuclear one to boot. This is not what the capitalist politicians in the West want. Their number one responsibility is to defend the profit system not to destroy it. They might have power but so does Putin and they cannot be sure that he would fire a nuclear strike at the first NATO country who ordered jets into Ukraine to enforce a no-fly zone.
In an article "Threat of Nuclear war is greater than ever before" (i, 8/3/22), Patrick Cockburn argues that a weaker Russia means Putin would be more likely to push the button. He writes:
"Putin will increasingly look to his tactical nuclear weapons to even up the balance against NATO".
Those workers who think and act for themselves rather than being saturated with the propaganda coming from the capitalist media do not want to become toast or die of radiation poisoning during a long nuclear winter.
When workers open their newspapers or turn on the television a blast of uncritical hot air blows into their face. Any old propaganda from Ukraine is given out in the media with little analysis or criticism, first it was 4000 Russian soldiers killed then it was 10,000. When Russia attacked the maternity hospital in the city of Mariupol a similar attack by NATO laser-guided bombs at the university Hospital Centre Dr Dragisa Misovic in Belgrade in 1999 was conveniently forgotten.
There is supposed to be no criticism of NATO or the Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. He is canonised a political saint to Putin's devil, a President who can do no wrong, rather than just another capitalist politician.
He tells inexperienced workers to carry guns in to attack crack Russian troops, he wants NATO to start a Third World War by introducing a "no-fly-zone" over the Ukraine and his government has banned men aged 18 to 60 from leaving the country so that they can be conscripted into the armed forces. Putin is not the only one with blood on his hands. Save us from sacred cows.
Putin the Monster
What of Putin the monster? Marxists reject the Great Man theory of history. However, we also reject its mirror image; the "evil" man theory of history.
Individuals do exercise choice, but they are also constrained by historical circumstances. As Marx wrote:
"Men make their own history, but they do not make it just as they please; they do not make it under circumstances chosen by themselves, but under circumstances directly encountered, given and transmitted from the past".
So, what are the circumstances directly encountered, given and transmitted from the past? Does Putin have the power a Marxist critique of "Great Men" shows to be incorrect? Why are politicians like Starmer so worried that NATO might be called into question, its aggressive actions remembered? Even if Putin was not in power in the Kremlin, Russiaâ€™s geo-political interests would still not want to have an EU country and a NATO member along its border? If Putin falls and is replaced by some other leader will the international rivalry disappear? Of course not.
Socialists are members of the working class and struggle with our fellow workers for a world without war, conflict, countries and bordersa social system in which production just takes place to directly meet human need. We do not take sides in capitalism's wars and we are sick to death of the nationalism and religion in which workers immerse themselves and do terrible things to each other. You will not find that sentiment in the capitalist media; not in the capitalist west or in capitalist Russia.
Has History Ended?
We were promised "The End of History" and an era of peace, growth and enrichment for everyone. According to the author, Francis Fukuyama, the worst fate we faced after the fall of the Berlin Wall was "boredom". Fukuyama has now been reduced to desperately defending "liberal capitalism" in the pages of the FINANCIAL TIMES (5/5/2022).
And here is another intellectual snake oil salesman. In his 2011 book THE BETTER ANGELS OF OUR NATURE: WHY VIOLENCE HAS DECLINED, Harvard University psychologist and rock star-intellectual, Steven Pinker, argued that human beings are now living in the most peaceful era in the history of our species. Globalisation was to be the future: universal free markets and free trade, enrichment and rising living standards for all - a capitalist utopia. Instead, the last thirty years have been one of economic crises, wars and conflict.
The media, which supports of a capitalist world order, is preventing serious questions from being asked. We do not know, for example, if the outcome of the Ukrainian war will trigger a Third World War with nuclear destruction as the outcome. The Second World War ended with two nuclear bombs dropped on Nagasaki and Hiroshima in 1945; the Third World War could well begin with hundreds of nuclear missiles fired from underground silos and submarines.
Confronting these possible outcomes, where all sides are culpable, will avoid being dragged into the media world of good and evil: the capitalist West versus Putin the monster. It means acknowledging and understanding the global system in which we find ourselves. World capitalism, a social system of class exploitation and rapacious plunder of the earth's resources in which the means of life are privately owned to the exclusion and detriment of the majority. A world divided into competing nation states over trade routes, spheres of strategic influence and oil and gas and land.
It means a clear and reasoned response to understand the circumstances of where we are and where we want to go. It means accepting that the past does have an impact on our political actions. That we cannot just do as we please. And history, at least a critical history which is informed by Marx's materialist conception of history, has a revolutionary route out of the mess we currently find ourselves in.
How to end war and a potential nuclear holocaust? To end war means to end capitalism and to replace the profit system with socialism. It requires a democratic politics by a socialist majority. It requires the formation of principled socialist parties throughout the world and for a socialist majority to send delegates to parliament to gain control of the machinery of government including the armed forces of the state. Until socialism is established wars will continue to plague the working class from one generation to the next.
LEARNING FROM HISTORY:
A SOCIALIST OBJECTIVE AND POLITICAL REFORMS DON'T MIX
During the last quarter of the 19th century across Europe and in the US, political parties formed under the banner of the Second International. These political parties all claimed to agree with the revolutionary ideas of Marx and Engels. Although these parties introduced Marxian ideas in a popular form to the working class they made several political errors which harmed both an understanding of Socialism and the necessary political means for achieving common ownership and democratic control over the means of production and distribution by all of society.
The principal error made by these "Social Democrat" organisations was in their political programme. The "Socialist" object of the programme was often incoherent and lent itself towards meaning the nationalisation of industry and agriculture rather than the abolition of the wages system and the establishment of production and distribution for social use.
Nevertheless the object of the Erfurt Programme of 1891 for example, adopted by the German Social Democratic Party and copied by other similar parties, had as its "inevitable goal" the aim of transforming "...the production of wares into socialistic production..." (quoted from The COMMUNIST MANIFESTO - and the LAST ONE HUNDRED YEARS, (Socialist Party of Great Britain p.23 1948).
However, an equally serious political error made by the social democratic parties was the list of immediate demands or palliatives appended to the "Socialist" object. The Erfurt programme had ten demands including the establishment of a "People's Army", "the Secularisation of Schools" and "free medical treatment".
Two negative consequences of the list of demands immediately presented themselves.
First, it was impossible to tell if someone who had joined one of the Social Democratic parties had been attracted to the political object of the Party or to one or all of the palliatives. And second, the various reforms could lay themselves open to being appropriated by other political parties to take working class support away from Social Democracy.
Both consequences were experienced by the German Social Democratic Party associated with Frederick Engels until his death in 1895 at the age of seventy four.
Bismarck and "State Socialism"
During the middle to late 19th century Germany, like Britain progressively extended the parliamentary franchise until the great majority of the electorate were members of the working class, and political parties were formed in Germany roughly comparable to the Tory, Liberal and Labour parties in Britain.
The German imperial constitution was declared in April 1871 and Bismarck was appointed imperial chancellor. Although the Reichstag, the imperial Parliament, was convened by universal, equal, direct and secret elections, the Chancellor of the Reich was not responsible to Parliament but to the Emperor. Next to the Emperor, the imperial Parliament was the second most important institution; however, its political influence was limited to the area of legislation. It exerted only a minor influence over the formation of governments and government policy.
The exercise of political power in the name of the Emperor was undertaken by the conservative Chancellor Otto von Bismarck. Bismarck had at first been backed by the German "Liberal" Parties, but German capitalism was entering an expansionist phase, seeking foreign markets and a colonial empire, and Bismarck, reluctantly it is said, had to fall in line with its imperialist adventurism.
Bismarck had no liking for Socialism. When after a period of reorganisation the German Social Democratic Party obtained half a million votes in the Reichstag in 1877, Bismarck became alarmed. So, in 1878 he began a campaign against the Social Democratic Party with the express object of crushing the whole movement.
Following two attempts on the life of the Kaiser by self-styled "Socialists" who were disowned by the German Social Democratic Party, Bismarck enacted "anti-Socialist laws" in 1878 which imposed drastic restrictions on political propaganda and other activities of the SDP but not on elections to the Reichstag.
A law against the Socialists went through the Reichstag. Socialist papers were suppressed, many clubs broken up and meetings stopped, and some of the leaders of the Party banished. Nevertheless, it was still possible for Social Democrats to take part in political activity and to stand for the Reichstag, even if its meetings had to be licensed in advance.
Engels commented on Bismarck's "anti-Socialist Laws" in The LABOUR STANDARD (1881):
And what has Bismarck attained with all his coercion? Just as much as Mr. Forster in Ireland. The Social-Democratic party is in as blooming a condition, and possesses as firm an organisation, as the Irish Land League. A few days ago there were elections for the Town Council of Mannheim. The working-class party nominated sixteen candidates, and carried them all by a majority of nearly three to one. Again, Bebel, member of the German Parliament for Dresden, stood for the representation of the Leipzig district in the Saxon Parliament. Bebel is himself a working man (a turner), and one of the best, if not the best speaker in Germany. To frustrate his being elected, the Government expelled all his committee.
And he concluded:
What was the result? That even with a limited suffrage, Bebel was carried by a strong majority. Thus, Bismarck's coercion avails him nothing; on the contrary, it exasperates the people. Those to whom all legal means of asserting themselves are cut off, will one fine morning take to illegal ones, and no one can blame them. How often have Mr. Gladstone and Mr. Forster proclaimed that doctrine? And how do they act now in Ireland?
The restrictive laws were successfully evaded by the Social Democratic Party and proved quite ineffective as was shown by the rapid and continuous increase in the number of their members elected to the Reichstag; from 12 in 1881 to 110 in 1912.
But suppressing the Social Democratic Party was only half of Bismarck's strategy; the other half was stealing their programme, including extensive nationalisation and social reforms.
Bismarck championed government-sponsored social insurance including "sickness insurance" to win working class voters away from the SDP. It was not a socialist programme although it was misleadingly referred to by the SDP as "State Socialism".
The reform package was an anti-socialist program. Bismarck pushed the reforms through as legislation and enlarged the programme over the years, overriding opposition from his own conservative allies and from the SDP who knew the program was aimed at weakening them by competing successfully against their own list of reform demands.
Workers in Germany supported Bismarck's social reform programme, and so did employers and the military authorities requiring healthy soldiers for the growing military force necessary for a future land war in Europe. Worker productivity increased and the army got healthier recruits than those in other countries. Other capitalist countries followed Germany. Great Britain in 1911 was the last of the important European countries to do so.
Lloyd George visited Germany and studied the social reforms. As Prime Minister he overcame fierce resistance in the House of Lords to create the Britain's version of social insurance to counter the rise of the Labour Party and to attract support from the Trade Unions.
Engels described Bismarck's nationalization programme in SOCIALISM, UTOPIAN AND SCINTIFIC:
"But of late, since Bismarck went in for State-ownership of industrial establishments, a kind of spurious Socialism has arisen...that without more ado declares all state ownership, even of the Bismarkian sort to be socialistic.
Certainly, if the taking over by the State of the tobacco industry is socialistic, then Napoleon and Metternich must be numbered among the founders of Socialism...The royal Marine company, the Royal Porcelain manufacturers, and'even the regimental tailor of the army would also be socialistic institutions, or even, as was seriously proposed by a sly dog in William IIIâ€™s reign, the taking over by the State of the brothels" (p. 70).
Engels's Error of Judgement
Engels totally misread the success of the German SDP. In an article SOCILIASM IN GERMANY written towards the end of his life, Engels made an assessment of the likely progress of the SDP. He looked at the electoral success of the Party with its increased share of the vote from 101, 927 in 1871 to 1, 427, 278 in 1890 and projected a likely outcome of 4 million votes by 1900 "A pleasant 'end of the century' for our bourgeoisie (For the full article see Friedrich Engels, SOCIALISM IN GERMANY, trans. Irene Schmeid from DIE NEUE ZEIT, vol. 10 1891/2, pp. 580 -89 in GERMAN ESSAYS IN THE 19TH CENTURY ed. F Mecklenburg and M. Stassen, 1990 p. 30-42).
If Engels had lived on into the first two decades of the 20th century, he would have seen the continuation of the exponential growth of the SDP vote he had predicted in 1891. The SDP had, by 1912 secured 28% of the vote and were represented by 112 seats in the Reichstag. Indeed, the Social Democrats had grown into the largest political party in Germany. Party membership was around 1 million and the party press ("Vorwarts) had 1.5 million subscribers. The trade unions had 2.5 million members, most of whom probably supported the Social Democrats.
Yet there was a fatal error in Engels' reasoning. Engels' error was to equate votes for the SDP with a rise in socialist class consciousness. This was not the case. The SDP attracted voters for trade union reasons and support for the social reforms, not the socialist object itself. In fact, Bernstein's revisionism (see his book EVOLUTIONARY SOCIALISM published in 1899) - with the backing of a large section of the trade union leaders within the Party as well as a section of the political leadership - won out. The circle around Kautsky was weak and ineffectual in preventing the direction the SDP was to eventually take; a reformist direction which was to end, via the 1914-18 war, in the collapse of the Weimer Republic and the rise to political power of Adolph Hitler.
The German SDP: Revisionism and Leadership
Bernstein lists most of the typical objections to Marx and Engels's revolutionary Socialism; writing off the Socialist objective as "utopian", claiming that Marx's predictions had not come true; and dismissing Marx's method as "Hegelian mysticism".
Not that Kautsky's political circle agreed with Marx's revolutionary propositions. On the contrary, Kautsky repudiated Marx's central political principle that the establishment of Socialism had to be the work of the working class themselves. Kautsky also rejected Marx's belief that workers had the capacity to understand the case for Socialism.
Writing in NEUE ZEIT (1901), Kautsky thought, for example, that Socialist theory could only be injected into the class struggle "from the outside" by political theorists like himself and even then only into the minds of a few advanced workers.
This is what Kautsky wrote:
...The bearer of science is not the proletariat but the bourgeois intelligentsia; modern socialism therefore originates from individual members of this layer, and it is communicated by them only to intellectually outstanding proletarians who then introduce it into the class struggle of the proletariat, where conditions allow. Socialist consciousness is thus something introduced into the proletarian class struggle, not something born "naturally" from it.
(For the entire Kautsky quotation see Franz Jakubowski, IDEOLOGY AND SUPERSTRUCTURE IN HISTORICAL MATERIALISM, p. 118, Pluto, 1990).
The SPGB: Learning from Past Mistakes
Consequently, the Social Democratic Party was the recipient of non-Socialists votes and the creation of a largely non-Socialist membership incapable of thinking for themselves and practically and theoretically at the beck and call of a political leadership itself split into factions. And this is why, in 1914, a large proportion of the German SDP voted for war credits and a sizable percentage of the SDP joined the war along with those who had voted for the Party in the preceding years.
And the capitalist left - the various Trotskyist organizations, SWP, Socialist Party, Fifth International and so on still make the same mistake today. They have not learnt from history. Not only do they have a state capitalist object proposing varying degrees of nationalisation but they still have a list of immediate demands. And like the SDP leadership they do not believe workers are cut out to understand the case for Socialism. Instead, these political parasites feed off every working class discontent from protests against government cuts to stopping public services being outsourced to the private sector. And the policy has been an utter failure.
It was a mistake not made by the Socialist Party of Great Britain. For the SPGB the socialist quality of the organisation was more important than numbers; it set out a single Socialist Objective informed by a set of eight principles. From the start in 1904, the SPGB had no leaders and was able to draw on the soundness of its principles to oppose the First World War on grounds of class interest.
Not only did prospective members have to understand and agree to the Object and Declaration of Principles but before being allowed to join the SPGB, they had to leave behind them all ideological baggage including attachment to the cult of leadership, nationalism, religion and any belief that capitalism can be reformed, The Party may have remained small throughout the last hundred years or so and have to be reconstituted in 1991, but it outlived all those parties at the turn of the 20th century who believed you could have a simultaneous "socialist object and reform programme. History has shown that you can't.
Workers Do Not Cause Inflation
Inflation is now a topic back on the agenda. During the 1970s this was a particular problem for governments. Inflation was 9.2% on average during 1973 and unemployment had reached 900,000 in 1972.
The standard economic line of the time was that inflation was caused by workers pressing for higher wages. Workers were told to show pay restraint in their wage demands, or a 'wage-price spiral' will be the result.
Economists claimed that when workers win wage rises, companies simply pass on the cost through price increases, meaning that other employers are forced to follow suit, and there is a general increase in prices. This false economic theory concluded that workers should not struggle for better pay and working conditions since they would lose out through higher inflation.
At the time, Edward Heath tried to control wage demands by setting up a Pay Board to work in conjunction with the Price Commission. Later the Labour government tried to impose a pay limit with the TUC through a Social Contract. In 1976 the unions agreed to 4.5% as a guide line for pay increases. But the TUC opposed a ceiling of 5 per cent (inflation was then running at 8.3%), suggested by James Callaghan and there followed the 'winter of discontent', Margaret Thatcher and decades of anti-trade union legislation.
Marx gave an account of inflation in the first volume of CAPITAL. Marx showed that if the total amount of gold is replaced by inconvertible paper money, and if the amount of that paper money then issued is in excess, prices go up accordingly:
"If the quantity of paper money issued is, for instance, double what it ought to be, then in actual fact one pound has become the money name of about one-eighth of an ounce of gold instead of about one quarter of an ounce... The values previously expressed by the price £1 will now be expressed by the price £2".
(CAPITAL, Vol.1, Allen & Unwin edition, p. 108).
A recent example of blaming workers for inflation was an article by the economist Sean O'Grady published in The INDEPENDENT under the heading "Ministers fail to grasp basic economics (4/10/21).
Oâ€™Grady stated that wage increases cause inflation and wages can only rise if productivity does. He tells workers to accept a lower standard of living and not to struggle for better wages. He preaches economic abstinence and political quiescence.
The analysis of inflation that Marx gave in his lecture to the General Council of the First International in June 1865, published after his death as a pamphlet, VALUE, PRICE AND PROFIT, completely demolished O'Grady's argument.
In fact, inflation, in the strict meaning of the word, is caused by governments not workers or employers. As the Socialist Party of Great Britain pointed out:
"Inflation is caused by governments going on year after year and putting into circulation hundreds of millions of pounds of additional paper money...Wherever and whenever currency has been issued in excess, the price level has risen; and wherever and whenever currency has been restricted, prices have stabilised or fallen"
(Questions of the Day, 'Inflation and Employment' p. 94).
Marx showed that increased wages do not push up the general price level of commodities but does lead to a generalised reduction in the rate of profit. Workers, then, should ignore economists like O'Grady and struggle for higher wages and better working conditions when trade circumstances allow.
Marx reminded workers:
"By cowardly giving way in their everyday conflict with capital, they would certainly disqualify themselves for the initiating of any large movement".
However, as Marx noted, workers are only dealing with effects and not causes. They are struggling in a system that is weighted in favour of the capitalist class. The capitalist class own and control the means of production and distribution, protected by the machinery of government, to the exclusion of the rest of society. He said that the working class should set out to "abolish the wages system".
The wages system only exists as labour power is a commodity. When commodity production and exchange for profit is abolished in socialism and is replaced with the production of useful goods and services meeting human need, prices, including wages, will no longer be necessary.
Workers have no alternative but to democratically and politically organise for the abolition of capitalism and the establishment of socialism: the common ownership and democratic control of the means of production and distribution by all of society.
Global Warming, Class Interest and Socialism
Capitalism Causes Global Warming
The governments of the world met in Glasgow at Cop26 in November 2021 to discuss the impact of global warming and what could be done about it. The conference was full of politicians fighting their own particular nationalist corner, environmental reformists unable to blame capitalism and well paid PR representatives of the fossil fuel industries and other commercial interests. Outside, groups like Extinction Rebellion took part in futile direct action gestures which only filled up the police cells.
We are told by scientists that the consequences of global warming are happening right now with heat waves in Canada and the US Pacific North West, rising sea levels, flooding in the Far East, melting ice caps and then there are the droughts and potential "water wars". Brazil, for example, is increasingly susceptible to drought, affecting the profits of its industries and agribusiness. A recent article on Brazil's water problems stated:
"The country with the most freshwater resources on the planet steadily lost 15% of its surface water since 1991. Gradual retreat in the Brazilian share of the Pantanal, the world's largest tropical wetland, left water covering just one-quarter the area it did 30 years ago. And the data only went up to 2020 -- before this year's drought that is Brazil's worst in nine decades"
(A P News 26/10/21).
What was not discussed at Cop26 was the relationship between commodity production and exchange for profit and global warming. Capitalism, a global system based upon the private ownership of the means of production and distribution by a minority capitalist class to the exclusion of the rest of society, was not questioned and held to account. Capitalism was not mentioned. It was invisible.
Global warming denialists among politicians, the media and capitalists still are a powerful force. Many politicians, like President Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil, for example, reject any relationship between global warming and cutting down the rain forests. Economic growth cannot even be questioned. Researchers said the destruction of tropical forests in 2020 released 2.64 billion tonnes of CO2 in 2020, equal to the annual emissions of India or 570 million cars, more than double the number on the road in the United States (AL JAZEERA 31/3/21). Follow the science not the politicians.
What can be done? Become socialists. Understand capitalism. Work towards the establishment of socialism. Only the establishment of socialism will get us out of this environmental mess.
Without understanding the capitalist cause of global warming, the actions of vested interests and the driving force of the profit motive and capital accumulation, a solution to the problem of environmental degradation will not be forthcoming. The only solution to global warming is a socialist one: the common ownership and democratic control of the means of production and distribution by all of society. And the socialist solution to global warming was the last thing on the mind of the environmental groups, capitalists and their politicians at Cop26. Had world socialism been established twenty-five years ago we would not now be in this perilous situation.
The Futility of Environmental Reformism
Global warming requires a global response which capitalism, broken up into numerous competing nation states, is incapable of securing. There are too many vested interests championed by their respective governments for a holistic solution to global warming to take place within the profit system. Nation states will not willingly carry out the necessary changes to the way they carry out production and distribution if it means competitors steal a commercial advantage or profits would be lost.
And then there are the interest groups. The fossil fuel industry, for example, funds free market institutes, pays lobbyists and has politicians in its pocket. The fossil fuel big five have spent €251m lobbying the EU since 2010 (GUARDIAN 24/10/19). Some of the world's largest fossil fuel companies have lobbied the UK government to support a gas "compromise" ahead of the COP26 UN (CHANNEL 4 NEWS). The American Petroleum Institute receives millions from oil companies - and works behinds the scenes to stall or weaken legislation (GUARDIAN 19/7/21).
According to the environmental pressure group DeSmog, the Institute of Economic Affairs, a free market institute populated by market fundamentalists, was revealed to have received funding from oil giant BP in 2018. IEA director Mark Littlewood told an undercover reporter that the oil company uses access facilitated by the think tanks to press government ministers on issues ranging from environmental and safety standards to British tax rates. When contacted for comment, the IEA admitted it had received funding from BP every year since 1967
Another country pursuing rapid economic growth is China. China now accounts for more than half of the world's coal-fired generation capacity. During 2020, coal-fired power rose nearly 2 percent in China while it receded nearly everywhere else. Economic growth demands energy and although renewable generation is rising in China it is not enough to keep up with electricity demand. Over the past five years that demand grew by nearly 1,900 Terra Watt per hour (TWh). China's National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) authorized 15 coal mines to restart production across the Shanxi and Xinjiang regions in the north, amounting to about 44 million tons of coal delivery. Other mines are reopening elsewhere (POWER ENGINEERING INTERNATIONAL, 10/10/21).. Cop26 will fail to deliver and the environmental reformers will have wasted their time while the capitalist class will still be making their profits from fossil fuels. Until private ownership of production and distribution is abolished politically and democratically by a socialist majority the devastating consequences of global warming will continue.
Oil Interests and the Capitalist Class
The capitalist class rarely articulate their own interests through the public media. They usually pay journalists and PR consultants to fight their corner. So it was with some surprise that the oil tycoon, Sir Ian Wood, was given space in the BBC NEWS (24/8/2021) to defend his class interests and the profit he, and similar capitalists, make from oil production.
What Sir Ian Wood did not say was that just 100 companies are responsible for 71% of greenhouse gas emissions over the last three decades. The Carbon Majors Report, from the Carbon Disclosure Project, found that just 25 of those companies are the source of more than half of greenhouse gas emissions since 1988 - the year the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change was established. The most polluting investor-owned companies on the list were ExxonMobil, Shell, BP and Chevron, while state-backed Saudi Aramco, China's coal industry and Russiaâ€™s Gazprom have been the top three greenhouse gas emitters overall. (INDEPENDENT 9/1/18)
Sir Ian Wood argued against the claim made by environmentalists that the oil sector should be shut down. He ran the family-owned Wood Group - one of the world's most profitable oil supply companies - until his retirement as chief executive in 2006.
In an interview with BBC Scotland, he said:
"If we do that we will damage the environment. If we don't have our own oil and gas we'll have to import it because we just don't have any other resources. And if we import it we'll have more potent gas and we'll do more damage to the environment - it would be, frankly, absolutely crazy. It would be detrimental, environmentally."
Predictably, he said that shutting down the oil fields would result in a loss of jobs.
"Right now, there's 71,000 jobs in oil and gas in Scotland. And if they went out there quickly then these jobs would go".
Choice for fuel and fuel production is not taken democratically and in the interest of all society. Choice of fuel is about costs, markets, and cheap commodities. The choice fuel is the market not environmental considerations.
Appealing to workers in the oil and gas industry is an often used tactic to gain support from sections of the working class. However, if the oil and gas industry were unprofitable and losing out to alternative energy sources, the likes of Sir Ian Woods would have no hesitation in sacking these workers and investing their capital elsewhere. Employers have no interest in their workers except when it is profitable to do so.
Workers have their own class interest: the establishment of socialism Workers should have no loyalty to their employers or the industry they work in. They have their own interests to pursue which are diametrically opposite to those of Sir Ian Wood and his class. Workers are not tied to the interests of the capitalist class. Workers have an interest in struggling for higher pay and better working conditions, a struggle over the intensity and extent of class exploitation. It is irrelevant who employs them.
Workers are exploited whether in the fossil fuel industry and the renewable energy industry by the likes of Sir Ian Wood or by owners of so called 'green companies' producing wind farms, solar panels and heat pumps.
Workers are forced to sell their ability to work for a wage or salary. The working class produce more social wealth than they receive in their pay packets. They produce, what Marx called, "surplus value". Surplus value is parasitically lived on by Sir Ian Wood and his class in the form of the unearned income of rent, interest and industrial profit. The only interest Sir Ian and his class have in the workers they employ, is how much profit they can extract from them.
Workers are not just unthinking hands. Socialists are members of the working class and we see that the problems facing our class and the world we live in is about having control over our lives free from the dictate of employers like Sir Ian Wood and his class. It is a struggle to abolish employment, labour markets, the wages system and class exploitation.
Socialism is the only social system that can address the global environmental problems created by capitalism. By removing private property ownership and the profit motive, production and distribution can be balanced against environmental considerations and directly meeting human need.
The Materialist Conception of History and Class
Engels: 'The Peasant War In Germany'
"The parallel between the German Revolution of 1525 and that of 1848-49 was too obvious to be altogether ignored at that time"
The defeat of the German revolution of 1848-9 by the conservative aristocracy prompted Engels to write THE PEASANT WAR IN GERMANY. This book was written by Engels in London during the summer of 1850, following the revolutionary uprisings of 1848â€“1849. In the book Engels compares the failures of both uprisings and the lessons to be learnt. In drawing this comparison Engels wrote:
"Three centuries have flown by since then and many a thing has changed; still the peasant war is not as far removed from our present-day struggles as it would seem, and the opponents we have to encounter remain essentially the same".
This short work forms an important part of Engels's contribution to Marxist history writing and the use of the political concept of the class struggle. For as Marx and Engels had written in the COMMUNIST MANIFESTO:
"The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles"
"...every class struggle is a political struggle."
Class, class interest and class struggle were central political factors in the movement of social systems.
"Revolution" wrote Marx in the GERMAN IDEOLOGY is the "motive of history".
Men and women make history. History by itself does nothing.
Drawing upon Marx's materialist conception of history, which had been outlined in the Preface to A CONTRIBUTION TO A CRTIQUE OF POLITICAL ECONOMY (1859), Engels looked at the material and economic forces behind the events in 16th century Germany. The preface to the second edition, Engels wrote:
"This book, while giving the historic course of the struggle only in its outlines, undertakes to explain the origin of the peasant wars, the attitude of the various parties which appear in the war, the political and religious theories through which those parties strove to make clear to themselves their position; and finally, the result of the struggle as determined by the historical-social conditions of life, to show the political constitution of Germany of that time, the revolt against it; and to prove that the political and religious theories were not the causes, but the result of that stage of development of agriculture, industry, land and waterways, commerce and finance, which then existed in Germany. This, the only materialistic conception of history, originates, not from myself but from Marx, and can be found in his works on the French Revolution of 1848â€“9...and his Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte
(THE PEASANT WAR IN GERMANY, George Allen 1927 p12).
Engels drew much of his material from Wilhelm Zimmermann's book THE HISTORY OF THE GREAT PEASANT WAR (1841-1843) which was the "best presentation of the facts." Nevertheless, Engels was at pains to highlight the weakness of Zimmerman's book, that it "lacks coherence" by not showing the political and religious conflict of the time as "a reflection of class struggles". (p.11).
Engels argued that the failure of the revolution of 1848 was due to Germany's economic and political backwardness. In contrast to Britain and France, which were seeing the rise of commerce and industry and the centralisation of political power, Germany had not yet got any further than grouping interests by provinces. Germany was lagging behind the economic development of Britain and France. He remarked: that this fragmentation
"... meant political decentralisation which later gained momentum through the exclusion of Germany from world commerce... bonds of unity were becoming weakened...The imperial power,...,vacillated between the various elements opposing the empire...Under these conditions the situation of the classes emerging from mediaeval times had considerably changed. New classes had been formed beside the old ones." (p36&37)
These new classes were beginning to struggle to impose their own interests.
Although they were not industrial capitalists struggling for political representation and power, nevertheless, they represented a cluster of commercial interests. This faction represented traders, merchants and guild masters who were getting wealthy from the "growth of commerce and the handicrafts". They wanted more control over their ability to keep the profits they made and put an end to taxes and tithes that they were forced to hand over to the aristocracy and church. Their demands "did not overstep purely constitutional limits" but they did reflect a demand for a larger share of power.
At the same time there was a growing "plebeian opposition" which:
"combined the ruined elements of the old feudal and guild societies with the budding proletarian elements of a coming bourgeois society..."(p 44)
Discontent ran through society, particularly among the peasants who struggled under the oppression and exploitation of aristocratic society. The peasants were desperate to have control over the land they worked and put an end to their poverty. Nevertheless, the peasants were hampered by geography and tradition. As Engels wrote:
"Incensed as were the peasants under terrific pressure, it was still difficult to arouse them to revolt. Being spread over large areas, it was highly difficult for them to come to a common understanding; the old habit of submission inherited from generation to generation, the lack of practise in the use of arms in many regions, the unequal degree of exploitation depending on the personality of the master, all combined to keep the peasant quiet" (p. 48).
The peasants may have had their own particular interests but like the peasantry elsewhere in Europe, defeat showed that these interests could never be realised in the face of changing material conditions which would eventually see new classes, new class interests and new class struggles.
Because the dominant ideology in 16th century Germany was religion, the arguments and struggles played out through religious language, but were about much more than interpretations of the Bible or arguments about religious practice. Religious dissent and conflict were the consequence of the revolutionary transformation of Europe from feudalism to capitalism. Religion and religious ideas was a conduit through which the class struggle took place. Engels remarked:
"In the so-called religious wars of the Sixteenth Century very positive material class interests were at play, and those wars were class wars just as were the later collisions in England and France. If the class struggles of that time appear to bear religious earmarks, if the interests, requirements and demands of the various classes hid themselves behind a religious screen, it little changes the actual situation, and is to be explained by conditions of the time" (p.51). 20
As Engels went on to explain:
"It is obvious that under such conditions, all general and overt attacks on feudalism, in the first place attacks on the church, all revolutionary, social and political doctrines, necessarily became theological heresies. In order to be attacked, existing social conditions had to be stripped of their aureole sanctity." (p. 52).
Engels was able to show the interconnection between ideas and class struggle generated by the changing material and economic forces within feudal society. The principal ideas were reflected in the proclamations of two men, Martin Luther and Thomas Muntzer.
Luther and Muntzer
The two key figures in this struggle were Martin Luther and Thomas Muntzer. Engels argued that both of these men were shaped by the political and economic circumstances that they operated within. Luther, he argued, rebelled within a safe set of boundaries. He observed:
"When in 1517 opposition against the dogmas and the organisation of the Catholic Church was first raised by Luther, it still had no definite character. Not exceeding the demands of the earlier middle-class heresy, it did not exclude any trend of opinion which went further. The lightning thrust by Luther caused conflagration. A movement started among the entire German people. In his appeals against the clergy, in his preaching of Christian freedom, peasants and plebeians perceived the signal for insurrection" (p. 58).
Luther initially received widespread support from the population in general resulting in dissent, and rebellion. Luther also identified the Jews as the enemy. However, Luther was very careful in choosing where his support lay, and that was with those with influence and power. As a consequence, according to Engels,
"He dropped the popular elements of the movement, and joined the train of the middle-class, the nobility and the princes. Appeals to a war of extermination against Rome were heard no more." (p. 59).
Engels wrote about Luther becoming more and more the "vassal" of the princes who had the most to gain from the struggle against the status quo. Muntzer on the other hand was the voice of those at the bottom of society. Engels portrayed him as anticipating much later political movements: "his political programme approached communism." he wrote. Certainly, Muntzer did have a Utopian Communist approach to his political programme, along the lines of the ideas of Gerrard Winstanley a century or so later.
In his political programme Muntzer referred to "The Kingdom of God" (p67). By this he meant a society:
"...without class differences, without private property, and without superimposed state powers opposed to the members of society. All existing authorities, as far as they did not submit and join the revolution, he taught, must be overthrown, all work and all property must be shared in common, and complete equality must be introduced." (p 67).
Muntzer set out to create this vision of a new society. He preached, wrote tracts and travelled to the areas of greatest unrest organising and mobilising the poor against their lords and masters.
Unfortunately, though they had some initial victories, the peasant armies could not win out against the superior organisation and military equipment of the ruling class. Tens of thousands were killed or lost their lands for their rebellion. Muntzer himself was tortured and executed for his leading role in the rebellion.
Engels wrote his series of articles against the background of the defeat of the 1848 revolution in Germany. He tried to explain why the bourgeoisie was unwilling to carry through its revolution. Engels concluded that it was the same reason why the dissenting princes of Germany would not support peasants risings in 1525 - they were not willing to lose their own wealth and privilege and preferred instead to join the suppression of the rebels.
The Reformation can be taken, on the surface, for a dense forest of shifting alliances and religious currents. In the PEASANT WARS, Engels cuts through all of the complexity of religious doctrine and highlights the real economic and political changes which were taking place within society.
Engels also puts the religious wars in the context of wider economic and political events. There are also parallels between this and other peasant risings which took place at the time, such as the peasants' revolt of Gyorgy Dozsa in Hungary and the Armur Zawarte Hop revolt of 1515-1523 in Friesland. And looking at the "Twelve Articles" produced by the German peasantry there are close similarities with demands associated with contemporary risings in places like England - in particular the demands made at Mousehold Heath in Norfolk during Kett's Rebellion of 1549.
Engels's conclusion centred on the long-term effects in Germany of the Peasant Wars. The peasantry were crushed, The Catholic Church lost lands, clerics were killed, and monasteries were burnt to the ground. The princes had seen their castles breached raising issues of security of their property, while the burgher opposition was also defeated.
In this ravaged landscape, only the princes came out as the "winners", but that meant territorial fragmentation and not the concentration and centralisation of economic and political power found in France and Britain.
What of the peasantry of Europe? They had no historical future. In 1848, Marx and Engels published the COMMUNIST MANIFESTO at a time where the European peasantry were still in a majority and there was no integrated world market. In Germany, for instance, the working class in 1848 comprised a fraction of the population. However, Marx and Engels dismissed the peasantry as a positive historical force for revolutionary change. Instead, they wrote:
"Society as a whole is more and more splitting up into two great hostile camps, into two great classes who directly face each other: Bourgeoisie and Proletariat".
The class struggle was now between a capitalist class minority and a working class majority. The revolutionary force in capitalism was the working class. It was the working class who were to establish socialism through conscious and democratic political action. That remains the case today.
THE PEASANT WARS IN GERMANY is a useful example of someone using "the guiding thread" of Marx's theory of history to show how the political concept of class struggle can be applied to historical events. We are now living through a reactionary period where the primacy of the class struggle in history is being replaced by conservative narratives of kings and queens and 'important statesman' or the imposition of left-wing identity politics and 'cultural history' which splinters the working class around power structures of gender, sexuality and race.
THE PEASANT WAR IN GERMANY should be read in conjunction with Marx's THE EIGHTEENTH BRUMAIRE OF LOUIS BONAPARTE and THE CIVIL WAR IN FRANCE. This is how history should be written. Few other authors have come close to Engels in their accounts of the period and this book should be required reading for those who want to change society in a revolutionary way.
Frederick Engels book, THE PEASANT WAR IN GERMANY (1850) can be accessed at: https://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1850/peasant-war-germany/XZXZXWA
The New Cold War: Fortress Europe and Immigration
Gulags and Concentration Camps.
Britain had its concentration camps during the Boer War, so did Hitler's Germany as soon as he assumed power in 1933. The US has its detention camp for 39 political prisoners at Guantanamo Bay. And it should not be forgotten that Stalin had his political opponents incarcerated in gulags and so does Vladimir Putin. As of June 2020, there were 380 known political prisoners in Russia (Memorial Human Rights Centre).
Gulags were a system of forced labour. Many prisoners - particularly those imprisoned during the great Purge - died of starvation, disease, exhaustion or execution. The gulag system was begun by Lenin in 1919 and by 1921 there were 84 camps holding political prisoners. It is estimated that around 50 million perished in Soviet gulags between 1930 and 1950.
In 1956, after Stain's death and following Nikita Khrushchev's secret speech to the 20th Party Congress, thousands of prisoners were freed from Stalin's labour camps.
Around 1980, or soon after, a voluntary groups began to set up to research and make publicly available the hidden history of the horrors of the gulag system. It was called 'Pamyat' - the Russian word for memory.
Before Putin showed this was not his idea of a good cause, Pamyat used to run annual festivals with young people encouraged to hear the memories of the old and to view the old prison camps.
Pamyat also used to search the areas of old WW2 battles for the bones of dead soldiers - Russian and German - which were then buried decently. Something neither Stalin nor Putin cared about.
But Putin's decision to ban Pamyat is a clear signal: Stalin was and is a national hero, a figure of state importance and if in doubt we only have to consider the consequence! Russian historians are forced to toe the line. A Kremlin history is taught in schools. It would be a brave academic who tried to tell the truth about Stalin if it went against the Kremlin's nationalist narrative.
Stalinism lives on. Not only are there political idiots in the US and Europe known as "Tankies" (named after the use of tanks in the Soviet invasion of Hungary in 1956 and Czechoslovakia in 1968) who support Stalin and his genocidal actions but the "cult of personality" lives on in Russia.
Consider the main opposition party to Putin. The Russian Communist Party is led by Gennady Zyuganov, a supporter of Stalin who pretends the millions of deaths in the gulags during the 1930s did not occur. The Stalin memorial in Moscow's Red Square is a shrine visited by many Russians. There he is revered like a latter-day saint. You can buy Stalin wall calendars, fridge magnets and other memorabilia (BBC NEWS 18/4/19). Museums are opened up in his name and he is seen favourably in Russian state history as a "war hero".
There are also one or two Stalinist government leaders left in the world. Step forward, the Belarus president and practicing Stalinist, Alexander Lukashenko. He is now using immigrants as pawns to force the EU to lift sanctions against him. Following rigged presidential election there have been orchestrated attacks on dissidents and subsequent arrests, imprisonments and beatings of protesters. And in this use of immigrants to further his political end, he is supported by President Putin, another fan of "Uncle Joe".
A state-sanctioned human trafficking programme brought desperate refugees from war zones or areas of grinding poverty to the Belarusian capital of Minsk. Then state functionaries bussed them out to the border of "Fortress Europe". In this case the borders of Lithuania, Latvia and Poland. "Apply sanctions to my regime", he tells the EU "...and I will puncture the walls of fortress Europe."
Let the EU, the UK, Russia and Belarusian government squabble. It is their problem not ours. The problems of the capitalist class and its politicians are not our problems. It is not immigration that is the problem but the deliberate underproduction that is the barrier capitalism creates preventing human need being directly met. Immigration is a consequence of capitalism's war and poverty.
Capitalism is an unnecessary system of rationing of what we need through the market mechanism which only recognises a paying customer. Capitalism generates war and conflict over natural resources and, it creates deliberate scarcity resulting in poverty and want. Potentially, there is more enough to go round. What stands in the way is the competition between nation states, artificial borders and the profit motive. Socialism will abolish all three leading to the global socialist principle: "from each according to their ability to each according to their needs."
Concentration Camps, Immigration and "Fortress Europe"
Immigration is never out of the news. Throughout the world immigrants, those who are refugees from persecution, poverty and war - find themselves in displacement camps, forced to move from country to country, face the dangers of sea crossings and the cruel state violence of barbed wire, border guards, attack dogs, tear gas and water cannon.
Immigration is highly political. One of the main political rows is the border between "fortress Europe" and the Belarus government. The EU has constructed a fortress of walls, barbed wire and exclusion zones around its borders. The EU has become a no-go zone for millions of the working class fleeing war zones, torture, poverty and homelessness.
The authoritarian Polish government is refusing to allow the migrants into its country and is being backed by the EU, and the governments of Britain and the US. The Polish government's racism is primarily directed at Middle Eastern migrants where they are depicted as a threat to "national security and Poland's Christian culture". Poland's politicians routinely describe Muslims as "an existential threat". The administration pumps out a daily diet of racist propaganda: "which brands refugees from the Middle East as parasites":
(Ian Dunt, 'Ukraine is Europe's next big test', INDEPENDENT16/11/21).
In November 2021 Polish forces used tear gas and water cannon against migrants trying to cross into the country from Belarus. Poland declared a state of emergency along its border with Belarus where media, aid agencies and NGOs are banned from the area. The migrants, including children, had been living in makeshift camps in freezing conditions just inside Belarus. In recent days, thousands have converged on a crossing at Kuznica, South of Grodno in north-west Belarus.
Another puncture point is Lithuania. At the border with Lithuania distressing film was shown of an attack dog mauling at an immigrant. The Lithuanian government had already decided to erect a 300 mile steel wall topped with razor wire on the Belarus border to prevent migrants crossing. (BBC 10/10/21).
Look at the way these few thousand migrants are being treated at the border with Belarus and Lithuania. They are not alone. It is the reality of the EU's policy 'fortress Europe' turning the living conditions of the abject poor of the world into a gigantic concentration camp. "Fortress Europe" is a system of border patrols and detention centres to prevent immigration into Europe.
The use of anti-immigration security forces is also happening on the borders of Croatia, Greece, and elsewhere. The EU pays Turkey to keep refugees out. Libya has EU funds for coastguards to prevent refugees trying to get to Europe. Niger is given aid to detain refugees. The immigrants are contained in barbaric conditions where some find themselves traded as slaves, tortured and murdered.
The violent images of the state terrorism of immigrants had been anticipated in Alfonso Cuaron's 2006 film CHILDREN OF MEN: a case of life imitating art. In the film, all of Britain's troubles have been blamed on asylum seekers, who are locked in cages, and then bussed to barbaric shanty towns. "Poor refugees," says Theo's hippy friend Jasper (Michael Caine). "After escaping the worst atrocities, and making it all the way to England, our government hunts them down like cockroaches."
In the UK we have the Home Secretary Priti Patel wanting to stop and return the rubber dinghies on which so many risk their lives in trying to reach the English coast. The Government's Nationality and Borders Bill, now passing through Parliament, is the biggest assault on refugees, seeking asylum in the UK, ever. She wants small boats pushed back into French waters even if it means refugees drown. And Channel arrivals could be flown out of the UK to countries like Albania within seven days, a cruel policy adopted from Australia where immigrants are sent to processing centres in the Pacific island of Naura.
Priti Patel's latest desperate wheeze to outsource the UK's immigration policy mirrors the "out of sight out of mind" detention centres such as the controversial Yarl's Wood facility, one of ten in the UK holding people about to be deported, situated in Bedfordshire. One caseworker who has worked in this immigration detention centre said:
"The vast majority of detainees have experienced or are at risk of rape and torture. Many have been trafficked to the UK and coerced into criminality. Why would you put a group of highly traumatised people together in a facility that is not appropriate for them to be in?"
('Detention breaks families and causes trauma', INEDEPENDENT 18/11/21)
Why, indeed? As graffiti sprayed on the perimeter wall of Yarl's Wood rightly states: "No Borders".
The UK is not alone in wanting to set up offshore processing hubs. Denmark is in talks with Rwanda to host a processing centre (TIMES 18/11/21).
All because the Tories fear the popular racism of UKIP and what they see as a sizable anti-immigration electorate, they have to pander to a sustained and successful drip-drip poisonous propaganda campaign from the tabloid media.
The observation of the capitalist media in THE COMMONWEAL, edited by William Morris, that: "To make something out of nothing, and much more out of less, Is the function and prerogative of the writers for the press (July 16 1892) has not changed. In the 1890s the media were blaming the Jews fleeing persecution in Russia for "poverty, and taking jobs" and being "physically and morally enfeebled"
(EMIGRATION, IMMIGRATION AND MIGRATION IN NINETEENTH-CENTURY BRITAIN. A Lloyd CUP 2007)
In fact, the media's politics of hate has got worse. Fear, anger and deliberate disinformation make up the daily diet of articles penned by the likes of Richard Littlejohn. Littlejohn's anti-refugee novel, TO HELL IN A HANDCART (2001) was, described by The INDEPENDENT's David Aaronovitch as "a 400-page recruiting pamphlet for the British Nationalist Party" (13/6/01)
No one asks why there are tens of thousands of immigrants living in cold and disease ridden circumstances on the borders of 'Fortress Europe'. The answer is simple: wars and instability caused by Russia, US and its allies - the on-going civil war in Syria with millions dead, the war in Yemen which has killed 100,000 people and displaced 4 million others, the consequences of the war in Iraq and the floods and drought conditions caused by global warming which has affected crops and living conditions.
Never in human history has there been so much movement of people trying to escape endemic poverty and war. Currently, international migrants represent about 3.6% of the world's population.
(International Migration 2020 un.org)
All this movement of the poor and the desperate is totally unnecessary. Abolish the capitalist cause of war, poverty and homelessness so that production and distribution can be moved across the world without frontiers, border guards and razor wire, hunger, disease and poverty. Society has the potential to feed, clothe and house all humankind adequautely and well. It is only the profit system that is standing in the way.
For the working class it is a strategy of divide and rule. Workers are told by politicians and the media that immigrants are the enemy; that migrants just want an easy life on social security, that they are a threat to "Our British values and way of life". The working class and capitalist class have no common interests. Class unity is the antidote to class division.
Capitalist politicians are adept at dividing the working class against itself but workers should see immigrants and refugees as members of our class. Workers should also take a historical perspective of becoming a class; a memory of class struggle and how they have been used by the capitalist class and their politicians against their own interests. Workers have been persuaded to blame other workers, usually workers elsewhere in the world. We should be a united world working class taking democratic political action to replace capitalism with socialism.
Currently our class is fragmented within artificial borders; thousands of our class are surrounded by razor wire, guards and attack dogs, eking out an existence within refugee camps. And on top of this, we are an exploited class abused through the wages system; all this to provide the capitalists with their unearned income in the form of rent, interest and profit which enables them to live the life of privilege and luxury they think they deserve.
We produce all the social wealth but do not have our needs met. We are fragmented by artificial borders unable to solve pressing social problems of poverty and disease. It does not have to be like this. There is an alternative - there is world socialism where production takes place to directly meet human need, no one would be forced to leave where they live. The abolition of nation states and borders would make immigration meaningless. If there were natural disasters those affected would not have to wait for charity because resources elsewhere would be immediately and directly sent.
Socialism is a practical solution for the problems caused by capitalism. As the banner of the 1892 COMMONWEAL stated "Have you not heard how it has gone with many a Cause before now: First, few men heed it, Next, most men condemn it: Lastly, all men ACCEPT It - and the Cause is Won". The socialist cause can be won with the political and democratic determination of a socialist majority. Acting in unity instead of division we can establish a wageless, classless, borderless, harmonious world system necessary to abolish poverty and national boundaries by establishing the common ownership and democratic control of the means of production and distribution by all of society.
Charity Is Not The Solution To Poverty
There was a time when food banks in one of the richest countries in the world would have been unthinkable. The poor - the working poor - have been forced to queue at church halls and other outlets for a box filled with food. Workers give their free time and food to make these places work so that children can be fed.
Food banks have become a growth industry. There are now 1300 food banks in the Trussell Trust's network, compared with fewer than 100 in 2010, as well as hundreds of independent food banks.
In an article in the GUARDIAN, Frances Ryan writes:
"As squeezed social security, low wages and high rents have left 2.4 million people living in destitution everything from clothes banks to hygiene product drop-off points have cropped up nationwide. When your zero-hours contract doesnâ€™t pay out, you get your shampoo from a donation bin instead of Boots. If you have cancer and have been rejected for disability benefits, fruit and veg comes not from Tesco but your local food bank. Nowadays, Britain has an entire ecosystem of charity to meet our basic needs: donated dignity filling in where the state once stood" (30/7/21).
Ryan's answer, predicable for a Guardian journalist, is "sweeping reforms".
Most if not all capitalist political parties follow and enact reform programmes. The Tories are doing it at the moment with their "Levelling-Up Policy". Most if not all reforms are enacted to make capitalism more efficient and the working class more productive. They are not enacted to improve the pay and working conditions of the working class. Reforms can be taken away as quickly as they are enacted and they also suffer from unintentional consequences like equality legislation forcing women to work for another five years before they receive their parsimonious state pension.
Politicians believe the profit system can be reformed. Traditionally the Labour Party believed it could reform capitalism in the interest of the working class as a whole; it believed it could end poverty.
Aneurin Bevan once boasted that "when the next election occurs there will be no housing problem in Great Britain for the British working class" (HANSARD, 14 July, 1948). He also bragged that under Labour, "destitution has been abolished ('Labour and the New Society', 1950, p.5). Merely to recall these claims is to expose the futility of reformism and the abject and historical failure of the Labour Party. And Frances Ryan wants more of this failure.
When in government Labour has had to make cuts to social services and health care. Past Labour governments were forced to introduce and later to increase NHS prescription charges, abolish free milk in schools in 1968, and reduce planned spending on housing and school buildings. It had to rein in public spending in the face of a periodic war or trade depression.
Why does Ryan think Labour under the leadership of Kier Starmer would be any different to the failures of past Labour leaders. A future Labour government might even like the idea of retaining and supporting food banks because it keeps the cost of social security down. The Tories are not "evil" for imposing austerity. All capitalist governments, including Labour, defend capitalism and the interest of the capitalist class. The Labour Party just does not admit that this is precisely what they do, too.
So much effort spent on reforms could have been spent on establishing socialism. In Socialism, the factors associated with food banks would be useful but not in the perverted way they are under capitalism. First, socialism would have to its advantage free and voluntary labour.
In socialism there will be no employment, labour market, buying and selling of labour power or the exploitive wages system. Second there would be free and direct access to what people needed to live decent and active lives. Production would be directly for meeting social need. There would be no commodity production and exchange for profit. In short, production and distribution under socialism will be informed by the socialist maxim "from each according to their ability, to each according to their need".
Free and Voluntary Labour
We might be wage slaves and exploited at the point of production. However, there is free and voluntary labour under capitalism. The work of socialists giving up their time and energy even in the struggle for a better world is a laudable example.
There are, of course, organisations like the Royal National Lifeboat Institute (RNLI) who give up their time for others. They undertake voluntary co-operation in dangerous conditions giving a lie to the bogus claim that we are all irredeemably lazy, greedy and selfish and not cut out for socialism.
Recently, the RNLI came to prominence in the media for its lifeboat volunteers rescuing migrants at risk from drowning in the English Channel. Nigel Farage, appearing on GB News, claimed the RNLI were being used as a taxi service for "illegal trafficking gangs". He is being paid a handsome salary to air his spite and bile against the vulnerable and insecure and the brave volunteers.
Some ignorant workers on the beaches where the RNLI volunteers had landed with migrants they had saved at sea, booed and swore at the RNLI crews. Years of anti-immigrant propaganda in the capitalist media had reduced these workers to throwing insults at members of their own class rather than direct it at the media barons who want the workers split and at each other's throats. Divide and rule it is called.
Since GB News is only a platform for the rabid right, the RNLI were not allowed to reply. In an interview with the Guardian, Mark Dowie of the RNLI said it was their "moral and legal duty to rescue migrants in danger of the sea" and that "he was proud of its humanitarian work" (GUARDIAN 29/7/21).
It is gratifying to note that there was a spike in donations to the RNLI in response to Farage's reactionary comment, showing that despite capitalism's corrosive influence, many remain altruistic and compassionate. https://inews.co.uk/news/rnli-donations-the-flying-farage-new-hovercraft-fundraiser-migrants-comments-1133685
Many of the migrants trying to get to Britain are fleeing civil wars, poverty and drought caused by global warming. War, poverty and global warming are all caused by capitalism. They are caused by an obsession for profit. In a world socialist society there would be no artificial boundaries, countries and border guards. Human beings, many of whom are children, would not be kept in filthy and decrepit holding centres with guards, barbed wire and conditions of abuse and violence.
In a world with no trade routes, competing capitalist interests, private ownership of resources like oil and gas, and spheres of strategic influence, there will be no war or conflict.
In a social system which balances human need with environmental bio-systems there will not be despoliation and degradation of the Earth for profit.
In socialism there will still be a need for men and women to freely give their time to save people out at sea. In socialism, all labour would be voluntary and freely given.
Socialism is the Solution to Poverty
The failure of Labour governments the world over to make any appreciable difference to the condition of the working class bears eloquent testimony to the soundness of our claim that, so long as capitalism is accepted by workers, it can only be run in the interest of the capitalist class not those of the workers. As a consequence, poverty will remain and so will the scapegoats. Only capitalism wins.
And look at the social democratic parties of the world. They are shrinking in numbers and support. An ugly popularism, expressed in the politics of Nigel Farage and Boris Johnson has taken centre stage. A nationalist poison seeps out from the capitalist media.
Socialism is the solution to poverty: the common ownership and democratic control of the means of production and distribution by all of society. We can create a better world than the one we endure at present. We can create working class unity sufficient for a socialist majority to democratically and politically replace capitalism with socialism.
Capitalist politicians cannot enact reforms to make capitalism run in the interest of all society. They do not exist for that purpose. Charities, like food banks, also cannot end poverty. They act as bandages to the cuts and bruises of the profit system and that is all. The root cause of working-class poverty, worldwide, is the fact that we do not own or have access to the means of production, so we are forced to sell our labour power in exchange for the means to live (a wage or salary) which will be as meagre as employers can make them. The real cause of poverty is capitalism system and until it is abolished, poverty will still persist no matter which capitalist supporting political party is in government.
Object and Declaration of Principles
The establishment of a system of society based upon the common ownership and democratic control of the means and instruments for producing and distributing wealth by and in the interest of the whole community.
Declaration of Principles
THE SOCIALIST PARTY OF GREAT BRITAIN HOLDS:
1. That society as at present constituted is based upon the ownership of the means of living (ie land, factories, railways, etc.) by the capitalist or master class, and the consequent enslavement of the working class, by whose labour alone wealth is produced.
2. That in society, therefore, there is an antagonism of interests, manifesting itself as a class struggle, between those who possess but do not produce and those who produce but do not possess.
3.That this antagonism can be abolished only by the emancipation of the working class from the domination of the master class, by the conversion into common property of society of the means of production and distribution, and their democratic control by the whole people.
4. That as in the order of social evolution the working class is the last class to achieve its freedom, the emancipation of the working class will involve the emancipation of all mankind without distinction of race or sex.
5. That this emancipation must be the work of the working class itself.
6. That as the machinery of government, including the armed forces of the nation, exists only to conserve the monopoly by the capitalist class of the wealth taken from the workers, the working class must organise consciously and politically for the conquest of the powers of government, national and local, in order that this machinery, including these forces, may be converted from an instrument of oppression into the agent of emancipation and the overthrow of privilege, aristocratic and plutocratic.
7. That as all political parties are but the expression of class interests, and as the interest of the working class is diametrically opposed to the interests of all sections of the master class, the party seeking working class emancipation must be hostile to every other party.
8. The Socialist Party of Great Britain, therefore, enters the field of political action determined to wage war against all other political parties, whether alleged labour or avowedly capitalist, and calls upon the members of the working class of this country to muster under its banner to the end that a speedy termination may be wrought to the system which deprives them of the fruits of their labour, and that poverty may give place to comfort, privilege to equality, and slavery to freedom.