Saturday, September 29, 2007

The idiocy of religion

Reposted from Socialist Banner

The head of the Catholic Church in Mozambique has told the BBC he believes some European-made condoms are infected with the HIV virus deliberately.

Maputo Archbishop Francisco Chimoio claimed some anti-retroviral drugs were also infected "in order to finish quickly the African people".

"Condoms are not sure because I know that there are two countries in Europe, they are making condoms with the virus on purpose," he alleged, refusing to name the countries. "They want to finish with the African people. This is the programme. They want to colonise until up to now. If we are not careful we will finish in one century's time."

"We've been using condoms for years now, and we still find them safe," prominent Mozambican Aids activist Marcella Mahanjane told the BBC.
The UN says anti-retrovirals (ARVs) have proved very effective for treating people with Aids. The drugs are not a cure, but attack the virus on several fronts at once.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

The Scramble for the Arctic

On August 3, the oceanographer and polar explorer Artur Chilingarov descended 14,000 feet in a mini-submarine and dropped a titanium capsule containing a Russian flag on the seabed at the North Pole. "The Arctic is Russian," he declared.

In fact, the Russian government is laying claim not to the whole Arctic, but "only" to the Lomonosov Ridge, a wedge about half the size of Western Europe that it considers an extension of Siberia's continental shelf. According to the UN Convention on the Laws of the Sea, the five states with coastlines on the Arctic Ocean Russia, Norway, Denmark (through ownership of Greenland), Canada and the United States (Alaska) are entitled to 200 miles of territorial waters, but can claim more distant chunks of Arctic seabed by demonstrating links to their continental shelves.

This, of course, is a game that not only Russia can play. All the other Arctic states have advanced counterclaims or are preparing to do so, all on the basis of the same vague legal provision.

Why now?

Why is this carve-up happening now? Apart from people concerned with the deployment of nuclear submarine forces, the native Inuit (Eskimos), and a few scientists and explorers, no one used to care much about the Arctic. Vast quantities of oil, gas and other minerals might lie under the frozen wastes (up to 10 billion barrels of oil under the Lomonosov Ridge, for instance), but extracting them was not a practical proposition. So it did not matter if borders and exploitation rights were not very clearly defined.

Now, however, it is starting to matter. In part this is due to advances in extraction technology, but the main reason is the rapid melting of the icecap under the impact of global warming. The extraction of all those underwater resources is no longer a pipedream, and the big oil and gas companies and the governments that back them are jockeying for position in the new arena.

Survival versus profit

From the perspective of survival of the planetary ecosystem, the rush to grab Arctic oil and gas is grotesque in the extreme. After all, it is largely the burning of oil and gas that is melting the ice, thereby opening up the prospect of extracting and burning yet more oil and gas and further accelerating global warming.

The capitalists, however, have a quite different perspective. For them the overriding imperative is to be sure of making every last cent, penny and kopeck of profit from selling hydrocarbons before finally proceeding to exploit the next source of profit solar energy and other "alternative" energy sources. By then, unfortunately, it may well be too late to prevent runaway global warming from turning Earth into a second Venus. But that is something the capitalists do not want to know.

The melting of the ice will also have a huge impact on shipping. Over the next few years, expanding areas of the Arctic and within a few decades all of it will be navigable to commercial shipping throughout the year. The Northeast Passage through the Russian Arctic and the Bering Strait is expected to be open within eight years, greatly reducing the distance and cost of sea transport between Europe and the Far East. The Northwest Passage through the Canadian Arctic will provide another link between the Atlantic and the Pacific, competing with the Panama Canal. New deepwater ports are planned to support trans-Arctic trade. Finally, a continuing rapid growth in Arctic tourism is anticipated.

Not a new Cold War

The alarm with which the media have reacted to the Russian claim on the Lomonosov Ridge is reminiscent of the Cold War, especially in the context of other recent tensions between Russia and "the West." Nevertheless, it is misleading to talk about a new Cold War or, indeed, about "the West." We no longer live in a world of bipolar confrontation between "East" and "West." We now live in a multipolar world of fluid alliances among a fairly large number of powers, some of them rising (e.g., China) and others in decline (e.g., the US). In certain ways the early 21st century resembles the first half of the 20th century much more closely than it does the second.

Nothing illustrates the new-old pattern of multipolarity more clearly than territorial disputes in the Arctic. Several important disputes do not involve Russia at all. They are between the other Arctic states, all of which are still formally allies, fellow members of NATO.

The potentially most serious disputes are, perhaps, those between Canada and the United States. One concerns the offshore Canada/Alaska boundary, which traverses an area thought to be rich in oil and gas. The other dispute is over the straits that separate Canada's Arctic islands from one another and from the mainland. Last year the Canadian government declared that it regarded these straits, which together make up the Northwest Passage, as Canadian Internal Waters. The US government has made clear that it still regards the straits as international waters by sending its navy to patrol them.

Lord Palmerston is famous for his remark that "Britain has no permanent allies, only permanent interests." Evidently the same is true of any capitalist state.

Canada flexes its muscles

The behaviour of the Arctic states also debunks the widely held idea that some states are inherently peace-loving and others inherently militaristic. Many people think of Canada as being in the first category. They might be perturbed to come across the following Guardian headline: "Canada flexes its muscles in scramble for the Arctic" (

As Canadian prime minister Stephen Harper observed in this connection, "the world is changing." It is changing in ways that on the surface seem quite dramatic. But there is a deeper level at which, as the French saying has it, "the more things change, the more they remain the same." The 21st-century scramble for the Arctic is a phenomenon of the same general kind as the 19th-century scramble for Africa. Both are cases of commercial and military rivalry between the capitalist classes of different countries to open up for plunder and exploitation a region that was previously closed to them.

True, these scrambles now entail dangers that were unknown in the past. The 19th century knew nothing of either nuclear weapons or global warming. It is high time to move on.


Making the Brand

Rapper and mogul Sean "Diddy" Combs almost missed the taping of the season finale of the fourth season of his show Making the Band. Apparently, according to the tabloid In Touch Weekly (1 Oct), he "arrived four hours late to Teterboro Airport in New Jersey on August 26, where MTV had a helicopter to take him to the TRL studio. After seeing that the chopper didn't have captain's chairs, Diddy, 37, refused to fly the short distance into NYC."
Supposedly this is the third time he has demanded the right helicopter from MTV. According to an insider, "MTV puts up with Diddy's ridiculous behavior because his show gets very high ratings."

On the other hand

According to an editorial on NPR:

Since Katrina devastated the city of New Orleans, mental health resources have been in short supply. Before the storm, there were 240 hospital psychiatric beds in Orleans Parish, but now there are only 30, and with so few hospital beds for the mentally ill, people in the city have been forced to take extreme measures.

There are accounts of emergency rooms turning away mentally ill patients despite the fact that doing so is against the law. Family members of the mentally ill plot ways to get their loved ones put in jail, because the parish prison has 60 adult psychiatric beds where patients can get consistent care.'

Of course, why bother giving those in need the help they require when there are profits to be made through television advertisements, and why not overlook such gaudy behavior becuase of that? This is a capitalist world isn't it?


Saturday, September 22, 2007

The “logic” of Capitalism!

From the Lehigh University newspaper: In early August, representatives from Sands BethWorks appeared before the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board to announce that the opening of the casino will be delayed from mid-2008 until early 2009.

The delay is caused by a lack of steel available to construct the casino complex.

The elaborate complex needs 16,000 tons of steel for construction.

According to The Morning Call, the opening of the $600 million complex will be pushed into 2009 because demolition crews are having a difficult time plowing down the buildings that once made up the Bethlehem Steel Mill.

Meanwhile in Iraq…

The Kurds get an "American" style casino! Never mind running water, medicine and electricity, there's money to be made!

-FN Brill


African poverty

From the latest International Labour Organization report :-

Percentage of population who earn less than $2 a day

Uganda (2002) 95.7
Nigeria (2003) 92.3
Tanzania (2000) 90.2
Rwanda (2000) 87.8
Madagascar (2001) 85.1
Zambia (2004) 84.9
Nicaragua (2001) 81.6
Swaziland (2000) 77.7
Ethiopia (2000) 76.6


Friday, September 21, 2007

Life of an Anarchist

(book review from this months Socialist Standard)

The Anarchist Geographer: An Introduction to the Life of Peter Kropotkin.
Brian Morris. Genge Press, 2007. £8.

This is a short (100 page), readable biography of the anarchist writer Peter Kropotkin. Born a prince in 1842, he became an anti-Tsarist revolutionary for which he was arrested and imprisoned in 1874. Two years later he managed to escape and left Russia, not to return again till the overthrow of the Tsar in March 1917. He died there in 1922.

Before he became a revolutionary he had been involved in original geographical research in Siberia and had been elected a member of the Russian Geological Society. In exile he earned a living as a scientific journalist and writer. Hence the title of Morris's book. One series of his scientific writings was later published as Mutual Aid: A Factor in Evolution, which became a socialist classic, opposing the Social Darwinists who saw the struggle for existence as the only factor.

In the 1870s when Kropotkin first became active in revolutionary and working class politics in the West in Switzerland almost all those involved, including those who were later to describe themselves as "anarchists", called themselves "socialists". So did Kropotkin, though he preferred to call himself a "communist" to distinguish himself from those who wanted "from each according to ability, to each according to work done" from those like him who wanted "to each according to needs".

Kropotkin has been accused of (or credited with, if you prefer) creating a distinct (anti-) political philosophy called "anarchism" which embraced anybody who was against "the State", even if they weren't socialists/communists. In fact, this includes vociferous anti-socialists like the followers of Stirner, Thoreau or Tucker (individualist anarchists) or Proudhon (market anarchists).

Quite why Kropotkin felt and why some modern anarchists still feel some sort of affinity with these open anti-socialists is difficult to understand. But then anarchists do make the mistake of seeing the state, rather than capitalism, as the cause of workers' problems, whereas the state is a consequence of economically-divided class societies.

Kropotkin wasn't consistently anti-state anyway. When WW1 broke out he immediately supported France (and Britain) against Germany, on the grounds that the German state was the greater evil.


Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Who controls the world: the Illuminati or the Market?

From the September 2007 issue of the Socialist Standard

Why do some people think the world is run by a shadowy group called the Illuminati? Who were they?

Capitalism is a system where the means of production are owned by a minority class and are used to turn out goods for sale with a view to profit. As a result market forces come into operation. These ultimately determine what is produced, how it is produced and where it is produced. As they used to say of God: Man proposes, God disposes. Under capitalism, Man proposes, the Market disposes.

Faced with this situation, the socialist draws the conclusion that capitalism can only work in the way it does work, that is, as a system which puts profits before the needs of the working class, and that the most constructive thing to do is therefore to work to end it and replace it with a system of common ownership, democratic control and production for use.

But what about the non-socialist? At one time, many workers in Europe used to believe that it was possible to reform capitalism and make it work in the interest of the majority. That was the time of mass Labour and, in other countries, Communist parties. But as these failed to deliver - as socialists had always predicted they would - workers began to give up any hope of changing things collectively and on a national scale. Or, put another way, they gave up any belief in the efficacy of political action to tame market forces. This hasn't just affected the workers who merely voted for mass Labour and Communist parties but also those who were activists in them.

This is the sort of atmosphere - a feeling of helplessness in the face of uncontrollable forces – in which conspiracy theories can flourish. Not just conspiracy theories, but other attempts to give meaning to a situation where people feel they have no control over what happens to them such as religion, gambling and astrology.

These amount to attempts to make some sort of sense of a situation where people know they have no control over what happens to them and want to understand what's happening to them and why. The socialist understands that we are in the grip of uncontrollable impersonal economic forces, the Market, and knows that this grip can be broken only by establishing socialism and production for use not sale. Some non-socialists seek an explanation in the mysterious hand of God, the Stars, Fate or Luck. Other non-socialists can't accept the socialist view that our lives are controlled by the impersonal forces of the Market. They find it easier to think that these forces are personal; in other words, they personalise the Market and you have some shadowy group – financiers, Jews, the Illuminati – controlling the world and manipulating events.

This view and the socialist view are rival explanations of the same experienced happenings - economic slumps, financial crises, political revolutions, wars. In one sense perhaps the conspiracy theory is the easier to grasp: that some group of people are deliberately causing these events rather than their being the result of impersonal forces acting as if they were forces of nature. It is what in religion is called "anthropomorphism" – the attribution of human form to a natural force or thing – as, for instance, in the Ancient Greek, Roman and Norse gods, which everywhere preceded the more abstract concept of a single god. In other words, conspiracy theories are a more primitive explanation of current events than the socialist theory of impersonal economic and historical forces. Or, as the pre-WWl German Social Democratic leader, August Bebel, put it less generously, anti-semitism is the "socialism of the fool". It would have been better if he had said it was "the anti-capitalism of the fool" but his meaning is clear: anti-semitism attributes the problems of the worker - or farmer or small businessman - not to the capitalist system but to the machinations of a particular group of people, in this case the Jews.

On further reflection, however, attributing economic and historical events to a conspiracy doesn't seem so simple or so reasonable. The conspiracy theory needs to explain how the conspiratorial group bring about these events and how they can keep their existence secret. To control the whole world - plot economic crises, wars and revolutions, let alone spreading AIDS and causing global warming - would require hundreds of thousands of operatives and some of these must be expected to spill the beans at some point. The fact that none ever have - and that therefore there is no verifiable or even unverifiable evidence that the conspiracy exists - is a powerful refutation of it.

The Illuminati
Most people have heard the theory that it is the Jews who control the world and manipulate events. Since the consequences of Nazism, to embrace this view is now bad form, though a glimpse at the internet will show it still exists. Nowadays, it is the 'Illuminati' who are often said to control things.

The Illuminati were a group that really did exist mainly in the German-speaking world for a short period in the late 18th century, but there is no evidence whatsoever that they continued to exist after that or that they still exist today. But who were they and why did some people distrust them so much?

One of the features of the 18th century was what in English is called the "Enlightenment". It is mainly associated with French thinkers such as Voltaire, Diderot and Rousseau who used "reason" to try to dispel the superstitions of the Dark Ages as propagated in particular by the Catholic Church. The word "Illuminati" is the Latin word for the "Enlightened" and those who formed the secret society (masonic-type lodge) of this name in Bavaria in 1776 aimed to spread and implement the ideas of the Enlightenment in Germany and Austria.

The founder and chief of the Illuminati was Johann Adam Weishaupt, a professor of canon law at the University of Ingolstadt, a town to the north of Munich. No biography exists of him, but we do know that he was born in 1748 and that his father was a professor at the same university. What we know of the ideas and ceremonies of his organisation comes from the writings and correspondence of members who fell out with him and from his own writings justifying his actions after the group was banned by the King of Bavaria in 1786. These formed the basis of two books which were published in 1797, one in English, the other in French, and which argued that the French Revolution had been engineered by the Illuminati as part of their plan to overthrow all religion and all governments and establish a universal republic, or cosmopolis.

What they were accused of is well summed up in the full title of one of these books, by John Robison:"Proofs of a Conspiracy against all the Religions and Governments of Europe, carried on in the Secret Meetings of Free Masons, Illuminati, and Reading Societies, collected from Good Authorities, by John Robison, A. M., Professor of Natural Philosophy, and Secretary to the Royal Society of Edinburgh".

This book and the other, by Abbe Barruel, which in English was called Memories illustrating the History of the Jacobins, are both on the internet in full but there's a need to distinguish between what the Illuminati said they stood for and what they were accused of standing for.

What they said they stood for was the happiness of the whole human race, to be achieved by "enlightening" them by freeing them from "superstition" (i.e. supernatural religion and loyalty to dynastic rulers). This done, a world society of liberty and equality would come into being in which all men would be brothers and citizens of the world.

As to their methods, the form of organisation chosen was the hierarchical secret society and the tactic was to infiltrate and seek recruits from the freemasons. There were the usual oaths, ceremonies and degrees of membership that exist in freemasonry generally. Weishaupt called himself - and this must mean something - "Spartacus" after the leader of a slave revolt in Ancient Rome.

The aim seems to have been what they said it was, i.e. to dissipate "superstition", by winning over people of influence, rather than by them seizing power and trying to impose this on people.

However, the secret and hierarchical nature of their organisation did lay them open to the charge and that they wanted to become new rulers through conspiratorial methods.

There is of course nothing wrong with the stated aim of achieving a world society - a cosmopolis - in which people would be politically free and morally equal (i.e. of equal worth). Nor with terms such as "Brotherhood of Man" and "Citizen of the World". Socialists are in some ways the direct descendants of such ideas.

Barruel devoted Volume Three of his 5 volumes to the Illuminati and says that in it he is exposing "the conspiracy of the sophists of Impiety and Anarchy against all religion and allgovernment without exception not even republics, and against all civil society and all property whatsoever". Later, he summarised the views of the Illuminati as follows:

"Equality and Liberty are the essential rights which man, in his original and primitive perfection, received from nature; the first attack on this original Equality was brought about by property, and the first attack on Liberty was brought about by political societies and governments; the only supports of property and government are the religious and civil laws; so to re-establish man in in his original rights of equality and liberty, one must start by destroying all religion, all civil society, and end by abolishing all property".

The Illuminati probably didn't do this in reality. Barruel was trying to frighten his readers into opposing the French Revolution which he regarded as an antichristian plot.

Robison's aim seems to have been to cleanse freemasonry from the taint of "illuminism" (though he was also a loyal supporter of the British monarchy and State against revolutionary France). He records what some former members told the King of Bavaria the Illuminati stood for:
"The Order was said to abjure Christianity, and to refuse admission into the higher degrees to all who adhered to any of the three confessions. Sensual pleasures were restored to the rank they held in the Epicurean philosophy. Self-murder was justified on Stoical principles. In the Lodges death was declared an eternal sleep; patriotism and loyalty were called narrow-minded prejudices, and incompatible with universal benevolence; continual declamations were made on liberty and equality as the unalienable rights of man. The baneful influence of accumulated property was declared an insurmountable obstacle to the happiness of any nation whose chief laws were framed for its protection and increase".

Here again, the suspicion must be that this is something attributed to them in order to prejudice people against them. Robison and Barruel also questioned the motives of Weishaupt and the others, saying that the real aim was not the happiness of the human race but their own rule over them.

That the French Revolution was the result of a conspiracy organised by the Illuminati was the first conspiracy theory, and it should be noted whose interests it served. As we know, the French Revolution was an anti-feudal, bourgeois revolution and, as such and at the time, a progressive historical development. Those who sought to discredit it were supporters of feudal privilege and dynastic rule. In short, reactionaries trying to turn back the clock of history.

Of course the French Revolution was not a conspiracy, but the outcome of a class struggle, arising out of a clash of economic interests between the rising bourgeois of emergent capitalists and the privileged feudal aristocrats. The ideological reflection of this was the battle between the ideas of the Enlightenment and those of the Catholic Church.

To single out the Illuminati as Utopian plotters aiming to rule the world is to fight yesterday's battles on behalf of the aristocracy and the Catholic Church against those of the bourgeoisie and the philosophers of the Enlightenment. It is a reactionary position.

Modern-day conspiracy theorists have invented a link between the Illuminati and the Jews. Thus, one conspiracy website has said that the Illuminati were set up and financed by "the House of Rothschild". Another says that Weishaupt's father was a rabbi. Another that he was a converted Jew. Even the Spanish-language Wikipedia article on him says his ancestors were of Jewish origin. There is not a shred of evidence for any of this.

Conspiracy theorists can't offer an adequate explanation of what's going on it the world. If we are going to change the world successfully we are going to need to understand it properly. And the only way we can do this is on the basis of verified evidence and logical thinking. This is what socialists do (or at least try to do). Using this method, we can see no evidence of world events being organised by a conspiracy. In fact, we can see that the world is not organised at all. We can see everywhere the anarchy of capitalism and its effects.

Competition is built-in to capitalism. This brings into being the World Market which ultimately determines what happens. But it's an impersonal mechanism not a conspiracy. And it is the cause of wars, revolutions and other conflicts in that these are by-products of capitalist competition, not the machinations of some occult group. That's the socialist analysis.

So the enemy is not the Illuminati (or the Jews, the Jesuits or Aliens from Outer Space). It's not even the individual members of the capitalist class. It's the capitalist system. What needs to be done, to put things right, is to move on to another system, one based on the common ownership of the world's resources with production to meet people's needs, not for profit. On that basis, all the things that the conspiracy theorists attribute to their chosen group of conspirators will no longer exist.


From the Socialist Standard, January 2005.

The Plot Thickens

Conspiracies - The Illuminati

Sky Mix, Fri, 9.00pm, Dec 10 "They're all enslaving you. They call us cattle, but they're just scum". So goes one of Alex Jones' weekly Texas radio rants against that supersecret sect of the centuries, the Illuminati (Enlightened). Established in 1776 in Bavaria as a secular intellectual club but driven underground by the Church, this mysterious society has by now infiltrated into every government organisation including the media. Its aim is nothing less than the dumbing down of a helpless population and then global dictatorship. Apparently.

We follow the narrator Danny Wallace on a wild-goose chase round industrial estates, hoping to meet a real-life Illuminatus, who evidently bottles out of the encounter (or didn't exist in the first place), and sundry interviews with paranoid amateur journalists who say things like: "They are monitoring my every move. It's a wonder I'm still alive" (a wonder you're not locked up, more like).

Conspiracy theorists often gain plausibility by taking established fact and embellishing it, so that one can't tell where truth ends and fiction begins. There are undoubtedly shadowy societies of the super-rich which are well-documented. The Skull and Bones in America includes many senators, three past presidents, and both George Bush and John Kerry, while in Britain we have the Masonic Lodge. The Bilderberg Group is also given lavish treatment in the programme. But of course, they can't be very secret or we wouldn't know about them. The point is, say the neurotic campaigners, they're all just fronts for the Illuminati.

What's really interesting – more than the unlikely tales of mock human sacrifices under a giant stone owl – is why some people need to believe the world is really controlled by a secret society, when it is fairly obviously controlled by the not-very-secret capitalist class. Perhaps that's just too mundane an explanation, or too public, when what is required by conspiracy theorists is something akin to demonic global possession, something so unearthly and powerful that it is quite beyond our ability to exorcise it. Why do they need to believe in this absolute evil? Perhaps in order to cast themselves as holy crusaders.

There are conspiracies all the time, little ones. Big ones tend to spring leaks however, and few are likely to believe in one that has lasted 250 years without being 'outed'. The capitalist class is not a conspiracy, not because it is open and, more or less, above board, but because it is not united, as the Illuminati presumably are. The disunity of the capitalist class is their Achilles heel, a weakness workers could use. If you believe your enslavers have no weaknesses, you won't struggle against them. The crusaders against the Illuminati could do with some illumination on that point.


Saturday, September 15, 2007

Africom - the big secret in the USA

From the blog Socialist Banner

No. 3 on the top 25 censored media stories :-

3 AFRICOM: US Military Control of Africa's Resources
Source: 2/21/2007 Title: "Understanding AFRICOM"Author: Bryan Hunt
Student Researcher: Ioana LupuFaculty Evaluator: Marco Calavita, Ph.D

In February 2007 the White House announced the formation of the US African Command (AFRICOM), a new unified Pentagon command center in Africa, to be established by September 2008. This military penetration of Africa is being presented as a humanitarian guard in the Global War on Terror. The real objective is, however, the procurement and control of Africa's oil and its global delivery systems.

The most significant and growing challenge to US dominance in Africa is China. An increase in Chinese trade and investment in Africa threatens to substantially reduce US political and economic leverage in that resource-rich continent. The political implication of an economically emerging Africa in close alliance with China is resulting in a new cold war in which AFRICOM will be tasked with achieving full-spectrum military dominance over Africa.

AFRICOM will replace US military command posts in Africa, which were formerly under control of US European Command (EUCOM) and US Central Command (CENTCOM), with a more centralized and intensified US military presence.

A context for the pending strategic role of AFRICOM can be gained from observing CENTCOM in the Middle East. CENTCOM grew out of the Carter Doctrine of 1980 which described the oil flow from the Persian Gulf as a "vital interest" of the US, and affirmed that the US would employ "any means necessary, including military force" to overcome an attempt by hostile interests to block that flow.

It is in Western and Sub-Saharan Africa that the US military force is most rapidly increasing, as this area is projected to become as important a source of energy as the Middle East within the next decade. In this region, challenge to US domination and exploitation is coming from the people of Africa—most specifically in Nigeria, where seventy percent of Africa's oil is contained.

People native to the Niger Delta region have not benefited, but instead suffered, as a result of sitting on top of vast natural oil and natural gas deposits. Nigerian people's movements are demanding self-determination and equitable sharing of oil-receipts. Environmental and human rights activists have, for years, documented atrocities on the part of oil companies and the military in this region. As the tactics of resistance groups have shifted from petition and protest to more proactive measures, attacks on pipelines and oil facilities have curtailed the flow of oil leaving the region. As a Convergent Interests report puts it, "Within the first six months of 2006, there were nineteen attacks on foreign oil operations and over $2.187 billion lost in oil revenues; the Department of Petroleum Resources claims this figure represents 32 percent of 'the revenue the country [Nigeria] generated this year.'"

Oil companies and the Pentagon are attempting to link these resistance groups to international terror networks in order to legitimize the use of the US military to "stabilize" these areas and secure the energy flow. No evidence has been found however to link the Niger Delta resistance groups to international terror networks or jihadists. Instead the situation in the Niger Delta is that of ethnic-nationalist movements fighting, by any means necessary, toward the political objective of self-determination. The volatility surrounding oil installations in Nigeria and elsewhere in the continent is, however, used by the US security establishment to justify military "support" in African oil producing states, under the guise of helping Africans defend themselves against those who would hinder their engagement in "Free Trade."

The December 2006 invasion of Somalia was coordinated using US bases throughout the region. The arrival of AFRICOM will effectively reinforce efforts to replace the popular Islamic Courts Union of Somalia with the oil industry–friendly Transitional Federal Government. Meanwhile, the persistent Western calls for "humanitarian intervention" into the Darfur region of Sudan sets up another possibility for military engagement to deliver regime change in another Islamic state rich in oil reserves.

Hunt warns that this sort of "support" is only bound to increase as rhetoric of stabilizing Africa makes the dailies, copied directly out of official AFRICOM press releases. Readers of the mainstream media can expect to encounter more frequent usage of terms like "genocide" and "misguided." He notes that already corporate media decry China's human rights record and support for Sudan and Zimbabwe while ignoring the ongoing violations of Western corporations engaged in the plunder of natural resources, the pollution other peoples' homelands, and the "shoring up" of repressive regimes.

In FY 2005 the Trans-Sahara Counter Terrorism Initiative received $16 million; in FY 2006, nearly $31 million. A big increase is expected in 2008, with the administration pushing for $100 million each year for five years. With the passage of AFRICOM and continued promotion of the Global War on Terror, Congressional funding is likely to increase significantly. In the end, regardless of whether it's US or Chinese domination over Africa, the blood spilled will be African. Hunt concludes:-

"It does not require a crystal ball or great imagination to realize what the increased militarization of the continent through AFRICOM will bring to the peoples of Africa."

Update by Bryan Hunt

By spring 2007, US Department of Energy data showed that the United States now imports more oil from the continent of Africa than from the country of Saudi Arabia. While this statistic may be of surprise to the majority, provided such information even crosses their radar, it's certainly not the case for those figures who have been pushing for increased US military engagement on that continent for some time now, as my report documented. These import levels will rise.

In the first few months following the official announcement of AFRICOM, details are still few. It's expected that the combatant command will be operational as a subunit of EUCOM by October 2007, transitioning to a full-fledged stand-alone command some twelve months later. This will most likely entail the re-locating of AFRICOM headquarters from Stuttgart, Germany, where EUCOM is headquartered, to an African host country.

In April, US officials were traversing the continent to present their sales pitch for AFRICOM and to gauge official and public reaction. Initial perceptions are, not surprisingly, negative and highly suspect, given the history of US military involvement throughout the world, and Africa's long and bitter experience with colonizers.

Outside of a select audience, reaction in the United States has barely even registered. First of all, Africa is one of the least-covered continents in US media. And when African nations do draw media attention, coverage typically centers on catastrophe, conflict, or corruption, and generally features some form of benevolent foreign intervention, be it financial and humanitarian aid, or stern official posturing couched as paternal concerns over human rights. But US military activity on the continent largely goes unnoticed. This was recently evidenced by the sparse reporting on military support for the invasion of Somalia to rout the Islamic Courts Union and reinstall the unpopular warlords who had earlier divided up the country. The Pentagon went so far as to declare the operation a blueprint for future engagements.

The DOD states that a primary component of AFRICOM's mission will be to professionalize indigenous militaries to ensure stability, security, and accountable governance throughout Africa's various states and regions. Stability refers to establishing and maintaining order, and accountability, of course, refers to US interests. This year alone, 1,400 African military officers are anticipated to complete International Military Education and Training programs at US military schools.

Combine this tasking of militarization with an increased civilian component in AFRICOM emphasizing imported conceptions of "democracy promotion" and "capacity-building" and African autonomy and sovereignty are quick to suffer. Kenyans, for example, are currently finding themselves in this position.It is hoped that, by drawing attention to the growing US footprint on Africa now, a contextual awareness of these issues can be useful to, at the very least, help mitigate some of the damages that will surely follow. At the moment, there is little public consciousness of AFRICOM and very few sources of information outside of official narratives. Widening the public dialogue on this topic is the first step toward addressing meaningful responses.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Will Capitalism Eat Itself?

In the news lately has been the growing concern over the collapsing "housing bubble" and the phenomenon known as sub prime mortgages. The complex situation involving these mortgages is starting to turn sour and already having negative impacts on American financial markets. Even though the long-term effect on the overall economy remains to be seen, it often elicits dire warnings of impending collapse and depression. At the core of the situation are disproportionate amounts of home mortgages that were sold to people who were not likely to pay them back. These people are referred to as the "sub prime" mortgage market and the moniker has been applied by the press as a catch-all to the thousands of loans with variable (and frequently exotic) terms often given to borrowers with low incomes or damaged credit histories.

Traditional home mortgages are for 15 to 30-year terms with a fixed annual percentage rate of interest. In the past, lenders would ask for 10-20% of the price of a house as a down payment as a way of ensuring the borrowers' ability to make good. Sub prime mortgages, on the other hand, involve little or no money down and an adjustable interest rate that "resets" periodically. Often, the terms are set up so that only interest is paid for the beginning of the mortgage, lowering payments while little or no balance is reduced. What is happening now is that large numbers of these mortgages are going into foreclosure, particularly a few months after the interest rates reset. The next major reset will be happening at the end of 2007, so people paying attention are predicting tens of thousands of people, mostly low-income families, losing their homes.

While the media typically focus coverage on these mortgages around lower-income borrowers who may have jumped at the chance to buy a house during the so-called "housing bubble" of the early 2000's, it should be noted that more exotic versions of these loans have often been obtained by capitalist speculators who buy houses at a low price and "flip" them (i.e. re-sell them at higher price without actually living in them), sometimes in a matter of weeks after buying them. These mortgages defer much of the payment until after the time the buyer expects to flip the house, so as to maximize the profit for the speculators and facilitate economy-boosting activity in what was for years a seller's market.

If it wasn't bad enough that the self-imposed prudence of the financial industry concerning mortgages was gradually thrown out the window in a me-first orgy of easy-money lending facilitated by years of low Federal Reserve-set interest rates, the primal greed of capitalists led them to increasingly use bundles of mortgages containing a high percentage of sub primes as loan collateral for even higher levels of financial speculation, often taking the form of hedge funds.

Rather than let all this financial terminology get out of hand, let's summarize: lenders, spurred on by easily available Fed money, offer mortgages with less than desirable terms to people who have a high probability of not paying them off. Those risky mortgages are then bundled with other traditional mortgages into securities that are then used for, among other things, speculation in unregulated hedge funds.

What eventually happened is a) people stopped paying on their sub prime mortgages due to rate resets so large numbers went into foreclosure, and b) the housing market for overpriced "flipped" properties started to dry up, leaving speculators with no one to buy their McMansions - thus leading to further defaults as the terms demanded more payment. As more and more foreclosures occurred, word got around and people started looking at these bundles of mortgages that contained more and more rotten eggs. Hedge fund money secured by these bundles started to dry up, and a few notable hedge funds themselves collapsed. Luckily for some of the capitalist scum involved, the Fed made billions in bail out money available to stem the tide of hedge fund putrefaction and made some mortgage lenders more willing to restructure some of the onerous mortgages that hadn't foreclosed already. This is still going on right now.

Why is this phenomenon involving a small but important part of the population being seriously considered by some as the beginning of the end of capitalism? Well, a lot of it is wishful thinking, particularly when coupled with Peak Oil predictions, but it does shine a light on a dark "secret" of the American economy – that more and more of what is called "wealth" is actually not real and exists as credit – not just in the form of home mortgages but as the entire realms of Consumer and National Debt. All debt is predicated on the assumption that at some point the borrower is going to pay back the amount borrowed plus some amount of interest that is profit for the lender. Preferably, the debt is incurred in order to create more wealth in the form of investment or building of a business enterprise. Debt is a fundamental building block of capitalism and is nothing new, or secret, but has never existed in such astronomical amounts or made up such a large part of the American economy.

Consumer debt, which is money owed by people (not including things like mortgages), is according to the Federal Reserve close to $2.5 trillion dollars. This wealth, which actually doesn't exist, is counted in the economy (though this fact is not brought up in polite company). The fundamental weakness of such a high consumer debt is that at some point, people can decide to stop paying back money they owe. Therefore, the sub prime fiasco is serving as a canary in a coalmine to an economy primarily fueled by consumer spending (i.e. debt). If people can start defaulting on mortgages en masse, where the potential self-harm in doing so is rather severe, what is to stop them from defaulting on credit cards, payday loans, and other consumer credit devices and in doing so wash away the very foundation of the American economy like a broken sewer line buried beneath a downtown street? Yes, there have been a few hedge fund managers fired and a few extra yachts put up for sale, but so far there is no indication that this toxic mess has any danger of spreading into the murky and uncharted waters of consumer debt, which has in fact stayed level for 2007.

In 1929, the American economy, and with it the world's, took a plunge into depression due to careless and rampant speculation in stocks. Many then thought capitalism would collapse and the way become clear for the seizing of power by the working class. The SPGB wrote about it in 1932 in a pamphlet called "Why Socialism Will Not Collapse". While much of the work cites previous examples of financial crises that did not spell the death of capitalism and then attempts to explain the then-current state of affairs, their argument is plainly stated up front:

"The basis of Capitalism is the private ownership of the land, the factories, the railways, and the rest of means of life. This is the root cause of poverty, insecurity and wars, and a whole host of other evils."

In these two sentences we are assured that no matter what heights of greed or convoluted displays of smoke and mirrors the capitalist class achieves, and no matter how devastating their blunders may have on the short term conditions of the economy, the foundation of private property, and thus Capitalism itself, will remain intact so long as we continue to accept it. And by continuing to search for leaders and laws that will prevent economic calamity from ever happening again, as has happened after the many meltdowns of centuries past, we sadly ensure that it does happen, again and again! See, capitalism - no matter how bleak the outlook may seem, whether due to Peak Oil or endless war, or consumer debt – will remain as long as we allow it to by accepting its laws and playing its game. Only when the majority of the human species decides to reject the rule of property law, and the class that benefits from it, can Capitalism finally be defeated!


Tuesday, September 11, 2007


The following statement was issued by the World Socialist Party of the United States in the immediate aftermath of the horrific terrorist attacks on 9/11/01.

Terrorism, and the greater terrorism

The World Socialist Party of the United States condemns the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. We offer our condolences to those who lost family or friends in these attacks. We do not believe that violence is an effective or acceptable means for social change, or change of any kind. We condemn all acts of violence, regardless of who carries them out.

As much as we disavow the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, we also denounce the military strikes against Afghanistan, and any other attacks that follow. No capitalist war is worth the shedding of a single drop of blood, on either side.

We urge the people of the United States, that is to say, the working class, to recognize their common interests, and common plight with the people of all other countries, including Afghanistan. These people are not our enemies. The enemy is the capitalist system.

In addition, we urge the workers of America to recognize that fellow workers of Arab or Middle-eastern descent who live in America are not the enemy either. They are trapped in the same anti-human capitalist system as all other workers, both in America and the rest of the world. The workers of America must not take out their anger over the attacks on fellow workers of Arab descent.

We also wish to make it clear that the picture on the cover of our journal, the World Socialist Review, was printed before the September 11 attack on the Pentagon. The picture has nothing to do with the attack.

We are working to abolish the system which allowed and is responsible for these attacks and invite all who wish to permanently end terrorism and all forms of war to join us.

National Administrative Committee. WSPUS

Articles from Socialist Standard on 9/11 and its aftermath:

  • From the September 2006 issue of the Socialist Standard - 'September 11, 2001: Reflections on a Somewhat Unusual Act of War'

  • From the October 2001 issue of the Socialist Standard - 'Terrorism versus Terrorism'

  • From the October 2001 issue of the Socialist Standard - 'Reactions'

  • From the October 2001 issue of the Socialist Standard - 'The Middle East Connection'

  • From the November 2001 issue of the Socialist Standard - 'More Reactions'

  • From the December 2001 issue of the Socialist Standard - Redefining War

  • From the April 2003 issue of the Socialist Standard - The War: Capitalism Does it Again
  • Saturday, September 8, 2007

    How money downed the Minneapolis bridge

    (Jeff Wheeler/Star Tribune)

    The Associated Press reported this week that in 1989, bridge inspectors had warned that pigeon droppings were accumulating on the steel beams of the I-35W bridge connecting Minneapolis and St. Paul. Apparently, the ammonia and acids in the droppings, the inspectors said nearly a decade ago, could corrode the beams.

    This span collapsed August 1st of this year, killing 13 people and injuring more than 100. It is not yet clear if the bird droppings had been the cause of the terrible accident last month, but this story illustrates how terribly accident-prone is the capitalist system. Such a system simply does not have the money available to perform the necessary checks, cleanings, and repairs of the thousands of similar bridges in the United States to the advisable extent (as advised by professional bridge inspectors).

    In fact, existing technology that could aid in averting such accidents are almost never employed on a consistent basis because of economic cost. For example, according to a report on Southern California Public Radio 89.3 on August 6th, Orange County, UC Irvine researcher Maria Feng has already developed a real-time sensor technology that could detect at any moment the effect of traffic upon a bridge. If a heavy truck somehow damaged a bridge, the data could be beamed back to a lab, where researchers could alert authorities. The structure could then be shut down if the damage proved too potentially dangerous. Ms. Feng said that as it is now, engineers only have to inspect bridges every two years. That's required under federal law. Ms. Feng was quoted in the show as stating: "The problem is sometimes things can happen between, in those two years, right? So if you have sensors on the bridge continuously monitor the bridge, we can find the problem in real time, so we can fix the problem immediately, before a catastrophe occurs."

    When the growth of new inventions is no longer hampered by the needs to market them, and the oftentimes failure to find them finance capital is replaced by the free exchange of new ideas around the entire globe, human safety and need will replace profit-making as the modus operandi.

    It is true that accidents are accidents, liable to occur in any society, however an economic system that has transcended the idiocies of state budgets and indeed of financial cost itself, will have to find a way to prioritize social investment of resources and labor in terms of the overall quality of life, nothing else. In a moneyless society of common ownership and democratic control of the means of production, it would only require a rotating pool of, say, a hundred local citizens at a time, trained by able engineers, to regularly monitor, clean and repair our bridges. It is possible that all that was required to prevent this terrible accident was a few hundred pair of arms and very simple tools, equipment and chemicals.

    At any moment, there stand simultaneous millions of buildings, bridges, levees, roads, and so on, and millions of unemployed souls eager to provide useful functions in society. Even many of us who do work are employed in socially useless occupations, those that do not contribute to real wealth, but to the administration of capital, as in such fields as banking, marketing or selling - which also robs society as a whole from vital attention to its infrastructure - for example, to maintaining safety, to improving quality of structures or services, or simply to beautifying.

    By understanding social problems in terms of the way wealth is produced (today, for sale to realize a profit) society may be able to evolve to a mode of wealth production in which our increasingly sophisticated modern techniques are inherited and democratically administered by society as a whole for one sole purpose - to meet our needs.

    Thus, whatever the reason for the terrible bridge accident in Minnesota last month, the possibility that the capitalist mode of production is not somehow to blame is likely pigeon shit.

    -Dr. Who

    The Jewish Anarchists

    From the August 1986 issue of the Socialist Standard

    It makes a refreshing change to find a TV programme dealing with radical ideas in a serious and sympathetic manner. The Free Voice of Labour: The Jewish Anarchists (Channel 4, June 26), was the fourth programme in an excellent series on American labour. The film, using interviews, snippets of rare films, newsreels, stills and song, told the story of the Yiddish anarchist paper, Freie Arbeiter Stimme, established on 4 July 1896. Although the aim of the paper was to spread ideas about a society without government, coercion and wars, it also provided a medium for Yiddish culture, theatre, poetry and literature.

    The historian Paul Avrich, author of several books on anarchism, explained how Jewish immigrants escaping from Eastern Europe were disappointed with life in capitalist America. The so-called land of liberty, promise and opportunity, was brutal and oppresive. The conditions of labour in the sweatshops and factories of Boston and New York were miserable, the wages low. Some of these experiences are reflected in the folksong, Mayn Rue Plats, (My Place of Rest).

    Don't look for me where the myrtles grow
    You won't find me there, my love.
    Where lives wither at machines, that is my resting place
    Don't look for me where birds sing.
    You won't find me there, my love.
    I am a slave, and where my chains ring,
    That is my resting place.

    The Jewish immigrants worked mainly in the needle trades and it was here that anarchists and radicals became involved in the struggle, often violent, to establish trade unions and the eight hour day. This story is captured in the Yiddish feature film, Uncle Moses (1932) and in the folksong, Makhnes Geyen (Masses Marching):

    How long, oh how long
    Will you remain enslaved
    Bearing the shameful shackles?
    How long can you create magnificent riches
    For him who robs you of your bread?
    How long will you stand stopped back,
    Down trodden, homeless, in pain?
    It's dawn, already! Wake up!
    Open your eyes!
    Recognise your strength of steel!

    The Jewish anarchist movement was at its height between 1880 and 1920, and during this short period of time it helped to influence the development of the American labour movement. In the 1920s and 1930s anarchist ideas were kept alive by Italian and Spanish immigrants. Several reasons were given for the decline of the Jewish anarchists. Firstly, the overthrow of Tsarism in Russia by the Bolsheviks, who used slogans such as "All Power to the Soviets", attracted many young and active anarchists, who formed the backbone of the American Communist Party. Secondly, America's entry into the First World War led to an increase in patriotic fervour and a crackdown on all "subversive organisations". Anarchists and Wobblies were attacked for making anti-war speeches. The Palmer raids led to persecution and imprisonment for radicals. Under the Espionage Act, anarchists such as Emma Goldman and Alexander Berkman were deported. Finally, Jewish anarchism can be seen as partly a response to the experience of being an immigrant in a strange and hostile country. Future generations were rapidly assimilated into mainstream American life. With the decline of Yiddish language and culture went the decline of the Freie Arbeiter Stimme. It ceased publication on the 25 November 1977, with a circulation of 1,700.

    Many of the ideas discussed in this fascinating programme have been consistently advocated by the Socialist Party (The World Socialist Movement) - the abolition of the state, opposition to all capitalist wars, and rejection of the state-capitalist system found in Russia and other so-called socialist societies.

    Having watched this programme and sung along with Hey, Hey, Daloy Polltsey (Down with the Police), I somehow couldn't face the next programme, Their Lordship House.
    Steve Coleman

    You can now view the film online at the following website.

    Saturday, September 1, 2007

    Public Ownership and Common Ownership

    The acknowledged aim of socialism is to take the means of production out of the hands of the capitalist class and place them into the hands of the workers. This aim is sometimes spoken of as public ownership, sometimes as common ownership of the production apparatus. There is, however, a marked and fundamental difference.

    Public ownership is the ownership, i.e. the right of disposal, by a public body representing society, by government, state power or some other political body. The persons forming this body, the politicians, officials, leaders, secretaries, managers, are the direct masters of the production apparatus; they direct and regulate the process of production; they command the workers. Common ownership is the right of disposal by the workers themselves; the working class itself — taken in the widest sense of all that partake in really productive work, including employees, farmers, scientists — is direct master of the production apparatus, managing, directing, and regulating the process of production which is, indeed, their common work.

    Under public ownership the workers are not masters of their work; they may be better treated and their wages may be higher than under private ownership; but they are still exploited. Exploitation does not mean simply that the workers do not receive the full produce of their labor; a considerable part must always be spent on the production apparatus and for unproductive though necessary departments of society. Exploitation consists in that others, forming another class, dispose of the produce and its distribution; that they decide what part shall be assigned to the workers as wages, what part they retain for themselves and for other purposes. Under public ownership this belongs to the regulation of the process of production, which is the function of the bureaucracy. Thus in Russia bureaucracy as the ruling class is master of production and produce, and the Russian workers are an exploited class.

    In Western countries we know only of public ownership (in some branches) of the capitalist State. Here we may quote the well-known English "socialist" writer G. D. H. Cole, for whom socialism is identical with public ownership. He wrote

    "The whole people would be no more able than the whole body of shareholders in a great modern enterprise to manage an industry . . . It would be necessary, under socialism as much under large scale capitalism, to entrust the actual management of industrial enterprise to salaried experts, chosen for their specialized knowledge and ability in particular branches of work" (p. 674).

    "There is no reason to suppose that socialisation of any industry would mean a great change in its managerial personnel" (p. 676 in An Outline of Modern Knowledge ed. By Dr W. Rose, 1931).

    In other words: the structure of productive work remains as it is under capitalism; workers subservient to commanding directors. It clearly does not occur to the "socialist" author that "the whole people" chiefly consists of workers, who were quite able, being producing personnels, to manage the industry, that consists of their own work.

    As a correction to State-managed production, sometimes workers' control is demanded. Now, to ask control, supervision, from a superior indicates the submissive mood of helpless objects of exploitation. And then you can control another man's business; what is your own business you do not want controlled, you do it. Productive work, social production, is the genuine business of the working class. It is the content of their life, their own activity. They themselves can take care if there is no police or State power to keep them off. They have the tools, the machines in their hands, they use and manage them. They do not need masters to command them, nor finances to control the masters.

    Public ownership is the program of "friends" of the workers who for the hard exploitation of private capitalism wish to substitute a milder modernized exploitation. Common ownership is the program of the working class itself, fighting for self liberation.

    We do not speak here, of course, of a socialist or communist society in a later stage of development, when production will be organized so far as to be no problem any more, when out of the abundance of produce everybody takes according to his wishes, and the entire concept of "ownership" has disappeared. We speak of the time that the working class has conquered political and social power, and stands before the task of organizing production and distribution under most difficult conditions. The class fight of the workers in the present days and the near future will be strongly determined by their ideas on the immediate aims, whether public or common ownership, to be realized at that time.

    If the working class rejects public ownership with its servitude and exploitation, and demands common ownership with its freedom and self-rule, it cannot do so without fulfilling conditions and shouldering duties. Common ownership of the workers implies, first, that the entirety of producers is master of the means of production and works them in a well planned system of social production. It implies secondly that in all shops, factories, enterprises the personnel regulate their own collective work as part of the whole. So they have to create the organs by means of which they direct their own work, as personnel, as well as social production at large. The institute of State and government cannot serve for this purpose because it is essentially an organ of domination, and concentrates the general affairs in the hands of a group of rulers. But under Socialism the general affairs consist in social production; so they are the concern of all, of each personnel, of every worker, to be discussed and decided at every moment by themselves. Their organs must consist of delegates sent out as the bearers of their opinion, and will be continually returning and reporting on the results arrived at in the assemblies of delegates. By means of such delegates that at any moment can be changed and called back the connection of the working masses into smaller and larger groups can be established and organization of production secured.

    Such bodies of delegates, for which the name of workers' councils has come into use, form what may be called the political organization appropriate to a working class liberating itself from exploitation. They cannot be devised beforehand, they must be shaped by the practical activity of the workers themselves when they are needed. Such delegates are no parliamentarians, no rulers, no leaders, but mediators, expert messengers, forming the connection between the separate personnel of the enterprises, combining their separate opinions into one common resolution. Common ownership demands common management of the work as well as common productive activity; it can only be realized if all the workers take part in this self-management of what is the basis and content of social life; and if they go to create the organs that unite their separate wills into one common action.

    Since such workers' councils doubtlessly are to play a considerable role in the future organization of the workers' fights and aims, they deserve keen attention and study from all who stand for uncompromising fight and freedom for the working class.

    -Anton Pannekoek

    Western Socialist, November 1947