Prayers for Burma (video)

Dandelion Salad

journeymanpictures

October 2007
Far from over Burma, as you might expect after the regime’s brutal crackdown, some of the monks involved in the demonstrations have fled into neighbouring Thailand. Hundreds it could be even thousands are in detention inside Burma. And with the junta seemingly impervious to international pressure keeping an iron grip on any information about their fate, eyewitness accounts of the repression have been incredibly scarce. But last week David O’Shea was across the border when three monks completed the long trek out of their closed country.

Maritime Terror (video; 2004)

Dandelion Salad

journeymanpictures

Sep 2004

Security analysts are increasingly worried that organisations like Al Qaeda are planning to target commercial shipping.

The Malacca strait between Indonesia and Malaysia has long been a haven for pirates. Last year 21 seamen were killed and a further 71 are missing presumed dead following pirate attacks. “We have seen rocket-propelled grenades being fired at the vessel to force it to stop,” states Captain Pottengal Mukundan from the International Maritime Bureau. But the biggest fear is of a terrorist attack. “This is a relatively narrow passageway which provides certain operational advantages to the attackers,” explains security analyst Brian Jenkins. Mukundan agrees: “You could have a major maritime terrorist incident.” The attacks on the USS Cole and The Limburg demonstrate just how vulnerable even warships are to attacks. Analysing the nature of the maritime threat has become a growing industry. But it’s not just security analysts taking the threat seriously. Earlier this year, the US suggested sending the marines to patrol the Malacca Strait. The threat was enough to galvanise the Indonesian, Malay and Singaporean navies into action. They’re now jointly patrolling the Straits. But whether this will be enough to deter terrorists remains to be seen.

Post-Debate Interviews (videos; Republicans; Paul)

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CSPANJUNKIEdotORG

OCTOBER 21, 2007 NEWS CORP

FLORIDA REPUBLICAN DEBATE

Rudy Giuliani

Mitt Romney

Fred Thompson

Ron Paul

see

Florida Republican Debate (video; links)

Frank Luntz Pre-Debate Group “Ron Paul Certifiably Insane” & “Clinton is a Socialist”

Florida Republican Debate 10.21.07 (videos)

Here’s the latest FL debate: Republican Presidential Candidates Debate 1-24-08 in FL (videos)

Dandelion Salad

CSPANJUNKIEdotORG

OCTOBER 21, 2007 NEWS CORP

FLORIDA REPUBLICAN DEBATE

see

Frank Luntz Pre-Debate Group “Ron Paul Certifiably Insane” & “Clinton is a Socialist”

Post-Debate Interviews (videos; Republicans; Paul)

Stop Calling Me A “Doomer” By Carolyn Baker

Dandelion Salad

By Carolyn Baker
Speaking Truth to Power
Monday, 22 October 2007

People must first be made to give up on the existing system before they will become receptive to fundamental change.

Michael Byron, Ph.D.

Author of Infinity’s Rainbow: The Politics of Energy, Climate and Globalization

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Poverty and famines by Adam Buick

Dandelion Salad
by Adam Buick
Socialist Standard
October 2007

Why do famines occur? Because there’s not enough food
or because people haven’t enough money to buy it?

To many people famines are caused by not enough food being available. This seems reasonable enough: why would people have to starve if there was enough food to feed them? It’s a good question, but it assumes that today food is produced to feed people whereas in fact this is not the case. It should be, but it isn’t. And it isn’t, because we are living in a capitalist society where food is not produced simply to satisfy people’s need for it but – like everything else – to be sold on a market with a view to making a profit. Food is a commodity which, like all commodities, can only be acquired if you have money (or something else) to exchange for it. If you don’t, then you starve. It’s as simple as that.

In 1981 the International Labour Organisation in Geneva published a study on famines by Amartya Sen, an Indian academic working in England, entitled Poverty and Famines. An Essay in Entitlement and Deprivation. Sen studied five famines: the Great Bengal famine of 1943, the Ethiopian famines of 1973 and 1974, the Bangladesh famine of 1974, and the Sahel famines of the 1970s.

His conclusion was that the widespread “food availability decline” theory of famines was mistaken. In its stead he proposed that they should be explained on the basis of a failure or a decline in some people’s “entitlement” to food, i.e., in the end, on their not being able to acquire enough money to buy it or enough of it:

“Starvation is the characteristic of some people not having enough food to eat. It is not the characteristic of there being not enough food to eat”. (p. 1, his emphasis).

“Starvation . . . is a function of entitlements and not of food availability as such” (p. 7).

Sen went on to win the so-called 1998 Nobel Prize for Economics (actually a prize awarded by the Bank of Sweden, not the Nobel Prize Committee) for his work on famines, welfare economics and political liberalism.

Socialists recognised that Sen, in saying that famines were not caused by there not being enough food or by there being too many people, was saying something very near to what we had always said. Modern-day famines arose in the context of the capitalist profit system under which people had to buy what they needed to live and to do this they had to have first acquired money, either by selling their ability to work for a wage or a salary or by growing and selling some cash crop. When, for whatever reason, some people find themselves unable to acquire money, they would not be able to acquire food. If this was widespread, as periodically happened in different parts of the world, then there would be a “famine”, irrespective not only of the capacity to produce enough food but even in the presence of adequate supplies of food.

Sen, however, was not a socialist, but a left liberal supporter of the capitalist market economy. Hence his solution was not to abolish a system where people’s “entitlement” to food (and everything else) depended on their having money; it was to increase such entitlements by arranging for them to have more money or at least a regular supply of money. He wanted to reform the money system not abolish it.

Socialists have no quarrel with Sen’s definition of famine, but they do challenge his definition of “poverty”. Sen defines poverty in terms of lack of access to means of consumption, to not having enough to live at some minimum level of nutrition or comfort or decency. This means that he and others who think like him have to try to fix what this minimum level is. Inevitably, the result is a more or less arbitrary definition that only applies to a minority of the population; most people not being considered poor because their income is above this low level. The “poor”, in other words, are defined in such a way that they will only ever be a minority of the population. The Christian bible may say that “the poor ye shall always have with you” – but, according to Sen and other economists, this will be only as a minority.

Marxists define poverty in terms of lack of access to means of production. Anybody in this position is obliged to obtain their living by selling the only thing they do possess – their ability to work – to some employer. They are poor in terms of not owning means of production. Some, indeed most, may be able to obtain a monetary income above the “poverty line” defined by economists such as Sen but, being deprived of means of production, they still suffer from poverty.

It is true that, under capitalism, where “entitlement” to food, clothing, housing, etc depends on having money, there will always be some people who (through, illness, incapacity, old age, etc) can’t sell their ability to work or, because of its low quality, can’t sell it for a high enough price to cover their basic needs and so, without hand-outs from the State, would be destitute. This – destitution – is the proper term to describe their situation, not “poverty”. In the Victorian England of Marx’s day it was called “pauperism”. It is true that only a minority of the working class find themselves in this situation. But this does not mean that the rest — those in regular work — cannot be described as suffering from poverty, deprivation. In the wider, Marxian sense, if you don’t own sufficient means of production to live without having to work to obtain money then you are deprived, or poor. Which is the situation of the vast majority of people under capitalism.

As to solutions, as a self-confessed leftwing Keynesian and “welfare economist”, Sen sees the solution to “poverty and famines” as lying in increasing the “entitlement” of “the poor” by giving them or allowing them to acquire more money. It is not difficult show why, on theoretical grounds, this would not and could not work as it goes against the whole logic of the capitalist system.

Capitalism operates by extracting surplus value — which the employing capitalist hopes to turn into money — from the working class. The monetary expression of surplus value — profit — is the lifeblood of capitalism and any attempt to tax it away risks clogging up the whole economic mechanism, thereby provoking an economic slump. Attempts to transfer money from the rich to the poor by various leftwing governments (whether Labour, Social Democratic or “Communist”) have always failed, with the leftwing government either being voted out of office or accommodating itself to having to give priority to profit-making over meeting people’s needs. The capitalist system simply cannot be made to work in the interest of the majority class of wage and salary workers. It runs on profits – extracted from the working class – and can only ever work in the interest of the profit-taking, capitalist class. The sort of reformism advocated by Sen is futile.

Under capitalism, the working class are not entitled to – have no “right” to – anything. They are only allowed to work if some employer thinks they can make a profit out of selling what they produce and, if unable to work, are only maintained by the State (out of the surplus value produced by the working class) at a level sufficient to stop them rioting or turning to crime. The solution lies not in trying to transfer money from the rich to the poor but in abolishing the money system altogether on the basis of the common ownership by the whole people of the means of production.

This would end the poverty of the working class as well as the destitution of the minority dependent, if lucky, on State hand-outs or charity. “Entitlement” to food and all the rest would not then depend on having a source of money, but simply on being human, a member of society. Everybody, not matter how little they might be able to contribute, would still be entitled to live and live as well as society can afford. In other words, “from each according to their ability, to each according to their needs”. Common ownership not class ownership. Production solely for use not production for profit. That is the only way to abolish “poverty and famines” from the face of the Earth for ever.

FAIR USE NOTICE: This blog may contain copyrighted material. Such material is made available for educational purposes, to advance understanding of human rights, democracy, scientific, moral, ethical, and social justice issues, etc. This constitutes a ‘fair use’ of any such copyrighted material as provided for in Title 17 U.S.C. section 107 of the US Copyright Law. This material is distributed without profit.  In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, the material on this site is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond ‘fair use’, you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.

Hitler and Stalin by Cyril Evans (book review; Richard Overy)

Dandelion Salad

by Cyril Evans
Socialist Standard

Book Review from the October 2007 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Dictators: Hitler’s Germany, Stalin’s Russia. By Richard Overy. Penguin

If you’ve been thinking that books on the two most renowned political dictators, Hitler and Stalin, have been done to death forget it and read this book. Whereas books such as Alan Bullock’s Parallel Lives, Alan Kershaw’s Hitler and Simon Sebag Montefiore’s Court of the Red Czar (reviewed in the March 2006 Socialist Standard) concentrate on personality, Richard Overy investigates issues far more important to the working class. He raises such questions as how dictatorships could happen, how did they manage to hold on to power and impose their will on a sometimes-uncooperative working class. For answers to questions such as these this book is excellent.

Overy finds many similarities in the methods adopted by the dictators but also some important differences, lying mainly in the varying levels of economic development existing in the two countries. Germany, emerging from its history as a collection of loosely federated states was already a capitalist nation. It had a native capitalist class, trade unions, a democratic political constitution in the Weimar Republic. Russia had none of these. Eighty percent of its population were peasants, its homegrown capitalist class were almost non-existent, or at any rate very weak. There were trade unions (in fact it was largely trade union action which had toppled the Czar) they had not yet reached the same level of development as those in Germany. There had never been even the semblance of political democracy in Russia.

These historical conditions were important in the way the dictators came to power and held on to it. One thing Overy makes abundantly clear is that neither dictator was “imposed” or brought about by force against an unwilling or resisting populace. Hitler used the electoral process to gain power and, although no one in Russia ever had the chance of voting against Stalin, he still needed working class support to remain in power.

Hitler maintained his position of supreme ruler by adopting the cult of leadership right from the beginning. Everyone (including, crucially, the army) had to swear allegiance to the Führer. Stalin had to work slowly and behind the scenes to achieve his pre-eminence. But, as Overy makes clear, neither of them could move very far without popular support, and they both went to extraordinary lengths to hold on to a mass following.

This does not mean of course that Stalin and Hitler did not routinely employ force. But by means of propaganda, of general scare alarms – about “wreckers” in the case of Stalin, or “undesirables” in the case of Hitler – they managed to enlist the support of the ordinary citizen. Informers were actively encouraged and many enthusiastically took part in wholesale denunciation of the regime’s opponents.

Overy makes a strong case for believing that both dictators believed in their own ideologies – something that can be readily accepted in the case of Hitler with his belief in the existence of “race” and of a “racially pure” Aryan blood. However we find it much more difficult to accept that Stalin really believed that he was building socialism. Overy also suggests that Stalin’s purges of Communist Party members had some basis in reality in the sense that they really did threaten his conception of “socialism”. After getting rid of Roehm, Hitler was much more loyal to his close circle as he built up his authority on the basis of personal loyalty and did not see them as a threat. His biggest problem lay in the conservative nature of the generals. This explains why he took over the conduct of the war as sole commander, something also attempted by Stalin, who sacked or murdered most of his generals. Overy also appears to have a greater respect for Stalin as a political theoretician than is warranted by the facts.

For anyone who wants to understand how the Holocaust came about and the circumstances building up to it this book is essential reading. From general beginnings as slave labour to its eventual conclusion as mass killing, it makes chilling reading. He also presents some interesting statistics on the Gulags and their role as providers of slave labour in the economy that goes a long way to understand them. In the pursuit of maintaining power both dictators used spectacle. Parades, military processions, torchlight rallies – all were used extensively and served as displays of power and as entertainment. In the days before television this was very effective. Rigid control of the press was also an essential. Any criticism of the establishment was viciously suppressed.

A serious shortcoming of this book lies in the author’s conception of socialism. Overy takes the word “socialism” and the concept of “national socialism” as used by Stalin and Hitler at their face value. He never defines the terms and appears to believe that socialism is synonymous with a “command economy” capitalism, regarding which he has some very perceptive things to say. However the lessons implicit in this book are vitally important and it is to be recommended.

h/t: Socialist Standard

FAIR USE NOTICE: This blog may contain copyrighted material. Such material is made available for educational purposes, to advance understanding of human rights, democracy, scientific, moral, ethical, and social justice issues, etc. This constitutes a ‘fair use’ of any such copyrighted material as provided for in Title 17 U.S.C. section 107 of the US Copyright Law. This material is distributed without profit. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, the material on this site is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond ‘fair use’, you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.

“Stand fast and fight to the last”: The Spanish Anarchist Collectives by Rich

by Rich
Featured writer
Dandelion Salad
Rich’s blog
Thumb Jig
October 10, 2007

A stock criticism of Anarchism is that it’s just too damn Utopian, a romantic fairytale for academics, a whimsical land of Oz located somewhere between Haight-Ashbury and Sesame Street. But these charges of Anarchism’s impracticality fall apart when one examines the nuts and bolts of the Spanish Anarchist Collectives. It’s no secret that good ideas are hard to suffocate, and this idea had been blossoming in the minds of Spanish workers for decades, one of self-management and self-governance. It wasn’t difficult to look at their environment and imagine how there could be a better world. Property ownership was the only way to gain access to the means of life, and with 67% of the land in the hands of 2% of the population peasant farmers had to labor under the wealthy landowners to survive. In those days, the men who held the deeds made the rules. But the people taught themselves about the transformative potential of solidarity, and acknowledged their ability to create equality through their own collective power. From here the Spanish Anarchists produced a functional bottom up society whose ghost plutocrats worldwide still must confront.

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