TRUMBO

It’s very rare for any film to show communists in a sympathetic light. The excellent Trumbo, currently on general release, does this. It is an excellent film and is highly recommended.

The film recounts the life of Dalton Trumbo, a celebrated screenwriter and open communist who was forced to testify to the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) about his membership of the Communist Party. Refusing to give evidence and to name fellow communists, he was jailed for 10 months and blacklisted. After release, he worked for peanuts without having his work credited while remaining loyal to his fellow communists and helping them too to survive. Almost hounded to destruction, he clings on and, in the end, his genius as a film writer is recognised and he is re-habilitated by winning an Oscar.

One scene particularly caught the attention. Aware of the anti-communist hostility mounting around the family, Trumbo’s daughter asks him, “Are you a communist?” to which he replies “Yes”. She continues “Is Mummy a communist?“ to which he replies “No”. Finally she asks “Am I a communist?” to which he responds with a question:

 

“If you see a fellow classmate at school who doesn’t have anything to eat, what do you do? Do you ignore him, or perhaps do you offer him a loan at 6% to buy some food?” She responds “I would share my lunch with him.” Trumbo smiles at her and says “Then you’re a communist”.

 

It’s very rare indeed for any film, especially a Hollywood film, to put the communist case so succinctly. Such a film can expect to attract plenty of criticism in the capitalist press. This film is no exception. According to the film critic in the Guardian, it “fails to challenge Trumbo’s unrepentant communism”. True: it celebrates it. Other critics have tried to undermine the film for technical reasons such as the supposed dominance and integrity of the central character, Dalton Trumbo. The despicable Economist magazine even tries to argue that Trumbo, while working twelve hours a day to survive by producing anonymous scripts for peanuts, was doing rather well out of his blacklisting. For them working people should apparently be grateful for whatever crumbs fall from the table of the rich and powerful.

The quality as well as the politics of this film are nevertheless undeniable. Bryan Cranston has been nominated for an Oscar for his portrayal of Dalton Trumbo and it’s well deserved. Ignore the negative comments and don’t miss this film.

 

Political Party Funding: seeking the level playing field

Having won the last general election with the support of only 24.3% of registered voters, the Tories are looking to cement their hold on power by cutting off off trade unions’ financial support for the Labour Party. Only the unelected and unrepresentative House of Lords now stands in the way of enacting the Trade Union Bill which will achieve this end.

The £30.2m that Labour has received from the unions following the general election is about what the Tories get from a handful of wealthy individuals: £27.9m, or 62 per cent of the party’s total. 61 donors gave more than £50,000 at one go, qualifying them to mingle  socially with Cameron and his chums. A further 141 donors clocked up £50,000 with multiple donations but apparently don’t qualify for an immediate opportunity to rub shoulders at the trough.

The Tory party’s biggest individual donor is Michael Farmer who has made eight donations totalling £2,191,392.42. This explains why he is a Tory Party co-treasurer. He is the founder of the hedge fund RK Capital Management. Hedge funds are financial institutions which speculate on behalf of the super-rich. Collectively, they are major backers of the Tory Party and help to explain why the Tories are so relaxed about the decline in manufacturing and happy to ignore the potential for another financial crash.

Companies make up 25 per cent of Tory donations. The biggest corporate donor is JCB Research which has donated a total £1.4m since the election. Prem Sikka, the principled and celebrated professor of accounting at Essex University, has described JCB Research as a “black box” due to its status as an unlimited company with minimal reporting requirements.

What can be done to reform the financing of political parties when we eventually turf out the Tories? Fairness dictates that corporate donations should only be allowed when the majority of shareholders entitled to vote in UK elections approve them. Furthermore, those who do not vote for the resolution should be excused from contributing. Many donating companies are, however, privately owned by wealthy individuals, not all of whom are located offshore for tax purposes. The proposed reform, although essential, would not necessarily significantly dent the 25% corporate share of Tory funding. What is needed is a cap on all donations of, say, £500 per annum, with union donations treated as donations by individual members unless the individual opts out. This would, of course, bring forth squeals of anguish from all the major political parties who have become dependent on handouts from the rich. There would inevitably follow a demand for public funding to replace the ‘lost’ income. Such demands have to be dismissed. Provided deposits for standing in elections are scrapped, political parties can and should operate, as does the Communist Party, by relying on the modest donations and hard work of their members and supporters. Then we really would have a level playing field.

Report From the Croydon Communist Party

The Croydon Communist Party called for urgent action at its recent branch meeting to tackle the growing crisis in the British steel industry. It noted that the Tory Government was refusing to act, blaming the situation on Chinese ‘dumping’ and our membership of the EU whose competition and procurement rules, they say, prevents support for strategic industries. But, as the meeting noted, the UK imports seven times as much steel from other EU industries as it does from China; and EU members Germany, Italy, France and the Netherlands were successfully supporting their steel industries, with or without EU endorsement.

The meeting concluded that steel was too important to the UK economy to be destroyed by government inaction. The government could do much more to save the steel industry, but is trapped in a neo-liberal mind-set which requires everything to be left to the self-correcting ‘magic of the markets’. Steel is a foundation industry without which we can’t have a successful manufacturing economy. Its loss will be a tragedy, both for the current workforce, other companies in the supply chain and the wider economy. Restoration of a viable manufacturing economy, including steel, requires fundamental changes, including development and implementation of a joined-up manufacturing and industrial strategy, reduction of high energy bills for the industry (themselves generated by the monopoly action of the privatised energy utilities), ensuring all government-backed contracts buy British-made steel, and a transfer of power away from big business to ordinary working people. This is only possible with a left exit from the EU.

If you are interested in joining the debate, why not join the Communist Party? Contact us via this blog for further information.

Chris Guiton

Co-operative Bank

It is difficult to see the withdrawal of banking facilities for the Palestine Solidarity Campaign and the Cuba Solidarity Campaign by the Co-operative Bank as anything other than a nakedly political act. As the Daily Torygraph crowed on 29 November:

Activist group linked to Jeremy Corbyn has accounts closed amid fears it may be funding terrorism”.

This would only be true if by “terrorism” they meant standing up to the illegal occupation of the West Bank by Israel and the illegal blockade and harassment of Cuba by the USA.

The Co-operative Bank itself responded much more diplomatically than the Torygraph. In a letter to me in response to my complaint about their action, they said they had withdrawn banking facilities because PSC and CSC “sent money to high risk locations [requiring] high diligence checks to ensure the funds do not inadvertently fund alleged or proscribed activities” and “after quite extensive research [they] did not meet our requirements”.

The Palestine Solidarity Campaign has launched a legal case against the Co-operative Bank claiming that the Bank’s decision is discriminatory and contravenes sections 13 and 29 of the Equality Act 2010. ITN solicitors, acting for PSC, said the Bank’s failure to explain its actions or provide appropriate disclosure led it to believe the decision was based on PSC’s defence of Palestinian rights, including the right to oppose Israel’s illegal occupation of Palestine and its violations of international law. We wish them well, but whether they will secure adequate compensation remains to be seen. Don’t hold your breath.

There was once a good reason to bank with the Co-operative Bank and its internet banking arm, Smile. While never a true co-operative, it was owned by the Co-op and therefore arguably part of the co-operative movement and apparently distinct from the capitalist banks that had held the nation to ransom in 2006. The Co-op Bank was very appealing to socialists for their personal banking and indeed anyone who wanted to disassociate themselves from the bangsters. It was for this reason that we continued to bank with it, not its always somewhat specious “ethical” banking policy. Unfortunately, this appeal has vanished: the Co-op had its own problems requiring it to sell off businesses and the Co-op Bank engineered its very own and quite separate mini banking crisis, necessitating a “rescue” in 2013-14 to address a capital shortfall of some £1.9 billion. As a result 80% of it is now owned by the worst type of predatory capitalist: hedge funds. In theory the ethical banking policy remains as a marketing ploy, but who are they trying to kid? It was never much of an attraction and their decisions on PSC and CSC shows it up for the sham it always was.

Legislation requires financial advice to be surrounded with such weasel words as

Information on this website should not be taken as financial advice or seen as an endorsement of any particular product. We’ve provided information so that you can make an informed choice about where to move your money, and if necessary, you should consider speaking to an independent financial advisor.

Take that as read – provided you understand that a so-called Independent Financial Adviser is actually a salesman who earns commission from the businesses he/she recommends. But what you should do if you still bank with the Co-operative Bank or Smile is to dump them just as they dumped PSC and CSC and switch to a building society such as Nationwide that offers banking services. But don’t prevaricate like the Co-operative Bank itself did: tell them exactly why you did it.

The Next Financial Crisis

News that the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) have scrapped their inquiry into the ‘culture of banking’ came as no surprise. The Independent (sic) Inquiry into Banking chaired by Sir John Vickers had already ducked the issue in 2011. In July this year George Osborne sacked the FCA chief executive Martin Wheatley because he was upsetting the banks by talking too tough. We don’t however need an inquiry to establish what is the prevailing “culture” of banks and bankers. It was and remains that:

Greed is Good;

notwithstanding the 2007 bail-out by tax payers, banks are free from any social                 responsibility or obligation;

a near total contempt for the essential business of providing cash transmission and deposit        services for ordinary working people;

a hunger for short-term speculative profits; and

a belief that banking elites (but not, of course, the people who clean their offices), are                 entitled to a cut of these speculative profits even when they subsequently prove to be      illusory.

Vickers’ abject report, the firing of Wheatley and scrapping the inquiry demonstrate that nothing has been learnt from the financial collapse of 2006-7 or even the various mis-selling scandals and Libor manipulations that have been uncovered. Osborne is gambling on reflating the UK economy before the next financial crisis hits us. He may, or may not, achieve this. Two things are, however, certain: the next financial crisis is already coming down the track; and when it arrives we won’t be suckered this time into protecting the speculators and making working people bear the cost.

New Year Dishonours

On learning that Lynton Crosby, the slimy spin doctor who ran the Tory’s 2015 election campaign, had be awarded a knighthood under the New Year’s Honours List, Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell said that it would make the public think that the awards system had become “an old boys’ club”. He did not go far enough. The entire awards system is rotten to the core. It should be abolished and the titles that go with it. While it limps on we can only marvel at the lack of self- respect of those who accepted these tarnished baubles.

Lynton Crosby aside, it’s true that, for example, Imelda Staunton is a fine actress and Tony McCoy is an excellent jockey. The time has, however, long past when actresses were a despised group in need of public recognition and sportsmen performed for the fun of it and to scratch a subsistence living. We have Oscars, Emmys etc to recognise the former and the Sports Personality of the Year (such a tautology!) to recognise the latter. As for the other 1,193 recipients, some are, no doubt, worthy individuals, some (but not all) pay their UK tax and not all of them will disingenuously claim that the award is a form of recognition for their colleagues and employees. Let them have their day at Buckingham Palace, but those we salute today are those who see honours for what they are and decline them. Well done you lot!

Happy New Year.

Is the Paris Agreement credible?

In the blog last week I suggested that the credibility of the agreement reached in Paris last weekend on climate change should be judged by what happened to the share prices of oil and gas producers following the announcement of the agreement – or at least following the first indication that such an agreement would be reached. If the agreement really signalled a switch away from oil and gas based economy, we could expect to see a significant fall in these share prices. What we actually saw was a fall of only some 3.6%. See the chart below:

oil and gas index

Oil and Gas Producer’s index (NMX0530)

Under capitalism bad news tends to hit unexpectedly[1] – or at least it comes as a surprise to the Nobel Prize winning economists and bank regulators who provide capitalism’s high priesthood. Under capitalism when problems are clearly predictable, they are, however, discounted at the so called “cost of capital”. This is the long run average return investors expect to rake in and is estimated by the priesthood to be about 5% per annum before inflation. Thus a cost, or loss of profits, occurring in 20 years time would be currently valued by markets at only 38% [2]of the eventual cost in real (i.e. inflation adjusted) terms. Thus it could be argued that the observed 3.6% drop in share prices actually represents around a 10% drop in profits in 20 years time. But a fall in oil companies’ profits of only 10% by 2035 is hardly consistent with a target ceiling for global warming of 1.5 degrees centigrade and a new goal of net zero CO2 emissions by the second half of this century.

Conclusion: stock markets think capitalism is incapable of delivering the Paris Agreement. So do I. We need to replace capitalism.

Happy Christmas, everyone!

 

[1] In the past such crises tended to happen every fifteen years or twenty years, but the dot.com bubble bust in 2000 followed by the bank bust in 2007 suggests that such crises are now occurring more frequently.

[2] 1.05-20 = 0.38

Agreement in Paris!

The agreement reached in Paris yesterday at the UN Convention on Climate Change (COP 21 See attached,) is to be welcomed. Recognition of a new target ceiling for global warming of 1.5 degrees centigrade and a new goal of net zero emissions by the second half of this century are both highly desirable. The first test of whether this agreement is to be taken seriously will be how stock markets respond when they open on Monday. If the share prices of oil, gas and coal companies fall substantially and stay down, this first test will be passed. We shall see.

It would be foolish to celebrate COP 21 and abandon all scepticism when the USA has yet to ratify the Kyoto Agreement and when our own government has been cutting green subsidies and is seeking to overcome environmental objections to a third runway at Heathrow (or the no less serious environmental objections to Gatwick expansion). Furthermore, there are no sanctions on governments who fail to deliver their obligations under COP 21. This is in sharp contrast to TTIP under which businesses will be able to prosecute governments who stand in their way of their profit making by taking into account environmental considerations. Can a government willing to sign up to TTIP be trusted to deliver under COP 21 when the latter has no sanctions?

A low carbon future is attainable, but whether it can be delivered without dismantling capitalism first is quite another matter.

Looking for a Good Day to Publish Bad News

While attention has been focused on British bombers on runways in Cyprus waiting to take off and bomb Syria and on the premature attempt to launch Bomber Benn’s campaign to become Labour Leader – unlike the actual bombers, it stalled on the runway following the Oldham West and Royton by election – another runway event has gone extraordinarily quiet. This is the announcement of the government’s decision on the third London runway. Presumably the government has concluded that announcing such an environmental catastrophe while the UN Climate Change Conference in Paris is still meeting would be hard sell even with the capitalist press and the BBC in their pocket. We must presumably await another headline grabbing distraction before the government will announce its decision.

Another environmental catastrophe continues, however, to simmer away without attracting any attention at all – except, that is, in the small circulation literary magazine, Granta. In the current edition, Number 133, entitled What Have We Done, there is a splendid article by Fred Pearce on Sellafield. Splendid? Perhaps I mean ‘terrifying’. Fred Pearce is an environment consultant and former editor of New Scientist. In the article he recounts the history of Sellafield, formerly Windscale, and describes what Sellafield’s managers call its ‘legacy’ problem – the lamentable history of management failures that created and continues to create a backlog of radioactive waste and allows it to accumulate in unsafe conditions. This waste will be around on a geological timescale, i.e. for longer than human social and organisational structures have so far existed. Its accumulation under a care and maintenance regime is inconsistent with the fragility of the capitalist system that created it.

Sellafield currently has 240 radioactive buildings awaiting decommissioning, including the pile that caught fire almost 60 years ago – an event that was largely hushed up at the time. This pile comprising the core and an estimated fifteen tons of buckled uranium fuel has been left alone lest it catches fire again or even explodes. Yet, according to the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority, there are four other silos at Sellafield considered to be in even more urgent need of being ’made safe’. This should have been done decades ago but these radioactive dumps were abandoned and now represent, in Fred Pearce’s words, “the dark hearts of Sellafield, the radioactive reminders of past follies”. The tragedy is that we were not forced into these follies by the need to reduce consumption of fossil fuel – something we may, arguably, have to face up to in future. The primary motive was the UK’s nuclear weapons programme. And so the folly continues.

Hilary Benn Speech on Syria

Hilary Benn has come in for justifiable criticism for his shameful, pompous and historically illiterate attempt to use the International Brigade’s fight against fascism in the Spanish Civil War to justify bombing Syria during his intervention in the Commons debate on Wednesday. Let’s be clear. By doing this he was supporting an imperialist agenda designed to topple the legitimate Government of a sovereign nation. Readers may recall that Harold Wilson commented acidly of his father, Tony Benn, that he “immatured with age”, as he moved steadily to the left through his political life. If only the same could be said of Hilary!

Chris Guiton