Chubby little finger on the Red Button

The UK leases the missiles for the Trident nuclear weapons system from the United States at an estimated cost according to the CND of £350 million[i]. No doubt a further significant proportion of the total estimated cost of £205 billion to upgrade Trident will also be heading to the USA. This is excellent business for the US but why would they take such a risk? Can they really trust the UK not to launch such weapons, thereby resulting in their own destruction?

There are two plausible explanations.

  1. The US have built a concealed, fail-safe facility into the UK’s ‘independent’ nuclear deterrent under which it cannot be used without US approval. This would not be difficult to implement given the advanced technology involved and easy to conceal from a nation that considers itself the USA’s ‘most trusted’ ally.
  2. It is the US missiles that have the built in fail-safe mechanism. Thus at times of international crisis, it is the UK’s missiles that would launch, while those of the USA would remain snug in their silos, leaving the US President to point the figure at a lunatic and out of control UK Prime Minister. In these circumstances, the UK and the US’s enemies would be obliterated but the USA itself might escape.

These possibilities are not mutually exclusive. The thought of Boris Johnson’s chubby little finger repeatedly pressing the red button while nothing happens has its reassuring, even amusing, aspect, but the prospect of any Prime Minister content to become a posthumous war criminal by even trying to launch missiles is deeply disturbing. Jeremy Corbyn was our first potential Prime Minister who declared that under no circumstances would he ‘push the red button’.  The sooner we have a replacement for Boris Johnson with a similar commitment, the better for us all. Clearly Keir Starmer is not that replacement.


[i] https://cnduk.org/resources/205-billion-cost-trident/

System Change, not Climate Change

The Labour Movement, including that element represented by the Communist Party, has until now not been in the forefront of those calling for government action to reduce CO2 emissions and mitigate the effects of climate change. The call for System Change not Climate Change has come from environmentalist rather than the Labour Movement. With the events of the last few weeks – fire and flood followed by a damning report this week from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change – this may be beginning to change.

While there have been some initiatives such as the TUC’s paper A Just Transition to a Greener, Fairer Economy (2019), it cannot be said that the climate crisis has been top of the Labour Movement’s agenda. Short term considerations have prevailed and there has been an absence of analysis from a Marxist perspective. As illustrated by Ian Angus in his otherwise excellent book A Redder Shade of Green (2017), many on the green left considered the threat of climate change too pressing to be diverted by a call for socialism.  The discussion paper published in January 2019 by the Communist University in South London (CUiSL) was an exception, but it drew little attention at the time and generated even less response.

Marx noted how changes to the means of production result in changes to the society they support. The example he gave was the watermill supporting pre-industrial society and the steam engine its successor. The latter was built on fossil fuel extraction and consumption and is still recognisable in capitalist society of the 21st Century. If fossil fuels are indeed to be kept in the ground – and this is the only way we know how to limit climate change – it will inevitably undermine the foundations of capitalism. This doesn’t mean that socialism will inevitably triumph, but if we work for it, it could. The alternative to socialism isn’t, however, the perpetuation of a system that has failed, capitalism. It is barbarism followed by global extinction.

The editorial in the Morning Star reflects the policy and line of the Communist Party. On Tuesday it concluded that “democratic control of the economy is a prerequisite for the action we need” to address climate change and mitigate the now unavoidable effects. Such control will not be achieved by replacing the current bunch of trough feeders with a Labour government led by Keir Starmer or any likely replacement from the ranks of the Parliamentary Labour Party. It’s indeed time for System Change, not Climate Change

References

A Redder Shade of Green, Ian Angus, Monthly Review Press, 2017

https://www.ipcc.ch/2021/08/09/ar6-wg1-20210809-pr/”

https://communistuniversity.wordpress.com/2019/01/28/global-warming-a-discussion-paper/”

https://www.tuc.org.uk/sites/default/files/A_Just_Transition_To_A_Greener_Fairer_Economy.pdf”

LIES AND BORIS JOHNSON

Everyone knows Boris Johnson lies. It is his default strategy for extricating himself from each new self-induced mess in which he finds himself. Anyone looking for documented proof need only refer to The Assault on Truth by Peter Oborne (Simon and Schuster, 2021). It’s well worth reading and asking your local library to stock a copy so that others can do so. The Deputy Speaker of the House of Commons must also have been aware of this evidence, but she nevertheless felt obliged under parliamentary convention to eject Dawn Butler MP from the chamber yesterday for pointing out that Johnson repeatedly lied to parliament. Dawn must now be concerned that she could be ejected, like Jeremy Corbyn, from the Parliamentary Labour Party. Starmer expects his MPs to concentrate on purging socialist from the Labour Party, not attacking the government.

The discovery of 800 million barrels of oil 80 miles west of the Shetlands does, however, present Johnson with a dilemma from which it will be very difficult for him to extricate himself simply by lying. Despite the high cost of extracting this oil – perhaps $40 a barrel compared with around $4 a barrel for Saudi Crude – the oil companies, confident that capitalism isn’t serious about confining the increase in global warming to 1.5% and that profits are to be made even from this expensive crude, are keen to start pumping. A decision by the government on whether to grant them a license is due in 50 days.  In 100 days Johnson is due to host COP26 in Glasgow – billed as the last opportunity for governments to agree policies to keep global warming under 1.5%. How will he resolve this dilemma?  Can he find a solution by lying?

Joseph Goebbels’s strategy for lying was to tell big ones and keep on repeating them until people eventually come to believe them. Under this approach, Johnson could argue that we should continue to open up new oil fields because the government has been so successful in its other green policies. Like Brexit and Covid, the job is done. Eventually, of course, as Goebbels found out, one can find oneself in the proverbial bunker surrounded by the proverbial (in his case real) Red Army. Similarly, claims today that global warming is ‘sorted’ will result in cataclysm tomorrow.

The alternatives to lying that global warming is already sorted are, however, limited. If Johnson refuses the license, he risks being dismissed by his financial backers and his own backbenchers who represent similar interests. Could he grant the license but lie about it? He could claim that conditions attaching to it contained sufficient off-setting – more trees on Shetland etc. Most likely, he will lie about why the decision on the licence must be deferred until after COP 26. Then he could say that he had to issue the license or the UK would be sued in an International Arbitration Court. Quite possibly true by then, but he would have to lie about his responsibility for entering into such trade agreements.

Meanwhile, we are experiencing floods in Germany and Belgium and fires in the USA, Canada and Siberia. Best lie about them being caused by global warming.

Space tourism and global warming

With global warming setting Canada’s western seaboard alight and Covid continuing to rage across the globe, what is the response of our global elite? Richard Branson and Jeff Bezos are both going into space – Branson in order to boost his own flagging space tourism business and Bezos to help spend some of the grotesque fortune he has amassed from owning Amazon.

What is fuelling space tourism? A literal answer is carbon. The hybrid rockets favoured by suborbital space tourism leave particulate carbon in the upper atmosphere which is predicted to increase polar temperatures and reduce equatorial temperatures. They also generate CO2 emissions which increases global temperature and will continue to do so even if a switch to liquid hydrogen propelled rockets were feasible . Branson has claimed that a trip on his tourist rocket would generate less atmospheric CO2 that a return air fare from London to Singapore. This, of course, isn’t insignificant, but his claim is unsupported by evidence and, even if true, ignores the emissions in developing his suborbital joy ride and, of course, the fatalities to date for which it (and he) are responsible.

The deeper answer to what fuels space tourism is, of course, the labour that has been exploited by Branson and Bezos in accumulating their wealth. There is also the prospect of tapping into the wealth of the hoped-for wealthy customers, wealth also generated by exploiting labour. The fact that both Branson and Bezos are both associated with union busting businesses is not without its significance here.

CO2 emissions remain the biggest threat to humanity – even bigger than Covid. The UK government will be hosting the 26th UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26) in Glasgow between 31 October and 12 November 2021 which will assess what progress has been made and what needs to be done. This could be our last opportunity for force this dishonest government to face up to its responsibilities to reduce CO2 emissions and ensure a green transition. Croydon TUC has invited Derek Wall, the celebrated author, academic and green activist, and Fliss Premru, Secretary of the Campaign Against Climate Change Trade Union Group, to discuss this matter at a Zoom meeting at 7.30 pm on 15 July. You need to register in advance for this meeting at

https://us02web.zoom.us/meeting/register/tZMvfu2vpj0rGd0Z7eQuPs4fSL-YkgGv7J83

After registering, you will receive a confirmation email with information about joining the meeting.

Well worth attending!

Channel 4

It comes as no surprise that the government is ‘consulting’ about selling Channel  4 where by ‘consulting’ it doesn’t mean asking viewers what they want, it means speaking to the mostly US owned media giants to find out what they will pay.

Channel 4 was created by Thatcher with the intention of clipping the wings of the BBC. The BBC is now thoroughly under government control. Its news coverage in the 10 o’clock News is supine;  Question Time is packed with government (and New Labour) stooges; and its extensive newspaper coverage continues to deny the existence of the Morning Star. Channel 4, on the other hand, has morphed since its creation into a moderately objective news reporter. In doing so it has upset the government with its coverage of the cladding scandal, the corruption around Covid procurement, the mis-management of the epidemic  and cuts to the aid budget.  The government’s reluctance to allow ministers to appear on Channel 4 was an indicator of things to come. Now comes the government’s move to silence it for good.

Channel 4 News reporting has not been perfect. Its line on China has been especially weak, consistently reporting riots in Hong Kong as if they were democratic  outpourings rather than post-colonial interference by the US. Similarly, its reporting of China’s actions in Xinjiang Province has accepted at face value information clearly disseminated by the CIA. It has remained largely silent on the Pivot to China and attempts to stoke up a new Cold War.

Yesterday on its 7 pm News Channel 4 reported in highly critical terms the closure of a newspaper in Hong Kong because it was deemed by the authorities there to be under foreign (i.e.US) control. Perhaps Channel 4’s editorial team might reflect on whether that was such a bad thing. If it had been a little more critical of the foreign and off-shore ownership of most of  the UK’s newspapers, it might now be in a better position to fight off this threat to its own existence.

Foodbanks

A food bank is a non-profit, charitable organization that distributes food to those who have difficulty purchasing enough to avoid hunger. Surely that’s a good idea?

Prior to 1967 there were no food banks. In the USA there were soup kitchens for the poor, something that shocked the average UK citizen, while, in the UK we had extensive provision of social housing and, following the Beveridge Report of 1942, a level of social security payments that was sufficient to ensure a basic level of subsistence for everyone. These were necessary concessions for a capitalist system facing the return of victorious servicemen and women in 1945 who remembered the hungry thirties and were aware of a viable, actually existing alternative in the form of the USSR. Roll forward to the twenty first century. The USSR no longer exists as an aspiration for workers and a threat to capitalists;  organised labour is frustrated by the inadequacies of the party, Labour, that was created to be its champion;  the trade union movement is shackled by anti-trade union laws; and popular opinion is left in the dark by a  mass media owned and controlled by oligarchs. In this situation, food banks make sense – at least for capitalists.

In the UK, traditionally food hampers have been given out to the elderly and vulnerable members of communities at Harvest festivals and at Christmas but all year-round hunger has only been evident in statistics since 2007 and has dramatically increased since 2011, a notable ‘achievement’ of the Tory governments in this period. Most, but not all, UK food banks are co-ordinated by The Trussell Trust –  a ‘Christian’ charity based in Salisbury which serves as the UK’s only food bank network. The Trussell Trust was established in 2000; in 2004 they only ran two food banks. By August 2012 there were 252. Now there are at least 1,200 and they are continuing to grow in numbers and volume as this chart shows:

Source: House of Commons Library Research Briefing April 2021

There is currently one Tressell foodbank in Croydon and eight others. Perhaps as a signal that the Labour Party is no longer concerned with changing society, a Croydon Labour MP gives their addresses and opening hours on her website.

A degree of immiserization of the unemployed has often been used as a spur to employment and to discipline those in work. This was the logic behind the workhouse and is, we argue, the primary motive behind foodbanks today. They have, however, a further attraction for capitalists  – they enable big food retailers to benefit from their food surpluses. This motive was apparent in the announcement in 2020 by Michael Gove, Rupert Murdoch’s Representative in Government, of a £15 million fund to support the expansion of charitable surplus-food redistribution, the first round of which was earmarked to enable redistribution organisations to purchase surplus food. The Govester appointed a Food Surplus and Waste Champion to reduce “unnecessary” food surplus in the UK. This means, in effect, that the state is subsidising large food retailers to waste food and then redistribute it in a fashion that boosts both their profits and their phoney reputation as benefactors.

What is to be done? Council housing under secure, affordable tenancy for all who need it and adequate levels of social security payments would be a good start. But we really need to change the system – from capitalism to socialism. The Labour Party may have forgotten this, but the CP has not.

The Assault on Truth

There were probably some raised eyebrows at Peter Oborne’s choice of the Morning Star to speak about his new book The Assault on Truth. It’s a withering and well documented piece which demonstrates how Boris Johnson, in particular, and the populist right, in general, systematically lie with impunity – but why had Oborne chosen the Morning Star to promote his book? Was he not a former journalist on the Spectator and Daily Mail and, until he resigned in 2015, Chief Political Commentator at the Daily Torygraph? Wouldn’t they provide better publicity?

Necessity drove Oborne to  choose the Morning Star.  Whether or not the readers of our yellow press would like to read it, Oborne’s book makes uncomfortable reading for the unsavoury bunch of mega rich tax avoiders  who own and manipulate our mass media . They have collectively ignored it and the state broadcasting service, aka the BBC, has predictably followed suit. Peter Oborne would have been well aware that any coverage in the Morning Star would not generate any secondary coverage by the BBC. The state broadcaster has a long standing policy of pretending that the Morning Star does not exist.

Peter Oborne is no socialist. His views appear to hark back to a golden age when capitalists behaved ‘honourably’; and he appears to share George Orwell’s anti-communism, failing in particular, to recognise that communists act in a principled way when assessing whether means justify ends – something  I endeavoured to point out in the letters section of the Morning Star following publication of his interview. He is, however, undoubtedly right to argue that Boris Johnson has plumbed new depths in dishonesty and his book is meticulously research, sourced and referenced. One would like to think that it will give Johnson and his aides a few sleepless nights – but, unfortunately, I doubt it.

References

https://morningstaronline.co.uk/article/c/truth-first-casualty-war-probity-public-life-and-politics

The Assault on Truth, Peter Oborne, Simon & Schuster, 2020 – available from your local bookshop – don’t buy it on Amazon!

THE BRITISH ACADEMY’S REPORT ON COVID

The British Academy has responded to the request in September 2020 from the Government Office for Science and published last week two reports –

  • The Covid Decade – understanding the long-term societal impacts of Covid-19
  • Shaping the Covid Decade – addressing the long term impacts of Covid-19

You can read these reports by following the links at the end of this blog.

The government was not taking much of a risk in asking the British Academy what were the long-term impacts of Covid. The Academy is part of The Establishment, comprising, as it does, more than a thousand ‘leading’ academics, few of whom could be deemed radical or cutting-edge. Although it must be conceded that the late Eric Hobsbawm, the brilliant Marxist historian and Communist Party member, was tolerated as a Fellow, more typical of its Fellows is Professor Colin Meyer who published a report for the Academy in 2019 on the Principles for Purposeful Business in which he expounded the view that it wasn’t ‘obscene to make a lot of money in the process of creating real solutions to the problems of the world’. The hollowness of this view has been further revealed during the Covid pandemic with rampant cronyism exploiting Track and Trace and PPE procurement and Big Pharma treating vaccination technology as a form of intellectual private property.

The report on Understanding the Long-term Societal Impacts of Covid-19 identifies nine areas which include, rather obviously, geographical inequalities, intergenerational and racial inequalities, health inequalities and unemployment. Also included is education, about which the report asks with stunning banality whether lifelong educational opportunities post-Covid are sufficient – whoever thought they were even before Covid! Two dimensions are, however, conspicuous by their absence: class and any detailed economic analysis of the financial mess we find ourselves in. The ‘leading economists’ on which the Academy can draw are, of course, bourgeois economists who typically ignore both distributional issues and political economy, while the ‘leading philosophers’ on which it draws are still engaged in trying to understanding the world, not, as Marx would have them do,  in trying to change it.

The report on Addressing the Long-term Societal Impacts of Covid advocates “joined up policy” across the whole range of societal elements – a sensible approach which this government (or one led by Starmer) can be relied on to ignore. Generalities proliferate while specific recommendations in this report are vague and unspecific. For example, a vague reform of the powers of central and local government is called for, not actual reform of the voting system, abolition of the upper chamber (and, as argued previously here, a randomly selected body) and specific tax raising powers for local government such as a Land Value Tax. Data sharing is called for but copyright, patents and commercial confidentiality remain unexamined. Support for community-based infrastructure is called for, but there is no mention of ending the anti-trade union laws. Everyone, including businesses, is exhorted to work together with a sense of ‘social purpose’ but there is no explanation of how that can happen when there are no common interests.

Perhaps the greatest weakness in both reports is their failure to link recovery from the Covid pandemic with the need to address global warming. Society faces one crisis, not two, and it is beyond the resources of capitalism to address it.

https://www.thebritishacademy.ac.uk/publications/covid-decade-understanding-the-long-term-societal-impacts-of-covid-19/

https://www.thebritishacademy.ac.uk/publications/shaping-the-covid-decade-addressing-the-long-term-societal-impacts-of-covid-19/

Fixed Term Parliament?

At the end of last year, with the Covid pandemic re-igniting, the government chose to publish a draft bill to repeal the Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011 (FTPA). The bill restores to the Prime Minster the power, concealed behind Royal prerogative, to dissolve Parliament at any time of his or her choosing. Should we be concerned?

The FTPA was a short-term fix by David Cameron, intended to tie the Lib-Dems into a five year coalition and protect him from the most regressive elements in his own party. Like the EU Referendum, another of Cameron’s short-term fixes, it failed to deliver what he wanted; but, like the EU Referendum, the FTPA was not without merit. Should we be concerned about its abolition?

Democracy literally means rule by the ‘demos’, i.e. the people, and contrasts with a number of other ‘ocracies’ such as theocracy (rule by priests), monarchy (rule by hereditary rulers) and plutocracy (rule be the very rich).  Bourgeois democracy, the model employed under capitalism[i], is more concerned with protecting capital and the interests of those who own it than in implementing the preferences of ‘the people’. Such preferences are to be expressed through market choices with only a limited expression allowed through the ballot box. Voter registration, mass media, voting systems and the manipulation of constituency boundaries ensure that voter choice does not extend to choosing socialism. Where this is occasionally threatened, for example in Spain in 1936 and Argentina in 1970, the military, often with foreign support, quickly steps in and curtails bourgeois democracy. On the whole, however, the introduction of universal suffrage has not led to a proliferation of such interventions. This can be explained by Marx’s assessment of bourgeois democracy as “allowing the oppressed once every few years to decide which particular representatives of the oppressing class shall represent and repress them in parliament” [ii] .

Only when the working class have secured state power will we experience real democracy. Meanwhile, however, it is worth campaigning for improvements in bourgeois democracy if only to expose its shortcomings. These improvements should include not only fixed-term parliaments but such reforms as

  • proportional representation, proving it is truly proportional and not controlled by the leaderships of the major political parties.
  • secure electronic voting.
  • an end to election deposits.
  • mandatory re-selection of  MPs who stand as Party candidates.
  • no more corporate donations – only individuals entitled to vote and their trade unions to be allowed to donate to political parties and subject to a lifetime ceiling of, say, £1000 per individual or trade union member.
  • local government based on the Committee System with tax raising powers.
  • a truly free press and mass media, i.e. owned by readers and listeners/viewers and certainly not by non-resident billionaires.
  • a BBC subject to democratic control, not government control.

[i] Except when it resorts to fascism or rule by military junta.

[ii] As summarised by Lenin in State and Revolution

Universities and Colleges of Further Education

In response to the derisory £50 million extra funding announced by the government to alleviate ‘student hardship’, the NUS has reminded us that students are currently being required to pay  for accommodation  they can neither  access nor, with casual  employment dried up, afford. The NUS is calling for a return to maintenance grants, more funding and an end to extortionate housing costs. In the longer term it wants a move towards ‘fully funded education’.

Communist would agree and go much further. The purposes of universities and colleges of further education are, as we see them, to provide free, open access, lifetime education to UK citizens and to conduct research that benefits the whole of society. This is best achieved when they are embedded in the local community and maintain an open door to local people. Universities should not act as businesses selling degrees in an international market. It is this mistaken aim that results in them being run by over-paid Chief Executives. Our vision of a university would be run democratically by workers, especially academics who work in the university, and other representatives from the wider community, including those from trade unions.

New Labour bears a heavy responsibility for promoting the disastrous business model for universities and treating degrees as commodities against which purchasers need to borrow. As in other areas, New Labour set the ball rolling which subsequent Tory and Tory/Lib Dem coalition governments continue to keep kicking down the road.

What can be done? It will be a hard struggle to achieve the free, open access, lifetime education we need. This is part of the wider political struggle in which the Communist Party is engaged. The Communist University in South London (CUiSL) does, however, demonstrate, on a very small scale and without any state backing or resources beyond those provided by the Communist Party, a viable, alternative model for university level education based on open and free access. It is for this reason that the Croydon Branch of the CP decided at its AGM this month to re-activate CUiSL as soon as classes at Ruskin House can safely resume. It was also decided that CUiSL would be returning to class discussions of topics and classic Marxist texts rather than committing itself to further extensive research projects such as global warming paper and (until it passed it over to the CP Economics Commission) banking.

I will post up specific proposals and plans for CUiSL as soon as we have them.