Saturday, 29 December 2007

600 Demonstrate in Caernarfon against School Cuts

This is a report of a recent protest against school closures in Gwynedd (the county council Bangor is in). These cuts are similar to ones proposed by several other councils in Wales, partly as a result of the lower budgetary settlement from Assembley Government (and in turn from Westminster). There are other reports and info at

Report by Iain Dalton & Heledd Williams

On Thursday 13th December, over 600 parents, children and other protesters marched through Caernarfon to protest against the closure of 29 schools and the federalising (one school over several sites) of many others. The march saw banners from many different schools protesting against their individual school closures and placards condemning the Plaid Cymru led Gwynedd Council who were making these cuts. The march ended in a rally outside the council chambers where council members were meeting to discuss this issue. This action and other protests have seen the council extend the consultation period for this education 'reorganisation', but this will not be the end of this series of escalting protests.We spoke to several parents on the demonstration:John Allport, from Ysgol Borth-y-Gent near Porthmadog in the south of Gwynedd explained that council was giving innaccurate reasons for closures, saying that schools were suffering falling attendence rolls. On the contrary said John, the school had full attendence and was a succesful school. Anna Jones and Ffion Jones from Ysgol Baladeulyn in Nantlle ar Agor explained that the school is the heart of their village and is used for community activities after school hours. Under the reorganisation plan their children would have to travel 4 miles to the nearest school. With buses coming to the village once every two hours, chldren would have the choice of arriving at school over 45 minutes early or almost the same amount late!Louise Warren, Dawn Williams, Emma Pryce and David Connor from Ysgol Rhiwlas told us how the council had not maintened facilities for many years so that they have fallen into disrepair, which is the excuse they are using to close the school. There had been an attempt to raise funds to repair a portakabin, but the council pulled out of their part of the funding. Under the plan their school will be merged with two others, and a new school built 5 miles away, but why, they ask, do they have the funds for this but not maintaining the schools parents actually want.

Socialist Party Wales says:

- No cuts in education in Gwynedd
- For the Welsh Assembley to provide the necessary funds to keep primary schools open and reduce class sizes.
- Democratic control of schools by parents and staff
- Local campaigns should put up candidates in next year's local elections on an anti-cuts platform, linking up with publicsector workers ie. postal workers, civil servants etc.
- Link up the campaigns across Gwynedd and across Wales.

Monday, 24 December 2007

Solidarity at Xmas

A few days ago, I thought i'd write a post on something to do with xmas, though i wasn't sure what. But today, I got thinking about the whole christian thing of thinking of those less well off etc, which was particularly brought on by the local amnesty international society deciding to write christmas cards to political prisoners. I don't advocate writing xmas cards to everyone though, although i may not necessarily agree with them being imprisoned, my focus will be on working class fighters and revolutionary socialists - as i've little time and i'd rather focus my energies on those most likely to make a difference to ordinary working clas people around the world. For socialists, i think it's important to think about comrades who are not free (I mean relatively free, of course we're all still living in a capitalist world). So below I'm putting up some links to various comrades who are either in prison or have been threatened in some way or another.

Firstly, there are the three student comrades in Nigeria who will be in prison (although they have been granted ridiculous bail terms. I've reported several times on these comrades, and even being involved with some solidarity action in bangor. These comrades still are held with ridiculous charges and will be in prison until new year.

Secondly, there are activists in Malaysia and members of the Malaysian Socialist Party who have been arrested and charged for protesting, a clear contravention of their democratic rights. Protests are requested as they will be up in court soon.

Thirdly, there is a trade union activist and swedish member of the cwi, Bilbo Goransson who is threatened with explusion from his trade union Kommunal, after helping organise a mass demonstration in Sweden this September.

Fourthly, students in Iran have been detained after protesting earlier this month. Find out more

Almost finally, Tommy Sheridan has been charged with perjury (from his court defeat of Murdoch's News of the World). More info is provided in the article but it is clear this is a collosal waste of resources.

Finally, some good news, Socialist Alternative is reporting that the Tulwika teachers who last month took part in a walkout against the wars in afghanistan and iraq, have been saved from being fired, which is great news for anti-war activists, although a student is still being suspended and the school has issued somekind of warning to some of the teachers. For more see

anyway, i think i may go back to irregular posting. i've kinda being doing that anyway and it seems to get people to comment more on stuff too.

Tuesday, 18 December 2007

Media & Crime - The Magic Bullet - A Critical Review

NB. the next post will be on Friday, not Thursday.

I think I should begin this peice by explaining what The Magic Bullet is. This is an article from issue 170 of the Prison Service Journal, by one of my lecturers in Bangor, Martina Feilzer (written when she was a doctoral student at Oxford). The aim of the piece of research which the article is reporting on was to find out if "Improving public knowledge and confidence through the
provision of factual information on crime and criminal justice" was possible.

Most information presented on crime is in the form of reports of major crime cases, new government policies or factual information from the government. The aim of the study was to see whether factual evidence presented in a naturalistic way (in this case in a newspaper column) would improve knowledge about the criminal justice system.

To this effect, the researchers began writing a column (Crime Scene) in a local, weekly newspaper, The Oxford Times, and testing before and after (with control groups who weren't regular readers) to see whether knowledge of the criminal justice system had improved.

The testing found that knowledge hadn't improved that much at all, and that in most cases people knew that they didn't have a clue about answers to the questions (there was an option to tick a 'pure guess' box). Many people thought people were convicted less often for crimes like burglary and robbery than they actually are. Also the report found that most people only think prison should be used in last resort and that offenders can be helped to change - we do not have a reactionary population necessarily when it comes to prison, but answers were also found to reflect factual misconceptions that are widely reported in the mainstream media about the prison system.

There is however a quite telling quote (from an interviewee) in this piece, "I suppose one of the dangers [with] the increased knowledge of the criminal statistics [is], it can— depending on what they are—can cause some people to be more apprehensive. It can reassure certain people, but there is a danger of that. Yes I would personally like to know more information but I don’t know whether it would give people added security or scare them really." Similarly, another interviewee said "I mean it says here that prison doesn’t work but it sounds to me as though the community doesn’t work either."

For me, this shows that the aim of researchers at the Home Office, if such a Magic Bullet worked, would be to sure up support for the current penal system. But people aren't that stupid, in the absence of accurate information, they are pushed into supporting longer prison sentences etc. (I would say becuase of information presented to them in the tabloids to an extent, but also becuase it seems like an easy solution). But as those quote show, given accurate information people can tell that the current system doesn't work in relation to stopping crime.

The report conlcudes that the Magic Bullet (of the Crime Scene report) hasn't worked. But how could it a just one sole weekly piece in a world of misinformation. An article by Jock Young pointed out that one year when official crime figures had dropped, all bar one of the major newspapers reported a small rise in one type of crime. Factor in tv news bulletins, radio programmes and political broadcasts telling us we need to get 'tougher' on crime and no wonder a small weekly column makes next to no difference. For the media to accurately report crime in a factual manner on a regular basis it needs to be taken out of the hands of tycoons like Rupert Murdoch and his ilk and democratically run.

Sunday, 16 December 2007

More News From Bangor

Sorry for being posted a day late, but was rather busy yesterday. Anyway, as promised is reports from Wales on the PCS strike from last week, as well as a report of the climate change day of action in Bangor (to coincide with the world-wide protests on 8th December)

PCS Strike

In Swansea, Roger Langley, branch organiser, Swansea Pension Centre, spoke to Alec Thraves.“The mood is actually better than we had ever thought. We’ve had previous strikes in the dwp but the imposition of this pay deal has incensed the workers. When people have seen how little they are getting from 5 months back pay it has just fuelled their anger and made them come out and fight.There are more out than before and of the hundreds of union members only 8 have crossed the picket line”. “We mean business this time and we will be stepping up the action and withdrawing good will. PCS is recruiting more members because of the dispute and the branch is really looking healthy. We are encouraging new faces to get involved and recently had vacancies for 3 people on our Branch Executive Committee and received 10 nominations which is extremely encouraging”.
In Bangor, Socialist Party members visited strikers at the Job Centre Plus Call Centre on Parc Menai.. Despite the driving wind and rain soaking everything, stewards maintained the picket line.We discussed the poor working conditions in call centres, including a new system brought in by DWP which tries to regulate everything they do in the workplace. Even so, this and other call centres around Bangor are seen as the better workplaces, a condemnation of just how little the current system has to offer workers in North West Wales.Steven Jones, a PCS rep reported that the majority of the workforce had stayed out, with an increased number picketing that day and several new union members had joined..

Climate Change Day of Action

Bangor Socialist Party and Socialist Students took part in a day of action in solidarity with others including members of the student unions climate change society. We organised a stall campaigning for the re-nationalisation of public transport, a step that could make a big impact to tackle climate change, as it would allow for transport to be planned to meet people's needs and tackle the ever increasing use of cars which is contributing to CO2 emissions. We sold several copies of the Socialist, a Socialism Today and some books, as well as meeting several people who were interested in finding out more about the socialist party.
Bangor Socialist Party reporters

Thursday, 13 December 2007

The Welsh Language and Welsh Nationalism - 'A quiet political earthquake?'

Hi all, this post is an article from the April 2000 edition of Socialism Today, to do with the labour movement in Wales and the development of welsh nationalism. For those that don't know, Bangor is in the north-west of Wales and thus has a different political context to south and north-east wales as the article shows. although this article is over 7 years old now, it will make good background reading to the political situation in North Wales.

The ousting of the Blairite favourite, Alun Michael, as first secretary of the Welsh Assembly, was another symptom of an underlying shift in consciousness taking place in Welsh society. GEOFF JONES places the current developments in their context in the history of Welsh nationalism.

LAST YEAR'S WELSH Assembly election results came as a considerable shock to political pundits. The nationalist party, Plaid Cymru/The Party of Wales, took nearly 30% of the votes, only 7-8% behind Labour, to become the second largest party with seventeen seats, as compared with the Tories nine seats and the Liberal Democrats six. This result was repeated in the Euro-elections a month later when Plaid Cymru polled 30% compared with Labour's 32%. In the 1997 general election, Plaid Cymru had only taken a 10% share, behind both the Tories and the Liberal Democrats.
The turnout in these two elections was very low, but the actual number of people voting for Plaid Cymru nearly doubled between 1997 and 1999. More important, their vote increased dramatically in the working-class areas of South East Wales.
Does this change represent a 'quiet political earthquake', in the words of Plaid Cymru leader Dafydd Wigley? Or is it merely a mid-term warning to New Labour from Labour supporters, as suggested by New Labour's Peter Hain?

The Welsh nation
NATIONALIST MOVEMENTS ARISE in any country or part of a country when people feel themselves repressed or exploited by an outside force or nation. All such movements have the same basic demands for independence, or self-determination, but the political form of these demands and the support any group receives, depend specifically on the history and class composition of the country in question. In Wales, nationalism takes a very different form from other parts of the British Isles.
Even before legal annexation by England in 1532, Welsh history had been a history of division. Mediaeval Wales had been a patchwork of competing kingdoms, with petty 'kings' giving allegiance or defiance to Welsh or English overlords. Only a few leaders managed temporarily to gain overall control of the majority of the land west of Offa's Dyke. Even at that time, there was a major division between the strong kingdoms based on Gwynedd in the mountainous and easily defensible North West and the marches of the South and East (present day Powys, Glamorgan and Monmouth), easily accessible from England.
The industrial revolution intensified this North West/South East division. From the beginning of the nineteenth century the discovery of iron ore and coal transformed the sparsely populated area now known as the Welsh Valleys. Hundreds of thousands of people poured in from rural Wales, Ireland, Scotland and England, to work in the ironworks and in the mines. The town of Merthyr Tydfil is an example. Before the turn of the nineteenth century there was no such place, only a scattering of small hill farms at the top of the valleys. Then coal and iron were discovered. In ten years, Merthyr became one of the largest towns in Britain, with getting on for 100,000 people. It was a dangerous and exciting town, bigger than Edinburgh or Dublin, with a young and growing working class prepared to take direct action against their bosses. In 1831, an attempt by an ironmaster to cut wages sparked a workers' uprising; the town was only recaptured by troops after a week of bitter fighting. This was not a mere explosion of mob rule. Its leaders were educated and knew what they were fighting for. It gave the working class the beginnings of a tradition, its first martyrs, and its symbol, the red flag.

But it also marked the deepening of the rift between North West and South East Wales. The old rural Wales was relatively untouched by the industrial revolution; the South was completely transformed. The huge influx of workers weakened the Welsh language and traditional culture, with English being adopted as the lingua franca over the large part of the coalfield. By the end of the century over two thirds of the Welsh population lived in the industrial South East. Between 1801 and 1911 Wales saw a fourfold increase in population, with a two-fold increase in number of Welsh speakers but a twelve-fold increase in monoglot English.
The headlong pace of development, the riches being made from the international export of coal and steel, and the parallel growth in strength and confidence of the working class, had its high point at the beginning of the twentieth century. The 1920s and 1930s saw a number of defeats for the working class but strengthened its support for the Labour Party and socialist politics. The idea of Welsh nationhood, or of Welsh political independence, had little meaning to workers who read Marx, sang the Internationale, and saw themselves as part of a wider movement.
The Welsh Nationalist Party
NORTH AND WEST Wales had seen their own battles, from the toll-gate smashers of the 'Hosts of Rebecca' to the bitter strikes in the North Wales quarries and the battles against English landlords, but the area had not seen the same huge influx of population. It remained generally rural, Welsh-speaking, and very separate from the industrial south. Politically liberal not socialist, its most famous representative, David Lloyd George (1863-1945) flirted with the idea of Welsh independence before world war one.

The ideas which inspired the struggle for Irish Home Rule in the 1880s had led to the setting up of an organisation 'Cymru Fydd' (The Wales to Be). Made up essentially of middle-class intellectuals, it aimed at the renaissance of Welsh culture and the Welsh language, but also for a legislative assembly for Wales. Lloyd George aimed to stitch together Cymru Fydd with the Liberal Party in Wales to form a mass nationalist movement. At first wildly successful, the dream crashed in Newport in 1896, when the South Wales Liberal Federation rancorously opposed any idea of being ruled by Welsh ideas. Lloyd George gave up on Cymru Fydd and pursued his career to become leader of the Liberal Party in Westminster, and saviour of British imperialism in world war one.
The failure of Cymru Fydd was a failure to build a capitalist party of independence in opposition to English capitalism. Specifically, the close integration of business in the most economically powerful and dynamic part of Wales with that same English capitalism, meant that the wealthy Welsh upper middle-class had no need of political autonomy to further their material or political interests.
Because of this, the nationalist movement which developed between the two world wars was a petit-bourgeois movement, more concerned with preserving and developing Welsh culture, a culture specifically defined by the Welsh language. Plaid Genedlaethol Cymru (Welsh Nationalist Party) was established in 1925. Its founding policy was the achievement of a Welsh-speaking Wales, and Welsh was to be the only medium of party activity. This second fact in itself cut the party off from the non-Welsh speaking majority (whom most of the party did not anyway accept as being Welsh). The party's policies were inevitably reactionary and elitist. Saunders Lewis, president from 1926 to 1939, called for a return to the peasant societies of the Middle Ages and, taking the policy to its logical conclusion, for the 'de- industrialisation' of South Wales.

With policies such as these, the Welsh Nationalist Party remained a tiny group until the jailing of three of its leaders in 1937. The previous year, the Royal Air Force (RAF) had set up a bombing range in Penyberth in North West Wales, in the teeth of mass popular protest. Lewis and two colleagues carried out a symbolic act of sabotage against the range and were jailed. The severity of the sentences and the subsequent hounding of Lewis from his job led to an increase in sympathy for the Nationalist Party in North and West Wales, a sympathy which continued despite the nationalists' position of neutrality in world war two.
Wales post-war
THE YEARS FOLLOWING world war two saw a second flowering of the confidence of the working class of South Wales, perhaps most fully expressed in the person of the Labour left-winger Aneurin Bevan (1897-1960). Bevan, a leader of the Welsh miners in the 1926 general strike, was health minister in the 1945 Labour government. He introduced the National Health Service (NHS) in 1948 but resigned from the cabinet in 1951, to lead a left-wing opposition in the Labour Party. It is no accident that Bevan's monument on the hillside above Ebbw Vale is inscribed, 'Here Aneurin Bevan spoke to his people and to the world'.
The Welsh Labour leaders hostility to nationalism ranged the spectrum from Bevan's belief that Welsh workers were best served as part of a democratic socialist Britain to the fawning worship of British royalty, personified by George Thomas (later Viscount Tonypandy). At the same time, Labour increased its near monopoly control of local government in industrial Wales. In this context, the 1945 Labour government dropped the Labour Party's long-time commitment to Welsh and Scottish home rule.

The Welsh Nationalist Party, still largely confined to rural Wales, dropped the more extreme of Lewis' policies. Changing its name to 'Plaid Cymru' (The Party of Wales), it called for 'dominion status within the British commonwealth' and relaxed its 'Welsh only' rule. During the 1950s and 1960s Plaid Cymru slowly increased its share of votes in parliamentary elections to around the 10% mark, gaining councillors in rural Wales and winning a parliamentary seat in Carmarthen in 1966. Plaid also came to be seen for the first time by workers in industrial Wales as a means for expressing dissatisfaction with the activities of the Labour government, in by-elections in Rhondda West in 1967 and Caerffili in 1968.
Plaid's moderate and 'electoralist' programme produced splits. In the early 1950s, Mudiad Gweriniaethol Cymru (Welsh Republican Movement), based in South Wales, called for full independence and a socialist/co-operative programme. The 1960s and 1970s also saw strong local opposition to a number of schemes touching on a sensitive nerve - the flooding of valleys and displacement of population to provide reservoirs for English cities. This produced a number of 'direct action' organisations ranging from the comic-opera 'Free Wales Army' to more serious groups which sabotaged pipelines from Welsh reservoirs and bombed the government Welsh Office building and Tory Party offices.
More important were struggles over the Welsh Language. In 1962, Cymdaithas yr Iaith Gymraeg (The Welsh Language Society) was founded to gain official recognition of the Welsh language by direct action. Their campaign was modestly successful, resulting in the Welsh Language Act of 1993 which gave equal status to Welsh and English in all public bodies. Perhaps more important, a hunger strike by Plaid Cymru MP Gwynfor Evans forced the Thatcher government to implement a 1979 election pledge to establish a Welsh-language TV channel. At the same time, the demand for independence came once again to be part of Plaid's programme.

Over the last century the question of the Welsh language has been the touchstone of nationalist thinking. Census returns show the number of Welsh speakers declining steadily from 37% of the population in 1921 to 18.9% in 1981 and 18.5% in 1991. However, the statistics show a definite stabilisation over the past twenty years. Previously the proportion of Welsh speakers was highest in the older age groups - a sure index of a declining language. This, however, has now flattened out.
Furthermore, the number of officially registered adult Welsh learners has increased dramatically from 13,000 in 1993-94 to 21,000 in 1997-98. There has been a continuing campaign for more schools where children are taught through the medium of Welsh. To a certain extent, this is a middle-class phenomenon. Fluent Welsh is a passport to the cushy jobs in the media and cultural industries. Often, the call for new Welsh-only schools can be a ploy to get privileged access to educational resources. Nevertheless it is beyond doubt that the decline in the Welsh language has halted and is coupled with a new national consciousness which includes industrial Wales as well as rural Wales. But it is clear that in the foreseeable future not more than a quarter of Welsh people will be fluent in Welsh. Plaid Cymru acknowledged that fact, and the need to widen their appeal in South Wales, by changing their name in 1998 to the bi-lingual form, 'Plaid Cymru/The Party of Wales'.
Plaid Cymru in action

THE 1979 REFERENDUM on the setting up of a Welsh Assembly was a low point for Plaid Cymru. Out of a turnout of 58%, nearly 80% voted against. There was no great support even in rural Wales and massive opposition in industrial areas. Some nationalists forecast the end of Welsh history and Welsh nationality.
But 1979 also marked the beginning of the final destruction of the old industrial Wales. The number of coal miners had slipped from over 100,000 in 1951 to less than 30,000 in the 1970s. By the 1990s it was less than 4,000. Steel and other heavy industries were similarly massacred. At the same time, Labour councils were atrophying into complacent nepotistic bodies, unable or unwilling to fight for their communities against Tory attacks. To workers disgusted with the incompetence of their own councils and the unwillingness of Labour MPs to fight with them in the industrial battles of the 1980s, a protest vote for Plaid Cymru seemed the only viable option in the absence of any socialist alternative. The party started to pick up council seats in the South East. Their manifesto for the 1997 election was well to the left of Labour. However, in the typhoon of opposition to the Tories, their vote only increased slightly.
Since 1997, New Labour's cutting itself off from the working class, and its unwillingness to provide much more than soothing words for the social disaster areas of South Wales, has sickened many working class Labour supporters. This was coupled with the imposition by Labour's Westminster HQ of an 'electoral college; system to select the Labour leader in the new assembly. With the votes of MPs and unions outweighing the votes of individual party members, Blair's favoured candidate, Alun Michael, was narrowly selected. Socialist groupings were too weak to provide a pole of attraction. Plaid Cymru was the only alternative.

Plaid Cymru, as a nationalist party, aims to unite on the basis of nationality, rather than class. Ironically, but inevitably, when successful, it finds itself riven along class lines. In the 1999 elections Plaid put forward a programme of reforms as a left opposition to New Labour. But already a report by a Plaid researcher has castigated the most successful programme in their history as 'dated socialistic waffle'. The writer obviously sees Plaid's future as Welsh Blairism ('Blerwch Cymraeg?'). More critically, Plaid's long-term supporters in the North and West object to the apparent dilution of the demand for independence and Welsh-language culture. Already a split has occurred under the name of Cymru Unedig/Welsh Solidarity.
Even worse, workers in the ex-industrial areas who joined Plaid as a reaction against dishonest and cowardly Labour councils are being rapidly disillusioned. Plaid Cymru is very radical in words, but much more conservative in deeds. They claimed to have 'played a leading role within Wales' in the 1990 battle against the poll tax. In fact, in Taff Ely, the one council they controlled at that time in coalition with the Liberals, bailiffs were sent in and non-payers harassed and imprisoned. In other areas, Plaid councillors paid up after token opposition. In 1999, Plaid Cymru won control of Rhondda Cynon Taff council by opposing cuts in services and on the back of a local campaign against a filthy and dangerous local rubbish tip. In opposition, Plaid promised to close the tip immediately. In power, they reneged on this promise, and propose to solve the council's financial problems by sacking workers.

The national assembly is an acid test of Plaid Cymru's policies. The Welsh Labour Party, shocked at the election results, proposed a 'new', 'inclusive' form of politics, meaning that they wanted to lure Plaid into supporting the New Labour agenda. The parachuting in of Alun Michael as a mouthpiece for Westminster derailed this policy, but his subsequent dumping, engineered by Plaid with the passive support of some Labour assembly members (AMs), has put it back on course. For Plaid's leadership, as for the 'Welsh Labour' current headed by AMs Rhodri Morgan and Ron Davies, 'Objective One' funding from the EU will enable the revitalisation of a Welsh capitalist economy along the lines of Ireland - closing their eyes, of course, to the massive social crisis developing in that 'successful' economy.
There is no social basis for Plaid to establish itself as a bourgeois nationalist party as Fianna Fail did, in different historical circumstances, in Ireland. As a petit-bourgeois grouping it runs the risk of drifting towards more extreme forms of nationalism. But in Plaid's rank and file, a whole layer of young workers, many drawn in on the basis of opposition to New Labour's sell out to capitalism, will not be prepared to settle for blaming all our woes on 'The English' or on 'foreigners' in general.
The scene will be set for a split or an exodus of activists looking for socialist policies to solve the crisis which faces all sections of Wales - agriculture and industry, the hill farms and the valleys. Any real solutions will involve a program far wider than a narrow nationalist perspective, and the search for such solutions will lay the basis of a mass Welsh socialist movement linked with similar movements throughout the Isles and in Europe.

Tuesday, 11 December 2007

What is a Crime?

As I mentioned a week or two ago in the post on alienation an accurate definition of crime is a controversial thing. Indeed, criminology has been wracked by this problem most of it's existence. I'm going to try and put forward some of my thoughts on this, but first i'll explain why there has been such controversy.

To many what a crime is is simply something thats illegal in the statute books, which at first sight seems a perfectly workable definition. Except it isn't, as in that view a crime would have to be always on the statute books to always be a crime. But there are lost of exceptions to this. There are many things which have been criminalised or decriminalised - which category (crime or non-crime) should they fight into? Such things include drug use, homosexuality, abortion, rape within marriage and a whole host of things.

So how and why are things criminalised?

As I mentioned in the draft principles of marxist criminology, what is criminalised is defined by the ruling class and put through by parliament, it is also interpreted through their court system and enforced by their state. So to an extent it is Marx's old phrase that the ruling ideas are those of it's ruling class (or what is a crime is determined by the ruling class).

It isn't quite that simple as pressure from the population at large, particularly the working class can occur and force laws to be not passed, watered down or not enforced. (or in some cases passed or removed)

However, most people don't talk about crime in terms of everything on the criminal statute books (there are things on there most people don't realise). In fact the usually mean what i'll term 'popular crime', things mostly covered by violent, property, sexual and drug crime. But that isn't all that's illegal, what about corporate crime, state crime, environmental crime, war crime, transnational crime etc.

And what about anti-social behaviour, is that a crime? Under the current system in the UK you can be convicted of an ASBO and by defaulting on an order given to you subject to criminal courts, but they aren't crimes of themselves.

Also much drug crime and things like drinking and driving don't cause harm in themselves yet are defined as crime (in a preventative way) as a method of attempting to stop people from committing more serious crimes.

Anyway, this isn't a fully rounded out post, more just thoughts that i've dredged up over the last few weeks. For me, i think crime is a dialectical entity, always in flux and changing, put we should put forward also what we think a socialist world would see as crime and fight for those to be tackled in a transitional way. (i hope that made sense). I'll come back to this topic in further posts anyway, but i'd really appreciate people's thoughts on this.

Saturday, 8 December 2007

Review - New Maps of Hell (2007) – Bad Religion

New Maps of Hell is the latest album from veteran punk rockers Bad Religion and marks 25 years since the band’s first album How Could Hell Be Any Worse? The whole look is reminiscent of the band’s earliest work and this extends to the music.
Back is a heavy focus on organised religion, which was the inspiration for the band’s name (hardly surprising given the influence of right-wing Christian fundamentalism in the US). Musically, the album doesn’t live up to the quality of some of the bands previous albums. This not to say it isn’t any good, indeed there are some great songs such as Dearly Beloved, which tells the story of a man losing his religion and Before You Die pleading with people to think about why they hold their beliefs.
Similarly to their previous albums, there is criticism of the devastating policies of US capitalism, which comes through in such songs as Grapes of Wrath with lyrics like “Is profit and greed the only conceit on a scale between mere prosperity and inhumanity?”
Overall, unfortunately parts of the album are a little forgettable. It is an okay album, but I would direct people towards Bad Religions previous two albums, The Empire Strikes First and The Process of Belief.

Thursday, 6 December 2007

PCS DWP Strike

Just got back from a very wet and windy picket line in Bangor, at the DWP call centre on parc menai. the strike there wasn't quite as solid there as elsewhere around the country (the other jobs are really crap here) but there was still a large number of people not going in. Below i've posted some stuff from the pcs website as background to the strike, and a press release of the days action so far. I'll try and do a follow-up post over the next week or so too, btu I sold one paper and gave out quite a few leaflets too despite th driving rain. (plus hopefully they'll be advertising our next public meeting too.)

PCS today announced a two day strike by members working for the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) in Jobcentres, the Pension service and Child Support Agency (CSA) as the department walked away from last minute talks in a dispute over the threatened imposition of a below inflation pay offer.
The two day strike to be followed by an overtime ban will be held next week on Thursday 6 December and Friday 7 December and adds to the pressure on the government following rows over party funding and the loss of child benefit data. The two day strike comes as the DWP seek to impose a pay offer which would see approximately 40% of staff receive 0% pay increase next year.
Members are angry over the three year pay offer, which sees cost of living increases for longer serving staff members of 2% this year, 0% next year and 1% in the final year. The pay offer averages just 1% a year over the three years and sees the lowest paid receiving increases which take their wage to only 24 pence above the minimum wage.
The news comes as it emerged that the DWP would be closing three pension centres located in Birmingham, Blackpool and Dearne Valley at the cost of 650 jobs. The union warned that the closures would further damage the pension service which has been hit by delays and backlogs.
Commenting, Mark Serwotka, PCS general secretary, said: "The department has provoked conflict and the inevitable disruption that strike action brings by walking away from last minute talks. This insulting pay offer that will see low paid staff receive a pay cut in real terms has provoked anger amongst people who have borne the brunt of job cuts. Imposing a pay offer that averages out at 1% a year will do little for the morale of staff who have seen job cuts and services suffer.
"The government have got to start realising that its policies of cuts and driving down pay are not only damaging staff morale and services, but creating the conditions for systemic failure across the civil service. If the government and the department want to avoid damaging industrial action, then they need to re-start talks quickly on a fair pay deal for staff."

Fantastic Support for first strike day
6 Dec 2007
An estimated 70,000 PCS members supported the first day of the 2 day strike over the imposed below inflation pay offer.
Many reps reported better turn out than the excellent national action in May.
Hundreds of text messages have been received from reps on picket lines reporting solid support, good news coverage and high spirits.
Offices across the country were either closed or offering a very limited service with only a handful of senior managers covering the phones and turning claimants away.
The message to senior DWP management is clear. PCS members will not tolerate the imposition of an insulting, below inflation offer.
Turnout out tomorrow is expected to be even higher with more members on strike than any previous strike.

Monday, 3 December 2007

Some Updates From Bangor

Okay, so the plan to update the website this saturday went a bit to pot, got too busy coping with the vast amount of activity Bangor SP is getting up to this week (NUS extraordinary conference, A student debt demo in Cardiff, two days of the PCS on strike, three stalls against uni fees, a day of action on fees on saturday and discussions with several people who want to join). Anyway, I am definitely going to be posting on tuesdays, thursdays and sturdays every week (except if i go on holiday), with the excedption of today, this will be tuesdays post for this week, a brief update on the work of bangor socialist party and socialist students which should be appearing in the socialist soon!

Climate Change Day of Action

Bangor Socialist Party and Socialist Students are taking part in a day of action to coincide with the national climate change demonstration in London on Saturday 8th of October. From 11am-2pm we will be taking part in stalls and protests on Bangor High Street alongside of campaigning and environmental groups.

Che Guevara Meeting

Bangor Socialist Party and Socialist Students meeting about Che Guevara was attended by 10 people (our second largest meeting yet), including three people who were at their first socialist meeting. Hugh Caffrey introduced the discussion referring to how Che became politicised during his travels around Latin America and how this eventually led him to take part in the Cuban Revolution. The discussion commented on various things included the influence of religion on movements in Latin America, the relevance of Che for Latin American struggles today as well as some of Che's shortcomings.The meeting marks an important step in developing support for socialist ideas in North Wales. We already have an active group who are organising two-three stalls a week and discussing with many people. In the next few weeks we will be attempting to finalise becoming an official part of the student union. Our next public meeting will be How Do We Stop the BNP? on Saturday 15th December at 1.30pm in Letcure Room 1 at Bangor University.

Thursday, 29 November 2007

Alienation and Crime

NB: As you may have noticed, i'm now going to attempt to update the blog regularly on thursdays, saturdays and tuesdays, so here's the first post for that.

Criminology is in the midst of an aetiological crisis, or Jock Young and others pointed out in the mid 90s. Aetiology, is a theory of what causes criminal actions to occur. For left realism this is usually explained through the concept of relative deprivation, which they take from Robert Merton's concept of anomie. However, in this post i wish to talk about alienation and how this process can also lead to crime.

A note of caution I wish to strike is that in talking about the aetiology (or causes) of crime, I do not wish to lump all crime together as caused by the same things necessarily. Crime (indeed how you actually define crime can be a contentious issue), we must note, consists of various things including drug-related offences, sexual offences, violent offences, property offences, health and safety offences, white collar crime, anti-social behaviour etc. What links them (or at least most of them) is that they are all endemic problems under a capitalist society. That is not to say that they don't exist outside of a capitalist society, but that they will always exist within one. The aetiology between each group will vary with its character (and also with the groups).

Returning to alienation, I wish to deal with how thsi is presented in Hannah Sell's "Socialism in the 21st Century" (pp. 28-30). In particular the quote she takes from Marx's "Wage, Labour and Capital",

'And the worker, who for twelve hours, weaves, spins, drills, turns, builds, shovels, breaks stones, carries loads etc. - does he hold this twelves hours weaving, spinning, drilling, turning, building, shovelling, stone breaking to be a manifestation of his life, as life? On the contrary, life begins for him where this activity ceases, at the table, in the public house, in bed. The twelve hours labour has no meaning for him as weaving, spinning, drilling etc. but as earnings which bring him to the table, to the public house, into bed. If the silk worm were to spin in order to continue its existence as a caterpillar, it would be a complete wage worker'

I have to say I really like that quote. It sums up how I feel about my current job and probably many others about theirs too.
Hannah goes on to say "As capitalism has become more brutal over the last 20 years, alienation has undoubtedly increased. Without exaggerating, there is a small section of young people in Britain for whom the system has offered nothing, and who are, as a result, almost entirely alienated from society". Then slightly later, "One of the worst of all experiences in capitalist Britain is to be a young person who cannot get work - to have been thrown on the scrap heap".

I wish to labour on this point for a minute. In some areas there are simply very few jobs at all for anyone, let alone young people, or even when they are they are so mind-numbingly dull, like working in a call centre etc. So you drink (and other activities) to forget about how depressing work is. This will of course lead (not in all or even many circumstances) to binge-drinking and drunken violence. As for drugs, Hannah comments "There has been an increase in drug addiction, for example, a 400% increase in the number of children who have died from sniffing gas and glue between 1980 and 1990", and drug taking also can lead to burglary and theft (to obtain money to pay for drugs, although this is usually from friends and relatives), as well as the possibility of violent action under the influence of drugs.

Hannah then says, "The increase in alienation is a direct result of neo-liberal policies. This is graphically illustrated by the experience of the ex-mining villages around the country. The defeat of the 1984-5 miners' strike and the closure of the pits have left previously strong communities suffering the ravages of unemployment, poverty and drug addiction."

The point I wish to make is that crime is certainly not a rational choice. There are very decent jobs for young people today, such a dismal prospect of life of course brutalises peoplewhen they see no future for themselves (and probably accounts for quite a few suicides). You certainly cannot be wholly rational about your situation (indeed it's probably difficult at the best of times), and as for choice, I think this is best summed up by the lyrics from the Anti-Flag song No Blood-Thirsty Corporations (N.B.C.) "But a choice between shit is still shit!!!"

Not that the criminal actions that people take are defenicble, indeed they cause even greater harm to working class communities, but the finger of blame needs to be pointed elsewhere. "As long as we live in a capitalist society, then, as Marx described, "brutalisation" and "moral degredation" will remain, " Hannah concludes, before talking about how working class collective action could tackle that.

By the way, in amongst these few pages in various parts there is also mention of relative deprivation too. In fact, Marx also discussed this in Wage, labour and Capital, and as mentioned earlier is the favoured aetiological concept of left realist criminology, so i'll try and get to grips with it and post on this in the future too.

Saturday, 24 November 2007

Principles of a Marxist Approach to Criminology (A First Draft)

Below I've bullet pointed some of what I think would be key points to a marxist approach to crime. I would very much appreciate comments on what people think about these points, whether they agree with them, whether i've missed anything out at all either etc.

1) There is no seperate marxist theory of crime, rather marxist theory is applied to it, so we for example explain the aetiology (cause) of crime through ideas such as alienation, relative deprivation or as the normal workings of the capitalist system

2) The economic character of a period determines what crime is possible and what types of crime are likely to be prevelant.

3) Crime is however, defined in law, thus what is defined as crime is mostly what the ruling class of that period defines it as.

4) Crime disproportionately affects working class people, and brutalises them (a sort of double victimisation really)

5) The upper classes also have better means of protecting themselves, through private security, burglar alarms etc.

6) Class and other biases in the criminal justice system need to be analysed and responded to

7) The role of the state in both upholding bourgoise rule as well as responding to crime needs to be addressed.

8) Crime and responses to it should be analysed both in 'normal' times as well as in revolutionary changes when more progressive responses may emerge

9) As Marx says in his theses on Feuerbach, "Philosophers have hitherto interpreted the world, point is to change it"

Wednesday, 21 November 2007

New Book - Science, Marxism and The Big Bang

The Socialist party has recently published a new book, Science, Marxism and The Big Bang, which is a critical review of Woods and Grants Reason in Revolt. In it the book charts the developement of modern cosmology and it's relation to philosophy and marxism. It's a very good read.
The review points out some major flaws in Reason in Revolt, including not understanding how water boils, confusing Galileo and Einstein's relativity and most bizarely confusing the use of the term 'observer' in scientific literature (which means a point of reference) with there having to be an actual observer there (and thus Woods and Grant go on to say that modern science suffers from subjective idealism).
Those most alert may notice my name in the acknowledgements, for their information i proof read the draft for spelling errors and also spent some time discussing the problems of everyday life with the author.
Below I publish the introduction, but it can be read online here or bought here

Einstein was determined to re-write the laws of physics… From the standpoint of relativity, steady motion on a straight line is indistinguishable from being at rest.
― Woods and Grant, Reason in Revolt, 1995

First Law of Motion: Every body perseveres in its state of rest, or of uniform motion in a right line, unless it is compelled to change that state by forces impressed thereon.
― Isaac Newton, Principia, 1687

Reason in Revolt, Marxist Philosophy and Modern Science, written by Ted Grant and Alan Woods (hereafter abbreviated to Woods), attempts a Marxist critique of science.
A Marxist critique of science is a laudable project. But such a critique requires not only an understanding of Marxist theory, but also a thorough comprehension of scientific theories and their historical development. Marxism does not provide a ready-made key for making judgements about scientific ideas. It cannot substitute for a detailed knowledge of the appropriate scientific material. Unfortunately, Woods’ analysis, as we will show, reveals a poor understanding of the science he seeks to elucidate.
The past century has seen a transformation of the world through scientific development, whether for good or bad. There has also been a transformation of science itself, many times over, since Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels began the development of what they termed ‘scientific socialism’, which came to be known as Marxism. Marx and Engels often exchanged correspondence about scientific matters and they were close friends with Carl Schorlemmer, a member of the Royal Society (the UK's national academy of science), who advised them on the latest advances in chemistry.
Engels highlighted the role of scientists in human history. The "immortal work" of Nicolaus Copernicus showed that the earth revolved around the sun. Engels describes its publication as a "revolutionary act". Copernicus "shows theology the door" at the dawn of the Enlightenment, but Isaac Newton closes the period with his "divine first impulse". (Dialectics of Nature, Introduction) Engels endorses Immanuel Kant’s realisation, at that time unproven, that all "celestial bodies" originated from swirling clouds of gas. Engels calls this conception, "the greatest advance made by astronomy since Copernicus". For the first time, Engels comments, "the conception that nature had no history in time began to be shaken. Until then the celestial bodies were believed to have been always, from the very beginning, in the same states." (Anti-Dühring, p72)
Marx and Engels particularly admired Charles Darwin, a revolutionary, iconoclastic scientist in his own modest and hesitant way. Darwin showed how species developed and changed, discovering the secret of life’s evolution on our planet. Engels emphasises that "nature does not just exist, but comes into being and passes away".
One of the cornerstones of scientific socialism is usually termed ‘dialectical materialism’, although Marx and Engels never used the term themselves. Marx and Engels took the dialectical method of the German philosopher Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel and used it as a tool to understand the historical development of human society, once they had placed his philosophical method on a materialist basis.
In the last century, Marxists debated the revolutionary work of Albert Einstein and the Big Bang theory of the universe, with its origins in the observations of Edwin Hubble. Einstein’s theory of relativity and the Big Bang theory combined to overturn every last remnant of the old Newtonian science, which was saturated with the belief in the "absolute immutability of nature", as Engels emphasises. It is these two revolutionary theories, the theory of relativity and the Big Bang, with which the first half of Reason in Revolt (first published in 1995) is chiefly concerned.
For this reason our study of the relationship between Marxism and science will focus on the historical development of cosmology and in particular the contribution of Einstein and the Big Bang. We know that our universe exists, but did it come into being and will it pass away?
* * *
"Einstein was determined to re-write the laws of physics," writes Woods. "From the standpoint of relativity, steady motion on a straight line is indistinguishable from being at rest." (Reason in Revolt, p161) But, as we will show, this is not just the standpoint of relativity – it is not a re-write of the laws of physics by Einstein. It is the principle enshrined in Newton’s first law of motion. Einstein based his relativity on this law, or more specifically on the principle of relativity expounded by Galileo Galilei, dating back four centuries, on which it is based.
After discussing dialectics, Woods moves on to Einstein’s theory of relativity, the Big Bang theory, the origin of life, of mind and matter, and other universal matters. Reason in Revolt attempts to discuss ‘life, the universe and everything’. The jacket cover asks whether this "encounter" between Marxist philosophy and science will "provide the basis for a new and exciting breakthrough in the methodology of science?"
Woods attempts to make philosophical judgements about scientific ideas based on what he believes to be the dialectical materialism of Marx and Engels. But as Hegel, to whom Woods often appeals in Reason in Revolt, wrote nearly two centuries ago, "Truth is concrete". Hegel explains that without a concrete grasp of the subject under study, no clarity can be found. Following Hegel, many other Marxists – Vladimir Lenin in particular – have emphasised that truth is always concrete.
Reason in Revolt’s representation of dialectics is rigid and abstract. Lenin’s first "element" of dialectics (of which we find no mention in Reason in Revolt) is that every thing must be considered "in its relations and in its development". (Lenin, Conspectus of Hegel's Book, The Science of Logic, Collected Works, volume 38, pp221-2) By comparison, Woods approaches scientific theories too narrowly, and with insufficient knowledge or consideration of their overall historical development.
Woods tells us: "Decades ago, Ted Grant, using the method of dialectical materialism, showed the unsoundness… of the big bang theory." (Reason in Revolt, p189) Woods argues: "From the standpoint of dialectical materialism, it is arrant nonsense to talk about the ‘beginning of time,’ or the ‘creation of matter’." (Reason in Revolt, pp198-9) Grant and Woods believe that their knowledge of dialectical materialism bestows on them an ability to make decisive judgements on the correctness of science with little need to grapple with the evidence and its scientific interpretations. This is a misunderstanding of dialectical materialism, a misrepresentation of the method of Marx and Engels and of the materialist dialectics they developed.
In our discussion of cosmology, unlike that of Woods, we entertain no illusions that we, as Marxists, have, on the basis of materialist dialectics, ready-made criteria by which we can judge scientific theories. Science is, in any case, always incomplete. The solving of apparent contradictions which perturb scientific theories is the life-blood of scientific endeavour. A minority of scientists do not accept the current theories about the origins of the universe. The Big Bang theory itself began as no more than a curiosity supported by a minority – presenting a solution to Einstein’s equations which appeared to fit the observational evidence, but which had little support.
Nevertheless, beginning with the discovery of the cosmic background radiation – the ‘fossil evidence’ of the Big Bang – in 1965, there has developed a very broad degree of agreement with ‘four pillars’ of evidence for a hot dense origin to our universe. We intend to demonstrate the historical path along which mainstream science passed until it reached that astonishing cosmological viewpoint – the Big Bang theory of the universe – which Woods incorrectly believes to be incompatible with the philosophy of Marxism. We intend to test Woods’ grasp of the subject, his methods, and the criticisms he makes.
* * *
Reason in Revolt accuses modern physics of a retreat into "mysticism", a "mediaeval view", and is appalled at the "Creation Myth" of the Big Bang theory. Yet it is Woods who retreats to the standpoint of Newton, a standpoint which was overthrown a hundred years ago, as it came increasingly into conflict with scientific experiments. In fact, Newton himself was aware of contradictions in his theories of the universe. He admitted he had no idea, for example, on what basis gravity, his greatest discovery, perpetrated its mysterious instantaneous ‘action at a distance’ – the effect that binds planets in the vastness of space to their orbits round the sun.
Reason in Revolt claims: "Dialectical materialism conceives of the universe as infinite." (Reason in Revolt, p189) We will attempt to refute this claim. Viewed historically, it was Newton who argued that god is infinite and that therefore space and time must be infinite. Newton was also concerned that his ‘universal gravitation’ should have caused all the stars in the universe to have attracted each other – they should have all fallen into "one great spherical mass". Newton’s solution was to summon the hand of god to set an infinite universe in perfect balance.
Newton’s infinite universe, as embraced by Woods, is essentially a product of religious ideology. The physicist Brian Greene says: "Experimenters never measure an infinite amount of anything. Dials never spin round to infinity." (The Fabric of the Cosmos, p335) Infinity is a key concept in the history of philosophy and science, and anyone serious about the subject must be clear on the issues involved. This is no quibble over terminology but a crucial discussion of ideas.
In the fourth century BCE, (BCE – “Before the common Era”, a secular alternative term for BC, “Before Christ”) the ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle drew a distinction between ‘potential’ infinity, where any number, no matter how big, can always be increased by adding more numbers, and what he called "actual infinity". He pointed out that a potentially infinite series of numbers never reaches actual infinity and, in fact, never leaves the finite. The ‘actual’ infinite, Aristotle argued, does not exist.
Despite his references to Aristotle, Woods makes no direct mention of this seminal and essentially materialist position. Of course, the study of the concept of infinity has developed over the millennia. But as the physicist Lee Smolin recently wrote, in nature, "we have yet to encounter anything measurable that has an infinite value". Infinities which occur in scientific theories are not likely to be reflecting natural phenomena but errors or limits within the theory itself. Infinites in scientific theories are most likely to be "the way that nature punishes impudent theorists". (Smolin, The Trouble with Physics, p5)
Woods takes the opposite view. The universe, he repeats, "as Nicolas of Cusa and others thought, is infinite" (Reason in Revolt, p184) and, "The universe has existed for all time." (Reason in Revolt, p199) Woods claims support from Hegel and Engels but we will show that Woods has turned some of their central views upside down.
Einstein’s elegant general theory of relativity, published in 1916, solved the mysterious ‘action at a distance’ of gravity which so puzzled Newton. Einstein showed that gravity and motion are "intimately related to each other and to the geometry of space and time". (Smolin, The Trouble with Physics, p4) In 1929, Hubble famously discovered that the universe was rapidly expanding. This strongly inferred that the universe had issued from a hot dense origin and this expansion presented a real solution to Einstein’s equations.
In this way twentieth century science removed from cosmology the paradoxes arising from Newtonian notions of infinite time and space. It removed the need for the "divine first impulse". Far from leading to ‘creationism’, once very tangible evidence of the Big Bang arrived in the form of the discovery of cosmic background radiation, science soon began investigating what we here term the material ‘substratum’ from which the universe emerged in the Big Bang.
Of course, these new discoveries have not eliminated contradictions from science – there is always a dialectical interplay between theory and data. Our understanding of the universe will continue to advance and change. As we write, particle physicists are nervously awaiting the first results from the Large Hadron Collider, the latest and most powerful particle collider, now expected to be operational in early 2008. Many guess the findings will cause upsets and pose new challenges to the current attempts to unify quantum mechanics and Einstein’s general relativity – one of the great unsolved problems of physics.
Yet Woods scorns Einstein’s general relativity. He describes it as "mediaeval". Yet, to take one example, the pinpoint accuracy of GPS (Global Positioning System) navigation is achieved by continually recalculating the satellite data using Einstein’s equations. Without Einstein’s theory, GPS navigation would be less accurate by tens of metres. Woods desires to defend the "fundamental ideas" of Marxism by endorsing the fundamental concepts of the Newtonian universe – in the name of dialectical materialism, moreover. Woods says science has been set back "400 years", yet he wishes to set the clock back to the publication of Newton’s Principia in 1687.
* * *
Woods neither properly represents nor understands the last century of discoveries that have so completely changed the scientific conception of the universe. He misunderstands both dialectical materialism and its approach to science. In his obituary to Ted Grant, Woods claims that Reason in Revolt defends "the fundamental ideas of the movement". This review argues that, on the contrary, Reason in Revolt misrepresents the fundamental ideas of the movement. Grant, who died in July 2006, undoubtedly contributed much to Marxist thought, but he was not a scientist. With the appearance in the summer of 2007 of a second English edition of Reason in Revolt we felt it necessary to attempt to set things to rights. (Page references are to the first edition.) We wish, in the course of this discussion, to defend the genuine ideas of Marxism and suggest that Marxism takes quite a different approach to modern science.
In addition to our scientific survey of the last few centuries of revolutions in cosmology, we will argue that Engels was essentially antagonistic to the idea that our universe is infinite. Almost a hundred years before the Big Bang theory was accepted, Engels discussed both the birth and the death of our universe. We find no mention of this in Reason in Revolt. Woods confidently predicts that the infinite universe contains only "galaxies and more galaxies stretching out to infinity". (Preface to the 2001 Spanish edition of Reason in Revolt) But Engels refers the reader to Hegel who says that such predictions are merely a "tedious" repetition of known phenomena (in this case galaxies), which never leaves the finite. Support for an infinite universe in this form is a failure of imagination, rather than its triumph.
For two-and-a-half millennia, many philosophers have supported the view that infinity is an imaginary concept which has no actual existence. Hegel arrived at a dialectical proposition which can be expressed like this: you can always imagine an unending series of galaxies following one after another, but in concrete reality, at a certain point, quantity turns into quality and a new phenomenon emerges. Whatever existed before is negated. From this point of view there may be many galaxies undiscovered, or many universes beyond our own – it is speculation – but at some point, some other property will arise that ends the tedious repetition, whether of galaxies or universes, the conception of which is beyond our current scientific horizons.
A comment on the preface to the second English edition of Reason in Revolt
In May 2007 the publication of a second English edition of Reason in Revolt was announced. In the Preface to the new edition, Woods tells us that when Ted Grant and he were writing Reason in Revolt in 1995:
… we were still unsure about the existence of black holes. (Preface to the second edition of Reason in Revolt)
Ted Grant was scathing about the science of black holes, at least until 1990, and whilst Reason in Revolt takes a more equivocal stance in part, Woods was certain, in 1995, that the modern physics of the black hole was quite wrong. Woods says:
Singularities, black holes where time stands still, multiverses…These senseless and arbitrary speculations are the best proof that the theoretical framework of modern physics is in need of a complete overhaul. (Reason in Revolt, p174)
Now Woods appears to unreservedly embrace the science of "black holes where time stands still". In the 2007 preface to the second edition he states:
They are present at the centre of every galaxy and serve to hold galaxies together, giving them the cohesion without which life, and ourselves, would be impossible. Thus, what appeared to be the most destructive force in the universe turns out to have colossal creative powers. The dialectical conception of the unity of opposites thus received powerful confirmation from a most unexpected source!
Yet black holes are not proven. They "remain largely theoretical" and even problematic, as the New Scientist pointed out its recent cover story, ‘The Truth About Black Holes’. (6 October 2007) Woods’ original scathing condemnation of the modern science of black holes has been replaced by a contrary position which just as surely misrepresents modern science. Black holes are not by any means known to be – or even generally regarded to be – at the centre of "every" galaxy. Black holes are thought to be at the centre of a certain type of galaxy (including our own), at least in most cases, according to a study which Woods came across and misreports in the preface to the 2001 Spanish edition of Reason in Revolt.
Reason in Revolt reaches the pinnacle of its ridicule of modern science in its condemnation of the modern science of black holes and the Big Bang theory. Yet there is no direct mention of this in the 2007 preface. Instead, Woods comments on the correct method by which to apply dialectical materialism. Woods quotes Engels, who criticises the idealism of Hegel. Engels says:
The mistake lies in the fact that [the laws of dialectics] are foisted on nature and history as laws of thought, and not deduced from them. (Dialectics of Nature, Chapter 2)
In our critique we ask: Does not Woods make the same type of mistake? Does not Woods attempt to foist on cosmology what he believes are the laws of dialectical materialism? Reviewing, with complete incomprehension, the modern science of the Big Bang in relation to Einstein’s general theory of relativity, Woods cries, "Here the study of philosophy becomes indispensable." (Reason in Revolt, p216)
Reason in Revolt tells us that science has regressed to:
…the world of the Creation Myth (the "Big bang"), complete with its inseparable companion, the Day of the final Judgement (the "big crunch"). (Reason in Revolt p183)
Yet only seven years later, in the 2002 USA edition of Reason in Revolt, Woods offers his support to a mainstream re-working of the old speculative cyclical Big Bang theory, complete with its infinite Big Bangs and Big Crunches.

Monday, 19 November 2007

Socialism 2007

Two of us made the five hour trip from Bangor to London to participate in this annual event. The first session I went to, was the one added to the agenda only a few weeks ago on Burma, which indeed I'd been asked to chair. The session featured video footage of the recent protests and also a clip from john pilgers documentary on the 1988 uprising, as well as a brief introduction by Clare Doyle from the CWI. The discussion had some good input, but didn't really get going properly due to (i think) most of the people there coming to find out about burma, rather than knowing anything that much about it themselves (to be honest, I probably fell into that category too!).
Next on the agenda was the Socialism 2007 rally for socialism. The first speaker was Brian Caton, General Secretary of the POA (prison officers union), he hit back at the IBT (those who don't know a fairly insignificant left sect) who had been protesting against the us supporting the POA's recent strike, making some really good points about prison conditions, and admitting the existence of some reactionary prison officers, but saying they weren't welcome in his union. Next was Mel Mills, who if you go back on this blog to when I was in Huddersfield you might find mention of, she was the anti-cuts candidate who stood in a ward of Kirklees counil last election and reported of the advances made by the Save Our Services alliance in Huddersfield - anyone who says the CNWP is stillborn should take a look at this campaign. Next was a very short piece by a remploy shop steward, who my favourite line from was "I've got more socialism in my big toe than Gordon Brown". He was followed by Sadiq Abakar, a Socialist Party member facind deportation back to Darfur, where some of his family have been murdered and which he escaped from several years ago.
The Dave Nellist, who was hsoting the event read out some solidarity greetings from CWU NEC member Dave Warren (who seems to be leading the no campaign against the rotten deal with Royal Mail) and also from the striking NIPSA classroom assistants in Northern Ireland. Matt Wrack (FBU General Secretary) was the next to speak, starting with paying tribute to the firefighters who had recently died in Warwickshire and talking about the attacks on the fire service and the FBU. He was followed by a brief contribution from a Burslem Postal Worker who spoke about her branches struggle against trade unionist victimisation. Mark Serwotka was next, giving a lecture to an extent of left unity (more of which in a minute) and gave some example of the attacks on civil service workers including speaking of civil servants who were on maternity leave and expected to come in to do an IQ test two days after she was due to give birth, otherwise she would face the sack!
Peter Taaffe made the last major speech of the evening, in particular commenting on the need for a new workers party and drawing some conclusions from the split in RESPECT. Then followed the finance appeal rasing about £20,000, a short piece of film footage about the Russian Revolution and a very short contribution from a speaker from Socialismo Revolucianario (CWI in Brazil).
I failed to get much sleep that night, which meant i was quite knackered the f0llowing morning, but i managed to make it through the day nonetheless.
The first session I went to on Sunday was on the Shop Stewards Movement in the 1970's by Bill Mullins (SP industrial organiser). He started by giving an overview of that period of time, an era of revolutionary movements (france 68, chile 73, portugal 74 etc.), before commenting on the highly organised nature of the trade unions at that time, with 10 million workers in TUC affiliated unions and a period of mass action to defend and improve workers conditions. He talked briefly of the role of the CPGB in organising the Liason Committee for the Defence of Trade Unions, the main body through which the shop stewards organised, as well as many comments on his experience of being a shop steward at that time. The discussion focused on the mistakes of the CPGB and also on the existence of elements of workers control at that time. As well, Dave Chapple, co-convener of the National Shop Stewards Network (NSSN) suggested to Bill taht he should write a pamphlet of his experiences for discussion within the shop stewards movement today.
The next session was a debate on Venezuela between Karl Debbaut of the CWI and Jorge Martinez of Hands Off Venezuela and the IMT. (I've summarised this a little from my notes, no doubt there will be a write up fo thsi on the SP wesbite in a bit anyway)
Karl started off by pointing out the importance of Venezuela internationally, especially with Chavez talking about socialism, it had attracted the attention of many workers and young people (indeed I had a discussion with an otherwise unpolitical UCU rep the other day about Chavez). He pointed out that the CWI supports reforms that help workers, but we are critical of the IMT because they are fairly uncritical of Chavez and in Karl's opinion are more interested in having the ear of Chavez than in the politicla independence of the working class.
Jorge then outlined the IMT position on Venezuela, that there has been a revolutionary process since 1998, with massive participation by the masses but capitalism and the capitalist state still remains, even though the movement is a big threat to that. He concluded with three problems of the Venezuelan revolution, the first was that capitalism is still raking in big profits and that reforms cannot control capitalism. the second was that the state is only in a paralysis at the moment and that's why it could not cruch the movment for the time being. Finally he said there was a need for a revolutionary organisation there.
There were several contributions from the floor, the most interesting two in my mind were one from comrade PG who contrasted the building of the PSUV (Chavez's new Venezuelan socialist party) with the approach of the SP to the CNWP, pointing out that several things in PSUV are being imposed on the working class, the second interesting was on Chavez's foreign policy towards Iran, Russia, China and others, and the role he had played in breaking some strikes in the region (I think ecaudorian oil workers?).
Unfortunately Jorge dodged most of these questions prefering instead to concentrate on some queries that had been raised and points that he agreed on with the contributors from the floor. He did mention a document by the IMT on Venezuelan foreign policy on Iran, which i'm going to read though. Another annoyance for me was that despite their being other members of Hands off Venezuela in the room, none of them wanted to speak even after the chair asking several times that if they did they could be the next speaker.
Finally there was a closing rally on the russian revolution, but it wasn't as good as i had hoped, mainly because the russian comrade who had been expected their to speak had been denied a visa, which was a big shame.

Anyway, I've also been working on some ideas for future posts including one on Alienation and Crime, a review of the new publication Science, Marxism and the Big Bang and others for the blog over the next few weeks.

Friday, 16 November 2007

Review - The Sufferer and the Witness by Rise Against (2006)

Review by myslef taken from The Socialist issue 510

If the Siren Song of Counter Culture, Rise Against's previous album was anything to go by then the Sufferer and the Witness would be a fantastic album, and it doesn't disappoint.
The bands trademark double-time, emotionally rousing style comes through in the album's first song, Chamber the Catridge. The song, like others in the album focuses on two issues that are high in the conciousness of young people, war and the environment. It ends with the lyrics
"Can we be saved, has the damage now been done.. what's mine was always yours and yours is mine," highlighting the damage done to the environment.
In Bricks, the band conveys the anger of many young Americans:
"the lives our buried sons have laid won't cancel debts we've yet to pay"
"we run off fumes of injustice, we'll never die with the fuel that you give us"
The lack of a future for young people is conveyed again later, thorugh the lyrics
"the drones all slave away, they're working overtime, they serve a faceless queen. They never question why... but we have bills to pay, yeah, we have mouths to feed," in the intense song Drones.
All in all, the album is a fast paced emotive one, and an album I would definitely recommend to punk rock fans.

Friday, 9 November 2007

Corporate crime: Sign of an out-of-control economy

THE CAPITALIST press expressed shock and condemnation recently as three businessmen, directors of Independent Insurance which collapsed in 2001, were facing prison sentences for conspiracy to defraud. The three had used off balance-sheet accounting and other tricks to hide the fact that the company was in serious financial trouble.

Whenever a case like this comes to court, the capitalist press always tries to make it seem like a freak occurrence, due to a few 'bad eggs', but are occurrences like this quite so rare?
The collapse of US energy giant Enron was due to similar circumstances with certain traders being encouraged to take 'risks' to maximise their 'reward'.

Due to the competitive nature of free-market capitalism, companies feel forced to take ever bigger gambles to increase their profits. As in all gambles some people lose and then, in cases like this, try and hide their mistakes in the hope that it will all work out okay.

Furthermore cases like this are endemic. PricewaterhouseCoopers' recently released global economic crime survey showed that 48% of British corporations had suffered from some sort of economic crime in the last two years.

The capitalist press' main gripe is that the three directors of Independent Insurance misled 'the City'. Only after this do they comment on the over 1,000 staff who were made redundant, many of whose savings were wrapped up in company share schemes.

In all situations like this, where companies collapse, it is the working class that suffers the most. Meanwhile Michael Bright, one of the businessmen, has managed to keep his three homes and live off a £3 million pension pot despite bankruptcy!

Capitalism is a blind system, with the world's resources being used to create even greater profits for the wealthy, whilst failing to provide for many people's needs.

The capitalist press are complaining of these three businessmen's crimes. But they can't hide the fact that the capitalist economy is to a great extent out of control. The surest way to end corporate crime is by building a socialist society.

Monday, 5 November 2007

Open Letter from Bangor University Socialist Students

Dear Sam & Carolan, (SU President and SU Communications and Societies Officer)

We write in response to your blogs ( and ( dated 25th October 2007 in which you object to being called ‘right-wing’ in the Student Socialist issue 5. We stand by what we said. The record of SU officials at Bangor Uni is unfortunately right-wing – here we outline also an alternative socialist strategy to defend the interests of students.

Disaffiliation from NUS
The SU claimed affiliation fees would be better spent on student societies, in effect forcing students to choose either NUS affiliation or better-funded societies. Students should have both. Unions get funding from the institutions they organise. If they are short of funding they should campaign for an increase.

NUS needs to be campaigning and democratic. Among other problems, students face fees, debt, poor accommodation and low paid jobs. Yet NUS is failing to seriously campaign on these issues – looking instead to small national demonstrations on a Sunday, small lobbies of parliament and ‘wining and dining’ various New Labour ministers.

Socialist Students argue for a mass movement to defeat these attacks, built through a national body with a real base among students and pupils, linked to trade unions and with a democratically accountable leadership. Currently we argue that campaigners should link up within NUS to fight for students’ rights. We put forward a concrete alternative to the leadership, and campaign for NUS to become a democratic, campaigning organisation. We contest elections for NUS conference delegates and local union positions, as well as being involved in local campaigns.

When did you or the student union as a whole attempt to argue along these lines?

Cuts to the School of Ocean Sciences
In the Student Socialist we said the union failed to fight this. This is true.

Students looked to the Union for leadership. Union representatives could only manage passive support and verbal protests, when students wanted to know “what can we do?” A Socialist-led Union would have made suggestions to students of how to oppose cuts, including holding a protest on an Ocean Sciences open day or outside the Vice-Chancellor’s Office, as well as getting press coverage and supplementary tactics such as protest letters. Mass action requires wide support, but despite exams a two hour protest organised by the union would have found an echo. Such a campaign would at least warn the university off making further cuts.

Campaigns like this have been launched elsewhere. At Lambeth College, where Socialist Students was in the leadership of the union, we organised a campaign against extortionate canteen prices. This organised demonstrations of hundreds of people. We are happy to discuss the lessons of this and other campaigns.

Right-wing or not?
“Right-wing” is not “an insult” if it’s an accurate description of those concerned, especially when they admit it themselves! Sam’s blog says “I would describe myself as centre-right…” We never described either you or Carolan as “fascist,” it is not us who use this word lightly. We have consistently combated the far right, through organizing many student actions and supporting wider campaigns to undermine the BNP’s vote and lies. When did the student union effectively campaign on this issue?

Sam tells us Carolan was “indignant,” and she says “In all my born days, I have never ever been accused of being right-wing.” Carolan attacks “people who want to campaign against whatever the status quo is.” Surely anyone who is not right-wing wants to, and does, campaign against a status quo of Africa languishing in poverty, of Asia as a sweatshop, or in Britain of child poverty, low wages, students forced into part-time work and huge debts. This is not a status quo worth defending!

“Reform of NUS”
You describe NUS as “flawed, but which has now thankfully taken big steps towards reform”. Indeed, you were part of the steering group for the NUS Governance Review (also noted in Executive Council minutes for 05/10/07). These “reforms” mean destroying democracy within NUS, by scrapping the ‘Block of twelve’ part time elected NUS officers, restricting delegation sizes and transferring the running of NUS to a board of trustees. How can these reforms be left-wing?! Unfortunately it remains the case that, as we said, “NUS is trying to become a more bureaucratic organisation…”

Sam decries “little armchair sabbaticals who couldn’t get elected.” Far from reclining in armchairs, Socialist Students is actively campaigning, and winning elections! In Bangor recently we launched a widely-supported solidarity campaign with Nigerian students arrested for standing up for their rights. We have already contacted you about this – will you support the campaign? As for winning elections, three of us have recently been elected to the student council, Sam should know as he was there when we were elected!

If you still regard yourselves as left wing you should campaign with us, in support of the Nigerian students or perhaps on other campus issues which we could all support. If you still disagree with us we would be happy to debate these matters with you.

Yours Sincerely,

Bangor University Socialist Students

Tuesday, 30 October 2007

Support victimised Nigerian Students!

Socialist Students in Bangor held a day of action in support of victimised student activists at Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile Ife Nigeria.

Iain Dalton & Gemma Chapman, Bangor Socialist Party

Three student leaders are being held in prison on trumped up charges of conspiracy to murder. They were elected by the student body fight against plans to commercialise and undermine education provision and to attack students’ rights to organise and resist.
We ran a stall collecting signatures demanding the students release.
Later on three of us attended the Student Union General Meeting where we spoke to members of the Amnesty Society who pledged support for our solidarity campaign.

For more info about the international day of protests see

And for the latest report from Nigeria see

Wednesday, 24 October 2007

Venezuela and Crime - The cynical attitude of the opposition on crime

This is the second post in my Venezuela and Crime series, this piece is one I found on the CWI website whilst searching for something else, but it also forms an interesting second introduction to the discussion on some of the aspects i didn't manage to cover in the previous post which can be found here -Venezuela and Crime - A Preliminary Discussion.

Celso Calfullan, CIT (CWI), Caracas, 8 April 2006
The horrendous assassination of three people in Caracas has been used by the opposition to Hugo Chavez as an excuse to start an offensive against the government. After the brutal murder of the Faddoul brothers and their driver by criminals, the opposition parties called demonstrations and protests. Although we cannot but be horrified by the terrible crime and that we all have the duty to denounce such acts and demand justice for the Faddoul brothers, we cannot but feel indignation for the political games the opposition is trying to play in exploiting this situation.

The anti-Chavez opposition warns about ‘social disintegration’ taking place in Venezuela and accuses the government of incompetence when it comes to guaranteeing the safety of its citizens. The opposition says the government is responsible for creating conditions in which criminals can act with impunity.

We have to say that it is good that the opposition finally recognises the existing social disintegration in Venezuela, especially since this is one of the lingering effects of their past political rule. A rule in the service of the Venezuelan employers aimed at intensifying the exploitation of the working class and poor. For decades, the latter suffered hunger, lack of adequate housing and lack of health care. Isn’t this violence, also? Everyday, children and young people die in the most downtrodden areas of this country; unfortunately, in the majority of cases, their plight does not make the pages of the newspapers.

200 peasants killed
Less than a week ago, organisations of the poor peasants and the landless organised held a march in Caracas denouncing the murder of more than 200 peasant leaders by death squads in the service of the big landowners. Unfortunately, they too die an anonymous death. From reading the press, you would not learn about the daily suffering in the countryside. This press who now wails like mad dogs, with the aim to make political capital for the opposition out of the latest crime wave.

Virgini Rivera, the Vice President of COPEI (a Christian democratic opposition party), accused the government of dismantling the police forces during the last 7 years of its rule. This accusation follows on from rumours that the kidnappers and killers of the Faddoul brothers were police officers or dressed up as police officers. This accusation comes from a party, which, in the past, had complete control over the police forces and used them to serve the direct interests of the Venezuelan ruling class. There are many stories to tell about the police being used to repress working class movements or even to assassinate leaders of the left or whatever other opposition movement which threatened their interests. Many of the leading officers in the police force stayed in their posts when Chavez came to power. We would only have to scratch at the surface of the thin layer of paint that covers up their unsavoury past as hired killers against the people.

Enrique Capriles, mayor of Baruta and a leading opposition figure, was even more outspoken about the killings of the Faddoul brothers. He hoped the deaths would "Move the consciousness of the military" so that they would withdraw their support for the government.

What could our friend Capriles be talking about? Another military coup? Let us remember that it took less than 24 hours during the last failed coup for members of the opposition to send out lists with the names of political, trade union, and community activists marked out to receive ‘special attention’.

A national leader of Accion Democratica (a social democratic party), Nelson Lara, claimed in the press that President Chavez is indirectly responsible for the 12,000 assassinations which occur yearly in Venezuela. Nelson Lara says it is Chavez who built a state associated with crime, a state which calls on criminals to enter politics. Maybe Nelson is referring to his old political allies who have now left Accion Democratica to take up seats on the government benches in the parliament.

Another opposition member, Roberto Smith, who represents an opposition party with more letters in the acronym than actual members, claims "The citizens have lost confidence in the institutions, fundamentally in the security services".

He forgets that Chavez won the presidential elections precisely because the majority of the people lost confidence in the political institutions, including the political parties of the opposition. And that part of the middle class voted for Chavez because they thought a man with a military background would put a stop to chaos, crime, and corruption.

We cannot claim, however, that the Chavez government carries no responsibility at all for the high level of crime and violence. This arises mainly as a result of its desire to look for compromise with the ruling class, who are primarily to blame for the miserable and insecure situation in the country.

Working class must lead struggle against crime
Chavez speaks of revolution and socialism but, unfortunately, does nothing to carry out a concrete socialist programme, which can end capitalism and all its vices. Regrettably, social insecurity, misery, poverty wages, and, of course, the crime these things breed, continue to exist at intolerable levels for the population. The insecurity in working class neighbourhoods is 100 times worse than it is for the ruling and higher middle class who live in gated communities, and who are surrounded by body guards.

The struggle against crime must be organised and headed by the working class and the masses. We cannot put our trust in the police, as was proven again by the latest experiences. For the masses to defend their neighbourhoods against crime it is necessary to create self-defence committees, including, where necessary, creating neighbourhood militias, used in the fight against insecurity, drug dealing, and crime. This can be carried out as an immediate measure on the condition that the committees and militias are democratically elected and under the control of the neighbourhoods. The local police force needs to come under the democratic control of the local community. This would be a first step towards its replacement with a popular security force, elected and controlled by the local communities and organisations of the working class.

Monday, 22 October 2007

Dual Power and the Criminal Justice System

- A Review of Chapter 10 (Popular Justice, Dual Power and Socialist Strategy by Boaventura de Sousa Santos) of Capitalism and the Rule of Law (1979) edited by Fine et al. (Last set of papers from the National Deviancy Conference)

I chose just to write a review of this chapter because of some of the interesting issues it raises in terms of social revolution and criminal justice. Such pieces are something of a rarity too (something I'd like to change).
This piece discusses the lack of a Marxist theory of law and why the author thinks this is so, before speaking of the need to understand and analyse past revolutions to learn for the future. In this case, the author uses the 'concept' of dual power as outlined by both Lenin and Trotsky in the context of the Russian Revolution. de Sousa Santos then goes on to utilise a concept of 'dual powerlessness' in relation to the 1974-5 Portugeuse Revolution before commenting on transitional forms of justice both there and amongst the oppressed in Brazil.
As mentioned before analyses of the Criminal Justice System (CJS) during a revolutionary situation is rare. In doing this, de Sousa Santos picks up on several things written by Lenin, primarly the distinction between the governments 'sharing' dual power. One, the Provisional Government, is a regular bourgeois government whereas the other 'is a revolutionary dictatorship ie. a power based on outright revolutionary seizure, on the direct initiative of the masses from below and not on a law enacted by a centralised state power... it is the crux of the matter.' Trotsky, writing later, generalises dual power to other revolutionary situations although noting that in Russia it was very clearly marked out.
De Sousa Santos characterises the Portugeuse Revolution as being one of dual powerlessness, where "the bourgeois state may undergo a generalised paralysis for an extended period of time without coming to a collapse. On the contrary, it remains intact as a kind of reserve state to be reactivated if and as soon as the relationship of forces change in its favour." (pg. 158)
He then discusses several cases in both revolutionary Portugal and Brazil. I'm not going to cover them all as he only briefly covers them, but I will discuss the most interesting case for me, that of Jose Diogo, a rural worker accused of murdering a big landowner. The still existing state authorities kept refusing to try his case so a popular jury ended up trying him on the court steps and after considering the extreme circumstances he was under, as explained by many other rural workers present, acquitted him, although condemning the fact that he took individual action. The main point of this for me, is that what happened isn't just mob justice, it's an example of a popular criminal justice system and shows that an alternative is possible.

Wednesday, 17 October 2007

Venezuela and Crime - A preliminary discussion

For socialist criminologists, it is of vital importance not just to criticise how capitalism deals with crime (or rather fails to deal with it), but to observe what happens when more left wing regimes take power and what they do with the crime problem. For myself, I think it is a great shame that previous left criminologists failed to look at the effect of the Militant-led labour council in Liverpool between 1983-87 and what effects their policies and actions had on crime in that city. Similarly there is little serious criminological work on the effect of either the Paris Commune or the 1917 Russian Revolution on crime. (By serious work I mean work that doesn’t just slander the Bolsheviks and fail to address the real questions at hand – on the Paris Commune their seems to be nothing, whether this is because I haven’t researched it thoroughly enough yet I’m not completely sure however).

The same applies to the processes occurring across Latin America at the moment, and particularly Venezuela where the process is more advanced. A country with a president advocating socialism should be of prime importance for socialist criminologists. However, most commentary on crime and justice in Venezuela that I’ve seen so far comes from the right somewhat unsurprisingly condemning it. The role of socialist criminologists should not be to gloss over and deficiencies in the Venezuelan revolution, but to analyse what is going on with crime and justice in the country, what affect Chavez and the revolution are having and to criticise problems in a comradely manner.

There are two main things I’d heard about crime and justice in Venezuela before I began reading up about it. Firstly, that conditions in the Venezuelan prison system are terrible and secondly that there is a lot of violent crime, including murders in Venezuela. What I’ve found out so far goes some way to explaining the first of these but not so far the second.

The main problem with researching any country that isn’t an advanced capitalist country that isn’t in Europe (or Japan, the US, Canada, Australia and South Africa) is a lack of good information. Of course there are some anecdotal pieces, particularly where westerners have been imprisoned abroad or have been victims of serious crime, but compared to the wealth of information and statistics I could draw on when talking about the US or the UK. It just doesn’t exist. There are the occasional pieces of international comparative work but often these are just at the level of broad statistics (such as police figures or prison population which tells you a bit but not terribly much) rather than in depth comparisons which examine a criminal justice system at several levels and the processes involved in each.

Anyway back to Venezuela. I was fortunate enough that having started by MA course (in Comparative Crime and Criminal Justice) we actually had a lecture/seminar (they tend to be a mix of the two) on researching criminal justice systems comparatively and it just so happened one of the examples of pieces of information happened to be the World Factbook of Criminal Justice Systems article on Venezuela. It is here I can comment on the other problem I’ve found in researching this topic. That is that most pieces of research looking at Venezuela are hopelessly out of date, for example the most recent reference from the piece I was given was from 1993.

The two main themes was the corruption present in the Venezuelan Criminal Justice system as well as the poor conditions in prisons. Now I know from some brief pieces I’ve read that the Chavez government did move some reform of the judiciary including suspending judges heavily accused of corruption. It’s something I intend to examine in more detail (ie what specific instances, the situation now), but it’s important to note that most corruption is present in advanced capitalist countries rather than the so-called third world (see the recent piece I posted a week or two ago).

As for the prison overcrowding. I first think it’s important to get it into context. Firstly, Venezuela only has 30 prisons which really isn’t very many. Secondly the Venezuelan proportion of people in prison in Venezuela (74 per 100,000) is significantly lower than in the UK (145) and thus massively lower than the US (738 - which is the highest incarceration rate in the world). In fact Venezuela imprisons less people than Sweden (78). So it’s not some kind of authoritarian regime imprisoning lots of people, indeed the prison overcrowding existed prior to and during Chavez being in power.

If one looks carefully at the Venezuelan prison stats (I got kicked out of the library before I could make a note of exactly where I got them from, I think they were UN ones), you notice that almost half of the entire Venezuelan prison population consists of remand prisoners. So half of the prison population is those who haven’t been even sentenced yet! The reason, the lack of judges to proceed with court cases so prisoners are held for extremely long periods of time.

Anyway this is just a beginning, and to be honest I feel like I haven't explained all that much at all, but I'm intending in following up this post with more specific ones such as on the venezuelan prisons system, criminal justice, crime figures and other posts over the next few months.