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