Tuesday, November 30, 2010

How Do People Become Radical? (Part Two)

Student demands are selfishness in action
Continued from Part One

Becoming radical is not easy. For me, it was a quite deliberate process of smashing what William Blake called the "mind forged manacles" - the heavy, clanking, iron chains cast in church, school, and even the home. As my new knowledge grew, I found myself increasingly able to contextualise the old teachings. But this is a long, drawn-out task, which I know I am far from completing, though I have been working on it for twelve years. I doubt I will ever complete it, regardless of what happens politically during the rest of my life.

And then there's putting your thoughts into practice. Often of course, there are economic costs, not to mention the 'free time' given up to organising things, (maybe) writing subversively, and taking political action. The more you immerse yourself in this world, the higher the toll it takes. You are combating everything; swimming against the tide. There have been many moments - such as once when I was awoken at four am to face off with massive, dead-eyed riot cops - when the inevitable question 'Why?' entered my head.

But then why do people do anything? To put things as simple as possible, people act in one way because it seems better than all the other ways. Becoming a communist seemed better (and more logical) than giving up all hope for myself and humanity, and I remain one for similar reasons. And when I believe, how can I not act?

There's a more formal Marxist way of saying the same thing. Perverse though it may seem, activism is a kind of 'selfishness'. We are all shaped by the flow of history, and yet:
"History does nothing, it does not possess immense riches, it does not fight battles. It is men, real, living men, who do all this, who possess things and fight battles. It is not ‘history’ which uses men as a means of achieving – as if it were an individual person – its own ends. History is nothing but the activity of men in pursuit of their ends."
When I take part in radical activism, I do so because I believe it's in my best interests. If there was some kind of situation where it seemed to be against my best interests, I wouldn't continue. There is nothing less radical than martyrdom. So in the fullest sense, to go back to my friend's questions, I see my own activism as very much 'nurture' over 'nature'. Sure, I must have been born with certain predispositions, but they have been shaped by the events of my life. No less than the investment banker or the president, I am doing what seems best for me.

I'm aware that this isn't a fully satisfactory answer, because it doesn't offer some kind of 'magic bullet'. There's no particular argument you can make that will definitely make people see things your way. Ranting at them doesn't help, because it often just alienates you from people who could be allies. On an intellectual level, all that you can do is try to put the day to day disasters into context, predict the way things will turn out if capitalism is left to continue unabated, and offer realistic ways out of this mess.

If we're talking about 'selfish activism', nothingiseverlost's comment on Part One raises more interesting questions about how "one of the big dividing lines is the point where you start basing your activity around your own needs and everyday life". Is there a division "between getting pissed off at what capitalism does to people in Iraq/Colombia/other distant location that you can't really affect, and getting pissed off at what it's doing to you personally"? With a new generation of students and workers becoming radicalised by the economic crisis of their own lives, 'the selfishness of solidarity' seems like a good idea for another article/thesis/book!

So what does separate us from "the ones who are content to fritter their lives away watching soaps and reading The Enquirer?". Ultimately I would say it is an urgent sense that the world can (and must) be a better place for us and our descendents to grow up in. In these times of heightened class struggle, the celebrity magazine reader of one week is likely to become the hardcore revolutionary of the next.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Strengths and Limitations of the Portuguese General Strike

On Wednesday, a 24-hour general strike against austerity measures paralysed the Portuguese economy. This afternoon, the Portuguese parliament forced the package through anyway. While Wednesday's action demonstrates the potential social weight of the working class, Friday's vote shows that - as in Greece and France - one day strikes and marches are not going to stop governments submitting to the financial aristocracy.

Wednesday's 'greve geral' was jointly called by the General Confederation of Portuguese Workers (CGTP) and the General Union of Workers (UGT). It was the first time in decades that both big unions had called out their members on the same day. According to CGTP officials, 75% of Portuguese workers took part in the strike. Significantly, Labour Minister Maria Helena Andre was forced to admit, “We are facing a very reduced participation in the private sector of the economy.” Private sector employees are traditionally reluctant to come out on strikes spearheaded by their public sector counterparts.

The WSWS reports that:
"Portugal’s largest exporter, Volkswagen's Autoeuropa plant, which produces 500 cars a day, came to a standstill. Trains and buses in the capital Lisbon came to a halt. Many shops were shut. Almost all workers employed by city and town municipalities stopped work. No flights took off or landed at the country’s airports. Ports were also closed. Other public services—health care, education, the post office and banking—operated minimal services."
On examination, it is obvious that the general strike was called in order for workers to let off steam, without actually threatening the existing order of things. Union leaders across the globe have shown similar tactics time and again in 2010 - they have talked tough when needed, whilst negotiating with government behind their memberships' backs. One day strikes in Greece, France and now Portugal have completely failed to overturn austerity plans. The symbolic nature of the Portuguese strike is clear from a consideration of its date; the government was aware that they just had to ride out one day, and then they would be free to slash public sector pay by 5%, freeze pensions, and raise VAT by 2%.

However, the financial aristocracy doesn't think even this is enough. Markets are now - in the words of the BBC - "bet[ting] on a Portuguese bailout". Following events in Greece and Ireland, a certain pattern is emerging. First, traders bet that the government in question will default on its loans, pushing the cost of those loans higher. Then, prominent politicians from that country deny that they will be seeking a bailout. Then a bailout is announced, followed by ever more savage austerity measures, to be borne by the social class that produces all wealth - the working class.

This week's Portuguese show of solidarity proved yet again that it is the workers of each country who actually keep economies running, and generate profit for the bosses. Yet they can have no effective say in the shape of those economies, so long as they remain trapped within the confines of reformist union structures.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Irish Sighs - A Warning To Us All

Misfortune of the Irish
The Irish government's "Recovery Plan" is a recipe for poverty, misery and social crisis on a massive scale. It is also a recipe for "significant civil unrest", according to a warning from a prominent Irish trade union leader.

Dictated by the International Monetary Fund and the European Union in return for an €85 billion loan, the Plan will see the equivalent of €20 per week taken from the average person, although as usual the poorest will be hardest hit.

25,000 public sector job losses are scheduled over the next four years, with €2.8bn "savings" in welfare also envisaged. The minimum wage will be cut by one euro an hour, leaving the rate at €7.65, and VAT will increase by three per cent over the period. The extremely low rate of corporation tax - credited with fuelling the "Celtic Tiger" growth of the 1990s and early 2000s - will remain. Finance Minister Brian Lenehan even told the banks that the state pension fund would be used to bail them out, should that prove necessary. There are fears that Allied Irish and Bank of Ireland might soon become so-called "zombie banks" - financially insolvent but 'undead' due to government money.

Taken in total, the latest phase of Irish cuts exceeds the per capita impact of George Osbourne's recent Comprehensive Spending Review in the UK. However, these Irish cuts double the agony piled on by previous cuts made since the financial crisis began in 2007.

Despite all these enormous sacrifices to the great god Mammon, European financial markets have taken a further slide, with investors expressing doubts that even the measures announced yesterday will be enough to prevent the Irish government from defaulting on its loans. Perhaps ironically, by doing this they are pushing up the cost of Ireland's loans, and the country's credit rating was downgraded overnight. Lenders also feel that the Irish government's figures are based on over-optimistic economic growth projections (1.75 percent in 2011, 3.25 percent in 2012, 3.00 percent in 2013 and 2.75 percent in 2014).

A layer of parasitical financial capital is currently turning its attention from one country to another (Greece, Ireland, Portugal? Spain? UK?), betting against the success of the economy, reaping the rewards as it sinks under their weight, and then demanding slashing cuts in government spending in return for loans. Having become global, the capitalist economy is now in a highly profitable tailspin - profitable, that is, for a tiny elite. Others might call it a 'depression'.

David Begg, head of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, disputes the claim from Eamon Devoy of the Technical Engineering and Electrical Union, that “we are on the brink of significant civil unrest in this country, the like of which has not been witnessed in this jurisdiction for decades”. Begg remains publicly confident that his trade union bureaucracy can curb workers' anger, stating that: “It’s not the case that people think the whole thing is inevitable, it’s simply that they’re much more law abiding people who don’t want a revolution,”

Begg and the rest of the Irish trade union bureaucracy have already tied Irish state workers into a no strike agreement, in the so-called 'Croke Park Agreement' at the time of the previous cuts round. If Croke Park stands, there will be no official avenues for letting off steam, as there were during the recent Greek, French, and Portuguese one day general strikes. An eruption of dissent is therefore inevitable.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Student Occupiers Open Class Struggle Classrooms

The occupation at Warwick
Students across Britain are taking direct action against the double whammy of 300% tuition fee rises and huge cuts in higher education funding.

A mass walkout of university, sixth form, and even school students began at 11 am. The BBC reports that university students took part in Manchester, Liverpool, Sheffield, Bristol, Southampton, Oxford, Cambridge, Leeds, Newcastle, Bournemouth, Cardiff, Glasgow and Edinburgh. School walkouts have been reported in Winchester, Cambridge, Leeds and London.

The actions - which are beyond the control of the National Union of Students bureaucracy - have largely been organised via social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter, as well as word of mouth. In contrast to the spontaneous breakout of direct action witnessed at Millbank Tower two weeks ago, this day has been planned for some time, so the most tech-savvy generation in history is showing one of its greatest strengths - its capacity for self-publicity - something which by-passes (and occasionally feeds into) the corporate media.
Police? Camera? Action!
So far, occupations of university buildings or rooms have been announced at the London School of Oriental and African Studies, Manchester Met, University of the West of England, Royal Holloway, Birmingham, Plymouth (see this live feed!), Warwick, Essex, Leeds, and London South Bank. Doubtless more will follow in the coming hours.
Great minds...
For the students taking part - or even going about their usual business on campus - these occupations will now be transformed from classrooms of hierarchy-based learning to classrooms of class struggle. Over the next few days, these occupations will take different paths. Perhaps some will win concessions from university management. Others may well descend into in-fighting as the noose tightens. Others could be overwhelmed by police repression. But the real value of these occupations will be in helping to create a culture of resistance, and as an object lesson in how corporate institutions and the capitalist state combat such resistance.

In these times of savage cuts and austerity as dictated by international finance, the students cannot win free education on their own. This can only be achieved by the working class as a whole, as part of a project to transform society for the benefit of all.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

How Do People Become Radical? (Part One)

"Suddenly everything fell into place."
A few days ago, a Facebook friend asked her "activist friends":

"When did you become an activist? Have you always been one to stand up for the underdog? Did you have some sort of awakening? Is this thing nature, or nurture? I ask because we need to find a way to awaken the others. What separates us from the ones who are content to fritter their lives away watching soaps and reading The Enquirer? I'd love to hear how you got this way!"

I'd like to pick up these questions, and offer some answers. I will use the term 'radical' rather than activist, because for me activism covers every kind of protest and lobbying of the government that you can imagine, and I'm not particularly interested in Amnesty International or Friends of the Earth. Of course 'radical' has its own problems as a term (a Google image search picked up reactionaries like Islamicist preachers and Barack Obama), but I think it means anyone who (to borrow the words of Henry David Thoreau) 'strikes at the root' of the problem - capitalism itself - rather than "merely hacking at the branches of evil".

In his article How I Became A Socialist, William Morris claimed it may be of some use to describe his "conversion", but only if "my readers will look upon me as a type of a certain group of people". I agree, but the problem with my own conversion is that I doubt "a certain group of people" became radicalised in a similar way. The transformation of my outlook sounds like a 'born again' religious conversion when I describe it. Of course, this is for my own readers to judge.

In late 1999, I was eighteen. I was also more or less suicidal. I had been taking anti-depressants for maybe a year and a half, having been diagnosed with 'clinical depression'. I was consumed with self-disgust, but also disgust at the state of the world. I had a long-standing interest in politics, which in my mind went back as far as the 1984-85 miners' strike, and one of my earliest memories is the shock of watching police attacking strikers at what I now know to have been the Battle of Orgreave. I also remember advising my parents to vote Labour rather than Alliance at the 1987 general election, because "they would be more likely to get the Tories out".

By about the age of fifteen, I was becoming critical of the monarchy and nationalism, and couldn't understand why the media always talked as if Britain was the centre of the world, when it was just a small island with a smallish population. When Tony Blair and New Labour came to power in 1997 (replacing the Conservative Party that had been there my whole life), I enthusiastically supported the government, and tried to persuade myself that they were making things better for the majority. However, early policies such as the cut in benefits for single parents (voted on while Blair was partying with celebrities), and the decision to bomb Yugoslavia, gave me pause for much thought.

'Maybe they are trying to make things better', I remember thinking, 'but there's something systematic that's stopping them'. I read some political theory, and tried to think of alternative ways that society could be organised...without much success. But I don't want you to get the wrong idea; I was more preoccupied with wondering what would happen if I killed myself, and what might be the least painful way of doing so.

Then, in maybe September 1999, my socialist grandad gave me his battered old copy of The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists, by Robert Tressell. As I wrote this June, in my review of a play version, "Suddenly everything fell into place". I understood immediately that the capitalist system itself was the foundation of all major problems in the modern world. From there it was The Communist Manifesto, and to a soundtrack of Rage Against The Machine and early Manic Street Preachers, I decided that I too was a communist. The recovery from depression was also underway. I resolved to learn how the capitalist system worked in as much detail as possible, a process that is still very much ongoing.

Next week I'll give a fuller answer to those Facebook questions, with reference both to my own experience and those of others.

Continued in Part Two

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Skyline (15)

Aliens and alienation battle it out in Skyline
Directed by Colin Strause and Greg Strause
Written by Joshua Cordes and Liam O'Donnell

There's no doubt that Skyline is a remarkable film. It is remarkably bad. It is remarkable that $10 million have been spent on this preposterous pile of junk. Of course, Los Angeles churns out poor cinema by the canyon-full, but Skyline goes way beyond simply being poor. It is the worst movie I have ever paid to see. I therefore want to explain why, almost as an act of self-cleansing.

A bunch of people are in a plush LA apartment block. I could tell you vaguely who they are, and the reasons the plot would say they were there, but you really don't need to know that. Knowing it would add nothing. All you need to know is that the real reason they are in the apartment block is they need to be trapped somewhere quite high up when the aliens come, and it has to be a plush apartment block so the blinds do certain things.

The aliens do come. They kind of hypnotise bystanders using these blue beams, bystanders who then float up to the sky, where we later discover they have their brains ripped out. People who see this kind of thing going on don't particularly want it to happen to them, so they hide, or try to escape. As a last resort, they fight them. One man - I won't dignify him with the word 'character' - even punches one. Yes, he punches a gargantuan thing from another world, a thing that has already demonstrated its resilience and vast technological superiority. But that's not the most ridiculous thing about it; the punching tactic actually works.

Skyline is a film that is entirely built around the special effects. It's as if the 'Brothers Strause' actually sat down to watch say Close Encounters of the Third Kind, saw the giant ship, and thought 'We could do those effects so much better these days; how can we make a film that would allow us to string a series of set piece visuals together?'

So plot devices are (very obviously) lifted from just about every alien movie you've ever seen, and possibly even World Invasion: Battle LA, which isn't out yet, but for which the Brothers served as visual effects designers. There is literally no character development, and the dialogue could easily have been written by a ten year old. Personal motivation - including that of the aliens - is considered an irrelevance. "Does it really matter?", as one man said to another. The second man had wondered aloud what the hell the aliens might be playing at. This earned him the contempt of his companion, maybe because including their motivation in the script could lead to a Stealth bomber bounce being written out or something.

This is not about whether or not you like action films. It's about the directors not worrying about whether their audiences care about the people in the action film. It's about massive, overwhelming hugeness, signifying nothing. It's about writers who have probably never experienced anything interesting, who fail to show us anything interesting.

B movies have a long history, and over the last decade there's been a slew of films deconstructing the clichés of so-called 'genre films', giving us a few laughs on the way. But for all that Skyline is laughably dreadful, I get the sense that the production team took it damned seriously. The 1980s Spielberg-esque orchestral swells blatantly tell us when to be happy and sad - because the script can't - but it's all done entirely without irony.

The Strauses funded this effort themselves, and that's their decision. Perhaps they wanted to showcase what they could do visually for other people's films. But it's high time that writers with something to say were paired up with production people who could match their vision. In these times of economic strain and political change, there are many new stories to tell. The success of TV shows like The Wire, Mad Men and The Tudors shows that the potential audience is out there, and hungry for something different.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

'Wills', Kate and the Return of the Ghost Town

The happy couple
According to BBC News, this morning's biggest story is the engagement of William Windsor to Kate Middleton, following what is being called a "marathon eight-year courtship". And maybe it is significant in a way. Not for the wedding itself of course - which will just be two people saying some words in a building - but for the way it will be used, and the way it will be viewed.

Prime Minister David Cameron declared himself delighted at the news, saying it was "A great day for our country, a great day for the Royal family and obviously a great day for Prince William and for Kate." When the Cabinet were informed of the "unadulterated good news", ministers apparently gave "a great cheer", and "banged the table".

And well they might. At a time when the government is going flat out to increase the gap between super-rich and poor, they will no doubt be hoping that the royal family performs its ceremonial role, and 'unites the country' - i.e. chloroforms the opposition in workplaces and on the streets. I am reminded of satirical website The Onion's headline for the 1981 marriage of William's mother, whose engagement ring Middleton now wears: "Fairytale Wedding Distracts Rank-and-File: Economically Ravaged British Underclass Temporarily Forgets Miserable Lives".

July 1981 was an interesting month, and not just because I was born. With Margaret Thatcher's neoliberal reforms biting, poor young people rioted in Liverpool and Leeds, following uprisings in Brixton and Birmingham earlier in the year. The Specials were at number one with Ghost Town, a song which - as Harpy Marx has blogged - "capture[d] the moment". But yes, certain layers of society were distracted by the ill-fated wedding of Charles Windsor to Diana Spencer. There was bunting - not fighting - in many streets, as people toasted the "fairytale".

Nearly thirty years have passed, and social conditions have worsened for the majority, because Thatcher was just the beginning, and her disciples continue her work to this day. However, those three decades have not been lived in vain. Many have become 'disillusioned' - in the true sense - with royalty, and indeed all those in power, who are rightly seen as entirely self-serving and detached from everyday life. Despite the media fanfare, a glance at the BBC's 'have your say' page for the engagement shows a general lack of interest, plus concern about how much the patriotic extravaganza will cost. 'Steve' perhaps sums up the consensus with the following: "Oh goody rejoice the World is saved. Hope they have a nice wedding,no doubt we will be picking up the tab! Any chance of a day off?"

And there is the dilemma for the ruling establishment: a lavish wedding will no doubt overwhelm some people into 'uniting' behind the royal family. But at a time when every penny of government spending on 'commoners' is being questioned, the spectacle of a parasitic elite indulging in taxpayer-funded back-slapping would provoke furious anger in others. Because, of course, "we're all in it together".

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The Advice That Met Cops Don't Want You To See

They're FIT, but my gosh don't they know it?
The London Metropolitan Police closed down anti-police surveillance website Fitwatch on Monday. This was after the blog published advice to any protesters "waiting for a knock on the door" in the wake of last week's dramatic anti-cuts demonstration by students at the Conservative headquarters.

The Met's "e-crime unit" told hosts JustHost.com that Fitwatch was attempting to "pervert the course of justice" by offfering tips such as "Perhaps now is a good time for a makeover".

"We hereby request [you] de-host this website for a minimum period of 12 months", Scotland Yard wrote. "The website is providing explicit advice to offenders following a major demonstration in central London."

Fitwatch (whose Facebook page is here) was set up in 2007 to counter the activities of the so-called 'photocops' - more officially the Forward Intelligence Teams - who shoot video footage at even the most peaceful demonstrations and public meetings. The usefulness of their recent "explicit advice" can be judged at this Indymedia repost, and many other locations.

As I noted last week, the Millbank demonstration marked "a watershed in the fightback against austerity Britain". However, the nature of the capitalist state demanded a watershed in the repression of those willing to fight back. The attack on Fitwatch, plus the "attempted murder" arrest of a man suspected of being the foolish Millbank fire extinguisher thrower, shows that the ruling class will use all resources at its disposal to impose the burden of the financial crisis on working class shoulders.

Friday, November 12, 2010

The Battle of Millbank: A Watershed in UK Fightback

The student demonstration quickly ascended into anarchy
The protest, rioting and occupation at the ruling Conservative Party's Millbank headquarters marks a watershed in the fightback against "austerity Britain". It was a 'demonstration' in the truest sense of the word; a sense that had been watered down to near meaninglessness over the past two decades of shuffling A to B marches and empty speechifying. It demonstrated - perhaps for the first time in many of the participants' short lives - that 'ordinary' people in the UK don't have to take a lifetime of debt and misery lying down.

Participant reports describe in thrilling detail the moments when these young people took their first, uncertain steps across the imposing physical and mental barriers they had been presented with. The Commune’s Mark Harrison tells how National Union of Students (NUS) stewards made the crucial mistake of instructing members of the unexpectedly huge fifty thousand-strong crowd: “Don’t go off the right, that’s Tory HQ, carry on forward for the NUS route”. Once at Millbank, New Statesman blogger Laurie Penny poetically describes how:
“Not all of those smashing through the foyer are in any way kitted out like your standard anarchist black-mask gang. These are kids making it up as they go along. A shy looking girl in a nice tweed coat and bobble hat ducks out of the way of some flying glass, squeaks in fright, but sets her lips determinedly and walks forward, not back, towards the line of riot cops. I see her pull up the neck of her pink polo-neck to hide her face, aping those who have improvised bandanas. She gives the glass under her feet a tentative stomp, and then a firmer one. Crunch, it goes. Crunch.”
Smashing; the state
The NUS had called the demonstration in response to the coalition’s proposed tripling of student fees, combined with a 40% cut in teaching budgets. By all accounts, NUS organisers and police alike had expected ten thousand students would show up, but were overwhelmed by the massive crowd, hundreds of whom took the opportunity to occupy the Millbank offices, and thousands of whom cheered them on.

The response of the NUS bureaucracy was as appalling as it was predictable. Labour-supporting NUS president Aaron Porter was all over the mainstream media, denouncing the breakaway demonstration as "shameful", and absurdly claiming that a small handful of "troublemakers" had been able to hijack his rally. Porter’s line fed into mainstream media condemnation of the "brainless" students, who were derided as "middle class", and "thugs" – words which are not often seen together.

The truth is that with 36% of young people now going to university, more students from working class backgrounds are making it than ever before, though already significant class divisions will inevitably be further skewed by fee increases. The demonstrators are part of a rapidly radicalising generation, who face mountains of debt before they even find full time work. Graduate unemployment is currently at a seventeen year high, and will undoubtedly spiral higher still once the government’s cutbacks kick in.

A law student poses with a looted Tory cricket bat
In a situation like this, it is not surprising that the traditional mechanisms for voicing dissent are increasingly not seen as anything like sufficient.

The Daily Telegraph gleefully pressed ruling class panic buttons by quoting a Liverpudlian student as saying: "Normal protests are just Socialist Workers marching and doing nothing. We smash up buildings because it will get us into the news and we're not going to stop until the Government listens."

However as Phil Dickens notes, smashing things up is no substitute for a thought-out long term strategy for defeating capitalism as a whole:
"Regarding what actually went on today, we should see this as merely the beginning. The occupation of a university campus or building over a lengthy period could inspire the same spirit of solidarity and ignite the broader debate that the Vestas occupation did. Indeed, when such occupations did happen they deserved far broader publicity."
The red and black flag of anarchism over Tory HQ
But the press release from the rooftop occupiers hints that class consciousness is developing:
“We oppose all cuts and we stand in solidarity with public sector workers, and all poor, disabled, elderly and working people. We are occupying the roof in opposition to the marketisation of education pushed through by the coalition government, and the system they are pushing through of helping the rich and attacking the poor. We call for direct action to oppose these cuts. This is only the beginning of the resistance to the destruction of our education system and public services.”
Wednesday may only be the beginning, but living in Britain feels very different now that it has so dramatically begun. Thursday occupations at Manchester and London Goldsmiths universities illustrate precisely why.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Iain Duncan Smith and the Logic of the Workhouse

Ghetto blaster: IDS in the hood
Even as the clean-up got underway at Tory HQ following yesterday's student invasion, Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith was adding fuel to the fire of the coming social explosion. By announcing the final cutting away of the post-war welfare safety net, Duncan Smith is doing the very opposite of 'making work pay' - one of his stated aims. On the contrary, his reforms are a calculated attack on all working class people.

Under Duncan Smith's plans, jobless claimants will be expected to undertake thirty hours of unpaid community work per week or lose their entitlement to benefits for six months. Job Centre advisors will also be pressured into imposing sanctions on those who fail to apply for jobs that have been referred to them.

In her New Statesman blog, Laurie Penny emphasised the absurdity of Duncan Smith's pretensions:
"As strategies for tackling poverty go it's not subtle. In fact, it's roughly equivalent to a quack doctor plastering a typhoid sufferer with leeches or cutting a hole in a patient's head to cure a migraine. This trepanation of the welfare system is supposed to "get Britain working" by returning the poor to the "habit" of nine to five labour -- alongside savage cuts to housing benefit and Jobseeker's Allowance that will apparently "incentivise" them towards work that isn't there."
Indeed, in six short months the ConDem coalition has already done so much to ensure that the work "isn't there". In the wake of Chancellor George Osbourne's recent Comprehensive Spending Review, it is being predicted that half a million jobs could be lost in the private sector, on top of the half a million Osbourne himself announced in the public sector. Even these figures do not take into account the likelihood of a further downturn in the global economy.

In this dire context, it makes sense to see Duncan Smith's attacks as being part and parcel of the wider ruling class onslaught. As I argued in back in May:
"Despite his professed concern for the UK's "broken society", Duncan Smith wants to cut the welfare bill, and - perhaps more importantly from the ruling class point of view - exert downward pressure on wages, by having many more desperate people fighting for each vacancy."
More than this, the precise nature of Duncan Smith's proposals regarding "community work" shows that he is acting on behalf of the elite. This "community work" is not being introduced as a new, waged labour scheme. It will effectively be slave labour, backed up by the very real threat of starvation. It seems possible that belt-tightening local councils may want to 'employ' these reluctant volunteers, rather than paying even the minimum wage. Meanwhile, waged workers in similar fields will face downward pressure on their wages, because some people will be doing their job for free.

The capitalist class as a whole wins when more people are competing for fewer jobs. As Marx observed in 1847:
"The main purpose of the bourgeois in relation to the worker is, of course, to have the commodity labour as cheaply as possible, which is only possible when the supply of this commodity is as large as possible in relation to the demand for it, i.e., when the overpopulation is the greatest."
When Marx wrote that sentence, the workhouse system was in full swing in Britain, following the Poor Law Amendment Act of 1834. Under the Act, "all cases were to be 'offered the house', and nothing else". In other words, unemployed people faced virtual inprisonment, slavery, and separation from their families, because that was the most profitable arrangement for capital. British workhouses were only abolished in 1948, by the Labour government that was implementing post-war concessions to a radicalised working class.

In this current period of capitalist crisis - which is taking place under conditions of advanced globalisation and cut-throat competition between rival governments - red, blue and yellow politicians are marching the working class back, and slashing our living standards. However, as yesterday's events at Millbank Tower demonstrate, those who sow the wind will reap the storm.

In the final analysis, there are capitalist excuses, and there is communist logic. The capitalist contention is that there are people not working (to the profit of the system), and they must therefore be forced to do so. The communist position is that capitalism cannot provide decent living standards for the majority of the population. It must therefore be replaced by a system in which everyone is given a real opportunity to contribute, and receives a good standard of living in return.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Communist Propaganda Hits The Streets

The past couple of days has seen editions of two excellent communist publications hit the streets of the UK, as well as cyberspace.

Firstly, The Commune group have published the nineteenth issue of our self-titled monthly paper, with an editorial on Iain Duncan Smith's "plan to force unemployed people to work a 30-hour week of manual labour to ‘earn’ the £65 Jobseekers’ Allowance", in the context of the coaltion's "cuts project". There are articles about the ultra-right US "Tea Party", the precarious nature of bar work, and scab company AssetCo's attempts to break the recent London firefighter strike. David Broder reviews a book on Bolivia's radical tradition, and Sheila Cohen has a bone to pick with the "feel-good" industrial struggle film Made In Dagenham. The index is here, and a PDF version can be downloaded from here.

Meanwhile, Manchester Communist Students' new paper The Educator is reportedly going down a storm with the local university population, even if those reports are coming from one of the distributors! The first edition looks at the likely impact of the 40% cuts in university funding on students and staff alike, as well as examining the limitations of the unions with reference to an ongoing Manchester dispute. It also imagined what education could be - if it were freed from the restrictions that the capitalist system demands. The PDF is available here.

Both are well worth a read.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

My Corporate Rebranding

As you can see, I've had a big rethink about this blog, and I'm announcing it with this no expense spared roll-out of my brand new brand - 'Infantile Disorder'.

Expect much more frequent updating, although I'll often just be ripping-off content from other websites and adding a few lines of comment for the sake of more page views/bringing important perspectives to your attention.

Disqus for Infantile Disorder