Posted in Scottish Politics

Unionist and Government Media Bias

I don’t want to use this piece to rehash old arguments about the Scottish media’s bias in favour of the NO campaign during Scotland’s independence referendum. Those arguments have been done to death elsewhere. I do want to share some thoughts on the subject however.

While browsing some of our old radio broadcasts I came across a piece where we were discussing the Smith Commission. In particular we noted how Inverclyde Council Leader Cllr McCabe was in the local press declaring his delight at the Smith Commission, and claiming that we now have one of the most powerful devolved parliaments in the world. Cllr McCabe is of course rather famous in Inverclyde for his almost daily displays of political illiteracy. I think what he was displaying here is that he has no idea how many devolved parliaments there are in the world, and was effectively showing off about Scotland being more powerful than Greenland or Madeira. Not much of a boast! In fact, many of the American states actually enjoy significantly more powers than Scotland. You don’t have to be a supporter of full independence to agree that this is not good enough for Scotland and that we deserve better. But New Labour, totally consumed by their sectarian hatred of the SNP, were campaigning for less simply because the nationalists were campaigning for more. YES and NO voters together need to reject this tribal approach to politics. Scotland deserves more powers, not because the SNP says so but because that is what is in Scotland’s best interests. Cllr McCabe and the rest of New Labour need to put their deep rooted loathing of anything that reminds them of the SNP behind them and recognise this simple fact. Otherwise the people will vote to relieve ourselves of New Labour. Judging by Cllr McCabe’s obnoxious and insulting comments almost every day in the local paper, it appears he is actually enjoying New Labour’s decline and approaching political irrelevance.

Although, to get back on topic, one thing I have consistently argued for and would have liked to see included in the report is for BBC Scotland to be devolved to Holyrood. It takes a massive degree of generosity to describe the referendum campaign as “democratic”, given that the state broadcaster was totally anti-independence from the start and made no attempt to avoid bias, instead repeating lie after lie after lie to defeat the YES side and demonise any of us who thought that we could govern ourselves. A democracy can only function when we have a genuinely free press. What we have instead is a press that pushes the agenda of one side.

Many journalists and reporters have responded to this claim from the YES side by saying that they are not coerced into saying anything. We have a fair and free press, they say, because they are not told what to say by their bosses or have their words edited. This is colouring between the lines however.

They only get to say what they say because the bosses already agree with them. That’s how they got to where they are; that’s how they got their job. How many supporters of independence host politics shows on the BBC?, or report on their flagship news programs? None, because if you support independence you don’t get these jobs. These channels are wall to wall unionists because that’s what the bosses want broadcast. They don’t have to tell them what to say or edit their words because they have deliberately hired only people that already agree with them. The effect is a controlled and compliant media. A media that pushes only one agenda. And that is extremely undemocratic. To devolve responsibility for BBC Scotland to Holyrood would allow us to tackle this in built bias. In America they used to have a fairness law which ruled that the media had to give equal coverage to each side of an issue. It worked well, but was repealed at the insistence of the large media companies. We could have something similar in Scotland, but only if responsibility for the media in Scotland lies at Holyrood.

Of course what I propose would be the good kind of control, democratic control. There is another kind of control that we must resist, and that is censorship. The tactics of the BBC in only employing Unionists is a type of censorship, censorship by the back door. But there is a more direct form of censorship whereby the government actively shuts down and silences opposition opinions. On the show local SSP member John spoke at length about the ways the government, via their puppets in the main stream media, use fear to push their agenda.

One way they are doing that just now is using threats of impending financial doom to push their austerity agenda. We must resist austerity. Austerity has been a lie from the start, there is simply no need for it. The first round of austerity saw the bedroom tax. They said they needed to impose the bedroom tax to save the country money, yet the very same week the bedroom tax came into effect they gave the millionaires a tax cut that cost the country three times what the bedroom tax was supposed to save. Why did people accept it then? They accepted it because they were scared by stories of the country going bankrupt.

Now let me make this clear, this is a very wealthy country, which is richer now than it ever has been. So where is the money?, why are we being told we have to cut our public jobs and services? The money is being hoarded by a few rich people who are getting richer and richer, leaving us with less and less. We need a radical redistribution of wealth. Not the impotent policies offered by the politicians, but real change. To take the wealth of this country away from that handful of selfish people and share it out via public spending.

That is the essence of the street campaigning being conducted in Inverclyde by local Scottish Socialist Party activists. We know that austerity is a lie, an ideological attack on the working classes so that rich people can get a wee bit richer. We’re taking that message to every street in Inverclyde. We’re telling people they don’t need to accept the austerity driven cuts being inflicted on them by Cllr McCabe. Get involved, help us spread this message of resistance.

Posted in Inverclyde Politics

Inverclyde’s Unsafe Schools?

I was totally unsurprised to learn that Inverclyde Council’s corrupt leader Stephen McCabe had used the same dodgy PFI company to build Inverclyde’s schools that built the now infamous Edinburgh ones.

Remember, it was his incompetent leadership that got Inverclyde residents saddled with a massive debt to pay for these schools (clicky). A debt many times larger than if we’d simply borrowed the money straight from a bank and built the schools ourselves. So not only do we (Inverclyde public) not actually own our schools, we will still have to pay for them for a long time to come at vastly inflated cost, and we’re having austerity forced on us via Stephen McCabe’s insidious council spending cuts in order to find the money to pay for his disastrous school building projects.

And if that wasn’t bad enough, the schools might actually be unsafe for our kids to be in!

It’s hard to think of anyone who has caused more damage to Inverclyde than Stephen McCabe.

The guy is a total liability.

Posted in Inverclyde Politics, Scottish Politics

John MacLean and Inverclyde

On Friday 30th November 1923 a stunned working class population of Scotland read in their newspapers that their great leader, John MacLean, was dead. He was only 44, but years of selfless toil in the service of the people coupled with the hardships he had suffered during successive terms of imprisonment had seriously undermined MacLean’s health. MacLean’s death was a blow to the working class movement, not only in Scotland, but throughout the world. The esteem in which he was held was reflected at his funeral which was attended by over 10,000 people. The poet Hugh MacDiarmid recalled MacLean with the following words, “Scotland has had few men whose names matter, or should matter, to intelligent people. But of these MacLean, next to Burns, was the greatest, and it should be of him with every Scotsman and Scotswoman to the end of time, as it was of Lenin in Russia. When you might talk to a woman who had been a young girl in 1917 and find that the name of Stalin lit no fires, but when you asked her if she had seen Lenin her eyes lit up and her reply was the Russian word which means both beautiful and red. Lenin, she said, was “krassivy, krassivy”. John MacLean too was “krassivy, krassivy”, a description no other Scot has ever deserved”.

At times it seems like everyone in Scotland claims to be following in the footsteps of MacLean, from the Communist Party on the left to the SNP on the right. This has led many to ask the question, was MacLean a socialist or a nationalist? To those who have studied the man, it is obvious he wasn’t a nationalist. His desire to see Scotland independent was not based on a narrow parochialism, but on a much broader understanding of the necessary eventual failure of the British capitalist class and on a belief in internationalism. In fact, the stand that MacLean took on the topic of Scottish independence in the first few decades of the 20th century are remarkably similar to the stance that the Scottish Socialist Party takes now in the first few decades of the 21st century. While this is now regarded as the obvious moral position of any true socialist, in MacLean’s day it was the opposite and led to many criticisms of the man from people who should really have stood by him. As the referendum has shown, history has proven MacLean to be correct, and so we see many people who were always dismissive of MacLean’s politics on independence (such as the ultra London centric Socialist Workers Party) now try to claim MacLean’s name.

While John MacLean’s legacy belongs to the whole of Scotland, he did of course have a special relationship with Inverclyde, and Greenock in particular. Early in 1908 MacLean issued his first pamphlet, The Greenock Jungle. In this early piece of writing MacLean displayed his characteristic concern for the plight of the working classes and anger at the selfishness and insidiousness of the profit chasing classes. The pamphlet itself was a strong indictment of the slaughterhouse methods and trade in diseased meats that was being carried out in Greenock at the time. This pamphlet was a result of the tireless campaigning MacLean did in Greenock. He could often be found at the gates of the slaughterhouse in what used to be Crown Street, addressing the workers as they arrived for or left work. One such worker is prominent in MacLean’s pamphlet, and I’m certainly interested in finding out more about the person.

The Greenock worker who featured so heavily in Maclean’s pamphlet was a Mr Houston. He plays a central role due to the fact that he was the one who exposed many of the practices being carried out by the owners of the slaughterhouses, which included selling diseased meat for human food. It was a practice that targeted poor people, as any diseased meat would be made into “cheap sausages” for being sold to the working classes. MacLean argued that this was a direct cause of tuberculosis among the working class, and as a result of his campaigning a government inspector was appointed to investigate the slaughterhouse conditions.   

Mr Houston deserves further mention for his role in these events. As a socialist, he was fully aware that he was risking his own job by exposing the practices of the slaughter house owners, but he did so anyway as he was driven on by a desire to protect his own class from disease and death. Mr Houston, after 31 years of service, was forced out of work as a result of his whistleblowing. His employer was a broker, who the owners of the slaughterhouses boycotted until they got rid of Mr Houston. When the pamphlet was published, Mr Houston had already been unemployed for 8 months, and MacLean makes an appeal in it to the good people of Greenock to assist in finding Mr Houston new employment. They certainly owed much to him, given his selfless defence of their health to his own detriment. So while the guilty owners continued to enjoy the profits of their enterprises, for only protecting others Mr Houston ended up in poverty. MacLean commented, “Why should the guilty one enjoy such a great privilege, while the innocent one must suffer the worries of unemployment, and the fears and forebodings accompanying the prospect of immediate financial ruin”. MacLean is commenting here on a theme that continues to this day, when we think about the persecution of the likes of Snowden and Manning. I don’t know what eventually became of Mr Houston, if anyone does know I would be delighted to hear from you.

Of course, this affair was not the only time MacLean would visit these parts. We find many references in the history books to MacLean coming here to address the working class. One such reference captures perfectly MacLean’s attitude and enthusiasm for politics. A member of the Scottish District Council recorded, “I stayed with John MacLean and I must say he is the most earnest worker for socialism I have ever met. He has just spent his seven weeks’ holiday preaching socialism in the North of England and Scotland. On my last day he arranged a sail down the Clyde, getting back to Greenock in time to give my last address. After I had left to catch my train to London, MacLean stepped onto the platform and went on with the meeting.”

MacLean also gave up much of his free time to give education to working men and women, and was often giving evening classes in Greenock on the topic of Marxist economics.  

For many though, MacLean will always be remembered as a great anti-war hero, and it is probably for this reason more than any that his memory is so dangerous to the British ruling class, to the extent that his name doesn’t even appear in the approved school text books from which our children learn about the first world war. There is as much a need today for MacLean’s message as there was during that terrible war. As we see our country drift closer and closer to militarism, we need those voices who speak out, those who see the working class as more than mere cannon fodder to be used by our imperialist masters in their illegal wars. The poppy, once a symbol of remembrance of all those wasted lives is now being used by right wing politicians as a symbol of British exceptionalism. We have TV adverts from companies such as Sainsbury’s portraying the First World War as a rather pleasant experience. And now we even have the Royal British Legion attempting to sanitise the war by releasing heavily edited versions of an anti war song, The Green Fields of France, which omits any criticism of the war.

What MacLean knew was that, despite the jingoism and propaganda from the British state, the First World War was not fought to keep us safe. It was a war for colonies, for spheres of influence, for markets. In other words, it was a war for profits. A great Scot and contemporary of MacLean said: “If these men must die, would it not be better to die in their own country fighting for freedom for their class, and for the abolition of war, than to go forth to strange countries and die slaughtering and slaughtered by their brothers that tyrants and profiteers might live?” These sentiments were shared by MacLean.

In the years leading up to the outbreak of war, Britain had seen a great deal of left wing activity, and MacLean was certainly recognised as one of the stalwarts of the left. Between 1911 and 1914 trade union membership had doubled, and Brits were increasingly active in the internationalist socialist circles as well. At the Internationalist Socialist Congress in Copenhagen British socialists were amongst those who agreed that “should war break out, their duty is to intervene to promptly bring it to an end and with all their energies to use the political and economic crisis created by the war to rouse the populace from its slumbers and to hasten the fall of capitalist domination”.

Instead, and much to MacLean’s dismay, when war did indeed break out, many of these same socialists entered their national governments to help the war effort. Leading British socialists, such as Hyndman, actively and enthusiastically supported the war – including speaking on recruitment platforms. While a majority of socialists in the country didn’t sink this low, many did argue that the war could be supported on grounds of defence, to keep us safe from supposed German aggression.

MacLean had no time for either position. He argued right from the start that the war couldn’t be defended on any terms. “Plunderers versus plunderers with the workers as pawns. It is our business as socialists to develop class patriotism, refusing to murder one another for a sordid world capitalism”. MacLean was clear that only socialists could bring about an acceptable end to the war. He insisted that a capitalist settlement of the war could only lead to further wars between the capitalist powers. His position stood out like a sore thumb at the time, but has proven to be correct as the settlement reached at the end of that war lead directly to that other great war of the 20th century – the second world war.

When we look back at the First World War through the eyes of the British state and its propaganda machine, the main stream corporate media, we would be forgiven for believing that there was universal and enthusiastic support for the war in the country. We’re told that “conscientious objectors” were widely hated and considered to be cowards. This of course is a complete misrepresentation of history. The war was in fact deeply unpopular with the population, and there were massive anti-war demonstrations all over the country. In fact, the anti-war movement during the First World War was even larger than what greeted New Labour when they made the despicable and illegal decision to take us to war in Iraq. The greatest threat to Lloyd George’s terrorist regime in London was not the German troops, but the anger of the British working class, which in Scotland was lead by MacLean. In order to impose their will and ensure their monarch got his war with his German cousin, the London government had to enact a series of emergency draconian laws to control the workers, which included suspending many civil liberties and making it illegal to strike.

To MacLean they were even more severe. For speaking out against their war, the British ruling class twice had MacLean jailed in Peterhead. The treatment he received while he was locked up was horrendous, he was drugged and force fed, and this time inside had such an adverse affect on his health that it contributed to his early death in 1923. That the ruling class would turn on MacLean is no surprise. He was after all, according to their own head of military intelligence Basil Thompson, the most dangerous man in Britain. Basil Thompson, we now know from declassified documents was involved in a deliberate campaign to smear MacLean by spreading rumours about his sanity.

The British State knew fine well that MacLean was sane, but the British left were only too keen to jump on this particular bandwagon. MacLean stood for an independent Scotland, which has earned him an everlasting vilification by the British left. All the British writing about MacLean declare him to be insane. Even today, the Socialist Workers Party continues to vilify MacLean due to his stance on independence.  Their reasoning is easy to understand, as due to their own political bigotry they are unable to view any Scot who does not want to be ruled by London as anything other than insane or fascist or racist. Any slander will do.

While the British left vilified MacLean, to the Scottish left he was a hero. Beyond this island he was held in the highest regard by international socialists. In recognition of his principled stand against the mass slaughter of ordinary people in the First World War the Bolsheviks elected MacLean an Honorary President of the First All Russian Congress of Soviets, along with Lenin, Trotsky, Liebknecht, Adler, and Spiridonova, which was ecstatically received on his beloved Clyde; an area which had become known as Red Clydeside due to the likes of MacLean and many others. He became Lenin’s man in Scotland when the Soviet leader ordered that the Russian Consul be handed over to him. He was refused a visa to visit Russia; he could have travelled illegally but decided not to.

It was a tactical error on MacLean’s part and one which only increased his isolation in British politics. As it transpired, a certain Willie Gallagher took the opportunity to meet Lenin which MacLean had passed up. Like other revolutionaries of the period, MacLean hadn’t fully grasped the significance of the Bolshevik Party, even after the October revolution. With the encouragement of Lenin, Gallagher became instrumental in setting up the Communist Party of Great Britain, largely funded by Moscow wealth. The Bolsheviks regarded MacLean as the authentic voice of the revolution in Britain but he never joined the new party, although he remained a convinced revolutionary and supporter of Lenin.

His own party would never enjoy the success that MacLean’s popularity seemed to indicate it should. Party membership never amounted to more than a few hundred, and votes never more than a few thousand. His tactical errors in failing to meet with Lenin or secure funding from the Soviets were fatal to his political career. He continued to campaign for the Scottish working class right up to his death, but sadly left nothing behind in way of a Bolshevik style political organisation.

Rather than fade into political obscurity, however, MacLean remains every bit as relevant today as he was to those countless working class men who were sent to their unnecessary deaths during the Great War, or to Mr Houston whom he personally campaigned for when the bosses turned on him. Today, MacLean’s message about the necessity of revolution appeals to a new generation who are clamouring for real political change.

In May 1918, when facing jail for inciting the workers to transform war into revolution, he made his famous speech from the dock:

“I am not here as the accused – I am here as the accuser of capitalism dripping with blood from head to foot. In the next five years there is going to be a great world trade depression and the respective governments must turn more and more to the markets of the world to get rid of their produce. And in fifteen years time from the close of this war we are into the next war – if capitalism lasts we cannot escape it. My appeal is to the working class. I appeal exclusively to them because they, and they alone, can bring about the time when the whole world will be in one brotherhood, on a sound economic foundation. That, and that alone, can be the means of bringing about a reorganisation of society. That can only be obtained when the people of the world get the world and retain the world.”

MacLean stood for internationalism, socialism and independence. That message is relevant now more than ever. We must keep the memory of MacLean alive, to ensure that the message did not die with the man.

Posted in Political Philosophy

On Arguing About Racism

My purpose in writing this piece is to try to offer a way to move beyond a current impasse in anti-racism dialogue. The problem arises when the question of whether or not white people can experience racism is asked. On one side are those who argue that white people can not experience racism because racism involves “power plus privilege”, and as we live in a “global white supremacist hegemony” then by definition it is impossible for white people to suffer racism. On the other side we have people pointing out fairly regular occurrences of white people being targeted for abuse simply for being white, which to them is ample evidence of white people actually suffering from racism. The two sides are locked in disagreement, which often descends into nonsensical arguments and accusations of the other side “being part of the problem” of racism. As a result, genuine action against racism is almost zero while student types control the discourse demanding that everyone else accept their definition of a word and verbally abusing anyone who disagrees with them.

I’ve experienced the arrogance of these (usually) white middle class anti-racists recently. The type who with no sense of irony demand that we adopt the definitions they learned on sociology degrees at white middle class first world universities, while simultaneously accusing anyone who rejects these definitions as being part of the “global white supremacist hegemony” problem. For full disclosure, I think white people can suffer from ‘racism’, but that is just because I recognise a rather mundane aspect of the English language – words can have more than one definition. So when we say a black person in America suffered from racism and then also say a white person in Scotland suffered racism, although we have used the same word (racism) we are not equating the two situations. Unfortunately this is not enough for some. I was previously told by members of the Executive Committee that I am no longer welcome in either the SSP or RISE because I identify as a Marxist. That has now been followed up with me being told by members of the Executive Committee that I am no longer welcome because I don’t share the stance that the “power plus privilege” definition of racism is the only acceptable definition. So as it stands I am currently in a state of limbo, I don’t actually know whether I’ve been expelled from SSP and/or RISE for not thinking in the way dictated that I should. I await an official communication from them to settle this one way or the other.

As I said above, I think white people can suffer racism. What usually happens when I say that is I’m then challenged to explain how this can be so, when white people have the privilege. This response misses the point, I tell them, I’m speaking from a different definition of racism. Call the “power plus privilege” definition racism-Φ, and call white people being abused for being white racism-Ψ. We can then see the mistake more clearly: I say “white people can suffer racism-Ψ”, to which it is argued “white people have privilege so can’t suffer racism-Φ”. It misses the point, they are talking passed what I said. When I point this out, that there is more than one definition in play here, they challenge me to explain why my definition should be used instead of theirs. Again, this misses the point. Words can have more than one meaning. These meanings don’t compete with each other, neither is independently more valid than the other. Competent users of a language can more often than not easily deduce what meaning of a word is being used based on the context. If we are talking about a black person in America we are using the racism-Φ meaning; the power plus privilege meaning. If we are talking about a white person in Scotland we are using the racism-Ψ meaning.

My hope here is that we can start to make progress, and get beyond this artificial barrier created by an inability of certain people to accept that others use language differently. Neither side is right or wrong in their usage of the language, they are just different. Certainly, if someone interrupts a discussion about police racism against the African-American population of the USA by saying something like, “yeah, but white people also suffer racism”, then that person is mistaken. Their mistake, however, was in the use of the word ‘also’ not in the use of the word ‘racism’. The word ‘also’ here conflates the different meanings of the word racism, it deliberately equivocates racism-Φ with racism-Ψ in order to shut down a discussion. These people need to be challenged, but it does not follow from this that every person who says that white people can suffer from racism also need to be challenged. To do so just leads to a situation where various injustices are competing with each other to demand our attention, with certain people claiming that only the genuinely ‘racist’ injustices should be tackled. We should reject this position, and to paraphrase Che, we should shake with indignation at EVERY injustice, not try to be clever about which ones deserve our attention and which ones don’t.

This problem finds it roots in the identity politics which currently infects most of the left. As with many modern feminists, the modern anti-racist movement has also lost any sense of class consciousness. This common problem between the two is most visible in the question of domestic labour, which is now largely understood in terms of “unpaid labour” and income for housework. Income is a matter of consumption; class is a question of production. Rarely do modern feminists or anti-racists struggle against the existing labour relations based on the hegemony of global capital. The few exceptions were the historical-materialist feminists and anti-racists of the 70’s and 80’s, who engaged the class consciousness of gender, race and sexuality. Unfortunately this work has largely been abandoned and cut off by the modern feminists and anti-racists due to the rise of identity politics amongst the left.

Racism, contrary to Foucauldian theory, is not simply a matter of asymmetrical power relations. Nor is gender, nor is sexuality. Racism (even understood as only racism-Φ) is not simply oppression, it is not simply the exercise of power by whites over blacks. There is a lot more going on here than simply white versus black. Power is the social and political manifestation of the ownership of the means of production. Clearly the means of production are overwhelmingly owned by whites, but it is a failure of logic to conclude from this that all white people are therefore part of the “global hegemony”. The vast majority of whites don’t own the means of production either. This gives the modern anti-racist a problem if they get this far: it appears that if they are intent on demanding the “power plus privilege” definition of racism be the only one permitted then they are going to have to accept that the vast majority of whites can not be racist, as they have neither the power nor the privilege that comes with ownership of the means of production.

At this stage they play what they believe to be their trump card. All dialogue, they claim, is created by the “global white hegemony” to protect itself, so by taking part in this dialogue all white people are in fact talking from a position of power and privilege as they are talking from the position of the white supremacists. Now I’m no stranger to the argument that the media and politicians use language in a certain way to protect the power of the ruling class, I made that very argument in a previous contribution to this site. However, in claiming that it’s not only the media and politicians but the population at large who take part in this sort of power preserving dialogue, the ‘white middle class-ness’ of these sorts is painfully apparent. Remember, the people I’m talking about here include EC members of the SSP and prominent members of RISE (Scotland’s Left Alliance). They are supposed to represent Scotland’s working class, but comments like these create the impression that they have never actually conversed with anyone from the lower classes. Our language in no way whatsoever resembles the language of the ruling class. If a Rupert Murdoch or Prince Charles were to find themselves in a housing estate in Glasgow or Inverclyde or Dundee they would find the locals totally incomprehensible. The language used by the working class has often evolved through conflict with the ruling class, not to protect it. The language of the working class is rooted in our working class communities, not in some hidden conspiracy to protect the capitalists. And this language which evolved independently and in conflict with the capital hegemony also includes the way many working class people use the term racism (i.e. racism-Ψ). Nothing could be more hegemony protecting than demanding we drop our working class usage of the language in favour of a usage supplied by first world white middle class university students.

Posted in Inverclyde Politics

Meandering through Fuel Poverty, via Yugoslavia and the USSR

Fuel poverty is defined as paying 10 percent or more of your household income on heating and lighting, or in other words 10 percent or more on your gas and electricity bills. Now 10 percent might not sound like much at first, but when you take into account all your other household bills such as rent/mortgage, council tax, food, transport, telephone, childcare, clothes, insurance, debt repayments, and so on it soon becomes apparent that 10 percent of your income is a rather significant amount.

In Inverclyde alone there are roughly 8000 households in fuel poverty. A recent study, which actually appeared on the front page of the Tory friendly Daily Express, found that 84% of Scottish households ration their energy usage during the winter as they can’t afford the bills. 84% of us in an energy rich nation! That is simply not good enough, and it is about time the politicians did something about it. The big energy companies make obscene profits every year, and yet they continue to put our bills up. People have had enough of being ripped off! At the Scottish Socialist Party we want to see the energy industry returned to public ownership to ensure the needs of the people come before the greed of shareholders. That is the essence of socialism – arranging our society and industries so that everyone benefits, not just the rich.

Now of course, any-time we speak about nationalizing industry, there are those who repeat the line that we somehow need private companies. They claim that private investment is what makes our economy work, and that we shouldn’t use government to interfere with the markets in an attempt to solve our nation’s problems. One of the fundamental beliefs held by that sort of person is that if we leave the markets alone and unregulated then the markets will correct themselves and everything will be fine. Despite literally centuries’ worth of evidence to the contrary, many people still accept this faith in private markets unquestioningly.

The ideological universe that these people inhabit is one that has been removed from the social context of the real world. History records that in the 1840’s, when it was becoming apparent that Ireland was facing a famine, a delegation from Ireland visited the Prime Minister of the day (Lord John Russell) to plead for relief for the starving poor people. Russell answered their pleas by reading to them from Adam Smith’s The Wealth of Nations, to explain to them that the markets would solve everything and that the government shouldn’t interfere. As a result, over 1 million people starved to death in Ireland. In effect, over a million people starved to death because of the capitalist’s economic ideology.

Fast forward to today, and we see the same dangerous ideology still claiming millions of lives annually: poor people sacrificed at the altar of capitalism. Last year that included 31,000 UK pensioners who died of preventable cold related illnesses, and all because they couldn’t afford to keep their heating on during the winter. Meanwhile, the profits of the biggest six energy companies rose by 77%. At the Scottish Socialist Party we demand that the profiteering be taken out of this vital industry. We should be cutting prices and profits, not people’s lives!

Frankie Boyle was onto something when he noted that to certain people capitalism is a religion. Acolytes believe in its principles even when these are proved wrong. As Frankie says, “Business people, in case you haven’t noticed, dress in costume, go off on retreats together, and speak with the same glassy-eyed passion about their orthodoxy as Christians.” In their world, the market is our God. It’s everywhere. When the market is angry, ‘sacrifices’ have to be made. Go to your nearest scheme, look at the lives of the kids there, and tell me that the market doesn’t demand sacrifices.

Frankie goes on to wonder what kind of God the capitalist’s market actually is. Clearly a God that thinks you shouldn’t receive medical treatment unless you can afford it; that tells us patent profits in the developing world are more important than affordable medicines. It will be interesting to see how their God fares against the Chinese. The Soviet Union was bought off with promises of jeans and cars and cheap stereos. It’ll be difficult to sell the same mirage to China, because they already make all that stuff.

So let’s reject this capitalist notion of free markets, the weight of evidence collected over the centuries is evidence enough that we should. That millions are starving to death while food literally rots in the fields is simply indefensible. It is interesting how famine deaths become ‘mass murder’ only when they occur in a Communist Party-led state. If we use the same criteria that are used to tally up the astronomical death counts attributed to the USSR and PR China, the British Empire is responsible for nearly 50 million deaths in India alone, as a result of the famines in the 1870’s and 1890’s. In fact, in that case there is far more convincing evidence that the deaths were intentional. The historian Mike Davis documents that at the height of the famine grain was being exported for profit outside India, and that foreign observers witnessed British troops massacre starving mobs as they tried to storm the grain silos.

It always galls me how anti-socialists are always going on about the so-called “mass murder” of starvation in communist countries like the Soviet Union and China. Meanwhile in the capitalist world tens of thousands of people are starving to death every single day, even though there is enough food to feed the entire world human population twice over. The famines in the Soviet Union and China were caused by there simply not being enough food to distribute. The constant hunger under capitalism persists even when there is plenty of food. During the famines in Africa a few years ago the countries there continued to export food for profit. Hunger in capitalism exists by design; it is a logical consequence of the capitalist mode of distribution according to profit for the owners rather than human need. Whenever there is a mention of the USSR, the capitalist apologists will say something like “The evil commies starved their own people!!!” But you’ll never hear them say the same thing about Ethiopia or the Congo or any other country where hunger and starvation are a fact of life under capitalism. If communists are “murderers” because they couldn’t wave a magic wand and distribute food that didn’t exist, then capitalists are far worse murderers because they deliberately withhold food and only distribute it according to their own gain no matter how many people are starving.

Of course, these people will say that “socialism doesn’t work”, and that history somehow proves this. They claim as if it were fact that every country that ever tried socialism failed. First of all, even if that were true, it still wouldn’t justify the suffering that capitalism causes around the world. But more importantly it is demonstrably false. Before NATO (led by the USA) went in and totally destroyed their country, the Yugoslavs were leading the way in terms of successful socialism. In the two decades before the crimes committed by NATO, Yugoslavia had an average annual GDP growth of 6.1%, a decent standard of living, free medical care and free education, everyone had a guaranteed right to a job, there was affordable government owned transport and housing, the literacy rate was over 90% and the life expectancy was 72. They achieved all this by implementing their own model of socialism: a mix of public ownership, private investment and workers cooperatives, all of which contributed to give Yugoslavia a higher rate of growth than most western European nations. So let’s just forget that lazy argument that “Socialism doesn’t work”.

Let us instead implement socialist solutions to the problems of our society, problems such as fuel poverty. Let us reject as immoral the government’s own solution that people who can’t afford their heating bills should just put on more clothes, or go to bed early. That sort of attitude by the Tories is demeaning and disgusting. Worse still, it deprives those suffering from fuel poverty from enjoying a true freedom. Freedom in the socialist tradition is understood as man’s power over circumstances, freedom from exploitation and oppression of man by man. Freedom requires overcoming abject dependence, poverty and fear. The exploitation of the masses by the big energy companies, through artificially high fuel bills in order to produce astronomical profits, is one of the biggest threats to the working class today. The current Westminster and Holyrood administrations simply are not doing enough to tackle this problem.

In an independent Scotland the Scottish Socialist Party will campaign to bring North Sea oil and other energy generating industries into the public sector, so that we can eliminate fuel poverty as well as invest in protection of the environment and developing renewable energy. Under devolution, the SSP is committed to campaigning for responsibility for energy to be transferred from Westminster to the Scottish Parliament and for the wealth of Scottish energy resources to be brought into public ownership. This will allow us to put people, and the planet, before profit.

As Colin Fox recently observed in his pamphlet on the subject, fuel poverty is developing into a political crisis in Scotland and it is not unlike the one we faced in the late 80’s with the Poll Tax. In that instance the Tories introduced a highly regressive tax, one which bore no relation to a person’s ability to pay, and just like today’s fuel bills they demanded people paid when they didn’t have the money to do so. In the end the poll tax was abolished because 14 million people refused to pay it. There are many important lessons to be learned from the anti-poll tax struggle in terms of fighting fuel poverty. Most importantly is to realise that opposition to injustice is right and proper.

So if you, like us, feel a sense of indignation at injustices like fuel poverty, perhaps you will find a home in the Scottish Socialist Party. Let me take this opportunity to invite you along to one of our meetings, you will be warmly welcomed. You can find us Facebook or Twitter, or visit www.scottishsocialistparty.org, for more info.

Posted in Inverclyde Politics

On Austerity, “Trickle-Up” economics and the ever lovely Cllr McCabe

Letters published in Inverclyde’s local paper often contain complaints about New Labour, and in particular about the behaviour of Council Leader Stephen McCabe. I was therefore disappointed, although not surprised, to find that Cllr McCabe was again embarrassing the people of Inverclyde through his online behaviour, this time taking to Twitter to boast about cutting local jobs and services. In common with many other people, I found out about his behaviour on Twitter from concerned locals as he has long since blocked those of us whose opinions don’t match his own, in an attempt to disguise the true extent of opposition to his decisions.

Let me just put his latest vile outburst in context. On the demands of the Tories in London, Cllr McCabe’s New Labour council had been planning to inflict almost £15 million of cuts to local jobs and services. The Inverclyde branch of the Scottish Socialist Party, in response, put in motion a “No Cuts” campaign where we demanded that the council refuse to take part in the Tory’s austerity agenda. Austerity is of course just the political term for “trickle up” economics, where money for public jobs and services is cut from the public purse and instead finds its way into the pockets of the wealthy.

The SSP campaign was well received by the people of Inverclyde. This is not surprising; every single opinion poll has shown that the public are overwhelmingly opposed to austerity. It has no place in a progressive society. Under pressure from the public, McCabe was forced to back down and only got to implement a fraction of the cuts that he was hoping to inflict on Inverclyde. The battle is not over; Cllr McCabe has made it clear that he intends to continue with the Tory austerity agenda in future budgets.

The only way to ensure he doesn’t get his wish is for all of us to make sure his party is utterly defeated, not only in May but also in the 2016 and 2017 elections as well. There is simply no place in Scotland for New Labour’s brand of Tory elitism masquerading as the party of the working class.

Certainly the polls are promising, and we appear to be at the end of a one-party state in Scotland, where New Labour has dominated for almost 50 years. In that time New Labour has become socially conservative, economically reactionary, corrupt and dishonest. In other words completely out of sync with the people of Scotland.

Their record in Inverclyde is hardly any different. In Inverclyde we have to suffer a New Labour controlled council, a New Labour MSP and a New Labour MP. They like to pretend they represent working class people, but their record in Inverclyde shows this isn’t true. Under New Labour there are at least 3,600 unemployed in Inverclyde, 20% of those who do have a job in Inverclyde earn less than £7 per hour, 10 thousand children in Inverclyde live in households that are dependent on out of work benefits or Child Tax Credits, 28% of primary school children in Inverclyde are eligible for free school meals, in Inverclyde schools there is a 16% gap in attainment levels between the poorest pupils and their classmates, 15% of the poorest young people in Inverclyde become unemployed immediately after leaving school and only 19% of Inverclyde’s poorest young people go onto university compared to a national average of 37%. Despite these appalling figures, New Labour is hell bent on cutting even more of the support and services to our working class communities.

With these appalling figures in mind it is worth asking them to explain what New Labour has done for Inverclyde, and apart from some non-specific waffle the thing every New Labour type always mentions is that they built and refurbished the local schools. There has obviously been a memo gone out about it because they have all been bringing it up (MP, MSP, councillors, spokespeople, and even party members writing to the Tele). There appears to be literally no other positive thing they can say about their record in Inverclyde.

Do they really have a right to boast about this? Certainly the schools are impressive. What is far from impressive is New Labour’s incompetence in funding these schools. Rather than pay for these in a responsible manner, New Labour instead opted to recklessly burden Inverclyde with a massive debt via PPI loans. It’s worth remembering here that Goldman Sachs, who are no friends of the anti-capitalists, have criticised these public-private schemes for costing twice as much as regular government borrowing. New Labour decided to go down this road any way, and are now cutting local jobs and services in Inverclyde in order to pay back this unnecessarily large debt. More to the point, they are paying it off at about £14 million per year, a number suspiciously close to how much Cllr McCabe is determined to cut from the local budget to balance his books! £14 million cut from the public purse each year to pay to wealthy people in the form of debt repayments and interest on that debt. Trickle up economics.

To fund their trickle up economics, they will likely in the future try to cut spending on education. I believe that schools should not just be impressive buildings to keep the youth in during the week. They should also be properly funded to ensure a suitable level of teachers and resources, and that is exactly what New Labour will be cutting to pay for their irresponsible borrowing. We can of course stop this, and it is as easy as voting New Labour out of Scotland in all upcoming elections.