A BEGINNERS GUIDE – 1

TO REVOLUTIONARY-HUMANIST PERSPECTIVES.

1. Introduction.

Of all the conscious life-forms on the planet, we humans have evolved to be the most influential and dominant species. The essential caretaker role this implies, is the starting point for the humanist part of the Revolutionary-Humanist perspective. Moreover, in the 20th and 21st centuries, the mode of production developed by humanity has accumulated overwhelming damaging results. It is the injurious role of the capitalist system to humanity and the planets resources which is the starting point for the revolutionary part of this perspective.

Two destructive world wars (the 1st and 2nd) fundamentally motivated by national conflicts over access to markets and sources of raw materials, with millions dead, highlighted the capitalist systems innate tendencies. The end of those two devastating 20th century conflicts did nothing to reverse these innate tendencies of the system. Poverty, inequality, pollution, ecological destruction and armed conflict have continued.

It should be self-evident that for any social species, the well-being of the whole community and its supportive environment is essential for the well-being of the individuals within it. No social species can afford to permanently tolerate a situation in which some individual interests threaten the well-being of the whole. These individuals need to conform or be driven out. Long-term survival requires the fundamental interests of the human collective and it’s individuals, coincide.

Such inter-dependence exists in the rest of the natural world as well as in the socio-economic nature of human societies. Beneficial association and symbiosis are the evolutionary basis of all life on this planet. However, what is not often recognised is that under the present capitalist mode of production, the private interests of the dominant economic and political elites do not coincide with the interests of humanity as a whole.

The reason for this disconnect is simple. Production, initiated by private enterprise is undertaken in order to obtain profit. This necessity typically requires large-scale production, distribution, consumption and disposal of unwanted materials. In order to assure profitability, these separate processes, are all processed as inexpensively as possible.

The results of these profit maximising decisions are now visible everywhere. Dangerous levels of air, sea, river and land pollution, species extinction, low-paid, precarious employment, ecological destruction along with competitive wars for control of raw materials and markets. These symptoms are all inevitable results of gearing production to the needs of profit.

The revolutionary-humanist perspective,therefore, is one of the few which recognises that our modern global economic reality contradicts the religious and nationalist ideologies developed and established under previous tribal or aristocratic modes of production. It therefore, challenges those ideas which explain and justify the division of individuals within societies as well as dividing humanity into hostile religions and nations.

Since humanities ideas are influenced by human social reality, the struggle for humane and tolerant attitudes becomes not simply, nor primarily, a battle of ‘politically correct’ (sic) ideas. Instead it becomes primarily a struggle to create a more equal, tolerant and humane reality. In short, if we want to change ideas we need to change reality.

Reliable evidence concerning pollution, ecological destruction, poverty, military conflict and political reaction is everywhere. Such widespread deterioration suggests that new ideas corresponding to this reality should be widespread. However, there is a lag between the experience of global reality and the acceptance of a transformative set of ideas corresponding to it. In the 21st century, there has not been a sustained mainstream criticism of the existing mode of production nor of divisive sectarian religious and nationalist ideologies.

Yet it is common knowledge that religions, for example, are not humane to all those within their own denomination, let alone members of other religions. Nationalist ideologies are no better. National elites are not humane or egalitarian with regard to all members within their boundaries, let alone those of other nations. Adherence to these outmoded ideologies and practices are a recipe for confronting the growing crisis facing our species by mutual hostility and aggression.

Holding on to these outmoded ideologies will merely lead to more fighting among religious or national groups over who will hang onto the shrinking resources which sustain life. Any successful ones in such a divisive struggle would be the last to dysfunctionally survive before it too tore itself apart or became extinct.

However, the elite ‘middle’ classes, who administer the capitalist economic system, are mostly in denial of all this. They receive such benefits from the present system that it and it’s ideologies will not be seriously challenged by them.

For example, there are those in influential positions who are in denial over the seriousness of the negative symptoms briefly noted above. There are others who deny that this evidence results from the normal operations of capitalist production.

There are also those intellectuals who deny that their private interests prevent them from stating the obvious – that the present system needs to be radically changed. Denial in one form or another is an elite default response to criticism of the capitalist mode of production.

Until a new generation arises who are not chained to a sectarian ideological past, a nationalist present, or weak political reformism, but consider humanity as a whole, it is essential that the revolutionary-humanist perspective is kept alive for future generations to consider.

[This is the first in a series of short Beginners Guides to Revolutionary-Humanist perspectives. Others will follow at regular intervals covering contemporary and historical issues.]

Roy Ratcliffe (July 2019)

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TERRORISM (Part 2)

d) The ideological foundations of terrorist activity.

In Terrorism part 1, I reasoned that something more than anger against economic and social oppression, was necessary to motivate the assassination of non-combatant men, women and children as deliberate acts of terror. That something else I identified as adherence to ideological prescriptions and justifications. In this second part I also contend that this type of ‘higher purpose’ sectarian and anti-humanist rationalisation gives rise to a self-serving open or covert concept of virtuous violence. Violence against innocents, in pursuit of an alleged higher purpose, is twisted by ideological propagandists into a virtue. In fact such violence is far from virtuous when examined seriously and without bias.

As argued in part 1, terrorist violence by state or non-state perpetrators against non-combatants, by any credible definition, amount to crimes against humanity. Of course, with regard to ideological motivations we need to recognise, from the outset, that those who promote ideological-based terrorism and who perpetrate terrorist acts, do not have a separate ideology to the rest of the communities within which they reside. To a greater or lesser extent, the superiority of their group ideology is held by non-terrorists and terrorists and alike. It exists as a shared group assumption. The terrorists among these ideological-based communities are merely prepared to go to greater lengths to defend or promote the entire system of ideas than the average believer among their communities.

All that is needed by the non-terrorist believers in the same ideology as the terrorists, is to openly support it and consistently defend its validity and continue to adhere to it. This ‘belonging’ to the group and its shared ideology supports the assertion of authenticity made by its advocates and explains its continuing historical existence as a sectarian form of group identity. The mere existence of the shared ideology then becomes the intellectual foundation and motivational platform from which the terrorists acts are planned and executed by the extremists among them.

For example; The enthusiastic flag waving and anthem singing supporters of nationalism, are the human agency from which and upon which the armed forces and specialist hit squads of each nation-state receive their ideological certainty and funding support. Similarly, the enthusiastic adherents of religions, particularly those who conform, study and follow their own particular scriptures and clerics are the human foundations upon which religious fundamentalists receive their ideological certainty and funding support.

Two further points of interest are worth considering at this juncture. First, that in some cases, the two ideologies (religion and nationalism) can compliment and reinforce each other. A nation state with a state preferred or state reinforced religious (or even political creed) will undoubtedly have two powerful ideologies to justify their actions and two complimentary higher powers to serve. Second, that the ideologies of nationalism, politics and religion also contain within them the shared dualist (and elitist) notion of superior and inferior nations, religions, cultures or political ideologies. Thus a further two more rationalisations are frequently spun from such political and religious sectarian perspectives. First; the innocent others who are killed by terrorist acts are often presented as not being innocent after all. They are in one way or another considered to be implicated in the actions of their own elite by not overthrowing them or by not voting them out. They can even be judged complicit by being at the same wedding or market place as any particular targets.

Such guilt by association, crude rationalisations, conveniently ignore the problem of citizens being unable to seriously influence or control their own entrenched elites. Most, if not all systems of governance, historically and at present, are set up so that revolutions are necessary to seriously alter the actions of an entrenched elite. Anything less, (demonstrations, petitions, votes, for example – even popular uprisings) will be ignored, sidelined, resisted or even, (using the elites police and armed forces) punished by those in power. Anyone who momentarily thinks otherwise should remember the various state elites who ignored the huge global anti-Iraq war demonstrations in 2003, and also ponder the fate of the Arab Spring Uprisings beginning in 2010, in Tunisia, Egypt, Syria, Libya, Bahrain and Yemen.

Second, the other are frequently designated as less than human. Often, considerable effort is made by elite and pro-elite intellectuals, to identify negative or inhuman characteristics of some members (past or present) of the target community and apply these to all members. So the characteristics of some abhorrent individuals become the asserted characteristics of all. The actions of the elite are attributed to the entire population. In extreme cases much effort is expended in the consistent dehumanisation of those targeted as the enemies of one side side or the other. [Note, in this regard, the contemporary demonisation of all Russians and all Iranians by the elites in the USA and the UK, when in fact it is the Russian and Iranian elite who decide what the governments in these countries do.]

The sectarian demonising attitude ‘the only good Indian is a dead Indian’ of the early US aggressive expansion west can be replicated ad nauseum (watered down or not) and applied by sectarian dualists to Jews, Gentiles, Muslims, Gays, Trump supporters, Bernie voters, Brexit supporters and even Euro Remainers. The fact that predominantly good and predominantly bad people exist within every community and even within many families is ignored. Instead, ones own favoured group, nation or religion is asserted to embody more of the good and non-favoured groups to embody more of the bad.

However, outside of the public posturing within the arenas of politics, religion and the media, everybody knows the inaccuracy of this type of bias. We all know our own group has its share of anti-social, disrespectful and aggressive people who will lie and distort reality when its suits their individual interests. We all know there are extremists who will steal, hurt and even kill within our own religious, communal, political or national grouping. Nevertheless, this immediate (and practical) daily understanding too often gets swamped by, or ignored at, the level of ‘officially’ promoted beliefs and ideologies. And acts of terror are never far behind demonisation once ‘official’ ideological propaganda gets ramped up to fever pitch.

e) Accuracy and error in ideologies.

There is an almost irresistible but naive dualist urge among most firm believers to assert that their own beliefs are wholly or predominantly correct whilst others beliefs are wholly or predominantly wrong. However, the contradictions within ideologies are far more complex than that. Successful ideologies, as with all successful propaganda, rely upon containing elements of valid experience, around which are woven a tapestry of opinion, bias and myth. These separate elements become stitched into what amounts to a system of belief. It is important to recognise at this point that ideologies and belief systems are not generally created by ordinary people, they are a socially created product of past and present elites.

Ordinary people who fall victim to elite produced and promoted ideology and propaganda, (and even some who add to it) do so by recognising and latching on to those elements confirmed by their own actual experience. They then accept the additional opinion and bias part of the overall ideological package when it is skilfully interfaced with these elements of shared validity. Once an ideology or item of propaganda has been accepted – in its entirety – further critical thinking is not required. From then on its intellectual permeation/absorption is achieved by reiteration, elaboration and confirmation.

Confirmation bias among believers can then emerge (and invariably does) and evidence which contradicts the propaganda or ideology can be ignored and information which confirms the ideological bias sought out or even invented. People so inclined can choose the media outlet that plays to their particular world view or bias. Competing ideologies and propaganda all have their elements of accuracy along with a mass of elite spun mythology and bias. Perhaps the most vivid and striking example of this process in current politics is provided by the Republican elites versus Democratic elites in their mutual struggle for control of the wealth and power of the United States government. Republican supporters can recognise the accuracy of some of the Republican criticisms of Democratic corruption and economic and political mismanagement and simply accept the entire political package (or sufficient of it) currently articulated by president Trump.

Similarly, the Democratic supporters can recognise the accuracy of Democratic criticism of Republicans, (particularly the easy target of the current loose canon President) and accept all (or sufficient) of the democratic political package. Each side can confirm the existence of their own experiences as ‘truths’ (sic) and marginalise or even deny the so-called experienced ‘truths’ (sic) of the other. The constant manipulation of this manufactured propaganda divide and bias is the special role of the political spin doctors and media outlets that line up behind one elite side or the other. Fake and manipulated news is therefore a product of both (or all) sides of the political divide. Those ordinary citizens who have lined up behind one one side or other of this elite struggle for power and accepted that sides ‘message’ have thus become the victims of the ideological struggle as well as being the victims of the current mode of the production which these elite sides support and competitively seek to control.

A similar ideological production and uncritical acceptance of it is visible with regard to religions, where one religion is considered to be wholly correct and all the other religions wholly (or fatally) false. In the case of religion, the ideas were originally produced by an ancient elite, who were also mainly patriarchal men and verbally wove myth and mystery around of kernels of actual common sense and practical experience. These packages of elite male prejudices were skilfully and convincingly passed on to their communities, most of whom had no ability to read or write let alone skills of critical analysis. The result being that a majority, for any number of reasons, (including threats of punishment), accepted the elite produced ‘message’ and passed it on. The more of them who accepted the ideological patriarchal narrative, the stronger the communal pressure to conform became. Interestingly, all the Abrahamic religions, Judaism, Christianity and Islam, once they became numerous enough and strong enough used material force (including terror) as well as intellectual ‘spin’ to recruit ever more adherents.

The scriptures of each of these religions openly record and celebrate this military stage of their development. This is a fact which is conveniently overlooked or downplayed by many subscribers to these patriarchal ideologies. The interesting fact about these rival religions, however, is that conquest and killing in the name of their imaginary god is not something abandoned in scripture or in ancient tribal antiquity when they were invented. It was still evident in the religious wars of the middle ages (Islamic conquests and Christian crusades included) as well as in the later colonial and imperialist ‘adventures’. During that period soldiers and sailors of Christian Europe were sent to invade the South American, Asian and African countries of Pagans and Muslims alike, steal their resources and crush resistence mercilessly. And of course many 21st century Zionist Jews of Israel still invoke the myths of the Torah/Old Testament to justify the unremitting removal of Palestinians from their ancestral villages and lands.

The recognition of this religious element to terrorism brings us full circle to the formation of Al Quaeda, ISIS etc., and at the time or writing, the latest acts of terror in Sri Lanka. Islamic sponsored terrorist actions accompanied by the cry ‘god is great’ as they strike to kill in country after country among community after community have become a regular occurrence. In one sense all terrorists are victims of the insufficiently challenged dominance of the patriarchal ideologies they have been subjected to and have uncritically accepted. But it needs to be born in mind and repeated in this regard, that the unchallenged dominance of these ideologies exists because even non-terrorists keep these belief systems (whether religious, nationalist or politically sectarian) alive and defended as acceptable guides to modern living. But of course, this particular religious dimension is not the only experience driving the mental analysis and motivations behind the decisions of some religious individuals and groups to plan and execute terrorist crimes against humanity. They are also reacting against certain aspects of modernity.

f) Religious inspired antipathy to modernity.

For some believers, religious fundamentalism and its companion offshoot terrorism are the results of a rejection of some aspects of modernity. That is to say they are a reaction against, and rejection of, secular values, egalitarian concepts, pro-feminist policies and the extension of scientific rationality. Building upon religious tradition, fundamentalism has produced an ideological conduit for a new expression of anger, aggression and terrorist activism against some – but not all – symptoms of global capitalism. Religious fundamentalists select from aspects of modernity, as well as selecting some fundamental principles embedded in their religions original holy texts. They extract those elements which they prefer and that can be utilised in the resistance and fightback against capitalist inspired corruption and exploitation. Fundamentalism is thus directly dependent upon the originating principles and practices of religions as well as upon direct experiences of the negative characteristics of capitalism. These studied selections from tradition and modernity become the foundations upon which fundamentalist tendencies are erected.

So religious fundamentalism is not, and never has been a reaction against capitalism as a whole. It is not based upon opposition to the economic foundations of capitalism, as some naive commentators have suggested. It is merely a reaction to the current political and social forms associated with the capitalist mode of production. Thus religious fundamentalists as varied as Christian, Jewish, Islamic, Hindu and Buddhist are not in any way anti-capitalist, for they are not against the economic exploitation and social oppression at the heart of capitalism. Nor are they opposed to modern technology and the unregulated productive and polluting capacity of modern industry. The economic and technological basis of the capitalist mode of production are acceptable to most – if not all – fundamentalists as the American, Israeli, Iran and Saudi versions of fundamentalism demonstrate. Neither were those Islamic fundamentalists on steroids – Al Quaeda or ISIS – prepared to do without their smart phones, internet connections, polluting vehicles, travel by aircraft, buying and selling commodities (even females bought and sold as commodities) or market trading for the latest weapons technology.

What all fundamentalists have failed to grasp (religious and nationalist) is that on the historic scale, it is the full spectrum of production and productivity that capitalists and capitalism churn out which is the real material threat to humanity – theirs and ours. Indeed, it is the needs of the capitalist mode of production, which has motivated the pro-capitalist western elites to interfere, manipulate and disinherit indigenous communities and create problems everywhere. Yet it is an undeniable fact that the numbers routinely killed and injured in the west by ill health, road and industrial accidents, air and water pollution and numerous localised wars, far exceed what non-state terrorists are able to inflict upon humanity.

Yet the horrific and terrifying fact of sustained, large – scale damage and death of citizens receives no serious or ongoing condemnation from mainstream politicians and media. It is clear that the capitalist elite have managed not only to stifle critical thinking about their favoured and pernicious form of production, but have also managed to institutionalise terror and justify it. And as production is increased in the 21st century, the global number of ‘human casualties’, the disintegration of countries and ecological communities is set to increase rather than decrease. In a very real sense it is the capitalist economic system and its political and state institutions which is also an indirect instigator of the current spiral of revengeful terrorism and a direct instigator of pre-emptive acts of terror.

g) Finally.

The use of terror against innocent people is not hard wired into the biological and social evolution of humanity, so it is not an inevitable product of human relationships. Neither, are widespread ideologies for that matter. They are both relatively recent inventions, dependent upon literacy and a class with enough free time to develop them. Yet even so the desire to commit terrorist acts has never been widespread among communities and nations throughout history. Acts of terror are the peculiar product of a small minority within communities, who are instruments used by other educated elite minorities, to further their own elite ends. Hierarchies in general need ideology to justify social and economic inequality and they need terror (and armaments) to enforce this situation where it is seriously challenged. Ideology and terror serve no other purpose. Humanity, clearly needs to oppose and struggle against terrorism in all its forms, state orchestrated and non-state orchestrated.

Moreover, if we are genuinely opposed to terrorism, we must also expose and oppose all forms of terrorism. That is to say the form of terrorism, perpetrated by those who say they are on our side (sic), as well as those who say they are opposed to us, must be equally condemned. However, humanity also needs to struggle against the capitalist mode of production which has spawned all the terrible economic, financial, social, environmental, ecological, political and military problems we currently face – Including the above noted pre-emptive and revengeful acts of terror. It is this broader picture of capitals threats to present and future standards of living, safety and welfare, which also needs to be broadcast and fully understood.

The increasing numbers of human beings fleeing from routine violence on a daily basis in their own countries and seeking asylum in the relative peaceful countries of Europe and North America, do represent a problem under the present mode of production. This is because the wealth capital produces is intentionally not created to be shared out on the basis of general human need. Instead, it is designed to be accumulated by an elite whose greed knows no physical or moral bounds. Therefore, it should be stressed that immigration, as a threat to good jobs, education, and social welfare, only occurs because most of the wealth produced is appropriated by a relative few. This current unequal state of affairs, leaves the majority to squabble and struggle over the remainder. Yet even so, the amount of austerity and relative poverty caused by immigration pales into insignificance when compared with the threats to basic human needs and resources from capitalisms present and future profitable operations. Advanced technology in the hands of capitalist production will soon render far more well paid jobs obsolete (as it did in the mid to late 20th century) than any number of boat loads of refugees.

The compound crises which capitalism now has matured within our production, transportation, waste disposal and consumption areas of life, threaten far more austerity, disruption, destruction, misery and truncated human life than numerous boatloads of desperate working people fleeing from dysfunctional ex-colonised countries and failed states. In this regard, it also needs to be repeatedly stressed that refugees and economic migrants fleeing to Europe from Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen and Africa etc., are the direct and indirect victims of capitals global reach and interference in their countries economic, political and social affairs. Their situation has been rendered so bad by centuries of external meddling that even paltry benefit payments, precarious, low paid employment and slum housing in Europe appears more attractive than being unemployed and homeless in bombed out towns and villages with the constant threat of further harm. Here in Europe, the UK and North America, the working classes of various skin colours are – through unemployment, low pay and austerity measures – also victims of the same economic, financial and political system now in its neo-liberal crisis period. Working people the world over, in varying degrees, are facing the negative consequences of the capitalist mode of production in its 21st century stage of over – production and social and ecological decay.

Never has there been more relevance than today to the 19th century call; ‘workers of the world unite; you have nothing to lose but your chains’. The workers in the 21st century are now white-collar as well as blue-collar, they also are of different ethnic backgrounds, skin pigment and educational attainment than when the call was first made. However, despite these superficial surface differences, as human beings they still have far more in common, than they have in difference. We all need economic security, adequate housing, safe communities and unpolluted environments. The capitalist mode of production has consistently failed to deliver these basic elements of human existence to all but a privileged layer. It’s representatives are in complete denial about the connections and responsibility of their system for this failure and also for the planetary mess their system has created. That only leaves us – the general working population – to take up the challenge.

For it is no use hoping the politicians will do what is needed. Politics is daily proving to be part of the problem not part of the solution. Working people, uniting nationally and internationally in the desire to change the present capital based system, is something that we are still waiting to happen. Incidentally, it is not some new political strong man (or woman) such as Hitler, Lenin, Stalin or Mao, Thatcher, Merkel, Macron or Trump that we need. Tough Dictators or Kind Shepherds are not all they are trumped (!) up to be and they need sheep to follow them, not creative thinking citizens. And it is the latter which are really needed to reshape the future.

United, we stand a chance of saving ourselves, our present and future families and the ecology of the planet from further destruction and devastation; but divided we will fail on all counts. If this seems a utopian outlook then compare it with the past one hundred years of failed efforts to save people and the planet via the attempts to reform capitalist production methods and judge which effort ultimately has more potential. Also reflect upon the following. Previous mighty empires have collapsed from their own internal contradictions their people (and particularly their elites) never thinking this would happen. Persian, Egyptian, Greek, Roman, Aztec, Inca empires etc., arose, dominated thousands or millions and then declined leaving mostly ruins, buried bones and pottery.

But of course there is a substantial technological as well as historical difference between those past empires and the present global capitalist one. Previous empires had relatively low levels of technology in methods of production and warfare and this meant that people still had a fairly healthy planet to sustain them after these empires finally collapsed. People within the territories of these previous collapsed empires could still find places to farm, fish and survive reasonably well. Ground water was not generally contaminated, soil was not extensively exhausted or chemical contaminated by organo-phosphates, seas were not full of plastic and other toxic substances. Nuclear waste was not stored in limited life containers.

Forests had not been universally decimated to mass produce cheap furniture and paper. The air the survivors breathed did not contain billions of microscopic fibres of plastic shed from polyester clothing and microfibre packaging. In contrast, to past empires, this present global empire of Capitalist domination, if left to its elites devices, could by its mass produced fossil fuels, nuclear waste, chemical contamination, ecological biocide destruction and multiple pollutions make satisfactory human survival after its inevitable collapse, highly unlikely. Is that the heritage we really wish to pass on to our children and grandchildren as well as to any future generations?

R. Ratcliffe (June 2019)

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TERRORISM (Part 1)

The suicide bombings in Sri Lanka two months ago (April 2019) triggered a bout of short lived concern for the innocent victims of these atrocities. The incident has now been relegated to history and superseded by more daily Brexit concerns and weekly Trump-isms. However, terrorism is not history and sadly will visit us and others again and again. We need to remember that over 300 men, women and children had their lives ended by the actions of people unknown to them. Whoever perpetrates such acts, do need to be continually condemned as committing crimes against humanity. However, the narrow extent and momentary fervour of the western media coverage has not served to increase an understanding of the extent of acts of terror or the motives and beliefs of the numerous perpetrators.

Past and present western media coverage whilst expressing momentary horror also simultaneously exposes the hypocrisy and double standards of those promoting the western bourgeois perspective. The general reporting and discussions on terrorism has also demonstrated the hold of dualistic modes of thinking among the liberal intellectual, political and economic elite. The world according to these nationalist and religious type dualistic frameworks is divided into good people and bad people. The good people are those who do what a specific dominant elite want them to say or do (including issuing and following instructions to kill) and the bad people are those who say or do something which opposes that particular dominant elite. Such simplistic bifurcations of humanity and their actions conveniently ignore the essential commonality and alienated humanity of those people who carry out such barbaric acts and importantly – the supportive connections they have with their communities and the bulk of the world’s population.

This article, (and the next, Part 2) therefore, will delve beneath the current superficial surface symptoms, dualist formulations and the confirmation bias which clutters the media coverage of such events. Media partiality and bias prevents an honest and detailed evaluation of the continuous and widespread use of terror and other crimes against humanity. For example: With regard to terrorist acts we need to ask not just a) what do terrorists do – and condemn it, but ask, b) just who are those who carry out such atrocities, c) what do these perpetrators understand about the world, and d) how important are their beliefs in allowing them to perpetrate their crimes. In asking and answering such questions we shall view the world much closer to its complex reality, than it appears through the distorting lens of one or other of the bourgeois nationalist or religious sectarian ideologies.

a) What is it all terrorists do?

It is obvious that terrorists use guns, explosives and other harmful materials (fluids, gasses, powders, poisons) to perpetrate acts calculated not only to kill and maim individuals and groups, but to instil fear and dislocation into the wider communities which have become their targets. Invariably, the targets for acts of terror include, men, women and children of all ages, who are not directly involved in any aggressive actions towards the perpetrators. Furthermore, it is also the case that the human targets of these terrorist acts are also unknown to the perpetrators. There is a revealing contrast. In the case of most murders the victims are usually known personally by the agents of death, whereas most acts of terror deliberately target people who are not individually known to the perpetrators. In short; terrorism is predominantly a violent act of a few, who are usually well known to each other, (eg the murder cell, unit or team) against numbers of a group that are not personally known to them.

If the above is a reasonably accurate summary of what terrorists do and to whom, then it follows that whoever does such acts, should be accurately described as terrorists, no matter how they choose to describe themselves. Similarly, those who aid and abet, order, or otherwise enable such acts, are also implicated in those acts of terror, no matter how they describe or rationalise their direct or indirect participation. This latter point is an important one to recognise and understand in considering terrorist activities. Terrorists are rarely, if ever, isolated individuals who decide for themselves who should be a target, what methods and weapons should be used, the location and the timing of the act. Even those who strap on a suicide vest and go alone into a community to explode it are merely the end product of a chain of events and reasoning which always include interactions with other human beings. These other enablers have motivations, roles and tasks which are a necessary composite element of the eventual pre-planning and subsequent act or multiple acts of terror.

The existence of a chain of command and influence (ie the necessary human agents of terror) which Iinks planning and execution is also true of those acts of terror initiated and perpetrated by the elites within Nation States as well as those perpetrated by other forms of official or unofficial organisation. A direct chain of command or a more amorphous, but crucial, sphere of human influence is always the case; whether the terror is motivated by religious, political considerations or so-called national security measures. The idea of an isolated, unhinged individual acting alone with no connections or links with others, is a facile idea that has no connection with reality. So to further enhance our understanding of this process of motivation, planning and implementation we need to examine the shared reasoning which informs such acts.

b) So who commits acts of terror?

It is also increasingly obvious from the information available that those who engage in terrorist crimes against humanity, are not uneducated, mentally disturbed, or otherwise deficient in the ability to skilfully think and plan. It has already been suggested that those who organised and perpetrated the more recent crimes in Sri Lanka were well educated individuals, some at least with university levels of study. Likewise, those Islamists who flew aircraft into the Twin Towers, were from privileged and educated backgrounds. But the existence of a well educated resume for successful terrorist atrocities also applies to the state sponsored acts of terror by regimes such as those controlled by Gaddafi, and Saddam Hussain as well as those in Iran, Syria, Yemen and Saudi Arabia. It is also well known that practically all secular based nations (including those in Europe and America) have departments or sections which, along with their military elites, are no strangers to higher education entrance qualifications nor to planning and implementing acts of destructive terror.

So if we are not to be nationalistically biased or dualistically sectarian, in identifying those who perpetrate acts of terror, we must include in this analysis the well educated elites of Western Capitalist countries. These also initiate, support or otherwise sponsor acts of terror. The acts of terror planned and executed by all these actors, religious, political or state sponsored, are the results of a complex process of understanding and reasoning with regard to the world as they experience it. In general the elite state sponsors or enablers of terror are motivated by understandings which are informed by the alleged economic and/or political needs of the country they govern. Generally, they try to remove threats to these economic interests by diplomatic and peaceful means both of which can include bribery or intimidation. However, if these soft power manoeuvres fail, and the threat is considered sufficiently great, then organised terror can become an instrument of overt or covert government policy.

Thus the terror of relentless area and fire bombing of German cities and the Nuclear bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, by the Allies (UK and USA) in the Second World War, were well thought out, meticulously planned actions by otherwise rational, well trained and educated actors. They had a definite result in mind and a carefully calculated brutal means to achieve it. Nevertheless these were clearly acts of terror, aimed at killing and terrorising non-combatant, men, women and children in pursuit of national interests – as defined by the governing elites and their military commanders. Similarly, the Japanese and German blitzkriegs in Europe and the east were studiously considered, meticulously planned acts of terror against the citizens of the countries the axis powers wished to conquer, control or eliminate. Practically all these various elites and their supporters considered and defended their actions as rational and justified. They did so by invoking a higher purpose, such as, (in these last cases) the ‘national interest’, which was then used to justify the killing of non-combatants and other innocents as a rational endeavour to serve that purpose.

I shall consider these higher purposes in the next section but merely note here that non-state terrorists also have their own version of higher purpose which by a similar process allows the irrational murder of other human beings to be presented as their own sectarian form of rationality. However, it has become common in the mass media to apply different standards of judgement to the acts of terror perpetrated by states and those by non-state actors. Yet in fact those often considered and described as mindless terrorists, such such as Islamists, Right Wing Nationalists and other non-state terrorists obviously also think things through and more often than not plan their actions meticulously. Their reasons and understandings are often informed by similar or even the direct opposite of those informing other elites. It should be obvious that the national interests pursued by one elite using acts of terror against those who resist their actions, are frequently viewed as unjustified acts of oppression by those in receipt of those acts. Resisting oppression or revenging acts of terror by reciprocal acts of terror is often a downward spiral descending to the depths of depravity.

We should not forget that the understanding reached by many non-state terrorists who experience (directly or indirectly) what they consider to be oppression, exploitation or marginalisation of themselves and others of the same or similar circumstances, invariably promotes a reaction. The experience of the millions of people who have suffered economically, socially and politically as a consequence of the legacy of colonial, imperialist and now neo-liberal phases of global capitalism has created anger and frustration among them and later generations. That anger and frustration felt by millions also produces a small minority whose frustration and anger has reached such a boiling point that they feel it justified and necessary to hit back at the actual direct or indirect (often imagined) sources of this oppression. From among these angry minorities, within their wider communities, are the potential recruits for planning and perpetrating acts of terror. But anger against something is often not enough. As noted above we next need to consider the different higher purposes prescribed and available to those few who go on to plan and commit acts of terrorism.

c) What do terrorists believe?

I suggest it takes considerably more than negative experiences to turn a human being into someone who will kill and maim numerous other human beings. Even the most negative experiences of people under the present capitalist mode of production lead more often than not to depression and even suicide than it leads them to become terrorists. Yet it is this negative experience together the additional reliance on something more which is why acts of terror are the actions of a relative few, but a few who, undeniably share a common ideology with their wider communities. Moreover, as indicated, in contrast to most cases of murder and manslaughter, it takes a lot of cold calculation, together with a belief in a higher purpose for human beings to arrive at a decision to destroy the lives of unknown men women and children. Unfortunately, the history of humanity to date has produced a number of belief systems which serve as a higher purpose which justifies a suspension of the humanist essence of our humanity and serves to excuse or rationalise the destruction of other human beings.

Also as already indicated, the abstract concept nation and the ‘national interest’ is the general default ‘higher purpose’ within the bourgeois nationalist paradigm and this has been the rationale for numerous crimes against humanity. This is so whether this is the humanity of their own citizens or of other countries citizens. Elites, past and present, often consider serious opposition from members of their own people as threatening the national interests, when in fact it may only be the interests of the existing elite which is actually threatened. More often than not the use of a higher purpose rationalisation by politicians and military leaders is just a convenient cover for the much lower purpose of maintaining their own elite privilege. Mass incarceration or massacres of their own citizens by elites is not something missing from the arsenal of terrorist punishments available to aggressive and insecure state elites. So it is belief in a secular higher purpose cover story which is an important element in the mind set of those programmed to execute acts of terror by ‘following orders’ or merely ‘doing their duty’ to the state.

For the religious fundamentalist the higher purpose allowing, or even requiring, the killing of innocent men, women and children is doing their gods will. Perhaps not surprisingly, they and their enablers, assume they understand their imagined gods will which wonderfully expresses what the fundamentalists own will has previously decided upon. Perhaps it should be obvious that it is necessary for those who become terrorists in pursuit of an ideological cause should deeply and firmly believe in the end they imagine they are serving. However, we do know that such beliefs are not a biological product of each generation at birth. In fact these beliefs are a social product processed through education and culture from early childhood through adolescence to adulthood. This no less true of nationalist ideologies as well as religious ideologies. Without a constant reiteration and reinforcement of one or other of the belief systems, from which these higher purposes are derived, the promoters of terrorist acts and their perpetrators would lack the current menu of dubiously convenient rationalisations.

So the well educated pilot of a stealth fighter or bomber tasked to take out a target in the middle of a family wedding or community outing, is helped to reconcile this act by the fact that he or she has been trained by and is merely following, instructions from a political or military leader. Furthermore, he or she will also feel exonerated by being informed that those orders to kill are part of serving the communities (or states) national interests as interpreted by a political or military elite. In the cases of state orchestrated terror, any, and every instance of ‘collateral damage’ (a euphemism for the murder of unknown non-combatants) is acceptable. This is so even though occasional expressions of regret are later offered. With one missing dimension, the same ideological support structure applies to the religiously inspired terrorist. The well educated Islamic perpetrator of a terrorist act, tasked to obliterate the lives of a target community, is also helped by the fact that they are following the ideas, training and instructions of some religiously inspired ‘leader’. Furthermore, he or she will feel exonerated by being informed that they are serving the communities religious interests as outlined in their gods revealed scriptural texts as interpreted by their chosen religious elite.

The missing dimension, in the case of current Islamic inspired terrorists, is the absence of a need to escape their terrorist act unharmed and undetected. This arises from fact that they have been convinced by their belief system that killing themselves along with their targets, will be rewarded by eternal life in an imagined patriarchal paradise. In these cases, there is an imagined higher power reward, which is judged better than their secular analogues who merely receive state issued medals or promotion in rank for successful missions. In most other acts of terror, (state sponsored, nationalist, anarchist, zionist, etc.) the terrorists are invariably not intending to kill themselves. They are planning to escape unharmed and though recognising the possible dangers, they have no intention of being killed.

Even if the latter actually happens it will be the result of an unintended consequence. The only other notable exceptions to this suppression of a survival instinct among terrorists were the Kamikaze Japanese flyers, the Kaiten mariners (and their German plane ramming pilot analogues) during the latter stages of the Second World War. With these exceptions in mind, the ideological attachment to their religious belief gives the promoters and perpetrators of terrorists acts from within the Islamic community an advantage over other forms of secular or nation-state terrorism. This is because, physical escape from the crime scene by the perpetrator is a complex process no longer needed to be planned and implemented.

R. Ratcliffe (June 2019)

[Part 2 will include further comments on the ideological foundations of terrorist acts; confirmation bias in religious and nationalist ideologies; and the terrorist rejection of parts of bourgeois modernity.]

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THE RIGHT TO BELIEVE NONSENSE.

Before going further I wish to make clear that I am not using the term ‘nonsense’ as a substitute for the word ridiculous. By using nonsense I am not suggesting that people’s beliefs should be automatically ridiculed, even if some forms of belief are scarcely credible. I am using the word nonsense throughout this article, in the sense of being applicable to forms of belief for which there is no direct, reliable, sensory evidence. Those beliefs for which there is an absence of direct sensory observations by sight, touch, hearing, smell or taste (aided or not) by reliable instruments designed to enhance these five senses. In other words, beliefs for which there is no such reliable, independently confirmed sources of sensory evidence are therefore quite literally non-sensory or as I suggest, nonsense beliefs.

Since they have no basis in the direct, independent and confirmed reality of the senses, it doesn’t matter how many people subscribe to and accept such beliefs. That fact along with any numbers produced in support of its popular acceptance, does not by itself, make a belief sensible. Actually such statistical evidence only proves that beliefs without appropriate evidence can frequently be widely held. Large majorities once believed the earth was flat, that the moon was a perfect sphere and the sun went around the planet earth. That majority opinion did not make them reliable and sensible beliefs because, in some cases, immediate unaided sensory experience is insufficient and therefore unreliable. However, these particular inaccurate beliefs were at least based upon the senses rather than imagination and therefore could be later revised when further aided sensory evidence contradicted them.

It is different for those forms of belief not dependent at all upon sensory evidence, because, they are based primarily upon imagination. They are therefore established and perpetuated by imagination and generally impervious to sensory evidence. Such nonsensical beliefs start at childhood where adults feed their own and others children myths and falsehoods. Some fright-based falsehoods are allegedly to protect children from harsh realities, that they are supposedly not able to understand or cope with. Other more pleasant falsehoods such as fairy tales and Santa Clause are supposed to enrich their childhood experiences as if there were not many less deceitful ways to do this. Later, some of these falsehoods and myths are openly admitted to the children to be false – but not all. Children are easily duped because they trust that the imaginary information their adult counterparts have fed them was accurate.

Yet these imaginary stories (nonsense beliefs and downright lies) to children are continuing the already historically elite-established right to propagate and believe nonsense. And trust in parent (or surrogate parent type) authority continues well into adulthood for many individuals. God or a cleric becomes the substitute father figure, dispensing their own manufactured nonsense along with borrowed nonsense and naive trust is transferred to these surrogate parents. I am not now or in the future going to suggest depriving people of the right to believe whatever nonsense they find satisfying. However, I am suggesting that there should be the parallel and counterbalancing of that right to believe in nonsense, with another. That counterbalance is the right to refuse to believe in nonsense and the right to criticise that nonsense openly. This is particularly important where that nonsense belief negatively impinges upon the lives of others. For example, children of all cultures who are fed nonsensical beliefs are in fact victims of deception and should be entitled to hear and consider a critical appraisal of those nonsensical beliefs.

Similarly, adults who have continued believing non-sensory (nonsense) information fed to them as children or as adults (by surrogate guru parents) are also victims. This is particularly the case where women and children in patriarchal or patrifocal societies have been led to believe that the human rights granted to men have been correctly (and divinely) curtailed by their god and inherited religious beliefs. I have in mind, those religious beliefs, which insist that female and child sexual and economic oppression is divinely ordained, rather than being the preferred situation of dominating patriarchal men. But a word of caution. Even those males who practice and perpetuate their patriarchal preferences against others are also victims as well as perpetrators, albeit not in equal proportions. The perpetrators in this case are more privileged victims of nonsense than those they oppress. This does not excuse prejudice and discrimination but does explain the twin sources of them; ideology and practical preference. It is this element of contradiction which the political correctness movement, for example, fail to address.

In defending the right to believe nonsense as an act cultural respect for the other and celebrating diversity, political correctness advocates fail to defend the rights of the victims of such non-sensory belief systems. Furthermore, such bourgeois elite inspired political correctness at the same time fails to defend the hard won rights of secular working class struggles to ameliorate or end the worst features of the capitalist mode of production. Some of those features being the ideology of the naturalness of a religious, economic and political elite and their right to determine what people think and say. According to the political correctness movement, there is an unalienable right to believe any kind of nonsense, but not an unalienable right to criticise such beliefs. Furthermore, as if this intellectual and political asymmetry was not bad enough, this right to believe nonsense has been supplemented by the right of believers in nonsense to be offended by criticism of their particular form of nonsense.

Interestingly in the 21st century, criticism of nonsense has been conflated with hate and the thought crimes of the 20th Stalinist and Fascist state-capitalist period have been replaced with the liberal promoted hate crimes of the neo-liberal stage of 21st century global capitalism. Clearly the motives behind the political correctness tendency are most forcibly supported and backed up by the dominant economic and political elites. This cannot be surprising. It should be obvious that if a capitalist firm or business wish to sell their products or services to a buying public – on as wide a basis as possible – then they have no incentive to offend or upset large numbers of the buying public who have internalised their inherited beliefs – no matter how absurd these might be. The same applies to those who capitalist concerns wish to employ. Criticising the ideas of the very workers they wish to encourage to work hard enough to extract surplus-value (profits) from is probably not the best way to exploit them efficiently.

Similarly, it should be obvious that since politicians need the votes of as many voters as possible, they have no incentive to question or contradict the beliefs of those whose votes they seek to attract. Since the power and influence of these two sectors of modern capitalism (employers and politicians) is considerable, then their views inevitably carry considerable weight in the media and elsewhere. In the past decade, the representatives of economic and political elites have thrown their intellectual and financial weight behind combined efforts (of believers and political apologists) to stifle criticism of Islam and Zionism by use of the term phobia, This concept, borrowed from psychology, with its connotations of an irrational mental imbalance, has now been applied to rational criticism of the intellectual connections between these religious belief-based systems and the oppressive and aggressive practices associated with them.

So the the concepts of Islamophobia and Anti-Semitism have been increasingly used to discredit and criminalise any attempt at criticism of the beliefs and practices pursued and perpetuated by Islamic and Jewish fundamentalist ideologues. This attempt to outlaw and discredit criticism of dangerous fundamentalisms includes discrediting any exploration of the intellectual and practical ideas which connect the mainstream religion with those among them who pursue these beliefs and practices with knives, guns and bombs in their hands. In this way the liberal and left advocates of political correctness carry out (unwittingly or not) the policy needs of the economic, financial and political elites of the present mode of production. In addition, they also defend the rights of the religious and political elites of various persuasions to propagate their version of nonsensical belief unchallenged.

Yet it is important that a defence of the right to criticise is taken up by all who can contribute to this defence. This is particularly important with regard to the religion of Islam for it has long been a desire of Muslim intellectuals and scholars to recreate the Caliphate and it is at least some of these intellectuals and religious scholars who feed the ambitions of those fundamentalists prepared to take up arms in pursuit of this ambition. For example, in a 1981 book entitled ‘The future of Muslim Civilisation’, Ziauddin Sardar, borrowing western dialectical terminology, wrote;

“The realisation of the state of Islam is a constant state of becoming…..Each step forward requires readjustment; new problems have to be tackled from epoch to epoch so that the state of Islam can be reached and it’s true dimensions realised. Only in the constant process of becoming and in the continuous state of striving can we implement the dream that comes to us from the depths of our historical consciousness. The dream constitutes an inspiring challenge for future generations of Muslims as we move toward the Medina state with complete trust in Allah.” (‘The future of Muslim Civilisation’, Ziauddin Sardar, page 260. Emphasis added RR)

This is dangerous dream nonsense piled upon fantasy nonsense and like other such nonsense needs seriously countering and exposing, for it will undoubtedly influence some Muslim readers who lack nonsense detecting skills. For of course, in the non-dream world, the choices of governance types offered by Islam are now clear for all to see. At the least extreme end of the Islamic spectrum of governance are those offered by Hamas in Gaza, the revolutionary guard in Iran and the semi-military Islamic form in Egypt (routine beatings and torture). At the most extreme end we have had the recent ISIS Caliphate in Syria. We know the most extreme extreme examples include multiple be-headings, stoning to death, burning to death along with the capture and buying and selling of young women. In between these two examples we have the Taliban in Afghanistan, Boko Haram in Africa and the hierarchical (chop critics up) regime in Saudi Arabia. None of which present attractive alternatives even to the corrupt and incompetent examples currently on offer in the capitalist west.

However, even the least extreme forms of Islamic governance include the practice of honour killings of men and women for transgressions of the patriarchal sexual choices prescribed for them. In addition all of them maintain oppressive, restrictive, exploitative and forced relationships with their female members. All of them support the most extreme, near slavery employment conditions for working people. All of them perpetuate rule by unelected religious, economic, financial and political elites. All of them produce an abundance of individuals who think it OK to kill in the name of their religion and their imagined god. None of them advocate or allow critical free speech. These reasons are why there is much anti-Islam feeing in secular societies and in view of the abundant evidence, this is a rational reaction, not a phobic one.

R. Ratcliffe (May 2019)

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BEGGING, BEGGING & MORE BEGGING.

Once considered a thing of the past, or the product of less developed countries, people begging on the streets of advanced capitalist countries has become a permanent feature of everyday life in the 21st century. Despite unprecedented levels of wealth for some privileged sectors of the capitalist mode of production in Europe and the West, extreme poverty is also being systematically manufactured throughout the world. Science, technology and labour skills have been developed to such a pinnacle of achievement that used differently it would be possible to ensure that practically every human being had sufficient to enjoy a reasonably high standard of existence. It is even possible that this could be done without rapidly and permanently degrading the ecological balance of the planet. But after over 100 years of domination by the capitalist mode of production, almost the opposite has been achieved. Poverty, war and ecological destruction exist practically everywhere. Yet very few seriously ask why?

Not for the first time, the abstract symptoms of poverty – Want, Ignorance, Disease, Squalor and Idleness are again the increasing lot of human beings on every continent and within every nation state across the globe. Poverty and begging, the most obvious symptom of system failure, have returned as a permanent feature of modern life and are now set to increase even further. And large scale poverty and begging, themselves the result of capitalist-inspired social and technological changes in the ‘means’ of production and distribution, reinforce the downward spiral of the economic system and everything built upon it. The advanced nature of automation and computer technologies within the capitalistic realms of production and distribution has ensured that more and more can be produced and speedily distributed around the globe. At the same time these methods ensure that there is a decreasing number of people who can purchase and consume the increased levels of production. The economic disconnection between production and consumption introduced and accelerated by capitalism grows ever larger. So too does the social and emotional disconnect (alienation) between people under this particular mode of production.

These two aspects poverty and begging amid unprecedented levels of wealth accumulation, represent fundamental flaws in the socio-economic base of the capitalist mode of production. They are flaws, which over time, cause economic, financial, social and political crises. Moreover, they are symptoms which have not just developed during the neo-liberal phase of capitalist expansion. They are built into the founding practices of capital formation. Moreover, they are also structural contradictions which have, in the past, had various reforms applied to them during or after the periodic crises. New generations of working people are now experiencing the fact that the capitalist mode of production is again firmly in the grip of a cyclical crisis and that the symptoms of crisis are multiplying in one broad area after another. In the interconnected realms of economic, financial, social, political and ecological affairs, the cracks in the current system of production and consumption are again widening. More and more people and environments are becoming victims of a system propelling itself downward in a spiral of self-destruction.

These new generations of victims, particularly the youth, have not been given a critical understanding of how the capitalist system functions, which is not surprising. Education and information sources are predominantly tailored to fit the interests and desires of the capitalist and pro-capitalist elites. These elites have no motivation to expose fundamental faults in a system from which they currently benefit. Nor has our younger generation been given even a potted (critical) history of a serious attempt during the 20th century to address capitalisms fundamental flaws. Yet, as the crisis deepens, they will undoubtedly be presented with sophisticated propositions by the pro-capitalist elite to persuade them to support yet another puerile attempt to avoid the inevitable conclusion. The conclusion being that for the bulk of humanity the capitalist mode of production has long been unfit for purpose. In the next section I will draw attention to one of the 20th centuries most important Western-based attempts to create a version of capitalism which sought to circumvent the fundamental flaws within it.

Want, Ignorance, Disease, Squalor and Idleness.

The symptoms of economic destitution experienced by masses of people during the early part of the 20th century were encapsulated in the five abstractions which make up the sub-title of this section. Large scale, unemployment and low pay left masses of people in Want of sufficient food and clothing. Thousands lived in housing Squalor (damp, overcrowded and dirty dwellings) and Disease and Idleness followed in the wake of these primary symptoms. Ignorance was identified as a lack of education among millions of the ‘lower’ classes. This handful of abstract symptoms became the labels applied by a partially enlightened group of pro-capitalist elites to the those experienced by the working classes during that earlier crisis. Overcoming these five ‘evils’, as the Beveridge Report called them, became the task of both the left and right wing sections of the governing class of the British state in 1945.

The practical steps taken to ameliorate these symptoms were the basis of what became known in the UK as the Welfare State. Want and Idleness were to be eliminated by a political commitment to full employment and monetary payments for those short periods between jobs. Squalor was to be overcome by an affordable Housing Programme, Ignorance banished by Primary and Secondary education for all and Disease eradicated by a comprehensive Health Service. The institutional measures to eliminate these five symptoms were to be funded from two sources. Most of them were to be funded by a compulsory insurance contribution taken out of the wages of those in employment and a complimentary contribution made from the profits of the firms employing them. The rest of the welfare system, initially the health service, was to be funded from general taxation. In other words welfare was to be paid for by deductions from the total surplus-values created by all forms of productive labour.

It should be immediately obvious, that at the very least, the whole basis of these measures initiated after the Second World War, was dependent upon high levels of employment in successful industrial firms and commercial businesses. If insurance contributions were to come from wages and profits, workers would have to produce enough value at work to ensure their own wages and salaries as well as their employers profits. It would be a proportion of this surplus-value (value surplus to immediate consumption needs) which would fund the welfare system. If over time many successful firms, reduced their workforce through technical innovations, or if many businesses moved abroad or simply failed and a high number of workers became unemployed, an insurance based system would become unsustainable. Even tax funded welfare measures would suffer from any large-scale reductions in taxation levels or insufficient ‘in-work’ income tax deductions. In short, if millions became long-term unemployed – as they did – they would not be able to put value into the fund but would need to take value out in order to survive.

Furthermore, it is a convenient mistake in this regard to simply focus on the number of people employed in order to judge the viability of an economic system, as many of the modern political elite do. If wages and employer tax contributions are reduced sufficiently then it is possible to have high levels of employment but low levels of consumption and reduced contributions to the insurance fund. It is obvious that an economic system based upon monetary transactions needs sufficient purchasing power to sustain that consumption. Both these symptoms – unemployment and consistently low pay – lead to socio-economic problems, such as a welfare funding crisis, on the one hand and economic recession on the other. Variants of these two symptoms became noticeable in Europe and North America during the late 20th and early 21st centuries and are still evident today. Tax exempt, minimum or below minimum wage labour – cleaning, stacking shelves, flipping burgers etc. – leaves little left over to purchase things other than a minimum of food, clothing and shelter. Increasing numbers of low-paid jobs are a part of the recipe for economic stagnation, debt accumulation and economic recessions.

Nevertheless, a mixture of elite ignorance of capitalist economics and naive optimism – on all sides – ensured that the post-Second World War welfare state system was gradually put in place in the UK. Many imagined, and large numbers hoped that welfare provision, under the domination of capital, was a sustainable proposition! The British elite were not alone in exhibiting a new-found platonic spirit of providing welfare to alleviate the situation of the working classes nor were they alone in promoting similar measures. Other advanced capitalist countries had their own variants of this ‘new deal’ relationship with their respective working classes. Nevertheless, the elites in Britain, Europe, and North America were among the leaders of this new concern for their working classes after the Second World War. So a variety of forms of welfare capitalism (the essence of the so-called UK spirit of 45) were introduced in the western hemisphere.

It needs to be recognised that two facts, both created by the world war, gave an element of superficial credibility to the naive economic understanding exhibited by the respective governing elites who were behind the welfare state reforms. First, due to the fact that over six million workers had been killed fighting in the Second World War, there were severe post-war labour shortages. Second, large-scale damage and deterioration had been inflicted upon housing, roads, railways, bridges, industrial and commercial premises. For a short post-war period, therefore, high levels of employment were not only possible but necessary in all the countries directly involved in the 1938-45 war. All the European countries and those in North America, had lost huge numbers of able-bodied workers in the fighting and in Europe area bombing had obliterated practically everything that could be reached by aerial or ground based bombardment. These ‘facts on the ground’, requiring extensive repair, allowed and required a short period of intense production which together with the welfare reforms, conveniently provided a temporary political illusion that rampant capitalism had at last been tamed and changed for the better.

The creation of the very welfare services for everyone also created jobs in the public sector which for a time absorbed many workers not willing or not able to obtain jobs in industry or commerce. But within a decade or less the old problems were to re-emerge. In fact the promises and ideals of welfare for everyone were never fully met even during the early decades of the 1950’s and 60’s. Born in 1941, I know; I lived through them! Despite valiant and often desperate attempts by organised workers and their trade unions in the decades after the war, the fleeting ‘spirit of 45’ gave way to the harsh reality of capitalist economics. The post-war international competition, between individual capitalist concerns and capitalist countries which had caused the mass unemployment before the war, reignited with a vengeance. In Britain, as with other countries, in the 1960s, when profits were squeezed by foreign competitors, the employers (and successive governments) put the squeeze on their workers wages and salaries. A downward spiral of wages and conditions began again for white and blue collar working people in the UK, which apart from the occasional blip continues to haunt the lives of our young, not so young and old alike.

Begging 21st century style.

So Want, Squalor and Idleness have crept back in many 21st century western communities, only Ignorance and Disease via education and health services were kept at bay for a temporary period. However, even there education increasingly resembled meaningless industrial ‘training‘ and new industrially inspired ‘diseases’ have entered the individual and communal bodies of our citizens. However, in keeping with other ‘advances’ made by the capitalist mode of production, there have been advances in the form and scale of begging in the modern era. Begging is no longer an isolated individual endeavour practiced at the margins of towns, villages and cities, as it was in the middle ages. Nor is it extant in the neighbourly borrowing a cup of sugar, a bag of flour or small sack of coal in the immediate post war years. Begging is now centre stage and has become something of an industry. The sturdy beggars who once roamed rural England stealing, wood, chickens and sheep have been replaced by the street savvy beggars of modernity equipped with Big Issue magazines and the almost obligatory dog with a sad countenance to soften the hearts of passers by.

But make no mistake, this is still begging, and in the case of Big Issue sellers it is now on an almost industrial, or rather commercial, scale. It is begging encouraged to go mainstream and disguise itself as a ‘pay as you go’ public service. And this is not the only modern means of disguising begging for although the 1930’s soup kitchens have gone, food banks have replaced them. True, one needn’t stand cap or bag in hand on a street corner, if you are in food poverty, but you have to effectively line up for your chance of a selection of available goods donated to a food bank. Charity shops have also gone mainstream where the separation of the receiver from the giver is now largely disguised as recycled commodity shopping. We give our money to a charity and the needy in effect beg from the charity. All this is accomplished without the unfortunate victims being paraded in public and with the added bonus of us charity givers and buyers of ‘pre-loved’ commodities imagining that somehow we are helping save the planet by recycling the cast off, books, ornaments and clothing.

The other more sophisticated form of modern begging is camouflaged as official welfare provision and public handouts to those considered to be in sufficient need. Disguised as entitlements, this form of being given what you cannot obtain by other means, is nevertheless a form of less visible begging. In this case it is called ‘applying’ for welfare payments from a state bureaucracy, who obtain their funds from tax – payers and selectively dole it out to those the governing elite classify as deserving. By filling in forms and personal interviews the poor and unfortunate are in effect having to beg for what is officially described as a welfare entitlement. Perhaps the most hidden and shameful symptom of poverty (and a mute form of begging) in the U K and Europe in general, is with regard to children arriving at school, hungry, unwashed and with disturbed sleep patterns. Teachers, themselves the victims of education cuts, are being ‘moved’ to provide breakfast clubs and supply writing materials to increasing numbers of school children.

I suggest an elite who show no embarrassment at this state of affairs, yet continues to pump vast amounts of money into weapons of warfare and systematically uses them to interfere in country after country, deserves to be replaced. Furthermore, an economic system which not only allows this but encourages it also deserves to be replaced. All of the above modern forms of begging, begging and more begging are the products of an economic system in which its elites refuse to ensure that everyone who wants to work has a well – paid steady occupation. Instead, in the name of economic efficiency and market forces, they try to put the blame on the victims. But, although visible and less invisible begging is set to rise further, not all the victims of capitalist inspired poverty go begging.

Begging; the visible peak of increasing dystopia.

By treating economics as a separate and distinct aspect of social and political life, the dominant dualistic mode of thinking can arrive at some startling and self-defeating conclusions. In the name of efficiency and cost cutting, industry, commerce and public services have introduced methods that replace the amount of human labour needed and in various ways celebrate this as a productivity ‘gain’. More done by fewer people translates into more profits and less costs so this represents an important gain in the narrow neo-liberal economic world view. Begging in its various forms is viewed in this dualistic frame of reference as an unfortunate but necessary by-product of the drive for efficiency. However, in the real world, economics is intimately connected to the social and political realms of society and not all the displaced poor people sit on street corners with a pet and a bowl or an armful of magazines to sell. Many, turn to the black economy sectors of drugs and crime and it is here, that the so-called economic gains are translated into economic losses. Poverty stimulates both begging and it’s twin sister, crime.

The economic losses due to economic efficiency gains elsewhere, are of two kinds, direct economic and indirect economic. As the section of the disaffected poor, who refuse (or cease) to dutifully accept their begging and seek alternatives, increases, so do the economic costs to society. It can cost many thousands of dollars or pounds to attempt to rehabilitate someone addicted to drugs. Even more to incarcerate someone convicted of a crime. Society, finds itself building and funding prisons and drug-dependency drop ins instead of new workshops or sharing out the jobs and the value created by working. These are the direct economic costs of cost cutting in industrial and commercial enterprises and other public services. Then there are the losses due to infrastructure deterioration that accompanies large-scale unemployment, sink hole estates and abandoned buildings, roads, sewers, bridges which will cost further labour to rebuild or pull down.

Finally.

The fact that so many healthy and intelligent people have been reduced to begging in one form or another, in order to survive is a visible condemnation of the current capitalist mode of production. That fact, along with the systems propensity for elite directed assertive and even aggressive acquisition of raw materials and markets (wars and proxy wars), should invite a calling to account of the entire system. If in addition the effects of all this frenetic production upon the climate and ecological well being are added to the equation then it might be expected that a serious questioning of the entire mode of production would be taking place among those with the time and opportunity to think things through. Sadly this is not the case. Indeed, the intellectual, political and economic elites of the 21st century can only imagine solutions which countenance more of the same.

The concept of trickle – down economics, in which wealth accumulation by the relative few is supposed to descend the economic and social pyramid to the lower ranks, has been repeatedly exposed as nothing more than a self-serving rationale. The equally facile idea that capitalist inspired science and technology can solve all the problems it has itself created, is nowhere demonstrated in practice. It is only to be expected that those who gain most from the present system will invent new projects for capitalist investments, such as ever faster forms of travel, sight seeing trips into space or even mining for rare minerals on Mars, yet such visionary (sic) entrepreneurs are not the most dangerous. This is because most of these short-sighted, inter-galactic fantasies are never going to happen.

In contrast, the latest earth bound invigoration of capital by an expansion of global trade has been initiated by the political elite in China, via its project for a new industrialised silk road. The project, already in its early stages, is to create rail, road and sea links stretching across Asia, Europe and Africa to both stimulate and circulate production and consumption along it and through it. The intellectual and political elite in China, having abandoned any previous pretence at being anti – capitalist, are looking to surf-ride on an Asian tsunami of capital investment. For inspiration these myopic oligarchs have looked back to Marco Polo for inspiration, rather than Captain Kirk’s version of to boldly go enterprise, yet both visions only offer less than tantalising versions of more of the same. And as if to publicly advertise their economic incompetence, wider than Brexit, many European elites are eagerly signing up to be part of this new express way to climate and social disaster.

More, production, more consumption, more waste, more ecological destruction, more inequality, more poverty, more begging, more emotional destitution and more authoritarianism. The latter to prevent the majority from eventually taking part in a revolutionary transformation of the existing mode of production, into something more economically sustainable and egalitarian. More capitalism is the general vision offered by all political movements of the current generational spectrum. This is so whether of left, right, centre, so-called populist or alternative ‘green’ persuasions. None can see beyond a version of capitalism, modified, this way or that, according to their own ill-conceived understandings. None have the guts or intellect to become seriously radical critics of the capitalist mode of production and to rise above their current intellectual limitations and prejudices. It is now up to a new generation of activists to take on this task if humanity is to avoid a number of future catastrophes we face – ecological, economic or social – if ‘more of the same’ is the best we can do. Yellow Jacket, Extinction Rebellion and School protests, aimed at triggering reforms by the political class, whilst necessary to focus attention on a limited number of the symptoms, are woefully insufficient to hold the entire system to account or to eliminate the causes.

Roy Ratcliffe (April 2019)

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BUBBLES, BUBBLES & MORE BUBBLES.

In the article ‘Brexit, Brexit & More Brexit’ (January 2019), I pointed out that the British financial elite had long ago replaced the industrial and commercial elite as the dominant economic force within British capitalism. As such this sector has, through its lobbying and stipend-granting power, also been the dominant political force behind many things including the process of exiting the EU. The once realised claim of Britain being the ‘workshop of the world’ had been entirely negated by the time of the Second World War, but the ambition of remaining one of the great banking centres of the world had not. The ‘City of London’ (Banks, Merchant Banks and Insurance Offices) took over the mantle once worn by the nearby, and now defunct ‘Pool of London’ (Docks and Warehouses) and the attitude of being ‘great’ in Great Britain, found a replacement ‘container’ in the plush offices of those receiving and sending payments around the globe rather than those receiving and sending goods.

Nevertheless, the exaggerated sense of self-importance and power which still clings to the British elite in general, and the financial elite in particular, has being given a sharp rebuke by the leading representatives of the remaining 27 EU States. It seems the power and determination of a united elite political group of twenty seven is sufficient to stand up to the arrogant assumptions of one. This EU opposition has also clearly stimulated and exposed once again the fragile unity of the United Kingdom elites. To anyone not besotted by elite promoted nationalist pretentiousness, Britain is no longer ‘great‘ in its previous form as an empire, nor ‘united’ as when Scotland and Ireland were forcibly incorporated into its ‘kingdom‘. Its politicians being far from great. However, despite the current humiliation the British political elite are undergoing at the hands of the Brussels elite, we lower orders should not underestimate the power and ability of the British financial establishment to cause more future havoc. They are still second to none in their ability to facilitate fictitious capital and financial bubbles. The latter being devastating when they eventually burst.

Who creates and inflates financial bubbles?

It has long been known that in the capitalist dominated cycle of economic production, distribution and consumption, financial speculators have frequently been detrimental to the general circuit of production and commodity exchange. We need not think back very far to remind ourselves of this fact. In 2008 an international chain of bankruptcies and near bankruptcies rattled around the world’s banks, mortgage companies, Insurance institutions and investment funds. A sub-prime mortgage and housing bubble had been created, predominantly in the USA. House prices had been inflated way above their intrinsic value by cheap flexible loans and it was only a matter of time before the earnings of purchasers were not enough to service the monthly payments of the huge loans required to secure title to a house. When the financial bubble burst, defaults, home repossessions and much else occurred. Based upon past experience and historical knowledge, this eventuality was entirely predictable and I will explain why.

A bubble in financial terms occurs when the the price of something of value (referred to as an asset) is inflated by competitive investors to a point at which it drastically exceeds it’s real value. If any asset seems sound, starts to offer good returns and its price steadily increases, then it may attract many speculative investors. Such investors intend to buy the asset at the current price and sell it later at an increased price and thus make a profit. In general, people or institutions with lots of spare cash or access to sufficient credit are merely using these financial transactions to bet on changes in price (up or down) so as to either: A. Buy cheap and sell dear, or B. Sell dear and buy cheap. These are the foundations of usual financial market activity and the purpose of the continuous trading. However, an asset with a good return does not automatically create a bubble.

The financial bubbles considered here are those ‘trades’ inflated by speculators eagerly buying relatively cheap and selling relatively dear – the type designated as A above. The stage of a profitable asset becoming a bubble often begins when three further financial market symptoms coincide. First, even more investors notice the asset price rises; second, the returns (profits) being made by existing investors trading in the asset are good; and third, cheap credit, promoted by banking institutions and governments, is or becomes, readily available. These factors give more investors the confidence to buy and allows many of them to do so without having the means to pay. The calculation made in the use of credit to trade is that after agreeing to purchase they can sell the rising asset before their loan payment is due and so pay off the loan from the money then coming to them. If successful, they pocket the extra difference between the two amounts. In essence it amounts to – money for nothing – and the chits are free. (Circa; a Dire Straits lyric.)

The second stage of financial bubble inflation is based upon a continuation of the financial symptoms active during normal trading, but the successes of stage one, in particular, engender something of a frenzy of investment in the asset by new and existing participants entering or re-entering the speculative race. Investors begin dipping in and out of this trading cycle in order not to miss out on an almost certain profit by placing an order to buy and later to sell. This stage of bubble making speculative trading has been called an irrational exuberance (by Alan Greenspan, of the US, for example, in 2007) but I suggest this is an inaccurate and completely retrospective description. This definition needs challenging because in the early stages of bubble making it makes rational sense for greedy rich people and institutions to enter this race to buy and sell the rising asset.

It is rational, because in the early stages, there is practically no risk and very little effort required to begin making enormous profits. Indeed, what motivates some deliberately calculating investors has been scathingly described as pump and dump as they cynically play the asset and the ‘market’ conditions. Brisk trading can pump up the price then the asset can be dumped when it’s price increases. Speculation in financial markets which lead to the formation of bubbles is, therefore, more in the nature of individuals and institutional investors placing bets in a casino they have rigged. The game is rigged by the fact that the energetic trading itself automatically inflates up the price so that most of those betting continue to win their bets – until the bubble bursts. In other words, there is a period of time where the rising asset price has become a self – fulfilling prophecy. As long as enough of the herd (the Wolves of Wall Street, the foxes of the City of London and their counterparts globally) suggest it is a sound asset and the price keeps generally rising and enough people keep buying – then for a time – making a profit is a certainty.

The financial bubble can continue to inflate until some incident (a large default or asset sell off) or a re-assessment (possibly a negative rumour) takes place in which the third stage is entered. At that point more investors decide to get out, than continue to get in. When such private doubts set in the bubble formation has been slowed or is about to be punctured. Sooner or later, usually sooner, the scramble to buy stops and turns into a scramble to sell, before the price starts to fall below the price originally paid and a loss occurs. At that stage the bubble has been irreparably punctured and its deflation can be rapid. During this stage of accelerated price deflation those making the last bets lose everything or nearly everything. Apparently that happened to poor Isaac Newton during the South Sea bubble in 1720. It seems even clever scientists can be effectively blinded by the glint of free money.

So who else suffers?

I guess it will be hard for the reader to feel sorry for the millionaires, billionaires and random intellectuals, film stars, sports personalities, comedians and successful rock musicians, etc., who may have lost such insatiably greedy bets and seen their claims on wealth disappear or dissolve by a considerable amount. I share a similar lack of sympathy myself. However, a word of caution, before dismissing their losses – past, present or those to come in the future – for these are only the first links of a chain of problems to follow. The losers are connected to the rest of the economy and citizens by their hold on the means of exchange, which the rest of us use. And my simplified version sketched above gets even more complex when ‘financial instruments’ (MBS’s, ABS’s and CDO’s, etc. descriptions of these below) are involved in the financial market dealings.

So whilst it is a fact that the financial speculating ‘wizards’ and mathematical alchemists who conjure up the various Mortgage Backed Securities, other Asset Backed Securities and Collatoralised Debt Obligations etc., are not the only ones who can lose out. The investment staff at pension companies and other institutions collecting the hard earned savings of blue and white collar working people and charities are frequently playing at the same asset-gambling ‘market’ casino and placing similar speculative bubble inducing bets. So it’s our pensions or savings schemes and even the charities we donate to which can and do suffer loss. And there is even a further knock on effect which devastates ordinary people’s lives. Don’t just take my word for it, read what the following pro-capitalist economist has written.

“The Ifo Institute (a German economic research institute RR) has monitored the economy for more than sixty years and has never observed a crisis as severe as the one that hit the world economy in 2008 and 2009. North America, Western Europe, Japan, Latin America, and the countries of the former Soviet Union were all in recession. The recession was accompanied by a financial crisis, the likes of which the world has not seen since the Great Depression. In the course of 2008, more than 100 American and British financial institutions disappeared or were nationalized in part or entirely. In Iceland all the banks were nationalized, and for all practical purposes, the country is bankrupt. Ireland, Hungary, and Greece have payment difficulties, and many think that Great Britain and Italy will also face serious difficulties. And many East European countries within and outside the EU are in trouble. At the time of giving this text a final polish, in January 2010, the recession has ended, but this may only be a temporary relief, as the banking crisis is still far from being overcome and a public debt crisis is looming.” (Casino Capitalism. Hans-Werner Sinn.)

In the wake of such large-scale, bubble-bursting events, bankruptcies, industry closures, desperate takeovers and nationalisations follow, which also shake the real economy. The results of the 2008 housing bubble collapse, for example, also devastated the lives of millions of working and middle class people around the world, who lost homes, jobs, and savings. And this was not the first time. There have been an estimated ten serious financial bubble events reported since 1929 and there were bubbles decades before then, most notably in South Sea shares (mentioned above) and buying individual Tulip Bulbs for loads of money. (Don’t laugh, that’s not fake history.) In other words enough bubbles have happened to be a warning and to be included in pro-capitalist economic theory of the 20th century. Eg.

“Speculators may do no harm as bubbles on a steady stream of enterprise. But the position is serious when enterprise becomes the bubble on a whirlpool of speculation. When the capital development of a country becomes a by-product of the activity of a casino, the job is likely to be ill done.” (Meynard Keynes. ‘The General Theory of Unemployment, Interest and Money. Macmillan. P 159)

Although in many ways the quote above is an amazing understatement of the huge problems encountered in 1929 and again in 2008, it does indicate the negative consequences of speculation, particularly when this creates financial bubbles. The fact that the lessons of the 1929 Wall Street Crash had not been learned and were repeated in 2008 shows that perhaps the ardent pro-capitalist economist Keynes had wasted his time and energy by helpfully publishing his carefully considered findings. The captains and the accountants of the finance capital sector clearly did not take much notice of Karl Marx 19th century rigorously detailed analysis, or of Keynes in his 20th century General Theory, nor of the warnings voiced in 2000 and 2003. It would seem those in the finance-capital sector just can’t help themselves! They have acquired a form of financial addiction in which the addicts are either insensitive or oblivious to the wider implications of their collective illness.

So who gets rescued?

Well its not the pensioners, not the unemployed, not the zero-hours workers and certainly not the homeless. Despite the above noted greed, professional neglect and serious antisocial behaviour, with the exception of Iceland, the well heeled fortunes and institutions of the bankers and many finance houses were bailed out of the debt crisis they and their elite clients had brought upon themselves and us. Their buddies in politics and government had their backs and made good many of the 181 billion dollar estimated losses, from the general tax payers purse. Yes, by various means, we were all forced to pay for their bailout. The neo-liberal political and governing elite for once openly revealed their dualistic favouritism and exposed the normally hidden economic dialectic; financial profits are privatised, but financial losses are frequently socialised.

In other words, the exclusive coterie of financial speculation addicts were (and still are) comforted and supported in their addiction by the political and institutional leaders of the welfare state who use it (or rather abuse it) to support the wealthfare of their own elite class. Instead of being punished in Europe, the US and elsewhere those responsible were treated as unfortunate casualties who needed to be nursed back to health by doses of public cash, huge cheap loans and returned to their investment ‘high’ of choice. This double standard cannot be surprising since much of the establishment in the UK (as elsewhere) is not just eager to take part in and listen to the fantasy desires of the banking lobby, they have long been aiming to be the banking lobby and have largely achieved it within the British Parliament and Government. There were early warnings of that general possibility also. Eg.

“Each central bank…sought to dominate its government by its ability to control Treasury loans, to manipulate foreign exchanges, to influence the level of economic activity in the country, and to influence cooperative politicians by subsequent economic rewards in the business world.” (C. Quigley. ‘Tragedy and Hope’. 1966)

For those with the time or inclination to explore these subsequent economic rewards in the business world I suggest dipping into ‘Parliament Ltd‘ by Martin Williams, which reveals the “dark heart of British politics” and much else.

So are more bubbles on the way?

As noted above, business as usual in the financial sector has always produced bubbles, even though they don’t happen every day or even every year, but sooner or later one or more will be inflated and burst. The logic of the capitalist mode of production makes it inevitable. This is because the function of economic activity is primarily to make vast profits for the class which own and/or control the means of production – land, buildings, machinery and labour. Historically, when the accumulated profits from industry and commerce reached such a magnitude that there were not enough profitable industrial and commercial ventures left to absorb these profits for investment purposes, other forms of investment were sought. This has increasingly been the case since the 18th century, which saw the eventual domination of the financial sector over the industrial and commercial sectors of many national economies, particularly, but not exclusively, Britain and the USA.

This symptom of financial domination continues in the 21st century. It’s direct influence was behind the not so hidden agenda of the David Cameron negotiations with the EU in 2005/6 in his attempt to shield the City of London banking empire, from EU regulations. The ‘opt out’ and safeguard clauses requested were rejected by the EU then, as now. That particular Cameron banking-version of the ‘national interest’, is still the less advertised strategy of many ‘Brexit’ politicians in the UK. Their predominant concerns include freedom for the British based finance-capital sector to do what it does best – make money for those with lots of it already. That is something the sector has been doing for a generation or two so the habit and routines of investment banking have become a set of well-honed professional (sic) skills. How these institutions take large tranches of money or credit on deposit and return it to the owners or controllers with a large dollop of extra money or credit attached to it, has been slightly sketched above.

However, in case I have insufficiently stressed the interlocked process of it’s spurious logic I will try to do so again by involving the reader in a little thought experiment. Let you, the reader, suppose that you had several millions of your countries currency in a bank account and you were not content to leave this fortune at rest, but wanted to use it to gain even more. What could you do, or who would you ask for advice? You would soon discover that the finance sector have specialists who will not only advise you for a fee, but this sector also have other specialists who design ‘financial instruments’ which you can also purchase for a fee. Now put yourself in the position of the first category of these financial consultants. They have families and standards of living to support so the first lot will do their best to recommend investment opportunities which pay a good fee to them, and if they are entirely honest (sic) and not purveyors of dodgy schemes, also offer a good return for you.

The second group, the designers of special financial vehicles and financial instruments, also have families and ambitions, so will invent or design as many investment vehicles and instruments as possible and link them directly or indirectly to some real or imagined asset. They will do so in order to obtain their salaries and considerable bonuses. Those of similar circumstances (and even better circumstances) along with institutional investors will be offered one one or more of these investment opportunities to consider. Thought experiment nearly over; but remember there are many such investors, nationally and internationally. The casinos are linked globally and the gamblers are super rich. And the above noted game is still in play every day. Now given that the world is still in a period of lower production, lower wages and higher unemployment (ie austerity) and will be for some extended time, then it is unlikely that many opportunities for investment in the production of commodities or services will be available. So in these circumstances what kind of assets are there available to the specialists, now and in the future, for them to recommend?

What kind of bubbles might emerge?

The answer is already in evidence. The obvious ones for asset-based securities are gold, silver, copper, zinc, oil etc., and some crypto – currencies, (how dodgy is BitCoin for example) whose value is likely to rise, at least in the short time. Incidentally, bubbles are probably slowly or even quickly forming in all these financialised assets as you read this article. Also the value of certain foreign currencies may stay stable or increase. Forex linked investors play at that particular crap table. [Remember the run on the British pound by the ‘short’ selling Georges Soros in 1992, a process which caused it’s devaluation and made everything we buy more expensive?] There may also be other assets categories, which emerge similar to the dot.com companies such as Facebook, Amazon, Airbnb etc., and from being good (sic) investments may become potential and actual bubbles.

Other asset probabilities such as car loan agreements, student loan agreements, pay-day loan agreements and credit card loans, can be used on the basis that most loans will be repaid. If some rich punter buys a group of these loans they can reason they will get more than the purchase price they paid. These loan commitments can be bundled into paper instruments and layered or tiered so that a mix of prime loans (highly probable repayment) and median loans (fairly probable) and sub-prime loans (high risk of default) appear on them. These, or others may become the complex asset – backed securities (ABS’s) which will be offered to those with sufficient spare cash or credit to purchase them. Interestingly, there are two reasons why loans are a probable (and attractive) asset for blinkered financiers to bundle now and in the future, particularly in the advanced countries.

First, is the fact that in a period of low pay, precarious employment and austerity, loans are a common means used by working people, to prop up family budgets. Second, the majority of people taking out loans, even those at the poorest economic level, will make practically every sacrifice possible before they will default. Second and third jobs, begging, stealing, drug – dealing and even prostitution may all be resorted to rather than have the stigma and existential consequences of defaulting on a loan. This means that a significant number of even sub-prime (pay day type) loans may offer good returns to investors in them, while those struggling to make the weekly or monthly payments to the already rich are descending into a living hell of poverty, stress and even destitution.

This scenario ensures the almost certain probability that a future bubble will be inflated in one or more of these asset groups or others not here identified or some even yet to be invented. But just as inevitably any bubble formed will eventually burst by a series of investment withdrawals and/or defaults. It is possible to say this with a high degree of certainty because we know this is exactly what happened in the case of the sub-prime housing bubble in the USA, before the final bursting of it in 2007 and the subsequent 2008 financial crisis. And actually nothing has really changed in the finance sector or the political. Revealingly, and crucially, the addicts in search of speculative investments are still cruising the financial markets and the dealers in financial instruments are still busy devising and pushing their speculative wares.

Finally.

It might be tempting for some observers to think that the highly paid specialists in the regulatory bodies set up by governments to prevent such problems will, in the future, spot them before they detrimentally explode. However, it makes no rational sense to be hopeful or so trusting. Think for a moment of the confused and detrimental mess the governing classes have got themselves in over Brexit here and building a wall or fence in the US. Even the oxymoronic statements such as Brexit means Brexit soon after the referendum here in the UK, revealed an amazing lack of rationality as well as detail. It was the equivalent of stating that ‘cheese means cheese’, whilst everyone needed to know kind of cheese they were being offered; Lancashire, Cheshire, Cheddar etc., or Camembert, Brie, Feta etc.

If politicians, such such as Brexit means Brexit May, also think that the proposal by the EU negotiators is already an agreement before Parliament has agreed to it, we can’t expect much from them or those they appoint. Also bear in mind that the same UK elite have managed to accrue government debt to the tune of almost 13 billion dollars. Technically speaking a succession of these Oxford and Cambridge ‘suits’ and assorted British aristocrats have managed to bankrupt their former empire and one of the most wealth accumulating countries in history. [Their equivalents in the US are no better.] But there is another reason why regulation of financial instruments will be ineffectual – the complexity (often mathematically so) of the financial instruments themselves. A rare confession by regulators of failing to understand what was involved was revealed in the above quoted book Casino Capitalism.

“We had resolved to approve a financial product only if at least one of us understood how it worked. We were unable to adhere to this principle, however, as we always had to fear that it would then be approved by the English or German authorities. So we closed our eyes and gave the approval.”(quoted in Casino Capitalism. Hans-Werner Sinn. Emphasis added. RR)

Reduced to bafflement at the maths involved in the complex construction of financial instrument viability (ie the calculus based betting slips) the amply salaried regulators on both sides of the Atlantic, where not actually complicit in their construction, closed their eyes and gave approval. No further comments are needed than these along with those made above on the future economic and financial prospects for countries dominated by the capitalist mode of production. And that is without elaborating the patriarchal links between finance, arms dealing, war, pollution and ecological destruction.

The examples of Britain and North America have demonstrated to humanity what ambitious and hegemonic capitalist elites can do to people, animal life and the ecological balance of the planet within just a few hundred years of complete domination by capital in all its forms. It cannot be reassuring that there are a growing number of imitators of the UK, EU and US elite career path in the rest of the world. Chinese elites, for example can’t wait to replace the current Anglo-Saxon oligarchs as the dominant military, political and economic forces throughout the world. If that thought doesn’t motivate more intellectual resistance to the present capitalist mode of production among those who bother to think about it, I am not sure – as yet – what will.

R. Ratcliffe (February 2019)

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BREXIT, BREXIT & MORE BREXIT.

I guess that most people following the news media in the UK will consider that the process of Brexit (Britain’s exit from the European Union) is an unbelievably confused and confusing botch up. Media observers around the world also seem unable to make any sense of the numerous bickerings among the UK political class concerning the terms of the withdrawal agreement. Indeed, if one starts from the many political opinions being voiced by all and sundry over this issue it is difficult to make any overall sense of what fundamental problems are preventing a solution. ‘Why can’t they just get on with it’; is frequently heard. Contradictions together with opinions not based upon any reliable evidence are part and parcel of the daily torrent of media speculation but the underlying motives of the current fiasco are rarely exposed.

So analysing the various strains of borrowed thinking, identifying the many cases of confirmation bias, and following the useless combinations of abstractions around the Brexit issue, is a recipe for getting lost in a maze of conflicting ideas. And they are often ideas which are largely disconnected from real life and the real concerns of people who occupy the lower regions of our capitalist economic and political pyramid. Indeed, it is rarely pointed out that exiting the EU as well as the original joining the EU are decision processes exclusively initiated and guided by the UK economic and political elites. By utilising their positions of influence they have managed at each stage to convince large numbers of the public of the in or out decisions importance whilst simultaneously creating an enormous amount of internal and external confusion over precisely who really stands to gain.

Rather than analysing the current bewildering spectrum of political ramblings, I suggest we could achieve more overall clarity on what is really going on by reminding ourselves of two important points. First, this elite squabbling is nothing new. The issue of membership of European structures has always divided the British political class from way back when the European Coal and Steel Community was initiated in 1951. Secondly, it also helps to be clear on what the real underlying economic/financial forces and possible elite motives are behind the disagreements over EU exit terms. Historically this division has manifested itself most strongly within the senior members of the Conservative Party – but not exclusively. Winston Churchill (the British Prime Minister during the Second World War – 1939-45), for example, was for post-war integration in Europe, but strongly opposed to British membership of it.

Before EU membership.

In assessing this reluctance by the British elite to join a European Federation of states, a frequently missing, but very important historical fact, is the economic dimensions of that second world war. From 1919 to 1938 British and European Capitalism had been in the doldrums. Large scale unemployment and poverty for working people had broadly followed the financial and economic downturns, which characterised that period. So the Second World War was not simply a one-dimensional anti-fascist political fight against Nazi led Germany and it’s allies as it is often portrayed. It was also a massive military defence of the economic, financial and political advantages gained by British elites during the establishment of the British Empire.

A German controlled consolidated Europe would have threatened much of British Capitals 18th and 19th century international hegemony and so from the elites perspective it had to be stopped – and this was not for the first time. A previous Germanic expansionary bid in Europe had been stopped by the 1914-18 war. Therefore, with regard to the EU it is not just the general importance of these aspects of the capitalist mode of production (ie. economics, finance and politics) which need to be grasped, but also how they differentially effect the British elite and their international supporters. It is these contradictions which explain their irreconcilable differences and lies at the bottom of the decades long Europe in or out tug of war within the British Establishment.

Military defence of international economic, financial and political advantage as these effected the British elite was something Winston Churchill, for example, was strategically clear about in directing military operations during the Second World War, much to the annoyance of the USA military elite. UK capitalist interests pre and post war were still overwhelmingly for maintaining a dominant position in the markets and sources of raw materials which were the legacy of that earlier Empire and were later embodied in what became known as the British Commonwealth countries. European countries at that time (and even much later) were seen by most British elites as holiday destinations or secondary markets for goods and services but also as potential rivals for essential markets and raw materials.

So apart from a few among the financial, economic and political elite, after the 1939-45 (second) world war there was no majority for joining a federal Europe, precisely because there was no pressing economic, financial or political motive for doing so. According to a majority within the elite, Britain, was still ‘Great’, and was second among the worlds two premier and now victorious superpowers. They felt that Britain could, by maintaining a ‘special relationship’ with the USA, still go it alone at this side of the Atlantic. This sentiment among the elite majority remained largely the case for a decade or so up until the eventual decision to join the European Economic Community, for by then the economic situation in Britain and elsewhere had changed dramatically.

Rival economic powers such as America, and the revitalised previously defeated countries such as Germany, Italy and Japan had by a decade or so become economically stronger and Britain relatively and absolutely much weaker than when it controlled a thriving empire. Post-war international economic competition was increasingly fierce in the decades after that second world war. In addition, independence for many former British colonies eroded many of the special privileges that had once benefited British capitalism. As a consequence an increasing section of the economic, financial and political elite in the UK could see the obvious writing on the wall. Britain as the former workshop of the world with its empire status was something rapidly disappearing into the past. Being part of a growing European Common Market was therefore seen by an increasing number among the elite as the only realistic future.

Yet despite the emergence of such sober and scaled down post-empire perspectives, the economic, financial and political elite were still sufficiently divided upon the issue of Europe that they could not reach a consensus for joining this developing project. Many among the elite could see economic, financial or political advantages for them to join, others only saw personal economic, financial or political disadvantages from membership. Hence the long running (and often bitter) disagreements among the elite over being part of Europe which surfaced frequently. The only thing the elite could eventually agree upon was the tactic of having a referendum to decide whether the UK should join or not.

Accordingly a campaign was initiated in 1970 during which each side of the elite presented to the electorate the supposed advantages of joining, whilst the other side of the elite warned the electorate of the disadvantages of joining. In other words, the elite persuasively drew the mass of the population into making a decision which would primarily benefit one side of the ruling elite or the other. The promise (a hollow one at that) was that joining the European Union would benefit everyone. The yes vote won and the UK joined in 1973, but this did not end the elite divisions, because it did not end the fundamental differences in economic and financial needs or perspectives of the various economic and financial elites. Nor, from the standpoint of the working classes, did it end the economic and social decline of the UK workforce as a whole. Nevertheless joining muted the elite bickerings for a time as Britain was integrated into the European Economic Community.

Britain in the EU.

Meanwhile, in the UK the struggle between capital and labour continued. A ‘Winter of Discontent’ (1978/79) had witnessed the working class in the private and public sectors of employment, still trying to defend their pay and conditions against effective reductions imposed by employers and the government. Growing unemployment and reduced real term wages and salaries, had added to the structural problems of welfare state capitalism in the UK. The defeat of striking coal miners in 1984/85 further reduced purchasing power of the British working classes and increased state expenditure whilst simultaneously reducing state tax revenues. Yet the free movement of labour and capital (enshrined in the European Union Articles) ensured that employers could import cheap labour if British workers could not (or would not) work for low pay. Or alternatively owners of capital would be allowed to freely export it if better profits could be made elsewhere.

The de-regulation of financial markets in 1986 (the so-called ‘Big Bang’) and the full acceleration of the neo-liberal phase of globalisation enabled many fortunately placed people and companies to become super rich and super powerful. Thatcherite, neo-liberal, share-price populism (privatisation of gas, electricity, water, telephones, council houses) along with rising house prices also served to divert attentions from the growing structural problems of British welfare-state capitalism and masked the further domination of the financial services sector. Through inflation, unemployment and government policy a gradual reduction, of what wages and salaries of the masses could purchase, was temporarily offset by the extension of loans and credit card debt. On the surface, and in financial services accounting terms, it appeared that the British economy was booming and Europe along with it. But in fact living standards and unemployment for many working people were still getting worse whilst economic activity was being kept temporarily afloat by huge amounts of public and private debt.

And that was not all that was wrong. Since the domination of capital is a global phenomenon, it’s tentacles reach everywhere. Non-European countries with lower wage costs were quickly able to successfully compete on the world market with European Economic Community countries both in quality of products and cost. They were also easily able to penetrate European Economic Community internal markets and sell their products there. Take Japanese motorcycles, cars and electronics for example which flooded in. Or better still consider the example of South Korea. With low wages and 60 hour working week this small country single-handedly practically demolished the shipbuilding industries of all the advanced capitalist countries. In other words in general, British industrial capitalists producing commodities were losing out, whilst in general Finance capitalists loaning out out capital were gaining.

Between these two sectors the rift was growing. And note the following carefully: Membership of a club of nation states, such as the EU does not (and did not) remove or even mitigate the competitive nature of the capitalist mode of production for those producing goods. The examples of Greece, Portugal and Spain should make this fact abundantly clear. EU membership has neither protected the living standards of the blue and white-collar working classes or the professional or small business middle-classes in all E.U Countries and least of all in the cases of Greece, Spain and Portugal. Not only workers lost their employment, but small and medium capitalist concerns atrophied or collapsed. Only the finance capitalist concerns and a few fortunate industrial companies survived and prospered.

For example, the importance of financial services such as banking and insurance to UK business activity has now grown to become the largest proportion of British economic activity, whilst manufacturing and other goods sent to the EU has shrunk a relatively small proportion. So, here again the two bases for new and renewed tensions among the pro – capitalist elite in Britain (commodity capital and finance capital) has continued to develop. Some had become richer by being in, others had become poorer and wanted out. Yet other sectors such as career politicians feel their path to the Brussels gravy train now threatened. Hence, the conflicting opinions, the ambiguity and confusion.

After Brexit?

So while things were in an upward trend for banking and Euro MPs salaries and expenses, etc., things were going downhill for many – including working people – even before joining the EU. And despite some exceptions, for increasing numbers, the downward spiral of living standards and job security whilst inside the EU continued. Unlike the older generation, this historic pattern has not been experienced by the young people of Britain and Europe, and this perhaps goes some way to explain the different generational attitudes toward EU membership. Our older generation are understandably deeply cynical about the elite and this capitalist focused European union. Yet will leaving the EU really halt or reverse this decline as many older voters to leave hoped? Alternatively, would staying in improve things as many young people thought when they voted to stay? To such questions we can add another. Has staying in the EU halted or reversed this decline for ordinary people in France, Greece, Spain or Portugal? The answer is of course – no – for this decline has little to do with being in or out of the EU, but everything to do with the trajectory of global capitalism.

And it is not hard to predict the downward direction capitalism, particularly finance capitalism is taking all of us – in or out. Financial speculation, privatisation of public services and ever increasing lending is all the finance sector can do with their loan capital, when funding commodity production leads to relative overproduction – and it is – on a global scale. So as noted, the fundamental splits and divisions among the elite have not lessened but increased. Some still want out; some still want to stay in. However, another layer of disagreement has now emerged around the terms of the Brexit deal. The political elite in particular are now also split on the question of tariffs, borders, payments to Brussels and free movement of labour. But part of the split is not over tariffs or no tariffs; borders or no borders; payments, or no payments; or free movement of labour or no free movement of labour. It is about what level of tariffs, what kind of border (real or imaginary) how high the payments to Brussels will be, and how much movement of labour there will be.

Even out of the EU, under the current mode of production, UK citizens will still pay direct and indirect taxes and will still face employment competition, from low paid immigrant labour for the constantly reducing employment opportunities in UK based skilled and unskilled occupations. It is also clear, that the majority of the politicians in the UK Parliament have not grasped that the problems humanity faces are caused by the entire mode of production, not this or that tariff or back-stop borders. They too cannot see the wood for the trees. Once more, and before too long, more of the UK public will find out that they have again been conned by representatives of the political elite and their wealthy backers. For in or out of the EU, the situation for working people in general will not improve. The five-fold crisis of capitalism is global. In or out of the EU, unemployment, precarious employment, public services, public welfare, financial stability, ecological destruction and pollution will get worse, not better.

However, as we know, certain sections of the UK elite, inside or outside the EU can protect and increase their wealth and avoid taxation by clever manipulation of the rules. Likewise, movement of labour does not seriously effect economic, financial or political elite occupations in general. Despite this there is still a desire among the elites of most sectors of the economic and financial system within Europe to dominate the others. Such is the level of competition among some financial and political sectors within the EU that the UK financial sector, in particular feel it is time to get out. Indeed, it is arguably the desire, for banking regulation within the EU, particularly by German and French elites which is the prime motivation for the British finance sector wanting out and swinging it’s intellectual and financial muscle behind the campaign to leave.

Despite the lessons of 2008 financial crash, the last thing the UK bankers and financial institutions (and their affiliates) want is for their speculative activities to be regulated. And incidentally this section of the elite are no more competent than are the political sector. Neither group could see the full implications of their self – serving daily activities. The 2008 financial crash came as a surprise to those whose investment strategies caused it and incidentally they have been busy ever since creating more speculative bubbles which in time will also burst. The politicians who voted to invade Iraq allowed themselves to be fooled by dodgy dossiers and couldn’t see beyond the next parliamentary session or by election. So we shouldn’t expect anything better than short sighted self-interest, masquerading as public interest, to emerge from Brexit debates and decisions. Which is precisely what we are getting.

But whilst we are being continually bombarded by claim and counter-claim around Brexit discussions and deliberations we should not fail to note and remind ourselves of the following summary of verifiable facts: In all the decades of post war neo-liberal development, the economic and social condition of the bulk of the workers and lower middle-classes has deteriorated in most countries – whether in or out of the EU – or any other block of countries, for that matter! The condition of the working and lower middle classes in the United States of America, for example has nose – dived drastically after the few post-war years of relative affluence for some fortunate sectors ended. Understandably, the elite along with the media on either side of the Brexit and Trump wrangle and tangle fail to mention these facts for it might shift attention from the localised symptoms to the universal cause of them – the stage reached by the capitalist mode of production.

Over the same period, the fate of workers and lower middle-classes in Argentina and the rest of South America has suffered drastically at the hands of the global capitalist elite, particularly by the ‘conditions’ imposed by the IMF (International Monetary Fund). The situation, for working people in the ex – colonial countries of Africa and the Middle East, to provide yet another example, has reached such crisis levels that, (despite the Arab Spring uprisings), civil war and physical destruction of communities has become endemic rather than peace and prosperity. Again the elite and the media utterly fail to draw attention to these facts of global relative and absolute dispossession of working class economic and social well being inside or outside of economic or financial associations such as the EU .

Of course, in contrast with these global effects of international capitalism, the fate of the working classes in Europe is less severe, than their counterparts elsewhere. However, it is still not what by now should be the birthright of every human being. Adequate food, water, shelter, clothing, leisure and safety should be the guaranteed expectation of every human being. These expectations, I suggest were the content underpinning the way ordinary people voted for and against leaving the EU. As I wrote on this blog at the time, [‘In out -Shake it all About’] many ordinary people thought their lives would be better by staying in the EU, whilst many (slightly more) thought their lives would be better by getting out. In that sense there was largely a unity of content in voter aspirations but the referendum form presented by the elite created a false and divisive choice by what was dangled in front of them as an absolute necessity for an improvement in their lives.

Finally.

If for example, membership of the EU had delivered excellent or even uniformly reasonable standards of living for all Britain’s blue and white collar working class members, can it be supposed that so many millions would have voted to leave? Essentially the same disappointment behind the UK leave vote is being manifest by working people in the rest of EU countries. This is because these modern standard of living basics expectations are being denied to increasing numbers of the non-elites within Europe as well as without. As a consequence protest movements are inevitable. Despite the current different forms of activism and action, this is the universal substance of the majority of the discontented struggles around the world. From the Arab Spring to Brexit and in between and beyond, the struggle for adequate food, water, shelter and safety are the main motivation of the mass of ordinary people who are stirred into protest. Of course, this universal discontent needs to find a more universal and fitting form than the current retreat into nationalism or religious bigotry.

Increasingly, the pro-capitalist elites use the states armed forces to discipline or suppress protests against this unnatural situation of poverty and hardship alongside obscene wealth and luxury consumption. That too is a universal response to crisis by the various pro-capitalist elites. There is undoubtedly growing universal protest and universal oppression in the 21st century and 2019 will be no exception. It is clear that the elites in control of the nation states of Europe and elsewhere do not see their role as enabling and facilitating the above noted basics of human well being for all, but see their responsibility as defending the capitalist mode of production and their parasitic position within it – at all costs. So Brexit aside, with regard to the EU, it is an undeniable fact that working people, white-collar and blue, not only in the UK but in Greece, Spain, Portugal, Italy and now France (yellow vests) are daily registering their disapproval of EU neo-liberal capitalism. The voters of these countries just haven’t been given the choice to leave or stay – yet!

The real important issue facing the current working and middle-classes of Britain, Europe and the rest of the world for a better future is not the elite-led Brexit campaign or any other nationalistic or chauvinistic ‘back-to-the-future’ campaign. When a global mode of production is constructed so as to be unable and unwilling to deliver the above mentioned basics of modern existence to all its citizens, a really intelligent species, particularly the young of that species, should be organising to change that mode of production. They and we should not be taking sides in the petty squabbles of a Brexit divided pro-capitalist elite who use the masses as voting fodder to settle which of their sides gets the biggest share of our communally created wealth in the future. From the perspective of the bulk of humanity within the UK and Europe as well as the rest of the world, Brexit is a trivial distracting pantomime that solves none of the crucial economic, financial, political, ecological and climate issues facing the bulk of humanity and the planet.

R. Ratcliffe (January 2019)

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