The Early Days of a Better Nation

Wednesday, March 31, 2004

A Few Words on Socialism

Some days I feel like my shadow's casting me
Some days the sun don't shine
Sometimes I wonder why I'm still running free
All up and down the line

Warren Zevon, The Wind

Here's an unorthodox conception of Socialism, from one of the most orthodox Socialists, E. Belfort Bax:

I propose to devote a few words to defining my position as regards the contention of comrade Gould, for it seems to me the whole question is one of definition. Now, comrade Gould would define Socialism as the 'public ownership of the vital industries.' I should define it, in so far as it can be defined at all in a short formula, as the realisation of the old revolutionary trinity - liberty, equality, fraternity - involving transformation of our existing state-world into a social world, of our Civitas into a societas, the central, albeit not only, condition being the communisation of the means of production, &c. I say not only condition, inasmuch as there are forms which the infringement of liberty, equality and fraternity may take which are not directly or exclusively economic in their origin. Coercion in all matters of opinion or of taste constitutes such an infringement of liberty. Hence those who advocate coercion in these matters I decline to regard as Socialists. Freedom for all individuals in self-regarding matters I hold to be essential in Socialism. Again, what is known as patriotism (or jingoism) namely, the sentiment which seeks to place the particular nation-State into which one has been born above other nation-States, or which does not recognise the solidarity of interest of progressive mankind - especially of the disinherited classes of modern civilisation - I consider incompatible with Socialism, inasmuch as it implies a negation of equality.

Hence I cannot regard persons who in any positive manner hold such views as these as properly belonging to the Socialist Party. Comrade Gould, himself, presupposes toleration as a sine qua non in his characterisation of future society. And yet he would consent to regard persons whose principles otherwise involved the negation of toleration as having a place with him in the 'Socialist Circle'! Mind you, the 'Socialist Circle'! If our friend Gould had said he was prepared to confer with these persons for the attainment of an immediate political or economic object, I could understand his position. I would do so myself, just as I might enter into an alliance with a Liberal, a Conservative, or an Irish Nationalist for such an object. But I should certainly not regard them as belonging to the 'Socialist Circle.' And their professed adhesion to the economic formula of Socialism would not of itself be good enough to alter my attitude essentially towards them in this respect.

Comrade Gould would deny any ethical function of Socialism. 'Strictly speaking,' he says, 'the functions of Socialism are only industrial.' From this thesis, needless to say, I most emphatically dissent. Socialism is all ideal, the expression of which, economically, is the communistic organisation of industry, because this is the material foundation of its realisation. As I said before, the whole question turns upon definition, and I contend I am both historically and actually justified in my definition. Human life is concrete, and the attempt, as I have so often urged, to separate it up into water-tight compartments is, in the last resort, impracticable. No one objects to uniting with persons holding the most opposite political views for immediate purposes. But that is quite a different thing from regarding or treating persons whose whole outlook on life is out of harmony with the Socialist ideal as 'comrades' and members of the Socialist Party. Personal liberty in self-regarding matters, freedom of thought, the belief in international solidarity through the union of the working class of all countries for its emancipation, the supremacy in matters affecting the whole community of reason and demonstrable fact as opposed to private dogma and traditional belief - all these things belong for me to the 'essential Socialism.' I would, by no means, deny the name of Socialist to a man who differs from me, or, for that matter, from the general party, on matters of detail, questions of tactics, or special policy. But I once more insist that no mere adhesion to the economic formula will constitute a Socialist of the man who holds views on the above fundamental points (non-economic though they be) out of harmony with the spirit of Socialism as I have defined it.
It may be convenient for electioneering purposes to represent Socialism as indifferent if not favourable to religious hypocrisy, to moral humbug, and to every conventional principle - however baneful, however destructive of liberty, however incompatible with equality, however deadly to fraternity - provided it does not directly traverse the letter of the economic formula; but it is a falsification, and a falsification that will find you out in the long run. The man who wants to bully his fellow-men forcibly into accepting conventional theories on religion, on marriage, on royalty, on patriotism, etc., friend Gould, as I understand him, would have us greet as a Socialist 'comrade' provided he can mouth his adhesion to the bare economic formula, no matter with what implications or reservations, and no matter how much his attitude on other issues contradicts the recognised spirit of Socialism. Against such a view as this I cannot sufficiently protest,
popular and sound common-sensible though it may be.
The mere repetition of an abstract Socialist formula is not of itself sufficient to constitute a man a Socialist. He must be prepared to adopt and act upon the implications which the formula directly involves. Thus his adhesion to the doctrine of the class war involves his opposition to all measures subserving the interest of any section of capitalism. This, coupled with his Internationalism, leaves him no choice but to be the enemy of 'his country' and the friend of his country’s enemies whenever 'his country' (which means, of course, the dominant classes of his country, who always are, for that matter, his enemies) plays the game of the capitalist. Let us have no humbug. The man who cannot on occasion be (if need be) the declared and active enemy of that doubtful entity 'his country' is no Social-Democrat.

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Tuesday, March 30, 2004

Nothing is ever lost

The materialist doctrine that reassures us we must die also reminds us, with its same conservation laws, that nothing is ever lost. And even a weekend in Barcelona, that city of culture and graffiti, of high art and scrawled initials, of union offices and unpredictable demonstrations, irresistibly and however incongruously calls to mind this passage, once a talisman of revolutionaries, from Birth of our Power by Victor Serge:
Nothing is ever lost [...] This city will be taken, if not by our hands, at least by others like ours, but stronger. Stronger perhaps by having been better hardened, thanks to our very weakness. If we are beaten, other men, infinitely different from us, infinitely like us, will walk, on a similar evening, in ten years, in twenty years (how long is really without importance) down this rambla, meditating on the same victory. Perhaps they will think about our blood. Even now I think I see them and I am thinking about their blood, which will flow too. But they will take the city.
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Homage to Catalonia

On Monday morning I got back from Barcelona, to find Mrs Early asleep, Master Early asleep, and Zhukov (the Early dog) very much awake. Stitch and Split was interesting and worthwhile. Its poster deserves to become a classic of SF art, though even with the full-size version you may need a magnifying glass to spot some of the jokes, like the Culture ship names in tiny print, and the Giant Egg-Laying Insect, and the sunken city of Shanghai. My participation was invited, and expenses and fee paid for, by the Fundacio Antoni Tapies, to which much thanks.

I arrived in Barcelona on a rare (they say) wet weekend, so felt quite at home. It wasn't raining when I arrived, so there was no problem taking a bus in and lugging my stuff from Catalunya square to the Hotel Banys Orientals. It's a good modern hotel, where I found a handy pass for free lunches and dinners and a couple of faxes of directions from the organiser, Nuria Homs. So I left my luggage, looked at the map, and slogged off up the road a mile or so to the Fundacio Antoni Tapies, where the event was taking place.

In an auditorium under an art gallery I met three young Belgians, Laurence Rassel, Nicolas Maleve and Pierre de Jaegger, who introduced me to Nuria. Pierre took me out for a beer and we'd just got in a second when Nicolas arrived to advise us that the show was starting. Jordi Sanchev-Navarro talked about cyberpunk films. Laurence translated for me while he was talking. Every time a film clip came on - no matter how interesting or bizarre - I went out like a light, but she was too polite to comment. Every so often Laurence would break off her translation to say 'But you know this!' This was being polite too. For me it was all educational.

After the talk we went to a nearby bar and I asked Jordi if he knew of a film festival called Dead By Dawn. 'Of course,' he said. 'I know Adele!' We all talked for a bit and Laurence, who'd read all my books, asked: 'But what I want to know is, how did you become a feminist?'

This was a difficult question to answer since nobody had ever called me a feminist before.

The Belgians then took my out to a fine restaurant above a bookshop, where I ate fish. This was to become a theme of the weekend. Back at the hotel I crashed out, and woke in time for breakfast. I'd intended to wander around, and I did, as far as the rain allowed, to the foot of the Rambla (antique market, a lift up the column and a lot of photographs of Barcelona in the rain) and part of the way up. Umbrella sellers came out like mushrooms. By lunchtime I was feeling hungry and the hotel's adjacent restaurant was on the list that my card gave me a pass for, so I went back and ate fish. Out in the rain again and up La Rambla, and on to the Fundacio again, where I read, snoozed, and got ready for my talk. This involved selecting passages from my novel The Stone Canal for Laurence to photocopy for the translators, who were on hand to provide simultaneous translations over nifty skiffy radio headphones into Spanish and English, and who (in the event) did their job well. A little later, as the hall filled up, I met an enthusiastic reader, Professor Louis Lemkow, and a Spanish SF publisher (not mine) Miquel Barcelo Garcia, and the rest of the panel.

The other members of the panel were Manuel Moreno, Jordi Lamarca i Margalef, and Carme Gallego. Carme kicked off with a refreshing Enlightenment attack on the whole notion of identity, starting from the insight of the Scottish philosopher David Hume that even personal identity is a fiction. Collective identities, she argued, merely multiplied the fiction.

Jordi spoke about one of his interests, autobiography, and its role in shaping identity and the quest for what he called a 'middle term' between collective and individual identities. (The vagueness is all mine.)

I then, bracketted with readings from relevant passages from The Stone Canal, said something like this:
Is it possible for human personalities to be recreated in computer systems? Personally, I doubt it. To create a software model of the brain and its body and environment is difficult enough even in principle, let alone in any foreseeable practice. To enable that programme to run, to iterate, to take even one step, is a difficulty of a far greater order. Perhaps I'm just being stubborn, but I remain unconvinced that it's possible at all. To claim that human personalites, with real continuity with those they've been copied from, can exist in a virtual environment raises philosophical questions far deeper than most stories on the subject even consider, and far too deep for me to go into here.

Nevertheless, I think it's worthwhile and legitimate to write science fiction stories that assume it is possible, as I've done in The Stone Canal and elsewhere. As the American SF writer Kim Stanley Robinson points out in this context, science fiction provides us with metaphors for the mundane, and for the changes in our daily lives. When aviation was changing the world, science fiction wrote about space travel. When space travel was not changing the world, and medicine and drugs were, science fiction wrote about Inner Space. When computers were changing the labour process in factories and offices, science fiction wrote about cyberspace. Now that much of our work and leisure and relationships are mediated by computer networks, and much our lives lived online, science fiction talks about 'uploading' human personalities into virtual reality. It's a metaphor for what has already happened. In emails and newsgroups, websites and weblogs, many of us - deliberately or otherwise - project an 'online persona' which has a far from simple relationship with our actual selves. How many of us have had the experience of meeting someone we have come to know online and found them quite surprisingly different from the person we had imagined? As used to be said back in the early nineties, on the Internet nobody knows you're a dog.

But it's not simply a question of dissembling, of faking an identity, of anonymity or pseudonymity. To the extent that it has real effects, on other people and on the world, your online persona is your real self. You are responsible for it. There is no evading that. And these effects can be serious, can be very much 'part of the real world'. We're often reminded of the dark side of this, in fraud and entrapment and so forth, but we should also remember the bright side. Think of Salam Pax, the famous 'Baghdad Blogger'. As a young gay man in Iraq, he was able to use the Internet to both conceal his personal identity, and to reveal it, to come out before thousands and thousands of readers - and to affect quite profoundly the way in which many people saw the war. Here for the first time was somebody writing, almost intimately, in real time, to people in the attacking countries as the bombers took off from England and he - and we - could count the hours until they arrived, and worry when his messages stopped. Think of how emails and newsgroup messages directly affected how people outside the United States experienced the September 11 attacks and their consequences - many them anxiously seeking news of people they had never met in person, only online, but who were their friends or acquaintances nonetheless.

On the other side of the screen, so to speak, the Internet has changed many people's very personalities and identities - 'identity' this time meaning how they see themselves, and what they identify with. Again, we are often reminded of the dark side - of how people with warped and anti-social characters, ideas and impulses can find each other. But here, as in the real world, misanthropy is misguided. As the English historian Henry Thomas Buckle said, acts of virtue must far outnumber acts of vice, or humanity would long ago have perished. There are online communities of evil or disturbed people, for sure. But they are far outnumbered by the online communities of good people, whose interests are innocent. If you're innocent and isolated, discovering that you're not alone is an immense relief and can be the beginning of liberation. Minorities - sexual and political, religious and anti-religious, intellectual and artistic - can share their interests and legitimise themselves in their own eyes and those of the rest of the world. Not all of this is good, but most of it is.

Even the science-fiction idea of electronic immortality for digitized personalities is a metaphor for real life. We can't be sure, but we may suspect, that everything sent across the Internet is stored somewhere. Our newsgroup postings are now permanently archived in public, there to entertain or embarrass us for the rest of our lives. Perhaps the dark archives of the security services hold all our private messages, and represent the only immortality most of us will ever have. Who knows what intelligences, human or artificial, will in some distant future study these scraps of our souls as we study cave-paintings and bone-carvings, and wonder about the strange people who created them, back in the dawn?
Manuel Moreno followed up with an entertaining survey of 'selves and territories' in the form of aliens and their environments, taking classic SF examples such as Hal Clement's Mission of Gravity and Frederick Pohl's Man-Plus, as well as amusing examples of getting it wrong, from Barsoom to Hollywood.

Discussion, as you might expect, followed. Then another visit to the bar, and another seafood dinner. I had forgotten what fresh mussels taste like, and never known what razor-shell clams (wasted as bait in all my experience) taste like. And other alien life-forms ... 'You are a marine biologist,' said Nicolas. 'You must know how to dissect a lobster!' I did my best.

In a wine-bar found by Louis, much later, I heard about the events of two weekends ago, which - tragic though their impetus was - were for a few hours revolutionary - 'You could reach out and touch it!' said Nicolas - as millions of people in the street discovered through rumour and text message and website that they'd been lied to, and that much well-meant comment was misinformed. 'Even your weblog - !' Laurence had said earlier, to my embarrassment. The city, I should say, is spray-bombed with graffiti, its shop and office windows postered with anger and mourning, the black ribbon and the Catalan flag.

I said goodbye outside the hotel to Louis and the Belgians, finished my wine left over from lunch and read Buckle. The following morning, mercifully sunny, I shopped for gifts in the back streets and then headed for the airport. My flight to Heathrow was delayed long enough to make me miss the last flight to Edinburgh. Iberia, the airline responsible, put me up for the night in the Radisson Edwardian, a hotel I's last been in at a long-ago Eastercon, Evolution. When I walked into the bar I laughed out loud. Everything was still the same: the saddle-shaped bar stools, the seating, the paintings of horses. Entire conversations flashed back. I spent two quid on a half pint and went to bed; woke at 4.30 and caught the first plane home.

In the late evenings at the hotel and waiting for flights I'd finished reading Buckle's History of England, Volume 3, the one about Scotland. Its reading has, I think, changed my entire sense of identity, but that's another story.
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Thursday, March 25, 2004

That same Ramblas

This weekend I'm going to Barcelona to take part in Stitch and Split, a cultural event whose agenda is as follows (it says here)
Stitch and Split explores the joint, the interstices, between these two registers which might be considered opposed, science and fiction, and their reciprocal contamination. Science fiction as a zone of tension that amalgamates imaginary and real, utopia and dystopia, flesh and machine; the use of intrusion, incongruity and discrepancy as a system of resistance and a tool for questioning the present. Science fiction is not an oracle that can predict the future more or less exactly, but a critical, inventive, cross-genre/gender and cross-disciplinary discourse on the body, identity and contemporary territories.
I think I know what they mean.

I've been in Barcelona before, but only for a day. Cap Nau, Parc Gaudi, Sagrado Familia, the Ramblas. An open-top bus tour around the old quarter. Readers of Orwell et al will understand why I felt a slight shiver seeing a big old building with the chiselled inscription Telefonica.

I've added a few links in my sidebar to various leftist sites. (Mostly Trotskyist in origin - links to offshoots of the previous three internationals will follow shortly.) No blanket endorsement implied. A little digging around any of these sites will turn up interesting and useful stuff. Caveat lector.

Also, I've added an Atom site feed to the sidebar. Lots of people have asked me to do this. Most of them have explained to me why it's important. If I've missed out something, please let me know.
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Tuesday, March 23, 2004


Ethnic Cleansing or The One-State Solution? If you have contempt for your brother, it isn’t acceptable to cut your mother in two.

Socialism on One Planet

Some of my comrades and friends call this guy a Stalinist. He sure doesn't sound like one:

I must admit that Marx was right when he sketched out the idea that only when a truly rational, just and equitable social regime exists on this earth, will humankind have left prehistory behind. If the whole development of human society has inevitably been chaotic, disorderly, unpredictable, extremely cruel and unjust, the struggle to create a different and truly rational world, worthy of our species’ intelligence is, at this moment in its history, which bears no resemblance to any of humanity’s previous stages, something that was not possible or even imaginable in other circumstances: an attempt by human beings to plan their own destiny for the first time.

Dreaming of impossible things is called utopia; struggling for goals that cannot only be reached but which are essential if the species is to survive, is called realism. It would be wrong to assume that such an aim would be motivated by ideology alone. We are talking about something that goes beyond the noble and completely justifiable wishes for justice, beyond the deep desire that all human beings can live a free and decent life: we are talking about the survival of the species.
A summary of all that I have said shows my profound conviction that our species, and with it each one of our peoples, are at a turning point in their history: the course of events must change or else our species shall not survive. There is no other planet we can move to. There is no atmosphere, no air and no water on Mars, neither is there any transportation for us to emigrate there en masse.

Either we save this what we have, or many millions of years will have to go by before another intelligent species arises that can start all over again the adventure we have gone through. Pope John Paul II has already explained that the theory of evolution is not irreconcilable with the creation doctrine.
Speech given by Dr. Fidel Castro Ruz, president of the Republic of Cuba, at the Karl Marx Theater on January 3, 2004.
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Sunday, March 21, 2004

Boldly Going

I have an article on space in this weekend's Sunday Herald.
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Thursday, March 18, 2004

Paella-eating surrender monkeys, not

Juan Cole, Jim Lobe and Julian Sanchez skewer the punditry that claims al-Qaeda won the Spanish elections. Elsewhere, Alan Woods rather long-windedly describes the fast turn-around in 'the mood of the masses' last weekend.

A tactical line for the antiwar movement might be 'Turn the imperialist war into a war against terrorism'. We could challenge the governments along the lines of: I mean come on guys, when it comes to fighting terrorism you've got just about everyone on your side. You've got the Spanish Socialists, you've got the Russkis and the Red Chinese, you've got Fidel Castro, you've got for heaven's sake the Vietcong rooting for you. All you haven't got is the oil majors and the spooks, who have other priorities, like invading oily places and keeping some muj and contras on the payroll. And what goes into the pipeline at one place comes out of it somewhere else. The script for turning that into practical policies, T-shirts, soundbites and placards - open the books, close the camps, shut the pipeline, stop the blowback - more or less writes itself.

Doesn't it?
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Monday, March 15, 2004

3/11 again

Well, it looks like Al-Qaeda did it. This doesn't detract from the main point of the post and link below. Blaming ETA, or some splinter of it, was unfortunately not implausible. It was also very much in the interests of the outgoing Aznar government. But the rapid arrests of Al-Qaeda suspects, and other mounting evidence, after the government's insistence, in the teeth of their own and other intelligence agencies that the atrocity was the work of ETA and not Al-Qaeda has resulted in a massive victory for the PSOE, a party which like 90% of the country's population opposed the war on Iraq.
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Thursday, March 11, 2004


As you no doubt know by now there has been an attack (train bombing) on
Madrid with 190 known fatalities so far. At the moment the Spanish government is saying 'ETA' and everyone else is asking 'Al-Qaeda?' It makes a practical difference, yes, but ETA has become so nihilistic and pointless it might as well be part of Al-Qaeda already.

Update 12 March

Some sombre comments from Alan Woods, a British Marxist:
If ETA is in fact responsible, it shows weakness not strength. ETA is isolated and desperate. Last year 300 ETA suspects were arrested. The organization is finding it difficult to get new recruits. The ones arrested in the van incident were novices. There are serious differences within ETA and Batasuna. Many people are questioning the methods of individual terror that have been carried on for decades without bringing the desired results.

The questioning is justified. Members of Batasuna should ask themselves who gains from this? The answer is clear: only the extreme right wing, the police and the state. Spain is on the eve of a general election in which Batasuna for the first time will be barred. Maybe the authors of the bombing imagined they were striking a blow against the PP. In fact, the opposite is the case.

The secretary general of the separatist Catalan ERC, Josep Lluis Carod-Rovira, calls for dialogue with ETA to finish with "this barbarism". This is just stupid. The only dialogue the actions of ETA will bring about is the dialogue of bullets, fists and truncheons. After the atrocity, the Spanish minister of the interior, Angel Acebes, warned that those responsible would "pay dearly for it". We have no reason to disbelieve him.

France has already backed the campaign against ETA, and this has caused the organization a lot of trouble. France immediately declared a further tightening of border controls after the Madrid atrocity. The French interior minister Nicolas Sarkozy has sent a telegram to his Spanish counterpart offering police help. The noose will be tightened.

And what will the consequences be for the Basque Country? By their actions the terrorists have united the people of Spain against them. Hearts will be hardened. The most reactionary wing of the Spanish bourgeoisie will be strengthened. There can be no talk of negotiations. The Basque prisoners will continue to languish in prison.

The right wing Popular Party immediately suspended the election campaign. The PP is now certain to win a sweeping victory at the polls. The PP has adopted a tough line with ETA and the Basque nationalists. They will now be encouraged to increase repression even more. Only this week the UN produced a report denouncing cases of torture and beatings of Basque suspects in Spanish prisons. The Spanish state will now be able to continue these methods and clamp down on democratic rights with complete impunity. This will create a climate in which violence, madness and murder can flourish. In what way this could help the cause of the Basque people nobody can say.
Marxism is opposed to individual terrorism. But the reason for our opposition has nothing to do with the hypocrisy of the bourgeois politicians who are not averse to violence and bloodshed when it suits them. We oppose individual terrorism because it is counterproductive and always produces results that are diametrically opposed to those intended.

Russian Marxism was born in struggle against individual terrorism. But compared to the modern breed of terrorist the old Russian terrorists were like saints. They only killed known torturers, police chiefs and tsars. Quite often they would hand themselves over to the police after a terrorist act. The modern form of terrorism that kills ordinary people indiscriminately is an abomination that contains not a single atom of progressive content.

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Wednesday, March 10, 2004

Back by popular demand

Several correspondents have pointed out that the Fortean Times article on Trots in Space is now online. Its subject, Juan Posadas, was nothing like Nahuel Moreno (see below). Apart from being a Latin American Trotskyist who wrote about space travel, that is. Moreno was ... controversial. Posadas was mad.

Note: the sidebar article, Posadism for Beginners is riddled with errors which it would be tedious to nitpick.
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Tuesday, March 09, 2004

Putin's other ear

Will the nemesis of neo-liberalism in Russia be inspired by David Ricardo and Henry George?
The question now being asked is whether the oligarchs will sell off ownership of Russia's natural resources to the West as they bail out of Russia, or whether the nation will rescue itself from the insider privatizations by recapturing the revenue and wealth taken by the oligarchs.

In the West one hears mainly of reversing and renationalizing the giveaways of the 1990s. But in Russia itself Sergei Glaziev, Dmitri Lvov and other economists are proposing a rent-tax to recapture the oil and gas, land and mineral rent for the economy. If this route is taken, it will represent a revival of a "third way" of economic development proposed already in 1991 by many Western economists, including a substantial number of Nobel Economics Prize-winners. The remarkable thing is how little attention in the West this fiscal and monetary policy has received.
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Saturday, March 06, 2004

The Conquest of the Cosmos

And I had thought the Star Fraction was something I had made up:
The monstrosity of the imperialist and bureaucratic regimes has made the category of barbarism to become superseded. The colossal means of destruction, developed by imperialism and by the bureaucratic workers' states provoked a change in the dangers mankind is facing. It's no longer a question of falling into a new regime of slavery, of barbarity, but something much more serious: the possibility that the planet be transformed into a desert without life or with a degenerated life due to the genetic degeneration provoked by the new armaments. There is not only the danger of degradation of life due to an atomic war; there is also an immediate danger: that nature is going on to be destroyed, and principally the energy resources, that essential base of the ruling of man over nature. The exhausting of oil resources in a few decades or in a century is putting a terrible menace upon mankind.

Facing those dangers, we can expect no solution from the bureaucratised workers' states and the leaderships that rule over them. Those leaderships conduct us to the border of the precipice. The only way to avoid it is to wipe out the national borders, the imperialist ruling and the capitalist private property. In order to obtain that the national borders be wiped out, there is no other mean than the permanent mobilisation of the world proletariat and the unification of its struggles with that clear purpose. But to wipe out the national borders, imperialism and the capitalist private property by means of the revolution and the permanent mobilisation of the proletariat and its allies, is only advocated by one organisation, the Fourth International, is only defended by one current of the workers' movement, Trotskyism. Therefore, despite our extreme weakness, the alternative is clear. The question is no longer barbarism or socialism but holocaust or Trotskyism.

Only the proletariat conducted by Trotskyism will give an answer to the greatest challenge mankind ever had: the conquest of the cosmos. Today, that conquest of the cosmos is a coercive necessity that changes the traditional dialectic of Marxism between freedom and necessity. Marxism did state that through socialism we enter the world of freedom and we abandon the world of necessity. Today, the exhausting of energy resources in the soil and the growth of mankind require unavoidably the conquest of new energy sources. In the short range - a couple of centuries - the energy provided by the planet will unavoidably be exhausted, even with the most rational use of it. But mankind has an infinite source of energy at its disposal in the cosmos: the solar energy. That's a real challenge for mankind, that can only be faced if the perspective of war is left behind and if we enter the stage of building socialism. Socialism will go beyond the absolute freedom stated by classical Marxism and will obtain a new combination of necessity and freedom, in order to obtain a relative freedom. The necessity imposed by some men - the exploiting classes - upon other men - the exploited classes - will disappear and the coercive and human necessity of the conquest of the cosmos will be assumed.

Only Trotskyism, conducting the proletariat, will make it possible for mankind to enter into the stage of the conquest of the cosmos, that means, the creation of artificial satellites with a quality of life as good as on earth, that will collect solar energy and send it to earth by microwaves in order to have an energy nearly free of charge and in infinite quantity. Capitalism did have a progressive role because it meant the conquest of the whole planet, fundamentally America, Africa and Asia, for a new kind of production. It was a great challenge to which capitalism has given the response in its progressive stage. Socialist mankind has a still greater challenge, the greatest one ever hold by mankind: at the very moment when the continuation of the imperialist regime or of the bureaucratic regimes puts us in front of the holocaust of the human race, Trotskyism points out the possibility for the greatest jump made by mankind, the conquest of the universe by socialism.

Nahuel Moreno, Argentine Trotskyist, 1980
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Tuesday, March 02, 2004

To be of nane avail force nor effect

"The tre estaitis of parliament hes annulit and declarit all sik actes maid in tymis bipast not aggreing wt goddis word and now contrair to the confessioun of oure fayt according to the said word publist in this parliament, To be of nane avail force nor effect. And decernis the said actis and every ane of thame to haue na effect nor strenth in tyme to cum."

Act of Parliament of Scotland, 24 August 1560

"That na maner of person nor personis say mess [Mass] nor zit heir mess nor be pnt thairat vunder the pane of confiscatioun of all thair gud movable and vnmovable and pvneissing of thair bodeis at the discretioun of the magistrat within quhais jurisdictioun sik personis happynis to be apprehendit ffor the first falt: Banishing of the Realme for the secund falt, and justifying to the deid [sentencing to death] for the thrid falt."

Act of Parliament of Scotland, 24 August 1560

"In all this tyme [1559] all kirkmennis goodis and geir wer spoulzeit and reft fra thame, in eurie place quhair the sayme culd be apprehedit; for eurie man for the maist part that culd get any thing pertenyng to any kirkmen, thocht the same as wele won geir."

A Diurnal of Occurrents

All from the footnotes of Buckle, of which more anon.

"Life is getting better; life is more fun now."

And that's why Russian workers aren't going on strike so much, and why any who do are likely to be terrorists or dupes incited by US agents. This oddly resonant observation by a spokesman for the Russian ruling elite was made last September, according to the eXile's unfortunately non-satirical article about the Russian labour movement.

Another deadly serious, though funny, article demolishes a US 'social science' book's convenient and implausible claim that Siberia is worthless to Russia.

Elsewhere, the eXile's more usual sensitive, caring tone is maintained by the War Nerd, explaining the complex history of Haiti to his fellow Americans, and Mark Ames contemplating the US Civil War in the light of Cold Mountain:
The problem with the American Civil War is that, in the hands of our culture, this most wonderful of all bloodbaths has been turned into nothing more than a period piece chick flick, a costume ball full of stupid Christian platitudes about how war is bad for children and other living things, a backdrop for the most maudlin of dumb-broad fantasies and hackneyed Harlequin trash.
I haven't seen the movie myself, but that sounds about right.
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Monday, March 01, 2004

Stalin and socialism

I'm going to leave this subject for a while - as I said, sometimes you just have to start again from the beginning. But meanwhile, I'd like to make one point clear:

My long-held, and downright wrong, position on Stalinism was based not on what I'd learned from the left, but on what I'd failed to learn. Almost everything that can truthfully be said against Stalin and his regime was said in the 1930s, or in memoirs of that period, by the left. Trotsky, Serge, Ciliga, Trepper, Ginzburg etc had no illusions whatsoever that Stalinist policies were anything other than catastrophic. The modern Trotskyists, such as Tony Cliff, Ted Grant and Ernest Mandel, were if anything more unsparing in their exposures of the crimes, disasters and lies of the Stalin era (and subsequent eras).

I read them all, and some of the anti-communists, as well as fairly standard histories. I wasn't ignorant of or skeptical about the basic facts. What I was sceptical of was the idea that there was some alternative. And the focus of that scepticism wasn't Russia, but Germany. In theory I agreed with the proposition that revolutionary opportunities were missed, and the Nazi rise to power could have been stopped. But I didn't believe it.

The argument goes as follows: Even in 1933, the socialists and communists between them had more than twice as many votes as the Nazis, and probably more guns. The main reason why they were unable to combine and stop Hitler was the insane Stalinist policy of treating the Social Democrats as a more dangerous enemy than the Nazis. The German working class was split.

I must have read this a thousand times. But after about the hundredth time, my eyes glazed over. 'Yeah, yeah, the German workers could have stopped Hitler. But they didn't. What does that tell us about the German workers? And who really did stop Hitler, eh?'

Add in a bit of unexamined British chauvinism and you end up somewhere you didn't expect. I was certainly anti-Stalinist as far as the present and future were concerned, and never did anything to promote Stalinism as such, but with regard to the past I conceded far too much to it. This was entirely my own fault, and not that of those socialists from whom I could and should have learned better.
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Clinton Knew

Iraq's real WMD and delivery systems had been destroyed in 1991. The Clinton administration had evidence for this no later than 1995, from the defector Hussein Kamel. This part of Kamel's testimony was covered up for years. Why?
The Bush team had an obvious motive for misrepresenting Iraq's WMD: They were pushing for an invasion of Iraq. But why did the Clinton administration distort Kamel's statements to exaggerate the Iraqi threat? Answering this question requires an understanding of the profound contradiction at the heart of Clinton's policy toward Iraq.

The terms of the 1991 Gulf War ceasefire had stated that economic sanctions against Iraq were to be lifted once it had complied with its postwar obligations, chiefly disarmament. Yet in the years after the war, Washington had quietly made clear that it would never contemplate lifting sanctions as long as Saddam remained in power -- whether or not he had disarmed.
Clinton handed Bush, and Blair, A Legacy of Lies.
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