Saturday, October 23, 2021

Our Land – Our Precious Resource

by John Maryon

As a vital part of the earth's biosphere, the land we live on, along with the air we breathe and the water we drink, are basic for the survival of life, including our own. One of Lenin's first decrees was to abolish the private ownership of land in the countryside and to redistribute it from the church and aristocracy to the peasants. Land is too precious to be regarded as a tradeable asset for speculation or to form a basis for the accumulation of wealth. All land should belong to the people under common ownership as their birth-right.
    The private ownership of land allows for exploitation in the form of rent and access costs for living or any economic activity. Landowners can levy a charge whilst making no contribution in return. They did not create the land. Their regular income represents a never-ending drain on wealth created by others. Two-thirds of all registered land in Britain is owned by just 189,009 families whilst fewer than 5,000 landowners own 27 per cent. Land ownership is increasingly seen as a tax efficient speculative strategy by wealthy foreigners and off-shore fund managers.
    Britain's large land owners include the Church of England, pension funds and aristocrats. Many are pillars of the establishment with strong links to the Conservative Party. This class has ensured that the pledge in the Labour Party's 1945 Manifesto for a radical solution to the crippling problems of land acquisition was never implemented. The Royal Family are also large landowners, along with the Dukes of Westminster and Northumberland.
    Whereas Britain's 189,000 large land-owners are liable for council tax if they own property, they pay no tax on owning their land. In England it is estimated that less than one per cent of the population own half the land. If the land were distributed, each one of us would have about half an acre. The form in which agricultural subsidies are paid each year is being transformed post-Brexit and is currently estimated at £3 billion per year.
    The New Communist Party calls for public ownership of all land with provision for leasehold without charge for owner-occupiers. It is NCP policy to cap rents and impose proper taxation for land ownership that would close off-shore tax havens. The funds generated could off-set council tax, which is, in reality, a regressive tax measure.
    In urban areas, land ownership is the biggest factor in the cost of housing or productive enterprises. In 2020 the costs for building land, generally speaking, ranged from £300,000 per acre in Northern Britain to £1-million in the South. The most expensive land is to be found in central London, where the recent opening of Pandora's Box revealed a billionaires’ playground. The NCP regards the system of land ownership in Britain as obscenely undemocratic.
    Thousands of acres of public-owned land are being transferred into private ownership at an alarming rate. Private Finance Initiative (PFI) projects, the conversion of streets into shopping arcades and the privatisation of utilities, along with the sale and lease-back of public buildings, including health centres, all contribute to this process.
    In the countryside the problems are no less acute. The number of small farms is in decline as they struggle to cope with the volatility of milk, beef and lamb prices. With the ending of the Milk Marketing Boards, many have been forced into contracts that expose them to full market forces. Tenant farmers have been affected by an increasing rent burden. Big business is taking over, and the large estates are increasing in size.
    Farmers have traditionally been stewards of the countryside. By being in close daily contact with the land they loved, they could take a pride in protecting wildlife and ensuring a good level of biodiversity on their farms. Prince Charles has himself been outspoken in his calls to protect the environment.
    With average house prices over 10 times the annual income of most rural workers, housing has become a growing problem. A dwindling stock of affordable housing for key workers such as teachers, nurses, police officers, and land workers has forced many young people to move out, leaving an ageing and increasingly isolated population. Villages are being turned into dormitories for wealthy incomers. Pubs, shops, schools and even churches are being converted into upmarket housing. Cuts and privatisations have devastated public transport and have led to a growing dependence on cars and a divide between those with and those without.
    The NCP calls for the urgent building of council houses, funded by local council bonds, to supply a basic and affordable social need. The NCP also calls for the restoration of rural bus services and post offices.
    Serious concerns exist about the potential damage from fracking to extract shale gas – often in areas of outstanding natural beauty. Contamination of the water-table with methane is a risk, and Carbon Dioxide (CO2) that had been locked away in the rocks is released when the gas is burned. The NCP is totally opposed to fracking in the UK.
    According to the Big Issue magazine, over 20 per cent of the UK population live in poverty, a high proportion of whom live in rural areas. With benefit cuts and fuel poverty caused by rip-off energy costs, the dependence on foodbanks continues to grow. Wages and conditions for agricultural workers in England and Wales are no longer protected by the Agricultural Wages Boards and many permanent jobs are increasingly being replaced with casual labour. The NCP calls for the full and immediate restoration of those Boards that were abolished.
    Land is a precious resource upon which we all depend. Those who work on the land should be respected and paid well. Our land and all the creatures that live on it must be protected and managed for the benefit of all the people. It is not a commodity to be used to line the pockets of the exploiting class.

For a United Ireland

Though northern Ireland dropped from the headlines this week the deepening row with the European Union over the future status of the occupied north continues to simmer as the Johnson government considers the latest compromise offer from Brussels.
    In December the UK and the EU reached an agreement on specific trade arrangements for Northern Ireland, including the implementation of a new Irish Sea border and post-Brexit border checks and trading rules for Northern Ireland. Now Johnson tells us he’s going to 'fix' these post-Brexit rules that are disrupting Britain’s goods trade with northern Ireland while his minions say that the latest offer from the European Union to slash regulatory checks and dramatically cut customs processes on British goods moving to northern Ireland isn’t enough. This is because the Johnson Government wants to go far beyond the confines of trade to rewrite the whole post-Brexit agreement with Brussels.
    Johnson’s demands range from stripping EU judges of power over Northern Ireland to the somewhat ludicrous call from their own backbenchers to scrapping metrification and restoring imperial measurements in what they still regard as a “province” of Britain.
    While there’s no sign of shift in Brussels or London there will be immense pressure on Johnson from the other side of the Atlantic to settle before Joe Biden lands in Glasgow for the climate change conference in November.
    Tinkering around the Northern Ireland Protocol may resolve the current dispute with the European Union but it doesn’t address the fundamental problem which is the continuing partition of Ireland.
    The New Communist Party welcomed the advances made under the historic 1998 Good Friday Agreement, the establishment of the Northern Ireland Executive and Assembly, and the overwhelming endorsement of the agreement in the all‑Ireland 1999 referendum.
    But the NCP did not believe that this agreement could ever be a final resolution of the struggle for Irish national self‑determination. Though the agreement that ended the fighting provided the basis for the economic revival of the north it contained major flaws including the continued dependence on annual block grants from Westminster, and the continued presence of British troops in Ireland.
    We do not support devolution as an end in itself, but call for a complete end to British interference in Irish affairs, and any British state presence on Irish soil including civil, military, police or intelligence units.
    The NCP believes Sinn Féin is the leading force in the struggle for Irish national self‑determination. It is a broad alliance of nationalist and patriotic class forces that more than any other organisation can legitimately claim to be continuing the struggles of the United Irishmen, the Young Irelanders, the Fenian Brotherhood, the Land League, the Irish Citizen Army, and the Irish Republican Army.
    From our earliest days we have called for an immediate and unconditional end to the partition of Ireland, the withdrawal of all civil, police or military units from any foreign state, and the achievement of full national self‑determination and sovereignty in a united Ireland.
    We believe the Irish people have the right to use political or military means to achieve those goals, just as the British state realises its own interests in the same way.

Wednesday, October 20, 2021

Bad news on the doorstep

Rising prices, logjams at the ports, uncertainty on the jobs market and a damning report on the Government’s mishandling of the Covid crisis. Boris Johnson has, predictably, crept off to sun himself in Spain to avoid the flak. Not that there’s much of it these days. What little opposition there is to Johnson is limited to some columnists in the bourgeois press and the backstabbers in his own party. Starmer confines himself to ritual jousts with Johnson in Parliament while his party sinks into a morass of its own making over the Blairite drive to boot out all the remaining Corbynistas from Labour’s ranks.
    Johnson says his government is going to “level up” society with a “high-wage high skill” and “low tax economy” which he claims the capitalist market can deliver. But only where there is a clear labour shortage like the current need for more lorry drivers and the dearth of fruit pickers due to the end of cheap labour from the European Union.
    Pay rises are rarely the gift of the employer. They have to be won by unions determined to fight for their members’ interests and not those of their own bureaucracies whose only interest is to advance their own careers and pump up their own juicy pension pots.
    Johnson and Starmer both foster the illusion that we are all in it together, But we’re not. Workers don’t have a stake in capitalism not do they benefit from some trickle-down effect.
    All we get from the capitalist table is the crumbs and that’s all we’re ever going to get while capitalism survives. It is either us or them; the workers or the bosses. The alternative to workers’ power is a festering morass of exploitation of working people and the environment, racial and communal strife, rapid growth in crime, drug trafficking, violence and conflict from local to international levels. The capitalists must not be allowed to destroy society; it is they who must be supplanted.
    Until such time as socialism replaces capitalism, there needs to be a continuous political struggle to defend and improve social services and benefits. In tandem with this fight there must be a collective industrial struggle for better wages and working conditions that takes on the capitalist class head on

Standing up for Palestine

Congratulations to Sally Rooney, the Irish novelist who refused to allow her best-selling new book to be translated into Hebrew by an Israeli company. The author says she was answering the call from Palestinian civil society to impose “an economic and cultural boycott of complicit Israeli companies,” referring to BDS – boycott, divestment and sanctions – as an “anti-racist and non-violent” movement.
    The acclaimed writer turned down a bid by the Modan Publishing House to translate and publish Beautiful World, Where Are You because she could not "accept a new contract with an Israeli company that does not publicly distance itself from apartheid and support the UN-stipulated rights of the Palestinian people”.
    But "the Hebrew-language translation rights to my new novel are still available, and if I can find a way to sell these rights that is compliant with the BDS movement's institutional boycott guidelines, I will be very pleased and proud to do so."
    Ms Rooney cited reports published by Israeli human rights group B’Tselem and Human Rights Watch earlier this year belatedly recognising Israel’s system of apartheid imposed on Palestinians. These reports “confirmed what Palestinian human rights groups have long been saying: Israel’s system of racial domination and segregation against Palestinians meets the definition of apartheid under international law,” she said.

Tuesday, October 19, 2021

Fighting the fascists in the Swinging Sixties

by Ben Soton

Ridley Road. A four-part mini-series adapted by Sarah Solemani from Jo Bloom's 2014 novel of the same name. Currently showing on BBC1, Sundays at 9pm. Also available on BBC iPlayer.

Set in 1962, a young Jewish woman, Vivian Epstein (played by Agnes O’Casey), leaves her comfortable life in Manchester in search of her boyfriend. She finds work as a hairdresser and on her afternoon off wanders into a fascist rally in Trafalgar Square only to find her lover, Jack Morris (played by Tom Varney), masquerading as a far-right thug.  The organisation in question was the National Socialist Movement (NSM) led at the time by Colin Jordan and John Tyndall and campaigning in Ridley Road in London’s East End, from where the drama takes its name.
    The drama has three areas of focus: those opposed to fascism, the fascists themselves and those naïve individuals fooled into supporting it. After Jack is injured in a street-fight Vivian becomes involved with a group of Jewish anti-fascists for whom he is working undercover. The group, led by Jewish cab driver Solly Malinovsky (played by Eddie Marsan), have fresh memories of the Holocaust and Cable Street and are determined to get this poisonous ideology crushed for good. Vivian infiltrates the NSM to discover Jack’s whereabouts.
    Ridley Road also shows how fascism prays on people’s fears and even legitimate concerns.    Fascists fraudulently claim to be opposed to capitalism and often promote an opposition to modernity.
    In one scene a covert fascist sympathiser talks of the closure of corner shops due to competition from supermarket chains. For most readers under 70 it is difficult to recall a time when most shopping was not bought in supermarkets but in the early 1960s they were an innovation. The same demagogues often hark back to an imagined past when apparently everyone knew their neighbour and looked out for each other – a dog whistle reference to immigration. From personal observation, the death of community spirit is grossly exaggerated just as is the notion that it was somehow better in the past. Meanwhile, the street I live on still has a corner shop, only it is open for much longer than it would have been in the 1960s.
    Colin Jordan (played by Rory Kinnear), the leader of the NSM, is portrayed as calm and collected, as well as a doting father.  He is not a one-dimensional, spitting fanatic, the classic cartoon fascist. The rank and file, referred to as his men, are portrayed as thuggish and drawn from the lower end of the working class. The wife of one of them points out that the stately home, used by the NSM, has been donated by a wealthy aristocrat. A reminder that fascism is not about looking after the little people.
    Ridley Road intertwines newsreel footage between scenes, which gives it a documentary feel.    It contains several sub-plots, giving the drama an added suspense. Meanwhile, it also makes reference to the treatment, or should I say mistreatment, of women – both by the fascist movement and ironically also within the Jewish community. This multi-layered and largely accurate historical drama is definitely a must in terms of Sunday night viewing.

Monday, October 11, 2021

Crisis? What Crisis?

Empty shelves in the supermarkets, soaring energy prices while motorists fume in queues for fuel at petrol stations struggling to remain open as supplies run out due to a shortage of drivers in the haulage industry. In other times this would be an open goal for Labour to hammer the Tories. Now the utterly useless leader of the Labour Party can barely turn away from his relentless purge of the Corbynistas to utter the usual platitudes that nobody listens to these days.
    No wonder the Tories are basking in complacency at their annual conference in Manchester. Boris Johnson struts the stage drivelling on about his “mission” to decrease geographical inequalities and defending “our history” from “cancel culture iconoclasm” in a rambling speech that made no mention of the rising cost of living or the supply chain crisis.
    But you’d think this was a second Cicero judging from the applause of his followers who laugh at his sixth-form jibes at Starmer – the “Captain Hindsight” who resembles a “seriously rattled bus conductor” and eagerly lap up talk about unleashing the potential of all Britons in the spirit of Olympians or the England football team.
    When Tory leaders talk about "Britons" and "our one-nation" they want to foster the idea that we are a united people with a common national interest. But nothing could be further from the truth. We are, in fact, a class divided society in which the interests of the exploited class – the majority of the people – are in direct conflict with the interests of the exploiters.
    In the past Labour leaders recognised class divisions and during the Attlee and Wilson eras their economists talked about “democratic socialist” solutions to end exploitation and poverty. Now that’s been reduced to Angela Rayner calling the Tories “scum” while talk of nationalising the railways or the utilities is frowned on by Starmer & Co.
    Though state intervention is essential in Keynesian economics the form it takes reflects the needs of the ruling class at the time. Keynesian reforms are designed to uphold the existing order and stave off social unrest and they are the kernel of left social democratic thinking in the capitalist world.
    But they were also embraced by Benito Mussolini, whose fascist Italy had a public sector second only to that of the Soviet Union before the Second World War. Franklin D Roosevelt tried revive the American economy after the massive slump in 1929 with a Keynesian “New Deal and Adolf Hitler did the same when the Nazis took over in Germany.
    The neo-liberal unrestricted market economy of the imperialist heartlands is clearly unable to cope with the post-Covid world and so the ruling circles in the United States are returning to the old Keynesian models. The Biden administration’s $3.5 trillion economic plan is going down the same road as FDR’s New Deal and the “Great Society” of the 1960s.
    While new bourgeois consensus has seen the old social-democratic parties return to the centre of government in Western Europe.
    But whatever form it takes capitalism will always be brutal and oppressive because that is the only way it can ensure that the rich can continue to live the lives of Roman emperors off the backs of workers and peasants. The capitalists fear and loathe organised labour because it knows that the entire wealth of the world comes from workers in the factories and peasants in the fields.

The capitalists know that eventually their insatiable greed will provoke a political reaction among those they rob and cheat. And, even though they deny it and refuse to speak about it, we know that just as inevitable as capitalist crises is the ultimate victory of socialism over capitalism.

A Marxist view from India

by Robin McGregor

Revolutionary Democracy. Vol XXV(2), September 2020 and Vol XXVI(1), April 2021. £5.00 + £1.50p&p from NCP Lit: PO Box 73, London SW11 2PQ.

The twice-yearly Indian Marxist-Leninist journal is making a recovery from a COVID‑19-induced interruption to publication. The last printed issue was Vol 25(1) for October 2019. Another Vol 25(2) for April 2020 was prepared for the press but remained unprinted, although its contents can be read on the website.
    This issue is naturally dominated by the pandemic. Its normal mixture of articles on contemporary India, articles on international themes reflecting the views of parties belong to the International Conference of Marxist-Leninist Parties and Organisations (ICMLPO), rounded off by materials reprinted from the Soviet archives, is unchanged, however.
    The impact of COVID‑19 on India made Boris Johnson and Donald Trump look like strategic geniuses. In India a hastily imposed lockdown caused a mass migration of suddenly unemployed migrant workers in the towns and cities (for whom there was no such thing as furlough) having to return (unassisted) to their native villages, which only made the spread of the disease worse. Additionally, the BJP Government took advantage of the pandemic to force through new labour laws that are, naturally, detrimental to the working classes.
    Also relating to contemporary India are articles on the recent farmers’ protests against three agrarian laws speedily rushed through Parliament by the right-wing BJP government.
    On a more optimistic note, there is an interesting piece briefly surveying the Soviet Union’s measures against epidemics that made a better job of things even in the midst of revolution.
    The longest article is a serious study of the post-Soviet Russian economy tellingly entitled The Crisis of Neo-liberal Economics in Russia, which argues that “the revival of some of the Soviet symbolism are used by Putin opportunistically to conceal the true neo-liberal essence of his economic policies”. The recent elections suggest that this is wearing a bit thin.
    The archival materials deal with two separate matters, firstly with the Comintern’s support for a separate Black Nation in the USA in the late 1920s and other matters relating to the CPUSA’s work amongst the African Americans. This notion was based on the assumption that there was a peasant-based African-American nation in the Black Belt South. But the campaign for self-determination had little support amongst its intended beneficiaries, who were struggling for equality within the USA, and in any case it was made redundant by the Depression-era migration of farm workers into the northern cities.
    The archival-based article reprints interesting notes of the February and March 1951 discussion between Stalin and representatives of Communist Party of India on the possibility of an armed rising in India. Some elements in the Indian party’s leadership favoured such an undertaking, seeking similar support from the Soviet Union as that given earlier to China. Stalin told them firmly that situation was rather different, however. He reminded them of the fact that the Himalayas stood in the way of supplying the necessary arms and in any case, there was no mass working class or peasant support for such adventurism at a time when the triumph of independence over British colonialism was still fresh.
    The ICMLPO is strongly supportive of the political line of Enver Hoxha of Albania. This is most evident in a translation of parts of a brutal 2000 Serbian novel Goli by Miroslav Mika Ristić, which deals with “Goli Otik – sadistic prison for communists in revisionist-capitalist Yugoslavia”. This is introduced by Ristić’s grandson and is based on the prison on the barren island off the Croatian coast, which is now a bleak tourist attraction.
    Partly due to Covid, this issue concludes with a number of obituaries including those of Nina Andreeva, the long-term General Secretary of the All-Union Communist Party of Bolsheviks, who first raised a Marxist-Leninist banner against Mikhail Gorbachev in 1988. Michael Lucas, the Canadian editor of Northstar Compass and long-standing Revolutionary Democracy contributor Naba Kumar Bhattacharya are also memorialised.
    If one were to make a small criticism of the journal it would be to suggest that the editors ought to make a few concessions to readers beyond India. In the report on the Indian farm protests I came across my first ever reference to “Arthiyas”, which needed a consultation with the good Dr Google to establish that they are grain commission agents in the Punjab.

Thursday, October 07, 2021

Brighton rocks…

...but clearly not for everyone at Labour Party conference this week. Maybe not the factional blood-bath predicted in the Tory media but nevertheless still a battleground between the Blairite bureaucracy and what’s left of the Corbynistas.
    The Starmer clique used every trick in the book, including last minute suspensions of delegates to smooth the passage of their most contentious rule changes, at the Labour conference. But they didn’t get their own way on everything and on the key issue of individual voting in the leadership elections they were forced to back down by the unions.     This was meant to be a defining moment for Sir Keir Starmer at his first sit-down Labour conference since he was elected leader in April 2020. His minions told the press that this week Starmer would lay to rest the ghost of Corbynism and revitalise the Labour Party in the run-up to the next general election. But Jeremy Corbyn was still there rallying his troops at fringe meetings far more livelier than the old ennui that permeates the Brighton Centre when a Blairite takes the mike while Starmer’s followers had to make do with a mediocre pamphlet that no-one will read and a maudlin speech that few will remember by the end of the week.
    Now Blairite MPs, which sadly make up the overwhelming majority of the Parliamentary Labour Party, can sleep safely in their beds following de-selection rule-changes which will strengthen their grip over their constituencies and make it near-impossible for another Corbyn-style leadership challenge in the immediate future.
    Being a Westminster MP is reward enough for most but some want more. They want the honours, power and patronage that comes with high office. But that depends on Labour winning a general election and with Starmer at the helm the chances are pretty remote.
    The Tories are still ahead in the opinion polls while a recent poll by Opinium for Sky News showed that many voters think Starmer is weak, boring and out-of-touch. That just about sums him up and the one thing that most delegates in Brighton could agree on despite their factional loyalties, is that Sir Keir must go. The question is when and who’s going to take his place?
    Its an easy one for the Corbynistas. They’ve got no-one willing or even capable under the new rules of mounting a challenge to the current leader. It’s not so simple for the right-wing. There’s plenty who think they can do a better job than Starmer at the moment – his deputy Angela Rayner is one. Andy Burnham, the Mayor of Greater Manchester is another. They both claim to be old school “centre-left” social-democrats and have the street-cred Starmer so plainly lacks. But now’s not the time. They clearly don’t think Labour can beat the Tories at the next election – and they certainly don’t want to take Starmer’s place simply to lead Labour into a further defeat at the polls. They believe time is on their side and when Starmer goes Labour will then turn to them to pick up the pieces.
    That may be their timetable. It’s not ours. Labour could win the next election if it mobilises its core vote around a working class agenda drawn up by the unions and the labour movement as a whole. Corbyn showed what even a modest shift to the left can achieve on the street drawing crowds of Biblical proportions to his rallies when he was leader.
    We have to campaign to sweep the careerists out of the labour movement. We must strive to elect genuine working-class leaderships who are prepared to represent and fight in the unions against the employers and the right-wing within the movement. We must struggle to put the communist answer to the crisis back on the working class agenda.

Tuesday, October 05, 2021

A new take on an old tale

by Ben Soton

Troy: Our Greatest Story Retold (Stephen Fry's Greek Myths 3)} by Stephen Fry. Paperback: Penguin Books (2021), 432pp, RRP: 9.99. Hardback: Michael Joseph (2020), ‎432pp, RRP: £10. Kindle: Penguin Books (2020), 411pp, RRP: £4.99.

Some stories have lasted the test of time. One such example is the Iliad, believed to have been written by the Greek poet Homer in the ninth century BC. Who hasn’t heard of the Trojan horse or the face that launched a thousand ships?
    Modern readers including myself may have struggled with the Homeric style; written as a poem of 15,693 lines and made up of 24 books. Stephen Fry has converted the original text a more modern format, essentially a novel containing elements of commentary on the original story. Elitists will probably accuse Fry of dumbing-down, although the process of dumbing-down actually began when the Iliad was first translated from the original Ancient Greek.
    The original Iliad was a legend of the siege of Troy: a story where fantasy and reality meet. Many of the characters are off-spring of ancient Greek gods. For instance: the almost invincible warrior Achilles had a human father, Peleus, whilst his mother was an immortal sea nymph; and Helen of Troy, or to be correct Helen of Sparta, was the daughter of Zeus and a human mother.
    There probably was a city on the Aegean coast of modern Turkey. Evidence of its existence comes from the excavations of the 19th century German archaeologist Heinrich Schliemann. The location of the site, close to the Dardanelles on a major trade route, suggests trade may have been the source of the conflict. Notice the emphasis on suggestion. The lack of written records meant that the story was passed down orally for generations until Homer finally recorded many years later.
    Why has the story of Troy stood the test of time? It contains the heroism of a classic war story, depicting the bravery and military skill of the likes of Achilles and Ajax, heroes who are often the victims of the whims of the gods. Sometimes viewed as a love-story between Paris and Helen, in fact Helen is abducted by the Trojan prince and although initially falling for him, she eventually sees through his falseness and vanity and after the fall of Troy reconciles with her husband Menelaus of Sparta. Viewers of modern soap-operas may recognise this story or at least ones like it.
    The story also contains the double-crossing Odysseus, who pretends to be insane in order to try to avoid the conflict. Odysseus later becomes the hero of the book’s sequel, the Odyssey.
    The Iliad became the inspiration for other stories such as the Aeneid, the work of the Roman writer Virgil centuries later.
    With this in mind, there is plenty of potential for similar translations of classical texts into a more readable format. I very much look forward to reading them.