Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Job Loss Not So Bad?

Thomas Riggins

Most people would just assume that losing your job would have grave psychological effects, depression, worry, feelings of helplessness, doubts about the future, and a general attitude of frustration and unhappiness about one's conditions. But a new study reported in Science Daily for 12-27-2010 ("Recovering from Job Loss: Most Report Few Long-Term Psychological Effects") challenges this bleak view. The study, put out by the American Psychological Association, says most people bounce back and end up just as satisfied with their lives as they were before they lost their jobs. This is good news for bosses who can send out pink slips without having to feel so bad.

Dr. Isaac Galatzer-Levy, the lead author of the study, points out that "Unemployment rates continue to be historically high in the United States and other countries. There's a real concern that this will have long-term implications on the mental well-being of a large portion of the work force. But this analysis suggests that people are able to cope with a job loss relatively well over time." Well, let's see what this is all about.

You might think, since the unemployment rate in the US was mentioned, that the study might have included US workers. It did not. The study was conducted in Germany and involved 774 German workers who had lost their jobs. They were asked how satisfied they felt about their lives and well being during the three years before and the four years after they lost their jobs. Dr. Galatzer-Levy said, with respect to the German workers, that "Just like in the current climate, these are people who are losing jobs not due to [any] fault of their own, but because they're the victims of large market forces." Beyond pointing out that working people under capitalism have no control over their destinies and thus no real democratic control of their lives, I am not sure we can extrapolate the German findings to the US.

After going over all the responses and dividing the groups into different categories the researchers came to the following conclusions. First, they say previous analysis of "the same data" revealed "that people never really returned to pre-unemployment levels of life satisfaction." This seems intuitively correct. However, the researchers used "a different analytical model" and their new model they think is more representative of how people respond to unemployment. Using the new model, on "the same data", they arrived at the following conclusion: "most people cope well with this event [job loss] and report few long-term effects on their overall well-being."

The authors think this shows the "resilience" of workers to job loss. It is similar to reactions to "other traumatic events" such as "the death of a loved one, terrorist attack" or "traumatic injury." Well, I'm glad to see they understand what getting a pink slip means to working people.

By the way in Germany 27.6 % of GNP is dedicated to social insurance, including health and unemployment insurance as opposed to 16.2% in the US. German workers get 60-67% of their wages in unemployment insurance while US workers get about 36%-- this might have something to do with feelings of "satisfaction."

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Scientists Say We Need Power and Corruption

Thomas Riggins

We all have heard of Lord Acton's dictum that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. We see it at work every day in our social life and politics. The police abuse their powers by racial profiling and even gunning down minority people with seeming impunity. Elected officials are seen selling out the interests of the people who elected them for lobbyist money and the promise of future favors from the giant corporations that actually rule the country.

Well, it turns out that all this power and corruption may not be so bad after all. Just last week Science News reported on an article recently published in the science journal Evolution which indicates that power and corruption may be good for us ["Power and Corruption May Be Good for Society" SD 12-14-2010]. I hope they are right because we have such a concentration of power and corruption in our society that it would justify our claim that "USA is Number One."

Let's see the evidence. Two professors, Francisco Úbeda at the University of Tennessee and Edgar Duéñez at Harvard say that while "Moral corruption and power asymmetries are pervasive in human societies... [they] may play a role in maintaining overall societal cooperation." Society needs cooperation in order to function. We all know the horrors that can happen if workers fail to cooperate with bosses or regular soldiers with their officers, or debt ridden unemployed people with the banks and credit card companies.

There have to be some groups that punish noncooperators and, the professors remind us, there are government officials and law enforcers who have that happy task. However these very groups often fail to cooperate among themselves and with each other because they abuse their power and are corrupt. It's the old problem of who polices the police. The professors also discovered the startling fact that these "law enforcers, by virtue of their positions, are able to sidestep punishment when they are caught failing to cooperate." Who would have thought it?

The bright side is that the vast majority of society does try to play by the rules since they don't want to be punished by the enforcers. Now the important thing is to maintain the optimum amount of social cooperation. We have a Goldilocks problem. Too much abuse of power and corruption and society begins to break down. Too little and the enforcers would not do a good job because they don't enjoy the perks of office (shooting you and getting away with it-- not paying for their donuts, etc.) "Law enforcers often enjoy privileges that allow them to avoid the full force of the law when they breach it. Law enforcing results in the general public abiding by the law. Thus law enforcers enjoy the benefits of a lawful society and are compensated for their law enforcing by being able to dodge the law." A pay raise might be a better compensation for doing your job.

The professors tell us that society is better off with abuse of power and corruption than without it since with it the law enforcers have more incentive to do their jobs. So the occasional shake down, bribe taking, unjustified shooting, illegal war even is actually good for society and keeps us safe-- it evens saves us paying higher taxes in salaries; even an illegal war creates jobs, although this bit of corruption and abuse of power may be from papa bear's bowl of porridge.

This "new" theory on the benefits of having a corrupt society has "far-reaching implications": it could help us understand "corrupt behaviors in social insects"-- a pressing problem facing the American people. It may also give us "insights on how to harness corruption to benefit society." I'm sure the new Republican majority in the House will be working on this one.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Infanticide and Infelicity

Thomas Riggins

A disturbing, but unsurprising, article on infanticide has appeared in a recent issue of Science Daily (12-13-10: "Unlawful Killing of Newborns Soon After Birth Five Times Higher Than Thought, French Court Study Suggests.")

The technical term for this is neonaticide-- the killing of a baby within the first 24 hours of life. Research published in the Archives of Disease in Childhood indicate that the frequency of neonaticide in certain regions of France, where the research was focused, was five times higher than official estimates had anticipated.

We have all read about the horrific levels of infanticide, especially female infanticide, in some developing countries, and have been more or less told this is due to backward social conditions in such "semi-feudal" areas. So to find that even in bourgeois France, an advanced industrial country, there can five times the amount of neonaticide as officially predicted is an eye opener. And while there can be no doubt that the status of women and social context is a major factor, this just indicates that that the first world should not be complacent in thinking that infanticide is especially a problem of so called "backward" societies.

The authors of the study themselves have concluded that, contrary to expectations, it is not low social status or noticeable mental problems that are responsible for these killings in French society, but, rather, "low maternal self esteem and emotional immaturity" that is responsible. These are factors having to do with the status of women and their treatment in general, not only in "semi-feudal" countries, but also those of advanced capitalism.

Simone de Beauvoir pointed out long ago, in the The Second Sex, that "there is no such thing as maternal 'instinct': the word does not in any case apply to the human species. The mother's attitude is defined by her total situation and by the way she accepts it."

Going over the profiles of women who had killed their newborns, the researchers discovered "that the perception of a young poor, unemployed, single woman as the culprit was not borne out by the evidence." The women were mostly around 26 years old, had other children, did not show evidence of mental problems, had no record of being abused as children, and had regular jobs. Half of them were living with the baby's father.

They shared a common low level of self esteem [something you can get by the way your are treated by others], emotional immaturity [also a state contributed to by others including the society's depiction of the female] and a fear of being abandoned [definitely the product of a bad faith relationship on the part of the other creating an atmosphere of dependency].
The authors write: "Feeling very much alone, and for nearly half of them, depressed, [these women] probably did not have complete control over their lives or their sexuality." It not only takes a village to raise a child, it seems, it takes one to kill one as well.

The authors conclude, "Our findings suggest that preventive action, targeting only young, poor, unemployed and single women, or women in pregnancy denial, may not be appropriate." I also think we Marxists can conclude something from this study. We can conclude, with Simone de Beauvoir that "Only a balanced, healthy woman, conscious of her responsibilities, is capable of becoming a 'good mother.' The same, ceteris paribus, for the father. And what type of society are these good mothers and fathers most likely to flourish in? Madame be Beauvoir's suggestion seems correct to me: "A truly socialist ethic-- one that seeks justice without restraining liberty, one that imposes responsibilities on individuals but without abolishing individual
freedom-- will find itself most uncomfortable with problems posed by woman's condition."

Friday, December 10, 2010

Marxists and Marmots

Thomas Riggins

How often do we hear that socialism sounds like a good idea but it doesn't work in practice because of human nature. This is an old refrain. People are by nature selfish and so competition is the natural outcome with the most talented and aggressive people reaching the top and the mediocre masses down on the bottom. But suppose it is really the opposite. Suppose those who engage in friendly cooperation really are closer to what nature intends. In a cooperative society maybe even the victims of aggressive actions still have a better chance to thrive than they would in a completely competitive environment. Maybe the Ayn Rand world is not the world for us and socialism is more natural after all.

A recent article in Science Daily (12-8-2010) may provide a clue to the answer to these speculations ("Social Relationships in Animals Have a Genetic Basis, New Research Reveals"). Scientists at UCLA have been studying marmots living in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado. Marmots are rodents who are a genus (Marmota) of the squirrel family (Sciuridae). Some marmots have a propensity, so we are told, to chuck wood and are known as woodchucks. Others can predict the weather (groundhogs) according to some.

The marmots I am linking to possible socialist ideas are the yellow-bellied marmots (M. flaviventris) studied by the scientists. The name refers to fur and not to their lack of valor.
The scientists found "that having many friendly interactions gave marmots fitness benefits--these marmots reproduced more," said Amanda Lea, one of the researchers and lead author of the paper. "Over a lifetime [about 15 yrs], a marmot that is very social will have more offspring than a less social one." Hmmmm. I wonder how much this applies to humans. This is one way of putting the "social" into socialism.

But the scientists also found out that some marmots are the victims of aggression from their fellow marmots. Those who do not respond in kind, that is those inclined to turn the other cheek pouch, also have a better survival rate. So it seems that "a marmot that is getting picked on frequently" also will have more offspring. It is the family unit as such that is really important. Tolerating aggression as well as strengthening friendly cooperation keeps marmot society functioning. "Those relationships are important for social stability and reproductive success. I believe these ideas are generalizable well beyond marmots," said the study's co-author Daniel T. Blumstein.

What is important is that these behaviors have a genetic basis and are passed on through the generations. If such behavior is common to mammals as such then humans also have these inborn tendencies for cooperation and tolerance. These genetic traits are, I think, much more in accord with the ideals of socialism than the ruthless free market world of Ayn Rand and other capitalist apologists.

Sunday, December 05, 2010

Arizona's Two Death Penalties

Thomas Riggins

First, I am not picking on Arizona, just using it as one example; it is standing in for any state that uses similar methods to try and balance its budget. Arizona currently has 126 felons on its death row awaiting execution. The national average cost for each prisoner from sentencing to execution is $2 million-- about 10 times the cost for life imprisonment.

But the 126 people on death row are not the only people the state of Arizona has sentenced to death. Arizona has cut its medicaid budget due to the on going collapse of the world capitalist system. To reduce its budget deficit low income people in Arizona will no longer receive organ transplants that had been paid for by the state.

The New York Times (12-3-10) refers to this as "Death by budget cut." The deaths of poor people due to the cut in medicaid is every bit as premeditated as those of prisoners given lethal injections by the state. The NYT reports that Francisco Felix, 32, will not get the liver transplant that would have saved his life. He is in the process of dying. The cost of the transplant was $200,000. It was his turn on the list but he was refused after the state ended this part of medicaid for the poor. If the governor commuted just one of the 126 people condemned to death he could have sentenced Francisco Felix to Life with his family and had $1,600,000 left over to save 8 more people as well; that what's left after the cost of transplant plus the $200,000 that the prisoner's life sentence will cost the state.

There are many other cases like that of Francisco Felix. These new rules took effect in October and no one has died yet. But the poor sick and needy are sitting on their own death row just as real as the 126 people legally under the sentence of death. They too have been legally given a death sentence. Sentenced to death not for murder but for being poor. A capital offense in Arizona.

If Arizona really wanted to save money the state would commute all 126 death sentences to life imprisonment. With the savings they could help save the lives of all their sick and poor citizens and residents who are in need of life saving medical procedures such as organ transplants. It is the only thing a civilized state can do.

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Obama on the Fence?

Thomas Riggins

Matt Bai has an article in the Wednesday New York Times "Debt-Busting Issue May Force Obama Off Fence." Bai says that Obama's fiscal commission has given him the choice of ruling for the next two years either from the center left [allied with "traditional liberals" who want the rich to pay their fair share of the taxes and cuts in the military budget] or from the center right [both Democratic and Republican centrists who want to reform "entitlement" programs and taxes].

Bai indicates he has to choose between a "liberal renaissance" or continue his attempts to work with the Republicans in a "postpartisan" alliance. The choice he makes will shape the political landscape for years to come-- for better or worse.

Although many think that Obama is the opium of the Left we can still work with him for progressive causes on whichever side of the fence he falls. Who would have wanted a McCain-Palin administration-- we wouldn't even have a fence, just a ditch.

Bai doesn't know which side Obama will choose. His recent two year pay freeze for federal workers (who did not cause the economic collapse) while bankers and CEOs (who did) are raking the money in is not a good sign of things to come.

Bai gives us some hints which side Obama will choose. I will give three major ones he points out. 1. Obama's books and writings indicate he is a "whatever works" pragmatist with no particular ideological commitment-- a political chameleon perhaps. 2. Bai reports that in private Obama has sometimes called himself "essentially a Blue Dog Democrat." He didn't mention this during the primaries! 3. Although he voted against confirming John Roberts as Chief Justice he "castigated" Democratic activists who criticized those Democratic senators who did saying they threatened "thoughtfulness and openness to new ideas." Well, the "thoughtfulness and new ideas" of John Roberts are not leading us down the road to a more democratic country.

In any event Bai says Obama is "loath to publicly disown his base on any specific issue." I'm not sure I like the adverbial phrase. The proof will be in the pudding. Obama must decide, according to Bai, either for the left or the right once the Bowles-Simpson committee gives him its report. Social Security is the acid test. Bai says that if he accepts the commission's recommendations on Social Security the outrage from his base will be so great he could face a primary challenge in 2012.

The Republicans would love that: something like a Feingold-Obama fight (suggested in The Nation by Cockburn) to cover themselves while they self destruct over a Palin-Romney brouhaha. Obama has come to the Rubicon-- how will the die be cast?

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Health Care Heresies

Thomas Riggins

Now that the Republicans and their neofascist fellow travelers have taken control of the House they have set them themselves the goal of repealing the recent health care reform the Democrats enacted. Flawed as that reform is it at least will enable 35 or so million people to get some sort of health insurance in the coming years. There are around 50 million without insurance at present. Hopefully these extra 15 million will also be covered.

The Republican reactionaries keep harping that we have the "best" health care in the world (we actually rate 37th among developed countries). Here are a couple of examples. The US has "the best medical care system in the world"-- Bob McDonnell, Republican Gov. of Virginia. We have the greatest medical care "the world has ever known"-- Alabama Republican Sen. Richard Shelby.

So while reactionaries and rightist may consider denying this to be heretical, the following information from Science Daily may call their flights of fancy into question.

On November 29th Science Daily reported the results of an 11 nation study conducted by the Commonwealth Fund: "US Adults Most likely to Forgo Care Due to Cost, Have Trouble Paying Medical Bills, Survey Finds."

Of the 11 advanced industrial countries studied the US came in dead last with Americans having the highest numbler having to give up seeking health care due to cost, they also had the most trouble paying their medical bills [some 60 per cent of personal bankruptcies in the US are caused by medical bills another study showed]. Americans, even with insurance, have higher bills, more disputes with insurers, and more often have insurers refuse to cover procedures they thought were covered.

This is, of course, because of the for profit nature of health insurance. This is an industry that should be run out of business by a single payer government run system such as Medicare for all.

Here are some facts the study found.

1. 33% of Us adults went without necessary care, couldn't see a doctor, or couldn't afford to get medicine; in the U.K. and the Netherlands it's 5 to 6%.

2. 20% of Americans had problems paying for their care while in France it was 9%, Netherlands 4%, Germany 3% and U.K. 2%.

3. 35% of Americans paid $1000 or more out of pocket for medical care last year-- significantly more "than all of the other countries."

It goes without saying that the these figures are correlated along class and income perameters. The politicians who most oppose health reform for the poor have, of course, fully covered health care at taxpayer expense which, if made available to regular citizens they denounce as socialism.
The lead author of the study, Cathy Schoen, wrote, "In fact, the U.S. is the only country in the study where having health insurance doesn't guarantee you access to health care or financial protection when you're sick."

The study also found out that the people on Medicare have less problems with the US medical system than adults under the age of 65.

One can hardly imagine, given these grim realities, how Republicans and other reactionaries are able to carry off election victories of the magnitude they did in the 2010 midterms. The vast majority of the American people will continue to suffer not only with respect to medical coverage, but economically, socially, and in education. Yet they have the power of the vote and of wielding it to improve their lives and those of their children. They only need access to the facts, not readily provided by the establishment media. Lets work for and hope that the Left will do a better job of getting the truth out to the American people.

Thursday, November 25, 2010


Thomas Riggins

In Chapter Six ('Simple and Compound Labour') of Part Two of his classic work Anti-Dühring, Frederick Engels addresses a charge made by the German professor Eugen Dühring to the effect that in his work Das Kapital Marx has made a major blunder which amounts to a socially dangerous heresy regarding socialism. What could this heresy be?

Dühring says that Marx's theory of value is only the common theory that all values are the result of labour and measured by labour-time. But Marx sheds no light on the difference between skilled and unskilled labour. In fact Marx is wrong when he tries to explain the difference by saying one person's labour can be worth more than another's because it has more average labour-time compounded within it. See below where Engels says Marx has no such conception regarding the "worth" of labour.

Dühring says that all labour-time is of absolutely equal value but one worker can have another's labour-time hidden within his own. For example, when I use a hammer made by another to do my work. The reason Marx can't see this, and actually thinks, one person's labour may be worth more than another's is his prejudice against giving the same value to the labour-time of a porter and to that of an architect. He also refers to Marx's theory as hazy lucubrations.

Engels tells us that the wrath of Dühring has been brought forth by a passage in Das Kapital (it is found in section two of Chapter One of Vol. 1) in which Marx distinguishes between skilled and unskilled labour. It runs as follows: "But the value of a commodity represents human labour in the abstract, the expenditure of human labour in general. And just as in society, a general or a banker plays a great part, but mere man, on the other hand, a very shabby part, so here with mere human labour. It is the expenditure of simple labour power, i.e., of the labour power which, on an average, apart from any special development, exists in the organism of every ordinary individual. Simple average labour, it is true, varies in character in different countries and at different times, but in a particular society it is given. Skilled labour counts only as simple labour intensified, or rather, as multiplied simple labour, a given quantity of skilled being considered equal to a greater quantity of simple labour. Experience shows that this reduction is constantly being made. A commodity may be the product of the most skilled labour, but its value, by equating it to the product of simple unskilled labour, represents a definite quantity of the latter labour alone. The different proportions in which different sorts of labour are reduced to unskilled labour as their standard, are established by a social process that goes on behind the backs of the producers, and, consequently, appear to be fixed by custom. For simplicity’s sake we shall henceforth account every kind of labour to be unskilled, simple labour; by this we do no more than save ourselves the trouble of making the reduction."

The main thing to notice is that Marx is talking about measuring the value of commodities that their producers exchange with one another in a simple society of commodity production. There is no such thing as "absolute value" involved and Marx is only setting up his definitions and categories in this first chapter of Das Kapital. Here he only states the relation between simple and compound labour, or skilled and unskilled labour. Engels remarks that this process of reducing skilled to unskilled labour in order to quantify it as a measure of value, at this point, "can only be stated but not as yet explained." Dühring is jumping the gun.

Not only that, but, Engels maintains, labour itself can have no value because value "is nothing
else than the expression of the socially necessary human labour materialized in an object." Labour is the measure of value and speaking of the value of labour is like speaking of the weight of heaviness. Here Engels remarks on Dühring's "brazenness" in his assertion earlier that Marx thought the labour time of one person was more valuable than that of another and that labour has a value. It was Marx "who first demonstrated that labour CAN have NO value, and why it cannot" [it is the measure of value not value itself].

This notion of Marx's is very important for socialism, Engel insists, as it is crucial for the socialist goal of liberating labour power "from its status as a COMMODITY." It is also the clue to the view, unlike Dühring's that distribution and production are completely separate departments within capitalism, that distribution will be geared to the interests of production and that production itself will be governed, reciprocally, "by a mode of distribution which allows ALL members of society to develop, maintain and exercise their capacities with maximum universality."

Dühring is simply wrong if he thinks every worker creates the same amount of value in the same amount of time. One worker works faster, another slower, one has more skill, another less, that is why an average has to be arrived at which is the basis of the notion of "socially necessary labour time." This is also why the slogan "Equal wages for equal labour time" is really a bit utopian. Unions of course demand equal hourly wages for all workers in the the same job grade because of the difficultly of measuring the value that each worker actually creates. Now that some unions have agreed to a two tier wage system even they are tacitily admitting the impracticability of "Equal wages for equal labour time." Anyway women and minorities and nonunionists have often been paid less for the same labour time. This results in a tendency for union wages to decline, as we now see happening. If working people only understood the socialist model of economics they would never tolerate the treatment doled out to them by the owning class.

How will the distinction between unskilled (simple) and skilled (compound) labour be handled under socialism? Engels says that under private production the costs of training a worker to become a skilled worker is paid for by private individuals and so they reap the rewards. A trained slave sells for more money and a skilled worker gets a higher wage.

However, under socialism the cost of training is borne by society [or the state]. The worker therefore has no right to higher pay for the extra values he creates. The extra value is reaped by society and used for general social purposes (education, medical care, food subsidies, the fire department, etc). This explains why medical doctors in socialist societies are seen as underpaid. They are not. The state paid for their skill and they work for fair wages, not having astronomical debts to pay off to private lenders, etc. Another slogan bites the dust here as it is not possible to adhere to it in either capitalism or socialism and that is the worker's demand that they should get "the full proceeds of labour." Under socialism the full preceeds of labour are collectively distributed throughout society on the basics of social needs. It is only in this sense that the workers can receive the "full" proceeds of their labour.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Global Warming: More or Less?

Thomas Riggins

Many Republicans and other rightists deny there is any problem of global warming at all. The New York Times complains that Congress doesn't take the threat seriously. Meanwhile six billion tonnes of coal a year, half by China alone, is set to be burnt to fuel the world's industries. So is global warming getting worse or not?

Climate scientists rely on complicated and sophisticated computer modeling to come up with their estimates of global warming and its future consequences. Below is a brief review of four major scientific studies between 2008 and 2010 which will give us some idea of what is going on.

A Cornell University study was reported in Science Daily in 2008 which claimed global warming was being overestimated ("Global Warming Predictions Are Overestimated, Suggests Study on Black Carbon" ScienceDaily Nov. 25, 2008).

Black carbon is carbon in the earth's soil that results from the burning of organic material. There are many types of carbon in the soils of the earth and they are continuously releasing CO2 into the air-- at different rates depending on the source of the carbon.

It only takes a few years for organic matter in the soil to be released into the atmosphere as CO2-- except for black carbon. Scientists have found it takes from one to two thousand years for this type of carbon to convert to atmospheric CO2. Many popular computer models have not been been taking this fact about black carbon into consideration.

Once adjustment is made for this, the Cornell scientists reported, the amount of CO2 predicted to be released from the soil in the next 100 years is reduced by 20%. This is really significant because soil based carbon annually produces 10 times more CO2 than that produced by all "human activities combined."

This may reduce the estimate of future climate change, nevertheless, global warming is still heating the earth and a future catastrophe cannot avoided if we do not act to reduce this heating trend.

A ScienceDaily report from June 11, 2009 ("Carbon Emissions Linked To Global Warming In Simple Linear Relationship") from scientists at Concordia University, shows that there is a direct relationship between the amount of CO2 emitted and the rise in global temperature. Maybe we can't control natural CO2 emissions, but we have to control human emissions of CO2 which are exacerbating the natural carbon cycle.

Professor Damon Matthews, who headed this study, says that if there is to be hope limiting global warming to just 2 degrees [Celsius] we must limit ALL our FUTURE carbon emissions to 500 billion tonnes "about as much again" as we have emitted since the start of the Industrial Revolution. That "all" means forever! Good luck with that.

On July 13, 2009, ScienceDaily reported on an article in Interscience ("Trapping Carbon Dioxide Or Switching To Nuclear Power Not Enough To Solve Global Warming Problem.") This report, from scientists at LuLea University in Sweden, found that neither converting to nuclear power nor trapping CO2 [two of most popular capitalist solutions, besides cap and trade a non solution] would solve the global warming problem. That's nice to know but they don't provide any alternative solution.

Finally, as of this week. An article published on November 22, 2010 ("Cloud Study Predicts More Global Warming" from ScienceDaily) doesn't give us much to look forward to. Scientists from the University of Hawaii Manoa have constructed what they think to be the most up to date computer model with respect to the future extent of the earth's cloud cover over the next 100 years as it reacts to global warming. Clouds reflect much of the heat from the Sun back into space before it gets trapped by green house gases. Well, their model shows that the cloud cover will be much thinner than other computer models have considered and so IF they are correct then even the worse predictions of climate change would be underestimates of "the real change we could see." It is up to us comrades. Neither the bourgeoisie nor its politicians can solve this problem

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Chips Ahoy

Thomas Riggins

According to some recent news stories we all may be swallowing computer chips in the near future. Some big drug companies are planning to put micro-chips in the pills we take in order to make sure we take our meds (and of course use up those pills so we have to buy more).

Science fiction? Not in the least. Reuters reported on November 8, in a story by Ben Hirschler, that Novartis AG is hoping to get regulators to approve its new "smart pill" by 2012. Here is how it works. A microchip goes into the pill along with the meds, it transmits its information to a skin patch which in turn can relay the information over the internet or to a smartphone.

Sounds innocent enough. You really should take your meds and now your health care team can monitor you-- it's for your own good. The company also hope to "expand" the uses of their chip due to "the wealth of biometric" data that it can be programmed to report on. Hmmmm. There may be some reall risks here as who knows what information about your personal health these chips may be broadcasting to the outside world. Suppose you need to take more than one or two meds-- you can have all sorts of chips inside you at any one time broadcasting away.

Novartis wants to skip "full-scale clinical trials" since the chips are not themselves medicine, they are just being added to already approved medicines. But what are these chips made of? What affect may they have on the body? The article also asks how will the patient's private medical data be protected from third party monitoring "as it is transmitted from inside their bodies by wireless and Bluetooth"?

The regulators will have to address this issue but they seem supportive of Novartis plans. After all these broadcast microchips will make sure we are all taking our meds and this "should deliver better outcomes and [more importantly-tr] justify a higher price."

Friday, November 12, 2010

Reflections on "Obama's Economic View Is Rejected on World Stage"-NYT headline, 11-12-10

Reflections on "Obama's Economic View Is Rejected on World Stage" NYT headline

Thomas Riggins

1. Interesting headline: Instead of "US Economic View" etc, the Times has personalized it to seem as if it is the president's personal view.

2. China, Britain, Germany and South Korea are the culprits. China is understandable it is not our "ally" but a revolt in the client states bodes ill for the empire.

3. BO (the US) wants to procure economic growth before reducing deficits. This core strategy is being outright rejected by other world leaders. This is a first for an American president at a G20 meeting.

4. The other leaders are upset over the Federal Reserve's devaluing the dollar and accuse the US of doing so to make the rest of the world pay for the American trade deficit instead solving its problems by decreasing spending at home. Nice try, but no cigar.

5. Here is what China told the US-- since the dollar is the world's reserve currency (for the time being) the US should consider the "global economy" not just its "national circumstances." Right. BO is supposed to come home and put US national interests second to those of China and others. That's a lead balloon if ever there was one.

6. Greenspan agreed that we were weakening the dollar to make the rest of the world pay for our mistakes!

7. Geithner denied this, saying we would never do that just "to gain competitive advantage."

8. Many other "big" powers see it Greenspan's way! The leaders of the UK (PM David
Cameron) and Germany (Chancellor Angela Merkel) dismissed BO's plea for stimulus spending and favored austerity.

9. This whole G20 disagreement is between the capitalists of the US and their allies (plus China) on how to get the world economy out of the doldrums but to the advantage of capitalists. BO's plan would favor American workers-- stimulus = more jobs-- and if the "world" follow's suit a bigger market for US goods so US capitalists also benefit.

10. The other nations reject this and want to help their capitalists through austerity-- balance their budgets by cutting social programs and reducing benefits to the masses of the working population and retired people. This allows for longer working hours and less taxes on the corporations to sustain benefits.

11. The US was more or less getting its way until this current G20 meeting-- the Europeans and others were reluctantly letting the US call the shots-- but the tea party takeover in our mid-term elections has weakened BO in the eyes of other world leaders so they are rejecting his leadership vís a vís the world economy.

12. The free trade accord with South Korea fell through as it was felt by BO's advisors better to return empty handed than to look as if (because he had) given too many concessions to get it signed.

13. Now that the world thinks WE manipulated the value of the dollar (as we did) to help our economy, we can't complain about the Chinese "under valuing" their currency. What's good for the goose is good for the gander.

14. The sub-text of this G20 meeting is that plans are afoot for the creation of "rules for a new global financial order" not dominated by US capital-- that will truly be a New World Order-- but not the one the US planned on. First the decline, then the fall.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Popcorn, Pizza and Poison

Thomas Riggins

Science marches on continuing to expose health and safety hazards that the large corporations dominating both the governments and the people of most of world expose all of us to in their quest for profits and markets.

A recent example to come to light is reported in a November 9, 2010 article in Science Daily regarding the dangerous toxic chemicals in fast food packaging ("Dangerous Chemicals in Food Wrappers Likely Migrating to Humans.") Chemists at the University of Toronto have been looking for the likely origin of PFCAs (perflorinated carboxylic acids) that appear as chemical contaminants in human blood.

One common PFCA is found in human blood all over the world. This is PFOA (perfluorooctanoic acid). One of the chemists involved in the study, Jessica D'eon explained PFOA, the best known PFCA, like all PFCAs, is produced by the break down of polyfluoroalkyl phosphate esters (PAPs). "PAPs," she explained "are applied as greaseproofing agents to paper food contact packaging such as fast food wrappers and microwave popcorn bags."

These chemicals have been made industrially since the 1940s and are so widely used that they are found in the blood of most humans world wide. They are known to cause cancer and to have toxic effects. Industry has been successful in keeping them unregulated.

Scientists are now pushing for some government intervention but mere human health seems to always take a back seat to profits under capitalism. This new study shows that, in the words of
Scott Mabury who supervised the research, "the current use of PAPs in food contact applications does result in human exposure to PFCAs" in a significant way. The new research is also important because "some try to locate the blame for human exposure on environmental contamination that resulted from past chemical use rather than the chemicals that are currently in production."

Some governments are at least waking up to the possible need to regulate these chemicals, but they will drag their feet, if history is any guide, and allow lobbyists from the food and chemical industries to slow down and even postpone the implementation of regulations. Meanwhile, next time you unwrap your burger just remember you may be getting a little dose of poison with every bite.

As for pizza, a 2007 study carried out in Italy determined that the chemicals in recycled cardboard could be contaminating pizzas ("Chemicals From Recycled Cardboard May Contaminate Take-out Food, Researchers Say," Science Daily Nov. 30, 2007.) Here's the deal. Trying to be "green" (and no doubt to save on production costs) pizza box manufactures are turning to recycled cardboard to make pizza boxes.

The problem is the cardboard comes from many sources and often has printing on it, just as the pizza box does. Now there is a chemical in ink, DIBP (diisobutyl phthalate) which lurks in the recycled cardboard and the heat of the nice hot pizza inside the box causes it to leach out of the cardboard and settle down on the pizza so when you get your pizza with onions and peppers it actually come with onions, peppers and DIBP which has a similar make up to androgenic hormones (also known as testoids) in your body. Testoids can reduce sperm production and also induce sex differences along with other dire results.

The scientists who conducted this study have developed a test which can detect the amount of DIBP in pizza boxes (as well as other recycled materials used in food packaging). In Italy the use of recycled cardboard in pizza boxes has been banned. But what about the U.S.? Health conscious Americans can take comfort from the following 2010 news story by Trish Green:

"The Green Groove
Wal-Mart Recycles Cardboard Waste into Pizza Boxes

Pizza just got a bit greener at your local Wal-Mart!

Wal-Mart recently made a pretty bold statement, according to an article in Environmental Leader.com. The company wants to eliminate all packaging waste by reducing, recycling or reusing everything that comes into its 4,100 American stores by 2025.

Now that would be an amazing green accomplishment, especially for one of the world’s most recognized and successful companies. As part of this recycling mission, Wal-Mart is taking all of its cardboard waste and turning it into pizza boxes!"

Bon appetit.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

ENGELS on The Theory of Value

Thomas Riggins

Engels discusses the origin of the Marxist theory of value in Part II, Chapter V of his 1878 book Anti-Dühring confuting the views of the self styled "socialist" German professor Eugen Dühring. He does this by first taking issue with Dühring's faulty views and then presenting what he takes to be the correct, Marxist, outlook.

Dühring holds, in the first place, that the primary lesson of political economy is that the rule of wealth (and those who control it)throughout all world history is to be understood, in his words, as "economic power over men and things." Engels rejects this opinion for two reasons. First, the wealth associated with the ancient tribal and village societies at the basis of civilization was in no way created my "domination over men." These were cooperative non- class societies. Second, when we do come to more advanced class riven societies the wealth they created was more the domination over things that were then used to dominate men. Through out history we see "that wealth dominates men exclusively by means of the things which it has at its disposal."

The reason Dühring has explained wealth as primarily the domination over men is that he wishes to remove the discussion of exploitation from the realm of economics to that morality in order to resuscitate a version of Proudhon's "Property is theft" slogan. Dühring has divided the production of wealth into two great divisions; one of PRODUCTION and the other of DISTRIBUTION.
The production of wealth that is domination over things is GOOD but the wealth produced by domination over men is unjust and BAD.

Dühring's ideas applied to present day capitalism amount to the following: the capitalist system's production of wealth is fine and good and can be preserved, but the capitalist system's method of distribution is evil and bad and must be abolished. Engel's says views like this, that we can keep the capitalist mode of production and at the same time create a different and just mode of distribution, are "nonsense" and are expounded by people who have never grasped "the connection between production and distribution."

Dühring, having explained the origin of wealth, now turns to the subject of VALUE, and explains to us what "value" is. The value of a thing is, he says "the price or any other equivalent name, for example wages." The idea that Price = Value = Wages is absurd according to Engels.

So, what we have to find out is what value is and how it is determined. Dühring continues with a longer bombastic discussion of value and finally arrives at the conclusion that something's value depends on the labor time it takes to make it. He says: "The extent to which we invest our own energy into them (things) is the immediate determining cause of the existence of value in general and of a particular magnitude of it."

This is pretty pitiful as, Engels points out, this was already known, in the general way Dühring puts it, long before his (Dühring's) own time. And besides that, it is wrong in the way Dühring expresses it. It is not just your own energy-- you have to make something with a USE VALUE and you have take into consideration the SOCIALLY NECESSARY labor time it takes to make something.

But Dühring's theory gets worse. Besides the labor it contains there is another factor determining "value" and that is the fact another group of men besides the workers intervene and demand payment for the access to nature and the tools necessary for labor. This is done by force, "sword in hand," and amounts to an increase in the price of commodities and their value so that this group can collect its money. Dühring says this amounts to a "tax surcharge" imposed by force [added to the orignal or 'real' value].

Engels makes short work of this theory. If this is how prices are really set and value determined then what we have is, in effect, monopoly pricing. There are only two ways this could work. First all the sellers are jacking up the prices of their products. So as sellers they are reaping the profits of their "tax surcharge." But since all the products undergo this increase, the sellers, when they are buyers, also have to pay it and the surcharge cancels out. Engels says in this case "the prices have changed nominally but in reality -- in their mutual relationship -- have remained the same" and Dühring's forced increase in value is an 'illusion'."

The second way of explaining the increase in value is the "tax surcharge" actually represents real value that the men with "swords in hand" are getting-- namely they are getting value added to their products in the form of the unpaid labor of the working people. And this is just Marx's "theory of SURPLUS-VALUE." So Dühring's explanation of the creation of value is either an illusion or it is Marx's theory, a theory which Dühring rejects.

At least Dühring thinks he rejects it. His own theory, however, is just a "slovenly and confused" version of the theory of value proposed by David Ricardo and improved by Marx. Marx says: "The value of commodities is determined by the socially necessary general human labour embodied in them and this in turn is measured by its duration. Labour is the measure of all values, but labour itself has no value."

Dühring is trying to revive a really outmoded view that the value a commodity has is determined by the PRODUCTION OUTLAYS one of which, WAGES, measures what Dühring calls the "expenditure of energy" of the workers. This accounts for the production value of a commodity. The rest of the "value" is the "surcharge" added by the capitalist.

The view that wages = value = price [putting the "surcharge" aside] has been outmoded since the days of David Ricardo, Marx's immediate predecessor. Engels points out this view coexisted in Adam Smith with the view that labour time was the determinant of value but no one following scientific principles uses it now. However, there are still some who try to explain value this way [as true then as in 2010] for it is "the shallowest sycophants of the existing capitalist order of society who preach the determination of value by wages..." and who even say the capitalist's profits are themselves his wages-- i.e., "the wages of abstinence", of risk, management, etc. This is the kind of vulgar economics upon which Dühring founds his socialism.

Let's look at the real beginning of human society. At some time in the distant past primitive groups of ancient humans scrabbled about in bands spending most of their time in search of food. This conditioned lasted for untold generations from the time of our separation from the common ancestor we shared with the chimpanzees-- about five million years ago. Sometime in the last ten to twenty thousand years in our own species some groups (Engel's says "families") began to collect or create more food and useful instruments than they needed for day to day survival. A surplus of subsistence was created beyond the costs of maintaining the population and the surplus even was able to grow to the point of a creating a "social production and reserve fund."

The creation of this fund was a revolutionary historical development and the beginning of all human progress from then until now. However in "history, up to the present, this fund has been the possession of a privileged class, on which also devolved, along with this possession, political supremacy and intellectual leadership." Today, as in the past, this fund is a social fund made up of "the total mass of raw materials, instruments of production and means of subsistence." Every war imperialist or guerrilla, revolt, revolution, peasant uprising, worker's strike and election is a struggle over the control of this fund between those who control (or wish to control) it and those who make it. Socialism will exist when this fund is controlled by those who actually create it-- the productive portion the society-- the working people-- and it has become THE COMMON PROPERTY OF SOCIETY.

Today this fund, in almost every country in the world, rests in the hands of the capitalist class. This would be impossible if value was determined by wages. In that case the workers would get back in wages the value they created and there would be no capitalist exploitation.

It is, however, the quantity of socially necessary labour expended, not wages that determines value. The workers create more value for the capitalist than he pays out in wages and this fact f explains the origin of the profit on capital. It was Marx who discovered that these profits were merely a part, along with other kinds of appropriation, of the surplus value created by the workers. It is our duty as Marxists to educate the working people about these facts. One the workers are aware of the true origin of THE WEALTH OF NATIONS they will take steps to end their own exploitation and in so doing the exploitation of humanity in general.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010


Thomas Riggins

When it comes to health care and economic development socialists hold that central planning, public control of development, and strict regulation of industry and finance is preferable to an uncontrolled and unaccountable "free" market. There is scientific evidence favoring the socialist view.

Science Daily (SD) reported on November 1 that the journal HEART published findings of an Australian research team that found when the state imposes mandatory limits to the amount of salt private industry adds to processed foods [the more salt the greater the health risk] the results of the reduction in salt content "could be 20 times more effective than voluntary curbs by industry."

SD reminds us that higher salt content is directly related to greater risks of heart disease and strokes. It is therefore incumbent for any government that cares about the health and well being of its citizens to see to it that the private economic benefits aimed at by the private sector do not trump the health needs of the general population when it comes to the level of salt added to the food supply.

The scientists compared the results that obtain in three scenarios. Taking 6 grams per day of salt as the recommended maximum amount to be consumed they then studied and compared the results of mandatory state regulations, voluntary compliance by private industry, and compliance by individuals with health problems who were told by their medical doctors to reduce their salt in take.

You might think sick people and people at risk would show the highest level of compliance in eliminating salt from their diets and thus making for a healthier population. But the Australian scientists, this research was done in Australia, found if people were left to their own devices with only "doctor's orders" then the reduction of cardiovascular disease in the general population would only decrease by 0.5%. Not very impressive.

If the government relied on voluntary compliance and only cajoled the processed food industry to reduce the excess salt they contaminate their products with (they add as much salt as they can because the junk say sell would have no taste otherwise) then cardiovascular health in the general population would decrease by about 1%. Well, that is a 100% improvement over the "doctor's order's" group, but no way near getting people down to 6 grams a day.

However, if the government mandated a healthy salt level in processed foods and made private industry comply, the scientists calculated that there would be a reduction of about 18% in cardiovascular disease in the general population.

The scientists say, however, when dealing with a large population of millions of people even the 1% decrease of cardiovascular disease brought about by voluntary compliance is "substantial." But it pales, I think, when compared with the 18% that government regulation would achieve. The government imposed regulations amount to an almost 20 fold increase over voluntary curbs.

The scientists also point out that salt "is not essential at such high levels" as it is found when added to food. It is just a cheap (but horribly unhealthy) way to make the product palatable.

The scientists conclude their study with these words: "Food manufacturers have a responsibility to make money for their shareholders, but they also have a responsibility to society. If corporate responsibility fails, maybe there is an ethical justification for government to step in and legislate."

"Maybe?" The only government that really serves the people and not the vested interests would be a socialist government and there would be no maybe about it for a socialist government. Come to think about it, there wouldn't be any shareholders either.

Web address: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/11/101101191547.ht
    "Mandatory Curbs on Food Salt Content 20 Times More Effective Than
Voluntary Curbs, Study Finds"

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Wealth Buys Health

Thomas Riggins

The title above is part of a headline from a recent article in Science Daily.
Nobody should be surprised to learn that in a class society wealthy people are going to be healthier that poor folks. But the complete title of the article is actually "Wealth Buys Health -- Even in China."

Lets see just what this is supposed to show. Since Daily says we have long known, by scientific studies, that the "health gap" between rich and poor exists in the U.S. and that the gap "gets worse as people get older." The article then asks: "But is this because the U.S. is a capitalist society?" An interesting scientific question. The answer they propose is: "Apparently not."

North Carolina State University has recently released a study made of the health gap in China between people with high and low SES [socioeconomic status] and the study shows "the same is true for China" as for the U.S. But is it really the SAME? The study found "In China, the overall health gap across generations is getting narrower--- and it's getting wider in the U.S." A strange use of the word "same."

What the study seems to show is that in any society there is going to be a gap in the health between people of high and low SES. But can we infer that the type of economic system has nothing to do with this. China is not a capitalist society. It has a mixed economy and capitalism is being engineered in China, under state control, to develop the economic resources of the country, but not for the sole benefit of finance capital and big privately owned industrial monopolies.

The Chinese Communist Party can direct the economic development of China precisely because the economy is not subject to an unregulated and out of control "free market." It is for this reason that the health gap is growing smaller as China develops and it continues to grow larger in the capitalist U.S.

The present U.S. administration has tried to somewhat reverse this gap with health care reform ( "Obama care"--so called by the enemies of social progress in the U.S.) that would extend health benefits to 35 million people of lower SES. This reform is threatened and could be repealed if reactionary forces take over the government or make major in roads into it.
Chinese people, not living under monopoly capitalism, do not have to fear the reversal of their narrowing health gap.

Here is one of the conclusions from the authors of the North Carolina State study: "Even accounting for the fact that more recent generations are younger [in China] the health gap between the advantaged and disadvantaged has shrunk with each successive generation. This is the exact opposite [not "same"?] of what has been found in studies of the U.S. population, where the health gap has been shown to widen with each generation."

The researchers say it is not clear why this is so? What can the reason be? They plan more research and tell us, "We suspect this narrowing of the health gap in China is due to significant social and economic changes over the past 20 years, including changes in health behaviors and ACCESS (my emphasis-tr) to health care."

I think their future research may find this to be the case. As for the question about the growing health care gap in the U.S-- is this because the U.S. is a capitalist country?--I think the answer may be apparently "yes."

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Too Fat to Fight

Thomas Riggins

Science Daily (Oct. 18, 2010) has reported a new analysis by Cornell University has uncovered a major threat to U.S. national security. Research has shown that about 25% of the young people needed to provide the cannon fodder for the U.S. military are too fat to pass the medical requirements for service in the armed forces.

The military needs to sign up 184,000 young people each year in order to carry on its wars and the garrisoning of its military outposts around the world and the fact that so many young people are too fat to fight means the Pentagon may have to rely more and more on private security mercenaries and drones to carry out its war plans.

John Crawley, one of the professors associated with the Cornell study says being overweight or obese is “the most common reason for medical disqualification.”
The coefficient of fatness is also higher based on income, education and race. Marxists and other progressives will not be shocked to find out that the poor, under-educated and racially or ethnically oppressed are likely to have higher coefficients of fatness.

The only example given in the article is the comparison of white female potential recruits compared to those of Black and Hispanic descent; the last two groups “are less likely to meet the weight standards.”

The problem, of course, is the prevalence of junk food sold by the big chains such as McDonald's, KFC, Burger King, Wendy’s, and hundreds of others that prey on the poor and minorities with their cheap unhealthy pseudo-food concoctions and the failure of the Food and Drug Administration and other government agencies to regulate the quality of food private capitalist corporations are allowed to offer to the public. Since people’s health doesn’t seem to motivate the FDA maybe the government will take some action when the military gets involved because it can’t get the troops it needs.

Some solutions have been suggested—short of providing the population with inexpensive healthy food – such as changing the health standards so that fatter people can join the military—but only for desk jobs. Also the drone flyers don’t have to be in good shape since their work is akin to playing video games—only real people not animations get killed. In fact many young people become obese from lack of exercise due to sitting and playing video war games all day long. These skills will serve the military well and the fatter a drone recruit is may be an indication of better skill at drone warfare.

It would be counter productive to reintroduce the draft as young people could just spend a month eating at McDonald's before taking their physical and being exempted. Dr. Crowley points out that obesity is not just a personal problem, as it has been made out to be, and “U.S. military leaders view it at a threat to national security and military readiness…” Once again a red flag threatens the hegemony of U.S. imperialism: but this time it sports golden arches.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Air Pollution and Diabetes: EPA Pollution Levels Set Too High

Thomas Riggins

A new national study has found that there is a statistical correlation between exposure to air pollution and adult diabetes. The air pollution studied is known as particulate air pollution so named for the small particles of microscopic matter that are found in factory smoke, engine exhaust, haze, and smog.

The particles are measured in nanometers so PM10 would be "particulate matter of 10 nanometers size." The Environmental Protection Agency standards say it is safe to breath air with a PM level of 2.5 or below. But is it? Has this level been set for people's health or to save auto makers and other pollution generating industries from the expense of having to clean up their exhaust to a level far below the "safe" level of PM2.5?

Under the Bush[W] administration the Union of Concerned Scientists condemned the blatant suppression of both the scientists and the scientific studies at the EPA to cover up the harmful effects of air pollution and the true levels of safety. The Obama administration has taken steps to improve the situation but more has to be done.

Science Daily (based on a study published in Diabetes Care) has recently reported that scientists have discovered that air pollution levels well below 2.5, in the range of 0.1 to 2.5, are linked to the development of diabetes in adults. Exposure to the particulate matter in air causes inflammation associated with insulin resistance which is a sign of possible future diabetes onset.

The scientists compared EPA data on air pollution levels with Centers for Disease Control [CDC] data on diabetes on a county by county basis for the entire US. Science Daily reports that, "In all analyses, there was a strong and consistent association between diabetes prevalence and PM2.5 concentrations." This association also held at lower levels.

Of course there are many other causes of diabetes-- heredity, obesity, diet, etc., but this new evidence also shows that the EPA's 2.5PM safety limit for air pollution is set too high. Congress and the Administration must take action to ensure that capitalist profits do not, yet again, come before people.

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Science Notes: Loopholes in Climate Accord Portend Death of Coral Reefs by 2100

Thomas Riggins

It doesn't seem as if the big industrial nations are serious about trying to halt global warming. They are trying to address the issue again right now at a meeting in Tianjin, China from October 4 to the 9th but early press reports are warning people not to expect too much. The divide between the rich and poor nations, which caused last year's conference in Copenhagen to end in a debacle, are still present.

The governments of the major industrialized nations, with the exception of China, represent the interests of the large corporations including the industrial, oil and mining conglomerates which are responsible for much of the pollution driving global warming. Unless the people become more active and insistent these governments will continue to support the interests of the capitalist corporations at the expense of the planet and its inhabitants.

Time is running out for the planet. People left Copenhagen pledging to keep global warming down to 2 degrees C by 2100, but the big nations gave themselves so many loopholes that scientists are saying that the real increase will be more like 4.2 degrees C-- more than enough to kill off the remaining coral reefs, and, according to Environmental Research Letters, as reported by Science Daily, drastically increase ocean acidification and the destruction of the marine ecosystem.

Most people live day by day and a disaster predicted for one hundred years in the future doesn't seem to motivate them to action. The big corporations and their governments are counting on the inertia, indeed even apathy, to put off climate reform as long as possible.

Scientists are saying that just setting vague goals for 2100 is insufficient. Interim goals for 2020 and 2030 are needed to make sure we are on the right track. We need a 50 per cent reduction below 1990 levels of CO2 emissions by 2050 if the world is going to stand a chance of avoiding the catastrophe of the 4.2 degree C increase by 2100.

If the Tianjin conference comes to grief, as did the one at Copenhagen, due to the intransigence of the big capitalist powers it will be up to the international workers movement and democratic national elements to take up the struggle for saving the planet.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Science Notes: Did Wind Help Moses Part The Waters?


reposted from Peoples World online

It is always risky to call upon science to verify a biblical story (and vice versa) but it can be interesting to see if a Biblical story and science can be reconciled. There is no real point though. A miracle is supposed to defy the laws of science, not be explained by them. Moses' parting of the Red Sea, as a religious doctrine, is purely a matter of faith (i.e., unwarranted belief) but could the religious myth have some basis in fact. A recent article in Science News reports on a scientific study that suggests the answer is yes.

Carl Drews of the National Center for Atmospheric Research and the University of Colorado issued the following statement: "The parting of the waters can be understood through fluid dynamics. The wind moves the water in a way that's in accordance with physical laws, creating a safe passage with two sides and then abruptly allowing the water to rush back in."

Drews and his co-workers studied various atmospheric events worldwide where this phenomenon has been observed, and then did a very close study of Egypt and its possible typology and geography around 1250BC ( a possible setting for the legendary Exodus). Using computers they recreated several possible scenarios attempting to recreate the conditions that would allow for a "parting of the waters."

Drews said, "The simulations match fairly closely with the account in Exodus."

However, the only place where all the factors coincide to replicate the "parting of the waters" happen far from the Red Sea and require "a U-shaped formation of the Nile River and a shallow lagoon along the shoreline." The location is in the north of the Sinai Peninsula along a now vanished branch of the Nile.

Biblical scholars tell us that the name "Red Sea" is a mistranslation of the Hebrew for the "Sea of Reeds;" so the Red Sea itself really didn't have much to do with whatever historical basis, if any, there is to the legend of the Exodus. The location of the Sea of Reeds is unknown but may have been a smaller body of water in the Sinai and may be compatible with the explanation given by Drews.

The upshot of all this is, while the Biblical romance remains one of the great fictional accounts of our past, along with the Iliad and the Mahabharata, there is, nevertheless, no scientific reason that some real historical event could not have lain behind the legend of the "parting of the waters."

Drews concluded: "People have always been fascinated by this Exodus story, wondering if it comes from historical facts. What this study shows is that the description of the waters parting indeed has a basis in physical laws."

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Engels : The Force Theory of Herr Eugen Dühring

Thomas Riggins

Chapters two, three and four of Part Two of Anti-Dühring "Political Economy" deal with Dühring's theory that political systems and power are PRIMARY and economic relations are SECONDARY-- both historically and in the present day. Engels says Dühring gives no evidence or arguments in favor of this theory (which he claims is ORIGINAL) but simply asserts it as a given. Engels says this is old hash and has been the way history has been seen since the beginning. The true history of mankind has actually taken place behind the scenes and is the real basis for the pompous doings of the kings and presidents, popes and generals that strut the stage and are memorialized in the history books.

Dühring's idea that all the previous history of mankind is based on man's enslavement of man-- i.e., on force-- and that this is the only way we can explain it is exemplified by his example of Robinson Crusoe and Friday. Crusoe enslaves Friday. But why does he do this? Engels says "only in order that Friday should work for Crusoe's benefit." That is for an ECONOMIC MOTIVE. Dühring has reversed the true relation between political order and economic order and does not see "that force is only the means and that the aim is economic advantage."

Slavery, by the way, the condition from which Dühring starts out his "political force is the basis of history" nonsense is itself the result of prior historical and economic developments.
Slavery requires two preconditions: tools and material for the slave to work upon and a food supply to provide a basic subsistence for the slave. This means that a prior historical period in which distribution of social wealth has developed must have preceded the introduction of slavery.

Engels gives as examples primitive societies with common land ownership where there was no slavery or it "played only a very subordinate role." This is also true of ancient Rome before it became an imperial power. Even in the US, Engels says, the cotton industry of England was more important than force in maintaining slavery in the South so that "in those districts where no cotton was grown or which, unlike the border states, did not breed slaves for the cotton growing states, it died out of itself without any force being used, simply because it did not pay."

But wait a minute. Doesn't this sound right about the world we live in? Dühring says capitalist property today is the result of the use of force in the past and in fact all past property accumulations are also based on force (Rome, Egypt, etc.,) and force is, in Dühring's words, "that form of domination AT THE ROOT OF WHICH LIES not merely the exclusion of fellow-men from the use of the natural means of subsistence, but also... the subjection of man to make him do servile work." It sounds right. Big business and the oil giants use force to take over natural resources (Niger Delta, Iraq, the Amazon), they force masses of third world workers into sweat shops at low wages, etc. Why isn't Dühring right on?

Well, Engels says he is not: "Private property by no means makes it appearance in history as the result of robbery [so much for 'property is theft'] or force. On the contrary, it already existed ... in the ancient primitive communes of all civilized peoples." Engels gives many examples of the development of private property by trade, individual labor, and the accumulation of wealth in the form of domestication of animals-- none of which involved force or robbery. His logical argument is, however, that before you can use force to take someone's property or to steal it from him, it (i.e., property) must already exist "therefore force may be able to change the possession of, but cannot create, private property as such." If Dühring had meant this he would have been correct but force is NOT at the root of the domination of man by private property.

Nor is force the cause of the "subjection of man to make him do servile work" at least with respect to modern capitalism. At this point Engels gives a long quote from DAS KAPITAL [from Vol. 1: Section One of Chapter XXIV "Conversion of Surplus Value Into Capital"] the upshot of which is that economies based on commodity production where property is based on the labor put into it evolve into capitalist economies where surplus value develops and labor becomes separated from property and "property," Marx writes, "turns out to be the right, on the part of the capitalist, to appropriate the unpaid labour of others or its product, and to be the impossibility on the part of the labourer, of appropriating his own product. The separation of property from labour has become the necessary consequence of a law that apparently originated in their identity."

Engels points out that Dühring never mentions Marx's arguments (since they would demolish his own) and that the whole structure of modern exploitation and servitude "can be explained by purely economic causes; at no point whatever are robbery, force, the state, or political interference of any kind necessary."

Again, Dühring is totally wrong when he writes "political conditions are the decisive cause of the economic situation." If that were the case, Engels says, then capitalism would have been voluntarily brought about by the feudal system; but that didn't happen. In the struggle to overthrow feudalism "the decisive weapon" was the ECONOMIC power of the bourgeoisie. An example being the great French Revolution of 1789 which broke out because the capitalist system had become the dominant economic power but, "The 'political conditions' in France remained unaltered, while the 'economic situation' had outgrown them." As a result the nobles no longer had an important social function but they nevertheless tried to keep control of the social wealth "in the revenues that came to" them.

This is not unlike today (2010). We have a socialized economy in that the large industries and banks etc., could be kept running by their workers alone if the capitalist class vanished overnight-- they too have no important social function. Even though they are useless they still fight to control the social wealth and increase their revenues. When the workers finally wake up to this fact, and their living conditions are as desperate as the French in 1789, the game will be up for the capitalists. A few more depressions will suffice one hopes.

While the living standards of the world's working class approaches, day by day, the level of the French in 1789 we find, as Engels says, "the bourgeoisie has already come close to occupying the position held by the nobility in 1789 [in our day they are no longer "close" they have equaled the position of the old nobility-tr]: it is becoming more and more not only socially superfluous, but a social hindrance; it is more and more becoming separated from productive activity, and like the nobility in the past, becoming more and more a class merely drawing revenues...." All this not only points to a socialist future but decisively shows that Dühring's view that politics determines economics is a "delusion."

Sunday, September 12, 2010

The Secret World of the Chinese Communist Party?

Thomas Riggins

The New York Review of Books for 9-30-10 has an interesting article by Ian Johnson, former Beijing bureau chief for the WSJ, reviewing Richard McGregor's THE PARTY: THE SECRET WORLD OF CHINA'S COMMUNIST RULERS. I don't know how secret it can be if there is a whole book about it.

There are some interesting facts revealed in this review that readers of our sites will find useful. We are told that the CPC is basically the heart and soul of contemporary China and that the views of some, that the party is becoming irrelevant, are dead wrong. Johnson informs us that while many polices of the party are not actually "communist" it is still "Leninist in structure" and its organization and workings "would be recognizable to the leaders of the Russian Revolution." Coming from a WSJ reporter I don't know if this a compliment or not. McGregor's book also shows that despite its "secretive tendencies" the CP "can be usefully analyzed." Maybe the secret world is not really so secret after all.

Johnson says one big misunderstanding about China, and it is a BIG one, is that China "has been privatizing the economy." There is a stock market to be sure and many shares have been sold to investors around the world but "almost all Chinese companies of any size and importance remain in government hands." This is a socialist sine qua non I would think.

This fact is relatively unknown to outside investors due to "ignorant or unethical Western investment banks and lawyers." It seems that ultimate decision making in all really important Chinese companies is made by the Organization Department of the CPC and the NOT the board of directors of the company-- i.e., the party remains "in control of all personnel decisions." CEOs and directors thus dance to the tune of the party.

What about smaller companies, those not belonging to the commanding heights of the economy? Here too "government control still remains pervasive" if less direct. What Johnson means is that "the manager is often a former official or close to Party circles." Johnson is wrong to call this "government control" since even he admits "that these companies are run as the manager sees fit." What he really means is that there is a climate of shared values and aspirations between middle management and the party.

The party also has control of the government as the party, through the medium of "leading small groups" of experts and senior party leaders that have been set up to advise each of the ministries. These groups exist from the top "down to the grass roots." Westerners object to this system, especially in the legal system because judges are not independent and merely "translate court decisions made by Communist Party legal affairs committees into rulings." This objection is based on the Western notion that the only free and democratic organization of government has to be based on bourgeois notions of democracy and any other notions of democracy, especially socialist or people's democracy is bogus. This overlooks the fact that most bourgeois democracies are themselves bogus.

While many Western "experts" on China write off the CPC in the long term, Johnson shares the view that "the West has consistently underestimated the Party's ability to adapt and thus might be excessively negative about its future."

Johnson has some criticisms of his own but they seem to be motivated by his WSJ background. He thinks China needs more reform efforts and while he says "reforms haven't quite ground to a halt" nevertheless the state sector is making a comeback because the CPC has a policy "of recentralizing control." But this is what you would expect a socialist state to do.

He also faults Chinese foreign policy for being concerned with only two "narrow concerns." The first is territorial (Tibet and Taiwan) and the second is "resource extraction in Africa and Central America." Well the first is a concern with the territorial integrity of the country, which is actually being threatened, and is hardly a "narrow concern." Nor is the second, which deals with China's relation to the Third World and its trade policies. By all accounts most African and Central American countries have had better and fairer deals with the Chinese than with the West. Johnson doesn't even mention the CPC's push to increase the unionization of its workforce, which is in complete harmony with socialist principles.

All in all this is an interesting article which should be read by anyone interested in contemporary China and certainly by anyone contemplating buying and reading Richard McGregor's THE PARTY.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Marxism, Mosques, and Mockery

Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf and the New York Islamic Cultural Center

Thomas Riggins

Spending six weeks in South Florida (Boca Raton) I thought I would be missing the action in NYC. Not the case. The "Ground Zero Mosque" flap is spreading throughout the land. The fact that the social center envisioned by some American Muslims is not a mosque (it is social center but also has a prayer room) nor is it to be located at ground zero doesn't seem to matter to the rabid opposition opposed to an Islamic center in lower Manhattan.

A Rasmussen poll released on August 23 claims 62% of those polled oppose the Islamic center. According to the New York Post (a paper subsidized by the ultra right billionaire Rubert Murdock) the pollsters reported that the opposition is based on the belief that the Islamic center is "a deliberate provocation that dishonors the memories of the 3000 [sic] people that died that day."

Marxists and other progressives understand that this is nonsense since the Islamic religion and Muslims in general are in no way responsible for the events of 9/11. We do know that right wing elements, including elements from the growing proto-fascist right, are using this issue for political purposes making a mockery of the constitutional rights of all Americans in the hopes of damaging the Obama administration and the Democratic congress.

Obama's comments were perfectly appropriate for a US President: all Americans have the right of religious freedom under the law and no group of right wing anti-American fanatics, tea baggers included, have a right to force their views on the rest of us.

The military has even stated that this anti-Islam agitation is hurting the war effort and threatening the lives of our troops. Ok, our troops should not be there in the first place and should be brought home immediately, but it shows the hypocrisy of the Dick Amorys, Newt Gingrichs, and John McCains and their ilk that they could care less about the troops in the field than a few extra votes from their crazed supporters.

Another mockery is the way The New York Post reports on this dispute: by twisting the facts and trying to stir up religious and ethnic hatred between Americans-- all to further Murdock's anti-working class political agenda. As evidence I offer the following headline From same issue of the NYP: "US worse than al Qaeda: imam" accompanied by a photo of Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, who is the imam associated with the Islamic center, being hosted by the US embassy in Bahrain last Sunday. He is described as the imam "who decried Muslim blood on US hands." The subtext is, of course, here is this anti-American Muslim fanatic being sent to the Muslim world by the Obama administration as a guest of the State Department for who knows what evil purposes being hidden from the American people and he wants to build HIS mosque at GROUND ZERO!!! Yikes! Call out the Minuet Men!

Let's look at the actual story written by Murdock's mouthpiece, one Jennifer Fermino, pretending to be a reporter for a publication pretending to be a newspaper. Here is the first sentence, it sets the tone: "The Islamic cleric who wants to build a mosque two blocks from Ground Zero once claimed in a jaw-dropping speech that the United States has killed more innocent civilians than al Qaeda."

Two points: 1. This would be "jaw-dropping" only to ignorant Yahoos who know nothing about the history of US foreign policy and the conduct of the US military. 2. The statement happens to be true. In just one war alone, the Vietnam War, the US killed more innocent civilians than all the terrorist organizations in the world have managed to kill. The same is true of the civilian deaths in Iraq. If Ms. Fermino is so ignorant as not to know that she at least has an excellent qualification to be a NYP "reporter."

Here is what Imam Rauf actually said in a speech he gave in 2005: "We tend to forget in the West [if we ever knew-tr], that the United States has more Muslim blood on its hands than al Qaeda has on its hands of innocent non-Muslims. You may remember that the US-led sanctions against Iraq led to the death of over half a million Iraqi children. This has been documented by the United Nations."

Ms Fermino calls these statements "incendiary" but does not reveal to us that they are also true, which happens to be the case.

Imam Rauf said the following as well, which is also true, and he should be congratulated for his courage: "What complicates the discussion intra-Islamically, is the fact that the West has not been cognizant and has not addressed the issue of its own contribution to much injustice in the Arab and Muslim world. It is a difficult subject to discuss with Western audiences [they are distracted by constantly dropping their jaws-tr] but it is one that must be pointed out and must be raised."

The NYP also says he used the N word in his speech (he used it in a context describing how people SHOULD NOT judge other people-- by skin color or gender) not as US military slang uses it to describe Arabs as
sand n's.

This whole story is biased and designed to discredit the imam for speaking the TRUTH! It is based on a audio tape that can be heard on the Ayn Randroid website AtlasShrugs. I wish Atlas would shrug all the Randroids, Ferminos and other crypto-fascists opposing religious freedom and stirring up ethnic and religious hatred off the backs of the American people.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Ross Douthat on "The Marriage Ideal"

Thomas Riggins

The ultra-conservative Ross Douthat, an op ed columnist for The New York Times, has a piece in Monday's paper (8-9-2010 "The Marriage Ideal") which, as is usual with this ideological trend, distorts the issues involved in question of gay marriage.

His article appears sparked by Federal Judge Vaughn Walker's ruling last week "that laws defining marriage as a heterosexual union are unconstitutional, irrational and unjust. That they are irrational and unjust is obvious to any thinking person, their constitutionality will ultimately be decided by the Supreme Court.

Douthat agrees that the usual arguments in defense of heterosexual marriage as the only form that should be legally recognized are wrong (I think he means invalid and unsound). These are those based on claims of naturalness, tradition, universality, etc. But Douthat points out that other cultures have different conceptions of the nature and purpose of marriage and none of the arguments heard by Judge Walker were convincing.

Since those opposed to gay marriage are NOT really defending "some universal, biologically inevitable institution" just what are they defending, Douthat asks? Luckily for the defenders of traditional marriage only, who obviously don't know what they are talking about and can only give wrong headed arguments to federal judges, Douthat DOES know and is going to enlighten all of us.

The heterosexual marriage ideal "holds up the commitment to lifelong fidelity and support by two sexually different human beings-- a commitment that involves mutual surrender, arguably, of their reproductive self-interest-- as a unique admirable kind of relationship."

Well this is a find and admirable ideal for some, but should it be the only legal marriage relationship under US and international law? Has an anti-divorce clause also been slipped in? And what about a person who is both physically and in gender consciousness a male and a person who is transsexual and a physical male but whose gender consciousness is female: are these two sexually different human beings allowed to marry under the heterosexual only rules? They are heterosexual afterall.

Douthat maintains that this heterosexual ideal, including the nuclear family, isn't claiming to be the only possible way for a marriage to be arranged but that it is "worthy of distinctive recognition and support." And who would not agree? As long as its recognition and support does not come at the expense of other people's marriage ideals and does not involve special rights and laws that discriminate against those alternatives.

Many cultures don't have this marriage ideal that Douthat puts forward: "It's a particularly Western understanding, derived from Jewish ["Thank G-d I was not born a woman"] and Christian beliefs ["Women is destined to live under the authority of man" St. Thomas] about the order of creation ["Neither was man created for the woman; but the woman for the man"--St. Paul], and supplemented by later ideals about romantic love [the passive woman on the pedestal], the rights of children [let's deny them citizenship under the 14th Amendment if their parents lack papers], and the equality of the sexes [this last bit is laughable considering the majority of the heterosexual marriage only crowd are chauvinists in extremo.]"

Well at least we see where the heterosexual marriage only crowd is coming from in Douthat's construction. It's basically an attempt to force a particular religious interpretation of marriage on everybody else. Extremely un-American to say the least.

Douthat fears that this noble ideal of the meaning of marriage, which only exists in the fantasy world of ultra-conservatives, may be lost to newer "post-modern" ways of thinking. If this happens we will be "giving up one of the great ideas of Western civilization"-- patriarchal, repressive bourgeois marriage as one of the "great ideas" of the West! Barf. If you want to know the real meaning of this great ideal read about marriage in Simone de Beauvoir's still great book THE SECOND SEX.

Douthat thinks there must be a distinction made between gay marriage and his ideal form: "But based on Judge Walker's logic-- which suggests that any such distinction is bigoted and un-American-- I don't think a society that declares gay marriage to be a fundamental right will be capable of even entertaining this idea." Speed the Day.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Fruit Loops, Leninism, and Lunacy

Thomas Riggins

Do you eat Fruit Loops? Do you let your children eat them? Well you would have to be a lunatic to do so after reading about how the food industry dumps all sorts of junk into processed foods and cereals just to make a buck. Take a look at "Ad Rules Stall, Keeping Cereal a Cartoon Staple"-- New York Times 7-24-2010 front page article by William Neuman).

Here is some of the lunacy. President Obama has recognized that there is an obesity epidemic spreading among American children. An epidemic which is increasing cases of diabetes and leading to premature heart problems among kids. No laughing matter. It's caused by junk food being passed off as healthy and nutritious food by the US food industry whose ONLY INTEREST is making big profits-- the kids can go to Hell for all they care.

The government isn't trying to force these food fascists to change what they put in their "food": it was just trying to set nutritional standards for food that could be advertised as healthy to small children watching Saturday morning cartoons.

The food industry has its own standards for child nutrition (it includes candy bars). Here are some perfectly healthy foods for children according to the industry: corn dog with fries (ConAgra), McDonald Happy Meal, Lucky Charms, Cocoa Pebbles, and Fruit Loops. Emm, emm, good! Not!

If you like fat, overweight, rolly polly children these are the foods for you.
The government would allow 8 grams of sugar per serving (too much anyway) but Cocoa Pebbles has 11 and Fruit Loops 12 grams according to the Times.

Anyway, not to worry, the pending rules have been stopped in their tracks.
Congress is paralyzed. The main reason? The food industry objects. That is the only argument against the new rules according to one expert in the field.

Here are some really great quotes from the article. This one from the Association of National Advertisers: "The [government] proposal was extraordinarily restrictive and would virtually end all food advertising as it is currently carried out to kids under 18 years of age."

The proposal was that kid's foods "would have to contain significant amounts of wholesome ingredients." Well that would definitely put an end to the foods currently being advertised since it's all junk.

Here is a gem: "With obesity rates the way they are, it is no longer acceptable for companies to be marketing foods to kids that contribute to obesity and heart disease and other health problems." Ok, this was from the good guys at the Center for Science and the Public Interest, but when was it EVER ACCEPTABLE to make kid's food that contributes to obesity and heart problems?

Some companies know their food is junk and have agreed NOT to pitch it to young children (Coke Cola, Mars, Hershey, Cadbury) but others insist on poisoning kids to make a buck-- Kellogg, McDonalds, Burger King and others.

These are little children we are talking about and these companies have no right to make money by exploiting them and selling junk food. If the government is afraid of big business too bad. But parents would have to be lunatics to buy this stuff.

So much for lunatics and fruit loops, but what has Leninism got to do with it? Well, the theory of monopoly capitalism spelled out in State and Revolution and Imperialism the Highest Stage of Capitalism make fine summer reading and will explain just how this rotten capitalist system works. You will never again think good healthy food is the business of the "food" industry-- it's raw naked profits.

Thursday, July 15, 2010


(Reflections on Chapter 1 Part 2 of Anti-Dühring)

Thomas Riggins

What is the subject matter and method of political economy according to Engels? First, though, what is political economy? Today we tend to teach economics as a special discipline and political science as another separate subject. This is an attempt by the bourgeoisie to keep politics and economics independent of one another. Marx and Engels, as did most nineteenth century thinkers, thought they were closely interrelated.

Political economy for Engels was the study of the laws governing the PRODUCTION and EXCHANGE “of the material means of subsistence in human society." While production and exchange are human functions they are intimately related to each other and have a reciprocal causative relationship.

However, there are many different ways to carry out production and exchange and they vary from society to society and culture to culture. Thus: “Political economy is therefore essentially a HISTORICAL science.”
By which Engels means its laws are not like those of physics-- the same for all-- but conditioned by historical circumstances.

Nevertheless there are some general statements that can made. For example, Engels thinks it doesn’t matter what society you are dealing with the modes of production and exchange will CONDITION the way the society distributes its social product.

He says large and small scale farming always have very different distribution patterns. This is because the former is associated with class struggle (masters and slaves, lords and serfs, capitalists and wage slaves) while the latter can exist without class struggle (i.e., without classes).

Modern large scale industry can be contrasted with Medieval local handicraft production controlled by guilds. The latter lacks large capitalists and permanent wage slaves and the former is, along with the modern credit system and "free competition" (the exchange form of modern industry and credit) responsible for both these new classes.

Differences in distribution leads to CLASS DIFFERENCES and the development of the STATE which originally came about to defend small groups from external aggression and to protect the common interests (irrigation systems in the East according to Engels). As classes begin to develop the state takes on another function, that "of maintaining by force the conditions of existence and domination of the ruling class against the subject class."

New forms of distribution are not simply neutral developments of the interaction of the MODE OF PRODUCTION and the FORM OF EXCHANGE. In fact as new modes of production and exchange develop the old forms of distribution, the state, and the laws act as drags trying to
maintain the older forms of distribution. The new mode production and exchange faces a long struggle before it can cast off the older forms of distribution.

Engels thought that capitalism, in his time about three hundred years old, was undergoing just such an antithesis in its forms of distribution which was leading to its downfall. He described the antithesis as follows: on the one hand CONCENTRATION OF CAPITAL at one pole of society (that of the bourgeoisie) and at the other pole CONCENTRATION OF THE PROPERTYLESS MASSES without much capital into cities and towns.
He thought that as far a capitalism goes this double concentration "must of necessity bring about its downfall."

Well, Engels' timing was a bit off and the development of monopoly capitalism (modern imperialism), two world wars, premature revolutions in underdeveloped regions of the world, and the development of vast new markets in the third world have postponed the day of reckoning.

Capitalism is now over four hundred fifty years old and the CONCENTRATIONS Engels spoke of are even greater and more unstable. Capitalism has, in fact, run out of places to go and can no longer rely on the expansion of new markets to pull it out of the disruptions and market collapse caused by cyclical overproduction. The DOWNFALL expected by Engels is once again on the agenda and the current inability of the US, Europe, Japan, and much of the rest of the world to overcome the present world wide capitalist crisis means that the final conflict may be closer than any of us thinks.

As long as capitalist production is on the rise everyone, Engels says, welcomes it, even the victims of its way of distributing its products. Capitalism just seems to be the way economics works. The first hints that something is wrong with the system does NOT come from "the exploited masses themselves"-- it comes from "within the ruling class itself." Engels gives as examples the great utopians Saint-Simon, Fourier and Owen.

The appearance of these early objectors indicates that the system has reached the top of its curve and is just beginning to decline. The utopians became aware of the horrible conditions of living the system was forcing upon its wage slaves and were full of moral indignation. But, Engels says, "moral indignation, however justifiable, cannot serve economic science as an argument, but only as a symptom."

If capitalist horrors became more and more manifest in Engels' day just think what they are like today. Millions around the world are unemployed or living in poverty and even slavery (or should I say billions)-- armed conflicts on every continent save Australia and Antarctica over resources and land, and the very oceans as well as the atmosphere, is in the process of being destroyed in the pursuit of capitalist profits.

The duty of economists is to explain how all of this is the consequence of the capitalist mode of production (although many economists prostitute themselves in the service of the system for the rewards of position and money at the cost of truth) and beyond that "to reveal, within the already dissolving economic form of motion, the elements of the future new organisation of production and exchange which will put an end to those abuses." Today only the communist , socialist, and workers parties are able to do this on a grand scale.

In his day, Engels pointed out that political economy had concentrated on the analysis of the capitalist system and had not yet described other modes of production from the past. In the century or so since his death this has been remedied by Marxist historians, archaeologists, anthropologists, linguists and others.

In the meantime capitalism has developed even greater productive capacities than Engels imagined-- but these "colossal productive forces" the capitalists can no longer control-- they can't control their exploitation of the earth without destroying it-- Exxon, BP, and other giant oil companies, they can't mine it with polluting its water and air, blowing off the tops of its mountains, creating hugh rivers of toxic sludge, cutting down it rain forests and melting its glaciers and driving thousands of species toward extinction.

It only remains for us to show that all the vast powers of production the capitalists can no longer control "are only waiting to be taken possession of by a society organized for co-operative work on a planned basis to ensure to all members of society the means of existence and the free development of their capacities and indeed in constantly increasing measure." We should be yelling this from the roof tops: "We're mad as Hell and we're not going to take it anymore!" Put that in your tea bag and brew it. If the BP oil "spill" in the Gulf of Mexico doesn't convince you that the power of modern industry cannot be safely left in the control of for profit corporations, I'm afraid nothing will.

The science of political economy can be traced back to the beginnings of capitalism. Its most famous proponent was Adam Smith (The Wealth of Nations) but it was also advanced by the great French thinkers of the Enlightenment. However, Engels points out, these thinkers thought they were dealing with universal laws of economics, just as physical scientists propose universal laws of nature.

"To them," Engels says, "the new science was not the expression of the conditions and requirements of their epoch, but the expression of eternal reason; the laws of production and exchange discovered by this science were not the laws of a historically determined form of those activities, but eternal laws of nature; they were deduced from the nature of man."

It was the work of Marx, and Engels, that really matured this science and saw that rather than eternal laws of nature economic laws of production and distribution were relative to economic systems-- feudalism, capitalism, etc. This is one reason Engels, in his book Anti-Dühring, could hold Dühring in such disdain who could write, after Das Capital, that he would, in his own words, explain "the most general LAWS OF NATURE governing all economics...."

There are a few more ideas exposited by Herr Dühring that Engels wants to correct. First Dühring thinks that capitalists, for instance, use FORCE as a means to exploit working people. Engels says this is wrong. Engels maintains that EVERY socialist worker KNOWS that force does not cause exploitation it only PROTECTS it: "the relation between capital and wage -labour is the basis of" exploitation and this relation is an economic one not one based on force.

Engels says Dühring also confounds the difference between PRODUCTION and CIRCULATION (i.e., exchange) by lumping them together under and heading of production and then adds DISTRIBUTION as a second and INDEPENDENT department of the economy. Far from this being the case, Engels tells us, distribution is in fact DEPENDENT on the production and exchange relations of any given society. In fact, if we know these two relations for any given historical society we can "infer the mode of distribution" in it.

So, Engels point is that, after a rough start in the seventeenth century and blooming forth in the Enlightenment, the science of political economy became fully scientific in the last half of the nineteenth century with the theories of Marx and the work of those economists who were influenced by him. Through their work working people the world over slowly became aware of their true role in production and distribution (the creation of surplus value) and how it is the exploitation of their labor power that is the basis of the capitalist system.

It is important to note that, for Marxists, it is not the idea that capitalism is somehow unjust and immoral (a la Dühring) that is the key point. Engels writes: "If for the impending overthrow of the present mode of distribution of the products of labour, with its crying contrasts of want and luxury, starvation and surfeit, we had no better guarantee than the consciousness that this mode of distribution is unjust, and that justice must eventually triumph, we should be in a pretty bad way, and we might have a long time to wait."

Engels appears to be a bit too optimistic. We are still waiting for the "impending overthrow" of capitalism. It has been overthrown in a few places but it has also been restored in large areas where it was previously overthrown. So, I think we are still waiting for a general overthrow-- which is long overdue. We should be impatient, but not unduly so. We have been waiting a hundred years or so while many of our fellows have been waiting over two thousand years for the overthrow of this earthly order with even less likelihood of being gratified. But we still "might have a long time to wait."

Well, just why did Engels think we would have a short wait? The reason was that unlike previous centuries when the only forces opposed to the exploitation of the masses of people by the few were based on appeals to morality or ethics, the nineteenth century saw the creation of a MATERIAL FORCE, not an ideal or religious one, that could actually contest and overthrow the existing economic order based on exploitation.

Two great revolutions had recently created movements calling for the end of class exploitation and for the equality of the people-- the English and French bourgeois revolutions. But these movements, Engels says "up to 1830 had left the working and suffering classes cold." But in Engels' day this call and this movement has in one generation "gained a strength that enables it to defy all the forces combined against it and to be confident of victory in the near future."

What made Engels so confident? There were two factors. First, modern industrial capitalism had created a working class ("called into being" a proletariat) that not only had the power to overthrow class privilege but the class system itself and further this is something it must do "on pain of sinking to the level of the Chinese coolie." Second, the bourgeoisie "has become incapable of any longer controlling the productive forces" created by modern industry. The bourgeoisie is "a class under whose leadership society is racing to ruin like a locomotive whose jammed safety-valve the driver is to weak to open."

History has a way of sometimes frustrating our expectations. To the working people of the generation following that of Engels, Lenin and the Russian Revolution represented the promise of the socialist victory. The bourgeois locomotive went off the rails and the resulting crash created two world wars and brought down the colonial empires of the Western Powers (at least de jure.)

However, unbeknownst to Engels, another engine was waiting in the roundhouse. This was the engine of US Imperialism which reconstructed the failed bourgeois system after the Second World War and brought about the downfall of the Russian Revolution. For a generation the call for the abolition of the classes left the workers of the US and it allies once again cold.

Meanwhile, against all expectations, the "Chinese coolies" had liberated themselves and created their own working class and are now creating a modern society based on a mixed economy. However, Engels was not too far off the mark. The advanced workers (in terms of pay scales) of the West are seeing their incomes sinking to the level of the Chinese. This will continue unless they "warm up" to the idea of socialism.

What are the future chances of socialism? Engels two factors are still at work. Capitalism is ripe for overthrow. As far as factor one is concerned. The class consciousness of the workers directed towards this end does not seem to be as developed as in Engels day. This is due to the massive pro capitalist propaganda both in the educational system and the mass media. But this hold is weakening and working people around the world are slowly beginning to wake up from their long sleep and see capitalism for what it really is. A naked system of human exploitation that can and must be replaced.

As for the second factor. The bourgeoisie is out of control! The rain forests, the oceans and the atmosphere are being destroyed by their run away system. These words of Engels are absolutely true today: "both the productive forces created by the modern capitalist mode of production and the system of distribution of goods established buy it have come into crying contradiction with that mode of production itself, and in fact to such a degree that, if the whole of modern society is not to perish, a revolution in the mode of production and distribution must take place, a revolution that will put an end to all class distinctions."

Unfortunately, I cannot agree with Engels that these two factors give me confidence that the Revolution will soon arrive. But that our society will perish if it doesn't seems all too apparent.