Posts Tagged ‘Kerala’

An Argument for Industrial Democracy from the Mars of SF

November 5, 2018

I’m currently reading Blue Mars, the last of a trilogy of books about the future colonization of the Red Planet by Kim Stanley Robinson. Written in the 1990s, this book and the other two in the series, Red Mars and Green Mars, chronicle the history of humans on Mars from the landing of the First 100 c. 2020, through full-scale colonization and the development of Martian society to the new Martians’ struggle for independence from Earth. In this future, Earth is run by the metanats, a contraction of ‘metanational’. These are the ultimate development of multinational corporations, firms so powerful that they dominate and control whole nations, and are the real power behind the United Nations, which in theory rules Mars.

As the Martians fight off Terran rule, they also fight among themselves. The two main factions are the Reds and the Greens. The Reds are those, who wish to preserve Mars in as close to its pristine, un-terraformed condition as possible. The Greens are those on the other side, who wish to terraform and bring life to the planet. The Martians are also faced with the question about what type of society and economy they wish to create themselves. This question is a part of the other books in the series. One of the characters, Arkady Bogdanov, a Russian radical, is named after a real Russian revolutionary. As it develops, the economy of the free Martians is partly based on gift exchange, rather like the economies of some indigenous societies on Earth. And at a meeting held in the underground chamber of one of the Martian societies – there are a variety of different cultures and societies, reflecting the culture of various ethnic immigrant to Mars and the political orientation of different factions – the free Martians in the second book draw up their tentative plans for the new society they want to create. This includes the socialization of industry.

Near the beginning of Blue Mars, the Martians have chased the Terran forces off the planet, but they remain in control of the asteroid Clarke, the terminus for the space elevator allowing easier space transport between Earth and Mars. The Martians themselves are dangerously divided, and so to begin the unification of their forces against possible invasion, they hold a constitutional congress. In one of the numerous discussions and meetings, the issue of the socialization of industry is revisited. One member, Antar, is firmly against government interference in the economy. He is opposed by Vlad Taneev, a biologist and economist, who argues not just for socialization but for worker’s control.

‘Do you believe in democracy and self-rule as the fundamental values that government ought to encourage?’
‘Yes!’ Antar repeated, looking more and more annoyed.
‘Very well. If democracy and self-rule are the fundamentals, then why should people give up these rights when they enter their work place? In politics we fight like tigers for freedom of movement, choice of residence, choice of what work to pursue – control of our lives, in short. And then we wake up in the morning and go to work, and all those rights disappear. We no longer insist on them. And so for most of the day we return to feudalism. That is what capitalism is – a version of feudalism in which capital replaces land, and business leaders replace kings. But the hierarchy remains. And so we still hand over our lives’ labour, under duress, to fee rulers who do no real work.’
‘Business leaders work,’ Antar said sharply. ‘And they take the financial risks-‘
‘The so-called risk of the capitalist is merely one of the
privileges of capital.’
‘Management -‘
‘Yes, yes. Don’t interrupt me. Management is a real thing, a technical matter. But it can be controlled by labour just as well by capital. Capital itself is simply the useful residue of the work of past labourers, and it could belong to everyone as well as to a few. There is no reason why a tiny nobility should own the capital, and everyone else therefore be in service to them. There is no reason they should give us a living wage and take all the rest that we produce. No! The system called capitalist democracy was not really democratic at all. That’s why it was able to turn so quickly into the metanational system, in which democracy grew ever weaker and capitalism every stronger. In which one per cent of the population owned half of the wealth, and five per cent of the population owned ninety-five per cent of the wealth. History has shown which values were real in that system. And the sad thing is that the injustice and suffering caused by it were not at all necessary, in that the technical means have existed since the eighteenth century to provide the basics of life to all.
‘So. We must change. It is time. If self-rule is a fundamental value. If simple justice is a value, then they are values everywhere, including in the work place where we spend so much of our lives. That was what was said in point four of the Dorsa Brevia agreement. It says everyone’s work is their own, and the worth of it cannot be taken away. It says that the various modes of production belong to those who created them, and to the common good of the future generations. It says that the world is something we steward together. That is what it says. And in our years on Mars, we have developed an economic system that can keep all those promises. That has been our work these last fifty years. In the system we have developed, all economic enterprises are to be small co-operatives, owned by their workers and by no one else. They hire their management, or manage themselves. Industry guilds and co-op associations will form the larger structures necessary to regulate trade and the market, share capital, and create credit.’
Antar said scornfully, ‘These are nothing but ideas. It is utopianism and nothing more.’
‘Not at all.’ Again Vlad waved him away. ‘The system is based on models from Terran history, and its various parts have all been tested on both worlds, and have succeeded very well. You don’t know about this partly because you are ignorant, and partly because metanationalism itself steadfastly ignored and denied all alternatives to it. But most of our micro-economy has been in successful operation for centuries in the Mondragon region of Spain. the different parts of the macro-economy have been used in the pseudo-metanat Praxis, in Switzerland, in India’s state of Kerala, in Bhutan, in Bologna, Italy, and in many other places, including the Martian underground itself. These organization were the precursors to our economy, which will be democratic in a way capitalism never even tried to be.
(pp. 146-8).

It’s refreshing to see a Science Fiction character advocate a left-wing economics. Many SF writers, like Robert A. Heinlein, were right-wing. Heinlein’s The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress, about a rebellion on the Moon, contains several discussion in which Heinlein talks about TANSTAAFL – his acronym for There Ain’t No Such Thing As a Free Lunch.

Praxis is the fictional metanational corporation, which supplies aid to the colonists against the rest of the terrestrial super-corporations. I don’t know about the references to Switzerland, Kerala, Bhutan or Bologna, but the Mondragon co-operatives in Spain certainly exist, and are a significant part of the country’s economy. They were set up by a Spanish priest during Franco’s dictatorship, but managed to escape being closed down as he didn’t recognize such enterprises as socialist.

I don’t know how practical it would be to make all businesses co-operatives, as there are problems of scale. Roughly, the bigger an enterprise is, the more difficult proper industrial democracy becomes. But co-operatives can take over and transform ailing firms, as was shown in Argentina during the last depression there a few years ago, when many factories that were about to be closed were handed over to their workers instead. They managed to turn many of them around so that they started making a profit once again. Since then, most of them have been handed back to their management, however.

But the arguments the Vlad character makes about democracy being a fundamental value that needs to be incorporated into industry is one of that the advocates of industrial democracy and workers’ control, like the Guild Socialists, made. And we do need to give workers far more power in the work place. Jeremy Corbyn has promised this with his pledge to restore workers’ and union rights, and make a third of the directors on corporate boards over a certain size elected by the workers.

If Corbyn’s plans for industrial democracy in Britain become a reality, perhaps Britain really will have a proper economic system for the 21st century, rather than the Tories and Libertarians trying to drag us back to the unfettered capitalism of the 19th.

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The Racists and Reactionaries Who Are the ‘Honorary Patrons’ of the Campaign Against Anti-Semitism

May 11, 2018

On Wednesday, Tony Greenstein also put up a very revealing post discussing some of the honorary patrons of the Campaign Against Anti-Semitism. This is the organisation responsible for many of the anti-Semitism smears and libels, including that of Mike. Greenstein notes that it’s suspected of being funded by the Israeli Ministry of Strategic Affairs as part of their campaign of dirty tricks against the Boycott, Divest and Sanction movement. And the CAA’s patrons are a grim lot of reactionaries, racists and islamophobes. They include the former archbishop of Canterbury, George Carey, Eric Pickles, Bob Blackman, Matthew Offord, Mike Freer, and Richard Kemp.

Carey got himself into trouble with Britain’s Muslim community in 2004 with a tactless comment about Islam, which included the words ‘During the past 500 years, critical scholarship has declined, leading to strong resistance to modernity’. It’s a very simplified version of Islamic history, which leaves out Modernists like Mohammed Abduh, the Egyptian ulema, who began the process of modernisation in their country before its conquest by the British and French, and secularist radicals like Turkey’s Kemal Ataturk.

Eric Pickles, whom Buddy Hell at Guy Debord’s Cat has nicknamed ‘the Sontaran’ because of his striking resemblance to those aliens from Dr. Who, used to be progressive and anti-racist. That is before he and Maggie’s Tory cabinet decided to back Ray Honeyford, the headmaster of a Middle School in Bradford. Honeyford had written a piece in the right-wing Salisbury Review, claiming that there was a link between race and intelligence. The local authority wanted to sack him, but he was supported by the Daily Heil and Thatcher. And so Pickles also decided to throw in his lot behind Honeyford. And he’s been a populist ever since.

Blackman, Offord and Freer all put their weight behind the campaign ‘Operation Dharmic Vote’ by the National Council of Hindu Temples back in 2017. This looks like an attempt to copy David Lammy’s Operation Black Vote earlier this century, which was a campaign to get more Black people to vote so that more would be done for them by a more diverse parliament. ‘Operation Dharmic Vote’ sounds similar, but was definitely not as benign. The National Council of Hindu Temples were annoyed that British parties, like Labour, were trying to outlaw caste discrimination, especially against the Dalits. This is the term now used for the Untouchables, the people of the lowest caste, who are given the dirtiest, lowest paid and most demeaning jobs. Indian Dalit activists and writers have described their conditions as ‘slavery’. There are reports in this country of Dalits being refused medical treatment by their doctors. It’s disgraceful, but Blackman, Offord and Freer decided to back the campaign to get the votes of the most reactionary elements of British Hinduism.

Blackman also went further, also hosted a meeting in parliament, at which one of the speakers was Tapan Ghosh, an Indian islamophobe and christophobe. Claiming to be defending human rights, Ghosh talked about ‘800 years of Arab Islamic’ aggression, and ‘200 years of European Christian aggression’. He also described the Rohingyas, now being butchered in Myanmar, as ‘violent’.

Both Islam and Christianity largely entered India through military conquest, though India also has a community of indigenous Syriac Christians in Kerala, who entered the country as refugees from persecution in the Persian Empire. The Hindu Nationalist right bitterly hate Christianity and Islam, as neither religion has a formal caste system like Hinduism. There is a kind of caste system in Indian Islam, but it’s less severe than Hinduism. As a result, many Dalits have converted to Christianity, Islam and Buddhism. The Hindu nationalists have reacted by organising pogroms against Christians and Muslims, as well as Sikhs and extreme right-wing Hindus have carried out forced conversions of Christians. This seems to be the type of Hinduism Ghosh seems to represent, and it’s as racist and intolerant as the militantly extremist forms of the two religions Ghosh denounces.

Then there’s Colonel Richard Kemp, who was successfully sued by Baroness Warsi after he wrote a column in the Jewish News claiming that she was trying to excuse the horror committed by Daesh.

For further details, see Tony Greenstein’s article at http://azvsas.blogspot.co.uk/2018/05/the-campaign-against-anti-semitism_9.html

The Campaign Against Anti-Semitism is the group that’s claiming that since Jeremy Corbyn became head of the Labour party, it’s been infested with anti-Semites. Perhaps there should be an outcry instead on the way it’s supported by very real racists and islamophobes.