2017/11/15

Dan Little: Capitalism's bad incentives

Chris Dillow writes about Capitalism's bad incentives.

Now, I’m not saying that these bad incentives will bring down capitalism or that they are all eliminable: there is a great deal of ruin in a nation. They do, however, raise an important possibility — that there is abundant room for a leftist government to consider alternative governance structures that reduce agency problems and produce better incentives. As John McDonnell notes, such structures might (pdf) well include more cooperatives, as these give control to workers who have both skin in the game and local knowledge of particular working practices.

Unfortunately, the Capitalists will see the development of worker cooperatives as a threat to their power as these cooperatives are a contending centre of power in the political and economic system. And their existence undermines the Capitalists' contention that there is no alternative.


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2017/11/14

Noam Chomsky: A World in Peril

Noam Chomsky and David Barsamian discuss A World in Peril.

Functioning democracy erodes as a natural effect of the concentration of economic power, which translates at once to political power by familiar means, but also for deeper and more principled reasons. The doctrinal pretense is that the transfer of decision-making from the public sector to the “market” contributes to individual freedom, but the reality is different. The transfer is from public institutions, in which voters have some say, insofar as democracy is functioning, to private tyrannies — the corporations that dominate the economy — in which voters have no say at all. In Europe, there is an even more direct method of undermining the threat of democracy: placing crucial decisions in the hands of the unelected troika — the International Monetary Fund, the European Central Bank, and the European Commission — which heeds the northern banks and the creditor community, not the voting population.

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Capitalism destroys Democracy.


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2017/11/13

Dan Little: Community resilience

Dan Little writes about Community resilience.

So the question here is this: what features of community life can be developed and cultivated that can serve as "shock absorbers" working to damp down the slide towards antagonism? What social features can make a multi-group community more resilient in face of provocations towards separation and mistrust?

Without pretending to offer a full theory of inter-group community stability, there are a few measures that seem to be conducive to stability.

First, the existence of cross-group organizations and partnerships among organizations originating in the separate groups, seems to be a strongly stabilizing feature of a multi-group society. The presence of a group of leaders who are committed to enhancing trust and cooperation across group lines provides an important "fire break" when conflicts arise, because these leaders and organizations already have a basis of trust with each other, and a willingness to work together to reduce tensions and suspicions across groups.

Second, person-to-person relationships across groups (through neighborhoods, places of work, or family relations) provide a basis for resisting the slide towards suspicion and fear across groups. If Chandar and Ismael are friends at work, they are perhaps less likely to be swayed by Hindu nationalist rhetoric or Islamic separatist rhetoric, and less likely to join in a violent mob attacking the other's home and community. Neighborhood and workplace integration ought to be retardants to the spread of inter-group hostility.

Third, policing and law enforcement can be an important buffer against the escalation of ethnic or religious tensions. If a Muslim shop is burned and the police act swiftly to find and arrest the arsonist, there will be a greater level of trust in the Muslim community that their security interests are being protected by the system of law.

Intergroup violence is the extreme case. But the separation of communities into mutually fearful and mistrustful groups defined by religion, race, or ethnicity is inherently bad, and it has the prospect of facilitating intergroup violence in the future. So discovering practical mechanisms of resilience is an enormously important task in these times of division and antagonism presented by our national political leaders.

Emphasis Mine

Shouldn't we consider class solidarity instead? Little's analysis seems to be blind to class. He alludes to the ruling class formenting community antagonism, but is unable to elucidate a theory for such a policy.

The explicit generation of community unrest by the political class means that law enforcement is unlikely to intervene. In fact, the police are more likely to protect the agitators (such as Fascists) than their victims.


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2017/11/10

Dan Little: Worker-owned enterprises as a social solution

Dan Little writes that Worker-owned enterprises as a social solution.

The central insight of Marx's diagnosis of capitalism is couched in terms of property and power. There is a logic to private ownership of the means of production that predictably leads to certain kinds of outcomes, dynamics that Marx outlined in Capital in fine detail: impersonalization of work relations, squeezing of wages and benefits, replacement of labor with machines, and — Marx's ultimate accusation — the creation of periodic crises. Marx anticipated crises of over-production and under-consumption; financial crises; and, if we layer in subsequent thinkers like Lenin, crises of war and imperialism.

The shorthand for this is alienation.

The logic is pretty clear. When an enterprise is owned by private individuals, their interest is in organizing the enterprise in such a way as to maximize private profits. This means choosing products that will find a large market at a favorable price, organizing the process efficiently, and reducing costs in inputs and labor. Further, the private owner has full authority to organize the labor process in ways that disempower workers. (Think Fordism versus the Volvo team-based production system.) This implies a downward pressure on wages and a preference for labor-saving technology, and it implies a more authoritarian workplace. So capitalist management implies stagnant wages, stagnant demand for labor, rising inequalities, and disagreeable conditions of work. 

When workers own the enterprise the incentives work differently. Workers have an interest in efficiency because their incomes are determined by the overall efficiency of the enterprise. Further, they have a wealth of practical and technical knowledge about production that promises to enhance effectiveness of the production process. Workers will deploy their resources and knowledge intelligently to bring products to the market. And they will organize the labor process in such a way that conforms to the ideal of humanly satisfying work.

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Who owns the means of production greatly affects how workers are treated.

Worker management has implications for automation in a different way as well. Private owners will select forms of automation based solely on their overall effect on private profits; whereas worker-owned firms will select a form of automation taking the value of a satisfying workplace into account. So we can expect that the pathway of technical change and automation would be different in worker-owned firms than in privately owned firms.

In short, the economic and institutional realities of worker-owned enterprises are not entirely clear. But the concept is promising enough, and there are enough successful real-world examples, to encourage progressive thinkers to reconsider this form of economic organization.

Emphasis Mine

Getting workers to voluntarially increase their productivity was a big problem user USSR Socialism. We need to understand this problem in greater detail.


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2017/11/09

Chris Dillow: The Wykehamist fallacy

Chris Dillow examines The Wykehamist fallacy.

I suspect it’s partly because of a longstanding assumption among much of the Establishment, of which the BBC is part. This assumption is a form of the Wykehamist fallacy, the belief that members of that Establishment are jolly good chaps, usually because they went to the right schools and universities.

In truth, of course, the Wykehamist fallacy is an ancient one. Adam Smith was describing something like it when he wrote:

We frequently see the respectful attentions of the world more strongly directed towards the rich and the great, than towards the wise and the virtuous. We see frequently the vices and follies of the powerful much less despised than the poverty and weakness of the innocent. (Theory of Moral Sentiments, I.III.29)

I think Dillow misses the class basis for the Wykehamist Fallacy — it is the objective of the ideological superstructure to convince us everything is fine with Capitalism. Theire relentless message is that Capitalism is Good, and Socialism is Bad.


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2017/11/08

Steve O'Brien: Russian Revolution's legacy worth celebrating

Steve O’Brien writes that Russian Revolution’s legacy worth celebrating.

In the contemporary context, however, it is capitalism, more than socialism, which is falling short. Voters are feeling disenfranchised by a political system which sees the 1% get richer, as rents, house prices, student debts and utility prices soar.

The powerful minority that dominates capitalism says it is not the system which is to blame for low wages and longer working hours, but rather refugees, single mothers, climate activists, trade unionists and the unemployed.

Their neoliberal answer to social and economic problems is to offer more of the same: more privatisation, tollways, coal mines and budgetary restraint.

Emphasis Mine

Rather than excuse the failure of Socialism in the USSR, we should examine the trajectory of Socialism there and seek out lessons for Australia.


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2017/11/07

Paul Le Blanc: The Russian Revolutions of 1917

Paul Le Blanc writes about The Russian Revolutions of 1917.

The collapse of the tsarist regime thus left in its wake two centers of political authority: (1) the traditional politicians of the Provisional Government, who had little control over the people, and (2) the democratically elected soviets, which exercised more political power owing to support from the great majority of workers and soldiers. This system of dual power proved to be unstable. The instability grew as the moderate politicians proved increasingly unable to meet the rising expectations of the laboring masses.

With armed workers and revolutionary troops controlling the streets of the capital, political realities now tilted in a much more revolutionary direction. The Russian workers and peasants saw clearly that the landowners and capitalists and their leading political representatives had actively supported Kornilov. Kerensky was badly compromised because of his earlier overtures to Kornilov. The moderate SR and Menshevik leaders were discredited for supporting Kerensky. The Bolsheviks—who had built an effective political organization and put forward the popular demands of “Peace, Bread, Land” and “All Power to the Soviets”—had greater mass support than ever before.

Trotsky’s failure at the peace talks led to another crisis that undermined soviet democracy. After a fierce debate, Lenin persuaded a Communist Party majority in the government to accept the harsh peace terms. The Left SRs strongly opposed any agreement to the German demands, which included Russia’s giving up the Baltic states, Finland, Poland, and Ukraine. The Treaty of Brest-Litovsk was signed on March 3, 1918, and the Left SRs angrily walked out of the government and began organizing against both the peace settlement and the Communists. The Left SRs had a far better understanding of realities among the peasants than did the Communists. Their departure from the government opened the way for serious (sometimes even criminal) misjudgments by the government in dealing with the rural population. In particular, efforts to secure grain from the countryside in order to relieve bread shortages in the cities resulted in violent conflicts that undermined support for the Communist regime.

In this same period the Communists carried out a shift in economic policy that was to cause lasting problems. Threats of economic sabotage by capitalist factory owners who were hostile to the regime led the government to take over more and more of the economy—much more rapidly than originally intended. Ordinary workers were put in charge of factories, and their inexperience as managers resulted in economic difficulties. The government’s expansion into the economy also generated the growth of bureaucracy. A bureaucracy involves a hierarchy of administrators, managers, clerks, and others who are supposed to coordinate and control complex political, social, or economic activities. Often, a bureaucracy becomes an extremely impersonal and relatively inefficient structure, notorious for its arbitrary power and unnecessarily complicated procedures. Some historians believe that as the Soviet bureaucracy grew larger and more cumbersome, what was left of political democracy and economic efficiency degenerated. This bureaucratic degeneration added to the severe strains of the civil war and the foreign economic blockade. These added strains, in turn, resulted in a devastating breakdown of much of Russia’s industry.

As the USSR was experiencing significant economic development and becoming a major world power, the bureaucratic and authoritarian nature of the Stalin regime gave Communism the profoundly undemocratic connotation that it has for many people today. For many, socialism came to mean not economic democracy but merely state ownership and control of the economy. Even the word soviet became associated simply with the USSR’s dictatorial regime. Stalin’s successors in subsequent Communist governments of that country later denounced his crimes, but they were never successful in overcoming the dictatorial legacy. That legacy ultimately undermined the country’s future development, contributing in significant ways to the collapse of the USSR in 1991.

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Workers should learn from this history.


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2017/11/06

GLW: Ireland's Che stamp sells out amid unprecedented public demand

Ireland's Che stamp sells out amid unprecedented public demand.

The Che Guevara stamp produced by the Irish republic’s postal service (An Post) has sold out its initial 120,000 print run. The stamp was released to mark the 50th anniversary of the Latin American freedom fighter’s murder on October 9, 1967 by CIA-backed Bolivian state.

The announcement confounds right-wing critics, who opposed the stamp. An Post has described the demand for the €1 stamp — using Irish artist Jim Fitzpatrick’s image of the revolutionary icon — as “unprecedented”.

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Right-wingers cannot understand the appeal of Che. They always to submerge the resistance of the past:

For right-wingers, Che is a callous murderer. For the oppressed, Che is a liberator.


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2017/10/07

Seth Godin: If you can't see it, how can you make it better?

Seth Godin writes that If you can't see it, how can you make it better?.

The problem is becoming more and more clear: once we begin to doubt the messenger, we stop having a clear way to see reality. The conspiracy theories begin to multiply. If everyone is entitled to their own facts and their own narrative, then what exists other than direct emotional experience?

And if all we've got is direct emotional experience, our particular statement of reality, how can we possibly make things better?

If we don't know what's happened, if we don't know what's happening, and worst of all, if we can't figure out what's likely to happen next, how do take action?

Emphasis Mine

This is why party reports focus on:

  • Number of people who turned up to an event. This is a measure of the outreach potential. These are the ones who are willing to be seen to be supporting a cause.
  • Number of people joined to an organisation at an event. These are the people who take the step of going beyond agreement.
  • Number of speakers at an event. This is a measure of the diversity of opinions and the willingness of organisers to tolerate them.
  • Number of party papers sold. This is a measure of how acceptable the party's views are to the attendees at an event.

The first one is most suspect because it can fluctuate greatly throughout an event. But the other three (3) are more concrete as it is money in the bank.

What party reports do not focus on (because I imagined it is too depressing) are:

  • Number of inactive members (meeting financial commitments but not turning up to anything)
  • Number of members who no longer meet any financial commitments
  • Number of members who leave to join other organisations

I think these numbers are more important as they represent opportunities for improvement. The party can grow in two (2) ways:

  1. Recruiting new members through public outreach at events and through the party newspaper.
  2. Retention and activation of existing members.

If we do not reduce the second, we end up with a two-tier party: veterans; and the fly-by-nighters. We need to have a party with a clear graduation in experience. This means more mixing of experience.

Although numbers are good, too many numbers can obscure things. Numbers have to be collected with a goal in mind. We have to continually challenge the collection and the validity of the measurement.


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2017/08/30

Ted Rall: Progressive, Heal Thyself

Ted Rall writes that Progressive, Heal Thyself.

Many progressives are stupid. Unless they get smart soon, “The Resistance” to Donald Trump will fail, just like everything else the Left has tried to do for the last 40 years.

Stupid progressive thing #1: letting yourself be shocked by Trump.

Stupid progressive thing #2: viewing Trump‘s politics as significantly more dangerous or extreme than, say, Obama‘s.

Stupid progressive thing #3: always reacting, never acting.

Stupid progressive thing #4: never learning from past mistakes.

Emphasis Mine

The stupidity arises out of:

  • Lack of political theory
  • Lack of political experience
  • Lack of political memory

The best antidote is to join a revolutionary Communist party. In the party, there are classes about political theory (Marxism), discussions about past experiences, and meetings to plan actions to implement the political theory in light of past experiences.


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2017/07/15

James Kunstler: We're Good People, Really We Are!

James Kunstler writes that We're Good People, Really We Are!.

Now, the question of motive. Why does the thinking class in America embrace ideas that are not necessarily, and surely not self-evidently, truthful, and even self-destructive? Because this class is dangerously insecure and perversely needs to insist on being right about its guiding dogmas and shibboleths at all costs. That is why so much of the behavior emanating from the thinking class amounts to virtue signaling — we are the good people on the side of what’s right, really we are! Of course, virtue signaling is just the new term for self-righteousness. There is also the issue of careerism. So many individuals are making a living at trafficking in, supporting, or executing policy based on these dogmas and shibboleths that they don’t dare depart from the Overton Bubble of permissible, received thought lest they sacrifice their status and incomes.

The thinking classes are also the leaders and foot-soldiers in American institutions. When they are unable or unwilling to think clearly, then you get a breakdown of authority, which leads to a breakdown of legitimacy. That’s exactly where we’re at today in our national politics — our ability to manage the polity.

Emphasis Mine

Kunstler seems to be faintly aware of the Marxist idea of an ideological superstructure which reproduces the dominant ideology of the underlying class relationships. Indeed, this superstructure has its careerists and the construction of an Overton Window. The superstructure defends and promulugates the class relations in the minds of the oppressed classes. It cannot do otherwise as it is an instrument of control.

Thinkers, like Kunstler, believe the superstructure is undermining the political, economic, and social system. What is happening is that the class relations are changing, and the superstucture is struggling to maintain the old system. The ideology is diverging from reality.

To admit a new reality would undermine the legitimacy of the current ruling class. This is one of the pre-conditions for a social revolution: the ruling ideology cannot grasp the new economic reality that it has created. With the rise of automation, the old caste of unskilled, and therefore, disposable workers is rapidly disappearing. Skilled workers are coming to the fore. With that, the old caste of line managers and supervisors are disappearing as well. Workers are supposed to become self-directed thereby eliminating the need and expense of direct control.

What we have left is:


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2017/07/14

Shamus Cooke: Why can't the left get Venezuela right?

Shamus Cooke asks Why can't the left get Venezuela right?.

If working and poor people actively engage in the process of creating a new, more progressive constitution and this constitution is approved via referendum by a large majority, it will constitute an essential step forward for the revolution. If the masses are unengaged or the referendum fails, it may signify the death knell of Chavismo and the return of the oligarchy.

And while Maduro is right to use the state as a repressive agent against the oligarchy, an over reliance on the state repression only leads to more contradictions, rather than relying on the self-activity of the workers and poor. Revolutions cannot be won by administrative tinkering, but rather by revolutionary measures consciously implemented by the vast majority. At bottom it’s the actions of ordinary working people that make or break a revolution; if the masses are lulled to sleep the revolution is lost. They must be unleashed not ignored.

It’s clear that Maduro’s politics have not been capable of leading the revolution to success, and therefore his government requires deep criticism combined with organized protest. But there are two kinds of protest: legitimate protest that arises from the needs of working and poor people, and the counter-revolutionary protest based in the neighborhoods of the rich that aim to restore the power of the oligarchy.

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The problem has always been how the working class develop confidence in itself. Workers are continually being isolated and humilated. Survival takes all of our energy.

This is the importance of a revolutionary party in its mission to develop cadre. The party develops itself through experience from historical action, reflection on that experience through theory, and action from deliberation on that theory in solidarity with others.


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Dilar Dirik: The revolutionary feminists fighting ISIS

Dilar Dirik writes about The revolutionary feminists fighting ISIS.

Rojava’s revolutionaries are trying to formulate an identity around principles rather than ethnicity. The presence of an autonomous women’s army, unapologetically committed to women’s struggles, in a sea of militarist, patriarchal violence, constitutes the most liberationist, anti-capitalist, anti-fascist element.

By organising in cooperatives, communes, assemblies and academies, women become the guarantors of freedom.

Male domination has not been overcome entirely, but women have established a political culture that no longer normalises patriarchy and unconditionally respects autonomous women’s decision-making mechanisms.

The YPJ underlines that the most direct way of defeating religious fascism, statism and other forms of authoritarianism is women’s liberation.

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Capitalism alienates us from our work and, by doing so, alienates from each other. That product was not made by a person but by a company.

This alienation is maintained through racism, sexism, homophobia, xenophobia, nationalism, etc. I cease to be myself, but I became a white man of certain sexuality who is an Australian.

In order to build a better world, we have to take control of our identities. I need to reproduce myself every day as a worker who is working towards a Communist future. In doing so, I have to fight against the Capitalist molding of my soul.


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Chris Dillow: Ideologue managerialists

Chris Dillow writes about Ideologue managerialists.

Herein lies what so appalling about Ms Campbell. In being wilfully out of touch, she is actually typical of so many policy-makers. Today’s dangerous ideologues are not Marxists but managerialists of all parties who are constitutionally unable to learn.

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Marxists should be very cognizant of this failing. Marxists should be workers first, theorist second. For it is out of the experience of being a worker that useful and practical theory can arise.


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2017/07/11

Socialist Project: Working classes and the rise of the new right: Socialist politics in the era of Trump

Socialist Project examines Working classes and the rise of the new right: Socialist politics in the era of Trump.

The point is, we need a socialist politics that embraces yet transcends identity politics through making universal claims for social as well as environmental justice, for decommodified social services, for better wages and working conditions. An anti-racist politics needs to emerge directly from struggles that address the material conditions by which we produce, distribute, and consume. Only in that way will we be able to transcend the debilitating ‘guilting’ rhetoric so prevalent on the left today. Only in that way will we be able to transcend the tendency, even in today’s trade unions, to address class issues in identity-representational terms rather than on the basis of universal claims.

The political significance of the far right in the current political conjuncture must make us sensitive to the danger of an imminent closure of the democratic space upon which the left depends to develop and grow, and which indeed makes socialist working class organizing possible. This raises the question of a ‘popular front’ strategy, whereby socialists’ political activism would be thrown behind liberal forces facing an existential challenge to their hegemony from a neo-fascist right. The magnitude of this far-right threat suggests that socialists should support those forces seeking to defend liberal democratic institutions against any and all moves to foreclose the freedoms they support.

But we must not lose sight of the need to build the socialist movements and form political alliances and fronts, so tragically absent amidst the traumas of neoliberalism, capable of reinvigorating class struggles, of confronting corporate power and the capitalist class, of addressing the environmental and social as well as economic and political crises of our time. The capacity to envision and push forward the serious, bold programs to fundamentally transform and democratize the state we so urgently need can only emerge through this process of struggle and organization.

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As seen in Turkey, the authoritarian state grows through democratic means as the dispossessed seek to take power away from the establishment. As Ted Rall wrote, 'Trump is a brick thrown through the window panes of the establishment'. Thus, the weeds of Fascism grow as people see that the only solution is to have a strong leader lead them to the Promised Land. But, the reality is that they will be led into the desert to die.


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2017/07/10

Seth Godin: The Reality Paradox

Seth Godin explains The rationality paradox .

If you see yourself as an engineer, a scientist, or even a person of logic, then it's entirely possible that you work to make rational decisions, decisions that lead to the outcomes you seek.

The paradox is that you might also believe that you do this all the time, and that others do it too.

But a rational analysis shows that this is far from true. Almost every choice we make is subconscious. We're glitch-ridden, superstitious creatures of habit. We are swayed by social forces that are almost always greater than our attraction to symbolic logic would indicate. We prioritize the urgent and most of the decisions we make don't even feel like decisions. They're mostly habits combined with a deep desire to go along with the people we identify with.

Every time you assume that others will be swayed by your logical argument, you've most likely made a significant, irrational mistake. 

Your actions and your symbols and your tribe dwarf the words you use to make your argument.

Emphasis Mine

From a Marxist perspective, this makes sense. The objective reality and subjective one form each other. If I view the world through Capitalist eyes, I make the world a Capitalist one. And I would then believe in Capitalism because I see that it matches reality. This is further re-inforced by greater material wealth accuring to me because I do so because I act in a way that matches a Capitalist economy.

Even if I do not see the Capitalist way, I would still see people who do accuring wealth. This would encourage me to think that way. But not all people who do so succeed. For conformity beckons like a lottery ticket — you have to buy in so that you have a chance of winning.


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2017/06/24

James Massola: Malcolm Turnbull promises social media crackdown to target terrorists

James Massola writes that Malcolm Turnbull promises social media crackdown to target terrorists .

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has social media giants including Facebook and WhatsApp in his sights in the global fight against terrorism, flagging a crackdown on "ungoverned spaces" online.

In the clearest signal yet that Australia will, like Britain, pressure social media companies to do more to cooperate with governments to combat would-be terrorists who are organising online, Mr Turnbull has declared the rule of law must apply online as it does in the "analogue, offline world".

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John Stuart Mill writes about the preventative functions of the police in Chapter 5: Applications of On Liberty.

One of these examples, that of the sale of poisons, opens a new question; the proper limits of what may be called the functions of police; how far liberty may legitimately be invaded for the prevention of crime, or of accident. It is one of the undisputed functions of government to take precautions against crime before it has been committed, as well as to detect and punish it afterwards. The preventive function of government, however, is far more liable to be abused, to the prejudice of liberty, than the punitory function; for there is hardly any part of the legitimate freedom of action of a human being which would not admit of being represented, and fairly too, as increasing the facilities for some form or other of delinquency. Nevertheless, if a public authority, or even a private person, sees any one evidently preparing to commit a crime, they are not bound to look on inactive until the crime is committed, but may interfere to prevent it. If poisons were never bought or used for any purpose except the commission of murder, it would be right to prohibit their manufacture and sale. They may, however, be wanted not only for innocent but for useful purposes, and restrictions cannot be imposed in the one case without operating in the other. Again, it is a proper office of public authority to guard against accidents. If either a public officer or any one else saw a person attempting to cross a bridge which had been ascertained to be unsafe, and there were no time to warn him of his danger, they might seize him and turn him back, without any real infringement of his liberty; for liberty consists in doing what one desires, and he does not desire to fall into the river. Nevertheless, when there is not a certainty, but only a danger of mischief, no one but the person himself can judge of the sufficiency of the motive which may prompt him to incur the risk: in this case, therefore, (unless he is a child, or delirious, or in some state of excitement or absorption incompatible with the full use of the reflecting faculty) he ought, I conceive, to be only warned of the danger; not forcibly prevented from exposing himself to it. Similar considerations, applied to such a question as the sale of poisons, may enable us to decide which among the possible modes of regulation are or are not contrary to principle.…

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I take Mill's thesis to mean that the police functions should be curtailed in the cause of liberty because an innocent action of one is seem as suspicious by another.

Turnbull now wants to interfere with the actvities of Twitter, Facebook, etc. even though these services fuelled the Arab Spring. In other words, these services are useful against our enemies but not against us.

Turnbull wants to have services support the status-quo of the Capitalist societies while undermining the enemies of those societies. Unfortunately, Capitalism is using these services as a source of profit. And woe betide any government that gets between a Capitalist and a source of profit!


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2017/05/18

Chris Dillow: When bad arguments work

Chris Dillow finds When bad arguments work.

It’s often said that many people oppose higher taxes on top earners because they hope (mostly wrongly) to become one themselves. But this is only part of the story. We sympathize with the rich not (just) because we hope to become rich ourselves, but because we hear so damned much from them.

There’s a nasty flipside to this. If we don’t hear from people, we tend not to sympathize with them. Separate experiments by Agne Kajackaite has shown this. She got people to work where the rewards went not just to them but to a bad cause (the NRA). She found that when people chose not to know whether the money was donated to that cause, they behaved more selfishly; they worked harder to make money for themselves. “Ignorant agents behave in a more selfish way” she concludes.

Thigh might well have political effects. WBecause the worst-off have less voice, we are relatively ignorant of their suffering and so less sympathetic to them. Support for benefit cuts isn’t based solely upon outright untruths, but upon a lack of sympathy for them caused by their relative lack of voice.

Most of us, I guess, can name far more people who are in the top 5% of the income distribution than in the bottom 5%. This introduces a bias towards the rich.

My point here is that the media’s bias isn’t merely conscious and deliberate. There are more subtle ways in which it serves the interests of the well-off.

Emphasis Mine

The workers need to continually raise their voices through protests, strikes, and their own media. We cannot be silent. Our voices matter. We should rely on celebrities to promote our causess. This we must do ourselves.

Also, this is the reason that the state keeps restricting those actions through laws and regulations. A quiet population is easier to suppress.


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2017/01/26

Ted Rall: The Women's March Failed But Was Hopeful Too

Ted Rall writes that The Women’s March Failed But Was Hopeful Too.

A good indication that the Women’s March got co-opted into a Democratic boo-hoo Hillary/Cory Booker-in-2020 pep rally was that the speakers were limited to celebrity millionaire liberal Democrats like Michael Moore, Ashley Judd and Gloria Steinem and defanged ex-radicals like Angela Davis. Had this been a militant action (i.e., one that might frighten Trump and the GOP), or a coalition of liberals who welcomed and respected their leftist allies rather than merely wanting to vampirize their righteous anger and energy into midterm votes, the roster of speakers would have included people calling for revolutionary change and action outside of the existing system. There would also have been some radical activists you’d never heard of who do important work.

Celebrity liberalism and pleas to vote Democratic are where the Left goes to die.

No wonder the Women’s March was doomed to join the list of fruitless liberal marches! Because they’re Democrats, none of the speakers suggested scrapping the whole sick system of systemized poverty, industrialized prisons, war and slave labor altogether. Instead marchers got a washed-up documentary filmmaker urging them to memorize a phone number they could use to call Congress because, yeah, that’s going to do so much good, especially these days with Republicans in charge of everything.

Still, despite the Democratic BS, those huge crowds were glorious. They showed up, they were heard, they hint at the better country we could have.

May they soon get the radical, genuine political movement they and the world deserve.

Emphasis Mine

The liberals continually fight a rear-guard action against radical popular unrest. This is something the right does not want to understand. The liberals and the right are defending the same system: Capitalism.

However, the attacks by the right on the liberals give the liberals credibility they would otherwise not have. In other words, the elites put on a Punch-and-Judy show between the liberals and the right with accompanying thunder and lightening while signifying nothing.

… it is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.

The Tragedy of Macbeth — Act 5, Scene 5


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Kurds Will Come Together to Discuss Independence With Baghdad

TeleSur reports that Kurds Will Come Together to Discuss Independence With Baghdad.

Kurdish independence “is a reality that will come true,” said Masoud Barzani, President of the Kurdistan Region in northern Iraq.

Kurdish parties will meet with the Iraqi government to discuss independence, reported Kurdish media on Saturday.

The delegation will include five Kurdish parties, who will meet with Turkmen, Chaldean and Assyrian delegates, reported Rudaw, which is funded by the Kurdistan Democratic Party, KDP.

Emphasis Mine

Unfortunately, Kurdish independence is a major threat to Turkey who has been fighting and suppressing Kurds within its own borders for decades. Kurdish independence in Northern Iraq will probably be immediately followed by a Turkish invasion and occupation in order to deny the Kurdish resistance groups in Turkey a safe haven and a politcal base.

Also, Kurdish independence would likely devolve into a Kurdish civil war as various factions vie for hegemony. It is not that Kurdistan is a political goal among Kurds, it is just that Kurdistan exists as a vague, feel-good idea. It is not strong enough to overcome the antipathy between the Syrian, Turkish, Iraqi and Iranian Kurds and their long history of fighting among themselves.

From Iraq's point of view, the loss of a major oil-producing region to an independent state would also interpose another state to control the water supply to Iraq. Already, Turkey is taking large amounts of water away from Iraq. Although, the unification of Turkish and Iraqi Kurdistan would mean that there would be a possibly more friendly state controlling Iraqi water supply.

At this stage, I think Kurdistan as an idependent state is a remote dream. Kurdistan as a loose confederation of autonomous regions in Syria and Iraq is far more likely. This is a potential reward for the eventual defeat of Daesh.


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2017/01/04

James Taylor: Peer-Reviewed Survey Finds Majority Of Scientists Skeptical Of Global Warming Crisis

Scott Adams says to Show this article to a climate change worrier and watch the cognitive dissonance happen. It will be fun. (Seriously.). The article is Peer-Reviewed Survey Finds Majority Of Scientists Skeptical Of Global Warming Crisis by James Taylor.

Don’t look now, but maybe a scientific consensus exists concerning global warming after all. Only 36 percent of geoscientists and engineers believe that humans are creating a global warming crisis, according to a survey reported in the peer-reviewed Organization Studies. By contrast, a strong majority of the 1,077 respondents believe that nature is the primary cause of recent global warming and/or that future global warming will not be a very serious problem.

The survey results show geoscientists (also known as earth scientists) and engineers hold similar views as meteorologists. Two recent surveys of meteorologists (summarized here and here) revealed similar skepticism of alarmist global warming claims.

According to the newly published survey of geoscientists and engineers, merely 36 percent of respondents fit the “Comply with Kyoto” model. The scientists in this group “express the strong belief that climate change is happening, that it is not a normal cycle of nature, and humans are the main or central cause.”

Emphasis Mine

It would appear that Adams read Taylor's article and stopped at confirmation bias. But since Taylor's article severly challenged my views, I read the original paper rather than let cognitive dissonance happen.

As for the other papers,

In the Organization Studies paper (Lefsrud and Meyer (2012)), the abstract says:

This paper examines the framings and identity work associated with professionals’ discursive construction of climate change science, their legitimation of themselves as experts on ‘the truth’, and their attitudes towards regulatory measures. Drawing from survey responses of 1077 professional engineers and geoscientists, we reconstruct their framings of the issue and knowledge claims to position themselves within their organizational and their professional institutions. In understanding the struggle over what constitutes and legitimizes expertise, we make apparent the heterogeneity of claims, legitimation strategies, and use of emotionality and metaphor. By linking notions of the science or science fiction of climate change to the assessment of the adequacy of global and local policies and of potential organizational responses, we contribute to the understanding of ‘defensive institutional work’ by professionals within petroleum companies, related industries, government regulators, and their professional association.

Emphasis Mine

The paper would then appear to be about the cognitive dissonance of those professionals within the petroleum industry as they try to reconcile their work with reality. So, Adams could be right in a way that he does not expect. Here, I equate cognitive dissonance with defensive institutional work.

Lefsrud and Meyer (2012) write about their sample:

Given our nonprobability sample, there are limitations. First, though it is not our intent to generalize to larger populations but to create theoretical generalizability, response bias is still a possible concern. However, such concern is reduced by the accessibility of the survey to all APEGA members without any systematic exclusion, the fact that members were responding to a survey by their regulator as they normally would, the respectable size of our sample, and the apparent representativeness of respondents to the membership as a whole. Second, framings are socio-historical constructions — embedded in specific worldviews, social positions, and interests that are bounded in space and time. Thus, the specific socio-economic location of our group of experts — the constellation of professional designations and industries, and the relevance of the petroleum industry for Alberta — may influence the findings, especially the frequency of frames. In addition, while these experts’ framings may have represented those of October 2007 in Alberta, Canada, the science and policy positions may have since shifted there as elsewhere.

Emphasis Mine

I understand this to mean what Upton Sinclair once wrote:

It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it.

THis seems to accord with one of the conclusions to :

Third, we show that the consensus of IPCC experts meets a much larger, and again heterogenous, sceptical group of experts in the relevant industries and organizations (at least in Alberta) than is generally assumed. We find that climate science scepticism is not limited to the scientifically illiterate (per Hoffman, 2011a), but well ensconced within this group of professional experts with scientific training — who work as leaders or advisors to management in governmental, non-governmental, and corporate organizations. Following Levy and Rothenberg’s (2002) examination of the automotive industry, we find that professional experts employed in the petroleum industry are more likely to be sceptical of the IPCC and of anthropogenic climate change. Given this, the defensive institutional work of these professionals to maintain existing institutions clearly exceeds the mere maintenance of ‘routines and rituals of their reproduction’ (Lawrence & Suddaby, 2006, p. 234). Marquis and Lounsbury (2007) suggest that banking professionals are more able to resist due to their stronger professional identity; Jonsson (2009) finds that professional resistance differs across firms, depending upon the relative influence of professionals and the logics associated. Our research connects and extends these findings to understand how defensive institutional work is performed in response to insider-driven challenges. We find that the heterogeneity of professionals’ framings is a function of their degree of identification/mobilization with others (as suggested by Marquis & Lounsbury, 2007) but is also a function of their degree of defensiveness against others (as suggested by Maguire & Hardy, 2009), even other insiders. Further, these professionals’ framings are also linked to their position within their firm (as suggested by Jonsson, 2009), to their industry, and to the industry’s relevance for the region (Levy & Rothenberg, 2002). We discuss this in more detail below. Hence, our findings give greater granularity in understanding which professionals are more likely to resist, why and how they will resist, and who is more likely to be successful.

Emphasis Mine

In other words, the more strongly professionals identify with the petroleum industry, the more likely they are to be climate change skeptics. And the more strongly they identify with their profession, the more strongly they accept the consensus of climate science researchers. Thus, the cognitive dissonance appears to happen with the skeptics.


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2017/01/02

Arash Azizi: After Trotskyism, what? Some personal thoughts

Arash Azizi writes about After Trotskyism, what? Some personal thoughts.

Marxists and those (like myself) who have an affinity for the 1917 tradition need to unite with others around the political and practical double goals of: 1) improving the lives of the working people and the oppressed here and now, and; 2) striving at a radical transformation of society and building of a socialist alternative to capitalism.

The strategies toward these goals will differ in different countries, based on their political conditions, the balance of classes and the existing organizations and traditions. In general, however, there is a basic fact that the revolutionary left needs to come to peace with: It needs to win power by convincing a majority of a population to support its vision. This doesn’t necessarily have to mean basically turning into an electoral machine. To slightly paraphrase Eugene Debs, elections are to socialism what a menu is to a meal. It is a fact, however, that the liberal democratic order, a system in which the government of the day is elected on the basis of universal suffrage, is now dominant across much of the globe (it is worth remembering that in Lenin’s time, it was almost entirely non-existent, hence a long Marxist struggle for universal suffrage) and wherever it isn’t, it is probably an imperative for us to unite with liberals for democratic goals. Democratic conditions can actually offer an excellent opportunity for socialists: Build support for our vision; convince a majority that we can offer a workable, real socialist alternative; and come to power and start implementing it! Of course, there would be resistant from the capitalist class and, of course, our strategy needs to take that into account too. But to move against a democratically-elected government is not an easy task, especially if it is based on an active support of millions of workers.

This might seem very mundane at the first glance but, ask yourself, how many socialists and revolutionaries are asking themselves: How can we build an organization that is ready to win support of the majority and form a government? How many are telling themselves: “The test of socialist politics is how I can win over large numbers of people, which is possible by meeting them where they are at, not by trying to be the most left-wing guy in the room?”

In asking such questions, we’d need to be forward-looking and accept that not all differences need to be solved for leftist to unite in an organization. It is silly for socialists not to be organizationally united in pursuit of goals today because they disagree over the class nature of the Soviet Union or because they have a slightly different take on the Palestinian struggle.

Building of leftist institutions that are something beyond their name, real organizations that can represent a significant portion of a country’s politics, is a very difficult task but it is rewarding at the end. It will influence the lives of the working people here and now, it will consolidate our power and it will offer a clear route to power. It will also create a space that could help blossom the kind of thinking that is needed to address the massive questions that we will face if we are to actually conduct the mammoth task of transition to socialism.

Needless to say, in building such vehicles we should never abandon the organizations that the working class has already built which, almost all over the world, means the parties that historically belong to the Second or Third Internationals. One of the mistakes of the left has been prematurely abandoning these organizations whereas the recent victory of Corbyn in the UK shows that even if your organization is led by the likes of Tony Blair, there is a chance that the left could come to power in them and start their transformation.

What we need more than ever is an end to the mentality of small circles and an audacity to prepare for real socialist change in our own lifetimes. It is time to offer the working people, our people, the political instrument that it deserves.

Emphasis Mine

Azizi's argument is for Socialists to engage with the Labour parties of the world. They are where the workers are—both physically and intellectually.

The Socialist Alliance has sufferred several splits over the years:

  1. 13 May 2008
  2. 2-3 July 2016

The position of the Socialist Alliance on the Australian Labour Party is:

The Australian Labor Party (ALP), formed more than a century ago by trade union officials and sections of the intelligentsia, now acts as a systematic agent for capitalist rule in the labour movement.

ALP governments have always defended the interests of the capitalist system and worked to contain trade union and other social movement struggles within the framework of capitalist parliamentary politics.

The ALP has fostered parliamentarism, class-collaboration, racism, xenophobia and protectionism as ways to divert the working class from seriously confronting the capitalists and their governments. It has promoted the false idea that workers in Australia have more in common with their ‘Australian’ bosses than with the working masses in other countries — particularly in the colonial and semicolonial countries. Therefore, a central part of socialist struggle in this country today is to win the working class away from the conservative domination of the ALP.

While it still retains a significant base in the working class, all ALP governments since the 1980s have played a leading role in the capitalist neoliberal offensive. With the collaboration of the trade union bureaucracy the Labor leadership has severely weakened the trade union movement and constrained it from taking independent mass action.

In this period the ALP has increasingly abandoned championing new reforms — or even defending previously won reforms — in the interest of the working class and other oppressed groups.

Emphasis Mine

The political situation in Australia has not given rise to SYRIZA, Corbyn, or Sanders. So, we cannot use those experiences in the Australian context. We need to be where the workers are, not where we think they should be.


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