17 July, 2013


In the light of recent events in Egypt, where the country's first elected president, Mohamed Morsi, has been unseated from office in what many are calling a military coup, and others see as a continuation of the revolutionary process started in 2011 - it seems a vital time to re-evaluate exactly what we mean by Democracy, and what it's true role should be in a genuine Revolution.


Consider a political regime that you believe validates the repression of the majority of its people. What can be done to change the situation?

Well, it may be considered that the nature of how those in power originally achieved their positions, when it was initially transformed from the prior situation. They could have taken over by force of arms, say in a military coup, or via a popular uprising, or in more modern times, by a democratic vote. And, of course, if the establishment of the regime was either of the first two, and no democratic means of changing things were available, then those who are for change can only attempt to build a popular movement for the overthrow of the current regime. Yet, the actual physical removal of that ruling group by force is not considered to be correct, for whoever can marshal the mightiest force will win, and why should that be any better than what needs to be replaced?

No, it is usually considered to that some form of Democracy should be agitated for – a campaign to demand a democratic method of determining a government as the true representatives of the majority of the people.

A free and secret vote for candidates with no one being prevented from standing is usually considered vital. It has become the ideal of how a country should be governed, and regular elections will make it possible to vote out an unsatisfactory government, and vote in a better one.

But, does that ideal condition actually occur anywhere? And, is it ever enough to fulfill its original intentions?

The concept of Democracy was devised long ago, but not upon a countrywide scale at all!

It was certainly possible in a clan, a village or a City State perhaps. For then, the candidates might be well enough known for the electorate to make informed judgements. But, as the political units grew ever larger, and even became countries, those ideal arrangements and familiarity with everyone involved was certain to be lost.

The question became, “How can the ideal Democracy be scaled up to country-size, yet manage to maintain its necessary virtues?” And even further, “Was such a task even achievable?”

One model was suggested as the best way to maintain the qualities of Democracy. It was the hierarchical system. The lowest level of elections would still be small and local, where it would still be possible to know everyone involved, and choose with sufficient knowledge, the best person for the job. But, to deliver that the local unit would have to be small – a “Ward” covering a village, or clearly defined locality in a Town was one suggestion. But, what would be the role of the elected representative? Would he be like an elected Chief? That might cover purely local questions, but have zero effect beyond that constituency. Clearly, purely local leaders would have to represent that locality in some higher body, covering a large political unit – like a county or a City! But, then the questions on which the representative would have to vote, in the higher body, may never have been considered in the initial local election. And, clearly not everyone in the local Ward could be consulted and vote, for they might not know enough to make an informed choice.

The chosen representative must be trusted then, to make the best possible choices for those who had elected him or her. And clearly, the chosen candidate would have a crucial role in informing his constituents of the decisions pending in the higher body, and perhaps being mandated to vote in a certain way by his now better informed electorate.

So, an important modification to the local unit was its morphing into what became known as a council or soviet. And these bodies would have no restriction upon the size of the unit, but would have a vote in higher bodies proportional to their size.

Instead of a purely geographical determination, these soviets could cover a factory, or a department providing a particular service to a defined section of the community. A hospital would also be a very appropriate unit, which could deal with complex matters that the general public might be unaware of, AND, could even supply expert knowledge to a higher body, to inform its decisions in that area of expertise.

Clearly, above all this wide variety of local soviets would be a geographical Council, to which all local soviets of any size, could send their elected representatives.

While in a different direction, all hospitals (say) could send representatives to a higher body dedicated to that important set of objectives. As the layers in an ascending hierarchy got bigger and covering more responsibilities, they would have to elect people responsible to carry out the decisions of that body in particular areas – departments or “ministries” Clearly, with the particular specialist soviets, they could supply all who required it, with detailed information to both electorates and representatives who were in a position to make relevant decisions.

Clearly, what was meant to characterise these soviets and their upward and downward purposes, was meant to imbue the whole structure with relevant information. For without which appropriate decisions would be impossible.

But, even then, the current choices of representatives could not be guaranteed to do as the electorate wished. So, instant recall and a replacing election must be a right of the soviet over its representative in higher bodies, when the current incumbent was not doing what they considered to be necessary.

Indeed, this led to the callback of representative to a required discussion on particular issues, and perhaps even a mandating of the candidate, determining exactly how he should vote on a range of issues.

NOTE: But, that is not what happens in most so-called Democracies in the World today.

For not even the set of policies outlined before elections would be adhered to by an organisation (or Party) in power, and members of those organisations would actually be told how they should vote by their Parties, which even have policing members called Whips to ensure that they do as they are told.

And such a “mandating” is then top-down, and certainly nothing like the bottom-up mandates explained above.

Clearly, though such systems could easily gobble up too much time and too many people, and cut down the time for carrying out the major functions of the organisations. It could seem to be in danger of failing under the weight of too much time and too many decisions needing to be taken by such methods.

But, we are forgetting why this MUST be how real democracy is to be built. Once the various electorates had representatives that they knew they could trust, the number and intensity of these processes would decline, yet when a representative broke the conditions of their election, they could be easily removed. The system would militate against corruption.

Though, for this to be the case, these organisations would have to be functioning within a Socialist Society! Somehow, a better system than the mere election of your choice of candidates would be needed.

Once elected, the candidates should be given the confidence of the electorate, and either given a detailed mandate to carry out an agreed programme, or could come to the council for discussions and decisions. Any widespread dissatisfaction with the actions of the office holder must allow (with sufficient numerical support) a recall for immediate replacement.

Now, as can be seen, many of these features do not currently transfer to higher bodies in any present hierarchical system. The detailed information and control of elected members and officers are not instituted, when the council represents a substantial electorate, and immediate recall would not be considered to be practicable.

The problem has to be, “Just how will higher bodies be elected, and how will the electorate both be fully informed and keep control of their elected representative?”

Currently, when the system moves to a national level, most of the excellent qualities of the small, local unit certainly have been lost.

Of course, there is also a much more important difficulty. Yet, other quite separate and crucial considerations that must be addressed cannot possibly be avoided.

What quite separate organisations of Wealth and Power exist simultaneously with the democratic, political system?

Who owns the land, the factories, the mass media and most of the Wealth?

And, could these “alternatives” intervene in the apparently fair political structure?

The answer is a resounding, “Yes!”.

Even in the first democratic City States, which included Athens (Greece) and Rome (Italy), the wealthy could buy their way to effective power. “Greasing the Wards” or “Bread & Circuses” allowed the rich to buy off enough of the electorate to gain office and hence political power too. And, on a larger scale, with immensely bigger organisations and concentrated wealth, they could do a similar thing with the democratically elected representatives of the people.

And, it cannot be denied that in one form or another that this is the norm, even in the most lauded democracies of today. Power still resides substantially with wealth!

Now, at this point, the position of the generally accepted and indeed lauded leader must also be addressed. Giving everyone in a village an equal vote on all questions of policy cannot guarantee that the best decisions are always taken on behalf of the majority. It is more than likely that they will not know enough on all questions to make informed decisions. So, from the very earliest glimpses of a democratic system, the people soon learned to judge their friends and enemies within their village unit, and also to recognise greater knowledge and understanding in particular individuals. They gradually learned to differentiate between those who were out for themselves, and those who genuinely served their community. With more than a little luck, they could elect a leader or chief, who had all the necessary qualities to make the best decisions for the benefit of all. They are not rare people! You must have known many – from nurses to teachers, firemen to milkmen, and a thousand other occupations, wherein the greatest satisfaction comes from effectively serving the people in a way that makes things better for all. There are certainly those who ask for little more than to “do a great job”.

Now, choosing the best leader for a small group is relatively easy. And, if a mistake is made, the electorate simply informs that leader (via a Vote of No Confidence) and that they will choose someone else.

But, all these situations can be totally distorted by the above mentioned alternative power structures – usually based upon wealth and ownership.

The question arises, “Can you have Democracy in a society, which is drastically unequal in an economic and ownership sense?"

That surely has to be the key question to align with the ideal of political democracy.

For more on this subject, have a look at the latest issue of Shape Journal Marxism III.

15 July, 2013

New Special Issue: Marxism III - Why Socialism?

The set of papers in this new Special Issue were originally published here on the Shape Blog under the title the Why Socialism? series. It was written as a multi-part introduction to the topic and became a very popular series vastly increasing its visitor numbers over many months.

Clearly many questions were still needing answers, for in spite of a long and illustrious history since the original publication of the Communist Manifesto by Marx and Engels in 1848, Socialism has accrued countless failures and even betrayals. Yet its central tenets are as true today as when they were first written down in that document, well over 150 years ago.

The position was not like that of the Utopian Socialists, but was based upon a materialist philosophic standpoint - a meeting of German philosophy, English political economics and French social history. It was, and is, a magnificent amalgam, founded upon the necessary processes of social revolution, to finally dismantle old class regimes and liberate the masses.

Yet, only in a few places was this possible, where the working class was in a position to carry through a revolution by itself. In most cases the only possible route to a successful uprising was via an alliance of classes, including both the peasantry and often a large slice of the as-yet unliberated middle class. The problem was always what would happen once the repressive regime had been vanquished. Could the task of establishing Socialism be straightforward, or would the classes of this revolutionary alliance break apart and begin to work for their own dominance? The answer to such questions has been produced time and again by history, in Russia, Germany, China and right up to the present day with the avalanche of revolutions precipitated by the Arab Spring.

Socialism grounded in solid Marxist theory is needed now more than ever, as Capitalism faulters and people across the globe take to the streets in their millions.

Let this collection of essays on Democracy, Economics and Revolution, by a life-long Marxist, help with the problems of this, the most widespread unrest since the Europe-wide Year of Revolutions in 1848.

02 July, 2013

Earth Before Life

A Lifeless Planet

Let us imagine a totally lifeless world!

Let us place it exactly where the Earth is now, in a containing situation very similar to that which pertains there today – but without either a single living thing of any kind present, nor anything that would have been made by Life.

What then would we have?

Starting with the nature of the substance of that planet and how it was originally constructed, it would certainly be hot! Indeed, having aggregated via millions of collisions with other solid bodies, both large and small, arriving at cosmic (very large) speeds, and arriving literally incessantly over a very long period – indeed, hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of years, it would certainly have been transformed to contain truly vast amounts of energy, which as it grew in size, would find it ever harder to escape as the ratio of surface area to contained volume would rapidly decline. And, with all these collisions turning into such accumulated heat, the planet would soon have become a molten world (or very close to it).

Such a temperature would have turned that very common substance in our Solar System, namely ICE, via water into clouds of water vapour, and from outside the planet would look very like the condition of the present-day Venus, with voluminous clouds hiding the surface completely. And once this state was fairly constant, without any further large and numerous collisions, the major transformations to its surface could only be due to volcanic eruptions, as Hot-Spot convection currents in the molten mantle reached the surface with vast outpouring of extensive lava flows across its already solidifying surface, which would take the form of ever larger floating rafts of lighter-weight materials (for it would be packed with dissolved gasses, that increasingly were released and headed for the surface under tremendous pressures. And these ejections would build ever-larger islands of solidity all over the globe.

No other real changes, apart from the constant thickening of the crust, would occur just yet, and if the substance of that crust were investigated, it would consist of layer upon layer of purely igneous rocks. At that time none of the major sedimentary rocks would yet be present, and certainly none of those produced by living organisms.

But, ever since the constant bombardment finally ceased, such a hot surface would begin to lose heat at a high rate, and two important processes would start to occur.

First, the solid crust would thicken as new lave flows cooled and added to it.

And second, the abundant water vapour in the planet’s atmosphere would start to be precipitated as both rain and snow. But, on reaching the still, very hot ground, this would be rapidly turned back into vapour again, and air currents and consequent weather would begin to form systems within the atmosphere, but in so doing, movements of the atmosphere between areas of different temperature would be inevitable, so newly evaporated water vapour would again in cooler conditions turn in to rain again. So repeated precipitation cycles would constantly be extracting heat from the crust to return it to the atmosphere, from where it could escape to the empty space beyond. 

Finally, cooler regions that were not heated as much by that other factor – heat from the Sun, say closer to the poles of the planet, would receive rain and snow that was not immediately returned from whence it had come, and surface movement of this liquid water would form streams, rivers and finally ever-larger reservoirs of water, and finally collecting into seas and indeed oceans. 

It is quite possible, with very little of this locked up as ice, that these bodies of water may well have finally covered the entire planet, as at this stage no mountains, in the usual sense, were present. It was basically a low relief surface with occasional volcanoes dotted about.

NOTE:  This means that at a certain point the only land would have to be adjacent to such volcanoes, so that the actual situation for Life to originate could be in the shallows close to such active sources of the most exotic ejaculations and constant heat.

And though the amount of land was either zero or very small, that would in no way affect the subterranean volcanic processes beneath the solid bottoms of the planet-wide oceans would still be just as active (both in mantle current Hot Spots, and in drowned volcanoes, so new volcanic islands would be emerging out of the ocean across the planet (just as Hawaii and the Galapagos Islands still do today).

Also, with continuing cooling, the water at the poles would spend some of the time as ice and new land made, at least at the surface of this new rock would grow at the expense of all-covering oceans, and the primaeval-raised areas of prior vulcanism would appear again a land.

In slightly warmer areas the rains could well fall again, and rivers would head downhill, carrying easier dislodged and picked up solids from the higher ground to both lower ground and finally to the sea, where they would be deposited as a descending series of gravels, sands and finally silts. Over many millennia these deposits would harden under increasingly-heavy overlayers into rock, and thus would therefore produce the first sedimentary rocks to add to the solid structures at the landward side, and to undersea surfaces of the planet.

But remember, all of this “land” would even then been as it is now, as a series of floating rafts upon a mantle of molten or near-molten matter. And, though in the end it would extend both above and beneath the waves into a continuous crust right around the whole planet, differences between dry land areas, and those constantly beneath the oceans, would gradually change and the “always-land” would break into tectonic plates driven by currents in the underlying mantle, and would slowly move, independently of one another, across the globe. Such movements would have several separate centres, and, therefore, the plates would move in various independent directions.

This new feature could not but lead to a series of eras on these floating blocks. For in time, there can be no doubt that these plates would finally collide, and when they did, wholly new phenomena began to occur. The colliding plates generally caused a crumpling of both plates, where the collision occurred, and for the first time mountains began to rise, which were not volcanoes.

Clearly, such increasingly high areas, would accelerate the run-off streams and rivers, and, due to erosion on the land, depositions upon the adjacent seabed would inevitably increase.

But these chains of high mountains also grew large enough to hinder the collisions, and the main thrusts would take one plate to be deflected downwards to travel under the other (Subduction). And this diving in towards the underlying mantle caused other, wholly new phenomena to begin to happen too. The diving place, often, but not always, from under the sea, would unavoidably bring large amounts of sea water with it that had seeped into the layer when under the sea, and the effect of this water, and the increasing temperature from the mantle, caused parts of this layer to melt, and increasingly released, previously dissolved gasses would cause great up ward pressures as they found various cracks and routes to the surface of the overlying land,

On reaching the surface a new kind of volcano occurred, with markedly different characters to the original Hot Spot types.

All along the tectonically-caused mountain chain, the volcanoes appeared and added greatly to the atmosphere of the planet, in addition to up upwelling of rock-making lava and exploded ash.

So, via these major collisions, the nature of the atmosphere of the planet was dramatically, and significantly changed, for, in the crucible of that volcanism, the ejected materials from both the mantle and the surface rocks, wholly new combinations were possible both between dissolved solids in the lying water, and in the ever more complex and reactive atmosphere: the planet, which had become a very different place with innumerably more substances, and their mutual reactions with one another.

And as the movements within the atmosphere became more vigorous, and effecting of ever-wider areas on the planet, extreme local conditions were more and more likely in a very diverse surface and atmosphere. In particular, the strength of the atmospheric storms could be so violent that vast numbers of electrons were torn from their parent atoms, leading to returns to normality via frequent and powerful bolts of lightning. So even electricity became common in atmospheric storms and an extra source of energy and components was added to an already complex mix.

But, still, as yet, free Oxygen was not yet a part of that heady mix, for as soon as it was Fire would be added to the many forces involved in the planets reactions.

Nevertheless, the atmosphere, at that stage, was a mix of reactive and dangerous compounds by any means of judgment.

Yet, it was in this precise environment that Life appeared upon this planet. It wasn’t anything like what we now consider to be Life, for almost none of the modern life forms would survive in that deadly mix.

Yet, they were certainly, and only for a short period in the life of the planet, certainly conducive to some initial, and very primitive lifeforms, which we know, in retrospect, would again completely transform the conditions and pave the way for very different forms that would follow. 

And we know it would, in yet another phase, wherein Life as we know it, or at least know about it from the fossil evidence, would finally begin to appear.

You may wonder why this small story was written?
It was to demonstrate the true essence of Science – NOT Equations, but Explanation!

For, without that we could never understand anything.

To the masses of the Arab Spring: Revolution!

What makes a successful Revolution?

The answer to this question isn’t universally agreed, and though, by this point in history, there have been many successful Revolutions, of various kinds, and at various stages in the social development of peoples in different parts of the world, only one can really claim to have been a Socialist Event, and that, most certainly, occurred in a largely peasant country – namely Russia.

The majority of successful revolutions were certainly those that finally smashed an entrenched and long-in-the-tooth feudal regime, and won freedom for those who traded and manufactured using borrowed Capital – in other words the nascent capitalist class, including within that term, both lenders and borrowers, but not usually aristocrats and landowners and never the toiling masses.

Yet, any such simple designation of even these revolutions was later greatly complicated by the accelerating rise of Imperialism, by established capitalist power as, in order to guarantee both their cheap resource sources, and their “controlled” (indeed owned) markets, they proceeded to conquer ever larger tracts of as yet undeveloped nations to feed their growing needs and ambitions.

So, a new kind of capitalist revolution arose, that was also to demolish the subjugation of conquered nations to the needs and requirements and demands of the imperialists - of the builders of worldwide Empires, who currently controlled these vassal countries for themselves.

And this, along with other unavoidable complications, meant that none of the revolutions were characterised by being fought for and carried out by a single well-defined class. Indeed, they, literally all, involved alliances of various disenfranchised, but quite different, classes, who all desired the end of the current repressive regime, for their own, often conflicting, reasons. Yet, without such alliances, and in spite of their clashing interests, none were in a position to succeed in overthrowing the incumbent regime without help and cooperation.

The usual pattern was for the more privileged or better-endowed and certainly educated class, in the alliance to take the lead, and deliberately ally themselves with the considerably larger numbers in the lower classes, by extending their demands to cover theirs too. For, with a majority of the population supporting an overthrow, even the combined efforts of the police, the army and even the navy, could not guarantee a victory for the status quo.

But even the final defeat of the old rulers, could still never be the end of the process, for the alliance would soon cease to continue to share a common purpose, and the better equipped with wealth and resources would then tend to become a new ruling class, and establish its own forces of repression to ensure the continued maintenance of their Newly Established Order and the “Rule of Law”.

Even The Russian Revolution involved such an alliance between, in February 1917, the working class, the middle class and the peasantry. But, by July, the break-up of the alliance was already well advanced, and a new one involving the workers and the peasants was forged by the Bolshevik Party with their unifying slogan of “Bread, Peace and Land!”, which enabled them to carry through a new Revolution in October.

So, it shouldn’t surprise us that the Arab Spring revolutions are hard to characterise. To obtain the necessary alliance, the initial common purpose was to remove the dictator, who not only suppressed the workers and peasants, but also the largely secular capitalist or professional Middle Class, who quite clearly did not have the privileges as had been achieved by their class in Western Democracies. So, the common aim, when finally achieved, revealed the unavoidable total absence of a general unifying programme. “What next?” was not agreed upon. And in the present world no country can choose to go its own way. It will exist in a world dominated by the major powers, who have the wealth and the power to still severely constrain even a successful Revolution, as long as they can agree advantageous terms to their chosen partners within the new state, or, if not, attempt to bring it down by other means.

The Iranian ousting of the US supported Shah, immediately meant severe constraints were imposed upon it both in trade and in financial transactions of all international kinds, and even the encouragement and funding of Iraq’s Sadaam Hussain to start a war with Iran.

Also the constant interference of the major capitalist powers with enormous support for Israel as a new theocratic and pro-capitalist state in Palestine, and for a dictator-led Egypt to make an accommodation with Israel, made possible by enormous financial grants from the USA. And the history of interference goes back a long way. For following the re-division of the Middle East by France and the U.K. and the continued dominance of “their” Suez Canal, these same powers had invaded that part of Egypt to prevent its control by newly nationalist-revolutionised Egypt after the ejection of the Feudal monarch.

Now, even with an increasing number of the dictators gone, the tasks were nowhere near completed, and no new unifying common purpose could produce the force that could finish the clearly necessary task.

So, like the prior common purpose of removing the dictators, the next obvious one was that of opposing the devilish influence of the USA, and other Western capitalist neo-colonialists powers determining the direction of their countries from without.

Even Al-Qaeda is a symptom of this path, as a unity of the upper layers within these Arab countries and the peasantry, and what better than a common religion to cement new alliances with this anti –US campaign.

“The freedom required can be achieved by a world-wide Jihad!” – it had happened over a thousand years ago as Islam conquered a major slice of North Africa, parts of Asia, and even a part of Europe.

So, such confusions are not new!

Similar conflicting forces were ever present in these national revolutionary events, which tended to stymie their successful achievement of a revolution for the majority.

It even, historically, had seemed impossible to achieve anywhere.

Except that, in the 19th century, a group of intellectuals in the Universities of Europe began to seriously study the social questions involved. Perhaps surprisingly, the best of these were philosophers, who had been disciples of the great idealist philosopher Frederick Hegel, but who, under the leadership of and the brilliant contributions of Karl Marx, had analysed the social movements involved historically, and materialistically, and shown their economic bases, and both the prior and following stages that had been associated with past revolutions were made clear. All sorts of groups were revealed to be currently ill-equipped to understand what was happening, and hence to formulate the necessary demands to drive the situation onwards, and, therefore, this had generally led those who followed them astray. The Utopian Socialism of many involved “social theorists” was given an historical and economic overhaul by Marx. Hopeful ideals were simply not enough!

Marx realised that many of the contributing classes to the revolutionary action were simply not equipped to carry such a revolution to the next level. The only revolutionary class had become the Working Class, so that only they could possibly see the real possibility of Socialism. And it was this crucial understanding that directed the leaders of the Bolshevik Party, and particularly Lenin, to grasp the torrent of changes and correctly match their actions to the developing situation. The Socialist Revolution was achieved! But, the subsequent revolutionary episodes, since that Revolution, have never attained what was achieved there and then. The question has to be, “Why?”

The leadership of the Russian Revolutionary Party – the Bolsheviks was always avowedly Marxist from the outset, and in the split of the Bolshevik faction within the Russian Social Democratic Party was because that standpoint was being significantly diluted by an increasing Menshevik alternative. The Bolsheviks went their own way. For, though Russia was still a feudal state, with a still subjugated, aspiring capitalist class, not only had the capitalist revolution not occurred, but also it simply couldn’t now happen, as it had done in Holland, Britain, the USA and France.

The Russian capitalists could not do it. The gulf between what they wanted and the increasing crises in both the peasantry and the working class, meant that ONLY a revolution under the leadership of the Working Class could achieve anything, and make possible a meaningful alliance with the peasantry. For within all the other parties, the domination of the Middle Class was already fully achieved, and the main struggle within those parties was to “cleanse“ them of the dreaded “marxist” influences and supplant it with the “realism” of a “Capitalism First” strategy, which would deliver exactly what they had in mind.

But, to achieve their objective they had to have the leadership of the masses, and they didn’t. They failed to subvert the revolution, mostly due to Vladimir Iliych Ulanov (Lenin), who was the leader of the Bolsheviks and a theorist in the Marx-mould: He knew what to do! The crucial leadership of that party were not mere activists, as were (and still are) those of the rest of the “left” parties, for the real marxists are constantly deepening and extending the theories, originally developed by Marx, in line with the inexorable march of real historical events.

Lenin had written on Imperialism, and also what has become the dominant philosophic position of Modern Physics – Positivism, in his book Materialism and Empirio Criticism. He had also gone right back to Marx’s own philosophical source – Hegel, and re-read his works materialistically.

Theory, he knew very well was not, and never could be, already complete and fully available in books, but had to be both re-realised and even re-forged day-by-day, and even sometimes hour-by-hour in the crucible that was a popular revolution.

Power to the masses of the Arab Revolution under the Socialist Banner!