Free times are on the way; If you and I agree; To share the world and all it holds. A sane society.

Sunday, 25 April 2010

Counted? A documentary-play about British democracy


New play depicts the politics of voting
By Channel 4 News 2nd April 2010

British politics has become "dull" and "dominated by a self-referential elite" says the academic behind a new play on the public's feelings about voting.

Stephen Coleman, a professor at Leeds University, has researched people's views on voting – their memories and experiences – for a new documentary-play called Counted.

Audiences will hear people's stories, word-for-word, in the play about what it means to feel counted.

It opens at the former debating chamber at London's County Hall later this month, just weeks before the general election.

Prof Coleman told Channel 4 News: "I wanted to find out what it (voting) meant to them, not how they voted, but did it matter to them? Did it feel like something that was important to them?

"I wanted to talk to as many different types of people as possible, to try and get a feel for voting as an experience."

Prof Coleman visited various places including: prisons, community centres and golf clubs – in Leeds and Bradford – to gauge their opinions.

Some prisoners serving life sentences told of how losing the right to vote brought home to them how much freedom they had lost, while one woman said she could not vote for fear of being traced by her estranged family – but longed for the day she could put herself on a voting register again.

Prof Coleman added: "Older people presented us with a very paradoxical view, a strong duty to vote but almost all felt it would not change anything.

"With younger people that sense of duty wasn't usually there. They weren't saying they did not want to vote, just that they felt under-informed, or they don't understand the whole process, and don't understand what it's all about.

"My research is an interesting sample but I wouldn't necessarily say it was a representative one.

"I think we have become very complacent about our democracy. We celebrated the winning of the vote but we have allowed it to become dull.

"We have allowed the commentary about politics to become dominated by a self-referential elite, who do most of the talking in their own language.

"I think life can be injected into anything. Who would have thought that a revamped Opportunity Knocks – that everyone thought was dull – would come back and be watched by millions on TV in the UK in the 21st century?"

Thanks to Adam Buick for the link

"Mayday Mayday - Power to the People's Assemblies"

"On International Worker's Day, Saturday 1st May 2010, the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse will take to the streets again at the head of four Mayday Carnival Parades

All four Parades will converge on Parliament Square at 2:30pm, and the carcasses of the four party leaders will be hung, drawn and quartered, or guillotined in accordance with the wishes of the assembled multitudes in a Mayday Carnival.

A People's Assembly will convene on the green, where people can meet as equals to decide what we really want.

Election Meltdown has been invited by the Peace Camp at Parliament Square to set up a Democracy Camp from Mayday, Sat May 1st, till the so-called election on Thursday May 6th.

If you are satisfied that you are being represented in this election by politicians of honesty and integrity who put yours and the planet's interests before theirs, then you need do nothing but select between such morally upstanding indivduals.

Otherwise, if you are furious about the continued onslaught in Afghanistan, about more and more money being poured into bankers gambling debts while ordinary people's jobs go to the wall, and about the complete and utter silence among the party leaders on Climate Change while relying on a volcano to save the planet...come and join the camp!

Bring tents and sleeping bags, besiege Parliament and join the People's Assembly!"

Ian Bone's podcast of his radio interview on the subject is here:

And more info and to register attendance here:

If you've nothing planned for Mayday then this sounds like an excellent piece of street theatre with full people-participation.

These people are looking for a change. Who knows, maybe the people's assembly will provide an opportunity to talk about a real alternative to the charade that has become known as democracy in capitalist society. Why stop at people's assemblies at events like this? Why not run the whole of society that way?

Saturday, 10 April 2010

Co-operation makes sense

Are you a sucker? Do you cheat? Or are you one to bear a grudge? For biologist Richard Dawkins, author of The Selfish Gene (1978), such questions impinge on a subject of great importance: what is the most effective behavioural strategy to ensure survival in evolutionary terms?

By the title of his book, it seems that, for Dawkins, it was a foregone conclusion that natural selection would tend to favour, above all, behaviour that was nasty and ruthlessly competitive. As he says himself:

The selfish gene view follows logically from the accepted assumptions of neo-Darwinism. It is easy to misunderstand but, once understood, it is hard to doubt its fundamental truth. Most of the organisms that have ever lived failed to become ancestors We that exist are, without exception, descended from that minority within every earlier generation that were successful in becoming ancestors. Since all we animals inherit our genes from ancestors rather than from non-ancestors, we tend to possess the qualities that make for success in becoming an ancestor rather than the qualities that make for failure. Successful qualities are such things as fleetness of foot, sharpness of eye, perfection of camouflage, and—there seems no getting away from it—ruthless selfishness. Nice guys don't become ancestors. Therefore living organisms don't inherit the qualities of nice guys (The Listener, 17 April 1986).

Yet Dawkins is at pains to disassociate himself from the rather pessimistic implications of such views for society. Interestingly, in the Horizon programme on television (on which the above article is based) called Nice Guys Finish First he related how, after the publication of his book, he was wooed by various people of right wing persuasion who saw his book as a vindication of their belief in a system of cut-throat competition. Conversely, he found himself under attack from the left, one critic going so far as to suggest that the impact of The Selfish Gene was partly to blame for the subsequent election of the Thatcher government.

But Dawkins insists that both sides had misunderstood the point he was trying to make. Paradoxically, the pursuit of self interest is not necessarily incompatible with being "nice"—that is, co-operative. This is what is confusingly referred to in socio-biological circles as "reciprocal altruism". Since altruism implies the genuinely intended sacrifice of one's interests, it is difficult to see how this fits in with the idea conveyed by the term "reciprocal altruism", that if you scratch my back I will scratch yours and both will benefit as a result. It would be more accurate to call this "enlightened self interest" no "sacrifice" is involved.

Nevertheless, to show how this might operate, Dawkins refers to game theory—in particular a game called The Prisoner's Dilemma:

In the simplest version of this game, two players have each to choose between two moves, Co-operate and Defect (hereafter C and D). Unlike in chess or ping pong, the players don't move alternately but simultaneously, in ignorance of the other's simultaneous move. If you and I both play C we get more (say $3) than if we both play D (say $2). If one of us plays C and simultaneously the other plays D, the D player gets the highest possible score (say $4) and the C player gets the "sucker's payoff" (say $1). So, from my point of view, the best outcome is that I play D and you play C. But if I calculate this, and play D accordingly, you are just as capable of working out the same thing and playing D yourself In this case we both only get the low payoff. If only we'd both played C, we'd both have got the comparatively high payoff of $3. But, if I work this out and play C you do even better if you choose D. Therefore, rational players will always play D and will always obtain the low payoff of $2. But—here is the paradox and maddening dilemma—each rational player simultaneously knows that, if only he and his opponent could somehow manage to enter into a binding contract to play C, both would do better (ibid).

Here Dawkins provides an example of how this situation could arise in real life. Take a group of friends who like to eat out at a restaurant and split the cost of the meal equally between them. There will always be the temptation for any one of them to order a little more than the others, knowing that the extra cost will be equally shared. Conversely, any one of them will realise that if they do not order as much as the others they will be subsidising their friends. Therefore, there will be a built-in tendency for each of them to order as much as they can get away with.

The worst that can happen in such a situation is that some of them will benefit at the expense of the others and perhaps as a consequence they will fall out with each other. Come what may, there will be both winners and losers. But it is possible to imagine a situation—even to point to real life examples such as the destruction of the herring industry through over-fishing in the early part of this century—in which this same competitive logic can result in everyone losing out.

In such a situation, no-one actually intends that as a consequence of each of them competing against one another they should eventually all lose out. Yet they are obliged, even in full knowledge of the fate that could await them, to continue with the very actions that will make that fate a reality.

This situation has been described by the American biologist, Garrett Hardin, as the Tragedy of the Commons (Science vol 162, 13 December 1968). As he puts it:

The tragedy of the commons develops in this way. Picture a pasture open to all. It is to be expected that each herdsman will try to keep as many cattle as possible on the commons. Such an arrangement may work reasonably satisfactorily for centuries because tribal wars, poaching and disease keep the numbers of both man and beast well below the carrying capacity of the land. Finally, however, comes the day of reckoning, that is, the day when the long desired goal of social stability becomes a reality At this point, the inherent logic of the commons remorselessly generates tragedy.

As a rational being, each herdsman seeks to maximise his gain. Explicitly or implicitly, more or less consciously, he asks "What is the utility to me of adding one more animal to my herd?" This utility has one negative and one positive component.

1. The positive component is a function of the increment of one animal. Since the herdsman receives all the proceeds from the sale of the additional animal, the positive utility is nearly +1.

2. The negative component is a function of the additional overgrazing created by one more animal. Since, however, the effects of overgrazing are shared by all the herdsmen, the negative utility for any particular decision-making herdsman is only a fraction of -1.

Adding together the component partial utilities, the rational herdsman concludes that the only sensible course for him to pursue is to add another animal to his herd. And another; and another… But this is the conclusion reached by each and every rational herdsman sharing a commons. Therein is the tragedy. Each man is locked into a system that compels him to increase his herd without limit—in a world that is limited. Ruin is the destination towards which all men rush, each pursuing his own best interest in a society that believes in the freedom of the commons. Freedom in the commons bring ruin to all.

Hardin's solution to this tragedy of the commons is "mutual coercion". An appeal to conscience, he argues, is altogether futile. Mutual coercion can be effected through, as it were, enclosing the commons and instituting a system of private property which will enforce a sense of responsibility among herdsmen as to the appropriate number of cattle their land can provide for without resulting in overgrazing. Since they cannot encroach on land owned by other herdsmen, the consequences of keeping too many cattle will be exclusively borne by them. This knowledge will therefore deter them from acting irresponsibly in the first place.

The problem here is that Hardin has quite obviously got hold of the wrong end of the stick. It is not the "inherent logic of the commons" which "remorselessly generates tragedy". The "commons" simply provides the setting in which this tragedy is played out. It does not embody the cause of the tragedy itself—that is, the overgrazing of the land by too many cattle.

That cause lies elsewhere, in the dynamism of competition which compels each herdsman to increase his herd beyond the carrying capacity of the land since his own livelihood is directly dependent on the number of cattle at his disposal. Had the cattle, like the land, been the communal possession of the herdsmen then it would have been possible to make a rational decision about the total number of cattle. In that case, the livelihood of each herdsman would be directly dependent on their collective wellbeing, which in turn would rest on securing an optimum ratio of cattle to land. As it was, each was obliged to make what was the only rational decision open to him within an irrational framework of decision-making, with inevitably tragic consequences. So much for the view expounded by Adam Smith in The Wealth of Nations that the individual who "intends only his own gain" is "led by an invisible hand to promote the public interest".

"In a reverse way", argues Hardin, "the tragedy of the commons re-appears in problems of pollution. Here it is not a question of taking something out of the commons but of putting something in". Just as in the case of the herdsman, a factory owner will be "locked into a system" that will ensure that the commons are treated as a convenient cesspool for the disposal of waste products. The owner will see that it will pay to avoid the costs of purifying the pollutants by simply dumping them in the environment because the saving this represents far exceeds the environmental cost the factory may have to bear though others bear it as well. Rational self interest will therefore demand pollution.

Following Hardin's suggestion let us assume that the commons have been enclosed. In theory, this would mean that anyone could prevent their neighbour from polluting their land just as the herdsmen could prevent their neighbour's cattle from straying onto their land. Anyone who chose not to purify their pollutants would be obliged to contain them within their own property and bear the total costs such pollution entailed. But what sounds fine in theory will prove quite unworkable in practice since what we mean by the "commons" embraces not just the land but the air and water surrounding us. These, as Hardin concedes, "cannot readily be fenced".

A simple example will make this clearer. Suppose my neighbour decided to build a factory alongside a stream into which were pumped the factory's effluents. Suppose I delighted in fishing but now with all the fish killed I could no longer pursue my interest. What could I then do? I could of course purchase the right of ownership of that section of the stream that flowed past my back door but my neighbour, upstream of me, could do the same and argue plausibly for the right to use that section of the stream as they chose. Of course, the consequence of my neighbour's decision to site a factory on their property need not be confined to this. Its visual impact on the neighbourhood could depress the price of residential properties all around. The constant noise might disturb my sleep. The lorries carrying the raw materials it processed may congest the roads making commuting to work a hazardous slog.

If I were to grant my neighbour the absolute right to dispose of their property as they chose, it would be inconsistent of me to complain of the consequences. If, on the other hand, I sought to restrict the ways in which my neighbour could use their property then I would be asserting the need to retain the "commons" as an entity in one or other respect—the tranquility of the neighbourhood or the right to fish in an unpolluted stream. We cannot live in a cocoon. Even capitalism itself, the most competitive and atomistic form of society that has ever evolved, cannot afford not to make some concession to this stark fact.

We see this in the way conventional thinking approaches the problem of pollution. Hardin himself points out that while (according to him), "our particular concept of private property deters us from exhausting the positive resources of the earth" it actually "favours pollution". The solution which he and many others suggest is the direct intervention of the state in the form of legislation to temper the excesses of competition committed by private citizens. "Mutual coercion", apparently, will not suffice.

The weaknesses in this approach are twofold. It does not strike at the root cause of the problem—at the competitive advantage to be gained by minimising costs—in this case, the costs of purifying and disposing of pollutants in an ecologically acceptable manner—incurred by capitalist enterprises. It blandly assumes that the state is a more or less autonomous institution which presides over society and legislates in the interests of the whole community. But in fact the state is a class institution, financed through taxation by the very enterprises whose activities it seeks to regulate. Legislation is a matter of finely balancing the losses and gains that accrue to the capitalists themselves. Too lenient an approach might be politically unacceptable and excessively ruinous to the health of the workers who create the profits for the businesses that employ them. Too punitive an approach, on the other hand, can erode profit margins and drive investment into other parts of the world where regulations are more lax. And all the time, the dividing line between what is acceptable and what is not shifts as the economic climate itself changes the more desperate the plight of business, the more lenient does the law become.

This brings us back to Richard Dawkins. What does he think is the way forward? Political scientists tend to see so much of life as a Prisoner's Dilemma. Many would argue that we therefore need to have some authority to take more of the decisions out of our hands rather like the way the state supposedly denies the option to a capitalist enterprise to release its toxic wastes into the environment by declaring this illegal. But as we have seen things don't happen that way. The state, too, is enmeshed in the irrational framework that is capitalist competition.

Dawkins would set rather more store by the Law of the Jungle than the Law of the State as a model for encouraging co-operative behaviour. Suggesting that we have a lot to learn from the animal world around us, he gives the example of gulls which need to groom themselves in order to remove parasitic ticks. The difficulty arises in grooming their heads; which requires the co-operation of another gull. Gulls that cheated on other gulls would soon drive the suckers into extinction. But cheats themselves would eventually follow the suckers since there would be no gulls left willing to groom them.

What are the implications of this for society? Dawkins argues that we saw evidence of a tit-for-tat strategy developing in the trenches of the First World War. Soldiers would deliberately fire above the heads of their "enemies" to signal their desire to cooperate in minimising the mutual damage they could inflict upon one another. Their alleged enemies would respond in kind. Such was the extent to which the "disease of peace" took hold that after two years of this, the generals were eventually forced to completely re-write their battle plans turning instead to surprise tactics which served to destroy the unspoken trust that had been built up on both sides.

Though the insights that game theory has to offer are valuable, their possible application in the sort of society we have today—as the above example makes clear—is limited. We live in a world in which the means of living are monopolised by a small minority. Just as the hierarchical structure of an army invests a general with the power to command his troops so capitalist society itself can only ever be run in the interests of that capitalist minority. But the great majority of the population, the working people, whose interests are constantly thwarted by the dictates of capital, cannot do much to redress the balance within a social system which requires that we remain compelled to prostitute our working abilities for capitalist exploitation.

Real co-operation can only flourish on the foundations of social equality. Until then, for the great majority at least, we remain suckers with good reason to bear a grudge.

From the world socialist movement website.

Friday, 9 April 2010

Anarchist Accountability

An interesting article by Thomas(Miami Autonomy & Solidarity (MAS)) about accountability and democracy in the anarchist movement and in an anarchist society. It has implications for the whole non-market, non-state socialist sector.

"This disease of disorganization has invaded the organism of the anarchist movement like yellow fever and has plagued it for decades…There can be no doubt, however, that this disorganization has its roots in a number of defects of theory, notably in the distorted interpretation of the principle of individuality in anarchism, that principle being too often mistaken for the absence of all accountability. " –Delo Truda Group[1]

"…[O]rganization, far from creating authority, is the only cure for it and the only means whereby each one of us will get used to taking an active and conscious part in the collective work, and cease being passive instruments in the hands of leaders." – Errico Malatesta[2]

The assessment of the Delo Truda Group from 1926 is as true today as it was 84 years ago. But if that's the case; and if, as Malatesta suggested, organization is the only cure for authority, how do we as anarchists differ from others in how we view organization? Or more specifically, how does our view of individuality differ from the common misconception of anarchism as the "absence of all accountability" . Perhaps it's best summed up by Lucien van der Walt and Michael Schmidt in their exhaustive account of the history of anarchist ideas, Black Flame: The Revolutionary Class Politics of Anarchism and Syndicalism. They explain:

"…[G]enuine individual freedom and individuality could only exist in a free society. The anarchists did not therefore identify freedom with the right of everybody to do exactly what one pleased but with a social order in which collective effort and responsibilities- that is to say, obligations- would provide the material basis and social nexus in which individual freedom could exist."[3]

This essay will describe anarchist accountability and how it differs from the types of accountability we're trying to replace. Implementing accountability in all of our practices is fundamental to our effectiveness now in our practice and how it prefigures the kind of society that we want to replace the existing society.

The first form of accountability that we as anarchists are attempting to combat most of the time is top-down, hierarchical forms of accountability. Since we are against all forms of domination and oppression, it's only natural that we'd be opposed to formal and informal forms of accountability to our employers, landlords, elites or other relations defined by domination. Although certain forms of top-down accountability may be considered legitimate, such as the accountability of a young child to their parent giving loving and reasonable child-rearing directives, the discussion surrounding opposing most other forms of top-down accountability is only a question of strategy and tactics. A key anarchist insight in opposing top-down accountability is that to address the root of the problem the top-down structure and relation must be changed, not the person or group holding it. So unlike some Marxists or other radicals, we don't believe, for example, that a "proletarian" dictatorship, a matriarchy or a people of color ruling elite will address any of the fundamental issues with class oppression, patriarchy or racism. Anarchists believe that it's the structures and relations of hierarchical domination and oppression themselves that must be destroyed and replaced with egalitarian and horizontal structures and relations.

This brings us to anarchist accountability. Horizontal and egalitarian forms of accountability are based in the notion of free association. Free association must be mutual between all its participants if it's to be truly free for each. It would hardly be free if members of an association were forced to be in an association or collective with people they didn't want to associate with. Within a freely associated grouping of people, horizontal and egalitarian forms of decision-making would involve each member having an equal say- no more and no less- than any other member. Some decisions might need consensus; others might be a simple majority according to the type of decision being made and the practices of the group. However, societal influences from oppressive socialization such as racism and sexism to personality differences such as being shy or being talkative are likely to create informal hierarchies that reintroduce domination and hierarchy within the group if clear, explicit, collectively- established democratic practices are not established and followed. Jo Freeman has a variety of useful suggestions in setting up democratic and accountable structures within any grouping in her classic piece The Tyranny of Structurelessness. [4]

Once democratic structures and organizational practices are developed and utilized, then anarchist accountability demands that decisions made collectively must be respected and collectively implemented. If there's disagreement within the organization over a collective decision, there are a few options. Georges Fontenis outlines the basic framework for this in his essay Manifesto of Libertarian Communism[5] :

1) Do Nothing/ Delay It: Decide that there's too much disagreement to come to a decision at this time and either drop it or discuss it further at another time. For example, a group might decide not to have an official position on whether capitalism is comprised of two or three main classes until more research is done; or might decide just not to have a position as a group at this time.

2) Accept More Than One: Decide- if it's possible depending on the type of decision needed to be made- to allow for more than one of the proposed options to be accepted as the group decision with more or less emphasis on either. For example, a group might decide that although the majority might think that trying to build a militant minority network within their respective workplaces is the best workplace strategy, they also find it acceptable that some members of their group are pursuing a dual unionist strategy with the independent union at their workplace.

3) Accept the Majority View: Depending on the group practice this might be a simple majority vote or a super-majority. The minority view would be rejected for collective practice; but the minority could continue to argue for their view internally within the organization. For example, the majority of the group might want to organize a May Day event even though a minority of the group feels that it's taking away time and resources from the anti-eviction organizing the group is working on. But since the majority of the group feels that it would be beneficial to organize a May Day event, the group would do the event.

4) Split Based on Differing Views: If the issue is fundamental and either the majority or the minority find it unacceptable to do nothing, accept more than one view on the issue or to accept the majority view on the issue. For example, if the group decides as the basis of their group that structural racism is something that they'd like to combat as an organization, but one or two members feel that it's a waste of time to confront structural racism because they believe it doesn't exist anymore now that Barrack Obama was elected president, there would have to be a split in the organization since having such contradictory views on a fundamental group strategy would give them no room to work together as a group. However, this doesn't mean that they couldn't work together on other issues where the have agreement or continue to try to dialogue between each other on issues where they disagree.

Fundamental to all of this is that when a decision is made, it should be respected and carried out until a decision is made to overturn it, an exception considered or a member quits- or in extreme cases is expelled- out of disagreement.

Holding each other accountable also means getting used to letting each other know- in a comradely way- when commitments and obligations aren't being fulfilled. This is a practice that must be built through an organizational culture where comradely honesty and constructive criticism replaces competitive and individualistic passive-aggressiven ess or talking behind people's backs. The flip side of giving comradely feedback is learning how to receive it, using it to help you and your organization grow and becoming more self-disciplined. This is difficult sometimes since the vast majority of the times we're being called to task for something, it is coming from top-down relations; but the practice of holding others accountable and being held accountable is fundamental to learn, practice and promote if we want to destroy and replace these top-down relations with horizontal and egalitarian relations. And of course, ideally these practices would increase self-discipline in carrying out tasks that group members commit to. When holding each other accountable it's important to come from a place of love and respect that avoids being patronizing, competitive, egotistical or dishonest in any way. And when being held accountable it's similarly important to cultivate an appreciation for comradely criticism and renew our commitment to self-discipline. However, that doesn't mean we should allow our dignity to be trampled on or ourselves to be disrespected. When criticism isn't comradely, we should defend ourselves and demand respect as an equal even when we've failed to fulfill our obligations. But it is essential that comradely anarchist accountability and self-discipline as a practice needs to be developed, encouraged and cultivated within our organizations. Without self-discipline and horizontal accountability, groups revert back to dominating and oppressive top-down relations and/or involve stagnation, demoralization and ineffectiveness.

What about delegates? Anarchists argue that delegates should replace any necessary functions usually carried out by representatives. Delegates differ from representatives because delegates are mandated with specific views and tasks that are to mirror as close as possible the views of the group that the delegate has been mandated by. Representatives are top-down because they make decisions on behalf of groups that then must obey these decisions; anarchist delegates are bottom-up because they are mandated to bring the views, as expressed, of the organization to the grouping of delegates they've been sent to. Sometimes the group may give delegates some flexibility, but the accountability is always from the bottom-up, not the top-down. Delegates can be over-ruled and recalled at anytime and have no power over the group that they're the delegate for. When compromises between delegates need to be hashed out or new items come up at delegate meetings that are value-laden decisions rather than logistical decisions, the delegate usually has to bring back the compromise to the group before it's finally approved unless the group already mandated the delegate with certain ranges of flexibility on the issue. However there's a difference between, logistical decisions and value-laded decisions. For logistical decisions, a group might mandate a delegate to carry out logistical tasks -such as checking and responding to the group e-mail account- with greater flexibility to act as they see fit. But they still might ask for transparency and regular report backs and the person mandated with the task can always be directed by the group to carry it out in a particular way since it's the group that the delegate is accountable to, not the other way around. In addition, the concepts logistical and value-laden are open for interpretation; so they are more accurately understood as two sides of along a spectrum, rather than easily differentiated, clear-cut concepts.

In conclusion, this essay tried to clarify how anarchist accountability proposes horizontal and egalitarian or bottom-up forms of accountability to replace top-down forms of accountability. Capitalism, the state, imperialism, racism, patriarchy, and all forms of exploitation, domination and oppression aren't going to go away without a fight and without something to replace it. Creating the organizational structure, practice and culture that encourages and takes seriously comradely horizontal accountability, self-discipline and bottom-up mandated delegation is fundamental to the effectiveness of our organizations in building towards and prefiguring the type of society we want to replace the current one. Whether, when and how we implement, develop, encourage and promote these concepts and practices is the responsibility of us all…
[1] Group of Russian Anarchists Abroad (The "Delo Truda" group). The Organizational Platform of the General Union of Anarchists. 1926. http://www.nestorma english/newplatf orm/introduction .htm

[2] Malatesta, Errico. Anarchy and Organization. 1897. http://www.spunk. org/texts/ writers/malatest /sp001864. html

[3] Schmidt, Michael and van der Walt, Lucien. Black Flame: The Revolutionary Class Politics of Anarchism and Syndicalism. Counter-Power. Volume 1. AK Press. 2009. P. 48

[4] Freeman, Jo. The Tyranny of Structurelessness. 1970. http://flag. blackened. net/revolt/ hist_texts/ structurelessnes s.html

[5] Fontenis, Georges. Manifesto of Libertarian Communism. 1953. http://flag. blackened. net/daver/ anarchism/ mlc/mlc1. html

http://miamiautonom yandsolidarity. wordpress. com/2010/ 03/16/anarchist- accountability/ #more-168

Thanks to Arminius at worldincommon for the link.

Thursday, 8 April 2010

Future Visions - The 2010 Socialist Party Summer School

This year's weekend of talks and discussion looks to the future. But what kind of future? For centuries, people have imagined utopias where advances in technology and attitudes create freedom for all. Or, they have described dystopias, where society turns into a nightmare. Back in the real world, how will capitalism survive and adapt to ongoing economic and environmental concerns? And what kind of socialist society can we aim for as an antidote to this?

The talks for this year's 'Future Visions' Summer School are as follows:

Socialism And Singularity - Bill Martin

Confounding Catastrophism - Andy P Davies
(the above two talks are discussing possible future trends in capitalism)

The Curse of Looking Backwards - Simon Wigley

Dystopias: A Pessimist's Guide To The Future - Mike Foster

Imagining A Socialist Society - Janet Surman

Friday, 23 July 2010 at 15:00 to
Sunday, 25 July 2010 at 15:00
Location: Fircroft College Birmingham

For further information and to make a booking please visit The Socialist Party of Great Britain website:

You can also find us on facebook:

Monday, 5 April 2010

Sceptic challenges guru to kill him live on TV

By Jeremy Page (Delhi) in the The Times 19th March 2010

When a famous tantric guru boasted on television that he could kill another man using only his mystical powers, most viewers either gasped in awe or merely nodded unquestioningly. Sanal Edamaruku’s response was different. “Go on then — kill me,” he said.

Mr Edamaruku had been invited to the same talk show as head of the Indian Rationalists’ Association — the country’s self-appointed sceptic-in-chief. At first the holy man, Pandit Surender Sharma, was reluctant, but eventually he agreed to perform a series of rituals designed to kill Mr Edamaruku live on television. Millions tuned in as the channel cancelled scheduled programming to continue broadcasting the showdown, which can still be viewed on YouTube.

First, the master chanted mantras, then he sprinkled water on his intended victim. He brandished a knife, ruffled the sceptic’s hair and pressed his temples. But after several hours of similar antics, Mr Edamaruku was still very much alive — smiling for the cameras and taunting the furious holy man.

“He was over, finished, completely destroyed!” Mr Edamaruku chuckles triumphantly as he concludes the tale in the Rationalist Centre, his second-floor office in the town of Noida, just outside Delhi.

Rationalising India has never been easy. Given the country’s vast population, its pervasive poverty and its dizzying array of ethnic groups, languages and religions, many deem it impossible.

Nevertheless, Mr Edamaruku has dedicated his life to exposing the charlatans — from levitating village fakirs to televangelist yoga masters — who he says are obstructing an Indian Enlightenment. He has had a busy month, with one guru arrested over prostitution, another caught in a sex-tape scandal, a third kidnapping a female follower and a fourth allegedly causing a stampede that killed 63 people.

This week India’s most popular yoga master, Baba Ramdev, announced plans to launch a political party, promising to cleanse India of corruption and introduce the death penalty for slaughtering cows. Then, on Wednesday, police arrested a couple in Maharashtra state on suspicion of killing five boys on the advice of a tantric master who said their sacrifice would help the childless couple to conceive.

“The immediate goal I have is to stop these fraudulent babas and gurus,” says Mr Edamaruku, 55, a part-time journalist and publisher from the southern state of Kerala. “I want people to make their own decisions. They should not be guided by ignorance, but by knowledge.

“I’d like to see a post-religious society — that would be an ideal dream, but I don’t know how long it would take.”

His organisation traces its origins to the 1930s when the “Thinker’s Library” series of books, published by Britain’s Rationalist Press Association, were first imported to India. They included works by Aldous Huxley, Charles Darwin and H.G. Wells; among the early subscribers was Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s first Prime Minister.

The Indian Rationalist Association was founded officially in Madras in 1949 with the encouragement of the British philosopher Bertrand Russell, who sent a long letter of congratulations. For the next three decades it had no more than 300 members and focused on publishing pamphlets and debating within the country’s intellectual elite.

But since Mr Edamaruku took over in 1985, it has grown into a grass-roots organisation of more than 100,000 members — mainly young professionals, teachers and students — covering most of India. Members now spend much of their time investigating and reverse-engineering “miracles” performed by self-styled holy men who often claim millions of followers and amass huge wealth from donations.

One common trick they expose is levitation, usually done using an accomplice who lies on the ground under a blanket and then raises his upper body while holding out two hockey sticks under the blanket to make it look like his feet are also rising. “It’s quite easy really,” said Mr Edamaruku, who teaches members to perform the tricks in villages and then explains how they are done, or demonstrates them at press conferences.

Other simple tricks include walking on hot coals (the skin does not burn if you walk fast enough) and lying on a bed of nails (your weight is spread evenly across the bed). The “weeping statue” trick is usually done by melting a thin layer of wax covering a small deposit of water.

Some tricks require closer scrutiny. One guru in the state of Andhra Pradesh used to boil a pot of tea using a small fire on his head. The secret was to place a non-conductive pad made of compacted wheat flour between his head and the fire. “I was so excited when I exposed him. I should have been more reasonable but sometimes you get so angry,” he said. “I cried: ‘Look, even I can do this and I’m not a baba — I’m a rationalist!’.”

Another swami — who conducted funeral rites for Indira Gandhi, the Prime Minister who was assassinated in 1984 — used to appear to create fire by pouring ghee, clarified butter, on to ash and then staring at the mixture until it burst into flames. The “ghee” was glycerine and the “ash” was potassium permanganate, two chemicals that spontaneously combust within about two minutes of being mixed together.

Exposing such tricks can be risky. A guru called Balti (Bucket) Baba once smashed a burning hot clay pot in Mr Edamaruku’s face after he revealed that the holy man was using a heat resistant pad to pick it up.

The chief rationalist was almost arrested by the government of Kerala for revealing that it was behind an annual apparition of flames in the night sky — in fact, several state officials lighting bonfires on a nearby hill — which attracted millions of pilgrims. Despite his efforts, he admits that people still go to the festival and continue to revere self-styled holy men.

One reason is that Indian politicians nurture and shelter gurus to give them spiritual credibility, use their followers as vote banks, or to mask sexual or criminal activity. That explains why India’s Parliament has never tightened the 1954 Drugs and Magic Remedies Act, under which the maximum punishment is two months in prison and a 2,000 rupee (£29) fine.

Another reason is that educated, middle-class Indians are feeling increasingly alienated from mainstream religion but still in need of spiritual sustenance. “When traditional religion collapses people still need spirituality,” he says. “So they usually go one of two directions: towards extremism and fundamentalism or to these kinds of people.”

Since richer, urban Indians have little time for long pilgrimages or pujas (prayer ceremonies), they are often attracted by holy men who offer instant gratification — for a fee. The development of the Indian media over the past decade has also allowed some holy men to reach ever larger audiences via television and the internet. “Small ones have gone out of business while the big ones have become like corporations,” says Mr Edamaruku.

But the media revolution has also helped Mr Edamaruku, who made 225 appearances on television last year, and gets up to 70 inquiries about membership daily. Thanks to his confrontation in 2008 with the tantric master, the rationalist is now a national celebrity, too.

When the guru’s initial efforts failed, he accused Mr Edamaruku of praying to gods to protect him. “No, I’m an atheist,” came the response. The holy man then said he needed to conduct a ritual that could only be done at night, outdoors, and after he had slept with a woman, drunk alcohol and rubbed himself in ash.

The men agreed to go to an outdoor studio that night — all to no avail. At midnight, the anchor declared the contest over. Reason had prevailed.

You can also see the guru's exploits on youtube. Unfortunately without subtitles.