The struggle for sustainable food systems

Vocal for Local: Why Regional Food Systems are the Future

By Isabelle Thompson, Rebecca Laughton and Tony Little

A report by The Landworkers’ Alliance, 2021

Reviewed by Iain Dalton

With the rise of protest movements around climate change in recent years, an increasing spotlight has been shone on the question of food production and distribution.

On one hand, global food production is estimated to account for 18% of carbon emissions according to a 2006 UN study, while including the global food system as a whole accounts for as much as 40%. On the other hand, the impacts of climate change on food production are already being felt, with both heavy rains and droughts in different parts of the world limiting wheat harvests adding to the already high wheat prices as a consequence of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Increasingly the question of how to ensure a stable and sustainable food supply is posed by such developments. It is to answer this question in the UK that the Landworkers’ Alliance produced their report, Vocal for Local: Why Regional Food Systems are the Future. The Landworkers’ Alliance is a union of small farmers and other land-based workers (such as forresters) established in 2012, with a membership of around 1,200, and is the UK affiliate of the 200 million-strong La Via Campesina peasants movement, mainly based in Latin America. They are particularly interested in the role that the members they represent would play.

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Debate: how to fight sexism and change the world

Continuing a debate with Woman’s Place UK that started in the pages of The Socialist, the weekly sister paper of Socialism Today, on whether the fight for trans rights conflicts with women’s rights, we print below a further contribution from WPUK and a response by the Socialist Party executive committee member, SARAH SACHS-ELDRIDGE.

We think that Michael Johnson’s reply to Woman’s Place UK (United struggle for LGBTQ+ and women’s rights is integral to the wider struggle to change society, The Socialist, No.1166) clarifies two fundamental, and perhaps irreconcilable, differences in approach between us and the Socialist Party.

Every major advance in women’s rights – from suffrage, access to abortion and a legal entitlement to equal pay – has been won not because women waited “for the maximum unity of the working class in struggle”. They happened because women identified the problem, organised and struggled without waiting for male union bureaucrats or politicians to decide that the time was right and maximum unity (whatever that might mean) had been achieved. These things were often done despite opposition from some working-class men.

There are direct comparisons to be made with lesbians, gay men and black people. These minorities often faced immense hostility from bigots and racists inside the working class and if they’d waited for “maximum unity” they’d still be waiting. They organised and fought, changing both laws and social attitudes through their struggles.

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Introducing Marxism: The state and class rule

A defining feature of Marxism which sets it apart from other political trends is its theory on the state and its programme and policies for dealing with it, as PAULA MITCHELL explains in the second instalment of Socialism Today’s Introduction to Marxism series.

In modern society, the term ‘state’ is used in many contexts. People might think of the ‘welfare state’ – the NHS, pensions, benefits, etc. Or they may be familiar with references to ‘state intervention’, for example the payments to furloughed workers during the Covid pandemic. Also, it is often a term used when referring to geographical territories which have their own government and boundaries, whether national, or sub-national in the case of countries like the United States of America.

The main sense in which Marxists use the term ‘state’ is to describe the institutions through which class rule is maintained. We live in a class society where a small ruling-class minority at the top doesn’t represent the interests of the whole population, but its own interests in maintaining its power and privileges – and exploiting the majority. It has to try to conceal this situation, or to persuade, and at times force, the majority to accept it.

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Editorial: A new era of world relations has begun

Some events become iconic when they are subsequently seen as a representative summation of a new turning point in social, economic or political developments. The fall of the Berlin Wall is one example. It symbolises the collapse of Stalinism in Russia and Eastern Europe and the end of the Cold War framing of world power relations as that between competing social systems: capitalism in the West, and the non-capitalist Stalinist states of the East.

The rotting of the Stalinist regimes under the internal contradictions of totalitarian rule – the mirror opposite of workers’ democracy – had been an extended process as the bureaucracy moved from being a relative to an absolute fetter on the economy and society. But that did not diminish the significance of the November 1989 drama. And while it too is the product of underlying and ongoing processes, the Russian invasion of Ukraine on February 24 will also come to be seen as another pivotal moment in history.

Already the war, however it finishes, has upset the global architecture of treaty organisations, diplomatic conventions and so on built up over the past 30 years. This international machinery was either remoulded from institutions of the Cold War era (GATT became the World Trade Organisation, for example) or superseded them (the G7 and G20, the International Criminal Court, the COP climate summits). Together they constituted the means by which the conflicting interests of the world’s most powerful capitalist nation states (and the formally ‘non-market economy’ Chinese regime) were mediated in the post-Stalinist world.

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The P&O warning

March 17th 2022 will now always be synonymous with P&O as far as trade union activists are concerned, with the vicious assault on the workers’ jobs and contracts carried out on that day. The company informed 800 workers by zoom that they were being instantly made redundant, without notice or consultation. To back this up, they employed security guards to forcibly remove workers from ferries, consciously using brutal ‘shock and awe’ methods. There are reports that some of the hired security guards had handcuffs and were wearing balaclavas. P&O had already lined up a new workforce on exploitation wages of less than £2 per hour.

The sacked workers and their unions, the RMT and Nautilus International, launched an immediate campaign of protests and demonstrations, particularly at the ferry ports of Dover, Hull, Liverpool, Larne and Cairnryan. Most of the workers had signed up to the enhanced redundancy by the March 31 deadline. Nevertheless the struggle continues, for reinstatement and more generally against the super-exploitation of seafarers so that the industry bosses are not able to benefit from P&O’s brutal tactics.

But this is also a struggle for the whole trade union movement as the economy shows signs of faltering after the initial post-Covid recovery. The first stage of the Covid pandemic saw a severe contraction which was exploited by a whole series of companies to impose worse pay, terms and conditions through vicious ‘fire and rehire’, which rapidly became the favoured weapon of choice for the bosses during the pandemic. Disgracefully, this included the New Labour council of Tower Hamlets, which triggered a dispute with Unison members. British Gas workers took 43 days of strike action in a bruising battle which ended with their annual income cut by over £10,000.

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The consequences of the Ukraine conflict for Britain

HANNAH SELL assesses what impact the war in Ukraine will have for the already tenuous position of British capitalism internationally and domestically, faced with the prospect of economic recession and political representatives viewed with historic levels of distrust.

While the invasion of Ukraine by Putin’s regime has been watched in horror by working-class people in Britain as in other countries, the UK prime minister Boris Johnson has led the global charge by capitalist politicians to cynically use these events to try and consolidate his position. Before the invasion Johnson’s leadership of the Conservative Party was hanging by a thread as the Partygate revelations piled up. He has successfully used Ukraine to gain a little breathing space, but none of the problems facing Johnson, his party, or British capitalism have been solved. 

Nor, other than the short term distraction they have so far provided, will events in Ukraine assist Johnson. His crass comparison between the Ukrainian resistance and the vote for Brexit is just one more example of his populist approach, where he is often prepared to disregard the interests of British capitalism, prioritising instead shoring up his own short-term base. In an increasingly fractious world, with a war taking place less than two thousand miles from Britain, the majority of the UK’s capitalist class would clearly rather have a more reliable representative than Johnson.  Many would prefer the Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer, who has used the war to once again demonstrate what an eminently safe pair of hands he is for British capitalism.

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How Russia’s gangster capitalists seized power

Putin’s brutal regime emerged in conditions of economic anarchy as a new capitalist class was forming amidst the collapse of the previously planned economy. PETER TAAFFE reviews a recent book that graphically describes what happened.

Putin’s People: How the KGB took back Russia and then took on the West

By Catherine Belton

Published by William Collins, 2021, £9-99

Catherine Belton, a former Financial Times journalist, has written a most devastating critique about the rise and consolidation of the state-capitalist Putin regime, following the collapse of Stalinism in the early nineties. This book is essential reading for all those who wish to understand exactly how Vladimir Putin, a very minor KGB official originally, with his roots in Stalinism, was able to construct what is now in effect a ‘mafia state’ – but on a gargantuan scale compared to the Italian mafia – and which has led to the terrible devastation in the Ukraine.

She correctly describes in the most lurid detail how the “original KGB” was able to transform itself from part of the rotten Stalinist bureaucracy into a capitalist state machine. In effect, the old KGB has been able, through Putin and his branch of the Stalinist secret police based in Leningrad-St Petersburg, to carry through the biggest robbery of productive forces in history after the collapse of Stalinism. This KGB state, grouped around the Leningrad siloviki (strong men), managed over a period to concentrate power and a considerable amount of the productive forces into their own hands.

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Ukraine: a commentary on Paul Mason’s muddle

The radical journalist Paul Mason has attempted to produce a left-wing defence of the NATO alliance of Western capitalist powers. TONY SAUNOIS, secretary of the Committee for a Workers’ International, responds.

The brutal war in Ukraine, like all wars, has posed crucial issues for the working class in the sharpest way. 

Wars and revolutions are the greatest tests for Marxists and the working class. Unfortunately, many socialists, when confronted with either of these two historic processes, have failed the test. Many abandoned an independent programme for the working class and echo the ideas of the ruling class. The response by many on the left to the current bloody war being fought in Ukraine is no different.

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Introducing Marxism: dialectical materialism

In the first instalment in the new Introduction to Marxism series in Socialism Today, ROBIN CLAPP looks at the underlying fundamental philosophy of Marxism, the ideas of dialectical materialism.

The 21st century has not brought prosperity and security to the vast majority of people on planet earth. Capitalism, fuelled by the profit motive has led to an ever-spiralling wealth gap between mega-rich multi-billionaires and the rest of us, unsurpassed in modern human history. In an Oxfam report published in 2019, just 26 people owned as much as the poorest 50% of the world’s population.

Many millions know that capitalism isn’t working for them, but the question of whether there is an alternative and if so, how it can be built, is the burning issue. The pitiful response to capitalism’s failures from political parties that in the past claimed to support the working class and stand for socialism, means that the starting point for all those entering struggle today – to defend jobs and services, fight for genuinely affordable homes, oppose privatisation of health services, education and public utilities, and combat climate change, racism, sexism and all forms of oppression – is what ideas do we need to build the fightback and construct mass workers’ parties that can overthrow this system?

The purpose of this article is to examine and explain the philosophy of Marxism – dialectical materialism. It will demonstrate that being angry at all the injustices of capitalism is not enough. Having a philosophy that can correctly interpret world events and the stages of the class struggle is indispensable for channelling anger into effective action.

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A tale of two feminisms – the fight against women’s oppression today

CHRISTINE THOMAS reviews two recent books by authors coming from different feminist perspectives and asks: what strategy is needed in the struggle to end violence against women, sexism and oppression in the new era?

Daring to Hope, by Sheila Rowbotham

Published by Verso, 2021, £20

Feminism for Women: The Real Route to Liberation, by Julie Bindel

Published by Constable, 2021, £16-99

One effect of the Covid pandemic has been to shine a spotlight on gender inequality in capitalist society and on violence towards women in particular, one of the most extreme manifestations of women’s oppression today. Unfortunately, it is one that many women will face at some time in their lives. One in four will experience domestic abuse and one in seven will be raped. On average, two women a week are killed by a current or ex-partner. Most women don’t feel safe from violence, abuse or sexual harassment whether at home, at work or in public spaces, including on social media. A staggering 97% of women report that they have experienced sexual harassment. It is therefore no surprise that violence against women has been the catalyst for a whole number of movements recently; in Britain most notably following the murder of Sarah Everard in South London in 2021.

There were many factors that combined together to generate the outpouring of outrage when Sarah was killed: the fact that her murderer was a serving police officer; that she was killed following a Covid lockdown which had seen a significant increase in domestic killings of women and calls to police and helplines – exposing just how prevalent domestic abuse is in society and how escape routes have been undermined by austerity; and the fears of young women that they are unsafe, and that society doesn’t  take their safety seriously, even blaming the way they look or behave for the violence and harassment they experience.

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