Wednesday, 31 December 2008


Every day, thousands of children die due to lack of water and poor sanitation. Billions of people do not have access to safe water. Environmental change threatens to make this situation worse but a more immediate danger is emerging. Control of the world's water is falling into the hands of the rich and water may soon take the place of oil as the world's most tradeable - and coveted - commodity - not a basic human right (indeed, the US argued this at the UN). In a future when market forces set the price of a glass of water, will many more people be left too poor to drink?

BAFTA award-winning film-maker Brian Woods' compelling and affecting film tells the intimate and revealing story of the dramatic impact of the battle for water ownership on the lives of four disparate groups of people across the developing world and in the heart of the planet's richest nation: families in Bolivia, India, Tanzania and the USA. And beyond the individual human cost of access to water, the film looks at the present and future battle for its ownership and how those living in water-rich countries hold the survival of the planet in their (currently) well-washed hands.


This three-part documentary, originally shown on BBC 4, examines the history of racism, covering its origins with the enslavement of Africans in the sixteenth century, its overt nature in the colonial projects of the European powers and its appearance within twentieth century western societies. Featuring interviews with European, American and African academics and cultural commentators as well as employing strong images, the programme is a detailed and far-reaching assessment into the way in which racism has been constructed over the last five hundred years.

An important feature of this documentary is its strong, consistent message that racism emerged as a product of social and economic factors. Enslavement is shown to be the root of this erroneous discourse as the European intelligentsia sought to legitimise the slave trade. It is the trade of Africans which is considered to create prejudice, as Professor James Walvin states, 'they didn't become slave traders because of racism, they became racist because of the slave trade.' As a means of proving that the process of African enslavement was justifiable the concept of a hierarchy of human races existing was employed. This is examined as purely as a means to continue the highly profitable trade, echoing the work of Williams by linking the desire of capitalist systems for the ceaseless acquisition of profit with the enslavement of millions. The way in which these concepts born from economic exploitation seep into social and cultural contexts is also highlighted; the works of notable and indeed cherished philosophers and authors such as Locke and Shakespeare are shown to be riddled with the racist assumptions of the period. That the concept of racism was not initially dependent on difference in skin colour is revealed with Dr. Barnor Hesse's discussion of the contact between the indigenous peoples of the New World and European colonists. The categorisation of 'race' is thereby shown to be a system whereby groups of peoples are subordinated.

The use of 'race' as a means by which people are abused, brutalised, terrorised and exploited is examined in the documentary with specific examples from twentieth century America, South Africa and Britain as well as Belgian colonial rule in the Congo in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. These particular examples utilise graphic images, taken from primary sources or reconstructions, to emphasise the violence which has resulted from racist perceptions. The scenes of mutilation in the Congo, the disfigured corpse of Emmett Till in Mississippi, and police brutality in South Africa are what are referred to in the documentary as, 'the savage legacy' of racism. The documentary is careful however to avoid representing only suffering by black people and discusses at length the way in which black activists have fought against the ingrained racism of western societies. Prominent in this discussion is the 1791 Haitian Revolution, which is offered as an antidote to European histories of abolition and emancipation, as the documentary uses it to highlight how enslaved peoples rebelled against their oppressors, ensuring the system of slavery was impossible to maintain. Civil rights leaders in America and South Africa are shown to have continued this struggle against those who would use concepts of 'race' to classify and differentiate.

It is the ingrained racism within western societies which is called into account by this challenging programme which states how notions of 'race' have resulted in inequality and prejudice. The documentary ends with the reminder that white people within the northern hemisphere still possess the majority of the world's wealth: a wealth which itself was established and maintained by enslavement. Black people from western countries are said to be less likely to participate in this wealth, leading to endemic poverty within some black communities. In America this situation is described in the documentary as, 'mass unemployment, mass disenfranchisement, mass imprisonment.' The programme reinforces its message of racism as a social and political tool in its closing remarks debunking those who still claim that racial difference exists within human populations: 'in scientific terms race is not a factor but in political and social terms it still divides.'

The documentary is a challenging and highly intelligent study; it maintains a coherent structure throughout the three episodes which focus on racism's origins, development and legacy. Its use of analysis from academics and individuals from a worldwide perspective marks it out as a significant piece of programming, and its quality of debate ensures that its message is heard. (review source)




Tuesday, 30 December 2008

PATENT FOR A PIG: The Big Business of Monsanto

Documentary concerning the controversy surrounding the experimental science of genetic modification by biotechnology corporations and the food industry. This idea of patenting life is not new, but begs the question – if they want to patent life, then what next? The air we breathe? Water? Relax, there’s profits to be had!

Saturday, 27 December 2008


Following on from the Taking Liberties video posted last Saturday, here’s two more that focus on Police State Britain.


Since Tony Blair's New Labour government came to power in 1997, the UK civil liberties landscape has changed dramatically. ASBOs were introduced by Section 1 of the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 and first used in 1999. The right to remain silent is no longer universal. Our right to privacy, free from interception of communications has been severely curtailed. The ability to travel without surveillance (or those details of our journeys being retained) has disappeared. Indeed, as Henry Porter (the Observer journalist famous for his recent email clash with Tony Blair over the paring down of civil liberties) reveals in this unsettling film, our movements are being watched, and recorded, more than ever before

Is Big Business the Real Big Brother?

Monitoring and surveillance of employees and customers by big business is now commonplace. Money Programme presenter Max Flint with the Personal Shopping Assistant computer, as used by customers at the Metro Future Store in Rheinberg, Germany Some German shoppers already have their purchases tracked It's increasingly a feature of our daily lives, because businesses have found that it makes good business sense. But is corporate snooping out of control? In Britain, we are all familiar with the CCTV cameras that have sprung up across our city centres and transport networks. We generally accept that they are there to counter crime and help monitor traffic flows on our busy roads. But how many of us realise that when we travel about, each of us is captured, on average, 300 times a day on CCTV, and should we be concerned? Of course, if we look up, we can see the CCTV cameras. We know they're there. But are they just the visible tip of a much larger and more deep-rooted surveillance society? Microchip RFID surveillance society big brother NWO orwell 1984 patriot act freedom tracking GPS mega corporations scanning

Friday, 26 December 2008


The posting contains two video files and one audio file and was released as a three-disc set in conjunction with EARTH DAY (April 22nd, 2006). The following review is from Seeds of Destruction:

In recent years, “you are what you eat” has become a popular adage, a truism, perhaps a bit of a cliché. There is little doubt that the quality and variety of the food we eat has a profound impact on our health and well being.

But in recent years, a new threat has emerged that challenges our ability to make the most basic choices about our food. The new technology of genetic engineering (GE), coupled with an unprecedented concentration of corporate control over the processing and distribution of food—and especially the sources of our seeds—has cast doubt on the safety and integrity of even some of the most common foods we eat every day.

Thus far, genetic engineering on a large scale has been largely limited to four basic crops: soybeans, corn, cotton and canola. Hawaiian papayas, some varieties of summer squash, and milk from cows injected with a genetically engineered hormone, Monsanto’s notorious recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone (rBGH), are also affected to varying degrees. But when we consider the pervasiveness of various soy and corn extracts in processed foods—even “natural” processed foods—the broad extent of the problem is revealed. The more scientists learn about the consequences of genetic engineering (also known as genetic modification, hence the popular abbreviation GMOs, for “genetically modified organisms”), the more alarmed we become about how this technology is affecting our health and the environment.

Amidst the growing public debate about the effects of GMOs, the Iowa-based Yes! Books has introduced an important new multimedia collection, attractively packaged as The GMO Trilogy. The trilogy features two timely and well-produced videos, a comprehensive audio CD, and lots of clickable extras.

The centerpiece of The GMO Trilogy is an hour long documentary called Unnatural Selection. Masterfully produced in English by Bertram Verhaag and Gabrielle Kroeber, two German filmmakers with a long history of documenting GE and farming issues, Unnatural Selection takes us on a panoramic world tour of some of the places that have been most directly impacted by aggressive corporate promotion of genetically engineered agriculture. For those already familiar with the basics of this issue, the journey illuminates the vast international dimensions of the debate. For those new to genetic engineering, it offers a profound and colorful introduction. It is a work of compelling urgency and stunning beauty that should not be missed by anyone who cares about food and the people who grow it.

The film begins on the sprawling prairies of Saskatchewan, Canada where countless farms were saved in the mid-1990s by converting to growing organic canola. But an invasion of genetically engineered canola, developed by Monsanto to withstand applications of their Roundup-brand weed killers, ultimately reversed this progress. Pollen from GE canola spreads for miles and seeds blow freely from farm to farm; the survival of countless organic, and even conventional non-GE farms was threatened.

The best-known voice of Saskatchewan’s canola growers is Percy Schmeiser, who plays a prominent role in the unfolding of Unnatural Selection. As a commercial canola grower and a lifelong seed saver and seed developer, Percy’s future was irrevocably altered when a portion of his own crop, uniquely bred for local conditions, was contaminated with seeds or pollen from Monsanto’s genetically engineered variety, which had blown onto his land from neighboring farms and passing trucks. For the ‘crime’ of having a contaminated crop, he was sued by Monsanto under patent law, and his case went all the way to the Canadian Supreme Court (see ). “We have no choice left,” says Schmeiser, pondering the widespread contamination of Canada’s canola fields, “but people in many parts of the world still have a choice.”

From there, the scene shifts to Hyderabad, in central India, where local cotton growers have organized to resist the introduction of genetically engineered cotton—in this case engineered with a pesticide that aims to kill the cotton bollworm, many growers’ most persistent and damaging pest. Following a hyper-aggressive marketing campaign, featuring give-aways and flashy, Bollywood-style TV ads, numerous farmers in India came to believe that the new “Bt cotton” was the answer to their problems, and they mortgaged their farms and their futures to embrace the new technology. But the bollworm resistance failed and crop yields fell dramatically, forcing many to sell their land. Thousands of farmers committed suicide so their families could escape the burden of mounting debts. Now, whole communities are organizing to vent their rage toward local representatives of multinational seed companies.

Indian physicist, author and activist Vandana Shiva, one the world’s most articulate and respected opponents of genetic engineering, is seen speaking with groups of farmers and sharing her profound insights about the consequences of this technology. She also presents a compelling alternative, drawn from the phenomenal diversity of traditional Indian agriculture. Dr. Shiva offers us a tour of one of the most inspiring places in the world for people who care about food: the Navdanya seed farm in the Himalayan foothills. There we view some of the hundreds of varieties of traditional rices, beans, and peas that have been preserved through Navdanya’s efforts. We are reminded that healthy diets depend on healthy, loving relations to the land, both for our farmers and ourselves. For Dr. Shiva, traditional farmers are the “heart and soul of India,” embodying a rootedness to the land that can inspire us here in North America as well.

Unnatural Selection offers disturbing exposés on experiments involving genetically engineered animals, from monstrously deformed pigs given a human growth hormone gene by the US Department of Agriculture, to fast-growing GE salmon raised in a laboratory in eastern Canada. The company that “invented” these salmon, known as Aqua Bounty, has already applied to the US EPA for permission to grow and sell them commercially. We hear from company officials about how engineered fish—in what has become a familiar advertising slogan for GMOs—are needed to “feed the world,” and the contrasting view of university scientists at Purdue who have studied the disastrous effects these ‘super-salmon’ would have if they ever escaped into native wild fish populations.

“[This] is a technology that can not exist with nature; it is a technology that invades, pollutes, contaminates, and ultimately destroys the natural species,” explains attorney Andrew Kimbrell of the Center for Food Safety, one of the most persistent GMO opponents in the US. We also meet chefs in San Francisco, who have rejected the use of engineered ingredients, and visit the Norwegian laboratory of Dr. Terje Traavik, one of the few independent scientists investigating the health hazards of GE foods.

The second disk in The GMO Trilogy, Hidden Dangers in Kids’ Meals, is a fast-paced introduction to the health consequences of GE foods, featuring interviews with some of the world’s most prominent independent scientists who have arisen as vocal critics of this technology. Dr. Traavik is included here, as is Ignacio Chapela, who made world headlines in 2001 with his discovery that indigenous corn varieties in the high mountains of Oaxaca, Mexico had been contaminated with DNA from engineered corn imported from the US. We are introduced to Dr. Arpad Pusztai, a renowned plant scientist who was fired and gagged after discovering the horrifying effects of GMOs on organ development, immune response, and the digestive health of laboratory animals, as well as David Schubert of the Salk Institute and many others. Jeffrey Smith, the best-selling author of Seeds of Deception and producer of the GMO Trilogy, intersperses the scientists’ comments with a running overview of some of the most disturbing scientific findings about GE food crops and milk from cows injected with the hormone rBGH.

Shifting more directly to children’s health, we travel to Appleton, Wisconsin, where a high school once ridden with crime and chronic behavioral problems underwent a surprising transformation. One weekend in 1997, all the junk food, sodas, and highly processed ingredients were removed from the school’s hallways and cafeterias and replaced with wholesome and nutritious meals and snacks. Teachers and school officials interviewed in the film report a rather sudden transformation in the students and the school environment. The atmosphere became calmer, behavioral problems and dropout rates plummeted, and students’ academic performance increased dramatically. “Since we started the program … I have seen a total change in the students and in the environment within the school,” reports Appleton principal LuAnn Coenen.

It is unclear whether there is a direct link to genetic engineering, as GMOs had only begun to be introduced into commercial agriculture the preceding year. But this case study is highly illustrative of the widespread advantages of changing to a healthier diet. “By taking simple steps now, we can protect those we love, and future generations,” concludes Jeffrey Smith.

The third disc in The GMO Trilogy is for anyone seeking a more step-by-step discussion of the health hazards of genetically engineered foods and the controversies surrounding their approval. It is an hour-long audio presentation by Jeffrey Smith, recorded during the international speaking tour that followed the publication of Seeds of Deception. In this dynamic, entertaining and information-packed presentation, Smith intersperses scientific facts with some of the compelling stories that have aroused GE opponents in recent years. We hear of a debilitating and sometimes deadly disease that was linked to a genetically engineered dietary supplement (L-tryptophan) from Japan, the story of Dr. Pusztai’s dismissal after blowing the whistle on the dangers of GMOs, and tales of farmers in Iowa whose pigs suffered from persistent reproductive problems attributed to genetically engineered grain. This presentation as well, ends on a hopeful note, as Smith chronicles newly created GMO-free zones across the world, the systematic removal of GE ingredients from most processed foods in Europe, and the myriad ways people around the world are organizing to resist this technology.

GMOs represent an historically unique threat, reports Jeffrey Smith: “We’re feeding the products of an infant science to millions of people and releasing them into the environment where they can never be recalled.” So whether you’re already well read on the topic of GMOs, or just starting to learn about this latest threat to our food, get The GMO Trilogy. Your friends, neighbors, and your children will thank you for it


2. HIDDEN DANGERS IN KIDS’ MEALS: Genetically Engineered Food


Thursday, 25 December 2008

The World According To Monsanto (2008)

Monsanto is the world leader in genetically modified organisms (GMOs), as well as one of the most controversial corporations in industrial history. This century-old empire has created some of the most toxic products ever sold, including polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and the herbicide Agent Orange. Based on a painstaking investigation, The World According to Monsanto puts together the pieces of the company’s history, calling on hitherto unpublished documents and numerous first-hand accounts.

Today, Monsanto likes to style itself as a “life sciences” company. The leader in genetically modified seeds, engineered to resist its herbicide Roundup, claims it wants to solve world hunger while protecting the environment.

In the light of its troubling past, can we really believe these noble intentions? Misleading reports, collusion, pressure tactics and attempts at corruption: the history of Monsanto is filled with disturbing episodes. Behind its clean, green image, Monsanto is tightening its grasp on the world seed market, striving for market supremacy to the detriment of food security and the global environment.

Supermarket Secrets (Dispatches)

How and what we eat has radically changed over the past few decades with the all-consuming rise of the supermarket. But what price are we paying for the homogenised, cheap and convenient food that supermarkets specialise in? In a two-part programme, journalist Jane Moore investigates how supermarkets have affected the food on our plates and reveals the tell-tale signs that the food we buy may not have been grown in the way we think.

Using a combination of undercover filming and scientific analysis, Supermarket Secrets investigates whether the food on supermarket shelves is really as good as it looks, whether prices are as good as they seem and what happens behind the scenes in the production of supermarket food.

This year Britain's shoppers are expected to spend around £70billion on food. 56% of this total expenditure will take place in supermarkets. These films ask how supermarkets manage to push prices down and profits up. Are farmers and growers being pressured to produce food in a manner that leads to it being less nutritious than in the past? And what of the conditions that livestock is reared in today?

The first of the two programme features secret filming which uncovers the horrific conditions inside a chicken broiler house preparing chickens for a company which supplies all the major supermarkets. One study carried out by a professor from Cambridge University revealed that 82% of chickens bought in supermarkets had hockburns – a tell-tale sign of poor animal welfare caused by sitting in litter. Jane Moore shows how to examine chickens for hockburns.

The programme also examines why chickens nowadays have more fat and less protein and why it is vitally important to read the ingredients lists on healthy option meals. Also, top chef Raymond Blanc puts some supermarket 'ready meals' to the taste test.

Programme two meets the organic potato farmer who feeds much of his crop to his cows because, he says, the supermarkets deem his produce to be insufficiently cosmetically pleasing. The film also hears from a toxicologist about the levels of pesticide residues in supermarket fresh produce; reveals how dairy cattle are now factory farmed and why packaged fruit and vegetables from your local supermarket may be more expensive that you think – and not as good for you.

With contributions from leading experts including Joanna Blythman, Professor Tim Lang, Dr Vyvyan Howard and Felicity Lawrence.

Part 1

Part 2

Wednesday, 24 December 2008

4 Films: Warriors (1979), Soylent Green (1973), Brave New World (1980), Logan’s Run (1976)

Four Films for Xmas with a futuristic theme:

Warriors (1979)

New York City. Home to 7,000,000 people. They work, play, and have fun by day. But at night the city is run by ruthless street gangs such as: The Furies, The Boppers, The Hi-Hats, The Lizzies, The Turnbull AC’s, The Gramercy Riffs and The Warriors. One night at an all gangs meeting, the leader of the Riffs, Cyrus, makes a speech and creates a plan to unite all the gangs of the city - one gang strong enough to overpower the police. But suddenly he is shot and a gang called The Warriors are framed by Luther, leader of the Rogues. Now they have to return to Coney Island, escaping from 20,000 policemen and 100,000 sworn enemies. They have one way out. They have one chance. They’ve got one night.

Soylent Green (1973)

Set in the year 2022, Soylent Green depicts a dystopian future in which the population has grown to forty million in New York City alone. The water and soil have been poisoned, and pollution has produced a year-round heatwave due to a greenhouse effect. Most housing is dilapidated and overcrowded, and food as it is known today is a rare and expensive commodity. The only way they survive is with water rations and eating a mysterious food called Soylent. A detective investigates the murder of the president of the Soylent company. The truth he uncovers is more disturbing than the Earth in turmoil when he learns the secret ingredient of Soylent Green.

Brave New World (1980)

In a future society based on pleasure without moral worries, love is prohibited but casual sex, now called ‘engaging’, is strongly encouraged. Everyone is kept happy with a legal drug, soma. People are hatched and cloned on conveyor belts to meet the requirements of five different social classes, from ruling Alphas to robot-like Epsilons. Bernard Marx is a different Alpha male with an inclination to thinking. He and a girl called Lenina Disney go visit a reservation of ’savages’ where they meet a handsome young man John and bring him back to ‘civilization’. John turns out to be the son of the director of the cloning authority, which causes a scandal and makes John a celebrity freak. John falls in love with Lenina but his desire is ruined by his antiquated sexual morale derived from reading Shakespeare. John hates the over-social but anti-emotional civilization, asks to be sent to live in isolation, and gets a job as a lighthouse guard. But even there he can’t forget Lenina or escape his celebrity status.

Logan’s Run (1976)

In the year 2274, after the world has been decimated by a holocaust, a new society is built and resides in a domed city. However, it is forbidden for humans to live beyond 30 and you are given two choices, either to go through a ritual called Carousel with the promise of being “renewed”, or go on the run and risk being hunted down by an elite police force known as Sandmen. Logan, a sandman, is sent on a mission to find “sanctuary,” which is a code- word used by the master computer to describe what it believes is a place to which runners have been escaping. Logan begins to question the system he serves and after seeing for himself that there is life beyond the dome, he returns to destroy the computer.

Tuesday, 23 December 2008


Salt of the Earth (1954) is an American drama film written by Michael Wilson, directed by Herbert J. Biberman, and produced by Paul Jarrico. All had been blacklisted by the Hollywood establishment due to their involvement in socialist politics. According to Linda Gross the film was called subversive and blacklisted because it was sponsored by the International Union of Mine, Mill and Smelter Workers and produced by many members of the "blacklist." Prior to making the film the union had been expelled from the CIO in 1950 for their alleged Communist-dominated leadership.

The movie became a historical phenomenon and has a cult following due to how the United States establishment (politicians, journalists, studio executives, and other trade unions) dealt with the film. Salt of the Earth is one of the first pictures to advance the feminist social and political point-of-view.

In 1950–1951, in the fictional village of Zinc Town, New Mexico, the drama tells the story of a long and difficult strike led by Mexican-American and Anglo miners against the Empire Zinc Company. The film shows how the miners (the union men and their wives), the company, and the police, react during the strike. In neorealist style the producers and director used actual miners and their families as actors in the film.


The film opens with a narration from Esperanza Quintero (Rosaura Revueltas). She begins:

"How shall I begin my story that has no beginning? My name is Esperanza, Esperanza Quintero. I am a miner's wife. This is our home. The house is not ours. But the flowers... the flowers are ours. This is my village. When I was a child, it was called San Marcos. The Anglos changed the name to Zinc Town. Zinc Town, New Mexico, U.S.A. Our roots go deep in this place, deeper than the pines, deeper than the mine shaft..."

The issues the miners strike for include equity in wages with Anglo workers, and health and safety issues. Ramon Quintero (Juan Chacon) helps organize the strike, but at home he treats his wife as a second class citizen.

His wife, Esperanza Quintero, who is pregnant with their third child, is traditionally passive at first and is reluctant either to take part in the strike or to assert her rights for equality at home.

But she changes her attitude when the men are forced to end their picketing by a Taft-Hartley Act injunction. The women convince the men at the union hall, after a long debate, and proudly take their place in the picket line. (source Wikipedia)

Monday, 22 December 2008

Mark Steel lectures on Marx (BBC)

As he moved from Paris to London, Marx managed to leave a trail of uncleaned rooms and even more untidy relationships in his wake. Mark picks his way through the discarded Pot Noodle cartons and unexpected children to reveal the real Marx. You'll discover why the state of Marx's flat caused consternation amongst those sent to spy on him, and get to watch him doing his grocery shopping. Mark also explains what made Marx's theories so revolutionary and why Marx wasn't a Marxist.




From The BBC open2. net website:

All ideas, Marx would argue, are a product of their time and place in history. Marx formed his ideas as Europe embarked upon the massive transformations which changed traditional, peasant farming societies into modern, industrial ones. As he wrote, for the first time large industrial cities were being developed. Filth, overcrowding, sickness and poverty existed alongside a new urban rich. Marx was not alone in offering an analysis of these changing conditions. What is distinctive about his thought is that he sees the key factor in understanding the development of these new societies, the thing which at the end of the day shapes how the society is organised, what we think and believe, who we are and what we can become, is not the new industrial technologies nor even the new urban spaces but the way in which production is organised.

The new world that Marx was analysing was the first flowering of a mature capitalist system. Today we are so used to talk of ‘market forces’ that it is hard to remember that there is nothing natural or God-given about the capitalist economic system. It exists because human beings have created it and sustained it. The key difference between capitalism and the economic systems that had gone before it is the way in which the relationships between property and labour are organised. Capital lies in private hands and those who own it seek profit as their reward for its deployment in the economy. Investment - whether in farming, mining, manufacturing or services - requires workers if it is to see a return; there is no point building a factory unless there are workers to labour in it. As well as bringing into being a new class of owner, capitalism also requires a new kind of worker: one tied not by traditional loyalties or by relationships of servitude, but formally free labour entering into a contractual relationship with the employers for wages.

When Marx looked at this relationship between the owners of capital and those who have to sell their labour power to survive, he saw not a fair deal, but a system of exploitation. To take a simplified example: imagine you have a pile of wood, glue, nails, varnish and screws worth £10 and at the end of the day these have been turned into a table, retail price £200. What has transformed these raw materials into a table is the labour of the workers. Even after subtracting the costs of electricity, machinery, distribution and advertising (say another £10 per table) we are still left with a value added by the hands of the workers of £180. Of course they are not paid this much: they are paid enough to keep them alive (so that they come back to work tomorrow) and to enable them to raise children (so that someone will come to work in twenty years time and keep the whole show on the road). What’s left over is taken as profit. Profit is not the legitimate reward for investment – it is the theft from workers of the value of their labour. Workers and owners are (says Marxist analysis) thus in a fundamentally antagonistic relationship – each side trying to keep a greater slice of this ‘surplus’ value.

This fundamental conflict between workers and owners is for Marx the dialectical engine at the heart of history. All earlier economic systems had contained within them the seeds of their own destruction and capitalism is no different. The logic of seeking greater and greater profit would lead to amalgamations, mergers and giant corporations whilst skilled workers and small shop keepers would be eaten up by the system and become deskilled and pauperised like all other workers. The two great historic classes at the heart of the capitalist system - capitalists and proletariat - would face each other across the barricades of history and private property would be done away with.

Marx may have analysed the position of the workers and seen them as sharing a situation and destiny, but their unity was far from inevitable. Workers did not come home from work spontaneously complaining that they’ve had a bad day experiencing the fundamental contradictions between labour and capital. Workers struggled against each other for survival. Skilled workers would hold themselves to be better than the unskilled; immigrant groups would be accused of stealing the jobs of indigenous workers; women would be seen as a cheap labour threat to male workers. If these divisions were to be overcome, workers would have to overcome these false understandings of their condition and become a united class. This is no easy task for, Marx argued, the dominant beliefs in any era - those accepted as obvious and common sense - are those that work in the interests of the ruling class. If religion was the opiate of the people, other beliefs such as the superiority of white ‘races’ and the ‘natural’ inferiority of women also acted to alienate workers from their shared experiences and from uniting together.

It is easiest to appreciate how Marx formed his ideas if we look back to the social conditions and the intellectual traditions within which they were born. But is this nineteenth century ‘grand theory of everything’ only applicable in that brief historical moment? Undoubtedly the world in which we live is very different from the one Marx knew. Ownership of capital is now dispersed through share ownership and pension plans. The divisions among those of us who work and sell our labour power for a wage seem greater than ever. This is especially true if we remember that capitalist enterprises are now operating in a global way.

Many social scientists reject Marx’s approach whilst others have built upon it and provided increasingly sophisticated analyses of society and culture. Much social science debate has been characterised as a debate with Marx’s ghost. In applying dialectical analysis to the material conditions of life Marx may have hit upon a method which we can still apply in these changing times.


Bit of music for a change – and none of that music charts bollocks. Thought I’d take time out and indulge myself today. Here are two songs from my favourite musical Les Miserables (if I’m not mistaken from the brilliant 10th anniversary performance at the Albert Hall many moons ago).

The musical is based on the 1862 novel Les Misérables by Victor Hugo. Set in early 19th-century France, it follows the intertwining stories of a cast of characters as they struggle for redemption and revolution. The characters include a paroled convict named Jean Valjean who, failing attempts to find work as an honest man with his yellow ticket of leave, breaks his parole and conceals his identity; the police inspector Javert who becomes obsessed with finding Valjean; Fantine, the single mother who is forced to become a prostitute to support her daughter Cosette; Cosette, who, after her mother's death, becomes Jean Valjean's adopted daughter and who eventually falls in love with a revolutionary student named Marius Pontmercy; the Thénardiers, the unscrupulous innkeepers who initially foster Cosette, and who thrive on cheating and stealing; Éponine, their young daughter who is hopelessly in love with Marius; Gavroche, a young beggar boy and the young son of the Thénardiers; and a student leader Enjolras who plans the revolt to free the oppressed lower classes of France. The main characters are joined by an ensemble that includes prostitutes, student revolutionaries, factory workers, and others.



Fighting on barricades of course has consequences – a lot of your comrades get killed. Michael Ball made the part of Marius his own. This song, however, always reminds me of the old NE Branch (SPGB) meeting place in the upstairs room in the old The Swan public house in Heworth (Gateshead) - I think the only time it was open each month was when we used it. Back in the day we could pull in 17 branch members for a meeting. Jeez, where are they now? Interestingly, the pub backs on to Heworth cemetery, where Tommy Hepburn, leader of the massive binding strike in the 1830s is buried.

I’m yet to see this show live, so if anyone has any spare tickets give me a shout!