In perspective column

The state of imperialism

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If, as some people on the left claim, the term "imperialism" is out of date, who are the world's multinationals depending on to defend their interests?

A snippet of news can occasionally lift the veil off the real motives behind high politics. One such snippet was buried on the inside pages of the Guardian last month. It revealed details about breakfast meetings held in Downing Street in 2003 between Tony Blair and the ten-strong "Multinational Chairmen's Group", which included the heads of BP, Unilever, Vodafone, HSBC and Shell. They were invited to tell the prime minister how government policies affected British based international companies and air their grievances.

No saviours or substitutes

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The words of the Internationale strike a chord for all socialists who believe society can only be transformed from below. It is a message that could not be more urgent than for today's working class in Venezuela and Bolivia.

No saviour from on high delivers
No faith have we in prince or peer.

So runs the second verse of the socialist anthem the Internationale. It is rarely sung in Britain. But the message is very important.

Socialists in dispute

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Divisions within the left, such as that which has occurred in Respect, always have their basis in political disagreements. Socialists must always fight for their principles to take the movement forward.

Few things are so distressing for the socialist left as the bitter internal disputes marked by personal diatribes. Such disputes are not unique to the left. Witness the interminable rows within the Tory party, or the decade long feud within New Labour between bomber Tony Blair and bomber Gordon Brown. But the socialist left is based on principles very different from today's mainstream parties, and people expect better from it.

Rate of profit warning

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No one can predict whether the recent financial crises will develop into a proper recession.

Some have hailed China's economic expansion and the development of computer technology as potential saviours of the world economy - Karl Marx would have disagreed.

The mainstream economic commentators have all been revising their calculations since the monetary crisis caused by lending to "subprime mortgages" broke in August. Alan Greenspan of the US Federal Reserve Bank thinks the odds on a recession next year have risen to about 50-50, and the International Monetary Fund seems to at least half agree.

Artificial "human nature"

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We are encouraged to believe that capitalism is the natural and only way for people to live. But, unexpectedly, for all their faults, glimpses of other cultures in TV programmes like Tribe can show that there are alternative, more equitable ways of running society.

One thing on television irritates me nearly as much as Big Brother. It is those programmes in which someone goes to different parts of the world supposedly to throw light on some historical or political question by acting in a silly or joking way.

I watched an episode of the BBC series Tribe only because I could not face the rubbish on two dozen other channels. It was built on the "silly man" formula, with its presenter, Bruce Parry, putting on an inane grin as he dropped in for a couple of weeks on the people who live on the South Pacific island of Anuta.

The not so "weightless world"

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As many look to radical alternatives to the barbaric system of capital, the ideas of philosophers such as Slavoj Žižek have struck a chord. But beneath the surface of his post-Marxist arguments, do his ideas have the potential to change the world?

The Marxism 2007 festival held in London this summer showed that a new layer of activists are eager to debate ideas of how to change the world. Many are drawn to the ideas of people such as Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Žižek, who spoke at the festival.

Žižek is an entertaining speaker, using his personal idiosyncrasies to sometimes hilarious effect as he rejoices in provocations directed against mainstream liberal ideology.

Sarkozy - Capital's Latest Helper

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The three main contenders for France's presidency last month were in agreement over one thing - the need for economic reform and increased accommodation for market forces.

But why are Europe's capitalists so desperate to embrace Nicolas Sarkozy's new vision of France?

The French presidential elections last month tell us something important about the condition of capitalism today. Virtually all mainstream commentators and politicians lined up to insist that France has to suffer a dose of "reform" - "neoliberal" measures such as increased working hours, cutbacks in social provision, "market testing" of jobs, privatisation and the slashing of employment rights.

Blair facts and Brown noses

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"The longest period of uninterrupted growth in the industrial history of our country." So claimed Gordon Brown in his budget speech. This supposedly miraculous economic record is one thing on which the Blairite and Brownite factions of New Labour agree. Except it simply is not true.

There was a far longer period of uninterrupted growth, lasting 25 years, from 1948 to 1973. It was also at a faster rate than we have known under New Labour. The Cambridge Economic History of Modern Britain reported that "from 1949 to 1973, the UK economy grew at an average rate of 3.0 percent per annum." Growth has only been at an average of 2.3 percent since 2000, according to National Institute Economic Review (NIER) figures.

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