Rosa Luxemborg - Tunisia - Banking
I am thoroughly excited about the collected works of Rosa Luxemburg that Verso is bringing out over the next few years, and I attended several launches for the first volume, her collected letters (Books, Socialist Review, March 2011). I found it fascinating but also disturbing to witness how many "Rosas" there are for the speakers at the launch events.
For some she is a feminist icon; for others she wasn't interested in women's liberation. Most claimed her for anti-Leninism, while only one speaker (who was not a fan) pointed out that she did actually support the Russian Revolution. One called her a pacifist for her opposition to the First World War. In fact she opposed it on anti-imperialist and internationalist grounds - that we must not let our rulers divide us and send workers to slaughter each other.
Many of the speakers came from the 1968 generation, such as David Edgar, Susie Orbach and Lisa Appignanesi. As students they were inspired by the figure of Luxemburg, with her vibrancy, passion and absolute confidence in the power of ordinary people to change the world. It was sad to see how much they now distance themselves from that feeling. The general consensus seemed to be, "Isn't it a shame she was a Marxist and not a feminist?"
They love the volume of letters because it "shows her as a human being" - which is apparently an unusual state for revolutionaries. They drew a distinction between her political and private lives. Nina Power pointed out rightly that the letters actually show that there is no division between the "private" and "political" for Luxemburg. She was a human being whose whole life was devoted to the pursuit of human liberation and all her relationships, interests and activities were tied up in that. Roll on the next volume.
Limbo in Choucha
Further to the coverage of Tunisia (Feature, Socialist Review, March 2011), the country is now host to thousands fleeing Libya.
Almost ten kilometres from the Libyan border, the refugee camp Choucha is a temporary shelter for up to 15,000 Bengali migrant workers fleeing the civil war. Along with them are thousands of sub-Saharan Africans. As they arrive in buses from the border they hand passports to the Tunisian military, who write down names and store thousands of passports in buckets in green canvas tents.
Daily life in Choucha is facilitated by the International Organisation for Migration. Or the Tunisian military. Or the UN Refugee Agency. Or the few hundred NGO workers or Tunisian volunteers who arrive to help move food, dig trenches, build toilets and clean trash.
Time here is miserable. People rise from their uniform tents which they share with six others to spend a day waiting in lines with thousands of other people - for a doctor, a sandwich, milk or a three-minute phone call. Thousands sit or stand around a single microphone where someone reads aloud names from passports to be returned. These people are leaving to some country they might be from. At times refugees excitedly jump up and run to the microphone, like the world's most depressing game of bingo.
The stories of the Bengalis are all identical. They sold what little they had to raise money for some agency to send them to Libya for work - although on arrival they may find that their pay is half that which they expected, with many not paid at all for months. They fled the crisis to the Tunisian border where they were robbed of any money they might have saved, along with cell phones, by the Libyan military, only to arrive in yet another North African desert limbo.
Can Socialist Review explore the finer points of fractional reserve banking (where only a fraction of a bank's deposits are kept in reserve with the rest being lent out) and what it has meant for working class people? This is an aspect of the banking system that is a fundamental cause of the current crisis.
The power of unelected bankers to control the money supply has a direct bearing on the cuts we are now facing. It also informs pretty much everything else in terms of the allocation of resources.
The fractional reserve system is perhaps the biggest con perpetrated on ordinary people by the ruling class. The financial system currently adopted by banks is often described as "debt based", since the process of going into debt is relied upon almost exclusively to create and supply money to the economy.
Money "creation" requires loans from the banking system in order for new money to be created. But no actual money is created if you take out a mortgage, for example. Numbers are punched into a computer that then appear in your account. The bank then charges you interest on those numbers. If you fail to pay then the bank takes your house, as in the case of the subprime mortgage market in the US. This is after speculators have sold your debt in complicated packages to other "investors". It is these speculative bubbles that fractional reserve banking creates. This is the twisted logic of capitalism.