Thursday, 19 October 2017

Why are the Incompetent Tories at around 40% in the Opinion Polls?



The latest YouGov opinion poll has the Tories dipping under 40%, just, at 39%, but other polls have them at or just over 40% if a general election were called tomorrow. This is down on the 42% that the Tories scored in last June’s general election, but only slightly. How can this be, given the complete shambles that they making of Brexit, and the general inertia in other policy areas? The constant squabbling amongst ministers and MPs, over Brexit mainly, and the hapless performance of the prime minister, Theresa May, are making them, in my eyes anyway, a laughing stock. But 40% of the public seem prepared to back them.

We also have a foreign secretary, Boris Johnson, who not only contradicts Cabinet policy, but runs around the world saying stupid things, and is a general embarrassment to the country internationally. We have inflation running at the highest rate for five years, wages stagnating, at best, a record public borrowing of 90% of GDP, and public services cut to the bone. The Tories ill deserved reputation for economic competence is in tatters. It beggars belief that so many people are content with the government’s performance. 

In the heyday of new Labour in the late 1990s and early noughties the Tory’s support was down to its core 32% to 33%, and some of this may have peeled off now because of the hard-line Brexit stance that the government has taken, particularly before the general election. Not all Tory voters are Eurosceptic. So, say their normally core support is now down to about 30%, where does the other 10% come from?

We can see from the demographic breakdown of these opinion polls that Tory support is concentrated among older voters. There is a tendency for people (especially men) to get more conservative (small ‘c’) as they get older. Older people tend to have something to ‘conserve’ after a lifetime of work, and Tory policies do tend to favour older voters, together with older voters doing well out of the rise in house prices.

Under the leadership of David Cameron older voters were specifically courted, but in this year’s general election, this wasn’t enough for Theresa May to win an overall majority in Parliament. Which explains why the government is making noises about taking tax breaks off older people and giving them to younger voters. Quite apart from the fairness issue, this does make sense from an electoral point of view, but it also carries a huge risk too.

Think back to the Tories back of a fag packet plan to make people use the value of their homes to pay for their social care, which was very unpopular, and was perhaps one of the reasons the government lost their majority. I remember thinking when this policy was first announced it was a very un-Tory like policy. Well, what they are now suggesting in terms tax breaks would be even more unpopular with older voters. To hit the only age demographic which supports you, is very risky indeed.

The opinion polls also indicate support for the Tories from people who voted to leave the EU in last year’s referendum, and these voters tend to be older as well, but may account for some of the extra 10% on top of the Tories core support.

A third factor in the 40% support may be a fear of a Corbyn led Labour government. Older voters will remember the 1970s which was the last time Labour delivered anything remotely like social democratic policies. It didn’t end well though, with the infamous ‘winter of discontent’ when there was massive industrial action from trade unions, shortages of basics like bread and milk, and with inflation in double figures. To younger voters this probably seems like ancient history, but will still be fresh in the minds of older voters.

Although Labour are recording a small lead over the Tories in most of the polls, it does mean that the next general election is wide open, and until some of the stubborn 40% peels away from the Tories, it will remain that way. Of course, the grim reaper will take these older voters sooner or later, but for now there is everything to play for.   

Tuesday, 17 October 2017

Legal Challenge to Social Cleansing in London – Stop Haringey Development Vehicle



Written by Gordon Peters

I am a former social services director in London and now retired from twenty subsequent years as a consultant in health and social development with particular experience in policies aimed at reducing poverty and inequalities, acting for governments in Europe and Asia and with UK donors.

As an active member of Haringey Over 50s forum in north London and chair of the Older Peoples Reference Group in the borough I took up the challenge posed to living conditions of vulnerable people, particularly frail elders, by the establishment of the Haringey Development Vehicle (HDV), the intended new Limited Liability Partnership owned 50% by the Council and 50% by Lendlease, the Australian multi-national corporation.

Many individuals and groups have joined in this campaign, now called StopHDV which is supported by both the constituency Labour Parties and the two MPs, despite which the current leadership insists it must go ahead. It is also supported by the LibDems and Green Parties, and by the tenants and residents federation, and trades unions including my own, Haringey Unite Community branch, and many affiliated campaigns and individuals.

The Judicial Review on the Haringey Development Vehicle takes place in the High Court on The Strand in London on 25 and 26 October, and I hope some supporters can make it to that, either outside from 9 to10 am or in the public seating from 10 am.

The challenge is to Haringey Council setting up a supposedly 50/50 partnership with the Australian multi-national corporation, Lendlease, to take over land and property belonging to the Council, involving demolition and regeneration of estates as well as business premises and private houses in 'red-lined areas’. If it goes ahead it will be the biggest such transfer of local authority resources to a private entity in UK history. Lendlease have now joined Haringey as a defendant of the HDV in court.

None of this would have been possible without the amazing support from the several hundred people who have contributed through our crowdfunding to raise £25,000. £20,000 of this is required for our community cap on any awards which will be requested of the judge. The solicitors for the case, Leigh Day, and the barristers have put a great deal of work in to it, and as a result I am now asking for another £5,000 to make up the fees and costs accruing.

Please donate at Crowd Justice to help the extra costs.

I hope you will make another donation, small or large, if you possibly can.

I am unhappy with the HDV model and its governance arrangements as chosen by the Council and about the process followed including lack of consultation on this vehicle, loss of democratic control over the homes and other public assets involved, and the Council’s failure to ensure that the HDV will comply in future with obligations such as the Human Rights Act, the Freedom of Information Act and the Public Sector Equality Duty.

In summary the claims are challenging:

1] this being set up as a partnership[LLP] rather than as a company as it is acting for a commercial purpose;

2] the HDV not having been consulted on and the manner of its development up to the July 2017 Cabinet decision;

3] the public sector equality duty of the Equality Act 2010 having been inadequately addressed;

4]the decision to establish the HDV as  constituting a strategic move on behalf of the Council not having been taken to full Council.

Haringey and Lendlease maintain publicly that thousands of homes and jobs will be won for the borough from the HDV investment, and yet none of the risk to the public purse nor viability assessments, nor due diligence carried out, has been shared beyond the few members of the Cabinet.

And the Leader of the Council’s insistence is on continuing despite the Council’s Overview and Scrutiny Committee, across party lines, demanding a halt for further examination, and despite a week of expert witness scrutiny by the Housing and Regeneration Panel, objections by tenants and residents  and deputations by groups, and Call-ins of the decision to proceed.

If the HDV goes ahead the Council will be committed immediately to transfer its entire commercial portfolio to the HDV in return for £45 million investment from Lendlease and its first category of land in Wood Green estate and Wood Green Civic Centre.

It then intends to transfer up to £2 billion worth of property which includes the demolition of Northumberland Park estate, next to the new Tottenham Hotspur stadium, and some surrounding leasehold housing, together home to several thousand people, some of them single pensioners who will be at great risk if moved.

Other areas in the west of the borough are also scheduled for development. Beyond that intentions are outlined in the next categories for Broadwater Farm in Tottenham, and then potentially for any land and property  ‘under-used’ or considered ‘surplus’.

The Council outline a Right of Return and detailed consultation to come on localities affected, but once the HDV is set up and going these will amount to ‘paper promises’ at best, as alternative approaches such as estate refurbishment and local community–backed plans are ruled out.

Moreover Lendlease as the commercial partner in the HDV have been exempted from certain requirements of Council policy so that guarantees within direct Council oversight, including security of tenure, no longer apply.

The legal argument here is a matter of widespread concern at a lack of accountability and democratic process, and indeed relates to a concern for the fundamental rights of people to a home and support in their community.

It has ramifications far beyond Haringey regarding the ways in which social housing and truly affordable housing are being squeezed out by corporate actions in collusion with councils, many of them Labour councils, as the record of Lendlease in Southwark shows all too dramatically. All evidence to date points to a further loss of homes for poorer people and an influx of better off rented and purchased homes in new high densities which deny or destroy existing communities.

The HDV has not been able to demonstrate in any way how its establishment and operation will change things for the better, especially in such an unpredictable economic climate, and the Council putting all its development ‘eggs in the HDV basket’ in such an untested way is being irresponsible with public money. That is why it must be stopped, and the Council think – and listen –again.

More information from StopHDV

Gordon Peters in a member of Haringey Green Party and a Green Left supporter

Sunday, 15 October 2017

Nature, Labour, and the Historic Rise of Capitalism



This is an extract from a piece written by Martin Empson and first published at Monthly Review

This historical emphasis on our changing relationship with the natural world is not unique to Marxism, or even to the left. The great Whig historian G. M. Trevelyan believed that among other things, social history must be concerned with “the attitude of man to nature.” Colonial encounters between Europeans and indigenous populations of the Americas offer a vivid—and bloody—illustration of these changing attitudes. These interactions were, on the whole, enormously destructive for the people and ecology of the Americas. Millions died from disease or military conquest, communities and civilizations were destroyed, and many thousands were enslaved. Despite some European migrants’ vision of a land free from hierarchy and exploitation, the so-called New World rapidly came under the rule of capitalist social relations. A corresponding change occurred in the ways people understood the land and used its resources.

In her classic book Myths of Male Dominance, the anthropologist Eleanor Burke Leacock studied the changing social structures of the Montagnais-Naskapi people of Canada after the arrival of the French fur trade in the seventeenth century. The Montagnais were an egalitarian, matrilocal society of hunter-gatherers, and their social relations were governed by “generosity, cooperation, and patience…those who did not contribute their share were not respected, and it was a real insult to call a person stingy.” Despite the upheavals the Montagnais had endured, Leacock still found vestiges of a quite different social organization during her twentieth-century fieldwork:

As far as I could see, decision-making on such important issues was a most subtle process—indeed an enigma to the fieldworker schooled in competitive hierarchies—whereby one found out how everybody concerned felt without committing oneself until one was fairly sure in advance that there would be common agreement. I was constantly struck by the…continual effort…to operate together unanimously…in the direction of the greatest individual satisfaction without direct conflict of interest.

The Jesuit missionaries who accompanied the fur traders to Canada were horrified by Montagnais life, and set about trying to “civilize” the tribe. Within a decade, the old order began breaking down, as the economic base of Montagnais society was transformed. The European market for fur was enormous, and to meet this insatiable demand, traders offered the Montagnais and other indigenous peoples European goods in exchange for tens of thousands of pelts. The communities around the trading stations consequently grew dependent on French tools, weapons, clothing, and food. Filling French orders for fur meant that the Montagnais ceased to be hunters who spent large parts of the year travelling long distances; they instead became sedentary trappers. The collective, collaborative experience of hunting gave way to a more individualistic one, with single people managing traps and reaping the rewards. Before the Europeans’ arrival, the Montagnais had no notion of private property; now the land was divided into individually owned lots. Social relations changed too: under pressure from the Jesuits, the patriarchal European model of family life came to dominate, as women were forced out of their role as producers and men took on the primary task of trapping.

Similar changes occurred everywhere European traders went, as John F. Richards notes in his study of the commodification of animals. For instance, “although the Creeks adapted quickly and successfully to the new incentives of the deerskin trade, they…faced a basic contradiction. Economic and political forces made it imperative that they deliver a maximal number of deer skins every year. They became market hunters linked into the world market who used muskets to avidly pursue as many deer and bear as possible.”

It is important not to romanticize the life of indigenous peoples before European arrival, lest we slip into old tropes of “noble savages” living in perfect harmony with nature. As Richards notes, evidence exists that in pre-contact times, Native Americans faced with an abundance of prey would kill more animals than they needed, to ensure they got the choicest food.

But this hardly compares with the scale of the slaughter of animals driven by European demand for fur and skins. As Richards puts it: “Once Indians were touched by the stimulus of market demand, any restraints they had previously maintained eroded rapidly. Pursuit of the material rewards offered by the fur traders forced Indians to hunt preferred species steadily, despite declining numbers…. What they became were commercial hunters caught up in the all-consuming market.”

The transformation in attitudes toward nature that followed European arrival in the Americas mirrors that which accompanied the rise of capitalism in Europe. Keith Thomas has pointed out that in Tudor and Stuart times, “the long established view was that the world had been created for man’s sake and that other species were meant to be subordinate to his wishes and needs.”

The separation of the people from the soil, one of the “original sources of wealth,” was a protracted and brutal one. Rural producers were turned into wage labourers. Many were pushed off the land into the growing towns and cities; others were forced to emigrate, often to the frontiers of capitalism in the New World. The remainder lost their traditional rural role, becoming wage labourers, as Marx recognized:

The immediate producer, the worker, could dispose of his own person only after he had ceased to be bound to the soil and ceased to be the slave or serf of another person…the historical movement which changes the producers into wage-labourers appears on the one hand as their emancipation from serfdom…. But on the other, these newly freed men became sellers of themselves only after they have been robbed of all their own means of production, and all the guarantees of existence afforded by the old feudal arrangements.

This new primacy of private property had to be enforced, and in England, Parliament enacted hundreds of new laws to encourage further enclosure and limit shared use of land. Such legislation was needed, as E. P. Thompson noted, because “property was not, in 1700, trenched around on every side by capital statutes.” Thompson referred specifically to the notorious 1723 Black Act, which criminalized unauthorized “hunting, wounding or stealing of red or fallow deer [in a forest, common lands, or Royal Park], and the poaching of hares, conies or fish.” The law imposed capital punishment on those found guilty of poaching.

As the great agricultural trade unionist Joseph Arch noted, the act and other anti-poaching laws went beyond protecting private property to alter the ways that people used the country’s natural resources:

We labourers do not believe hares and rabbits belong to any individual, not anymore than thrushes or blackbirds do…. To see hares and rabbits running across his path is a very great temptation to many a man who has a family to feed…so he may kill a hare or a rabbit when it passes his way, because his wages are inadequate to meet the demands on them, or from dire necessity, or just because he likes jugged hare as well as anybody else.

The Black Act was part of “making the world safe for English merchants and landlords to increase in wealth and so to contribute to the new power of the English state.”

As in the Americas—though with far less bloodshed—such changes transformed social attitudes toward nature. Henry Best was an English yeoman farmer who saw his land triple in value through a process of enclosure in the mid-1600s. The author of several works on improved agricultural methods, Best had developed his own system for selling animals at optimal prices. All of this made him “intolerant” of the remaining communal traditions among his fellow villagers, and he refused to contribute to the shared hay stock for winter because “our hay would have been spent in feeding other men’s animals.” Best worked vigorously to ensure that other farmers’ animals did not stray onto his land, even keeping watch in the middle of the night. Deliberately isolating himself from his neighbours, Best represented an early case of the classic capitalist small landholder, driven by the desire to maximize his own profits at the expense of the wider community.

The parcelling up of the land in effect created private property where there was none before, and new restrictions on the use of nature by rural populations formed a foundational part of the new capitalist order, managed and protected by the state. As historian George Yerby writes, “the land was being pinned down, set at a conceptual distance, captured on the page and assessed in theory, rather than simply worked as a continuous, unbroken physical exercise.”


Light Shining in Buckinghamshire, an anonymous pamphlet circulated by the Diggers in 1648, complained bitterly of the rapid spread of enclosure:

All the Land, Trees, Beasts; Fish, Fowle, &c. are inclosed into a few mercinary hands; and all the rest deprived and made their slaves, so that if they cut a Tree for fire they are to be punished, or hunt a fowle it is imprisonment, because it is gentlemens game, as they say; neither must they keep Cattle, or set up a House, all ground being inclosed, without hyring leave for the one, or buying room for the other, of the chief incloser, called the Lord of the Manor, or some other wretch as cruel as he.

These changes provoked spirited resistance. Anti-enclosure movements threw down fences and hedges, and riots broke out in protest of new land laws. Massed bands of poachers confronted armed gamekeepers in set-piece battles, and communities fought in the courts, in the streets, and in the fields to protect their shared interests. Later the rise of agricultural unions moved the battle away from violent clashes toward the struggle over wages and working hours, but riots and protests were for decades the principal form of mass outrage at what was being done to common people and their land.

The “classical case against the open-field and common,” Thompson writes, “was its inefficiency and wastefulness of time.” He cites a 1795 report complaining that the rural labourer, “in sauntering after his cattle…acquires a habit of indolence. Quarter, half and occasionally whole days are imperceptibly lost. Day labour becomes disgusting.” In Thompson’s view, enclosure and agricultural improvement were “concerned with the efficient husbandry of the time of the labour force.” In towns and cities, urban industry had “time discipline” at its heart, and education served as “training in the ‘habit of industry.’” Workers in the new factories and workshops had to be broken from their old habits into new ways of working.

This primary accumulation of wealth, as Marx called it, laid the basis for the development of the capitalist system, and severed traditional ties between the people and the soil, concentrating workers in towns and cities. This process of urbanization and proletarianization also brought with it a new form of time discipline, and the use of “reserve armies of the unemployed” to inhibit workers’ struggles against their employers.

All of this led ultimately to the rise of fossil fuels, which came to dominate British industry in the nineteenth century. This process was neither automatic nor speedy. As late as 1800, only eighty-four steam engines powered cotton mills in England, compared to around a thousand mills run by water. John Robison, a professor of philosophy and lifelong friend of James Watt, inventor of the steam engine, complained: “Water is the most common power and indeed the best, as being the most constant and equable; while wind comes sometimes with greater violence and at others is totally gone. Mills may also be moved by the force of steam…but the expense of fuel most undoubtedly prevent this mode of constructing mills from ever becoming general.”

Nonetheless, steam engines were adopted eventually, despite the high capital costs of plant and fuel and the novel engineering needed. One reason was that they freed mill owners from the natural limits of hydropower; only so many water wheels can be installed over a particular river, and only in so many suitable locations are available. Fossil fuels, cheap and abundant, had no such constraints.

But the main reason that fossil fuels came to dominate capitalist production, as Andreas Malm argues in his recent book Fossil Capital, is that steam power offered “a ticket to the town.” Steam meant that industry could now be located in urban areas where workers disciplined in factory work could be easily hired (and fired). No longer would factory owners be compelled to build homes, churches, and schools in remote valleys. Instead, the slums of Manchester, Birmingham, and Glasgow became the major sites for mills. In 1833, J. R. McCulloch explained these developments in the Edinburgh Review: “The work that is done by the aid of a stream of water is generally as cheap as that which is done by steam, and sometimes much cheaper. But the invention of the steam-engine has relieved us from the necessity of building factories in inconvenient situation merely for the sake of a waterfall. It has allowed them to be placed in the centre of a population trained to industrious habits.” Marx wrote that the process of primitive accumulation “conquered the field for capitalist agriculture, incorporated the soil into capital and created for the urban industries the necessary supplies of free and right-less proletarians.”

That the capitalist mode of production transformed human social relations is universally known, but it served equally to alter the relationship between humanity and nature. The separation between town and country grew, and the concentration of people in new and growing urban areas drove the adoption of new technologies and labour methods. Fossil fuels became the dominant form of energy, further enabling capital to exploit the workforce. Twenty-first century ecological crisis was never inevitable, but it became steadily more likely with capitalism’s global expansion. Understanding the historical processes that gave rise to the Anthropocene will be a vital weapon in the struggle for a sustainable and just world.

Thursday, 12 October 2017

George Monbiot’s Damascene Near Conversion to Ecosocialism



I have written before on this blog, of George Monbiot’s political philosophy as being liberal essentially, a kind of green neo-Keynesianism, and the limits that this puts on his radicalism. I justified this by reference to his 2003 book, ‘The Age of Consent’ where this is exactly what he advocates. The marketing blurb for the book contains this quote:

“Our task is not to overthrow globalisation, but to capture it, and to use it as a vehicle for humanity’s first global democratic revolution.” 

This sounds quite radical but the book goes onto suggest a neo-Keynesian approach, and rather condescendingly dismisses socialism in a page and a half. This is a quote from my previous blog on the subject:

‘It is not a revolution Monbiot wants, he is happy enough with the current capitalist system that he wants it to continue, but be tweaked around a bit. In short, he is a liberal, so this is all to be expected. He either thinks that anything more radical is doomed to failure or he is deluding himself liberal economics can help to solve the very ecological crisis it has set going.’

If you have read the book then this is the only conclusion to draw. But he has been edging away from this type of thinking. In December last year he wrote in his column in The Guardian that Corbyn’s Labour were pursuing a Keynesian approach to policy when they need to advocate a move to ‘commons based’ solutions, that is, abandoning Keynesianism and indeed capitalism as useless in the face of the ecological crisis.

In his column on Tuesday this week he went further with his new thinking. He mentions a commons based ownership of production and stewardship of the land, and participatory democracy. The example he gives is of the Brazilian city of Porto Alegre who have pioneered this participatory democracy in local spending decisions and much else.

The commons is an extremely important concept in ecosocialism, and extends beyond the physical land based commons of old (and some that still exist), into areas like peer to peer data sharing and things like the Firefox web browser. Monbiot does say that commons are a ‘non-capitalist system’ but omits terming this as ecosocialism, which it is. Or to be exact, it is only a prefiguration of ecosocialism, and thus sadly open to abuse whilst the capitalist system survives.

Participatory budget setting and other forms of lowest level democratic decision making, what Monbiot refers to as ‘subsidiarity,’ is also close to ecosocialist theory, and we would extend this to most areas of political engagement and governance.

He advocates a land value tax and a citizen’s income, which is not strictly speaking ecosocialist, but is promoted by the English Green Party, and whilst they are good transitional policies pointing towards ecosocialism, they would be unnecessary under full blown ecosocialism. There would be no private ownership of land and there would probably be no need for money.  

Monbiot thinks this is all possible under a UK Corbyn led Labour government, who have been making moves to update their 1970’s Keynesian ideology, to some extent at least. I think this is possible, but Labour doesn’t seem to be there yet, which Monbiot does acknowledge. There is still a centralising instinct in the Labour party, and faith in things like nuclear power (which Monbiot now supports too) is a good example.

I also think beyond a transitional stage, which we need to have, that bourgeois democracy is unlikely to be the vehicle for achieving ecosocialism, because there are too many powerful vested interests in capitalism to accept full blown ecosocialism. It would mean the end for the capitalist class, and they will not allow that to happen without a fight. Too many of their class do very well out of the system, although most people get ripped off by it. Why should the elites throw away their lives of luxury on the backs of the mass of the people?

So, yes Monbiot’s change of emphasis is to be welcomed, but only as a transitional phase, and I hope Monbiot can follow through the logic of his new thinking, abandon his attachment to capitalism, and fully embrace the only system that will give us a chance of avoiding a massive ecological and social crisis. Ecosocialism, that is. 

Tuesday, 10 October 2017

Theresa May is the most Incompetent Prime Minister of my Lifetime



I was born in 1962 when the Tory prime minister was Harold Macmillan. He is famous for his slogan, ‘most of our people have never had it so good’, and in many ways he was right. The economy was booming, jobs easy to obtain and a welfare state. Macmillan’s government built hundreds of thousands of council houses, and relatively, times were good. He was brought down in1963 over the Profumo affair, which was no fault of his own, so overall he scores quite well.

Macmillan was removed in the infamous ‘night of the long knives’ by the ‘men in grey suits’, (the Tory party establishment) and replaced with the tweed jacketed toff, Sir Alec Douglas Home. Labour managed to capitalise on the Profumo affair and paint Home as a toff in an age when British deference to authority largely died a death. Home lost to Labour in 1964, but confounded expectations and Labour’s Harold Wilson only won a narrow majority in Parliament. Home was short lived but didn’t really do any damage.

Wilson went back to the country in 1966 and won a 100 seat majority, but unexpectedly lost the 1970 election, which he chose to call earlier than necessary. But Wilson was to make a comeback, after the Tory prime minister, Ted Heath’s reign ended in 1974. Amid a national mine workers strike, leading to power cuts, and his imposition of the ‘three day week’ to conserve energy, and the TV going off at 10pm. Heath called a who ‘runs the country’ election in 1974, and lost.

So Harold Wilson was back, with a minority Labour government. He called a second election later in the year and won a small majority. Wilson retired in 1976 after winning four general elections and James Callaghan became prime minister. Wilson was a shrewd operator and kept the competing personalities in his Cabinet united. He also was a master of prevarication when it came to keeping the UK out of the Vietnam war (which Heath continued).

Callaghan was soon running a minority government, propped up by the Lib Lab pact with the Liberal party, faced with the oil crisis, industrial unrest and high inflation he had his hands full but with skill hung on until 1979, when Margaret Thatcher won for the Tories. Although Callaghan had a difficult time as prime minister, nobody ever thought of him as incompetent.

Margaret Thatcher brought huge change to the country, got involved in an imperialist war with Argentina, broke the power of the unions and started privatising public services. I opposed everything Thatcher did, but I never thought of her as incompetent. She won three general elections in a row.

Finally brought down by her own party in 1990, Thatcher was succeeded by John Major who went on to win a surprise election victory in 1992. Major was tormented by his Eurosceptic MPs, who he termed ‘the bastards,’ called a leadership election and won, but his authority was damaged. The humiliation of having to withdraw from the European Monetary System when the pound went into free fall, and beset by sleaze, financial and sexual, lost the 1997 election by a landslide. He was prime minister for seven years though, and did have that 1992 election win to his credit.

Labour’s Tony Blair then won two further elections, but was damaged by getting involved in US led wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. He carried on the work of the Tories in privatising public services and reducing taxes for the rich, but his three general election triumphs in a row was a record for Labour. Gordon Brown followed when Blair stood down in 2007, and carried on in much way as Blair, but without the charisma. His finest moment was during the 2008 financial crisis, when he was the only world leader to have a plan to stabilise the world economy, which involved nationalising the banks. He lost to David Cameron’s Tories in the 2010 election.

Cameron didn’t have a majority in Parliament, so relied on a coalition with the Lib Dems, he introduced austerity measures and took an economy that was in fragile recovery and drove it into a ditch. He was forced by his Eurosceptic MPs into promising a referendum on EU membership, which he had to grant, then went onto surprise everyone, including himself no doubt, by winning a majority in 2015. He lost the referendum in 2016, and promptly resigned. A very poor prime minister, but he did at least win one and a half general elections.

So we come to the present incumbent, Theresa May. May supported remaining in the EU, but was pretty quiet about it, positioning for a future tilt at the leadership. She was lucky that all her opponents in the leadership election, one by one, dropped out, and she was left as the only candidate, so didn’t even win an internal election to become leader (and prime minister). She became a convert to Euroscepticism and took a hard line on Brexit. Miles ahead in the opinion polls, facing a deeply divided Labour opposition with an unpopular leader, she went for what she probably thought would be an easy win, and called an election in 2017, and lost her majority in Parliament. A shameful bribe to the Northern Irish DUP is the only thing keeps her in office today.

For someone who has been a politician for as long as May has, it is incredible how bad she is at politics. The disastrous speech to re-launch her premiership at last week’s Tory party conference was a metaphor for her leadership generally. An embarrassing stunt of being handed a P45, and the voice loss and continual coughing, against a backdrop of the stage falling apart, all seemed to sum up her term as prime minister.

May is surely the most hapless, incompetent prime minister we have had in the last fifty odd years. She has never won even an internal party election, let alone a general election, is beset with infighting in her party and her Cabinet, and with a run on the pound and the economy teetering on the edge of stagnation. She is too politically weak to do anything beyond survive, until her party ditches her, in the not too distant future it seems. 

Unfortunately for the country, this is the person in charge of our most critical international negotiations since the end of the second world war, and it’s a complete shambles. God help us. 
     

Sunday, 8 October 2017

The Ecosocialism of Joel Kovel


Written by Paul Buhle and first published at Counterpunch

It should be a given that no memoir is inherently “strange.” Every life is lived uniquely and has its own special qualities, drawn out at length (or not) by the writer. In The Lost Traveller’s Dream, Kovel has managed to summon up a spirit that transcends as well as living within its, or his, own time. This is a life “beyond,” something possible at any time but valuable especially in an era of collapse, catastrophe, and perhaps improbable hope.

Joel Kovel, to be brief, has been a prestigious and best-selling writer on psychotherapy, a militant left activist from the middle 1960s onward, an eco-theorist and an explorer of the world just beyond our sense perceptions. He offers us the details most precious to him, the saga of his own family (or families), his shift from one intellectual emphasis to another, his growth in politics but also his political conflicts.

Memorably, more than few times in this memory book, he steals mainstream prestige away from himself. This is not exactly self-sabotage, although careerists would surely think so. He contemplates the rewards alongside the political (and personal) costs and chooses…not to be rewarded. Indeed, he sometimes chooses to be anti-rewarded, not perversely but with political purpose.

Thus we come back to the middle class secular Jewish lad  from Long Island going off to Yale in the later 1950s. His identity group is mildly leftwing, including future New Press founder Andre Schffrin. His future is in the budding psychotherapy field, and in A Complete Guide to Therapy, he is on the literary (and career) fast track. Alas, he does not like where it seems to be taking him.

The US invasion of Vietnam, as for some of his generation but more of the ones following shortly, distances him from his liberal sponsors. He enrolls in the Left, carrying him and his would-be career to far places. His second marriage, to left media activist Dee Dee Halleck, settles the matter, in a sense.

But there is that professorship later on, at Bard College, traditional home of bohemian intellectuals. He does his work and likes his job. And then the College becomes the plaything of a high powered neoconservative, with the financial connections that nearly extinguish faculty resistance around Kovel.

Add to this Kovel’s commitments to ecosocialism, his intellectual explorations and editorial energy, and you have a professor who seems, to conservatives and many liberals alike, to be the sore thumb that sticks out. He became an ecological theorist of note, shocking those academics whose inclinations are never really toward “radical” solutions to global warming or the death cry of rivers. He offered, more and more, a philosophy of struggle and transcendence. No wonder he finds himself cashiered, bounced, in time to live a retirement of militant resistance.

Some of the many details of this heavily detailed book carry us toward St. Francis on the one hand and the Sandinista Revolution in Nicaragua on the other. Or rather, to his own surprise, these two seemed to be the same hand after all. A militant atheist since youth, Kovel was taken with the connection of ecological visionaries from the distant past and present. St. Francis had, after all, broken with his own wealthy family and set himself for a life with the poor. This saint did not actually defect to the heretics suffering persecution or break with the Pope persecuting them. His was, finally, a sort of in-house rebellion. The Sandinistas would certainly have preferred this option, but faced a scolding Pope who desperately feared Liberation Theology and the “People’s Church” that had arisen during the Revolution.

Kovel is drawn, understandably, to the charisma of Ernesto Cardenal in particular, and through that connection, ponders a leftwing religious mysticism that still intrigues him. Given the sad fate of a Central American revolution too close to the US to win like the Vietnamese, Kovel had another paradise of sorts, far further North. That is: Vermont, also full of utopians. The Bread and Puppet Theater had and has a creative vitality that could easily be called spiritual. That Kovel never quite relocated politically to Vermont is attributed, in part, to the well-known fractious sentiments of eco-anarchist Murray Bookchin, the sage of Burlington known best, in later days, for personal attacks on Bernie Sanders. It would not have been a happy partnership.

Kovel chose instead upstate New York. This brought him into the Green Party, reaching ballot status in the state by the late 1990s. The Greens possessed wonderfully odd characters, the oddest perhaps Al Lewis (of The Munsters)—when out of disguise an ancient Red. Kovel himself ran for the US Senate against Alphonse D’Amato and Chuck Schumer, the latter an emerging Democratic centrist in the pocket of the Israel Lobby. At a high point of Green activity, Kovel dreamed of running for president on the Green ticket. This time, in 2000, Ralph Nader stood implacably in the way.

That Kovel afterward took over Capitalism, Nature, Socialism from James O’Connor (reviewer acknowledgment: I have had an intermittent column in this journal for twenty years) in 2003, seeing the journal through rocky times to another editorial team. By the end of his tenure, Kovel had done his work. Travel, socialist and ecological discussions across geographical zones, and more rumination have all followed. The Lost Traveler’s Dream ends up as close to William Blake as to Marx, a logic embedded in this book from its first pages.

Paul Buhle’s latest comic is Johnny Appleseed.

Saturday, 7 October 2017

Madrid Prepares To Deploy Troops In Catalonia



Written by Alejandro López and first published at WSWS

There are numerous unconfirmed reports of troops being sent to Catalonia and nearby regions ahead of a possible unilateral declaration on independence early next week.

Spain’s political establishment is openly talking of invoking Article 116 of the Spanish constitution, laying the basis for the imposition of martial law.

According to military sources cited in the right-wing newspaper OkDiario, troops are being mobilised to Aragón and Valencia, regions adjacent to Catalonia. It explains that the Spanish government estimates that it is necessary to deploy around 30,000 security forces to take control of the region and to “establish constitutional order against the insurrection.” The newspaper says this is a “number which cannot be presently met by the 8,000 police and civil guards currently deployed in Catalonia.”

According to OkDiario, the divisions mobilized include the Division Castillejos (formerly the Rapid Action Force), consisting of three brigades totalling 3,000 troops (the airborne, the parachute and the legion brigades), along with the Armored Infantry Alcázar of Toledo, consisting of 300 troops and 44 tanks. In addition, Madrid is reported to be mobilising the Group of Special Operations of the Navy, the Spanish equivalent of the Navy Seals.

The number of troops being cited in other sources ranges between 12,000 and 16,000.

La Tribuna de Cartagena explains that the frigate Navarra, escorted by two anti-mine frigates, is going to depart to Barcelona fully equipped with troops, arriving at Barcelona’s port on October 8—a day before the previously announced declaration of independence is supposed to be made in the Catalan parliament. According to a statement of the Ministry of Defence, the frigates are participating in the Barcelona International Boat Show.

At the same time, NATO has organised a training exercise under the title “Angel Guard”, involving 600 military police from Spain and nine other NATO member countries. According to the website of the Spanish army, these exercises aim to train military police in the management of a command post during operations and raids, escort and protection of authorities, neutralization of hostile armed personnel inside a military compound and crowd control.

Article 116 involves the deployment of the military and allows the suspension of numerous democratic rights including freedom of expression and the right to strike. It also allows for preventive arrests. Suspending these rights would arm the state with vast police powers that the military could use to terrorise the entire working class, as the Franco regime did from 1939 to 1977.

The Association of the Spanish Army (AME) posted a statement defending King Felipe VI’s speech, in which the monarch denounced the Catalan independence referendum and demanded that the Spanish state seize control of the region. The statement describes the speech as “impeccable” because Felipe conveyed “clearly, concisely and emphatically what the line to follow amid these difficult and complex times.”

AME demanded Popular Party Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy move “to defend without delay the unity of Spain, its territorial integrity and its national sovereignty.”

The European Union has declared its support for the military clampdown now being prepared. During Wednesday’s debate in the European Parliament, Commission First Vice President Frans Timmermans declared that it is “a duty for any government to uphold the law, and this sometimes does require the proportionate use of force.”

He was backed by leading representatives of the Conservative, Social Democratic and Liberal parties.

The implications of such statements were made clear by German EU Commissioner Gunter Oettinger, who warned yesterday that “There is a civil war imaginable now in the middle of Europe,” before making the pious wish that “One can only hope that a thread of conversation will soon be recorded between Madrid and Barcelona.”

Spain’s media is playing its part in paving the way for the military intervention through a campaign aimed at dehumanizing the Catalan nationalists and, in some cases, the whole Catalan population. Not one day passes where the press does not describe developments in Catalonia as an “insurrection,” a “coup d’état,” “rebellion” or as “treason” which needs to be crushed.

Catalan nationalists are accused of brainwashing children and putting them at the front line of protests to be attacked by police. The national police and civil guards, who savagely injured 800 peaceful protestors last Sunday, are portrayed as defenseless and persecuted by people protesting in front of their hotels and temporary residences. The regional police, the Mossos, are presented as treacherous and disloyal. The separatist Catalan Republican Left and the pseudo-left separatist Popular Unity Candidacy (CUP) are constantly attacked, with articles describing them as “the cancer of Catalonia” ( ABC ), or calling for these parties to be “beheaded …. and put in the dustbin of history” ( El Español ).

Such fascistic language precedes a provocative demonstration called for Sunday by the Popular Party and the anti-secessionist Catalan Civil Society, an organization with ties to the far-right. Backed by Citizens and the Socialist Party, and widely promoted by the Madrid-based media, right-wing anti-Catalan nationalists from throughout Spain are being bussed into Barcelona.

The far-right character of the demonstration is acknowledged by its organisers.

In an interview to El Confidencial, Javier Megino, vice-president of From Spain and Catalonia, accepted that there will be neo-fascists and far-rightist present, as they were during a demonstration against separation in Barcelona two weeks ago. Asked if they might cause violence, Megino replied, “when you put together so many people, it is impossible to control them all.”

The demonstration clearly aims, not to represent the “silent majority” within the Catalan population who oppose separatism as asserted by the media, but rather to provoke a violent confrontation between Catalan separatist and fascist forces which the government will seek to exploit to justify a crackdown.

The grave political danger is that the working class in Spain and internationally is not being mobilized against the repressive measures being prepared by Madrid.

At this critical juncture, Catalan and Spanish workers must assess the political forces that claim to supposedly defend them.

Catalan regional premier, Carles Puigdemont, continues to call for dialogue, an option rejected by Rajoy who declares him to be a criminal. Catalan vice-premier, Oriol Junqueras, is mainly concerned at the announcements made by major banks and companies like Banco Sabadell, CaixaBank, energy giant Gas Natural, Abertis, biotech firm Oryzon and the telecommunications corporation Eurona that they are moving out of Catalonia—fearing the future of the region amid the separatist drive.

CUP parliamentarian Eulàlia Reguant told the Catalan daily Nació Digital that her party is working on a plan of how they will take control of Catalan territory, including ports and airports, by approving a law that will mean that 17,000 regional police, the Mossos, “will stop being part of Spain’s justice system.”

The pseudo-left Podemos continues its call for dialogue, while promoting illusions in a PSOE-Podemos government as an alternative to the PP, even as the PSOE is participating in Sunday’s far-right protest and working directly with Rajoy in preparing a violent intervention.

Spain’s Constitutional Court outlawed Monday’s session of the Catalan regional parliament, at which it was expected that the separatist parties would make their unilateral declaration of Independence—based on a complaint brought by the Socialist Party of Catalonia (PSC), the Catalan wing of the PSOE.

All these political forces are demonstrating their political bankruptcy in the face of a military-police state threat. They are disarming the working class, despite the broad opposition that exists to a return to police-state forms of rule.

The broadly-felt opposition to the brutal attacks on democratic rights in Catalonia and throughout Spain can only find expression on the basis of politically independent, revolutionary and socialist perspective independent of all factions of Spain’s ruling elites and their parties. 

Thursday, 5 October 2017

Remainers – Have Events in Catalonia Changed Your View of the EU?



The shocking images that flashed around social media on Sunday of the Catalan referendum on independence, have been met with an almost silent response from the European Union (EU). Other than backing the Spanish government’s legitimacy to uphold Spanish law, the EU has tried to distance itself from the brutality inflicted on peaceable people, at the hands of the Spanish Civil Guard police.

The EU has been keen to stress that the issue is national one, and not one for the EU to become involved in. But the EU has threatened sanctions against Hungary and Poland for not playing by EU rules, and supported military action to establish Kosova’s independence from Serbia. So it is not as though the EU will not intervene in national matters per se, but they are clearly on the side of Spanish government in Catalonia’s case.

It has reminded me of my doubts about the EU, someone who did vote to remain in the end, brought about by the way that Greece was treated by the EU over debt repayments. I don’t seem to be the only one struggling with my conscience over my support for the EU either.

Craig Murray, former British Ambassador and now human rights activist writes on his blog that he:

…is obliged to reconsider my lifelong support for the European Union, due to the unqualified backing of the EU Commission for the Spanish Government’s dreadful repression in Catalonia.  

Murray’s post is well worth a read, where he questions the argument about the actions of the Spanish government being lawful, and opines that the EU is contravening several Articles of the European Charter of Fundamental Rights by supporting the Spanish government’s action on Sunday. These are:

Article 1: The Right to Human Dignity
Article 6: The Right to Liberty or Security of Person
Article 11: Freedom of Expression and Information
Article 12: Freedom of Assembly and Association
Article 54: Prohibition of Abuse of Rights    

Murray also says that the Charter of the United Nations is being breached by Spain and is supported by the EU in this. Article 1 (2) he says, of the Charter supports the ‘self-determination of peoples.’ This is the very thing that is being denied in Catalonia. The Catalans want to exercise this right in a democratic vote, the Spanish government will not allow it, and then sends its police thugs to beat up the Catalans to repress this legitimate desire.

It is not as though the EU is not intimately involved in this issue either, as the reward for Spain of being allowed into the EU in 1986, was of democratic legitimacy after the fascism of the Franco dictatorship.

But more than this, support for independence among Catalans was only around 10% to 15%, before the 2008 financial crash, but rose to over 40% afterwards, and this before the violence from the Spanish state this week at the referendum. There were always cultural differences and financial disagreements between Catalonia and the Spanish state, but these came to a head after the financial crash. The austerity measures forced on southern European countries in the Eurozone, like Spain, has been the catalyst for this crisis to escalate.

The EU has also made it clear that an independent Catalonia will cease to be a member of the organisation and will need to reapply for membership. Catalans, normally very pro EU, might reflect on the value of this membership given the legitimisation of their human rights abuses by this club. Not even a reminder to Spain about its obligations on human rights has been issued.

What will happen next is very worrying. If the Catalan’s declare themselves to be independent, as they say they will, the Spanish state will probably abolish the regional Catalan government, and rule directly from Madrid. This could well involve military force by the Spanish government, and what we saw last Sunday could look like a picnic by comparison to what may happen next.

News comes today that the Spanish government has suspended the Catalan parliamentary session planned for Monday in which a declaration of independence from Spain was expected to be made. Spanish troops are heading to Catalonia as well.

The EU should be taking a conciliatory role and bringing both sides together in a constructive dialogue. If things escalate, as it appears they will, the EU must act, if it is not to sustain lasting damage to its reputation for respecting human rights.  

Tuesday, 3 October 2017

Spain/Catalonia: Savage police violence met with resistance from Catalan people



Statement by Izquierda Revolucionaria (Revolutionary Left)

Thousands of police and civil guards carried out savage repression in Catalonia to try to prevent the right to vote in the referendum on 1 October. The state forces smashed glass doors of schools used as polling stations and stole ballot boxes. The riot police were sent by the Partido Popular (PP) government and the State against tens of thousands of citizens, families, children and old people. They were sent to occupy Catalonia but met with huge, exemplary resistance of the people.


Despite the campaign of fear that for days has tried to intimidate those who wanted to vote (arrests, massive fines, and website closures) the overwhelming response by the masses was an exemplary display of struggle. This is the way foward. The mobilizations must continue with a general strike in Catalonia on 3 October, and in the following days with massive mobilizations of the fighting left and the workers’ unions in the Spanish state. It is now time to throw out the PP government.

Franco’s repression

The images of the Franco regime have returned with all their force in the guise of Spanish Prime Minister Rajoy and his government of thieves, reactionaries and Spanish chauvinists. The heirs of the dictatorship have tried teaching a lesson to the population of Catalonia, but what they are going to harvest is a complete failure. The rage, indignation and fury of millions of young people and workers will grow into a wall against which the Francoist right and its repressive state will crash.

It is evident that as the hours pass, the number of injured and the violence due to police violence will only increase, as will the response in the streets. The political lessons of what is happening today are very important and will be recorded in the consciousness of millions of people, both from Catalonia and the rest of the state and internationally. The justification that the PP and its government that they only applying the law, cannot hide the fact that that law is unfair, undemocratic and goes directly against the aspirations of millions of Catalans who the government are trying to muzzle. These actions make even more shameful the capitulation of the leadership of the PSOE [Partido Socialista Obrero Español – a social democratic party] which has preferred to weave an alliance with the heirs of Franco rather than recognise the right to decide by the people of Catalonia.

The 1978 Constitution

In fact, what has been called into question thanks to the mobilisation of millions of young people, workers and citizens of Catalonia, is the authoritarian and oligarchical character of the capitalist regime that was enacted in 1978 [after the end of Franco rule]. To abort a revolutionary situation – in which the working class and the youth of all the territories of the State put the dictatorship and Spanish capitalism on the ropes – the Spanish bourgeoisie and the reformist leaderships of the organizations of the left (PCE [Spanish Communist Party] and PSOE) agreed the reform of the dictatorship in exchange for recognizing legally the democratic freedoms that had already been conquered in the streets through the mobilisation of the masses. In this way, the socialist transformation of society was prevented, and the bourgeoisie maintained control of the situation through a monarchical and parliamentary regime that accused included huge authoritarian aspects.

The 1978 Constitution enacted many things: a law that allowed impunity for the crimes of Francoism, the state apparatus was never purged; the judiciary, police and military remained in the hands of the same reactionaries. Of course, the “free market” economy and the unquestioned power of the capitalists were guaranteed, and the right to self-determination refused to Catalonia, the Basque Country and Galicia denied, inscribed in the Constitution with the language of the Franco dictatorship: ‘Spain, large and free’.

The mass movement unleashed in Catalonia in favour of national-democratic rights has placed the debate at an essential point. The denial that Catalonia is a nation has been reiterated by the centralist bourgeoisie and the right wing and enacted through repression or simple military conquest. This has been combined with widespread frustration at the terrible consequences of capitalist crisis; mass unemployment, evictions, job precariousness and low wages, and the lack of a future for the youth. The struggle against national oppression and class oppression have intertwined, as in other times in Spain (1909, 1931, 1934, 1936, 1977 …) generating a revolutionary potential that has defied the forms of political domination of the Spanish capitalist regime.

The working class and the youth of the whole State must understand that the cause of the people of Catalonia is also ours. “A people who oppress another can never be free,” said Karl Marx. That is why the labour movement throughout its history always inscribed on its flag the struggle for national liberation, for the self-determination of oppressed nations, as part of the struggle for the socialist transformation of society. Today in Catalonia we are fighting for the democratic freedoms that cost so to be won in the 1970s. If today the government act against the people of Catalonia, what will happen tomorrow? The answer is not difficult to work out. Tomorrow they will intensify the repression against all those who rise up against injustice and call into question their oppression and their rule. They will approve new gagging laws, more exceptional measures of repression, more Francoist impunity.


The people of Catalonia have courageously challenged the PP and its regime. That is why we must take advantage of this opening gap to achieve the immediate resignation of Rajoy and defeat this repressive onslaught. And to do so is only possible with the entrance of the organized working class, paralyzing production and filling the streets with the youth and the citizenship that is already massively mobilized.

The leadership of the CCOO and UGT [union federations] are maintaining a deplorable silence. Will you continue with this attitude after such brutal repression that recalls what was experienced under the dictatorship of Franco or Pinochet? Have they forgotten the verses of Bertolt Brecht: “First they came for the Communists, and I did not speak out because I was not a Communist. Then they came for the Socialists and the trade unionists, and I did not speak because it was neither. Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me, and by that time there was no one who could speak for me ?"

The CCOO and UGT should immediately rectify its position and call a general strike in Catalonia on 3 October, and promote the mobilization of the working class in the rest of Spain. If they do not, they will be compromised once more, appearing next to those who today have trampled on the most scandalous democratic rights of all.

From Izquierda Revolucionaria we call on all formations on the left to struggle. In Catalonia we urge the Comú, ERC [Republican Left of Catalonia], CUP [Popular Unity Candidacy] and working class unions, social movements to establish a broad front of resistance against repression and to organize the 3 October general strike, and to extend the mobilization over the next days to conquer the right, to force the withdrawal of repressive forces in Catalonia and to bring down the PP government.

The youth are showing outstanding exemplary bravery and dedication in this battle: they did so in the massive student mobilisation on 28 September, and are doing so today in the streets, suffering the blows of the riot police. The Sindicat d’Estudiants has called a student general strike on 3 October and for the solidarity mobilization of student youth from the rest of the state.

We are facing a rise in the class struggle. From Izquierda Revolucionaria, we wish to express, once again, our commitment to the struggle of the Catalan people for their national-democratic rights, and we call for massive participation in the polls on 1 October, voting in favour of the Catalan republic as a way of hitting the capitalist regime Spanish and centralist state. This will encourage the class struggle for a Catalan socialist republic, against austerity policies and cuts, as a step forward towards the defeat of the PP and the immediate departure of the Catalan nationalist rightwing PDeCAT [Catalan European Democratic Party].

Now is the moment to offer a real working class alternative that is both internationalist and revolutionary, not subordinated to the nationalist bourgeoisie of Catalonia, or the PDeCAT or Puigdemont [Carles Puigdemont, the president of the Catalan Generalitat]. We cannot forget that even though they now suffer the reactionary onslaught of the PP, these political leaders have applied savage social cuts that have caused immense suffering, and defend their own privileges and very concrete class interests: those of the economic elite of Catalonia.

Izquierda Revolucionaria is committed to working to build a consistent left-wing alternative, which will seek the unity of the workers and the youth of Catalonia with their class brothers of the Spanish state, in a common struggle for socialism.

Ending the national oppression of Catalonia, Euskal Herria, Galiza, can only be realized in this epoch of imperialist decay if it is linked firmly to the overthrow of capitalism and the struggle for the socialist transformation of society, with the establishment of a Federal Socialist Republic, based on the voluntary free union of peoples and nations that make up the Spanish state.