Saturday 30 September 2017

Catalonia referendum: the insurrection against the Spanish state is reaching a decisive climax

Written by Dick Nichols and first published at (Australian Green Left Weekly)

The war without guns between the Spanish state and the 80% majority of Catalan people who support their parliament’s October 1 independence referendum is reaching a climax at the time of writing on September 29.

On October 1, it will become clear whether the Catalans have humiliated the central Spanish People’s Party (PP) government by succeeding to vote; suffered a setback because the 10,000 Spanish National Police and paramilitary Civil Guards in Catalonia succeed in closing polling stations; or achieved a mixed result due to only some voters getting into polling stations.

In this decisive battle in Catalonia’s long struggle for self-determination against a centralised Spanish state, the answers finally given to some tough questions will decide the outcome.

Police response?

For example, will the Catalan police (the Mossos d’Esquadra) carry out the role the Spanish state prosecutor and judge of the High Court of Justice of Catalonia (TSJC) have sadistically assigned them?

This is to seal off a 100 metre perimeter around all polling stations by September 30 and defend it — if needed with the help of the Civil Guard and Spanish National Police — against those seeking to vote.

This may sound like a simple policing operation, but education unions and parents associations have already developed a counter tactic: to keep schools open all weekend with programs of activities. They are inviting parents, students and the community to participate: in short, organising school occupations.

This means that on October 1, the schools that make up two-thirds of voting centres will be full of people inside and surrounded by people seeking to vote outside. Mossos d’Esquadra leaders have said that in this situation, they will not take action that would worsen public security.

Faced with this, will the Civil Guard and Spanish National Police try to force the Catalan police to act against their fellow Catalans? How would the Catalan police respond?

On September 27, Mossos d’Esquadra head Josep Lluis Trapero informed the TSJC and the Spanish state prosecutor that the Catalan police would carry out instructions to seal off polling centres. However, they would do so in accordance with the three principles of “guaranteeing public order and citizen safety and avoiding a greater evil”.

Given this, Catalan daily Ara pointed out on September 28 that only a mobilisation large enough to dissuade police action would guarantee that the referendum would take place.

Blows and counterblows

This challenge is well understood by the Catalan government, the Catalan social organisations organising volunteers in the referendum and the growing mass of people committed to ensuring it happens.

That awareness showed in the rapid response to the instruction to seal off the schools and other voting centres, and hand keys and security codes to police. The Spanish state prosecutor in Catalonia issued the instruction on September 26 (without a court order) and it was repeated the next day by a TSJC judge.

Yet by September 27, the education collective We Are School, the Alliance of Education Workers Unions of Catalonia (USTEC) and General Union of Workers (UGT) had launched the campaign Let’s Open The Schools.

The Open Schools web site — through which people could offer to maintain school occupations — was set up at the same time: in one day it attracted more than 50,000 volunteers.

For its part, the Catalan government, sensitive to the situation of school principals and community health centre directors, had its health and education ministers assume collective responsibility for all polling stations in schools and health centres.

This was a counter to the TSJC judge’s order, which made these principals and directors legally responsible for ensuring centres were kept closed.

On September 28, in a ceremony in the central Catalan government building in Barcelona, hundreds of school principals handed over the keys to their centres to Catalan Premier Carles Puigdemont. The act symbolised the Catalan government taking responsibility for having schools open on October 1.

Puigdemont said: “[The government] will go right to the end in taking responsibility for October 1 ... Thank you for your perseverance, for everything that you have done and will do — not for the government, not for the parliament, but for the citizens.

“Going to vote has turned into an epic, heroic exercise. I understand the anguish of everyone, because we have all become targets of threats and intimidation.”

To the familiar chant of “We Will Vote”, the short ceremony ended with a new addition: “We Will Open.”

Growing insurrection

In his speech, Puigdemont said that “for every difficulty there are two solutions, for every threat three hopes”. He added: “There is a growing multitude of people who are joining the new majority who want to vote.”

This last comment referred to the extraordinary growth of the movement in support of the referendum since September 20, when Civil Guard raids on Catalan government buildings led to arrests of 13 senior government officials. That evening, 40,000 people gathered outside the Catalan economy ministry while Civil Guards inside combed through files and computers.

On that night, deputy premier Oriol Junqueras first uttered the phrase that has become a sort of motto of the movement: “The government has done all it can, but only the people can save the people.”

Since then, the movement to ensure the referendum happens has expanded so rapidly in Barcelona, other main provincial capitals and in “the shires” that it has been very difficult to keep track. Major features to date have been:

University students go into action. The flood of university students into the campaign first became visible on September 21: they were dominant among the 20,000 protesting outside the TSJC building in support of Catalan government officials who had been detained the previous day.

Since then, the epicentre of student activism has been the occupation and sit-in at Barcelona University known as “Caputxinada 2017” — a reference to a famous 1966 anti-dictatorship teach-in that was held in a Capuchin monastery.

The occupation has already been the site of a broad September 29 public meeting involving both pro-independence parties — Together For The Yes (JxSí) and the People’s Unity List (CUP) — as well as deputy Barcelona mayor Gerardo Pisarello from Barcelona en Comú.

It was also the organising centre for a September 28-29 university student strike, as well as a practical help centre for people to find out where to vote.

Other Catalan universities have been the focus of discussions about how the movement for the referendum can best advance.

The entry of high school students. On September 27-28, high school students entered the struggle for the referendum with a 48-hour strike that featured marches down highways and teach-ins in schools.

The sight of high school students marching out of school in support of an “illegal” referendum caused apoplexy in the ranks of the ruling PP. The Spanish education minister instructed prosecutors to investigate if teachers were complicit in the walk-outs. The leader of the PP in Catalonia called for education to be taken away from regional governments and recentralised under the Spanish government.

The unions begin to stir. The more militant unions, most notably firefighters, are mobilising to defend the referendum. The firefighters union resolved to carry pro-referendum propaganda on fire trucks, participate as organised contingents in pro-referendum demonstrations and have offered to defend polling stations.

On September 28, Barcelona firefighters marched through the city to the Barcelona University occupation. They then erected a huge four-story-high banner reading “Democracy!” outside the Museum of Catalan History.

The broad union movement — covering the two main confederations, Workers Commissions (CCOO) and the General Union of Labour (UGT), but also the anarcho-syndicalist General Confederation of Labour (CGT) and other radical forces — is being shaken up by a discussion over how and when to hold a general strike.

The CGT and other smaller unions have announced they will strike between October 3 and October 8.

Other social sectors. As with fire trucks, so with tractors. Rural Catalonia has been the site of tractor processions in support of October 1. Farmers supporting the referendum are also organising to defend polling stations with their tractors.

Since September 20, there have also been statements — often taken out as full-page advertisements in the print media — from other Catalonian sectors: small and medium business’s “Lighthouse Manifesto” giving “unconditional support to the process launched by our parliament”; a statement from 3000 cultural workers condemning the police intervention and supporting October 1; statements from progressive Christian organisations in favour of Catalonia’s right to self-determination; and small printers and photocopying shops forming a network to help the Catalan government with printing in case of further Civil Guard confiscations.


The fight between the Spanish government and the Catalan movement has escalated almost daily. In a rising tide of legal and police attacks, there have been more than 90 actions and more 140 web sites closed down since September 6. The growing counter-tide of revolt is making the political price for the PP government very high.

A September 28 El Mon article quoted “a source close to the government who did not wish to be identified” who acknowledged this reality.

Yet, as the same source remarked, for the Spanish government, the cost of retreat would be higher. Therefore, all the remaining police and legal resources under Madrid’s command are to be hurled against the Catalan movement.

The Catalan mass organisations have called on every supporter of the country’s right to decide to make a last effort to ensure that this aggression fails — and that as a result, the PP administration experiences its own richly deserved crisis.

[Dick Nichols is Green Left Weekly’s European correspondent, based in Barcelona.]

Thursday 28 September 2017

Is the Green Party Struggling to Find a Role on the New Political Landscape?

As news comes today of another high profile Green Party member defecting to Labour, the question arises of what role there is for the Greens in the UK’s new look political arena. Writing at Labour List, Josiah Mortimer, the newly installed editor of the Left Foot Forward website explains his decision to leave the Greens and join Labour:

...a realisation that the Greens will, sadly, be a one-MP party for many years. Coming third in Bristol – and failing to achieve second place anywhere else – was a hammer blow when many expected Molly Scott Cato to win. Caroline Lucas is an incredible and inspiring MP. But the Greens are at risk of remaining The Brighton Party. It is through no great fault of their own, but it is a reality nonetheless.  

Although he goes to concede that in Labour:

Green voices are needed within the (Labour) party to put the case for environmental and social justice as being as being two sides of the same coin. The party has made great strides in realising this.

He concludes by saying:

our movement is nothing if not red and green. Thankfully, both exist and thrive within both parties.

Perhaps Josiah knows more about the Green-ness going on in the Labour Party than I do, and to be sure their environmental policies have taken a turn for the better since Jeremy Corbyn became leader of the party. I do hope it has moved on from being led by SERA though, the Labour Party environmental grouping. SERA is a typical environmentalist outfit, which aims to deal with ‘environmental problems’ as an externality, despite some of the rhetoric on its website. A shopping list of actions to be taken, rather than a coherent joined up philosophy.

Which brings us to ecosocialism, which does have a joined up ecological and socialist ideology. Josiah is an ecosocialist and until today was a Green Left supporter, and I know of other ecosocialists who have defected to Corbyn’s led Labour Party. Josiah seems to think he can further his agenda in the Labour Party more than in the Green Party. Maybe he is right.

And this is the thing at the moment for many Greens, ecosocialist or otherwise. How can we individually best pursue our beliefs and interests? For the Green Party as a whole, what is its role to be now that British politics, on the left especially, has been transformed by the Corbyn effect? Much soul searching, but not a lot in the way of conclusions are forthcoming though.

After this year’s election, I wrote a piece for Left Foot Forward entitled ‘Is it time for the Green Party to affiliate to Labour?’ The Green groups on Facebook were ablaze with condemnation of my post, although no one came up with anything different, than just plodding on in the same fashion as we have been. Other than some on the right of the Green Party, saying we should drop our leftish social policies, and concentrate on deep green issues.

It would be a mistake to withdraw into a ‘fundi’ or ‘lifestyle’ position in my view, as it is very much a minority position amongst the public at large. So, the best suggestion has been to do nothing different, and wait for the political wheel to turn again. It could be a very long wait indeed though.

Writing in Red Pepper, the Green Party’s Derek Wall, points out that the Green surge of 2015 and the Corbyn induced Labour surge, are part of the same movement for change, and so the Greens have influenced Labour, and may continue to do so. But without the electoral threat to Labour that the Greens did pose, it is a debatable issue whether there is much more mileage in that direction.

For sure there are policy differences between the Greens and Labour, chiefly over nuclear power and weapons and Brexit, but there is also a cultural difference in the way each party operates. Labour is fond of internal party control freakery, as was demonstrated at its conference this week, the Greens not so much.

One thing that is undeniable is that the landscape of British politics has changed completely, and we look to be back to two party politics, in England at least. Maybe even Scotland will follow, although the Scottish electoral systems do allow for proportional representation, so things are a little different there. In general though, can we afford to just stand still?

Monday 25 September 2017

Labour’s Vapid Statement on Brexit Clarifies Nothing

When will the Labour Party come clean on its Brexit policy? The ongoing fudge on the issue, which admittedly served them well at this year’s general election, is becoming rather tedious now. You will get differently nuanced views from Keir Starmer, shadow Brexit spokesperson, John McDonald, shadow chancellor and the leader Jeremy Corbyn.

Labour had a golden opportunity, nay a duty, to state unambiguously, what their Brexit policy is, at their party conference this week in Brighton. In what was reminiscent of the new Labour years, conference was denied an opportunity to take a stance, one way or the other, on key issues like membership of the single market and customs union. A solid, unequivocal position could have taken, but no, the only difference with the Blair years was that the dictatorship was of the proletariat, on the face of it anyway. There is more to democracy than numbers.

The leadership of the Labour Party was desperate to close down debate on the issue, and succeeded by launching a campaign to members through its Momentum grouping, against having a debate and vote on this crucial issue for the country. Momentum organised members into voting for debates on other issues instead.

There was a fairly short and vague debate, leading to a statement being put out by the party National Executive Committee (NEC), which is controlled by the leadership, but no vote at conference. To say that the statement is vapid, is probably an understatement, but it was the best word I could come up with having seen what the NEC cooked up, according to the Huffington Post.   

The statement is mainly a criticism of the Tory government’s disastrous handling of the negotiations so far, which is fair enough, as they have made a right mess of things, but Labour has been no clearer than the Tories on its position, and wilfully refuses to do so.

The statement mentions worker’s rights, in a nod to the unions, and confirms a transitional period of Brexit would be sought. And says Labour will not scapegoat immigrants and would confirm existing EU immigrants can stay in the country, on the same basis they have now. 

We knew all of this, as it has been stated before.

In a classic piece of non-speak, the statement declares:

Labour is clear that we need a tariff and impediment- free trading relationship with the European Union. Labour’s priority is an outcome that puts jobs, living standards and the economy first. The precise institutional form of the new trading and customs relationship needs to be determined by negotiation. Labour will not support any future arrangement that sees the introduction of a hard border, or which restricts freedom of movement between Ireland and the UK.    

In short, have your cake and eat it, just like the Tories are promising. But this is not on offer from the EU, and likely never will be. Labour surely knows this.

It is plainly apparent that this is an exercise in party management for Labour, where the vast majority of its MPs want to either remain in the European Union (EU) or have the softest of Brexits. Far be it from me to support calls from the Labour First and Progress groupings within the Labour Party, but most of Labour’s members and voters want the same outcome.

There is mention in the statement of respecting the referendum result, but the question on the referendum ballot was, ‘do you want to remain in or leave the EU?' By leaving the EU and joining the European Free Trade Area, which we were a member of before we joined the EU, would fulfil that vote. The question wasn’t do you want to leave the customs union or do you want to bar foreigners from living in the UK, so why all of this pious respecting of a vague, and closely run result? Who will represent the 16 million people who wanted to remain in the EU? Not Labour it seems.

It is probably the case that the Labour leadership just wants a display of unity at its conference, another throwback to the new Labour years, and sit back and watch the Tories tear themselves apart over Brexit at their conference next week. But I have criticised the Tories for putting the party’s good ahead of the good of the country, so to be even handed, I have to accuse Labour of the same thing.

Labour’s approach to Brexit is not much different from the Tories. 

Sunday 24 September 2017

Catalonia: Mass resistance greets Spanish state coup

Written by Dick Nicholls and first published at (Australian) Green Left Weekly

Forty-one Spanish Civil Guard raids on Catalan government-related buildings and private homes on September 20 led to the arrest of 13 high-level Catalan government officials and harvested a lot of “suspect material” for the prosecutors charged with stopping Catalonia’s October 1 independence referendum. However, the raids have provoked a mass revolt in response.

The haul included 10 million ballot papers stored in a printery warehouse in the central Catalan town of Bigues i Riells.

The proposed referendum, which the Spanish government considers illegal, is part of the long and growing struggle by the “autonomous community” of Catalonia, in the north of the Spanish state, to self-determination.

The suppression of Catalan national rights and culture was a big feature of the 1939-75 fascist Franco dictatorship, and the struggle for national rights against a heavily centralised Spanish state has escalated in recent years. For instance, 1 million people marched on Catalonia’s national day on September 11, the sixth year in a row the day was the scene of huge demonstrations in favour of self-determination.

The raid and the revolt

The raids are intended to stop the referendum, but also landed the central Spanish government of People’s Party (PP) Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy with a mass revolt by tens of thousands of outraged Catalans. Only too conscious of this reminder of Civil Guard operations during the Franco dictatorship, they protested outside the buildings being raided and occupied the centre of Barcelona and other Catalan cities and towns.

People were responding to the call of the Catalan government and the Catalan mass organisations — the Catalan National Assembly (ANC) and Catalan language and culture association Omnium Cultural — to maintain peaceful mass protests up until October 1. The aim is to make the Spanish government pay the highest possible price for its “de facto coup” (phrase of Catalan Premier Carles Puigdemont).

Their call was also backed by political forces and institutions that do not necessarily support Catalan independence, but defend Catalan sovereignty. For example, Barcelona Mayor Ada Colau publicly backed the street protests and warned Rajoy that he would find “the Catalan people more united than ever”.

In Madrid, radical anti-austerity force Unidos Podemos condemned the raids. Its MPs in the Spanish parliament staged a protest outside the building and later joined a rally in support of Catalonia’s right to decide. The Madrid rally, held in the central Puerta del Sol, was one of at least 40 that took place across the Spanish state on the evening of the raids.

Twenty major institutions of Catalan civil society representing 3000 Catalan social organisations — including the two main trade union confederations, Barcelona Football Club, and cultural organisations groups such as the Barcelona Atheneum to the Third Sector — condemned the raids. They called for the release of the detainees and reaffirmed their support for Catalonia’s institutions.

The Civil Guard raids, which came after the Spanish finance ministry took full control of Catalan spending, were aimed at dismantling the infrastructure of the October 1 referendum. Those arrested were 13 senior Catalan government officials in charge of computer technology, communications and finance.

The most senior were the secretary of the Catalan treasury Lluis Salvardo, the secretary-general of the department of deputy-premier Josep Maria Jove and treasurer Oriol Junqueras. Jove and Salvardo have been the two officials presumed responsible for referendum preparations.

Also arrested were the owners of the warehouse holding the printed material related to the referendum.

The charges laid are not yet fully known, but presumably are disobeying a lawful instruction, obstructing the course of justice and misuse of public funds. This last charge carries a prison term, as does the most serious charge that may used — that of sedition.

The huge public response to the raids started when the news spread through social networks and people began to gather outside the buildings being targeted, most importantly the economy ministry in central Barcelona.

The protests soon became thousands strong. After the Catalan mass organisations called on everyone to gather outside the economy ministry, more than 40,000 (council police figure) turned up to protest the raids and reaffirm their determination to vote.

“We shall vote!”, “They shall not pass!”, “Out with the forces of occupation!”, “Where is Europe?” were some of the chants that echoed across Barcelona until midnight, accompanied by singing of the anti-Francoist resistance hymn L'Estaca (“The Stake”) and the Catalan national anthem Els Segadors (“The Reapers”).

As protesters gathered outside the raided buildings, waving banners and posters produced on home printers (the Civil Guard had confiscated most of the official referendum posters) the workers inside draped banners and thank you messages out of the windows.

The protests cut major Barcelona thoroughfares such as Via Laietana, where the workers from the Workers Commissions trade union building came out to lead the picket outside the Catalan foreign affairs ministry across the street.

One reason the protests swelled so rapidly was because students from Catalonia’s main universities abandoned classes to join them. Behind banners with messages such as “Empty the lecture theatres, fill the streets”, students from the out-of-town Autonomous University of Barcelona poured onto the trains into central Barcelona.

At 10pm, with central Barcelona still full of protestors, a loud banging of pots and pans (cassolada) began, as people in all suburbs came out onto their balconies to show what they thought about the Civil Guard operation.

Catalonia-wide protest

Protest rallies were also held in cities and towns across Catalonia on the evening of September 20. In the provincial capital of Girona, 13,000 people took part according to the municipal police — 13% of the total population.

Moreover, many people from provincial Catalonia left work early to join the Barcelona rallies.

The mood of the protests was one of determination to see the fight against the Spanish state intervention through to the end — Catalan rights re-won in the struggles against the Franco dictatorship had to be defended at any cost.

One typical comment from young people was that “our grandparents didn’t suffer under Francoism so that we would let it reappear”.

The rallies were peaceful and disciplined, a reflection of the shared understanding that the street clashes that have nearly always been standard fare in Barcelona demonstrations would only provide the Rajoy government with an excuse to ramp up repression.

The approach of organised passive resistance scored an important win when armed Spanish National Police, supported by a helicopter, failed to enter the headquarters of the left-nationalist, anti-capitalist People’s Unity List (CUP).

The CUP headquarters were defended by a human barrier of up to 2000 supporters and sympathisers, led by present and former CUP MPs in the Catalan parliament.

A comic aspect of the defence, which ended after seven hours of siege, was the instruction that no-one was allowed to smoke a joint on the picket line: if they wished to, they had to go inside the building. According to one participant, the atmosphere inside the CUP headquarters was unbreathable.

That, however, was a small price to pay for getting every last piece of CUP referendum propaganda out of its headquarters and distributed.

Will the referendum happen? All the signs now point to rising conflict between the central Spanish government and the Catalan mass movement and government.

In his early afternoon address on behalf of the Catalan government, Puigdemont said: “From now until October 1 an attitude both of firmness and serenity will be needed, of alertness and of readiness to complain about the abuses and illegalities into which the Spanish state is falling. But on October 1 we’ll be leaving home with a voting paper and we’ll be making use of it.”


Rajoy replied with his own “institutional message”: “You know that this referendum cannot now be celebrated. It was never legal nor legitimate, now it is nothing more than a chimera or, what is worse, the excuse that some seem to be seeking to further deepen the rift they have caused in Catalan society…

“I insist, do not continue, you have no legitimacy. Return to law and democracy, let the people put these fateful days behind them.”

In case that appeal didn’t work, the Spanish PM cited his “determination to have legality enforced without renouncing any of the instruments of our rule of law.”

There can be no doubt about the determination of the central government to stop a referendum that would, if the latest polls are correct, see a 60% turnout and an easy win for the independence option.

If, despite the latest setbacks, the Catalan government still manages to equip polling stations with ballot boxes and papers, voters will in all likelihood find Spanish national police blocking the entrance.

Puigdemont has announced there will be 2700 polling stations. The plan of the Rajoy government seems to be to mobilise the 5000 available Spanish National Police to block voters. The police are to be housed on three ferries that have been berthed in the ports of Barcelona and Tarragona. Waterside workers in both ports have already voted not to service the vessels.

The Spanish authorities may first try to do the job of repression by placing the 17,000-strong Catalan police force under their control. However, the signs are that they do not trust the Catalan police to discipline angry crowds of fellow Catalans demanding entrance to polling stations.

That impression will only have been strengthened by a September 21 circular by Catalan police chief Josep Lluis Trapero, in which he stated that force should only be used in the very last instance, when public order was under threat.


In the intensifying battle for hearts and minds, the Rajoy government’s message of the need to defend “the law” is now being repeated ad nauseam by the mainstream Spanish media.

“Opinion formers” get apoplectic about the “lawless secessionist threat”, but the Catalan case doesn’t even get a look-in — with the possible exception of the program El Intermedio on the Sixth channel.

The Spanish public is thus being prepared to feel that Catalonia “had it coming” if the Rajoy government decides to use more of the “instruments of the rule of law” at its disposal — such as fully suspending the Catalan government, arresting its leaders or closing down Catalan public media. It also prepares the public for any disturbing footage that might emerge of ordinary people being bashed for insisting on their right to vote.

The level of protest and resistance provoked in Catalonia by the PP government’s legal aggression already has the potential to lead to a major political crisis in the Spanish state.

In the short run, the minority Rajoy government enjoys majority parliamentary support for its crackdown against Catalonia. This support is enthusiastic on the part of new right hipster party Citizens, and obedient but sometimes shamefaced on the part of the Spanish Socialist Workers Party (PSOE), the traditional social democratic party.

However, given the prospect of an intensifying spiral of Catalan protest and Spanish police repression, the PSOE could increasingly pay for its complicity with the PP’s iron fist. Stress levels in its Catalan sister organisation — the Party of Socialists of Catalonia (PSC) — are rising, as more PSC mayors and members demand an end to the repression.

If that continues — as seems certain — Unidos Podemos would then be placed to win the struggle with the PSOE for leadership of the left. The greater the mass resistance in Catalonia, the more possible that outcome will be.

At the time of writing (September 21), the unity between the Catalan mass organisations, the government and the bulk of citizens supporting a Catalan right to decide (between 70% and 80%) is clear. The signs are that the mass of supporters of Catalan sovereignty are taking to heart the call of Catalan vice-president Oriol Junqueras: “We [the government] have done what we can, but only the people can save the people.”

Ongoing mobilisation

On September 21, an all-day demonstration outside the courthouse hearing the charges against the arrested officials swelled to tens of thousands; students staged sit-downs on one of Barcelona’s main thoroughfares; a debate among pro-independence leaders before a crowd of a thousand at the Autonomous University has confronted the issue of when, where and how to carry out a general strike in support of the referendum; “illegal” mass paste-ups have attracted so much support that the police and Civil Guard have had to leave them alone; and, at 10pm, the night’s cassolada was as noisy as the one 24 hours before.

Late in the day, Puigdemont reassured Catalonia that the referendum would go ahead, announcing a new website where voters could find out where they should vote. He concluded by saying that every vote — for or against independence — would be a blow against the authoritarian and arrogant PP government.

Given the atmosphere in Catalonia, those words were an invitation for ever-greater mobilisations to make sure that October 1 happens.

[Dick Nichols is Green Left Weekly’s European correspondent, based in Barcelona. An extended and updated version of this article will soon appear at Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal.]

Saturday 23 September 2017

The Future Will Be Ecosocialist – Because Without Ecosocialism There Will Be No Future

Written by Jovel Kovel and first published at Ecosocialist Horizons

Socialism was originally seen as victory in a struggle for justice. The proletarians, concluded the Communist Manifesto, “have nothing to lose but their chains. They have a world to win. WORKING MEN[sic] OF ALL COUNTRIES UNITE!”

All this remains true. Working women and men continue to suffer exploitation, in the workplace and throughout a society ruled by capitalism’s money-power. Structural unemployment, along with increasing divisions of wealth and poverty, the curse of indebtedness and the militarism of the capitalist state–all this, and more, continues to afflict the people. Now as in 1848, workers need a revolutionary socialist transformation. They need to unite, and to again quote the Manifesto, achieve “an association in which the free development of each is the condition of the free development of all.”

But the world we have to win is profoundly changed from the world of 1848. It is a world not simply to be won, but also to be saved from a terrible affliction. A day of reckoning has arrived far beyond anything humanity has ever experienced, though it has been building for centuries, indeed, from the beginnings of humanity’s time on earth. For we are the animal who became human by producing. Production is about the transforming of nature—the real physical world that is our legacy and matrix—into the objects we use for our lives. Transforming nature means changing nature; and changes may be harmful as well as beneficial as they build up over historical time. 

Today, the harm wrought by human production has reached intolerable proportions. Our generation has inherited a world both transformed and deformed, to a degree that raises the question of whether humanity can continue to produce the means of its own survival. We see this taking shape in the menaces of climate change, massive species extinctions, pollution on a scale never before encountered, and more—all signs that humanity has so de-stabilized nature and our relation to it as to raise the real question of whether Homo sapiens, a species that has triumphed over nature to build the mighty civilization that now rules over the earth, has also prepared the ground for its own extinction.

The ecological crisis and capital accumulation

De-stabilization of the natural foundation of society is the supreme question for our age, and because collective survival is at stake, the greatest challenge ever faced by humanity. Because it involves relationships between ourselves and nature, and because the study of relationships between living creatures and their natural environment is named ecology, we can say that what we are going through is an ecological crisis. But whether its meaning is properly understood is another story.

Unhappily, despite a vast amount of scientific investigation into the individual disasters that manifest the ecological crisis, there is very little awareness of its causes and real character, or even that it is an ecological crisis, between humanity as part of nature and nature itself. Instead, the dominant opinion, from all points of the political compass from left to right, sees this crisis under the heading of “environmentalism,” which is to say, as something between ourselves and the external things of nature.

Environmental problems appear as a great set of discrete troubles, itemized like a huge shopping list. The movement that attempts to deal with “the environment” also becomes listed among other worthy causes, like jobs, health care, and the rights of sexual minorities. Environmental problems are accordingly dealt with by regulations, legislation, and policy changes under the watchful eye of a host of NGOs dealing with one aspect of the disruption in nature or another. These petition large bureaucracies like the UN carbon regulation system or the EPA. Typically environmentalism seeks technical fixes or personal lifestyle changes, such as recycling and buying “green” products.

There is nothing wrong with environmentalism, except that it completely ignores the root of the ecological crisis by focusing on external symptoms and not the underlying disease. This is as effective in mending the ecological crisis as treating cancer with aspirin for the pain and baths for the discomfort. In other words, the prevailing approach fails to recognize that what is happening is the sign of a profound disorder. 

Environmentalism cannot ask what can be wrong with a society that so ravages the earth, but simply attempts to tidy up the mess in a piecemeal and fundamentally doomed fashion. Of course, each and every ecological threat must be vigorously met on its own terms. But we need to see the whole of things as well. We cannot put nature on a list, even at the head of a list. Nature is the entirety of the universe.

We are a part of nature, and our society reflects whether we are at home in nature or estranged from it. Failure to understand this on the deepest level and to make necessary changes in our relationship to nature puts everything at risk, including, most poignantly, the lives of our children and grandchildren and all future generations.

If the choices embedded in our society lead to ruin and death, then the obligation is to remake society from the ground up in the service of life. And if this be read as a demand for revolution, so be it! But a revolution of what kind?

Look at the society that rules the earth and its guiding inner dynamic, the production of capital. However capitalism may be dressed up as the society of democracy, free markets, or progress, its first and foremost priority is economic Growth, the eternal expansion of the economic product across society, converted into monetary units. The best word for this compulsion is accumulation. 

The accumulation of capital is the supreme value of capitalists, and all elements of capitalist society—from control over resources, to labor relations, to fiscal and tax policy, to culture and propaganda, to the workings of academia, to war and imperialism, and to be sure, policy towards the natural world–converge to gratify this hunger. Any diminution or even slowing of the rate of accumulation, is perceived as a deep threat provoking the most ruthless, violent, countermeasures to restore order.

As Marx vividly wrote in Capital: “Accumulate! Accumulate! That is Moses and the Prophets.” In other words, he saw a religious impulse at work—Satanic in form, no doubt—driving the capitalist system to convert the entire earth, its oceans and atmosphere, everything under the sun, into commodities, to be sold on the market, the profits converted to capital.

Here we arrive at the obvious, straightforward, yet profound explanation of the ecological crisis and its life-threatening character. For though the universe itself may be infinite and have no boundaries, the corner of the universe inhabited by life is quite finite and thoroughly bounded: that, after all, is what ecology as a scientific study is about. So it follows that a system built on un-boundedness and endless growth is going to destroy the ecosystems upon which it depends for energy and other resources, and is also going to destroy the human ecosystems, or societies, that have emerged from nature to inhabit the earth.

That this brutally obvious truth is not widely accepted is partly the result of how hard it is to face up to a harsh reality, but chiefly the result of the titanic effort waged by capitalist ideology to deny its responsibility for the ruin of planet earth.

Seen in this light, capitalism is truly pathological; it may well be called a kind of metastasizing cancer: a disease that demands radical treatment, which in this context, means revolutionary change. And since socialism is—or should be–the movement toward the supersession of capitalism, the fact that the present ecological crisis is basically driven by the accumulation of capital puts socialism in a radically different position from that to which we have become accustomed. In this light we see the need to radicalize socialism and turn it to ecological ends alongside, indeed, as part of, the provision of justice to working people.

This means, however, that socialism itself must be transformed and produced anew. It can no longer be the reformist social democracy that has betrayed its promise by seeking to perfect instead of going beyond capitalism. Socialism today must be invigorated by the awareness that its goal is a post-capitalist society serving the well-being of humanity and nature alike. Most critically, because accumulation is the mainspring of capitalist society, the new socialism must respect the notion of limits and see production itself in ecological terms.

The test of a post-capitalist society is whether it can move from the generalized production of commodities to the production of flourishing, integral ecosystems. In doing so, socialism will become ecosocialism.

First ecosocialist lessons

Nobody is under the illusion that we are anywhere near these goals. But that does not mean that we lack a mapping of the route toward ecosocialism. Let me give an outline of this, and conclude this brief communication with a sense of how these can be applied to a case of the greatest urgency: overcoming the menace of climate change.

Ecosocialism is still socialism. What was stated at the beginning of this article remains. The basic principle of ecosocialism is that of socialism itself: freely associated labor. It is safe to say that application of this is the key to everything else. For ecosocialism, the restoration of nature does not begin with manipulating the external environment, but with the liberation of human beings and faith that women and men in full possession of their powers will use the appropriate technology and make the correct decisions as to how to organize their social relations and self governance in such a way that the integrity of nature is restored and preserved. The principle applies equally to the caring for nature and the provision of a good life for humanity. 

A common root is the fact that to the degree we are in possession of our creative powers, so also do we move beyond the addictive and false way of being indoctrinated into us from cradle to grave by capitalism and its ideology of consumerism. We break loose from the capitalist rat-race, of trying to fill our inner emptiness with commodities, a motif absolutely necessary to the reproduction of the ecological crisis. Instead, we recognize ourselves as natural creatures, and recognize nature itself, thus positioning ourselves for nature’s restoration.

This also applies to the so-called “population problem,” since freely associated human beings, women in particular, will have no trouble at all in regulating their numbers. In sum, we would say that ecosocialism is that form of society animated by freely associated labor and guided by an ethic of ecological integrity such as free human beings would freely choose.

We free ourselves in collective struggle, the meaning of which for ecosocialism is primarily “Commoning.” Commons refers to the original communism of “First Peoples”; and also to the absence of patriarchy and class society among them. The word denotes collectively owned units of production. From the other side, the rise of class society and patriarchy, all the way to the appearance of capitalism and right through to the present day, is a matter of “enclosing” the Commons, which includes separating people from control over their productive activity, thereby alienating them from nature and their own powers. Commoning can be as basic as making a community garden or day-care center. And it extends all the way to building intentional communities, organized democratically, and by extension, to a global society. 

We see ecosocialism from a twofold aspect, in terms of communities of resistance to capital and the capitalist state, and as communities of production outside of capitalist hierarchical relations between the owners of the means of production and the “wage slaves” who feed the capital-monster. Traditional labor organizing can come under this heading, insofar as it does not reproduce bureaucratic hierarchies; or, from another standpoint, to the degree that it builds authentic “unions” and “solidarity,” both terms drawn from the language of ecology as well as the history of class struggle.

The wave of “occupations” washing over the United States as this is being written is very much an example of Commoning along ecosocialist lines, however scattered and reformist many of their immediate demands may seem in this early stage of development. Though the term itself is not applied, the structure is ecosocialist , arising out of the fundamental human drive toward collective control over a Commonly held space, both in terms of resistance—as by disrupting the established governmental and corporate ways; and production—as in providing the means of one’s own subsistence while doing so.

Time and space are to be reclaimed through ecosocialist prefiguration. Keeping this term in mind is essential in navigating the great distance between where we are and what we need to become. Seizing a kind of Commons next to Wall Street is both symbolic of immediate demands for economic justice and prefigurative of liberated zones of ecosocialist production through freely associated labor. Our sustainable and worthwhile future will be a network of Commonal zones, beginning small but spreading and connecting across the artificial boundaries set up by class society and capital. 

Thus ecosocialism is transnational, global in scope, and above all, visionary; and each local moment of Commoning will contain the germ of this imagining. Prefiguration means the emerging of the vision necessary to imagine a world beyond the death-dealing society of capital. We need to see the coming-to-be of the new society in the scattered campgrounds of occupied zones within the capitalist order. Without vision, the people perish, as the saying goes. And with vision—and organizing to match—a new and better world can be won.

Postscript: An ecosocialism beyond climate change.

Nothing stands more for the horrors induced by capital-driven ecological crisis than the specter of climate change. There is no space here for detailing this menace, which, while not identical with the ecological crisis as a whole, suffices to sum up its deadly mechanisms and is full of lessons for how these are to be surmounted. Let me put the matter with extreme brevity to draw out some essentials and the important lessons to be derived from them.

We stand on a kind of crumbling precipice whose “geology” is given by growing atmospheric CO2 loaded by our capitalist-industrial, accumulation-compelled system. The precipice is both a matter of harm already done, and, if successful action is not taken, far worse harm to come from positive feedback loops that will effectively exceed human capacity to contain them, dooming us, perhaps by the end of the century, perhaps sooner, to downfall via catastrophic climate events, rising seas, and associated nightmares like famine and pandemic diseases.

Two configurations are now assembling to do battle over the fate of this future. One is that of capital and the capitalist state: the ancien regime. It is addicted to growth, rapacious for resources, and seeks to finagle its way out of the crisis by an utterly bankrupt system of commodifying nature and trading pollution credits; that is, it seeks more paths of accumulation while continuing its resource extraction, and the future be damned.

The other is ecosocialist in concept and prefigurative in structure. It sets forth from multiple points of resistance, notably combining North and South by bringing together a coalition of ecosocialists, radical climate activists and specialists in renewable energy; these are increasingly working with indigenous folk whose lives are directly threatened by enclosures and ever-more violent methods of hydrocarbon extraction from places as varied as the Gulf of Mexico (deep offshore drilling), Northern Alberta (tar sands extraction), the Niger Delta and Peruvian Ecuadorian rainforests (rapacious oil-drilling), West Virginia (mountaintop removal for coal), and rural New York and Pennsylvania (hydrofracking for natural gas). 

The list is quite partial, but the scope is global and inherently ecosocialist, by involving Commoning, global resistance, and prefigurative efforts to think the unthinkable: a world actually beyond hydrocarbon-based industrialization, that is, one where the future is really envisioned and the visionary is made real as a mode of production liberated from the compulsion to accumulate and loyal to the ecocentric respect for limit.

The best science tells us that this is the only path of survivability. But the best science cannot be implemented within existing capitalism. It will take freely associated labor, motivated by an ecocentric ethic and organized on a vast scale, to effect these changes—in terms of resistance to the given carbon system and forcing through its alternative; and also in terms of actually building the alternative, a kind of Solar/Wind-based energy economy, including the effort to actually bring down the level of atmospheric CO2 from 395ppm to 345ppm.

Unthinkable, right? Wrong: it is only unthinkable to minds chained to the ruinous and suicidal capital system. Quite possible though fantastically challenging, otherwise—especially if we consider that such a path, once free from bondage to accumulation, will be able to solve the problems of structural unemployment that haunt capitalist society. Imagine the creative possibilities inherent in an ecosocialist energy pathway. Then think, and choose whether to stay with the present system, or to step forth into a renewed world.

Thursday 21 September 2017

The Tories are Ruining this Country but they Just Don’t Care

How did Britain get into this mess? We are the laughing stock of Europe, and no doubt many other places around the world. A country once renowned for its stability, pragmatism, tolerance and distaste of extremist politics, now represents something like the polar opposite.

The latest instalment of this national embarrassment is Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson’s public disagreement with other government ministers, including the prime minister, over arrangements for our exiting from the European Union (EU) and is classic farce. But, as I say, this is just the latest comedy sketch in a long running show, so where did it all begin?

The Tory Party has been riven with infighting over things European since at least the late 1980s, and as former leader and prime minister, David Cameron, famously warned his party when in opposition, they should stop ‘banging on about Europe.’ They did a bit, but for a price.

Cameron had to promise the Tory Euro-sceptics a referendum on Britain’s membership of the EU, to keep the peace in the Tory Party. He got lucky in some ways when he became prime minister in 2010. His government had no overall majority, so he had to rely on the pro EU Lib Dems to govern. This was his excuse to the Tory Euro-sceptics for not trying to hold a referendum in that Parliament.

But he had to promise one for early in the next Parliament after 2015, if the Tories won a majority. My bet is that Cameron didn’t think he would get a majority, and so would not have to follow through on the referendum pledge. But he got unlucky, and the Tories did indeed get a small majority at the 2015 general election.

To buy a bit more time Cameron said he would first try to re-negotiate our terms of membership of the EU, and then put this to a vote. He didn’t get any meaningful concessions though, which no one really expected him to, and so we had the referendum in 2017. Cameron supported the Remain campaign, but the public voted the other way.

Let us not forget, there was no great groundswell for a referendum on EU membership, but UKIP were picking up votes, mainly from Tory voters, and Tory MPs, particularly the Euro-sceptics worried about this, and they saw their chance of forcing Cameron’s hand. The banging on about Europe was back with a vengeance.

I have never been a fan of referendums, which reduce often complex issues down to a binary choice, and where the rival campaigns generally boil down to the lowest common denominator. Such was the case last year with the EU membership one.

The fact Cameron even contemplated such a high risk strategy with the country’s well-being is a measure of the grip the issue of Europe has in the Tory Party. Indeed the EU has been a matter of internal Tory Party management since John Major became their leader in 1990. Everything that has been played out in British politics since we got a Tory government in 2010 has been dominated by the anti-EU tantrums of the Tory Party right.

Our current hapless Tory prime minister, Theresa May, can’t cope with the issue either. She voted to Remain, then following Cameron’s inevitable resignation, she won the leadership as her rivals ran around stabbing each other in the back. May played virtually no part in the referendum campaign, which tells us that she thought we would vote to remain, but didn’t want to spoil her future chances of the leadership, by being too vocal about it.

Boris Johnson showed no sign of wanting to leave the EU, as even his father and sister have said, before the referendum campaign was called. He probably thought we would vote to remain but he positioned himself for a future tilt at the leadership of his party. This is demonstrated by him having no plan in place whatsoever for what would happen after Brexit. It was pure political opportunism.

The backdrop to this shambles is of a country with the lowest GDP growth in the EU and G20, a devaluation of our currency, inflation up, wages stagnating, national debt almost doubled to a historic high of nearly £2 trillion, personal debt at a record high, public services cut, a spike in xenophobic hate crimes and our international reputation damaged. In response the Tories are fiddling while Rome burns. 

So there we have it. Tory obsession with a niche political issue, and personal political ambition, has led us to this sorry path we find ourselves on today. The Tories don’t give a fuck about this country, all they care about is themselves. Incompetent, yes, traitors even? 

Tuesday 19 September 2017

Grassroots Coalition Grows Against Social Cleansing in London – Stop Haringey Development Vehicle

Written by Gordon Peters

As previously reported on this blog, Haringey Council in north London is planning to go ahead with a £2 billion redevelopment of its public housing stock, gentrifying neighbourhoods and pricing local people out of living in the area. But a grassroots campaign against Haringey Development Vehicle (HDV) has been building.

The coalition of people, groups and political parties across the borough for social housing and against social cleansing, and now includes leaseholders in the west of the borough who are being compulsorily purchased to make way for the corporate-led demolition and re-development. This coalition includes the local Labour Party, local Green Party, local Lib Dems and tenants and residents associations and community groups, and trades unions.

Haringey council is controlled by the Labour Party. Haringey which has the largest constituency parties of the Labour Party anywhere in England is now a test bed on where politicians stand on the need for decent social housing and against social cleansing. Labour Cabinet members even are, at least in one case I know, starting to dissociate themselves completely from the HDV.

Both of Haringey’s Labour MPs, David Lammy in Tottenham and Catherine West in Hornsey and Wood Green, oppose the development.

Partly because we found out from a Freedom of Information request, that there has been a secret ‘shadow’ inner cabinet process of meetings with Lendlease, the preferred developer, from before the point of them being agreed as preferred bidder for the contract on HDV. This included the member recently appointed to be on the putative HDV Board, Cllr. Elin Weston who is now the lead member for children and families.

I crowd funded £25,000 to pay for legal fees for a Judicial Hearing which will be held in the High Court - Royal Courts of Justice on The Strand - on 25 and 26 October, where there will be a presence outside from 9:30 on 25th.

This could lead to a landmark decision on how Councils, through their Cabinets, make decisions on property deals with big developers altering the whole nature of communities, at the expense of the less well-off and poor, as has been happening across London and mainly by Labour councils. Issues in front of the court include lack of basic democracy, consultation, equalities impact, commercial secrecy and fair process.

There is a march and demonstration in Haringey this Saturday, 23 September, against HDV. Folks from elsewhere in London will be attending too (e.g. Cressingham Gardens, Lambeth in south London, who are campaigning against a similar development in their borough and who have also been in Judicial Review). 

The march starts at Tottenham Green, at 12 noon and onto Ducketts Common (site of the massive defeat of the NF by the community in the late 70s) down Green Lanes - one of the last roads that hasn’t been totally taken over by corporate franchises - and finishes at 2pm at the Manor House tube end of Finsbury Park. Sian Berry, Green Party London Assembly Member, has agreed to speak at demo/end of the march.

There is also a benefit gig with Potent Whisper and others at The Beehive pub in Tottenham from 7pm on Saturday evening. The film Dispossession, The Great Social Housing Swindle is being shown at the Haringey Independent Cinema in West Green this Thursday evening.

Immediately at risk are 1300 homes on Northumberland Park estate, Tottenham, behind them are hundreds and hundreds more on multiple estates, this is people's homes, this is the reality of London in 2017.

A good presence on the demonstration this coming Saturday will be really important to keep up the momentum that is building, especially given what is now happening in the local Labour Party. Support this campaign against this cruel social cleansing operation which is threatening to spread to many other parts of London.

Useful links:

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