Wednesday, 28 February 2018
The European Union (EU) has published its plan for resolving the problem of a return to a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, once the UK leaves the union. In the worse-case scenario, of no other workable alternative being found, which looks to be the case now, Northern Ireland will be considered part of the EU’s customs territory after Brexit. In effect, Northern Ireland will remain in the customs union and single market, and checks will be needed on goods passing between the UK mainland and Northern Ireland.
“A common regulatory area comprising the Union and the United Kingdom in respect of Northern Ireland is hereby established,” the draft paper says. “The common regulatory area shall constitute an area without internal borders in which the free movement of goods is ensured and North-South cooperation protected.”
Northern Ireland would stay under the jurisdiction of the European court of justice and the EU’s VAT regime and state aid rules would apply.
Michel Barnier, who is leading the negotiations on Brexit for the EU said: “We are just saying that on the island there are two countries, we need to fund the capacity for certain issues relating to the internal market and customs union, that we need to ensure the Good Friday Agreement can function ... We need to ensure there is regulatory consistency, alignment.”
Yesterday, Boris Johnson the foreign secretary, being interviewed on the BBC radio Today programme, claimed that the Irish border was being used to ‘frustrate’ Brexit, and further claimed that the problem could be resolved by a similar system of CCTV cameras that is used to enforce London’s vehicle congestion area. Johnson was trivialising the situation disgracefully, because the analogy is completely different. He shames his high office with such blithe statements.
It was also revealed yesterday by Sky news, that a leaked letter from Johnson to the prime minister also trivialised the problems, and did not shy away from maintaining a hard border.
The prime minister, Theresa May, said at PM questions today that there would not be a hard border in Ireland, but she also ruled out the EU’s solution, which effectively would draw the EU/UK border in the Irish Sea. May refused to be drawn on the practicalities of this when pressed by the leader of the opposition, Jeremy Corbyn on the issue. No doubt this is because there is no workable plan, so yet again the government indulges in magical thinking, but this can’t last. Decisions need to be taken, and the EU has taken one. Over to the UK.
Since the problem of the Irish border has begun to receive attention in recent weeks, although it has been known about all along, the value of the Good Friday Agreement has been brought into question by the looniest Tory Brexiteers.
Tory MP Owen Paterson, a former Northern Ireland secretary, tweeted a link to a piece with a comment which claimed that the Good Friday Agreement ‘had outlived its usefulness.’ Paterson was sacked by former prime minister David Cameron as environment secretary, for making a complete shambles of the west of England badger cull, blaming the badgers ‘for moving the goalposts.’ A towering intellect he is not.
Tory MEP Daniel Hannan, who is close to Boris Johnson, has claimed that the Agreement is ‘flawed.’ But it brought to an end twenty years of military conflict, and shakily has maintained the peace for a further twenty years.
Journalist Fintan O’Toole writing in the Irish Times said that although the Agreement was imperfect, the Brexiteers are playing a dangerous game by trying to rubbish it and puts it down to Britain’s priority being a recklessly pure Brexit, not peace in Ireland. “If the Belfast agreement must die so that the glorious ideal of Brexit may live, so be it” he concludes.
One can hardly blame the EU for becoming exasperated with the UK’s contradictory and completely unrealistic positions on Brexit. They have now given Britain a clear choice on the Irish border, either accept the EU’s solution, or have a hard border. That’s it.
The Good Friday Agreement is an international agreement, and an open border in Ireland is part of it. If we reject the EU’s terms, which the UK accepted in December as a fall back option, then we will break international law. But more than this, if the conflict returns to Northern Ireland, the British government will have to justify to the families of British soldiers, the death of their loved ones. All to uphold the ideology of the most crazy wing of the Tory party.
Will the families be comforted by this? I very much doubt it.
Monday, 26 February 2018
The Labour party leader, Jeremy Corbyn, gave a speech in Coventry today, which had been trialled over recent days, confirming that Labour is in favour of the UK being in a custom’s union with the EU, once we leave the organisation. It had become clear weeks ago that Corbyn’s thinking was shifting in this direction.He said he wanted “a new, comprehensive UK-EU customs union” after Brexit.
The move has been welcomed by business representatives the CBI and the Institute of Directors, and even former Tory chancellor, George Osborne. All of the uncertainty caused by the government’s prevarication on what form Brexit should take, has been making businesses worry, and to put off investment decisions because the future export/import regime is so ambiguous.
Corbyn was careful to say that the customs union wouldn’t be the same as the existing one the UK is a member of, but a new ‘bespoke’ one. He said he wanted the UK to have some influence over new EU trade deals, so that if they were judged not to be the Britain’s interest, then they would not apply.
This might be easier said than done, as it looks suspiciously like the ‘cherry picking’ that the EU has ruled out, but this might depend on what form the customs union exactly is in the end. Emily Thornberry, the shadow foreign secretary, has said that the new customs union would look very similar to the existing one.
Turkey is in the customs union, but not in the EU. The deal means that EU goods are exported tariff free into Turkey, but there are tariffs on Turkish goods imported into the EU. Turkey is allowed to strike trade deals beyond the EU but must obey customs union rules. The deal doesn’t cover all sectors either, farming produce is exempt as are services. So, this kind of approach might not deliver the full benefits we enjoy now, and maybe wouldn’t solve the problem of re-instating a hard border in Ireland.
So, there is still some way to go before we can see this as a good solution to all of the barriers that Brexit throws up. But it is a promising start, in that it does give the EU something to work with, as opposed to the government’s wishful thinking on what the EU will agree to in whatever relationship we end up with once we leave. It does at least offer some hope of a reasonable break with our European partners of 45 years, and is perhaps the outline of a deal.
What is does do though, is that it puts the government, and the prime minister in particular in a difficult position. There are said to be around 20 Tory rebel MPs, who are prepared to vote for an amendment in the Brexit Bill, that would commit the government to staying in a customs union with the EU. This is enough to defeat the government, if all opposition parties vote for the amendment as well, which is what Corbyn appears to have signalled today.
The vote on the amendment should have been in March, but the government has put this back to April or possibly May this year. This is because they know the amendment is likely to be carried, and it gives the government’s whips extra time to work on the rebels.
My money is on the vote being pushed back to after the local authority elections in May, which are expected to be disastrous for the Tories, especially in London. Government thinking may be that the shock of big losses for the Tories will make some of the rebels wary of defeating the government. They will say that it could lead to a general election where Labour triumphs.
It could though be better to get the Brexit amendment vote over and done by the time of the local elections, and so go for April. Either way, these two events could well trigger the fall of the prime minister, and the government as a whole. There is no constitutional reason to hold a general election if the customs union amendment is passed, only if the government loses a vote of no confidence. The Tory rebels may not want to cause a general election, and could vote with the government.
Conversely, the government might make the amendment into a vote of confidence, to try and scare off the rebels. This would be risky indeed, as there is no reason why this should be the case. It would be a self-inflicted defeat by the government, so the rebels may leave them to it. High stakes indeed.
These things though can get a momentum behind them, and if there is huge pressure from the media and public to hold a general election, to ‘clear the air’ around the Brexit process, and it could come as early as June this year.
Bring it on I say, let’s elect a sensible government, that puts the needs of the country first, rather than holding the Tory party together, and keeping Theresa May in Downing Street at the same time. This is a more important matter than party politics and personal political careers.
Sunday, 25 February 2018
This is an extract from a piece written by Emanuele Leonardi and first published at Entitle Blog
Jacobin‘s issue on climate change (especially its second part) and the Monthly Review‘s reaction to it (through an article by John Bellamy Foster) indicate a polarization within the eco-socialist debate, mostly due to different ways of accounting for the relationship between capitalism and nature.
Simplifying a little: if virtually everybody involved in this discussion agree that the capitalist mode of production directly caused the ecological crisis, what remains controversial is the political answer to be given to the usual big question: what is to be done?
The eco-modernist Left endorsed by Jacobin – alt-growthers – argues that socialist (hence infinite), centrally-planned, innovation-led growth is desirable: once irrational capitalists are dealt with, nothing would stay in the way of placing sustainability at the very core of productive processes.
The Monthly Review‘s Eco-Marxist hard-liners – no-growthers – praise instead a revolution in social relations aimed at overthrowing the profit-imperative so that production can finally be reconciled with biospheric realities and give rise to a steady-state economy. In a nutshell: you can’t have infinite economic growth on a finite planet.
Such disagreement is rooted in legitimate theoretical divergences concerning the role of technology in the transition towards eco-socialism, the so-called “civilizing mission” of capitalism vis-à-vis previous social formations, and the long-disputed issue of Progress. Yet my impression is that this polarization is both theoretically problematic and politically disempowering.
Thus, what I propose in this post are a few embryonic elements aimed at reframing the debate so that an anti-capitalist strategy may be distilled in the following slogan: reduce entropic/industrial (wage) labor & liberate negentropic/reproductive labor (from its subjection to commodification).
As a starting point, the relationship between capitalism and nature is not a monolithic one. It changed historically and can be subdivided in at least two phases. To grasp the key rupture-event of this transformation – occurred between the social unrest symbolized by 1968 and the 1973 oil shock – it is important to critically assess the value-nature nexus, which is to say the categorial relation between economy and environment.
Schematically: whereas in pre-capitalist societies nature is seen as a transcendent force, as an external normative entity – Marx’s wording is telling: “nature-idolatry” – in capitalism its function is from the very beginning mediated by surplus value as uncontested economic goal.
Accordingly, classical political economists account for nature in a very particular way: it constitutes the border within which value-creation can occur, though it does not actively participate in the valorization process proper. If abstract social labor (i.e. the sphere of production) acts as the source of value, what Jason Moore defines as abstract social nature (i.e. the sphere of reproduction) acts as its necessary condition.
It is against this background – whose methodological assumption is an understanding of value theory not as a descriptive tool but as a historical agent, which, in its deployment, ceaselessly and violently imposes the conditions for its own reproduction – that wage labor in its industrial form can be considered an entropic factor.
The hegemony of the deal-option, in fact, is represented in what Matthias Schmelzer calls the growth paradigm which lies at the core of Fordism (1930s-1970s; approximately 1945-1975 for Western Europe, hence the well-known French expression les trente glorieuses).
The growth paradigm is an institutional arrangement grounded on a social pact – working class obedience in exchange for protection guaranteed by the ruling class – which premised its solidity on perpetual (and environmentally destructive) growth. In this sense, at least until the mid-1970s, growth has represented the policy counterpart of wage as the institutional pillar of social mediation. Claus Offe named productivist nexus the twin societal goal of full employment and perpetual growth.
It is only in this context that social antagonism could be displaced from the qualitative composition of production (what, where, when is to be produced, and how, by whom, for whom) to the depoliticized terrain of quantity. If each class’ proportional share of aggregate production is to be maintained, then a quantitative increase of economic output is the one best way to defuse social confrontation.
Furthermore, it is important to stress that the growth paradigm entailed the institutional inclusion of waged workers as predicated on a symmetrical exclusion of the sphere of reproduction.
In particular, from an environmental perspective, the wage-growth dyad systematically downplayed the crucial role of what Ariel Salleh calls meta-industrial labour – which “denotes workers, nominally outside of capitalism, whose labor catalyzes [positive, negentropic] metabolic transformations, be they peasants, gatherers, or parents” – and metabolic value – which “denotes the value sustained and enhanced by this kind of worker in supporting ecological integrity and the social metabolism”.
We all know that the green economy – and, within it, carbon trading or Payment for Ecosystem Services schemes – does not work. But why? In my opinion the main issue concerns what kind of labor is mobilized by the green economy. For the internalization of nature within value to occur, in fact, a specific laboring practice needs to take place: the general intellect as the organizing principle of contemporary (re)production.
If we look at the weird commodities exchanged in “green” markets – think of a Certified Emissions Reduction within the Clean Development Mechanism – we see that their value does not come from a tree or from the ocean, but rather from their sinking potential as politically calculated to fit financial markets’ accounting strategies; not from an actual seed but from the genetic sequence that, once modified, makes it resistant to biotech pesticides.
This is a manipulation of the general intellect, namely a form of labor which is potentially negentropic (precisely because it is rooted in reproduction) but completely loses its ecological potential once it is inscribed within commodity production, that is to say once it is subjected to the profit-imperative.
This means that conflicts in defence of the community, its territory (and knowledge) and the environment against capitalist accumulation should be considered as instances of contemporary class struggle aimed at the liberation of the negentropic potential of cognitive/reproductive labor rather than oppositions that may or may not build alliances with the labour movement.
In other words, “where we live, work, play and eat” is nowadays a fundamental stake of value production and exploitation. Thus, the working class should also be conceived of as a potential ecological agent, not only as an actor bound to support the wage-growth dyad.
If, as Stefania Barca suggests, the labor movement is to be a key element of a desirable degrowth scenario – where degrowth is not only about less, but also and more fundamentally about different – I believe it is important to assess the value-nature nexus and its contemporary transformation. This may help both in the search for an alternative politicization of limits and in the acknowledgement of social reproduction as the most solid basis for a the ecological revolution to come.
In particular, from the perspective of degrowth, the interplay between the classical and the new value-nature nexus allows for a strategic articulation of the “less” (smaller social metabolism) and the “different” (alternative social-ecology) that may be worth further exploring. In fact, there is no doubt all sectors belonging to the entropic model should shrink. In this context, accumulation by dispossession as proposed by Harvey and accumulation by contamination as elaborated by Demaria and D’Alisa constitute a proper horizon for indirect class struggle.
When it comes to structurally modifying (a reduced) social metabolism, however, an additional layer may be considered. It is composed by those sectors which could freely “flourish” once liberated form the seal of value and the growth paradigm. Reproductive work and the general intellect seem to me to be good examples of such potential, whose actualization requires in my opinion a form of direct class struggle in the hidden abode of contemporary production.
In this sense, a few promising lines of further research-action emerge and mainly concern the need to articulate digital technologies (knowledge commons), sustainable re-localization of production (ecological commons) and democracy (civil commons).
Emanuele Leonardi is a Post-Doc Researcher at the Center for Social Studies of the University of Coimbra (CES/UC). His research interests include carbon trading and climate justice movements, working-class environmentalism, and André Gorz’s political ecology.
Saturday, 24 February 2018
We, the Internationalist Commune of Rojava, want to contribute to the ecological revolution in Northern Syria. To this end, we have started the campaign Make Rojava Green Again, campaign in cooperation with the Ecology Committee of the Cizire Canton. The campaign has three aspects:
Building up the Internationalist Academy with an ecological ethos, to serve as a working example for comparable projects and concepts for the entire society. The academy will facilitate education for internationalists and for the general population of Rojava, to strengthen awareness and environmental consciousness, pushing to build up an ecological society.
Joining the work of ecological projects for reforestation, and building up a cooperative tree nursery as part of the Internationalist Academy.
Material support for existing and future ecological projects of the Democratic Self-administration, including sharing of knowledge between activists, scientists and experts with committees and structures in Rojava, developing a long-term perspective for an ecological Northern Syria Federation.
The first two concrete projects of the Make Rojava Green Again campaign are:
Realization of the concepts of an ecological life and work in the Internationalist Academy, partly with the building up a nursery as a part of the Academy. In the spring of 2018, we will plant 2,000 trees in the area of the academy, and 50,000 shoots in the nursery.
Practical and financial support for the Committee for Natural Conservation in the reforestation of the Hayaka natural reserve, near the city of Derik, in Cizire Canton. Over the next five years, we plan to plant more then 50,000 trees along the shores of Sefan Lake.
Support the ecological revolution in Northern Syria
These are some of the ways people can support the the campaign ‘Make Rojava Green Again’, the ecological work in Rojava, and revolution in Northern Syria.
Share this campaign with activists, scientists, and experts from fields such as ecological agriculture, forestry, water supply, and sustainable energy production.
Contact and liaise with activists, journalists, politicians and others who would be interested in this campaign.
Write, publish and share articles and interviews about the campaign.
Share information with friends and family. Spread the word about the growing ecological revolution in Rojava.
Establish contacts between persons/groups/organizations and the Internationalist Commune of Rojava.
Work in Rojava itself.
Support the work financially.
Rote Hilfe (Red Help)
IBAN: CH82 0900 0000 8555 9939 2
Reference: “Make Rojava Green Again”
Thursday, 22 February 2018
With little more than a year to go before the UK leaves the European Union (EU), virtually nothing has been agreed about the shape and form of our arrangement with the EU, once we do leave. In December last year, the prime minister, Theresa May, managed to fudge together a deal, which allowed the negotiations to pass on from phase one of the talks. It started to unravel almost immediately, with British ministers saying contradictory, incompatible things.
The second phase is about agreeing transitional arrangements for post March 2019 when the UK officially leaves the EU. Although the EU has said all along that the UK will have to follow all of the EU’s rules during this period, without having a say in them, the UK continues to want something different. The likely outcome to this that the UK will cave in at the last minute, just like May did in December, because this one probably can’t be fudged for much longer.
The third phase of the negotiations is to get agreement on our future relationship with the EU, once the transition period expires. This is the really difficult bit, and the fact that the UK has struggled to get through the first two much easier phases, doesn’t inspire much confidence for the difficult bit.
The EU says that the UK is either ‘in or out’ of the single market and customer’s union, there will be no third way, or ‘cherry picking’ of the things we like and don’t like. But this is exactly the preferred approach of the UK government. This is at least consistent, but only insofar as it is consistently unachievable. The EU must be tiring of saying that we can’t have a bespoke arrangement, but the British government never seems to tire of suggesting one.
The circular futility of the British approach is demonstrated by German Chancellor, Angel Merkel describing a conversation between herself and Theresa May, where May reportedly said to Merkel, “make me an offer” (on Brexit). Merkel replied, “you are leaving, we don’t have to offer you anything…What is it that you want?” May in true ‘Maybot’ style came back with, “make me an offer.” And so it goes on.
The truth is that certainly since last year’s general election when the Tories offered the British public the hardest of Brexits, and the public rejected it, the government has no real plan for us leaving the EU. The Tory party are so split on the issue that the government has only been kept together (sort of) by fudging issues and stating that we want things that are not offer from the EU.
Today, the most senior ministers in the UK government are meeting at the prime minister’s country retreat, Chequers in Buckinghamshire, perhaps late into the night, to try hammer out a unified position. It will be a complete surprise if anything realistic comes out of this meeting, bucking the trend of recent events, but time is really growing short to get some kind of agreement.
Of course, there are voices in the Tory party, 62 MPs from the strangely entitled European Research Group, chaired by chief Brexiteer, Jacob Rees-Mogg, signed a letter to the prime minister, calling on her to insist on the impossible of demanding the EU give us everything we want, and urging her to walk away from the negotiations if (when) the EU refuses.
This seems to be based on some delusions of grandeur on the part of some of the English (and Welsh), a throwback to when Britain had an empire, and called the shots around the world. Those days are long gone. As the American Dean Acheson, a US Secretary of State in the 1960s said, “Great Britain has lost an Empire and has not yet found a role.” It seems we have still not in 2018.
It is high time that the prime minister showed some leadership on Brexit, and take a sensible, realistic line, rather than trying to please everyone in the Tory party, which is probably impossible anyway. It is a high risk strategy for the prime minister, as her premiership could be brought down by taking this stance, but it would likely bring some clarity to the situation. If May is challenged for the leadership of the Tory party, then she can lay out her case and others can lay out theirs.
One thing is for sure, the country can’t afford to carry on like this for much longer, with the damage to the economy steadily getting worse, and the whole Brexit issue taking up far too much of the government’s time. There are other urgent national issues to be addressed, like the pressure on the NHS. Far too much energy is wasted by the government chasing shadows and trying to appease the unappeasable.
Tuesday, 20 February 2018
The environmental campaigning organisation Greenpeace has uncovered a secret plan by political think tanks from the UK and US to influence deregulation of Britain’s food standards after we leave the European Union (EU). The plan was published accidentally on the website of the Initiative for Free Trade (IFT) which is coordinating the network of transatlantic think tanks, but has since been taken down. Greenpeace have published the document themselves and you can access the plan here.
The idea is that these talks and this plan will form the “blueprint” for the real negotiations between the British and US governments. The groups involved even have close links with Liam Fox, the current Tory International Trade Secretary, and claim future talks would be attended by an official from Fox’s Department. Fox, has previously told the IFT that his department is “a very, very willing partner in your great and wonderful quest.”
According to the documents, the shadow trade talks are set to include 10 leading right-wing think tanks from the UK and US, including the London-based Institute for Economic Affairs and the Legatum Institute, which has recommended scrapping the EU’s ‘precautionary principle’ to boost trade. On the US side, the American Enterprise Institute and Heritage Foundation are listed as participants. The Cato Institute, which was founded by billionaire oil refiners, the Koch brothers, will write the first draft of the “ideal” agreement.
The Koch brothers have made significant financial contributions to libertarian and conservative think tanks and have donated primarily to Republican Party candidates running for office. They actively fund and support organizations that contribute significantly to Republican candidates, and in particular that lobby against efforts to expand government's role in health care and combating global warming. In January 2011, Rolling Stone magazine included the Koch brothers on its list of the top twelve people blocking progress on global warming.
The IFT report says a shift away from the EU’s approach would mean that “US exporters of agricultural produce, beef, for instance, would have a brand new market to sell to”. Imports of US beef are currently restricted by the EU because of the widespread use of growth hormones and anti-biotics that the European Commission deems unsafe.
This type of regulatory change would also allow for imports of chlorinated chicken, again banned under EU rules. This is because of the precautionary principle, applied by the EU to food standards. Basically, these practices have to be proved safe, before they are allowed to be sold to consumers. The Council of Europe has said that this method can “lead to the formation of chloroorganic compounds, several of which are persistent, bioaccumulable or carcinogenic”. In other words it can cause cancer.
According to the Guardian a spokesperson for the IFT said “mutual recognition of standards, which we do mention quite a bit, would not require the UK to move away from the precautionary principle at all, or to change its standards, regulations or laws in any way. If consumers don’t want to buy products made to different standards to our own, they will see the US flag on the packet and not buy it,” she said.
You can see the outlines of this plan from this statement. There has been quite a lot of negative comment in the British media about chlorinated chicken, so the British government will have to sell it to the public, which will probably be cautious about such produce. But by labelling the product, although how clearly this would have to be would be part of the negotiated deal, it would allow the government to say, if people don’t want to buy this produce then they would have the choice not to.
There is a reason why the US farming industry regulations allow these methods, it is because it increases yields and reduces costs, which to some extent can be passed onto consumers. If there is a choice of reasonably priced alternatives, I think British people will avoid US produce, but that is not a given, since food from the EU will likely be more expensive. Australia and New Zealand would want to export more food to the UK, but the geographical distances make it more expensive, not to mention increasing carbon emissions.
So, what we end up with, under this plan is that US food will be much cheaper than British or other countries produce, unless they adopt the same practices, so there would be a two tier food market. For those who can afford the food under existing EU regulations they won’t need to eat it, but for the poorest households there will be no real choice but to consume this type of potentially unsafe produce.
None of this will solve our border congestion problems, or the Irish border one, but if we really do disregard these problems, the future could look very like the one the IFT is planning. I doubt the likes of Boris Johnson will be partaking in US labelled food produce, because he won’t need to.
Sunday, 18 February 2018
Written by Sean Ledwith and first published at Counterfire
Magdoff and Williams provide a powerful case that ecological disaster can be overcome by a revolutionary transformation of social relations.
In November 2017, UN climate observers reported that the past three years have all been in the top three years in terms of temperature records. They also reported temperatures topping 50C in Asia, record-breaking hurricanes in rapid succession in the Caribbean and Atlantic, devastating monsoon flooding affecting millions, and a relentless drought in East Africa. The World Meteorological Organisation has stated that indicators up to this point suggest that 2017 will actually be the hottest year since records began. The concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere is now estimated to be higher than at any time in at least 800,000 years. Bearing in mind our species has been on the planet for only about a quarter of that time, this is clearly a crisis of unprecedented magnitude for humanity.
Although the existential threat to life on Earth by climate change becomes increasingly apparent year by year, the capacity of capitalist politicians to respond appropriately remains pitifully inadequate. Trump’s stated goal to take the US out of the 2015 Paris climate deal is only the most egregious example. Supporters of renewable energy estimated earlier this year that UK government funding of wind, solar, biomass power and waste-to-energy projects is set to fall by 95% over the next three years.
The incompatibility of sustainable development with the logic of capital has long been recognised on the left and there have been a number of insightful attempts recently by writers such as John Bellamy Foster and Ian Angus to systematise a coherent ‘red-green’ perspective on the unfolding crisis. Fred Magdoff and Chris Williams, in Creating an Ecological Society, have produced a left-wing analysis that is a worthy addition to this collection. They explicitly make the case that only a revolutionary transformation on socialist principles will generate a political framework to save the planet:
‘if we can’t even imagine a different way of interacting with one another, the economy and the resources we use and depend on, then the struggle for a just and ecologically sound world recedes into the realm of utopian fantasy’ (p.18).
What makes their account particularly powerful is an awareness that only a Marxist perspective on climate change can comprehend that the environmental crisis is intrinsically linked to other manifestations of a declining and dysfunctional social and political system. The book includes incisive analyses of how racism, sexism, class inequality and other forms of oppression are rooted in the dynamics of capitalism and that, consequently, the struggle to avert ecological collapse cannot be separated from campaigns against these and related injustices.
A holistic and all-encompassing vision of both the global situation, and the type of activism required in response, makes this an informative and uplifting account of ecosocialism that is as good as any other available:
‘Whether the issue is police brutality, the building of new oil or gas pipelines, the erosion of voting rights or workers’ rights, the vilification of Muslims or immigrants, sexism in the workplace or elsewhere, or some other battle for social and economic justice and a healthy environment, we must take it on’ (p.328).
The book is coherently structured into sections that address different aspects of the debate on the politics of the environment. As the co-authors have both a scientific background and a commitment to left-wing politics, their exploration of the issues provides a wealth of professional expertise and political acumen.
The scale of the crisis
The first section is a searing explication of the enormity of the crisis confronting the planet. Climate-change denial is hopefully a shrinking point of view (with the disastrous exception of the Trump administration) but it is always worth being reminded of the scale of ecological degradation that is underway in the natural world. Magdoff and Williams collate a valuable synthesis of data from numerous fields that collectively make an irrefutable case for the evidence of human impact on the planet. Their grim but thought-provoking starting point is an imaginary scenario set centuries ahead in which the crisis of our times has not been tackled effectively:
‘At some time in the future archaeologists may look at the rubble of a large twenty-first century city or other physical remnant of today’s world and wonder, as Shelley’s traveller surely would, what cataclysm struck that civilisation?’ (p.17).
Based on that premise, they provide some staggering evidence that such a scenario is not far-fetched (chapter 1). Even the Paris deal on which Trump has reneged, the authors calculate, is hopelessly insufficient. The guidelines contained in the agreement on acceptable warming would still result in a global temperature rise of 4C, making a mockery of the deal’s stated purpose to limit it to 2C.
They estimate the amount of energy being pumped into the atmosphere since the start of this century is the equivalent of four atom bombs every second. Last year, the extent of sea ice of the Arctic hit an all-time low. An area the size of Alaska has been lost from the ice pack there in just the last fifty years. The fastest melting point of Antarctica contains enough water to raise global sea levels by four feet. In thirty-five years, there will be more plastic in the oceans than fish. Ninety percent of all sea birds have ingested some type of plastic.
Giant tortoises existed on the Earth for ten million years and yet one sub-species has now been exterminated by human beings in the space of less than one century. Four thousand people die every day in China due to breathing polluted air; 6.5 million die every year around the world for the same reason. Half of the forests cut down by human beings since the last ice age have been since World War II. Last year, London exceeded its annual limit for nitrogen-dioxide levels within the first week of January.
The role of class and imperialism
Unlike more mainstream accounts of the crisis, however, Magdoff and Williams link these types of problems to the class nature of the system that is presiding over them. They identify that 10% of the global population (the richer countries that is) are responsible for consuming 60% of the Earth’s resources and releasing the same proportion of pollutants into the atmosphere (p.108). Of course, within that 10% is the even smaller percentage who actually control the economies of the major capitalist states. In the US, nearly 40% of all consumption is by the richest 5% (p.50). The authors highlight the jaw-dropping disparity recently highlighted by Oxfam that eight super-rich individuals have accumulated as much wealth as the poorest half of humanity, that is 3.2 billion people (p.41). The same report noted the wealth stashed away by the global elite in offshore tax havens amounts to nearly $7 trillion.
The necessity of integrating the campaigns against climate change and inequality is underlined by research that shows that nearly two-thirds of carbon emissions originate from just ninety companies around the world and, of those ninety, eight are responsible for 20% of the emissions from fossil fuels and cement production over the past couple of centuries (p.120). The authors regard a combined struggle against the elite and the destruction of nature they have wrought as a pre-requisite for safeguarding the future of humanity. They creatively deploy a concept deployed by the nineteenth-century thinker, John Ruskin, that capitalism generates not wealth but ‘illth’:
‘Illth comes in many forms. One is conspicuous consumption by the very rich - the luxury cars, yachts, private jets, huge houses, and other forms of conspicuous living. If this richest 10 per cent reduced their consumption to the average consumption of the rest of humanity, total global resource use would be cut in half (p.108).
As well as underlining the crucial link between capitalism and the environmental crisis, Magdoff and Williams highlight the often hidden role imperialism plays in exacerbating the threat to the biosphere by diverting vast funds into wasteful projects. In the eyes of some, Obama now looks like a model of ozone-friendly politics compared to his toxic successor, but the authors are scathing about the reality behind the rhetoric. They remind us that Obama ploughed $1 trillion into an upgrade of the US’s stockpile of nuclear weapons and the development of the F35 fighter, the most expensive military vehicle in history. The Pentagon is planning to construct over two thousand of these by the end of the 2030s; the helmet for one pilot alone costs $400,000! Magdoff and Williams calculate the cost of one plane would be enough to subsidise over three thousand years of college money! (p.111):
‘The military also wastes incredible quantities of fuel. It is exempt from all international climate agreements and local environmental regulations at its hundreds of bases worldwide, allowing the US military to be the single largest user of fossil fuels and by far the world's biggest polluter’ (p.112).
This recognition of the threads connecting the crisis in the natural world to a crazy economic system with its militarised obsessions makes this analysis superior to anything coming from the orthodox green movement.
Oppression and ecological crisis
As part of their crucial perspective that the environmental crisis is one aspect of the systemic failure of capitalism, Magdoff and Williams also provide valuable analyses of the sexism, racism and poverty afflicting Western societies and explain why these forms of oppression cannot be siloed away from the impact of the rich on the biosphere. Again, their utilisation of official statistics provides powerful ammunition for activists. They note data from the UN that women’s unpaid contribution to the global economy amounts to $11 trillion (p.144) and from the World Health Organisation that one third of women around the world have experienced some form of physical or sexual violence, usually from a partner (p.147). The Weinstein scandal this year has obviously put this issue in the spotlight, but this shocking fact suggests no one should really be surprised by the extent of the problem.
They also draw attention to the epidemic of police violence plaguing US society in particular, and see it as another symptom of a rotten system; 67% of the US prison population is black, whereas only 37% of the general population is classified as such (p.134). This is part of a wider increase in the size of the prison population of 500% over the last forty years (p.133).
The link between racism and the environmental crisis is spelled out even more in a discussion on how the living conditions of working-class black Americans puts them at greater health risk than more affluent sections of society:
‘Compared to the rest of the population, people of colour are more likely to be living near toxic waste sites (56 percent of those living nearby are people of colour); twice as likely to live without clean water and modern sanitation facilities; they are thirty-eight times more likely to be exposed to nitrogen dioxide, which causes respiratory problems’ (p.139).
As Marxists, the authors integrate their account of these forms of oppression within the concept of alienation as developed by Marx in the nineteenth century, and explain how part of its deleterious effect of the human personality is to set us subjectively against those who are objectively our comrades in struggle:
‘These social divisions are not accidents. They act to prevent people from uniting, to keep them fighting to stay one rung higher up the ladder by stepping on those below. That is why racism and the systematic oppression of women are endemic to capitalist societies, varying only by degree’ (p.132).
It would be understandable if a reader of this volume was to feel despondent due to the overwhelming evidence presented that twenty-first-century capitalist society is taking us at an accelerating rate towards a precipice. However, the authors are refreshingly optimistic about chances of a revolutionary transformation taking place at some point in the next few decades and argue the Arab Spring, the Occupy movement and the electoral revival of the left in the West are all portents of impending class struggle on a massive scale:
‘To be successful any revolutionary upheaval will have to dwarf the mobilisations we have seen recently around the world and take place on a qualitively different basis. It will have to be organised to reflect the principles of the future society and take control of the centres of production to bring capitalism to a halt’ (p.301).
They helpfully remind us that ‘capitalism has been prevalent for less than 0.3 percent of the entire period that modern humans have walked the earth’ (p.184), so it is irrational to believe future generations are condemned to endure the madness of a system that prioritises mass destruction above mass education. They forcefully argue that for the majority of our history as a species, altruistic and other-centred behaviour has been the norm in most societies and it is probable these traits will predominate in a postcapitalist system. Even in today’s cutthroat neoliberal culture, the indicators of a re-energised human nature are visible:
‘Prosocial behaviour and traits are often suppressed by the need to express those contrary behaviours required to survive and flourish within the system of capital. However, even when antisocial capitalist social relations are prevalent, there are expressions of the deep human values of empathy, solidarity and cooperation’ (p.193).
Sean Ledwith is Lecturer in History and Politics at York College, where he is also UCU branch chair. He is a member of Counterfire and York People's Assembly. Sean is also a regular contributor to Marx and Philosophy Review of Books and Reviews in History.
Friday, 16 February 2018
I am from a Labour party supporting background, raised in local authority housing, schooled and paid for and maintained in higher education by the same municipality, a Labour run council. My dad was a shop steward in the engineering union too, so it’s no surprise then that I have never even considered supporting the Tory party. It always seemed to me that the Tories did not represent my interests, rather they are the party of the wealthy establishment and the ‘bosses.’
I was 17 when Margaret Thatcher became Tory prime minister in 1979, and I remember being furious that I was not allowed to vote in that election, when older people, who I considered ignorant of politics were. Thatcher set about destroying the political post second world war consensus, often referred to as ‘welfare capitalism.’ The welfare state, which had served me and others like me so well, was consigned to dust bin of history and replaced with rampant individualism, privatisation of public assets, the neutering of trade unions, tax cuts for the rich, promoting inequality and a nasty patriotism bordering on jingoism.
Through the following 18 long years, first with Thatcher as leader, then John Major, all of these things came to pass, turning the country into a neo-liberal front runner in the process. Communities that were once characterised by social solidarity, like mining communities, turned into barren wastelands, where good jobs were scarce and money hard to come by. An attitude of ‘bugger everyone else, me, me, me, reigned in place of the old esprit de corps.
I can still remember vividly election night in 1997, when the Tories were spectacularly booted out of office, with big political names losing their seats, culminating in arch Thatcherite Michael Portillo losing a pretty safe majority in his constituency. The night just kept getting better. But Thatcher had managed to change the Labour party into a paler shade of the Tories, and we didn’t have to wait long for the disappointment to manifest itself with the New Labour government. The essentially neo-liberal policies continued, with a few of the rougher edges smoothed off.
The final straw for me was the Iraq war, when I decided that I could no longer vote for the Labour party, and a year or so later, I joined the Green party. It wasn’t an easy decision given my background, but I felt that Labour no longer represented my interests.
The Tories of course made a comeback, and we have suffered a further eight years of their misrule, aided and abetted by first by the Lib Dems and now the bigots of the DUP. A new nastiness has been a feature of the current Tory government, with the disgraceful demonisation of benefit claimants, and a cruel regime of sanctions on the most vulnerable in our society. The numbers of rough sleepers has rocketed and local authority budgets have been slashed leaving them only as procurers of some, mainly statutory, public services.
Wages in the public sector have fallen in real terms by something like £5,000 per year, per person since 2010, when the fetish for austerity was inflicted by the Tories on the nation. A policy that has made matters worse, since the national debt has almost doubled over the last eight years, whilst the Tories talk of ‘sound money’ and ‘economic competence’ but the facts speak for themselves. The country has been screwed, but the wealthy continue to get richer.
And then there is Brexit. There was no clamour for a referendum on leaving the European Union (EU) in the country, only in the Tory party. The Tories latest austerity policies, together with the neo-liberal ethos introduced by Thatcher and continued by New Labour, by and large, led to the feeling that the referendum was seen by many as a golden opportunity to ‘stick it up the establishment,’ and of course this was enough to produce a vote to leave the EU.
The handling of Brexit has been a textbook exercise in rank incompetence, as the in-fighting in the Tory party continues with its obsession with the EU, while the country is going to the dogs. The Tories don’t care about the country though, only their own fixation with Europe.
So there you have it. An uncaring party which screws the poorest to benefit the richest people. Why people with little or nothing to ‘conserve’ ever vote for them is a complete mystery to me, but even if I was rich, there is no way I could vote for these mendacious bastards.
Wednesday, 14 February 2018
Written by Gordon Peters
There does seem to be a tide about to turn on the scandal of housing provision, especially in London, and its unaffordability for so many. The Haringey Development Vehicle (HDV) in north London, has been put on hold for now. The StopHDV campaign is playing an important role in this.
Across Haringey a broad coalition of opposition to the Haringey Development Vehicle grew from grass roots in the course of the year from January 2017 to the present, motivated by the discovery that a so-called procurement process begun by the Cabinet two years earlier was intent on transferring whole estates. All the Council owned business premises, and potentially all of the physical assets of the local authority are to be transferred to a private partnership with a preferred bidder.
This turned out to be Lendlease, the Australian-based multi-national, which has been active in Southwark in vastly reducing social housing in favour of new high rent and for sale properties, unaffordable to local residents. Many of whom have had to move out, some far away. That is the evidence behind the terms of gentrification and social cleansing.
Much of this has been documented by the 35% campaign, and the rights of local residents of the Aylesbury Estate are still being fought out in the High Court. In Lambeth too, the intended demolition of Cressingham Gardens, a very well designed mixed community of householders, was taken to Judicial Review, and their fight has also joined in support of the StopHDV campaign.
Across London something is definitely stirring in resistance to the wholesale takeover of land and housing, and enforced displacement of poorer households, by corporate developers in league with Council leaderships, mostly Labour. Recognition of this at the 2017 Labour Party conference by leader Jeremy Corbyn, and his call for ballots on estates and the rights of local people to determine what they want, refurbishment or redevelopment, and on what scale, is a vital step.
As a result of the pressure from StopHDV - in which Labour activists, LibDems, Greens, tenants and residents federation, leaseholders association, community groups, Unite the Union community branch and other trades unions in Haringey, home owners and some small businesses, have all been involved.
The fact that a Judicial Review was initiated from the July 2017 Cabinet decision to set up the HDV, despite the local Labour Party's opposition, and that of the two Labour Haringey MPs, it has been halted and while it remained ultra vires. The Council leadership of Claire Kober found their vehicle was being de-railed. She has resigned amid a realisation that there was no longer the time or support to start it up before the May elections. And most candidate councillors will be against it. But it has yet to be finished off.
The first outcome of the Judicial Review did not find in favour of StopHDV, but we are appealing and there are strong grounds we can win at a higher legal level. We argued that this so-called 50/50 partnership could not rightly be a Limited Liability Partnership but was in fact a company intended for profit primarily, that it had never been properly consulted on, that the equalities impact on vulnerable people was flawed, and that a full Council, not Cabinet, should make decisions of this nature.
The judge ruled us out on a technicality of being ‘’out of time’’ and agreed with much of the argument where he said a different outcome for HDV going ahead would likely have resulted from proper consultation. And a higher court can rule on this issue of Cabinets transferring assets and making decisions affecting peoples homes and lives without their knowing and full Councils being involved - a law giving power to small executive groups in authorities, called Cabinets, brought in by Blair in the ‘90s.
The combination of real grass roots organisation and pressure and challenging the powers that govern, at our cost, through the legal process has helped create a wider, national awareness that speculative, corporate-led demolition and uncaring demolition of local communities along with compliant and complicit Council leaderships.
These deals are often tied up at MPiM in Cannes or symposia in London and elsewhere. StopHDV and other local campaigns, show that none of this is inevitable, and that locally agreed plans for community living can stop these top down, profit driven destructions of places, environments and people.
And then beside this we need people’s plans, rent controls and rental charters, ballots, councils being released from caps on borrowing, end to Right-to-Buy, taxing empty property and speculation, and surely a Land Value Tax.
I am appealing the High Court decision but need to raise more funds to pay legal fees. Please contribute to the costs if you can to this very important case. To donate visit Crowdjustice here.
Gordon Peters is a Haringey resident.
Tuesday, 13 February 2018
Both the Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn and shadow chancellor, John McDonnell, made speeches last week about how Labour would go about bringing public services back into public ownership. In particular they referred to the energy, rail, water and mail industries, with Corbyn saying that Labour intended to reverse the “neoliberal ideology that drove the privatisation frenzy.” McDonnell said they would put services “irreversibly” in the hands of workers, and that it would be unlike the nationalised industries of the past. Instead, Labour will promote the use of co-operatives.
We have heard this sentiment from Labour before, going back as far Labour’s 10 point plan released in the summer of 2016, but in pretty vague terms, and the latest announcements don’t put much more flesh on the bones. McDonnell said that the Co-operative Party, which is affiliated to the Labour party, would be setting up an implementation group. All of which suggests that these new co-op’s would be large, and worker owned, but it is not clear to me what exact community involvement there would be.
Let us not forgot that former Tory prime minister, David Cameron, championed, at least rhetorically, co-op’s and ‘social enterprises’ as part of his ‘red Tory’ re-positioning of his party. The John Lewis partnership was often held up as a great example of a co-operative venture, and indeed a former CEO of the company recently became the West Midlands Tory mayor. Is this the kind of thing Labour has in mind?
Paul Mason, economic journalist, Labour member and Corbyn supporter has attempted to flesh the thing out a bit, although I’m unsure whether is this just his interpretation, or has been sanctioned by the Labour leadership, as part of the official plan.
Mason traces the thinking back to the Keynesian period (1945-1979), when the left in the Labour party advocated workers co-operatives rather the huge state corporations that were the model for publicly owned industries. The new plan involves rail passengers, water users etc, the workers who provide the service and bond holders, who would receive a share of any profits. All would be stakeholders in these industries. McDonnell has confirmed that this would be the case.
This has the added advantage, if it works out, of getting control of privatised utilities at no extra cost to the tax payer. Mason says that it could be funded by government borrowing in this way, but it seems to me to be perfectly possible to do it by a form of ‘quantitive easing.’ Hundreds of billions of pounds has been basically created by the government to re-capitalise the banks, so that they can lend it back us, with interest. Why not use this money to buy back public utilities?
It is an interesting idea, and for industries like water and rail, which are monopolies, probably the most sensible idea. I would though like to suggest that in energy production the communities that are customers of the co-ops should also be directly involved in the co-op and be locally structured.
Much of the electricity that is generated at the moment is lost in transmission from source to end user. This is because the greater the distance between the two, the more energy is lost. From a conservation point of view, and so cutting carbon emissions, this is an important factor. Local generation of energy is far more efficient, and co-op members could pool locally generated thermal heat, solar and wind power. Corbyn has acknowledged that tackling climate change needs to be part of this equation.
This would eventually take away the customers from the ‘big six’ private generators in the UK, and they would just whither away. It would also likely improve clean production of energy as well as pushing these corporations out of our lives.
It makes sense with national industries like rail, that some kind of national body will have to run it, but the model being suggested has lots of potential for being better than the old nationalised British Rail, and better than having different private operators running it for profit, which incidentally costs the tax payers more in subsidies than when it was publicly owned.
Ken Livingstone when he was Mayor of London tried to fund investment of the publicly owned tube transport network, but the courts ruled that he didn’t have the power to do it. The government would have no such problem, and they might facilitate local government to make use of bond schemes for local transport and energy provision, too.
As I say, this is interesting thinking, and certainly the privatisation model has not worked out successfully, with the construction company Carillion’s corporate collapse and Stagecoach east coast rail line going bust, just recently, are but the latest examples of this failure.