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18th December 2016


Aleppo: The Truth That the Western Media Refuses to Report




Andrew Ashdown is a Church of England priest studying Christian-Muslim relations in Syria.  In the last few days he has visited East Aleppo.  This is the report of his visit to the area yesterday (14th December) that he published on his facebook page.


This morning we visited the main IDP Registration centre at Jibrin, for Internally Displaced Persons from East Aleppo.  They are registered here for humanitarian reasons and access to services, before they go either to relatives in other parts of Syria if they have them (many do), or to other reception centres where they are provided with accommodation, food and other services.  During the past two weeks they have registered 95,000 refugees, but estimate there may be a further 10,000 who have not registered.  There were thousands of people there who have arrived within the last couple of days.  Let me make clear that we visited in a taxi without Government or Army accompaniment, and without prior notice.  We were not expected.


The Centre is well organised.  The Syrian Red Crescent have tents available that offer information about all social welfare facilities available, and offer free medical attention.  In cases of emergency, ambulances are on hand to transport patients to hospital.  Free food is being distributed by the Syrian Red Crescent and the Syrian Army, and we saw a convoy of Russian lorries providing aid.  There is also a Russian field hospital on site which offers immediate medical treatment.


The sense of relief amongst the thousands of refugees is palpable.


All were keen to talk, and we interviewed several who had arrived only yesterday and today.  They all said the same thing.  They said that they had been living in fear.  They reported that the fighters have been telling everyone that the Syrian Army would kill anyone who fled to the West, but had killed many themselves who tried to leave – men, women and children.  One woman broke down in tears as she told how one of her sons was killed by the rebels a few days ago, and another kidnapped.  They also killed anyone who showed signs of supporting the Government.  The refugees said that the ‘rebels’ told them that only those who support them are “true Muslims”, and that everyone else are ‘infidels’ and deserve to die.


They told us they had been given very little food: that any aid that reached the area was mostly refused to them or sold at exorbitant prices.  Likewise, most had been given no medical treatment.  (A doctor who has been working with the refugees for weeks told me last night that in an area recently liberated, a warehouse filled with brand new internationally branded medicines had been discovered.)  Most of the refugees said they had had members of their families killed by the rebels and consistently spoke of widespread murder, torture, rape and kidnap by the rebels.  They said if anyone left their homes, their properties and belongings were confiscated and stolen.


One old man in a wheelchair who was being given free treatment in the Russian Field Hospital said he had been given no treatment for three years despite asking.  He said: “Thank God we are free.  We now have food.  We can now live our lives.  God bless the Syrian Army.”  They all said they were glad to be out and to be free.  All the refugees without exception were visibly without exception clearly profoundly relieved and happy to be free.  One woman said: “This is heaven compared to what we have been living.”  We asked if the Syrian Army had ill-treated anyone.  They said never. One woman said: “They helped us to escape and they provide us with food and assistance.”


For the full text of this report go to:-


http://talfanzine.info/blog/2016/12/15/aleppo-the-truth-that-the-western-media-refuses-to-report/



3rd December 2016

One mad dog or another

 

It is inevitable that the eyes of the world are upon US President-elect Donald Trump and the choices he makes to lead his administration.  As the notional ‘leader of the free world’, the moves made by Trump will affect us all.  It is just a little alarming then, that at a rally on Trump’s ‘victory tour’ earlier in the week, the new US Defence Secretary was revealed as retired Marine General James Mattis (pictured).  That would be ‘Mad Dog’ Mattis to his friends and, presumably, his enemies.  As a message to the world, appointing a bloke with the nickname ‘mad dog’ to cover the defence portfolio, is certainly saying something.

Mattis, aged 66, served more than four decades in the Marine Corps and is known as one of the most influential military leaders of his generation, who has drawn rebukes for his aggressive talk.  Since retiring, he has served as a consultant and as a visiting fellow with the Hoover Institution, a think tank at Stanford University.

The thinking of Mattis is certainly in line with the campaign rhetoric of Trump in relation to the Middle East.  Trump has consistently criticised the nuclear deal with Iran agreed in July 2015, which resulted in some sanctions relief for the Iranian regime.  At one point on the campaign trail Trump claimed that as a result of the deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), Iran would

"..take over parts of the world that you wouldn't believe.  I think it's going to lead to nuclear holocaust."

Mattis has been no less forthright in his observations on the Middle East, asserting that security discussions should not focus as much upon Islamic State or al-Qaeda when the Iranian regime is “the single most enduring threat to stability and peace in the Middle East.”

Mattis is not necessarily a shoo in as a 1947 national security law said that a general must wait 10 years from leaving active duty before becoming defence secretary, Mattis only retired in 2013.  The 10-year period was reduced to seven years in 2008 for several senior civilian defence positions, including defence secretary.  This will mean that Congress requires new legislation to approve the appointment, which could lead to some political wrangling.  In any event, it signals the direction of travel of the Trump administration in relation to the Middle East.  If it is not one ‘mad dog’, it is likely to be another.

The evidence for this is reflected in the number of ex-military in the running for key administration positions to date.  As well as Mattis, retired Army General David Petraeus is under consideration for the Secretary of State post.  Marine General John Kelly has been touted for Homeland Security, while Admiral Michael Rogers has been in the frame for the director of national intelligence post.  National Security advisor designate, Michael Flynn, is a former army lieutenant general having also served for decades as a military intelligence officer.  CIA Director-designate Mike Pompeo graduated from West Point and served during the Cold War as an Army officer.

Trump may think that an administration run by former generals will underline his ’Make America Great Again’ message, by showing strength and purpose.  However, even a Trump administration is likely to need more nuance and diplomacy in its armoury if it is to navigate the tricky terrain of the Middle East, relations with Russia and the relationship of European allies to NATO.

Trump’s appointments have caused something of a stir in the US political establishment, which has always sought a degree of separation between the administration and the military.  While crossovers have occurred before now, the extent to which the Trump administration could become militarised and the military politicised, is raising questions in certain circles in the United States.  Such voices may not be loud enough or influential enough to make a difference.  It could also be argued that any country, which makes its President the Commander in Chief of its armed forces, is in danger of blurring the line between political and military decision making.  Either way, the prospect of US generals leading the ‘free world’ is one which should worry us all.

27th November 2016

A global revolutionary

by Sergio Alejandro Gómez

 

You can learn as much about a man from his critics as you can from his admirers.  Henry Kissinger, U.S. secretary of state under Nixon, described Fidel in his memoirs as perhaps the most genuine revolutionary leader in power at that time.

The former Secretary of State and advisor to various U.S. Presidents was referring to 1975 when - to the surprise of the U.S. - Cuba lent its support to the Angolan independence struggle.  In the Cold War geopolitics of the time, the Soviets were opposed to direct involvement, while Washington blatantly supported the racist apartheid regime in South Africa.

Fidel once again demonstrated that the Revolution which had triumphed on January 1, 1959 was motivated by principles and that Cuba was no one’s satellite.  The heroism of those Cuban soldiers who fought in Africa and Fidel’s leadership helped to change the history of the continent and, as Nelson Mandela himself stated, end apartheid.

This was the first time a small country in the western hemisphere had sent troops outside of the continent which, to the amazement of many, secured an overwhelming victory. Cuba stood as a reminder that, when motivated by ideals of justice, even a small country can fight against global powers, it was revolutionary.

Cuba had already done what many thought impossible, it had carried out a socialist revolution only 90 miles from the United States.  An affront for which Washington has continued to punish the island, using various methods for over half a century.

While the battle against the Batista dictatorship was still being waged in the Sierra Maestra, the revolutionary leader astutely predicted that the true struggle would be against imperialism.  However, this clash, which has marked Fidel’s global legacy, is not a futile conflict against a country or a government. It is the struggle against a universal conception:

“It appears there are two laws, two sets of rules and two kinds of logic, one for the U.S. and one for other countries.  Perhaps it is idealistic of me, but I never accepted the universal prerogatives of the U.S.” stated Fidel to envoys of the Carter administration in 1978, who travelled to Havana setting conditions for the improvement of relations.

His, a voice opposing those of the powerful, and in support of “the wretched of the world,” inevitably spread like a fine powder across the plains, jungles and mountains of the continent.

The Cuban Revolution and Fidel’s ideas have inspired all those searching for a different world; looking to overcome the contradictions which world powers try to present as inevitable.

At a time when it seemed as though all was lost following the fall of the Socialist camp in Eastern Europe; the light that had been lit in 1959, began to shine even brighter. Defending socialism in order to resolve humanity’s problems, even during the most difficult times in the country’s history, placed Fidel on the short list of revolutionaries who have known how to interpret “the significance of the historic moment.”

Such conviction was never tied to dogmas. In the same way that Cuban weapons and resources supported guerrillas fighting against dictatorships across our continent, Fidel – the fighter from the Sierra – knew how to recognize when the time for armed struggle had ended, and that of political transformation had begun.

He has had the privilege of seeing various generations of Latin American revolutionaries come and go, individuals who have had the good fortune of benefiting from his support: from Salvador Allende to Hugo Chávez, to name just two of the many brave regional leaders.

“To me Fidel is a father, a comrade, a master of impeccable strategy,” stated Chávez during an interview with Granma in 2005. The two leaders first met in 1994, where Fidel received the recently freed lieutenant colonel at the foot of his plane's stairway, on arrival in Havana.

Chávez’s 1999 presidential electoral victory marked the beginning of a new era for Latin America and the Caribbean which, as has been noted by protagonists of this process, from Evo Morales to Rafael Correa, would have been impossible without Fidel’s leadership.

Although a counter-offensive is currently underway by right wing forces, attempting to destroy all the gains made over the last decade, there exist concrete examples of the fulfilment of over 200 years of integration efforts, such as the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States, founded in 2010.

Much earlier however, in a meeting during the 1993 Sao Paulo Forum in Havana, the Cuban leader had told leftist forces: “What more can we do, what more can the Latin American left do than create a consciousness promoting unity? This should be inscribed on the flags of the left. With socialism or without socialism.”

In addition to his tireless revolutionary work, Fidel’s humanist ideas have alerted many to the major problems facing humanity, from climate change to the possibility of global destruction by nuclear weapons.

No one can look back over 20th and 21st century history, without studying the work and ideas of this Cuban who wrote a small Caribbean island into the pages of “true global history,” as told by the people.

This article was first published in Granma the Official Voice of the Communist Party of Cuba Central Committee in August 2016 to mark the 90th birthday of Fidel Castro.

www.granma.cu

 

20th November 2016

Eyes right – preparing French Resistance

 

With all eyes turned towards the election of Donald Trump in the United States, with everyone calculating the possible consequences, less media attention has been focused on the future of Europe.  However, with the prospect of the Front National and Marine Le Pen being in the running for the French Presidency in May, attention is now turning back towards Europe.

Le Pen has historically been prone to the same levels of racism and xenophobia characteristic of the far right and is showing no signs of moderating her positions as the presidential race gets closer.  There is no doubt that the rhetoric of the right in the UK, which hijacked the Brexit debate, and the election of Trump in the US will give Le Pen and her supporters hope.

The tendency of the right to proclaim these victories as the voice of the people against the establishment however has been overstated.  The Brexit vote reflected disillusionment with the EU establishment across a wide political spectrum, not just the UKIP xenophobes and Little Englander Tory right wing.  The 51% of those who voted was a majority but hardly sufficient to be accepted as the ‘voice of the people’ in any decisive sense.

The Brexiteers can at least boast a genuine majority, however small.  President-elect Donald Trump cannot even claim that.  There is no disputing that Trump won the election, based on the US electoral college system, but he was 1.5% behind Hillary Clinton in the popular vote.  Once again, a close vote, but certainly not one which any objective observer could reasonably suggest gives Trump cause to claim he is the ‘voice of the people’.

The easy solutions offered by right wing demagogues can mobilise those without the information or the inclination to see the complexities of modern politics.  The ascent of Mussolini, Hitler and Franco in the past was the outcome of such a failure to tackle the causes of fascism at the root.  The appeasement of fascism by the Western powers in the 1930’s was based upon a fundamental misunderstanding of how the far right will not play by the rules.  They will use the trappings of democracy to get where they want to be, before holding on to power by whatever means necessary.

Descent into dictatorship is never to be found in any political manifesto.  It is no more likely to be in the Le Pen manifesto than it was in that of Donald Trump.  That does not mean that the danger is not there.  With the leader of the ‘free world’ a reality TV star, with no political experience and a tendency to be on a short fuse when he is crossed, anything may be possible.

With six months to go the Left in France have the chance to take on the arguments of Le Pen and focus upon the real causes of poverty and austerity.  The unity of the United Left and Communist Party of France will be vital if a Le Pen upset is not to push Europe further to the right.  Mass engagement is at the heart of the Front de Gauche (United Left) programme, engaging citizens, trade unionists and intellectuals, based around support for democracy, the economy and the environment.  

Trump will no doubt continue to grab headlines up to and beyond his inauguration in January.  However, for an indication of how the politics of Europe may be set for the coming decade, France is the country to watch.

13th November 2016

Fight! Resist! Organise!

 

This week sees a profound change in the politics of the West, with a potentially huge impact upon the world.  It would be remiss of us not to make the election of Donald Trump to the Presidency of the United States  the main feature of this weeks blog.  It would be equally wrong not to give the analysis of the election outcome over to those at the sharp end of the struggle, comrades in the USA, who will be faced with picking up the pieces and building the coalition against Trump.

John Batchell is the national Chair of the Communist Party USA.  His response to the election of Trump, from the People’s World of 11th November 2016, is reproduced in full below.

After the Trump election: Fight! Resist! Organize!

The road to freedom, peace, equality, and preserving life on Earth is a long one; full of twists and unexpected turns – and reverses.  The 2016 election is one of them.

There’s no sugarcoating it.  The election of Donald Trump as president along with a Republican Senate and House was a tremendous defeat with far-reaching consequences that will ripple for years to come.

Defeats are part of life and struggle.  But they should not lead to paralysis. It is not the end of the road.

Let us recall those who suffered setbacks during the darkest days of the struggle against slavery, the Civil Rights, Suffrage, and labor movements, and never gave up.  We can do no less.  We too must pick ourselves up, assess mistakes, and return unbowed to the long walk to freedom.

After all, political fortunes can reverse quickly. Upon winning a narrow re-election in 2004, George W. Bush, in his hubris, attempted a privatization of Social Security.  A huge mass movement rose to block it, and the unraveling of his administration began.

This is especially important to keep in mind today because Trump’s election did not represent a mandate for his policies.  The majority of voters rejected them.  That’s reflected in the youth, who are undaunted and already self-organizing in the #notmypresident protests.

What is urgently needed now is unity.  Every conceivable movement and ally prepared to defend social advances and democratic norms must be mobilized, starting with the labor-led people’s movement, Black Lives Matter, climate justice groups, the Dreamers, the LGTBQ community, and women, in alliance with the Democratic Party and all parts of what was the Hillary Clinton electoral coalition, and those inspired by the Bernie Sanders campaign.

This is the basis of gathering popular majorities to oppose Trump on multiple fronts.  No one should be left standing on the sidelines.

This moment calls for the broadest solidarity and action to block the coming reactionary legislative assault and attacks on democratic rights and civil liberties.  It calls for protecting the lives, homes, and communities of those being targeted and defending policies addressing the existential threat posed by climate change.  We must begin preparations now for the 2018 election cycle.

It begins with extending solidarity to family, friends, neighbors, co-workers, and fellow students.

It can involve resistance to federal policies by entire municipalities and states.

It’s imperative this movement encompass “red states” and “red districts” and engage Trump voters.  They too will feel the lash, including those who will lose life-sustaining benefits if Obamacare and Medicare are repealed.

There is no getting around directly engaging these voters.  During the election, Working America, the community affiliate of the AFL-CIO, did just that.  It effectively canvassed in largely white communities, refusing to allow white workers to be surrendered to the embrace of the right wing.

The Moral Monday movement in North Carolina led by the Rev. William J. Barber has assembled a labor-civil rights-religious coalition that is reaching deeply into the rural areas of the state.  It is modeled on the idea that a united multi-racial working class and people are necessary for all social advances.

Wolf at the door

Tens of millions awoke November 9 terrified with the realization the wolf is not only at the door, but has entered the house.  Right-wing extremists will dominate all three branches of government and move swiftly to impose their agenda.

The forces of hate and bigotry are emboldened.  The danger of scapegoating, discrimination, and violence against Muslims, immigrants, people of color, the LGBTQ community, women, unions, and other democratic organizations will increase.

Contrary to his claims, Trump is no rogue outsider.  He is backed by right-wing billionaires, the Heritage Foundation, and their ilk – all the groups providing policy blueprints and lists of names to stack departments and the judiciary at all levels.  These forces now control 31 governorships and two-thirds of state legislative chambers.  This is where they have long been ruthlessly unfolding their wrecking agenda.

We can probably expect deep cuts to social programs, a national right-to-work law, greater restrictions on abortions, a national stop-and-frisk law, curbs on LGBTQ rights, voter suppression, repeal of regulations on business, dismantling of the EPA, tax cuts for the wealthy, and massive privatization.

One of the first things a right-wing government often does after capturing power is to go after the labor movement.  Because of their organization and ability to initialize collective struggle, unions are one of the first targets.  While several media outlets reported that half of union households voted for Trump, the actual number of union members casting ballots for him was only 37 percent.  We should expect a major assault on labor rights.

Reactionary policy will unfold in foreign affairs as well, including withdrawal from the Paris Climate Accord and the Iran Nuclear Agreement.  Foreign intervention and the nuclear danger are likely to increase.

The new balance of forces will usher in instability and unpredictability, while greatly aggravating class, racial, and social tensions.

All rise in defense of democracy

Without a broad and vigorous resistance from every conceivable sector, a further descent into authoritarianism or worse is possible.

Fascism doesn’t come all at once, but in steps and stages.  To stop it, the beast must be resisted at every turn.

The White House doors are now open to the most extreme political forces, including the alt-right, the KKK, white supremacists, and others.  Trump carried them all from the fringe into the political mainstream.

These forces now have increased access to the security apparatus of the state, which they employed effectively during the campaign while colluding with the FBI.  They also were aided by unprecedented foreign intervention from the likes of Julian Assange, as well as Russian mobsters and intelligence services.

The broad electoral coalition that backed Clinton should not despair.  Clinton received the majority of votes.  We fought the good fight and are not alone.  Trump not only received fewer votes than Clinton; he also got less votes than both John McCain and Mitt Romney.

However, Clinton received 6.5 million less votes than President Obama did in 2012 and 10 million less than in 2008.  While she assembled much of the coalition that carried Obama to victory twice, they voted in fewer numbers.

When inspired and organized to turn out, the entire Obama coalition is the majority.  That majority is still here, but it must be mobilized, activated, and expanded.

What happened?

Millions of working families – black, brown, and white – are experiencing economic pain, declining living standards, debt, joblessness, poverty, discrimination, and bigotry. They are fearful and desperately want change and someone to listen to their plight.

And while many sought that change through the history-making vehicle of the Clinton campaign, other voters were convinced what was needed was a “Washington outsider” who would “shake things up.”  Trump, the billionaire insider, demagogically and fraudulently exploited their pain, fear, and insecurity through the use of racism, sexism, and anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim hate.

While millions of whites stood with their black and brown sisters and brothers, some 58 percent voted for Trump, many voting against their own class interests.  Working class brothers and sisters were pitted against each other, and many succumbed to fear.

The question is: why?

The politics of hate and bigotry have been central to the right’s rise to power.  The right-wing mass media influences wide swaths of the country.  Millions get their news and opinion, much of it based on lies and conspiracy theories, from Fox News, hate-talk radio, and white supremacist and hate groups. This is especially true of those living in racially-segregated communities and rural areas.

Right-wing religious institutions and networks, especially right-wing evangelicals, are purveyors of reactionary ideology.

The GOP inspired racist vilification and obstruction of the Obama administration for years. It promoted anti-immigrant hysteria.  Islamophobia, homophobia, anti-Semitism, and misogyny have all had an impact on how people think.

Capitalist globalization, unfair trade pacts, outsourcing, and automation produced deindustrialization, devastated communities, and left millions of victims in their wake. In some places, the only growth industries are meth labs.  Economic stagnation, declining real wages, and a soaring wealth gap have left millions feeling left out, angry, and hopeless.

At the same time, changing demographics, the emerging role of women, the political assertiveness of the LGBTQ community, and other factors are shaping a new multi-racial, multi-national, multi-gender, multi-cultural, multi-lingual people and nation.

Many whites, particularly men, are among the victims of plant closings, wage cuts, home foreclosures, and economic dislocation.  They see their dignity and self worth disappear and the world and their place in it rapidly changing.  They and their communities are up against powerful global economic forces they cannot fathom and feel helpless to fight.  They yearn for more stable and prosperous times.

Instead of adjusting to the new demographic and social realities – and blaming corporate America for ruining their livelihoods and communities – those particularly living in segregated areas aim their resentments against people they don’t know or understand.

Trump “tells it like it is.”  To many, he speaks to their anger and resentment and is their champion against the “establishment.”  He conned many into misdirecting their fears, insecurity, and resentments toward Muslims, Mexican immigrants, African Americans, Jewish Americans, and women.

Pervasive misogyny

As a public figure, Hillary Clinton has been a leader of the movement to advance women’s rights and embodies the new changing status of women in society.  Consequently, she has been the object of every form of misogyny and hate along the line of advance.

Millions of women and men were inspired by her history-making campaign.  Not surprisingly, Clinton won by the highest gender margin in history, even though 55 percent of white women voted for Trump, the same as for John McCain.

Sexism and misogyny were at the center of this entire election and prevented millions of men and women from voting for the first woman president.  There is no other plausible explanation for the deep hatred and venom directed at Clinton – manifested in sensational claims that she “can’t be trusted,” is a “serial liar,” and “coldly ambitious.”

Clinton’s candidacy remains historic, and despite her defeat many other women were elected to Congress.  This is the first time the nation has had such a wide-ranging public discussion about misogyny and the pervasiveness of sexual assault.  It has helped change how millions think, including the revulsion to Trump expressed by so many.

Reviled by the right

Hillary Clinton has been a lightening rod of the right since Bill Clinton’s administration.  She forged her own role, stood up to right-wing efforts to destroy his presidency, and became a political force in her own right.  As a leading public figure, she has been vilified for the past 30 years by these same forces.

Republicans took Clinton’s use of a private email server and transformed it into a criminal act in the minds of their supporters.  Chants of “Lock her up” dogged Clinton every step of the way.

But Clinton is also the face of the establishment, part of the political and economic power structure. Even though she finally opposed the TPP, because of President Obama’s backing of the pact, the Democratic Party as a whole was seen as a supporter of unfair trade deals.  In the thinking of many, she is part of the problem, confirmed by her paid speeches at Goldman Sachs.

The campaign did not effectively address the suffering of workers and their communities, especially the rural areas.  It did not effectively build on Sen. Bernie Sanders’ call to change the “rigged economic system” and radically address vast wealth inequality.  This call tapped into mass thinking, energized millions of voters, and was instrumental in shaping the Democratic platform.

Despite running one of the most progressive platforms of any major party in history, Clinton did not effectively connect to the plight of working families.

All these factors were at work in not only undergirding Trump’s support, but also undermining turnout among the Obama coalition.

Don’t despair!

The nation is deeply polarized.  Trump assumes office as the most reviled and unpopular president in history.   Over half the electorate voted against him.

Public opinion on all the key issues is against him.  Deep internal divisions and contradictions beset the GOP.  The world faces an existential crisis that must be addressed and which will only be aggravated by Trump policies.

What’s required is the broadest unity in the defense of democratic norms, institutions, and rights.  We have to keep fighting for that cherished vision of the inclusive, just, and peaceful America and world we hold so dear.

Don’t despair!  Fight! Keep our eyes on the prize!

For more information on the fight against the Trump  election in the USA go to http://www.peoplesworld.org

 

 

6th November 2016

Dump Trump

There is only one message that the world can send to the people of the United States of America when they go to elect a President on Tuesday, 8th November; dump Trump.  The ageing reality TV show host, racist, sexist, billionaire self-styled ‘man of the people’, represents the worst aspects of ignorance, mendacity and bigotry that the US political system can generate.

In one sense there is the real danger that the Americans may get the President they deserve.  The age old joke that the US begins wars in order to teach its people about geography, is a reflection of the insularity which characterises the world view of the population and many of its politicians.  The World Series success of the Chicago Cubs baseball team last week briefly pushed the election off the front pages in the US but it is notable that the ‘world’ only includes teams from the US.

Trump knows that the appeal of parochialism, the claim that he will ‘Make America Great Again’, plays to the ignorance of wider issues amongst the majority of voters.  He knows that the system has failed millions who struggle to make ends meet and see the cosy Washington club for what it is, a closed shop aimed at protecting the rights and vested interests of a small elite.

The inability of the wave of hope and optimism, which ushered in the election of Barack Obama eight years ago, to be translated into any meaningful change for those at the sharp end of the poverty and injustice endemic to the United States, perversely is Trump’s main card.

The election of a black President was an historic watermark.  The election of a woman President would shatter a further glass ceiling.  The election of a President committed to acting in the interests of the working people of America taking on the banks, corporations and military industrial complex, would be quite something else however.

For the foreseeable future that is not going to happen.  However, the demagoguery of Trump taps into the desire to see something like that, to somehow give a voice to the dispossessed and downtrodden.  Trump takes that desire and twists it into the most vicious, racist, bigotry.  Blame the Mexicans, blame the Muslims, blame Washington, blame anything or anyone but the system which allows people like Trump to become billionaires by exploiting the labour of others.

While Trump likes to present himself as the individual not beholden to any interests or corporate backers, no such animal exists in the context of US politics.  Powerful forces are behind the Trump campaign, the same forces which have effectively immobilised the presidency of Barack Obama and who are using the populism of the Trump campaign as a front to turn back the clock even further in the United States.  As the Communist Party of the United States of America has warned,

“Regardless of the election outcome, the movement Trump started will continue.  A new kind of authoritarian and fascist movement is emerging capable of engaging millions and funded by right-wing billionaires.

The thought that Trump stands poised at the White House door ready to usher into government these forces with one hand while grasping the nuclear trigger with the other, has generated widespread alarm.

The warning is not just coming from the left and progressive forces, but from sections of the U.S. ruling class itself, Democratic and Republican Party establishments, corporate media and even conservative opinion makers.”

The call of the CPUSA, and other progressive forces in the United States, for voters to come out and generate a landslide Democratic victory on 8th November is significantly hampered by the candidate, Hillary Clinton.

Clinton is deeply unpopular, embedded in the Washington establishment and, having had a political career, has inevitably made mistakes.  However, the scrutiny to which she has been subjected has been nothing short of forensic and way beyond the level which any presidential candidate has previously endured.  Clinton is by no means the answer to the ills at the heart of the society in the United States.  Only a determined people’s movement capable of changing the terms of the political debate to address the economy, poverty, injustice and the environment can do that.

In the current circumstances, the alternative is limited.  The last word, as we move towards election day, should go with the CPUSA,

“The United States remains the most powerful country in the world but its society is going through a deep crisis.  Frustration and discomfort dominate US citizens who are increasingly sceptical of their politicians. Donald Trump manipulates the situation and does it appealing to the racism, brutal individualism, stupidity and violence that have been present –since its origin– in the nation that believes it is superior to the rest of the world.  His candidacy has brought out the worst in the US and has turned it into an organized political force.

Hillary does not represent a revolutionary alternative.  Choosing her will not produce the radical transformation of US society.  But right now she is the only hope to stop barbarism.”

The keep up with an alternative take on the politics of the USA go to http://www.cpusa.org

23rd October 2016

May reaches the summit

 

The Tories continue to tie themselves in knots over Brexit.  At every turn there is a new challenge.  Hard Brexit, soft Brexit, conducting Brexit negotiations in French, the list appears to go on.  The veneer of unity, which the Tories were able to cloak themselves in following the selection of Theresa May as leader, is fading more rapidly than the Emperor’s new clothes.  May is far too refined to be going naked into the conference chamber but a lack of policy clarity is leaving her dangerously exposed.

The split in Tory ranks may not be as even as the 51% / 49 % split in the country reflected in the referendum vote but it is heading that way.  Leading Brexiteers, David Davis, Boris Johnson and Liam Fox appear to be gaining the upper hand, as European leaders begin to harden their stance on how to handle the departure of the UK from the European Union.

The occasion for the flurry of news this week has been Theresa May’s first EU summit as Prime Minister and her first chance to make an impression upon the collective leaders of the other 27 EU states.  Afforded a mere five minute slot at the end of a working dinner, May’s address was greeted in stony silence by the other EU leaders, who have taken the line that no negotiations will begin until the UK has invoked Article 50 and withdrawal begins in earnest.

May has called for a “mature, co-operative relationship” with Europe, stating in the end of summit press conference that,

“I recognise the scale of the challenge ahead.  I am sure there will be difficult moments.  It will require some give and take.  But I firmly believe that if we approach this in a constructive spirit – as I am – then we can deliver a smooth departure and build a powerful new relationship that works both for the UK and for the countries of the EU looking for opportunities, not problems.”

It is at the core of the EU’s current difficulty however that mature co-operation is simply not part of the DNA of capitalism.  As a system based fundamentally upon competition, co-operation inevitably comes at a price.  For the big economies within the EU, the UK, Germany and France, sacrificing a degree of sovereignty, in exchange for the benefits of access to lucrative markets in over twenty states, has been a price worth paying for more than forty years.

The accession of Eastern European states, following the defeat of the Soviet Union, appeared to give even greater opportunity to the banks and corporations of the big three to further expand their operations.  Alongside the free movement of goods and capital, the EU has also enshrined the free movement of labour.  The sales pitch has always been that this is part of the desire of the EU to promote peace, co-operation and understanding amongst the peoples of Europe.  A common market, which would prevent any return to the horrors of World War 2.

This is a lofty and laudable aim but, in the context of a complex capitalist economy, free movement of labour has largely been an excuse for the importing of cheap labour by unscrupulous employers.  Why employ skilled UK tradespeople when they can be imported more cheaply from Poland?  Why invest in training and employment programmes, which will grow the skills of your indigenous workforce, when you can find workers from elsewhere in the EU willing to work for less?

The UK has always indulged in this practice when it has suited its requirements.  Drawing upon its former colonies, through the so called Commonwealth, the UK has for many years been a destination for students and workers from Africa, the Asian sub-continent and the Antipodes to name but a few.  The richness of cultural diversity in food, music and fashion that has been of benefit to the UK as a result is unquestionable.  In the context of post war economic expansion the influx of migrants from the former colonies could be encouraged and accommodated up to a point.

Tensions began to show in the 1970’s as the economy slowed and communities began the process of resisting de-industrialisation and mass unemployment.  The rise of the National Front in this period was countered by a unifying strand in youth culture and the visible expression of this through Rock Against Racism and other initiatives.  The more progressive trade unions stood against the racist right wing and the onslaught against the public sector, culminating in the so-called Winter of Discontent.

The inability of the Labour Movement to unite effectively however led directly to the election of the Thatcher government in 1979 and the opening of the floodgates for an assault on the working class and its organisations.

The systematic erosion of the base upon which many working class communities relied was core to the Thatcher project.  Rather than looking at ways to invest in and modernise industries such as steel, mining and shipbuilding, a process of industrial sabotage was undertaken.  The shift from manufacturing to service industries was accelerated by new freedoms for the City of London.  Jingoism and xenophobia was reinforced by the misadventure in the Falklands. 

The squeezing of manufacturing jobs, and opportunities in the public sector, was  accompanied by a savaging of opportunities for working class communities to access higher education.  The mass unemployment of the 1980’s was the first wave of working class casualties.  The process has continued since then.

Using cheap migrant labour to complement existing jobs is one thing.  Using it to undercut and replace those jobs becomes something else.  De-skilled, unmotivated and by-passed, the white working class have increasingly become the problem families living on sink estates in poor housing. Give employers freedom to import cheap labour from Eastern Europe and the mix is toxic.  In this context the vote for Brexit is an unsurprising outcome.

Whatever Theresa May offers the other leaders in the EU and however British capitalism attempts to re-cut the cake amongst the banks and corporations, those at the bottom of the heap are not going to benefit.  Being exploited by capital through the prism of the EU or through the British ruling class alone will make no difference.  Hard or soft, only a peoples Brexit, with the aim of creating a true Europe of the people, governed by the people, for the people is what is required. 

Whatever else she may deliver, Theresa May will not deliver that.

9th October 2016

No big guns, no entitlement

 

If you are going to engage in political assassination it pays to make sure that you have a loaded gun.  The coup plotters in the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) failed to observe this basic principle.  In putting up Owen Smith against Jeremy Corbyn in the leadership contest their weapon of choice was poor.  Something akin to an imitation pistol, which displays the word BANG! in jovial colours once the trigger is squeezed.

It is also a generally accepted principle that those defeated in a coup attempt would not expect to find themselves at the top table once their putsch had failed.  The inept assassin usually expects to end up as a sad footnote in history, someone who misjudged his or her moment and, often, the general mood.

All of which makes it the more remarkable that the coup plotters of the PLP are now throwing their hands up in horror that they are not being given prime positions in Jeremy Corbyn’s Shadow Cabinet.  Their whining has the feel of public school entitlement, the sort of career politician pet lip you  expect from the Conservative Party, not those who, notionally at least, have tied their flag to the mast of socialism.

The sacking of Chief Whip Rosie Winterton is being used as the lightning rod for this outpouring of angst.  Winterton is lauded in the press as being widely “praised by colleagues for her loyalty and discretion” and that Corbyn sacking her is a reflection of his inability to unite the PLP.  These are the very colleagues who have spectacularly failed in their efforts to dislodge their democratically elected leader, less than a year into the job, hardly an act that makes the top ten in the list of things to do to secure party unity.  Whatever their backers in the liberal leaning UK press may say, the PLP plotters are hardly occupying the moral high ground here.

The sacking of Winterton feels more like the unmasking of a spy in the camp.  Given the extent of parliamentary opposition to Corbyn it can hardly be said that she has done a great job for the leader over the past year.  Divided loyalties would seem to be an understatement.

Having vented their spleen over not getting any of the top jobs, under the fiction that they would not have taken them anyway, the plotters have moved on to undermine those who have been selected. 

Diane Abbott, Shadow Home Secretary,  and Shami Chakrabarti, Shadow Attorney General, appear to have come under particular fire.  Chakrabartti, former Director of Liberty and a barrister by training appears to be particularly well suited to her brief.  However, having recently led an investigation into anti-semitism in the Labour Party, which did not result in a condemnation of Corbyn’s leadership, she now appears to be fair game.

Abbot is an opinionated, black woman and long standing ally of Jeremy Corbyn.  For the unholy trinity of Mail/Express/Telegraph in the UK press and their associated readership, Abbott is everything they would never want in a Home Secretary.  Someone who might actually have some knowledge of, and affinity with, those suffering police harassment!  Someone who, if elected, may wish to do something about it!  Outrageous.

Even for those supporting Corbyn however, Abbott is a bold choice.  She has displayed a tendency towards volatility in the past and, like Corbyn himself, may need to learn to become a bit more media savvy.  At least as savvy as the BBC will allow.  Post referendum, the issues which are core to the Home Office brief, policing, prisons and immigration, are going to be high on the political agenda, as the UK works out its path towards Brexit.  Tory Home Secretary, Amber Rudd, at the Tory Party conference last week, set out the Little Englander agenda which the Tories calculate will re-capture the UKIP vote and guarantee Theresa May a further term in office.  It is not appealing.

Corbyn has already set out the view that the immigration issue is not about the fact of immigrants but about employers exploiting cheap labour and local authorities being starved of resources to cope.  It is too subtle an argument for much of the Mail/Express/Telegraph constituency to comprehend.  Abbott may have her job cut out to convince them.

The reality is that the Shadow Cabinet is by no means exclusively Corbynista, as the coup plotters would have it.  It contains more women and is more ethnically diverse than any Shadow Cabinet (or Cabinet for that matter) ever.  It contains members who openly supported the imitation pistol, Owen Smith.  There are no big guns! is the plotters cry.  Quite!  is the appropriate response and no entitlement either.

 

2nd October 2016

The Emperor stripped bare

 

Capitalism is not working.  All of its major institutions say so.  The International Monetary Fund, the Deutsche Bank, the Federal Reserve, the City of London, even Theresa May and her new found Tory Cabinet.  Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, and his Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell, have been saying so for a while, but then of course they would!

The only difference is that the Labour leaders have been whispering the answer; socialism.  In his speech to the Labour Party conference McDonnell in fact suggested that this answer need not be whispered any longer.  To a standing ovation, after outlining the party’s plans to transform the UK economy, McDonnell’s rallying cry was,

“That’s our vision to rebuild and transform Britain.  In this party you no longer have to whisper it.  It’s called socialism.”

The programme outlined by McDonnell is far and away the most radical of any mainstream UK political party for decades.  It includes an independently set national living wage, likely to be over £10 per hour by 2020.  A Labour government would repeal the Trade Union Act, which further restricts the right to strike.  The tax strategy would shift the burden from wage earners to the wealthy.  A more economically interventionist government was promised, with direct investment and protection for key industries.

“The winds of globalisation are blowing in a different direction”, said McDonnell.  “They are blowing against the belief in the free market and in favour of intervention.  Good business doesn’t need no government.  Good business needs good government.  And the best governments today, right across the world, recognise that they need to support their economies because the way the world works is changing.”

McDonnell was careful to balance his speech with some more explicit overtones to business.  He suggested that the City of London should continue to get access to the EU single market.  He emphasised the need for entrepreneurialism and the need to encourage business to invest in order to grow.

Labour are not alone in warning that the economy needs a new approach. The annual meeting of the IMF in Washington this week has been preceded by a speech by managing director, Christine Lagarde (pictured), warning that,

“For the past several years, the global recovery has been weak and fragile, and this continues to be the case today, especially for advanced economies.  And while there are some good signs, the overall growth outlook still remains subdued.”

Not only does the growth outlook appear subdued there is a looming international debt crisis on the horizon.  Many poor countries, which had borrowed on global capital markets before the 2008 banking crisis, are now struggling to meet repayments, as the price of imported commodities grows and demand for their goods on the world market is weak. 

Predictions from the World Bank suggest growth in sub-Saharan Africa will be no more that 1.6% this year, the lowest for over two decades.  Angola, Kenya and Nigeria have already turned to the IMF and World Bank for assistance, others are likely to follow.  The World Bank has been struggling with developed world issues around the banking crisis, the sub-prime mortgage issue and the impact of Brexit upon the euro.  With the concerns of underdeveloped nations now coming to a head the world’s financial institutions may soon be facing a perfect storm.

At one end of the spectrum the response to such developments is greater protectionism.  Rather than reducing barriers to trade, build a proverbial ‘wall’, in order to keep the outside economic world at bay.  Such economic simplicities are the fare of the Trump tilt at the presidency in the USA.  While such policies may galvanise sections of the popular vote, duped into thinking their jobs are threatened by ‘foreigners’, they cut no ice in the real world.  The last time the world went down this road the Great Depression and World War 2 were the result.  

At the other end of the scale, complete free trade with no barriers and no state intervention is not the answer.  The lack of banking regulation led to the 2008 crash and unrestrained capital will invariably act in its own interest, not that of the public good.  The state must play a role.

The IMF has recognised that the structural investment, which only national governments can make, will be necessary to stimulate economic growth.  Lagarde has recently singled out countries such as Canada, Germany and South Korea as ones with spare cash to invest.  An IMF report earlier this year called upon the G20 countries to step up investment in essential infrastructure projects.

Even the IMF may be whispering the word socialism when they meet this week.  Not because they are advocates but because they fear that capitalism may be revealed as the proverbial naked Emperor, if they cannot find at least a fig leaf to cover over their embarrassment.

 

 

24th September 2016

Catching up with Corbyn

 

Britain’s post Brexit referendum summer is coming to an end and the political parties are gearing up for the conference season.  For the Conservatives, what looked like a straightforward celebration of the transition to new leader Theresa May, may yet hold some pitfalls.  May has chosen the rather bizarre ground of re-instating more grammar schools as her first major political battle, dividing her own party and uniting Labour ranks at a stroke.  Perhaps May is calculating that this will play well in the country, in order to entice the ‘true blue’ Little Englanders back from the brink of UKIP, time will tell.

May will also have to contend with the fact that the swift purging of former Prime Minister David Cameron’s cronies from any positions of influence does not mean that they will all go quietly.  Cameron himself has announced his resignation as an MP, concluding one of the swiftest political meltdown’s in recent years.  Only the Lib Dem showing at the last election and the departure of Nick Clegg even comes close.

Cameron’s second in command, George Osborne, the architect of austerity and a major reason that the economy has tanked over the past six years, has vowed to fight on.  Osborne’s punish the poor programme has seen poverty, homelessness and despair increase to a scale previously only achieved by the widely reviled Thatcher administration.  Quite what he thinks he has to offer the disillusioned and the disenfranchised is anyone’s guess.  That end of the social spectrum is not however Osborne’s milieu so, if his record to date is anything to go by, he will not be too concerned. 

Osborne is making it clear that he will fly the flag for the disaffected and disillusioned in the Tory Party, thus giving a ready made alternative should the May project go pear shaped, once it is clear to anyone exactly what the May project is.  Whether anyone will rally to Osborne’s banner, given his toxic association with the so-called coalition and the failed Cameron premiership, remains to be seen but greater career revivals have occurred in politics so it would be unwise to rule anything out.

One such career turning marvel is of course Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn.  The change in Corbyn’s fortunes is all the more remarkable as it has been based on principle rather than opportunism, an approach that would be inimical to Osborne and his ilk.  It is an approach which has, in fact, been alien to most of the parliamentary Labour Party and the rank opportunism of the 172 Labour MPs who failed to support Corbyn has been dealt a decisive blow with his re-election as Labour leader.

The best candidate the parliamentary backstabbers could muster in the end was the soft centred Owen Smith.  Over the summer leadership hustings Smith has spent most of the debate painting himself as Corbyn-lite, in an attempt to woo any vacillating Corbyn supporters.  The only good thing about this is that the debate has moved to the Left, with even Smith acknowledging that austerity is a bad thing, public investment a necessity and the lack of social housing a crisis issue which needs to be tackled.  Smith could not bring himself to let go of weapons of mass destruction however and continued to back Trident, while his idea of internal democracy within the Labour Party was to shift the focus back upon MPs rather than the wider membership.

Corbyn continues to build upon a platform which has been his stock in trade for over 30 years.  It actively promotes strategic nationalisation and public investment, opposes on principle the Trident programme and seeks to extend party democracy to the widest number of Labour members.

In spite of this, the inability of the Parliamentary Labour Party to accept internal party democracy continues at a breath-taking pace.  Rather than accepting the fact that, for the second time inside a year, Jeremy Corbyn has won the leadership contest there is talk amongst some MPs of refusing to serve in a Shadow Cabinet.  These same MPs, failing to unite in the fight against the Tories, will no doubt be the first to blame Corbyn if Labour does not win an election in 2020.

Apart from having to deal with the backstabbers in his own ranks, the media continues to be trenchantly hostile to Corbyn, either actively or by omission, with key speeches and announcements not given the same profile as previous Leaders of the Opposition.  In spite of this, the message still seems to be getting through.  Thousands of Labour Party members and supporters appear to have caught on, there is time yet for the rest of the country to catch up.

4th September 2016

Corruption, crisis and economic uncertainty

 

With just over a year having passed since the nuclear deal was signed between Iran and the West, ordinary Iranians had been expecting to feel some benefit.  However, as Jane Green reports for Iran Today, no positive impact has been evident on the streets of the Islamic Republic.

The fanfare which surrounded the nuclear deal, between Iran and the 5+1 nations in July 2015, suggested that the Iranian economy was on the brink of a new dawn, with untold opportunities just around the corner.

The terms of the deal, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, meant Iran would accept restrictions on its nuclear programme, accept international monitoring and reduce its stockpile of enriched uranium.  The West always claimed that the programme was the first step towards a weapons capability, Iran has always held that it was purely for civilian power generation.   

While the Iranian government does appear to have complied with the terms, the deal does not cover the lifting of US financial sanctions, or any sanctions relating to human rights violations, ballistic missile activity and support for terrorism.  As a result, Iran cannot use US dollars, making many international banks wary of doing business with Tehran, in case they fall foul of the remaining sanctions and lose access to the American market.

The recent conclusion of a deal with Boeing, who announced a $17.6 billion agreement in June to sell 80 passenger jets to Iran Air, is the first major US contract with Iran.  Even that deal has been fraught with difficulties as the US Congress moved to block the deal, on the basis that Iran could use the aircraft for military purposes.  The US has even threatened to block the French sale of Airbus planes to Iran on the basis that they contain American parts.  Only the threat of a presidential veto appears to be holding Congress back.

The promise of a boost to the economy through the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, has been a key promise of the Iranian administration under Hassan Rouhani.  The fact that this has not been delivered means that the pressure upon Rouhani will mount over the coming year, with Iranian presidential elections scheduled for May 2017, and a growing sense in Iran that in spite of the deal, nothing has changed.

While a number of foreign delegations have visited Iran, this has not translated into significant foreign investment.  There are some indications that Iran has attracted foreign investment in certain areas, such as automotive, oil and liquid gas, transport and tourism.  However, a recent UN report suggests that foreign direct investment in Iran has declined from $4.662 billion in 2012 to $2 billion in 2015.

It is also significant that, whatever potential for foreign direct investment the nuclear deal creates, the political culture in the Islamic Republic is not conducive to attracting overseas investors.  The corruption, which is endemic to Iran’s ruling elite, encourages tax avoidance and bribe taking by officials.  The patronage that has allowed significant business operations to be owned by the security and intelligence services does not augur well for foreign investors, who desire greater stability in their business environment.

That stability is further undermined by the prospect of a change of government in Tehran next May but more immediately by the US presidential election in November this year.  Republican candidate, Donald Trump, has already made it clear that he would seek to re-negotiate the deal with Iran.  Democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton, is not likely to go down this path but any change of president is likely to cause some degree of disruption.  If investors are prepared to hold off until November, they are just as likely to sit on their hands for a further six months until May, when the Iranian presidential contest is settled.

While the government, in the form of economy minister, Ali Tayebnia, do their best to put a positive spin on Iran’s abject economic performance, they are undermined by the very system they are trying to prop up.  A series of corruption scandals have recently rocked the regime, with government employees guilty of awarding themselves exorbitant salaries resulting in a number of sackings.

Further news has broken recently about the uncovering of a banking scandal, involving the illicit movement of significant amounts of money, believed to be in the region of $250 million, at Bank Mellat.  The intelligence services have suggested that this may only be the tip of the iceberg and that the operation may be linked to an “organised group of banking corruption.”  There have even been allegations, so far unsubstantiated, that President Rouhani’s brother and special adviser, Hossein Fereydoun, is involved in the Bank Mellat corruption case. 

As far as any potential foreign direct investors are concerned this drama, playing out in the higher echelons of Iranian society, does not inspire confidence in Iran as an economic partner.

While the dynamics of the economic crisis are unfolding within Iran’s ruling circles, the situation for the ordinary people of Iran is seeing no improvement.  Inflation, unemployment and job insecurity remain high and the struggle to make ends meet is a daily one for many families.

With political uncertainty in the United States, across Europe and in Iran itself, there is little prospect of any immediate improvement in the situation on the ground for the Iranian people.  The elections next year may prove the first opportunity to challenge the failed ‘reforms’ of Rouhani and to find an opposition candidate who will truly reflect the voice and the needs of the Iranian people.

This article is reproduced from the latest issue of Iran Today.  For more information visit www.codir.net

 

 

14th August 2016

Fidel Castro – 90 revolutionary years

 

The historic leader of the Cuban Revolution celebrated his 90th birthday on 13th August 2016, Cuba Solidarity Campaign executive member, Dr Francisco Dominguez looks back at his legacy and internationalism

"A great man is great not because his personal qualities give individual features to great historical events, but because he possesses qualities which make him most capable of serving the great social needs of his time, needs which arose as a result of general and particular causes.”  GV Plekhanov

In the contemporary world nobody else symbolises the modern revolutionary spirit better than Fidel Castro.  From his very first incursions into politics he seemed to have been imbued with an almost insane, verging on the irrational, faith in the victory of his undertakings, many of which were carried out against extraordinary odds.

It was with this spirit that he organised and led the military attack against the Moncada Barracks on the now historic date of of 26 July 1953 when he was not yet 27 years old.

The attack was a huge risk, involving 137 badly equipped, poorly trained fighters against one of the largest and best armed military garrisons in the country, housing more than 500 soldiers. Fidel’s insurgents faced far superior firepower and had a slim chance of success, but only if the surprise factor worked.  It did not.

Following his capture after the attack, Fidel took the gamble to defend himself at the trial in a political context dominated by the intensely repressive Batista dictatorship.

In October 1960, Senator John Kennedy said: “Fulgencio Batista murdered 20,000 Cubans in 7 years - a greater proportion of the Cuban population than the proportion of Americans who died in both World Wars, and he turned democratic Cuba into a complete police state - destroying every individual liberty.”  This gives a measure of Fidel’s audacity to undertake his own legal and political defence.

His closing defence speech, ‘History Will Absolve Me’, would make history as perhaps one of the most impressive political statements on why Cuba not only needed a revolution, but what the revolution’s intellectual, moral, historic, social and political foundations were. In it Fidel made the dictum that has informed his politics: “No weapon, no force is capable of defeating a people who have decided to fight for their rights.”  Furthermore, in it we find the post-Batista programme of structural transformations to be implemented.  It was a trait that was to inform his long political career: consistency between rhetoric, principles and practical action.

The Moncada adventure, and Fidel’s exceptional political performance at the trial, catapulted him to national prominence from which he drew the key political lesson of his politics: audacity, regardless of the odds.  Hence, the training camp in Mexico; his apparently ill-advised naval expedition to  Cuba in the Granma yacht with 89 fighters; the establishment of the guerrilla HQ in the Sierra Maestra with the 12 survivors of the disastrous Granma landing; and his unwavering conviction that Cuba was mature for Revolution.  This continued all the way to the 1962 October Missile Crisis, when Fidel skilfully steered his country through one of the most dangerous moments in the twentieth century’s history. It was under his political and military leadership that Cuba inflicted the very first defeat of US imperialism in Latin America on 17 April 1961 at the Bay of Pigs.  A battle he led as field commander from a tank in the theatre of war itself.

Fidel’s view of revolution is based on a Third World perspective of liberation against imperialism. Thus, Fidel’s internationalism was predicated on the need to build the broadest anti-imperialist unity in action in solidarity with the struggles of the peoples of Asia, Africa and Latin America.

However, solidarity for Fidel went well beyond strongly worded statements and declarations of support, since he took it to unprecedented levels, which on many occasions involved the actual participation of tens of thousands of Cuban fighters in highly complex and dangerous areas. Fidel shared Che Guevara’s dictum that to “always be capable of feeling deeply any injustice committed against anyone, anywhere in the world”, was “the most beautiful quality of a revolutionary.”

The Cuban Revolution is also profoundly Latin Americanist, as espoused by Fidel in the very first pronouncements that defined the Revolution’s nature. Thus, in the ‘First Declaration of Havana’, he presents the Revolution as a continuum of the struggles of Bolivar, Hidalgo, Suarez, San Martin, O’Higgins, Sucre, Tiradentes and, of course, Cuban independence leader  José Martí himself.  But the people are key. Fidel poetically formulates this in the ‘Second Declaration of Havana’:

“…the dark-skinned, the poor, the indigenous, peasants, workers, women, have said enough and got on the march for their rights which have been suppressed for 500 years, and its inexorable march as a Giant will not stop until total success. This coming epic will be written by the masses, by the starving indigenous communities, landless peasants, exploited workers, mestizos, mulattoes, poor whites, our peoples in Latin America, those despised by imperialism, they will be the gravediggers of imperialist monopoly capital.”

US imperialism understood the highly emancipatory and contagious significance of the Cuban Revolution and thus has sought to crush it ever since 1 January 1959. This never led to any weakening of Fidel’s principles to the Cuban people, the Revolution or his internationalism. Under Fidel’s leadership Cuba not only developed the most sophisticated knowledge of Latin America as a whole, but it also strongly influenced the healthiest political currents in the region. Thus Fidel’s leadership and Cuba’s example were not just an inspiration of what a better world would be like, but also a spur to political action.

Fidel’s Latin Americanist conviction led him to give political support to Salvador Allende, even when the Chilean road seemed to squarely contradict, Cuba’s strategy of Revolution. He understood the deeply revolutionary nature of Allende’s government and visited Chile in 1971 and his words still resonate as strongly as at the time. He steered the revolution to also lend support to both the Nicaraguan and Grenadan revolutions thus eliciting the wrath of the US. The aggressive Reagan administration had both unleashed a horrific war of attrition against Nicaragua and ordered the US military to invade Grenada in the 1980s.

From the 1960s, consistent with the Revolution’s internationalism, Fidel gave Cuban support, usually soldiers and doctors, to revolutionary struggles in Africa including national liberation movements in Algeria, the Congo, Guinea-Bissau, Mozambique, Angola, Ghana, Ethiopia, Central Africa, Eritrea.

After the collapse of Africa’s Portuguese empire, Fidel took the momentous decision to send thousands of Cuban volunteer troops to Angola, twice.  Once in 1975, which decisively tilted the three-way anti-colonial struggle in favour of the People’s Movement for the Liberation of Angola Party (MPLA), the left wing nationalist guerrilla movement, thus guaranteeing the country’s independence.  Cuba’s 1975 intervention took place when apartheid South African troops were racing to crush the MPLA.  By early 1976 Cuba’s contribution had helped both in pushing the South Africans out of Angola and in winning the war for the MPLA. One African newspaper wrote at the time “Black Africa is riding the crest of a wave generated by the Cuban success in Angola.  Black Africa is tasting […] the possibility of realising the dream of total liberation.”  Speaking at the United Nations, in response to US criticisms, Fidel said that Cuba was not guided by any materialistic concerns: “We are carrying out our international duty in helping the people of Angola.”

Then again in 1987.  Fidel, at the request of the beleaguered MPLA government of Angola who were facing an all out military assault and invasion by tens of thousands of apartheid South African elite troops, took the extraordinary decision to send 50,000 troops.  They defended Angola at the invasion of Cuito Cuanavale, in the country’s southeast.  Fidel himself explained the significance of the undertaking:

“…the Cuban Revolution had put its own existence at stake, it risked a huge battle against one of the strongest powers located in the area of the Third World, against one of the richest powers, with significant industrial and technological development, armed to the teeth, at such a great distance from our small country and with our own resources, our own arms. We even ran the risk of weakening our defenses, and we did so. We used our ships and ours alone, and we used our equipment to change the relationship of forces, which made success possible in that battle. We put everything at stake in that action...”

The geopolitical impact of South Africa’s defeat was so huge that it would substantially contribute to the end of apartheid, the liberation of Mandela, and the independence of Namibia. No other non-African political leader has contributed more to the liberation of Africa from colonialism and imperialism than Fidel Castro, using the meager resources of a small but great Caribbean island. A scholar wrote with a great deal of justice: “Cuba is the only Third World nation with the foreign policy of a world power.”

The defeat of the Nicaraguan and Grenadan revolutions and the fall of the Berlin Wall, leading to the eventual disappearance of the socialist bloc and the collapse of the Soviet Union itself, left Cuba severely isolated and the Revolution faced extreme danger. The US sharply intensified the blockade seeking to strangle the island. Cuba’s Eastern bloc former allies turned nasty enemies. With the economy almost in a state of collapse, Fidel defended the socialist nature of the Revolution at whatever cost: “Cuban socialism was not constructed after the arrival of victorious Red Army divisions, our socialism was forged by Cubans in real struggles.”

Fidel’s unique ability to combine hard principles with a pragmatic nimbleness led Cuba to adopt the ‘Special Period’.  Although this permitted small elements of capitalist entrepreneurship and joint ventures with foreign investment, it allowed Cuba to reinsert itself into the world economy, pretty much under its own conditions.  It took the country out of the economic precipice in barely five years.  The same nimbleness led Fidel to invite arch-reactionary Pope John Paul II to visit Cuba in 1998. The Pope took the opportunity to castigate Cubans for engaging in pre-marital sex and uttered a few generalities about liberty and democracy, however, Fidel scored a massive coup when John Paul II condemned both savage capitalism and the US blockade, committing US Catholics to actively campaign against the latter.

Fidel was the only political leader to realise Hugo Chávez’s political significance and invite the then presidential candidate to Cuba to engage in discussions and explore ways of collaborating with what at the time was a foggy thing called the Bolivarian Revolution.  A young Hugo Chávez visited Havana and was warmly welcomed by the Comandante.  It was there that he made one of his best formulations of the Bolivarian project. It was also the first sign that the three-decades-long neoliberal nightmare in the region was on the wane, that Cuba’s isolation was coming to an end, and that Fidel’s vision of a radical, united, independent and integrated Latin America could become a reality.

This was in 1994, four years before Chávez became Venezuela’s president and well before there was any inkling it would inaugurate the ‘Pink Wave’. Fidel’s vision and Cuba’s example, after half a century of resistance and adherence to socialist principles, had not only paid off, but the emulation of Cuba’s policies by the ‘Pink Wave’ governments ensured that tens of millions of hitherto impoverished and marginalised people began to experience the fruits of a better world.  In his welcome to Chávez, Fidel combined rhetoric, eloquence, eulogy and rigour: “Chávez says he does not deserve the honours we are awarding him, but somebody who spent ten years (clandestinely) educating young Venezuelan military officers and soldiers in the Bolivarian ideas deserves these and many more honours.”

The United States 50-year-long aggression has been defeated by Fidel’s leadership on a large number of occasions.  It began in 1960 with President Eisenhower’s attempt to humiliate the Cuban delegation to the UN by throwing them out of the Manhattan Shelburne Hotel.  Fidel turned this into a sensational political victory by staying in Harlem’s Theresa Hotel and receiving a rapturous welcome by African-Americans.  Ever since, Fidel has inflicted defeat after defeat to imperialism, not only by defending Cuba’s Revolution, but by also providing tangible material support to anti-imperialist struggles around the world. No wonder they hate him so much and little wonder that they have tried to assassinate him at least 638 times. US efforts to assassinate Fidel are the clearest manifestation of their utter failure to counteract, let alone defeat, the attractiveness of Cuba as a good example to imitate and emulate.

A scholar commenting on Fidel in a TV documentary was asked to sum him up in one phrase. He replied: ‘It is the year 2025, the US has finally lifted the blockade against Cuba, and Fidel has finally decided to die’. Or to put it another way, in Fidel Castro’s famous words: “Patria, socialismo o muerte!” (Homeland, socialism or death).

Happy Birthday Comandante!

Dr Francisco Dominguez is Head of the Latin American Studies Research Group, Middlesex University, London.

For more information about the Cuba Solidarity Campaign  go to www.cuba-solidarity.org.uk

 

 

30th July 2016

Hillary, with strings attached…

 

The candidates have been selected and the battle lines are drawn.  The race for the most powerful presidency in the world is on and the chequebooks of the US corporations and financiers are open to persuasion.  The choice has been characterised in many ways.  The sneering pessimism of Donald Trump versus the optimism of the American dream under Hillary Clinton, was how outgoing president Barack Obama chose to see it.  The self made billionaire man of the people versus the establishment insider, has been another view of the contest.  One placard outside the Democratic Convention this week bluntly summed up the underlying misogyny, which will no doubt characterise the campaign, proclaiming Trump versus Tramp.

In any other circumstances, in spite of the potential for her to make history as the first woman president, Hillary Clinton would be considered the safe establishment candidate.  She is a commensurate Washington insider, having been First Lady under her husband Bill Clinton’s presidency, a New York Senator and Secretary of State during Barack Obama’s first term.  The positive spin on all of this is that she has the experience, nous and stamina which qualify her for the White House.  Having spent a lifetime breaking glass ceilings, surely she deserves a shot at the highest of them all?

In spite of all of this, Clinton was by no means a shoo in for the Democratic nomination.  Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders gave her more than a run for her money, to the extent that Clinton has had to shift her position on a number of key issues, to make sure she could count on the support of Sanders and his constituency.  Even then her nomination was not met by universal acclaim on the Convention floor and Sanders has had to work hard to keep his supporters on side.

The conditions of life and the state of the economy in the US is such that there is genuine and widespread disaffection with the political establishment, especially in black and working class communities who feel the inequalities of life, in the land of the free and home of the brave, harder than most. 

The forgotten, the downtrodden and those without a voice.  These are the people that both the Trump and Sanders campaigns have appealed to in different ways.  The Trump message of fear is now well established.  Keep out the Mexicans and Muslims for a start, build a wall across the border and, by some magical method yet to be determined, eliminate crime in the United States.

The wall does not have to be real to have an impact.  Whether a Trump presidency would see an actual wall built across the Mexican border is not as important as the wall Trump is building in the imaginations of his supporters.  It is a wall built of fear, intolerance and prejudice.  It is a wall which could justify any level of recrimination for the death of American citizens, any form of retribution for terrorist acts on American soil.  This is a wall that encourages knee jerk reactions to effects, without any attempt to address causes.

Barack Obama is arguably the most humane and intelligent tenant of the White House in recent years.  Yet even on his watch US foreign policy has been a catalogue of calamity and failure.  Imagine how much worse that could be under Trump?

The Sanders appeal has been to the same constituency as Trump but in a more nuanced way.  Sanders has emphasised the Wall St / Main St divide in the United States, criticised the fat cats and profiteers who continue to get rich, while others struggle with low paid jobs or an under resourced welfare system.  Sanders has driven home the message that poverty and inequality on such a scale, in the richest nation on Earth, is the real crime and the real issue that needs to be addressed.   

While the Sanders challenge has been a valiant one it has not been enough to decisively break through the inequality and prejudice endemic to the American system.  The right wing lobby in all of its manifestations is coalescing around Trump.  Racists such as the National Policy Institute (NPI), calling for an ethnic cleansing of African-Americans, Hispanics and Jews from the United States are hitching themselves to the Trump bandwagon.  NPI leader, Richard Spencer, has proclaimed himself ‘euphoric’ that the Republican Party is worth voting for again.

It is going to be a long campaign until votes are cast in the United States on 8th November.  For the sake of the United States and the rest of the world the hope must be that Americans settle for the devil they know and hand Hillary Clinton the keys to the White House.  If that vote is not unconditional, if it is tied to tackling some of the worst excesses of inequality, racism and prejudice in the United States, if it supports initiatives such as Black Lives Matter, it may just help to turn the tide.  If not, Trump, or something very like him, will simply rise again.

Follow the US elections through the website of the Communist Party of the United States of America (CPUSA).  The following link is a good place to start

http://www.cpusa.org/article/unity-can-defeat-trump-new-dangers-and-new-opportunities/

15th July 2016

May settles in for the long haul

 

Keep your friends close but keep your enemies closer still, may have been the phrase UK Prime Minister, Theresa May, was reaching for in appointing Boris Johnson as her new Foreign Secretary.  It may equally have been that ‘give them enough rope’ had also crossed her mind.  Perhaps a bit of both.  May is nothing if not a calculating politician.  She is wise enough to know that Boris outside of the Cabinet tent would be nothing but a nuisance and a focal point of opposition.  Flattering Boris, with one of the great offices of state, however, gets him inside the tent and signed up to collective Cabinet responsibility.

While the French, Germans and assorted Eurocrats huff and puff about Johnson’s role in the Leave campaign, not to mention his tendency to be gaffe prone when faced with any aspect of foreign policy, May clearly has one eye on the Conservative Party membership and the public at large.  In spite of his buffoonery and bluster, Johnson served two terms as Mayor of London.  He can win elections.  He was the most public face of the Leave campaign; the UK voted to leave the EU.  This is a track record May would be foolish to ignore and she knows it. 

Boris Johnson will also bring a dash of colour to what appears to be a Cabinet of pencil drawings.  The Old Etonians of the Cameron era are largely sidelined but the meritocrats introduced by May are technocrats in her own image.  While dash and flair is no substitute for policy, it would be naïve to think that image does not matter in the modern political mix.  Like any other political leader Theresa May will be determined to win elections by whatever means necessary.  If that means suffering Boris Johnson at the Cabinet table in order to retain the keys to No.10 in 2020, then May will do it.  In the meantime, if Johnson crashes and burns due to some foreign policy howler, May can always say she tried.  The situation is win/win.   

In spite of the fact that the question of Europe has been a fault line in the Conservative Party for decades, the Tories were always more likely to recover quickly from the referendum outcome than Labour.  Whether the result was Leave or Remain the Tories would still have been managing one of the world’s strongest capitalist economies, with the financial centre of the City of London second only to New York in terms of its global influence.  

The referendum outcome was merely an exercise in changing the management arrangements of European capitalism.  The EU has, for a long time, been little more than a glorified Deutsche Mark zone, with the German economy being so dominant in the Eurozone that others have to dance to its tune.  The only other economies in the EU which could even begin to challenge Germany are those of the UK and France.  Being one of the original founders of the European Economic Community the French are culturally reluctant to let go, while harbouring resentment at German dominance.  The rise of Marine le Pen however is beginning to rattle that cage.

The UK ruling class have no such qualms.  In effect they have conspired to be ‘in’ Europe when expedient to do so and will happily survive being ‘out’, no doubt looking forward to taking on the Germans in the process.  The ultimate concern of the UK corporations and banks is, as ever, what gives them the best competitive edge.  The phoney ‘internationalism’ of the EU cast aside, the stage is set for a programme of industrial investment in the UK, which could see the worst excesses of George Osborne’s austerity first approach reined in, as the Tories go flat out to make Brexit work.

After almost a decade of having to pick up the tab for the bankers gambling debts, which led to the 2008 crash, this may be scant consolation for those at the sharp end of the crisis with low paid jobs and zero hours contracts.  With four more years of Tory government guaranteed however, it may be the best that can be hoped for in the short term.

To say that the opposition to the Tories is in disarray would be an understatement.  In spite of his record of winning members to the Labour Party, winning by-elections and increasing the Labour vote in local elections, the backstabbers in the Labour Party have still mounted a leadership challenge against Jeremy Corbyn.  The hard core of renegades is coalescing around Angela Eagle, while Owen Smith has also thrown his hat into the ring. 

The right wing coup has its parallels with the splitting tactics, which resulted in the SDP in 1981 but is potentially much worse.  The Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) is clearly out of touch with the membership who less than a year ago voted for Corbyn as leader.  If Corbyn wins again a split in the PLP is entirely possible.  If Eagle or Smith win the disjuncture between the PLP and its grass roots will not be healed overnight, if at all.  Some form of split is a possibility there too.

Short of the economy suffering a seismic post-Brexit shock, the Labour Party miraculously getting its act together, or unforeseen events turning UK politics upside down in the next four years, it is difficult to see anything other than Theresa May breezing comfortably back into Downing St in 2020.  That is a prospect far more disturbing than any referendum outcome.

3rd July 2016

The sharpening of knives

Backstabbing, always a part of the political armoury, has come to the forefront in the politics of the UK over the past week.  The knives have been sharpened in the Labour Party for leader Jeremy Corbyn for some time now, with a post referendum coup always possible, but accelerated by the Leave victory.  For the Conservatives, many mistakenly regarded Boris Johnson as a shoo in for the leadership following the Leave victory.  That was always a dubious proposition, given the Tory tendency to put safety first, but was torpedoed comprehensively by Michael Gove, who announced his candidature two hours ahead of Johnson’s press conference.

Having worked hand in glove over the Leave campaign Gove’s volte face was timed to inflict the maximum damage upon Johnson, effectively forcing him not to declare his candidature.  If Gove thought this would win him friends he appears to have been sadly mistaken, with Theresa May emerging as the out and out front runner to take the top job.  Leave campaigner, Andrea Leadsom, has emerged as a potential dark horse, having surfaced as a darling of the Tory Leave brigade, but her lack of experience should be a drawback in any contest with May, once put to the test with Tory members in the country.

Andrew Rawnsley, writing in his regular column in The Observer (3rd July 2016), is often off target in his political analysis but hits the nail on the head in his latest column when he observes,

“Conservatives don’t mind being seen as ruthless, but they are troubled when they start to look ludicrous.  That is feeding a strong desire among Tory MPs to cart away their dead, mop up the blood and place a steady hand on the wheel.  They are now looking for a restoration of leadership and order.  Enter, with perfect timing, Theresa May.  The rapid gravitation of support to the home secretary is driven by this yearning among Tories for the chaos to be over.”

For most Tories being in or out of Europe is not an existential question.  Capitalism on a Europe wide scale or capitalism on a UK scale, is still capitalism.  The UK remains too strong a political and economic force in the world to be ignored.  Deals will be done, adjustments will be made and they will look to carry on very much as before.  The extent to which this may or may not be possible will be to do with how the general crisis of capitalism unfolds, not whether or not the UK is part of the European Union.

The struggle for the leadership of the Labour Party does have more existential quality about it.  The Remain camp, having been defeated in the referendum, are scapegoating Jeremy Corbyn for not having been more vociferous in his support.  The fact that most Labour MPs supporting Remain could not deliver a majority in their own constituencies has been conveniently overlooked. 

The opposition to Corbyn within the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) is counterbalanced by growing support from the membership who are tiring of the internal factionalising at Westminster.  At root, Labour is torn between those who are looking to manage capitalism better than the Tories and those who are increasingly aware than a system so fundamentally flawed requires more radical change.  This is not to suggest that Labour is becoming a revolutionary party but the discontent is moving beyond the desire to simply take the reins to give the Tories a break every few years.

The desire to Remain for much of the Labour and TUC leadership was part of a misplaced belief that the EU can be reformed to adopt a more socialist character.  This delusion has been at the root of much confusion on the broader Left and is in danger of making those associated with Remain become sanctimonious in their condemnation of those who chose to vote Leave.  There is already a sense from the liberal Left that those who voted Remain all did so for the right reasons, while those who voted Leave did so for the wrong reasons.

Such monumental condescension may settle down in time but the petition for a second referendum, and protests in favour of EU membership, are garnering headlines and continue to fuel the debate.

The energy which is leading many down this blind alley could be more usefully directed.  The rise in hate crime which has followed the Leave vote does need to be tackled.  It needs to be made clear to the Right wing in UK politics that the Leave victory is not theirs.  The liberal Left need to shake off the tendency to weep into their flat whites and recognise that there is something for which to fight.  That is not an undemocratic, austerity based, Europe wide capitalist club, but the possibility of fundamentally re-shaping the UK.

That will mean urgently campaigning for the cancellation of Trident; it will mean arguing the case against austerity; it will mean arguing for investment and the expansion of public services; it will mean true internationalism in supporting those fleeing war and injustice.  These are all positions supported by Jeremy Corbyn as leader of the Labour Party.  There is not another potential leadership candidate who will guarantee them.

The lesson is clear.  The backstabbing in the Labour Party must end and the knives need to be sharpened for the Tories.  

26th June 2016

Turning Brexit to Lexit

 

Arab dictators and Russian oligarchs, buying up land, property and premiership football teams in the UK, are welcomed as strategic investors in the economy.  Beloved of the City of London and the Royal Family alike there is no hint that the distorting impact their ‘investments’  have on property prices and housing options, in London especially, are an ‘immigration’ issue.

It is a different matter when underpaid, non-unionised foreign labour is brought in, by farms and corporations, to undercut the pay of UK workers.  Impoverished in their own countries, not quite benefiting from the joys of EU membership, these workers are victims of the EUs holy trinity, the free movement of goods, labour and capital. For most, that movement is anything but ‘free’.  The chance to earn some money in one of the world’s biggest economies is simply too good to resist.

Those workers are not, as UKIP would suggest, randomly turning up on the doorstep of the UK hoping to find work.  They are responding to targeted recruitment from employers acutely aware that they can pay less and thus maximise their profits.  The pressure that an influx of migrant workers puts upon public services in the form of schools, hospitals and local government is a real issue.  Yet it is predominantly an issue because a government ideologically opposed to public service, and desperate to privatise as much as possible, is systematically dismantling these services.

Taken together, an influx of cheap foreign labour and pressure upon public services, has created a perfect storm in certain parts of the UK ,which the likes of UKIP, backed by the right wing press of the Daily Mail, Daily Express and The Sun, have been able to exploit to generate the kind of ‘taking our jobs, taking our services’ nonsense which has been part of the EU referendum campaign in recent months.

However, this sort of impact is largely localised.  The 17.5 million people who voted to Leave the EU will not all be living in communities where there has been a massive inflow of migrant labour.  Nor can the 17.5m vote be explained by the impact of UKIP alone.  Even allowing for the 4 million who voted UKIP at the last General  Election, and would be prepared to ‘walk over broken glass’ to vote Leave, that still leaves 13.5 million people who did not see a future with the EU as one which they wanted to go with.

Some in the Remain camp have been tempted to take the lazy option and characterise Leave voters as ignorant or unreconstructed racists.  Undoubtedly there will be some of those, of which the UKIP 4 million will account for a fair few, but another 13.5 million?  It stretches credulity to suggest that is the case.

So, why did Remain fail?

Specifically, why did Remain fail when all major UK political parties and their leaders, backed it?  Why did Remain fail when the leaders of all other major European countries, President Barack Obama, the IMF, the TUC, the Bank of England and an army of economic experts gave it their blessing?

There is of course the largely silenced voice of those on the Left who are politically opposed to the EU as a concept.  The only media expression of this view is to be found in the pages of the Morning Star and through various social media channels bearing the #Lexit hashtag, denoting the desire for exit on a Left wing basis.  The Left has consistently argued that the EU is primarily an institution set up to protect the interests of bankers and corporations across the member states.  The Left has argued that the movement of labour and goods is simply a function of the free movement of capital.  That the social benefits of EU membership are no compensation for the austerity and unemployment imposed upon many of its citizens.

The Left has argued further that the desire to reform Europe to increase the social benefits, as articulated by both Jeremy Corbyn and the TUC, is merely a pipe dream, given the experience of many workers in the EU as it stands.

Even allowing for a proportion of Leave voters coming from the #Lexit position, it would be fanciful to suggest that it gets close to the 13.5 million mark.

The reality is that, as with voting behaviour in most elections, self interest has been the governing factor.  For many of the Leave camp they have just not seen, on a practical day to day basis, any benefit accruing to them of  EU membership.  Consequently, they have not been persuaded by Remain that it is worth staying, as it simply feels like a ‘jam tomorrow’ argument.  In areas where there has been significant migrant labour it has been easy for UKIP and their ilk to stir up discontent and fall back on the old chestnut of blaming foreigners, cheered on by the ‘hurrah for the blackshirts’ Daily Mail and the rest of the right wing press.

Yet, even in areas which have not seen significant numbers of migrant workers, the Leave campaign made an impact.  In Hartlepool, in the North East of England, which is hardly a hot bed of ethnic diversity, 70% voted for Leave. 

Areas such as Hartlepool are predominantly made up of poor people living in poor communities, for whom the chance to take a summer off working in France or to study at a Dutch university means nothing.  They regard themselves as lucky to be hanging on to jobs and a decent education for their kids in the UK.  Far from enjoying the ‘social benefits’ of the EU they will increasingly find themselves on zero hours contracts in a desperate struggle to make ends meet.  They will struggle with childcare, they will struggle with their housing costs, they will struggle with the reality of poverty in old age.

When you have nothing, you have nothing to lose.

These are the very people for whom the Labour Party exists and whose concerns the Labour Party should be addressing.  These are the very people the trade unions should be aiming to recruit and organise.  These are the very people for whom the People’s Assembly movement is intended.  The alternative is that these communities may become prey to the easy sounding alternatives of the Right and the dark road to fascism opens up.

During the referendum campaign it was said of Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, that anyone who thought he was in favour of Remain had never seen a hostage reading a script.  Corbyn has been a long time Euroesceptic  but under the pressure of the Shadow Cabinet has had to show a united front and back Remain.  The accusation that he has not done this enthusiastically enough is belied by the number of meetings and rallies he has addressed in support of Remain, overlooked by a BBC and media in thrall to Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage.  It is the one betrayal of principle Corbyn has made in his short time as Labour leader.  It is one that could be forgiven under the circumstances.

In spite of winning this compromise the backstabbers in the Labour Party have already made their move, with a vote of no confidence in Jeremy Corbyn being called by Margaret Hodge MP, and Hilary Benn being sacked from the shadow front bench for calling for Corbyn to stand down.  Others will no doubt follow and deserve to suffer the same fate as Benn.   If the backstabbers inside Labour succeed in dislodging Corbyn there is the danger of a division as deep as that created by the reactionaries of the SDP, who split Labour in the 1980’s, which resulted in over a decade of Tory rule.

In the Conservative Party the resignation speech of Prime Minister, David Cameron, has opened up a three month long leadership battle, with Boris Johnson the bookies favourite and Teresa May as the potential unity candidate.  Talk of a General Election in the Autumn is in the air, though there is no constitutional requirement to hold one.

Having thrown his hat in with the Leave camp Johnson will inevitably be part of any leadership contest.  However, he is a divisive figure and has been widely criticised, not least within Tory circles, for simply jumping on the Leave bandwagon to further his own political ambitions. 

There are already pragmatic noises from within the Leave camp suggesting that a negotiated halfway house could yet be an outcome, with the UK not being a full EU member but having a trade deal which allowed access to the single market.  The initial impact of the UK vote will have to settle further before such a prospect becomes a possibility, Brussels at present is still bruised.  It is certainly the case though that, in the long run, any solution which accommodates the needs of UK capital and the City of London will be considered.  Privilege built up over so many centuries will not be allowed to slip away so easily.

The shock waves of the UK vote are resonating across Europe, with the Right wing in the Netherlands and the Front National in France calling for a referendum in those countries.  Such opportunism is to be expected.  While the UK vote will be seized upon by the Right elsewhere in Europe it is not the cause of such nationalism.  The UK leave vote is the symptom of a malaise which has been at the heart of Europe for over a decade and for which there is no easy solution. 

The 50% of young people in Spain and Portugal who are currently unemployed, the people of Greece suffering under EU austerity measures, not to mention the migrants from Eastern Europe seeking jobs in the West, are testament to the inequalities prevalent across the EU.

For many years the EU has traded on the goodwill of those who see collaboration and co-operation in Europe as a good thing.  It has traded on its ability to maintain peace in Europe since World War 2, though it has not been slow to back military intervention in the former Soviet Union and in the Middle East.  The goal of unity is one with which no-one can argue, but a European Union designed to meet the needs of the corporations and the bankers, while being allied to the NATO military alliance, is not the means to deliver it.

A true union of the peoples of Europe, governing in the interests of the peoples of Europe, remains the only principled socialist objective.  It is a long way off but working to turn Brexit to Lexit is the only way forward.

 19th June 2016

Let democracy speak

Following the horrific murder of Jo Cox MP, which resulted in the suspension of campaigning in the EU referendum in the UK, both sides will  pick up again today for the final run in to Thursday’s historic vote.  The arguments, we are told will be put with less venom. 

At the request of Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, the House of Commons has been recalled tomorrow (20th June) so that MPs can pay their respects to Jo Cox.  It is a fitting gesture and an appropriate cross party response to the death of someone killed while going about the task of representing her constituents.  It is a sad fact that the safety and security of MPs will no doubt have to be reviewed as a result.

Very few MPs make it into the higher echelons of government.  For most the bread and butter stuff of dealing with constituents, listening to complaints, advocating on behalf of their local area and making the occasional speech in the House of Commons will be as exciting as it gets.

As recent expenses scandals have shown there will always be a few who are determined to get their snouts in the trough and make what they can for themselves, rather than support the public good.  Thankfully those attitudes remain those of a minority.  They are certainly not an attitude which could be associated with Jo Cox, who has won praise from across the political spectrum for her sense of duty and commitment to fighting for the causes in which she believed, while remaining accessible to and committed to her constituents.

Thomas Mair, who has been arrested for the murder of Jo Cox, is alleged to have shouted “put Britain first” while attacking the MP.  In his first court appearance upon being asked to confirm his name he gave his name as “Death to traitors, freedom for Britain.”  West Yorkshire police have confirmed that they are treating Mair’s links to right wing extremism as a “priority line of enquiry.”  Specialist counter terrorism detectives have also been called in.

It is terrible that something as dramatic as the murder of an MP should give us all pause for thought about the functioning of representative democracy and the esteem, or lack of it, in which elected representatives are held.

For all of the complaining about MPs, and their ability to change things or not, the quality of the democracy we enjoy is a reflection of the level of engagement in the process by the public.  At local election level that can regularly be under 30% while even General Elections turnouts engage little over 70% of voters.

If the political process belongs to a slightly removed elite then it is, in part at least, the fault of those not prepared to engage with it in order to make it work for the majority.  Elsewhere in Europe and through the People’s Assembly movement in the UK people are taking to the streets to make their voices heard and to shake the established political orthodoxy.

Political change always comes about through a combination of Parliamentary and extra Parliamentary action.  However flawed, the system still does allow for people of principle and commitment to get through and ask difficult questions.  Jo Cox MP was clearly one of those people who was beginning to make an impact on the inside, in the House of Commons.

For those of us not able achieve that level of influence we must still engage where we can, when we can.  Voting is a minimum, more direct action on occasions will be necessary.  Either way, the real voice of the people being heard will be the only long term answer to those whose only response to political debate is knives and guns.

 

 

6th June 2016

Lashing as punishment in Iran condemned

Solidarity organisation, the Committee for the Defence of the Iranian People’s Rights (CODIR), has condemned the recent upsurge in lashings as punishment in Iran.  Last week over thirty students in the town of Qazvin, north of the capital Tehran, were accused, tried, sentenced and punished within a twenty four hour period. 

Quite apart from the human rights issues raised by the brutality of the punishment, amounting to 99 lashes for each student who attended a graduation party involving both men and women, the implications for the judicial system in Iran are immense.

Mixed-gender parties, dancing and the consumption of alcohol are illegal in Iran, although they have become common over the past decade, especially in cities.  Lashings have been used regularly as a punishment since the Islamic revolution of 1979.

The local prosecutor in Qazvin, Esmail Sadeghi Niaraki, said that an arrest warrant was issued and the defendants were sentenced to 99 lashes after being questioned. “We hope this will be a lesson for those who break Islamic norms in private places,” Mr. Niaraki said.

The lashing of the students follows on from the punishment of seventeen miners in North Western Iran last week.  The miners were lashed by order of the Judiciary after their employer sued them for protesting against the firing of hundreds of their colleagues.

While the United Nations has declared lashing a cruel and inhuman punishment, tantamount to torture, this has not prevented the Islamic Republic from using it as a tool of repression against those deemed not to have complied with Islamic practice.

CODIR has also repeated its call for the Islamic Republic to free labour activists currently on hunger strike.  President of the Independent Union of Workers of Iran, Jafar Azimzadeh, has been on hunger strike for over five weeks while Mahmoud Beheshti, who was recently hospitalised following a seventeen day hunger strike, was released from prison a few days ago.

Azimzadeh has been now more than 33 days on hunger strike and his physical condition is deteriorating daily.  His protest is against the government treating trade union activities as political crimes.  He is demanding a properly organised trial in which he can argue his case.  Azimzadeh’s family has started a daily protest vigil in front of parliament and is calling for his release from prison.  The Iranian trade union movement has called on the government to respond positively to Azimzadeh’s just demands and release him from prison.

The CODIR May Day appeal, on behalf of imprisoned teachers and the 36 independent journalists, including leading figures in the media, who have been incarcerated on spurious charges, gained widespread international support.

CODIR Assistant General Secretary, Jamshid Ahmadi, stressed the link between the campaign for trade union rights in Iran and the human rights agenda.

“The international trade union movement has sent clear messages of solidarity to those languishing in Iran’s prisons ensuring that the eyes of the world are upon the regime.  The continued detention of these trade unionists reflects the fate of many fighting for freedom inside Iran,” said Mr Ahmadi, “those students merely attending a graduation ball will not have seen themselves as human rights activists.  Yet the brutal actions of the regime can thrust even the most unsuspecting into the frontline in Iran.”

CODIR has stressed that the functioning of the judicial system in Iran is not in accord with the norms of natural justice or of international law.

“To arrest, try, sentence then punish a group of people in less than 24 hours is the act of a regime which has no confidence in its judicial processes,” said Mr. Ahmadi, “the right to a proper legal defence and appeal against any sentence is a basic human right in any legal system.” 

CODIR points out that the government of Hassan Rouhani has failed to take measures to ease pressure on trade union activists and human rights campaigners in the country.  On the contrary, all evidence points to the fact that the Iranian regime is not showing any signs of moving in the direction of enacting crucial ILO conventions 87 and 98.

CODIR, which has campaigned for over 30 years to highlight trade union and human rights abuses in Iran, will continue to campaign for the release of unjustly imprisoned trade unionists and to repeal the unjust and brutal sentencing laws in Iran.

Human rights have not been on the agenda with the Iranian regime in the discussions around its nuclear programme, which resulted in sanctions being lifted earlier this year.  CODIR has expressed concern that this may be taken as carte blanche by the regime to act as it pleases on the domestic front, as long as it fulfils its international obligations.

 “CODIR will continue its campaigning for trade union and democratic rights in Iran,” continued Jamshid Ahmadi.  “We welcome the lifting of sanctions and reduction of tensions between Iran and the rest of the world and in particular the US and the EU.  However this should not be at the expense of liberty for Iranian trade unionists, democrats and human rights activists.”

As CODIR has emphasised previously, human rights violations are part of a coordinated policy of the Islamic Republic of Iran, to maximise pressure upon human rights and trades union activists, their colleagues and family members, in order to pressurise the opposition movement in Iran.

Further information from www.codir.net

22nd May 2016

The UK fiddles while Washington burns

 

With a month to go before the UK referendum on the European Union both sides are ramping up mad claims for the consequences of a vote to leave and a vote to remain.  So far the Remain camp have warned of job losses, plunging house prices, international isolation, no workers’ rights and World War Three if the UK leaves.  The Leave camp have responded with comparisons with Hitler, unrestrained immigration, the strangle hold of EU bureaucracy and no control over making UK law if the UK remains.  Most of this on both sides is overblown nonsense and is more about the political aspirations of the respective leaders than informing the British people.

The position is further complicated by the position taken by Labour Party which has committed to the Remain camp, in spite of historical scepticism about the EU amongst many of its members.  This is a source of great relief to David Cameron, who knows that he cannot deliver a Remain vote without Labour supporters, and is struggling to prevent the Tories tearing themselves apart in the meantime.  It is also a great relief to the backstabbers in the Labour Party, keen to launch a coup against Corbyn in the Autumn, as they have no clear concept of an independent socialist UK outside of the EU. 

The right wing in the Labour Party, and many in the trade union movement, have bought into the illusion of a social Europe, which protects the rights of workers.  They suggest that to be anti-EU is to be anti-internationalist while in reality nothing could be further from the truth.  Internationalism is a concept based upon class, not national boundaries.  To be an internationalist is to make common cause and show solidarity with the working class people of another country.  It is to unite in the common cause to overthrow oppression and establish a political and economic order based upon equality of opportunity for all.

The only sense in which the EU is internationalist is an inversion of the original Marxist concept in that it is an international club of capitalist nations, attempting to co-ordinate their economic and political activity for the benefit of their collective and respective ruling classes.  It can only be to feed the profits of the industrial military machine that the UK is even contemplating spending an estimated £250 billion on the renewal of Trident nuclear submarines for example, when they will offer neither defence nor deterrence.

The irony is that, on something as vital as saving the wasted spend on Trident, the current Leave and Remain leaders will be on exactly the same side.  No side is advocating withdrawal from the aggressive NATO alliance, or that the UK should pursue an independent foreign policy based upon non-alignment, a reduced military budget and significant investment in public services and socially useful production.

Leave and Remain are essentially two sides of the same political coin.  The monetarist strictures of the EU financial regulations tie the UK into ongoing austerity.  Yet the Leave leaders would do no different, being cut from the same political cloth, but would simply do it draped in the Union Jack rather than the flag of the European Union.

Meanwhile, as the UK fiddles, Rome burns, or in this case Washington burns.

The international economy is in crisis.  In spite of a so called stimulus of $29 trillion since the financial meltdown of 2008 Western capitalism is experiencing the longest, slowest economic recovery in its history.  The backlash against the political establishment reflects this.  Trump and Sanders riding high in the United States, Corbyn leading Labour in the UK, Podemos rising in Spain, the Nuit Debout movement in France and a plethora of right wing anti-establishment parties across Europe hoping to capitalise on the disarray of traditional capitalism.

The traditional model of market capitalism is one in which profits are channeled into the establishment of new businesses via the financial system.  Yet today only 15% of the capital in financial institutions goes there, the rest exists in a closed world of trading and speculation.  The financial sector is like a beast, which exists almost exclusively to feed itself.  The impact of which is to slow growth as investment in business is stifled.

Going back to the 1980’s and the politics of Thatcher and Reagan the idea was very much alive that the benefits of profits at the top would ‘trickle down’ to the rest of society.  So, if the rich got richer, we would all benefit.  In fact the rich just stashed their ill-gotten gains in off shore havens and refused to pay appropriate levels of tax.  This trend continued up to 2008 but has not been arrested by it.  Even the captains of capital realise this.  In his recent book Between Debt and the Devil former CBI leader, Adair Turner states,

“The trend varies slightly country by country but the broad direction is clear: across all advanced economies, and the US and the UK in particular, the role of the capital markets and banking in funding new investment is decreasing.  Most of the money in the system is being used for lending against existing assets.”

Nothing advocated by the current Remain camp in the UK will address this reality.  Nothing advocated by the xenophobic leaders of the Leave camp will address it either.  In terms of the realities of the international economy the UK referendum is something of a bizarre sideshow.  The establishment alignment with Remain is an attempt to maintain the status quo, much of which many of the leaders of Leave also subscribe to.

Vote Leave is the only option to give the UK a chance to chart an independent socialist course.  It will mean having to take on the Boris Johnsons and Nigel Farages of this world.  That battle will be there even if the UK votes Remain though, as austerity within a monetarist economic union is not going to be much better.

This argument will not reach most of the people of the UK because no one is putting it.  Whatever the outcome of the vote on the 23rd June however, the crisis of capitalism will not go away and whoever ‘wins’ the referendum, we will all have to deal with it.

7th May 2016

Local Elections - Corbyn comes through

The BBC, the right wing press and the backstabbers inside the Labour Party, opposed to the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn, all hoped that the outcome would be different.  On 5th May in the UK there were local elections in England, two English by-elections, parliamentary contests in Scotland and Wales and the election of a Mayor for London.  All were billed as a test of Corbyn’s leadership.  While it would be hard to say that the results were strong enough to see off the opposition to Corbyn, they were certainly not the electoral meltdown many had predicted or hoped for.

The worst outcome for Labour was undoubtedly in Scotland, where the Scottish National Party have stolen their clothes as the standard bearers of progressive left wing policies.  It is not even that the SNP are especially progressive or left wing.  They do have the charismatic leadership of Nicola Sturgeon however, which continues to be a key element of their appeal.  Sturgeon was returned as first minister but the SNP fell two seats short of an overall majority and are down 6 seats from their 2011 high.

The Labour loss was more dramatic with 13 seats being lost and, with only 24 seats, coming in third place behind the Conservative Party.  The Tories increased their presence in Holyrood by 16 seats, giving them 31 in total, and making Ruth Davidson, the Scottish Tory leader, the official leader of the opposition.  Unusually for a Tory, Davidson is a leader with charisma, and some votes will have accrued due to her personal appeal.  However tactical considerations were also at play with those opposed to a further referendum seeing a vote for the Tories as being most likely to see that off, given their implacable opposition to independence.

Across England, in the face of the constant vindictiveness of the UK media and sections of his own party, Corbyn will not have been unduly concerned about a net loss of 25 Council seats.  The two by elections were won and the Conservatives failed to make any significant local election gains, with Peterborough being the only Council gained.  In England the result could pretty well be summed up as a score draw, with only the Liberal Democrats and UKIP making any net gains.

In London, Sadiq Khan defeated the toxic Islamophobic campaign of billionaire playboy candidate Zac Goldsmith.  Labour are also set to maintain their majority in the London Assembly giving greater hope that the pro-people policies of Khan will be voted through.  Senior Conservative assembly member, Andrew Boff, was quick to criticise the Goldsmith campaign saying,

“I hope we don’t do this stupid thing again by trying to bring Sadiq down saying he is an extremist.  He is not an extremist.  He went out and engaged with people with orthodox religious views.  Dialogue is not assisted by shutting people out.”

The Conservative Party leadership have continued to defend the smear campaign of their candidate.

Home Secretary, Teresa May, has described Khan as unsafe to run London because of his history of defending ‘extremists’ when he was a human rights lawyer.  Former London Mayor, Boris Johnson was equally forthright when he said,

“In Islam and the Labour Party there is a struggle going on, and in both cases Khan – whatever his real views - is pandering to the extremists.”

It remains to be seen whether the UK media will take up the issue of the Islamophobia crisis in the Tory Party with as much vigour as it did the anti-Semitism row in Labour.  

Khan has made it clear that the housing crisis in London will be his first priority and has said he will freeze fares on public transport for four years.

1st May 2016

International Solidarity on May Day

Anyone who thinks that Ken Livingstone is a Nazi apologist needs to have their head examined.  While Livingstone’s comments that Hitler supported Zionism before “going mad and killing six million Jews” were ill judged and inaccurate, the rant by John Mann MP, which culminated in him accusing Livingstone of being a ”disgusting Nazi apologist”, was equally ill judged and inaccurate.  Both should have known better.  While the media have focused upon the comments of Livingstone due to his links with Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, little attention has been given to the 10,000 plus strong petition calling for Mann to be disciplined.

Anyone who thinks that to be opposed to the policies and practice of the government of the State of Israel is anti-Semitic is also wide of the mark.  The deliberate obfuscation of these positions by the UK media is not an accident.  It is part of a deliberate campaign to discredit Jeremy Corbyn and any of his close supporters, as we move towards local elections in May, the June referendum on the EU and the party conference season in September.

The international collusion of the Western powers to muddy the waters in relation to the rights of Palestinians, trodden into dust daily by successive Israeli governments, has been going on for decades.  Repeated votes in the United Nations aimed at preventing the Israelis from annexing Palestinian land are simply ignored, while the West not only turns a blind eye but ensures that the Israeli Defence Force is armed to the teeth.

It is an open secret in international circles that Israel has developed a nuclear weapons capability but no action is taken by the West to tackle this.  On the contrary, the Israelis have historically played the part of the regional policemen in the Middle East, a willing base for NATO operations against Arab states and a conduit for Western arms and influence.  The flagrant violations of the human rights of the Palestinian people by the Israelis has undoubtedly been a factor in pushing many Palestinians, and other Arab peoples, into the arms of Islamic fundamentalists over the past twenty years.

Appeals to the international community for justice go unheeded, so more militant solutions begin to look attractive when there appears to be nothing left to lose.

In any situation where one has to take sides there is the possibility of ending up with some unsavoury bedfellows.  The cause of Palestinian independence will undoubtedly attract some who are anti-Semitic, that is, they are anti-Jewish for reasons purely of race.  They are both misguided and dangerous in holding such positions.  They do not advance the cause of Palestinian statehood but allow its enemies to tar those supporting Palestinian independence for the right reasons, with the same brush.

There is however a perfectly legitimate political position to be held in opposing the Israeli state and its denial of Palestinian rights.  It is a position held by many Jews and Arabs living in Israel.  It is a position held by many Jews, and others of a multitude of races, outside of Israel.  It is not an anti-Semitic position.  It does not seek to castigate or condemn Jews because of their race but to condemn those running the Israeli state and their policies.

It is a remarkable public relations success, by those opposed to Palestinian independence, to have conflated anti-Semitism with opposition to the Israeli government, when they are two quite distinct propositions.  Those same apologists for the Israeli state’s appalling approach to Palestinian rights are paraded in the media, suggesting that opposition to Israel is code for anti-Semitism.  It is a sorry day that their conspiracy theory has sunk to such depths that it can brook no criticism of Israel whatsoever.

The 1st May is celebrated across the world as International Workers Day.  It is the day in the year, above all others, when international solidarity should be uppermost in our thoughts and actions. 

On this May Day the Palestinian people in particular deserve our support and solidarity.

In the UK the anti-Semitism ‘crisis’ within the Labour Party is being heralded by the BBC and right wing media as a test of Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership.  It is being portrayed to the general public as a major issue for the Labour Party, against which Corbyn needs to take decisive action.  This is a bit rich given the history of some of the newspapers involved.  That aside, Corbyn has deftly sidestepped the media agenda and appointed an internal commission headed up by Shami Chakrabarti, former Director of Liberty, to lead an independent investigation and come up with new guidance for the Labour Party and its members.  The objectivity of Chakrabarti should at least not be in doubt.

Jeremy Corbyn has campaigned against racism in all of its forms for his entire political life, as has Ken Livingstone.  Both supported the African National Congress and Nelson Mandela when the UK media and the Thatcher government were condemning Mandela as a terrorist.  They have consistently supported the cause of the people of Palestine.  If only some of those rushing to criticise could say the same.

 

18th April 2016

Nights on our feet, days on the street

 

There is a fraying at the edges of the patchwork of European Union consensus.  It is evident on the streets of Paris in the Nuit Debout (Nights on our feet) protests which have engulfed Paris and other French cities for the last two weeks.  It is evident on the streets of London, with over 50,000 joining the People’s Assembly march against austerity at the weekend.  It is evident in the votes for Podemos, born of the indignados movement in Spain.  It is there in the divided outcome of the recent elections in Ireland.  The spirit which brought Syriza into government in Greece is further evidence of the strength of feeling on the streets, even if the people’s demands were not realised by the reality of Syriza in office.

The threads which are coming loose in the EU are being pulled from competing directions, as the politics of the continent becomes increasingly polarised.  The pro-austerity right wing are retrenching to defend the monetarist policies of the EU, which have benefitted its richer nations while impoverishing the more marginal economies in Greece, Portugal, Ireland and Spain.  Angela Merkel, Francois Hollande, and David Cameron broadly represent this trend in spite of their ostensibly differing political hues.

Further right still are those who see that austerity is not working but, rather than acknowledge the failures of big business, direct their fire at refugees and the migration crisis.  Marine Le Pen in France is the most prominent exponent of this line in Western Europe, though others are bubbling just beneath the surface in many parts of Europe.  The line taken by the Eastern European nations of Hungary, Montenegro and Slovenia in terms of the programme of border closures reflects a harder line in that part of the EU and a continued rightward shift since the defeat of socialist governments in the 1990’s.

The Left has yet to find a coherent response to these developments but the anger of the people across Europe at enforced austerity is becoming increasing clear.  The disparate nature of many of the protests however means that they are yet to mount a serious challenge to the established European economic order.  In Greece Syriza has been all but absorbed into the mainstream, a fate its pro-EU pro-NATO line always suggested.  Votes for Podemos in Spain are positive but not yet enough to shift the Parliamentary balance decisively.  There is no indication at present that, even should this occur, Podemos will not be absorbed in the same way as Syriza.

The Nuit Debout protesters in France make a virtue of their lack of leadership and democratic approach to the nightly occupations of key sites, including place de la Republique in Paris, but without a more strategic approach the French state will withstand this sort of action indefinitely.  The global day of action called for the 15th May must be supported, if only to send a message that there is real anger at enforced austerity policies but this in itself will not be enough. http://www.nuitdebout.fr/en/international-call-by-nuit-debout.html

Capitalism is in crisis because it cannot deliver the basic needs of its people for health, jobs, housing and education.  The action of Islamic State, in bombing soft targets in Europe, demonstrates that capitalism is also struggling to deliver peace in Europe.  The security presence at key political and cultural sites in Paris for example is evidence of the nervousness in facing an opposition for whom no rules apply.  The militarisation of Western economies and the actions of the NATO alliance in bombing Muslim states have only heightened these dangers. 

This situation comes full circle with the migrant crisis, which will only increase over the summer months as people smugglers exploit the desperate and dispossessed.  Those fleeing war, exacerbated by the role of NATO, end up on the borders of the poorest countries of the EU looking for assistance but find themselves forced back, in part due to the enforced austerity affecting the poorer people of Europe.

In reality the people of Europe have no interests distinct from the people of Syria.  Peace, health, homes, jobs and education are the basic requirements of working people across the globe.  The anger and recognition that capitalism cannot deliver on these basic rights must be harnessed.  It must be harnessed by those on the streets of Paris and London, those on the streets of Madrid, Lisbon and Dublin.  It must be joined with trade union power and a clear political programme, in the first instance aimed at stopping policies of austerity, but being prepared to move beyond that to challenge casino economics and the military industrial complex in the West. 

Lenin defined a revolutionary situation as one in which the ruling class are unable to rule in the old way and the people  are not prepared to tolerate being ruled in the old way.  It may be far fetched to suggest that Europe is on that brink but it is certainly on that path.  Not all revolutionary situations result in successful revolutions of course but they need to be pushed there to test the option.

3rd April 2016

Tata steals the headlines

 

Steel is a key strategic commodity, if you aim to be a key strategic manufacturing nation.  Control over your energy assets and supply is a key strategic economic aim, especially if you are an island built on coal.  A combination of clean coal technology and renewable wind and wave power technologies would seem like a good investment.  On a planet which is two-thirds ocean, meaning that most goods are still transported by sea, you might even consider reviving your dormant capability to build ships.

Alternatively, you might run down any state investment in steel, sell it off to the highest bidder, from wherever in the world they may be based, and hope that you can still access enough cheap steel for your own economy.  Tata is an Indian company, which owns the lion’s share of the UK steel industry and, like all capitalist companies, operates according to the laws of profit, based upon supply and demand.  If Tata chooses to continue being a steel company it can decide where it judges its best interests lie, wherever in the world it thinks steel will turn the biggest profit.

If you have rundown your coal industry, you may become reliant on a combination of imported gas supply and nuclear technology, driven by the French such as EDF.  You might even look to meet your ailing electricity capacity by teaming up with the Chinese to develop and build a new nuclear power station.  You could end up paying more for your energy supply than you really need to.  That would be both in terms of government subsidy to the industry and the costs of use domestically and for industrial production.

The spiral of de-industrialisation you may have presided over will also have laid waste to your capacity to meet your maritime needs, in spite of your fabulous deep water rivers and engineering know how.  The costs of transporting what little you are left to manufacture will increase,  while a proliferation of call centres and lifestyle industries will compete to fill the wages gap left by your manufacturing decline.

You could argue that the UK is a world leader in financial services, that the emphasis of strategic investment has shifted from the ‘dirty’ industries of the past to the new world of financial services and technology.  A bit like a night out at the casino, that sort of approach to the economy may sound great when you are winning. When the tables turn against you however and the chips are down, like in the banking led crash of 2008, you might need the house to step in to save you from bankruptcy.

Interestingly, there was no question in 2008 that Lloyd’s Bank or the Royal Bank of Scotland were strategically important to the economy, even though they had signally failed due to their lack of business acumen, and government ownership was hastily arranged to prop up the ailing establishments.

Contrast that response to the current situation.  In the past week the UK Prime Minister, David Cameron, and his Business Secretary, Sajid Javid, have ruled out nationalisation of steel in the UK quicker than a banker can spend his bonus.  They have ruled out upping the tariffs on imported Chinese steel in order to give the UK industry a fighting chance.  Current EU rules would in fact prohibit such action but, as many have argued, there are times when rules have to be broken and the consequences dealt with later. 

The Chinese on the other hand have upped the tariff by 46% on the type of steel manufactured by Tata in Wales.  The Chinese have said that imports were causing “substantial damage” to its domestic steel industry, not quite the approach taken by the government in the UK.

In the UK it is the Communist Party of Britain (CPB) which has been leading the call for a new approach to industrial policy.  At its political committee meeting last week the CPB warned that, after privatisation, most of Britain's steel industry is owned by overseas companies with no commitment to maintaining what remains of the country's industrial base, pointing out that,

“…it is the EU free market which has done most to destroy jobs in Britain's steel communities.  While cheaply produced Chinese exports are being widely blamed for our steel decline, the reality is that Britain imports seven times more steel from the EU than from China as our trade deficit worsens.  The Tory government should defy the EU to save the steel industry in Britain before it disappears altogether and leaves us entirely at the mercy of overseas producers for vital supplies.”

EU trade and competition rules forbid the British government from imposing emergency duties or quotas on steel imports from inside and outside the EU, or providing emergency grants and loans to the industry.

Without an independent industrial strategy, outside the constraints of the EU, the future for UK manufacturing will continue to be bleak.

 

27th March 2016

Easter Rising 1916

The Easter Rising, which took place in Dublin on 24th April 1916, marked the beginning of the end for the British grip on the island of Ireland.  Centenary celebrations will take place over Easter and on Republic Day itself on 24th April.  The following extracts are from the March 2016 issue of Socialist Voice the journal of the Communist Party of Ireland.  For the full article follow the link below:-

http://www.communistpartyofireland.ie/sv/07-rising.html

James Connelly

Commemorating the 1916 Rising: Taking stock

Finbar Cullen

Writing in the Workers’ Republic in early 1916, James Connolly set out the task facing Irish socialism:

“The Labour Movement of Ireland must set itself the Re-Conquest of Ireland as its final aim . . . The re-conquest involves taking possession of the entire country, all its powers of wealth-production and all its natural resources, and organising these on a co-operative basis for the good of all.”

At much the same time Patrick Pearse published his pamphlet The Sovereign People, in which he argued that “the nation’s sovereignty extends not only to all the material possessions of the nation, the nation’s soil and all its resources, all wealth and all wealth-producing processes within the nation.  In other words, no private right to property is good as against the public right of the nation.”

The Proclamation of the Irish Republic, which Pearse read outside the GPO in Dublin on 24 April 1916, was based on these principles.  “We declare the right of the people of Ireland to the ownership of Ireland, and to the unfettered control of Irish destinies, to be sovereign and indefeasible.”

In Ireland in 2016 there is a “struggle for control of public memory,” and it is particularly evident in the contest over ownership of the 1916 Rising and its legacy.  As has always been the case in class societies, this struggle does not take the form of an ideologically clear contest between the capitalists and the working class (the producers in society), between the ruling class and the people: instead it is waged by nationalists, republicans, socialists, workers, feminists, women, capitalists, academics, intellectuals, artists, writers, and others, and often not in ideologically clear ways.

While Ireland in 1916 still exhibited many of the characteristics of the older colonial model of economic exploitation—a weak native capitalism, less-developed industry, and a role as provider of raw materials (food) for the coloniser—it was also tightly bound into the emerging imperialist system in which British capital was a central force.

If this was the economic underpinning of society and social change in Ireland in 1916 at the level of the superstructure, everything was in movement and flux.  New thinking, organisation and activism flourished as established structures and practices were challenged within the political, economic, social and cultural spheres.  Nationalism, republicanism and separatism played a central role in this upheaval, and it was and remains largely through their perspectives that struggle and change in this period is understood.

But many other actors contributed significantly to events and movement in the revolutionary years.  The labour movement, trade unions, and socialism; the women’s movement and feminism; pacifism and the anti-war movement; the language movement; the literary revival; the co-operative movement and the self-help movement; the GAA and continuing land agitation were all factors in the making of the Irish Revolution.

James Connolly claimed a place for labour at the heart of the national struggle in 1916, where its interests and programme could be best advanced and ensured.  The subsequent retreat of the labour leadership after the Rising was a historic mistake, and it is essential that we continue to analyse this if we want to understand the dynamics of the Revolution and learn the lessons for our struggles today.

Alongside this radical activism, the Irish Parliamentary Party continued to dominate Irish nationalism into 1916, as it campaigned first for Home Rule legislation in the British Parliament and then for it to be implemented by the British government.  Unionism in Ireland organised against Home Rule and established the Ulster Volunteer Force to resist it, supported by important elements of the British Conservative Party and military.

Britain itself was striving to maintain its empire and fight off growing challenges to its economic and political power, not least from a rapidly rising Germany.  The First World War began in August 1914 as the Great Powers fought for dominance and leadership in a world increasingly subject to imperialism.  Relinquishing Ireland in these circumstances was not an attractive option for Britain.  

Democracy means that the people have real decision-making power over their own lives and all aspects of their society.  This includes the economy as well as the political, social and cultural spheres.  Sovereignty is the ability of a people or state to govern and make the laws within its territory; without this, no democratic decision-making is possible.  Independence is the exercise of democracy and sovereignty free from outside constraint or interference—not in isolation from the wider world but acting freely within in it and interacting with others on our own terms.  

In 2016 the dilemma for the Southern state and establishment has been how to contain the disruptive potential of the principles of the Rising for their political projects while continuing to assert ownership over it.  The 1916 Rising was about taking Ireland out of the sphere of imperialist control and building an independent sovereign democracy, an Irish Republic; the project of the Irish establishment today is to claim a place in the imperialist order of the twenty-first century as (very) junior partners and to share in the spoils of its exploitation of the peoples of the world, including the Irish people.  This involves membership of the EU and the euro zone; facilitating capital and the markets in overriding the democratic will of the people; support for the political and economic policies and interference of imperialism throughout the world; full acceptance and implementation of the practices and ideology of free-market capitalism; and the abandonment of even lip service to the idea of an independent, sovereign Irish democracy.

The core principles of the 1916 Rising were sovereignty, democracy, and independence, and a commemoration that is true to the goals of 1916 cannot but be anti-imperialist in nature.  The various commemorative programmes are reaching their high point now as we enter March of the centenary year, with Easter just a few weeks away and Republic Day, 24 April, a month later on.  We should assess what takes place primarily according to where these events and programmes stand on these principles.

There is a huge amount of pride among the citizens about the Rising: in large numbers, they regard it as their Rising and a pivotal moment in the struggle for national independence.  To the extent that all the commemorations mobilise that popular sentiment among the people, this is a good thing.  However, there is also a great danger that some of the programmes will point the people towards acceptance of imperialism and abandonment of the idea of sovereignty, while others will focus on the paragraph in the Proclamation guaranteeing equal rights to all citizens while ignoring the central declaration of an independent, sovereign Irish democracy.

The political and ideological thrust of the Proclamation is clear and unequivocal.  Without sovereignty and independence the people cannot govern themselves and determine their own lives and the society they live in.  

During the recent election campaign and the current manoeuvring to form a government, the abandonment by the Irish state of the principles of the Rising is obvious.  The political and legal commitment of the EU to free-market capitalism, the control over interest and exchange rates exercised by the European Central Bank and the euro-zone rules on budget deficits and state debt circumscribe all policy aimed at meeting the vital needs of the people in health, housing, education, and social welfare.  European Commission directives dictate policy on many fronts, notably now on water charges.  Irish democracy is subordinated to rule from Brussels.

The 1916 Rising aimed to establish an independent, sovereign Irish democracy as the practical means of meeting the needs of the people and creating a decent society for all.  In the centenary year of the Rising we should hold true to this vision and put these principles into our commemorative programmes and back onto the agenda of the people’s movements and the people’s struggles.  Anything short of this is a step backwards from 1916 and a move away from the vision of Pearse, Connolly, and the other revolutionaries.

19th March 2016

Of the rich, by the rich, for the rich….what else?

It is almost tiresome that the UK media express any kind of surprise that a budget delivered by a Tory Chancellor is going to be anything other than in favour of the top 10% of the population.  The idea that the Tories are attempting in some way to be balanced, or represent the interests of all of us, has always been nonsense.  The fact that they dress up their political manifesto and budget promises in such rhetoric does not mean that they should fool us, as they try to buy our votes.

The biggest single source of revenue from the budget on Wednesday was the reduction of £4.4bn, over the course of the Parliament, from personal independence payments for the disabled.  These cuts alone would have cost disabled people on average £3,500 a year.  As Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn was quick to point out,

“The Chancellor could not have made his priorities clearer.  While half a million people are losing more than £1bn [a year] in personal independence payments, corporation tax is being cut and billions handed out in tax cuts to the wealthy.”

The government was given a get out by Education Secretary, Nicky Morgan, who had said  on BBC TV on Thursday night that the benefit cuts were just a "suggestion".  However, on Friday morning, the Prime Minister's Office were quick to insist that it "remains committed" to the cuts which remained a firm policy proposal.

By Friday afternoon that position had changed once more with Prime Minister, David Cameron,  insisting that the reforms would need time to make sure they were right with a Treasury source claiming that,

"This is going to be kicked into the long grass.  We need to take time and get reforms right, and that will mean looking again at these proposals.  We are not wedded to specific sums...it's not an integral part of the budget."

So far, so bizarre as George Osborne's budget unravels before the ink is dry.

By Friday evening however we were greeted with the resignation of Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, Iain Duncan Smith, suddenly a born again champion of the poor stating,

"I am unable to watch passively whilst certain policies are enacted in order to meet the fiscal self-imposed restraints that I believe are more and more perceived as distinctly political rather than in the national economic interest."

As a member of the Cabinet that has been driving through austerity for the past six years, while driving down benefits, it is hard to see Duncan Smith as shedding anything more than crocodile tears.  It is no coincidence that Duncan Smith, a staunch anti-EU campaigner, has timed his departure as the EU referendum looms and the leadership contest for David Cameron's job gets closer.

Cameron has made it clear that he will not lead the Tories into the next General Election, so whatever the outcome of the EU referendum, there will be a leadership contest.

Boris Johnson has effectively thrown his hat into the ring.  George Osborne has always been a contender.  However, a Chancellor who cannot make his budget add up is unlikely to inspire confidence or credibility.  With a major hole in his budget and the anti-Osborne camp firming up, the Chancellor's position looks wobbly.  As a Boris backer Duncan Smith is less concerned about the poor, than the future of the party of the rich.  His resignation is part of a much longer game.   

Back to the budget itself and it is clear that Jeremy Corbyn’s assessment however is right on the money.  The budget will also further reduce expenditure in government departments by £3.5bn, a cut which will fall disproportionately upon local government, and therefore services for the most vulnerable.  On the other hand, corporation tax will reduce from its present 20% to a mere 17%, less than half the level in the USA.  Capital gains tax will come down from 28% to 20%, a massive 8% cut.

Most of us have no idea what capital gains tax is, largely because it does not affect us, as we have no capital gains to worry about.  Up there in the richest 10% however they will be rubbing their hands in glee, as we all would if we got an 8% reduction in any of the taxes we have to pay.  Raising the level at which people begin to pay tax to £11,500 sounds good, unless you do not earn anywhere near that level in the first place, which is true for many.  However, if you are in the higher tax band you will not start playing at the 40% rate until you earn over £45,000, so at least some of the higher earning few will be happy.

Having failed to bribe many schools to move to academy status, George Osborne used the budget to announce a more open assault on what remains of any semblance of local authority education guidance.  The drive to force all schools to become academies by 2022 has been on the agenda for a long time, in the form of financial incentives for schools to move to academy status.  However, instead of the balanced assessment of need provided by local education authorities, all schools will be part of an academy ‘chain’, with private sector input and a private sector ethos.  In effect, the best education will go to the highest bidder.

The academy road will also see the continued de-professionalisation of teaching.  Existing academies are not obliged to employ qualified teachers or to follow the national curriculum.  The extension of academies will result in a further dilution of standards for those who cannot afford the best teachers and a temptation to resort to unqualified staff when budgets are tight.

The dismantling of local government is building towards a crisis in local accountability and social care provision.  The Housing and Planning Bill will further undermine local authority and housing association control over the provision of affordable housing.  Planning legislation is now so permissive that there is little local control over the siting, scale and balance of housing and retail development.

The government is set to generate a perfect storm whereby public services are reduced to such a fragile level that they will barely be able to function.  Schools will be little more than training grounds for whichever corporate paymaster is funding their academy status and social care is handed over to an already creaking NHS, in order to eke out a poverty stricken and unhealthy old age for those who get that far.  The current budget is not the start of this process but it has done nothing to arrest it.

Still, at least we get regional mayors and a sugar tax.  What is there to complain about?

12th March 2016

Elections that will change nothing

Carefully vetted candidates who all support the Islamic theocracy are not going to fight for the radical democratisation Iran needs.  Solidarity with its people means highlighting its rulers’ crimes, says JANE GREEN

MEDIA coverage of the parliamentary elections in Iran last week was remarkable for its failure to criticise the theocratic regime, its human rights record and its role as one of the world’s leaders in capital punishment.

The casual observer could be forgiven for thinking that the reports were covering activity in a parliamentary democracy, where the usual rules of free speech, freedom of association and freedom of assembly would apply.

Such an observer could also be fooled into believing that the characterisation of the division between liberals and hard-line conservatives would bear some resemblance to the everyday use of such terms in Western parliamentary democracy.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

What reports of the election have failed to emphasise is that all elections in Iran are severely restricted. Candidates are vetted in advance by the 12-member Guardian Council, including six clerics who have the right to veto candidates.

These six are appointed by the Supreme Leader and they lead the Guardian Council.

For the parliamentary elections held on February 26 there were originally more than 12,000 candidates. However, many applications were rejected by the council leaving only about 6,000 eligible for election. For those who were rejected there is no recourse to challenge the vetting as the Guardian Council’s verdicts are final.

Of the 3,000 pro-reform candidates nominated to stand, under 70 made it to the ballot paper. No leading politician with a progressive or known pro-reform stance was allowed to contest the elections.

Those members of the outgoing parliament who were deemed too troublesome and critical of the regime were also disqualified from standing again.

Media reports made much of the fact that 14 members of the 290-strong parliament will be women. Originally 1,400 women had registered as candidates but the restrictions in the selection process mean that in spite of a small percentage of women being elected they will not be in a position to make significant changes.

Forty per cent of women and all pro-reform candidates were disqualified. Those women who have been in parliament over the past three decades have either confined their contributions to “female” family issues or have been batting for the fundamentalists against women’s rights and gender equality.

Despite the campaign promise of President Hassan Rouhani to eliminate gender discrimination the current government has not established a ministry for women’s affairs. Within the cabinet all key ministerial positions are filled by men, while women hold subordinate roles as deputies or advisers and as heads of governors’ offices.

The limitations of “opposition” within the elections were made clear when Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei stated categorically that “those who are not for the Islamic Republic can vote, but they cannot be a candidate.” To all intents and purposes, all candidates are in effect supporters of the regime and actually, there is no opposition.

While Western media have conspired to characterise the elections as a victory for the “reformist” supporters of Rouhani, this is less to do with the internal politics of Iran than the desire of the US and EU to rebrand Iran as a partner of the West within the politics of the Middle East.

It was telling that the British government announced the reopening of its embassy in Tehran the day before the parliamentary elections after years of closure.

There is evidence to suggest that turnout in the capital was only 50 per cent, with the pattern repeated across key areas such as the restive western province of Kurdistan.

Sources also suggest that those from working-class areas such as the province of Alborz, in central Iran, and young people did not vote in significant numbers. The election result appears to be one that reflects the desires of the relatively safe, conservative middle classes who have no interest in radical change of established order.

As the elections approached, trade union activists found themselves subject to increased attacks with dozens arrested or sentenced on trumped-up national security and public order charges.

On the eve of the election, the International Trade Union Confederation and the International Transport Workers’ Federation issued protests against the wave of arrests of union leaders and activists.

Since his election in 2013 Rouhani has claimed that he wanted to put in place reforms addressing fundamental freedoms, the release of political prisoners and ending the house arrests of two 2009 presidential candidates, Karroubi and Mousavi.

However, there has been no positive change concerning these issues.

In Britain, the Committee for the Defence of the Iranian People’s Rights (Codir) has consistently suggested that if Iran is willing to negotiate with world powers and make concessions such as freeing foreign prisoners, it should make similar concessions at home.

It is widely expected that Iran will use its access to new funds to secure revenue from selling its oil and gas on the international market.

Deals with international corporations have already been signed and Iran enjoys increasing respectability on the world stage.

Codir has already expressed concern that the new opportunities will not be used to create wealth and prosperity for the people of Iran. They will not result in the freeing of a single unjustly imprisoned trade unionist, political or women’s rights activist.

The recent elections, while giving the Western media the chance to parade Iran as a legitimate partner, will do nothing to change the lives of those unjustly imprisoned, and often executed, by the regime.

The smoke and mirrors employed by the Western media regarding these elections must not be allowed to divert trade union and human rights activists in Britain from the reality of life in the Islamic Republic.

For those struggling to establish basic democratic rights in Iran, solidarity action to expose their plight is now needed more than ever.

This article was first published in the Morning Star (11th March 2016)

www.morningstaronline.co.uk

 

7th March 2016

Kill the Housing Bill

 

While the Tories have been tearing  themselves over apart over EU membership, posing as being more ‘statesmanlike than thou’ , Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, has been persistently banging on about  an issue of little consequence to the Tories but of great significance to most people; housing.  It is not a sexy headline grabber like ‘Boris for Brexit’ but, on a day to day basis, it is more important to most people than which bankers can make the most profits, if we are in or out of the EU.

The Housing and Planning Bill, currently working its way through the House of Lords (not many Council tenants there), contains measures which are likely to exacerbate the already acknowledged housing crisis in the UK.

Campaigners argue that the Bill would result in council and housing association homes being sold off and secure tenancies scrapped.  The unpopularity of the proposed means testing for tenants under the so-called “pay to stay” rule, which many argue could triple rents, already looks likely to be the subject of a climbdown by Chancellor, George Osborne.

The pay to stay proposals would have seen Council and social housing tenants with a combined income of over £30,000 a year (£40,000 in London) forced to pay market rents for their area.  A combined income of £30,000 does not buy many Caribbean cruises.  Critics have argued that the threshold could be a disincentive to work and that rent costs would soar in some areas where private rents and prices are high.

The climbdown, widely signalled for the 16th March budget, is likely to see the Department for Local Government and Communities (DCLG) agree to a phasing which would mean that stiffer penalties would not kick in until incomes hit £50,000 or more per year.

Opponents have suggested that token gestures toward help for private tenants do nothing to control exorbitant rents or remove the constant threat of eviction.  It would further erode the housing rights of Gypsies and Travellers, alongside others including victims of domestic violence.

The much trumpeted policy of building ‘starter homes’ is yet another sleight of hand by the government, who will be lining the pockets of private property developers building houses, which would only affordable to the few.  This would replace investment in Council built homes to rent for the many.

Housing charity Shelter have said that they,

“…are concerned that as currently drafted this Bill could unintentionally lead to a net loss of affordable homes for people on low and middle incomes – with existing public resource diverted to build homes that can only be afforded by those on high incomes.  Proposals in the Bill mean approximately 180,000 affordable low-rent homes could be sold or not built in the next five years.”

On the subject of the forced sale of Council homes Shelter have also expressed concern that, in order to generate revenue for central government, councils across the country will be required to sell low-rent council homes deemed ‘high value’ by government, as soon as they become vacant.  This will fund Right to Buy discounts for Housing Association tenants across the country.  

Shelter calculate that 19,000 council homes could be sold by 2020, with 113,000 at risk in total.  The charity have urged the government to explicitly commit to replacing homes like-for-like in the areas they are lost and put in place sensible exemptions.

The proposals in the Bill are further exacerbated by reports that developers in the UK are deliberately holding back the supply of new houses in order to maximise profits.  Keeping supply limited maximises the price of the end product.  Taylor Wimpey and Barratt Developments both posted  record pre-tax profits recently but have been accused of dragging their feet in relation to the number of houses built on new developments.  While this primarily affects private sector housebuilding, the lack of action in building new homes creates a logjam for those who can afford to buy and means less housing is available to those looking to rent.

A Kill the Bill campaign is well underway and has mobilised many housing academics and local authorities concerned about the impact of the Bill, as well as having the explicit backing of Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn.  The campaign has highlighted the fact that the systematic failure to invest in council housing has blighted the lives of millions, who cannot find or keep a decent home they can afford.  They also point out that many workers face ever-longer, more expensive commutes or spend over half their income on rent.

A national demonstration against the Housing and Planning Bill will take place on Sunday, 13th March (12 noon, meeting Lincoln’s Inn Fields) and will march to Parliament demanding secure homes and rent control for all.

 

21st February 2016

Deal or no deal?

 

Like a master magician UK Prime Minister, David Cameron, has returned from Brussels having pulled the proverbial rabbit from the hat and secured a deal with twenty seven other EU leaders to give the UK ‘special status’ within the European Union, or so he would have us believe.  Cameron is certainly engaged in a major confidence trick but like all great illusionists, he is cleverly attempting to make the audience look at one hand while he performs his sleight of hand with the other.

Cameron, many of his Conservative Party allies and their friends in the City of London, already know that the EU offers them a good deal.  After all, the original aim of the European Economic Community (EEC) back in the day was to ensure the economic power of its European member states and develop an economic bloc which could stand up to the United States and the insurgent economic capacity of Japan. 

In the days of the Cold War it also served the purpose of being a ‘shop window’ for the West, demonstrating the benefits of glossy Western capitalism over the ‘bleak austerity’ of Eastern bloc socialism.  The West now has a rather salient dose of bleak austerity of its own to deal with  but that is glossed over in the hyperbole of the EU, with its talk of ever greater union and its goal of social, political and economic integration of the people’s of Europe.

Part of the Cameron confidence trick is to have convinced so many, for so long, that life in the West has always been glossy and it was always bleak in Eastern Europe.  The EU has done the people of the East the great favour of allowing them into the club, a political manoeuvre to ensure that they did not fall back into the arms of Russia and to guarantee new markets for the rich members of the Euro club.  The fact that EU membership usually came with a ticket to the NATO military alliance should not be overlooked.  Levi jeans and McDonald’s burgers in Warsaw, Sofia and Budapest were always going to come with a price tag.

The quid pro quo for the rich members of the EU has been that citizens from the newly engaged Eastern states could now travel across Europe for work, claim benefits in other EU countries and generally exercise  the rights envisaged for workers in the principle of free movement of labour in the EU.

For many employers in the richer EU nations, including the UK, this has not been a problem.  The accession of Eastern European states was always about opening up a cheap pool of labour and keeping workers in the home country on their toes.  Who will strike for better terms and conditions when a pool of migrant workers could be seen waiting in the wings, ready to pick up jobs on less pay?

Divide and rule has forever been the tactic of the capitalist class and the EU merely provides a variation on that theme.  Would working class communities welcome other EU workers with open arms when their own government was engaged in driving down their wages and conditions in the name of austerity?  Not likely.

The Tories, for the most part would have preferred to manage this tension, as long as it did not get too heated, but the rise of anti-immigration UKIP has eaten into their traditional voter base, threatening to de-stabilise this fine balance.  Urged on by the Tories traditional cheerleaders in the right wing press, the  Daily Mail, Daily Express and Daily Telegraph, who have deemed immigration to be an ’issue’ in the UK, the UKIP bandwagon gained enough momentum for Cameron to promise a referendum on EU membership at the last General Election.

Right wingers in the Tory party were secretly happy with this in the knowledge that an opportunity to dislodge Cameron, regarded by many as a ‘wet’, could present itself.  Many predicted that the election outcome would be another coalition and expected the LibDems to dilute the referendum promise.  The unexpected Tory majority has however brought the issue to the fore and, in order to put an end to party infighting, Cameron is keen to deal with it sooner rather than later.

In order to create the illusion of getting a deal in Europe Cameron has conjured up an unlikely pot-pourri of demands, some of which will be incomprehensible to most people.  The core of the deal is that there will be a brake on in-work benefits for EU citizens working in the UK; that child benefits will be adjusted to the level of the standard of living where the offspring are based; that countries outside the Eurozone can force a debate about any laws which may restrict those outside the currency union; and an agreement that the UK is not on the road to ‘ever closer union’ in the EU.

It is hardly a snappy populist manifesto and if much of this figures in the debate leading up to the 23rd June referendum it will be a miracle.

The sole purpose of the so-called ‘deal’ is in fact to make Cameron look like a tough negotiator and to lay the basis for the Yes campaign to argue the case to stay in the EU.  The arguments to be marshalled for this cause are already being aired, with Cameron stating,

“The choice is in your hands.  I believe we’ll be safer and stronger in the EU.”

Cameron can count on big Cabinet hitters such as George Osborne, Teresa May and Jeremy Hunt to back him.  The Labour Party position and that of the TUC is to stay in the EU.  The Scottish Nationalists will not resist.  What is left of the LibDems will lean in his direction.

The less than coherent ‘leave’ campaigns bring together unlikely bedfellows Michael Gove, Nigel Farage and George Galloway, not a group who would ever want to share a lifeboat together.

On the face of it, the Yes campaign should win by a country mile.

Yet it will still be the wrong decision.

Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, writing in The Observer (21/2/16) has made some salient points in suggesting that the Cameron deal does not address the real issues facing the people of the UK.

“He should have been talking to other European leaders about action to save our steel industry”, said Corbyn, “about how to stop the spread of low pay and insecure jobs, and end the undercutting of wage rates and industry wide agreements through the exploitation of migrant workers.  He should have focussed on the scandal of the refugee camps in Calais and Dunkirk and how to deal with Europe’s migration crisis in an equitable way.”

The problem is that, although Corbyn is absolutely right about the issues facing the people of Europe, Cameron was never going to be arguing this case and the EU will not address these issues unless they become an existential threat.  The EU is a capitalist club, formed by a group of capitalist nations for the furtherance of capitalist profit in Europe, it is a pipe dream to believe anything else.

Corbyn goes on to suggest of Cameron that,

“He could have been arguing for an end to self-defeating austerity and for the strengthening of workers’ rights across Europe.”

Really?  Jeremy Corbyn may well argue these points, and so he should, but as Corbyn correctly points out Cameron’s main concern,

“…has been to protect his friends in the City of London from financial regulation, including of bankers’ bonuses.  Cameron’s Tories want a free-market corporate Europe.  We want a social Europe of decent jobs and equality for all.”  

A social Europe is a nice idea.  The concessions wrung from Europe on the working time directive and other social projects feed the illusion that it is possible within the existing EU.  In reality though, the only social Europe is a socialist Europe and the EU is not that.  It is free-market, it is corporatist and with or without Cameron’s deal, that is the way it will stay. 

Vote to leave and we can really start to rock the boat.

14th February 2016

Syria cessation looks unlikely

 

The Western strategy to de-stabilise Syria and install a regime more sympathetic than that of President Bashar al-Assad is in tatters.  The announcement by US Secretary of State, John Kerry, of a cessation in violence, to allow humanitarian aid into Syria, comes not from a position of strength but one of profound weakness.  It is clear that the Western coalition does not have the capacity to enforce a ceasefire and there is no indication that the Syrian government or the fundamentalists of Islamic State will observe one.

The Syrian army, backed by Russian air power are within striking distance of taking the key strategic town of Aleppo in the north of the country.  In the process they will cut off key supply routes to Turkey from where much of the insurgency against Assad has been supplied.  Routes into Turkey also allow Islamic State to sell oil and thereby raise much needed revenue to continue their actions.  As Turkey is a NATO member it is clear that the rest of the Alliance, supposedly involved in the opposition to Islamic State, has been turning a blind eye to its maverick southern member’s activity.

The recent offensive has generated a genuine humanitarian crisis with an estimated 50,000 civilians having been displaced from Aleppo, many heading for camps on the Turkish border.  The sympathy of the Turks for their Syrian neighbours however appears to be skin deep, as refugees are just as quickly passported on to Greece and from there in to the rest of the EU, contributing to the migrant crisis which has been the source of such political tension for the past year.

The ‘cessation of hostilities deal’, agreed in Munich this weekend, appears to be designed as much to negate the impact of Russian air power supporting Syrian government forces than bringing about any genuine end to the conflict.  Philip Hammond, the British foreign secretary, for example, said that ending the fighting could only succeed if Russia stopped air strikes supporting Syrian government forces' advance against the opposition.

Inevitably, Sergey Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister, had a slightly different take on the deal suggesting that with an integrated approach having been decided, he hoped that "the opposition and those who control various groups of opposition will have no more reasons to somehow avoid meeting their obligations".

If this rhetoric has something of the old Cold War superpower feel to it, that may be because it is just that but with a dangerous new twist.  The difference now is that the Russians do have expansionist designs in a way that the former Soviet Union did not.  The anti-imperialist cover, of having been invited into Syria by the Assad government, at least gives the Russian presence slightly more legitimacy than the uninvited warplanes of the West.  Whatever the failings of the Assad regime it remains the only legitimate government in Syria.

The splintered opposition range from the self styled Free Syria Army, a coalition of anti-Assad moderates and Islamists, the fundamentalist al-Nusra Front and the medievalist Islamic State itself.  Fuelled by weapons and warplanes from the West the opposition are as much at war with each other as with the Assad regime.  The real victims are the Syrian people caught between the various factions jostling for control.

That the position in Syria is less about civil war and more about a regional power struggle was underlined this week when Saudi Arabia and Turkey announced that they would consider putting troops on the ground to support the ‘opposition’ in Syria.  The official line is that ground troops would be supporting forces attempting to take Raqqa from Islamic State but, given the degree of support the Saudis and Turkey have provided Islamic State, that sounds like little more than a cover for attacking pro-government forces. 

Russian Prime Minister, Dmitry Medvedev, has warned that the deployment of foreign ground troops in the Syrian conflict could result in a world war, stating that "a ground operation draws everyone taking part in it into a war".

Saudi Arabia's Brigadier General Ahmed Asseri said his country was ready to send troops into Syria if there was a consensus in the anti-ISIL coalition.  However,  he declined to elaborate, saying, "It is too early to talk about such options. Today we are talking at the strategic level."

The Turks also have their own agenda in attacking Kurdish separatists and any military intervention in Syria is likely to be additional cover for such activity.  Reports over the past two days indicate that the Turks have already taken this opportunity to bomb Kurdish positions.

The mounting military action in Syria makes peace talks in Geneva, engaging all key players in the process, all the more vital.  Without an outcome, to which all sides can sign up, the bloodshed looks set to continue.  As it stands, any consensus amongst the key players looks a long way off.

7th February 2016

Iranian elections – the illusion of democracy

With Iranian Parliamentary elections scheduled for 26th February attention will once again focus upon the Islamic Republic for any signs of change following the recent rapprochement with the West.  Jane Green reports.

Iran’s return to the international fold has been negotiated over a long period, and is not without caveats, but certainly marks a significant change in relations with the United States and European Union in particular. 

While the focus of attention has been on negotiations relating to Iran’s domestic nuclear energy programme there is no indication that human rights has been on the agenda as part of any discussions.  The international business community are keen to cut the kind of deals which will boost their profits but the position for Iranian trade union and opposition activists is unlikely to look very different.

The visit of Iranian President  Rouhani to Italy and France  will no doubt have sealed the Airbus deal  but that will not free a single unjustly imprisoned trade unionist in Iran.

By the same token the up and coming elections in Iran are little more than the veneer of democracy, as the ability to stand is tightly controlled by the Guardian Council and the Supreme Leader, Ayotollah Ali Khamenei.

Elections to the Majlis (Parliament) are held every four years and prominent figures hoping to appear on the ballot paper need to determine beforehand whether Khamenei opposes their candidacy.  It is said that the Supreme Leader does not explicitly advise anyone against running, but his office or other high-ranking officials will often reveal his views on specific cases.

Also, when candidates register their names, the Guardian Council has to qualify them based on several criteria, notably their full "practical" loyalty to the Supreme Leader and their recognition of his authority over all matters of the state.  Finally, once elections are complete, the Guardian Council is solely responsible for endorsing the final result, despite sharing supervision over the vote counting process with the Interior Ministry.

Through utilising these methods the Islamic Republic can claim that the elections are free and fair because everyone is eligible to vote.  However this disguises the high degree of manipulation which precedes the selection of those who appear on the ballot paper at all.

Given the conservative nature of the regime in Iran and the fears of many hardliners that Rouhani is ‘too reformist’, there is every chance that conservatives will take the opportunity to further squeeze out the limited voices for change which there may be in the Majlis.

Of 3,000 candidates put forward by reformists only 30 have been allowed to stand by the Guardian Council, a mere one in one hundred of those wishing to stand.  It is worth remembering that these are candidates who are deemed ‘reformist’ within the very narrow confines of that term in Iranian politics.  There are no candidates opposed to the regime, standing for the rights of women or actively promoting the right of Iranian workers to engage in free and open trade union activity.

In total 40% of the 12,000 hopefuls for parliamentary elections have failed to qualify, including a grandson of the late Ayotollah Khomenei.  Those disqualified include Rasoul Montajabnia, the vice-president of the pro-reform Etemad Melli Party founded by Mehdi Karoubi, one of the two reformist candidates during the 2009 presidential candidates.  Others excluded are Majid Farahani, the head of the pro-reform Nedaye Iranian Party, and Akbar Alami, a former reformist member of parliament.

Sadegh Zibakalam, professor of political science at Tehran University, stated that the reformists now expected the president to step forward: “According to the constitution, as the president and the country’s second power [after the leader] Mr Rouhani should supervise the implementation of the constitution.  So now everyone’s expecting him to protest against the wide disqualifications.”

Jamshid Ahmadi, Assistant General Secretary of solidarity group Committee for the Defence of the Iranian People’s Rights (CODIR) has called into question the legitimacy of the elections.

“It is clear that many potential candidates have been excluded due to their political opinions”, he said, “that hardly makes for an electoral process that can, in any normal sense, be described as free and fair.  Until real opposition candidates are allowed to stand and the Iranian regime cleans up its act on human rights the elections will be little more than the illusion of democracy.”

For the full text of this article go to www.codir.net

31st January 2016

Google (verb. to pay as little tax as you can get away with)

It really is quite amazing that UK Chancellor, George Osborne, could pronounce the sweetheart tax deal with Google a ‘major success’ earlier this week.  On UK based profits of £7.2bn over the past ten years the internet giant has coughed up a mere £130m.  Unlike the rest of us, who see the tax go straight from our pay packet or fill in an annual tax return, Google had to be chased for the cash before finally agreeing to a deal with Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC).

The European Union have hinted that an investigation might be on the cards as the EU commissioner in charge of competition policy, Margrethe Vestager, has received a number of complaints about the British deal with Google.  The EU has conducted investigations on this scale before, looking into deals between Starbucks and the Netherlands and well as Fiat Chrysler and Luxembourg.  The commission has recently ordered Belgium to collect an extra €700m from 35 companies.

Labour Shadow Chancellor, John McDonnell, has suggested that the deal might affect the future tax revenues of the UK and those of EU partners,

“We believe £130m to be significantly lower than a fair or reasonable assessment of Google’s UK turnover and profits would suggest, with experts suggesting that Google had been levied an effective tax rate of around 3%.”

George Osborne’s defence, such as it is, is that the government do not deal directly with tax matters, which are left to the HMRC to sort out.  The basis of the deal appears to be that Google’s UK staff do not do business with UK advertisers.  This is challenged by a former Google insider turned whistleblower, who claims that London based staff are engaged in high value sales, marketing and engineering whereas the 5,000 Dublin based staff are essentially call centre workers.

For a company which boasts the corporate motto, “Don’t be evil”, there is little indication that the internet giant is doing the UK Exchequer any good.  Given that Google are currently sitting on offshore cash reserves, of an estimated £43bn, it is not as if they cannot afford to cough up their fair share. 

The reality however is  that the Tories are content to develop the UK as a tax haven within the EU, seeking to emulate the ultra aggressive tax policies of Ireland, where re-routing cash though the Republic has become a staple of many transnationals seeking to dodge their tax responsibility.  The Irish have promised to stamp out tax avoidance structures by introducing new rules with which companies must comply by 2020.  Perhaps Osborne sees an opportunity?

It is currently estimated that tax avoidance by major companies costs the EU between €50bn - €70bn (£38bn - £53bn) a year.  At a time when austerity policies are hitting working people hard, and in many EU states hitting young people the hardest, it is staggering that such amounts are allowed to leak from the system.  Billions remain in the pockets of corporate giants, many of whom bear some responsibility for the economic crisis.

The latest twist in this sorry tale is that Google are set to announce £30bn of profits from non-US sales in Bermuda, a tax haven where companies are not liable to pay corporation tax.  The EU are on the case, having drawn up a blacklist of tax havens it is looking to clamp down on, including Bermuda.  Britain has complained about the blacklist, describing it as “misleading and deeply unhelpful.”

In other news the Tories are to fight an Appeal Court ruling that the parents of disabled children should be exempt from the bedroom tax.  The notorious tax costs hundreds of thousands of families about £14 a week.  Ministers were forced to exempt foster carers and some Forces families after its introduction in 2013 and they backtracked on plans to tax the families of the most severely disabled children.  The government will also appeal against the Supreme Court ruling that women at threat of domestic violence, who have panic rooms in their accommodation, should be exempt from the tax.

As ever, the Tories go out of their way to take punitive action against those struggling to make ends meet, yet allow the corporate tax dodgers to  write their own script when it comes to tax payments.  More evidence, if any were needed, of where their priorities lie.

17th January 2016

Like a barrel of gunpowder


 

With the lifting of Western sanctions against Iran, Jane Green, National Organiser for the Committee for the Defence of the Iranian People’s Rights (CODIR) considers the implications of recent developments in the Middle East for the Iranian people.

 

The reintegration of the Islamic Republic of Iran into the world economic community moved a step closer this weekend with the clean bill of health given to the Iranian nuclear programme by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).  The IAEA statement cleared the way for the removal of financial and economic sanctions imposed upon Iran by the West four years ago.  While the sanctions have been crippling the Iranian economy the leadership of the Islamic Republic has been moving towards a rapprochement with the United States since the initiation of secret talks in 2010, held in Oman.

As far as the West is concerned lifting sanctions will mean that Iran is ‘open for business’ and the regime’s leadership, desperate to shore up its credibility with a restive population, will do all it can to encourage further investment in the flagging economy.

The relationship of the West to Iran is by no means straightforward however.  In the current conflict in Syria the Islamic Republic has made no secret of its support for President Bashar al-Assad, while Western support has been channeled towards the so called Free Syrian Army and assorted other groups opposed to the Assad government.

It is against this background that the recent breakdown in diplomatic relations between Iran and Saudi Arabia must be considered.  The Saudis have long been regarded as allies of the West, being the recipients of major arms shipments from the UK and the United States, and seen as a safe pair of hands in the Middle East by NATO.

The situation in Syria has resulted in a more ambivalent attitude towards the Saudis however.  The Arab dictatorship has consistently denied that it has provided any military hardware to Islamic State but it is widely accepted that Saudi weaponry has made it into the hands of Isis, either directly or indirectly.  In the wider context of the Middle East split between supporters of the Shia and Sunni branches of Islam, the latter, supported by the Saudis, is more consistent with the Islamic State position. 

With both Syria and Iraq being more inclined to the Shia camp, of which Iran is the widely acknowledged leader, it is not difficult to see where Saudi allegiances lie.

There is no doubt that, following the execution of Sheikh Nimr Baqr al-Nimr, the Saudi dissident Shia cleric, by the Saudi authorities, relations between Saudi Arabia and Iran have become critical and increased the possibility of dangerous conflict between the two countries.

The execution prompted groups associated with the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps and security forces to raid the embassy of Saudi Arabia in Tehran and the Saudi’s consulate building in the city of Mashhad.  It came as little surprise that Saudi Arabia announced that, following the attacks on the buildings of the Saudi diplomatic missions in Iran, it had severed its diplomatic ties with Iran and asked that Iranian diplomats leave Saudi Arabia within 48 hours.

The escalation of tensions between Iran and Saudi Arabia stems from the serious disputes between the two regimes about the domestic wars in Syria and Yemen.  In February 2015, the Saudi regime officially invaded Yemen to prevent the victory of Houthi forces and their allies who, as alleged by the Saudis, are supported by Iran.

This action by Saudi Arabia and its allies in the Gulf Cooperation Council was to prevent the fall of the previous Yemeni President, supported by Riyadh, and to control the political developments in Yemen in favour of the reactionary policies of the Saudi regime.  In relation to the domestic war in Syria, Saudi Arabia and the reactionary monarchists of the Persian Gulf, in alliance with Turkey and the United States and NATO states, want to transfer power from Bashar al-Assad, Syria’s elected President, to Wahhabi and Salafi groups who they support.  

It is no coincidence that on 28th December 2015 Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, made a trip to Saudi Arabia, just days before the executions which have resulted in the escalation of tensions in the region.  During his official talks with Saudi authorities, Erdoğan spoke about the common vision of the two countries regarding the future of Syria.  He spoke of shaping the developments in other conflict areas in the region, including Yemen, stating,

“It is clear that steps that are taken without considering the dynamism, sociology, and the history of the region will only end in savagery and brutality.”  

During the trip, Erdoğan officially announced the joining of Turkey to the reactionary alliance of Sunni states engaged in Syria.

Hardliners inside Iran have taken the opportunity to pour fuel on the fire and have talked of “seeking revenge” for the execution of Sheikh Nimr.  Such statements will do nothing to calm tensions between the two states and the opposition inside Iran has called for both sides to step back from such provocative positions.  Any rise in tensions, or new military conflict in the region, could have potentially disastrous consequences for the Middle East as a whole.

In the UK, the Committee for the Defence of the Iranian People’s Rights (CODIR), has pointed out the contradiction in Iran condemning the execution of Sheikh Nimr, when Iran leads the world league table of countries which employ capital punishment.  Iran has executed almost 1000 people in 2015.  The record in previous years has not been less catastrophic.

CODIR has however acknowledged that the execution of Sheikh Nimr  was clearly an act of provocation on the part of the Saudis, while calling upon the Iranian government not to take the bait and increase tensions in the region any further.   The Iranian opposition have characterised the situation in the Middle East as like a barrel of gunpowder that, in the event of any new military conflict, could lead to blood, fire and catastrophe for its already hard-hit people.

CODIR will continue to support the call of the Iranian opposition to defend peace and support a peaceful solution based on the United Nations Charter.  

For further information go to www.codir.net

10th January 2016

Crushed by UK bombs and Western diplomacy

 

The politics of the Middle East took a further twist last week with the execution by the dictatorship in Saudi Arabia of prominent Shia cleric Nimr al-Nimr.  In total 47 critics of the Saudi regime were executed, mostly, like the Saudi royal family itself Sunni Muslims, but al-Nimr was by far the most prominent and his death the most provocative.  The execution set off protests in the Shia Muslim world, notably in Iraq and in Iran, where the Saudi embassy in Tehran was set ablaze, and has resulted in the complete breakdown of diplomatic relations between Saudi Arabia and Iran.

In Bahrain, which is largely a Saudi client state, the minority Sunni rulers used teargas against Shia protestors.  In Yemen, where the Saudi air force is engaged in airstrikes to support the exiled regime against Shia backed rebels, the execution was seen as a “flagrant violation of human rights”.  Since April 2015 Yemen has been ravaged by fighting between rebels on one side and government loyalists backed by Saudi-led air strikes on the other.     

The Saudi led coalition in Yemen is prosecuting the war through the use of UK weapons, a point made by lawyers acting for the Campaign Against the Arms Trade (CAAT).  They have suggested to the UK government that they may be open to legal challenge for granting export licences for weapons where there is a “clear risk” that equipment may be used in violation of international law.

CAAT have stated that,

“UK weapons have been central to a bombing campaign that has killed thousands of people, destroyed vital infrastructure and inflamed tensions in the region.  The UK has been complicit in the destruction by continuing to support airstrikes and provide arms, despite strong and increasing evidence that war crimes are being committed.”

While the UK is part of an international coalition, which supports the Saudi air strikes in Yemen, the scale of civilian casualties, still has the potential to embarrass the government.  Almost £6bn of UK arms have been licenced to the Saudi dictatorship since 2010 when UK Prime Minister, David Cameron, came to office.

While the Saudis are notionally part of the Western coalition fighting Isis in Syria and Iraq there is widespread suspicion that Saudi support is at best lukewarm.  Isis are also from the Sunni Muslim tradition and their opposition to Bashar al-Assad in Syria, the regime in Iraq and the Islamic Republic of Iran, is seen as a plus by the Saudis.

Recent engagement of Iran by the West, in coming to a deal over the issue of the development of nuclear energy, and the inclusion of Iran in the Vienna talks on the future of Syria will have further angered the Saudis behind the scenes.

The Saudis will also be aware that the United States, in seeking to shore up its regional and international positions, will be flexible in its alliances.  Since 2000 an influential document, Rebuilding America's Defenses, published by the neo-conservative think tank, the Project for the New American Century (PNAC), has been the blueprint for all US administrations, including that of Barack Obama.  The document's main tenet is that the US should "seek to preserve and extend its position of global leadership" arguing in further detail that, "The true cost of not meeting our defense requirements will be a lessened capacity for American global leadership and, ultimately, the loss of a global security order that is uniquely friendly to American principles and prosperity."

In response to the current global situation and the rise of popular discontent in many parts of the world, the United States has intensified its efforts to recover economic and military ground, by any means possible.  The aim to dominate, by manipulating local reactionary forces, has been a feature of the foreign policy pursued by the US and its strategic allies in various regions, from the Middle East to North Africa and Eastern Europe.

At present the US has significant problems in effectively allocating its resources globally.  In this context the diplomatic and military policy shift by the US in the Middle East is notable.

From the US perspective, China is clearly the major "risk" for the US objective of being the 'single' global superpower.  China is highly dependent on external energy resources and the Middle East is a strategic energy source for China.  Therefore, maintaining direct control over the Middle East's flow of oil and gas is a vital geopolitical component of US global strategy.

Central to that strategy in the Middle East has been the shift in the relationship between the United States and the Islamic Republic of Iran.  One year before the administration of President Hassan Rouhani took office in 2013, top officials from the US and direct representatives of Iran's Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei, were holding regular meetings in Oman.

Those discussions were the starting point for the agreement which has been reached over Iran's nuclear programme recently and paved the way for Iran's inclusion in the Syria talks.

Over the past three years negotiations between the US and Iran have been on the basis of an increasingly weak bargaining position on the part of Iran, as international sanctions have crippled the Iranian economy.  The US has taken full advantage of its dominance by forcing Iran to subscribe to the US plan for the New Middle East.  This is a major strategic victory for the US as it now holds powerful leverage over Iran.

From the Islamic Republic's perspective, it has now gained sufficient breathing space to continue its rule by suppressing internal opposition.  The lifting of sanctions, and the economic relief which it will bring to the Iranian people, is being used by the regime as evidence of its international influence.

The Iranian regime has found an opportunity to strengthen its grip on power as well as being able to claim that it is playing a 'constructive' role within the United States' plan for the New Middle East.  Inclusion in the Syria talks is the latest manifestation of this undeclared 'alliance' between the United States and Iran.

Given the historical association of the United States with the Saudi regime it is clear that the West is engaged in a dangerous diplomatic game by developing its links with Iran.  Should the current face off between Saudi Arabia and Iran escalate it may be that the West will be in the unenviable position of having to choose sides; truly a case of the devil and the deep blue sea.

1st January 2016

Arrivederci 2015

 

As we say goodbye to 2015 it is possible to look forward to 2016 with trepidation in some areas and a small degree of optimism in others.  The past year has seen some atrocities, it is true.  The Charlie Hebdo shootings, the bombing of the Russian airliner over Sinai, the shootings in Paris in November, are the actions which have made the headlines in the West.  The ongoing subjugation of the people of Palestine garners fewer headlines, unless there is a strike back against Israel.  Human rights continues to be a major issue in Iran, in spite of the recent courting of the Islamic Republic by the West.  Those fleeing from the Western and Saudi inspired civil war in Syria continue to have profile as part of the ‘migrant crisis’, an issue more pressing for the  West than addressing the roots of the conflict.

So where is the optimism to be found?  The movement against austerity has gained some momentum in Western Europe.  While the election of Syriza in Greece has been conflicted by their commitment to the EU and NATO, the popular mood in that country remains one of opposition to the international bankers and their attempts to hold the Greek economy hostage. 

The emergence of Jeremy Corbyn, as leader of the Labour Party in the UK is a sign that, following defeat in the May General Election, there is a mood for change and a new approach to politics.  The UK media continue to downplay the significance of such views and work hand in glove with the right wing to present opposition to Trident, war and austerity as being out of touch with ordinary people.  In spite of their virtual media stranglehold they are not succeeding, as the growth of grass roots action through the People’s Assembly and Stop the War Coalition shows.

In Spain recently the right wing Popular Party failed to gain re-election and the anti-austerity Podemos movement polled just over 20% of the vote.  People based movements hold sway in Madrid and Barcelona already and the Podemos vote signals the ongoing rejection of austerity by the Spanish people.

Ongoing vigilance is required however.  The march of the Front National in France is matched by significant right wing blocs in the European Parliament, from Eastern Europe in particular.  The potential remains for the failure of the recovery in the EU to be blamed on migration, rather than the greed of the international banks and the failure to invest in manufacturing and infrastructure.  The Middle East will remain a potential flashpoint until the international community has the bottle to stand up to Israeli blackmail and address the issue of Palestine.

There will be progress in some areas and there will be setbacks in others but in 2016 there remains much to fight for.  The unity of progressive forces will be vital to ensuring that this year in one in which forward steps are taken and that the perpetrators of austerity and war are exposed.

Avanti Populo in 2016

Over the coming year the weekly blogspot from Avanti Populo will become less frequent, with posts appearing on an ‘as and when’ basis, rather than with the weekly punctuality of the past five years.  Twitter and Facebook accounts will continue to function however, so messages will continue to circulate. 

Wishing you success in whichever struggle you are engaged in over the coming year!

El pueblo unido jamas sera vencido!