Sunday, 22 October 2017

US Greens Join Growing Support for Catalonia

The Basque premier, Iñigo Urkullu, has issued a call of solidarity with the Ctalan people over the Spanish government’s take-over of Catalan institutions, and workers in Basque public radio and television (EITB) demonstrate in solidarity with their Catalan colleagues. The US Green Party has added its support to Catalan self-determination. The International Committee have issue the following statement:

The Green Party condemns Spain's brutal suppression of Catalans who tried to vote in the referendum for independence on Oct. 1 and calls for peaceful negotiation without threats of reprisal to solve the impasse and for the release of political prisoners and withdrawal of sedition charges.

Greens urge global support for the political rights, including the right to dissent and seek self-determination, of the Catalan people and nonviolent resolution of the crisis.
Whereas the Spanish central government has shown outrageous brutality and disproportionate violence against the Catalan people as they peacefully tried to cast their votes across the region in a popular referendum held this past October 1 on the question of Catalan independence from Spain.

Whereas this same government is again now proving incapable of providing a negotiated, sustainable and mutually acceptable solution to the legitimate political, economic, and cultural grievances and aspirations of large sectors of Catalan civil society, as clearly expressed in the results of said referendum;

Therefore, the Green Party of the United States fully supports the present call by the acting Catalan parliamentary leadership for a direct, two month long, unconditional dialogue with the central government in Madrid to try to reach a negotiated agreement in response to the present impasse in the political, and legal status of Catalonia in relation to the Spanish state and its peoples, as presently constituted.

The Green Party of the Unites States also vehemently opposes the Spanish central government's decision to implement Article 155 of the constitution in response to the present impasse in Catalonia. This action, if carried out, would de facto "illegalize" the presently elected Catalan autonomous government and place all of its critical authorities under the Spanish central government's authority.

We strongly believe this will only serve to exacerbate the present tensions and risk a very dangerous escalation of an already delicate situation that could further fracture and galvanize not only Catalan society, but Spanish society as a whole.

We furthermore call for the support of the popular call across Catalonia for the Spanish authorities to immediately release political prisoners, Jordi Sánchez and Jordi Cuixart, and for the Spanish attorney general's office to withdraw all charges of sedition against all acting Catalan government officials for their nonviolent actions in defence of the right of Catalans to peacefully cast a vote during the October 1 referendum.

Saturday, 21 October 2017

Catalan Independence and Spain’s progressives

Written by Farid Erkizia Bakht

Today, Madrid announced that it will seize control of Catalonia’s government which is set to respond with a unilateral declaration of independence. What will the New Spanish Left do and do they have the power do so?

For weeks, Europe has been talking about Catalonia. Yet, with honourable exceptions, the supposedly progressive Left and Green mainstream leaders in Europe have been very quiet. Despite the fact that Raül Romeva, the de facto Foreign Minister of Catalonia, was a long time Green-Left politician. Or the radical leftwing CUP is at at the forefront of Independence politics demanding independence. The soft-Left ERC has been and continues to champion the cause of separation from Spain.

This does not smell of racism or fascism which emanates from the likes of the Northern League in Italy. Anything but. While the Hard Right forces of the wealthy Italian North base their case on ‘narrow nationalism’ to separate to create an exclusive, inward looking Lombardic state (in tune with its rightwing Austrian neighbour), the Catalan left-wing independence movement promote a non-ethnic, progressive and inclusive vision. CUP holds far greater sway over the streets and popular mobilisation than its 10 MPs (in a 135 seat Parlament) suggest. 

Their vision is a feminist, socialist, Green Catalonia and municipal participatory democracy. The grassroots movements and the political party CUP have been developing the ‘social and solidarity economy’ for two decades. They acknowledge they would have to compromise in the early years of a republic. Yet, along with the resources of a diversified prosperous economy, there exists the possibility of real social progress in this part of Iberia.

As UK Professor David Whyte and writer Ignasi Bernat explain: much of Europe’s Left un-derestimate “the commitment to the neighbourhood, rather than the nation.' It is this commitment that ensured high level of involvement from women’s collectives, migrant solidarity groups, independent trade unions, autonomists, anarchists and the social centres. Recent events have unmasked the ugly face of narrow nationalism, emanating less from Catalonia but from the Spanish Deep State.

The pro-independence Catalan forces are, of course, a mix of right and left. The Right wing remnants of the old Convergencia party (PDC ) are traditionally supporters of the status quo - stay in Spain and reap the financial benefits of crony capitalism. Yet this decade they have had to shift towards independence or risk losing relevance in a rapidly shifting Catalan scenario. In other words, with the exception of the CUP, the political parties have had to follow not lead the popular movements.

Artur Más was replaced by pro-independence Carles Puigdemont (as President) on the insistence of the CUP.

Podemos and its sister concern in Barcelona -CSQP (Catalonia Yes We Can) play a critical role. While CUP act as kingmaker for the Independence alliance, the forces allied to Podemos are critical for ‘the unity of Spain’.

They cling to the honourable hope that they can reform Spain (by overturning the system) and create a structure suitable for all provinces (and nations) while keeping the state intact.

Unfortunately, this graph shows them (UP) lacking the support necessary to bring about this change (in purple).

Can the 1978 Constitution be changed?

Yes, it can. But. The Left would need a two-thirds majority in Parliament to bring about deep decentralisation. It is not going to happen. Unless two things occur over the long-term:

a) Podemos maintains & grows over the next two decades

b) the aged supporters of PP & PSOE die off to reduce their vote bank!


Supporting Catalan or Basque independence is a vote loser in much of the rest of Spain. Thus, the Podemos network maintain the moral high ground but can make ambiguous messages in a delicate balancing act. The paradox is that the strongest support for Podemos & its allies lie mainly in Catalonia and the Basque Country.

They hold out a promise of constitutional reform (even though they are unlikely to attain power on their own), and support the right to have referenda yet in reality reject secession.

Progressive Spaces?

The Basque & Catalan Independence Left say that if only Podemos supported their independence then they could actually implement progressive policies in the new republics, north of the Ebro River.

For example, if Ada Colau’s votes shifted to independence, then the overall Catalan Left (including Podem En Comun, ERC & CUP) and the reduces centre right PDC would be able to steer a Catalan Republic to the soft Left.

But what would happen to the Rest of Spain?

Would it turn more inward and become an embittered Right wing amputated Spain? There would likely be turmoil as the Deep State tries to clamp down. On the other hand, the loss of Catalonia (and inevitably soon after, the Basques) would kick-start regional groups in Galicia, Andalusia & Valencia demanding a structural overhaul of the utterly corrupt political system.

Much would depend then on how the new states north of the Ebro react and support change to their South, which are the bulk of its commercial customers after all.

Farid Erkizia Bakht is a supporter of the Ecosocialist Network @Liquid_Borders

Thursday, 19 October 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, 17 October 2017

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

Written by Gordon Peters

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

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

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

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

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

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

Please donate at Crowd Justice to help the extra costs.

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

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

In summary the claims are challenging:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More information from StopHDV

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

Sunday, 15 October 2017

Nature, Labour, and the Historic Rise of Capitalism

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, 12 October 2017

George Monbiot’s Damascene Near Conversion to Ecosocialism

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, 10 October 2017

Theresa May is the most Incompetent Prime Minister of my Lifetime

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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