Wednesday, 14 March 2018

Big UK Left Independent Media Censors Small Left Independent Media Sites

Some of the biggest names in the UK independent left media have joined forces to promote their very own news narrative. Skwarkbox, The Canary, Evolve Politics, Another Angry Voice, Media Lens and Real Media are amongst them. This consortium has recently set up a Facebook group titled ‘Independent Media UK’ which has grown quickly in members. I was aware of this initiative from reading a post on Skwarkbox, but later in the day someone ‘joined’ me into this group.

I assumed that this person thought it was worthwhile me joining the group, as an independent left blogger, and posting links to my blog posts. I did indeed post a link into the group, but a day later a new rule was introduced that only the admins could now post on the group. I think these admins are connected to the above mentioned media outlets.

With not the slightest trace of irony, a pinned post from The Canary introduces the group thus:

Welcome, to what will become the largest progressive FB group in the UK. Facebook is making changes that reduce the amount of truly independent media and campaigning journalism you see in your news feed. So we have come together to ensure you never miss breaking news, analysis and opinion on the issues that matter to you.

Spread the word!

They then immediately shut down any posts from outside of their consortium, blaming this on Facebook, then set up err… a Facebook group which censors outside postings. One commenter did call it ‘controlling the narrative,’ and I think this is right. Another way of describing it is censorship for those not in the gang. There were a few more comments against the move but most group members appeared to be in favour. They may have been friends of the admins though, I don’t know.

One of these comments was ‘we are all in this together, that’s for sure….filthy rotten platform it is, Facebook.’ I’ve had my own problems posting onto Facebook, mainly because of too many posts, or posts too quickly added to various groups. They don’t seem to like you getting something for nothing, but it is not as though I make any money from my posts. The irony of the situation, banning other independent media in the group, was again lost on this commenter.

This consortium of large media sites are to a greater or lesser extent commercial sites, they earn money through advertising and reader donations, whereas my blog, and many mostly quite small outlets are non-commercial, and operate on a share a like commons licence, which is the most ethical way for independent left media to operate.  

I twice posted a link to my blog in the comments thread, but both times they were quickly removed, with no explanation offered as to why. Obviously the people who have set up this group can do what like in terms who can post and what, but then to claim that this is a truly independent media site is disingenuous. It is filtered media, and exclusive to the biggest independent left media sites.   

I think it also very arrogant of these big sites to insist on being the only on-line word of truth and interest, and rather un-comradely. The Green Left Facebook group for example allows posts from all of these left media sites, but maybe in light of what they are doing on their group, perhaps we should respond in kind, and ban them? Maybe other groups would follow suit?

It is not as though these big sites need much extra publicity and feeds as they are available on many feeds, many of which I subscribe to, so apart from anything else it just looks greedy and vindictive. I intend to boycott these sites in future.

Maybe us smaller left media outlets should get together and start our own media Facebook group? But I would suggest that it is not exclusive like Independent Media UK, but encourages other small outlets to join and post into the group? It is worth thinking about I think. What do other bloggers think?

I’ve quit the Independent Media UK Facebook group now, and will leave them to their echo chamber discussions. How quickly these alternative media outlets turned into an establishment of their own. Some independent media sites are more equal than others, it seems.    

Tuesday, 13 March 2018

Budget Deficit Cleared – More Austerity on the Way

In 2010 when the Tory government was elected, in coalition with the treacherous Lib Dems, lest we forget, the UK economy had started a very fragile recovery from the 2008 financial crash. The Tory chancellor at the time, George Osborne, proceeded to drive the economy straight into a ditch. The public spending cuts introduced by Osborne, failed to bring the budget deficit down, and after two years he changed tack to basically introduce the austerity light that Labour had proposed in the 2010 general election.

Low and behold, the budget deficit started to reduce, slowly, and finally will be in balance by 2019-20, according to the Office of Budget Responsibility. The deficit refers to the amount of tax money coming into the exchequer, less the money the government spends, or to put it another way, we have been spending more than we are raising in taxes. This is often confused with the amount of money that the government is borrowing in total, but that figure has almost doubled over the last 8 years to around £1.8 trillion.

This is due to the government’s austerity policies, as you can’t cut your way out of a recession. The austerity policies have had the effect of depressing economic growth even more than the recession, hence the need to borrow more. At the same time the government cut taxes for the highest earners, further reducing the tax take, and we find ourselves where we are today, massively in debt.

News of finally balancing the budget, has been greeted with cheers from the government’s supporters, but in truth it is a woeful record. Along the way, public sector wages have fallen, with public service union the PCS calculating that public sector workers are now on average £5,000 a year worse off in real terms than in 2010.

Real wages overall, including the private sector have fallen by 10.7% since the Tories came to power. The cruel cuts to benefit payments, and accompanying regime of sanctions have caused much misery, and deaths in some cases. Public services have been cut to bone, which are often relied on by the most vulnerable in our society. There is a spike in the thousands of rough sleepers on our streets. Growth in the economy has only been modest. Hardly a record to be proud of.

What the Tories did manage to do, was frame their austerity policy as a result of Labour’s profligacy, but the depth of the recession in 2008 made Labour’s public spending necessary, and as I say, it was working to an extent. Why Labour let the Tories get away with their narrative, is still a mystery to me. Maybe they believed it themselves?

We should remember also that the Tories when in opposition advocated sticking to Labour’s spending plans (before the financial crash), so they shouldn’t have been allowed to revise history as they did. They in effect blamed the recession on Labour, although the Tories agreed with Labour’s deregulation agenda, and in fact wanted to go further.

The current chancellor, Philip Hammond, released his Spring economic statement today, in which he confirmed that higher than expected tax receipts mean that the current account budget is now nearly in balance. But he would go only as far as promising the possibility of ‘jam tomorrow,’ with the prospect of increasing public spending in this year’s Autumn budget. He wants to keep money available to cushion against any economic shocks caused by Brexit.

But more than this, austerity is an ideological fetish for the Tories. They are obsessed with cutting down the size of the public realm, believing in ‘small government’ just like their tea party compatriots in the US. They see it as an end in itself, whatever the cost.

Dr Faiza Shaheen, director of the think-tank CLASS (Centre for Labour and Social Studies), said: “Local Councils are almost bankrupt, workers are overworked and underpaid, and we are losing the race with our competitors in the G7.

Britain can’t afford more of the same failed dogma, especially given the uncertainty of Brexit. We need to see the public sector pay cap lifted, public services properly funded, and more borrowing for investment.”

Amen to that.

Sunday, 11 March 2018

The convenient smokescreen of "overpopulation"

Review of Reproductive Rights and Wrongs: The Global Politics of Population Control by Betsy Hartman written by Leela Yellesetty. First published at International Socialist Review

At a charity gala for the Tusk Trust in November 2017, Prince William warned that while wildlife population is in decline, the human population in Africa “is predicted to more than double by 2050—a staggering increase of three and a half million people per month. There is no question that this increase puts wildlife and habitat under enormous pressure.”1

A day later on the other side of the Atlantic, Wisconsin state legislator Scott Allen defended banning abortion on the grounds that “labor force shortages are tied to population declines. Labor force shortages are a limiting factor in economic growth. And limited economic growth poses a problem when government tries to pay for public services and infrastructure.”2

At first glance, these appear to be to be two diametrically opposed views on the question of population—one says there are too many people, and the other too few. Yet they share more that meets the eye.

First, both are selective about which groups of humans there are too many and too few of. Prince William raises an alarm about the number of people in Africa, while himself expecting a third royal baby, who will consume hundreds of times more resources than the average African child. Likewise, Allen is concerned with labor shortages, yet sponsored a bill this past spring to penalize Wisconsin municipalities that refuse to assist in enforcing immigration laws. It would appear that there are too many of some kinds of laborers.

Even more fundamentally, both assume that their concerns about population ought to dictate the reproductive choices available to women. This is obviously the case with the anti-abortion right wing, but this attitude is also expressed by some people ostensibly on the left, especially in the environmental movement.

As we face the growing threat of climate change, the role of overpopulation is presented as common sense, even undisputed fact. “Science Proves Kids Are Bad for Earth. Morality Suggests We Stop Having Them,”3 asserted a recent headline at NBC News. The article referred to studies that found that the greatest impact individuals—at least wealthy individuals—could have in reducing their carbon footprint was to have fewer children. The important caveats of “individuals” and “wealthy” are noted in passing while not dampening their sweeping conclusions.

In this context, Betsy Hartmann’s classic 1994 book Reproductive Rights and Wrongs: The Global Politics of Population Control continues to resonate. Exhaustively researched, and devastatingly argued, it contends that population is neither the cause nor the solution to our problems, and a focus on it imperils both women’s reproductive health and economic and social justice. Recently reprinted by Haymarket Books with a new prologue by the author, it remains essential reading for those seeking to rebuild a fighting reproductive justice movement— and anyone concerned with the future of humanity.

Hartmann reflects on why population remains such a popular fixation, even as rates of population growth have been in decline since well before her book was originally published. In fact, we are soon nearing the point where the world’s population will begin to level off. A number of advanced countries now have birth rates below replacement level, prompting worries about population decline. Partly, this disconnect is due to the fact that the population worldwide is still growing, even as the rate has slowed, and “many people are demographically illiterate.” But, this illiteracy, she argues, serves a larger purpose for the elites:

Another important reason is that the myth of overpopulation is so politically useful to powerful interests. Elites deploy it to explain and legitimize inequality, essentially blaming the poor for causing their own poverty. Inequality is even worse now than when I wrote this book. The gap between rich and poor has become a yawning abyss, the bitter fruit of decades of neoliberal economic policies, financial corruption and speculation, and dispossession of peasants and small farmers. Overpopulation is a convenient smokescreen that obscures the voracious appetites and power grabs of the superrich.

Since the time of nineteenth-century economist Thomas Malthus, the idea that the problem of poverty is that there are too many poor people has been used to justify inequality and cuts to social welfare measures. In the twentieth century this ideology was weaponized in the form of population control measures, often with reckless disregard for the safety and welfare of their targets, and in many cases embracing racist, misogynist, and coercive means. In recent years, the population-control lobby has moved away from eugenicist appeals and embraced the language of ecology and even female empowerment.

Yet the focus on population as the root of the problems of poverty, environmental devastation, and gender inequality are fundamentally misplaced—and distorting. In the case of poverty, Hartmann makes clear that the problem is not a lack of resources, but their unequal distribution. In the case of climate change, the evidence is indisputable that industrial and military pollution and consumption by the wealthy bear the lion’s share of blame for carbon emissions—even as populations in those countries are stable and declining. Hartmann takes aim at the patronizing language of international aid programs that aim to promote good “environmental stewardship” among the poor, noting, “An illiterate peasant woman in Bangladesh, for example, is likely to be a far better manager of environmental resources than a college-educated professional in New York. The latter probably generates more non-recyclable waste in a week than the former does in her entire lifetime.”

Responsibility for climate change aside, it is true that population growth remains higher in the developing world—a fact exploited in population-control literature’s “lurid photographs of dark-skinned crowds, starving African children, and close-up pregnant bellies.” Surely, these images suggest, overpopulation is at least partly to blame for the entrenched poverty in these regions. But the population perspective fundamentally misunderstands the causes of high birth rates in the third world.

Conventional wisdom has it that Third World people continue to have so many children because they are ignorant and irrational—they exercise no control over their sexuality, “breeding like rabbits.” This “superiority complex” of many Westerners as well as some Third World elites is one of the main obstacles in the way of meaningful discussion of the population problem. It assumes that everyone lives in the same basic social environment and faces the same set of reproductive choices. Nothing is further from the truth. In many Third World societies, having a large family is an eminent strategy of survival.

Hartmann delineates a number of reasons why this is the case. In many impoverished countries, children are economic assets, contributing valuable labor beginning at a young age. In the absence of social safety nets, they also provide the only means of security in old age. High infant and child mortality rates—caused by poverty, disease, and child and maternal malnutrition—also drive higher birth rates, to ensure that at least some children survive to adulthood. Lastly, women’s subordinate status in many societies and lack of control over reproductive decisions also contribute to high birth rates. Without addressing these underlying factors, an exclusive focus on bringing down birth rates is not only ineffective but, in many cases, is counterproductive.

This is not to say that women and families in the Third World—like everywhere else—don’t desire access to contraceptives and the ability to plan their reproductive lives. “A family planning program designed to improve health and to expand women’s control over reproduction looks very different indeed from one whose main concern is to reduce birth rates as fast as possible,” Hartmann writes. “Women the world over want family planning. This is the story of what population agencies have done in its name.”

Beginning in force in the 1960s, a network of government and international agencies, private philanthropies, NGOs, pharmaceutical companies, population think tanks, and others have pushed population control with a single-minded focus on much of the developing world, as well as on poor and minority communities in advanced countries. Hartmann details the impact of these initiatives with exhaustive research and in-depth case studies of a handful of countries.

At best, these programs have pursued a narrow focus on population control, often at the expense of basic health care and other needed services. At worst, they have involved mass endangerment if not outright violent coercion. In several countries at various points, women and men have been literally been rounded up en masse at gunpoint and subjected to forcible contraceptive insertions, injections, or sterilizations.

The US Agency for International Development (USAID) gave the following assessment of such initiatives under the brutal Suharto regime in Indonesia: “The most ready explanation given for the success of the Indonesian family planning program is the strong hierarchical power structure, by which central commands produce compliant behavior all down the administrative line to the individual peasant.”

Even nominally “voluntary” programs are often accompanied by “incentive” or “disincentive” schemes involving giving or withholding food, clothing, or other services. Hartmann observes of such schemes, “For people who are desperately poor, there is no such thing as free choice. A starving person is much less likely to make an informed decision about sterilization if he or she is offered cash and food as a reward. Thus, in practice incentives often have more to do with coercion than choice.”

And rather than being a complement, funding for family planning services often comes at the expense of basic health care and other needed social programs. In Indonesia, for instance, the budget for family planning is twice that of basic health. As a 1983 USAID Emergency Plan for Population Control in Bangladesh explained, “A population control program does not depend on a functioning primary health care system.”

The combination of coercive methods and lack of basic health and education ironically can result in lower rates of birth control adoption, as women’s negative experiences with these programs and adverse side effects of the contraceptives themselves lead them to stop using them. This in turn only convinces family planning agencies to further constrict and remove women’s control from the equation.

Research into and promotion of contraceptive technology has often been dictated by the pursuit of population control and profits rather than women’s safety or desires. Rather than empower women, “increasingly, the implicit goal is to remove control from the woman entirely.” Long-lasting contraceptives such as IUDs, Depo-Provera, and Norplant as well as permanent methods such as sterilization are emphasized over safer, reversible methods in the all-encompassing goal of lowering birth rates.

Third World women have long been used as guinea pigs for testing contraceptive technologies, free of legal or ethical constraints. This same disregard for safety extends to oppressed groups in the United States and other affluent countries. To choose just one among many jaw-dropping examples, Hartmann relates: “One of the members of the FDA’s 1984 board of inquiry on Depo, Dr. Griff T. Ross, recommended that the drug be approved for limited use on intellectually disabled women and drug addicts, though he admitted its safety was not sufficiently proved for use on ‘human subjects.’”

At the time of the book’s first publication in the early 1990s, the Christian Right and anti-abortion movement was on the upswing on the heels of the Reagan and Bush administrations, which enforced a global gag rule on international agencies promoting abortion services. As Hartmann makes clear, access to safe, legal abortion is a necessary complement and backup to other contraceptive methods, and fundamental to women’s reproductive health. The right-wing offensive against abortion and indeed all forms of contraception has understandably made some feminists cautious to raise concerns about contraceptive safety and abuse.

Yet Hartmann cautions against the temptation for reproductive rights advocates to hold their tongue on these issues, or worse, seek common cause with the population-control lobby:

The population control and anti-abortion philosophies, although diametrically opposed share one thing in common: They are both anti-women. Population control advocates impose contraception and sterilization on women; the so-called Right to Life movement denies women the basic right of access to abortion and birth control. Neither takes the interests and rights of the individual woman as their starting point. Both approaches attempt to control women, instead of letting women control their bodies themselves.

What is needed is a genuinely pro-women alternative, which challenges both the population control and anti-abortion positions and which guides family planning, contraceptive research, and health policy. If instead prochoice supporters turn a blind eye to coercive population control practices, they allow the anti-abortion movement to capture the issue and posture as champions of individual reproductive freedom. Such an abdication of responsibility is not only ethically bankrupt, but politically disastrous.

The pro-woman alternative Hartmann advocates recognizes that true reproductive justice means connecting the fight for reproductive rights to a broader struggle for economic and social justice. This is, ironically, also the primary driver of declining population growth. As Hartmann notes, most economically advanced countries have already undergone a demographic transition of declining birth rates, “and this transition was achieved without any explicit government population control policies and often without modern contraception.”

Even relatively poor countries have undergone this transition through efforts to more equitably share resources and combatting gender equality. One example Hartmann gives is the Indian state of Kerala, which has bucked the trend in the rest of the country of both high impoverishment and birth rates. She credits this to policies of land reform, redistribution, education, and social welfare programs. A critical element of their success was the element of popular pressure to ensure that good-sounding policies were not just proclaimed but actually implemented. “Of the many lessons Kerala holds for the rest of India, perhaps the most important is that the foundation of equity rests on the political power of the poor.”

Political power—not population control—remains the critical element needed today to confront the threats of inequality, climate change, and gendered and racial oppression that face humanity today. Hartmann’s book remains an indispensible resource for those looking to rebuild that power today.


“The Duke of Cambridge Gives a Speech at the Tusk Trust Ball,” Official Website of the British Royal Family, November 2, 2017,

Jenavieve Hatch, “Wisconsin Rep Says Abortion Access is Bad For Labor Force,” Huffington Post, November 6, 2017,

Travis Reider, “Science Proves Kids Are Bad for Earth. Science Suggests We Stop Having Them,” NBC News, November 15, 2017,

Saturday, 10 March 2018

21st Century Socialism and a New Left Project?

This is an extract from a piece written by Stephen Maher entitled ‘Crisis of the State, Crisis of the Left: Articulating Socialism After the Anarchist Moment’ and first published at The Bullet

I argue that key foundations from the Marxist tradition can still serve as an essential basis for this project, avoiding the pitfalls posed by the critiques summarized above. First is the idea that the commodity is not a ‘thing’, but rather the fundamental relation of capital – what Marx called “the economic cell form.” Capitalism, as the historical mode of existence of capital amidst other relations and logics, brings the penetration of this relation ever deeper and ever wider into our life-worlds. 

This therefore brackets questions of cultural difference. Capital, and the commodity form that is its social foundation, is not reducible to a property of any particular culture. Indeed this form has taken hold of and transformed the social relations of ‘Western’ countries just as it has in other places.

Moreover, the basic operation of capitalism lies in the interaction between value and use-value. Capital constantly reorganizes concrete, qualitative reality to serve the infinite production and circulation of abstract value. Qualitative use-values do not matter to capital, only the endless accumulation of quantitative exchange-value. Thus what Marx referred to as a “dialectical inversion”: exchange-value is the only use-value for capital.

In other words, for capital, the only useful things are those produced for the purpose of exchange in pursuit of the endless accumulation of abstract value. The abstract becomes concrete; quality becomes quantity; use becomes exchange; and freedom becomes slavery. Indeed, because the value-form is abstract, this appears to be the result of individual free choice: the threat or use of force is normatively prohibited in the sphere of commodity exchange, which Marx referred to as “the exclusive realm of Freedom, Equality, Property, and Bentham.” The exchange of commodities, including labour-power, appears to be a purely voluntary, individual act.

The coercion that constitutes the foundation of class in capitalism originates elsewhere, in that sphere liberalism explicitly deems “apolitical”: the “private” realm of production. As Marx wrote in characteristically colourful fashion (Capital Vol I):

“we therefore take leave for a time of this noisy sphere, where everything takes place on the surface and in view of all men, and follow them both into the hidden abode of production, on whose threshold there stares us in the face ‘No admittance except on business.’ Here we shall see, not only how capital produces, but how capital is produced. We shall at last force the secret of profit making.”

Workers themselves produce the force – capital – that dominates them; it is none other than their own alienated life energies turned against them. As Marx shows in Capital, capitalism is uniquely a system in which the instruments and conditions of production dominate human beings, rather than serving as an extension of conscious human will and collective social planning. Since investment decisions are based on the need to accumulate abstract value, the ability to produce value for capitalists – rather than meet collective social needs – becomes the primary determinant of the social division of labour, and the ends to which our collective human energies are devoted. 

Moreover, capitalists themselves do not merely ‘plan’ the economy, but are themselves ruled by the value-form, which enforces its sovereignty via the “coercive laws of competition.” Capitalists must accumulate or perish: “Accumulate! Accumulate! That is Moses and the prophets.” Thus the “law of value” appears over and above conscious human will in shaping social relations and directing society’s productive forces, an objective force that seizes upon human subjectivity and directs it to alien ends – the ends of capital. Capital therefore becomes the subject, while the true subjects (human beings) are instrumentalized as inorganic objects.

Capital must be understood not as a closed totality but rather as a totalising logic within the relentless totalisation in progress that is history. To base our analysis of history on a conceptual totality is to assume, in Althusserian or Hegelian fashion, that we can construct a logical model that fully captures, on the basis of its inner necessity, the actual movement of ‘really-existing’ capitalism. It conflates the logical with the ontological. Though he explicitly criticized Hegel, Althusser’s “structuralism” reproduced a very similar ontology, albeit substituting the abstract coordinates of a ‘structure’ for the Hegelian ‘totality’.

The provisional nature of knowledge, and the process of discovery via proposing hypotheses, is in both cases replaced with absolute certainty about the shape of the real derived from self-generating abstract theoretical constructs. In both cases, reality is reduced to the notion, and in both cases, the result in political terms is to potentially justify forms of despotism. This is fundamentally at odds with an approach that, understanding subjectivity as rooted in the basic properties of the human organism, sees that the historical ‘totality’ is never complete, but always in a state of becoming, of being made in the concrete life activity of really existing human beings. 

This leads us to interrogate the real for its causal interconnections, and to approach human beings as conscious subjects whose capacities for free creative labour are to be emancipated through the revolutionary project. In other words, it points toward a different conception of both epistemological and political representation.

Even though capital is not a closed totality, capitalist social relations exert basic pressures upon conscious human beings, including class struggle, competition (over consumer markets, investment, intellectual property, within firms themselves, and more), tendencies toward concentration and centralization, and systematically recurring crises. But these tell us nothing about the direction of history, or the particular manifestation of these tendencies in different places and times. 

As conscious subjects, human beings exist in a relation to their situation. This is not to deny that they are conditioned, merely to suggest that they cannot be reduced to their condition. If we are to understand capitalism, we must come to terms with the dynamism with which it has been created and re-created by conscious human beings as a historical process.

It is this moment of subjective human creativity, operative at every ‘level’ and in every ‘sphere’ of social relations, which, at base, is responsible for the dynamism of capitalism. And this is precisely what makes it impossible to study human societies as if they were governed by mechanistic laws. 

It is only by examining the nature of these projects, constructed within and against specific institutional assemblages that are constantly being remade amidst structural conflicts and synergies, that we can hope to decipher the movement of history. This also means that if capitalism will not simply collapse “on its own”: if it is to be overcome, we must overthrow it.

How, then, are we to connect this theoretical basis for a 21st century socialism to an organized political intervention that is all but absent today? Firstly, one should be clear that the rise of the right in the current conjuncture (sketched out above) is a direct consequence of the weakness of the left. In the absence of an organized radical left, the only force capable of articulating the anxieties stemming from the social dislocations wrought by neoliberal restructuring has been a nationalist and xenophobic right.

Meanwhile, the crisis of neoliberal hegemony has entailed the collapse of post-1990s “Third Way” Social Democratic forces, which moved away from articulating a class-based politics based in universalistic demands for the decommodification of social services and human labour power. Instead, they hitched their wagons to the neoliberal horse, limiting their political horizons to questions of identity and inclusion within a corporate-dominated liberal capitalist order. 

In fact, since the capacity for labour to oppose Social Democratic parties is limited in the absence of a credible alternative to their left, such parties have served as particularly effective vehicles for pushing neoliberal restructuring (albeit at a slower pace), reinforcing the idea that “There Is No Alternative.” 

As a result, the legitimacy crisis of neoliberalism has also eroded popular support for even the most well established and deeply rooted Social Democratic parties. Nevertheless, as the emergence of the new left parties in Europe indicates (to say nothing of the meteoric rise of Jeremy Corbyn and Bernie Sanders within traditional parties), although the rise of the right poses significant challenges, the collapse of the neoliberal center also presents an opportunity for the left to present a bold, transformative political vision.

The best way for left forces to regroup – while recognizing the crucial difference between organizing the left and organizing the class – and seriously put a progressive break with neoliberalism on the agenda is to unite fragmented issue-based struggles within a broader socialist vision. Indeed one of the biggest shortcomings of the New Left social movements was their willingness to forsake the goal of broader social transformation in favour of individual issue-based struggles, such as war, the environment, women’s rights, and so on. 

The task for us now is to find ways to reintegrate these crucial struggles with a longer-term vision for fundamental social change. We must recognize that though important reforms can be won, capitalism is unable to fully accommodate demands for social and ecological justice. Therefore we must go beyond simply opposing neoliberalism.

Similarly lacking in strategic vision is the contemporary ‘anti-fascist’ discourse focused on fighting the hard right. Though many left groupings are now apparently relying primarily on this anti-fascism as a mechanism for building the left, simply opposing the far-right leaves us de facto defending neoliberalism unless we can come up with a positive program to collectively build toward something else. 

The best strategy for confronting the hard right is to destroy the conditions of despair and alienation upon which it feeds by formulating a bold yet credible program for breaking with neoliberalism and building toward a brighter future. This must not simply write off, but speak directly to the concerns and anxieties of those who have thus far found voice only in the chauvinist nationalism of the hard right. It must work to identify and pragmatically confront the forces responsible for the devastation of working class communities in recent decades. The intensifying ecological crisis makes this all the more urgent.

The basic principles that must animate a contemporary left program are clear enough. These include changes in the organization of our communities, including de-commodification of social services and developing ‘green’ ways of living, working and playing. It also involves reinvigorating workplace organizing, and building the democratic and activist capacities of the labour movement in conjunction with social movements and community activists, including through such campaigns as the Fight For $15 in the US and $15 and Fairness in Canada. 

But the neoliberal restructuring of the state and the economy, including the decline of state fiscal capacity and the global restructuring of accumulation, are such that neither unionization nor social movement activism alone are capable of bringing the broader political changes that are essential to rebuilding the power of the working class. 

Given the neoliberal restructuring of production, even implementing relatively mild reforms by historical standards today requires a radical confrontation with capital. The old question of “reform versus revolution” is ever less relevant. The more pertinent issue is whether we can implement reforms that are robust enough to withstand the pressures of capital’s totalizing logic, which have intensified over the neoliberal period.

An augmented left, from this perspective, could take the form of what Greg Albo has called “a political ecology of movements and forces” working toward another world, and supporting a struggle on the terrain of the state to transform it and move toward a genuinely democratic society. 

This requires building a political infrastructure that can reproduce and amplify popular power, animated by principles of class struggle and mutual solidarity and seeking to construct democratic systems of production and distribution for use rather than exchange. It means overcoming alienating commodity relations with organic human bonds founded upon mutual respect and solidarity. And it means facilitating the production of new, class subjectivities that can support these efforts, and serve as the gateway to a society in which collective human flourishing is truly possible.

Stephen Maher is a social critic and PhD candidate at York University in Toronto.

Wednesday, 7 March 2018

Social Media Abuse and the Framing of the Left

We hear a lot these days about people being threatened, abused and bullied on social media, and the mainstream media stories all tend to be about leftist activists being the wrongdoers. Particularly in association with the Labour party, and those members who support the leader, Jeremy Corbyn, the latest is here, but it didn’t start with Corbyn.

During the Scottish referendum campaign and the lead up to it, ‘cybernats’ were demonised by the media for alleged bullying on-line in favour of independence. Any kind of threat to the established order must be smeared in some way, we know is the tactic employed by those who are happy with the status quo. Curiously there was a split in the right wing establishment over Brexit. The mainstream media are the attack dogs in both cases though.

Two of the main reasons that I started this blog, was to bring reds and greens together and to put out an alternative narrative to mainstream media and right wing social media. Ecosocialist yes, but also a green left take on things like news stories more generally.

Around about 75% of the traffic to this blog comes from Facebook links, the rest come from the email feed from the blog, left politics aggregator sites, twitter, email groups and forums and google searches. I have over 700 Facebook friends and posts are public, and I also link the blog posts in various Facebook groups. These groups are mainly of the green, left liberal, socialist and anarchist type politics. But I also post the links into some more general politics groups and some London based community type groups, it all depends on the nature of the post.

The reaction to my posts in the green and lefty groups is generally positive, with likes, shares and comments from posters. In the more general political groups, there will be some support in comments and likes, but a hell of a lot of negative, and in some cases, downright offensive comments from right wingers.

Of course, you have to have a bit of a thick skin if you blog about politics and share it about on Facebook discussion sites and I just ignore a lot of the condescension. I’m not claiming that I have been abused badly on social media, certainly not like some people are, especially women, but it does happen to an extent to me.

The worst thing I get is the racist stereotyping of me being Irish. I once said in a comment in a Facebook group that I was ashamed to be English (I think I was referring to the Brexit vote) and I was accused of not being English, but Irish. Stereotypes then flowed about the Irish doing anything for money, being thick etc. More recently, in a blog post that explained why I hated the Tories, I was called a ‘Paddy muppet.’

For the record, the only thing that is Irish about me is my name, so much so, that I am unable to get an Irish passport. The rule is that you need at least a grandparent that was born on the island of Ireland to qualify. The last one of my relatives to be born in Ireland was in about 1860!

Most of the time people just post distracting comments, probably because they can’t make a proper argument against what I am saying, which is annoying and reflects the commenters ignorance, although many people don’t seem to mind making themselves look foolish. Racist and sexist comments taunts are out order though, although they are tolerated in many of the groups I post into.

I am not saying that the left is squeaky clean when it comes to social media abuse but you would be forgiven for thinking that the left are the baddies if you are guided by the mainstream media with their smear campaign against the left. The right are just as bad, if not worse than the left when it comes to online bullying, so let’s get real about this.        

Wednesday, 28 February 2018

EU Puts the Ball in the UK’s Court with Irish Border Plan

The European Union (EU) has published its plan for resolving the problem of a return to a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, once the UK leaves the union. In the worse-case scenario, of no other workable alternative being found, which looks to be the case now, Northern Ireland will be considered part of the EU’s customs territory after Brexit. In effect, Northern Ireland will remain in the customs union and single market, and checks will be needed on goods passing between the UK mainland and Northern Ireland.

“A common regulatory area comprising the Union and the United Kingdom in respect of Northern Ireland is hereby established,” the draft paper says. “The common regulatory area shall constitute an area without internal borders in which the free movement of goods is ensured and North-South cooperation protected.”

Northern Ireland would stay under the jurisdiction of the European court of justice and the EU’s VAT regime and state aid rules would apply.

Michel Barnier, who is leading the negotiations on Brexit for the EU said: “We are just saying that on the island there are two countries, we need to fund the capacity for certain issues relating to the internal market and customs union, that we need to ensure the Good Friday Agreement can function ... We need to ensure there is regulatory consistency, alignment.”

Yesterday, Boris Johnson the foreign secretary, being interviewed on the BBC radio Today programme, claimed that the Irish border was being used to ‘frustrate’ Brexit, and further claimed that the problem could be resolved by a similar system of CCTV cameras that is used to enforce London’s vehicle congestion area. Johnson was trivialising the situation disgracefully, because the analogy is completely different. He shames his high office with such blithe statements.

It was also revealed yesterday by Sky news, that a leaked letter from Johnson to the prime minister also trivialised the problems, and did not shy away from maintaining a hard border.

The prime minister, Theresa May, said at PM questions today that there would not be a hard border in Ireland, but she also ruled out the EU’s solution, which effectively would draw the EU/UK border in the Irish Sea. May refused to be drawn on the practicalities of this when pressed by the leader of the opposition, Jeremy Corbyn on the issue. No doubt this is because there is no workable plan, so yet again the government indulges in magical thinking, but this can’t last. Decisions need to be taken, and the EU has taken one. Over to the UK.

Since the problem of the Irish border has begun to receive attention in recent weeks, although it has been known about all along, the value of the Good Friday Agreement has been brought into question by the looniest Tory Brexiteers.

Tory MP Owen Paterson, a former Northern Ireland secretary, tweeted a link to a piece with a comment which claimed that the Good Friday Agreement ‘had outlived its usefulness.’ Paterson was sacked by former prime minister David Cameron as environment secretary, for making a complete shambles of the west of England badger cull, blaming the badgers ‘for moving the goalposts.’ A towering intellect he is not.

Tory MEP Daniel Hannan, who is close to Boris Johnson, has claimed that the Agreement is ‘flawed.’ But it brought to an end twenty years of military conflict, and shakily has maintained the peace for a further twenty years.

Journalist Fintan O’Toole writing in the Irish Times said that although the Agreement was imperfect, the Brexiteers are playing a dangerous game by trying to rubbish it and puts it down to Britain’s priority being a recklessly pure Brexit, not peace in Ireland. “If the Belfast agreement must die so that the glorious ideal of Brexit may live, so be it” he concludes.

One can hardly blame the EU for becoming exasperated with the UK’s contradictory and completely unrealistic positions on Brexit. They have now given Britain a clear choice on the Irish border, either accept the EU’s solution, or have a hard border. That’s it.

The Good Friday Agreement is an international agreement, and an open border in Ireland is part of it. If we reject the EU’s terms, which the UK accepted in December as a fall back option, then we will break international law. But more than this, if the conflict returns to Northern Ireland, the British government will have to justify to the families of British soldiers, the death of their loved ones. All to uphold the ideology of the most crazy wing of the Tory party.

Will the families be comforted by this? I very much doubt it.     

Monday, 26 February 2018

Labour’s Customs Union Shift Could see Corbyn Prime Minister by Summer

The Labour party leader, Jeremy Corbyn, gave a speech in Coventry today, which had been trialled over recent days, confirming that Labour is in favour of the UK being in a custom’s union with the EU, once we leave the organisation. It had become clear weeks ago that Corbyn’s thinking was shifting in this direction.He said he wanted “a new, comprehensive UK-EU customs union” after Brexit.

The move has been welcomed by business representatives the CBI and the Institute of Directors, and even former Tory chancellor, George Osborne. All of the uncertainty caused by the government’s prevarication on what form Brexit should take, has been making businesses worry, and to put off investment decisions because the future export/import regime is so ambiguous.

Corbyn was careful to say that the customs union wouldn’t be the same as the existing one the UK is a member of, but a new ‘bespoke’ one. He said he wanted the UK to have some influence over new EU trade deals, so that if they were judged not to be the Britain’s interest, then they would not apply. 

This might be easier said than done, as it looks suspiciously like the ‘cherry picking’ that the EU has ruled out, but this might depend on what form the customs union exactly is in the end. Emily Thornberry, the shadow foreign secretary, has said that the new customs union would look very similar to the existing one.

Turkey is in the customs union, but not in the EU. The deal means that EU goods are exported tariff free into Turkey, but there are tariffs on Turkish goods imported into the EU. Turkey is allowed to strike trade deals beyond the EU but must obey customs union rules. The deal doesn’t cover all sectors either, farming produce is exempt as are services. So, this kind of approach might not deliver the full benefits we enjoy now, and maybe wouldn’t solve the problem of re-instating a hard border in Ireland.

So, there is still some way to go before we can see this as a good solution to all of the barriers that Brexit throws up. But it is a promising start, in that it does give the EU something to work with, as opposed to the government’s wishful thinking on what the EU will agree to in whatever relationship we end up with once we leave. It does at least offer some hope of a reasonable break with our European partners of 45 years, and is perhaps the outline of a deal.

What is does do though, is that it puts the government, and the prime minister in particular in a difficult position. There are said to be around 20 Tory rebel MPs, who are prepared to vote for an amendment in the Brexit Bill, that would commit the government to staying in a customs union with the EU. This is enough to defeat the government, if all opposition parties vote for the amendment as well, which is what Corbyn appears to have signalled today.

The vote on the amendment should have been in March, but the government has put this back to April or possibly May this year. This is because they know the amendment is likely to be carried, and it gives the government’s whips extra time to work on the rebels.

My money is on the vote being pushed back to after the local authority elections in May, which are expected to be disastrous for the Tories, especially in London. Government thinking may be that the shock of big losses for the Tories will make some of the rebels wary of defeating the government. They will say that it could lead to a general election where Labour triumphs.

It could though be better to get the Brexit amendment vote over and done by the time of the local elections, and so go for April. Either way, these two events could well trigger the fall of the prime minister, and the government as a whole. There is no constitutional reason to hold a general election if the customs union amendment is passed, only if the government loses a vote of no confidence. The Tory rebels may not want to cause a general election, and could vote with the government.

Conversely, the government might make the amendment into a vote of confidence, to try and scare off the rebels. This would be risky indeed, as there is no reason why this should be the case. It would be a self-inflicted defeat by the government, so the rebels may leave them to it. High stakes indeed.

These things though can get a momentum behind them, and if there is huge pressure from the media and public to hold a general election, to ‘clear the air’ around the Brexit process, and it could come as early as June this year.

Bring it on I say, let’s elect a sensible government, that puts the needs of the country first, rather than holding the Tory party together, and keeping Theresa May in Downing Street at the same time. This is a more important matter than party politics and personal political careers.