Tuesday, 15 August 2017

Should we hold a Second EU Referendum?

David Miliband, a former Labour Foreign Secretary, made the case for a second referendum on the final terms of our exit from the European Union (EU), in The Observer last Sunday. I am not a fan of Miliband senior (or junior much), but I have to say I agreed with a lot of what he wrote in this piece.

He refers to Brexit as a ‘stitch up’ which when you consider the lies told by the Leave campaign and their complete refusal to even describe what kind of Brexit we will have, it is not hyperbole really. We still don’t know what kind of Brexit we will have, with different members of the Cabinet arguing over the form it should take.

Liam Fox, the international trade secretary, and Philip Hammond, the chancellor, made a declaration in a joint article for the Sunday Telegraph on the same day, which was intended to quash speculation that the cabinet is divided over how to implement Brexit and what will happen during the transitional period – or implementation phase, as ministers call it.

The two ministers state that after the transitional deal expires, in perhaps two years after our leaving date of March 2019, as the conditions of Article 50 require, the UK will not remain in the EU customs union. Today, the government issued a press released paper on their plans for the UK’s position on the customs union, after the transitional period ends. It lays out two options that will be pursued.

Like all the rhetoric that comes out from this government on what will happen after Brexit, this is wishful thinking. The EU will resist any kind of deal on customs union, the single market, and freedom of movement of peoples, which is better than the existing arrangements the UK has as an EU member. The transitional deal will probably be an off the shelf one, that is remaining in the European Economic Area (EEA) (the so called ‘Norway model’), because the EU will not have the time, apart from anything else, to negotiate a new bespoke agreement with us.

This would mean of course that, with the next general election approaching (probably in 2022), we would have to accept a divorce settlement without any real change in our terms, in fact Norway pays more than it would do by being an EU member. How popular do you think this will be with leave voters?

To be fair, Labour’s stance on Brexit is no more realistic than the government’s, and again different shadow ministers say different things. The shadow international trade minister, Bill Esterson, repeatedly failed to give a clear explanation of Labour’s position on the customs union on BBC radio this morning. Pressed on the question, Esterson said, ‘That’s why you negotiate, isn’t it?’ Essentially this is the same as the government’s line, that, the EU will give us everything we want. We’ve had similar wishful thinking on staying in the single market from Labour too.

As Miliband said in his piece last Sunday, ‘democracy did not end on 23 June 2016… the settlement of a workable alternative to EU membership is a delusion.’

I think this may be dawning on more and more British voters. The opinion polls on whether we stay or leave the EU have shifted a little in the direction of remaining, but still are very tight. What prospect of a rerun of last year’s referendum?

The Green Party and the Lib Dems stood at this year’s general election on the promise of a second referendum on the issue. Both parties did poorly though, and most post-election studies find that remain voters, mainly backed Labour. Labour was probably perceived as not as bad as the Tories on this issue, despite the smokescreen created by Labour on exactly how they would leave the EU.

But by the time of the next general election things will have become much clearer on the details of our exit. The general election could be used instead of a referendum, to make the case for staying in the EU or possibly the EEA. One way or another, Labour and the Tories will have to lay their cards on the table at the next general election. 

Saturday, 12 August 2017

Twice as Many Americans View North Korea as a Critical Threat Than Can Find It on a Map

Media coverage has created a massive gap between US desire to attack North Korea and an understanding of the crisis.

Written by Adam Johnson and first published at Alternet

A recent poll conducted by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs found that 75 percent of Americans list North Korea as a “critical threat” facing the United States, up from 55 percent just two years ago. The same poll found that 40 percent of Americans support conducting preemptive air strikes on North Korean “nuclear facilities”—a move that would effectively start and all-out war on the peninsula.

Contrast this poll with another one from March showing that just 36 percent of Americans can locate North Korea on a map. This means that there are more people in the United States who want to launch a unilateral, unprovoked war against North Korea than even know where North Korea is. This massive gap—between our collective desire to bomb something versus not having a clue what that something is—is stark evidence of a colossal media failure in the United States, a media failure that, as a rule, decontextualizes the “crisis” in North Korea and strips it of all political nuance.

Routinely, the media frames the US as responding to North Korean bellicose as if they are the ones initiating conflict out of thin air. Take, for example. President Trump’s recent threats to reign “fire and fury” upon North Korea, which was largely presented as a response to a hostile and unstable Kim regime.

“Trump Warns North Korea: Stop Threats,” the Wall Street Journal front page read Wednesday. This gives people the distinct impression the United States was just minding its own business and some random lunatic decided to provoke an otherwise benevolent and innocent Trump administration. Missing from this narrative is that North Korea’s “threats” are almost always qualified as defensive in nature, which is to say they are always on the condition of a US first strike.

This is consistent with a broader historical context that’s never provided. Rarely does the media mention that the Korean War never ended and the destruction the US leveled against the peninsula—while largely forgotten stateside—is still very fresh in the minds of both South and North Korea.

Rarely is it mentioned in the media that during the US bombing of Korea from June 1950 to July 1953 the US military, according to their own figures, killed approximately 3 million Koreans—roughly 20 percent of the population—mostly in the North. This is compared to 2.3 million Japanese killed in the whole of World War II, and that included the use of two nuclear bombs.

Rarely is it mentioned the US dropped more bombs and napalm on Korea in the early ‘50s than it did during the entire Pacific campaign against the Japanese during World War II—635,000 tons of munitions and 32,557 tons of napalm.

Rarely is it mentioned that, according to Dean Rusk, the Assistant Secretary of State for Far Eastern Affairs, the United States bombed “everything that moved in North Korea, every brick standing on top of another.” Rarely is it mentioned that after running low on urban targets US bombers destroyed hydroelectric and irrigation dams, flooding farmland and wrecking crops. Rarely is it mentioned the CIA oversaw South Korean death squads that killed thousands on suspicion of being communists.

Now, this may not matter to the casual media consumer but it matters a great deal to the North Korean government and this historical context goes along way explaining the martial posture on display. If this seems like ancient history we can go back to just 1994 when House Republicans helped torpedo a nuclear deal then-President Clinton arrived at with the North Koreans in good faith. Or to 2002 when George Bush listed North Korea in its “Axis of Evil” hit list then proceed to invade and destroy one-third of that list. Or to 2011 when NATO bombed Libya into a failed state six years after Gaddafi gave up his nuclear ambitions in earnest. The US has, for decades, given the North Koreans no reason not to pursue nuclear weapons and contextualizing the situation as such would, perhaps, reduce the amount of Americans eager to bomb Pyongyang without provocation or attack.

One doesn’t have to like or sympathize with a government to understand its motivation. Once one understands the history of the US’s war on Korea and internalizes the fact that the North Koreans don’t see the war as being over, their actions don’t seem irrational or unhinged—they seem like the last resort of a country that views itself, fairly or not, as under siege. If only the media could make an effort to reflect this context far more often, perhaps it would reduce the amount of people itching for war and—along with some useful visual aids—significantly increase the number of Americans who at least know where or what North Korea is.

Adam Johnson is a contributing analyst at FAIR and contributing writer for AlterNet. Follow him on Twitter @AdamJohnsonNYC.

Thursday, 10 August 2017

Will a New Political Centre Party be Formed in the UK?

This really is a news story that will not go away. Ever since Jeremy Corbyn was elected Labour Party leader, but especially since after he was re-elected to the post last year, there has been a constant drip, drip of speculation, of a breakaway ‘centre left’ party being formed.

This week, the story was re-ignited by a tweet from James Chapman, a former aide to Brexit Secretary of State, David Davis, and ex Daily Mail political editor. The text of the tweet @jameschappers was:

“Past time for sensible MPs in all parties to admit Brexit is a catastrophe, come together in new party if need be, and reverse it.”

He later tweeted it was “well past time for sensible journos on papers that supported Brexit to admit it is going to destroy lives of many of their readers.”

As this suggests, the main issue that might unite elements of the Labour right and Tory left (such that it is), together with the Lib Dems, is Brexit.

On the original tweet, Chapman copied in Remain-sympathising MPs Chuka Ummuna (Labour), Vince Cable (Lib Dem), Anna Soubry (Tory), Nicky Morgan (Tory), Rachel Reeves (Labour), Nicholas Soames (Tory), Pat McFadden (Labour) and Stella Creasy (Labour).

Who might we add to this list? In Parliament, other Blairite Labour MPs and Europhile Tories, like Chris Leslie and Ken Clarke, and peers Like Lord Mandelson and Lord Heseltine. Perhaps the Scottish Tory Party leader Ruth Davidson?

Outside of Parliament, Tony Blair ex Labour Prime Minister, ex Labour Foreign Secretary, David Miliband and Nick Clegg, former leader of the Lib Dems. And what about the former Tory Chancellor, George Osborne? Chapman was previously an aide to Osborne when he was Chancellor, who now edits the Evening Standard. He has used this position to attack the Tory government, especially over Brexit.

Chapman has even suggested a name for the new party, ‘The Democrats’. The New Statesman revealed back in June this year, that Osborne had approached the then Lib Dem leader, Tim Farron and some Labour MPs, after the Brexit vote, with this idea, and with the same suggested name. Might Chapman be the front man for Osborne here?

But will this new party ever actually happen? I think the chances are against it. The fate of the break away party from Labour in the 1980s, the Social Democrat Party (SDP), is still fresh in the minds of many MPs, particularly Labour ones. After a brief spike in the opinion polls (polling at around 50%), the party dwindled and merged with the then Liberal Party to form the Lib Dems.

Some point to the victory of Emmanuel Macron in the French presidential election this year, on an unambiguously centre ground ticket. But Macron only got 23% of the vote in the first round of the election, and only won so easily in the second round because his only opponent was the far right Marine Le Penn. His new party did though win the most seats in Parliament.  

It is highly likely, given the First Past The Post electoral system in the UK, which makes it very difficult for new parties to break the old Tory/Labour duopoly, that this new party would suffer the same end as the SDP.

It is debatable whether being anti-Brexit is enough in itself to attract large numbers of voters, as the Lib Dems found at the recent general election, where they only made modest gains, despite being the main pro-EU party (in England anyway). Over 16 million people voted to stay in the EU, but the Lib Dems only got less than two and a half million votes. Many Remain voters backed Labour, but Labour fudged the issue of Brexit somewhat, but that can’t last forever.

One thing the new party might do though, like the SDP did, is split the anti-Tory vote, and make it impossible for Labour to win. When Blair came up with his New Labour Party idea in the 1990s, it was accepted in the party mainly because, hindered by the SDP, Labour had lost four general elections in a row. The Blairite’s might see this as the only way they will pull the Labour Party to the political right, or ‘centre ground’ as they see it.

Wednesday, 9 August 2017

Stop Social Cleansing in London - Stop Haringey Development Vehicle

Protesters against HDV outside Haringey Civic Centre earlier this year

Written by Gordon Peters

I’m an active older resident of Haringey in London who spends a lot of time with individuals and groups supporting vulnerable older people.  I was a Parliamentary candidate in Hornsey & Wood Green for the Green Party in 2015 and I’m very concerned about the housing crisis and lack of decent and affordable homes in the borough.

I’m taking legal action – now including a Judicial Review – in order to stop Haringey Council’s leadership from demolishing several housing estates and selling off its public assets.  At an eventual value of £2bn, it would be the biggest ever sell-off of public assets in local authority history. 

It will affect many of the present Council estate residents who would lose their current homes as well as those who are currently homeless.  The council have refused to give a written guarantee of a right to return on council tenancies, and only a small percentage of the new accommodation will be on social rents. Whilst some tenants might be rehoused locally, most will lose their current residential rights as tenants.  The replacement homes will have a lack of genuinely affordable housing and there is no guarantee at all of social housing.  

“Regeneration” is about bringing wealthier people into Haringey and many poorer people having to move out – as has happened in Southwark with Lendlease, Haringey’s chosen partner.  In addition, there is a very high risk to all of Haringey residents by putting so much of the public purse in the hands of a new limited company with no guaranteed income and no risk assessment shared.

Many of Haringey’s Labour councillors also share our concerns but the leadership have refused to accept their own Overview and Scrutiny Committee’s reports calling for a halt to the HDV.  We have also called in the District Auditor who is conducting a public interest investigation.  

There has been a serious lack of consultation, of democratic process, of transparency and accountability, as well as duties of equal treatment which must now be addressed in a court of law.   A 'Funday' survey asking if tenants want 'improved housing' would be expected to return an almost 100% 'yes' vote!  But there has been no genuine consultation on the HDV and only a limited amount on the demolition of Northumberland Park.

We have issued a ‘Pre-Action’ letter to the Leader of Haringey Council and in subsequent correspondence she has dismissed our concerns.  Over £8,000 has been raised already for these legal costs so far but we now have to go to the High Court where our barristers will make the case for stopping the HDV and reconsidering.  We therefore need £4000 soon and we may well need more after that.

If we win – and our lawyers Leigh Day feel we have a very strong case - , a judge can stop this vehicle in its tracks and make Haringey reconsider its options – including putting its case before the electorate in the Council elections of 2018.  The wide coalition opposing the HDV includes members and councillors of the Labour Party and the Lib-Dems as well as the Green Party.  It also includes many non-affiliated individuals and groups including the Federation of Haringey Residents’ Associations and Unite Community Branch.

Please donate to the legal challenge fees at Crowd Justice

For further information go to StopHDV.com

Gordon Peters is a retired Social Services Director and currently chair of Haringey Older Peoples Reference Group. He is a member of Haringey Green Party and a Green Left supporter.

Tuesday, 8 August 2017

Why do we Owe the EU Money after Brexit?

The Sunday Telegraph reported at the weekend that the UK government has accepted that it will have to pay a ‘divorce settlement’ to the European Union (EU) after leaving the organisation. The figure quoted is £36 billion, although the government has said this is just speculation.

The Evening Standard revealed over a month ago that Whitehall ‘sources’ said it was widely accepted among civil servants that a fee of £30 billion to £40 billion would have to be paid the EU. The Standard also reported:

‘A UK Government official said the size of any payment was a matter for negotiations, adding: “We have already said we will meet our obligations in line with international law. We have also said the payment of vast sums to the EU will end.”’

This is a considerable change of line from the government, with Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson, only weeks ago saying the EU can ‘go whistle’ for any payment. The Prime Minister, Theresa May, was also reported to have told Jean Claude Juncker, President of the EU Commission, ‘we don’t owe you a penny’ at a dinner in Downing Street, although this was before the general election.

The EU have said that negotiations on any future trade deal between the EU and UK will not begin until the exit payment is agreed. So, the EU has us over a barrel, so to speak, but what exactly are our obligations to the EU?

In a recent report, the EU Commission said that “orderly withdrawal…requires settling the financial obligations” and that “the methodology for the financial settlement…has to be established in the first phase of the negotiations”.

The Commission has though published its opening position on its methodology which states:

‘Through its approval of the successive Multi-annual Financial Frameworks (MFFs) and the Own Resource Decision (ORD1), the United Kingdom committed to fund a share of the Union obligations defined by the ORD rules in all its dimensions. In particular, through the adoption of the basic acts (legal base), each programme has been allocated a reference amount to be spent according to a financial programming over the period 2014-2020.’

Clear as mud then.

We do have some idea of the likely items that will constitute the UK’s obligations to the EU after Brexit. The Institute for Government says there are four main components:

Outstanding budget commitments

EU budget payments are ‘back loaded’ and so some commitments are not fully funded as yet. The budget cycle runs until 2019-20, the year the UK is scheduled to leave the EU, but the EU may want to carry forward payments into 2020-21, which the UK is reluctant to do. However, if a transitional exit deal is agreed then this would run on for the period of this deal, at least.

EU officials’ pensions

Obviously, this is an item that has future liabilities, and the UK would have to at least fund its own citizen’s EU pensions after Brexit, but the EU may well want the UK to contribute to whole fund, perhaps as a one-off payment, for other associated costs to the scheme.

Contingent liabilities

The EU acquired these whilst the UK was a member, so the EU will expect payments to cover all liabilities. For example, when the 2015 EU accounts were drawn up, outstanding loans to Hungary, Ireland, Portugal and Ukraine collectively amounted to €49.5 billion. Some of this money might be reimbursed though, if the loans are repaid.

Other costs of withdrawal

This would cover the relocation of the two London-based EU agencies after Brexit; the European Banking Authority and the European Medicines Agency. Other costs include the decommissioning of the Joint Research Centre nuclear sites and funding British teachers seconded to European schools until 2021.

There will be calls from the hard Brexit camp to simply walk away from the negotiations, and stuff any future trade deal. If a political solution cannot be agreed, it could become a legal case in the International Court of Justice or the Permanent Court of Arbitration, both located in the Hague. It is hard to predict the ruling, but if it went against the UK, we would have to stump up the money, or face possible economic sanctions.

It appears that the UK will have to pay some kind of settlement, but it could be staged over a number of years and the figure of £36 billion is probably pretty close to what we will end up paying. Although, I think public opinion may be shifting against leaving the EU, and so we may not leave at all. 

Sunday, 6 August 2017

Marx and the Earth: An Anti-Critique - Book Review

Written by Chris Williams and first published at International Socialist Review

A long-standing critique of the writings of Marx and Engels has been their supposed lack of concern for or even analysis of the environmental damage caused by capitalism. Worse, even as they envisaged and fought for a world of human freedom, their conception of socialism showed a comprehensive disregard for how humans interact, or should interact, with nature.

Marx has been viewed as Promethean: as soon as the proletariat had taken over the factories and dispensed with the bosses, its job would be simply to build more factories, in ever-expanding spheres of production. Given that the regimes claiming the mantle of Marx in the twentieth century took exactly that pathway, and that many self-described Marxists seeking to defend Stalinist states were disdainful of an environmental ethic or responsibility, it’s not hard to understand why this charge gained such credence.

However, that position has become wholly untenable first and foremost thanks to two decades of scholarship by John Bellamy Foster and Paul Burkett. Both have forcefully demonstrated that Marx and Engels were profoundly ecological thinkers who embedded our relationship to nature deep within their critique of capitalism. As shown by Foster and Burkett, Marx and Engels believed that to be truly free, humanity not only needed to overcome the alienation of labor but simultaneously our alienation from nature, both bestowed on us by capitalism.

In one sense, Foster and Burkett’s unearthing of the extensive concern with natural limits and ecological issues within the writings of Marx and Engels should hardly be surprising. As assiduous materialists, how could they possibly have neglected the material surroundings that our species exist within and that human labor power works upon to live, produce, and reproduce? Marx and Engels go far beyond a mere utilitarian conception of nature and ascribe an appreciation of nature as a primary axis of human fulfillment and, furthermore, it is the duty of a socialist society to look after the air, water, and soil for the benefit of future generations of humans and other species. Marx’s tremendously important concept of the “metabolic rift” furnishes us with the analytical tools to understand why capitalism is inherently anti-ecological—and thereby anti-human—and furthermore, how a socialist society must operate to repair those rifts and overcome human alienation from nature.

Building on their previous work, Foster and Burkett have published Marx and the Earth as an anti-critique in the spirit of Frederick Engels and Rosa Luxemberg. Moving on from a thorough demonstration of the ecological sensibilities of Marx and Engels (and many other early Marxists) established in their previous writings, Foster and Burkett seek to extend and deepen their analysis by addressing six more recent ecological critiques arising from a range of leftwing environmental theorists and writers. They make the case that ecosocialist thought has gone through its own period of evolution.

A serious engagement with environmental questions by Marxists first began to reemerge in response to the movements of the 1960s and 70s, what Foster and Burkett term the “first stage ecosocialism”: it was influenced by Marx but also highly critical of Marxism; in many cases these theorists wanted to distance themselves from Marx’s writings. Later developments in ecosocialist thought, the “second stage ecosocialism” (or ecological Marxism), of which Foster, Burkett, and a range of other thinkers took part, began in the 1990s, and sought to flesh out a more comprehensive Marxist analysis of nature. In many ways in contradiction to first-stage ecosocialism, these Marxists brought about a synthesis of red and green ideas. Beginning with a reexamination of the writings of Marx himself, they effectively combatted the idea, developed more forcefully in the 1980s, that Marxism and environmentalism where incompatible and in opposition to one another.

Since demonstrating how deeply Marx and Engels wove ecology into their conception and application of historical materialism, more dialectical critiques have arisen of classical historical materialism around specific questions related to Marx and Engels’s supposed lack of consideration of thermodynamics, failure to differentiate between sources of energy (fossil fuels vs. renewables), dismissal of the analysis of Sergei Podolinsky who attempted to formulate a labor theory of value connected to energetics, and their supposedly anthropocentric and utilitarian perspective on nature.

It is this further deepening of historical materialist analysis and methodology with regard to environmental questions and against these more concentrated ecological critiques of Marx from a range of leftwing writers that Foster and Burkett engage in their anti-critique. As the authors note of the book’s purpose, “The systematic nature of this anti-critique will serve, we hope, to bring out both the enormous dialectical power of Marx’s theory and its historically specific character.” Foster and Burkett are careful to note that the point is not to be “primarily scholastic,” but to develop “an ecological materialism organically connected to historical materialism itself. The goal is to bring this to bear on revolutionary praxis.”

A long introduction deals with two of the more recent criticisms of Marx’s ecological method made by Belgian Marxist Daniel Tanuro regarding renewable versus nonrenewable energy, and accusations of anthropocentrism made by Donald Worster and Joel Kovel. As Foster and Burkett definitively show, Marx and Engels did differentiate between forms of energy (coal versus wood and water) and evinced strong acknowledgement of the importance of other species and an appreciation of the non-human world that went far beyond how directly useful it could be to humans.

As the authors note, there is something of a false dichotomy between an anthropocentric versus ecocentric outlook: “Human consciousness, human capacities, and human needs are irrevocably human-based, and in that sense inescapably anthropocentric. But there is a great deal of difference between an anthropocentrism that promotes clear-cuts for purposes of unconstrained economic expansion, and one that attempts to sustain old-growth-forest ecosystems for the sake of the species within.” Human beings clearly have the capacity for both but it is equally clear from Marx’s writings that he considered the latter to be what human nature must strive for.

The following five chapters examine to what extent Marx and Engels neglected or even rejected the first and second laws of thermodynamics (the law of conservation of energy and the law of entropy), whether they were too dismissive of Podolinsky’s work on the law of value, and whether they saw the economy as a closed, linear system, in contradistinction to writers in the field of ecological economics such as Herman Daly, Juan Martinez-Alier, Daniel Bensaïd, and others.

Through an extremely detailed and thorough analysis of Marx and Engels’s writings and those of their critics, Foster and Burkett vindicate the pair’s deep engagement with technologies and scientific concepts that were only beginning to fully emerge toward the end of Marx’s life. Marx and Engels were insightful and appreciative commentators on forms of energy and fully engaged with the complexities and controversies surrounding the new field of thermodynamics. They integrated energetic and ecological considerations into the methodology of historical materialism without falling into the trap of energy reductionism.

The picture that emerges from this book illustrates just how widely read the founders of historical materialism were with respect to the cutting-edge scientific discoveries of their time and how amazingly contemporary in their ecological thinking, particularly due to Marx’s concept of the metabolic rift, which prefigures modern systems ecology. Their book lays the groundwork for a “third stage” development of ecosocialism that builds on Marx’s methodological approach to open-systems thermodynamics and the intrinsic and aesthetic value of nature from a human perspective.

Marx and the Earth thus offers a fascinating portrait of Marx and Engel’s thinking on ecological Marxism, successfully refutes the criticism made by recent ecosocialist detractors, and represents a significant development in ecosocialist thought in its own right.

As such it should be read by everyone interested in gaining a better understanding of the historical materialist approach to nature that Foster and Burkett so artfully and comprehensively show began with Marx.

Saturday, 5 August 2017

What is Ecofeminism?

Corinne Morel Darleux, Gitte Pedersen and Inger Johansen at the Summeuniversity of the Party of the European Left and transform! 2017

Written by Gitte Pedersen and first published at Transform Europe

Ecofeminism is a combination of ecology and feminism. Environmental and ecological movements and even ecosocialism tend to overlook the fact that there is a connection between the capitalist patriarchate, the male dominance and the suppression of women in society and the ecological crisis.  On the other hand, women's movement and feminism have a tendency to overlook environmental and ecological problems. Therefore, a combination of ecology and feminism is necessary - ecofeminism. Ecofeminism is both an anti-globalization movement as an ideological critique that draws on women's historical experiences with socially reproductive work. In addition, ecofeminism is also an academic discipline with threads to feministic or care economy. The actual term ecofeminism goes back to the French feminist Françoise d'Eaubonne (1920-2005), who introduced it in 1974.

A showdown with growth ideology

One of the pillars of capitalism is the idea of ​​eternal growth. More growth is today's mantra, to produce more and create new markets all the time - a rush without end. And to great harm to the environment and climate. The neoliberalist market economy stand as the only possible community development. But is an economy which only focus on growth and the greatest possible profit desireable? An economy which destroys social relationships between people and exploits and damage nature? This is what Maria Mies and Vandana Shiva call the capitalist patriarchal world system - "a system that builds and maintains itself through the colonialization of women,"foreign" people and their lands, and of nature which it is gradually destroying."

The mechanical view on nature - nature dies

We perceive nature as an inexhaustible resource that we can use for our own sake. This way of thinking comes from philosophers like Francis Bacon (1561-1626) and Rene Descartes (1596-1650). This period is called the scientific revolution because there was a shift in our perception of nature from an organic perception, where nature was perceived as an organism,  as 'Mother Earth' to a view based on mathematics and sciences. Bacon said: Nature's language is mathematics, and for him it was a question of being able to describe nature, that is, to describe the laws of nature, because by describing them one could understand nature and thereby master it. Bacon is the author of the words 'knowledge is power' and with these he believed that the scientific insight into the natural laws is a prerequisite for man to interfere with nature and change it to serve human purpose.

Descartes followed this line. Descartes was dualist and perceived the world as distinctly divided into two parts:  a res cogitans (a thinking thing) and res extensa (an extended thing). Only the thinking thing, which means man who is equipped with reason is worthwhile.

Critique of the mechanical view upon nature view and science

Although the mechanical view upon nature quickly gained weight, it fits well with the emerging capitalism and with the beginning of extraction of minerals, but there was also critique of the mechanical view at the time. One of Descartes’ contemporaries, something as unusual as a female philosopher, Anne Conway (1632-1679) made a sharp critique of Descartes' mechanical view. She argued for a vitalistic view upon nature, where everything has a form of life. A far more holistic and respectful view upon nature. Today she is forgotten, and Descartes is still one of the 'big' philosophers. One can ask why Descartes' view upon  nature has survived and not hers? And one can think of what the world would have looked like today if the vitalistic view upon  nature had prevailed over the mechanical.

Value Hierarchies

The socialist ecofeminism attempts to heal the breaches of sexism, class repression and exploitation of nature. The Socialist Ecofeminists see the suppression and exploitation of gender, class, race and non-human species as expression of some ideological dualisms, in which the first has value and privileges in relation to the other:

Human - nature

Soul - body

Reason - Emotions

Culture - Nature

The Self - The Other

White - black

Production - reproduction

The global north - the global south

Man - Woman

This list is very long and it unconsciously structures our way of perceiving the world and it is maintained by the hegemonic practice of religion, philosophy, law, science and economic, according to Ariel Salleh. They serve to maintain the exploitation of women and nature by the capitalist patriarchal world system.

Care- and feministic economy

As evidenced by the dualisms, there is a contrast between man and nature. Man i.e the male stands outside and over nature. The woman, on the other hand, is identified with nature. There are many parallels between women and nature, and it is the same mechanisms that suppress and exploit both. Women's free reproductive work is distributed in the same way as nature is used to create added value for the capitalist patriarchate. Therefore, socialist ecofeminists want another priority of the reproductive work - without reproduction no production! In the globalized neoliberalist market economy, women's reproductive work does not count. According to German sociologist Christa Wichtericht, the capitalist market can only function because it makes use of unprofitable reproductive work. The hegemonic neoliberal economy intensifies the use of human, social and natural resources in spite of increased efficiency. This economy is unsustainable because it ignores the social and ecological limits of growth. We must emphasize that social reproduction and care work also create value.

Socialist ecofeminism

Socialist ecofeminism is in constant dialogue with ecosocialism which it tries to influence by emphasizing the reproduction instead of production as the key concept of a socially just and sustainable world. It assumes that the non-human nature is the material basis of life, and that food, clothing, shelter and energy are essential for sustaining life. Nature and human nature have been socially and historically constructed and changed through human practice. Nature is not a passive object to be dominated and mastered, but an active subject which humans must develop a sustainable relationship with. Socialist ecofeminism is critical of the capitalist patriarchate and focuses on the dialectics between production and reproduction and between production and ecology. It provides a good starting point for analyzing social and ecological changes and proposing social actions that can lead to a more just and sustainable world.

Everything else is just extended things without meaning and reason - the non-human nature, animals and the human body-which is distinct from the soul. According to Descartes everything in nature happens according to the principle of causation, everything has a cause ande and effect. As a result, nature is just matter in motion and is reduced to a mere mechanical machine.

According to Carolyn Merchant this new mechanical philosophy reunited the cosmos, society and the self into a new metaphor - the machine. Unlike the organic view upon nature, where nature is perceived as a nourishing mother, the mechanical view upon nature is deprived of all kinds of meanings and secrets, nature is reduced to just dead matter in motion. The human being is above and beyond nature and has the right to master and exploit it. However, the notion of human beings must not be understood as men and women; women are characterized by feelings and not reason, and therefore, her status as a reasonable person can be questioned. Women have always been excluded from philosophy, as it is largely permeated by reason.

The western philosophy of history is created by white, affluent middle aged men. Women and nature have always been something to be mastered and controlled. Descartes' mechanical view upon nature has had an immense influence on philosophy as well as science, and it is still the view upon nature that prevails today. A view upon nature where all respect for nature and its processes have disappeared. Although many of us are completely alienated in relation to nature, we must think of nature in other ways and once again respect it, it is after all our livelihoods.

Thursday, 3 August 2017

What is Really Going On in Venezuela?

Written by Ricardo Vaz and first published at Investig’action under the title 'Venezuela’s Elections: Resurgent Chavismo and Unrecognized Democracy'

A tale of two elections

On July 16th the Venezuelan opposition held a “consultation” in which it called on its supporters to symbolically reject the Constituent Assembly, appeal for military coup and support a so-called “national unity” government. Here is how Associated Press reported on the turnout:
“The opposition said 7.6 million Venezuelans participated in Sunday’s symbolic referendum, which the government labelled an internal party poll with no relevance for the country.”
There is no mention of the fact that people were free to vote more than once, that no electoral roll was used and that no audit was possible because everything was burned at the end of the day. Apart from this, in a recent article we explored other reasons why this total was very doubtful, based on simple estimations given the number of voting booths available. A phone conversation between opposition leaders in Aragua state also revealed how the numbers were being cooked.

In contrast, Sunday’s elections had the full weight of the electoral authorities behind them, over 12.000 voting centres and 24.000 voting booths, and the approval of international monitors. The main obstacle was the opposition’s violence, and so additional voting centres, such as the Caracas Poliedro pavilion, were set up for people who were not able to vote in their own neighbourhoods (1). Pictures showed voting queues forming since early morning and the voting deadline was extended so everyone could vote.

It is also worth reminding how the Venezuelan voting system is as close to foolproof as it gets. Voters access voting machines using their fingerprints, exercise their vote electronically, and then a paper ballot is printed. The voter checks that it matches the vote he/she just made and places this paper ballot in a box. Once the voting is done, a random audit of voting centres is made to ensure that the paper ballot tally matches the electronic tally to a margin of 0.1%. In particular, a big discrepancy between the voting totals, paper and electronic, would stand out immediately. And yet, this is how Associated Press reported Sunday’s turnout:
“National Electoral Council President Tibisay Lucena announced just before midnight that turnout was 41.53 percent, or 8,089,320 people. Members of the opposition said they believed between 2 million and 3 million people voted and one well-respected independent analysis put the number at 3.6 million.”
Based on what, exactly? If they have evidence they should present it. Some pictures of empty voting centres in middle-class neighbourhoods, which for all we know could have been taken the day before, do not prove anything. Surely, among the thousands of electoral commission workers, one of them would report that there were 3 times more electronic votes than paper ballots in his centre. When Donald Trump claimed that he lost the popular vote because 3 million illegal immigrants voted for Hillary Clinton the media checked and disproved the wild claim. But apparently these standards, or any standards for that matter, do not apply to the Venezuelan opposition.

What’s in a number?

The ineffable Guardian (2), which went into propaganda overdrive in recent days, simply let the US State Department set the tone to describe Sunday’s events in Venezuela. Perhaps still in denial, the Guardian had yet to report the total number of votes on Monday morning. A second piece that revealed the 8M votes surrounded by all the supposed controversy also shed some light on the disputed predictions and the “well respected independent analysis”:
“An exit poll based on surveys from 110 voting centers [note: out of a total of 12.000] by New York investment bank Torino Capital and a Venezuela public opinion company estimated that 3.6 million people voted…” (3)
It would be interesting to know the sample size, the margin of error, which voting centres were used and which baseline is being compared against. Exit polls work by comparing against exit polls from a previous election, or a model based on previous elections. Voters are interviewed during a certain period of time, and numbers are compared to similar ones in a previous election during the same time to predict turnout (and also how the vote might swing, which is not relevant in this case). Since exit polling has been forbidden in the past in Venezuela, it really makes us wonder how these predictions are made.

We also need to point out that in this case not all voting centres are created equal. Given that the opposition flat-out refused to participate, turnout will have been much more suppressed in the opposition strongholds, and even more so in the vicinity of violent opposition barricades. An oversampling of these would inevitably skewer the prediction, which is why the data needs to be scrutinised and compared to the official results if it is to be taken seriously. (2) The opposition’s long track record of crying fraud and presenting fabricated evidence (or none at all) also makes these claims very hard to believe.

In any case, we expect the media to uncritically parrot the opposition “prediction” with the same bias that they uncritically parrot the 7.6M total for the opposition’s consultation. (4)

“The world is ending tomorrow. If not, then next week”

After winning the legislative elections in December 2015, the Venezuelan opposition announced that it would get rid of the government in six months. Following protests in September 2016, again we were told that the end was near.

The same doomsday announcements were found in the recent wave of protests and violence. In response to the call for a Constituent Assembly, opposition leaders boldly announced that it would not take place! And finally, the opposition announced that their July 16th marked the “zero hour” of a new phase, in which they would nominate a “national unity” government. This was later downgraded to an “governability accord which some factions refused to sign. Their demand that the Constituent Assembly elections be cancelled was also a failure.

Last week’s events capture this phenomenon in a nutshell. After a two-day “civic strike”, which amounted to little more than closed shops in wealthy areas and bosses locking out their workers, they announced the “takeover of Caracas” for Friday. This then became a “takeover of Venezuela”, and finally another “trancazo”, in which opposition groups simply lock down their own areas. Then they wanted to march to voting centres on Saturday and physically impede the elections from taking place, but this too was to become another “trancazo”

There is very little credibility left to this opposition that behaves like a doomsday cult, predicting the end of the world on a given day and later re-scheduling. For their own sake, one hopes that they have a “no refund” policy, otherwise funders like the National Endowment for Democracy or USAID might want their money back.

Lessons in democracy and international recognition

The pressure and propaganda against Venezuela in recent weeks were centred on the idea that the simple fact of these elections taking place would mean the “end of democracy” and the definitive arrival of a “dictatorship”. Often absent from these pieces is the fact that everyone could vote and anyone could stand as a candidate.

But beyond this we encounter the obvious question of why Venezuela should get lessons in democracy or electoral procedures from the likes of the United States. Intellectual Gore Vidal famously said that

The fact that Brazil (!) complained about the legitimacy of this process shows that an unexpected victim of last year’s parliamentary coup, which brought Temer to power, was irony.

When it became clear that the Venezuelan government was not going to back down and the vote was going ahead, the tone changed slightly. The US, the European Union and the usual suspects (Argentina, Mexico, Colombia,…) now announced they would not recognise the election results. Here it is worth recalling a few episodes of international recognition:
– the US initially refused to recognise the results of the 2013 Venezuelan presidential election, even after it was proven beyond any doubt that Maduro was the winner. 
– the US and Spain rushed to recognise Pedro Carmona’s government after the 2002 coup, even though the coup authorities dissolved all public powers 
– European countries and later the US recognised an unelected body, chosen by delegates appointed by the various sponsors of the Syrian war, and operating in Turkey, as “the legitimate representative of the Syrian people”. This body would later be consigned to irrelevance.
To these we could add a multitude of leaders who came to power following bloody or back-door coups, from Pinochet to Temer, and never had any trouble being “recognised”. The Israeli apartheid regime has no issues in terms of recognition despite its permanent history of crimes and ethnic cleansing. So there is hardly any correlation between legitimacy and recognition from the US and its followers.

What happens next?

The total of 8M votes is higher than Maduro’s 2013 total and 2.5M more than what chavismo got in the 2015 legislative elections. This is being presented as “evidence” against the official results. This stems from a very narrow-minded perspective that does not understand that chavismo is much bigger than Maduro, just like it was much bigger than Chávez himself. The Venezuelan opposition and the mainstream media also seem incapable of considering that people would actually vote in defiance of the violent actions of the opposition and the imperialist threats from the US. Instead we hear the same recycled allegations that public workers or people living in houses built by the government were forced to vote. (5)

The poor showing in 2015 was blamed by the grassroots on the top-down nature of the chavista electoral machine, which simply chose the candidates. For these elections the more radical sectors were able to put forward their own candidates, and as a result many people who would not necessarily vote for Maduro or for PSUV legislative candidates went out to vote for the specific proposals put forward by friends, co-workers and comrades.

In retrospect, Maduro’s gamble can only be seen as a huge success for chavismo and a huge failure for the opposition. With the opposition ramping up (violent) pressure on the streets and claiming they were an overwhelming majority, Maduro essentially “called their bluff” (phrase borrowed from Mike Prysner). By calling for a Constituent Assembly, Maduro hoped, and managed, to galvanise chavismo with a participatory process that could reach the bases, and at the same time expose the opposition by forcing them bring forward their ideas. Polls reveal that Venezuelans are aware that the opposition has no plan whatsoever, and the opposition duly backed itself into a corner by refusing to participate, reducing their political arguments to these lobotomised slogans “we do not want to be Cuba”.

While the turnout represents a victory for chavismo, the battle is far from over. The Constituent Assembly is not a magical cure for all problems, and whatever comes out of it will depend heavily on the balance of forces among its members. Now more than ever it is urgent to make clear push to the left, with more power to the communes, increased worker control over the economy, expropriations against the instigators of the economic war, etc. With the opposition hell-bent on their violent regime change plans and a permanent imperial onslaught, only radicalisation will ensure the survival of the Bolivarian Revolution.


(1) It is quite remarkable that, according to the media, the EU, the US, etc, the “pro-democracy” faction is the one that was physically trying to stop others from voting and destroying electoral material.

(2) In the run-up to the elections the Guardian also published an “explainer” which essentially a propaganda piece. We tried to expose some of the lies and distortions in this article.

(3) The Venezuelan company involved in the exit poll was Innovarium, which has no track record of having done electoral polls, or exit polls in particular.
Innovarium appears to be headed by Carlos Guzmán Cárdenas. A quick look at his social media accounts reveals a very strong anti-government bias. As a reference, Maria Corina Machado’s US-funded Súmate ran a phony exit poll for the 2004 recall referendum predicting an 18-point defeat for Chávez. Chávez ended up winning by a landslide, and former US-president Jimmy Carter slammed Súmate for having

“…deliberately distributed this erroneous exit poll data in order to build up, not only the expectation of victory, but also to influence the people still standing in line”
We have contacted both Torino Capital and Carlos Guzmán Cárdenas asking for more information about this exit poll, and will update the article if this information is provided.

(4) The media has also latched on to the revocation of the house arrest deals of opposition leaders Leopoldo López and Antonio Ledezma. What the media failed to mention is the repeated violations of the terms of their house arrest, with constant calls for anti-government actions and for a military coup.

(5) It is not too hard to understand that people living in houses built by Misión Vivienda would take part in a process that, among other things, aims to solidify social gains and missions. Especially when the opposition has already made it clear that their intentions are to privatise the housing mission.

Tuesday, 1 August 2017

The Great UK Energy Price Rip Off Continues

British Gas announced today that it will be increasing its electricity prices to customers by a whopping 12.5% overall, in September this year. The rise comes despite Centrica, who own British Gas, reporting underlying operating profits of £816m for the six months to 30 June. Admittedly, this is a fall of 4% on the previous six months, but as even Centrica concedes, this is due to unusually warm weather in the UK this year.

Centrica also said that wholesale energy costs had gone down and were not the reason for the price rise. Centrica chief executive Iain Conn told the BBC:

"We have seen our wholesale costs fall by about £36 on the typical bill since the beginning of 2014 and that is not the driver. It is transmission and distribution of electricity to the home and government policy costs that are driving our price increase."

Conn, was handed a pay rise of nearly 40% last year, taking his remuneration package to £4.15m according to the Guardian.

A government spokesperson countered the claims by Centrica by saying:

"Government policy costs make up a relatively small proportion of household energy bills and cannot explain these price rises."

For once, I believe the government and Centrica are just talking bullshit.

British Gas is the biggest of the ‘Big Six’ energy providers in the UK. The other five are EDF Energy, npower, E.ON UK, Scottish Power and SSE. And here we have the problem in a nut shell, these six companies supply gas and electricity to over 50 million homes in the UK, which equates to over 90% of domestic energy supply. 

It is likely that the other ‘Big Six’ will now follow suit with prices rises, because, well they are a cartel, and can pretty much do as they please.

Inflation is now running at 2.9% and with wages stagnant or even falling in many cases, this price rise is likely to exacerbate fuel poverty in the UK. At the end of 2016 there were more than 2.3 million people living in fuel poverty in the UK.

So what is to be done? Well, the government is muttering about reviving the idea of energy price caps, which they did promise in their election manifesto less than two months ago, but have now shelved. I doubt it will happen.

As usual at a time when this type of news breaks, people are blamed for being on the wrong tariffs, which may be true, but with hundreds of these tariffs on offer you need to be quite savvy to get this right. Maybe the government should abolish multi tariffed selling? But they won’t do that either. It goes against their worship of the concept of ‘choice.’

There are calls being made for introducing more providers into the market, which might to some extent help, although we would still be looking at a profit motive, and to break such a cartel as exists in UK energy supply is no easy thing to do, and certainly not quickly.

But there is another way, again it would take a little time but have huge benefits, beyond busting the UK energy cartel. Promoted by organisations like Greenpeace, Local Energy Networks, could be the solution to not only fair pricing but also climate change and democratising energy supply.

Centralised energy production is hugely wasteful, with something like two thirds of all the energy produced wasted in transmission, from power station to homes. The loss is through the cables, and the longer the cables the more energy is lost. Also, the amount of heat thrown away, in for example cooling towers, is equivalent to all the heating and hot water needs in the UK's buildings. Ironically ‘transmission costs’ were something British Gas blamed today for the price hike. 

By contrast, in a decentralised energy system, electricity is generated close to where it is needed, so that the heat, which would otherwise be wasted, can be used in the surrounding homes, offices and factories.

Decentralising our energy system allows that 'waste' heat to be used. This better alternative can slash energy wastage, radically cut CO2 and ensure we get maximum energy from our fuel, giving us improved energy security.

Decentralised energy is already delivering results in other countries. The entire city of Rotterdam, for example, runs on decentralised energy.

Local Energy Networks also have revolutionary ecosocialist potential. They can be owned by community cooperatives, rather than corporations. We could potentially push the big, inefficient and downright greedy corporations right out of our lives.

What is not to like?