Monday, April 24, 2017

The reactionary, class nature of left Academia today.

We reprint this article from Jacobin  and are in general agreement with it.   The author writes:
"So in academia today, we have a well-off class which has no reason to gravitate towards working class politics. They do have an interest, however, in retaining their class privileges. The notion that socialism is Western emerges from this quarter. It takes the form of a radicalism that claims to speak for the Global South, and declares that socialism is unsuited for the realities of that part of the world. Western ideas like socialism, they argue, do not address the cultural experiences of the non-West."

What also emerges from "this quarter" as the author puts it, is hostility to the white worker and the use of academic, petite bourgeois language that not only white workers but practically all workers can't relate to. Accusations of "class reductionism" are hurled at any white worker that dares raise the class issue, this is more often than not the modern term for calling a white worker a racist. This trend as the author explains is no threat to capitalism or its adherents, it safeguards the users' class privilege, while the struggle against capitalism which by its very nature requires an orientation to the working class, is a threat to their class privilege----the white worker is a much safer target. 

I think the author is correct when she explains how this situation arose: "A perspective like this gains resonance only at a time of defeat. Four decades of unremitting neoliberal onslaught on the poor and working people, on wages, on the kind of public funding of basic necessities like housing, health care, and education that makes a decent life possible, and the decimation of unions and working class power in general, has resulted in an eviscerated Left unsure of its own legacy."

As the working class moves in to struggle in a major way, changing the balance of class forces, not only academia, but organized labor and all sections of society will be transformed in the process.
Richard Mellor

Is Socialism Eurocentric?

Both capitalist exploitation and workers’ resistance look fundamentally similar all over the world. Within the West and outside of it, socialism speaks to those experiences.


A worker at a Bangladeshi garment factory. Asian Development Bank / Flickr 

The new issue of Jacobin, “Journey to the Dark Side,” is out now. Subscribe for the first time at a discount.
Last year, Jacobin published The ABCs of Socialism, designed to answer the most common and most important questions about the history and practice of socialist ideas.

Jacobin and Verso Books hosted a series of talks with authors from the book at the Verso offices in Brooklyn. One of those speakers was Nivedita Majumdar, who spoke on the question of whether socialism is Eurocentric. An edited transcript of her speech is below. You can also listen to a podcast of her talk here.

To coincide with our second printing of the book, Jacobin recently hosted a series of talks with ABCs contributors. You can buy a copy of the book for $5 here.

The best way to talk about socialism is to start with capitalism. Capitalism, as we all know, is a system that is fundamentally driven by the profit motive. That is at the heart of capitalism. All the ills of capitalism that we know of — low wages, poor work conditions, loss of workers’ autonomy, retaliation against organizers — all of this come from the profit drive. Capitalists want to make profit; everything follows from that fundamental drive.

Socialism emerges as a response to this fundamentally unjust nature of capitalism. If capitalism is rooted in the profit motive, socialism is rooted in the drive to fight for fairness and justice. Workers, against all odds, always fight back. Socialism is about that fight, and about the vision of a just order, free of oppression and domination, that animates that fight.

The question for us is, do these oppositional forces of capitalist exploitation and socialist resistance look different in different parts of the world?

There was a garment factory accident that happened in 2013 in Dhaka, Bangladesh, where 1,100 workers lost their lives when the walls collapsed on them. It was a very avoidable tragedy. Management knew that the building was crumbling, but they forced the workers to go work anyway. Even though the incident drew global attention, work conditions in the garment industry remain dismal. But workers in Dhaka have continued to organize for better wages and better conditions. The retaliation against them has been brutal. In December 2016, several thousand Bangladeshi workers participated in a wildcat strike. Consequently, over the last two months, dozens of organizers have been arrested on trumped-up criminal charges; more than 1,500 have lost their jobs, and on the factory floor, workers face routine verbal and physical retaliation and union busting.

There’s no doubt that that the Bangladeshi story resonates with workers in Mexico, in Indonesia, in Brazil, and elsewhere. Earlier this year, in India, for instance, the courts subjected thirteen people in a multinational auto factory to life sentence in prison and several others to smaller sentences. Their crime: organizing. There is the Marikana miners’ massacre in South Africa, in which thirty-four miners were shot and killed. These examples abound.

The question is, do these things in the Global South look any different than what we see over here?.
During the recent Senate hearings of Neil Gorsuch, Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, the case of the truck driver, Alphonse Maddin, received national attention. Maddin was driving a trailer truck in sub-zero temperatures when the brakes of his trailer failed. He called for a rescue truck, and after waiting for several hours without heat, he decided to unhitch the trailer and drive to safety. For that decision, Maddin lost his job.

Maddin, like the Bangladeshi garment workers, was forced to choose between his life and livelihood. And again, here in the US, like anywhere else in the world, when workers organize against such brutal work conditions and for better wages, they encounter retaliation.

In 2015, Walmart closed five of its offices and 2,200 workers lost their jobs, all under the pretext of plumbing repairs in the stores — but the closings were clearly union-busting measures. The retaliation may not be as naked, as brutal, over here, but that’s only because they can get away with it in that part of the world, and here they can’t.

The drive, however, is the same. There is no difference in what’s driving the capitalists — or what’s driving workers.

The charge that socialism is Western assumes that because of socialism’s place of origin, the West, it loses relevance in the non-Western world. But workers are subjected to the very same forces of exploitative work conditions regardless of where they are. They work for bosses who are solely driven by the profit motive and have little incentive to address their needs.

And workers everywhere also realize that their only option is to struggle if they want improved conditions. Thus, against all odds, they fight back.

Always Internationalist
Since its inception, socialism has been fundamentally internationalist in both its conceptualization and reach.

This is the idea of socialism that animated Frantz Fanon in his battle against French colonialism, the communist Chris Hani in the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa, Amílcar Cabral as he fought the Portuguese, Walter Rodney in his activism for the disenfranchised across the Caribbean, Che Guevara in Cuba and Latin America. For them and countless others, socialism was a theory and philosophy no less relevant to their reality than it was to the reality of British or American trade unionists.

Think of MN Roy. He was born in the late-nineteenth century in a village in Bengal. He was radicalized in the Indian independence movement, and in his twenties, Roy left India to raise funds for an armed insurrection against the British. He traveled from Indonesia to China, to Japan, then the United States — all the time dodging authorities, making political connections, trying to raise arms and money, and traveling in disguise for the most part.

He could not stay for very long in the United States because he was being followed. He ended up in Mexico, where he got involved with organized workers and founded what is today the Communist Party of Mexico in 1919. Vladimir Lenin entrusted Roy to work on the colonial question, and Roy famously debated Lenin on the role of the national bourgeoisie in colonial nations.

In 1920, Roy was also one of the founding members, in Tashkent, of the Communist Party of India. In his later life, he went back to India and was jailed in horrific conditions, where he kept writing. Now imagine the absurdity of the question of whether socialism is Eurocentric when posed in the context of the life of a revolutionary like MN Roy from the Global South, who founded not one, but two Communist Parties.

So the question really is, why has this question of whether socialism is Western or Eurocentric gained currency at this time?
A Product of Defeat

A perspective like this gains resonance only at a time of defeat. Four decades of unremitting neoliberal onslaught on the poor and working people, on wages, on the kind of public funding of basic necessities like housing, health care, and education that makes a decent life possible, and the decimation of unions and working class power in general, has resulted in an eviscerated Left unsure of its own legacy.

So the question emerges from an academic left, a Left that has been devoid of the lifeblood of movements, and the understanding of power and solidarity that movements bring into the larger culture.

Without movements, there is not very much awareness of what animates the working class. If you are not a working-class person; if you’re a middle- or upper-middle-class person, you will not naturally gravitate towards the needs and interests of the working class unless there are movements. This is why movements in many ways changed the landscape of this country, especially that of universities,  in the 1960s and 1970s. But since then there’s been a long period of drought.

So in academia today, we have a well-off class which has no reason to gravitate towards working class politics. They do have an interest, however, in retaining their class privileges. The notion that socialism is Western emerges from this quarter. It takes the form of a radicalism that claims to speak for the Global South, and declares that socialism is unsuited for the realities of that part of the world. Western ideas like socialism, they argue, do not address the cultural experiences of the non-West.

Notice how such a position discredits socialism. It’s creating a rift within the Left, such as it is, but it is not a position that’s threatening to the power structures. And yet, it appears radical because it claims to speak for an authentic non-West. Pretty clever.

This position is also part of a larger trend in academia often turned towards issues of colonialism, race, gender, sexuality, and such. There’s nothing wrong with this at all. You cannot be a socialist if you’re not an anti-racist, a feminist — someone who’s against every form of discrimination and indignity.

The problem is somewhat different. It’s that analyses of these issues have been largely divorced from the logic of capital and class struggle.

A Toothless Radicalism
What we get today is the anti-racism of the privileged, an anti-racism that is both un-threatening to power and disengaged with the actual sufferings of the poor and of minorities.

The Left critique of Bernie Sanders’ presidential run reflected a lot of this position. Ta-Nehisi Coates, for example, critiqued Bernie for his championing of race-blind structural transformations like minimum wage or free college. Coates argued that those kind of universal programs end up primarily benefiting whites.

What such anti-racism ignores is the fact that the large majority of workers who would be lifted out of poverty by raising the minimum wage would be people of color. Or that the benefits of free college would be enormous and weighted overwhelmingly towards working-class blacks.

I teach at CUNY, a university which is 75 percent minority students. More than half of our students have an annual family income of less than $30,000. My students did not need any training in intersectional thought to understand that free college is in their interest.

Why, then, this opposition to universal programs aimed at transforming structural inequities — precisely the inequities that sustain racism? It’s an anti-racism that refuses to see capitalism as the primary driver of inequality — and an anti-racism that actually enjoys huge popularity in this era. As a result, it’s an anti-racism that does not speak to the needs and interests of working-class minorities. It’s the anti-racism of a privileged class.

If you believe that universal economic policies are not particularly beneficial to poor people of color within the country, then you would be similarly critical of socialist politics internationally. If socialist politics do not speak to the experiences of US racial minorities, the argument goes, it is also foreign to the cultural reality of non-Western countries.

It’s a radicalism that in both cases undermines certain fundamental needs and drives of exploited people in the name of culture.

Some of the same forces have been at work in the Global South, which has similarly witnessed a reign of unchecked neoliberal growth. There too, with the weakening of organized left resistance, socialist ideas of economic transformation and universal rights are increasingly under attack.

I was in the student left in India, and we were fighting, as students everywhere fight, for quality and accessible education for everyone. We were also very active in other, larger, social and political causes. I was lucky to be part of the Left in a country where it does enjoy, unlike in the United States, a much larger resonance both culturally and electorally.

Do I remember being charged with the idea that our fight for educational justice and workers’ rights, was Western? That we were somehow duped by Western thought in following that line? Yes, I do remember. And that charge came from the Right.
The cultural right was fine with capitalism, but socialism was Western. As was feminism, for that matter. Sound familiar?

Now, the de-legitimization of socialism as Western by a nationalist right in the Global South is of course understandable. What is curious is the resurgence of the same idea, that socialism is Eurocentric and unsuited to the lived experience of the non-West, in the Western left largely based in academia.

Think about what this position means.

It means that a Bangladeshi woman, in a garment factory, organizing despite the risk of getting fired and physical retaliation of different kinds — that a woman like this, who’s getting together with others, trying to organize, trying to form a union, has a vision of what it would be to work under conditions that are not as coercive, wages with which she can feed her family, might even have a decent life — that such a woman is duped.

It means that she is not in tune with authentic Bangladeshi culture, where people do not perceive oppressive work conditions as injustice, and if they do, they’re not supposed to fight against such conditions. That Bangladeshi people do not experience freedom from coercion as a fundamental need.

This worker has supposedly been duped into socialist thought; she’s functioning in a way that’s disconnected from her culture. That’s the charge we are talking about.
A Universal Fight
We should be clear: a radicalism that believes that socialism is a foreign idea in the non-West is one that denies the fundamental human response of fighting against oppression to workers in that part of the world. It is saying that non-Western people are incapable of envisioning a just and free society.
So when US radicals claim that socialism is Western, they are joining forces with the Right the world over.

To embrace the universality of socialism is not to deny cultural specificities. People everywhere live and flourish in their immediate and broader cultures and communities. But human beings cannot fully thrive in any culture as long as capitalism continues to generate deprivation and powerlessness.
Socialism is about the drive to fight against a dehumanized social order, and create the conditions for human flourishing. It is a universal drive.

Some writings on this issue from Facts For Working People

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Chicago Turns Out for Science and Earth Day

Greg Bartik, Chicago

It is inspiring to see hundreds of thousands of people out for the science marches on Earth Day and it was a beautiful morning and great weather on Michigan Avenue here in Chicago. The video above gives a good idea of the size of the march.

When I arrived, there were already swarms of people disembarking from extra EL cars and emerging in to the sunshine and the rally.  It was well organized with volunteers at every corner keeping people safe and directed.  The crowd was well over estimates of 10K from Facebook and 40k indicating they were “interested”.  People were interested enough to turn out.

It got a bit congested as people walked along slowly, tens of thousands of them to hear the speakers on Columbus passing by left wing activists tables, bullhorned speakers, hand bill/paper distributors and all sorts of people and groups sharing their views.

By 10 am the area was swamped, not the type of swamp Trump would have an easy time draining that’s for sure. The mass of people was too wide for the streets to contain them and they began to spill east on to Columbus by Buckingham Fountain backwards from the speakers. A Bell helicopter was filming, I wasn’t sure if it was the cops or the news media but after I saw some of the live feeds on social media I figured they probably came from that helicopter. I was a bit annoyed by the helicopter as it was low enough to drown out what a lot of the people were saying and so low I wondered what might happen if it malfunctioned and crashed. Would it kill hundreds with a fireball?  At least it provided good video for a wider audience. 

I couldn't find my friend in the same vicinity because the crowd was so huge; and couldn't hear because of distance and the chopper, so I withdrew to the Gage Tavern to eat and communicate with others on social media. Many friends were posting and asking questions and discussing the coverage. Social media has a lot of garbage on it but it is undoubtedly a useful organizing tool.

The huge crowd was very diverse, fresh new faces I think, and didn't stop even after the march was well along. It reminded me of the airport protests after the Muslim ban that seemed to spring up out nowhere when Trump signed his executive order banning Muslims for many countries from entering the US. Train after train kept unloading relentlessly for hours. 

It seemed to me that there were a lot of white collar workers and professionals there who appeared new to protests; folks with white coats and a whole range of adults and their children, of all ages. There were doctors, academics, hippies, kids, lefties all with the emphasis on science. The mood was very positive and cooperative. Street actors, artists, and bands intertwined.  The city used manned snowplows to block bridges and the police stayed in background largely passive. 

Watching the overview video it looked like a mile of people a whole wide street across slowly shuffling. No fights, no friction, no pushing. It was upbeat like the Women's March. I think once ordinary working class people come out, whether professionals, tradespeople, white or blue collar and they bring their families, the atmosphere is very different.

Think this was nationwide including DC and all major cities, maybe global. 

Israeli settler terrorists add their torture to Palestinian hunger strikers.

Richard Mellor
Afscme Local 444, retired

1000 Palestinian prisoners are on hunger strike to protest the inhumane conditions in in the Zionist regime's prisons. There are about 6500 Palestinians in Israeli jails.

Settlers and their supporters organized a barbecue outside the walls of the jail in the hopes that the hunger strikers will smell the meat cooking. "We want the smell of the cooking meat to waft into the jail...." these terrorists claim. These settlements are illegal and many of these settlers are foreign nationals from all over the world whose claim to the land is that god gave it to them.

What sort of god would support such savagery as this?

What person who claimed adherence to the Jewish faith would not condemn such inhumane treatment in the first place and such brutal and cruel acts by these settler/terrorists in their name?  "The idea was to make them hungry"  a spokesperson for the National Union Party tells the media. Politicians of the National Union Party, a right wing neo fascists party, have called for asylum seekers (mostly Africans) to be shot.

Many prominent US Jews support the Zionist regime financially but its biggest donor is the US taxpayer.

Israel is undoubtedly one of the world's leading terrorist regimes. It is an Apartheid state backed by the US. The Zionism love anti-Semitism, it feeds off it, welcomes it as a advertisement for immigration to Israel (Jews and Christian Zionists only please) It is a curse on the Jewish people and centuries of progressive and revolutionary Jewish history. This European settler state is a curse on the Jewish people. The first British mayor of Jerusalem referred to to the creation of an exclusively Jewish state in Palestine as British imperialism's "loyal little Ulster in the Middle East".

It boils down to Jews and Jewish workers in particular,  placing the future of Jewish religious tradition on a rogue state backed by US imperialism. A false hope.

See the movie Omar for a glimpse in to how the Zionist regime uses indefinite detention to build a web of informers in the Palestinian community

Friday, April 21, 2017

Britain: Theresa May Calls Snap Election

Add caption
As readers are aware, British Prime Minister, Theresa May has called a general election for June 8th.  This report is from a contributor in Britain.

Snap election called
by John Pickard

In calling a snap election, Theresa May is seeking a mandate to manage a hard Brexit. It is becoming clear that the Brexit negotiations are not going to be easy, that they are not going to be quick and that, in effect, the Tories are having to reconcile themselves with a ‘hard Brexit’ with all its political, economic and social consequences.

It is practically a ‘given’ that the Tories will do their best to negotiate away any EU legal safeguards that there are on rights at work and working conditions in general. That applies to regulations like the working time directive, health and safety regulations and other legal obligations on employers. Even where these are enshrined in British law, as most of them are (and as a result of the struggles of the labour movement in the past) the Tories may use the pretext of ‘harmonising’ laws to reduce or eliminate them. It is just as certain that the Tories will water down environmental and food safety standards to bring those more into line with the ‘voluntary’ policies of the big food multinationals. There will be no guarantees for the NHS against the predations of international drugs and private health companies.

What cannot be negotiated away, however, are the economic consequences of a hard Brexit and British exclusion from the single market. A big proportion of British exports (44 per cent) currently go to the EU and these will come under increasing pressure as tariffs are applied and they are priced out of the market. It is almost comical to see Liam Fox flying the Union Jack in the Philippines – a country that takes less than half of one percent of our exports – while his boss is in Europe opening divorce proceedings with the EU which takes nearly half of our exports. The only ‘positive’ economic gain from Brexit so far has been the decline of the pound – by sixteen per cent against the dollar and eleven per cent against the Euro. This will temporarily boost British exports as they will be cheaper in Europe, but in exchange it has made imports (particularly food) more expensive and added significantly to inflation. Oil, which is priced in dollars, has also increased in price by the equivalent of the devaluation. When the Pound Sterling is at parity with the Euro, this inflationary trend will become even more pronounced.

The pre-eminent position of London as a world financial centre will also be challenged by Paris, Brussels and Frankfurt. Already, big banks and finance houses are opening offices in Europe, to prepare the ground for moving at least a part of their operations out of Britain. The British economy has come to depend to a huge degree on the profits made from finance and services and these will not be immune from being left out in the cold after Brexit.

These dark clouds are looming on the horizon like the mother of all storms about to hit the British economy but they take no account of the squall in which we already find ourselves. The ‘upswing’ in the economy predicted for this year is almost entirely due to borrowing and consumption. There has been no miracle in manufacturing, building or even in the service/finance sector and no resurrection of productive investment. Leading economists have already expressed concern about the fact that consumer debt has reached the levels last seen before the 2008 crash. Unsecured consumer credit, which includes credit cards, car loans and second mortgages, grew by 10.8% in the year to last November to £192.2bn. Savings have stagnated. It is not rocket science, of course – this is a direct result of the squeeze in living standards as prices begin to edge up and wages are frozen or driven down.

If it is to be a hard Brexit and the Tories replace access to the single European market with a dash to make the UK a low-tax, low-wage haven for investment, it will inevitably be at the expense of working class living standards. What we have seen so far in terms of public spending cuts, benefit cuts, restrictions on union rights and wage freezes, etc, will be nothing compared to what the Tories will attempt to put in place as an ‘alternative’ to the EU single market. The net result will be a British economy and a political landscape more like Greece than Western Europe. In Greece, workers have suffered a catastrophic drop of over 40 per cent in living standards and the result has been a succession of general strikes and political upheavals. There is a road to travel before we get to the same crash in living standards as in Greece, but that is the logic of the strategy of the Tories’ hard Brexit.

It is beyond the scope of this article to deal in detail with Scottish and Northern Irish politics, but clearly Scotland and Ireland are on different but parallel, tracks to the rest of the UK. It is more than possible that the SNP will win a clean sweep of all the seats in Scotland. The failure to win its one remaining seat will be no great loss to the Labour Party, since the incumbent was one of the worst representatives of the Blairite wing of the Party. But what the election will mean for the Tories will be an amplification of the problems of Brexit and the border in Ireland and the question of Independence in Scotland. Even a bolstered majority in Westminster will mean a weakened hold on Northern Irish and Scottish politics.

All of these possibilities must have been in Theresa May’s mind when she decided to take the plunge and seek a stronger majority in Parliament. As it is with every major decision of the British ruling class at the present time, however, a snap election is big gamble. The Tories have long since lost their global and historic compass, their capacity to calculate long-term and even to take short steps back, all the better to take bigger strides forward in the longer term. They no longer have any long-term strategy, aims or goals. Every serious decision they make now is a gamble.

They gambled on the question of Scottish independence and only won a narrow victory – and a temporary one at that, because that issue is still very much alive. They gambled and lost on the question of the EU, although it is also clear that a number of the medium and even large capitalists have the delusion that the economy will benefit from leaving the EU. Now they are gambling again on this election. What is effectively a split in the ruling class over Brexit will at some point lead to a split in its political representatives, the Tory Party. May is hoping for a big majority so that she can use this to whip the two wings of her own party into line, but even if she were to succeed in the short term, she cannot erase the fundamentals of the growing rifts in the Conservative Party.

May is calculating that with Labour well adrift in the opinion polls – some put the Tories 17-21 per cent ahead – she will strengthen her majority in Parliament, not only to keep Labour quiet, to cow the trade unions and any other opposition, but to keep Tory ‘Remainers’ quiet. John Major referred to the Brexiteers of his day as “bastards” as they continually sniped at his leadership. Now the boot is on the other foot. One of the aims of her snap election is to allow May to crush her own snipers, except in this case, they are not the Brexiteers but the more sober and deep-rooted part of her own party who can see the potential damage to business by a hard Brexit. One thing is clear, this will be no ‘gentlemanly’ contest. The campaign will be crude and brutal, with the gutter press stopping at nothing to tarnish Labour and Corbyn especially. The Daily Mail headline “Crush the Saboteurs” give a small foretaste of what is to come.

But even if an increased Tory majority looks the most likely from today’s polls, it is not a foregone conclusion. One pollster, ICM’s Martin Boon, told The Guardian that he thought the result “is going to be a foregone conclusion.” But as they did in 2015, the pollsters may yet eat their words, because the fundamental feature of politics today is its volatility. Ted Grant used to always say that we live in a period of “sharp turns and sudden changes” but it was nothing then to what we have now. Even in the short period from April 18th to June 8th, many things can change dramatically. Last year, the polls that were indicating ‘Remain’ to win the EU referendum were firm for a long period of time, before they changed quite suddenly in early Spring. The Scottish referendum opinion polls changed even more dramatically and suddenly. It is almost possible to put a precise date on it – around August 10-12th – only weeks before the voting, when there was a sudden plunge in support for the ‘No’ campaign and a surge of support for ‘Yes’.

In the coming general election campaign, the Daily Mail, The Sun and the Express will continue to pour out their bile against Corbyn and the Labour Party. But let us not forget what happened in Corbyn’s second leadership election. It almost got the point where the smears became “expected” and some commentators even blushed at the how blatant they were. The more Corbyn was vilified, the more his support went up. In an election campaign, while the gutter press will stay in the gutter, the BBC and other media will be obliged to give more air time to Labour and its leaders. It is well established that many of the policies espoused by Corbyn – on opposition to austerity, on re-nationalising rail, etc – are popular among the electorate. It is highly likely, therefore, that the gap in the opinion polls will narrow between now and June. Whether that narrowing will be enough to stop a Tory victory is another matter. What we do know, however, is that there is a huge potential for change. The consciousness of policies, leaders and parties may change dramatically even in the short time between now and June 8th.

For active members of the Labour Party, campaigning and working hard for a Labour victory, the next seven weeks will be an opportunity for energetic discussion and debate about where the Party is going. Marxists would argue, of course, for Corbyn and the Labour leaders to put forward a clear set of policies in the interests of working class people. Even Ed Miliband, on the few occasions he accidentally mentioned class issues (“them and us” – a fairly tame comment) saw a temporary spike in his popularity. We would explain that the root and branch transformation of society is the only means of guaranteeing living standards and security.

Corbyn is not going to put forward a programme to take into public ownership the commanding heights of the economy and the socialist transformation of society, but we must argue for real and concrete measures to benefit working people. We must turn concrete Transitional Demands into arguments for solid benefits for workers. If Corbyn were to combine concrete policies to benefit workers with a barn-storming series of rallies and mass meetings – as in his two leadership campaigns – he could mobilise massive support in the Party and make a difference in the polls.

Corbyn’s ‘ten points’ are vague at best, but in discussions with Labour Party members and supporters over the next seven weeks we must put flesh on the bones. We would argue, for example, not just for a ‘secure’ NHS, whatever that means, but for the re-nationalisation of the whole service, for the cancellation of the ‘internal market’ and all privatization contracts, for the cancellation of PFI debts and for the nationalization of drugs and other suppliers to the NHS.

In our discussions, we would also raise many other political issues, like automatic reselection of MPs, the role of the right wing and so on. The election campaign is an opportunity for discussion, debate and analysis on a huge scale and we must use the opportunity given.

In discussing perspectives, we can only outline the broadest and most general developments. The myriad of individual and accidental factors that will come to bear and affect the outcomes may even create a political trajectory in a completely different direction to the one anticipated. But from where we stand now there is no reason we can see to change the general perspective that Marxists have outlined for the Tory Party and the Labour Party and labour movement. 

What would a Labour defeat mean?

What must concern Labour Party members is what would happen to the Labour Party if the pollsters are right and May wins a bigger majority. A big defeat for Labour will almost certainly lead to a change in leadership so the key question then would be, who would replace Corbyn? It is ironic that among those MPs most likely to lose their seats there are a large number of right-wingers and dedicated opponents of Corbyn. Indeed, some of them declined to stand in the election. Expecting that their lucrative parliamentary careers were coming to an end anyway, they have obviously calculated that they might as well look for employment elsewhere in the seven weeks of paid leave they have left.

Even with substantial losses, the Labour Party would remain in essence as it is now – a divided party with its ‘tops’ reflecting the pressures and interests of capitalism and with its ‘base’ reflecting the fears and aspirations of working people. We would still be left with most parliamentarians on the right of the party and with the rank and file overwhelmingly on the left. Under such circumstances, the right will not make the same mistake they made in 2015 when they were (at first) tolerant of Corbyn’s place on the ballot for a leadership contest. At that time, they really thought that their candidate would win and, moreover, with a victory against a left candidate, that they would win with a strong mandate.

They would not want to make the same mistake, but on the other hand, they could not very easily foist an openly right-wing candidate on the Party. Not only has the Party membership been shown in two election campaigns to be overwhelmingly on the left, but the membership will be even more energized and radicalized by the election campaign. £200,000 was raised, by over 9400 members, in the first 24 hours of the campaign. During and after the election, there will be no tolerance shown to those candidates and sitting Labour MPs who are openly disloyal and are openly sabotaging Labour’s campaign. There will be howls of anger and upheavals in CLPs up and down the country if the right try to foist a right-wing leadership on the Party. It is far more likely, therefore, that they will try to build support for a leader nominally on the ‘left’, but one who they feel they could pressurize and manipulate. Some party members and even some lefts might be dispirited or demoralized by a Tory victory. But that will soon give way to anger and deep resentment against the right wing who have consistently sabotaged the leadership of Corbyn. Moreover, that anger will grow, against a backdrop of austerity, cuts and gloomy economic forecasts.

Before the announcement of the election, there has been something of a lull in activity in Momentum groups and in the Labour Party. The hot lava of the leadership election campaigns, with its mass rallies and it enthusiasm and energy had cooled considerably. The big majority of the new Labour Party members who joined to support Corbyn failed to attend Labour Party meetings and there was even a decline in Labour membership. A large number of these members will be re-activated and re-energized and after the election, Momentum groups will also spring back to life.

Within the Labour Party branches and Momentum groups there are many, many genuine activists who are looking for a way forward. It is among these people that Marxist ideas will find an echo and among these that book clubs and discussion groups should be organized to find a way forward for the Labour Party and the working class. The longer-term perspective for the Labour Party is still that it will go through a split or a series of splits as the right wing is vomited out and the rank and file reflect the growing anger and disenchantment of the working class. At a local level, re-selection of councilors will provoke local disputes and upheavals. Even with the apparatus of the Labour Party behind them, the right wing cannot hold back the tide of anger that will engulf active workers, trade unionists and Labour Party members.

There have been many on the left in the Labour Party, especially some lefts around Momentum and the LRC, who have looked on Jeremy Corbyn as a ‘once in a lifetime’ chance of a left government. Many of these are in despair already about the possibilities of a Labour defeat, and a large one at that. They will be utterly demoralized by a Labour defeat and even more by Corbyn being replaced by a leader more to his right. Their reaction stems precisely from the fact that they do not have a perspective and cannot see the general line of direction of change within society. Having a perspective is like having an outline map and a compass in a strange land. We may not know every minor dip and turn in the road, but we know roughly where we are going. It is not the job of Marxists to despair or bemoan developments outside our control. We have to discuss, analyse, understand and plan for the future.

Whatever the precise outcome of this election, it does not alter the fundamental trajectory of British society towards revolutionary events.
Ted Grant used to always use the expression, “events, events, events”, in the context of explaining that it is experience that will determine and shape the consciousness of the working class. He was absolutely correct. We live in unprecedented times and we do only that which we can do: work, live and fight alongside workers, but all the while discussing and arguing with them. By that means we seek to build a movement with the necessary understanding, clarity and determination to offer a genuine way forward for the class.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Northern Ireland: The British State and Paramilitary Terrorism

1998 Omagh bombing. 29 dead, 220 injured. Source
We share these comments from a comrade in Northern Ireland who offers some history of the British state’s activities in the North and explains that the only way forward and a solution to sectarian and state violence begins with workers unity and against religious sectarianism.

From Harry Hutchinson
Labour Party Northern Ireland

As a socialist and trade unionist, I, like this blog have been opposed to Loyalist, Republican and state violence. I have always supported working class action to oppose these forms of violence.

In 1992, in the aftermath of the slaughter of 8 workmen known as the Teebane massacre by Republican paramilitaries, the Mid-Ulster Trade Union Council organised a workers’ strike in the province of Mid-Ulster against all sectarian paramilitary and state killings.

The leaders of the Northern Ireland Committee of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions condemned the strike on the grounds it was being led by a group of leftist union militants. Under pressure from public sector workers who supported the call for strike action, the trade union leaders capitulated and were forced to make the workers strike official.

Almost 3000 Catholic and Protestant workers in the Mid-Ulster area walked out of their work places to join the strike at a rallying point addressed by the leader of the Congress of Trade Unions and myself. The initiative from Mid-Ulster forced the Congress of Trade Unions to organise a similar strike in Belfast, resulting in 20,000 marching to the city centre.

The strikes isolated the paramilitary killing gangs, significantly reducing violence. The strikes put people in a position of influence to take an offensive to take up the political and economic issues of poverty, unemployment and also the National question, which were the root causes of the conflict in Northern Ireland.

Despite calls from the Mid-Ulster Trades Council urging the Trade Union leaders to seize the opportunity, they deliberately allowed the momentum to die off. The strikes demonstrated the way forward for working class people in NI. They resulted in further killings being met with workers strikes. Workers’ opposition played a significant part in bringing to an end the campaign of violence from Republicans, and Loyalists and the State.

State killings in Northern Ireland.

In a recent Panorama TV program about state involvement in killings in Northern Ireland former Police deputy constable and former Special branch officer Alan McQuillan claimed intelligence agents saved the lives of 'literally thousands'. This claim is not backed up from the investigations into many of the major atrocities during the troubles in NI.

Almost all inquiries to date, point to the fact that special branch/MI5, (special units of the state which work mostly underground) knew of many expected attacks; allowed these attacks to proceed; did not inform the local police of an imminent attack; colluded with paramilitaries in the attack; covered up evidence did not carry out a proper investigation after the attack. And all this in spite of knowing in many cases that the killers would continue killing. And all this in aid of protecting the State informers.

Of the worst atrocity during the troubles, Omagh, the special branch failed to pass details of the town centre bomb to local police. In the inquiry the RUC's handler was told ' the bomb will be allowed to go through to protect the informer'. Twenty nine were killed in the subsequent explosion.

Likewise in the Shankill bomb where many were killed, the IRA operative was a police informant, who tipped off Special branch. Yet in spite of this the bomb was allowed to go through, almost certainly to protect the informer.

Loughinisland, 6 killed. The inquiry ruled the 'RUC did not carry out a proper investigation in order to protect the informer. Possible collusion between RUC and paramilitaries.

Keady, 2 killed, Glenanne gang, made up of LVF/UDR/POLICE. (Protestant paramilitaries and the police)  Special branch knew the identities of bombers, but no one questioned.

Kingsmill-10 murdered. Survivor claimed an English accent among killers. Does special branch/MI5 know it was the voice of state assassin Robert Nairac?

Claudy-9 killed. Priest James Chesney allowed transfer to Donegal, despite him being known to Special Branch as director of Republican operations in South Derry.

The list goes on and on.

The state Force Research Unit and Loyalist Ulster Defence Association, the FRU/UDA, colluded in directly killing an estimated 15 civilians. Stakeknife, a state informant positioned at the head of the IRA killed an estimated 18 people.

What secrets do MI5 hold.? Interview notes from La Mon (12 killed) gone missing. Teebane-(8 killed), bearded suspect at scene, witnessed by survivor of attack. Witness never asked to view photos. Kingsmill:  palm print of assassin disclosed decades later.

Is there one atrocity during the troubles that special branch/MI5 were not acting to protect their informers at the expense of civilian lives and causalities? Almost all the inquiries to date prove this to be the case. The war was allowed to continue.  Why is this?  

The answer is simple. When the British invests so much time, money and other resources into both Republican and Loyalist paramilitary organisations, there can be only one winner and that is Britain or more accurately, British capitalism.

World Economy: Gaining momentum?

by Michael Roberts

At its semi-annual meeting that started this week, IMF economists announced an upgrade in their forecast for global economic growth.  This is the first upgrade that the IMF has made for six years.  It was only a slight increase in its previous forecast of growth made in January. The IMF now expects world real GDP to rise 3.5% this year (compared to 3.4% before) and 3.6% next year (unchanged).

As the IMF chief, Christine Lagarde put it, “The good news is that, after six years of disappointing growth, the world economy is gaining momentum as a cyclical recovery holds out the promise of more jobs, higher incomes, and greater prosperity going forward.”

But the IMF also warns that: “the world economy may be gaining momentum, but we cannot be sure that we are out of the woods.”

Nevertheless, there is a growing confidence among mainstream economists and official international agencies that the world capitalist economy is finally coming out of its slow and weak recovery since the Great Recession of 2008-9.  Below trend growth, weak investment and hardly any uptick in real incomes in most major economies since 2009 has been described variously as ‘secular stagnation’ or in my case as The Long Depression, similar to that of the 1930s and 1880s.

But maybe it is all over.  Only this week, the FT’s economic forecaster model was showing a sharp pickup.  The Brookings-FT Tiger index — tracking indices for the global economy — suggests growth has picked up sharply in both advanced economies and emerging markets in recent months.

The index, which covers all major advanced and developing economies, compares many separate indicators of real activity, financial markets and investor confidence with their historical averages for the global economy and for each country separately. The Tiger index suggests growth in emerging markets has picked up sharply since the oil price fall hit output in 2015. Having languished well below historic average levels this time last year, the index for emerging market growth has climbed to a level not seen since early 2013. China and India appear to have weathered recent rocky periods and indicators for growth are back above historic averages for both countries.

And the main economic indicators in the US and global economy have been picking up.  The purchasing managers’ indexes (PMI) are surveys of companies in various countries on their likely spending, sales and investments.  And the PMIs everywhere are well above 50, meaning that more than 50% of the respondents are seeing improvement.  The global PMI now stands at its highest level (54) for three years and, according to JP Morgan economists, it suggests that global manufacturing output is now rising at a 4% pace compared to just 1% this time last year.

Things are also looking better in the so-called emerging economies.  China has not crashed as many expected this time last year.  On the contrary, the Chinese economy has picked up and, as a result, there has been increased demand for raw materials.  The Chinese economy expanded 6.9% year-on-year in the first quarter of this year that ended in March, slightly up from 6.8% growth in the fourth quarter of last year.  Investment and industrial production also had a slight uptick.

Gavyn Davies, former chief economist at Goldman Sachs and now a columnist for the Financial Times in London, pointed out that “Global activity growth has rebounded sharply, and recession risks have plummeted. Growth in real output is now running at higher levels than anything seen since the temporary rebound from the financial crash in 2009/10. Importantly, recent data suggest that the growth rate of fixed investment is beginning to recover, which is a body blow to one of the central tenets of the secular stagnation school.

Behind this apparent recovery is a small recovery in corporate profits, which up to the middle of 2016 had been falling quarterly.  Since then, corporate profits have recovered somewhat around the world and, according to JP Morgan, business investment has reversed its decline of the last year.

All this sounds promising, even convincing.  But as the IMF warned, maybe these optimists are jumping the gun.  The US economy remains the key driver of global growth, not Europe or China and there seems little sign of any uptick from the sluggish growth of 2% a year that the US economy has achieved over the last six years on average.

The stock market has been booming (until recently) on the expectation that President Trump would boost profits and investment through corporate profits tax reductions and a programme of infrastructure spending by the federal and state governments.  But so far, nothing has happened.  And anyway, in a previous post I showed that the impact of such measures on overall investment and growth would be minimal.

Indeed, what has happened is a growing divergence between economic data based on surveys of opinions about the US economy (‘soft data’) and actual figures (‘hard data’).  According to Morgan Stanley economists, “the divergence is stunning.” In other words, everybody is very optimistic about the prospects for the US economy over the next 12 months but the current data don’t show it. This divergence is revealed by the huge differences in forecast US economic growth by the main economic forecasting agencies. The New York Federal Reserve reckons US real GDP will be up 2.6% in the first quarter that ended in March, while the widely respected Atlanta Fed forecast has dropped to just 0.5% for the same quarter. The difference is caused by New York including more ‘soft’ data and Atlanta excluding it.

Also investment analysts are now forecasting huge rises in corporate profits or earnings. First-quarter earnings are expected to rise 15% yoy for European companies, 9% for those in the US and 16% for Japanese firms – a complete turnaround from previous forecasts that predicted a slowdown in 2017 to follow the slowdown of 2016.  Yet the very earliest profits results for the top US companies released this week were very disappointing.

Indeed, when we consider the hard data, the situation is not so rosy. The final reading of US national output for the fourth quarter of 2016 confirmed that the US economy grew only 1.6% in 2016, the weakest annual rate of growth for five years. The pace of growth did pick up in the second half of 2016 from a near stop in early 2016, but was still growing no more than 2% a year in the fourth quarter.

The bright spot was a significant pick-up in US corporate profits. Between the beginning of 2015 and the second half of 2016, corporate profits had fallen by 9%. However, in the second half of last year profits rose back 6% and in the last quarter were up 9.3% yoy and even more after tax.

Business investment had followed profits down three quarters later in 2015, confirming again my thesis that profits lead investment in the capitalist economic cycle. Business investment fell yoy in every quarter last year and equipment investment, the most important part of business spending, is down 5% from mid-2015. But with profits now rising, investment may pick up in 2017 – we’ll see. 

But the latest measures of what will happen to investment and lending in the first quarter made by the St Louis Fed do not suggest any pick-up at all.

Consumer spending also does not seem to be responding to all this optimistic talk.  US personal consumption spending seems to have slowed to just a 1.1% annual rate in the first quarter of 2017 compared to 3.5% in the last quarter of 2016, the weakest rate of expansion in four years and the worst first quarter since the end of the Great Recession in 2009.

And, as I have argued in several previous posts, corporate profitability in the major advanced capitalist economies remains weak and there is a sizeable section of ‘zombie’ firms, those unable to make any more profit than necessary to cover the servicing of their debts, let alone invest in new productive technology to raise productivity and expand.

Confidence may be rising among mainstream economists and official agencies, based on improving surveys of opinion, but that must be balanced against the fact that the current recovery period since the end of the Great Recession is pretty long already.

The IMF report signals the risk of a new recession.  Its indicator suggests that it is still quite low for most economies at around 20-40% as the world economy moves through 2017.  But Lagarde warns that “there are clear downside risks: political uncertainty, including in Europe; the sword of protectionism hanging over global trade; and tighter global financial conditions that could trigger disruptive capital outflows from emerging and developing economies.”

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

US Health Care Debate. Terrorism at home.

One source of funds for universal health care
By Richard Mellor
Afscme Local 444, retired

I see that an Oklahoma woman has been sentenced to life for dressing up as a witch* in order to “terrorize” her 7-year old daughter. This is indeed a shockingly violent act.  It’s harmful on an individual basis for sure. But nowhere near the violence and terror that he politicians inflict on people through their policies.

I am not fan of Obama’s Affordable Care Act in the sense that it is no solution to the pathetic US health care system. But it does provide some desperate relief to some of the most needy. Some 21 million people would lose health care if it was eliminated according to most reports. Apart from increased suffering for millions of people, relieved only through death for others, this would put massive strain on the public health care system and increase the burden on the taxpayer anyway.

This present health care system and the back and forth about what will happen, is a shocking case of mass terrorism and violence. It is also a form of torture.

The Predator in Chief, Trump, tried to replace the ACA and failed. One of the major reasons was that good Christian Zionist group in Congress that loves the unborn,  didn’t approve of the clause denying insurers the right to refuse coverage to people that were sick (the capitalist media calls it “existing conditions”, as it sounds a bit more humane)

Then last week Trump threatened to stop funding the ACA’s “cost-sharing reduction subsidies” that help people in the plan pay for the deductibles for example. This is a form of terrorism; it is mass torture. We are not talking about people losing access to the ping pong table at the gym here. These are life and death issues. Trump has also called for eliminating Meals on Wheels.  The greatest enemy of the US working class is the US 1%, not Korea, not Iran, not Assad or Isis.

This uncertainty is having an affect, “A White House spokesperson said that the ACA, the law also known as Obamacare, ‘is already collapsing on its own....President Trump and his administration are committed to working with Congress to repeal and replace Obamacare with a law that creates a better health-care system for all Americans.’”, the Wall Street Journal reports. And the collapse will be a long, winding, tortuous road if Trump and the gang have their way.

It is the confusion the present administration is causing that is accelerating the ACA’s collapse, and it is designed to leave only one alternative on the table, the total  free market plan. The messages from Washington are “swerving day by day...we can’t change our pricing model day by day.”, says the CEO of Minuteman Health Care.

“People are terribly confused,” says another healthcare CEO whose company participates in the ACA plans in nine states. “There’s a lot of posturing....We need some certainty, and we can’t just have people making pronouncements.” Without more clarity about key issues, “you get to the point where you say, ‘if we don’t have the information, we can’t go forward.’” "Clarity"? The Russians  recently announced publicly that they need clarity from the Trump Administration with regards to its policy in Syria. Is it possible Putin and the US health insurers are in cahoots?

“When there’s uncertainty, you have to price for the uncertainty,” another CEO tells the WSJ

This is the plan to wreck what is really a very minor government intervention to ensure some citizens who insurance companies (profit driven entities) refuse to cover. In the process, the confused strategy form Washington will not only mean more tragic suffering, anxiety and in some cases death, it will force the health companies to increase prices or pull out altogether. “Humana Inc. has said it would pull out of the ACA exchanges next year, and two insurers have said they would exit Iowa’s health-law marketplace. "Anthem Inc. and Cigna Corp. have said they are considering pulling back.”, the Journal reports. Isn't this referred to as sabotage?

One survey found that some insurers are considering increases of 20% and many between 20% and 20% while the Congressional Budget Office estimates costs will rise between 15% and 20%.

As US imperialism drops a $16 million bomb on a cave in Afghanistan a war it’s already lost along with the war in Iraq, it wages a ruthless terrorist campaign against it’s own people. A market driven US health care system is one of the most devastating wars US capitalism wages domestically. Housing, education, wages, jobs and workplace protection are other assaults on American workers and the middle class as is the incarceration rate. All these crises of course, disproportionally affect people of color.

And the natural world, the beautiful land that nurtures us, it is being savaged by capitalism through market based agri-business and uncontrolled industrial production home building.

There are many forms of violence and torture is one. The uncertainty, the never ending fear of being homeless, without a roof over ones head, without access to medical care or the basic necessities of life, that is torture. Trumps threats are torture, they are meant to intimidate and keep people in a constant state of fear. That is the purpose of every US diplomat, politician or general in visiting the de-militarized zone that separates North and South Korea. It’s to intimidate and sow terror in to people, to remind North Koreans of the devastation wreaked on their land buildings and population by US bombers that faced no opposition form enemy fire. It’s also to keep out minds on foreign enemies on off domestic ones.

Given the criminal absence of the heads of organized labor on all the major issues of the day, the only vies of society we hear of are those from the think tanks of the capitalist class and their politicians and representatives in academia.

Jerry Brown, the one time lefty politician now the governor of California, said that universal health care is basically unaffordable, "Where do you get the extra money? This is the whole question," he told the LA Times.  The state he is governor of has 111 billionaires San Francisco has 20 billionaires according to Forbes. We need a federally funded universal health care system. Good treatment should be guaranteed on demand. There is plenty of money in society, it’s simply a matter of allocation. Brown, like Sanders, warren, any of them, is a capitalist politician in one, if not the world’s dominant bourgeois party. From his point of view the money is not there and he is not going to take it from where it is.

Brown is being honest in way. Like the labor leaders, left academia and liberal left critics of all things capitalism like Chris Hedges, or Warren and Sanders types, they see no alternative to capitalism. Most of all they do not see the working class as a force for change or as a force at all. Much of the revolutionary left, despite their knowledge of revolutionary history and having read all the right reading material, are isolated from the working class have not been able to build a revolutionary current within the working class, they too don’t really believe in their gut, that the working class is the revolutionary class, that it will struggle to change society and that the working class can govern. When they meet a worker looking for a revolutionary way forward they take them out of the working class rather than help sink deeper roots in to the class, combine the struggle for reforms with the struggle for socialism.  They have no faith in the working class.

A young student of color once said to me that the socialist left doesn’t appeal to workers of color. I agreed with her. But they don’t appeal to white workers either.

In the present era, the struggle for healthcare must burst the restraints of electoral politics and be fought in the streets. It is important to fight for reforms, and a direct action mass movement must do that, but only if one realizes that the struggle for reforms is part of the learning process of ending capitalism and building a democratic socialist society.

* Read Caliban and the Witch by Silvia Federici if you want to understand the true meaning of this word.