Deal or no deal?

December 19th, 2009 § 1 comment § permalink

The politicians have made a feeble attempt to save face in Copenhagen and hammered out a deal which by all accounts is not legally binding and falls far short of what is actually needed. Despite all the talk earlier on in the conference about this being the last chance for humanity to do something meaningful, the rich nations are simply not capable of taking responsibility for the climate situation that has overwhelmingly been caused by them. This quote from the Greenpeace UK executive director John Sauven just about hits the nail on the head:

“It seems there are too few politicians in this world capable of looking beyond the horizon of their own narrow self-interest, let alone caring much for the millions of people who are facing down the threat of climate change,” he said.

“It is now evident that beating global warming will require a radically different model of politics than the one on display here in Copenhagen.”

I can’t express my disappointment and contempt for out inept leaders as succinctly as Mr Sauven, so for the time being I won’t – more to follow later.

Copenhagn on the blink

December 8th, 2009 § 3 comments § permalink

Well, it’s only day two of the Copenhagen Climate Conference, and already it all seems to be going wrong, a leaked draft treaty that concentrates power in the hands of the rich nations! Could you make this up?

It seems that the world leaders are failing us in a big way, but this is hardly unsurprising. In the last blog, I highlighted the fact that there are too many vested interests that stand to lose large amounts of money, and this is borne out by the attempt to push through a deal that will mean the developing world has to bear the brunt of emission reductions. Of course, this is the only logical thing to do for western big business, as it is obvious that their profits simply cannot exist alongside business practices that treat the climate with respect. Capitalism and the natural environment are simply not compatible.

The question is, where do we go from here? Just yesterday, we heard the conference chairperson, in the opening speach, telling us that this is the last best chance to make an agreement on cutting emissions, yet a day later the only agreement on the table will merely protect the profits of a tiny minority. That the fate of mankind is left in the hands of those who apparently represent us is a farce… We don’t just need disobedience, as Naomi Klein has called for, we need something that will revolutionise the way that we run the world economy…

Cycling for Climate Change

December 4th, 2009 § 0 comments § permalink

Two students, one a great friend of mine,  from the Institute of Social Studies in the Netherlands are cycling from the Hague to Copenhagen, raising awareness of the threat of climate change along the way. To make it more difficult, they are doing it on dutch granny bikes! They are relying on locals putting them up on the way, and are doing it on a shoe-string budget.

Follow them and send the messages of support!!

Their aim is to get to Copenhagen to for the demonstrations at the farce that is to be the latest Climate Change summit.

The UK send off demonstration is Saturday December 5th in London, meeting in Grovesnor Square at 12pm, to encircle Parliament later in the afternoon. We need to urge our governments to do more, but unfortunately it seems as though they are unable to fight the interests of the oil companies and big business.

This is unlikely to happen within the current economic system. The threat of reduced profits means that rich nations are unable to reach an agreement with the developing world on reducing emissions. Markets need to be protected, companies need to remain ‘competitive’, profits rates upheld, and the system needs to grow. And grow, and grow.

However, even the planet has limits – it cannot support limitless growth, but the system is unable to function without it, so we keep heading down the path of environmental destruction full speed ahead. We know how to stop it, but are we strong enough to put on the brakes?


November 10th, 2009 § 0 comments § permalink

In a recent debate at Kings College on the future of capitalism, Martin Wolf, one of the main proponents of global capitalism, and principal economic spokesperson for the City, argued that we can not easily change the nature of global wealth inequality, as people in the developed world would not be prepared to give up what they already have. In a defence of capitalism, and in response to one of the questions from the floor, he challenged the audience as to whether they would all be prepared to give up half of everything they owned for redistribution to poorer countries.

The argument that in order to achieve any kind of large structural change to the economy there must be a trade off against current standards of living is one that is very popular in capitalist circles, and often repeated, yet it hides the real structural factors that prevent any meaningful change. This type of argument is even used by those who see capitalism as merely a least worst system, but who cannot envisage any other way of challenging the status quo than ‘sharing’ the costs.

In the example of global poverty, we  (the general population) are asked to give up our current (modest) living standards to help others. However, this hides the real causes of global inequalities, such as  the production of goods based on profit rather than human need, the resources wasted on illegal and immoral wars and the reification of the financial sector over the productive sector.

Within developed countries like the US and UK, income inequality is already increasing, so the cuts are already happening to some extent:

Although not everywhere:

The cuts that need to be made are not in the living standards of the population and public services (which compromise the social wage), but in the income of the wealthy, the bonuses of the bankers, nuclear weapons and war, and corporate profits. We need production to be realigned to meet human needs, and we need to stop pretending that gambling on stocks and shares contributes anything to society as a whole. We have the greatest productive capacity in the history of mankind, yet we are still unable to feed, clothe and shelter the world. We don’t need cuts in wages, jobs and production to help the capitalists cope with the financial crisis, we need them to accept cuts in their profits and their wages.

The same argument is seen with regards to climate change. We are told that we need to ‘reduce or energy consumption’, or pay higher prices if we don’t in order to cut global emissions.  We need to fly less, drive our cars less, use less power at home.

These mechanisms barely touch the tip of the iceberg, but are an ideological drip to prepare us for the higher prices and ‘trade-offs’ we will be forced to make in the future. Of course, when they say ‘we’ need to fly less , they don’t mean everyone. As fuel prices rise in the future, the poorest will suffer first.

But this trade-off, the acceptance that we must expect lower standards of living if we are to save the environment also hides the real structural factors that need to be tackled. Firstly, we need huge investment in green energy. We have the technology, but this would cut the profits of the current global energy companies, who will only invest in clean alternatives once they have squeezed every ounce of profit out of coal, gas and oil reserves.  As somebody once said, we need to make sure the shit doesn’t get into the pipe, not try and sieve it out once it has got into the water. We need to produce energy clean, not focus on just using less of it.

Secondly, we need cuts in the amount of SUV’s and oil guzzling over sized cars, in the number of cars in city centres, and of  government subsidies for car manufacturing industries. We need investment in public transport systems designed to fulfill the needs of the people, not the profits of the transport companies.  We need cuts in rail and bus fares,  not increases. We need to get rid of intellectual property rights and patents that prevent the spread and sharing of beneficial technology, and to renew commitments to global climate change agreements, and not worry if these cut into the profits of the minority.

We need cuts, but not the sort the City and Government have in mind!

What a waste of money…

October 30th, 2009 § 3 comments § permalink

This link, courtesy of Luna17, takes you to the billion-dollar-gram on the information is beautiful website, check it out:

Some highlights:

The OPEC climate change fund is only 0.06% of total OPEC earnings

The value  of the Internet Porn Industry is almost as large as the amount of foreign aid given by the World’s Major Nations

The US defence budget is nearly large enough to feed and educate every child on earth for 5 years

The amount of money that the UK government spent on bailing out the banks would have more than covered the entire debt owed by African Nations to the West…..

Part of me, unfortunately, is not very surprised at the sheer scale of waste and inequality.  What is clear is that the necessary resources exist for us to transform the world – we don’t need huge leaps in technology, or to rely on developing countries to grow their economies for the next 50 years  -we need permanent  Redistribution…

Healthy Profits

October 2nd, 2009 § 4 comments § permalink

Yesterday the Guardian revealed the sheer magnitude of the sums of money spent by Lobbyists on both sides in the great healthcare debate in the US:

Lobbyists representing the commercial interests of those who are opposed to the introduction of public health insurance have spent a grand total of $380 million on advertising campaigns, lobbying and direct political contributions, whilst those supportive of the bill, such as the Pharmaceutical companies, have stumped up $150 million.

These methods of lobbying have been described as ‘morally suspect’, rather an understatement of the situation, and indeed cast yet another dark cloud over the mechanisms of democracy, and the brand of democracy that the US are attempting to export all over the world.

What this shows us, alongside yet another damnation of the current democratic system, is that the Capitalist system is so wasteful and incapable of satisfying even the most basic of human needs. Anne Kruger, a famous neoliberal and pro-capitalist academic, wrote about ‘rent seeking’ in the 1990’s, arguing that rent-seeking, defined as the quest for access to  ‘super profits’ (profits gained over and above the profits one would expect to receive in a perfectly competitive market), is wasteful to the economy, as Firms compete for these super profits at the expense of investment. Kruegers’ original model was used to criticise certain countries in the Developing world for the non-market policies that they implemented. Supporters of the efficiency of the market would yet again hold up this model, and argue that the public medical insurance scheme proposed by Obama is government intervention is anti-market, which in a sense it is. The $430 million spent by the Firms in competing for the super profits could have been used more productively if it were invested.

So far so good, Ms Krueger, you almost have us convinced that Obamas’ proposed reforms have actually contributed to a reduction in the efficiency of the market. If you are arguing that this sum could have been invested in the  public healthcare system, not made it’s way into the pockets of the already super -rich that inhabit Capital Hill, sorry, Capitol Hill, then that is very admirable of you.

However, this kind of argument is consistently used to hide that basic fact that the market is simply defunct as a system that can fulfill even the most basic of human needs.  Another finding of Kruegers’ model is that the amount that Firms are willing to spend on competing for the super profits will eventually equal the amount of super profits available to them. As the legislation has not been passed yet, and we do not know how much more will be spent, what we can say is that there is at least $380 million in super profits up for grabs.

We can also say that without the proposed legislation, these $380 million worth of profits implicitly coexist,  and rely on the fact that an estimated 46 million of the poorest Americans are excluded from the healthcare system as they are unable to afford either the private medical insurance or the fees.  To put it bluntly, the ‘efficient’ market outcome trades off $380 million in profits against the healthcare needs of the poorest 15% of the US population. This is what ‘efficiency’ means in real terms, and is characteristic of the market outcomes that we see all over the world. It is one of the starkest examples of how the capitalist system places profit above human need.

No Platform – A response

September 24th, 2009 § 1 comment § permalink

I have been kindly invited to respond to a previous blog that argued the No Platform policy advocated by UAF is not the correct approach. Whilst I understand why many believe the way to stop the BNP is to share every platform with them, and enter into debates with them whenever they appear in the media arena, there are a number of difficulties with this tactic. I will try and make this response as short as possible.

Firstly, there is the question of historical evidence. If you are arguing that the BNP should be allowed to exist as a democratic political party, participate in elections, engage in debates alongside all the other political parties, and have their racist propaganda treated as a ‘view’, and that this is the best way to stop them, then the gaping hole in your argument is Hitler and the Nazi party in Germany. Hitler’s rise was through the democratic machinery of the state, starting out in a small extremist party, and ending up as a Fascist dictator. I need not spell out the details of the holocaust again, but the sheer scale of these horrific acts should serve as a warning to us all. The only thing that did work in the end was direct physical confrontation in the shape of one of the (if not the) bloodiest wars in human history. Democracy was no safeguard to these crimes, it enabled them. The BNP should not be given a platform. History shows us what can happen when Fascist parties are. By sharing a platform, you begin to create the legitimising conditions that can lead to the most extreme consequences imaginable.

But things are different now I hear you say. That would never happen here! Well, I imagine that the majority of the German population would never have thought that it could have happened there! If things are so different, why are we still having to deal with the threat of fascism and racism nearly 70 years on?

On the basis of evidence alone, the policy of sharing a platform and allowing Fascists to participate in democratic life must be discarded. If this was a scientific theory one was testing, it would be immediately negated, but there is a general reluctance to suggest that we should marginalise them and use direct action to prevent them being heard. This is Fascist itself isn’t it? People have a right to their own views?

The real issue at hand, and the one that places constraints on the choice of tactics that we should use, is the issue of free speech (I have argued previously on this blog site about this  –  please address it if you disagree). Allowing racist and Fascist parties to spout their propaganda, and defending it on the basis of freedom of speech is a complete misapplication of the notion of ‘freedom’ to ‘speech’.  If we were in favour of freedom of choice, or freedom of action, we would not expect these ‘freedoms’ to include choosing to murder someone, or the freedom to rape someone. We understand freedom as bounded by some form of basic moral framework, and expressed within a social context.

Why then do we think that when applied to speech ‘freedom’ means saying whatever we want? We would not apply it in the same way to other ‘freedoms’.  ‘Speech’ and ‘action’  are not isolated spheres. Saying whatever you want is not harmless, it does have consequences. Inciting and promoting racial hatred leads to physical acts of racial violence. Ask any victim of a racial crime, or the many people in this country that have to put up with racist abuse. Freedom of speech does not mean that you should have this right.

It is this misapplication that paralyses the current Government in allowing the party to exist, and also the many millions of opponents of the BNP who mistakenly believe that outlawing the party would somehow be anti-democratic. What actually happens is that a Fascist party, once in power, get’s rid of democracy and most freedoms.

Secondly, and following on from the point above, I also want to address the way that debate manifests itself, and to show the limited potential of engaging in debate with them. I watched the previously posted clip of the Nicky Campbell show. After 10 whole minutes of debate, I did not see the BNP being shown up hugely. There was the odd moment where Brons was not comfortable, and avoided the question, but this is behaviour we see from all politicians. The  Reverend also brought in the notion of free speech I have previously addressed, and quickly the topic became derailed and muddled. By even having him on the show, Bron’s racist hatred has been presented as a ‘view’, and has not been treated with the contempt it deserves.

And if you are in any doubt about how giving Fascists a platform will not help show them up, then watch this clip of Andrew Marr interviewing Nick Griffin:

How brilliant was Marr at showing Griffin up?

Griffin may be many things, but he is not stupid. He knows what he can and can’t say, has been carefully rebranding the BNP, and will anticipate many of the questions that come his way. If he were to appear on question time, any audience questions would be made available upfront, giving him time to prepare. Sitting him alongside the leading members of  the three main parties would confer status on him, without any guarantee that they would be able to show him up – we don’t trust them to do anything else right, so why this?

The only solution is to refuse to share a platform with them, and confronting them with direct action, whether that is trying to stop their festival of race hate, or standing up to the EDL in the streets of Birmingham or the Mosques of Luton.

To recap why:

  • Racism and Fascism is not a ‘view’ to be debated.
  • Sharing a platform legitimises these ‘views’.
  • There is a very limited potential for ‘showing up’ the BNP for what they are. Both mainstream TV programmes referred to above certainly do not show the BNP in a particularly bad light.
  • Allowing Fascist parties to participate in a democratic system was a contributing factor in creating the conditions in which Hitler rose to power.

We cannot risk making the same mistakes again.

There is much more that could be said on this matter, but there is hard evidence, from history and the present day, that shows the limitations of an approach to defeating the Fascists based on engaing them as a political opponent.

Protest at RWB

August 16th, 2009 § 2 comments § permalink

The UAF protest at the RWB Festival yesterday was largely peaceful, but did not achieve as much as was hoped for.

I was part of a group of around 200-300 protesters who blocked one of the nearby roads from around 10am to 2.30pm, when we heard that all other road blocks had been broken, and faced with four police horses, dogs, and a body of around 50 to 60 police, we rejoined the official body of protesters.

The protest was generally good-natured. At several points during the day, the police tried to disperse us, informing us of some random section that had been invoked that made our gathering illegal, but we formed ranks and linked arms, and in the end each time the police looked as though they were about to use force, they decided not too. The police were forced to block the road themselves with two police vans parked across it, as Nazi’s trying to attend the festival were stuck in a large traffic jam and started to get out of their cars to confront us.

We were informed that other road blocks had been held for a while, but eventually the Nazi’s managed to get to their festival, though in lower numbers than the BNP hoped for.

The protest I was with was peaceful but resolute. The police were mainly locals, and at no point changed into riot gear, a far cry from the G20 protests, where the thugs of the Met’s Territorial Support Group couldn’t wait to get tooled up. This would have undoubtedly lead to some  serious conflict, especially in a confined country lane.  The policing was far more sensible on this occasion, though we still have to remember that they were there primarily to try and ensure the festival of hate continued undisturbed.

I challenged a number of them on why they were protecting the Nazi’s. In the main there were few denials that the BNP were Nazi’s, but the usual theme of freedom of speech came through, combined with the traditional ‘I’m just doing my job’.  One officer said to me (in reference to our protest) that his grandfather who fought in the war would be appalled, which was a strange thing to say. I pointed out that his grandfather, and in fact the many millions who died in the war against the Nazi’s, would be appalled by the fact that the Nazi’s are now being protected by the police, and granted democratic status by our governments, who are paralysed in the face of the new family friendly approach of the BNP.

Whilst we did not achieve the shutdown that we hoped for, the protest was uplifting and partially successful. The particular blockade I was with was made up of a large mixture of young, old, black and white. We were prepared to struggle alongside each other, though individually few if any there were at all inclined to violence. This is in contrast to the BNP, whose strength is rooted in violent, thuggish and cowardly attacks on individuals, rather than any collective action. We can take strength from this as a movement. We are not the same as them – there is a huge difference between their racial violence and the type of direct but non-violent force that we used.

There is also great potential to shut this festival down. Given a bit more planning, and double the number of protesters, we could have held the key road points. We must make sure we a successful next time, as it unfortunately seems likely there will be a next time.

I have been informed about a piece on the news last night, I will post the link once I find it. Apparently one of the ‘fun’ games at the festival was to put two characters dressed as Obama and Bin Laden in the stocks and throw things at them!

BNP’s Hate-Fest

August 13th, 2009 § 6 comments § permalink

The BNP’s Red White and Blue Festival takes place this weekend, with several thousand expected to both attend and protest at it. The planned protest, called by UAF, has received a degree of hostility from the press and police to date. The police are getting in some pre-emptive strikes, with echoes of the G20 operation,  preparing the country for a brave defence of the Red White and Blue festival against those violent anti-fascist thugs. Not them again, the collective country asks, they are always up to no good – there’s bound to be some trouble if they are involved. Alongside them, the BNP are on the charm offensive, trying to convince us all that this is effectively a village fete, and all they want is to be left alone to enjoy themselves. After all, aren’t they a legitimate political party?

The general arguments that are made against the UAF protests can be broadly grouped into the following themes.

Firstly, we have the argument about free speech. The BNP are a) entitled to free speech, and b) aren’t the anti fascists being fascist for denying this free speech? Following on from this, the UAF are then shown to be ‘just as bad as the BNP’.

Secondly, there is the presentation of the festival as some sort of casual, lawful celebration, with attendees going for no other reason than to have fun, which they should be lawfully allowed to do without harassment. The quote from Simon Darby, deputy leader of the BNP, on the Guardian web site says it all: ‘”It’s not in our interests to cause trouble. We’re up there with our wives, girlfriends and children. We just want to have a good time, but these protesters want to latch trouble on to us.” Clearly, we are led to believe that this is just a family event, with fun and games in the sun. The police are treating this at face value, with the local spokesperson saying of their operation “The people attending Red, White and Blue have a right to do so in peace and safety but we also realise that people have the right to protest in a lawful and peaceful way.”.

Thirdly, we have the view that the protesters are also violent, and that this amounts to some sort of contradiction – you can’t resort to violence and call yourselves anti-fascist. The methods of the UAF are questioned and compared to the BNP’s thugs. There are other ways of trying to stop the BNP, which must be done without confrontation.

Lastly, some argue that we should all just ignore it. The election results clearly show that the BNP’s vote has not increased in absolute terms, but that the rest of the country has become disillusioned with politics, and with no alternatives to the 3 mainstream parties simply didn’t vote. The BNP will never get in, as the vast majority of the country do not support them. By making a fuss of their festival, we are giving them publicity and national coverage.

This is not an exhaustive list, but a brief survey of the ideas emanating from the mainstream media. What is striking is that in almost all the coverage, the fundamental issue of the racist and fascist roots of the BNP is never discussed. We have somehow moved on from this argument – the terms of debate have changed. Whether this is a sign of the gaining legitimacy of the BNP, or merely lazy sensationalist reporting, the fact of the matter is that  UAF finds itself in the unusual position of having to defend themselves for organising a protest against a party that the majority of people would probably accept are racist, and in general oppose.

So how do we address the 4 themes outlined above?  Extremist parties such as the BNP have often used the free speech argument to gain a platform for their ideas, though free speech is the last thing that would be on their minds if they ever got into power. Did Hitler stand up for the principles of free speech when he was in power? Are we to make the mistakes of the past and allow the racists to use free speech and democracy with the aim of destroying it?

We also have to ask ourselves what we even think free speech is. Is it being able to say whatever we want? How do the people that are the victims of the racial hatred that is spread by the BNP feel about free speech?  As with many things that we label as ‘free’ we generally consider within the framework of not causing harm to anyone else. Freedom to do whatever you want does not include things like attacking or murdering other people, and in the same vein, freedom to say what you want has limits too, such as inciting violence against people based on the colour of their skin or ethnicity. If this is too fascist for you, then clearly you have lost faith in the ability of society to set some basic rules for itself.  I would be interested to see if anyone was prepared to defend a festival celebrating pedophilia on the grounds of ‘free speech’, so why do we consider it in a racist context?

The BNP’s characterisation of this event as a peaceful festival has been given an astronomical amount of spin. As noted in previous posts, there is mountains of evidence, including their own manifesto, that the BNP is a racist party, with it’s philosophy based on white supremacist theories,  links to many violent far right groups, participation of many of it’s leading members in earlier racist organisations and struggles, and the previous convictions that some members, such as their leader, have had for racial crimes. Amongst the tombola stalls and coconut shys will be speeches and talks pushing the white is right message, and the aims of hounding out of the country of all those who are non white.  This festival is not about peace and tolerance, it is about hatred and violence. The police know all this too, which makes it even more astounding that they are preparing to defend it.

How do we deal with the violence question? There is undoubtedly a violent element within the UAF, but this is limited to a minority. Without dismissing this, the contrast is with the BNP, whose entire immigration policy is based on violence, something that the vast majority of the BNP membership buys into, and is one of the central unifying themes within the party itself. Arguing that the UAF are as fascist as the BNP is comparing a coalition who are trying to stop the BNP spreading their doctrine of hate with a party whose logical conclusion is the holocaust! This is not just misguided, it is wrong.

The argument as to whether to use violence or not is a fair enough question. Most people there will not use violence.  Force, maybe, but violence, no. We are not going there to beat them up, we are just going there to stop the festival happening. The press will of course get their usual shock pictures, but as with the G20 protest, there will be one day of tutting at the protesters, before the truth seeps out over the following weeks. Those that claim that using violence against the BNP is wrong of course reserve the right to support violence elsewhere – the general populations of Iraq and Afghanistan are far more deserving of our violence than the BNP! I don’t have an unequivocal view on the violence question, but the threat posed by the BNP, the vile messages that they are trying to spread means that the possibility of violence from a minority is no reason to stop the protest.

So should we just ignore it all? Not at all. The recent election victory has lead to an increase in racial attacks and racist demonstrations, as the BNP and it’s thugs gain confidence. We  have the historical example of the rise of Hitler, and the deaths of millions. ‘It will never happen here’, they say. Well, I bet they never thought anything like that would happen in Germany either. But it did, and it was not a sudden event, it was a process that took place over a number of years, with Hitler building a party and using the democratic machinery of the state to spread his doctrine. We need to learn from the past, and instead of sitting back and ignoring it, make sure that history does not repeat itself.

We need to fight the BNP every step of the way. Nothing is set in stone, we make our own history, and we need to collectively make sure that our history is one that is not dominated by the the racist, fascist BNP.