The electoral politics delusion

Its that time of the season again where a prominent left-wing party or candidate looks like they might just get close to winning an election, and the question is asked, “what if ….”. This time it is Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour in the UK, but this comes only a few weeks after Jean-Luc Mélenchon was not so far away from the 2nd round (and some say probable eventual victory had he reached that far). And with the failure of the extra-parliamentary, non-institutionalist left-led wave of struggle from 2009-2013 or there abouts, and with the racist right riding a wave at the moment, can you really blame people for getting enthusiastic about something that looks a little bit hopeful for a change?

The thing is though, if elected, Corbyn won’t implement any radical policies, and he will have a hard time implementing even moderate reforms. But I’m not going to argue this like the usual anti-state anarchist cut-and-paste denouncement of any effort to effect change through the state or political parties. Actually, I would ask people in the UK to vote Labour and maybe even join and become active members in their local Party branches. But before all that, let’s take a look at some trends leading us here.

The financial crisis of 2008 and the general capitalist crisis that followed it was so deep that neoliberalism really faced a legitimacy crisis for a while. But instead of trying to save its image the dominant response from governments right or left of centre was to mount a class struggle assault and to undo gains won from below in previous bouts – something so galling that by 2011 the movements of the squares unleashed the most visible ever (at least in Europe and North America) extra-parliamentary extra-institutionalist movement (of which the M15 or Occupy were only the most well known instances of a more general trend of extra-parliamentary and extra-institutional struggles kicking off everywhere), that explicitly said Fuck You to the entire political Class, in the process bringing in thousands of people who had never been active in any political way before.

But in the end, we failed. Even to get minimum objectives. Although the left-led wave of anti-austerity struggle did articulate visions of a radically different type of economy, there were plenty of other non-revolutionary solutions that we would have been happy with. For instance, Keynesianism is far from anti-capitalist and the capitalist class would have been ok with this as a peace-treaty had we forced it on them. A plane ordinary stimulus solution is even less anti-capitalist. But while capitalism should have been entirely discredited, not only did it survive, but it actually led an assault and pushed beyond the previous peace-lines. The fact is that nowhere has anybody – autonomist left, institutional left, or reactionary right (who regardless of posturing obviously aren’t going to challenge neoliberalism, what with their business leaders support) – was able to win anything: not revolution, not return to Keynesianism, not an end to austerity.

In 2012 we saw Syriza jump from 4.6% to 12% of the vote. But with Golden Dawn making a frightening jump (from a lower starting level of support), and with the general movement still going strong, this was kind of forgotten about. But then, not so long later, as 2014 drew to a close, it looked like this party was likely to win in the election in January. This was certainly different from the movement of the squares, and it was one of the first times a Party that made significant anti-austerity noises had been in a position that they might have a chance of winning. So naturally people across Europe started asking the question: ‘What if…”

Well we soon found out what happened.

But I’m not the type to write-off any prospects for an institutionalist solution just because it didn’t work once. There are any number of reasons why what happened to Syriza would not necessarily happen elsewhere. For example, they were the first openly challenging austerity politics to get to a position where they could technically do something about it. So the Greek and European establishments rallied to prevent it. It is by no means certain such an alliance could hold out indefinitely and wait out the legitimacy crisis if faced with a series of similar situations in country after country (although obviously an unrealistic ‘if’). It was also Greece, the hardest hit of the austerity laboratories, and as a test case the neoliberal cadre has a lot invested in seeing how far they can push this one. It might have been easier to extract concessions if the Syriza phenomenon had taken place in, say, Portugal or Ireland (again, and unrealistic ‘if’).

But these hypotheticals aside, looking at what has happened since, I still say a Corbyn government will not be able to deliver, not revolution, not return to Keynesianism, not an end to austerity. It is generally accepted that Mélenchon would not have been able to do much with a presidency despite the unique circumstances, reflective of a general legitimacy crisis in politics in France, where all you need is 20% to win. But because the support of a similarly diverse parliament is required, only a candidate of the establishment could actually do anything. This of course served to support Fillon or Macron, but Mélenchon or Le Pen would only have survived in the presidency if they made the right compromises. That is leaving aside whether Mélenchon would have actually beaten Le Pen in a second round run-off. Because while the Mélenchon campaign were criticised (correctly in my opinion – but more on that further below) for not showing unambiguously enough a Republican Front stance and instructing their voters to vote against Le Pen, I actually have serious doubts whether Fillon or Macron would have directed their supporters to do the same, because it is quite possible that the Capitalist class would prefer a racist fascist to a communist.

Looking at Labour, the two-round system and the separation of the executive and legislature are not a factor in the Uk and so the challenge for Corbyn is not in institutional structure. But look at what he has faced since being proposed as a candidate for party leadership in 2015: an incredibly hostile media (even including the historically progressive Guardian), and a Party elite which has tried every dirty trick to undermine him and has shown contempt for the internal democratic party process. And they have done this without fear of of negative media coverage, indicating a widespread establishment alliance to get rid of him. This alliance will only get stronger and more determined in that event that Labour wins a majority. And if in the very unlikely event that some radical or even moderately reformist measure was put to vote, it is almost certain that the right-wing Labour MPs will side with the Tories and vote against it.

But earlier in this post I did say that I would ask Uk-based people to vote Labour. After all this criticism, that hardly seems logical. The reason is because an anti-austerity campaign needs a strong and organised movement. Labour in government will not do that. But Labour narrowly missing out on government, with a confident militant grassroots of activists (which I think is Corbyn’s biggest achievements) would be far more effective in defending communities and extracting concessions from the Tories than would a Labour government.

In France, the << ni ni >> campaign (neither Macron nor Le Pen) scored an important victory (although at the time I was against it: Fascism is too dark to gamble with). Although their ‘candidate’ did not get elected, the campaign, and the election results, made it very publicly known that Macron did not win the Presidency – people voted against Le Pen. This makes Macron a much weaker opponent for the French left to extract concessions from than a hypothetical Mélenchon presidency needing the support of a centrist parliament.

And similarly, looking ahead, the Corbyn-inspired grassroots activism in the Labour party is probably the most significant and engaging level of political activism in Europe since the 15M movement and the equivalents in Greece moved out of the city-centres and into the neighbourhoods. Whatever about short term policy changes that may or may not (probably not) be achieved by a government, this kind of mass and sustained activism is what is needed – both to achieve short-term anti-austerity victories here and ther, and also for building community-based militancy capable of pushing for more in the medium to longer term. Unfortunately this is currently being realised through a political party. And when I say unfortunately I’m not talking about because it generate false hopes in a parliamentary solution, but because despite the level and radicalism of involvement, all this energy is always under risk of being co-opted or extinguished by a party hierarchy (whether involving a compromised Corbyn or the Labour right-wing after another one of their coups). What is needed is further movement-building and democratisation of the movement to be able to to resist, or eventually become independent of, the party. And both things can only come from a narrow Corbyn defeat.

Celebrating mayday and a year of Socialise Struggle

Happy international workers’ day to all.

One year ago, this blog was launched with a simple story of some of the frustrations in trying to get precarious workers to identify as precarious workers. Writing for this blog has helped me get through what has turned out to be a very an unhappy year. Working through my reactions to world events, or books I read, and helping to diffuse the messages of grassroots groups in struggle has helped me to get some level of perspective in the middle of all the terrible forces that are consolidating.

For the most part, the blog is built on articles, book reviews, statements and communiques, and end-of-month collections of the best things I’ve read. Unsurprisingly, the biggest themes I have been writing about is fascism and the far right. But looking back I’m a bit uplifted by some of the more positive content about groups resisting the onslaught (e.g. particularly the Revolution in Rojava, or digging up memories of the Occupy Movement, or even Immanuel Ness’s edited book on the rise of autonomist and syndicalist unions in today’s labour movement).

The blog has been building up a community of followers. The most read and most liked post was the book review of Teaching Rebellion, which I’m really happy about because learning from experiences of struggle is what this blog is supposed to be all about. So it’s nice to see people engaging with this.

Among the newer features or projects started is a compilation of banned words. That is, propaganda terms and phrases which are bandied around the establishment media and which have the function of making you unconsciously speak as though you endorse certain viewpoints which support the system, or believe certain lies. I hope to be adding to this. Another new feature is the read diverse books challenge. It is unfortunately the case that even anti-capitalist literature tends to be written by groups with layers of privilege. This challenge is a way of highlighting this and to try to improve on it. So I’m looking forward to reviewing diverse books and sharing some viewpoints which do not get heard enough.

Another change coming is that I’m scrapping the posts-of-month feature. The main reason is that a month is not a useful timeline, not for me, not for readers. At the same time, I like the idea of sharing posts that I have read and which I think deserve to be shared. It also adds to the sense of community. So it is time to face reality and start a dreaded twitter account. This will allow me to continue to share good articles that I come across but in a more timely manner. That said, I still have a life outside of the internet, so timely is still likely to be seen as slow. Anyway, this change to come soon. BUT, I am going to keep the images of the month feature. Collecting and sharing these has been really fun and it is amazing to think how powerful images produced in and through struggle can be.

And speaking of community, just a general invitation for readers to get involved in discussion and comment on posts here. No good revolution was ever made through one person talking, so disrupt the consensus. Also, if you like something you read, tell your friends about it. I don’t do promotion. Advertising is the tool of capitalism to create false demand, and these kinds of “I like your blog, I also have a blog where I talk about similar things” comments are not that much better. Instead, in a commons-based economy which is based on need, we all have a responsibility to help things get to where they are needed.

Finally, thanks to all readers, and I’m looking forward to the second year of Socialise Struggle, regardless of how depressing the real world gets in the year to come. Hopefully this time next year I’ll be writing about how we beat the fascists back. But until then, for the day that is in it,

ALL POWER TO THE COUNCILS

AN INJURY TO ONE IS AN INJURY TO ALL

NO PASARAN

VICTORY TO THE MINERS

SOLIDARITY FOREVER.

Review diverse books (because the anti-capitalist literature can be so boringly monochrome)

Something I’m going to start doing on this blog: reviewing diverse books. What does this mean? Well a blog called read diverse books had this challenge to read diverse books in order to fight against the cultural industry’s tendency to tell us stories about how great white people are, particularly males, particularly middle class, straight, heteronormative whites, etc. It looks like a good idea so I’m adapting it here.

I say adapting because the original challenge (and a similar one at wocreads) is mostly oriented to fiction, so it focuses on lead characters. I’m more into non-fiction political books, so I’m adjusting the challenge to focus on authors rather than protagonists (except for biographies, then it is about the authors and the protangonists). I’m also adding some additional dimensions beyond gender/sexuality and race: things like class, experience of state repression, and linguistic communities. And instead of just reading I like to review so as to engage with the ideas and hopefully share the most useful thoughts and tools with those who can make use of them.

The challenge looks like this. I have to review:

  • A book authored/edited by a woman

  • A book authored/edited by a homosexual

  • A book authored/edited by somebody from Latin America

  • A book authored/edited by somebody who grew up as an ethnic or racial minority in their country

  • A book authored/edited by somebody from Africa

  • A book authored/edited by somebody who identifies as part of an ethno-national community that is without a state

  • A book authored/edited by somebody from Asia

  • A book authored/edited by a biracial person

  • A book authored/edited by a transgender person

  • A book authored/edited by a refugee

  • A book authored/edited by somebody with a disability

  • A book originally written in a language other than English

  • A book originally written in one of the over 2000 UNESCO designated endangered languages.

  • A book authored/edited by somebody without university-level education

  • A book authored/edited by somebody who was imprisoned for at least a year

  • A book authored/edited by somebody who lived under state socialism

  • A book authored/edited by a collective

One of the problems with checklist challenges is that the goal often end up being to complete it so you can say “look how fuckin diverse I am”. The main reason I’m doing this is to show how uniform the anti-capitalist literature tends to be. The checklist will be used mostly as a commentary during reviews about how diverse or undiverse the books are. And the emphasis is on commentary – not a rating. I don’t want this to end up like a judge in the oppression olympics.

Looking back at what has been reviewed so far on this blog, two were written or edited by individuals (How to change the world, and New forms of worker organisation), both white males from the US and the UK, employed (currently or at some time in their lives) as university professors, presumably straight, abled bodied, and originally written in English for English-speaking audiences. The two books on Rojava reviewed here are also written for US/English-speaking audiences, but they at least are edited by collectives, and include some essays and interviews translated from Kurdish and Turkish. Both collectives do seem to be north america-based though.

On the other hand, Teaching Rebellion, is also edited by a collective, this time Mexico-based, and although it is unclear whether it was written originally for a Spanish-speaking or English-speaking audience, almost the entire bulk of the book is composed of interview/testimony pieces which are certainly translated. Clearly the most diverse book reviewed so far here, but it just shows how much things need to improve. Looking forward to seeing what books this challenge leads me to.

Statement on attacks by Syrian and US regimes from alliance of Syrian and Iranian Socialists

This antiwar and anti imperialist (anti all imperialists involved) statement coming from groups directly living through the war in Syria is worth reading and sharing. Shared from the Alliance of Syrian and Iranian Socialists website.

“The Trump administration’s  April 6 targeted missile strike on the Syrian airbase from which the chemical attack was launched, is not a reflection of any genuine concern for the Syrian people.  It will not help the struggle against the Assad regime, ISIS and Al Qaida.    Instead, this administration’s latest airstrikes are motivated by other aims.

April 7, 2017

The chemical bombing of innocent civilians in the Syrian town of  Khan Sheikhoun (Idlib province) which was perpetrated by the Assad regime and its allies, Russia and Iran on April 4,  is  yet another step in the murderous campaign to destroy what is left of the popular opposition to the Assad regime.  After putting under siege and destroying  Eastern Aleppo, the most important center of the popular and democratic opposition,  and forcing the survivors as well as the survivors from other besieged opposition areas to go to Idlib , the regime is now concentrating its forces on bombing the civilian population in Idlib and Aleppo provinces.

The Trump administration’s  April 6 targeted missile strike on the Syrian airbase from which the chemical attack was launched, is not a reflection of any genuine concern for the Syrian people.  It will not help the struggle against the Assad regime, ISIS and Al Qaida.    Instead, this administration’s latest airstrikes are motivated by other aims.

Just two days earlier the Trump administration had announced that its priority was not the ouster of Assad.  Once the Assad regime’s chemical bombing delivered a blow to the credibility of U.S. imperialism however, the decision was made to strike Assad’s air base.    In order to calm some dissent within the Republican party’s leadership, Trump had to show that contrary to Obama, he had some “red lines.”

Furthermore,  given the daily new revelations about the Trump administrations close ties to Putin’s Russia and the ways in which these revelations have  seriously damaged  its  credibility even among its supporters, the missile strike in Syria was  a way for this administration to partially distance itself from Russia.   However,  at this point,  we can say that this strike which was announced in advance to the Russian government,  does not indicate any strategic change in U.S. policy concerning  the future of Syria or the Assad regime.  The focus of the U.S. government will still be seeking a transition  in which the core of the Assad regime is not challenged.  Such a policy will  be justified by this administration in the name of the “War on Terror.”

In general, since coming to office, the Trump administration has given every indication that its goal is to promote undemocratic, racist, sexist Middle Eastern leaders and strengthen the repressive environment of the Middle East:   He or his advisers have met with Israeli president Benjamin Netanyahu,  Turkish president Recep Tayyip  Erdogan and  foreign minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, Egyptian president, General Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi,  Saudi Arabian Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman,  King Abdullah of Jordan.  On March 30,   U.S. Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson’s visit to Turkey   gave a nod of approval to Erdogan  who has arrested over 70,000 people in the past year,  continually bombed the Kurdish population of Turkey and Syria, and is aiming to vastly expand his  repressive powers against all forms of dissent,  through a referendum on April 16.  Tillerson’s visit also led to some unannounced agreements which do not bode well for the Kurds in Turkey and Syria.

Most importantly,   recent American airstrikes  in Mosul, Aleppo and Raqqa which are supposedly aimed at stopping ISIS, have brought about large civilian death tolls.  They have been some of the deadliest since U.S. airstrikes on Syria started in 2014.   They show that greater U.S. military intervention in Syria will only lead to more death and destruction.   One resident of Mosul, Iraq who was fleeing ISIS, compared the destruction brought about by the latest U.S. airstrikes in Mosul to  the U.S.  dropping of a nuclear bomb on Hiroshima.  (See Tim Arango, “Civilian Deaths Rising in Iraq and Syria as Battles Intensify in Dense City Areas.” New York Times, March 28, 2017).  According to Airwars, during the month of March alone, as many as a thousand civilians have been killed by U.S. airstrikes in Iraq and Syria in the name of the “War on Terror.” (https://www.democracynow.org/2017/3/27/more_than_1_000_civilians_killed)

These realities not only  reveal the Trump administration’s motives but also  compel us to condemn all the states that are carrying out wars against innocent civilians in the Middle East:  The Syrian and Iranian regimes, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Israel, all the other authoritarian regimes in the region, ISIS, Al Qaida, as well as Russian and Western military interventions.  They are all part of an imperialist logic and the maintenance of authoritarian and unjust systems.  They all oppose the self-determination of the peoples of the region and their struggles for emancipation.   Hence, anti-war activists whether in the Middle East or the West need to address all forms of repression and authoritarianism, and condemn all forms of foreign intervention against the interests of the people of the region, instead of  limiting their criticisms only to the West and Israel.

Clearly, no peaceful and just solution in Syria can be reached with Bashar al-Assad and his clique in power.  He is the biggest criminal in Syria and must be prosecuted for his crimes instead of being legitimized by international and regional imperialist powers.

Clearly, an effective way to help Syrians and to change the worsening course of events in the region today is for those Iranians and Russians who oppose their rulers’ military intervention in Syria to build strong anti-war movements that show the connections between their governments’ support for the Assad regime and the worsening domestic repression and impoverishment.   Why has this not happened?  Is government repression inside Russia and Iran the only reason?

In Russia, last week, tens of thousands demonstrated against the corrupt practices of prime minister Dmitry Medvedev and other Russian oligarchs.   Criticism of Putin’s imperialist wars however was not highlighted by most who focused on the internal corruption of the rich.  Whether these demonstrations expand their horizons remains to be seen.

In Iran,  not a day goes by without labor protests in various parts of the country.  These protests have focused on the non-payment of wages, layoffs, temporary contracts without any rights or benefits, “privatization” of government jobs, lack of work and safety regulations,  non-payment of pensions and the very low minimum wage ($240 per month) in a country in which the minimum needed for an urban family of four to survive is $1000 per month.

It is the responsibility of Iranian socialists to show the connections between the worsening economic and social conditions of the Iranian workers, teachers and service workers, and Iran’s capitalist, militarist and imperialist policies in Syria and in the Middle East region as a whole.

The failure to draw these connections partly stems from the strength of the Iranian regime’s propaganda which presents the Syrian opposition to the Assad regime as entirely consisting of ISIS and Al Qaida.  The nationalism of those Iranian leftists who implicitly or explicitly support the Assad regime and Putin,  has also  assisted the Iranian government.

As the Alliance of Syrian and Iranian Socialists,  we have made efforts to address these issues through our analyses and by airing the views of those Iranians who oppose their government’s military intervention in Syria.   We welcome more ideas and comments from those who represent THE OTHER IRAN and who want to create an anti-war movement to stop Iran’s support for the Assad regime.

We agree with those Palestinian who protested in Ramallah, Occupied Palestine,  against the Syrian regime’s chemical bombing of Khan Sheikhoun.   They chanted:  “Not Leftists, Not Leftists,  Those Who Stand with Bashar al-Assad.”

Joseph Daher and Frieda Afary

Alliance of Syrian and Iranian Socialists

April 7, 2017″

No Pasaran for today

 

A few months ago, in the happy days before Trump stole the election or the Brexit referendum or the escalation of Erdogan’s repression following his gift from god, I went to a film. No Pasaran, directed by Daniel Burkholz. A documentary comprised of interviews with veterans from the International Brigades. It was very inspirational. For the most part, it was the events and motivations that led them to join the Brigades that were discussed. Again and again, different interviewees stressed that the Spanish Civil War was a fight against European Fascism in its entirety, and the war in Spain only represented the best place to confront it at the time. As one German Jew recounted how after fighting in Spain and then seeking refuge in France “we proposed to the French army that we could join their army and fight Nazi Germany. They agreed and suggested to us that we enlist and they would station us in North Africa to relieve Foreign Legion soldiers who would be deployed to the German front. So we got together and had a meeting to discuss this and we all agreed that No. Our fight was with Nazi Germany, not to defend the french empire” (warning: quote is a misquote).

nopasaran_poster__english
Image from roadside-dokumentarfilm

A few years ago, 2012 or so, I read The Age of Empire by Eric Hobsbawm. I was very taken with it at the time, in particular the idea that there was a sense of crisis that permeated every aspect of society: the generalised crisis in modernist certainties of progress caused by global recession of the capitalist system, which was only averted through the imperialist project in Africa, something that only temporarily displaced the internal systemic contradictions, but which in a short amount of time just led to renewed inter-national capitalist competition amongst the ‘great powers’, which in turn led to world war and the working classes embracing nationalist sentiment and standing against and slaughtering one another. What amazed me reading it in 2012 was how similar this pre-war period was to the austerity regime we were going through then. Now having seen No Pasaran I’m more inclined to say our period resembles the period prior to the second world war with the changes that have come in the last 5 years. The fascist right are having electoral success in Austria, the Netherlands, Finland, France, Hungary, and the US. In other countries they are strong on the streets, they have infiltrated the police, or even the army, in places like Greece, Britain, and the US. And they are to be seen wearing new clothes in the form of ISIL in Iraq and Syria, and in the likes of Putin and Erdogan in Russia and Turkey. And another similarity with today that was highlighted in the film (although I don’t think they meant to make this analogy) is that in the same way that those fleeing Franco’s Spain to France were put in camps, only to be handed over to the Nazis when France fell, we are doing the same thing today by containing and shipping those fleeing ISIL off to the likes of Erdogan’s Turkey under the EU’s scandalous deal. If you think back to how it was through Coup d’Etats that the Fascists came to power in Spain and Austria in the 1930s, all it would take today is for the military to make a move against Syriza’s government or possibly in Italy, and the ‘refugee camps’ with their razor wires would be a gift horse they wouldn’t look in the mouth. The same with the prison industrial complex which have played up anti-terror hysteria to escalate their practices of policing and imprisoning racial minorities. Although we don’t call them “concentration camps” now, de facto concentration camps is exactly what are being built.

What is clear is that an anti-Fascist movement that is Europe-wide and further towards the Arabian Peninsula is needed. And it is necessary to see all the distinct issues – the far right, austerity, ISIL, refugees, police killings, drone attacks – and to unite them as part of the one system: 21st Century Fascism. Above all, this is a struggle for humanity, and in the spirit of the first intercontinental against neoliberalism and for humanity, the struggle for humanity is the struggle of the left. Although the socialist revolution looks further away than at anytime since maybe the 1980s (with the exception of Rojava), the road to revolution will only be made through walking. As another Brigadista interviewed in No Pasaran described life in Franco’s POW camps: “every morning they would line up three people to be executed. Any last words? Long live socialism, long live anarchism, long live communism! And they were shot” (also a misquote). They died believing that by fighting the fascists they were making the revolution.

There is a lot of work for this anti-21st Century Fascist movement to do. Included within:

  1. Direct aid to refugees, particularly ‘new arrivals’.

  2. Fight the policy whereby refugees are shipped to Turkey

  3. The fight against ISIL is the fight of the Left. Eventhough it is dominated by hostile powers (US, Russia, Turkey), ISIL are the most extreme manifestation of right-wing nationalism, and as such it is our fight. Like the International Brigades went to Spain as the most strategic place to fight European fascism, today we need to unite with the Kurds in Rojava (because with the growing budiness between Erdogan, Putin, and Trump, I reckon the days of US support for Rojava are numbered – although I don’t yet know what to make of the strike on the Syrian military airbase).

  4. Stop the further success of the far right in Europe, whether in elections or on the streets.

  5. Practice community self-defense with targeted groups.

  6. Fight borders. Whether this is physical construction of barriers, intensification of policing the borders, or bio-political-economic control from a distance – where people are dissuaded from crossing or even approaching borders by their associated costs like the dangers of traveling through hazardous routes, extortion by smuggler cartels, the precarious existence of ‘irregular’ living on the other side. The ultimate aim should not just be freedom of movement and refuge for those arriving from unsafe places, but also legal, safe, and free (as in free speech and free beer) passage for all.

  7. Fight against the conditions that strengthen the right: the state of things where the costs of economic crisis are being lumped onto the working classes, or where domestic economies are boosted by fighting foreign wars.

  8. Be prepared to work with liberals where this is likely to lead to direct material improvements in security for targeted groups. But constantly remind the world that it was the liberal centre that empowered the rightist surge by sitting-out and eventually exhausting the left-led mobilisation in the earlier years of austerity.

  9. Work with groups that specifically push beyond the confines of the liberal response. This can include for instance Black Lives Matter, who’s very existance insists that the liberal doctrine is false. I.e. that All Lives Do Not Matter to the US state, regardless of how many times it is written in some laws that they do. Also groups who campaign on the basis of migration as reparation for colonialism, to push beyond the whole ‘migrants are not a threat to our way of life’. We are a threat – we are a threat to and we aim to take down the whole capitalism-colonialism-nationstate nexus.

Statement: IMPACT Trade Union on anti-water privatisation victory

Statement by IMPACT Trade Union on Irish parliamentary committee’s recommendation to hold referendum on public ownership of water.

The background: Ireland was one of the worst hit countries to experience the austerity treatment in the EU but unlike Greece or Portugal, resistance was not very visible. Until plans were announced to privatise water. A resistance movement embracing direct action tactics of non-payment of charges and blocking installation of water meters swung public opinion so that all political parties declared themselves against water charges at the election in March 2016, forcing the new government to climb down. But this victory was not enough for the campaign. Although this government scrapped the plan there is nothing stopping any later government from re-introducing it. That is why the campaign went on the offensive and pushed for a constitutional referendum enshrining public ownership of water – that way any future government would not be able to privatise water without going back to the people in another referendum, where they would be defeated. Earlier this month, a parliamentary committee recommended holding a referendum, signalling a big victory for the anti-austerity movement in Ireland.

Originally posted on the IMPACT blog.

The decision of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on the Future Funding of Domestic Water Services to recommend a referendum on enshrining public ownership of Irish Water in the Constitution was big news for the European water movement. For us, this was a huge encouragement for the many local and national groups fighting the privatisation of water services across the continent.

It followed on the heels of the Slovenian Parliament’s decision to introduce an amendment, guaranteeing the right to water, into the country’s constitution. Today [Wednesday 22nd March] is World Water Day, an occasion for us to celebrate the huge contribution that decent water services make to public health and quality of life, and to highlight the opposition to privatisation that’s growing throughout Europe.

People in Ireland and elsewhere are making it clear that water services should remain in public hands.

The concern that water services could be liberalised through trade agreements, like the CETA deal just agreed by the EU and Canada, motivated many workers to protest. And it mobilized Irish and European trade unions to start a European Citizens’ Initiative (ECI) on the right to water.

Attracting nearly two million signatures from across the EU, this became the first ever successful ECI, effectively placing the issue on the EU’s legislative agenda at the behest of its citizens. The European Parliament then fully supported the ECI demands in an opinion piloted by Irish MEP Lynn Boylan.

The European Commission responded, as it had to. But it failed to bring forward the legislation sought by unions and the European water movement.

Despite the clear message delivered directly by citizens through the ECI, and by their elected representatives in the Parliament, the European Commission fails to listen. In the case of Greece, where people rejected water privatisation, the Eurogroup has been forcing the government to sell shares in the Athens and Thessaloniki water companies.

World Water Day is also an opportunity to ponder the extensive research that underlines why private water companies want to stay on the pitch and make huge profits from what is a public good and a human right.

The University of Greenwich Public Services International Research Unit, which has undertaken extensive work on the issue, says public ownership is the right model for delivering quality water and waste services not least as public authorities can source cheaper loans than private corporations, and because the profit motive pushes up the price of water delivered by multinational private companies by as much as 10%.

Another drawback of privatisation that gets scant attention is that financial and other risks are never transferred to the private sector when lucrative contracts change hands. The quality of the water in our taps is put at risk. Public authorities remain responsible. But private companies can simply walk away, without sanction, when things go wrong.

On top of all this, the European Commission highlighted in 2014 that private water and waste contacts are a potential source of corruption.

These are the reasons why local authorities in European countries like France, which risked costly experiments in water privatisation, have been bringing services back into public ownership. The Portuguese city of Mafra followed suit after years of rising bills for water users.

The Irish people have made crystal clear their desire to see water and waste water services remain in public ownership. Their instinct is supported by the overwhelming results of research that shows privatisation is a bad choice.

Ireland has the support of Europe’s trade unions and the broader water movement, which is connecting the resistance to privatisation across European borders.

Kevin Callinan is Deputy General Secretary of IMPACT trade union. Jan Willem Goudriaan is General Secretary of the European Federation of Public Service Unions (EPSU).

Book Review: Eric Hobsbawm – How to change the world: reflections on Marx and Marxism

This is an excellent book, as with many Hobsbawm

Front Cover - How to change the world
How to Change the World by Eric Hobsbawm. Published by Yale University Press in 2011. Image taken from the publishers.

books. The title is a little offputting: I don’t like prescriptive-sounding books with only one author; I think somebody who is used to people shutting up and listening to them at length is the least likely to know how to make the world a better place. But it is Eric Hobsbawm and he is always very interesting to read, has a wealth of fascinating insights about the history of the left or history of the world from a leftist perspective. But actually (thankfully?) the title is a bit misleading. What the book offers is a history of Marxism, Marxism being an idea that was born out of industrialising capitalist europe, has been used as a toolbox by countless emancipatory movements of (and unfortunately too often for) the oppressed over the last 150+ years, has been used to legitimise some of the worst acts of humanity, and has struggled for its place in the last 25 years.

As Hobsbawm puts it in the introduction, when Marx died in 1883,

“there was little enough to show for his life’s work. He had written some brilliant pamphlets and the torso of an uncompleted major piece, Das Kapital, work on which hardly advanced in the last decade of his life. ‘What works?’ he asked bitterly when a visitor questioned him about his works. His major political effort since the failure of the 1848 revolution, the so-called First International of 1864–73, had foundered. He had established no place of significance in the politics or the intellectual life of Britain, where he lived for over half his life as an exile” (p3, 4).

But in the years since then the impact of his thought has been enormous, and often awful. So today, at time when popular movements have succeeded in escaping doomed strategies of various Marxist guises, yet also seem incapable of developing a strong enough counterpower to neoliberal hegemony (or the new variant of fascist demagogues) using alternative ideas on the left, a history of this sort can be very useful to help us figure out whether and how marxist thought can be a friend or foe.

The story begins with a brief sketch of some of the strands of socialist thought prior to Marx and Engles coming on the scene, before going on to tell us about the the context in which Marx and Engels lived and wrote much of their works. Reflections are given on particularly influential works through discussing their impact when ‘discovered’ and published later, often with adapted articles written by Hobsbawm at the times of the publications of certain new collections. Part two of the book goes on to discuss the trajector(y/ies) of the revolutionary theory and movement after the death of Marx. This starts with the meteoric rise of socialist parties in europe quite soon after his death and the formation and ultimate fortunes of the Second International, leading on the one hand to totalitarian dictatorships and on the other to bourgeoisification and support for their respective nations in the bloodbath that pitted worker against worker in World War I. From there, we are brought on a tour of anti-fascism, Gramsci, post-war resurgence in the anti-colonial independence movements and among the 60s movement in Europe and North America, and finally, decline. In all this, the book is made engaging because he doesn’t just describe Marxist theory, but what people did with it and how they changed its direction at different times throughout the late 19th and 20th centuries. A true historian of ideas.

BUT there are problems with the book. Obviously any book on such a hugely influential subject has to be selective, but I think part of this selectivism is unfortunate. The biggest example is that the history stops in 1983. Although there is nominally a chapter on the years of decline for marxism 1983-2000 (followed also by the ‘comeback’ years 2000-2009), this chapter focusses mostly on events prior to 1983 which led to this decline rather than how marxist ideas coped and transformed with this decline. Arguably, the attempts of marxism to understand itself ‘at the End of history‘, without the anchor of ‘actually-existing socialism’, and at a time when Marxism did not have a hegemonic position within the radical left – the latter something not seen since 1930s Spain but which explosively re-emerged in 1994 with the Zapatistas – would be the most enlightening and promising in terms of emancipation and pedagogical re-invention. But you won’t learn much about this from the book.

Elsewhere, the role of Marxism in the post-WWII anti-colonial struggles and the movement of the non-aligned, while acknowledged, is underexplored. Its role in the movements against dictatorships in Latin America get barely a mention, and while its role in Greece and Portugal in ousting dictators is touched upon however briefly, the failure of these two post-revoluntionary countries to lead toward socialism or at the very least for the political landscape to take a similar leftist path such as those in Latin America would be a fascinating discussion but is unfortunately not taken up. Another topic that barely gets a mention is the Autonomia movement in 1970s Italy, a tendency which has since had an influence on leftist movements and theory proportionally far greater than other more classical schools. Of course, not everything can be included, but these kinds of exclusions mean that we are denied most the influences on Marxism from movements which are non-European, worker-led, and which creatively grapple with the contradictions of revolutionary ‘success’. As a consequence, we are left with a picture heavily influenced by the orthodox, the Euro-centric, the institutionalised, the educated, and the male. (Although in defence, there is a whole chapter if not two dedicated to Gramsci, and another to anti-fascism). For all his emphasis on the importance of history, this kind of selectivism leads to a standard of Marxism that is of limited use to changing today’s historical conditions (e.g. neo-liberal precarity, globalised divisions of labour, the importance of non-european repertoires of collective action in the global south above the European and american history of bureaucratic unions).

Another weakness is in his conclusions. I did mention that the prescritptiveness of ‘how to change the world’ is a bit deceptive. Still, Hobsbawm does pick out two main ‘conclusions’ from the historical narrative: (1) Marxism will(/should) continue to be of relevance; and (2) the importance of the Party. On both counts, the case for these conclusions has manifestly not been made. The only basis somebody could have for arriving at these conclusions from the book would be an implicit logic of, ‘well it is has been important in the past, ergo it shall continue to be important’. I would expect a bit more intelligence from an intellectual giant like Hobsbawm.

That being said, apart from these weaknesses – which admittedly would be difficult to address: how can one ‘comprehensively summarise’ such a large topic, and how can one ‘conclude’ anything concrete and definitive in an evolving history of our own making like this – the book is an absolutely fascinating read. Both because of Hobsbawm’s mastery of subject and his gift of being able to write in an accessible and engaging style, and because the subject itself is such an important one for the left. Of all books on Marxism that are not in graphic novel format, How to change the world is probably one of the most engaging and easy to read. For anybody finding themselves forced into struggle in these times, I recommend you acquire yourself a copy, but draw your own conclusions and don’t take his at face value.