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.

Era of 21st century fascism is already here: Trump is a disaster but it didn’t start with him

What happened on the 8th of November was truly disastrous. I remember in 2000 when Bush won with this program to re-launch Star Wars (the satellite nuclear missile defense system from the Cold War – didn’t happen in the end) and to go back to Iraq (did happen), that this was terrible for the world. But now this is far worse.

Since the results announced that Clinton had won the vote but the fucked-up anti-democratic system was handing the most powerful state machinery in the world to a Fascist, hate crimes have predictably rocketed as bigots feel empowered by the moral authority that he has unleashed. And this is still 2 months before he actually takes power – lets see the kind of pain he is prepared to inflict on people then, both in the US and in the rest of the world.

This is all tragic, but it is important to remember that it did not start with him. He is part of a wider pattern where the extreme-right have taken whole or partial electoral power. Even when they only have partial power this has seen a buoyancy of hate crimes – e.g. Greece when Golden Dawn won 21 seats in the (first) 2012 election, or Netherlands when the liberal People’s Party and the Christian Democrats accepted the support of the PVV for their minority government in 2010. But when the power of the state has been handed to them they have used all its machinery of violence on whatever scapegoats within its territory (e.g. Hungary and the UK targeting of ‘immigrants’; Poland’s trend of increasingly controlling legislation of womens’ bodies and movements) or outside its territory (e.g. Turkey extension into Syria of its ongoing genocide against the Kurds; Iran’s and Russia’s support for Assad’s mass murder of a people risen to ensure their own people know what is coming to them if they assert any basic democratic rights).While all certainly unique to their own circumstances, they do share a pattern that was already there before Trump’s arrival. But it has now announced itself with a bang with this pig (because the power of the US state machinery makes it so much more dangerous and because of US-centric world media that means it unfortunately is the centre of the world and as they say, if its not happening in america then it isn’t happening) although with tight elections around the corner in Austria and France and who knows where else as the trend plays out, it is clearly not limited to one man’s victory.

Nor is it likely to be limited to a handful of sets of states. As mentioned, many have regional police-man ambitions, while the weird and erratic economic shifts they instigate are going to have repercussions in trading partner states. Which is important because while for better r worse neoliberalism has been seen since the 1970s as the only political-economic order possible, its hegemony has been in crisis since 2008 and despite all our efforts it now looks like it is the right who are set to claim this ground. As Laurence Cox and Alf Gunvald Nilsen wrote a few years ago

“whether neoliberalism is ending is perhaps not the main question we should now be asking. Such hegemonic projects have relatively short shelf-lives, induced by their declining ability to meet the interests of the key members of the alliances which underpin them. The real question is more one of how much damage neoliberalism will do in its prolonged death agonies; and, even more importantly, what (or more sociologically, who) will replace it and how”

There are a number of essential actions that need to be taken immediately: neighbourhood organising to protect victims (this does not have to mean vigilante-ism; sometimes it is as simple as racially privileged people accompanying racially targeted people just to lessen the sense of immunity that police or bigots might have), actions targeting specific policies or wars, pressures on elites in states that have yet to fall to the right to withdraw moral support from and condemn the actions of these bigots so that they are not permitted to pretend to be legitimate participants in democracies (aside: a few months ago I had a conversation with an elderly life-long lefty from France, who told me that worse that the socialist party’s move to the centre-right was that socialist or other left politicians now agree to sit on discussion panels with the Front Nationale, whereas 20 years ago all lefties would leave their seats and refuse to facilitate the masquerading of hate speech as democratic debate – this is the long process of how we have let the likes of Trump come to pass). But beyond this, there is a need for movement-building that seriously comes to terms with a possible post-neoliberal world order, although far from the one we have been trying to bring into being.

That is a huge task, and even starting to think in this way is huge (not to mention depressing) and clearly cannot be dealt with here. So I’m going to finish this post by casting blame. For better or for worse, neoliberalism is dying. Due to its own inherent contradictions but also because of capitalist elites who transformed their own growth and profitability set-backs into an unprecedented economic crisis, neoliberalism has had an image-problem as a legitimate order since 2008. But because of their allies managing policy making institutions who refused to let bad investment and greed get what they deserve – nothing – and instead sucking wealth from the rest of society, because they relentlessly imposed such policies against all resistance, and did everything to stop a left-wing democratic and humane discourse from building itself as an alternative to neoliberalism, because of this, the have let the monsters take over. Obama created Trump, Hollande fostered La Pen, and Gordon Brown made Theresa May. The blood of fascism’s coming victims will be on their hands.

5 years after we Occupied Everywhere

The other day I was walking through Amsterdam with a friend and as we were passing Beursplein I thought back to one October morning when thousands of people converged to Occupy the square. And I realised that said morning – 15th October 2011 – was five years ago give or take a few days. I mentioned this to my friend but he said “Yes but what was achieved after everything?”

I didn’t give an answer because I didn’t have one. But it set me thinking. Ok, the revolutionary year has led, either directly or indirectly, to some terrible outcomes, e.g. civil wars in Syria, Libya, Ukraine, Iraq, Yemen; authoritarian and sometimes quasi-fascist regimes in Egypt, Turkey, Hungary, the disunited kingdom; plus some electoral scares elsewhere such as Austria and amerika. Nowhere has the burden of the capitalist crisis/heist been shifted onto Capital. All this being said, it has also led to some positive legacies, Rojava being the most promising, but also the PAH in Spain along with the municipalist experiments, and several liberated factories where workers and communities have reclaimed them from anti-productive capitalists (e.g. the VioMe coop and solidarity support is still preventing the theft of their facility).

But the reason I couldn’t give an answer to my friend is that simply listing the long-term outcomes seems to insult the importance of an amazing process as it was happening back then. It doesn’t feel right to try to do a results-based evaluation as if it was a marketing campaign, or lobbying service, where we ascribe value (‘evaluate’) to effects, count them against the others on offer, and ‘choose’ the most cost-effective product on the market.

The Movement of the Squares came 3 years into an economic crisis/heist and was a game changer in calling out the classed nature of state-imposed response. The elite, as a political-economic class, controlled wealth and governments and were shifting the costs of economic contraction onto the rest of us – us who had prior to this been silent or even not realised that we belonged in the same category until then. All this changed when the Movement announced itself loudly and very visibly, whether in the form of Mohamed Bouazizi the street vendor setting himself alight after being harassed by local officials and his goods confiscated, the M15 setting up camp opposite parliament and proclaiming “They call it democracy and it isn’t”, coupled with “It’s not a crisis but a scam”, or in the Occupations bringing the spotlight onto massive financial powerhouses of the 1% and declaring “We are the 99%”. It was no longer a case of pressuring governments to modify this or that particular policy or measure, but a proclamation that the entire system where governments who claim to represent the will of the people but who in reality implement the will of Global Capital had to change.

And on top of this, once given form in the shape of slogans or tactics the ideas seemed to take on a life wholly independent of those who coined them. Choose the metaphor you want – wave, forest fire, virus, whichever – but once it had been ignited the contagion was unstoppable. One man’s protest in Tunisia almost immediately inspired and empowered the multitude across north Africa and the Persian Gulf, then Madrid and Athens once infected became epicentres, and then Wall Street and then countless squares across Europe, Anglo- and Latin America and beyond were simultaneously Occupied on the morning of 15 October. In the days coming up to that date I remember reading messages about the different occupations being proposed under the phrase ‘Occupy Everywhere’ and thinking ‘Yes, this is it, this is the revolution we have been hoping for. It is global, it is one, it is autonomous, and is – we are – unstoppable. The world is transformed’.

The fact that it turned out to be in fact quite stoppable is irrelevant to how things looked at the time – for those of us involved in whatever way, the horizon of what was believed to be possible was completely exploded. This was a libertarian and anti-capitalist revolution, on a scale what was imminently global, intimately connected yet perfectly autonomous, where within the one revolt each confluence freely and radically democratically decides what to do and how to do it in their context. It was real, it was happening, the realisation of the Alter-globalist phrase “One No and many Yesses”, and the Zapatistas’ “world where many worlds fit”, all of which were identified in signs and human mics naming the one and many enemies: austerity, banks, budget cuts, the IMF, capitalism, debt, greed, the EU, money, corporate-controlled democracy, war, Sarkozy and Merkel, cannabis prohibition, fascism, the Bloomberg conspiracy, Draghi, the Germans, chemtrails, … Ok, the list contains some dubious candidates. But the point is is that they were allowed to fit. And in being spoken at assemblies the dreams, visions, and theories of a radically better world that all of us had been building inside us – some of us for years, others only recently becoming politicised – suddenly were no longer dreams and theories but concrete possibilities. They were happening. And that is the ember that still burns however quietly and clandestinely, long after the inferno has been contained. Although 2011 failed, we know that the smallest protest with the most moderate demands contains the possibility for a world transformed.

Book review: New Forms of Worker Organization – The Syndicalist and Autonomist Restoration of Class Struggle Unionism

New Forms of Worker Organization: The Syndicalist and Autonomist Restoration of Class Struggle Unionism

Edited by Immanuel Ness
Published by PM Press
new_forms_of_worker_organization
Image taken from the publishers, PM Press

The title and subject matter advertise themselves. The editor, Immanuel Ness, previously did a book on self-management factory councils as co-editor – both subjects could hardly be more grounded in emancipatory anti-capitalist activism by the very people most exploited by it. And then there is the forward by Staughton Lynd, all of which make it an easy sale. Nevertheless, I was kind of sceptical. It looked like the authors are researchers rather than union activists writing about their own struggles. And although the chapter layout tries to present a global reach by splitting the book into chapters on case studies from the Global South and then from the Global North, the latter looks it it is more or less confined to the Anglo-Saxon world – aside from one Chapter on Sweden’s SAC, the rest come from the US, UK, Australia, and the US again.

I started reading the Introductory Chapter, which starts by arguing that capitalism and labour struggles around the world today have more in common to 1910s and 1930s USA than any other heyday, and so he proceeded to sketch a history of the IWW, and competing ideas around autonomist and syndicalist unions. Not only is this most likely the other way around (i.e. He knows about subject X, therefore he frames the intro to make subject X relevant) but the whole thing seemed horribly Western-centric and Modernist – implying that the 3rd World has to develop out of poverty through catching up and emulating the 1st World in everything they do, even in how they do anti-capitalism. After reading the next two theoretical chapters on the Autnomia Operaia movement in Italy in the 1970s and on contemporary China, I was left with a thorough idea about about what the Confederazione dei Comitati di Base did not look like, but no idea what they did look like, and I understood all about the historical causes of the Tonghua Antiprivatisation Struggle, but nothing about the struggle itself. The whole thing just seemed opportunistic on part of a US academic and his network who wanted to make their areas of expertise appear relevant to real-world grassroots struggles.

I had previously read Ours to Master and to Own, a book which claims to be accessible and of interest to the Working Class, but in reality sticks rigidly to the form of academic writing, complete with theoretical framework sections, laborious citations, dry reporting style and cross-sectional researcher positionality, all of which serve to allow authors to convince other authors how much they know but just obstruct ordinary readers. (although, there is a lot to be said for that book, but that is for a different review). But then at some point I started to read the Chapter on mineworkers struggles in South Africa, written in a narrative style and searching for lessons to answer those dilemmas that the author as an activist is confronted with. And then there was revolutionary labour and community unionist struggles in Colombia and self-organised subway workers union starting to understand their power to cripple capital accumulation across all of Buenes Aires when they withdraw their collective labour. Both chapters written by people close to the struggle, and in the case of the Colombian Chapter, composed largely of threads of emails which tell the story as it unfolds in the words of union members and their supporters.

And it just got better from there. Chapters from Sweden and the UK tell enthralling stories of the 100 year history of Sweden’s syndicalist union and of the struggles, strikes, solidarity and splits amoung self-organised immigrant cleaners in the UK who set up an IWW local. But the keynote Chapter for me is that of Erik Forman, recounting his story of attempts to get their IWW union recognised in a chain of fast-food franchise restaurants in Minneapolis. This is the best Chapter, not only because the author is the closest to the struggle (working in the restaurant and one of the main initiators of the formation of the union) but moreso because it is written in a gripping, engaging style and because the adrenaline-filling episodes are interspersed with the author drawing on historical examples of union organising, his understanding of capitalism and the problems with mainstream unions and the challenges and dilemmas faced by alternative solidarity unions such as his.

With these case-focussed chapters taken in, the more theory-oriented ones on Australia, Italy, and the US, become much more relevant. I think I will go back and read them again to get a better idea of autonomist theory: how the Working Class rather than Capital can – and should – set the pace of capitalist crisis and why this insight is important. As a whole, what I have taken from this book is the suggestion that while the decline in union membership over the last two decades is usually lamented by the left, this might actually present an opportunity to relaunch a dormant class war as people confronting their circumstances are no longer channelled into impotent bureaucracies (and incidentally, the recent unionising and (by definition) wildcat strikes by uber and deliveroo workers (‘contractors’) in London seems to confirm this: they managed to organise strikes in under 24 hours in part because there was no official union on account of them not being legally employed). Also, most importantly, at a time when the capitalist class look they have won the battle ideas and weathered their worst crisis in history, this book shows (not argues) that the struggle for democratic control over the means of production is still as relevant as it ever was. In short, I thoroughly recommend this book, but maybe start with the middle chapters instead of the early ones.

Best of August

The civil war in Syria gets worse, with Assad seeing success with his strategy of starving territory back into control, and Turkey crossing the border. Yet again, the establishment media has done little more than regurgitate the official spin: that Turkey is responding to the ISIL terrorist attack on its territory by committing ground troops to the fight against them in Syria. When in fact, the bomb attack was in (Turkey-occupied) Kurdistan, at the wedding of a Kurdish political activist, which was used by Turkey as an excuse to implement a plan it had drawn up not to fight ISIL but to attack the autonomist project of the Syrian Kurds in Rojava, who are the most successful grouping gaining back territory from ISIL. And the US has gone along with it and finally ended the uneasy ‘temporary’ relationship with the Kurds, possibly because they don’t want Turkey getting closer to Russia, possibly because they too see the Rojava autonomist project as a threat, probably both. Either way, it shows that for the US and Turkey alike, fighting terrorism is less of a priority than imperialist hegemony. See this and this articles on the deal.

2016_08 Puerto Rican graffitti
Puerto Rican street art by La Puerta collective calling for a revolution against US colonialism. Image from ROAR.

Workers at two app-facilitated, conditions-destroying delivery companies in London have opened an important front in precarity-capitalism by organising wildcat strikes – not because they are radical anarchists who say fuck unions and class collaborationist process, but because they aren’t actually allowed to have a union, and as ‘contractors’ they don’t officially work there, so wildcat is the only way they can get together and strike. An important fightback against capital and the propaganda of the ‘sharing economy’. As Carlos Delclos from ROAR puts it, “Companies like Uber and Amazon Mechanical Turk privatized the [mutual aid]-style networking that allows these workers to earn a living, and then challenged governments to adapt their legal structures to their “no-benefits” employment scheme”. See these pieces on the Uber eats strike here and here, and this earlier one on the Deliveroo strike.

Also in England, following the disgraceful behaviour of Byron, a hamburger chain that exploited undocumented workers for years and then rounded them up and turned them over to the immigration police, a group in the National Health Service calling themselves ‘Docs not Cops’ is organising to make hospitals and health facilities no-immigration-police-zones and to refuse them access to medical data. A good article was posted on Novara about them. And Red Pepper ran this article damning the Chilcot enquiry for purposefully avoiding questions on the real motives for the war in Iraq, and the role of private corporations and lobyists in pushing the invasion agenda. Nice to see this, because I was getting fairly sick of hearing the media call the Chilcot report ‘damning’ and peddling its face-saving language (e.g. saying Blair ‘exaggerated’ the threat from Iraq, when in truth he made it up, etc).

2016_08 Pretoria protest
Protest by students at a formerly white-only school in Pretoria, South Africa, where a ban on afros is the trigger leading to outburst, but only the latest of a series of policies that has led students to connect the dots of institutional racism. “That is what forces us to realise that no matter how hard we work or how well we speak, we remain black. That is what forces us to realise that we are still niggers. That is what forces ‘coconuts’ to become conscious”. Photo from Daily Maverick.

Elsewhere,

2016_08 Chinese anti-racist protest in France
French-Chinese community in Paris organise and take to the streets to protest against violent, anti-Chinese  racist violence following recent murder. Image from Liberation.fr

And finally an excellent intersectionalist analysis queering marxism – looking at the many ways heteronormative society pushes LGBT*Q people into precarity. I usually don’t like overly materialist left-wing analysis because they tend to reduce form of oppression to just the economic impact, but this one does a great job.

Through international solidarity towards Abdullah Öcalan’s freedom – A call from Yekîtiya Ciwanên Rojava

Call for solidarity put out by the diplomatic committee of the Youth Union of Rojava. Decries treatment of Ocalan in prison, sets out some of the vision of the Rojava Democratic Confederalist project and calls for international solidarity with the movement. Thanks to Insurrection News for sharing.

Through international solidarity towards Abdullah Öcalan’s freedom

A call from Yekîtiya Ciwanên Rojava

While the capitalist modernity wants to prolong it’s age by emptying the content of our universe especially the minds of people which have been played with by the hands of oppression, until the point that people’s minds neither recognize what is happening in their environment nor with which danger humanity and life itself are confronted with. Since the creation of city states in Sumer and during their continuing development by oppressive powers until these days, all the people that stood up against the monster of capitalism were confronted with annihilation. In all times, especially in the Middle East, the capitalist system has been violating and destroying the natural laws. Furthermore it didn’t let the people of the region live together a life of peace and stability.

But in between this chaos somebody raised his head and said, enough of annihilation of humanity and nature and enough of violence, and began a struggle for the creation of a new system, a system which is lived in peace by all peoples on the basis of women’s freedom and defense of the nature/ecology. The one who created the idea of this system and the one who stood against the annihilation of societies and the interests of oppressive states, is the philosopher of the people Abdullah Öcalan. But he was kidnapped and detained through the international plot of these states on the 15th of February 1999. This plot targeted the will of freedom of Middle Eastern’s people in the individual of Öcalan. Since then Öcalan has been in the Imrali prison.

But because the people of this region do not follow the dirty games of capitalism, that’s why they have created the system of Democratic Nation for a common and con-federal life. In the system of Democratic Nation there is sociology of freedom and social justice to be found for all humans to be able to live equally in a ethic and political society based on youth’s initiative, ecology and women’s freedom. A result of this democratic idea are the revolution in Rojava and the creation of the federal system of North-Syria. Wherein all components of society are participating and have formed their own self-defense to resist the enemy of humanity – the Islamic State.

But this system, which has been created is not in the interest of the oppressive powers. For this reason a total isolation on Öcalan has been imposed from the 5th of April 2015 on, following the decision of AKP not to continue the peace process and therefore not to find a solution for the peoples of the region. The goal of this process, which has been started by Öcalan, is the creation of a democratic future, not only for the Kurdish and Turkish people but rather for all the people worldwide.

We, as the youth of Rojava which is organizing itself with the paradigm of Öcalan, are calling all the people and democratic forces worldwide, especially the youth, for actions and pressure on their governments so that the meetings with Öcalan are continued and informations about his situation are given concerning his life threat due to the very tense situation in Turkey right now. Not at least because this total isolation is against all kinds of human rights and because it’s an international plot, is it absolutely necessary for all democratic forces to fight for the freedom of Öcalan.

The struggle for freedom for Öcalan means struggle for the freedom of the people!
Fighting for freedom of Öcalan means fighting for women’s liberation!
Freedom for Öcalan means freedom for the youth and their initiative role in the society!

Diplomatic relations committee of the Youth Union of Rojava (YCR)

Is the end in sight for the austerity experiment?

The annual Greek drama ended in June this year with a relatively tidy deal: further austerity in exchange for more emergency loans. It was a less turbulent story than previous years, although not without some bumps. However, the striking thing this year is that the biggest shockwaves came from the international establishment and not from the resistance in Greece. Just prior to this year’s agreement in June, the Governor of the Greek Central Bank proposed a counter-cyclical strategy as an alternative to austerity. This despite the fact that last year when Varoufakis proposed pretty much the same package he sided with the Troika and refused to even look at it. This followed earlier overtures from the likes of the head of the commission, Junkner, who in May made allusions to debt relief being part of the next package. Also in May, the imf, stated

“We do not believe it will be possible to reach a 3.5% of GDP primary surplus [in 2018] by relying on hiking already high taxes levied on a narrow base, cutting excessively discretionary spending and counting on one-off measures as has been proposed in recent weeks.”

So why these sudden signals from the transnational economic dictatorsh-network suggesting they see austerity in Greece as a problem rather than the solution? We are just over one year since the European establishment elite forced a very humiliating defeat on Syriza, so what has changed since then that would bring elements within them to ‘propose’ the same deal that they would not even entertain last year?

The answer is easy to miss because it is so obvious – Syriza has changed since then. It has changed in two ways that the Establishment are acutely aware of. First it is no longer an anti establishment party and secondly, the political space vacated by them is there to be claimed by the fascist right. And the Establishment are also acutely aware that this is a microcosm of Europe more generally. Across Europe we are seeing both electoral success of radical left parties supported by – but still disconnected from – grassroots struggles, and simultaneously a the rise of the far right. As Paul Mason puts it, when the Establishment is being asked for debt-relief they are effectively being asked which side they are on. The answer is neither, but I would put money on it that if forced to choose between the two they would prefer a tamed and impotent left that can contain the hopes of the grassroots and keep them in check, rather than a lunatic fascist right that represents a very real possibility of bringing the EU crashing down.

So having de-fanged Syriza, the timing is perfect to continue the housetraining and reward them and the greek populace with some relief from austerity, which will have the intended effect of signaling to greek voters to stay with this serious party that can deliver results rather than experiment further with any parties on the left or right. Although Varoufakis’ insider leaks would suggest that the Eurogroup and their ilk don’t know shit about macro economics and are blissfully unaware of a fact that the majority of people have grasped from experience, I think a more likely explanation is that they are very much aware of how austerity medicine is one sure-fire way to worsen a crisis and prevent economic recovery – only they don’t care about this as long as their interests are secured. Time and time again cunning politicians will underplay their intelligence in order to avoid giving honest answers to difficult questions, to seem like a ‘man of the people’ and most importantly, because it is much less damaging for journalists and satirists to make fun of their medium-level intelligence than their knowing willingness to commit evil.

And when it comes to cunning and making a sham of democracy there is an absolute master at the helm. I’m still surprised at how after two years, many people mistake the political ideology of the sham-master-J. The widespread notion is that he is a ‘federalist’ – something that dates back to one of the previous times that he and Lagrande have been placed in the same paragraph. Think back to the hissy fit Cameron threw in response to the rise of UKIP as an electoral force in the European elections in 2014. These election had been billed as the most democratic in the history of the EU, because for the first time the european electorate would get to ‘decide’ who heads the commission, a flimsy and exaggerated requirement that aimed to give the unelected and unaccountable Executive, the European Commission, a veneer of democratic legitimacy through making the heads of state ‘take account’ of electoral wishes when appointing a new head of the commission. So when the grouping of European peoples’ parties (christian democrats) won the most seats in the powerless parliament, master-J was expected to be appointed to the commission. But they had another trick to make the appointment seem even more democratic. Apart from the continued dominance of the centre-right, those elections also saw success for many far left and far right groupings, so instead of a straightforward appointment of Junkner the european publics were sold the illusion of a ‘debate’ about whether or not he was too much of a federalist, with Lagrande proposed as an alternative candidate – an illusion that served two purposes: a) by having a public ‘discussion’ the EU could be made to seem more democratic at the time of its most glaring democratic deficit, and b) the question of whether the J-man represents a more or less integrated europe was only a distraction to temporarily hide the real victory for more of the same neoliberal austerity politics.

And two years later, this charade still forms the idea that many people have of the head of the european executive. So it is worth taking a look at what he actually represents. To start with, he became prime minister in Luxembourg in 1995, a position he held onto until 2013 with the help of a very professional and successful election machine. This guy managed to stay in power for 18 odd years, a track record that will humble the most conniving of careerist of politicians. Of course a liberal analysis would conclude that his longevity is a sign of his ability to stay in touch with the concerns of the people and secure their consent, but a more pragmatic approach would be to see this as a very successful manipulator with remarkable consistency in turning unstable variables (people) into preferred outcomes (votes). However, even the most successful brands can’t hold poll position forever (does anybody remember when IBM made computers?), and so the sham-master-J’s tenure did eventually come to an end in 2013 when in a snap-election his christian conservative party failed to deliver a majority-coalition of seats for the first time since forever. Coincidentally, with the european elections just around the corner, this end to an 18 dynasty was just in time to make him available to ‘run’ for the post that he currently holds. (strategically convenient you might say, but are you really that cynical??)

So, what this man represents is not a particular ideology that he will stick to to the end, (although he is clearly on the right of the spectrum), it is instead an expert on how to play the institutions of liberalism. So put yourself in their shoes and ask yourself how would they strategise? The first thing is that contrary to the belief that THEY don’t know that austerity doesn’t solve broken economies, – as I argued above, we may be dealing with devious monsters, but not idiots – they know well that the austerity assault has to come to an end sometime. Already with 8 years of it THEY have achieved a lot of neoliberal restructuring. What June 2015’s Syriza-Eurogroup drama represented was the culmination of 7 years grassroots struggle against austerity-capitalism, channeled into institutional structures and language, and for the first time coming face to face with the Establishment. The Establishment rallied to this battle which they could not afford to lose lest it serve as inspiration and the message gets out that ‘WE’ can defeat austerity. No. Instead Syriza’s capitulation drove the message across Europe that there is no possibility to defeat it on ‘our’ terms. One year later however, the space vacated by Syriza and by the equivalent inspirations in other countries is now ripe for the picking. Many countries are experiencing electoral instability, as one set of establishment parties follow another in failing to implement the will of electorates. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a defender of representative democracy as being democratic, but as a system it needs stability, which actually prevents political differences, and any time it becomes unstable, the concentrated power and violence of the state becomes ripe pickings for the extreme right. And the extreme right has only grown over the last year both with xenophobic anti-refugee rhetoric, and because voters have less and less parties to jump to (aside from ditching voting altogether and organising instead) as one after another parties on the left capitulate.

So actually, THEY are extremely well placed to capitalise on all this. THEY know austerity-neoliberal restructuring cannot continue indefinitely and have already got a lot out of this ‘experiment’: austerity-capitalism has become the ‘common-sense’ response to economic crisis when the lunacy of the pre-2008 era should have left capitalism with no legitimacy; they have lowered living- and labour- standards in Greece to make it ‘competitive’ with emerging economies, all while proportionally increasing returns the capitalist class expect on their investments; and they have learned just how far they can subvert democracy without a revolution. And hey will no doubt be looking forward to taking these lessons out of the laboratory and generalising them across the continent. But at this moment, having symbolically defeated the left-wing last year, political calculus would show that there is a chance to kill three birds with one stone in the coming six to 18 months. If they grant debt relief and a change in strategy now, they will simultaneously pre-emptively undercut the support building of the fascist right, they will discredit the extra-parliamentary left who say that change will not come from existing institutions, and to crown it all they will themselves appear as the heroes who deliver salvation and paste a thick layer of veneer over the perceived crisis of legitimacy of the EU.

But then, I could be all wrong about it and the bastards might be willing to let fascism take over europe again.