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.


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

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.

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.

Best of June 2016

June was the month where Muhammad Ali passed away. There was a lot of stuff in the media but this piece here is a nice and unique perspective. It was also the month of the Orlando massacre, the forty year anniversary of the Soweto uprisings, and things started to kick off in Oaxaca again. Try these pieces on: erasure of gay and trans people of colour, particularly radical activists, in how the Stonewall riots are remembered; how only 20 years after overthrowing a totalitarian police state South Africa under the ANC is in many ways reverting to the old logic of control; and this shocking piece about the new teachers’ strikes in Oaxaca, ten years after the rebellion, and the appalling response from the state. (incidentally, yesterdays Guardian shamefully chose to run this Reuters article which portrays the Mexican army very favourably, focussing on their plans to deliver food aid to remote regions who are running out of food supplies because of the teachers’ blockades. It euphemistically refers to the attack on the protests and murder as “eight people died last month in clashes between police and the protesting teachers”).

The refugee crisis continues as does Europe’s shameful response. Here is an interview with an asylum seeker which touches on the conditions in which asylum seekers are forced to live in Ireland and a revolution of sorts against the management in one of the residential centres and efforts to build a wider asylum seeker movement.

A data-supported critique of continued austerity policies in Greece, by Varoufakis, plus proposals for restructuring of debt. Preaching to the converted here – we all know austerity doesn’t work – but still a good resource when arguing with the unconverted or wilfully ignorant. And something you probably didn’t already know so much about, how investor-state dispute arbitration systems screw over countries to be benefit of profits of powerful private corporations and their corporate lawyers in this enraging article in the New Internationalist.

But finishing on an also angry but more hopeful note, a very interesting piece about student rent strikes in the UK and how they get at a financial system that distributes wealth from students in general to super-elite private schools which serve to reproduce britain’s almost feudal class structure. It also connects well with another piece – written in May, but anyhow – also at Novara about staff strikes at the same university and possibilities for some sort of class alliance between student rent strikers and precarious staff strikes to challenge the neoliberal university.

About POSTS OF THE MONTH: Consider this a Twitter feed on a timescale suitable for those of us who still have a life outside of the internet. Brief synopsis of blog posts and articles I found particularly good during the month but which I didnt have time to engage properly with.

International call for struggle and solidarity with Puerto Rico

A call for solidarity with Puerto Rico against the US-imposed debt regime from Junta Contra la Junta. No to colonialism, no to imperliasm, and especially no to the Oversight Board – the US committee that manages the colony. Translated by and shared from the Entitle blog.

“We are asking the international community and the Puerto Ricans of the diaspora to show solidarity with the situation that our country is now experiencing” 

Puerto Rico, a colony of the United States since 1898, currently faces an economic-financial and socio-political crisis with an economy that has contracted for 10 years, record-level outmigration and unemployment, and a massive debt of more than $70 billion, representing almost 70% of the county’s gross domestic product (GDP). Some have called it the “Greece of the Caribbean” and others have spoken of a potential humanitarian crisis.

The crisis is in important ways self-inflicted, thanks to decades of ill-conceived economic policies, as well as high levels of corruption. Yet it is undeniable that the colonial situation –expressed in US policies such as the mandatory use of the US naval fleet (the most expensive in the world) for imports to Puerto Rico, costing hundreds of millions annually; the triple-exempt tax status of Puerto Rico government bonds; the prohibition of any type of protection of local small businesses against large US corporations; and the inability to design foreign policies (including trade policy)– has also played an important role. The same can be said of the parasitic behaviour of the corporate financial sector which benefited from these policies. Any solution that does not address these issues, is therefore bound to fail.


In addition, there are strong arguments for not paying this debt in full. First and foremost, we need to recognize the social and ecological debt the United States has with Puerto Rico: from the US military bases that stole Puerto Rican land and water and, in cases like Vieques, created huge socio-economic and ecological devastation, to the economic returns and ecological damages generated by US corporations which have historically exploited Puerto Rican workers and land. Indeed, for decades, US corporations have operated from Puerto Rico without paying any taxes, repatriating more than $30 US billion annually.

Moreover, if, as the US Supreme Court recently confirmed, Puerto Rico’s legislative powers  emanate from the authority of the US Congress, then, the logical conclusion is that the debt incurred by the Puerto Rican government is actually owed by the US government which is the true authority. Another argument is that the vulture funds which have capitalised on the debt, bought it for a fraction of the amount they now seek to reap, with full knowledge of the dire economic situation and the risks faced in these investments. Finally, nearly half of the debt could be illegal, strengthening long-standing calls for a full audit of the debt before continued payment.

As a supposed ‘solution’ to this debt crisis, the US House of Representatives has passed a proposed law, cynically called PROMESA (promise, in spanish), designed by the Wall Street vultures precisely to guarantee that Puerto Rico pay this debt. The bill, which is supported by President Obama and by Hillary Clinton and is expected to be approved in the Senate, would lower the minimum wage in Puerto Rico for workers under 25 years of age, and would create a seven-member unelected board (to be appointed by the US Congress and the President).

This board will have powers to make all decisions about the Puerto Rican budget, make changes to the Puerto Rican public retirement system, sell Puerto Rican public properties, and approve in fast-track processes -over existing laws and the Puerto Rico constitution- any projects they deem priority for generating revenue. Amongst the projects that could be approved in such a fashion are a waste incinerator plant, which has faced strong opposition from local communities and environmental organisations, and a ‘super tube’ to transport natural gas across the island. The proposal contains no guarantee for a debt restructuring or bankruptcy process.

Besides laying bare the colonial status of Puerto Rico, PROMESA is a clear attempt to intensify the processes of dispossession of Puerto Rico’s resources and turn the island into an exclusive paradise for the super-rich. It also represents an imminent threat to the well-being and the lives of all Puerto Ricans. Various civil society organisations have begun organizing to mobilise against this project, while at the same time denouncing this colonial condition and demanding an end to it.

Cartoon of famed revolutionary nationalist leader Pedro Albizu Campos with the infamous Uncle Sam. Source: Acción Nacional Boricua Facebook page

One of these organisations, Junte contra la Junta has put out the following international call that seeks support in this struggle, which we reproduce below in English. The call is also available in Spanish,  Français,  Euskera,  Türkçe,  Português,  ქართული,  Кöрди.

International Call to Struggle and Solidarity against the Imposition of the Oversight Board (P.R.O.M.E.S.A) in Puerto Rico

We invite the international community and the Puerto Rican diaspora to join us in solidarity in our country’s present situation. Let’s remember that Puerto Rico has been a colony of the United States since 1898. Ever since the invasion up to our present time, the United States and the colonial government of Puerto Rico have imposed a series of laws for economic and political gain (Foraker Act in 1900, Jones Act in 1917, Gag Law in 1947, Puerto Rico Federal Relations Act in 1953, Public Law 7 in 2009) which have disrupted the social, economic, and political reality of the oldest colony in the American continent.

They have submerged us in a desperate economic crisis, with the intent of continuing to steal our resources while the living conditions of our people continue to rapidly deteriorate, thus exacerbating the precariousness of healthcare and education, rising costs of living, rampant unemployment, and rising criminality rates. A massive emigration has reached unimaginable levels, while there is no stopping the delivery of our country to big interests for their businesses and vacations. Currently, Puerto Rico has become the Greece of the Caribbean, with a debt higher than 73 billion dollars owed to Wall Street’s financial capital. The Oversight Board (P.R.O.M.E.S.A), born out of H.R. 5278, pretends to bleed out the country for the benefit of the creditors (vultures). With the imposition of said board, true to the style of soft coups perpetrated by U.S. imperialism, the following would be established.

Protest banner against the Fiscal Oversight (Control) Board at the recent Puerto Rican Day Parade in New York City, June 12/2016. Source: juntecontralajunta Facebook page

The Oversight Board (P.R.O.M.E.S.A) in 12 points:

  1. The seven members who would compose the board would be chosen directly and solely by the Federal Government. Only one of the members would have to reside or own a business in Puerto Rico. Not even Puerto Rico’s Governor or the local Legislature would have any power within the board or over the decisions that the board could make.
  2. The board would last a minimum of 4 years. There is no yearly limit established.
  3. The board would control the entire budget and laws of the country.
  4. It could render ineffective, at any moment, any laws already approved.
  5. It could sell assets (goods, properties, buildings, and public corporations, among others).
  6. It would decide which laws would pass and which wouldn’t, using criteria based on financial impact, even if it means a deterioration of the lives, health, and social resources of the people.
  7. It would have the power to freeze job vacancies as well as toreduce and fire personnel.
  8. The board rejects laws and measures related to overtime pay.
  9. It would submit the population aged 20-25 to economic exploitation through the imposition of a minimum wage of $4.25 per hour.
  10. It would eliminate the right to strike.
  11. It would not include economic incentives. It would not bring equality in Medicare and other federal funds. It would NOT protect retirement.
  12. It would protect exclusively the economic interests of the creditors (vultures).

We call on the Puerto Rican diaspora in every corner of the world, social movements, and internationalist political organizations to show solidarity and organize against the Oversight Board. How? Visit and stay up to date. Find information and agitation tools. Organize your neighborhood and your community, doing teach-ins and information sessions, distributing newsletters, protesting and marching against the Oversight Board. ¡Let’s build a Resistance!

No to the Oversight Board! No to colonialism! No to imperialism!


 Junte contra la Junta (Puerto Rico)

twitter: JunteContraLaJunta @NoALaJunta

Comité Boricua en la Diaspora – ComBo– (New York, USA) (Chicago, USA)