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.

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.

The EU is awful – But I still would ask UK-based leftists to vote against leaving

One of the many voices clammoring to be heard about the Brexit referendum in June. First of all, let me say that this post is not addressed to UK ‘people’. As in, I’m not appealling to UK ‘interests’ or trying to argue that the UK would be better or worse in or out of the EU. How can a group of 60 million people have a common interest and be uniformly better or worse off with a single decision? And let me say secondly that this is also not a defense of EU – you don’t need to convince me of how undemocratic and right-wing the whole institution is. Instead this is aimed at progressives, activists and general lefties who have the opportunity to vote on whether or not the UK should remain part of the EU.

Far be it from me to tell people how to vote, but I saw a video recently on Novara arguing for the left to vote for Brexit, which gives me a bit of concern that some parts of the UK left might fall into the trap of thinking in an us-versus-them logic when the real need is for solidarity. In a nutshell, the video gives four reasons for a Brexit vote, which amount to:

  1. the EU is undemocratic and is aggressively eroding democracy in Member States

  2. Laws and treaties such as TTIP will make socialist changes illegal

  3. the EU forces countries from the global south to accept free trade deals and open their weak markets to the brute force of western competition

  4. it has replaced internal national borders with massive external borders.

All this criticism is entirely accurate, but my question would be is the UK any better on any of these counts? Any debate about Brexit that only looks at one side and not the other is only half the story. What happened to all the debate about the nature of the UK state that was thrown up by the Scotland referendum last year?

But anyway, in writing this I want to avoid getting caught in the trap of talking about this in terms of what is good for UK people, even if we are talking about the UK left. Like it or not, we are in a European crisis-management-regime, and the outcomes of the UK referendum will be felt by the left Europe-wide. In taking this broader viewpoint, there are a few points that Bastiani makes about EU democracy which, while completely correct, need to be looked at closer. There are effectively 3 ways that enfranchised european citizens can influence the content and personnel of EU institutions – a) the European Parliament elections; b) national elections, with elected governments appointing commissioners to the European Commission and sitting on the European Council and other committees; and c) through referenda. Aside from referenda, the other two mechanisms are completely flawed. As Bastiani says, the Parliament is indeed only a symbol. The real power sits with Commission and Council. Which brings up a contradiction: the public debates surrounding national elections are not usually Europe focussed, whereas the Parliament elections are the only time that european issues are publicly debated, all of which results in that the real EU power is ‘elected’ in a context of domestic-centred debate, while those elections which are conducted amid Europe-centred debate are to a body which has no power.

When it comes to referenda, though, these instruments do indeed have the potential for people to throw a spanner in the works of an otherwise unaccountable machinery moving in directions that diverge with popular will. Witness how the Dutch and French citizenry delayed the ratification of the EU constitution for 6 years until it was eventually renamed as the Lisbon Treaty, rejected by the Irish first time but then passed at the second asking. And it must be remembered that the elites succeeded in winning this second time of asking only because the referendum was characterised by a bullish Sarkozy who completely rejected the right of voters to vote NO, and where voters were in the grips of economic terrorism after their first rejection in 2008 was quickly rewarded with an assault on the country’s financial and banking sector. Considering all this, referenda are one instrument where populations can hold the institutions to account most effectively and directly. There should be a referendum in every member state on all major decisions. Critics would no doubt say this would render the EU unworkable, but if you ask me, I think if an institution cannot be held to democratic account then unworkable is the best way for it.

But there are are problems with referenda as an instrument, and this has a central bearing on the Brexit vote. Despite opening up debate on core EU issues before a vote, all that NO votes can do really is throw spanners in the works. The exact interpretation of the direction of that spanner can easily be manipulated or more often simply ignored. In the aftermath of both the Nice treaty rejection in Ireland in 2001 and the Lisbon Treaty in 2008 the establishment were quick to paint both rejections as a misunderstanding of the issues, and a narrow concern with Irish neutrality, along with various straw men that they burned with fanfare. In other words, they spinned it as ‘well they didn’t really reject it, and if they did reject it was only because of this one issue which happens to be inoffensive and we can get a declaration about it’. That happened twice, in a context in which all the establishment parties campaigned for yes votes and still WE couldn’t control the message of our own spanner. Now think about what would happen if left-wing voters brought about a NO vote in the Brexit referendum. Unlike the irish situations, in this case there are establishment parties, – conservative and far-right ones at that – campaigning against the EU and I can guarantee that they will be the ones claiming ownership and filling the spanner with a very right-wing meaning.

But this focus on formal democracy kind of leaves a lot of things off the table. If you are asking about how democratic the EU is, the very reform package is a testament to how non-democratic it is. An economically powerful country with a rightist government has blackmailed the union into conceeding reforms, after 5 years during which said government has been one of the stronger voices (though admittedly not the strongest) against granting any concessions to countries such as Greece, Spain, Portugal, and Italy and giving consent to blackmailing and economically terrorising them into implementing austerity meassures against the wishes of is people. That for me is the biggest reason why I ask UK left-wing voters to reject Brexit. After years of stiffling any leftward democratic expression, the right-wing UK government is now blackmailing the rest of the union for a rightward anti-democratic change. So, I ask that when you enage in discussing this referendum, please reject the ‘is this good for Britain?’ nationalist trap and instead stand in solidarity with Europe-wide activists who have been pushed around too long.