Sunday, 31 May 2015

Labour’s Way Back to Power is an Electoral Rubik’s Cube Without a Change of Electoral System

As the Labour party ponders electing its new leader from the thoroughly uninspiring choice of Andy Burnham, Yvette Cooper, Liz Kendall or Mary Creagh, the challenge of winning power again is more complicated than ever before.

When Tony Blair et al plotted the new Labour takeover of the party in the 1990s the plan was pretty straightforward. Move the party to the right and steal the Tories clothes, whilst being confident that voters on the left had ‘nowhere else to go’. They were aided in this by an exhausted and divided Tory party grown arrogant through 18 years in power. Essentially though, the plan worked in 1997 returning Labour with a landslide majority in the House of Commons, but even then there were signs of the backlash that would eventually lead to their sorry position of today.

Turn out in the 1997 general election was 71%, which in today’s terms looks pretty decent, but this represented a drop in turn out of 7% from 1992. By the general election of 2001, the warning lights were flashing with a record low turn out of only 59%. I remember Jack Straw, then Labour Home Secretary saying that this represented the ‘politics of contentment’. That really must win the prize for most complacent political analysis of all time. Turn out was lowest in Labour held constituencies, with some inner city areas in the low 30s%.

Turn out recovered a little in 2005 to the mid 60s% in the wake of the Iraq war, but Labour lost a million votes to the Lib Dems, a trend which continued in the 2010 general election when they were ejected from government.

What had gradually happened was Labour voters increasingly did not bother to turn out at elections and others started to vote for other parties, most notably the Lib Dems. But by the 2015 general election, the Lib Dems discredited by coalition with the Tories, did not benefit. The Green party quadrupled our vote, mostly at the expense of Labour (and former Labour, Lib Dems) in England and the SNP in Scotland did. Meanwhile, UKIP made inroads into the Labour vote in parts of England and Wales.

These new UKIP voters do have concerns about immigration but I think this is just a lightening-rod issue. What really has turned them off Labour is that stagnation in living standards where wages have fallen since 2003 and public services were not invested in to cope with the extra demand on them from immigration. I expect Labour will come up with some anti-immigrant policies though, rather than address the real issues at the heart of these people’s discontent.

The problem with this though, is that it is likely to drive even more left voters to the Greens, Lib Dems and SNP. Labour may decide that Scotland is pretty much lost for a generation at least anyway and they need to concentrate on gaining votes in southern England. But this may cost them votes in London too, one of Labour’s few strongholds left, because London is an immigrant city, and by and large has done well out of immigration.

This is how complicated it is for Labour to bring a coalition of voters together, large enough to win power at Westminster and I have not heard a convincing argument from the prospective candidates for leader of the party, or indeed from the party generally, of how to do this.

I think it is in Labour’s interests therefore, to support a campaign for a change in the electoral system, to a more proportional one.

A report to be released tomorrow, written by the Electoral Reform Society on the unfairness and total unsuitability for the multi-party politics of the UK today, should be digested by Labour. If they embrace it, they may be able to build an alliance that will get the Tories out. But I expect they will just tack to right, and wait for people to get fed up with the Tories, but this is high risk strategy, and could lead to the disappearance of Labour as a major party. We will see.

Thursday, 28 May 2015

Capitalism Could Kill All Life on Earth

Are we going to let capitalism destroy life on Earth?

According to 99 percent of climate scientists – we'll know by the end of the century.

Scientists have agreed for three decades about what is causing atmospheric temperatures to rise – humans are burning Earth's carbon resources to fuel economic activity.

But even before we knew what was causing the temperature to rise – scientists warned about the dire global impacts of a two degree increase in atmospheric temperatures.

Earth's climate has been basically stable for hundreds of thousands of years.

But that changed during the industrial revolution - when Great Britain realized the potential of coal-powered steam engines.

Soon continental Europe and the US followed suit.

And more than 150 years later – coal, oil and natural gas dominate the global politics and economics: wars are fought over oil; communities are destroyed for coal; and increasingly scarce water supplies are poisoned by natural gas extraction.

The Earth has already warmed about one degree Celsius above pre-industrial levels - which means we have to change our energy system completely before the Earth warms another degree in order to avoid the catastrophic impacts of climate change.

Is it possible?

Scientists say "Yes!" - BUT it will require us to take bold and immediate steps towards a completely renewable energy system.

The technology exists – the shortfall is in investment.

According to the IMF – oil companies get $5.3 trillion in subsidies worldwide per year.

And the oil companies pay only a portion – if any – of the environmental costs of ripping fossil fuels from the ground and burning the CO2 into the atmosphere.

In other words, every living human being and government are paying for coal, oil, and gas companies to profit from the destruction our planet.

And that's not a market failure – that's how the market was set up.

Capitalism as we know it isn't the solution – it's the problem.

In a report in "Nature Climate Change" – scientists point out that we can keep temperatures below 1.5 degrees Celsius – if every country takes bold and immediate action to deploy current clean energy and limit the use of fossil fuels.

The biggest failure in our system is that there is no price on carbon.
Burning fossil fuels and releasing carbon into our atmosphere has very real costs that corporations aren't paying for – costs that are being kicked down the road for future generations.

In the US, we've let the fossil fuel industry become so profitable that it relentlessly funds campaigns and lobbies to keep oil subsidies in place and weaken environmental regulations - all at the expense of our communities and our planet.

Our current oligarchs claim that renewable power isn't efficient or cheap enough to be competitive or to reliably replace fossil fuels – but that's just not true.

Solar, wind, and wave technology are all ready to be deployed at large scales – and Denmark, Germany, the UK and China, among others, are doing it right now.

Our transportation system is ready for renewables – solar roadways in the Netherlands are proving more effective than expected – and over two dozen models of electric cars are now out on the market.

Our households are ready for renewables: LED lightbulbs and high efficiency appliances mean that households use less energy – and affordable rooftop solar means that households can meet a lot their own energy needs.

We can make renewables competitive if we just cut subsidies to oil and coal companies and enforce our clean air and clean water regulations – but that means getting money out of politics so that legislation is written in the interest of communities and the planet - instead of corporations.

Capitalism is great at creating profits and products – but it doesn't care about environmental justice.

Capitalism doesn't care whether we restore our forests and soils so that the planet can begin to reabsorb the carbon we've dumped into the atmosphere.

Capitalism doesn't care whether streams are poisoned or if the air is noxious – it doesn't care if a river burns because of pollution – and it doesn't care if another technology is 'cleaner' - unless the 'dirty' option becomes unprofitable.

That's why we need both more regulation of the fossil fuel industry - and public investments into clean energy like solar and wind.

Capitalism is to make money - but a government like our republic is put into place to protect the people from those whose quest for money harms society. We cannot replace democratic government with capitalism – and climate change proves this.

In fact - climate change challenges capitalism at its very root – is an economy really growing when all the costs are dumped on society while a handful of corporations and billionaires take all the profits?

Science says that we can keep global temperatures from rising another half degree – but it can't be left to a private sector that makes its profits from leaving the costs to everybody else.

It's time for a New Green Deal – we need to stop directly and indirectly subsidizing the fossil fuel industry and we need to invest in a large-scale deployment of current clean energy technologies – one that will create permanent, sustainable jobs, and protect the Earth for future generations.

Written by The Daily Take Team, The Thom Hartmann Program and first published at Truthout 

Wednesday, 27 May 2015

Photos - Queen's Speech Anti Tory Demo - London

Around 3,000 people demonstrated outside Parliament today, against the Tory austerity policies as outlined in the Queen's speech to the opening of the new Parliament. The demo was organised by the People's Assembly.

Pete Murry, Will Holyday and Martin Francis of Green Left

Romayne Phoenix of Green Left

Scuffles with police break out on Whitehall

More scuffles in Parliament Square

Mark Serwotka of the PCS union

Kate Hudson of CND and Left Unity

Lynsey German of Stop the War

Natalie Bennett of the Green Party

John Rees of Counterfire

Tuesday, 26 May 2015

Little Free Libraries – A Community Sharing Initiative

The first Little Free Library was opened in Wisconsin in the United States in 2009. Now there are thousands worldwide, and are increasingly springing up around the UK and especially in London. The Little Library Project is a registered charity whose purposes include promoting reading, art and community engagement. And by increasing access to books and engaging people to read more books they hope to play a small part in the essential task of improving literacy rates in the UK. Now, one has sprung up in our front garden (pictured above) in Haringey, north London.

I can’t claim the credit for the idea of having one of these libraries (but I can for the small civil engineering job of getting it up and running), or the effective management of the operation, that is down to my partner. She reports that business has been brisk in the week and a bit since its official opening, both in people borrowing books and donating them too. She says that she was attracted to idea because she loves books and thought it would be a fun thing to do. Also, although these libraries are not intended to replace local authority run ones, it does highlight the threat to free public access to books.

People often stop for a chat if we’re in the garden, ask about the project and all have been very positive about the whole thing. When I talk to people from other parts of the UK, they all seem to think that those who live in London don’t know who is even living next door to them, let alone that local communities exist in London, just like anywhere else.

I do have what some have called a ‘romantic’ view of community, which I think has its roots in my childhood. In those days, in Manchester and across the north of England, municipal socialism was the order of the day, and I have much to thank the council for my education and decent home to live in. But more than this, there was a genuine feeling of solidarity and community, where many people helped their neighbours, through favours and community activity.  Although this still exists, I think it is much weaker than it was, as we have been encouraged to see ourselves as ‘individuals’ and in effect in competition with each other in the mad scramble to get on in life. As Margaret Thatcher once notoriously announced, ‘there is no such thing as society, there are only individual men and women’. But Thatcher was wrong, there is such a thing as society and it is local communities that underpin it.  

I also like the idea of sharing. Sharing has got a new lease of life, since it became a social media buzzword (Facebook, Youtube etc.) and is the basis of the ‘global commons’ on the world wide web. But the concept is an old one and libraries are a great example of sharing. It is also good for the planet, reducing unnecessary production and demonstrating a more sustainable economic model.    

It seems to me that this is a small step in the direction of ecosocialism, a pre-configuration if you will, of the type of society we must build in the future, if there is to be a future worth living.   

Monday, 25 May 2015

Interview - Noam Chomsky: Why the Internet Hasn't Freed Our Minds -- Propaganda Continues to Dominate

The noted scholar offers his thoughts on the current media landscape in the era of the World Wide Web and Edward Snowden.

Interviewed by Seung-yoon Lee and first published at Alternet

Three decades ago, Professor Noam Chomsky, who is seen by some as the most brilliant and courageous intellectual alive and by others as an anti-US conspiracy theorist, penned his powerful critique of the Western corporate media in his seminal book Manufacturing Consent, with co-author Edward S Herman. The book had a profound impact on my perception of the mainstream media in my teenage years, and was crucial in some ways to my decision to start Byline with my co-founder Daniel Tudor. By cutting out the advertiser and political bias of the proprietor, we believed that crowdfunding had the potential to democratise the media landscape and support independent journalism.

In “Manufacturing Consent,” Noam Chomsky posits that Western corporate media is structurally bound to “manufacture consent” in the interests of dominant, elite groups in society. With “filters” which determine what gets to become ‘news’ – including media ownership, advertising, and “flak”, he shows how propaganda can pervade the “free” media in an ostensibly democratic Western society through self-censorship. However, lot has changed since then. We now have the Internet. The so-called legacy media organisations which have been “manufacturing consent” according to Chomsky are in massive financial trouble. Has any of his analysis changed? I recently interviewed Noam Chomsky at his MIT office, to find out his views on the current media landscape.

Seung-yoon Lee: Twenty-seven years ago, you wrote in ‘Manufacturing Consent’ that the primary role of the mass media in Western democratic societies is to mobilise public support for the elite interests that lead the government and the private sector. However, a lot has happened since then. Most notably, one could argue that the Internet has radically decentralised power and eroded the power of traditional media, and has also given rise to citizen journalism. News from Ferguson, for instance, emerged on Twitter before it was picked up by media organisations. Has the internet made your ‘Propaganda Model’ irrelevant?

Noam Chomsky: Actually, we have an updated version of the book which appeared about 10 years ago with a preface in which we discuss this question. And I think I can speak for my co-author, you can read the introduction, but we felt that if there have been changes, then this is one of them. There are other [changes], such as the decline in the number of independent print media, which is quite striking.

As far as we can see, the basic analysis is essentially unchanged. It’s true that the internet does provide opportunities that were not easily available before, so instead of having to go to the library to do research, you can just open up your computer. You can certainly release information more easily and also distribute different information from many sources, and that offers opportunities and deficiencies. But fundamentally, the system hasn’t changed very much.

Seuny-yoon Lee: Emily Bell, Director at the Tow Center for Digital Journalism at Columbia Journalism School, said the following in her recent speech at Oxford: “News spaces are no longer owned by newsmakers. The press is no longer in charge of the free press and has lost control of the main conduits through which stories reach audiences. The public sphere is now operated by a small number of private companies, based in Silicon Valley.” Nearly all content now is published on social platforms, and it’s not Rupert Murdoch but Google’s Larry Page and Sergei Brin and Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg who have much more say in how news is created and disseminated. Are they “manufacturing consent” like their counterparts in so-called ‘legacy’ media?

Noam Chomsky: Well, first of all, I don’t agree with the general statement. Say, right now, if I want to find out what’s going on in Ukraine or Syria or Washington, I read The New York Times, other national newspapers, I look at the Associated Press wires, I read the British press, and so on. I don’t look at Twitter because it doesn’t tell me anything. It tells me people’s opinions about lots of things, but very briefly and necessarily superficially, and it doesn’t have the core news. And I think it’s the opposite of what you quoted - the sources of news have become narrower. So for example, take where we are now, Boston. Boston used to have a very good newspaper, The Boston Globe. It still exists but it’s a pale shadow of what it was twenty or thirty years ago. It used to have bureaus around the world, fine correspondents, and some of the best journalism on Central America during the Central American wars, and good critical journalism on domestic events and on many other topics. Go to a newsstand and have a look now. What you see is local news, pieces from the wire services, some pieces from The New York Times, and very little else.

Now that’s happened around the country, and in fact, around the world. And it’s a narrowing of these sources of journalism about what’s happening on the ground. That doesn’t mean that reports in the NYT have to be read uncritically, or those in The Guardian or The Independent or anywhere else. Sure, they have to be read critically, but at least they’re there. There are journalists there on the scene where major events are taking place and, now there are fewer of them than before, so that’s a narrowing of the sources of news. On the other hand, there is a compensating factor. It’s easier now to read the press from other countries than it was twenty years ago because of instead having to go to the library or the Harvard Square International Newsstand, I can look it up on the Internet. So you have multiple effects. As far as Silicon Valley is concerned, say Google, I’m sure they’re trying to manufacture consent. If you want to buy something, let’s say, you look it up on Google. We know how it works. The first things on the list are the ones that advertise. That doesn’t mean that they’re the most important ones. But it’s a reflection of their business model, which is of course based on advertising, which is one of the filters [in our model], in fact.

I use Google all the time, I’m happy it’s there. But just as when I read The New York Times or the Washington Post, or the Wall Street Journal knowing that they have ways of selecting and shaping the material that reaches you, you have to compensate for it. With Google, and others of course, there is an immense amount of surveillance to try to obtain personal data about individuals and their habits and interactions and so on, to shape the way information is presented to them. They do more [surveillance] than the NSA.

Seung-yoon Lee: In his essay “Bad News about News,” Robert G. Kaiser, former Editor of the Washington Post says, “News as we know it is at risk. So is democratic governance, which depends on an effective watchdog news media. Both have been undermined by changes in society wrought by digital technologies—among the most powerful forces ever unleashed by mankind.” Not only are the biggest news organisations like the New York Times, and the Washington Post (which was sold to the founder of Amazon for US$250 million, a small fraction of its worth just a few years before), and others are financially suffering and lack a clear roadmap for survival, but also numerous local newspapers across the United States and United Kingdom are shutting down every week. I know you see some of these organisations as “manufacturers of consent,” but how can we fund quality journalism in this new digital age?

Noam Chomsky: How is the BBC funded?

Seung-yoon Lee: By the public.

Noam Chomsky: And take the United States. When the United States was founded, there was an understanding of the first amendment that it has a double function: it frees the producer of information from state control, but it also offers people the right to information. As a result, if you look at postwar laws, they were designed to yield an effective public subsidy to journals in an effort to try to provide the widest range of opinion, information, and so on. And that’s a pretty sensible model. And it goes back to the conception of negative and positive liberty. You have only negative liberty, that is, freedom from external control, or you have positive liberty to fulfill your legitimate goals in life - in this case, gaining information. And that’s a battle that’s been fought for centuries.

Right after the Second World War, in the United States, there was major debate and controversy about whether the media should serve this double function of giving both freedom from x amount of control – that was accepted across the board - and additionally, the function of providing the population with fulfilling its right to access a wide range of information or opinion. The first model, which is sometimes called corporate libertarianism, won out. The second model was abandoned. It’s one of the reasons why the US only has extremely marginal national radio businesses compared to other countries. It relates to what you’re asking--an alternative model is public support for the widest possible range of information and analysis and that should, I think, be a core part of a functioning democracy.

Seung-yoon Lee: In the absence of a good business model, new media organisations from Buzzfeed to Vice have pioneered so-called “native advertising,” a form of online advertising that seeks to fool the consumer into believing that they are reading "editorial" content rather than paid advertisements. Basically, they are advertorials. Ironically, even a progressive newspaper like The Guardian publishes sponsored content from Goldman Sachs. What’s your view on native advertising?

Noam Chomsky: This [native advertising] is exaggerating and intensifying a problem that is serious and shouldn’t even exist in the first place. The reliance of a journal on advertisers shapes and controls and substantially determines what is presented to the public. Again, if you go back to our book, it’s one of the filters. And if you look back, the very idea of advertiser reliance radically distorts the concept of free media. If you think about what the commercial media are, no matter what, they are businesses. And a business produces something for a market. The producers in this case, almost without exception, are major corporations. The market is other businesses - advertisers. The product that is presented to the market is readers (or viewers), so these are basically major corporations providing audiences to other businesses, and that significantly shapes the nature of the institution. You can determine by common sense that it would, but if you investigate it up front as well, it does [bear out], so what you’re now talking about is an intensification of something which shouldn’t exist in the first place.

Seung-yoon Lee: I was shocked to see that the global PR firm Edelman did some research on whether readers can actually tell whether what they are reading is an advertisement or an article... and 60% of readers didn’t notice that they were reading adverts.

Noam Chosmky: And that’s always been true. The effect of advertiser reliance and public relations firms is noticeable in the nature of what the media produce, both in their news and commentary. And how could it be otherwise, that’s the market.

Seung-yoon Lee: Recently, The Guardian and The Washington Post revealed widespread secret surveillance by the National Security Agency through Edward Snowden. Such reporting surely undermines the idea of what you would call the ‘elite interest’ that dominates the government and private sector. Does this case undermine your propaganda model or is it an exception to the rule?

Noam Chomsky: For the propaganda model, notice what we explain there very explicitly is that this is a first approximation - and a good first approximation - for the way the media functions. We also mention that there are many other factors. In fact, if you take a look at the book ‘Manufacturing Consent’, about practically a third of the book, which nobody seems to have read, is a defence of the media from criticism by what are called civil rights organisations - Freedom House in this case. It’s a defence of the professionalism and accuracy of the media in their reporting, from a harsh critique which claimed that they were virtually traitors undermining government policy. We should have known, on the other hand, that they were quite professional.

The media didn’t like that defence because what we said is – and this was about the Tet Offensive - that the reporters were very honest, courageous, accurate, and professional, but their work was done within a framework of tacit acquiescence to a propaganda system that was simply unconscious. The propaganda system was ‘what we’re doing in Vietnam is obviously right and just’. And that passively supports the doctrinal system. But on the other hand, it was also undermining the government. It was showing that government claims are false. And take, say, the exposure of Watergate, or the exposure of business corruption. One of the best sources of information on business corruption is the businessperson. The media do quite a lot of very good exposes on this, but the business world is quite willing to tolerate the exposure of corruption. The business world is also quite willing to tolerate exposure of governments intervening in personal life and business life in a way that they don’t like, as they don’t want a powerful and intrusive state. That’s not to criticise The Guardian and The Post for providing an outlet for the Snowden/Greenwald material - of course they should have, they’re professional journalists. There are a lot of factors, but we picked out factors we think are very significant but not all-inclusive, and as a matter of fact, we gave counter-examples.

Seung-yoon Lee: And do you think this is a counter-example, in some sense

Noam Chomksy: It’s not a counter example, it’s a demonstration that there are other things. That in addition to the major factors, there are also minor factors which we discussed, like professionalism and professional integrity, which is also a factor.

Seung-yoon Lee: Do you think that crowdfunding can help make journalism more independent?

Noam Chomsky: I think it’s a good general principle that almost anything that increases the variety and range of available media is beneficial. Of course, this particular approach will have its own problems. Every approach does. There’s no ideal type with no problems connected with it, but in general the wider the range of variety of what’s available, the better off you are.

Seung-yoon Lee: Can I ask your opinion on Charlie Hebdo? What do you think of this ‘freedom of speech no matter what’ principle?

Noam Chomsky: Well, I think we should strongly support freedom of speech. I think one of the good things about the United States, incidentally, as distinct from England, is that there is much higher protection of freedom of speech. But freedom of speech does not mean a lack of responsibility. So for example, I’m in favour of freedom of speech, but if somebody decided to put up a big advertisement in Times Square, New York, glorifying the sending of Jews to gas chambers, I don’t think it should be stopped by the state, but I’m not in favour of it.

Seung-yoon Lee: Also, regarding the specific incident of Charlie Hebdo, do you think the cartoonists lacked responsibility?

Noam Chomsky: Yes, I think they were kind of acting in this case like spoiled adolescents, but that doesn’t justify killing them. I mean, I could say the same about a great deal that appears in the press. I think it’s quite irresponsible often. For example, when the press in the United States and England supported the worst crime of this century, the invasion of Iraq, that was way more irresponsible than what Charlie Hebdo did. It led to the destruction of Iraq and the spread of the sectarian conflict that’s tearing the region to shreds. It was a really major crime. Aggression is the supreme international crime under international law. Insofar as the press supported that, that was deeply irresponsible, but I don’t think the press should be shut down.

Noam Chomsky is a professor of linguistics and philosophy at MIT.

Saturday, 23 May 2015

EU Referendum – Give us a Choice of Four Options

As the Prime Minister, David Cameron embarks on his mission to reform the UK’s membership of the European Union (EU), in talks with other member states' leaders in Riga, Latvia, what will the British people get in terms of options in the upcoming referendum on the issue? As looks increasingly likely, the referendum will be next year, possibly coinciding with Scottish Parliamentary elections and elections for the Welsh and London Assemblies, on 5 May.    

The actual question itself will be important, but the choices on offer will be the most crucial factor of all. We have been told already that we will be able to choose between whatever Cameron can negotiate and leaving the EU altogether, but will we get to stay in on the same terms we have now, and will we have a further ‘option of social justice and economic democracy to bring fairer and more resilient societies to Europe’ as the Green party would like?

First let’s look at what Cameron’s reforms might amount to. Cameron would like to get some agreement on limiting immigration into the UK, particularly from eastern Europe, but I’m sure he knows this will not be on table. Other European leaders and senior members of the European Commission have already said publicly that the free movement of people is non-negotiable and would need the agreement of all member states (possibly requiring referendums in those countries) in any case. So, pretty much a non-starter.

Ironically, it was the Tories that wanted to expand the EU to the east in the 1990s, to try and develop a counter balance to the Franco-German axis that has been the mainstay of the EU (and previous incarnations, the European Community and Common Market). One of those classic political cases of the law of unintended consequences!

Some European leaders, most notably the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel have signalled that there is room for some reforms to placate the British. Cameron will certainly want to protect the City of London’s financial sector from regulation, especially policies like the ‘Tobin’ or ‘Robin Hood’ tariff on internationally financial transactions, and he may well succeed here. He will also want a total opt out for the UK from employment regulations which aim to protect workers, but are derided as ‘red tape’ by the Tories. The UK already opts out to some extent of these regulations like the ‘working time directive’, so I would expect this to be achievable too.

Then there are environmental regulations, which Britain often falls foul of now like clean air and clean beaches regulations. I think Cameron might get some concessions here too.

Human rights could well be on Cameron’s wish-list as well. The new Tory government intends to replace the British Human Rights Act with a British Bill of Rights, but it is not clear whether they also aim to withdraw from the European Convention on Human Rights. Although the European Council oversees the Convention not the EU, the European Court does take the Convention into account when making judgements. So, to break free completely from human rights as defined by the European Convention, withdrawal will be necessary and some amendment to the UK’s EU membership status in this area will be needed. Cameron may get some concessions here for Britain since it would not unduly affect other member states.

If all of this comes to pass, will the referendum then be a ‘binary’ choice between Cameron’s reforms and exiting the EU altogether? Not much of a choice really.

We need four options on the referendum ballot paper. Leave the EU, stay in on Cameron’s negotiated reforms, staying in with no change to our current arrangements and a radical fourth option, along lines of the Green party’s vision for the EU.

I quote again from the Green party policy on the EU:

This provides the basis for a radical alternative argument for the coming months which will inevitably, depressingly descend into lowest common dominator language. We need to argue for this fourth option and a second preference vote on the referendum ballot paper.

If we had even the other three options mentioned above at the referendum, it is likely that people will second preference Cameron’s reforms if their first preference is out or to stay in as we are, because it will seem like a ‘middle way’. We must have a fourth radical option too, with a fall back second preference of staying in on current terms. 

Everything is to play for now, let’s make some noise and demand to be heard, rather than stand by and watch everything that is good about the EU thrown away and get stuck with the worst corporate welfare bits.

Wednesday, 20 May 2015

Interview - Hugo Blanco - From Indigenous Struggle to Ecosocialism

Interviewed by Quincy Saul

Quincy Saul:  We read in Lucha Indigena and other publications that in Peru today roughly 20% of the national territory has been ceded to foreign mining interests. We read also about the Guardians of Lakes, and the people resisting mining in Cajamarca. What are the lessons for the world that are emerging from these struggles?

Hugo Blanco: We all learn from the struggles in Peru and in the rest of the world. From the 4th to the 8th of August of 2014, we were gathered in Cajamarca weaving international alliances. The dominant system’s means of communication hide our struggles or lie about them. They are spokespeople for the enemies of humanity and nature. So one of our great tasks is to broadcast what is really happening.

The diffusion of our news awakens national and international solidarity. This international solidarity is manifested in actions of all kinds: Declarations, conferences, publications, public gatherings, and marches, all of which seek to stop the attack on the defenders of Water and Life.

“Lucha Indigena” has economic limitations – we could do much more if we had more resources, if we had a local in the capital of the country, where in addition to selling the periodical we could sell pamphlets, shirts, stickers, as we have done at times when we have received some money. We would screen some of the many movies about the struggle, host conferences, and organize debates. We would have more possibilities of weaving networks.

We would show reality, the truth of the facts: That so-called “progress” and “development” are predatory to nature; they use up all the water necessary for small-scale agriculture, (which feeds people good food) and they are leading us towards the extinction of the species. Now, there is a small network of comrades at an international level which has understood this and is beginning a collaboration with “Lucha Indigena.” To communicate with them, write to the Colombian comrade Manuel Rozental, or to the Uruguayan comrade Raul Zibechi.[1]

QS: You have said that you used to think the revolution would come in the distant future, but when you learned about climate change you realized that revolution will have to come within your lifetime. The climate scientists agree, and give us a short timeline (a 2015 carbon emissions peak). Is this a pipe dream? You have said that this revolution is possible, but not certain.[2] How can we save the world in so short a time? How can we do it while also staying true to what the Zapatistas call “the speed of democracy”?

HB: Before I thought that if my generation didn’t make the revolution, then future generations would make it. What I now see is that there will not be future generations, if transnational corporations continue to govern the world. The only thing that interests them is profit, and it is with this single objective that they direct all technical and scientific advances, attacking nature more and more. If this continues, the human species may not last another 100 years.

I believe that the capitalist system today, in its neoliberal stage, has entered into its final crisis, an economic, ethical and political crisis. Some call it a “crisis of civilization.” This crisis can conclude in two ways: One in which a unified humanity kicks the transnational corporations out of the governments of the world, and directs its own destiny. The other way is if humanity cannot do this, and the government of transnationals exterminates humanity, including of course all the components of the governing transnationals. This is why I said that before I fought for social equality, and now I fight for something more and more important – the survival of my species.

QS: How can the revolutionary ideologies of the industrial working class (Marxist-Leninism, etc) work together with the revolutionary cosmovisions of indigenous peoples? One sees revolution as progress, the other as return. (Not return to the past, which as you have said is impossible, but “a return to the principles of communal society on the continent before the invasion.”[3]) One seeks mastery over nature, the other seeks harmony within it. In your life you have embodied and encompassed both, so you are in a rare and unique position to answer this question. It is an ideological-spiritual question, but also a practical-strategic one — must indigenous peoples join the industrial working class in a factory system? Or must factory workers join indigenous nations in subsistence living?

HB:  Now that we have begun to talk of Marxism, let’s talk about him. I respect Marx a great deal, he has been one of my fundamental teachers. It is he who best analyzed capital, and has taught us the method of dialectical materialism. When they asked him if he was a Marxist, he said that Marxism didn’t exist. What happened is that since we came from Christianity, we were left without a Bible, and there are those who are looking for a substitute. I admire and respect Marx and his teachings, but I don’t take his writings as a Bible.

Marx was a human being, capable of being wrong, such as when he thought that since socialism would come after the development of capitalism, the revolution would be made in England or in another developed country. Fortunately Lenin was not dogmatic, and he understood that the chain could be broken in its weakest link, and was one of the drivers of the Russian revolution. Departing from this same premise, Marx said that he thought that the conquest of India by the English was positive – I am not in agreement with this.

But we don’t forget that Marx talked about “primitive communism.” We also don’t forget the admiration and respect that Engels had for the primitive “gens.”
José Carlos Mariategui got to know the indigenous community, but this didn’t fit the Stalinist “official line” of the “revolution in stages:” “First the democratic-bourgeois revolution against feudalism supporting the ‘progressive bourgeoisie’, and later the socialist revolution.” To this he said “the revolution in Peru will be socialist or it will not be.” We don’t forget that in his most famous work “Seven Essays,” two of them are dedicated to the indigenous, “El Problema del indio,” and “El problema de la tierra.”

In terms of Lenin, he is another of my great teachers. However, I believe the necessity of a party is relative. On the point of “the dictatorship of the proletariat”, I am not for any dictatorship. We have seen in Russia how it turned into the dictatorship of a bloody bureaucracy that massacred the proletariat and buried the revolution.

Marx said that it is better to see reality than to read 100 books. As I respect him, I follow his advice – and what do I see? That because of the treason of Social Democracy and Stalinism, vigorous workers’ revolutions were destroyed, as in Austria and Spain. The bourgeoisie read Marx too, and it knew that the proletariat would be its gravedigger. So it fought back with outsourcing, (so that the worker wouldn’t be able to claim an increase in wages from the factory owner, because the owner didn’t contract the worker) with the hierarchal organization that divides workers, and with automation, etc. Meanwhile, capital is ferociously attacking nature, and those who are most connected to nature are the indigenous peoples, who use their collective organization to struggle in its defense.

Trotskysm? Trotsky said that Trotskyism doesn’t exist. The organization of the Fourth International sought to revindicate the revolutionary tradition against the distortions of Marxism, which the bureaucracy made for its own interests. They predicted that if the workers in the cities and the country didn’t recover power in the Soviet Union, it would fall into the hands of capitalism.

Unfortunately, this happened – the principal leaders of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union became the most important neoliberal capitalists. The objective of “Trotskyism” was to combat the soviet bureaucracy which governed the communist parties of the world. As those bureaucracies have disappeared, why be a Trotskist?

I have to join with those who are fighting against the neoliberal system, fundamentally in defense of nature. Naturally everything I have learned from what is called “Trotskyism” I continue to use, such as confrontations against bureaucracies. But it would be stupid to tell the youth: “In the last century there as a debate in the Left.” I have to tell them about the attack on the environment and how to struggle in its defense. Trotskyist comrades in France and Spain have joined with non-Trotskyist revolutionaries in the same organization, which seems correct to me.

QS: In Land or Death: The Peasant Struggle in Peru” you talk about your “syndicalist deviation” and failure to build the Party.[4] In more recent writings you express opposition to all forms of vanguardism. This is a two part question: Tell us about how your ideas about organization have changed. And what is the most appropriate form for revolutionary organization in the 21st century? You have said that “we must braid together internationally the defense of Mother Earth.”[5] How?

HB:  The indigenous campesino struggle in the valleys of La Convencion and Lares was successful. Our slogan was “Land or Death!” We got the land. It was the first land reform in Peru, from 1961-1963 (the Velasco land reform was in 1971). It was the most complete. We didn’t leave a single handful of earth to the latifundistas, and didn’t pay them a cent. We struggled against the latifundistas, against the government, against the police and against the courts. It cost us lives and jail, but we were victorious.

At that time I thought it was a deficiency to not have built the party. But I don’t think so anymore. As the Zapatistas say, everyone will see in their time and place how to do things. If we believe we should build a party, we should do it, and if we don’t think it’s convenient, we shouldn’t. But if we construct a party, it must be the base of the party which commands, not the leaders. I repeat another Zapatista concept: Command by obeying (Mandar obedeciendo). I believe that in Peru today a party is not necessary. In other places it could be necessary.

How can we weave the defense of Mother Earth together internationally? From August 4-8th, we were occupied with this question in Cajamarca. There was an international gathering in defense of water. There were people form Colombia, Argentina, Chile, Mexico, France, Basque Country, Cataluna, and Holland. After the debates we constituted an international network, and thousands of us walked to visit the lakes (at an altitude of 4000 meters) which the Conga mining project (that has the government, parliament, courts, police and the big media as its servants) is trying to destroy. There is also another smaller and more condensed international network, with many points of view in common, which I am part of.

QS: You have written extensively about the Zapatistas. Other former guerrilas like Raquel Guitérrez Aguilar have written about how the Zapatista uprising in 1994 was a personal and political turning point for them. Was it the same for you? What’s the relationship between Zapatismo and ecosocialism? Can we say that Zapatistas are ecosocialists, even if not all ecosocialists are Zapatistas?

HB:  The Zapatistas are the best socialists I have met, with their seven principles of commanding by obeying. In the Zapatista territories, they elect not individual authorities, but groups, who are replaced after a short time. No authority at any level ever gains a cent. They are ecologists; they eat the food they grow themselves, and they don’t use agrochemicals or GMOs. They are ecosocialists even though they don’t use the term.

QS: People all over the world see South America has a region of hope for revolutionary change. Is there promise in Venezuela’s adoption of ecosocialism as official government policy? You have written about how the indigenous peoples of South America are often fighting against ‘Socialism of the 21st century’.[6] But we also can’t deny that indigenous peoples have more rights and recognition under these current regimes than ever before.

HB: We give energetic support to the “progressive” governments of South America in their rising up against North American imperialism and against internal reaction. But we fight them when they attack indigenous peoples, when they capitulate to the transnationals, or when they attack democracy. I cite some examples of “Socialism of the 21st Century”:

VENEZUELA: The indigenous Yukpa people have been trampled with the invasion of their lands by capitalist cattle ranchers. They have complained repeatedly throughout the era of Chavez, and were never given attention. An assassin hired by the ranchers killed their implacable leader Sabino Romero three days before the death of Chavez. The Bolivarian army protected the assassin’s flight. The indigenous Wayu people near the border with Colombia are also treated as hostile by the army. On paper it may call itself ecosocialist. I pay attention to what they do, not what they say.

BOLIVIA: The indigenous peoples have had a long struggle against Morales, who tried to open a highway through Tipnis, trampling indigenous populations and natural reserves. The government used police aggression in repressing the protests. Other popular sectors supported their struggle, until the government had to retreat. They have put forward a mining law which favors corporations without consulting the mostly indigenous farmers.

ECUADOR: . In the Ecuadorian constitution the rights of Mother Earth are considered, but in practice they promote their depredation. Correa is trying to impose mining in Cabecera de Cuenca, like the Conga project in Quimsacocha (Tres Lagunas). The indigenous people took me to the lakes, where we made offerings. Ecuador is also trying to exploit the oil in the natural reserve and indigenous territory of Yasuni, against the will of the majority of the country.
Of the other countries we’ll mention only few things:

BRAZIL: Even though it has a constitutional mandate, the government refuses to give titles of land possession to indigenous peoples, favoring the usurpation of their territories by agribusiness, as it destroys the Amazon rainforest.

URUGUAY: Has approved a predatory mining law.

ARGENTINA: Is promoting Yankee fracking against the persistent resistance of the Mapuche people.

In this revolutionary intransigence of not reconciling with capitulation, and being against opportunism, one could say that I continue to be a “Marxist-Leninist-Trotskist,” even though I don’t identify myself that way anymore.

QS: You seem to be ambivalent about the term “ecosocialism”. You have written that “in South America we cannot use the term ‘eco-socialist’,”[7] but also you have written many things in favor of ecosocialism. In 2009 in Belem, you began to call yourself an ecosocialist. Tell us how you came to this, how it emerged from your earlier experience and political philosophies, and how do you see it developing locally and internationally in the century to come?

HB: Of course I am an ecosocialist, as are the indigenous peoples, even though they don’t use the term. I believe along with indigenous peoples that it is the collective which rules, not the individual. The indigenous peoples and I defend Mother Nature, water, and forests, so we are ecologists.

What I have said is that the word “socialist” has been prostituted. By Michelle Bachelet, who used in her first government a Pinochet “anti-terrorist” law against the Mapuche people, and by the governments of so-called “21st Century Socialism” in the anti-indigenous cases mentioned above. And in the so-called “First World” the term “socialist” has been used by Tony Blair, invader of Iraq, by José Zapatero in Spain, to implant neoliberalism, and now the neoliberal government of France as well calls itself “socialist.”

I don’t have any ambivalence: I consider myself an ecosocialist, and I repeat, I believe that the indigenous peoples of the world are struggling and dying for their ecosocialist conviction, even though they don’t use the term. 

QS: Ecosocialism is a relatively new revolutionary ideology and worldview, even as it draws on ancient roots. Having participated in and witnessed almost a century of the development of other revolutionary ideologies, how would you advise ecosocialists to think, work and organize themselves? What are some pitfalls to avoid, obstacles to overcome, horizons to aim for, visions to dream of?

HB: Earlier I indicated that I don’t believe in “the correct line.” I don’t consider myself “the vanguard”, and I don’t even believe in it. I am about 80 years old, and when I was young I enjoyed learning from the elders. Now that I am an elder I enjoy learning from the young and from children. This is not an ingenuous turn of phrase, it is the truth. We elders have a lot in our memory, and we consciously or unconsciously return to it to find solutions to current problems. The young person confronts the problems of their times spontaneously. It’s very possible that they’ll be right and I’ll be wrong.

With that said, I’ll give my opinions: We are struggling against the large transnational corporations that govern the world. We know that their sacred principle, which they will sacrifice any other consideration in order to fulfill, is “to gain more money in as little time as possible.” They know very well that the attack against nature to gain more money will carry us to extinction, but this is much less important than the fulfillment of their sacred principle.

This is the true morality of the system. Derived from this is the ultra individualism which the system teaches us, even though it doesn’t say so clearly: If you can take your brother’s inheritance, do it. The sooner your parents die, the better; you’ll get the inheritance. You should the best, the victor; in order to ascend you have to crush the heads of others. Bullying is the beginning of the moral apprenticeship of this system; it does not exist among indigenous peoples (and for those who are interested, look up “Ubuntu” on the internet.)

We know that these transnational corporations have at their service the governments of the world, the parliamentary majorities, the armies, the police, the judicial powers, the supreme courts, and the means of communication. There are governments who resist a little because of pressure from below; they make a fuss, but in the end they capitulate.

It is against this that we must struggle, in defense of nature, of humanity and its survival. Our strength is that there are more of us below – if we awake and unite, the triumph will be ours. Let us join hands with those at the bottom of the whole world. We must be consistent in unmasking all the governments.

Our goal is that humanity governs itself, without bosses, without leaders. Loving, respecting, and caring for our Mother Nature. Everyone loving and respecting each other. You are my other I. Everyone in their time and place will see how to struggle. There can be organizations of local resistance, parties; provincial, national and international networks. “Wanderer, there is no path – the path is made by walking.”[8]

Quincy Saul is the author of Truth and Dare: A Comic Book Curriculum for the End and the Beginning of the World, and the co-editor of Maroon the Implacable: The Collected Writings of Russell Maroon Shoatz. He is a musician and a co-founder of Ecosocialist Horizons.

Hugo Blanco is leader of the Confederación Campesina del Perú (CCP, Campesino Confederation of Peru), and author of numerous books including Land or Death: The Peasant Struggle in Peru.

[1] /

[2]    “Impidamos la extincion de la especie humana” by Hugo Blanco

[3]  “12 de octubre Día de la resistencia ¡Fuera minería del Perú!” by Hugo Blanco

[4]  “The great deficiency in our work in La Convencion and in Cuzco was the absence of a well-organized party. Our failure to broaden the movement, the lack of a more correct view of the process, the putschist deviation of some comrades, the very poor organization of the armed struggle, were symptoms first and foremost the absence of a party, of a vanguard nucleus whose capabilities would correspond to the magnitude of the peasant movement that developed… As for the absence of the party in the countryside, it is indisputable that this was due to a serious syndicalist deviation on my part, produced not by an erroneous conception on this matter, but by other causes…” (1972, p36)

[5]    “Hoja de vida de Hugo Blanco” by Hugo Blanco

[6]    “Let’s Save Humanity from Extinction,” by Hugo Blanco, Capitalism Nature Socialism, July 2013
[7]    “Let’s Save Humanity from Extinction,” by Hugo Blanco, Capitalism Nature Socialism, July 2013
[8]    From a poem by Antonio Machado.

First published at Counterpunch

Tuesday, 19 May 2015

Greens Achieve Best Ever General Election Result in Haringey (and the rest of London)

The Green party polled 5% (up from 2% in 2010) across London in the general election of 2015. This is the best result we have ever had in the capital at a general election. Of London’s 73 constituencies, Greens saved 22 deposits (by gaining at least 5% of the vote) with the best result being in Hackney North and Stoke Newington (14.6%). Admittedly, we had a pretty disastrous result across London in 2010, but this still represents a real stride forward for the Greens.

I hope other London Green Left supporters will blog about the constituencies where they live, but for now I’m taking a look at Haringey where I live.

The London Borough of Haringey has two general election constituencies, Tottenham and Hornsey and Wood Green. We saved both deposits for the first time ever this year. Both candidates and their campaign teams worked very hard, but election outcomes are usually based on public mood swings, and I think this election certainly had this element.

Hornsey and Wood Green

2015 Result

Labour     50.9%  +16.9%
Lib Dem   31.8%  - 14.7%
Tory           9.3%  -  7.4%
Green        5.4%  +  3.2%
UKIP          2.2%  +  2.2%

Although we have saved our deposit twice before here (2001 – 5.2%, 2005 - 5.0%), this is the best ever result for us in Hornsey and Wood Green. The key factor in this constituency is that it is (was) a Labour/Lib Dem marginal. The Lib Dems took the seat from Labour in 2005 (and retained it in 2010) in the wake of the Iraq war. Like all across London, (and indeed the country) the Lib Dems had a bad election. So, it was no surprise to see Labour regain this seat. The Green vote was consequently ‘squeezed’ by Labour (in particular) and the Lib Dems. I did actually fancy us to do a bit better than we did, but an eve of election opinion poll circulated by local 38 Degrees members, showing the Lib Dems and Labour neck and neck, I think cost us a point or two in the end.

There is something for the Greens to build upon here for sure, and we have to chip away at the Labour and Lib Dem vote, and it is perfectly possible that we can win a council seat or two in the future, and then build further. Looking at recent council election results, Alexandra and Crouch End wards are our best bet for advancement.


2015 Result

Labour     67.3%  +8.0%
Tory         12.0%   -2.9%
Green        9.2%   +6.8%
Lib Dem     4.1%  -13.6%
UKIP          3.6%  +2.4%
TUSC         3.1%  +0.5%

Tottenham is one the safest Labour seats in the country, so it is no surprise that Labour won here (with a decent increase in vote share), and the Lib Dems crashed, from second to fourth.

But take a look at the Green vote, 9.2%, up by 6.8% from 2010. We have never saved our deposit in Tottenham before, although we did run it pretty close in 2001 and 2005. As I’ve observed before, the demographics of Tottenham have changed, with young professionals moving into the area, because of the relatively cheaper accommodation (for London). In the 2010 general election the Lib Dems benefitted from this, but these voters have gone Green in large numbers now.

There is several huge construction developments planned in Tottenham for the coming years which will likely accelerate this process too. As a party we oppose gentrification, but ironically, it will probably benefit the Green vote.  

This trend first became apparent at the 2014 council elections when we scored 15% across the wards that constitute Tottenham, with very little effort on our behalf. Previous to this, we would have expected around 9 or 10% in these wards. Labour are clearly very strong in Tottenham, but if we put more effort now into campaigning for the council elections in 2018, we could well win a council seat or two, maybe even better. Again looking at recent council election results, St Ann’s and Tottenham Green or Tottenham Hale wards look to be our best bets for advancement.

All in all a pretty good result for the Green party in Haringey, and something to give us hope for the future. 

Sunday, 17 May 2015

Naomi Klein: "If you can marry an economic justice agenda with climate action, people will fight for that future"

Interviewed by , Sophie Chapelle for BastaMag

Given the massive inequalities generated by capitalism and the ecological urgency of climate change, "everything can change", Naomi Klein claims in a new book. Provided we do not "give in to despair", because "too many lives are at stake", and "fight for a more just economic system". The Canadian anti-globalization activist and essayist is famous for her inspired criticism of capitalism: No Logo denounced the tyranny of global brands, and The Shock Doctrine the brutality of neoliberal reforms. She now takes aim at the total impunity of major oil and gas corporations which have declared war on our planet. 

Basta! : We seem to be heading straight toward climate disaster. We know what will happen if we do nothing about climate change, yet nothing really changes. Why is it so?

Naomi Klein : It’s not that we’re doing nothing – we’re actually actively doing exactly the wrong things. We have an economic system that defines success and progress as infinite economic expansion. Any kind of expansion is deemed good. Our emissions are going up much faster than they were in the 1990s. In the past decade, we had very high oil prices, which has created huge economic incentives for fossil fuel companies to push into new, more expensive, higher-emitting forms of extraction, such as tar sands and fracking. We also have a system that allows multinationals to seek out the cheapest means of producing their products, with cheap labour and cheap energy – which has lead to the deregulated burning of coal. All this is making the problem much worse.

You say that transnational corporations such as ExxonMobil, BP and Shell have declared war on the planet...

The business model of these companies is to find new fossil fuel reserves, which is the exact opposite of what we need to do in order to fight climate change. A research from the Carbon Tracker, three years ago, showed that the global fossil fuel industry has five times more carbon in their proven reserves than is compatible with keeping temperatures below two degrees warming… That’s the target our governments agreed to in Copenhagen, and that’s a target that is already a very dangerous one for many communities. But it provides us with a global carbon budget. We know how much carbon can be burned while still giving ourselves a fifty-fifty chance or better of meeting that target, and these companies have five times more carbon in their reserves than that amount. That explains why fossil fuel companies so actively fight the very dissemination of honest, climate science, why they fund politicians and organisations that deny the science of climate change, and why they fight every serious attempt to respond to climate change, whether it is a carbon tax or whether it is support for renewable energy.

Why such impunity?

Fossil fuel companies, particularly oil companies, are the most powerful companies in the world. Wars have been waged by our governments to protect their interests. It’s in the nature of fossil fuels that they’re concentrated in specific geographical locations, very expensive to get out of the ground, to transport, and to process. And so it lends itself to concentration of wealth and power, with a fairly small number of huge players , both state-run and privately owned, and that kind of concentration of power also lends itself to political corruption, both of the legal kind and the illegal kind. Hence the impunity.

Does this mean the first step of climate action should be to dismantle the power of transnational corporations?

This can mean a lot of different things. One thing we definitely need to do is not increase their power. This is why, more and more, the climate movement is taking an active part in blocking new free-trade deals, like the free-trade deal between Europe and the United States, like the TransPacific Partnership (TPP), like the deal between the EU and Canada, my own country. What these deals do is give new powers to multinational corporations to challenge governments through investors rights clauses, and in particular to challenge sensible climate policies. We already have more than enough evidence of this. For instance, the Swedish company Vattenfall is challenging the German phaseout of nuclear energy, claiming that it has lost 4.7 billion Euros, whereas we might want the German energy transition to be a model for other countries, because it is one of the boldest attempts to transition towards renewable energy. That is sort of ringing out like a warning to governments: ’If you do this, then you’ll be prosecuted.’ There are other examples of this in my country, where the province of Quebec banned fracking, which is another example of what we want more governments to do. But under the North Amercian Free Trade Agreement, an American company is challenging this ban on fracking, saying it violates its rights to drill for gas.

So we also need to strip away powers that corporations already have through deals like this. But it depends where you live. In the United States, it’s clear that there needs to be a challenge to corporate personhood, and to the idea that their campaign spending can be treated as free speech. There needs to be much stricter regulations on campaign financing or lobbying by corporations. This is certainly true in the European Union as well. We need this kind of approach, but we also need more of a grassroots strategy, such as we’re seeing with the fossil fuel divestment movement, which is about delegitimizing these companies. It isn’t just about getting a university or a city like Paris to divest from fossil fuels. It’s about making the argument that these are companies that have a business model that is profoundly immoral and that the profits that are gained from this business model are odious profits. And that governments have a right to lay claim to those profits, to pay for the transition away from fossil fuels. That’s where we really need to get to, that will really weaken their power, because what makes them powerful is their massive surplus of profits.

What kind of conversation can we have with the employees of these polluting companies? Can there ever be an alliance with them?

We need a justice-based response to climate change. That’s something that needs to be first codified in policy: we need to define what a just transition looks like and we need to fight for it. Concretely, that means that the workers who would lose their jobs in the fossil fuel sector should be retrained and get new jobs. There would be more jobs to get in renewable energy, because renewable energy, energy efficiency, public transit, etc. create 6 to 8 times more jobs than the extractive sector. In recent years there were big investments in the extractive sector, a big push for fracking for gas, for offshore drilling. And at the same time, there’s been a huge contraction in the willingness of governments to invest in their energy transitions. All over Europe we’ve seen governments cut their support for renewable energy. If jobs in the extractive sector are the only jobs on the table, of course the trade union movement is going to fight for those jobs.

So it’s the role of an alliance between the labour movement and the climate movement to fight for a vision of bold climate justice job creation. And that’s starting to happen : for instance, a trade union alliance in the UK calling for the creation of a million climate jobs, and articulating what that will look like. We have to remember that it is not environmentalists that are stealing the jobs away from workers in the fossil fuel sector. Just in the past few months, since the price of oil has dropped so dramatically, in the United States more than 100,000 jobs have been lost in the oil and gas sector. That’s not because of climate activism or environmentalists, that’s because it’s extremely dangerous and volatile to pin your hopes on a commodity like oil and gas, whose price goes up and down. One of the nice things about wind and solar is that they’re free, they’re the same price all the time and they’re not subject to these boom and bust cycles in the same way. This is actually a key moment to be building that type of alliance, because the deal between workers, trade unions and these multinational corporations has been severed by the companies.

You say that climate change can be seen as an opportunity, and that this transition can also be very exciting. How can we make climate action attractive for people who may think it is a very difficult process?

I don’t think it should be nearly as hard as it seems. What we’re dealing with is the legacy of climate policies of the past two decades, which were not justice-based, and which passed the bill for the transition onto consumers, onto working class people. So there came to be an association between doing something about climate change and increasing the cost of living. It meant paying extra for those green products or for renewable energy. For a little while, there seemed to be a willingness for people to accept that logic, but then the economic crisis hit. People realised that they were already paying to bail out the banks, and started wondering why they should also bail out big polluters, by paying more. At the same time they were seeing that these companies were not penalised, and kept on winning super profits. The injustice of it created a backlash.

We need a very clear and bold vision that explains what a justice-based transition means. It means not passing the bill on to the people who can least afford it, and insisting that the people most responsible for this crisis should pay the bulk of the bill. It doesn’t mean that there won’t be sacrifices across the board, but people are much more willing to make those changes if they see that the costs are distributed justly.

You write in your book that past mobilisations have demonstrated that saying no is not enough, that we need a comprehensive understanding of what is expected to replace this system. Who will lay out this vision?

There needs to be a democratic process to build that vision. I don’t think there’s one vision that will work in France, or even in every part of France, and that the same vision will also work in Canada or India. What we need to do is disseminate examples that are working at every level, whether it’s city level, the regional level or nationally, where groups are coming together to define what a just transition looks like for them.

As part of my work and travels I hear a lot of really good ideas. For instance, there is a big fight on the West Coast of the United States, near a place called Bellingham, Washington. It is a very green city, but there is a proposal to build a huge coal export terminal nearby. Initially, it’s been a very ugly fight that has pitted environmentalists against workers. But then a coalition was convened by the city government and the movement against the coal mine, which was also very much led by a local indigenous people, the Lummi Nation. The unions came up with a plan to redevelop the waterfront in a different way. It will create jobs for the same workers that would get the jobs in the coal export port, but it would be green development and it would not be about exporting fossil fuels to Asia.

That’s just one example and one project. The key thing is to really get these conversations going, because I’m continually amazed by the extent to which we fail to make connections between, for instance, a fight for affordable public transport and climate change. Or you’ll have a strike of rail workers fighting privatisation, but they will never mention climate change. So there’s this really basic failure to get in the same mode together, and use the power of these arguments to stand up to the pressure of austerity.

You talk about the ‘new territory’, Blockadia. What is Blockadia ?

Blockadia is sometimes called the fossil fuel resistance movement, and it comes from the movement in the United States against the Keystone XL pipeline. It is is a huge pipeline that a company called TransCanada wants to build from the tar sands region in Alberta down to the Gulf of Mexico. Tar sands oil is one of the dirtiest, highest carbon oils on the planet. When they started to build the pipeline, there was a protest camp that was constructed, people chained themselves to fences and they moved into trees. They called their camp Blockadia. That word somehow took off and it started to be used wherever people were fighting these extractive projects, whether it was a mine, an export terminal, or fracking. Even though the word itself was born in the US, the tactics of Blockadia are much bolder and really come from the global South. Oil Watch International and EJOLT have done a really great job of mapping this transnational space. If we want to choose a somewhat arbitrary date for when Blockadia began, it would be the struggle of the Ogoni people against Shell in the 1990s: a successful struggle to kick Shell out of their territory in the Niger delta – Shell has never been able to return.

You seem to expect nothing from the international Climate Conference in Paris in December 2015. What can be expected from the process of international negotiation?

We have to be very realistic about the fact that it is not going to save the world, that it’s not going to produce an agreement that’s in line with what scientists are telling us we need to do. Scientists are telling us we need to cut our emissions by 8 to 10 percent a year, starting now. Our governments are talking about cutting emissions by 2 to 3 percent starting next decade. It’s just not in the same ballpark.

It’s a big mistake to reinforce this narrative that we just have to convince our leaders and suddenly they’re going to become totally different people between now and eight months from now. That’s a recipe for disappointment. That’s what happened with Copenhagen in 2009. A lot of people got deeply depressed afterwards. We need to see Paris as a stop along the road in a long process. The significance of Paris is that, particularly in Europe, there’s been this huge avoidance of the climate issue since the economic crisis hit.

I started the book by saying that it is not only elites that can declare a crisis: regular people or social movements can declare a crisis as well. As we get closer and closer to the summit, there’ll be more and more talk about climate change. So it’s a chance to change the conversation, and to talk about what we should be talking about. We need to get away from this completely meaningless discourse around ‘we’re going to be cutting emissions by 20 percent of the 1990 levels by 2030’, and saying, ‘no, we need to be cutting emissions dramatically now’. And we need to start by closing off fossil fuel frontiers. I think there’s huge momentum towards a ’keep it in the ground’ message. And it might just be possible. A lot can happen in eight months.

Some of it depends on whether the price of oil stays down, because, for instance, in the Alberta tar sands, we’ve been fighting an uphill battle, because it was so incredibly profitable for companies to go into Alberta and dig up that oil. But right now investors are fleeing Alberta. So that context makes it more possible to win a structural victory. For instance, calling for a ban on Arctic drilling, or for a moratorium on tar sands extraction and a process of winding down that project, which is the largest industrial project on earth. I have no idea whether it’s possible to get that on the agenda for Paris. It’s not in the negotiation document right now, but I don’t think we should give up on getting that on the agenda.

What would you say to people who want to do something ’in their daily lives’ to make a difference?

We know the things we can be doing in our daily life to reduce our carbon footprint. A lot of us have already done those things. And we should do them, because it makes us saner and healthier and have less dissonance in our lives. But I also think some of the discouragement people feel is a result of the fact that they have made individual changes and seen that it doesn’t result in structural changes.

That’s why I’m really encouraged by movements like the fossil fuel divestment movement where people are demanding that their universities, their pension funds or their cities divest from fossil fuels. Because it’s important to get the argument out and delegitimize the profits of the sector, but it’s also working at a scale that is more than the individual and less than everything; it’s significant but not completely overwhelming. And it’s part of realising that we are more powerful when we act together.

Would you say degrowth is a solution?

It’s useful as a diagnostic : we do need to move away from an economic system that has growth as its sole measure of success and of progress. Overall, we need an economic system that does contract our use of resources, particularly fossil fuels. But adopting the banner of degrowth as the goal is a mistake: just because growth is the heart of the problem, it doesn’t follow that degrowth is be the solution. If the problem is measuring success through growth, then the solution, I think, is having another measure of success. Every context is different, but in a lot of contexts – particularly when people are experiencing relentless austerity – using the term degrowth is not a smart communication strategy.

Is there a way to deal with climate change by way of a technical solution, or is everything political?

It’s a combination. Renewable energy is about technology. There have been brilliant advances in all kinds of technologies. Agro-ecological farming is not just a return to traditional farming methods. It’s a combination of ancient knowledge and modern technology. But we can’t get around the fact that there has to be a contraction in our consumption and our use of resources, so only focussing on technology gives a false impression that we don’t have to change anything except for our source of energy. There also needs to be a strategy to reduce demand, so that we actually use less energy. That’s why just focussing on technology is dangerous. And it’s worse for other technical fixes like geo-engineering, that are more sci-fi : this idea that there’s going to be some magic bullet that will allow us to dim the sun so that we’ll stop warming the planet… That’s an expression of precisely the type of hubristic world view that actually created the problem in the first place.

So is there no way to fight climate change without fighting capitalism?

No, I don’t think there is a way. We’ve been trying that for a long time. But there’s still a really strong strain of the green movement that thinks that it’s going to find a way to move forward that doesn’t offend those in power. I frankly think it’s just a bad strategy. If capitalism was working really well for the majority for people except for this problem of climate change, then we’d really need some kind of a strategy that protected that capitalist system, if such a strategy existed, which I don’t think it does. The fact is, that’s not where we are at. We’re at a point where there is a widespread popular understanding that this economic system is failing even on its own terms, more widespread than there ever has been in my lifetime. There is a huge debate about the neoliberal legacy of massive inequality. People understand that these policies that were supposed to create more efficiency actually created less. So the need for another economic model is urgent, and if the climate justice movement can show that responding to climate change is the best chance for a more just economic system, that creates more and better jobs, greater social equality, more and better social services, public transit, all these things that improve peoples daily lives, people will be ready to fight for those policies.

The problem is that we have enemies : fossil fuel companies, who fight like hell to protect their interests. They fight like they mean it, they fight with creativity, they fight dirty, they do whatever it takes to win. And opposite them you have this sort of mushy middle that doesn’t really fight, because its not sure what the results will be. But if you can marry an economic justice agenda with climate action, then you create a constituency of people that will fight for that future, because they will directly benefit from it.

Are you optimistic?

I don’t see this as a question of optimism or pessimism. We all feel pessimistic. Anyone who tells you they’re sure we’ll win is either lying or crazy. But giving in to our despair is a morally reprehensible position right now. Too many lives are at stake. So if there’s any chance that there is another way out, so then there’s a moral responsibility to fight to increase those chances. I don’t use the language of optimism to describe that position, I see it as a moral responsibility.

The urgency of the climate crisis, the fact that it tells us we have no more time to waste, we can’t lose this battle, we are on a tight deadline, can be a catalyst to win battles that many of us have been fighting for many, many years.

Interview by Agnès Rousseaux et Sophie Chapelle
Transcript : Susanna Gendall / Translation in french : Agnès Rousseaux
This interview has been published in French here.