Monday, 29 June 2015

Solidarity With the Greek People Rally - London - Photos and Videos

It looked to me like about 700 people gathered in Trafalgar Square in London Monday evening to show support for the Greek people in their struggle for dignity and justice.  

The European and international 'institutions' are trying to humiliate the Greek people with unreasonable demands for austerity misery. 

Vote No in the referendum on Sunday.

Owen Jones addresses the crowd

Ken Loach adds his support

Caroline Lucas Green Party MP

Romayne Phoenix Green Left

For a people's Europe

Saturday, 27 June 2015

Environment: The foundations of revolutionary eco-socialism

Written by Daniel Tanuro and first published at International Viewpoint

The concept of eco-socialism is based on a double paradoxical note: the solution to the “ecological crisis” due to the capitalist mode of production necessitates a response of a socialist type, whilst the environmental balance sheet of “actually existing socialism” is catastrophic. I will briefly develop these two elements and then present some foundations of an eco-socialist aggiornamento as it is conceived inside the “International Eco-socialist Network”. I hope to bring forward evidence that eco-socialism is something more than a new label on an old bottle: a necessary alternative adapted to the challenges of our times. [1]

For eco-socialists, the “ecological crisis” is not a crisis of ecology. It is not nature which is in crisis but society, and this crisis of society engenders a crisis of relations between humanity and the rest of nature. In my view, this crisis is not due to the human species as such. It is not due in particular to the fact that our species socially produces its existence by labour, which allows it to develop and gives substance to the notion of progress. It is due to the capitalist mode of development, to the capitalist mode of production (which includes a capitalist mode of consumption) and to the productivist and consumerist ideology of “always more” that flows from this.

Capitalism = productivism

Capitalism does not produce use values for the satisfaction of human needs but exchange values for the maximisation of profit. This profit is monopolized by a minority fraction of the population: the owners of the means of production. They exploit the labour power of the social majority in exchange for a wage which is lower than the value of the labour supplied.

These owners of the means of production wage a merciless competitive war which forces each of them to permanently seek the means of increasing the productivity of labour through recourse to increasingly perfected machines.

“Productivism” (producing in order to produce, which implies consuming in order to consume) is thus a congenital characteristic of capitalism. Capitalism implies accumulation. The bourgeois economist Joseph Schumpeter put it very simply: “A capitalism without growth is a contradiction in terms”.

Capitalism is a very effective system of exploitation. It continually improves the productivity of labour and efficiency in the use of (other) natural resources. But this improvement is obviously in the service of accumulation: the relative savings in labour power and materials are more than compensated for by the absolute augmentation of the volume of production so that finally there is an increase in resources consumed in the process. That is why, inevitably, capitalist accumulation simultaneously involves the increased exploitation of human labour and the growing pillage of natural resources.

What are the limits to the capitalist tendency to growth? To this question, Marx replied that “the sole limit to capital is capital itself”. The formula is based on the definition of capital, not as a thing (a mass of money), but as a social relationship: the relationship of exploitation by which a mass of money is transformed into more money thanks to the extortion of a surplus value corresponding to unpaid labour.

This relationship of exploitation obviously necessitates an input under the form of resources. [2] Saying that “the sole limit to capital is capital itself” thus means quite simply that inasmuch as there is labour power to exploit and natural resources to take, capital can continue to accumulate by impoverishing, by destroying what Marx called ‘the two sole sources of all wealth: nature and labour”.

In a general way, the sole conceivable alternative to capitalism is a system which does not produce exchange values for the maximisation of the profit of capitalists but use values for the satisfaction of real human needs (that is, uncorrupted by commodification), democratically determined. A system in which collaboration replaces competition, solidarity replaces individualism and emancipation eliminates alienation. Indeed, such a system – more than a system, a new civilisation - corresponds to the theoretical definition of a socialist society. I repeat it: in general terms, there is no other conceivable alternative.

Capitalist productivism and bureaucratic productivism

At the same time, this conclusion comes up against the harsh reality of historic facts: indeed, it is indisputable that the balance sheet of “actually existing” socialism in the 20th century is one of failure, not only from the viewpoint of human emancipation, but also from the viewpoint of the establishment of as harmonious relationship as is possible between humanity and its natural environment.

No point in detailing this point here: everyone knows about the drying up of the Aral Sea and the Chernobyl disaster. Since this meeting is devoted to the fight against climate change, I would add that the former GDR and former Czechoslovakia hold the sad world record for emission of greenhouse gases per inhabitant: their “performances” in the area were even higher than those of the greatest polluters of the “developed” capitalist world, the USA and Australia.

This negative environmental balance sheet is due mainly to the bureaucratic counter-revolution which triumphed in the 1920s under Stalin. Productivism in the East resulted in a system of bonuses being offered to the managers of nationalized enterprises to encourage them to exceed the objectives of the plan, leading them to utilize and waste the maximum of materials and energy per unit produced. They did not have to worry about the consequences for the quality of production, since consumers had neither freedom of choice nor the ability to criticise, nor the possibility of opposing the social and environmental effects of a production which was not subject to any “worker’s control”.

From the viewpoint of ecological damage, there is no difference between capitalist productivism and that of the former Eastern Bloc. But capitalist productivism results from very different mechanisms: unlike the director of a nationalised factory in the USSR, the boss of a capitalist enterprise incessantly optimises the quantity of resources used per unit produced, so as to maximise the number of units, and considers the market reaction as a verdict on the quality of their products.

In fact, the productivism of capital is rational from the viewpoint of capitalism and inherent to the social relations which characterise it. On the other hand, bureaucratic productivism appears as a purely irrational creation of the political superstructure: in an economy supposed to satisfy needs, rationality would dictate that production be guided by the democracy of the producers/consumers, which is why this democracy is incompatible with bureaucratic parasitism.

This comparison yields a significant conclusion: capitalist productivism is endogenous to the mode of production, whereas Soviet productivism was exogenous. Thus the disastrous environmental balance sheet of the USSR does not provide irrefutable proof that socialism is by definition and inevitably as ecocidal as capitalism.

Stalin doesn’t explain everything

However, Stalinism and the existence of a privileged bureaucratic caste do not suffice to explain this disastrous balance sheet. To indicate the problem, I will content myself with a citation from Stalin’s most famous adversary, Leon Trotsky. Of all Marxist theorists, Trotsky is undoubtedly the one who best understood the bureaucratic phenomenon, but he was barely conscious of the environmental limits to human development, to put it mildly.

In a famous speech, Trotsky spoke of the “socialist man” who will “move the mountains, enclose the seas and divert the rivers”. I do not want to exaggerate the significance of this quote, nor above all its influence on the course of events. I note it solely as an illustration of the fact that many Marxists had a much less prudent and realistic outlook than Marx on the development of “productive forces liberated from capitalist fetters” [3].

Far from fantasising about the fabulous powers of the socialist superman, Marx believed, more modestly, that “the only liberty possible (in relation to the laws of nature) is that “social man, the associated producers, regulate their exchange of matters with nature rationally”. In the light of the Trotsky quote, it seems obvious that the analysis of the environmental balance sheet of “actually existing socialism” should go beyond the comprehension of bureaucratic productivism. We need to criticise more deeply, examine the theoretical and ideological conceptions which have marked socialism at various levels.

In this spirit, the eco-socialist current to which I belong, embodied by the Eco-socialist Manifesto drawn up by Michaël Löwy and Joel Kovel, has identified a certain number of these conceptions which merit debate and revision. I will cite them and comment on them briefly.

Science, technology and progress

A first question is that of the relationship to “Science”, or rather sciences – without a capital letter. Most socialist thinkers, starting with Marx and Engels, have been strongly influenced by scientism. Indeed, the mechanist idea that the sciences can ultimately explain everything in the smallest detail is manifestly wrong, since the world is in constant evolution. In addition, the speed of this evolution increases to the extent to which we study smaller and smaller objects, so that, the more the sciences progress, the more they are confronted with new phenomena posing new enigmas

To break with scientism is important for eco-socialists. It is about ending the project of human domination over nature, which implies that nature is considered as a machine and that the human being is only seen as a machinist. This illusory, instrumentalist and reductive project clashes with the principle of precaution, modesty and prudence necessary today if we wish to rebalance the exchanges between humanity and the rest of nature.

A second question, linked to the first, is that of technology, that is, sciences applied to production. Are they neutral or do they have a class character? Although he insists on the “historically determined” character of all aspects of human development, Marx did not settle this precise point. Most socialists after him have considered technology to be neutral. Eco-socialists think that it is not.

The end does not justify the means: certain means are contrary to the end. That goes also for the means of production, and thus for technologies. Nuclear energy, for example, is contrary to Marx’s explicit objective of a society where the producers seek to improve the common patrimony of nature to transmit it to their descendants as “boni patres familias”. The same goes for the combustion of fossil fuels, the cultivation in open fields of Genetically Modified Organisms and large scale geo-engineering projects, for example.

Breaking with scientism and a critique of technologies immediately raises the question of the attitude to be taken to development and progress. Marx did not have a linear vision of this subject, although most Marxists have. What about eco-socialists? They reject the idea advanced by some partisans of negative growth who advocate “exiting from development” because progress is inherently negative, but they also reject the idea that any progress and any developments are positive in themselves. Coherent with their critical approach to technologies, they deepen Marx’s thesis according to which capitalism increasingly develops the “destructive forces” rather than the productive forces.

The developed countries, globally, no longer need a quantitative development but a sharing of wealth necessary to a qualitative development. In this context, eco-socialists accord a great importance to the cosmogony of indigenous peoples and the know-how of peasant communities. They see here sources of inspiration for a progress worthy of the name. A progress which questions capitalist productivist ideology. A progress based on comprehension of the fact that true wealth resides in free time, human relations and a harmonious relationship with the environment, not the compulsive accumulation of consumer goods which often only serve to compensate for the poverty of existence.

Centralisation and decentralisation

A fourth question in debate is that of the articulation between centralisation and decentralisation. Given the historic experience of the USSR, socialism is strongly linked to the idea of a very centralised plan. I do not deny that such a plan was necessary in the 1920s, because the revolutionary regime could only maintain itself if the very small industrial working class could supply the peasant majority with the machines needed to improve the life of the rural communities and eliminate the famines which were so frequent in Russian history. But the idea that socialism is synonymous with centralisation should be questioned.

It is obvious that a government wishing to pursue an anti-capitalist policy must necessarily break the economic power of the dominant class, which is only possible by the expropriation of finance and the major means of production and distribution. It is also obvious that these socialised sectors should then be reordered to satisfy needs, which requires centralised planning. But it should be stressed at the same time that democracy and self-management cannot fully exist without being rooted in the base, locally. Centralisation and decentralisation should then complement each other.

This articulation is not absent from Marx’s thought: on the contrary, he saw in the Paris Commune “the political form, finally found, of the emancipation of labour”, and this experience led him to think that the “dictatorship of the proletariat” would be concretised in the form of a federation of communes. Subsequently Marxists have largely lost the thread of this thought. Eco-socialists restore its centrality and try to renew it, in liaison with the project of a “21st century socialism”.

The climate challenge makes this reflection unavoidable: to have a chance of pursuing over two generations the transition to a 100% renewable energy system, it is undoubtedly necessary to socialise the energy sector. Without that, the capitalists will attempt to impose for as long as possible the use of the gigantic stocks of fossil fuels which belong to them [4].

But recourse to renewable sources requires the interconnection of decentralised energy networks. Their democratic management by communities in the collective interest of inhabitants is a real possibility which eco-socialists should raise by posing concrete local demands for control and participation, rather than confining ourselves to the obsolete model of the big nationalized enterprise.

Eco-socialism and eco-feminism

A fifth question on which eco-socialists work is that of the specific role of women in the fight for sustainable relations between humanity and nature. For feminists of our current, this role does not stem from the fact of women being “by essence” closer to and more respectful of nature, as is thought by some eco-feminist theorists. In our view, there is no more an ecologist female essence than a pacifist female essence, for example. The specific role of women is attributed to them by the capitalist division of labour inside society and the bourgeois family. One of the demonstrations of their oppression is indeed that they take on the biggest share of care work, most often in the form of free services which are not socially recognised as work. Also, women globally ensure 80% of world food production.

Women know what “taking care of the living” involves. Their knowledge in the area gives them a prominent role in the transition, because humanity is precisely faced with the need to “take care” (of the rest) of nature and a large part of the population – in particular in the developed and urbanised world – does not really know how to do so. But this role of women can only be fully valorised in the interests of all if their oppression is recognised and fought against. That necessitates the autonomous struggle of women for equal rights in society in general, the application of “equal pay for equal work” on the labour market and the sharing of domestic tasks. In this sense, eco-socialists support the eco-feminist struggle.

The question of the subject

Taking into account the specific role of women raises another question which I wish to approach before sketching a conclusion. In many respects, it is even a decisive question for eco-socialism: that of the “subject” of social transformation.

Classically, the theorists of socialism considered that the working class – that is, not only factory workers but all those obliged to sell their labour power in return for a wage – is THE subject which plays a leading role in relation to the petty bourgeoisie and all the oppressed layers. This central role as revolutionary class stems from its place in the mode of production: as the most exploited class, the working class has no other possible historic perspective than the collective management of the means of production to satisfy democratically determined social needs.

This traditional analysis has then engendered the idea that the working class plays at all times and in all places the role of vanguard, even if unconsciously, “objectively”. Indeed, the climate struggle reveals a very different reality: in the front line we find the peasants, the landless peasants, the indigenous peoples and the communities in struggle against mining, forestry or infrastructural projects which destroy their environment, with women playing a prominent role in all these struggles.

The fact that social layers distinct from the working class in the strict sense play a vanguard role is not unprecedented. Young people, for example, have often served as a detonator for struggles which, in highlighting an unbearable social or political situation, lead the working class to emerge from its relative passivity. May 1968 in France, where the repression of the “night of the barricades” in the Latin Quarter led to a general strike of ten million workers, is a classic example of this interaction between social layers and classes. There are many others.

However, what we currently face on the environmental front is different and the image of the detonator does not allow us to grasp it. A detonator fulfils a temporary function: to bring about an explosion. However, faced with climate change, we have for many years observed the persistent struggles of peasants, indigenous peoples and communities, and these struggles, up until now, have not made anything at all explode within the working class. The problem is deeper then. It is not simply about a “discordance of the times”, a lack of synch between the rhythms of consciousness of different social classes and layers.

The explanation is in fact relatively simple. When peasants fight against agro-business, when indigenous peoples fight against the appropriation of forests as carbon wells as a source of biomass, when communities fight against extractivist projects which destroy the framework of life and resources, these struggles for immediate demands in favour of the conditions of existence of the groups concerned coincide directly with what must be done to save the climate.

The situation of the working class is very different. Particularly in the current context, where the working class is weakened, ideologically disoriented and pushed onto the defensive, the most immediate demands that it poses spontaneously to defend its conditions of existence do not coincide with what must be done to save the climate, but rather that which destabilizes it. To create or save jobs, for example, a majority of workers hope for the extension of production, an economic recovery of capitalism, of new enterprises. If it is clearly an illusion to believe that this will absorb unemployment, this illusion remains at first sight the most logical response and the easiest to implement. In certain threatened polluting sectors, like the coal mines in Poland, the trades unionists go so far as to doubt the reality of climate change, because they see it as a threat to their jobs.

The fight against unemployment, a central issue

How to deal with this problem? Eco-socialists attempt to respond by proposing demands which respond both to the social needs of the world of labour and to ecological needs (notably the drastic and rapid reduction of greenhouse gas emissions which is indispensable to stabilize the climate system). To simplify, we distinguish ourselves both from those ecologists who think that the social impact of environmental measures are a secondary problem and trades unionists who believe that the priority is social, that the environment is a problem that can be dealt with later. These two strategies seem to us condemned in advance.

The struggle against unemployment is the main concern of the labour movement (and it conditions the level of wages, the organisation of work, the defence of systems of social protection and so on).

Eco-socialists stress a general response articulated at three levels:

- the extension of non-relocatable public employment (notably through public plans for energy renovation of buildings, the transformation of the energy system and the replacement of the hegemony of the car by public transport companies) stressing decentralization and democratic control by the users and workers;

- the collective reconversion, under workers’ control, of the workers of useless or polluting industries (in the first place the arms industry and nuclear industry, but also cars, petrochemicals and so on) to other sectors of activity;

- the radical reduction of labour time, without loss of wages, with compensatory hiring and reduction of work rhythms, so that all work, live better and waste less.

This last demand seems to us of a major strategic importance. As Marx noted, it is both the best social demand and the best way in which “social man, the associated producers” can “regulate their exchange of matter with nature rationally” in “the manner which conforms most to human nature”.

Faced with unemployment, only a programme of this kind is capable of meeting the dual social and environmental challenge, that of climate in particular. Its implementation requires an anti-capitalist orientation and involves other demands I will not detail here: the expropriation of the energy and finance sectors - a condition sine qua non of the transition – and a long term policy favouring the development of local rural employment in organic agriculture and the maintenance of ecosystems.

This programme can only gain in influence in the workers’ movement if it is articulated with the struggles of a combative left against the apparatuses dominated by social neo-liberalism or other bureaucratic currents. The perspective of the apparatuses generally consists in supporting the energy transition as conceived by capitalism (a transition which does not respond at all to the objective of sustainability, being too slow and involving a massive recourse to nuclear power, agro-fuels and the capture-sequestration of carbon) asking only that this transition is “just” [5]. That is why eco-socialists encourage the peasant movements, indigenous peoples and communities to build link and seek convergences with the left inside the trade unions.

To emerge from generalities to advance a programme of well argued concrete proposals for social and energy transition, for example at the European level, constitutes in my view the biggest challenge that eco-socialists should try to deal with. The task is all the more arduous in that it is not enough to replace fossil fuels by renewable energy sources: given the foot dragging for 30 years by governments, greenhouse gas emissions should be reduced so strongly and so quickly that it can no longer be done without reducing material production and transport [6]. Everyone understands that this constraint complicates further the eco-socialist response to the challenge of employment.

Eco-socialism, an open concept

Eco-socialism can be summed up as a will to converge social and environmental struggles on the basis of the understanding that austerity and ecological destruction are two sides of the same coin: productivist capitalism. Defined thus, it is an open concept, liable to different strategic and programmatic declensions. So there are today several varieties of eco-socialism. The variety that I have presented to you could be defined as Marxist, revolutionary, feminist and internationalist. There are others and we do not claim a monopoly, only the broadest possible debate.


[1] This text is based on a communication in the context of the week-end of mobilisation on the climate organised on April 10-12 in Cologne by the Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung in collaboration with a series of German ecologist associations. See the site of the conference.

[2] Nature puts the latter freely at the disposal of the capitalist, which explains capital’s appetite for the exploitation of mines, natural forests or fish reserves –above all in a period of recession when what is known as “extractivism” attracts capital seeking superprofits

[3] The irony of history is that Trotsky’s vision was in part applied by Stalin, in his project to reverse the course of the Siberian rivers from North to South to irrigate central Asia

[4] Remember that to have a 60% chance of not exceeding a 2°C increase in temperature in relation to the pre-industrial era, it is necessary that two thirds to four fifths of proven fossil fuel reserves are never exploited

[5] A very clear example of this is the choice of most French trade union organisations not to oppose the nuclear network

[6] The scenarios of transition towards a system of 100% renewable sources which claims to be compatible with the maintenance of a growth rate of 2-3% per year does not take account of the fossil fuels necessary for the production of renewable converters and the work of energy efficiency improvement of buildings, and the emissions which stem from this

Friday, 26 June 2015

It's time to Take Back the City

Notwithstanding my support for whoever the Green party candidate is....

Take Back The City is a growing movement in London. We are workers, residents, students, teachers, artists, families and migrants. The movement is built on people’s stories, experiences and visions of the future; people who love this amazing city but yet often feel unrepresented, forgotten and unwelcome in it.

We are told time and time again that ordinary Londoners are benefiting from our city’s success but the reality is that it's the wealthiest 1% that holds all the power that is reaping all of its rewards.

We can see that the decisions made by corporations, bankers and politicians are making London increasingly exclusive and unaffordable. We are being pushed aside as community and youth centres are closed and welfare spending is cut. Many of us are struggling to survive as we are priced out of our homes and forced to turn to food banks.

Meanwhile politicians and the media are attempting to turn us against each other with propaganda about immigration and benefits scroungers.

We can reclaim what we love about London only by coming together. Together we will come up with a set of demands that will make London a place for all of us.

Taking Back The City means not being ignored by the 1% and the politicians they fund. It means re-imagining and re-building London in a way that is better for all of us. It means opening our eyes to the common problems we face, and raising ourselves up to the collective challenge of confronting them.

To Take Back the City, we need all the help we can get. Sign our declaration, contribute your demands and vote for the changes you think most need to be made in London. Join our group and help us build this movement. Take Back the City is for everyone who sees London as a home and not an investment opportunity.

Support the campaign here

Thursday, 25 June 2015

Troika Seeks Regime Change in Greece

As negotiations on debt repayment break down once again between Greece’s Syriza government and its creditors the so called ‘Troika’ (European Central Bank (ECB), European Commission (EC) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF)), this crisis appears finally to be coming to a head. Greece is due to repay its next instalment of 1.6 billion Euros to the IMF by the end of June, to avoid debt default and probable ejection from the Eurozone.

Even for politicos like me, this seemingly never ending saga is starting to wear me down with the sheer tediousness of the whole affair. It could yet be that some kind of compromise is found over the coming weekend but the signs are that push has finally come to shove. But the problem remains that both sides have fundamentally diametrically opposed views on how to deal with Greece’s sovereign debt.

The Troika wants austerity policies like cutting public expenditure, things like pensions and public sector wage cuts, together with sharp rises to indirect taxation (VAT) and the privatisation of public assets to continue. Even though these polices have been implemented for the last five years and not only has this caused poverty and misery for the majority of Greek people, but the debt far from reducing, it is actually increasing. This is classic neo-liberalism, akin the policies pursued in the USA after the great economic crash of 1929, until President Roosevelt introduced growth inducing Keynesian economics in the 1930s which led to a recovery in the US and around the world.

The Greek government wants to try the Roosevelt route to cutting the debt, by increasing direct taxes on the wealthy and corporations whilst trying as best they can to stimulate the economy into growth with public investment. This is what Paul Mason has termed ‘left austerity’.  

Both sides have shifted a little over the last few days with Syriza offering some increases in VAT and cuts to pensions as well taxes on the wealthy and the Troika even less by insisting on further cuts in public spending together with more modest tax increases for the rich and for corporations.

For Syriza to move towards the Troika remedy, even a little, is very risky since they were elected to government on the basis that they would end this fetish with cutting public spending and get the economy to grow, which is the only way that the debt can be paid off. They will need to get any deal approved by the Greek Parliament anyway, which looks to be difficult with opposition within Syriza itself to continuing austerity policies and their coalition partners the Greek Independents (ANEL) against raising VAT for Greece’s islands who get a reduction at the moment due to the extra costs of importing most things (like milk and cooking oil for example) from the mainland.

The Troika for their part are playing something of a good cop bad cop routine, with the IMF agreeing that the debt needs to be restructured (cut) to make it sustainable whilst insisting on the austerity measures mentioned above. The ECB and EC will not countenance debt forgiveness but are more open to raising taxes on the wealthy (if they can be made to pay). In the end in presents Syriza with no room for manoeuver, and basically forces them to continue with the same Memorandum policies agreed by the previous Greek government.

The Troika seem to think that Greece is expendable, and if they won’t tow the line, then they can leave the Eurozone, and they are confident that any damage to the wider Eurozone can be contained fairly painlessly. I am not sure they are right.

Consider this. Greece owes 180% of its GDP in sovereign debt to, apart from the IMF (about 20%) other Eurozone nation's taxpayers. The banks, mainly French and German, who lent money to Greece have been paid off. But Greece also has around 150% of its GDP (around 360 billion Euros) in private debt to banks. If Greece is ejected from the Euro they can kiss goodbye this. To put this into context, the Lehman Brothers financial collapse, which started the global recession in 2008, owed 600 million Euros in private debt. So, not only will the tax payers in Eurozone countries lose their money if Greece defaults, but it could easily trigger another global financial crisis.

Additionally, capital investors will worry which country is next to be ejected from the Euro, causing a run on the Euro, making matters even worse. This then has the potential to throw the Eurozone and the world economy back into recession. I think the Troika are taking a big risk.

Here we come to the rub of this crisis. For ideological and political reasons, the Troika do not want to change their approach to debt financing, it has nothing to do with economics really. If Greece gets a better deal the fear is that other countries, Spain, Portugal, Italy and Ireland will want a similar one, and the government’s in those countries will probably be ejected for putting their people through so much needless pain.

The Troika want to see Syriza kicked out of power in Greece, as a lesson to other countries thinking of challenging the austerity orthodoxy of the Eurozone, and national democracy is dismissed with contempt.

For Greece, and Syriza, they need to leave the Eurozone if they are to implement their policies and start on the road to recovery. Syriza do not have a mandate for this though, so they need to get approval from the Greek people in a referendum or general election. The only other way, is to continue with the austerity and misery of the last five years, for the foreseeable future.

Tuesday, 23 June 2015

Tory Welfare Cuts to Target the Working Poor With Children

The Prime Minister, David Cameron, in a speech delivered in Runcorn yesterday began to reveal where some of the £12 billion cuts to the welfare budget will come from. In what he called a ‘merry-go-round’ of tax and benefits, he identified tax credits as one major area.

The Tories refused to say during the general election campaign where welfare cuts would fall, so this is the clearest indication yet of an area of the welfare budget to be targeted. Cameron went on to say:

“People working on the minimum wage having that money taxed by the government, and then the government giving them the money back, and more, in welfare. Again, it’s dealing with the symptoms of the problem, topping up low pay rather than extending the drivers of opportunity.”

At first glance, this seems to be a perfectly rational position to take, where tax is taken from low earners and then returned to the same workers via the tax credit system, appears to be an inefficient carry on. But tax credits were introduced by Gordon Brown when he was Chancellor of the Exchequer as a way of targeting money at the lowest paid and allowing extra for any dependent children.

Typically Brown like, tax credits are incredibly difficult to understand and are calculated via a computerised system where all of the relevant data is fed in. Basically, if you earn the minimum wage or a little above, you will qualify for tax credits, and if you have children you will get extra.

Despite the complex calculations involved in tax credits they are very good at targeting those on the lowest pay and boosting their income via payments from the government.

Critics on the left have argued against tax credits as a subsidy to employers to pay low wages, which is certainly the case. But at the end of the day tax credits do get money to where it is most needed.

The Resolution Foundation, a think tank that works to improve the living standards of low to middle-income earners, has analysed proposals to cut the value of the ‘child element of the Child Tax Credit back to its 2003/4 level, which it is rumoured the government intends to do. It suggests that:

 •Over two-thirds of affected families would be in-work

 •Families with two children would lose up £1,690 a year

 •Almost two-thirds of the cut would be borne by the poorest 30 per cent of households

 •Almost none of the cut would fall upon the richest 40 per cent of households

In a report written even before cuts to child tax credits were suggested the Institute for Fiscal Studies said that the number of children living in poverty has increased again over the last three years, from 2.3 million to 2.5 million.

Government policy is set then to increase poverty, particularly among those on low pay with children. This is denied by the government, although their alternative route to ‘prosperity’ is only vaguely explained.

Cameron instead said what he wants to ‘see is this move towards an economy with higher pay, lower welfare and lower taxes rather than low pay, high taxes and high welfare’.

But there was no commitment to increase the minimum wage, other than in line with inflation which is estimated to raise it to £8 per hour by 2020. It should also be noted that the government plans to introduce employment legislation to make it more difficult for unions to organise and to take industrial action.

So, how will the government achieve this high wage economy that the Prime Minister sees as the answer to cutting poverty? The invisible hand of the market perhaps, or maybe the tooth fairy?

It appears to be wishful thinking at best, or a cynical attempt at muddying the water on the issue at worst.    

Monday, 22 June 2015

Was Saturday’s End Austerity Protest Anti-Democratic?

On Saturday evening after attending the huge demonstration against the government’s austerity agenda in London, I spoke to friend, who is not a political activists, but who is fairly politically aware, who questioned the democratic legitimacy of the march so soon after a general election?

After all, only weeks ago the country endorsed the government’s manifesto, including massive cuts to public expenditure. Is protesting against the government’s mandate to carry out its policies a rejection of the democratic will of the people?

My friend wasn’t the only one to pose this question. David Aaronovitch, the ex tankie turned neo-con, made the same point via his twitter account, and even the normally lefty type Sunny Hundal writing on his Liberal Conspiracy blog says ‘we have to find a better argument than ‘the Tories have no mandate‘ because it sounds ridiculous to anyone outside the hard left.’

The argument Hundal refers to is the line that only 24% of registered people voted Tory, even though the system delivered them a majority government. They still did win though, by the rules of our long established electoral system, and furthermore, if you totalled together the Tory, Lib Dem and UKIP vote (all pro-austerity parties) it exceeds 50% of the votes cast.

Of course why the Tories won the election is down to a combination of factors not least that voters were unsure of Labour, who didn’t offer much less than the Tories on the question of cutting public spending anyway.

In Scotland, the SNP won almost all the parliamentary seats on an anti-austerity platform, and the option of voting Green against austerity was available in England, but few I suspect thought we would be in a position of being able to call the shots post election, and they voted tactically for Labour.

There is nothing anti-democratic about protesting against the government, there are protests most weekends in London, although not as large as this anti-austerity one, and these things can have an effect of government policy. The Tories have only a small majority of twelve MPs remember, which will no doubt get smaller as by-election losses chip away at their numbers.

One aim of the demonstration, not specifically about the fairness of the public spending cuts, was to bring together different groups, the unions, political parties, welfare campaigners, housing activists and environmental groups like the anti-fracking activists. In this it was very successful, I think. This is movement building, unifying the various opposition groups under a common banner. Building on the Occupy movement, UK Uncut and Podemos in Spain, developing a more participatory democracy, and challenging the tired old status quo of politics in this country and beyond.

Politics and democracy isn’t all about elections and Westminster anyway, and if our predecessors had not taken a different view we wouldn’t even have universal suffrage now. There is also a kind of hypocrisy at work here from (mainly) the right, in that protesting outside of the electoral parameters of voting every five years is wrong. Like the various right wing ‘think tanks’, for example the Tax Payers Alliance, who bombard the media with their agenda of cutting public spending and cutting tax for the wealthy, on an almost daily basis between elections, is somehow legitimate though.

Saturday’s demonstration lifted my spirits a fair bit, because it’s good to see there are plenty of others who feel the same way as me about this Tory government, especially the large Green presence, and are prepared to mobilise against it.

This will be a long and hard fought campaign, with many small battles along the way, including some direct action protests and maybe industrial action too. Saturday was a good start, and I think the high numbers taking part surprised the media, and we may well have a few more surprises for them in the coming months.

Sunday, 21 June 2015

“The Cry of the Earth and the Cry of the Poor”: Pope’s Climate Encyclical Strong on Moral Language, Weak on Mobilizing Struggle

Written by Michael O'Neil and first published at Hot Indie News

Pope Francis released a much-anticipated encyclical today that outlines a morally powerful account of the danger that anthropomorphic climate change presents, especially to the world’s poorest and most marginalized communities. Entitled Laudato Si’, with the subtitle “On care for our common home”, the 184 page letter combines visions of communion with God-given Nature, a hard-hitting critique of inequality, mundane municipal policies (Pope Francis has some very strong opinions about environmental impact assessments!), and an ultimately insufficient call to action that obsesses over “sobriety” and “lifestyle changes” in lieu of collective struggle.

Though Pope Francis’ taking a stand on the environment has been treated by media as nigh-unprecedented for the church, the Holy Father himself begins by citing Pope John the XXIII’s 1962 encyclical Pacem in Terris, which was an appeal to avert nuclear war. Laudato Si’ eventually inveighs mightily against the “deified market”, the predations of financialization on the real economy and treatment of “private property as absolute”, but the letter proscribes largely individualistic action early by citing the Patriarch Bartholomew’s’s call to “replace consumption with sacrifice, greed with generosity, wastefulness with a spirit of sharing.”

The most interesting parts of the encyclical are those that provide insight to the degree that environmental matters and poverty are linked in the mind of Pope Francis. Much of the text reads like something straight out of the Environmental Justice (or “EJ”) movement. For example, the section

“Pollution and Climate Change” begins:
Some forms of pollution are part of people’s daily experience. Exposure to atmospheric pollutants produces a broad spectrum of health hazards, especially for the poor, and causes millions of premature deaths.
It is telling that Pope Francis makes special note to inform the reader that his namesake, Francis of Assisi, is not only known for his works among the poor, but is also the official patron saint “of work in the area of ecology.”

Using the striking metaphor of an “ecological debt between the north and south”, Pope Francis highlights the “differential responsibilities” for averting climate change between advanced countries that have benefited from centuries of fossil fuel use and countries whose economies and infrastructures are still developing. This placement of responsibility on wealthy countries like the United States to not just lead the way to 100% clean energy, but also take drastic action to subsidize other countries’ transition, is a swipe at the White House and other administrations whose resistance to such remedies have obstructed bold international agreements to avert environmental catastrophe.

Pope Francis goes on to compare this “ecological debt” to the way monetary debts are handled internationally, indicating that if there was any environmental equivalent of the IMF or European Central Bank then the core capitalist countries would have carbon transition terms dictated to them, rather than expect the rest of the world to abide their procrastination.

The Pope is right in line with groups like the Green Party and System Change Not Climate Change when he writes “the climate is a common good, belonging to all and meant for all,” and expresses deep skepticism that markets are willing or able to provide stewardship in this area. He never actually calls for a carbon tax or seizing of hydrocarbon assets, but he does provide an outline to justify expropriating the fossil fuel economy (or the profits thereof) to the end of saving civilization:
"…every ecological approach needs to incorporate a social perspective which takes into account the fundamental rights of the poor and the underprivileged. The principle of the subordination of private property to the universal destination of goods, and thus the right of everyone to their use, is a golden rule of social conduct and “the first principle of the whole ethical and social order”.The Christian tradition has never recognized the rights of private property as absolute or inviolable and has stressed the social purpose of all forms of private property."
(emphasis added)

The letter also presents a nuanced analysis of genetically modified foodstuffs, arguing that GMO technology itself may not present a risk to humans, but that excessive and widespread application may create unintended environmental consequences and “following the introduction of these crops, productive land is concentrated in the hands of a few owners due to ‘the progressive disappearance of small producers, who, as a consequence of the loss of the exploited lands, are obliged to withdraw from direct production'”.

When criticizing consumerism, overproduction, inequality and even “(s)aving banks at any cost, making the public pay the price”, the Pope writes with a convincing moral authority. But as he transitions to what should be done the letter falters and grows muddled. Francis writes that lack of regard for the environment is deeply linked to lack of regard for the unborn, and uses scare quotes around the term “reproductive health”. Though he is right that humanitarian aid should not be linked to population control measures, the point is that women should have control over their reproductive destinies.

The letter constantly invokes “conversations” that must happen regarding the climate change and what to do about it. While transparent public debate is necessary, people having been “conversing” about climate change for decades and both governments and global capitalism are unmoved. Pope Francis misses a huge opportunity here to tell Catholics that it is their moral duty to struggle together and with other communities to demand that those in power begin the transition to 100% clean energy. This was the moment to call for a “Climate Crusade” of sorts, or at least make ending fossil fuels as high a priority as protesting at abortion clinics.

Much as been made of the encyclical’s call for a “cultural revolution,” but it’s difficult to say what is meant by that. Francis’ diagnoses of big picture economic ills seem to be an appeal to the better angels of elites, while his recommendations for slower, simpler and less hedonistic consumption are directed to the little people. But what would happen if Pope Francis directly addressed working people and the poor as agents who have the power to change the big picture? The word “democracy” does not appear once in the 184 pages of this letter.

Instead we get “small is beautiful”-style entreaties about “rejecting the dynamic of dominion and the accumulation of pleasures” and the liberation of “sobriety.” It’s fine advice for how to live a decent life, but as a plan for change it falls sickly into the neoliberal logic of individual, moralistic, internal change over collective struggle in solidarity to demand justice from those who will not deliver it otherwise. It’s a shame, because Pope Francis so clearly sees the ravages of neoliberal capitalism.

And what of the Catholic Church, itself, which owns massive swaths of property? Will it endeavor to put solar panels on every cathedral, school and rectory, and to help set up solar co-ops in communities? Will it be receptive to the requests of parishioners to make such projects a priority?
Time will tell if we really needed a Pope to affirm the reality of climate change. We certainly need leaders with the resources and moral authority of Pope Francis to motivate concrete changes, and to organize masses of constituents to fight for justice when the powerful refuse to deliver it.

Saturday, 20 June 2015

Photos - Massive End Austerity Demo - London - 20 June 2015

A massive anti-austerity march and rally took place today in London today, I would say at the very least 100,000 but probably a good deal more. Organisers said it could be as high as 250,000 (including Glasgow and Liverpool protests). Whatever the figure, it was largest protest that I have been on since the anti-Iraq war marches more than 10 years ago.

A large Green Bloc was in evidence, which I was very pleased about. We staked out our ant-austerity ground during the general election campaign and this turn out just reinforces Green party image of us fighting against the savage government cuts expected in this Parliament from the Tories.

Meeting up at outside of the Bank of England

Noel Lynch of Green Left

Martin Francis of Green Left

Natalie Bennett and Caroline Lucas at the head of the Green Bloc

Rally at Parliament Square

Pete Murry of Green Left

Romayne Phoenix of Green Left welcomes the marchers to the rally with a barnstorming speech

This is just the start of a series of protests including some direct action and maybe some industrial action too. Let's make things as difficult as we can for the Tory government as they try to dismantle the welfare state for their own purely ideological reasons.