Tuesday, 29 November 2016

Is the Green Party Pro-EU First, Environment Second These Days?

The decision, taken locally but heavily influenced by the Green Party leadership, of the party not standing a candidate in this Thursday’s Richmond Park by-election, appears to signal a change in the political priorities for the English Greens.

To recap, the by-election has been called because the sitting Tory MP, Zac Goldsmith, resigned from his party and is standing as an independent, anti-Heathrow Airport expansion candidate. Goldsmith, although having something of an ecological viewpoint, is not necessarily against airport expansion in general, but he is against it in his own back yard.

The Lib Dem candidate Sarah Olney, also backs airport expansion, but not at Heathrow, whilst the Labour candidate, Christian Wolmar takes the same position, preferring Gatwick Airport for an extra runway.

One might have thought that the Greens would seize on this opportunity to differentiate themselves from the other parties and use the by-election to publicise the urgency of action on climate change, and the part that air travel plays in exacerbating the problem.

The first indications were that this was indeed going to be the case, with a candidate selected to stand, but a change of heart by that candidate, and some other activists locally, saw the decision reversed. This was after representations were made by the Green Party co-leaders, Caroline Lucas and Jonathan Bartley.

There has been more emphasis in recent years on the Green Party’s social as well as environmental policies, but I can’t ever remember environmental policy, and in particular those policies around climate change, being relegated to a subordinate status like has happened with this by-election.

The Lib Dems, hardly surprisingly given their modus operandi, are using the Heathrow expansion issue in the classic nimbyist way, but they have also tried desperately to make the by-election about a completely different subject. Brexit.

I suppose this should come as no great surprise to seasoned Lib Dem watchers, as trying to thwart the Brexit process is now their flag-ship policy, as they try to recover from their near wipe out at last year’s general election. They see an opportunity to tempt some of the 16 million Remain voters into supporting the Lib Dems, particularly as the Tories (and probably Labour too, although it is not clear yet), do not want to re-run the referendum on our membership of the EU.  

Green Party members and voters were overwhelmingly in favour of remaining in the EU, as I was, but there was a minority who wanted to leave. Green Left comrade, Larry O’Hara made the case for Greens to vote to leave the EU eloquently on this blog prior to the referendum. Larry makes a strong case for Greens to abide by their principles and take the opportunity to bring democratic decision making to its lowest, local level. But as I say, most Greens, in some cases reluctantly, voted to stay. 

This was pretty much my view, seeing staying as the lesser of evils, rather than let the Tories dismantle environmental and employment protection policies.

I wonder how many Green remainers though, put EU membership or some kind of associate membership above the issue of airport expansion and climate change? I dare say that some Greens will say that staying in the EU will better enable us to deal with climate issues, but that is a matter of opinion.

Of course the decision not to stand in Richmond Park is all bound up with the idea, promoted by the Green Party’s new co-leaders, to make a start on the formation of a progressive alliance, of political parties vaguely to the left of the Tories. Labour are standing though in Richmond Park, and a progressive alliance does not yet exist in any real way.

I am broadly in favour of an anti-Tory alliance for the next general election, but I do think that we Greens have missed an opportunity to trumpet our distinctive position on airport expansion and the issues surrounding it, in this by-election.

Not all Green Party members are happy about the position we have taken in Richmond Park, and I must admit that I am uneasy about using this by-election as a referendum on Brexit, or the terms of it. I also have the feeling that we may be being used as the Lib Dem's useful idiots.   

Sunday, 27 November 2016

The Metabolic Rift and Ecological Value – the Ecosocialist Challenge

This post is written by Gordon Peters and is a paper he gave to the recent Historical Materialism Conference

In this short paper I am taking as a starting point the ecological rift, or metabolic rift in Marx’s own phrase, at the heart of the way in which capitalism appropriates the natural world and alienates humanity from its species being and from nature in the process. This is elaborated at considerable length  by John Bellamy Foster and Brent Clark [but not exclusively by them] and what I hope to do here is while accepting their recovery of ecological balance and its disturbance in Marx, give an overview of an ecological praxis related to that theorization. What does restoring ecological value look like?

In their article in Monthly Review, Bellamy Foster and Clark [1] mention – although they do not explore – two useful concepts to challenge the metabolic rift and the separation of humanity from nature, accelerating as it is with capital accumulation and reproduction.  One is ‘metabolic restoration’ and the other is ‘sustainable co-evolutionary ecology’. I think it is worth exploring the social and political interventions which are called for by these concepts. To do so we need to see clearly what is happening, what processes are taking place, what is irreversible, what can be refused, what can be overcome.

I want to look at four important tendencies in modern capitalism and what can constitute ecological challenges which are not themselves already determined by capitalist relations, or are likely to be re-shaped in managing capitalism to maintain its power or hold.

These are:

1] Automation and precarity
2] Despoliation and species reduction
3] Commodification and fetishism –reification
4] Ecological debt and unequal exchange

They are discussed only in broad outline as there is vast empirical evidence now in many places, and the point here is to orientate a praxis.
Automation and precarity

The labour saving aspects of technological innovation may be seen as positive and the value adding as negative, albeit that the exchange relationship demanded by capitalism appropriates huge surplus profit from new technological applications and makes more workers redundant or precariously self employed. There are now various projections of how far automated labour processes will go, and how far professional, middle class as well as conventional working class jobs will be lost and lives will change [e.g. Snricek and Williams [2], Standing [3]. For this purpose I think it is safe to say that the world of waged and salaried work is changing to an extent that most livelihoods based on paid work will become precarious, middle as well as working class people will suffer emisseration, and ever more unequal concentrations of wealth [and absence of wealth] will form, geographically uneven within countries and between countries.

Where family wage, job security and increasingly the social safety net for periods of worklessness and ill health are less and less viable, or in any sense dependable [and the decline of social democracy in government or as a main opposition to rampant capitalism confirms this] then the demand for basic or citizens income becomes not just a ‘left field’ or idealistic one but potentially central to a social discourse, and politics, which seeks to establish and protect rights of ordinary wellbeing and human dignity. There are numerous technical approaches to basic income, depending partly on different elaborations of welfare state or their absence, and what transitional arrangements will look like and affect groups of people, but essentially they take away the dependence on the exchange relationship of work and its extraction of surplus value to maintain the livelihood of people, fit or unfit, young or old, and replace that with a guarantee of sustainability of the means of life with no-one denied, and rights to earn or accumulate beyond that which may then be regulated [or not] according to prevailing circumstances. The argument about distribution of surpluses then remains but is no longer linked to peoples very survival. In more immediate and practical terms, the fight against discrimination and benefits capping and for a real living wage, and supporting trade unions in this is linked to the argument for citizens or basic income as the medium to longer term way of dealing with such discrimination and poverty.

The fight for decent work standards, and against zero hours precarity such as that taken up by Deliveroo workers in the UK, or the Walmart $15 hour campaign in USA, is one ecosocialism has to be allied to in challenging the way in which capitalism depends on further exploitation and denial of basic rights to its workforce. Minimum wage and employment rights, coupled with a social safety net, may be increasingly undeliverable by neo-liberal capitalism and to the extent that is the case, unifying the interests of those in low paid work and those unemployed, or periodically and unsustainably employed, is a vital transitional task in building demand for an alternative.

Complementary to a basic income approach, restoring ecological value envisages not only protecting but celebrating the commons.

Mutual aid and networks of skills exchange can make the limited applications of time banking possible within capitalism into a social norm of the use value of work, freely exchanged and not part of the commodity form. The uncompensated work of informal care in the political economy of welfare [currently estimated to involve over six million people in UK either part time or full time as carers] can be recognized as economic and social value.  Voluntary commitments of solidarity and support for the health and wellbeing of all as well as work to establish plant and animal preservation and balanced urban environments which recognize the biosphere as primary, not secondary, consideration to living well can be established as ecological value. The extent to which surplus value extraction from labour power continues, from those with capacity and willingness to engage in amassing some wealth – in its exchange value form – is of course very much a matter of how far anti-capitalist struggles go and balance of forces pertaining in any time and place. 

Despoliation and species reduction

As Bellamy Foster [4] has long been at pains to point out, Marx was anything but dismissive about the exploitative and potentially and increasingly actual ruinous effects of capital accumulation on the natural world. Rather the reverse, that the metabolic rift was central to capitalism’s mode of production and as explained by Marx in Capital on the denuding of soils and the strong link between that denudation and the guano and fertilizer trade.

Despoliation has of course now gone much further, with extinction of species, acidification of oceans, toxic wastes dumping and entering food chains, plastic molecular interference with life, air pollution, massive mineral and oil extraction, particularly fracking, and climate warming and its ramifications. Many of these processes are not new – oil extraction from shale sedimentary strata for instance was pioneered by ‘Paraffin Young’ in West Lothian in the mid nineteenth century. What is new is the much accelerated pace to meet the worldwide extension of commodification and the rise in population with demands for inclusion within that commodification and reproduction of a capitalist mode. *

While global warming may now be inevitable by at least 2 degrees C this century, and CO2 parts per million irreducible below 450 [ICPCC, Stern, McKibbin] [5]  mounting evidence says such capital extraction and energy generation is extending the metabolic rift to a catastrophic conclusion for many and a denuded future for all humanity, even those with amassed wealth in secluded places.

In this situation, a refusal strategy – no more fracking, keeping oil in the ground, the stranding of fossil fuel assets, i.e. a general policy of carbon sequestration has to be allied to a viable energy transition towards renewable resource dependence. Much of this is even accepted within the recent Paris Agreement, even though the pace necessary and sanctions to achieve a turnaround are quite lacking.

The ownership and control of investment remain largely untouched, though there are community owned outliers such as The Cochabamba Project in Bolivia and community energy generation projects of considerable size in Germany, and still at a micro level in the UK.

McKibbin reckons that there are seventeen years left in the USA in which to get alternative renewables up and running as main sources of power generation, before the worst effects for the rest of the century are made irreversible by fossil fuel extraction and its consequences. And he takes as confirmation the US Government report of the OCI [6].

The means of production of capitalism have not yet been altered significantly in the energy sphere. But they are not immune to oppositional pressure. Divestment demands and policies introduced into pension funds or other large investors, through Keep It In The Ground and through ethical policy demands, have sequestered billions of pounds of assets [Carbon Tracker, 2013] [7]. Divestment, Boycott and Sanctions are clearly useful weapons of political economy as witness the current Bill of the UK Government to outlaw local authorities from attempting to change their pension fund investments from corporate entities whose policies they oppose to ones of which they approve.

The way in which jobs are traditionally defended, and trade unionism tied up [or bundled – see below] with the latest requirement of monopoly capitalism, for instance Unite supporting Trident on the Clyde or the Hinckley B nuclear power plant investment, would seem to work against a class-based opposition. But just as the Lucas Aerospace workers challenged war production forty years ago, a green investment policy [TUC’s one million jobs][8] and climate unionism are emerging to provide an alternative – ‘’the rise of climate unionism offers a new direction for the labour movement’’ [Sean Sweeney, US]. In the UK there is a growing, if still embryonic, movement of trade unionists for carbon reduction.

Community energy generation and municipally owned power distribution networks, along with house insulation and maximizing solar cell installation, will combat fuel poverty and bring control of energy policy back to its use value rather than exchange value for profit making from a common or public good. Even within capitalist relations, the extent of such in Germany suggests it is already a viable proposition.

Commodification and fetishism

De-commodifying is trickier to find instrumental ways of changing and of transitioning. Dealing with more people made surplus to capital’s requirements and out of work and with increasingly unhealthy environments has more obvious traction than challenging methods of consumption, and the value and price correlation of a world in which commodification is a universal norm.

Food sovereignty  The definition by Global Justice of this is: ‘’It could create a food system that is designed to help people and the  environment rather than make profits for multinational corporations. The food sovereignty movement is a global alliance of farmers, growers, consumers and activists’’[9]

Moves towards more locally grown, organic and sustainably managed food as both healthier for people and for the biosphere can help challenge commodification linked to the need to stem air pollution [over 9,000 Londoners per year now die prematurely from the consequences of nitrogen di-oxide and particulate inhalation] and awareness of what corporate expansion and sovereign wealth funds are doing through mass monoculture in countries of the South, depriving local farmers and forcing a ruinous commodification on whole swathes of land and population. The struggle against corporate seed control [e.g. Monsanto GM policies] and vast distributional network control [such as by Cargill] is a struggle to maintain both biodiversity and livelihood, in the South and North.

Bellamy Foster and Clark excoriate Jason Moore [10] for his monistic approach to modern capitalism, a social determinism which sees capitalism and the modern Anthropocene taking all before it in ‘’bundles’’ which erase any basic nature. For Moore it’s as if now that it is difficult to talk of unspoiled nature or wilderness, as capital has so obviously spread everywhere, then it is hopelessly ‘dualist’ to consider nature as separate. The human and extra-human may be bundled up in many ways now, but that in no way should deny the fundamental given of the natural world.  Foster and Clark go on to suggest that seeing nature as internalized by society [e.g. Neil Smith] [11] or appropriated ‘’all the way down’’ {Moore] is deterministic hubris, and a denial of a dialectic. We could also add that flash flooding on an epic scale, excessive hurricane occurrences and certain volcanic reminders are a kind of ‘return of the repressed’ or empirical disproof of Moore et al.

Where Moore talks of ‘bundles’, it might be more useful to use the term ‘tangles’. With bundling, capitalism wraps things up, but if the natural and the social – and what’s in-between -  are entangled, then things are unresolved. There is a dialectical space for antagonisms to play out. The geographer, Paul Routledge, refers to a politics of entanglement [12], of different social forces at work in particular environments. It is proposed here then that in discussion of capitalism and its Anthropocene manifestations the notion of tangles is more grounded, descriptively accurate, and allows for thinking about unraveling. Think of salination in the Ganges-Meghna delta through the spread of shrimp farming and resistance of traditional fishers and rice growers, or the Great Pacific Garbage Patch round Midway in the Pacific [13]. Or encroachment on the Green Belt driven by property prices and desire for space in a countryside setting, and resisted by various interests with commons preservation at heart.

A further danger of the discourse of people like Moore, and ‘hybridists’[14] , is that class conflict seems overcome. The forward march of labour [Hobsbaum] may have been halted some time ago, but then neo-liberal capitalism and its global expression, following the 2007-8 crises, are now facing setbacks and inducing turmoil. And war economy persists, with its own despoliation and effects on biodiversity.  Accelerating inequality, displacement and migration  do not fit much of the conventional narrative of class conflict, and indeed tend to fuel right wing, populist demagogy which preys on a wider precariat, not any recognizable class alliance. But it is precisely at this point that Marx’s concepts of alienation and reification need recovering.

The alienation from the product of work through the exchange relationship of capitalism is ever more elaborated through the satisfaction of manufactured wants. And these wants are more and more controlled in their satisfaction by corporations, and internet monopolies, or cartels, who devise the very algorithms to complete the individual’s ‘lifeworld’ [to adopt Habermas’s term for what goes on in reality distinct from what is discursive knowledge]. Commodity fetishism drives much behaviour and takes up increasing leisure time. Reification, or becoming absorbed in the thing in itself, takes over more and more time – from ‘the medium is the message’ [McLuhan] to ‘the app. Is the message’. But things break down, debt is accumulated, possessions are re-possessed, much of the commons are lost, and addictions, severe stress and mental illness multiply. Meanwhile the society of the spectacle throws up projected demagogy – real life spectres like Trump and Farage as reified answers to the hard felt alienation of many.

Disentangling this alienation in its many different and uneven forms is itself a multi-faceted industry and the life work of much informal care. To the ‘free gift’ to capital of land and nature as seen by classical value theory [15], and as criticized for that by Marx, we can add the free gift of domestic and informal care, subsidizing profit taking and rentier capitalism. The under estimation of care work, and emotional labour, is a direct concomitant of exchange value trumping use value.
The return of use value is the answer to alienation [if only it were that simple, as a politically engaged psychoanalyst might say].

But if  ‘’rationally regulating the social metabolism of nature and society….in the service of advancing human potential’’ [Foster and Clark] is the ecosocialist aim where associated producers are relied on to restore the balance, then undoing commodification of all that exists must be part of the process. Transitional policies such as  reducing to thirty, then twenty, hour working weeks for those in waged work, and co-operative production and distribution networks, including common source and open space on the internet, can be part of such an approach [16]. Allied to moves to basic income, more food sovereignty and community or municipal energy generation we have the engendering of an ecosocialist value system and a workable alternative to capitalism.

Ecocentric production and prefigurative practice [in Koel’s phrase – ibid.] within existing capitalism, are both possible and necessary as transitional means to a more steady state. Without scaling up in global terms plus new community and inter-regional transactions which can negate corporate growth, state supported divestment, climate unionism as a mass not marginal activity, and reduced consumption they will not be sufficient.

Ecological debt and unequal exchange

An ecosocialist practice should recognize that disastrous situations for populations across the world are in significant measure the result of what Hannah Holleman [17] calls ecological imperialism. The global South has been made dependent on the global North – and theories of imperialism from Marx to Gunder Frank have set out to explain this dependency.  Ecological imperialism specifies the unequal ecological exchange which has taken place, and is ever intensified, and explains why looking to technological fixes, fair trade and greener agreements between global elites cuts off significant segments of the ecological movement ‘’from those with the greatest interest in transforming the system, the global working and dispossessed class’’ [18]. There is an elite, or class-based, and racialized, ‘’division of nature and humanity at the heart of the ecological rift of capitalism’’[19]. There is an under-compensated transfer of  ecological wealth which maintains the ‘’cycle of poverty, debt and ecological destruction’’ [20] and the sum of this is the ecological debt owed by the global North to the global South. Ecological solidarity then is with those** engaged in ‘’active struggle to protect land, livelihoods, and indeed lives in the face of the encroachment of capital’’ [21].

* It would be interesting to consider how far population rise, uneven and unequal as it is, and the demands arising, contribute to formations of capitalism as much as capital determining the nature of population growth, but that is another discussion – which it has to be said is much neglected on the left, thereby leaving population pressure theorizing too much to neo-Malthusians such as Population Matters.

1-      John Bellamy Foster and Brett Clark : Marxism and the Dialectics of Ecology in Monthly Review, Vol.68, Issue 05, 2016

2-      N. Snricek and A. Williams: Inventing the Future – Post capitalism in a World without Work, Verso [London] 2015.
            Also Paul Mason : Postcapitalism – A Guide to Our Future,[Allen          
            Lane], 2015
3 - Guy Standing: The Precariat, Blackwells, 2014

4- See John Bellamy Foster, Brett Clark and Richard York: The Ecological RiftCapitalism’s War on the Earth; Monthly Review Press [NY], 2010. Other writers who have worked to ‘rehabilitate’ the ecological insights in Marx for too long neglected by Western Marxism are Joel Kovel: The Enemy of Nature, Zed Books, 2002, and Martin Empson: Capitalism and Ecology – Socialist Worker pamphlet

And Damian Carrington, 27 0ctober, 2016 in The Guardian on ten years after the Stern Report , 2006, on effects of climate change  commissioned by UK Government https://www.theguardian.com>Environment>Green

6 – ‘’Expansion of existing fossil fuels amounts to climate denial’’  in
       www.climatechangenews.com/carbon  Report of  Oil Change International, 22 September, 2016

7- Carbon Tracker Initiative and Grantham Research Insitute, LSE :
see http://www.carbontracker.org on the 2 trillion dollars of stranded assets in Unburnable Carbon, 2013.

8- See for instance Mike Hales: Living Thinkworkwhere do labour processes come from?[CSE Books]1980. It is now[November 2016] the fortieth anniversary of the Lucas Aerospace Combine Shop Stewards Report, on The Lucas Plan and the campaign round that. In Birmingham on November 26, 2016 there is a day anniversary event.
See also the review of 22 January, 2014 in
The TU report on One Million Climate Jobs supported by PCS, CWU, UCU, TSSA, Unite:

10 - Jason W. Moore: Capitalism and The Web of Life, Verso [London] 2015 and The Capitalocene, Part 1, 2014 in http://jasonwmoore.com

11 - Neil Smith : Uneven Development in Socialist Register [London] 2007

12 - J.P. Sharp, P. Routledge,  C. Philo, R. Paddison, [Eds]; Entanglements of Power, Routledge [London], 2000.

and the vimeo – A Message From the Gyre on the Midway Island land pollution.

14 - Hybridism can be a useful concept to challenge essentialist discourse, but in the context of  political economy and ecology, Foster and Clark cite Erik Swyngedouw, Modernity and Hybridity in Annals of the Association of American Geographers as an example of the monist or undialectical approach in hybridist theorizing

15- - Bellamy Foster and Clark [ibid.] point out Marx’s exposition of the Lauderdale Paradox in classical value theory where the Earl of Lauderdale wrote that the amassing of private wealth was at the expense of public good and led to monopoly and scarcity.

16 - The much reduced working week, and choice of period of years in which to perform an allotted amount of wage work, was proposed by Andre Gorz in the 1970s –Ecology as Politics, South End Press, 1979, and has been re-introduced to the discourse on economic and social policy by Anna Coote for the IPPR and more recently with the New Economics Foundation www.neweconomics.org 

17 - Hannah Holleman: Interview in Left Voice, October 16, 2016 at

18- ibid.

19 – ibid.

20- ibid.

21 – ibid.

** It may be worth noting the Cochabamba Declaration of 2010, in Bolivia, as a first attempt to make a global challenge to the privileges of capital encroachment by declaring the sanctity of natural and human rights. And this led by a national government in the global South. Of some relevance to this discussion is the fact that it is the organized campesinos and indigenos in Bolivia who have kept the Morales government to its stance against rapacious wealth extraction, and it is the organized campesinos and agricultural and forest workers in Ecuador who continue to fight for the policy of keeping oil in the ground now that Correo, the Ecuadorian president has capitulated to big oil interests in part if not completely in the Yamani national park.

Gordon Peters in a member of Haringey Green Party and a Green Left Supporter

Saturday, 26 November 2016

Only Way the Tories will Lose the next General Election is if they Mess Up Brexit

We are, probably, over three years away from the next general election, scheduled under the Fixed Term Parliament Act to be in 2020. But, nothing surprises in politics these days, and the election could come a lot sooner than that, but either way, the Tories look nailed on to win it.

The opinion polls give the Tories a 12 to 14 point lead over Labour, pretty much universally, and although we have seen the polls getting things wrong recently, not by a double digit margin. There must be something right about these polls, and intuitively, I feel they are quite accurate. The split in the Parliamentary Labour Party, pro and anti Jeremy Corbyn, of course hinders Labour and aids the Tories, and this looks set to continue up until the general election.

Then we have the probable changes to the Parliamentary constituencies and reduction in the number of MPs, which overwhelmingly favours the Tories, by increasing their representation by 20 to 30 seats at the expense, mainly, of Labour. Even if anti-Corbyn MPs are replaced, they could stand as spoiler independent candidates in their old seats.

In Scotland, Corbyn’s leadership has made no notable difference to his party’s unpopularity, and it looks as though the SNP will retain most of the seats they won in 2015, when Labour was rduced to a singular MP, north of the border.

A progressive alliance, which has been mooted for the next general election, really an anti-Tory alliance, would make it more difficult for the Tories to win, but Labour shows little sign of making this a reality. Even if they did, I think the Tories would probably still win anyway.

A hell of a lot can happen in politics in three years, to paraphrase Harold Wilson, but the prospects of the Tories not winning, are, I think, minimal from this distance out. The one issue that could turn this situation around, is Brexit. The biggest single issue in UK politics at the moment, like it or loathe it, does offer some encouragement though.

Wednesday’s Autumn Statement by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Philip Hammond, reveals the economic perils of Brexit, despite what the Brexiteers have been saying about this being a falsely gloomy picture, and really everything will be fine.

The independent Office of Budget Responsibility (OBR), says that Brexit will reduce growth in the UK economy over the next few years, and estimate the fall in tax receipts this will cause, amounts to an extra £60 billion black hole in the UK’s finances up until 2020. Which means, less money for public services, increased taxes, more welfare cuts and more borrowing by the government. More austerity.

The think-tank the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS), warn of the biggest squeeze on pay for 70 years over Brexit, with rising inflation meaning that wages will not have recovered to their 2008 level before the global financial crisis hit, by 2021. What’s more, it will be low and middle-income households who feel the pinch the most.

The idea that Britain will get everything it wants, access to the European Single Market and opting out of the free movement of people, from the European Union (EU) is for the birds. Primarily, it will not be economic policy that determines the EU response in negotiations, but as always with the EU, it will be politics. There is no way the EU will want to reward the UK for leaving the club, whatever beneficial case is made by Britain to the EU, along economic lines. The EU will not have it, full stop.

All of which leaves the Tory government with no sort of negotiating position, other than compensating some British based businesses for paying tariffs on trade in the EU, and more than likely a slashing of corporation tax at home to businesses generally. This will lead to even higher inflation than that already caused by a devalued pound and less tax revenue for the UK. In short, this will make the economic situation even worse.

So, a good chance that the Tories will make a bad job of Brexit, and maybe Labour can unify themselves to take advantage of the open goal left for them by the government. Or maybe not?

The next UK general election will probably be the most stark left-wing party versus right-wing party since 1983, and perhaps even more so. Of course, 1983 saw a landslide Tory victory, but the situation now is very different, and strange election results are becoming commonplace. Although, mainly to the advantage of the far right, so far.

But there is one big caveat on this. We will probably leave the EU in 2019, and by 2020, the full economic picture will not have played out by then. The voters seem to have scant regard for ‘expert’ opinions these days, and until they really do feel it financially, may very well refuse to believe the dire predictions for the future. They also will not realise that immigration will not fall much, if at all, but immediately after Brexit be satisfied enough on the matter.

If the Tories do win in 2020, then the next opportunity to defeat them will be 2025, and Corbyn in all probability will not be the leader of the Labour Party by then. And someone else with similar political ideas might not be able to get enough support from Labour MPs, to get onto the leadership ballot.

I must admit, I’m not too hopeful.  

Wednesday, 23 November 2016

“Left-wing” Trident? You’re having a laugh

Written by Gabriel Levy and first published at People and Nature

The UK Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn should drop his opposition to the Trident nuclear weapons programme, the journalist Paul Mason argued in a video broadcast in April this year.

What a monstrous example of “socialist” and “left wing” discourse being turned upside down and inside out.

“We” (which in the broadcast means “the British state”) should participate in the NATO strategy in Europe using conventional weapons, Mason argues. But Corbyn should drop his opposition to Trident, so he can get elected and focus on what “really matters for ordinary people ”, e.g. defending the National Health Service and stopping “shovelling public assets into private business” as they were during the banking crisis.

The kindest thing I can say is that maybe Mason imagines he is thinking pragmatically about how Labour, with a clearly left-wing leader for the first time since the 1920s, might win the next election.

It doesn’t even work on that level.

Mason’s argument assumes people will decide how to vote on the basis of Corbyn’s defence policy. Why? All sorts of things influence election results – family finances, xenophobia and racism, perceptions of class interest, actual armed conflicts (rather than nuclear weapons) – and it’s impossible to be sure that Corbyn will lose votes by opposing Trident.

It’s equally possible that his opposition to Trident will help bring young people, who otherwise wouldn’t vote, to the polls to support him. If that happened, and he was elected, it would certainly give Corbyn a stronger starting-point for taking other radical measures.

More important, to my mind, is that Mason’s “left wing case for nuclear weapons” (as he calls it) involves swallowing great chunks of ruling-class ideology that will poison any pro-Corbyn movement long before Corbyn gets anywhere near government.

First, it bigs up the NATO military alliance on the grounds that “we” (the British state) face “an unpredictable Russia”. Oh come on. It takes two to tango. Since the end of the Soviet Union, NATO (invading Iraq, putting armaments eastern Europe after promising not to, etc) has contributed as much as Russia (supporting Ukrainian separatists, Assad in Syria, etc) to the “unpredictability”. (You don’t have to be an apologist for Putin to think this. See other articles on this blog, e.g. here.)

Why should socialists take it upon themselves to advise the British elite on its part in this game, in which ordinary people on all sides have no interest?

Second, Mason argues that Trident, which he says would cost “£41 billion plus” is a deterrent that will “never be used militarily”. This ridiculous justification for nuclear military technology – which can only ever produce mass civilian casualties – has been repeated as long as that technology has been around.

This argument requires an unbelievable level of confidence that military commanders in a capitalist state – even in a crisis, even when in a corner – will never press the button. Oh yeah? Look at Syria, Iraq, Ukraine, etc, to see just what restrained people you’re dealing with.

Moreover, all this is incompatible with any outlook that could meaningfully be described as socialist. It trashes the anti-militarist foundation of socialism, the central idea that we are aiming for a society that ends large-scale military conflict along with labour exploitation and practices and laws that subjugate women.

Again, the damage is done by corroding the ideas around which any pro-Corbyn movement might coalesce – again, before Corbyn gets anywhere near government.

To be honest, even if Corbyn made it to no. 10 Downing Street, I think Paul Mason has as much chance as I do of influencing defence policy – i.e., zero. So 100% of the impacts of these arguments are on the pro-Corbyn movement, not on actual policy. And they are negative.

Perhaps the worst thing is Mason’s use of the word “we” to mean “Britain” or “the British state”. That’s the first trick of parliamentary politics that any radical anti-capitalist movement has to avoid. That was one of the ideological mechanisms by which reformist socialists of the early 20th century ended up justifying the slaughter of the first world war. It’s analogous to the knots in which Alexis Tsipras, the Greek socialist leader no less radical than Corbyn in his rhetoric, tied himself.

“We” means the movement outside parliament – call it working-class movement, communities, social movements, whatever. Mason is one of the few journalists who has reported on it and communicated with it. And that (rather than the defence ministry) is where his “left wing case for nuclear weapons” might cause damage.

I took Paul Mason’s book Postcapitalism seriously enough, as a discussion of the transition to a better kind of society, to comment on it in detail (here and here) – and was therefore disappointed by his broadcast.

One issue I picked on in Postcapitalism was Mason’s contention that the working-class movement as a motive force of change is dead, and that what matters is “networked humanity”. A semantic quibble? It seems not.

From “networked humanity”, Mason’s “we” seems to have moved to “the British state”. I’ll stick with “the working class movement” as my “we”, thanks.

Another point I raised about Postcapitalism was its one-sided view of technology, which is presented as an almost entirely positive force for change. I argued in response that technology not only shapes society but is shaped by it, and that one of the ghastly proofs of that is … nuclear weapons. Hmm.

■ The photo shows the radioactive plume from the US plutonium bomb dropped on Nagasaki on 9 August 1945, seen from 9.6km away, in Koyagi-jima. It killed about 40,000 people on impact. About the same number died, after great suffering, in the months and years that followed. Source: Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum/Getty Images.

Sunday, 20 November 2016

Final Manifesto: Third International Ecosocialist Encounter

First published at Systemic Alternatives

We, the organizations convening the Third International Ecosocialist Encounter, held in Bilbao from 23-25 September of 2016,

  1. That capitalism has been developed despite and in the face of the two basic dependencies that make human life possible. First, it ignores the fact that, like all other living species, we obtain the things we need in order to live from nature; second, it obscures the fact that our survival depends greatly on the care and time we receive from others from the moment we are born up until death.
  1. That this ignorance and concealment stem from the fact that capitalism assigns economic value only to that which can be measured with money. It is impossible to analyze from the point of view of money activities such as photosynthesis, natural cycles like the water or carbon cycle, all the tasks associated with reproduction and human care. Hence, they are invisible to the capitalist economy.
  1. That, ignoring the limitations resulting from these dependencies with regard to nature and people, the capitalist mode of production, distribution and consumption which seeks only private profit and accumulation bases its reproduction on continuous and unlimited growth.
  1. This unlimited growth clashes with the biophysical limits of the planet. We are witnessing a growing depletion of natural resources (scarcity of potable water, an imminent end to the era of cheap oil, growing scarcity of strategic minerals, the collapse of fishing, deforestation…), an evident degradation of the Earth’s ecosystems (accelerated loss of biodiversity, contamination of soils and hydrological reserves, the degradation or overexploitation of ecosystem services…) and an unprecedented alteration and deterioration of the natural balance, not just in local or regional environments as in the past, but now also in the global environmental system, the most obvious manifestation of which is climate change: ECOCIDE. This state of ECOLOGICAL URGENCY also causes millions of environmental refugees year after year.
  1. That, despite official speeches, the UNFCC Conference in Paris has been incapable of finding a route to efficiently and urgently confronting the devastating consequences of climate change, because, among other reasons, it allows polluters to continue using fossil fuels and enables the corporate assault on renewable energy.
  1. That also, and particularly in the neoliberal phase of capitalism, the prevailing mode of production and consumption has created an enormously unjust and unequal global society in which overconsumption, pillaging and the enrichment of a small few are rooted in scarcity and the poverty of the majority, as well as in the confiscation of the time which, in these patriarchal societies, women in particular must dedicate to social reproduction and everyday efforts toward wellbeing. A society in a state of SOCIAL EMERGENCY as a consequence of strikes, precariousness, the destruction of social rights and worker’s rights, the erosion of public services and social protections with the subsequent transfer of care into the home and privatization of common goods: AUSTERICIDE.
  1. That the hunger, environmental problems and armed conflicts that currently displace millions of people from their countries of origin are caused by the structural conditions that configure international relations among actors that compete in the global market.
  1. That this situation of clash with the biophysical limits of the planet, staggering decline of social rights and worker’s rights, and enormous social injustice, can only be imposed through denying the capacity of peoples for self-governance in defense of the rights of citizens and through less democracy (misinformation, dictatorship of markets, governments of unelected technocrats, changes to the Spanish constitution, systematic noncompliance with campaign promises, the open interventionism of the European Troika in countries that have been bailed out), the spread of fear (the “shock doctrine”), misinformation from the mass media, cheating and lies by governments, and as if all this were not enough, increased repression (recent years have seen record numbers of assassinations of environmentalists and other dissidents). In the false statement of European Commission President Jean-Claude Junckner, “there can be no democratic choice against the European treaties.”
We declare:
  1. That a future reconciled with nature and humanity itself requires a RADICAL CHANGE IN PERSPECTIVE, a radical change in the modes of production and consumption, that put at the center of life the basic needs of all peoples, democratically determined and adjusted to the biophysical limits to the planet (ECOSOCIALISM).
  1. That, hence, the solution cannot be A CAPITALISM that, even if it is disguised as GREEN, reproduces the same model of consumption and the same economic and social structures that caused the current situation. It is necessary to change the capitalist mode of production based on private ownership over the means of production. The fundamental questions are certainly those of what to produce, for what reasons and for whom, as well as who participates in the decisions and how they should be made.
  1. That in the face of the capitalist system’s generalized offensive against life, we believe it is essential to construct an alternative which includes, in conditions of equality, all the liberation agendas (feminism, unionism, indigenous and farmer’s movements, environmentalism, etc.) for which it is necessary to reinforce dialogue between the different emancipatory subjects, with an internationalist perspective and an integral view of the different arenas (including bodies, memory, different forms of knowledge, common goods, etc.).
  1. That, like it or not, we are facing a process of ecosocialist transitions that guide us to degrowth in the material sphere of the economy. These transitions are economic (of the model of production, energy…), social (the social organization of citizens), cultural (education…), legislative and territorial (municipalities in transition…) and should be adapted to serving people and communities, environmentally balanced and democratically chosen. Otherwise, they will lead to a model of society in which a small group of people (the big powers) are able to maintain their current lifestyle thanks to the fact that the majority goes without meeting their basic material needs which guarantee a dignified existence.
  1. That is essential to guarantee access to the conditions for a dignified and autonomous life for all peoples.
  1. That, for that, we advocate transitions that are capable of responding to the ecological urgency, simultaneously facing the problems derived from social emergencies, which we believe requires contrast and collaboration between these two arenas which have not always walked hand-in-hand. A central objective of these three Ecosocialist Encounters has been to offer both arenas a broad and diverse audience in which labor unions have played a central role.
  1. That in the face of the myth of unlimited growth or the neo-Keynesian illusions that do not take into account the clash with the limits of the planet, the encounter between these two arenas can only happen if we seriously take up the issue of DISTRIBUTION, both of wealth and of productive and reproductive labor.
  1. That this distribution should be accompanied by a rethinking of the notion of work, such that the whole set of socially necessary work is put at the center and in contrast to the dominant thinking today which disregards the nature of production, as long as it is economically profitable, and only considers work that which is carried out in the arena of paid labor, making invisible all those people whose work is linked to human reproduction.
  1. That public authorities should promote socially necessary sectors, such as those that are linked to energy rehabilitation for buildings, renewable energies, public transportation, agroecology, community services related to citizens and free time, health, and education. Sectors that consume less energy and materials that, on the other hand, are labor intensive and that hence will help compensate for inevitable job losses in economic sectors that should experience regrowth or disappear in ecosocialist transitions.
  1. That for these transitions to be fair and sustainable, it is essential to infuse our societies with a feminist vision that is capable of extending to all arenas the right of women to equality, breaking the bonds of patriarchal oppression and the violence it perpetrates against them; and promote popular empowerment (democracy and sovereignty) against these monopolizing and insatiable elites that occupy the centers of power and sequester from them the will of the majorities. For this, we reassert the right of communities to decide on important issues that affect them, both in the arena of politics as well as the economy. With all its possible contradictions, we believe that this route will better promote the basic needs of people in these communities and their balanced relationship with the environment than that of the blind market or the dictatorship of technocrats.
  1. That this empowerment should be manifested as well through community or collective management of natural resources and common goods (re-municipalization of electricity grids…), through the recovery of public banks which are essential to addressing said transitions, and through the denouncement of illegal debt, a pretext for austericide.
  1. That a decisive pillar of these ecosocialist transitions should be education; education as paideia, a process of collective and personal self-construction throughout life as the eco-dependent and interdependent beings that we are. That we should reject the instrumental focus of neoliberal education and trade competition for cooperation, individualism for collaboration, results for processes… That we should contribute to change that does not reproduce the content and practices of a culture that is unsustainable and ask ourselves questions that remove that culture, making school into an institution that does not reproduce, but rather, transforms.
We vow to:
  1. Extend ecosocialist and feminist consciousness throughout the world.
  1. Promote the creation of an international ecosocialist network, linked to platforms such as Via Campesina, Plan B for Europe… or movements in favor of climate justice, or human rights for all peoples, without distinctions or categories…
  1. Promote exchange and collaboration among different social and political agents that work in the area of ecological urgency and social emergency, to seek popular majorities in favor of a change of model.
  1. Present to government institutions legislative proposals that favor the necessary ecosocialist transitions. Priority areas should include safeguarding economic, social and cultural rights in constitutions, and protecting our common goods while guaranteeing equal access to their management and enjoyment.
  1. Participate in, promote or distribute all struggles against environmental deterioration, particularly against major investment projects in the fossil fuels industry, and against the privatization of natural resources and common goods.
  1. Work actively in movements confronting international treaties such as TTIP, CETA and TISA that pose grave threats to the environment, labor relations, our health, and generally the conditions of life.
  1. Support all experiences that seek to build embryos of a democratic, equitable and sustainable economy; fair and responsible consumption; and an alternative culture that strengthens human relations based on equality and mutual support…
  1. Take up “the revolution in our daily life.” While no amount of changes in individual consumption habits can substitute for the needed structural changes, we might recall the words of Mahatma Gandhi: “To live simply, so that others may simply live.” This perspective, prioritizing life over possessions, should help us to let go of less sustainable practices, to promote those that are more healthy and environmentally sound and carry out in an egalitarian manner all the tasks of care for persons.
Bilbao, 25 September 2016

Signing groups: LAB, ESK, ELA, EHNE Bizkaia, Steilas, Ecologistas en Acción, Ekologistak Martxan, Hitz & Hitz, SolidaritéS, Mugarik Gabe, Sortu, Podemos, Alternatiba, Aralar, Antikapitalistak.

Friday, 18 November 2016

Will California Secede from the US over Election Result?

In the wake of Donald Trump winning the US presidential election, and the Republican Party winning both houses of Congress, the movement for Californian independence, or Calexit as it has become known, has gathered pace. The obligatory hash tag is trending on Twitter.

One such campaigning group, ‘Yes California,’ founded in 2013, has seen its profile rise after last week’s US elections. The state has a liberal outlook, and almost always votes for the Democrat Party in Presidential and Congress elections. They have elected Republican governors, like Arnold Schwarzenegger, but he stood on a very liberal ticket. Trump’s election has caused widespread unhappiness in the ‘Golden State.’

California has the sixth biggest economy in the world, roughly on a par with the UK, and Californians may be joined in the push for secession from the US by the two other west coast states, Oregon and Washington, and even Nevada and Hawaii, in what would be a mighty western American nation state. Cascadia is the name that has been mooted for the new nation.

Calexit is getting backing from the tech industry in Silicon Valley and the media industry around Hollywood. The state’s economy is also based on agriculture, with much of the US’s home produced fruit and vegetables, and wine, produced in California. There is no doubt that California would manage just fine as an independent nation, and even more so if joined the other states mentioned above.

Yes California’s website has had 2 million visits since the election and the group has grown from 1,500 volunteers prior to the election to over 10,000 in the week post election. The immediate aim is for the group to collect enough signatures to put a referendum on the issue on the state ballot in 2018.

Although it is perfectly feasible for California, even on its own, to become independent, there are formidable obstacles to this becoming a reality. The US Constitution forbids unilateral secession by any state, so first this would need to be amended. For that to happen would require the support of both houses of Congress and 38 state governments. On the plus side, judging by some of the social media comment, other states may be willing to oblige those states wanting to secede. This quote is just one example:

‘California is already flooded with illegals and is rapidly becoming a majority minority state. Good riddance.’

After the Brexit vote in the UK , Britain has seen similar secession feeling in parts of the country, most notably in Scotland, but to a lesser extent also in London. We could well see another independence referendum in Scotland, and that could set in motion a train of events which encourages the fledgling London independence movement. California could add momentum to the break up of the UK, by setting a good example, as it were.

When you think about it, London and California have much in common, apart from the weather, in that both have thriving technology and media industries, the new industries, as well the financial services sector. California has the edge over London in tech and media, but London does so in finance. The news that Californian company Google, is to expand its operation in London, is an indicator of the similarity in skill sets of Londoners and Californians.

The Trump win, and the Brexit vote are part of a piece, where a chasm has opened up between people in parts of both the US and UK. Those of a liberal, internationalist bent are in despair with their fellow citizens who have taken a reactionary, isolationist, inward looking, xenophobic and racist attitude to the world.

California is different from many parts of the US, as is Scotland and London from the rest of the UK, with their citizens seeing themselves as progressive and outward looking to the world. It is true that these places have done relatively well out of globalisation, but that is because they have embraced it and made it work for them.

Contrast this with the feeling of victimhood and nostalgia for the 1950s demonstrated by the Trump and Brexit votes, where foreigners are to blame for everything, rather than their own government’s worship of big business as the solution to the challenges of the modern world.

Something has to give, as the division is probably too wide to heal. Progressives need to fight back against the reactionaries, and independence is likely the only way to save ourselves from living in a shit country.    

Tuesday, 15 November 2016

Brexit – British Government Up Shit Creek without a Paddle

The news today of a leaked memo written by consultants at Deloitte, who it appears were or are working on the government’s Brexit strategy, such that it is, reveals what we all suspected. The government is divided and completely in the dark about how to handle our exit from the European Union (EU).

It has been noticeable, from public comments made by the Chancellor, Philip Hammond, and the more hawkish members of the cabinet, Liam Fox, Boris Johnson and David Davis, that there is deep disagreement amongst ministers. The Prime Minister, Theresa May, the memo also says, is acting like a medieval monarch and taking decisions herself, where no cabinet consensus can be found. The memo labels this as ‘unsustainable,’ which sounds about right. At some point, there will probably be resignations or sackings of one side or the other in the dispute.

The government has been quick to dismiss the memo, as not officially from Whitehall, but it is pretty clear what is going on, or not going on, as the government stumbles around hoping for the best, in the absence of a thought through plan for Brexit negotiations, or at least a realistic one anyway.

A civil service union, the First Division Association (FDA), which represents top civil servants such as departmental permanent secretaries, has echoed this situation, saying that the government wants ‘Brexit on the cheap.’ The civil service has endured something like 80,000 job losses since 2010, and the government’s pre Brexit plan was to cut another 80,000 civil service jobs in the current Parliament. 

With over 40 years of EU legislation to unpick, the FDA is not indulging in hype when they say that Brexit is the biggest challenge for the civil service since the second world-war. It is a massive operation, and will require resourcing if it is to be successfully delivered.

But even if the staffing resources are made available, to make a proper job of Brexit, it will probably require more than two years to sort through everything. Which begs the question, why is there such a rush to trigger Article 50, which puts a two year time limit on negotiations? Surely it would be wiser to strike an interim agreement, for say five years, by exiting the EU and joining the European Free Trade Association? I’m not saying this will satisfy those most determined to break free, whether we have a good deal or not, but it does buy us some time.

It would meet the requirements of ‘leaving the EU,’ so would be perfectly in line with the Brexit result, and would likely secure widespread agreement in Parliament. It is just the sensible thing to do.

But sensible is not what this government is. They seem determined to rush into this reckless act of risking that we get no deal at all with the EU, and have to fall back on WTO trade rules, which will mean tariffs on British exports, varying between 10% and 20%, dependent on the industries involved.

Plans are afoot, to rush an Act of Parliament through, to trigger Article 50, with such tight wording that it will be difficult, if not impossible for MPs to table amendments to it.

All of this against a backdrop of a possible trade war between the US and China, where such small fry as the UK will be trampled in the process. The more I see of the government’s non strategy, the more I think they are going to use this Brexit vote in a very political way. To discredit the opposition as ‘undemocratic’ and then turn the UK into a country that tries to attract big business, by cutting corporation tax to something like 5% or even less. And use ordinary tax payers money to compensate companies for any trade tariffs that do become applicable.

Is this what people voted for when they voted for Brexit? I very much doubt it is, but will they even notice in their fervour for stopping eastern European migrants coming to the UK?

This really is the biggest political fiasco that I can ever remember.