Tuesday, 28 March 2017

The Play ‘Limehouse’ and the Parallels for the Labour Party Today



Over the weekend I went to see the new play written by Steve Waters, ‘Limehouse,’ which is set in 1981 and dramatises the meeting in Limehouse, east London, where the Social Democratic Party (SDP) was formed. This led to the so called Limehouse Declaration. The play depicts a Sunday brunch at the home of David Owen and his wife Deborah Owen (née Schabert), with Roy Jenkins, Shirley Williams and Bill Rogers, where they wrestle with the idea of breaking away from the Labour Party and founding the new party. Most of the audience were, like me, old enough to remember this episode of British political history. The remaining ‘gang of four’ as they became known, have said that the play is a reasonably accurate portrayal of the day.

Some wrestle more than others, with Owen and Jenkins, although having their differences, chiefly over linking to the Liberal Party, are in favour of making the break, but Williams and Rogers are less convinced. The play brings out this division in the group, and not only because of the practical difficulties of forming a new party with no roots and an electoral system which makes it very difficult for new parties to flourish. Williams and Rogers are also the most attached to the Labour Party, it is ‘in their blood,’ as Rogers says in the play.

Something I wasn’t really aware of, which the play picks up on, is that Deborah Owen was central to the meeting even taking place and handles the differing personalities in attendance with great skill, much better than her husband does. The new party may never have come in being without Deborah Owen’s input.

The play is well written and well acted, David Owen (Tom Goodman-Hill) comes across as vain, arrogant and ambitious; Roy Jenkins (Roger Allam) as rather pompous with a penchant for fine red wine, but persuasive and passionate, who confesses to always having been uncomfortable in Labour; Shirley Williams (Debra Gillet) loyal to Labour and very cautious about political moves and a very sharp political thinker; Bill Rogers (Paul Chahidi) also loyal to Labour and with a deep love of politics, modest, as well as being a genuinely nice bloke. Deborah Owen (Nathalie Armin), a very good ‘people person,’ with excellent communication skills, and very supportive of her husband’s ambitions.

Photo credit BBC, from the play 'Limehouse'

I can confirm that Bill Rogers does have a love politics and is a very nice bloke, as I have actually met him. In 2008, I had my first council by-election as Green Party election agent, in the ward of Highgate (Haringey). I was manning one of the polling stations as a teller on the day of the by-election, and imagine my surprise to find the Lib Dem teller was none other than Bill Rogers.

I had quite a long chat with him about politics, as is the way amongst tellers, and I remember mentioning to him that I had recently read the SDP’s 1983 general election manifesto on the web and that I thought it was, by today’s standards, pretty left wing. Bill said that politics was very different in 1983, for one thing the Green Party didn’t exist then (this is technically true, but the party was still known as the Ecology Party at the time), but I took his point. It was a very enjoyable chat I had with Bill Rogers, and I was a little surprised as he hadn’t come across that well in the 1980s. Maybe it was because I hated the SDP at the time, for letting the Tories get in government with landslide majorities with only 44% of the vote.

The opening line in the play is spoken by David Owen to his wife, ‘the Labour Party is fucked.’ So we are straight away into in the parallels with todays’ politics. How many Labour people have been saying much same since Jeremy Corbyn became leader of the party in 2015?

In 1981 the left-wing Bennites had taken control of Labour’s conference, a faction of the party that Corbyn belonged to, although he didn’t become an MP until 1983. In the play David Owen laments the abilities of the then Labour leader, Michael Foot, as useless, another echo of the present day, with Labour MPs queuing up to share that sentiment now. A woman Tory Prime Minister, hell bent on pursuing hard right policies, and the Labour Party in the midst of a civil war, expending most of their political energy on fighting each other. The Labour Party moving to the left, creating tension on its right and centre sections. A possible catastrophic defeat at the next general election looming, probably even worse than 1983, given that Scotland has now been lost to the SNP. And Europe.

There are differences today of course, Scotland being one, but inside Labour itself the new membership phenomenon that has carried Corbyn to victory, is largely uninterested in Labour rule books and boring meetings trying gain tactical advantages in local parties. The right in Labour is using the same tactics as the left in the 1980s in local parties, and boring the average member away.

But the main difference is that there will be no breakaway this time. The Labour right has learnt the lesson of the SDP, which after much media fanfare and gaining 50% in the opinion polls, gradually faded away. It merged with the Liberal Party to become the Liberal Democrats in 1989. David Owen resigned and carried on the SDP, until they finished behind the Monster Raving Loony Party in a by-election in Bootle, Liverpool. 
The party promptly disbanded.

Political parties can’t be made from the top down, they need roots in communities, that is as true today as it was in the 1980s, and although a break away Labour might call itself Social Democratic Labour, or such, to try to retain some roots, it could only possibly work with the support of the big unions, which looks unlikely. We are into another rule book war over the number of MPs nominations needed to stand for leader, when Corbyn does stand down or is defeated in a members’ ballot. That much is certainly the same carry on as in the 1980s, and it will cripple the party in same way as it did then.   
    

Saturday, 25 March 2017

William Morris - The First Green Socialist?



This is an extract from a longer piece by Jane Susanna Ennis

I want to suggest that many of the ideas and practices which we advocate today in the Green movement owe their origins to Morris - perhaps indirectly.

He seems to have been one of the first Victorians to address himself consciously to the question of our relationship with nature, the natural world - i.e. rather than just write about it, or paint it, he suggested concrete steps that might be taken to preserve and enhance the beauty of the natural world and of the countryside. Some of his major interests are those which are still very much central concerns of the Green movement today - for instance his concern with the Nature of Work. His discussion of the Nature of Work develops from ideas first discussed by Carlyle and Ruskin.

We will first of all consider the final paragraph of A Dream of John Ball:

But as I turned away shivering and downhearted, on a sudden came the frightful noise of the "hooters," one after the other, that call the workmen to the factories, this one the after- breakfast one, more by token. So I grinned surlily, and dressed and got ready for my day's "work" as I call it, but which many a man besides John Ruskin (though not many in his position) would call "play."

This is a point that Morris develops at greater length in News From Nowhere. Because Morris enjoyed his work and was self-employed - indeed, was an employer - many people would have thought of his work as play, because it was enjoyable. It seems as though the section on Workers' Rights in the England and Wales Green Party's Manifesto for a Sustainable Society reflects this:

WR101 We define work in the full sense, not the traditional limited definition as employment in the formal economy. Green thinking recognises the latter as one part of the whole - a large part, but not the only one. Work exists in a variety of forms, each related to and often affecting others, like species in an ecosystem. Work covers all the activities people undertake to support themselves, their families and communities.

I referred to Carlyle because he perhaps stimulated Morris's examination of the Nature of Work. Carlyle himself never really tries to define what work IS, and he certainly has no truck with the idea of Pleasure in Work - in fact he more or less dismisses the idea of happiness as an irrelevance; he almost seems to advocate 'useless toil' as being at least preferable to 'idleness' - however you define idleness. Certainly Carlyle, writing in 1843, was in a position to observe the Industrial Revolution at first hand, and to see the degradation of the worker from an 'artisan' to a 'hand', the appendage to a machine. But the remedies he proposed were vastly different from those proposed by Morris - not only is Carlyle vague about the definition of work, but he sees restoration of feudal authority as the only true remedy for the evils of laissez-faire capitalism. In fact both Carlyle and Ruskin seem to hold the view that if everyone remained content in their stations, and the workers worked and their 'natural superiors' recognised and lived by the principle of noblesse oblige everything would be fine and there would be no need for revolution.

Perhaps Morris's concept of The Nature of Work should be seen as a reaction against the Protestant ethic expressed in Ruskin's writings, and the dour Calvinism of Carlyle. I think the problem with Carlyle and Ruskin was that they never quite came to terms with the fact that work basically consists of the production of commodities, or more properly the production and exchange of commodities; Morris had grasped this even before he read Marx, and he discusses:

(a) what commodities should be produced.
(b) how they should be produced.
(c) by whom they should be produced.
(d) for whom they should be produced.
(e) how they should be distributed.

A related theme is the question of how Morris's expression of his love of nature, of landscape, of the English countryside, (a) is expressed in his poetry and later prose works; how it changed and developed as he travelled the road to Socialism.

Thus we could say that Morris's vision of the Middle Ages as a time of artistic excellence (he regarded the Renaissance as the beginning of degeneracy and decay in the arts) functioned as a blueprint for what the world might be like after the Socialist revolution. He did not idealise the medieval period in the way Ruskin did, or the way the Pre-Raphaelites did in their paintings, but he was aware that the art/craft of the medieval period was an expression of some creative spark that (he felt) the Victorian period had lost. Thus in some ways Morris could hardly be said to have idealised the medieval period at all. He admired the art of the period, which is not quite the same thing.

I did say that his expression of his vision changed - but the vision itself did not change all that much. He saw Socialism as the means to achieve his vision of an integrated, whole society, in which the landscape was not damaged, and in which the stark division between town and country was abolished - expressed most elaborately in News From Nowhere, of course. The idea of the abolition of the division between town and country (i.e. the abolition of large manufacturing districts such as, in the 19th. century, Leeds, Manchester, etc) was a common feature of Utopian writing. And Marx had stated that one of the tasks of Socialism would be to end this division. Again, this is something that most environmentalists regard as a priority, even if they may not have heard of Morris and don't approach the question from a Marxist perspective. Note, for instance, these extracts from the England and Wales Green Party's Manifesto for a Sustainable Society:

CY201 We believe that is a fundamental human right and obligation for people to live in a style that ensures they can hand on to their descendants an environment that is at least as rich in wildlife and attractive landscapes as when they inherited it.

CY202 Rural and urban communities meet the many different needs of people in a healthy society. They are not separate from each other and one should not dominate the other. In a green society, towns will not grow beyond the ability of the countryside around them to provide fresh and healthy water and food, recreation, timber and wildlife habitats. There will be a constant flow of environmental, social and cultural information between them. Towns will return compostable materials to the countryside. These urban communities will integrate into all their decisions the impact on a vital, thriving rural community.

The vision of society in News From Nowhere is one that is close to the vision of a possible future society expressed in many green/environmental manifestos and blueprints. For instance, the Thames is so clean - due to a lack of industrial pollution - that there are again salmon in the river near Hammersmith. The society has no money, it is a barter economy, people produce (a) what they need (b) what they LIKE. Piccadilly is a market, but one 'ignorant of the arts of buying and selling' - beautiful hand-made craft goods are exchanged and donated. The whole of London has reverted to being villages and parks. All the houses have gardens and (of course, this being Morris's dream!) all the buildings are well-built and attractively ornamented, but NOT VULGAR.

Morris repeated over and over again his hatred of the ugliness caused by rapid industrialisation; poisoning of the atmosphere by sulphurous emissions from factories, pollution of rivers, cutting down of trees - in short, the wholesale destruction of what we should now call the environment.

It is as well to recall here that the terminology we now use was not used by Morris and his contemporaries, although I am suggesting that he gave the impetus to many of our own environmental concerns. At certain points Morris still used vocabulary such as "conquering Nature", "our struggle with Nature" and so on, which indicates that, though he did his best, he could not entirely free himself from the mind-set that saw Nature as a hostile force to be conquered and subdued, or the Conquest of Nature as something desirable … although his awareness of humanity as a part of Nature is usually to the fore. It is possible that he used this terminology as an initial point of contact with his audiences.

For most of the 19th century, "environment" was a neutral term meaning "the surroundings", "where we live" - it didn’t have the emotive weight it carries today. Similar, the word "ecology" (first recorded in English in 1893 according to “Ecology for Beginners”, but used by Thoreau in 1856, according to the OED) was not used with any positive or negative connotations - the general public were less aware of what an ecosystem was and how it could be damaged.

Morris, like Engels, (and even Ruskin and Carlyle, as we have seen), was perfectly well aware of the dehumanisation of work and of the degrading, cramped and unsanitary conditions in which the working class lived. And he did set out to campaign against all this. He did visit industrial towns and saw how ugly and dirty they were, and was indignant at the conditions in which the workers lived. My point throughout has been that Morris's ideas on the environment have had a great influence on the environmental movement, and Morris never denied that he was a member of the bourgeoisie - what is true is that has taken a century or more for some of these ideas to be taken up by large numbers of people. 

Unfortunately, it has to be conceded that the Green movement is still perceived in some quarters as something of a middle-class hobby, at least in the UK and the USA.

So perhaps I could sum up by saying that Morris has influenced the Green movement in ways which he could not have anticipated, but would surely have been happy to know about. I think, though, that it was his perspective as a Socialist activist that enabled him to develop ideas and theories that could have practical application; as a young man, his poetry celebrated the beauty of nature, but it is in his prose writings and lectures that we see a development towards an active 'Green Socialist' perspective.

Jane Susanna Ennis is a member of Camden Green Party and a Green Left supporter.

You can download the the full piece here: 

 https://www.academia.edu/652719/William_Morris_the_first_Green_Socialist

Wednesday, 22 March 2017

London Terror Attack - Westminster in Lockdown

Photo credit The Independent

The terrorist attack in and around Parliament today, where four people died, including the attacker and an unarmed police officer, with forty injured, some seriously, has brought a strange mood to the city.

I work in Westminster, and our building, along with many others was in lockdown this afternoon. We were finally allowed to leave the building at 4.45 pm, but told to 'disperse' quickly. The area was much quieter than normal at rush hour as I made my way home, with large sections of Whitehall and around Parliament Square roped off by the police, and police and security vehicles sirens continually blaring as a backdrop. The mood reminded me of the 2005 tube bombing in London, which carried on for weeks.

The attack came exactly one year to the day after the Brussels underground attack, and is being treated by police as a terrorist incident, which seems to be the case. I've been thinking, with all of these terror attacks in Europe, in France and Germany mainly, there was sure to be an attack on London at some stage. Today it happened.

It bore similarities with the vehicle attack in Nice in France, and the knife wielding ones in Germany, in fact it was a combination of the two. These 'lone wolf' type of attacks are very difficult to prevent. How you know what is going on in one person's mind? You can't, you can only prepare a response, and the security services do look to have responded quickly and efficiently to it.

With these type of events, if you are in the wrong place at the wrong time you are unlucky, it is unfortunately a fact of modern life, but it isn't so easy to be philosophical about that. I've been inside Parliament myself, and the police look like Robo Cops, very heavily armed, but somehow it does not make you feel safer, it kind of makes you nervous. It is though necessary, unfortunately, as today's events demonstrate, though 'softer' targets are impossible to protect. Parliament and its surrounds is the most protected area in the country, and it happened there.

Life carries on, I suppose, but the city has taken a big knock today. Thoughts with those affected and their friends and family, a dreadful day in London.

Monday, 20 March 2017

'London should become a city state after hard Brexit'



Written by David Lammy, Labour MP for Tottenham in north London and first published at the Evening Standard

Last week Nicola Sturgeon stole the headlines by firing the starting gun on another Scottish independence  referendum, but it is London that stands to lose the most from Brexit. To borrow the Prime Minister’s favourite phrase, now is not the time for London to foot the bill for this hardest of all hard Brexits.

Sturgeon complained that the Government has ignored the wishes and interests of Scotland, leaving her with no choice but to push for independence. London’s economy is double the size of Scotland’s and there are almost twice as many people living in London as in Scotland, so why have the capital’s interests been totally sidelined and why isn’t London’s voice being heard?

Throughout history there have been great cities that are essentially also states in their own right — Rome, Athens, Singapore and Hong Kong. London — given its predominance in our economic, social and cultural national life — certainly fits the bill too.

What all great cities have in common is an ability to change with the times. If London is to retain its position as the pre-eminent global city we must recognise that this is not a Brexit that will work for the capital — this is a Brexit for the Europhobe hardliners on the Tory backbenches.

This Brexit at any cost, regardless of the consequences, will be absolutely catastrophic for London and our place in the world. But as things go pear-shaped, there is a way out of this and nothing should be off the table when it comes to protecting the strength and future prosperity of our capital.

Whitehall has begun the devolution of control over adult skills, criminal justice services and employment support to City Hall, but Brexit changes everything, so it is perfectly rational to consider more radical proposals than piecemeal devolution.

Let’s not forget that 60 per cent of Londoners voted to Remain. The referendum result sent a shock wave through the capital, but as the dust begins to settle, London finds itself increasingly constrained by — and at odds with — the policies and priorities of our central Government.

If Scotland can have another referendum on independence, then why can’t we have a well-overdue debate about London becoming more autonomous and independent from the rest of the country? If Brexit was a victory of smalltown conservatism, resurgent nationalism and anti-immigrant sentiment, then London’s status as the financial and cultural capital of Europe depends on resisting these shifts.

Earlier this year the London Finance Commission proposed a comprehensive London devolution package in light of Brexit, including additional control over the tax paid by Londoners and London businesses to bring us into line with our global competitors. New York keeps around 50 per cent of the taxes raised in the city and Tokyo keeps almost three quarters, so a comprehensive settlement to enable London to keep more of the taxes generated here would give the capital the tools we need to mitigate the impact of Brexit and stay ahead in the global race.

Take the issue of immigration. Huge swathes of our nation — including the ministers calling the shots around the Cabinet — view freedom of movement as a problem so severe that we must leave the single market in a desperate bid to reduce net immigration to the “tens of thousands”, regardless of how much it hurts our economy. But London would grind to a halt without European migrants coming to the capital to work, and separate visa arrangement will be essential to enable London to maintain access to the talent it needs to grow.

Fast forward a couple of years and London’s status as the world’s pre-eminent global city will be under threat. Our position as the financial services capital of Europe is at risk and could disappear overnight if there is a flight of capital and talent to cities on the Continent.

Over the course of the next two years as the reality of Brexit begins to bite, the economic, social and political cleavages between London and other parts of the country will become more pronounced. London’s status as a de facto city-state will become clearer and the arguments for a London city-state to forge a more independent path will become stronger.

London already accounts for just under a third of all UK tax revenue — up a quarter in real terms since 2005 — so it beggars belief that the interests of the capital have been completely overlooked when planning for Brexit. The Treasury is increasingly reliant on London to subsidise expenditure and investment in other regions so embarking on a course that will hurt London economically is bad for the whole country, not just the capital.

The Office for Budget Responsibility estimated the cost of Brexit at around £60 billion in additional borrowing over the next five years, and it is London that will foot the bill. We cannot afford a lost decade. We are already seeing London schools hit by huge cuts as money is shifted from the capital to the shires. Local authorities in the capital are already on their knees after seven years of swingeing austerity.

This is the last thing we need when urgent attention and huge investment is crucial to address the capital’s housing crisis and a deepening chasm between top earners and workless poor in many London boroughs. We can’t go back to the Seventies: needles strewn across our public parks; our schools falling apart; the National Front marching on our streets; political paralysis, civil unrest and economic turbulence.

What has become clear since June is that the Government will not fight London’s corner in the Brexit negotiations. The case for a London city-state has never been stronger. As Sturgeon told the SNP conference: we are not powerless, we can still decide which path we take. If you identify with London’s values, it’s time to fight for them.

Sunday, 19 March 2017

Eco-activists Vandalise a Trump Golf Course



Several media outlets are reporting that a group of environmental activists did a massive nocturnal redecoration job on the Trump National Golf Club in Rancho Palos Verdes, CA. Under cover of night, a group of anonymous individuals snuck onto the $250 million course and carved the message,

“No More Tigers, No More Woods” in giant letters. They even took video of the whole thing for your viewing pleasure.

According to a statement from the group sent to the Washington Post they said, “In response to the president’s recent decision to gut our existing protection policies, direct action was conceived and executed on the green of his California golf course in the form of a simple message: NO MORE TIGERS. NO MORE WOODS.”

“Tearing up the golf course felt justified in many ways,” they went on to say. “Repurposing what was once a beautiful stretch of land into a playground for the privileged is an environmental crime in its own right. We hope this sends a message to Trump and his corrupt administration that their actions will be met with action.”

Write up from Earth First.

Saturday, 18 March 2017

How Progressive Cities Can Reshape the World — And Democracy

Ada Colau

Written by Oscar Reyes, Bertie Russell and first published at Common Dreams

“We’re living in extraordinary times that demand brave and creative solutions. If we’re able to imagine a different city, we’ll have the power to transform it.” – Ada Colau, Mayor of Barcelona.

On 24 May 2015, the citizen platform Barcelona en Comú was elected as the minority government of the city of Barcelona. Along with a number of other cities across Spain, this election was the result of a wave of progressive municipal politics across the country, offering an alternative to neoliberalism and corruption.

With Ada Colau — a housing rights activist — catapulted into the position of mayor, and with a wave of citizens with no previous experience of formal politics finding themselves in charge of their city, BComú is an experiment in progressive change that we can’t afford to ignore.

After 20 months in charge of the city, we try to draw some of the main lessons that can help inspire and inform a radical new municipal politics that moves us beyond borders and nations — and towards a post-capitalist world based on dignity, respect, and justice.


1. The best way to oppose nationalist anti-immigrant sentiment is to confront the real reasons life is shit.


There is no question that life is getting harder, more precarious, more stressful, and less certain for the majority of people.

In the U.S. and across Europe, racist reactionaries and nationalist politicians are blaming this on two things — immigrants, and “outside forces” that challenge national sovereignty. While Trump and Brexit are the most obvious cases, we can see the same phenomenon across Europe, in the rise of far-right parties like Alternative für Deutschland in Germany and the Front National in France.

In Barcelona, there is a relative absence of public discourse that blames the social crisis on immigrants, and most attempts to do so have fallen flat. On the contrary, on February 18 of this year, over 160,000 people flooded the streets of Barcelona to demand that Spain take in more refugees.

While this demonstration was also caught up with complexities of Catalan nationalism and controversy over police repression of migrant street vendors, it highlighted the support for a politics that cares for migrants and refugees.

The main reason for this is simple: There is a widespread and successful politics that provides real explanations of why people are suffering, and that fights for real solutions.

The reason you can’t afford your rent is because of predatory tourism, unscrupulous landlords, a lack of social housing, and property being purchased as overseas investments. The reason social services are being cut is because the central government transferred huge amounts of public funds into the private banks, propping up a financial elite, and because of a political system riddled with corruption.

While Barcelona played a leading role in initiating a network of “cities of refuge,” simply condemning anti-immigrant nationalism isn’t enough. In a climate where popular municipal movements are providing a strong narrative as to what they see as the problem — and identifying what they’re going to do about it — it’s incredibly difficult for racist and nationalist narratives based on lies and hatred to take root.


2. Politics doesn’t have to be the preserve of rich old white men.


Ada Colau is the first female mayor of Barcelona. She is a co-founder of BComú, and was formerly the spokesperson of the Mortgage Victims Platform, a grassroots campaign challenging evictions and Spain’s unjust property laws. Colau leads a group of 11 district council members, seven of whom are women, whose average age is 40.

BComú’s vision of a “feminized politics” represents a significant break with the existing political order. “You can be in politics without being a strong, arrogant male, who’s ultra-confident, who knows the answer to everything,” Colau explains. Instead, she offers a political style that openly expresses doubts and contradictions. This is backed by a values-based politics that emphasizes the role of community and the common good — as well as policies designed to build on that vision.

The Barcelona City Council’s new Department of Life Cycles, Feminisms, and LGBTI is the institutional expression of these values. It has significantly increased the budget for campaigns against sexist violence, as well as leading a council working group that looks to identify and tackle the feminization of poverty.

The changing face of the city council is reinforced by BComú’s strict ethics policy, Governing by Obeying, which includes a €2,200 monthly limit on payments to its elected officials. Colau takes home less than a quarter of the amount claimed by her predecessor Xavier Trias. By February 2017, €216,000 in unclaimed salaries had been paid into a new fund that will support social projects in the city.


3. A politics that works begins by listening.


BComú started life with an extensive process of listening, responding to ordinary peoples’ concerns, and crowd-sourcing ideas — as summarized in its guide to building a citizen municipal platform.
Drawing on proposals gathered at meetings in public squares across the city, BComú created a program reflecting immediate issues in local neighborhoods, city-wide problems, and broader discontent with the political system. Local meetings were complemented by technical and policy committees, and an extensive process of online consultation.

This process resulted in a political platform that stressed the need to tackle the “social emergency” — problems such as home evictions on a huge scale, or the effect of uncontrolled mass tourism. These priorities came from listening to citizens across the city rather than an echo chamber of business and political elites. BComú’s election results reflected this broader appeal: It won its highest share of the vote in Barcelona’s poorest neighborhoods, in part through increasing turnout in those areas.

On entering government, BComú then began to implement an Emergency Plan that included measures to halt evictions, hand out fines to banks leaving multiple properties empty, and subsidize energy and transport costs for the unemployed and those earning under the minimum wage.


4. A politics that works never stops listening.


Politics doesn’t happen every four years — it is the everyday process of shaping the conditions in which we live our lives. This means that one of the central tasks of a politics that works is to forge a new relationship between citizens and the institutions that we use to govern our societies.

For BComú, the everyday basis of politics means citizens and civil society organizations directly shaping the strategic plan of their city. It means not just consultation, but active empowerment in helping move citizens from being “recipients” of a politics that is done to them, to active political agents that shape the everyday life of their city.

In the first months of occupying the institutions, BComú introduced an open-source platform, Decidim Barcelona, for citizens to co-create the municipal action plan for the city. Over 10,000 proposals were registered by the site’s 25,000 registered users. While that’s a small share of the city’s population, the online process was complemented by over 400 in-person meetings.

The Decidim platform is now being adapted to run participatory budgetary pilot-schemes in two districts, as well as being used in the ongoing development of new infrastructure, pedestrian-friendly spaces, and transport schemes. Meanwhile, the municipal Department of Participation is undertaking a systematic rethinking of the meaning of participation, looking to move away from meaningless “consultations” and towards methods for active empowerment.

This is an imperfect process, and BComú have gotten things wrong at times — such as the failure to properly engage when introducing a SuperBlock in the Poblenou district — but the principle is simple. To govern well, you must create new processes for obeying citizens’ demands.

At the same time, the structures that built BComú remain in place, with 15 neighborhood groups and 15 thematic working groups providing an ongoing link between activists and institutions. No structure is perfect, and it remains unclear if these working groups can help BComú avoid institutionalization and remain connected to social movements, but the hope is that this model provides a basis for remaining in touch with grassroots concerns.


5. Politics doesn’t begin with the party.


BComú isn’t a local arm of a bigger political party, nor does it exist merely as a branch of a broader strategy to control the central political institutions of the nation-state. Rather, BComú is one in a series of independent citizen platforms that have looked to occupy municipal institutions in an effort to bring about progressive social change.

From A Coruña to Valencia, Madrid and Zaragoza, these municipal movements are the direct efforts of citizens rejecting the old mode of doing politics, and starting to effect change where they live. Instead of a national party structure, they coordinate through a network of rebel cities across Spain. Most immediately, this means coordinating press releases and actively learning from how one another engage with urban problems.

That doesn’t mean that BComú can reject political parties entirely. While the initiative arose from social movements, it ended up incorporating several existing political parties in its platform. These include Podemos — another child of Spain’s Occupy-style indignados movement — and the Catalan Greens-United Left party, which had consistently been a junior coalition partner in city councils headed by the center-left Socialist Party of Catalonia from 1979 until 2011.

These parties continue alongside BComú, with their own completely separate organizational and funding structures. But entering BComú has forced existing parties to significantly change how they operate. Coalition negotiations encouraged the selection of new council members (only two of the elected candidates have previously held office), and they are subject to a tough ethics code that considerably increases their accountability.

The fluid relationship between the new coalitions and political parties allows for multiple levels of coordination, without having to pass through a rigid central leadership. It may also be replicated in regional government, where the recently formed Un Pais En Comú seeks to replicate the city government coalition across Catalonia.

On a terrain that contains a different set of politics — not least a strong national-separatist sentiment — it remains to be seen whether this latest initiative will be successful.


6. Power is the capacity to act.


BComú doesn’t subscribe to traditional notions of power, whereby if you hold public office, you somehow “have” power. On the contrary, power is the capacity to bring about change, and the “occupation of the institutions” is only one part of what makes change possible.

BComú emerged after almost a decade of major street-protests, anti-eviction campaigns, squatting movements, anti-corruption campaigns, and youth movements — the most visible form being the indignados protests that began in 2011. After years of being at a high level of mobilization, many within these movements made a strategic wager: We’ve learned how to occupy the squares, but what happens if we try to occupy the institutions?

Frustrated by the limits of what could be achieved by being mobilized only outside of institutions, the decision to form BComú was to try to occupy the institutions as part of the same movement that occupied the squares. In practice, this isn’t so simple.

Politics is a messy game, full of compromises forced by working in a world of contradictions.

In the most practical sense, BComú may be leading the council, but it holds only 11 of the 41 available seats. Six other political parties are also represented on the council, mostly seeking to block, slow down, or weaken its initiatives. Frustrated by these moves — and overwhelmed by the demands of the institutions — BComú formed a governing coalition with the PSC, a move supported by around two-thirds of its registered supporters.

But it remains a minority government, and two left parties that refused a similar pact responded by stepping up their block on almost all legislative initiatives. The resulting political crisis delayed the passing of the city’s 2017 budget, which was eventually forced through on a confidence motion when BComú challenged the opposition to unite around another plan — which it failed to do.

While this experience has shown the resilience of BComú in the confrontational confines of the council chamber, the key lesson here is that occupying the institutions isn’t enough. An electoral strategy is not sufficient alone to create change.

The power to act comes from a combination of occupying both the institutions and the squares, of social movements organizing and exercising leverage, providing social force that can be coupled with the potential of the occupied institutions. The power to change comes when these work in tandem.

It’s been a bumpy ride, but BComú has been able to justify its budget on the grounds that it prioritizes social measures (such as building new nurseries, combatting energy poverty, and focusing resources on the poorest neighborhoods) with reference to the extensive and ongoing process of participation that it has encouraged.

One of the biggest dangers in looking to build radical municipalist movements in other cities is to mistake electoral victory with real victory — to sit back and think that now we’ve got “our guys” in the institutions, so we can sit back and let change occur.


7. Transnational politics begins in your city.


In a time where reactionary political movements are building walls and retreating to national boundaries, BComú is illustrating that a new transnational political movement begins in our cities.

To this end, BComú has established an international committee tasked with promoting and sharing its experiences abroad, while learning from other rebel cities such as Naples and Messina. Barcelona has been active in international forums, promoting the “right to the city” at the recent UN Habitat III conference, and taking a leadership role in the Global Network of Cities, Local, and Regional Governments.

These moves look to bypass the national scale where possible, prefiguring post-national networks of urban solidarity and cooperation. Recent visits of the first deputy mayor to the Colombian cities of Medellin and Bogotá also suggest that links are being made on a supranational scale.

One of the most tangible outcomes of this level of supranational urban organizing was the strong role played by cities in the rejection of the Transatlantic Trade & Investment Partnership, or TTIP — a massive proposed trade pact between the U.S. and Europe. As hosts of a meeting entitled “Local Authorities and the New Generation of Free Trade Agreements” in April 2016, BComú led on the agreement of the Barcelona Declaration, with more than 40 cities committing to the rejection of TTIP. As of the time of writing, TTIP now looks dead in the water.

At this early stage, it remains unclear how this supranational network of radical municipalism may develop. Perhaps the most important step for BComú is to share their experience and support those in other cities that are looking to reclaim politics, helping to build citizens platforms across Europe and beyond.

But the idea of a post-national network of citizens also allows us to dare to dream — of shared resources, shared politics, and shared infrastructure — where it’s not where you were born but where you live that determines your right to live.


8. Essential services can be run in our common interest.


The clue to BComú’s strategy for essential services is hidden in its name: The plan is to run them in common.

At the end of 2016, and faced with a crisis in the funeral sector in which only two companies controlled the sector and charged prices almost twice the national average, the Barcelona council intervened to establish a municipal funeral company that is forecasted to reduce costs by 30 percent.

Around the same time, the council voted in favor of the re-municipalization of water, paving the way for water to be taken out of the private sector at some point this year.

In February 2017, Barcelona amended the terms and conditions for electricity supply, preventing energy firms from cutting off supply to vulnerable people. The two major energy firms — Endesa and Gas Natural — protested this by not bidding for the €65-million municipal energy contracts, hoping this would force the council to overturn the policy.

Instead, a raft of small and medium size energy companies were happy to comply with the new directive to tackle energy poverty, and stand to be awarded the contracts if a court challenge from the large firms proves unsuccessful. BComú is also actively planning to introduce a municipal energy company within the next two years.

However, it’s important to recognize the major difference between the public and the common. As Michael Hardt argues, our choices are not limited to businesses controlled privately (private property) or by the state (public property). The third option is to hold things in common — where resources and services are controlled, produced, and distributed democratically and equitably according to peoples need.

A simple example of what this could look like was the proposal — which narrowly failed only due to voter turnout — for Berlin to establish an energy company that would put citizens on the board of the company.

This difference underpins the Barcelona experience. This isn’t a traditional socialist government that thinks it can run things better on behalf of the people. This is a movement that believes the people can run things better on their own behalf, combining citizen wisdom with expert knowledge to solve the everyday problems that people face.

Thursday, 16 March 2017

Dutch Election - Wilders Falters, Labour Crash, Green Left Gain



The political establishment across Europe are celebrating yesterday’s Dutch general election result, where Gert Wilders' party, PVV, did not make the large gains that opinion polling have been suggesting. The turn-out, at 80%, was unusually large.

The PVV stood on an unambiguous platform of anti-EU, anti-Muslim immigration policies, and it was thought would follow the right wing popularist trend of Brexit and Trump in recent protest votes. Well done to the Dutch people for rejecting this type of divisive politics.

The high turnout and spread of votes amongst several parties, played a part in halting PVV's advance, but perhaps more significantly, the centre right VVD party, stole some of the anti-immigration rhetoric from PVV, and the public row with Turkey probably helped as well.

Echoes of the UK, where the Tories are playing the same game, and thereby gaining former UKIP voters with anti-immigrant policies and rhetoric. It is a widely held view that the rise of the National Front in the UK in the 1970’s was halted by the election of Margaret Thatcher’s Tory government, which was big on patriotism.

The Labour Party, PvdA, were the big losers, after participating in a coalition government with the centre right party VVD, with further echoes of the Lib Dems, this time, in the UK, and a continuing slide by social democrat parties in Europe that have embraced neo-liberalism. PvdA went from 38 seats to just 9.VVD won the most seats, with 33, down 8.

Smaller parties were the main gainers, with the Dutch GreenLeft Party (GroenLinks in Dutch) gaining 10 seats, going from 4 to 14. As the name suggests the party is a left wing environmental one, and describes itself as "green", "social" and "tolerant." Not explicitly ecosocialist, it is after all a reformist party, but certainly heading in an ecosocialist direction.

The result demonstrates that a Green Left party can take significant votes off social democratic parties, particularly in the bigger cities. GreenLeft topped the poll in Amsterdam.

A coalition government will have to be built between at least 4 parties, but GreenLeft have said all along that they will not participate in a right or centre right government. It would be wise to stick to that after what happened to the PvdA at this election.

This is an English translation of a statement by GreenLeft about yesterday’s Dutch general election. 

From their website GroenLinks:

Thank you for voting, thank you for your commitment to the campaign. We have shown along that ideals do matter in politics. We showed together that we can get the country moving. We have written history.

Together we form a great new movement, which connects green and leftist values together. A movement for change. We go on.

Join us so we can listen to you. We need you, to share concerns with each other. To exchange new ideas. To discuss how we proceed not only from The Hague, but also in the country to bring real change in the Netherlands.

Let's change the Netherlands together.

Congratulations to GroenLinks from Green Left in London.  

Monday, 13 March 2017

Scotland Indyref2 – Tell May where to Stick her Hard Brexit





Nicola Sturgeon, the Scottish First Minister, fired the starting pistol on a second Scottish independence referendum today, by announcing her intention to hold a vote in the Scottish Parliament on the matter, probably next week.

Although the Scottish National Party (SNP) does not hold an overall majority in the Scottish Parliament, the Scottish Green Party announced today that they will support the SNP, and their six MSPs are enough for an overall majority, even if all, as seems likely, the other parties vote against.

Scotland will need authorisation by the full UK Parliament, which may prove more problematical, although the Prime Minister, Theresa May, fell short of over ruling the referendum at Westminster today. What she did say was that there is no demand in Scotland for it, which is open to question, the SNP was playing politics and that it will be ‘divisive.’

What a cheek May has. She has been playing politics all along with the Brexit issue, fighting tooth and nail to stop MPs have a say on the outcome of negotiations with the European Union (EU), and using her hard Brexit stance as way to consolidate her power within the Tory Party. Her predecessor, David Cameron, only held the referendum in the first place to manage the Tory Party Euro-sceptics. And as for divisive, well her hard Brexit stance has further torn apart the country, when what was required was a healer of the wound, a one nation approach, if you like.

No, May has made Indyref2 inevitable with her hard Brexit approach to the issue, and now the chickens are truly coming home roost. May could have aimed for a softer version of Brexit, perhaps retaining membership of the European Free Trade Association (Efta) and through that joined the European Economic Area (EEA) with Norway and others. She could have conceded some ground to Sturgeon on Scotland staying in the single market, but she has refused point blank to concede anything to the Scots.

If the referendum goes ahead, it will be tough for the SNP to win a yes to independence vote, but the opinion polls have been moving in that direction in last couple of weeks, since it has become clear what the UK government strategy is going to be. Demand everything from the EU, and when they don’t let you have it, howl about foreigners aided and abetted by the right wing media, and crash out of the organisation with no deal at all.     

This may be the start of the unravelling of the UK, with much unhappiness in Northern Ireland about the UK government’s handling of Brexit. Northern Ireland as well as Scotland voted to remain in the UK, and if one good thing comes out of all of this, Brexit might lead to the overdue uniting of the island of Ireland.

Plaid Cymru leader Leanne Wood has also called for an independence referendum in Wales, despite a majority of the Welsh voting for Brexit.

And then there is London, which voted almost as strongly as Scotland to remain in the EU. I’ve written before on the desirability of London independence from the UK, but unfortunately we in London are saddled with a Labour Party mayor, Sadiq Khan, who refuses to countenance the idea. He gave his rather feeble response reported on Labour List today to the latest developments on Brexit. But pressure may now increase on Khan, with Scotland making its intentions clear today. In 2014, at the time of the first Scottish indyref campaign, I saw a poll of Londoners which showed 20% support for London independence, and this time it could well be higher. It seems when the Scots consider independence and it is in the national news, Londoners think along the lines of ‘if they can have it, why not London, with a bigger population and economy than Scotland?’

Who can blame the Scots for wanting to ‘take control' of their destiny, rather than be lashed to the mast of a Tory government in England, hell bent on a potentially disastrous Brexit? Having to live in a shit country, where racism and bigotry is on the rise, when they can rule themselves, in the way they want to be ruled.

Solidarity with Scotland from the people of London.  
   

Sunday, 12 March 2017

Kurdish Women's Movement in Europe (TJK-E) - Statement on Million Women Rise



AGAINST FASCISM, WOMEN ARE EVERYWHERE

On the 8th March we welcomed the 107th International Women's day, we salute the memory of Rosa Luxemburg, Sakine Cansiz and all revolutionary women who paid the heaviest prices to protect us and show us the values of a free life, resistance, hope and the culture of the Mother Goddess who birthed the history of resistance.

We salute the Kurdish people's leader Abdullah Ocalan (Apo) who has supported us in our journey to find our true essence, to create a meaningful self-defence, to organise ourselves and to create our system for Women's liberation. We take today as an opportunity to renew our promise of liberation to our comrade Apo who has broadened our boundaries of freedom.

On the 8th of March 2017, we are proud to be part of the Kurdish women's movement, which proved that the revolution of women is a reality, not a utopia. This movement allowed us to believe in justice, equality and freedom in the face of fascist and nation-statist mentalities that ensure their survival through wars, destruction, injustice and rape. The pinnacle of the patriarchal system, capitalist modernity, thrives with world wars, economic crises, deregulated economies, and erased democracies which is causing the explosion of society. We must answer by deepening our critical consciousness, resisting, further organising ourselves, fighting and developing our self-defence and building meaningful solidarity with one another.

Ocalan observed, "Women left to the 'goodwill' of men are doomed to lose." Therefore, we will continue our organisation by expanding our communalism and our asemblies that are essential to a confederal system of women. We will strengthen our system of self-defence through the courage, creativity and aesthetics of the women's fight in their battle against the barbarism of Daesh in Kobane, Shengal and in the whole of Northern Syria.

We will develop this system with promise to the of the Cizre massacre, from Miray of 3 months to Mother Taybet of 57 years whose corpse remained in the street for 7 days, to the mother of Cemile Cagirga who had to keep the dead body of her 13 year old daughter in a freezer, for her burial was banned. Armed with our unconquerable self-defence and strong-will, we will confront the male-mentality of the vile attackers of the corpses of Ekin Van and other women.

We will strengthen the presence of women in politics against the shameless fascism of Erdogan's AKP, at a time when elected women politicians are the first victims of his political genocide. HDP co-chair Figen Yuksekdag, who recently had her MP title revoked is the latest to be subject to this political genocide.

Just like our comrades Seve Demir, Pakize Nayir and Ftma Uyar, who were brutally massacred by Turkish state forces in Sur and Cizre, we will never give up on our politics. The people are our strength, no attack can revert us from our path to truth. Through our resistance, we will hold Erdogan's AKP to account for the destructions in Sur, Cizre and Nusaybin.

The development of women's cooperatives will strengthen our means of self-defence. We will defend all women who are forced to marry their rapists to 'clear' their honour. As women, we will say 'NO' to the upcoming referendum in Turkey and be an obstacle to the efforts of establishing a 'one-man' executive presidency.

We reject masculine, male-dominated modes of thought that destroy collective thought and knowledge production. Jineology, women's science is an important tool for the development and liberation of women, it is our guide in our journey for Xwebun (to be yourself) and the answer to all those who try to dominate our identity, our spirit and our body.

The rejection of the anti-women policies and actions of the global patriarchal system can only be achieved through the union of women's knowledge, our organisations and our struggles. Strengthening Democratic Modernity through solidarity between women will overcome capitalist modernity's statist, class and power oriented structures which is the high-point of a patriarchal system.

No to Sexism! No to Femicide! Against colonialism, we are everywhere! Long live women's solidarity! Jin, Jiyan, Azadi - Women, Life, Liberty!

The Kurdish Women's Movement in Europe (TJK-E)

Taken from a leaflet handed out on yesterday's Million Women March in London.
    

Saturday, 11 March 2017

Million Women Rise March Today - London - Photos and Report


Million Women Rise (MWR) believes that male violence against women and children is a global pandemic. Violence devastates the lives of women, our families, and our communities. It also threatens to undermine efforts to bring about sustainable development. Therefore our campaign to end violence against women is an international struggle for female emancipation and liberty.

This year is the 10 year anniversary of Million Women Rise. A woman’s right to live free from violence and/or the fear of violence has not been achieved. Women continue to be attacked, exploited, and violated in many different ways, in our homes, on our streets, on our public transport, at our places of work. More than ever, we need to gather as a critical mass.  Women be ready... get ready... stay ready. Let the rise begin. From the Million Women Rise Website


Thousands of women marched through central London today to a rally in Trafalgar Square, to celebrate the tenth anniversary of the US Million Women Rise, and to make a stand against violence against women, all around the world.






















Women from many different countries and grouping attended the London rally, reflecting the city's rich diversity. It was an unusually warm day for the time of year, quite Spring like.  












Speakers at the rally in Trafalgar Square, again a diverse racial mix.












As reported by the London Evening Standard, Ann Samuel, a student from London who attended the march said: "It's about awareness and women raising their voices and making themselves heard. 

"I think more needs to be done against domestic abuse, domestic violence for women. They say when one woman stands up, they stand up for all women.

"Services are being cut and we can't let that happen. It affects everyone one way or another so being here makes a difference."

Friday, 10 March 2017

20th Century Socialism took the Eco out of Socialism



You could, no doubt, write a long book along the lines, and some have, that my headline suggests, but this a short blog post, so I can’t really go into huge detail here. It is a summary. However, I hope this blog stimulates some debate, and maybe encourages some to think about socialism differently.

There have been threads of socialist thought, and ecosocialist thought, going back hundreds if not thousands of years, but the concept really, self-consciously, began around the 1820s and 1830s. 

Around this time, of the industrial revolution, capitalism started to resemble the economic system we see today. The factory workers would soon realise their strength within the system, as well as their weakness, and a way of thinking about the way capitalism worked began to form out of necessity.

Later in the nineteenth century, Karl Marx emerged as the most important socialist thinker and writer, and his three volume work Capital, became the basis for much of what socialism stood for, and what it was against. In fact, it was mostly about what it was against, capitalism that is, in what was a brilliant and radical critique of how the system exploits those who only have their labour to sell.

Marx is a somewhat controversial figure for ecosocialists, with some thinking he was essentially a productivist, whilst others arguing that he was misinterpreted, and Marx was at heart ‘green.’ The American ecosocialist writer, James Bellamy-Foster, has developed an impressive thesis with the work he has done on identifying Marx’s theory of capitalism causing a ‘metabolic rift’ between humanity and nature. Taken from Marx’s volume 3 of Capital, and building on his earlier Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts, Bellamy-Foster says this is a "mature analysis of the alienation of nature."

Personally, I take the view that Marx’s thinking and writing was of its time and perhaps more crucially, it is incomplete. I can certainly see that Marx had a green side to him, and much of this is demonstrated in his volume 3 of Capital, where ecosocialists find encouragement.

Take this quote from the same volume of Capital which most ecosocialist will be familiar with, but maybe other socialists will not be:

“From the standpoint of a higher economic form of society, private ownership of the globe by single individuals will appear quite as absurd as private ownership of one man by another. Even a whole society, a nation, or even all simultaneously existing societies taken together, are not owners of the globe. They are only its possessors, its usufructuaries, and, like boni patres familias, they must hand it down to succeeding generations in an improved condition.”

The Russian revolution in 1917 made socialism flesh, and in the early days of the revolution, it had ecosocialist content, such as the conservation of land and the integration of production at sustainable levels. And Lenin introduced national parks to the country.

Arran Gare, in Soviet Environmentalism: The Path not Taken writing about Lenin says he ‘interpreted Marxism in such as way as to acknowledge the limitations of the environment, and of the existence of dynamics within nature with which humanity must accord.’

This concern with ecology did not last though, under pressure internally and externally from enemies of the revolution, understandably in many ways, socialism in Russia took a productivist path in competition with capitalism. The economic advances made in a relatively short time, from near feudal economy in 1917 to putting the first man in space by 1961, was impressive. But this all came at a cost, to the environment and in the lack of freedom and democracy, not forgetting the brutality of the regime too. It also sowed the seeds of the eventual demise of these societies.

Marx’s concept of a free association of producers, which is accepted in the anarchist political tradition also, which he explored in, yes, you guessed it, volume 3 of Capital, is completely absent from the 20th century socialisms that came into being, led by Russia (USSR).

What Marx meant by this is a relationship among individuals where there is no state, social class or authority, and no private property of the means of production. This gives individuals the access to the means of production enabling them to freely associate, and produce their own conditions of existence and fulfill their individual and creative needs and desires.

The 20th century socialisms all relied on the Party-state as the active force directing the revolution. They used the centralised state to direct accumulation by political means rather than the economic incentives that capitalism uses for the same purpose. What has been called state capitalism was the result. It was not socialism, in the true meaning of the philosophy, which to be fair these states realised, but they saw it as a staging post along the way to socialism, when in fact it was the wrong pathway completely.

A pathway that led to ecological destruction on a scale that was even worse than that of capitalist nations, as well as being rigid and authoritarian.

Ecosocialism is an attempt to return socialism to the right pathway, but this means going back to the beginning in terms of theory, there is no short cut. The ecosocialist revolution, if it comes, will not only come from the bottom up, rather than be directed from above, it will need to stay grounded at the bottom, to refresh and democratise the revolution as it proceeds. No vanguard party, no Party-state. A democratic, decentralised socialism with ecological rationality.
 
This is what ecosocialism is, and what socialism should have always been.