Friday, 6 October 2017

Catalonia: Referendums and Republicanism


On 1st October, police shipped in from all over Spain by the countries ruling ‘Popular Party’ led by Mariano Rajoy, violently repressed the Catalonian referendum on Independence from Spain. The country has been gripped by a constitutional crisis leading up to Sundays events. When the independence referendum was announced in early September the conservative Spanish government were determined that it would not proceed.
Since then we have seen the arrests of fourteen high level Catalan officials including the regional economy minister Josep Maria Jove who is now being investigated for sedition. In addition to this, there have been a series of police raids on newspapers, printers, delivery services and government offices, with authorities confiscating 1.5 million leaflets and 10 million ballot papers. Meanwhile public prosecutors issued arrest warrants to more than 700 mayors, cooperating with the preparations for the referendum.
This is scary to see in Spain.  Especially as the black cloud of the formerly Nazi backed Franco regime, which was only fully dissolved in 1975, still hangs over the country. Indeed, the Guardia Civil referred to ironically in English as the ‘civil police’ acted as Franco’s paramilitary force during the 39-75 fascist dictatorship. Those along with the federal police force have been filmed attacking voters with tear gas, batons and rubber bullets. On Sunday, peaceful citizens were dragged by their hair from ballot stations and had their fingers broken by the bully like police. Far from the spirit of the public services working together to protect citizens, the police even went as far to attack the firefighters who were trying to shield the protesters from this kind of state sanctioned barbarity.
In this blog post I would like to examine what has caused this violence to take place, look at the various biases surrounding the referendum from a UK perspective and look to the future of Spain and Catalonia to see where they are headed next in their political struggles.

Corruption and Austerity

Rajoy is not a stupid man. In opposing the Catalan independence referendum so violently he has been able to use what is seen as the image of the Spanish state in securing and upholding support for the his government and the Popular Party.
Since Spain’s transition to democracy in the 1970s, it has been embroiled in corruption scandals, which have caused many to lose faith in the Spanish government. Almost 1,500 people faced trial for corruption in Spain between 2015 and the end of 2016. About 70 percent of them were found guilty. Rajoy was recently forced to deny any knowledge of illegal financing of the Popular Party in a high profile court case involving party members allegedly granting public contracts in exchange for cash or other gifts. While Rajoy himself was not implicated, he is the first sitting Prime Minister to have to appear as a witness in a Spanish court.
Another problem facing Spain is the social crisis which can be seen with increasing unemployment and inequality, which primarily effects the younger generations. A good way I like to describe the Popular Party is Spain’s version of the UK Conservative Party. Throughout their time in power, the PP have made massive cuts in education while handing out bailouts to a Spanish bank called Bankia. Youth unemployment in Spain is over 50% with general unemployment above 25%. It is this that led to the Indignados protests, these were peaceful sit-ins organised by the youth of Spain. Yet they were met with the same police response to the Catalonia referendum: violence and intimidation.
Faced with these problems and their repercussions the Spanish government must use an inherently nationalist based response. A cry to make Catalonia independent or to get rid of the Popular Party is a cry against Spain. It is this mind-set which leads to violence such as that we saw on Sunday being seen as justified.

Nationalism

In 2010, the Spanish Constitutional Court ruled against the new Statute of Autonomy for Catalonia. The Catalan Statute had been the result of negotiations between Zapertos centre left government in Madrid and the regional government in Barcelona. Prior to this ruling support for independence in Catalonia had been historically divided, but after many of those in favour of greater autonomy were immediately converted to independence supporters. This opened up a new dynamic in Spanish politics.
As a result, Rajoy has tried to combine the interests of the Spanish state with the political strategy of the Popular Party. He has been able to use the crisis to try and win back legitimacy for the PP after its corruption scandals. It has taken on the role of defender of Spain and the constitution. It is a strategy which has gained support. While voters were being dragged from polling booths and beat up by police, supporters of the government gathered in Madrid to support the state violence, sing Falangist songs from the Franco dictatorship era and strut around making Nazi Salutes. They have constructed a theory of constitutional nationalism which serves them, and the centre right party Ciudadnos, but which made confrontation between the forces of public order and the public order inevitable. 
The pinnacle moment of this Nationalism came with the decision of the unelected King Felipe of Spain to make a speech. In an atmosphere of rising criticism of his silence, Felipe finally decided not to condemn the violence and fascism but to accuse the democratically elected government of Catalonia of being ‘undemocratic’ for giving the Catalonian people a democratic vote on independence. The hypocrisy of the man is stunning, he knows well that he is only there because his father was appointed by Franco in 1975. He did not address the violence at all and instead reiterated the same nationalist talking points that could have been written  by the right wing government in Madrid.
After the events of October 1st 2017, it is not just people old enough to remember the Franco era recognise extreme right Spanish Nationalism for what it is, the whole world has seen the democracy hating brutality of Spanish nationalism.

What Next for Spain?

In a matter of days we can expect the Catlan government to declare independence from Spain.  What the pro-independence forces in Spain and Catalonia have achieved is to lessen the impact of the state and the intensity of nationalism. The problem is that independence cannot take place if the rest of Spain refuses to accept it as official or legal. Only by realising how the social and ecomic problems are linked to the nationalism can independence begin to progress.
We can rely on some resistance from socialist party: Podemos in the Spanish parliament, but even if they manage to convince the centre left PSOE to support their cause they are still far from holding any considerable sway in the Spanish government. If you want to change the Spanish constitution, you need more than 66 percent of the deputies in the parliament. Podemos are a very long way from that.
We began to see some hope with the general strike currently enveloping Catalonia. It was supported by the trade unions, all the pro-independence parties, and other left wing groups such as Podemos’ regional affiliate and Barcelona en Comu’. There was a very widespread stoppage as a result: almost everything closed from small shops to public institutions and transport. In Barcelona and beyond. On the one hand the strike opposed this weekend’s repression, but it also had many republican themes, with people hoping that a Catalan republic will be declared soon.
What the declaration will achieve is to put it on the table, helping to open up negotiations with Catalan, Spanish and International representatives. At the same time, the Catalan government will try to act as independent encouraging the Catalonians to pay taxes to it. The Spanish state are likely to respond in a hostile manner however. They may even try to use article 155 of the Spanish constitution to definitively end Catalonian Autonomy and arrest the Catalan President. If that happens the streets will rise up, and the government will have a major confrontation on their hands. The Independence movement has many people ready to be active in this campaign over a long period – it will be difficult for the Spanish state to resist a movement of that size.
If the scenario develops in this way, the political parties will have to adopt positions to meet it.  The Spanish state does not want to negotiate – so centrism does not have a place. You cannot meet repression the like of which we have seen with moderation, the people will not support it. In the last five years, the PP government has not come forward with any offer to resolve the situation and I do not think that will change. The movement has already moved to the left – the protest and striking is a great example of that. The streets have an idea of something new in Catalonia, something bottom up.

Friday, 29 September 2017

A.2 Where Does Libertarian Socialism Come From?


Libertarian socialism originates from groups during the Russian revolution who resisted the forces of authority both from the Red and white factions in the Ukraine form 1917 to 1921. In this sense, they saw the need for revolution but were in favour of the creation of a new society along democratic and non-hierarchical lines. To quote the Organisational Platform of Libertarian Communists, produced by participants in the Makhnovist movement.
‘Libertarian Communism does not derive abstract reflections of an intellectual or a philosopher, but from the direct struggle of workers against capitalism, from the needs and necessities of the workers, from their aspirations to liberty and equality, aspirations which become particularly alive in the best heroic period of the life and struggle of the working masses’
So unlike Marxist-Leninism, Conservativism and nationalism that were created in the struggle of individuals for power, Libertarian Socialism was created in the struggle of the oppressed for freedom. For a particularly renowned Libertarian Socialist thinker: Proudhon, the proof of his ideals lay in the creation of Labour unions in Paris and Lyon throughout the mid-18th century. Indeed, as historian Steven Vincent has argued there was a close similarity between the ideas of Proudhon and the beliefs and practices of those same Lyon silk workers. 
Thus, though it produced a number of philosophers who discussed its ideology, it was not created from philosophers in ivory towers looking down on society and judging what they saw to be write or wrong. It was created in the ideas and actions of oppressed peoples. Therefore, it was given birth to the same critical and revolutionary protest that gave birth to socialism in the broader sense. 
While the term Libertarian Socialism itself was born with the rise of capitalism and communism as the major players in global politics, you only have to look throughout history to see the origins of those ideas before they were given a name. In Mutual aid, Kropotkin analyzed the Libertarian Socialist tendencies of different societies
“From the remotest, stone-age antiquity, men [and women] have realized the evils that resulted from letting some of them acquire personal authority... Consequently they developed in the primitive clan, the village community, the medieval guild ... and finally in the free medieval city, such institutions as enabled them to resist the encroachments upon their life and fortunes both of those strangers who conquered them, and those clansmen of their own who endeavored to establish their personal authority.”
Thus, the struggles of working class people from which modern Libertarian Socialism gave birth, is comparable to those older forms of popular organization. While as a political theory, it is an expression of working class people against Oppression, violence and injustice the ideas have continually expressed themselves throughout human existence. Many indigonous people practiced non-hierarchical societies for thousands of years. Similarly, Libertarian Socialist tendencies have existed throughout human history. The New England Town meetings during the American Revolution, the Parisian ‘Sections’ during the French revolution, the workers councils and factory committees during the Russian Revolution to name but a few. 
In other words, Libertarian Socialism is an expression of the struggle against oppression and exploitation, an analysis of what is wrong with the current system and proposal for a better way of doing things. The ideas existed a long time before the term Libertarian Socialism was invented, showing that our beliefs and practices persist throughout history.

Thursday, 7 September 2017

How Houston was left to drown

The flooding that has occurred as a result of Hurricane Harvey in Houston, Texas has left lots dead and thousands in need of rescue or shelter. Portrayals of the catastrophe by the National Weather Service and the media as ‘historic’ and ‘natural’ should not be confused as meaning ‘entirely unexpected’ or worse ‘unpreventable’. The outcry buy activists and residents against the unplanned, all for profit development of cities like Houston has been constantly ignored by officials, leaving millions of already downtrodden people in a death trap. 
 
The image circulating online of elderly people sat in a nursing home waist deep in water is a shocking illustration of how some of the most vulnerable sections of the population are struggling to deal with the effects of Hurricane Harvey. While the people in that photograph have been rescued, the poorest residents of Houston who are surrounded by Houston’s vast petrochemical industry, are being gassed by and seeped in the toxic materials unleashed due to damage of oil refineries.
Residents are now facing a gut wrenching choice of staying in Houston or getting out in the desperate hope of finding somewhere else to go.

The Storm was anticipated

 The choices facing Houston’s undocumented immigrants are equally terrifying. Just hours before Harvey struck, Customs announced that they would maintain their checkpoints to verify immigration status as people fled from the coming destruction. Although, due to public outcry, Texas Governor Greg Abbot announced that those fleeing would have access to public shelters regardless of their immigration status, the overall message to the undocumented population was clear: Drown or be deported.
The Private prison corporations running Abbots detention centres, their cells filled with victims of raids carried out by the states deportation machine, were equally vague about their plans to deal with prisoners under their control. Confusion continued with contradictory orders from both the state and local authorities about whether residents should flee or stay put. Many stayed behind, lacking the money to do otherwise. The homeless were naturally distrustful of the authorities who denied them access to food and hounded them from the streets.
The common excuse from local officials in Houston and elsewhere was that telling people to leave would simply trap them on the road as the storm arrived, so the best solution would be for people to take shelter and hope for the best. However, this makes it seem as though the situation facing officials in Houston was somehow unexpected, and that the heads of industry and elected officials there didn’t have a hand in creating the conditions which led to the city becoming such a death tap in the first place.
Houston’s lack of infustructure to manage potential flood events is in many ways an environmental expression of the crisis of neoliberalism. As a crucial port city that thrives off oil revenues, Houston is a large profit making area in the US. The flood of private money into the petrochemical industry has also contributed toward the risk of literal flooding. Heavy investment in impermeable concrete has turned wetlands into high rises, shopping centres, marking lots and manufacturing platforms.
The problem with this is that wetlands act as natural shock absorbers for heavy rainfall. Concrete however, acts like a channel to transit and concentrate water. The activities of developers in Houston then have helped transform neighbourhoods once relatively safe from flooding into basis for collecting floodwater. Regulation on these developers is rare because elected officials are their lapdogs  who regard better drainage systems as a cost that others should pay for. In particular, through regressive taxation on working people.

Unnatural Disasters

The last significant flood prevention that Houston had was a set of dams introduced in the 1940s to prevent the cities system of bayous from overflowing into the central business district. However, as Hurricane Harvey arrived on Friday and the flooding started, the dams were being upgraded. This marks a frightening similarity to how the Levies around New Orleans were being upgraded, just as Katrina struck in 2005.
The dams in Houston are in fact a clear example of the crisis of public infustructure there. This is not the first time Houston has been subject to devastating floods. Not by a long stretch. The most memorable of these is tropical storm Allison in 2001, but they also suffered severe storms in 2008 and 2015. What is similar about them is that in each of these cases the storms were likewise described as ‘unprecedented’. Having ignored the warnings of scientists and the protests of trapped residents, officials are now feigning ignorance and surprise despite the fact that they facilitated the transformation of Houston into a capitalist basin which does not absorb water, but collects it.
Of Couse, if ‘unprecedented’ and ‘unexpected’ storms are happening with greater frequency, and if we accept the fact that the number of natural disasters has quadrupled since 1970, then it should appear obvious that they are no longer ‘unprecedented’ events are they? They are the new normal, bought about by fossil fuelled climate change. In that sense then, they can even be justifiably labelled as ‘unnatural disasters’.
Rising air and ocean temperature alongside increased levels of water vapour in the atmosphere as consequences of extracting and burning fossil fuels, have created the conditions for powerful storms like Harvey to emerge in the Gulf. When Harvey Struck, worsening atmospheric conditions also meant that there was little wind to keep the storm moving once on land. As a result, Harvey came ashore and hovered dumping 11 trillion Gallons of water and transforming poor and working class neighbourhoods into water tanks.

Conclusion

Houston’s fate provides a chilling revelation of what’s to come for other coastal cities as sea levels continue to rise. Nuclear power plants and chemical processing sites along the coast in places such as Bay City, are unnatural disasters just waiting for an unnatural storm to set them loose. Reports that we have seen so far have put the disaster damages cost in the tens of billions, and claimed that the storm has set the city even further back than they were in terms of development. What they haven’t mentioned is that capitalism has rigged the entire Gulf Coast for disaster.
As with the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, the destruction reached by Harvey will leave Houston’s economy laid bare to be feasted on by the vultures of ‘disaster capitalism’. Publicly owned infustructure, already destroyed by the storm, will be replaced with private development and yet more impermeable concrete.
Trump meanwhile has been busy flattering hurricane Harvey on Twitter, almost as if he thinks the residents of the affected areas did something to provoke Harvey, leading him to make the case for violence happening ‘on many sides’. Aside from this Trump made his priorities abundantly clear as he doubled down on his racism by pardoning the grotesque Sherriff Joe as news coverage of Hurricane Harvey – a storm which made clear the fault lines of race and class division – was growing ever more serious.
Houston’s ruling class has no ability or interest to deal with the cities flood problems, and Trump is not likely to help as he pays attention to racial divisions and diverts necessary funds for much needed public services to a barbaric budget for military spending.
This is why, a recovery from social tragedies like Harvey which benefits ordinary people, will come from struggles that seek to reconfigure urban space in their interests. By overturning the system that currently designs it to maximise the extraction of profit – no matter the human or environmental cost.

Friday, 1 September 2017

On Charlottsville

The Neo Nazi display of hatred in Chartlosville, in which activist Heather Heyer was killed, served as a painful reminder of what the Republican Parties racist agenda and Donald Trump’s pandering to the far right, has done to embolden both the views and actions of white supremacists. Of course, we are not just suddenly seeing the appearance of fascist and racist groups, but they have been encouraged by the Trump administration’s refusal to say a bad word about them as they carry out more and more violent attacks.

Heather Heyer is not the only person to have been killed by White Supremacists since Trumps election and I doubt she will be the last. Earlier this year, two ordinary citizens called Ricky John Best and Taliesen Myrddin Namkai Meche were stabbed to death after interfering to stop the harassment of a Muslim girl on a train. Only a few months ago, a group of Nazi thugs from the self-described ‘alt Reich’ movement, killed African American student Richard W. Collin III.   
Again in these cases, Collins murder received no comment from Trump while the brutal murder of Meche and Best elicited a half-hearted comment. Many people may make apologies or excuses for this, yet Trumps muted or outright lack of condemnation in the face of racist violence stands in such stark contrast to the tidal of wave of vitriol he uses when whipping up his followers into a racist frenzy. Even when Trump finally made a public statement on the horrific events in Charlottesville, it was just vague enough so that it could serve as a statement on the issue but just bigoted enough so that it would please the far right: he said he opposed violence ‘on all sides’.
This behaviour should serve as no surprise to most people. He has dallied and emboldened racists and fascists since the very start of his campaign, courting endorsements from the likes of notorious KKK grand leader David Duke and the American Nazi Party. His chief strategist until only a few days ago was Steve Bannon, the editor of ‘alt right’ propaganda outlet, Breitbart. Sebastian Gorka, an assistant to Trump who has ties to fascist organisations in Hungary, said last week that ‘white supremacists’ are not a problem in the US.
As yet another Racist act of violence that has been so weakly criticised by Trump, it also represents an alarming escalation of organised far right violence in the US. Awful as they were, the other white supremacist murders that have occurred since Trump took office can be seen as unplanned and random acts, the events in Charlottesville on the other hand were planned well in advance. It was well known for several months before, that the racists were going to descend on Charlottesville to protest the removal of a Robert E Lee statue from a local park. This is because far right organisations had been staging numerous protest in the liberal college town for years, including an earlier version of the lighted torches march, which resurfaced on the Friday before Saturdays ‘Unite the right’ rally.
Charlottesville must also be understand as a clear act of racist intimidation. Whatever cause the right were marching for was obscured by the fact that they were fascist agitators and the violence that occurred at their hands. Neo Nazi organisations spoke proudly about how heavily armed they were and how many guns and knives they brought with them. While some of this may have been exaggerated, the racists undeniably showed up with helmets, clubs, pepper spray, wooden shields and assault rifles. The night before the supposed demonstration, hundreds of mostly young white men marched through the University of Virginia Campus brandishing lighted torches and chanting ‘Jews will not replace us’. They also report ably marched on a black church service being held as a symbolic act against the fascists. Despite the claims from various groups inside and outside of the ‘Unite the Right’ movement, that the white supremacists were just exercising their right to free speech, it is absolutely clear that they instead arrived in Charlotsville with the intension to riot and to kill anyone that got in their way.
The mob violence revealed multiple harsh truths: the white supremacists are relatively small only spilling over into just over five hundred. In spite of this they are disproportionately violent, mot afraid to cause serious damage. Finally, they are absolutely coddled by Law enforcement. On Friday evening, the police allowed these torch bearing racists to descend on a black church chanting ‘White Lives matter’ and the Nazi slogan of ‘Blood and soil’, despite the fact that they had no permit to protest. On the day of the main protest police stood by and watched as white supremacists charged at counter protesters and beat people.
 Contrast this with the police responses to Black Lives Matter protests. They let a racist mob intent on hurting and killing people simply run rampant through Charlotsville. Not once did the white supremacists have to deal with Tear Gas, tanks or water cannons. While antiracists chant of ‘the cops and the Klan go hand in hand’ may seem inflammatory to outsiders, it is this cosy relationship that we see at events like Charlotsville, to which the chant refers.
Trumps abject refusal to call the Neo Nazi demonstrators out for what they are, has even embarrassed the harshly anti-immigrant Republican Party into rebuking its association with the far right. Florida senator Marco Rubio, implored Trump to denounce white supremacy. Utah Senator Orrin hatch, said that we should ‘call evil by its name’. Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, described the events in Charlotsville as being motivated by ‘pure bigotry’. It seems at this point that the only Republican not doing this is the president of the United States.
This is all crocodile tears as far as me or most of the left are concerned. Let’s not forget, it is the Republican Party that gave Donald Trump the platform he stood on for months, even as he called Mexicans ‘rapists’ and called for a ban on Muslims entering the US. Since ascending to the role of President, they have constantly denied any mismanagement from the Trump administration and have barked ‘fake news; when presented with facts that they don’t like. Even when Trump issued executive orders to try and fulfil his racist promises and abused Immigration enforcement to instil fear in immigrant communities, many republicans still unquestioningly supported him. Why? Because it is convenient for them to do so.
The overarching racism of the Trump administration, widely supported by the Republican Party, is only the very beginning. Just in the past few weeks, they have signalled their intention to investigate whether white people are victims of discrimination in higher education. They have considered limiting the number of non-English speaking immigrants to the United States and they have threatened to increase the number of raids in immigrant communities, specifically targeting young immigrants brought into the country as children for deportation.
Apart from just providing a platform for Trumps racist hate speech, the Republican Party has helped to boost his political agenda – an agenda that  emboldens the racist right to the extent where they feel like they can terrorize or kill anyone who gets in their way. This includes black and brown people as well as the antiracists who fight them.
The fight against racism in Charlotsville finally forced public servants, senators and congressman to speak out against the growth of white supremacy and neo Nazis. We have to continue that struggle against them and stop them – before they kill again.

Thursday, 10 August 2017

Which Dictators to Condemn?

The unfolding situation in Venezuela is certainly a worrying one. Madurno’s attempts to rewrite the constitution, put in place by his predecessor Hugo Chavez has resulted in the house arrest and removal of opposition politicians and the violent put down of protest. These attempts by the Venezuelan government to secure what seems like ultimate power. People who have been reading my blog for any length of time will know that I am not an authoritarian socialist, and events such as the ones happening in Venezuela are always deeply disheartening.

Yet the response from the mainstream media in the UK has not been to ask for solutions to the current crisis but to direct their anger towards Jeremy Corbyn for expressing support for Chavez and Madurno in the past and to shout at Corbyn to condemn the violence that is happening there. This is despite the fact that Corbyn has said that he condemns ‘All forms of violence’ presumably including the violence by the Venezuelan government in his admittedly broad answer. Yet if you personally think Corbyn should have been more specific and straightforward in his condemnation that is down to interpretation. It is not a point I am going to linger on.

So Why doesn’t Theresa May have to Condemn Saudi Arabia?

While we may be witnessing Totalitarianism taking tentative root in Venezuela, there’s already a well-established family tree of despots that our government supports. This is a country that goes out of their way to oppress women, views homosexuality or being transgender as immoral and views the appropriate punishment for disobeying its oppressive traditions as public whipping or execution. While the UK government may stop short of singing their praises, it certainly supports them in deed. I am of course talking of the Saudi dictatorship.
In a way that is not dissimilar to what Madurno is trying to implement in Venezuela,  Saudi Arabia is ruled by an absolute monarchy where the King rules and makes laws by decree and both the head of state and the government – an unelected leader and de facto dictator. There have been no criticism of his despicable activities by the current UK government.
Also like Venezuela, Saudi Arabia’s worth is also measured in barrels of oil, western powers have historically meddled there in order to secure a fulsome supply of gasoline that so much of economy is based on. It does this by enthusiastically supplying Saudi Arabia with a well-stocked and plentiful arsenal of modern weaponry, regardless of the fact that the weaponry we supply is then used to murder children in neighbouring states like Yemen. In addition to this, huge amounts of British made weapons sold to the Saudis regularly find their way into the hands of terrorist groups like ISIS.

We don’t just have deals with the Saudis

Its recently been reported that the British government have quite possibly directly helped Saudi Arabia by giving Saudi agents training from the British police. This would have directly assisted the Saudis in their suppression of peaceful protest and their arrest of more than a dozen people, facing potential execution.
Those arrested include Mujtaba al Sweikat who was arrested aged 17 for being the admin of a Facebook group critical of the government and photographing street protests and Munir al-Adam who was born with an eye and hearing deft and faces execution for saving messages from rioters on his phone. Other so called ‘juveniles’ who have received death sentences in relation to disagreeing with the monarchy are Ali al Nimr, sentenced to death by crucifixion, Dawood al Mahroon and Abdullah al Zaher both sentenced to beheading.
The arrest, detention and torture of these young people is bad enough, but the barbaric nature of their sentences is not something that any civilised county should support or ignore in their communications with Saudi Arabia.  Any state that supports and trades with a country like this needs to have serious words with itself. These are not idle threats, Saudi Arabia regularly carries out torture and execution, usually in public.

A Call for Action

Far from distancing themselves from Saudi Arabia’s horrific actions, the Home Affairs Select Comitee has been told that hundreds of Saudi Arabian police officers were trained by the royal college of policing.  According to the BBC, there are plans to widen the training from forensics to cybersecurity, mobile phone analysis and CCTV.
A number of MPs including former Labour Leader Ed Miliband have written to Theresa May to urge her to ‘personally urge’ the Saudi royal family to halt the executions. There are also numerous online petitions addressed to both Theresa May and Donald Trump, the most notable one being from the charity and anti-death penalty group Reprieve, asking them to intervene.
As you can tell however, these criticisms have entirely fallen on deaf ears. It seems our government would rather direct their anger at Jeremy Corbyn and his somehow half-hearted response to events in Venezuela. This is despite the fact that neither Corbyn nor our government have any real control over Madurno’s actions. Meanwhile they polish the ego of a rogue state in all but name. Standing passively by while they commit heinous atrocities on their own people.
Theresa May has even gone to the length of defending the Saudis activities on a global stage, suppressing a recent report into the funding of extremism whilst denying that her motivation is to protect arms deals. Arms that may very well find their way into the hands of terrorist groups that we and other western nations are sending our own troops to fight.

Conclusion

It is true that all forms of tyranny, whatever form they take, should be condemned. While you may or may not be convinced that Corbyn has done that with Venezuela, I know wholeheartedly that he and other political leaders have rallied bitterly against the actions of the Saudis. Yet May and her government continue to turn a blind eye to the facts that are laid out before them.

Thursday, 3 August 2017

A.1 What Does Libertarian socialism mean?


This first section of my guide to Libertarian Socialism will look at what Libertarian Socialism is and what it stands for. Ultimately it aims to create a society where individuals can cooperate freely together as equals. It follows from this that Libertarian Socialists oppose the unjust or unnecessary exercise of authority, instead emphasising more cooperative, non-hierarchical types of social, political and economic organisation.
 
However, Libertarian Socialism is a usually misrepresented idea. Many people think that giving people more power over the economy and political systems means ‘chaos’ or ‘disorder’. This process of misrepresentation is not without historical parallel. For example, in countries which have considered Absolute Monarchy necessary, the entire concept of democracy or republicanism must have been seen to imply disorder or confusion. Those with a vested interest in preserving the status Quo will obviously wish to imply that opposition to the current system cannot work in practice, or that a different type of society will lead to chaos.
Libertarian Socialists wish to change this view so that people will see that Cooperative and mutually beneficial organisation are both possible and desirable. This guide is part of a process of changing the commonly held ideas regarding these concepts and there meaning. Libertarian Socialism is not an extremist ideology and our only enemies are the charlatans in power, bigots and exploiters.
We have seen the damage that misrepresentation and distortion of certain ideologies can do. In 1927 in the US, Bartolomeo Vanzetti and Nicola Sacco were executed for a crime they did not commit. Essentially, they were killed because they were foreigners who held the value of Libertarian Socialism. So this FAQ will attempt to correct some of the misunderstandings or distortions that Libertarian Socialism has come under by people who do not understand our ideas, large sections of the media and ideologues who wilfully misrepresent our ideas for political gain.   
What Does Libertarian Socialism Mean?
One Common misconception about Libertarian Socialists is that we are against authority in all aspects of life. While this is true of egoists (a small section of the individualist anarchist movement) you get very few Libertarian Socialists who believe in Stirners theory that all rules and regulations are fictional ‘spooks’. Instead many of us just reject the unjust use of authority. You will see what this means later.   
For a full definition of Libertarian Socialism we need to look at these terms in isolation from one another, paying attention to their historical meaning.
LIBERTARIAN: someone who believes in freedom of action, expression and thought. Basically someone who believes in free will. Understandably then, Libertarian may also refer to general scepticism of authority. Specifically authority that seeks to limit peoples free will. 
SOCIALISM: a social and economic system where the producers possess a means of influence over their workplaces and are able to reap the rewards of their labour. Socialism in a political sense also refers to giving people equality in the way decisions are made.  
So, put simply, Libertarian Socialism is a political idea that believes in freedom of action and thought, in which all people have a say over the political decisions that effect their lives, as well as the right to reap the benefits of their labour.
Yet this is still somewhat vague so let’s elaborate. Arguably the most obvious source of hierarchy we face today is hierarchy from government. Again, as a movement based on freedom of thought Libertarian Socialists will have different views on government. However, we will all be opposed to forms of government that limit liberty such as mass surveillance or war. Many of us are happy to support candidates like Jeremy Corbyn who offer a safety net to protect against the worst excesses of capitalism. Yet as democratic, non-Hierarchical networks of mutual aid grow, governments should play gradually less and less of a role in society, and issues such as transport, housing, health and the environment should be put more in the hands of the ordinary people that they directly affect.
 
We apply the same logic to capitalism. We support unionisation for higher wages and better working conditions of course. Yet we are in favour of the establishment of more cooperative enterprises where thee people who do the work have a direct say over working conditions, and how the produce is manufactured and distributed. In this situation, wealth is distributed amongst the people who create it. Again, Libertarian Socialists support the minimization of hierarchy and the strengthening of democracy in the workplace as well as in daily life. I aim to elaborate on our views on government and capitalism later in this series.

Overall, Libertarian Socialism is in favour of the strengthening of equality and freedom in all aspects of public life. In the next Instalment, I will explain some of the attempts to distort both the terms 'Libertarian' and 'Socialism' and why the ideas name makes sense in the original context of both these beliefs.

Wednesday, 12 July 2017

Libsoc Blogs: In Retrospect

I want to begin this blog post by offering a short note of thanks to my followers, while there may not be many of you I appreciate you taking some time out of your lives to read what some random blogger on the internet has to say about politics. My audience is a mixture of libertarian socialists, Marxists, social democrats, anarchists, one or two of you might even be open minded liberals. While I don’t expect all of you to always agree with what I have to say, having a space to voice my opinions is important to me.

So to the main point of this blog post, for that is what it is. I am not going to beat you over the head with a 2000 word essay style piece. And as time moves on I will be endeavouring not to do that particularly frequently in the future. Those of you that have read my blog post for any amount of time will know that they tend to be (over?) long and meticulously researched. I am slightly disappointed with the standards of my very early blog posts and have since endeavoured to make my posts as comprehensive as humanly possible.

However, I do have a life outside of libsoc blogs. Without going into too much detail, I am now going into my final year of university, and have other worry’s I need to think about. In addition to this, I want to explore other creative endeavours other than libsoc blogs. I have hinted in the past that I am a huge fan of music and film, and aim to develop my skills and knowledge of these subjects.
Libsoc Blogs is not going anywhere, it is just that I aim to make my blog posts snappier and…just…well…BLOG LIKE!! For those of you that enjoy the essay style pieces, there will be times when a political issue comes up that is so big that I can’t contain it in 500 words, so look out for them! Also I am still going to be putting lots of research into my blog posts, but I am not going to let it consume me.
There are also some thematic changes that I want to introduce to this blog. If events going on in the world would only calm the fuck down a little bit, I could write more theoretical posts on subjects like ‘explaining the political philosophies’ or ‘understanding libertarian socialism’. That said, we could have another general election soon so I wouldn’t hold your breath on that one.
I am not about to start taking a back seat on politics, changing my opinions or begging for donations. But I am going to change the way I do things here.
Once again, thank you for all your support and keep up the good fight!

Wednesday, 28 June 2017

Theresa Mays First Queens Speech is an Absolute Shambles

Theresa Mays first (and very possibly last) queen’s speech was very clearly an absolute disgrace for anyone who read it. As we expected from Theresa Mays weak and unstable minority government, the speech contained a notable absence of stuff they promised in the manifesto, an absence of details on the Tory-DUP deal, posturing over the subject of Brexit and, as one might expect from a government led by two holistically right wing parties, a sizable dose of authoritarianism. It really was nothing more than the dying breath of a directionless charlatan with no ideology other than the desperate desire to cling on to power.

The Tory – DUP deal

Theresa May delayed the queens speech in order to buy herself time to make a deal with the DUP. The queens speech took place last Wednesday, and at the time of writing Theresa May has only just finished off cobbling together a deal with the Northern Irish far right fanatics, that we don’t even know the full details of yet.
Regardless of the timing however, the fact that Theresa May is willing to make a deal with the DUP says a lot about her priorities. John Major, Gordon Brown and David Cameron have all refused to do deals with the Democratic Unionists in the past: this is partly because the party have frankly Stone Age views on many subjects including gay rights. It is in larger part due to the fact that making a deal with any Northern Irish party would risk throwing the northern Irish peace process between the unionists and the nationalists into chaos.
By forming this coalition, Theresa May has decided to stick two fingers up to her more politically neutral predecessors and the architects of peace in Northern Ireland, so that she can gain a short term advantage of staying in power before her own party inevitably boot or out or a general election has to be called. Also, by making a deal with the former Ulster Defence League, May is making a complete U-turn on her accusations that Jeremy Corbyn is a terrorist sympathiser for speaking to the Sinn Fein. She really is willing to sling anything on her bonfire of vanity to stay in power.

Tearing Pages Out of the manifesto

Theresa May actually started ripping pages out of her manifesto a long time before the election result. As soon as it started to look like the Dickensian policies on social care would lose them voters The Conservatives started back peddling with all the force they could muster on these policies, basically by pretending they never existed. It was not until the queen’s speech however that the manifesto started looking like such a wafer thin document.
The Speech contained no mention of the Tory’s depraved plan to impose a 100% stealth inheritance tax on people who dare to commit the ‘crime’ of getting Dementia in their old age. Also scrapped, as far as social care is concerned, were the plans to scrap the pensioners triple lock and to means test winter fuel payments. Presumably this is because if the Tory’s actually carry through on these plans, they will isolate their core demographic to such an extent that they continue to lose seats.
It wasn’t just the social care policies that were missing. The pledge to scrap free school meals and provide infant school children breakfast at 6.8p per day was also bunged into the ‘to cruel to win support’ policy pile. The plot to bring back fox hunting was predictably erased out of existence, as most voters rightly view the practice of ripping wild foxes apart with packs of dogs to be too barbaric.
Other things that were dropped were the promises of 10,000 more mental health nurses (impossible after Theresa Mays scrapping of NHS bursaries drove 10,000 trainee nurses out of the profession in a single year), the plan to nick Ed Milibands energy price cap idea, and the plan to scrap the independent Serious Fraud Office in order to give the Tory’s control over financial corruption cases

Brexit U Turn

Theresa May has been warned in no uncertain terms by dozens of her Europhile Tory backbenchers that an economically ruinous ‘no deal’ Brexit strop is now firmly out of the question. As a result of this internal Tory rebellion the Queens speech makes absolutely no mention whatsoever of her diplomatically inept ‘no deal is better than a bad deal’ threat to sabotage our own economy if the EU don’t cave in to our ridiculous demands. Instead, all we get is another platitude about making a success of Brexit.
The problem this is left Theresa May with is that she is now Torn weather to do the bidding of the hard right Eurosceptic MP’s like Ian Duncan Smith or Michael Gove or to tow the line of the Europhile Tory MPs. She can’t support one faction without severely upsetting the other. What this means is that If Theresa May manages to get her queens speech through parliament, she is going to have to perform some serious political acrobatics to try satisfy two ideologically incompatible factions, both of which will have the power to bring Theresa Mays weak and unstable government down at pretty much any point.

Attacking democracy

One particularly horrifying announcement in the Queens speech is that the Tory’s are actually intent on continuing their anti-democratic effort to completely bypass parliament and rewrite the laws of the land as they see fit, despite this being initially struck down in courts.
"A bill will be introduced to repeal the European Communities Act and provide certainty for individuals and businesses’’
The anti-democratic Tory repeal bill is an affront to democracy in so many ways. Amazingly though the Brexiters who never stopped banging on about the importance of parliamentary sovereignty, are now cheering Theresa May’s efforts to bypass the UK parliament on Brexit, in another astounding display of doublethink. The only defence the Brexit minister David Davis has offered to support this anti-democratic power grab is that there isn’t time to do it properly so we should time to do it properly, so we should forget about Democratic scrutiny and trust the Tory government to rewrite laws with no democratic oversight. Only the most hypocritical of Brexiters could possibly try to argue that this is a price worth paying to end the supposedly anti-democratic influence of the EU. Either you believe that parliament should be sovereign, or you believe that government ministers should be allowed to make up laws as they go along. You can’t just simply believe both unless you are immune to cognitive dissonance.

Attacking Internet Freedom

Theresa May is absolutely fixated on controlling the internet. She piggybacks this right wing authoritarian agenda onto every single terrorist attack, even when there is no evidence whatsoever that the attacks could have been prevented by revoking internet freedom. There was yet more of this authoritarian posturing littered throughout the queens speech
"A commission for countering extremism will be established to support the government in stamping out extremist ideology in all its forms, both across society and on the internet, so it is denied a safe space to spread."
If Theresa May had any real concerns over public safety from terrorism then she would use existing legislation to prosecute the appalling hate speech and glorification of terrorism that goes on in places like the Britain First hate group, and she certainly would not have let known jihadists to go completely unwatched as they planned and executed their deadly terrorist attack.
The true reason Theresa May hates internet freedom is because it gives ordinary people the chance to debate politics, express their opinions and talk about subjects deemed to be outside of the mainstream media bubble of acceptable subjects for political debate. May lost her majority because alternative news sources are allowing people to break down right wing propaganda tropes, and find out the truth from themselves. Stamping this media revolution out now is an impossible fantasy, but since when has realism been something that Theresa May has ever considered in her calculations before?

Britain for Sale

Anyone who understands the woeful Tory track record on investment should realise that the parts on investment in The Queens speech are blatantly dishonest. Since 2010 the Tory’s have ruthlessly and recklessly cut back on infustructure meaning that the UK is getting left further and further behind in the global economy.
The UK spends only 1.7% of GDP investing for the future, when the average amongst developed nations is 3%. This deliberate ideologically driven under-investment will have devastating consequences for our future economic prospects. When the Tories talk about ‘attracting investment’ they don’t mean they’re going to invest in the UK economy at all. It means they’re going to go around the world begging countries like Qatar, Oman and China into buying our public infustructure.
In November 2016, Theresa Mays government handed our publicly owned aviation fuel distribution network directly to the governments of Oman and the UAE. In March 2017 the Tory’s handed the Southwest rail franchise to  the government of Hong Kong, and later in March 2017 Theresa May begged and grovelled in front of the Qataris for them to buy more British infustructure. Don’t Trust the Tory’s on investment. 

Conclusion

Any MP with the good of the UK at heart will vote against Theresa Mays shambolic Queens Speech. However, most Tory’s will put their own interests ahead of the nation a whole, meaning that it is only rouge Tory and rogue DUP MPs who have the power to prevent May from forming a government that is both full of malicious intent, but also so weak and unstable that they will be completely unable to run the country or the Brexit negotiations effectively.

Sunday, 25 June 2017

Why the Grenfell Tower Tradgedy is Political

I have been cautious writing this article, as it clearly involves ‘politicising a tragedy’. At least, that is the impression I get from all those demanding we completely separate the Grenfell Tower fire tragedy from the numerous political issues which surround it. Of course, what the phrase ‘don’t politicise a tragedy’ is usually used to do is to silence anyone trying to hold the government to any sense of responsibility for a tragedy.
Throught this blog post I aim to point to how the Tories sickening ideology of pandering to rich, private investors and their neglect towards investing in public safety played a large part in causing the Grenfell tragedy, and how unless we learn from such gross negligence, tragedies like this will happen again. To clarify, I am not saying that these were the only factors in causing the fire. A statement like that would be practically impossible to prove. However, it would also be completely unreasonable to refuse to hold anyone to account over this terrible tragedy.

The ignored Block Fire Safety report

The Block Fire Safety report was produced after the Lankanal House Fire in Camberwell cost the lives of six residents. It recommended the instillation of sprinklers in 4,000 tower blocks across the UK and was completed in 2013. Since then, a series of Conservative housing ministers, including the current chief of staff Gavin Barwell, as well as Brandon Lewis, Kris Hopkins, and Mark Barwell, have constantly sat on this report and ignored concerns, giving the pathetic excuse of ‘we are looking into it’ every time they are cornered on it. The Grenfell Tower fire is exactly the kind of tragedy the ignored report was intended to prevent.
Aside from this report into the measures the government could take to prevent tower block fires, there is also a heart-breaking blog post from the Grenfell Tower residents group warning about the lack of fire safety measures in the block and the fact that residents had actually been advised to remain inside their properties in the case of fire, which would have almost certainly cost residents their lives.

Fire Service Cuts

Since they first got in power in 2010, the Tory Party have been slashing the nation’s fire service. Between March 2010 and March 2016 the Tories axed 9,668 fire services jobs and the cuts have been going on since. The Tories have already slashed the fire service by 30% since the 2015 general election. By the time of that election, the Tories had closed 39 fire stations, including 10 in London that were shut down the same week that the taxpayer owned RBS announced an outrageous £607 million In bonuses for their staff despite having lost £5.2 billion that year.
The closure of fire stations and the significant reductions in staff and vehicles at remaining stations mean that response times have been soaring all over the country, the average response time now in cities has increased from 10 minutes to thirteen minutes. As is clear by the Grenfell tragedy, people are dying because of these cuts. It isn’t just Kensington. The government’s own statistics reveal that the number of fire related deaths soared by 17.4% in a single year between 2015/16.
Whatever benefit people think they are getting when they vote for a Tory government, must at least realise that people’s lives are more important. If the Tory’s again fail to learn from their mistakes we will see a repeat of Grenfell.    

Making Homes unfit for Human Habitation

In January 2016 The Tories notoriously voted down a Labour Party Amendment to their bill that would have required landlords to ensure that the properties they rent out are ‘fit for human habitation’. 71 of the 319 Tory MP’s to shoot this requirement out of the water, are registered as landlords on the Parliamentary register for members interests. For a list of all the MPs who voted down this requirement I recommend taking a look at political scrapbook’s post on the issue.
In light of the Grenfell tower fire and the fact that a succession of Tory housing ministers sat on a report into Tower block fire safety, its abut time people woke up to the fact that the Tory party doesn’t give a damn about housing. They oversaw the lowest rate of housebuilding since the 1920sand the most unaffordable house prices in history, but to them that’s all good because the higher the demand for housing, the faster the inflation of their own personal property portfolios, and the higher rents they can charge. These people are far too removed from reality to give a damn.

The Sprinkler Question

It has emerged since the Grenfell Tower fire that a former Tory housing Minister, Brandon Lewis, warned MPs about beefing up fire safety regulations, because it could discourage housebuilding. This was despite the fact the Lewis openly admitted that introducing sprinklers could literally save thousands of lives, yet didn’t want the government to encourage sprinkler use because ‘that is the job of the fire services’.
So by Tory logic, the first duty of government should be to allow private housebuilders to build houses, rather than to ensure that some of the countries vulnerable and poorer residents don’t fry to death in a horrendous tragedy like Grenfell. All Lewis’ statement amounts to is that ‘I would like to save the lives of thousands of citizens, but I think some private housebuilders might be a bit put off if we tell them that they have got to make the buildings safe’. Classic case of the Tory’s putting their own interests, above the interests of the nation.    

The Cladding Question

If you haven’t heard flammable cladding was stuck all over the surface of the Grenfell Tower block. This was manufactured by a company called Omnis Exteriors. In 2015/16 Omnis reported profits of £1.2 million. The kind of plastic filled cladding Omnis has profited from selling has been banned in countries like Germany and the US for years, and has been implicated in high rise fires all over the world, but somehow the British Government never saw fit to ban the practice of sticking highly flammable materials over high rise buildings.
What makes this more outrageous is that Omnis promises flammable cladding for just £2 extra, per square metre which rises some serious questions. These are 1) why did Omnis continue selling highly flammable cladding when they had the capacity to produce a non-flammable alternative? 2) Why was flammable, plastic filled cladding not banned in the UK, when it has been implicated in fires all around the world and banned in other countries with advanced economies 3) who signed off on the decision to save an estimated £5,000 in renovation costs by choosing the flammable cladding for Grenfell tower, rather than the fireproof version?
The answer to the first question is that there was nothing to stop them. The answer to the second question is that public safety is terribly incompatible with Tory Lazzeiz Faire ideology. The answer to the third will surely come out at some point during the criminal inquest.

Conclusion

If you can’t see how the Grenfell fire tragedy is tied to politics in so many ways, then you must be so wrapped up in the blanket of ‘don’t politicise a tragedy’ that you are blind to the reality around you. People have died because of apathy from the elites to the effects of their monstrous cost cutting exercises. Politicizing this tragedy isn’t a choice, but a necessity.