Thursday, April 28, 2011

High stakes for Bolivia's Mother Earth Ministry

The discovery of vast new natural gas deposits in Bolivia’s Chaco region raises the political stakes in the country just as it is about to form a Ministry of Mother Earth to give nature legal rights. Bolivia’s new law seeks to guarantee the right to life and regeneration, biodiversity, water, clean air, balance and restoration.

President Evo Morales announced yesterday that the reserves found by French energy giant Total in the Aquio field raise the country’s overall gas potential by 30% to 13 trillion cubic metres. Gas is Bolivia’s most valuable commodity and its chief export, bringing in over $1 billion over the last year.

The finding comes at a crucial time for Morales and his Movement Towards Socialism (MAS) party. The party, whose full name is Movement for Socialism-Political Instrument for the Sovereignty of the Peoples, has been in power since 2006. Morales’ second term of office, despite a massive majority in the 2009 general election, has proved much more difficult than foreseen, as Adrian Pearce, editor of a new book about Bolivia told an audience at London University’s Senate House last night.

Latin American researchers from London and Oxford universities, joined by Dr Pilar Domingo from the Overseas Development Institute, analysed the complex tensions running through the small, poor but highly revolutionary Latin American country. James Dunkerley, author of Bolivia and the Power of History in the Present, read out choice quotes published by Wikipedia, showing US state hostility to the Morales government.

Adrian Pearce outlined the demographic factors behind the rise of MAS in what remains one of the poorest countries of Latin America. Recent years have seen population growth, increasing mobility in rural areas, improvements in education and health, and a rising tide of Mestizo (people of mixed cultural descent) and indigenous nationalism.

Morales’ popularity has rested on the relationship between MAS and the powerful social movements in Bolivia which include the peasant unions, indigenous organisations and the landless movement allied to co-operative miners and neighbourhood organisations, manufacturing workers, teachers’ and pensioners’ unions. Recent reforms have reduced the influence of these movements on the party as it has made deals with global corporations to exploit mineral and gas rights.

The MAS party’s massive electoral majority in the last elections had raised extremely high expectations which turned to shock when vice president Alvaro Garcia Linera announced an 80% increase in petrol prices last December. In the past MAS has taken advantage of the economic factors to alleviate hardship and inequality, John Crabtree of Oxford university explained that opposition from social movements was growing to the government’s wages policy at a time of rising food price inflation.

The newly discovered gas reserves heighten the significance of the Mother Earth Law now being debated in the Bolivian parliament. A new Ministry of Mother Earth is to be formed, writes Nick Buxton of Just International:

“The law would give nature legal rights, specifically the rights to life and regeneration, biodiversity, water, clean air, balance, and restoration and… mandates a fundamental ecological reorientation of Bolivia's economy and society, requiring all existing and future laws to adapt to the Mother Earth law and accept the ecological limits set by nature… rather than the current focus on producing more goods and stimulating consumption.”

But, as Buxton writes, there is also strong awareness among Bolivia’s social movements that the existence of a new law will not suffice to prompt “real change in environmental practices”.

Raul Prada, advisor to the Unity Pact which unites the country’s social movements, has said, “Our ecological and social crisis is not just a problem for Bolivia or Ecuador: it is a problem for all of us”. He is absolutely right. The success of Bolivia’s heroic struggle for an ecologically and socially sustainable future depends not only on Morales and the MAS party, nor on the masses of Bolivia, but on the ending of corporate, capitalist dominion throughout the planet.

Corinna Lotz
A World to Win secretary

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

The real price of cost cutting

A scientific report on last year’s ash cloud from the Eyjafjallajökull volcano eruption in Iceland shows that air traffic controllers were right to close European airspace despite loud protests from airline leaders.

Already in a deep crisis, and facing further losses due to the temporary safety shutdown, Ryanair’s Michael O’Leary, BA chief executive Willie Walsh and boss of Virgin Richard Branson lashed out at the civil aviation authority.

Their bluster revealed much about the dangerous thought processes of the leaders of capitalist enterprises conditioned by the competitive chase for profit-driven ‘economic efficiency’.

Blinded by the bottom-line, O'Leary said at the time that "there was no ash cloud. It was mythical. It's become evident the airspace closure was completely unnecessary... none of us could see a bloody thing." He added: "Some idiot in a basement in the Met Office in London spills coffee over the map of Europe and produces a big black cloud." Walsh portrayed the closure as a "gross over-reaction to a very minor risk" and Branson described the final set of closures as "beyond a joke".

Now, the study by Sigurdur Gislason and colleagues at the University of Iceland in Reykjavik shows the extent of their foolishness. "The particles of explosive ash that reached Europe in the jet stream were especially sharp and abrasive over their entire size range," the scientists say in their study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

"The very sharp, hard particles put aircraft at risk from abrasion on windows and body and from melting in jet engines," the scientists said. "Concerns for air transport were well grounded."

The scientists found that even after the particles had been mixed continually in water for two weeks, they retained their ability to be dangerous to exposed aircraft surfaces. If the authorities had given in to the airlines’ leaders’ ferocious assault, serious structural damage to aircraft could have occurred if passenger planes had continued to fly.

Tests on the ash revealed that it contained minute particles of glass so sharp and abrasive they could have damaged the exposed surfaces of any aircraft, including the engines and cockpit windows.

The consequences could have been far worse than that for the British Airways 747 which suffered potentially catastrophic damage when it flew through an ash cloud from the 1982 eruption of Mount Galunggung in Indonesia. All four of its engines failed as a result of melted ash on the aircraft's turbine blades, but the pilot managed to restart three of them after descending.

In this case disaster was averted. But the same has not been true for the Mexican Gulf or Japan where bottom-line competitive pressures overrode safety concerns.
BP is trying to pass the responsibility for the Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion to Transocean Ltd, the owner of the rig, and to Halliburton who built it.

At the heart of the failure was the decision to reduce by three quarters the number of concrete collars engineers said were needed to stabilise the drill.
Transocean just gave its top executives bonuses for achieving what it described as the “best year in safety performance in our company’s history”.

Cost-cutting by Tokyo Electric Power Company (Tepco), the largest private producer of electricity in the world, was sanctioned by a corrupt and bureaucratic regulatory system. Maintenance programmes were side-stepped for years.

Tepco’s Fukushima nuclear reactor site was destroyed by a once in a hundred years earthquake and the tsunami it triggered, irradiating the people of Japan once again. These three events shed a blinding light on the dangers of allowing the world’s productive capacity to remain in capitalist ownership.

Gerry Gold
Economics editor

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

A message from the Palace

One does not normally speak to my people at this time of the year but in the light of the splendid marriage between my grandson Prince William and Miss Kate Middleton, it is appropriate to convey a few words to what I am sure is a truly grateful nation.

I know, at this time of great austerity and hardship suffered by millions of my subjects as a result of the policies of my Ministers and captains of industry and finance, this pageant of royal history is particularly welcome.

To those who have unfortunately lost their homes to the banks, or whose job has disappeared so that others may continue to live well, those who despite their disability have had to reapply for their more than generous benefit, and young people without employment, to all of you we say: let your mind wander from your misery for a day at least. Enjoy other people’s happiness if you can’t manage your own.

For we are all in this together, as my Prime Minister and the Chancellor have conveyed on more than one occasion. The pain of my subjects’ suffering is heartfelt here at the Palace and at all my other royal residences. We all have to tighten our belts so that our nation may become great once again.

The House of Windsor is playing its part in the recovery of our country’s fortunes. Our allowance from Parliament is being abolished and we will have to live off the proceeds from the Crown Estate. As you know, running the Monarchy PLC is a somewhat expensive business.

Although my staff let it be known that the annual expenditure of the royal household is around £38 million a year, with security and other measures the true cost is closer to £180 million. So future access to the £200 million a year profits from the Crown Estate, which though nominally owned by the people through Parliament, are actually all mine as they were forcibly surrendered by one of our greatest monarchs, George III, is most welcome.

It is pleasing that the Estate is one of the world's biggest landowners and its tenants, mostly living in our great capital, pay millions of pounds in rent each year. Their rent cheques will now go directly to pay for your head of state and those who follow me on to the throne. I want to thank my Ministers for this most generous gift. I also want to thank them for any detention of unruly and ungrateful subjects prior to the great wedding who think treasonous thoughts and plot dastardly acts this Friday. One hopes that the Tower has enough room for them all.

I am most saddened that Prince Salman bin Hamad al-Khalifa of Bahrain is unable to attend the ceremony at Westminster Abbey as he has urgent matters to attend to at home in relation to unaccountably restless subjects. But Prince Mohamed Bin Nawaf of Saudi Arabia is most welcome. The help his Kingdom has given to the Kingdom of Bahrain in maintaining order is gratifying.

One cannot stress enough how important it is hang on to one’s crown in these turbulent times. One wonders where Britain would be if the House of Windsor did not continue to occupy the throne and pass it from one family member to another. Some say that hereditary privilege of this kind is a bad thing. Even my Deputy Prime Minister suggested something of the kind but I am pleased to see that my Prime Minister has put him in his place.

Let us go forward as one nation, making sacrifices where necessary. Let the bells ring out and people rejoice on this great occasion. For what is the alternative? Protest, assemblies, revolution, equality? God forbid.

Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Shale gas will increase emissions

Supported by governments and floating on a raft of dubious claims, shale gas is the new global fossil fuel of choice for the corporations.

Explorations are taking place across the world, including deposits that would in the past have been economically unviable. Rising gas prices and new extraction methods have brought vast new areas into play and the energy corporations smell profits.

They are charming governments with claims of freedom from dependence on imported oil and reductions in greenhouse gas emissions without all the bother of developing renewable energy sources or looking to reduce consumption.

But their claims are extremely dubious. For example, the European Gas Advocacy Forum paid McKinsey to rework base data from a European Climate Foundation (ECF) report, to show that shale gas is the way to go for emissions reductions.

The ECF is furious at this manipulation of their data. Its report had in fact shown that the best and most sustainable way to reduce emissions is by urgently developing a low-carbon generation network and moving away from fossil fuels altogether.

And a report from Cornell University shows that far from reducing carbon emissions, it could be as damaging as burning coal. Natural gas is mostly methane, and researchers found that between 3.6% and 7.9% of the methane was released into the atmosphere in the course of production. Methane emissions are between 30% and 50% higher than from conventional gas.

There are also environmental and health risks associated with the process of hydraulic fracturing – or "fracking". This involves drilling a hole deep into the dense layer of shale rocks and then pumping in at very high pressure vast quantities of water mixed with sand and highly toxic chemicals to release the gas.

Communities near production facilities in the US report respiratory problems, and polluted water supplies. In the award-winning documentary
Gasland, people are shown setting light to the water from their tap.

The Cameron government has turned down a request for a moratorium on shale gas extraction from the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research. It said that Cuadrilla, the firm involved, “has made it clear that there is no likelihood of environmental damage and that it is applying technical expertise and exercising the utmost care as it takes drilling and testing forward”. The phrase “well they would say that, wouldn’t they” springs to mind.

Cuadrilla is working on two sites near Blackpool, and has permission to explore four more. Bridgend-based Coastal Oil and Gas is exploring sites in Wales. The Scottish midlands are said to hold the shale deposits with the greatest potential.

Protests have halted developments in the south of France, but in Poland, credited with Europe’s largest shale gas deposits, ConocoPhillips is poised to start drilling next month near Gdansk on the Baltic coast.

Based on projections that China may be sitting on 30 trillion cubic metres of shale gas reserves, the Chinese government is rushing ahead, and says it will begin production in 2015 to deliver 10% of the country’s energy by 2020.

It’s nothing short of a new profit-driven global bonanza which can entirely derail development of renewable energy sources and tie human society into fossil fuels for a further two or three generations. As long as the corporations remain in control of our energy future, this will be the continuing disastrous reality.

Penny Cole
Environment editor

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Bond markets have the United States in their sights

Assessing the significance of credit rating agency Standard & Poor’s historic decision to downgrade the debt outlook for the USA is complex. But significant it definitely is.

S&P and Moody’s, which between them control 80% of the market, act as intelligence gatherers and forecasters on behalf of capitalist investors. They examine relevant aspects of an institutional issuer of debt – usually a corporate entity or a state body – and assess the risk to an investor of placing their money with that institution.

The higher the risk, the more the issuer of debt has to pay to the investor in interest or “yield”, and consequently, the more the corporation has to make from its operations, or in the case of a state, the more it has to extract from its citizens in taxes.

So, you might say, the increasing burden being placed on the populations of effectively bankrupt countries like Ireland and Greece is largely on the say-so of these agencies.

Like all these agencies, S&P is a competitive, for-profit operation. In order to keep its customers paying their fees – and that is mostly the corporations whose performance is being assessed – it needs to show that it is getting its assessments right, more than it gets them wrong.

In the run-up to the 2007-8 global crash, S&P was itself mesmerised by the hysterical expansion of fantasy finance in which products derived from the issue of traditional forms of credit and debt based on real value multiplied the amount in circulation many times over. The big players issued monumental quantities of derivatives and they paid the ratings agencies huge fees to provide the market with favourable assessments.

Money talks.

So the agencies failed to provide any warning about the impossible state of Lehman Brothers which crashed out of existence in 2008.

Governments, on the other hand, don’t pay the agencies to assess the health of their economies, or to assess the risk that they might default on interest payments to the investors who lend them money through the bonds they purchase.

The rating agencies make their assessments as part of the fees paid by corporations who want to know whether the state’s debt is more or less risky. The big, or even only question at stake is: will the government act sufficiently strongly to provide the conditions for the corporations to intensify the extraction of profit from their population?

So when S&P decides to downgrade the outlook for US debt, it is taking into account many factors. These days the judgement is more political than it is economic.

The on-going Punch & Judy style shadow-play between Obama and the Republicans over the $4-5 trillion programme of cuts to be visited upon the American people is one aspect of the analysis.

As one economist observed: "The key question is whether the gridlocked US political system can respond in time to avert a bond market revolt."

Some commentators say that S&P’s action is a warning to Obama from the world of finance. If they don’t crack down hard enough, investment money will go elsewhere and interest rates will rise.

But they’ll also be assessing the likely contagion effect of the wildfire of revolt spreading outwards from Tahrir Square throughout the Middle East, North Africa and taking in Gabon in Central Africa.

They’ll be weighing up the likely outcome of the political struggle against the regimes that have ensured the supply of cheap oil to fuel growth over the last forty years.

They’ll be closely examining the protest movement in Europe for signs that it is moving beyond resistance. And they’ll be studying developments like the People’s Assembly arising from the occupation of the State Capitol in Wisconsin.

It’s no wonder S&P has downgraded the US government’s prospects for paying back its loans while continuing to borrow at relatively low interest rates.

Gerry Gold
Economics editor

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Obama - defender of the status quo

As President Obama starts looking towards a second term in the White House, the realisation is growing among would-be supporters that he is just as much a defender of the status quo as his predecessor, George. W. Bush.

In fact, Obama has maintained many of the policies inherited from Bush. Camp X-Ray at Guantanamo remains open and military trials are still in place. Bush’s “war on terror” is carried on by targeted killing of “suspects” in Afghanistan and Pakistan. A new military intervention, this time in Libya, was done without Congressional approval in the manner of the previous administration.

Banks continued to be bailed out at the expense of Main Street and tens of thousands of people lost their homes as Washington stood idly by. Bush’s tax cuts for the rich, to the tune of hundreds of billions of dollars, were extended last December while Obama last week agreed to massive public spending cuts that will fall on the poorest.

Now, Obama stands poised to attack the massive federal budget deficit by reductions in welfare programmes that increasing numbers of Americans rely on. In the early months of the Obama presidency, Glenn Greenwald was not one of those who thought that all that was lacking was sound advice and a good strategy.

Greenwald, a constitutional and civil rights lawyer, author and blogger, says: “What evidence is there that Obama has some inner, intense desire for more progressive outcomes? These are the results they're getting because these are the results they want – for reasons that make perfectly rational political sense.”

His economic policies, Greenwald says, have “the added benefit of keeping corporate and banking money on Obama's side (where it overwhelmingly was in 2008)”. Being surrounded by former Goldman Sachs executives like treasury secretary Tim Geithner doesn’t hurt either. These types do not sit around wondering how to increase welfare or get a decent health bill through Congress. Their instincts are entirely the opposite. More in sorrow than anger, Greenwald adds:

When does he [Obama] offer stirring, impassioned defences of the Democrats' vision on anything, or attempt to transform (rather than dutifully follow) how Americans think about anything? It's not that he lacks the ability to do that. Americans responded to him as an inspirational figure and his skills of oratory are as effective as any politician in our lifetime. It's that he evinces no interest in it. He doesn't try because those aren't his goals. It's not that he or the office of the Presidency are powerless to engender other outcomes; it's that he doesn't use the power he has to achieve them because, quite obviously, achieving them is not his priority or even desire. Whether in economic policy, national security, civil liberties, or the permanent consortium of corporate power that runs Washington, Obama, above all else, is content to be (one could even say eager to be) guardian of the status quo. And the forces of the status quo want tax cuts for the rich, serious cuts in government spending that don't benefit them (social programs and progressive regulatory schemes), and entitlement "reform" -- so that's what Obama will do.

Greenwald’s analysis is, as far as it goes, sound. It is limited by his failure in nearly 3,000 words to mention the crisis of capitalism which is driving Obama’s politics. What next? Will the “liberals” in and around the Democratic Party once more campaign for Obama in 2012 on the basis that the Republicans in the White House would be far worse. It was the argument that resonated during last year’s general election in Britain, when it was clear that Labour was much committed to spending cuts as were the Tories.

In practice, there is no essential difference between the two major parties in the United States, just as in Britain little separates the main parties. In Wisconsin, where the state government has implemented savage cuts and taken away trade union rights, the response was sit-ins and the creation of a People’s Assembly. That is the right response, not just to the failed politics of the Democratic Party but to the poverty of capitalist politics in Britain too.

Paul Feldman
Communications editor

Monday, April 18, 2011

Assad in the firing line on the road to Damascus

The turmoil that has been sweeping Syria since January, when demonstrators caught the fever of the Arab spring revolutionary movement, is reaching a climax.

On Friday, tens of thousands protested against President Bashar al-Assad’s brutal regime in Aleppo, Suweida, Deraa and near Damascus on Syrian Independence Day. At least 22 are said to have been killed when security forces opened fire in Deraa.

The anti-government movement has deepened the crisis of the 40-year-old Assad dynasty. It is disrupting the mosaic of national, religious, ethnic, and oil politics together with big power interests. In response to the power of Friday’s Day of Rage, al-Assad promised to lift Syria’s emergency laws which have been in force since 1962.

To add to complexities, yesterday saw the publication of US embassy cables, released by WikiLeaks .They reveal that the US State Department has been promoting various “civil society strengthening initiatives”, such as the Movement for Justice and Development to the tune of $12m between 2005-2010.

The US has had an on-off relationship with Damascus over the decades, partly because of its anti-Zionist stance and partly because it is viewed as a cat’s paw for Iranian interests in the area. At the same time, the Bush administration used Syria to torture people as part of its “extraordinary rendition” programme. The US re-opened relations with Syria in 2010, appointing a ambassador to Damascus for the first time for five years.

In a desperate measure to satisfy protesters, al-Assad promised to lift the emergency laws that have ban gatherings of more than five people by Monday 25 April. Assad took over after his father Hafez al-Assad, who died in 2000, continuing the “hereditary dictatorship” that has kept Syria under the grip of state security forces. Amongst other authoritarian measures, the regime banned Facebook in attempts to stop anti-government blogging. In desperate moves to cling on to power he has been firing ministers and making promises and concessions (at least on paper) over the last couple of months.

But even while pledging to lift the state of emergency, al-Assad threatened: “We will not tolerate any attempts at sabotage.” So far over 200 people have been killed during the unrest, including four in the last 24 hours. Many were murdered by pro-regime thugs wielding revolvers, stun guns and batons.

Al-Assad and his brutal secret police will no doubt seek to exploit the WikiLeaks revelations to discredit those seeking reforms and/or to topple his regime. Like his fellow tyrants in the region, Assad seeks to rally support against his opponents by painting them as agents of foreign oppressors.

But rather than revealing the power of US imperialism, WikiLeaks cables actually show the state of disarray within Washington’s ruling circles, the divisions between the presidency and covert operations machinators. The US wants to maintain its cosy relationship with the feudal Saudi monarchy and keep the oil flowing, but at the same time manipulate the rulers of less powerful states like Syria, which they see as unreliable and too close to Iran.

It is not an unwillingness to sacrifice and even risk death that holds back the the hundreds of thousands who have espoused the cause of the Syrian revolution. They include, amongst others, the Youth of 4-5 February movement, the Syrian Days of Rage and the Syrian Revolution Facebook which has nearly 120,000 followers.

US support for the anti-regime movements in Syria as elsewhere in the Middle east and north Africa has produced a sorcerer’s apprentice. No one is truly in control. In Egypt, the army has arrested former president Mubarak in a desperate bid to retain control of the revolution. In Libya, the West’s intervention has helped create a stalemate and tainted the opposition to Gaddafi. The challenge for revolutionary forces is to create a secular Pan-Arab leadership that can unite the masses and build for the next stage of the Arab Revolution, whose aim has to be social revolution.

Corinna Lotz
A World to Win secretary

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Ai Weiwei's 'guilt' is speaking out

If, as the brutal Chinese police claim, the artist Ai Weiwei is beginning to “confess” to alleged crimes, one can only imagine the horrors he is suffering at the hands of Beijing’s notorious secret police.

A Hong Kong newspaper under Beijing control claims that it has “firm evidence” of Ai’s tax avoidance and other “crimes”, including bigamy! You couldn’t make it up – except the Chinese authorities undoubtedly are. All Ai is "guilty" of is being opposed to the authoritarian regime.

Ai's sister Gao Ge described the bigamy accusation as "absurd", while his wife Lu Qing dismissed the allegations as an attempt to smear his reputation. Ai, 53, is the most internationally prominent of Chinese dissidents, rights lawyers, activists and grassroots agitators detained or held in secret since February. After the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak, fear of contagion from Middle East uprisings triggered a crackdown.

As an artist, Ai has won great praise and a global reputation, partly through his contribution to the design of the “bird’s nest”, Beijing’s beautiful Olympic stadium. But even that could not save him from arrest, as a frequent critic of the government through his art, blogs, and Twitter messages.

As well as writing, and creating works like his sunflower seeds installation at Tate Modern, Ai investigated and exposed government corruption in construction of schools in Sichuan that collapsed during the 2008 earthquake. Others who complained were put on trial for their troubles.

Ai was detained at Beijing International Airport on April 3 while preparing to board a flight to Hong Kong. Later that day police raided his home and studio, questioned his wife and eight assistants, and confiscated computers. According to the international artists’ defence organisation PEN, Ai’s whereabouts remain unknown and there are mounting concerns for his welfare. PEN has launched an online petition calling for his release.

Corporate-led governments and the corrupt International Olympic Committee claimed that giving China the Olympics would help encourage reform, greater freedom and respect for human rights. Naturally, the exact opposite has happened. In a recent interview, Larry Siems, who directs the Freedom to Write programme at the PEN American Centre in New York, said that since the Games there has been wave after wave of arrests, including that of writer Liu Xiaobo who was awarded this year’s Nobel Prize for literature. He remarked:

In December ‘08 a group of writers and intellectuals, and artists and a number of people from all walks of life, published a petition calling for greater human rights and democratic freedoms in China that resulted in a number of arrests. That brought a new wave of repressions and a kind of a stunning response from the Chinese government on the international stage where they issued warnings to other countries for example not to attend the Nobel ceremony. And then, early this year, since the wave of protest movements and ‘Jasmine revolutions’ so called, in North Africa and the Middle East, I think a real concern over the possibility of such a movement in China has really produced this most severe crackdown that we’ve seen in years.

Siems highlighted the case of writer Liao E. Woo. Liao, who due to attend a festival this month in New York. A fortnight ago the authorities told him he would not be allowed to leave and have tried to force him to sign a document promising to stop publishing abroad.

The Chinese authorities rightly live in fear of a social explosion against a corrupt, bureaucratic Stalinist regime whose policy of “get rich quick” at any price has been applauded in the West. Corporations and governments are now pressing for China to grant open access to markets to ease the impact of the global recession so they are silent about Ai and other detainees. In any case they surmise, why are all these artists fired up about freedom, exploitation, censorship and environmental disaster? Don’t they know that the only business of the planet is business itself?

Penny Cole

Read more about what is happening to artists and writers in China.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

An epitaph for Bretton Woods

More than 300 economists, policymakers and academics, and a smattering of the politicians who presided over the events leading to the great crash of 2007-8, met up over the weekend at an historic location.

The conference was sponsored by the Institute for New Economic Thinking, which was set up in 2009, by George Soros one of the world’s most notorious speculators.

In 1944, at the same Mount Washington Resort in Bretton Woods, the world’s financial leaders thrashed out the architecture of a new order for the world economy to replace the one shattered by the Great Depression and World War II.

They succeeded in creating monetary agreements between nations and organisational arrangements to handle emergency funding that would enable capitalism to set out on the growth path once again.

Last weekend’s aim was to consider whether the international order remained fit for purpose ahead of the annual spring meetings of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) – one of the world level agencies set up following the 1944 gathering.

In summing up the results, Prof Justin O’Brien, director of the Centre for Law, Markets and Regulation at the University of New South Wales, asked the key question, and answered it:

“Following the catastrophic losses associated with the global financial crisis, do policymakers have either the vision or the tools to manage the politics of austerity? The unambiguous answer was no.”

The problem is that in those 67 years since Bretton Woods, capitalist corporations and a global web of financial institutions have outgrown the system of nation-states that came into existence as the result of earlier phases of social, economic and political evolution.

In O’Brien’s wordy assessment:
The crisis, speaker after speaker confirmed, was the outworking of hubris, delusion, commitment to flawed ideological constructs and inattention to history. Moreover, the policy response has legitimated socialised losses on a scale unimagined by the architects of the Bretton Woods system. It has amplified the moral hazard associated with protecting a banking industry addicted to unsustainable and undesirable leverage.

Deemed too big, too interconnected and too complex to unravel without causing systemic failure, banking has emerged as the sole winner from a crisis its funding model helped to cause. Somewhat paradoxically the banking sector has become even more concentrated, making it all but impossible for regulators to control. More perniciously, the sector has a vested interest in curtailing the co-ordination necessary to engineer meaningful change, particularly in the United States but also in Europe, now the epicentre of the financial crisis.

The complexity of the deeply integrated European and North American banks demonstrates the failure of regional and global institutions of power, flawed harmonisation agendas and weaknesses of national regulation. Wariness in advocating radical restructuring risks privileging the symbolic over the substantive. As Andrew Sheng, a senior adviser to the China Banking Regulatory Commission put it, advocating piecemeal ad hoc reform overseen by a fragmented system of national regulators is ‘like asking pygmies to hold down giants’.

Gordon Brown, who, as British chancellor was amongst the greatest enthusiasts for the financiers’ rise to power, claims that "we didn't understand just how entangled things were". This is nonsense. Many warned about the consequences of creating a financial system driven by investment banks and exotic “products”. New Labour was just happy to rake in the tax proceeds to finance its social programmes.

Like fish in the sea, unaware of the water they live in, these academics and policy-makers breathe the air of capitalism. They have had their day. The 2011 version of Bretton Woods was effectively an epitaph for a global capitalist system founded on debt. It falls to the mass of people to create a new “architecture” in the shape of an economic system based on need and not profit

Gerry Gold
Economics editor

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

In praise of Yuri Gagarin

When, on this day 50 years ago, cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first man to orbit the earth, it seemed to many observers that the Soviet Union was destined to triumph over – or at least equal – capitalist countries like the United States.

Gagarin’s good looks and film-star charisma helped make him perhaps the world’s first global hero. Crowds gathered in the streets of London and other cities to catch a glimpse of Gagarin after Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev sent him on a world tour.

Khrushchev himself had initiated a partial de-Stalinisation of the Soviet Union with his 1956 secret speech. Shocked delegates at a closed session of the country’s Communist Party heard Khrushchev denounce Stalin and his crimes against the people.

It had been a spectacular conversion. Khrushchev was an enthusiastic supporter of Stalin and the pre-war show trials which had destroyed the party’s Bolshevik old guard, the Red Army’s leadership and millions of others. He had backed the disastrous Nazi-Soviet pact which made World War Two a certainty.

But within three years of Gagarin’s pioneering flight in Vostok, Khrushchev had been ousted and replaced by the arch-conservative Leonid Brezhnev. Gagarin himself died in a plane crash aged 34 in 1968. The Soviet Union went back to being a tightly-controlled Stalinist regime.

Instead of Khrushchev’s boast that the Soviet Union would out-perform the United States in economic terms, the new leadership reverted to a classic Stalinist mentality. This assumed that the only way to defeat imperialism was to arm yourself to the teeth.

Revolutionary change in the West was definitely off the agenda (it had been since Stalin’s rise to power) in favour of working for peaceful co-existence if possible and war if not. The nuclear arms race took off in a spectacular fashion as the USSR and the USA built enough inter-continental ballistic missiles to blow up the world many times over.

Moscow’s essentially isolationist policy, the dedication of huge resources to military hardware, was ultimately a significant factor in the eventual demise of the Soviet Union in 1991. Cut off from the advanced technology of the global economy and encircled by capitalist states, the USSR stagnated on many indicators. Suffocated by a parallel world of state and party bureaucracies, economic productivity failed to increase. A distorted accounting system based on reporting to Moscow what it wanted to read only deepened the problems.

A little over 20 years after Khrushchev’s fall from power, a further attempt was made to resuscitate the country through deeper de-Stalinisation. Mikhail Gorbachev’s policies of perestroika and glasnost opened up the political process for the first time since the early 1920s. But the entrenched Stalinists in the party struck back in an abortive coup, facilitating Boris Yeltsin’s rise to power and an eventual capitalist overthrow.

Nevertheless, Gagarin’s heroic flight reminds us of some essential lessons of 20th century history. The 1917 Russian Revolution, whatever the country’s later horrific twists and turns, did demonstrate that it is possible to develop a country without capitalist ownership and the profit motive. What is not possible is the creation of a socialist economy, one based on common ownership and control, rather than bureaucratic state entities, in isolation from the rest of the world.

Today, Stalinism is gone and the “triumph” of the West has proved illusory. The “end of history” famously forecast by philosopher Francis Fukuyama after the demise of the Soviet Union turned out to be more than premature. Global capitalism is in its deepest-ever crisis and its political system discredited in the eyes of many. Gagarin’s one orbit of the planet broke free of physical laws. It’s up to us to liberate ourselves from oppressive social constraints.

Paul Feldman
Communications editor

Monday, April 11, 2011

Assemblies taking off

The People’s Assembly Network (PAN) event held in London at the weekend took place against a dramatic background of mass actions against existing authorities from Wisconsin, USA, to Tahrir Square in Cairo.

In Cairo two demonstrators were killed by the military police and many more injured, while in Madison, Wisconsin, trade unionists and their supporters met in a people’s assembly. On a smaller scale, protesters camped out overnight in Trafalgar Square demanding the right to peaceful protest.

As a powerful greeting to the London meeting from the Wisconsin Wave People’s Assembly said clearly: “Like all of you, we understand the just cause and moral imperative of defending our democratic traditions, our people, and our principles against a coordinated attack by corporate elites and the politicians they own. And, like all of you, we know that we have to do much more than fight back. We also have to advance a genuine people’s movement that values every human being and insists on essential public services and human rights.”

This year, the message noted, opened with the toppling of dictatorships in Tunisia and Egypt, which inspired the mass resistance in Wisconsin to the attacks on public sector workers and their union rights.

PAN co-convenor Mark Barrett, said that assemblies were “not unions, not parties or pressure groups but an inclusive organisational strategy - the means to build permanent, democratic, city-wide and rural structures in various communities around the world, which can have a multiplicity of functions. They can unite for a common alternative around the world – permanent institutions of the ‘common’.”

A researcher on social movements said it was important to see assemblies not only as “reacting” to the existing authorities but as a way to the assertion of a new form of power.

Others, including members of the Project for a Participatory Society UK, saw Assemblies as platforms for encouraging social participation and as a way of developing alternatives to the capitalist system of production.

A World to Win member said that the role of assemblies was to express the self-determination of people, to be a voice for the voiceless and to develop mass forms of leadership. “They are not a left thing or a right thing, but a democratic thing in the light of mass popular dissatisfaction with state structures and the absence of a democratic voice.”

London activist, Navid, said that assemblies could be structures for combining the ideologies of the left and forums for debating ideas about social transformation.
Tony Dines from Worthing Solidarity Network and Transition Town Worthing suggested that assemblies could draw in all people who are victims of the crisis of capitalism, including workers and small businessmen. They could be parallel organisations to local government up to a national level which aimed to replace the existing state institutions. The aim should be common ownership, not state ownership, he stressed.

The meeting was encouraged by a message from the Glasgow People’s Assembly which has already held three meetings at the Free Hetherington building which has been occupied by students since the beginning of 2011. A People’s Assembly/Convention is scheduled to be held in Lambeth, south London on May 21.

PAN participants will reconvene on Saturday May 7 at the Passing Clouds music and arts centre in east London. Meanwhile the website working group will contribute articles, blogs, news, photos and comments to the website and a new group was formed to develop connections internationally.

With the Coalition government in increasing disarray and the Parliamentary system offering no way forward, PAN’s boost for the campaign of building people’s assemblies is timely.

Corinna Lotz
A World to Win secretary

Friday, April 08, 2011

Portugal: another triumph for the bond dealers

As Portugal declares state bankruptcy, after its Socialist Party government failed to get an austerity package through parliament, it’s another triumph for the dictatorship of the money markets and bond dealers.

Now, even though Portugal is without a government, the price demanded by Germany and the richer EU countries for an €80 billion bail-out is even deeper cuts in public spending than were first proposed. The upcoming general election is definitely one to lose.

Portugal’s finances collapsed because its budget deficit grew rapidly following the onset of the global recession. But the money markets drove up interest rates until Portugal was borrowing at over 8.5%, adding to the total deficit at a rate which made it impossible to repay.

In the last year, Greece – which still has a “socialist” government and Ireland, which saw the ruling party wiped out at the recent general election, have suffered the same fate. Does the “contagion” stop at Lisbon, or is Madrid next?

Spain’s government – yet another one that claims the rubric “socialist”– is confident it can avoid Portugal’s fate – because it says it’s already making deep cuts in public spending! Youth unemployment is running at over 40% as a consequence. Meanwhile, Spanish bank assets are worth far less than before because of the collapse in property values and refinancing is increasingly expensive and hard to come by.

As the United States today desperately tries to avoid a shut-down of government activities as deadlock looms on reining in a federal budget swelled by endless borrowing, it is clear that capitalism is in a global bind.

You can cut – as the Coalition is doing in Britain – to avoid higher borrowing rates but that only deepens the recession. Spending more would leader to higher borrowing raters, which the banks won’t like. Why? Because in the perverse world of capitalist finance, the value of the government bonds, which they hold as assets, depreciates as rates rise.

At the same time, British banks are steadfastly refusing to resume rates of lending last seen before the credit crunch of 2007. That’s because their balance sheets remain toxic and full of bad debt. Even the right-wing press is fed up with the banks.

On Monday, the Independent Commission on Banking set up by the government reports and no one expects it to suggest any fundamental changes. The Daily Telegraph’s Jeff Randall, who is deeply pessimistic about the report, remarks: “The banks have captured our money twice over: as cash in their vaults and investments in their shares. We own all of Northern Rock, most of Royal Bank of Scotland and nearly half of Lloyds Banking Group. We rescued them – and in so doing became their prisoners.”

But this is not a new problem. By the outbreak of World War One, the banks and the monopolies had formed an unholy alliance against ordinary working people and elected governments alike. After creating the Federal Reserve – America’s central bank – President Woodrow Wilson declared:

I am a most unhappy man. I have unwittingly ruined my country. A great industrial nation is controlled by its system of credit. Our system of credit is concentrated. The growth of the nation, therefore, and all our activities are in the hands of a few men. We have come to be one of the worst ruled, one of the most completely controlled and dominated governments in the civilised world. No longer a government by free opinion, no longer a government by conviction and the vote of the majority, but a government by the opinion and duress of a small group of dominant men.

In the recent period of corporate-driven globalisation, the tensions and contradictions between the capitalist state and capitalist finance have deepened to the point where governments tread warily. The only way to sort that out is to put an end to the power of the bond dealers, banks and money markets and create a new, socially-driven financial system. It doesn’t need me to tell you that bourgeois governments are not capable of such a revolutionary change.

Paul Feldman
Communications editor

Thursday, April 07, 2011

Radiation sickness is not a myth, George

The nuclear industry exudes confidence when setting out its business plans and tying down government subsidies – but when it all goes wrong it’s as if they never studied or understood the dangers of radiation at all.

Workers then give their lives, using chaotic, unscientific, and increasingly desperate measures. Meanwhile populations are terrified, displaced, their homes and possessions abandoned, sometimes for ever, and their livelihoods and education wrecked.

After radiation more than 7.5 million times the legal limit was found in the sea off shore from Fukushima, the leak was finally halted yesterday using, according to reports, “a mixture of sawdust, newspaper, concrete and a type of liquid glass”. A couple of days earlier they tried “cement, an absorbent polymer and rags”.

In a confidential assessment for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, US engineers helping with the crisis in Japan have warned that desperate measures taken were likely to result in further disaster. Seawater pumped to cool waste nuclear rods clogged pipes, so it didn’t reach the rods at all. A build up of hydrogen and oxygen may cause further hydrogen explosions.

This is advanced science? This is safe? This is the energy source that is going to save the planet from global warming?

The same approach dominated the Deepwater Horizon leak in the Gulf of Mexico, where BP and partners were making it up as they went along. Permitting new coal-fired power stations on the basis that “carbon capture and storage” will work eventually, is a further example of this cavalier approach to the health and safety of populations, whilst real science is totally ignored.

Which brings us to that enthusiastic convert to nuclear power, George Monbiot. After declaring that Fukushima actually helped the case for nuclear generation, Monbiot has now turned on campaigners, claiming that there is no scientific evidence that nuclear radiation causes health problems.

Well George, here’s some evidence, published in proceedings
of the Royal Society.

“Scientists working in Ukraine and Israel have found that DNA of children born to members of the Chernobyl clean-up teams has mutated, with a sevenfold increase in the emergence of new DNA strands. This indicates that low doses of radiation can induce multiple changes in the collection of genes that parents pass on to their offspring.”

The report concludes: "The very fact that much lower doses of radiation than previously generally believed can double the number of genomic changes needs serious attention. This is all the more important when a significant proportion of the human population is subjected to increased mutagenic pressure."

The disaster in Fukushima is happening in one of the world’s most densely-populated countries, within 240 kilometres of Greater Tokyo’s 35 million people. We have no idea what the long-term effects of this uncontrolled experiment will be on the human genome.

Campaigners like Monbiot have accepted that with the kind of growth curves demanded by capitalism for its survival (not for our survival), there is a massive energy shortfall and they fear it will be filled by a huge return to coal-fired power, increasing global warming.

They are not wrong there – but their “solution” is absolutely wrong because it’s based on the acceptance of the unacceptable and unsustainable system of production for profit. Monbiot’s is just another version of the There is No Alternative argument.

The solution is to fight for an end to the capitalist growth mania, and remove energy generation from reckless profit-driven corporations. With research and development of alternative energy, we can stop measuring growth by counting profits from sales of commodities. Instead, better health, plenitude, equality and fairness, food for the hungry, land for landless, and a thriving eco-system can be used as the scientific measures of our success.

Penny Cole
Environment editor


Wednesday, April 06, 2011

It's deeper than tax avoidance

Supporters of UK Uncut, a relative newcomer to the world of protest, in common with millions of others, are justifiably angry about the savagery of the Coalition’s cuts programme. They say the cuts aren’t necessary and that the government is implementing them out of ideological spite.

Like the official pronouncements from the TUC, UK Uncut , on the one hand, insists that the size of the budget deficit isn’t a problem because the UK’s credit rating remains high. And on the other hand, they say that there are alternatives which could be used to reduce the total of government debt.

UK Uncut activists specialise in activities designed to highlight tax avoidance by corporations including Vodafone, Boots, and Tesco, as well as the banks who they blame for the economic crisis. Their hope must be that if enough people get angry, they’ll force the government to change tack.

UK Uncut activists were greatly encouraged by Johann Hari’s recent article in The Independent which i) denies that the scale of debt in the UK is a problem, and ii) asserts that debt is “part of the cure”. The facts suggest, claims Hari, “the need to spend more, not less, to get the economy back to life – and pay back the debt in the good times, when we will be able to afford it.”

Leaving aside the nature of Hari’s “good times”, the problem with accumulating more debt following the logic of the inter-war years economist John Maynard Keynes, is, as the article itself points out, contained in a key lesson of history:

“The Great Crash of 1929 was followed by a US President, Herbert Hoover, who did everything Cameron demands. He cut spending and paid off the debt. The recession grew and grew. Then Franklin Roosevelt was elected and listened to Keynes. He ramped up spending – and unemployment fell, and the economy swelled. Then in 1936 he started listening to the Cameron debt-shriekers of his day. The result? The economy collapsed again. It was only the gigantic spending of the Second World War that finally ended it.”

Yes, but no.

It wasn’t the gigantic spending of the Second World War that ended the global recession of the day, but the destruction of surplus productive capacity that had been accumulated during the previous period funded by speculative investment – and debt.

While tax avoidance by private equity companies like Boots, who are registered in a tax haven in Switzerland, is a scandal, it’s a symptom rather than a cause. It’s corporate-driven globalisation that has enabled corporations to dominate national governments and force down tax rates, as well as register offshore. Any threat and they’re off overseas like a flash.

Ironically, during the credit boom, New Labour funded its spending via tax revenues from the City. That came to a sticky end with the credit crunch and the recession that followed. Now, despite the crisis-deniers, the global recession is deepening, inflation is accelerating, debt is growing – all at rates which outpace anything any government or group of governments can do. Increasing tax revenues wouldn’t make much of a dent in the national deficit and would leave the fundamentals of capitalism unchallenged and unchanged.

These are symptoms of a long-developing spiralling problem that has bedevilled capitalism during its entire three and a half centuries: Competition for profit amongst capitalist enterprises forces them to invest in productivity-enhancing technologies that drive the rate of profit down. This in turn requires an increased volume of sales which surpasses the available market. Credit allows a few more turns on the spiral of growth, until it too becomes unsustainable.

Though the crisis didn’t erupt into view until 2007/8, the endpoint had already been breached in 2004/5 when consumers reached the limits of their ability to juggle their credit card debt, and mortgage payments came under pressure. So once again, the only road the capitalist class can follow now is to eliminate the surplus capacity in every country. Halting that process requires the elimination of the profit system itself and a move towards a sustainable, not-for-profit economy.

Gerry Gold

Economics editor

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

AV is no miracle cure for broken political system

To listen to the supporters of the Alternative Vote (AV) system, you would think that a “Yes” vote in the May 5 referendum would lead to a miraculous new lease of life for the clapped-out parliamentary democracy we have now.

A letter that came through my door the other day claims that AV will lead to MPs working harder, give voters a stronger voice and tackle “jobs for life” at Westminster. Under AV, voters can rank candidates if they want to. The preferences of bottom candidates are redistributed until someone has 50% of the votes. Following the 2010 election two-thirds of MPs lacked majority support, the highest figure in British political history.

But evidence suggests AV is not exactly a lot “fairer” than the present first-past-the-post (FTTP) system where the candidate with the most votes is declared the winner. The real outcome of AV, planned or otherwise, would be coalition politics on a grand and lasting scale.

In an indirect way, the AV campaign reflects the break-up of the two-party system in the period of corporate-driven globalisation. Where Old Labour, at least sometimes, did not totally identify with big business and finance, its 21st century version does. The Tories under David Cameron have made themselves a successor to Blair rather than Thatcher.

In 1951, the two main parties polled 96.8% of the total electorate between them. By last year, the figure had slumped to 65.1%. Yet the voting system continues to reward Labour and the Tories, who captured 86% of the seats in the House of Commons last May.

All parties are concerned to win the votes of the so-called “squeezed middle” and their concern is what the money markets and transnational corporations think about their policies. So, for example, the Electoral Reform Society, which backs the “Yes” campaign, says: “It [AV] encourages candidates to chase second- and third-preferences, which lessens the need for negative campaigning (one doesn't want to alienate the supporters of another candidate whose second preferences one wants) and rewards broad-church policies.”

Labour leader Ed Miliband’s message at the launch of the “Yes” campaign was similar, claiming that “AV would encourage us to build bridges, not barriers, between parties so that we can persuade more voters of our case” before adding: “I believe today’s political culture, which only encourages division, profoundly damages belief in politics.

Most Labour MPs are against AV, which is not surprising because their party only needs a three-point lead in votes in order to secure an overall majority under FTTP, whereas the Conservatives need about an 11 point lead. Miliband, like Blair, is a “moderniser”, despite what his MPs might want. As to the “fairness” of AV, that is not at all clear cut, as a report by nef makes clear. The think-tank has developed an index of “voter power”. Its report says: “AV would bring an increase in the average power of UK voters from 0.285 of a vote to 0.352 of a vote, where a score of one is a fair vote.”

Nic Mark, the creator of nef's voter power index, says AV would bring some improvements but would not get rid of the main problems. "Unfortunately, whatever the outcome of the referendum, politicians will still largely ignore voters in safe seats, while they spend most of their time, money and energy on voters in marginal constituencies."

Surely the point is that an unfair voting system reflects a broken political system. Traditional bourgeois politics is more about managing state structures on behalf of corporate and financial interests, than offering real choice. The last government bailed out the banks and the Coalition is cutting the deficit to appease the money markets. Whatever the voting system, this would have been the outcome.

So I can’t get worked up about the AV referendum and will withhold my vote. Democracy cannot end with the Westminster model. My energies, therefore, will be directed to working for completely new forms of democratic government around the concept of People’s Assemblies.

Paul Feldman

Communications editor

Monday, April 04, 2011

Breaking out of the logjam

Meetings around the country are discussing where the anti-cuts movement can go from here. Despite the massive turnout, the TUC’s March for the Alternative has not, as everyone knows, stopped a single attack on jobs, services, benefits or grants to the arts.

A discussion at the weekend in London, organised by the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts, revealed some of the issues and challenges. Both young and older speakers from a wide range of organisations revealed the desire to continue the struggle. At the same time, it proved hard to break with the notion that protests and strikes in themselves remain the only option.

The meeting heard Mark Barrett from the People’s Assembly Network seek endorsement of the motion passed at January’s National Education Assembly for a long-term strategy of city-wide permanent assemblies. But the appeal to broaden out the struggle in new ways was pretty much ignored.

Yet the cuts are getting deeper. An NHS worker from University College hospital said that 500 jobs were being cut in St George’s hospital alone. He called for support networks to be set up around hospitals. Some suggested that UNITE general secretary, Len McCluskey was evidence of a “left” tendency within the TUC leadership. There were calls for strike action in the NHS, and others for limited general strike action.

The discussion reflected the variety of actions being proposed by the spectrum of left organisations more widely. The Socialist Party, for example, says that a 24-hour public sector general strike “would terrify the ConDems”. Others call for a national anti-cuts organisation to be formed. The Socialist Workers Party has been calling for a general strike. The Right to Work campaign believes that March 26 showed that “we have the power to stop Cameron and Clegg” and that more protests, demonstrations and strikes are the answer

But the underlying issue of what is driving the Coalition to force through the cuts and wind up the welfare state was left in the dark. The unmentioned elephant in the room was the global crisis of the capitalist system, the financial crisis that has brought countries like Greece, Ireland, Iceland and Portugal to their knees, and the deepening recession.

In this context, the government is not for turning, as much for the fact that they are no more in control of the banking system and money markets than you and I. The stark truth is that without a strategy for power, without a political strategy, marches and even general strikes are ineffectual.

Unfortunately for those who believe that the ConDem government can be persuaded to change course by protest, Financial Times’ columnist Robert Shrimsley just about summed it up: “It’s irresponsible to admit it, but this kind of peaceful protest [March 26] is pointless. The system has all the shock absorbers necessary to handle a law-abiding demonstration.”

Those who seek to break out of this logjam, as UK Uncut and anarchists have sought to do, found themselves preyed upon by police provocateurs and susceptible to entrapment and, in the case of one student leader, targeting by the far right.

On the day and subsequently, it has been left to young people in Trafalgar Square and others in Hyde Park, to find another way forward. Inspired by the movement in Egypt that brought down Mubarak, they are still seeking to win support for equivalent action by trying to occupy key places like Trafalgar Square.

The strategy of building a People’s Assemblies Network is crucial as a way of uniting these aspirations with the anti-cuts movement, trade unionists, young people, unemployed, professionals and political organisations and the millions now facing huge cuts in services and jobs. Assemblies have the potential to become more than just unifying organisational forms. They could provide answers to the most important question of all – where power lies and how can it be transferred into the hands of democratic, popular assemblies.

Corinna Lotz

A World to Win secretary

Friday, April 01, 2011

Big Society's sinister school policing plan

News that the government plans to involve school students in policing their playgrounds and local neighbourhoods confirms the sinister intent behind the so-called Big Society project.

Far from getting people to take part in helping to boost volunteering and generate a greater sense of community, the Big Society is an ambitious authoritarian cloak to integrate virtually everyone into a Big Brother state.

Education secretary Michael Gove, whose grasp of reality often seems tenuous to put it mildly, has made it clear that schools will have to co-operate or lose out on funding.

He has made the student police scheme a condition of bidding for Academy or Free School status. Schools that do not include pupil policing plans will have their applications rejected out of hand.

Gove told the Commons committee on the future of education: “Some may see this as heavy-handed Whitehall interference, but they would be wrong. We are setting schools free but we also want them to take their community role seriously.”

He claims that getting students as young as 12 involved in policing is not as outrageous as it seems: “After all, the age of criminal responsibility is 10 in England and Wales. So what’s wrong with getting youngsters acting against criminals?”

The government apparently hopes that getting school students into policing at an early age can help prevent outbreaks of “mindless violence” such as took place in London on March 26. Ministers clearly do not have the Territorial Support Group of the Metropolitan Police in mind here.

Policing and criminology experts have roundly condemned Gove’s proposals, which have the backing of prime minister Cameron while his deputy, Nick Clegg, remains undecided on the merits of the scheme.

Professor Aaron Cohen, Department of Criminology at King’s College, London, decried the loss of the “age of innocence” inherent in Gove’s madcap scheme. He remarked:

“Policing is a function of the state and it is a serious business to be undertaken by paid professionals. Blurring the line between the police and young people in this way is outrageous. It will do nothing to build trust and could alienate young people who take part from their peers.”

And Professor Slavoj Keziz, from the School of East Europen and Slavonic Studies, said the scheme reminded him of the notorious atmosphere in East Germany where the Stasi secret police made informers out of very young people. “Is this the road we’re going down in Britain. Is this showing the world how democracy works? I am appalled.”

But don’t expect Liberty to advocate for the rights of young people. The organisation worked hand-in-hand with the police and TUC bureaucrats on March 26 and in an outrageous statement after the event attacked “violent elements” who “infiltrated” the march, only to leave it to “attack high profile commercial properties and the police”

A spokesperson for Liberty said that Gove’s plan had its “attractions” and would be considered in detail before any further comment was made. Thank you and good night!

In a further inducement to students to get involved in the Schools Police scheme, there are reports that they will get a special uniform and earn credits towards their GCSEs. Schools unions, including the National Union of Teachers, have condemned Gove’s latest plan to break up state education.

The creepy Big Society project is spreading its tentacles everywhere. It should be consigned to the dustbin of history, along with Con-Dem government. We wait for the TUC to stop congratulating itself for March 26 and get on with mobilising millions to organise a regime change in Britain.

Paul Feldman

Communications editor