Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Make 2014 the year of a leap into the future

If last year witnessed the sudden and unexpected eruption of mass movements in countries from Brazil to Turkey, then 2014 is certain to see countless millions in many more countries become part of what is a global street upheaval.

We can be certain about this because the related causes of this tremendous revolt against the present order are universal in their nature. People around the world are no longer prepared to put up with rampant social and economic inequality, corruption and secret mass state surveillance.

They are struggling to cope with the consequences of climate change marked by increasingly frequent extreme weather. Above all, in every country, large numbers are sick and tired of undemocratic political-state systems that are partisan in their rule.

Anyone who give it a momentary thought senses that the interests of the corporations and the banks are put before those of ordinary working people, whoever is in government.

All these immediate causes of social turmoil have their origins in a single process –    profit-driven globalisation. So the challenge is create modern forms of democratic organisations that can articulate how to transform the common denominators that keep the system in place.

Fundamental social change – revolutionary change – cannot happen simply as the result of an intensification of existing forms of militancy or protest. People have to form a concept of what their lives as humans in the future could be - in nature, in society, economically and politically.

The task is to turn that concept into reality, by transforming the world around us through collective efforts. To achieve that, we must have an organisational framework that is open to these ideas.

We have to reach out to the future and to base ourselves on the premise that capitalism and its state form are not NOT eternal and that they MUST be replaced in a conscious way.

Without that perspective, we can miss new possibilities as they emerge, maybe where we least expect them.

People’s Assemblies can and should become the forum where we work out what we are FOR and begin to strive to put it into practice, in the teeth of all opposition from those who support the status quo. We should resist attempts to limit Assemblies simply to the role of resisting austerity or to protests against government policy, with a view to electing One Nation Labour in 2015.

Assemblies have to become rival sites of power to the capitalist state, which is the barrier to a real democracy. We have to work out how to dismantle the oppressive institutions that keep us in check and what to replace them with. Assemblies will need expert advice on what kind of co-operative ownership and control can take the place of shareholders and stock markets.

Assemblies could sponsor a People’s Convention to develop a democratic constitution for the 21st century. At present, nationalists in England and Scotland are making the running on crucial issues of state rule. We have already proposed revolutionary self-determination to counter blind prejudice based on a spurious nationality as a starting point.

In the 19th century, before working people won the vote, the Chartist movement rallied vast numbers in the demand for political change. In that tradition, we put forward a contemporary version of the original six demands which we will fight for in People’s Assemblies. They are:

1.      A real democracy from the ground up through, for example, Peoples’ Assemblies.
2.      The right to co-operative ownership in place of shareholder control; to democracy and self-management in all areas/activities of the workplace; to common land ownership.
3.      An economy and financial system that is motivated by meeting ordinary people’s needs and aspirations in place of the accumulation of profit.
4.      Social rights to affordable housing, public transport and energy; free continuing education and training; free health care at all levels; employment, paid training or an average wage; a pension that provides dignity in older age.
5.      Basic rights to organise, demonstrate and strike independently of the state; rights to justice, transparency and accountability; the right to self-determination within and without Britain and the right of minority communities to equality in all areas.   
6.      The right to live in a sustainable environment, including the production of food,  shaped by ecological care instead of profits as the basis for tackling the ecological crisis in all its forms.  

Let’s make 2014 the year of a great leap in human emancipation with the aim of freeing ourselves from the reactionary forces that have made it impossible to let things stay as they are.

A World to Win editors
December 31, 2013

Friday, December 20, 2013

The year we found our rulers out

As 2013 draws to a close, we can say with some certainty that while none of the major questions facing humanity are any nearer finding a solution, there is a renewed determination amongst ordinary people to reject how things stand in the search for answers.

So we have to thank our political classes for small mercies. Their ineptitude, arrogance, indifference and sheer inability to counter powerful capitalist economic and financial forces has spurred people on throughout the year.

Three inspiring examples of resistance that all began in June stand out from the countless actions around the world this year. Hundreds of thousands took to the streets in Brazil against government corruption and the diversion of resources towards next year’s World Cup. The country’s dash for growth at any price has made a poor population even more impoverished.

The same month, Bulgarians revolted agains the oligarchy that has left the country bankrupt and almost entirely dependent on imported goods, including food. In Turkey, a nation-wide rebellion was prompted by plans to pave over green space in Istanbul. But the quasi-Islamic government’s attack on democratic rights was also a significant factor in the revolt.

As for individual heroes, the awards go to two Americans. Edward Snowden and Chelsea Manning defied the might of the American state to blow the whistle and leak evidence of illegal mass surveillance and war crimes. Sentenced to 35 years in a military prison, Manning rebuked her government with the following words:

“Whenever we killed innocent civilians, instead of accepting responsibility for our conduct, we elected to hide behind the veil of national security and classified information in order to avoid any public accountability…We held individuals at Guantanamo for years without due process. We inexplicably turned a blind eye to torture and executions by the Iraqi government.”
Snowden became a man without a passport as he fled the clutches of the National Security Agency. A conservative in his politics, Snowden was appalled by the secret programmes run by the NSA and GCHQ in Britain to spy on the electronic communications of its citizens. His actions have shaken Washington and London, revealing how fragile these states are behind all the bluster.

That was shown when a groundswell of public anger on both sides of the Atlantic prevented an attack on Syria. Both Congress and Parliament was paralysed by the reaction of the people. It was the first time in modern history that an illegal war was thwarted at the outset.

Nothing demonstrates more sharply the useless nature of our political system than the response to the clear and present danger presented by runaway climate change. In September, a report by thousands of scientists found that humans have used up between a half and two thirds of the amount of emissions possible before we dangerously overheat the planet.

The UK government’s response? To expand gas-fired power stations and to open up half the country to fracking, both of which will add to dangerous emissions. Madness. An international agreement on cutting greenhouse gas emissions is not even on the agenda. Business interests have prevailed – again.

So we have a socio-ecological impasse. The system cannot deliver what we demand in terms of a sustainable environment, decent living standards, affordable shelter and a democracy that reflects our aspirations rather than those of shareholders. Instead, in Britain in particular, there’s a policy race to the bottom between the major parties.

All this suggests in the strongest terms that  the present political and economic system is a barrier to a real democracy and has effectively disenfranchised the majority The right to vote, won in centuries of struggle, has been undermined by a corporatocracy. Increasing numbers of people evidently recognise this to the case, which is perhaps the greatest achievement of 2013 and provides a basis for optimism for the year ahead.

Paul Feldman

Communications editor

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Violent palm oil land grab hits poorest

Hired thugs working for a palm oil corporation stormed villages in Indonesia to force people off their land earlier this month so that PT Asiatic Persada could take up a government concession. It was a dramatic example of an often violent international land grab at work.

Nearly 150 homes were destroyed in the latest incident in a long standing conflict, where the Indonesian government is sacrificing the lives and of thousands of forest dwelling people to the god of growth. The army was present at the destruction of the Padang Salak hamlet in a dispersed village called Bunku in Sumatra.

On December 10 police opened fire on anti-palm oil protestors in Pujehun province, Sierra Leone. People were protesting about the activities of international agro-investor Socfin. They say they were lied to about leases and conned into allowing Socfin to move in for just $5 an acre.

After years of civil war, the Sierra Leone government has used a period of relative stability to invite the corporations in. It has signed a $1.3 billion deal with China Hainan Rubber Industry Group and Addax Bioenergy, a Swiss biofuel company, has leased 14,300 hectares in Tonkolili district for the production of sugar cane.

Another country emerging from years of civil war is Liberia, and the corporations are beating a path to the government's door. Equatorial Palm Oil has its eye on almost 170,000 hectares of land for plantations. The same story is repeated in Mozambique and Cameroon.

Local people are being bullied by their governments into leasing out land for tiny returns and for periods so long, they have in effect lost it for ever.

Claims that the corporations contribute jobs and welfare for people in areas where they work are a complete fraud. People are never consulted about roads or buildings, and few jobs are created.

And the claim that the corporations will help by paying tax to African governments is even more fraudulent. The charity Action Aid revealed a document from accountants Deloitte advising clients how to avoid paying tax in Africa. For example, by channelling funds through Mauritius they could avoid capital gains tax altogether in Mozambique, one of earth's poorest countries where life expectancy is just 49.

Fifty years ago palm oil was a minor product, but its property of staying solid at relatively high temperatures makes it useful for highly processed foods. It is present in half of all supermarket products though it may not be listed on the label other than as vegetable oil. The growing popularity of palm oil with the food processors has not reduced soya oil production; it continues to expand with an eye to the biofuels market.

The supermarket giants claim processing food into ready meals or snack products adds value. But in the UK more than 60% of adults are overweight or obese as are more than 30% of children. There is an epidemic of Type 2 diabetes and obese individuals have a 50% greater chance of dying early.

People in Africa, Indonesia and Latin America were never consulted about the vegetable oil giants moving on to their land. And people in the West were never consulted about the introduction of a diet driven by the profit margins of the supermarkets and endorsed by their friends in government.

The corporations are entities that float above society, not subject to any control, indifferent to the health and wellbeing of people or nature as a whole, and using their power to subvert any semblance of democracy. A united front of people's across the globe is needed to challenge both ends of this destructive food chain.

Penny Cole

Environment editor

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Edgy markets make “growth” seem hollow

The eyes and ears of the world’s biggest gamblers will turn towards the US Federal Reserve announcement this evening.

Better known as ‘investors’ in the capital markets, they anxiously await a decision on whether the Fed would begin winding down the life-support system which has sustained the US - and hence the global economy - since the 2007/8 crash.

Every month, the Fed has been inventing an additional $85bn dollars which it lends to the government by buying its bonds. Like every other form of credit, government bonds are a promise to pay interest and repay the capital.

The new money is supposed to find its way into the production of real value through loans made to businesses. This, the story goes, leads to growth, a higher quantity of profits, and increasing taxes which can be used to make the repayments. 

But with competitive pressures forcing corporation taxes downward globally, governments have to extract an increasing proportion of their tax income from wages earned and purchases of commodities made by the majority, the 99%. Us.

For the last five years the US economy – still the world’s biggest - has been at the centre of efforts to restore the economic damage that was the inevitable result when the credit-fuelled boom crashed in 2008.

The decision to reduce credit creation through ‘quantitative easing’ is driven by consumer price inflation and unemployment indicators.

If price rises show signs of getting out of control there’s cause for concern as it signals the likely onset of political unrest. The Arab Spring was triggered three years ago today by impossible economic conditions as food prices rocketed due, in part, to speculation in commodities funded by emergency credit flooding on to the market in search of quick profits.

If unemployment drops to 6.5% in the US (7% in the UK) – not expected for some considerable while yet – the alarm bells will begin to ring. Although it will be trumpeted as a success for the policy, a continuing reduction in unemployment could threaten profits as wage bargaining gathers strength.

At a hearing of the House of Lords’ economic affairs committee on Tuesday, Mark Carney, governor of the Bank of England (BoE), tried to calm investors’ nerves. He said that even if the Fed slowed the pace of its bond-buying, it would still be printing money and remained far from selling the trillions of dollars worth of bonds it had bought over recent years.

The BoE holds £375bn-worth of UK gilts, a significant part of the global total of government bonds. Carney is warning of the unpredictable consequences of even a hint of a start to selling off this historically unprecedented vast accumulation of stored up credit.

Carney has another proposal up his sleeve - the BoE would raise interest rates before trying to sell its stock of government debt.

Interest rates set by central banks (not those charged by the likes of Wonga) have  been running at historically low levels since the crash. At 0.5% in the UK, and effectively negative when measured against inflation of more than 2%, interest rates are just another side of the highly volatile loose credit regime of emergency measures that have kept the economy afloat.

Those with pensions or savings of any kind are losing out massively as the ConDem coalition tempts a new generation into a lifetime of mortgage debt slavery.

Mixing his messages, Carney said yesterday that interest rates would stay low until unemployment falls to 7% which the Bank of England predicts will happen in 2016.

Britain’s current economic growth is, of course, based on low-wage jobs while fuel prices soar and a huge rise in homelessness as the house price bubble makes homes unaffordable, as austerity cuts hit the most vulnerable.

Carney’s warnings of the risks of unwinding cheap credit and that "a return to growth is not the same as a return to normality" means that the global economy is fast approaching another great crash.

Gerry Gold

Economics editor

Monday, December 16, 2013

Romania testing ground for ruthless corporations

In a sign of what to expect if US corporate interests are allowed free reign in Europe, as outlined by the planned transatlantic trade deal, an alliance of oil giant Chevron and the Romanian state has evicted villagers opposed to exploration for shale gas.

The country’s rural inhabitants who earn their livelihoods from small-scale farming know that industrialisation of the countryside is completely inimical to their way of life. For months, direct action has been their only option for resisting. But last week, an occupation of the site at Pungesti was forcibly ended in a dawn raid.

However, no sooner had the site been secured than the villagers were back, hauling down the steel fences and engaging in a confrontation with government/private security forces. This inspiring show of people’s strength has not yet not been enough to deter Chevron. The local village has effectively been turned into an armed camp to prevent further protest and the corporation has started activities on the site.

The way Romania’s democratic process is unravelling reflects the plans of energy and mineral extraction companies for the country. The government intends to make industrial interests sovereign above all existing rights to livelihood and property in the name of the “strategic national interest”.

This is in fact exactly what the ConDems in the UK have tried to achieve in order to open the door to fracking in Britain. The only difference is that to placate local communities, the priority given to natural resources over environmental protection was worked into the guidelines given to local councils who officially still grant planning applications.

In Romania, with a public that is less well-informed and with much higher rates of  poverty than western European nations, it becomes even easier for the spurious “national interest” line to legitimise any unwanted development and the state violence needed to enforce it.

In recognition of these changes that give corporate rights priority, the status of the country’s politicians has changed dramatically, as an activist in Romania explains.

Parliamentarians are no longer considered public officials and hence are immune to all charges or accusations of conflict of interest, misconduct or abuse of function. Officially then, politicians do not serve the people and have immunity in the same way that corporations are protected from action brought against them by people or states. At the same time, insulting public figures has become a criminal offence!  

This onslaught against democracy in Romania lays the groundwork for the dreaded “Mine Law”, written for the benefit of a single corporation that wants to destroy the Rosia Montana mountain region in order to carry out cyanide gold mining.

Aware of the influence of the American state in all this, the activist concludes: “Someone in the EU worked closely with someone in America in order for this to happen. Romania is the testing ground, the European Argentina. Romania is the precedent.”

These nightmare laws are there to protect the state as the enforcer of corporate affairs in the 21st century. The role played by state officials, legal systems and above all the police serves a dual function. They allow the extraction and use of fossil fuel and natural resources, which is driving climate change, while keeping human rights subservient to the need to consume these goods.

Politicians hide behind this farce to claim this is all necessary, while terrorising us by any means possible. In Romania and throughout much of the world, the corporations are beginning to sense that they can use naked violence to get their way.   

To counter this social crisis, which has converged with an ecological catastrophe, we need to draw strength from the progress human beings have made in the past in the struggle for democracy. We can establish states that provide the foundations of social justice and care and opportunities for all to flourish. Some positive proposals which can help us reach this goal are outlined in our new book, Fracking Capitalism. Get a copy if you haven’t already done so!

Matt Worsdale

They don't make them like O'Toole any more

Peter O’Toole, who has died at 81, was a mercurial, hell-raising actor who captured and lampooned the break-up of the English ruling classes. O’Toole was fiercely proud of his Irish roots, sharing shared Oscar Wilde’s uncanny grasp of the English characters he made his own.

He refused to kow-tow to the status-quo on the stage, in the cinema or in politics. He opposed both the Korean and Vietnam wars and turned down the offer of a knighthood in 1987.

O’Toole shot to cinema fame in the early 1960s, thanks to his brilliant performance as the enigmatic British officer who breaks from his own side to take a leading role in the Arab rebellion against the Turks – in one of the best-known films of all time, Lawrence of Arabia.

Born in Connemara, County Galway, the son of a Scot’s nurse and an itinerant Irish bookmaker, O’Toole was to describe himself as “not working class, but criminal class”.

Leaving school at 13 he began work in a variety of trades. Then he became an unsuccessful reporter for the Yorkshire Evening News. After completing military service in the Royal Navy, he was inspired by Michael Redgrave’s performance of King Lear to train as an actor. He won a scholarship to the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art.

His close friends and colleagues included Welshman Richard Burton, Irishman Richard Harris and the actors who transformed the British stage during the 1950s. O’Toole said that they “heralded the 1960s.... We did in public what everyone else did in private then, and does for show now”.

And, as the new realism of the British New Wave transformed the theatre and cinema, O’Toole played – and simultaneously subverted – the archetypal ruling class character.

His role as T.E. Lawrence, in David Lean’s epic Lawrence of Arabia, was the perfect vehicle for the 29-year-old actor. His performance, enhanced by astonishing camera-work plus the presence of acting icons like Alec Guinness, Omar Sharif and Anthony Quinn, caught the imagination of a global audience.

The film’s ambiguous political message haunted an entire generation, mesmerised by O’Toole’s laid-back but thrilling performance, his lanky height, light blue eyes and blonde hair, combined with an exotic sheikh headdress. Through Lawrence’s mysterious persona, O’Toole projected an unforgettable gender-bending charm.  

So much so that Noel Coward said the movie might have been called “Florence of Arabia”. The film’s enormous success reflected the anti-authoritarian mood of a post-war generation that rejected the domination of the upper class ruling elite.  

His languid manner belied the stress of the two-year shoot in seven countries, during which O’Toole lost two stone, suffered burns, sprained ankles, torn ligaments and concussions. He lived in a Bedouin tent, learned Arabic and how to ride a camel. His approach blended  “magic with sweat”, he later wrote.

In 1964 he starred with Richard Burton in Jean Anouilh’s Becket, the story of a Norman King who falls out with his closest confident. It is a superb portrayal of tortured personal loyalties against the background of political and religious intrigue. Like Anouilh, O’Toole sought to show the contradictions of human reality.

In Peter Medak’s utterly surreal 1972 film The Ruling Class, O’Toole played the paranoid schizophrenic son of a decadent judge in an anarchic send-up of the English aristocracy and its hangers-on.

O’Toole’s legendary hard-drinking wrought havoc in his health and personal life. But in the 1980s he went on to make amazing comebacks, including the film Venus in 2006. He defended Venus co-star Vanessa Redgrave from political attacks, saying he shared her “loathing of injustice”.

Richard Burton remarked that O’Toole looked like a beautiful, emaciated secretary bird – “you couldn’t take your eyes off him” – and that he elevated acting into “something odd and mystical and deeply disturbing”.

Through his fearless if sometimes erratic performances on and off screen, he gave voice to a dramatically-changing world in which people sought to shake off class-bound authority. Do they make them like that any more in Britain? Russell Brand springs to mind. But his is a lonely, if powerful, voice in sea of conformity that O’Toole would be ashamed of!  

Corinna Lotz

A World to Win secretary

Friday, December 13, 2013

'Terminator' seeds back on corporate agenda

For over a decade, Monsanto and other corporations have reluctantly acknowledged an international moratorium on what are known as “terminator” seeds. These make crops die off after one harvest, forcing farmers to buy new seeds for planting. All that could be about to change as a result of pressure from Brazilian landowners.

A massive movement of farmers and biodiversity groups in the 1990s put Monsanto on the back foot and the corporation froze plans to market terminator seeds. Campaigners pointed out that the seeds could also be used to introduce traits crucial to plant growth, which would be triggered only if proprietary chemicals were applied. Naturally, Monsanto, Syngenta and the other seed corporations would sell those too.

In 2000, the UN Convention on Biological Diversity effectively blocked genetic use restriction technologies, which is the polite term for what many refer to as suicide seeds. Nearly 200 countries signed up to the moratorium. But Monsanto’s lobbyists kept up the pressure.

They found support in Brazil, where major landowners have repeatedly tried to get the government to drop the ban. They failed to have the moratorium lifted in 2007 after the UN Convention reaffirmed its policy. Now landowners have forced the issue back on the agenda of a key Congressional committee where support for allowing the use of terminator seeds is gathering pace.

One of the more bizarre arguments deployed is that the terminator seeds are safer than other genetically-modified products because they allegedly eliminate the risk of contamination of neighbouring land. The landowners want to plant fast growing trees and non-food crops to cash in on the global demand for biofuels. 

The ETC campaign group, which monitors the ecological consequences of new technologies, totally rejects these spurious arguments. It points out that the sterility trait will “inevitably bleed into neighbouring fields and crops meaning that farmers will unwittingly plant seeds that they will never be able to harvest”. A petition signed by tens of thousands of people across Brazil warns that if the law is changed in favour of terminator seeds, it will threaten “farmers and food security and agricultural biodiversity worldwide”.

At the heart of the terminator technology is what ETC describes as “a ground-shifting market strategy”. Suicide seeds can produce anywhere from two to four times the profitability of non-terminator seeds and if introduced would reinforce the stranglehold that a handful of transnationals already have. Syngenta, Bayer, BASF, Dow, Monsanto and DuPont together dominate the seed market as well as the agrochemical market. 

A key judgement in the United States Supreme Court earlier this year reinforced Monsanto’s position while a new European Union draft law will also strengthen the hand of the major corporations. In the US, the court ruled that farmers must pay Monsanto each time they plant its GM soybeans.

Judges rejected the argument of farmer Vernon Bowman that because the company’s herbicide-resistant Roundup Ready soybeans replicate themselves, he was not violating the company’s patent by planting progeny seeds he bought elsewhere. Their ruling was essentially a defence of patent law, which protects corporate products from being copied.

Meanwhile, a draft EU law on plant reproductive material would stop the exchange and distribution of traditional seeds. Ben Raskin, head of horticulture for the Soil Association, warns: “If this regulation is passed, not only will we lose a huge number of plant varieties, we will lose the amazing diversity of appearance, taste, and potential benefits such as disease resistance and nutritional content.”

The effect of the proposal is to introduce a costly licensing system that only the corporations will be able to afford. Now there’s a surprise! From Brazil to Washington and on to Brussels, corporate power has effectively terminated what remains of the democratic process.

Paul Feldman
Communications editor

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Ukraine revolt up against the oligarchs

The tremendous popular movement that has taken control of the centre of Kiev to demand the departure of the government represents a wide spectrum of forces. They range from workers tired of falling living standards to rabid nationalists who hate everything Russian.

Ukraine’s debts are overwhelming the country’s economy and it’s reckoned it needs to find $60 billion to make interest payments on its loans next year. A paralysed regime reluctant to sign up to stringent International Monetary Fund conditions has found itself caught between Moscow and Brussels.

President Putin fears that if Ukraine is drawn into the European Union it will open the door to imports into Russia itself. So Russia, which has a stranglehold over Ukraine’s energy supplies, wants the country instead to become part of a Moscow-sponsored customs union.

Having won their independence in the break-up of the Soviet Union in 1991, it seems that the majority of Ukraine’s people do not want to be driven back into the arms of Moscow again. Their uprising is the second in the country’s brief period of independence, having taken to the streets in November 2004 in protest against rigged presidential elections.

There is material support (food and power supplies) for the current street action from president Viktor Yanukovich’s political opponents. Many of them helped organise the “Orange Revolution” which forced out Yanukovich nine years ago – only to see him back in power today.

Barricades are being reinforced in Kiev’s Independence Square, and people are settling in, despite sub-zero temperatures. They have seen off repeated efforts by security forces to remove them from the square over the last 22 days. Demonstrators and journalists have defied brutal assaults by the Berkut riot police. Morale is being boosted by popular singer Ruslana and bands like Mad Heads and Haydamaky.

There are a wide range of forces involved in the protests, including the far right nationalist Svoboda (freedom) party. Yanukovich’s support lies in the largely Russian-speaking eastern part of Ukraine, and its steel and coal tycoons, while his opponents include other oligarchs from “The Family”, the corrupt super-rich who hold the reins of economic and political power.

Behind the protests lies Ukraine’s impossible economic situation. Its woes deepened after the global financial crash of 2008, because of its reliance on exports of steel and raw materials from the heavily industrialised east and south of the country. Ukraine has been in recession for 18 months.

It was Yanukovich’s failure to sign an agreement at the November 28-30 EU “Eastern Partnership” summit in Vilnius which initially sparked the protests. In any case, it is clear that the EU states cannot bail out Ukraine, no matter how much they want to out-manoeuvre Putin.

Humiliation in Vilnius was quickly followed by Yanukovich’s failure last week to secure a deal in China where he hoped to negotiate a $3bn loan for irrigation. And the strength of the pro-EU protests makes the signing of a deal with the much-hated Putin impossible.

Last Sunday around a million people besieged the capital’s streets and nationalists toppled a statue of Lenin. Somewhat ironically Ukraine’s last period of true independence was during and just after the Bolshevik revolution of 1917.

As the founder of the young Soviet state, Bolshevik leader Lenin defended the principle of national self-determination and strongly opposed any forcible integration of nations into a Russian-dominated state. Rather than wanting a statue to himself, he would have been on the streets supporting the demonstrators.

But Lenin’s legacy was trampled by the greatest nationalist of them all – Stalin. His regime’s reactionary policies led to famine in Ukraine and starvation for millions. Many Ukrainians, with some justification, see Putin continuing in Stalin’s great-Russian footsteps and reject dictatorial rule from the east.

The mass of Ukrainians rightly want to free themselves from the shadow of power-hunger oligarchs and political dictators of all varieties. Becoming part of the European Union, which is imposing savage austerity measures on member states, will not help them, however.

At the same time, the main political parties – whether they are headed up by  Yanukovich, Timoshenko, Klitschko or Yatseniuk – are fronts for the corrupt, oligarchic tycoons and mafias who own the country’s immense agricultural and mineral resources. These are the barriers which Ukrainians have still to remove.

Corinna Lotz
A World to Win secretary

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Cost-of-living crisis about falling pay

Workers on low and middle incomes are experiencing the biggest decline in their living standards since reliable records began in the 19th century. For the average worker, wages have fallen by £1,300 every year since the Coalition government took office in 2010.

But whether employed by public sector organisations or private companies, wage increases for ordinary workers have actually been on a declining path since the early years of this century. For those employed directly by the public sector, this general pattern is made worse by the government’s five-year pay freeze and cap, which union leaders have done nothing to oppose. As a result,  recent figures suggest that those working in the public sector are an average of £2,073 a year worse off than in 2010.

These stark findings on falling pay come from the New Economics Foundation, in a report commissioned by public sector union Unison.  It finds that falling pay has resulted in and compounds the worsening conditions of the low-paid:

  • At least one in five workers in the UK economy earns low pay – too little to live on at £7.47 per hour or less, equivalent to £13,600 or less for someone working full-time.
  • More than half of individuals, including children, living in poverty in the UK live in households where at least one adult is working.
  • Low pay is a major problem in parts of public service. An estimated one million public service workers are on low pay, including health and social care workers, school staff and local authority employees.
  • Growing numbers of public service employees are formally part of the private sector though paid for through taxes as outsourcing gathers pace. Evidence suggests that the shift from public to private can result in diminished pay and rights for workers with private sector discounting apparent for some occupations.
  • Low pay is being compounded in the public services by the blight of zero hours in areas like social care.

As the report also shows, the proportion of low-paid workers (defined as those on 60% of the median income for the economy as a whole) rose from around 12% of the workforce in the mid-1970s to 20% by the mid-1990s, where it has stayed.  Moreover, the proportion of households which are poor despite having at least one working adult has been rising for a decade or more so that now in-work poverty outstrips poverty associated with worklessness.

What their figures show, but both the NEF and Unison ignore, is that low and falling wages are and have been essential to sustaining the economy throughout the credit-fuelled period of globalisation. And this applies whether we’re talking about the UK on its own, or as part of the world economy. The evidence from the UK is there to see in the report:

“Gross Domestic Product is the headline measure of benefits from economic activity. The two major components within this are compensation to employees (wages) and operating surplus (profits). Over the past 30 years the share of benefits received by workers in the form of wages has been falling. The wage share averaged 59% of Gross Domestic Product in the 1950s and 1960s and then peaked in the mid-1970s at 65.5%. From then it followed a gradually declining trend, reaching 53% by 2007. A temporary increase occurred in 2009 as the financial crisis hit business activity and profits but the share has since declined again to its 2007 level.”

So all One Nation Labour’s talk of a cost-of-living crisis disguises what has really taken place. There has been, and continues to be, a transfer of wealth from workers to employers in the shape of lower wages and higher profits. This has gone for decades, under successive governments and is the price workers are paying so that corporate-driven globalisation can sustain itself.

When the ConDems talk about austerity lasting into the distant future, this is what they mean. They are waging a one-sided class war while union leaders sit on their hand hoping that the election of a Labour government will improve their members’ prospects. Fat chance!

Gerry Gold

Economics editor

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Air pollution set to become biggest global killer

Increased greenhouse gases emissions are not only speeding up dangerous climate change –  they are creating a health crisis that will kill millions. Urban air pollution is set to become the top environmental cause of mortality worldwide by 2050, ahead of dirty water and lack of sanitation, a new report warns.

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development in its environmental outlook up to 2050 forecasts that continuing along the present path could lead to a “doubling of deaths from exposure to particulate air pollutants leading to respiratory failure from current levels to 3.6 million every year globally, with most occurring in China and India".

The chart (below) shows the result if rising energy demand continues to be met by burning fossil fuel. As the OECD adds: “Progress on an incremental, piecemeal, business-as-usual basis in the coming decades will not be enough.”

China is in the front line of this epidemic and a report published in the Lancet says that in 2010 air pollution contributed to 1.2 million premature deaths in China, almost 40% of the global total related to this cause.

Shanghai is currently suffering air quality so bad that children and older people have been warned to stay indoors seven times this month. On December 6, the air quality index surged high above the level of dangerous health risk. There were over 360 micrograms of particles per cubic meter of air, 14 times higher than safe daily exposure levels, according to the World Health Organisation.

The situation was even worse a few weeks ago in the north-eastern city of Harbin, where particulate levels reached 40 times the WHO safe level. But whilst the young and the old were told to stay inside, workers were still expected to make their way through 10 metre visibility to work.

What the WHO levels count are very tiny particles, around 2.5 microns in diameter. These are more dangerous than larger particles which the body's defences can keep out. Smaller particles get through and embed themselves in vulnerable tissue.

Winter is smog time in China, just as it was formerly in industrial Britain. When the heating goes on, coal-fired power stations step up production, adding to what is already in the atmosphere from industrial production and year-round coal burning.

Just to underline the point, this picture shows last winter's smog in north-east China as seen from space.
Chinese premier Li Keqiang has promised his regime will cut coal consumption and control the number of cars. But local authorities are being told to make deep spending cuts and the cheapest way to run cities is on coal. The main reaction by local authorities has been to lie about the figures.

The government says it will take energy production out of government control and open it up to the market. On the basis of no evidence they claim that this, along with a carbon trading scheme, will ease the problem. But the corporations and big state-owned business are opposing the changes and there is no timescale for achieving them.

China has paid for double digit economic growth every year for two decades with an environment so degraded that the quality of people's lives is being wrecked. Shocking reports come in all the time, such as the recent discovery of 16,000 dead pigs in the river that supplies drinking water to Shanghai. Soil erosion and water pollution are damaging agricultural production.

To paraphrase the Roman historian Tacitus, they have ravaged and slaughtered and called it progress, and they have created a desert and called it growth.

But people in China are fighting back. Anger over the environment is said to be the single biggest cause of unrest in a country where mass demonstrations and resistance are happening more and more, even if the government tries to cover it up.

Penny Cole
Environment editor

Monday, December 09, 2013

Corporations will get 'keys to Europe' under secret trade deal

In recent history, only nation states had the attribute of sovereignty, the power to govern a defined area, to make laws and exercise force in defence of perceived interests. Now what is called  “corporate sovereignty” is assuming a superior position in the political hierarchy.

A little-discussed concept on this side of the Atlantic, it first saw the light in the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) between the United States, Mexico and Canada which came into effect in 1994. Under NAFTA, corporations were given some political powers to challenge national laws that, according to them, infringed the agreement.

Now the Obama administration is pushing for a view of corporate sovereignty that is so broad that its implementation would make national governments totally subordinate to the demands of the 100 powerful transnational enterprises who dominate global trade.

American officials are insisting on the incorporation of corporate sovereignty into two trade treaties currently under negotiation – the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), currently being negotiated in secret between the US and the European Commission. The latter is also known as the Transatlantic Free Trade Agreement (TAFTA).

As we have pointed out already, under TTIP, harmonisation of EU-US regulations will be designed to ensure a race to the bottom. America’s refusal to ratify key international standards and conventions would be replicated in Europe, adding to the intensity of conditions resulting from the recession.

In order to boost transatlantic trade, TTIP would remove environmental protection – including the European “precautionary principle” approach. Recently agreed restrictions on fracking could be overturned. National encouragement favouring local production would be outlawed. Resistance to GM foods would be defeated.  

Essentially, under TTIP, corporations would be allowed to sue governments if they felt they were being obstructive. Naturally, the negotiations don’t actually use the term corporate sovereignty, preferring instead “investor-state dispute settlement” (ISDS).

The European Commission has put together a "factsheet"  that, says Techdirt, a leading group blog site which reports on economic policy issues, makes a false equivalence between the right of states to regulate and the need to protect investors. The factsheet is a long-winded defence of ISDS. Techdirt’s analysis notes:

“In essence, it's a kind of syllogism: investment is critically important for the EU economy; investors needs corporate sovereignty guarantees to protect their investment; so TAFTA/TTIP must contain ISDS to ‘attract and maintain’ foreign investment – in this case, from the US. The clear implication is that without corporate sovereignty, US investors will be reluctant to put their money in Europe, and vice versa.”

Next week in Brussels, an alliance of Belgian citizens, farmers, NGOs and trade unions have called for a blockade of the EU summit on December 19 against austerity and the  “attempt to give corporations the keys to Europe” through the new EU-US trade deal. In Westminster, there is a conspiracy of silence about the further diminishing of parliamentary democracy that is at stake here.

Green MP Caroline Lucas has published a motion warning of the dangers from the TTIP. As of today, only 14 of parliament’s 650 MPs had signed support, and just eight those are from Labour!

Techdirt’s analysis talks of the need to “preserve the sovereignty of nations, and prevent them becoming the object of multi-billion dollar lawsuits”, as is happening currently under other trade agreements like NAFTA, while the Democracy Centre warns that TTIP will create "a privatised justice system for global corporations".

However, sovereignty effectively passed from states to corporations during the capitalist globalisation process that took off in the late 1980s. A handful of transnational firms control the global economy while even fewer have the financial system in their grasp. They are more powerful than governments which is why parliaments do their bidding.They already sue governments around the world.

So we have arrived at a corporatocracy. Representative government is a toothless tiger, shorn of its bite and subservient to powerful interests. TTIP will roll on despite protests and we can only stop this destructive process if we have democratic ownership and control of both the political and economic systems. Let’s aim to replace corporate sovereignty with a people’s sovereignty.

Paul Feldman
Communications editor

Friday, December 06, 2013

Mandela's passing leaves unfinished business

The death of Nelson Mandela marks the closure of an era of independence struggles in Africa which ended colonial rule and brought political freedom. But despite Mandela’s heroic and self-sacrificing struggle, his vision of a just and equal society eludes the vast majority.

The African National Congress which Mandela came to lead was formed in 1912 in response to the South African Land Act (rubber-stamped by the British) which banned black people from buying or renting land in 93% of the country. By the 1940s, the ANC was deeply under the influence of the South African Communist Party (SACP).

The malign influence of Stalinism had already taken its toll on the party. The SACP, which did not believe in the armed struggle, proposed a cautious, non-revolutionary two-stage approach to the South Africa situation. First, it was necessary to achieve a Western-style democracy. Only then could you reform the state and make progress towards socialist ownership and so on. In other words, stage two was postponed to the indefinite future.

In 1961 the country’s Afrikaans whites outvoted the English-speaking whites in a referendum to leave the British Commonwealth and establish the Republic of South Africa. The new republic's government pushed ahead with the formation of the racist apartheid state, which deprived the black majority of all human, political and economic rights. A mass strike called by the ANC was met with brute force. 

The new republic's government pushed ahead with the formation of the racist apartheid state, which deprived the black majority of all human, political and economic rights. A mass strike called by the ANC was met with brute force. The time for talking was over.

As Nelson Mandela said in his famous speech from the dock at the Rivonia freedom trial in 1964: "What were we, the leaders of our people, to do? Were we to give in to the show of force and the implied threat against future action, or were we to fight it out and, if so, how?"

It was at this point the ANC reluctantly agreed to form Umkhonto we Sizwe, an armed struggle organisation designed to bring young people already planning insurrection under its control.

Mandela quoted the Umkhonto we Sizwe manifesto: "The time comes in the life of any nation when there remain only two choices – submit or fight. That time has now come to South Africa. We shall not submit and we have no choice but to hit back by all means in our power in defence of our people, our future, and our freedom".

Mandela and seven other leaders of Umkhonto we Sizwe were sentenced to life imprisonment. His amazing courage and resilience inspired the heroic resistance of two generations of black South Africans.

This, combined with sanctions and a growing economic crisis, forced the white government led by F. W. de Clerk to release Mandela and concede black people the right to vote. As a result, on a momentous day in 1994 Mandela became the first black president of South Africa.

However, the new constitution may have dismantled apartheid laws but it left the South African state itself – its army, police force and bureaucracy, its education institutions and most crucially its forms of ownership of land and natural resources – largely untouched.

Mandela's ANC successors have co-opted themselves into this state, and trampled his vision of a just South Africa into the dust. Its lowest point so far came in August 2012 when they sent armed police in to repress striking miners. They opened fire and 34 workers at the Marikana platinum mine were massacred, mostly shot in the back.

Black people remain largely landless and many are homeless in their own country. Gold and other minerals remain in the hands of the global corporations and the majority of black people have no say whatsoever. The ANC elite has grabbed hold of political power, and the ruling group’s main role is to maintain the status quo and enrich themselves. As we say goodbye to an amazing leader in the shape of Mandela, these are facts that can't be ignored.

Throughout his life Mandela was committed to peace, and today it is hard to stomach the hypocrisy of Obama and Cameron praising him for this quality whilst they themselves are the worst kind of warmongers engaged in drone wars and reckless armed interventions. And with their anti-terror laws, torture, imprisonment without trial and mass surveillance of their own populations, the US and UK secret services put apartheid's notorious BOSS in the shade.

Africa is facing a new kind of recolonisation, with global agri-business seizing billions of acres of land, and the corporations totally in control of mineral wealth, aided by corrupt and complaisant governments. Half mast flags, statues and public displays of mourning are of no use to Mandela's people. Revitalising and finding new approaches to achieving his vision of an equal society would be his best memorial, and the only one worth having.

Penny Cole

Thursday, December 05, 2013

Osborne's budget for business at our expense

Put simply this was a ConDem budget statement for business at the expense of those who depend on public services, those who have to rely on benefits and the millions who will have to wait years longer to draw their state pension.

The aim of the ConDems is to roll back all the post-war achievements of the welfare state. This is confirmed by the fact that the Office for Budget Responsibility says that if the governments meets its target, spending as a proportion of total national income (GDP) will be the smallest since 1948.

The short-term view (leaving out spending commitments beyond the election) disguises the necessity for further huge cuts and intensification of austerity after 2015, when the optimistically forecast limited “growth”  is expected to decline.

Chancellor George Osborne announced a cap on the total welfare budget, to be voted on each year (daring Labour to oppose, which it won’t), further cuts in public spending and also brought forward the plan to make people work longer before they can get a pension.

That’s if they can hang on to a job until they’re 70. As Caroline Abrahams from Age UK commented: "Far too many people are losing their jobs in their 50s and 60s." Osborne’s plans will leave them penniless for a decade.

He ratcheted up the threat to withdraw benefits from the young unemployed claimants unless they took workfare jobs dressed up as “training”.

Another £3 billion of spending cuts are to be piled on top of the major reductions still to be fully felt as local councils, in particular, struggle to reduce their budgets by 25% over the lifetime of this parliament with their tax powers frozen.

There will be even fewer resources for councils following Osborne’s concessions on business rates for small firms, who were handed out all sorts of tax breaks by the government.

Despite the window-dressing of new tax-avoidance plans, these will leave untouched the global corporations like Amazon who “offshore” their payments, leaving the UK with precious little revenue from the major transnationals’ activities. Meanwhile, fracking firms drilling for shale gas are going to get even more tax concessions on their first profits.

At the same time, the sale of social housing will be accelerated and more and more people made dependent on unaffordable private housing, either to rent or, if they are extremely well off, to buy in a market that produced soaring prices.

The real story is an economy desperate to attract inward investment from China for infrastructure energy and transport projects.

Making the UK more attractive to corporations and sovereign wealth funds held by China and other countries in deteriorating conditions worldwide comes at immense, unbearable cost to increasing numbers of hard-pressed households huddling up over the winter, with many dependent on foodbanks, and others have to choose between heating and eating.

Osborne and the ConDems fool no one. The burgeoning trade gap is due to the fact that the so-called “recovery” is  driven by consumer borrowing and cheap (for now) mortgages. With productivity stagnant, the conditions are being set for rapid inflation and a house price asset bubble.

Already price increases continue to outstrip earnings, leaving ordinary people far worse off than before the recession. The UK has equal highest inflation rate among 28 European Union countries and despite the measures to cut fuel bills, they will still rise above inflation next year.

What we saw today was the confident determination of a line of front-bench millionaires insistent on reducing benefits to those on low-pay, in increasing the proportion of part-time, zero-hour contracts and striving to overcome falling profit rates for the global corporations.

Despite Osborne’s boast about reducing spending, the long-term, underlying “structural deficit” has barely changed since 2010. So behind all the public relations bravado, the ConDems plan is for austerity for as far as the eye can see.

Their ambition is a market economy where workers are totally at the mercy of the employers and the state. Ending austerity not only involves removing this government. It must also suggest alternatives to a capitalist system that offers only pain and more pain to the majority of its citizens.

Gerry Gold and Paul Feldman

Wednesday, December 04, 2013

Detroit goes bankrupt and others are certain to follow

Detroit, the former Motor City, home of Motown music is now the largest bankrupt city in US history, brought down by debts totalling $18.5 billion. Already, 40% of the city's streetlights do not work and 78,000 abandoned buildings litter the city, whose population has dropped from its 1.8 million peak in 1950 to 700,000.

"The city no longer has the resources to provide its residents with basic police, fire and EMS services," federal judge Steven Rhodes said. He noted the average police response time is 58 minutes, more than five times the national average of 11 minutes.
After months of delays, Rhodes’  ruling opens the way for severe cuts in pension and health benefits for the city’s employees and as much as an 80% reduction in the value of savings invested by ordinary people in the city’s bonds.

Kevyn Orr, emergency manager for the City, a former bankruptcy lawyer appointed in March by the state of Michigan’s Republican governor Rick Snyder, has powers which over-ride the city’s locally elected representatives. 

Detroit city workers’ union, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 25 (AFSCME), has filed a notice of appeal arguing against the judge’s ruling that federal bankruptcy law public trumps employee pension protections embedded in the Michigan constitution. They’re unlikely to have much success.

It was snowing as Sharon Levine, attorney for the AFSCME, left the courthouse, and union members were asking if they were going to lose their house. 

Simultaneous, ironic news of increased sales from the three big Detroit carmakers GM, Ford and Chrysler provided only the briefest of cheer. GM, the US’s biggest carmaker by sales, was rescued through a managed bankruptcy in 2009.

Now the US Government is set to see its largest loss from a crisis-era bailout - $10 billion of the $49.5 billion it poured into the company will never be seen again. Chrysler, also rescued from bankruptcy is now owned by Fiat. Share prices for both Ford and GM dropped by 3% despite the increased sales.

The decision on Detroit’s unrepayable debts and unmanageable finances, and the consequent assault on pensions, benefits, jobs and services looks likely to provide a template for the many other US cities and towns in a similar plight.
“Ballooned” hardly does justice to the US municipal debt which has grown from $361 billion in 1981 to $3.7 trillion today. Detroit’s bankruptcy means it –  and many others – will no longer be able to pay the interest on the monstrous loans they use to fund their budgets. And the loans themselves are shrinking.
Investors are shifting their funds out of municipal bonds and into more risky stocks and shares. Rollover, “refunding” deals which reinvest funds that have matured dropped by 25% in the second quarter of this year, whilst the household sector shed $32.2 billion of municipal bonds.
Detroit’s plight is a microcosm not just of the USA, but of the whole of the global economy. To the south, Brazil’s growth has turned to contraction for the first time since 2009. The economy shrank 0.5% between July and September from the prior three months.
Ukraine’s abandonment of far-reaching political and trade agreements with the European Union sparked a second crisis in nine years, with masses of people driven by the imminent threat of economic and financial collapse taking to the streets in a bid to bring down the regime.
Prime minister Mykola Azarov said its decision to walk away from the EU and back to the Russian competitor was based on “fiscal imperatives”, and ultimately prompted by the International Monetary Fund’s overly harsh terms for an aid package.
The reverberations from the 2008 crash continue to be felt throughout the world.
Gerry Gold
Economics editor

Tuesday, December 03, 2013

A property-owning oligarchy has London in its grip

London is being transformed into a glass skyscraper for the super-rich and global property speculators while many of the things which have made Europe’s largest metropolis a great place to live, work and play are set to vanish.

Human-sized pockets of houses, street markets and art centres which have escaped the greedy eyes of developers are under the hammer. Central London and even further out boroughs have become unaffordable.

The “prime property” syndrome is now stretching all along the banks of the Thames. Speculative fever is sweeping into outlying areas, with the poorest councils working hand-in-glove with property consortiums to smooth the way in deal after deal

The south end of Vauxhall Bridge, across the river from the Houses of Parliament, has already seen a 180-metre tower suddenly sprout up, grossly altering the Westminster skyline. And it is only the first of five.

Places like Wapping will become “wall to wall flats, completely uniform, culturally a complete desert”, an East London art curator has warned. Architectural writer Rowan Moore has pointed to the imminent loss of the Wapping Project in Tower Hamlets. After a 20-year success story, the vibrant cultural space is due to close just before Christmas and the property is likely be sold to a developer.

Blackfriars is now considered as a part of “prime” central London, the first time an area that lies partly to the south of the Thames has earned this dubious description. New “designer homes” will “add a fresh sheen to SE1”, according to an Evening Standard property writer.

“A glitzy new skyscraper is being built at the foot of Blackfriars bridge and already smashing price records for south side homes – studio apartments cost from £960,000. (“Call developers on 020 7871 7188”, the writer adds helpfully.) A former car park in Union Street off Blackfriars Bridge Road will become a designer apartment complex with prices ranging from £820,000 to £2.25m.

Southwark council was caught red-handed in the Heygate scandal where local campaigners spotted that it had agreed a ludicrously low price with a global property giant Lend Lease in exchange for just 79 social rented homes out of a total of 2,535. Labour-controlled Southwark has one of the highest rates of child poverty in London. It is the ninth most deprived boroughs in the capital. .

The Elephant and Castle shopping centre (never exactly a beauty spot, but now home to a popular food market) has been sold for the knockdown price of £50 million to property company Delancey. Its conversion of the Olympic Park’s Athletes Village was heavily criticised for the lack of affordable housing for local people.

A few miles west along the Thames, Wandsworth Council has given planning consent for the an £8bn redevelopment of the 1930s iconic Battersea power station to a Malaysian consortium. Penthouse flats are set to go on the market for a cool £30 million each. So feverish is the London property bubble that the first group of flats all but sold out before a brick was even laid.

In Haringey council, Labour MP David Lamy recently fêted the opening of a 78,000 square foot Sainsbury’s supermarket, part of the Tottenham Hotspurs stadium development.  Spurs, the world’s 14th richest football club, came under heavy criticism from the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment.

In other parts of south London, champagne bars are opening up as the uber-rich move in. Campaigners are quite rightly opposing the “gentrification” that actually means forcing poorer and middle-class people out of areas that property developers want to milk for huge profits.

The Thatcherite notion of a property-owning democracy – enthusiastically endorsed by New Labour -  has truly become an oligarchic tyranny. The time to end it is now.

Corinna Lotz

A World to Win secretary

Monday, December 02, 2013

Getting beyond dead end parliamentary politics

Positioning yourself to the left of One Nation Labour, as it now prefers to be known, is an easy enough task. Building a new party that can mount a successful electoral challenge to Ed Miliband’s austerity-lite “responsible capitalism” crew is more fraught.

Left Unity, launched at a weekend conference, has set out along a parliamentary road which many others continue to tramp. It’s a crowded space that already includes the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition, Respect and the Socialist Labour Party.

An initiative launched by former members of Respect, leading ex-members of the Socialist Workers Party and other organisations, with film director Ken Loach, Left Unity has expressed the desire for a change and a way out of a political logjam.

The impasse is not, however, simply the result of the convergence of the three mainstream parties around the imperatives of the capitalist market economy, which stubbornly remains in recession. The blockage is also a constitutional one, with the parliamentary state a clear obstacle to further social progress.

Disengagement, dissatisfaction, distaste, despair, disgust – they all express the degree to which a majority of new generations and a substantial minority of older people have switched off from the present political process. You can’t say it often enough but that’s why Russell Brand’s tirade against the system has had 10 million views on YouTube.

Although couched in negative terms, these sentiments present an historic opportunity to advocate a revolutionary political roadmap. It’s a moment to put forward new forms of real democracy, participatory and direct, that go beyond the compromised representative system and to debate how we get from A to B.

Left Unity, unfortunately, passed up that chance. A clear majority favoured a “broad left”, non-revolutionary approach that sidelines the vital issue of the state and political democracy. The new party hopes, instead, to capture votes from disillusioned Labour supporters at the next election. Some even see the party as a the “left’s Ukip” in its potential to win votes from the disaffected.

This is a fundamental misjudgement of where we are today. Instead of reinforcing the parliamentary status quo by proposing a “left” version of what we have already, this is a historic opportunity to put forward alternatives for a different relationship of state to people. That means a different kind of state altogether. Not of voters who have no power – a democracy in name only – but where people can determine their own futures within a new constitutional settlement.

In Scotland, the constitutional issue has come to the fore as a result of the independence campaign, which Steve Freeman pointed out in moving his Republican Socialist platform. A movement has emerged around the referendum which is faced with what kind of constitution Scotland should have if it is to achieve an independence which is anything more than a transfer of power to another elite.

Throughout Europe, the capitalist state has enforced austerity, sometimes relying on the International Monetary Fund and the European Central Bank to browbeat elected governments. Repeated general strikes in Greece and elsewhere have failed to dent this arrangement. Coalitions of the left like Syrizia in Greece (which Left Unity sees as an example to follow) have failed to distinguish themselves .

The plain fact is that support for all political parties is plummeting, partly because they are identified with the status quo. Increasing numbers clearly feel that the existing parliamentary parties have little relevance to the realities of their life and that voting will not change things.

This has created a crisis of legitimacy for the existing political structures and therefore for the state itself. That process was behind the formation of the Occupy and movements in Spain, Brazil, Turkey and the Arab Spring itself.

The major challenge for all of us, not just Left Unity, is to deepen our understanding of where we are in history, analysing the diverse impacts of corporate-driven globalisation on politics, the economy and the eco-system and demonstrating how a return to the Labour of 1945 is impossible.

We have an obligation to put forward comprehensive alternatives whose content is a transition beyond capitalism. Thinking about and working on what kind of democratic, networked organisations are needed to reflect these aspirations and support their achievement is where we should direct our energy.

Corinna Lotz and Paul Feldman

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Let's write our own constitution for Scotland

In a doorstop of a White Paper published this week, Scotland's SNP government promises an opportunity for people to be involved in drafting a new constitution for Scotland. We should seize this rare chance to identify where power actually lies and map out what real self-determination would look like.  

The SNP government has to propose a new constitution, because how could you have a new country without one? The other main political parties must oppose the whole idea – because they believe the British constitution and the union of England, Wales and Scotland is the last word on democracy. Were it so!

Scotland's Future promises "an open, participative and inclusive constitutional convention" to "ensure that it reflects the fundamental constitutional truth - that the people, rather than politicians or state institutions are the sovereign authority in Scotland". The convention will have a direct role in shaping the constitution following the approach of the US constitutional convention of 1787, the SNP government claims.

But the truth is that the draft people will be consulted on is certain to consist of a robust defence of the status quo, where profit-driven growth invariably trumps the needs of people and the environment. It will enshrine capitalist property “rights”, support company law and leave land in private hands. Political power will remain firmly out of reach for the majority.

And it won't be the people living on estates and battling poverty that are consulted, but the bodies that make up Scotland's close-knit elite. So in order to discuss the kind of revolutionary constitution that shook the world in 1787, we will need to draft it ourselves. We should establish People's Assemblies across Scotland to ensure that the people, not the corporations and not the professional politicians of any stripe, decide matters.

Most of the White Paper is a referendum day shopping list of childcare, inflation-proofed pensions and wages, and an end to the hated bedroom tax and universal credit. All this is promised in the midst of a global economic crisis and Scotland would have no immunity to a renewal of the banking crash. In fact, with RBS in line to be the trigger of the next financial crisis, Scotland would be hit hard.

Further, fiscal independence is a myth whatever the currency. With the SNP government determined to remain in the pound, its room for manoeuvre will be minimal, to say the least. In any case, the Bank of England, which decides money supply, interest rates and so on, does so in the interests of the bankers and the corporations. If an independent Scotland is compelled to join the euro as the price of European Union membership, it wil be a case of out of the frying pan into the fire.

The White Paper points to the eurozone as an example of a single currency operating well in many independent states. Where has the SNP been for the last five years? What price Greek, Spanish or Irish independence when it came to defending people from horrifying austerity, mass unemployment and poverty imposed by Europe in the name of defending the euro?

In 670 pages and 170,000 words the SNP outlines a social democratic paradise to emerge fully formed from a “Yes” vote. First minister Alex Salmond says it is "a mission statement and a prospectus for the kind of country we should be". But we all know what happens to company mission statements and prospectus's when the market crashes and the economy slumps!

Opening up a discussion about what a new constitution should contain is very important. But to use all this flannel (from the Celtic "wlana" wool - as in pulled over eyes) as our starting point would be accepting a nationalist and mostly illusory explanation of the future.
The referendum creates an opportunity to adopt a fundamentally different approach to independence, self-government and self-determination and we should take it up now, not allow ourselves to be hoodwinked by the SNP's false dawn.

We have launched a discussion about an alternative view of self-determination for Scotland on A World to Win’s network. Let us know what you think. 

Penny Cole