Sunday, 13 July 2014

Welcome to Western Neoliberal Totalitarian 'Democracy'

I am old enough to remember the Soviet Union. I grew up with it and I'm glad I did. Why? because it meant that I lived in a time when there was an alternative to capitalism and it was an alternative that was taken very seriously. It was taken particularly seriously by American capitalism, to the extent that there were show trials of communists  and 'communist sympathisers' in the USA in the 1950s, and there was a relentless tide of ant-Soviet propaganda both in the USA and the other 'Western Liberal Democracies' (known then as 'the West') in Europe and Canada, New Zealand and Australia.

We were told that while the West was free, the Soviet Union was a totalitarian one-party state, characterised by a rigid ideology, an all-pervasive propaganda machine, the brutal suppression of dissent, that people were imprisoned on trumped-up charges in terrible conditions and you couldn't fart in your own toilet without the authorities knowing about it because the KGB had an all pervasive system of spies and snoopers recording everything you did - and heaven help you if it was the wrong kind of fart.

Of course there was more than a grain of truth in the anti-Soviet propaganda though it was no doubt played up as far as possible by the capitalist propagandists. But anyway this isn't a post about the Soviet Union, neither is it a defence of the Soviet Union, its a post about those 'Western liberal democracies' I referred to earlier and what has become of them since the demise of the USSR.

The fact that I've had direct experience of living at a time when the Soviet Union existed enables me to put the current situation we find ourselves in here in the 'West' in perspective. Because as far as I can see in 'the West' we are now living in a one-party state with a regime of rigid ideology, an all pervasive propaganda machine and the brutal suppression of dissent, where people are imprisoned on trumped-up charges in terrible conditions and you can't fart in your own toilet without the regime knowing about it. Now where does that remind you of?

"Imprisoned on trumped-up charges in terrible conditions"

Every major party in the 'West' is now a neoliberal party following the same rigid 'free' market ideology. In the UK, Labour, the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats are simply the left, right, and centre wings of the UK 'neoliberal party'. The same is true in the USA with the Republicans and Democrats and the pattern is repeated in all the other 'Western' democracies. The result is that whoever you vote for in Western democracies you get more of the same, and whichever major media outlet you use you get the same narrow ideological view of the world. 

A classic example of the way this stitch-up works is austerity. Since the 2008 global economic crash, every 'Western' government has had its own version of austerity, dumping the costs of the crash onto workers, the poor and the unemployed. When voters have rejected those governments at the ballot box and voted for the opposition, wanting real economic change, they have been faced with more of the same - yet more austerity. So what used to be called 'Western Liberal Democracy' could perhaps now be more accurately described as 'Western Totalitarian Democracy', or since our 'democracy' is now largely controlled by corporations and the rich perhaps simply fascism would be a more accurate description. 

It may well be that things in the 'West' are not yet as 'bad' as they were in the Soviet Union. But a quarter of a century after its demise the parallels between what happened there and what is happening here must be taken seriously. All who want a genuinely open, democratic and plural society, and want to bring about real change and sweep away the growing threat to our prosperity and freedom that is being driven by the corporations and neoliberal 'free' market right, need to organise, protest and vote for parties that oppose the corporate takeover of our lives.

Friday, 30 May 2014

RIP Labour: The day the Labour Party finally died

I'm not the only one who noticed but today marks the end of any useful life that the Labour Party had left in it. I've posted about the impending demise of the Labour Party before but now its finally arrived. The Party's had its problems for a long time but the rot really set in with the advent of Tony Blair and New Labour in the 1990s, followed by the black farce of the premiership of Gordon 'end of boom and bust' Brown. Since then the Party has been on life support and it looks like the feeble efforts of Ed Miliband to resuscitate it have finally failed, for today Chris Leslie, who is apparently the shadow chief secretary to the treasury, will announce that:
"We won't be able to undo the cuts that have been felt in recent years, and I know that this will be disappointing for many people. A more limited pot of money will have to be spent on a smaller number of priorities. Lower priorities will get less."
f this is what Labour has to offer no wonder so many people do not vote. Labour is offering the politics of despair and not hope. It is the politics and economics of reckless irresponsibility. And it is the economics  of those without the courage to deliver change, most especially for those who are dependent upon that change happening in this country. - See more at:
So that's it. Labour has completely capitulated to the 'free' market. It is the party of the corporations and bankers. Labour can no longer make even the vaguest claim to be a party of labour and the people. Many of us knew that but this statement makes it official. Labour are finally committed to permanent austerity and even a "budget surplus". 

RIP Labour: The rot set in long ago with New Labour
Whats really sad about this is not just the end of a once great party but that its demise is through its own doing - its suicide because there is absolutely no need to do this - its political and economic nonsense. The cuts can be undone and spending can be raised. As Richard Murphy has pointed out on his blog today there is no need for a budget surplus and, as a nation, we can afford debt. Murphy hits the nail on the head when he says:

"If this is what Labour have to offer no wonder so many people do not vote. Labour is offering the politics of despair and not hope. It is the politics and economics of reckless irresponsibility."

If this is what Labour has to offer no wonder so many people do not vote. Labour is offering the politics of despair and not hope. - See more at: as Richard Murphy has pointed out on his blog there is no need for a budget surplus and, as a nation, we can afford debt. Murphy hit the nail on the head when he said:
 I agree with every word of that but there's more - it is the politics of a party which no longer has a useful purpose or anything to offer the British people and has reached the end of the line.

If this is what Labour has to offer no wonder so many people do not vote. Labour is offering the politics of despair and not hope. It is the politics and economics of reckless irresponsibility. And it is the economics  of those without the courage to deliver change, most especially for those who are dependent upon that change happening in this country. - See more at:
f this is what Labour has to offer no wonder so many people do not vote. Labour is offering the politics of despair and not hope. It is the politics and economics of reckless irresponsibility. And it is the economics  of those without the courage to deliver change, most especially for those who are dependent upon that change happening in this country. - See more at:
If this is what Labour has to offer no wonder so many people do not vote. Labour is offering the politics of despair and not hope. It is the politics and economics of reckless irresponsibility. And it is the economics  of those without the courage to deliver change, most especially for those who are dependent upon that change happening in this country. - See more at:
If this is what Labour has to offer no wonder so many people do not vote. Labour is offering the politics of despair and not hope. It is the politics and economics of reckless irresponsibility. And it is the economics  of those without the courage to deliver change, most especially for those who are dependent upon that change happening in this country. - See more at:
If this is what Labour has to offer no wonder so many people do not vote. Labour is offering the politics of despair and not hope. It is the politics and economics of reckless irresponsibility. And it is the economics  of those without the courage to deliver change, most especially for those who are dependent upon that change happening in this country. - See more at:

Sunday, 11 May 2014

Roosevelt was right; it seems that what we have to fear is fear itself

Despite Cameron and Osborne's best attempts to convince us that we are in recovery, and that we are all getting better off and heading back to the sunny uplands of endless growth, its clear that the crisis hasn't been worked through yet and we still have major problems. Lets consider unemployment; the figures are falling and have been for some time but its obvious that they are being massaged. 'Jobseekers' are being sanctioned for the feeblest of reasons, and no reason at all - like failing to attend a meeting you weren't invited to. There has also been a massive rise in the numbers of 'self employed' people and there are now 1.4 million people on zero hours contracts. Self employment is a convenient way of getting people off the books but it is also a sign that the economy is failing to provide proper jobs for people. So, despite a fall in unemployment to 2.24 million its clear that the real figure is way higher and if you consider underemployment, which has been estimated to be as high as 6 million people, you can see an economy that is failing.

Of course its not just unemployment that concerns people, there are also severe problems with falling living standards, poor housing, growing personal debt and shrinking pensions. This is the result of 30 years of neoliberalism, or Thatcherism as it is better known in the UK. The bright shiny future we were all promised in the 1980s just turned out to be a bonanza for casino capitalism and the super rich. And the super rich are really just a kleptocracy who have made massive gains by asset stripping the public sector and stealing our pensions, making the rest of us poorer in the process. 

Those who caused the great crash of 2008 have escaped without any sanction, banks have been bailed out, and lots of ordinary people have suddenly found themselves much worse off. Children have found they have less prospects than their parents. Not surprisingly governments and politicians have become unpopular and there is real anger about these changes. So who to blame? Well anyone it seems apart from 'ourselves' - in the sense that 'we' voted repeatedly for people who screwed 'us' because 'we' are politically naive - and the people, the capitalist corporations and their tame politicians, who are really to blame for the mess we are in. 

And there we have it. Lots of angry people, fearful for the future, feeling they have been left behind in a time of austerity, and wanting change. And how do you control those people and deflect them from the real culprits and the real solutions to their problems? You play on the their fears and you offer them simplistic solutions which feed their prejudices. You divide them to rule them, and you use the well worn but effective tactic of scapegoating. "Blame the immigrants, they are taking your jobs. Blame the unemployed, they are benefit scroungers soaking up your hard earned taxes". 
Franklin D. Roosevelt; well aware of the dangers of fear
Which brings us to UKIP which is the vehicle that people are using to vent their anger in the UK because they have been screwed. UKIP, the anti-establishment blokish party of common sense. Except that UKIP is neither anti-establishment nor does it speak any sense. What it does do very effectively is feed on people's fear and and discontent and its clear that if we ever had a UKIP government the very people who voted for it would be screwed even harder by the capitalist class. All of which shows us that Roosevelt was right, what we have to fear is fear itself because it is fear which can be exploited by political demagogues like Nigel Farage for their own ends and fear which blinds people to the truth and makes them act against their own best interests. Make people insecure and it is much easier to control them.

So what is the answer? Hope has to be the antidote to fear and we have to expose the real establishment nature of UKIP, and its policies, such as privatisation of the NHS. We have to promote positive alternatives which will result in the restoration of security for all the people through Social Security and a publicly run public sector. The only political Party which offers this hope is the Green Party. So vote Green in 2014.

Sunday, 20 April 2014

Now an economist proves what we already knew - capitalism doesn't work!

I was really interested to read about Thomas Piketty's new book 'Capital in the Twenty-First Century' which is being hailed as a 'groundbreaking'  work and, apparently, is making a real impact on economists. What Piketty has done is to 'prove' what many of us long thought was true - capitalism creates inequality, and left unchecked, ever increasing inequality. Piketty has done this by sifting through masses of economic data from the past couple of hundred years and he has written about his findings in a book which is accessible to the general reader.

All of this is good news - if it has a real impact on economics - and we can only hope now that it does. One hundred and fifty years or so ago Marx showed how capitalists expropriate wealth from working people through the mechanism of surplus value, and despite the fact that Marx had a huge influence politically, much of his work was ignored by mainstream economists, who were wedded to the capitalist economic system. Lets hope that Piketty doesn't suffer the same fate as Marx because economists whose ideas run counter to the prevailing order tend to have little impact in the end. This is because 'economics' is less an academic discipline and more a political justification of the current structures of economic power. 
David Harvey's new thought provoking book

I look forward to reading Piketty's book when I've finished a book I suspect will prove to be a much more interesting and thought provoking read - this is David Harvey's 'Seventeen Contradictions and the End of Capitalism'.  Harvey is a renowned Marxist who has lectured on Capital for many years. I'm only six contradictions into this book but Harvey has already nailed the iniquities and inefficiencies of capitalism and is well on the way to explaining what we must do to build an economy for the 99%. Its a book that I can thoroughly recommend. I'll get round to reading Piketty as soon as I can but I guess I owe him thanks already for proving what I have been saying on this blog for years - capitalism creates poverty.

Thursday, 3 April 2014

The French Socialist Party is repeating the failures of the mainstream left

Another day, another election drubbing for the left. The French Socialist party got a kicking in the recent local elections. Much of this has to do with the unpopularity of the French President Francoise Hollande. In May 2012, I posted optimistically on this blog about Hollande's success in becoming the President of France. And why not? Hollande offered some hope of an alternative to the austerity programme which has proved so devastating for millions of people in the EU. But that optimism proved false. Hollande may have started out with tax increase for the rich at a rate of 75% but he quickly succumbed to the austerity agenda announcing £50 billion of cuts. And here's the irony, the beneficiaries of this have been the French National Front headed by Marie Le Pen.

Once again, a party of the left has failed in Europe by following a neoliberal agenda, and by conceding ground to a right-wing political agenda, has encouraged the right. There are parallels between France and the UK, where UKIP has benefited by assuming the mantle of being the champions of the working class just as the Front National has in France. So when is the mainstream left going to begin to learn some lessons from this debacle? When is it going to reject the austerity agenda and promote a positive alternative which shows its support for the 99% with jobs, housing and support for public services, publicly delivered?
Hollande: repeating the same mistake and expecting a different result

Since the crash of 2008, wherever parties of the left have implemented austerity they have been decisively rejected by voters at the ballot box and the right have been the beneficiaries. There is a serious lesson for Ed Milliband and the Labour Party here. Recently Len Mckluskey, General Secretary of UNITE threatened to withdraw support from the Labour Party if they fail to win the next general election. Who can blame UNITE for talking this stance? Labour ceased to be a party of working people and the trade unions about twenty years ago. Until left mainstream parties can begin to articulate a positive alternative to neoliberlaism they will continue to fail. They are like Einstein's  madman endlessly repeating the same mistake and each time expecting a different result.

Thursday, 13 March 2014

The NHS is a massive national asset that we must invest in

Today I am hearing the usual crap about pay rises for NHS staff, and this from a government which has increased the pay of top NHS managers by 11% in the past few years. I also had to put up with Peter Allen on BBC Radio 5Live launching a tirade of Tory propaganda against the leader of the Midwives union - " How can we pay for these pay rises - increase taxes?" Well yes, if necessary increase taxes if it means a better NHS! - but make sure those tax rises are paid not by genuinely hardworking people like public sector workers such as nurses, but the rich and the bankers who have had their snouts firmly in the trough for the past 30 years and more.

If it hadn't been for the economic mismanagement of this Tory-led government and near on five years of austerity our economy would now be in much better shape to deal with the economic difficulties we face, and we'd have a stronger NHS. This government is  entirely responsible for the mess we are in.

The NHS was created at a time of austerity, now we are much wealthier - is it unaffordable? NO!

Most importantly, we must reject the government's neoliberal political agenda with its mania about tax cuts which is beamed out every minute as propaganda by the corporate media. The 'story' they tell us about the economy is a false and misleading one. The NHS is a perfect example of this. Far from being a drain on resources that we 'can't afford' the NHS is a massive national asset which creates wealth for the UK. How? By maintaining the health and well-being of more than 60 million people, not to mention the money it puts into our economy by creating useful employment and ensuring that we are a more productive nation. Where would we be without it? We'd all be an awful lot poorer.

We need to change the terms of political and economic debate in this country and reject the false world view which we are being told we must believe. Until we do that we will continue to be subjected to a regime of 'economic necessity' which is calculated to make us all poorer whist a tiny and undeserving minority benefits at our expense.

Tuesday, 11 March 2014

What we can all learn from Bob Crow

I was really shocked when I heard that Bob Crow had died this morning. He was only 52 years old and his sudden death will be a real blow to members of the RMT and trade unionists and workers everywhere. In his twelve years as leader of the union he increased its membership by 20,000, no mean feat in difficult times. He also did his best to ensure that his members were properly rewarded for their work and wasn't afraid to use industrial action to achieve better terms and conditions for them. That, of course, is how it should be and that is why he earned so much respect, even from his political enemies.

Bob Crow - a fighter for social justice who will be missed
The oft forgotten reality is that the wealth in our economy is created by workers. The trains and the infrastructure Bob Crow's members used in their daily work were built by workers, and the vital task of transporting millions is daily carried out by workers. What would happen without any of this? Capitalists, who are credited with creating wealth, are really the expropriators of the wealth that workers create. Since when has a shareholder or banker ever done any useful or essential work?

There will be more Bob Crows in the future and some of them will have been directly inspired by his example of shrewd tactics and tireless struggle for social justice. What can we learn from Bob Crow? The value of workers and the necessity of struggle by workers to achieve a better world for all. Every poorly paid worker can learn to join a union and to fight for a better standard of living. When Bob Crow was elected he was invited to Newsnight for an interview. He didn't go because he was celebrating with his mates in the pub. Tonight I will be raising a glass to the memory of Bob Crow and all the good things he achieved. RIP Bob.

Friday, 7 March 2014

What is democracy and how can we make it work for us?

Everybody knows what democracy is don't they? Citizens of a state who are eligible, get to vote every 4 to 5 years for representatives to an elected chamber, which is the seat of government. Wikipedia defines democracy as:
"Democracy is a form of government in which all eligible citizens participate equally—either directly or indirectly through elected representatives—in the proposal, development, and creation of laws."
Then there is a whole lot of other stuff about the mechanisms of democracy such as voting systems and the structure of elected chambers which turns out to be pretty important because if that doesn't work, democracy doesn't work either.

In the West we have a system which has come to be known as 'liberal democracy' which we like to think is the best. We know that because our leaders, including David Cameron and Barack Obama, are always lecturing the rest of the world that they should be using our system. But its clear that something is wrong with Western liberal democracy, both here and in the USA. Fewer and fewer people want to vote and there is widespread disillusionment with the system. In 1950 83.9% of registered voters voted in the UK and in 2001 the number was 59.4%. Since then there has been an increase in the turnout but less than two thirds of registered voters voted in 2010, and the overall trend is downward. I believe that the disillusionment stems from the fact that democracy seems to work much better for some i.e. bankers than others i.e. the rest of us.

So maybe its time we should go back to thinking about what democracy really is and how it could work better for all of us. That is why I recently read David Graeber's book The Democracy Project. Graeber starts by talking about Occupy but the meat of his book is about democracy and decision making. It provides plenty of food for thought and is well worth reading. It also contains a few eye-openers for people who haven't studied the origins and development of democracy. I like Graebers' ideas about consensus, something which is commonly poo-poohed by people who like democracy. Consensus, far from being the shoddy compromise some would have us believe, can be very powerful and positive.

If we go back to the origins of democracy in ancient Greece it was a very different setup to the one we are used to called direct democracy. There were no representatives and all citizens participated in decision making. Of course not everyone was a citizen, and women and slaves did not get to vote. In contrast, representative democracy is a relatively modern concept, and one which was intended, when the American Republic was founded, to prevent direct democracy from happening. You see the founding fathers of the USA feared direct democracy, which they saw as mob rule, and were determined that decision making was going to remain in the hands of men they could trust - themselves, and people like them. According to Graeber they agreed with the 'Puritan preacher John Winthrop who wrote':
"a democracy is, among most civil nations, accounted the meanest and worst of all forms of government."
So it follows that nowhere does the American constitution mention that the USA is a democracy. In fact the word 'democracy' had negative connotations for a long time and only became a popular term in the 19th century when politicians in the USA began to identify themselves as 'democrats'.  
Direct democracy in Switzerland
Given the current state of democracy in the West, in which a political class, divorced from the rest of society, has allied with corporate power to dominate democratic institutions and control law making, its not difficult to see our current democratic system as anything other than government for the 1%. 

If we want to take back that democracy for the 99%, perhaps electing representatives is not the answer. We definitely need to empower citizens and undertake root and branch reform of our democratic institutions, starting from the lowest level of local government. So maybe we can learn something from the ancient Greeks by cutting out the 'middle man' and establishing what the American founding fathers feared most -  a form of direct democracy that allows all citizens a voice in decision making. Think it can't be done? Well it happens in Switzerland which has a form of direct democracy, and if it can happen there it can happen here too. Democracy is much too important to be left in it's current state and it's something we should be having a national debate about. We need to make it work for us.

Thursday, 13 February 2014

Rejoice! Cameron has found the 'magic money tree'!

Just in case you hadn't noticed we are still in the grip of austerity with Conservative Chancellor George Osborne and Ed Milliband both promising yet more cuts in government spending. In fact, there is no end in sight to austerity, with years of cuts to come. But what Ed and George don't appear to understand, and what I and many others have been arguing is that austerity cuts don't help our economy or make our finances stronger. If we hadn't had Osborne's cuts over the past 4 years our economy would be in a much better position now. Osborne has complained about the fact that we are borrowing too much money but his cuts have lead to greater borrowing. He has now borrowed as much in 3 years as the last government did in 13 years. He has failed.

Of course Cameron has staunchly supported his Chancellor through the years of austerity and he one famously said "there is no magic money tree". What he said was:
"It’s as if they think there’s some magic money tree.  Well let me tell you a plain truth: there isn’t.”
Of course he was talking about borrowing, something which Osborne has been doing rather a lot of, but let me tell you the real truth - there is a magic money tree. In fact, there are at least two magic money trees. One is called quantitative easing and the government used that to produce £375 billion worth of cash from thin air. Another is the way in which governments can suddenly find more money when they come under political pressure. 
David 'money no object' Cameron

This brings us to the recent terrible flooding events in the Somerset Levels, and on the Thames and Severn. The Somerset floods went on for weeks before the government showed some concern but the Thames flooding was a different matter. The latter is a Tory heartland and Cameron realised he had to be seen to be doing something - and fast. So he did an about-face reached for the 'magic money tree' and stated that "money is no object". According to the Telegraph Cameron 'promises to spend whatever is necessary as flooding worsens across southern England'

If the government hadn't been so busy cutting public spending including on flood defence, the Environment Agency, and fire services we might have be in a better position to cope with the current crisis. The message is clear, the austerity cuts were always political and a false economy. The reality is that a cut in one area often increases spending in another, and that is what is happening now.  Add to that the government's climate change denial credentials, Cameron's 'green crap', and the promotion of fossil fuel fracking and you have a government which is not only class-war driven but short-sighted and incompetent. More and more people will suffer from the multiple failings of the stupidest government ever but don't expect Cameron to be fazed by any of this, he has one of the biggest brass necks in political history.

Sunday, 26 January 2014

Three whopping great Tory lies

I've been saying all along on this blog that Labour will win the next general election and I still subscribe to that view, although its beginning to look like Labour's majority could be quite small. If the Tories do win - or do a lot better than I expect - it will be in no small part due to the successful misleading propaganda that they have been churning out since May 2010. This is a government built on misleading statements and the chief protagonists have been David Cameron and George Osborne. Cameron is a perfect front man for a hard-right party like the Conservatives, and he effortlessly projects a sort of common-sense-bloke-next-door persona which seems to chime with a large section of the electorate. However, David Cameron has almost nothing in common with the overwhelming majority of the electorate, he is definitely not the bloke next door. He is a millionaire who inherited wealth from his tax dodging father and has never done a proper job in his life - I mean that in the sense of having had to go out and get a job in a competitive job market like the rest of us - see my previous post on him. The same is true of Gideon 'George' Osborne, though Osborne is much less smooth than Cameron and not much liked by the electorate.

There are the three great Tory whoppers that I would like to feature in this post because they are likely to have a significant impact on the election:

1. Labour was responsible for the economic crisis: the Tories were quick off the mark with this one. They used it during the election campaign and almost as soon as the Coalition was formed the mantra of Labour's economic incompetence and responsibility for the crisis was repeated endlessly while Labour, shell-shocked by the election result, footled around with its leadership campaign. By the time Milliband was elected the electorate had largely bought it. Of course its not true. How could even Labour be responsible for what was a global economic crisis? Of course they had some culpability in crawling to the banks with 'light-touch' regulation but responsible - no. In fact, under Labour's response to the global economic crisis the UK's economy was doing better than when Osborne subsequently got his hands on it.

2. Austerity is necessary: this is George Osborne's specialty. After the election Osborne tore out of the starting blocks to embed austerity as quickly as possible - for political reasons. His 'emergency budget' in June 2010 cut £81 billion from public spending, doing real harm to the poorest and most vulnerable people in the UK. Osborne's great claim was that the UK had 'maxed out its credit card' but he knows that UK debt is not the same as credit card debt. Analogies about government borrowing and household budgets and people's debt and spending on credit cards are misleading as economists know quite well. Nonetheless, a combination of relentless repetition about UK debt and the 'structural deficit' and Labour's spineless non-response have embedded this idea in the minds of many in the electorate. Austerity isn't a necessity its a political choice, undertaken to make the 99% pay for the failures of the 1%. It is classwar. The 2010 Green Party manifesto showed how the UK could re-vitalise our economy and pay down the deficit without austerity

3. The NHS is safe with us: the 2010 Tory manifesto claimed there would be 'no top down reorganisation of the NHS' and Cameron claimed it would be 'safe' with them. And what did the Coalition do as soon as it got into power? It introduced the Health and Social Care Bill which was intended to break-up and privatise the NHS. Lets be clear a privatised NHS is no longer the NHS. The NHS has not been protected from cuts as has been claimed by the government and now the NHS is in crisis, just like it was when the Tories were last in power in the 1980s and 1990s.

Of the three whoppers it seems the last one is the least likely to be believed by voters, but the first two are likely to have the greatest impact overall. Could this be the most dishonest government ever?