Sunday, 11 April 2021

Someone just died

On Friday 9th March Prince Phillip died. He was ninety-nine years old. I wanted to write a brief post about his death and the reaction to it.

When anyone dies you can feel sympathy for their family and friends, but the reaction of the BBC was something to behold, and I've never seen anything like it in over sixty years of watching.

Soon after the death was announced wall to wall coverage began on all BBC radio channels. I was driving at the time and tried to switch from Radio Four to Radio Five but it was the same commentary all round. On tv, we were subjected to the same treatment, and incredibly BBC Four was 'suspended' for the whole evening. 

As you would expect most of the coverage was nauseatingly gushing and a few of his 'gaffes' -  i.e. racist comments - were mentioned. It was shocking stuff. The BBC had to put up a special complaint form because many people weren't happy.

Parliament has been recalled early, and the government updates and announcements of covid have been suspended, all very convenient for Boris Johnson at a time when the government is under pressure from the Greensill scandal. 

If there was ever any doubt that the BBC is a state radio station that has been put to bed by the North Korean levels of propaganda we all witnessed.

Tuesday, 6 April 2021

Sarah Everard - a week we must all remember

I'm posting this late, after the events, but I wanted to reflect on what happened in a terrible week in March 2021. 

On Wednesday the 3rd of March, Sarah Everard disappeared while walking home from a friend's house near Clapham Common to her home in Brixton Hill. Monday the 8th of March was International Womens' Day. On the 9th of March Wayne Cousins, a Metropolitan Police Officer was arrested on suspicion of Sarah's murder, and on the following day, Sarah's body was found in woodland near Ashford, Kent. The following Saturday 13 March a peaceful vigil was held on Clapham Common in memory of Sarah at which the Metropolitan Police moved in and aggressively handcuffed, and arrested four women for breach of the Covid19 regulations. The following day was Mothering Sunday.

News of Sarah's disappearance and the discovery of her body sparked anger, grief, and anxiety across the UK, and thousands of women attested to the fears and experience of abuse at the hands of men. That was followed by further anger at the heavy-handed policing of a peaceful vigil. 

So, here we are in 2021, in the twenty-first century, and that terrible week serves as a reminder of the fears of women and girls and the sexual harassment and abuse they are being subjected to every day. I've been hearing about this all my life, I can remember the Yorkshire Ripper and the fear that women in the North of England lived in at the time. Why is it that so little has changed since then? 

What kind of a society are we that allows this to continue? Certainly a dysfunctional one. We need to educate our sons for sure but I think it goes deeper than that, we need to put people, nature, and the planet first instead of living in a world that is dominated by consumption, prejudice, and profit. We need to build a society that genuinely cares for others - including the natural world. If we don't, not only will women and girls continue to be harassed, raped, and murdered but our very survival as a species is in doubt.

Monday, 1 February 2021

The way forward - buiding a democratic socialist party III

This is the third in my series of posts about building a democratic socialist party. In this post, I want to focus on policies. 

What policies should a party have? Of course, that is up to the members not me, but here are some policies for real change that I wrote about in a previous post, policies which I think would be widely supported and are essential to begin the bring about the changes we want:

1. Electoral reform - the introduction of a system of proportional representation (PR) for all elections. 

2. A green new deal (GND) to combat the climate crisis and provide much-needed jobs in response to the economic contraction we are going through. 

3. A recognition of Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) by government, the Treasury, and the BoE.

To these, I would add:

4. A written constitution - which would include the abolition of the House of Lords, an elected second chamber, and greater devolution of powers to Scotland, Wales, and regional and local government - all properly funded.

5. Restoration of the pubic sector - this would include as a minimum - rail and other public transport, water, and Royal Mail, and the full return of a unified NHS and public health. 

6. A minimum wage of at least £12 per hour and a job guarantee - there will be plenty of jobs in a GND.

7. Social housing for all who need it.

8. The end of privatisation of the Education sector - bring all schools back into the control of local authorities, abolish student loans and student debt.

9. Rewilding of the UK and proper protection of biodiversity including a ban on the use of pesticides and intensive farming - yes we can grow our food organically.

10. A fair taxation system, including council tax, taxes on the wealthy, and proper regulation of the financial sector.

I just want to finish off this series of posts with a reference to Rob Hopkins's book - From What Is To What If - and how it can be used to challenge our thinking and generate ideas.

If we are going to bring about radical change we need to reimagine how our party, society, and economy work. And, as I said in the first post in this series we need to think about how a political party can work collectively and successfully. Rob's book is a superb guide and primer on how to do this. It's a book that everyone should read.

All we have to do now is make it happen.......

Tuesday, 19 January 2021

The way forward - buiding a democratic socialist party ll

In my previous post on this topic, I blogged about four key principles for setting up a democratic socialist party, which are:

1. horizontalism

2. member-led

3. consensus

4. ecosocialism

In addition, such a party needs to be built on solidarity and mutual aid. The party must not simply be an electoral vehicle with the aim of electing MPs and councillors. It must put down roots in local communities that are built to last. 

Every local party should aim to acquire spaces that can serve as community hubs - buildings and/or land where solidarity can be practiced - whether through meeting spaces, community libraries, foodbanks, education, child care, growing local food, and other means of community support, cohesion, and resilience. The spaces must be open to all and inclusive.

For too long the left has relied on winning elections in a broken democratic system to bring about radical change. We can bring about change and improve the quality of life in our communities now. It will take many years to undo the damage wrought by the Tories and solidarity will be key for many years to come. Local grassroots action will provide the party with the bedrock of support that it needs to become successful in a sustainable manner. We need to build community structures that will last for many generations to come.

There are already many groups operating in countries across the world who are developing and growing wealth, health, and wellbeing in communities through economic democracy (see here), and many mutual aid organisations, and we can learn from them. 

They are involved in activities such as:

  • growing local food sustainably
  • food coops
  • street kitchens 
  • building a democratic economy
  • providing shared spaces - for the community, particularly lonely and elderly people
  • building homes (community land trusts)
  • retrofitting homes for energy efficiency
  • energy cooperatives with renewable energy
  • rewilding
  • local currencies
  • reuse, repair, and recycling
All of the activities above will become more important as the climate crisis bites. We cannot expect any help from the sociopathic billionaires who control our economy and their tame politicians. 

It's essential that members become community activists as well as political activists if we are going to build a successful party that will last.

In a third post, I discuss the policies the party should have..... here.

Saturday, 16 January 2021

The way forward - building a democratic socialist party

This is the first in a series of posts about creating a new democratic socialist party (although the ideas and principles could be used for reforming an existing party). But it's more than just that, it's about rethinking what a political party of the left should be, and how it should work. To do that, we have to go back to the drawing board and start with a blank slate. We need to think about how a party is structured, how decisions are made, and who makes them. 

That means challenging received wisdom about how political parties work and thinking about fundamental changes in how we organise ourselves and our society. We need to get the principles right - from the start.

There are some key principles that I believe any new party must follow if it is going to genuinely be responsive to its members, and controlled by them. If we fail to change the way we do things we will inevitably fall into the age-old traps of factionalism, splits, and top-down control

I'll focus on four essential elements in this post. 

1. Horizontalism - no one is more important than anyone else. All members are equal. There are no leaders.

2. The party must be member-led - this follows from horizontalism. All decisions on actions, policies, and programmes are made by the membership.

3. Consensus - this is how the party will make all its decisions. There will be no majority group and no minority group. You may be wondering how this will work. Here is a simple explanation and methodology which can be shared. You may wonder if consensus can work with a large group of people. But it can and has done successfully as it did in the General Assembly of Occupy Wall Street. It's a way of operating that is new to most of us, and we will have to learn. 

What also follows from this is that there will be no 'representatives'. There will be people who are chosen as spokespersons but they will be delegates who relay the decisions members have taken. In addition, the party conference will be supreme and decisions taken at the conference will form party policy. 

Having said that it's important to be sure that all members have access to the conference and are able to follow the proceedings and vote either in person or virtually.

How will this work in a representative democracy? The answer is that we will have to make it work. Members who are chosen as parliamentary candidates will be delegates speaking on behalf of all the members and articulating the policies and programmes that the members have decided upon. If they get elected that is what they will do in Parliament and they will be subject to recall if they fail to do so. All decisions made on who is to be a local delegate will be made by the local party through an open selection process. In the longer term, the party has to work towards creating a genuine democracy in the UK by putting power into the hands of the many. That means devolving powers down to a local level.

If we are serious about equality and bringing about fundamental change to create a society that works for all, we have to begin at the very base and build up from there. There are some examples of good practices that we can point to like Rojova and the Zapatistas in Mexico. Not perfect, but nothing that is created by human beings ever is. If we don't aim high we will be stuck near the bottom forever.

4. It's also important that the party is explicitly an ecosocialist party, and that should be reflected in its name and values. We are living through a pandemic, a difficult time for all of us, but we face an even greater threat because of biodiversity loss and global warming. We know that capitalism has no regard for the natural world, seeing it merely as a 'free' resource to be exploited for profit and a dumping ground for waste. That, along with the damage caused by intensive farming methods, and the burning of fossil fuels is leading us into a very dangerous place that is an existential threat to humanity and other planetary species.

I have continued in my next post describing how the party can be built from the grassroots up

Tuesday, 12 January 2021

Why Labour isn't 20 points ahead

When Jeremy Corbyn was LOTO we were told by centrists and much of the media that if only Labour had a 'moderate' leader the Party would be 20 points ahead in the polls. Now that Corbyn has been replaced by Keir Starmer this hasn't happened. In fact, despite the utter incompetence and corruption of Boris Johnson's Conservative government, the Tories have been ahead in the polls for most of 2020. Only in recent days after the Christmas covid cock up has Labour taken a small lead. Why is this? This Twitter thread by @cakeylaura about her father night help to explain (I've not included all the tweets in the thread):
"He's got some significant health issues and so does his partner. They both rely on the NHS. He's very worried about climate change. In every respect he ought to be a slam dunk Labour voter. But instead he thinks Boris Johnson is great and voted Tory at the last election. Why"

Because he's afraid of change. And the world is changing fast. Suddenly he's being accused of racism for the same jokes he used to tell loudly and unchallenged down the pub (accurately btw, he is racist, although of course he doesn't think so).

And that's the essential heart of it. To him, the Tories love Britain and want it to thrive. They will put Europe in its place, will play Rule Britannia, will give him something to be proud of. Labour? Labour will just accelerate Britain's decline into namby pamby wokeism."
Of course, people like @cakeylaura's father didn't get these views overnight. The community they grew up in (including family) will have had a large influence as will the mainstream media which, through newspapers like the Sun and Daily Mail, has been bigging up Britain and slagging off the EU for decades, stoking the fires of English nationalism.

The key question is - how do we change the opinions of people who share his views in order to promote racial harmony and progressive change? Why do some people prefer conspiracy theories promoted by politicians like Trump to facts presented by 'experts'? This Guardian article by Lois Beckett gives us some important clues. 

Firstly, people operate emotionally not rationally. They won't be swayed by facts. Experts telling us the truth won't cut it. Secondly, the narrative is important. Tell a story that is consistent and promotes the right values and policy solutions. For decades the right has had a consistent narrative about free markets, tax burdens, and red tape. Repeat this often enough and it seeps into people's consciousness. Where is the left's alternative to this? There isn't one but I've suggested one in this post.

So how do we change people's minds? According to the Guardian article:

"While it is possible to engage with people who believe deeply in false narratives, and sometimes change their minds, that work is most successful on an individual basis, with people who know each other well, experts said.

It’s helpful to understand someone’s fundamental framework for viewing the world, including whom they view as the “good guys” and the “bad guys”, in order to understand what kind of additional information might sway them, Phillips said."

We can't change the minds of millions through personal actions but we can change the narrative and we can make much more use of effective frames such as "for the many" instead of banging on about our good policies. Because most people don't vote for policies they vote with their hearts, not their head.  

The left has a lot of work to do. People on the left and right talk disparagingly about 'identity politics' but the truth is, for most people, like @cakeylaura's father, their politics are bound up completely with their identity. It's time we understood that. 

In the shorter term, the question is - will the approach adopted by Starmer's Labour be able to appeal to red wall Labour Tories and will Labour be able to square the circle of Brexit-loving English nationalism and progressive policies? I'm not holding my breath waiting for that poll lead.

Tuesday, 24 November 2020

Let's face it - the Labour Party has never been fit for purpose.

If you are a Labour Party member you will have a party card which states: "The Labour party is a democratic socialist party". But there is a problem - Labour is not a democratic socialist party and never has been, and it's not even particularly democratic. The party has always been dominated by the right and has failed in over a century to make radical reforms to our antiquated, class-ridden, parliamentary system which works in the interests of the ruling class.

I'd recommend you read the classic Parliamentary Socialism by Ralph Miliband. Although his book only covers the history of the Party up until the early 1960s it describes how even origins of the Party were not particularly radical and how it has always operated within the system of British capitalism rather than trying to bring about real change beneficial to the mass of British citizens. As Miliband said: 

"the Labour Party remains, in practice, what it has always been - a party of modest social reform in a capitalist system within whose confines it is ever more firmly and by now irrevocably rooted."

And so we find ourselves in a 21st century which is beginning to look more like the 19th century as it progresses, with mass poverty, low pay, poor housing,  privatised healthcare and education, dominated financial interests and the same ruling class.

The election of Jeremy Corbyn as leader of Labour in 2015 was an aberration. Though welcome it was obvious that the right of the Party which dominated the PLP would leave no stone unturned in its quest to ensure that this blip was ended as quickly as possible. 

The recent debacle in which Keir Starmer first suspended and then refused to restore the whip to Corbyn, after he was reinstated by an NEC panel demonstrates the determination of the right to crush the left in the party. And let's not forget this is the same Starmer who was elected as leader on the promise of uniting the party with the votes of many Corbyn supporters.

There can be no doubt now that in terms of membership and MPs the Party is further to the left than it has been for most if its history but how should the left respond to the ongoing attacks which are not going to let up? Should they leave or stay and fight? 

Many have already left and those who remain, certainly in the PLP don't appear to be putting up much of a fight at the moment. My view is that Labour is beyond redemption as far as democratic socialism is concerned. It would be better if Corbyn and the Socialist Campaign Group departed, and with the support of sympathetic unions set up a genuinely democratic socialist party. I've no doubt this could gain a membership of a couple of hundred thousand people and would have four years to organise and campaign to fight a general election in 2024. 

Will this happen? I doubt it, but it's still possible that Starmer and the Blairite rabble in the PLP could make the mistake of expelling Corbyn and that should be a game-changer. 

Wednesday, 4 November 2020

How #Trump wins

As I write this, the US presidential election is in the balance. Biden is ahead but there is no certainty he is going to win. Trump could still win a second term. The big question is - how? How can a man who is a narcissist, rapist, racist, misogynist, tax-dodging, corrupt monster responsible for 225,000 Covid deaths possibly win a second term?

More easily than you might think actually. Firstly he appeals to many because he is seen as straight-talking, and many are disillusioned with politicians' empty promises. He 'says what he thinks' even if that is only for effect. I saw some footage of him at a rally the other day. I hate to admit it but I was impressed. He was slick, he came across as a consummate performer, almost like a very good stand up comedian. And what he said hit home. Every phrase and sentence pushed the buttons of his admiring supporters.

"Make America great again", "Build the wall", "Jobs, jobs, jobs" - this is exactly what millions of Americans, who've been suffering from low pay and joblessness and have been ground down by forty years of neoliberalism want to hear. To them, he is a saviour. Contrast that with the mealy-mouthed platitudes and empty slogans of "Yes we can" Obama, who did nothing for the American working class and plenty for his backers in Wall Street. 

The truth is that the mainstream Democrats and their corporate backers have nothing to offer the great majority of Americans. People are desperate for change and no amount of Biden's appeal that "we can be better" will change that or assuage their anger. This is the beauty of neoliberalism, you dump on the many, slash their pay, benefits, and healthcare. Then you find a populist like Trump to offer them change - with no intention of delivering anything.

It was the same with Brexit. The Tories dumped on the UK working class, particularly in the industrial North, and brought poverty and homelessness, and despair to many thousands. Then they pushed the same buttons of anger and frustration that Trump did, blamed it all on the EU and immigrants, and offered to make Britain great again by leaving the EU - result? Boris Johnson and an eighty seat majority.

Its a tried and tested method and it works over and over again. The left has failed to find an effective antidote, largely because it doesn't hold the levers of economic power and control the media. Simply appealing to people's better nature for compassion, fairness and equality doesn't work in a climate of fear and anger.

In The Byline Times today Anthony Barnett summed the situation up:

The US is deeply polarised and this has to be addressed not denied by claiming ‘we can overcome’. Obama presided over a massive widening of inequality, something Biden Democrats have never acknowledged. The system he represents and assisted is divisive and makes his words ring hollow. 

By contrast, in Michigan, Trump rallied his supporters with a claim on the future that recognised America as a battleground: “We are going to keep on working, we are going to keep on fighting, and we are going to keep on winning, winning, winning.” 

And they love him for it. 

Friday, 16 October 2020

Local lockdowns won't work we need a circuit breaker with full furlough #Covid19UK

As if the threat of the coronavirus wasn't enough to cause you some anxiety - perhaps unless you are young and healthy - the manifest failure of this government to suppress the virus makes things much worse. In far east countries like Vietnam, the death toll is low (see below) and the economy is functioning well, and people accept the need to wear masks. In the UK the story is very different.

If you want to protect people and the economy you have to suppress the virus. This is what they have done successfully in the far east. That needs an effective test and trace system run by public health. The government's half-arsed three-tiered local lockdown is not the answer and will inflict terrible harm. It limits economic activity but doesn't take the necessary steps to control the virus. It is the worst of both worlds.

It's also necessary to quash the myth of herd immunity. The coronavirus is a flu-type virus. Immunity is short-lived. See this quote from The Lancet
"The arrival of a second wave and the realisation of the challenges ahead has led to renewed interest in a so-called herd immunity approach, which suggests allowing a large uncontrolled outbreak in the low-risk population while protecting the vulnerable. Proponents suggest this would lead to the development of infection-acquired population immunity in the low-risk population, which will eventually protect the vulnerable.
This is a dangerous fallacy unsupported by scientific evidence."
It's also important to note that while the death rate is low and largely confined to the very elderly even a 1% death rate would be catastrophic for populations around the world. At 1% the number of deaths would be higher than the Spanish flu. For example
1% of UK population: 666,000
1% of US population: 3.28 million 1% of world population: 78.1 million

Some countries have successfully suppressed the virus. The combined population of Thailand and Vietnam is roughly three times that of the UK at 170 million. The death toll is 94. These counties are both 'poorer' than the UK. Neither has the kind of healthcare we have here.

We need a circuit breaker with schools and universities closed for several weeks as recommended by SAGE. Students need to be able to return home if they want to with rent rebates. This needs to be accompanied by a proper furlough scheme to keep workers in jobs and businesses afloat, otherwise it could be a very bleak winter with no end in sight.

Friday, 4 September 2020

David Graeber - Rest In Power

I've never written an obituary before. I'm not sure that I know how to. But what I do know is that I was gutted to hear that David Graeber is dead at the age of 59. 

I found him inspirational, as a speaker and a writer. He was an anarchist who cut through the bullshit which props up our rigged capitalist society. He was also an activist who was involved in Occupy Wall Street and is credited with coining - "We are the 99%" - although he claims he didn't.

I have most of his books and they're all worth reading. I started with The Democracy Project which talks about Occupy and the democratic deficit in the USA. Probably his most important work is Debt: The First 5000 Years. As he says in the book he was amazed that nobody had ever written a book about debt, its origins, and consequences, before. I recommend you watch this short video that debunks the myths surrounding debt.

He will also be remembered for Bullshit Jobs, which exposes the many useless office jobs that people are trapped in and how bureaucracy - long blamed on government and socialism - is an inherent part of the capitalist system.

I learned a lot from David and he'll be sorely missed, not just by me, but thousands of others who enjoyed his exposures of our corrupt and unequal society. The world will be a poorer place without him.


Thursday, 20 August 2020

These are the three priorities we need to fight for: Electoral reform, a Green New Deal and #MMT

Covid-19 isn't going away anytime soon. It may be around for many years. There may never be a vaccine. We, and particularly older and more vulnerable people, may have to adapt the way we do things permanently. The virus could be a feature of the rest of our lives. But there is another bigger problem - the climate crisis. As I write this, wildfires are raging in California and the Greenland ice cap is melting. Many climate experts think we have only a decade to take decisive action to prevent a climate catastrophe which will cause huge damage to human society and the species we share our planet with.

Oh, and there's another problem called neoliberalism. Wherever you look Western governments in the USA, UK, Australia, and beyond are busily prioritising the wealth of corporations and the 1% over the economic health and wellbeing of citizens. The UK government is busily handing out lucrative government contracts to its friends and private corporations without any tendering process. There is no attempt to even hide this anymore and the MSM is largely silent on this.

In the UK we have a pressing need for a change of government to one which will actually look after its citizens and the environment. One of the biggest barriers to change is our electoral first past the post system (FPTP). We are only one of two European countries - the other Belarus - which do not use some sort of proportional representation. We need electoral reform as a priority to represent the real will of the people and break the two-party stranglehold on our politics.

So, our three priorities now must be:
  • Electoral reform - the introduction of a system of proportional representation (PR) for all elections
  • A green new deal (GND) to combat the climate crisis and provide much-needed jobs in response to the economic contraction we are going through. 
  • A recognition of Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) by government and economists

Why is MMT a priority? It's because acceptance of MMT would forever nail the myth that taxes pay for government spending. They don't. Sovereign governments with their own currency like the UK don't tax and spend, they spend then tax. They can create as much money as they need to spend so the £300 billion bailout of the UK economy by Rishi Sunak is affordable, as is a GND. If you want to know more watch this short video by Richard J Murphy.

I'm a socialist. I've no love for the Liberal Democrats or Starmer's Labour Party but I'd be prepared to support a proper electoral pact Labour/Lib Dems/Greens in 2024 to get the Tories out and bring in electoral reform and a GND. We can't afford to be sectarian. Things are way too serious for that. The first step to such a pact is getting Labour to support electoral reform so I hope you'll join the Labour Campaign For Electoral Reform (LCER) if you are a member. Please also support Make Votes Matter. Real change has never been more ugent!

Sunday, 9 August 2020

The cancer of consumption and #COVID19

We live in a consumer-capitalist society. Consumption drives our economy. That is why the Tory government is so anxious to return to 'normality', to get people back to work, commuting and buying their lunches at Pret a Manger. But the Coronavirus crisis has given us a different perspective. During the lockdown, many people were able to spend quality time with their children, they walked and cycled instead of driving, and looked for open spaces where they could hear the birds sing and commune with nature. They spent less and saved money. There were some big downsides, some people were unable to see their families, some people were cooped up in small flats and rented accommodation, others were trapped in abusive relationships. 

But the lockdown and its aftermath have given many people a different perspective on life - on what really matters - families, friends, communities and the value of nature. I heard on Radio 4 today that there is an exodus from London. People who can afford to are moving to the countryside so that they can have larger gardens and be closer to nature. It's fine if you can afford it but there is much more we could do to make cities and suburbs nature friendly. We can green our cities if we chose to. We can create spaces for community gardens, grow food, plant many more trees, we can generate clean energy, and we can give priority to cyclists and pedestrians over motor vehicles.

But back to consumption. Because it's consumption that is driving global warming and the climate crisis. Its consumption that is killing the planet and it needs to be reduced. Yesterday the last remaining Canadian ice shelf, the size of Manhattan,  collapsed into the sea. There have been record high temperatures in the Arctic and Siberia. Global warming is accelerating and we may be reaching a tipping point.

On my street, we are lucky enough to have a coronavirus support group. Now that the crisis has eased the conversation in the group has turned to growing food and reuse. Lots of people are giving away plants, vegetables, and things they no longer need. There are books and DVDs but also cabinets, duvets, and even washing machines. How good is this? It very good and if this could be replicated nationally it would lessen our need to consume. It needs to become the new normal. There is a huge amount of 'value' which we routinely discard and that needs to stop.

Part of the problem is that it is difficult to imagine a better world. Transition founder Rob Hopkin's excellent and inspirational book - From What Is to What If - shows how we can do this. The book shows how to overcome the barriers in our thinking, and how to improve our imagination and creativity. It is full of ideas and examples and is a must-read.
Covid19 is a threat but it is also an opportunity to change the way we live. Many have been talking about building back better - moving to a cleaner, greener more inclusive society with good public services. The government will do its damndest to return us to where we were before the lockdown but I'm hoping that attitudes are shifting. The government will not deal with the cancer of consumption and the climate crisis because that is a threat to the profits of its donors and supporters. But we need to be active and keep up the pressure, and there is a lot we can do at a local level to improve community resilience and health and wellbeing, and build stronger local economies. There are already many good things happening. If you want to know more take a look at the Transition Network

It's not only The Transition Network which is building a better future. There are hundreds of groups around the UK working on solidarity, mutual aid, growing local food, local currencies,  economic democracy, climate action, and community energy projects. Free your imagination, join in and build back better!

Wednesday, 8 July 2020

Economic imperialism and the fallacy of 'development'.

I'm reading The Divide by Jason Hickel which is an excellent discourse on how poverty has been deliberately created and maintained across much of the globe through Western colonialism, and how the economies of Western countries - the USA, UK, and other European powers - benefited from the looting of the global south. Before Western colonialism countries like China and India had a greater share of the global economy than any Western nations. The people who lived there also had a longer life expectancy than European people. 

Now, apart from China and some East Asian countries, which have protected their economies, the countries in the global South are poorer and have a lower life expectancy than their Western counterparts. This situation has been maintained, despite a revival in the fortunes of the global south countries in the 1960s and 1970s, by economic imperialism enforced through debt. Economic imperialism is the new colonialism.

Countries in South America, Africa, and much of Asia are now dependent on Western finance which comes with strings attached. The IMF and the World bank impose stringent conditions which means that these countries must open up their economies to Western corporations that exploit their natural resources, and they are forced to cut and privatise their public sectors. This has lead to a massive transfer of assets, trillions of dollars worth, from these countries to the West, and the impoverishment of their people.

In order to ensure their dominance Western countries, lead by the USA and the UK organised a series of coups to overthrow governments that rejected Western economic control and began to develop their natural assets and provide better education and housing for their people. Two of the well-known examples are Iran in 1953 where the Mosaddeq government was overthrown because of his attempt to nationalise oil 'owned' by what is now BP, and Chile in 1973 where the government of Allende was removed. There are many other examples. Millions died in the process of colonisation, coups, and control.

As Hickel says:

"Since 1960, the income gap between the North and South has roughly tripled in size. Today 4.3 billion people, 60 percent of the world's population, live on less than $5 per day. The richest eight people now control the same amount of wealth as the poorest half of the world combined."

This is all hidden by the smokescreen of 'development' in which Western nations pretend to be helping the countries which they have deliberately impoverished by providing 'aid'. The West makes false claims about alleviating the poverty it has caused by massaging the figures to make it look like aid is working and poverty is falling.

What these countries really need is relief from debt and the return of the ability to control their economies and natural assets and build up their industries and public sector free from control by Western banks and corporations. That is the real route to ending poverty in these countries and it is being actively prevented by the West. 

There's a lot more, including solutions, as yet I haven't finished the book, but I don't need to in order to recommend this book to all of you. It should be required reading in schools. 

Monday, 8 June 2020

The felling of the Colston statue wasn't an act of vandalism it was an act of liberation

Incredible scenes in Bristol yesterday as hundreds of people gathered in Bristol to pull down the statue of slave trader Edward Colston and throw it in the river. This was an uplifting event that exemplifies the anger and frustration many people are feeling about racism after the protests about the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis. The Bristol police did not intervene. 

The people of Bristol have been campaigning for fifteen years to have the statue removed without any success, having been ignored by the authorities. Its overthrow was an act of justice. Predictably, some people have complained about the manner of removal calling it vandalism, including Sir Kier Starmer, and some are talking about violence - there wasn't any - and also calling for those who pulled it down to be prosecuted. What this demonstrates is not only contempt for anti-racism and PoC, but also a fundamental misunderstanding of what the role of the police should be if we are to have a police force at all. 

To understand fully the real role of the police you need to know about the origins of policing, and, you've guessed it, it wasn't to protect people. One of the earliest police forces in the UK was formed in London at the docks. Dockworkers carried out the practice of gleaning which meant they removed spillages and took them home. This was intolerable as far as the owners of the goods were concerned so they formed the force to put a stop to it. And Robert Peel, who is famous for forming the Metropolitan Police got his ideas from the suppression of peasants in Ireland. The army was too busy to do this job so a 'police force' was formed instead. In the USA the earliest 'police forces' were formed to protect (i.e control) another form of property - slaves. If you want to know more read the excellent The End of policing by Alex Vitale. 

The murder of Floyd and the toppling of Colston raise fundamental questions of why we have the policing and what it is for. Do we need it, and how did we manage without it for hundreds of years? Before the advent of policing, disputes were settled and killers were brought to justice. The justice may not have been ideal but nobody thought there was a need for police. We can do better by rethinking what kind of society we really want to live in and how we can restore the commons and live together peacefully without the oppression of individuals and groups. If you want some ideas about this, read Human Kind by Rutger Bregman. Bregman argues that humans are fundamentally good, social beings, and convincingly explodes the myth that we are selfish, aggressive individuals.

In the USA there is now an active movement to defund the police which we should all support because recent events have exposed the fact that in a capitalist society property is valued more than human life. We still have a colonialist, white supremacist, capitalist order to dismantle.

Wednesday, 3 June 2020


A video is doing the rounds on social media of George Floyd who was accused of passing a counterfeit bill and was arrested by four police officers in Minneapolis. It's horrific, sobering viewing, a police officer knelt on his neck for nine minutes and he was recorded saying "I can't breathe". None of the other officers intervened. He died.

This has sparked off a wave of protests in the USA and around the world. Other videos have emerged of police brutality in the USA, attacking protestors and shooting them in the face with rubber bullets. At least one person has been blinded. Trump was censored by Twitter for posting "when the looting starts the shooting starts".

I'm appalled and my thoughts and solidarity go to PoC the world over who are suffering from systemic racism.