Tuesday, 29 November 2016

Some reflections on Castro's Cuba

Fidel Castro died at 90 years old three days ago. His death has sparked predictable rows about his legacy and the state of human rights in Cuba. He has been described as a dictator and a Stalinist but in my view was more likely a pragmatist. When he lead the revolution which overthrew the dictator Batista, Cuba was a giant casino-cum-brothel run by the US mafia. The overthrow was popular. Initially Castro asked the USA for help and when that was not forthcoming he turned to the Soviets instead. The USA did its best to undermine the revolution, carrying out many assassination attempts against Castro, sponsoring the infamous 'Bay of Pigs' invasion and carrying out an economic blockade that has lasted for over 50 years.

On the positive side the revolution has lead to free universal healthcare and education for Cubans, and Cuban aid in healthcare has been extended to other parts of the world - notably Africa. Cuban literacy is the highest in Latin America (100%) and 48.9 % of national assembly members are women. The Cubans helped in the overthrow of the apartheid regime in South Africa and acted as beacon for liberation in South America and a bulwark against American imperialism. However, there have clearly been limits imposed on freedom of speech and association in Cuba, there has been persecution of LGBT people, though this has now come to an end, and there are differing views on the number of people who may have been executed and tortured by the regime.
Che Guevara and Fidel Castro. Photo: Alberto Korda

Much of the criticism of Castro has focused on the lack of 'democracy' in a one party state. The assumption appears to be that only liberal democracies are democratic and that any truly democratic society must follow the Western model of representative democracy. But democracies in the West have important flaws such as in the UK where there is an unelected second chamber, no written constitution, and a first-past-the-post voting system which denies people the representation they want. In the USA there has recently been much criticism of the electoral college in a Presidential election where the winner Donald Trump got 2.5 million votes less than his opponent Hillary Clinton. So is liberal democracy the only form of 'acceptable' democracy or are there better alternatives? I think there are and I've posted about this previously on this blog.

Cuba also has to be viewed in the context of human rights abuses in liberal democracies such as the USA which has been involved in rendition and torture of many individuals, some of whom are still being held at Guantanamo Bay. In addition US drone strikes have been responsible for the assassination of 'terrorists' and the deaths of many innocent civilians. The USA disproportionately imprisons and kills black people through its judicial and police systems. These atrocities are rarely if ever mentioned in any discussion about Cuba in which the Western media focuses on denouncing Castro and Cuban governance.That is not to excuse any human rights abuses in Cuba. They were and are wrong and should be condemned.

What should a democratic system in a socialist state look like and how can the gains for the people made by a revolution be protected? Is it possible to have a functioning democracy without the kind of pluralism we see in liberal democracies? What is the point in having a revolution if the gains can be swept away by political parties backed by big money and vested interests as in the USA? I don't pretend to know all the answers but I do know that if the revolution in Cuba fails and it once again becomes a capitalist state the gross inequalities, including lack of healthcare and poverty, present in other countries such as the USA, will soon return. In our liberal democracy in the UK we have freedom, the freedom to starve, and sleep on the streets.

Friday, 24 June 2016

The chickens of Thatcherism are coming home to roost... via UKIP

I started writing this post on the day Jo Cox was killed but I struggled to finish it because I was feeling too down at the time. Well now, after the Brexit debacle has run its course I'm posting it because nothing has changed and it's still as relevant now as it was then. It's incomplete but ......

"What a depressing day. I followed the news on Twitter. First I see Nigel Farage unveil a UKIP poster which echoes Nazi propaganda and fills me with disgust, then I see early reports of the Labour MP Jo Cox being shot, and later still I hear of her death. My heart goes out to her family and friends. Although I did not know much about Jo it's clear that she was a fearless and redoubtable fighter for social justice and the world is a poorer place without her. In a moving statement her husband Brendan said:

"She would have wanted two things above all else to happen now, one that our precious children are bathed in love and two, that we all unite to fight against the hatred that killed her. Hate doesn't have a creed, race or religion, it is poisonous."
We do not yet know for sure the motives of Jo Cox's killer. It is claimed that he shouted "Britain First" as he attacked her. Britain First is a far right anti-immigrant hate group. 

So how did we get to this? How did we get to this referendum which has stirred up so much anger and divisiveness. Why is 'concern' about immigration at the heart of British political debate at the moment? Why is there so much fear and hatred in our country? The answer lies, or at least starts in the 1980s with Thatcherism which promised to make Britain and its people much more prosperous if only we would put our economy into the hands of the 'free' market, and began the process of dismantling the post-war settlement of the NHS, public services and the welfare state.

Thatcherism didn't stop with Thatcher. Through the 1990s John Major and Tony Blair continued what Margaret Thatcher had started putting the country into the hands of the corporations and bankers to be run for private profit. In the process trade unions were beaten down, workers pay and conditions were slashed and public services asset stripped. The bonfire of regulations demanded by the market led to a global crash in 2008 which wiped out millions of jobs and businesses and caused many to lose their homes. But who paid for this crisis? Certainly not the bankers that caused it. It was the 99% that were made to pay and this is what has ignited the anger of so many people, people in the North and Midlands who see immigrants as a threat to their economic wellbeing but their anger is being aimed at the wrong target because they are being exploited by the demagogues of UKIP and the Tory Party - Farage and Johnson."

Friday, 10 June 2016

Why I'll be holding my nose and and voting for Remain

I really don't like the EU. In simple terms the EU is a neoliberal stitch-up, a club for the corporations. The fiscal waterboarding handed out to Greece, following on from the imposition of a 'technocratic' premier in Italy was just about the last straw for me. The punishment of Greece was essential pour encourager les autres, to prevent Portugal and Spain and any other Eurozone countries trying to break free from the iron grip of neoliberal austerity. These events made it clear to me that the EU as it stands has no respect for democracy - period. 

Whatever the Remain campaign say about the environment and workers' rights I have no doubt that there will be more pressure to water down the relevant European directives in the future. That is inevitable unless the whole direction of travel of the EU can be changed. Neither am I confident that protests in the EU will be able to stop TTIP. I'm also very pissed off with the pitiful campaigning of the Remain groups, including those of my own party the Greens, because it's relentlessly negative. Has-been politicians like Tony Blair and John Major and 'experts' are constantly wheeled out of their cupboards to warn us of the impending armageddon if we leave. Where are the positive reasons for remaining? Can't they think of any?
Clive Lewis, Labour MP at Another Europe is Possible on 4 June Manchester
I'm also with Suzanne Moore in that I think that the almost unanimous support for remain from the establishment is proving a huge turn off for many. I her excellent article today in the Guardian she says:
"But I sense that, for many, a strange game is being played out whereby voting leave is not seen as such an enormous gamble. Much of England is ready to roll that dice; this part of England, so often despised, demonised and disrespected by those who claim to represent it, does need to be spoken for. This England will not do as it is told."
I agree with her, I too suspect that many people will simply stick up two fingers to the establishment and the EU and take that leap in the dark. 

So why am I voting for Remain on June 23rd? Its because I'm a socialist and socialists are internationalists, because I want to build solidarity with the left and oppressed groups across Europe, because it's the best way to deal with climate change and the refugee crisis and because I'm willing to join Diem25 and have one last shot at making the EU democratically accountable to the people.

If we do come out of the EU there will undoubtedly be a crisis but crises are the stock-in-trade of neoliberal capitalism, we lurch from crisis to crisis anyway. Will I lose much sleep over it? - no I won't because the fight for social, economic and environmental justice will go on just as it always has done.

Monday, 6 June 2016

So journalists should be protected from legitimate concerns about impartiality?

Jeremy Corbyn gives a pro-EU speech on worker's rights which was generally well received and what were the headlines? - "Corbyn supporters boo BBC political editor Laura Kuenssberg'' - this was the Guardian, but it was given prominence in just about all the mainstream media (MSM). The reaction of the media to the incident was wholly predictable - FT journalist Fred Pickard described the booing as "pathetic" and Gaby Hinsliff in the Guardian referred to the 'booing' as"ugly". Some journos wasted no time in describing the booers as being "misogynist' - yet another smear against Momentum. Of course, if you were an MSM Corbyn basher you could also have argued it was an own goal because the headlines detracted from Corbyn's message - but then its the MSM which determine what the headlines are anyway.

So what is happening here? Well many Labour supporters and others, including me, think that there is a strong media bias against Corbyn and that it's particularly serious when it comes from the BBC in the form of Laura Kuenssberg. I haven't been keeping a log but I still listen to Today and PM regularly on the BBC and I've never known her to miss an opportunity to put the boot into Corbyn. Do I think her reporting is biased - you bet I do! And as a licence fee payer I strongly object to it. I am supported in this view by none other than a former chair of the BBC Trust Sir Michael Lyons who was quoted in the Guardian. Referring to Corbyn:

He told the BBC’s The World at One: “I can understand why people are worried about whether some of the most senior editorial voices in the BBC have lost their impartiality on this. [my italics]

Furthermore it seems that this view is backed up by research. So great has the concern been that 38 Degrees launched a petition calling for her to be sacked but the petition was shot down over allegations of 'sexism' thus sparing Kuenssberg, the BBC and the government considerable embarrassment. I saw an analysis of the comments on Twitter but I can't find the link, however it's clear that any sexist comments were in the minority and the vast majority who signed it expressed legitimate concerns.

So was the 'booing' justified? I think it probably was. I've watched the video and it's pretty restrained and comical if anything. It appears to be spontaneous rather than planned. Maybe those journalists who were in the room found it threatening? But then wouldn't they find any challenge to their integrity threatening? Reading the comments of Gaby Hinsliff it strikes me that journalists who have the luxury of inhabiting the cosy Westminster-MSM bubble have a sense of privilege and entitlement. They're the ones who know it all not the unwashed masses on Twitter - how dare anyone challenge them? Maybe they ought to get out more and mix with some people in the real world, people who are being screwed by austerity and to whom Corbyn offers some hope. And maybe they ought to think about reporting events with some degree of objectivity? Somehow I very much doubt they will.

Sunday, 27 March 2016

How Blairite MPs can destroy the Labour Party

In a week which has seen yet another attack on Jeremy Corbyn by a Labour MP it's clear that those who oppose Corbyn have learnt nothing from the Blairite years or the destruction of the Party in Scotland. John Woodcock may be right that Corbyn didn't make the most of his opportunity to attack Cameron and Osborne over the recent disastrous 2016 budget but he is missing the point. Corbyn may not be the best possible Labour leader but he does have important qualities - he is a decent man who says what he thinks, a man with principles, a rare quality in politicians, and something that should be valued. Add to that, the fact that there there is no obvious alternative to Corbyn - don't tell me Yvette Cooper, Andy Burnham or Dan jarvis! - and it becomes pretty obvious that Labour MPs should get behind their leader and turn their fire on the Tories.

Jeremy Corbyn
So why the problem? Blairite MPs need to wake up and smell the coffee because Blairism is dead and politics have moved on. There is hunger for real change and a leadership challenge would do more to scupper Labour's chances in 2020 than a united party fighting the Tories on their many weak points including the destruction of the NHS and our education system.  

These Labour MPs suffer from exactly the same malaise that destroyed Labour in Scotland - a complete inability to see that their Blairite, pro-'free' market and anti-public sector politics has got right up the noses of a large segment of the electorate, a segment large enough to get them a majority in 2020. Like Scottish Labour they are completely oblivious to this fact. No doubt the special circumstances of the referendum hastened Labour's demise in Scotland, but they were in serious decline anyway because they allowed the SNP to move into, and occupy, a huge vacant space on the left of politics that they had created by sticking to unpopular centre right neoliberal politics.   

How does this happen? Its almost certainly the result of the groupthink that afflicts most politicians in the EU and the wider western world, resulting in a belief system that only markets matter and that they can provide solutions to everything. As a Green Party member I ought to be celebrating the death-wish that Blairite MPs are embracing but I don't. We have to get the Tories out in 2020 and Labour are the only Party that can do it. I hope we will gain MPs but we need a strong opposition from Labour that offers real alternatives to the asset stripping of the public sector rather than a timid, watered-down version of Tory policy. If Labour MPs succeed in ousting Corbyn and continuing with 'business as usual' I expect the Labour Party in England and Wales to suffer the same decline as the Party did in Scotland.

Thursday, 3 March 2016

Baffled by Trump's popularity? - neither am I

Donald J Trump appears to be sweeping all before him in the GOP primary, so much so, that pundits are claiming he has the party nomination nailed on. This has lead to shock and surprise from many on the left, centre and even centre-right. How can some one who spouts offensive bigoted views, refuses to condemn the KKK, and appears to have little in policy other than making Mexico pay for a 1000 mile border wall possibly do so well? Why has he got so much support?

Here's why. It can be explained in a word - Neoliberalism. I've blogged extensively about neoliberalism on here but this is a very brief summary: in the 1970s a combination of falling profits and a resurgent 'free' market ideology led to the crushing of organised labour in the West and an all out attack on welfare. In addition, the public sector was asset stripped by corporations and the population burdened with debt.

Wages in the USA for most workers - the 'Middle Class' have remained stagnant for decades and jobs have been outsourced abroad creating a situation where most Americans are a couple of paychecks away from destitution. This destruction of the 'American Dream' has lead to fear, anger and resentment in a large section of the population and a disillusionment with the democratic political process, because whoever you vote for nothing changes, you just get more cuts and greater poverty. Does this sound familiar to people in the UK?

So, all that anger has to be directed somewhere and the triumph of the political right has been to make sure it's focused on the wrong targets. Instead of blaming the real culprits - the super-rich, corporations and their tame politicians - many people have been blaming just about anything else - the most obvious example being 'economic' migrants.

Then along comes Trump. He's an anti-establishment figure, a 'strong' leader who shows contempt for his rivals and articulates the fears and prejudices of his supporters. He says he will make America great again and proposes simplistic solutions. He identifies himself with his supporters. In addition, the harsh reality is that there are many people in every society who want an authority figure. They want simple answers to complex issues. Don't believe me? Then read Chris Roses's excellent book 'What makes People Tick' which is based on years of research. It doesn't have all the answers but it will give you an important insight into what people's values are and how they think

Is it surprising that Trump is doing very well and that he appears immune to attacks from the establishment? Not at all because many people have stopped listening to the establishment. Trump is playing a clever game and I don't believe he's as extreme as he makes himself out to be. Also, I don't think he'll win the Presidency.  I hope I'm right about that. But the key to this is if you want to influence people you have to understand their values and 'what makes them tick'. As the book says:
'If you want to communicate effectively with people - especially if you want to persuade them to act - you need to start from where they are, not from where you are.'
This has always been a failing of the left because we think our better analysis and arguments will win the day. We communicate in policies not values and always start from where we are. We don't take into account the feelings of people we want to mobilise. History shows that this approach has failed. Things need to change very soon.

Sunday, 10 January 2016

Corbyn: you can smell the fear

Its really about time I blogged about something other than Jeremy Corbyn's leadership of the Labour Party but I have to admit that I've been fascinated and appalled by the daily round of smears and attacks on him orchestrated by the mainstream media (msm), and the Parliamentary Labour Party. The latest example of putting the boot in was the now infamous 'revenge reshuffle' of the Shadow Cabinet. Whilst the Labour leadership could be criticised for its handling of the reshuffle, 'revenge' filled the headlines for days, only to be replaced by 'ineptitude' when Hilary Benn survived at foreign affairs, and the msm sang in unison from the same hymn sheet throughout. Corbyn started out as a Stalinist dictator determined to wield the axe and ended up as weak and incompetent. Nothing he ever does can possibly be the right thing.

The highlight was the 'live on air' resignation on the Daily Politics of Stephen Doughty that Labour stalwart that .. er .. no one had ever heard of, but after his five minutes of fame we learnt that he was of course an excellent chap, vital to Labour's future. Then someone spotted that the live resignation had been orchestrated by the BBC and just happened to be timed to cause maximum damage to Corbyn before PMQs. 

As I said in my previous post on Corbyn bashing the constant barrage of attacks is motivated by fear, fear on the part of the political and media class that Corbyn could win in 2020 and end the Tories cosy stitch-up of our society and economy which looks daily more like a racket than government. It also exposes the neoliberal groupthink which pervades this class, not only in the UK, but throughout the 'Western' world.  

How can 'Mr Incompetent and unelectable' possibly win? By having policies which are supported by the majority and are popular like the nationalisation of the railways - something which the Green Party has been calling for for years. Corbyn has a lot of work to do to win that election in 2020 but even the slightest chance he might do it fills our 'ruling class' with dread.