Thursday, April 21, 2011
Of course, Glasman does not mean to target the EDL and its thousands of supporters with this intervention. He means to mobilise the ideologeme of ‘the white working class’ as a sort of puppet boxer with which to belabour the left in the party. As he complains: “working-class men can’t really speak at Labour party meetings about what causes them grief, concerns about their family, concerns about immigration, love of country, without being falsely stereotyped as sexist, racist, nationalist”. As you will see if you peruse that link, Glasman uses ‘working class’ to describe any silly idea that he likes the sound of, particularly if – as will usually be the case – it is a right-wing idea. Don Paskini rightly points out that this latest is a libel on the working class, the vast majority of whom detest the EDL. But that’s almost to miss the point. Of course Glasman is mobilising a (deeply patronising) image of “working class men” to hammer the anti-racists and feminists in the Labour Party. But V N Volosinov argued that the word is the most sensitive index of social change, and we should be very attentive to the changes that such terminological nuances advert to. There’s something very important going on when the Labour Right, which worked so hard to end the class war, are anxious to be seen and heard evoking class.
Recently, there was a very useful analysis of the BNP and the ‘white working class’ by James Rhodes in the Sociology journal. It took issue with the idea, circulated by politicians and journalists alike, that the BNP’s support comes from the most deprived among whites. In this respect, he points out that while the BNP have made real inroads into working class areas, there is no natural affinity between the BNP and white workers, and nor is it the poorest they appeal to. The two class fractions most likely to be represented among BNP supporters are ‘skilled workers’, and the lower middle class. The journalistic accounts are led astray by the ‘ecological fallacy’ – that is, if BNP voters can be found in a known industrial heartland, then they must be the traditional supporters of Labourism. In fact, Rhodes points out, the BNP support is typically found in the poshest areas of these towns and cities, a fact that has a huge impact on far right politics. BNP supporters and members tend to articulate their sense of class location indirectly, by reference to locality. Their scale is extremely small, as they tend to focus on this street, that area, etc. They are “rooted” and small town, rather than metropolitan; parochial rather than urbane. So, interviews with fascist voters and activists disclose that struggles over resources and entitlements are refracted through particular geographical references – ie, that street is filled with poor people who behave
Frontline article by Martin Empson, April 2011
The true extent of the destruction that followed the Japanese earthquake and tsunami is only just being seen. But it is clear that many thousands of people have lost their lives and billions of pounds worth of damage has been done. A further casualty of this natural disaster may well be the plans to expand the use of nuclear power. Japan is the third largest user of nuclear power, with over 50 nuclear plants which provide over a third of its electricity. The magnitude 9 earthquake was greater than the plants were designed to withstand – yet such earthquakes could certainly have been foreseen.
Japan’s nuclear industry has a history of safety problems and cover-ups. In 1999 the investigation into an accident in a fuel processing plant that killed two workers concluded that it resulted “primarily from human error and serious breaches of safety principles”.
In recent years nuclear power has had a resurgence. It is almost 25 years since the last major accident at Chernobyl and despite frequent minor incidents the industry has been able to clean up its tarnished image. Part of this has been the attempt by the industry, politicians and, significantly, a number of environmentalists to portray nuclear as the zero carbon alternative to fossil fuels.
Superficially this seemed sensible. But if you take all aspects of the complex nuclear cycle – uranium mining and transport, fuel processing and the storage of nuclear waste – then nuclear has a high carbon footprint.
But, as the disaster in Japan illustrates, there are other problems. If a nuclear reactor does get damaged there is an enormous potential threat to people and the environment. The longer-term impacts of nuclear power must also be taken into account, primarily the need to find safe storage for huge quantities of radioactive waste, often for thousands of years.
Millions of people around the world will now question whether nuclear power is worthwhile. Already Germany and Switzerland have announced their intention to suspend their nuclear programmes.
To deal with this, the nuclear industry will argue that the plants that have failed in Japan did so because they were of an older type, without the latest safety features. There is some truth in this. The Fukushima reactors came online in the 1970s and even then government regulators knew that this particular design was more vulnerable than others. Some will also argue that building in a region with a history of severe earthquakes was the mistake and that reactors elsewhere in the world are safe.
But these points obscure wider questions. The danger of nuclear power lies in the material used, the extreme temperatures and the high levels of radiation, as well as the poisonous waste.
Accidents can never be eradicated, merely reduced, and these accidents can have grave consequences. The Chernobyl accident in 1986 had major long-term consequences. There are great debates over the numbers who died as a result of the radiation cloud that covered Europe. Some studies indicate that thousands of those involved in the clean-up operations may have died early as a result of radiation poisoning. Over 300,000 people had to be resettled elsewhere in the Soviet Union. In Belarus 25 percent of the farmland was contaminated, some permanently, and levels of illnesses such as thyroid cancer increased dramatically. The sale of hundreds of sheep in the British Isles is still restricted due to the effect of this radiation on farmland. Whatever the problems with other methods of generating electricity, accidents at coal powered plants or wind farms do not risk the lives of hundreds of thousands of people in the vicinity.
Britain may not be at risk of massive earthquakes but, in common with many other countries, nuclear plants are built on coastlines and many are at risk from rising sea levels. Senior Tories have expressed concern that the nuclear industry may be damaged. They are keen to proceed with Gordon Brown’s plan to massively expand nuclear power. The Liberal Democrats were strong critics while in opposition, yet Lib Dem energy secretary Chris Huhne has already said that there is no need to stop the rollout of new reactors.
As the threat of climate change grows, the only energy solution is one that involves harnessing renewable and sustainable energies on an enormous scale, as well as changing the way we use energy and organise our lives.
The first step would be to stop the construction of new nuclear plants immediately and put the enormous quantities of money involved to better use – investing in climate jobs, renewable energies and energy efficiency. Such an outcome will never undo the tragedy of the Japanese earthquake, but it will help ensure that future nuclear accidents are avoided.
Unfortunately for Teesside University the national strike happened to fall on a holiday. This did not stop a lively picket line, bolstered by a contingent of students from the Education Activist Network (EAN). Terry Murphy, branch chair of UCU at Teesside stated “the attack on our pensions is the first step taken by the most right wing government in the last 40 years. It presents all of us on the left with a new challenge. Instead of Thatcher’s overt attacks we now have a slick PR government, more vicious than Thatcher, who disguise rather than boast about their assault on working class people.”
When pickets went to join a rally in Middlesbrough town centre they were clapped by a group of school children on the way. The rally was called jointly with Middlesbrough college to highlight the government attacks on pensions and ESOL provision. It was attended by around 60 people, with lecturers, college teachers, students and ESOL users all well represented. Speakers made the connection between how bankers who caused the crisis are getting away with bonuses and tax dodging while ordinary people are being made to pay for their mistakes. The rally ended with African drums and was an example of the fighting unity that we will need to defeat the cuts.
Austerity, resistance, alternatives…
30 June – 4 July, Central London
A five day political festival hosted by the SWP
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Eyewitnesses to the Egyptian revolution: watch this taster for Marxism
Videos of Wednesday’s packed out meeting on Egypt and Revolt in the Middle East are now online.
Watch Wassim from Egypt, Mohammed from Tunisia, Judith Orr and Tariq Ali discuss the revolution that is spreading across the Arab world.
With over 200 meetings like this at Marxism 2011 nobody who is inspired by the resistance from Cairo to Millbank, from Athens to Tunis can afford to miss it.
Forward this video on to friends and colleagues to show them how inspiring Marxism is.
The British government wants to impose cuts on a scale not seen since the 1930s. The student revolt which began at Millbank has shaken British politics to its core; the TUC demonstration on March 26th will be huge. But how can these movements defeat austerity? This will be a key theme running through the whole of Marxism 2011.
- Len McCluskey – leader of Unite, Britain’s biggest trade union – as well as general secretaries Mark Serwotka (PCS), Billy Hayes (CWU) and Matt Wrack (FBU) will be joined by rank and file trade union activists to debate how trade unions can rebuild their strength and beat back the ConDems.
- Leading figures including Laurie Penny, Mark Bergfeld and Jody McIntyre will discuss the student movement and debate its next steps and key questions about its strategy and tactics.
- We will discuss the history of the welfare state – how people fought for it and won – as well as analyse the potentially devastating consequences of the cuts.
Revolution is in the air. The Egyptian revolution has transformed the political landscape across the Middle East. Ordinary people have taken to the stage of history on a scale not seen in a generation. The prospect of Palestinian liberation has suddenly become much more real.
Many of the more than 200 meetings at Marxism 2011 will touch upon the hundreds of issues thrown up by the Arab revolutions. Speakers include eyewitnesses and revolutionaries from Egypt and Tunisia as well as Tariq Ali, Tony Benn, Haifa Zangana, Ghada Karmi, Ilan Pappe, and others.
As well as meetings, reports and footage from the unfolding events in the Middle East we will have whole courses on Palestine and Zionism, the revolutionary process, the role of the working class in 21st century struggles for change as well as meetings on social media and social movements, permanent revolution, the mass strike, how the left should relate to political Islam, revolutions and the fight against oppression, and much, much more.
1- Immediate resignation of the president and all men and symbols of the regime.
2- Confiscation of funds and property of all symbols of previous regime and everyone proved corrupt.
3- Iron and steel workers who have given martyrs and militants call upon all workers of Egypt to revolt from the regime’s and ruling party workers federation, to dismantle it and announce their independent union now and to plan for their general assembly to freely establish their own independent union without prior permission or consent of the regime which has fallen and lost all legitimacy.
4- Confiscation of public sector companies that have been sold or closed down or privatized as well as the public sector which belongs to the people and its nationalization in the name of the people and formation of a new management by workers and technicians.
5- Formation of a workers’ monitoring committee in all work places monitoring production, prices, distribution and wages.
6- Call for a general assembly of all sectors and political trends of the people to develop a new constitution and elect real popular committees without waiting for the consent or negation with the regime.
Lastly, America and Britain’s named successor to Mubarak, the chief torturer Omar Suleiman, has been openly stating that there will be no challenge to Mubarak from within the state. This is as expected – no Tunisian solution has been possible in the Egyptian context. He is warning protesters that there must be a return to ‘normalcy’, but he is still saying for now that the army can’t force people to stop protesting. This is not to say that the state isn’t using force. The police have been killing people today. But the police can’t beat the protesters (so far), and only the army can. So, Suleiman’s caution is perhaps understandable not just as propaganda for an American audience, but partly as a result of a desire not to alienate the junior ranks of the army. The majority of the rank and file come from poor rural backgrounds, where communities have lost out from neoliberal land reforms, and are thus inclined to support the revolution. They may well be unwilling to murder their compatriots for this larcenous regime, and the US and the regime may be unready to put that to the test. But how long will that caution last when Egypt’s ruling class continues to feel the pain of daily protests and mass strikes, when the loss of surplus becomes unbearable? Will the party of order then demand a massacre? Would the revolution then need to take up arms?
If you doubt, half a century on, that Dwight Eisenhower had it right, then consider the advertisements on WTOP, the Washington region’s all-news radio station. Every big metro area in the US has one, where car dealerships tout their bargains, and fast food chains promote a new special offer.
WTOP has all that. But it boasts other advertisers too, with names such as Boeing, Lockheed Martin and General Dynamics.
Of course, the average listener can’t remotely afford a brand new military aircraft, or a state-of-the-art battlefield management system. But that’s not the point. These almost otherworldly ads, with patriotic music playing softly in the background, are aimed at a very restricted audience: the government that is their only customer for such wares. For the rest of us, they are proof that in the capital of the world’s richest democracy, the defence industry is a very big player indeed.
Exactly 50 years ago, on January 17 1961, Eisenhower delivered one of the most celebrated farewell speeches in American history, whose fame has only increased over the decades, eclipsed not even by JFK’s inspirational inaugural that followed three days later. Kennedy might have projected the dynamism of youth. But the old soldier won the prize for prescience.
In his speech, Eisenhower warned about the growth of a ‘military-industrial complex,’ and the risks it could pose. “The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power,” Ike said, “exists and will persist.” His anxieties back then were prompted by the ten-fold expansion of the US military after two world wars, and by the development of a “permanent arms industry of vast proportions”. Today, the proportions of both the military and the industry that serves it are vaster than ever.
Adjusted for inflation, US national security spending has more than doubled since Eisenhower left office. Year after year, the defence budget seems to rise – irrespective of whether the country is actually fighting major wars, regardless of the fact that the Soviet Union, the country’s former global adversary, has ceased to be, and no matter which party controls the White House and Congress.
One common thread however exists: the military-industrial complex, or perhaps (as Eisenhower himself described it in a draft of his speech that was later amended) the military-industrial-congressional complex. Others have referred to the beast as the “Iron Triangle”.
In one corner of the triangle stands the arms industry. The second is constituted by the government, or more precisely the Pentagon, the end-consumer of the industry’s output. In a totalitarian state, such as the Soviet Union, that combination would be sufficient. The US however is a democracy, and a third corner is required – an elected legislature to vote funds to pay for the arms. This is Congress, made up of members who rely on the defence industry for many jobs in their states and districts, and for money to help finance their every more expensive re-election campaigns.
But maybe even triangle is an inadequate description. Today, more than ever, a fourth element underpins the military-industrial complex. It is the extraordinary prestige, verging on veneration, Americans accord their armed forces. Whatever the country’s soldiers need, the general public broadly believes, they should have.
In fact, the MIC is not the largest show in town. According to the specialist website of the same name that tracks US defence spending, the total value of contracts issued by the Pentagon since October 2006 exceeds $1.1 trillion, while total military spending in that period tops $2.5 trillion. But even these gigantic sums pale beside a health-care sector now accounting for a sixth of the entire national economy.
The difference of course is that the MIC basks in the reflected glory of the military, shown by poll after poll to be the most trusted institution in the land. In terms of trust and admiration, the health insurance and drug companies rank right down there with Wall Street and the banks.
Nonetheless Eisenhower’s warning has never ceased to resonate since his death in 1969. Indeed, it is one reason that in the stock market of posthumous presidential reputations, few have risen like his.
When he delivered that farewell address, America couldn’t wait to be rid of him. Ike was regarded as senile and semi-detached, utterly out of touch with the times. The future lay with Kennedy, symbol of vigour, youth and novelty. But the old general knew whereof he spoke. Indeed, the MIC had worried him for years.
A treasure trove of old documents, covered with dirt and pine needles and discovered last year at a cabin in Minnesota once owned by Eisenhower’s chief speechwriter Malcolm Moos, reveals that the 34th president had been working on the speech since mid-1959. It went through at least 21 drafts; in a later one, the “congressional” reference was struck out because, it is supposed, Ike did not want to upset old friends on Capitol Hill. But the “military” part was there from the outset.
At the time, the speech raised few eyebrows. Now its words are viewed as prophetic, and the man who spoke them is deemed one of America’s greater presidents. From today’s anxious vantage point, the 1950s are remembered as a golden age of order, contentment and certainty. Ike himself is perceived as a wise and measured statesman who most certainly would never have led the US into the ruinous Iraq adventure.
In fact, for all his strictures about the MIC, the worst has not come to pass. Wars have always been good business for weapons manufacturers – and so it has been with Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq. The arms industry therefore was never going to be very happy with the notion of a “peace dividend” at the end of the Cold War.
But it is a leap to describe modern America as a “warfare state” – in which the Iraq war, say, was the direct result of a colossal conspiracy by the arms industry to force the country into a conflict purely to enrich itself. As for the ultimate nightmare, a military take-over akin to the one that came close to in John Frankenheimer’s fictional 1964 political thriller Seven Days in May, that is simply inconceivable.
The true tragedy is not quite the one that Eisenhower imagined. The US by itself accounts for roughly half of military spending worldwide. How much better if some of that money would be used to improve the country’s education and infrastructure, or provide health care for all, or increase foreign aid, rather than on protecting America from threats that geography alone renders illusory.
In reality, the dangers of Eisenhower’s “military-industrial complex” are not new; from the earliest days of the Republic, political leaders have warned of them. “Overgrown military establishments,” George Washington said in his own farewell address of 1796, “are under any form of government inauspicious to liberty.” Nor is the concept confined to America.
In the Soviet Union, the ultra-secret arms industry devoured a third or more of GDP (compared to around 4 per cent in the US currently) and was a cornerstone of Communist power. Or, closer to home, consider Krupp in Germany during two world wars, or later Dassault in France, or Vickers and British Aerospace in the UK. But nowhere has the synergy between government and defence manufacturers, most of them headquartered a lobbyist’s lunch drive from the Capitol, been as entrenched as in the US.
Ah yes, some say, but the tide is now starting to turn. After experiencing some contraction in the 1990s, the industry enjoyed a boom after 9/11. But the deep recession of 2008-2009 and the continuing colossal deficits will not spare even the hitherto sacrosanct Pentagon budget.
Once again, one might note, Eisenhower hit the mark in January 1961. Back then, budgets were more or less balanced, and the possibilities of the future seemingly boundless. Even so he urged his countrymen to “avoid the impulse to live only for today, plundering for our own ease and convenience the precious resources of tomorrow”. That of course is what has happened with the “credit card” wars of Iraq and Afghanistan, whose costs will burden American taxpayers for years to come.
Nor is that reality lost on Robert Gates, the Defence Secretary, who back in May was warning that Congress could not, and would not, write blank cheques for ever. The Pentagon had to make every dollar count, he said, rather than indulge in such projects as “$20m howitzers, $2bn bombers, and $6bn destroyers.” Alas, as Gates knows full well, the arms contract that comes on budget has yet to be invented.
Since then of course Republicans have taken back the House of Representatives, which controls the pursestrings of government, a victory driven by a Tea Party movement vowing to eradicate deficits. Last week, Gates announced $78bn of cuts over the next five years, to pre-empt demands from deficit hawks for even greater reductions. But the MIC has survived far worse, and will most certainly survive this modest downturn in its fortunes.
For one thing, even when the Pentagon wants to cut a programme, Congress – prodded by its defence contractor benefactors – sometimes won’t let it. Take the case of the back-up second engine for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, the most expensive procurement programme in even the Pentagon’s extravagant history, at a total of $382bn or a mere $112m per aircraft. The Pentagon doesn’t want the second engine, to be built by GE and Rolls-Royce, and nor does the White House. But it gets funded anyway.
And so the show goes on. The Republicans may vote through some shrinking of the military budget. But giant arms projects, however wasteful, provide jobs and exports at a time when the broader economy struggles to do either. Congress will not sacrifice them lightly.
At the same time, the infamous “revolving door” between the Defense Department, the top military contractors, their lobbyists and congressional staffers will continue to spin, strengthening a commonality of viewpoint between the separate components of the MIC, and tightening the bonds of the “Iron Triangle”.
Campaign contributions meanwhile will grow even more important. Defence companies give money to sitting Congressmen who have fought their corner. True, in the ferociously anti-incumbent mid-terms of last November, they could not save Ike Skelton, their ally and chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, from defeat.
But financial support from Boeing workers was key in the re-election of Senator Patty Murray from Washington State, where she has fought hard to save Boeing jobs threatened if the company loses its bid for a $35bn tanker contract, for which the European-based EADS is also competing. That battle, incidentally, is also playing out in its own fierce ad war on WTOP, aimed at the same audience of government and Congress.
And even if budgetary pressures temporarily compress the market for top-of-the-line military hardware, fear not. The demand for national security and intelligence in the “war on terror” continues to surge – to the point that a Washington Post investigation last summer found that 33 facilities for intelligence work, equal to three new Pentagons, have gone up around Washington alone since 9/11.
Most fundamentally, there remains the popularity of all things military, at a time when civilian leaders with the stature and experience to challenge the Pentagon brass, and by extension the MIC, are few. George HW Bush was the last commander-in-chief to have tasted war and its horrors. His son famously had not, and – perhaps to make up for it – gave the military everything it wanted, and more. So maybe there is only one answer. America should elect a general as commander-in-chief. Like Dwight D. Eisenhower.
By Rupert Cornwall, the Independent
Revolution has ousted the corrupt Tunisian leader President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali. This is the first time revolution has overthrown a Middle Eastern leader since the fall of the Shah of Iran in 1979. It will have an electric impact across north Africa and the Middle East. The ruling classes in Algeria, Jordan and Egypt are terrified that the courage and determination of the Tunisian masses will inspire popular revolt elsewhere. Events in Tunisia show that the power of a mass movement from below can bring down even the most entrenched regime protected by a heavily armed state. Street protests in Tunisia became an uprising when the movement tapped a deeper popular discontent. Tunisia now has its third president in as many days. Demonstrations were sparked by the suicide of a 26-year old graduate, Muhammad Bouazizi. Muhammad doused himself in petrol and set himself alight in front of a government building after police confiscated the fruit and vegetables he was trying to sell to make a living. Muhammad’s desperate situation was not unique. The impact of economic crisis, rising food prices and growing unemployment means thousands of Tunisians suffer grinding poverty. The Tunisian state is notorious for brutally crushing resistance. Police shot into crowds of demonstrators. But each act of repression swelled the mass protests and helped transform them into a popular uprising. Reports put the number of deaths at over 60 last Thursday, the day before Ben Ali fled. The hated police attacked the funerals of demonstrators, but this escalation of state violence only provoked even more revolt. Ben Ali tried to dismiss the protesters and brand them as “terrorists”. He had begun offering concessions on 10 January after weeks of protest. He promised to create 300,000 jobs by the end of next year, but offered few details. It was too little too late. One eyewitness told Socialist Worker about the demonstration that forced the regime to fall. During a two-hour general strike protesters in their tens of thousands moved on the government. He said, “We had been chanting for two hours – Ben Ali out, put the mafia on trial. We chanted, ‘Leave, Leave’ and there were many shouts of ‘Ben Ali cartouche’ (shoot him). “The trade unions were important in the month-long insurrection. The Union Generale des Travailleurs Tunisiens (UGTT) has been a tool of the regime for a long time, but it has switched sides very quickly. The union became more and more radical as the protests went on. It led the movement in the centre of the country and called the demo in front of the Ministry of Interior that pushed Ben Ali out.” Ben Ali had ruled Tunisia since 1987. His regime was a slavish ally of the US and Western interests. As well as tourists, the other flights into Tunisia were secret CIA rendition flights of the tortured as part of the “war on terror”. While ordinary Tunisians struggled to find work, the regime was marked by astonishing opulence. Mohamed Sakher El Materi is a billionaire businessman who is the president’s son-in-law and was, until this weekend, his heir apparent. A leaked diplomatic email reported of one of his recent lunches: “Ice cream and frozen yogurt had been flown from St Tropez, and that his host kept a pet tiger in a cage.” It is not surprising that the looting that has occurred has all targeted businesses owned by Ben Ali’s family. One gangster has gone – but the Tunisian ruling class is desperate to cling onto power. There are promised elections in 60 days but the underlying poverty and inequality that sparked the revolt can only be resolved by the mass popular movement staying at the forefront. Much will depend now on which way the army goes – with the regime or with the masses. Protests have continued despite a curfew and tanks on the street. The revolution in Tunisia has the potential to spread across the Middle East. It has already sparked mass protests in Algeria and Jordan. In Jordan one protest banner read, “Jordan is not only for the rich. Bread is a red line. Beware of our starvation and fury”. Protesters in Egypt chanted outside the Tunisian embassy, “Ben Ali, tell Mubarak a plane is waiting for him, too!” Unsurprisingly William Hague the Tory foreign secretary called for “restraint” from the protesters. The Tunisian people don’t need restraint. They need to push through their revolution.