Friday, February 26, 2010

Kurds and unions victims of Turkish state repression

While the media is full of reports of the arrest of alleged coup plotters in Turkey, the military top brass will be reassured by the continuing state repression of not only the Kurdish minority but also the harsh treatment meted out to their legal representatives.

On Christmas eve, there was the mass arrest of some 80 leading members of the new Peace and Democracy Party (BDP). The action followed the banning of the popular pro-Kurdish Democratic Society Party (DTP) on by Turkey’s Constitutional Court. Those detained are all former pro-Kurdish deputies or mayors.

Earlier this year, a 15-year-old girl, a Turkish Kurd, named Berivan, was jailed in Turkey for nearly eight years – reduced on appeal from thirteen and a half years - after being convicted of "terrorist" offences. She was arrested at a demonstration in the south-eastern city of Batman in October 2009.

She was found guilty of "crimes on behalf of an illegal organisation" after prosecutors alleged she had hurled stones and shouted slogans. She was also convicted of attending "meetings and demonstrations in opposition to the law" and "spreading propaganda for an illegal organisation".

According to the Haldane Society of Socialist Lawyers, under counter-terrorism legislation introduced in 2006, Turkey has been trying juveniles as adults, and jailing them for up to 50 years. Recent official figures have revealed that there are currently 2,622 minors in Turkish prisons. According to the Diyarbakir Human Rights Association, some 737 minors have been charged under the counter-terrorism legislation since its introduction.

Between 1959 and 2009, Turkey was the worst violator of the European Convention on Human Rights, with almost 19% of all violations, and 2,295 judgements issued against it. Turkey also had the highest proportion of violations in 2009, with 347 out of 1,625 negative rulings. The right most commonly violated was the right to a fair trial. Turkey was also condemned in 30 cases of inhumane or degrading treatment.

Then this month came the news that the lawyers, Irfan Dündar and Firat Aydinkaya, who act on behalf of imprisoned Kurdish leader Abdullah Ocalan, have been sentenced in Istanbul for "spreading propaganda for a terror organisation". The Istanbul 10th High Criminal Court gave both lawyers prison sentences of ten months each, suspended for five years.

Ocalan's lawyers were sentenced because of the appearance of a newspaper article entitled "A chance for Öcalan" published in Özgür Gündem on 29 and 30 April 2009. The court stated that the article included phrases made by Dündar and Aydinkakya such as "The lawyers conveyed Öcalan's opinion on the developments within KONGRA-GEL [Kurdish national movement PKK]", "He is experiencing the pain of change" and "Öcalan's opinions are important for an enduring peace".

In a statement, the Haldane Society said: “Informed by the findings of a number of its members who participated in an International Delegation to Turkey in February 2008, the Haldane Society firmly believes that the sentence reflects the intolerable conditions under which lawyers acting for the Kurdish leader have been subject since his apprehension in 1999 and the subsequent trial.

“Unfortunately, it is nothing new for not only have they been subjected to various forms of harassment and intimidation while performing their normal professional duties and seeking to represent their client, they have been treated as terror suspects themselves. The fact is that Turkish law as presently constituted permits such charges to be routinely brought against lawyers simply for putting across the case of their client.”

In a past period, British trade unions and human rights organisations campaigned against taking holidays in Spain when it was under the Franco dictatorship. It’s about time this tradition was resurrected in relation to Turkey and not just because of the persecution of the Kurds. On 7 December, virtually the entire executive committee as well as some local branch office officials of Nakliyat-Is, a trade union which organises transport workers, were arrested and the union headquarters raided. What is the Trades Union Congress waiting for?

Paul Feldman
Communications editor

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Dump this 'climate justice' model now

The world is facing an unprecedented crisis in food production. Driving the potential calamity is rapid industrialisation in three decades of corporate-led globalisation and the consequences of intensive agriculture across swathes of Asia.

In the driving seat of the crisis is China, which is struggling to feed 22% of the world’s population with just 10% of its arable land. Speaking in Beijing yesterday, Han Jun, an expert on rural policy, said that maintaining “food security” was now a major challenge. In 30 years, urban residents would rise from the current 47% to 75% of the population, using more land for industry and infrastructure. In the cities, an increasingly meat-based western diet is replacing the more sustainable grain and vegetable-based rural diet.

“The deterioration in soil quality is now a very important problem,” Han told reporters. “I believe improving the quality [of soil] is of equal importance to protecting the amount of arable land.” His warnings come at a time, however, when twice as much nitrogen fertiliser is used on the average hectare of Chinese farmland compared with the global average. And more than a tenth of farmland is polluted by factory waste, including heavy metals and other toxins.

In effect, the wholesale adoption by the Chinese ruling Stalinist elites of corporate, profit-driven development, is creating a crisis for the rural and urban poor, while the bureaucrats get rich quick. They are in the forefront of buying up potential development land and selling it at vast premiums, for example.

Han’s plea for a more scientific use of fertilisers, including the use of organic fertiliser from human waste is a much more sustainable approach. But his appeal contradicts the latest decisions of the Chinese government.

It has approved two new strains of genetically modified rice, threatening indigenous strains and forcing farmers to buy seed from corporations. And, Beijing is also supporting “agricultural entrepreneurs” in buying up plantation land in neighbouring Russia, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan.

It is even possible it could become profitable to export to China food grown on the thousands of hectares of African plantations now owned by Chinese agri-businesses. Initially the aim was to grow food for local sale but that could change. Taking this food out of the African market would increase prices and undermine food security even further.

So the notion that carbon emissions should be cut in the developed economies in order that China, India and Indonesia can increase theirs while continuing down this well-worn and disastrous profit-driven road, is not “climate justice” or justice of any kind.

Fair and equal development can only be achieved within an international model, which challenges the right of the corporations and their client governments – wherever they are in the world – to go on destroying land, people and eco-systems in pursuit of profit.

As we say in our Manifesto of Revolutionary Solutions: “The concept of climate justice, which underpins the ‘contraction and convergence’ idea, needs to be expanded to include justice within countries and not just between them...

“A new kind of international co-operation would bring together the peoples of the planet in a democratic forum to plan together to halt the growth in emissions and to mitigate the impacts that are now inevitable. They would draw on all the expertise represented by climate scientists, world food and health experts and support each others’ development towards self-government and economic independence.”

Join us in helping to win people over to this truly revolutionary idea, with a view to putting it into practice with some urgency.

Penny Cole
Environment editor

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Resistance grows as crisis deepens

Suddenly, as if from nowhere, a wave of opposition is engulfing Europe. Workers are joining a wave of action which threatens to bring the continent to a standstill as they try to resist being made to bear the costs of the deepening global crisis.

Today in Greece more than three million public and private sector workers embark on a 24-hour walkout in response to the latest austerity measures announced by the PASOK government. Employees in government ministries, municipal offices, hospitals, schools, universities, banks, courts and factory workers are among those set to strike. Rail, road, sea and air transport across the country will be affected. With journalists expected to join the strike, a virtual news blackout is expected.

Yesterday, Spain’s debt-laden Socialist government faced the first mass protests by unions in its six years in power as anger over a plan to raise the retirement age spilled into the streets. The country's two largest unions, the UGT and the CCOO, called demonstrations in several major cities, including Madrid, Barcelona and Valencia. Further protests are planned in the rest of the country up until March 6 against the plan announced last month by the government of Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero to raise the legal retirement age from 65 to 67.

Greeks and Spaniards are joining action by airline staff from Air-France-KLM, Lufthansa, and British Airways, French refinery workers and air-traffic controllers, pilots in the Welsh oil port of Milford Haven, IT staff contracted to the BBC, and gallery attendants at the National Gallery in London to name just a few.

After years of declining membership, the question for trades unionists is this: what can they hope to achieve using the methods available to them? Certainly they remain strong and effective in some key industries, but how can they expect to resist the inevitable dive into recession?

The global economy is entering a period of capital destruction. The effects of the financial stimulus packages, unprecedented outside of war, are fading and all hopes of recovery are slipping away.

The private sector assault on jobs, wages and pensions is accelerating. The deepening global crisis is co-ordinating the actions of the hedge fund managers, currency speculators, and market traders. Together with the International Monetary Fund, the Bank for International Settlements and other global agencies they are launching an assault on capitalist governments, forcing them to introduce austerity programs which will see public services dismantled and benefits eliminated in the attempt to avoid payment defaults on mounting debt leading to state bankruptcy.

The capitalist system of production is in a mortal crisis. The measures needed for its survival, to enable it to continue extracting value from the workers employed by for-profit corporations, are driving the transnational capitalist class into open confrontation.

Workers in trade unions must work together with those who are yet to be organised. They must forge and strengthen international connections. Preparations must be made to strengthen defensive strategies comprising strikes, demonstrations and occupations.

These alone will, however, be insufficient to protect living conditions in the months ahead as employers and governments turn to the forces of the state to protect the interests of private property, capital accumulation and the law-governed right and necessity to turn a profit.

This sudden burst of strikes and protests marks a qualitative change presaging revolutionary confrontations. In our draft Manifesto of Revolutionary Solutions we offer a vision of an alternative, democratically-run, not-for profit society, and an outline of the kind of organisation needed to bring it about.

Gerry Gold
Economics editor

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Hang on to your vote!

So the latest opinion polls are again pointing to a “hung” Parliament after the upcoming general election, with no single party able to form a majority government. In that event, say constitutional experts, the queen and her advisors could play a key role in deciding who is asked to form a government.

Yes, we are living in 2010 and the absolute power of monarchy was terminated in the English Revolution with the execution of Charles I for treason against his own people in 1649. But such is the nature of the compromise British constitution, the monarch still has residual powers as head of state. There is nothing written, for example, that says the largest single party in Parliament must be invited to form a government. New Labour could have fewer seats than the Tories but try to govern with the Liberal Democrats at the invitation of the queen.

The fact that an unelected figure, who inherited her power and position from her father (whose family has its origins in the German House of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha!) still has potential political influence in modern Britain just about says it all about the restricted nature of bourgeois democracy. But one suspects (as they say at Buck House) that another unelected group – the global hedge funds and the big wheels in the financial system – will have a more decisive role to play if the election results in stalemate.

That is because the British state is heading for bankruptcy as the recession deepens and the money markets want action sooner rather than later to sort things out. Every January since modern records began, tax receipts have been larger than government outgoings.Not this January, however. In January 2010, the Treasury had to borrow £4.3 billion – compared to a surplus of £5.3 billion last year and £14 billion the year before. All the signs are of a worsening position, as unemployment grows, consumer spending falls further and corporate profits decline.

The markets reacted to the January deficit by raising the interest rates it charges to lend to the British government, adding to the total debt which is probably running somewhere near £200 billion a year or close to 13% of the annual value of economic output. It’s more or less the same ratio in Greece which, as you know, is said to be bankrupt.

Back to the general election scenario. Jonathan Loynes, senior figure at Capital Economics research consultancy, was voicing something more than his own opinion in commenting on the deficit: "It is clear that a more credible plan to restore the public finances to health will be required shortly after the general election to keep the markets and rating agencies at bay."

The markets will not want a weak government cobbled together as a result of some horse-trading between the parties and blessed by the queen. You cannot, therefore, rule out the possibility that in the event of a deadlocked general election, the pressure will mount for an emergency national government of all the main parties in a grand coalition to deal with the country’s financial crisis.

And with a “return to growth” as likely as the discovery of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, we know that will mean unparalleled, savage cuts in spending on public services, attacks on wages and pensions and more job losses. Opposition will be silenced in the “national interest”. Those who voted for one or other of the major parties will have been disenfranchised. You may ask yourself what the point is in participating in the general election under these conditions? And you would be right. Our votes are too precious to hand over to any of them in 2010.

Paul Feldman
Communications editor

Monday, February 22, 2010

Mafia and Italian state target minorities

A Kafkaesque decree handed down by a magistrate in the town of Pesaro on the east coast of Italy has sentenced two human rights defenders, Roberto Malini and Dario Picciau to prison or payment of a heavy fine.

Their crime? That they interrupted “or at least disturbed a police operation aimed at identifying three foreign citizens and used abusive language towards the officers from Pesaro-Urbino Police Headquarters and interfered in the carrying out of their duty”.

Malini and Picciau had offered support to a young Roma man who was being verbally abused by a police officer. They are joint presidents of EveryOne group, an organisation supporting Roma people and refugees in Italy. Italy’s Roma gipsy communities, which until recently numbered around 150,000 have seen their settlements around the country attacked. According to one estimate, three quarters of Roma camps have been razed to the ground over the last year. The physical attacks followed the introduction of fingerprinting of the Roma community in 2008.

In the south of Italy, it is not only the Roma but large numbers of African migrant workers, the backbone of much of the economy, who face mass removal actions by the authorities. In January riots broke out in Rosarno, Calabria after two African workers were shot. In shocking scenes of ethnic cleansing, 1,000 workers were removed.

But as the anti-Mafia investigator and journalist, Roberto Saviano has noted, the police work in tandem with Mafia rule. In Naples and Calabria, the Camorra and the Ndrangheta control all economic activities, he has shown. Saviano’s book Gomorrah revealed that the tentacles of these mafias run from Italy to China and around the world. In his YouTube film, he describes how the Camorra “is a European problem”.

Unfortunately Saviano is mistaken on one count. He believes that immigrants in the UK have “real and tangible rights”. In grim reality, there almost appears to be competition between Italian and UK authorities to mistreat Roma people plus other desperate migrants and asylum seekers.

Gipsies in Kent are currently threatened with a massive eviction operation at Dale Farm while the treatment of asylum seekers at detention centres run by the UK Border Agency (UKBA) is now so bad that a hunger strike at the notorious Yarl’s Wood detention centre has entered its third week today.

Between 22 and 30 women are now in the 18th day of their hunger strike and fears for their health are growing. The All African Women’s Group (AAWG) and the Black Women’s Rape Project (BWRAP) are appealing for a moratorium on all removals of women involved in the hunger strike at the huge detention centre in at Yarl’s Wood in Bedfordshire. They have documented the ill treatment, including racist abuse, of these vulnerable women and the enforced separation of mothers from their children.

But never fear, all is well. David Wood, strategic director for criminality and detention at the Home Office claims that all the detainees are "treated with dignity and respect, with access to legal advice and healthcare facilities". The women on hunger strike (restyled "food refusers") still have access to shops and vending machines. Looks like Coca Cola is still on tap.

More seriously, in the Manifesto of Revolutionary Solutions, A World to Win calls for a Bill of Rights to protect the rights of all, especially minority communities, and calls for the free movement of people, based on “no borders” principles.

Corinna Lotz
A World to Win secretary

Friday, February 19, 2010

An act of state terrorism

The Israeli state literally gets away with murder, dealing out death and destruction with impunity, confident that friendly governments in Europe and America will turn a blind eye or at worst profess temporary, affected outrage. That was the scene played out in London yesterday.

Israel’s ambassador in London was “invited” to the Foreign Office to explain how fakes of British citizens’ passports had turned up in Dubai, used by the assassins of Hamas commander Mahmoud al-Mabhouh. Ambassador Ron Prosor left looking less than chastened, while in Israel they were saying that the British government was simply “going through the motions”.

The well-worn term double standards doesn’t even begin to apply here. Perhaps treble or quadruple standards might be more appropriate. The murder of al-Mabhouh was an act of terrorism, and the fact that it was perpetrated by a state only adds to the degree of calculation and planning involved.

But search the media, listen to the BBC and other outlets and you won’t read or hear the term “terrorism” used in relation to the Dubai murder. Instead, it’s politely referred to as “targeted assassination”, as if that made it any more acceptable. Of course, if the boot had been on the other foot, Hamas would be quickly branded as “terrorists” and beyond the pale of civilised society.

Now reports are circulating that Mossad, aka as Murder Incorporated, told Britain’s MI6 spy agency that fake British passports would be used in an operation. Moreover, the Foreign Office was informed hours before the actual killing of al-Mabhouh that such a plan was in motion. So David Miliband’s “anger” is more feigned than real, it would seem because New Labour has known about the passports scam for some time. Mossad and MI6 have had a long-term collaboration and the notion that this will be affected by the Dubai killing is just laughable.

None of this should surprise us. New Labour and other European governments have helped make Hamas leaders a “legitimate” target by refusing to recognise the organisation’s election victory in Gaza and boycotting any relations with it. This facilitates Israel’s continuing blockade of Gaza and its arrogance in the face of war crimes committed during January 2009 assault that left 1,500 dead and infrastructure destroyed.

Mossad’s involvement – Dubai police are 99% certain it was them – in the killing of al-Mabhouh is also intended to block any attempts inside Israel itself to bring Hamas into any negotiations with the Palestinians. Hamas militants have on the whole stopped firing rockets into Israel since the 2009 Israeli assault and there was talk of concluding a prisoner exchange.

Was the killing of al-Mabhouh intended to provoke militants into retaliation and strengthen the hand of the far-right Israeli government which is stuffed full of racists like foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman? If there were such developments it would be more difficult, for example, for France to continue its behind-the-scenes overtures to Hamas.

And so while the British and American governments express a desire for a peace deal, the Israel state just gets on with its daily business of destroying Palestinian homes, creating more settlements, ripping up olive groves, building walls and electrified fences – in short, building an apartheid regime that the world thought had disappeared with the old South Africa. And not forgetting carrying out state terror attacks in other countries.

Paul Feldman
Communications editor

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Risks ignored as Obama leads nuclear charge

President Obama fired the starting pistol for a rush to nuclear power in the US when he announced this week that his government will offer $8.3billion in loan guarantees for two nuclear reactors to be built in Georgia. This puts the US in line with other big powers, where the stampede to build a new generation of nuclear power stations is on.

China has 14 reactors under construction and 35 more planned. India has six under construction and 23 planned. Even Russia, where you would think the safety lesson might have been learned after Chernobyl, has eight under construction and eight more planned. And of course, New Labour recently gave the go-ahead for 10 new plants in the UK.

The result of the expansion programme will be a massive increase in uranium mining, with new operations already being opened up in Namibia and Kazakhstan, which has tripled its uranium output over the past four years and will soon overtake Canada as the world’s biggest producer. Just as with oil, the easy stuff is taken first and then dirtier processes employed to get at the harder to reach ore.

There is no recognition on the part of governments or the nuclear industry of the extensive health and environmental risks at every stage of the nuclear life cycle. As the American organisation Physicians for Social Responsibility says, uranium mining exposes miners and their communities to high levels of carcinogenic radon gas:

“The effects have been so devastating in the United States that the Navajo Nation, upon whose lands sit one of the largest uranium reserves in the world, has outright banned the practice, even as they struggle with crushing poverty. Radio nuclides routinely released in nuclear reactor operations have been linked to developmental problems, birth defects, reproductive problems, cardiovascular disease, leukemia and other cancers. Epidemiological studies of children living near nuclear reactors show a positive association between leukemia and proximity to nuclear reactors.”

We have experience of that in the UK with the identified clusters of childhood leukemia found around Sellafield in Cumbria in the 1980s. There is no safe way of disposing of waste, which also carries significant health risks, particularly associated with leaching into water supplies.

A scandal exposed this week shows the blatant disregard for human health of the nuclear industry. The French newspaper Liberation published photographs of what appears to be nuclear waste from French EDF reactors simply lying in the open, on the ground in a Siberian town to which access is forbidden.

EDF energy, part-owned by the French state and the world’s biggest nuclear operator, admits it is exporting waste to Russia and that only 13% of what it sends comes back reprocessed. What happens to the rest? No comment. EDF is the likely candidate for constructing new plants in Britain.

The question governments can’t answer is why they are doing it? The idea that nuclear is clean and green, and a contribution to reduced carbon emissions is rubbish. The result of extracting the uranium and the billions of tons of cement needed to build all these huge plants will be massive CO2 emissions. It is unlikely any future savings in emissions would offset this early surge over the whole life of a reactor.

A study by the Rocky Mountain Institute, which campaigns for rational use of the world’s resources, says that if every dollar spent on nuclear power were invested instead in energy efficiency measures, it would produce seven times greater reduction in carbon emissions.

But the corporations are not going to get profits from energy efficiency – and people using less fuel means smaller profits for them. The shadow governments of the corporations are pulling the strings for energy planning. For an alternative way to meet energy needs see our Manifesto of Revolutionary solutions.

Penny Cole
Environment editor

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Bankers plan to bankrupt Greece

European governments have joined forces with the likes of Goldman Sachs and a large collection of globalised banks. They are ganging up to bully the Greek government into upping the assault on the country’s working people.

Finance ministers have given the Greeks a month to make up their mind. What they’ll do if the PASOK government doesn’t have the stomach for the brutal measures needed to extract an estimated 12% reduction in living standards hasn’t been spelt out.

You couldn’t ask for a better illustration of the coming out of the transnational capitalist class in all its glory. You might even see it as a second coming.

The first was when governments and central banks banded together in an historically unprecedented mutual burst of co-ordinated action to pour trillions of their respective currencies into the open hands of the banks.

Most of it promptly disappeared into the vaults. The remainder is now being divvied up as profits to shareholders and the infamous bonuses supposedly needed to keep high performing staff loyal.

Some of the cash escaped from captivity and is now appearing in “surprising” price hikes, like the rise in the annual inflation rate to 3.5% January in UK, way beyond targets and forecasts, and despite the worst recession for generations.

At least part of the story of how so many of the world’s governments – not just Greece – got into this mess is fairly well-known: the outpouring of generosity to the highly-respected organisations comprising the global financial system was necessary to prevent financial meltdown and a complete collapse of the economic system.

Some people say it worked, at least to some extent. Just imagine what would have happened if they hadn’t done it. And maybe there’s some truth in it. But now we’re beginning to see the real consequences.

The managers of the hedge funds and the pimps who arrange the credit default swaps like the one that seduced the Greek government are threatening to declare any and every country bankrupt that fails to implement a programme of public sector wage, service and job cuts, matched with savage tax rises.

Iceland and Ireland have already been forced down that route. The former’s government is trying to negotiate its way out of the referendum it called to head off huge opposition from its population to the cost of paying its bankrupt banks’ debts to the UK and the Netherlands.

Ireland’s austerity programme has failed to solve its problems. Its government leapt in early to guarantee the debts held by its financial institutions which have now leapt to a staggering eleven times the country’s annual output. The guarantee must now be worthless, just like the similar promises offered by so many others.

If the transnational financial class has its way, public sector jobs, wages, homes, pensions, health and social care, as well as emergency services like fire and ambulance will have to go. Only those jobs that contribute directly to profit will remain, and only those where wages and condition can be reduced to match the lowest anywhere in the world.

Under these objective conditions defensive trade union action and protest must merge with revolutionary solutions and actions such as those we propose in our draft Manifesto. Workers and those without jobs should join with farmers, people with small businesses and the self-employed in every country to set up new democratic organisations as the basis for revolutionary governments. These will take the power to cancel the debts outstanding to the speculative investors, close down the markets they operate in and redeploy their traders to useful work.

Gerry Gold
Economics editor

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Losing 'hearts and minds' in Afghanistan

If there was ever a discredited phrase surely it’s “winning the hearts and minds of the people”. Used by the Americans in Vietnam and more recently Iraq, it is now on the lips of every commander and politician involved in the latest phase of the debacle in Afghanistan.

Yesterday, after reports that 20 villagers were killed by misguided missiles, no less a person than Bob Ainsworth, the gruff, tough-speaking New Labour defence secretary, uttered the same immortal words that have served as a cover for naked aggression down the ages, saying: "The most important phase of the operations begins now - winning over the hearts and minds of the people ... That's the hard bit…"

Actually, the hard bit is listening to Ainsworth, who personifies the New Labour New Imperialist government, set on remaking the world in their image, overthrowing regimes they don’t like and propping up corrupt governments like the Karzai presidency in Afghanistan if they serve a political purpose.

In 1965, President Johnson gave the phrase its first modern outing, when he declared that "ultimate victory [in Vietnam] will depend upon the hearts and the minds" of the Vietnamese. The US Agency for International Development (USAID) poured billions of dollars into the country in a bid to win over the local population to the American way of life.

The military were having none of it, however. A brutal campaign of “pacification” – epitomised by the My Lai massacre in 1968 when the population of an entire village was slaughtered by US troops – ensured that the support for the National Liberation Front of South Vietnam remained solid. A dramatic documentary by Peter Davis made in 1974 shows what winning “hearts and minds” was about in practice. A year later American troops left Vietnam, defeated.

In Iraq, in November 2004, Fallujah was reduced to rubble by US troops, who used white phosphorous bombs. The execution of a wounded Iraqi was caught on video tape. Before the massacre, a squad leader with 1st Platoon, Company E, 2nd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment, vowed: “We will win the hearts and minds of Fallujah by ridding the city of insurgents. We're doing that by patrolling the streets and killing the enemy." An Italian documentary made a year later exposed what happened.

Winning “hearts and minds” is in practice an impossibility. The phrase has the stench of a colonial mentality running right through it. When the strategy falters, as it inevitably does, the frustrations of the military come out and the shooting starts all over again. The Afghan people have been “visited” by foreign armies since time immemorial – and rightly resisted them all.

British and American troops come under attack by the Taliban simply because they are the latest in a long line of occupying forces. The killing of Afghans only reinforces this perception inside the country The deaths of US and British troops are pointless because ultimately the soldiers are serving political masters whose imperial mentality prevents any lasting solution.

Only a different kind of government and democratic political system in countries like Britain and America, one that is cleansed of all this “hearts and minds” rubbish, can even contemplate offering the Afghan people the resources and support they want in their legitimate quest for self-determination.

Paul Feldman
Communications editor

Monday, February 15, 2010

Destroying the hopes of a generation

The government is dashing the hopes of a generation of young people through cuts in education to try and claw back some of the £850 billion which New Labour committed to save the financial system from imploding.

After announcing that the universities budget for 2010-11 would be cut by £449 million, Business Secretary Lord Mandelson said last week that spending on higher education, research and science would be cut by £915m in the next three years.

The cuts come just as the number of school leavers applying for a university place in October has gone up on average by 23%. The University of the Arts London has seen applications rise by 111%, the University for the Creative Arts by 93.8% and Edinburgh Napier by 78.5%, to name but a few. Many applicants no doubt see education as the only option with unemployment among young people soaring. The result is that 800,000 students will be competing for 480,000 places this autumn.

In order to raise revenue, universities are taking in increasing numbers of overseas students who are increasingly being used as cash cows. The average charge to overseas students is now a hefty £10,781 per year. In the last ten years the proportion of overseas students admitted to British universities has doubled. Half of all students on post-graduate courses are now from abroad.

In addition to real spending cuts, the government is fining universities £3,700 per head if they accept students above their allocated quotas, which has led to more drastic cuts in the number of places offered. Thus, thousands of young people who have worked hard to achieve high exam grades are being rejected.

Instead of encouraging the desire for self-improvement, everything is being done to discourage young people, and leave them in an education and jobs-seeking wilderness.

Other areas of education are also been slashed. Further education colleges in England are facing an average cut of 16% for adult learning, according to the Association of Colleges. It says that the Skills Funding Agency is cutting £200 million across the sector, which includes vocational courses like plumbing, electrical installation, catering, care and A levels and GCSEs for adults. In many parts of the country such as Yorkshire and North-east England vocational courses are so hard to find that young men and women see the army as the only way to get a skills training.

The coming tsunami of cuts will hit even harder in a situation where the number of adults benefiting from adult education classes had already dropped back by two million during the noughties. The number of adult learners is currently at its lowest level since New Labour came to power, according to the National Institute of Adult Continuing Education (NIACE).

A survey conducted by NIACE in 2009 revealed a sharp class divide “between the educationally privileged and the educationally excluded”. Only a quarter of the poorest people surveyed were in education or had studied in the past three years as compared with 53% amongst the best off.

An economic and political system that provides unlimited support to unaccountable and reckless financial institutions at the expense of educating and training a whole generation of youth has forfeited any claim to legitimacy. And don’t even think of wasting your vote on New Labour at the general election.

Corinna Lotz
AWTW secretary

Friday, February 12, 2010

An open and shut case

Of course MI5 doesn’t collude in torture, as wrongly suggested in the case of Binyam Mohamed. Nor do they suppress documents. And how do we know all this to be true? Because the head of the Security Service, Jonathan Hunt, and two cabinet ministers – foreign secretary David Miliband and Home Secretary Alan Johnson – say so.

And just to confirm all is in order, the chair of the parliamentary Intelligence and Security Committee Kim Howells and senior Tory member Michael Mates said that the “director-general [Hunt] has confirmed to us … that no document concerning Binyam Mohamed and his treatment by the US authorities has been withheld from us."

And, as we know, the state never lies (as the Iraq inquiry clearly demonstrates). So we can all rest secure in our homes in the knowledge that we are in honest hands who will never transgress the law – at least not knowingly. If this sounds a little cynical you could be right. After a lifetime of being lied to and deceived by the authorities, I could be forgiven.

There is an air of desperation about the statements and letters from Hunt, Miliband and Johnson that appear like a rash all over the media and the web this morning in the wake of the Appeal Court ruling against the government in the case of Mohamed. It’s hard to lend them any creditability whatsoever.

What springs to mind is the quip made immortal by call-girl Mandy Rice Davies, whose involvement with Christine Keeler in the Profumo affair of the early 1960s helped wreck the Tory government of the time. During a trial, when the prosecuting counsel pointed out that Lord Astor denied an affair or having even met her, she replied, "Well, he would, wouldn't he?".

The documents made pubic by the court, against the wishes of the government, confirm that Mohamed was tortured by Pakistani intelligence under US supervision and that MI5 agents knew this to be the case. Despite this, MI5 took part in further interrogations of Mohamed, who was then shipped to Guantanamo detention camp in an example of “extraordinary rendition” which New Labour has, of course, washed its hands of, despite allowing flights to refuel in Britain.

Miliband has gone to extraordinary lengths to try and block any criticism of MI5, even being accused of “knobbling” the Appeal Court. A lawyer for the Foreign Office persuaded the judges to tone down their criticism in a draft judgement. The judges apparently believed Mohamed’s lawyers concurred. Only later did it transpire that they had not seen the Foreign Office submission until it was too late to intervene. Another case of trampling over the rule of law while proclaiming the “independence of the judiciary”. The judges are so embarrassed that they may reopen the case.

Last night, Channel 4 News revealed that in the original version Lord Neuberger, one of the most senior judges in the country, did say that MI5 had been involved in the suppression of information – and that also on this issue it had done this on a previous occasion. He had also stated that MI5's human rights record was dubious. The judgement also went onto say MI5 was “less than frank” over its record on inhumane treatment and that MI5, Britain's domestic security service, had a “worrying disregard” for the truth.

So who would you rather believe? New Labour and MI5 – who are hanging on to each other for dear life – or the Appeal Court? It’s an open and shut case. The whole affair adds weight to our draft Manifesto proposals for dissolving the secret state and creating a real political democracy.

Paul Feldman
Communications editor

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Forests under threat in carbon offsets scandal

Campaigners fear a new surge of forest destruction as a result of both the reactionary Copenhagen Accord and a new European Union bio-fuels directive.

It seems that EU member states will be forced to accept palm oil grown in plantations planted on cleared forest – whether they like it or not.

The EU is committed to a target of 10% of all road transport fuel being based on renewable energy by 2020, and a new directive claims that palm oil plantations can be classified as forest, and meet so-called “sustainable standards”.

According to Rainforest Rescue, razing rainforest to plant oil palm would not count as a change in land use under the new directive, which also says that “member states may not set additional criteria of their own. They may not exclude biofuels/bioliquids on sustainability grounds where these meet the sustainability criteria laid down in the Directive”.

This is entirely in line with the Copenhagen Accord, the wrecking agreement forced through by powerful nations at last year’s climate conference.

Without a successor to Kyoto the controls on carbon off-setting (weak as they were) will become non-existent. It will lead to large-scale destruction of eco-systems and unprecedented land grabs, as spurious projects are classified as carbon offsets. There will even be carbon credits for tree and crop monocultures and GM soya, planted on cleared rainforest.

Stella Semino from Grupo de Reflexion Rural (Argentina) states: “If these new proposals are agreed upon we will see a massive boost for crop and tree plantations alike which, in the name of ‘climate change mitigation’, will speed up the destruction of forests and other vital ecosystems, the spread of industrial agriculture, and land grabbing against small-farmers, indigenous peoples and forest communities. Industrial monocultures are already a major cause of climate change and their expansion will make it worse.”

The problem is even bigger than palm oil – the whole concept of bio-fuels replacing oil is flawed because of the nature of the capitalist system and the system of private land ownership. An example is the development of new oil plants that will grow on so-called “marginal land”.

The Jatropha plant is being grown by Kijani Energy of Canada in Mozambique on land classified as marginal. This very experimental process, with an incredibly toxic plant which can harm farmers as they harvest and crush it, is already being claimed as a biol-fuel breakthrough.

It is reported that Kijani has now purchased 200,000 acres of land in the Thar province of Pakistan for Jatropha cultivation. Local people say that far from being unused land, this area belongs to them, and their centuries old livestock grazing rights are being violated.

In our Manifesto of Revolutionary Solutions we reject the idea of mitigation and adaptation to climate change, within the existing capitalist economic structures. It is damaging the poorest and most powerless in society, not protecting them from the effects of climate change – and it is doing it without making any significant reductions in emissions. An alternative system of energy production and land ownership is urgently needed.

Penny Cole
Environment editor

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Greek debt crisis: a warning from history

Greece has moved centre stage as the global debt contagion engulfs Europe. But Italy, Portugal and Spain are not far behind, whilst France and even Germany, whose banks have many billions invested in the other countries, are waiting in the wings. No wonder EU leaders are holding a crisis meeting tomorrow.

Greek public sector workers are taking to the streets today in protest against the government’s austerity programme. This is designed to appease the hedge fund managers who are raising the cost of borrowing, and the foreign exchange dealers who have launched an unprecedented assault on the euro.

The Panhellenic Socialist Movement (PASOK) was elected in October and pledged to rescue Greek capitalism after the break-up of the previous right-wing government. But PASOK has struggled to get to grips with the worsening economic and social crisis.

Today’s strike by unions PASOK could once count on against pay and pension cuts is accompanied by a continuing blockade of main roads by farmers, including the border with Bulgaria. They are demanding financial support the government can’t afford to give.

The immediate threats to the country’s political stability arise from the payments due on its mountainous debts, now proving impossible to service as its economy – largely dependent on tourism and shipping – has taken a big hit from the global recession.

But the Greek government is not alone. It just happens to be the weakest of the pack of highly indebted countries which includes Portugal, Italy, Ireland, Spain, France, the UK and the US, not forgetting Dubai.

Greece’s public spending deficit exceeds 13% of the value of annual output of goods and services, Spain’s 11.4% and Portugal’s 9.3%. All these are far in excess of the 3% safe limit determined by rules set by the EU for countries using the euro currency.

These deficits are funded by borrowing – selling bonds to investors, speculators on the private markets whose only interest is “interest” or “yield”, the amount they can charge. As the problems of repayment mount, so does the cost of borrowing. The principle is the same whether we’re talking about global investors or doorstep, pay-day lenders. Fail to make a payment and the interest due is added to the principal - and then the rate rises. Defaulters are treated very severely. Brutally.

Some consider the UK safer from the effects of debt contagion, because it is outside the euro zone. But its deficit is way up there at more than 12%, and the pound is also under pressure from the foreign exchange traders.

Bankers and hedge fund managers now call the shots, demanding public sector wage and benefit cuts, tax rises, pension reductions and the ending of vital services. Respected figures like George Magnus, senior economic advisor to UBS Investment Bank, talk in hushed tones about the need for governments to balance the risks of a breakdown in “social cohesion” arising from the prescribed “structural reforms” needed to attract investors like him.

The system of elected government that Europeans have got used to during the thirty years of corporate-led globalisation cannot survive the scale of the devastation needed to sustain the capitalist system. Greece was ruled by a military Junta between 1967 and 1974; Spain’s fascist dictatorship lasted from 1939 until Franco died in 1975. The Salazar government in Portugal lasted from 1933 until his death in 1970. The Nazis came to power in 1933 as the effects of the Great Depression were felt throughout the world.

That Depression only came to an end when fascism and the Second World War eliminated the surplus productive capacity produced by the speculative growth of the 1920s. Today’s globalised financial, economic and political crisis exceeds by far the conditions of the 1930s. The costs of resolving it within the capitalist framework cannot be countenanced.

We invite you to join the discussion of alternative, revolutionary solutions put forward in our draft Manifesto.

Gerry Gold
Economics editor

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

China cracks down as turmoil grows

Signs of growing social tensions in China continue to mount, revealed by the jailing of an activist for documenting shoddy construction work to a decision in one province to assuage workers’ growing anger with a 13% pay rise.

Tan Zuoren has been jailed for five years for “subversion”, according to his lawyer this week. Ostensibly, the sentence was for emailed comments denouncing the Tiananmen Square massacre in June 1989. But as no one has gone to prison for such an “offence” for over a decade, the state’s motives lay elsewhere.

And you don’t have to look too hard. Tan’s removal from the scene coincided with his plans to publish a report on the collapse of school buildings during the 2008 Sichuan earthquake, in which more than 80,000 people died. Parents were angered by the fact that relatively new school buildings collapsed like a pack of cards and staged anti-government rallies in protest.

Tan’s trial in Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan province, was adjourned without a verdict in August last year. His lawyers said that they were unable to present their defence or call witnesses to testify on his behalf. Remember Beijing’s “bird nest” stadium? Well, its internationally acclaimed designer Ai Weiwei came to testify about the poor construction of school buildings – and was promptly beaten up and detained. He underwent emergency brain surgery in Germany.

“I think this is a very important case for China, more important than that of Liu Xiaobo,” said Ai, referring to a Chinese dissident jailed in December for 11 years for online essays calling for civil rights and multi-party elections. It shows the Chinese legal system has taken a big step backwards. Tan’s ‘crime’ was entirely one of speech, of conscience.”

Ai remains a prominent target. Two of his Google e-mail accounts have been hacked into and state security agents have rifled through his bank accounts. The designer, who has lived in America, has also been told he could be deported if he doesn’t stop his criticism of human rights abuses.

The authorities’ extreme nervousness comes as China’s attempt to sustain its export-based economy stumbles. Inflation is rising following a massive stimulus programme while the major importers of its products in Europe, North America and Australia continue in recession with plummeting consumer demand.

Eastern Jiangsu province, which exports more than Brazil and South Africa combined, raised its monthly minimum wage rate 13% from about £80 a month to Rmb960 (£90) last week. Other provincial authorities are expected to follow suit. The settlements reflect not just a shortage of labour – many of the 20 million sacked last year have stayed in the countryside – but increasing militancy by workers who still earn a pittance. Nevertheless, manufacturers are certain to pass on wage increases in prices which will further dampen export prospects.

Meanwhile, intense security remains in force in Xinjiang and Tibet. Controls on the internet have been tightened in the past few months. Social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter have been blocked. By all accounts, their role in Iran’s recent upheaval spooked China’s leaders.

The 74-million strong Communist Party which has overseen the turn to a capitalist economy, is dominated by those who joined to get a job or get on in the state machine. It only just survived Tiananmen intact. Since then, inequality and corruption has grown at an unstoppable pace. The collapse of the school buildings in Sichuan was undoubtedly the result of “skimming” by local authorities. How long the party itself can withstand the underlying social turmoil in China is no longer an academic question.

Paul Feldman
Communications editor

Monday, February 08, 2010

The real price of the 'green' Winter Olympics

The BBC animation promoting the Winter Olympics in Vancouver, begins with an Inuit athlete launching himself into a snowboarding run and, in the following few seconds, cleverly manages to feature the downhill skiing, ski-jump, toboggan and curling events.

The soundtrack is triumphant, the film exciting but also strangely ominous. For one thing it is in monochrome, the next thing one sees is our hero being pursued by wolves clearly intent on savaging him. He escapes by chopping his board in half to turn it into skis and then jumping over an enormous canyon.

Next up is a huge, growling, fearsome bear which he vanquishes by using a curling stone as a weapon. Is this meant to be a satire? Perhaps there's some crafty person with seditious, anti-Olympics intent in the company which produced it, because after deconstructing the advertisement you could be forgiven for thinking so.

It is unusual, brilliantly executed and intended to present a positive and stirring invitation to watch the thrilling spectacle of the 2010 Winter Olympics, which opens on 12 February. However, with a sufficiently devious mind and some knowledge of the background to the Games, the images in the BBC promotion tell some ugly truths, albeit unwittingly.

Billed as the “greenest Olympics” ever, the preparations for the games are actually more likely to be the most environmentally destructive in the history of the Olympics of either variety. For instance, the wolves and the bear are not in reality powerful predators to be escaped or destroyed at all costs. They are in fact victims of the huge Olympic juggernaut which has rolled over forests, rivers and mountains, destroying habitats that the bears, the wolves, the salmon and other wild creatures depend upon.

The expansion of the Sea to Sky highway, undertaken to shorten the travel time between Vancouver and the ski resort of Whistler in time for the Olympics, in 2007 alone resulted in the deaths of eleven black bears due to accidents and habitat destruction. What the toll is three years later I do not know.

What of the human cost? Many Vancouverites are dreading the arrival of the Olympics to the city and surrounding region according to a column in Sports Illustrated. Apart from the disruption to people’s daily lives, massively increased surveillance, enhanced police and even military presence, there are deep and widespread concerns about homelessness.

For as with practically all Olympic venues image is everything – visitors to the city must not be upset by the sight of poverty, squalor or addiction. Many of those in this position are the indigenous “Indian” people and it is they, along with environmentalists, who are providing the backbone of the opposition to the whole Olympic five-ring circus.

“No Olympics on Stolen Land” is their slogan. Why stolen? Because most native land in the province of British Columbia, unlike the rest of Canada, is unceded and has never been the subject of treaties with the government of BC or of Canada. Nevertheless the government acts as if it is the legal owner and uses it to exploit its natural resources for profit. Logging, mining, building, expanding ski resorts on delicate ecological areas, irrespective of the rights and usage of much of this land by native peoples, has taken place in the past and continues at an accelerating rate today.

Widespread, focussed protests are also taking place at an increasing rate as the Olympic date draws near. Convergences are being planned and the Olympic torch relay across Canada is being disrupted by activists, using non-violent but militant and determined direct action. The opposition movement began to organise almost immediately the Games were awarded and has grown into a formidable force since.

The Games of course will go ahead, they cannot possibly be subverted now except perhaps by one element. The higher than average temperatures have resulted in an absence of one vital ingredient for a Winter Olympics – snow!

Fiona Harrington

Friday, February 05, 2010

Greenpeace and the Chagos Islands

You may recently have received a petition from a well-meaning friend with a request to sign it and circulate, or it might have come to your notice in the form of an appeal from Greenpeace – “it” being the planned creation of one of the world’s largest marine reserves around the Chagos Islands in the Indian Ocean.

In November last year, the UK Marine Bill was passed into law for the purpose of protecting the seas around Britain through the creation of Marine Preservation Areas (MPAs) which we can all agree I am sure, are very good things to have. The protection of the seas, as opposed to fisheries, has long been neglected and the world’s oceans have for long enough been our common dumping grounds. So any initiative along the lines of MPAs can only be another Very Good Thing surely, particularly if championed by Greenpeace? Well not entirely.

You see another initiative announced by the Foreign Office in November 2009 was the setting up of two consultations – one to look at ways of providing better environmental protection for Antarctica, and the other to consider whether the Chagos Archipelago, which is a British Indian Ocean territory, should become an MPA. Many of you will be becoming aware I am sure by now, that an issue is beginning to emerge here.

Greenpeace is at present galvanising their membership to write to David Miliband the Foreign Secretary, calling on him to make sure that this reserve is in fact created and to help the consultation committee with their comments.

The consultation period closes on the 12th February so the time for action is limited as they point out. My suggestion however is that people should indeed write to Miliband urging him not to agree the creation of such a reserve on the basis of the dismal history of Diego Garcia, the main island of the Chagos Archipelago, which the British Government had such a treacherous hand in.

The background history of Diego Garcia and the fate of the Chagossians, or the Ilois people to give their correct ethnic name, is a story of treachery and betrayal which began in 1965 the year when Chagos, along with Mauritius, was to have received its independence. The Labour government of Harold Wilson at the insistence of the United States, leased the islands to Washington for 50 years making 2015 the year that the lease should run out. However, the US was also given the option of a 20 year extension which they appear, without consultation with the Ilois, to have taken up.

But then nobody has ever consulted them, not in 1965 when every man, woman and child was evicted from their island home with no compensation and no right of return. It was wholescale ethnic cleansing leaving the islands clear for the Americans to build a military base there. The base was used in the first Gulf War during the bombing raids on Iraq and again during the second war against Iraq and will probably be used in whatever other adventures the US regime embarks upon in the region.

The Ilois themselves have disappeared from view more or less. Many settled in Mauritius, inhabiting squalid slums, some came to Britain and have argued their case in the courts. They actually won the right to resettle. New Labour, however, has blocked all their attempts to return and continues to ignore the rights of these quiet people.

It is an outrage which has gathered little notice or controversy. The deliberate secrecy of the original deal with Washington and the continuing deception and betrayal are ugly and cruel. Therefore the issue of the plight and brave fight of the exiled people of Diego Garcia should be supported and publicised, with demands made for a right of return for all those who wish to and full consultation on the creation of an MPA. Marine reserves do not depend on the total clearance of humans, after all more such reserves are being considered for Britain. Why should Chagos be any different?

Fiona Harrington

Thursday, February 04, 2010

Profits put energy supply under threat

Thousands more families will be forced into fuel poverty, and Britain’s energy supply is under threat, according to a shock report published yesterday by the energy regulator Ofgem.

Their “Project Discovery” review of the state of the energy market, warns: “The unprecedented combination of the global financial crisis, tough environmental targets, increasing gas import dependency and the closure of ageing power stations has combined to cast reasonable doubt over whether the current energy arrangements will deliver secure and sustainable energy supplies.”

The report goes as far as to suggest that a new kind of government-run supply company might be the only way to secure future supplies and affordability and highlights five key issues:

1. Only a tiny percentage of the £200bn investment needed over the next 10 years is committed from the energy corporations.
2. The falling carbon “price” means there is no incentive to investment in low carbon fuel generation.
3. There are no price incentives for energy companies to store gas to meet peak capacity or to keep prices down.
4. Relying on global markets creates risks to Britain’s security of supply.
5. The rising cost of gas and electricity may mean that increasing numbers of consumers can’t afford to heat their homes, and that industry and business will be less competitive.

This clear statement of the abject failure of the profit-driven energy market was underlined this week as a series of profit collapses were announced in this most volatile global market.

French energy giant EDF – profits down 40% over the year to February. Royal Dutch Shell – sacking another 1,000 people this year in addition to the 5,000 in 2008, as profits fell by 69%. BP – a 45% fall in profits for 2009. Exxon Mobil, the world's largest private oil company – a profit slump from $45bn in 2008 to $19bn in 2009.

While the profits, pricing cartels, and environmental destruction wrought by the energy giants remains an obscene blight on human society – they can’t even deliver a secure, affordable energy supply. Following privatisation in the UK, gas prices fell in real terms between 1995 to 2000 as competition developed. But since 2001, prices have risen continuously.

An average direct debit gas bill increased by £123 to £648 between 2008 and 2009. Electricity prices fell in real terms between 1992 to 2003, but since then have risen consistently. An average direct debit bill increased by £45 to £421 between 2008 and 2009. Overall, domestic energy prices have risen by 80% between 2004 and 2008, driving up fuel poverty.

In 2007, there were around 4 million fuel poor households in the UK, up from 3.5 million in 2006. Figures for 2008 and 2009 are not available yet, but the prediction is 3.6 million fuel poor households in 2008 and 4.6 million in 2009.

Energy and Climate Change Secretary Ed Miliband’s response to the Ofgem report was the equivalent of sticking his fingers in his ears and singing “la, la, la”. “The government is confident that Britain will meet its security of supply needs in the years ahead. Our Low Carbon Transition Plan has put in place a programme of action to deliver secure and increasingly low carbon energy supplies in the medium term through to 2020,” he said.

But as the BP boss Tony Hayward admitted in an interview today on Radio 4’s today programme, the private sector is not going to invest in low-carbon energy generation. BP itself has pulled out of offshore wind power because the profits are not short-term enough.

It doesn’t have to be like this. In our draft Manifesto of Revolutionary Solutions, we set out detailed proposals that can deliver secure affordable energy and reduce emissions. But first and foremost, we must take control of energy supply out of the hands of profit-driven corporations – and now even Ofgem knows it makes sense!

Penny Cole
Environment editor

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Debt contagion spreads

In the aftermath of Davos, the annual skiing trip for the bankers, businessmen and tame governments of the global economy, one key theme runs through the post-mortems in the wake of the economic and financial crash: the free market requirements of corporations are in open conflict with the political constraints of a world of capitalist nation-states.

The Financial Times’ Martin Wolf, who moderated the “economic outlook” session sums it up like this: “We have a globalised economy, but politics remains local. In times of crisis, the pressure to look after the former dominates the latter.” What Wolf is indicating is that local “politics” either gets in the way and/or is not up to the job. He is right but Wolf fails to grasp that the contradiction between globalising corporations and nation-state politics is insoluble.

So struggling to take much if any comfort from the less-than-impressive signs of a return to growth after renewed and unprecedented overdoses of “stimulus”, the talk in darkened corners is now turning to “rebalancing the global economy” with all the unspecified pain for millions that brings in its wake.

The crash exposed massive over-capacity in production around the world, after decades of the increasingly credit-led investment needed to maintain the expansion on which capital feeds. In the last 12 months, many countries have relied on individual attempts at rescuing domestic economies, creating export-led growth as a result.

But it isn’t happening.

Whilst the stimulus enabled banks to refill their capital balances, and, particularly in China allowed production to continue and even grow, it has failed to get people buying. Consumers aren’t consuming.

In countries like Spain, the United States and the United Kingdom and its nearest neighbour Ireland, as well as some of the countries of the former Soviet Union consumption was funded by borrowing against absurd inflation in property prices. Property prices have collapsed, so consumption collapsed. It can’t be restored to previous levels. The patient has suffered a near fatal illness.

Growth certainly hasn’t returned to countries like the Ukraine where GDP fell 14% last year. All across the world unemployment is high and soaring, hours and wages are being cut. Pensions wiped out. In the US, where some of the production numbers look positive, Lawrence Summers, Barack Obama’s principal economic adviser, admits “what we are seeing in the US and perhaps in other places, is a statistical recovery and a human recession”.

The obscure language of the financial commentators can be difficult to untangle at times, but the threatening messages are getting clearer day by day. They speak on behalf of the global investors, speculators who move vast funds to the source of highest return. And the message to governments is this – those with an excess of debt had better give up on stimulus pretty soon to avoid the growing threat of state bankruptcy that is spreading like a global contagion.

Italy, Portugal, Spain, the UK, Iceland are joining Greece - which has its hand out for help to the International Monetary Fund and the European Union – in the emergency ward. Those with excess savings like China had better get their people increasing their consumption pronto, or face the consequences.

No wonder the political crisis is growing in all the major economies. Cut spending and the economy will dive (or die); don’t cut spending and the state faces bankruptcy. In short, there are no answers within the present framework. That doesn’t mean the forces of extreme reaction will give up and go home. If conventional nation-state politics won’t work, there is always the danger of unconventional “solutions”.

In our draft Manifesto of Revolutionary Solutions we set out our proposals to bring this obscene and increasingly dangerous system to its end. Join the discussion.

Gerry Gold
Economics editor

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Constructing a new world

History has, of course, seen many manifestos come and go. But the social transformation needed to lift societies out of crisis do not simply appear spontaneously. It is vital to break free from received wisdoms and stereotypes and work out solutions to problems that until now have appeared insoluble.

So we are proud to announce that our draft Manifesto of Revolutionary Solutions goes live online today. The manifesto points to the contradictions with the capitalist system of production as the real causes of the ecological, economic and political crises that overshadow our world while proposing far-reaching solutions.

Revolutionary changes in history have been inspired by manifestos and declarations of one kind or another. You only have to think of Protestant reformer Luther’s 95 Theses nailed to a church door in 1517, the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen in France in 1789, the Communist Manifesto of 1848 by Marx and Engels and the April Theses put forward by Lenin in 1917, to name but a few.

Thus, it is a happy coincidence that the life and work of a man who helped to instigate a cultural revolution in Europe is being celebrated in a major exhibition opening at Tate Modern this week. Theo Van Doesburg, who launched the magazine and the movement called De Stijl in 1917, was a Renaissance man. He was not only a painter, architect and designer, but also a writer and poet. Above all, he created an international network to change the course of art and life.

Van Doesburg, along with fellow painter Piet Mondrian, and other collaborators, worked for the possibility of a “deepened artistic culture” in which artists working in different fields would realise that they shared a common language. Tate Modern director Vicente Todolì and Edwin Jacobs, the curators, note that Van Doesburg “advocated collective enterprise rather than individualism”.

The Dutch artist sought to change not only the face of art, but the world itself. For him as for other avant-garde artists, what counted was how their art could promote new visions for life and society. Unlike Mondrian who has overshadowed him, Van Doesburg “saw art not on a singular course, but opening to multiple possibilities, as a bridge from the present to the future”.

Constructing a New World shows how the years between 1916 and the mid-1920s saw an unparalleled cultural flowering, spearheaded by a host of avant-garde magazines, sweep through Europe as designer-artists like Van Doesburg, El Lissitsky and Moholy Nagy travelled extensively, cross-fertilising each other’s countries and movements with innovations in all branches of the arts, including film, music and sculpture.

Modernism, just like the notion that revolutionary change is possible, has been much maligned and rejected over the past decades. The exhibition is a welcome chance to reassess it. Naturally, there was plenty of chaos, conflicts, falling outs and rows as different tendencies asserted themselves.

But the spirit of inquiry and collaboration, a multi-disciplinary approach towards human life and culture, the desire to use technology to provide a better life for the whole of society, a profound internationalism, the enthusiasm for scientific knowledge, the rejection of dogma and political censorship remain totally relevant.

It is in that same spirit that we ask you to participate and help widen the discussion about the Manifesto of Revolutionary Solutions so that it becomes a real instrument to inspire political, social and cultural change.

Corinna Lotz
A World to Win secretary

Monday, February 01, 2010

Obama waves big stick at Iran

Perhaps the most frightening aspect of Tony Blair’s appearance before the exceptionally tame Iraq war inquiry was his pointed remarks about Iran being next in line for military action. And it seems it was more than the usual Blair “I’d do it again” bravado and that his connections to the White House are as strong as when he was prime minister.

For almost at the same time as Blair told the inquiry he didn’t have a single regret about invading and occupying Iraq, despite the absence of weapons of mass destruction, Washington was announcing a major shift in its military posture towards Iran. After a year of megaphone politics directed at Tehran, president Obama has given up the ghost (just like he’s done on Israel-Palestine).

So now the US is to provide new anti-missile systems to at least four Arab countries, and help Saudi Arabia triple the size of the 10,000 strong force that protects key installations. The US navy will also deploy ships capable of intercepting medium-range nuclear missiles off the Iranian coast on a permanent basis. The same ships will, of course, have offensive capability too.

All this suggests that a pre-emptive attack on Iran by US forces is being prepared. Ostensibly it would be aimed at Iran’s nuclear installations but ultimately it is another episode of regime change in the making. In the fantasy world of Washington, the Islamic republic would give way to some kind of Western-style democracy (the Gulf states about to receive US military help are, of course, exempt from this project because they have oil and are pro-Washington).

The danger of an international conflict is made more likely by the fact that China is a major ally of Iran (it needs the country’s oil). Washington has also decided to sell arms to Taiwan despite China’s protest that this threatens the integrity of its own borders with the island state that Beijing claims as part of its territory.

How the Israelis must be enjoying all this. A mere hint that they would attack Iran unless the US got its act together was enough to send Obama scurrying into the hands of the military. Israel’s own nuclear weapons are, of course, not talked about in polite circles. And Iran serves a convenient diversion from the accelerated ethnic cleansing taking place in Jerusalem and full-scale apartheid on the West Bank.

The noted Middle East commentator Robert Fisk asks why Washington and London are turning a blind eye to the destruction of the peace process, adding:

“This majority of the West Bank – known under the defunct Oslo Agreement's sinister sobriquet as ‘Area C’ – has already fallen under an Israeli rule which amounts to apartheid by paper: a set of Israeli laws which prohibit almost all Palestinian building or village improvements, which shamelessly smash down Palestinian homes for which permits are impossible to obtain, ordering the destruction of even restored Palestinian sewage systems. Israeli colonists have no such problems; which is why 300,000 Israelis now live – in 220 settlements which are all internationally illegal – in the richest and most fertile of the Palestinian occupied lands.”

The double standards applied are consistent with US policy down the ages and Obama has fallen into line, chastened by the crisis within his own presidency. Iran is not a pleasant place to be right now, to say the least. The execution and torture of supporters of democratic change by the reactionary theocratic state play right into the hands of Washington. Nonetheless, we should oppose any military attack on the country or the imposition ofsanctions. The Iranian people themselves must be free to determine their own history.

Paul Feldman
Communications editor