Friday, March 07, 2014

People's Inquiry into 'Our future beyond capitalism'

The Ukraine-Russia crisis is just one expression of dramatic changes that are taking diverse forms in different countries. Nevertheless, there is an essential unity to a fast-moving global crisis that embraces economy and finance, ecosystems, democracy and politics, culture and ideology.

There is undoubtedly an eco-social impasse on a global scale. The old order cannot manage the contradictions within the existing system or meet the aspirations of countless millions in countries from Brazil to Ukraine, from the UK to the United States, from France to Greece.

Hierarchical political-state systems which are superficially democratic are compromised by their collusion with corporate and financial power and their subordination to market forces. Climate change is one consequence. So too is resurgent nationalism, creeping authoritarianism and mass state surveillance.

There is worldwide opposition and resistance, but as yet no shared strategy for getting beyond capitalism socially, politically and economically. That should surely be our goal and we assert that another world is not only possible but entirely necessarily for all our futures!

So after more than six years and 1,700 blogs, usually at the rate of five a week, A World to Win is proposing a switch of emphasis. There is a genuine need to deeper our understanding of the connected parts of the dramatically altered world and to use this knowledge to change what goes on in favour of the 99%.

We’re suggesting that this takes the form of a People’s Inquiry, with “Our Future beyond Capitalism” as the subject to be investigated. It will be open to individuals, campaign groups, trade unions, academics and students and anyone interested in working on solutions in a collaborative way. We have suggested six areas for the inquiry:

  1. The ecosystem, including climate change and species loss
  2. Global economy and finance, where the 1% rule over the 99%
  3. The state, democracy and social rights (like health and housing)
  4. Ideology and philosophy – dialectics of liberation   
  5. Culture, education and sport – how they can help set us free
  6. Networks/organisations/strategies for revolutionary change

When the People’s Inquiry is launched next week, you will find links from this site to these different areas. In each area, we have suggested some questions to focus our initial work. A World to Win is proposing a three-stage process:

1. Gathering evidence through papers, web references and contributions from individuals and groups. People can bear witness about their own situation or campaign, through text or by sending video or audio files. 
2. Face-to-face meetings in different locations, and on-line meetings, to assess and discuss the evidence, draw conclusions and make proposals.
3. A working group, which contributors will be invited to join, will discuss the results and collaborate on the contents of a draft final report that maps out a way forward.

This will be a simple registration process that will enable you to post to the inquiry, which is hosted on our network platform. This is your invite to take part. Please accept and use it.

Paul Feldman

Communications editor

Thursday, March 06, 2014

Get fracking - corporate plans for Ukraine's future

An independent, modern, prosperous Ukraine was the vision of the young people that took to the streets to get rid of the Yanukovych regime and many think there is a better chance of that in partnership with the European Union than under Russian influence. But the fact is that the EU, US and their transnational corporate partners (and the home-grown oligarchs) have very different plans

And these do not hinge upon the prosperity and wellbeing of Ukrainian citizens and their environment. Fracking on a massive scale will be a prime focus for EU and IMF "loans", and Shell and Chevron, who signed deals with ousted president Yanukovych in 2013, will be joined by all the usual suspects.

Ukraine has an estimated 42 trillion cubic feet of technically recoverable shale gas reserves, the fourth largest deposits in Europe behind Poland, France and Norway. Since France is so far not in the market, Ukraine's deposits are even more attractive. The US Energy Administration  suggests Ukraine could be exporting shale gas by 2020. With almost every Russian gas pipeline running through Ukraine, it would be possible to create parallel infrastructure exporting shale gas.

The Russian government says it objects to fracking in Eastern Ukraine because of fears about water pollution when its actual fear is competition. That is not to say water pollution won't happen, but it isn't stopping Russia's own fracking plans for large areas of Siberia.

The corporations are moving into other areas of Ukraine’s economy too. Ukraine's former collective farms were seized by oligarchs like Oleg Bakhmatyuk and grown to the point where his agricultural business UkrLandFarming is the worlds second biggest egg producer, and the eighth largest grain exporter.

UkrLandFarming recently sold a 5% share to multinational agri-chemical giant Cargill for £200m. Cargill already have a big operation in Ukraine, with feed mills, oil production and grain silos.

Ukraine is poised to become the world's third biggest grain exporter in 2014 overtaking Russia and Argentina, another blow to Russian hegemony. But all this wealth will not be produced to benefit ordinary Ukrainians. It will enrich the oligarchs and their global partners whilst it further destroys Ukraine's land and ecology.

There is terrible air pollution throughout Ukraine, because of the coal-burning industries of eastern Ukraine and poor regulation of transport. The rich dark soil of the steppes is already suffering from erosion and land slips due to over farming. Grain production is being sustained by the application of huge quantities of chemicals and recent low rainfall has led to a need for more irrigation.

The great rivers  – the Dnieper, Dniester, and Donets – are seriously polluted with chemical runoff. The diversion of fresh water has made the Sea of Azov and the Black Sea more saline, damaging marine wildlife and reducing fish stocks.

Ukraine must also go on coping with the aftermath of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant explosion. Vast areas of farmland and forest are contaminated with radioactivity including Strontium 90, but small farmers are still working it.

Ukrainians just have to look across the border to Poland to see that EU membership is not necessarily a route to modernity. Poland is still a focus for dirty industries with low levels of regulation that EU giants France and Germany would never permit on their own soil.

And the Polish government has put thousands of hectares of prime agricultural land on the market in recent years – multinational purchasers are accused of planning to exploit a legal loophole to start growing GM crops. Polish farmers have been blockading the land sales agency with tractors continuously for a year.

Millions of Ukrainians are now set to join the economic and environmental struggles facing all of us on the planet - they are more than welcome!

Penny Cole

Environment editor

Wednesday, March 05, 2014

Welsh co-ops report points the way forward

Parallel announcements of  job cuts across the UK underline the price of the so-called “recovery” as it affects the lives of the majority of ordinary people caught up in the global economic crisis. A timely report from the Welsh Co-operative and Mutuals Commission sets out a new path.

Steelmaker Tata, part of an India-based transnational conglomerate comprising over 100 operating companies in seven business sectors, is reducing its workforce by 123 in Newport, South Wales in response to reduced demand for its electrical steels.

This is much more than ironic because coal, iron, steel and even railways were exported from Newport and Cardiff to India and other parts of the then British empire at the height of the industrial revolution.

Shared Services Connected Ltd (SSCL) is a little-known joint venture formed last November between the Cabinet Office and the UK arm of French IT services group Steria with the aim of cutting the costs of the government's back office functions.

The Public and Commercial Services union (PCS) expects its members’ new employer to close offices in Cardiff, Sheffield and Leeds with additional losses in Blackpool, Newcastle, Peterborough and York, amounting to 500 jobs, many being transferred to cheaper sources of labour overseas.

A cynic might say that this is just business as usual, the unfortunate consequences of the operation of the global “free market” in commodities produced by the application of capital and labour. And to some extent – stripped out of the immediate historic context -  they’d be right.

But the crash of 20007-8 showed that the credit-induced period of globalisation of that system had reached its limit. The recession that followed has resulted in huge over-capacity in many countries, including in China, the world’s second largest economy.

This new round of job cuts and capacity reduction comes after five years of ultra-low interest rates set by central banks around the world, the lowest in their history, have failed to bring about a real recovery. Manufacturing production in the Chinese powerhouse of globalisation is not slowing but shrinking, and it’s not being replaced elsewhere.

So it is high time to think about and begin the process of bringing an embryonic new system fully into existence, taking the place of the one which has burnt out. And we can look to South Wales for that, too. As Professor Andrew Davies Chair of the Welsh Co-operative and Mutuals Commission, writes in the report
Many have argued that we are faced with an extensive and systemic breakdown of trust in our society: between citizens and many of the major institutions in civil society and between the individual, the state and the political process. 
Much of this suggested breakdown derives from the global banking and economic crisis in 2007 and the continued world economic down-turn and the anaemic recovery in the UK, triggered by scandals in the banking sector and recent corporate failures in other sectors which has led to extensive questioning of the ways in which our economy and society is run….
 The orthodoxy of the neo-liberal, free market philosophy which has dominated governmental, political and economic thinking over the last forty years is now being widely challenged for the first time in many years. This widespread disillusionment has led many people to look for alternative, more ethical and socially responsible ways of organising businesses and services, particularly those run on a co-operative, mutual or not-for-profit basis. 
The report “aims to create a culture and policy environment in which co-operative ways of doing business are the norm, not the exception”. It’s easy to argue that the report doesn’t go far enough. But it’s a great place to start.

Gerry Gold

Economics editor

Monday, March 03, 2014

Defend Ukraine's right to self-determination

Russia’s occupation of Crimea and the threat to invade other parts of Ukraine on a trumped up pretext, is a reactionary response to a popular uprising for democracy in Kiev and a diversion from serious economic problems confronting the Putin regime.

As leaders East and West seek to blame one another, the key issue – Ukraine’s right to self-determination is being swept under the carpet. The excuse for the invasion of Crimea – that the Russian-speaking majority had to be saved from “fascists” – is part of a fake narrative dreamt up in Moscow and one used down the ages.

Moscow claims that the Maidan uprising in Kiev has been run and financed by Western reactionary forces and is aimed at suppressing Ukraine’s Russian speakers. Yet the Maidan uprising which began in November 2013 was first and foremost a popular revolution, which included many elements in Ukrainian society, amongst them – but not led by – right wing nationalists against a corrupt, autocratic regime. 

Many Jews took part in the uprising, for example. An ex-Israeli special forces soldier led a Kiev fighting unit against the Yanukovych government. Volodymyr Groysman, a former mayor of the city of Vinnytsia and the newly appointed deputy prime minister for regional policy, is a Jew.  


A language law introduced last week by Kiev’s parliament to reverse a provocative act by ex-president Yanukovych was yesterday vetoed by Ukraine’s caretaker president Turchynov. He acknowledged it had been a mistake.

While Putin’s provocative actions are a blatant infringement of Ukrainian sovereignty, the Russian bear has found some allies in strange places. British media commentators including Jonathan Steele and former British ambassador Rodric Braithwaite are calling for NATO and John Kerry to “back off”. As Timothy Snyder writes in the New York Review of Books:

"Interestingly, the message from authoritarian regimes in Moscow and Kiev was not so different from some of what was written during the uprising in the English-speaking world, especially in publications of the far left and the far right. From Lyndon LaRouche’s Executive Intelligence Review through Ron Paul’s newsletter through The Nation and The Guardian, the story was essentially the same: little of the factual history of the protests, but instead a play on the idea of a nationalist, fascist, or even Nazi coup d’état.”

The first time Ukraine saw even a glimpse of nationhood in modern times was in 1919 when the Zluty unity agreement was signed and the Ukrainian People’s Republic came into existence. Areas of the country were, however, ceded to Poland.

Early Bolshevik policy strongly asserted the right of all nations to self-determination in the former Tsarist empire and elsewhere. During the 1920s, under Mykola Skrypnyk’s Ukrainization policy, the Soviet leadership encouraged a national renaissance in the Ukrainian language, literature and the arts.

Crimea became an autonomous part of Ukraine in 1954 after being gifted by Nikita Khrushchev. It was his effort to make up for Stalinist oppression, when 7.5 million people – mostly Ukrainians – died in the Holodomar, a terror-famine deliberately imposed by Stalin in the early 1930s. Since 2006, the Holodomor has been recognized by Ukraine and several other countries as an act of genocide.

The Stalinist policy of starvation and repression was followed up from 1944 by ethnic cleansing with the forcible deportation of over 200,000 Crimean Tartars. Even Tartars fighting in the ranks of the Red Army were demobilised and sent to labour camps.  

Not too surprisingly, Stalinist repression had led some Ukrainians to welcome German forces after the invasion of the USSR in 1941. Nonetheless, the vast majority of Ukrainians fought with the Soviet Red Army and Moscow named Kiev as a hero city.

Ukraine’s longing for nationhood re-emerged as a powerful force encouraged by Mikhail Gorbachev’s glasnost policy and, finally, the 1991 break-up of the Soviet Union. It inspired the human chain of 300,000 Ukrainians which led to independence of today’s Ukraine.
After Ukraine declared its state sovereignty in 1990 and its independence in August 1991, a dispute flared up over the status of the Crimea. It was settled by an agreement in 1992, by which Crimea was granted autonomous status within Ukraine.

But Vladimir Putin – following in Stalin’s footsteps, has never accepted Ukraine’s right to exist. In 2008, he said to George Bush that if Ukraine joined NATO, Russia would annex Crimea and eastern Ukraine: “Don’t you understand, George — Ukraine is not even a nation! What is Ukraine? Part of her territory is Eastern Europe, and part, a considerable part, was given by us!”

A succession of leaders representing either a Western-leaning bourgeois or oligarchs looking to Russia have failed to develop Ukraine and played one community off against another. Corruption became endemic with Tymoshenko and then Yanukovych enriching themselves. Now Ukraine is bankrupt. The European Union, for all its mouthing about democracy, has no intention of bailing out any leader in Kiev.

Underlying Putin’s aggressive nationalism is his deep fear of a people’s uprising within Russia itself. The superficial success of the Sochi games was accompanied by a contempt for the corrupt abuse of public funds, disdain for local people’s rights and ecological devastation.

Russia of course has huge oil and other natural resources. But the recent growth of some sectors, which saw the enrichment of oligarchs and parts of the middle classes in the 1990s and noughties, is in crisis. Interest rates have shot up, the stock market fell 9% this morning and the rouble is at an all-time low. A massive capital flight has been under way for years. Much of it has ended up in luxury homes in Knightsbridge, laundered by Western banks or in the shape of football clubs.

Putin has quickly reversed the pre-Sochi cosmetic release of opponents, like Pussy Riot. He closed down one of the few remaining television stations that criticised the monstrous Sochi Olympics. Protests by anti-invasion activists in St Petersburg and Moscow were quickly suppressed by riot police.  He remains what he has always been: an autocrat presiding over a corrupt capitalist oligarchy who brutally suppresses and kills his opponents.

It is indeed rich of Kerry, Hague and other Western leaders to mouth criticisms of Russia’s military intervention – bearing in mind the US-UK-NATO invasions of Afghanistan, Iraq and bombing of Libya along with remote killing by drones in Pakistan.

Opposing Putin’s act of aggression in no way, therefore, implies support for NATO and the EU. They can no more represent the aspirations of Ukrainians than Yanukovych or Putin can, while the new government in Kiev has no solutions either. All the people of Ukraine, whatever their mother tongue, have the right decide their own future free of interference from outside forces. That principle is an absolute.

A World to Win editors