Sunday, 28 November 2010

Reflections on Day X.

A Day of Action.

A series of walkouts followed by occupations and demonstrations rushed across the nation on Wednesday. The participants were ordinary students, including the pupils of secondary schools and colleges as well as from universities. It has been estimated that around 130,000 people took to streets across the country that day. 18 universities have gone into occupation. There were trade unions, leftist parties, activist networks and student unions involved but the vast majority had not been mobilised by any union or political party. It was down to the social networks through which activist networks have sprung up in recent months and word of the cuts agenda spread. But most of all it was the way that thousands of people acted to defend a basic tenet of social democracy - universal education. The unifying cause of the demonstrators was to stop the cuts to education and the raising of tuition fees. In other words, to prevent the Coalition from taking us towards an educational system that is much more unequal than it is today.

There was a heavy police presence at many of the demonstrations, it was a show of strength that the police were prepared and would not be embarrassed by a few rowdy students. The march, that I was involved in personally, from ULU on Malet Street to Trafalgar Square was guided by police escort - two vans led the way until a portion of the demonstrators broke-off and made a run for it and the police were soon in pursuit. The rest were led through an alternate route to Trafalgar but then down towards Parliament where the “kettling” commenced. It would last for many hours without much food or water and freezing weather. The mood of police ranged from hostile to sarcastic at best. There were many teenagers there who were still doing their A-levels and even GCSEs, one girl asked me why we - university students who would not be affected by the trebling of tuition fees - cared enough to stand alongside them. It's a good question. Here's the answer: this is our society and it would be immoral to reap the rewards without defending it for others to reap also.

Nearby bus-stops and a police van soon became the subject of the rage of some “kettled” students. Students climbed on top of the van as red smoke bombs were hurled about, firecrackers were set-off and music blasted out throughout the crowd. At risk of reverting to the good student-bad student dichotomy, it has to be said that the majority of demonstrators there understood why the police had left the van behind. The back doors had been left unlocked and the contents, including blankets and riot-gear, were soon utilised by activists. It was bitter cold, food and water were scarce as the pub weren’t letting anyone in without an ID - not a student ID but a passport, a press pass or drivers' license. It was clearly bait to give the right-wing press just what it wants, lots of shots of young people desecrating public property. Just like the demonstration on November 10th, the violence” condemned by the media and the NUS was vandalism, there was violence at the march and it was the police on horseback who were charging on civilians.

As bus-stop was set ablaze in one part of the street, protesters sang songs, danced to music or simply huddled around the fires for warmth in other parts. The firecrackers were set-off before sunset because no one really thought we would be there for as long as 8 or 9 hours. The police eventually provided two toilets, which were kept behind the line of police so many relieved themselves against the local architecture. It became apparent that only the press were allowed to come and go, no protesters were allowed out unless they were 12 or younger or had a medical condition. The word ‘Revolution’ was sprayed in red onto a wall as a few students ascended it to escape the “kettling”. Veteran activists climbed onto walls and gave speeches, seeking to inspire the next generation not to be deterred by the unpleasant side of protest and to continue to actively resist these cuts.

The demonstrations of ‘Day X’ have roused talk of a return to the radicalism of ’68 and the kind of grass-roots action that toppled Ted Heath and later helped shunt Thatcher out of government. Those administrations collapsed under the pressure of industrial action and the transition of demonstrations to riots. But it is sad to note that the student movement is becoming factional. The way in which Aaron Porter and the NUS have distanced themselves from student activism, particularly demonstrations and occupations, is divisive and destructive. For the sake of unity Porter should at least be in solidarity with the students who demonstrated on ‘Day X’ and occupied buildings across the country. The next two days of walkouts, occupations and marches will take place on Tuesday and Sunday this week. Aaron Porter should be behind the student activism in full-swing to further the cause. Hopefully he’ll act in the best interests of students this week.

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

My Email Exchange with Noam Chomsky.

A few days after the massive student demonstration against cuts and tuition fees I emailed Noam Chomsky, who has been involved in activism and civil disobedience for almost 50 years, to see what he thought to the protests in London. But also other issues such as the European approach to deficit reduction and the "special relationship" between Britain and America. Have a read and please comment.

JW: There was a mass-demonstration in London yesterday organised by the National Union of Students and others in response to the cuts to public education and tuition fee hikes by the Con-Dem Coalition. Turn-out is said to have been 52,000 or maybe more, which is a considerable turn-out given that the Coalition has only been in power since May. The media gave the demonstrations some coverage but it was only when students smashed windows at Millbank Towers and broke into the Conservative Party HQ that the press really began to "focus" on the story. The media covered the story as if there had been a terrorist attack on Millbank Towers and hundreds of Conservatives had been killed, when in actuality only 14 people were injured - 7 police officers and 7 students. Do you think the students undermined the cause by resorting to, what the press calls, violence?

Many European countries, including Britain, are implementing "austerity measures" that could amount to the end of the welfare state and social democracy. It is often emphasised by commentators that these "austerity measures" are not being followed in the United States. In the UK the Coalition has "ring-fenced" defence spending and it has been suggested that is because the US government is opposed to cuts to defence budgets in Britain. This may also explain why the Liberals in the government have gone back on their campaign promises to scrap the Trident missile system, in Britain we call this the "special relationship" without irony. What do you think of the "special relationship" between Britain and America?

NC: I noticed that an international anarchist federation, which strongly supported the protest, condemned the resort to force and suggested it might have been provocateurs.  If so, it wouldn’t have been the first time.  At best, it’s a tactical error, in my opinion, achieving nothing positive and offering the media the opportunity to suppress the issues and concentrate on injuring people.  That’s an old story.

The austerity measures in the UK are, I believe, class war.  Even conservative economists recognize that England’s deficit is not large by historical standards.  I think the UK and the EU generally are making a serious mistake – or more cynically, a class-based policy -- by focusing on austerity rather than stimulating the economy in which case the deficit, such as it is, will be taken care of naturally down the road.  I’m not usually a cheer-leader for Obama, but his position on this issue at G-20 was better than that of Europe, though he didn’t go anywhere near far enough.  Obama picked a deficit commission headed by two right-wing deficit hawks, who just released a report that has pretty much the Cameron-style class war character.  It’s not as bad as the UK – yet.  As for the “special relationship,” that was defined by a high-level JFK adviser at the peak of the missile crisis in 1962, when US planners were taking actions that they knew might incinerate England while leaving the US untouched, and were refusing even to inform the British government.  The “special relationship” means that “Britain is our lieutenant, the fashionable word is `partner’.” The British prefer to hear the fashionable word.

Saturday, 13 November 2010

The Yellow Tory.

Conservative in All but Name.

There was a massive demonstration by students from across the UK on Wednesday. 52,000 people turned out to express their opposition to the education cuts and the trebling of tuition fees. A great deal of rage was aimed at Nick Clegg, the man who has led the Liberal Democrats since 2007. The reason being that the smorgasbord of progressive policies presented to the public by Nick Clegg turned out to be a buffet of lies constructed for cynical ends. The Liberals' facade of a progressive alternative to the old Lab-Con establishment finally slipped when the Liberals found themselves in bed with the Conservatives. Students are particularly enraged as it was the promise of abolishing tuition fees that marked the Lib Dems out for students as the Party to vote for, whilst the Labourites and the Tories had little to offer. But the treachery of Clegg has hit Lib Dem voters everywhere and it looks like the rightly reviled Liberals will be decimated in 2015.

This should not be a surprise really. The Lib Dems are dominated by the market liberals who penned the Orange Book and the Liberals, under many different guises, have been a centre-right political party since the 1970s. It was under Kennedy, Campbell and Clegg that the Party has been "escorted" away from Keynesian economics and towards neoliberalism. In the campaigns to the General Election, of this year, the Liberals were only slightly less right-wing than the Labour Party on economic policy. At best the Liberals favour a greater regulated variety of capitalism and not the utopian vision held by free-market fundamentalists in the Conservative Party. The speech Vince Cable gave in which he "attacked" capitalism was merely a critical whinge about the financialisation of the economy, the aggressive rhetoric was merely window-dressing. Similarly, the opposition to the Iraq war and the past opposition to tuition fees were token window-dressing for a shadow platform.

This shadow platform excluded scrapping tuition fees, as we now know from leaked documents that the Liberals dumped the idea in 2 months before the election. Clegg was well aware that the election could result in a hung Parliament, so he decided to not put all of his eggs in one basket. A secret team led by Danny Alexander was quickly formed to prepare proposals for a coalition deal with either of the two main parties. Alexander advised that the idea of abolishing fees should be dumped to avoid putting political capital at risk. On Alexander's advice the Party leadership were soon prepped to raise tuition fees if they were to be part of a coalition. Even after making these decisions the Liberals carried on with the pretence of opposing tuition fees. On election day the Party bled the student vote dry out of a cold self-interest. But that is the tip of the iceberg.

During negotiations with the Conservative Party no effort was made to defend the Liberal economic platform, the opposition to austerity measures as well as raising VAT. Instead the shadow platform, with planks of regressive taxes and savage cuts, was consolidated. To say that this platform became a saddle for Clegg to wear while David Cameron takes mount and rides him through the next 5 years would be too "soft". Though it should never be forgotten that the Orange Book leadership of the Lib Dems have not been led astray by the Tories. These people made calculated decisions for selfish goals and are responsible for the nature of the government as a result. The progressive image of the Lib Dems was a facade crafted by a leadership of "Yellow Tories", the cuts are being made for ideological reasons and not out of necessity. The government spends less than 1% of GDP on higher education and government debt as a proportion of GDP is almost 200% lower than it was after WW2.

In Defence of Violence.

The national demonstration against tuition fees and education cuts was a expression of the outrage of students in the face of such treacherous usury, the rage of the masses spilled over into the occupation of the Tory Party HQ and culminated in rooftop flag-waving. The atmosphere was uplifting as some students sang and many chanted slogans such as "You can stick your Browne review up your arse!" and placards that read "If it's Browne flush it down!" The media leaped on the violence of demonstrators to try and ignore the real issues and focus on injured police officers. A fire extinguisher was dropped from the rooftops giving the reactionary press just what it wanted and such irresponsibility is indefensible. However, the demonstration and the occupation of Tory Party HQ were based on the legitimate grievances of students. Students have not been fobbed off onto tabloid populism that targets immigrants and the unemployed for society's woes.
David Cameron has condemned the protests for the violence and has stated defiantly that the trebling of tuition fees will not be abandoned. Even though the kind of violence perpetrated against property and police officers is subjective; the economic programme which Cameron is implementing over Britain is violent in the objective sense. Subjective violence is the violence as experienced as an inexplicable act of destruction and chaos which disrupts life as we know it. Terrorism being a befitting example. Objective violence being the systemic violence which is invisible to the naked eye and acts as a precondition for subjective violence. In relation to terrorism it would be the sewer of poverty, oppression, injustice and disillusionment with politics that presuppose radicalisation. This is how some people experienced the demonstration: one minute you're reading a review of Decision Points; the next minute students are dropping fire extinguishers on coppers. The objective violence  of Con-Dem policy which presuppose such actions is ignored and left blameless.

The objective violence of slashing spending on education and raising tuition fees is not at first obvious. Systemic violence is not immediately visible and easily understood subjectively. But look at what students face closely and it is there underlying the events at Millbank Tower. The welfare state is withering away before our eyes, everything from benefits to health-care are being hit either by massive cuts or market reforms. Even if you believe the nonsense that these cuts are necessary, the end of the welfare state is no less unsettling. Especially as lobbyists from the fast-food industry are allowed to have a say in health-policy, there is talk of food stamps and welfare-to-work schemes. As unemployment is about to rise and students looking for work will face greater competition for jobs. It looks like a degree will not automatically equal a decent job and a better life for many students, nor even a comfortable life for those seeking education for it's own sake. The availability of housing in central London could be decreased by over 40%. These changes will affect generations to come.

The demonstration is a premonition of what we should expect to see under the Con-Dem Coalition. We might see riots just as bad, if not worse, than those seen in the 1980s which culminated in the 1990 Poll Tax riots that contributed to the collapse of the Thatcher ministry. It is a shame that a legitimate cause often has to engage in vandalism and even violence to get the establishment to listen. It is also a testament to the unscrupulous, bloodthirsty and generally parasitic qualities of the media. Though the vandalism that took place at Tory Party HQ is far less destructive than the economic vandalism that the Coalition is indulging in. We the people have to keep the government in line and the government ought to learn its place in our society. But as John Dewey once pointed out the government is the shadow of business cast over society. Thus, we need to alter the substance not just the shadow if we're serious about change.

Friday, 12 November 2010

Cameron's War on the Poor.

The Obscenity of Meritocracy.

If you dare raise the issue of class in today's politics you should expect to be knocked down as "out of touch" and as taking us back to the politics of yesteryear. For we are supposedly beyond class, it is a thing of the past and we are now a merry meritocracy where everyone is given an equal start in life. We are to believe that we live in a society in which losers sink as fast as winners rise according to their merits. We live in a society run by a cabinet consisting of 18 millionaires, 19 men and 22 white people. The Prime Minister is the Queen's cousin and the Chancellor is an Anglo-Irish aristocrat, to call this meritocracy is just obscene. The attack on universal education alone are enough to disperse the "meritorious" fog around this administration. A serious discussion of class is imperative right now, the political discourse in Britain is vacuous without it and stagnant in practice.

The Con-Dem Coalition and its narrow right-wing agenda has been received with demonstrations and strikes across the nation. Despite attempts by the Coalition to hide behind the pre-election smorgasbord of progressive policies once offered by the Liberal Democrats. Nick Clegg and Vince Cable have made it clear that it was all electioneering with no actual substance. It is a bourgeois liberalism that binds the Liberal leadership with the Conservative Party holding centre-left Liberals hostage and leaving the Lib Dem voters disillusioned beyond repair. Liberals have always been dangerous compromisers, but never to the point of actually abandoning their ideas and values in such a crass display of power-hungry opportunism. The Coalition can only defend the class-interests of the ultra-rich and is doing so through a bitter class war.

Now that the dust is settling after the financial crisis of 2008 a great deal of competition has been wiped out, household names like Lehman Brothers have been taken out of the picture. The banks will be looking to not only resume the same reckless lending practices and to further intensify such practices but also to delve into new areas. The opening up and exploitation of new markets also "opens up" new possibilities for future crises, that could be potentially more extensive and destructive than the last. At the same time the means by which another crisis could be overted are being undermined. The financial sector is de facto insulated, by the government, from the level of regulations and controls necessary to restore order to the reckless volatility of the markets. Many banks are partly nationalised, but structurally the institutions remain the same as does the behaviour of the bankers. The bonuses are untouched and the profits are barely touched by a joke of a bank levy. It is a system of private profit in which costs are covered by the tax-payer.

In a sense it is a case of accumulation by dispossession, a lot of poor people have been dispossessed of housing and employment through processes that are rewarding for the few in finance. Before the crisis a great deal of money was made from sub-prime mortgages and the credit boom of the last decade, when it all came crashing down the state quickly intervened to insulate the financial institutions responsible for such recklessness. The bankers have kept their remuneration and have left with golden handshakes worth millions. Now the working-classes are facing regressive taxes and, potentially, the end of the welfare state. Not only could this drive many poor people onto the outskirts of cities like London, it could cause demand to decline significantly. Though this would leave more people dependent on credit to substitute for higher wages and benefits, which may supplement the loss in demand.

The Dependency Culture.

Of course David Cameron and George Osborne have sought to take advantage of the displaced class struggle engineered by the reactionary press. Newspapers like the Daily Mail and the Sun, among lots of others, have many people convinced that the government is spending too much on benefits and foreign aid. These papers spread the false notion that benefit "cheating" is rife and that there are too many people riding the "gravy train". The press has been trying to turn the unemployed and immigrants into an exploitative elite living luxurious and excessive lives at the expense of society. Just as the Republicans crafted the image of the "Welfare Queen", driving her Cadillac from benefits office to benefits office making false claims. The fact that benefit cheats cost £500 million a year, and that over £10 billion in benefits is not even claimed, are conveniently absent. You'll never read of the £100 billion lost in tax-evasion, and through various loopholes, that the wealthy benefit from significantly.

The aim of driving the unemployed, including the disabled and single-parents, into the workplace is not to create a fairer society. There are very few jobs available for the unskilled and people who have been unemployed for many years. Though the government is subsidising firms to hire such people at the minimum wage. This has the added effects of driving down wages for the rest of the workforce and further undermining trade unions. The other claims of "fairness" are equally absurd, the government is meant to be cracking down on tax-evasion but has set a precedent of sorts by letting Vodafone off £6 billion in taxes. Osborne, along with Andrew Mitchell and Philip Hammond, is guilty of tax avoidance himself and will cost the Treasury £1.6 million. Though Hammond is pocketing £3.75 million and this is nothing unusual, these are members of a class that uses accountants to avoid as much tax as possible. The "crackdown" will barely scathe the £100 billion lost through similar tactics every year.

The Con-Dem Coalition has used the opportunity to ram through as much reform as possible, most notably in health-care and education, to bring the welfare state to an end. Where does this take us? On the road to a new Victorian era of workhouses, soup kitchens and pawn shops, where education and health-care are rationed according to wealth and not by need. The state will resort to cynical moralising about a "broken" society to go on, as the rich seek to excuse themselves through charitable giving. All the while the widespread decadence, sleaze and general misery rife in a dissolved society is glossed over by the mass-media. From time to time the blame would be placed on knife-wielding yobs, benefit-cheating whores and unruly foreigners. But never would the flaws of the system be held accountable for the decay of a society.

Unless it is possible to have endless economic growth every year forever, predicated on a totally deregulated and barely taxed financial sector, in a world of finite resources we will have to confront the serious choices we face. There are serious crises for Britain alone, the Pensions Crisis for which privatisation, greater immigration and higher taxes are options. But at a international level we're looking at problems like mass-migrations of people and an impending fuel crisis. Let alone the risks of nuclear proliferation leading to the end of our species. There are no serious plans to deal with such enormous problems, let alone the relatively smaller crises. Dramatic economic and political change will not come from above, but will rise from below and will have to shake-up the status quo if it is to accomplish anything of worth.

Friday, 5 November 2010

What the Fuck Happened?

In 2008 the Obama campaign won a term in the White House, but it also won the award for the best marketing campaign of 2008 with Apple coming in second place. Only two years on and we have witnessed the midterm annihilation of the Obama administration. Though it was not as bad as it could have been, the Democrats managed to hold onto the Senate but lost the House of Representatives to the Republicans. Before the elections Paul Jay at the Real News Network identified six reasons that the Obama administration was facing such a battering: 1. Letting the Republicans recreate themselves as "populists". 2. Furthering the same old foreign policy. 3. The failure to adequately defend the public option for health-care. 4. The failure to use the auto-bailout to build a greener economy. 5. The bailouts and the failure to restructure the financial sector. 6. The failure to investigate the Bush administration for war crimes and the negligence that led to the attacks on September 11th 2001.

These are all sound reasons to explain what may be the beginning of the end for the first administration to be led by a African-American. The problem with Obama is not that he has been "too radical" it is that he lacking even the tenacity to push through modest reform. The compromised health-care bill are instances of Obama's failure to ram through moderate changes. A serious attempt to establish universal health-care in the US would have mobilised the working-class vote in a way that not even the Southern Strategy of the GOP could.  Instead the policy-makers in the administration tossed a compromised bill to the masses, which was then voted against as the working-class was demoralised and failed to turn out to support the reform. The Democrats have a bad habit of expecting the working-classes to vote for them because of the New Deal reforms under Roosevelt. The current residents of the White House are guilty of this and it will continue to hurt the Obama administration.

On the campaign trail pundits compared Barack Obama to John F Kennedy on the grounds of Obama's charisma and exhilarating style of speaking. Though some would argue that Obama is a better speaker than JFK, Obama will probably fade away like Jimmy Carter or Bill Clinton and not go down in flames like Kennedy. It should be noted that Carter, Clinton and Kennedy were not noble politicians in any estimation. The liberal intellectuals adore JFK and always have done, after all it was the Kennedys who invited so many intellectuals up to the White House for a nice pat on the head and a discussion on the works of Proust. Just as JFK secured a glowing legacy by courting intellectuals, Bush ensured a rightfully appalling legacy by proudly shunning the intellectual community. It remains to be seen whether or not Obama can save face and secure a glowing legacy to keep our descendents in the dark about his failures, but would that be a desirable outcome of this government?

Incidentally Jack Kennedy should not be viewed as a great liberal tragically shot down before he could extend equal rights to black people, bring peace to Indochina and further the reforms of the New Deal. When in actuality JFK was a rich playboy with the kind of right-wing opinions that a man like Joe Kennedy would want in a son. We should also not forget that Joe Kennedy was a vote-rigging virulent anti-Semite who made his fortune from bootlegging. It was JFK who escalated the Vietnam war, launched a campaign of terrorism against Cuba and installed a military junta in Brazil. If Kennedy had not been assassinated he could have lived long enough to be robbed of his good looks by Addison's disease and disgraced by his foreign policy. Let alone the work Kennedy put into slashing taxes for the richest 1% of Americans, which was an early step towards decimating the welfare state born out of the New Deal. The Kennedy myth was consolidated when JFK's brains were blown out the day before Doctor Who first aired, we should not buy into such a myth.

Back when Barack Obama was running for the Presidency in 2008 many cynics speculated that Obama would be assassinated soon after winning. Though if President Obama had been assassinated the legacy of his administration would have been secured and all the flaws of his policies pinned on succeeding Presidents. The premature death of this man might have saved him from the kind of disgraces that JFK "escaped". The Obama administration is suffering the consequences of failing to bring change and opting to preserve the status quo. Obama deserve to be decimated in the midterm elections, but the Republicans did not deserve to win any seats. At this point the worst case scenario for Obama is a one-term stint in the White House having accomplished little to brag about, in which case he'll be walking the footsteps of Jimmy Carter. If that is the case we could be living under a Republican administration by 2013, which could return us to the extremes of the Bushites and further the decline towards a neofeudal America.

All in all there was not much unusual about these midterm elections. Both the Republicans and the Democrats depended largely on professionals, managers and owners to turn out and vote for them. Only the most backward elements of the working-class are mobilised in the form of the Tea Party movement, which failed to smash an unpopular Democratic administration. About 75% of Americans earn less than $50,000 a year and these 225 million people only account for 37% of the total vote, which is down to low voter turn out. Turn out among the wealthy is much higher, people earning $100,000 and over make up about 6% of the population. But those 1.8 million people account for around 26% of the total vote. There is a strong bias towards the Democrats among voters earning less than $50k a year. Just as there is a bias among those earning $100k a year towards the GOP, a bias which is even more intense among voters earning $200k or more a year. The American working-class desperately await a progressive party to represent their interests.