Written by: JT White
- March 7, 2014
Western journalists claim Putin wants to ‘rebuild the Soviet Union’.
What’s wrong with this picture?
If we want to understand Putin’s Russia we have to look at the way the Russian Federation emerged from the tumultuous collapse of the USSR. Not simply a mindless KGB thug Putin was a supporter of Gorbachev and opposed the Communist attempt to overthrow Mikhail Sergeyevich and turn back the tide in 1991. The possibility of a new order was realistic in those days. Gorbachev had initiated a modicum of reform. The bloody war in Afghanistan was over. It looked as if the US might actually want a settlement on missiles. Bush had promised Gorbachev that he wouldn’t expand NATO any further eastwards. No wonder then that the majority of Russians, along with Putin, were on the side of glasnost and perestroika.
The Russian President Boris Yeltsin used this to his advantage. He was the right man for the time and the wrong man for Russia. Around this time the Bush administration was busy backing nationalists in Yugoslavia and had adjusted its aid policy to back secession to break up Tito’s dream of a state for all Southern Slavs. In the same way George HW Bush took the side of Russian nationalism to break up the Soviet Union. The great reformer Gorbachev had become a hindrance to be thrown on the wayside. The US sought to align itself with Boris Yeltsin. The Russian people flocked to Yeltsin after he became a political centre of gravity for democrats in the midst of the botched coup. It wouldn’t last. The real agenda had nothing to do with ideals of democracy.
The preference was for a selection of tiny fractured states which could easily be picked off one by one and subjected to economic underdevelopment. This matched Yeltsin’s personal aims for power and grandeur. In a series of manoeuvres Yeltsin cut deals with the leaders of Soviet republics, including Leonid Kuchma of Ukraine, and saw the Soviet Union dissolved. This is one of the ironies of the present crisis in Ukraine. The coalition of neoliberals and ultra-nationalists who seized power form Yanukovich have done so to pull Ukraine out of Russia’s orbit and closer to the EU and NATO powers. Yet it was nationalism followed by neoliberal prescriptions which have led to this conjunction of rebellion and incursion. It’s very likely that the people of Ukraine will not be served by these events as we can see from recent Russian history.
Within a week of Gorbachev’s resignation the new path was embarked upon. The Russian Parliament gave the President free reign to implement an economic programme of deregulation and privatisation. Yeltsin had the advice of the economist Jeffrey Sachs and such creatures of the market as Larry Summers. The plan was to establish the conditions for a market society as fast as possible. First the price controls were eliminated. The resulting hyperinflation quickly ate through the savings of most Russians. This was soon followed with a rapid privatisation of over 200,000 state-run companies. The Russian people suffered for this and the devaluation of the rouble, millions fell into unemployment and even those working were not guaranteed a wage. Every Russian was given vouchers to buy shares in the newly private companies. Desperate for cash most people sold their vouchers cheaply to ruthless businessmen. But it was just the beginning.
After a year of ruling by decree Yeltsin faced the first signs of opposition from the Parliament. With the approval of Washington the Russian President dissolved Parliament and suspended the Constitution. When the parliamentarians occupied the building in protest Washington backed his decision to besiege the building with tanks and shell them into submission. The economic reforms were taken further. Even more controls on prices were removed (going as far as to remove controls on basic food goods like bread), state expenditure on social services was slashed to the bone, and the pace of privatisation was raised. Yeltsin found his real constituents in the emergent bourgeoisie – later to be dubbed ‘the oligarchs’ – who, with his help, were stripping $2 billion out of the country every month. He undersold enormous industrial assets and resources to these people at sometimes less than 2% of their real value.
What was the end result of all this? By the end of the decade 74 million people were plunged into poverty, with 37 million living in poverty ranked as ‘desperate’. Meanwhile Moscow became the home city to the most billionaires of any other city in the world. In 1999 Boris Yeltsin was a barely functioning figurehead with a coterie of close advisors and cronies around him known to the press as ‘the family’. It included oligarchs like Roman Abramovich and Boris Berezovsky. It would be this same coterie which selected Putin to succeed Yeltsin. It was appealing as the Kremlin was wracked with corruption scandals and Putin was the head of the FSB, the successor to the KGB. The oligarchs thought they could control him and use him as a battering-ram against their enemies who were looking to crack down on corruption. Putin was soon made Prime Minister. Terror attacks in Russia gave Putin the opportunity to wage war on Chechnya and boost his popularity.
The oligarchs expected Putin to be compliant and follow the Yeltsin plan of handing over Russia’s vast wealth of resources to them and their friends. Putin became President in 2000 after Yeltsin’s resignation was secured by the oligarchs. Putin had been underestimated by his allies. He soon consolidated his position and turned on them. Boris Berezovsky fled to London to escape arrest. He was soon joined by other oligarchs. Putin smashed his old allies and set out to strengthen his position as a Hobbesian force of order and stability after the disarray of the 1990s. He has aligned himself to oligarchs running the energy industry. The role of the state would now be reasserted and buttressed with tough populist appeals to chauvinism. Putin stands as the man who can flush out all the “problems” facing Russian society, whether it’s Chechen terrorists, corrupt oligarchs, or more recently homosexuals. He’ll even keep the factories running on schedule.
Now with Putin in the Kremlin the West is much more nostalgic for the days when Boris Yeltsin ran a money laundering operation out of that very building. There was never much scorn in Western governments for Russia for its savagery towards the Chechens and their bid for independence. Instead the Russian state is to be demonised for its incursions into Georgia in 2008 and, of course, Ukraine in 2014. Yet the killing of tens of thousands of people in Chechnya, since 1994, on and off, hardly gets substantive coverage in the Western media. The real problem Putin’s Russia poses for the EU and NATO is that Moscow is much less willing to accept the expansion of NATO outposts to border-states. The Russian Federation has a brutal government, but it is not feared or loathed because for its brutality, it is despised because it stands as an abandonment of Yeltsin’s market reforms and an opponent to US influence in its old backyard.
Written by: JT White
- February 11, 2014
The predominance of so-called ‘self-service’ machines in supermarkets should worry those concerned by the depredations of the market. The ‘self-service’ machines turn us into unpaid employees for a Tesco, or a Morrison’s, or a Sainsbury’s, and even a wholesome Waitrose. The fact of the matter is that it is a service to Tesco, not ourselves, for the most part, to man the till in the place of a paid worker. It is another way in which the rinsing of people, as workers and consumers, to amass huge profits – and it means worse and worse working conditions and job prospects for vast numbers of people. With all that said, it is unavoidable given the pace at which we have to live, that we are going to avoid queuing for longer (unless we have a tobacco habit), and we can’t find an exit point in waiting longer. Notice that the fetish of ‘free-choice’ actually offers little in the way of quality, and even less in the way of consultation.
Before we go any further I ought to do some throat-clearing: the kind of jobs available to people in supermarkets should be romanticised, they are not examples of fulfilling work by and large. Nevertheless, it has to be said that once such an area of job opportunities is closed off it will leave behind a section of people who had little other immediate option to working in a supermarket. The innovation of ‘self-service’ machines really allow businesses to discard labour in the endless attempt to pull in enough labour to squeeze dry, but not too much as it encumber the maximalisation of profits. Important aside: profits are by definition what is leftover after the cost of labour is taken into account, before that point its just revenue. The contradiction faced by businesses is in the need to scrap labour to save money, while at the same time drag in even more of it to keep up productivity. The workers are a burden, but at the same time they are invaluable to the economy, they are a cost to be cut, and the source of mountainous revenue.
It is not the case that the prices of food have fallen since this innovation of the marketplace. Yet the liberal accounts of technological progress would have us believe that the betterment of life overall will come out of the liberating capacities of technology. Its a convenient viewpoint, for a liberal or even a Fabian, there is no need for radical change as the evolution of technology will gradually perfect us and perfect our society. If the ‘self-service’ machines are to be installed then the goods should be cheaper, and if not, then the employees of the supermarket should have a higher wage. Neither is the case. Not only do they take our money for over-priced products they make extra money by not hiring the staff to man the tills. It’s yet another instance of the rationality of the market really amounting to irrationality. The business can depend on human beings to act against their own interests, to work for free, to buy over-priced garbage, and ultimately to contribute to the further enrichment of those layabouts convinced of their own brilliance – the crust of wealth hoarders.
Only under particular conditions would self-service actually be conducive to social betterment. The companies could probably be cooperatised, we could each be hired and have a slice of the profits if we are to be engaged in any meaningful kind of self-service. The right to work has to be enforced if there is to be full employment and equitable standards of living enabling each person to lead fulfilling lives instead of living to fulfill the lives of a tiny few. Under conditions of universality and mutuality these machines would be of better social use. It might actually free people from a mind dulling role standing by counters, leaving them to more authentic pursuits, and not just tossing them on the wayside to rot. Otherwise the machine is a bloody con, for consumers, and for workers. In the meantime one can hope that the managers will be replaced by machine innovation sooner rather than later. Now that would be progress of a kind.
Written by: JT White
- January 16, 2014
Few satirists could have conceived of such a scene. It was too perfect in its surreal edge. With Ariel Sharon lying entombed, Tony Blair took his position at the nearby podium and gave one of his usual performances. Sporting a yarmulke, most unnaturally, Tony oozed counterfeit solemnity “The same iron determination he took to the field of war he took to the chamber of diplomacy. Bold. Unorthodox. Unyielding.”
I wander what kind of ‘iron determination’ it takes to slaughter 69 unarmed and defenceless villagers of Qibya. Sharon later claimed that his men had no idea there were still people living in the homes that they were bombarding with gunfire and grenades. It was this sort of conduct that led David Ben-Gurion to dub the young man “a pathological liar”. No doubt the twenty to fifty unarmed and defenceless refugees killed at al-Bureig were witnesses to similar displays of iron. Both took place in 1953 at the hands of Unit 101 led by the departed commander on ‘reprisal’ attacks. We’re talking retaliation for the deaths of two or three people probably. Today the Israeli military still lacks a sense of proportionality, let alone any comprehension of the immorality of revenge. It was just the beginning for young Arik. He would soon be storming across the Sinai alongside Anglo-French forces determined to snatch back the Suez Canal.
Wherever the man went there seemed to be Arabs falling to the ground dead. At the battle of Mitla 260 Egyptians were left dead. The battle became a subject of controversy (a euphemism in common usage) as some claimed Sharon deliberately engaged in unauthorised aggression. General Sharon would later return to the Sinai with Israel’s most powerful forces in 1967 at the battle of Abu-Ageila. Then in the Yom Kippur War, Sharon disobeyed the orders of his superiors and instead set out to engage the Egyptian army across the Suez Canal. In doing so the General initiated a turning point in the war and was set in time as a hero of military might from then on. The fact that the General had graduated by then to terrorizing the inhabitants of Gaza and north-eastern Sinai isn’t so heroic. It went as far as expelling 10,000 farmers, bulldozing their homes, and destroying their farmland to make way for settlement. This is how Sharon earned the title of Bulldozer.
Around this time the Bulldozer had become enamoured with an array of right-wing forces taking shape into what would become the Likud Party. Ever mercurial, Sharon jumped at the chance to advise a Labour Zionist government before attempting to stand as the Likud candidate for 1977 only to find he wasn’t the favourite. He had been refused any support by mainstream parties, so he founded a small party to win himself a seat, and managed to barter his way into Begin’s Likud government. Sharon was the Minister of Agriculture for 4 years before being promoted to Minister of Defence. That was his proper place after all. Notably, as right-wing as Menachem Begin was he did believe in the rule of law to some extent and torture almost stopped for 4 years. The hiatus came to a close when the Bulldozer became Defence Minister.
The new Defence Minister had his priorities in order. Time interviewed Sharon and he showed no time for throat-clearing and spoke bluntly “I believe that the starting point for a solution is to establish a Palestinian state in that part of Palestine that was separated from what was to become Israel in 1922 and which is now Jordan.” He had known from early on that the Palestinians had to be restricted to cantons in order for settlements to be expanded further and further. The end was an Israel with its territory stretching from the Mediterranean to the Jordan. But he knew he could not do this alone.
When it came to regional power Lebanon became the battleground for Israel and Syria and the various forces aligned to either side and those caught in between. The General took the side of the Maronite Christian militias and especially the Phalange Party founded by Pierre Gemayel out of admiration for Hitler. The aim of a client state in Lebanon was what spurred Sharon to action. Then came the massacre at Sabra and Shatila. It just so happened that the camp of Palestinian refugees was under Sharon’s watchful gaze when the Phalange came to flush out the “terrorists”. The Israeli troops stood by and watched for nearly 3 days as the rampage snuffed the life out of 1,700 human beings. Bold. Unorthodox. Unyielding.
This is a rather light overview of the atrocities Sharon committed. Why then would he be heralded as a ‘peacemaker’ exactly? Anyone with this record would expect to never hold such a prominent position ever again. He lost his job after much protest, but he bided his time. After the failures of the Labour governments of the 1990s and amidst the Second Intifada the old man took advantage of the rightward lurch overtaking the country. He pledged no negotiations with the Palestinians until the Intifada ended. The so-called “peace plan” that Sharon proposed, and partially initiated, amounted to relinquishing 42% of the West Bank and establishing a ‘security barrier’ (longer than the Berlin Wall) to annex around 50% of the occupied territories. To this end Sharon reinvented himself as a man of peace and transferred around 9,000 Gaza settlers to the Negev and the West Bank. It’s clear what the real prize was in his mind.
Written by: Reuben - December 26, 2013
As we made plans for the post-Christmas sales, a friend asked me if I remembered the young man who was “killed for a pair of trainers” on boxing day two years ago. I did indeed remember the killing of Seydou Diarrassouba in footlocker on Oxford Street. I remembered how the image of two young black men fighting over a pair of trainers was etched into the popular imagination. And I remembered, having followed the subsequent murder trial, that this killing had nothing to do trainers, or indeed any other consumer commodity.
Perhaps the most revolting response to the death of Seydou Diarrassouba came from the Independent. Regular columnist Mary Dejevsky explained that the killings highlighted a deeper problem: namely that it was now all too easy for youths from London’s poorer, rougher districts to get into the West End. Oxford Street, she wrote, “has its rougher end”:
And the improved transport of recent years has a less acknowledged downside: the Tube will whisk you to Oxford Street in minutes from a variety of less salubrious locales, as will a veritable fleet of buses. When a new tram was introduced in Strasbourg, connecting neglected estates east and west, one consequence was a rise in city-centre crime.
Yet the major talking point, in the aftermath of the killing, was the trainers. Virtually every newspaper claimed, erroneously, that the pair were fighting over a pair of trainers. The Sun, of course, went one step further and claimed that the fight was said to have erupted over “which pair of trainers to steal”. And thus society proceeded to wring it’s hands over the pointless acquisitiveness of young (black) men for designer gear, and it’s tragic consequences.
Only when the case came to court did it become apparent that this death had nothing to do with trainers. Jermaine Joseph, a young black man from Tottenham, was found not guilty on grounds of self-defence. He had been embroiled in a long-running feud with Seydou Diarrassouba, and was in footlocker because he had been chased into the shop.
This was not simply a case of bad jouralism combined confusing events. Nor can the prominence of the “trainer” angle be attributed simply to the fact that the stabbing took place in footlocker. After all, when white people bottle each other in pubs, we don’t tend to presume that they were having a fight over the last drop of whiskey.
No, the way in which this death was represented, reflects the way in which our society pathologises black people who desire good clothes and nice things. Mainstream British culture is dominated by a middle class that is selectively puritannical. We readily congratulate some people for achieving a high standard of living, whilst others are condemned as vulgar, tasteless and materialistic. That is why you hear pampered, waspy private school girls complain about the “Asian Princesses” or “Jewish princesses” with whom they share their schools.
Yet by far the greatest contempt is reserved for the young black man who has the temerity to dress above his station. The term “bling” emerged from within hip-hop culture – and came to describe, a knowing, self-conscious, sometimes deliberately OTT fashion for (literally) flashy jewellery. It emerged in a culture in which black self-love, and pride in one’s appearance, constituted something racially radical, in a society dominated by white beauty standards.
Yet in the mouths of too many white people, the term “bling” connotes a contempt for the other: for what is perceived as the dumb acquisitiveness of young black men, and for poor sartorial taste of those who cover themselves in shiny objects – because, of course, only white hipsters have the capacity to do something in a knowing, self-concious or deliberately OTT fashion.
The killing of Seydou Diarrassouba was, of course, not the only moment in 2011 when newspapers were filled with the discussion of young black men and trainers. In August that year, many commentators had explained the London Riots as though they were a collective attempt to loot trainers. Even Liberal-left commentators told us that the riots were a manifestation of our consumerist society, or of greed trickling down to the urban poor. In short, our tendency to imagine black consumer culture as peculiarly pathological stood in place of all of the big questions raised by this massive social upsurge.
The senseless death of Seydou Diarrassouba ought to make us distraught and angry. But so too should the trivialization of his death. And so too should a society that continues to humiliate black men for wanting to look good and have nice things.
To contact Reuben email firstname.lastname@example.org
Written by: Owen
- December 13, 2013
In case you missed it, Channel 4 News on Wednesday featured a head-to-head debate about that day’s Cops Off Campus protest (and the violent confrontations between students and police which prompted it) between University of London Union Officer Maham Hashmi and a Tory politician called Richard Tracey. This discussion was notable chiefly for a section at the beginning where, talking about this video of a policeman punching a student to the ground, Tracey apparently suggests that it’s fine for police officers to assault people, provided it wasn’t them who struck the first blow, and this goes essentially unchallenged by presenter Cathy Newman (transcript below is from 0:17 to 1:31):
CN: Richard Tracey, when you look at the footage of police punching a protester, I assume you’d be concerned about that?
RT: Yes, I mean, when you look at it, erm, as a clip, in a report from yourselves, or from some other stations, absolutely. But of course, it then needs, really to, you need to see what caused that and if of course that policeman had already been punched by somebody then he was going to retaliate. [Emphasis added.] It is very difficult being a policeman, particularly in a protest situation, where the protest is not peaceful. I mean, it is peaceful protest that we are all very happy about and we don’t complain about that.
CN: But is it good enough for the Met Police to say, well, no officer has been disciplined, would you like them to look at it in a little bit more detail?
RT: Well, I assume there is some more investigation going on internally, knowing the Metropolitan Police as I do, I’m sure that is happening, because they are really pretty stringent on that sort of thing, but it is perhaps quite a surprise that they haven’t said that they are taking some specific investigation of it all.
I had to replay that clip a few times to check I hadn’t misheard, but no – he really, genuinely does say that if someone punches a police officer, it’s perfectly understandable for that officer to punch someone themselves in retaliation. Note that he doesn’t even require the officer to be punching the person that hit them – apparently anyone standing nearby who you don’t like the look of will do.
How the left should view the police is of course a controversial question, but it’s not necessary for you to have an inherently negative view of the police for the absurdity of this view to be obvious. Even if you take the uncritical view that the police’s job is and should be keeping the peace and enforcing law and order, it’s pretty hard to see where punching people in the face fits in with that. Let’s imagine that someone did punch that police officer immediately before the recording started, as Richard Tracey suggests. Let’s even be generous, and imagine that the person who punched the police officer is the same person shown on video being punched to the ground themselves, rather than just someone standing nearby. (Just to reiterate, there is as yet literally zero evidence for any of this, but let’s imagine it for the sake of argument.) Would that then make it legitimate for the police officer to punch them back? Of course not. If someone punches a police officer, then the appropriate response for the police (again, assuming a totally uncritical view of the police’s role in society) is to arrest that person – or, if they’re still a threat, to incapacitate them with the minimum force necessary. Punches to the face very definitely aren’t minimum force.
In addition, of course, Tracey only calls for indulgence and understanding when it comes to the police officer’s actions, not those of the students, whose feelings might be running a teensy bit high too, what with them being in the middle of a violent eviction and everything. And this despite the obvious point that police officers are supposed to be carefully trained not to lose control in violent situations – that is, after all, kind of important if your supposed role is to keep the peace – so suggesting that retaliation in this situation (in our hypothetical world where the police officer actually was retaliating) is understandable doesn’t really cut it.
And to think people claim Channel 4 news has a leftwing bias…
Written by: JT White
- December 8, 2013
There are vital lessons to be learned from the accomplishments and failings of Nelson Mandela. Yet the mainstream media prefer to portray this great man as a kindly and benign old codger who won his battle for freedom. The assumptions behind this can be easily detected and should be excavated with a critical eye. The emphasis is always on the efforts towards reconciliation between the ‘races’ and not looking for ‘revenge’ against his former oppressors. The presupposition of biological distinctions between Africans remains intact while Mandela is to be applauded for being a ‘restraint’ on the barbarous hordes. Behind this lies the white racial consciousness, e.g. ‘us’ versus ‘them’. We should resist this troubling banalisation of such an important figure. What is most admirable about Mandela is not the compromises his side made once in negotiations to dismantle the Apartheid regime.
The much lauded multiracial democracy of South Africa is actually a balancing arrangement between a state monopolised by the black vote and economic power resting in largely white hands. The mines remain privately owned and the largely black workforce is still being squeezed dry. In some ways the South African class system is now even worse than it was under Apartheid, the aspects of racial oppression which were inherent to that system remain in place in economic form. Except now the black people to rise to the business class have a vested interest in maintaining the continued subjugation of the toiling masses (most of whom are not white). The Marikana massacre in September 2012 demonstrated the disgraceful extent to which the ANC has become embroiled in the exploitation and oppression of the working-classes. The sight of white and black cops shooting the miners should be taken as the metaphor for the New South Africa.
To find the true heroism of Nelson Mandela we must examine the reasons for hysterical right-wing accusations of ‘terrorism’ against him. The African National Congress was dedicated to non-violent resistance for decades by this point and had exhausted every alternative to violent direct action. This was the background to the important moment when Nelson Mandela and his compatriots decided to found the Spear of the Nation and initiate the armed struggle. The targets were to be primarily governmental and symbolical, other targets included industrial and agricultural sabotage. Mandela was always eager to prevent the campaign from getting out of hand. He consistently opposed attacks on civilians and car-bombing in particular for it would degrade the movement and its cause. But he recognised that the situation in South Africa demanded more than pacifism.
In the Rivonia trial Nelson Mandela gave a virtuous defence of the cause “During my lifetime I have dedicated myself to this struggle of the African people. I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.” It was these words which were the reason Mandela was sent to prison for 27 years. It was these words which were the reason the US Congress refused to remove Nelson Mandela from their terrorist list until 2008. And it is precisely for these words which we should admire him in his indomitable resistance to tyranny. To call this ‘terrorism’ is to hold secret sympathy with the same kind of people we defeated in 1945.
If you want to know what the ANC were fighting against for decades you ought to examine the barbarism in which the Apartheid regime was by its nature embroiled. South Africa was a counter-revolutionary force in the face of national liberation movements in its neighbouring countries. In its occupation of Namibia and invasions of Angola and Mozambique, South Africa became the belligerent in a conflict which left more than 1.5 million dead. This was at the same time that the white supremacist state was carrying out assassinations, coups and atrocities which spanned the whole of Africa and beyond. The ultra-violence of the regime was completely supported by the American and British governments of the day, as well as most other European countries and Israel. The major ally of the ANC in its solidarity with the African rebels was the Castro regime of Cuba – who sent thousands of health workers, arms and troops to assist the Africans in their fight with the old colonial powers, as well as forces from South Africa and the CIA.
The reason why the mainstream media would prefer not to delve into the details of the struggle against Apartheid is that it leads to embarrassing questions about the Cold War. We might be tempted to ask why Western governments were so vehemently on the side of Afrikaner minority rule. We might also want to know why is it the Communists were intervening on the side of freedom and not the West. When it comes down to it we would have to examine the history of South Africa and ask some pointed questions. This is precisely what the compromises of the 1990s blacked out from the public discourse. In a way this isn’t surprising. Common to all beginnings the traumas of the past are always to be suppressed to prevent troubling questions of the new order from being raised. If the Apartheid system was a means of managing the class antagonism built into any capitalist society (which was the case) then we should want to know if this multiracial democracy is really much different.
Through divide and conquer the Afrikaner minority could maintain its hold on wealth procured through the exploitation of South Africa’s copious resources as well as its working-classes. In the end it was the international campaigns to boycott and impose sanctions against the South African economy which crippled the system of divide and conquer. The ANC fought alongside the MPLA, SWAPO and Cuban troops against the counter-revolutionary forces at Cuito Cuanavale in what Nelson Mandela called “a turning point for the liberation of our continent and my people.” These events combined with the sight of burning townships from Table Top Mountain was no doubt enough to convince many it was over. In the late 80s the Afrikaner business class then began to meet secretly with Oliver Tambo and others in places like Zambia to establish ties and negotiate. It took the party-state a bit longer. In a couple of years Nelson Mandela would be brought to meet with FW de Klerk in the first steps to his release and the official negotiations.
Written by: Owen
- December 5, 2013
Another day, another round of government policies to be denounced. Today, of course, we had Osborne’s Autumn Statement, with the much-trailed plan to raise the State Pension age to 70 for young workers, and a cap on overall welfare spending (excluding pensions and Jobseekers’ Allowance).
The justification for the former, of course, is that this is just an inevitable consequence of average life expectancy increasing. This will, I’m sure, come as great comfort to the young men of Manchester, who will on average already have been dead for a little over three months by the time they’re actually eligible to get their pension (going on life expectancy for 1993-95, the period when today’s young workers were born). As for the latter, Osborne’s apparent rationale is simply that, despite the wonderful economic recovery he claims to have brought about, and despite Cameron’s recent admission that austerity is a political means to an end and not an economic necessity, we just can’t afford it.
With all that said though, I don’t particularly want to get bogged down in the details of precisely why these policies are unfair or not. What’s more interesting is to consider why it was these policies were chosen – even if you take it as a given that as a heartless Tory Osborne’s going to cut spending on something, why pick a rise in the State Pension age for current young workers rather than say, a cut in the State Pension for those claiming it at the moment? There are any number of reasons of course, but one of them can be summed up very simply: Russell Brand.
I don’t solely mean Brand himself, of course. It would be more accurate to say that I mean stuff like this:
I have never voted. Like most people I am utterly disenchanted by politics. Like most people I regard politicians as frauds and liars and the current political system as nothing more than a bureaucratic means for furthering the augmentation and advantages of economic elites. Billy Connolly said: “Don’t vote, it encourages them,” and, “The desire to be a politician should bar you for life from ever being one.”
I don’t vote because to me it seems like a tacit act of compliance; I know, I know my grandparents fought in two world wars (and one World Cup) so that I’d have the right to vote. Well, they were conned. As far as I’m concerned there is nothing to vote for. I feel it is a far more potent political act to completely renounce the current paradigm than to participate in even the most trivial and tokenistic manner, by obediently X-ing a little box.
This point of view didn’t begin with Russell Brand – as he says, plenty of people share his opinion. But – if we take people’s decision to vote or not as an indicator of the totality of their political disenchantment – it’s not actually the majority view. Turnout at the last General Election was 65%, or just under two-thirds. It’s almost certainly accurate to say that a majority of people are jaded by mainstream politics and cynical about politicians, but most people apparently aren’t far enough gone to abandon voting altogether. In fact, if you look at the statistics, there’s only one group (of those analysed) for whom the voter turnout was under 50%: 18-24 year olds.
That, in a nutshell, is why young people are getting screwed. 76% of pensioners voted in 2010, compared to 44% of young adults; whose interests is the government more likely to look after, do you think? And as a follow-up, is encouraging this disengagement likely to lead to things getting better for young people, or worse? Not exactly the trickiest one to call, is it?
That’s not to say that all political issues can be reduced to simplistic questions of intergenerational unfairness – I’m not saying the left’s response to the Autumn Statement should be “why not go after the pensioners for a change?” But if there’s no chance of you voting them out of office, the government doesn’t care about you. It’s that simple. This isn’t to take the ludicrous Robert Webb-type view by which voting is apparently the beginning and end of civic engagement in society – obviously demonstrations, strikes, occupations and the like can all make an important difference as well, and there’ll be times and places when getting involved with them is crucial. But to put it bluntly, if you’re rioting in the streets about student debt or unemployment it’s going to be a hell of a lot cheaper for the government to pay the overtime for a few more TSG goons officers than it would be for them to actually fund universities properly or to stop cutting benefits.
Plenty of people, of course, will probably at this point be tempted to reiterate Brand’s point about being so disgusted with politicians and the entire political system to vote for any of them. Tough. By all means feel disgusted – given the current state of British politics, that’s an entirely sensible reaction. But this is more important than your precious feelings, so get over yourself. Not getting screwed over by the Tories will take a lot more than disregarding Russell Brand’s advice about voting, but it might be a good start.
Written by: Reuben - December 4, 2013
Around 70 students have occupied Senate House, the administrative centre of University of London, in protest over the governments plans to privatise the student loan book, the closure of University of London Union and in support of Higher Education workers fighting for improved pay.
This follows a wave of occupations in universities across the country in the last few days including Edinburgh, Birmingham, Sussex and Goldsmiths. Their demands include:
The university issue a statement condemning the privatisation of the student loan book, which a secret report by its buyers at the Rothschild bank states should be followed with a retrospective interest rate hike which will further add to historic levels of student debt.
The university abandon its plans to take our University of London Union out of the hands of students and pass it over to unelected management. This threatens all the services and societies ULU facilitates and is a fundamental attack on our right to unionise.
That the completely reasonable demands over pay and conditions, put forward by higher education academic unions and the 3 cosas campaign, be met: giving academic staff the resources they need to do their jobs, and bringing the sick pay, holidays and pensions of contracted university staff in line with in-house staff.
Mya Pope-Weidemann , a student at SOAS and part of the occupation said “With the privatisation of the student loan book, the lib dem betrayal of students is complete. We are already being saddled with record breaking financial burdens, crushed between soaring living costs and plummeting employment prospects. The assurances that interest rates are safe in bankers’ hands is laughable, it’s like trusting a shark to look after a seal. £900m of student loans sold off to the Rothschild bank for £160m and they have the nerve to call it value for public money? The Tories and their friends are conspiring to squeeze every last penny out of what is fast becoming Britain’s lost generation. And we won’t take this degree of shameless exploitation lying down. The government can expect growing resistance nationally
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Written by: Reuben - November 25, 2013
Tonight, the fantastic radical songwriter Grace Petrie will be launching her new album with a gig at Cargo, in Shoreditch. Tickets are just £6 and are available here. Very much hope you can make it!
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Written by: JT White
- November 14, 2013
There was hardly any outrage in the air when the Health and Social Care act of 2012 was passed. The act stipulates that NHS doctors take control of their budgets as well as permit them to buy services from private companies. Another stipulation is to allow hospitals to use up to 49% of hospital beds and theatre time to generate private income. The section 75 regulations stipulate that the sectors of the NHS which can’t be ‘provably’ run exclusively by public provision will have to face competition from the private sector. Lord Phillip Hunt said that the regulations will “promote and permit privatisation and extend competition into every quarter of the NHS regardless of patients interests.” He added that the reform will make privatisation the default position as the burden of proof is placed on the shoulders of any commissioner opposed to private health provision.
The Chair of the Royal College of General Practitioners has stated that these reforms “remove the legal framework for a universal, publically provided, publically managed, publically planned, democratically accountable health service.” Concurrent to these reforms the Coalition has been underfunding health services. In the first budget of the Coalition government, George Osborne announced a 1% increase in funding for the NHS. Yet that amount falls short of the pace at which health costs rise, which is sometimes 2% or 3% above inflation. There is a correlation to this policy. Waiting lists increased by 43% from 2010 to 2012. Fortunately for David Cameron the media has yet to raise more than a whimper of questions about these reforms. It was Lansley who claimed that the NHS has to face cuts for a shortfall of £10 billion to be avoided. Then this year came talk of a £30 billion shortfall at the end of the decade. The government’s prescription: cuts, cuts, cuts.
This is the apogee of decades of health-care policy in this country. The Thatcherites first introduced private companies in the area of cleaning services and even went further to provide contracts to private companies willing to invest in the construction and operation of services. Public-private partnerships were established, effectively subsidising private companies with tax-payer money. The cleaning contracts commissioned from the private sector have led to rising costs for hospitals and a decline in hygiene standards. Out of this came the rise in MRSA. New Labour continued and furthered these developments. The performance targets based on market standards were expanded and health-care professionals were left jumping through even more hoops. The rhetoric of New Labour was decentralisation they offered to ‘free’ hospitals from central control and allow local people to ‘own’ their own hospital.
As of 2005 the UK government was looking to shift 10% of the work of existing NHS organisations to the private sector. The NHS signed contracts with eight different health-care providers to set up fast-track treatments centres to treat 250,000 patients over five years. The programme forced some NHS hospitals to close down wards. In 2011 Andrew Lansley was forced to admit that 60 hospitals were on the “brink of financial collapse” as a result of public-private partnerships first started by John Major and expanded under Blair. The hospitals could not meet the high payments being demanded by private companies. The cost of these gluttonous companies feeding off of the public health service has been bared all along by the British tax-payer. Care homes for the elderly have been privatised just as prisons and now the post office have been. The pig-out goes on.
Yet these developments are not unprecedented around the world. In Canada it was the Conservative Mike Harris who introduced the public-private partnerships in Ontario to open up public assets to corporations in the financing of new facilities and the operation of support services. Diagnostic clinics for MRIs and CT scans were opened up to private companies. Many have introduced all kinds of hidden costs, with one place even charging $100 for an orange juice. These measures were expanded and deepened by Liberal and Conservative administrations. Almost 30% of Canadian health expenditure came from private payments in 2010. More and more there are user fees for those without private insurance and physicians can block treatment if you don’t pay up. Private health-care payments account for 3.1% of Canadian GDP. The spread and scope of private clinics is being expanded still.
Meanwhile in Australia the government of Tony Abbott has confirmed that they will be pursuing the privatisation of Medibank and has not ruled out any further privatisation schemes. Just as the British health system has been underfunded the Australian equivalent has endured cuts in the number of public hospital beds from 74,000 to 54,000 from 1983 to 2009. Effectively this means a 60% cut when the growth in population is taken into account. The Rudd government excluded from the commission’s review, the current 30% rebate for private insurance, which currently costs $3.7 billion annually, so as not to antagonise the insurance companies. The successive Gillard government initiated an austerity programme leading to cuts being set to health budgets in New South Wales of $3 billion, $1.6 billion in Queensland and $616 million in Victoria. So the incremental process of privatisation is not contained to this tired little island.
The forces behind these shifts are not just national but international. The yet to be finalised free-trade deal between the US and the EU may well have troubling implications for the future of universal health-care throughout the EU and not just in the British Isles. It looks like the agreement will open up public services – including health – to private investment and ownership. It would appear as though the Bolkestein directive has only been reconstituted in its mission to see the European Union become a mere managerial edifice for a liberal market economy. At the same time we can see Obama has initiated a series of conservative health reforms in one of the few civilised countries without universal coverage. In the sectors that have profited from the chaos of the American situation there are keen eyes for the potential gains in plundering the NHS. We have been denied a debate on the privatisation of health-care, but as we aren’t going to be given one. We should decide for ourselves what kind of society we want to live in and take action.