Not even Hitchcock could have come up with this.

February 8, 2011

An angry bird strikes back

Trade Unions Must Die

February 7, 2011

Trade unions must die. Not (this time) the sentiments of the Sindo, but quite close to the call from the UK Institute of Directors for union rights to be curbed for public sector workers in the health and education sectors. This call forms part of a list of “freebies” that are

a mix of immediate measures to boost private sector growth and long-term commitments aimed at creating a positive vision for the UK

These include such great ideas as handing the green belt over to developers, reducing government spending as a percentage of GDP while simultaneously handing over huge amounts of money to private construction companies through “key national projects”, make it easier to sack people, and reduce workers’ rights generally. Not for nothing did the TUC describe this as a “Thatcherite fantasy world”.

This may well be the wish list of a bunch of right-wing nutters, but the danger here is that such ideas may gain traction with the coalition. We have seen just how right-wing the Lib Dems really are, and the Tories are hell-bent on restoring the capitalism of the nineteenth century. What we are seeing here are the opening shots in an ideological war to further erode workers’ rights, and to break up and privatise as much of the state sector as possible. The list is a joke. The intentions behind it are not. One need only look at the list of demands, and then look at the behaviour of the Dublin government over decades, and see how realistic the danger of a right-wing joke becoming a disgusting reality is.


Kids, Have the Day Off. We Can’t Afford to Teach You

February 7, 2011

Education. The key to social mobility, the big society, a fair Britain, and whatever other buzzwords you can think of from the Con/Dem coalition. Unless of course you slash budgets, and force councils into drastically reducing their services. North Ayrshire Council in Scotland is responding to the order to make cuts by considering cutting the number of school days to four, and delaying children starting school until the age of 6. Think of the consequences of this for parents suddenly needing to fund extra child care, not just one day a week, but for a whole year as well.

Carol Kirk, the council’s education director, said any plans to alter the current system would be “fully investigated and discussed”.

“The option for children to start primary school at age six has been widely discussed by education professionals across the UK for several years now and is already in operation in many other European countries,” she said.

“The option to deliver the statutory 25 hours of education per week over four rather than five days is also being explored by other local authorities in Scotland.”

I guess that the aim of returning the UK to Victorian times is going swimmingly then.

Hobsbawm on Where We Are and Where We Might Go

January 16, 2011

Just put this up on Cedar Lounge Revolution too.

The prospect of a new Eric Hobsbawm book is always one to pique your interest. And today in the Observer, there is an interview with Hobsbawm on How To Change the World: Tales of Marx and Marxism. Unfortunately, the interview is conducted by Tristam Hunt MP, but still makes for interesting reading (there’s another, and shorter, interview in the New Statesman, and a review in the Daily Telegraph here). I have to say though that one’s confidence in the publishers and those writing about it is slightly diminished by the fact no-one seems to have noticed it is 162 years since The Communist Manifesto was published, and not Das Kapital.

So what is the book about? It is a collection of previously published and new essays, including, Hunt tells us, “some fine new chapters on the meaning of Gramsci”. Hobsbawm seems to be arguing that the current crisis has breathed new life not only into interest in Marx, but also into the possibility of systemic change, though he is unclear as to how it might come about.

he rediscovery of Marx in this period of capitalist crisis is because he predicted far more of the modern world than anyone else in 1848. That is, I think, what has drawn the attention of a number of new observers to his work – paradoxically, first among business people and business commentators rather than the left. I remember noticing this just around the time of the 150th anniversary of the publication of The Communist Manifesto, when not very many plans were being made for celebrating it on the left. I discovered to my amazement that the editors of the [in-flight] magazine of United Airlines said they wanted to have something about the Manifesto. Then, a bit later on, I was having lunch with [financier] George Soros, who asked: “What do you think of Marx?” Even though we don’t agree on very much, he said to me: “There’s definitely something to this man.”

Hobsbawm sees the resurgence of Marx as coming about in particular from the fact that the crisis has proven neo-liberal economic orthodoxy completely wrong – we are in a crisis of a kind it said could not happen, in his view. The collapse of the USSR and associated countries, in Hobsbawm’s view, by removing a lot of the passion from the situation, allowed people to look at Marx afresh. Globalisation has become the victim of its own success.

You see, in a sense, the globalised economy was effectively run by what one might call the global north-west [western Europe and North America] and they pushed forward this ultra-extreme market fundamentalism. Initially, it seemed to work quite well – at least in the old north-west – even though from the start, you could see that at the periphery of the global economy it created earthquakes, big earthquakes. In Latin America, there was a huge financial crisis in the early 1980s. In the early 1990s, in Russia, there was an economic catastrophe. And then towards the end of the century, there was this enormous, almost global, breakdown ranging from Russia to [South] Korea, Indonesia and Argentina. This began to make people think, I feel, that there was a basic instability in the system that they had previously dismissed.

Hobsbawm continues his in his view that one of the main consequences of the fall of the Soviet Union has been the destruction of any meaningful form of social democracy.

In fact, one of the things I’m trying to show in the book is that the crisis of Marxism is not only the crisis of the revolutionary branch of Marxism but in the social democratic branch too. The new situation in the new globalised economy eventually killed off not only Marxist-Leninism but also social democratic reformism – which was essentially the working class putting pressure on their nation states. But with globalisation, the capacity of the states to respond to this pressure effectively diminished. And so the left retreated to suggest: “Look, the capitalists are doing all right, all we need to do is let them make as much profit and see that we get our share.”

That worked when part of that share took the form of creating welfare states, but from the 1970s on, this no longer worked and what you had to do then was, in effect, what Blair and Brown did: let them make as much money as possible and hope that enough of it will trickle down to make our people better off.

The significance, he says, of the current crisis is that living standards are clearly failling once again, and so the question of reformism will emerge once more.

Again, he continues with a pre-existing line, namely his argument that the traditional proletariat is no longer sufficient to change society on its own. Instead, it must form the backbone of progressive alliances. Hence Hobsbawm stating that

Today, ideologically, I feel most at home in Latin America because it remains the one part of the world where people still talk and conduct their politics in the old language, in the 19th- and 20th-century language of socialism, communism and Marxism.

Against some of the more excitable comments about the student protests, Hobsbawm questions the extent of the shift in student consciousness and reminds Hunt that the last major student protests (i.e. 1968) didn’t actually amount to all that much (an argument I have a great deal of sympathy for). In another argument I have some sympathy for, he seems unimpressed with Zizek as well.

I suppose Zizek is rightly described as a performer. He has this element of provocation that is very characteristic and does help to interest people, but I’m not certain that people who are reading Zizek are actually drawn very much nearer rethinking the problems of the left.

Hobsbawm, like everybody else on the left, feels that the coalition is taking the opportunity provided by the crisis to pursue a Thatcherite ideological agenda.

Behind the various cuts being suggested, with the justification of getting rid of the deficit, there clearly seems to be a systematic, ideological demand for deconstructing, semi-privatising, the old arrangements – whether it’s the pension system, welfare system, school system or even the health system. These things in most cases were not actually provided for either in the Conservative or the Liberal manifesto and yet, looking at it from the outside, this is a much more radically rightwing government than it looked at first sight.

I don’t think I’d agree with the remark that the government didn’t look this rightwing from the start. I think that was an illusion about Clegg and the Orange book LibDems, and perhaps even about Cameron, that some of the British centre-left allowed themselves to indulge in, culminating of course in the Guardian’s deluded and foolish call for progressives to vote LibDem. Hobsbawm calls for the Labour Party to concentrate on defending public services from cradle to the grave, and pointing to improvements it made in power. In other words, to move further to the left than Ed Miliband has positioned it so far.

Hunt points out that Hobsbawm’s book’s final paragraph notes that

the supersession of capitalism still sounds plausible to me

. Hobsbawm’s response suggests that he believes a move to socialism unlikely, but that he thinks the neo-liberal era may well be left in the past.

The record of Karl Marx, an unarmed prophet inspiring major changes, is undeniable. I’m quite deliberately not saying that there are any equivalent prospects now. What I’m saying now is that the basic problems of the 21st century would require solutions that neither the pure market, nor pure liberal democracy can adequately deal with. And to that extent, a different combination, a different mix of public and private, of state action and control and freedom would have to be worked out.

What you will call that, I don’t know. But it may well no longer be capitalism, certainly not in the sense in which we have known it in this country and the United States.

In a sense then, there’s not a lot new in this interview, and probably not a lot new in terms of Hobsbawm’s views on contemporary politics, as noted by the Telegraph review. I suspect that for the CLR audience, those of us who read it will find the more historical, philosophical or interpretive reflections on Marx and his followers as being of more interest than Hobsbawm’s political message, which seems perhaps unduly limited and perhaps defeatist.

Keep you’re head down and keep running

December 8, 2010

Sometimes, life is cruel

The Big Society: A Recipe for Disaster?

November 30, 2010

The Tories – and their Lib Dem lapdogs – are seeking to return the UK to the Victorian age: except without the workhouse, which would cost too much in their eyes. So we see the idea that the state can be rolled back, and replaced with private charities. Obviously not all charities are as badly run as this one, but it is an example of what can happen when you run things on a private basis, even with the best of intentions. The state must keep doing what only it can do reliably. We must protect the welfare state against the ConDem onslaught.

My Kind of Bishop

November 23, 2010

Having avoided the obvious gag in the headline, I would like to record how impressed I am by the Anglican Bishop of Willesden (wherever the hell that is), Pete Broadbent, who took great delight in having a go at all the hype about the announcement that some sinecure having RAF officer is to marry some wee girl who he partly wooed by going for a joyride in public property to her house, namely a Chinook. Try going up to Aldegrove to get a Chinook to impress your girlfriend and see how far that gets you.

Anyway, the Bishop outed himself as a republican on his facebook page, which I can’t find.

He wrote: “Need to work out what date in the spring or summer I should be booking my republican day trip to France.”
He went on to say: “I think we need a party in Calais for all good republicans who can’t stand the nauseating tosh that surrounds this event.

“I managed to avoid the last disaster in slow motion between Big Ears and the Porcelain Doll, and hope to avoid this one too.”
He said the wedding should belong to the family, as opposed to becoming “national flim-flam” paid for by tax payers. And he criticised the media for descending into “fawning deferential nonsense”.

I hope he remembers to invite the rest of us to his party. Sounds perfect.

As for the media reaction and his apology, entirely predictable. But fair play to him in the first place.

November 19th – 212th Anniversary of Wolfe Tone’s Death

November 19, 2010

The following is a statement by The Workers’ Party on the current situation in the Republic on the anniversary of Theobald Wolfe Tone’s death.

Theobald Wolfe Tone, the father of anti-sectarian Irish Republicanism, died on the 19th November 1798. Today (Friday) is his 212th anniversary.

Today is also the day on which Fianna Fáil, the loudly self-proclaimed Republican Party, totally have surrendered the last vestige of meaningful republicanism.

Since their return to power in 1997 Fianna Fáil have run this country in the interests of bankers and speculators. When the Celtic Tiger property bubble inevitably burst two years ago, Fianna Fáil immediately went to the aid of the banking-speculator axis. Since that time they have ruthlessly cut wages, slashed services, and borrowed internationally, to support this failed strategy.

The freedom to decide our own budget is one of the basic cornerstones of a sovereign state. Today, with the arrival of the second tranche of the IMF heavy-gang that freedom disappeared. No matter what way it is glossed over, the Irish Finance Minister will, for the foreseeable future dance to an IMF tune. The voice which delivers the budget speech may well be Irish, but the script will be all New York.

The surrender of our sovereignty is an insult to every Irish person. The lies and verbal contortions of FF ministers over the last week is a further insult to the people. The co-incidence of these events on the anniversary of Wolfe Tone is an insult too far. Tone, in his time knew that to trust the fate of the country in a rich elite would lead to disaster, and in his own words, stated: “Our independence must be had at all hazards. If the men of property will not support us, they must fall; we can support ourselves by the aid of that numerous and respectable class of the community, the men of no property”.

Now, more than ever, the Workers’ Party calls on the men and women of no property, the Irish working class, to unite to defend our interests, protect our resources and promote a decent future for ourselves and for our children.

Harney Cancels Christmas

November 15, 2010

NI Welfare Budget to be Slashed – What will our Politicians do?

November 10, 2010

UTV is reporting that the welfare budget in NI faces cuts of up to £450m. Cuts in welfare spending are made up of the likes of the following

Changes because of the spending cuts include: child benefits frozen for three years from April; Job Seekers Allowance claimants losing entitlement to the support for mortgage interest scheme if they have been on benefits for two years; housing benefit reduced by a tenth from April 2013 if a claimant has been on the benefit; and a compulsory medical examination for all new and existing working age DLA claimants from 2013.

NI is more dependent on state spending and social welfare than other regions of the UK, and dependence within NI varies immensely. West Belfast, for example, is much more dependent upon social welfare than north Down. In other words, these cuts have the potential to do serious damage to entire communities, communities that are already among the most deprived and that have the most social problems in western Europe.

These are also the communities that tend to vote most heavily in favour of the two leading lights of the NI Executive, the DUP and PSF. What will these parties do? It’s already clear from the statements of Peter Robinson and Sammy Wilson that the DUP is embracing the cuts agenda. Their nationalist counterparts on the other hand are being more coy, blaming British Tories, and presenting themselves as fairly powerless to do anything about them. Are they?

The UTV report points out that if the local politicians refuse to make the cuts, then they will probably just be made at Westminster before the money arrives in NI. That is one option. Another is to refuse to administer the cuts, and collapse the executive. Creating a crisis of this magnitude would force the Tory-LibDem coalition to think seriously about what it was doing. Our politicians are of course far too self-interested and enjoy the exercise of power too much to do this. Instead they are much more likely to administer the cuts while blaming the Tories and LibDems. Who of course deserve a great deal of blame, but we need only look at Wilson’s attitude towards the trade union demos and McGuinness’s praise for PFI to see that they mightn’t be all that far out of step with the locals.