Wednesday, 23 July 2014

The return of George Orwell and Big Brother’s war on Palestine, Ukraine and the truth

John Pilger

11 July 2014

The other night, I saw George Orwells's '1984' performed on the London stage. Although crying out for a contemporary interpretation, Orwell's warning about the future was presented as a period piece: remote, unthreatening, almost reassuring. It was as if Edward Snowden had revealed nothing, Big Brother was not now a digital eavesdropper and Orwell himself had never said, "To be corrupted by totalitarianism, one does not have to live in a totalitarian country."

Acclaimed by critics, the skilful production was a measure of our cultural and political times. When the lights came up, people were already on their way out. They seemed unmoved, or perhaps other distractions beckoned. "What a mindfuck," said the young woman, lighting up her phone.

As advanced societies are de-politicised, the changes are both subtle and spectacular. In everyday discourse, political language is turned on its head, as Orwell prophesised in '1984'. "Democracy" is now a rhetorical device. Peace is "perpetual war". "Global" is imperial. The once hopeful concept of "reform" now means regression, even destruction. "Austerity" is the imposition of extreme capitalism on the poor and the gift of socialism for the rich: an ingenious system under which the majority service the debts of the few.

Tuesday, 24 June 2014

Transport and cultural workers strike in France

France continues to be hit by major strikes by rail and air traffic control workers. Rail unions are protesting transport ministry plans for the reform of SNCF, France’s national rail company. 

The government wants to unite it with RFF (French Rail Network) in a single holding company , which is a certain formula for job losses and cutbacks. The French government wants to make the railway companies 'leaner and fitter' in order to face competition from other European companies. In effect they are preparing privatisation of the rail network.

The rail strike has opened up a union split between the CFDT federation which supports the reforms, and the CGT and Sud-Rail that oppose them.

Air traffic control strikes forced the cancellation of hundreds of flights 24 June to and from France and other European countries. They are protesting government cutbacks to aviation spending that they say will result in cutbacks that put safety at risk.

Actors and other cultural workers have also been striking over plans to reform unemployment benefits on which many irregularly employed workers like actors rely.

Portugal Left Bloc: Afterthe European elections

Statement by Left Bloc (Bloco de Esquerda), Portugal; translated by Federico Fuentes.

 Following the [September 29, 2013] local elections, the Left Bloc developed its European program via a thorough programmatic debate involving many independent activists. That culminated at our February 2014 national conference.
The Left Bloc entered the campaign with a strong orientation, a clear, alternative program to the one proposed by the government, a candidate elected by consensus and an openness reflected in the quality of the list of candidates presented and the public support they received. The Left Bloc carried out a dynamic election campaign, throughout which it remained united and completely focused.
The Left Bloc received a bad election result [149,628 votes, 4.56%, down by 6.15% from 2009]. We were able to elect Marisa Matias, but were a long way away from electing a second deputy. We not only failed to turn around the losses suffered at the last legislative and municipal elections, but received an even lower vote this time around. The party must carry out a profound reflection on the political situation, the path we have taken to date and future options for the Left Bloc.

'Broad left parties': Murray Smith replies to Socialist Alternative's Mick Armstrong

By Murray Smith

 Mick Armstrong of Socialist Alternative, Australia, has written an article which sets out to criticise what I have written over the last 15 or so years on broad left parties ("A critique of the writings of Murray Smith on broad left partes" (PDF), Marxist Left Review, Summer 2014). I would like to reply to some of the points that he makes.
Mick Armstrong’s article starts off by saying that there has been a marked evolution in my views on the question over the last decade and that in his opinion this evolution has not been positive. So let me start by outlining how I began to approach the question and how my thinking has in fact evolved.

Up until the mid-1990s I had a very conventional Trotskyist view of the need to build the revolutionary party by starting with a (more or less depending on the circumstances) small nucleus armed with a revolutionary program. That did not exclude fusions with other revolutionary groups or entry into mass reformist parties (as practised very successfully by Militant in Britain).

Let us note in passing that in Europe, after several decades of experience in a number of countries, this method has never led to the creation of anything resembling a mass party. I came to consider that this was not an accident. I have argued elsewhere that for two or three decades after the Second World War the position of the mass social-democratic and Stalinist parties was so strong that there was very little space to their left. That began to change in the 1960s and even more so after 1989-91. Objective reasons for failure receded and subjective, political weaknesses became more evident.

Mick Armstrong - a critique of the writings of Murray Smith on broad left parties

This text was posted on the Socialist Alternative's 'Marxist Left Review' (Australia)
Mick Armstrong
Click four arrow image for full screen

David Harvey - Afterword on Piketty's "Capital"

Thomas Piketty has written a book called Capital in the 21st  Century that has caused quite a stir. He advocates progressive taxation and a global wealth tax as the only way to counter the trend towards the creation of a “patrimonial” form of capitalism marked by what he dubs “terrifying” inequalities of wealth and income. He also documents in excruciating and hard to rebut detail how social inequality of both wealth and income has evolved over the last two centuries, with particular emphasis on the role of wealth. He demolishes the widely-held view that free market capitalism spreads the wealth around and that it is the great bulwark for the defense of individual liberties and freedoms. Free-market capitalism, in the absence of any major redistributive interventions on the part of the state, Piketty shows, produces anti-democratic oligarchies. This demonstration has given sustenance to liberal outrage as it drives the Wall Street Journal apoplectic.
The book has often been presented as a twenty-first century substitute for Karl Marx’s nineteenth century work of the same title. Piketty actually denies this was his intention, which is just as well since his is not a book about capital at all. It does not tell us why the crash of 2008 occurred and why it is taking so long for so many people to get out from under the dual burdens of prolonged unemployment and millions of houses lost to foreclosure. It does not help us understand why growth is currently so sluggish in the US as opposed to China and why Europe is locked down in a politics of austerity and an economy of stagnation. What Piketty does show statistically (and we should be indebted to him and his colleagues for this) is that capital has tended throughout its history to produce ever-greater levels of inequality. This is, for many of us, hardly news. It was, moreover, exactly Marx’s theoretical conclusion in Volume One of his version of Capital. Piketty fails to note this, which is not surprising since he has since claimed, in the face of accusations in the right wing press that he is a Marxist in disguise, not to have read Marx’s Capital.

The Rise of Podemos

A barely 100-day-old political party born out of the spirit of the Spain’s indignados movement of 2011 won more than a million votes and five seats in the European Parliament, sending political shock waves through a country among those that have suffered the worst of the European financial crisis. Here, Guillem Murcia, an editor and contributor to the political analysis blog Rotekeil, looks at the sources of Podemos’ election success, and explains the political backdrop to the surprising result.

ON MAY 25, the leaders of the two dominant parties in Spain—the center-right Partido Popular (People’s Party, or PP) and the center-left Partido Socialista Obrero Español (Spanish Socialist Worker Party, or PSOE)—couldn’t believe what they saw on the plasma screens in their campaign headquarters.

Both parties had expected to take some electoral punishment from disgruntled voters for the way they had managed the current economic crisis in Spain. But they weren’t prepared for the hemorrhage of votes they suffered. PP lost 2.6 million votes, 16 percentage points and eight members in the European Parliament—PSOE lost 2.5 million votes, 15.7 percentage points and 9 MEPs.

Why did both parties, which once dominated the political landscape in Spain, suffer such bad results in the European Parliament elections? One reason lies in their approach to the global financial crisis.

Monday, 23 June 2014

Egypt’s hidden prison: ‘disappeared’ face torture in Azouli military jail

By Paul Kingsley
Guardian 22 June

Guardian interviews with former detainees reveal up to 400 Egyptians being held without judicial oversight amid wider crackdown on human rights

Map showing the Galaa military camp in Ismalila and the location of the Azoulu military prison within it

Map showing the Galaa military camp in Ismalila and the location of the Azoulu military prison within it. The S1 block, which detainees describe as an interrogation block, is a few minutes drive from the jail

Hundreds of “disappeared” Egyptians are being tortured and held outside of judicial oversight in a secret military prison, according to Guardian interviews with former inmates, lawyers, rights activists and families of missing persons.
Since at least the end of July 2013, detainees have been taken there blindfolded and forcibly disappeared. Up to 400 are still being tortured and held outside of judicial oversight in the clearest example of a wide-scale crackdown that Amnesty and Human Rights Watch have jointly called “repression on a scale unprecedented in Egypt’s modern history”.
Prisoners at Azouli are routinely electrocuted, beaten and hanged naked by their tied wrists for hours until they either give up specific information, memorise confessions or until – in the case of a small group of released former inmates – are deemed of no further use to their interrogators.
They are among at least 16,000 political prisoners arrested since last summer’s regime change. But what sets Azouli’s prisoners apart is the way they are held outside of Egypt’s legal system, in circumstances that allow their jailers to act without fear of even hypothetical consequences.

“Officially, you aren’t there,” said Ayman, a middle-aged man who was brought to Azouli towards the end of 2013, and one of only a few to later be released.
“It isn’t like normal prisons. There is no documentation that says you are there. If you die at Azouli, no one would know.”
Azouli prison cannot be seen by civilians. It lies inside a vast military camp – the sprawling headquarters of Egypt’s second field army at Ismailia, a city 62 miles north-east of Cairo – but hundreds are nevertheless all too aware of its third and highest floor, where the detainees are held in cramped cells.
Read the rest of this article here