Thursday, 11 June 2015

Godfrey Webster

Godfrey Webster was a union shop steward and an active member of the Labour party for many years

My younger brother, Godfrey Webster, who has died aged 68 after suffering from a heart condition, was a respected civil engineer and a tireless worker for socialist causes in Birmingham.

He grew up in Wateringbury, Kent, the youngest of four children of Neil Webster, a civil servant with the Central Office of Information who had been a wartime Bletchley codebreaker, and his wife, Elizabeth, a writer and musician. Godfrey was keen on politics from his early teens, joining the Aldermaston marches and protests against the Vietnam war in London in the late 1960s.

He studied engineering at Cambridge with a scholarship from Guest, Keen & Nettlefolds, which involved spending some time at the Scunthorpe steelworks, a period in his life that probably led to his commitment to revolutionary socialism.

He met his future wife, Lynn, in 1970 and they continued to work together for socialist causes while bringing up their three sons and a daughter in Warley, West Midlands.

Godfrey worked for GKN and then for the Amey infrastructure group, where his understanding of structural mechanics gave his colleagues the confidence to be innovative in their designs.
He was an expert on the construction of bridges and recently helped those involved in the complex analysis needed to avoid pedestrian-caused vibrations on the Jane Coston cycle bridge, in Milton, near Cambridge. He also found cost-effective solutions to cure the teething problems of the Millennium Bridge, in central London. He was an inspiration to the upcoming generation of engineers who worked with him.

A union shop steward and active member of the Labour party, he reluctantly left when the party moved to the right under Tony Blair. Godfrey continued his political activities despite his increasingly fragile health (he was diagnosed with the heart condition hypertrophic cardiomyopathy), attending meetings and conferences, organising protests and helping to co-ordinate campaigns.

He was the vice-chair of Birmingham TUC, an active member of his union, Unite, and a member of Left Unity. His last big contribution was supporting the activist group Birmingham Against the Cuts.

Godfrey is survived by Lynn, their children, Michael, Johnny, Alex and Ruth, our sister, Jocelyn, and by me, and his grandson, Rufus.

Tuesday, 9 June 2015

Syriza - defiance or surrender?

Six months after Syriza’s victory in Greece, Tariq talks to Stathis Kouvelakis, a leading intellectual on Syriza, about the options now facing the new Government. Will they default on the existing debt, or face surrender to the EU?

Marx was Right

By Chris Hedges (TruthDig)

On Saturday 7 June at the Left Forum in New York City, Chris Hedges joined professors Richard Wolffand Gail Dines to discuss why Karl Marx is essential at a time when global capitalism is collapsing. These are the remarks Hedges made to open the discussion.

Karl Marx exposed the peculiar dynamics of capitalism, or what he called “the bourgeois mode of production.” He foresaw that capitalism had built within it the seeds of its own destruction. He knew that reigning ideologies—think neoliberalism—were created to serve the interests of the elites and in particular the economic elites, since “the class which has the means of material production at its disposal, has control at the same time over the means of mental production” and “the ruling ideas are nothing more than the ideal expression of the dominant material relationships … the relationships which make one class the ruling one.” 

He saw that there would come a day when capitalism would exhaust its potential and collapse. He did not know when that day would come. Marx, as Meghnad Desai wrote, was “an astronomer of history, not an astrologer.” Marx was keenly aware of capitalism’s ability to innovate and adapt. But he also knew that capitalist expansion was not eternally sustainable. And as we witness the denouement of capitalism and the disintegration of globalism, Karl Marx is vindicated as capitalism’s most prescient and important critic.

Thursday, 1 January 2015

“Arab Spring has now turned into a winter”


Wednesday 24 December 2014,
“It began on December 18, 2010, as a popular uprising triggered by the self–immolation of Tunisian street vendor, Mohamed Bouazizi, protesting against the country’s corrupt and autocratic regime. What it eventually led to was a chain of revolutionary uprisings across the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), toppling dictatorial governments in Tunisia, Libya, Egypt and Yemen. Popularly known as the “Arab Spring”, the movement has since descended into chaos, with Islamic fundamentalist forces gaining in power.”[The Hindu intrrview with Gilbert Achcar.]

Since the 2010-11 uprisings, except in Tunisia, the model of liberal democracy has not taken off in MENA (Middle East, North African) countries. Is there still hope or do you even see liberal “electoral” democracy as an answer to the ongoing crisis in the region? We saw, for instance, how despite elections in June this year the dictator Bashar al-Assad of the Ba’ath Party remained in power in Syria...…
The question of democracy in the MENA region cannot be reduced to one of liberal democracy as it presently prevails in the West. Even if you take liberalism in the political meaning alone, Arab countries are far from implementing it, and this applies to Tunisia too where a formally democratic government is now in place. The MENA region is suffering from a very deep social and economic crisis, which is at the root of the general turmoil and upheaval. In order to solve the ongoing crisis, there must be a shift away from the neoliberal socio-economic model in the region, which led to the crisis. The real stumbling block is the combination of a heavily repressive and corrupt “deep state” with crony capitalism of the worst type. This combination has not been dismantled in any of the region’s states, including Tunisia. In Syria, where the Ba’ath dictatorship is entrenched in power since half a century, the elections lacked any democratic legitimacy. To achieve real democratisation, what is needed is a radical dismantling of the “deep state” that continues to uphold the existing social-political order in the region.

SYRIA; Damascus Stifled Voice from the Left

The story of Syrian Revolutionary Youth: the rise and fall of a grassroots movement offering a third alternative beyond the regime/Islamists binary, whose clear, principled stance made it the target of extreme regime persecution.
The Syrian Revolutionary Youth symbol graffitied on a Damascene wall.The Syrian Revolutionary Youth symbol graffitied on a Damascene wall.It has been over a year and a half since the last organized anti-regime protest in Damascus. The protest, which you can watch through this link, was held on June 12, 2013 in the Damascene neighbourhood of Rukneddine in solidarity with besieged Homs. It featured wedding-style revolutionary chants and singing. It was a typically brave evening protest by the Syrian Revolutionary Youth, a self-avowed leftist and civic collective, despite heavy security presence and tight regime control of the area.
From the beginning of the Syrian revolution and well into 2013, the Syrian Revolutionary Youth injected a breath of fresh air into the lungs of an uprising that was being increasingly suffocated by the Syrian regime and counter-revolutionary forces. Established by a group of activists from Rukneddine, the collective embodied a clear political vision that was not restricted to vague demands for a democratic, civil state. At a time when such ambiguous yet sweeping calls were being made by liberal and moderate Islamist opposition groups, the Syrian Revolutionary Youth advanced a more clear-cut vision of social justice where free education, free health care, gender equality, the liberation of the occupied Golan Heights, and liberation of Palestine, were central to their demands.

Greece: The New Programme of Syriza – “A victory for Syriza at the coming elections has the potential to change the atmosphere in the whole of Europe”

27 December 2015. First published at ESSF. NB this article was written before the announcement of the date o9f the Greek general election

On Monday the Greek Parliament will vote for the next President. If the Government’s nominee fails to gain the minimum 180 votes there will be a general election which will be held in the following six weeks

In such a situation, the opinion polls put Syriza, Greece’s new left-wing party, as the likely winner of the elections which could put the first anti-austerity party in power in the Eurozone. In the light of this, it is important for us to analyse Syriza’s new policy platform that was announced recently. Here, an active member of the left-wing of Syriza outlines the new policy and explains why it is not enough.

A Limited Programme
This programme was announced by the president of SYRIZA, Alexis Tsipras, during the International Exibition of Thessaloniki in September [1]. It was not a result of a discussion through the bodies of the Party but the work of a group of people around him. It is a limited programme which the leadership wants to present to the people as the final programme of SYRIZA.

It is a programme of course for a positive direction in order to relieve the poorest social layers. It promises:
• A serious negotiation on the National Debt and a “haircut” of the biggest part of this
Higher taxation of the rich
• Higher salaries for some low paid employees
• The abolition of ENFIA (the latest property tax)
• More money for the municipalities and the local authorities
• 300,000 new jobs
• Restoration of public radio and television closed down by the current government
The establishment of a new National Development Bank
• The restoration of the minimum wage at 751 Euros

Friday, 5 December 2014

Russell Brand and the Sun: media attempts to discredit Russell Brand must be rejected

By Charles Brown (Via Counterfire)

It is reassuring when you see a great campaigning newspaper like the Sun, renowned for its fights against privilege and poverty, pointing out yet another injustice or example of wrongdoing on the part of Britain’s elite….

As intros go, that doesn’t even begin to match the contorted, dishonest rhetoric booming from this week’s Sun headlines, excoriating comedian and activist, Russell Brand for the temerity of supporting the residents of the New Era estate in their protest against its sale to US private equity firm, Westbrook Partners, and their demands for affordable housing. Again, the paper has shown itself in its usual, unpleasant colours, and demonstrated, yet again, the contempt with which it treats its readers.
Russell Brand is not everyone’s cup of tea but few could disagree that this is ludicrous. Brand has been accused of hypocrisy because firstly, he lives in an expensive flat and secondly, his landlord 
may engage in forms of tax avoidance.
The Sun
 is not the first to have suggested that there is something problematic about a campaign for affordable housing being supported by a millionaire who, in his own words, can ‘blessedly’ afford his rent. Channel 4’s Paraic O’Brien, also chose to focus on this rather than the campaign, a tack Brand, rightly, described as ‘snide.’
These arguments assume that any individual like Brand should be barred from showing solidarity with those less well off unless they choose, in Franciscan fashion, to dispense with all trappings of wealth and take a vow of poverty. One could, I suppose, be uncharitable and impugn the motives of well-paid tabloid editors and broadcast journalists in advocating such stances but why lower oneself?
We know Brand is a successful, wealthy individual. How has he done it? Well, not tapping phones or spinning lies about Liverpool supporters, rather by writing books, telling jokes and being a performer. Does the fact that he is popular or has made money from being an entertainer disqualify him from expressing egalitarian sentiments, holding radical opinions or showing solidarity with those less lucky than himself? I don’t see why.
Brand is known to contribute his time and money to campaigns, although he chooses not to shout about the latter. He does stress the importance he places in paying the proper rate of tax. It’s quite clear that the activists in these campaigns welcome his support.
The Sun’s claims regarding his landlord’s tax affairs are both bizarre and dishonest. Why should Brand know anything of his landlord’s tax affairs and what relevance would it have anyway? Is he supposed to do an audit before renting a property? It’s not his tax affairs that are under question here, rather someone to whom he pays rent. Great logic there.
The only self-serving, chiselling hypocrites who have cause for shame here are those responsible for commissioning and writing the article at the Sun. The real scandal is not the behaviour of Brand but that we lack a press that is prepared to campaign as forcefully for affordable housing and the conditions of working people. The solution to that lies in regulation to prevent media concentration and to ensure genuine plurality of provision. Then we might have some alternative to the cynical and manipulative coverage and editorialising shown by so much of our current mainstream media.
Charles Brown is a member of Waltham Forest Left Unity

Tuesday, 11 November 2014

Paul Mason - How did the First World War actually end?

Friday 01 Aug 2014 Channel 4 Blog

Quiz question: why did the first world war end? We’re about to witness a commemoration in which the human preference for restraint and dignity will be under pressure from the televisual tendency for wittering on without knowledge or feeling.
So one crucial piece of knowledge should be, for schoolchildren and for TV presenters alike: how and why did it actually end?
Well, on 24 October 1918, with the German army retreating and its discipline disintegrating, the right-wing aristocrats who ran the German navy launched a suicidal mass foray from the base in Kiel, where they’d been holed up. It was quite clear, rebel sailor Ernst Schneider later wrote, that this was to be a “death ride”.
But the sailors had other ideas. The crews of German battleships were drawn from the families of skilled, socialist working class. Since Easter 1916 the entire underground culture of the German ports – Hamburg, Kiel, Wilhelmshaven – had been pervaded by far-left agitation. There was a “whispering campaign”: under the cover of seamen’s yarns in the lower decks, in the lockers, the munition rooms, crow’s nests of the fighting masts – even in the lavatories – an underground organisation was built up, Schneider remembered.
The sailors’ organisation met in in the dark, kneeling between the stones of a war cemetery. This was no Potemkin-style, spontaneous outburst. With extreme order they took over the bridges, ran up red flags and pointed the guns of rebel ships at the hulls of those that did not rebel.
Mutinous sailors
On 4 November 1918 they armed themselves and set off, in their thousands, for the industrial centres of northern Germany. Jan Valtin, a participant, remembered: “That night I saw the mutinous sailors roll into Bremen on caravans of commandeered trucks – from all sides masses of humanity, a sea of swinging, pushing bodies and distorted faces were moving toward the centre of town. Many of the workers were armed with guns, with bayonets and with hammers.”

Friday, 7 November 2014

The centre cannot hold under austerity, in Britain or Europe: Seumas Milne, Guardian 6 November

Six years after the crash, the centre cannot hold. Crisis and austerity are delivering polarisation and political fragmentation, and it’s happening almost everywhere across Europe. In Britain the main parties’ share of the vote is shrinking, while Ukip’s rightwing populists are dragging the Tories towards them. At the same time, the Scottish National Party has mushroomed out of the independence referendum campaign as a self-proclaimed party of the left, commanding a level of support thatthreatens Labour’s chances at next year’s general election. And the radical Greens have overtaken the Liberal Democrats in the latest polls.
It’s a pattern reflected throughout the continent. In the wake of the 2008 meltdown, incumbents were ejected from office one after the other, regardless of political colour. As cuts in services and living standards were imposed in a fruitless attempt to escape the crisis, support for establishment parties plummeted or fractured to left and right.
The main radicalisation has been to the populist right. In mainland Europe, that process began well before the crash, as working-class living standards stagnated under the impact of neoliberal globalisation and the far-right preyed on anti-migrant insecurities. But it has accelerated sharply under austerity. In Hungary the violently anti-Roma and antisemitic Jobbik party took 20% of the vote in this year’s parliamentary elections, while the Front National and Ukip won the European elections in France and Britain.