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.

Tuesday, 2 September 2014

The truth about UKIP and the Tory right

Phil Hearse examines what’s behind the continuing rise of UKIP (Left Unity site)
The defection of Clacton MP Douglas Carswell from the Tories gives the UK Independence Party (UKIP) the near certainty of getting their first MP. Opinion polls published on August 30 showed Carswell 44% clear of the Tories in the byelection campaign in Clacton caused by his defection. His defection has been reinforced by the stand-down decision of Chris Kelly, Tory MP for Dudley South. This tops off an astonishing surge by UKIP in 2014, following their major success in the European elections.

In May’s European elections UKIP won 27.5 percent of the vote, becoming the first party other than the two main parties to win a national election in 100 years. In the council elections in England UKIP won 163 seats (up 161), with about 17 percent of the national vote. UKIP’s vote damaged both Tories and Labour. While they cost the Tories control of several councils, they also polled well in some Labour territory, like Thurrock and Rotherham.

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.