Zealots and ditherers

August 15, 2019

The UK government seems hell-bent on crashing out of the European Union without a deal on 31 October. This leap into the unknown carries the threat of economic hardship and disruption, constitutional crisis and the reconfiguration, or even break-up, of the UK.

The political uncertainty since the 2016 Brexit vote, on top of a decade of austerity,

“FcK Boris” demonstration, 24 July 2019. Photo by Steve Eason

is causing most Brits anything from stress to nervous exhaustion. And the next ten weeks are unlikely to be any less worrying.

Can the manic “no deal” crusade be stopped? The short answer seems to be: it’s difficult, but may be possible, provided parliament gets its act together. Suggestions about how that might happen are being made daily by “left” and not-so-left writers who know more about parliamentary procedure than I do.

This article focuses, instead, on what this frenzy tells us about the crisis of the Tory party and the property-owning class it represents. Because, to develop radical politics in the face of this insanity, we need to understand more clearly what generated it.

Our enemies are divided

It’s not the prime minister, Boris Johnson, who is driving the “no deal” process, as far as I can see. Rather, he is the enabler of zealots: Dominic Cummings, chief of Read the rest of this entry »

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Climate grief, climate anger

June 25, 2019

Young people suffer from climate grief, Daisy Wyatt, 19, told the People’s Assembly on the Climate and Ecological Emergency, in Greenwich, south-east London, on Saturday.

Climate grief is “coming to the realisation that you will not live the life that your parents have lived, or the life that our parents have told you that you will live”, Daisy, a nursery worker and nanny, said.

Of all the points made at this event, in which more than 100 local people took part, this seemed to me one of the most important. The world Daisy’s generation lives in is, in many

School climate strike in London, Friday 21 June. Photo: Guy Smallman

ways, darker and more forbidding than the one we older people grew up in. It is hard, but necessary, to admit this to ourselves.

I am in my early 60s. I have an optimistic outlook, and young grandchildren. I fervently believe that, in their lifetime, people may change the world for the better, in all sorts of ways we can only vaguely imagine now. But in the near term – the next decade or two, when first those of Daisy’s age, and then my grandchildren, will be living their adult lives – things could get very rocky, in a way that they were not when I was growing up.

The effects of climate change – heatwaves such as the recent one in India, for example; Read the rest of this entry »


“You picked a fight with the state, we will grind you into dust”. How a Russian activist was tortured

June 4, 2019

The “network case” – an investigation into alleged terrorism by Russian anarchists and anti-fascists, during which security service officers have repeatedly tortured detainees – has gone to trial. Hearings are taking place in Penza and St Petersburg.

Dmitry Pchelintsev, one of the defendants, gave testimony in court about how he was tortured. An edited translation is published here.

The “network case” investigation began in 2017. Officers of the Federal Security Services (FSB) claim that twelve young men were part of an organisation called “the network” – a “terrorist group” that allegedly planned to “stir up the population in order to destabilise political conditions” in Russia via a series of terrorist attacks. The FSB claims that “the network” had cells operating in cities across Russia and Belarus.

Pchelintsev’s testimony about torture is not the first. Other defendants in the case have repeatedly stated that they were tortured (e.g. here and here) into confessing to charges.

Pchelintsev, 27, lives in Penza in central Russia. He is charged with creating “the network”; illegal possession of weapons; and an attempted arson attack against a local military office.

The article below is the second part of Pchelintsev’s testimony at Povolzhye Regional Military Court in Penza. MediaZona, a Russian web site focused on unjust imprisonment and prisoners’ rights, published an abridged account in Russian. It was translated by openDemocracy and is republished here with thanks to them.

For information on the international solidarity campaign in support of “the network” defendants, see the Rupression site.

Day one: “He stripped the wires and attached them to my toes”

I was arrested on 27 October, 2017. Naturally, I didn’t admit my guilt and refused to testify. My lawyer, who was not planning to represent me in the future, said: “If you get another lawyer, you will testify with him. Take your Article 51 rights [against self-incrimination] with me now.” So, I didn’t admit anything and I wasn’t particularly questioned that day. I was

Dmitry Pchelintsev and his wife Angelina. Photo from his family/Mediazona

brought to a temporary detention centre, and spent one night there, after which I was taken to court. The court chose arrest as a deterrence measure. I was arrested and sent to the city’s Investigative Detention Centre No.1 [SIZO 1].

SIZO 1 has three blocks: an old block, a new block and a block nicknamed “Titanic”. But they put me in the fourth block, which was completely empty. There was not a single person there. This is a two-storey block where no one is held and no one monitors. It stands apart from the rest of the detention centre. I was brought to Cell 5.1, where I dropped my mattress on the floor, and then I was told: “Let’s go.” It was my first time in investigative detention, so I had no idea what was supposed to happen. I thought I probably had to go through some procedures, fingerprinting, perhaps something else. I was told to enter a neighbouring cell, Cell 5.2. I entered, and the door was closed behind me.

This was on 28 October, my first day in investigative detention. In theory, I should have been placed in quarantine, in the “Titanic” block. But I was brought to the Cell 5.2, and left Read the rest of this entry »


What does “climate emergency” mean? Let’s define that OUTSIDE parliament

May 2, 2019

Strikes by school pupils, and civil disobedience by Extinction Rebellion, pushed the UK’s House of Commons into declaring a “climate emergency” yesterday. The government is so weak and divided that – having said one week ago that it would not make such a declaration – it caved in and lined up behind a motion put by the Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn.

The Tories’ weakness really is part of this. The prime minister, Theresa May, lost the ability to tell her MPs how to vote on anything, during repeated breakdowns of their traditional

School pupils on strike in Australia. Photo from #climatestrike on twitter

discipline over Brexit. And the “climate emergency” vote took place on the day that she fired her defence secretary Gavin Williamson for breaching security.

And the movements outside parliament made the difference. The Labour MP Faisal Rashid pointed out during the debate: “We are not here because of an international effort co-ordinated by world leaders. […] We are here because a small group of schoolchildren decided to walk out of school to take a stand against climate change, and they have inspired a global movement.” It is “an indictment of our global political leadership”, he argued.

Another reason the “climate emergency” motion passed is that it committed neither the government nor parliament to do a single thing. It could be, and was, supported by many total hypocrites as a way of co-opting and defusing people’s anger.

Anyone who thinks that parliament actually meant what it said, when it voted for Corbyn’s motion, should bear in mind that:

■ Parliament believes it can declare a “climate emergency” while supporting a third runway at Heathrow Airport. That will help ensure a global expansion of aviation, which is Read the rest of this entry »


Genetics and the peopling of Britain: We are all hybrids

April 26, 2019

Recent advances in the science of human origins refute racist ideology, writes STEVE DRURY in this guest post

We are in the midst of a resurgence of racism, white supremacism and all the other trappings of right-wing populism, together with growing physical threats from some who adhere to those ideologies. This trend depends on a morass of origin myths, pseudoscience, denialism and conspiracy theory – an “intellectual” foundation that actually permeates more widely than merely in overtly far-right fringe groups. Sadly, it is part of the cultural baggage of a majority.

Yet rapid advances in the science of human origins have been providing powerful refutations of all kinds of nonsense and mindless prejudice.

Britain has long been a relatively quiet repository of day-to-day, casual racism and ideas of supremacy that stem from its former possession of colonies, together with the idea of an

Footprints made by the earliest visitors to Britain 850,000 years ago (Picture: Simon Parfitt, British Museum)

island fortress against all comers, benign or malevolent. So how the “British” and their early culture came into existence is an excellent starting point for countering the insidious backwardness of this politics.

Earliest visitors

Evidence for the presence of humans in Britain goes back about a million years. For most of that time, however, any occupation was probably temporary. Stone tools are the most durable signs that early humans paid the British landscape a visit, fossil remains being rare and generally just a few fragments.

The earliest known traces occur in ancient river deposits exposed by wave erosion on the Norfolk coastline. Pear-shaped, double-edged stone tools, known as “bifacial axes” (archaeologists are uncertain about how they may have been used) turn up there from time Read the rest of this entry »


Climate change must be a thing. It’s on prime time TV

April 23, 2019

Key effects of global warming were reported bluntly to millions of TV viewers in the documentary Climate Change: The Facts, on BBC One on Thursday 18 April.

“It may sound frightening”, the super-popular TV naturalist David Attenborough said, introducing the show, “but the scientific evidence is that if we have not taken dramatic

The Renew Rebels theatre group, performing on Waterloo Bridge on Friday 19 August during the “Extinction Rebellion” protests. Oil (in black) confronts wave power (in blue), wind (in white) and the sun (in orange)

action within the next decade, we could face irreversible damage to the natural world and the collapse of our societies”.

The press loved it. “A call to arms”, The Guardian said. Would it “wake up philanthropists, investors and governments to act?” Forbes asked.

I wondered: why now?

The BBC hasn’t exactly rushed to portray global warming accurately. In 2011, two decades after the international climate talks started at Rio, scientists were slamming the BBC for giving air time to climate science deniers. In 2014, a BBC memo told journalists to stop pretending “balance” was needed between climate science and its deniers – but the practice continued, leading to another edict in September last year. By that time, researchers had started refusing to come into BBC studios to debate deniers.

But high-profile BBC journalists still felt compelled to interview anti-science nutters who are paid by the fossil fuel industry to advise Donald Trump. In October last year, when the Read the rest of this entry »


Russia: “network” case lawyers prepare for court battle

March 25, 2019

Lawyers for Viktor Filinkov and Yuly Boyarshinov, two of the defendants in the “network case”, are now preparing for their trial. The defendants in the case are Russian anti-fascists who were arrested – and tortured by security services officers – in St Petersburg and Penza last year. They are accused of a so-called terrorist plot – a prosecution denounced by Russian human rights organisations as a frame-up.

Anti-fascists across Europe, as well as in Russia itself, have been campaigning for the charges to be dropped, and for those responsible for torturing the defendants to be brought to justice.

This is a report of an update on the case provided by Vitaly Cherkasov, lawyer for Viktor Filinkov. It was published on the Russian news web site OVD-info.

On 19 January, Vitaly Cherkasov, legal counsel for Viktor Filinkov, held a press conference on his client’s case in St Petersburg. After being under investigation for 13 months,

Yuly Boyarshinov, in conversation with his lawyer, at a court hearing. Photo: Rupression.ru

Filinkov’s case has now been sent to court, and Cherkasov is free to discuss the evidence. According to Cherkasov, there is no substantial evidence in the case file against his client.

“We are concerned that the court will follow the prosecution’s lead and hold the trial in camera,” said Cherkasov. “Having studied the case file, we didn’t find a single document that would count as a state secret or other secret. We want the trial to be monitored by the public. We believe that with the help of the public and the press, we can convince the court in an open hearing to examine the case objectively.”

Viktor Filinkov was detained at Petersburg Pulkovo airport on 23 January 2018, but he was arrested only on 25 January. Later Filinkov recounted how he was tortured by FSB officers throughout the intervening two days.

“The case file contains my client’s testimony, which were given to the state-appointed lawyer,” Cherkasov stated. “This lawyer did not pay attention to the bodily injuries sustained by Filinkov.”

Initially, Filinkov gave statements that were advantageous to the investigators, but after he appointed Cherkasov as his legal counsel, he stated that he had made false confessions Read the rest of this entry »


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