A radical critique of science: writing the next chapter

April 13, 2015

Social and labour movements need a coherent critique of science and technology, it was argued at a meeting in London on Saturday.

On a practical level, battles against damaging technologies have often been waged separately from each other, and cover1could do more to reinforce each other, it was pointed out.

This includes technologies deployed by corporate power in an anti-natural, anti-human way (e.g . “extreme energy” or genetic engineering of people or crops), technologies of social control (e.g. anti-crowd hardware or electronic surveillance), and technologies that harmed workers’ health and/or reinforced their exploitation (e.g. hazardous chemicals or building practices).

The use, misuse and abuse of science in developing these technologies is crucial. And the meeting highlighted the history of the British Society for Social Responsibility in Science (BSSRS), that in the 1970s and 80s successfully mobilised scientists to work with labour and protest movements. It considered the lessons of this experience for activists today.

The gathering (title: Radical Science and Alternative Technology) was organised by the Breaking the Frame group, and featured talks by veteran BSSRS activists and by present-day campaigners. Here are my impressions of an Read the rest of this entry »


The Anthropocene? It’s just inhuman

April 1, 2015

Human activity has changed the earth so drastically that we are in a new geological epoch, the Anthropocene, says a bunch of scientists. No, it’s “capital, not humanity as such” that’s responsible, writes socialist activist and environmental researcher Andreas Malm in Jacobin magazine.

Malm argues that it’s “the reliance by capitalists on the extraction and use of fossil energy” that is “driving us toward disaster” – and that this is downplayed by the Anthropocene concept.

Malm hits at three targets. First, he defends social movements that take up climate issues from attack by Mark Lynas, whose book The God Species popularised the Anthropocene idea. Second, he takes on scientists who suggest

The use of ammonia-based fertilisers has caused the biggest upset to the nitrogen cycle in 2.5 billion years. Photo from the Encyclopaedia of New Zealand

The use of ammonia-based fertilisers has caused the biggest upset to the nitrogen cycle in 2.5 billion years. Photo from the Encyclopaedia of New Zealand

that human damage to the environment is a function of human productive activity in general. And third, he argues against climate science, politics and discourse that are framed as “species-thinking, humanity-bashing, undifferentiated collective self-flagellation” – “ideological pirouettes that only serve to conceal the driver”.

In my view, Lynas richly deserves the polemical kicking he gets from Malm. Lynas’s rant against the left-wing journalist Naomi Klein, who argues that averting climate change is inextricably linked with the fight for social justice, is both unfounded and idiotic. Unfounded, because Lynas denounces Klein’s realistic-but-optimistic book This Changes Everything for reflecting a “miserabilist and dystopian worldview”, which it Read the rest of this entry »


Workers’ solidarity in wartime: Bosnia 1993, Ukraine 2015

March 30, 2015

Read this article in Russian here – читать на русском языке здесь

There is a fragile ceasefire in place in eastern Ukraine, but the devastation wrought by military conflict continues. Some Ukrainian socialists, disappointed by the weakness of the anti-militarist movement, have tried to find ways of delivering aid to communities in the east, and to refugees 

Workers' Aid marching with Bosnian refugees at the Durham Miners' Gala, 1995

Workers’ Aid marching with Bosnian refugees at the Durham Miners’ Gala, 1995

who have fled to other parts of Ukraine. Some have joined non-governmental organisations working on the ground; some have formed links with mining communities; others have launched an international campaign in defence of Alexander Kolchenko, the anarchist from Crimea facing trial in Russia on trumped-up “terrorism” charges. In my view, these activists are taking forward the best traditions of the international working-class movement. One experience worth looking back to is that of Workers Aid for Bosnia, a group of labour movement activists, initially based in the UK, that in 1993 collected truck-loads of humanitarian aid and took them to the Bosnian mining town of Tuzla, which at that time was surrounded on three sides by the Serbian army. Here is an interview with two of its organisers: JOHN DAVIES, a writer, actor and activist who lives in Liverpool and BOB MYERS, an activist based in Manchester.

Gabriel Levy: please explain how the Workers Aid convoys came about. Who proposed them, who acted on the proposal? What was the situation in Bosnia at the time, and how did the convoys impact on it?

John Davies: The Workers Aid convoys were organised in response to an appeal by a Serb socialist, Rade Pavlovic, who was appalled at the atrocities being carried out by the Serb nationalist/Stalinist leadership, and with the widespread support of the Serb intelligentsia. Knowing of the way in which miners in former Read the rest of this entry »


The Paris climate talks and the failure of states

February 25, 2015

The officials in charge of the United Nations climate talks say that no deal will be done in Paris in December to avoid dangerous global warming.

After preparatory negotiations in Geneva, Switzerland, this month, Christiana Figueres, executive secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), confirmed that the target set previously, of limiting warming to 2 degrees centigrade above pre-industrial levels, would be missed.

Figueres had already said, in December, after a round of talks in Lima, Peru, that “the sum total of efforts [in Paris]

March in Defence of Mother Earth at the climate talks in Lima, Peru, in December. Source: http://cumbrepuebloscop20.org/

March in Defence of Mother Earth at the climate talks in Lima, Peru, in December. Source: http://cumbrepuebloscop20.org/

will not be able to put us on the path for two degrees. […] We are not going to get there with the Paris agreement … We will get there over time.” This month she reiterated that the Paris talks would only “set the pathway for an orderly planned transition over time to a low-carbon society”.

The EU climate commissioner, Miguel Arias Canete, claimed that “you can not say it is a failure” if, collectively, the world’s governments abandoned the 2 degrees target, as long as there is “an ongoing process”.

Diplomats at Geneva put together an 86-page document for political leaders to haggle over in December. (It’s downloadable here.) But it’s already clear that:

■ The approach adopted in Kyoto in 1997 – to require countries to cut greenhouse gas emissions by particular amounts, within specified timeframes under international law – has been abandoned. Instead, negotiators are reported to be saying, the

Read the rest of this entry »


NUM solidarity with besieged Ukrainian miners

January 20, 2015

Trade unions representing mineworkers caught in the crossfire of Ukraine’s ruinous military conflict have appealed for support – and received it – from the National Union of Mineworkers in the UK.

Fighting has intensified in Donetsk this week – a grim reminder of why solidarity matters.

The NUM, which is calling for peaceful resolution of the conflict and for “all interference from outside Ukraine to stop”, welcomed a

Sergei Yunak speaking at the Durham miners gala in July 2014

Sergei Yunak speaking at the Durham miners gala in July 2014

delegation of local union officials from eastern Ukraine to the Durham miners gala in July last year.

The delegates, from the Dnepropetrovsk branch of the Ukraine Coal Industry Trade Union (PRUP), “asked us to help put their point of view across internationally”, Chris Kitchen, NUM national secretary, said.

“Most of their members are employed by DTEK [an energy company controlled by Rinat Akhmetov, Ukraine’s richest man and the foremost oligarch in Donetsk]. They wanted to know about our experience of dealing with

Read the rest of this entry »


Free Leonid Tikhonov!

January 18, 2015

A Russian dockers’ trade union leader is starting a three-and-a-half year jail sentence – which is the port management’s revenge for workers’ action over pay and conditions, his union says.

Leonid Tikhonov, chair of the Dockers Union of Russia at Vostochny Port in the Russian Far East, was

Leonid Tikhonov

Leonid Tikhonov

on 15 December found guilty in court of embezzlement. The union says the charges are baseless and its members have testified that nothing was embezzled.

Port management brought the charges, in breach of correct legal procedure, in June 2012 – right after port workers launched a campaign against low pay and casualisation.

Vostochny Port, a giant container terminal near Nakhodka at the end of the Trans Siberian Railway, is on Russia’s increasingly important trade route to the Far East. Workers making their presence felt there will surely have pushed at a weak spot in capital’s armour.

This article, Why was Leonid Tikhonov actually convicted?, explains the background. It is by the Union Rights Defence Centre, a campaign group that works within the Confederation of Labour of Russia.

On 15 December 2014, Nakhodka City Court handed down a guilty verdict against Leonid Tikhonov, chair of the Dockers’ Union of Russia (DUR) local branch at Vostochny Port joint stock company in the Russian Far East. The trade union leader was

Read the rest of this entry »


‘When Process Is More Vital than Outcome’ – Russian political prisoner Alexei Gaskarov

January 6, 2015

ALEXEI GASKAROV, the Russian antifascist and political prisoner, wrote this letter to readers of Zhukovskie Vesti, a local newspaper in the town of Zhukovsky where he lives. Gaskarov was a defendant in the Bolotnaya Square case brought against activists and other participants in the big anti-government demonstrations of 2011-12. (See defence committee site here.) He was transferred out of Butyrka remand prison in Moscow at six o’clock in the morning on 28 December 2014. Gaskarov brought in

"To remember is to fight"

“To remember is to fight”

the New Year while in transit to a medium security prison where he will serve his three-and-half-year sentence (as yet supporters don’t know which prison). In August, Zamoskvoretsky District Court in Moscow sentenced four defendants in the Bolotnaya Square case – Gaskarov, Alexander Margolin, Ilya Gushchin, and Elena Kohtareva – finding them guilty of involvement in rioting and using violence against authorities. The recent decision of the appellate court was adamant: it upheld the lower court’s verdict. In the letter, Gaskarov summed up this difficult year, spent away from loved ones, and speculated on what is happening in Russia:

In December, the Laboratory of Public Sociology (a project based at the Centre for Independent Social Research in Petersburg) published the results of its study of civic movements in the wake of the 2011–2012 protests. The main conclusion was that the critical attitude to the regime had not  Read the rest of this entry »


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