Technological utopias: the nuts and bolts

September 23, 2016

The “utopian potentials” of 21st century technology are imprisoned by a “parochial capitalist imagination” and must be liberated by “an ambitious left alternative”, write Nick Srnicek and Alex Williams in Inventing the Future: postcapitalism and a world without work (Verso, 2015). We need an “an alternative vision” of a high-tech postcapitalist society, they argue (p. 3).

This review responds to some points raised by Inventing the Future, with a view to developing such a vision.

Srnicek and Williams were motivated to write the book partly by frustration with what they call “folk politics” in the “Occupy” movement of the 2010s – meaning tendencies to “reduce politics to Read the rest of this entry »


Networked socialism: back to the future

September 23, 2016

Germany, 1888. Karl Steinmetz, a precociously smart twenty-year old student, quit the university town of Breslau with the police on his heels. Steinmetz had been caught up in the crackdown on the Social Democrats, then Europe’s largest socialist movement by far.

Soon after starting university, Steinmetz joined the socialist club, which was banned after affiliating with the Social Democrats. A

Charles Steinmetz

Charles Steinmetz

previous round of arrests had hit a party newspaper, The People’s Voice, and he took over as editor. Soon afterwards, he wrote an article that was deemed inflammatory, and he had to flee arrest.

Steinmetz emigrated to the US, travelling steerage class (i.e. sleeping in the hold). He anglicised his first name to Charles, and soon found work at a small electrical firm in New York. He became an electrical engineer and by 1893, aged 28, had made a key contribution Read the rest of this entry »


Let’s take Corbyn’s climate proposals seriously

September 9, 2016

Climate change is “the single most important issue facing humanity”, and politicians need to propose “real solutions” to it, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said on Wednesday as he launched a policy document on energy and the environment.

The document (downloadable here) proposes to produce 65% of the UK’s electricity from renewable sources by 2030. It aims to make the UK a world

Anti-fracking protesters at parliament, 2012. Creative Commons licence.

Anti-fracking protesters at parliament, 2012. Creative Commons licence.

leader in renewable technology, and create jobs in renewables equipment manufacture, with a £500 billion investment programme. Labour would set up 1000 local cooperative energy producers with a “right to supply” their local communities.

A Corbyn-led Labour government would ban “fracking” (the controversial natural gas production technique the Tories love), and restore the Department for Energy and Climate Change (which Theresa May axed the moment she got to no. 10 Downing Street).

I can think of reasons not to take Corbyn seriously on this. His team has taken a year to come up with seven pages of policy proposals … which is slow, for “the single most important issue facing humanity”. There are gaps in the proposals – such as a stance on the Hinkley Point C nuclear power station, into which May’s government is currently considering sinking several tens of billions of pounds. And with Corbyn fighting off a challenge from Owen Smith for the Labour leadership, cynics may see the document’s shortcomings as evidence that it has been thrown together for the election campaign.

But I think the proposals should be discussed widely.

It may have taken a year to come up with them, but then many political leaders in Read the rest of this entry »


Break the silence on Azerbaijan oil workers’ deaths

August 4, 2016

Nine months after 31 workers drowned in Azerbaijan’s worst-ever oil industry disaster, the country’s authorities have still not said a word about how it happened or what mistakes could be avoided in future.

Most of the victims were thrown into the water when a lifeboat smashed against

An improvised memorial to the victims. Photo: OWRPO site

An improvised memorial to the victims. Photo: OWRPO site

the side of production platform no. 10 at the Guneshli oil field in the Caspian sea, as they tried to escape a fire during a force 10 gale on 4 December last year.

The Oil Workers Rights Protection Organisation (OWRPO), a campaign group, says state oil company managers broke safety laws for the sake of keeping production going, and that workers did not even have life jackets on during the attempt to evacuate the platform.

State officials lied to the media and the public during the emergency, and treated oil workers’ families with contempt, the OWRPO said in a report published in February.

The government was quick to dismiss the report – but its own 14-person commission, set up to deal with the disaster’s consequences, has not breathed a Read the rest of this entry »


It’s “oil first, people second”, just like in Soviet times

August 4, 2016

An interview with Mirvari Gahramanli, chairperson of Oil Workers’ Rights Protection Organization, about the disaster on the Guneshli no. 10 oil platform on 4 December last year. For an overview, read Break the silence on Azerbaijan oil workers’ deaths

Gabriel Levy: How did the company, and the workers, react to the tragedy as it happened?  

Mirvari Gahramanli: First I got phone calls from relatives of workers on platform no. 10. They asked for help. “It’s on fire”, they said. At first I didn’t speak directly to those on the platform. Pressure is put on workers [if they

Mirvari Gharamanli

Mirvari Gharamanli

communicate with non-government groups]. Then I began to write [on social media]; I called several news agencies.

I called [the national oil company] Socar. I told them, there’s a terrible situation there. People are dying. There’s a major fire. No reaction. … Then, every half hour, every hour, as I received information, I wrote it up on Facebook. The workers’ families began to correspond with me, began to find out what was going on. You know that in Soviet times they used to cover up Read the rest of this entry »


After the referendum: what we can do

June 25, 2016

Some early thoughts by EWA JASIEWICZ, an organiser with the Unite union’s hotel workers branch in London

Don’t come undone, people.

1) Don’t hate on leavers. Some voted for reactionary and racist reasons, some for good reasons. Reclaiming power and taking control are what most people want in and over their lives, but the obstacles to that, or the route to that, are highly contested and influenced by thirty years of neoliberal hegemony, underwritten by establishment media.

2) Don’t let the Right control the narrative and define reclamation – overcoming

A picket in London that helped win reinstatement for Hungarian union activist Robert Czegely. See "about the picture" at the end

A picket in London that helped win reinstatement for Hungarian union activist Robert Czegely. See “about the picture” at the end

dispossession means redefining what should be ours on inclusive deep democracy terms – housing, education, public and health services, transport, energy, control over our own labour.

3) Join a union – we need control over work and workplaces and right now we’re weak. And the raid on our rights is coming, as is division between workers including migrant, Read the rest of this entry »


Let’s look the Brexit dangers in the eye

June 25, 2016

The first danger is that the Leave vote in the UK referendum on EU membership has given voice to xenophobia and racism on a scale not seen in UK politics since the 1970s.

The empty promises that people could “get control of their country back” may have come from the demagogic liars of the Tory right. But the tone was set by the right-wing open-the-borderspopulist leaders of UKIP, with their racist poster and their dislike of anything “foreign”.

It is not, absolutely not, that the millions of people who voted Leave are racist. Many of them, in the former Labour strongholds across northern England and the Midlands, are
screaming their anger at a political establishment – Tory and Labour alike – that has slowly suffocated their communities with cuts in welfare, health and education, with unemployment, with the-rich-get-richer housing policies, and all the rest.

That establishment views those people with contempt. And the feeling is mutual. What is frightening is that the Tory right and UKIP have fashioned, out of that legitimate Read the rest of this entry »