Memo to Labour. Let’s have energy systems integration for the many

May 17, 2018

The UK electricity system needs “radically different forms of grid planning and operation” if it is to stop using fossil fuels, researchers at the Energy Futures Lab at Imperial College argue in a briefing paper published last month.

“A whole systems approach is required, in which one single party has responsibility for optimising technical performance across the system”, Richard Hanna and his colleagues say in the paper, entitled Unlocking the Potential of Energy Systems Integration (see p. 24).

The briefing paper outlines the technological potential for moving away from fossil fuels by integrating and decentralising energy systems, using, mainly, smart computers and cutting-edge

An integrated system will make it practical and possible for solar panels to go on many roofs

methods of switching between forms of energy. It summarises, in language comprehensible by a general readership, the findings of a big pile of technical reports and research articles by engineers.

I hope the Energy Futures Lab’s findings will be read by everyone interested in putting together socialist approaches to the transition away from fossil fuels: trade union militants in the energy sector, climate campaigners, eco-socialists, and so on. In particular, I hope they will be taken into account by those discussing energy and environment policies for the Labour Party in the UK.

Only by putting the technological transformation of energy production and consumption at the centre of our discussions will be able to work out how we can best change the ownership of, and control over, the system. We need to challenge the corporate control of the technologies, and make Read the rest of this entry »

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Vasily Grossman’s Life and Fate: staring history in the face

May 14, 2018

The Maly Drama Theatre of St Petersburg’s stage adaptation of Life and Fate, Vasily Grossman’s epic novel about the holocaust, the second world war and Stalinism, above all brings hope for the future.

The play, being shown this month (in Russian, with English captions) at the Theatre Royal in London, portrays the darkest days of 20th century European history. What conveys hope is how determinedly its director, Lev Dodin, and its cast stare Soviet history in the face.

The impact was especially forceful last week, when Russian officialdom was as usual celebrating the “great patriotic war” with vast, aggressive displays of military hardware (on 9 May, the anniversary of the defeat of Nazi Germany).

Russian and Ukrainian friends have been sharing on social media, with horror, photos and video clips of kindergarten children, encouraged by teachers and parents to parade with models of tanks, armoured cars and heavy weapons. (See for example videos here from Piatagorsk, or here from Krasnodar.) All while real Russian bombs are killing kindergarten children in Syria. …

But that’s only one Russia. The Maly Drama Theatre reminds us of another, where past wars are not justified or reproduced, but thought about, along with the repression and prison camps that accompanied them. Such thought is a precondition for making a future without any of these things.

The Theatre has put on its adaptation of Grossman’s masterpiece every year since 2007. It was developed out of a theatre school course taught by Lev Dodin, the theatre’s director. (He talked in an interview at the time about how that happened. See below.)

Life and Fate was written in the 1950s, suppressed in Soviet times, and published in Switzerland in 1980 and Moscow only in 1988. It is set in 1943, when the battle of Stalingrad turned the tide of the Read the rest of this entry »


“I am here as the accuser, of capitalism dripping with blood from head to foot”

May 3, 2018

Remember past heroes by pausing to reflect, TERRY BROTHERSTONE argues in this guest post, marking one hundred years since John Maclean’s speech from the dock

On 9 May, 2018, it will be 100 years since the Clydeside Marxist revolutionary, John Maclean, stood in the dock in the Scottish High Court in Edinburgh, refused to recognise its authority by making any plea in his defence against a charge of sedition, and instead delivered an audacious, hour-and-a-quarter-long speech denouncing World War I as a murderous capitalist enterprise inflicting death and disaster on the working people of Europe.

“I have taken … unconstitutional action … because of [these] abnormal circumstances”, he said. “I am a socialist, and have been fighting and will fight for an absolute reconstruction of society for the

John Maclean speaking from the dock. Photo from the Glasgow Digital Library

benefit of all. I am proud of my conduct. I have squared my conduct with my intellect, and if everyone had done so this war would not have taken place.”

You can read his speech, with some contextual analysis, in a recent edition here.

The verdict was a foregone conclusion. The sentence was five years with hard labour. When the war ended, and in the light of a growing protest movement in Maclean’s support, and Government fears that his continued persecution might stimulate more serious working-class disaffection – the Russian Revolution was much in their minds – he was released after only a few months.

However, there is little doubt that Maclean’s several terms of imprisonment in the harsh conditions of Scotland’s jails contributed to his early death in 1923, aged only 44.

At the time of Maclean’s 1918 trial, the outcome of the War – which by then had been waged for over three and three-quarter bloody years – was still in the balance. The German Spring offensive, which Read the rest of this entry »


FIFA World Cup 2018: Sport for the people, not for governments and big business!

April 19, 2018

Moscow students call for solidarity

This is a statement from the Moscow State University Student Initiative Group, forwarded by friends in Moscow. Please circulate and re-post it.

Russia will host the 2018 FIFA World Cup – a grandiose event both in terms of tens of thousands of fans from around the world, and for big business and the Russian government.

As is often the case with events of this scale, the organisers do not hear the voices of ordinary people, even if there are thousands of them. This time, it is planned to hold the FIFA Fan Fest in Moscow in

“The World Cup is no reason to humiliate the university”. Photo from the MSU Initiative Group facebook page

an extremely inappropriate place, near Moscow State University (MSU). Students, graduate students, staff and local residents are protesting this decision.

The noise and the security measures will affect badly the educational and research activities and the life of the campus with 6500 inhabitants, 37,000 students and 9000 professors and researchers.

Faculties are to shorten the courses and the exam sessions; researchers are being forced to take holidays. Dormitory residents are either to suffer from the noise or to risk eviction. Citizens are to suffer from a transport collapse caused by the installation of a strict gating system around territory that has always been open to public. The green territory around our University was not designed to host a festival with 25,000 football fans.

After the protests, the zone was moved a little further from the main building. This is a fake response. Read the rest of this entry »


Russia: anti-fascists threatened by state torturers

April 17, 2018

Anti-fascists in Russia, who face a campaign of arrests, torture and “terrorism” prosecutions by the Federal Security Service (FSB), are appealing for support.

Their defence campaign is organised on the Project no. 117 facebook page – named after the clause in

Cartoon by Alexei Komarov, Novaya Gazeta

the Russian Criminal Code that outlaws the use of torture. Please post messages there in English or any other language. These people need our support.

Here is a summary of the cases by Yan Shenkman, published in Novaya Gazeta on 22 March and in English on the Russian Reader web site:

In October 2017, a group of young anti-fascists was detained by the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) in Penza [a city the size of Coventry, south-east of Moscow]. They were accused of organizing a terrorist community code-named The Network. They were allegedly tortured. Nearly all of them confessed to the charges, telling the FSB what the FSB wanted them to say.

Recently, for the first time in history, FSB officers admitted they used electric shockers when interrogating Petersburg anti-fascist Viktor Filinkov. In their telling, however, it was not torture, but a necessity: the detainee allegedly tried to escape.

The arrestees are kindred souls of Stanislav Markelov and Anastasia Baburova, murdered by neo-Nazis in downtown Moscow in January 2009. A march to honour their memory has been held on the Boulevard Ring [in central Moscow] every year since then.

Less than ten years have passed since their deaths and we are confronted by a relapse, an attack on anti-fascists by the Russian state.

The harsh language of the interrogation protocol is more expressive than any op-ed column. Dmitry Pchenlintsev was tortured day after day: he was hung upside down and different parts of his body were shocked with electrical current. Vasily Kuksov was badly beaten: his face was a bloody pulp, his clothes torn and blood stained. Doctors in Petersburg discovered a fracture to the lower wall of Igor Shiskin’s eye socket, as well as multiple abrasions and bruises. They noted numerous injuries, including burns from an electric shocker. FSB officers took Ilya Kapustin to the woods, tortured him with an electric shocker, and threatened to break his legs.

We heard similar reports from Chechnya and Donbass [in eastern Ukraine], but this is the first time something like this has occurred in the middle of Russia and on such a scale.

The young arrestees in Penza, none of whom is over 30 (the oldest is 29) played airsoft, listened to independent music, and read anarchist books, like thousands of other young people. Now, given the will, any of them can be arrested on terrorism charges.

Alexei Polikhovich, who spent three years in prison as part of the Bolotnaya Square case, and produced a performance [about the arrests] at Teatr.doc, did not have to make up anything, no monologues or dialogues.  [Teatr.doc is a Moscow theatre specialising in documentaries about current issues. On 18 March, when Vladimir Putin was re-elected as president, it staged a performance based on materials from the anti-fascists’ cases.]

What has happened in reality is not something you would make up.

“I was panicking,” leftist activist and former political prisoner Alexei Sutuga says, reading Viktor Filinkov’s statement aloud. “I said I didn’t understand anything, and that is when they shocked me the first time. It was unbearably painful. I screamed and my body went straight as a board. The man in the mask ordered me to shut up and stop twitching. He alternated shocks to my leg with shocks to my handcuffs. Sometimes, he shocked me in the back or the nape of the neck. It felt as if I was being slapped upside the head.

When I screamed, they would clamp my mouth shut or threaten to gag me. I didn’t want to be gagged, so I tried not to scream, which wasn’t always possible.”

Polikhovich told me after the performance: “It’s probably the worst thing happening now in Russia. But we have no means of putting pressure on them. Complaints filed against the FSB are redirected to the FSB, meaning they are supposed to keep tabs on themselves. Naturally, they are not about to do this. The only thing that can save the guys is public pressure.”

I asked: “But for several months there were no attempts to pressure the FSB. Why?”

Polikhovich replied: “Location is vital in this case. There are tried and tested support methods in Petersburg and Moscow. There are independent journalists and human rights activists. There is nothing of the sort in Penza. The environment also makes a difference.

Viktor Filinkov, anti-fascist and victim of torture

The Bolotnaya Square case, in which many leftists were sent to prison, meant something to the entire liberal democratic opposition. It was a story the average Moscow reporter could understand.

“In this case, however,” Polikhovich continued, “the accused have been charged with very serious crimes. They are not liberals. They are not Moscow activists. We have to break through the prejudice towards them.”

While Moscow was silent, brushing the case aside by mentioning it in a few lines of column inches, the case, which originated in Penza, had spread to Petersburg, then to Chelyabinsk, and finally, in March, to the capital itself. Several people were detained after a protest action in support of the Penza anti-fascists. (OVD Info reports that nine people were detained.)

Moscow anarchist Svyatoslav Rechkalov, released on his own recognisance, told Novaya Gazeta: “They put a bag over my head. Then they shocked me, constantly increasing the intensity and duration of the electric charge, and demanding I make a confession,”

The protests against the FSB’s use of torture in this case have mainly followed ideological lines: anarchists and anti-fascists have been doing the protesting.

Solidarity protests have been held in Copenhagen, Toronto, Berlin, and New York. Finnish anarchists and anti-fascists held a demo outside the Russian embassy in Helsinki. In Stockholm, the way from the subway to the Russian embassy was hung with Filinkov’s diary and posters bearing the hashtag #stopFSBtorture.

A concert in support of the arrested anti-fascists was held at a small bar in Petersburg. The organizers were able to collect 42,500 rubles in donations. By way of comparison, a year ago, at a similar concert in support of Ildar Dadin, who was tortured in a Karelian penal colony, organizers collected 29,000 rubles in donations. But there no incidents at that event, while there was an incident at the Petersburg concert. Ultra-rightwing thugs burst into the bar and started a brawl.

In Moscow, the riot police or the security services would have telephoned the club’s owner and insisted he cancel the event, as happened with the anti-war Deserter Fest. In Petersburg, however, the rightists showed up.

“The situation has come to resemble the mid-noughties,” said Maxim Dinkevich, editor of the music website Sadwave, “when every other punk rock show was attacked.”

Pickets in support of the anti-fascists have been held both in Moscow and Petersburg, and there will probably be more pickets to come. But this story has not yet made a big splash. The public is more interested in discussing the falling out between [opposition candidates for president Ksenia] Sobchak and [Alexei] Navalny, while anarchists draw a blank.

This case is not about anarchism or anti-fascism, however. It is about the fact that tomorrow they could come for you for any reason. Electric shockers do not discriminate.

The regime has been testing us, probing the limits of what is possible and what is not. If we keep silent now, if we do not stand up for each other, it will mean they can continue in the same vein. It is clear already that the case of the anti-fascists will expand. The arrests will stop being local, becoming large scale. We have no methods for pressuring law enforcement agencies that torture people, no authorities that could slap them on the wrists. The only methods we have are maximum publicity and public pressure. They are the only ways to deter the security service from making more arrests and keeping up the torture.

International pressure makes a difference, too.

The historian Yuri Dmitriev, who was tried on trumped-up charges of possessing pornography and Read the rest of this entry »


The “anti-imperialism” of idiots

April 15, 2018

A guest post by LEILA AL-SHAMI, first published on her blog

Once more the western ‘anti-war’ movement has awoken to mobilise around Syria. This is the third time since 2011. The first was when Obama contemplated striking the Syrian regime’s military capability (but didn’t) following chemical attacks on the Ghouta in 2013, considered a ‘red line’. The second time was when Donald Trump ordered a strike which hit an empty regime military base in response to chemical attacks on Khan Sheikhoun in 2017. And today, as the US, UK and France take

Cartoon by Yaser, criticising selective outrage which only applies to chemical attacks

limited military action (targeted strikes on regime military assets and chemical weapons facilities) following a chemical weapons attack in Douma which killed at least 34 people, including many children who were sheltering in basements from bombing.

The first thing to note from the three major mobilisations of the western ‘anti-war’ left is that they have little to do with ending the war. More than half a million Syrians have been killed since 2011. The vast majority of civilian deaths have been through the use of conventional weapons and 94 per cent of these victims were killed by the Syrian-Russian-Iranian alliance. There is no outrage or concern feigned for this war, which followed the regime’s brutal crackdown on peaceful, pro-democracy demonstrators. There’s no outrage when barrel bombs, chemical weapons and napalm are dropped on democratically Read the rest of this entry »


Iran: revolt, revolution and social disintegration

March 20, 2018

I am very pleased to publish today an interview with TORAB SALETH about the recent nationwide wave of protests in Iran. The interview puts the revolt that has spread across the country, last year and this, in the context of the Islamic republic’s deep political and economic crisis. It discusses the way that such movements can be confounded by reactionary politics, and casts a very critical eye on the “left” groups. Torab Saleth was a leading member of a large Trotskyist group in Iran at the time of the 1979 revolution. He left it in protest at its continued cooperation with groups that had collaborated with the Islamic dictatorship. He is active today in the Revolutionary Socialist Tendency of Iran. You can READ THE FULL INTERVIEW HERE.