Syria: the revolution is alive, but buried under rubble

December 7, 2017

The Syrian revolution is “still there, but it is buried under all this rubble”, the writer Yassin al-Haj Saleh told a London audience on Tuesday.

The situation facing Syrian civil society was formed in layers, Saleh said.

The first layer was the first two years of the revolution (2011-13), when there was an explosion of collective community action against

Protests in Syria on the “day of rage” on 14 October

Bashar al-Assad’s regime.

The second layer was the struggle of regional powers including Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey who feared the spread of popular rebellion.

The third layer was the intervention in Syria of American and Russian forces in 2014.

The world had stood by when the Assad regime launched a chemical attack on civilians at Ghouta in 2013: after that, Syrians had felt “isolated and betrayed”, Saleh said.

Those who had participated in the revolution were “exhausted”, he continued. A quarter of the population had been displaced, many of whom were now living outside the country.

The regime was being restored, with the support of the international powers, but none of the economic and social problems that caused the 2011 uprising had been solved. Even Syrians who were not opposed to the regime wanted their lives to change for the better, and no such change is likely.

Outside Syria, Saleh said, groups of activists are working in the field of culture, and on human rights issues.

“We are still in struggle. We are not pessimists”, he said.

Saleh was speaking over skype to a meeting on Tuesday organised by the Syrian Society of students at the School of Oriental and Read the rest of this entry »

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The Death of Stalin is a riot

November 21, 2017

Go and see Armando Iannucci’s dark political comedy The Death of Stalin, if you can. And if you think blood-drenched dictators and their henchmen are beyond parody, think again.

Iannucci’s satirical eye, cast so effectively over Westminster in The Thick of It and Washington in Veep, focuses in The Death of Stalin on the Soviet (“Communist”) party and state leaders as they struggled with the fallout from the dictator’s demise in March 1953.

Simon Russell Beale’s portrayal of Lavrenty Beria, who headed Stalin’s secret police, stole the film, in my eyes. Playing a psychotic,

Georgy Malenkov (Jeffrey Tambor), Nikita Khruschev (Steve Buscemi) and Lavrenty Beria (Simon Russell Beale) over Stalin’s near-dead body. A still from The Death of Stalin

sadistic mass murderer and rapist for laughs isn’t easy, and he shifts through the gears – menacing to manipulating to cynical – in fractions of a second.

If Malcolm Tucker, the deranged Alistair-Campbell-esque The Thick of It character played by Peter Capaldi, said he was going to gouge someone’s eyes out, you’d know he could not do, and never had done, such a thing. When Russell Beale’s Beria says it, you know he could, and has, done it. And not just once.

There are many strong performances in The Death of Stalin. Steve Buscemi as Nikita Khrushchev, who eventually rose to succeed Stalin as general secretary: not as stupid as he seems. Jeffrey Tambor as Georgy Malenkov, Stalin’s deputy: hollowed-out, gaunt and guileless. Andrea Riseborough as Svetlana, Stalin’s daughter: on the edge of a nervous breakdown (and Rupert Friend as her brother Vasily, who had one long ago.) Jason Isaacs as Marshal Georgy Zhukov, who rose to power and popularity after leading the Soviet army in the second world war: myth-rich hero played as swashbuckling Yorkshireman.

Iannucci’s humour works because there is a serious thread in it. When Beria reminds Khrushchev and Vyacheslav Molotov (played by Read the rest of this entry »


Remember the biggest ever revolt against war

November 6, 2017

On Saturday the UK will mark Armistice Day. An official cult of remembrance requires that this week people in the public eye – politicians, newsreaders, sports personalities and so on – wear the red poppy that commemorates British service personnel.

I am wearing the white poppy, that commemorates all the victims of all wars. It’s a white poppysocialist, anti-militarist tradition that I think should be spread more widely.

The horrible destruction in Syria, unleashed by the regime of Bashar al-Assad to protect his power from a popular uprising and generalised into a multi-sided war, is reason enough to wear the white poppy.

And this year it can also serve as a reminder of the greatest popular anti-military uprising in history – in Russia in the summer of 1917.

The women workers of Petrograd (now St Petersburg) began the 1917 revolution in February, by striking and demonstrating against the first world war (in which Russia was allied with Britain and France) and the hardships it brought.

Soldiers of the Petrograd garrison, by refusing to fire on the protesters and pledging Read the rest of this entry »


China: collective resistance against iSlavery

October 23, 2017

Review of Goodbye iSlave: a manifesto for digital abolition by Jack Linchuan Qiu (University of Illinois Press, 2016)

When 15 young workers jumped or fell from the upper floors of Foxconn’s factories in China in five months of 2010 – 13 of them to their deaths – it made international headlines. People across the world felt outrage at the oppressive working conditions in which iPhones and other high-tech products are made.

Much less well-publicised were the collective resistance movements that flowered at Foxconn and other big Chinese factories in the years following the “Suicide Express”.

In April 2012, 200 Foxconn employees at Wuhan took pictures of themselves on the factory rooftop, and circulated them on social media, along with threats to jump if the company kept ignoring their demand for a wage increase. The company backed down.

This action “differ[ed] qualitatively from individual acts of suicide. Instead, it became a collective behaviour that successfully pressurised Foxconn to increase wages”, the Hong Kong-based activist and university teacher Jack Linchuan Qiu writes in Goodbye iSlave (p. 134).

Qiu describes a world – our world – in which the latest technological devices are made by workers who are subject to dehumanising super-exploitation, and are also used by those workers in organising collective resistance to their conditions.

The main focus of the book is Foxconn, the world’s largest electronics manufacturer. Its workforce of 1.4 million, mostly in China, make most i-products for Apple – including iPads, Read the rest of this entry »


Moving the trade unions past fossil fuels

August 9, 2017

The Public and Commercial Services union (PCS) has launched a pamphlet, Just Transition and Energy Democracy: a civil service trade union perspective, urging trade union support for the transition away from fossil fuels and restructuring the energy system under public ownership. In this interview SAMANTHA MASON, PCS policy officer and main author of the pamphlet, published in May, talks about combating the pro-fossil-fuel lobby in the unions and the Labour Party, and how to unite social and environmental movements.

Gabriel Levy (GL). Could you describe the PCS’s long engagement with energy and climate policy, which has culminated in the Just Transition pamphlet?

Samantha Mason (SM). We have been engaged with climate change issues, and increasingly with the whole energy debate, for about ten years. This has in large part been due to motions coming to conference from the grassroots membership, and an assistant general secretary, Chris Baugh, leading on

Anti-fracking protesters in Lancashire: the PCS is working with them. Photo from Reclaim the Power

this, which has enabled us to develop our policy and campaigning agenda.We participate in meetings with other industrial and energy unions, mainly through the Trade Unions Sustainable Development Advisory Committee. [Note. This committee was set up as a joint government-union forum after the 1997 Kyoto climate talks, but government participation dried up under the Tories. It is now a meeting place for union policy officers, and latterly, industrial officers.]

Some of the unions there represent workers in the fossil fuel and nuclear sectors, so while we’re supposed to look at sustainable development issues, Read the rest of this entry »


Russia: ‘extremism’ case against environmentalist collapses

August 9, 2017

The prosecution of the ecologist Valery Brinikh for “extremism” collapsed yesterday in the city court at Maykop in the Adygea in southern Russia.

The case was brought against Brinikh in 2014, for exposing bad waste disposal practices at a pig farm founded by Vyacheslav Derev, a member of the Federation Council (the upper house of the Russian parliament).

Brinikh is a biologist, and had worked as a director of the Daur Nature Reserve (1993-99) and

Valery Brinikh (right) with his defence lawyer Andrei Sabinin this week. Photo from Agora/ the Russian Reader

the Caucasus Nature Reserve (1999-2001). In 2012 he started campaigning, with local residents, against the stench and pollution caused by the Kievo-Zhuraki agro-industrial complex in the Teuchezhsk district of Adygea.

The state prosecutor claimed that an article Brinikh wrote in 2014 in a local newspaper, “The Silence of the Lambs”, insulted the dignity of the Adygean people. (Adygea is a Republic, an enclave in the Krasnodar region in the north Caucasus.) Three years of legal persecution followed.

Brinikh was supported by the Agora International Human Rights Group: they argued that the prosecution was an assault on freedom of speech and the freedom of expression.

The case has been covered by the Russian Reader. Yesterday’s verdict reported here; more stuff here.

 

 

 

 


Ukraine: ‘We need new ways of organising’

August 4, 2017

Amid military conflict and industrial collapse in eastern Ukraine, activists are feeling their way towards new models of worker organisation.

Factories, steelworks and mines, whether in government-controlled or separatist-controlled territory, have shut down, gone on short time, or laid workers off on reduced pay. Military violence has hastened the shift from steady employment to precarity. Workplace-based trade unions have struggled to cope.

The Eastern Human Rights Group (EHRG) – a lawyers’ collective that gives support to individuals, workplace collectives and community groups – is working with other activists to set up territorially-based workers’ organisations that will embrace the employed, unemployed and precariously employed.

Some of the largest factories just stopped paying wages, and thousands of workers are owed six months’ back pay or more, Pavel Lisyansky of the EHRG said in an interview. “In these circumstances, people of Read the rest of this entry »