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.


The Stansted 15: heroes for our time

March 19, 2018

This morning the “Stansted 15”, who last year chained themselves to an airplane to stop a planned mass deportation of people, including asylum seekers and those who feared for their lives, go on trial at Chelmsford crown court in Essex.

On 28 March last year, the 15, wearing hi-viz jackets, locked themselves to a Titan Airway Boeing 767-300 aircraft at Stansted airport. It had been chartered by the Home Office’s National Removals Command unit to return deportees to Nigeria and Ghana.

The flight was cancelled and the demonstrators – from End Deportations, Lesbians and Gays Support the Migrants, and Plane Stupid – were arrested.

Initially the Stansted 15 were charged with “aggravated trespass”, the usual charge used against

The action at Stansted last year. Photo by Stop Charter Flights

protesters who disrupt air traffic. But last summer the Crown Prosecution Service applied to the Attorney General to introduce a new charge – “endangering an airport”, under section 1 of the Aviation and Maritime Security Act 1990.

Although this Act does not specifically mention “terrorism”, it was explicitly devised as a response to an act of terrorism (the Lockerbie bombing of a Pan Am flight in 1988) rather than to deal with peaceful political protest. The charge carries a potential sentence of life imprisonment.

The use of this charge is a threat to civil liberties, and to all those who want to use democratic Read the rest of this entry »

Will Labour’s climate policy rely on monstrous techno-fixes like BECCS?

March 12, 2018

Will a future Labour government perpetuate myths about monstrous techno-fixes for climate change? Or advocate radical policies to deal with global warming that don’t heap the pain on the global south, and industrial strategies to hasten the transition away from a fossil-fuel-centred economy?

This question was raised – by implication, anyway – at the Campaign Against Climate Change conference in London on Saturday. The 200 people present heard essentially opposing answers from

Photo by Garry Knight under a Creative Commons Licence

Barry Gardiner, Labour’s front-bench spokesman on climate change, and Asad Rehman, chief executive of War on Want.

The contrasting approaches were starkly evident when a question was asked from the floor about Bioenergy with Carbon Capture and Storage (BECCS) – an untried technology on which the world’s most powerful governments are relying heavily to claim they are on course to meet their climate targets.

Basically, BECCS would involve growing plants, burning them in power stations, and then capturing the carbon dioxide (CO2) emitted and storing it somewhere. (See also “Quick technological catch-up” below).

Despite the fact that BECCS has never been used anywhere yet, the latest (fifth) Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report has included huge amounts of it in its scenarios that plot how the world economy could move away from dangerous global warming. To make the numbers add up, Read the rest of this entry »

Ukraine: women organise in the war zone

March 11, 2018

About 100 women took part in a “march for women’s rights” last week in Lisichansk, close to the front line between Ukraine and the Russian-supported separatist republic in Lugansk.

“We need to fight for our rights!” was the main slogan of the march, on Tuesday 6 March.

Vladislava Nikolayevskaya, one of the organisers and a law student, wrote on her facebook page: “I

The women’s march in Lisichansk

think that there’s no need to prove to those active women of Lisichansk, who took part in our march, what rights exactly we are fighting for!

“I am very glad that, notwithstanding the sad situation and the negative comments, there are people who are not indifferent – who, on the contrary, are ready to defend their rights and to draw attention to what’s going on.”

“Women in the war zone were not scared to go out on to the streets”, Pavel Lisyansky, a lawyer and human rights activist in the area, reported. “The organisers of the march were women human rights defenders, women activists and women residents of Lisichansk.”

On Friday 9 March Vera Yastrebova, one of the organisers, reported on the Lisichansk event at a meeting of the Ukraine Solidarity Campaign in London. Vera, a lawyer, was there with Lisyansky, Read the rest of this entry »

Still bigger mountains of plastic on the way

March 6, 2018

Oil, gas and petrochemicals companies are responding to public revulsion about plastic waste in their own special way: by investing billions to INCREASE plastics production.

Thanks to their efforts, global output of ethylene and propylene, the two main raw materials for plastics production, is expected to RISE BY ONE-THIRD in the next seven years.

I am all in favour of campaigns to cut down the insanely wasteful use of plastic bottles, bags and

Plastic waste in Mumbai, India. From the India Water Portal web site

packaging. But let’s also make sure we understand the root of the problem: systems of production and consumption that aim only to raise output, and the mighty corporate interests that control them.

The trail from gas, oil and coal production, through petrochemicals plants, to manufacturing and trading companies thatgorge on needless mountains of plastic, has been well researched by campaigning NGOs, lawyers and journalists. Here is People & Nature’s handy guide:

Production: the US shale gas boom

Nearly all plastics are made from coal, oil or gas (see “Quick chemistry catch-up”, below). The recent boom in shale gas production has caused US gas supply to outstrip demand. That in turn has triggered a wave of investment in petrochemicals plants that make ethylene, the key raw material for several types of plastic.

In other words, it is the availability of cheap raw material – not any obvious human need – that is driving plastics production growth.

The US government’s Energy Information Administration (EIA) said in a report last month that three new ethylene plants (called “cracking” plants) had started up in 2017, and another six are due Read the rest of this entry »

The Earth and us: ways of seeing

February 13, 2018

Review of: Christophe Bonneuil and Jean-Baptiste Fressoz, The Shock of the Anthropocene: the Earth, history and us (London: Verso, 2017)

Think again, and differently, about the relationship between human society and the natural world. That is the challenge offered by Christophe Bonneuil and Jean-Baptiste Fressoz.

They question accepted ideas about “environmental crisis” and “sustainable development”, and urge

A visual representation of geological time. From the Smithsonian Institution.

us to subvert the “unifying grand narrative of the errant human species and its redemption by science alone”.

But this is not an iconoclastic rant. It is a scholarly discussion of the science behind the Anthropocene concept, and its implications for history, for the study of society, and for our ideas about the world in the broadest sense.

A central theme is the reflection of the terrifying accumulation of damage to the natural world by human activity over the past two centuries in the history of ideas. The dominant trends, to divide natural history from human history and to push the natural world out of economics, have been resisted.

The fact of the Anthropocene, Bonneuil and Fressoz argue, requires a new synthesis of forms of knowledge. They avoid offering any simplistic, pat “solution” to the disastrous rift between human society and the natural world. Instead, they point to new ways of looking at it that, collectively, may help us to change it.

This review summarises the authors’ explanation of the Anthropocene concept; considers their points Read the rest of this entry »

Russia: trade unionists and anti-fascists unite

January 16, 2018

A Russian trade union, facing a legal threat to its existence, will on Friday make common cause in defence of democratic rights with anti-fascist campaigners.

The interregional trade union “Workers Association”, known by its Russian acronym MPRA, has been deemed a “foreign agent” by a St Petersburg court – a legal measure requiring special registration and extensive audits, and often backed by police harassment campaigns.

The court also issued an unprecedented order to dissolve the MPRA, which was set up by car workers in 2006 and since 2013 has organised among other types of workers.

The law against “foreign agents”, passed in 2012, has been used against a wide range of non-

MPRA members at a lobby of parliament. See “About the photo”.

governmental organisations, from human rights campaigners and election monitoring groups to educational institutions. The ruling against the MPRA, made on 10 January, is the first against a trade union.

The MPRA reacted to the court decision by saying that it would continue its lawful organising activity.

Yesterday the union announced a campaign to defend its right to organise, and called on members to join anti-fascist demonstrations on 19 January – which are held each year on the anniversary of the murder of anti-fascist campaigners Anastasia Baburova and Stanislav Markelov. They were gunned down by fascists, in broad daylight, in central Moscow on 19 January 2009.

Update, 21 January. Friday’s demos went ahead in a large number of Russian cities: there are some great photos in this report by the Russian Socialist Movement. In Ukraine, demonstrators marking the anniversary were attacked by fascists, who were protected by the police. In London, an English translation of Markelov’s last article was published to mark the occasion.

The MPRA’s slogans for Friday are “hands off the trade unions”, and “no to the law on ‘foreign agents’ Read the rest of this entry »