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 Read the rest of this entry »

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From resisting property developers to making ecosocialist strategy

December 21, 2017

A guest post by GORDON PETERS, a socialist and community activist, who is currently representing StopHDV, a community-based campaign, in its legal challenge to Haringey Council, which wants to hand control of most of its property to HDV, a property development company. Gordon was both a local government chief officer and a long-time trade unionist, and in 2015 stood in the general election for the Green Party. 

How can ecosocialism respond to the operation of power in capitalist accumulation and reproduction? Does ecosocialism help provide answers to struggles taking place in the local state and in sites of contest?

I want to suggest that it does provide such answers – in four broad ways:

1. The refusal strategy

This has a long lineage in class struggles in many different ways, but came to be articulated by the Italian Autonomists. Here I can only draw together some links from very different places in recent

StopHDV protesters in Haringey, north London, Photo from the StopHDV web site

times, which all have as their distinct characteristics a refusal to yield to the capitalist logic and to say no to displacement.

For instance, indigenous struggles in Latin America particularly against mining, deforestation and land grabbing demand an anti-capitalist sustainability, and in Bolivia were enshrined in the Cochabamba Declaration and the Rights of Mother Earth.

The “boycott, divestment and sanctions” movement, when applied to fossil fuels; the principle of “leave it in the ground”; anti-fracking protests in southern England and in Lancashire and Yorkshire; and campaigns on housing rights against estate demolition – all are increasingly confronting the demands of corporate capital and, in their own sites of struggle, reframing demands in terms of rights to land, community, place to live, clean air and water, and freedoms, which are essentially ecosocialist.

Housing struggles in London are having to resist speculation, and the maximisation of value from Read the rest of this entry »


Technologies that multiply inequalities

December 18, 2017

Review: The Bleeding Edge: why technology turns toxic in an unequal world by Bob Hughes (Oxford: New Internationalist, 2016)

How is it that the internet – a technology with such powerful, democratic potential – hovers over us like a monster that intrudes and spies, interferes in our collective interactions and thought processes, force-feeds us corporate garbage and imposes new work disciplines? What happened?

Bob Hughes, by thinking both about how computers work and how society works, offers compelling insights about these and other questions.

One of Hughes’s riffs on technological themes starts with the Forbes web page about Marc Andreessen, one of the world’s richest men, who in 1994 released the first version online-spying.jpg.size-custom-crop.0x650of the Netscape Navigator browser. Microsoft distributed Netscape with the Windows operating system, making Andreessen an instant multi-millionaire.

When Hughes visited the page, he found 196 words of information about Andreessen (last week, when I looked, there were only 81). Hughes found (and so did I) about another 1000 words of promotional and advertising material.

Behind those words lay a HTML page with 8506 words, or 88,928 characters. The promotional material multiplied the capacity required by the page 88 times – and that was not including the graphics. Including these, the page took about three-quarters of a megabyte of memory.

In the mid 1990s, Netscape Navigator made such advertising displays easy. It allowed web pages to create “cookies” on users’ machines to monitor the information that they enter, and enabled Read the rest of this entry »


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 »


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 »