Russia and South Africa: the oppressors make a deal

January 26, 2023

This posturing has a history, BOB MYERS writes

The South African government of the African National Congress (ANC) has decided to join military exercises with Russia and China. They were announced during a visit to South Africa this week by Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov – who was given a warm welcome by Nalendi Pandor, the South African foreign minister.  

Striking miners at Marikana, 2012

Lavrov denounced “colonialism” – and no doubt various “left” groups around the world will trumpet this accord as evidence that Russia, China and South Africa are “fighting imperialism”.

Last year, South Africa called on Russia to withdraw troops from Ukraine. But this week Pandor said it would be “simplistic and infantile” to ask for that now.

The ANC government uses its stance to bolster its own “anti-imperialist” credentials among its own people and among neighbouring African governments.  

But this alliance is not “anti-imperialist” at all. It is an anti-working class alliance that actually has a long history.

The ANC emerged as a political movement in the early 20th century. It was the party of the small black business and professional class. With the rise of apartheid it fought for the rights of black business. It tried to appear as a spokesperson for all the oppressed black population, but there was always a problem with this as it had no interest in the real emancipation of black workers.

Two good examples of this tension can be seen in the period after world war two.

First, at the end of the war there was an upsurge of black working class militancy leading to a general strike of black miners. Nelson Mandela, at that time leader of the ANC youth wing, refused to support the strike, fearing it would undermine the ANC’s efforts to win concessions for black business.

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Transport: how Silicon Valley turns technologies against us all

January 23, 2023

Review of Road to Nowhere: what Silicon Valley gets wrong about the future of transportation, by Paris Marx (2022, Verso)

Unleashing Uber on cities would cut car ownership, because ride-hailing would be cheaper, Travis Kalanick, then Uber’s chief executive, claimed in 2015. It would reduce traffic congestion, allow car parks to be converted to other uses, and complement public transport with its “last mile” service.

Uber drivers demonstrate in London in March 2021, when the IWGB union won a court decision that they are workers, not self-employed. Photo from IWGB

Investors bought into Kalanick’s story, that Uber’s innovative app would produce these benefits, to the tune of billions of dollars. Central to his patter was the claim that Uber was a tech company, not a transport company (since denied by courts in the UK and New Zealand), and his crusade against local government regulations and the “taxi cartel”.

In Road to Nowhere, Paris Marx not only unmasks these falsehoods, but also explains Silicon Valley’s place in the broader crisis of capital, and the social, economic and ecological damage it does.

Marx recounts how Uber expanded in the US after the 2008 recession, flooding the market with drivers, to whom it offered incentives that were then withdrawn, while pay was cut.

Uber’s predatory pricing, financed by stock exchange investors, drove traditional taxi companies out of business. Taxi drivers’ incomes plummeted and their lives fell apart, triggering a slew of suicides.

The post-recession environment provided both a large pool of precarious labour and what Marx calls “incredible technological optimism” (page 109). Central to Uber’s strategy was an assault on cities’ transport regulations and on the labour conditions won over decades by taxi drivers’ union power. Uber and the other technology companies, cheered on by US conservatives and libertarians, deployed technologies as weapons in the class war. 

In the midst of the gathering climate crisis, Uber’s new technology drove greenhouse emissions upwards. Directly contradicting Kalanick’s promises, the Uber model put more vehicles on the road.

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The real futures tech is building

January 23, 2023

In this excerpt from Road to Nowhere, PARIS MARX explains how and why the big tech companies moved into urban transport in the aftermath of the 2008 economic crash. Republished here with permission. See also People & Nature’s review of the book 

In the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis, the tech industry grew substantially and claimed a dominant position not just in the United States, but across the global economy. The internet was firmly established by that point, and it began moving from the desk to the palm of people’s hands as smartphone adoption soared through the 2010s. Cloud computing and other software products made it much cheaper than in the past to launch a start-up and compete for a piece of the rapidly growing industry. Meanwhile, financing was abundant, not just because decades of inequality had caused more wealth to flow to those at the top, but also due to policy choices taken to combat the recession.

The trillions of dollars printed by the Federal Reserve and other central banks through quantitative easing, and the low interest rates that persisted throughout the 2010s, created an environment that boosted the stock market even as most workers’ prospects continued to stagnate, which benefited venture capitalists and made it much easier for new companies in the tech sector to access capital. Such a dynamic granted investors, influential founders, and executives at the dominant companies in the industry a significant degree of power in shaping what the post-recession economy looked like – and who it served.

By 2010, today’s tech giants were continuing their rapid growth, but they were not yet the juggernauts they would become a decade later. Google had a number of popular services in addition to Search, but many people still believed its “do no evil” slogan. Amazon’s positions in ecommerce and cloud computing were growing, but it was not yet seen as such an existential threat to brick-and-mortar retail. Apple was reinventing itself with the iPhone, but it was far from being one of the largest publicly traded companies in the world. Yet, as they expanded, other companies made use of smartphone access, new digital tools, and the excitement around the tech economy, to make their own splash.

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A message from Dnipro: track down the war criminals

January 17, 2023

These facebook posts by ANATOLY DUBOVIK in Dnipro are translated and reproduced here with his permission

From Monday. Official information on the morning of 16 January on the results of the Russian nazis’ destruction of a residential apartment block in Dnipro: 35 dead, 75 wounded, 39 rescued. Another 35 have not yet been found – so the death toll could be doubled.

Rescue work continues.

Among the dead is a well known person: Mikhail Korenovsky, the veteran Ukrainian boxing trainer and trainer of the Dnepropetrovsk regional team. His wife and two children were away from home at the time of the blast, and survived.

A flat in the bombed apartment building

People are saying that in this photograph is the remains of the Korenovskys’ flat. Whether it is or not, the photo will go down in history.

From Saturday. Now, at 19.50, rescue teams and people from the area are working at the destroyed building, dismantling the ruins, dragging out the dead, wounded and survivors. Officially at 18.0 they announced there were five dead and 39 in hospital. Those are the living and the dead that they were able to pull out. Among the wounded are seven children, including a three year old. Cries can be heard from the ruins: there are people in there. And it will be minus four degrees tonight.

Gennady Korban, one of the city’s leaders, a big businessman, and – let’s say it like this – someone who had a very specific reputation back in the 1990s and 2000s, published the following statement on his facebook feed:

Dear friends, we all know that in Dnipro today the Rashists committed a war crime. These Rashists are not nameless. Every war criminal has a name, rank and place of deployment.

Today’s attack was undertaken by the 52nd guards heavy bomber airborne regiment based at Shaikovka. TU-22M3 [a missile-carrying bomber]. V/Ch 33310 [military unit]. Call sign of the commanding officer 42492. The flight left from somewhere near Kursk and landed at Ryazan. Kh-22 rocket.

This is the bastard who fired a rocket at a residential block. As a result, children and adults were killed. The number of victims is not yet known.

The name and address in the Russian federation of this war criminal must be ascertained, for him to be brought to justice. The first person who provides verifiable details will receive $US 25,000 from me, with anonymity guaranteed.

For the first time in my life, I wish Korban success in implementing his plan.

Krivoi Rog. This evening rockets were fired into residential areas. Six housing blocks are damaged. There have been some deaths.

All the Russian nazis will be killed.

From Sunday. And this is about Mr [Oleksiy] Arestovich. On his live stream with [Russian lawyer turned you tube publicist Mark] Feygin, Arestovich, the adviser to the office of the president and lieutenant-colonel (or is it, colonel), commented on the day’s events. He shot his mouth off, talking as though the nazis’ rocket that destroyed the apartment block in Dnipro had been shot down by Ukraine’s air defence, and, after that, the damaged rocket, or bits of it, fell on the building.

I do not have military experience. But I have just lived for nearly 11 months either not far from the front, or very close to the front, but in any case in a city that has been subject to numerous rocket attacks. During that time, almost a year, I have learned a little about how to work out what is happening.

In order to bring down an enemy rocket, you need to fire your own rocket to intercept it – a minimum of one, but several is better, more effective. Every launch of an air defence rocket is accompanied by its own particular sound, which to an observer – me, for example – sounds very like an explosion.

I recall that once, last summer, six Russian rockets were fired at Dnipro. I heard 14 explosions. That is, six hits by rockets, and eight air defence rocket launches.

Now, yesterday, when the missile strike took place, I was outside, in the courtyard of our building. I heard the explosion very clearly. It was one explosion.

ONE.

Nobody shot anything down. The Ukrainian air defence was unable to stop the incoming rocket. That can happen: for example, a winged missile can fly very low, and it is very hard to hit it. And it was one of these, a Kh-22 supersonic winged missile, that was fired at Dnipro.

I don’t know why or for what purpose the official representative of the Ukrainian authorities Mr Arestovich lied on air. But he lied.

It would be interesting to hear the opinion of others in Dnipro. My daughter, who lives not far from where the missile hit, talked to me yesterday about an explosion. Not explosions. Aleskandr Pavelko yesterday in comments also mentioned just one, very loud, explosion. Did anyone hear any more explosions?

[In the comments on this post, several Dnipro residents said that they had heard just one explosion. One person said there was an explosion that may have been air defence, but only 2 seconds before the main explosion. SP.]

□ Anatoly Dubovik is an anarchist since 1989, and a historian of the anarchist movement.  

More from Anatoly Dubovik on People & Nature:

□ One day in the life of Dnipro (March 2022)

□ Russian soldiers killed that family, just because (April 2022)


Russia: the time for protest has gone, it’s time for resistance

January 17, 2023

A column by ARMEN ARAMYAN, editor of Doxa, published by DOXA on 13 January in Russian.  

For many years the Russian opposition propagandised a particular manner of protest: clean, peaceful protest of the urban class, not dirtied with violence or even any pretension to violence. I was politicised at that time. I am 25, and I first went to a street demonstration when I was 17, in the second year of study at university. And I learned the lessons conscientiously: when somebody urges people to free a demonstrator who is being detained – that’s a provocation. If someone proposes to stay put on a square and not leave, or to occupy a government building – that’s a provocateur, and that person should be paid no heed.

We are better than them, because we do not use violence, and they do. Let everyone see us and our principles as unarmed, peaceful protesters, who are beaten by cosmonauts in full combat gear. Then they will understand what is going on. Why go on a demonstration? To express our opinion, to show that we are here. And if there are enough of us, that will produce a split in the elite.

A fire at a military recruitment centre in Nizhnevartovsk in May last year. Photo from Libcom

Evidently, this strategy didn’t work. Whether it worked at one time is probably not so important now. I am convinced, by my own life experience, that it has failed. A year and a half ago, I recorded an inoffensive video to support student protests – and for that got a year’s house arrest. [Reported here, SP.] And in that year, the Russian authorities succeeded in destroying the remains of the electoral system, and invading Ukraine. No peaceful protest could stop them.

During that time, as the anti-Putin opposition de-escalated protests and adapted to new prohibitions – you need to give advance notice about a demo? OK. You need to set up metal detectors on site? Very good – the authorities, by contrast, escalated the conflict with society. They pursued ever-more-contrived legal cases – for actions ranging from throwing a plastic cup at a cop, to liking stuff or joking on twitter.

We have been retreating tactically for a long time, and finally wound up on the edge of a precipice – in a situation where not to protest would be immoral, but where, at the same time, the most inoffensive action could result in the most serious sanctions. The neurosis in which a large part of Russian society now finds itself – all those arguments about who is more ethically immaculate: those who have left, those who have stayed, those who have half-left or one-quarter-stayed; who has the moral right to speak about something and who doesn’t – all this is a result of living in a paradox. 

For the first few weeks after the invasion, this logic of conflict – that the opposition de-escalates and the state escalates – reached its limits. Peaceful protests came to an end. Resistance didn’t stop: several hundred people, at a minimum, set fire to military recruitment offices or dismantled railways on which the Russian army was sending arms, and soldiers, to the front.

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Climate protests are being criminalised, but we will not stop

January 6, 2023

By MARY ADAMS, writer and Just Stop Oil climate activist

I boarded a prison van along with five others and took my place in the locked metal box allocated to each prisoner. It was 27 September 2022, and we were headed for trial at the Birmingham High court. Our crime – climate protest.

A Just Stop Oil demonstration in London, 10 December. Photo by Steve Eason

As we pulled out of the gates of the notorious HMP Foston Hall – ranked lowest of women’s prisons in a government Inspectorate Report, September 2022 – I thought of the women left behind on the remand wing, languishing in cramped, drab cells for twenty-three and a half hours a day. No wonder Foston Hall has the highest rate of violence and self-harm amongst its inmate population.

We were locked in narrow single cells converted to double occupancy by way of bunk beds, and our meals were eaten in our cells. Requests for basic amenities such as repairing a blocked sink were dealt with slowly, if not ignored altogether. Hot water was hard to come by.

With broken, cheap shelving and scuffed, peeling paint, a sense of hopelessness was baked into those featureless grey walls.

It was in Foston Hall that I tasted the overwhelming darkness that loss of agency in prison can evoke.

Like everyone on the remand wing, I quickly adjusted to the continuous “beep” of expended smoke alarm batteries. But for two evenings the smoke alarm, itself, emitted a high-pitched shriek every fifteen minutes. After several attempts to get help from a surly prison guard, she terminated any further discussion on the subject.

Slamming shut the narrow aperture on our door, her parting words underscored the desolation of such institutions. “This is prison life…Get used to it!”.

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Russia. Renaissance is not going to happen

December 28, 2022

These comments by Mira Tai were published by Doxa, the Russian on-line student magazine that has become a prominent voice against the war.

Hello! It’s Mira.

The full-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine has compelled many people, who live in Russia but are not ethnic Russians [russkye], to think about how we actually became the “small peoples of Russia” [a widely used term for the non-Russian nationalities that make up about one fifth of Russia’s population]. We saw many parallels between the way that the “Russian world” is trying to swallow up independent Ukraine, and the way that the ethnic republics “voluntarily became part of Russia” previously.

Russians in Berlin demonstrating in support of Ukrainian resistance, 13 November. Photos by Aleksandr Anufriev, from the Feminist Anti-war Resistance facebook page

We have seen how the state, in which openly-declared nationalists hold leading posts in government bodies, justifies the massacre of citizens of a neighbouring country as “denazification”. We have seen how the propaganda machine is speaking openly about the renaissance of a gigantic centralised empire, in which there is no identity except Russian, and no other language than Russian.

These months have made all of us pose a mass of difficult questions, to ourselves and to each other. And no matter how hard the Russian propaganda machine tries to ridicule or denigrate this process, it will not be stopped and not be turned back – because we have changed. The surge of anger among non-Russian people has gone too far. The genie will not be put back in the bottle.

And the further it goes, the more astonishing it becomes that the majority of prominent Russian liberals and representatives of the “anti-Putin resistance”, continue to ignore what is happening. A great example is the new educational project, “Renaissance” [“Vozrozhdenie”], which opened today [23 December] and which has been loudly advertised on Ekaterina Schulmann’s Youtube channel over the last few months.

For the project, nine men and Ekaterina Schulmann invite people to take courses on the theory of democracy, capitalism and protest, the history of Christianity, and so on. They promise that in future this knowledge will facilitate the working-out of “a strategy for the Russian state, rebuilt and reborn as the inheritor of Russian, European and world culture”. Judging by the visual images chosen – golden-haired young women in Monomakh caps [the crown symbol of the pre-1917 Russian autocracy], gold leaf and portraits of monarchs – the school’s founders are especially inspired by the aesthetics of the Russian empire.

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Appeal to Labour Party members: help turn back this tide of greenwash

December 21, 2022

Here is a letter that I sent yesterday to Maggie Ferncombe, the chair of the London Regional Labour party, Ed Miliband, Labour’s shadow secretary of state for climate change, and friends in the Labour party in London. It urges them to do something about the tsunami of greenwash thrown over the Silvertown tunnel project by the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, Labour’s most powerful elected official.

Over the last four years the Mayor and the few supporters of the project have – in defiance of reality, transport research and climate science – claimed that the tunnel project is compatible with policy objectives aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions. It obviously is not, as 70-odd researchers in relevant areas told the Mayor in April 2021, in a letter he did not acknowledge or respond to.

The Stop the Silvertown Tunnel coalition banner on a climate action march in London, 12 November. Photo by Steve Eason

More roads produce more traffic; more traffic produces more greenhouse gas emissions; decarbonising transport means sharply reducing the volume of traffic; and the resources spent on road-building projects work against that aim, and against the support for public transport, rail, cycling and other non-car modes of transport that can make decarbonisation possible.

Although the Silvertown tunnel project is a London policy issue, it has national implications. Labour’s stubborn denial of reality about the tunnel is on the same level as the Tory government’s fantasies that licencing coal mines, new oil and gas fields, or its own £27 billion road building programme, dovetails with combating global heating.

My letter – attached as a PDF – concerns a very specific set of issues, on which the greenwash spilled over into falsehoods, used by Heidi Alexander, then London’s deputy mayor for transport and now Labour candidate for Swindon South, to justify the unjustifiable tunnel project. If you are reading this and you are in the Labour party, please have a word. Simon Pirani, 21 December 2022.

Dear Maggie Ferncombe and Ed Miliband,

I write to ask you to take action within the Labour Party over the circulation of false information about the climate emergency by the Greater London Authority, and the Authority’s failure to deal with complaints about this false information, in breach of its own rules.

The false information was circulated in 2021 by Heidi Alexander, former deputy mayor of London, in response to people who protested to the Mayor of London about the Silvertown Tunnel project. In particular, Ms Alexander claimed:

(a) that the GLA has adopted plans to reach “zero carbon goals”;

(b) that the modelling of carbon emissions on which the GLA carbon reduction trajectory is based takes into account planned developments such as the Silvertown Tunnel; and

(c) that Arup has conducted an “independent assessment” of London’s 1.5 degree carbon reduction trajectory.

The note below explains the importance of the issues complained of for climate policy. 

Recipients of this false information contacted the Stop the Silvertown Tunnel coalition, for which I had conducted research about the tunnel project. The coalition continued to press the Mayor to review the project and its compatibility with his climate policies, but he declined.

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Communities question hydrogen hype

December 16, 2022

The UK government’s climate-trashing plans to use hydrogen for home heating are starting to come up against resistance by communities.

Residents of Whitby on Merseyside – one of two sites the government is considering making an experimental “hydrogen village” – protested last week about the tide of greenwash from Cadent Gas in support of the plan.

Whitby residents’ protest last week. All photos from HyNOT twitter feed

The villagers demonstrated in the freezing cold at Cadent’s Hydrogen Experience Centre, against the proposal to turn their homes over to hydrogen heating without proper consultation.

Louise Gittins, leader of Cheshire West and Chester council, told the crowd: “I don’t want anyone forced into doing this. I’ll take what you’ve said on board.”

Cadent, which owns the local gas distribution network, plans to convert 2000 Whitby households to hydrogen for heating – despite opposition to such uses by engineers and energy researchers. They say that fitting electric heat pumps, and retrofitting insulation, is more energy-efficient, and contributes far more effectively and rapidly to reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

The government supports hydrogen for home heating – in line with energy companies’ wishes, and against the advice of engineers and scientists in numerous reports. It will decide next year which residents to use as guinea pigs for its “hydrogen village” experiment; its two options are in Whitby and Redcar, north Yorkshire.

The government has also funded studies for Northern Gas Networks’ H21 project, which would convert more than 15 million homes from gas to hydrogen. And just this week it has launched a consultation about offering “hydrogen-ready” boilers to homes – which would damage more effective, electricity-based routes to decarbonisation.

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A vigil for China fire victims

December 5, 2022

A vigil was held in Manchester’s Chinatown on Friday, to remember the victims of the fire in a block of flats in the Xinjiang province of China, BOB MYERS writes.

A friend of ours, who is active in the Hong Kong solidarity movement, had let us know about the vigil. I went there with a friend.  

About 30 young Chinese gathered – all overseas students I would say, not Manchester resident Chinese.

It was very moving, as the demonstrators were clearly very worried about protesting in public and wary of us – the only non Chinese there – and of each other. (Manchester has a big Chinese embassy and lots of security agents.) 

Clearly most of the people didn’t know each other and didn’t talk to each other. (There are tens of thousands of Chinese students in Manchester). But one guy put down the posters you can see in the photos.

So it was more than just a memorial vigil. There was a list of four demands:

1 Allow public mourning

2 End brutal lockdown

3. Release arrested people

4. Defend people’s constitutional rights.

Another poster says: “Give me liberty or give me death.”

No-one said anything, people just stood there looking at the candles. Many passing Chinese people stopped to take photos.

My friend talked with one young woman, and she said: “We don’t know how to organise a protest. You know how to do it but we don’t.”

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