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.


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 »

Interrogating digital capitalism

July 10, 2017

The ways that capitalism uses technology as a means of control was discussed on Thursday evening in London, at a meeting organised by the Breaking the Frame collective.

The meeting was called “Interrogating Digital Capitalism”. Ursula Huws, who researches technology and labour at the University of Hertfordshire, started her talk by arguing that terms such as “digital capitalism” and “biocapitalism” are unhelpful. “I prefer to talk about capitalism”, she said.

Capitalism uses technology at each stage of its restructuring, after recurrent crises, Huws argued. She pointed to three main ways that it uses technology for social control.

■ Technology is used to “simplify and standardise work processes” and sometimes – but not always – to substitute for labour.

■ Technologies are used to control work processes, and for surveillance.

■ Technologies are used to “create new commodities, bringing new areas of human activity into alienated, commodified relationships”. This included Read the rest of this entry »

The Lucas plan and the politics of technology

October 26, 2016

This guest post by DAVID KING of Breaking the Frame looks back at how workers at Lucas Aerospace championed socially useful technology. It is a shortened version of a two-part article on the Breaking the Frame website, and feeds into a debate we’re holding this Saturday at the Anarchist Bookfair.

This year is the fortieth anniversary of The Lucas Plan, the pioneering effort by workers at the Lucas

The original pamphlet cover

The original pamphlet cover

Aerospace arms company to propose alternative socially useful applications of the company’s technology and workers’ skills, whilst retaining jobs. It was an inspiring model of industrial democracy and has played an important role in showing that traditional trade union concerns about jobs losses arising from closures in harmful industries such as arms, nuclear power, etc., can be met. The Plan was hugely influential in the 1980s peace movement, during the crisis at the end of the Cold War.

But although younger generations of leftists, environmentalists and peace activists may never have heard of it, the ideas of the Lucas Aerospace workers are crucially relevant for the challenges we face today, including climate change, militarism and automation/artificial intelligence. A conference in Birmingham in November will both celebrate the achievements of the Lucas workers and, we hope, reinvigorate movements for socially just solutions to those crises.

The plan

In the early 1970s the workers at Lucas had organised themselves into a cross-union Combine Read the rest of this entry »

I have seen the techno-future, and I’m not so sure it works

April 4, 2016

“I have seen the future, and it works”, wrote the American journalist Lincoln Steffens after visiting Soviet Russia in 1919, at the height of the civil war. The Bolsheviks, he said, were “a revolutionary government with an evolutionary

A Chinese labour demonstration. "Networked humanity", or "the working-class movement"?

A Chinese labour demonstration. “Networked humanity”, or “the working-class movement”?

plan”.  Nearly a century later, one of the UK’s most thoughtful journalists, Paul Mason, argues that information technology can open the road to post-capitalism where the Russian revolution failed. He’s as enthusiastic about technology’s capacity for liberating humanity as Steffens was about the Bolsheviks.

Networked computers underpin “postcapitalism as a process emerging spontaneously”, and what matters now is networks against hierarchies, Mason writes in Postcapitalism: A Guide to Our Future (Penguin/Allen Lane, 2015). He aims to visualise goods, labour and Read the rest of this entry »

‘The instrument of labour strikes down the labourer.’ Marx on machinery is worth reading

June 18, 2015

A response to Ned Ludd by GABRIEL LEVY

Ned Ludd’s article on socialism and ecology raises important questions. What would a “real fusion” of socialism and ecology look like? How should socialist

A can factory, 1909. Source:

A can factory, 1909. Source:

movements look at industrialism? Is “technocracy” a concept that helps us get to grips with this?

The left “needs to abandon its mythology of the ‘liberation of the productive forces’”, Ned argues. “Instead of that narrative of progress, we need to realise that industrialism is a 200-year-old bubble that is beginning to burst.”

Much of the organised left accepts uncritically assumptions about the benefits of industrial progress, and Ned’s warnings about this are justified, to my mind. The view of technology as something that marches forward outside of its social context, and will ultimately serve progressive causes in changing that social context, needs to be challenged.

The best place I can think of to start a serious critique of the “mythology of the ‘liberation of the productive forces’”, as Ned proposes, is with Karl Marx. After all, Read the rest of this entry »