Starting to understand the Syrian tragedy

August 14, 2018

Review of The Impossible Revolution: Making Sense of the Syrian Tragedy by Yassin al-Haj Saleh (London: Hurst and co., 2017)

We all need an understanding of the fate of the Syrian revolution: what it was up against, how and why was it drowned in blood, what its future holds. To this end, the publication of Yassin al-Haj Saleh’s book in English is very welcome.

The Syrian tragedy is a turning-point for movements of social liberation internationally. A mass popular uprising of exceptional scope and scale was defeated with an exceptional torrent of violence. In the rich, horrific history of repressive governments, few have waged such savage, relentless war on their citizens, or so cynically chosen to destroy the fabric of society by civil war rather than lose control of it.

Not only did the world’s governments allow the regime a free hand to torture and murder Syrians, but much of the so-called “left” stayed silent, or even supported the torturers and murderers. Reckoning with this disaster, and the reasons for it, is a precondition for any meaningful radical politics in future.

Syrian fascism

Saleh’s book comprises a series of articles written between the 2011 uprising and 2015, in which he returns again and again to analyse the Syrian regime, the “new bourgeoisie” with which it is most closely associated, and the social forces that support it.

In “The Roots of Syrian Fascism”, written in April 2012 – when the uprising was just over a year old – Saleh calls for a discussion of the roots of the fascist violence by Bashar al- Read the rest of this entry »

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Heathrow: “jobs vs climate action” is a false choice. Reject it

June 28, 2018

Parliament’s vote for a third runway at Heathrow airport shows how far the Labour party is from putting together economic policies combining social justice and action to curb global warming.

More than 115 Labour MPs – well over half the parliamentary party – voted for Heathrow expansion on Monday, ignoring a warning in the debate by the Shadow Chancellor, John McDonnell, that it posed “a threat to the planet”.

McDonnell, a long-standing opponent of Heathrow expansion, said that, if a legal challenge by local councils and Greenpeace failed, an “iconic, totemic” battle would be unleashed to stop the project. The Vote No Heathrow group is already gearing up for such a battle.

Before the vote, Len McCluskey, leader of the Unite union – a big financial donor to Labour and supporter of Jeremy Corbyn in internal political battles – wrote to MPs urging them to support Heathrow expansion.

It is the false choice that McCluskey hinted at in his letter – that if the workers’ movement participates Read the rest of this entry »


Social justice and ecological disaster: Red Green Study Group comments

June 28, 2018

Integrated strategies to face the crisis in relations between society and nature – “essentially, the dynamics of capitalist economic relations” – have been proposed to Labour by the Red Green Study Group in the UK.

In a response to the Labour Party’s National Policy Forum consultation, Environment, Energy and Culture: A Greener Britain, the group says a “combined approach” to tackling poverty, inequality and environmental degradation is vital.

The whole response is attached as a PDF here. Or you can read it on line on the Red Green Labour blog here. Or download it from the Labour party site here.

The group’s summary says:

This response is the result of prolonged discussion among members of the RED-GREEN STUDY GROUP, which has been working since 1992 on bringing together green, socialist and feminist thinking.

Contributors include trade unionists, members of the Labour Party, members of the Green Party and unaffiliated socialists. Our commitment to producing this response arose from the renewal of hope given by the election of Jeremy Corbyn and the new leadership of the Party.

Our response covers a wide range of topics, across transport, industrial production, farming and food, fishing, biodiversity, planning, energy production and conservation, climate change, health, education Read the rest of this entry »


“I am here as the accuser, of capitalism dripping with blood from head to foot”

May 3, 2018

Remember past heroes by pausing to reflect, TERRY BROTHERSTONE argues in this guest post, marking one hundred years since John Maclean’s speech from the dock

On 9 May, 2018, it will be 100 years since the Clydeside Marxist revolutionary, John Maclean, stood in the dock in the Scottish High Court in Edinburgh, refused to recognise its authority by making any plea in his defence against a charge of sedition, and instead delivered an audacious, hour-and-a-quarter-long speech denouncing World War I as a murderous capitalist enterprise inflicting death and disaster on the working people of Europe.

“I have taken … unconstitutional action … because of [these] abnormal circumstances”, he said. “I am a socialist, and have been fighting and will fight for an absolute reconstruction of society for the

John Maclean speaking from the dock. Photo from the Glasgow Digital Library

benefit of all. I am proud of my conduct. I have squared my conduct with my intellect, and if everyone had done so this war would not have taken place.”

You can read his speech, with some contextual analysis, in a recent edition here.

The verdict was a foregone conclusion. The sentence was five years with hard labour. When the war ended, and in the light of a growing protest movement in Maclean’s support, and Government fears that his continued persecution might stimulate more serious working-class disaffection – the Russian Revolution was much in their minds – he was released after only a few months.

However, there is little doubt that Maclean’s several terms of imprisonment in the harsh conditions of Scotland’s jails contributed to his early death in 1923, aged only 44.

At the time of Maclean’s 1918 trial, the outcome of the War – which by then had been waged for over three and three-quarter bloody years – was still in the balance. The German Spring offensive, which Read the rest of this entry »


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 »