From a ready meals factory … to social revolution

May 4, 2020

Review by BOB MYERS of Class Power on Zero-Hours, by Angry Workers of the World (387 pages, £9.00, distributed by PM Press).

Here is the opening paragraph of Class Power on Zero Hours:

In January 2014 we chose to move to a working class neighbourhood on the fringes of west London. We felt an urgent need to break out of the cosmopolitan bubble and root our politics in working class jobs and lives. We wanted to pay more than just lip service to the classic slogan, “the emancipation of the working classes must be conquered by the working classes themselves”. Over the next six years, comrades joined us and we worked in a dozen different warehouses and factories. We organised slowdowns on the shop floors, rocked up on bosses’ and landlords’ doors with our solidarity network, and banged our heads against brick walls as shop stewards in the bigger unions. We wrote up all our successes, as well as the dead-ends, in our publication, WorkersWildWest, which we gave out to 2000 local workers at warehouse gates at dawn. We tried to rebuild class power and create a small cell of a revolutionary organisation. This book documents our experiences. It is material for getting rooted. It is a call for an independent working class organisation.

I only met the authors of the book, members of a group called Angry Workers, a few weeks ago, instantly liked them – and so looked forward to it. When I read it, I found myself in a continual inner debate: “Is this right?…. no it can’t be. Wait a minute, maybe it is. …” and so on. And, having finished

Reproduced with permission from

the book, this is still how I feel. So I can only write this review with this debate going on in my head, and look forward to developing it with the Angry Workers, and hopefully with many other people.

Through my inner debate runs a clash of political backgrounds and of generations. I became active in the labour movement as a teenager, in the 1970s, in the aftermath of the 1968 uprisings in Paris and elsewhere. The Vietnam war was in full swing. I and many other people thought revolution was around the corner.

We nearly all joined one left wing political group or another but, though we didn’t see it at the time, all these groups were really sects – almost like religious sects – that all believed they and they alone were the “revolutionary vanguard”, the organisation that would lead the masses to victory. I joined the Workers Revolutionary Party (WRP), and my whole political education was based on the idea that we (the party) were the leaders, and the masses were the followers. The WRP fell apart in 1985 when its leader (guru) Gerry Healy was outed as a serial sexual abuser of young women in the party.

It has taken me and other ex members years to think our way out of the nonsense of us as the “revolutionary vanguard”, and find our way back to the idea Marx expressed in the quote above: “the emancipation of the working classes must be conquered by the working classes themselves”.

I felt we had made progress … and then along come these young people who not only worked that out long ago, but are trying to put this outlook into action.

I hope this review will encourage other people to read Class Power on Zero-Hours, and join the debate and possible activity/organisation arising from it.

The first part of the book, the bulk of it, is very detailed reports of what followed from the Angry Workers’ decision to move to Greenford and get jobs there. This is when my first bell rang: “Is this Read the rest of this entry »

China’s coal-fuelled boom: the man who cried “stop”

April 30, 2020

Download this article (and the linked one) as a PDF

“We can no longer act on nature with impunity.” The “classic” model of economic development “poses a threat to humanity’s very existence”. China needs a new development model, based on renewable resources used effectively and sustainably, that will be built on the old model’s ruins.

Deng Yingtao, a high-profile Chinese economist, made this call to action thirty years ago in his book A New Development Model and China’s Future.[1] Its message was ignored by the political leaders it was addressed to. In this review article, I will consider why.

In the 1990s, the Chinese Communist party leadership prioritised expansion of export-focused manufacturing industry. The industrial boom really took off in the 2000s, fuelled by mountains of coal – the classic unsustainable resource.

In every year since 2011, China has consumed more coal than the rest of the world put together;

Steelmaking is one of China’s coal-hungry industries

more coal than the entire world used annually in the early 1980s; and more than twice what all the rich countries together used annually in the mid 1960s, during their own coal-fired boom.[2]

The primary beneficiaries of this economic model are not China’s 1.3 billion people. The big fuel users are in China’s giant east-coast manufacturing belt – which produces, in the first place, energy-intensive goods for export to rich countries: steel bars, cement, chemical products, agricultural fertilisers and electronics products. Household fuel consumption remains extremely low.

This level of fossil fuel use can not go on, not in China and not anywhere else, without courting the most horrendous dangers brought about by global warming.

Deng Yingtao made a compelling argument against going down this road, BEFORE the decisions were made.

In the Introduction to his book, he pointed to the yawning gap between rich and poor countries; the multinational companies’ rising power; and the damage done to the global south by capitalist boom-and-bust.

The “classic” development model had led to “a world economy dominated by the developed West Read the rest of this entry »

China: reform economists who sought the road not taken

April 30, 2020

Download this article (and the linked one) as a PDF

Deng Yingtao, who in the 1990s called on China to reject the western-oriented industrial development model, was neither a dissident nor an environmentalist. As a senior economist at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, he first made his mark in the late 1970s, in debates about reforming agriculture. (See MAIN ARTICLE about Deng’s work here.)

Deng’s father, Deng Liqun, was high up in the Chinese Communist party. He joined it in 1936, and served as a military leader, both before the revolution of 1949 and in the suppression of revolts in western China in the 1950s.

In the 1970s, during the cultural revolution, Deng senior, like many leading and middle-ranking Communists, was sent to the countryside. He worked in Henan province. There his son Deng Yingtao

Farmer with buffalo, 2007. Photo: Andy Siitonen / Creative commons

met Chen Yizi: their discussions about how the collective farm system obstructed the development of agriculture started a long collaboration.

Mao Zedong’s death in 1976, the purge of the Maoist “gang of four” that followed, and Deng Xiaoping’s emergence as the undisputed party leader in 1978, marked a big political turning-point. The cultural revolution was repudiated.

A “Beijing spring” was declared, allowing open political discussion that had been impossible under Mao. The “four modernisations” (economy, agriculture, science and defence) reform policy was adopted; the use of market mechanisms and some opening-up to capitalism were key elements.

At the top of the party, Deng Xiaoping sidelined Hua Guofeng, Mao’s obvious successor. In the ranks, intellectuals and officials who had been sent to the countryside returned to Beijing – including Deng Yingtao and Chen Yizi.[1] Along with Wang Xiaoqiang, Deng and Chen became central figures in a group of reform economists who in 1979 began to meet on weekends in parks and empty offices in Read the rest of this entry »

Coronavirus, economic crash and climate change: this could go either way

April 28, 2020

Download this article as a PDF here

The coronavirus pandemic has given human society a jolt, sent the world economy into depression – and is producing what looks like the sharpest-ever cut in the level of greenhouse gas emissions.

Is this going to help or hinder us in tackling climate change in the coming years and decades? Will it speed up or slow down the transition away from fossil fuels?

It could go either way, in my view. It depends on what governments do – but also on what

American health workers’ picket line. Photo: Elizabeth Lalasz / Labor Notes

society does, what we all do. This is a question with many moving parts, and below I list 12 of them.

A couple of themes run through all the parts. On one hand, capitalism thrives by emerging from the crises it has created; its powerful drivers endlessly seek new ways of producing, profiteering and exploiting. We will be up against that logic, whatever happens.

On the other hand, those crises – and the pandemic, with the resulting economic chaos, certainly counts as one of the greatest – produce glimpses of how we could live differently. They contain the possibilities of futures free of capitalism, in which we can take effective strides away from the wretched fossil-fuelled economy.

  1. The historical analogies are not comforting. Past economic crashes gave way to accelerated economic expansion and accelerated greenhouse gas emissions.

The 1930s depression and the second world war, the greatest dislocation of the world economy in the twentieth century, was followed by the post-war boom. That was the longest Read the rest of this entry »

Let’s do what’s safe and healthy

March 30, 2020

Let’s do what’s safe and healthy. Which might not be the same as doing what the government says.

Since the prime minister announced a lockdown in the UK on Monday, you might be tempted to think that the government has got a grip of the coronavirus crisis. I don’t think so.

The UK’s testing regime is a shambles. After weeks of delay, and thanks to massive public pressure, the government is promising – without giving a timeline – tests for front-line health service workers.

Those workers are having to take time off sick, because they can’t get tested. They are

Walking in the park is good for your health

desperately short of personal protective equipment. And worried about the deluge of sufferers now arriving in hospitals.

The situation with the supply of ventilators for those who fall seriously ill is alarming. The government refused to join a European buying scheme – and then pathetically tried to cover its tracks by claiming officials did not receive an email. Brussels nailed that lie quickly.

Manufacturers of ventilators who offered the government help have been ignored. Instead, a contract was offered to Tory party supporter James Dyson, whose company has no relevant experience.

Senior ministers feel comfortable covering their tracks with deceit and diversion. Michael Gove, challenged by journalists yesterday to explain the disastrous failure on testing, tried to blame China. The editor of the Lancet, Richard Horton, has given chapter and verse on that one.

The government was forced to change its initial laissez faire policy, which appeared to Read the rest of this entry »

The money mountains are tumbling down

March 24, 2020

The coronavirus outbreak is triggering an economic recession far deeper than the one that followed the 2008 banking crash. Chunks of the money mountains are breaking off and sliding into an abyss.

While we struggle to get used to the lockdown, worrying about friends, family and vulnerable people in our communities, the flesh-eating hyenas who control the world economy are struggling to protect their fortunes.

Here is a quick summary of the way it looks today in the Financial Times. (I’ve included links to the articles, although many are behind paywalls – sorry for that!)

Forecasts of economic recession. Macquarie bank, in a note to investors, said:

The global economy is in deep recession. […] Quantifying the magnitude of the near-term hit with any certainty is not possible [but] the partial data to February show that the hit to China is without precedent.

Macquarie’s models suggest that the Chinese economy probably fell by 20% (seasonally adjusted annual rate or SAAR) in the first quarter of the year, and that the rest of the

“Capital”. A poster published in the Soviet Union in 1923

world economy will sink by 15% SAAR in the second quarter – that is, “the worst quarterly contraction in the modern era”, compared to “the weakest quarter during the Great Recession” of about minus 9% SAAR.

The shock in the second quarter is likely to be broadly spread across the major advanced economies, with differences likely drive by the respective stimulus packages and government approaches to containment.

Another note, from Morgan Stanley, focuses on how its clients can profit from the recovery, once it starts:

While it’s not possible to call an absolute bottom with precision, we think it’s close on many metrics. […] Aggressive monetary and fiscal policy measures, degrossing to date, and optimism about the impact of social distancing have us leaning more positive. Even in the worst possible outcome – a depression – there is historical precedent (1930) to think we can rally sharply from the recent downturn.

In the US, for the second quarter of the year, Morgan Stanley forecasts a 30% drop in Gross Domestic Product (GDP); Goldman Sachs reckons it will be 24%.

Jan Hatzius, Goldman Sachs’s chief US economist, said that the coronavirus “has pushed Read the rest of this entry »

Happy birthday Azat! #freeAzat

March 20, 2020

On 21 March (Saturday) Azat Miftakhov, a graduate maths student at Moscow State University, will celebrate his birthday in prison.

He has been locked up for 14 months on charges arising from a broken window at an

“The thirst for knowledge is stronger than repression”. A solitary picket supporting Azat Miftakhov at Moscow State University

office of Russia’s ruling United Russia political party.

Azat is a political prisoner. Wherever you are, please participate in the on-line event to support him: write “Free Azat” on a placard, take a photo, and put it on line with the #freeAzat hashtag. There’s more information about the event here on facebook.

Azat was detained on 1 February 2019, held at first on suspicion of manufacturing explosives, and tortured by the police and the Federal Security Service. In the first few days of Azat’s detention, the security forces concealed his location from his lawyer.

Azat had just started his mathematical career: his first paper, “On weak convergence of Read the rest of this entry »

Coronavirus: Doctors advise. The government does not listen

March 17, 2020

The UK government yesterday announced stronger “social distancing” measures to combat coronavirus – but its overall strategy is still unclear to medical specialists.

They have called for more transparency, as well as speedier implementation of “social distancing” and testing.

Until the end of last week, officials were suggesting that the government’s strategy aimed to allow the virus to spread through healthy sections of the population in order to build up “herd

China: infection rates are now falling

immunity”. This was roundly denounced by epidemiologists – and on Sunday that produced some backpedalling by Matthew Hancock, the health secretary.

But still, today, the logic is opaque. Scientists’ requests to see the government’s data have fallen on deaf ears. And the UK’s “social distancing” measures are still far behind the Scottish and Irish governments, sports governing bodies and most of Europe.

Here I will try to summarise the way the rift between doctors and the government has deepened since I posted about it on Friday. I have no medical training; I am just trying to clarify what is going on.

Along with many thousands of others, I have joined a local Coronavirus mutual aid group – and to take matters into our own hands effectively, we need accurate information. If you think I have got something wrong, please say so in the comments.

■ The government is not sharing information with the country’s epidemiologists and other specialists.

This was the main point made in a letter to the Times on Saturday by six senior epidemiologists and public health specialists, and supported by 630 others and counting. The UK’s response to Read the rest of this entry »

Coronavirus: scientists versus the government

March 13, 2020

With the coronavirus now spreading more rapidly in the UK, a huge gulf has opened up between epidemiologists and public health researchers on one side and the government on the other.

And in the absence of clear directions from government, others – from managers of universities and workplaces to families – are making their own decisions.

The fact that the former health secretary Jeremy Hunt has grabbed the headlines this morning, urging stronger measures, shows just how lost Boris Johnson’s government is.

But the most damaging criticism of the government I have seen is from medical and scientific experts polled by the Guardian yesterday for their reaction to Johnson’s announcement.

Their language was measured, even understated. They were extremely careful not to exaggerate.

An illustration by Alissa Eckert and Dan Higgins of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showing the structure of a coronavirus

(Senior climate scientists do the same: these highly privileged, clever people who have spent decades working their way to the top of their professions – and for whom dealing with politicians is part of the job – chose their words carefully.)

If we read their comments with all that in mind, they are devastating.

Professor Paul Hunter at the Norwich Medical School: “I was expecting there to be something a bit more rigorous. […] Just telling elderly people to not go on cruises isn’t enough to protect them. I would’ve hoped we’d be seeing more targeted advice for elderly and vulnerable citizens […]. I think they’ve been left out on a limb. [My emphasis, GL.]

Hunter’s most damning point was about the government’s lack of transparency: “I would like to see a bit more about why they’re not closing schools and banning large events. We do know, in Read the rest of this entry »

Solidarity with jailed Russian anti-fascists: London protest on Thursday

February 23, 2020

This month seven Russian anti-fascists were jailed with lengthy sentences ranging from six to eighteen years. They were framed and tortured by the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) and accused of being members of a fictional terrorist organisation called “The Network”.

Two other anti-fascists accused of being part of the organisation dreamt up by the FSB, Viktor Filinkov and Yuly Boyarshinov, have a trial resuming this week – which makes it particularly important to show solidarity.

We are calling on anti-fascists from across London and the south east to protest outside the Russian Embassy on Thursday evening, 27 February, to express our solidarity with the imprisoned and tortured anti-fascists suffering from this repression.

This is part of the international week of action in solidarity with the prisoners.

Demonstrate at 6:30pm @ the Russian Embassy, 6/7 Kensington Palace Gardens, London W8 4QP

Facebook event for the protest here

Information on the international solidarity campaign here

More on the case on People & Nature here

%d bloggers like this: