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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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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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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Greenwash and techno-babble take us towards catastrophe. We need to turn the great power of social movements against them

November 30, 2022

This interview with Simon Pirani, first published on the Transnational Social Strike platform, is part of the Climate Class Conflict initiative which the platform is promoting, to provide a space for transnational discussion on climate struggles.

Q. In the last years, the climate movement – brought about mainly by young people – has used the strike as its main political tool to claim for a just transition and for climate justice on a global level. Which impact do you think this movement is having, in particular on social movements? Which are the main challenges do you think the climate movement have to face now?

“We have not been defeated”: African climate protesters at COP 27. Photo from Cop27 coalition twitter feed

A. Thank you for these questions. First, it is worth thinking about the way that the meaning of “strike” has changed. As far as I know, for at least two centuries, “strike” had a fairly narrow meaning: a collective refusal to do paid work. It was the most basic weapon of working-class struggle against employers. But under the impact of feminist and other movements, “strike” has come to cover a wider range of actions. The school students’ “Fridays for Future” movement is one such action.

I wish I could answer your question about what impact this is having on social movements! I think, time will tell. There was a moment when the new movements that emerged in 2018 – in the UK, around “Fridays for Future” and Extinction Rebellion – seemed to have the potential to change social movements more broadly. Then came the pandemic and the whole process was disrupted. It really did make organising more difficult.

This year, with the worst of the pandemic over, I have noticed two trends. The first is the growth of protest around climate issues in Africa, and a recognition of that by groups in the global north. The Niger Delta has decades of history of organising against the oil companies whose extractivism trashed the local environment and impoverished the population: that is not new. But some new movements – especially against the renewed push to exploit gas reserves – appear to be broader. Coalitions such as Don’t Gas Africa and Stop EACOP (the East African Crude Oil Pipeline) are significant. And many groups in Europe have made solidarity with the global south a basic building-block of all that they do on climate issues.

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The limits of western economic war with Russia and the failure of climate policy   

October 17, 2022

By Simon Pirani

Download this article as a PDF

Russia’s war on Ukraine marks a historical turning point. The illegal annexation of four Ukrainian regions in September, and the nuclear threats issued, are a dangerous intensification. It is a matter of principle, in my view, that the labour movement and civil society internationally should support Ukrainian resistance, and I have written about that elsewhere.[1] In this article, I make an initial attempt to understand the economic war being waged alongside the military conflict, the resulting disruption of energy markets, and their place in the broader social and ecological crises shaking capital.

Anti-war protest in Lisbon. Photo from Feminist Antiwar Resistance / @t_alexx_t

In the first section, I argue that the western powers’ economic war against Russia is reactive and limited; even now, sections of western capital hope to mend ruined business relationships with Russia. In the second section, I show that, until 2014, western policy was focused on integrating Russia into the world economy on the west’s terms: even after the Kremlin’s military intervention in Ukraine, the western response remained reactive. The third section is about the consequences of this year’s invasion for energy markets – in particular the European gas market – and for the energy transition. Narratives of “energy crisis” are being used to double down on fossil fuel investment and undermine the western powers’ commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, magnifying the impact of the war and climate crisis for the whole of humanity.

1. Economic warfare and its limits

The aim of the western powers’ sanctions on Russia is to try to discipline the Putin government, not to destroy it. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February, and illegal annexation of four Ukrainian regions in September, marks the breakdown of the relationship established in 1990-92 between Russia and the European powers, especially Germany – a breakdown that those powers had desperately hoped to avoid. This breakdown will transform not only capital’s military arrangements in Europe, but also the energy system, in which cheap Russian gas has been a key element for four decades.  

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Achieving climate justice is about solidarity across borders. Not charity

October 7, 2022

A conversation with Canadian socialist David Camfield about his new book, Future on Fire.

Simon Pirani: Congratulations on the publication of your book Future on Fire. It stands out, in my view, because you avoid pronouncing neat “solutions” to climate issues, you consider actually existing social movements and how they might address the climate emergency. You point to the limited scope of parliamentary politics and “green new deals”, and in chapter 3 argue that mass movements” are “our only hope”. I agree.

You argue that the point of these movements is “to develop the power to force governments to enact the climate justice measures that are needed”. That’s altogether different, you write, from seeking “governing power” (which anyway doesn’t have total control over the state, let alone capital). Movements shouldn’t limit themselves to “pushing the envelope” or holding governments accountable; it’s about applying “relentless and escalating pressure”. I agree.

“People in the global south are being hurt more by climate change”: a protest in Uganda against the East African Crude Oil Pipeline. See “About the photo” at the end

The question in my mind is: does it make sense to talk about a “mass movement” on climate issues at all? I am not sure that truly mass movements, in response to issues influenced by climate change, will look like “mass movements about climate”. You argue persuasively that the climate issue is always combined with the social issue: you give the example of Haitians being more vulnerable to death in storms than Cubans, because of the different societies they live in. And you quote Naomi Klein saying that “climate change acts as an accelerant to many of our social ills – inequality, war, racism – but it can also be an accelerant for the opposite, for the forces working for economic and social justice”.

Isn’t the reality that – rather than appearing as “mass movements on climate” – mass movements will actually develop in response to immediate, tangible issues, and that the task in hand is to find ways of taking these movements beyond the immediate, to address the larger issues of both climate and capitalism?

Take the “yellow vests” movement in France, which started in response to a tax on diesel fuel. You point out that far-right forces tried to divert the movement along anti-migrant lines, but were successfully confronted by left-wing forces who pushed against social inequality. All this gave rise to one of my favourite slogans, that you quote: “end of the world, end of the month, same struggle”. You write that the yellow vests “forged a powerful link” between climate issues and social issues. But wasn’t the reality actually more complex? Wasn’t that link only realised in a very small, fragile way, that still has to be built upon?

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Ukrainians face forcible deportation and conscription by Russian forces

June 27, 2022

Ukrainian activists in the Eastern Human Rights Group are using social media to build up a register of people forcibly deported from Russian-occupied areas.

A bot has been launched on Telegram (see @come_back_to_ukraine_bot) to contact citizens removed to Russia.

Men awaiting mobilisation by the Donbass “republics”. Photo from Eastern Human Rights Group

Deporting people against their will is a war crime. International and local human rights organisations, and the Ukrainian government, say there is mounting evidence that Russia is doing so on a large scale.

The Russian defence ministry said on 18 June that more than 1.9 million people, including 307,000 children, had been evacuated from Ukraine to Russia since the full-scale invasion on 24 February. Ukrainian activists deny Russian claims that all evacuees have left Ukraine voluntarily.

“If we don’t find how to help them, Russia will erase the Ukrainian identity of these children”, Oleksandra Matviichuk of the Ukrainian Centre for Civil Liberties responded.

The Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group in April protested against a scheme to resettle residents of Mariupol in the most inhospitable and distant areas of Russia.

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Greenwashed Silvertown tunnel pollutes, trashes the climate, and steamrollers democracy

June 13, 2022

London’s Labour Mayor, Sadiq Khan, is pushing ahead with the Silvertown tunnel project despite evidence that it will worsen already chronic air pollution problems and undermine chances of meeting climate targets.

Campaigners opposed to the £2 billion-plus project, to build a new tunnel under the Thames between Newham and Greenwich in east London, gathered on Saturday at a Health Summit to hear researchers explain the project’s harmful health effects.

This article is based on a talk at the start of the meeting by SIMON PIRANI, about why, even at this late stage, the project can and should be stopped, and about some of the campaigners’ achievements.

The Silvertown tunnel, like all road-building projects, has to be considered in the context of transport policy as a whole.

Attendees at the Health Summit on Saturday. Photo by Clive Carter

The only arguments in favour of the tunnel are that it will reduce traffic jams at the Blackwall tunnel. These arguments isolate the problem of these jams from all other problems in the world.

Supporters of the tunnel ask us: “What will you do about traffic jams?”

We say: reduce the total number of cars on the road. Which we need to do anyway, to address the appalling levels of air pollution and the danger of global warming.

If you read the London mayor’s transport policy of 2018, it looks as though this is the plan. It has big headlines about non-car transport modes. But the small print, the reality, is very different. The reality is that road transport in private cars is subsidised and supported, and support for other modes is being eaten away.

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Russia: a new wave of anti-war protest

May 20, 2022

Three months into Russia’s assault on Ukraine, PAVEL LISYANSKY reports that anti-war protesters, pushed back in March by a fierce legal clampdown, are finding ways to make their voices heard

While the Russian media claims wholesale popular approval of the Kremlin’s military aggression, Russians are being arrested for protesting peacefully in the country’s urban centres.

Russia’s military aggression against Ukraine has now entered its third month. The level of protest among the local population in Russian regions is increasing, due to several factors.

Leyla Sayfutdinova mounted a one-person picket against the war with her mouth sewn shut. See also “About the photo”, below

Because of the sanctions policy, global brands are leaving Russia and, at the same time, large employers are closing production facilities, thereby reducing jobs in the regions and draining tax revenues to regional budgets.

The regions of Russia have already received Cargo 200 [military code for the transportation of soldiers’ dead bodies] from Ukraine, which increases local people’s urge to protest. But the main political point is that these events sharpen the confrontation between regional elites and the federal centre of the Russian Federation. [Note. The Russian Federation is made up of 85 administrative units (regions, republics and autonomous territories), which are constantly in battle with the central government over shares of budgets, degree of local autonomy, etc.]

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Two enemies, one fight: climate disaster and frightful energy bills

May 16, 2022

Two clouds darken the sky. A close-up one: gas and electricity bills have shot up since the Russian invasion of Ukraine, and millions of families are struggling to pay. And a bigger, darker, higher one: the climate disaster, and politicians’ refusal to tackle it.

Ultimately, both these threats have a single cause: fossil fuels and the systems of wealth and power that depend on them. We need social movements to link the fight to protect families from unaffordable bills with the fight to move beyond fossil fuels, and in that way turn back global warming.

Here I suggest ways to develop such a movement in the UK, starting by demanding action on home heating.

Two linked crises

Since the government lifted the price cap on energy bills on 1 April, the average energy bill for 18 million households on standard tariffs rose to £1971 per year, from £1277. Another 4.5 million households on pre-payment schemes are paying an average of £2017 per year. And in October, bills could well rise above £3000.

There are now 6.3 million UK households (including 2.5 million with children) in fuel poverty, meaning that they are unable to heat their home to an adequate temperature. The End Fuel Poverty Coalition says that could rise to 8.5 million by the end of this year.

The main fuels for UK homes are gas, and electricity produced from gas and nuclear power. Retail prices have been driven up by a rise in gas, oil and coal prices on world markets – which started rising last year, as economies recovered from the pandemic, but shot upwards faster from March, after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

The war, and sanctions on Russia by western powers, could keep fossil fuel prices high for years. They have also driven global food prices upwards. This is the biggest bout of inflation worldwide since the 1970s.

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