Spain is not Greece, or is it? Electoral prospects for the left in 2015.

<> on March 22, 2014 in Madrid, Spain.After the electoral victory of SYRIZA in Greece, the attention of the European left has justly focused on its enormous difficulties in tackling a very unfavourable international conjuncture, as well as the very promising opportunities it opens up. It’s undeniable the room to manoeuvre for the European left has expanded, although setbacks in Greece may become setbacks across the whole Union. It is because of this that the most repeated slogans from the ruling right wing party (PP) as well as the social democrats in opposition (PSOE) is that Spain is not Greece.

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SYRIZA and Memnosyne

Imagery from the Greek military junta (1967-1974), whose “Golden Dawn” offspring and its ties to the police and military apparatus remains a threat to Greek democracy today. Will Syriza deal with this threat, or will “forgetting” continue?

Lyndon Johnson observed that Greece was “the Vietnam of the 1940s.”
He was referring, of course, to the “civil war” – i.e: the suppression of the Left- that followed the German occupation- the time when the Aegean became an archipelago of torture camps. A
recent study places at c. 100,000 the number who survived or died in
those Anglo-American supported prisons.

After the bitter struggle ended in 1952, the only permissible account of and only account of the Resistance was provided by the winners. Anthropologist Nena Panougia recalls that in 1964 or 1965, when she was a little girl, a man in oldfashioned clothes, “whose seriousness fell on me like a weight,” came to the door and said to her mother “I am selling books, madam.” He looked at me and said again, “’Buy one, please, for your daughter.’” Her mother bought a
four volume set of a history of the Resistance. Continue reading

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Why the Workers’ Party

hands-no-apo-impact-small-borderA new era was inaugurated with the financial collapse of 2008. The former optimism of near permanent economic growth which would yield benefits to the vast majority in society was dealt a serious blow. While the vast bulk of benefits have gone to the few at the top, the financial catastrophe and the ensuing austerity regimes have made it clear that things are going to be worse for the majority. Essentially, the class basis of our society has been made very apparent.

Despite this clarifying event, there has been very little organised response. Awareness of the problem does not necessarily lead to a solution being adopted.

The reason for this is not that there are no alternatives, but that there is no movement to win them. The problem, then, is an organisational problem. Alternatives require an organised movement with a clear vision of what it wants in order to obtain them.
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“It’s boring but necessary”: An Interview with Jos Alembic (aka “Q”) on Changing Dutch Political Discourse

Is there a way to reorient Dutch politics?I recently had a discussion with Q, a member and founder of Marxist Center and the Communist Platform, a political lobbying organization in the Netherlands that seeks to inject a more traditional class-oriented slant into the national political discourse, with particular emphasis on agitation within the Dutch Socialist Party, the third largest constellation inside the Dutch Parliament. We discussed his work trying to change the terms of discourse within the SP and the Dutch left in general. A transcript is available below.

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Is Class Real? Some Empirical Contributions from Econophysics

Working class holding up the world of the ruling class.The idea that society is divided into two major groups under capitalism: Working class (or proletarian) and Capitalist class (or bourgeoisie) has been out of favour for quite a while.

There are many more common interpretations of what the import groups in society are. If asked most people would come up with a whole host of important classes:professionals, middle class, skilled workers, public/private sector etc.

There have also been many attempts to talk about social class which see it as a continuum. This idea that social class is simply where everyone has varying social power and so no firm divisions should be drawn. This sort of continuum hypothesis of social strata is given renewed vigour with the substantial and important work of Piketty1 who looks at the effect of wealth on society empirically over long time scales.

However, there are good reasons to avoid being too hasty, and removing class analysis from the picture. For a start, Marx’s two class model can give us tremendous insights into empirical data. However, perhaps more importantly, if it is true, it sheds enormous light on what we should do about inequality and a host of other economic problems which are present in capitalism.
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Why autonomists make good journalists

Much loathed and admired within the leftist community, autonomists represent a small but mixed bunch. With their focus on the daily, small-scale class struggle, their squats and auto-reduction, and their sometimes incomprehensible jargon they elicit both fascination and contempt from other marxists. Yet it is easy to let our view of them be dominated by theoretical considerations alone, thereby ignoring how their ideology and composition molds them to be excellent journalists, offering key lessons for re-igniting a working-class media to counter hegemony.
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Building Revolution — Article from the ‘United Irishman’, May 1971

During the 1960s and 1970s, the Irish Republican Movement evolved from a conventional nationalist project with a strategic emphasis – if not obsession – with militarism to an explicitly socialist project which placed a premium on mass politics.

That evolution was not uncontested and, under the pressure of state reaction to a militant civil rights campaign in Northern Ireland in 1969, the move to abandon abstentionism, and an adroit intervention by the Southern government to bolster the old school nationalists within the movement, the IRA and Sinn Féin split into two camps: Officials and Provisionals.

Seán Garland’s article from the May 1971 edition of Official Sinn Féin’s newspaper, The United Irishman, is part of the working out of a theoretical perspective of what ultimately would become The Workers’ Party. Written in the context of a serious ratcheting up of the violence in Northern Ireland, which would have had a massive emotional pull on the movement’s activists, the article is part of the process of providing an alternative conception of the way forward, one towards mass, socialist politics.

Although the national question retains a position of importance, the conception of revolution as working class power is notable, as it the distinction between “insurrection” and “revolution”, the necessity for revolutionary organisations, and the need to engage in mass politics and to connect it with the ultimate aim. [J. O’B]

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The Many Prongs That Lead to Ferguson

Bobby Hutton, killed in 1968 by the Oakland Police.

Bobby Hutton, killed in 1968 by the Oakland Police.

There are a number of strands that can be picked up from the recent, much-publicized events in Ferguson, Mo. Ferguson is a suburb on the innermost ring of St. Louis’s quite extensive “fat belt”, a European term for the series of developments and municipalities that co-exist, sometimes symbiotically, more often parasitically, with the larger cities they surround. Though the mass media has, as can be expected, been considering almost to the exclusion of all other questions the issue of Michael Brown’s race — a critical issue in the unfolding events, no doubt, but nothing new in the grand scheme of things in a long chronicle of police brutality and racially-instigated abuse of power by the privileged subclass designated to enforce the laws in the United States – it seems that more fundamental structural, institutional as well as cultural problems are unearthed, if one digs more than at the surface level of these events. Continue reading

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“Tax is the Lifeblood of Democracy”: An Interview with John Christensen of the Tax Justice Network

John Christensen from a Guardian piece

John Christensen from a Guardian piece

Recently, I sat down to talk with John Christensen of the Tax Justice Network, to talk about his organisation and what it does. Topics as wide ranging as state subsidies of corporations and the role of the OECD as “a think tank dominated by the rich countries” were discussed. We got into some of the major work the organisation has done over the years, including the Price of Offshore, the Financial Secrecy Index, International Accountancy standards and more recently, automatic information sharing. I learned alot, including that, if I wanted to set up a shady company of which I wanted no record, I didn’t have to go far: Wyoming is apparently a booming secrecy jurisdiction, part of the new American Wild West. The interview is about an hour in length. Sorry for the bad sound quality, hadn’t quite got the settings right.

The interview audio for downloading or streaming: Continue reading

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Review: Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the 21st Century

Thomas Piketty's CapitalThomas Piketty’s new book, Capital in the 21st Century, or “Capital” for short, has made a massive impression in the media. He has been elevated to something of an economic super-star status. People who never were interested in economics have joined reading groups of Capital, and an unprecedented number of articles has appeared outside of the “business” pages on the question of economics.

I’m going to review some of the content of this book, and give a brief explanation of what Piketty has done.

I’ll focus on some of the contributions that I think are useful and important. Then I’ll describe some of the problems that I think are inherent to Piketty’s approach.
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Catholic Marxism

Pick your Messiah

Pick your Messiah

At first glance Marxism and Catholicism have little in common: one is thoroughly materialist in outlook, the other a prime defender of idealism.

Whereas Marxism is dedicated to a new social order, the Church has been intimately associated with conservative, even reactionary politics for the last few centuries. And yet there are commonalities: religious figures have engaged in dialogue with Marxists in Latin America, often leading to the establishment of mass socialist parties. Perhaps, Hugo Chavez more than any other personified the gelling of socialism and Christianity. But he is a representative of a trend; his conception was by no means unique.
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Why is the left so obsessed with degeneration?

There is a specter haunting the radical left, the specter of degeneration. Okay, that might sound a bit dramatic but the left today really is scared a great deal of something called various things to various people. Whether we call it reformism, opportunism, or revisionism, it mainly comes down to the violation of what the group and/or individuals in question consider as the core principles of their sub-ideology within the radical left. This phenomenon is a veritable obsession, and not a day goes by without the left bickering over it, leaving bitter factionalism and splits in its wake. Such is our obsession that many of the groups within the radical left point to the struggle against opportunism as one of their main tasks. But is it healthy to focus so strongly on fighting it? Or should we find other tasks to engage with? Surely the fight against ideas that deviate too much from our ideology’s basic principles is warranted? In this article we will consider the value of and the problems associated with this collective obsession.
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Critical notes on the “Manifesto of the Initiative for Democratic Socialism” (MIDS)

iniciativa-za-demokraticni-socializem-logoThis is a critique of the Manifesto of the Initiative for Democratic Socialism (Slovenia)

The ideological dominance of capitalism as the only feasible mode of production is coming to an end. In the second half of the 1970s, when rapid and stable economic growth came to a halt in the ‘developed’ world, the forces of capital intensified their attack on workers’ rights that has not ceased to this day. The foundation on which the ideological domination of capitalism was based had started to wither away, and the advocates of capitalism increasingly justified its existence by turning to the mere fact of its existence. The fact that unlike really existing socialisms, capitalism has not collapsed – although it had to be rescued by fascist gangs and military juntas many times – underpinned the claim that there simply is no alternative and that we must accept any sacrifice in the name of capital accumulation. If growing inequality, poverty of the majority of the world population, terror of dictators and devastation of nature are the price to be paid for capital to flourish, then so be it.

The passage above is well phrased in general, however it misses what has been a key ideological point of right wing argument since the 90s, that only capitalism is compatible with democracy, and that the spread of capitalism will lead to the spread of liberal democracy. Explicit support for military junta’s has been much less common since the 90s. So when confronting the post soviet ideology of the upper classes reference to military junta’s misses the main target.
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Notes on Ideology, Power, the Media and the Irish Crisis

An introduction to the study of ideological power structures and their relevance in the Irish economic crisis (Notes from a presentation to the Dublin Left Forum 10/05/2014)


Mural: Sunday Morning, Operation Control, Mind Control, Life Control, Operation Mind Control

Since the onset of the crisis that the Irish state thus far has not had to resort to coercion in any serious manner; a co-opted trade union movement alongside a generally homogeneous mainstream polity has meant that all austerity measures, including direct cuts to pay, conditions and the social wage have been successfully introduced. While the Fianna Fail party was almost wiped out in the 2011 election, the Irish system of ‘two and a half parties’ has meant Fianna Fail’s twin party centre right party Fine Gael, backed up by the Irish Labour Party has been able to continue the austerity project without missing a beat. While there have been many defensive protests on single issues such as individual hospital closures and the regressive household tax, some partially successful, the elite have been able to successfully implement a universal austerity programme of cuts and attacks to pay, conditions and the social wage. It is the belief of this author that ideological processes expressed mainly but not exclusively through the media has had an important role in this process. The aim of this paper is to introduce the various concepts of ideology and their role in both economic and political power structures; to apply those concepts to the media sphere and finally to apply the concepts to the role of ideology and specifically to mediated issues of economics and political policy in the Irish crisis.
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