Thursday, January 27, 2011

Blair's Iraq Timeline Of Lies

Blair leaving the Inquiry and returning to his multimillionaire lifestyle
When former Prime Minister Tony Blair addressed the Chilcot Inquiry into the lessons of the Iraq war last week, he did so safe in the knowledge that the Inquiry is an establishment stitch-up, with no powers to prosecute. However, the court of public opinion has long since turned decisively against Blair, and he should face a war crimes trial for his role in Iraq, as well as other military adventures during his time in power.

Whilst the mainstream media coverage focused on the narrow - but still significant - issue of whether or not the war was 'legal' - most people are surely more concerned about the disgusting loss of life, enormous human suffering, and appalling waste of resources that the Iraq war represents. He should face trial for those reasons, and I have done my bit towards the prosecution case, by compiling an at-a-glance timeline of key events in the run-up to the March 2003 invasion.

December: Blair tells Bush that "if [regime change] became the only way of dealing with this issue, we were going to be up for that."

February: Blair assures US President Bush that the UK government shares his commitment to regime change in Iraq.

February: "Formation-level planning" for a British deployment to Iraq begins, under Major General Graeme Lamb.

17th March: Blair tells his chief of staff that "the immediate WMD problems don’t seem obviously worse than three years ago. So we have to re-order our story and message." He complains that having sanctioned military action in Yugoslavia, Afghanistan and Sierra Leone, the Labour Party "should be gung-ho about Saddam."

April: In Texas, Blair tells Bush that "the UK would support military action to bring about regime change, provided that certain conditions were met".

June: US Central Command holds a special Iraq planning conference, including the UK and Australia.

July: Blair tells a House of Commons Select Committee that: "There are no decisions which have been taken about military action."

August: Discussions take place on British troops invading Iraq through the Turkish border in Kurdistan.

September: The now infamous "dodgy dossier" is published, including the '45 minute claim' of Iraq's alleged WMD capacity. Blair tells Parliament that Saddam Hussein has "existing and active military plans for the use of chemical and biological weapons…including against his own Shia population". But "In respect of any military options, we are not at the stage of deciding those options."

October: Attorney General Lord Goldsmith knew that Blair had "indicated to President Bush that he would join the US" without a UN resolution, though Goldsmith "thought that such action by the UK would be unlawful".

November: Resolution 1441 passed by the United Nations Security Council, declaring that "...false statements or omissions in the declarations submitted by Iraq pursuant to this resolution and failure by Iraq at any time to comply with, and cooperate fully in the implementation of, this resolution shall constitute a further material breach of Iraq's obligations." However, it does not sanction an invasion if Iraq breaches these "obligations".

30th January: Lord Goldsmith tells Blair that Resolution 1441 did not sanction the use of force and a further resolution would be required.

31st January: At the White House, Bush tells Blair that "Our diplomatic strategy had to be arranged around the military planning…. The start date for the military campaign was now pencilled in for 10 March." Blair tells Bush that he was "solidly with the president and ready to do whatever it took to disarm Saddam."

7th March: Goldsmith apparently changes his mind, and advises Blair that "a reasonable case can be made that resolution 1441 is capable in principle of reviving the authorisation [of the use of force] in Resolution 678 without a further resolution" - essentially declaring invasion legal without a second resolution.

19th March: Having been presented with false 'intelligence', the UK Parliament backs an invasion of Iraq.

20th March: US-led invasion of Iraq begins, with support from the UK and other coalition partners.

There is no way that the United States or the United Kingdom governments will grant a trial of Tony Blair and his key associates. If they have their way, he will continue to rake in millions of pounds as an after dinner speaker to the repulsively rich and powerful, and adviser to those who profited from the Iraq invasion. It is the task of the international working class to ensure that Bush, Blair, and all the such politicians face our own court.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Egypt In Tumult As Tunisian "Contagion" Spreads

Egypt's working class faces enormous repression
Following the example of their Tunisian counterparts, large sections of the Egyptian working class are demanding the end of Hosni Mubarak's US-backed dictatorship. After yesterday's national day of action, which saw thousands taking on police in the streets of Cairo, the dictator's son has reportedly fled for Britain.

Since the Tunisian uprising cost Zine El Abidine Ben Ali his throne nearly two weeks ago, local elites and financial markets have been shaking with fear that a similar fate awaited Mubarak. The long time ally of US imperialism presides over a society that is arguably even more starkly divided than that of Tunisia.

Just like in Tunisia, recent WikiLeaks revelations provided damning evidence of the government's complicity with US foreign policy. In the case of Egypt, the leaks have confirmed how the Egyptian state worked with the US and Israel to effectively imprison Palestinians in the Gaza Strip. This added fuel to the fire inherent in an economy where more than 40% of the population live on less than two dollars a day, and over 20% do not even have a dollar a day, while food prices are rising dramatically.

In the run-up to yesterday's events, there was a spate of Egyptian self-immolations, in apparent imitation of Mohamed Bouazizi, whose suicide by burning catalysed the Tunisian movement. The date of 25th January was largely set online, where Egyptians used Facebook and Twitter to organise their protests. In the event, four demonstrators were killed and many more were injured, as riot police and paramilitaries attacked people chanting "bread and freedom", amongst other anti-government slogans.

Though the new Egyptian movement wants an end to the Mubarak regime, Tunisian demonstrators are quickly learning that removing politicians from the top of state structures does not equal fundamental change to the capitalist 'order'. The toppling of Mubarak would be an event of world historic proportions, but just as in Tunisia, "[u]nless the working class organises to take over the running of the economy in its own interests, whoever hold the reins of political power will seek to make inroads" into any concessions. For his part, the leader of the nominal opposition is already distancing himself from the working class elements of the movement.

Utopia: The Abolition of Work (as a Four Letter Word)

In my last 'Utopia' article, I tried to explain exactly what 'communism' means. I sketched it as being:
"a form of society where production of resources is organised collectively; where everyone has free access to goods and services, and political decisions are taken democratically - i.e. there are no politicians, because everyone has an equal say."
That's all very well, you might argue, but what about all the work? Who is going to clean the floors after the revolution, if anyone can get whatever they need for free? It's said that Karl Marx jokingly replied "You will!" when a heckler posed this question at a meeting. But in reality, communists envisage our relationship to work being transformed by working class revolution. Many communists speculate that the worst jobs could be shared out equally, or even abolished altogether.

One hundred and twenty years ago, when technological innovation was in its infancy compared with today, Oscar Wilde proposed that:
"All unintellectual labour, all monotonous, dull labour, all labour that deals with dreadful things, and involves unpleasant conditions, must be done by machinery. Machinery must work for us in coal mines, and do all sanitary services, and be the stoker of steamers, and clean the streets, and run messages on wet days, and do anything that is tedious or distressing. At present machinery competes against man. Under proper conditions machinery will serve man."
If we consider it for a moment, we can see that many of the jobs in modern society do not contribute towards the satisfaction of human needs. Instead, they are needed to keep capitalism running. The distinctly utopian Socialist Party of Great Britain list the following "redundant" jobs, and many more could be added to the list:
"legal workers, chartered accountants, cost accountants, estimators, valuers, claims assessors, underwriters, brokers, taxation workers, marketing and sales personnel, advertisers, social security workers, cashiers and check-out assistants, police, prison workers, security guards, charities, armies, navies, air forces, armament workers, defence establishments etc."
Of these, the 'loss' of the 'defence industry' would perhaps be the most significant. If all the hours that scientists currently spend researching newer and better weapons were put instead towards healthcare, or exploring space, the beneficial advances would be far greater than we could possibly imagine in 2011.

The textile designer, artist and writer William Morris wrote extensively on this subject, and crystalised his ideas in Useful Work versus Useless Toil. Morris believed that even if all of the above had been put into practice, variety of work must become commonplace, because "To compel a man to do day after day the same task, without any hope of escape or change, means nothing short of turning his life into a prison-torment." In Morris' utopia, people "might easily learn and practise at least three crafts, varying sedentary occupation with outdoor - occupation calling for the exercise of strong bodily energy for work in which the mind had more to do." This would all be possible once property was held in common, because:
"...young people would be taught such handicrafts as they had a turn for as a part of their education, the discipline of their minds and bodies; and adults would also have opportunities of learning in the same schools, for the development of individual capacities would be of all things chiefly aimed at by education, instead, as now, the subordination of all capacities to the great end of "money-making" for oneself - or one's master."
To conclude, I can do no better than to quote the American anarchist Bob Black:
"Liberals say we should end employment discrimination. I say we should end employment. Conservatives support right-to-work laws. Following Karl Marx's wayward son-in-law Paul Lafargue I support the right to be lazy. Leftists favor full employment. Like the surrealists - except that I'm not kidding - I favor full unemployment. Trotskyists agitate for permanent revolution. I agitate for permanent revelry."

Friday, January 21, 2011

Conviction (15)

Conviction shows a respectful empathy with the struggles of the underprivileged
Directed by Tony Goldwyn
Written by Pamela Gray
On general release from 14th January 2010

I'm not spoiling too much by saying the 'Conviction' of the title stands for the wrongful guilty verdicts against Kenny Waters (who stood trial for the real life 1980 murder of Katharina Brow). But it also describes the determination of Betty Anne Waters, who qualified as a lawyer in an ultimately successful attempt to free her brother. This film is their story.

In flashbacks, Betty Anne and Kenny are shown growing up side by side in a small trailer park-filled Massachusetts town. Their life was one of getting into trouble, simply because it was a low cost way of having some fun. In the late seventies and early eighties, Betty Anne (Hilary Swank) is a bar worker whilst Kenny (Sam Rockwell) is just about getting by in low paid blue collar work, and still having scrapes with the local police.

When Kenny is accused of the brutal murder, he and Betty Anne are convinced he'll get off. But when two of his lovers turn testimony against him, a despairing Kenny is sentenced to life without parole, there being no death penalty in the state. In a bid to save Kenny from suicide or decades inside, Betty Anne begins her marathon bid to qualify as a lawyer, and uncover the evidence that would open this prison gates. It was a struggle that would take nearly two decades, costing Betty Anne her marriage and sometimes stunting her relationship with her kids.

Unlike most cinematic portrayals of working class life America (which are precious few and far between anyhow), Tony Goldwyn's version neither demonises nor romanticises - it simply is as it is. This feeds into the believability of Kenny's character in particular, which is superbly brought to life by Sam Rockwell. Similarly, Hilary Swank shows a tigerish tenacity that is so rare in female roles, but which she really seems to relish, no doubt at least in part due to her own difficult upbringing. Minnie Driver brings such much needed humour to her scenes as Betty Anne's colleague and confidant. Oscar nominations should be forthcoming.

On the down side, much of the film bears a leaden weight, which is mostly caused by Goldwyn and writer Pamela Gray's laser-like focus on the emotional trauma endured by the two siblings, to the exclusion of so much else. For instance, the police conspiracy and frameup is almost treated incidentally, whereas it would have made for a much more engaging story element, if it had been treated right. One woman's extraordinary persistence is very admirable, but the corruption inherent in the 'justice system' is of much wider interest. Still, Conviction shows a respectful empathy with the struggles of the underprivileged, and that is a start.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Issue 20 of The Commune Published

The January issue of The Commune has now been published. Highlights include a look at the recent Tunisian uprising, several articles on the emerging student movement, and of course my own Julian Assange/WikiLeaks article!

Though I haven't read them yet, Sharon Borthwick's take on David Cameron's 'advice' to striking workers (i.e. don't!), Allan Armstrong's examination of Tommy Sheridan's "celebrity socialism" and Ronan McAoidh's dissection of the catastrophic (for everyone but bankers and politicians) Irish economy all seem worth ten minutes of anyone's time.

Click here for a PDF version, or contact The Commune at if you would like to buy a printed copy (£1 + 50p postage) or set up a subscription (£12 a year UK/£16 EU/£20 international).

Issue 2 of The Educator - a bulletin for militant education workers and students - is also now available.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

"Mark Stone" and the Achilles' Heel of Activism

They called him "Flash": Kennedy made £50,000 a year undercover
The unmasking of activist "Mark Stone" as Police Constable Mark Kennedy has sent shockwaves through anti-capitalist groups around the UK. Police infiltration had long been considered a given by the more savvy demonstrators. But the fact that Kennedy had played such an integral part in the organisation of high profile direct actions - and police repression of them - has exposed the Achilles' heel of activism: its reliance on the good will of people who are often total strangers.

Kennedy had been an undercover agent since 2003, and was only outed last October, when his activist girlfriend found his original passport. As part of the secretive National Public Order Intelligence Unit, he'd spilled the beans on the attempt to shut down Ratcliffe-on-Soar power station in Nottingham, anti-fascist actions, and opposition to the 2005 G8 summit at Gleneagles, Scotland, amongst many other events. He had been due to present audio recordings in the power station case, but was dropped when it became clear that "The tapes I made meant that the police couldn’t prove their case." The revelation caused the case to collapse at Nottingham Crown Court last week.

"Lyn Watson" was said to be camera shy
Kennedy has now confirmed the suspicions of Leeds activists, namely that "Lyn Watson" was actually "Officer A". The Saturday Guardian unveiled "Officer B" as "Marco" Jacobs, who had successfully infiltrated the Cardiff Anarchist Network, No Borders, and early Climate Camps.

It needs to be recognised that the very nature of this type of protest group lends itself to state infiltration. People organise locally at first, but they will likely not have known each other before getting involved with the group. When a 'new person' arrives, they are often treated cautiously, and it normally takes a long time for a newcomer to be trusted for key roles. However, if their behaviour seems to fit with what is expected of them, they will eventually gain access to sensitive information.

Large scale, set piece direct actions are even more vulnerable. Though a certain 'scene' exists, and people know activists from around the country and indeed the world, if a 'new person' shows up at a set piece direct action, they will necessarily gain a certain amount of trust from people who don't know them. This is particularly dangerous when activists are committing illegal or potentially illegal acts. After all - it may be considered - if the are putting themselves at risk, they must be trustworthy. Unfortunately, the "Stone" case proves this is not true. As Kennedy told the Mail On Sunday:
"Marco Jacobs" was active in Wales
"Every action I took had to receive something called an ‘authority’ which covered me to infiltrate activist groups and be involved in minor crime such as trespass and criminal damage".
In other words, Kennedy had police licence to commit crimes, so long as his information led to the arrest of others.

These are not problems that say, the striking Wigan Heinz workers could have faced. If an unknown face had appeared at one of their meetings, he or she would have been placed under great suspicion. Similarly, even those taking part in the ongoing Tunisian uprising against the government would know a great many of their comrades to be their colleagues and neighbours.

In of itself, the infiltration problem does not mean that the 'anti-capitalist' style of demonstrating is a dead end, though it is surely impossible for such activists to guard against clandestine state intervention. But workplaces and neighbourhoods are where the day-to-day battle against capitalist domination is fought, and it is there that the resistance is most protected from state subterfuge.

Reluctant Heinz Strikers Accept De Facto Wage Cut

Workers at the Heinz factory in Kitt Green, Wigan have voted to accept a revised pay and conditions offer, bringing to an end a dispute that had lasted months, and prevented the production of millions of cans.

According to the Unite union, the offer was accepted by three quarters of voters, with a quarter hoping to hold out for a better deal. Around one hundred and fifty abstained, perhaps believing the vote a foregone conclusion. As it is, the 3.9% pay increase in both 2010 and 2011 is significantly better than the 3.3% rise that Unite bureaucrats recommended in September last year. The 0.6% gain is testimony to the power of solidarity, determination, and rank-and-file organisation.

However, there are significant limitations. 3.9% is far below the Retail Price Index inflation measure, which stands at 4.8%, and is expected to rise even higher over the next two years. Moreover, since the first ballots, VAT has increased by 2.5%. To put it simply, Wigan Heinz workers have now accepted a pay deal which condemns them to significantly reduced living standards.

The political responsibility for this lies with the Unite bureaucracy, which feigns concern for its own members' lives, but is most concerned about the union's bottom line, from which it funds its own, far more comfortable lifestyle. At a picket line speech in December, Unite general secretary Len McCluskey said he wanted a situation where workers could "get back to work, and make this company even more profitable." After leaving the platform, he joked "Now let's take over the factory!"

While Heinz already makes profits running into the hundreds of millions worldwide, McCluskey's aim is indeed to make their UK operations more profitable, to head-off the company's threat of moving away from the UK, which would entail the loss of membership for Unite. From this perspective, a 3.3% rise would have been better for the union leaders, and that's why they recommended that their membership accept it. The Unite negotiators then scrapped the 5th January strike, as a condition for Heinz's slightly improved 3.5% "final" offer being put to members. To the credit of rank and file workers, this was also rejected.

The discussion on the 'Heinz Strike Info' Facebook group shows the complexity of the situation at Kitt Green. While many are happy that the company have been forced up to 3.9%, others are unhappy that they will be worse off over the next two years, with one poster even suggesting that the 75% who backed the offer are "thicker than a whale omelette". Unite's Kitt Green stewards Ian Wright and Mick Quinn have threatened a couple of left dissenters with expulsion from the group - a profoundly anti-democratic move.

In the near future, Heinz will be back for more exploitation at Kitt Green, and workers must take their struggle out of the bureaucrats' hands if they are to achieve a more complete victory. The global economic crisis is reaching the point where taking over the factory will no longer be a laughing matter, but the only way forward. And why should workers beg for crumbs from the master's table, when it they who make his food?

See also: Heinz Means Strikes In Wigan

Friday, January 14, 2011

Tunisian Uprising Wins Concessions From US-Backed Elite

The uprising has been dubbed a 'bread intifada'
US-backed Tunisian dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali is making concession after concession to a spontaneously created protest movement, in a desperate attempt to cling onto power in the North African country. Solidarity protests have been held in neighbouring Algeria, and support for the Tunisian 'bread intifada' is growing throughout the Arab nations. It seems likely that such demonstrations will spread internationally, amongst equally impoverished populations.

With general strikes and riots gripping major cities over the last week, Ben Ali responded has brutally, and scores have been shot dead by police. When a curfew failed to curb the movement, the dictator started granting concessions. He started by offering to stand down in 2014. He also pledged to create 300,000 jobs, and release many of those arrested in the past days. In the past couple of hours, Ben Ali has dismissed his government, dissolved parliament, and promised elections within six months.

In neighbouring Algeria, the government has reduced the price of oil and sugar by a total of 41%, following rioting there. In Libya, Morocco and Egypt - which has seen no significant action against their regimes over the past few weeks - governments have also taken concessionary measures to ward off 'contagion'.

The Tunisian uprising was touched off a month ago, when Mohamed Bouazizi, a university graduate who worked as a street vendor in Sidi Bouzid, 200km south-west of the capital Tunis, committed suicide by setting himself on fire, after police seizures of his fruit and vegetables. When local youths gathered to protest the incident, cops responded with tear gas and further violence. Waves of revolt have followed, while the Union Generale Tunisienne du Travail - which openly backed Ben Ali until recently - have called general strikes, in a bid to gain control over the movement.

The living conditions facing Tunisia's young working class people were described by rapper The General, in a track released online in the new year. The government then arrested The General last week, before releasing him as part of Ben Ali's partial climbdown. In President, Your People Are Dying, The General described how it's "2011 and there are still those who die of hunger/They want to work for a living but their voice is not heard/Just walk the streets and see, people are becoming monsters/Look at the police men with batons, 'tak tak' [hitting] relentlessly".

Indeed, unemployment is extremely high in Tunisia. Though the official rate is 14%, it is estimated to be twice and high, and even worse for young people. The global economic crisis has also seen the cost of living rise dramatically, with food prices increasing by the largest margin.

Tunisian elections have taken place under strict controls in the past, so it will be interesting to see what shape the next government takes. One thing is for certain, however. Unless the working class organises to take over the running of the economy in its own interests, whoever hold the reins of political power will seek to make inroads into Ben Ali's concessions, and will remain subservient to the United States and France on the international stage.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Utopia: What Is Communism?

Only one of these men was really a communist. Clue: he's throwing the horns!
Last week, I began my 'Utopia' series with an idea about how communism would cure the common cold. Basically, anyone could stay in bed instead of working if they felt ill, so there would be less opportunities for the virus to spread. But that's such a big leap from the capitalist way of thinking, I thought I'd better take a breath, and tell you what I think this communism thing is anyway.

Firstly, there's a lot of misinformation about, so here's what it's not. For the right wing US Republicans amongst you, it's not Barack Obama. If you're struggling to get your head around that, look at the way that he keeps helping Wall Street oligarchs and cutting working class living standards. For the Trotskyists, Stalinists, Maoists, Castroists, and whatever other twentieth century dictator-ists, I'm afraid it's not your guy either. Each of your heroes advocated and organised top-down state control of production and distribution, which has nothing to do with communism, and has only dragged its name through the mud. For the rest of on!

Though most paper dictionaries get it wrong, Wiktionary has it right. Communism is:
  1. Any political philosophy or ideology advocating holding the production of resources collectively.
  2. Any political social system that implements a communist political philosophy.
  3. The international socialist society where classes and the state no longer exist.
In short, communism is a form of society where production of resources is organised collectively; where everyone has free access to goods and services, and political decisions are taken democratically - i.e. there are no politicians, because everyone has an equal say. It is a society of material abundance, where our current alienation from our work, from the products of our work, from our own impulses, and from each other, is replaced by a world "in which the free development of each is the condition for the free development of all."

I support The Commune group's platform, which declares that:
"We are communists: we fight for a new self-managed society based on collective ownership of the means of production and distribution and an economy organised not for value production but for the well-being of humanity and in harmony with our natural environment. Communism will abolish the system of wage-labour so that our ability to work will cease to be a commodity to be sold to an employer; it will be a truly classless society; there will be no state, no managers or organisations superior to those of workers’ self-management."
Of course, you could have many different objections to this. The most common one is that while this all sounds very nice 'on paper' (or on your computer screen), it would never work in practice, because it is 'against human nature'. The Russian anarcho-communist Peter Kropotkin wrote a lot about why this isn't actually the case, and in fact mutual aid is a very significant factor in evolution. But you don't have to take his word for it.

Look at all the people who do voluntary work even in a capitalist society, where there are strong disincentives. Look at how people don't fight for a seat on the bus if there are plenty to go around. But even more than that, look at the real experiences of communism working in the Paris Commune of 1871, Ukraine after the Russian revolution of 1917, Catalonia and Aragon during the Spanish Civil War of the 1930s, and the Zapatista municipalities in Chiapas, Mexico today. Also, look at our human ancestors, who practiced communism when the 'property' that existed was held in common within the tribes.

Sure, achieving international communism is no easy matter, and how we get there is still very much open to debate, some of which I make my own contribution to. But I hope I have shown that the (historically) necessary struggle will be well worth it, come the glorious day.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Jared Loughner and Clay Duke - A Tale Of Two Shooters

Jared Lee Loughner's suitably unsettling mugshot
On 8th January, America and much of the world was shocked by the shooting of Democratic Representative Gabrielle Giffords, federal judge John Roll, and eighteen others. The attack took place at a shopping precinct in Tucson, Arizona. Giffords is believed to have been shooter Jared Lee Loughner's primary target, and she is currently in a critical condition, having been shot in the head at point blank range. Roll, a congressional aide, a nine-year-old girl, and three people in their seventies died at the scene or shortly after.

Whatever the immediate spark for Loughner's actions, there is now little doubt that he had come under the influence of fascistic elements on the fringe of the Republican Party, many of whom identify with the 'Tea Party' label. While his online political statements are incoherent even on their own terms, Loughner borrowed much of his vocabulary from extreme right politicians such as Sarah Palin, as well as media personalities like Glenn Beck. Tea Party-inspired references to the "second constitution" (i.e. the Amendments which banned slavery and granted citizenship to all born in the US) and a return to the gold standard (a favourite theme of Beck's) sit alongside rants about the "ZOG" (Zionist Occupation Government, an anti-Semitic 'theory'), and government mind control through grammar.

While Loughner - an unemployed twenty-two year old living with his parents - could never benefit from his belief in right wing theories, the Tea Party politicians and their multi-millionaire backers such as Rupert Murdoch certainly could. In spreading such rhetoric, Murdoch, Beck, Palin and others hope to push both the Republican Party and the Obama administration even further to the right. Now, having taken their views on board, a vulnerable and disturbed individual has acted violently upon them.

Today Palin issued a statement, claiming that articles linking her with the killing amount to "blood libel", continuing that: "Our debates are full of passion but we settle our political differences respectfully at the ballot box." However, Palin's devotion to the ballot over the bullet does not carry much weight, when one considers that she recently suggested WikiLeaks co-founder Julian Assange should be assassinated, just like an al-Qaeda leader would be.
Duke: "I was just born poor in a country where the Wealthy manipulate, use, abuse, and economically enslave 95 percent of the population."

Just before Christmas, Clay Duke held a Florida school board hostage, fired shots which hit no-one, and then finally turned the gun on himself. The incident, which was captured on video, saw Duke approaching the podium, mumbling incoherently, and then spraypainting a circled letter v on the wall, in an apparent reference to the anti-government graphic novel and film V For Vendetta. He then pulled out his pistol, told public members and women on the board they could leave, and spoke about his wife having been sacked by the Panama City school system.

Rebecca Duke had been taken on as a primary school teacher for children with special needs in September 2009. After her probationary period, superintendent Bill Husfelt took the decision to let her go. She was unable to find further work, and her unemployment benefits eventually expired, leaving her destitute.

What makes the Duke case even more tragic is the class consciousness that Clay had developed. On his Facebook profile, he declared:
"My testament: Some people (the government sponsored media) will say I was evil, a monster (V) ... no ... I was just born poor in a country where the Wealthy manipulate, use, abuse, and economically enslave 95 percent of the population. Rich Republicans, Rich Democrats ... same-same ... rich ... they take turns fleecing us ... our few dollars ... pyramiding the wealth for themselves...The 95%… the us, in US of A, are the neo slaves of the Global South. Our Masters, the Wealthy, do, as they like to us…"
Clay went on to quote billionaire Warren Buffett's famous observation that "There’s class warfare, alright, but it's my class, the rich class that’s making war, and we’re winning." He signed off with words with Percy Shelley's The Masque Of Anarchy: "Rise like lions after slumber/In unvanquishable number/Shake your chains to earth like dew/Which in sleep has fallen on you/Ye are many - they are few".

In the midst of the greatest social crisis since the Great Depression of the 1930s, enormous stresses are building up within the working class. As yet, they have found no mass collective expression, and this has robbed us of Clay Duke, who would surely have been won over to a new movement. When large scale resistance does come, even some of the politically confused Jared Loughners may see the error or their ways. Until then, social tensions will continue to erupt in acts of individual desperation.

What The "Man With The Golden Voice" Affair Says About Capitalism

Just nine days ago, Ted Williams was sleeping rough on the streets of Columbus, Ohio, and begging passers by for change. His sign explained that he was an "ex radio announcer" with "a God given gift of voice". A reporter from the Columbus Dispatch asked for a demonstration, and the resulting clip got millions of hits almost instantly. Since then, Williams has lent his rich, deep voice to commercials for Kraft, joined the talk show circuit, and has received an offer of a house and a job from the owner of the Chicago Cavaliers basketball team. But what does the affair say about capitalism in general, and its 'American dream' variant in particular?

While the viral success of Williams' video can be put down to compassion for the plight of the homeless, mixed with a certain amount of curiosity, the American media has been quick to seize on the case as proof that "life in this country can change overnight" (in the words of Matt Lauer from the Today Show, who makes $13 million a year). In the midst of January blues and widespread pessimism about the state of the economy, Williams' story is being presented as a 'feel good' item - the ultimate 'rags to riches' story, which supposedly demonstrates that the pursuit of happiness is a realistic possibility for all Americans, no matter how bad things might get in their lives.

There are many problems with this perspective. Williams is - of course - the exception that tests the rule of social immobility. He has a highly marketable talent, which just happened to be discovered by a journalist. Unfortunately, there are many more homeless people who won't get such a break, although no doubt some will be trying to get a YouTube following in the near future. Even before the onset of this economic depression, an estimated 3.5 million US citizens experienced homelessness anually, and a 2010 report showed that the numbers had increased by 9% in just one year.

There is no doubt that a great pool of untapped talent lies within these many millions of people, talent which should be used for the benefit of all humanity. The same applies to the unemployed and underemployed, where they are just about able to keep a roof over their heads. However, under our present economic system, talent is only rewarded when it is can be exploited to make the wealthy even wealthier. Sadly, the unspoken message of the Williams coverage is that he is a rare deserving case, who has somehow ended up on the streets, but merits a so much better life because of his vocal cords. The implication is that the remainder must be undeserving, including the many ex-'heroes' of the armed forces who eke out an existence under the stars. Meanwhile, the obscene wealth enjoyed by the parasitical financial aristocracy is barely questioned.

Hopefully, Williams will get the care and attention he needs. In the short term, he will be able to make a lot of money, but those who boost him now are likely to drop him as soon as the novelty wears off. Those now waving cheques in his direction care nothing about the plight of the homeless - Chicago Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert is CEO of Quicken Loans, which rakes in millions by seizing the homes of those unable to keep up payments. In this light, the 'gold' of Williams' label has only one meaning.

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Artists of the Resistance - They Destroy, We Create!

Like all broad fronts created by the reformist left, the Coalition of Resistance is full of internal contradictions. Formed following a letter to The Guardian written by veteran left Labourite Tony Benn, its leadership is comprised of competing tendencies, each seeking to increase their own membership, and channel anger over the cuts into safe, reformist directions.

However, again like all broad fronts, it has many 'ordinary' supporters who just want to stop the government doing something harmful to their interests - in this case, slashing public spending. As Phil Dickens argued in October, anti-authoritarians need to engage with such people, because:
"It is vital to try and educate fellow workers and socialists about our ideas on how to fight the struggles we all face, and to agitate the authoritarians and self-appointed leaders of the left so that people know there is an alternative to them. But it all comes to nothing unless we actively organise and lead by example at the same time."
In that spirit, I'm publicising the newly-formed spin-off from the Coalition of Resistance, namely Artists of the Resistance. At the founding meeting in mid-December, it was decided that "We need to be active in our respective areas, but also come together as writers, artists, musicians, filmmakers, animators etc. We should work on propaganda making slogans, posters, YouTube clips, anmimated manifestos etc. We should go to places threatened with closure and speak, act, dance, play, perform, read."

This is an excellent idea, and one that - unlike the Coalition of Resistance meetings addressed by trade union bureaucrats and Labour politicians - can easily escape the clutches of those who would manipulate it for their own party political ends. Already, the Facebook group has 251 members, a number that is sure to grow as performances get underway. It is has the potential to go viral via social networking sites, and pique the interest of those who might be loathe to read a political article. The first steps towards a Musicians of the Resistance group were taken today, and anyone who is interested in taking part is asked to email Alex Etchart (etchartmusic[at] with their name, skills, any web links, and contact details.

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Utopia: Communism Versus The Common Cold

It harms profit levels, but capitalism has no cure for the cold
Call it 'acute coryza', 'acute viral rhinopharyngitis', or just 'the common cold'; we all know what it is, and how annoying it can be. Okay, so it's not cancer, but it's certainly not nice for the few days you have it (plus maybe a week of catarrh afterwards), and actually 727 people died from it in 2003, according to a World Health Organisation survey. And though there's no cure for cancer yet, I believe the cold could easily be eradicated.

Think about how you felt last time you got one. For me, it was just in time for Christmas. For the man in the flat downstairs, it's now, by the sounds of things. When I got it over the holidays, I stayed in bed, wrapped up warm with some Ribena, and kept away from people. I was able to do this precisely because it was the holidays, and I didn't need to be anywhere else. So I did what 'came naturally', and let my body get the rest it needed to help combat the unwelcome intruder.

But if you get a cold on a day where you have to go to work or school - and that's most days for most people - you are being compelled (by the threats of bosses or teachers or whoever), to do what seems most unnatural, and to take your virus into environments (such as public transport, offices, or classrooms) where it can contaminate others. So not only do you feel like death warmed up, but you also have to deal with the knowledge that you are spreading it to your colleagues, and if you deal with customers, you are likely handing over a rhinovirus with their change.

As the above poster indicates, this is insanity even from the bosses' perspective. Unhealthy workers are less productive workers, so their rate of exploitation is temporarily decreased. If you were a boss, it would make sense for you to allow your workers the day off whenever they had a virus. Of course, the problem with this is that alienation thing. Because most people hate their jobs, and only come in because they 'have to' in order to make a living, such a system would obviously be (ab)used by millions of people with pegs on their noses and a phone to their ears.
Could this sight be a thing of the past come the revolution?
In a communist society - where all products of labour would be freely available to everyone - alienation at work would be abolished. If someone was genuinely ill, they could take a duvet day, without worrying about bosses or colleagues getting resentful. In fact, co-workers would be grateful, because of course no-one wants to be infected with a virus. Sooner or later, the common cold itself would be cured, thanks to the medicine of common property relations.

If you think that sounds utopian, you're right. It's unashamedly utopian. With the crisis of capitalism bringing ever greater misery around the world, it would be easy to write reams and reams about how horrible everything is. And I'm not going to stop doing that. But more importantly, I want to encourage people to look at society in new ways, and start imagining how we could create a social structure that actually functions for the benefit of the immense majority - the opposite of today's reality. With that in mind, I'm starting a 'Utopia' series of articles, to illustrate the idea that nothing about this universe is inevitable. Nothing except change, that is.

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