Friday, December 30, 2011

Thatcher and Liverpool - Thirty Years On

Behind police lines during the 1981 Toxteth riots
Ah, the summer of 1981! The spectacle of a 'fairytale' royal wedding was a distraction for some as a Conservative PM led a ruling class offensive and unemployment skyrocketed, while riots shook the inner cities. 'The more things change, the more they stay the same', some have commented today, as government documents from those days are released under the thirty year rule.

Amongst revelations that the government lied about negotiations with the IRA during the hunger strikes and that Thatcher - shock! horror! - paid for her own Prime Ministerial ironing board, we are given a glimpse of the Thatcher cabinet's reaction to rioting in London, Bristol and - in particular - Liverpool. It turns out that Thatcher played referee in a policy battle between then Chancellor Geoffrey Howe and then Environment Secretary Michael Heseltine.

Heseltine believed the riots showed that something needed to be done in Liverpool. Of course, he didn't advocate a redistribution of wealth from the top to the bottom. Still, his It Took A Riot report argued for significant resources to be dedicated to regenerating the areas in which some of the poorest lived. This was a product of his 'one nation conservatism' - a philosophy based on fear that the poorest will rise to challenge capitalism as usual if they are left to rot.

But even then, one nation conservatism was on the wane, as speeding globalisation and a falling rate of profit compelled the ruling class to break with the social democratic consensus which had been part of the post-war settlement with the working class.

Heseltine at the garden festival site earlier this year
Thatcher had been put in power to make that seismic break with social democracy, and she wasn't about to let a few nights of insurrection shake her will. Something close to her position was articulated by Howe, when he warned her "not to over commit scarce resources to Liverpool".

"I fear that Merseyside is going to be much the hardest nut to crack," he said. "We do not want to find ourselves concentrating all the limited cash that may have to be made available into Liverpool and having nothing left for possibly more promising areas such as the West Midlands or, even, the North East. It would be even more regrettable if some of the brighter ideas for renewing economic activity were to be sown only on relatively stony ground on the banks of the Mersey. I cannot help feeling that the option of managed decline is one which we should not forget altogether. We must not expend all our limited resources in trying to make water flow uphill."

In short, for Howe and much of the ruling class, Liverpool's wounds were largely "self-inflicted". Of course, by Liverpool they meant the Liverpudlian working class, and by "self-inflicted" they meant that it was historically characterised by industrial militancy. Minutes of a key meeting show it was believed that: "The Liverpool dockers had caused the docks to decline by their appalling record of strikes and over-manning. Likewise, many companies had been forced to run-down their plants because of labour problems." This was unforgivable from a bourgeois perspective, and the city's population should not be encouraged by having "limited" cash squandered on them just because the people of Liverpool 8 had - to use a favourite local term - 'kicked off'.

Liverpool people know that Howe and Thatcher prevailed. Heseltine was made unofficial 'Minister for Merseyside', but his impact was generally limited to the garden festival of 1984, the commercialisation of the Albert Dock and the planting of new trees down Princes Avenue, as the government took on the local Militant tendency and ultimately won. Meanwhile, heavy industry was allowed to decline, culminating in the shutdown of the docks in the 1990s. Commercialism and culture were billed as rescues, but these waves began to recede in 2009, once the recession hit and the 'Capital of Culture' festivities were over. Liverpool's population continues to shrink, and "managed decline" would indeed be a fitting description of the last thirty years.

As I wrote following the riots of August this year, which again lit up the streets of Toxteth:
"Liverpool of 2011 is very different to the Liverpool of 1981. Back then we'd only had six years of the neoliberal assault. Now it's thirty-six. The latest crises of capitalism have created a generation of ghetto children with even less to lose."

Friday, December 23, 2011

2011: The Year the World Changed Music

In taking a final look at my list of 2011 albums, it is clear that there is a huge gap between the top ten and the bottom ten. The foot of the table is filled with bands and artists I used to love, and who I'd have hoped would have something to say about the tumultuous world we live in today. The truth is, many of them did contribute such pearls of artistic wisdom, but a long, long time ago. It's twenty-five years since Metallica gave us Master of Puppets, twenty-six since Skinny Puppy dissected Reaganism, twenty-one since Deicide first killed God. Combinations of wealth, age, the industry treadmill and general social reaction have rendered these once vital acts almost entirely lifeless.

At the top, there are the people who have in some way got to grips with the current state of play, or - more appropriately - state of war. There are the Tom Morellos, the Arch Enemys and the Machine Heads - relatively old hands who had a radical understanding of society long before the 2008 financial crash. But there are also the beginnings of a younger layer, who now find themselves talking about their generation and their generally precarious lifestyles, in a way that tends towards expressing potentially revolutionary urges and inclinations. 2012 will surely see such people become even more prominent, as those radicalised by the cataclysmic events unfolding around the globe start to find their voice.

So, without further ado, here is my list of hits and shits:

1. The Nightwatchman - World Wide Rebel Songs
With the musical engine room of his Street Sweeper Social Club becoming 'The Freedom Fighters Orchestra' for this record, The Nightwatchman feels like a fully-rounded project for the first time. And it's clear that the beginnings of large-scale worldwide rebellion have had a big effect on Morello's songwriting, with every song emphasising the urgency that It Begins Tonight, and it is us ('the 99%' - as the Wall Street occupiers have it) against them (the banksters, big business, and their political lackeys). Conservatives and metal snobs will hate it, of course. But those who newly have "a mission of our own" might just love it. And that - of course - is the point. 

Download: It Begins Tonight, Save The Hammer For The Man, World Wide Rebel Songs

“From the alleys of Harare/To tenements of London town/Where there's voices raised and barricades/Believe me man I’m down/Tyrants, bloodsuckers and bank men/Got us picking through the crumbs/Raise your voices all together/Motherfucker here we come”

2. The King Blues - Punk & Poetry
Lead vocalist and lyricist Jonny 'Itch' Fox's great strength is his ability to set radical ideas to a form of poetry that will instantly connect with the dispossessed and disenfranchised, whether they are students of literature or have never read anything more wordy than a tabloid. His is a precious talent, and he is ably assisted by five genuinely artistic musicians. This is music that could energise you; that could make you feel angry and amazingly happy to be alive all at the same time. I'm impatient to see where The King Blues will go next, but a lot of that depends on what happens in workplaces and on the streets, when the fucking angry of the earth make our next move.

Download: We Are Fucking Angry, Set The World On Fire, I Want You

“I wake up in the morning and take big pharma lozenges/Swallowing the juice of Israeli blood oranges/Then I sit down and read the newspaper/It tells me the enemy and lets me know the saviour/This week's flavour is asylum seekers/As I lace up my bloodstained sneakers/I turn on the television what have I got?/The war rages on and it's only eight o'clock.”

3. Amebix - Sonic Mass
Somehow I’d never heard of this lot before, but the hugely influential band is actually older than I am! Still, this is only their third album! Like Killing Joke with even more...everything! It is a sonic mass indeed, both in terms of the colossal heaviness and the communal ‘spirituality’ of the whole experience. Exquisite riffing multiplied by the best poetry I’ve heard all year. Awesome!

Download: Days, God Of The Grain, The One 

“I see my enemies/And I know the way, the way I will defeat them/And in such days as these/I see the circle turning to completion”

4. Al Baker & The Dole Queue - Causes and Cures
Call it 'troubacore', call it 'riot folk', call it whatever you will. Manchester's Al Baker and compadres have perfected the knack of spinning rousing yarns which could make you want to change the world. Or make you want to change the world even more, if you're already of a rebel persuasion.

Download: Thank God I’m An Atheist, The Minstrel Boy, The Psychopomp Romp (Charon’s Wager)

“You can talk to me if you need to know there’s someone there/I’ll sing you a love song the way you’d say a prayer/But nothing lasts forever/Only love and rage can set it right/Everybody dies and maybe that’s alright”

5. White Lies - Ritual
Another new band for me, and what a discovery! Imagine dark new romantic sounds, just with much better singing and stunning lyrics. Harry McVeigh specialises in bringing out the poetry in the everyday, with a style unique amongst contemporary writers - musicians or not. Their performance at Reading festival was a highlight of the season.

Download: Is Love, Bigger Than Us, Turn The Bells
“She stares into the mirror/Youth fading with the sun/The hollows in her face/Like wishing wells/Scarlet as a papercut/And jewelled as the Orion/She’d never worn that jewellery as a girl”

With A Rose for the Apocalypse, Draconian have stunned me. Have they succeeded in showing how doom can be relevant again? While previous albums might have mused on the agonising death of a lover, this one explicitly reflects on the agonising death of a civilisation. This opens a whole new Pandora's box of possibilities for musical composition, and of course, as they live in such a dying civilisation, the musicians are likely to be 'feeling it' so much more.

Download: End of the Rope, Dead World Assembly, The Quiet Storm

Yes, a storm is certainly coming...feel the surge!/Rapidly we reach for clenched hands to save us/And we see ourselves for the first time/As the ones we truly are

7. Arch Enemy - Khaos Legions
Khaos Legions comes quite close to successfully interpreting this "new age of struggle". At certain times, it approaches perfection, and could be a superb soundtrack for Tahrir Square demonstrations or garment workers combating police on Sri Lankan picket lines. At others, it sounds samey, and recycles some of the band's less than glorious moments. I think Arch Enemy are yet to come up with their defining album, but then Gossow and company should find plenty of inspiration in the months and years ahead.

Download: Yesterday is Dead and Gone, Under Black Flags We March, Through The Eyes Of A Raven

“Rattling the chains/Shaking the cage/Heed our war cry/Let there be no doubt/We want out/This is reckoning day”

8. Cosmo - Picket Line Party
Like some anarchist Eric Idle, Cosmo mixes humour with firebrand lyrics, acoustic singalongs and kazoos. Lots and lots of kazoos. Perfect for that party at the picket line, the occupation, the social centre, or wherever. Strike! Occupy! Resist! seems like the theme tune of 2011 and even more so 2012.

Download: Strike! Occupy! Resist!, The Notorious Clench of Professional Brits, Music Hall War!!

“Strike, occupy, resist! Strike, occupy, resist! Don’t follow leaders - they just take the piss! Strike, occupy, resist!”

9. Lupe Fiasco - Lasers
The limitations of this album are the limitations of the entertainment industry as a whole. Lupe Fiasco is political activist who is searching for a perspective on the troubles of the world, and is dedicated to shedding a little light on the gloom using his artistic talent. At every turn, he finds himself frustrated by the whims of the giant corporations in charge of the industry, and every song seems to be a personal struggle between him and the company. The Occupy movement heralds the coming of a time when people will look for answers in the culture they consume, and hopefully Lupe will emerge from the midst of the battle reinvigorated and even more enthusiastic than ever.

Download: Words I Never Said, State Run Radio, All Black Everything

“Complain about the gloom but when d’you pick a broom up?/Just listening to Pac ain't gone make it stop/A rebel in your thoughts ain’t gon make it halt/If you don’t become an actor you’ll never be a factor”

10. Machine Head - Unto The Locust
Album closer Who We Are could hardly be a better anthem for the Occupiers that Flynn dedicated it to, complete with its militaristic beginning, children's choir interludes, and declarations that: "We are the young and young at heart/The strong and the brave that are destined to start/We are the change the world needs to see/Look in our eyes and see our belief". How appropriate that Unto The Locust was released in the same week that Zuccotti Park was renamed Liberty, and how appropriate that Flynn's indefatigable spirit has been shown by those defying police bullets and brutality in his home city.

Download: Be Still and Know, Darkness Within, Who We Are

“We are the savage meant to be brought to justice/To be thrown in jail and left to rot/We are the other American Dream/Whose characters fight for their lives”

Of course, my band made the best album of 2011 really
Anathema - Falling Deeper
The hidden soaringness of old songs is brought out by the expert musicianship which goes into Anathema. Could they write anything as good as this from scratch these days? Sadly, I doubt it.
Panopticon - Social Disservices
Think howling, desolate songs about institutionalised child abuse aren’t your bag? Think again if you want to hear perhaps the most ‘extreme’ album of the year, from a prodigiously talented one man band.
Atari Teenage Riot - Is This Hyperreal?
Empire has described Hyperreal as "a protest album for the Google generation", and I hope it finds its way into riots, squat parties and the iPhones of hactivists. I doubt it will though, as the kids don't listen to techno anymore; it's more about that dubstep thing. Now if 2011 could just have been 1995, ATR would be the biggest band in the world at the moment.
Asian Dub Foundation - A History Of Now
A welcome return to form for ADF, just when we need them most.
Alternative 4 - The Brink
Perhaps Duncan Patterson’s best and most inventive work since his Anathema days. Minimalistically simple, but eerie and melancholic. And my brother played on the same gig as him!
Lowkey - Soundtrack to the Struggle
It was a long time coming, but in the end it was worth the wait. Perhaps it is a few songs too long, but the rest are well worth their surprising chart success (which would have been number one with any airplay whatsoever). Listen to Dear England for just about the best London riots analysis you will ever hear.
Radiohead - The King Of Limbs
An often beautiful album from the kings of glum bleeping. They need to stop making Amnesiac now though.
I could tell you The Poisoning sounds fresh. I could tell you it sounds 100% heartfelt. I could tell you that much of it is excellent politics. But perhaps the most important thing I could say about this EP is it is that it's by the MC Greater Manchester Police doesn't want you to hear. If you're anything like me, that's about the best recommendation going.
Morbid Angel - Illud Divinum Insanus
Too extreme? Nah, no such thing in the current circumstances; they need to get even more radikult! Too different for the sake of it? Possibly, on a couple of tracks. But Morbid Angel have sensed that business as usual just won’t cut it any more, and old bands have to change if they are to remain relevant. Quite directionless, but a brave effort nonetheless.
Brett Anderson - Black Rainbows
Definitely Brett’s best solo album - even though that’s not saying too much as the others have been very patchy. But I sense he’ll never reach the heights again without Bernard Butler. Suede album?
Saul Williams - Volcanic Sunlight
There's no doubting that the music of Volcanic Sunlight is hugely listenable, but I can't remember a single amazing lyric after five listens, and Williams needs to be far more than a pop star (let's face it, he's still never going to chart high, no matter how danceable he gets).
Blackfield - Welcome to My DNA
My first exposure to this Steven Wilson side project. I’d say this is a lot more engaging than his 2011 solo release, albeit in a very similar style.
Sepultura - Kairos
There's no doubt, Sepultura knew their fanbase couldn't stand another Dante XXI or A-Lex, and Derrick Green wanted to convey...something, so they gave their all in a strenuous effort to produce another Seps classic. This isn't quite it, but they're on the right track, and the furious pace of political events may yet inspire Green et al to Chaos A.D.-esque heights.
Verbal Terrorists - The War On Terra
A fine debut from Newcastle’s finest hip-hop crew. A full review is coming in a couple of weeks.
The Haunted - Unseen
Despite what the Beavis and Butthead crowd might say, I reckon this is The Haunted’s most powerful album so far. The Bjorler brothers have finally conjured enough light and shade to press home the full weight of their heaviness, while Peter Dolving is what he is - a man clinging onto the edge.
Cavalera Conspiracy - Blunt Force Trauma
Max leads on yet another half-assed album. Unless the new Soulfly is as immense as I’m hearing - and with everything going on in the world it could be - he should hang up his mic.
Solstafir - Svartir Sandar
I’ve no idea what this lot are going on about, but it’s intense. Pretty...pretty...pretty intense.
ohGr - unDeveloped
A potboiler of album by ohGr’s standards, but still way better than the new Skinny Puppy.
Eddie Vedder - Ukulele Songs
Something sweetly tuneful and wistfully melancholic from Vedder, which is far better than recent Pearl Jam.
Foo Fighters - Wasting Light
It’s difficult to tell whether I actually like some of these songs, or I’ve merely had my defences overwhelmed by the Kerrang infinite repeat playlist. If I do like them, it’s only like I enjoy the smell of reasonably good coffee, and not like I’d enjoy having ecstatic sex the morning after the revolution.
Vallenfyre - A Fragile King
Finally, a supergroup which actually works as a cohesive unit! I heard this too late to properly review it, but fans of Paradise Lost, My Dying Bride and At The Gates would do well to check this out.
Premonition 13 - 13
A solid if unexceptional debut from Wino’s new project.
Dropkick Murphys - Going Out In Style
I’m quite new to this brand of pseudo-Irish punk, but I quite like it, and I really like the way the band dedicated Take ‘em Down to the Wisconsin government workers back in February.
The Rotted - Ad Nauseam
A very nice drop of rancid filth from the artists formerly known as Gorerotted.
Die Apokalyptischen Reiter - Moral & Wahnsinn
Decent but generally uninspired effort from the band that blew me away at Bloodstock ‘09. Such a shame, as many of their older songs predicted the struggles which have shook the world this year.
Wolves In The Throne Room - Celestial Lineage
And we leave the throne room to resume a rural retreat, as conflicts build in the towns and cities. Meanwhile, saliva drips from lupine lips.
Opeth - Heritage
Technical talent is again wasted on a sullen and withdrawn album from this once experimental group.
Red Hot Chili Peppers - I’m With You
Certainly an improvement on their dire pre-hiatus album. There’s a bit more energy and thought gone into it. That’s all though.
Sarah Jezebel Deva - The Corruption of Mercy
A decent but unspectacular release from a woman who continues to show far more vocal talent than songwriting inspiration. Excellent cover of Zombie by The Cranberries though.
Hard-Fi - Killer Sounds
Dancey and funkadelic guitar pop, but they had to pull more than this out of the bag after a long break.
Devin Townsend Project - Ghost
Devin Townsend? Easy listening? Me enjoying it? For the most part...yes!
Steven Wilson - Grace For Drowning
There’s moments of technical brilliance, of course, but Steven sounds far too stuck in his own little world to make a memorable album these days.
Social Distortion - Hard Times and Nursery Rhymes
For decades, Social D have been penning ‘I will survive’ anthems for beautiful working class losers. Now the time is coming when we won’t be able to survive on our own any more, and until ‘I will survive’ becomes ‘we shall overcome’, they will continue to sound way past their best.
Ulver - The Wars Of The Roses
Ulver seemed to have jumped the shark with this album. All their experimentation has been watered down into the lamest atmospherics, with little to nothing in the way of actual songs. Dreary isn’t the word.
Korn - The Path Of Totality
You can’t blame them for trying - after all they have been so innovative in the past - but this shotgun marriage of metal and dubstep only occasionally works here.
Very dull. Only their strange rendering of the Cock Robin nursery rhyme lifts this above KMFDM-by-numbers.
Devin Townsend Project - Deconstruction
‘Mad as a box of frogs’ it may be, but The Great Masturbator aside, there is little here to rival Strapping Young Lad.
Jane’s Addiction - The Great Escape Artist
Yet another eighties/nineties band whose originality and inspiration has bleached out to almost nothing. And only ‘almost’ because of the transcendent Irresistible Force.
Novembers Doom - Aphotic
One track on this album - the heartbreakingly beautiful What Could Have Been - is amongst the best released this year. The rest are generally pain by numbers.
My Dying Bride - Evinta
A barely listenable dirge. And not in a good way. The snippets of great tunes are still there, but they are crushed by the leaden weight of the arrangements. And not in a good way.
Skinny Puppy - HanDover
Noisex? No, noise without the sex. Very below par effort, and far inferior to the new ohGr.
Deicide - To Hell With God
Man, this band is over. Unless they find something else they don’t like, besides religion. I have it on good authority they’re pleasant enough fellas though.
Lou Reed & Metallica  - Lulu
Yes it’s true, James Hetfield is “the table” and Metallica “actively despise you”. At least I assume they do, on this evidence.

Of course, the best album of the year was actually Torture Garden's Dead Romantic. But I can't really say that, because that might come across as bias.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

In Defence of Arch Enemy's Decision to Play Israel

Angela Gossow is "hypocrite of the year" according to BDS campaigners
This week, a woman named Jin Jirrie posted a comment on my review of Swedish/German metal band Arch Enemy's latest album, Khaos Legions. She remarked that:
"You might be interested in the band's approval of the Israeli state and its propaganderists. Angela may claim she supports the people's revolutions in Tunisia, Egypt and elsewhere, but when it comes to Palestine, she supports their oppressor, deletes pro Palestinian comments from the bands' facebook walls and praises Stand With Us as a human rights organisation. Anarchist? who is she trying to kid."
Jirrie is a dedicated campaigner against Israeli apartheid, and has previously appealed to Bryan Ferry, Macy Gray and The Fall not to play Israel. Her stance is that of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, who call on supporters to take any and all economic measures they can in an effort to affect the end of Israel's "occupation and colonization of all Arab lands". As part of this, there is a Facebook group urging Arch Enemy to "Resist Playing for Apartheid Israel".

Though I recognise the brutality of Israeli apartheid, I reject the BDS position, mainly because I believe it cannot improve the disgusting conditions in which working class Palestinians struggle to live. As I wrote in an article for The Commune last year:
"[...] USA's support of Israel - which runs into the billions of dollars per year in purely financial terms, not including the diplomatic support at the United Nations and elsewhere. This truly special relationship dates back to President Truman, who described Israeli statehood as “an embodiment of the great ideals of our civilization”. He backed the first forced expulsion of Palestinians because the United States capitalist class needed - and still needs - a powerful guard dog in the Middle East, to stand in watch over oil, gas and trade routes. If there were to be a massive boycott of Israeli goods, the USA government would surely step in to fill the gap, rather than risk losing its valuable partner."
 Furthermore, BDS is flawed as a tactic because:
"[...] boycotts take us down the road to the lifestylist ghetto, which is streets away from where communism can be built. This is because we tend to isolate ourselves when we make boycotting things a big part of our politics. To boycott is to withdraw into one's self, not to meaningfully engage with others who could be our allies. It is a passive call for a nicer capitalism, and so a call the powers that be can generally tolerate."
For me:
"Active solidarity is the only way that racist ideologies will be broken down, because it’s the only force that will show them up for what they are - tools of the ruling class. Though the slogan may sometimes seem trite, only when workers of all nations unite will we be able to transcend the barbaric horror of capitalism."
Why shouldn't this Israeli woman get the chance to see Arch Enemy next year?
It is my belief that the large protest movement in Israel this summer - which was inspired by the Arab spring but driven forward by the poverty facing young working class Israelis - demonstrated the objective potential for class-based solidarity between Israelis and Palestinians.

Angela Gossow's politics are not entirely my own, though there is a lot of overlap. A central point of disagreement of is her public championing of liberal protest groups such as Amnesty International. Not only does mild-mannered petitioning jar with the strident calls for revolution which dominate her lyrics, but such alliances also leave her open to ruling class intrigues. For instance, she recently tweeted thanks to pro-Israeli state pressure group Stand With Us, who claimed to be in favour of "liberal rights for all, especially gay rights". But they also mobilised in favour of Operation Cast Lead/the Gaza Massacre in 2008/09, and train North American students to "act as campus emissaries of the Jewish state." These are uncomfortable truths for any self-identifying anarchist.

However, occasional naivety and lack of carefulness is not proof of support for reactionary organisations or their political standpoints. Here are quotes from some of Gossow's recent Tweets to pro-BDS campaigners:

"We play for people, not governments, and the people of Israel are not our enemies. We refuse to become your political puppets"

"We are picking the side of HEAVY METAL FANS UNITED - all over the world. We dont discriminate color, race or gender!"

"I support freedom of expression for EVERYBODY, including Israeli citizens."

These are genuinely progressive sentiments, and they should be defended from those who would deny working class Israelis their freedom to see Arch Enemy perform.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

A Working Class Alternative to Public Service Pension Cuts

Union bosses defend their own interests, not those of workers
This afternoon, Treasury Chief Secretary Danny Alexander announced an outline agreement with unions for huge cuts in public service pensions. His statement followed yesterday's declaration by TUC general secretary Brendan Barber that "we have seen a new atmosphere in the negotiation". But this "new atmosphere" was not the result of the government finally seeing the light and backing away from its attack on the living standards of millions. On the contrary, it was due to union bureaucrats dropping their phoney opposition, and settling down to their task of presenting utter defeat as victory.

All this was made clear by Alexander's confirmation that public workers must still "work a bit longer and pay a little more". In truth, little has changed from the government's original proposals, which were published before two big days of strike action demonstrated the potential strength of a united working class.

Cynically, Alexander presented the new deal as better for women and the lowest paid public workers, no doubt hoping to drive a wedge between staff of different genders and pay grades - just as the government have consistently attempted between public and private employees. Nonetheless, if they materialise, the tiny concessions wrung from the government are testament to the ruling class fear of a wider working class mobilisation - a result of the widespread support for strikes shown by the general public.

But under the agreement, public workers will still face the "triple squeeze" bemoaned on a TUC website. The switch from a higher to a lower measure of pensions will still reduce their value by around 15%, according to Lord Hutton's Pensions Commission. Contributions will still increase by an amount equivalent to a 3% pay cut - at a time when actual 'pay rises' will be limited to a few percent below increases in the cost of living. Finally, workers will still be forced to work a few years more before they receive the devalued pension.

So much for the ruling class "final position". Though PCS boss Mark Serwotka and others are currently holding out for his own tactical reasons, he too will eventually accept the government's proposal. Unfortunately, this means that the first seven of my September pensions strike predictions will have come true. Only one question remains: will a disappointed and demoralised rank-and-file will reluctantly accept the 'deal', or will a furious rank-and-file will take democratic control of their own struggle, unify across sectional lines, and go on an all-out attack against the government.

If it is to be the latter, workers must reject the 'there is no money' mantra and raise their own demand: for the confiscation of the trillions held by the banks and the wealthiest corporations. The public sector pensions "black hole" described by Hutton must be filled by taking from those who live the high life at working class expense. There is money enough to ensure a better standard of living for 'the 99%', but to achieve this, that immense majority must struggle for their liberation from the capitalist system.

Read more on why workers and union bosses are enemies.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Obama and Congress Overturn Bill of Rights

Yesterday, on the 220th anniversary of the USA's Bill of Rights, President Obama and Congress effectively rendered it null and void. The passage of sections 1031 and 1032 of the National Defense Authorization Act legalises the detention without trial of US citizens and non-citizens alike, overturning the right of anyone accused of a crime to a speedy and public trial by an impartial jury. As the economic crisis deepens and the Occupy movement foreshadows titanic class struggle on American soil, the US ruling class appears to be taking George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty Four as a training manual, not a work of political satire.

Under the legislation, which was sneaked into the 2012 version of the routine military budget bill, anyone accused of being a terrorist can be "detained without trial until the end of hostilities". In the context of the 'war on terror', imperial strategists have talked of it lasting many decades. Someone might well end up in a 'black site' and never see the light of day again.

Of course, there's also the problem of the term 'terrorist'. The old adage that 'one person's terrorist is another's freedom fighter' certainly comes to mind. When it invades countries, or provides aids to regimes that do, Washington always labels as 'terrorists' those who fight back. But even then it is very likely that there will be some - such as many of those detained at Guantanamo Bay - who merely got caught up in a situation where others were planning to fight back. The military is now entirely free to torture such people to their hearts' content, safe in the knowledge that they will never be able to expose their treatment in an open court.

But even more than that, the legislation will likely be used against those who oppose US policy in any significant way, whether or not their behaviour could ever be covered by the standard dictionary definition of terrorism. As Julian Assange fights extradition to Sweden over rape allegations, it is worth remembering that many leading US politicians - including current Republican presidential frontrunner Newt Gingrich - have accused him of "terrorism" or being a "terrorist". Similarly, in the UK, Occupy London have been listed as "terrorists" by City of London police. It is not a great mental leap to imagine US cops - or the US military - doing the same to American activists.

What passed for US democracy has now been in profound decay for more than a decade. The onslaught arguably began with the impeachment of then President Bill Clinton - ostensibly over his sexual practices - by a hard right Republican caucus. Then followed the stolen presidential election of 2000, which put George W Bush in power despite his receiving fewer votes than his Democratic challenger Al Gore. In both cases, Democrats virtually prostrated themselves before the right wing.

In no small measure, Barack Obama was elected in 2008 because he appealed to 'hope' that there would be a 'change' from the anti-democratic policies of the Bush administration. At the time, he pledged to shut down the US camp in Guantanamo Bay, but it remains open, and such repression is now fully sanctioned by law.

However, it is not a matter of the wrong individuals having their hands on the levers of power. Instead, this democratic decay is symptomatic of capitalism's decay. The ruling class have erected the skeleton of a police state because they know their economic assaults will soon trigger a massive fightback by the working class, of which the Occupy movement is only an acorn to an oak tree. As with the bankers' appointment of technocrat hatchet men to the governments of Italy and Greece, it is one more sign that bourgeois liberal democracy is a luxury which the financial elites of the world can no longer afford.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Anarchy in China as Officials and Cops Beat Retreat from Village

This is what democracy looks like: the new rulers of Wukan rallied on Tuesday
Wukan, a village in the south-eastern corner of China, is currently being controlled and administered by its citizens, after Communist Party government officials and police were forced out of the area this week. This amazing situation followed clashes over privatisation of communal land - which threatened many with destitution - and the apparent state murder of one of the resistance movement's delegates.

The dispute began in September, when suspicions were raised that the local government was selling-off common land used for farming without compensation, to Country Garden - a company specialising in "high end residential property". On the 21st, hundreds of villagers non-violently demonstrated outside nearby Communist Party offices. As the crowds grew, protesters started blocking roads and attacking buildings in an adjacent industrial park. Three villagers were arrested, and the next day more than a hundred besieged the police station, demanding their release. The state reacted with ferocity, with police and mercenaries attacking community members - including children and the elderly.

Eventually police withdrew, and the government made conciliatory noises. But this supposed truce ended violently on 11th December, with the death of Xue Jinbo. Xue was one of thirteen delegates elected by the resistance in September. According to his son-in-law Gao, Xue's "knees were bruised, his nostrils were caked with blood and his thumbs appeared to be broken." According to the state news agency Xinhua, Xue had died of a cardiac arrest, but if that is true, it clearly happened in the context of a brutal police assault.

This time, the residents stormed the police station, using overwhelming force. Police retreated to a roadblock a few miles away, and Communist officials fled in fear of their lives. As of today, the roadblock is still in force, and the town's food supplies are estimated at just over a week. But political decisions are being made collectively by the whole village.

According to a Daily Telegraph report, Tuesday saw:
"Thousands of Wukan’s residents, incensed at the death of one of their leaders in police custody, gathered for a second day in front of a triple-roofed pagoda that serves as the village hall. For five hours they sat on long benches, chanting, punching the air in unison and working themselves into a fury. At the end of the day, a fifteen minute period of mourning for their fallen villager saw the crowd convulsed in sobs and wailing for revenge against the local government. “Return the body! Return our brother! Return our farmland! Wukan has been wronged! Blood debt must be paid! Where is justice?” the crowd screamed out."
The Wukan story is currently being heavily censored by the 'great firewall of China', but tech savvy hackers on proxy servers will be spreading the world around the massive nation. In recent weeks, more industrialised areas have seen a new wave of worker rebellion - as multinational companies hit by a collapse in export demand from the richest countries seek to further increase the rate of factory exploitation.

Though China weathered this depression's first wave of economic collapse by artificially stimulating the economy, falling working class living standards in the US and Europe are now impacting on conditions in the 'sweatshop of the world'. A revolutionary upsurge in China next year would make the Arab spring look like a storm in a teacup, and would also have a huge influence on the direction of class struggles around the globe.

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