Tuesday, 30 December 2008

Acts of terror in the Gaza Strip

Title 18,2331 of the US Code defines international terrorism as any activities that "(A) involve violent acts or acts dangerous to human life that are a violation of the criminal laws of the United States or of any State, or that would be a criminal violation if committed within the jurisdiction of the United States or of any State; (B) appear to be intended (i) to intimidate or coerce a civilian population; (ii) to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion; or (iii) to affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction, assassination, or kidnapping." This definition, and particularly article B iii, quite succinctly sums up the current actions by Israel in the Gaza Strip.

The official narrative is that the attacks are a reprisal for a week long barrage of rocket attacks from Gaza following the expiry on 18th December of Hamas's ceasefire. But, of course, the story is far more complex that it at first appears. In fact, Hamas offered to renew its ceasefire in exchange for an end to the blockade of Gaza. But the words of
Tzipi Livni, the Israeli Foreign Minister, were unequivocal in stating Israel's true aim in this conflict;

As long as Hamas continues to operate with terror from Gaza, Israel will operate with its own means. The government is responsible for the citizens of the state. It needs and must respond to terror through military means. We cannot allow Gaza to remain under Hamas control.
And therein lies the true heart of this conflict. The rocket attacks on Israel, though themselves inexcusable, were fuelled by desperation. The week-long barrage of attacks left just one Israeli dead, whilst the blockade whose cessation would have prevented this has starved the 1.5 million inhabitants of the Gaza Strip of food and medical resources. According to Oxfam, only 137 trucks of food were allowed into the region last month, whilst the United Nations states that poverty has reached an "unprecedented level" - the Strip is nothing more than a prison of sick, hungry people waiting to die because they voted the "wrong way."

After Hamas won the 2006 elections, which independent observers judged to be unequivocally free and fair, it offered Isreal a long ceasefire and recognition of two separate states, if only Israel would return to its 1967 borders. This was partly in response to a poll conducted by the University of Maryland which showed 72 percent of Palestinians to be in favour of a two-state solution. Israel rejected these terms to declare Gaza a "hostile territory" and blockade the population. Then, as now, it chose overwhelming state terror and collective punishment over diplomacy, with tacit backing from its prime benefactor, the United States.

The solution to this conflict is an obvious one, if only because it is backed by a majority of people in Israel, Palestine, and world-wide. Two states, drawn up along the internationally recognised borders of 1967, with a 1-1 land swap to enable passage between Gaza and the West Bank, and the right of return to Israel for Palestinians.

The reasons that this remains out of reach, however, are more complex. Obviously, the events of the past half-century have fermented massive distrust on both sides, but there is also the issue of the United States to take into consideration. In pursuing its own agenda with regards to the Middle East and control of resources there, the US has consistently backed and funded the hardliners and groomed isolationist policy within the Israeli government, only withdrawing support for Israeli actions, and thus limiting their ability to take them, when they have conflicted with US interests. The most recent example is Bush's veto on an air strike against suspected Irania nuclear sites, but a more telling demonstration of the power relations between the two countries occurred in 2005.

Back then, the US ordered Israel to cease sales of advanced military technology to China, and imposed sanctions when Israel tried to avoid the restrictions. The US then cut off all "strategic dialogue," its defence chiefs refused to meet with their Israeli counterparts, and made further demands. It insisted on tightened oversight of Knesset military exports, the signing of a memorandum of understanding, and the government and Mofat's presentation of a written apology to the United States. And, when Israel capitulated, the US insisted on even harsher demands and showed utter contempt for the Israeli delegation.

Clearly, then, one of the central problems of peace in the Middle East is the US's aggressive pursuit of its own interests, and its use of Israel as a client state in this regard. Which is why, as obvious and attainable as the resolution of this conflict is, it cannot proceed unless the US's influence is greatly curbed, or its policies with regards to the region change quite dramatically. President-elect Barack Obama has been uncharacteristically quiet on the issue thus far, which is why - as well putting pressure on the Israeli government themselves - we need a grassroots movement on the scale that saw Obama surge to victory in the elections to push for the new president to move away from the policies of successive past administrations and make move towards real peace.

Whatever else happens, the people must not remain silent on this issue, or the staus quo will remain and the violence and human misery will continue to escalate exponentially.

Friday, 19 December 2008

Can the anarchist movement finally gain momentum?

It has now been three months since the run on Northern Rock and the collapse of sub-prime mortgages led us into an economic crisis that has demonstrated the glaring flaws in the capitalist system, and now the so-called "credit crunch" is really starting to bite. This week, we have seen OPEC cut oil output by 2.2 million barrels per day as both prices and demand plummet, the decline of the pound against the Euro, unemployment rise by 137,000, a spending spree as Woolworths - one of Britain's most popular high-street names - goes bust, and central banks in the US and UK slash interest rates in a frenzy that is having little effect.

As panic and fear grips Wall Street and the City, however, the streets of the real world are feeling the first effects of a growing discontent amongst the working classes. In Athens, Greek students stormed a state television station and militant workers have occupied union offices in only the latest incidents of nation-wide unrest that - though ostensibly focused on the shooting of Alexandros Grigoropolous - has drawn upon widespread anger at the social, and particularly, economic policies of the incumbent government. With good reason, some commentators have dubbed these events "the first credit-crunch riots."

But underneath the anger spreading across Greece, there is the hint of something deeper and more tangible. Greece's anarchists have been at the forefront of the mass protests, and across the globe other anarchist communities have been quick to stage demonstrations of solidarity. Anarchists have, of course, always been at the heart of direct action by the Left, such as the labour, anti-war, anti-fascist, and global justice movements, but here we are presented with an opportunity for something more.

In Greece, and particularly Athens, there already exists a large, vocal, and organised community of anarchists. Across the rest of Europe, too, the numbers are significant enough to make an impact. Now, however, anarchist communities are consolidating and strengthening their organisation in places such as Turkey in response to events in Greece. There already exists a wide network of anarchist and libertarian-left groups across the planet who are active but underground. The hope is that now, they will make themselves known.

Anarchism is not about rioting, nor about simply being against various things. The ultimate goal of anarchists everywhere is to dismantle all illegitimate hierarchy and authority in favour of direct democracy, freedom, equality, and free association in a loose collective of decentralised, highly-organised, and autonomous communities. Anarchists are now presented with a fantastic opportunity to get this message out, to disseminate our ideas amongst a global populace disenfranchised with capitalism and authoritarianism, and to increase our numbers. It may even be possible, in areas such as Exarchia, to show the world what we mean in practice by undertaking anarchic social revolution as was done during the Spanish Civil War, though this would prove the most difficult and dangerous of tasks.

Most importantly, however, we must make our presence - and, most importantly, our politics - known to the wider working class constituency.

Wednesday, 10 December 2008

Tales from Athens

On Saturday 6th December, 15-year-old Alexandros Grigoropoulos was shot dead by police in the Exarchia area of Athens. The teenager was part of the area's strong anarchist community, and his death provided the catalyst for riots that continue to grip the city, motivated by far more than just this one murder, as libcom.org explains;
Public anger at the slaying - only the most recent incident of what is habitual police brutality - has intersected with widespread discontent at neoliberal reforms and the widening gap between rich and poor, being exacerbated by government policy.
The shooting, and the mass unrest in response to it, is the pinnacle of dischord that has been growing against the state for some time. In October, over 300 high school campuses were occupied by students in opposition to conservative education eform, including the arrest of pupils in Karditsa who protested against an iron fence being erected around their school. That same month, workers staged a 24-hour General Strike against the bail-out of collapsing banks, laid-off textile workers were brutalised by riot police when protesting at being denied four months of pay, and those protesting at the murder of an asylum seeker in an attack by riot police on those queing to register asylum claims had to raise barricades against a second onslaught. In November, prisoners on hunger strike forced the government to give in to their demands for better conditions, protesters against construction of an open refuse dump were met with the use of force by riot police, and a protest against police brutality attacked the police headquarters in Volos. And at the start of this month, nurses on a 48 hour strike occupied the health ministry and students clashed with police in another protest against unwanted educational reform that culminated in the deputy Minister of Health being held hostage.

The current riots, however, have opened the eyes of the world to the level of discontent that has been brewing in Greece. It has also demonstrated the enviable strength and solidarity of the labour movement there, in particular of the anarchist movement, in the face of far greater state repression than can be seen here in Britain. As the students occupying Athens Polytechnic noted, in a statement released to Athens Indymedia;
Contrary to the statements of politicians and journalists who are accomplices to the murder, this was not an “isolated incident”, but an explosion of the state repression which systematically and in an organised manner targets those who resist, those who revolt, the anarchists and anti-authoritarians.
It is the peak of state terrorism which is expressed with the upgrading of the role of repressive mechanisms, their continuous armament, the increasing levels of violence they use, with the doctrine of “zero tolerance”, with the slandering media propaganda that criminalises those who are fighting against authority.
The level of anarchist influence and worker solidarity currently present in Greece is on a level that has previously been unmatched since the social revolution in Spain during the civil war between communists and fascists, and it is an example that anarchists in the rest of Europe would do well to heed.

The current anarchist movement in Greece has its roots in opposition to the US-installed military dictatorship of Georgios Papadopoulos that reigned in the country from 1967 to 1974. They have made Athens' Exarchia quarter a stronghold against the authoritarianism of the ruling party, and remain a central part of a vibrant and unified labour movement, one that, even as the rioting continues, remains committed to launching another General Strike in opposition to cuts in public spending and the undermining of the pay and pensions of workers.

As nationalism, anti-immigrant sentiment, and even pogroms emerge across the continent, and a movement dedicated to dividing the working class along racial lines in order to achieve power, we need a strong anarchist and trade unionist response now more than ever. One that is not afraid to incur the wrath of the State in its struggle. We need to organise the working class so that they are willing to throw the infrastructure of a country into chaos in defence of freedom or protest against inustice, to stand tall against attempts to divide us, and to fight with determination if and when governments resort to state terror against their own people.

Monday, 8 December 2008

"Tough" talk solves nothing

In the wake of several cases of quite outrageous child abuse, most notably those of "Baby P" and Shannon Matthews, politicians and right-wing commentators have been falling over each other to push for hard-line measures that do far more to sate rabid outrage than to address the root cause of any problems. The government, typically, has used these issues as a case for welfare "reform" - or, in more honest language, further limitations on the availability of welfare for poor people. The right wing press, also very typically, has been promoting ideas that far outdo the ruling party in terms of Draconian viciousness. Led by Melanie Phillips of the Daily Mail and Jon Gaunt of The Sun, they have been calling for the abolition of child benefit.

Like most arguments by the right, their case is superficially compelling but utterly disintegrates if you examine it too closely. In Phillips' words, child benefit is "the seminal link between man-hating feminism and welfare dependency" and "the linchpin of serial irresponsibility and social breakdown" not to mention "the biggest single incentive for lone parenthood." The previoulsy mentioned cases of child abuse show that "child benefit, and all the multifarious other welfare incentives to irresponsibility, are intrinsically linked to the emergence of households where, in truth, civilisation has given way to barbarism" and there is, so she says, only one solution:
If we want to end these appalling abuses, we have to stop the welfare system from subsidising births out of wedlock. Child benefit has to go, along with the rest of the engine for mass fatherlessness that our welfare system has become.
It is important, straight away, to dispel the myths that Phillips and her co-thinkers are perpetuating with such non-sequitural links between child abuse and welfare before we move on to talk about any real solution. Progressive action that addresses the root of the problems is only made more difficult whilst ideological fallacies, motivated by prejudice rather than reason, persist.

Firstly, as HM Revenue & Customs' own statistics demonstrate, the number of child benefit claimants and of children for whom it was claimed has remained near-enough constant over the past eight-years. Though the number has fluctuated, there has been no significant rise in claimants, and certainly not a steady or a rapid rise, contrary to Phillips' assertion that this "incentive" has led to a massively increased "emergence" of the "barbarism" of single-parenthood. At the same time, the average number of children per claimant family has remained between 1.76 and 1.82, with one and two-child families counting for 84% of claimant households, hardly the "production-line cash cows of the welfare state" of Phillips' dystopian fantasism. There were just forty-six more children on the receiving end of the benefit in August 2007 than there were in May 2000.

It is also important to note, as explained on the HMRC website, that "Child Benefit is available to families with children aged up to 16, or up to 20 and in full-time non-advanced education or certain forms of training" and "is not income-based." To clarify, child-benefit is neither restricted to single parents, nor the poor and unemployed. Even setting aside the fact that it is absurd to believe something such as raising a child alone can be "incentivised," that these personal circumstances are not part of the criteria for recieving payments goes a long way to show the level to which that belief is based in fantasy.

However, it is easy to discern the prejudice that this fantasism is grounded in. Those who rail against the imagined "incentivisation" and "promotion" of single parenthood often, as Phillips does, look back with horror at how "illegitimacy [was] abolished from the statute book" and wish to restore the "stigma and shame" of simply having or being a child born out of wedlock. This is little more than vicious snobbery veiled in "traditionalism." Yes, it is better for any child to have two parents rather than one caring for it (and, despite another irrational prejdice Phillips co-thinkers also hold, this includes homosexual parents, and marriage has no bearing upon it) but this does not mean there aren't a vast majority of single parents who do an amazing job. And it certainly doesn't mean that we should cast out and cut off those who do not fit this mould. Single parenthood is not the "lifestyle choice" that the right so scornfully suggests, and there are many reasons. Rape. Incest. The breakdown of a previously stable relationship. Women fleeing domestic abuse. And, yes, accidents.

Should we make sure that victims of rape and incest who bear children get no Child Benefit and be made to live in shame because of their "illegitimate" child? Should parents be made to "stay together for the kids" even if they don't love one another (something children are far from blind to)? Should women be forced to stay with a violent and abusive spouse just because he happens to have been the one to impregnate her? And should all single women who fall pregnant be forced into the workhouse? We have long moved on from such reactionary attitudes of the past, and no doubt those who think as Phillips does will protest that they do not favour any such ill-founded and hateful measures. But, I still have to ask, if you decry the abolition of "illegitimacy" and removing the stigma of single parenthood as the catalyst of "social breakdown," and you want "to stop the welfare system from subsidising births out of wedlock" then how can what you espouse be any better?

Contrary to the right, the solution to the problems of child abuse and perpetual joblessness doesn't involve stopping "subsidising births out of wedlock," as such a measure is unneccesarily punitive towards far too many people who come under neither heading. Working single parents, single parents who cannot work because of the age of their children, cohabiting parents, married parents, gay parents, and of course the children in question, for whom said benefit equals food in their stomachs, clothes on their backs, and a roff over their heads. No, the solution is far more long-term and far less inane, simplistic, and hateful.

Of course, we do need to make an effort to get more people into work so that the welfare state works as it was intended - as a safety net for the poorest in society - because inactivity does breed apathy and detatchment whilst work and job satisfaction lead to a more fulfilling life. To this end, we need to reform employment itself, at least whilst we remain in the undesirable position of a capitalist society where the majority must rent themselves out to a minority who reap the profits of their labour. We can do this by making sure that the minimum wage is always sustained at the level of a living wage - the TUC estimate at current inflation levels being £6.70, a whole £1.20 above the current minimum - and by according the notion of job satisfaction greater importance than it currently recieves. I think that the best way to address this is by changing the role that those employed in job centres undertake. They shouldn't be mere form-fillers, but teachers who can offer retraining to those who want or need it as well as counsellors to those seeking employment within their current skill levels. This way, the efficiency of the role can be increased and we can begin to see less long-term jobless and more who are temporarily between employment.

With single and poor parents specifically, we need to make sure that they get the help they need. The idea of providing clothing, housing, and sustenance to those who need it rather than the money for them to get it is one that I rather like, appealking as it does to the libertarian socialist principle of "to each according to his need," and will help to protect certain people from themselves. Simply cutting off the money, on the other hand, would serve only to make them - and, of course, their dependants - far worse off.

Contrary to the strawman argument of the Right, nobody is suggesting that we simply pour money upon those who are unwilling to work or that we "promote" joblessness and single-parenthood. Instead, the point being made is that threats and punitive measures are not only inhumane but counter-productive. We need real solutions to the problems of poverty that are largely a result of the society we live in and the injustices of private property, not stereotypes and rhetoric that dehumanise the most wretched as an excuse to reap yet more misery from the poor and working class.

Tuesday, 25 November 2008

In favour of an amnesty for illegal immigrants

In recent days, London Mayor Boris Johnson has come out in favour of an amnesty for illegal immigrants. There are thought to be about 400,000 illegal immigrants in London alone, part of a total 700,000 across the country and, in Boris' own words, a mass "programme of explsions" is "just not going to happen." Instead, he has suggested that the UK "should have a system whereby people who have been here for a long time can earn a way out of the mess they're in" whereby after five years those who could "show their commitment to this society and to this economy" would achieve an "earned amnesty." His idea has been backed by Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor, head of the Catholic Church in England and Wales.

Typically, the right, their voices in the tabloid press, and their flatterers in government have been quick to denigrate the idea of treating illegal immigrants as human beings. Hardline immigration minister Phil Woolas, whose prior calls for a cap on migration and accusations that asylum seekers are "playing the system" smack of the far-right, has branded Boris "a bit of a nincompoop" and "naive in the extreme." The Daily Express tried to suggest that Murphy-O'Connor's backing of the plan attracted "strong criticism" and "anger," and yet was ony able to cite "Sir" Andrew Green of MigrationWatch UK, often the sole source of "widespread" discontentment when the issue of immigration pops up, whilst Melanie Phillips of the Daily Mail has led the way in calling the proposed amnesty an idea of "staggering stupidity."

Despite the frankly predictable chorus of opposition, and despite my personal reservations about the politics of both Johnson and Murphy-O'Connor, the idea put forward by the former holds considerable merit.

On an ethical level, the question is a simple one. There are a variety of reasons that people become illegal immigrants, and most of them are borne of desperation. Failed asylum seekers terrified of being deported will go to any lengths to avoid the horrific consequences of deportation. The case of Mehdi Khamezi illustrated this vividly when he fled the authorities after his case, like so many others, was rejected despite the fact that he faced the death penalty in Iran simply for being gay. Others are victims of the modern day slave trade, brought here either as sex slaves or as labour slaves forced to work in the black economy. They are not criminals, as the right are so quick to brand illegal immigrants, but victims of horrendous crimes. Deportation would serve only to worsen their situation, either as freed slaves sent back to where they were captured and could be again, or refugees who face torture and death. Granting these people an amnesty, whilst working to solve the root problems so that more aren't forced here by circumstance or gangmasters, is the only humane way to tackle the issue.

But it's not just ethics and a sense of common humanity that cries out in favour of an amnesty, so too does practicaity. The alternative of rounding up and deporting all illegal immigrants is, as Johnson said, "just not going to happen." There are roughly 700,000 illegal immigrants in the UK, or "2 million plus" according to the BNP, though I suspect that 1.3 million margin of error is deliberate to accomodate some of those who wouldn't "volunteer" to be repatriated if the party gained power. How exactly would the government find all of these people, all of them already having evaded borders and customs across several countries? How much would it cost for the necessary resources and manpower to achieve this? According to estimates, about £4.7bn, as compared with the £6bn economic boost of an amnesty. And where would this money come from at a time of recession when government borrowing is at an all-time high?

Both ethics and practicality support the idea of an amnesty for illegal immigrants. If only the politicians could hear this fact over the din and clamour of the anti-immigration press.

Friday, 14 November 2008

Antifa, the fight against fascism, and the anarchist movement

With the most recent victory in local elections for the British National Party, David Owens has become the newest of over fifty councillors for the white nationalist party. The level of success currently enjoyed by the BNP is unprecedented for the far-right in the United Kingdom. There are a variety of reasons for this, but it should be starkly clear to everyone that the tactics of the anti-fascist movement are failing. Both the statist anti-fascist groups (Searchlight, Unite Against Fascism, and Hope Not Hate) and the anarchists of Antifa have failed to grasp how the reasons for the party's electoral success alter the battleground and to formulate tactics against white nationalism that would be both effective and coherent.

The most obvious major factor is the party's moves towards "modernisation" under Nick Griffin, which, as Griffin himself admitted in a speech to American white nationalists alongside former KKK leader David Duke, is nothing more than a superficial change of image and terminology. He is not "selling out" the old BNP but merely "selling" it. With appropriate irony, the BNP website's "countering the smears" section confirms this. Here you will find them using comparison to conservation of non-sentient animals to justify opposition to mixed marriage; describing homosexuality as something that "affects less than 2% of the population" that they don't want to "promote" or "encourage" (as though it were akin to, say, nose-picking or dressing like a goth); trying to justify only allowing whites to join on "interest group" grounds despite being a political party that intends to run the entire country; and trying to play off an immigration policy aimed at the repatriation of as many non-whites as possible (although they'd tolerate a few as long as hey remain "just that – minorities") as "colour-blind."

The anti-fascist movement is aware of this attempted rebranding, and wholeheartedly reject it. Antifa's response to the BNP's attempt to "have us all believe they are a new 'whiter than white' (pun intended) reincarnation of their former selves" is that they "do not buy this lie for a moment." UAF simply states that despite the BNP's attempts "to present itself as a ‘respectable’ political party" they remain "a fascist party." However, they seem unable to grasp how significant the image change has been in the party's electoral success. Enough people are taken in to make the far-right a significant presence in British local politics, and they will not be convinced of their folly by the UAF's "BNP fact sheet," part of a policy which, Antifa astutely observe, amounts to "shout[ing] racist at the working class folk who are hoodwinked into voting for the far right while urging us all to vote Labour who were responsible for failing the working class so miserably in the first place." However, Antifa can claim no greater success in this area, as both groups support the stance of "No Platform," which the BNP's continued rise has attested to the utter failure of.

As more people are convinced by the party, more want to know exactly why they are such a bad group and why they should be opposed. Neither the UAF's insistent and patronising rhetoric nor the wider stance of "No Platform" provide any answers. Instead, the white nationalist party are thriving in censorship and demonisation, claiming empathy and support as martyrs of free speech. Censorship of extremism, as I have argued before, is counterproductive. The entire policy of "No Platform" needs to be scrapped as it is more helpful than harmful to the party. Instead, what we need is a consistent and in-depth challenge to the nationalist ideology and policies they espouse. If we are to call the BNP racist, fascist, or totalitarian, or to say that a policy of theirs is unjust, inhumane, or utterly unworkable, we cannot simply assert it by fiat. We must back up our assertions with solid, evidence-based reasoning.

The hysteria that the media have whipped up over immigration, combined with their branding of the government - whose immigration and asylum policies are at best inhumane - as "soft" has taken the genuine concerns and anxieties of the working classes and aimed the resentment they create in entirely the wrong direction. Instead of the captains of industry who exploit migrant labour for their own gain, and who use the mass migration engineered by globalisation to undercut wages and undermine trade union rights, and the successive Conservative and Labour governments that both pander to the whims of big business over the working classes and use migrants as a scapegoat to divert attention from their own follies, it is migrants themselves - fellow victims and fellow working classmen - who take the brunt of the blame. This, as Antifa correctly surmise, has also been a factor that the BNP have been able to capitalise on and increase their successes with:
Traditionally fascist parties have used ethnic minorities as a scapegoat for the problems created by capitalism. For instance the BNP often point to migrant workers as being the cause for the degradation of the NHS or the reason for the lack of decent social housing. Similarly they blame migrant workers for “taking our jobs” instead of attacking the employers who routinely pay derisory wages and treat workers like disposable commodities. The reason fascist groups tend to attack ethnic minorities and immigrants in this way are because they want to divide the working class. By sowing the seeds of division, fragmentation and suspicion in working class communities they undermine notions of solidarity and cooperation thus strengthening the status quo and perpetuating existing inequalities in society.
Which, of course, is also another point in favour of coherently rebutting rather than censoring the claims made by the far right (not to mention the media and capitalist classes). "No Platform" has not stopped the BNP from organising or from saying their piece, it has distracted the left from countering their claims in a way that people can engage with, as simply crying "fascist" serves only to put them off, as well as venerating the BNP stereotype of their opponents as bullies.

As does Antifa's primary tactic of "militant antifascism," which involves "confronting fascism physically when it is necessary." Although the group state that street-fighting is "only one of our tactics," and that they "do not aim to fetishise it as one tactic above all others," the appearance they give off contradicts that assertion. Their actions at the BNP's annual Red White and Blue festival recently, though proclaimed by the group as a victory, was not seen as such by the BNP, nor even by other opponents of the party.

This is not to say that I entirely condemn physical resistance. In the past, for example against the Fascists in 1930s Spain or the Nazis in World War II, it has been not merely commendable but necessary to wage physical war against the far-right. And it remains so today in countries such as Russia or Germany where the far-right still use violence and physical intimidation against opponents. In Britain, however, nationalists have deliberately refrained from using these tactics in order to demonstrate "reform," and win votes, and thus using physical resistance here only enables them to label their opponents as the thugs and bullies and denigrates the anarchist cause. We should, and do, fight back in kind when nationalists and neo-Nazis use violence, but to do so when their only weapon is rhetoric is to concede a huge propaganda coup to the enemy.

Likewise, Antifa's determination to not collaborate with UAF, Searchlight, or any other "organisation that works hand-in-glove with State agencies" or the authoritarian left serves only to isolate the wider anarchist movement. Anarchism's most effective campaigns are those we have waged without deference to isolationist policies, such as the Global Justice Movement, or the labour struggle of the late nineteenth and early to mid twentieth century. I can, truly, sympathise with the sentiments behind this policy, and share their distrust of "the agenda that [statist groups and the authoritarian left] pursue." However, as Noam Chomsky has previously pointed out, we have to face the often glaring contradictions we are faced with between our short-term goals and long-term visions, including siding with the lesser of two evils when necessary:
My short-term goals are to defend and even strengthen elements of state authority which, though illegitimate in fundamental ways, are critically necessary right now to impede efforts to "roll back" the progress that has been achieved in extending democracy and human rights. State authority is now under severe attack in the more democratic societies, but not because it conflicts with the libertarian vision. Rather the opposite: because it offers (weak) protection to some aspects of that vision.
He was, in this example, talking about the need in the short-term to defend the state against the "private tyrannies" of free market capitalism, but I believe the example can be applied to defending the (vaguely) democratic state against the encroachent of a more authoritarian ideology. Yes, the government is unfavourable to liberty regardless of who is at the helm, but whilst we are not in any position at present to dismantle the mechanisms of hierarchical government at present - "Rome wasn't destroyed in a day" is my favourite description of the anarchist struggle - we must defend one flawed form of government, where we are allowed at least a degree of equality and freedom, against another that offers none.

Isolationism will not win Antifa, or the anarchist movement at large, either victories or a larger base of support. It will only marginalise us further at a time when, more urgently than ever due to the impact of the global economic crisis and the resurgence of nationalism and neo-fascism, what we need is solidarity and clarity of purpose.

Tuesday, 11 November 2008

Why prisoners should get the vote

In 2004, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that the UK's Representation of the People Act of 1983, which denies prisoners the right to vote, breached the European Convention on Human Rights. They ruled that prisoners, including lifers, should be free to vote in order for the country to have "free elections ... under conditions which will ensure the free expression of the opinion of the people in the choice of the legislature." However, for the past four years, the Government has ignored the ruling, listening instead to conservative voices that have vehemently opposed such a move.

However, on the 9th November, the Joint Committee on Human Rights warned the government that if prisoners cannot vote the next general election would be unlawful. The response to this announcement was, of course, the hysteria that dominates British politics. "They talk about prisoners’ rights – what about the people they maim and rob?" Demanded Lyn costello of the pressure group Mums Against Murder and Aggression, apparently unaware that the proposal doesn't involve preventing victims of crime from voting, insisting that punishment must mean "taking away their rights." Meanwhile, the Tories branded the idea "ludicrous," and claimed that we "have lost sight of the importance of balancing responsibilities."

It is important at this point to inject some perspective into the debate. Prisoners are not, despite conservative propaganda, kept in the lap of luxury, given Sky TV and computers, and insistently pandered to. Those who propagate this believe consistently overlook the fact that are prisons are now obscenely overcrowded, to the point where some prisoners are sleeping in the toilets, that there has been a forty per cent rise in the number of prison suicides, that bullying is rife, that number of babies born in prison has doubled in the last decade, and that the token attempts at rehabilitation and teaching new skills has been a massive failure. This is not to mention the recent condemnation of the UK by the UN for its policy on the jailing of children. Clearly, as much as the right would like to condemn our penal system as "soft" on crime, human rights abuses are rampant. More than this, as the reoffending rate and the availability of drugs in prisons demonstrates, prisons truly are the "universities of crime" that Pytor Kropotkin described them as.

So, giving prisoners the vote would be but a small step as far as improving our human rights record goes. It is, however, an important one, as it is a step in the right direction on several fronts. As well as opening up a dialogue about the treatment of prisoners with such a reform, it would also allow us to begin work towards a much more democratic system. As well as the central issue of voting that the First Past the Post system is unrepresentative of the will of the people (or, more accurately, even less representative than other forms of parliamentary democracy), the issue of prisoners voting highlights another flaw in our system. Convicts are not the only ones exempted from the right to vote. So, too, are members of the House of Lords, the Windsors, those guilty of election corruption, and the mentally disabled. Clearly, if we do not include all sections of society, no vote - even under perfect conditions and devoid of obstacles such as FPTP - can be considered legitimate or representative.

As it doesn't affect the rights of victims in the slightest, outside of right-wing hysteria, and it's only potential effect on the penal system would be the positive one of aiding rehabilitation by letting those convicted of crime take a more active role in local and national affairs, the arguments against giving prisoners the vote are weak, at best. More than that, in a country striving towards a prison state, with protesters (including elderly "council tax rebels") and minor offenders amongst those incarcerated, denying the vote to prisoners doesn't merely exclude murderers, paedophiles, and rapists.

And, frankly, with the free public already leaning more and more to the right, and the British National Party's support on the rise, even allowing them to vote could hardly make things worse, now, could it?

Wednesday, 5 November 2008

We can hope for change, but we shouldn't expect miracles

There shouldn't be any doubt that the results of this years US Presidential elections have made history. Barack Obama's story is not only remarkable for shattering the last barrier in the civil rights movement and becoming the first black president of the United States, but also for the personal adversity he has overcome and political obscurity he has risen from to reach this point. However, in the euphoria over his victory and the progress it symbolises, we need to reacquaint ourselves with a certain degree of realism.

In the domestic United States, Obama's victory does offer the hope of genuine and radical change for the better. There are a great many policies, from the Reagan era right through to the incumbent reign of Bush II, that have made live harder and more miserable for ordinary Americans and increased both class and racial injustice.

Abortion is one example of such an issue. Although legal in the US since the case of Roe v. Wade in 1973, 87% of the counties in the US have no abortion provider, a situation exacerbated by the harrasment and terrorism perpetuated by anti-abortion groups and by over 350 legal restrictions enacted by individual states and the federal governmentsince 1995. From the outset, Obama has been candid on his intent to alter the injustice in this situation and a whole plethora of women's issues, from pay equality to domestic violence.

The president-elect's stance on other areas are equally refreshing. Taking no heed of the prejudices of the conservative-dominated media, he has laid out visions to sort out the injustices of the health care and education systems, tax cuts, welfare, poverty, business ethics, and the economy. His stance on the environment and climate change is also admirable, especially after George Bush.

However, I must confess, I remain dubious about what changes we can expect in US foreign policy under Obama's presidency. There is, indeed, lots to be admired in his foreign policy campaign promises. Most obvious is his stance on Iraq, but at least as important is his stance on nuclear weapons (particularly in securing loose nukes and strengthening the Non-Proliferation Treaty), as well as a truly progressive attitude to Africa. However, on the wider stage the imperialist leanings that have dominated the White House since the end of World War II still persist.

Whilst, on Israel-Palestine, Obama's campaign has asserted its commitment to "the goal of two states, a Jewish state in Israel and a Palestinian state, living side by side in peace and security," he has also shown an unreserved and contradictory support for "a strong US-Israel partnership." In principle, there may be no intrinsic conflict of interest between these goals, but in practice the Middle East peace process has always suffered when America's "first and incontrovertible commitment" in the region is "the security of Israel." This truism in relation to Obama is cemented by support for "Israel's right to defend itself from Hezbollah raids and rocket attacks" by decimating the civilian populace of Lebanon and of America's "the annual foreign aid package" that funds such attrocities, especially alongside "continuing U.S. cooperation" for "the development of missile defense systems."

Similarly, Latin Americans who remember the implications of the Reagan-Bush I era will be familiar with policies that "bolster U.S. interests in the region by pursuing policies that advance democracy, opportunity, and security." The aggressive and subversive actions of the US in Nicuragua, Panama, El Salvador, Costa Rica, Uruguay, Argentina, Grenada, Guatemala, Honduras, Haiti, Cuba, and the Dominican Republic also "strengthen[ed] the American economy and create more American jobs" and stood "firm against agreements that undermine our economic security." However, the effects for ordinary Latin Americans weren't positive, to say the least. There is some cause for optimism, however, in Obama's mention of sustainable energy policy in the region, and his overall commitment to Fair Trade and to spreading "good labor and environmental standards around the world."

So, overall, the election of an Obama-Biden administration does offer a substantial hope for positive and enduring change in a lot of areas, both in America and internationally. We can perhaps even hold out hope that the rhetoric on Latin America and Isreal is worded as it is to appease neo-conservatives and that we will see similarly grand change in America's attitude towards the rest of the world. However, I would advise those who would proclaim Obama as a new messiah not to put all their eggs in one basket.

Barack Hussein Obama may well be the progressive antidote to George W Bush that we have needed for the past eight years, but he is also in an office that is powered by corporate funding and at the helm of the world's largest economic and imperial superpower.

Wednesday, 29 October 2008

Race, the working class, and the economic downturn

Trevor Phillips, the head of the Equality and Human Rights Comission, is something of a hate figure to the right. In their perception, he is the mouthpiece for everything that is wrong with liberal, multicultural Britain and his words are not to be trusted. Except, of course, when he appears to affirm their point of view. Hence the emphasis given by the Daily Mail to his pronouncement that the white working class will need "the sort of special measures we've previously targeted at ethnic minorities" to help them find and keep jobs through the economic downturn.

Of course, Phillips has insisted that the "name of the game is to tackle inequality," which has ever been his stated goal, and that there is no room for "racial special pleading," and the sentiment is indeed affable, but this will not stop groups such as the BNP from proclaiming their cause vindicated. That Phillips' words "prove" that "the real victims of racism are whites." This is not true, of course; to believe that whites suffering more than blacks and Asians automatically means that blacks and Asians are the perpetrators or beneficients of such suffering (or vice-versa, of course) is facile and ignorant. However, Phillips was partially correct in what he said.

For a very long time, the debate on race and equality in the UK has been dominated by an overly-simplistic "us or them" mentality which has stifled effective action where inequality and discrimination genuinely exist. There was, until the murder of Kriss Donald in 2004, a widely-held but rarely-vocalised perception that racism in the UK didn't affect white people. Meanwhile, the equally false perception that racism against non-whites is over-exaggerated by "pro-multi-cultural Establishment institutions" has spread so that it is no longer limited to BNP supporters.

The simple fact is that racism does affect people of all ethnicities, including the majority, and that anti-racism initiatives that focus on or leave out any specific group will increase resentment and tension. This is precisely the problem, because it is not just concrete acts such as murder but also perceptions (including false ones) that damage race relations, especially in times of economic hardship. Phillips was correct in the political consequences of this:
We know what the political consequences are because we have seen it on the Continent. If we ignore the fact some white groups are going to be disadvantaged we will end up with the same kind of conflicts we have seen in Austria, Belgium and now Holland, where the anti-immigrant racist Right-wing parties get a big boost.
So, how do we proceed? Well, I don't believe that the method advocated - positive discrimination - should be pressed on with. Positive discrimination towards any group, and equally the perception of such, are part of the reason that, whilst we have managed to increase equality of opportunity for non-whites, we have not buried the issue of racial resentment and division. We also have to be very careful here, as such measures actually risk increasing the perception that whites are worse off because of their skin colour and the hatred and far-right sentiment that flows from it.

The vast majority of our current problems are economic ones, but both the establishment and the far-right - for differing reasons - have made sure that the issues of class and race have become intertwined. That this is, ultimately, a class issue shouldn't simply be dismissed out of hand. After all, we never divide "the upper classes" or "the middle class" by racial terms, but it has become an expected part of political parlance to speak of "the white working class" and "the black working class." The reasons should not need spelling out.

For the far-right, it is because their rhetoric is grounded in race, and this obfuscation helps them to steal the working-class vote from the left without having to speak of class issues they really aren't interested in. For the ruling parties, meanwhile, the reason is simple; it is their economic policies, and their pandering to the demands of the business lobby, that have wrought both the current crisis and the ongoing hardship of the working classes. But, as Phil Woolas' remarks over immigration have shown, it is easy to push the blame for our economic problems across racial boundaries. Immigrants and non-whites are as much victims of the economic policies of the ruling classes as the rest of us, but if we are seeing the world in racial terms then we cannot as easily discern this. This is the conflict and resentment that so worries Phillips and which gives cause for hope to the far-right.

What we need, then, is to tackle this issue so that the scenarios being played out in Austria, Holland, Italy and elsewhere do not migrate here. But we cannot do so by claiming their is no problem at all, nor by using language uncomfortably close to that of the far-right, as Phillips has risked doing. What we need is an open and honest debate, where we can acknowledge the failings of multiculturalist policy without it being seen - falsely - as a vindication of nationalism, and to foster a realisation that dividing the working class along ethnic lines is counterproductive as we are crushed by the economic hierarchy and the damage it has wrought.

However, as long as the debate is dominated by those with an interest in such division, for whatever reason, you can safely bet that this will not happen.

Monday, 13 October 2008

Ignore the right-wing press, downgrading was working

The downgrading of cannabis from Class B to Class C has resulted in a fall in usage of the drug amongst all age groups, a drop in strength of most strains of the drug, and a decline in the number of arrests for using the drug, freeing police to concentrate on more serious matters. This is strong evidence that the downgrading policy, initiated in 2004, is working.

Despite this, however, and in the wake of a string of scare stories by the Daily Mail linking cannabis use to mental illness, murder, and even Satanism, the government has rejected its succesful policy and reclassified the drug as a Class B. This announcement was followed by the warning of "new penalties" when the drug is upgraded in January., from Home Secretary Jaqui Smith:
While cannabis has always been illegal, reclassifying it to a class B drug reinforces our message to everyone that it is harmful and should not be taken. Fewer people are taking cannabis, but it is crucial that this trend continues. I am extremely concerned about the use of stronger strains of cannabis, such as skunk, and the harm they can cause to mental health.
One has to wonder about Smith's motives here. If she indeed desires that "this trend continues" of reduced cannabis use, then why go against the policy behind responsible for the trend in the first place? And how can she be "concerned about the use of stronger strains of cannabis" and mental health issues when the evidence shows the strength of most strains is decreasing and the actual result of the study that the Mail hailed as "proof" of a link to psychosis was ambiguous at best? More importantly, on what grounds can she justify pandering to the conservative demagoguery of the Tabloid media when it has been shown, notably by the UK Drug Report 2001, that the current policies, which Smith is dragging us back to by "toughening up our enforcement response" are failing miserably. But her "harder line on enforcement," as with the entire policy of the War on Drugs, will only serve to make things worse.

Aside from defying the basic libertarian principle that people should be free to do as they will, whether smart or foolish, as long as they are not causing harm to others (an argument that the right-wing press can, rightly, apply in relation to the far more harmful pastime of smoking tobacco) there is also the fact that "Drug War" policies only exacerbate the problems. This has been noted numerous times in reports and studies showing that such policies are a faliure, do nothing to stem the supply for narcotics, and serve only to hand the trade over to organised crime.

And, whether cannabis or cocaine, these same results will always ensue as long as nations put aside all the evidence pointing to the need for legalisation, or at least decriminalisation and regulation, for fear of upsetting the reactionaries in the media.

Thursday, 9 October 2008

Secularism and free speech will be more effective than any "extremism toolkit"

On Wednesday, it was announced that the government has created a "toolkit" to help schools "contribute to the prevention of violent extremism." According to Schools Secretary Ed Balls, the toolkit was drawn up as a response to "feedback from teachers and others" that they need "more practical advice on how to support vulnerable pupils" and will help them to play a "key role" in tackling extremist influences.

Though I detest the word "radicalised," as it implicitly connects radicalism (seeking drastic change at a grassroots level) with extremism, there is a concerted threat of children being groomed by terrorist groups. The story in The Times on the same day as the toolkit was announced that "schoolchildren as young as 13 are being “groomed” for terrorism by Islamic extremists in the heartland of the 7/7 suicide bombers" is an illustration of this. However, one has to wonder if this new measure really presents a serious solution to the problem.

As so often with government policies, particularly education, the entirely wrong conclusion is drawn from what - on the face of it appears to be a largely accurate analysis of the situation. Balls is right that groups grooming children with "extremism and hate- or race-based prejudice" are "causing alienation and disaffection amongst young people" and that in response we need to "empower our young people" through "challenge and debate." Likewise, the assertion by Alan Jones, a headteacher supporting the measure, that "bringing things into the open" and discussing controversial issues freely "improv[es] the safety of all our children" is correct. However, whatever its intent, the toolkit does exactly the opposite, especially when run in tandem with pre-existing government policy.

If we really want an open debate on issues such as this, what we need to foster is a culture of free speech in schools, in much the same way as we need a guarantee of the right to free speech without limits in wider society. However, the heavily structured methodology of the toolkit, "through programmes such as Seal (Social and Emotional Aspects of Learning) in primary schools and citizenship in secondary schools," with Ofsted inspecting "schools on their duty to promote community cohesion" and a very specific agenda at its heart makes the system far too rigid for truly free speech to prosper. This will serve only to make children feel that the debate is being directed a specific way and to turn them off the principles being promoted.

As well as this, the Government's continued support for faith-based schooling, essentially segregating children based on the religious beliefs of their parents, fundamentally undermines the possibility of any serious dialogue across faith divides.

If we are serious, then, about encouraging "engagement with the community, wider society and politics" and "an ability to discuss controversial issues without resort to polarised rhetoric" amongst our children, one thing is clear. We need to stop trying to fit this goal into a multicultural agenda that seeks to "accommodate different races, religions and ideals" as though they are intrinsically separate or incompatible and deserving of preservation from any external influence at all. We need to allow for a more secular, polycultural society and education system where those of different faiths and cultures are not segregated and balkanised but allowed to interact and to engage in open dialogue where each can have a positive influence on the other and extremist tendencies and irrational doctrines can be challenged without the need for overweaning "respect" and the fear of causing "offence."

Saturday, 4 October 2008

The stark faliure of the free market

The free market, first envisioned by Adam Smith in Wealth of Nations and later spread across the world with the same militarism and missionary zeal that made Christianity so prominent, is an empty and unworkable ideal. Recent events have demonstrated aptly that, far from the Smithian vision of the market as the solution to poverty, inequality, and tyranny, it is - as Mikhail Bakunin observed so long ago - the vessel of "privilege and injustice." More than that, it has brought us to the brink of an economic meltdown on the scale of the Great Depression.

In principle, free of government intervention and regulation, the market is self-regulating. The self-interest of the proprietor is turned in favour of the common good by what Smith called the "invisible hand" of competition and consumer demand, somewhat like economic natural selection. Competition for labour ensures fair wages. Competition for custom and product demand ensures fair prices. And unsound or unethical business practices are eradicated, since those businesses that act recklessly and irresponsibly for short-term gain ultimately go under whilst those with foresight and rigorous self-discipline will prosper.

This is nothing short of wishful thinking, the product not of proven strategy but of a mythology that justifies greed. The need for trading standards regulations to protect consumers from things such as price fixing by "the butcher, the brewer or the baker" and other industries from whom "we expect our dinner" by "their own self interest" belies the very idea that competition ensures fair prices. Revelations of exploited labour, whether migrants here in the west or impoverished peoples in third-world sweatshops, not to mention the disingenuous practice of moving factories away when a country gains labour protection laws and the right to organise, utterly destroy the notion that "the demand for men" regulates wages in the same way as demand "for any other commodity" so that it "naturally increases" with "the increase of national wealth."

The notion of "survival of the fittest" - Herbert Spencer's infamous misappropriation of Darwinian evolution into economics - is also fallacious, because when companies face insolvency due to their own bad practice they threaten the stability of the entire market. The bedrock of capitalist economics is "confidence," without which the whole charade crumbles. So a corporate body that brings about its own downfall is more comparable to a species being wiped out by man, causing calamity for an entire ecosystem, than to natural selection favouring the greater survivor with little ecological fallout.

The disastrous ripple effects of such as the run on Northern Rock, the collapse of Bear Stearns or Lehman Brothers, and most dramatically of the US House of Representatives' rejection last week of Henry Paulson's $700bn bailout plan, speak of a system far too fragile for Smith's invisible hand to operate effectively. George Bush summed it up, with characteristic inelegance, on Tuesday when he said "this sucker's going down." It is also ironic that the system's fallibility was most devastatingly revealed by its reaction to the failure of a measure that defied its core principles. If Senator Jim Bunning was right in calling the bailout "financial socialism," why did its death cause a 705 point fall in the blue-chip share price, a drop on a scale not seen since the 684 point drop in September 2001? Surely the failure of "trickle-down communism," in venture capitalist Bill Perkins' words, shouldn't cause the Dow Jones Index to plummet 6.63 percentage points? Capitalists are being retaught a lesson that should have been learnt in the Great Depression, when the Wall Street Crash brought down the entire global economy.

What we are seeing now is the inevitable result of the frenzy of deregulation and privatisation that has continued, unabated, since the Thatcher-Reagan years. It was precisely the dogmatic culling of lending regulation that allowed subprime mortgages, the inevitable collapse of which catalysed the entire current turmoil, to exist in the first place. But the effects of the neoliberal ideology have had consequences far beyond Wall Street and the City long before now, for people far less culpable and financially secure than the brokers and traders. Under market fundamentalism, measures to protect the poor and working classes - the minimum wage, universal health care, the welfare state, health and safety law, etc - are unwelcome "barriers to free trade."It is only because of concerted grassroots struggles that workers in the developed world enjoy such basic rights today. Even now, business lobbying, mass media propaganda, and pro-business politicians are at work to destroy these vital protections. Using Britain as an example, the tabloid scare stories - exaggerations, isolated incidents presented as the norm, and outright lies - about "Elf n Safety Nazis," "sick-note Britain," and "scroungers" demonstrate the level of contempt by the market and those in its pocket towards welfare for those who need it.

But the double standards are palpable. No voices from the City or Wall Street, their lobbyists in the halls of government, or the newspapers under their financial control ever rail with the same venom against corporate welfare and tax breaks. In fact, when a politician tries to rebalance such privilege they face strong and continued political and financial pressure (what from trade unions would be called bullying and bribery) until they relent. Alastair Darling's attempt to tax non-domiciles and his subsequent u-turn is but one recent example of this. If the welfare state for the rich is threatened, we are reminded that their investments are "vital" to our "economic stability" and that such measures will merely force them to "take their money elsewhere."

Poor people, of course, do not have that luxury and so are fair game. As ever, welfare and government handouts are acceptable for the "master and proprietor," in Pierre Joseph Proudhon's terms, but those who must sell their labour to suit the "condescension and necessities" of said master in order to survive have to adhere to market discipline. Given that, without massive intervention on the scale of the Paulson Plan, now approved by Congress on its second reading, the working classes would only see their misery multiply, one can almost see the logic. It fails only once you realise that those being bailed out not only caused this crisis, but will inevitably bring about the next one as well, if allowed to continue.

Far more drastic measures are needed to ensure not only a reduction in fallout now, at the apex of the current turmoil, but also a fairer system in its aftermath. Whilst a bailout of the failing financial institutions ensures that we don't see another Depression, it offers little help to the ordinary people facing mounting costs and debts, bankruptcy, and the repossession of their homes. Pumping money into the markets, as world Central Banks already have to the tune of $300bn, will keep the system afloat, but does nothing for those already overboard.

At present, it seems that any outcome other than utter economic meltdown will involve taxpayers taking on the debts and losses of the worst offenders, cuts in public spending to balance the vast sums spent subsidising the rich, and a flawed ideology patched up with token reforms until the lessons of history can be forgotten again. We can also expect lots of finger pointing and arbitrary blame as those in power do their very best to avoid the obvious conclusion.

The very idea of global capitalism and the free market, flawed at inception, is the cause of our current economic woes. It has failed, again, the challenge to prove its legitimacy and needs to be entirely overhauled.

Sunday, 28 September 2008

On the inevitable consequences of neo-liberalism

It is, it almost goes without saying, a decidedly rare event when a working class anarchist finds himself in agreement with a multi-millionaire Texan venture capitalist. And yet, this week, I have found myself in precisely that position.

The US treasury and the Federal Reserve Bank have received preliminary approval for the $700bn bailout plan for the financial institutions proposed by treasury secretary Henry Paulson. Peter Orszay, head of the Congressional Budget Office, warned that without the bailout we would see "a financial meltdown" on the scale of the Great Depression "that would cause severe dislocations." However, it has been a hard sell. A poll conducted by the Los Angeles Times gauged opposition to the plan by the US public at 55%, whilst a similar poll by CNN found that 65% believed the bailout to be unfair to taxpayers.

Bill Perkins, head of venture capital firm Small Ventures USA, also opposes the bail out, and placed a full page advertisement in the New York Times - at a cost of $1.25m - to that effect. His reason, cause of the rare and unexpected convergence of anarchist and capitalist viewpoints, is that government intervention "in a gladiator´s arena where only the strong survive" isn´t capitalism. I can wholeheartedly endorse his opposition state subsidies for those who live "fat and high on the hog of the real estate boom." But, of course, where Perkins is a devout believer in the virtues of the unregulated free market, I see such dogma as no more than empty idealism which has proliferated the current crisis in the first place. Even Adam Smith admitted that the "invisible hand" would only work well in a hypothetical situation of perfect equality, and in practice we can see the corruption - from state subsidies to monopolies and price-fixing - that a free market brings with it in the real world. And so the chasm between the anarchist and the venture capitalist reopens. This bailout is not, as Paulson insists, "trickle down communism" but a desperate act by neoliberals to repair the damage caused by their own policies of deregulation and minimal government interference.

As to the bail-out itself, taxpayers´money is wiping out the debt and loss incurred by the banks´own unscrupulous lending policies. Is it too much to ask, then, that as repayment the taxpayers see the erasure of their own debts - mortgages, credit cards, loans - that are often also the result of the banks´unscrupulous lending policies?

Thursday, 25 September 2008

A step in the right direction

The recent revelation, as reported in The Guardian, that the government is planning "the end of the Anglican crown," present the hope of important progress on three fronts. Proposals have been drawn up to revoke the rules, established in the 1688 Bill of Rights , the Act of Settlement 1701, and Act of Union in 1707, that prevent non-Anglicans from ascending the throne. Republicans, secularists, and equality campaigners all have reason to take note.

The most obvious potential development from such constitutional reform, which MPs want "passed quickly in a fourth term," is the most vital step towards making Britain a wholly secular state. The country´s laws are already largely secular in nature, largely providing equality for people of all faiths (or none), and the recent abolition of the archaic blasphemy laws has removed a cornerstone of Christian privilege within the UK´s legislature.

The change in the laws of succession, which bar the crown from anyone "who holds communion with the church of Rome or marries a Papist," presents the opportunity to take the final, necessary step towards secularisation: the annexation of the Church of England from the state. As long as the constitutional monarch remains nominal head of the Anglican communion, a secular state is out of reach almost by definition. But this would be an impossible tradition to uphold if the monarch has no obligation to follow the faith of the Church of England. thus, the annexation of the Church from the government is necessary if the proposed legislation - preferably run in tandem with the removal of the Bishops from de facto holding seats in the House of Lords - is to be enacted.

Republicans, too, can view this proposal with some optimism. Though reform of the line of succession isn´t an automatic precursor towards creating a republic, even if "proposals [that] also include limiting the powers of the privy council" hold such promise, it does raise the suggestion by challenging the long-held taboo against any reforms of the traditional role of the crown. Even now, it remains hard to engage in serious dialogue about the monarchy, especially as monarchists are fond of using "republicanism" as an accusation, on par with cries of "heresy" and "treason" in days of yore. The outrage, vocalised by the Tories, against Tony Blair´s "presidential style of leadership" - i.e. acting, reasonably, as though being elected gave him a greater democratic mandate than a hereditary monarch - and absurd scare stories about potential presidents in a British Republic reveal how much the discourse on the crown has to mature.

As well as removing the bar on non-Anglicans from ascending to the throne, the proposals include another reform that equality campaigners can welcome; the abolition of the doctrine of male primogeniture. At the moment, the first born male always takes precedence as heir, with females only able to succeed in the absence of suitable males. Even aside from the fact that such heredity is an unwelcome relic of the rigid class system of feudalism, the doctrine cements gender discrimination into the highest level of the state, and any change in the status quo is more than welcome.

There is still further to go, of course. eradicating the doctrine of primogeniture is necessary, but with it the ridiculous tradition that the wife of the heir to the throne must be a virgin must also go. The most recent casualty of this injustice being Diana Spencer, with whom Charles Windsor was forced to enter into a loveless marriage because his love for Camilla Parker-Bowles didn´t meet virginity requirements, whose subsequent mental (and, ultimately, physical) destruction is too well-documented to need repeating. Likewise, removing the obligation of the monarch to be an Anglican must incite a move towards secularisation of the constitution. And, of course, reform remains a long way from the abolition of a hierarchy that cannot bear the burden of proof to its legitimacy. Nevertheless, the proposed reforms are a welcome step forward.

Friday, 19 September 2008

A necessary act far too long in the making

Seventeen years after it first appeared, the British government is at last to sign the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, according to BBC News. At first, one might have cause to wonder what has taken the government so long to sign such a progressive, and necessary, agreement on protections for children. Once put into the context of the main thrust of British political discourse, however, it all soon becomes clear. As the BBC report explains:
The UK has for the past 17 years retained an opt-out allowing child migrants and asylum seekers to be locked up without judicial scrutiny.


The opt-out has meant the "best interest" rule does not apply to immigrant children in the UK and makes it easier for officials to lock them up, sometimes for weeks or months, pending planned deportation.

The story goes on to say that though the new rules will "force the UK Border Agency to put migrant children's welfare first" in deportation decisions, which any civilised person can see as the more humane course of action, the government has "argued that immigration control should take priority over signing the convention" since 1991. Moreover, it did not come to the decision to sign because it realised how callous this policy was, but only because "ministers became convinced it would not become a loop-hole which frustrates effective immigration control."

It took a while before I could let this sink in. The Government turnaround was not inspired by the recent revelation that we detain 2,000 refugee children per year, and the accompanying outcry from refugee and children's charities. Just as it remained unmoved by Save the Children's legal challenge against the barring of refugee children from attending mainstream schools in 2003, and the reports that children of asylum seekers were being born in jail and locked in detention centres. No, it had to be sure that this would not become a "loop-hole" in immigration law or, more accurately, that there was minimal risk of the right-wing press attacking them for being "soft."

That the government would worry about such a thing over and above the welfare of the most wretched and desperate children in the country, and that the media would attack a law protecting children on the grounds of hypothetical abuse by "bogus" asylum seekers is a damning indictment of the callous right-wing populism of both parties.