Thursday, 31 December 2009

No War but Class War - 2009 in review

2009 has been a truly historic year in global politics.

For mainstream media outlets such as the Guardian, this is because "it was the year Barack Obama took office, Britain entered recession, MPs' expenses were exposed to public scrutiny, Iranians protested after a flawed presidential election, Michael Jackson died and the Copenhagen climate summit ended in recriminations and a flawed deal." For radicals, it is because this year has been a year of resistance. This year, amidst a seismic upheaval of the global capitalist system, the working class rose up on a scale unseen for at least a decade.

The unrest in Greece

For the Greeks, the year began as it would end. In all-out war. Mainstream media interest in the upheaval unleashed by the murder of Alexandros Grigoropoulos ended with the riots of last December, but for those on the ground the struggle went on.

From running battles with state supported fascist paramilitaries to resistance against police brutality, the resistance of the anarchists forced the government into crisis. The snap election called by Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis in the wake of the stock exchange bombing saw George Papandreou's "socialists" sweep to power, but this did not end repression against the anarchists. In turn, acts of dissidence continued, with the anniversaries of the Polytechnic Uprising and Alexandros's murder heralding massive protest. The slogan of those who took to the streets on the 6th December was a defiant "we won't forget, we won't forgive!"

With Greece's ongoing debt crisis, and the brutal impact of EU-enforced "austerity measures," that sentiment looks to be a lasting one. As Labour Minister Andreas Loverdos warns, "there will be blood."

The G20

This year saw the world's top twenty economies, the G20, hold two summits on measures to revive and rebrand global capitalism.

According to The Independent, "$1trn will be made available to countries that run into trouble via the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Bank and World Trade Organisation, which will all be beefed up" but "the real significance" of the agreement was the "enhanced role" given to the likes of the IMF, "whose budget will triple to $750bn." In much the same vein, The Guardian tells us of "the death of the "Washington Consensus" of financial market liberalisation, privatisation and unfettered capitalism promulgated by ... the IMF and the World Bank" which is of course demonstrated by granting one of those same "Bretton Woods institutions," namely the IMF, "a stronger role" in "the world financial system" than that it already enjoys of enforcer of that same "unfettered capitalism" upon the world's poorest.


As noted earlier, the IMF and World Bank were central to the "Washington Consensus" that has now "died" with the "stronger role" of the same "Bretton Woods institutions" that propped up the Consensus in the first place. This is nothing new. As now, each past crisis has marked the "death" of one form of capitalism in favour of a "stronger" form that more efficiently perpetuated the same injustices ... Indeed, the central "triumph" of the G20 summit appears to be a rebranding of exactly the same disaster capitalism that has brought us to this point in the first place. Whatever the press may declare about Barack Obama and Gordon Brown's "new world order," we really are just left with "little more than the status quo."
And in Pittsburgh in September;
According to the Guardian, Barack Obama hailed a "new era of engagement" under which the International Monetary Fund (IMF) "will regularly analyse whether the economic policies of G20 countries are consistent with "sustainable and balanced trajectories for the global economy"." Gordon brown echoed this sentiment by stating that "the old systems of economic co-operation are over," replaced by "a system that can prevent crises as well as deal with them when they occur."
Both summits were met with massive protests, and it appeared that the lessons of London appeared to have been learned in Pittsburgh. Unfortunately, the brutal policing in place for the summit rendered even the best actions ineffective.

But, as I noted at the time, whilst "that those who suffer their successes are paying for their failures doesn't interest [the world's richest] in the slightest," the "possibility that the masses might finally rise up and say "enough" terrifies them." This was evident in "both the disproportionate reaction to the protesters outside [the summit] and from an increasing denial and rollback of workers' rights" worldwide.

This is good news: "Let them be scared. As long as people continue to organise and mobilise, to educate themselves and each other, and to stand up on principle against injustice, then the rebellion will grow."


The reaction to the climate summit in Copenhagen was, arguably, the third pillar of the year's resistance against global capitalism. I have explained in depth why a cop-out at COP15 was inevitable, and also why civil disobedience and an agenda from below is neccesary for any lasting effect on climate change.

Though they faced harsh police oppression, this was what activist groups such as Climate Justice Now! aimed to put forward;
The Climate Justice Now! coalition, alongside other networks, was united here at COP15 in the call for System Change, Not Climate Change. In contrast, the Copenhagen climate conference itself demonstrated that real solutions, as opposed to false, market-based solutions, will not be adopted until we overcome the existing unjust political and economic system.

Government and corporate elites here in Copenhagen made no attempt to satisfy the expectations of the world. False solutions and corporations completely co-opted the United Nations process. The global elite would like to privatize the atmosphere through carbon markets; carve up the remaining forests, bush and grasslands of the world through the violation of indigenous rights and land-grabbing; promote high-risk technologies to restructure the climate; convert real forests into monoculture tree plantations and agricultural soils into carbon sinks; and complete the enclosure and privatisation of the commons. Virtually every proposal discussed in Copenhagen was based on a desire to create opportunities for profit rather than to reduce emissions, and even the small amounts of financing promised could end up paying for the transfer of risky technologies.

The only discussions of real solutions in Copenhagen took place in social movements. Climate Justice Now!, Climate Justice Action and Klimaforum09 articulated many creative ideas and attempted to deliver those ideas to the UN Climate Change Conference through the Klimaforum09 People's Declaration and the Reclaim Power People's Assembly. Among nations, the ALBA countries, many African nations and AOSIS often echoed the messages of the climate justice movement, speaking of the need to repay climate debt, create mitigation and adaptation funds outside of neoliberal institutions such as the World Bank and IMF, and keep global temperature increase below 1.5 degrees.

The UN and the Danish government served the interests of the rich, industrialized countries, excluding our voices and the voices of the least powerful throughout the world, and attempting to silence our demands to talk about real solutions. Nevertheless, our voices grew stronger and more united day by day during the two-week conference. As we grew stronger, the mechanisms implemented by the UN and the Danish authorities for the participation of civil society grew more dysfunctional, repressive and undemocratic, very much like the WTO and Davos.

Social movement participation was limited throughout the conference, drastically curtailed in week two, and several civil society organizations even had their admission credentials revoked midway through the second week. At the same time, corporations continued lobbying inside the Bella Center.

Outside the conference,the Danish police extended the repressive framework, launching a massive clampdown on the right to free expression and arresting and beating thousands, including civil society delegates to the climate conference. Our movement overcame this repression to raise our voices in protest over and over again. Our demonstrations mobilized more than 100,000 people in Denmark to press for climate justice, while social movements around the world mobilized hundreds of thousands more in local climate justice demonstrations. In spite of repression by the Danish government and exclusion by the United Nations, the movement for system change not climate change is now stronger than when we arrived in Denmark.

While Copenhagen has been a disaster for just and equitable climate solutions, it has been an inspiring watershed moment in the battle for climate justice. The governments of the elite have no solutions to offer, but the climate justice movement has provided strong vision and clear alternatives. Copenhagen will be remembered as an historic event for global social movements. It will be remembered, along with Seattle and Cancun, as a critical moment when the diverse agendas of many social movements coalesced and became stronger, asking in one voice for system change, not climate change.

The Climate Justice Now! coalition calls for social movements around the world to mobilize in support of climate justice.

We will take our struggle forward not just in climate talks, but on the ground and in the streets, to promote genuine solutions that include:

- leaving fossil fuels in the ground and investing instead in appropriate energy-efficiency and safe, clean and community-led renewable energy - radically reducing wasteful consumption, first and foremost in the North, but also by Southern elites - huge financial transfers from North to South, based on the repayment of climate debts and subject to democratic control. The costs of adaptation and mitigation should be paid for by redirecting military budgets, progressive and innovative taxes, and debt cancellation - rights-based resource conservation that enforces Indigenous land rights and promotes peoples' sovereignty over energy, forests, land and water - sustainable family farming and fishing, and peoples' food sovereignty.

We are committed to building a diverse movement – locally and globally – for a better world.
Other movements

Though the Greek riots, the protests at the G20 summits, and the actions at COP15 are the ones that have best captured the spotlight and public imagination, working class resistance in 2009 has been truly global.

Occupations at the Vestas wind turbine factory on the Isle of Wight, in the Ssongyang car factory in North Korea, and the refuse worker strikes are just three of the workplace rebellions that have arisen against the agenda of the bosses in the past 12 months. The refusal of Lance Corporal Joe Glenton to fight in Afghanistan and the army strikes in South Africa have set a vital precedent for organisation in the military. And the plight of shack dwellers' movement Abahlali baseMjondolo, November's "sans papiers" strike in France, and direct action by indigenous people in Colombia and Ecuador speak of an increased willingness of the poorest and most disenfranchised to stand up for themselves.

There have been considerable setbacks, and the willingness of state and capital to resort to ferocious violence knows no bounds. However, what is clear is that, in the wake of a crisis that the perpetrators are determined to make the victims pay for, 2009 has shown what organisation and direct action can achieve if only people are willing to resist.

As we enter 2010, what we need now is to learn from the mistakes of this past year and build upon the successes.

Happy New Year!

Wednesday, 30 December 2009

A minor point...

From BBC News;
Gordon Brown has used his new year message to warn voters not to let the Conservatives "wreck the recovery".

While it had been painful for some, his government had already "seen off the worst of the recession", the PM said.

With an election pending he pledged a decade of "shared prosperity" and warned against unfairness if "the privileged few protect themselves".
According to the Conservatives, this is proof that the Prime Minister is "intent on waging a negative and pointless class war." For reasons I've already explained, this is nonsense.

However, several questions remain unasked;
  1. Where is this recovery that the Tories would supposedly wreck?
  2. Whilst the Conservatives would help "the privileged few protect themselves," how is this different from Labour policy over the past decade, particularly during this recession?
  3. What part does allowing the closure of Britain's only wind turbine factory play in "invest[ing] in the "industries of the future" - such as high speed rail and clean energy?"
  4. How does the decimation of the steel industry of Middlesborough and a political battle over who best can wipe out the livelihoods of the lowest paid public sector workers class as "see[ing] off the worst of the recession?"
Brown is right when he says that "unemployment, repossessions and bankruptcies would have been much worse" under a Conservative government. However, with the above questions unanswered and indeed unanswerable, his promise of "shared prosperity" in the decade ahead rings as hollow. As does the idea that he is waging a "class war" on behalf of, rather than against, the poor.

Tuesday, 29 December 2009

A tiny step forward for migrants' rights in Israel

For Israeli workers, the equivalent of the British Trade Union Congress (TUC) or American Federation of Labor (AFL-CIO) is the Histadrut. However, the "General Federation of Laborers in the Land of Israel" is an anomalous organisation.

It was founded in 1920 not only as a trade union, promoting workers' rights, but also as a Labour Zionist organisation, promoting land settlement and the employment of Jews over Arabs, despite the latter receiving lower wages.The union's state-building role made it the owner of a number of businesses and factories and, at one point, the largest employer in the country.

Writing for the Electronic Intifada, Tony Greenstein explains the role of Histadrut in the ongoing occupation and apartheid;
The exploitation of Palestinian workers from the occupied territories was institutionalized by an Israeli cabinet decision of October 1970. It provided that the military administration should supervise their employment. Their wages would be distributed by the payments department of the National Employment Service. Histadrut was a partner in this arrangement. National Insurance coverage was permitted in only three areas: work accidents, employer bankruptcy and a grant on the birth of a child in an Israeli hospital. Ten percent of the wages of Palestinian workers went to a special "Equalization Fund," which was supposed to supply the population in the occupied territories with social and cultural services. In fact, this money was used to finance the occupation. The workers did not receive unemployment and disability benefits, old-age pensions, a monthly child allowance or vocational training.

In addition, each Palestinian worker had to pay one percent of his or her wages as dues to Histadrut. Workers saw nothing in return and now a fraction of this money has been returned, as a propaganda ploy, to the Palestinian General Federation of Trade Unions. When the Shin Bet intelligence service used work permits as a means to coerce Palestinian workers to collaborate, with those who refused being placed on a blacklist and their work permits cancelled, Histadrut again did nothing.
It is not just Palestinians who suffer under Israel's two-tier labour system, either. Kav LaOved is "a nonprofit non governmental organization committed to protecting the rights of disadvantaged workers employed in Israel and by Israelis in the Occupied Territories, including Palestinians, migrant workers, subcontracted workers and new immigrants." Using the case study of "N," they describe the conditions that migrants in Israel endure;
The majority of migrant workers in Israel are exposed to disgraceful exploitation by their employers. The employers do not act in vacuum – the State of Israel, with its laws and degrading attitude towards the rights of migrant workers, gives a clear message to job brokers and employers that the workers are nothing more than tools.

One can charge exorbitant amounts of money from workers simply for bringing them over. Basic rights to family life and childbirth are denied. It is legitimate to “bind” workers to their employers, and rarely would the authorities come to enforce or check the conditions in which workers are employed.

These issues have been discussed many times in the media, and I estimate that the public is aware of the large scale of exploitation and humiliation. But what happens when a worker tries to find out what his rights by law are and demand them? The worker is detained! That’s what happened to N., a worker from Nepal who was detained by the Oz unit.

During the trial the visa expired

After five years of working in Israel, N. decided to find out what his rights were and approached Kav LaOved. The investigation revealed that his employer imposed even more disgraceful conditions than common: workers received wages much lower than the minimum and the right for days off and holidays was denied. Frequently workers were forced to work dozens of consecutive days, more than 16 hours a day. Some were fined when they were five minutes late to work, and the hands of one worker were seriously hurt as a result of overexposure to chemical substances.

Immediately after collecting N.’s testimony and the documents in his possession, Kav LaOved decided to take N.’s case to court. But during the few weeks that it usually takes to file a case, N.’s visa expired. From that point, the way to the Ramle jail was short.

While in custody, N. presented to the Oz unit inspectors a letter from Kav LaOved, clearly stating that the organization was representing him in legal proceeding against his employer, for which he should remain in Israel a few more weeks. The inspectors were probably inspired by Tsiki Sela, the commanding officer at the time, who believed that organizations providing aid to migrant workers were interested in the destruction of Israel. With much “sensitivity and compassion”, they carried N. in the detainee’s van. Now he is waiting in his cell for the Court decision on whether he can be released on bail.

Years of disgraceful abuse and exploitation

Four months ago, following a complaint by Kav LaOved, the economic unit of the immigration police started an investigation against N.’s employer. Within a month, charges of exploitation and fraud were made against the company owners.

But this is of no concern to the Israeli Minister of Interior Affairs, the Oz commander or inspectors. From their point of view, N.’s stay in Israel is illegal, because his visa expired two weeks ago. What about his rights to severance pay, fair wages for years of hard labor, denied days off and holidays and other social benefits denied him during all those years? How can a person exercise his legal right to sue his employer for years of disgraceful exploitation under the threat of detention and deportation? Minister Eli Yishay may has the answer.

When I heard about N.’s arrest, I recalled my trip to Nepal ten years ago, and how enthusiastic I was about the hikes I took there, the views, the excellent food – but mainly about the generous and smiling people. In contrast, it will be interesting to see what N. will have to tell his family and friends about Israel and its citizens, after his many years of exploitation and humiliation.

Now, however, it would appear that organising pressure has forced a slight, but vital, change in that situation. Three years ago a new trade union called Koach La'ovdim, "Power to the Workers," started organizing workers in non-unionised sectors. Particularly, the organisation of migrant care-workers and increasing militancy from Chinese construction workers have forced a reaction from Histadrut.

According to Histadrut itself, "until now the Constitution of the Histadrut allowed only Israeli citizens to be members of the Histadrut." But the executive leadership has "decided to submit a proposed resolution to the Histadrut Legislative Assembly to change the Constitution which would allow migrant workers to become regular Histadrut members." In the press release, they declare their newfound commitment to "work as a trade union to promote the status, working conditions, and to protect the rights of migrant workers in Israel, based on the principles of equality and the Israeli law."

The Histadrut has "also decided to object the deportation of the migrant workers children." As Al-Arabiya reports, "some 1,200 Asian and African children born in Israel had faced deportation along with their parents on Nov. 1 following a crackdown on foreign workers who have overstayed their visas and continue working in the Jewish state." Israeli PM Binyamin Netanyahu has postponed the move "until the end of the school year," but it still looks set to go ahead. The opposition by the Histadrut represents a vital obstacle to this happening.

However, the Histadrut's apparent change in stance should not be seen as a greater breakthrough than it is. As Hannah Zohar, executive director of Kav LaOved told the Jerusalem Post, "if the Histadrut really takes actions, then it might change things," but "the only reason the Histadrut decided to accept membership of foreign workers is because they now have competition from an alternative workers' organization, Koach La'ovdim." They are "spurred to act" only because "they have some competition from a democratic and inclusive union." In reality, they are "used to going over the workers' heads to reach bargains with employers."

This more familiar tactic is evident in the fact that "the executive [has also] stated that it would support the gradual decrease of work permits for foreign workers in an effort to reduce unemployment." According to Ofer Eini, head of the Histadrut, is that "work permits should only be issued according to real market needs, after ensuring all opportunities to employ Israeli workers have been exhausted." This nationalistic sentiment proves that the union and its executive is commited more to the goals of right-wing Zionism and the Israeli nation-state than representing all workers, regardless of race or nationality, against the bosses.

As such, the apparent change of heart by Israel's biggest labour federation should be taken with a pinch of salt. But the opportunity that their move represents should be seized upon by those who wish equal rights for all workers and an end to exploitation. It is only the tiniest of steps forward, but nonetheless it is a vital one. 

Monday, 28 December 2009

The people of Iran must seize the opportunity for revolution

For the people of Iran, this past month has been one marked by rioting and unrest. They came to a head with the death of Grand Ayatollah Hoseyn Ali Montazeri, a leading critic of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. At his funeral, according to BBC News, "police used tear gas and batons to disperse people gathering to commemorate Grand Ayatollah Hoseyn Ali Montazeri." This action led to fierce clashes.

Now, al-Jazeera reports the following;
Security forces in Iran have arrested a number of prominent critics of the government in the wake of opposition protests that left as many as eight people dead in Tehran, the capital.

Ebrahim Yazdi, who served as foreign minister in the early months of Iran's 1979 revolution, and Emadeddin Baghi, a human rights campaigner and journalist, were arrested on Monday, according to the pro-opposition Rahesabz website.

There were also reports that two aides to Mohammad Khatami, a former reformist president, and three advisers to Mir Hossein Mousavi, an opposition leader, were detained.

Security forces reportedly stormed a series of opposition offices in an apparent crackdown following fierce clashes at street protests during the Shia Muslim commemoration of Ashoura.

Seyyed Ali Mousavi, Mousavi's 35-year-old nephew, was among the eight people killed, with the Parlemannews website saying he was shot during clashes at Tehran's Enghelab square "and was martyred after he was taken to Ebnesina hospital".

State television attributed his death to "unknown assailants".
Although Montazeri's death is the immediate cause of the latest unrest, it is the recent election that has catalysed this spirit of rebellion amongst the Iranian people. Claims of fraud, vote-rigging, and political violence has motivated people to take to the streets in their thousands and challenge the government.

Of course, Iran being an official enemy, the ongoing unrest has been picked up by western media in a way that unrest in Greece hasn't. Condemnation of "violent and unjust suppression" in Iran by the White House has a distinctly political air to it in the context of joint oil-field deals with Iraq and the proposed sanctions running through Congress against the Iranian nuclear programme. As such, the Iranian protests serve as a convenient political footbal for the US, whilst that fact serves the same purpose for the Ahmadinejad presidency.

In the midst of such a propaganda war,it becomes difficult to make predictions of what will happen next. The arrests and suppression of dissent make it appear likely that the Ahmadinejad regime will prevail, though the sheer refusal of the protesters to back down offers a hint of lasting and concerted efforts against the repressive Iranian state.

As Simon Tisdall writes in the Guardian, the events of the past few months set an important precedent;
With every fatal bullet, with every ill-directed teargas canister and every ill-advised arrest, the heirs to Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini and the Islamic coup d'etat of 1979 find themselves stranded ever more invidiously on the wrong side of history.

Those who rose up with fervent courage to bring down the Shah 30 years ago are now cast in his vacated role of national oppressor, with their own revered martyr, Imam Hossein, used against them to dramatise the cruelty and inequity of their rule.

The fanatical students who drove an American president to ruin, the faithful warriors who faced down Saddam Hussein and his western backers during eight years of war, the ideologues who uniquely placed their supreme leader, the Vali al-Faqih, on the right hand of God, have now themselves become the establishment they so abhorred – incompetent, corrupt, and reviled.

"We will fight, we will die, we will get our country back!" chanted Tehran street protesters on Sunday, holding high their ribbons of green as if, magically, they would protect them from flying bullets and batons. "Yazid [the hated Caliph who martyred Hossein] will be defeated ... This is a month of blood!"


The recent detentions of American hikers and British yachtsmen are in line with Tehran's practice of externalising its problems in order to deflect attention from domestic failures. The regime uses international concern about its nuclear activities and missile tests in much the same way, whipping up anti-western sentiment at home, painting a picture of a heroic Islamic republic beset by snarling infidel foes, and thereby tightening, in theory, its grip on power.

What's changing, as the battle lines sharpen, is that fantasy politics and paranoid posturing can no longer conceal the widening fissures – economic, social and ethnic as well as political – that are splintering Iranian society.

Maybe the regime can still cling to power. But the legitimacy of Khomeini's republic is all but shot. The infallibility of the Vali al-Faqih is blown. The "month of blood" is upon them.

The people of Iran need, now, to forge their own path. We cannot predict the future, whether this uprising will gain momentum or be beaten down by a combination of state violence and increasingly bellicose western rhetoric playing into the hands of Iranian propagandists. But we can express a hope of how things might turn out.

If Iranian rebels are willing to fight and die to get their country back, then they must learn the lessons of the past. The uprising against the Shah in 1979 was a just and neccesary one. But by allowing the banning of Islamic symbols, rather than increasing authoritarianism and inequality as a US-UK client state, to define it, the revolution surrendered to the force of reaction. It was then, not in the recent elections, that the regime the people rebel against was born.

If they are to succeed and to determine their own future, the people of Iran need neither reform nor reaction but revolution. And if they are to pull their country from the tradition of despotism that has gripped it since 1941, it must be a revolution for the Iranian people, not Western profit sectors nor another sect of authoritarianism. With such a goal in sight, the "month of blood" deserves our solidarity.

Sunday, 27 December 2009

Academic freedom issues in "terrorist" court case

The revelations in October that police and security services in Britain have rebranded dissent as "domestic extremism" told of a dangerous precedent. The following analysis of a similar situation in the United States, from Libcom, tells us of the direction in which we are heading.

A sociology graduate student who researches 'radical activist groups' is under pressure from a US court.

Sociology researcher Scott DeMuth and activist friend Carrie Feldman were last month charged with 'conspiracy under the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act after he refused to testify before a grand jury that is apparently investigating a laboratory break-in at the University of Iowa in 2004' reports Science.*

Twin Cities Indymedia reported that on October 13th, the two Minneapolis activists were subpoenaed to appear before an Iowa Grand Jury, investigating a November 2004 Animal Liberation Front(ALF) raid of a University of Iowa psychology department animal laboratory.

Both Feldman and DeMuth refused to testify before the Grand Jury, with Feldman reported as saying: "Today my voice may waver, as I stand alone in this room. But I know I speak with the voice of every one of my friends, loved ones, and comrades when I say this: We will not be intimidated. We will not cooperate. I have nothing more to say to you."

Feldman said she had never been to Iowa prior to the court appearance; she was 15-years-old and still at school in Minneapolis at the time of the University of Iowa break-in: “The assertion by the prosecutor that I may be a target of this investigation is ridiculous... I believe that I am being targeted because of my political activity and beliefs, not my involvement in any crime.” A video of the break-in had been posted online by ALF and is viewable in this story.

In November, both again refused to testify and were jailed for contempt by a federal district judge. DeMuth was additionally charged with conspiracy to commit animal enterprise terrorism in Davenport, Iowa federal court, but later had his 'civil contempt' charge dropped.

DeMuth's research focuses on radical activist groups, and in the course of his research, DeMuth promises confidentiality to the subjects he works with. Such non-disclosure agreements are common practice in academic social-science research, across a range of topics from domestic violence and organised-crime to drug-use and whistleblowing. Researchers in areas that require such non-disclosure of participant information are adamant that such agreements are integral to their research. Researchers maintain that without these agreements, many complex and sensitive social issues simply cannot be investigated.

1600 supporters, including DeMuth's academic supervisor David Pellow, have signed a petition urging the US goverment to drop the charges. DeMuth's undergraduate research focused on Native American activists opposed to a highway diversion. The connection to the current case was that some of these activists had showed public support for animal-rights (AR) prisoners. Pellow suspects that the government believes DeMuth gathered detailed information about many of the AR prisoners during his research, which had been presented at Midwest sociology conferences.

The petition in support of DeMuth cites some of the core aspects of the code of ethics of the American Sociological Association (ASA):

Section 11.01:
"Sociologists have an obligation to protect confidential information and not allow information gained in confidence from being used in ways that would unfairly compromise research participants, students, employees, clients, or others."

Section 11.06:
"Sociologists do not disclose confidential, personally identifiable information concerning their research participants, other recipients of their service which is obtained during the course of their work."

Regardless of one's position on animal-rights activity, many activists will be concerned with the fact that an Assistant U.S. Attorney, Clifford Cronk, filed an emergency motion to keep DeMuth behind bars based on the fact that he is involved in anarchist activism: 'Defendant’s writings, literature, and conduct suggest that he is an anarchist and associated with the ALF movement. Therefore, he is a domestic terrorist.'

* full-text requires institutional access

Saturday, 26 December 2009

Fox hunting, class war, and the general election

At the start of the month, I rebuked the nonsense in the media that Gordon Brown had reverted to the politics of "class war, plain and simple. Soak the rich, crow about it, and damn the consequences." As I said then, "New Labour's war is against the poor." However, such basic realities don't register with the corporate media.

Hence, today's Independent tells us that "Brown declares class war on hunting." The story is in reference to an opinion piece in their own paper written by Environment Secretary Hillary Benn. In it, Benn tells us that we should "celebrate the fifth Boxing Day without the sight of foxes being torn to pieces in our countryside." His argument is a powerful one;
In years to come I think we will look back with horror at a time when hunting wild animals with dogs was viewed as respectable entertainment. Like badger-baiting, cock-fighting and fox tossing (I kid you not), ripping animals to shreds with dogs will become a relic of history.
He cites the fact that "according to a recent Ipsos Mori poll, three-quarters of the population do not want hunting with dogs to be made legal again" to back up his argument. That "72 per cent of the rural population want to keep the ban in place" whilst "84 per cent of Tory candidates want to repeal the ban" demonstrates that the Tories are "pretty out of touch with the public mood."

Whilst there are issues, such as the lax enforcement of the ban, and that more people might be attracted to the "sport" by its taboo status, I cannot disagree with the sentiment. Fox hunting is one of the last remaining vestiges of blood sport, and the pretext of pest control is a flimsy one.

But what of class?

Benn insists that "this isn't a class issue, nor is it about the countryside against our towns," because "lots of people in rural areas oppose fox hunting." Rather, "it is about what we think a decent, civilised society should stand for." Indeed, the only evidence offered by the Independent's Andrew Grice for the "class war" angle is that "the move follows Gordon Brown's attack on Mr Cameron's plans to cut inheritance tax, which he said were "dreamed up on the playing fields of Eton"."

There is a class war element to the movement against fox hunting. But it comes from Ian Bone, not Gordon Brown;
If the Tories go ahead with lifting the ban we need to do a Countryside Alliance demonstration in reverse. On the day the bill is introduced into the Commons for first reading we should rouse every radical we’ve ever known, including the resting,retired, the lame and the halt – maybe even the fucking dead – and launch a full on class war assault on parliament in alliance with every animal lover – and theres a fuck sight lot of them – in the country. Grappling irons, trebuchets, boiling pitch and lead………TALLY -FUCKING -HO!
However the media want to pitch the election battle, Gordon Brown will never utter those words in parliament. He is not opposing the Conservative stance on hunting out of any sincere concern for animal rights, just as he is not about to hoist a black flag and declare war of privilege and the parasitism of the rich. His only concern is getting votes and holding onto power.

By the same token, David Cameron couldn't care less about the damage New Labour has wreaked upon the ordinary people of Great Britain. His party is no "alternative" to the incumbent government, rather a more hardline sector of the elected oligarchy that masquerades as parliamentary "democracy." Likewise, the Liberal Democrats represent a softer edge, and the BNP the worst extreme of that exact same mentality.

Whoever you vote for, what you will get is a party that represents the interests and designs of domestic elites and the decision-making sectors of society. The "differences" between parties are nothing more than ruling class factionalism. Fox hunting is just the first of many issues with which we can demonstrate that fact.

Friday, 25 December 2009

Season's Greetings

It's finally here. All of the stress, headaches, and frenzied panic that accompany preparations for today are over, and we can sit back and relax.

Having been treated to a truly epic fry-up by the in-laws, I can now reflect that my own personal financial troubles don't seem as weighty with the monstrous commercial headache that is Christmas shopping behind me for another year. In fact, even as an ordinary working man struggling to support a household on at least five grand less than the average national wage, I can actually say I'm quite privileged.

Of course, like everybody else, I'm forced to sell my labour and live within the boundaries of a state-capitalist system in order to survive. But, at this present moment, I'm not the victim of massive state repression. I'm not living in grinding poverty. I don't have to survive as a second-class citizen in a brutal apartheid system. I'm not facing slaughter for my ethnicity. I don't risk being murdered by being part of a trade union. And I don't have to be unerringly subservient to the opposite sex for fear of whips lacerating my skin or stones crashing at my head.

This, it could be argued, is a sign of how far we have come in our struggles. But it's also a sign of how many victories our comrades across the globe have yet to win. And how far we as a species have still to go. It's worth remembering as we sit down to our dinners, both the solidarity that others need and the good fortune that we have.

This time of year means many different things to different people. Whether you're an atheist or religious, whether you celebrate Christmas, Kwanzaa, the Winter Solstice, Yule, Hannukah, Gift Giving Day, or even your own birthday, however, the basic central theme remains the same. Whatever our own personal leanings, we come together in the name of family, togetherness, light, hope, and faith in the darkest depths of the year.

So no matter what you call it, or how you do it, have a good one. In the spirit of liberty, equality, community, and solidarity, make sure the holiday of your choosing is a happy one.

Merry Christmas: the Class War ain't over yet!

Thursday, 24 December 2009

Universal healthcare is still a long way off for America

From CNN we learn that, after much drawn-out political wrangling and hysteria, "the Senate has passed an $871 billion health care reform bill." Senator Max baucus, a Democrat from Montana, was among those declaring that "today is a victory ... for American families." For his part, President Obama was happy to claim "a Christmas Eve victory on his top domestic priority," whilst the Republicans have unanimously agreed that the bill is a "monstrosity" and promised that "this fight isn't over."

Indeed, whilst the Senate have passed thier final version of the bill, much work remains to be done. As the BBC explain,"the process of reconciling the two bills [the House of Representatives bill and the Senate bill] is expected to begin in January and will require further tough negotiations." Only once that has been done can Obama sign the bill into law, but "the process could still be derailed by last-minute changes of heart among senators." Both liberals and conservatives will have to wait for any final declaration of victory.

However, even if it is premature (and naive) to say that the vote will "define President Barack Obama's legacy and usher in near-universal medical coverage for the first time in US history," it is still worth reflecting on what the reality of this bill is for the American public.

It doesn't take much examination to find that the claims of Republicans and "free" marketeers, predicting everything from "the denial of care to millions who would be judged not fit to live, just as in Nazi Germany" to the rise of US "Communism," are erroneous nonsense. At best. But what of the claims by the White House that this bill "will provide more security and stability to those who have health insurance, coverage for those who don’t, and will lower the cost of health care for our families, our businesses, and our government?"

In October, I said that the bill represents "a sop towards social democracy," with "only as much reform as the power-centric political spectrum will allow." With today's passing in the Senate, the bill thus far appears to live up to those words. The "public option," the government insurance scheme, has disappeared from the Senate version of the bill, along with the national insurance exchange. Both versions of the bill increase nsurance coverage, by 36 and 31 million people respectively, but in both cases over 18 million people will remain without coverage. Meanwhile, in the absence of a public option, the individual mandate that penalises those without coverage only serves to increase the revenue of health insurance companies at the barrel of a gun and punish those who still can't afford insurance.

The bill does offer a slim level of reform. The increased number with coverage, and the extension of both Medicaid and Medicare are indeed welcome. But this bill does not represent anything approaching universal health care, thanks to astroturf uprisings and backroom wranglings as much as to extensive insurance company lobbying. It will not represent such a thing as long as responsibility for creating such a system is left in the hands of politicians who receive more money from private interests than the public they supposedly represent.

If Americans are ever to see the "real, meaningful health insurance reform that will bring additional security and stability to the American people" of Obama's rhetoric, then an active and outspoken frassroots campaign is neccesary. Otherwise the professed intentions of the president and congessional Democrats, real or feigned as they may be, will not stop the private health industry from "doom[ing] another generation of Americans to soaring costs and eroding coverage and exploding deficits."

Wednesday, 23 December 2009

Burning the strawman socialist in the Devil's Kitchen

On the blog A Very British Dude, "Jackart" attempts to disect the idea that "socialism's never been tried." His argument, such as it is, runs like this;
If you're in the habit of debating the rights and wrongs of socialism with the true believers, you will often hear that "socialism has never been tried". Thus the faithful will try to negate the fact that Socialism as implemented through history has been the ideology espoused by the most savagely repressive and murderous regimes, suggesting that the horrors of the soviet Gulag, Pol-pot's Cambodia or even Hitler's Germany (National SOCIALISTS) are something other than a necessary feature of regimes who subjugate the well being of the individual to the convenience of the state.
Before I go any further, I would like to reflect on a quite common error made by the "libertarian" right on this subject. (Charlotte Gore has turned her version of the error into an essay.) Yes, the Nazis were "National Socialists," but they were not socialists. They were fascists. As I have detailed elsewhere, fascism is an ideology created by the ruling classes to crush the threat of "Bolshevism." Mussolini ascended to power with the support of the business class. Winston Churchill praised General Franco as “defending Europe against the Communist danger.” The Friekorps, who became Hitler's stormtroopers, rose to notoriety in 1924 for crushing the spartacist uprising at the behest of the Social Democratic Party. Fascism, as a movement, was created to destroy worker organisation, not be a part of it. It is corporatist, not communist, and diametrically opposed to the revolutionary trends within the working class.

Returning to socialism, Jackart makes the point that "the state is amoral" as an argument against socialism. Thus, "socialism simply cannot function in a democratic society" because "there will be people who just cannot accept the drudgery that the state may have decreed is his lot."

This is echoed by the Devil's Kitchen, who tells us that "the real difference between (right-)libertarianism and socialism is choice." He (rightly) asserts that "in philosophy, the two actually have quite a lot in common," and that "libertarianism has a strong tradition of collectivism." But he falls down with the statement that "unlike socialism, however, that collectivism is voluntary."

I will happily say that socialism has been tried. In fact, contrary to Jackart, you'll be hard pressed to find a genuine, knowledgeable socialist who asserts otherwise. The point they might make is that Lenin, Stalin, and Pol-Pot weren't socialists, but on that point they would be right. As evidenced by their definition of socialism / communism as a "forced collectivist society" built around "the state," the right (and particularly the "libertarian" right, can argue only with a strawman version of communism.

Communism is not state ownership of anything. It is collective and worker ownership of the means of production, in a stateless society. In Russia, we witnessed the beginnings of this with the February revolution, as Piotr Archinov wrote in 1927;
The February Revolution caught the different revolutionary parties in complete disarray and without any doubt they were considerably surprised by the profound social character of the dawning revolution. At first, no one except the anarchists wanted to believe it. The Bolshevik Party, which made out it always expressed the most radical aspirations of the working-class, could not go beyond the limits of the bourgeois revolution in its aims. It was only at the April conference that they asked themselves what was really happening in Russia. Was it only the overthrow of Tsarism. or was the revolution going further – as far as the. overthrow of capitalism? This last eventually posed to the Bolsheviks the question of what tactics to employ. Lenin became conscious before the other Bolsheviks of the social character of the revolution, and emphasised the necessity of seizing power. He saw a decisive advance in the workers’ and peasants’ movement which was undermining the industrial and rural bourgeoisie foundations more and more. A unanimous agreement on these questions could not be reached even up to the October days. The Party manoeuvred all this time in between the social slogans of the masses and the conception of a social-democratic revolution, from where they were created and developed. Not opposing the slogan of petit- and grand-bourgeoisie for a Constituent Assembly, the Party did its best to control the masses, striving to keep up with their ever-increasing pace.

During this time, the workers marched impetuously forward, relentlessly running their enemies of left and right into the ground. The big rural landowners began everywhere to evacuate the countryside, fleeing from the insurgent peasantry and seeking protection for their possessions and their persons in the towns. Meanwhile, the peasantry proceeded to a direct re-distribution of land, and did not want to hear of peaceful co-existence with the landlords. In the towns as well a sudden change took place between the workers and the owners of enterprises. Thanks to the efforts of the collective genius of the masses, workers’ committees sprang up in every industry, intervening directly in production, putting aside the admonishments of the owners and concentrating on eliminating them from production. Thus in different parts of the country, the workers got down to the socialisation of industry.

Simultaneously, all of revolutionary Russia was covered with a vast network of workers’ and peasant soviets, which began to function as organs of self management. They developed, prolonged, and defended the Revolution. Capitalist rule and order still existed nominally in the country, but a vast system of social and economic workers’ self-management was being created alongside it. This regime of soviets and factory committees, by the very fact of its appearance, menaced the state system with death . It must be made clear that the birth and development of the soviets and factory committees had nothing do with authoritarian principles. On the contrary, they were in the full sense of the term organs of social and economic self-management of the masses, and in no case the organs of state power. They were opposed to the state machine which sought to direct the masses, and they prepared for a decisive battle against it. “The factories to the workers, the land to the peasants” – these were the slogans by which the revolutionary masses of town and country participated in the defeat of the State machine of the possessing classes in the name of a new social system which was founded on the basic cells of the factory committees and the economic and social soviets. These catch-words circulated from one end of workers’ Russia to the other, deeply affecting the direct action against the socialist-bourgeois coalition government.

As was explained above, the workers and peasants had already worked towards the entire reconstruction of the industrial and agrarian system of Russia before October 1917. The agrarian question was virtually solved by the poor peasants as early as June – September 1917. The urban workers, for their part, put into operation organs of social and economic Self-management, having seized from the State and the owners the organisational functions of production. The October Revolution of the workers overthrew the last and the greatest obstacle to their revolution the state power of the owning classes, already defeated and disorganised. This last evolution opened a vast horizon for the achievement of the social revolution putting it onto the creative road to socialist reconstruction of society, already pointed at by the workers in the preceding months. That is the October of the workers and the peasants. It meant a powerful attempt by the exploited manual workers to destroy totally the foundations of capitalist society, and to build a workers’ society based on the principles of equality, independence, and self-management by the proletariat of the towns and the countryside.
Of course, "this October did not reach its natural conclusion. It was violently interrupted by the October of the Bolsheviks, who progressively extended their dictatorship throughout the country." But this returns us to the core point. No doubt "the conquest of power by the party of the revolutionary intelligentsia, the installation of its ‘State Socialism’ and of its ’socialist’ methods of governing the masses" is what the right mean when they speak of socialism, but the counter-revolutionary current of Marxist-Leninism is not socialist. It is state-capitalist.

Both Jackart and DK go on to contrast socialism with libertarianism, but it is worth noting that there is no "contrast." Only socialism is truly libertarian, as I argue in depth here and here. These "libertarians" may be arguing for liberty when they write on political and social issues, but with regards to the economy they are only as pro-liberty as a supporter of absolute monarchy arguing for the "freedom" of kings to be despots.

Indeed, that was precisely the point "anarcho"-capitalist Hans-Hermann Hoppe made when defending "free" market capitalism in Democracy: the god that failed;
In a covenant concluded among proprietor and community tenants for the purpose of protecting their private property, no such thing as a right to free (unlimited) speech exists, not even to unlimited speech on one's own tenant-property. One may say innumerable things and promote almost any idea under the sun, but naturally no one is permitted to advocate ideas contrary to the very purpose of the covenant of preserving private property, such as democracy and communism. There can be no tolerance towards democrats and communists in a libertarian social order. They will have to be physically separated and expelled from society. Likewise in a covenant founded for the purpose of protecting family and kin, there can be no tolerance toward those habitually promoting lifestyles incompatible with this goal. They — the advocates of alternative, non-family and kin-centred lifestyles such as, for instance, individual hedonism, parasitism, nature-environment worship, homosexuality, or communism — will have to be physically removed from society, too, if one is to maintain a libertarian order.
Jackart and DK may not advocate the nightmare world of Hoppe's anarcho-capitalism, a world which would very quickly implode, but both attest that in a capitalist society "more money [means] more freedom." They espouse this as freedom, but in the words of Mikhail Bakunin, "liberty without socialism is privilege and injustice." Just as "socialism without liberty is brutality and slavery."

Tuesday, 22 December 2009

Amnesty International: migrants tell of exploitation and detention

The following article comes from Amnesty International, written to commemorate the recent International Migrants' Day. I repost it here because it tells a story that deserves to be heard.

People across the world leave their homes, families and countries in search of work and education, and to escape poverty, discrimination and conflict. Many risk everything, even their lives, for security and a chance to earn a living. At every step, they are vulnerable to exploitation, fraud and human rights abuses.

To mark International Migrants Day, migrants from around the globe have told Amnesty International how they have been exploited, detained and attacked on their search for a better life.

Migrants living in Malaysia, South Korea, Mexico and the US have described how they deal with appalling living and working conditions, unscrupulous employers, abusive immigration detention staff and the ever-present threat of arbitrary arrest and detention by the authorities. Migrants with irregular status* are particularly vulnerable to human rights abuses.

All interviews were conducted by Amnesty International researchers between November 2008 and July 2009. All names have been changed.

Dev's Story, Malasia

Dev left his family and home in Nepal when he was 19 and made the journey to Malaysia to work as a cleaner. He is one of over three million migrant workers in Malaysia. He told Amnesty International:

I left because of fighting in Nepal. The country had lots of problems between the communists and the army. Young men were being taken by communists to join the fighting. They kill you if you refuse. I was very scared so I applied for a visa for Malaysia.

I contacted an agent and came to Malaysia on a cleaner’s visa. I paid the agent 80,000 Nepali rupees (US$ 1000) to bring me here. I had to borrow money and I was supposed to pay back 1000 rupees per month with 320 rupees interest. 

The agent told me that I would work as a cleaner when I arrived in Malaysia but I never got any work from the agent. When I arrived at the airport in Kuala Lumpur I waited for four hours. The agent finally came and picked me up with other people from Nepal who were coming as cleaners.

He took us to a flat where we waited for three months without any work. The agent never gave us any money so we had to go outside and meet Nepali people and explain what had happened and ask for food and money. The agent took my passport and never gave it back.

Dev was later able to find work by himself, in a factory and also working for a construction company. His agent did not renew his visa and refused to return his passport.

Dev became an irregular migrant, without legal permission to stay or work in Malaysia. The wages he is paid are very low compared with other workers, but he knows he cannot complain because he does not have a work permit. He does not earn sufficient money to enable him to send funds back to his family in Nepal.

Dev would like to return home to Nepal but is now unable to do so as he does not have a passport and is scared of being caught by the authorities. 

Margarita's story, Mexico

Margarita and her partner Miguel left El Salvador in October 2008 in search of a better life in the United States. In El Salvador, Margarita worked in a clothes factory and made five dollars a day, which was not enough to feed her two young children and send them to school.

Like most Central American migrants, the couple planned to make the journey without documents, on the roof of a freight train, which would take them to Mexico’s border with the United States.

On 5 November 2008, Margarita and Miguel were travelling on the top of a freight train in Chiapas State, Mexico, when it stopped unexpectedly and military vans approached the train tracks.

The couple jumped off the train and ran into the bushes. They were followed by two armed soldiers who shot several times into the air until they caught up with them. Margarita told Amnesty International:

You don’t imagine that your dreams can end in a moment on this journey. The soldier pulled me by the hand and told me to walk further into the bushes while pointing his gun at me.

He took me far away from the train tracks until we were completely alone. He told me to take my clothes off so that he could see if I was carrying drugs.

When I refused, he pulled my trousers down and sexually assaulted me. He asked me how I was going to repay him for the bullet he had to shoot because of me.

He told me I had to have sex with him to make it up to him. He said that if I didn’t have sex with him he would send me back to my country. He said it would be quick and that if I didn’t make a fuss he would let me go.
The soldier eventually let Margarita go and she was not raped. Others do not escape. Amnesty International has received several reports showing that women migrants are frequently subject to rape, particularly by criminal gangs in Mexico. Those responsible are hardly ever held to account. 

Carmen's story, USA

Carmen arrived in the United States from Mexico in 1998 and has raised a family there. Two of her three children have US citizenship.

In April 2008, she was arrested for failing to appear in court for an alleged misdemeanour. She was taken to jail and interrogated by an immigration officer, who told her she would be deported.

Carmen spent 24 days in jail. At her court hearing the judge recommended that she be released. However, immigration authorities continued to hold her as an immigration detainee.

After almost three weeks in immigration detention with no indication of when she would be able to return to her family, Carmen tried to kill herself. She recalled:

I felt I would have a nervous breakdown, being locked up. The kids needed me. I started hearing voices, criminalising me for not being with my children. I thought it was not worth being alive.

I had a sock that I used to clean everything. I heard a voice telling me - wrap the sock around my neck and kill myself. My cellmate was reading a book. She was a sweet African-American lady who spoke a little Spanish. I started hanging myself. She said, 'what are you doing?' I don’t know what happened but everything started turning dark.
In response, officers handcuffed Carmen and took her to another cell. Carmen was later released but is still waiting for her case to be resolved.

I was not respected as a human being. Whether I have the right documents or not, I’m still a human being. I was breaking down but instead of helping me, they handcuffed me…

The first morning I woke up after I got out, I didn’t know where I was. The kids were very happy to have me back. I had a lot of time to think and re-examine my life and spend more time with my family. I used to think birds in a cage were so pretty but no one should be deprived of freedom – no one should be caged.  
Marcella's story, South Korea

Marcella, a 34-year-old woman from the Philippines, arrived in South Korea in April 2006, on the Employment Permit System (EPS).

Through the EPS government work scheme, South Korea became one of the first Asian countries to legally recognise the rights of migrant workers and grant them the same status as Korean workers, with equal labour rights, pay and benefits. However, in reality, migrant workers continue to face hardships and abuse.

When I arrived, I worked at a factory in Osan, Gyeonggi province where we manufactured heating coils for rice cookers.  I was paid KRW 786,000 (US$815) per month.

My boss was not nice; he swore at me and pressured me to work faster. For example, he wanted me to produce 1,000 heating coils per day. It was very hard to do 1,000, as you have to connect the wires and because they’re so small, your fingers hurt, especially your thumb and index finger.

I lived in a shipping container - one room with a window. Sometimes I would hear knocks on my door in the middle of the night. I would get very scared. It was very cold in the winter. I had to buy a heater myself, but it was still cold.  In the summer it got very hot even with a fan, which I had to buy with my own money.
Marcella was unfairly dismissed from the factory after asking her boss for a day off at Christmas.

Unfortunately, her story is not unique. Amnesty International’s researcher came across many similar stories of unfair dismissal between March 2008 and July 2009.  Many migrant workers did not complain against dismissals because of the language barrier, unfamiliarity of their rights and due to the lengthy and complicated processes involved.

Image captions
1. The Spanish coastguard intercepts a traditional fishing boat laden with migrants off the island of Tenerife in the Canaries, 24 October 2007.
© UNHCR / A. Rodríguez
2. Immigration detainees at the Lenggeng Detention Centre, Malaysia, 23 July 2009.
© Amnesty International
3. Central American migrants on their way to the US ride a train headed north though Mexico.
© AP GraphicsBank
4. Migrants prepare to enter the US through a tunnel along Rio Grande border city of Ciudad Juarez, Mexico.
© AP GraphicsBank
5.South Korean Immigration officers (top, in blue uniform) arrest a migrant worker (R, red jacket) as two South Korean activists (bottom) try to stop the arrest, in front of the Seoul Immigration Office building on February 17, 2004.
© Private

*Many migrants start off with legal permission but become irregular migrants; that is, they do not have legal permission to remain or work in the country they are in. This can happen for a number of reasons, for example because employers or agents fail to renew work permits, or they provide fake ones.

Monday, 21 December 2009

Support Elijah Smith - political prisoner detained without trial for 11 months and counting

During the brutal and criminal invasion of Gaza at the start of the year, members of the anti-militarist direct action group Bristol Decommissioners undertook the following act of resistance;
On January 17th 2009 the bombs had already fallen relentlessly for three weeks on Gaza. Massive demonstrations had been held locally and worldwide to protest against the Israeli attacks. MP’s said talks were going on and Tony Blair went to Israel to shake hands with the Israeli Prime Minister. The body count was nearing 1400 and 300 of those were children. With UN compounds and schools bombed, emergency vehicles attacked and indiscriminate weapons such as white phosphorous being used against civilians. A growing sense of helplessness was pervading the anti-war/peace movement.

On the night of the 17th a ‘citizens decommissioning’ took place at weapons manufacturer EDO/MBM/ITT in Moulsecoomb, Brighton. Just after midnight Robert Stafford age 28, Elija Smith 41, Tom Woodhead 25, Ornella Saibene 40, Bob Nicholls 53 entered EDO’s premises with the aim in Elija Smith’s words to ’smash it up to the best of our ability’. Once inside the building they barricaded themselves in and set about their mission.

Machinery used to make bomb release mechanisms ( these carry and eject missiles from fighter planes and unmanned ‘drones’) and an assembly area for the electronic components were put out of action. EDO make a VER2 mechanism which is designed for the F16 fighter and used by the Israeli Defence Force.

The six caused £300,000 of damage but more importantly stopped the supply chain that the war machine needs. The decommissioners were peaceably arrested and charged with criminal damage and conspiracy.
Five of the six anti-militarists are "under very strict bail conditions." The sixth, Elijah Smith, was remanded in custody and still languishes in jail. As the Bristol Anarchist Black Cross report;
20 December marks 11 months on remand for EDO Decommissioner Elijah (James) Smith. That’s 11 months locked away in a shitty little cell, deprived of all his freedom, and without any opportunity to argue his case in court. 11 months in prison without actually being found guilty of anything.

Elijah and the other 5 Bristol anti-militarists face a major trial in May 2010. Whilst the other five face stringent bail conditions, they are at least not locked up in a cell. Elijah however faces another 5 months locked away before getting into court. Compare and contrast this treatment of a man accused only of property damage, with the treatment of the cop who assaulted Ian Tomlinson, moments before he died, at the G20 protests in London on 1 April 2009 – who remains uncharged, at liberty and on full pay. British justice, what a farce.
Elijah Smith is a former British soldier who has taken a courageous stand against the arms trade. Nobody was injured or harassed during the action, which was one of property damage, and he and his co-defendants did not resist arrest.

Both Bristol ABC and the EDO Decommissioners are urging supporters to write to Elijah in solidarity. The address for letters is Elijah Smith VP 7551, HMP Lewes, 1 Brighton Rd, Lewes, East Sussex, BN7 1EA.

Sunday, 20 December 2009

On the BNP's farcical attempts at "radicalism"

Earlier this month, British National Party (BNP) leader Nick Griffin staged a "demonstration" outside parliament. To be more accurate, he held a mini press conference which lasted less than half an hour behind two placards stuck into the ground. It won't rank alongside a standard Stop the War Coalition march, let alone the long, lonely efforts of Brian Haw. However, it does demonstrate the BNP's commitment to "astroturf" faux-radicalism.

It should go without saying that the party are anything but radical. They represent the logical extreme of an ongoing lurch to the right in British politics, where the mainstream parties compete to be the toughest on immigrants, the unions, those on welfare, and the public sector. The BNP distance themselves by claiming that such moves represent an "establishment con," and their efforts are helped by that same establishment. As well as using the far-right party as an excuse to move rightward, they also demonise the fascists as a convenient foil to quell criticisms from the liberal end of the mainstream spectrum.

All of this has allowed the BNP to gain considerable publicity and momentum, but their "astroturf" activism also has its part to play. The BNP lack the will to do serious grassroots work within communities on local issues, as Nick Griffin has amply demonstrated with regards to his North West constituency. Hence why what most movements would call activism is branded "super-activism" by the BNP, and armchair warriors are generously granted the title of "activists." However, if they can talk the talk, then the theory goes that they can rope in enough of the less politically aware that they don't have to bother walking the walk.

This is why they have made great pains to portray themselves as the heroes of the white working class. That this is a lie, and that organised working class have always been the BNP's first target has been dissected in depth by the Anarchist Federation, Brighton Solidarity Federation, Antifa, and myself, amongst others.

But what of their position on Afghanistan?

Nick Griffin has tried to claim that "the BNP is the only party that demands an end to the illegal war in Afghanistan." This is quite obviously a lie, with the Greens and Respect both making the exact same demand, as well as having their most prominent members (George Galloway and Caroline Lucas) as vice-presidents of the Stop the War Coalition. This is not to mention the whole plethora of radical and grassroots activists  on the radical left who are opposed to the war. By contrast, Griffin's one man "demonstration" rings exceedingly hollow.

As does his party's declaration that "only the British National Party’s Land & People previously reported on" the Trans-Afghanistan Pipeline (TAP). The pipeline, of course, is the key to US-UK interests in the region, in line with the goal of imperial planners to secure "strategic markets and resources" in the region.

The BBC reported on the deal to build the TAP in 2002, as well as then-governor of Texas George Bush's negotiations with the Taliban on the subject in 1997. Michael Moore covered these incidences in his documentary Farenheit 9/11 as well as the much deeper links between Saudi enterprise, the bin Ladens, and the Bush family.

Most importantly, the Guardian, whom the BNP claims "become the first British national newspaper to report" it on 10th December 2009, published an article in October 2001 which stated that "Afghanistan's significance from an energy standpoint stems from its geographical position as a potential transit route for oil and natural gas exports from central Asia to the Arabian Sea." A quick Google search provides a further 82 results for "trans Afghan pipeline" at

By contrast, the BNP's Land and People website first covered the pipeline story in August 2009 (as a search on the site for both "Afghan pipeline" and "Afghanistan pipeline" attest), whilst articles tagged "Afghanistan" on the main website go back only to April 2007.

What we see, then, is that the Griffin and the BNP's attempts to present themselves as "radical" are farcical and fallacious. Unfortunately, in the context of increasing disillusionment with the government and the propaganda function that the far-right serve, they are convincing a great many people. It is important that they are not ignored or brushed over, but exposed for what they are and opposed by people who can offer a genuine, grassroots alternative.