Tuesday, 4 March 2014
I thought i'd share this excelletn piece by A-Fed Scotland who put a very convincing case for organising outside of elections and for me this is the best critique of leftists who stand in elections in a long while and is worth a read. "By Mike Sabot in a personal capacity. The original article by Ben Wray (ISG) is here. http://internationalsocialist.org.uk/index.php/2014/03/the-case-for-an-electoral-party/ The only reliable and sustainable basis on which to build a left party is to orientate it towards the only democratic institutions that everyone can engage in and the only institutions that have democratic authority over society – parliamentary elections. In Scotland that means, most importantly, Holyrood. Generally those in the parliamentary left don’t attempt to justify why they participate in elections and see it not only as a useful form of action but, in fact, the primary means of bringing about fundamental social change. It’s just what socialists do, right? Ben Wray should be thanked for elaborating on this. Nonetheless, I’d argue that his case for an electoral party is contradictory and rests on a number of unfounded assumptions. I doubt I can change his mind, but I do think it’s possible and really important that more people are brought around to libertarian communist politics. That means organising as a class where it matters, outside and against parliament. I’ll try and keep this brief and directly respond to some of the points made. Let’s start at the very end of the piece where it’s said that the broad idea is that of ‘challenging the system at its point of greatest weakness: the governmental level’. It seems a bit odd that I need to make this argument, but assuming we’re talking about capitalism here, surely other socialists would agree that the working class is strongest at the point of production and at work in general. It’s there that we can disrupt capital, through organising we can force our demands on employers, or harm their profits through threats of collective action, and actual striking, go-slows, sabotage etc. This isn’t to say that organising around unpaid labour, in our neighbourhoods and against oppressions isn’t absolutely essential and isn’t just as important to transform society, but we need to try to link these struggles to the strategic site of production and work. By contrast, the influence we can have as a class at the level of government is minimal, except where our extra-parliamentary movements can ‘wring’ reforms out of it. Some leftists will recoil immediately, arguing that ‘parliament isn’t democratic, it doesn’t serve the people and the working class increasingly don’t trust it and don’t vote’. This is all true but it isn’t a convincing argument against engaging in parliamentary elections because there are no alternative democratic institutions which possess anywhere near the same democratic legitimacy in society as parliament does. On the one hand, it’s accepted that parliament isn’t ‘democratic’ but on the other, it still has ‘democratic legitimacy’ and is the only institution that ‘everyone can engage in’. In practice, the mainstream left really does accept and endorse parliament as democracy in action, or close enough, and that it’s possible to control it for progressive ends. Otherwise, why bother? But the critique of the institution isn’t explored because it’s seen as unrealistic to reject something which undeniably a) has real power, and b) is understood to be the political arena by the majority. This is what ‘democratic legitimacy’ really means here. The communist argument would be that you don’t start with what is seen as ‘legitimate’ or not, or where the majority are. It is axiomatic that, outside of a period of mass struggle, most people won’t seriously question existing social relations. Gradualist reform and social democracy will be seen as all that’s on offer. What works and how we can recreate a militant labour movement is a different question entirely. What are some basic points against electoralism? Most people can’t meaningfully engage in it. That’s the point. Representation takes decision-making power away from working class people and invests it in a small minority. This order-giver versus order-taker split is an expression of the wider class society. If they’re to be successful, electoral parties have to become ‘popular’ rather than ‘class’-based. They seek coalitions and try not to appear too radical to attract support. The more mainstream they become the greater the chance of gaining seats. Often these parties are mobilised behind a dominant personality with charisma and oratory skills. How exactly do you avoid the situation where some individuals accumulate more power or importance? Some like to argue that it’s possible to be both ‘on the streets’ and in parliament. In reality, parliament takes first place and tends to push out everything else. Where parties are involved in extra-parliamentary activity it’s usually to its detriment, by co-opting things or exploiting them. Whatever the manifesto of left-wing parties, parliament and government is concerned with the political management of capitalist society. It isn’t structurally possible to challenge capital through the state and it’s questionable to what extent reforms can be passed without the leverage of a militant labour movement, and in this conjuncture. The function of electoral parties on the left, arguing the case for a better-run capitalism – whatever the radical rhetoric – is to demobilize and divert from more serious threats, like rank-and-file direct action. Don’t get me wrong, I am not for becoming like the politicians. I believe representatives should take a workers wage; I believe they should be accountable to the community they are elected from None of these things would let the electoral party off the hook from ‘becoming like the politicians’. A workers’ wage doesn’t challenge the hierarchical relationship of representative to represented. And politicians speak all the time about being accountable but most people know this is meaningless. Only recallable delegates are genuinely accountable. Those who don’t vote aren’t setting up co-operatives to run communities or workers’ councils to run workplaces. Their process of re-engagement and democratic renewal will likely pass through parliamentary elections on their way to participatory democratic control of society, if we are to ever get there. Not voting isn’t important in itself, and for the growing distrust of politicians and the electoral process to achieve anything it would have to find expression in new forms of organising. But it’d be naive to think that participatory or direct democracy is something that will be proclaimed one day by parliament – handed down from above. Rather it needs to be prefigured in whatever struggle we’re involved in. The point is, however apparently dire our situation and despite the broad extra-parliamentary left being a small minority, it is both possible and absolutely necessary that we create new directly democratic institutions. Coming from a revolutionary unionist or syndicalist position, I see unions ‘as associations of workers’, rather than as representatives or service-providers, as probably the most crucial institutional forms for class struggle.* The fact that the trade union movement is so weak means that we actually have an opportunity to go about building a new labour movement controlled from below and rejecting collaboration with bosses. A false dichotomy is sometimes raised by the mainstream left that you either have to accept electoralism or you’re for some sort of revolutionary insurrection tomorrow. Instead, we need to take the long road of trying to spread militant rank-and-file organising, of winning small but significant victories and gaining strength. Whether it’s the IWGB in the Tres Cosas Campaign, the IWW in organising service workers or in setting up rank-and-file networks in, for example, the education sector, SolFed’s campaign against workfare – these are all examples of radical unions ‘as associations’ doing really inspiring work. I’d also add Glasgow SolNet’s direct action victories for private tenants and ECAP’s actions by and for claimants, as examples of union-like structures outside the workplace. Put it this way – what do you think the capitalist elite want us to do? Leave parliament to their mates and focus on extra-parliamentary activism, or challenge for democratic control over society? The question should answer itself. The history of left-wing electoral parties around the world is one where the elites were not threatened by their entry into parliament. In fact, in Britain, the Labour Party was welcomed by many existing parliamentarians as a reasonable, collaborative bunch who would help to control the extremists in the labour movement and work for the national good. They were right. The working class is strong to the extent that it is autonomous and can act in its own class interests outside of the state. Where left-wing electoral parties exist in parliament, the extra-parliamentary left should try to argue the case for class struggle politics with their grassroots, use pressure to gain concessions, and keep up a constant critique of the leadership. * For the difference, see the excellent SolFed pamphlet Fighting for Ourselves, pp 12-13." with thanks to A-Fed Scotland for this excellent critique of electoralism http://scotlandaf.wordpress.com/2014/03/04/quick-reply-to-the-case-for-an-electoral-party/
Monday, 3 March 2014
Over the last week huge events have been unfolding and a deeper and deeper worrying situation is developing in the Ukraine and imperialist Russia is now flexing its muscles this worries me greatly but what should our response be to all this ?? "Ukrainians, Russians and Europeans were on the streets yesterday protesting against the Putin regime’s attack on Ukraine. It’s the only shaft of light I can see in a dark sky overshadowed by the danger of war, with 6000 Russian troops reportedly on Ukrainian territory in Crimea, some of them surrounding Ukrainian bases. Russia In Moscow, anti-war demonstrators were detained in large numbers. Each Time protesters assembled on Manezhnaya square in the city centre, more were arrested. Novaya Gazeta, the liberal opposition paper, reported 265 arrests and counting just after 16.00 Moscow time. Voices on the Russian radical left were unequivocal. “It is necessary to call a spade a spade: what’s happening in Crimea these days is a classic act of imperialist intervention on the part of the Russian state”, said the Open Left group in a statement published in English here. “Maidan has opened the sluices of activity of the far-right thugs – and at the same time has spurred to political life great masses of people, who perhaps for the first time perceive that they themselves are capable of determining their fate. This range of possibilities has the potential to resolve itself both into progressive social changes, and into the victory of extreme reaction. But the final decision must, without doubt, be left to the people of Ukraine themselves”, Open Left wrote. Ukraine Large numbers joined demonstrations against the war not only in Kyiv but in all the large Russian-speaking cities in the east. Ukrainska Pravda reported a demonstration of 5-10,000 people against Putin’s aggression in Nikolaev, a predominantly Russian-speaking city in southern Ukraine. The report said that agricultural and public sector workers, students and the intelligentsia were all at the march. In Dnipropetrovsk, a predominantly Russian-speaking industrial city, and Odessa, the predominantly Russian-speaking port city in southern Ukraine, several thousand people joined similar marches. There were demos in Kharkiv, Donetsk, Kherson and Zaporozhye – smaller than pro-Russian marches … but shamefully downplayed by western media reports. In Kyiv, the radical left called for working-class solidarity against Putin’s militarism. “There’s no point in waiting for ‘rescue’ from Nato”, said a statement by the Autonomous Workers Union, published in English here. “The war can be averted only if proletarians of all countries, first and foremost Ukrainian and Russian, together make a stand against the criminal regime of Putin.” Activists in eastern Ukraine Messages from activists in social movements in eastern Ukraine painted a grim picture. My friend G., a trade union activist based in Dniprodzerzhinsk, emailed to say: “Most ordinary people are cautious or hostile to the [Ukrainian] nationalists, and so Euromaidan got very meagre support here. There have been many rallies here against the accession to power [in Ukraine] of ‘fascists’ and ‘nationalists’. “But after Russia sent its forces into Crimea and threatened war – both sides appeared ready temporarily to drop their differences and defend Ukraine. The bottom line is that this conflict is starting to unite people. Those who openly support Russian intervention are not visible right now. “On the other hand there is the threat of the right radicals coming to power. Yesterday many oligarchs were appointed to the governerships of eastern regions. [Among a string of new governors appointed, Igor Kolomoisky, the oil-to-telecoms billionaire was made governor of Dnipropetrovsk region and Sergei Taruta, the steel magnate, governor of Donetsk region.] And earlier on there were rumours that they are financing Euromaidan, supporting [the right wing populist party] Svoboda, for example. And now we are getting confirmation of that. But ordinary people, workers, have little to say about that.” A radical left activist, D. from Dnipropetrovsk, emailed in a more pessimistic vein, quoting Pushkin: “The people were silent.” [The famous last line of the poem Boris Godunov – GL.] “That applies to workers whether young or old”, he said. The events around the Maidan demonstrations had a polarising effect. “Wide layers were seized by nationalism, Ukrainian or Russian. [...] That’s a catastrophe that could be compared to August 1914 [the outbreak of the First World War]. “Among socialists and anarchists there is a very pessimistic mood. Twenty five years of socialist propaganda from a wide range of left groups and ideas seems to have gone nowhere, disappeared like a puff of smoke. Of course, we didn’t have such great achievements before (in contrast to 1914). But what’s happening now gives the impression that all these decades of socialist work were for nothing have produced no results.” Despite his gloomy prognosis, D. added that, in respect of a possible incursion by the Russian army, “the indignation is overwhelming. In the last three or four days, since the beginning of the military activity in Crimea, I haven’t heard any other reaction.” London In London, home to the largest community of Russian migrants in Western Europe, an anti-war demonstration at the Russian embassy was followed by http://peopleandnature.files.wordpress.com/2014/03/bhu3oc9iyaep9im.jpgFPRIVATE "TYPE=PICT;ALT=Trafalgar Square" http://peopleandnature.files.wordpress.com/2014/03/bhu3oc9iyaep9im.jpg Protest banner in Trafalgar Square today Action at Trafalgar Square, where Boris Johnson, the mayor of London was hosting a festival to mark Maslenitsa (the Russian equivalent of Shrove Tuesday). A banner saying “No invasions! Stop repressions!” was hung over the balcony of the square. The demo organisers were aiming at the event’s Russian corporate sponsors – as they put it, “the largest oil polluter, Rosneft; the union busters Aeroflot; the hate mongering Russian state media and Kazmunaigaz, which was responsible for massacring Kazakh oil workers”. Comments Against what is Vladimir Putin directing this war? The story being told in the western media is that he seeks to undermine Ukraine’s new government – nationalist and right wing, with a neoliberal economist prime minister, and portfolios held mainly by members of Batkivshchina (Yulia Timoshenko’s right wing liberal party) and the extreme nationalist populists of Svoboda. I don’t think this coalition, thrown together in the crisis that followed Yanukovich’s departure, is his main target. Rather, it is the mass movement that accompanied the Maidan protests, which brought ordinary Ukrainians into political and social action on a level unprecedented since the break-up of the Soviet Union. Above all, Putin fears the spread of protest, and popular participation, into Russia. In a previous post, I wrote that “Russian support for separatism in eastern Ukraine, or even, in extremis, civil war” were not the most likely prospects. I was wrong. And now, although military action beyond Crimea is unlikely – or perhaps I mean “unthinkable” because the consequences would be so disastrous – it has to be acknowledged that Putin’s operation in Crimea could spin out of control. I agree with the statement by Open Left in Russia, that the Crimean operation can not solve Putin’s basic problems. His regime is not built on strong foundations. Russia is slipping back into recession, its economy able to maintain its footing only thanks to high international oil prices. In a discussion with British leftists about Ukraine yesterday, the opinion was voiced that “anti fascism”, meaning opposition to the new government in Ukraine, is the priority, and that it would be “no bad thing” if the Putin regime put arms in the hands of “anti fascist militia”. But there are no “anti fascist militia”. The European left should not use this crisis to indulge its own fantasies.Yes; we in Europe should do everything we can to help Ukrainian socialists and trade union organisations who have come under attack from right-wing nationalists and fascists, as I argued in an earlier post. But there is no question about where the greatest threat is coming from to working-class solidarity, to social movements, and to the attempts of people in Ukraine and Russia to shape their own future … it comes from Putin’s militarism. Let’s support the anti-war movement and independent working-class and social movements in Ukraine and Russia however we can. GL, 2.3.14. ■ "http://peopleandnature.wordpress.com/2014/02/26/ukraine-1-yanukovichs-end-is-a-beginning/ From Ukrainians Russians and Europeans against Putin’s war. http://peopleandnature.wordpress.com/2014/03/02/ukrainians-russians-and-europeans-against-putins-war/
Tuesday, 25 February 2014
Privillage theory is something i've been looking into a bit of late and thought i'd jot down a few thoughts here on its meaning and how it can help us understand things going on around us. "What do we mean – and what do we not mean – by privilege? Privilege implies that wherever there is a system of oppression (such as capitalism, patriarchy, white supremacy, heteronormativity) there is an oppressed group and also a privileged group, who benefit from the oppressions that this system puts in place The privileged group do not have to be active supporters of the system of oppression, or even aware of it, in order to benefit from it. They benefit from being viewed as the norm, and providing for their needs being seen as what is naturally done, while the oppressed group is considered the “other”, and their needs are “special considerations”. Sometimes the privileged group benefits from the system in obvious, material ways, such as when women are expected to do most or all of the housework, and male partners benefit from their unpaid labour. At other times the benefits are more subtle and invisible, and involve certain pressures being taken off a privileged group and focused on others, for example black and Asian youths being 28% more likely to be stopped and searched by the police than white youths The point here is not that police harassment doesn’t happen to white youths, or that being working class or a white European immigrant doesn’t also mean you’re more likely to face harassment; the point is that a disproportionate number of black and Asian people are targeted in comparison to white people, and the result of this is that, if you are carrying drugs, and you are white, then all other things being equal you are much more likely to get away with it than if you were black. In the UK, white people are also less likely to be arrested or jailed, or to be the victim of a personal crime Black people currently face even greater unemployment in the UK than they do in the USA4. The point of quoting this is not to suggest we want a society in which people of all races and ethnicities face equal disadvantage – we want to create a society in which nobody faces these disadvantages. But part of getting there is acknowledging how systems of oppression work, which means recognising that, if black and ethnic minority groups are more likely to face these disadvantages, then by simple maths white people are less likely to face them, and that means they have an advantage, a privilege, including the privilege of not needing to be aware of the extent of the problem. A privileged group may also, in some ways, be oppressed by the expectations of the system that privileges them, for example men under patriarchy are expected to not show weakness or emotion, and are mistrusted as carers. However, men are not oppressed by patriarchy for being men, they are oppressed in these ways because it is necessary in order to maintain women’s oppression. For women to see themselves as weak, irrational and suited only to caring roles, they must believe that men are stronger, less emotional and incapable of caring for those who need it; for these reasons, men showing weakness, emotion and a capacity for caring labour are punished by patriarchy for letting the side down and giving women the opportunity to challenge their oppression. It makes sense that where there is an oppressed group, there is a privileged group, because systems of oppression wouldn’t last long if nobody benefited from them. It is crucial to understand that members of the privileged group of any of these systems may also be oppressed by any of the others, and this is what allows struggles to be divided and revolutionary activity crushed. We are divided, socially and politically, by a lack of awareness of our privileges, and how they are used to set our interests against each other and break our solidarity. The term “privilege” has a complex relationship with class struggle, and to understand why, we need to look at some of the differences and confusions between economic and social class. Social class describes the cultural identities of working class, middle class and upper class. These identities, much like those built on gender or race, are socially constructed, created by a society based on its prejudices and expectations of people in those categories. Economic class is different. It describes the economic working and ruling classes, as defined by Marx. It functions through capitalism, and is based on the ownership of material resources, regardless of your personal identity or social status. This is why a wealthy, knighted capitalist like Alan Sugar can describe himself as a “working class boy made good”. He is clearly not working class if we look at it economically, but he clings to that social identity in the belief that it in some way justifies or excuses the exploitation within his business empire. He confuses social and economic class in order to identify himself with an oppressed group (the social working class) and so deny his own significant privilege (as part of the economic ruling class). Being part of the ruling class of capitalism makes it impossible to support struggles against that system. This is because, unlike any other privileged group, the ruling class are directly responsible for the very exploitation they would be claiming to oppose. This doesn't make economic class a "primary" oppression, or the others "secondary", but it does mean that resistance in economic class struggle takes different forms and has slightly different aims to struggles based on cultural identities. For example, we aim to end capitalism through a revolution in which the working class seize the means of production from the ruling class, and create an communist society in which there is no ruling class. For the other struggles mentioned, this doesn't quite work the same way - we can't force men to give up their maleness, or white people to give up their whiteness, or send them all to the guillotine and reclaim their power and privilege as if it were a resource that they were hoarding. Instead we need to take apart and understand the systems that tend to concentrate power and resources in the hands of the culturally privileged and question the very concepts of gender, sexuality, race etc. that are used to build the identities that divide us. A large part of the resentment of the term "privilege" within class struggle movements comes from trying to make a direct comparison with ruling class privilege, when this doesn't quite work. Somebody born into a family who owns a chain of supermarkets or factories can, when they inherit their fortune, forgo it. They can collectivise their empire and give it to the workers, go and work in it themselves for the same share of the profits as everybody else. Capitalists can, if they choose, give up their privilege. This makes it OK for us to think of them as bad people if they don't, and justified in taking it from them by force in a revolutionary situation. Men, white people, straight people, cisgendered people etc., can't give up their privilege - no matter how much they may want to. It is forced on them by a system they cannot opt out of, or choose to stop benefiting from. This comparison with ruling class privilege makes many feel as if they're being accused of hoarding something they're not entitled to, and that they're being blamed for this, or asked to feel guilty or undergo some kind of endless penance to be given absolution for their privilege. This is not the case. Guilt isn't useful; awareness and thoughtful action are. If you take nothing else away from this document, take this: You are not responsible for the system that gives you your privilege, only for how you respond to it. The privileged (apart from the ruling class) have a vital role to play in the struggle against the systems that privilege them - it's just not a leadership role. Answering objections to privilege So if they didn’t choose it and there’s nothing they can do about it, why describe people as “Privileged”? Isn’t it enough to talk about racism, sexism, homophobia etc. without having to call white, male and straight people something that offends them? If it’s just the terminology you object to, be aware that radical black activists, feminists, queer activists and disabled activists widely use the term privilege. Oppressed groups need to lead the struggles to end their oppressions, and that means these oppressed groups get to define the struggle and the terms we use to talk about it. It is, on one level, simply not up to class struggle groups made up of a majority of white males to tell people of colour and women what words are useful in the struggles against white supremacy and patriarchy. If you dislike the term but agree with the concept, then it would show practical solidarity to leave your personal discomfort out of the argument, accept that the terminology has been chosen, and start using the same term as those at the forefront of these struggles. Another common objection to the concept of privilege is that it makes a cultural status out of the lack of an oppression. You could say that not facing systematic prejudice for your skin colour isn’t a privilege, it’s how things should be for everyone. To face racism is the aberration. To not face it should be the default experience. The problem is, if not experiencing oppression is the default experience, then experiencing the oppression puts you outside the default experience, in a special category, which in turn makes a lot of the oppression invisible. To talk about privilege reveals what is normal to those without the oppression, yet cannot be taken for granted by those with it. To talk about homophobia alone may reveal the existence of prejudices – stereotypes about how gay men and lesbian women behave, perhaps, or violence targeted against people for their sexuality. It’s unusual to find an anarchist who won’t condemn these things. To talk about straight privilege, however, shows the other side of the system, the invisible side: what behaviour is considered “typical” for straight people? There isn’t one – straight isn’t treated like a sexual category, it is treated like the absence of “gay”. You don’t have to worry about whether you come across as “too straight” when you’re going to a job interview, or whether your straight friends will think you’re denying your straightness if you don’t dress or talk straight enough, or whether your gay friends will be uncomfortable if you take them to a straight club, or if they’ll embarrass you by saying something ignorant about getting hit on by somebody of the opposite sex. This analysis goes beyond worries about discrimination or prejudice to the very heart of what we consider normal and neutral, what we consider different and other, what needs explaining, what’s taken as read – the prejudices in favour of being straight aren’t recognisable as prejudices, because they’re built into our very perceptions of what is the default way to be. It’s useful to see this, because when we look at oppressions in isolation, we tend to attribute them to personal or societal prejudice, a homophobic law that can be repealed, a racial discrimination that can be legislated against. Alone, terms like “racism”, “sexism”, “ablism” don’t describe how oppression is woven into the fabric of a society and a normal part of life rather than an easily isolated stain on society that can be removed without trace, leaving the fabric intact. Privilege theory is systematic. It explains why removing prejudice and discrimination isn’t enough to remove oppression. It shows how society itself needs to be ordered differently. When people talk about being “colour-blind” in relation to race, they think it means they’re not racist, but it usually means that they think they can safely ignore differences of background and life experience due to race, and expect that the priorities and world views of everybody should be the same as those of white people, which they consider to be “normal”. It means they think they don’t have to listen to people who are trying to explain why a situation is different for them. They want difference to go away, so that everybody can be equal, yet by trying to ignore difference they are reinforcing it. Recognising privilege means recognising that differences of experience exist which we may not be aware of. It means being willing to listen when people tell us about how their experience differs from ours. It means trying to conceive of a new “normal” that we can bring about through a differently structured society, instead of erasing experiences that don’t fit into our privileged concept of “normal”. It should be remembered that privilege theory is not a movement in itself but an analysis used by a diverse range of movements, liberal and radical, reformist and revolutionary. By the same token, the rhetoric of solidarity and class unity is used by leftists to gain power for themselves, even as we use those same concepts to fight the power structures they use. The fact that some people will use the idea of privilege to promote themselves as community leaders and reformist electoral candidates doesn't mean that that's the core reasoning or inevitable outcome of privilege theory. For us, as class struggle revolutionaries , the identities imposed on us by kyriarchy and the politics that go with them are about uniting in struggle against all oppression, not entrenching social constructs, congratulating ourselves on how aware we are, claiming special rights according to our background or biology, and certainly not creating ranked hierarchies of the most oppressed to put forward for tokenistic positions of power. We have to challenge ourselves to look out for campaigns that, due to the privilege of those who initiate them, lack awareness of how an issue differs across intersections. We need to broaden out our own campaigns to include the perspectives of all those affected by the issues we cover. This will allow us to bring more issues together, gather greater solidarity, fight more oppressions and build a movement that can challenge the whole of kyriarchy, which is the only way to ever defeat any part of it, including capitalism." With thanks to the A fed Womens Caucus over at http://www.afed.org.uk/blog/state/327-a-class-struggle-anarchist-analysis-of-privilege-theory--from-the-womens-caucus-.html
Sunday, 23 February 2014
Whilst many of my blind friends have their views in terms of the RNIB I do think this issue needs bringing to that attention. I personally have no problem with them as it stands and to get nit picky with an organisation that is looking to put sight loss on the mainstream is foolish at best and stupid at worse. In the guardian today a RNIB spokese person had the following article published which I felt worth sharing for all. “Charity considering dozens of cases against department relating to their failure to send out benefits letters in braille or large print • • The Guardian, Wednesday 19 February 2014 20.29 GMT The RNIB said one claimant was forced to take out payday loans to feed himself after DWP advisors stopped his ESA and housing benefit. Photograph: Chris Ison/PA The Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB) is threatening the Department of Work and Pensions with court action for suspending the benefits of a blind man after he missed appointments which he was only informed about through letters he was not able to read. The RNIB has prepared five legal cases against the DWP and said it was looking into a further 50, which relate to the department's failure to send out benefits letters in braille or large print format . In a number of cases, the DWP suspended recipient's benefits leaving them in desperate circumstances, the RNIB said. The charity's intervention emerged as the DWP published figures showing the total number of sanctions against benefit claimants in the year to September 2013 was 897,690, the highest figure for any 12-month period since jobseeker's allowance (JSA) was introduced in 1996. The figures published by the Department for Work and Pensions cover employment support allowance (ESA) and JSA. The figures published yesterday also showed that independent tribunals were upholding nine out of 10 appeals against the DWP. Before the coalition, the number of successful tribunal appeals in any 12-month period was well under 2,000. It has risen to more than 14,000. The RNIB said one claimant – a blind man in his 30s who only wanted to be named as Robert – was forced to take out payday loans to feed himself after DWP advisors stopped his ESA and housing benefit on numerous occasions over a two-year period. After having worked most of his adult life, the man from Essex began receiving ESA in October 2011 and asked the DWP to send him communications in braille. But discrimination lawyer Samantha Fothergill who is representing Robert in the county court for full financial damages and injury over his benefit suspension, said he was only ever sent regular print letters which demanded further information and his attendance at appointments. The deadlines for the DWP's demands lapsed before Robert could get outside help to read the correspondence and his benefit payments were stopped. "His benefits got suspended but the letters also telling him they were suspended weren't accessible to him. So he didn't know. The first he heard about it was when his direct debits from his bank account stopped getting paid." Racking up bank charges, and extra payments, Robert was eventually forced to take out a payday loan at a steep interest rate to pay for food. Fothergill said he eventually received backdated payments plus a consolatory payment of £50 but remains "very angry". "We get these complaints all the time," said. She added that the DWP's system for sending out accessible information was "appalling" and "not fit for purpose". The DWP were "making blanket decisions" to sanction people rather than looking at their individual circumstances. The DWP said it could not comment on individual cases but that forms were available in braille or large print and that advisers were "on hand to help". "Anyone who has their benefits suspended should contact us and can, if necessary, appeal," the spokesperson added. The RNIB's threat of legal action comes as Archbishop Nichols, the most senior Catholic in England and Wales, said the Coalition's benefits system was becoming increasingly "punitive" and was leaving people destitute. Responding in the Telegraph on Wednesday, David Cameron rebuffed the criticisms saying that benefit reforms introduced by Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith, were part of a "moral mission". The total number of JSA sanctions in the year to 30 September 2013 was 874,850, the highest since the payment was introduced in 1996. It compares with 500,000 in the year to 30 April 2010, the last month of the previous Labour government. In the year to 30 September 2013, there were also 22,840 sanctions imposed on claimants of ESA – the chief benefit for the sick and disabled – in the work-related activity group. This is the highest for any 12-month period since sanctions were introduced for claimants in October 2008. The figures were taken from the latest quarterly set of sanctions totals published by the DWP. Ministers have conceded the issue needs addressing by setting up an independent inquiry into how benefit sanctions are communicated to claimants. Critics claim the DWP is operating a culture of fear with jobcentre staff given implicit targets to sanction claimants. The large numbers come before the government introduces tougher rules that will require claimants to do more to prove they are actively seeking work. The success rate of those sanctioned claimants who take their cases to an independent tribunal ran at 20% or less under the previous Labour government. Under the coalition, it has risen dramatically to 87% in the 3 months to 30 September 2013. Duncan Smith said: "This government has always been clear that, in return for claiming unemployment benefits, jobseekers have a responsibility to do everything they can to get back into work. Research by the Disability Benefits Consortium, the RNIB said, showed an increasing number of disabled people are becoming reliant on food banks as a result of sanctioning policies. Steve Winyard, RNIB's head of campaigns and policy, said that thousands of disabled people were losing payments as a result of sanctions, and that included many blind and partially sighted people. "Too often DWP and its agencies are not providing people with the information on what they need to do to receive benefits in accessible formats, like braille or large print. RNIB has won cases against DWP for these very failures. But sanctions have led to blind and partially sighted people being forced to rely on food banks whilst they wait for the government to correct its own mistakes," Winyard said. “
Thursday, 20 February 2014
and the group of 11 My former party the CWI the Socialist Party of England and Wales is under going a crisis it would seem. With the news that long standing member Bruce Wallace has been suspended has not surprised me in the slightest. This all feels very familiar to my time in the party where my blog was used to attack me and my critical thinking was frowned upon too. You would think, perhaps naively, that advocates of two different theories of crisis could co-exist in the same organisation and fight things out at length. Apparently not. After a protracted drama, Wallace has been suspended, in substance for making his criticisms openly - his blog, apparently, is “a platform for a continual stream of invective and attacks on the party”. He has already declared his intention to appeal. While I am no longer a member I have full solidarity with Bruce and the others under attack I know how it feels to feel isolated and cast out as a trouble maker. Indeed this very blog came under intense scrutiny for my own critical views of the way the Socialist party was heading in terms of its methods and ideas. There is much with Bruce and the group of 11 which I agree with most of what they say are spot on to call out the Socialist party’s reformism and dedication to a under consumptionist position economically when it comes to understanding capitalist crisis. Bruce and others including Professor Andrew Kliman who is not a member of the CWI I’d like to point out rightly point towards the Tendency of the rate of profit to fall to find the under lying cause of crisis under capitalism. Why a party cannot co exist with members holding differing views on things I’ll never know. Where is the democracy I wonder? Whilst I don’t agree with everything I can identify with their outlook when it comes to theory. They argue for vigorous theoretical debate in SPEW, based on the actual practice of the Bolsheviks in the pre-revolutionary period. They write, entirely correctly: “democratic centralism prescribes unity on the basis of action, such as programmatic action and activity, and not unity on theory. What is clearer to me though is the fact the revolutionary left and the Marxist and trotskyist left is in crisis and it doesn’t look like a solution is anywhere to be seen as many of them are stuck in their old dogmatic ways and methods. We are going through a period where, it is fair to say, the long-standing organisations of the Trotskyist left are fraying at the edges. We have seen two splits in the space of a year in the SWP. As I write, the Renewal Platform of the International Socialist Organization - the SWP’s erstwhile US group - has been expelled. Workers Power, an orthodox Trotskyist group, has shed a large proportion of its small membership over the last few years. In Ireland, the CWI organisation has itself lost a clutch of experienced members. All these splits have taken place on an extraordinarily thin political basis. We are beginning to recognise the pattern. Comrades, whether through a short, sharp shock (the SWP’s rape debacle) or through a longer disillusionment, come to realise that the grand breakthrough is not, after all, just around the corner. They advance criticisms of the toy town Bolshevism of their organisations, the delusions of grandeur, and set out on their own - whether they jump or are pushed - to really build the movement. What they do not do is sit down and think, and come up with a rounded political alternative. Thus, they drift into liquidationism.
Wednesday, 19 February 2014
Just last week the widely written off BNP gained a fair few votes in a by election in Wythenshawe and Sale East Michael Kane won with 13,261 votes, beating UKIP's John Bickley, with 4,301, in second. Rev Daniel Critchlow, for the Tories, came third on 3,479 votes, and Lib Dem Mary Di Mauro, came fourth on 1,176. Labour leader Ed Miliband said he was "delighted" by the result while David Cameron said he would listen to voters. The full results were: • Mike Kane (Labour): 13,261 • John Bickley (UKIP): 4,301 • Reverend Daniel Critchlow (Conservatives): 3,479 • Mary Di Mauro (Lib Dem): 1,176 • Nigel Woodcock (Green Party): 748 • Eddy O'Sullivan (BNP): 708 • Captain Chaplington-Smythe (Monster Raving Loony): 288 • Turnout: 28% With a low turnout smaller parties can get more of a look in on a smaller turnout as they don’t need such a big vote to get a decent vote. This is clear with the BNP in this case who many on the left have all but written off claiming they are in disarray and are no longer the party to be aware of instead focusing their attacks and exposures of the likes of UKIP now. But a 708 vote for the BNP shows even in big labour strongholds the fascist vote is still there bubbling under the surface. This is also the North West where Nick Griffin of the BNP holds his MEP seat for this year anyway. For me it shows that the right and especially far right is not gone away and does need confronting at all times. This 708 could tip over a thousand next times and who knows if the BNP were to ever get properly organised and with a good financial backer like UKIP now have then they would quite easily become a force again. So why does the left not seem to be taking the BNP seriously anymore. Well I think it stems from the fact the BNP lost a lot of their seats and votes in last years local elections and this was seen widely to be the final nail in its coffin. But if I’ve learnt anything about fascists is that they will always com back if an alternative is not posed for people. After the walking out of Tommy Robinson from the EDL the far right is without a figure head to rally around. But do they even need one in an area where labour takes for granted will always win and win well is a grave concern for me as the far right will see this as a chance to put down roots in such areas of greater Manchester and so on. Whilst I do not think UKIP are ea out and out racist or fascist party it is clear in their rank-and-file there is many nutters with some very archaic views on society and particular on immigrants to this country. I do think we should be aware a new found modern idea of fascism could come in the form of a euro sceptic disguise. Not all forms of fascism are the same and to think fascists only come in one form and one form only is a dangerous mistake to make. I do think the left needs to be aware of the right at all times and look to provide alternatives and not alienate people. The truth is many people are concerned about immigration in this country but are not always found to be racist at all but are buying into the media’s myths whipped up by polititians to blame immigrants for a lack of jobs, homes and low wages. In reality we need to unite together and fight for all to have the rate of the job and good levels of benefits if not. The right is on the rise across Europe I sense with Greece’s Golden Dawn the national front in France and various neo Nazi’s in Hungary and beyond. It is a worrying time but it is also something we can’t take our eye off the ball about in my opinion.
Monday, 17 February 2014
I don’t live in a flooded area I’d like to make clear but I do think the recent devastating flooding in many areas of the Uk with the South West of England being worst hit it would seem do deserve some reflection I think. Allot of people’s homes have been damaged possibly even permanently with flood waters still peaking in many places. My sympathies and solidarity do go out to all affected by these storms. A transfer of foreign aid to the flood victims is not the answer in my opinion though as many reactionaries will have you think it is the answer. Those foreigners don’t need out money we need it here. This misses the point of foreign aid and the good it does and automatically assumes it is "too high" in the first place which I’d contest. In the last week David Cameron has tried to do his savior of the people hero act by turning up with wellies and a helping hand but this symbolic gesture politics standing for photographs while cutting funding for flood defenses will do little to ease peoples anger I’d say. In fact it wills b interesting to see how much this recent storms and floods and a lack of a proper reply from the government will affect their votes in these areas. The UK has been hit by a series of strong storms throughout January and into February, with no end in sight. This offers a case study of capitalism under climate change. The current string of back-to-back storms has been described as "an almost unprecedented natural crisis". It hasn't escaped notice that the response to the storms in the south west was rather lackluster, but when severe flood warnings were issued for the Thames in the Home Counties, it was suddenly announced that "money is no object". It should come as no surprise that some peoples' misery is worth more than others. The sight of land reclaimed by the sea is also something we'll be seeing more of; as both sea levels and storm strengths continue to rise (managed retreat is proposed as an alternative to increasing reliance on sea defences). It’s probably too early to draw conclusions about the state response, as it’s likely to be still in-formation in response to emerging crises.2 However, we shouldn’t assume that destruction is automatically bad for capital. A moderate amount of destruction can be seized upon as an opportunity for restructuring, reconstruction and investment (so-called 'disaster capitalism'). As the Bank of England Governor Mark Carney said, "You get a hit to GDP [Gross Domestic Product] as it's going on and then you get a recovery, you get that back later on with the repair." On a system-level, rates of profit are boosted by the destruction of capital value.3 This wasn’t allowed to happen to any great extent in the economic crisis, as state intervention propped up banks and the housing bubble. In the absence of a world war to destroy capital and make room for growth (the 1940s ‘fix’), might climate change destruction contribute to a recovery of the rate of profit, amidst secular stagnation? Clearly, if this conjecture is true, this would happen in a hugely unequal, exploitative, and potentially cataclysmic manner. But how much climate destruction is best for capital? Probably more than none. Extreme weather events will start to have an increasing disruptive impact. That might result in shifts in climate policy. But damaging the capitalist economy shouldn't be mistaken for damaging capitalist social relations. Rather, capitalist relations ensure that climate change impacts tend to reinforce existing inequalities.