Sunday, 20 December 2015

Referendum: The British People Deserves Better Than Cameron, by Dirk Hazell

Cameron more like Baldwin than Macmillan

Cameron may have brought Macmillan’s portrait into Number 10 but, apart from his covert “grouse moor” lifestyle and indulging an Etonian clique, he is no Macmillan.

Macmillan’s strategic insight and genuine One Nation solidarity of all British people was formed by the Great War and the following Depression.

He would have deplored as the act of a charlatan shabbily playing off English nationalists against Scottish nationalists to win a General Election.

His manners were too good to have allowed, for example, the least well off to be exposed to the real fear of the tax credits fiasco.

And Macmillan had an incomparably more insightful and intuitive grasp of the UK’s place in the world. 

While some on the hard right were indulging themselves in the League of Empire Loyalists, as now they do within UKIP and the Conservative Party, Macmillan unlike Cameron did not indulge.

He told the 1961 Conservative Party Conference of our hope that Britain may become more closely associated with Europe, economically and politically and the 1962 Conference that the Governments of the Six are anxious to move forward from an economic to some form of political union, and we want to play our part in devising these new arrangements.

Such strategic insight and courage eludes Cameron. Some rise to the duties of the office of Prime Minister. 

Historians may say Cameron dragged down his office. At best Cameron can now - as was always predictable - leave both the Conservative Party and the UK in worse overall condition than he found it. 

Lose the European referendum with a Brexit vote and he is guaranteed to succeed Lord North with the moniker of Britain’s worst ever Prime Minister. 

Baldwin is a closer precedent than Macmillan for Cameron. Again, though, manners would have prevented Baldwin commissioning a private jet while slashing welfare.

That said, there are similarities between the phoney Zinoviev letter of 1924 on Baldwin’s watch and Cameron’s contrived 2015 scare campaign in England against Nicola Sturgeon.

And Baldwin left the UK chronically misaligned for the European challenges of the 1930s, contributing to the further World War that his generation had so much wished to avoid.

A true heir to Blair would, as Blair did with the Labour Party, analyse in Opposition what was most problematic about his party and deal with it.

A true heir to Blair would, as Leader of the Opposition, have followed Macmillan’s lead and boldly declared the Tories to be a pro-EU party.

He would have taken the hit on the relatively few MPs, MEPs and Peers who might then have walked to UKIP (the problem now is far more acute), and in the process been more likely to win the 2010 General Election.

And he would have been more Tory than Trot by working from within the EPP - Europe’s mainstream centre-right powerhouse - and not flouncing out into malign and marginal hard-right political alliances across Europe.

Anyone really serious about European reform would have treasured the gold dust of close internal party alliance with Europe’s best statesmen like Enda Kenny and Angela Merkel, not allied with the likes of Waffen SS commemorators.

Cameron’s agenda 

So what of Cameron’s four-point agenda for change?

Competitiveness

In terms of practical benefit to all Europeans including the British, the most important is what he calls “competitiveness”. 

Yet, if Cameron really wanted to complete the internal market, secure more trade agreements between the EU and the rest of the World and modernise the EU’s approach to regulation, then he really should have stayed in the EPP. 

He and his party should have pushed hard from inside the EPP family for prompt and practical implementation of policies that, with no prompting from Cameron, already formed the basis of the EPP’s 2014 European election platform and the work programme of the 2014-19 Juncker Commission. 

Is it really credible to claim that the outcome of a referendum is going to be assisted by Cameron’s pretending that this is a British agenda imposed on recalcitrant aliens rather than a shared agenda with like-minded democrats and reformers?

Immigration 

Next to no practical benefit is secured by the campaign, of at best the most dubious legality, to discriminate against non-British EU nationals by denying them in-work benefits for four years. 

A less bad formulation than Cameron’s was that trailed by Sir John Major in Berlin on 13 November 2014 of a time-limited emergency limitation on immigration. 

The simple truth is that most of the UK’s problems, real or imagined, are home grown. 

The prospect of work - and often work that British people are disinclined to do - rather than the specifically British characteristics of our welfare system is the demand-pull for non-British EU nationals to come to the UK. 

Responsibility for the poor state of the infrastructure of British public services lies with the British Government not with those who come to contribute to Britain’s economy and, often, those very public services.

Sovereignty 

Mr Cameron’s demands on sovereignty also point to the wrong target. 

There is always scope to enhance coordination between Member States’ parliaments and the EU Institutions but as Lord Boswell has correctly noted, the Lisbon Treaty is “the treaty for national parliaments”. 

Germany’s Bundestag has an office in Brussels with 70 staff, while Denmark’s Folketing has been a pioneer of holding a national government to account on its dealings in Europe and the Netherland’s second chamber has mainstreamed EU policy in all its committees. 

The British problem is much less Brussels than an over-centralising and chronically under-reformed Westminster: MPs should devolve far more, becoming less social case workers and more analytical interrogators of what the British Government plans to do and has done in Brussels. 

This might require a different type of MP - frankly, a reversal of changes that have occurred under Cameron - but if MPs are not on top of what is happening in the EU Institutions they have mostly themselves to blame. 

Economic governance

This heading of Cameron’s demands is principally about avoiding caucusing against the City.

However, if he wanted to safeguard the UK’s continental-scale financial service sector which depends on British membership of the EU, it might have been wiser instead not to play Russian roulette with the UK’s future inside the world’s single largest economy, ours in Europe, than to chase phantoms. 

The Referendum

Such civil disorder as there is within Britain is generally directed against Cameron’s government: despite decades of negative misrepresentation about Europe by those whose duty it was to know better, there is no genuine mass British uprising against Europe. 

Indeed, one of the principal risks with the referendum is the low salience of Europe as a domestic political issue and any resulting perception that voting Brexit might be a cost-free protest against the British Establishment. 

The structural problem in British politics is not Europe itself but the Conservative Party which in the absence of good leadership has degenerated, since Cameron’s Black Wednesday days as a special adviser, into being essentially a Brexit rump. 

It is too often as though, more than half a century earlier, the League of Empire Loyalists had been allowed control of the Conservative Party’s machinery. 

The British electorate is the world’s most sophisticated. Cameron may need the fig leaf of a Brussels deal to master a mess almost entirely of his own making and to muster belated courage in supporting British membership of the EU, but as John Major has recently affirmed, Britain’s overwhelming interest is to remain in the EU, deal or no deal: as he rightly says, we are safer, better off and more influential inside the EU. 

As Churchill promised in 1940, despite existential threats Europe is freed, and in so many ways we have moved forward into broad, sunlit uplands. 

The European Deal, based on the Social Market economy, improved beyond recognition Europeans’ working conditions, creating social solidarity within an enterprise economy. 

The European Deal made Europe a world leader in environmental protection. 

The European Deal has transformed our part of the world from the destruction of fascism and communism and created instead the world’s largest economy, effectively defining issues like consumer safety across the world and massively enhancing prosperity. 

And the European Deal gives us all a shared identity based on freedom and equality under the law. 

We must hope that, when the referendum comes, Britons will spurn the snake oil of a fake past for the hope and pragmatism of our best hope for the future: much more pro-active and positive British participation in building the EU for generations to come. 

Life is demonstrably better for the British inside the EU and the EU is demonstrably better with the British. 

Yes Europe needs reform but in 2015 Britain needs it even more. 

And it is high time we had a Prime Minister who spoke such truth to the British People.

Britain Turns Its Back on Australia, by Philip Benwell

Just because British Prime Minister, David Cameron, has been outmanoeuvred by Angela Merkel, François Hollande and other European Union leaders from introducing reforms on migration from Europe into Britain, it shouldn’t mean that he can now take it out on Commonwealth countries like Australia.

Despite having to go through the ‘Aliens’ channel upon arrival, Australians have hitherto always found a friendly welcome in what used to be termed ‘the mother country’, but no longer.

Whilst the British government blathers on about establishing closer trade ties with Commonwealth countries, and particularly Australia, it seems to be extraordinary that it is to impose stricter visa requirements upon our citizens working in the United Kingdom.

According to journalist Simon Kent: “Australians fear new “discriminatory” UK working visa and migration policies will see thousands of workers forced home with little hope of return.

At the same time Britain is welcoming record numbers of European Union (EU) arrivals who face no restrictions on starting a new life in this country.” 

It doesn’t make sense, unless the true nature of the beast is not to build up Commonwealth trade to replace its current pacts with the European Union but, in a Machiavellian manner, to annoy Commonwealth countries and thus hamper ties so that the only alternative left is for Britain to continue to be within Europe. 

However, I very much fear that the British people will revolt against this. They feel much closer to countries like Australia, New Zealand and Canada than they do to Eastern European countries from which most migrants are now arriving. 

There is also the great fear of the huge wave of refugees from Muslim countries moving across into the United Kingdom. That alone would probably be the greatest incentive for the British people to leave the Union and barricade their borders with Europe. 

Of course, our republicans will point to the British visa restrictions and say that this means that we should be a republic.

That is because they do not understand that Australia is a free and sovereign nation with no legal ties or constitutional links whatsoever to the British government or parliament.

According to a High Court decision in 1999, Britain is considered to be a ‘foreign power’. Whilst we share the Queen with sixteen other Commonwealth Realms, this does not mean to say that we are not our own country, for we are.

That is why it was necessary for the people themselves - and not our politicians and certainly not the British, had to vote at the 1999 republic referendum.

A referendum in which the electorate nation-wide and in all six States voted overwhelmingly to reject a republic and retain the Crown.

Monday, 7 December 2015

Obama’s Speech, Translated into Candor, by Norman Solomon

Here is a condensed version of President Obama's speech from the Oval Office on Sunday night, unofficially translated into plain English:

I kind of realize we can’t kill our way out of this conflict with ISIL, but in the short term hopefully we can kill our way out of the danger of a Republican victory in the presidential race next year.

As a practical matter, the current hysteria needs guidance, not a sense of proportion along the lines of what the New York Times just mentioned in passing:

“The death toll from jihadist terrorism on American soil since the Sept. 11 attacks -- 45 people -- is about the same as the 48 killed in terrorist attacks motivated by white supremacist and other right-wing extremist ideologies.... And both tolls are tiny compared with the tally of conventional murders, more than 200,000 over the same period.” 

 While I’m urging some gun control, that certainly doesn’t apply to the Pentagon.

The Joint Chiefs and their underlings have passed all the background checks they need by virtue of getting to put on a uniform of the United States Armed Forces.

As much as we must denounce the use of any guns that point at us, we must continue to laud the brave men and women who point guns for us -- and who fire missiles at terrorists and possible terrorists and sometimes unfortunately at wedding parties or misidentified vehicles or teenagers posthumously classified as “militants” after signature strikes or children who get in the way.

We can’t see ourselves in the folks we kill. But I know that we see ourselves with friends and co­workers at a holiday party like the one in San Bernardino. I know we see our kids in the faces of the young people killed in Paris.

Also I know we don’t see ourselves in the blameless individuals who have been beheaded by our ally Saudi Arabia, which has executed 150 people this year mostly by cutting off their heads with swords.

Nor should we bother to see ourselves in the people the Saudi government is slaughtering with airstrikes in Yemen on a daily basis.

We sell the Saudis many billions of dollars worth of weapons that make the killings in San Bernardino look smaller than puny. But that’s the way it goes sometimes.

I gave a lofty major speech a couple of years ago about how a democratic society can’t have perpetual war. I like to talk about such sugary ideals; a spoonful helps the doublethink medicine go down.

Let me now say a word about what we should not do.

We should not be drawn once more into a long and costly ground war in Iraq or Syria. The United States of America has colossal air power -- and we’re going to use it.

No muss, little fuss: except for people under the bombs, now being utilized at such a fast pace that the warhead supply chain is stretched thin.

Yes, we’re escalating a bit on the ground too, with hundreds of special operations forces going into Syria despite my numerous public statements -- adding up to more than a dozen since August 2013 -- that American troops would not be sent to Syria.

Likewise we’ve got several thousand soldiers in Iraq, five years after I solemnly announced that “the American combat mission in Iraq has ended.” 

But here’s the main thing: In the Middle East, the USA will be number one in dropping bombs and firing missiles. Lots of them! 

It’s true that we keep making enemies faster than we can possibly kill them, but that’s the nature of the beast. In Afghanistan too.

At the end of last year I ceremoniously proclaimed that “the longest war in American history is coming to a responsible conclusion” and the United States “will maintain a limited military presence in Afghanistan.” 

But within 10 months I changed course and declared that 5,500 U.S. troops will remain in Afghanistan into 2017.

Midway through this fall -- even before the terrorist attacks in Paris -- the United States had launched an average of about 50 airstrikes per week in Syria during the previous year, and the New York Times reported that the U.S. military was preparing “to intensify airstrikes against the Islamic State” on Syrian territory.

And according to official Pentagon figures, the U.S.-led aerial bombing in Iraq has topped 4,500 airstrikes in the last year -- approaching an average rate of 100 per week.

Our military will hunt down terrorist plotters where they are plotting against us. In Iraq and Syria, airstrikes are taking out some of the latest ISIL leaders, heavy weapons, oil tankers, infrastructure.

I’ve got to tell you that these actions will defeat ISIL, but I’ve got to not tell you that the airstrikes will kill a lot of civilians while launching new cycles of what gave rise to ISIL in the first place -- inflaming rage and grief while serving as a powerful recruitment tool for people to take up arms against us.

In the name of defeating terrorist forces, our air war has the effect of recruiting for them.

Meanwhile, in Syria, our obsession with regime change has propelled us into closely aligning with extremist jihadi fighters. They sure appreciate the large quantities of our weapons that end up in their arsenals.

You don’t expect this policy to make a lot of sense, do you?

Norman Solomon is the author of “War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death.” He is the executive director of the Institute for Public Accuracy and co-founder of RootsAction.org.

Sunday, 22 November 2015

Hell Comes to Paris, by John Wight

Years spent depicting head chopping fanatics as rebels, moderates, and revolutionaries in an effort to effect the toppling of another secular government in the Middle East.

Years spent cultivating Saudi Arabia as an ally against extremism and fanaticism rather than treating it as a country where extremism and fanaticism resides.

Years spent treating the Assad government, Iran, and Russia as enemies rather than allies in the struggle against this fanaticism.

And years spent denying any connection between a foreign policy underpinned by hubris and its inevitable blowback.

All this together has succeeded in opening the gates of hell.

The aforementioned hubris was on display just hours prior to the horrific events in Paris, when British Prime Minister David Cameron elevated the killing of Mohammed Emwazi by US drone strike in Raqqa, Syria, to the status of a major military victory in the war against ISIS.

Out came the podium from Number 10, and out he came to proclaim that the killing of Emwazi (aka Jihadi John) had “struck at the heart of the terrorist organization [ISIS].” 

That Cameron could venture such a fatuous boast the very day after an ISIS suicide bomb attack in southern Beirut killed 43 and wounded over 200 people was yet more evidence of the extent to which Western governments are detached from the reality of the Frankenstein’s monster their foreign policy has helped create and let loose upon the world. 

There is also the truth that in the minds of people whose worldview is grievously impaired by a Western prism, the deaths of Lebanese, Syrians, Iranians, and Kurds – in other words those engaged in the struggle against ISIS on the ground – constitute a statistic, while the deaths of Europeans and Americans to the same barbarism are an unspeakable tragedy.

In years to come historians will prepare such a scathing indictment against this generation’s leaders of the so-called free world, it will make the indictment prior generations of historians have leveled against the authors of the Sykes Picot Agreement, the Balfour Declaration, the Treaty of Versailles, the Munich Agreement, and the Suez Crisis seem like a playful tap on the wrist in comparison.

In fact, the only issue of debate in the course of preparing it will be where it should begin and where it should end.

As things stand, it is on track to be open-ended. In response to 9/11 the decision by the Bush administration, ably assisted by the Blair government, to crash first into Afghanistan without an exit strategy, followed by Iraq in the mistaken belief coalition troops would be greeted as liberators rather than occupiers, marked the day not when a new dawn of democracy and freedom was about to break across the Arab and Muslim world, but the day the hand of the West first reached for that rusty bolt securing in place the gates of hell, and slowly started to pull it back.

Over the succeeding decade back ever-further the bolt came, inch by inch, until in 2011 the gates finally, and inevitably, flew open with the West’s ill-fated intervention in an Arab Spring in Libya that by then had arrived at the end of its reach.

NATO airstrikes succeeded in dragging the Libyan ‘revolution’ from Benghazi all the way to Tripoli and victorious completion, whereupon the aforementioned David Cameron and his French counterpart at the time, Nikolas Sarkozy, descended to hail the Libyan people for “choosing democracy.” 

The hubris of those words, the military intervention which preceded them, have sent thousands of men, women, and children to the bottom of the Mediterranean in the years following, marking a tragic end to a desperate attempt to escape the democratic paradise the British Prime Minister described. 

Regardless, on we continued, driven by a myopic and fatal rendering of the brutal conflict in Syria as a revolution, even as legions of religious fanatics poured into the country, most of them across the border of our Turkish ally while Erdogan looked the other way. 

In the course of the long years of total war that has engulfed the country since, the world has witnessed every conceivable variety of bestiality, carried out under the black flag of ISIS.

But wait a minute, the barrel bombs, you say. Assad is killing his own people. He is the cause of all of this mayhem and carnage. 

Allowing for a moment the idea that the Assad government was the main cause of the Syrian conflict when it began in 2011, in 2015 the same government is without any shadow a necessary part of it ending with Syria’s survival. 

Barrel bombs are an atrociously indiscriminate weapon, for sure, and their use rightly comes under the category of war crime.

However just as the war crime of the allied firebombing of Dresden in 1945 did not invalidate the war against European fascism then, neither does the atrocity of Syrian barrel bombs invalidate the war against its Middle East equivalent today. 

When the survival of a country and its culture and history is at stake, war can never be anything else but ugly, which is why the sooner it is brought to a conclusion in Syria the better. 

This is where we come to Russia’s intervention, which came at the point where the Syrian government was slipping towards the abyss. 

President Putin’s forensic accounting of the perfidious calamity of events leading up to Russia’s arrival, in his address to the UN General Assembly, should have heralded the glaringly and obviously necessary volte face required to turn a Western policy responsible for disaster into one approximating to coherence. 

But, no, instead a moral equivalence has continued to be drawn between a secular and sovereign government under which the rights of minorities were and are protected, and a medieval death cult intent on turning the country into a mass grave of said minorities, along with others deemed superfluous to the requirements of the Caliphate. 

This shorthand history of the elemental conflict currently raging across Syria, and also northern Iraq, and which has now come knocking on our door, places the crassness of David Cameron’s boast of ‘striking at the heart’ in its rightful context. 

We – i.e. the West – are in truth striking at the heart of nothing when it comes to the struggle against ISIS. Russia on the other hand is striking them, along with the Syrian Arab Army, the Kurds, and Iran. 

The extent to which their efforts are succeeding can be measured in this shocking series of attacks that have been carried out beyond Syria’s borders – starting with the downing of the Russian passenger aircraft over the Sinai, followed by the recent suicide bombing in southern Beirut, and now with this latest grisly episode in the heart of Europe. 

They reflect the desperation of a group that has suffered significant reverses in Syria and Iraq in recent days and weeks.

No matter, if terror was the aim of the Paris attack, it has undeniably succeeded, leaving the French, British, and US government with a dilemma over how to respond, both in terms of security measures at home and their ongoing role in the conflict in Syria. 

Responding to this latest atrocity in the French capital, Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev expressed Russia’s condolences and said: “The tragedy in Paris demands that we all unite in our fight against extremism.” 

These are no mere empty words. The longer Russia’s call for unity in this struggle goes unheeded and ignored, the longer it will take for the gates of hell to be bolted shut again – assuming, of course, they ever can be.

This article originally appeared here, and is reproduced at the kind suggestion of the author.

Friday, 20 November 2015

Ordeals of Whistleblowers in a “Democracy”, by Victor Wallis

The more extreme the crimes of state, the more the state seeks to shroud them in secrecy. The greater the secrecy and the accompanying lies, the more vital becomes the role of whistleblowers – and the more vindictive becomes the state in its pursuit of them.

Whistleblowers are people who start out as loyal servants of the state. Their illusions about the state’s supposed moral agenda – and the wholeheartedness of their own patriotic commitment – make them all the more shocked when they discover evidence of the state’s wrongdoing.

Given the extreme concentration of weaponry (as well as surveillance capabilities) in the hands of the state, and given the disposition of the state to apply such resources even against nonviolent mass movements, the type of defection practiced by whistleblowers – an option available to military and intelligence operatives at all levels – is crucial to any eventual triumph of popular forces over the ruling class.

Whistleblowers thus not only embarrass the government, disrupt its policies, and (assuming adequate diffusion) educate the citizenry; they also are harbingers of a broader crumbling of the capitalist state and the order it defends.

Acting largely in isolation and at great risk to themselves, they embody the conviction – or at least the hope – that basic decency has a more universal grounding than does any possible scheme of oppression.

Whistle-blowing’s principal near-term function is educational. It demonstrates the undemocratic character of the regime whose secrets it lets out; it is thus an essential ingredient of investigative journalism.

The documents it brings to light reach the public through those who practice such journalism, whom the government then threatens with prosecution unless they disclose their sources.

The novelty of Wikileaks is that it provided a new form of protection for the anonymity of sources. This, together with the facility of electronic transmission, has made the potential for disclosure greater than ever before.

It accounts for the extraordinary fact that the US government has been pursuing draconian charges against someone who not merely is only the recipient rather than the “leaker” of sensitive information, but someone who is not even a citizen or resident of the United States – Julian Assange.

Disclosure is particularly embarrassing when it documents the fact that government officials have lied.

The Director of Central Intelligence lied under oath to the US Congress – a felony for which he was never prosecuted – when he denied that the National Security Agency monitors the communications of the entire US population.

This lie was the culminating event in Edward Snowden’s decision to blow the whistle. As we all know, of course, it is Snowden who was then criminalized by the government.

This parallels the experience of John Kiriakou, who publicly confirmed, on the basis of his first-hand knowledge, that the CIA practiced torture by waterboarding. Kiriakou then became the only government official to be prosecuted and imprisoned in connection with CIA and military practices of torture.

The debate over whistleblowers reached tens of millions of viewers when the presidential candidates of the Democratic Party were asked (on Oct. 13) their views about Snowden.

Hillary Clinton falsely asserted that he could have used established channels to transmit his disclosures of excessive surveillance, presumably at no risk to himself. This claim is refuted by the experience of previous whistleblowers who had taken just that approach.

One of them, Thomas Drake, retold his story two days later, at a news conference ignored by most of the corporate media (video), which was organized on behalf of yet another whistleblower, Jeffrey Sterling, who recently began a 42-month prison term on a conviction of “espionage.”

What Sterling had done was report to the US Senate Select Committee on Intelligence about a counterproductive CIA attempt (in 2000) to feed misleading technological data to Iranian scientists.

What he was prosecuted for was his subsequent conversations with New York Times journalist James Risen, although no evidence was available as to the content of those conversations, since Risen refused to testify.

Sterling’s story is recounted in a letter from his wife, seeking presidential clemency from Obama. Sterling had been fired from the CIA in 2002 after filing a complaint against the agency for racial discrimination (an episode on which Risen wrote a news story).

After Risen’s book State of War (2006) came out, the FBI raided Sterling’s home, but it was not until more than four years later – under Obama – that he was arrested (2011).

The latest whistleblower, who documents the “normalization of assassination” via drone warfare, is wisely seeking to remain anonymous. The US government will surely take all possible steps to track him down.

The work of whistleblowers, as well as their personal safety, is obviously an issue that cuts across national borders. Support for US whistleblowers will need to be as global as the reach of the policies and the weapons that they expose.

This is the original text of a column written on 20th October and posted on the Norwegian website radikalportal.no. It is reproduced here at the kind suggestion of Norman Solomon, the editor of  RootsAction.org, where it has already appeared. Victor Wallis is managing editor of the journal Socialism and Democracy.

Thursday, 19 November 2015

Labour Holds the Future of Surveillance in its Hands, by Loz Kaye

Even with operations ongoing, attention has started to turn to what the political response to the horrific Paris attacks should be. Already the pressure has been to push through new surveillance laws in the Investigatory Powers Bill.

Some like Lord Carlile, with ghoulish speed exploited the tragedy to push their own pro-surveillance agenda. This is despite France's having passed measures similar to the Bill. There is no hard evidence that encrypted communications were used, despite media claims.

The Home Secretary resisted calls to fast-track the bill. She can after all afford to be measured; as things stand, its passage is a done deal. That is, unless Labour has a significant change of heart.

Bluntly, since the General Election, that is the only prospect that civil liberties campaigners have of a law that properly balances liberty and security.

With the new parliamentary mathematics, the future of surveillance really does lie in Labour's hands. Going by recent history, it is fair to say a dramatic change of heart seems like something of a long shot.

One of the legacies of the Blair-Brown era is a well entrenched view in a section of the electorate that Labour is authoritarian, that it is still the party of ID cards, of 90-day detention, of former Home Secretaries who queue up to support ever more intrusive intercept powers.

So far it has been business as usual from Andy Burnham, who was keen to underline that the Investigatory Powers Bill isn't a “Snoopers' Charter” in his eyes, and even pressed for its passage to be speeded up due to the Paris attacks. 

This is despite some new signals coming out of the party, not least with digital rights champion Tom Watson being voted in as Deputy Leader. 

The recent thrust of the Labour Party has been much more pro-civil liberties, opposing scrapping the Human Rights Act, defending freedom of information, highlighting Tory threats to trade unionism.

Addressing the legitimate concerns about the bill would make complete sense in this context, not least as it relies on the Human Rights Act for its operation.

The Labour Party should reflect on the reality of what is being proposed.

It would keep the records of the councillor emailing residents about potholes, scoop up details of the activist planning by-election leafleting on social media. It would keep visits to trade union or cooperative society websites.

Without proper checks on how the security services use the immense amount of information generated by our on-line lives, it could build up a frighteningly accurate picture of any of us; of our political affiliations, for example.

Andy Burnham may not think this is mass surveillance, but it is clearly surveillance en masse

There is currently a genuine political opportunity for Labour on the issue.

The Liberal Democrats have been the most high profile and best informed of mainstream parties challenging the rush to blanket surveillance. But they are now tainted by being in government during the Snowden revelations scandal.

Their most high profile parliamentarian with relevant experience on the intelligence agencies is Lord Carlile, who is defiantly in favour of the Snoopers' Charter agenda. 

The possibility is there for Labour to demonstrate a break with the past which has seen the party, both apparently uninterested in contemporary digital politics, and unwilling to engage with the tech community's concerns on subjects ranging from intercept to the digital economy.

What ought to make an impression is that the people who have been most vocal about their concerns on the Investigatory Powers Bill are the very people who are supposed to carry it out – communications service providers and digital business.

The current turmoil in the party is a significant danger for campaigners who want to see an Investigatory Powers Act that is fit for purpose, and that does not hand away freedoms that were so hard won by the Labour Movement.

The number one narrative on Corbyn's leadership is that the party is weak on security, and even his most ardent supporters will surely concede the Leadership have done themselves no favours. 

We run the risk that arguing for the right measures on intercept powers will be sucked in to the vortex of tabloid hysteria. 

That is why the argument on surveillance must be made just as much on security grounds as on grounds of citizens' rights.

Does this look like a government that cares much for civil liberties? Weakening encryption, even by signalling we want communications to be able to decrypted by service providers, lays us open to devastating cyber attack.

The lack of focus and targeting in the bulk approach have left our country vulnerable by an inability to concentrate on the real present threats.

The government is considering spending an estimated £2.5 billion over a decade on storing information that all acknowledge will be mostly useless in protecting us, when £2.3 billion has been cut from policing.

When it comes to armed response units, it is Theresa May, not Corbyn, who is the immediate threat to them. She is happy make cuts to them while pouring money in to the bottomless pit which is blanket surveillance.

After all, being critical of the Investigatory Powers Bill could unite both sides in Labour right now, a radical new vision and strength on protecting the nation.

For all our sakes, it must.

Monday, 9 November 2015

The Digital Dog Ate Our Civil-Liberties Homework: “It’s Just the Way It Is”, by Norman Solomon

Of all the excuses ladled out for the Obama administration's shredding of the Fourth Amendment while assaulting press freedom and prosecuting “national security” whistleblowers, none is more pernicious than the claim that technology is responsible.

At first glance, the explanation might seem to make sense. After all, the capacities of digital tech have become truly awesome. It’s easy to finger “technology” as the driver of government policies, as if the president at the wheel has little choice but to follow the technological routes that have opened up for Big Brother.

Now comes New York Times reporter Charlie Savage, telling listeners and viewers of a Democracy Now interview interview that the surveillance state is largely a matter of technology: “It’s just the way it is in the 21st century.”

That’s a great way to depoliticize a crucial subject -- downplaying the major dynamics of the political economy, anti-democratic power and top-down choices -- letting leaders off the hook, as if sophistication calls for understanding that government is to be regulated by high-tech forces rather than the other way around.

In effect, the message is that -- if you don’t like mass surveillance and draconian measures to intimidate whistleblowers as well as journalists -- your beef is really with technology, and good luck with pushing back against that. Get it? The fault, dear citizen, is not in our political stars but in digital tech.

When Amy Goodman asked Savage about the Obama administration’s record-high prosecutions of whistleblowers under the Espionage Act, he summed up this way:

“Because of technology, it’s impossible to hide who’s in contact with whom anymore, and cases are viable to investigate now that weren’t before. That’s not something Obama did or Bush did. It’s just the way it is in the 21st century, and investigative journalism is still grappling with the implications of that.” 

A more astute and candid assessment of such matters can be found in “Through the Looking-Glass," where Lewis Carroll wrote this dialogue:
"When I use a word," Humpty Dumpty said, "it means just what I choose it to mean -- neither more nor less."
"The question is," Alice replied, "whether you can make words mean so many different things."
"The question is," Humpty Dumpty responded, "which is to be master -- that's all."
The surveillance state is not the default setting of digital technology. The surveillance state is a failure and suppressor of democracy. A surveillance state or a democratic system -- which is to be master?
______________________________
Norman Solomon is co-founder of RootsAction.org  and executive director of the Institute for Public Accuracy. He is the author of many books including “War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death.”

Tuesday, 3 November 2015

The Hairy Ape by Eugene O’Neill, The Old Vic, London; reviewed by Ian Oakley

This is the play of a young playwright experimenting with form and finding his artistic feet. That the playwright is Eugene O’Neill is why the play still has power and resonance 90 years after it was written.

The story opens in the bowels of an Ocean Liner and we are introduced to the central character, Yank, the strongest stoker on the ship.

He is immune to his shipmates’ complaints and socialism, until an encounter with the ship’s owner’s daughter, who wanted to slum it in the depths of the ship (I suppose the modern equivalent is Samantha Cameron and her awful tattoo), sends Yank on a journey through 1920s American society.

The scenes of Yank being beaten up by the New York police show how little certain things have changed in American society.

Some critics, mainly from the right wing papers, have objected that the piece is somehow left-wing propaganda, thereby proving that media bias is not just a left-wing phenomena and the review pages are not immune from it.

It is a much more interesting piece than a form of propaganda, in that O’Neill’s natural scepticism shows through in Yank’s rejection of a political solution to his situation and his embrace of violence and anger.

You can feel the shadow of the Russian Revolution over the piece; the fact that O’Neill refuses to endorse a political solution to Yank’s situation is measure of his understanding of the human condition and of the fact that he never embraced the Revolution in the way that many of his friends and associates did.

The production is excellent, the burden of the play falls on the actor playing Yank, and Bertie Carvel is more than equal to the task.

It is a measure of his abilities as an actor that I last watched him playing Nick Clegg in the Channel 4 drama Coalition. The thought of Nick Clegg working as a stoker in an Ocean Liner is appealing, but somehow I don’t think Cleggy would last an hour, let alone a full shift.

Saturday, 31 October 2015

The Foreign Policy of Montenegro and the Question of Military Neutrality, by Filip Kovacevic

I begin with what I believe should be three defining characteristics of the Montenegrin foreign policy.

First, it should be humane. This means that it must value the human dignity of each individual, respect the right of every human being to a serene and prosperous life, and articulate the commitment to the tolerant and peaceful coexistence of all the differences in the world.

Secondly, it should be rational. It should promote the values of scientific development, technological progress, and global solidarity in the distribution of material resources.

It should demand global disarmament and the establishment of the international mechanisms for the peaceful resolution of disputes.

And, thirdly, it should be intellectually honest in its deconstruction of the prevailing rhetoric of freedom, democracy, and human rights which most often hides the geopolitical interests of major world powers and the oligarchic elites which direct them.

I believe that these three defining characteristic of the Montenegrin foreign policy can best be expressed through the commitment to the military neutrality of Montenegro. Here I will note at least three reasons.

First, can anybody seriously dispute the humaneness of the non-participation in violence and war and the promotion of the peaceful resolution of disputes?

That this is not possible is also understood by those in Montenegro who oppose military neutrality. This is why they claim that by entering NATO, Montenegro would never again participate in wars.

However, this claim is false. In the last twenty years, NATO participated in at least three wars and its most powerful members logistically supported several more.

This means that NATO membership requires that the Montenegrin tax payers bear the burden of financial participation in war operations.

Instead of being invested in education and retirement benefits, in health and disability insurance, the taxpayers' money would go into purchasing machine guns, bombs, and armoured car vehicles.

Montenegrin soldiers would be put in danger of getting wounded or killed far away from their families and homes, in the deserts of Asia and Africa.

The vast majority of Montenegrins would be subjected to emotional, psychological traumas, while the spoils of war would be split between the global capitalist oligarchies and their corrupted puppets in the Montenegrin government.

And, as it always happens, the children of the poor would be sent to the frontlines, while the children of the rich would be able to get away. Do we want that? Is that humane? 

Secondly, if, so far, we have concluded that neutrality is essentially humane, we still have to check whether it is rational given the existing economic constraints.

The opponents claim that NATO membership costs less than military neutrality. Is their claim true?

One look at the military budgets of the militarily neutral European countries is enough to show that all of them spend on defense less than the NATO standard of  2 % of the GDP.

According to publicly available information, Ireland spends 0.7%, Austria 0.8%, Switzerland 0.9%, Finland 1.4-1.6%, Sweden 1.5% and Malta 1.7%

And not only that. It is important to note that the vast majority of citizens in these countries, which are all, except Switzerland, also the members of the European Union, strongly supports the policy of military neutrality.

It is evident that for these citizens, military neutrality is not only a humane, but also a rational, choice.

The interplay of humaneness and rationality is the ideal of all political communities. The policy of military neutrality enables the attainment of at least one dimension of that ideal.

However, the question remains as to what extent this policy is intellectually feasible and pragmatic in the current Montenegrin political context.

Does this mean that if Montenegro does not enter NATO, it will somehow remain outside the community of democratic countries, left at the mercy of the corrupt, authoritarian regime embodied in the rule of the prime minister Milo Djukanovic, who has been in power for the last 25 years?

The answer to this question makes necessary the honest appraisal of the fact that those countries which are democratic in their domestic political order often do not behave particularly democratically in the sphere of international relations. They generally have one standard for their citizens and another for the rest of the world.

If one carefully examines the conduct of the foreign policy of the United States, one can find many instances in which the US has broken international agreements, including the Charter of the United Nations.

The documents made public by Edward Snowden, for instance, show that the institutions of the US government in a shocking manner violated the right to privacy of tens of millions of people around the planet.

Can we therefore have a great deal of confidence that the activities of the US government, or the government of any NATO country for that matter, can be taken as the model of democratic behaviour and respect for international law?

On the other hand, neither the socialist Yugoslavia, nor many of the countries in the Non-Aligned Movement, were democracies by the standards of the official Washington, but did they not give an immeasurable contribution to the improvement of the quality of life on Earth as well as to the prevention of the nuclear Armageddon between the two superpowers?

Today, for instance, the BRICS countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa) play a more positive role in the search for the more just distribution of global resources and the fight against poverty than the countries which founded NATO.

This is why it is intellectually disingenuous to claim that by not entering NATO, the democratic development and economic growth of Montenegro will be in any way slowed down or stopped.

Military neutrality means open and friendly cooperation with all countries, while respecting mutual interests and reflecting universal values.

In my opinion, it is the only authentic road to the prosperity of Montenegrin citizens and the respected status of Montenegro in international affairs.

It would make Montenegro into the place of reconciliation and credible cooperation between the West and the East. It is therefore a humane and rational and wise foreign policy choice. 

Filip Kovacevic, PhD; Chair, Board of Directors, Movement for Neutrality of Montenegro; Visiting Adjunct Professor, University of San Francisco; Associate Professor, University of Montenegro (on leave).

Monday, 28 September 2015

David Lindsay Interviews Andrew Jordan

Andrew Jordan recently resigned as President of the Socialist Labour Party that was founded by Arthur Scargill in 1996, and joined the Labour Party. David Lindsay is the Editor of The Lanchester Review.

DL: You joined the Socialist Labour Party (SLP) at 17. What motivated you to join? 

AJ: Having grown up in County Durham I understood at an early age that there was only one political party that could represent the interests and concerns of the vast majority of people.

I could also see the extent to which the support of local people at that time was being taken for granted, not withstanding of course that the then Prime Minister was a County Durham MP.

By the time I was 17 the Iraq War had taken place and young ambitious people who wanted to achieve were about to see a big increase in tuition fees, a real barrier to any social mobility and self improvement, especially in areas like the area I grew up in.

I felt that the only basis for challenge was from the left of those policies and therefore I joined the SLP.

Did you ever think about joining the Labour Party in the past? If not, what was it that prevented you from considering Labour?

No because I never saw a Labour Leadership that was bold enough to tackle the sorts of issues I have already mentioned and implement a truly socialist manifesto.

Prior to your decision to join the Labour Party, what was your view of that party?

I have always had a great deal of respect for the Labour Party members and activists that I know. Nevertheless, until now it has been my view that the Labour Party was unlikely to be the best mechanism to achieve implementation of the policies and principles that I support and that the vast majority of Labour Party members believe in.

Please outline your recent decision to join the Labour Paty. What was it that persuaded you to leave the SLP? Was it a tough decision? What did you have to take into consideration?

It was a tough decision and I have a great deal of affection and respect for SLP members, but I do not believe division between smaller parties is the way to take the trade union and labour movement as well as country forward any longer.

I believe we have a real opportunity for change and a real opportunity to build a strong, inclusive and more representative Labour Party.

Do you consider the Left to be too fractured at present with parties such as Left Unity, TUSC, the Socialist Party, Respect, the SWP, and so on, splintering the Left vote? How do you think that this situation can be rectified?

Yes. After more than ten years of being an SLP member and more than four years of being President, I have decided to step aside from it.

I hope that my example will encourage many from across the left to leave their baggage at the door and to constructively engage in unity by joining the Labour Party.

It is perhaps easier to be sentimental or to stay in your own personal comfort zone in a smaller party, but that really is no longer the best way forward and will be of no help to communities and people across Britain that need help today and hope for tomorrow.

Many on the Left are describing the rise in the popularity of Jeremy Corbyn as a 'once in a generation' chance for the Left after decades of varying forms of Thatcherism. Would you agree?

Yes, absolutely.

Have you been inspired by the surge in support for a figure of the Left? How did you feel watching Corbyn's success from the viewpoint of membership of another political party?

I think that Jeremy Corbyn's election brings new hope and an opportunity for the Left. That also means other parties of the Left should, in my opinion, react as I intend to do personally.

We need to bring down the old barriers to unity within the movement and as individuals constructively engage in the policy debates that will now take place within the Labour Party.

What do you think the future holds for the Labour Party with Corbyn as its Leader?

I think it will be a challenging journey but there is a real desire for new approaches and solutions to bring about social change and improvement.

It is my hope that a strong, inclusive and more representative Labour Party will have the strength to meet these challenges.

Do you hope to play an active role in your new Party?

I do very much hope so. I hope to put the skills I have developed over the years, both in my political and trade union capacities, to good use to whatever extent I am able to do within the Labour Party.

What would you say to those people in other Left parties who may feel tempted to leave and join Labour?

I have set out my thinking and if other people can identify with it then I hope that they will reach the same conclusion and act upon it.

How do you respond to Labour Party members who might be suspicious of those who were now joining from smaller Left parties and from other Left activism?

I can only make it clear that from in my own case I am leaving my baggage at the door prior to joining the Labour Party. I hope that my example will encourage many from across the left to leave their baggage at the door and to constructively engage in unity by joining the Labour Party.

I think that whether people are long-term Labour Party members or, like me, are new to the party, what we should all be striving for is a strong, inclusive and more representative Labour Party.

Thursday, 24 September 2015

French Police Destroy Refugee Camps In Calais, by Thomas Bailey

Police brutality in Calais serves as a harsh reminder of the plight of refugees.

At around 8 a.m. on Monday morning, International World Peace Day, a large group of Gendarmes, Police Nationale and BAC armed with batons and pepper-spray destroyed a Syrian refugee camp situated in central Calais, France.

With no warning, vans pulled up and rushed up to 300 refugees off to the so-called ‘Jungle’, a large refugee camp 2.5 miles from the town.

We offered to drive the families with little children, but the police continually refused, leaving them to trudge down the busy road minutes after being violently awoken.

Tents were destroyed, possessions were lost, and the place that these people called home was turned into a deserted wasteland.

Grown men wept and screamed as the police brutally forced them away, blinding them with pepper-spray and preventing them from collecting their money, their passports, and their immigration papers.

Photos and details of dead or missing family members, along with other possessions, were thrown into trucks for the municipal dump.

Despite the attempts of volunteers to salvage important belongings, the majority was lost, and all efforts to negotiate were met with stony glares from the antagonistic and intimidating men in riot gear.

Two similar evictions were carried out later that morning, with police marching refugees into the cramped and flooded Jungle.

Meanwhile, authorities pushed back the boundaries of the main camp using rubber bullets and bulldozers, making the small amount of land, on which approximately 4,000 people live, all the more crowded with tents and insufficient shelter.

They also blocked the roads, preventing volunteers from giving vital aid to those displaced.

The brutality of the police evictions came as a shock to everyone – although the camps were set up illegally, this by no means justifies the cruel and inhuman behaviour exercised in moving the camps.

It was because of this brutality that hundreds of refugees are now sleeping without shelter, and that, ironically, those who lost their documents could be stranded in Northern France for even longer, precisely what the government was trying to avoid.

If the refugees had been given some warning, or if volunteers had been told in advance so that they could help to transfer belongings into a designated area within the Jungle, then much of this hardship could have been avoided.

All diplomatic process was circumvented.

“Wherever we go,” one man told me with tears in his eyes, “we Syrians suffer. In Syria we are suffering, in Europe we are suffering, and now here we are suffering…”

These men and women have fled a civil war and the brutality of Assad’s rule, only to be exposed to more and more inhumane persecution and injuries.

There is no solace for these people – wherever they go, there is nothing but anguish.

Every few days we hear stories of men dying while attempting to reach the UK; even within the camp, men and women are dying from hunger, cold, and despair.

Many have lost their families, and now they are losing their friends.

This is what we must remember. It doesn’t matter whether these people are refugees or economic migrants (as many in Calais are) – call them what you will, you can never deny the fact that these people are human, just like you and me.

They deserve respect, care, support, and most importantly, humanity. No one should suffer like they have suffered: perilous journeys across the Mediterranean, nights in prison cells or sleeping rough, and months without contacting family members to tell them they are alive.

They have rights too, and those rights were put in jeopardy yesterday morning, as they have been for a long, long time.

“The Jungle is not a place to live. This is not a life,” said one man, reflecting the sentiments of all those in the camp. No one should live like they are forced to, sleeping in puddles and surrounded by discarded rubbish.

It will take time and it will take perseverance, but one day we will realise that, no matter where someone comes from, no matter what the colour of their skin, we are all equal – the French government seems to have forgotten the importance of liberté, egalité, fraternité in their democracy.

Only then will these people be treated with the respect they deserve, and only then will we understand the power of their dreams and ambitions.

These are doctors, lawyers, scientists and civil engineers, many of whom have University degrees and once lived affluent lives.

In a sense, they are all refugees, fleeing not just war, but also shackles for their hopes. To suggest that they are all scroungers, a myth perpetuated by the right-wing press, is simply false.

An open border policy would be impractical (as has been shown by Germany’s introduction of border controls), but the least we could do is to treat these people with love in our hearts – that is all they need.

“I don’t want anything, only your good will,” one Syrian man told me a few days before his camp was ransacked.

They have suffered enough, and they may suffer in the future – refugees and migrants always have been the victims of persecution and cruelty, wherever they go.

But let’s learn a lesson from the violence of the past few days: it doesn’t have to be this way. Let’s make sure it never happens again.

This article originally appeared here, and is reproduced at the author’s request.

Tuesday, 1 September 2015

Radical Politics of Anachronism, by Matthew Cooper

Last month, the Washington Examiner upbraided two Democratic contenders for the Presidency, Bernie Sanders and Martin O’Malley, for wanting to ‘turn back the clock’[i].

It would seem a rather strange assertion to make, Democrats tending to think of themselves as ‘progressive’; the proposal for which they’d earned the charge of being backward-looking was, in fact, the reinstatement of the 1933 Glass-Steagall Act aimed at reregulating the banking system and possibly undoing the poisonous effects of those ‘too big to fail’.

Shortly afterward, Jeremy Corbyn – the left-leaning, anti-war MP currently running for the Labour leadership – has been accused of trying to ‘cling to the past’[ii] by his own party-mates and competitors for the leadership.

Again, the reactionary proposal which earned him such scorn was not anything which can remotely be regarded as in any sense right-leaning: the anachronism of which he stands accused is that of reaffirming public ownership of, among other things, the Royal Mail, the railway system and Britain’s energy infrastructure[iii].

It would appear a strange charge coming from conservatives that they would attempt to attack those to their left – O’Malley, Sanders and Corbyn – as being reactionary in some way.

However, it is interesting to note that these candidates (in an American context, at least) are appealing, albeit rather haphazardly and from within institutions where their views are marginal, to an idiosyncratically conservative set of perspectives and policy priorities, in a language that may indeed seem out-of-step with the times.

The fact is that they are appealing to at least that much: the language at least, if not the substance, of a movement belonging to a bygone age.

The 1890s saw, in the rural America which is now thought of as the Republican heartland, one of the most sweeping and most radical movements in our history was taking place: the agrarian revolt which found expression in the People’s Party.

This agrarian revolt, reacting to an inhumane crop-lien system which placed hundreds of thousands of farmers, white and black, into permanent and degrading economic dependence on ‘furnishing merchants’ (that is to say, loan sharks), issued a resounding call for: currency reform to broaden access to credit for the ‘industrial millions’; a graduated income tax; the establishment of a public postal savings banking system; and public ownership of – what else? – the railways, telecommunications infrastructure and postal system[iv].

This agrarian movement, the Farmers’ Alliance, was based on both the idea and the practice of collective self-help: farmers involved in the revolt gradually found that they had to organise marketing cooperatives to get decent prices on their crops and fair terms on shipment and taxation, as well as consumer cooperatives to bargain collectively for the capital they needed to grow them.

However, they soon found that merchants and financiers were conspiring to undermine their cooperative efforts, and that these efforts themselves were on shaky ground thanks to the hard-money currency system favoured by large banks.

Under gold-standard induced currency contraction throughout the 1870s and 1880s, farmers found their crops decreasing in value and their mortgages getting harder to bear under rising rates.

The educational trial-and-error experiences of the farmers involved in these cooperatives convinced them that a wholesale overhaul of the nation’s financial system in favour of the indebted masses, and a nationalisation scheme to forestall speculation and abusive tolls on the new shipping infrastructure, were necessary to relieve the farmers’ debt burden.

But even at the time they were most active, they were derided and ignored as backwards, as economic illiterates, as people who wanted to ‘turn back the clock’ rather than progress boldly into the future.

‘Populists in their own time derived their most incisive power’, Duke historian Lawrence Goodwyn writes, ‘from the simple fact that they declined to participate in a central element of the emerging American faith. In an age of progress and forward motion, they had come to suspect that Horatio Alger was not real.’

Tragically, the Populists were thwarted by the triangulations of their own elected officials. The gold standard was, for some while, retained.

A system of popular credit which would distribute the ownership and productive power of the nation’s agriculture and industry into as many private hands as possible was never so much as considered.

Instead, the Federal Reserve was created to shield from view the activities of the shakers and movers of the Gilded Age, the consolidating financiers. And the future into which a forward-looking, progressive, Republican-led nation boldly strode, beginning with the election of 1896, was one of penury, humiliation and crushing debt for millions of rural Southern farmers, spanning three full generations[v].

But still deeper among the tragedies of the Populists, according to Goodwyn, is that their defeat presaged a new society and a new set of cultural expectations which were entirely structured according to the interests of the financial elites.

These corporate and financial elites did not, of course, object to ‘progressive’ reforms, as long as they were carefully stage-managed from within the political class they controlled, and as long as they were approached in timid, incremental terms which left these same elites unthreatened.

But it was progress that came at a cost.

In Goodwyn’s words, by the twentieth century, ‘a consensus thus came to be silently ratified: reform politics need not concern itself with structural alteration of the economic customs of the society. This conclusion… had the effect of removing from mainstream reform politics the idea of people in an industrial society gaining significant degrees of autonomy in the structure of their own lives.’

Even nowadays, as both the Sanders campaign in America and the Corbyn campaign in Britain show, challenging certain prevailing ‘economic customs’ of the neoliberal corporate society is a remarkably easy way of being branded as out-of-step with the times.

It is worthwhile to note, though, that the candidates who are using populistic language and appealing to a populistic worldview in the United States, are not doing so in the organised way that the Alliance and Populist statesmen of 125 years ago did.

To be fair to him, Sanders (along with sympathetic libertarians like Ron Paul[vi]) has raised the issue of auditing the Federal Reserve in the past[vii], and indeed has followed up on it some with, for example, the aforementioned proposal to break up the ‘too big to fail’ banks[viii].

And Corbyn is tapping into a common set of cultural complaints among particularly the disaffected youth of Britain.

But proposals like theirs come from the top down and require a specialised knowledge of policy, the likes of which the original Farmers’ Alliance and the Populist movement inculcated in all of its members through the experience of the cooperatives.

As Goodwyn points out quite astutely, such proposals cannot become the basis for a broad-based movement (and indeed, will often fall prey to other, divisive and sectarian, forms of symbolic politics along the way) unless they are accompanied by an equally broad-based collective experience of the logic of the credit market.

The sophisticated critiques of credit which they adapted from the Yankee greenbackers would in some important ways presage the slightly-later critiques of British thinkers like Gilbert Chesterton, Arthur Penty and especially Alfred Orage and Cecil Douglas – whose ideas, like those of the Alliancemen, were also adapted into various cooperative and social-credit movements in Britain and Canada[ix].

But the Alliancemen of Texas, Georgia, Kansas and Arkansas showed, perhaps, a distinctively North American faith in the democratic idea, and they followed it as far as it would lead.

In their own day, that faith was downtrodden by the forces of progress – particularly as they coopted the democratic language and used it to justify a culture which severed the lives and livelihoods of the plain folk from the knowledge of the systems that governed them.

But if Sanders and Corbyn are indeed facing backwards on a Populist-light platform, they would do well to take heed while they have full view: the history of the original Populists would seem to suggest that, for better or for worse, the question which governs their success or failure will in all likelihood lie in the educative potential of the grassroots.




[i]     Lawler, Joseph. ‘Progressives try to turn back the clock’, Washington Examiner, 20 July 2015. Hyperlink: http://www.washingtonexaminer.com/progressives-try-to-turn-back-the-clock/article/2568394 (accessed 25 August 2015).
[ii]    The Telegraph. ‘Jeremy Corbyn accused of turning back clock to 1970s over Clause IV’, 9 August 2015. Hyperlink: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/politics/labour/11793177/Jeremy-Corbyn-accused-of-turning-back-clock-to-1970s-over-Clause-IV.html (accessed 22 August 2015).
[iii]   BBC News. ‘Jeremy Corbyn backs greater public ownership for Labour’, 11 August 2015. Hyperlink: http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-politics-33839819 (accessed 22 August 2015).
[iv]   George Mason University. ‘The Omaha Platform: launching the Populist Party’. Hyperlink: http://historymatters.gmu.edu/d/5361/ (accessed 22 August 2015).
[v]    Goodwyn, Lawrence. Democratic promise: the Populist moment in America. New York: Oxford University Press, 1976.
[vi]   Paul, Ronald E. ‘Audit the Federal Reserve’, last updated June 2010. Hyperlink: http://www.ronpaul.com/audit-the-federal-reserve-hr-1207/ (accessed 30 August 2015).
[vii]  Sanders, Bernard. ‘The Fed audit’, 21 July 2011. Hyperlink: http://www.sanders.senate.gov/newsroom/press-releases/the-fed-audit (accessed 30 August 2015).
[viii] Sanders, Bernard. ‘Sanders files bill to break up big banks’, 6 May 2015. Hyperlink: http://www.sanders.senate.gov/newsroom/press-releases/sanders-files-bill-to-break-up-big-banks (accessed 30 August 2015).
[ix]   MacPherson, Crawford B. Democracy in Alberta: the theory and practice of a quasi-party system. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1953.