Saturday, August 17, 2019

Johnson’s summer of discontent

August is traditionally known as the ‘Silly Season’ – when parliaments close, politicians head for the beach and the papers are reduced to reporting even more rubbish to fill their columns during the summer break. Normally they make do with the mediocre performance of the English cricket team, sharks off the Devon coast and the occasional sighting of the Loch Ness monster. But this is not a normal summer.
The movers and shakers are on stand-by for a snap election, and all sorts of nonsense is being spouted by MPs who otherwise would literally be spending more time with their family in pleasanter climes.
Whilst Liberal-Democrats talk about “national governments” headed by the likes of discredited Blairites Hillary Benn or Yvette Cooper, the Greens have gone one better in calling for an all-woman coalition to topple Boris Johnson and keep us in the European Union (EU).
Caroline Lucas, the only Green MP in Parliament, has asked 10 female politicians from all parties to join her in forming an "emergency cabinet" in a bid to oust Boris Johnson and stop a No-deal Brexit. The chosen few include Labour Shadow Foreign Secretary Emily Thornberry, Liberal Democrat leader Jo Swinson and even Nicola Sturgeon, the Scottish nationalist leader who is not even a member of the Westminster parliament. Diane Abbott, the most senior woman politician on the Labour front bench, was predictably ignored. But it hardly matters because no-one, apart from the Guardian that published it, took the Green proposal seriously in the first place.
Boris Johnson has nothing to fear from embittered Blairite backbenchers whose “Anyone but Corbyn” mantra makes the formation of a “government of national unity” in this current parliament all but impossible. But Johnson’s Brexiteers are under threat from the Europhiles in their own camp and the prospect of Brexit overturned in parliament cannot be ignored.
This week former Tory Chancellor Philip Hammond had a pop at Boris Johnson’s special adviser, Dominic Cummings, when he accused the Prime Minister of heeding “unelected” saboteurs “who pull the strings” of his government. Needless to say, Cummings is loathed by the Remainers for his hard-line Brexit views.
Johnson’s foolish talk of proroguing parliament has enabled the Remainers to don the mantle of parliamentary sovereignty in the quarrel over Europe. John Bercow, the Speaker of the House of Commons, has vowed to block Boris Johnson from suspending parliament to force through a No-deal Brexit “with every breath in my body”, whilst others believe that the Queen’s "disappointment in the current political class” has further undermined Johnson’s prestige.
Johnson is clearly banking on being bailed out by an American trade deal to off-set the supposed losses that will follow Brexit. But even this is in doubt, despite the enthusiastic support of the Republican president, Donald Trump. Democrat rival Nancy Pelosi, the Speaker of the US House of Representatives, says there is “no chance” of a UK–US trade deal if a No-deal Brexit undermines the Good Friday Agreement in Ireland.
The Brexit crisis cannot be resolved by dirty deals in Parliament nor by crawling to the Americans. In fact this fractious parliament cannot resolve anything. There’s got to be a snap general election.
This will be our chance to kick the Tories out and sweep Labour back into power. We must use every resource the labour movement has to win the biggest possible vote for Labour by mobilising the mass support that swept Corbyn to the helm of the party in the first place. Labour can end austerity and empower the unions to raise the standard of living of every worker across the country. Let’s make sure it does.

Marx through the eyes of his daughter


by Ben Soton

Eleanor Marx: A Life by Rachel Holmes. Bloomsbury Publishing, London.
(2014) Hardback: 528pp; £22.50; (2015) Paperback: 528pp;

This is part of the history of the Marx family covering contemporary events through the eyes of his youngest daughter and contains plenty of useful information about the 19th Century. It goes into detail about both the Marx and the Westphalen (her mother’s maiden name) families, her parents’ courtship and her father’s friendship with Engels.
Eleanor Marx was born in Soho in 1855; by then her family had settled in London after having fled numerous European cities. From 1848, the Marx family faced permanent exile from Continental Europe after fleeing Paris that year; ironically only a few months earlier they had been welcomed back to the French capital after the overthrow of the King.
Growing up in romantic poverty, the Marx family on the one hand owned a piano (the home entertainment system of its day) whilst having trouble paying household bills. Her father, who briefly worked as a journalist for the New York Herald, was often forced to borrow money to settle his debts.
Holmes has carried out painstaking and detailed research in to the life of the Marx family; although at times I did find the level of detail somewhat intense.
Possibly history’s most famous childminder, her two elder sisters Laura and Jenny both had large families.
The author believes that “Karl Marx was the theory. Eleanor Marx was the practice”. She certainly was a political activist in her own right. She campaigned for Irish freedom, amnesty for the Paris Communards and against British imperialism’s involvement in the Sudan.  Eleanor Marx played a leading role in the British left’s first split when she joined the Socialist League when it broke with the Social Democratic Federation.
The book charts the ups and downs of Eleanor’s personal life. She was initially involved with the Communard Prosper-Olivier Lissagaray and later the prominent secularist Edward Aveling. It was her involvement with Aveling that led, on discovering his marriage to an actress, to her tragic suicide at the age of 43. The book reminds us that Eleanor Marx should be remembered as one of the great women of socialism. Her name belongs with the great women of socialism such as Rosa Luxembourg and Dolores Ibárruri rather than as a character in a cheap Victorian tragedy.
First published in 2014, this book was recently presented to me as a gift. It’s still readily available and well worth a read.

Sunday, August 11, 2019

Playing with fire in Hong Kong…

A senior Chinese official has urged the people of Hong Kong to stand firm and stop the violence and chaos and help to restore order in the autonomous city that was a British colony until 1997. But he also made it clear to "the very small group of unscrupulous and violent criminals and the dirty forces behind them" that those who play with fire will perish by it.
We all know who those “dirty forces” are. They are the hidden hands of Anglo-American imperialism who are making trouble in Hong Kong in the mistaken belief that this will strengthen Washington’s hand in its struggle to contain the burgeoning Chinese economy.
The British government is, once again, shamefully doing the Americans’ bidding even though it has nothing to gain and plenty to lose in antagonising China, one of our major trading partners.
People’s China is Britain's fifth largest trading partner and the second largest non-European Union (EU) partner after the USA. Trade with China is worth £66 billion and there’s plenty more to come if Britain leaves the EU.
Boris Johnson says his government will be very "pro-China". The new Tory leader speaks highly of China’s Belt and Road global investment strategy and he pledged to keep Britain “the most open economy in Europe” for Chinese investments.
He’s now got to match words with deeds and stop crawling to the USA over Hong Kong.

…and in Kashmir too
India’s decision to revoke the special status of Indian-administered Kashmir has once again pushed relations with Pakistan to breaking point. The Indians claim that Pakistani intelligence is behind the recent wave of guerrilla attacks in the disputed province that has triggered four all-out wars with Pakistan since independence. But the crisis goes back to the shambles of the partition of Britain's Indian Empire in 1947.
Britain believed that sectarian division would preserve British imperialist interests. Millions upon millions died in communal rioting and the first Indo-Pakistan war that followed.
Kashmir's decision to join the Indian Union was made by their feudal prince without consultation with the people – a fact recognised by one of the first decisions of the United Nations (UN), which agreed on a plebiscite or referendum to allow the population to vote on whether they wanted to be in India, Pakistan or for independence.
India is now led by a reactionary high-caste party that relies on the support of anti-Muslim Hindu movements to keep them in office. The decision of the Modi government to abolish the Indian-Kashmiris right to their own constitution and parliament fulfils the long-term objective of the Hindu supremacists who want to end all pretence of secularism in the Republic of India.
A cease-fire line divides Kashmir – one-third remains under Pakistani control and India administers the rest. The vast majority of the population are Muslims with close ties to Pakistan. There can be no doubt that any popular vote would lead either to union with Pakistan or to independence. The Indians have never accepted this and now they think Pakistan is too weak to stop them annexing the province outright.
Past Pakistani governments have looked to the USA for assistance but that has never helped the people of Kashmir.
Now Pakistan appeals for support at the UN and calls on the USA to mediate and end the crisis. But the UN is a broken reed and Washington, which has more to gain from India these days, refuses to get involved.
Pakistan and India are both nuclear powers, and another full-scale war could easily escalate into a nuclear exchange that would leave millions dead. We must support all efforts to ensure that this does not happen.
The key demand is the end of partition. We must uphold the original UN resolution and support the just demand for a referendum to let the Kashmiri people decide if they want to be part of India, Pakistan, or in an independent state of Kashmir.