Tuesday, May 31, 2022

No way to end the crisis

Some Western politicians are now talking about a compromise peace with Russia that recognises some of the Kremlin’s just demands including Crimea’s secession to Russia and self-determination for the Donbas. Most of it is behind the closed doors of the corridors of power in Europe and the USA; but others are going public. A New York Times editorial recently argued that Ukraine would have to make “painful territorial decisions” to achieve peace and Henry Kissinger, the US foreign minister during the Nixon era, told a panel at the World Economic Forum at the Swiss spa of Davos this week that Ukraine should cede territory to Russia to help end the invasion.
    Of course the old war-monger wasn’t suggesting putting much on the table but merely calling for a return to the pre-war status-quo, with Russia holding Crimea and leaving the Donbas people’s republics in an ambiguous limbo as breakaway autonomous regions of Ukraine.
    Offering someone what they’ve already got is not usually the best opening for serious negotiations. But the stand of the bogus left and much of the anti-war movement, which is still calling for an unconditional Russian withdrawal, is even worse. They pose as anti-imperialists, but their demands are essentially the same as the total war call of the US war lobby and their European NATO collaborators, which threatens to plunge the whole continent into a conflict that could easily escalate into nuclear war.
The communist stand must be for a just and lasting peace in Ukraine – for a neutral and de-Nazified Ukraine that recognises the independence of the people’s republics of the Don basin, Crimea’s decision to join the Russian Federation and equal rights for all the people of the regions of the Ukraine.

Stand by the rail workers

Whatever differences the Tories have over the EU, the one thing that always unites them is anti-union legislation. The proposed new anti-union laws floated in the Tory media last week may, of course, only be designed to wrong-foot workers preparing for a national rail strike over pay, jobs and safety next month. But the proposed new laws to ban “any strikes that did not provide a guaranteed ‘minimum service’ to limit disruption to passengers” reflects the loathing of the labour movement that runs deep within the Conservative & Unionist Party.
RMT rail union general secretary Mick Lynch rightly says that: “To make effective strike action illegal on the railways will be met with the fiercest resistance from RMT and the wider trade union movement. The government need to focus all their efforts on finding a just settlement to this rail dispute, not attack the democratic rights of working people.
“Britain already has the worst trade union rights in Western Europe. And we have not fought tooth and nail for railway workers since our forebears set up the Amalgamated Society of Railway Servants in 1872, in order to meekly accept a future where our members are prevented from legally withdrawing their labour.”
The entire union movement must close ranks around the RMT if last-minute talks to avert industrial action break down, to speed them on to victory throughout the rail network.

Creating a Perfect Storm

by John Maryon

Capitalism faces an increasing number of economic that which are becoming more regular and more acute. Its irreconcilable contradictions that arise from the conflict between productive forces and production relations, coupled with the chaos of a market-driven economy, are contributing to a collapse. The conditions exist for the terminal decline of an unequal and unjust social system that's well past its sell-by date. Capitalist problems are made worse by the motive of greed, extraordinary incompetence and a total submission to US hegemony.
    When COVID‑19 struck in the winter of 2019/2020 the capitalist world was still trying to recover from the 2008 financial crisis. The pandemic caused serious economic problems as industrial production fell, supply chains were disrupted, and unemployment increased. Countries such as Britain had already imposed harsh austerity measures that included cuts in the value of take-home pay, increasing the retirement age and making drastic cuts in public services. The conditions for a perfect storm have now been created as the impact of severe economic sanctions against Russia start to take effect throughout out the world. Just when an economic tonic is needed, we have stagflation and the makings of major financial chaos.
    The conflict in Ukraine can be said to be Barack Obama's war. He was the imperialist leader when a western-engineered coup overthrew the elected government and installed a regime that included Nazi supporters. Genocide is a much over-used expression for situations of conflict, but it can be applied to events in Russian-speaking Ukraine. The Nazi-dominated military, with the full backing of imperialism, has waged a civil war against the people of the eastern and southern regions for the last eight years. A period marked by suppression of the native Russian language, the murder of civilians in Odessa and continuous shelling of Donbas that has caused over 14,000 deaths. This to my mind is genocide.
    Like turkeys voting for Christmas, almost all the craven political leaders in Europe have rushed to align themselves with their masters in Washington. Gripped with irrational anti-Russian hysteria and blindly ignorant of the inevitable consequences, they have succeeded in crushing any economic recovery. Shortages of food and energy, stagnation and business failures will accelerate the de-industrialisation of Europe. And it will be the ordinary working-class people who will suffer. Not one of the so-called leaders has had the courage to stand up and call for a negotiated peace and de-Nazification of Ukraine. Instead, the call has been for bigger and better weapons with more cash to prolong the conflict. Undoubtedly most of the money will finance a new generation of oligarchs and many of the weapons will enter the black-market.
    Unfortunately there exists a politically semi-conscious population of do-gooders, permanent wingers and others eager to join any trendy cause, who make a lot of noise but achieve nothing. They fail to examine the causes and effects of events such as Ukraine from a clear class perspective. They, like their inept leaders, are either unwilling or unable to make any objective analysis of important issues and end up accepting without question the overwhelming imperialist narrative of important matters. Ironically, it is these very people who will end up carrying the burden of disaster.
    Economic storm clouds are starting to gather over much of the world, but they look particularly black over Europe. Capitalist economies are already facing enormous difficulties and the impact of their sanctions against Russia will make matters worse. Of course the authorities will all blame the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, for everything. So it is up to communists to analyse events, put things into perspective and come up with answers.
    The picture in Britain today is one of continued de-industrialisation with modest expansion of the service sector. The result has been a significant growth of insecure, low-paid jobs with minimal pension provision, and over 900,000 workers are on zero-hour contracts. Unemployment in February 2022 stood at 1.3 million. Poor remuneration, no guarantee of regular income and with prices rising faster than wages, poverty has increased in Britain to levels unseen for many years. The crackdown, in the name of austerity, has resulted in record levels of demand for foodbanks. All this has occurred before the impact of ill-considered sanctions becomes effective.
    The policy of the New Communist Party is to call for banning zero-hour contracts, ending pay restraint, and restoration of full trade union rights. It is vital to increase public investment in both infrastructure and high-technology industries. We call for fire-and-rehire to be made illegal. It is our aim to create well-paid, secure employment that is environmentally friendly.
    Under capitalism the first effects of efforts to increase productivity, considered essential to remain competitive, is a reduction in the number of jobs available. Without their normal income, these unemployed workers are then unable to purchase as many products and a recession may occur in which the bright new high-tech factory may be forced to close. This is one of the basic contradictions of the capitalist system, with skilled workers being chucked on the scrap heap. The NCP calls for a planned economy with increased public ownership and full control and regulation of the financial sector. NCP policy firmly rejects all variants of an Alternative Economic Strategy, as advocated by social democratic bodies and revisionist communist parties, which is a form of reformist strategy. Tinkering with a system based upon greed achieves nothing. There is no substitute for revolutionary struggle.
    Britain needs new policies that will tackle inequality whilst ensuring peace and prosperity for all. The NCP is firmly opposed to the hysterical warmongering of the British mass media that keeps people ill-informed and totally ignorant of the true events taking place in Ukraine, a stance reinforced by the denial of free speech in banning news outlets such as RT.  I found the latter to be more balanced and fairer, a stimulating alternative to the establishment narrative put out by the BBC in its crap coverage of important matters. The NCP fully supports the peoples of the Donbas in their heroic struggle for freedom.

Northern Rocks

 by Ben Soton 

Northerners: A History, from the Ice Age to the Present Day by Brian Groom. HarperCollins 2022. Hardback: 432pp; rrp: £20.

Northern England – the area between the Scottish border and the English Midlands – has been the subject of numerous books, sociological surveys and Government task forces. In the last General Election, which Sir Keir Starmer won for the Tories, much of their success in Labour’s so called Red Wall was down to talk of “Levelling Up the North”, as well as the obvious Brexit betrayal. Meanwhile, in recent years there’s even been talk of a Northern Independence Party. With this in mind, Brian Groom has written a potted history of the region, with reference to the achievements to those folk knows as Northerners.
As a separate entity the North Country has its origins in the Roman province of Britannia Inferior, the Anglo-Saxon Kingdom of Northumbria, and a brief period in the late 9th Century and first half of the 10th Century when what is now Yorkshire was ruled by Viking warlords.
Its climate is colder and its soil quality is poorer than the South. As well as being further from the centre of power in London, the North has never had the same claim to nationhood as Scotland or Wales. For most of England’s history, with the exception of the period between 1750–1900, the North produced a proportionately smaller share of national wealth.
Northern England has, however, many great cities, and beautiful countryside and coastline. It is home of the outstanding Yorkshire and Lancashire cricket clubs, and a number of major Premiership football teams. And if you watch the many adverts promoting northern counties, it also has plenty of shopping centres, restaurants and nightclubs.
The author charts the many famous engineers, artists, poets and writers to have come from the North. Groom views the north as an essentially conservative place and to a certain extent attributes this to the prevalence of non-conformism in the region; an ironic name for a strand of Protestant thinking that ultimately promoted conformism.
Many of the great rebellions before the Industrial Revolution took place in the South; for example, the Peasants Revolt of 1381 and Ketts’ Rebellion in 1549. The south was the also bedrock of Puritanism and Parliamentarian support in the English Civil War.
Much of this is neglected by the author, who makes the ridiculous comparison between the areas that supported the monarchy in the English Civil War and those areas voting for Brexit in 2016. A comparison that the author admits has numerous exceptions.
All English regions, except London, voted to leave the European Union. Meanwhile cities like Hull, a northern bastion of Parliamentarian support during the Civil War, voted Leave; and Southampton, a bastion of Parliamentarian support outside of London, also voted Leave.
Although just a potted history, it does come up with a few interesting facts. For instance, Lisa Nandy, the Shadow Levelling Up Secretary, is the daughter of the Marxist academic Dipak Nandy – another example of a left-wing academic with reactionary offspring like the fate of the more well-known social-democratic guru Ralph Miliband.
Ultimately, the book’s greatest weakness is viewing regionalism as the most important divide in society. In fact regionalism only glosses over the real division in society – that of class.
In the 19th Century, however, the newly industrialised North fired the flames of Chartism and the 1970s saw two miners’ strikes that brought down a Tory Government. Sadly, this was not repeated in the 1980s.

Monday, May 09, 2022

Fooling the Germans

by Ben Soton

Operation Mincemeat (12A). Warner Bros Pictures (2021). Written by Michelle Ashford, based on the book by Ben Macintyre. Director: John Madden. Stars: Matthew Macfadyen, Rufus Wright, Johnny Flynn, Penelope Wilton, Colin Firth, Kelly Macdonald, Mark Gatiss. 128mins.

Operation Mincemeat is an otherwise outstanding Second World War espionage film spoilt by a ridiculous anti-communist sub-plot. It’s actually a remake of the 1956 film The Man Who Never Was and tells the story of the ‘Twenty Committee’, an elite group of counter-intelligence operatives tasked with fooling the Germans that the invasion of Southern Europe will take place in Greece rather than Sicily.
    The film is dedicated to those who work in the shadows and is narrated by Ian Fleming (Johnny Flynn), the war-time intelligence officer and creator of James Bond who helped devise the disinformation concept that Operation Mincemeat was based upon.
    Much of the story is set around the work of Ewan Montague (Colin Firth) and Charles Cholmondeley (Matthew Macfadyen) and their work to deceive the Germans. They find the body of a Welsh vagrant, Glyndwr Michael, dress him up as a Royal Marines' officer and dump his body, containing fake invasion plans, in the Mediterranean. It was hoped that after his body had washed up on the shores of Spain, the fake documents would end up in the hands of German intelligence, thus fooling them about the invasion of Sicily.
    Much of the film is taken up by the tug-of-love story between Montague and Chalmondley over female intelligence operative Jean Leslie (Kelly McDonald). Ironically, the rivalry centres around the would-be suitors spreading misinformation about the other, using their skills as counter-intelligence operatives to confuse a rival.
    The anti-communist sub-plot involves Montague’s brother Ivor (Mark Gatiss). Concerns are expressed about his visits to the Soviet Union and communist sympathies. The obvious stupidity of this being that Britain and the Soviet Union were allies during the Second World War. Hence the Soviet Union would have been keen to see Operation Mincemeat succeed. This rather nasty, as well as ridiculous, sub-plot could well be part of a broader historical revisionist agenda emanating from the European Union.
    Despite rivalry and setbacks, the mission eventually goes to plan. The body is dumped off the coast of Spain and the British agents do all they can to see it ends up in the hands of the Nazis. The film ends with the successful Anglo-American landing in Sicily, where little resistance is met.
    Those who carried out counter-intelligence operations such as this should be applauded for the role they played in the defeat of fascism. The underlying reason for there being so few German troops in Sicily in 1943, however, was because they were pre-occupied fighting the Soviet Union.

Stopping the War in Ukraine

The Pope calls for an end to the fighting and the Stop the War campaign tells us to stop the war. Pope Francis wants take his appeal directly to Vladimir Putin and Patriarch Kirill, the Primate of the Russian Orthodox church. But he may have to wait a long time for a response from the Kremlin to pious appeals for peace that ignore the root causes of the conflict.
    To be fair the Pope did speak of an “anger” in the Kremlin which could have been “facilitated” by “the barking of NATO at Russia’s door”. But the Vatican has not addressed the central issue of the right of the peoples of the Donbas to self-determination.
    The Stop the War movement shamefully takes an even weaker position demanding the “withdrawal of Russian troops, an end to the military escalation by the NATO countries and for all efforts to be focused on finding a negotiated solution to this terrible war” which is more or less what NATO wants as well.
    The conflict in Ukraine has rightly heightened fears of escalation that could take Europe and possibly the world to the brink of nuclear war. But the cause of peace is not helped by those in the anti-war movement who blame the Russians for the crisis, ignore the legitimate demands of the people of the Donbas and fail to recognise that this war began in 2014 when the legitimate Ukrainian government was overthrown by fascist gangs supported by Anglo-American and Franco-German imperialism.
    The hidden hand is always at work amongst the fake left within the labour and anti-war movement who essentially argue that peace is only attainable on imperialist terms. These sinister forces have long acted as cheer-leaders for NATO and neo-colonialism.
    They serve the war party within the United States –the most venal and aggressive sections of the American ruling class that seek to dominate the entire world in the name of “globalisation” and the “new world order”.
    Some Americans call them them “deep state” – the war lobby that cuts across all party, regional or religious divides to serve the interests of the big corporations and finance houses of American imperialism.
    We must be clear on this. The call for an unconditional Russian withdrawal from Ukraine is just the demand of US imperialism and its lackeys. It would not bring peace but simply leave the anti-fascist Ukrainians and the people of the Donbas to the tender mercies of the Azov brigade and the other Nazi militias of the Kiev regime. Needless to say it doesn’t provide a serious basis for any peace talks and it’s not going to happen – full stop.
    Now, more than ever, is the time for a clear call from the anti-war movement for an end to the fighting and a just and lasting peace in eastern Europe. This can only come with a neutral and de-Nazified Ukraine that recognises the independence of the Donbas republics, Crimea’s decision to join the Russian Federation and equal rights for all the people of the regions of the Ukraine.

Monday, May 02, 2022

This time is different

It is difficult to evince any enthusiasm for local elections. Though councils run key local services and administer huge budgets on behalf of central government the independent power they once has long gone. Few beyond the parish pump activists of the main political parties and local cranks take any interest in local politics. On the street hardly anyone knows who their local councillors are or, indeed, who’s standing in these elections. This is why few can be bothered to vote on the day. But this time round is different and the results could end the political careers of Boris Johnson and Sir Keir Starmer.
    Though local polls are only important to those whose livelihoods depend on who runs the town hall they are barometers of public opinion. If the Tories lose badly throughout the country Johnson is toast. If Labour fail to make spectacular gains so is Starmer.
    Johnson may well be the first to go. Deceiving parliament over “Partygate” scandal may well be trivial compared to Tony Blair’s lies about the “weapons of mass destruction” used to justify British support for the US invasion of Iraq in 2003. But it is still a serious breach of bourgeois parliamentary norms that the Remainers will use to get rid of the man who took Britain out of the European Union.
    Johnson failed to make the most of Brexit. His dream of a Trans-Atlantic free trade area and the “Anglosphere” he thought would be built around it died when Donald Trump lost the US presidential election in 2020. Far from seeking to broaden trade with People’s China he did Biden’s bidding and turned his back on them and now we pay the price in lost jobs and lost opportunities.
    Meanwhile the usual suspects, including Rory Stewart and Tony Blair, are gathering around the camp fire to set up a cross-party “centre” bloc that seeks to build a new broad coalition that puts “hope, decency, integrity and the common good at the heart of our politics”. They’re calling it the “Britain Project” but it’s actually the “Brussels Project” and its clearly a new throw by the Remainers to pave the way for a return to the European Union.
    At the same time over a thousand pro-EU campaigners have written to Starmer urging him to rethink his stance on Brexit in a new Remainer drive to turn Labour into an EU front.
    The letter was organised by “Grassroots for Europe”, an umbrella movement set up in 2018 to kickstart a new campaign in support of the Treaty of Rome.
    In Parliament unrest is growing amongst Labour’s backbenchers who expect the worst in the May polls and say Starmer, who is a hopeless campaigner, must go before the next general election.
    Some are openly touting for Barry Gardiner, the Brent MP who was in Corbyn’s Shadow Cabinet and served as a junior minister under Blair and Brown. Gardiner’s last bid for the Labour leadership collapsed in 2020 when he failed to get the 22 Labour MP and MEP nominations needed to get on the ballot paper.
    Gardiner’s supporters say he’d be the ideal stop-gap to restore “unity” in Labour’s ranks following the Starmer purge which some say has lost them some 200,000 members. Others, like Angela Rayner, would obviously disagree.

A risky business

by Ben Soton

1979 by Val McDermid. Little Brown, London. Hardback (2021): 416pp; RRP: £20; Paperback (2022): 464pp; RRP: £8.99; Kindle (2021): 394pp; RRP: £4.99.

Val McDermid’s latest bestseller takes us back to the year of the Winter of Discontent, the first Scottish devolution referendum and what some might consider to be this country’s last Labour Government. Set around a fictional Scottish newspaper, The Clarion, we return to the pre-internet world of the typewriter and era long before the internet and mobile phones. In 1979 budding investigative journalists, Ali Burns and Danny Sullivan, uncover a tax-evasion scheme by the super-rich and attempts by extreme Scottish Nationalists to buy Semtex from the Provisional IRA.
    Burns stumbles across the group at a fringe meeting and follows them to an Italian restaurant; whilst Sullivan manages to gain the group’s confidence with relative ease. Meanwhile the Clarion’s Unionist editor, Angus Carlyle is keen to run the story as a means of discrediting the pro-independence lobby. The amateurish nature of the group is exposed when their IRA contact laughs at them for keeping money in a bank.
    The tax-evasion scheme tells how things have changed since the late 1970s when the wealthy were forced to hand over sizeable chunks of their ill-gotten gains. Tax-evasion was a laborious, not to mention risky affair, involving large amounts of ready cash being transported from one end of Britain to the other. The money would then be used to purchase luxury yachts which would then be sailed to the Caribbean and sold. Today the likes of Google and Amazon simply file tax returns in a draw marked B1N.
    The novel shines a light on the fringes of Scottish nationalism and its possible connection with Irish Republicanism; as well as dubious links between crime journalists and corrupt police officers. Journalistic rivalry from the Clarion’s Crime Correspondent, Gordon Beatie does not bode well for Sullivan while the the book also delves into Glasgow’s Gay underworld at a time when homosexuality was still illegal in Scotland.
    Despite a negative remark about the power of the print unions at the time Val McDermid’s novels are still worth reading. This is her first novel featuring Burns and Sullivan; where journalists rather than police officers are the focus of the story. It has been widely stated that the crime novel exposes capitalisms failings; McDermid's continues to do this well.