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The Struggle for Socialism

Steve Ballard
19th November 2015 at 13:48

We don’t need more political organisations; we need fewer political organisations with clearer policies.
The Tories and Liberals are for maximising profits by any means necessary including war.
The Labour Party is funded by some trade unions on the basis that they oppose maximising profits by any means necessary including war
Socialists, according to my understanding, recognise that if we are to successfully oppose maximising profits by any means necessary including war, we need to support Labour Party and trade union leaders that share that humanitarian principle, and vote out ones that don’t.
If any of the 57 varieties of socialist organisations have a different understanding, they should make clear what it is.
Otherwise sitting Labour MPs worried about losing their careers and pensions will vote out the current leaders and the whole world will all be worse off.
I have thought for some time (and still think) that the Labour Representation Committee is the only socialist organisation we need, but if most LRC members don’t agree, then what alternative policy are they proposing?  [continue/comment...]

Some Labour contributions in the debate on the Charter for Budget Responsibility

Mike Phipps
16th October 2015 at 18:21

John McDonnell: I suppose I should deal straightforwardly with the U-turn. Yes, two weeks ago, I recommended that Labour MPs vote for the charter, and today I shall urge them to vote against it. Is that embarrassing? Yes, of course, but a bit of humility among politicians never goes amiss. When circumstances and judgments change, it is best to admit to it and change as well, so I would like to take this opportunity to welcome the Prime Minister’s change of heart on the bid for the Saudi prisons contract.
Let me clear: I have changed my mind not on the principles of the need to tackle the deficit, but on the parliamentary tactics for dealing with this charter. Labour will tackle the deficit. [Interruption.] The Chancellor has a record of ignoring the targets he sets in these charters and mandates, treating his own charter with contempt, so I recommended two weeks ago that we should do the same. It is difficult to take seriously the charters and mandates when time after time the Chancellor has come to Parliament to revise his own charter. It is difficult to take it seriously when he has consistently failed to meet his own targets.
I remember the promises; I was here. The Chancellor promised to wipe out the deficit in one Parliament, but he did not get through half. In 2010, he promised to reduce borrowing to £37 billion by 2014-15. Last year, it was £87 billion—135% more than forecast. He promised public sector net debt would fall to 69% of gross domestic product in 2014-15. Today, it stands at 80% and above. It is no wonder that the charter has been seen as one of the puerile political traps the Chancellor likes to set.
Voting against the charter makes someone a deficit denier; voting for it would lead to the Chancellor claiming for the next five years that we had signed up to support every one of his cuts in public services and benefits.
I regret that the procedure followed today is an unamendable order—a take-it-or-leave-it order. My initial view was to use today’s debate for a bit of traditional parliamentary knockabout to ridicule the Chancellor’s performance against his own charter. I admit it: I was trying to out-Osborne Osborne.
Apart from the economic analysis and professional advice I have received, what really changed my mind was a trip to Redcar last week, where I met steelworkers and their families in tears at losing their jobs, their livelihoods, their futures. The Government’s failure to invest in our manufacturing industry, even if only to mothball the plant until better times arrive, has meant the end of steelmaking in Teesside and immense distress to families. The Government’s refusal to invest will be embedded in this charter as it now moves on to limit all public sector borrowing….
This charter will be used time and again as an excuse for the Government’s refusal to intervene and invest, but the more we know about its potential use, the more my view is strengthened—it has to be vigorously opposed. It will be used to justify cutting services and support to families across the UK, including the cuts to tax credits, which are the working families’ penalty. I cannot support the cuts to tax credits for working families. These are people who have done everything asked of them: they have gone to work and looked after their children, yet because of the policy direction in this charter they are going to be hit with a £1,300 cut. Neither can I support the continuing attack on disabled people, which is inherent in this fiscal mandate.
Disabled people are already harassed—some to death—by the brutal work capability assessment and often by benefit sanctions, yet they are to lose over £30 a week. Disabled people under this Government and under the coalition, have been hit 18 times harder than other citizens by the impact of cuts. I do not want the Labour party to be associated in any way with these policies, and to dissociate ourselves clearly we need to vote against them tonight….
It is increasingly clear that the charter and the fiscal mandate are not economic instruments, but political weapons. This is not an economic debate. It is about the politics of dismantling the welfare state, the closing down of the role of the state, and the redistribution of wealth from the majority to the minority. Austerity is not an economic necessity; it is a political choice….
Over the last five years, the focus of the economic debate on the deficit has reflected the capture of the economic narrative by the right since the crisis in 2008. Over six years, the Conservatives have managed to convince many people that the economic crisis and the deficit were caused by Labour Government spending. It has been one of the most successful exercises in mass public persuasion and the rewriting of history in recent times. Today I am going to correct the record.
The facts speak for themselves. The Conservatives backed every single penny of Labour’s spending until Northern Rock crashed. The average level of spending under Labour was less than it was under Mrs Thatcher. It was not the teachers, the nurses, the doctors and the police officers whom Labour recruited who caused the economic crisis; it was the recklessness of the bankers speculating in the City, and the failure of successive Governments to ensure effective regulation. In opposition, this Chancellor and his colleagues wanted even less regulation of the banking sector that crashed our economy. The deficit was not the cause of the economic crisis, but the result of the economic crisis….
Focusing on the deficit continues to mask the underlying weaknesses and failures of our unreformed economic system. We are witnessing a recovery based on rising house prices, growing consumer credit, a ballooning current account deficit and still inadequate reform of the finance sector. I worry that some of the warning signs are reappearing. But the Conservatives have adhered to their dictum: never let a crisis go to waste. They have skilfully used their narrative of the deficit to enable them to cut public services, slash benefits, and give tax cuts to the rich and corporations. Successive charters and fiscal mandates brought before this House have been cynically used as a weapon in that cause.
The purpose of the original Fiscal Responsibility Act 2010, brought in by Labour, was to bolster the then Government’s economic credibility. I recall what the current Chancellor said. He described it as little more than a political stunt. But he soon learned what a useful tool charters and mandates can be, and immediately upon the coalition’s election, he introduced his own. The fact that he missed most of his targets was irrelevant to him; what was more valuable was that charters could be picked up whenever needed and prayed in aid to excuse any attack on the welfare state and any cut in benefits, and provide a means to redistribute wealth upwards.
The charter before us today also has little basis in economics. Let me quote Dr Ha-Joon Chang, Professor Thomas Piketty, Professor David Blanchflower, Mariana Mazzucato and Simon Wren-Lewis. Those eminent economists in our society said that it has “no basis in economics. Osborne’s proposals are not fit for the complexity of a modern 21st-century economy and, as such, they risk a liquidity crisis that could also trigger banking problems, a fall in GDP, a crash, or all three.” [continue/comment...]

When in doubt, bomb

Mike Phipps
9th October 2015 at 19:08

Western policy in Syria is bankrupt. But that doesn’t stop the aerial attacks, reports Mike Phipps.
The US has been bombing Syria for over a year. Russia began this September, as did France. Turkey has strafed targeted ISIS positions in the country and Israel has also conducted air strikes on Syrian military installations. Canada has been bombing Syria since April and Australia since September. Jordan began a year ago as did Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates. That’s eleven countries in total.
Britain’s Parliament voted two years ago not to bomb Syria, but a recent Freedom of Information request by Reprieve revealed that UK forces had in fact been bombing the country for some time, as well as carrying out Drone-based assassinations there. Parliament is likely to be given another opportunity to debate aerial bombardment sometime in the autumn, although given the way the last vote was subverted, a No vote is unlikely to constrain the Government entirely.
Why do so many countries feel the need to bomb Syria? Western interventionists claim this is all part of the war on the unspeakable ISIS, yet this is evidently not the full story given the US’s stated commitment to regime change in the country.
Aerial bombardment is a form of warfare that enshrines global inequalities. The lives of western armed forces are too valuable to risk on the ground. Casualties could generate popular opposition at home, forcing withdrawal. Bombing from the air, by contrast, entails less risk for the aggressors but significantly increases the danger to local civilians - ’collateral damage,’ in military jargon.
The recent US bombardment of a Doctors Without Borders hospital in Afghanistan, causing 22 deaths, underlines this. Despite the fact that the organisation had notified the US, NATO and Afghan forces of their geographical coordinates - before and again during the attack - to clarify that their compound, the size of a football field, was a hospital, it suffered a sustained bombardment. In a contemptible attempt to obfuscate the circumstances leading to this war crime, the US changed its explanation four times. 
US double standards are all too apparent in the Middle East. While highlighting the crimes of the Assad regime in Syria in dropping barrel bombs on its own civilians, it turns a blind eye to the thousands of civilian casualties its ally Saudi Arabia has inflicted through its bombing of Yemen. In one atrocity in September 2015, 130 people attending a wedding were massacred. Over 500 children have been killed since the air strikes began. The Saudis are also using US-supplied cluster bombs which are banned in most countries.
US attacks on ISIS have also killed many innocent civilians - twenty in one incident alone in September in Raqqa, according to the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. The idea that the US bombing campaign will act as a deterrent to ISIS recruitment is risible. In the first month of US bombing last year, ISIS recruited 6,000 new fighters. Over 4,000 coalition air strikes later, ISIS continues to advance in Syria.
On October 9, the US finally killed off its $500 million programme to train Syrian rebels. Last year, the Pentagon asked Congress to fund a programme that would train 2,300 rebels to fight the Assad Government. In the end, it managed to train only sixty. It’s hard to see where US strategy goes next. But one constant is continued bombing. And Britain may soon be officially joining in.
Syrians have endured four years of civil war, resulting in 4 million refugees.  To live in peace - is that too much to ask? Three years ago, according to a recent Guardian report, Russia proposed a peace settlement between the Syrian government and its opponents that would have included President Assad stepping down. But, according to the former Finnish president and Nobel peace prize laureate Martti Ahtisaari, who was involved in the discussions at the time, the US was so confident that Assad would soon be violently overthrown that it rejected the proposal.
Progressive journalist Asa Winstanley observed recently: “Western powers seem to have a deliberate policy of not decisively backing one side or the other. The longer the Syrian civil war goes on, the less of a threat that Syria, Hezbollah and Iran are to the Israeli occupation. Embarking on a new or renewed bombing campaign in Syria will not help the situation, and will almost certainly make things worse. It will definitely create more refugees.”
The Stop the War Coalition is calling on people to lobby their MP to oppose the bombing of Syria. It takes two minutes - and might save countless lives. See  [continue/comment...]

Plea to Jeremy

Jim Ring
14th September 2015 at 09:20

Jeremy and many of his long-time supporters have always agreed that we should try to reform the Labour Party from within, not to criticize it from outside. The same should also apply to the EU and to NATO. [continue/comment...]

Why Jeremy Corbyn is not Michael Foot

Mike Phipps
27th August 2015 at 20:04

Beware of Jeremy Corbyn, he’s the next Michael Foot - this has become a recurrent theme from Jeremy’s opponents in the mainstream media. Anne Perkins made the comparison in the Guardian in July.
Jack Dromey drew the same parallel in the New Statesman a few weeks later.
Now The Economist is the latest publication to join the fray.
The message is clear: Michael Foot was an arch-left-winger whose radical socialism led Labour to an historic electoral defeat in 1983 from which it took over a decade to recover.  [continue/comment...]

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