Tag: Trump

A message to the people of Stoke & Copeland: Let’s propel Nuttall & the UKIP P*ss-taker’s into the dustbin of history

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By Daniel Margrain

During his barnstorming speech at the last Labour Party Conference, Jeremy Corbyn said:

“If you believe, like me, it’s a scandal that here in Britain, in the sixth biggest economy in the world, 4 million children are in poverty, 6 million workers are paid less than the living wage. And if, like me, you believe we can do things far better, then help me build support for a genuine alternative that will invest in our future – a more prosperous future – in which the wealth we all create is shared more equally.”

Buoyed by both the electoral success of Trump, and the disorientation of large sections of the Left resulting largely from the growth in right-wing populism throughout Europe, Paul Nuttall will exploit these issues during this coming Thursday’s Stoke and Copeland by-election campaigns by cynically using the kind of socialist language of Corbyn above, in an attempt to steal the Labour vote.

Nuttall, who gained a fraction of the votes secured by Corbyn during their respective leadership campaigns, denies climate change and opposes abortion and gay marriage. He is also in favour of capital punishment, fox hunting, NHS privatization and lied when he claimed to have been “a survivor of the Hillsborough disaster.” The latest scandal emerged on February 18 when a UKIP canvasser was allegedly caught on CCTV urinating on the house of 73-year-old widow Marjorie Pinches, from Northwood in Stoke.

Rarely is the political-media establishment willing to discredit the kind of fascist cult UKIP represents, particularly when faced with the potential threat of a genuine socialist alternative. But to their credit, up until now, they have done a pretty good job of exposing Nuttall for the lying, homophobic, racist and xenophobic thug that he is.

Class consciousness

What would appear to be a growing class consciousness among a significant segment of the population is, I would contend, offset by a large minority of working class voters who are sympathetic to UKIPs right-wing message and who, too often, are persuaded to vote against their own interests. This would explain the reason why the UKIP vote among ordinary people during the forthcoming by-elections are unlikely to be insignificant.

As far back as the 1930s, Italian philosopher Antonio Gramsci grasped that when confidence in the working class is high – like it was, for example, during the 1960s – people are less likely to be ‘brainwashed’ by the kind of extreme ruling class ideology represented by groups like UKIP than is the case when confidence in the class is relatively low, as it is now.

These kinds of contradictions help explain how the emergence of an opportunistic right-wing establishment tool like Nuttall is able to exploit the same political space as principled socialists. This is achieved by perpetuating the myth that the party Nuttall leads is in any way able to effectively represent the interests of an angry and disaffected working class, many of whom channel their anger and disaffection towards immigrants. Nuttall will hope to be able to channel this disillusionment at the ballot box in Stoke where anti-EU sentiment is high.

Unfortunately, some unprincipled and careerist Labour politicians like Rachel Reeves are also only too willing to pander to racists in order to grab their votes. For example, during an anti-immigration speech, she sought to ensure potential Labour voters that her party could be just as racist and reactionary as UKIP and the Tories. Similarly, a tweet by a long-standing Labour party member and Brexit-supporter, Scott Nelson, who I responded to in the wake of Nuttall’s victory (see below), illustrates that pandering to racist ideas is not the monopoly of right-wing and faux-left politicians.

Scott Nelson @SocialistVoice

“If Labour doesn’t take immigration seriously then UKIP will take control of the party’s heartlands in the north” 

Daniel Margrain Retweeted Scott Nelson

“No pandering to racists, sorry. If we lose votes, then so be it.”

People voted for Brexit for a multitude of reasons that include anti-establishment sentiments, the democracy argument, to give David Cameron a kick, naive wishful thinkingLexit and because they believed the brazen lies that the hard-right Vote Leave mob told them. However, it’s undeniable that a significant percentage of the 17.4 million people who voted for Brexit, did so because they bought into the racist immigration fear-mongering ideas of extreme-right groups like UKIP and Britain First.

Given the level of contradictory working class consciousness outlined above, it’s not unreasonable to suggest that many working class UKIP voters who oppose the socialist principles and values espoused by Corbyn, nevertheless favour issues like taxing the rich and renationalizing the railways.

Deflector shield

It’s this kind of contradiction that underpins the genius of a propaganda system that demonizes political figures the establishment regard as a threat to the status quo. The corporate mainstream media tend to bash socialists like Corbyn while promoting bigots like Farage by giving the latter a media outlet such as a mainstream radio talk show with which to espouse reactionary right-wing views, because his role is akin to that of a deflector shield whose purpose is to conceal the political establishments own ineptitude.

The inability of the media in highlighting, in any fundamental way, the tensions that exist between Theresa May, Boris Johnson and EU ministers over the Brexit debacle is a case in point. Johnson’s contention, for example, that the EUs position amounting to an automatic trade-off between access to the single market and free movement was “complete baloney”, is a total misreading of the Lisbon Treaty that nevertheless went largely unchallenged in the media.

In response to Johnson’s outburst, German finance minister Wolfgang Schäuble said in a rather sardonic fashion, If we need to do more, we’ll gladly send her Majesty’s foreign minister a copy of the Lisbon Treaty then he can read that there is a link between the single market and the four core principles in Europe.” The minister continued, “I can also say it in English, so if clarification is necessary, I can pay a visit and explain this to him in good English.”

Johnson’s assertion that the UK should already have triggered Article 50, was subsequently contradicted by May, while the three ministers tasked at extricating the UK from the EU are too busy fighting among themselves. Moreover, Johnson has spent a great deal of his time flying around Europe apologizing to everybody he has insulted. And yet, the media only tend to report on the lack of unity within the Labour ranks with regards to Brexit. Meanwhile, EU leaders continue to harden their stance against the Tories saying that they intend to rule out any cherry-picking in relation to the ability of Britain to access the single market.

Lowest common denominator

By demonizing Corbyn on the one hand, and with their disproportionate coverage of right-wing parties like the Tories and UKIP on the other, the media fail to bring real power to account. There can only be one reason why they have barely mentioned any of the tensions within the ruling class that have arisen over the Brexit debacle, and that’s because they regard Corbyn as the lightening rod for abuse and bad publicity.

The election of Paul Nuttall as leader of UKIP, whose image is more worker and street fighter than cheeky-chappy banker and financier, will not only serve as another establishment deflector shield, but is also intended to split the working class Labour vote by appealing to the lowest of common denominators. Like a journeyman who travels on a road without end in the anticipation that beyond the rainbow lies salvation, Nuttall’s race to the bottom is in reality, a race on a road to nowhere. I am hoping that come the vote on Thursday, the good people of Stoke and Copeland will see sense, and help propel UKIP to the dustbin of history where they belong.

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My travels in Cuba (2/3): Cienfuegos

By Daniel Margrain

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In this, the second of three ‘travel in Cuba’ installments as part of my ‘authenticity series’ of posts, I will discuss the events that followed my two hour bus journey from Trinidad to the French-influenced fortress port city of Cienfuegos. As I highlighted previously, many Cuban’s have a kind of resigned pragmatism regarding the countries likely future transition to capitalism.

The then recently-elected Obama was widely regarded to be the catalyst for change in the country. But these changes were envisaged as only being possible within the context of a transitional Cuban government of which the lifting of the embargo would be the first step in the cooling of US-Cuban relations.

Due to the 1996 US Helms-Burton Act, the tightening of the embargo was pulled up a notch not loosened. The hope – which has yet to materialize – was that under Obama, Helms-Burton would be repealed. But even if a radical shift in Cuban politics occurs following Fidel’s death, it is unlikely – given the perilous state of the US economy – that an effectively lame-duck president or either of his successors – Trump or Clinton – will make Cuba one of their main priorities in the immediate future.

During my time spent in the country, I stayed in a variety of different sized accommodations from the small apartment to the large family house and I wondered how this disparity could be explained given the nature of Cuban society. I also wondered how in practical terms, Cuban people managed to move home and set up new lives in new cities and towns within the context of a country where private property is non-existent.

I discussed these topics, as well as the comparative notions of democracy and human rights in Cuba, with some British travelers whilst on a boat trip around the crescent shaped coast of the ‘Jewel of the Caribbean’ on a cloudy and relatively cold night in December 2009. Like myself, my fellow travelers had been unable to get any answers to these questions. It was clear that I was not going to be able to satisfy my inquisitive mind in the charming laid back atmosphere of Cienfuegos where the notion of time had appeared to have come to a standstill.

What struck me most about this beautiful country, is that the things we in the West take for granted, like the notion of time, appear to have no real meaning or relevance in Cuban society. This apparent irrelevance of time, squares with Peter Linebaugh’s contention that the essence of time and the spaces it fills in the vacuum left over from unprofitable ‘surplus’ free time, are necessarily constrained by a capitalist economic logic that prioritizes the accumulation of profit above all other human activity.

As Linebaugh asserts, the emergence of the mass-produced time-piece during the 18th century, reflects this overriding obsession with time and its coersive affects in perpetuating and reproducing the disciplining of workers as part of the prevailing capitalist order.

The Cuban people’s disrespect for time was no more evident than in the streets of Cienfuegos – arguably the most authentic of all Cuban cities. The relatively well-maintained streets, squares and open spaces in the centre of the city, provide the backdrop for idle chatting, drinking, eating, the playing of dominoes, chess, baseball and general relaxation. Cuban’s of all ages embrace, kiss, talk and laze about – it’s an intrinsic part of the way Cuban folk spend their time together.

I witnessed joy and happiness, as well as sadness and despair on the faces of the people on the streets of Cienfuegos, much like anywhere else on the planet. But of all people in ‘third world’ countries, the Cuban’s are by a country mile, some of the most humble and dignified of any people that I met on my travels. This is despite the fact that they suffered terribly following the break-up of the Soviet Union during the three years 1991-94.

The current crisis in the Cuban economy can be traced back to this period as a result of the ending of Soviet subsidies that had effectively sustained the economy for 30 years. By the end of the decade there was growth based on a rapidly expanding tourist industry. But this growth was fragile because it did not reflect any deep transformation of the economy.

However, despite this, I saw no evidence of the horrors which characterized that particular period of Cuban history. In Cuba, unlike for example,’democratic’ India, I did not see emaciated and starving people, neither did I see vast inequalities of economic wealth, or witness the social fabric of a country at the point of collapse. Civil society in Cuba – albeit limited by Western standards – functions relatively well when compared to many other countries that we prefer to call third world ‘democracies’.

Further, the perception of street safety and well-being was, in my experience, a reality in the towns and cities I visited throughout the country. Whilst widespread alcoholism, drug addiction, petty theft of property and other social misdemeanors, are a regular feature of everyday life in a modern country like Britain, in Cuba this is not the case. During the odd occasion that I had brought up this particular topic with Cuban people, the response was often one of total dismay and incomprehension.

Women can, and frequently do, walk the streets of Cuban cities alone and in safety. This may appear to some folks to be somewhat of a caricature, but in 2009 it happened to have been true. It is also true that Cuba places a high priority on education which is 100 per cent subsidized by the government, meaning that Cuban students at all levels can attend school for free. The government also operates a national health system and assumes monetary and administrative responsibility for the health care of all its citizens. In addition, housing and utility costs throughout the country are minimal to non-existent.

Cuba ranks as having among the world’s best patients per doctor ratios and has levels of infant mortality and life expectancy rates that compare favourably with many of the first world nations of the industrial world. As of 2012, infant mortality in Cuba had fallen to 4.83 deaths per 1,000 live births compared with 6.0 for the United States and just behind Canada with 4.8. I will remind readers, all this has been achieved within the context of an extremely damaging and punitive US-initiated trade embargo which has seen Cuba marginalized and isolated – both economically and politically – from much of the world.

It is also a nation that remains effectively at war with the most powerful country on earth. It is true that democracy as we have come to understand it in the West, has been ‘suspended’ in Cuba on the pretext that it is a country at war, in much the same way that democracy was suspended in Britain during WW2. The draconian embargo is a reflection of this war-footing, which goes a long way to explaining the queues and food stamps.

In keeping with tradition, my Cuban hosts in Cienfuegos were friendly, charming and hospitable. I would often eat dinner at the home of my hosts who occupied a rather grand house close to the centre of town. While staying there, I occasionally took the opportunity to watch some television. Cuban television output is not unlike most national media throughout the world in terms of its targeting of a specific demographic at different times of the day.

In London, I have the potential to be able to tune into approximately 100 virtually identical channels. In Cuba the number is a diverse four. During my stay, I managed to watch an episode of The Sopranos and the movie Goya’s Ghosts. News and current affairs output and debate in Cuba is clearly more incisive and truthful than its British state broadcasting counterpart, the BBC. For example, there appears to be none of the fake probing and bating in the interviewing style of Paxman, or any of the dubious claims of impartiality and objectivity that typify the BBC.

In terms of the Cuban news media more broadly, the emphasis appears to be focused on Latin American affairs as one might expect. Studio debates seem, by and large, to be genuinely heated, spontaneous and passionate which, at least as far as I was concerned, made for a refreshing change from the kind of bland European and North American-focused, and often contrived, output that passes for news in much of the West. My hosts allowed me to peruse the TV output late into the night while they were asleep.

The income generated by travelers like me was highly valued by my hosts who not only ensured that my every need was catered for but being a guest of theirs, also provided their young son and daughter with the opportunity to practice their English. As there was a big gap in my hosts future bookings they seemed reluctant to let me go. But this was not the only reason. I felt that a genuine mutual friendship had developed between us.

Nonetheless, as much as I enjoyed Cienfuegos, my time in Cuba was limited and I felt the time had now come for me to move on. I wanted to get a taste of the Cuban experience within a tourist package environment. This meant only one word – ‘Varadero’ – a relatively developed ‘package resort’ 184 kilometres from Cienfuegos on the Atlantic side of the island.

Final part to follow: Varadero and my trip back to Havana.

 

The EU referendum: the case for ‘staying in’

By Daniel Margrain

David Cameron’s (failed) attempts at diplomatic arm twisting of European leaders’ was made with a view to appeasing right wing Europhobe factions in order to strengthen the pro-EU position within his party and, by extension, satisfy others outside such as the Henry Jackson Society who lobby it. Any EU concessions offered to Cameron on economic or social policy in return for continued EU membership would undermine whatever vestiges of power the EU has in terms of protecting ordinary people from the rapaciousness of corporations.

Also, in terms of immigration policy, any concessions to Cameron by the other EU member states would play into the hands of neoconservatives and other far right figures like Douglas Murray, associate director of the Henry Jackson Society and the openly racist Stephen Yaxley-Lennon (aka Tommy Robinson), co-founder and former spokesman and leader of the fascist English Defence League (EDL). These figures, and similar within mainstream media circles like Melanie Phillips and Nick Cohen, deliberately conflate immigration with Islamist terrorism in order to pander to the prejudices among aspects of the electorate which Cameron responds to in kind. The implications, we are told, are clear: for as long as the country is part of the EU, “the swamping” of the indigenous British population by alien migrants from the other EU countries cannot be halted.

Unfortunately, this is the neoliberal context that is the dominant narrative shaping the British EU membership referendum campaign terrain. Politically, this is being marked out by the right wing eurosceptic Tories and by their outriders in the UK Independence Party (UKIP). The British electorate has been told in increasingly strident terms that British “national sovereignty” is at stake without informing them what the alternative to national sovereignty could potentially entail.

Everything that has been positive about the EU over the years appears to be in retreat while everything negative seems to be accelerating. Already the EU has ceded a great deal to corporations at the expense of people and this is a process that seems to be ongoing. It’s simply wrong and immoral, for example, that subsidies for the richest landowners in Europe continue to increase apace. It’s also wrong and immoral for the EU to have attempted to negotiate with the United States in secret the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) which effectively represents the undemocratic transfer of power from parliaments to corporations.

Another unwelcome consequence of the direction the EU is moving in, is the way the most powerful countries within it, most notably Germany, have used their economic leverage to weaken the democratic will of the less powerful such as Greece and Portugal. There are many more compelling reasons – including environmental and ecological ones – that can be justifiably argued as to why Britain should pull out of the EU.and why it is not functioning in the way that many on the left think it should. But are these arguments sufficient enough reason for the UK to abandon the project altogether?

Campaigning for the broadest possible opposition to neoliberal EU austerity policies as well as a different, socialist Europe, seem to me to be perfectly compatible with voting in favour of continued EU membership. As John Palmer argued:

“Socialists will want to use the debate about Britain and the European Union to build the widest possible campaign to force a break with the prevailing austerity policies of the euro-area powers. They will want to defend parties on the left—such as Syriza in Greece and possibly Podemos in Spain later this year—from further strong-arm policies designed to undermine their democratic credentials. If the socialists, including Syriza and Podemos are to succeed in radically changing the direction of European Union policy, the left will need to develop much more integrated, supranational forms of political organisation at the European level. This will require profound changes to the almost exclusively national framework in which such parties have traditionally thought and acted. Big capital, for its part, ­certainly understands this.”

For the tide to shift in favour of a different kind of Europe requires a corresponding shift in the relations of political power throughout the countries of Europe that are sympathetic to the ideals of Podemos and Corbynism, both of which are gaining traction in Spain and Britain respectively. This will, in practical terms, mean that the left will have to win arguments on key issues such as the protection of EU social legislation and human rights. This is most likely to be achieved as the result of an organized Europe-wide movement in favour of the kind of workers’ rights and protections’ that the neoconservatives want to opt out of. There can be no doubt that if Britain leaves the EU many European regulations restricting working hours and other employment and social reforms will be scrapped.

The left will also have to argue against the attempts of the anti-EU right to roll back the powers of both the EU Court of Justice (ECJ) and—more urgently—of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR). The Tory establishment has objected to some of the humane rulings of the ECHR that, in particular, includes the protection of the human rights of immigrants at risk of being deported by the UK. The ECHR is itself outside the remit of the European Union. But the ECJ is bound by the overarching decisions of the ECHR when ruling on matters of specifically EU law. The Tories want a “British” convention on human rights to replace the European convention which if achieved, would further seriously undermine civil liberties and human rights in Britain.

Much of the Tory austerity drive has to do with the systemic and structural limitations associated with state power at the national level. The dual concepts of national sovereignty and the “pooling of sovereignty” are incongruous. The latter implies greater European integration and federalization which is the visionary concept of the EU envisaged by the former president of the European Commission, Jacques Delors. This is no bad thing. Pooling sovereignty that benefits a greater number of people than would otherwise be the case represents a move in the right direction. It seems to me that we need greater European integration, not less.

But this point of view is saddled by the argument – no matter how unfounded it is – that the case for greater European integration is undermined by the lackluster performance of the Euro. In truth, the national schadenfruede that exemplified the British government’s reaction to the problems associated with a currency union viz a vie the Euro was a red-herring. The problem is not currency union, but the lack of any fiscal union. The one is not feasible without the other. The economic argument for the alleged failure of the EU as an economic project, therefore, can not be made on the basis of the relative weakness of the Euro, but rather on the lack of any implementation of a fiscal union.

Despite it’s many faults, I principally view the European Union as an historically progressive project that can, through effective political organization within the EU, be re-orientated to benefit the many as opposed to the few. Any political derailment of the unification and integration process would likely lead to the ‘Balkanization’ of Europe. This would increase the risks to humanity in terms of conflict and war in the nuclear age which is arguably greater now than during any other epoch in history. On balance, the only rational and principled way for progressives on the left to vote in the forthcoming referendum is Yes to stay in.