Photos (mostly) without a camera – some of my favourite things.

Outside Morrisons in the midwinter mist, the old sax player stands against the wall of the undershop car park – that makes the entrance so welcoming with its reek of stale exhaust fumes – a series of mute grey frames with him the only image, playing snatches of tunes that sound a bit like Coltrane’s version of “Favourite things” (1) drifting through the attenuated traffic on a very tired Edgware Road. Coltrane’s version is cool. Julie Andrews, it isn’t. A necessary historical corrective to a false impression of how dominant the cultural challenge that took place in the sixties was is that the best selling album of the decade wasn’t Sargent Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, but the soundtrack from The Sound of Music. The fifties lasted until about 1977 in most places.

A young woman in a hoody and a half mast mask waves wildly at someone drifting slowly and invisibly upwards on the escalator.

My graffiti spraying neighbour has now painted the letters “WLM” on another white van; showing the respect for private property so characteristic of the right wing. This is more obscure than his last effort – which was “Trump Jesus”, as in the slogan chanted by the fascist mob at the Capitol building on January 6th, “Trump is President and Christ is King!” Because you can just see Jesus smashing his way through windows with a riot shield wearing a horned hat and carrying flexi-ties, a Glock and a Confederate flag shouting “Hang Mike Pence!” in my brain, since about 1974, WLM has stood for “Women’s Liberation Movement”, but I somehow doubt that that was what he was spraying. Googling it throws up more possibilities, but nothing obvious. “Windows Live Messenger”? “Weak Localisation Model – physics”? “Women Loving Men”? “White Light Motorcade?” That one sounds implicitly Alt Right and supremacist, but turns out to be a band. Maybe he’s taking a turn to culture, but the mystery remains.

Although a little out of season at this time. I’m signing off with a happy gesture of solidarity for 2021 from the cheerful snow people in Ash Tree Dell, who look as though they have joined the Red Front.

  1. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UlFNy9iWrpE

Labour – follow the science and support Zero Covid.

100,000 now dead. One of the highest totals in the world. Still in the thick of it.

There is a certain sort of Tory who is either in denial about the severity of Coronavirus, or who sees it as an invigorating social Darwinist challenge that will make our society leaner and fitter as part of the bracing new Brexit Britain by killing off the unproductive elderly; or anyone in the workforce with the sort of “underlying conditions” which might require them to claim sick pay from time to time.

Even as the winter wave and new more infectious variants were forcing the government into a far stricter lockdown last week to sustain their bottom line – avoiding a collapse in the Health Service that could prove fatal to them too – a member of the “COVID Recovery Group” of back bench Tory MPs raged in the Evening Standard about Education Secretary. “Gavin Williamson’s saving grace is that he wanted schools to stay open but he was crushed by the Health Department and Cabinet Office. If he had more clout he could have told Health to f*** off.”

Telling Health to “f*** off” indeed.

SAGE told the government before New Year that – with the new infectious variant – it would be impossible to keep the R rate below 1 unless schools were shut. They nevertheless pressed on regardless until slightly beyond the last minute; closing most schools down a day after they had partially reopened. However, unlike in the Spring, they have kept Nurseries open, and initially widened the essential worker list so that more kids could come in. Trying to accelerate even as they were pressing on the brake. The effect was that three or four times as many were in by the end of the first week back; requiring another screeching u turn to get the number down again. With a more infectious virus, and looser restrictions than in the Spring, the trajectory of infections is unlikely to come down rapidly, even if the vaccination programme hits its targets.

This illustrates why Boris Johnson’s Tory government is presiding over a health and economic disaster. Influenced by the sort of libertarian, economy first thinking that sees human life in instrumental terms – and makes a hard nosed calculation that those likely to die are disproportionately not people like them, which allows them to use phrases like “take it on the chin” with a certain devil may care insouciance – they have sought to “balance” economic concerns with health concerns. No such balance is possible. Attempts to reopen the economy before the virus is eliminated can’t fire on all cylinders even before the virus gets back out there and starts spreading wildly again. So we have a sort of macabre hokey cokey approach which prolongs the crisis on all fronts.

Its hard to imagine a Labour government doing half as badly, or being give a tenth as much indulgence – either by the media or the opposition.

Tony Blair – who is advising Matt Hancock – made several comments this week in the Evening Standard which are both revealing and characteristically ignore the fundamentals. He simultaneously drops the bombshell that on current polices it will take “two or three years” to deal with the pandemic – TWO OR THREE YEARS – notes that the UK government has been “behind the curve” every step of the way, then lets Johnson off the hook; arguing that “no government” has done any better. Really? New Zealand, Taiwan, Australia, Vietnam, China? All these countries have had a COVID elimination strategy; and it has worked. All are now fully active societies with recovering economies. Hard to imagine from here right now, but its never too late to do the right – effective – thing.

The charge sheet against Johnson is plain. Failure to

  • lock down early when they knew what was coming,
  • shut off air travel from well heeled business travelers,
  • use the potential for social mobilisation shown in the rapid growth of local mutual self help groups,
  • set up an effective track and trace system; outsourcing it to SERCO rather than using GPs and local authorities,
  • and, most damning, failure to press on with the initial lock down to the point that infections were so low and rare that an effective track and trace system could have squashed any further outbreaks.

Projections of the decline in infections in mid May indicated that – other things being equal – sticking with the restrictions in the first lockdown could have eliminated domestic infections at some point in June. Instead they thought they could “manage” the situation and “live with” the virus; started lifting the restrictions and allowed the genie back out of the bottle; with the results that are all around us.

At the moment their approach seems to be a variant on the Great Barrington Declaration. They aim to vaccinate the most vulnerable, then remove restrictions to allow the rest of us to take our chances while explicitly ruling out an elimination strategy. Given that vaccination and having had the virus only confers a certain immunity for a limited time – 5 to 6 months – and vaccinating the entire population will take longer than that, the problem is obvious. This inevitably means that the virus will continue to evolve – probably to be more infectious than it currently is – because that’s how evolution works – unless it is eliminated.

Labour’s policy throughout has been defined by a search for “national consensus”, which has taken the form of tactical criticism on points of detail, but no alternative strategy. At points Keir Starmer was pressing the government from the wrong side, flagging up an “exit strategy” as the key issue during the first lockdown – rather than an “elimination strategy” within which “exit” would have been implicit – and for schools to open before it was safe to do so. This is in contrast with the approach of the teaching unions – especially the NEU – which have followed the science and put health first. Thousands of Section 44 safety letters generated from a 400,000 strong NEU meeting on the last day of the Xmas break will have helped nudge the government in the right direction. Slightly stronger calls from the front bench now are being driven by just how bad things are getting, but are too often phrased hesitantly. Nurseries should “probably” close, and so on.

This approach helps explain why a recent YouGov Poll showed that far more people blame each other than blame the government. This is absurd. An overwhelming majority of people both support and comply with restrictions brought in to stop infections. Despite mixed messages from the top and the campaigning of anti-lockdown head bangers like Nigel Farage, very, very few are breaking them lightly or rashly. Put bluntly, Boris Johnson is getting away with it – and persisting with a strategy that will cost many, many avoidable deaths – because the opposition is not pushing for the Zero COVID strategy we need to avoid them.

This Zero Covid rally at noon on Sunday 24th January should be built as widely as possible.

Confirmed Speakers:

Diane Abbott MP

Howard Beckett , Unite the Union

Richard Burgon MP

Richard Horton, editor of The Lancet.

Rokhsana Fiaz , Mayor of Newham

Along with other leading scientists, campaigners and activists to be announced!

https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/stopping-the-virus-it-doesnt-have-to-be-this-way-tickets-136004337635

This is a possible motion that could be put to CLPs.

Draft Resolution for GC

XXXX CLP recognises that 

  1. The evolution of a more infectious variant of the COVID19 virus is leading to a rapid increase in infections, hospitalisations and deaths.
  2. The government’s approach has led to one of the highest per capita death toll among the larger countries.  The objective of prioritising the economy has also been completely counter-productive as 900,000 people have already lost their jobs and international bodies such as the IMF and OECD forecast Britain will have one of the deepest recessions of any major economy.
  3. the governments approach is exactly the opposite of that needed; which is to drive down infections to the point that they can be controlled and managed until the virus is eliminated, which has been achieved in a number of other countries.

We welcome the deployment of vaccines as a way to speed up this elimination, but it is clear that the government has already mishandled the roll-out and its vaccination programme is not going to prevent new cases and deaths for weeks or months.
We believe that the Party nationally – and the front bench in Parliament – should be calling for a zero COVID strategy – designed to eliminate the virus. ​
That requires

  1. A serious lockdown to squash transmission to a point that the virus can be eliminated, the closure of all non-essential workplaces, schools, colleges and universities.
  2. Full economic support for everyone affected.
  3. Overhauling test and trace through the Health Service and Local Authorities so that it actually works, and full financial support for those in isolation.
  4. An economic recovery plan to regenerate the economy that also transforms it by investing in green transition on the scale proposed by the TUC – which could create 1.2 million jobs, stave off a recession and avert poverty.

Resolves 

  • to send this resolution to our NEC representatives and appropriate Shadow Minsters and circulate members.
  • to investigate Zero Covid initiatives and discuss them at the next EC.

A Tale of two demos: US Racist Policing decisions in one graph.

The attempts by the US right to banalise the attempt by the most fascist elements of Trump’s base to invade the Capitol building, stop the certification of the Presidential election and possibly kill legislators build on a solid foundation of racist presumptions that run through the whole state like writing through a stick of rock.

This graph shows the number of Police deployed to deal with – respectively – an impending and flagged up riot from the far right, and a peaceful demo by Black Lives Matter last Summer. Very little else needs to be said.

115:5,000

A magisterial account of how the political crisis in the USA has got to this stage is here. http://www.socialistaction.net/2021/01/14/the-georgia-elections-and-the-new-period-in-american-politics/

When is a “surge” not a surge?

The Guardian reports a new “surge” in cases in Hebei Province in China. This amounted to 33 people on 10 January and led to an immediate city wide lockdown and quarantine to eliminate further domestic infections. Because China has the virus under control, this can be done.

The comparable figures for new cases in the UK and USA were 59,937 and 313,516 respectively, because our governments have not got the virus under control. That looks like this.

Some “surge”.

The use of the term “surge” is clearly designed to reinforced the UK government’s defeatist narrative that the virus cannot be defeated, even in places where it has been.

The importance of consciously examining the language we are reading to see how our responses are being manipulated is made clear by this example.

Cormorants over Sainsbury’s

A black bird, feet lazily behind like a heron but smaller, darker, more distinct, flaps with slow inevitability above the supermarket along the line of the River Silk, settles at the top of a tall, sparsely leafed evergreen. At a respectful distance, its mate follows, but scouts vaguely beyond into the empty air space over the car park, before turning back in a narrowing gyre; and settles symmetrically in the summit of the same tree. They look strangely significant. Lines from a saying that hasn’t been written. Portents or omens. Their heads are raised: staring upwards at higher things, like sentinels, or the models for a heraldic device, or witnesses to a divine plan.

Coming back the following day and looking up at the tree, their absence now seems somehow ominous.

Popping the Radio 4 bubble. Why China has good reasons not to be “more Western”.

It has become a cliche of Western punditry that China’s accession to the World Trade Organisation in 2001 should have gradually made it “more Western”; and therefore acceptable to “the international community”of wealthy countries and the classes that run them. This is usually cloaked in the language of “representative democracy”, but actually means that they believed that China’s economy would “liberalise”, allow the private sector to dominate domestically, and following from that, pro US business forces would press the CCP to allow a political framework that would facilitate the interventions from the State Department that are routine in virtually every other country; and thereby fit into a US dominated world internationally – on the game plan of the internal coup by sections of the Nomenklatura that overturned the Soviet Union. This was- and is – expressed in a touching faith that “free market capitalism” is the only way that an economy can be run efficiently; which is always true for those that own it, but not for the rest of us who just work in it.

This has not happened. Deng Xiao Peng’s comment – “I don’t care if a cat is black or white, so long as it catches mice” – was widely, possibly willfully, misinterpreted in the West as a vindication of market mechanisms and nothing but; paving the way for the rule of capital to be restored in the same way that it was in the former USSR; which among other things led to a decline in male life expectancy to 58 in Russia in the mid 1990s and collapses in living standards so severe that the per capita income in Ukraine today is still below the level it was in 1989. On the contrary, the way that China has incorporated market mechanisms within state direction is now causing conniptions in the US and UK precisely because China’s growth has exposed their own failings, especially since neo-liberalism ran out of steam in the 2008 crash. An event that brought it home even to the most pro US currents in China that all was not well in the “shining city on a hill” and that perhaps it didn’t present such an alluring model of the future after all.

What this means for people’s lives can be seen in the following figures.

In 2001, at the point China joined the WTO, life expectancy was 70.59. Per Capita income was $3,207 (in PPP terms*). The percentage of people living on less than $5.50 a day, the World Bank’s higher level of poverty measurement, was 80.6% and those on less than $2 a day – truly grinding poverty – was around 44%.

By 2008 – at the time of the Western credit crunch – life expectancy had risen to 75.14. Per capita income was at $7,577. The percentage of people living on less than $5.50 a day was down to 60.6%.

As the Western economies stagnated and held down by austerity, China reoriented investment away from exports to internal infrastructure – from high speed rail to renewable energy – and the net result was that by the end of 2019 per capita income had risen to $20,273; and by the end of 2020 life expectancy to 76.96, the percentage living on less than $5.50 a day down to 23.9% and those on less than $2 a day to 0%.

These figures – the reality of the staggering improvement in quality of life that they represent – and China’s apparent immunity to economic stagnation and austerity – are also a challenge to those sections of the left in the West who consider it to be just another capitalist country. The ruling class here are under no such delusion.

Listen to the smug and thoroughly insular discussions among the commentariat on Radio 4 and there is now a cosy consensus – with opinions stated complacently and neither challenged nor explored – that the time has come to “stand up to China” and “President Trump didn’t get it all wrong”. The critique now is that the CCP run economy is “authoritarian” and – as it runs on state directed investment – provides “unfair competition” to the West. In other words, it works better. It is more effective and efficient. In the Western view, they can provide cats in black or white, but they must be privately owned. If a state owned cat catches more mice, it has to be put down.

These discussions are taking place in societies still stricken by Coronavirus – as governments put commercial considerations ahead of health, leading to a catastrophe for both – and people in China look Westwards in horror at the mess the former “Global leadership” have made of it.

*Purchasing Power Parity. This compares what can be bought with a given sum – so a lower income in one country is balanced against lower prices and compared with the higher income and higher prices in another; so a more accurate comparison can be made. One dollar in China buys roughly what $1.50 would buy in the USA. In PPP terms, the Chinese economy is already larger than that of the USA. $24.16 trillion: $20.81 trillion. With four times the population, however, per capita income is still substantially lower.

Orientalism and Sinophobia in North West London.

One of the many new luxury flats developments replacing the now defunct art deco light industry on either side of the Edgware Road beyond Colindale (and isn’t everything?) – is described as ” A landmark development of 183 apartments, townhouses, restaurants and shops set in the heart of old Oriental City.” Their emphasis.

“Old Oriental City”. All real estate is tinged with fabulism – a Rumpelstiltskin like capacity to turn dross into spun gold. “Desirable neighbourhoods” are stretched imaginatively out across their scrag end hinterland, so that the cachet will rub off on increased prices. Ultimately, all of North London will be some far flung corner of Greater Hampstead. Some of Donald Trump’s capacity to lie on such a spectacular scale with such total self belief is rooted in the commercial necessities of real estate moguls to pass off dull realities as whatever they can get their marks to believe in.

As with Geography, the sense of being somewhere historic, being part of an older and – in this case – exotic – History has a similar drive. “Old Oriental City” is a phrase that conjures an imaginary world in which – for centuries – trading Junks laden with tea, silks and Ming vases sailed up the River Brent to a bustling outpost of the Middle Kingdom; inexplicably situated half way to Watford – from a more recent, humdrum, reality.

The “Oriental City” on that site was a shopping Mall, originally built as Yaohan Plaza in the early 1990s; so not exactly “old” in any historical sense. A speculative venture from a Japanese company looking for an outlet for excess capital, running on the momentum of the late eighties property boom – already crashed and miring Japan in stagnation ever since – Yaohan went bankrupt in 1997, and was bought out by the Malaysian company which renamed the Mall “Oriental City”.

It combined a very popular food court with almost empty shops that were forever closing down and being replaced. These started off very posh and expensive in the Yaohan days – Oxford fashions, marketing a Japanese notion of expensive English taste in a fairly down at heel English suburb, beautifully presented, highly priced and always empty – and moved rapidly down market to cheap and cheerful plastic tat, that sold better but couldn’t sustain the rent.

At the entrance -towering above stone lions that would not have looked out of place in an imperial palace in Beijing – was a gigantic silhouette of Sonic the hedgehog luring punters to subterranean pleasures of the Sega gaming centre; when arcades could still compete with consoles. Above the rattling and clanging darkness of this labyrinth of addictive psychic distraction was the Zen CX – Alexei Sayle’s favourite restaurant for a while – though, as it was an all you can eat, it could have been better labelled Zen XL. Finally going bust just before the 2008 crash and derelict for several years afterwards, now the site is mostly a Morrisons; though the Bang Bang Food Court and Loon Fung Supermarket have re-emerged from the wreckage as the vigorous and viable survivors demanded by commercial Darwinism.

An older connection with China is also fictional. The eighteenth century writer Oliver Goldsmith lived for a time at Hyde House – a farmhouse demolished in the 1920s to make way for a district hospital, demolished in turn to make room for a small cookie cutter housing estate. The building now called Hyde House is a Premier Inn on the other side of the Edgware Road opposite the care home built where the Red Lion pub used to be. All that is solid melts into air and all urban landscapes are palimpsests.

Goldsmith – who described himself at one point, tongue in cheek, as “the Confucius of Europe” wrote a series of essays in 1760-61 in an adopted Chinese persona. The citizen of the world; or Letters from a Chinese philosopher, residing in London, to his friends in the East. This allowed him to pose as having a perspective from a distinct “other” civilisation simultaneously “exotic” but worthy of respect for its longevity, cultivation and sophistication and, at the time, wealth and power. Different but equal.

The scores he was settling were all, of course, domestic, but the notion that a Chinese perspective might allow him – in some respects – to look down on Western society, is one that still comes as a jolt after two centuries of imperial dominance. It is a perspective that underlies a lot of the hostile treatment of China in the Western media today- since a recognition that the way China dealt with COVID19 was staggeringly more effective than that of the West – with domestic infections eliminated in two months and an economic recovery that will amount to 60% of total world growth next year – requires a barrage of venom to be thrown into people’s eyes to avoid them asking awkward questions of our increasingly clownish leaders.

Xinjiang through a Zenz darkly. The Truth Gets its Boots On?

This is not a normal blog. Given the single minded and relentless one sided coverage of the situation in Xinjiang in papers like the Guardian and on the BBC, here are some news reports putting a side of the story you won’t be able to read through established Western news media; because they black it out.

May I suggest that you read them and then decide for yourself whether they are a more plausible and realistic explanation of what is going on than the only account allowed column inches or broadcast bandwidth here? I would suggest that they are, but, make up your own mind.

https://news.cgtn.com/news/2020-12-16/CGP-report-on-Xinjiang-labor-is-full-of-holes-WgHHrIdSc8/index.html

https://newsaf.cgtn.com/news/2020-11-04/Xinjiang-religious-freedom-fully-guaranteed-report-V7VcO4G1yg/index.html

https://news.cgtn.com/news/2020-10-27/New-report-refutes-U-S-allegation-of-forced-labor-in-Xinjiang–UVETxYBdDy/index.html

https://news.cgtn.com/news/2020-10-21/Pompeo-s-forced-labor-theory-in-Xinjiang-preposterous-China-ULiQ90XMHe/index.html

https://www.globaltimes.cn/content/1208288.shtml

The Western narrative relies primarily on mutually reinforcing reports and accounts from either supporters of a central Asian Caliphate in the Turkestan Independence Party, or sometimes the US financed “World Uighur Congress”, or from Adrian Zenz.

Zenz is usually described, rather coyly, as a “German Researcher”; and his Alt Right politics and Christian “End of Times” convictions glossed over.

It is odd that the BBC and Guardian put so much faith in a man capable of writing books with titles like Worthy to Escape: Why all Believers Will not be Raptured before the Tribulation. Honestly – I am not making this up. Passages like this one… “For the Jews, therefore, the wrath of God will prove to be both a blessing and a curse: for those that belong in the one third that will be refined in God’s fiery furnace and will end up obtaining salvation, ultimately, it will be a blessing. For those who are “rebels” and transgressors (Ezekiel 20:38) and who will perish in the process, a curse. According to Scripture, God’s refining process will wipe out all unbelieving Jews who refuse to come to Christ”… do not indicate a mind in which material reality is the foremost consideration. The BBC and Guardian doubtless have their own reasons for relying on him, but ask yourself how much can you trust the judgement of a man capable of thinking like that?

Open Labour’s Regressive Foreign Policy for a Time that’s Gone.

A digested read of the new Open Labour Pamphlet A Progressive Foreign Policy for New Times (1) might take the form of Jonathan Powell’s summary of the Blair government’s advice to its incoming Washington Ambassador; “We want you to get up the arse of the White House and stay there”. (2)

It is unfortunate for the authors that two events this week have conspired to undermine their attempt to rehabilitate Labour support for a US led global order and re-sanctify the notion of Western humanitarian intervention in support of “our values”.

  1. The International Criminal Court found that British soldiers in Iraq abused hundreds of unarmed Iraqi detainees between 2003 and 2009, reporting“evidence of a pattern of war crimes carried out across a number of years by soldiers from several British regiments. Some detainees were raped or subjected to sexual violence. Others were beaten so badly they died from their injuries. The Iraqi individuals, many of them civilians, were unarmed and in British custody at the time”.(3) They have not proceeded with a prosecution because they cannot be sure whether the British state colluded in a cover up – though their revelations about the kind of “investigation” carried out by the RMP makes this pretty obvious. This underlines what actually happens when the “West” intervenes. It also underlines the point that British troops are capable of abuse just as much as US or Australian troops are (4) . It should also be a cautionary tale for Labour, because all this happened under a Labour government. The current Overseas Operations Bill is based on making prosecutions for war crimes against British soldiers even harder to bring to court and would not have been drawn up if the government did not envisage more operations in which more abuses are bound to happen. Labour was right to vote against this Bill in the end, but wrong to abstain on the first reading for fear of not looking “patriotic”.
  2. The current “rules-based order” has allowed the world’s wealthiest countries to buy up enough doses of vaccine to vac​cinate their population nearly three times over, while countries in the developing world stand with empty hands in the queue. At the same time, China has pledged that, once the Sinopharm vaccine is licensed, it will prioritise distributing it to exactly those developing countries – leading to commentators on the West getting sniffy about “dumping” and trading vaccines for influence – as though China should play the commercial game and put patents and purchasing power above lives. This rather neatly poses a different way to look at “human rights.”

There is no human right more important than the right to live. The different approaches to the Coronavirus crisis taken in China and the “West” are instructive in this respect. The Chinese took a Zero COVID approach and eliminated the virus – which has allowed their economy to begin to recover. In the West, the attempt to “balance” the needs of health with the needs of “the economy” (i.e. the needs of the people who own the economy, not those forced to live and work in it) has led to a health and economic disaster which we are still in the midst of. The human rights of front-line workers and the most vulnerable sections of society have been in a constant battle with pressure from business to keep their sectors open come what may. As a result, there have now been more than three times as many deaths in the USA as there have been cases in China – and the per capita death rate in the UK is even worse than that. People in China are aghast at just how badly the “West” has handled this and look upon our experience with something like horror. The authors of the pamphlet might like to consider why China has done so much better than the West has, and which government has put the human right of their population to live at the top of their list.


Open Labour argues that the world is in a new situation but don’t fully investigate what that is, nor propose any way of looking at it other than a revived Cold war framework that would lead us to disaster if implemented. The brute fact is that – for the first time since 1870 – the USA is not the world’s largest economy (in PPP terms). And the impact of the COVID crisis – with China recovering quickly and the USA still mishandling it – makes this more so. The IMF projects that 60% of growth in the next year will be in China. There is, tragically, a broad consensus in the US that they need to reassert their position rather than co-operate, though there are increasing voices of sanity being raised against it. (5) This is frightening because they can’t leave this to peaceful economic development. It is peaceful economic development that is allowing China to pull ahead. Hence the trade war began by Trump and the attempt to wall off sections of the global economy from Chinese technology, wherever China has a lead in it, like 5G. Given the overwhelming US military spend, the temptation to indulge in brinkmanship around China’s borders is constant. The Chinese have a different perspective; which is that if there is co-operation between different states and systems to deal with COVID, climate and poverty, the result can be “win, win” for everyone – and will at least avoid World War Three. 

This is rather important because the second brute fact is that the ecological conditions for human survival are beginning to collapse. Keynes famously remarked that “in the long run we are all dead”, but the long run is getting shorter and shorter every day. The Insurance firm Swiss Re has produced a list of countries in order of ecological vulnerability – with Australia, South Africa and India high on the list -and we can already see places that are becoming less habitable from drought, flood and forest fire. And this will intensify without global co-operation to stop it. The projection for New York – for example – is that the expected shift in weather patterns and sea level rise would subject it to Hurricane Sandy level disasters once every four years by the end of the Century – which would make living there unviable. So, this is not a time to be picking fights but seeking common ground to save our civilisation. The US recommitting itself to the Paris Agreement is welcome. Its stated aim of doing so in a “threat to national security” framework not so much. The problem for the US is that its entire social and economic order is no longer a viable future for itself, let alone an aspiration for humanity. The “US way of life” would require five planets to sustain it of generalised. It therefore either has to change, or take drastic action to stop other countries trying to emulate it. Either way, that means a crisis. The Open Labour pamphlet rests on several shaky foundations which are proclaimed but not unduly investigated or corroborated with anything so vulgar as facts.
  1. Imperialism does not exist and what we have is a “rules bound international order”.

Despite the authors fairly desperate attempt not to see the wood for the trees, the USA on its own spends half of all global military expenditure and maintains 800 overseas military bases in 70 countries. The UK – as its keenest auxiliary – still maintains 145 sites in no less than 42. (6) The “aggressive” Chinese have 3. Patterns of exploitation do not require direct government, as with traditional territorial empires, but a continual threat of intervention and proxy war underpins the normal “rules bound” process whereby the world’s most impoverished countries are plundered by the wealthiest. Nuclear blackmail is also helpful. The “Washington consensus” has held the developing world in a pattern of continuous underdevelopment – so that three quarters of the people who have been lifted out of extreme poverty in the last two generations have been Chinese; because China has awkwardly insisted on doing things its own – rather more successful -way. 
Actual interventions, wars and coups, are simply the tip of the iceberg however. US Embassies in particular have a Vice Regal quality about them and act as a focus for projecting US power and influence on a continuous basis. Even relatively wealthy allies like the UK are subject to this – something made physically apparent during Trump’s visits, during which London’s airspace was buzzed by Osprey helicopters. Everyone in the Labour Party should be aware that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo described the run up to last year’s election as Labour being forced to “run the gauntlet” and that the US would intervene if Jeremy Corbyn managed to do so successfully and win the election. (7)


But the wars and coups are continuous too. The Pax Americana has never been peaceful. The Open labour pamphlet says that they have no intention of overlooking ” the ugly means and ends of past and present American economic or military power”, but then proceed to do exactly that; because it is the only time it is mentioned. So, for the record, and lest we forget, here’s a list of some of the more egregious US interventions just in Asia and Latin America.


Korea*. (1950-53). Every City in the peninsula bombed flat. Upwards of 2 million dead. Iran*. (1953)Nationalist government overthrown to prevent Oil nationalisation. Shah installed.Vietnam. (1955-75) More mass bombing and severe ground fighting leading to another 2 million dead. 
Indonesia(1965-6) Massacre of Communist opposition, 500,000 dead.Guatemala. (1954) Moderate Socialist government overthrown at the behest of the United Fruit company. Further coups in Latin America includeDominican Republic(1961)Brazil(1964)Bolivia(1971)ChileandUruguay(1973)Argentina(1976) support for brutal death squads and terrorists inEl SalvadorandNicaraguain the eighties, continuous attempts to overthrowCubafrom 1959 onwards and continuous support for death squads inColumbia, attempts to overthrow Venezuelasince 1999,Honduras(2009) the “lawfare” coup inBrazilin 2015-6 and last year’s coup inBolivia(now happily reversed) which bears a striking resemblance to the sort of campaign President Trump has now brought home to roost in trying to overturn the results of the US Presidential election. 


And so on and so on. 


The authors of the pamphlet cherry pick interventions that can be presented in a relatively positive light, but do not look at the whole story, let alone draw out any pattern from these continuous waves of invasion, coup, proxy wars, subversion, terrorism by the “one indispensable power”, nor draw an overall balance sheet of the chaos and misery caused by it, all too often with the UK ruling class tagging along in the hope of sharing a small part of the spoils.


The authors of the pamphlet might like to wonder how they would explain to the Argentine students murdered by the state in the mid-seventies – shot in the back of the head in lay-bys near Buenos Aires, or tied up and dumped out of helicopters in the middle of the River Plate – how their human rights were being enhanced by these coups; or to the Columbian trade unionists machetied by paramilitaries in the last two decades which “Western values” were being enhanced by their deaths. Or the prisoners in Abu Ghraib. Or the villagers in El Salvador massacred by the Atlacatl battalion. Or all the other people in Latin America tortured through the decades by graduates of the “School of the Americas” in Georgia. To be fair, they acknowledge that “values” are sometimes supplemented by “interests”, but don’t explore these because they are “complex”. Applying Ockham’s razor, that the simplest, clearest explanation is usually the most accurate one, it is hard to look at this this record and be able to make any kind of case that these interventions were – and are – motivated by anything other than naked self-interest on the part of the USA’s ruling class and any claims to be carrying them out in defence of democracy or human rights have been a fig leaf at best.


There is a tradition on the “left” in the West that seeks solace in that fig leaf. That if they believe in it hard enough, they can still their consciences about what they know is actually going on. This pamphlet is firmly in that tradition.

Something the authors note in passing, with a mix of regret and bewilderment, is that interventions in the last quarter of a century are no longer always successful in establishing stable pro American governments or regimes. They cite the shambles in Libya and the entrenched polarisation in Kossovo. They do not trouble themselves to wonder why that is and gloss over some of the biggest failures, like Iraq and Afghanistan.

The USA went into Iraq believing that it could show “full spectrum dominance” on the cheap. Half a million deaths later they retain a barely tolerated toe hold in a fragmented country that now looks more towards Iran, while in Afghanistan they are negotiating a withdrawal that doesn’t look too much like total defeat with the Taliban. 

The failure of the attempted coup in Venezuela in 2002 consolidated Chavismo and successive waves of destabilisation since have all been defeated.

Last year’s coup in Bolivia has been overturned.

Everywhere there is a mass base for a different way forward, the US finds it hard to cope with it on the ground – because they are unable to afford the cost in ground troops nor sustain the casualties. Use of proxies – or outsourcing to mercenaries like Blackwater – supported by air power can only go so far – and often leads to continuous chaos. This does not mean that they won’t do it, nor that they won’t use then abandon proxies as it suits them. The example of the Kurds in Syria is quite an obvious one. The authors regret the failure to intervene in Syria in 2014, being critical of Ed Miliband’s decision to whip Labour against it; without reflecting that such an intervention would have been on the same side as ISIS. 

Nor does it mean that countries that survive attempted coups get away without being ruthlessly punished. Sixty years of sanctions on Cuba are the longest, while the current sanctions on Venezuela – which include medical items – are responsible for 40,000 deaths and a terrible squeeze on its economy. The authors of this pamphlet line up behind the sanctions with the US – in the interests of “human rights” of course. This makes as much sense as Emily Thornberry’s speech at Labour Party conference in 2019 in which she listed a series of “strong men inspired by Trump” and included Nicolas Maduro – glossing over the ongoing attempts by Trump to overthrow him.


The bottom line here is that even if you are politically hostile to China, or any other country that stands up to the US on whatever basis; the USA has no moral high ground, no transcendent values, it has not, does not and will not intervene on behalf of universal human rights, and every sin it accuses others of are ones it has committed itself on a far grander scale. See blog on this site –Is the USA shouting in the mirror at its own reflection?

Joe Biden’s foreign policy is to clear the decks for a global confrontation with China (8). If this gets to the stage of a shooting war, we are at the end of human civilisation. If it hobbles the international co-operation we need to hold back climate breakdown, we are at the end of human civilisation. None of us has an interest in this. No one should be lining the Labour Party up to be cheerleaders for it.

2.This order is challenged by aggressive “authoritarian” states, principally China.
“They obviously want war. Look how close they have put their country to our military bases”. (9)

The states the authors identify are – whatever their political structures or economic formation – all under siege from the US. Not the other way round. There are huge US bases all the way round China and lots of them. There are no Chinese bases anywhere near the USA. In fact, at the moment, there are only three Chinese overseas base anywhere. 


NATO is pushing up to the frontiers of Russia. Imagine how jumpy a UK government would be if the old Cold War had gone the other way and the Warsaw Pact had expanded to France and Belgium and ran regular military exercises there. 


And Iran is also surrounded by US bases, the US backs its regional rival Saudi Arabia, and maintains severe sanctions against it. 


The US regularly sends fleets to the South China Sea. And the UK joins in with an aircraft carrier for US aircraft. The Chinese do not send fleets to the English Channel or aircraft carriers to cruise past Long Island. Nor do they intend to.


The Left in the West has to deal with the fact that there are a number of significant states in the world, like China, Vietnam, Cuba which consider themselves to be Socialist. This does not mean that they are classless societies, nor that capitalism and the market do not exist within them, but that the capitalist classes do not control the state and therefore do not control the domestic economy. That’s the way they see it themselves. That is what underpins the rapid growth of all of these countries in recent years. All these states emerged from revolutions or prolonged wars of national liberation led by Communist Parties – or movements like the July 26 Movement in Cuba which became one – which went beyond the limits laid down for them by the Soviet Union.


The Left in the West – i.e. the most developed capitalist countries – is primarily made up of Social Democratic Parties – and even the far Left in these countries are heavily influenced by this and partly defined against any connection with any development from the Communist tradition. This tends to make the Left in the most powerful capitalist countries oppositions within the dominance of their own state, and the overarching dominance of the US above it. This is enthusiastically championed by the right but questioned and challenged by sections of the left. This is a legacy of the last Cold War, but can be drawn back to the initial schism between the Second and Third Internationals over the First World War and the Russian Revolution. To some extent there has been discussion with and support for the Cubans and Venezuelans. The Chinese, often the opposite. 


The point here is that whatever the Western Left thinks about it – there is a Communist Party in China with 90 million members (that’s ten million more people that live in Germany and ten million more than voted for Joe Biden. just to get a sense of the scale of it) all of whom see their country as a Socialist country. There is also a huge Left active online in China, not all of whom are in the CCP but pretty much all of which supports it. The least we can do is to have the respect to engage in a discussion with them and to attempt to prevent our own ruling class from uniting with the US to foist a New Cold War on them and the world.(10) 


The CCP did not impose austerity on the people of this country, or the USA. They did not impose a hostile environment on ethnic minorities. They are not responsible for the spread of food banks, nor the mass redundancies that have taken place during the pandemic. They are not forcing schools to stay open even as the virus rips through them. They are not imposing a wage freeze or outsourcing track and trace to SERCO. They are not cutting overseas aid. The Tories are doing that on behalf of the class they represent and their increased military spending is a threat to the rest of the world. The enemy is at home, not in China.

  1. https://openlabour.org/a-progressive-foreign-policy-for-new-times/
  2.  https://www.theguardian.com/books/2005/nov/13/biography.politicalbook
  3. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-55247033#:~:text=The%20International%20Criminal%20Court%20says,soldiers%20between%202003%20and%202009.
  4. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-australia-54996581
  5. https://www.invent-the-future.org/2020/11/professors-zhang-weiwei-and-jeffrey-sachs-call-for-multilateralism-and-an-end-to-the-new-cold-war/
  6. https://www.dailymaverick.co.za/article/2020-11-24-revealed-the-uk-militarys-overseas-base-network-involves-145-sites-in-42-countries/
  7. https://www.jewishvoiceforlabour.org.uk/article/trump-administrations-threat-to-sabotage-corbyn/
  8. https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/united-states/2020-01-23/why-america-must-lead-again
  9. https://www.globalresearch.ca/proof-that-russia-and-iran-want-war-look-how-close-they-put-their-countries-to-our-military-bases/5439167
  10. http://www.nocoldwar.org/.

Of Small Santas and Parakeets.

On the bus, two pairs of identical twin toddlers poke each other in the face and giggle. One is wearing a bright scarlet wooly hat with two pom-poms on the top that enrages her; and she angrily takes it off every time her mum jams it on – a lifetime battle of wills in the making. The girls are dressed identically in sugar and spice pink and scarlet; to underline their distinctive similarity. “Look. I’ve got two of the same one.” The boys are in a mustard sludge colour; making the same point in a more “puppy dog tail” way. And so, we are branded and colour coded before we can talk. I recall one of the six year olds I used to try to teach to read saying very indignantly to me “Boys can’t wear PINK!” I was wearing a pink sweater at the time. I think the word he meant was “daren’t.”

Out the bus window at the bottom of the hill waiting to turn onto the Edgware road, climbing up the wall of one of those painfully thin first generation council houses that seem to exist nowhere other than Barnet – “Honey! I shrunk the house” – homes fit for heroes who weren’t quite heroic enough – there is a very small Santa seemingly caught mid burglary. Perhaps its his size, that of a wiry goblin, or the lack of any visible support or props – no sleigh or reindeer or even a ladder – that makes him look so menacing.

In a sudden break with the norm, a huge chatter of Parakeets flashes across the milky sky above the Sainsbury store, glinting green in the pallid sunlight; still an exciting shock to see, like finding a bright shoal of tropical fish in a dull suburban pond.

In the store. a bloke wearing foam antlers looks miserably at the bananas.

In the evening, Christmas lights glow in windows – some elegantly soothing, in white or deep colours like a collection of gem stones in stained glass – some overloaded and crass, an embodiment of the principle that more is all too often less, and flashing manically like alarms – inducing just the thoughts of panic, migraine and epilepsy you need for a season of peace.