Shadow Justice Secretary Steve Reed’s call for injunctions against Just Stop Oil protestors, “Motorists were already being hammered by prices at the pump, and now millions can’t even access fuel. The Conservatives need to stop standing idly by and put an end to this disruption that is causing misery for motorists” is posed by the Party leadership as “where the voters are” and “a commonsense position. Our position on climate change is strong and this doesn’t change the fact we think it’s the most pressing issue facing the planet, but we’re recognising you don’t solve it by annoying workers.”
If climate change “is the most pressing issue facing the planet”, that should have been flagged up as “the most pressing issue” in Reed’s comments; along with recognition that what Just Stop Oil is doing is a desperate response to an emergency that the government is not addressing. Especially in the week following the IPCC report described as “frankly terrifying” by former UN climate secretary Christiana Figueres. As one expert put it “It’s not about taking our foot off the accelerator anymore—it’s about slamming on the brakes”. Motorists take note. Jamie Reed take note. As Tyneside Mayor Jamie Driscoll noted, “these protests should not be necessary”. The government should not even be fantasising about opening new oil and gas fields, as doing so puts us in even greater danger, but they are actually going ahead and doing it.
Instead of condemning them for that, and talking up Labour’s alternative, Reed lets them off the hook, turns all his fire on the protestors, outflanking the government in authoritarianism; and thereby reinforcing Priti Patel’s narrative that the argument about climate is between the mass of people on the one side – who just want to get on with their lives – and a “criminal”, “woke minority” on the other; who are self indulgently warning that if we carry on with our lives in the way we currently are, there will be no livable planet sooner than we think.
This is taken further in “light news” programmes like Good Morning Britain, where campaigners are routinely ganged up on by the two presenters – who say things like “we don’t want to keep talking about the facts” and “this is a complicated issue. Just Stop Oil is a simplistic slogan, a bit Vicky Pollard” – reinforced by right wing headbangers who call them “fascists” and “terrorists”.
This is a bit beyond the parallel that a lot of commentators have drawn with Don’t Look Up. The presenters in the film are trivial minded and ignorant, incapable of taking on board the scale of the disaster that’s coming. On GMB, they claim to be aware and worried, but not enough to take any action themselves – perhaps by devoting sections of their programme to exploring this “complicated” issue in a way that mobilises people to act on it and requires political leaders to set up systems to enable that. Instead they are actively and cynically trying to undermine the need for rapid changes; and replace discussion on how to do it with belittling ad hominin attacks designed to make the most active and concerned people look mad. And, seriously…Vicky Pollard? If anyone is saying “Yeah, but No, but Yeah, but No” its a government that is expanding offshore wind while going for new oil and gas at the same time.
The logo for programmes like this should be a suicidal ostrich.
Reed and the Party leadership might think this good electoral politics, but the dynamic of comments like that is to take us away from dealing with climate change, towards just locking up and shutting up the people who are most motivated and concerned about saving all our futures. A disagreement on tactics with Just Stop Oil, that the targets for their actions should be those most responsible for causing the crisis, is a second order disagreement. “Workers” should not only not be being “annoyed”, but its the job of everyone who takes climate breakdown seriously – whether that’s JSO or the Labour Party – to mobilise them as active participants and leaders in the transition to a green society.
The recent article on Labour Hub from Pierre Dardot and Christian Laval – reprising the Euston Manifesto in a French accent – makes up in tetchiness what it lacks in analysis. Without dropping to their level and accusing them of “stupidity”, I’d like to put some of their assertions and arguments under a bit of scrutiny in the hope that, even in the impassioned polarisation of current arguments, a bit of light can be generated amidst the heat.
Their argument, that the Left has more than one enemy, is a statement of the obvious that no one could disagree with. What they don’t do, however, is examine the actually existing power relations between different states and draw any conclusions about who the main enemy is.
Since the object of the argument is the reality of imperialism, and how that is revealed in the Ukraine crisis and war – as the latest front line of an aggressive expansion of the NATO alliance right up to the borders of Russia – lets examine the forces involved and their scale.
Russia has a GDP slightly smaller than Italy and spends $62 billion on its military.
NATO includes all the major imperial predators on the global stage, corralled into one bloc by the USA so that it can intervene at will throughout the rest of the world; knowing that all of its smaller rivals will be lined up behind it (or, in the case of the UK, trying to jump up and down alongside it in a desperate attempt to be noticed and approved of). It has a collective GDP 20 times the size of Russia’s and its military spending is 19 times as much (before recently announced increases which will make this gap even bigger). NATO is the military lynch pin of the global imperial system centred on the United States. Russia is not included in it.
The proportionate military spend looks like this.
A quick glance at this imbalance should put paid to any notion that the NATO powers face any kind of threat from Russia’s military, that “Ukraine is just the start” or that revived “Great Russian chauvinism” or “neo Stalinist fascism” is about to steamroller across Europe, restore the Russian Empire and put paid to “democracy”; and therefore plans to significantly increase military expenditure have any “defence” rationale at all. Offence is another matter.
Even more absurd is any notion that that the active expansion of NATO across Eastern Europe since 1991 – amassing East Germany, Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Albania, Croatia, Montenegro and North Macedonia into the bloc, with Ukraine, Georgia and Bosnia added to the active waiting room in 2022, following a US Ukraine Security Agreement signed in November 2021 – has been a passive act; let alone “reactive” in Diderot and Laval’s words. The ante has been consistently upped from the US.
The Russian response to this has been to try to be incorporated in it; or to seek “common security arrangements” in Europe with it. Approaches have been made repeatedly since 1991 and consistently rebuffed by the USA. So, no incorporation , no accommodation, just inexorably increasing pressure.
So, Russia has reacted with aggressive defensiveness when this pressure has got too much.
defending the South Ossetian enclave after the Rose Revolution installed a pro US President in Georgia, who launched an attack on it-
and, in Ukraine – reacting to the 2014 US backed overthrow of a President who had just signed a trade deal with Russia rather than the EU – by annexing Crimea and moving forces into the Donbass; after the rebellion there was about to be crushed by the Ukrainian army and Azov battalion.
The expansion of NATO up to Russia’s borders is not simply a matter of “humiliation” for Russia, as Dardot and Laval put it. It is an existential military and political threat; and seen as such across the full spectrum of Russian political opinion. It has been repeatedly stated as a red line which will lead to a violent reaction if crossed. This is not a mystery to NATO or the USA. It takes a real act of will to ignore it on the Left. The question is, knowing this, why did the USA and NATO push across it and provoke the reaction they had been warned about?
Dardot and Laval explain that in reaction to the Russian response, “pacifism is not an option” and “the immediate imperative is to help the Ukrainians resist” and “let’s not play non-intervention again”. So, theirs is not an anti war stance.
They would have no sympathy with the Italian and Greek airline and rail workers who have refused to move NATO munitions to stop fuelling the war.
In arguing for arms to be sent to Ukraine until the 2014 borders are reestablished they are calling for the forcible reoccupation of the Donbass and Crimea, against the wishes of the people who live there. So much for self determination and human rights.
They are in favour of anti war demonstrations in Russia, not anti war demonstrations against NATO in NATO countries.
They don’t specify how far they want to go to “intervene”, but NATO is intervening already. And Dardot and Laval line up behind it.
They try to cover this by turning their polemical fire on “campism”, which they characterise as “one sided anti imperialism”, even though they themselves are forming a bloc with their own imperialism and its allies. You can’t get more “one sided” than that.
They argue that “my enemy’s enemy is not necessarily my friend”,
but pose a delusionary framework in which there are no hierarchies of power, as though we were already in a multi polar world,
and at the same time pose the actions and values of any powers opposed to the dominant imperialism as worse. “The terrible reality of Communism in either Russia or China” or “post colonial regimes” during the first Cold War.
This follows the well worn trope of every “human rights” intervention by the US and its allies, that the enemy of the day is the new Hitler. So, in practice, my enemy’s enemy is more my enemy than my enemy is. At best, the currents that espouse this sort of position are an opposition within imperialism, not an opposition to it. Firmly in their home camp.
This is not a new phenomena on the European Left. It has been the dominant tradition of Social Democracy since 1914. Lest we forget, at the outset of the First World War, the overwhelming majority of Socialist and Labour Parties across Europe voted for the war budgets of their own countries to “defend” them against the threatening barbarism of their enemies, firmly subordinating themselves to the barbarism of their own ruling classes. At the start of the war, there were already plenty of atrocities to choose from. Looking only at those committed by the other side became almost a moral imperative to justify looking away from those committed by our own. Plus ca change. Plus c’est le meme chose.
As the Left in the imperialist countries has stagnated in reformist parties – sometimes allowed into government if self consciously subaltern enough – or small revolutionary currents with a weakness for syndicalism, and nowhere overthrown capitalist rule; revolutions have taken place at imperialism’s weakest links, in countries that are poorer, with lower standards of living, smaller infrastructure development, often devastated by the struggle and having to build up economic, health and education infrastructure almost from scratch. These have faced military threats, and interventions, from the USA and its allies, and constant economic pressure. The Labour movements of the Global North have been at best ambiguous about the struggles of these countries, with small solidarity movements largely outweighed by an insular condescension, even on the far left, which has considered the judgement of small Western European groupuscules on what is or is not “socialism” to be of more weight than, say, the Chinese Communist Party; which sees itself as a Marxist Party, is running its country with significant success and has 90 million members.
Following in this tradition, Dardot and Laval are quite clear than in a confrontation between developed capitalist countries/imperialist countries/the Global North/ the “democracies”/the “international community”/the “West” (delete description according to political taste) and any actual challenge to it, even from countries that see themselves as Socialist, or “post colonial regimes”, in the final analysis, they plump for the former.
They seem to presume that the “West” supporting dictatorships – and invasions and coups and terrorist movements – across the Global South was a function of the old Cold War, and seem unable to explain why it is a constant feature of what they have continued doing since. The dramatic shift from the “End of History” in 1991, the USA’s dominant unipolar moment, in which it was possible to imagine that the future of the world would be to become a gigantic American suburb, to the current moment in which the USA is for the first time since 1871, no longer the World’s largest economy in real terms is registered in the Global South by a series of political realignments around the Chinese model of investment led development , but in the Global North by a movement among both the ruling class and labour movements that could best be described as “nostalgic”(in the UK ranging from the swashbuckling imperial delusions of Brexit to Keir Starmer’s oddly retro political framing; so he looks like a Labour Prime Minister, but a Labour Prime Minister from the last century). The US is no longer able to subsidise its allies in the way it did after World War 2. It doesn’t generate the capital any more. In fact, it sucks it in, and this has a destabilising effect, primarily on the Global South but increasingly on its allies; the stagnation of Japan since 1989 being a stark example. And this is driving an increasingly delirious domestic politics in the US too.
Because the USAs global dominance is slipping, it is using its armed forces to reassert itself, pushing beyond previously sacrosanct red lines and provoking confrontations – today with Russia in Ukraine and, if it gets away with it, tomorrow with China in the South China Sea. This is designed to spark conflicts it can “win”, lead on to regime change in its interests and the Balkanisation of rival powers before China, in particular gets beyond its threats. It is this that is the threat to world peace, just as it is the current wave of US driven sanctions that is the biggest threat to the wellbeing of the global population, as this briefing from No Cold war makes clear.
We should always bear in mind that this is the country that
dropped more munitions on Iraq on the first day of the second Iraq war than the Russians have managed in the whole 5 weeks of the Ukraine invasion,
carpet bombed Vietnam, killing 2 million people,
imposed sanctions on Iraq in the 1990s that killed 500,000 Iraqi children (a price “worth paying” according to Madeline Albright)
killed up to a million Iraqis in the ensuing war,
is currently imposing sanctions on Venezuela which have killed 40,000
and on Afghanistan which have led to a situation in which a million children are on the verge of starvation.
We could add to this the situation in Yemen, ably abetted by its UK vassal, backing the Saudi intervention which has killed almost 400,000 people according to the UN, has directly led to a cholera epidemic and “the worst humanitarian disaster in the world.”
This is what global misleadership looks like. That’s what imperialism IS. That is why the USA is the main enemy, along with our own ruling classes, who are aligned with it. No other country has the capacity to inflict so much pain simultaneously around the world. No other country has 800 military bases in other countries or the capacity to use the world’s financial system to “make the economy” of any given target country “scream.” That’s why an “anti US lens” is essential to any sense of proportion on global developments and, whatever we might think of their opponent in any given conflict, or of what they do in the course of it, a victory for the US is a defeat for all of us and no one on the Left should aid or abet it.
We can add to this the complete failure of the USA – and the ruling class more broadly – to lead humanity in combatting our greatest collective threat; climate breakdown. This is the clearest indication that the capitalist class – through its most powerful states – is no longer capable of leading humanity anywhere except to disaster. The USA is spending 14 times as much on its military as it does in combatting climate change. China is spending one and a half times as much on climate change as on its military. The USA would need a change of regime to begin to do what is necessary.
Dardot and Laval, writing in France – which is about to have a Presidential election between a fascist matron and a centrist blancmange, vying with each other for who can demonise France’s 6 million Muslims the most – note that the other enemies of the Left include “dangerous ideologies” which support “forms of oppression and domination, notably religious”, giving an unmistakable genuflection to the boorish laicity that is barely distinguishable from the Islamophobia that runs virally through the French Left and disables its anti racist solidarity. The only Presidential candidate, in this context, that they take a pop at is Jean Luc Melenchon, the only Left candidate in spitting distance of Len Pen and Macron, presumably on the basis that “the honour of the Left” would not be safe with him.
Their attempted parallel between Ukraine and Palestine – that the Left should support the nationalist side of Ukraine in the same way it supports the Palestinians – shows exactly what is wrong with their argument. For the Palestinians to be free, they would either have to have equality within a common state with Israeli Jews from the river to the sea, or, if this could not be achieved, a viable separate state. The cause of the rebellion in the Donbass against nationalist Ukraine in 2014 was that equality was no longer guaranteed for the Russian population. Support for nationalist Ukraine is therefore – in fact – more like support for the current state of Israel than for the Palestinians who are oppressed by it.
Their central argument is that what they describe as “great movements of democratic emancipation” throughout the world have an independent dynamic and take place completely independently of outside influence or support or direction.
They lump together in this
movements like the Arab Spring; that developed organically from large numbers of people rebelling against economic conditions that were becoming sufficiently unbearable that the inhibitions of a repressive state and the ingrained habits of just getting by and making the best of things could be overcome in a great rush of inchoate solidarity – which the US struggled to get a grip on and divert
with movements that have been described as “colour revolutions” because they followed a script written in the State Department and could be most accurately described as creatures of it. As good capitalists, the US State Department can’t help themselves in branding these events, even though doing so is a bit of a giveaway that they are their products.
Dardot and Laval argue that “the peoples have free will and they are not the puppets of the great powers” which is true up to a point. Free will is nevertheless often expressed in a way that does indeed make the movements concerned a creature of Foggy Bottom; and given the weight of US finance, expertise and media power, it can be very hard to avoid being suborned by them. The contrary also applies. The existence of the USSR provided a pole of attraction for movements in the Global South/Third World which, at the time, tended to take a secular form and aspire to socialism in some form. The collapse of the USSR meant that such forces have tended to dissipate and be replaced by millennialist style religious movements. The current rise of China is leading to significant political realignment. Each struggle in each country is a unique combination of common elements, but whatever the local specifics, none is innocent of the influence of outside forces. Sometimes this is simply the weight of example or cultural aspiration, sometimes the power of investment or trade, sometimes conscious manipulation and intervention.
The USA, in particular, runs a vast international network of human rights organisations and social media networks, funded through the National Endowment for Democracy, and it intervenes everywhere. Sometimes it initiates a movement. Sometimes it moves in on one and bends it to its will. They have cultivated an international network of “democracy activists” and hold cadre schools to refine their tactics and compare notes. Anyone involved in these networks will in practice be acting as an agent of the USA. Many of them are conscious of that and proud of it.
Some rebellions are not in the USA’s pocket. These tend to be the ones that are demonised by it. Hezbollah in Lebanon is one, the Houthis in Yemen are another, as are the Cubans, Venezuelans and Bolivians.
So, the question is what is the relationship between any movement and the US and its local relays. This is not predetermined, as we make our own history, but not – as Marx once noted – in conditions of our own choosing.
Dardot and Laval argue that ISIS was not the inevitable result of the Syrian uprising against the Assad regime, but the involvement of the USA and its local allies certainly helped push it that way. ISIS has been in some ways an irregular frontier version of Saudi Arabia.
Similarly, the Rose Revolution in Georgia didn’t have to end up with military adventurism from President Saakashvili, but US involvement and the prospect of NATO membership certainly encouraged him.
And in Ukraine, the dynamic of the Maidan movement was inexorably towards the far right. The least that can be said about US involvement is that it inhibited that not at all.
Sometimes the US is aiming for regime change, sometimes to create chaos as a preferable alternative to a government that does not do its bidding.
The current sanctions being imposed on Russia by the US are going to have an immense blowback across the Global South that will be more severe the longer they are in place. Millions are being thrown into poverty right now. The rebellions that erupt as a result will be almost certainly too much for the US to handle. The US war drive is leading to Global chaos and misery. No support should be given it.
We are living through a nightmare. The logic of war is escalation and demonisation. Each horrific event fuels the next, justifies retaliation, and righteous vengeance screams a descant in the headlines. Once a war starts, the bloody toothpaste is out of the tube, the eggs are smashed, and there is no putting them back together the way they were.
When Tariq Ali writes in the London Review of Books (24/3/22), “no one knows how this will end”, there are a number of possibilities; most very grim indeed.
1. It could escalate out of control into an open clash between NATO and Russia; and we stumble into a Third World War. This is openly discussed. The shadow of the mushroom cloud that has hovered in the back of our nightmares for most of our lives is bigger than ever, and beginning to preoccupy waking thoughts. The USA has 3,500 nuclear warheads. Russia has over 4,000. The “independent” UK Trident fleet is an auxiliary of the US and would fire when they did.
The explosive power of these warheads is many times those of the atomic prototypes dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945. Use of these weapons would be fast and devastating. Neither Russia nor the USA has a no first use policy, so each would be nervous of the other’s itchy trigger finger. Hundreds of millions would die in a matter of hours and human civilisation would not survive.
Its a moot point whether it would deserve to.
President Zelensky’s call for a No Fly Zone is an invitation to Armageddon. Journalists thinking it makes good emotional copy to promote it, need to get a grip on the scale of the fire they are playing with.
2. The conventional war bogs down into a long term stalemate; or a limited Russian tactical victory leads to no durable settlement, leading to an Eastern European version of Afghanistan in the 1980s. This is a scenario that Hillary Clinton and others project with some relish.
The current pattern of NATO powers fuelling the fire with weapons deliveries would continue. Snipers are being trained for this eventuality. The consequences of this for Ukraine would be to make it a permanent war zone.
The consequences for the rest of the world would make the current impact on oil, gas and bread prices spiral ever upwards – leading to successive waves of impoverishment and upheaval across the planet. This Briefing from No Cold War spells out just how devastating the US Sanctions regime will be for the Global South if they are not brought to an end quickly.
And the resources we need to invest in green transition are being diverted to arms budgets. Great news for Raytheon, Lockheed and BAE systems; a medium term death sentence for the rest of us.
3. A deal is done on the basis of Ukraine remaining outside NATO and ruling out deployment of missile systems on its land, no Russian occupation of Western Ukraine, recognition of the decision of the people of Crimea to join the Russian Federation and an autonomous arrangement for the Donbass.
This would recognise a number of realities. Russia does not have the forces to occupy Western Ukraine even if it wanted to. Ukraine is being used in a proxy war by NATO which it has nothing to gain from. The people of the Donbass and Crimea do not wish to be part of a nationalist Ukraine, even a neutral one. A settlement on these lines could begin the process of de-escalation and rebuilding, allow refugees to return to their homes and limit the damage to the rest of the world.
The scars would take a long time to heal, but this is probably the only basis on which they could even start to. Such a deal would be perceived as a betrayal by the Ukrainian far right and a defeat by the US, so they will try to prevent it in the first place and undermine it if signed. With feelings running as high as they are, they would be cutting with the grain unfortunately.
4. The Russian army loses its will to fight and pulls back in disarray, leading to forcible recapture of the Donbass and possibly even Crimea, NATO rampant right up to the Russian border, political repercussions within Russia and a colour revolution movement pushed by the US to consolidate its advantage and gain control of Russia’s vast fossil fuel resources via a docile and subordinate leadership; which may or may not involve Balkanisation of the country on the lines proposed by Dick Cheney in 1991.
Pro US oligarchs in office in Moscow would break their bloc with China, allowing the US to use its colossal military advantage (3,500 nuclear warheads to 350) to fight the conventional war in and around Chinese territory that is now an openly discussed project there. Steve Bannon argues that such a war would have to be fought by 2024. Former Trump Deputy Assistant Secretary for Defence Eldrige Colby, who crafted Trump’s 2018 Defence strategy argues, in his book, The Strategy of Denial, for a “limited” conventional war centred on Taiwan.
Colby’s calculation is that such a war would damage the US economy by 10% but the Chinese by 40%. Therefore, the USA “wins”. The millions of people who would die don’t get much attention: collateral damage.
The current state of the war on the ground – Russian withdrawal from around Kyiv and consolidation in the East and South – and the limited progress in peace negotiations, do not give a clear indication of how things will go, but whatever is going to happen looks like a long and gruesome slog.
The best hope is a settlement along the lines in 3) the outlines of which are being discussed in the peace talks; and the sooner the better.
The only war that matters is the war against the imagination/ all other wars are subsumed in it. Diane Di Prima
A sense among young people of being silenced in the face of impending disaster is even more relevant today than it was in the late 1960s.
A survey for Teach the Future by Bath University asked 10,000 young people across the world in 2021 for their views and feelings about the future in the context of the climate crisis.
76% were afraid of the future.
54% thought that humanity is doomed.
39% were actively considering not having children.
That is a tidal wave of anxiety that will come out in all sorts of pathological forms if it is denied or silenced, but generated positive action from 2018 on; with the wave of school strikes that built up to millions taking part across the world by September 2019. This generated a supportive movement among parents, teachers and other educators, to change the curriculum as an agent of change for our whole society; anticipating the shifts we will need for a sustainable society, so that we are actively making them.
This is driven by the reality of climate breakdown.
As I am writing this, the Storm Eunice is howling outside and the rain splattering on my window after a week of storms. A world that felt mostly safe for most of my life no longer does. Switch on the laptop and climate crisis impacts are all over it. They are hitting the Global South hardest, but are coming home to roost in the Global North too. No one is going to stop it by building a wall.
The mobilisations in response are the human fuel for change.
A government serious about making a transition to sustainability would learn from it, work with it and use it to galvanise more people to act on the scale and with the urgency we need, with schools acting as community hubs. Actually implement Article 12 of the Paris Agreement, which mandates governments to educate their whole people to understand the scale of the crisis and the measures needed to overcome it.
Instead – alongside the most minimal steps forward in the DFE Net Zero Strategy – we have new guidance on “Political impartiality in schools”. which is designed to keep this movement within safe bounds for the government.
The headlines that heralded this announcement all screamed that this itself is anything but politically impartial, with student movements protests on climate, Palestine and racism; critical views of the British Empire or figures like Churchill specifically mentioned as “woke” issues – or “left wing brain washing” – that would be suppressed by it. This is an attempt to speak power to truth.
The actual guidance is far more subtle than a Daily Express headline is capable of and plays on the fact that teachers are – in general – far more fair minded and conscientious and far less partisan than, say, a government Minister. The law on this matter is quite specific and limited. “Partisan” views are those which support one political Party over another, or put forward one solution to the exclusion of all others. The guidance has some quite unexceptional points that just about every teacher would use in any case, that if stating a personal view, identifying it as such and saying that other views are available, or, if there is a genuinely contested argument, pointing out sources of differing interpretation. A similarly mature approach might be welcome in some of our newspapers. Debating an issue of concern to students, or organising clubs to pursue it, is not, in itself “partisan”. However, the liberal use of the word throughout the guidance creates the impression that it might be; with the intention of inhibiting both teachers and students from exploring the issues involved without feeling there is someone looking over their shoulder waiting to dob them in to the DFE thought police. As there very rarely is, this is an attempt to set such an inhibition in people’s heads. We shouldn’t let it in.
Presenting issues in a “balanced” way is less of an issue than whether an issue is being presented truthfully. The problem comes when the presentation of awkward facts for those in power gets interpreted as partisan and ruled out of order. This is the US Alt Right playbook to control narratives expressed in the accents of the British civil service. Much of the framing of the discussion on History in the press suffers precisely from this sort of cherry picking. Attempts to look at the history of the British Empire from the point of view of the colonised as well as the coloniser, for example, lead to really jumpy reactions from people who would like that perspective to remain suppressed; whether that is in the classroom or the National Trust. This is not because people are unaware that the elegant stately homes they love were built with the proceeds of slavery, but that they’d really prefer not to be reminded of it. Its because they know that this is a fact that they find it so disturbing; and so resort to disavowal. Look straight at something, and pretend its not there. There’s only so much reality one can take, after all. The “war on woke” is designed to sustain existing unbalanced views and hagiographies in a way that turns History into a series of self serving myths, and any questioning of them into heresies. None of us should be intimidated into ceasing to question or challenge.
There is an attempt running all the way through the guidance to inhibit the expression of any view that might be interpreted as partisan, as well as a staggering lack of self awareness of the partisan views of the government itself – which this guidance acts to disguise.
On climate in particular, a little humility would not go amiss from a governing Party that
abstained on the Parliamentary motion to declare a climate emergency,
still contains the organising cadre of climate denial and delay in the form of the Net Zero Scrutiny Group,
has for the most part come very late to any recognition of the scale of this crisis,
has a default to backslide, and a Net Zero Plan with targets that its own Parliamentary watchdog says it will undershoot by 80%.
These are awkward facts. Not contestable because they are on the public record. Would it be “partisan” to point them out? What would the “balance” be? It is the weakness of government responses to the scale and enormity of the crisis that has fueled the student protest movements and strikes.
The relatively tepid language of the guidance acts as the soft cop to the hard cop role of the tabloids, which are primed to go after examples of “woke” teaching in the same way they did in the 1980s when some schools tried to teach that it was ok to have two Dads or two Mums, which led to exactly the same sort of accusations of indoctrination – teaching kids to be gay – “its political correctness gone mad” etc etc etc with hues and cries at school gates from parents frightened their kids were being “turned gay”; allowing the Conservative government to introduce Section 28 and ban teaching that gay families were ok. They don’t talk about that much anymore, but they do have a pretty consistent record of being on the wrong side of history.
Let us consider Scenario A – dealing with climate breakdown – in the new DFE guidance on “political impartiality in schools” in the context of their overall edict that “You can discuss political issues with pupils, and their interest and engagement in these should be encouraged. However, you should not promote partisan political views to them, or encourage them to participate in specific political activity, including protests”.
The paradox of this position is that it is a truth universally acknowledged that the cure for an otherwise disabling level of anxiety is to take action against the causes of it. Depression and despair sets in where such action is blocked. The driver of the fear in the survey is that most young people feel that their governments are failing to tackle the problem on the scale and at the speed needed to resolve it. it is the gap between the knowledge of the crisis and the paltry scale of the actions being taken to deal with it that causes despondency.
In Scenario A the government acknowledges that there is no justified argument against the reality of climate breakdown, the reasons for it and the disastrous consequences of failing to deal with it, neatly disowning a noisy faction of its own back benches, as follows.
“Teaching about climate change and the scientific facts and evidence behind this, would not constitute teaching about a political issue. Schools do not need to present misinformation, such as unsubstantiated claims that anthropogenic climate change is not occurring, to provide balance here.“
So, there is no requirement to cover the sort of nonsense put out by the Global Warming Foundation to provide “balance”.
However, where teaching covers the potential solutions for tackling climate change, this may constitute a political issue. Different groups, including political parties and campaign groups, may have partisan political views on the best way to address climate change.
This part of the topic should be taught in a balanced manner, with teachers not promoting any of the partisan political views covered to pupils.
In other words. Its ok – in fact its desirable – to have a debate. Partisan views can be expressed in a lesson, so long as there is more than one of them. Not only that, but its also ok for teachers to express a personal view, as long as it is clearly identified as such, and its made clear that other views are available.
Its in the area of potential solutions, that go beyond technical matters to how we organise society and deal with issues of justice and fairness in the transition we have to make, that open debate is essential. The government’s model of education tends to emphasise the transmission of “knowledge” – an old fashioned passing down of truths from authority figures – and they tend to interpret debate in the same way as manipulation by authority figures. What they seem to have missed is that so much of the debate, with “partisan views” fiercely expressed, has been led by students who have felt let down by the absence of content, absence of urgency and absence of organisation and mobilisation in schools and communities. In so far as any progress is being made at all, including by the DFE, it is down to them. It is no job of a responsible teacher to try to shut them up.
The whole point about trying to forge a just transition is that we are making it up as we go along, no one has all the answers and to find them we have to let a hundred flowers blossom and a thousand schools of thought contend; so we can (all) look up, wake up and create our own future.
Paul Mason’s 2018 article What kind of capitalism is it possible for the left to build? while dated in its optimistic presumption that left governments were on the cards in the UK, USA, France and Spain in short order, is, as he puts it “brutally honest” in its rejection of any notion that the working class in the richer countries has any obligations towards, or prospects of an alliance with, the working classes and oppressed of the developing world.
As he puts it in his conclusion,
“Is this strategy designed to allow the populations of the developed world to capture more of the growth projected over the next 5-15 years, if necessary at the cost of China, India and Brazil having to find new ways to break out of the middle income trap? Would it, in other words, flatten out and reverse the trends captured in Branko Milanovic’s famous “elephant graph” over the next two decades?
For me the answer is yes. This is a programme to save democracy, democratic institutions and values in the developed world by reversing the 30-year policy of enriching the bottom 60% and the top 1% of the world’s population.
It is a programme to deliver growth and prosperity in Wigan, Newport and Kirkcaldy – if necessary at the price of not delivering them to Shenzhen, Bombay and Dubai.“
Lets examine this more closely. Delivering growth and prosperity to “Wigan, Newport and Kirkaldy” – if necessary at the price of not delivering them to Shenzen, Bombay (sic – its been called Mumbai for years) and Dubai” might be more simply summarised as “Britain First”, despite Mason’s insistence that he is against “ethno-nationalism”.
Letting Shenzen and Mumbai go hang alongside Dubai means that he is not solely concerned with the “Global South elite” – a term that appears in his Tweets quite a lot as a way to imply that the Global South is so much more full of elites than the Global North – but with the labouring masses of the entire Global South; the overwhelming majority of humanity. For Mason, if they stay poor as the price of “prosperity to Wigan”, so be it. But, in reality, the “bottom 60%” are far from being “enriched”. They are barely getting by. Under the impact of Covid and now the Ukraine war, they are being impoverished very quickly.
Presumably Mason thinks that’s ok because they’re used to it, and should find “other ways” to get better off; and its their problem to do it, nothing to do with us. These are, after all, far away countries of which we know little.
In this sentence is the abandonment of any basic solidarity between working people in the wealthy countries and those who are far worse of than we are – probably because they are far worse of than we are.
The “elephant graph is misleading in some respects in that, while it notes increases in wealth, it does not take into account the starting points for those increases, and gives the impression that the working class in the developed/advanced/imperialist countries (delete according to ideological preference, but we all know who we’re talking about) are relatively hard done by compared with those in the Global South. This graphic from Visual Capitalist (!) shows what the actual distribution of global wealth is – and points to rather different conclusions from Mason’s.
The “logic” of Mason’s position is that working class people in the Global North, most of whom are in the 32.8% above earning between $10,000 and $100,000 a year and hold 11.1% of the world’s wealth, should be fighting simultaneously with the top 11% – those earning over $100,000 a year holding 85% of the world’s wealth – and the bottom 55% – those earning less than $10,000 a year owning just 1.3% of the world’s wealth.
In his failure to recognise the necessity of an alliance between workers in the Global North with those in the Global South – the majority of humanity – Mason’s position can’t help but collapse into the “ethno-nationalism” he claims to be seeking to avoid.
The logic of “ethno-nationalism” is for workers in the wealthier countries to bloc with the top 11% – who are overwhelmingly concentrated in the Global North – against the Global South. “Send them back!” Build that wall!” This is most extremely expressed by Fascists. But Fascists, in emphasising white racial solidarity as their motivating drive, create division and run the risk of civil war in multi ethnic Global North countries. So, at the moment, this is usually expressed more “inclusively” in terms of “national unity” or “Western Values” or “democracy in our continent” (Keir Starmer, my emphasis).
And, looking at this more closely, Mason avoids a key point. Part of the Global South has found another way forward, but not one that Mason likes.
If you look at the link to the elephant graph in the quote above, it has a very revealing caption. The sharp differentiation between the working class in the developed countries and the top 1% is very clear. The growth in income and well being in the Global South is helpfully qualified to point out that most of this has happened in China.
And so it has. From an average per capita income of around $300 a year in 1980 to over $10,000 a year now. This has been described in a Labour Foreign Policy Group document that is primarily hostile to China as “perhaps the most significant contribution to human wellbeing in world history”.
You might think that such a development might merit a positive engagement from someone who describes himself as a Socialist; given that the elimination of extreme poverty in China and the lifting up of 850 million people to relatively decent living standards has taken place under the government of a Communist Party with 90 million members in a country that sees itself as building “Socialism with Chinese characteristics”.
But not a bit of it. Mason counterposes this to “prosperity in Wigan etc”. His “30 year policy” remark implies that the growth and development in China – which is of a different order and different scale to any part of the Global South still labouring under the Washington consensus – is part of the same process that has led to extreme income differentiation in the Global North, not, as it is, part of a challenge to it.
He therefore gets his alliances all wrong. While he posits the possibility of taking on both the bottom 60% and the top 1%, the logic of his position is a Global North class bloc against the Global South in general, and those countries within it that see themselves as Socialist in particular.
His title spells this out. “What kind of capitalism is it possible for the left to build?” This is the Left in the developed countries. Ourselves alone. Which he presumes can take on our own ruling classes – not only without global allies but actively repudiating them – while leaving the 1% he is supposedly targeting in control of their own system; hoping that – under challenge -they will stay within the bounds of “democratic institutions”; despite all our historical experience of what they do whenever their interests are threatened.
This is both wrong and impossible.
And the proof of this pudding has already been in the eating. Since he wrote his article in 2018, the vehicles for such a prospect have been seriously smashed up by the ruling class. No one now expects the Sanders current in the US, the sort of left Social Democracy represented by Corbynism in the UK, or La France Insoumise to get into government. At all. The scale of defeat varies, but the bottom line is that no variant of left social democracy is going to be let anywhere near government in any country in the Global North that has any heft; so Mason’s nostrums are a dead letter before they start. In the UK, the Starmer project flirts overtly with and encourages exactly the sort of ethno-nationalism Mason claims he opposes.
We live in the best democracies money can buy. The “democratic institutions” in our countries are the facade through which the rule of the 1% is mediated. This operates on a whole series of sophisticated levels which, under the impact of economic and political crises are becoming more evident. The attacks on “democracy, democratic institutions and values in the developed world” – from naked gerrymandering to voter suppression to racist notions that citizenship in wealthy countries is a privilege that carries a price tag of political loyalty- are all home grown. These “democratic institutions” are not a natural part of Global North society but a space to organise won in struggle that is now under increasing attack with – paradoxically – the slogans of a Cold War between “Democracy” and “authoritarianism” as part of the cover for it.
With Boris Johnson visiting Saudi Arabia, in an attempt to get more oil pumped, just a day after the execution of 81 prisoners by the Bin Salman regime, this is the speech that Keir Starmer could have made but did not.
While he made a general point…“going cap in hand from dictator to dictator is not an energy strategy”, he stopped well short of calling for Johnson’s trip to be called off,and steered well away from any demand for a shift in policy on Yemen remarking instead, “Obviously there’s a real energy crisis in terms of the cost at the moment, so anything that brings the cost down now is a step in the right direction, whatever it is.” (my emphasis).
In this dark hour, our thoughts, our solidarity, and our resolve are with the people of Yemen.
They have been cast into a war, not through fault of their own. But because Mohamed Bin Salman knows that no people will choose to live under his bandit rule unless forced to at the barrel of a gun.
The consequences of Bin Salman’s war have been horrendous and tragic for the Yemeni people but also for the Saudi people, who have been plunged into chaos by a violent elite who have stolen their wealth, stolen their chance of democracy, and stolen their future.
And we must prepare ourselves for difficulties here. We will see economic pain, as we free ourselves from dependence on Saudi Oil, and clean our institutions from money stolen from the Arab peoples.
But the British public have always been willing to make sacrifice to defend democracy on our continent. And we will again.
Saudi Arabia’s neighbours and every other democracy that lives in the shadow of autocratic power are watching their worst nightmare unfold.
All those who believe in democracy over dictatorship, the rule of law over the reign of terror, in freedom over the jackboot of tyranny, must unite and take a stand and ensure Bin Salman fails.
We must make a clean break with the failed approach to handling Bin Salman, which after the intervention into Yemen started in 2015 – has been complicit in more than 20,000 bombing raids on Houthi territory, indiscriminately bombing civilians and hospitals, schools and other infrastructure, killed over 377,000 people, with one child under five dying every nine minutes, displaced millions more, led directly to a cholera epidemic with over a million people infected and much of the country on the brink of famine, with the United Nations describing Yemen as the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, and turned a blind eye to the arrests of anyone who publicly opposes him, symbolised by the murder of Jamal Kashoggi – and has fed his belief that the benefits of aggression outweigh the cost. We must finally show him he is wrong.
That means doing all we can to help Yemen defend herself -urgently withdrawing the military support that we and our NATO allies provide Bin Salman, and the hardest possible sanctions must be taken against his regime. It must be isolated. Its finances frozen. It’s ability to function crippled. We should even withdraw the after sales services provided by BAE systems for the missiles and aircraft they have so lucratively sold.
And there are changes we must make here in the UK. For too long our country has been a safe-haven for the money that Bin Salman and his fellow bandits stole from the people of the Arabian peninsula. It must end now.
And this must be a turning point in our history, we must look back and say what this terrible day was actually when Bin Salman doomed himself to defeat.
He seeks division, so we must stay united. He hopes for inaction, so we must take a stand. He believes that we are too corrupted to do the right thing, so we must prove him wrong.
I believe we can. But only if we stand together.
Very few words have had to be changed from Starmer’s televised speech at the beginning of the Ukraine invasion – mostly personal names and places. If he were genuinely concerned at projecting “a liberal international order in defence of human rights” we should expect to hear a speech like this directed at UK and US allies and calling for an end to UK complicity in their war crimes.
But we don’t.
Could it be the direct involvement of RAF pilots training Saudi Airmen, or the Royal Navy personnel seconded to the Saudi fleet, and all that money made by UK built munitions that have blown up Yemeni civilians in large numbers, that explains the reticence?
This morning, the newspapers were hyping up the possibility of a Russian attack on NATO territory, and commentators at the weekend arguing for a No Fly Zone were pushing the idea that Ukraine could just be the beginning. This has its counterpart on the Left, where people argue that the Russian invasion is “just imperial expansion”.
People lose their heads in wars – sometimes deliberately – so its worth checking the reality and coming down to earth.
We should never lose sight of the fact that a direct clash between NATO and Russia set up by a No Fly Zone would push us over the edge of mutual nuclear annihilation. Hundreds of millions would die. That vast number – too likely to be treated as a statistic that does not engage with our emotions and move us – nevertheless contains an almost infinite multitude of individual tragedies. You would die. So would I. So would everyone you know and love.
NATO spends more than 18 times as much on its military as Russia does. That makes makes a direct Russian attack on NATO absurd. In fact, NATO arms spending is more than half of the global total. Projected increases in “defence” spending will make this proportion even greater. The “defence experts” projecting fantasies of Russian incursions into the Baltic States or Poland know this; but have either lost all grasp of reality, or don’t want their readers to have one.
Japan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand are also bound to the US by non NATO military alliances. Add their 6.3% to NATO’s 55.8% and you get 62.1% of global military spending made by countries in US led military alliances. In addition, some of the other countries in the top 20 military spenders also tend to align with the US even without a treaty obligation to do so, like Israel and Saudi Arabia.
As the Brookings Institute candidly puts it, “America’s alliances in Asia and Europe have formed the backbone of what has become known as the “liberal international order.” Over the past 70 years, this order has helped protect American interests and values.”
That has also involved starting most of the world’s wars in that period.
Nuclear war is not “unthinkable”. Military planners spend a lot of time thinking about and planning for it. We are now closer to it than at any time this century.
President Zelensky of Ukraine is making continual calls for NATO to try to impose a “No Fly Zone” over Ukraine. War reporters elicit similar appeals from people on the ground, giving it a moral charge that builds pressure for it. It is possible that this is being done on the delusion that the consequences are so severe that it can’t happen; that no one in their right mind would sanction it. But the logic of war is escalation. And the people running it are not always in their right mind. Rehearsing something, even as a fantasy, can be preparation for doing it.
In case there is any doubt about what a No Fly Zone would mean, Former NATO Supreme Allied Commander of Europe, General Philip Breedlove has spelt it out “If you put a no-fly zone in the eastern part of Ukraine … and we’re going to fly coalition or NATO aircraft into that no-fly zone, then we have to take out all the weapons that can fire into our no-fly zone and cause harm to our aircraft. So that means bombing enemy radars and missile systems on the other side of the border [i.e. Russia].That is tantamount to war.” General Breedlove is, we should note, in favour of doing this. And he is not alone, if media pundits on US talk shows are anything to go by.
If an action is “tantamount to war” between NATO and the Russian Federation, we should all be clear that a nuclear exchange becomes more likely than not and understand why.
Russia does not have a “no first use” policy for its nuclear weapons, and carried out drills for them just before the invasion, with an explicit warning to NATO not to get involved.
US nuclear war policy is, and always has been, based on a devastating first strike. The first iteration of this was their Strategic Integrated Operations Plan of 1960, in which a conventional war with the USSR would trigger the US smashing every city in Eastern Europe, Russia and China with 3,400 nuclear warheads; killing 600 million people (200 million of them collateral damage in Western Europe, Japan, India and other places close enough to the targets to be impacted) in a matter of hours. That would have been one person in 5 of the total global population at the time. There is no reason to believe that subsequent reiterations of this plan are any less restrained.
Having the two powers with the world’s greatest stockpiles of nuclear weapons, primed and ready, in an open conflict and incredibly nervous that the other is going to strike them first, means that we would be a nerve shredding hair trigger away from mutually assured destruction. No exchange of these missiles would be cautious or incremental, or slow. It would be all or nothing and very fast. All and nothing.
Whatever anyone’s view of this war, the reasons for it, or the way it could best and most swiftly be brought to an end; recognition that anyone calling for a No Fly Zone is inviting us to Armageddon should be seared into all of us and resolutely opposed.