The Balloon Goes Up!

Is it a bird? Is it a plane?

Amid all the fuss about the Chinese balloon floating over Montana – we should not forget that the US has 339 military surveillance satellites operating around the world; watching everyone and everything all the time.

They launched four of them in 2020 and, as Space Magazine reported at the time “It’s unclear exactly what the spacecraft will be doing up there.” Though I think we can work it out.

If every other country reacted to that like the US has to this balloon, no future summit would ever be able to take place.

Paranoia about Chinese technology is becoming another theme being pushed hard in the Western Press and on right wing sites. Here’s a headline from one of them. China finds SHOCKING WAY to spy on you – and they’re already in your KITCHEN! (their caps) Of course, if there’s someone from Chinese intelligence who wants to sit in your fridge to note the contents, he or she would have to nudge Jeff Bezos, Mark Zuckerberg and Eric Schmidt out of the way first. “Alexa! note down everything I’m saying”.

The US has also been developing balloon surveillance capacity of its own. Last May Politico reported that

Over the past two years, the Pentagon has spent about $3.8 million on balloon projects, and plans to spend $27.1 million in fiscal year 2023 to continue work on multiple efforts, according to budget documents.

And that

For years, DoD has conducted tests using high-altitude balloons and solar-powered drones to collect data, provide ground forces with communication and mitigate satellite problems. The Pentagon is quietly transitioning the balloon projects to the military services to collect data and transmit information to aircraft, POLITICO discovered in DoD budget justification documents.

Projecting just a little perhaps?

Socialist Solutions to the Climate Crisis – China

This is a slightly tweaked version of the talk I gave at the Socialist Solutions to the Climate Crisis meeting at the Marx Memorial Library alongside Dan Kovalic from the University of Pittsburg, Lauren Collins from the Cuba Solidarity Campaign and the Nicaraguan Ambassador Giselle Morales-Echaverry and chaired by Ben Chakko from the Morning Star. A film of the whole meeting can be viewed here.

What China does to tackle the climate crisis will have a huge impact on whether humanity succumbs to it or not.

This is partly because it

  • is already the world’s largest economy in Purchase Power Parity terms
  • has a population greater than that of Europe, North America, South America and Australasia combined; a four continent country
  • is a developing country that has developed very successfully
  • is now exceeding the US in the number of patents for new inventions filed every year
  • is a country run, not by the private sector interests that make the USA the best democracy money can buy, but by a Communist Party with 90 million members; whose project is to build Socialism with Chinese characteristics.

This is in a context in which the US – as the self proclaimed “indispensable nation” and “global leader” – the country for which the rules in the “rules based international order” are written – is failing spectacularly to lead the world in confronting its greatest existential challenge – the breakdown of the climactic conditions in which human society can continue to exist – and prioritising war instead.

  • On current government spending, the US is putting fourteen times as much into its military as it is into domestic green transmission, and is encouraging its allies to increase theirs too; which they are doing.
  • The economic context of this is that, because globalisation now favours China not the US, the US is “decoupling” from it and pressing its subordinate allies to do the same, while screwing them over at the same time.
  • China, by contrast, is spending more than twice as much on green transition as on its military. More precise look at these figures here.

China’s is the right priority for every country because of the scale of the problem. Reports that the 1.5C limit is fast getting beyond reach should be a klaxon going off in all our heads. Not an invitation to fatalism, which will be fatal, but to redouble efforts to accelerate the scale and speed of transition to limit the damage as much as possible.

The consequence of not doing so will be severe. In 2007 a joint report from the Centre for Strategic and International Studies and the Centre for a New American Security entitled “The Age of Consequences: The Foreign Policy Implications of Global Climate Change” made this prediction for the impact of the kind of climate breakdown we could be heading into.

Governments with resources will be forced to engage in long, nightmarish episodes of triage; deciding what and who can be salvaged from engulfment by a disordered environment. The choices will need to be made primarily among the poorest, not just abroad but at home.”

That’s what we have to avoid, and the Labour movement has to take a lead in making sure we do. Not least because if we don’t the widespread anxiety about the future will give rise to wilder and wilder versions of the tsunami of irrationality we are already seeing, with severe consequences as climate crises bite and people seek false solutions. We should note that the capitalist class, which emerged historically– in its own head at least – as champions of reason and enlightenment – are going down promoting collective insanity; Q Anon and on…The only question is whether they take us with down them.

Socialist solutions are needed because, as the FT noted recently “The Free Market will solve the Climate Crisis – but not in time”. This is even recognised in the Skidmore Review of the government’s Net Zero “Strategy” which notes that the state has to provide clear goals, legislative frameworks and sufficient investment for any transition to be viable. The US Inflation Reduction Act has taken the same approach, which has now prompted the EU to follow suit, streamlining investment procedures, resetting regulations and priming green pumps.

This is better than letting the market follow its financial nose while hoping for the best, but its still within a framework in which it is the job of the state to provide the conditions for private sector profitability – with that profitability being the determinant of whether a transition takes place or not.

This won’t be good enough – which brings us back to China.

In the context of the second phase of the Wars for the New American Century, and the great decoupling that goes with it, China will not get a good press in this country; and the dominance of a set of negative narratives relentlessly repeated means that relatively few people, even on the Left, will give it the benefit of the doubt.

This sometimes takes the form of extreme cognitive dissonance. A recent Labour Party Foreign Policy Group Report said that China’s success in poverty reduction for 850 million people in the last half century was perhaps the single most significant contribution to human wellbeing in world history. but then goes on to argue for technological, commercial and academic disengagement from, and military preparedness to confront, the country, people and Party that produced perhaps the single most significant contribution to human wellbeing in world history. A similar view is common in the climate movement.

So, on climate, does China get it? Beyond Xi Jinping’s speeches about the need to build an ecological society and for global cooperation to achieve it – a concern that predates him becoming General Secretary – there’s what China does domestically, how it acts internationally, and how the two intertwine. I want to look at two key areas.

  1. Energy Transition.
  • China is still heavily dependent on coal to generate power, but we should note that since 2011 the quantity of coal used every year has levelled off, while the economy has been growing dramatically.
  • Last year China accounted for nearly half the world’s investment in low carbon energy, with four times the investment put in by the USA.
  • Overall, China’s investment in wind and solar has been on such a large scale that it has made them a cheaper source of energy than fossil fuels, which is a crucial global life line.
  • The current (14th) Five Year Plan envisages a better connected grid with renewables at its core and coal relegated to a back up role.
  • The International Energy Agency and others project that China’s 2030 target for renewable power installation could be met by 2025, which indicates the sort of exponential growth that will be needed for China’s overall emissions to start dropping before the end of the decade.
  • The IEA assessment is also that the speed and scale of this drop will, exceed Western precedents.

At the same time, the decision to cease any funding for coal fired power stations as part of the Belt and Road initiative is estimated by the IEA to have the same beneficial effect as the whole of the EU actually getting to Net Zero by 2050. So, a massive deal.

That means that the energy development paradigm for those parts of the Global South where China is hegemonic will be via renewables. The “dash for gas” in Africa being pushed by the EU, and Tony Blair Institute among others, at the last COP is depressing contrast. They are selling this as a “transition fuel” for the continent, but its actually for export to Europe.

2. Transport

  • In 2019, of 425,000 electric buses in the world, 2,500 of them were not in China.
  • The city of Shenzen in Southern China replaced its entire 16,000 strong bus fleet with electric vehicles in 2016. London, with 8,000 buses, is going to take until sometime in the 2030s, and TFL is very good by UK standards.
  • In 2021 China produced 57% of the world’s electric vehicles and 77% of the batteries needed to power them. We should note in passing that the only gigafactory making EV batteries in the UK is part owned by a Chinese company. The debacle of build it from scratch startup company BritishVolt illustrates the difficulties of the UK model; which can’t compete with the level of subsidy that continental scale economies like the US and EU can put up, while its increasingly Sinophobic Foreign Policy posture will inhibit any inward investment from China, where this technology is best established.
  • The rapid development of China’s High Speed Rail Network has saved it from dependence on internal medium haul flights – of the sort that the US relies on and which were largely responsible for US carbon emissions rising again last year.
  • This is also and essential paradigm for Global South transport development through the Belt and Road initiative, which runs on rails.

So, Socialists in the climate movement have a number of tasks

  1. To challenge disinformation about China in the movement and, as the saying goes, “seek truth from facts”.
  2. Oppose the war drive and military spending, campaigning for financial and technological transfer to the Global South instead.
  3. Oppose economic decoupling as detrimental to climate progress (a very clear example of which is that the trade sanctions imposed on Chinese solar panel imports by the US this year has led to a 23% drop in domestic installations – which is bad for emissions and bad for jobs) and seek win win global solutions on the context of the most rapid possible green transition.

Women’s Health in China compared to US and UK

Photo: Xinhua

Following on from the theme of the Tiny Tipping Points Blog, showing how China is exceeding the US and UK in key aspects of life even while having a far lower level of average wealth, in rankings produced by the 2021 Hologic Global Women’s Health Index

  • China appears at 14th on the list, with an overall score of 63, alongside Japan, Sweden, the Netherlands and New Zealand.
  • The USA is 23rd, with an overall score of 61, alongside Lithuania, Malaysia, Hong Kong, Belgium, Australia, France and Saudi Arabia.
  • The UK is down at 30th, with an overall score of 60, alongside Poland, Ireland, Slovenia, Kosovo and Kazakhstan.

This survey was carried out by Gallup during 2020 with “66,0000 women and girls (aged 15 and older) in 122 countries and territories and over 140 different languages to assess the multiple dimensions that contribute to women’s health.”

The full report can be read here.

Tiny Tipping Points as China pulls ahead.

Although China has a nominal per capita income of just under a third of the US level in 2022 in PPP terms; since 2020 it has began to overhaul the US as a society in some key respects.

Life expectancy in China now exceeds that of the US by 20 months; at 78.2 years to the American 76.6. This might be dented this year by the current rise in COVID infections, but current indications are that the Zero Covid policy kept the population safe during the most lethal period, so the impact of opening up now will be qualitatively less than it was in the West.

In China, infant mortality has declined to 5 per 100,000, now below the US level of 5.5 and the maternal death rate at birth is now substantially lower, at 16 per 100,000, compared to 24 per 100,000 for the US.

While this is improving but uneven in both countries, the rate of improvement is greater in China.

  • In the worst performing US State, Mississippi, infant mortality declined slightly from 10.1 per 100,000 in 2009 to 8.7 per 100,000 in 2019.
  • While in Louisiana in 2021 the maternal death rate was 58.1 per 100,000 births.
  • This compares unfavourably with Xinjiang, one of China’s least developed and poorest regions, where infant mortality dropped dramatically from 26.58 per 1,000 in 2010 to 6.75 per 1,000 in 2020.
  • At the same time, the maternal death rate more than halved from 43.41 per 100,000 in 2010 to 17.89 per 100,000 in 2020 – less than a third the Louisiana rate.

NB the figure for Louisiana is for 2021, that for Xinjiang is for 2020.

Beneath the brute figures of sheer size of economies – China’s has been larger in PPP terms since 2014 and is likely to be bigger in exchange rate terms by the late 2020’s – China’s largest firms are beginning to outperform those of the USA, with Chinese companies in the Fortune 500 Global list earning $11.71 Trillion last year, compared to $11.34 trillion for the US companies listed. 87 out of the 145 Chinese companies listed are majority, or wholly, state owned.

This is underpinned by increasingly ground breaking scientific research, with the Chinese share of the most cited Scientific papers (top 1%) having grown to 27.2%, surpassing the USA’s 24.9%.

The US model of development, dependent as it is on dominating and exploiting the rest of the planet, producing consumption patterns with an elephantine carbon footprint, is neither a viable path for other countries to follow – because no other country can dominate the way that it does – nor, as we can see above, does it produce the best possible outcomes for its population from the resources it commands. It is already an outmoded model of modernity.

Figures from Dongsheng News

US v China military and green transition spending

There is no way to dress this up. If you look at the figures for investment in military spending as a ratio of investment in domestic green transition it becomes obvious what each country’s priorities are.

The agreed US military budget for 2023 is $858 billion. The investment in green transition earmarked by the Inflation Reduction Act is $369 billion between now and 2030. So, 858 multiplied by 8 years gives a total spend of $6864 billion by 2030. Divide that by the 369 billion to be invested in green transition and you get a ratio of 18.6:1. So, for every dollar spent on green transition in the United States, $18.60 is spent on the armed forces.

China’s military budget for 2022 was $229 billion, according to Jane’s. The investment earmarked for green transition – for a carbon peak before 2030 and neutrality by 2060 – is $450 – 570 billion a year, according to China Briefing. That gives a ratio of between just under 2:1 and 2.5:1, so on average more than twice as much being invested in green transition as on the military.

So, the US, eighteen times as much on the military. China, twice as much on greening. It’s quite obvious from this which country’s investment is more beneficial to the world making a viable transition to sustainability.

These calculations assume flat military budgets. An additional reason that none of us can afford the new cold war that the US is determined to pursue is that China will be forced to devote more resources to defence, which will slow the transition. A reduced US military budget, on the other hand, would allow both countries to transition quicker and allow greater cooperation to that end.

The causes of the war in Ukraine – a reply to Simon Pirani.

Simon Pirani’s article, “the causes of the war in Ukraine” is posed as a reply to John Bellamy Foster’s brilliant and terrifying Notes on Exterminism” but simply doesn’t address what Bellamy Foster is saying about the connections between US nuclear war posture, its policy towards Russia and the connection with climate breakdown but talks primarily about Gazprom instead. It’s also odd that Simon states that it’s important to understand the background “in order to understand what happens next, and how this relates to the western powers’ historic failure to deal with climate change,” and then completely fails to explore either. There is no vision for what the end of the war might look like if his section of the Left’s backing for Ukraine and NATO leads to a Russian defeat – either for Ukraine or for the world. Nor is there any examination of how the US war drive connects with their failure on climate breakdown. For any insight into this, readers would be better off reading Bellamy Foster, or the companion article from John Ross, which does explain how the war fits into the totality of current geopolitical struggles in a way that makes sense of it.

This is particularly significant because the USA is spending 14 times as much on its armed forces as it plans to invest in climate transition. As Meehan Crist put it in the London Review of Books in March “One of the worst outcomes of the war in Ukraine would be an increasingly militarised response to climate breakdown, in which Western armies, their budgets ballooning in the name of “national security” seek to control not only the outcome of conflicts but the flow of energy, water, food, key minerals and other natural resources. One does not have to work particularly hard to imagine how barbarous that future would be”. Not hard to imagine because that’s pretty much the world we already have under the Pax Americana, but a bit more so.

Simon seems to assume that the “popular resistance” represented by mass conscription in Ukraine hints at a progressive outcome if the Oligarchy in power and its NATO overlords achieve their war aims. To be fair, this is not explicitly stated, just presumed. Leaving aside reports of WhatsApp groups in Ukraine set up to warn people of when the press gangs are in the neighbourhood, and that 7% of the conscripts sent to the West for training have deserted; the proof of the pudding is in the eating. Since the start of the war the Ukrainian government has moved sharp and hard against the rights of the workers they are calling up to fight, and they have drawn up a post war reconstruction plan with western capital that would make Ukraine even more of a dystopian neo liberal laboratory than it already is. Not a land fit for heroes. Before the war, the combination of low wages and corruption with the pending threat of conscription to fight in the Donbass led to one of the lowest birth rates in Europe and 600,000 people a year leaving the country for a better life; some to Russia, more since 2014 to the EU.

Simon asserts that “until 2014, western policy was focused on integrating Russia into the world economy on the west’s terms: even after the Kremlin’s military intervention in Ukraine, the western response remained reactive.” The USA is always reactive, in the sense that it will intervene in any situation anywhere, anytime that it can take advantage of; but it is also invariably pushing things along, actively seeking contradictions and fissures that it can insert itself in to shift things its way. Staying global hegemon takes work, and there are US Embassies full of active agents and 800 US military bases all over the world either doing it or waiting to join in, an inner space full of satellites keeping tabs on things and a cyberspace dominated by US tech companies intimately linked to the security state.

Think about what “integrating Russia into the world economy on the west’s terms” means. “Integrating Russia into the world economy on the west’s terms” means subordinating Russia to the West. Not partnership. Not multipolarity and a deal among equals, but subordination. The US applied the same presumption to China, that participation in the WTO would make it more western, allow the private sector to dominate over the state, ease into a political system that could be bought up by the ruling class; just like ours is. The 2008 crash put paid to any prospect of that. Pro US voices have been marginal since then.

The US is no longer trying to incorporate China, or, now, Russia, on its terms, because it knows it can’t. Its policy now is to break the world economy apart and try to retain domination of as much of it as it still can. In most of the Global South, it is losing ground, quite quickly. That makes continuing to dominate Europe very important. If the European economies suffer as a result, that’s a price to be paid and ridden out politically.

Simon’s core argument is that “the West” was interested in getting cheap Russian energy and therefore had an essentially pacific intent towards it until the invasion on 24th February came out of a clear blue sky and forced them to reassess. This requires almost complete amnesia for anything that actually happened in the run up to 24th Feb – Russia’s continual appeal for negotiations on a “Mutual Security Pact” that NATO could have agreed to and spun out forever to avoid getting to the crunch point had they wanted to instead of spurning with imperial contempt – and a presumption that all of “the West” had the same interests, rather than there being a rift between the US and Germany that was resolved in the former’s favour at the NATO Summit the week before the invasion, with Germany coming to heel and refusing to open up Nordstream 2, putting NATO on an economic war footing. This was almost certainly a tipping factor in Russia’s decision to intervene.

Because, the term “the West” in this context, covers some real contradictions, particularly between the economic interests of the USA and those of the EU, and Germany in particular, which partly explain why Russia was never simply taken into NATO or ever considered a possible EU member even at the point it was considered a “strategic partner”.

Lenin always argued that politics trumps economics. And so we have seen in the case of Germany. It is not in Germany’s economic interests for this war to continue, nor for cheap Russian gas to be cut off from its industries and domestic consumption. This is also true across Europe. The Prime Minister of Belgium has spoken of fears of “deindustrialisation” as a result of this sudden rupture in energy supplies. Political turmoil is rising across Europe, not least in the UK.

The struggle over whether Nordstream 2 would be opened up last winter illuminates the fault lines here. The US was against it, for the same reasons it wouldn’t consider letting Russia into NATO. A close relationship between Germany and Russia undermines US dominance across the whole EU. Russia in NATO would have a similar centrifugal effect on the alliance. Blowing the pipelines up just as demonstrations were starting up in Germany and elsewhere to get them put back on stream to cut energy bills is a completely logical thing for the US to do. Burning the boats. Cutting off the options. Trying to stop a connection being more widely made between the cost of living crisis and ongoing support for the war. The idea that the Russians would blow up their own pipelines, when resupply of gas though them is such a huge diplomatic carrot, is as absurd as the idea that they would shell a nuclear power station occupied by their own troops or convoys of cars full of civilians trying to get out of Ukraine into Russian controlled territory (which they are supposed to have done twice in recent weeks if you believe our objective, reliable media).

The US attempt to subordinate Russia has never been a passive policy, not least in Ukraine and to describe it, either in or after 2014, as “reactive”, as a synonym for defensive, implying that it is a dozy, passive force, only taking action when severely provoked, dulls our understanding of just how proactive they are. NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenburg has no such delusions and his comment “we have been preparing for this since 2014” should be taken at face value.

And it’s quite clear from this article that preparations for sanctions against Russia were being actively negotiated between the USA and EU from November last year which knocks a big hole in Simon’s main contention that the economic war was a defensive reaction to the Russian intervention. All part of the game plan.

Simon describes the Maidan movement of 2014 as though it was a simply popular uprising against corrupt oligarchs. This is as simplistic as describing Brexit as a popular revolt against “elites”. There is no recognition of the role of the far right, the division in the country leading to civil war is elided, nor is there any acknowledgement of the active intervention of the US and EU to try to mould the outcome in their favour, nor of the tussle for influence between them. The active role of the US in the Maidan movement alongside the far right isn’t mentioned. John McCain addressing a rally in the square is neither a figment of anyone’s imagination nor a “reactive” intervention. The role of Victoria Nuland, one of the architects of neo conservative interventionism and an active participant in many such interventions is almost too well documented, but Simon passes them by without a nod, or a word, or any acknowledgement at all.

The replacement of one corrupt oligarch, Yanukovitch, with another, Poroshenko, who collaborated with the far right throughout his Presidency and oversaw neo liberal reforms, opening up Ukrainian farmland to Western Agribusiness, rather undermines Simon’s assessment. Popular participation in the Maidan in the West of Ukraine did not determine a popular outcome.

Since at least the Orange Revolution (the clue is in the colours, the US can’t help itself when it comes to branding its products) in 2004 there was an open struggle for where Ukraine would align. None of this is unknown. None of it “reactive”.

This is paradoxical because Simon recognises that “in 2013, the Kremlin offered a substantial discount on gas sales as part of a generous trade package, conditional on Ukraine abandoning its talks on an association agreement with the EU; Yanukovych’s support for that package was among the sparks that set off the Maidan revolt.” This package was rather positive for Ukraine, but not at all in the interests of the EU or US. As we know with sparks, the flame has to be fanned.

We are now in a situation in which criticism of NATO is an expulsion offence for Labour MPs. The GMB is campaigning for increases in military spending, when the UK already spends more on its military than every other country in the world apart from the USA, China and India, and, through NATO and AUKUS, is allied to countries responsible for two thirds of global military spending, with the USA at their core. The US is fast losing ground economically and so is trying to reassert itself militarily, even if this leads to war with other nuclear armed powers. Increased arms spending by the UK signs us up for that. Not recognising this drive, or flinching away from the consequences of it, disarms the Labour movement in the face of the greatest short-term threat to human survival.

To invert one of Simon’s sentences; those in the western ‘left’ who don’t recognise that ‘NATO expansion’ is the chief cause of the military conflict and that Ukraine is fighting a ‘proxy war’ for the US with $53 billion worth of US weapons and $12 billion more to come… act in effect as apologists for the USA’s dangerous brinkmanship that could lead to nuclear war and the end of human civilisation. 

The war in Ukraine is indeed a historical turning point. Its result will determine whether we move into a New American Century – with a NATO victory, a US backed colour revolution in Russia, possible partition of the country into at least three parts, as some of the more hawkish neo cons planned in 1991, and the decoupling of Russia from China to facilitate the war US hawks want in the South China Sea before the Chinese economy gets too big for it to deal with – or not.

This prospect makes it a matter of principle that the Left and civil society should resist this war drive.

A United Kingdom that looks outward, with no self-awareness at all – David Lammy’s speech to Labour’s Conference.

Atlanticist Labour Shadow Foreign Secretaries have the difficult job of squaring the circle between the reality of UK subordination to US global dominance – with everything that flows from that – with the desire of the Party membership to be – and to be seen to be – “ethical”. This is usually covered by rhetorical devices that touch nerves and mobilise emotions, while obscuring awkward realities. A classic of its kind was Emily Thornberry’s speech in 2019 in which she included Venezuela’s Nicolas Maduro in a list of “Trump inspired strongmen” that the Party had to oppose, sliding over the awkward fact that, far from being one of Trump’s acolytes, Maduro was one of his targets, and Venezuela to object of ruthless US sanctions that were responsible for the deaths of over 40,000 people. Details, details…

With the banishment of that awkward internationalist Jeremy Corbyn and the reassertion of a new era of unapologetic Atlanticism from the front bench, David Lammy has gone further.

He did not reflect, in his foreign policy speech to Labour conference this year, that the role of “Britain in the World” has historically been rather like that of the policemen he mentions who used to stop and search him when he was “a skinny kid in NHS glasses on the streets of Tottenham“; and for very similar reasons. At one time as dominant world cop and enforcer, latterly as the new world cop’s most eager henchman.

His speech provides a cover for it to continue to do so.

His list of challenges faced by the world is odd, and in a strange order.

Conference, the world faces more challenges today than at any other time in my 22 years in parliament. The rise of China. Conflicts in Yemen, Syria, Ethiopia and South Sudan. A global food crisis. And a climate crisis.

“And a climate crisis”. The climate crisis is the framework in which everything else takes place – or doesn’t. It’s not an item on a list. Least of all the last item. And the central problem is that the world’s most powerful state is prioritising military interventionism over dealing with it. The USA is spending more than 20 times as much on its military as it is on dealing with climate change, claims to “global leadership” notwithstanding.

China, by contrast, is spending one and a half times as much on climate change as on its military.

Who is doing the right thing?

The UK already spends more on its military than every other country in the world apart from the USA, China and India. It spends more than Russia. Through NATO and AUKUS it is in direct alliance with countries that account for two thirds of total global military spending. But the Truss government wants to increase spending by 50% by 2030 and the Labour front bench is going along with this. This is not a polict that tends to peace.

Lammy’s “green dimension” is subordinate to Cold War imperatives and inwardly oriented. The UK should not be dependent of “fossil fuel dictators” he says. Which ones does he mean? Will imports be stopping from Saudi Arabia any time soon?

And “we will seek to work with allies and partners to create a new international law of ecocide to criminalise the wanton and widespread destruction of the environment.” There’s that presumption of leadership from the Global North again, Britain’s “allies and partners” in setting and policing the ecological rule book for everyone else.

And note the weasel words – “we will seek to…” This will be rather tricky for the Global North because most of the fossil fuel companies seeking to develop the 350 carbon Bombs (projects which each have a carbon footprint of over a billion tonnes of CO2) that will bust us well beyond 1.5C on their own are companies that are based here; and so are most of the banks that finance them.

The news has just come through this week that major US Banks are threatening to withdraw from Mark Carney’s Climate alliance, because “they fear being sued over the alliance’s stringent decarbonisation commitments” and you can make your own judgement on whether the “law of ecocide” would target them or not, even if the UN made climate action its “fourth pillar”.

This also applies to the specific crisis that Lammy uses to frame his speech. The USA has for years explained to the Global South how hard it is to squeeze out a few billion dollars to help get to the 2020 target of $100 billion a year agreed at Copenhagen ten years earlier which has still not been met and that, with a bit of luck and a following wind (and a bit of redefinition of private sector loans) they might be good enough to get up to the target by 2024. Maybe. If the Global South is good. And nothing else comes along that is more urgent.

By contrast, they have magicked up $53 billion to fuel the Ukraine war in 6 months. Just like that. Easy. Whatever your view of the rights and wrongs of the war in Ukraine, and more on this later, it’s shocking how both the quantity and the speed are so dramatically different and provide such a clear demonstration of US priorities. Perhaps the way that a lot of this aid will go in orders for munitions and ammunition from US arms manufacturers may have something to do with that, but most of it reflects the war drive the USA is carrying out to try to shore up its economic decline relative to China.

In this framing, its odd that Lammy poses “the rise of China” as a challenge “for the world”. It is certainly a challenge for the US world order, Pax Americana, New American Century, Unipolar US domination; call it what you like. But that’s not the same as a challenge “for the world”.

For most of the world, benefitting from Chinese investment and trade, it looks more like an opportunity; and this is explicitly embraced by the Left in the Global South, Latin America particularly; where they are very clear about who runs the “Empire” and who has carried out coup after coup to install “dictatorships” across the continent.

It is peculiarly bizarre when considering that UK overseas aid is lauded for raising 3 million people a year out of poverty. This is not a figure I have seen anywhere else and have not been able to find online. It would be odd if true, because the impact of the COVID pandemic everywhere in the Global South outside China has been to throw back development and increase poverty. It would, of course, be a good thing if true, but pales into insignificance compared to China’s record as a developing country of raising 850 million people out of poverty in 40 years (21 million a year); seven times the rate. This was described in a Labour Foreign Policy Group document, generally rather hostile to China, as “perhaps the single most significant contribution to human wellbeing in world history”. But let’s not dwell on that. Let’s move swiftly on and not think about how this statistic is actual people whose lives have been immeasurably improved. It’s only the same number of people as the entire UK population thirteen times over. Just think of how many people that is. In forty years. And that includes everyone in Xinjiang, whose living standards are rising by 6% a year and whose labour is no more forced than that of anyone else who works in a factory.

It is also odd that Lammy does not mention that the “conflict in Yemen” is fueled by British made arms, of the sort that Conference sadly voted to boost, and the Saudi Air Force and Navy are trained to bomb and blockade ports by the RAF and Royal Navy – leading to famine and the world’s worst cholera epidemic. Nothing to see here. Let’s talk about Ukraine instead.

Lammy says “No act of imperialism is ever the same. But Vladimir Putin’s barbaric invasion of Ukraine this year was just the latest front in an age-old war between democracy and dictatorship. Freedom and subjugation. Empire and independence.” From the country and allies that have – just since 1990 -brought us two wars each in Iraq and Yugoslavia, the invasion and twenty year occupation of Afghanistan and the reduction of Libya from the most prosperous country in North Africa to a war ravaged basket case, this might be considered a little ironic. Quite what kind of “act of imperialism” Lammy considers these to be is unclear, who was fighting for “freedom” and who for “subjugation”, who for “Empire” and who for “independence“, he doesn’t say. Possibly because it’s too obvious if you think about it for a moment. Does he have no self-awareness at all?

“Vladimir Putin’s barbaric invasion of Ukraine” is an oft repeated mantra that conceals more than it explains. Deliberately. The war in Ukraine did not start with the Russian intervention this February. It started with the overthrow of a democratically elected President in 2014, aided and abetted by the considerable resources of the USA and EU, in cahoots with the local far right. This led to a rebellion on the Donbass region and an eight year civil war. As Sir Richard Sherriff, the former NATO Deputy Commander, remarked, a little off script, “this war started in 2014”.

The invasion this February followed attempts by the Russians to get an agreed mutual security arrangement that was spurned with complete contempt by NATO.

The Russian decision to recognise the Donbass Republics in February was not carried out by Putin alone but had the support of the overwhelming majority of the State Duma, including the main opposition Party, the Communist Party of the Russian Federation, reflecting concerns at the failure to implement the Minsk Agreement, refusal of NATO to engage in any talks about mutual security, and a build up of 130,000 Ukrainian troops – whose pay was tripled in December – opposite Donetsk and Lugansk threatening their liquidation.

All war is barbaric, but it may seem odd to viewers of the atrocity porn produced by Feargal Keene and the like that by comparison with what the Americans do, the Russians have been relatively restrained. There have been a number of specific strikes on infrastructure like power stations or dams, but in US air campaigns they aim to smash the entire power and water treatment systems on day one to reduce the population to a state of rebellious despair. “Shock and Awe”*. In fact, the US dropped as much explosives on Iraq on the first day of the second Iraq war as it took the Russians a month and half to do in Ukraine. All relative? Up to a point. But not if you’re underneath it.

The term “Special Military Operation” incidentally, is not a weaselly euphemism to cover all out war, but an internationally accepted definition of a particular sort of limited war, and everyone who reports on this knows it. This is now escalating and will continue to do unless peace negotiations can get going.

Worse, Lammy’s way forward is both delusory and condemns Ukraine and its people to being a permanent proxy war zone for NATO. “Whether it takes six months, three years or ten, Ukraine will win.” Ten years of war? Seriously? “Ukraine will win“? With Russia incorporating the South and East into the Russian Federation and mobilising accordingly, I can’t see that. Lammy is calling for war without end.

At a point that even EU Foreign Representative Jose Barroso is calling for a negotiated peace acceptable to both sides – “we stand ready to assist the peace plan just launched and we urge all parties to seize this opportunity to de-escalate the crisis and end violence of this developing tragedy,” it is deeply depressing that Labour’s Foreign policy spokesperson striking the same sort of bellicose posture that Boris Johnson did when he intervened to sabotage the last serious attempts at peace talks back in April.

If he wants the “global food crisis”, not to mention the energy crisis that he, again oddly, didn’t mention, to end, we need to end the war. That starts with pushing for peace, not a ten year war.

Lammy envisages a war crimes tribunal for Putin. On the model of the sort we have seen for George W Bush and Tony Blair for the hundreds of thousands of deaths in Iraq that their war led to? One like that? Or perhaps the one for Putin after the Chechen war, at a time he was considered a “strategic partner” by NATO? War crimes, it seems, are always committed by our enemies. Never by us, or anyone allied with us. The numbers don’t count. Especially if they are in the Global South.

Lammy is also right that the Tories tend to craft a Foreign Policy that is a wolf in wolf’s clothing and that the current government, delirious on Brexit Kool Aid is picking fights with everyone and thinking it can get away with it. It won’t. But his version of looking outward is simply to reassert traditional alliances with the rest of the Global North as it rearms on a colossal scale, while hoping a wee bit of extra aid will keep the Global South sweet enough not to start lining up with the Chinese model of development.

While Lammy is right to argue for restoring overseas aid to 0.7% of GDP, his argument is less that this is the right thing to do as partial reparations for the damage and exploitation done by the Empire and slave trade, more about enhancing the “soft power” of the UK as the beneficiary of it, even though, as he said his “ancestors knew what it was like to have their freedom taken away. They heard the twisted lies of imperialism as they were stolen from their homes in shackles and turned into slaves.” Quite so.

“A voice for peace, development and freedom across the globe” is sorely needed. A voice for expanded UK military expenditure, for an unquestioning alliance with the USA in its provocative militarist dotage as it pushes for wars it thinks it can win in Ukraine and the South China Sea, won’t provide any of that.

Historical Note

“Shock and awe” marries the two US bombing traditions of precision targeting with colossal force. But, unlike the initial advocates of precise targeting, who argued for overwhelming strikes on key targets of military significance, “choke points” like the Schweinfurt ball bearing factory in the case of Nazi Germany, these strikes combine taking out military HQs but also decisive civilian infrastructure. So, from day 1, there is no power, no clean water, no functioning sewage system. It seems odd that advocates of this approach are trying to argue that “the Russian way of making war” is more barbaric than that.

Have Brylreem, will bomb! US Air Force General Curtis Lemay in 1954. Sketch taken from the photo by A.Y. Owen in the Getty Images Collection which, if anything, is even more alarming to look at.

The idea that destroying civilian infrastructure makes a population less inclined to resist has never been vindicated in practice; unless it reaches the almost genocidal scale of the B29 raids on Japan in 1945 led by Curtis LeMay, who went on to bomb North Korea “back to the Stone Age” a few years later; in which the state of mind of the shattered survivors barely counts. In the initial argument in WW2 between the US Air Force, who thought they could “hit a pickle barrel from 6 miles up” using a precision bombsight in daylight (they couldn’t) and the RAF, which went into carpet bombing wide civilian areas at night, the British side disregarded its own experience during the Blitz, that the raids had made the civilian population hate the bombers harder and strengthened resistance to them, thinking this wouldn’t apply in Germany because the people were “a different sort”. No stiff upper…A racialised argument within white supremacy, indicating that the British took it for granted they were ubermensch, but that it was rather vulgar to proclaim it.

All quotes from “The Bomber Mafia” by Malcolm Gladwell.

Tony Blair – Yesterday’s Man in Tomorrow’s World

If you read the speech by Sir Anthony Charles Lynton Blair KG on “After Ukraine – what lessons for Western leadership” , take a moment or two to contemplate his photograph. Right down to the washed out tones, this is the face of a man who has split his soul into many parts and scattered them like depleted uranium shells all over the world; a tightened mask showing the strain of a twenty year struggle to suppress the self awareness of the consequences of his decisions that is nagging away at the back of his mind. As a practicing Anglo Catholic, he must have confessed to some of them, and worn out a few rosary beads, all the better to double down on the world view that led him to make them in the first place.

His central argument is that, like 1945 and 1980, 2022 “the West is at an inflection point”. He says “the West” because the rest of the world is defined in relation to it and only comes into the picture as an object for “Western Strategy” to manipulate. As always with Blair, his use of language is designed to obscure as much as it illuminates. “The West” is a shorthand phrase that he uses because it has largely positive associations (in “the West”). Try substituting “The Global North” throughout, and there is a jarring dissonance in his message. The “Global North” is redolent of Global inequities in wealth and power, ruthlessly maintained by its members, is therefore a more accurate label for the powers he is talking about, and this undermines the foundations of his argument; which is why he doesn’t use it.

This can be seen in his opaque description of 1945 as his first “inflection point”. At this time “the West had to create new institutions of international governance, of defence, of European cooperation in place of not one but two world wars caused by conflict between European powers”. This awkward phrasing is designed to skim over the nature of those World Wars – as inter imperialist conflicts between Global European Empires, the result of which was the crushing of a challenge from Wilhelmine, then Nazi Germany and replacement of the weakening Global dominion of the British Empire with the Pax Americana. Nor does he examine the beginning of a breakdown in global imperial dominion in the Russian revolution and foundation of the USSR, nor growing movements for colonial freedom. Nor the way that the defeat of Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan was dependent on the Red Army and largely Communist led Partisan movements in Europe; and the people of China in Asia; both Nationalist and Communist. This is the context for the West’s strategic choices at that point. Blair’s “new institutions” were those required to coral weaker European imperialisms beneath the USA’s new dominion. In 1945, the USA was producing 50% of global GDP and was able to afford to rebuild its rivals as subordinate powers, drive the Communist Left out of post war coalitions in Western Europe by 1947, and cement them into NATO by 1949. These were the initial moves in the first Cold War; predating the formation of the People’s Republics in Eastern Europe in 1948, and the formation of the Warsaw Pact in 1955.

Blair goes on to argue that the strategy for the 1945 “inflection point” in Europe was broadly Social Democratic, building welfare states, modern infrastructure for health and education “to make available to the broad mass of the people what had hitherto been restricted to a privileged few”. He can no more bring himself to say “for the many not the few” than he can note the nationalisation of significant industries, but this is broadly right. What it misses is why this was done. Marshall Aid was not charity. The calculation in the USA was that if the US did not rebuild Western Europe on its own model, and provide some hope and prosperity, the civil war against Nazi collaborators led by Communist Partisans in countries like Italy would re- erupt and the USA could “lose Europe” in the way it “lost China” by 1949.

In 1980, by contrast, the “inflection point” overturned that settlement. “In 1980, after years of nuclear proliferation, we (sic) sought the final collapse of the Soviet Union and the triumph of liberal democratic values.” This was via the Reagan/Thatcher “revolution in favour of markets and private enterprise” against “a burgeoning state power that seemed to hold back the enterprise of the people, not nurture it.” It should be noted that Blair declares himself quite agnostic about the character of the strategy launched at these inflection points, so long as there was “a governing project” whatever it might be “, a plan, a way of looking at the world which sought to make sense of it and provide for the advancement of the people.”

His problem here is that the results of the “triumph of liberal democratic values” and “revolution in favour of free markets and private enterprise” has been a shift in wealth and power from “the broad mass of the people” to “the privileged few”. As he notes, “living standards are stagnating”, while “inflation is causing real wages to fall” and public services like the NHS are “pretty much on its knees”. We could add that in countries like the UK and USA, life expectancy is now actually declining. He further notes that the 2008 crash led to emergency economic measures that “rewarded those with assets” while “penalising those without.” The polarisation of wealth has become dizzying. The mass of young people today do not expect to live as well, or as long, as their parents. Even leaving aside climate breakdown, the future looks less like a promise than a threat. Needless to say, Blair doesn’t propose anything that would change this.

Instead, he bemoans the way that “the broad mass of the people” have become susceptible to “rampant populism” and “laying the blame for the condition of the people onto ‘elites'” Perish the thought that the stagnant living standards of the many should have anything to do with the grotesque over accumulation of the few. With no answers, Blair simply bemoans the decline of centrist, consensual managerialism of the sort he embodied in government.

He goes on to argue that the “partisan, ugly and unproductive” domestic politics is destabilising for “the West’s” projection of power internationally; but with no answers to provide hope or decent living standards and, in fact supporting polices that will make the economic attack on “the broad mass of the people” worse, he has simply put his finger on an unresolvable conundrum for anyone with his politics.

He argues that as US global engagement is “determined” by domestic politics, it lacks consistency and coherence. “Foreign policy looks unpredictable”. This is nonsense, as there is a direct continuity in US foreign policy in the “tilt to Asia” and preoccupation with containing China. The tactics may change, but the strategic objective has been consistent.

In ringing the alarm that “domestic politics appears dysfunctional” he does not reflect that the economic basis no longer exists for it not to be. In an attempt to stimulate the economy to prevent it being outgrown by China, the Biden administration put in a huge economic stimulus package – $1.9 billion in 2021 – 96% of which went on consumption and only 4% on investment. The net effect of that has been stagflation; GDP growth of 0.4% in the first quarter of 2022 with inflation eating away at wages and pensions at 9.1% and a dramatic knock on effect destabilising the rest of the world. It should be noted that 75% of the price increases in the US predated the start of the war in Ukraine. With the “American dream” faltering for so much of its population, the approach of the increasingly fabulously rich billionaire class is to fund massive campaigns of online distraction designed to divide the unity of the population; racism, “anti woke”, encouraging nationalist militias like the Proud Boys and Oath Keepers, alongside poisonous anti feminist currents like the Incel movement, and spiced up with wild conspiracy theories like QAnon; with its tepid British echoes in the debacle of the Brexit delusion. This “turmoil” is a function of the gross inequality that Blair is unwilling to challenge, because the people pulling the strings are the milieu he moves in now. Whether he did or did not have an affair with Wendi Deng, the rumour that he might have illuminates the world he lives in.

Blair has no answers to the reasons for this crisis, so he moves swiftly on to something “new”. “Western democracy needs a new project. Something which gives direction, inspires hope, is a credible explanation of the way the world is changing and how we succeed within it”.

Now, what might that possibly be? Is there an existential threat facing the whole of humanity that’s crying out for global leadership, that countries with wealth and technology have contributed to more than anyone which requires urgent and immediate action if the despair felt by the 54% of young people who feel that “humanity is doomed” is to be turned to hope, respond to the credible explanation for why the world is heating up and give direction to everyone in overcoming it? A look out of his air conditioned apartment at the Red Heat conditions, or a quick look at the wild fires across Europe, the drought that has reduced the Po to a trickle in places and lowered the water level in the Rhine to a point that shipping barges up and down it is now in question might give him a clue. You’d think Climate Breakdown would be a no brainer. There is no bigger issue. It has the potential to unite humanity in creating a better world, because we will need one to keep temperatures down and survive it. Blair does not go for it. This is not because he is dim, but because the sort of leadership required from the world’s wealthiest countries would be as difficult for them as a camel threading the eye of a needle; as its the polarisation of wealth, domestically and internationally, and the over consumption of the top global 10% – most of whom live in “the West” – that is accelerating us beyond 1.5C. Rather than take that on, Blair, and the class he represents, ducks the biggest issue of our time. These people are no longer even in a position to pretend to be leading humanity.

He rather lamely mentions climate change in one other place, saying “we should continue to lead in the climate debate.” Debate?! How about leading in climate action? His problem here is that the West/North seeks to carry on with its current “way of life” and hopes to get away with its gigantic carbon footprints by dumping the costs of transition onto those parts of the world that have done least to cause the problem and are already suffering the most from it. Now that Senator Joe Manchin has finally scuttled the last feeble twitchings of Joe Biden’s massively watered down Green New Deal – killed it stone dead – the United States is now naked in the COP Conference Chamber; and, again, can no longer get away with even pretending to lead on the greatest challenge facing us. The prospect of a Republican controlled Congress and Presidency after 2024 (whether it is the horror of a disinterred Donald Trump or a smoother Trumpite like Ron Desantis) means that the US may be moving back to outright denial and sabotage of Global cooperation. Blair averts his eyes from the reality here, because, for him, being in a bloc with the USA is an imperative, averting climate breakdown somehow optional.

So, having ducked the global imperative, Blair fishes around and decides that the West’s domestic mission has to be “all about harnessing the technology revolution”. As Eccles once said in the Goon Show, “I’m the anti-climax”. This is no more than a re-tread of Harold Wilson’s “white heat of the technological revolution” as the solution to all ills in the 1960s. So, not so new.

Its also quite clear that its more about making the world safe for Google, Facebook and surveillance capitalism in general than providing a genuine global vision, as, having make a token genuflection to “legitimate concerns around data protection and privacy” he confirms that these concerns should not “shackle innovation or lose us competitive advantage”.

The attraction of a technological/technocratic way forward for Blair is that the “20th-century politics of right and left don’t really fit with it”; which is a wonderfully confident declaration that simply isn’t true. His problem here is that investment in general, and in R&D in particular, in neo liberal capitalist economies is very low. UK business investment is still below what it was in 2008 for example. Technology is only deployed when it is profitable to do so. Without “a burgeoning state power” to “nurture” investment, on the Chinese model, there won’t be enough of it to break out of Blair’s doldrums. But doing so would require a break with the “triumph of liberal democratic values” and “revolution in favour of free markets and private enterprise” that Blair is in favour of. So, snookered.

So far, so stuck.

Moving into foreign policy its impossible to read a sentence like “Ukraine should be a pivot point, reviving our sense of mission” without realising that – far from learning anything from Iraq – he wants to do it all over again, all over the world.

His lack of self awareness is illustrated by his argument that the Russian invasion means that “we” can no longer believe in “big power rationality” ; as the Russian invasion is “a brutal and unjustified act of aggression…on the absurd pretext that (Ukraine) somehow threatened the aggressor”. Let’s go back to 2003. The UK, along with the USA and others, invaded Iraq, on two pretexts. 1. That it was involved in the 9/11 attacks – which everyone knew it wasn’t – and 2. That it had “weapons of mass destruction” capable of being deployed against the UK in 45 minutes. These WMD turned out to be a work of fiction concocted by our Intelligence Services to make the invasion sellable to the public; which should make us take anything else they say with at least a pinch of salt. More to the point, this was precisely an “absurd pretext that (Iraq) somehow threatened the aggressor” (in this case us). When you compare that with the Russian fear that 1. NATO, the most powerful military alliance in the world, spending over 60% of global arms spending, and $19 to every $1 spent by Russia, has expanded right up to their borders and 2. has started the process of incorporating Ukraine, training its troops from 2014 on, and 3.has refused to discuss mutual security guarantees and 4. NATO missiles stationed in Ukraine could hit Moscow in less than 5 minutes (not 45) you might begin to wonder whose fear of being threatened was more “absurd” and whose “big power rationality” should be subject to question. For Blair, of course, reason is compliance with the most powerful force. All else is subordinate to that.

His view that Ukraine should be seen as a “pivot” is, however, not primarily directed at Russia, but China. After all, as he says, inadvertently revealing how how “absurd” are NATO claims that Russia is poised to steamroller all over its neighbouring countries, Russia has an economy “70% the size of Italy”.

China is a different kettle of fish. China has an economy already larger than the US in PPP terms and is growing significantly faster, which means “We are coming to the end of Western political and economic dominance.” Even on Blair’s chosen field of the technological mission, “China has caught up with America in many fields of technology and could surpass it in others”. 5G a case in point.

Us dominance is already unravelling. As Blair acknowledges, “China…has pursued an active and successful engagement with the world, building connections in respect of which, as far as I can witness, there is a deep reluctance, even on the part of traditional American allies, to give up” whereas “the West and the international institutions it controls have been bureaucratic, unimaginative and often politically intrusive without being politically effective”.

So, the difference with 1945 and 1980 is that the West is no longer ascendent and “for the first time in modern History the East can be on equal terms with the West”. This is a bit exaggerated. We’re not there yet, but Blair can see the writing on the wall.

What concerns Blair is that after 2008, President Xi has “re-established the supreme power of the Communist Party”. We should note that this is a Party of 90 million members and enjoys around 95% support from the population, according to studies from Harvard University; which has no reason to inflate or prettify these figures.

The 2008 crash was indeed a moment at which a lot of people in China took a hard look at the neo-liberal model and saw through its failings, supporters of being more like the US, and accepting a role within a US dominated global system, got a lot quieter and, as Blair notes, now “China will compete not just for power, but against our system, our way of governing and living.” Given that “our way of living” is unsustainable, that’s probably just as well.

Again, Blair argues “we cannot rely on the Chinese leadership to behave in the way we would consider rational”. This translates as, we can’t rely on them to do what we tell them, and they are big and powerful enough to be able to get away with that sometimes.

His argument that an invasion of Taiwan should not be ruled out because peaceful re-unification is inconceivable shows a poverty of imagination, unable to project forwards to a point at which China is constructing a prosperous “ecological civilisation”, as Xi puts it, and becomes a relatively attractive prospect for people on that island.

His presumption that divisions can be fostered and pro Western/Global North forces cultivated would require “the West” to be able to offer a more positive alternative. The example he chooses is almost surreal. “As his Covid strategy has shown, strongman leadership carries inherent weaknesses when people fear to challenge what should be challenged.” As China’s Covid policy has kept deaths there below 5,000, compared to over a million in the US and 200,000 in the UK, you might be forgiven for wondering who should be challenging what. Had China modelled its response on the chaotic insanity of Donald Trump and busines first approach of Joe Biden and had a similar death rate, they have lost over 4.7 million people by now. Clearly people must be mad not to be demonstrating in the streets to follow “our way of governing”.

Blair’s strategy for dealing with a world in which “China is not rising, its risen” is to consolidate primarily around core military alliances, NATO SEATO, AUKUS, 5 eyes, increase military spending, invest in cyberwarfare and attempt to promote “soft power”. Increasing military expenditure at a time of declining wages and life expectancy, is likely to be unpopular in the medium term. Hence his statement that “we need political leaders prepared to stand up to domestic political pressure”. There is an undemocratic logic in this, as one way of standing up to domestic pressure is to restrict and remove the levers available for people to express it.

He favours hanging tough. Once committed to an intervention, whether in Afghanistan or Libya or Iraq, it becomes imperative to sustain it. There is a strong whiff of wishful thinking about this. Permanent occupation propping up corrupt puppet regimes was unsustainable in Afghanistan and Iraq, and not primarily for domestic reasons. An armed forces permanently bogged down in two, three many Afghanistans, is not going to be capable of intervening elsewhere when needed. Blair wants his cake and eat it.

His resounding liberal human rights mission also falls foul of some of his key alliances. Even taking “the West” at its own self estimation, Joe Biden fist bumping Mohamed Bin Salman of Saudi Arabia underlines the point that the USA has never been squeamish about the regimes it allies with, promotes and defends. As FDR said of Nicaraguan dictator Anastasio Somoza. “He’s a son of a bitch, but he’s OUR son of a bitch”. As Blair puts it “if we have disagreements about human rights we should say so, but that shouldn’t prevent us supporting them when they’re faced with threats common to all of us”. “All of us” here meaning the Global 1%.

As Blair notes, “the human spirit wants to be free”. In large parts of the world that takes the form of wanting to be free of US sponsored coups and the conditions of IMF finance that act a lot like pay day loans and sabotage development.

His final point is that “the craziness in our own politics has to stop”. He cites the influence of Nigel Farage (an agent of Trump) and Jeremy Corbyn (a rare blast of sense and decency) in the UK, but is oddly silent about Donald Trump. With the US Supreme Court on an evangelical end of times rampage against abortion rights, environmental protection, and gun control, he does not mention the January 6th attempted coup, nor the pending Supreme Court case slated to hand State Legislatures the right to ignore the popular vote in the next Presidential election and choose their own slate of electors just like Trump wanted them to last time; nor the measures being driven through Republican controlled States to disenfranchise global majority voters. The “craziness” in the USA is just getting started. Blair will no doubt find a way to accommodate to that, but those who have thought like him in the past, confronted by the increasing “craziness” and rogue state aggression coming from the USA, will have to resolve a political crisis of their own.

Where Paul Mason goes wrong

By Farcaster – http://heymancenter.org/files/events/milanovic.pdf, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=49781915

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 full article from Visual Capitalist can be seen here.

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.

Its not like flu! Or “Infect them all! God will recognise His own!”

Figures for England and Wales from ONS

This is why the comments from Sajid Javid and others that “We need to learn to live with” the virus because “sadly, people die of flu as well” are so light minded and not comparing like with like.

Javid says that “in a bad flu year you can sadly lose about 20,000 lives but we don’t shut down our entire country and put in place lots of restrictions to deal with it.” In a good flu year, however, you can lose a few hundred, as we can see here.

The worst years for flu are far less lethal than any year we have had so far with Covid.

Given that it is

  • more transmissible
  • more lethal
  • evolving rapidly

there is no reason to believe that the casualty rates “for many, many years, perhaps forever,” will be lower than they have been in recent months, during which the UK has, in Sajid Javid world, been “leading the way in showing the world how you can live with Covid”. Every one of the average of 359 people who have died every day in the last week lies in their graves as a rebuke to this vainglorious cynicism.

The notion of “endemic”, ie ever present, disease that the government presents is that it will be faded into the background, not too serious, predictable and fairly regular. The wild roller coaster of the successive waves we have seen, and will continue to see, is nothing like that. His remark that we will have to continue to employ “measures”, however “sensible, appropriate and proportionate” is a backhanded admission of that.

His comment yesterday in scrapping the Plan B safeguards that We cannot eradicate this virus” (my emphasis) is an abject admission of failure. The ruling class in the West can no longer even claim to lead humanity.

They can’t eliminate it, because they are not willing to. China keeps managing to do it. Only 2 people died of Covid there last year and they have no intention of following the pressure from the US to abandon their zero Covid policy. If they did, between 3 and 4 million people would die. No doubt Javid would consider that a small price to pay.

The effect of letting the genie back out of the bottle as soon as possible will be seen soon enough. It will slow the downward trajectory in cases, hospitalisations and lead to more people dying than need to. Keir Starmer has called for the data on which this is based to be released. This is beside the point, as the overall data is available. More widely, the pretence that acting as though we are back to normal means that we are back to normal is simply deluded. Labour should break its complicity with this approach, which bakes in permanent crisis from here on.