Price: £11 from Resistance Books, 163 pages.
Published in association with Merlin Press, London, and the IIRE, Amsterdam.
What should be done to resolve the climate crisis? Tanuro argues that government measures – eco-taxes, commodification of natural resources, and carbon trading – do not tackle the drive for profit. Evidence from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and other sources demonstrates the impossibility of a sustainable “green capitalism”.
Climate degradation comes with the “natural” functioning of capitalism – a system based on the accumulation of capital (in particular the functioning of the energy system required by this accumulation process). An “emancipatory project” to overcome the impending crisis needs to recognize natural constraints and aim for a fundamental redefinition of social wealth. Tanuro uses the Marxist theory of value to explain ecological crisis. He addresses a failing in Marx’s ecology: an inadequate appreciation of the crucial implications of capitalism’s reliance on non-renewable fossil-fuel resources. He challenges both mainstream Green strategy and traditional Left alternatives. He points to solutions: “de-growth”, “re-localisation” and the decentralisation of production are necessary to limit global warming.
The book includes a critique of popular writers on the environmental crisis, ranging from Jared Diamond to Hans Jonas, it discusses the economic and technological transition scenarios, and includes a critical assessment of the contributions of Marxist writers such as John Bellamy Foster, Paul Burkett and Ernest Mandel.
Originally published in French as L’Impossible Capitalisme Vert by Editions La Decouverte, Paris, 2010. This English edition has a Preface and an Introduction which brings the book up to date with latest developments.
ISBN 978-0-85036-646-4 paperback
What they say about the book
The climate crisis is at a critical moment while millions despair that no action is being taken. The difficulties our “world leaders” have in taking meaningful action do not spring out of nowhere but from their refusal to understand that this crisis is the consequence of the globalised, neoliberal economic system. This book argues that we cannot simply green our current society, but that we need a more thorough, more fundamental social transformation. We also need to ensure that the struggle for a better world has built into its DNA the pursuit of an ecologically sustainable society.
Natalie Bennett, leader of the Green Party of England and Wales
A lucid and rigorous demonstration that climate change cannot be overcome unless capitalism is overcome. The scourge of humanity is also the scourge of nature. This is a great achievement: putting forth the necessary contours of the direction that must be taken if we are to be equal to the greatest challenge ever faced by humankind. Joel Kovel, author The Enemy of Nature .
About Daniel Tanuro
Daniel Tanuro is an agricultural engineer. His previously published articles include “21st Century Socialists must be Ecosocialists”, in “The Global Fight for Climate Justice”, Ian Angus (ed.), and “Marxism, Energy, and Ecology: The Moment of Truth”, published in Capitalism Nature Socialism.
How to get the book
Post a cheque for the sum of £13 (£11 plus £2 p&p) made out to ‘Resistance’, along with your name and address, to Resistance Books, PO Box 62732, London, SW2 9GQ.
Alternatively, make an electronic payment to:
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Resistance Books phone: 020 7346 8889 – www.resistancebooks.org
Trade-unions, the anti-cuts campaigns, the peace movement and the left are all getting ready to march on Sunday 29 September at the Tory party conference in Manchester. The message is simple: no to austerity, defend the NHS, we should not pay for their crisis.
The Tory chancellor claims that there are signs that the economy is moving out of recession. But what Osborne does not explain is who is paying for this recovery. The gap between the rich and the poor never ceases to increase with bankers earnings are at pre-crisis levels and a drop in earnings for the rest. Households have lost an average of £1,300 since 2010. There are over 50,000 households affected by the bedroom tax. And UNITE the union estimates that there are over 5million workers on zero hour contracts. So there is no recovery for working people, the unemployed and pensioners.
The defeat in Parliament for Government’s motion for war in Syria shows it is increasingly weak and vulnerable. Nobody believes that the NHS is safe in the Tories hands as more and more of its services are privatised.
It is still possible to win the fight against austerity and in defence of public services. That’s why it is important that all of us converge on Manchester to tell the Tories that is time to go!
After the 29th September, we will need to throw our weight behind the unions taking actions in defence of services, jobs and conditions. The NUT and NASUWT members are striking on the 1 and 17 October. The CWU is balloting for action while the government is preparing to privatise Royal Mail. Firefighters have voted overwhelmingly for the FBU to organise industrial action in defence of pensions while 12 fire stations are threatened with closure in London. Even members of the Bakers Union are on strike at Hovis in Wigan against zero-hours contracts.
The call for the demonstration came from the 4,000 strong People’s Assembly in June. It has since been taken up by all the major unions and campaigns. The TUC itself is organising the demonstration. Three special trains from London and scores of coaches around the country will converge on Manchester. Over 50,000 are expected to protest on the day, and all of us need to be part of the fightback.
We, the participants of the 30th Revolutionary Youth International Camp of the Fourth International, are aware of the huge political repressions of militants who took part in the democratic protests in Russia. We are well-informed about almost 30 innocent people who are subject of political trial after the participation in the clash with police provoked by Russian government.
Now they are kept in inhuman conditions, many of them need medical aid, one of them has become almost totally blind. Some of them are left-wing or liberal political militants, some of them are just ordinary people for whom it was the first experience of participation in the political rally. The leaders of the protests (liberal leader Aleksey Navalny and left-wing leader Sergey Udaltsov) are under the trial as well.
We are convinced that responsibility for this clash lies not with so-called “leaders of protests”, but with the Russian government and police. It is obvious for us that Russian government did not only provoke this clash, but it has built non-democratic system government, carried out radical predatory reforms of the social sphere, and deliberately prevented Russian citizens from civil engagement during last 20 years. We are outraged by the fact that the Russian government stole the sight of the left-wing militant Vladimir Akimenkov, that it jails real fighters against fascism like Aleksey Gaskarov, who was the most important figure in organization of the anti-fascist movement since 90s and young anti-fascist militant Stepan Zimin, that it prevents 19-years old Aleksandra Duhanina from legal right to education. We are filled with indignation at the fact that Russian government breaks life of many young people who now are involuntary responsible for the misdeeds of the ruling class.
We are sure that Putin’s regime is not solving its problems, but bringing closer the day of the huge mass revolt jailing the best of Russian citizens. We will keep vigilant watch over the current Russian political developments, support our Russian comrades, and take part in the international actions of protests and solidarity.
Participants of the 30th Revolutionary Youth International Camp of the Fourth International From Argentina Belgium Brazil Britain Canada Denmark France Germany Greece Ireland Italy Mauritius Mexico the Netherlands Philippins Poland Portugal Russia Serbia Spanish state Tunisia Turkey USA
A debate has begun inside Left Unity – the project to set up a new party of the left in Britain – about what kind of party it should become. Here Tom Walker argues the case for the Left Party Platform
In only a few months, more than 9,000 people have signed up to an appeal by film director Ken Loach to set up a new party, and 90 local groups have been established in towns and cities across the country. But Loach – wanting, rightly, to be more a figurehead than a “leader” – did not put forward an elaborate political statement for people to sign up to, simply an appeal to discuss a new party and what it could look like. And that’s where we are today.
Left Unity, through its nascent democratic structures, has agreed to hold a founding conference of this new party in November. It will be open to all who sign up as founding members of the party. And it will vote on statements of the fundamental principles the party should stand for.
In the past weeks, two “platforms” – that is, cross-branch collectives of Left Unity members – have formed to put forward different founding statements: the Left Party Platform and the Socialist Platform. I have signed up to the Left Party Platform and the more elaborate background document that supports it. In this article I intend to explain why.
Two approaches to Left Unity
The debate between the Left Party Platform and the Socialist Platform is, for me, a welcome one. I understand there is some nervousness out there about the idea of having platforms at all, or that it will cause the debate to become “polarised”. But I believe there are two fundamentally different visions of a new party of the left in play, and it is better to pick one now than to fudge the issue.
The Left Party Platform stands, I believe, for the kind of project that thousands signed up to when they signed up to Left Unity: a party that can include everyone to the left of Labour. It is a clear left statement, but without being overly dogmatic or prescriptive.
I do not claim to agree with every dot and comma, but it is a platform that I am happy with as a basis. (There is still a chance to move minor amendments in November in any case.) I believe it would give Left Unity tremendous potential to grow and start to make inroads towards becoming a mass party. Already Left Unity’s meetings in many towns are bigger than any other left group’s, and it’s only just getting going. The space to the left of Labour is enormous – and as Labour moves further to the right, it gets bigger every day. In this moment of crisis and the rise of UKIP, even a moderately successful left party could pull the whole debate in society back towards the left, and win real defensive victories over the welfare state.
The Socialist Platform, by contrast, takes the overthrow of capitalism and its replacement with socialism as its starting point. It is a far narrower statement – just about acceptable to a few different kinds of socialist, but distinctly unappealing to most people on the wider left. It is a recipe, I think, for narrowing the party to those who are already convinced socialists, plus a few more who we might be able to persuade as we went along. Ultimately it would limit Left Unity’s horizons to uniting the existing organised left, becoming perhaps a slightly better version ofTUSC (the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition).
Shouldn’t we argue for the “most radical” platform?
As a consequence of the way the argument has been set up, some people I wouldn’t have expected are signing up to the Socialist Platform, essentially on the basis of “we’re socialists, so we should sign up to the socialist one”. It sounds obvious – but I think it’s a fundamental mistake.
Remember, we’re not discussing platforms to organise within Left Unity in the longer term, to attempt to win people round to their way of thinking inside an established party. We’re not yet talking about cohering the revolutionary minority inside a broader organisation. The platforms are there to argue for different founding statements; that is, different kinds of party to begin with. The debate is about the fundamental principles and aims that the party should stand for – and, most significantly, about who should and shouldn’t be a member.
So the question to ask when reading different platforms isn’t “do I, personally, agree with this?” (If you’re reading this, you’re probably some kind of socialist, so of course you’re likely to have a higher level of agreement with a “more socialist” platform.) The question to ask yourself, instead, is “should agreement with this statement be a condition of membership of Left Unity?”
The the Left Party Platform tries to set out only the fundamentals – and this is part of the reason why it has been criticised in some quarters as “bland” or “anodyne”. We’re told that, horror of horrors, it doesn’t set out a clear roadmap for the transition from capitalism to socialism. We’re told that it’s a statement that almost anyone to the left of Labour could agree with. Yes – exactly! That’s the point! It is explicitly inclusive of socialism and explicitly opposed to capitalism, but it is not a blunt instrument. It says:
“Many agree that we need a new left party which will present an alternative set of values of equality and justice: socialist, feminist, environmentalist and against all forms of discrimination. Its politics and policies will stand against capitalism, imperialism, war, racism and fascism. Its immediate tasks will be to oppose austerity and the scapegoating which accompanies it, defend the welfare state and those worst affected by the onslaught, fight to restore workers’ rights and advance alternative social and economic policies, redistributing wealth to the working class.”
(Note the helpful distinction there between ideology and the “immediate tasks” of defending the welfare state, which we’ll return to in a moment.)
If we want a “broad party” – that is, a party that be inclusive of people who hold the wide array of different ideologies and traditions that make up the left – we need a statement that doesn’t demand agreement with a long list of specifics, but sets out the basics of the political situation and a few fundamental political principles that we believe are essential. If it’s not essential, it doesn’t belong there. Otherwise we are simply excluding people from the party before we’ve even had the debate with them.
We aren’t going to win anyone to socialism by demanding they sign up to it as a condition of Left Unity membership. Better, surely, to pass a broad founding statement and then, after November, be a strong socialist current within a party much wider than ourselves.
Problems with the Socialist Platform
First and foremost, the problem with the Socialist Platform is that it reads like a “where we stand” statement for a revolutionary organisation. The formulations scream “Trotskyist” – yet at the same time, if we want to be purist about it, fall short of actually calling for revolution, leaving a collection of statements that we want to get rid of capitalism and replace it with socialism but ignoring the question of agency. Presumably socialism comes about when the party gets big enough? It’s the programme of a quite inadequate revolutionary socialist organisation, in the Socialist Party/Militant mould. (I don’t think Left Unity should aim to be the new revolutionary party – I’m just noting that if I were one of those who thought it should, the Socialist Platform doesn’t achieve that either.)
Let’s use the key test: should agreement with all these phrases be a condition of membership of Left Unity? Should you have to sign up not only to end capitalism but to replace it with this simultaneously overly specific (in ends) and very vague (in means) vision of “socialism”, just in order to be a member? Should you have to be absolutely sure that no socialist country has ever existed – you can’t even be a bit soft on Cuba or Venezuela – just to join? Should you have to sign up to replace the European Union with “a voluntary European federation of socialist societies”, which is anyway really just a get-out clause from an argument about our attitude to the EU?
Meanwhile more important issues are left unaddressed. Feminism goes unmentioned.
The Left Party Platform stands explicitly in the “European Left Party” tradition, encompassing parties like Greece’s Syriza, Germany’s Die Linke, Portugal’s Left Bloc, France’s Front de Gauche. The Socialist Platform does not – and the accompanying document prefers to point to their problems (and of course they have problems) than to (critically) outline the inspiration they provide that successful parties to the left of traditional social democracy are possible.
At the time of writing, the supporting document for the Socialist Platform has been signed by seven of the people who have signed the statement itself, so it does not necessarily represent the views of all. However, I think it is worth engaging with briefly, as it makes more explicit the approach that lies behind the platform.
Firstly, loath as I am to use the term “ultra-left”, I think that is an accurate summation of this attitude to the welfare state: “No return to 1945… That alternative is not a return to the welfare state of the 1945 Labour government but an advance to a completely new form of society.” For a party in large part inspired by Ken Loach’s documentary The Spirit of ’45, about the construction of the welfare state and what it meant to ordinary people, these formulations would be odd to say the least. Forget the NHS, forget council housing, forget decent benefits, forget free education – that is, apparently, “managing capitalism, not getting rid of it”. Calling for renationalisations is slammed as a call for a “mixed economy”! After all, “[t]he profit system will remain, the nationalised industries will service big business” and it isn’t a call for “abolition of private ownership of the means of production more generally”. Don’t renationalise the railways comrades – abolish the private ownership of the means of production more generally!
There is no acknowledgement that fighting for reforms in the short term is entirely compatible with aiming for socialism in the longer term. Absent is any idea that a fight for reforms can raise people’s self-activity and point towards escalating demands; instead we are offered something approaching impossibilism. Current struggles are played down in favour of visions of a utopian future.
But let’s leave that for now to look at the wider issues. This passage is intended to answer arguments such as mine when it comes to “socialism”:
“We do not believe that those who want to fight against austerity will be put off from joining a socialist party that openly and patiently argues its case. Who are the people who it is feared will walk away? Those who we campaign alongside in the anti-cuts campaigns, the anti-bedroom tax protests, opposition to imperialist wars and against racism are unlikely to be repelled by our arguments. We will say, ‘We want to fight here and now to [stop the privatisation of the NHS] [oppose the bedroom tax][oppose police brutality] but we also want to fight for a society in which we no longer have to get up each morning to fight these fights. We want a society in which hospitals don’t get closed and in which there is no police racism. It’s called socialism. But to get it we have to build a party that will campaign for it. You should join it.’ How will this put people off?”
I submit that this is exactly the kind of patronising of working class people that I have argued elsewhere the left needs to get away from. “It’s called socialism.” Oh, is it really? Tell me more, I’ve never heard of that. Perhaps you have a newspaper I could purchase?
The reality of the left – and the working class as a whole – is that it isn’t full of naïve activists just waiting to be brought the “good news” about socialism. People are not blank canvasses for our ideology. They have their own traditions and their own outlooks, arrived at through a lifetime of picking up a little here, a little there, and coming to a label they feel comfortable with (or, sometimes, rejecting labels altogether).
The whole spectrum of the left
A broad left party needs to encompass not only socialists, but feminists, greens/environmentalists, anarchists (and people who aren’t particularly anarchist in their practice but say they are anarchists), communists, syndicalists, autonomists, alongside people who might call themselves “mutualists”, or “co-operators”, or supporters of “parecon”, or just “radical”, or “libertarian left”, or any number of other more unusual self-descriptions – situationism, anyone? Not to mention combinations, like “eco-feminist” or “anarcho-communist”, and people who say things like “well, I don’t label myself” or “I just want to defend the welfare state”. And yes, the dreaded “left reformists” should also be included (though, of course, almost no one uses that term to refer to themselves). I’m sure I’ve missed plenty. These are the people who I “fear will walk away”. We need to try to weave together the many, many threads of left tradition into a common party.
The Socialist Platform supporting document answers this argument in this way:
“Another argument is that the supporters of this platform want a ‘narrow’ party, whereas they want a ‘broad’ party. We want a mass working-class party, which will include all who want to support the party’s aims. There is nothing to be gained from being in a narrow or small party. We set our sights on transforming society. We believe that can only be achieved by the majority of the working class acting in their own interests to get rid of capitalism and begin afresh. To reach that stage will require a mass party of millions of activist persuaders, millions of people who will argue for socialism.”
In other words they are for a “broad” party … of people who already agree with them. A “mass party” of millions who are going to appear from nowhere and embrace socialism, because socialism is just that great. The “activist persuaders” line is essentially a propagandist view, of the sort that has done the socialist left no favours for the last century or more.
My argument here annoys those who believe that parties are built through top-down “clarity” – first you come up with a clear programme (or set of politics), then you go out and build the party. But every attempt to build a mass party in this way has failed. Real parties are far messier creatures, containing a whole world of ideas that people bring with them into the party.
Of course plenty will arrive with no set ideology, or with ideas that are not very strongly held. A strong socialist presence will draw people closer to socialist ideas. Common struggle, open debate, genuine participation – all these things will draw people closer to us. But what will surely “put people off” is if we just insist from day one that socialism is the only “correct” left politics – it’s been proven by history, you know! – and insist that if they’re “put off” by it then they must be some kind of right winger.
One final point: Is this about “hiding” our socialism and voting for bad positions, in the style of the Socialist Workers Party in Respect? No – and I find this the most tedious accusation of all. The Left Party Platform is full of left principles, and certainly does not advocate the abandonment of any of them.
Supporting it is, simply, about being openly socialist, but not demanding that everyone else should be. It is about being the kind of socialist who can co-exist in a party with a wide spectrum of the left. If we’re going to demand that people agree with us before they can even join, then what is the point of having a new party at all? This is a crucial moment for Left Unity – and I believe the Left Party Platform offers the best way forward.
Alan Thornett reviews John Lister’s Health Policy Reform – Global Health versus private profit published by Libri Publications at £22.00 June 2013.
John Lister’s new book is an impressively researched 346-page book with 64 pages of bibliography. It is a comprehensive update of his first book on this subject published by Middlesex University Press in 2005 – Health Policy Reform – driving the wrong way?
Like its predecessor, it is a tour de force on the state of health care worldwide in the age of economic crisis and the neoliberal offensive. It is a unique combination of global analysis and comparison and campaigning handbook that contains a mass of information that you will not find elsewhere.
If you want know about the impact of the economic crisis and globalisation on health care services worldwide; if you want to know how this has played out across the globe from the USA and Canada to sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America this is the place to look. If you want to know about the World Health Organisation or the pernicious role of global financial institutions: the IMF, the World Bank, the OECD, and the European Central Bank this is where you can get it. If you want to know about the parasitic role and the impact of the pharmaceutical corporations this is the book you need.
John Lister presents all this in the framework of a working class/Marxist analysis of the capitalist system and the way it functions. In the section entitled Health care as a special type of commodity (page 26) he says the following :
“Capitalism is a system driven by the accumulation of capital, through the production and exchange of commodities. Commodities, as Marx analysed in Capital, embody two contradictory values: their use value, without which they would not be saleable in the market place; and their exchange value, defined by the hours of necessary labour time for their production (Marx 1870)…
“Health care shares with other commodities the combination of ‘use value’ (in this case additional family life, which for the patent remains the key factor). But since it is the product of human labour, embodying necessary hours of work (and in many cases access to modern, capital intensive ‘means of production’) it also embodies potential ‘exchange value’.”
He goes on to explain that health care is one of the worlds biggest and most profitable industries and its commodification potentially affects everyone on the planet at some time in their lives. Policy decisions affecting health care systems affect not only service users but the jobs, pay and working conditions of the staff employed in the industry and the vast numbers of often low paid workers providing the support services.
The book sets out the historical context of both the development of health services and the neoliberal backlash against them in Europe in particular. It analyses the development of health care in Britain from the launch of the NHS and the post war settlement to a myriad of ‘reforms’ and attacks on the NHS through to the assault on the NHS which is taking place today.
“One of the key historic periods of choice came in 1945, when Europe’s weakened and bankrupt ruling classes faced a new post-war political reality. They had to devise a new approach that could safeguard stability and rebuild a system that had been shattered and destabilised by war. The emergence of Keynesian economics and a ‘welfarist’ consensus in much of Europe reflected a new balance of class forces, in which capitalist classes found themselves having to deal with the expectations and demands of a more militant working class (reflected also in the strengthening of social-democratic and communist parties) which they were poorly placed to confront. Only the USA was largely unaffected by the new situation, its economy having been relatively untroubled by the war and its lack of even a social-democratic party of the working class helping to ensure that the post-war wave of trade union militancy remained largely confined to economic rather than political objectives. As a result, the divergences between the US and European politics continued to widen.”
Given John Lister’s many years as a leading health campaigner, you would expect a robust defense of the NHS and the principle upon which it was built and the book does not disappoint. It is both a champion of the principles of the NHS and a handbook for the struggle in Britain today to sustain healthcare free at the point of use in the face of the attacks by the Tory-led government.
To this end the book contains a comprehensive overview of the many attacks which have been launched against the NHS by successive British governments in the guise of ‘reforms’, not least the privatisation and other measures brought in by Tony Blair and Gordon Brown in the shape of PFI/PPP.
When it comes to alternatives, John Lister starts with socialist principles and the directly political problems of the fightback. With the collapse to the right of social democracy, he argues, it is the lack of an organised alternative to its left which hampers the fight back. He points to some welcome exceptions to this particularly in Greece with the rise of Syriza, which came very close to winning the last election on a platform of rejecting austerity and the restoration of health and other key public services. He also points to the Left Block in Portugal and the Red Green Alliance in Denmark.
He is critical of the radical left for its lack of prioritisation of the defence of heath care and points to the centrality of health care at both the industrial and political level and its potential to be at the centre of a wider fight back against austerity.
More specifically in terms of alternatives, he argues that public ownership and democratic planning not markets are the answer to effective healthcareand that the resources for this can be found given the political will to do so. He calls for the elimination of elitist opt outs for the wealthy. For the raising of a tax levy on the big financial institutions. For a Tobin Tax in international financial transactions. For steeply progressive income and corporation tax to raise the money for a decent health service. For the ending of tax evasion for the rich an for the corporations.
John Lister finishes by pointing to the centrality not only of resisting privatisation in the existing public health services but in the nationalisation of the drug companies and their research and development facilities. He puts it this way:
“But of course the biggest problem is a political one: securing governments with the commitment to pursue radical policies in the teeth of the massively powerful and well resourced lobby of the drug corporations (which in the US employ more than two lobbyists for every member of Congress). Few political parties even formally embrace the principles of nationalisation or in nay way challenge the drug companies, and few of those that do have any real intention of doing so. Even where drug companies are caught red handed in breach of the laws regulating their behaviour, they simply pay up even the biggest fine, make a ritual apology – and carry on in the same way.
Like its first edition, this much-expanded book is indispensible reading to all who want to understand the complexities of health care in order both to effectively defend what exists and to fight for something better as a part of the struggle for a socialist society.
Phil Hearse reports on the first meeting of Left Unity’s National Co-ordinating group which took place in Doncaster on Saturday June 15.
This was a highly successful in preparing the ground for the foundation of a broad left party in November. However there are some important political differences that will undoubtedly lead to animated debates running up to the conference. As you would expect there was an obvious great diversity in terms of political outlook and experience evident in the debates
There were 43 voting representatives present at the meeting, of whom 36 were from local groups and 7 of the 10 directly elected from May 11. 14 local groups sent apologies, 18 groups have not yet met the criteria to be represented ( this varies between groups in fairly substantial places eg Coventry and Oxford who are holding their first meetings this week to smaller, often rural places who have as yet only small numbers of supporters. There were 16 women amongst the voting representatives.
Given the location of the meeting, probably groups in the north of England and the Midlands were better represented than those further south (for example there was no one from the very large group in Brighton.
Here I have listed main decisions of the meeting, but not given a tedious and incomprehensible account of who proposed what and how original resolutions were amended, composited etc:
- A proposal by Dave Stocking (Workers Power) that the September conference should adopt a basic platform for the organisation was rejected as pre-empting the decisions of the national conference in November.
- The September conference/national meeting will not be a voting conference but discuss papers proposed by the national commissions. It was agreed that commissions can involve campaign activists and trade unionists who are not members of LU.
- Local groups will be able to send resolutions to the national conference. Positions with 10 or more supporters will be able to form ‘platforms’ inside the organisation: the formulation ‘tendencies, factions and platforms’ was dropped. A significant number of those present opposed the proposal for platforms.
- The national conference will focus on the following major items: a) Statement of aims b) campaigning priorities c) Participation in Elections (including Metropolitan and European elections next year) d) constitution. It seems obvious from the contributions yesterday that the issue of standing in elections is controversial and some of the contributions were quite skeptical about this.
- A proposal from the Socialist Party, following a discussion between Dave Nellist and Ken Loach, to have an early meeting about an electoral non-aggression pact was accepted, although no decisions can be made before the LU national conference. There will probably be a difficult discussion in LU about what attitude to adopt politically in the European elections, given the poisonous role this issue plays in national politics and boosting racism and chauvinism.
- A category of ‘founding member’ was adopted as the basis for voting and participation in the national conference. In essence this is open to people who support the aim of a broad left party and who pays dues on a minimum scale to indicate commitment. People who have standing orders etc to local groups can be automatically converted to the status of ‘founding member’
- A resolution from Islington re racism and Islamophobia was put on the table as pre-empting policy decisions, but obviously the spirit of the resolution, re the importance of mobilising against the fascists, racism and Islamophobia was universally agreed.
- Two resolutions concerning the prompt circulation of material to all NCG members and the posting of minutes, documents etc on the website were passed, but about these see below.
- The decision of the group of 10 directly elected members of the NCG to produce a four page broadsheet for the People’s Assembly was endorsed (see final point of this document).
The unfortunate downside of the meeting
The immensely positive and constructive day was marred by a complaint at the beginning of the meeting that the agenda to be proposed the meeting had been decided exclusively by the group of 10 directly elected members and not the NCG as a whole. Moreover group of 10 had met twice since the last meeting and taken a series of interim decisions off its own bat. This was raised in an aggressive and accusatory manner as if fundamental breaches of democracy had taken place.
In my view there was absolutely no substance in these accusations. It hardly seems credible that a committee of 45 (or more) from all round the country could have met twice…to prepare a meeting of 45 people from all round the country! As Kate Hudson pointed out, if the directly elected members of the NCG had not met to prepare the full national meeting they would have been accused of dereliction of duty. Indeed, why exactly did the last meeting decide to elect 10 members directly? It is not a minus but a plus that the 10 directly elected members of the NCG took the initiative, inter alia to prepare the very important intervention of Left Unity in the People’s Assembly. And the last national meeting explicitly gave the directly elected group of ten the task of preparing yesterday’s meeting!
Regrettably a number of people at the meeting took this stunt as good coin. The delegate from Walsall, Dave Church, made a highly emotional speech and then stormed out of the meeting. Given that there was a session on transparency in the afternoon where we had to have the whole discussion again, it was very regrettable that the day started on such a sour note, which undoubtedly left a bad taste in many comrades’ mouths. Doubtless a lot of people though “here we go again with left squabbling over nothing”.
Nick Wrack and Will McMahon who were amongst those complaining most loudly about these matters have their own political position for a narrower kind of party than that envisaged by many others participating in the project. There is no doubt they will form their own platform in preparation for the conference. This is perfectly legitimate and they have every right to do it. It would be better if they stuck to the political debate about that difference of political orientation.
The final item of the day introduced by Andrew Burgin stressed the importance of the People’s Assembly to getting the name and ideas of Left Unity known. “This is our audience” said Andrew. Up to 4000 people will be there. The Assembly starts at 9.30am and the Left Unity stall outside the conference will be distributing the broadsheet from 8.00am. We need all hands on deck.
Mass demonstrations and harsh governmental crackdowns are not new in Turkish political history writes Yunus Sözen , Antikapitalist Eylem (Anticapitalist Action). However, although the current demonstrations in Istanbul and throughout Turkey were initiated by socialists, there is no doubt that we are experiencing something strikingly different this time. This is displayed by not only the visible lack of political experience of a significant number of the demonstrators but also the sheer number and incredible resilience of the demonstrators in the face of massive and tear gas assaults by the police. What is the cause of this massive social explosion in a country where there is no sign of economic crisis, and where the government was elected in 2011 with 50% of the votes?
To better understand what is happening, let’s start with a discussion of the relationship between elections and democracy. Athenian democrats devised their democratic system without elections because they believed that elections are the oligarchic method of selecting the leaders. They believed that mechanisms that prevent the formation a political class (like the lottery and rotation systems) are the only democratic ways to select the rulers. Because, Athenian democrats believed that elections not only have an intrinsic class bias, but elections also provide the rulers autonomy from the ruled; that is, they make it possible for rulers to be able to do whatever they please. Indeed, the only reason why modern liberal representative government centred around elections is not simply an oligarchic system. It is because it is also a system that provides tools for the ruled, including methods of participation other than elections, freedoms for the opposition, and checks on the rulers. Although these tools are still severely inadequate, they do make it more challenging for the rulers to do whatever they wish and they do force rulers to respond to citizens to an extent. However, if elections start to become the only institution of a modern representative government, then elections merely become a tool for authoritarian rule by bolstering the executive branch with popular approval.
The demonstrations centred around the resistance in Istanbul’s Gezi park are exactly about the grievances caused by the dictatorship of an executive branch that is reinforced by electoral approval. Specifically, the Gezi park resistance is one those instances where both the class character of the state and the oligarchic nature of electoral legitimisation became blatantly obvious. First, it signifies the class character of the state in a way that will not escape even the most crude Marxist analysis. Gezi is a public park at the political and social epicentre of the city, Taksim, and the government decided to replace the park with a shopping mall. When activists started to resist the plans turn the park into a shopping centre the government sent in its police. To put it even more bluntly, the state blindly used its instruments of violence to serve the interests of capital, and to convert a collective good into private property.
Unprecedented accumulation of power
Gezi also demonstrates the oligarchic character of a political regime based solely on electoral authorization. In the 2011 elections, nobody voted for to convert the public park in Taksim into a mall or any of the other government infringements of citizens’ rights. Yet the government had the legal right to rule as it pleases. However, despite their electoral mandate, this type of unilateral action may not have happened in a better functioning representative system which provides its citizens with instruments of participation and opposition other than elections. Even though its democratic content is limited, in a liberal representative government citizens would have some access to policy making, there would be a level of transparency and free public debate, and there would be legal scrutiny over the issue. In Turkey on the other hand, no such limits are in place given the Justice and Development Party (referred to as the AKP or Ampül Parti) unprecedented accumulation of power since 2007.
The AKP has now not only eliminated the historical challenge from the army, but it has also taken control of the high courts, and then slowly but surely, using its popularity, eradicated all oppositional freedoms. Concretely speaking, prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdo?an’s policy could not be confronted by the non-existing oppositional media, and it could not be challenged by the judiciary that is now under the control of the executive, i.e. the ruling party. Therefore, when Erdogan wanted to turn a public space into a right-wing conservative space, where customers buy goods. There were no other way to stop him except by the force of numbers.
However, the hundreds of thousands of people out protesting are not resisting the police and subjecting themselves to the massive use of tear gas and brute force just because of the injustice at Gezi park, or just because of the fact that Erdogan is an authoritarian leader. These protests happened because in addition to Erdogan’s on-going attacks on oppositional groups (secularists, Alewites, Kurds, socialists and others), including purging them from positions of power, and criminalising and imprisoning them en masse for various reasons, he deepened to an unprecedented extent his neoliberal and extremely conservative exclusionary social policies. To name a few of the most recent ones, last year, without much debate, the whole education system was reconfigured to better serve not only the needs of capital but also in Erdogan’s words, ‘to raise a more religious generation’. Last month, in a country where per capita alcohol consumption is by far the lowest among OECD countries, strict alcohol consumption restrictions passed, which were defended by Erdogan as follows: ‘why is it defensible for you to accept a law passed by two drunkards [according to many signifying Ataturk and Inonu], but the law that is the imperative of religion becomes something that you need to deny…if you want to drink, buy your drink and go drink it in your own home’. Last week, the AKP enlarged its assault on women rights by making the morning after pill a prescription drug, and a couple of days ago Erdogan later approved of an announcement made in Ankara metro warning against kissing in public. Many of these regulations would be very difficult to implement if previously existing checks were still place. For example, the constitutional court might strike a few of the legal changes, or the council of the state would limit or remove some of the others. Considering the lack of avenues for voice and the lack of obstacles against Erdogan’s power, these and many other similar policies, combined with his symbolically exclusionary and suffocating speeches, have apparently made a great many non-supporters feel not only completely powerless and frustrated, but also very angry.
Taking control of the city
This anger has now become embodied in massive demonstrations, where hundreds of thousands of people are taking back the autonomy that the government enjoys. In short, if the reason for the rebellion is the sense of powerlessness, lack of control over their own lives, the immediate result is perhaps the sense of power large sectors of the population are enjoying for the first time. For now, they have taken control of their city and of their lives. As a result, we are now part of a truly democratic moment. This is an experience that goes way beyond the ‘democratic rights’ enjoyed within liberal representative democracies, which at its best is a democracy tamed for the requirements of capitalism and the modern state. Therefore, in a counter-intuitive way, we probably owe this democratic explosion to the lack of democratic checks on the power of the electorally authorized executive. For Erdogan, on the other hand, before our very eyes we are witnessing the transformation of his image from a leader who is powerful, popular, and if a little impulsive, still reflective of the values of the ‘Turkish nation’, into a tyrant who is so greedy and drunk with power that although he has the votes, he cannot manage the country effectively anymore. He is indeed trapped in a dictatorial dilemma: if he caves into the current demands, he will lose the perception that he is all that powerful; if he does not cave in at all, he will have to rely on coercive power to the degree that he will turn into a cruel tyrant. So far he has taken the second route, still belittling and criminalizing the demonstrators, hoping that the next elections in less than a year will result in a way to dissipate the democratic euphoria. However, although this is one of those instances where the statement that ‘politics is open-ended’ is indeed the reality, it appears that sustained mobilization is the only course of action that will help satisfy both democratic and socialist goals.
Bob Dylan remarks somewhere that “you don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows”. He forgot to add: you might need one to tell you about the tragedy of extreme weather events. Not, perhaps, those committed by the erstwhile US urban guerrilla movement, inspired by Dylan’s aphorism, but definitely those due to rising levels of atmospheric greenhouse gases.
As a person who in his prime was given to vivid symbolism, perhaps Dylan should now write a song about the crossing on May 9th 2013 of the 400ppm threshold in atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide. He might also revisit his anti-capitalist past and provide a critique of current efforts to cut greenhouse gas emissions. But let’s not wait for that….
Studies have now confirmed what has been predicted all along: that climate change is leading to more – and more intense – extreme weather events. One of these studies states that the land area of the world now affected by extreme hot summer anomalies in any one year, has increased from 1% to 10% in the space of 30 years. It states confidently that the heat waves in France, Texas and Moscow in 2003, 2010 and 2011 respectively, all of which resulted in tens of thousands of deaths, “almost certainly would not have occurred in the absence of global warming”.
New Scientist in mid-January summarised what this has meant for people, animals and plants recently in different parts of the world. In Australia, temperature records are being “annihilated”:` wild fires in January devastated large areas of New South Wales and highly ecologically-sensitive Tasmania. In 2009, 173 people were killed in bush fires around Melbourne, Victoria. Current housing development doesn’t take fire risk into account. As one scientist put it “[planners] are setting us up for the catastrophes of the future”.
In NE Brazil, the year-long drought – the worst in 50 years – has killed cattle, damaged corn and cotton crops and wiped out 30% of the region’s sugar cane (in part, used for biofuel). Hydropower dams are at 32% of capacity, threatening electricity shortages. Thousands of subsistence farmers have lost their livelihood, while agrarian reform under the PT government of Dilma Rousseff has “been abandoned”, according to the co-ordinator of the Landless Workers’ Movement (MST).
Meanwhile, in the United States, 60% of the land area has been affected by drought and last year 25% of the maize (corn) crop was lost (12% of the world’s total) in the hottest year for the sub-continent on record. This will impact on food prices for everyone. In January, the Department of Agriculture declared 20% of agricultural land a “natural” disaster area, although it really is a “capitalist” disaster. During and after Hurricane Sandy, some US politicians finally suggested that climate change might be a problem.
They now face a major choice for the future of New York: either abandon large sections of Brooklyn, Queens, Staten Island and even sections of lower Manhattan, or build huge, ecologically-damaging barriers across the New York-New Jersey Harbor Gateway and the East River. It is quite likely that neither option will have even been decided by the time the next “Sandy” hits. Of course, the problems the people of New York face are as nothing compared to those in cities in emerging economies, such as Dhaka, Bangkok, Shanghai or Rio, which have fewer resources for defences.
Finally, four years of intense waves of cold weather have covered large parts of Asia, extending even to snowstorms and floods in the Middle East. 200 people have been killed by the cold in northern India. This weather pattern is thought to be caused by the rapid warming of the Arctic, including a feedback mechanism, driven by the melting of the sea ice. This has weakened wind currents over Asia and allowed Arctic air to spill over onto the continental mass.
Weather vs. Climate
A climate change denier might argue “that’s just weather: the climate trends are different, and even the Met Office said on 24th December (2012) that the world has cooled since 1997-8 and will remain at current temperatures, about 0.43oC above the long-term average, until 2017”. This is precisely what the Mail Online reports: “Global Warming stopped 16 years ago …. So who are the deniers now?”
More recently, some climate scientists themselves have started to question whether their estimates of climate forcing by carbon dioxide are correct. Climate forcing is the average world temperature rise that would result from a doubling of CO2 concentrations and is in the range 2-4.5oC. That carbon dioxide concentration (but not the commensurate temperature rise – see below) is expected to be reached by about mid-century, on current trends.
The argument is that, in the last 15 years or so, the rate of global warming has increased more slowly than previously (not, as the deniers contend, that the world has cooled). A report on the BBC’s Today Programme on 17th May gave a flavour of the debate, but failed properly to confront the scientific issues – namely the difference between heat and temperature, a question that should be familiar to anyone who has done a GCSE science course. (Basically, a swimming pool at 30oC contains an awful lot more heat energy than a spark at 3000oC).
A small oscillation in the rate of global warming does not contradict the basic findings from the paleoclimate record. Indeed, in the very week that this debate started up again, a study was published showing, based on records from the sediment in a Siberian lake, that the last time carbon dioxide levels were as high as at present, 3 million years ago, the average temperatures in Siberia were 8oC higher than today.
Previous warming episodes have come about over periods of thousands of years, while the current one is much faster. It would be even more rapid, if the sea did not act as a sink: it is unable to reach the temperature that corresponds to current carbon dioxide levels before those levels rise again. This lag means current temperatures are cooler than they would be if the sea was not there, but that we are already locked in to higher levels of temperature rises, like those of 3 million years ago, unless carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere are actually brought down. This is the rationale for the 350.org campaign.
Deniers show their cynicism
After the Daily Mail’s outburst in January, comments of a similar calibre flooded the deniers’ media outlets and blogs, actions of deeply cynical dishonesty, designed purely for defence of the fossil fuel industry. In fact, as Fred Pearce has pointed out , along with others, the Met Office’s findings are qualified by numerous caveats:
- 1998 was the hottest year on record and surface air temperatures can be expected to reach similar levels twice in the next five years
- The Met Office work is an exercise, designed to test the robustness of several new models that now take account of ocean currents, amongst other things
- In the medium term, climate is affected by the Pacific Decadal Oscillation and the Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation, which affect the amount of heat absorbed by the oceans, with the effects described above
- The factor that is fundamentally affected by atmospheric carbon dioxide levels is the balance between the energy absorbed by the planet and that re-radiated out into space. If that energy is used to heat a previously unexposed colder ocean surface, or to melt ice, rather than to further heat up the atmosphere, it hasn’t “disappeared”: there is still a major issue, including sea level rises and extreme weather. The rise in temperature will hit us later.
- If the Met Office forecasts prove to be correct, as medium term effects, they are just superimposed on the long-term atmospheric warming trend.
Pearce suggests that when these oscillations enter a new phase, warming could accelerate even further, as oceans give up to the atmosphere heat accumulated in the current phase. “Scary”, is his summary of the situation.
This also is the conclusion that can be drawn from a recent study in Nature Climate Change, which modelled what would happen even if it was possible to cut world carbon dioxide emissions by 80% by 2050. This is a cut of 5% a year from 2016 (the authors give the international capitalist class and their political lackeys 3 years to read their paper and start to implement cuts). There is currently a rise in emissions of 2.6% a year.
The 80% cut, the authors argue, would limit the average world atmospheric temperature rise to 2oC by 2100, still viewed as disastrous by some scientists, but way below the likely rise of 4-6oC. They conclude that 20-65% of the adverse effects (heat waves, floods, crop failures etc.) predicted under “business as usual” could be avoided if the cuts are implemented. Or, to put it another way, 35-80% of these effects would not be avoided. Furthermore, no mitigation of climate change and its consequences is predicted prior to 2050, even if these large cuts in GHG emissions take place.
What are the Capitalists Doing?
How well is the capitalist system faring in its attempt to implement such cuts? A cut of 80% in emissions by 2050 is, after all, the figure on the European Commission’s “road map”, whatever that means. The current rate of emissions rise has already been mentioned. We can look at some fossil fuel projects being implemented or planned. In the Athabasca tar sands, oil production is to nearly triple by 2020. Obama is about to decide whether to give the go-ahead to the Keystone XL pipeline, connecting these tar sands to Texas refineries. There already is one going to Illinois and Oklahoma.
US coal exports (mainly to China) have more than doubled in 3 years and there are plans to increase them further – by building ports in Oregon, Washington State and British Columbia linked to railways from the western fields. China’s annual coal consumption, already nearly half world consumption, is forecast to grow from the current 3.52bn to 5.2bn tonnes by 2020: another 2bn is consumed in the rest of the Asia-Pacific region.
At the same time, there is the dash to use the opportunity of the melting of Arctic sea ice to open up the region for oil and gas exploitation, while Japan has recently developed the technology to recover methane clathrates from the sea bed. These clathrates, or hydrates, are a crystalline compound of methane and water, unstable except at high pressure, or well below 0oc. The Japanese extraction method involves reducing the pressure to release the gas from the compound. This must involve the risk of inadvertent release to the atmosphere of large quantities of methane, a more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide.
Fracking, for gas and oil, is having a major impact. Shale gas, trapped in the cracks and pores in rocks, rather than in large reservoirs, is extracted by drilling deep wells that turn horizontal, then opening up the fissures using high-pressure water. The technology has many damaging environmental consequences: possible pollution of aquifers; air and noise pollution at ground level; very high well-head density (roads and pipelines). Large amounts of water required (which returns to the well-head polluted by the chemical additives and often by the underground minerals and volatile organic compounds. The technology is highly dependent on road transport, the new roads destroying ecosystems and leading to even greater carbon emissions.
Largely using this technology, the US is set overtake Russia as the main gas producer in 2015, and to exceed Saudi Arabia’s oil production by 2017. Gas prices in the USA have plummeted, while the “fracking rush” has only just got underway. These developments could have significant world-wide political consequences.
There are slated to be up to 170,000 (see 1.06:48) fracking wells in Pennsylvania alone, drilled over a long period of time: one every 80 acres over 70% of the accessible land. These will add to the well over 300,000 existing and exhausted oil and conventional natural gas wells in the state. Already, there are signs that these old workings are being damaged by fracking, causing methane leaks and even explosions. Of course, this is partly because the old wells were never properly sealed.
Fracking all over the place
Other countries, such as Britain, Poland and South Africa are trying to introduce gas fracking, in the face of considerable popular opposition. The Transnational Institute has surveyed moves towards fracking and counts four countries that have started and 18 that are interested, including the major imperialist powers, except France, and all the BRIC countries. In France, fracking was banned in July 2011, following a large national mass movement, based on opposition in areas where sites had been earmarked for exploration. A movement against fracking is developing in Algeria, where fossil fuel companies Shell, Eni and Talisman have interests – particularly because of the tax breaks the government is offering.
China is meant to have the largest on-shore shale gas reserves and is aiming to use the resource for 6% of its energy needs by 2020. Again, according to TNI, Chinese companies have linked up with the likes of Shell, BP, Exxon, Chevron and Total to extract the gas. There is no effective environmental protection and the water demands, often in areas of shortage, will add to all the other harmful effects on local ecosystems and people.
The TNI links the interest in fracking to land-grabbing by multinationals, particularly important, given the large land area “per unit gas yield” the technology requires.
In Britain, after a 1 ½ year delay due to some minor earthquakes near Blackpool, resulting from exploratory drilling, the government in November 2012 gave the go-ahead for fracking test wells. Shale (but not necessarily recoverable gas) is present over 60% of the land mass of England and drilling licences have already been granted (or old conventional gas and oil ones revived) in Lancashire, the South-East and South Wales.
One other technology for which permits have been given in the UK is underground coal gasification (UGC). Interestingly, Lenin wrote approvingly about this technology, describing the benefits that could be gained from it under a socialist system, and its earliest large-scale application was in the USSR in the 1930’s.
Another technology, more closely related to fracking, is Coal Bed Methane (CBM). Planning applications have been sought for this process in the Falkirk/Stirling area and it is likely that this site will be the first to use one of these technologies on a large scale.
The drawbacks described below for fracking largely apply to UGC and CBM as well.
Some environmentalists are starting to claim that fracking will have the benefit of reducing the dependence on coal for generating electricity and thereby carbon dioxide emissions. There are three reasons why fracking is not the answer to this problem. One is the issue of methane leaks. The fragility of old workings has already been mentioned, and there are videos on the internet of people showing flames in their methane-contaminated tap water. Probably more serious are long-term leaks from the new wells, resulting from careless work or poor quality materials. The wells are lined with concrete: the Deepwater Horizon disaster was due to the failure of non-compliant concrete.
A study from Cornell University in 2011, with a follow-up in 2012, found that fracking caused up to twice as much methane leakage as conventional drilling and that, as a result, “the GHG footprint of shale gas is greater than that of other fossil fuels on time scales of up to 100 years”. Another report, from January 2013, has shown that some wells leak an “eye-popping” 9% of their production. Presumably, this leakage could be reduced by better practice, but who will inspect the hundreds of thousands of installations to ensure that is implemented?
The second objection is that all these new technologies are locking the system into fossil fuel dependence for (more) decades to come. This is the effect of building of ever more fossil fuel infrastructure. Capitalists who invest in expensive plant will want to use it for as long as possible, in order to maximise their revenue and profits. Every new investment reduces the prospects of a viable system of energy saving and renewable energy generation being implemented. It also diverts financial and human resources (research and skilled labour) away from these goals.
Finally, the fracking boom is likely to reduce the prices of all fossil fuels. Again, this makes it more difficult to implement fuel-saving or renewable energy strategies, especially as fossil fuels attract subsidies, open or hidden, which are not given to non-fossil fuel technologies.
A CEO of a US energy corporation summed up the capitalist attitude to fossil fuel exploitation at a recent business meeting on fracking, dismissing the concerns of an MIT professor (who also happened to be a former head of the CIA!):
“There is no question that climate change and global warming are issues, but you cannot ruin the economy to address them….We’re in these businesses and we are driven by economics. I can tell you that in my opinion all of these alternatives are not economic against natural gas.”
Conclusion – not a holiday
In 2005, one of the predecessors of Socialist Resistance pointed out that capitalism had already had fifty years’ warning that greenhouse gas emissions were subjecting the world’s people and ecosystems to a “large scale geophysical experiment”. We surveyed some of the effects of climate change that were already visible and pointed out the threats, especially to agriculture, and of the spread of tropical diseases and mentioned that a major extinction event was already under way.
Since then, carbon dioxide concentrations have risen from 380ppm to 400ppm and the rate of increase of emissions has also increased by about 20%. There is no indication that capitalism is structurally capable of turning this around.
Along with the continuing frantic extraction of fuels outlined above, the problem is perhaps best illustrated by a recent report, which warned of the possible collapse of the fossil fuel giants, if serious emissions curbs were implemented. The top 200 giants are worth $4tn (based, in large part, on a valuation of their claimed reserves), but have debts of $1.5tn, so a policy that stated “no, you can’t use your reserves” is untenable for the capitalist economy.
Bursting the fossil fuel bubble would have severe consequences for the capitalist system as a whole. The fossil fuel system giants cannot be allowed to collapse and nor can the pension funds that own so many of their shares. Capitalism has no way out when it comes to climate change, except possibly when it is faced with global ecological catastrophe. By then, the “cure” capitalism proposes will most likely make the current austerity programme look like a summer holiday.
What are the alternatives that socialists propose? These will be the subject of subsequent articles in the series. We will examine especially agriculture, energy resources and biodiversity, hopefully showing how, through a socialist strategy, correctly addressing these issues can secure the future of humanity and the ecosystems on which we depend.
By Susan Pashkoff:
In the first three months of 2013, 694 provisions restricting a women’s right to choose have been introduced in different US states. The fact that amendments to the constitutions of various states give the foetus “personhood” is the sharp end of this intense attack.
This also takes place in the context that additional limitations were accepted as part of the passage of the Affordable Care Act when President Obama issued an executive order (March 24, 2010) affirming that the Hyde Amendment would extend to the new bill and hence to insurance company provision at the state level.
Roe, Doe and the Hyde Amendment
Many people have heard of the Roe vs Wade decision by the US Supreme Court in 1973. Few outside the US understand that the impact of that decision, together with another case the same year, Doe vs Bolton, was to give a negative right to abortion; you legally have the right, but the state does not have to facilitate your access.
Roe vs Wade affirmed that a women’s right to an abortion is not absolute. Beyond the first trimester of pregnancy the state had more interests with considerations relating to maternal life and to viability of the foetus. Roe was a weak decision and has been steadily undermined since 1973.
The Hyde Amendment was passed by the US Congress in 1976. This Amendment is specifically targeted at poor women by making clear that federal funding will only be available for abortion services in very restricted circumstances – otherwise women have to pay.
The Hyde amendment prevents direct federal funding for abortion except in three specific cases: 1) the life of the mother; 2) rape; and 3) incest. Otherwise the decision is left to the states as to whether Medicaid funds can be used to cover abortions for poor women. This means there is wide variation between states. Abortion access must be formally permitted and available, but funding is dependent upon state laws.
The Hyde Amendment inspired the passage of other provisions extending the ban on funding of abortions to a number of other federal health care programs. Consequently, those federal government employees who need abortions must pay for them “out-of-pocket” rather than them being funded as part of general health care. Abortion services are not provided for U.S. military personnel and their families, Peace Corps volunteers, Indian Health Service clients, or federal prisoners.
The Hyde Amendment is not a permanent piece of legislation; but is passed as a rider to annual Federal appropriation bills specifically tied to Health and Human services affecting dispersals of Medicaid to the states.
The attempt to redefine rape by several Republicans running for office during the last general election not only tries to normalise misogyny; it aims at further limiting federal funding of abortions for women that were raped.
Compliance with Roe vs Wade by a state enables access to federal money giving access to general health care for the poor through Medicaid; non-compliance endangers a state’s receipt of Medicaid money undermining access to general health care.
Various interferences have been introduced by states. The Guttmacher Institute has aggregated these into several categories:
1) Refusal Laws 46 states allow individual health care providers to refuse to participate in abortions; 43 states allow institutions to refuse to perform abortions, 16 of which limit refusal to private or religious institutions. Private hospitals are often owned by religious denominations and in some areas they are the only available hospital provision forcing women to travel to obtain an abortion.
2) Medicaid funding for abortions: 17 states use their own funds to pay for all or most medically necessary abortions for Medicaid enrollees in the state. 32 states and the District of Columbia prohibit the use of state funds except in those cases specified by the Hyde Amendment. In defiance of federal requirements, South Dakota limits funding to cases of life endangerment only.
3) Term limits to abortion: 41 states prohibit abortions except to protect the life of the women or her health after foetal viability (22-24 weeks);
4) Physician and Hospital requirements: 39 states require abortion to be performed by licensed physician; 20 require abortions to be performed in a hospital after a specified point in a pregnancy, 18 states require the involvement of a second physician after a certain point;
5) Late-term Abortions: prevention of certain procedures for late term abortions making them more dangerous (19 states have laws prohibiting “partial-birth” abortions;
6) Parental Involvement for Minors: 38 states require some type of parental involvement in a minor’s decision to have an abortion; 22 states require one or both parents to consent to the procedure, while 12 require that one or both parents be notified and 4 states require both parental notification and consent;
7) Unnecessary testing: e.g., invasive vaginal sonograms
8) Inaccurate Information Provision: Inaccurate information has to be given to pregnant women [e.g., links between abortion and breast cancer (5 states); foetal pain (12 states) and long-term mental health consequences of abortion (8 states)];
9) Waiting Periods: 26 states require woman seeking abortion to wait a specified period of time, usually 24 hours, between receiving ‘counselling’ (see inaccurate information above) and the procedure. 9 of these states have laws effectively requiring woman to make two separate trips to the clinic to obtain the procedure. In many states, abortion provision is limited (e.g., Mississippi and South Dakota have only one clinic in the whole state) and will require travel expenses and someone to stay overnight for a procedure, adding additional expense for women forced to pay for terminations.
10) Private Insurance Coverage: 8 states restrict coverage of abortion by private insurance plans, most often limiting coverage only to when the woman’s life would be endangered if the pregnancy were carried to term. Most states allow the purchase of additional abortion coverage at an additional cost.
Overturning Roe and Doe
Legislators in 14 states have moved to ban abortion before foetal viability and are unconstitutional due to inconsistency with Roe vs Wade. While many were shocked when Arkansas set limits to access at 12 weeks in March this year, it was North Dakota that really raised the stakes.
Three bills were signed into law by the Governor Jack Dalrymple on March 26, 2013:
1) HB 1456 prohibits abortion after detection of a foetal heartbeat (usually at 6 weeks of pregnancy)! ;
2) HB 1305 banning abortions performed solely for the purpose of gender selection and genetic abnormalities;
and 3) SB 2305 requiring admitting and staff privileges at a nearby hospital for any physician who performs abortions in North Dakota.
The Governor admitted that the purpose of the first bill was to test the limits of Roe v Wade. The third bill is a deliberate challenge to both Roe v Wade and Doe v Bolton based upon a bill that was passed in Mississippi attempting to close down the sole abortion provider in the state (Mississippi HB 1390) demanding that doctors working at the centre have hospital admitting privileges. As is often the case, doctors come from outside the area or even the state to work at the clinic and they would not have hospital admission privileges. As expected, the local hospital denied them these privileges; this law was declared unconstitutional by a federal appeals judge, Daniel P. Jordan on April 15, 2013, but it is expected to be appealed further.
A second leg of attack which has been proposed in 10 states is the proposal that personhood begins at conception. In North Dakota if the “Fetal Heartbeat Detection” bill fails, there is also a constitutional amendment termed the “Fetal Personhood Amendment” which has passed both legislatures and will be voted upon at the November 2014 ballot.
If it passes, North Dakota’s constitution will state that “the inalienable right to life of every human being at any stage of development must be recognized and protected.” The amendment would ban abortion in the state, without exceptions for rape, incest or life of the mother, and it could restrict the legality of some forms of birth control, stem cell research and in vitro fertilization.
Bills of this type have recently failed in Mississippi (Initiative 26 defining personhood at fertilisation) in 2011 and Colorado (2010, see Amendment 62 defining personhood at biological development). Since the legislature often is out of synch with the voters, there is a chance that this amendment will fail in North Dakota as well.
If both bills make it to the Supreme Court what can happen? It is not clear that the Court views it appropriate to overturn Roe and Doe. There is not even agreement even in the Republican Party on this issue.
So it is doubtful that Roe and Doe will be completely overturned; however, there is a real danger that foetal viability will be considered relevant which may impact upon term limits being further restricted. There are other considerations which relate to Doe on medical personnel and access to hospitals which may be re-examined adding further costs to accessing procedures. Most likely, further limitations on women’s right to choose will be deemed acceptable as access to abortion is considered to be a negative, rather than a positive, right.
Guttmacher Institute, “State Policies In Brief; An Overview of Abortion Laws as of April 2013”: http://www.guttmacher.org/statecenter/spibs/spib_OAL.pdf
Lori, “Three Controversial Proposals Rejected,” November 3, 2010: http://feministing.com/2010/11/03/three-controversial-propositions-rejected/
Maya, “North Dakotans will vote on a “personhood” amendment,” March 25, 2013: http://feministing.com/2013/03/25/north-dakotans-will-vote-on-a-personhood-amendment-next-election/
Jessica Mason Pielko, “Federal Court Blocks Mississippi Admitting Privileges Law”, April 15, 2013:
Mississippi Legislature, HB 1300: http://billstatus.ls.state.ms.us/documents/2012/html/HB/1300-1399/HB1390IN.htm
Roe vs Wade: SCOTUS Decision in summary: http://www.law.cornell.edu/supct/html/historics/USSC_CR_0410_0113_ZO.html
Zerlina, “Victory in Mississippi: Personhood Amendment Defeated!” November 9, 2011, http://feministing.com/2011/11/09/victory-in-mississippi-personhood-amendment-defeated/
I feel obliged to speak about the things I witnessed with my own eyes at the Police Station of Drapetsona, a close-to- the city- port neighborhood in Piraeus. I really have no idea of how I could possibly help my fellow men and so I expect each one of you to contribute to this by making what I saw widely known:
The immigrants who are being imprisoned in the basement of the Drapetsona Police Station have been beaten up by the policemen to try to discontinue their hunger strike. This behaviour made the 28-year -old Palestinian imprisoned refugee Ibrahim Farat to attempt suicide .
These events have made us, the active citizens of Piraeus, organize a protest march to their support. Once we arrived outside the Police Station the Chief Officer of Police appeared right in front of the Specially Equiped Police Forces called MAT- to tell us that a team of 5 individuals could go in and talk to the imprisoned immigrants.
These migrants have been detained simply because they could not provide employment documents because they have lost their jobs because of the continuously deteriorating economic crisis or because they didn’t have entrance documents in the first place. They haven’t committed any other offence…
What I saw was really shocking. In the inferno of the police station, 100 people were piled up in 70 square meters and have been detained there for more than 9 months, right after the beginning of “Xenios” Dias, when a specially created force organized by the Ministry of Public Order was set up. It acts under the commands of the Minister Mr. Dendias, who has a bad reputation for his methods sweeping poor homeless Greek people and foreign immigrants from the squares.
It’s ironic because Xenios Dias – Zeus was the god of hospitality, the god that protected foreigners. Every ancient Greek was obliged to take care and offer hospitality to every foreigner. Xenios Dias wasn’t the god who imprisoned, beat and tortured the foreigners.
People have been held up there under unbearable and unspeakable conditions driving them to despair . The complete lack of hygiene has allowed the spread of contagious skin diseases among them and in combination with the complete absence of natural daylight have made these unlucky people sick , physically and mentally, forcing them to attempt suicide. Even mice may die in these conditions.
The picture is impossible to depict. The kind of picture that’s rare even in movies. I’m really outraged at the state of which I’m a citizen. I’m deeply ashamed and outraged against the policemen who beat up these people as the imprisoned revealed to me, something which the Police Station Chief totally denied.
I managed to cope with the sadness and the despair expressed in their eyes. I managed to have a dialogue with the chief who was trying, in vain, to find excuses, saying that he is trying to balance out between humanitarian principles and dehumanizing orders by Mr. Dendias, who is exclusively responsible in the chief’s opinion for the situation of the PS.
I collapsed when I saw right in front of me a man tearing his own flesh causing bleeding as the only solution to attract our attention to his problem as soon as he saw us hoping that this will get him out of this inferno in which he is being detained and tortured for 9 consecutive months…
While tears filled my eyes, I got out of their cells so as not to be seen as this would cause them more pain and grief. These people experience the conditions of hell while alive. I began to scream my head off at the policemen and their accompanying state pschychologists.
You are no human beings I cried. You are violating every sense of what we call human rights and you talk to us about the bureaucracy which prevents you from fixing the toilets – only 2 for 100 people- and for your effort to balance out between humanism and the orders you get. Had you been human beings with any sign of sensitivity you would have spoken out for what happens inside here, and you would have resigned in order to stop this crime. I was beginning to lose control and so I moved out of the station .
Those who happen to read what I am writing must reconsider their responsibilities. They must react. We are the people who have the power.We are the state. But if the state is heartless it is because we who make it we are inhuman.
The Police Chief announced to the imprisoned man who had wounded himself that he would be set free. The same was said to the Palestinian who had earlier attempted suicide. The message that has been passed: You will get out of here only if you commit suicide and if you are lucky you may be promptly saved at the hospital…
? wish each one of us had the chance to get into this inferno of Drapetsona and see, speak and look into the eyes of our fellow men who experience this torture, one breath away from our homes. Then, they would all be out in the streets protesting.
Events of this kind take place everywhere in our country, being the result of the operation ‘Xenios Dias”. We must do everything we can in our capacity to put an end to this dreadful operation which is insulting us, our tradition and our civilization. Mr. Dendias, the minister of the so called ministry for the protection of the citizen(!) really or deliberately ignores our history and he should be reminded of the meaning of hopitality these very ancient Greek words convey.
We demand that these imprisoned ill-fated victims of his cruel policy be immediately released and set free.
We demand the immediate termination of the inhuman operation “ Xenios” Dias that insults our Culture and Democracy and makes expiatories victims the most weak part of our society, the immigrants and the refugees.