Save our NHS

By Tom

01 March 2012

As politicians like to say, 'let's be absolutely clear about this', the purpose of the Coalition Government's Health and Social Care Bill is to hand over our public healthcare to private corporations - the same private corporations who fund the Conservative Party and their associated think-tanks.  These peoples' protestations that there will be no privitisation and that the 'reforms' are simply about efficient healthcare delivery are utter bollocks.  As Spinwatch's Tamasin Cave has noted, one of Cameron's health advisors, Mark Britnell, has been very clear about their intensions. In October 2010 he told a conference of private healthcare executives, 'The NHS will be shown no mercy and the best time to take advantage of this will be in the next couple of years.'

These people have to be stopped and we are entering a crucial period.  As Colin Leys said yesterday in an interview for NLP, 'The time between now and the end of the parliamentary session is critical. People are tired, but so are the government. They are badly rattled.'

As part of its 'All Together for the NHS' campaign, the TUC has organised a 'Save our NHS' rally in central London on 7 March.  The rally is being live streamed online and you can pledge to attend the 'virtual rally' here.  'Keep our NHS public' also lists some suggested action you can take here.  Spread the word.

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Rebel Music #1 The Clash -Sandinista!

By Alex

26 February 2012

Over the coming weeks the NLP blog will be hosting a range of short articles on the theme of political music. First up is music journalist and activist Alexander Billet on the the Clash's 1980 album, Sandinista!

 

 

It's nothing out of the ordinary for a left-wing writer to declare the Clash their favorite band of all time.  Almost a quarter-century after imploding, the group has undeniably entered into the pantheon of musical legend--no doubt a point of pride for many who were swayed by Strummer and company's rebel call.

Naming Sandinista! your favorite album is a different matter.  Upon its release in the winter of 1980 it instantly divided fans and critics alike.  Little wonder why.  With 36 tracks running almost two and a half hours total, and with a musical palette that veers from rockabilly to backwards tape-loops at a moment’s notice, the album can sometimes test the patience of even the most open-minded. 

It’s also an album revolutionary in all senses--politically, socially, artistically.  No album did more to shake the very foundations of pop music since Sergeant Pepper.  It was a work profoundly shaped by its time and continues to have resonance today.  Few albums can claim such a feat.

Of course there’s the obvious: naming an album after a leftist guerrilla movement that had come to power right on the cusp of the Reagan-Thatcher years was a defiant statement of solidarity. However, that radical internationalism expanded well beyond the title. 

The Clash were no strangers to injecting reggae, soul and jazz into their sound.  It was on Sandinista!, though, that this penchant burst forth with calypso, dub, gospel.  All anticipated the rise of “world music” by almost a decade.  Likewise for the group’s fascination with hip-hop.  Rap was barely known outside the confines of New York City, but Strummer, Jones, Headon and Simonon knew they were hearing something earth-shattering.  “Magnificent Seven,” a song that squared its rap-influenced lyrics against everything from consumerism to big media, was front-loaded on the album.

 

Sandinista! is also, appropriately, where we hear the group’s rebel politics at their sharpest.  The world-sweeping beats play a dense, intricate soundtrack to denunciations of American imperialism in “Washington Bullets.”  A steady, creeping funk runs beneath a call to resist the military in “The Call Up.”  And few groups could manage to turn an R&B surfing song into one about napalm in Vietnam like the Clash did in “Charlie Don’t Surf.” 

And, it should be remembered, this was a triple album sold at single album price!  It was a move that cost the group untold sums of money and put them at further odds with their record label.  Well before Radiohead began giving away their music for free on the Internet, and even as they tried to negotiate the treacherous waters of fame, the Clash were experimenting with ways to make music a right, not a privilege. 

Listening to Sandinista! today, it’s amazing how fresh it sounds.  Some of this may be the simple gears of history turning--the upsurge in Latin America, the discredit of US imperialism.  But beyond that, the sounds the Clash were inspired by have in turn inspired a whole new generation of musicians grappling with what it means to be artists in a world of burgeoning struggle.  It’s what makes Sandinista! not just another album by “the only band that mattered,” but a work that stands on its own today. 

Alexander Billet, a music journalist and activist living in Chicago, runs the website Rebel Frequencies, and writes a column of the same title for the Society of Cinema and Arts.  His work has also appeared in Z Magazine, SocialistWorker.org, New Politics and others.  You can read his thirty-year retrospective on Sandinista! here.

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‘Anti-business snobbery’

By Tom

23 February 2012

If liberalism has a tendency to misrepresent the world by ignoring fundamental inequalities of wealth and power; conservatism seeks to actively subvert that reality and to turn it on its head.  It invites us to imagine the powerful as victims; to ‘pity the billionaire’ in Thomas Frank’s pithy phrase. 

It is in this context that we should understand David Cameron’s much publicised speech this afternoon in which he will reportedly complain of ‘snobbish attitudes’ towards business.  To use the word ‘snobbery’ in this context is as audacious as it is absurd, but it is no accident.  The right has always sought to appropriate the language of the left in an effort to deflect criticisms of power and privilege.  Indeed, the use of the term ‘wealth creators’ in Cameron’s speech is similarly intended to invert the long held contention on the left that it is labour not capital that creates value. 

Returning to the much reported use of the phrase ‘snobbery’ in Cameron’s speech, the word of course implies an antipathy or condescension towards those of a lower class.  Yet the speech this afternoon is to members of Business in the Community, which includes Aviva, Barclays, Lloyds Banking Group and Standard Life – all of which according a study published in the New Scientist comprise part of ‘a small tightly-knit core of financial institutions’ ‘with disproportionate power over the global economy’. 

It may seem desperate to portray the world’s most powerful institutions as an oppressed group, but for conservatives these are increasingly desperate times.  In the same speech Cameron will apparently refer to ‘dangerous rhetoric’, and no doubt he means it.  With resistence to neoliberalism and public outrage over banking bonuses and other conspicuous excesses of corporate capitalism growing only stronger, you’d better believe they are feeling the heat.

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Israeli Apartheid Week

By Tom

21 February 2012

This week is the 8th annual Israeli Apartheid Week, celebrating the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions Movement.  Here is a statement from the organisers:

The 8th annual Israeli Apartheid Week (IAW) will take place in a record number of campuses across the UK from February 20 to 24. IAW is an annual international series of events, which last year reached more than 100 cities across the globe. The week will feature lectures, film screenings, cultural activities, and creative actions aimed at raising awareness about Israel’s system of colonialism, occupation and apartheid toward Palestinians. Importantly, IAW will build support for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign launched in 2005 by over 170 Palestinian civil society organisations. The demands of the BDS movement are: full equality for Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel, an end to the occupation and colonisation of all Arab lands, and the protection of Palestinian refugees’ right to return. 

In an open letter dated October 21-2011, Palestinian students wrote to their counterparts around the world: “we hope you put BDS at the forefront of your campaigns and join together for Israeli Apartheid Week, the pinnacle of action across universities worldwide”. Layla Auer one of many IAW organizers in London explains, “IAW activities this year are a direct response to this call from Palestinian students and in solidarity with the youth movements across the Arab World as  they have inspired us with their commitment to struggle for freedom, justice and equality”.

Previous participants in IAW have included Naomi Klein, Judith Butler, Ali Abunimah, Omar Barghouti and Ronnie Kasrils among other prominent supporters of Palestinian rights.  The program in the UK this year is youth focused and features well-known film director Eyal Sivan, and students from South Africa and Palestine, as well as performances by hip-hop artist Lowkey and spoken-word poet Rafeef Ziadah.

For further information and full schedules for each city please visit www.apartheidweek.org or contact media@apartheidweek.org.

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Red Pepper and openDemocracy recruiting

By Ed

20 February 2012

Our friends at Red Pepper and openDemocracy both have voluntary editorial positions going. Here are the ads:

Website editor wanted to join Red Pepper volunteer editorial team

Red Pepper's website is becoming an increasingly important part of the way our magazine works. We're now looking for a volunteer editor to be the driving force behind making it a real resource for the left. You would join our existing collective of five volunteer editors, but with specific responsibility for the website. If you have a thoughtful approach to left politics, some experience of writing, editing or journalism, a passion for changing the world and experience of organising to bring that about, we want to hear from you.

The position is one of real responsibility, with the opportunity to help shape the future of Red Pepper. We would like to particularly encourage women and those from ethnic minority backgrounds to apply. Closing date, Monday 19 March.
To find out more, download the job description and person specification (pdf).

*****

OurKingdom Volunteer Role

OurKingdom, the UK section of openDemocracy, is seeking a volunteer to help support our editorial team. We are looking for someone who wants to combine editorial and organising skill to help transform the democratic and constitional culture of the UK.

You would support the editorial team, with the chance to develop your commissioning, editing, publishing and writing skills. You would receive training throughout the placement. Supported by Co-Editor Niki Seth-Smith, you would be given the freedom to use your initiative, oversee your own projects and write posts. This is an opportunity to build relationships with politicians, journalists, academics and activists at the forefront of thinking on Britain today, while developing your own ideas and building a voice.

It is possible to work remotely, or from our London offices in Dalston. We are able to pay travel expenses and lunch money.

Please apply to "niki.sethsmith@opendemocracy.net" with:

- CV plus covering letter

- Three commissioning ideas

Please write VOLUNTEER OURKINGDOM in caps in the subject line.

 

 

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Democracy Deficit in Austerity Europe

By Alex

18 February 2012

A guest post by Houman Barekat*

Impasse.  The people of Greece continue to resist; the markets, media and politicians continue to insist that there is no alternative.  Something will have to give.  Whatever the solution, electoral democracy will have very little to do with it.  When the country’s erstwhile leader, Mr Papandreou, mooted a referendum on austerity measures, the idea was universally dismissed as manifestly untenable.  Markets and media alike responded with genuine alarm: it was the talk of a dangerous lunatic; Mr Papandreou had to go.  This tells us all we need to know about the prospects for representative democracy at such a time.

Not so long ago the UK had its own version of the Greek crisis.  In 1976, with the economy crippled by debt, the then Labour government was forced to impose a devastating austerity budget in return for a desperately needed IMF loan.  The measures resulted in the Winter of Discontent, and the Tories swept into power on a wave of anti-union sentiment.  It took Labour almost two decades to recover; the British left has arguably never recovered.  On that occasion, pragmatism won the day.  Anything less would have been unthinkable, and the radical alternative proposed at the time by Tony Benn - that Britain should reject the IMF, nationalise the North Sea oil and effectively ‘go it alone’ - would have turned Britain into an international pariah, a veritable ‘rogue state’.  Fresh from dismantling democracy in Chile, Dr Kissinger would have had his work cut out once more. 

In the Cold War era, the totalising logic of global capitalism was given a veneer of political legitimacy: democracies were undermined, juntas tolerated and authoritarian regimes condoned, all in the name of protecting the world from the menace of the Soviet Union.  But what happens today if someone won’t play the game?   It is by no means certain that the men who torched libraries and cinemas in Athens on Monday night were necessarily leftists, and we know that the markets would sooner wink at a dictatorship in Greece than allow its people a say in the running of the economy.  You have incurred a debt, they say, and you must pay it back.  But the debt was incurred by the capitalist class, and yet repayment is being sought from the people as a whole.  The contradiction is evident to even the most uneducated person - you need a degree in Economics in order not to see it.

The Greek catastrophe is only an extreme version of the political crises facing many countries during the current downturn.  Across Europe, the economic crisis has precipitated a new era of unrepresentative government.  At the healthier end of the spectrum you have a country like Britain, with a coalition government carefully bulldozing large swathes of the country’s social infrastructure in the name of deficit reduction.  The radicalism of Mr Cameron’s reform programme is inversely proportional to the strength of his government’s popular mandate, but what does it matter?  The Labour leader, Ed Miliband, has already declared that a Labour government would adopt a similar policy.    Our so-called ‘squeezed middle’ is hanging in there; in Greece, middle class professionals are forming bread lines.  But we have one thing in common:  a paralysing and portentous sense of powerlessness. 

*Houman Barekat is editor of Review 31

Arms and the People:  Popular Movements and the Military from the Paris Commune to the Arab Spring, edited by Houman Barekat and Mike Gonzalez, is forthcoming from Pluto Press.

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Norman Finkelstein on BDS

By Jamie

15 February 2012

There has been a lot of nonsense written about Norman Finkelstein's position on Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions written over the past 24 hours. 'Nonsense', not because it is stupid, or insincere, but because it doesn't represent his position correctly, and therefore fails to address the substance of his critique. Since I think the critique is an important one, this reaction is a shame, because it means the serious issues it raises aren't being given the careful consideration they warrant.

For people wanting a clearer picture of what Norman's argument is, and what his responses are to several of the criticisms that are being bandied about at this point, I recommend watching the Q&A session after his recent talk in Edinburgh. Among the many confusions addressed: that Finkelstein fetishises the law; that he is overriding Palestinians' own preferences in a colonial or paternalistic manner; that he opposes BDS. The Q&As start around 1h50mins in:

Norman Finkelstein in Edinburgh from Stuart Platt on Vimeo

 

For more background to Norman's arguments here, see my interview with him from last year.

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Review: The Actuality of Communism

By Ed

13 February 2012

Samuel Grove* reviews The Actuality of Communism by Bruno Bosteels (Verso, 2011)

"For about two centuries (from Babeuf's 'community of equals' to the 1980s) the word 'communism' was the most important name of an Idea located in a field of emancipatory, or revolutionary politics” (Alain Badiou). Since the 1980s the term has lain dormant. Recently however there are signs of the Idea’s re-awakening. Bruno Bosteels’ The Actuality of Communism is a fervent defence of the Idea as well as philosophy’s role within it. That being said the book consists less of an argument and more of an incitement to think. Springing from the first question—‘is it possible to be a young communist today without being either an ignoramus (of history) or an ingénue (of morality)?'—and assuming the reader’s answer to this question is ‘yes’; there follows a cascade of further questions posed by Bosteels and an assortment of contemporary critical thinkers he calls upon: What is the relation of the [eternal] idea of communism to its [contingent] history? Is communism synonymous with generic ideas of justice or the specific form of emancipation from capitalism? Can one be a communist without being a Marxist? What is the role of the State (if any) in a revolutionary process? What is the a role for the militant subject in such a process? Does communism have a specific endgame or does it really stand for a politics of insurrection? If so, where does this leave us in terms of particular organisations and concrete policies?

This is a book not to be digested, but to be periodically consulted, for many of these questions don’t have an answer; rather their resolution resides in their dialectical relation. Readers should be warned that Bosteels’ prose is at times (and as is characteristic of much of critical theory) exasperatingly opaque. If this book is to be read as a manual then it can be read as a guide as to how to ask critical and complex questions towards a simple and compelling idea without losing one’s militant fidelity both to the Idea and—here Bosteels should take note—its simplicity.

*Samuel Grove is an independent researcher and journalist. See his work on NLP here.

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Blair Horror Show

By Alex

06 February 2012

Really this ought to be saved for Halloween, but for those leftists who complacently argue that our leaders need to be challenged more forcefully,  this interview with former PM Tony Blair should make them a bit a more careful about what they wish for and a bit more grateful for the cosy, softly softly stlye, of Andrew Marr et al. It turns out though that Blair's biographer (obviously a fan of the horror genre) John Rentoul is evidently made of sterner stuff than the rest of us as he has written a glowing piece for the Independent extolling Blair's performance. Incidentally I strongly recommend readers to also have a look at Rentoul's impassioned and moving reaction to Tony Blair's resignation in 2007.

The video can't be embedded (as far as I can tell), but here is the link again. And here's a screenshot of what's in store:

 

 

 

 

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Review 31

By Alex

06 February 2012

We are always on the look out for good new progressive content here at NLP, so we were very pleased to see the launch of a new leftist review site - Review 31. Below is a brief interview with the editor Houman Barekat.

 

Can you tell our readers what Review 31 is and what kind of content you will be carrying?

Review 31 is an online literary magazine; we publish reviews of the latest non-fiction titles.  The principal focus is on politics and history, as well as art & culture.  It’s - broadly speaking - a politically progressive review.

Why do you think there is a need for a site like Review 31?  What is it offering that you feel is lacking elsewhere?

I’m a huge fan of the London Review of Books.  It’s elegant, topical and critically engaged.  But the essay-length review can be problematic for online reading - my eyes just can’t take the glare for long enough to read 4,000 words in one sitting.   So what I wanted to do was produce something that combined the intelligence and flair of the LRB with a format better suited to the internet age.  I should emphasise that we’re not talking about soundbites  - our reviews are between 800 and 1600 words long - just something slightly more compact.  The design of the site is very user-friendly, very clean and easy on the eye.

I suppose the other thing that distinguishes us is the types of books that we’re choosing to highlight.  We review titles from the major academic presses, of course, but we also look to give extra attention to the lists of the smaller independent presses.  They’re publishing fresh, exciting books that often don’t get anything like the exposure they deserve.

What are your aims and hopes for the site? 

In the medium term we hope to establish Review 31 as one of the leading online reviews. There are some other people doing a similar sort of thing - the Los Angeles Review of Books, edited by Tom Lutz, looks very promising.  It’s currently in development - their site is in ‘preview mode’ but it already looks great.

It’s early days yet - we only launched three months ago.  But the initial feedback from readers has been very positive.  We’ve got a really interesting range of contributors - a good mix of scholars and journalists; some really excellent writers.  

Houman Barekat is editor of Review 31 and co-editor, with Mike Gonzalez, of Arms and the People: Popular Movements and the Military from the Paris Commune to the Arab Spring (forthcoming from Pluto Press).

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