From Bristol to Boston to Hong Kong, the statues of colonisers and racists must fall

On 7 June, during an anti-racist rally in Bristol (part of the global wave of protests in the aftermath of the police murder of George Floyd), a group of protestors ripped a statue of notorious slave trader Edward Colston from its plinth and rolled it into Bristol Harbour. This act, although widely condemned by establishment politicians (Home Secretary Priti Patel for example describing it as “sheer vandalism”), was justly celebrated by anti-racists and anti-colonialists worldwide. A prominent member of the Royal African Company, Colston is estimated to have been involved in the enslavement of at least 84,000 Africans, nearly a quarter of whom died on the journey between West Africa and the Americas. People in Bristol – particularly its black community – have long campaigned for the statue to be removed, and have endured nothing but endless prevarication from the local authorities.

Colston’s upending was quickly followed by similar actions around the world. In Boston, Christopher Columbus was decapitated. In Richmond, Virginia, Jefferson Davis was toppled. (Davis was president of the Confederate States from 1861 to 1865 and a pro-slavery activist). The long-running campaign to remove Oxford University’s statue of the white supremacist and imperialist Cecil Rhodes has gathered fresh momentum. In Antwerp, Belgium, the statue of King Leopold II has had to be pre-emptively removed, while in Brussels, protestors climbed on a statue of Leopold and defiantly flew a giant flag of the Democratic Republic of Congo, which country suffered so terribly under Leopold’s brutal colonial rule.

Slavery and colonialism created the foundations of modern capitalism

This struggle around statues is immensely important. In Britain, statues of people like Edward Colston and Cecil Rhodes provide an uncomfortable reminder of just how much of Britain’s ‘greatness’ is built on a foundation of slavery, colonialism, plunder and genocide. The industrial revolution, which propelled Britain to domination in the early 19th century, started with the development of the steam engine. This scientific development was funded to no small degree with profits from the slave trade. Many of Britain’s cities blossomed as a result of “the turning of Africa into a warren for the commercial hunting of black-skins”, as Karl Marx so memorably put it.

For those of us that live in countries that have benefitted from colonialism, it’s crucial that we assess and understand this history. The primary beneficiary of colonialism and the slave trade was of course the capitalist class. However, ordinary people also benefitted to some extent. Indeed the ruling classes sought to justify colonialism on the basis that the profits resulting from it could be used to improve conditions for the working class and thereby maintain social stability. It was none other than Cecil Rhodes who said: “The Empire is a bread and butter question. If you want to avoid a civil war you must become imperialists.” Only by facing up to these uncomfortable facts can we hope to forge a path towards a united, non-racist and non-imperialist future.

The link between racism and imperialism

The tearing down of statues in the context of a global protest against white supremacy also reminds us just how closely linked racism and imperialism are. Columbus, Leopold, Rhodes, Colston and their ilk were racists and imperialists, and as representatives of a relentlessly expanding European capitalism couldn’t realistically be otherwise. Racism served as a justification for slavery and empire: “all men are created equal”, but that doesn’t apply to subhuman species. As capital spread into Africa, Asia and the Americas, so did a globalised racial hierarchy that continues to assert itself today on the streets of Minneapolis and elsewhere.

Just as racism in the colonial era served to prevent the working class in the imperialist countries from taking up the interests of the masses in the oppressed countries, racism in the modern era serves to divide the white working class in the imperialist countries from the masses of the developing world, and furthermore from minority communities originating in the developing world. The constant theme of racism is therefore its role in undermining solidarity between oppressed peoples.

So there is an inextricable link between racism and imperialism. Both are manifestations of national oppression, carried out by the ruling classes of the major colonialist countries (initially Britain, Spain, Italy, Portugal, Holland, Belgium and Germany, and later the US and Japan) as a means of perpetuating capitalism. This link between racism and imperialism is paralleled by the equally inextricable link between anti-racism and anti-imperialism. One cannot meaningfully oppose one manifestation of national oppression without opposing all manifestations of national oppression. To oppose racist policing is also to oppose the legacy of slavery represented by the likes of Edward Colston and Cecil Rhodes. It also means opposing imperialist wars, such as have been carried out against Syria, Libya, Iraq, Afghanistan and Yugoslavia. It also means opposing imperialist destabilisation and coercion, such as is currently being carried out against Venezuela, Zimbabwe, Iran, Cuba, Syria, DPR Korea, Nicaragua and other countries. It also means opposing attempts to reassert US global hegemony, currently gathering steam in the form of a New Cold War against China.

What statues should fall in Hong Kong?

Which brings us to the contentious issue of the protests in Hong Kong, a source of much confusion in the West. As Ajit Singh and Danny Haiphong have recently noted, some of the protest leaders in Hong Kong have attempted to associate themselves with Black Lives Matter, claiming a common cause against oppression and police brutality in spite of their close ties to some of the most reactionary and racist elements in US politics. Student activist Joshua Wong has gone so far as to accuse basketball star LeBron James of hypocrisy over his active support for anti-racist protests in the US and his lack of support for anti-government protests in Hong Kong.

The anti-racist protests taking place around the world in response to the gruesome murder of George Floyd are protests against national oppression, as discussed above. The attacks on the statues of racists, slave-traders, colonisers and imperialists are deeply connected to this movement. If black lives matter, the adulation of colonial oppressors must end.

So are the anti-government protests in Hong Kong also directed at racism and imperialism? If they are, wouldn’t we expect the protestors to be toppling the statues of Queen Victoria, King George VI and Thomas Jackson? After all Hong Kong is practically the quintessential example of colonialism. Incorporated into China since 214 BCE, it was seized by Britain in 1842 following the First Opium War, converted into a colony, and used as a base from which to direct British commercial operations, the most important of which was pushing opium onto the Chinese people. In 155 years of colonial rule, there were 28 British governors, with not a single one elected by Chinese people; Hong Kong was run essentially as an apartheid colony in which white people led a highly privileged existence.

Hong Kong was only returned to Chinese control in 1997, and thus a great deal of its colonial legacy remains. And yet the Hong Kong protestors don’t attack this legacy; in fact they are nostalgic for the days of British rule – waving union jacks and singing God Save the Queen – and they work closely with imperialist anti-China hawks like Tom Cotton, Marco Rubio and Mike Pompeo (all of whom, incidentally, are violently opposed to Black Lives Matter).

The only action Joshua Wong and his group have taken in relation to statues was to cover the Golden Bauhinia statue in black cloth ahead of President Xi Jinping’s visit to the city in 2017. The Golden Bauhinia statue was built in 1997 to celebrate the handover of Hong Kong and the establishment of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region. So it turns out the Hong Kong protestors attack anti-colonial symbols, not colonial symbols. This amply demonstrates the fundamental difference between the global anti-racist protests and the Hong Kong ‘pro-democracy’ protests.

Toppling the statues of colonialists and white supremacists is a matter of global resistance against oppression. From Bristol to Boston to Hong Kong, the statues of colonisers and racists must fall.

Video: Jude Woodward – The US vs China: Asia’s New Cold War?

Invent the Future has launched a new Youtube channel, the first video from which features a summary of Jude Woodward’s crucially important 2017 book, ‘The US vs China: Asia’s New Cold War?’

At a time where the US is moving aggressively and dangerously towards a new cold war with China, this book could hardly be more relevant.

Karl Marx in Wuhan: how Chinese socialism is defeating COVID-19

The initial outbreak of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) took place in the Chinese city of Wuhan, the capital of Hubei province, in early January 2020. The epidemic was limited almost entirely to China until a month later, when it flared up in Iran, South Korea, Japan and Italy. By 11 March, it was clear that sustained community-level transmission of the virus was occurring in multiple regions of the world, and the World Health Organisation (WHO) declared it a pandemic. With the virus spreading throughout Europe and North America, there is now a serious possibility that COVID-19 will infect a large proportion of the global population and cause the early death of millions of people. It is a global health emergency of almost unprecedented proportions.

China’s successes containing the virus

In the absence of a vaccine or cure, the only way to defeat a viral epidemic is to drastically reduce contagion, and this is achieved through rigorous testing, contact tracing, isolation of patients, and social distancing for the wider population.

Once it understood the nature and scope of the crisis, the Chinese government took swift, uncompromising action. A total lockdown was imposed in Hubei, the epicentre of the outbreak, on 23 January, at which point there were around 800 confirmed cases. Tens of millions of people were required to stay indoors. Schools and workplaces were closed, and sporting and cultural events were cancelled. In the words of Bruce Aylward, epidemiologist and senior advisor to the Director General of WHO, “old-fashioned public health tools” were deployed “with a rigour and innovation of approach on a scale that we’ve never seen in history.”

The report of the WHO-China Joint Mission, conducted in late February, concluded that “in the face of a previously unknown virus, China has rolled out perhaps the most ambitious, agile and aggressive disease containment effort in history.” The report noted that up-to-date public health information was regularly and widely distributed through multiple channels; there was a coordinated nationwide effort to get sufficient medical supplies to Hubei; and local authorities worked to ensure a stable supply of basic goods and to prevent speculation and hoarding.

The government announced immediately that testing and treatment – including expensive and sophisticated techniques such as extracorporeal membrane oxygenation – would be free to all, and it immediately introduced various measures to mitigate the effect on people’s daily lives (for example pausing mortgage and credit card payments, and providing subsidies to ensure continued payment of wages). Food shopping moved completely online, and provincial authorities and Communist Party of China (CPC) local branches coordinated to ensure every home received food packages and that people on medication received their prescriptions.

More than 30,000 doctors and nurses were sent to Wuhan from across China. Forty-five hospitals were designated as COVID-19 treatment centres, 12 temporary hospitals were converted from exhibition centres and similar buildings, and two brand new hospitals (with a capacity of 1,000 and 1,300 beds) were constructed from the ground up in a matter of days. The health system prioritised keeping people alive, scaling up the production of ventilators and adding capacity across the range of treatment and detection options. Dr Aylward remarked: “the Chinese are really good at keeping people alive with this disease.”

Public health officials attempted to trace every single confirmed case, and then tested everyone that had come into contact with the infected person, in line with the WHO’s clear message to “test, test, test”.

China’s containment effort has been facilitated by the extensive use of advanced technology. Temperature checking stations have been set up throughout the country, and people have been asked to install a smartphone app that provides information, allows users to check and report symptoms, and enables the health authorities to monitor the spread of the disease.

Artificial intelligence is being widely deployed; for example a prediction model “is helping health care authorities in Chongqing and Shenzhen predict outbreaks ahead of time with accuracy rates of more than 90 per cent.” Meanwhile Chinese tech giants have made crucial services available for the fight against COVID-19. “Alibaba Cloud has offered AI computing capabilities to public research institutions for free to support virus gene sequencing, new drug R&D and protein screenings. Baidu has opened up LinearFold, its RNA prediction algorithm, to genetic testing agencies, epidemic prevention centres and research institutes around the world. Neusoft Medical donated high-end CT scanners, AI medical imaging, cloud platform and remote advanced post-processing software to hospitals in Wuhan.”

Robots have been put to use delivering meals to people under quarantine. Huawei and China Telecom worked together to set up a 5G-enabled remote video diagnostic centre, enabling medical staff to conduct remote online consultations.

In a clear sign of its commitment to international cooperation to contain the virus, the Chinese Centre for Disease Control sequenced the entire COVID-19 genome and published it within a few days of the virus being identified. By comparison, it took two months for the genome to be sequenced during the 2014 Ebola outbreak.

China’s “incredibly difficult measures” were recognised by the WHO as having probably prevented hundreds of thousands of cases. The crisis reached its peak in early February, when new confirmed cases were increasing at a rate of around 3,000 per day. The curve started to flatten in mid-February, and was almost completely flat by the beginning of March: in the first three weeks of March, case numbers increased from 80,026 to 81,008, and at the time of writing (in late March), almost all new cases in China are imported rather than domestically transmitted.

Containment measures successfully prevented any really serious outbreak in China outside Hubei. The worst affected province after Hubei has been Guangdong, a vast province of 113 million people in Southern China, where by late March there had been around 1,400 confirmed cases and just eight deaths. At the time of writing, two of the provinces neighbouring Hubei, Hunan and Anhui, have zero active confirmed cases.

With the outbreak clearly under control in China, lockdown measures are being eased and people are starting to return to normal life, while remaining vigilant to the possibility of a resurgence of the virus. China’s extraordinary response to COVID-19, although it came at significant economic and human cost, has provided an indispensable lesson to the rest of the world in how to tackle this pandemic. An epidemiological analysis in The Lancet stated: “What has happened in China shows that quarantine, social distancing, and isolation of infected populations can contain the epidemic. This impact of the COVID-19 response in China is encouraging for the many countries where COVID-19 is beginning to spread.”

Continue reading Karl Marx in Wuhan: how Chinese socialism is defeating COVID-19

Building solidarity and friendship with China: notes on a trip to the People’s Republic

Between 27 December and 7 January, I joined a China Silk Road Tour led by former US congresswoman Cynthia McKinney and organised by Chinese-American activist Lee Siu Hin. There were various strands of political ideology to be found among the 20 delegates, but we were united in our opposition to the growing US-led Cold War, which is directed primarily at China and which seeks to prevent the emergence of a multipolar world.

We spent around three days each in Beijing, Xi’an (capital of Shaanxi province, and one of the oldest cities in China), Dunhuang (a small oasis city that served as an important stop on the ancient Silk Road) and Ürümqi (capital of the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region). China is enormous, but this itinerary – stretching across the north of the country – allowed us to develop some understanding of its diversity.

Housing

Walking around in Beijing, Xi’an, Dunhuang and Ürümqi, one thing that immediately strikes you is how clean, modern, safe and well-organised Chinese cities are. The metro is cheap, extensive, efficient, and easy to navigate. There are public toilets everywhere. The streets are spotless. People come across as friendly and confident. Remarkably, you don’t see beggars or people sleeping on the street. Those in the delegation who live in London or New York all commented on the contrast.

In meetings with the Chinese Academy of Marxism and the Beijing People’s Association for Friendship with Foreign Countries, we were able to find out more about the housing situation in China. Around 90 percent of Chinese families own their own homes (and the majority of these homes are owned outright, without a mortgage). The remaining 10 percent live in heavily subsidised social housing, or in accommodation provided to migrant workers by their employers. The latter group – migrant workers from rural areas – also benefit from the fact that the Chinese Revolution wiped out feudalism and the landlord system in the countryside, so if work dries up in the city, migrant workers have the option of going back to their land. As a result, there are none of the urban slums that are so commonplace in a lot of Asian countries.

The housing situation is by no means perfect – significant inequality has opened up, particularly between urban residents (who were able to buy their apartments at very low cost during the first phase of housing reform) and villagers and migrants; however, the government is working hard to resolve various housing-related problems: preventing speculation, liberalising the hukuo (household registration) system, building millions of units of low-cost social housing, and investing heavily in the development of smaller inland cities so as to even out the imbalance between the big East Coast cities and the rest of the country.

To basically solve the problem of homelessness in an enormous Asian country of 1.3 billion people is a remarkable accomplishment. It’s extremely difficult for most other countries in Asia and Africa – those that didn’t have thoroughgoing land revolutions – to meaningfully tackle homelessness. Meanwhile in the developed capitalist countries, the resources exist to address the problem, but the political system is built around the needs of the rich and therefore homelessness is simply never a priority. In short, it’s one of the huge socio-economic problems that only socialism has solved.

Addressing inequality

Housing inequality is connected to the broader issue of inequality between urban and rural areas, between coastal and inland zones, and between city residents and migrant workers. The Chinese development model in the 1980s and 1990s was based on allowing the major trading cities on the south-eastern coast to develop first, attracting foreign capital and new technology by offering a huge pool of low-cost, well-educated and diligent workers. Many of these workers were migrants – typically people in their 20s – who would come from the countryside because they could earn more in low-paid factory work than they could from their land (with 20 percent of the world’s population but only 6 percent of its arable land, overpopulation of the countryside has been an intractable problem in China for many centuries).

The migrant worker system is particularly attractive for foreign capital, because it means companies can base their pay scales on the costs of a single worker rather than a whole family, and because it’s consistent with seasonal or casual work (since migrant workers simply go back to the village when labour supply exceeds demand).

The Chinese government recognises that this system has fomented inequality and that the millions of migrant workers have benefitted far less from China’s rapid growth than most of the rest of the population. However, in a situation where it had practically zero capital and desperately needed to attract investment to develop its technology and integrate into the global economy, China had little choice but to implement pro-capital policies. From the late 1990s, China has had the material base to deliver much improved living conditions for all workers.

In terms of protecting the rights of migrant workers in the big cities, the two major policy strands are to mandate higher pay and better conditions, and to gradually replace the hukuo system with a residency permit that will allow long-term migrant workers access to the full range of rights and services provided to city residents.

The government is also pursuing a broader rebalancing strategy, promoting the development of smaller cities in the west, north and centre of the country. Towards this aim, there has been incredible infrastructure development over the last decade. The whole country is connected via high-speed rail and road. Modern energy is available everywhere, and internet access is practically universal. Although Xinjiang has historically been the poorest region of the country, we found it to be almost as modern and developed as Beijing, with good quality roads, 4G internet, plentiful housing, and a newly-opened metro system.

In Dunhuang, a small city of around 180,000 people, we travelled on the local network of electric buses, which run regularly through the city. We also happened upon the Gansu Dunhuang Solar Park, one of the big new industries in the area. It’s utterly enormous, with an annual net energy output of around 80 GWh. China was responsible for 32 percent of global renewable energy investment last year, and is increasingly recognised as the world leader in preventing climate catastrophe. Its move to green development fits perfectly with its rebalancing strategy, and solar parks and other alternative energy plants are being set up throughout the country.

We took the high-speed train from Beijing to Xi’an, and from Liuyuan (Gansu) to Ürümqi. The Beijing-Xi’an journey was cheap, comfortable and fast, taking a little over four hours to cover a distance approximately equal to that between New York City and Chicago – which journey would take at least 19 hours by train and cost several times more. China’s state-owned high speed rail network is by far the largest in the world; in fact it accounts for two-thirds of global HSR capacity. CRRC, the state-owned train manufacturer, is currently working on magnetic levitation trains that will travel at 600km/h – approximately twice the speed of current HSR.

China’s vision for the coming 20-30 years focuses on continuing this process of rebalancing, spreading prosperity throughout the country, and moving to a model of development that’s highly innovative, technological, ecological, localised and networked.

Air pollution

Many people associate China with terrifying levels of pollution. Our experience was that the air pollution in Beijing is noticeable but not terrible. Residents all say it’s improved massively in recent years. We learned at the Beijing People’s Association for Friendship with Foreign Countries that the current mayor of Beijing, Chen Jining, is an environmental engineer who got his PhD at Imperial College London and who was China’s environment minister from 2015 to 2017. He has been strongly focused on reducing air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions, and establishing Beijing as a global innovator in the fight against environmental catastrophe. One recent innovation has been to ban the purchase of internal combustion-based cars – that is, if you buy a new car, it has to run on new energy.

Similar processes are taking place throughout China, as the government tries to simultaneously tackle air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. Although China’s rapid economic growth has been based in no small part on its abundant supply of cheap coal, coal takes up an ever-decreasing share of its energy mix (down from 80 percent to 60 percent in the last decade), and China is by far the biggest investor and innovator in solar and wind energy.

Mistreatment of Muslims

Western media has built a powerful narrative of Chinese oppression of its Muslim minority. Most notably, we’re told of the existence of ‘concentration camps’ in Xinjiang, where millions of people are denied their religious and human rights. The US House of Representatives recently passed the Uighur Human Rights Policy Act, calling for sanctions to be imposed against China because of the alleged detention of millions of Uighur Muslims.

Urumqi skyline

Our delegation wasn’t a fact-finding mission; we didn’t have a specific aim to verify the truth of these various allegations. We did however walk freely around Ürümqi and the Muslim quarter in Xi’an, and failed to see any evidence of religious or ethnic oppression. In Ürümqi one sees mosques everywhere; indeed Xinjiang has one of the highest number of mosques per capita in the world. Walking well off the beaten track, we saw hundreds of Chinese Muslims, wearing their distinctive Uighur dress (including headscarves for many women) and going about their lives without any indication that they were living in fear of persecution. We ate in Uighur restaurants, in which halal food was served and alcohol wasn’t available.

What’s true is that the levels of security in Ürümqi are much higher than the other places we visited – you walk through metal detectors and have your bag x-rayed when going into any tourist spot, train station or major shopping area. This is a response to a wave of terrorist attacks conducted by al Qaeda-aligned groups since the 1990s. China has attempted to tackle terrorism through a holistic approach involving security, poverty alleviation and education. It is the latter part which has been most controversial within the western human rights community. Where China is attempting to tackle religious extremism with what it considers to be a fairly soft touch – requiring people to attend courses on religious tolerance (as opposed to, say, holding people captive for years on Guantanamo and subjecting them to vicious torture) – this has been portrayed as a system of arbitrary mass incarceration. Such far-fetched Cold War propaganda has been helpfully debunked by investigative journalists Ajit Singh and Max Blumenthal. The success of the anti-terrorism campaign is indicated by the fact that there hasn’t been a terror attack in Xinjiang for the last three years.

Dancing in the main square in Urumqi

Human rights

Soon after the end of our trip, the news came out that Human Rights Watch executive director Kenneth Roth had been denied entry to Hong Kong, where he was planning to release a report “spotlighting Beijing’s deepening assault on international efforts to uphold human rights”. This led to a chorus of protests in the media about Chinese abuse of human rights.

One thing that’s fairly obvious as you travel around China and talk to ordinary Chinese people is that the Chinese government is very much focused on human rights. First and foremost among these is the right to life: to eat, to work, to get an education, to receive good quality healthcare, to live in a secure home, to enjoy leisure time, to pursue one’s interests. In terms of these crucial rights, no state in history has made as powerful a contribution as that of the People’s Republic of China – no state in history has lifted so many out of poverty, or provided education and housing for so many, regardless of gender, ethnicity, religion and income level. The enormous popularity of the Chinese government within China is down to its record in delivering on people’s needs. Meanwhile there’s very little demand for a western-style parliamentary system, because the particular configuration of political forces that prefigured the parliamentary system in the early days of European capitalism doesn’t prevail in China.

The activities of Human Rights Watch in relation to China must be considered in terms of the overall geopolitical situation. US capital is leading a ‘full-court press’ against China, with the aim of preventing (or at least decelerating) its rise. Ultimately the western capitalist countries would like to see the overthrow of the Chinese Communist Party government and its replacement with a regime that’s willing to put the Chinese people and resources at the service of multinational capital. They want a neo-colonial relationship with China, which ultimately would constitute a disastrous blow of untold proportions for the human rights of the Chinese people. This is the context of the ‘Pivot to Asia’, of Trump’s trade war, of the media frenzy about Xinjiang and Hong Kong, and of the endless reports issued by the likes of Kenneth Roth.

Say no to the New Cold War

While our delegation was in Gansu, on 3 January, we received the news that Iranian general Qasem Soleimani had been murdered by US forces in Iraq. This reckless and illegal act marks a significant escalation against Iran. It’s almost certainly not a coincidence that, just a few days previously, Iran, China and Russia launched their first joint naval exercises in the Gulf of Oman. An alliance of China, Russia and Iran – working closely with progressive Latin America, South Africa, Vietnam, Syria, Iraq, Belarus and others – is a real threat to US attempts to reassert its global dominance. Trump’s murder of Soleimani should therefore be seen not only as an attack on the people of Iran but on the entire multipolar project, on the right of nations to determine their own development paths.

With the new Cold Warriors going all out to demonise and undermine China, it’s more important than ever to build solidarity and friendship with the People’s Republic.

Why Labour lost the elections, and where we go from here

This article was also published by Telesur English on 21 December, 2019.


The UK parliamentary election of 12 December was a disaster for the working class and for oppressed communities; a defeat for the young, the elderly, people with disabilities, ethnic minorities, women, LGBT+ people, migrants and Muslims; a defeat for a planet that needs rescuing from climate catastrophe; a defeat for a world crying out for an end to imperialist warmongering and aggression.

Labour went into the election with a powerful manifesto – a set of commitments that would have made life significantly better for millions of people, a platform from which to develop a peace-oriented multilateral foreign policy, a Green New Deal that could turn Britain into a trailblazer in the global fight against climate breakdown. Had Labour emerged victorious from the elections, the British government would have been led by some of the most consistent socialists in the country’s history; people who have fought against all types of discrimination and injustice their whole lives; people who taken the side of the oppressed and challenged the elite; people who have stood in solidarity with Palestine, Ireland, Cuba, Venezuela and Bolivia.

Tragically, Labour lost 60 seats and the Conservatives ended up with an overall majority of 80 seats (in spite of only having increased its vote share by 1.2 percent). This gives the Tories a commanding position from which to deepen austerity, deepen the racist ‘hostile environment’, form a comprehensive economic/political/military alignment with Trump’s US, and push through a neoliberal Brexit that impoverishes the many and enriches the few.

Did we go wrong over Brexit?

It’s only natural that Labour members and supporters now embark on a period of reflection and soul-searching. Why did we lose so badly, in spite of our great policies and in spite of how close we came to winning power at the last election in 2017? In spite of the energetic campaigning of thousands of activists around the country; in spite of ringing endorsements from the the likes of Stormzy, Akala, Brian Eno, Rob Delaney, Benjamin Zephaniah and Ronan Bennett?

One explanation that’s proving popular within the socialist left is that it was a fatal error to adopt a position of negotiating a new Brexit deal and then putting that to a referendum. The logic goes that, in 2017, we went into the election having promised to honour the results of the Brexit referendum, and we performed well. In 2019, we went into the election committed to a second referendum, and we did badly, ergo we should have stuck to our previous position on Brexit.

If only politics were so simple. The first rule of statistical analysis is that correlation isn’t causation. Labour’s Brexit policy changed and we performed poorly in the election, but there are many other moving parts to consider. We could just as factually state that in 2017 we went into the election without a commitment to free broadband, and we did well. In 2019, we had a policy of free broadband, and we did badly. Should we therefore deduce that our refusal to engage with voters’ concerns over fibre-optic technology was the cause of our defeat?

What’s true is that, although Labour lost far more votes to pro-Remain parties than pro-Leave parties, the bulk of the seats that were lost were in majority Leave-voting constituencies, particularly in the Midlands and the North. It’s possible that some of these could have been saved if we’d had a clearly pro-Brexit position, but only possible. We don’t know if voters would have supported a ‘Labour Brexit’ which sought to somewhat mitigate the racism and free market fundamentalism of the Tory Brexit project (albeit still pandering to xenophobia by seeking to end EU freedom of movement). The right-wing press would certainly have found ways to present this as a ‘sell-out’ and to insist that ‘Brexit means Brexit’. Then there’s the awkward fact that, even though the overall electorate in these constituencies voted to leave the EU, the majority of Labour voters favour remaining.

Plus it’s clear there were other factors in these constituencies’ desertion of Labour. Labour has been losing support in these areas for the best part of two decades, the result of general disillusionment with the status quo, the declining influence of trade unions (along with declining industries), some anaemic or downright reactionary MPs, ambivalent councils, a feeling that “Labour has taken us for granted for too long”, and a rising tide of xenophobic propaganda that has sought to blame immigrants for decaying living standards.

Another factor to consider is that there are dozens of marginals that could easily have been lost if Labour had a more pro-Brexit position, and indeed dozens of marginals that might have been won if Labour had a more anti-Brexit position. After all, for 28 percent of Labour voters, “stopping Brexit” was one of their top three reasons for voting Labour.

The polling trajectory throughout 2019 certainly doesn’t correspond with the hypothesis that Labour would have won the election had it adopted a more pro-Brexit position: from a high of 37 percent at the beginning of the year, Labour’s share went into decline as the original date for departing the EU – 29 March – approached. Labour received a pitiful 13 percent of the vote in the EU elections in May, and Labour’s general election polling reached its nadir of 25 percent during the period it was in talks with the Tories to try and reach some agreement over Brexit. Labour’s share started to increase after the party conference in September (at which the final position on Brexit was agreed) and then rose rapidly during the campaign, reaching 33 percent. This increase came specifically at the cost of the Liberal Democrats, whose vote share fell from 21 percent to 12 percent over the course of the campaign. Obviously this transfer of votes from Lib Dems to Labour wouldn’t have taken place if Labour had gone into the election with an unambiguously pro-Brexit stance.

Labour’s policy of negotiating a ‘soft’ Brexit deal (that retained Customs Union membership and protected workers’ rights) and subjecting that deal to a referendum was a mature and reasonable position for a party whose membership and voters are pro-Remain by a significant margin. In a situation where there are bitter divisions over Brexit throughout the Labour Party and the country as a whole, Labour’s position paved a road to unity and compromise. It took a damaging neoliberal Tory Brexit off the table, but it didn’t follow the flagrantly undemocratic Liberal Democrat pledge to scrap the original referendum altogether. Although the media tried to portray the policy as confusing and complicated, in reality it was perfectly simple, albeit without the vacuous soundbite quality of ‘Get Brexit Done’.

Not every battle is winnable. The election was called specifically to resolve the issue of Brexit, which is something that divides Labour’s support base and that doesn’t meaningfully divide the Tory support base. Boris Johnson used his first months in office to impose pro-Brexit message discipline on his MPs; he then called an election knowing full well that Labour’s support would be split, that Labour’s unifying policy hadn’t had long enough to gain broad support, and that the chillingly mendacious message of ‘Get Brexit Done’ would resonate with a significant part of the public that’s sick to the back teeth with endless parliamentary dilly-dallying. In that sense, Britain leaving the EU has acquired a symbolic power not unlike Donald Trump’s border wall.

Could Labour have won the election?

In these elections the ruling class employed a much more systematic and sophisticated approach to ensuring defeat for the Labour left. This approach had two main aspects: electoral strategy and media bias.

The success of the ruling class’s electoral strategy can be seen by the fact that the Tory vote only increased by 1.2 percent, but their share of parliamentary seats increased by 15 percent (from 317 to 365). Boris Johnson’s campaign team clearly targeted its energies and advertising spend in certain key constituencies. In this the Tories received enormous help from Nigel Farage, whose Brexit Party didn’t target any Conservative-held seats and instead focused on driving Labour’s vote down in marginals with a significant number of pro-Brexit Labour voters. The Brexit Party won a similar proportion of the vote to UKIP in 2017, but this time its strategy was carefully calculated to help secure a Boris Johnson majority, as instructed by Donald Trump.

Meanwhile the Lib Dems and Greens stood against Labour in lots of marginals, although the Lib Dems, Greens and Plaid Cymru agreed not to stand against each other in 60 seats. The first Labour loss announced on election night was Blyth Valley, where the Green vote of 1,146 was larger than the difference between the Tory and Labour votes. In Kensington, Emma Dent Coad – one of the best Labour MPs – was defeated by a margin of 150, with the Greens taking 535 votes and the Lib Dems running a very high profile campaign, again with the result of gifting the seat to the Tories.

It’s obviously the case that Jeremy Corbyn is unacceptable to a British ruling class that wants to continue austerity, that doesn’t want to see a meaningful redistribution of wealth, and that does want to continue fighting imperialist wars. That class identified Corbynism as an existential threat and, as the oldest and most experienced ruling class in history (albeit now showing signs of senile decay) went all out to stop it, using all the tricks in their book, their spooks, the right-wing press and the Chief Rabbi, not to mention the right wing of the Labour Party itself.

The media campaign against Corbyn was utterly vicious and relentless. In the words of the journalist and historian Mark Curtis, it “went far beyond anything against any previous Labour leader. It was surely the biggest propaganda campaign in UK history.” Shadow transport minister Andy McDonald stated that “never in my lifetime have I known any single individual so demonised and vilified, so grotesquely and so unfairly.” Corbyn was relentlessly slandered as an anti-semite and a ‘terrorist sympathiser’, constantly described as weak, wavering, vacillating, uncharismatic, unpatriotic. Unquestionably this hate campaign – which wasn’t by any means limited to the Tory press, but also reared its ugly head in the Guardian, the Independent and the New Statesman – had an impact.

Labour’s position certainly hasn’t been improved by the state of the parliamentary party, with so many MPs devoting the last four years to desperately trying to undermine Corbyn and oppose the shift to the left that has taken place under his leadership. This created a sense of chaos and disunity that was very easy for the media to leverage. This is very much the case in some Labour ‘heartlands’ seats like Barrow-in-Furness, where John Woodcock claimed that Corbyn “would pose a clear risk to UK national security as prime minister.” In Bassetlaw, John Mann – before resigning from the party and being made a baron – continuously called on Corbyn to step down. The outgoing MP for Dudley North, Ian Austin, called for a vote for the Tories. Needless to say, these three seats were all lost to the Tories.

In an election that was timed carefully to leverage ‘Brexit fatigue’, with a relentless propaganda campaign across the board, and with a hard-right Conservative Party that has been able to consolidate all public opinion from centre-right to all-out fascist, it was incredibly difficult for Labour to do well. We were up against the nexus of money and power, and the balance of forces didn’t allow us to break it.

Consolidating the left

All progressive opinion in this country has coalesced around the left Labour project led by Jeremy Corbyn. All reactionary opinion has coalesced around a hard right Conservative project inspired by Donald Trump.

Corbynism has put Labour back on the map as a meaningful political force, at a time when left-of-centre parties are in decline throughout most of Europe. The Corbyn leadership has uniquely combined a radical domestic economic policy with an internationalist, anti-war and anti-racist agenda. This agenda has proven hugely popular, as shown by the 2017 election results. The latest election is a significant setback, but that setback has taken place in specific circumstances that we need to understand.

Needless to say it hasn’t taken Tony Blair long to offer his opinion as to how Labour’s fortunes can be improved: “The takeover of the Labour party by the far left turned it into a glorified protest movement with cult trimmings, utterly incapable of being a credible government… Corbyn personified politically an idea, a brand, of quasi-revolutionary socialism, mixing far-left economic policy with deep hostility to western foreign policy. This never has appealed to traditional Labour voters, never will appeal to them, and represented for them a combination of misguided ideology and terminal ineptitude that they found insulting.”

Blair thinks that the situation demands a return to Blairism – quelle surprise. Yet this message won’t resonate with Labour’s membership, most of which joined the party after Corbyn’s emergence as front-runner for party leader in 2015. The problem with Blair’s take is that it’s a wilful misrepresentation of the facts. The policies of this “glorified protest movement” are both popular and credible. What kind of idiot wouldn’t support ending austerity, introducing a £10 per hour minimum wage, ending zero-hour contracts, reversing the privatisation of the NHS, nationalising water and energy, investing properly in healthcare and education, building hundreds of thousands of council homes, and creating hundreds of thousands of jobs in green energy and environmental conservation? To reverse Labour’s shift to the left in favour of pallid centrism would be to commit political suicide.

More insidious is the emerging ‘Blue Labour’ trend that is broadly accepting of an economic struggle against neoliberalism but that wants to push the party towards social conservatism and British nationalism. This narrative is exemplified by defeated Don Valley MP Caroline Flint’s complaint that the voters consider Jeremy Corbyn to be “too leftwing, unpatriotic, against the armed forces.” Blue Labour want to see the party drinking once more from Controls on Immigration mugs, rejecting internationalism, joyously waving the Union Jack and watching the Queen’s Christmas speech at 3pm on the dot.

This force says that Corbynism can’t win in the North and the Midlands because it’s too London-centric, too focused on ‘metropolitan’ values. This is a dog whistle. It means the Labour left is resolute in its fight against racism, xenophobia, sexism and homophobia; it means that Corbynism is internationalist and anti-war; it means that the current generation of Labour leadership isn’t willing to scapegoat immigrants, nor does it have fond feelings of nostalgia for the British Empire. It is precisely this profoundly important shift that has won Labour a wider support base than it has ever had, particularly among oppressed communities.

There’s been a loud chorus of voices, both on the left and right of the Labour Party, for Labour to reorient itself back to its ‘heartlands’ in the Midlands and North, for it to more specifically address the needs of the industrial (or post-industrial) working class outside the big cities. These workers are based in towns where manufacturing has largely collapsed and where reasonably well-paying and stable jobs in industry have been replaced by call centres, Amazon warehouses and Universal Credit. They’re often particularly susceptible to anti-immigration arguments because of the scarcity of dignified work (and often a lack of exposure to actual minority communities); that is, capitalist economics makes people more susceptible to capitalist propaganda. Many such towns have traditionally had relatively large numbers of young people in the armed forces (also related to the scarcity of dignified work), and therefore Jeremy Corbyn’s consistent opposition to Britain’s imperial adventures doesn’t go down well.

As history has shown time and time again, you don’t defeat backward ideas by pandering to them. In truth, Labour under Corbyn has already started to address the needs of these communities, most importantly pledging to end austerity, build council housing, reverse privatisation, invest in healthcare and education, and create hundreds of thousands of dignified jobs in the green energy sector. That platform represents a huge ‘reorientation’ to the needs of the entire working class. With time and patient work, and in an election that wasn’t fought almost exclusively over Brexit, that reorientation should win support. What Labour mustn’t do is to abandon those progressive parts of Corbynism that are supposedly toxic to the stereotyped Workington Man. Corbynism differs from ‘Old Labour’ specifically in its internationalism, in its opposition to wars, in its rejection of empire nostalgia, and in its consistent fight against racism, sexism and homophobia. This is what makes Labour in its current incarnation qualitatively different; this is what has mobilised the most progressive sections of the working class; this is what inspires people like Stormzy or Akala to vote for the first time in their lives. For those of us seeking to build a socialist, anti-racist and anti-imperialist mass movement, protecting and developing Corbynism is essential.

There are many thousands of people that campaigned for a Corbyn-led government, and millions of people that voted for it. We hoped we’d be able to fight for desperately-needed change with the help of a radical Labour government led by longstanding comrades of the left, anti-war, anti-austerity and anti-racist movements. That dream has died for the foreseeable future, but the struggle hasn’t; the main focus simply shifts back to the streets, communities and workplaces. What we’ve built is a radical movement of almost unprecedented scale in Britain: hundreds of thousands of people united around a platform that’s anti-neoliberal, anti-war, anti-racist and pro-planet. We must now engage in the campaigning, grassroots activism and political education we need to move forward. Consolidating this movement is the key question for now, as we prepare to resist a period of deep reaction.

The Tories have the parliamentary majority they require to deliver a hard Brexit and to comprehensively align Britain with US economic and military policy. There are massive fights ahead in relation to workers’ rights, protecting the planet, and resisting the racist divide and rule strategy that will inevitably accompany the general attack on the working class. Our movement must bounce back from the blow it’s suffered, and must put its experience and talents at the service of this struggle.

Vote Labour on 12 December

It would be unforgivably irresponsible not to vote Labour next Thursday, and not to persuade your friends, family and contacts to do the same. This will most likely be the most important election of our generation. Here’s what’s at stake:

THE PLANET. Labour has a clear commitment to cutting out greenhouse gas emissions. Not just rhetoric, but an actual Green New Deal that invests massively in renewables, electric vehicles, public transport, afforestation and research; a government that doesn’t pander to the fossil fuel lobby and that opposes resource wars; a government that can set an example for the other capitalist countries which have done so much to create the climate crisis and so little to fix it.

ENDING AUSTERITY. Austerity has led to literally tens of thousands of deaths since its introduction. It has deepened poverty and misery. Labour’s unambiguous commitment is to reverse austerity and to properly fund health care, education, housing, disability benefits, unemployment benefits, care for the elderly, and youth services.

BREXIT. Labour’s proposal for resolving Brexit is the only correct one: negotiate a reasonable Brexit deal with the EU that retains customs union membership and preserves workers’ rights; then put this deal to a referendum, with Remain as the other option. This is a fair and mature solution, and neither outcome is disastrous, unlike Boris Johnson’s hard Brexit, which will be a carnival of neoliberalism, deregulation and racism.

THE NHS. Only Labour will reverse the privatisation of the NHS and protect its future. Labour’s manifesto commitments include bringing all PFI contracts back in house, bringing outsourced services back in house, increasing NHS funding by over 4 percent per year, and establishing a publicly-owned generic drug company. By paying dignified wages (and by dropping disgusting racist immigration targets), a Labour government will be able to attract and retain more doctors, nurses and other health workers.

OPPOSING WARS AND EMBRACING MULTIPOLARITY. Boris Johnson is a puppet of Donald Trump, and can be expected to be a MAGA stooge. If the US goes to war with Iran, Tory Britain will join in. Tory Britain will join in the trade war on China (Johnson has already given the US a veto over Huawei’s involvement in Britain’s 5G infrastructure!). Tory Britain will most likely pull out of the Iran nuclear deal and the Paris climate agreement. On the other hand, the Labour leadership and membership are against imperialist wars and in favour of a more balanced, multipolar world. A Corbyn-led Labour government can be reasonably expected to play a helpful role in global affairs.

ENDING HOMELESSNESS. Labour is committed to building at least 100,000 new council homes every year, to introducing caps on private rent, to ending rough sleeping within five years, to vastly increasing support for the homeless in the meantime, and to turning the council funding taps back on so that local councils are able to build homes and provided decent accommodation to those that need it.

FIXING EDUCATION, YOUTH SERVICES AND CHILDCARE. The Labour manifesto promises to: abolish university tuition fees and bring back maintenance grants; bring academies and free schools back into public control; provide up to six years of free adult education; provide 30 hours of free pre-school education a week from the age of 2; make free school meals available to all primary school children; rebuild youth services and re-open youth centres; invest in, and secure the long-term future of, libraries (800 of which have been closed down since 2010).

REDUCING POVERTY. Labour are pledging to introduce a minimum wage of £10 per hour for everyone aged 16 and over. The manifesto also promises to set up Universal Basic Income pilot. Labour will ban zero-hour contracts and mandate that all employees have full employment rights from day one on the job. Most importantly, Labour’s policy is to repeal all anti-trade union legislation, promote union membership, and strengthen union rights.

TACKLING DISCRIMINATION. The Tories have consistently played the divide-and-rule game in order to push their pro-rich agenda. If they get a majority and a hard Brexit, this will only get worse. They’ll deepen the hostile environment and make life increasingly miserable for immigrants and non-white people. Labour will end the hostile environment, will end ‘no recourse to public funds’, will introduce measures to educate people about the legacy of colonialism, will actively address institutionalised racism, will celebrate the contribution of immigrants to British society. Labour in power will champion the specific needs of women, of disabled people, of LBGT+ people.

And what’s the alternative? What happens if Boris Johnson gets a majority? We’ll be subjected to a Tory Brexit, meaning that Britain comes out of the EU customs union and goes running to the US for a free trade deal. That inevitably means more privatisation, more deregulation, more austerity, more attacks on trade unions, more attacks on workers’ rights. It will be the beginning of the end for the NHS. The hostile environment will get even more hostile. Meanwhile Britain will be pulled into ever-closer military and political alignment with the US – with potentially disastrous consequences for the planet in terms of war and climate change. In summary, everything will get worse.

Britain NEEDS a radical Labour government. What it’s offering isn’t a revolution, it isn’t socialism, it isn’t working class power and social ownership of the means of production. The current balance of forces simply doesn’t allow for that. But Labour’s manifesto represents a significant transfer of wealth and power from rich to poor. It’s a comprehensive package of reforms that will improve life for millions of people, will help save the planet, will contribute to the creation of a multipolar world, will empower millions, and will boost the unity, experience and fighting strength of working class and progressive forces in Britain.

Of course, the struggle doesn’t end with the elections. If we win, we’re going to be faced with an angry and desperate capitalist class that will stop at nothing to undermine us. There’ll be many more battles to be fought. But it’s far better to be in that situation than to not be in that situation! And whatever happens, in the course of struggle we’ll learn from our experiences.

So let’s go all out to get a radical Labour government.

Labour’s Green New Deal is the correct response to the climate crisis

This article was originally published by Morning Star on 02 December, 2019. It has also been posted on Socialist Economic Bulletin.


Climate change is the most important political issue of our generation. There’s 99 percent scientific consensus that humans are causing global warming and that, unless we stop putting greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, life on earth will become increasingly unviable. If we continue at the current trajectory in terms of greenhouse gas emissions, we’re facing over four degrees Celsius of warming by the year 2100. David Wallace-Wells writes in his book The Uninhabitable Earth: A Story of the Future that, “according to some estimates, that would mean that whole regions of Africa and Australia and the United States, parts of South America north of Patagonia, and Asia south of Siberia would be rendered uninhabitable by direct heat, desertification, and flooding.”

According to the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), humanity needs to halve its greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 and hit net zero by 2050. If we fail to hit those deadlines, hundreds of coastal cities (including New York, Shanghai, Hong Kong, Mumbai and Lagos) will likely be permanently submerged; the agricultural system faces collapse; wars will be fought over climate change-induced scarcity of resources; and there will be hundreds of millions of climate refugees. Floods, droughts, hurricanes, typhoons and wild fires will become so commonplace as to barely be newsworthy. The results of climate change are already all too visible: 18 of the 19 warmest years on record have all occurred since 2001, and we’re witnessing an unusually high rate of extreme weather events.

Most environmentalists agree that the safe upper limit for global warming before the planet reaches an irreversible tipping point is 1.5 degrees centigrade. Bearing in mind that the average global temperature today is already 0.9 degrees higher than it was in 1880, we’re only left with 0.6 degrees before we hit the point of no return.

What needs to happen?

There is one critical target to focus on for the next decade, as outlined in the IPCC Special Report on 1.5 degrees, which is to reduce global carbon emissions to 50 percent of current levels.

Labour’s manifesto sets out an even more ambitious target, aiming to “achieve the substantial majority of our emissions reductions by 2030 in a way that is evidence-based, just and that delivers an economy that serves the interests of the many, not the few.” Labour has made a world-leading pledge to generate 90% of electricity and 50% of heat from renewables and low carbon sources by 2030.

Globally, the target will be to get to net zero emissions by 2050. Note that ‘net zero emissions’ doesn’t necessarily mean not emitting any carbon at all – but whatever is emitted must be captured and stored.

Practically, this means that “flying, driving, heating our homes, using our appliances, basically everything we do, would need to be zero carbon”, writes climate change expert Kevin Anderson.

This goal is achievable. We already have the technology to generate all our electricity via renewable energy. Particularly in technologically advanced countries, it should be perfectly possible to completely phase out fossil fuel-based power plants within a few years; it simply requires investment in the surrounding infrastructure, along with the political will to stand up to fossil fuel capitalism.

We can also massively cut down on waste and inefficiency. Energy efficiency – making our economy less energy-intensive – is “widely considered to be the most important single option for carbon reduction”, in the words of Neil Hirst, former Director of the International Energy Agency (The Energy Conundrum). David Wallace-Wells notes that around half of British greenhouse gas emissions come from inefficiencies in construction, discarded and unused food, electronics, and clothing. Retrofitting homes for heating efficiency, for example, would make a significant contribution to reducing emissions in relatively cold countries like Britain. According to Mike Davis, “heating and cooling the urban built environment alone is responsible for an estimated 35 to 45 percent of current carbon emissions.”

Transport is another key area for reducing – and ultimately eliminating – carbon dioxide emissions. There’s tremendous potential for fully-electric public transport systems, along with electric car pools, electric bicycles, and urban designs that encourage cycling. Again, this requires major investment, along with rigorously-enforced laws to stop the climate criminals. In the words of Gus Speth, former Dean of the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, “a reliably green company is one that is required to be green by law.” (Cited in Naomi Klein’s This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate) Meanwhile, until we find a way to power aeroplanes without burning fossil fuels (the technology isn’t far off), we’ll need to reduce air travel significantly.

We also need to change our diets. We don’t all have to become vegan, but meat consumption will need to be reduced in wealthy countries. Mike Berners-Lee writes that “the single most important change will be an amazingly simple dietary shift towards less meat and dairy consumption, with a particular focus on reducing beef. This will markedly reduce greenhouse gases, improve the nutritional output of our land and, by relieving land pressure, ought to be pivotal in stemming deforestation.” (There Is No Planet B: A Handbook for the Make or Break Years)

However, it’s important to note that individual acts of good planetary citizenship are not going to solve the problems we’re facing. As Wallace-Wells observes, “we frequently choose to obsess over personal consumption, in part because it is within our control and in part as a very contemporary form of virtue signalling. But ultimately those choices are, in almost all cases, trivial contributors, ones that blind us to the more important forces.” Without concerted action at a national and international level, without large-scale decarbonisation, we will not avoid catastrophic climate change. As such, the problem is a political one.

Responsibilities of the rich countries

At a global level, China leads the way in tackling climate breakdown, in terms of investing in renewables and electric vehicles, driving the costs of green energy down via massive state-led investment, carrying out vast afforestation projects, and rolling out fully-electric buses and trains. However, China is still a developing country, with over 1.3 billion people, many millions of whom are likely to increase their energy consumption in the near future, since they are still at a stage of development where increased energy consumption correlates directly with improved quality of life outcomes. China can’t save the planet on its own, nor can it be expected to. In terms of “common but differentiated responsibilities”, the technologically-developed wealthy countries of the OECD have the greatest responsibility when it comes to averting catastrophic climate change.

The rich countries fuelled their own industrial revolutions with coal and oil, resources which they came to dominate in no small measure through colonial conquest and imperialist manoeuvring. The US and Europe – with around 15 percent of the global population – have contributed to over half the cumulative carbon dioxide emissions since 1850. And the horrific irony is that these countries are the least affected by climate change. Catastrophic climate events will hit – are hitting – the poorer regions of the planet first.

As such, countries like Britain have a clear moral responsibility to take the lead in addressing climate change. To this day, it’s the wealthy that are living wasteful lives, contributing to the ever-worsening situation. According to Ann Pettifor, “just 10 percent of the global population are responsible for around 50 percent of total emissions. Per capita carbon dioxide emissions in Africa are less than 10 percent of those in Western Europe and North America. Tackling the consumption and aviation habits of just 10 percent of the global population should help drive down 50 percent of total emissions in a very short time.” (The Case for the Green New Deal)

Furthermore, it’s precisely the rich countries that have the resources to lead the way on climate action. As has been pointed out before, “we bailed out the banks, so now we can bail out the planet.” In countries where large numbers of people don’t have access to modern energy, it is understandable and correct that people want to provide that access with a minimum of delay and cost. Sometimes that may even mean new coal capacity in countries like Pakistan, where coal is by far the cheapest and most accessible fuel (although the west should be offering the material support necessary to allow such countries to meet their energy needs in a way that doesn’t damage the environment). In OECD countries on the other hand, there is absolutely no excuse for pursuing anything other than a rigorous and thoroughgoing energy restructuring based on renewable sources.

How are we doing so far?

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change was adopted in 1992, committing the 154 signatory nations to “preventing dangerous anthropogenic interference with Earth’s climate system”. The sad fact is that, in the intervening 27 years, “the sum of all the world’s climate action has so far made little or perhaps even zero detectable impact on rising global emissions.” (Mike Berners-Lee)

We are nowhere near on track to meet the targets discussed above, for the simple reason that we’ve left it to the capitalist market to provide solutions to the planet’s problems. The domination of neoliberal economics over the last few decades has reduced governments’ ability to set economic policy in the national interest. Fiscal revenue isn’t sufficient to finance large-scale green development, and shareholder-driven capitalism is incapable of long-term strategic planning on the level that’s needed. Meanwhile, the big fossil fuel companies have an extraordinary level of entrenched power that they’ve used systematically to slow down the energy transition.

There isn’t even any meaningful agreement among the western ruling classes as to how to respond to climate change. Although there is a relatively more forward-thinking section that understands that they too would be affected by climate breakdown (in much the same way that sections of the English bourgeoisie became interested in public health when they realised that they too could fall victim to cholera), there are also the neoliberal extremists who are happy enough with the idea of moving to Finland or New Zealand and setting themselves up in gated communities.

In summary, neoliberal capitalism has shown itself to be utterly incapable of averting environmental catastrophe. Even in Britain, where there has been some focus on wind power, this has been far too slow. Today, wind contributes 17 percent of electricity generation in Britain (well behind gas, at 40 percent). The economist Mariana Mazzucato, arguing for concerted state-led investment in green development, complains that the strategies thus far employed in the US and Britain “lack a clear direction and fail to offer long-term incentives, resulting in a start–stop approach to green initiatives that produces dubious outcomes at best.” (The Entrepreneurial State)

The Green New Deal

The Green New Deal (GND), conceived a decade ago by British economists and environmentalists but recently popularised by progressive US congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, provides the first viable, comprehensive and actionable plan for developed countries to decarbonise their economies whilst creating jobs, tackling inequality and promoting equality and social justice. Measures include investment in renewable energy and zero-carbon public transport; upgrading buildings for energy efficiency; building ‘smart’ distributed power grids to provide affordable clean electricity to all; reorganising the food system; ending subsidies to the fossil fuel industry; and prioritising basic needs.

The key to implementing a programme such as the Green New Deal (or as it’s often referred to by Labour politicians, the Green Industrial Revolution) is public investment on a grand scale. As Berners-Lee points out when discussing the future of renewable energy, “the solutions we need to the problem of intermittency and storage are all coming along nicely; the critical factor is investment.”

This is precisely what has been agreed by Labour’s recent conference, and what is being put on the table by shadow chancellor John McDonnell: a programme of government investment “mobilising £250 billion of capital spending on the projects needed to decarbonise Britain to avert irreversible climate change.”

Supported by a National Investment Bank and network of regional development banks, the programme will seek to ensure that “the transition to sustainability is one that benefits everyone across our society.”

Starting with the infrastructure for widely deploying clean energy, along with a plan for retrofitting homes to be energy-efficient, the Green New Deal would create hundreds of thousands of skilled jobs. The plan includes nationalising the major UK-based energy companies, replacing all gas boilers, closing fossil fuel-based power stations, investing in and subsidising electric cars, vastly expanding off-shore wind capacity, and decarbonising the public transport system.

On top of the Green New Deal, it’s worth mentioning that Labour has also committed to making green technologies available cheap or free to the countries of the Global South. Plus of course the present Labour leadership is deeply opposed to war, which has a major environmental cost on top of its more obvious human cost.

If Labour wins the General Election on 12 December and a Jeremy Corbyn-led government can implement its version of the Green New Deal, it will be a huge boost for the global battle to save the planet. Britain will blaze a trail for the rest of the OECD to follow, towards a global Green New Deal that is, in Ann Pettifor’s words, “a global banner behind which millions can assemble with one voice in order to address the gravest crisis humanity has ever faced.”

If, on the other hand, Labour loses the General Election and Britain has to endure another five years of hard-right Tory government, the result for the fight against climate breakdown would likely be disastrous. Boris Johnson’s ‘hard Brexit’ vision involves leaving the EU customs union and negotiating a free trade deal with the US. That will mean a wide-ranging political alignment that could well see Britain leaving the Paris Climate Agreement. With both Britain and the US outside the Paris Agreement, the prospects for international cooperation to combat climate change would look increasingly grim.

The planet needs a left Labour government in Britain.

A Left Labour government would weaken imperialism and work for peace

This article was originally published by Telesur English on 31 October, 2019.


A left Labour government, led by Jeremy Corbyn, Diane Abbott and John McDonnell, would constitute an unprecedented opportunity for the anti-war and anti-imperialist movements. It would put our ideas at the heart of government, and in so doing could start to turn Britain into a force for peace and justice in the world. Furthermore it would provide inspiration to progressive and working class movements elsewhere in Europe and in North America, potentially setting off a snowball effect contributing to the construction of a more peaceful, multipolar world.

That is to say, there’s a lot at stake; a lot to lose if we make too many serious mistakes. We need to understand all the different forces at play, in their historical contexts and trajectories. This article focuses on the transition that’s taking place within the Labour Party.

What’s changed about the Labour Party? Why couldn’t this article have been written about Labour in the Ed Miliband era, or the Gordon Brown era, or the Tony Blair era, the Neil Kinnock era, or indeed the much-vaunted Clement Attlee era? What it comes down to is that, for the first time, Labour has a leadership which, in addition to being pro-working class and pro-poor, is solidly anti-imperialist, anti-war and anti-racist. And what’s more, these positions are backed up by the bulk of the membership.

The present leadership team has a well-known record of opposing imperialist wars. Corbyn, Abbott and McDonnell are among the very small handful of MPs that loudly stood up against war in Iraq, in Afghanistan, in Libya and in Syria. Jeremy Corbyn has been a prominent member – Chair for several years – of the Stop the War Coalition since its inception in 2001. He’s been involved with the Palestine Solidarity Campaign for decades. All three of them have supported progressive movements and governments in Latin America – in Venezuela, Cuba, Bolivia, Brazil, Ecuador and Nicaragua. They’re longstanding supporters of Irish unity and self-determination – a key anti-colonial litmus test for the British left. As everyone knows, Corbyn was an energetic campaigner against apartheid in South Africa. The three of them are lifelong campaigners against racism. They oppose Nato, they oppose nuclear weapons.

What might this mean at a practical level?

Perhaps the simplest way to think about the practical implications of having veterans of the anti-war movement at the highest levels of government is to consider whether, when Britain was deciding whether to go to war against Iraq in 2003, it would have been better if the final decision lay with Jeremy Corbyn rather than Tony Blair.

This isn’t an entirely abstract thought. The Trump regime is ramping up the pressure against Iran at the moment. Whereas an Atlanticist hard-Brexiteering Tory government would fall in line without hesitation, it’s clear that a left Labour government would do everything it could to diffuse tensions, to avoid war, to oppose sanctions, and to bring all parties back to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. It would work to reduce tensions with Russia. It would oppose regime change efforts in Venezuela. It would be much less likely to take aggressive action against Syria or Korea. It would pursue fair and balanced relationships with Africa, Asia, Latin America.

Environmental justice

It might not seem relevant, but it’s worth mentioning that the Labour Party also has excellent policies in relation to the environment, and the policies announced at the recent conference are among the most advanced in the world.

This is actually connected with issues of anti-imperialism, in that the climate crisis is something that’s been caused almost entirely by western imperialist countries, that have gone round the world finding, extracting and burning fossil fuels that they’ve used to power their own economic development.

For one thing, those natural resources – typically fossil fuels – are often secured by means of war or political destabilisation. It’s hardly a coincidence that Iraq, Libya and Venezuela have some of the largest known petroleum reserves on the planet.

But another aspect of climate crisis is that the areas of the world that are set to suffer most, indeed that are already suffering, from the climate crisis are the countries of the Global South – countries that have had practically zero role in creating the crisis in the first place. It’s estimated that people in the least-developed countries are 80 times more likely to be subjected to a catastrophic climate event than people in OECD countries.

So doing everything within our power to prevent climate breakdown is a debt we owe to the world, and it’s extremely positive that Labour has adopted the Green New Deal. In his speech at the party conference this year, along with a policy of making green technologies available cheap or free to the countries of the Global South – specifically referred to by John McDonnell in his speech to party conference this year as a form of reparations. It’s certainly hard to imagine the Tories or Lib Dems offering anything along those lines.

Not business as usual

All this is very much not business as usual for the Labour Party. The dominant ideology in Labour has always been what Lenin called ‘social chauvinism’ or ‘social imperialism’: pursuing reforms and improvements for workers at home whilst accepting and supporting imperialist domination abroad. Lenin described the basic economics of this as follows: “The capitalists can devote a part of their profits (from exploiting the world) to bribe their own workers, to create something like an alliance between the workers of the given nation and their capitalists against the other countries.”

In assessing Labour’s historical role, this analysis resonates. Labour governments have won some important gains on behalf of ordinary people in Britain, but they’ve also tended to side with the British ruling class when it comes to its militarist, imperialist role in the world.

We sometimes talk about the ‘Spirit of 45’, the Clement Attlee government of 1945 to 1951, as being the pinnacle of achievement for Labour in power. And certainly there were some hugely important steps forward in those years – in particular, the building of millions of council homes and the establishment of the NHS, which is something we should all be grateful for (and passionately defend).

But alongside all this, the Attlee government also co-founded Nato, developed nuclear weapons to threaten the Soviet Union, drowned the Greek revolution in blood, callously and cynically presided over the carnage that accompanied the partition of the South Asian sub continent, openly pushed a racist policy to expel the Arab population from Palestine, waged a vicious war against the independence movement in Malaya, and participated in the Korean War, that forgotten ‘peacetime’ episode the cost the lives of around 3 million Korean and Chinese people. Nor did this government show any inclination to stand up against racism; indeed Attlee looked into the possibility of having the Empire Windrush diverted to East Africa, describing the voyage as an “incursion”.

Roots of Labour imperialism

Why have the Labour Party and British labour movement tended to side with imperialism? We can conceive of this trend in terms of a softly-softly approach to improving the lives of British workers. Really it’s a form of class collaboration. We don’t want to scare the ruling class, we don’t want to affect anyone’s profits, we don’t want to dismantle capitalism, we’re happy for the rich to be ‘wealth creators’ and ‘job creators’, but we do want a few extras for the people we represent: the British working class, or at least the better-off sections of the British working class. That means going along with imperialism, with colonialism, with war, with the military-industrial complex, so there’s more profit in the system and therefore more that can be shared out.

This comes down to basic economics. Capitalism doesn’t wage war and engage in domination for the fun of it, or because of some strange psychopathology connecting wealth and violence. The quest for profits demands growth. Successful economies expand their operations, they capture foreign markets, they find more sources of raw materials, they find more sources of cheap labour. Slavery, colonialism, the genocide of indigenous peoples in the Americas and Australasia, policy famines from Ireland to India, the Opium Wars, can all be explained in terms of capital’s need to reproduce itself, to constantly grow bigger. And a lot of British workers have benefitted to some degree from all of that.

In more recent times, imperialism has tended to manifest itself primarily through the military-industrial complex, whereby capitalist states use war (and the production of weapons of death and destruction) in order to spend their way out of an economic crisis. In the midst of a crisis of overproduction, capitalism requires something to invest in, and what better than war? What a boost the Iraq War has been to arms manufacturers, military service providers, contracting companies – to Bechtel, to McDonnell Douglas, to Raytheon. Their shareholders are living well today.

So when Labour has sided with imperialism, it has been following a path of class collaboration. Thankfully, there is another path towards a better life for ordinary people, and that is class struggle, where we demand better conditions, better pay, better jobs, education, healthcare, housing, more democracy, more involvement in the running of our own lives. We don’t really care about capitalist profit. We’ll happily nationalise companies and whole industries if they can’t be run profitably and at the same time provide a decent standard of living to their workers.

And what’s more, we don’t sell out workers in other countries. Particularly in a world of globalised production, these are our allies. We don’t fall for divide-and-rule tactics, but rather we close ranks with national minority communities at home. The more unity we have, the stronger we are, the more effectively we can wage class struggle against capital.

This is the fundamental strategic divide. Class collaboration versus class struggle. And that’s the real significance of having a Labour leadership that opposes war, imperialism and racism, that opposes the military-industrial complex, that opposes nuclear weapons and NATO.

And it’s important to remember that these policies and ideas aren’t limited to the top leadership of the Labour Party. Labour’s membership has increased over 2.5-fold since 2015. It is the largest political party in Western Europe. And anti-imperialist, anti-war, anti-racist policies are popular at grassroots level. Even many of the trade unions are starting to shift in the direction of class struggle, and that means shifting in a direction of internationalism, breaking out from the ideological umbrella of the ruling class and taking up a position of solidarity with the workers and oppressed peoples of the world.

So there’s some convergence between the leadership and the membership of the Labour Party in relation to anti-war and anti-imperialist ideas.

Why’s this shift happening now?

Part of the reason for the shift described above is that the ‘postwar consensus’ has broken down under the weight of the neoliberal onslaught since the late 1970s. The balance of power has moved towards the ruling class, which has has been pursuing free market fundamentalist economic policies that have created an ever-wider gap between rich and poor.

It’s not entirely coincidental that this economic offensive gained momentum in the same period that the Soviet Union and the European people’s democracies were starting to stagnate. Workers in the capitalist countries had won concessions such as free healthcare, social housing and decent pay; they fought for these things and we rightly celebrate that fight, but one of the reasons the ruling classes gave way on some of these issues was the looming threat of the example provided by the socialist world.

The Soviet Union and European people’s democracies, for all their contradictions and flaws, had comprehensive social insurance systems, full employment and a high quality of education. They were able to eradicate malnutrition and homelessness, and in so doing solve certain problems that even the most advanced capitalist society had never – and still hasn’t to this day – been able to solve. So this dynamic affected the balance of forces within capitalist society. In the period of decline and collapse of European socialism, the owners of capital became more confident and aggressive in pursuit of their own interests.

The share of GDP that goes to the working class is now lower than it was in the 1930s. The rich get richer every year, but conditions for the working class are getting worse all the time. In Britain, life expectancy is actually starting to fall. Austerity, unemployment and underemployment have put millions of people into poverty, missing meals, living in unhygienic and inadequate housing. There are currently around a million people in this country working zero-hour contracts. They literally don’t know, week to week, if they’ll be able to pay their rent or put food on the table.

To a considerable degree, moving from a position of class collaboration towards a position of class struggle reflects the fact that, increasingly, class collaboration isn’t working. If the unions are getting more militant, if hundreds of thousands of people are mobilised to get involved with Labour and to support Corbyn’s anti-war platform, this reflects changing economic and political realities.

Conclusion

There’s a lot to play for. The anti-war and anti-imperialist movements in Britain are closer to power than they’ve ever been. Of course there are problems, there are contradictions, there are weaknesses. Labour’s MPs are still largely the same as they were before Corbyn became leader. Some of these MPs are old-fashioned social democrats who want a slightly bigger slice of the pie for workers; actually those are the better ones. Far too many Labour MPs are Blairite neoliberals who don’t identify with workers at all. We face their continued hostility, along with that of the billionaire media.

Nonetheless, we’re in a very promising situation and there is a political trajectory within Labour that we need to defend and consolidate. Hopefully this dichotomy of class collaboration versus class struggle is a helpful way to conceptualise what’s going on in the Labour Party and the wider progressive movement.

China leads the way in tackling climate breakdown

We must strike a balance between economic growth and environmental protection. We will be more conscientious in promoting green, circular, and low-carbon development. We will never again seek economic growth at the cost of the environment. (Xi Jinping)1

The cost of development

Few events in human history have resonated throughout the world as profoundly as the Chinese revolution. Standing in Tiananmen Square on 1 October 1949, pronouncing the birth of the People’s Republic of China, Mao Zedong said “the Chinese people have stood up”. In standing up, in building a modern socialist society and throwing off the shackles of feudalism, colonialism, backwardness, illiteracy and grinding poverty, China has blazed a trail for the entire Global South. Lifting hundreds of millions of people out of poverty has been described even by ardent capitalists as “the greatest leap to overcome poverty in history”.2

On all key indicators, China has made extraordinary progress since 1949, and its performance has far outstripped other developing countries. Life expectancy now exceeds 76,3 more than double what it was in 1949.4 Adult literacy stands at 97 percent (for 15-24 year olds it’s 100 percent).5 The UN’s World Food Programme website states: “By lifting millions out of hunger, the country met its Millennium Development Goal of halving the number of hungry people by 2015 and reduced the global hunger rate by two thirds.”6 China is on the cusp of having completely eradicated extreme poverty.7 One hundred percent of the population has access to electricity.8 The UN Development Programme (UNDP) describes China’s development as having generated “the most rapid decline in absolute poverty ever witnessed”.9 The scale of these achievements can perhaps be best understood by comparison with India – a neighbouring country with a similar population size and at an equivalent stage of development in 1949. India currently has a life expectancy of 69, a literacy rate of 74 percent, and an electricity access rate of 85 percent.

But in environmental terms, this progress has come at a cost. Just as economic development in Europe and the Americas was fuelled by the voracious burning of fossil fuels, China’s development has been built to a significant degree on ‘Old King Coal’, the most polluting and emissions-intensive of the fossil fuels. In 2010, coal made up around 80 percent of China’s energy mix. Environmental law expert Barbara Finamore notes that “coal, plentiful and cheap, was the energy source of choice, not just for power plants, but also for direct combustion by heavy industry and for heating and cooking in people’s homes.”10

The choice to use coal was not a simple case of ignorance or lack of responsibility; it was a matter of development by any means necessary. China has been able to lift hundreds of millions out of poverty whilst simultaneously establishing itself as a global leader in science and technology. This process required vast energy consumption at minimal expenditure. Schools, hospitals, roads, trains, factories and laboratories all need energy to build and operate. Chinese people now have energy in their homes, powering fridges, lights and washing machines – indispensable components of modern life.

Furthermore, China’s ability to attract foreign investment and learn from US, European and Japanese technology was in no small measure based on turning itself into a manufacturing hub to which the advanced capitalist countries exported their production processes. Martin Jacques observes that “40 per cent of China’s energy goes into producing exports for Western markets, in other words, the source [of China’s greenhouse gas emissions] is multinationals rather than Chinese firms. The West has, in effect, exported part of its own greenhouse emissions to China.”11 The developed countries have been able to “socialise and export the costs of environmental destruction”,12 reducing domestic pollution and emissions whilst maintaining unsustainable levels of consumption.

The choice facing China in the last decades of the 20th century was between economic development with environmental degradation, or underdevelopment with environmental conservation. Western environmentalists can’t reasonably complain about the Chinese people opting for the former. Development is recognised by the UN as a human right.13 Advanced countries fuelled their own industrial revolutions with coal and oil; they bear responsibility for the bulk of currently existing atmospheric greenhouse gases (the US and Europe have contributed to just over half the cumulative carbon dioxide emissions since 1850).14 It would be hypocritical in the extreme for these countries to tell poor countries that they don’t have the right to develop, to feed, clothe, house and educate people. If advanced countries want developing countries to leapfrog fossil fuel-based development, the primary responsibility is on them to provide the technology and the finance – which principle of “common but differentiated responsibilities” is recognised in the various international agreements on limiting climate change, but which has yet to manifest itself in reality.

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