The British government, regulators and global agrochemical corporations are colluding with each other and are thus engaging in criminal behaviour. That’s the message put forward in a new report written by environmentalist Dr Rosemary Mason and sent to the UK Environment Agency. It follows her January 2019 open letter to Werner Baumann, CEO of Bayer CropScience, where she made it clear to him that she considers Bayer CropScience and Monsanto criminal corporations.
Her letter to Baumann outlined a cocktail of corporate duplicity, cover-ups and criminality which the public and the environment are paying the price for, not least in terms of the effects of glyphosate. Later in 2019, Mason wrote to Bayer Crop Science shareholders, appealing to them to put human health and nature ahead of profit and to stop funding Bayer.
Mason outlined with supporting evidence how the gradual onset of the global extinction of many species is largely the result of chemical-intensive industrial agriculture. She argued that Monsanto’s (now Bayer) glyphosate-based Roundup herbicide and Bayer’s clothianidin are largely responsible for the destruction of the Great Barrier Reef and that the use of glyphosate and neonicotinoid insecticides are wiping out wildlife species across the globe.
In February 2020, Mason wrote the report ‘Bayer Crop Science rules Britain after Brexit – the public and the press are being poisoned by pesticides’. She noted that PM Boris Johnson plans to do a trade deal with the US that could see the gutting of food and environment standards. In a speech setting out his goals for trade after Brexit, Johnson talked up the prospect of an agreement with Washington and downplayed the need for one with Brussels – if the EU insists the UK must stick to its regulatory regime. In other words, he wants to ditch EU regulations.
Mason pondered just who could be pulling Johnson’s strings. A big clue came in February 2019 at a Brexit meeting on the UK chemicals sector where UK regulators and senior officials from government departments listened to the priorities of Bayer Crop Science. During the meeting (Westminster Energy, Environment & Transport Forum Keynote Seminar: Priorities for UK chemicals sector – challenges, opportunities and the future for regulation post-Brexit), Janet Williams, head of regulatory science at Bayer Crop Science Division, made the priorities for agricultural chemical manufacturers known.
Dave Bench was also a speaker. Bench is a senior scientist at the UK Chemicals, Health and Safety Executive and director of the agency’s EU exit plan and has previously stated that the regulatory system for pesticides is robust and balances the risks of pesticides against the benefits to society.
In an open letter to Bench, Mason responded:
That statement is rubbish. It is for the benefit of the agrochemical industry. The industry (for it is the industry that does the testing, on behalf of regulators) only tests one pesticide at a time, whereas farmers spray a cocktail of pesticides, including over children and babies, without warning.
It seems that post-Brexit the UK could authorise the continued use of glyphosate. Of course, with a US trade deal in the pipeline, there are major concerns about glyphosate-resistant GMOs and the lowering of food standards across the board.
Mason says that glyphosate causes epigenetic changes in humans and animals: diseases skip a generation. Washington State University researchers found a variety of diseases and other health problems in the second- and third-generation offspring of rats exposed to glyphosate. In the first study of its kind, the researchers saw descendants of exposed rats developing prostate, kidney and ovarian diseases, obesity and birth abnormalities.
Glyphosate has been the subject of numerous studies about its health effects. Robert F Kennedy Jr, one of the attorney’s fighting Bayer (which has bought Monsanto) in the US courts, has explained that for four decades Monsanto manoeuvred to conceal Roundup’s carcinogenicity by capturing regulatory agencies, corrupting public officials, bribing scientists and engaging in scientific fraud to delay its day of reckoning.
Kennedy says there is also cascading scientific evidence linking glyphosate to a constellation of other injuries that have become prevalent since its introduction, including obesity, depression, Alzheimer’s, ADHD, autism, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s, kidney disease, inflammatory bowel disease, brain, breast and prostate cancer, miscarriage, birth defects and declining sperm counts.
In her new document sent to the UK Environment Agency, Mason argues there is criminal collusion between the Department for Environment and Rural Affairs (Defra), the Chemicals Regulation Division and Bayer over Brexit. She also claims the National Farmers Union has been lying about how much pesticides farmers use and have ignored the side effects of chlorpyrifos, chlorothalonil, glyphosate and neonicotinoids. The NFU says farmers couldn’t do without these inputs, even though they destroy human health and the environment.
Of course, farmers can and do go without using these chemicals. And the shift away from chemical-intensive agriculture is perfectly feasible. In a recent article on the AgWeb site, for instance, US farmer Adam Chappell describes how he made the shift on his 8,000-acre farm. Chappell was not some dyed-in-the-wool organic evangelist. He made the shift for financial and practical reasons and is glad he did. The article states:
He was on the brink of bankruptcy and facing a go broke or go green proposition. Drowning in a whirlpool of input costs, Chappell cut bait from conventional agriculture and dove headfirst into a bootstrap version of innovative farming. Roughly 10 years later, his operation is transformed, and the 41-year-old grower doesn’t mince words: It was all about the money.
Surely there is a lesson there for UK farmers who in 2016 used glyphosate on 2,634,573 ha of cropland. It is not just their bottom line that could improve but the health of the nation. Mason says that five peer-reviewed animal studies from the US and Argentina released in July 2020 have focused minds on the infertility crisis being caused by glyphosate-based herbicides. Researchers at The National University of Litoral in Sante Fe, Argentina, have published three concerning peer-reviewed papers including two studies on ewes and rats and one review. In one study, researchers concluded that glyphosate and glyphosate-based herbicides are endocrine disruptors. They also stated that glyphosate-based herbicides alter reproductive outcomes in females.
But such is the British government’s willingness to protect pesticide companies that it is handing agrochemical giants BASF and Bayer enormous pay-outs of Covid-19 support cash. The announcement came just weeks after Bayer shareholders voted to pay £2.75 billion in dividends. The fact that Bayer then went on to receive £600 million from the government speaks volumes of where the government’s priorities lie.
According to Mason, the new Agriculture Bill provides a real opportunity for the UK to adopt a paradigm shift which embraces non-chemical farming policy. However, Defra has stated that after Brexit Roundup Ready GA21 glyphosate tolerant crops could be introduced.
It is also concerning that a post-Brexit funding gap could further undermine the impartiality of university research. Mason refers to Greenpeace, which notes that Bayer and Syngenta, both sell neonicotinoid insecticides linked to harmful effects on bees, gave a combined total of £16.1m to 70 British universities over five years to fund a range of research. Such private funding could create a conflict of interest for academics and after Brexit a potential shortage of public money for science could force universities to seek more finance from the private sector.
Neonicotinoids were once thought to have little or no negative effects on the environment because they are used in low doses and as a seed coating, rather than being sprayed. But evidence has been mounting that the chemicals harm bees – important pollinators of food crops. As a result, neonicotinoids have been banned by the EU, although they can still be used under license.
According to Bayer’s website, academics who reviewed 15 years of research found “no adverse effects to bee colonies were ever observed in field studies”. Between 2011 and 2016, the figures obtained from the 70 universities – about half the total in the UK – show Bayer gave £9m to fund research, including more than £345,000 on plant sciences. Syngenta spent nearly £7.1m, including just under £2.3m on plant sciences and stated that many years of independent monitoring prove that when used properly neonicotinoids do not damage the health of bee populations.
However, in 2016, Ben Stewart of Greenpeace UK’s Brexit response team, said that the decline in bee populations is a major environmental and food security concern – it’s causes need to be properly investigated.
But for this research to command public confidence, it needs to be independent and impartial, which is why public funding is so crucial. You wouldn’t want lung cancer studies to be heavily reliant on funds from tobacco firms, nor research on pesticides to be dependent on the companies making them.
As Brexit threatens to cut off vital public funds for this scientific field, our universities need a cast-iron guarantee from our government that EU money will not be replaced by corporate cash.
But Mason notes that the government long ago showed its true colours by refusing to legislate on the EU Directive (2009/128/EC) on the Sustainable Use of Pesticides. The government merely stated that current statutory and voluntary controls related to pesticides and the protection of water, if followed, afford a high degree of protection and it would primarily seek to work with the pesticides industry to enhance voluntary measures.
Mason first questioned the government on this in January 2011. In an open letter to the Chemical Regulation Directorate. The government claimed that no compelling evidence was provided to justify further extending existing regulations and voluntary controls.
Lord Henley, the Under-Secretary of State for Defra, expanded further:
By making a small number of changes to our existing approach we can continue to help feed a growing global population with high-quality food that’s affordable – while minimising the risks of using pesticides.
In her numerous reports and open letters to officials, Mason has shown that far from having ‘high-quality food’, there is an ongoing public health crisis due to the pesticides being used.
She responded to Henley by stating:
… instead of strengthening the legislation, the responses of the UK government and the CRD have considerably weakened it. In the case of aerial spraying, you have opted for derogation.
Mason says that, recently, the day that Monsanto lost its appeal against Dewayne Lee Johnson the sprayers came around the Marina in Cardiff breaking all the rules that the EU had set for Roundup.
We can only wonder what could lie in store for the British public if a trade deal is done with the US. Despite the Conservative government pledging that it would not compromise on the UK’s food and environment standards, it now proposes that chlorine-washed chicken, beef treated with growth hormones, pork from animals treated with ractopamine and many other toxic foods produced in the US will be allowed into the UK. All for the bottom line of US agribusiness corporations. It is also worth mentioning at this point that there are around 2,000 untested chemicals in packaged foods in the US.
Ultimately, the situation comes down to a concentration of power played out within an interlocking directorate of state-corporate interests – in this case, global agrochemical conglomerates and the British government – and above the heads of ordinary people. It is clear that these institutions value the health of powerful corporations at the expense of the health of the population and the state of the environment.
Readers can access Mason’s new paper ‘Criminal collusion between Defra, the Chemicals Regulation Division and Bayer over Brexit Agenda’ via academia.edu website (which cites relevant sources), where all her other documents can also be found.
Things often look the way they do because someone claiming authority tells us they look that way. If that sounds too cynical, pause for a moment and reflect on what seemed most important to you just a year ago, or even a few weeks ago.
Then, you may have been thinking that Russian interference in western politics was a vitally important issue, and something that we needed to invest much of our emotional and political energy in countering. Or maybe a few weeks ago you felt that everything would be fine if we could just get Donald Trump out of the White House. Or maybe you imagined that Brexit was the panacea to Britain’s problems – or, conversely, that it would bring about the UK’s downfall.
Still feel that way?
After all, much as we might want to (and doubtless some will try), we can’t really blame Vladimir Putin, or Russian troll farms spending a few thousand dollars on Facebook advertising, for the coronavirus pandemic. Much as we might want to, we can’t really blame Trump for the catastrophic condition of the privatised American health care system, totally ill-equipped and unprepared for a nationwide health emergency. And as tempting as it is for some of us, we can’t really blame Europe’s soft borders and immigrants for the rising death toll in the UK. It was the global economy and cheap travel that brought the virus into Britain, and it was the Brexit-loving prime minister Boris Johnson who dithered as the epidemic took hold.
The bigger picture
Is it possible that only a few weeks ago our priorities were just a little divorced from a bigger reality? That what appeared to be the big picture was not actually big enough? That maybe we should have been thinking about even more important, pressing matters – systemic ones like the threat of a pandemic of the very kind we are currently enduring.
Because while we were all thinking about Russiagate or Trump or Brexit, there were lots of experts – even the Pentagon, it seems – warning of just such a terrible calamity and urging that preparations be made to avoid it. We are in the current mess precisely because those warnings were ignored or given no attention – not because the science was doubted, but because there was no will to do something to avert the threat.
If we reflect, it is possible to get a sense of two things. First, that our attention rarely belongs to us; it is the plaything of others. And second, that the “real world”, as it is presented to us, rarely reflects anything we might usefully be able to label as objective reality. It is a set of political, economic and social priorities that have been manufactured for us.
Agents outside our control with their own vested interests – politicians, the media, business – construct reality, much as a film-maker designs a movie. They guide our gaze in certain directions and not others.
A critical perspective
At a moment like this of real crisis, one that overshadows all else, we have a chance – though only a chance – to recognise this truth and develop our own critical perspective. A perspective that truly belongs to us, and not to others.
Think back to the old you, the pre-coronavirus you. Were your priorities the same as your current ones?
This is not to say that the things you prioritise now – in this crisis – are necessarily any more “yours” than the old set of priorities.
If you’re watching the TV or reading newspapers – and who isn’t – you’re probably feeling scared, either for yourself or for your loved ones. All you can think about is the coronavirus. Nothing else really seems that important by comparison. And all you can hope for is the moment when the lockdowns are over and life returns to normal.
But that’s not objectively the “real world” either. Terrible as the coronavirus is, and as right as anyone is to be afraid of the threat it poses, those “agents of authority” are again directing and controlling our gaze, though at least this time those in authority include doctors and scientists. And they are guiding our attention in ways that serve their interests – for good or bad.
Endless tallies of infections and deaths, rocketing graphs, stories of young people, along with the elderly, battling for survival serve a purpose: to make sure we stick to the lockdown, that we maintain social distancing, that we don’t get complacent and spread the disease.
Here our interests – survival, preventing hospitals from being overwhelmed – coincide with those of the establishment, the “agents of authority”. We want to live and prosper, and they need to maintain order, to demonstrate their competence, to prevent dissatisfaction bubbling up into anger or open revolt.
Crowded out by detail
But again the object of our attention is not as much ours as we may believe. While we focus on graphs, while we twitch the curtains to see if neighbours are going for a second run or whether families are out in the garden celebrating a birthday distant from an elderly parent, we are much less likely to be thinking about how well the crisis is being handled. The detail, the mundane is again crowding out the important, the big picture.
Our current fear is an enemy to our developing and maintaining a critical perspective. The more we are frightened by graphs, by deaths, the more we are likely to submit to whatever we are told will keep us safe.
Under cover of the public’s fear, and of justified concerns about the state of the economy and future employment, countries like the US are transferring huge sums of public money to the biggest corporations. Politicians controlled by big business and media owned by big business are pushing through this corporate robbery without scrutiny – and for reasons that should be self-explanatory. They know our attention is too overwhelmed by the virus for us to assess intentionally mystifying arguments about the supposed economic benefits, about yet more illusory trickle-down.
Paradoxically, a craving for the old-normal may mean we are prepared to submit to a new-normal that could permanently deny us any chance of returning to the old-normal.
The point is not just that things are far more provisional than most of us are ready to contemplate; it’s that our window on what we think of as “the real world”, as “normal”, is almost entirely manufactured for us.
Distracted by the virus
Strange as this may sound right now, in the midst of our fear and suffering, the pandemic is not really the big picture either. Our attention is consumed by the virus, but it is, in a truly awful sense, a distraction too.
In a few more years, maybe sooner than we imagine, we will look back on the virus – with the benefit of distance and hindsight – and feel the same way about it we do now about Putin, or Trump, or Brexit.
It will feel part of our old selves, our old priorities, a small part of a much bigger picture, a clue to where we were heading, a portent we did not pay attention to when it mattered most.
The virus is one small warning – one among many – that we have been living out of sync with the natural world we share with other life. Our need to control and dominate, our need to acquire, our need for security, our need to conquer death – they have crowded out all else. We have followed those who promised quick, easy solutions, those who refused to compromise, those who conveyed authority, those who spread fear, those who hated.
If only we could redirect our gaze, if we could seize back control of our attention for a moment, we might understand that we are being plagued not just by a virus but by our fear, our hate, our hunger, our selfishness. The evidence is there in the fires, the floods and the disease, in the insects that have disappeared, in the polluted seas, in the stripping of the planet’s ancient lungs, its forests, in the melting ice-caps.
The big picture is hiding in plain sight, no longer obscured by issues like Russia and Brexit but now only by the most microscopic germ, marking the thin boundary between life and death.
‘Super Tuesday’ in the 2020 presidential election season is over and Senator Bernie Sanders’s time as the unlikely frontrunner for the Democratic nomination may have stopped just as quick as it began. Despite an unprecedented smear campaign coordinated by the party leadership and corporate media against him, the self-described “democratic socialist” not only managed to single-handedly de-stigmatize the latter as a dirty word in U.S. politics but at one point seemed like he had improbably overtaken former Vice President Joe Biden as the favorite to be the party nominee. Suddenly, the scenario of a brokered convention with a repeat of the ‘superdelegate’ scheme determining the outcome seems more likely. Regardless of whether he beats the odds, no one can deny the significance of Sanders’s movement in taking the relatively progressive first step of returning “socialism” from exile to everyday U.S. politics which was once an inconceivable prospect. Unfortunately, a consequence is that now his idea of an ‘alternative’ to capitalism has been made synonymous with the word in the minds of Americans, regardless of its qualifications.
So far, Bernie has purposefully avoided discussing socialism in broader conceptual terms or as a social philosophy while persistently narrowing the discussion to issues of economic disparity, free higher education or a national healthcare system. In fact, Sanders’s own supporters are the ones who often push the acceptable parameters of the dialogue to bigger questions and take his movement to places he is unwilling, likely because his candidacy filled the void of the political space left vacant following the suppression of the Occupy Wall Street phenomena. For example, some of his devotees may define socialism as the ‘equal distribution of wealth’ or even the ‘collective ownership of the means of production.’ However, Bernie and his followers both equally avoid providing any philosophical basis to their ideas and usually reduce it to abstractions of moral principles or human rights.
The most vigorous elucidation of socialism and its historical development from material conditions rather than ideals can be found in Karl Marx’s Critique of the Gotha Program, a letter written in 1875 by the German philosopher to the early incarnation of the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD) in which he scathingly attacked the SPD for drafting a more moderate platform at its congress. Just four years earlier, the short-lived Paris Commune in France had been brutally repressed and the German counterparts of the Communards appeared to be making concessions in the wake of its failure. In the address, Marx contends that socialism is an atransitional phase between capitalism and communism where vestigial elements of the free market are mixed with state ownership of the productive forces. According to Marx, socialism does not develop on its own but “emerges from capitalist society; which is thus in every respect, economically, morally, and intellectually, still stamped with the birthmarks of the old society from whose womb it emerges.”
While socialism might be an improvement, it still bears the stigma of capitalism because it is based on the idea that people will receive equal compensation determined by their individual contribution to the economy. Marx argues that even though profiting from the exploitation of the labor of others through private ownership of the means of production may decline, the exchange of labor itself as a commodity replicates the logic of the free market in that it still leaves workers under the dominion of what they produce if their earnings are equivalent to their labor. Since workers inherently have varying degrees of mental and physical ability, the primary source of economic inequality is left in place. Hence, Marx’s conclusion that human liberation can only be achieved once labor is transformed from a means of subsistence to freedom from necessity in a communist society, or “from each according to their ability, to each according to their needs.” In the same document, it is made clear what role the state must play in this post-revolutionary but intermediary stage:
Between capitalist and communist society lies the period of the revolutionary transformation of the one into the other. There corresponds to this also a political transition period in which the state can be nothing but the revolutionary dictatorship of the proletariat.
Many on the left today, particularly social democrats, try to separate Marx’s words about the role of the state from the Bolsheviks who later expanded upon the working class seizure of power by revolutionary means and put it into practice in the Russian Revolution of 1917. However, Marx did consider the United States one of a handful of countries where a peaceful transition to socialism was a remote possibility, at least during his own lifetime.
The same SPD that Marx convinced to abandon its reformist platform for a more radical line would turn their backs on the working class decades later when it endorsed the imperialist carnage of World War I and collaborated with proto-fascists. In 1912, the SPD rose to prominence after it was elected to the majority of seats in the Reichstag, but once in power its duplicitous leadership voted to support the war effort despite the Second International’s vehement opposition to militarism and imperialism. Those within the SPD who protested the party’s pro-war stance were expelled which brought an end to the Second International, most notably Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemberg who would go on to found the Communist Party of Germany (KPD). After the war’s conclusion which resulted in a German defeat and the abolition of its imperial monarchy, mass social unrest and general strikes led to the Spartacist Uprising in the unsuccessful German Revolution of 1918–1919 which was violently crushed by the right-wing Freikorps paramilitary units under orders from SPD leader and German President, Friedrich Ebert. Liebknecht and Luxemburg were summarily executed in the crackdown and became forever revered martyrs in the international socialist movement.
The SPD would once again betray the German people during the Weimar Republic in the lead-up to the Second World War, rebuffing the KPD’s efforts to organize a coalition against fascism which sealed Adolf Hitler’s rise to power, as Michael Parenti described in Blackshirts and Reds:
True to form, the Social Democrat leaders refused the Communist party’s proposal to form an eleventh-hour coalition against Nazism. As in many other countries past and present, so in Germany, the Social Democrats would sooner ally themselves with the reactionary Right than make common cause with the Reds. Meanwhile, a number of right-wing parties coalesced behind the Nazis and in January 1933, just weeks after the election, Hindenburg invited Hitler to become chancellor.
Social democracy’s consistent impediment of the seizure of power by the working class led to its branding as the “moderate wing of fascism” by the Comintern. By the time the Third International and the social democratic Labor and Socialist International (LSI) finally cooperated to form a Popular Front in the Spanish Civil War, it was undermined by the disruptions of Trotskyists and anarchists which cleared the way for Franco’s victory. Today, social democrats who are embarrassed by these unpleasant facts try to sweep their own tainted history under the rug, ironically the same ideologues who are always eager to cite the ‘purges’ of the Stalin era to discredit communism. A 2017 article exonerating the SPD in Jacobin Magazine, the flagship publication of the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), is a perfect example of such lies by omission.
Bernie Sanders is the longest-serving independent in U.S. congressional history, but a significant amount of the grassroots basis for his recent success has come from his backing by the DSA whose own rank-and-file increased by the tens of thousands during his 2016 candidacy and continued following Donald Trump’s victory over Hillary Clinton. This culminated in the election of two DSA members to Congress, Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (NY) and Rashida Tlaib (MI), in the 2018 mid-terms. The DSA has historical roots in the Socialist Party of America (SPA), having been established by former chairman Michael Harrington, best known as the author of the classic 1962 study, The Other America: Poverty in the United States, whichis widely credited as an inspiration for the welfare state legislation of the Great Society under the Lyndon B. Johnson administration. However, in stark contrast with the SPA and its founder, Eugene V. Debs—whom Sanders idolizes and even once made a film about—Harringtonadvocated for reforming the Democratic Party from within over building a third party.
Sanders might style himself as a “socialist”, but many have noted his actual campaign policies are closer to the New Deal reforms of the Franklin D. Roosevelt administration during the Great Depression. A more accurate comparison than Eugene Debs would be with the appointed Vice President during Roosevelt’s third term, Henry A. Wallace, who has been written out of history ever since the Southern reactionary wing of the Democratic Party convinced FDR to replace him on the 1944 ticket with Harry S. Truman. The progressive Wallace had been Secretary of Agriculture during Roosevelt’s first two terms and was a big supporter of his domestic program. After his one-term removal, Wallace served as commerce secretary until Truman succeeded Roosevelt and fired him in 1946 for giving a speech advocating peace and cooperation with the Soviet Union which contradicted Truman’s foreign policy that kick-started the Cold War. Wallace ran for president on the Progressive Party ticket in 1948 but his campaign was sunk by red-baiting, reminiscent of the recent bogus claims of “Russian meddling” to assist Sanders’s presidential bid. Yet even Wallace was much further to the left than Bernie is today, particularly on foreign policy. As Congressman of Vermont in 1999, Sanders notably voted to authorize the use of military force against Serbia, resulting in one of his campaign staffers quitting in protest and an end to his friendship with the previously cited Parenti.
As for his socialist credentials, all one has to do is look at the model Bernie consistently invokes as an example whenever pressed to define “democratic socialism” in the Nordic model which today scarcely resembles what it once was prior to the mysterious assassination of Swedish Prime Minister Olof Palme in 1986. Scandinavian countries like Sweden and Denmark may have high taxes on the wealthy and a strong social safety net while a large percentage of the workforce is unionized and employed in the public sector — a more “humane” form of capitalism — but these gains came from class struggle, not from the top down. Similarly in the U.S., the financial regulations and public programs during the Roosevelt administration were not enacted out of the goodness of FDR’s heart but because he was a pragmatic politician and member of the ruling class who understood that it was the only way to save American capitalism from itself and prevent workers, then well organized in a strong coalition of labor unions with socialists and communists, from becoming militant. Reforms such as those under the New Deal were enacted so they could be repealed later, as we see now with Social Security and Medicare increasingly under threat. If Sanders were to be elected but his policies obstructed, it would be because no such alliance behind him yet exists.
On the other hand, recent history shows that not even a united front and mass organization can ensure the democratic wishes of workers as Greece learned in 2015 after the electoral victory of the inappropriately named ‘Coalition of the Radical Left ’ — abbreviated SYRIZA — which completely double-crossed its constituency and the Greek working class once in power. When the Great Recession hit in 2008, Greece was impacted more than any other country in the Eurozone during the economic downturn and underwent a decline which exceeded that of the Great Depression in the United States as the longest of any modern capitalist country. However, like all debt run up by capitalist governments, Greece’s bankruptcy was created by the irreconcilable contradiction of the state being torn between its constituents in the masses of people and the rich and corporations who both want to pay as low in taxes as possible, an incompatibility which forces elected political leaders to borrow excessively instead of taxing the former which give them votes or the latter which gives them money.
Like the United States, many European countries saw their productive power slowly outsourced to the developing world in recent decades where bigger profits could be made and labor was cheaper while wages and living standards in the imperial core stagnated, though the process was slower in Europe because of social democracy. For the financial sector and predatory creditors, this made for a whole new market of consumer debt to invest in and a bonanza of speculative trading. That is, until 2008 when the speculations finally crashed after consumer credit reached its limit. On the brink of failure, the so-called leaders of industry and champions of private enterprise in the banking sector begged European governments to save them from collapse. Unfortunately for Greece, its small, poor economy was already heavily in debt and unattractive to lenders, therefore unable to borrow without paying high interest rates.
At the time of Greece’s debt crisis, European governments were already besieged by their respective banks in the form of bailouts. When the German and French banks turned out to be the biggest creditors of the Greek government, the prospect of Greece defaulting meant that the German and French governments could not provide financial assistance to their corresponding banks a second time without then-President of France, Nicolas Sarkozy, and Chancellor of Germany, Angela Merkel, committing political suicide. Therefore, the European Union’s political “solution” was to make Greece the whipping boy for the financial crisis by using the pooled collective money of the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund— widely referred to as the ‘troika’ — to make a series of bailout loans to Greece so it could pay off the French and German banks, but which imposed draconian austerity measures and neoliberal ‘shock therapy’ onto its economy.
The troika’s ‘structural adjustment programs’ resulted in hundreds of thousands of state sector jobs lost and the minimum wage reduced by more than 20% while much of the energy, utilities and transit sectors underwent mass privatization. Greek workers saw their taxes raised just as pensions and benefits were cut, bonuses capped, and salaries frozen at the same time government spending on health and education was slashed. As many economists predicted, the spending reductions during the downturn only worsened the crisis. However, just as we have seen throughout the EU and the U.S. since the global financial meltdown, a silver lining to the crisis in Greece was an expansion of the political spectrum and Overton Window. By 2014, the far right Golden Dawn party suddenly became the third largest group from Greece in the European Parliament, but still far behind the first-place SYRIZA, founded in 2004 as a broad alliance of the country’s left-wing parties, sans the Greek Communist Party (KKE).
In the beginning of 2015, SYRIZA rode into office in a snap election, picking up half of the Hellenic Parliament seats on its campaign promise of rejecting austerity. After failing to reach an agreement with the troika, a referendum was held to decide on whether the country should accept the bailout terms and the result was a solid 61% pulling the lever against the country’s colonization by the EU and ‘reforms’ of the international creditors, a vote which also effectively signaled that the Greek people were willing to exit the Eurozone. Despite pledging to let the electorate decide the country’s future, Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and SYRIZA stabbed the Greek working class in the back and ignored the outcome of the referendum, totally capitulating to the demands of the private banking corporatocracy. Much of the pseudo-left had pinned their naive hopes on SYRIZA, but the truth is that the warning signs were there from the very beginning, starting with Tsipras’s questionable decision to appoint economist Yanis Varoufakis as Finance Minister, a figure who had several conflicts of interest with the institutions he was assigned to stand up to.
Varoufakis was tapped to negotiate with the troika in spite of his open ties to the neoliberal Brookings Institute, a D.C. establishment think tank funded by a cabal of billionaires and the Qatari government, as well as his previous work as an advisor to the centre-left PASOK government of George Papandreou which preceded SYRIZA and initially ushered in the austerity. The “rock star economist” jumped ship after less than six months from his ministerial post on the stated reason it was evident the SYRIZA-led government was caving in to the troika, yet Varoufakis himself had already sold Greece down the river when he led the negotiations to extend its loan agreement with the IMF that was due to expire in his first month in office. Varoufakis could have used the prospect of a potential Grexit from the Eurozone as leverage and refused to negotiate, but instead fully surrendered to the troika’s bribery. When SYRIZA later fully embraced austerity, it was only a continuation of the process he set in motion while his resignation was motivated by self-interest in maintaining his radical facade.
Allowing the IMF to make a killing off Greece’s debt was just the first breach of faith. By the time Tsipras was voted out four years later, the SYRIZA-led government had made military deals with Israel, sold arms to Saudi Arabia during its genocidal war on Yemen, provided NATO with its territory for the use of military bases and naval presence, and paved the way for the latter to accede the renamed North Macedonia as a member state. Meanwhile, Varoufakis has since been busy lending his ‘expertise’ to left candidates in other countries. After the UK Labour Party’s resounding defeat in the 2019 general elections, many rightly faulted Jeremy Corbyn’s reversal of his decision to support the result of the 2016 Brexit referendum after he was convinced by the party establishment to change his longtime Euroskepticism. Unsurprisingly, another figure who had advised him to do the same was none other than the former Greek finance minister, who has also since partnered with Bernie Sanders to launch a “Progressive International.”
The 2019 UK general election was really a second Brexit referendum, where the electorate justifiably expressed their disgust at the Labour Party’s contempt for democracy and neutering of Corbyn. Once upon a time it was Labour who stood against the de-industrialization foisted onto Britain by the neoliberal imperialist EU and the offshoring of its manufacturing jobs to Germany and the global south. Corbyn should have listened to the words of past Labour leaders like Tony Benn, who opposed the European project and its unelected bureaucracy as a violation of British sovereignty and democracy, not charlatans like Mr. Varoufakis. Worst of all is that the “left” is now disparaging the entirety of the working class as bigots and reducing the Leave vote to a reaction against the migrant crisis, as if Greece’s bailout referendum never occurred. Like the Yellow Vest protests in France, Corbyn’s loss was a sign that the opposition to globalization by the working class is still in good condition but has no authentic left to represent it. If Bernie meets the same fate, a real vanguard should be prepared to take the reins.
London — Parliament Square is the site, muddied by rain, trodden by hundreds who have made it their celebratory space. The Leave Means Leave official website had been busy for weeks, thrilled about January 31 and the fact that that Britain would finally be leaving that beastly collective they know as the European Union. Those who promised to be in attendance were the usual suspects of the Little England brigade who had been so successful in convincing citizens that leaving the European Union was tantamount to gaining one’s freedom from a stifling oppressor. Over time, the EU had become a figure no less savoury and vicious than Hitler, an achievement of branding if ever there was one.
London is ground zero for the anti-Brexit sentiment that clings to this city with depressing dedication. It is the Leavers’ primary target, and affirmation they have won. Vae victis – woe to the vanquished – is a sentiment they seem to relish, though few would know the provenance of the term. There are parties taking place celebrating the event across this wounded city, daggers into the heart of the metropolitan centre. During the day, London talkback radio was bubbling and humming with an upbeat note in the morning, occasionally moving into a state of delirium. Some, it seemed, had already been on the sauce. Bikers for Brexit, for instance, were happy to share their views about the “revelation” that their freedom was being returned; that the “tyranny” of the European Union was finally being overthrown.
A good number of callers could not see what the fuss was all about. “We can trade with Europe; we can still trade with Europe,” suggested a sozzled David, who promised to be nursing a brandy as the celebrations commenced. But beyond trade, David’s true colours showed. The EU had been responsible for the sort of immigration that that had produced “beggars” and the “homeless” problem in Britain. No mention was made of the industrious contributions of those millions, spearheaded by the Poles.
Robert was particularly irate at the divisions. As an arch Leaver living in a Remain borough, he faced the cancellations of play dates for his children, a feeling of having contracted leprosy. His account was marked by breezy uses of “apparently” (“Old people voted for Brexit, apparently”.) But the caller was clear: he was definitely not racist, because “I’m black.”
Anecdotes seemed to be the order of the day, an easy if questionable form of data sampling. Craig from Shoreditch spoke of “the Pole, the Israeli, and the Czech” who told him what a good thing Britain was doing against a seventy-year old effort to initiate a “global takeover”. One had to “fight the system”. This, it seemed, entailed voting for the very same man with system etched on his forehead.
By the afternoon, the mood had moderated, though still dominated by the theme of hope that Prime Minister Boris Johnson had reiterated for months. On radio, Vincenzo from Sheffield felt he had little to celebrate. He had been in Britain for four decades as had others of his generation. “They forgot us,” he lamented. Another spoke of moving to Ireland and chasing up his business contacts there, abandoning this sceptred Isle of Idiots.
By 5 in the evening, the dissenters had vanished from Parliament Square with their mild, even defeated voices, with placards such as “We’ll be back” and “You have destroyed my future career and dreams.” Predictably, the statue of Winston Churchill found itself the subject of much attention. There were posters such as the “Restoration Bill 2020” appended at the base, a document scatterbrained and meandering in its clauses. The authors wished for all EU flags to be removed from buildings, fishing rights restored exclusively to Britain, a re-instatement of the Magna Carta and the abolition of hate-speech laws. Evidently unaware that British law and EU law have nourished and influenced each other over almost a half century, such documents become parochial venom to direct at those in disagreement. Just to keep with that theme, a rotund gentleman, cheeks red and defiantly moving his placard around before Churchill’s indifferent gaze, was giving tips on how to tell a “Remoaner from a Remainer.” The former, spat his message, are offered money to betray their country.
There are pockets on the square gradually growing in number, but at this time, they resemble devotees of a cult. Like Sadhus in a trance, several men dance before drum beats, their eyes shut, limbs a jumble of ecstatic movements and gyration. Donald Trump inspired imitation Stetsons are handed out, albeit sporting the Union Jack on flimsy material. Others in attendance seem to resemble an animal species preserved in a sanctuary, making Parliament Square something of a historical zoo. A man decked in full Union Jack regalia from head to toe, his dark skin and flashing grin a striking contrast to his outfit, terrifies some of those who have decided to see spectacle.
As the Brexiters had failed in getting their Big Ben to bong for 11 in the evening, a makeshift miniature was assembled on the square, with the more modest title of “Little Ben”. Makeshift Little Ben was plastered with “Democracy”, “Sovereignty”, boasting a small bell to sound by anybody wishing to partake. The drum attached below the small makeshift tower, which resembled a haphazard paper construction, was belted with manic delight.
Covering the show was an entire regiment of press officials and support staff from any number of countries. They seemed as bemused as anybody else, adjusting their cameras and mikes between the statues of Churchill and Jan Smuts, with an illuminated Westminster as the backdrop. A few interviewees were already being drawn in, their eyes sparklingly enthusiastic about what is to come.
The hour duly arrived and, impressive as ever on timing, comes Nigel Farage, a man who has been paid from EU funds as a member of the European Parliament for years, yet has never won a seat in Britain’s parliament. To be paid by the enemy, it seems, is not a form of betrayal, except when others do it. “The war is over,” he declares emphatically. “The vast majority of people who voted Remain now say we’re a democratic country and its right we accept Brexit.”
The sense that this is done and dusted for those who wished to exit the EU is unshakeable. It ignores the obvious point that the machinery that will extricate Britain is still to be hammered out, sorted and implemented between British negotiators and their counterparts in Brussels. The EU strategy on this is to bring in the squeeze after those months are out, imposing what will be a form of moderated misery. January 31 is but a symbolic day; the practical cruelties and nastiness will only be felt once the transition period expires, when the bureaucrats so loathed by the populists will have their say. For now, Britain continues to pay EU dues without any representation. Not exactly independence, by any stretch of the imagination.
The year ended with two terrible setbacks for those seeking justice for the Palestinian people.
One was the defeat in the British election of Jeremy Corbyn – a European leader with a unique record of solidarity with Palestinians. He had suffered four years of constant media abuse, recasting his activism as evidence of antisemitism.
The Labour Party’s electoral collapse was not directly attributable to the antisemitism smears. Rather, it was related chiefly to the party’s inability to formulate a convincing response to Brexit.
But the antisemitism allegations succeeded in stoking deep divisions within Corbyn’s party, making him look weak and, for the first time, evasive. Unfairly, it planted a seed of doubt, even among some supporters: if he was incapable of sorting out this particular mess in his party, how could he possibly run the country?
Any future political leader, in Britain or elsewhere, contemplating a pro-Palestinian position – or a radical economic programme opposed by the mainstream media – will have taken note. Antisemitism is a fearsomely difficult smear to overcome.
The second setback was a new executive order issued by US President Donald Trump that embraces a controversial new definition of antisemitism. It seeks to conflate criticism of Israel, Palestinian activism and the upholding of international law with hatred of Jews.
The lesson of where this is intended to lead was underscored by Corbyn’s experience. Earlier, his party was forced to swallow this very same definition, formulated by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA), in an attempt to placate his critics. Instead, he found that it gave them yet more ammunition with which to attack him.
Trump’s executive order is designed to chill speech on campuses, one of the few public spaces left in the US where Palestinian voices are still heard. It blatantly violates the First Amendment, which privileges free speech. The federal government is now aligned with 27 states where Israel lobbyists have managed to push through legislation penalising those who support Palestinian rights.
These moves have been replicated elsewhere. This month, the French parliament declared anti-Zionism – or opposition to Israel as a Jewish state that denies Palestinians equal rights – as equivalent to antisemitism.
And before it, the German parliament passed a resolution that deemed support for the growing international movement urging a boycott of Israel – modelled on moves to end apartheid in South Africa – as antisemitism. German MPs even compared the boycott movement’s slogans to Nazi propaganda.
Looming on the horizon are more such curbs on basic freedoms, all to assist Israel.
Shutting down criticism
Britain’s Conservative prime minister, Boris Johnson, has promised to ban local authorities from supporting a boycott of Israel, while John Mann, his so-called antisemitism czar, is threatening to shut down online media outlets critical of Israel, again on the pretext of antisemitism. Those are the very same media that were supportive of Corbyn, Johnson’s political opponent.
The irony is that all these laws, orders and resolutions – made supposedly in the name of human rights – are stifling the real work of human rights organisations. In the absence of a peace process, they have been grappling with Israel’s ideological character in ways not seen before.
While Trump, Johnson and others were busy redefining antisemitism to aid Israel, Human Rights Watch (HRW) issued a report this month revealing that Israel – a state claiming to represent all Jews – has used military orders for more than half a century to flout the most fundamental rights of Palestinians. In the occupied West Bank, Palestinians are denied “such basic freedoms as waving flags, peacefully protesting the occupation, joining all major political movements, and publishing political material”.
At the same time, the UN’s Committee for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination broke new ground by berating Israel for its abuses towards all Palestinians under its rule without distinction, whether those under occupation or those with degraded citizenship inside Israel.
The panel of legal rights experts effectively acknowledged that Israel’s abuses of Palestinians were embedded in the Zionist ideology of the state, and were not specific to the occupation. It was a not-so-veiled way of declaring that a state structurally privileging Jews and systematically abusing Palestinians is a “racist endeavour” – wording now ludicrously decreed by the IHRA as evidence of antisemitism.
Commenting on HRW’s latest report, Middle East director Sarah Leah Whitson observed: “Israel’s efforts to justify depriving Palestinians of basic civil rights protections for more than half a century based on the exigencies of its forever military occupation just don’t fly anymore.”
But that is precisely what the new wave of laws and executive orders is designed to ensure. By silencing criticism of Israeli abuses of Palestinian rights, under the pretext that such criticism is veiled antisemitism, Western governments can pretend those abuses are not occurring.
In fact, there are two very different political constituencies backing the current crackdown on Palestinian solidarity – and for very different reasons. Neither is concerned with protecting Jews.
One faction includes Western centrist parties that were supposed to have been overseeing a quarter-century of peacemaking in the Middle East. They wish to obstruct any criticism that dares to hold them to account for their egregious failures – failures only too visible now that Israel is no longer prepared to pretend it is interested in peace, and seeks instead to annex Palestinian territory.
Not only did the centrists’ highly circumscribed, Israel-centric version of peace fail, as it was bound to, but it achieved the precise opposite of its proclaimed goal. Israel exploited Western passivity and indulgence to entrench and expand the occupation, as well as to intensify racist laws inside Israel.
That was epitomised in the 2018 passage by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government of the nation-state law, which declares not just the state of Israel, but an undefined, expansive “Land of Israel” as the historical home of the entire Jewish people.
Now, centrists are determined to crush those who wish to expose their hypocrisy and continuing alliance with an overtly racist state implacably opposed to self-determination for the Palestinian people.
So successfully have they weaponised antisemitism that human rights scholars this month accused the International Criminal Court in the Hague – the supposed upholder of international law – of endlessly dragging its feet to avoid conducting a proper war crimes investigation of Israel. ICC prosecutors appear to be fearful of coming under fire themselves.
The other faction behind the clampdown on criticism of Israel is the resurgent, racist right and far-right, who have been increasingly successful in vanquishing the discredited centrists of US and European politics.
They love Israel because it offers an alibi for their own white nationalism. In defending Israel from criticism – by characterising it as antisemitism – they seek a moral gloss for their own white supremacism.
If Jews are justified in laying claim to being the chosen people in Israel, why can’t whites make a similar claim for themselves in the US and Europe? If Israel treats Palestinians not as natives but as immigrants trespassing on Jewish land, why can’t Trump or Johnson similarly characterise non-whites as infiltrators or usurpers of white land?
The more the right whips up white nationalist, anti-immigrant fervour, the more it is able to undermine political solutions offered by its opponents on the centre and left.
Perhaps most astounding of all, much of the Jewish leadership in the US and Europe has been actively assisting the right in this political project, so blinded they are by their commitment to Israel as a Jewish state.
So where does this take Western politics? The centrists have let the antisemitism genie out of the bottle in order to damage the left, but it is the populist right that will now work to refine the weaponisation to further their own ends. They will stoke fear and hatred of minorities, including Palestinians, Arabs and Muslims, all to Israel’s ideological benefit.
Jews in the West will pay a price too, however. Trump’s speeches have repeatedly imputed nefarious motives, greed and dual loyalties to American Jews. Nonetheless, faced with Israel’s staunch backing of Trump, conservative Jewish leaders in the US have preferred to stay largely silent about the president stoking nativist sentiment.
That is a reckless miscalculation. The mock battle of fighting a supposed left-wing antisemitism has already diverted attention and energy away from the struggle against an all-too-real revival of right-wing antisemitism.
Israel may emerge stronger by playing politics with antisemitism, but Western Jews may as a result find themselves more exposed to hatred than at any time since the end of the Second World War.
Britain is looking drenched at the moment; colours blue and yellow seem to be streaking through the country. The Scottish Nationalists have re-asserted control lost to the Conservatives in 2016. In the rest of the country, seats never touched by Tory Blue have are now occupied by the party of Boris Johnson. Yet again, British politics shows that the posh boys, when it comes to moments of crisis, can pull in the deluded, and denuded working class. This must count as the political version of Stockholm syndrome, the working class playing hostages finding affection for their Tory tormenters.
Overall, though, the picture is one of various influences, teasing away in the background. Johnson has returned to Downing Street in another feat to baffle the pollsters but other factors were at play. Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party, despite not winning seats, loomed large. Ventriloquising on the issue of Brexit, his strategy to field fewer candidates, and certainly none against Conservatives, avoided a splitting of the conservative vote.
The Tory battering ram was taken to the Brexit seats held by Labour members, those in the midlands and the north. The aim: to cause breaches in the “Red Wall”. With Labour’s Jeremy Corbyn dithering and umming about Europe and the sense that Johnson might be the one to seal the pact and deliver the deal, a Faustian arrangement was struck. Go for the blue devil; he, at least, might be able to take Britannia out of this mess, consecrate the fears of Europe.
Claims of anti-Semitism within Labour’s ranks had a pecking influence, though history will probably show this to be a noisy sideshow. The issue of Corbyn the man will remain. As former Labour Home Secretary Alan Johnson claimed, “Every door I knocked on, and my team and I spoke to 11,000 people, mentioned Corbyn. Not Brexit but Corbyn.”
What the Johnson Brexit focus did was banish and shroud any conversation and discussion about a generous anti-austerity policy outlined in Labour’s manifesto. It involved a promise of more funding to the National Health Service, the recruitment of more nurses and police. Momentum was the socialist cleanser, the panacea to New Labour. Corbyn now finds himself out on his ear. The Labour movement finds itself wrangling. The question as to whether Corbynism survives the man is a genuine one.
The strategy from Labour HQ had evidently been to not mention Brexit, a dangerous gamble. The Conservative strategy was to howl, scream and badger everybody along the electoral road from south to north about how they were the only ones capable of “getting it done”. Johnson himself seemed to be doing political panto, pretending to be baker, milkman, fisherman, digger driver, amongst others.
When things got complicated on policy, Johnson was found fleeing to a fridge to avoid journalists or suppressing potentially compromising reports, which was the case with the findings of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security on claimed Russian influence in Britain.
The result was subsequently deemed a second Brexit Referendum, with the Conservatives able to unify the Leave vote. The Remain vote, on the other hand, shattered. Defectors and the middle ground types such as the Liberal Democrats, were spanked. Law making moderates were ditched. “As a result,” opined Yasmeen Serhan, “those who traditionally inhabit the middle ground, or who otherwise differed with their party’s position on Brexit, were effectively left with two options: put up or shut up.” Labour yielded its worse result since 1935. “In the past hundred years, rued former Labour adviser Torsten Bell, “no opposition has lost seats after 9 years in opposition.”
A form of resounding approval for an authoritarian figure was given, one who had mocked every stable British institution from the courts to Parliament itself. As The Observernoted in October, democracy under Johnson had atrophied. “Our political honour code is breaking down, unleashing a race to the bottom that the good men and women who sit in parliament can only watch unfold with horror.”
Long-time conservative scribe Peter Oborne, in explaining why he could never vote for Johnson, saw the challenge as not merely one against institutions, but against authentic, sensible conservatism. Genuine conservatives had been driven out of the fold by votaries of a near revolutionary sect. “Johnson,” he insisted, “has become the leader of a project – his adviser Dominic Cummings is an important part of this – to destroy conservatism.”
The salutary lesson, one that Johnson managed to master, is that voters often vote against, not for, their interests. Britain will be getting much more than Brexit. Far from being “oven ready”, as Johnson was so keen to promote, the country will find itself in a transition period, one where the EU will retain its influence. Single market membership will remain, financial contributions will continue as will the contentious notion of free movement. But Britain will have lost both a vote and a voice and be poorer for it.
Yesterday’s UK election effectively spells the end of British politics as we know it. All that remains is to just catalogue the events as what is left of the British state and its constituent institutions are rapidly disassembled and the marrow picked clean. The cackling, mop-topped ghoul that is Boris Johnson is the ideal figure to preside over the death of the British State. A return of the madness of King George without the humanizing qualities – Johnson is a leader, much like Donald Trump in America, who embodies all the negative national stereotypes about the English and none of the good ones.
Johnson was matched by an ideal opponent in Jeremy Corbyn: a man hated by much of the Party he represented and plagued by baseless allegation of Anti-Semitism that were spread across the spectrum of the British press for the proceeding three years. The feeble attempts to role some of these back during the election campaign itself were too little, too late, particularly as those newspapers that were Tory aligned were more than happy to double down on the claims. Corbyn though was admittedly weak in challenging these claims, and here we are.
Speaking of weakness, it is no surprise then Jeremy Corbyn is an Arsenal supporter. As a long-suffering follower of Arsenal Football Club myself, I recognize a similar playbook: promising but not quite convincing results in the early rounds of the tournament followed by utter calamity and capitulation during the big match.
To be fair to him, Corbyn was in an impossible position: half the Labour constituents supported Brexit the other half didn’t. He couldn’t go big on Brexit without risking palace revolt from the young people that supported him and made him leader of the Party. He couldn’t go remain without ostracizing the North. He couldn’t purge the Blairites because there were just too many of them. Britain is deep down a reactionary society at this point and Labour has been a fragile coalition for a long while.
But despite the many other issues, including the future of the British welfare state itself and the very idea of society, this election was ostensibly about Brexit.
Part of what makes Brexit so intractable are the number of Labour constituents that are also pro-Brexit. While the referendum was a Tory-led folly, support for it does not divide so neatly. This makes it very hard for Labour to try to advocate for a re-run of the referendum or to roll back the process. Moreover, doing so would basically send the message to British voters that what they have to say doesn’t matter, even if what they voted for in the first place was incredibly unclear. A rerun also doesn’t really look like it would necessarily change the result, which again would place whoever initiates the process in a bad place politically. It is a no-win situation.
Brexit itself is more a function of the long-term economic domination of the rest of Britain by London which has resulted in the decline of British civil society within much of the country. It is for this reason that there is a strong politically Left as well as a Right case for Brexit. These two cases become deeply conflated as a result of gamesmanship by the Cameron government that brought about this whole crisis.
A lot of people after all, did vote for Brexit on non-reactionary grounds with support for Brexit adhering to a regional split between England’s haves and its have-nots. Support for Brexit was higher in the economically depressed North and Midlands and far lower in the affluent South. In other words, the parts of the country that are the winners of globalization versus the regions that are the losers. The referendum then saw the return of the repressed, with some people turning on the London elite and voting to leave for a host reasons.
It is also worth noting that the EU itself is ostensibly an economically Neoliberal project that, while bringing many positive aspects, has also exacerbated existing disparities brought about through economic globalization and the decline of industry in the West. It is also a project that may yet fail, as the late historian Tony Judt projected, with Europe likely to return to the regional/ nationalist competition that characterized much of its history. Indeed, it can be said that the EU was near collapse during the 2008-2010 economic crisis, and many of the nativist reactionary movements that have sprung up or grown in recent years are functionally a product of how that crisis was handled.
We also have to remember that following the collapse of the global financial system during the last economic crisis, Cameron/Osborne initiated a series of austerity policies that were partially mandated by the EU and that cut far deeper than anything Thatcher at her very worst implemented. These cuts have never been reversed and people have seen services that they were dependent on evaporate, the NHS decline in quality and many other bad resultant outcomes.
While these cuts were going on, Britain was being hit by floods of cheap labor from Poland and other parts of Eastern Europe that further drove down wages for the already suffering British industrial workers and those working in trades, helping to fuel the slide towards reactionary xenophobia among parts of the working class. Meanwhile, the financial sector in London was bailed, just like the banks were in the US and on the European continent. Those that ostensibly caused the economic crisis were the ones that largely walked away unscathed and, in some cases, even better off. Working people were who suffered and continue to suffer.
In the end, Brexit has been a mess that was brought about by a combination of brinkmanship by idiots who didn’t realize just how thin and peeling the wallpaper covering the serious foundational faults to the existent economic system really was. Through sheer stupidity, mixed with its close cousin: bravado, Britain is now being forced to come to terms with issues that it has long sought to sweep under the rug. This may drive the splintering of Britain itself, with oil-wealthy Scotland likely to seek to return to Europe, the fate of Northern Ireland up in the air and the specter of a return to ‘the troubles’ lingering over everything.
Many of the issues of multiculturalism in the face of unreconstructed capitalism will remain manifest within British society, and the economically depressed north will remain firmly at odds with the affluent south, Really, we are almost seeing a possible setup for a replay of the English Civil War.
Corbyn offered up a perfectly reasonable compromise solution to Brexit in a second referendum that included the option to remain or a negotiated leave policy that would include a customs union with Europe. Sadly, contemporary Britain is a deeply reactionary place and these are not reasonable times. A negotiated customs union included break was probably best of a number of bad options, but even this liked seemed a fairly dismal outcome. Apart from Corbyn’s immediate circle of influence, hence why no one in Parliament seems to be much interested in pursuing this outcome either.
Corbyn needed the help of some real throat-slitters like Alistair Campbell or Peter Mendelson to help him. But those people tend to be Blairites for a reason: they are Center-Right opportunists, not ideological Leftists. They would always oppose Corbynism. The Left isn’t savage that way and that is part of what frequently leads to its undoing. It rarely has a sniff at power and when it does, it is either undone fast or things go terribly wrong before they can really get started. The propaganda model leveraged against it is just too strong and the forced of darkness are always just at the doorstep. No matter now, Corbyn is already gone.
It may be that Western Democracy, replete with its trappings of Neoliberal capitalism, is rotten to its core and apparently need a full system collapse before anything can change.
Where Labour goes from here, let alone Britain as a whole goes from there, is terrible to contemplate. I fully expect the Blairites to rally and drive the already Lovecraftian political dialogue of the British state even further into the abyss. We also already know, from leaked documents, that Johnson plans to partially privatize the NHS with the jackals of the American health care industry salivating at the red meat being tossed to them. Of course, the keys story when the details of this were leaked was that the leak was all a Russian plot, while no one actually disputed the veracity of the documents. Such is the way with Western Democracy replete with its dark alliance to Neoliberal Capitalism: we will go far down the road of conspiratorial folly long before we will acknowledge our own ideological failings.
Darks days ahead then, and it is impossible to shake the feeling that it could be no other way. The John Bull faction of the British public has won for now and perhaps won permanently. Pity the poor, pity the immigrant and pity those with blood, rather than venom in their veins. Make no mistake though, this is a hell made by the indelible influence of capital over humanism.
From BBC TV New Year’s Eve retrospective, 31st December 2019:
“As we reflect on what was the most truly remarkable election campaign in living memory, indeed in all of recorded history, it is important to recognise the fact that we as human beings, as inhabitants of the planet Earth, have been fundamentally changed by the incredible events of December 2019. We are no longer the people we were before he came. When Jesus Christ revealed himself to us on December 6th, not long into the election campaign proper and whilst standing on top of a soapbox in the middle of a Tesco car park on the outskirts of Milton Keynes, nobody could possibly have predicted the tumultuous events that were to come.
Surrounded by TV and radio news journalists, their proffered microphones picking up his every word, Jesus was asked if he had come to replace the sitting Pope in Rome.
“Rome…at Easter? Ooh no,” he said, clearly horrified, “I’m not too keen on the Romans. I can still feel those nails – ouch! I’ll stay in my nice little two up-two down terrace in Northampton, thank you very much.”
Jesus was asked if he had been living in Northampton for the last two thousand years.
“No, no,” he replied with a laugh, “I have been sitting at the right hand of God.”
“I never saw this Jesus guy in my life!” tweeted Donald Trump immediately.
“Jesus, why have you chosen to live in the UK?” asked a journalist from Milton Keynes Hospital Radio.
“The meek shall inherit the earth but I will start with the UK, which, as you all know, is in a mess and in desperate need of a moral leader.”
On hearing of the second coming, Jeremy Corbyn grasped the political nettle by declaring that Jesus was the first socialist and had returned to his natural home in the Labour Party. As it turned out, however – and this came as a surprise to many – it was to the Liberal Democrats that Jesus turned. At an extraordinary general meeting of the party, and amidst immense popular support from the public at large, the Liberal Democrats immediately elected Jesus as their leader, unceremoniously displacing an outraged Jo Swinson.
“Replacing the first female leader of the Liberal Democrats with a middle-aged male is a backwards step for feminism!” she protested in anger and humiliation.
“Do not be consumed by bitterness, my child,” urged Jesus.
“Oh, bugger off back to Galilee, you misogynist, immigrant scumbag!” replied the embittered Ms. Swinson, before professing her undying love and support for Nigel Farage and the Brexit Party.
“Beardy do-gooder with a messiah complex!” was how Boris Johnson described Jesus just before a head to head TV debate, not realising that his microphone was switched on and his comments were being broadcast to the nation. Upon realising that his election campaign was now obviously doomed to failure and his bid to be re-elected Prime Minister thwarted by divine intervention, the Tory Party leader railed against the new order.
“This is the end of democracy as we know it, what a mess – Jesus Christ!!”
“You called?” replied Jesus.
We all know what happened next – the revitalised Liberal Democrats were elected by a landslide and Jesus became our new Prime Minister. In his acceptance speech, he announced that his most pressing priority was to eradicate world hunger, beginning with the replacement of food banks in the UK. Whilst there was initial delight at the free loaves and fishes, nutritionists expressed their dismay at the lack of vitamin C on offer and warned of a dietary apocalypse. McDonald’s, Burger King, Kentucky Fried Chicken and a whole host of other fast food chains went bust almost overnight, precipitating fears of a possible world recession, and the City was horrified as shares in the nation’s alcohol and tobacco companies were rendered worthless. The FTSE Index fell 15 per cent – its worst one day drop in history – and this was replicated on stock exchanges all over the world. While economists warned of an imminent deflationary spiral, churches the length and breadth of the land were full to bursting and august City institutions were now clamouring to invest in charitable causes.
The new prime minister’s next initiative was to propose a vote to limit MPs’ salaries and expenses, but this motion was defeated 653-1. He managed to perform a less ambitious miracle, however – League Two football club Northampton Town, Jesus’ local team, managed to attract new free-transfer recruits Christiano Ronaldo, Gareth Bale, Lionel Messi and Sergio Ramos, all of whom pledged their undying allegiance to their new club, which is expected to win the Champions League in 2022.
Just before Christmas a fatwah was declared on Jesus by the fundamentalist Islamic leader Abdul Ahmad Codadudi and there were warnings of nuclear annihilation from a clearly rattled President Xi Jinping of China. The population of the United Kingdom, however, and indeed the just under five billion people around the world who had converted to Christianity since the second coming just a few days before, appeared to be unconcerned. But there were further clouds on the horizon. When Greta Thunberg urged Jesus not to fly to the upcoming NATO conference in New York, he responded by saying ‘certainly, my child – I’ll take a stroll over the Atlantic or get my father to give me a lift.’ Environmental movement leaders levelled accusations at Jesus that he was out of touch with concerned millennials who didn’t have the luxuries of supernatural powers and an all-powerful parent. In response, Jesus raised his hands to the heavens, his eyes fixed on rays of sunshine appearing between the parting clouds.
“Lord, my work here is done, there is no hope for these ungrateful wretches. Let’s have a go on another planet. Beam me up, if it be your will….”
And with that, as suddenly as he arrived, he was gone. Will he return? Nobody knows, although there are some who think they know, or perhaps pretend to.
So, what of the future? There lies the question, the same question we always ask at this time of the year, and the answer… well, fuck knows. Let’s all go and get pissed.”
The last of a series of gigs I’ve been doing over the past six weeks on the road was last night. I don’t always manage to collect my thoughts on the experience into a blog post, but I will this time.
For a very long time now I have usually been doing two tours of this length or longer, every spring and every autumn. Sometimes my lack of a blog post at the end is because I have no particularly new or trenchant observations to make about the places I’ve just been — at least not ones that are so distinct from the sorts of observations I made on my last pass through a given place. Other times, I just don’t find the time. It is frequently the case that the morning after my last gig on a tour, I’m flying home. I tell myself I’m going to write in the plane, but then I usually find the conditions are too cramped, and the prospect of a nap and a couple of movies is more attractive, under the circumstances. Then, getting home, I have several children to reconnect with after their father’s long absence, and the tour fades away from the sharpest parts of my memory, replaced with slides, swing sets and climbing walls.
The fact that I have two days free at the end of this tour to spend on a travelogue is part of the story of the tour, to be sure. The length of the tour — a little over six weeks — was shorter than my usual two months. This was intentional from the start. Two months is too long to be away from young children, I decided a while ago. But even filling these six weeks up with gigs proved to be a challenge, one which I failed to meet.
I don’t want to dwell on this depressing point, but it’s actually worse than it sounds. Spending a week working on my upcoming album in Ireland was already part of the tour plan. So really it was more a five-week tour. Despite the fact that it had been about a year since I had been to any of the countries I toured in this time, I wasn’t even able to fill every available Friday and Saturday night with gigs. In the end, I had 15 paying gigs, along with several protests to sing at, the album project, etc. This was a good ten fewer gigs than I was originally hoping to have, and which I certainly could have fit in to my schedule, if they had materialized.
I won’t try to analyze why the tour went this way, because, thankfully, in Europe at least, this is not a trend, it’s just how the cookie crumbles sometimes. If it happens again in the spring, I’ll call it a trend — and a devastating one at that. If it is a trend, then it will be following in the wake of what has already happened in the United States, for me. Despite the fact that around half of my listeners in the world are located in the US, according to all the online platforms where people find my music these days, and despite the fact that I live in the infamously artistic and theoretically progressive city of Portland, Oregon, I’m barely ever able to find anyone in the country who is able and willing to organize a gig that I can afford to do without losing money in the effort of getting there.
And while that trend also most certainly continues, that’s the last I’ll say about it. Now, we move on from the “poor me” section of the travelogue, to other things.
The tour began with a flight to St Louis, a night in a Motel 6, a rare phone interview with a community radio station the following morning, and a drive in a rental car several hours to the southeast, to Carbondale, Illinois. Two organizers I’ve known for a long time, Anne Peterman and Orin Langelle, and the organization they have been spearheading for many years, the Global Justice Ecology Project, were part of a collective effort to attempt to rise to the occasion, in this age of flood and fire.
I can’t say, from my limited vantage point, how this extended weekend of workshops and meetings and such went, overall. What was abundantly clear was the organizers had managed to bring together a collection of some real heavy-hitters from all over North America and a few from even further afield. People who were or had recently been on the front lines of local, national and international campaigns of civil disobedience in defense of their threatened homes and homelands. Water protectors from Lakota lands and from the bayous of Louisiana. People trying to protect forests, forest people and forest economies in Brazil from massive corporations intent on assassinating leaders and razing everything around them for short-term profit, while doing it all with a bizarre eco-friendly fig leaf. People trying to prevent logging and mining operations from destroying the last of the privately-owned forest lands, along with all the clean water in places like southern Illinois.
It was, for me, a reunion with many environmental activists I had not seen in ten or twenty years, who I used to see more often, when times were different, when there were student organizations with budgets to organize gigs of the sort that used to keep many of these activists on perpetual speaking and organizing tours, along with many like-minded musicians, such as me. (Oops, I said I was done with that topic.) Despite the many recent battles fought, we’re unquestionably losing, again and again, and the feeling of defeat among the ranks of those in attendance was pervasive. I would rather say something different, and I know the organizers would surely rather I did, but that would be lying, and there’s no point in that sort of deceit. There was little optimism anywhere to be found that weekend in what was once Shawnee country. I was not there to attend meetings, and I did not attend any of them, but I was on the periphery of them enough to feel the treacherous, divisive winds of Extreme Identity Politics blowing from many directions, the toxic ideology of many lost people, particularly among the youth. It’s nothing new, though the words change. Me and many of my friends were similarly lost when we were young, suffering from the same lack of intergenerational coherency of radical thought that most of the US has been suffering from for most of the past century. It’s also nothing new that in the absence of an optimistic, forward-looking social movement, we tend to turn in on each other.
In stark contrast to this air of defeat, strangely enough, was Mike Africa, Jr. He and I were two of the musical guests for the weekend. Sometime in the late 1990’s was the last time I had seen Mike, and it was from a distance. It was in his home town of Philadelphia, and he was on a flatbed truck of some kind, part of a march in solidarity with death row prisoner, Mumia Abu-Jamal. Someone pointed him out to me at the time. “Those are Move kids,” I remember someone saying.
I was probably around thirty then, and Mike would have been around eighteen. At that time, his parents had spent eighteen years in prison. They would go on to spend 22 more years in prison between that day in Philadelphia and the next time I would see Mike, in Illinois, this time much more up close.
I spent most of two days talking with Mike, rediscovering his brilliant poetry and music, which, I learned, had been basically on hiatus since the last time I had seen him, so long ago. After raising several children and ultimately, in 2018, seeing his parents finally freed from prison in Pennsylvania, Mike is ready to start touring again. We talked about politics, life and history, but mostly we talked about the logistics of being an independent touring performer and how to attempt to make a living at it in the modern age, while remaining firmly connected to social movements — a tricky thing in so many ways (and I’ll leave it at that). We quickly decided we should tour Europe together in the spring of 2020.
Aside from the logistical aspects — that I think I can interest people in Europe in organizing stops on such a tour, because Mike is a great hiphop artist with a fascinating life story that is, I can already report, of great interest to many people in Europe and elsewhere — what is also so compelling about Mike is the optimism in his words. The importance of optimism in times like these cannot be overstated. It’s the only thing that can change the world. Not that optimism alone can change the world — just that without it, we’re surely doomed.
After my few days in Illinois, the tour took me to Germany, Ireland, Scotland and England. I’ve noticed an increasing number of people on Twitter refer to themselves as “space travelers, like you.” It seems appropriate to use a term that is evocative of another, fictional kind of travel, because space travel can often be a lot like time travel.
It’s not that Germany in 2019 feels exactly like traveling in time to somewhere else. But it bears many similarities, along with the differences. Singing at massive rallies organized by unions, that’s something I’ve never experienced in the US, which is a fairly common part of my experience of Germany (not that there were any on this particular trip). Other things, like singing at a small protest through a sound system in solidarity with a Latin American country — in this case Venezuela — was an experience I used to have frequently in the US, but not since 2006 or so. Singing at such a protest while someone was filming it, who then put the video up on YouTube, was an experience that has long since gone out of fashion in the US, in my little world. It’s been years since anyone did that, that I can recall. It used to happen almost daily.
In Freiburg, the Squatting Days series of events folks were having at the venerable KTS squatted social center beside the train tracks on the outskirts of the city were going to culminate in the squatting of a new building. The organizers decided, if I was up for it, to change the plan for the concert, so instead of having it at KTS, we’d do it at a newly-squatted building.
The building in question was a three-story structure with six two-bedroom apartments, very solidly built, as is typical in Germany. Because of some kind of legal dispute involving the building, it had been vacant for years. This band of squatters intended to change that, at least temporarily. As it turned out, very temporarily. The occupation lasted about a half hour before most of the occupiers, including me and my musical collaborator on the occasion, vacated the premises. I am happy to say that it took several cops a very long time to look the foreign musicians up in their computers, which may very well have allowed a lot of squatters to casually leave the area without being noticed.
It was my first visit to the Hambach Forest, or what little is left of it, there beside the biggest coal mine in Europe, since Steffen Meyn fell to his death a year earlier. More time travel — to two years earlier in the same place, or to the early 1990’s in California or Idaho. The death of Steffen Meyn, combined with the rising activism around climate chaos that has been sweeping Europe and elsewhere in recent years, bears more and more resemblance to what we might call the heyday of what was known as the radical environmental movement in the US circa thirty years ago. It also bears much of the same disconnect between punk, cop-despising treehuggers, and many average people who don’t understand their priorities. These are not the Yellow Vests, or their German equivalent. Many of them, like their Earth First cousins in North America, would not be embarrassed to admit that they prefer the company of squirrels to that of most people. Their experiences with the police has not helped with their misanthropy at all.
Although I have deep affection for humanity in every society in which I have encountered the species, very much including both Germany and Ireland, there are so many contrasts. In Germany, as in the US and other countries with a deeply imperial imprint on the planet, to be a nationalist is to be a racist and a xenophobe. In Germany, if you have too great an interest in the folk music of your region, you will draw suspicion from people who identify as left-wing. Anyone who wears those traditional German trousers is assumed by any black-clad resident of Kreuzberg to be a closet fascist.
In Ireland, it may be a complex and fraught thing for someone from a Loyalist neighborhood in the northern Six Counties to have an interest in the Irish language or in Irish music, but for most anyone else on the island, having an abiding interest in your native language, your native music, your native country, and your native culture is to a very large extent wrapped up in the concept of Irish nationalism, which is itself completely historically wrapped up in internationalism and international solidarity.
The deep interest in Irish culture that is pervasive in Ireland has none of the flavor of identity politics that you’ll find throughout North America, and none of the genocidal intentions that can be lurking in the shadows — or often very much in the open — in German, US or British nationalism. It is the nationalism of a people who have been told for centuries that they are not a people, or if they are, they are an inferior sort of people who should change, and stop speaking their language, singing their songs, playing their music, dancing their dances — for a long time, on pain of torture, imprisonment, death and/or exile.
Being there among my friends and within their communities, I feel like I can breath fully. Which could be a strange thing to say, when you consider the fact that most of my friends in that part of Ireland have had friends and relatives tortured, killed or imprisoned for decades. This is not so much history, as very recent, living memory, and also a simmering back-burner sort of present. Rumors are everywhere, including in the press, that Loyalist militias are stockpiling weapons again. Throughout the Cooley Mountains, where the album project was taking place, the metal signs are riddled with high-caliber bullet holes, along with the low-caliber ones. (It’s easy to tell the difference. The high-caliber bullets go cleanly through the metal, while the other ones just make dents.)
Despite what to many might feel like an ever-present threat of violence, there is, for me, a much more powerful presence of a deeply felt identification by a people with their own culture, history and place. A culture which at least some people on the island have managed to not only preserve, but which continues to evolve, to interact with other cultures freely, and to continually produce world-influencing content (to use a modern term) of all kinds.
I was in Ireland this time for one purpose — to make an album. I had run into Pol Mac Adaim in the summer in Denmark, which is when he mentioned that he had access to a home recording studio in Ireland. Given that the musicians I most wanted to make an album with live in Ireland and Scotland, and included Pol, and given the fact that Pol was making this offer out of a desire to promote what he calls folk music (which is not defined the same way by the music industry, let’s just say), it was an easy decision for me to make.
Lorna McKinnon, Kamala Emanuel and I landed in Dublin, rented a car, and headed north to Ma Baker’s Pub in the ancient Norman village of Carlingford, in County Louth, just south of the border with County Down, and what people refer to as the North, the Six Counties, the Occupied Six Counties, or Northern Ireland, depending on who you’re talking to. It was after midnight by the time we managed to get there, and Pol’s gig was over. We followed him home, deep into a network of narrow little roads, eventually ending at a house surrounded by forested hills and fields dotted with sheep, quietly munching the grass around them. This would be where we’d spend six 13-hour days recording guitar and vocal parts for the album, for which Pol has since been laying down pipe and whistle tracks, in preparation for the final phase of the process, that of mixing and mastering.
The recording experience was magical. Or at least that’s what seems like the most appropriate word to use, when the sum of the parts equal so much more than any mathematical calculation would ever deliver. Lorna and Kamala’s months of work on creating complex vocal arrangements, combined with Pol’s insights and abilities as a producer and engineer, were together creating a musical experience that was nothing like what any of the songs could ever have accomplished with just my voice and guitar as vehicles.
When we weren’t recording, we were often talking. Pol is the only one among his brothers who has not spent decades in prison. He and his siblings grew up in Ardoyne, a particularly hard neighborhood in Belfast to grow up in, surrounded as it is by often very hostile Loyalist neighborhoods. The conversations, along with some refreshing of my knowledge of certain events in recent Irish history, led to a song that I finished soon after I left the island.
The beautiful northern region of the larger island to the east, Scotland, is a place of many contradictions, all of which seem to be at the very forefront of people’s attention these days. This is also very much the case lately in England. Most of the fissures in society and politics are the same, but they play out somewhat differently.
Scottish society was recently riven by the question of Scottish independence, which the voters ultimately voted against. Then came Brexit, which most Scottish people also voted against, but which they are now stuck with, along with Northern Ireland and, for obvious reasons of history, sovereignty, culture, trade, geography and politics, the rest of Ireland as well. Brexit may not be itself a massive dividing issue in Scotland, since most Scots opposed it. But what is almost as divisive in Scotland as it is in England in recent months is how you stand on voting for Jeremy Corbyn and the British Labor Party.
The issue in both Scotland and England is distressingly and confusingly not a simple left-right issue. To dip into it a little: most, but by no means all, Scottish left-wingers supported Scottish independence. But even if they didn’t, they still are interested in political devolution, or local autonomy, whatever you want to call it. So they’re interested in promoting Scottish political parties that will look out for the Scottish working class, among other things, naturally enough.
But many radicals in England have joined the Labor Party in the very recent past, because of the new leadership of Jeremy Corbyn, which many people in England are wildly excited about, quite understandably, since he represents the most left leadership to challenge the neoliberal status quo of the party, and the government overall, since the 1960’s, at least. Scotland now has plenty of Labor Party organizers trying to convince people who would normally vote for the Scottish National Party or another Scottish party, to hold their noses and vote Labor. They are viewed alternately as pragmatists or traitors, depending on who you talk to and how much they’ve had to drink.
The contradictions of life for many people in Scotland, for Scottish history, to some extent, seem to be fairly well represented in the family history of one young man I met in Dundee, at my first of four gigs in Scotland on the tour. He was related to two of my songs. One of his relatives was a factory worker in East Kilbride who refused to repair the Chilean Air Force jet engines. And one going further back was a member of the Scottish military regiment that put down the Welsh uprising of 1831.
First of all, I need to share my favorite songs that I heard people sing while I was there. I had opening acts at most of my gigs, many of whom seemed to think their main job was to depress the audience in preparation for my set. In stark contrast to these depressing, preachy left-wing guys and sometimes gals who kept on opening for me in various places, the best musicians I heard in my travels were at the two open mics I played at, where I was the feature act. Here’s one I had to record, after getting her to do it a second time, a brilliant song about gentrification in London, recorded with my phone at Archie Shuttler’s open mic at the Telegraph.
One of the other highlights of the tour on a musical level was hearing a musician I’ve now known for many years who is currently going by the stage name, Morning Crush, singing one of my songs on the streets of Kingston-Upon-Thames, where he can frequently be found busking. He first heard my music when he was 14 — one of several folks I met at various gigs who first heard me when they were 14.
England, more than anywhere I’ve been lately outside of the US, is in some kind of convulsive state. It’s infinitely exacerbated by the entirely servile media, from the Guardian to the BBC to the rampant Murdoch tabloid press and tabloid TV, which continually paint Jeremy Corbyn alternately as a clown, a terrorist sympathizer, an anti-Semite, or some other such nonsense. As with the US media and bipartisan political establishment and its relationship with Bernie Sanders, the British media and establishment would prefer to have some form of fascism over having anyone in power who dares to talk about nationalizing industries like health care or — gasp — housing. The need for people to have medical care and housing are massive industries — nationalize them, and anything could be next. Which is true — and the rich are aware of this fact, unfortunately.
Complicating matters massively is, once again, Brexit. The much-hated current Prime Minister, Boris Eton Johnson, has long been championing the Brexit cause, which most of the population of the UK voted for in 2016. Although Corbyn and many other socialists have long been more interested in a government that serves the interests of the working class and the environment rather than banks and oil companies, whether it’s a government based in London or in Brussels, he has effectively been shoved into the Remain box, becoming the de facto representative of the European Union, an institution which is about as popular as Boris Johnson.
The widespread optimism that characterized England a year ago, the last time I traveled in the country, is gone. The love of Corbyn among his base, the recent Labor Party converts from the left, and most of the Labor Party members, is still there, but the optimism that accompanied his unexpected election to party leader, that this might somehow be transformed into a Labor majority in parliament and a Corbyn-led government, is no longer. Perhaps he’ll win in the upcoming general election, but if he does, it will be a surprise to the entire political spectrum in the UK, as it is currently constituted on paper.
Despite the glum mood, and the fact that so many people I know are canvassing for the Labor Party, starting just before I landed in Britain, all of the gigs that I had in England were really good. Some of the venues were too small to fit everyone who wanted to come, partly because we’re losing some of the bigger venues. The Islington Folk Club in London was packed as it always is, but since it was forced to relocate to a smaller space, packing the club now requires about a third as many people as it used to (and, of course, the gig pays much less than it used to as a result).
One of the new and very poignant experiences of playing in England on this tour involved the reactions by audiences to my new song about the pogroms in 1969 in the Six Counties. There were various interesting aspects to the experience. Audiences were always listening extra intently to that song. Many times, applause afterwards was more sustained than usual, as if to quietly make the point, we understand. Many English people thanked me for writing about this important subject, specifically. Many people from Belfast, Derry or other northern Irish towns who were at gigs in England shouted their approval, talked to me after the show, and told me how moved they were, how important it was that this was being talked about, and how much they had suffered from discrimination in England over the decades that many of them had been living there.
Pol Mac Adaim had talked to me about how well the British establishment had kept the truth of the occupation of Ireland and other brutally occupied colonies of the empire hidden from the average British subject. But, he added, some people know the truth. The soldiers who occupied his country live there, and they know. It was these ex-soldiers that I also kept meeting at every gig where I sang that song. They’re everywhere, and many of them, even though in many cases they’re in their sixties and seventies by now, they’re still too traumatized by the experience to talk about it much beyond letting me know they were there, and thanking me for the song. The remorse is palpable, though apparently unexpressable.
The last time I had been in London I sang at a vigil outside the Ecuadorian Embassy, where Julian Assange was then essentially imprisoned. Some great filmmakers present that day made some great clips on Twitter out of the event. I contacted one of them to see if he wanted to do some kind of thing in front of Belmarsh Prison, where Assange is now being held, as they consider extraditing him to the United States. I realized the best thing would be for me to write a new song for the occasion, and the resulting music video that came of this collaboration is already a highlight of my career, such as it is. I’ll sign off with that, in case you missed it…
Prime Minister Boris Johnson came back from Brussels with a deal better than any Theresa May ever achieved, so he says. His talks with the departing European Commissioner, Jean-Claude Juncker, were very fruitful. But precise details are never known. Juncker, emotional about his leaving and handing over the office of EU Commissioner on 1 November to Madame Ursula von der Leyen, from Germany, may have made some special concessions to Johnson some rumors go. But unlikely. He is not the only one to decide. Besides, deal or no deal, or BREXIT or no BREXIT, had already been decided shortly after the surprise pro-BREXIT public vote on 23 June 2016. And it is clear not the EU and not the British elite want BREXIT.
In any case, in a first vote on Mr. Johnson’s new and ‘better’ deal, the British Parliament voted 322 to 306 to postpone the vote on whether or not to accept the “new deal”, until the new “ratification law” is voted on. What ratification law? A precise date for the vote is not known. All that would point to the need to ask again Brussels for a postponement of the British decision, “deal or no deal”, beyond the current target of 31 October 2019. But, THE Boris says, he will do everything to avoid such a step. How?
The mess and confusion are overwhelming. People go crazy, especially in Britain. They don’t know what will happen when; whether their jobs are at stake, their pensions in question, in case some of them at one point in the past, or now, have been or are working in another EU country. Will ”The Market” ruin their savings? Will sudden border closings – pure speculation – cause enormous shortages of necessary goods, food, medicine and cause hyper-inflation?
Depression rates run high in Britain, as well as among those Brits who have made themselves a living in an associated EU country. Will they have to leave? Granted, it is not easy to live peacefully and without stress and anxiety under these circumstances.
Why is it so difficult to accept and respect the democratic vote to exit the European Union, never mind the narrow result of a 51.89% ‘yes’ ballot for leaving the EU? Because this vote, of which we now know was helped by Cambridge Analytica came a as total surprise to the British elite, who never thought that a majority, even a small one, would be so sick and tired of being managed and told what to do by a cumbersome, bureaucratic EU Commission in Brussels.
Now, these behind-the-curtain elites are doing everything to appear keeping ‘democracy’ alive, respecting the vote, but finding any means to circumvent the action linked to the vote, namely, BREXIT. The circus has lasted for over three years and still no definitive decision is made. My hunch is – and I am not alone – that this has all been plotted shortly after the surprise ballot by a small elite that keeps a firm handle on the British Parliament and, of course, on the PM.
Besides, Washington is not keen on seeing the UK leave the EU. In more cases than one, the UK has acted as a US mole in the EU. For example, on the decision to accept 13 Eastern European countries in the EU, countries that were economically and socially far from at par with the 15 EU members in 2004 when they were integrated into the EU between 2004 and 2013. No questions asked, no member country’s population was asked for their opinion. It was done like by dictatorship. Most of the population of the 15 members would have said NO.
It was clear that these new, economically weak countries would also weaken the whole of the EU, as they would require special financial aid in the billions of euros, funds that the EU would miss to solidify for eventually forming a solid federal European Union. That’s exactly what Washington wanted, preventing a federal European Union with a common Constitution – an equal or superior to the federal United States of America.
A federal United States of Europe was, of course, squarely against the idea of the US which was the mastermind behind the European Union in the first place; an idea that was borne during or right after WWII, and then implanted by the CIA in willing European politicians, those heading the Club of Rome, for instance.
What if the succession Cameron, May, Johnson was also planned? It helps confusing the public. What if the assertiveness of Johnson to pull BREXIT through come hell or high water is mere make-believe? – He knows it will not happen, not on 31 October, and most likely not in January 2020. Then he “failed” and will resign? The new PM, whoever he / she may be, will call for a new referendum – as the public outcry in this direction becomes ever louder – democracy will finally be reinstated to bring order to the mess. Or, will a new referendum do that, reinstate “democracy” in the minds of those who have voted for BREXIT in June 2016? – Maybe not. Probably not. The possible consequences are unimaginable at this point.
The new referendum would be very carefully “accompanied” and supervised, so as not to allow any mishaps, or missteps by the voters. This time the votes must be SOLID pro-EU, if possible, by a landslide, so as not to evoke questions and recounts, and foremost to avoid protests in the streets of London, the financial capital, the city of money, the home turf of capitalism. “Remain” must be achieved with a very comfortable margin. And bingo, democracy has been preserved. And nothing changes. By then, some 4 years will be down the drain, four years of anger, frustration, insecurity, fear, depression, anxiety – and who knows how many suicides?
What would really happen if BREXIT were to take place as the voters decided? Doomsday-sayers are, of course, paid to spread fear, fear of uncertainty, fear of no-longer belonging, fear of being evicted from wherever in Europe one might live. And we know, fear is the best means to keep people in check, while none of the nefarious Armageddon predictions would occur.
The UK, after the obligatory, speculative, profit-taking fall and rise of the stock and currency markets, would fully recover and within a couple of years would very likely be far better off than under the watchful eye of Brussels. The EU bureaucracy of Brussels is worse than useless, especially the EU Parliament which is completely toothless, and the European Commission that decides over all major issues without consultation of the member countries’ people. It brings only frustration and hardship to most members, as in having to adapt their laws to EU standards, losing their sovereignty. Germany, the tacit EU leader, may be an exception, though a majority of Germans would also like to turn their back to the EU.
So, what good is it to stay in this useless non-Union, that has no sense of solidarity, that allows weak members, like Greece, to be literally slaughtered by their own brothers, the IMF, the EC and the European Central Bank? Spain, Ireland and Portugal are not much better off and Italy’s EU fate hovers dreadfully over the Italian public, so much so, that the Italian Government decided on its own on a Plan B, namely association with the east, signing up to the Chinese Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).
What is doomed after BREXIT, is most probably not the UK, but the European (non-) Union itself. This construct, with a fiat currency like the dollar, is not sustainable. A single currency for a group of countries that have no declared common goals, like a Constitution, is not sustainable. It is just a question, what will fall first, the EU or the Euro; but fall they will. It’s a matter of time.
BREXIT or no-BREXIT is actually anecdotal. But, hey, let’s not jump the gun. It’s pure speculation. After all chaos is dynamic and unpredictable. Anything can happen.
• First published by the New Eastern Outlook – NEO