1st January 2019
Today is the 60th anniversary of the Cuban Revolution
1st January 2019
Today is the 60th anniversary of the Cuban Revolution
23rd December 2018
Corbyn – exposing Tory hypocrisy; May – continues to blag her way through
If Labour Leader, Jeremy Corbyn, had called Theresa May a “stupid woman” there is every chance that he would have apologised. There is much less of a chance that he would have stood up in front of the House of Commons, not to mention the world’s media, to lie through his teeth and claim he said “stupid people”, if he did not say that. Corbyn has been true to his word and political ideals for nearly 40 years as an MP. It seems bizarre that he would lie over this.
Corbyn has admitted to losing his temper, faced with a wall of jeering Tory MPs at Prime Minister’s Question Time, stating,
“I was extremely angry: the last point I’d made was, they’d suddenly found £4bn to prepare for no deal. £4bn. At the same time police officers have lost their jobs: 100,000 vacancies in the NHS, a housing crisis; a homeless man dies on the steps of Westminster; and she and the Conservative Party turned the whole thing into some pantomime joke. I was extremely angry.”
With 100 days to go before the UK leaves the European Union on 29th March, Corbyn quite rightly points out that the Tories have had two years in which to come up with a negotiated settlement, have spent most of that time arguing amongst themselves, and the deal that Theresa May has finally come up with has not yet been in front of the House of Commons for a vote.
The political establishment in the UK has been hoist by its own petard, following the 2016 referendum, with the country voting to leave when the establishment desire has always been to remain. The struggle since them has been one of attempting to reconcile this irreconcilable dichotomy and so far no clear solution has emerged.
May’s Brexit deal is as close as the establishment can get to delivering on the Brexit vote, by notionally exiting the EU but doing so on terms that effectively keep the UK tied into EU rules, but without a voice in determining them. Corbyn has quite rightly denounced this as a ludicrous position. Labour remain committed to pushing for a General Election, in order to clear the way for a new negotiation with the EU, and a new political and trading relationship.
Factions within Labour, pushing for a so called People’s Vote, have criticised Corbyn for not rejecting Brexit on the basis that life outside the EU would be worse than being on the inside. Whether the 4,751 rough sleepers in the UK, a figure which has doubled since 2010, would agree is a moot point. The gilets jaunes in France might also take a different view; the 25% of young people unemployed in Spain might not concur; the thousands of public sector workers in Greece losing their jobs in the latest ‘bailout’ might see things differently.
The so-called ‘meaningful vote’ in the House of Commons will now follow further debate, scheduled to begin on 9th January 2019, after which the final push for an agreed deal or a General Election will begin in earnest.
15th December 2018
Protests continue to engulf Iran
A wave of protests has gripped Iran throughout 2018 since demonstrations engulfed 85 cities across the country last January. The protests are engaging the low paid, underemployed and disenfranchised, through to industrial workers in the steel and sugar industries and professional workers such as teachers. There is no strand of Iranian society which has not been touched by the protests. The regime is struggling to contain nationwide discontent.
At the beginning of November teachers went on strike for two consecutive days across 27 major cities in Iran. The action was the second round of strikes since mid-October, aimed at putting pressure upon the government to carry out educational reforms and end mismanagement. The teachers’ action is also protesting against low wages and the violations of the educational rights of students and minorities.
Teachers are also demanding the release of imprisoned teacher trade unionists, an end to indiscriminate investigations and the ongoing arrests of union activists.
The protests by teachers have been supported by students who are increasingly recognising that the circumstances of their educators will impact upon their learning and future job opportunities. Support has included student protesters at Tehran University, holding pictures of imprisoned teachers, interrupting a speech being delivered by Iranian President Hassan Rouhani. The fact that students and teachers are feeling sufficiently emboldened to take action, which would have been unheard of just a few years ago in Iran, underlines the extent of the growing crisis inside the country.
Unrest has also been long running in the steel industry in Iran. Workers at the Iran National Steel Industry Group (INSIG), in Ahwaz, have gone on strike numerous times in recent months to demand overdue wages. In June, many workers were rounded up by security forces and freed only when other workers launched protests.
As well as their immediate economic demands, steel workers are increasingly linking their situation to corruption at the highest levels of the Islamic Republic and articulating demands for political change. This reflects many of the slogans echoed by teachers and students, adding to the growing sense of a crisis of political legitimacy in the country.
The same pattern is evident at the Haft Tapeh sugar cane facility, where workers went on ten continuous days of strike action in November, in protest at months of unpaid wages. The political nature of the dispute was reflected in the chanting of slogans such as “hail to the workers, down with the dictator.”
The response of the Islamic Republic’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, to nationwide unrest among the millions of ordinary workers is that there is a “foreign plot” to overthrow the regime.
Since the US pulled out from the Iran nuclear deal in May and re-instituted two sets of sanctions targeting the Islamic Republic’s economy, the currency in Iran has been nosediving, affecting the value of wages and impacting upon the purchasing power of ordinary Iranians.
The deepening of sanctions by the United States, which came into play on 5th November, will only exacerbate this situation. The ability of Iran to trade on international markets is being restricted to the point where the US is effectively implementing a trade embargo.
There can be no doubt about the anti-people credentials of the Iranian regime. For over 40 years the Islamic Republic has been to the forefront in its abuse, arrest and torture of the political opposition, trade unionists, women’s organisations and in suppressing student protests. The regime in Iran is only matched in its vicious response to internal criticism by the United States’ key allies in the region, Israel and Saudi Arabia.
However, the sanctions imposed by the United States are not about acting in the interests of the Iranian people and freeing them from an oppressive regime. The US sanctions are entirely about the power balance in the Middle East, with the US seeking to impose its will and maximise control of the region’s resources.
Ironically, the path being pursued by Trump was initiated under President Obama, as part of the United States’ New Middle East Plan, to reassert influence and bolster resource control in the region. Obama’s version of the Plan resulted in the nuclear deal in 2015 and a more nuanced approach to containing the perceived threat of Iran to the regional power balance.
Not surprisingly, for Trump there are no such niceties. To all intents and purposes, the gloves are off and the New Middle East Plan mark 2 is simply to bring Iran to its knees, whatever the cost to the prospects for peace in the region or to the plight of the people of Iran.
The worst case scenario, a military strike on Iran, is something many in the US administration have not taken off the table. Western foreign policy, specifically that of the United States, is currently treading a very fine line from which one slip could plunge the region into war.
It is vital however, that whatever form change in Iran takes, it is based on the will of the Iranian people, not the will of external forces. Solidarity with the people of Iran in their struggle for peace, human rights and democracy is more vital now than ever.
A democratic Iran would still face the threat of political sanctions and the ongoing danger of military intervention, by the US or one of its proxies in the region, but would nevertheless be a huge step forward for democracy in the Middle East.
8th December 2018
Protests continue in the French capital, Paris
In advance of nationwide gilets jaunes (yellow vest) protests the French state made 280 arrests this weekend. Over 89,000 police have been deployed across the country, 8,000 on the streets of Paris alone, backed up by heavy duty VBRG armoured vehicles, as the Macron government desperately tries to get a grip on the fast moving insurrectionary mood in the country. Having been elected only 18 months ago, as a ‘new force’ in French politics, the En Marche movement of which Macron is head is in danger of splintering into several pieces.
The reasons for this are clear. Macron was never more than old wine in new bottles. Representing the interests of the French bourgeoisie in a smart suit could fool some of the people some of the time but was never going to fool all of the people all of the time. The recent fuel duty increase proposals, withdrawn due to popular pressure, would have hit those least able to pay the hardest.
This follows on from Macron’s programme of tax breaks for the rich, attacks upon social welfare programmes, the attempt to extend the working week and the furore caused over the attack on public sector pensions. The inept socialist government of Francois Hollande created a political void into which Macron was able to step. Faced with the choice of a Macron presidency or one headed by far right demagogue, Marine le Pen, in the presidential run off French voters were faced with little choice.
Under these circumstances however it was always going to be only a matter of time before the superficiality of the Macron programme was exposed and the French people had to look for new solutions. The spontaneous protests have no clear programme or leadership at present other than being united around regarding Macron as being a puppet of the French political elite, with no idea of how the less well off live.
However, if protests are sustained beyond this week it will be essential for a Left platform to be articulated which can capture the mood of the protesting French working class. Without unity around a progressive set of demands the danger is that the Front National of Marine le Pen will step into the void, with the usual easy targets of immigrants and refugees in their sights.
The protests in France are the latest manifestation of popular discontent across Europe, which has accelerated since the bank bailouts of 2008 saw Europe wide austerity programmes imposed by EU governments, to pay for the bankers gambling debts. Discontent has been manifest in the Podemos movement in Spain, the Five Star movement in Italy, the election of nationalist governments in Poland and Hungary, the rise of the far right AfD in Germany and the vote to leave the EU in the UK.
That the austerity programme has coincided with a migration crisis, as refugees flee NATO led interventions in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Syria, has added to the self-inflicted pressures face by European governments.
As a political project the EU has been a spent force, dissociated from the interests of the peoples of Europe, for some time. The acceleration of the protests in France may be the start of the final act in the EU’s demise. If that is the case, the debate over Brexit in the UK will pale into the background as the EU is plunged into existential crisis.
There are alternatives. The French Communist Party (PCF) for example has a programme for a people’s Europe stating,
“Today, everything is done to make us believe that we should make a choice between an increasingly liberal European integration or nationalist disintegration. In France for example, Emmanuel Macron tries to reduce the political debate of the European elections between “pro” and “anti” EU. But there is an alternative: that of a Europe of peoples and nations, free sovereigns and associates, turned towards social and ecological development. The communist project is that of a break with the current EU and a refoundation of its objectives, missions and institutions. In other words, a Europe of the Human first and no longer of finance.”
It may not be fully formed in every detail but such an objective would certainly be a start and give the peoples of Europe some hope that, whatever institutions were established to coordinate real solidarity across the continent, they would be ones which would be working for them, not against them.
26th November 2018
Jeremy Corbyn outlines a Labour Brexit at the CBI last week
UK Prime Minister, Theresa May, follows her party conference Dancing Queen embarrassment with another Abba themed pitch today, as she appeals to the British public and the House of Commons to take a chance on me. The Brexit deal negotiated over the last two years with the EU is, May tells us, the best possible deal. It is a rare moment of concurrence with President of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, also desperate to get a deal concluded, who has made it clear that this is the only deal on the table.
It took leaders of the EU 27 states less than an hour to sign off on the deal and the mood music suggests that there is little if any room for manoeuvre as far as the rest of Europe is concerned. For May, in a premiership which has been defined entirely by Brexit, it is a case of this deal or no deal at all. She clearly sees the endgame in terms of her time as both PM and Tory Party leader and has decided that she will stand or fall on the ground she has marked out.
The deal will go before the House of Commons this side of Xmas. All of the politics and Parliamentary arithmetic at the moment suggests that it will not be passed. The fascist bully boys of the DUP, whom May has leaned upon to prop up her government, have branded the deal “pitiful and pathetic”. They are unhappy about Northern Ireland being treated differently from the rest of the UK due to its land border with the Republic of Ireland but are essentially scared that the deal opens the way to a United Ireland by the back door.
May herself has vowed to defend the fiction of the so called United Kingdom, a defence of the historic partition of Ireland, but the DUP do not regard this as enough assurance. The pro-Brexit European Reform Group, led by the anti-charismatic Jacob Rees-Mogg, are equally concerned by the defence of the union issue, as well as the timescale on any transition period, and would rather see a no deal scenario with the UK reverting to World Trade Organisation (WTO) rules than a deal which gave the EU any say beyond 29th March 2019.
The much vaunted challenge to May, which Rees-Mogg and his plotters have trailed for months has still failed to materialise, betraying either a lack of nerve or a lack of numbers in their ranks. While it seems likely that they could muster the 48 ‘letters’ needed to trigger a leadership contest, the 150+ votes needed to oust May seem less likely to be forthcoming. Without a clear leader, who could command majority support even amongst Tories, the pro Brexit faction are worried about handing the keys of No 10 to Jeremy Corbyn.
In his speech to the CBI recently, Corbyn set out the key elements of what he has described as Labour’s “sensible” approach to the Brexit issue.
Instead of the temporary customs arrangement May has signed up to as a backstop, to prevent a hard border in Ireland, Corbyn has underlined Labour’s backing for a permanent customs union.
Corbyn has been quite emphatic that,
“This is a bad deal for the country. It is the result of a miserable failure of negotiation that leaves us with the worst of all worlds. It gives us less say over our future, and puts jobs and living standards at risk.
“That is why Labour will oppose this deal in parliament. We will work with others to block a no deal outcome, and ensure that Labour’s alternative plan for a sensible deal to bring the country together is on the table.”
Corbyn has also stressed the need for workers’ rights and environmental standards to be protected to prevent a “race to the bottom”, a live issue given that EU membership has seen a proliferation of low paid jobs and zero hours contracts across the UK.
Corbyn has also called for “a strong single market relationship that allows British business continued access to European markets for both goods and services – while also ensuring we have the powers to support our public services and industry and transform the economy in all our regions and nations.”
With the Commons vote now confirmed for 11th December the ground is likely to move quickly. Support for Brexit within Labour’s ranks is by no means solid, with a cohort led by Chuka Umunna seeking to press for a second referendum, rather than accepting the result of the first. A lack of discipline in Labour ranks could certainly complicate the Parliamentary arithmetic in the short term and even jeopardise the chances of a Labour government being elected.
There are those in Labour ranks who would rather see a pro Remain Tory government than a pro Brexit Labour, such is their lack of class awareness. Now is the time for Labour to hold firm to its present position, defeat the shambles which is the May government, then from a position of strength in government, negotiate a Brexit deal which works for the people of Britain, not just its banks and corporations.
18th November 2018
Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel is greeted at the airport by Cuban Ambassador HE Teresita Vicente
“The Cuba Solidarity Campaign is proud to have worked with the Cuban Embassy to support this historic visit by the Cuban president to Britain. We hope it will foster increased understanding, exchanges and trade between our two islands, especially at a time when the United States is tightening its blockade of Cuba and trying to isolate the island from the international community.”
Miguel Díaz-Canel, President of the Republic of Cuba, arrived in London on 12 November on a transit visit, following his first tour of European and Asian countries.
During this historic visit – the first by a Cuban President to Britain since the Revolution – the president was accompanied by a delegation of ministers from the Council of State including Deputy President Ricardo Cabrisas, Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez, and Deputy Foreign Minister Rogelio Sierra.
During his brief stay he had a packed schedule holding meetings with Phillip Hammond MP, Chancellor of the Exchequer, Jeremy Corbyn MP, Leader of the Labour Party, members of the British business community involved in the Cuba Initiative, the Caribbean Council, and a meeting in the House of Lords with peers representing arts and culture. Additionally, the Deputy President, Ricardo Cabrisas, held a meeting with Dr Liam Fox MP, Secretary of State for International Trade.
On Tuesday 13 November, the president and members of the delegation attended a welcome reception in the House of Lords, jointly hosted by Baroness Angela Smith and the Cuba Solidarity Campaign. Many members of parliament attended including Karen Lee MP, Chair of the APPG on Cuba, and Mark Menzies MP, Chair of the APPG on Latin America and leader of the recent IPU delegation to the island.
Addressing the meeting, the Cuban President said the was struck by the warmth of his welcome: “that in a place that is so far away from Cuba, we can find so much warmth affection and love, that it seems like we have know each other for a very long time. And for that I want to thank you very much.”
He described the trip as being “very significant” for Cuba. Originally the trip was supposed to be just a transit stop over, but the British government had made it possible to have high level meetings.
“We’ve come to London to ratify and confirm to the British government our political will, our intent and our endeavours to continue expanding our relations,” he said. “Particularly we should recognise that the current state of our relations are good and our economic and trading relations are expanding. We have expressed that we have come to tell the British business community and financial institutions that we want them to be present in Cuba, not only as investors but also supporting and providing finance to the various projects that we are developing in our country.”
Díaz-Canel said that Cuba was especially interested in exchanges in areas such as energy, since Cuba had set out the goal of having at least 24 per cent renewable energy by 2030, as well as tourism, agriculture, telecommunications and biotechnology.
The President spoke of the huge impact that the blockade has on Cuba’s development and ability to trade. “Every time we make progress, then the blockade comes in with its extraterritorial tentacles. And one may wonder – how it is possible that we let another country make decisions on our behalf?
“It’s not just about the United States wanting to impose a blockade on Cuba, but the United States also wants the rest of the world to follow their lead and blockade Cuba as well.
“And the blockade has been tightened under the Trump administration – financial persecution against Cuba has been intensified.
“This is a struggle that we have to face together,” he said. “The British government has expressed that it does not support the blockade”.
Speaking at a solidarity reception later in the evening hosted by the Cuban Ambassador HE Teresita Vicente and the Cuba Solidarity Campaign, President Díaz-Canel promised representatives of the solidarity movement, trade union leaders, MPs and Cubans resident in the UK that Cuba would: “uphold and remain committed to that legacy of respect, friendship, and affection. I only ask something that we will share among us in spite of the adversities, in spite of pressures, in spite of anyone’s wishes to oppose and interfere. Among all of us, united and together, we shall overcome all obstacles, interference, and stumbling blocks and the triumph will be the best of us that will emerge from all of us together, which is friendship, solidarity and cooperation.”
The President thanked CSC Director Rob Miller, the Cuba Solidarity Campaign and the British trade union movement for its campaigning on the blockade and the freedom of the Miami Five over many years. Cuban television channel Canal Caribe filmed the reception and interviewed Natasha Hickman, CSC Communications Manager and guests.
On Wednesday 14 November, the Marx Memorial Library organised for him and the Cuban delegation to visit Karl Marx’s tomb in Highgate Cemetery, north London, where the President paid his respects and presented flowers from the delegation.
The visit of President Miguel Díaz-Canel comes on the back of increasing exchanges and bilateral agreements between Britain and Cuba. Almost 200,000 British tourists visited Cuba in 2017. In September, MPs and Lords were part of an exchange visit to Cuba organised by the Inter Parliamentary Union, following the November 2017 visit of a group of Cuban parliamentarians to the UK.
Recent ministerial exchanges include the visit to Britain of Ana Teresita Gonzalez, Cuban vice minister of Foreign Affairs in September 2018, and the first visit to Cuba by a Foreign Secretary in 2016 when Phiilip Hammond visited. In addition to senior level bilateral contacts, agreements in banking, renewable energy technology, and biotech have recently been signed.
Internationally, Britain has continued to vote against the United State’s blockade of Cuba at the United Nations. On 1 November 2018, the UK joined 188 other countries in voting in support of Cuba’s resolution calling for the US to end its 58 year old blockade of the island.
The US blockade of Cuba has cost the island $933 billion dollars since its imposition in 1962. It hinders the development of the Cuban economy and causes shortages and suffering to the Cuban people. The extraterritorial impact of the blockade has seen British banks fined by the US Treasury department for financial transactions involving Cuba, and recently resulted in the Open University barring a Cuban student from studying at the institution – a move overturned as the result of lobbying by the Cuba Solidarity Campaign.
The Cuba Solidarity Campaign is proud to have worked with the Cuban Embassy to support this historic visit by the Cuban president to Britain. We hope it will foster increased understanding, exchanges and trade between our two islands, especially at a time when the United States is tightening its blockade of Cuba and trying to isolate the island from the international community.
Cuba Solidarity Campaign c/o Unite, 33-37 Moreland Street, London EC1V 8BB, UK
Telephone: +44 (0)20 7490 5715 | Fax: +44 (0)20 7490 3556 | Email | http://www.cuba-solidarity.org.uk
10th November 2018
The commemoration of the centenary of the Armistice, following the cessation of hostilities in World War One, will dominate the news this weekend. The focus will be on the personal stories, the human interest angles, the tragic loss of life, all of which must be remembered and marked. There are civic and political occasions across Europe, which will be the opportunity for the current leaders of European nations to come together.
Activities to mark various centenary events across the whole period of the war have been going on for the past four years. In spite of this the public would be hard pressed to find the real causes and underlying consequences of a conflagration which took millions of military and civilian lives and devastated thousands more across the world. They would be even more hard pressed to find any acknowledgement of the crucial role of the Russian Revolution, not only in taking Russia out of the war but initiating the world’s first socialist state.
The attempt to bury the truth in talk of heroism and glory is not new but, in the period between the first and second world wars, there was at least some clarity of analysis within the ranks of the Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB) in the form of R. Palme Dutt, particularly in his work World Politics 1918-1936 (Victor Gollancz Ltd 1936).
Palme Dutt in his chapter which considers the outcomes of the war is quite clear,
“The first fact to recognise about the eighteen years since the Armistice is that none of the world problems set by history since 1914 has been solved, many have intensified, and many new ones have been added, while the greater part of the “settlements” which followed the war have either broken down or are in the process of breaking down.”
Palme Dutt, in assessing the world situation in 1914, outlines the growing conflicts between the imperialist powers which had plundered the world throughout the nineteenth century and were now at a point where the division of the spoils could only be addressed by conflict. Most of the globe having been ‘conquered’ the only way in which to expand was to take from another competing capitalist power.
Capitalist concentration continually requires new markets and a rapidly developing Germany needed room to expand. British colonialism dominated the globe but this also made it more vulnerable to the rapidly emerging German imperial ambitions. New markets inevitably meant expanding into British markets and the British would not give up hard won imperial gains without a fight.
While war in Europe raged the real emerging power in the world, the United States of America, stood to one side, confident that its financial and corporate interests in Europe would be defended by the alliance of Britain, France and Russia in opposition to German advances.
The Russian Revolution, set in train in March 1917, marked the point at which US intervention in the war became essential to prop up the Allies and head off a potential German victory. As Palme Dutt states,
“The numerical and material superiority of the Allies through the accession of America, which finally secured them the victory, was itself the reflection of the revolution. It was the Russian Revolution of March 1917, with the consequent inevitable prospect of Russian withdrawal form the war and menace of Allied collapse, which was the decisive motive cause behind the American entry into the war, within four weeks of the Russian Revolution, to safeguard its interests already heavily mortgaged on the side of the Allies.”
The punitive reparations imposed upon Germany in the Treaty of Versailles in 1919 did not resolve the issues which led to war in 1914 and effectively laid the basis for the rise of Fascism in Germany and Italy. The seeds of World War Two were planted the moment that the first war was over. As Palme Dutt states,
“The treaties of spoliation which followed the war laid the seeds of future war. At the same time new conflicts in the extra-European sphere came to the forefront. In consequence, within two decades of the war of 1914 the issue of the re-division of the world had arisen anew in still sharper form.”
The issues present in 1914 and which led to further global conflict in 1939 remain unresolved. While the world balance of forces ushered in with the Russian Revolution may have changed once again, with the defeat of the Soviet Union, the capitalist class is no more able to agree amongst itself now than it was then. Tensions within the European Union are one expression of this, with secessionist tendencies likely to grow as the right wing gains more power in the existing bloc.
The United States continues to pursue an undeclared war against Iran while exercising its regional neo-colonial muscle to prevent progress in Latin America. A US / China trade war is shaping up to threaten what little stability there is in the world economy. Interventions in Afghanistan, Libya, Iraq and Syria have not succeeded in stabilising the influence of Western imperialism in the Middle East. Post Soviet Russia has its own emerging ambitions to regain some semblance of superpower status.
Palme Dutt’s words in 1936, preceding the Second World War, could equally be applied today,
“…the issue of the new division of the world is now definitely in the forefront, alike in respect of colonial territories, of the revision of frontiers in Europe, and of the distribution of power between the main States; war has already begun, not yet on a world scale, but on a regional scale, involving world issues….”
The centenary commemorations this weekend will not be reflecting upon the words of Palme Dutt, or the many others who have warned that capitalism cannot resolve its issues of greater accumulation and competition without conflict. We could do a lot worse than go back to those words now. Better still we could act upon them.