Editorial: The Brexit battles still to come

In the end Boris Johnson’s Brexit ‘do or die’ bluster was just that. Rather than be blamed for a no-deal crash-out on 31 October, after MPs voted on ‘super Saturday’ not to approve his withdrawal treaty until it had completed its legislative journey – and be open, therefore, to amendment – Johnson sullenly applied to the European Union for an extension to the Brexit deadline.

And so, at the time of writing (October 22), all possible outcomes to the protracted negotiations to agree a withdrawal treaty between Britain and the remaining EU27 member states are still in play. This was supposed to be the easy part of Brexit, before talks begin on the future relationship including a trade deal.

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UN sounds global economy alarm

A comprehensive report published in September by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) provides a devastating evaluation of the current state of world capitalism. The 174 pages are infused with pessimism about whether the UN’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Goals, agreed in 2015 by the 193 member states represented in the General Assembly, can be reached. At the same time, the authors appeal to governments and private investors in ever more desperate passages to take the urgent and necessary steps to coordinate their actions around delivering a global green new deal.

The analysis is accompanied by mountains of statistics that strip bare the illusion that capitalism has learned fundamental lessons from the causes that triggered the great recession of 2007-08. Nevertheless, it abstains from any overt disapproval of the reckless geopolitical and economic policies currently pursued by capitalist governments.

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Can Labour take on big pharma?

At this year’s Labour Party conference Jeremy Corbyn launched a new policy document on the pharmaceutical industry. He gave the example of nine year-old Luis Walker, who has cystic fibrosis but has been “denied the medicine he needs because its American manufacturer refuses to sell the drug to the NHS for an affordable price”. He went on to say that many others were being “denied lifesaving medicines by a system that puts profits for shareholders before lives”. In the case of cystic fibrosis, the company that holds the patent, Vertex, is asking for £105,000 per patient a year and rejected the NHS’s offer of half-a-billion pounds over five years.

Labour’s document – Medicines for the Many: Public Health before Private Profit – is a devastating critique of the industry, as well as the current policies on research and development. The government ploughs billions into R&D, benefitting hugely profitable companies, yet pays out billions more to buy the medicines developed from that research.

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The collapse of Stalinism and its consequences

When the Berlin wall was dismantled in 1989 capitalism declared itself victorious. The collapse of Stalinism was used in a global ideological offensive against socialism, which was unjustly equated with that dictatorial, bureaucratic system, to drive through brutal, neo-liberal capitalist policies worldwide. In an abridged version of the introduction to the 2009 special anniversary edition of Socialism Today on the fall of the wall, PETER TAAFFE looks back at 1989 and its consequences.

On the anniversary of 1989 the ideologues, politicians and media of world capitalism wish to reinforce in popular consciousness that the events of that tumultuous year signified just one thing: the ‘final defeat’ of Marxism, ‘communism’ and socialism itself, buried forever under the rubble of the Berlin wall. This also meant the final victory of capitalism, which ‘ended history’ according to Francis Fukuyama, and established this system as the only possible model for organising production and running society.

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Lessons in teaching equality

School equalities teaching including material on LGBTQ+ relationships has been a catalyst for parent protests in an impoverished working-class and predominantly Muslim area of Birmingham – seized on by the government, Christian and Islamic fundamentalists and others for opportunistic ends. It raises an important issue: how to involve marginalised, discriminated against communities in a programme that includes gender and sexuality equality alongside tackling widespread poverty and deprivation. MARTIN POWELL-DAVIES writes.

After over a decade of intensified attacks on workers’ living standards, and without the labour movement organising decisively to oppose them, it is almost inevitable that the growing anger and alienation within working-class communities can be misdirected towards chauvinism and division. It is the task of socialists, without ever conceding to discriminatory views, to find a way to overcome those divisions and help bring workers together in the united struggle needed to solve the problems we face.

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Setting the stage for Egypt’s uprising

One of the largest strike waves in Middle East history swept across Egypt in the years before the mighty demonstrations that erupted in Tahrir Square in January 2011, part of the ‘Arab spring’. As a new mood of protest begins to develop, DAVID JOHNSON reviews two timely books outlining how the confidence to resist vicious security forces had grown from those earlier workers’ movements – and had weakened the regime.

Contesting Authoritarianism: labor challenges to the state of Egypt

By Dina Bishara

Published by Cambridge University Press, 2018, £21.99

Trade Unions and Arab Revolutions: challenging the regime in Egypt

By Heba F El-Shazli

Published by Routledge, 2019, £115

How did Egypt’s workers break the shackles of state, management and corrupt trade union leaders? How did independent unions emerge in some areas while other workers stayed in state-run organisations? These are vital questions for workers in many parts of the world with similar restrictions on the right to organise – not least in Egypt itself. Gains briefly won after the 2011 uprising were snatched back, particularly by the Muslim Brotherhood’s President Mohammed Morsi and current President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi’s dictatorial regime.

Both books, written by Egypt-born academics now based in American universities, examine these questions. They contain much valuable information, drawing on published material and interviewing participants in key strikes and in the formation of independent trade unions. The interviews were mostly conducted between 2011 and 2013, prior to al-Sisi stamping down on the movement.

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More tales from Gilead but few answers

The Testaments

By Margaret Atwood

Published by Chatto & Windus, 2019, £20

Reviewed by Helen Pattison

The Testaments won’t disappoint Margaret Atwood fans, who were left with a cliff-hanger at the end of The Handmaid’s Tale. Loose ends are tied up and we get a deeper look at some character backgrounds, such as Aunt Lydia’s.

The Handmaid’s Tale was originally published in the 1980s and outlined a dystopian future, the growth of an authoritarian regime. Wide ranging attacks are imposed on women, essentially making them second-class citizens in the new society called Gilead, in present-day USA, leaving them unable to have bank accounts, or learn to read or write. A falling birth rate also sees the creation of handmaids, an extremely oppressed section of women forced through rape to help the infertile elite have children.

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Letter & reply: Eve went to the magistrates’ court

I’ve just read Sarah Sachs-Eldridge’s excellent review of Helena Kennedy’s book, Eve Was Shamed (Socialism Today No.231, September 2019).

It begins with the denial of justice for women who experience violence. Then it considers the jail sentencing of women: “The most common offence by women is shop-lifting… 84% of inmates are there for non-violent offences. There has been a big increase in the jailing of women for non-payment of the TV licence. In 2015, 76% of women in jail had sentences of less than a year”.

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Editorial: Stand firm against the pro-capitalist politicians

Socialism Today No232 October 2019Have the September shenanigans in Westminster fatally undermined the chances of a Corbyn-led government being elected this autumn? And, as pertinently, what do they say about the character of such a government if it were to come to power in the midst of the political crisis and looming economic turbulence now confronting British capitalism?

Jeremy Corbyn’s first concession as Labour leader to the pro-capitalist Blairites who dominate the Parliamentary Labour Party was to agree, within days of his victory in 2015, that he would support a remain vote in all circumstances in the then forthcoming EU referendum. While a referendum, reducing issues to a simple government-set binary choice, is not an ideal terrain for the workers’ movement to fight for its collective interests, it could still have been an opportunity to give a working-class lead to the cry of rage at the capitalist establishment and its austerity agenda which the 2016 vote for leave at root represented.

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Building a new left in PCS

On 12 December the ballot will close for the general secretary election of the civil servants’ union, PCS. For almost two decades the union had been led by the left. Crucial to maintaining that position has been the role of the ‘broad left’ organisation, Left Unity. In this election, however, there are two candidates who are members of Left Unity: the current general secretary, Mark Serwotka, and Socialist Party member, Marion Lloyd.

This reflects a move to the right at the top of PCS and a resulting change in the character of Left Unity. Prior to the election of Mark Serwotka in 2000, PCS and its forerunner CPSA were led by an extreme right-wing leadership with links to the security services. Enormous positive changes took place after the left took control, with the Socialist Party playing a key role. A democratic lay-led culture and a leadership determined to fight in its members’ interests became the hallmarks of PCS.

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