New START – new hope for peace?

The Biden administration’s January 26 joint agreement with Russian president Vladimir Putin to sign ‘New START’, a five year extension to the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, was greeted with some relief.

After the US withdrawal from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty in 2002 and the Intermediate Nuclear Forces Treaty in 2019, START was the only remaining international agreement limiting the number of nuclear weapons Russia and the US have, in this case to 1,550 each.

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Scotland and the national question today

The coming Scottish parliament elections are poised to open up a new crisis for the Johnson government, with the break-up of the United Kingdom a possible ultimate outcome. In edited extracts from the opening chapter of a recent new book from Socialist Party Scotland, PHILIP STOTT explains the Marxist position on Scotland and the national question today.

Forty years of increased capitalist ‘globalisation’ has delivered two of the most devastating economic crises in world history. The 2007-08 world financial collapse and the subsequent decade of austerity has now been followed by the Covid catastrophe.

These world changing events have underlined the utter incapacity of capitalism to repair the decaying edifice of their system. The increased economic stagnation and soaring levels of inequality – seared into the DNA of capitalism – has brought untold misery for the global working class and the poor.

The reaction to this will, on the one hand, provoke mass struggles and even uprisings of the masses that will shake the bourgeoisie and threaten their rule. Not least will this be the case around issues of national, ethnic and religious oppression. The struggle for basic national democratic rights is likely to reach untold levels of intensity in the years ahead.

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Trouble on the High Street

Retail has felt the full impact of the Covid pandemic but the resulting heightened struggle between different capitalist interests within the sector, and between big business and retail workers, reflects longer-term trends. IAIN DALTON reviews a new book on the retail industry.

Retail Therapy: Why the Retail Industry is Broken

By Mark Pilkington

Bloomsbury Business, 2020, £12-99

The past few years have seen carnage in the UK retail industry. After annual shop closures had grown by a thousand or so for the past few years, the outbreak of the Covid pandemic saw 11,120 chain store outlets closing between January and June 2020.

The US, the other epicentre of the current crisis in retailing, has faced a similar landslide of store closures and job losses. One particular feature is the widespread closures of shopping malls, which had been perhaps the most iconic symbol of American consumerism. Pilkington cites figures of 454 malls in the US which have closed or gone into serious decline, a significant proportion of the around 1,500 malls built between 1956 and 2005. He also cites Credit Suisse who suggest that only around 250 will still thrive in coming years.

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Global Warning: Not adapting, won’t survive

The United Nations Adaption Gap Report 2020 investigates the world’s increasing vulnerability to climate change disasters and measures how countries are adapting to mitigate them – the gap between what is needed, and what has been achieved. It concludes that progress is insufficient and that the necessary money has not been forthcoming. The gap is widening.

The warnings are stark: “2020 was not only the year of the pandemic, it was also the year of intensifying climate impacts”, the report says. “Floods, droughts and storms affected over 50 million people. Wildfires devastated forests and communities. Plagues of locusts devoured vital crops in East Africa”.

“We have not heeded these warnings. Based on current pledges under the Paris Agreement, the world is heading for at least a 3°C temperature rise this century. If this happens, 2020 will seem like a walk in the park”.

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The War on the Uighurs

The War on the Uighurs: China’s campaign against Xinjiang’s Muslims

By Sean R Roberts

Published by Manchester University Press, 2020, £20

Reviewed by Clare Doyle

The struggle against oppression by the Muslim Uighurs of Xinjiang, China’s westernmost province, is nothing new. Their homeland has been fought over for centuries and the particular suppression of national rights by Han Chinese regimes long predates the present regime in Beijing. Nor have governments outside China been unaware of the vicious persecution of Uighurs and other minorities in China or the denial of basic trade union and democratic rights across the vast, rapidly industrialising country for that matter. But for some time these inconvenient truths were swept under the carpet during negotiations over trade deals that benefitted the money-makers on both sides of the table.

Now, in a climate of increasing enmity between China and its competitor rivals, once again the questions of oppression and democratic rights in China are being highlighted. The plight of the eleven million Uighurs in Xinjiang, along with that of the three million plus ‘imprisoned’ Tibetans, have been raised more than once at international gatherings of United Nations bodies taking up human rights issues. But nothing much will come from this. The big power rivals use the UN and other such bodies as platforms to attempt to give a ‘democratic’ cover to their actions or to hypocritically attack each other. It does not mean that the accusations are always false, but that often it is a case of the pot calling the kettle black.

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Project or Party?

Jeremy Corbyn, just a year ago the left Labour leader and now suspended from sitting as a Labour MP, has launched a new Peace and Justice Project. HANNAH SELL analyses what it represents and whether it matches up to the tasks facing the workers’ movement.

Around 10,000 people attended the online launch of Jeremy Corbyn’s Project for Peace and Justice on January 17. Speakers – in addition to Jeremy Corbyn – included Len McCluskey, general secretary of the Unite trade union, Labour peer Christine Blower, and Yanis Varoufakis, the former finance minister of the Syriza government in Greece.

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Global Warning: How green is Joe Biden?

Each refinement of climate science demands more urgent action than the last if we are to prevent complete climate catastrophe. Reductions in net emissions must be made rapidly and on a global scale. However, the policies of individual governments can still make a big difference, especially in a country like the USA. As the producer of over 13% of global CO2 emissions it is the world’s second largest polluter after China, producing almost twice as much CO2 per person. As the most powerful imperialist nation on the planet the approach the US government takes can have enormous influence beyond its own borders. No wonder then, that after four years under the presidency of climate sceptic Donald Trump, there is a desperate hope that Joe Biden will usher in a radical change of direction for US environmental policy.

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A tragically missed opportunity

Peter Taaffe reviews the recent book by Owen Jones, which provides an insider’s account of Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership of the Labour Party.

This Land – The Story of a Movement

By Owen Jones

Published by Allen Lane, 2020, £20

This is an important account of the rise and fall of Jeremy Corbyn, his army of supporters, and his colossal effect on the labour movement. Coming from an ‘insider’ within the Corbyn movement itself makes it especially interesting. It supplies important information not only about how the Corbyn movement developed, particularly at the top, but also how it subsequently disintegrated in the teeth of remorseless opposition from the right within the Labour Party.

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A pioneer socialist feminist

CHRISTINE THOMAS reviews a new biography of Sylvia Pankhurst, a major figure in the working class movement of the first decades of twentieth century Britain.

Sylvia Pankhurst: Natural Born Rebel

By Rachel Holmes

Published by Bloomsbury, 2020, £35

Rachel Holmes, author of Eleanor Marx: A Life (reviewed in Socialism Today No.186, March 2015) has once again chosen a subject she clearly finds sympathetic in her recent, extensive, biography of Sylvia Pankhurst. In fact, she immediately makes the link between the two female protagonists, crediting Eleanor Marx with having a formative influence on the 13 year-old Sylvia Pankhurst, who heard her speak in Manchester in 1896. Sylvia is portrayed as a principled, determined and brave fighter. A woman born into a middle-class family prepared to stand up for and put herself on the standpoint of the working class. A feminist, anti-racist, anti-imperialist and, for a brief period, revolutionary communist, who sacrificed her obvious talent as an artist and finally broke with her own family to fight for the causes she believed in.

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The road to the 2011 Egyptian revolution

DAVID JOHNSON writes on the tenth anniversary of the Egyptian revolution, a movement that reverberated across the world.

Ten years ago a mighty uprising of Egyptian workers and youth ousted President Hosni Mubarak’s brutally dictatorial regime. Starting on 25 January 2011, increasing numbers turned out in city squares and then struck in factories, defying tear gas, bird shot and bullets. After 31 years, power slipped from Mubarak’s grip during eighteen days as the masses grew in strength and confidence.

Yet today, Egyptian workers and youth face even worse conditions than under Mubarak. Living standards, unemployment, housing, education and health have not improved. Rights to organise and fight for better lives, to protest and even to speak or write about these are severely repressed. Mubarak’s methods of imprisonment and torture are now even more widespread.

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