February 2003 revisited

The mass anti-war demonstrations that took place twenty years ago this month, with an estimated 30 million people marching in over 600 cities across the globe on 15 February 2003, marked a turning point in the development of broad political consciousness in the era that had begun with the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989.
The collapse of the Stalinist dictatorships of Russia and Eastern Europe which that event symbolised, opened up a new period of capitalist triumphalism in which US imperialism dominated the world as the only superpower. For the next decade, under the banner of ‘globalisation’ and the untrammelled operation of the ‘free market’, US corporations set the agenda for the world economy, their interests implicitly underwritten by Washington’s military preponderance.
The aura of mighty US imperialism was undermined however by the ‘low-tech’ al-Qaeda attacks of 9/11, horrific terrorist atrocities with no prospect of unseating the US ruling class but nonetheless the first assault on the American mainland since 1846 and with more fatalities than at Pearl Harbour in 1941. Determined to re-assert US prestige, president George W Bush launched an invasion of Afghanistan – where the al-Qaeda leadership had sheltered – and, having quickly overthrown the Taliban by December 2001, then turned his attention to Iraq.
Read more

Global Warning: After the COP circus has gone

World media attention briefly shone on Egypt while it hosted COP27 in November 2022. Since then, less has been said about the continuing daily struggles facing workers and youth. Falling living standards, failing public services and brutal repression are the prospects for 2023, as throughout 2022.

Egypt’s economy had not recovered from the Covid pandemic when the Russia Ukraine war exploded. Around 82% of its wheat was imported from these two countries. The Egyptian pound’s falling value increased the cost of imports. Food and drink prices were up 31% in the year to November. Choosing between pricier bread or higher government spending to keep the subsidised price stable for 70% of the population, the government held the subsidised price – but cut the weight of a loaf from 110 to 90 grams. Workers and the poor are reducing the amount of food they eat and buy for their families and often looking for extra work.

Foreign debt reached record levels of nearly $158 billion last March. Government debt (already high) increased further, forcing it to look for new loans. The finance minister reported a $16 billion funding gap over the next four years and negotiated with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for a $16 billion loan – its fourth since 2016. After six months of negotiations, Egypt only got $3 billion. The conditions for a higher sum proved unacceptable.

Read more

Corporate greed, deregulation, and state neglect

Show Me The Bodies: how we let Grenfell happen

By Peter Apps, One World, 2022, £10.99

Reviewed by Paul Kershaw

This important book starts with a description of a council block where a faulty electrical appliance set fire to panels recently installed on the external walls, turning what should have been a minor incident into a tragedy. Mothers and children, staying put in their homes on the advice of the fire brigade, died. I thought he was describing Grenfell. But in fact, this is Lakanal House in Southwark. The lessons of this 2009 fire were not learned.

The title ‘Show me the bodies’ comes from the response of Brian Martin, the civil servant responsible for fire safety guidance at the privatised national research laboratory, the BRE. Six people died at Lakanal, and it was just one of a series of fires. But not enough bodies apparently to justify tightening regulations.

Read more

Exploiting suffering with drug lies

Empire of Pain: The secret history of the Sackler dynasty

By Patrick Radden Keefe, Picador/Doubleday, 2022, £10-99

Reviewed by Niall Mulholland

Visitors to museums and educational establishments such as the V&A Museum in London and Oxford University will be acquainted with the name of Sackler. This is the billionaire family from the United States which for decades has funded many aspects of these institutions and other world-renowned galleries and universities like the Louvre, Yale, and Harvard. Less well-known until recent years of revelations is that the Sacklers’ great wealth comes from the suffering of many people, particularly the poor.

An estimated half-a-million Americans have died from opioid-related overdoses since 1999, and millions more have become addicted. The Sackler family, through their company Purdue Pharma, made a painkiller drug in the 1990s called OxyContin, which is twice as powerful as morphine. They sold it as a slow-release drug and claimed that it was less addictive than other opiates. Scandalously, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved OxyContin without testing the company’s claims. This created the conditions for an opioid epidemic in the United States and elsewhere. Not only was the drug addictive for many users, addicts soon discovered that by crushing the OxyContin pills they could ingest them much faster and get an immediate high.

Read more

For those written out of official history

Chris Killip’s working-class photography exhibition

The Photographers’ Gallery, 16-18 Ramilles Street, London W1F 7LW, to 19 February.

£8 admission, £5 concessions, £6.50/£4 online advance booking, every Friday free from 5pm.

This exhibition will also be at the Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art, Gateshead, from 20 May.

Reviewed by Dave Beale

Work and the lack of it impose a hard and bitter toll on working-class communities. This was particularly so in the era of Margaret Thatcher, and it’s these years and these communities that the photographs of Chris Killip capture with such power and impact. A new exhibition and book celebrate his work.

Shot in black and white, mostly with medium and large-format film cameras, Killip’s photographs couldn’t be more relevant in the context of today’s cost-of-living and economic crisis.

Read more

Editorial: Shambles at Sharm el-Sheikh

In an interview with The Guardian newspaper in the run-up to the twenty-seventh Conference of the Parties to the UN climate convention (COP27) – held in the Egyptian resort of Sharm el-Sheikh from November 6-20 – the USA’s climate envoy John Kerry lamented how climate negotiations over the past year between China and the US, the world’s two largest economies and responsible for around 40% of global carbon emissions, had been interrupted “due to events that are nothing to do with climate”. (26 October)

“I personally vehemently disagree with that” said Kerry, who was the US Democratic Party’s presidential candidate against George W Bush in 2004. “Climate is a universal issue, a universal threat. Without political ideology, without political party. It does not represent global competition. It represents a global threat to the world”.

The twelve months since the last COP summit in Glasgow have seen double digit global inflation for the first time in nearly 40 years and the prospect of a world economic slowdown or recession.

There has been the Russian invasion of Ukraine in which, for the first time since the end of the cold war 30 years ago, a significant world power with nuclear weapons is attempting to impose by force of arms its own capitalist economic, territorial and strategic interests against another capitalist nation state militarily supplied by the US.

Read more

The long demise of the Tory Party

As the Tory government limps on, under the rule of the fifth Tory prime minister in six years, HANNAH SELL analyses the economic and social roots of the Conservative Party’s long decline.

Over recent months the Tory Party has teetered on the brink of collapse. First Boris Johnson was ousted as prime minister amidst an avalanche of scandals. His replacement, Liz Truss, lasted just 45 days, making her the shortest-ever serving prime minister.

Then, over the weekend following her resignation, with the Tories at an all-time low of 14% in opinion polls, it appeared that Johnson was going to make a comeback. He claimed he had the 102 nominations from Tory MPs needed to appear on the ballot paper. Had his name been on the ballot of Tory Party members, it was overwhelmingly likely he would have re-won the leadership. He could not, however, have governed the parliamentary Tory Party, which would have finally imploded. Just one indication of this was the widespread reports of Tory MPs threatening to defect to Labour had Johnson been re-elected.

In the end Johnson didn’t stand, possibly because he didn’t get the nominations necessary, or because he didn’t want to lose the gargantuan fees he is making on the celebrity speaker circuit. He may well also have had an eye to a future return at a more propitious moment and did not wish to bear the tag of ‘loser’, as he might have been in the vote among Tory MPs, and almost certainly at the next general election. What is certain, though, is that he came under huge pressure from large sections of the capitalist class not to act so irresponsibly and finally destroy what was once the most successful capitalist party on the planet.

Read more

Is Enough is Enough enough?

The Socialist Party’s annual Socialism weekend in November included a session on the cost-of-living Enough is Enough! campaign launched this summer. Published below is an edited version of the contribution to the discussion made by CLIVE HEEMSKERK, a Socialist Party executive committee member and the national election agent of the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC).

When the agenda was being discussed for this year’s Socialism event the answer to the question posed in the title of this session – ‘Is Enough is Enough enough?’ – was potentially more open than it is today.

The national strike action, in particular that on the railways by the RMT transport workers’ union which began in June – followed by the national strikes by the Communications Workers Union (CWU) in BT and Royal Mail in July and August – touched the consciousness of millions of workers, in Britain and also internationally.

The capitalist establishment politicians and their media, led by the ‘state-affiliated’ broadcaster the BBC, didn’t know how to deal with the biggest strikes by the RMT since the union’s formation in 1990. They veered from questioning how ‘impactful’ they were, often reporting from an empty station platform as they did so, to implying that ‘selfish’ union members were ‘holding the country to ransom’.

Read more

The social and the national struggle are one

Faced with the UK Supreme Court ruling against a referendum organised by the Scottish parliament, and a new round of ‘eye-watering’ austerity unresisted by the Scottish National Party and Green Party government in Holyrood, the struggle for Scottish independence can only succeed as a mass movement against capitalism and its consequences, argues PHILIP STOTT.

The Scottish government’s latest policy paper in the ‘Building a New Scotland’ series was unveiled in October. Titled A Stronger Economy with Independence, the policy paper was signed off by the Scottish National Party (SNP) leadership but also the Scottish Green Party ministers.

In truth, it is a reheated reprise of the 2018 report published by the Sustainable Growth Commission, set up by SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon to make recommendations on economic policy for an independent Scotland. Socialist Party Scotland described that document as “nothing more than a tired old case for capitalism, which also marks a shift rightwards compared even to the 2014 independence blueprint. As such it offers nothing for the working class and young people facing austerity, falling incomes and deteriorating public services”.

Against the backdrop of a rapidly deteriorating economic crisis this updated manifesto for capitalist independence – and that’s exactly what it wants to be – is utterly deficient. It cannot possibly resolve the multi-faceted crises facing capitalism, including in Scotland. Not least because it is predicated on maintaining the same profit-driven system untouched.

Read more

Global Warning: The Scottish Greens, a case study

The Scottish Green Party operates a de facto coalition with the SNP at Holyrood. There was much made about the historic agreement that, in August 2021, saw Greens take up government roles for the first time in any of the UK legislatures.

The deal does allow for public disagreement between the parties but only around issues such as aviation policy, green ports, direct financial support to aerospace, defence and security businesses, field sports and the economic principles related to concepts of sustainable growth and inclusive growth.

Basically it means that the two Green Scottish ministers agree to support the government budgets, including its recent slashing by £1.2 billion. Many will ask: what difference have the Greens made to the fundamental positions taken on opposing austerity and the fight against the cost-of-living crisis?

Read more