15 Nov 2017

Ecosocialist International, Cumbe of Veroes, Bolivarian Republic of Venezeuela



It has been one year since “The Calling of the Spirits” in Monte Carmelo, Lara, when with spirited minds and seeds in our hearts,  we launched a convocation titled “The Cry of Mother Earth.” Those who responded to this cry are now here: around 100 people from 17 countries and five continents, 12 original peoples from Our America, and ecosocialist activists from 14 states of Venezuela. We are here in the Cumbe* of Veroes, cradled in the enchanted mountains of Yaracuy, where the guardian goddess of nature lives. From the 31st of October until today, the 3rd of November, 2017, we have done the work demanded of us: the articulation of a collective strategy and plan of action for the salvation of Mother Earth.

We have made the decision and the collective commitment to constitute the First Ecosocialist International. To reverse the destructive process of capitalism, we will return to our origins, recuperate the ancestral spirituality of humanity, live in peace, and end war.

We recognize that we are only a small part of a spiral of spirals, which has the profound intention to expand and include others, until all of us are rewoven with Mother Earth; to restore harmony within ourselves, between us, and between all the other sister beings of nature.

The First Ecosocialist International is not just another gathering, nor another reunion of intellectuals to define ecosocialism. We believe that ecosocialism will define itself to the extent that it is reflected and conceptualized in praxis; from what ecosocialists do, to what ecosocialist militants are. Neither is the First Ecosocialist International a single organization with a seal, or with the omnipresent danger of becoming a bureaucracy. It is simply a common program of struggle, with moments of encounter and exchange, which anyone may join by committing themselves to fulfilling one or more of the various actions agreed upon in order to relieve our Mother Earth. No person or process is owner or protagonist of that which is done and achieved collectively.

We convoke all the peoples, movements, organizations, collectives and beings in the world to adhere to the First Ecosocialist International, and to assume the collective construction of a curriculum for the salvation of Mother Earth. By reinstating a lost spirituality we may arrive at a new one; a new and sometimes ancient ecosocialist ethic, sacred and irreverent, fed by the sun of conscience. We are recreating our spirituality, with a new imagination, with a new heartbeat, which leads to unity and diversity. Because right now we are only surviving, we are not living. The understanding and practice of this new spirituality will have the power to repel empire and capitalism which are powered by greed, and it will be able to strengthen our peoples and cultures which are conditioned by necessities. We confront a contradiction: restore life, or lead it to extinction. We must choose.

We don’t have any doubts. We are radicals; we shall return to our original ways, to our roots, seeing the past not only as a point of departure but also as a point of arrival.

A collective birth, a loving upbringing, we are an immortal embryo…
To dream and act without sleeping!

*Cumbe: A territory of resistance dedicated to an intercultural way of life; a form of organization, production and insurgency pioneered by maroons; based on ancestral principles of solidarity and reciprocity and not in competition.


As daughters and sons of Mother Earth and the commanding people, we had concluded in the preparatory process, as we wrote clearly in the convocation to this First Ecosocialist International, that “the social relation of greed – for which there are too many people and not enough planet for the accumulation of profits to continue – has generated a global crisis. A total war against life has been launched in order to eliminate the surplus and to control the scarcity that this social relation have falsely conceived.” Those of us who responded to the Cry of Mother Earth know and understand that in reality the only surplus is this system, and that what is lacking is not an alternative to this system, nor the necessity of creating another possible world nor other new models, but to recognize that we are the original model; that they cheated us, made us dazed and confused and imposed their counter-model, their alternative to our ways of living based on ancestral principles and practices, which those of us here either never lost, or are in the process of reclaiming.

Based on this, and on the transformative actions of the organizations, collectives and movements who form part of the First Ecosocialist International, who adhere to its plan of action, we shall first of all listen to and accompany the struggles of the original peoples of the five continents of the world, in the recuperation of their ancestral lands, cultures and spiritualities, recognizing them as our elder sisters and brothers, as our highest elders, and as the first and original ecosocialists in the world. We are fully conscious that to continue on the path that humanity has been walking over thousands of years is the best way to imagine the thousands of years ahead. For this reason, many of the actions contained in this plan are framed in this context.

The earth receives heat from the sun, and should return a part of this heat through the atmosphere. However, due to the gases produced by big capital such as carbon dioxide, this heat cannot be returned, and the resulting warming causes the  melting of the poles. Many parts of the South Pole have melted, .... the disappearance of the arctic ice causes accelerated warming, as the mirror shrinks which reflects the heat from the sun. Another danger is that with the warming of the tundra and the North Pole, methane is being released, and if this continues to escape it will cause an irreversible catastrophe. There are corporations who are happy about this warming, because they want to exploit this area for oil.

Global warming has caused many hurricanes, tornadoes, etc. The recent floods in Central America are caused by this phenomenon, along with the melting of ice in the mountain ranges of the world. For example, in the Cordillera of the Andes, we see that there are fewer springs, which affects the farmers in the region. Rivers become ever thinner, and this effects the surrounding populations and their ecosystems. Therefore we must fight the capitalist enterprises which are causing the greenhouse effect.

Another example is Lake Titicaca, which receives water from various rivers, and the River Desaguadero, which drains from it. This river carries water from Lake Titicaca to Lake Poopo, which has completely disappeared; and all over the world there are lakes which will probably disappear. The situation of ecosystems in general is alarming, and for this reason many of the actions contained in this plan are directed towards reversing this situation.

If the situation of Mother Earth is grave in relation to the loss of the biosphere, it is equally so in relation to the loss of the ethnosphere. Every day the last speaker of an ancestral language dies. The cultural diversity of the symbolic systems where the cultures, myths, legends, oral traditions and songs of many peoples are encoded, is today under grave threat at the hands of a hegemonic globalization and the cultural imposition of patriarchal and anthropocentric western modernity, which loots, dominates, and destroys life. With the certainty that there are other ways of thinking and feeling, other intellectual and spiritual beliefs and ways of relating to our Mother Earth, we define here many collective actions focused on resolving this desolate panorama.

As members of popular organizations who form parts of the First Ecosocialist International, who are opposed to the domination which confronts us in competition and war, we propose to accompany with strength and real relationships the anti-colonial and anti-imperialist struggles which the peoples of the world are fighting; putting ourselves at the service of their recognition and liberation, so that their words may move the solidarity of nations. Thus we shall speak the truth and teach the truth about the empire and capitalism which are destroying life; to remove their disguises, to recognize them and identify them as our enemies. Ecosocialism symbolizes insurgency and love, it is spiritual, pluri-cultural and multi-ethnic, and it teaches decolonization and anti-imperialism. Finally, we define here a Route of Struggle, where we propose several actions and reunions.

The logic of the system which murders life is cunning; it robs us to feed itself, and disguises itself to continue existing. To escape from this logic and its ability to constantly recycle itself, we have decided to adopt a pluricosmovisionary perspective.*

We invite everyone, who like us believes in this dream, and who walk their talk to achieve it, to commit themselves to the fulfillment of this plan. Let us do this on the foundation of the heroic resistance of our peoples, who have kept alive their old ways, their native forests, and their sources of clean water. Let us do it with our own seeds and our ancestral cosmovisions, without poisons or patrons!

We have distributed our proposals amongst the five elements: Ether, Water, Earth, Fire and Air, interwoven into the spirit, the milk, the body, the energy and the voice of Mother Earth; harvesting our ancestral cultures so that they may be dispersed as seeds throughout the four sacred directions of the world.

These actions are proposed for the short term (a time of struggle), for the medium term, (a time of construction), and the long term (a time of utopia), understanding the long term as approximately 500 years, or a Pachakutik (an era in the Aymara calendar).

*Pluricosmovisionary: A plurality of visions of the cosmos, or worldviews; a perspective which goes beyond the “multidisciplinary” or the “transdisciplinary,” which combine the perspectives of various disciplines, but within the same western and academic epistemology.

27 Sep 2017



It is with deep sadness and horror that we learn of the death of Mehmet Aksoy who has been killed in the fight against Islamic State (ISIS) on 26 September 2017.

A dynamic Kurdish activist and talented young film maker, Mehmet died while working in Raqqa where he had journeyed in order to record the experiences of the Kurdish fighters in their resistance to ISIS.

His death is a tremendous loss: it is not simply a terrible and grievous personal loss to his family, friends and comrades, with whom we mourn, but it is a great loss to the Kurdish movement.

Mehmet was totally dedicated to the cause of Kurdish freedom which he expressed in all his activities and in the choices he made.

He was a capable leader who could inspire others by his transparent integrity and honest commitment. Leading by example he was successful in galvanising Kurdish youth to take action to demonstrate their opposition to ISIS and in support of the people of Kobane.

He touched the lives of all who knew him and contributed immensely to the eventual liberation of his people and to the building of a better world for everyone.

He will be remembered for his intelligence, cheerful and affable nature and by his total dedication.

Mehmet Aksoy was exceptionally talented and at just 32 years of age when he was slain he had the potential for a long career ahead of him in the political leadership of his people; in fact, in no matter what career path he would have chosen he would have excelled.

Tragically that potential has now all been abruptly cut short. But while he will be greatly missed he will never be forgotten.

Peace in Kurdistan wishes to convey its condolences to Mehmet's family and friends.

We salute him.
Peace in Kurdistan Campaign for a political solution of the Kurdish QuestionEmail: estella24@tiscali.co.uk <mailto:estella24@tiscali.co.uk>
Contacts Estella Schmid 020 7586 5892 & Melanie Gingell - Tel: 020 7272 7890

Patrons: John Austin, Christine Blower, NUT International Secretary, Prof Bill Bowring, Julie Christie, Noam Chomsky, Jeremy Corbyn MP,  Prof Mary Davis, Lord Dholakia, Simon Dubbins, UNITE International Director,  Jill Evans MEP, Lindsey German, Convenor STWC, Melanie Gingell, Nick Hildyard, Dafydd Iwan, Former President Plaid Cymru, James Kelman, Bruce Kent, Jean Lambert MEP, Elfyn Llwyd, Mike Mansfield QC, Doug Nicholls, General Secretary, GFTU, Sinn Fein MLA Conor Murphy, Dr Thomas Jeffrey Miley, Kate Osamor MP, Margaret Owen OBE, Gareth Peirce, Maxine Peake, Lord Rea, Joe Ryan, Stephen Smellie, Dr Tove Skutnabb-Kangas, Dr Tom Wakeford, Dr Derek Wall, Julie Ward MEP, Hywel Williams MP. 

19 Sep 2017



Samir is a friend and Pluto Press regularly publish my books, so I must admit a conflict of interest, nonetheless with this warning I hope my brief review will be useful.
It is generally acknowledged that the UK housing market is broken.  More and more, especially young people are either homeless or suffering from high rents, on the other side of the equation landlords are growing richer.
Own property and your income and in turn your wealth in property tends to grow.  Fail to own property and you pay more and more in rent.  Rent controls are seen as anti-market, rent controls that limit rent increases are thought to discourage landlords from renting, restrict the quantity of rent accommodation and make shortages worse.

Walker and Jeraj challenge this view.  Landlords can make enormous amounts of money by renting, so tend to buy up housing, this crowds out potential homeowners and, in turn, pushes up rents.  The Rent Trap shows how with the decline of council housing, marketizing the housing stock has led to increasing inequality in Britain.
The book is vividly written with lots of real life horror stories of landlords evicting tenants illegally, charging high rents and failing to carry out repairs.  As the authors note while must dog owners are compassionate to their pets, animal welfare laws are still necessary.  Thus, while perhaps most landlords are ethical, stronger safeguards are necessary.  Even where the law protects tenants, often they cannot afford to act to defend their rights, or both tenants and landlords are ignorant of the law.
As well as cataloguing a major source of inequality, The Rent Trap has a lot of good advice for tenants, including a guide ‘How to take your landlord to court’.
The deeper message is we need more safeguards and a huge investment in social housing including social housing as well community land trusts and housing cooperatives.
It is an illustration of the pathologies of the market, where speculation and luck distort the price mechanism.  It is also a reminder that the young increasingly feel excluded and put upon, the rent trap, along with zero-hour contracts and student debt, has fuelled supported for Jeremy Corbyn.
Jeremy has been a long-term advocate for those who rent and there is an interesting interview with him from 2015 a few days before he took the decision to run as Labour Party leader.  It is instructive that until recently rental abuse was off the political agenda, it is also interesting that a third of MPs are landlords.
I think my only criticism of the book is that it could have collected policy suggestions into a neat conclusion but otherwise it is well researched, well written, persuasive and illustrates an often forgotten (by the media and politicians) problem.

The Rent Trap is one of a series of books for the Left Book Club.

Some scary stats
11 million private renters in UK.
Many 16-18 spend 80% of their income on rent.
1 in 12 renters too scared to ask landlords for repairs because they fear eviction.

And some scary stories
One renter threatened at gunpoint.
Organised crime moving into renting.
Parents with young children moving from one home to another because of powers of eviction.

7 Sep 2017

How to Teach Quantum Physics to Your Dog

My wife, noting my interest in but poor understanding of mathematics, borrowed How to Teach Quantum Physics to Your Dog, for me from Bracknell Library.  It is in the genre of light physics and mathematics, I have also recent enjoyed Simon Singh's The Simpsons and Their Mathematical Secrets (which incidentally is very good).

The conceit of the quantum physics book of explaining to the dog is stupid but fun too.

Much of this I don't understand but I guess if I keep reading something  will rub off.

More seriously it fits with my more lengthy posts recently on epistemology, the question of how do we know what we know, here and here.

Clearly while I am committed to both rationality and materialism, what we mean by matter is up for debate and any one with any kind of mathematics knows that things get seriously weird quite quickly when rationality based upon mathematical formalism comes into play.  So while we should eschew anything goes relativism (if that is really a thing rather than an accusation) rationality ain't what it used to be either.

Quantum  uncertainty is a fundamental limit on what can be known, arising from the fact that quantum objects have both particle and wave properties.
Uncertainty is also the first place where quantum physics coincides with philosophy.  The idea of fundamental limits to measurement runs directly counter to the goals and foundations of classical physics. Dealing with quantum uncertainty requires a complete rethinking of the basis of physics,
(Orzel 2013: 46)
Looking forward to gradually eroding my ignorance by reading the rest of this title!  And just because its science doesn't mean that it is certain.

6 Sep 2017

Statement condemning the international arms fair in London

Peace in Kurdistan condemns the Defence and Security Equipment International arms fair being held at the ExCel Centre in London’s Docklands from 11th to 14 September 2017. It is the world’s biggest arms fair and will host guests from among the world’s most oppressive regimes, including from Turkey. This exhibition, promoting the wares sold by the merchants of death, will be addressed by British government ministers. Britain is the world’s second largest, and Europe’s largest, arms exporter. Over half of the weapons that British companies sell go to the Middle East. British companies and politicians share responsibility for the murder and mayhem inflicted on the Middle East for decades. There are some 9,000 arms companies in the UK, including smaller businesses. These firms seek to profit from the war being waged by the Turkish state against the Kurdish people.  This must be stopped.
Kurdish people have a legitimate right to self-determination and their representatives, including their gaoled leader Abdullah Ocalan, have persistently sought a peaceful solution to the Kurdish question. Their pleas and proposals for peace have been rejected by Ankara with no serious pressure coming from Westminster. The Turkish government, headed by President Erdogan, has used military means to try and suppress any manifestation of the Kurds and their democratic aspirations. The Kurds are confronting a war of extermination. With at least six Turkish arms companies attending the exhibition and the British government issuing export licences for arms sales to Turkey worth £466 million from July 2013 to June 2016, Britain is facilitating and encouraging the Turkish state’s war on the Kurds and equipping it with the means to kill more ruthlessly. In 2017, Britain’s biggest arms company, BAE Systems, signed lucrative deals, worth over $100 million, with Turkish arms companies to develop fighter jet production in Turkey and to sell it fighter aircraft. This increases the potential for escalating war against the Kurds and, given President Erdogan’s regional ambitions, spreading destruction across the Middle East – all for the benefit of corporate profits.
In February 2017 the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights issued a report on human rights in the predominantly Kurdish south-east Turkey covering the period between July 2015 and December 2016. The report says some 2,000 people were killed in security operations, including 800 state forces. It details ‘enforced disappearances; torture; destruction of housing and cultural heritage; incitement to hatred; prevention of access to emergency medical aid, food, water and livelihoods; violence against women; and severe curtailment of the right to freedom of opinion and expression as well as political participation.’ There has been not a single investigation into unlawful killings of hundreds of people. ‘A series of laws … has created an atmosphere of “systematic immunity” for security forces.’ The number of displaced persons in south-east Turkey is put at 355,000 to half a million people. In towns and villages, state killings are followed by ‘mass displacement of the survivors and the destruction of their homes and local cultural monuments’. ‘The centres of towns and cities across south-east Turkey have been described as empty moonscapes and vast parking lots’ with much ‘damage due to the use of heavy weapons and, possibly, air-dropped munitions … systematically demolishing entire neighbourhoods.’ By selling arms to Turkey and by giving its government political and diplomatic support, Britain shares a responsibility for this slaughter and destruction. Turkey being a NATO member, selling weapons to its government is legitimised by the US, British and other European governments. This is unacceptable: Turkey must be condemned and ostracised as an international pariah, not armed to the teeth.
Since the 15 July 2016 failed coup attempt, the Turkish government has arrested, fired or suspended from work some 190,000 people. Approximately 50,000 people have been gaoled, including 13 People’s Democratic Party (HDP) MPs. Central government has taken direct control of 82 municipalities in predominantly Kurdish areas of the country, suspended democratically elected co-mayors and gaoled 90 of them on terrorism charges. 178 journalists are in Turkey’s prisons and over 150 media outlets have been shut down. President Erdogan and his Justice and Development Party (AKP) government have imposed a dictatorship on the Turkish people. Any manifestation of criticism of the regime is ruthlessly suppressed; even the director and chair on Amnesty International’s Turkish branch have been arrested and gaoled accused of supporting terrorism for speaking out on the flagrant and systematic rights abuses.
The Kurdish people continue to resist and demand recognition of their rights. Erdogan and his government are currently threatening to escalate their war against the Kurds by launching an all-out attack on Rojava, the autonomous and predominantly Kurdish part of northern Syria. In his determination to subdue the Kurds, wherever they may be, President Erdogan has shown he is willing to mobilise and arm jihadi groups, including the so-called Islamic State and Al-Qaeda-linked jihadists. People in Britain must speak out by demanding that their government opposes the warmongering of President Erdogan, stop arming the Turkish state terrorists and their auxiliaries, and support the cause of democracy and rights for the Kurds. Halt the war machine and end the UK's profits of death.
For information contact:
Peace in Kurdistan
Campaign for a political solution of the Kurdish Question
Contacts Estella Schmid 020 7586 5892 & Melanie Gingell - Tel: 020 7272 7890

Join the protest on 10 September, 2017, 1-6pm
Stop UK Arms Sales to Turkey. Stop Genocide against the Kurds!

5 Sep 2017

Gaston Bachelard

Gaston Bachelard by Roch C. Smith, Twayne Publishers: Boston. 1982

One reason I keep my hand in with university teaching is library access, working at a University of London college, means I can borrow books from Senate House Library.  Its an impressive building rather brutalist and soviet but in a kind of good way!  While my academic experience is around political economy I have long had an interest in the methodology of science.  A key figure in this area is the great and provocative French thinker Gaston Bachelard. I don't read French and his texts on scientific method are often untranslated.  I have found Roch Smith's book entitled, quite simply, Gaston Bachelard useful and since borrowing it from Senate House have read it quickly.

It is not a recent title and is short but I feel I understand more about Bachelard than I did last week before reading it.  Bachelard, he of the splendid beard, combined a resolute rationalism in examining science methodology with an expansive and subjective view of literature.  It as if there were two Bachelard's.  Number one is a French rationalist and part of the ensemble with Jean Cavaillès and Georges Canguilhem.

All three were in turn influenced, I think, by Léon Brunschvicg.  Bachelard number two is a mystical figure who embraced a vivid impressionistic approach to literature.  Smith, I guess, like everyone else struggles to explain the relationship between the resolutely rational Bachelard and the mystical Bachelard.  He does note that those of us who simply read Bachelard's work on science, only take a part of what he did.

My interest, rightly or wrongly, is in the rationalist Bachelard.  Bachelard argued that in science our investigations are conditioned by everyday life understanding which is not enough to gain an understanding of phenomena which we do not experience directly.  Chemistry and physics often involved the investigation of aspects of reality that we cannot directly observe.  Thus positivism based on what we can measure and empiricism based on evidence can be misleading.  The pursuit of rationalism, understanding based on logical relations, puts us on firmer foundations

For when science, particularly physics and chemistry, explores the world of the atom, it deals with a different order of experience, one that is outside the realm of everyday observation. As Bachelard repeatedly indicates throughout his epistemological works, this microphenomenal world may require systems of thought that, in some ways, contradict the logic of everyday experience [...] Bachelard reminds us, a discrepancy between the exactness of mathematics, which can be viewed as absolute, and the necessary imperfections of any attempt at exactness when dealing with concrete reality. Our knowledge of reality can be made relatively precise, but never absolutely exact. (Smith 1982: 10)

French continental theory, starting with Althusser, takes Bachelard's rationalism to criticise empiricism, noting that evidence is limited and logical analysis is the true scientific method.  Smith suggests this is a partial misreading, Bachelard has some time for empiricism and notes that a purely rationalist approach may need to be supplemented with observation.  While I don't fully understand Bachelard's approach, I get the superficial impression, that he does not construct an entirely rationalist view of science.  Such an approach provides a fully logical investigation but risks remaining separate from 'reality'.

However clearly as science moves further way from what we directly observe in everyday life, rationalism (in the sense of a mathematical approach based on logic relationships) becomes more significant.

In dealing with the newness of Einsteinian theories, Bachelard's central preocccupation is with the revolutionary role of mathematics, which he had previously identified as the hallmark of contemporary science.  He points out that in Einsteinian physics the mathematics of discovery does not proceed deductively from certain quantified laws based on prior observation and experiment.  Rather, the calculus of relativity initially generalizes in order to account for all variables.  It is synthetic, or inductive, rather than analytic, or deductive, in its initial approach.  Mathematics is not used merely to describe reality in quantitative terms, through its constructive processes, it has become a means of discovering reality.  'We are thus led to oppose to the simplifying role of mathematical information, the constructive role of mathematical induction' (VIR, 84-85) (Smith 1982: 17)
Observation Bachelard noted was conditioned by theory and theory by metaphor.  The notion of an epistemological break, that science proceeds not by gradual accumulation of knowledge but the sharp reject of a particular way of looking at reality, can be derived from this view.  However important as this is, it does not exhaust the imagination of Bachelard, the rest of the Smith's book describes how his thought took flight into many varied and exciting areas.

4 Sep 2017

Farming, Fascism and Ecology

Farming, Fascism and Ecology: A life of Jorian Jenks by Philip M. Coupland, Routledge 2016.

Philip Coupland was kind enough to send me a copy of his book on Jorian Jenks last year. What with one thing and another, including helping to organise the Global Greens Congress, finishing my own book on Elinor Ostrom and that episode with Mrs May, I have only just got around to reading it.

Jenks (1899-1963) was both a leading fascist and a founder member of the Soil Association.  His story is part of a picture of ecofascism.  While the current Green Party is on the left, picking up votes from those disillusioned with Blairism and now competing with Jeremy Corbyn, green politics has not always been on the left.

If we take the key pillars of green politics often described as 'ecology, social justice, non violence and grassroots democracy' this describes an ideology which is indeed left.  However the union of politics and ecology has in the past been on the right.

The Green Party, was originally set up as PEOPLE in the early 1970s, and founding members included former Conservative Party members.  In the late 1960s and 70s, ecological politics had a Malthusian tinge, concern with over population and demands to restrict human action to save the environment.  Indeed, a lot of my recent academic work, has been putting forward Elinor Ostrom's arguments for local cooperative management of resources rather than state or market control in all cases.

The Soil Association, Britain's leading organic farming network, was founded in 1946.  Jorian was a founding member and in an editorial and organisation role was highly significant in the organisation.  He had been a member of the British Union of Fascists, advised them on farming matters, and was a BUF parliamentary candidate in Sussex.  He was interned in the Ascot camp during the Second World War, seen like many BUF as part of a potential fifth column.

The Soil Association today has no links with far right and have tended to distance themselves from Jenks.

During the 1930s there was a definite ecofascist ideology and Jenks was friendly with the likes of Rolf Gardiner and other far right environmentalists.  I briefly examined ecofascism for Red Pepper, a while back.

Jenks had an appalling ideology but is portrayed in human detail in Coupland's biography.  Coupland has done a huge amount of research and has had access to mountains of primary documents, he clears up a number of myths about Jenks.  For example, often thought to be of 'Yeoman farmer stock', he was born of liberal urban parents and his turn to the far right is complex.  I might add this was not dishonesty on Jenks' part; he seems a pretty modest person and avoided personal myth-making.

Jorian often comes across sympathetically but its worth remembering he was only a couple of degrees of separation from the SS.  Fascism grows slowly, not all its manifestations are obvious and sympathetic human beings can promote monster-like acts.

If you are interested in the history of organic agriculture movements or the British far right, this is worth reading.  It is well written, very detailed indeed and a beautifully produced book.  The theory and larger dynamics are somewhat obscured in places but it's a powerful contribution.

3 Sep 2017

Communication Theory: Epistemological Foundations

I am a great visitor of charity shops in search of books, I picked up Communication Theory: Epistemological Foundations by James Anderson, for 75p in the Red Cross shop in Blandford Street, Sunderland.  Every penny was well spent!

The book is aimed at students taking communication studies of various kinds and looks at the various assumption behind research in this area.  However it would be useful for any student interested in the basis of knowledge claims in the social sciences and, has something to say to those working in the natural sciences too.

Epistemology is a big bad word but its meaning is straightforward, it is the study of how we know things, it is about truth claims,  How do we know that something to put it bluntly and simplistically is true or false.  From the moon landings to climate change to the theory of evolution to debates in politics about the effects of benefit cuts, truth can be highly contested.  So while this is a rather technical book dealing with research methodology, its subject matter matters potentially to all of us.

Its also very good!

Of course there is an argument that this all rather obscure and irrelevant nonsense.  Indeed it is true that many truth claims are straightforward and not much debate or theory is need to distinguish the incorrect from the obvious.  I noted this from twitter which puts this quite nicely.

No argument with Matt Wallace on this.

However, all academic research, whether in social sciences like sociology or even the natural sciences like chemistry, rests on epistemological foundations.  By this I mean a set of assumptions about how we decide what is true or what is false.

Again, it has been argued that there is nothing much to see, truth can be tasted like coffee, what holds practically is true and we don't need to engage in complex discussion or to read books on epistemology.

Anderson argues that we used to have a straight forward epistemology based on a notion of science where proof was possible.  To some extent this might include both social and natural sciences:

The question in epistemology (in fact the only question) is that of certainty. How do we know what we know? The standard answer to this question has been the progressive development of Baconian empiricism and Cartesian rationality [...] The scientific method , in fact all proper epistemology within this argument, is seen as a combination of good empirical protocols of evidence gathering and the right cannons of logic. (Anderson 1996: 4) 

He notes this led to Newtonian physics and Darwinian evolution, a trusted method led to a secure scientific product.  However, the 20th century saw a major assault on such an approach to epistemology:

There were a number of reasons for its subsequent decline.  The mechanical insights of Newtonian physics provided unsatisfactory answers to the questions of the 20th century. The human sciences could not be contained in the physical science model and failed to coalesce around a common epistemology. The trustworthiness of experience was undermined in studies on perception, the mind, culture, and language.  Our observational evidence was shown to be corrupted by theories. Theory itself was shown to be better explained by sociological rather than evidentiary practices.  And the evidence we did generate was shown to be promiscuous rather than faithful.  The conclusions were stunnding: observations are arguments, theories are sociopolitical practices, and truth is plural.  (Anderson 1996: 4) 

Thus we are in a very uncomfortable position.  To rely on classic science method is problematic, certainty is challenged.  Yet the postmodern condition described by Anderson is also problematic, to make a claim that truth is multiple is still to make a truth claim.  Postmodernism and allied approaches, as broadly advocated by Anderson, tend to eat themselves.

Anderson, whose postmodern position, is not one, at least in a pure version, I share, does in this book carefully describe and criticise different approaches to methodology.  While I don't endorse his methodological position, I certainly endorse his book as a very useful, clear and concise guide.  Moving beyond naive certainty and chaos, isn't easy, personally my rough view is that reality exists (ontological realism) it is very difficult to catalogue so a degree of both rigour and pluralism is necessary (epistemological pluralism).  Broadly Althusser and Ostrom inform this approach, I have especially been finding the discussions of Gaston Bachelard useful for understanding how scientific method in the natural sciences is more up for challenge than we might think at first.

18 Aug 2017

Donna Tartt's The Secret History

I finished reading this about five weeks ago and have been meaning to write something about it ever since.  However from indexing my own book (Elinor Ostrom's Rules for Radicals) to painting my little wooden home, the next thing has always come up.

It is of course a 'why dunnit' the murderer fesses up in the first couple of pages to murdering Bunny, the rest of book deals with why the crime was committed and the consequences.

It works as a very solid holiday read.  I will have to give you the cliches but the cliches are true, it is unput downable and yes the prose is very clear too.

Is this literature?  I guess this is a question that should never be asked, culture is so much about distinctions in taste which are perhaps arbitrary but used to establish class and other hierarchical social divisions (Read Bourdieu for the theory and most episodes of Frazier for comedy illustration).

It doesn't do anything experimental or dramatic, if you want experiment House of Leaves, Beckett and James Joyce are all good fun instead.

It does touch on a lot of classic literature from Dostoyevsky's Crime and Punishment to campus novels, in a fairly entertaining way.

The moral if there is one is that little learning is dangerous but if you want to really fuck yourself up and brutally destroy the lives of others a lot of learning is more effective dangerous than guns and drugs.

Guns, drugs, incest alcoholism and, of course, acts of astonish violence do abound but studying Ancient Greek culture is the cause, these others ills are but symptoms.

Incidentally for good or ill, you will know a lot more about Ancient Greek culture having read the book.

I guess behind everything is the sin of entitlement, those who think because they can think, they have the right to exploit others.

Much to provoke thought here but, above all, despite or because of the rather grim tale of mayhem, a good read.

Lots of good lines, for example, ' 'Mrs Corcoran's age usually went in pretty heavily for the Valium and so forth but she had enough speed to send a gang of Hell's Angels on a cross-country rampage.'

3 Aug 2017

Giovanni's Room by James Baldwin

For I am—or I was—one of those people who pride themselves in on their willpower, on their ability to make a decision and carry it through. This virtue, like most virtues, is ambiguity itself. People who believe that they are strong-willed and the masters of their destiny can only continue to believe this by becoming specialists in self-deception. Their decisions are not really decisions at all—a real decision makes one humble, one knows that it is at the mercy of more things than can be named—but elaborate systems of evasion, of illusion, designed to make themselves and the world appear to be what they and the world are not. (Baldwin 2001:24)

I have been thinking of reading some James Baldwin for quite a long time; he looked so iconic and I am always interested in the intersection between literature and politics.  Politics is more than a language game I tend to think but it is certainly very strongly influenced by questions of identity that are shaped in part by language.  Our assumptions are shaped by the culture we live in and a key part of culture is literature.  So while I don't think that a more sophisticated understanding of Jane Austen will lead to liberation, I do think Jane Austen is important in shaping British culture, which in turn shapes British politics.

James Baldwin was an important novelist and writer, both gay and African-American, he might be seen as an early exponent of what is now called 'intersectionality', noting that both oppression and liberation have multiple aspects and one aspect such as class or sexual orientation is not necessarily the most significant.

So walking along the shelves of the literature section in Goldsmiths College library as I like to do, Giovanni's Room leapt out at me. I borrowed and read it.  It's a tale of an American in Paris, short, clear and somewhat grim.  It's maybe difficult to use the term enjoy for a book centred around a murder but it diverted and provoked me.

In the 1950s writing frankly about gay and bisexual lives was a scandal. It is said that the first publisher Baldwin approached told him to burn it; he should stick to being an African-American novelist, he was told, and not 'alienate' his audience.  He persisted.

I am looking forward to reading 'Go tell it on the Mountain', which I believe is semi-autobiographical, looking at Baldwin's youthful experience of the Pentecostal Church in Harlem, New York, as both a source of oppression and one of community.  Again we might note that religion both informs literature and is closely bound up with politics.  Baldwin was a teenage preacher before rejecting the Church.

The prophets in the Bible challenged established power and were usually killed or exiled for doing so, the role of the prophets inspired political preachers all the way from Thomas Muntzer to Martin Luther King.

I get the impression that Baldwin wrote much in the way of lectures and letters on social and political matters, significant in the USA of the 1960s and 70s but still significant today.  He was, of course, a key figure in the civil rights movement.

Baldwin is very quotable. I liked his words about free will at the top of the page, 'autonomy' is often delusion!  Understanding how we are shaped and determined is the best way, perhaps, of being able to participate in the process.

James Baldwin (2001[1956]) Giovanni's Room. Penguin Classic.

2 Aug 2017

Seumas Milne's The Enemy Within

I have just finished reading Seumas Milne's The Enemy Within, originally published in 1994, the fourth edition is from 2014.  It examines the media campaign against National Union of Miners leader Arthur Scargill during the 1980s

Its quite a read!  Highly recommended. And lets not forget Milne in 2017 is one of Jeremy Corbyn's closest political associates, an important mover and shaper...

1984-85 saw the bitter strike that pitted Britain's most disciplined and effective trade union against right wing Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.  After the end of the strike when the NUM was defeated, the television programme The Cook Report and the Daily Mirror newspaper, ran a campaign accusing Scargill of corruption, initially suggesting that he had used money meant for the trade union to pay off his mortgage.

When it was revealed that Scargill did not have a mortgage the campaign eventually collapsed!  Before collapsing the script was rewritten with new accusations against the NUM leader being proposed, revised and falling apart.

The complex story is discussed over 445 pages of lucid prose by Milne and is not easily summarized.

What it shows is a case study in how a right wing British media,  the Labour Party, a Conservative government and the security services, worked to discredit a trade union defending its members jobs.

I think anyone who wants to understand how Britain works and how the media is often part of active campaigns to discredit opposition voices should read The Enemy Within with care.

Seumas Milne is currently Labour Party's Executive Director of Strategy and Communication, very much Jeremy Corbyn's key advisor.  Milne is routinely attacked by the media and most Labour MPs, it is astonishing that such a key critic of Britain's media and security services is at the centre of Corbyn's campaigning.

It certainly shows that the Corbyn network has a shrewd understanding of the realities of power in Britain.  A key insight is that media attacks from the supposed left, in Scargill's case from the Labour Party supporting Daily Mirror, are more effective than those from right wing sources.

It is also clear that while conspiracies can exist, they often fail and events are the product of over lapping forces.  Thatcher wanted to get Scargill but from personal grudges to shifting Labour Party politics a variety of influences were at worked.  Events might be seen as 'over-determined'.

Milne notes ironically that in recent years evidence of secret state infiltration of environmentalists critical of coal has also come to light. This is covered by The Independent here http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/were-police-spies-behind-mass-arrest-of-activists-1668252.html

I am not uncritical of Scargill and I am happy to see a shift away from coal (but not at the cost of brutal closure without the construction of a workers plan for alternative production) nonetheless while a coal dispute is discussed, this is a case study in how power is exercise in modern Britain.

I bought my copy from the wonderful Peoples Bookshop in Durham and its published by Verso.

A review in Red Pepper noted:

It’s an account that is both persuasive and disturbing. It provided the framework for David Peace’s GB84, bringing together the two worlds of the strike. Central players in Milne’s account are the prime minister, head of MI5 Stella Rimington and the owner of the Mirror Group, Robert Maxwell. Those who opposed the miners were ably abetted by spies within the union and Labour Party.

As Milne puts it, ‘The government unleashed the full force of the state: a militarised police occupation of the coalfields, a commandeered and manipulated criminal justice system, mass sackings and jailings – and the use of MI5, GCHQ, the NSA and Special Branch to bug, infiltrate, smear, manipulate the media and stage dirty tricks against the union and its leaders.’

Milne is routinely vilified in the media but lurid accounts often ignore his authorship of The Enemy Within, Milne's role in the Labour Party shows that Corbyn is providing a radical break from Labour past.  Whether like me you see hope in this or like the mainstream express anxiety, if you want to understand Milne a starting point is The Enemy Within.  Well researched, beautifully written, nobody on the left in Britain in 2017 can ignore it.

22 Jul 2017

The Philosophy of Marx by Etienne Balibar

The Philosophy of Marx 
By Etienne Balibar (translated by Gregory Elliot and Chris Turner)
Verso, 2017
240 pp., $38.95

Etienne Balibar notes ‘The general idea of this little book is to understand and explain why Marx will still be read in the twenty-first century, not only as a monument of the past, but as a contemporary author - contemporary both because of the questions he poses for philosophy and because of the concepts he offers it.’ (p.1).  And with some reservations, I feel he achieves this goal.
While this is a thought provoking book, it may disappoint readers who seek either an introduction to Marx’s philosophy or a straightforward account of how Marx’s ideas can inspire focussed political action in the 21st Century.  There is a very useful guide to reading more about Marx’s philosophy and some very clear panels describing key thinkers and themes from Gramsci onwards.  However Balibar discusses some very complex and subtle ideas, that demand a good knowledge of Marx’s key works, as well as those of such far-from-easy thinkers as Kant and Wittgenstein, along with structuralist, aleatory and post-modern thought.  In short, this is a sophisticated and in depth examination of the topic, but not the first place to look if you are new to Marxist philosophy and want to find a way in!
Despite being neither directly politically practical or an easy book, it is extremely stimulating.  It richly rewards the effort to read and is full of original insights and exciting notions.  Balibar has condensed the last fifty years of his work closely reading Marx’s text to very good effect.
Balibar hints that it is wrong to read Marx’s work and to extract one clear and unambiguous set of principles from it.  Both academics and sectarians are tempted to argue that they have the correct reading of Marx and that other readings are wrong.  Balibar argues that Marx was driven by a number of shared passions, advocating communism, class struggle, materialism and human liberation.  Marx sought to show how political change might be possible in a particular context.  Because the context changed, so did Marx’s philosophy; if it is possible to construct a Marxist philosophy (a task that Balibar rejects), this philosophy, far from being fixed, will change with changing circumstances.
Balibar argues that it is wrong to seek a Marxist approach based on the texts of Marx to all political, social and indeed philosophical questions.  It was once said that only religion pretends to know everything, a thesis strongly echoed here.  Balibar argued that attempts have been made to fix the meaning of Marx’s work, from Engels' synthesis after Karl’s death to Stalin’s Dialectic Materialism.  Yet Marx’s pursuit of liberation was, according to Balibar, a product of an open and ever changing system.
Two historical contexts are seen as particularly influential on Marx’s philosophical work.  The first is the series of uprising in the early part of the 19th Century, which shaped the construction of the Communist Manifesto.  The second was the creation and bloody defeat of the Paris Commune, when in 1871, the workers created their own self-governing society.  The defeat of the revolts of the 1840s made Marx focus on the emergence of capitalism.  The Paris Commune strengthened his belief that working class self-emancipation was possible.  Bailbar notes that Marx was always rethinking his ideas, so any fixed doctrine of Marxism does not reflect his efforts.  Equally Marx was not an academic but a communist; he kept rethinking because liberation requires a constant effort to recalibrate revolutionary thought.
Balibar, even though he rejects the concept of a philosophy of Marx as a complete set of ideas, identifies a number of important themes.  One is the notion of transindividualism, Marx rejected both structuralism and pure individualism.  We are not trapped by unchanging structural factors, this would make social change impossible, but we don’t act as pure individuals. We are influenced by wider forces.  Noting Marx’s use of the French word ‘ensemble’, Balibar stresses that human society is collective because it is the product of human interactions, thus transindividualism is an appropriate and useful concept.  The ways in which we come together in particular social classes, is also stressed as a continuous historical force in the book. 

Given this rather post-modern interpretation of Marx’s approach and the difficulty of many of the ideas, it would be easy to reject the book as irrelevant to the political tasks we face in a world of climate change, violently mutuating capitalism and right wing political monsters such as Donald Trump.  In fact, while it requires effort and doesn’t produce simple answers I would certainly recommend it.  The German Marxist scholar and prominent ecosocialist Frieder Otto Wolf provided a foreword for the German edition. It’s a shame it is not included in this edition; I am sure it would have been of interest to many Greens and ecosocialists.

5 Jul 2017

Elinor Ostrom's Rules for Radicals

My next book will be out in the autumn, its a guide to Elinor Ostrom, first woman to win the Nobel for Economics, published by Pluto.
Elinor Ostrom was the first woman to win the Nobel Prize for Economics. Her theorising of the commons has been celebrated as groundbreaking and opening the way for non-capitalist economic alternatives, yet, many radicals know little about her. This book redresses this, revealing the indispensability of her work for green politics, left economics and radical democracy.

Ostrom has often been viewed as a conservative or managerial thinker; but Derek Wall's analysis of her work reveals a how it is invaluable for developing a left political programme in the twenty-first century. Central to Ostrom's work was the move 'beyond panaceas'; transforming institutions to widen participation, promote diversity and favour cooperation over competition. She regularly challenged academia as individualist, narrow and elitist and promoted a radical take on education, based on participation.

Her investigations into how we share finite resources has radical implications for the Green movement and her rubric for a functioning collective ownership is highly relevant in order in achieving radical social change. As activists continue to reject traditional models of centralised power, Ostrom's work will become even more vital, offering a guide to creating economics that exists beyond markets and states.'
 1. Elinor Ostrom's Radical Life
2. The Commons: From Tragedy to Triumph
3. Climate Change, Ecology and Green Politics
4. Beyond Markets and States
5. Deep Democracy
6. Feminism and Intersectionality
7. Trust and Cooperation
8. Science for the People
9. Transforming Institutions
10. Conflict and Contestation
Resources for Change

Ecosocialist International, Cumbe of Veroes, Bolivarian Republic of Venezeuela