The global banking crisis – ten years on

August 9, 2017 at 8:25 am (banks, capitalism, capitalist crisis, economics, history, Marxism)

Ten years ago, the worst global financial crisis financial crisis since the 1930’s began. Major companies went bankrupt, people lost their homes on both side of the Atlantic, and the banks that were too big to fail, did fail – only to be rescued with taxpayers’ money.

Governments and their financial regulators were completely wrong-footed and found themselves lacking the regulatory framework to mitigate the crisis and to prevent it from spreading.

Martin Thomas surveys the path, the causes and the sequels of the crisis.


The story started in finance. In June 2005 mortgage interest rates in the USA started rising sharply. They levelled off and declined after July 2006, but in the meantime house prices had reversed their giddy rise of previous years. House prices would continue to fall until January 2012, when they would be on average 33% down on their May 2006 peak. From mid-2006 the proportion of deliquent mortgagees (those with payments seriously overdue) rose, and it would keep rising until early 2010.

By late 2015 around six million households would have their homes foreclosed (CoreLogic 2015). Unlike, for example, the UK house-price crash of 1989-92 (in which about 188,000 homes were repossessed), the US mortgage crash fed into a financial, industrial, and international crash. It revealed that “the bond bubble [had been] by no means limited to mortgages. It was ubiquitous”. Building on the mortgage bubble, “risk spreads were irrationally small”, i.e. small extra revenues had been needed to attract buyers to risky securities, and so once financiers realised those securities were risky, their prices were likely to drop sharply. (Blinder 2013, p.45-6, 90-1).

On 9 August 2007, a French bank, BNP, told holders of stakes in three of its investment funds that they could not have their money back. The bank held mortgage-backed securities — bits of paper which entitled holders to a slice of the income from payments on mortgages made in the USA — and now, as one financier put it, those “securities… simply [could]n’t be priced because there [was] no trading in them. There [were] no bids for them. Asset-backed securities, mortgage loans, especially subprime loans, [did]n’t have any buyers” (Bloomberg 2007). The freezing of credit flows between banks escalated.

On 14 September 2007 queues of people fearing collapse and wanting to get their money out formed at the branches of a British bank, Northern Rock; the British government nationalised the bank in February 2008. Read the rest of this entry »

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Gove’s ‘interview’ reveals: Trump out to destroy the EU

January 16, 2017 at 11:08 pm (capitalist crisis, Champagne Charlie, Europe, fascism, grovelling, Migrants, nationalism, populism, profiteers, Racism, reaction, Republican Party, Tory scum, Trump)

The miserable worm Gove has crawled all the way across the Atlantic to suck up to Trump (in the slime-trail of Farage), and his “interview” with the scum-bag appears in today’s Times.Little Govey can scarcely contain his breathless admiration for his host, who he describes  as “like a man who has been plugged into some power source where the dial has been turned up to levels well beyond the safety regulations would recommend” and “the force of nature that is the man”.

Govey’s main point (apart from greasing up to his new hero) is to remind us that the Great Man supports Brexit:

“And, ultra-competitive as he is, the president-elect was particularly keen to remind me that, almost alne among international figures, he had the natural good judgement to foresee our departure from the EU.”

Not just foresee it, of course, but to positively welcome it. Trump’s animosity towards the EU, it would seem, stems from the EU’s obstruction of a proposed “expansion” (we can guess what that meant) to a property he owns in Ireland: “What happened is I went for an approval to do this massive, beautiful expansion … but I learned a lot because … they [ie the EU] were using environmental tricks to stop a project from being built.”

During the campaign of lies, deception and xenophobia that the Leave side ran during the referendum campaign, Little Govey and most of his Tory chums claimed that they weren’t seeking the break-up of the EU, merely then UK’s amicable exit.

The one single useful aspect of Govey’s Times piece is that Trump makes it clear that the aim of nationalists, nativists and outright racists like himself is the total destruction of the EU (in this respect Trump is more honest than Govey and the Tory Leavers):

“A combination of economic woes and the migrant crisis will, he believes, lead to other countries leaving. ‘People, countries, want their own identity and the UK wanted its own identity. But, I do believe this, if they hadn’t been forced to take in all of the refugees, so many, with all the problems that it … entails, I think you wouldn’t have a Brexit. This was the final straw that broke the camel’s back … I believe others will leave. I do think keeping it together is not gonna be as easy as a lot of people think. And I think this, if refugees keep pouring into different parts of Europe … I think it’s gonna be very hard to keep it together because people are angry about it.”

So it takes the pathological liar Trump to point out a simple truth that the Tory Bexiteers and their useful idiots on the anti-EU “left” (Morning Star, SWP, etc) either denied of avoided during the referendum campaign: Brexit will inevitably help undermine the EU as a whole, which is precisely why racists everywhere seek this goal.

And the end result of the racists’ wet dream of destroying the EU?

The freedom for workers to move across Europe would be lost. “Foreign” workers in each country from other ex-EU states would face increased hostility at best, and racist attacks (as is already happening in post-referendum UK) at worst.

There would be a big reduction in the productive capacities of the separate states, cut off from broader economic arenas.

Governments and employers in each state would be weaker in capitalist world-market competition, and thus would be pushed towards crude cost-cutting, in the same way that small capitalist businesses, more fragile in competition, use cruder cost-cutting than the bigger employers.

There would be more slumps and depression, in the same way that the raising of economic barriers between states in the 1930s lengthened and deepened the slump then.

Nationalist and far-right forces, already the leaders of anti-EU political discourse everywhere, would be “vindicated” and boosted. Democracy would shrink, not expand. The economically-weaker states in Europe, cut off from the EU aid which has helped them narrow the gap a bit, would suffer worst, and probably some would fall to military dictatorships.

Before long the economic tensions between the different nations competing elbow-to-elbow in Europe’s narrow cockpit would lead to war, as they did repeatedly for centuries, culminating in the world wars of 1914 and 1939.

That’s why the left should fight, not to go backwards from the current bureaucratic, neo-liberal European Union, but forward, towards workers’ unity across Europe, a democratic United States of Europe, and a socialist United States of Europe. But the idiot-left, who advocated Brexit and privately look forward to the break-up of the EU, don’t see things that way. They are the useful idiots of Trump, Le Pen, Farage … and even that wretched little weasel Gove.

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Ellen Meiksins Wood: Marxist who put class at the centre of her analysis

January 15, 2016 at 4:49 pm (Andrew Coates, capitalism, capitalist crisis, class, democracy, economics, intellectuals, Marxism)

Re-blogged from Tendance Coatesy:

Ellen Meiksins Wood, the wife of former NDP leader Ed Broadbent, has died of cancer at the couple’s Ottawa home at the age of 73.

Reports 

She was a noted intellectual figure on the international left, whose studies of class, politics and political ideas influenced several generations of thinkers and activists.

Wood’s writings were thought-provoking and luminous.

She first came to a wide left audience with The Retreat from Class: A New ‘True’ Socialism (1986). This was a collection of her intervention in debates, conducted through the pages of New Left Review, and the Socialist Register,  that took place in the wake of Eric Hobsbawm’s famous polemic, The Forward March of Labour halted? (Marxism Today 1978 – expanded in book form with replies from supporters and critics in 1981).

Many left intellectuals not only backed Hobsbawm’s view that the material importance of class institutions in shaping politics was declining with the drop in numbers in the industrial working class, but extended this to question the relationship between class and politics itself.

Post-Marxists began to argue that a plurality of ‘democratic struggles’ and social movements would replace the central place of the labour movement in politics. Some contrasted  ‘civil society’ a more complex and open site of democratic assembly to the alleged ‘monolithic’ vision of politics embodied in the traditional labour movement. In a diffuse way this was associated with the once fashionable idea that “a “post-modern” society dissolved reality in ‘simulacra’. Others claimed it  meant the end of “grand narratives” – or more bluntly, that the ideas of socialism and the Left was splintering so quickly that only a fragmented series of ‘critical’ responses were possible against neo-liberal regimes of ‘governance’.

Wood argued for the importance of class in shaping not just political interests but the potential constituency of  radical socialist politics. Fights over power were at the centre of Marxism and these were part and parcel with disputes over exploitation and the appropriation of the social surplus. The ‘new social movements’, the women’s movement, the rising ecological movement, campaigns for racial and sexual equality, were interlaced with class conflicts. Democracy could not be abstracted from these relations. To appeal, as writers such as Ernesto Laclau and Chantal Mouffe did, to the formation of a new hegemonic strategy based on  relations of “equivalence” between various democratic demands ignored the basic facts about class and power. Like her comrade Ralph Miliband Wood saw socialism as an effort to bring together people around the central issues of exploitation and oppression in democratic organisations that could shape politics. This had historically been the result of conscious action, and this kind of collective work was needed more than even against a very real and growing grand narrative – the reality of neo-liberal economics and government assaults on working people, and the unemployed – in building a new regime of capitalist accumulation.

In academic as well as left-wing activist  circles Wood became known for her “political Marxist” approach to history. This focused on the issue of the transition from feudalism to capitalism and social property relations.  The Pristine Culture of Capitalism 1992  was a summary of this approach. It was also directed against the views of Perry Anderson (Editor of New Left Review) and Tom Nairn (today best known for his Scottish nationalism). In the early days of the Second New Left they had asserted  that the so-called ‘archaic’ British state was a reflection of a an equally ‘pre-modern’ capitalism. They also claimed that the ‘supine’ bourgeoisie – who abdicated political rule to the ‘aristocracy’ (which they claimed continued to dominate UK politics in the early modern period) – had been mimicked by a “supine” working class. In later writings Anderson talked of the need for a new wave of democratic modernisation to bring the country into line with the ‘second’ bourgeois revolution of modernity.

Wood, by contrast, pointed out, had a developed capitalism, indeed it was the most ‘modern’ form of capitalism. Its state form was related to its early advance, and its allegedly old-fashioned trappings – from the Monarchy downwards – had not thwarted capitalist expansion but arisen in relation to needs of its own bourgeoisie. The labour movement had developed in struggle with these forces, not in deference to them.

On all the essential points present-day Britian was no more, no less, ‘modern’ than anywhere else in Europe or in any contemporary capitalist state. Indeed it was for long a template for bourgeois democracy. In particular Wood attacked the claims of Tom Nairn that in some fashion Ukania (his ‘funny’ word for the United Kingdom, modelled on the novelist (1880 – 1942) Robert Musil’s term for the Austro-Hungrian empire, Kakania – shit land) owed its economic difficulties to its constitution.  Economic problems  arose at root from the general contradictions of capitalist accumulation, in a specific form. The problems of British democracy were due to its capitalist character – it is hardly alone in having a Monarchy to begin with – not to the issues Nairn-Anderson dreamt up about its sonderweg.

More widely Wood is known as an advocate of a version of the ‘Brenner thesis’ (after Robert Brenner’s article, Agrarian Class Structure and Economic Development in Pre-Industrial Europe”1978). The creation of market relations in British agriculture were considered to be the foundation of modern capitalism. The essential condition was separation from non-market access to the means of subsistence, the means of self-reproduction. Wood argued that it was the capitalist transformation of agriculture, followed by the rise of merchant class expanding these forms through international trade, created the ground of Western capitalism.  It was also responsible for the distinctive state forms that emerged in Britain.

In the Agrarian Origins of Capitalism (1998) Wood summarised her views,

The distinctive political centralization of the English state had material foundations and corollaries. First, already in the 16th century, England had an impressive network of roads and water transport that unified the nation to a degree unusual for the period. London, becoming disproportionately large in relation to other English towns and to the total population of England (and eventually the largest city in Europe), was also becoming the hub of a developing national market.

The material foundation on which this emerging national economy rested was English agriculture, which was unique in several ways. The English ruling class was distinctive in two major and related respects: on the one hand, as part of an increasingly centralized state, in alliance with a centralizing monarchy, they did not possess to the same degree as their Continental counterparts the more or less autonomous “extra-economic” powers on which other ruling classes could rely to extract surplus labor from direct producers. On the other hand, land in England had for a long time been unusually concentrated, with big landlords holding an unusually large proportion of land. This concentrated landownership meant that English landlords were able to use their property in new and distinctive ways. What they lacked in “extra-economic” powers of surplus extraction they more than made up for by their increasing “economic” powers.

Wood’s political stand was firmly within the Marxist ambit. In 1999 she stated (The Politics of Capitalism) ,

…all oppositional struggles—both day-to-day struggles to improve the conditions of life and work, and struggles for real social change—should be informed by one basic perception: that class struggle can’t, either by its presence or by its absence, eliminate the contradictions in the capitalist system, even though it can ultimately eliminate the system itself. This means struggling for every possible gain within capitalism, without falling into the hopeless trap of believing that the left can do a better job of managing capitalism. Managing capitalism is not the job of socialists, but, more particularly, it’s not a job that can be done at all.

The broader  focus on the links between capitalism and state forms continued in her study Empire of Capital (2003). This analysed how the “empire of capital” (rather than the vague ‘globalisation’ or the rhizome of Hardt and Negri’s  ‘Empire’) shapes the  modern world through “accumulation, commodification, profit maximization, and competition.”

Wood’s later works, Citizens to Lords: A Social History of Western Political Thought from Antiquity to the Middle Ages (2008) and Liberty & Property: A Social History of Western Political Thought from Renaissance to Enlightenment  were ambitious attempts to narrate and analyse Western political thought in the light of class categories.

Wood had a profound influence on countless people.

She was a democratic Marxist, a feminist, a perceptive writer and a force for good.

Homage to her memory.

Remembering Ellen Meiksins Wood

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Paul Mason: “The end of capitalism has begun”

July 20, 2015 at 6:53 pm (capitalism, capitalist crisis, economics, fantasy, Guardian, intellectuals, Jim D, reformism)

This has been causing some excitement in liberal-left circles, as it apparently means would-be lefties can just wait for “post-capitalism” to happen, while working in retail management or small business:

The red flags and marching songs of Syriza during the Greek crisis, plus the expectation that the banks would be nationalised, revived briefly a 20th-century dream: the forced destruction of the market from above. For much of the 20th century this was how the left conceived the first stage of an economy beyond capitalism. The force would be applied by the working class, either at the ballot box or on the barricades. The lever would be the state. The opportunity would come through frequent episodes of economic collapse.

Instead over the past 25 years it has been the left’s project that has collapsed. The market destroyed the plan; individualism replaced collectivism and solidarity; the hugely expanded workforce of the world looks like a “proletariat”, but no longer thinks or behaves as it once did.

If you lived through all this, and disliked capitalism, it was traumatic. But in the process technology has created a new route out, which the remnants of the old left – and all other forces influenced by it – have either to embrace or die. Capitalism, it turns out, will not be abolished by forced-march techniques. It will be abolished by creating something more dynamic that exists, at first, almost unseen within the old system, but which will break through, reshaping the economy around new values and behaviours. I call this postcapitalism.

As with the end of feudalism 500 years ago, capitalism’s replacement by postcapitalism will be accelerated by external shocks and shaped by the emergence of a new kind of human being. And it has started.

Postcapitalism is possible because of three major changes information technology has brought about in the past 25 years. First, it has reduced the need for work, blurred the edges between work and free time and loosened the relationship between work and wages. The coming wave of automation, currently stalled because our social infrastructure cannot bear the consequences, will hugely diminish the amount of work needed – not just to subsist but to provide a decent life for all.

Second, information is corroding the market’s ability to form prices correctly. That is because markets are based on scarcity while information is abundant. The system’s defence mechanism is to form monopolies – the giant tech companies – on a scale not seen in the past 200 years, yet they cannot last. By building business models and share valuations based on the capture and privatisation of all socially produced information, such firms are constructing a fragile corporate edifice at odds with the most basic need of humanity, which is to use ideas freely.

Third, we’re seeing the spontaneous rise of collaborative production: goods, services and organisations are appearing that no longer respond to the dictates of the market and the managerial hierarchy. The biggest information product in the world – Wikipedia – is made by volunteers for free, abolishing the encyclopedia business and depriving the advertising industry of an estimated $3bn a year in revenue.

Almost unnoticed, in the niches and hollows of the market system, whole swaths of economic life are beginning to move to a different rhythm. Parallel currencies, time banks, cooperatives and self-managed spaces have proliferated, barely noticed by the economics profession, and often as a direct result of the shattering of the old structures in the post-2008 crisis.

…read the whole article here

A comrade comments:
“It’s complete nonsense; not only utopian in the worst sense of the word but also depressingly gradualist and reformist (its central claim is that ‘post-capitalism’ will just sort of emerge as the result of a proliferation of… well, I don’t know what exactly: file sharing?).

“The ‘would-be lefties’ drawing the conclusion that they can ‘wait for post-capitalism to happen’ – i.e., without having to think, or organise, or act, or struggle in any meaningful way at all – seems to me an entirely faithful reading of the article.

“It’s like the worst bits of Owen and Proudhon repackaged for the digital age and dressed up as some amazingly innovative, novel theory. But at least those people (even Proudhon, who was basically a reactionary) had a bit of fighting spirit about them, wanted to build a movement (of sorts), and wanted people to fight the system (in however distorted or misguided a way). What does Mason want us to do? Surf the web?

“It’s actually quite sad from a guy who probably ought to know better, and who only a few years ago was writing books about how the key aspect of contemporary capitalism was the globalisation of the working class. He seems now to have decided that this isn’t really that important after all.”

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Enemy Intelligence: Bruno Waterfield of ‘The Times’ on the Greek crisis

July 1, 2015 at 10:56 pm (capitalist crisis, Europe, Greece)

We reproduce this, from today’s (London) Times, because it seems to be well-informed, and it’s only otherwise available from behind Murdoch’s pay-wall. We do not know whom the “senior German conservative” is, but it might well be finance minister Wolfgang Schaeubl

‘No new bailout unless Tsipras goes’

Greece will not get a cent in new euro-zone bailout loans while Alexis Tsipras and Yanis Varoukaris remain in power, because Germany will block any such deal, one of Europe’s most influential politicians has told The Times.

“Today there is the question of do we trust Tsipras and Varoufakis? The answer is clear to all parties, no,” the senior German conservative said.

He also lifted the mild on a European Union attempt to push Mr Tsipras’s left-wing Syriza out of power regardless of the vote on July 5.

If Greece’s prime minister and finance minister remained in office, even after a “yes” vote in Sunday’s referendum, then Athens would stand no chance of a new bailout, he indicated.

Under the rules of the European Stability Mechanism, the euro’s bailout fund, the German parliament, or Bundestag, has a veto or blocking vote over any new programme such as that requested by Greece at the 11th hour.

The senior German conservative said that Angela Merkel’s ruling Christian Democrat Union (CDU) and its Baverian allies the Christian Social Union (CSU) would block any request made while the pair, described as “communists” remained in power.

“In my party the CDU/CSU there would be a lot of colleagues who would vote ‘no’ if Varoufakis and Tsipras are asking. For sure. Because there is simply no trust any more. They say, I am not going to give taxpayers’ money to Greece without a reliable partner,” he said. Referring to Syrezia, he added: “We need a reliable partner who wants to do the job.”

The EU’s plan is to back a “yes” vote strongly by posing it as an in/out question on membership of the euro rather than austerity measures and then, in the event of a victory, to oust Syriza after the expected resignation of Mr Tsipras. “We will do anything to get a ‘yes’. Then we will need a new government, then we have to implement measures” he said.

The politician revealed that the socialist Martin Schulz, the president of the European parliament, was involved in secret talks, possibly involving Mr Tsipras -m whom he sees as a moderate – to “split the Syriza movement” as a precondition for a new EU bailout, incorporating moderate MPs in Syriza to avoid new elections.

In the event of a “no” vote and Syriza continuing to hold the reigns of power, the German conservative said, “It’s over” and Greece would have to leave the euro after defaulting on ECB loans on July 20. “We will talk about a humanitarian rescue programme but not an additional [bailout],” he said.

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Stiglitz and Guzman on Greece and the crisis in Europe

June 29, 2015 at 11:21 pm (capitalist crisis, Europe, Greece)

From Social Europe:

Joseph Stiglitz

Governments sometimes need to restructure their debts. Otherwise, a country’s economic and political stability may be threatened. But, in the absence of an international rule of law for resolving sovereign defaults, the world pays a higher price than it should for such restructurings. The result is a poorly functioning sovereign-debt market, marked by unnecessary strife and costly delays in addressing problems when they arise.

We are reminded of this time and again. In Argentina, the authorities’ battles with a small number of “investors” (so-called vulture funds) jeopardized an entire debt restructuring agreed to – voluntarily – by an overwhelming majority of the country’s creditors. In Greece, most of the “rescue” funds in the temporary “assistance” programs are allocated for payments to existing creditors, while the country is forced into austerity policies that have contributed mightily to a 25% decline in GDP and have left its population worse off. In Ukraine, the potential political ramifications of sovereign-debt distress are enormous.

So the question of how to manage sovereign-debt restructuring – to reduce debt to levels that are sustainable – is more pressing than ever. The current system puts excessive faith in the “virtues” of markets. Disputes are generally resolved not on the basis of rules that ensure fair resolution, but by bargaining among unequals, with the rich and powerful usually imposing their will on others. The resulting outcomes are generally not only inequitable, but also inefficient.

Those who claim that the system works well frame cases like Argentina as exceptions. Most of the time, they claim, the system does a good job. What they mean, of course, is that weak countries usually knuckle under. But at what cost to their citizens? How well do the restructurings work? Has the country been put on a sustainable debt path? Too often, because the defenders of the status quo do not ask these questions, one debt crisis is followed by another.

Greece’s debt restructuring in 2012 is a case in point. The country played according to the “rules” of financial markets and managed to finalize the restructuring rapidly; but the agreement was a bad one and did not help the economy recover. Three years later, Greece is in desperate need of a new restructuring.

Distressed debtors need a fresh start. Excessive penalties lead to negative-sum games, in which the debtor cannot recover and creditors do not benefit from the larger repayment capacity that recovery would entail.

The absence of a rule of law for debt restructuring delays fresh starts and can lead to chaos. That is why no government leaves it to market forces to restructure domestic debts. All have concluded that “contractual remedies” simply do not suffice. Instead, they enact bankruptcy laws to provide the ground rules for creditor-debtor bargaining, thereby promoting efficiency and fairness.

Sovereign-debt restructurings are even more complicated than domestic bankruptcy, plagued as they are by problems of multiple jurisdictions, implicit as well as explicit claimants, and ill-defined assets upon which claimants can draw. That is why we find the claim by some – including the US Treasury – that there is no need for an international rule of law so incredible.

To be sure, it may not be possible to establish a full international bankruptcy code; but a consensus could be reached on many issues. For example, a new framework should include clauses providing for stays of litigation while the restructuring is being carried out, thus limiting the scope for disruptive behavior by vulture funds.

It should also contain provisions for lending into arrears: lenders willing to provide credit to a country going through a restructuring would receive priority treatment. Such lenders would thus have an incentive to provide fresh resources to countries when they need them the most.

There should be agreement, too, that no country can sign away its basic rights. There can be no voluntary renunciation of sovereign immunity, just as no person can sell himself into slavery. There also should be limits on the extent to which one democratic government can bind its successors.

This is particularly important because of the tendency of financial markets to induce short-sighted politicians to loosen today’s budget constraints, or to lend to flagrantly corrupt governments such as the fallen Yanukovych regime in Ukraine, at the expense of future generations. Such a constraint would improve the functioning of sovereign-debt markets by inducing greater due diligence in lending.

A “soft law” framework containing these features, implemented through an oversight commission that acted as a mediator and supervisor of the restructuring process, could resolve some of today’s inefficiencies and inequities. But, if the framework is to be consensual, its implementation should not be based at an institution that is too closely associated with one side of the market or the other.

This means that regulation of sovereign-debt restructuring cannot be based at the International Monetary Fund, which is too closely affiliated with creditors (and is a creditor itself). To minimize the potential for conflicts of interest, the framework could be implemented by the United Nations, a more representative institution that is taking the lead on the matter, or by a new global institution, as already suggested in the 2009 Stiglitz Report on reforming the international monetary and financial system.

The crisis in Europe is just the latest example of the high costs – for creditors and debtors alike – entailed by the absence of an international rule of law for resolving sovereign-debt crises. Such crises will continue to occur. If globalization is to work for all countries, the rules of sovereign lending must change. The modest reforms we propose are the right place to start.

© Project Syndicate

About Joseph E. Stiglitz and Martin Guzman

Joseph Stiglitz is University Professor at Columbia University and a Nobel laureate in Economics. Martin Guzman is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the Department of Economics and Finance at Columbia University Business School.

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George Grosz: artist, satirist and “cultural Bolshevik”

May 22, 2015 at 7:18 pm (anti-fascism, Art and design, capitalist crisis, culture, Germany, history, humanism, Jim D, modernism, satire, sex workers, war)

Between now and June 20th you have the opportunity to see ‘The Big No’, an exhibition of work of one by the greatest left-wing satirical artists of the 20th century: George Grosz. It’s at the London Print Studio (W10) and admission is free of charge.

Grosz was a founder of the Berlin Dadaist movement who created hundreds of drawings that savagely depicted the corruption, injustice and decadence of the Weimar republic. Along with Helmut Herzfeld (who became John Heartfield) he introduced photomontage to the mainstream. Many of his his drawings are composed like photomontages.

The drawings use superb fine-pen draftsmanship while the paintings are composed of bold brush-stokes, to convey shocking images of extremes of wealth and poverty, sexual exploitation and the broken survivors of WWI.

The Big No (named after Grosz’s autobiography A Little Yes and a Big No) features two portfolios of his drawings: Ecce Homo (Behold The Man), published in 1923 and Hintergrund (Background) from 1928. Ecce Homo was the subject of a four year legal case, with  Grosz and his publisher accused of both pornography and bringing the German military into disrepute. They were acquitted, but in 1933 the Nazis had all the plates destroyed and the drawings publicly burned. We are able to see the work now because in 1959, after Grosz’s death, his widow and sons licenced a facsimile edition of the portfolio.

The Nazis denounced Grosz as a “cultural Bolshevik” and his work (together with that of fellow modernists, Jews and leftists like Kandinsky, Kokoschka, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner and Otto Dix) featured in the notorious 1937 “degenerate art” exhibition organised by the Nazis. By then Grosz had fled with his family to the US, where he remained for the rest of his life and where his son Marty became a well-known jazz guitarist.

Grosz wrote, ‘In 1916 I was discharged from military service. The Berlin to which I returned was a cold and grey city. What I saw made me loathe most of my fellow men; everything I could say has been recorded in my drawings. The busy cafés and wine-cellars merely accentuated the gloom of the dark, unheated residential districts. I drew drunkards; puking men; men with clenched fists cursing at the moon; men playing cards on the coffins of the women they had murdered. I drew a man, face filled with fright, washing blood from his hands… I was each one of the characters I drew, the champagne-swilling glutton favoured by fate no less than the poor beggar standing with outstretched hands in the rain. I was split in two, just like society at large…’

This exhibition is simply unmissable. I don’t know whether or not it’s going to appear anywhere outside London, so even if you don’t live in capital, I’d recommend a special visit. And how appropriate that it’s appearing in one of the less affluent parts of London, at studio whose stated mission is to “empower people and communities through practical engagement with the visual and graphic arts.”

GROSZ - On the threshold 

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Grexit?

February 20, 2015 at 10:06 pm (capitalism, capitalist crisis, Europe, Greece, Jim D)

Alexis Tsipras celebrates his victory

This is where you will get the best information and analysis (from a social democratic angle):

http://www.socialeurope.eu/#ios

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Syriza and the Independent Greeks: a Kremlin connection?

January 28, 2015 at 8:36 pm (anti-semitism, capitalist crisis, democracy, elections, Europe, Greece, populism, posted by JD, Russia, strange situations)

Make no mistake: Syriza’s victory is an inspiring moment for the working class of Greece and the left throughout Europe and beyond. Shiraz Socialist is not about to join the bleating chorus of sectarians, Stalinists and other defeatists who have already begun predicting a sell-out by the new government. Some of these people on the UK left are well described here by Comrade Coatesy.

However, it has to be admitted that Syriza’s coalition deal with the far right wing anti-immigrant (and on occasion, antisemitic) Independent Greeks party (ANEL) is disappointing and worrying. The following disturbing article from Anton Shekhovtsov’s blog, offers a possible explanation for this unlikely alliance. We cannot vouch for the accuracy of what the author claims, but his theory certainly makes sense and is at least worthy of serious attention:

Greek left-wing SYRIZA forms a coalition with the pro-Kremlin far right

After a landslide victory in the early parliamentary elections held on 25 January 2015, the Greek Coalition of the Radical Left (SYRIZA) that secured 149 seats in the new parliament has surprised the left-wing voters and sympathisers by agreeing to form, already on 26 January, a coalition government with the far right Independent Greeks party (ANEL) that now has 13 seats. Popular support for the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn led by currently imprisoned Nikolaos Michaloliakos has slightly decreased: the neo-Nazis have secured 17 seats (one seat less than in 2012), but the Golden Dawn is still the third largest party in Greece.

Both SYRIZA and ANEL are so-called “anti-austerity parties” implying that they oppose reducing budget deficits as a response to the Greek financial crisis, as well as rejecting the austerity package put forth by the EU and the IMF. The “anti-austerity” platform may seem the only agenda that has drawn the two parties they share, but they also share a similar approach to foreign policy issues – an approach that may undermine the EU unity over the Russian threat.

Both parties are overtly pro-Russian, and SYRIZA’s leader Alexis Tsipras denounced the sanctions against Russia imposed by the EU for Russia’s annexation of Crimea and its invasion of Ukraine that has already cost Ukrainians thousands of lives. In May 2014, i.e. already after Russia had started its invasion of Ukraine, Tsipras travelled to Moscow to meet Vladimir Putin’s major allies such as Valentina Matviyenko, chairman of Federation Council of the Russian Federation, and Aleksey Pushkov, chairman of the Russian parliament’s foreign affairs committee. Both Matviyenko and Pushkov are sanctioned by the US, while Matviyenko is also sanctioned by the EU. This did not prevent Tsipras from holding a meeting with her.

Valentina Matviyenko and Alexis Tsipras at a meeting in Moscow, May 2014

According to Russian fascist Aleksandr Dugin, writing in 2013,

In Greece, our [i.e. Russia’s] partners could eventually be Leftists from SYRIZA, which refuses Atlanticism, liberalism and the domination of the forces of global finance. As far as I know, SYRIZA is anti-capitalist and it is critical of the global oligarchy that has victimized Greece and Cyprus. The case of SYRIZA is interesting because of its far-Left attitude toward the liberal global system. It is a good sign that such non-conformist forces have appeared on the scene.

The pro-Russian sentiments of SYRIZA were manifested, in particular, in its voting behaviour in the European parliament. For example, on 16 September 2014, when the European Parliament ratified the EU-Ukraine Association agreement – an agreement that was one of the reasons of the Russian invasion of Ukraine – all six MEPs of SYRIZA voted against the ratification of this agreement.

If SYRIZA is Russia’s “Trojan horse” in the EU, then ANEL led by Panos Kammenos may be even worse.

ANEL (founded in February 2012) is a far right party that Daphne Halikiopoulou and Sofia Vasilopoulou describe as “highly conservative and nationalistic right-wing”. In its opposition to immigration and multiculturalism, ANEL is similar to, yet is more moderate than, the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn. ANEL is also prone to conspiracy theories. For example, as argued by Pavlos Zafiropoulos, ANEL and its supporters believe that the Greek government “is spraying the populace from airplanes with mind-controlling substances”. Anti-Semitism is not alien to ANEL either: “Panos Kammenos, speaking on a TV program made the baseless claim that Jewish people in Greece are not taxed in contrast to Christian Orthodox Greeks”.

The driving force behind the pro-Russian approach of ANEL seems to be Gavriil Avramidis, who was elected MP with ANEL in Thessaloniki in 2012. He is also head of the Patriotic Social Movement “Greek-Russian Alliance” founded in 2001 and aimed at widening co-operation between Greece and Russia.

Yet Avramidis may be not the only politician in ANEL who is lobbying Russian interests in Greece. Kammenos visited Moscow in the first half of January 2015. Moreover, an article titled “An Attempt at Reviving the Russian Party” that was published on 22 January in the Greek Russian-language newspaper Afinskiy Kurer (Athens Courier) discussed the pro-Russian approach of ANEL in general.

An article titled “An Attempt at Reviving the Russian Party” published in Afinskiy Kur’er (Athens Courier). Gavriil Avramidis is featured on the central photo

Several questions remain, however. Are pro-Russian sentiments indeed important for ANEL? Will ANEL contribute to the strengthening of SYRIZA’s pro-Russian positions? Will the new coalition government push for lifting the EU sanctions against Russia that is escalating its invasion of Ukraine?

Doubtlessly, Russia will try to capitalise both on the victory of SYRIZA and the formation of the SYRIZA/ANEL coalition government. Putin has already congratulated Tsipras on his party’s victory saying that he is “confident that Russia and Greece will continue to develop their traditionally constructive cooperation in all areas and will work together effectively to resolve current European and global problems”. BBC correspondent Gabriel Gatehouse, currently in Athens, reports that he has seen the Russian ambassador Andrey Maslov entering the SYRIZA main office.

Kammenos’ visit to Moscow was most likely connected to the possibility of the formation of the SYRIZA/ANEL coalition government. At the same time, Avramidis visited the General Consulate of Russia in Thessaloniki on 23 January 2015, i.e. just a few days before the parliamentary elections, to discuss, with Consul General Aleksey Popov, the renewal of the cooperation between Greece and Russia, as well as lifting the sanctions against Russia.

(left to right) Russian Consul General in Thessaloniki Aleksey Popov and MP Gavriil Avramidis, 23 January 2015, Thessaloniki

Since the EU is a consensus-based organisation, imposing or tightening sanctions against Russia requires all the Member States to agree to such moves. Hence, the issue of sanctions may become a negotiating point for the new Greek authorities when they meet with more influential EU players to renegotiate the terms of the bailout programme for Greece. SYRIZA and ANEL are “anti-austerity” parties in the first place, so their pro-Russian sentiments may increase the cost, rather than contribute to lifting or blocking, of the EU sanctions against Russia.

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Greece: the prospect of a Syriza victory

January 21, 2015 at 2:30 pm (capitalist crisis, democracy, economics, Europe, Greece, left, posted by JD, solidarity)


The people tried to overthrow the memoranda between 2010-13, but they couldn’t overcome the state’s reaction, the brutality of the police and legal system, the betrayals or lack of planning from their own trade union leaders. It was natural that they started moving away from their political and trade union leaders (from the neo-liberal parties) and place their hopes on Syriza. Their interest was elevated towards the question of power, even in a “distorted” parliamentary way, as a next means of tackling the crisis.

Increasingly, since 2012, it has been up to Syriza to direct the people’s attention towards a reconstruction of the movement on a higher basis, with a friendly government on its side. A Syriza victory and the implementation of some of its urgent measures, could encourage the workers to fight for all they have been deprived of.

There are struggles still going on, such as the laid-off public servants (teachers, janitors, school guardians [caretakers]). Nevertheless demonstrations and strikes have weakened and people in struggle are also are waiting for the elections, at least temporarily. Yet all these struggles (and the recent victorious one, against the lay-offs in the public sector, against the “redeployment” process) have created a mood of public exasperation. That hindered the next memorandum planned by the former government and forced them to resign in the hope that a “left-break” would be short-lived.

If Syriza wins the urgent measures for the first 100 days will, as set out in the Thessaloniki declaration, consist of some measures that we, as DEA, find useful or critical to give confidence to the labour movement. These are:

• Restoration of the minimum wage (up to 751 euros, a 30% raise),

• Restorarion of all the labour laws and the collective labour contracts

• A €12, 000 tax-threshold

• Free health care for all the uninsured

• Abolition of socially unjust taxing

• Free electricity for 300,000 households

• A programme for 300,000 new jobs in the public and private sector.

Not every issue is fully addressed. The question of unemployment and even more urgently that of the evaporated pension funds need more immediate and determined attention. We hope that the movement will push for the most radical solutions, the ones Syriza’s majority faction try to overlook or postpone. But the overall programme of priorities is very promising. Many people hope for half of it to be realised as fast as is being promised. Read the rest of this entry »

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