|Volume 49 Number 18, October 19, 2019||ARCHIVE||HOME||JBCENTRE||SUBSCRIBE|
Workers' Weekly Internet Edition: Article Index : ShareThis
Climate Change and the Need for Empowerment
Climate Change Protests:
Climate Change Protesters Oppose Police Ban on Gatherings
Black History Month:
Reflections on Black History Month
As MPs sit today, October 19, in the House of Commons on "Super Saturday" for the first time since the Malvinas conflict, it looks likely that the Amendment tabled by Oliver Letwin will prevail. This will trigger a letter from the government to the European Union requesting a further extension to Britain's leaving the EU. Thus the can is likely to be kicked even further down the road than the deadline of October 31.
What the people cannot allow is that they get disorientated by an agenda which is not theirs and over which they have no control.
When it comes to the economy, for example, the issue is not to remain in or leave the European Union in the hope or belief that that is going to resolve the economic crisis, the austerity working people are facing, the precarious employment, zero contracts, lack of jobs, destruction of whole industries such as steel, mining, or car production, and in social services the agenda of privatisation and cut-backs. True, there are arguments from working people on whether Remain or Leave would ameliorate the situation. But it is working people who still struggle for their rights. And crucially in the course of this it inevitably presents itself that they should discuss how they can possibly control the direction of the economy, and what this must be.
And the fact is that the Brexit shambles where Westminster politics is showing itself incapable of sorting out these crucial questions points to the fact that working people cannot hand over authorship of their interests to the MPs as "representatives" in the system of "representative democracy". How dysfunctional can you get when the House of Commons has no confidence in the government, which has a 100% record in losing the divisions, yet the government carries on regardless.
Who is in control? The archaic system shows by its dysfunctionality that it is certainly not the people. Above them is a higher power which acts supposedly in the "national interest". This is what the dysfunctionality is demonstrating more than anything. And it is working to deprive the people themselves of their own outlook. And the attempt to raise passions and hysteria to create divisions among the people to this end should also be decisively rejected.
The deal presented to Parliament by Boris Johnson is being criticised by Jeremy Corbyn, the Labour Party as a whole and others as doing nothing to guarantee the rights of the people or the health of the economy. It is being rejected from that viewpoint, as was Theresa May's deal. But it should also be remembered that it is the European Union's deal. And it is clearly not the case that working people of all national backgrounds were not fighting to affirm their rights while Britain has been in the European Union. In fact, matters have deteriorated for the working people, with attacks on their conditions of work and strengthening the control of the economy by the financial oligarchy with its agenda of austerity and privatisation. In other words, there is the broad horizon to consider, the fact that while people are organising to defend their rights they also are struggling to find political and social forms in which they are able to speak in their own name and make this decisive.
The youth in this situation, for example, are taking a stand that what is at stake is to advance towards a new society, in which the interests of human beings are put at the centre, and the natural and social environments are humanised. And this is what the people demand of their political parties, yet the cartel party system excludes them. This is a far cry from the attempts to limit their horizons to travelling about Europe without hindrance.
Especially on the question of Brexit, people cannot afford to be tied down to the narrow horizons of Leave or Remain, but set their sights on democratic renewal of a dysfunctional system that would be classed as shambolic were it not that the seriousness of the political crisis is very profound and presents a dangerous situation for the people. It is not a question of personalities and their qualities, but one of resolving how the public interest can be served by the people speaking in their own name, and in that sense becoming sovereign with appropriate decision-making forms which harmonise individual and collective interests, together with the interests of society as a whole.
This is very much consonant with the urgent need for an Anti-War Government, a state-form with a democratic personality, in opposition to everything we know about pro-war governance serving the interests of financial oligarchies under the fiction of a person of state above us in which decision-making power is vested.
People's empowerment, on the contrary, is the requirement of the times, and this is the essence of what the working class and people's movement is organising towards. Let us leave the shambles of Brexit behind, discuss what favours our movements, end the marginalisation of the organised working class, get involved in the great motion to change society, and dare to envision the persona of a modern democratic state.
People across the country and around the world have been in action since Monday, October 7, for two weeks of demonstrations over the serious matter of the crisis of climate change and holding governments to account over the threat of global warming.
These actions are plainly exposing the contradiction between the ruling elite on the one hand and the vast majority of the people on the other, people whose efforts to speak in their own name are being ignored.
The inability to act in any substantive way further underscores the dysfunctional nature of the Westminster system of representative democracy, which cannot resolve any problems that pose themselves.
What is becoming increasingly evident is the need for people to organise to speak for themselves, rather than authorising so-called representatives to speak on their behalf. The burning issue of the day is for people themselves to become the decision-makers over all matters that affect them, and the natural environment is a matter that affects all.
The need for people to organise to speak for themselves is being reflected in the attempts at and suggestions for new democratic forms, which are particularly coming to the fore in the climate change movement.
The call for a National Citizens Assembly on the issue of climate with actual political power is one such proposal. To be truly effective, such an Assembly requires a form and content consistent with the demands of the times. People cannot limit themselves to forms in which in which agenda is set elsewhere - their forms need to be mechanisms that actually empower them in practice to speak in their own name.
Without this crucial factor, any mechanism can be a diversion into rescuing the dysfunctional system, such as to lend legitimacy to those with the assumed authority to speak in the people's name on their behalf.
People therefore need to be vigilant to any attempts to manipulate the movement for the state's own ends and those of the powerful interests it represents.
The establishment are past masters of providing self-serving "support". In the present movement, there is a great deal of one-sided publicity, presenting things in a particular manner, combined with growing deployment of police powers.
At the same time, the unity of the people has to be urgently defended against attempts to sow division. There have already been incidents of confrontation and violence. The deployment of agent provocateurs in this respect cannot be discounted. To turn the issue of climate into one of this versus that side is to trivialise it; to entrench that leads to nothing but civil war and the wrecking of the social and natural environment.
Related to this is the pressure to mobilise behind this or that faction of the cartel party system as an end in itself.
Humanising the social environment means the people organising themselves to become the decision-makers in all things that affect their lives. Only on this basis can the problems of humanising the natural environment be sorted out.
Impressions from an activist
On October 16 many hundreds of people came together in Trafalgar Square continuing the two week action over climate change. They came in defiance of a police ban on any Extinction Rebellion (XR) gathering anywhere in London imposed last Monday evening. For four hours people spoke, listened, discussed, deliberated, sang together, and shared moments of silent thought.
A science broadcaster explained she had known very little about the climate crisis till the XR protests last April, which spurred her to investigate. Now she is one of over 1,000 scientists across the world who have signed a joint declaration, stating: "We believe that the continued governmental inaction over the climate and ecological crisis now justifies peaceful and non-violent protest and direct action, even if this goes beyond the bounds of the current law," and supporting those protesting across the world. If we have presented the science and governments will not listen, then we have to act.
Many spoke of the government's silence in the Queen's Speech on climate crisis. A retired police chief superintendent, who had himself been arrested during the current protests, said the government speaks of targets, but if there is a target there should be a plan to achieve the target.
"We who are campaigning today are standing on the shoulders of giants," an XR campaigner reflected, "those who have given their lives to defend their land and the environment in parts of the world on the front line of the effects of climate change, and here in this country those like Friends of the Earth and Green Peace who have for so many years been fighting this issue. Who would have thought one year ago when XR started we would have gained such huge support," he said.
"Thank you from XR to all of you who have come here, at risk of arrest, because you recognise the urgency to speak out against the ban of lawful protest. As we stand here in Trafalgar Square where so many have stood before, we know the Government has lost the argument. They are trying to silence our discussion, debate, democracy."
Others spoke of the right of people to come together for their demands, and the attempt to suppress those rights, labelling us as domestic extremists. From the Levellers to the Mass Trespassers at Kinder Scout, ordinary people are the ones who change history.
What course of action should we take in light of the governments silence and their attempt to silence us? This was the question presenting itself for collective deliberation in the people's assemblies this afternoon.
XR are also challenging the police ban through the law they described the ban as a "disproportionate and unprecedented attempt to curtail peaceful protest".
According to news reports, activists have been granted the go-ahead for a judicial review of the Metropolitan Police's public order banning more than two climate activists convening anywhere in the city. The hearing at the High Court was scheduled for Thursday afternoon.
Since the 1980s, the month of October has been widely recognised as Black History Month (BHM), a month to celebrate and recognise the important histories, struggles, contributions and achievements of those of African and Caribbean heritage in Britain. At its inception the month was intended as an affirmation that the Eurocentric rendering of history that proclaimed that "Africa has no history", and other such racist views, must be condemned, along with all attempts to present history as only the deed of the white men of property. This was of particular importance since such views and approaches were ingrained within the state education system, as well as the monopoly-controlled media. In recent decades BHM has received increasing official recognition and this year was even acknowledged and commented on during Prime Minister's Questions in the House of Commons.
The celebration of BHM reflects a widespread recognition that a Eurocentric rendering of history does not serve the interests of the majority of people, but it also reflects the reality that much remains to be done on this and related questions throughout the year. In this regard there are constant demands for the "decolonising" of curricula at universities and throughout the education system, as well as in the media, the heritage sector and elsewhere. These demands raise important questions regarding not just the need for enlightenment but also who should be the decision-makers in the education system and whose interests should it serve, as well as the need for the people to further develop their own media, which is in opposition to the aims of and interests of the monopoly and state-controlled media. In short, it raises the question not of the need for "decolonisation", which history-as-such generally records as the deed of the colonial powers themselves, giving rise to the end of history's development. Rather it raises the question of people empowering themselves, so as to create a people-centred society in which the interests of the majority take centre stage, and in which they can become history makers.
The official recognition of BHM by the powers that be should not hide the fact that the state, the judiciary, media, etc., are the forces that are most responsible for the existence and encouragement of racism in all its forms, as numerous examples, such as the recent Windrush scandal and the entire immigration system, make abundantly clear.
The Oval 4
It has also been further illustrated this BHM month by an announcement regarding the most recent developments in the infamous Oval 4 case.
The "Oval 4" were four young men, Winston Trew, Sterling Christie, George Griffiths, and Constantine Boucher, who were brutally attacked and then arrested at Oval underground station in March 1972. They were subsequently savagely beaten whilst in police custody, tortured to make them confess to crimes they had not committed and charged with attempting to steal, theft and assaulting the police. At that time the state, the monopoly-controlled media and others had orchestrated a campaign around what was referred to as "mugging", street theft which, in an openly racist manner, was blamed almost solely on young black men. In this racist environment, and despite a vigorous campaign in their defence, the four young men, like many others at the time, were convicted and sentenced to two years imprisonment. Even though they later appealed that verdict, their sentences were only reduced; the verdict was not overturned.
Since that time, for nearly fifty years, the Oval 4 have been trying to overturn this injustice. Winston Trew even wrote a book about his entire experience, the shattering effect it had on his personal life and on his family. It might be considered that with the official recognition of BHM and the apparent interest in history that this and other historic wrongs would have been righted many years ago but that has not been the case. This might have been considered more likely because it was known for many years that the police officer who led the arrests of the Oval 4 and several similar cases was known to be thoroughly corrupt and was later arrested for mailbag theft and subsequently died in prison. Yet still nothing has been done by the state and its agencies. It was only last year, following the overturning of a verdict in another case involving the same corrupt police officer that it was possible for Winston Trew to make an application to the Criminal Court Review Commission (CCRC). Now forty-seven years after the trumped-up charges and unjust conviction the CCRC has now referred the Oval 4 case to the court of appeal.
Enough is Enough
This BHM is an opportune time to reflect on the entire history of the Oval 4 case, which was the collective experience of many at that time. It demonstrates once again the completely racist and anti-people nature of the state and its entire machinery which cannot be reformed to serve the interests of the majority. It is also a time to reflect on the lessons of history in general and why so much effort is expended to deny people their collective memory, to deny the fact that the people are the agents of change and the makers of history. Instead every effort is made to present various forms of disinformation which serve to create confusion, to deprive people not only of their collective memory but also of an outlook that can point the way forward to their empowerment and the creation of a society in which the majority are the decision-makers.
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