NOVEMBER 2016 ISSUE NO.014 FREE COUNTERFIRE.ORGG
COUNTERFIRE The S sees itself as the greatest democracy in the world. How ridiculous that now seems. et the country’s resident, Donald Trump, received fewer votes than his opponent, in an election in which barely more than half the electorate could be bothered, or could bring themselves to vote. Even many of those who did vote for him saw his only virtue in the disruption he may cause to the political system. unning a campaign characterised by racism, misogyny, and outrageous promises he has no idea how to keep, he has been catapulted into the nation’s highest office on the back of social media trolling and reality T celebrity. As he appoints an administrator it’s filling up with right wing extremists and conspiracy
theorists. And of course racists and bigots of all sorts across the country are emboldened by his victory. A epublican arty which only yesterday was exalting at the Democrats debacle are already wincing at the makeup of the incoming administration But the crisis of the American politics is not an isolated example of systemic crisis. ur rulers reaction to the economic crash of 00 onwards was to make the rest of us pay to bail them out. We are still paying but the world’s economy isn’t in much better shape. This is causing mass alienation everywhere. olitics starting to head into meltdown across the developed world. But his is only half the picture. The right isn’t conquering heart and minds.
ore people voted for S’s first woman president than a sexist bigot. And only months ago S politics was being shaken up by a groundswell of support for a self-declared socialist, Bernie Sanders. The spontaneous demonstrations across the States show that resistance has started even before Trump has taken office. Likewise here Corbyn has just won yet another crushing victory and the Labour arty is feeling an inexorable pull to the left from its members. This is pulling politics to the left with a Tory party, not so long ago being led by a pair Eton louts, now taking a more populist line to compete. The old system is completely rotten and is visibly disintegrating. We must replace it and create a better world for people are crying out for change.
INSIDE: TRUMP’S IMPERIALISM - INTERVIEW: TURKISH JOURNALIST ARIF BEKTAS
IMAGE © COUNTERFIRE. PHOTOGRAPHY © GAGE SKIDMORE / FLICKR
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The centre cannot win Donald Trump should have been the dream opponent. A narcissistic blowhard opposed by his own party. He should have been a walk over. And yet he won. Admittedly he got less votes than his Hillary, but he won within the rules of the game, a game the Democrats thought they had mastered. He won because Hillary lost. And she lost the election because she presented herself as the candidate of continuity, that she would deliver a third term of Obamaism. Hillary harped on about her great experience, her many years in politics and her long proximity to the levers of power, all the while not realising or not believing the evidence, that this was what the electorate disliked about her. Trump meanwhile portrayed himself as an outsider, a maverick, his campaign an insurgency against the the status quo. Of course the idea of Donald Trump as an outsider is outrageous, as the pictures of him in his golden lift or of him and his wife living it up with the Clintons shows. He is a billionaire and very much part of America’s ruling elite. He is not the solution, he is just a nasty demagogue. Many realised this and voted for Hillary as the lesser evil. But in a way he turned out to be politically astute and more in touch with reality than his opponent. He realised that most Americans felt poorer and more insecure now than at any time in living memory.
Unpopular And they are. The figures suggest household income for most American’s have only just crept back to where they were a decade ago. At the same time in the years of the Great Recession many of the rights at work and entitlements from the state were swept away. Millions lost their homes whilst the banks which misled them were bailed out. This year’s poll was a race between two of the most unpopular candidates in history. The foul end product of the “Greatest Democracy”. Whereas many disbelived Donald’s anti-establishment schtick, and feared his outright racism and misogyny fewer still really believed that Hillary was “on our side” as her slogan claimed.
In the end she won more votes. But lost the election because she lost key states, states she should have won and expected to win. The key losses were across the so called Rust Belt, Mid-Western states were thirty years of neoliberalism has swept away manufacturing industries and replaced the jobs lost with either no jobs at all or insecure, low skilled and low skilled ones.
Crowning achievement When in response to Donald’s “Make America Great Again” Hillary said “America’s still great” the people of the Rust Belt must have wondered whether she was living in the same country as them. In a way she isn’t, in fact she lives in a different world. She lives in the world of the elite which she was spent her whole adult life trying to gain entry to and be a part of. Her crowning achievement (as it was her husband’s before her) would have been to win the presidential election as the candidate of the establishment, the official candidate of the Democratic party and unofficial candidate of the Republican party establishment, some of whom openly called for her election. Her chosen vehicle, the Democtatic Party, did not just make a mistake in choosing her as a its candidate. It isn’t just that ‘they should have picked Bernie Sanders, he would have beaten Trump’ (and he might have done). The Big Wigs of the Democrat Party used fair means and foul to make sure that it was Hillary that was on the ballot and not Bernie because the
Democratic Party is fully committed to the maintenance of the status quo and the untrammelled rule of one of the most rapacious ruling classes in the world, and in fact is just one face of that ruling elite. That wasn’t what ‘the Bern’ was about though. His campaign, quite unexpectedly, started a prairie fire of radicalism, it had to be contained and neutralised, and it was, at least for now, by Bernie’s total support for Hillary as candidate. An equivalent to the Labour Party they are not. The Democrats are in fact to the right of the Tories on most questions. The dissimilarities between our countries’ political systems cannot blind us to the similarities between what has happened there and here.
We cannot just wait until the next election, either here or in the States. The very kind of states which voted for Trump, or failed to vote for Hillary, mirror the areas in the north of England which voted to leave in the referendum or the depressed parts of northern France which are turning towards Marine Le Pen. These are all symptoms of the crisis caused by the Great Recession and austerity which followed it, the systematic transfer of wealth to the rich from the rest of us. If the left, as the old Labour Party establishment wants, its message is one of defence of the status quo they will either demobilise their own keenest supporters or actually drive some
into the arms of a populist right best represented by Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage in this country.
Real alternative Also it must be added that the ‘realist’ solutions offered by all parties in the wake of the recession, the hocum of ‘paying of the credit card’, simply haven’t worked. The Western economies are stagnant and living standards falling. Fortunately these policies are the ones that the Jeremy Corbyn led Labour Party is moving away from. The party cannot either ‘win from the centre’. In fact the centre is disappearing as our rulers move right wards in ever more desperate attempts to distract from their failure. But we cannot just wait until the next election, either here or in the States. T he a s s au lt s wh ich w i l l b e launched by the right on both sides of the Atlantic have to be resisted. The spontaneous wave of demonstrations against Trump is a good start. They have the possibility of bringing together the many millions who voted for Hillary as the lesser evil with the millions more couldn’t bring them selves to vote at all (a shocking 45% of the electorate stayed home). In this country the same spirit of resistance which so brightly animated the Corbyn rallies of the summer, and won him a crushing victory must also be organised onto the streets. We must win the battle for hearts and minds if we are to see a radical change.
T r u mp i s t h e most right wing US President in post war history. The idea, which has gained some ground on the margins of the left, that he will be any less of an advocate of US imperial interests is an illusion. It is an illusion that has spread because Trump’s pronouncements in the Presidential campaign were a mixture of isolationism (scepticism about NATO) and hard line interventionism (bomb ISIS, break the Iran nuclear deal, support for Jerusalem as the capital of Israel). Trump is therefore an establishment maverick whose foreign policy is not a known entity in the sense that Hillary Clinton’s positions were clearly demarcated as on the hawkish end of the establishment political spectrum
Trump’s kind of imperialism How far will Trump’s foreign policy differ from before asks John Rees
Trump is an establishment maverick whose foreign policy is not a known entity T r ump’s ad mi xtu re of cont radictory stances will to a degree get straightened out by the power structure into which he is now being inducted. The state structures of US imperialism, the Pentagon, the NSA, the CIA etc, will shape Trump’s foreign policy more than he will shape them. Just as Obama never got to close Guantanamo or fully withdraw the US from Afghanistan, so Trump will have his policies tailored by the US foreign policy establishment. But this will not necessarily be an easy process because the paradoxes of Trump’s campaign promises reflect real dilemmas of US foreign policy raised to incoherence by Trump’s rhetoric.
Isolationist For the truth is that US foreign policy has already developed a ‘isolationist’ strand under Obama. This was a liberal variant of course and therefore escaped much criticism in the mainstream media. It was simply called ‘risk averse’ for its reliance on drone warfare,
The catastrophe of Iraq, and the domestic opposition … produced semi-paralysis. proxy warfare, and targeted assassinations rather than full scale ‘shock and awe’ Iraq type military opperations. This was of course the US elite’s response to the failure of the War on Terror in Iraq and Afghanistan and to its longer term economic decline. The catastrophe of Iraq, and the domestic opposition to war at home, produced semi-paralysis. The Libya debacle entrenched this attitude in the Obama administration. Trump has played to these sentiments with that side of his appeal which stresses isolationism.
But discontent with the Obama foreign policy has already been building in elite circles in the last year with calls to do more in Syria and to combat Russia. John Kerry advocated a no fly zone at the last Obama administration review of its Syrian policy. Clinton also expressed this view, but it will not go away simply because she has been defeated.
neo-con agenda of the Bush years. Trump’s paradoxical stand therefore mirrors a very real dilemma for US imperialism. His maverick status will exacerbate this paradox making US policies less predictable for enemies, allies, and for the left.
The US has suffered a severe strategic setback in the Middle East
The cabinet appointments that Trump makes will be a significant guide to the the direction of his foreign policy. If either John Bolton or Newt Gingrich take major foreign policy portfolios, and their names are being widely canvassed, we can expect a return to the full blown
We live in an era where the US has suffered a severe strategic setback in the Middle East and is no longer fully able to control the consequences of that reverse. It now faces challengers able to make regional bids to erode the
THE FIGHT AGAINST RACISM AND ISLAMOPHOBIA STARTS HERE Racists everywhere will be emboldened by the victory of Donald Trump in the US elections. His was the most racist campaign in memory starting with calling Mexican migrants racists and then moving into open Islamophobia. Already there is news of an increase in racist incidents and a re emergence of right wing extremist groups there. But he was plowing a furrow already well prepared, both parties have played the race card and demonised people of colour whilst also saying they oppose racism. The Clintons are particularly guilty of this.
This part of arise of racist rhetoric and demonising of refugees and migrants across the Western world. Much of this is driven by collusion by right wing corporate and politicians creating an echo chamber where they repeatedly say that people are concerned about immigration and that’s why they have to talk about the whole time. The strange thing is that by most measures most Western countries have become more diverse and and more integrated over the last few decades (with some notable exceptions however. This does not matter to The Mail, Farage or
Theresa and Boris. They will continue to play the race card and stir up racism and Islamophobia because they know this is the surest way to divert attention from the failings and divide ordinary working class people. That is why the left must and will make antiracism and the fight to defend minorities from attack central to its work. That is why we will be backing initiatives such as the the demonstrations against Nigel Farage’s Brexit stunts and the inauguration of President Trump in January and all future such similar actions.
© Gage Skidmore
Daniel Blake: an everyday tragedy
Dr Mona Kamal
reach of US power. Yet for all this US imperialism remains by far the most powerful force in the competitive state system. What is certain therefore is that Trump’s will struggle to manage the decline of the US imperium, torn between retrenchment and the need to police an international order in which it still has no global competitor. What does this mean for the left? We must strengthen the anti-war movement, mobilise for the protests on the day of Trumps inauguration in January 2017, and ready ourselves to initiate opposition to any attempt to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. And that, for certain, will just be the beginning.
ting against Trump
© Elvert Barnes
Austerity penalises the most vulnerable in our society. This government’s record is shameful and we most hold the Tories to account. There are so many individual experiences that might give rise to political awareness or finally nudge someone into political activity – for many of my generation it might have been involvement in the anti-war movement prior to the Iraq War, or for junior doctors the unprecedented attacks on the NHS and our working conditions. For me however, it was working in community mental health services in a deprived section of north London at the very moment that austerity began to bite. The last two Conservative -led governments have presided over a programme of austerity more extreme and more punitive than any that has gone before it. The impact on our communities and public services has become increasingly difficult to conceal. However, the very real plight of individuals on the sharp end of austerity has been less well documented. Hidden behind the dominant yet completely bogus rhetoric around the urgency of deficit reduction and “belt tightening” lie tragic human consequences. Nowhere has this been more serious than for those with disabilities and chronic mental illness who have seen the removal of the Independent Living Fund and Disability Living Allowance.
Many of us working in mental health have borne witness to the psychological impact of benefits sanctions. We have worked with patients experiencing relapse of their chronic illnesses after the humiliation and anxiety of being put through the Work Capability Assessment (WCA) and know the frustration and powerlessness when our own recommendations are ignored and vulnerable patients are forced into work prematurely. There are a handful that I recall vividly: a Kurdish woman with PTSD who had a traumatic reliving of her previous experience of torture during the assessment and yet somehow was deemed fit for work; or a middle-aged woman who had not been able to work for several years due to agoraphobia and panic disorder suddenly finding herself forced into searching for jobs on the threat of being sanctioned.
Suicides The first example of the WCA process being blamed directly for a completed suicide came in a coroner’s report in 2015 after Michael O’Sullivan, a 60-yearold man, had his Employment Support Allowance (ESA) discontinued despite providing reports from three doctors stating that he had long-term depression and agoraphobia and was therefore unable to work. He killed himself at his home on 24 September 2013. His suicide is amongst hundreds that have now been ruled as linked to the WCA. A study carried out by psychiatrists at the mental health trust where I am based in London, found that between 2010-2013 across England as a whole, the WCA was associated with 590 suicides, 725,000 additional prescriptions for antidepressants and 279,000 additional cases of self-reported psychiatric problems.
For any civilised society such consequences would outweigh any potential benefit to the public purse, but the fact that such welfare reforms have ostensibly been enacted to ‘‘balance the books’’ whilst hand-outs are given to the top earners in the form of tax breaks, makes it clear that this has all been a very deliberate ideological choice and not one borne out of necessity.
Solidarity This means offering as much solidarity and practical support to groups such as Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) and the Mental Health Resistance Network who, despite the odds, have achieved extraordinary things in highlighting this government’s failings. Along with that sense of powerlessness that I began to feel during my first year of community psychiatry, DPAC and my involvement in their peaceful direct actions offered some hope. Likewise joining the huge mobilisations against austerity by groups such as the People’s Assembly. It is also crucial to continue to mobilise in support of the current progressive Labour leadership (and Jeremy Corbyn in particular), which is providing robust meaningful alternatives to austerity. Whilst I was sitting in outpatient clinics listening to patients’ accounts of the fitness to work assessments and their experience of being sanctioned, and writing supporting letters on their behalf to Atos assessors that I knew would be disregarded, I wished for a way to convey the full extent of these injustices. ‘I, Daniel Blake’ the film by Ken Loach is exactly the piece of work that I hoped would one day be made to tell these stories and reveal the very dark side of austerity, and I would urge everyone to see it.
© Taksim Olayları / Flickr
Britain’s silence, Turkey’s dictator Counterfire’s Shabbir Lakha spoke to Arif Bektas, a journalist and campaigner, about the situation in Turkey since the failed coup.
Over the last few weeks, MPs of the People’s Democratic Party (HDP), journalists, academics and protestors are being jailed, media organisations and 370 NGOs including lawyers associations and women’s liberation organisations have been shut down. Can you elaborate on the situation and why it is happening? For President Erdoagn, his aims are a presidential system in Turkey. Right now, his power is not stronger than the Prime Minister, but he wants to change the constitution. The main forces trying to stop him from having this system that would officially make Turkey a dictatorship are the HDP and the forces around HDP. This includes the democratic revolutionary movements made up of socialist organisations and Trade Unions. These people are preventing him from implementing this system. That is why he is targeting HDP MPs, newspapers, TV channels and radio stations – he has closed down about 150 of them so that they can’t broadcast about these things.
Plus there are mayors who have been elected with up to 90% of the vote, the government has put them in prison and replaced them with unelected government officials. This is unacceptable, it is against the law. Turkey calls itself a secular democratic country – but right now it has become a dictatorship. There are now 146 journalists in jail – the highest number of journalists in jail in any country in the world. About 5000 academics lost their jobs or have been put in jail. Hundreds of thousands of civil servants, teachers, police officers, judges and others have either been sacked or jailed. People in turkey are facing a really difficult time now. Earlier this year, there was an attempted military coup by a faction of the military in Turkey. Could you explain what happened and how that relates to the current situation? On the 15th of July, a faction of the military led by Fethullah Gülen attempted a coup. There are a couple of things to note about Gülen. Firstly, they call him a cleric, I call him a
businessman. He owns many organisations and businesses in Turkey. Secondly, just 2 years ago, Erdoagn and ministers of the AKP government were calling him a friend and calling for him to return from the US. Gülen wanted more power in Turkey and Erdoagn refused so they started fighting and in December last year Gülen leaked recordings that exposed Erdoagn and his sons being involved in billions worth of corruption scandals. In return, Erdoagn started getting rid of people loyal to Gülen from positions of power, so in July, Gülen decided to initiate a coup. Up to two thirds of the population were against the coup. Many of us have witnessed a coup before and we know it is hard and it is not that different from fascism. That is why many people stood against the coup. But we were also clear that we were defending democracy not Erdoagn. We said no to a military coup, but also no to one man rule. But Erdoagn has used the coup to put the country in a state of emergency and do whatever he wants. He did this step by step. First he closed down Gülen’s newspapers and TV channels and those that supported him, then he went after the revolutionary socialist media. Now the main target is the HDP. He started with the co chairs and 8 other MPS who are now in jail. He thinks that i f he can finish this movement – especially the Kurdish, social
democrat and revolutionary socialist movements, who have started to come together, then he can seal his power. Last year on 7th June they came together and got 13.1% of the vote and this is a danger for Erdoagn. Because these democratic forces could stop him from what he wants to do. That is why a week ago he started to attack these MPs. Plus they are trying to shut down a 93 year old newspaper. Nobody knows what’s going to happen. What are the HDP and the left in Turkey doing in response to this situation? Under this fascist dictatorship, the HDP, Labour Party, unionists and many organisations are making a coalition because they are all being attacked from the same side. Because of the state of emergency law it is very difficult to protest or hold press conferences. Thousands of people are coming to the streets anyway. There are only a few media organisations left, but they are starting to talk more about what’s happening. There are a lot of extrajudicial killings in the south east of Turkey, but we are still trying to confront the attack. I won’t be surprised if he kills thousands of people. The fight is going on. A full version of the interview can be read on Counterfire.org
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november 2016 Issue No.014 Free counterfire.org
Students have been vital to many campaigns including the anti-war and anti-austerity movements
we must unite for education
Students and lecturers are coming together to fight for higher eductaion 4 years ago the tuition fee cap was raised to £9,000 by a coalition between the Tories, and a Liberal Democrat party that had promised otherwise. There are further planned rises. Alongside rising living costs and personal debt as well as the ripping up of grants and bursaries, this has clearly been a dire period for students. The range of courses available has been dramatically cut by corporate takeovers, as part of a wider Tory agenda of privatisation and marketisation. We must fight back. Education is a right, not a commodity. With universities being forced to run like businesses, student experience is less often a free-thinking exercise in research and debate, but rather, is typified by an anxious and high pressured environment, where
all that matters is getting through it and getting those grades. This fuels an ever-worsening mental health crisis. Counselling is underfunded, cuts have left disabled students without support, and many universities are at breaking point. The increasing pressure on and job losses of lecturers, and the outsourcing of other university workers means there is little time to work with students, leading to a loss of community and support.
The right to education has been hard-fought for over the years This government is also demonising international students, with greater restrictions on what they can study, and a ‘crack-down’ on visas, as part of a pernicious immigration policy. However, with students out in their numbers, and lecturers, teachers, TA’s, cleaners and many other parts of the workforce out defending their
© Jim Aindow
rights, we have the potential to take on this government. Teachers have made some big gains recently, forcing the government back on forced-academisation and the downgrading of teachers’ qualifications. This should work to inspire the wider movement.
Rights We would achieve so much more if we had the space and facilities to reach our potential. The right to education has been hard-fought for over the years – we must not allow it to be lost, or it is the future of our society, and the mental well-being of young people that will suffer. But it’s not just young people –we all deserve the chance to learn throughout our life, whether it is re - ski l li ng i n a n ever- cha ng i ng workplace, or a burning interest you never had the chance to investigate, Jeremy Corbyn’s idea of a National Education Service is something we can all get behind. First though, we must fight to save what we have got.