Social media and movements: is the love affair really over?

By Thomas Swann On July 31, 2015

Post image for Social media and movements: is the love affair really over?Social media are monitored and controlled by large corporations. Can they also facilitate the kind of self-organization that defines radical politics?

When I started my PhD in 2011 there was a strong feeling that radical politics was changing. On the one hand, there was more of it. The Arab Spring, theindignados, Occupy: they all made it seem like direct action and direct democracy, were moving out of the ghettos of what remained of the alter-globalization movement. With mass assemblies and a radical DIY (or even DIO: Do It Ourselves) politics, something was changing across the world. In the face of austerity and totalitarianism, an actual alternative was being prefigured.

At the same time, the tools of these protests and uprisings came into the spotlight. Not only the democratic mechanisms of decision-making but also the digital infrastructures that, many argued, were facilitating what was so promising in these movements.

Social media was increasingly seen as an essential element in how large groups were able to organize without centralized leadership. Platforms like Facebook and Twitter were allowing people to mobilize not as hierarchical structures like trade unions and political parties but as horizontal networks. Individual activists and sub-groups enjoyed a tactical autonomy while remaining part of a larger whole.

Almost four years have passed, and now at the end of my PhD the gloss to this narrative has to a large extent worn off. Some elements of the 2011 uprisings have been consumed by the tragedy of civil war and renewed dictatorships, while others have dispersed.

But of course, four years is not a long time in the grand scheme of things, and the examples of Podemos and Syriza suggest that perhaps these movements are in fact evolving and developing new strategies. While the story of mass mobilization and radical social movements is by no means over, what has been disputed perhaps more than anything else in the last four years is the promise that lay in the tools of the 2011 uprisings.

Social media, once held up by some as the very essence of contemporary radical politics, is now seen in a harsher, less forgiving light. A number of experiences have underlined the implicit hierarchies and inequalities that were reinforced by social media.

Others have pointed towards the ways in which social media exploit, for profit, our online behavior. The Edward Snowden saga has shown how vulnerable our online organizing is, as has the repression of social media-based activism seen inTurkey and elsewhere.

But among these critiques of social media, is there something that can be salvaged? Can platforms like Facebook and Twitter be useful in radical politics, and if so how? Perhaps we don’t need to abandon social media just yet. Perhaps it can, in one form or another, still facilitate the kind of organization that was so promising in 2011 and that continues, in many ways, to define radical left politics.

The promise of social media

Social media platforms are often discussed as means of communication, self-expression and forming public discourse. As well as this, however, social media platforms — and communication practices more generally — also act as infrastructures that support the actions we take. They allow us to share information and resources, and to make decisions that can then be enacted.

In this way, communication practices can also be understood as information management systems. This is a concept borrowed from the world of business and management and refers to any system, normally electronic and increasingly digital, that facilitates organization. Work email and intranets are of this sort. They don’t just let people talk to one another but also contribute to getting tasks completed.

What social media might offer when viewed as information management systems, as platforms that facilitate certain forms of action, is a way to make radical and anarchist forms of organization more like the participatory and democratic structures that characterized the 2011 uprisings and radical left politics since at least the Zapatista rebellion, the alter-globalization movement in the 1990s and, even earlier, the radical feminism of the 1960s and 1970s.

Social media can provide the infrastructure for both democratic decision-making and autonomous action, with activists given access to resources and information that may enable them to act in ways that more hierarchical communication structures reduce to command and control processes.

While there are significant critiques of social media from activists and scholars alike (focusing on privacy and surveillance, corporate and state control, the political economy of free labor and the psychology and behavior that is encouraged by the architecture of mainstream platforms), I want to suggest that there is still a potential inherent in social media owing to the nature of the communication practices it supports.

These practices can be described as many-to-many communication. They are potentially built on conversations with multiple actors that reflect some of the necessary foundations of the participatory democracy of radical Left politics. Social media can, therefore, be seen as systems that facilitate radically democratic forms of organization and that can support the kinds of autonomy and horizontality that have in part been seen in the 2011 uprisings.

This is the promise of social media. And it is a promise that may yet be fulfilled. If social media present opportunities for horizontal, conversational communication, and these types of communication are consistent with the ways in which we try to imagine non-hierarchical social relationships and decision-making structures, then social media can be considered as having at least the potential to be a part of a radical left politics.

Internal and external communication practices

As part of my PhD research I interviewed a number of activists involved in the Dutch radical left and anarchist scene. The pictures they provided of the communication practices of the groups they were involved in can be used to work through some of the ideas around many-to-many communication, its relationship to radical politics and the promise of social media.

Internally, the radical left groups in question all more or less conform to the many-to-many communication model. Much of this communication is done through face-to-face meetings at which members aim to reach consensus on the topics being discussed and the decisions that need to be made.

In terms of social networking technologies, however, activists spoke of the email listservs and online forums that have been common to radical left politics at least since the Battle of Seattle in 1999 and the beginnings of the alter-globalization movement.

While none of the groups used newer, mainstream platforms like Facebook in their internal communication practices, one of the groups did use the alternative social networking site Crabgrass as a core part of their discussion and decision-making infrastructure. Crabgrass was developed by people connected to the RiseUp collective that provides secure email addresses for activists. It aims to facilitate social networking and group collaboration with a specifically radical, left-wing bent.

Externally, many-to-many communication practices became much rarer. While most of the groups use Facebook and Twitter, they use them primarily as extensions of their websites, which in turn act mainly as extensions of their printed newspapers.

The three exceptions to this highlight the abilities of both mainstream and alternative social media platforms to play this role. One group, involved in community organizing, was active on Facebook not only in sharing articles and announcements but also in responding to comments and engaging in discussions with other users.

Another made use of crowd-sourced mapping in a way that reflects the scope of many-to-many communication to support autonomous action. The third example of using social media in line with this participatory ethos came from one group that printed comments and responses from Facebook and Twitter in their newspaper, facilitating some level of conversation between the group and those outside it.

Institutionalizing autonomy

The many-to-many communication social media facilitates, insofar as it allows for conversation rather than merely the broadcast of information (or even orders), is intimately connected to a radical left and anarchist vision of organization. If prefiguration, the realization of the goals of politics in the here and now, is taken as one of the core concerns of radical social movements, then a commitment to many-to-many communication might need to be seen as just as important as the commitment to democracy and equality.

It has the potential to empower activists to take autonomous action and the bedrock of participatory democracy. In this way, social media platforms can contribute towards freeing activism from the top-down structures of political parties and trade unions.

But is there another way of looking at these types of organization and of the structures suggested by social media and many-to-many communication? I mentioned at the start of this article that social media and the examples of the 2011 uprisings have lost some of what made them so attractive at the time. Activists are, it seems, increasingly (and perhaps rightly given the limitations) wary of both networked organization and networked communications. In the last year or so, however, radical politics has shifted somewhat.

In place of social movements that are completely opposed to, and autonomous from political parties, the rise of Podemos and Syriza, and indeed the surge of support for the Greens in England and Wales and the Scottish National Party in Scotland, might point to a return of the mass party as an element of radical left social movement strategy.

Podemos and Syriza, by many accounts, have become the institutional articulations of mass social movements. They haven’t replaced them and are clear that they aim to act as parliamentary wings subservient to those movements (although the current tensions in Syriza suggest that this is much more problematic that some might make out).

In the case of Podemos, this has meant a continuation of the radical, direct democracy of the 15-M movement and the party has relied on social media and many-to-many communication not in getting its message across to voters but in defining the very content of that message and of its policies.

Social media might continue to have a role in radical left politics after all. The many-to-many communication practices it supports can be, at their best, prefigurative of the goals of radical politics, of democratic and participatory decision-making. As information management systems, facilitating concrete action, the examples of the radical left groups involved in my PhD research point towards this conclusion.

Both mainstream social media, such as Facebook and Twitter, and alternative platforms, such as Crabgrass and n-1, can be an important part of radical left politics, whether in the form of mass social movement mobilizations or the articulation of those movements in more democratic political parties.

Thomas Swann is a PhD student in the University of Leicester School of Management and member of the Centre for Philosophy and Political Economy. His research focuses on radical left organization, social media and organizational cybernetics. Follow him on Twittter via @ThomasSwann1.

 

http://roarmag.org/2015/07/social-media-organization-movements/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+roarmag+%28ROAR+Magazine%29

The PAH: defending the right to housing in Spain

By Timothy Ginty On July 23, 2015

Post image for The PAH: defending the right to housing in SpainIn Spain, where the government bails out banks, the Platform for People Affected by Mortgages (PAH) bails out families and defends their right to housing.

In February 2009, after the Spanish government had shown itself incapable of enforcing Article 47 of the Spanish Constitution — declaring that “all Spaniards have the right to enjoy decent and adequate housing” — a citizens’ assembly was held in Barcelona to establish the Platform for People Affected by Mortgages, or the PAH (Spanish: Plataforma de Afectados por la Hipoteca), a social movement which would wait for neither government action nor market corrections for this right to be enforced.

The PAH’s immediate aims are simple — the prevention of the systematic eviction of tens of thousands of debtors across Spain — but its larger dream is bolder: the achievement of the socio-economic conditions in which the human right to housing may be secure.

It is the ceaseless energy of this grassroots platform, its repertoire of organizing tactics, and its ability to bring disaffected and disadvantaged people together that has made it so popular amongst Spain’s mass of indignados and so feared by its minority class of bankers, developers and investors whose interests are secured by the casta suits of the governing PP and the opposition PSOE — or the PPSOE, as one PAH organizer put it.

It is this movement of people which we in the international left should look to for both inspiration and instruction in the fight against austerity. And it is for this reason that this article has been written: to paint us a portrait of the PAH and to give us a glimpse at how it operates — how it feels, how it looks, how it speaks — in its oldest branch of Barcelona.

No one left behind

Most people’s first encounter with the PAH will be through its weekly welcome assemblies held in Barcelona’s tightly-knit barrio of Hostafrancs, where upon entry you’ll be greeted with a friendly smile and, if you’re a first-timer to the meetings, you’ll be given a paper rose made with a Catalan flag tied to its stem. As you adjust to the sweaty heat generated from the  80 or so people squashed into the PAH headquarters, all waving their hand-held fans to keep the heat at bay, you might notice that a good deal of the participants and a large majority of the organizers are women.

On a letter printed and placed onto the doors of the assembly hall, a PAH participant thanks her new friends for providing the warmth and love that only a mother knows, for helping her to help herself and then to help others, for bringing dignity and hope back into her life. These are the elements — dignity, respect, mutual-aid — which define a welcoming assembly, and are seen by the PAH to be absolutely integral to the participants’ struggle to reclaim their right to housing.

Tears are not uncommon in these assemblies, especially when the veterans are invited to stand up to tell the newer participants of a recent victory they’ve had: their stories are always moving, the responses always touching, and you see that the PAH really is a family, a place where the pain and gain of one is felt by all.

For those most in need of emotional support there is a smaller closed assembly where people may come to tell their story in an open environment of mutual respect and listening, where people may come to see that others are experiencing and feeling the very same as they do, where they can see that the guilt is not theirs, that they can still hold their heads high.

If the heart of the PAH is the welcoming assembly, then the head must be its actions and coordinating assembly, which meets once a week to keep the gears of the movement oiled. But before this assembly even begins to discuss the host of actions the movement has in gestation, it must decide on the day-to-day responsibilities of the attendees. Everyone present is asked to contribute to one small but essential part of the PAH — one pair to help out with cleaning, another to update the calendar, someone else to record minutes, another to keep track of time while someone else moderates — and all are rotated every week.

For anyone schooled in more bureaucratic forms of social and political groups, this process — which is as true of the more routine tasks as those duties with more responsibility — may seem tedious and unimportant, but it is of course the process which matters here; the process of participation, of mutual support and of self-organization which define the PAH as an organization where everyone has a role to play, where everybody leads and none are left behind.

Tom Joad’s inheritors

Once into gear the assembly can cover much ground, and within a couple of hours of one particular meeting the group had already discussed three major campaigns. First was the Citizens’ Legislative Initiative, or the ILP, a major joint campaign between the Barcelona PAH, the Alliance Against Energy Poverty and the Observatory for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which has gathered around 140,000 signatures in Catalonia calling for emergency measures to combat the social crisis created by mortgage evictions and utilities cut-offs.

The ILP draws on a mechanism allowing citizens’ proposals to be voted on by Catalan parliament, requiring 50,000 signatures to be effective, meaning that the Barcelona ILP has nearly tripled the required amount of petitioners. The ILP, which will be voted on today, July 23, proposed five measures which could stem the flow of around 50 families per day from their houses to the streets or to precarious housing. They demand that any remaining debt of the evictees be liquidated, allowing them a second chance to rebuild their lives.

They furthermore demand that empty apartments held by banks be used as emergency housing for evictees, while for those facing eviction they demand the right to a ‘social rent’, which means that indebted homeowners may pay only what they can pay, and that cut-offs of water, gas and electricity must end immediately, with the state stepping in to assure access if the companies cannot respect the rights of their customers. If the ILP passes parliament this July, the PAH and its social partners will have scored a truly enormous victory for thousands and thousands of families across Catalonia.

It will be an important victory because the PAH knows that their fight is one which must also confront the myriad of factors that compound Spain’s housing crisis, including the squeeze of rising energy bills arriving in the mail from private utility companies (‘monstrous’ organizations, as one PAH organizer described them) and the cuts in healthcare and education that have accompanied previous cuts in wages and benefits. Meanwhile, the explosion of ‘flexible’ contracts means that credit is impossible to get by for many, endangering people’s ability to pay their monthly rents or mortgage payments on time.

What’s more, this crisis exists in a global context where international investment and financial companies like Blackstone (see the video #BlackstoneEvicts) and Goldman Sachs buy up tens of thousands of empty apartments at heavily discounted prices from banks. One of the largest deals secured by Blackstone involved some 40,000 apartments in Catalonia alone, with a real value somewhere near 6.4 billion euros, which were purchased for the sum of 3.6 billion euros: if the banks can give Blackstone a discount, the PAH asks, then why can’t they give the people one?

This is why the PAH has begun organizing alliances with similar movements in the UK, the US and soon perhaps in Brazil, where the Movement of Workers without Roofs is facing the same investment banking foes as its counterparts in Spain. The fight being fought from Barcelona’s barrios, from London’s New Era Estate, from the US boroughs, from anywhere where “there’s a fight so hungry people can eat,” Tom Joad’s inheritors will be there.

The PAH’s Obra Social

But far away from the negotiations with the banks, from the political labyrinth of the Catalan parliament, from the long hard work of building national and international alliances, the bread and butter of the PAH remains the prevention of eviction and homelessness.

When all efforts of the debtor fail, when all negotiations and offers are rejected, after lies are told and myths are spread to scare people into making strangling payments (that, for example, the debt may be paid by the children; that, for instance, a migrant might be forced to return to their home country for a failed mortgage), then the PAH’s Obra Social (Social Work) will step in to ensure that the family will not end up on the street — sleeping, perhaps like so many thousands of others in Barcelona, in the ATM vestibules of the very banks that evicted them.

The Obra Social is the body which — when the bank is not prepared to find alternative housing for the tenant, when there is no room at anyone’s inn — will help the evicted family occupy one of the thousands of empty apartments owned by the banks. But to say that the banks actually ‘own’ these empty flats is, as one PAH organizer put it, entirely misleading, for it was the Spanish people who bailed out these banks during the crisis, and it is therefore the Spanish people who own these properties.

The PAH has a simple slogan: the government bails out banks, our platform bails out people. Here the shibboleth of private property becomes particularly naked and grotesque when, as in Spain, you have one of Europe’s greatest number of empty apartments and its greatest rate of evictions. Can we still imagine a world where this does not occur, where human rights finally come to trump contractual rights? The members of the PAH certainly can.

Timothy Ginty is a freelance writer completing a master’s degree in World History at the University of Pompeu Fabra in Barcelona. You can read his blog, Lives and Times, here.

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To learn more about the PAH, the documentary Seven Days with the PAH (Siete Días en la PAH), is available (with English subtitles) here, and you can download the book Vidas Hipotecadas (in Spanish) here.

 

 

http://roarmag.org/2015/07/pah-human-right-housing-spain/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+roarmag+%28ROAR+Magazine%29

How “Big Data” can help save the environment

Journalists, scientists & techies must work to translate data into the knowledge needed to address climate change 

How "Big Data" can help save the environment
A rider attached to the appropriation bill that funds the EPA would end the moratorium on uranium mining near the Grand Canyon which could contaminate the Colorado River
This article was originally published by Scientific American.

Scientific American

A recent study using NASA’s CALIPSO satellite described how wind and weather carry millions of tons of dust from the Sahara desert to the Amazon basin each year – bringing much-needed fertilizers like phosphorus to the Amazon’s depleted soils.

To bring this story to life, NASA Goddard’s Scientific Visualization team produced a video showing the path of the Saharan dust, which has been viewed half a million times. This story is notable because it relies on satellite technology and data to show how one ecosystem’s health is deeply interconnected with another ecosystem on the other side of the world.

Stunning data visualization like this one can go a long way to helping communicate scientific wonders to the wider world. But even more important than the technology driving the collection and analysis of this data is how the team presented its findings to the public – as a story. NASA’s CALIPSO data offers a model of how scientists, technologists and journalists can come together and make use of data to help us respond to this a slow-motion crisis like air pollution.

Being able to see the dust blowing in the wind has broad implications. Today, one in eight people in the world dies from exposure to air pollution, which includes dust. This stunning fact, issued by the World Health Organization last March, adds up to 7 million premature deaths per year. Air pollution is now the single largest environmental risk in the world, and it occurs both indoors and outdoors.

The WHO report, which more than doubles previous estimates, is based on improved exposure measurements including data collected from satellites, sensors and weather and air flow information. The information has been cross-tabulated with demographic information to reveal, for example, that if you are a low- to middle-income person living in China, your chances of dying an air pollution-related death skyrockets.

These shocking statistics are hardly news for people living in highly polluted areas, though in many of the most severely affected regions, governments are not eager to confirm the obvious. The availability of global scale particulate matter (dust) monitoring could change this dynamic in a way that we all can see.

In addition to the volume of satellite data generated by NASA, sensor technology that helps create personal pollution monitors is increasingly affordable and accessible. Projects like the Air Quality EggSpeck and the DustDuino (with which I collaborate) are working to put tools to collect data from the ground in as many hands as possible. These low-cost devices are creating opportunities for citizen science to fill coverage gaps and testing this potential is a key part of our upcoming installation of DustDuino units in Sao Paulo, Brazil later this summer. Satellite data tend to paint in broad global strokes, but it’s often local details that inform and motivate decisions.

Satellites give us a global perspective. The official monitoring infrastructure, overseen by large institutions and governments, can measure ambient air at a very high resolution and modeling exposure over a large area. But they don’t see everything. The nascent field of sensor journalism helps citizen scientists and journalists fill in the gaps in monitoring networks, identifying human exposures and hot spots that are invisible to official infrastructure.

As program officer of the Earth Journalism Network, I help give training and support to teams of data scientists, developers and environmental journalists around the world to incorporate this flood of new information and boost local environmental coverage. We have taken this approach because the skills that we need to communicate about slow-motion crises like air pollution and climate change require a combination of experts who can make sense of data and journalists who can prioritize and contextualize it for their readers.

Leveraging technologies, skills and expertise from satellites, sensors and communities alike, journalists, scientists and technologists need to work together to translate data into the knowledge needed to address environmental crises.

 

 

http://www.salon.com/2015/07/18/how_big_data_can_help_save_the_environment_partner/?source=newsletter

The First Woman President: Jill Stein?

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Of late, this writer, too, has begun to share some enthusiasm about the possibility of a woman in the White House, and as he has studied the platform and policies of the candidate, his excitement grows. As recently as July 14 he listened to an interview with this candidate, Dr. Jill Stein of the Green Party, and his enthusiasm increased. A few points will highlight the reasons for this excitement.

Foreign Policy

Stein stated clearly that the U.S.’s current policies in the Middle East are destructive, and calls for an immediate end to drone attacks. She further states that U.S. foreign policy should be based on international law, and points to the recent agreement with Iran which, although far from perfect, is a good example.

* Support for governments that violate international law would immediately end under a Stein presidency. This includes all funding to Israel.

* The U.S. continues to ‘fix’ problems by doing more of what caused them in the first place. By changing the policy of funding and supplying weaponry to any repressive government or rebel group that seems to support U.S. interests, to one of adherence to international law, the creation of such groups as ISIL (Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant) will cease.

Domestic Policy

* Under a Stein presidency, the military economy would transition to a green economy, with decreased dependence on fossil fuels, and an end to subsidies for military contractors. The U.S. makes more money from weapons sales than any other nation on the planet. This, of course, stimulates the economy, but a green alternative would also create jobs, and do so without causing the deaths of countless millions around the world. Additionally, the justified hatred that much of the world feels towards the U.S. would fade, as the U.S. becomes a more responsible player on the world stage.

* The minimum wage would immediately be raised to $15.00 an hour. As Dr. Stein pointed out, more money in the hands of workers will enable them to put more of that money back into the economy, by purchasing items that are currently out of their financial reach. So an increased minimum wage would not be a ‘job killer’, as the corporate-owned members of Congress continually claim.

* Today, tens of millions of U.S. citizens are burdened by crushing student loan debt. Dr. Stein would forgive that debt, again freeing those citizens to put more of their money back into the economy. It would have the additional benefit of showing the citizenry that the U.S. does, indeed, value education, and that the government sees higher education as something more than just another cash cow.

Every four years, the U.S. government supplies its citizens with the farce of elections between two candidates bought and paid for by corporate America. As much as people decry the similarities between the Democratic and Republican Parties, and highlight the need for a third party, such a move is not what the elite rulers of the U.S. want. Dr. Stein does not accept corporate donations; that, in and of itself, may be seen as sufficient to sink her candidacy into oblivion. Her platform says this: “Enact electoral reforms that break the big money stranglehold and create truly representative democracy….” With corporate ‘personhood’ enshrined in the U.S. by a truly bizarre decision of the Supreme Court, Dr. Stein will have no support from those who see her as threatening to their power.

During her interview on July 14, Dr. Stein quoted Alice Walker: “The most common way people give up their power is by thinking they don’t have any.” A look at both recent history and current events demonstrates that people do have more power than they may generally believe. The U.S. fought the Vietnamese people for years, and it can reasonably be argued that that pointless, illegal and immoral war would have lasted years longer, if citizens of the U.S., and around the world, had not made their opposition known, not just at the ballot box, where there was little opportunity ever to do so, with one war-mongering candidate running against another, but in the streets. South Africa may have remained an apartheid nation, if people around the world had not condemned its racist policies, with effective boycotts. Today, Israeli government spokespeople have stated that the ‘Boycott, Divest and Sanction’ (BDS) movement is a threat to its very existence; the mighty U.S. fully supports apartheid Israel, but people in the U.S. and around the world are recognizing their power, and using it to further the cause of human rights.

The nomination and election of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton may appear to be a foregone conclusion. After all, in a country whose elections rely on money, Mrs. Clinton is expected to raise close to $2 billion dollars to purchase the presidency; a very tidy sum, provided by the corporations that own her, and that will have every reason to expect her complaisance to their every wish, should she move into the White House. And the alternatives in the multi-ring circus known as the Republican Party are no different; they all owe their allegiance to the wealthy individuals and corporations that support them, who have no interest in human rights at home or abroad, but only seek to increase the size of their own bank accounts, or rearrange society according to their own misogynist, racist and homophobic views.

No candidate can be seen as the new messiah; many saw candidate Barack Obama in that role in 2008, and, with just a few notable exceptions, it has been business as usual for the last six years. One hesitates to say that change is possible in the United States; that combination of words sounds ridiculously naïve, but the Stein candidacy does show some potential. It is long past time for the public to look beyond the Tweedle-Dum and Tweedle-Dee of the Republican and Democratic Parties, and look for real change. Perhaps, in 2016, the Green Party can help to usher in such a change.

Robert Fantina’s latest book is Empire, Racism and Genocide: a History of US Foreign Policy (Red Pill Press).

http://www.counterpunch.org/2015/07/17/the-first-woman-president-jill-stein/

The scam of austerity explained

This Viral Video Is the Anti-Austerity Poem You’ve Been Waiting For

Yesterday, British Spoken word performer Agnes Töröka release an inspired, three-minute poetic call-to-arms for the austerity generation that quickly went viral, garnering almost 100,000 views by the end of the day.

In “Worthless” ,Töröka masterfully calls into question the unfair social contract inherented by todays youth: from nonstop internships to massive debt to the wholesale gutting of social programs. Underlying the spoken word poem is a biting sarcasm, contrasting the public funding of bank bailouts with the raiding of public trusts. She also wonderfully skewers the patronizing, “realistic” platitudes of austerity, from “cost cutting” to telling out-of-work graduates to focus on “polishing their CV’s”.

It’s a brilliant – and unexpected – piece of rage-fueled poetry that should speak to anyone who’s been tightened, cost-cutted, and left to fend for themselves by a system that glorifies the rich while, time and time again, telling the rest of us we’re “worthless”.

Adam Johnson is an associate editor at AlterNet. Follow him on Twitter at@adamjohnsonnyc.

 

http://www.alternet.org/anti-austerity-viral-video-masterful-rage-filled-poem-youve-been-waiting?akid=13305.265072.nk2hbZ&rd=1&src=newsletter1039390&t=11

Syriza’s betrayal of the Greek working class

greeces-new-radical-syriza-led-government-and-its-eu-imf-creditors-have-been-stuck-in-a-deadlock-for-four-months-over-the-reforms-needed-to-release-a-final-72-billion-euros-2-billion-in-bailout-funds

11 July 2015

With extraordinary speed, the Syriza-led government in Greece has repudiated the landslide “no” vote in Sunday’s referendum on European Union (EU) austerity demands.

Only four days after Greek workers and youth voted overwhelmingly to reject the dictates of the EU, the government has presented a proposal for €13 billion in austerity measures for the consideration of European finance ministers and government heads meeting this weekend. The Greek government is hoping the brutal measures will secure it a €53 billion EU bailout.

The proposal, which was approved overwhelmingly by the Greek parliament Friday morning, is even more savage than the €9 billion austerity package Greek voters rejected in the referendum. It includes:

*A gradual increase in the retirement age from 62 to 67, completed by 2022, along with “disincentives” to early retirement.

*The elimination of a solidarity grant for poor pensioners and a 50 percent increase in health costs for pensioners.

*A socially regressive increase in the VAT (sales tax) on most goods to 23 percent, applied also to Greece’s numerous, often remote and impoverished islands.

*Cuts to public-sector salaries imposed by “unifying” the wage grid for government workers, together with further attacks on labor laws.

*The completion of all currently planned privatizations, including regional airports and the ports of Piraeus, Thessaloniki and Hellinikon.

*Cuts to fuel subsidies for farmers, along with stricter enforcement of tax laws to increase the tax burden on small businesses, property owners and the self-employed.

With consummate cynicism, Syriza leader and Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras has sought to present this direct repudiation of the will of the Greek people as a triumph of democracy. In fact, the outcome entirely confirms the initial assessment of the WSWS that the decision to call the vote was “a reactionary fraud, designed to lend a veneer of democratic legitimacy to the looting of Greece by the banks.”

The shameless prostration of Syriza to the demands of the EU is the inevitable conclusion of its entire course since taking power in January. From the beginning, it sought nothing more than marginal modifications in EU policy. It immediately pledged not to take any unilateral measures to repudiate Greece’s €300 billion debt, nor to impose controls to stem the flight of capital from Greek banks.

Syriza rejected any appeal to the mass opposition to EU austerity in the European working class. Instead, the government sought to ingratiate itself with the major banks and European imperialist powers, as well as the Obama administration. The European governments, led by Berlin, treated Tsipras with well-deserved contempt, knowing that they had absolutely nothing to fear from the Syriza leader.

When the EU withheld funds from Greece, the Syriza-led government began looting billions of euros in cash reserves from local governments, hospitals and universities to repay its creditors. When these funds ran out and the EU threatened to cut off credit to Greece and expel it from the euro zone, Tsipras called the referendum. According to an inside account of Syriza’s discussions by the Daily Telegraph s Ambrose Evans-Pritchard, Tsipras assumed that the “yes” vote would win, allowing him to resign, call new elections and let a new government impose the cuts.

Syriza was stunned by the landslide “no” vote delivered by the Greek masses. At that point, only two alternatives were possible: utilizing the vote as the starting point for a mass mobilization of the opposition to austerity that erupted last week, or abject capitulation. Predictably, Syriza chose capitulation.

While the threats from European banks and governments played a role, Syriza was motivated far more by its terror over the radicalization of the Greek working class. Tsipras and his coterie of government officials saw the mass demonstration prior to the referendum and the landslide “no” vote as a calamity.

Syriza’s move to impose an unprecedented EU austerity package is a serious defeat for the working class. Not only does it place the Greek masses at the mercy of the EU, but to the extent that the cowardly actions of Syriza are understood as “left” politics, the most reactionary political forces, such as the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party, will be strengthened.

The events in Greece are a major strategic experience of the international working class. They have clearly exposed the role of Syriza and similar pseudo-left parties around the world, rooted in the affluent middle class and schooled in postmodernism. According to the professors and parliamentarians who lead these organizations, the era of the class struggle and Marxism is over.

In fact, the working class is getting a ferocious education on the realities of capitalism as revealed by Marxism: the ruthlessness of the ruling class, the domination of finance capital, the irreconcilable conflict between the interests of workers and capitalists.

The working class is seeing as well what a pseudo-left party does when it comes to power. Confronted with the conflict between European capital’s demands for austerity and the social anger in the working class, Syriza fled into the arms of the banks.

Resistance to austerity required immediate actions against the EU and the Greek bourgeoisie: the suspension of payments on Greece’s debt, the imposition of currency controls, the nationalization of the banks and major industries under workers’ control, an appeal for joint action and support from the working class in Europe and internationally. None of these measures could be taken, however, due to the class character and orientation of Syriza.

Syriza legislator Dimitris Tsoukalas (with declared personal savings in 2013 of over €1 million), Finance Minister Tsakalotos (whose stock portfolio is worth over €500,000), Economy Minister Giorgios Stathakis (€426,000 invested with JP Morgan), former Syriza leader Alekos Alavanos (€350,000 in savings, a stock portfolio and 11 real estate properties), and former Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis (whose wife Danae Stratou is a millionaire) cannot imagine or tolerate a break with the EU because—like the rest of the Greek ruling elite—they would lose a great deal of wealth if Greece exited the euro and their assets were re-denominated in a heavily devalued national currency.

No one can claim that the outcome in Greece is the result of a refusal of the working class to fight: the workers voted “no” on EU austerity and mobilized large sections of the youth and the middle class behind them. The central obstacle that emerged to the working class in Greece was the reactionary role of Syriza.

Trotsky described very well the role of apologists for Syriza today when he wrote: “This impotent philosophy, which seeks to reconcile defeats as a necessary link in the chain of cosmic developments, is completely incapable of posing and refuses to pose the question of such concrete factors as programs, parties, personalities that were the organizers of defeat. This philosophy of fatalism and prostration is diametrically opposed to Marxism as the theory of revolutionary action.”

All those who function today as Syriza’s apologists—Podemos in Spain, the New Anti-capitalist Party and the Left Front of Jean-Luc Mélenchon in France, the International Socialist Organization in the United States, the Left Party in Germany—do so because, were they to come to power, they would behave no differently. This entire slew of petty-bourgeois groups can bring the working class nothing but disaster.

 

Alex Lantier

 

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2015/07/11/pers-j11.html