Farewell Mehmet Aksoy

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The Revolutionary Communist Group attended the service and procession for Mehmet Aksoy in London on 10 November 2017. Mehmet had gone to Raqqa with the People’s Protection Units (YPG) to film the battle against IS and was killed there on 26 September. The RCG knew Mehmet and had been on protests and in meetings with him. Mehmet was well known and much loved by the Kurdish people in Britain. Five thousand or more people gathered at the Kurdish Community Centre in Haringey North London and then proceeded on foot through mainly working class areas to Highgate cemetery where Mehmet was buried. They chanted slogans of the Kurdish revolutionary struggle and made calls for international solidarity as they went. On reaching the cemetery a minute's silence was held for the martyrs of the struggle in front of Karl Marx’s tomb and the flag of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) was laid on Mehmet’s grave. The RCG gave the following message of support:        

MESSAGE OF SOLIDARITY

The Revolutionary Communist Group and its paper Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! salutes the life and memory of Mehmet Aksoy and we send our condolences to his family and friends. Mehmet was the product of generations of struggle by the Kurdish people and he was a very special young man. The Kurdish people have achieved a pinnacle of resistance in the world. Your struggle and your sacrifice is for all of humanity. Mehmet is a martyr in that struggle. You will be victorious! That victory will be our tribute to Mehmet and to all of the martyrs.

Long live Mehmet Aksoy! Long live Kurdistan!

Trevor Rayne on behalf of the Revolutionary Communist Group, 10 November 2017.

The New Poverty – a return to the old poverty

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The New PovertyStephen Armstrong, Verso 2016, 242pp, £12.99

By 2020 18% of children in Britain will live in absolute poverty. Two thirds of families living in poverty are in work. Nearly one million people work on zero-hour contracts. These are the facts that are printed on the front cover of the book The New Poverty by Stephen Armstrong, who has gathered data from various studies and reports and integrated this with the real-life stories of people living through this ‘new poverty’.

One such story is that of Clare Skipper, who could not get an NHS dental appointment or afford the bus fare to the only emergency clinic in Bradford. She had been in agony for weeks. Her father was also suffering from toothache without access to treatment. The pair ‘met in her garden shed, drank whisky and pulled their teeth out with pliers’. Her father’s tooth was successfully removed but hers broke. Armstrong points out that health inequalities of this kind have grown so much over the past few years that a number of charities which were originally set up to provide primary care in the ‘developing world’ are now operating in Britain. One such charity is DentAid ‘which offers portable dental surgeries to struggling communities in Uganda, Malawi, Cambodia and Romania’ and which set up a mobile van in Britain in 2015. It was a DentAid clinic that Clare Skipper visited to remove the remaining part of her tooth. Armstrong relates this to government policy, explaining how changes to the way dentists are paid discourages taking on longer courses of treatment. This leads to what Ian Wilson, one of DentAid’s dentists, calls ‘supervised neglect’. DIY dentistry is becoming commonplace in the poorest parts of Britain.

Erika, a care worker from South Yorkshire, was forced - due to strict 15-minute time-limits imposed on house visits by for-profit care companies - to leave an elderly woman with dementia in her soiled nappies because she simply did not have time to provide the care needed. She described it as ‘the greatest shame of my life’. The book recounts the effects of savage benefit cuts, precarious work and deteriorating working conditions and rising rents, illuminating how they are laying the basis of ‘the new poverty’.

It also recounts how formerly prosperous sections of the population are far from immune. Roger Outtrim, in his seventies and retired from the IT industry, was ‘looking forward to a leisurely retirement’, but because his children stood no chance of getting onto the property ladder without his help, he took out an ‘equity release mortgage’, effectively selling his house while he still lived in it. Roger now has no money left to fund care if and when he should need it. According to the Equity Release Council, the total value of equity release lending reached £2bn in 2016: an indication of the growing threat of proletarianisation for many of the children of the middle class.

One of the great strengths of this book is the way it unflinchingly recounts the human cost of the ‘new poverty’, giving names and real stories to the statistics. It forcefully argues, and illustrates, that poverty is ‘systemic’. Its criticism of films like I, Daniel Blake for telling ‘black-and-white narratives’ of ‘achingly innocent victims’ which simply reinforce the distinction between ‘deserving’ and ‘undeserving’ poor are a welcome admonition to those journalists and campaigners who remain tied, however unconsciously, within that conceptual framework. Indeed, Armstrong is clear that ‘sweeping systemic change in the structure of the economy’ is at the root of the growing poverty that he describes.

The book’s major weakness, however, is a lack of insight into why this ‘sweeping systemic change’ is happening. In a passage on rent-to-own purchases (a contemporary equivalent of the old hire-purchase), for example, Armstrong points out that the ‘economy has been restructured so that a single mother on benefits buying household goods on credit can be generating a much higher profit rate for lenders than a well-paid worker with a steady job’. At other points in the book, too, he points to the parasitism that increasingly characterises Britain’s imperialist economy, such as the prevalence of employment agencies and umbrella payroll companies. He does not, however, touch on the essence of this phenomenon: that capital is finding itself less and less able to find profitable outlets for investment, and in these conditions of crisis, parasitism and speculation increase necessarily as investors scramble to lay claim to surplus-value produced elsewhere or to surplus-value yet to be produced.

A failure to grasp the nature of the capitalist crisis is connected to the book’s second major weakness: the lack of a clear political message. Armstrong admits as much himself, pointing out that he is a journalist and ‘not an academic or a full-time poverty researcher’. His strength and his responsibility, he says, is to meet people and tell their stories. He writes of various charity and community organising schemes that ‘these are individual stories, not a grand ideological manifesto or set of solutions – but taken together, they offer a sense of hope and suggest a different way of thinking’. The question of what that ‘different way of thinking’ might need to be is not addressed.

Armstrong writes that it is ‘obvious that we have reached the end of the post-war era of welfare’ and that in its place, we need a ‘new consensus’ based on the ‘principle that the purpose of a government is the happiness of its people’. Given the dire conditions recounted in this book, and in place of this rather vague appeal, we would do better to remember communist Rosa Luxembourg’s famous call-to-arms: ‘Bourgeois society stands at the crossroads, either transition to socialism or regression into barbarism.’

The New Poverty is a useful book. It tells dozens of moving stories of ordinary working class people, and some who were once fairly affluent, impoverished by economic forces and state policies over which they have no control. In doing so it puts paid to any notion that the people at the sharp edge of ‘the new poverty’ are to blame for their own circumstances. But it must be recognised that the new poverty is the old poverty, a return to the traditional conditions of the working class under capitalism, a crisis-prone and decaying system that must be overthrown and replaced with socialism if humanity is to be liberated from poverty once and for all.

Séamus Padraic

A tribute to Claudia Jones – Communist freedom fighter and founder of the Notting Hill Carnival

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 89 September 1989

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Amid the continuing controversy about the Notting Hill Carnival, communists everywhere remember with special affection the inspiring, at times lonely, struggles of a great communist woman, Claudia Jones, born in Trinidad in 1915, who died in London 1984. SUSAN DAVIDSON reports.

In 1924 Claudia’s family left impoverished Trinidad to make their lives in Harlem, New York. They were among the millions of black people who fled to the Northern cities of the USA after the First World War to escape poverty and Southern racism. As a young woman of 17 years, Claudia, seeing the poverty, exploitation and racism surrounding her, determined ‘to develop an understanding of the sufferings of my people and my class and look for a way forward to end them’. She never flinched or changed from this commitment to understand and to act and devoted her life to this task.

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RAF Centenary: 100 years of barbarism

‘I trust that this pamphlet will help the reader to understand the fundamental economic question, that of the economic essence of imperialism, for unless this is studied, it will be impossible to understand and appraise modern war and modern politics.’ Lenin, preface to Imperialism, the highest stage of capitalism, 1917.

1 April 2018 marks 100 years since the creation of the Royal Air Force (RAF). 100 years of butchery. 100 years of terrorism. A legacy which reverberates throughout the world today.

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Burnham elected Manchester mayor on low turnout

Andy Burnham MP

On 4 May 2017, to little surprise, Andy Burnham took his seat as the first Mayor of Greater Manchester, a position undemocratically forced upon the people of the city and its surrounding areas. Their adamant rejection of the role, decided in a local referendum in 2012, has been ignored. This is a compromise designed to solidify the power base of local leaders in return for complicity on a cruel austerity agenda. Burnham's election on a turnout of 29% highlights general disillusion with the state of local politics in the region.

Burnham's record in government as Health Secretary during the late Blair and Brown years betrays his core ideology: one of harsh austerity and policies of private subsidy over social investment. When in office as Health Secretary in 2009 he said the NHS had to find ‘efficiency savings’ of £15-20bn. On his watch Camden NHS signed off a £20m contract to Care UK, a private company with an atrocious record in elderly care. Another private company, Connect Physical Health Ltd, was given a lucrative NHS contract at Royal Free Hospital, leading to the axing of its physiotherapy services. Burnham also claimed expenses for mortgages on two homes, and defended Labour's racist immigration policies when he stood for the party leadership in 2010.

In December 2016 Burnham spoke in parliament about immigration, cynically claiming that immigration had ‘made life more difficult’ and was ‘undermining the cohesion of our communities and the safety of our streets’. This racist rhetoric was clearly triangulating the Brexit demographic under a guise of ‘fairness’ to migrants and deprived areas. His speech was received favourably by Conservatives across the floor.

A key electoral pledge was the promise to end rough sleeping by 2020. This pledge has now been both endorsed and adopted by Corbyn for his general election campaign. Burnham's plans include a token gesture of giving up 15% of his £110,000 mayoral salary, which will offer little comfort for the several hundred rough sleepers and temporary accommodation occupants forced onto Manchester's streets. Other prospects include ‘emergency hubs’, which appear to consist of a temporary dormitory that will do nothing to solve the long-term immiseration of those who are forced to use them. Post-election, he has already avoided an opportunity to meet local squatters on a walkabout in the centre of Manchester; squatters who are currently staging a rooftop protest less than 500 metres from his new £4m office.

On housing, Burnham’s vision makes claims to promote the building of council-owned property. Interrogate further and in reality this boils down to introducing euphemistically-named ‘affordable’ housing. At market rates of 80% this will do little to alleviate the rapid social cleansing of the working class in areas of Salford; likewise with Manchester wards such as Levenshulme and Chorlton. Other policies touted in mayoral hustings and his manifesto include a voluntary regulatory scheme for private landlords and a focus on high rent inner-city developments.

On local education Burnham makes calls for Westminster to reduce austerity measures against schools in his area. However, in a blog entry on the Burnham For Mayor website the prospect of ‘Schools to be given the chance to host new business start-up units to build business-friendly culture’ again signifies him as a son of the pro-market and anti-socialist culture at the heart of Labour.

Another manifesto plan to ‘re-industrialise’ Manchester seems little more than a further exercise in commercial subsidy as he talks of ‘a business culture in all areas’. Details are thin but Burnham seems to be evoking George Osborne’s Northern Powerhouse concept, a policy of investment opportunities for the wealthy rather than anything for the working class.

Burnham's first move as Mayor was to nominate Richard Leese as his deputy for Business and Economy. Leese has a long history in his position of leadership in the Labour local government spanning several decades. Rough sleepers in Manchester will recall the Leese council’s callous attacks on homeless camps in 2016 where council enforcement involved theft of their sleeping bags and tents. His legacy as Leader of Manchester City Council will be seen as one of channelling the public purse into private subsidies for commercial interests, and his remunerated directorial position with Peel Holdings subsidiary, Manchester Ship Canal Company Ltd, betrays the class interests at play. Burnham has so-far appointed three deputy positions worth £50,000 each to Manchester Labour councillors who are eager to retain their privileges as pressures on local government rise.

The day following the Mayoral election, Jeremy Corbyn was in Manchester looking to celebrate the win. However, when Burnham was nowhere to be seen on Corbyn’s platform, local reporters asked about his whereabouts. Corbyn replied that he ‘was already hard at work for the people of Greater Manchester’. Burnham was, in fact, in a local eatery for the well-to-do, sipping bubbly at £70 a bottle. Champagne socialism indeed.

Sam Evaskitas