Sunday, October 29, 2017

"An open letter to the British Consulate in Barcelona" (Re: Catalonia/Spain)

[Below is the text text of a letter shared online through social media...] If you are a British resident in Catalonia and you agree then please copy, paste and sign the document and send it to the British Consulate. Address is:
British Consulate General Barcelona
Avda Diagonal 477-13, 
08036 Barcelona

We the undersigned are British citizens resident in Catalonia. In our time here we have enjoyed peaceful coexistence with Catalans, interacting and integrating to our own different degrees with Catalan society. We now stand aghast at the Spanish government’s response to the recent political developments in Catalonia.

The single most striking episode was the indisputable police brutality of the 1st October, which marked an arrogant, heavy-handed and oppressive armed attack against peaceful Spanish citizens gathering to cast their vote, and to express thus their opinion, in the referendum on Catalan independence. It hardly seems necessary to delve into a description of the events of that day, as graphic images of police charges, attacks with batons, injured people and the peaceful nature of the voters were broadcast around the world. No degree of falsely bemoaning “fake news” by the Spanish authorities can change the truth that most people perceived.

Now the most recent scenario is that of the Spanish government announcing severe measures in the imminent application of Article 155 of the Spanish Constitution. These include the destitution of the democratically elected President of Catalonia and all of his cabinet, usurping the control of public TV, radio and the Catalan police force, imposing new elections (with the foreseeable illegalization of one or more independence parties?), and imposing tighter controls on the education system. Much of this hammer-fisted intervention is in fact illegal in both form and content as gathered under that selfsame constitution. Undoubtedly, this is a very unsatisfactory culmination of a process which has been gathering momentum for years now, and with no attempt at all by the Spanish government to engage in dialogue, and to explore a political solution.

Subsequent, as yet isolated, outbreaks of violence against pro-independence symbols and supporters by extreme and violent right-wing groups is another factor which gives us cause for concern, especially since we have seen no signs at all of the Spanish government making any moves to condemn or shun such attacks. Above all, however, there is the recent incarceration of two civil rights activists guilty only of promoting peaceful protests. This holding of political prisoners is an abomination, and we do not understand why it has not been censured by European governments and institutions in the strongest of terms. We believe that attempting to cloak events with a mantle of falsehoods, using immoral, illegitimate and illegal measures of coercion and ugly brute force are in fact the trademarks of an authoritarian state, and have no place in a Western democracy.

The Spanish Constitution is not sculpted in stone, and neither should it be written in blood. Laws are drawn up to impose restraints in order to maintain a functioning society; when such laws fail in this objective and become a straitjacket wielded by a privileged few to keep society from developing and pursuing legitimate desires then, in democratic terms, those laws have failed and the time has come to modify or eradicate them.

We believe that it is within the British Consulate’s scope and interests, as well as a moral duty, to convey the content of this letter and its spirit of extreme disapproval of the Spanish government’s actions in the most insistent and strongest terms possible to the highest representatives of the Spanish Government and to the British Embassy in Madrid.


Saturday, October 21, 2017

"Getting Orwell wrong" -- My latest opinion column for Catalonia Today magazine

[Photo of  Julian Barnes © Alan Edwards]

In the New York Review of Books not long ago, the well-known British author Julian Barnes ran his eye over some compilations of George Orwell’s work. Thinking about the school where a young Orwell was sent to live and learn, Barnes decides:
“You have to feel a little sorry for Mr. and Mrs. Vaughan Wilkes, or “Sambo” and “Flip” as they were known to their [students]. During the first decades of the twentieth century, they ran St. Cyprian’s, a preparatory school in Eastbourne, on the south coast of England. It was no worse than many other such establishments: the food was bad, the building underheated, physical punishment the norm… [The children’s] daily morale was dependent on whether a boy was in or out of favour with Flip.”
So Barnes would have us keep our sympathy for the pair of sadists who ran Orwell’s primary school like a hideous boot camp and he justifies their cruelty by maintaining that other schools were much the same. He expresses no feelings at all for the unfortunate people that Orwell spent time writing about in his essays ‘How The Poor Die’ or ‘The Spike’ (destitute tramps).
Just as importantly though, according to Barnes (as an adult), Orwell was a “moralist and a puritan”. But a single quick read of Orwell’s novel “1984” would show you that Orwell was well-versed in matters of the flesh and desire. The sexual relationship between the main character Winston and his lover Julia makes it abundantly clear that Orwell was no puritan. (Apparently, away from his writing Orwell was somewhat of a lech, whose methods of seduction occasionally included the sudden kiss and grope technique).
As far as Orwell being a moralist, of course Barnes is right. I have read all of Orwell’s non-fiction (much of it several times) and can see that there is hardly a sentence that does not have a moral aspect to it.
But Barnes is using the word moralist as uncomplimentary in his book review. The question must be whether someone’s morals are humanitarian and progressive morals, not whether they have any at all. An absence of morals or ethics is a vacuum of beliefs about how we treat each other.
He also correctly criticises Orwell for being wrong about the future, and Orwell was certainly mistaken about some aspects of the “1984 Orwellian world”. For example, the state is shrivelling rather than being the monster machine Orwell predicted. That function has been assumed by international capitalism rather than international government.
Julian Barnes also says that Orwell “is deeply untheoretical and wary of general conclusions that do not come from specific experiences.” But of course a thought is an experience and when it is repeated then built on it can become un-singular enough to produce theories.
I think Orwell was profoundly theoretical, in fact. He simply did an excellent job of disguising it because he did not trust in ideas alone. A good idea can quickly become a bad one when it bumps up against the physical world and human nature. Communism is an example of this, as he discovered.
I think it would be more accurate to say that Orwell was certainly suspicious of those who did not ’love the soil’ as he did. He had a sensible distaste of pretence, pomposity and the grandiose. In short, he disliked intellectuals as a species but used his intellect to point out his own shortcomings as well as those of others.
Barnes is wrong to say that Orwell was “deeply untheoretical” just because Orwell’s writing did not use obviously theoretical language. Underneath the plain phrases and continual drawing from his experiences, Orwell’s work was bursting with theories about the human condition.
It’s a pity that Barnes has seemingly missed that.

[This article was first published in Catalonia Today magazine, October 2017.]

Friday, October 13, 2017

"Why Europe Needs a New Deal, Not a Breakup"

[Illustration by Curt Merlo.]

"The EU is facing a crisis of legitimacy—but retreating to the nation-state will only benefit the far right.

The American New Deal of Franklin Roosevelt’s first two terms combined the goals of financial stabilization, reconstruction, conservation, and employment—jobs for the jobless; public works; power systems and new industries, especially in the South; soil conservation and reforestation to battle the Dust Bowl; and a potent mix of regulations and insurance to assert public power over high finance.
Europe today needs all of these. Its overgrown banks, haunted by the specter of insolvency, are pushing households into foreclosures and evictions across the continent, and at an accelerating scale in the most depressed countries. 
States are bankrupt and will only become more so as the European Central Bank begins to tighten under pressure from German savers crushed by negative interest rates. 
Like America 80 years ago, Europe has a vast periphery. In its South, there is a semi-permanent Great Depression, whereas in the East there is great need for new and renewed industries, transport networks, housing, and social investments. Above all, Europeans need jobs.
Unlike the United States in the 1930s, Europe is also facing the menace of disintegration, as the absence of a democratic federal system has spawned a crisis of legitimacy. 
Paralysis in the face of deindustrialization and chronic unemployment is breeding a toxic politics throughout Europe, with a postmodern form of fascism threatening some countries and a sense of hopelessness elsewhere. 
Europe has not yet suffered ecological calamities comparable to those in the past few weeks in Texas, Florida, and Puerto Rico; but they are coming, in the form of droughts, rising sea levels, and (most immediately) unstoppable waves of refugees from conflict and climate change in the Middle East and Africa.
The Democracy in Europe Movement 2025 (DiEM25) has therefore proposed a European New Deal (END), inspired by FDR but designed for European conditions. 
Chief among these is the sad fact that the European Union is a weak and limited thing—a confederacy, more or less. The crisis has made it virtually impossible even to discuss the creation of a US-style federation in Europe, with full powers to budget and mobilize for the emergencies at hand. 
European polities are so alienated by the authoritarian incompetence of the current leadership—exemplified by the crushing of the Greek government in 2015 and the heavy-handed approach of the European Commission to Brexit—that an increase in central powers (“more Europe,” as they say) would almost certainly meet heavy resistance. 
So it is necessary to work within existing charters and treaties to bring about stabilization by means of a European New Deal before hope is restored and the creation of new, democratic, federal, pan-European institutions—even a proper European Constitution—can be discussed sensibly and with cool heads.
To this END, we have proposed the following programs for all European countries, independent of whether they are in the European Union or the eurozone..."
Read more from source at The Nation here.

Saturday, October 7, 2017

"I Am Obliged to Reconsider My Support for the European Union"

Former diplomat Craig Murray makes a strong argument after seeing the Spanish state's police violence against voters at last weekends Catalan referendum.

"To my own astonishment, and after a full 36 hours of hard thinking to try and escape this conclusion, I am in intellectual honesty obliged to reconsider my lifelong support for the European Union, due to the unqualified backing of the EU Commission for the Spanish Government’s dreadful repression in Catalonia.

This is very difficult for me. I still much favour open immigration policy, and the majority of Brexiteers are motivated at base by racist anti-immigrant sentiment. Certainly many Brexiteers share in the right wing support for Rajoy’s actions, across Europe. I have been simply stunned by the willingness of right wingers across the internet, including on this blog, to justify the violence of the Spanish state on “law and order” grounds...
But not all who oppose the EU are right wing. There are others who oppose the EU on the grounds that it is simply another instrument of power of the global 1% and an enforcer of neo-liberalism. I had opposed this idea on the grounds it was confusing the policies of current EU states with the institution itself, that it ignored the EU’s strong guarantees of human rights, and its commitment to workers’ rights and consumer protection.
I have to admit today that I was wrong, and in fact the EU does indeed function to maintain the global political elite, and cares nothing for the people.
The Lisbon Treaty specifically incorporated the European Charter of Fundamental Rights into basic European Union law."

Read more from source here.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Catalans vote (while Schäuble-ism lives on)

Despite a heavy police presence and some shocking violence from the Spanish forces Catalonia's citizens voted today to at least try to express their wishes on the question of independence.

Meanwhile, over in Germany, as DiEM25 leader Yanis Varoufakis points out, the same bunch of economic masters (who have roundly ignored the growing acts of repression in Catalonia) are still in charge...even though their main man Wolfgang Schäuble has left the finance post.

Will there now be a clear response to the the Spanish government's anti-democratic tactics from Europe's high and mighty?