Notes from the front – of the week 17/2/2015

Black, Muslim, Jewish, all these lives matter

Events of recent weeks have provided an object lesson in why it is vital to build a united movement against all forms of racism.

The attacks in Copenhagen last weekend, one of which was on a synagogue, and the desecration of Jewish graves in France, have added to the deepened concerns in the Jewish community that – on the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz – they are facing a new wave of European anti-Semitism.


At the same time the Muslim communities across Europe face daily media scare stories about extremism that stigmatise their communities and faith and lead to daily acts of racist abuse and discrimination.

The Chapel Hill execution style murders of three young Muslims in the United States, underlined to a beleaguered Muslim community that this is a worldwide phenomenon. But it was also noted that there was a complete absence of the horrified media response that had accompanied the attacks on Charlie Hebdo or indeed the Copenhagen events.

In the United States in particular, but also in Britain, African-American and African Caribbean communities have become outraged at the disproportionate number of black people dying at the hands of the police. This extreme violence by the state has become the touch paper for the expression of these communities’ outrage at the generalised discrimination and exclusion they face.

While the form of attack on each of these communities often varies, and the degree of implication of the state is different in each case, the justification for all is the same – racism.

While the racist stereotypes of Muslims, black or Jewish people may vary, they share a common impact in stigmatising people purely for their ethnic background or religious belief and justifying hate crime. Whichever target is chosen it all feeds the new rise of the European neo-Nazi right which happily shifts its victim from Muslim to Jew, ‘immigrant’ to black person, according to who looks most vulnerable at the time.

The strongest riposte to racism, Islamophobia and anti-Semitism is a united stand of all the communities affected, together with the labour movement and other progressive opinion, against all forms of racism, discrimination and hate.

The Unite against racism and fascism conference this weekend (21 February – details here) and the Stand Up To Racism and Fascism demonstration on 21 March provide the opportunity to contribute to building such a movement.


Venezuela foils coup plot

In an escalation of opposition attempts to take advantage of Venezuela’s economic problems to overthrow the Chavista government, a coup was attempted last week. The Venezuelan government thwarted the attempt, planned for 12 February, before it got off the ground and some of the principal plotters were arrested.

The plot details discovered included assassinating President Maduro and bombing the Miraflores Palace, the National Assembly and the Telesur offices in Caracas (the list of targets has been reported here). The coup attempt was planned to coincide with new anti-government demonstrations to be held on the anniversary of the start of last year’s violent demonstrations – 12 February.

The Venezuelan government has evidence that the plot had active support from US embassy staff in Caracas, who tried to bribe key officials to participate. But the coup’s execution was incompetent, as military officials who back the Maduro government were approached for support. The Venezuelan revolution continues to have the support of the Army, which constrains any proposed military coup.

Despite this defeat, the revolution’s opponents will continue to exploit Venezuela’s economic problems, which are being exacerbated by the fall in the price of oil. Inflation and hoarding are affecting the population’s living standards, which opposition parties hope will increase the level of discontent.

Whilst this coup has been averted, further attempts to de-stabilise the situation with violence can be expected. And the National Assembly elections, due by the end of this year, will be a vital fight.

Venezuela Solidarity Campaign seminar: US Intervention & Destabilisation in Venezuela – Lessons of Chile & Nicaragua. Tuesday, March 31, 6:30pm with Dr. Francisco Dominguez, political refugee from the Pinochet dictatorship in Chile & co-author of ‘Right Wing Politics in the New Latin America,’ & Guisell Morales, the Ambassador of Nicaragua


Syriza is right – continuing with austerity programme is unacceptable

The acrimonious break-up of talks between Syriza and the Eurogroup of Finance Ministers underlines the point that there is a wide gulf between the two sides and neither is currently backing down.

The Eurogroup includes all the Finance Ministers of the 19 countries that have adopted the Euro. But the forces ranged against Syriza also include the Troika institutions: the European Central Bank, the EU Commission and the IMF.

Divisions have opened up among some of the Eurogroup Finance Ministers. In particular, France’s Pierre Moscovici prepared a joint paper with Syriza’s finance minister, Yanis Varoufakis, that made no reference to the hated 2012 Memorandum of Understanding imposing savage austerity measures on Greece.

The paper was vetoed, and it is widely believed that Germany was the prime mover in blocking it, but they will have been supported by other ministers, and possibly both the ECB and the IMF.

If the EU was hoping its unbending position would lead to differentiation in the leadership of Syriza, this has so far entirely failed. On the contrary, the intransigent and unreasonable stance of the Troika is proving a major unifying factor in the Syriza government.

It is simply impossible for Greece to repay the debt and sustain an economic recovery. There will have to be some substantial reduction in interest payments to Greece’s creditors simply in order to allow any alleviation of austerity and to restore growth.

So far, European financial markets have remained very calm with only Greek government bonds falling. Government bond markets in other European ‘peripheral’ countries, Spain, Ireland, Portugal and Italy have been unaffected. Economic commentary tends to focus almost solely on the risks facing Greece.

The danger is that this lulls the Troika representatives into believing that they have successfully ring-fenced the Greek crisis and if necessary they can allow the economy to collapse outright through a run on bank deposits, a banking crisis and probable exit from the Euro.

This would be a strategic misjudgement. Austerity means living standards will decline in a number of European countries for years to come. If a Greek exit shows European monetary union is not irreversible the risk will inevitably grow that others will follow suit.

The hardliners from the German Finance Ministry and others whose big banks and firms are the key beneficiaries of the Euro risk sawing off the branch they are sitting on.

The stakes remain high on all sides. Short-term funding for Greek banks from the ECB runs out in days and the next tranche of funding from the existing Memorandum is due at the end of the month. Any agreement, if it comes, will need to be reached soon.

Syriza’s rise continues to have a positive effect internationally. It will have encouraged Merkel and Hollande to seek a peace agreement in Ukraine. It is also fuelling the rise of Podemos in Spain and Sinn Féin in Ireland. Impressive protests in support of the demand to drop the debt have been held in London bringing together sections of the left, European activists, trade unionists and Labour left MPs. The key organiser is the Greece Solidarity Campaign and details of its future activities can be found here.


Despite the hype about the US economy, it is still China that is growing most strongly

Over the last year Western financial and economic media have peddled twin stories: the United States is enjoying robust growth and emerging strongly from the crisis on the one hand, and on the other China is suffering a significant economic decline. Both these stories are radically false as the latest data for last year’s GDP growth shows.

The claims of great success for the US emerging from the crisis is that its GDP grew by 2.4 per cent in 2014, which certainly does compare favourably with the virtually 0 per cent growth rate in the Eurozone and Japan.

The contrasting negative comment on China has come as its growth rate has slowed to 7.4 per cent in 2014. But this is still roughly three times the growth rate of the US, the strongest performing of all the industrialised countries.

Such Western punditry simply provides Alice in Wonderland economic commentary, where words mean whatever the commentators want them to. In this framework, China is in crisis because its growth rate has slipped to 7.4 per cent, and the US is in a boom while growing at only 2.4 per cent.

The performance of China’s GDP versus the leading capitalist economies in 2014 is shown in the chart below.

China could grow a little more strongly without overheating maybe by a percentage point or so. But on current policy settings the industrialised economies seem incapable of growing much faster. In terms of contribution to world growth China is also growing more rapidly than the entire G7 group of economies put together.

The world economy remains in crisis. Western economic commentators need to look closer to home to identify the source of that crisis.