Friday, 20 February 2015

Ukraine: Propaganda instead of news

UK mainstream media is complicit in a very dangerous and worrying strategy – the escalating demonization of Russia.

Those of us who grew up during the Cold War were used to what was then the Soviet Union being portrayed as an evil empire just waiting to invade and enslave us, if not vaporise us with their arsenal of nuclear missiles.  We were told the UK had to spend billions-of-pounds on our own nuclear weapons of mass destruction in order to deter the heathen communist hordes from sweeping across the plains of western Europe.

Led by the freedom-loving United States of America, the narrative we were fed had us as the ‘good guys’, while the ‘baddies’ were the secretive and repressive dictators plotting world domination from the Kremlin in Moscow.

Then, along came Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev in 1988, with his westward-looking policies of glasnost (openness) and perestroika (change).  Suddenly, the Iron Curtain was being dismantled: communism crumbled as Russia embraced the capitalist economic system.  The Cold War was over, and the West had won.

The Soviet Union was broken-up and independent nations were established as a wave of democracy swept over eastern Europe.

Russians had free elections, in which the Communist Party was replaced by pro-capitalists who began privatising previously state-run industries. 

Governments and media in western countries portrayed the transformation as an entirely positive story, extolling the new warming of West-East relations and talking excitedly of the economic opportunities sure to flow from the collapse of the evil communist regime that had stood for so long against freedom and enterprise.

Actually, the government of the Soviet Union and countries of the Warsaw Pact could not have been further from communism.  The Soviet bloc was a totalitarian dictatorship, which served the interests of a ruling elite.  When the structure collapsed, many members of that elite simply ditched their Communist Party cards and reinvented themselves as free-market entrepreneurs.

Hugely successful Russian industries, such as oil and gas production, were handed-over to former Soviet officials and their friends.  People like Roman Abramovich, now owner of Chelsea Football Club, found themselves instantly transformed into billionaires.  Meanwhile, ordinary men and women in Russia discovered the concept of unemployment as their former state-provided jobs were scrapped by newly-privatised companies seeking to maximise profits.

At the head of the new capitalist Russia was Vladimir Putin, formerly a Lieutenant Colonel in the Komitet Gosudarstvennoy Bezopasnosti (KGB), the Soviet Union’s notorious secret police.  This was not a man known for embracing freedom in any of its forms.  However, so long as he was prepared to allow western companies to exploit the Russian people through the international capitalist system, and was prepared to sell oil and gas to the west, then Putin’s faults and repression of minorities and opponents were not seen as important issues.

Throughout the 1990s and 2000s, the new Russia was no longer seen as a threat to the West (primarily the United States).  In fact, it was now part of the global community of capitalist exploiters. 

Even as America and Britain launched illegal invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, Russia did little more than tut disapprovingly on the sidelines.  However, these wars were to have a profound effect on the views of Washington’s own ruling elite.

The number of Americans who died in their country’s ‘war’ to steal Iraq’s massive oil resources was seen to be too high by those in the corridors of power on Capitol Hill (and by ordinary Americans), so a new plan of action had to be developed.  Instead of sending-in the Marines, America would fund and supply indigenous groups in countries where Washington wanted to see regime change, with new pro-America administrations installed.

A complicit western media then reported these developments as the ‘Arab Spring’, reporting how ordinary people in countries such as Libya and Egypt had suddenly risen-up against dictators, had surprisingly found themselves in possession of massive quantities of weapons, and were determined to hold democratic elections to return power to the people.

Of course, the silly Egyptians got the democracy thing wrong at their first go: after having removed President Hosni Mubarak, effectively by way of an American-backed military coup, the people then democratically voted for a new government containing the Muslim Brotherhood.  This, though, was not the pro-America regime Washington wanted, so there had to be another ‘Arab Spring’ in Egypt to overthrow the new democratically-elected President Mohamed Morsi.  Egyptians got the message and in the second ‘democratic’ election they put in place the leader America wanted.

With this tactic apparently working well, the Washington military-hawks turned their attention to Europe. 

Former Soviet Union states and Warsaw Pact countries had been drawn into membership of the western capitalist club through being accepted into the European Union, where social and economic influence is exercised by three American-dominated organisations – the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Trade Organisation (WTO). 

Former communist states now EU members include: Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia.  Not so long ago all of these countries were satellites of the Russian-controlled Soviet Union.

However, the next step in America’s European hegemony was seen by Russia to be much more serious.  The North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) – the nuclear-armed international military body that had stood for generations against the Soviet Union – began expanding eastwards, accepting as members the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Albania and Croatia (in that order).

Russia began to see a pattern emerging and, in 2013, when the European Union offered an Association Agreement to Ukraine, the prospect of the EU - almost certainly followed by NATO – edging right up onto the Russian border became a distinct possibility.

Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych refused to sign the offered EU Association Agreement, which would have meant his country agreeing to IMF controls, including cuts to public services, wages and privatisation of publicly-owned industries and assets.  Instead, Yanukovich looked east to Ukraine’s neighbour, Russia.  Putin immediately offered cheap loans to Ukraine.

America, through its European proxy, the EU, could see the unravelling of its plans to remove Ukraine from Russia’s orbit, so all of a sudden there appeared a ‘popular uprising’ by Ukrainian people determined to overthrow their democratically-elected President.

Heavily-armed and well-funded groups of protestors appeared on the streets of Kiev, including neo-Nazi, fascist organisations.

Of course, America denied any involvement in this European version of the ‘Arab Spring’, but an official document, subsequently leaked, showed US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland admitting that the United States had ‘invested’ over $5bn in supporting anti-Russian groups in Ukraine since 1991.

Backed by the US, the armed pro-western militias forced the resignation of the democratically-elected president, Viktor Yanakovich.  Ukraine’s leader had been removed by an American-funded and resourced military coup.  Western governments and media referred to it as a ‘democratic revolution’.

The reality, however, was exactly what Russia had feared – a pro-American regime, including right-wing extremists, was now in power in a nation right on its border, in a country with a large ethnic Russian population, particularly in the east (the part of Ukraine bordering Russia).

This seizure of power and the overthrow of the democratically-elected president caused fear and panic in those areas of Ukraine where the majority of people spoke Russian and considered themselves to have much more in common with Russia than the west.

In Crimea, which had once been part of Russia, a referendum on the region’s future was held.  The outcome showed 96.77% supported the creation of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea affiliated to the Russian Federation.  Western governments and media reported this as Russia having annexed Crimea.

In other areas of eastern Ukraine with large Russian-speaking populations, such as Donetsk and Lugansk, people also rejected the governing regime put in place following the American-backed military coup and decided to resist the imposition of rule from Kiev.  This continues to be described by western governments and media as pro-Russian separatists or terrorists bombing and killing other Ukrainians on the orders of Vladimir Putin.

Rather than the eastward expansion of the EU and NATO, newspapers and broadcasters in the UK report the conflict in Ukraine as Vladimir Putin seeking to re-establish a ‘Greater Russia’. 

NATO is, and always has been, a front-organisation for American imperialism, while the European Union is now simply a conduit of US capitalism.  Putin’s Russia could reach an accommodation with the EU but fears the military expansionism of NATO. 

Consider how America would react if Putin reached an economic and military agreement with either Canada or Mexico.  What would Washington do if it faced Russian troops being stationed on its border?

Of course, we know how America reacted in October 1962 when the Soviet Union located missiles on Cuba.  President John F Kennedy was prepared to initiate a nuclear war.  This was despite the fact America had already deployed its own missiles in Italy and Turkey, all of which could strike directly at Moscow.  The world was saved from a nuclear holocaust when the ‘evil’ Soviets agreed to remove their weapons from Cuba.

Russia is far from being a perfect state, but the picture of the country we are currently receiving through our newspapers and broadcasters does not reflect the reality of its position and actions.

How often do we hear on our news bulletins about the Project for a New American Century (PNAC) or the 90-page document it published in September 2000 –‘ Rebuilding America’s Defenses: Strategies, Forces and Resources For a New Century’?

PNAC was the right-wing organisation that shaped the presidency of George W Bush and, today, the people behind it still hold massive influence in relation to US government policy.

Contained in the PNAC plan for the 21st Century is the following statement:

“[We require] a military that is strong and ready to meet both present and future challenges; a foreign policy that boldly and purposefully promotes American principles abroad; and national leadership that accepts the United States’ global responsibilities. If we shirk our responsibilities, we invite challenges to our fundamental interests. The history of the past century should have taught us to embrace the cause of American leadership.”

The document also states its goal is to “promote American global leadership,” and asserts that “American leadership is good both for America and the world”. 

The current demonization of Russia is part of a plan to once again portray that country as evil, while the American-led west are supposedly the ‘good guys’.  In fact, it is America and the west that has expanded its influence to the very doorstep of Russia.

UK broadcasters are complicit in the misreporting of what is happening in Ukraine and other parts of the world.  We are receiving propaganda in place of objective news.

Monday, 16 February 2015

SNP success at the UK Election will be good for us all

The SNP is not, and never has been a socialist party.  However, today’s SNP, led by Nicola Sturgeon, is reclaiming a left-of-centre political position that has English newspapers screaming fearful warnings of a Scottish Marxist mafia set to influence who forms the UK Government after May’s Westminster Election.

The far-right Daily Mail last week had a banner front-page headline proclaiming that the SNP is set to “hand the keys of No. 10 to Red Ed”.

Notwithstanding the ridiculous assertion that Ed Miliband is in any way socialist, let’s be absolutely clear where the SNP stands politically: it is a moderate, social-democratic party.  The SNP’s policies are of the centre-left – social-responsibility coupled with free-market economics – but it is not socialist, nor does it claim to be.  The fact so-called mainstream English media sees the SNP as a dangerous, subversive left-wing threat to what passes for democracy in the UK, simply reveals how far to the right much of England has moved in political terms.

There are now very few socialists in the Labour Party: it would certainly be impossible to square Labour’s policy agenda with socialist beliefs.  Ed Miliband leads a Labour Party that is a virtual clone of the Conservative Party.  If the SNP finds itself in the position of kingmaker after the UK Election, and if it decides to support a Labour administration, then it will not be handing the keys of No. 10 to anyone of a ‘red’ political persuasion.

If the SNP sees its number of MPs substantially increased, as all recent polls predict, and if it allows Miliband to form a minority Labour government – with SNP backing on a ‘confidence and supply’ basis (vote-by-vote) – then England will have the SNP to thank for reigning-in Labour’s right-wing policies.  That, however, will not amount to a socialist agenda across the UK.

What the SNP will seek from Labour in the above circumstances will amount to an end of austerity and a return to capital investment to stimulate the economy; full financial autonomy for the Scottish Parliament; Scotland to have a national veto on any UK-wide decision to remove the UK from the European Union; scrapping of the Tories’ proposed Health & Social Care Act, which would impact on the Scottish NHS; and removal from Scottish land and waters of the UK’s nuclear weapons of mass destruction.

Of those issues, Labour currently supports further austerity cuts, opposes the Scottish Parliament having full financial responsibility, and backs spending around £120bn on building and maintaining a new system of nuclear missiles to be based on the Clyde.

The changes Labour would have to make to secure SNP support for a minority Miliband administration would, therefore, amount to common-sense rather than any sort of red revolution.  The moderate, centre-left policies of the SNP are also a lot closer to the political beliefs of many Labour activists in Scotland than those advocated by the London-controlled ‘Scottish’ Labour Party.

Rightly, the SNP has ruled-out any support for the Tories, a decision based on the severe damage that party’s policies have caused to Scotland over the years, and, of course, on the fact Scots consistently reject Tory policies and candidates.  Such a decision, however, does not mean the SNP has already committed to backing a minority Labour government.

If Ed Miliband is to oust David Cameron from No. 10, his party will have to accommodate the SNP’s proposals, which will benefit not just Labour, but also the people of Scotland and England.

According to opinion polls, a Labour Government acting with SNP support is the favoured option of most Scots in terms of the outcome from the UK Election.  That will only happen if Scotland returns substantial numbers of SNP MPs.

The same polls certainly predict a surge in support for the SNP as we head into the campaign for the May 7th election.  If Scots want to have any influence on the UK Government, then, this time, we have to vote SNP.

The Labour Party knows it is facing wipe-out in Scotland, a situation that has come about because of its right-wing policies, the party’s anti-independence coalition with the Tories, and the extremely poor quality of many Labour MPs and candidates.  This reality has resulted in Labour falling-back on a well-worn UK Election mantra in Scotland – ‘You have to vote Labour to keep the Tories out’.  Of course, the facts show this assertion to be absolute nonsense.

In recent political times, Scotland voted Labour (to keep the Tories out) in 1970, 1979, 1983, 1987, 1992 and 2010 – on each occasion we got a Tory Government imposed on us by voters in England.  Within the British Union, every person in Scotland could vote Labour, but if England backs the Tories, then our votes will be ignored and we will have a Conservative Government.

Another lie being peddled by the Labour Party is that a vote for the SNP will benefit the Tories by reducing support for Labour and allowing David Cameron into Downing Street ‘by the back door’.  Labour argues this will be because the largest party gets to form the government.

Of course, we only have to go back to the last UK Election, in 2010, to see that statement isn’t true.

The Tories formed the largest party after that election, but it didn’t stop Gordon Brown from trying to continue as Prime Minister by cobbling together a coalition between Labour and the Liberal Democrats.  Contrary to what Labour want us to believe, it is the party commanding a majority in parliament that gets to form the government, not necessarily the one with the most MPs.

It is this situation that means the SNP can support Labour, giving it a working majority in parliament and securing significant Scottish influence on policy at the same time.

At this election, a vote for the SNP is the best option for Scots.

The next Scottish Parliament Election will be held in a year’s time – May 2016 – when we can support whichever party most-closely represents our personal political beliefs – pro-independence voters can choose from SNP, Scottish Socialist Party, Scottish Green Party – but at this UK Election the Scottish interest is best served by us uniting behind the SNP.

It’s time for Scotland’s voice to be heard, loud and clear, in London and across the UK.

Friday, 6 February 2015

UK Election: North Ayrshire & Arran

With just three-months until the UK General Election, poll after poll indicates the SNP is set to make substantial gains.

The Labour Party is predicted to be the big losers, but the Liberal Democrats are also likely to take a hammering.

The most recent opinion poll, carried out last week by Ashcroft Polling, is the most extensive yet done, involving one-to-one interviews with 16,000 Scots across the country.  The main result showed an average 25% swing from Labour to the SNP in seats that were formerly considered to be Labour’s heartlands.

The lowest swing from Labour to SNP in the poll was 21%, which, if translated into votes at the election on May 7th, would see the SNP take 35 of 41 Scottish seats currently held by Labour.  Amongst those who would lose their seats are Douglas Alexander (currently Shadow Foreign Secretary), Margaret Curran (currently Shadow Secretary of State for Scotland) and Anas Sarwar (former Deputy Leader of the Labour Party in Scotland).

Further north, Alex Salmond would comfortably win the Gordon constituency, which is presently held by the Lib Dems, while Danny Alexander, current Lib Dem Chief Secretary to the Treasury, would be trounced by the SNP in the Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey seat.

Such poll findings are, of course, quite remarkable, particularly given that it is only five-months since the SNP’s principle policy of independence was rejected by a 10% majority of Scots.  However, the Independence Referendum has turned-out to be a watershed moment in Scottish politics, and not in the way most would have anticipated.

The ‘losers’, the pro-independence side, has seen substantial increases in party membership: the principle element in the ‘YES’ campaign, the SNP, is now the third-largest political party in the UK, with around 100,000 members.  Meanwhile, the ‘winners’ have seen their fortunes and membership starkly decline.

One reason for Labour’s demise is that the party is now seen to be just another part of the Westminster establishment.  Having fought alongside the Conservative Party to prevent Scotland re-taking the status of a normal independent nation, Labour has since voted with the Tories to impose a further £30bn of austerity cuts on the public, and to spend £100bn on building and maintaining a new generation of nuclear weapons of mass destruction, which, of course, would be based on the Clyde; a move that will continue to prevent exploration of oil reserves located off the Ayrshire coast in waters used by nuclear submarines travelling to and from their base at the Holy Loch.

The anti-independence campaign was heavily funded by London-based Tory supporters, but it was Labour Party activists in Scotland who distributed the leaflets and did the groundwork to retain a system that continues to see Scots governed by and from London.  Even Gordon Brown’s last-ditch promise of ‘home rule’ for Scotland if we rejected independence is now seen to have been nothing more than a lie.  All Brown’s intervention did was to help Westminster and the Tory-led UK Government keep control of Scotland and our resources.

The Labour Party long ago abandoned any pretence of representing the interests of the working class.  Now, it is seen as simply a red-rosette-wearing version of the Tory Party.  Labour has betrayed Scots who voted for it over many generations.  As a consequence, the party and its representatives are no longer trusted.

Locally, the constituency of North Ayrshire & Arran, which has been held by Labour for 28 years, is now appearing on lists of seats that could fall to the SNP in May.

If events since the Independence Referendum and the results of opinion polls are stripped- out, the bare facts relating to North Ayrshire & Arran indicate that incumbent Labour MP Katy Clark should have nothing to worry about.  Indeed, Ms Clark maintains she is confident of retaining the seat, and with a majority of 9,895 from the last UK Election in 2010, her confidence would seem to be well placed.

However, it is not possible to discount the political changes that have overtaken Scotland since last September.  The lowest swing from Labour to SNP in last week’s Ashcroft Poll was 21% - in North Ayrshire & Arran the swing required for an SNP victory is 12%.  Normally, a 12% swing would be a massive result to achieve, but seen against the nationwide surge of support for the SNP, it no longer looks so formidable.

That said, there are other local factors that come into play.  The first is the personal vote built-up by Katy Clark since she became the local area’s MP in 2005. 

In her favour, also, is the tag she has acquired as a Labour rebel.  There is no doubt Katy Clark is firmly on the left of the Labour Party and has regularly broken the party whip when her colleagues were voting with the Conservatives.  However, her brand of old-style Labour values was firmly rejected by party members when she stood late last year for the position of Deputy Leader of Labour in Scotland.  Instead, Labour members, MPs and MSPs backed Kezia Dugdale, a Regional MSP seen to be on the centre-right.

Labour’s rejection of Katy Clark’s deputy leadership bid has led to the SNP arguing that voting for her in North Ayrshire & Arran would not deliver her left-wing policies but, instead, would simply contribute towards the number of MPs secured by the Tory-clone, London-run, Ed Miliband-led Labour Party.

So, with three-months until polling day, the election in North Ayrshire & Arran will see a strong fight between Labour and the SNP.

The Scottish Nationalists last week selected Patricia Gibson as their candidate.  Mrs Gibson is a former teacher and SNP councillor in Glasgow.  She is married to local SNP MSP Kenneth Gibson and the couple live in Kilbirnie.

May’s contest is therefore a re-run of the 2010 election, when Ms Clark and Mrs Gibson also represented their respective parties. 

Patricia Gibson and the SNP took second place in what had ‘traditionally’ been a Labour-Conservative contest.  However, a significant factor contributing to the outcome in North Ayrshire & Arran in 2010 was the expulsion of Tory candidate Philip Lardner during the campaign.  Mr Lardner had made comments relating to homosexuality, which the party found to be unacceptable and meriting expulsion.  Given that the closing date for electoral nominations had passed, this meant the Tories could not replace Philip Lardner as their candidate, although they did not work for his election.

Those circumstances prompted the Patricia Gibson campaign to take the controversial step of writing personally-addressed letters to local members of the Conservative Party, asking them to vote SNP as the Tories had no ‘official’ candidate.  Such courting of Tory votes will be something the Labour campaign this time will no doubt seek to exploit.

Make no mistake, on May 8th North Ayrshire & Arran’s MP will be either Katy Clark or Patricia Gibson: the local constituency will have a Labour or SNP representative at the Westminster Parliament.  No other candidates have any chance of success.

What makes this North Ayrshire & Arran election exciting is that it is the first time in 23 years the seat could change hands.  Whether or not it does, is entirely up to us - every vote will count.