Thursday 24 September 2015

Electric Transport versus the Fossil Fuel deceivers

It is advantageous for a car manufacturer to be able to claim that their vehicle emissions are low. If auto makers can claim that their products are less polluting than the competition, they can sell more units and thus make more profit.
Actually, it is impossible to reduce the carbon dioxide emissions of a diesel or a petrol engine. Internal combustion engines burn fuel and burned fuel results in carbon dioxide. It is however possible to reduce the amount of other of toxic by-products of the combustion process. Doing so, is not straightforward. Designing and making a vehicle that produces less nitrogen oxides than an unmodified vehicle, is expensive.
However, Volkswagen have admitted to reducing the apparent emissions of some of their vehicles without actually changing the engine or the exhaust system. They have cheated. They have deceived the public in order to make more profits.
All internal combustion engine manufacturers have a competitor technology which beats them hands down on the emissions front. This technology beats both petrol and diesel on clean air. This technology is electric power. Electric vehicles not only beat both diesel and petrol on climate damaging CO2 emissions, they also produce none of the other pollutants like carbon monoxide, nitrous oxides and hydrocarbon particulates etc produced by diesel engines which are so highly damaging to human health. 
30,000 deaths in the UK each year are thought to be caused by air pollution. 9,500 premature deaths in London alone each year have been linked to the NOx fumes produced by diesel engines.
Electric vehicles have zero in use emissions. On a level playing field, electric vehicles will be taken up more frequently than diesel by the public if diesel technology is seen to pollute the environment, damage health and add to the problem of climate change.
There have been suggestions in the media that other manufacturers, not just VW, may have been installing software in their diesel vehicles which misleads the public and regulators about the levels of pollutants produced by their engines. 
Why would they do it?
If all diesel engine manufacturers have been using a so called defeat device, they will not gain any advantage (or any increased profits) over their direct diesel competitors because they will all be showing the same reduced levels of toxic fumes and therefore there will be no significant difference in their published emissions data and no advantage over the competition.
So, If it is shown that other or all diesel vehicle manufacturers have been deceiving regulators by systematically installing software which masks the actual levels of toxic pollutants produced by their engines, the conclusion must be that they have not been doing it in order simply to achieve competitive advantage over other diesel engine manufacturers, but to diminish the advantage and prevent the uptake of a viable completely different, competing clean technology - electric cars, vans, buses and lorries.
The auto industry and its mutually dependent partner in crime the fossil fuel industry will do anything to keep their dirty show on the road and keep out upstart competitors like electric vehicles and wind power*. And they have been doing it with total disregard to the effect it has on our health and the damage it does to the planet.

* Wind power - because we need to decarbonise electricity to maximise the advantage of electric transport. Wind power (specifically offshore wind power) must replace coal oil, gas and nuclear derived electricity.

Wednesday 23 September 2015

Pull the Plug

Jeremy Corbyn should say that, if elected, Labour will pull the plug on new nuclear.
This would make EDF and the Chinese government think again about the deal Osborne is offering is offering. They would pull out.
Nuclear makes no sense as a solution to climate change. We need an international solution to the climate crisis, and there is no question whether nuclear could provide all of the worlds electricity, let alone all of the worlds energy. It cannot get anywhere near either. There is not enough Uranium 235. And, anyway, politically, the West does not want to see nuclear being developed where it is not in control. Iran shows us this.

Investing in nuclear means that cheaper, more reliable and safer alternative technologies - like onshore and offshore wind and solar heat and pv along with efficiency measures like building insulation, are deprived of that investment.

Thursday 17 September 2015

Jeremy Corbyn's Labour Party (Why I joined it, plus the meaning of RS21)

I’ve joined the Labour Party.
I gave some of my reasons for leaving the Socialist Workers Party in another post.
Since then I have left another outfit – I’m really going through them now! Perhaps I will also be expelled from the Labour Party for not believing in its values. I hope not – I’m hoping that logic will dictate that the values of Labour changed when Jeremy Corbyn was elected leader and that I will now be considered fit to be a member.

So, why did I leave that other outfit, and have I learned any lessons?
When I left SW, it was really with a feeling of sadness. When I left RS21 it was one of relief mixed with anger.
Ill try to explain.

Having been in two revolutionary socialist organisations has enabled me to see both more clearly - what they have in common, and also what makes them different. The relationship between two positions becomes clear when there is a third with which to compare them.

When I was in SW I was very clear about what we were trying to do. We were trying to build the revolutionary party. You cannot get rid of capitalism through reforms; it cannot be reformed; a revolution is needed. And the working class needs a revolutionary socialist organisation to give the lead in the revolutionary struggle. It followed that the party organ, Socialist Worker, was an important tool for helping to shape and build the party – its' scaffolding.

We were told that it was a party of leaders. But nobody really believed that we were in a single tier organisation. There was an acceptance that some were better at being leaders than others. That didn’t matter. It was all done in the cause of ‘Building the Party’. You had to consciously subordinate yourself to the rule of the ‘centre’ to the industrial organiser; to the district organiser. But that was done willingly. We trusted those in the leadership to, on the whole, make good decisions. Sometimes mistakes were made, but again, and of course as in life elsewhere, people make mistakes. Even when things were not going too well, comrades were happy to keep heads down and keep pushing on with whatever party building project was under way.
For most of my time in the party – up until about 2008 – that way of working was good. You always had the sense (at least I did) that we were doing the right thing and things couldn’t really be done any better given the objective circumstances. The party was building for a lot of that time. It grew from around 4,500 when I joined in 1989 to about 10,000 in 2000. The ten thousand figure is disputed, but there really was actual growth – an almost doubling of the membership.
For me, things started to go wrong after the great crash of 2008. I can almost pin point it to an exact time of day  (you may laugh, but that’s what I think). I think it was September 14th 2008, when it was announced that Lehman Brothers had collapsed. At around that time the first statements that there was going to be a bailout of the biggest banks in the world were broadcast on the telly. When I heard that I immediately said to myself ‘and they will be clawing that back from us’ It would be like the Poll Tax on steroids. I went to a meeting at the University of London Union organised by SW (incidentally Delta* was the main speaker) and put my hand up wanting to speak about my take on the crisis. I wasn’t called. That wasn’t unusual. The trusted leaders usually got called to speak. You were lucky if you weren’t  a recognised leader member to be called to speak.
If I had been called, I would have said that this crash gives us a great opportunity. Like the poll tax, the clawback will affect everybody – every worker. And that could be the governments' and their capitalist friends their Achilles Heel. Governments do not ever take on the whole of the working class at the same time. They use divide and rule tactics.  The bailout with the inevitable clawback gave us the opportunity to attempt  to unite the working class against the austerity that will surely be coming down the tracks. I had a letter published in SW on the issue some months later.
But what did the party do in response to the crash? Zilch, Nada, Nothing.
Their mantra was ‘ you can not fight a recession’ and ‘you cannot suck a fightback out  of your thumb’
Of course you cannot fight a recession and nobody as far as I know was saying that. I found out a long time later that others had  reached the same conclusion as me, but (because of the way dissent in the party was handled) I did not hear that or get to talk to them.
In fact the Poll Tax campaign was sucked out of our thumb. It was built bottom up from the ground in a sustained eighteen month campaign which united as many strands of resistance as was possible. And it won. It was a major (and for me inexplicable) mistake of the party to not re-orientate - and attempt to build a campaign using lessons from the successful Anti Poll Tax campaign from the late eighties - after the banking crisis of 2008.
From then on, I started to trust less and less, the decisions of the leadership and became critical of the direction the party was going in. But I remained in the party, hopeful that better judgement would materialise in the future struggles.

A large proportion (not all, but a significant number) of the group that eventually emerged as RS21 were full timers in the SW – People who worked for the paper and worked on the admin of the party. This group backed to the hilt and argued for and carried out (they had to, it was their job), the decisions of the central committee.

Then came the traumatic crisis in the party caused by the (alleged and disputed admittedly**) actions of the leading member of the central committee of the Socialist Workers Party.

The trauma that overwhelmed the party in 2012 – 2014 was an accident waiting to happen.
In a sexist, racist, homophobic, society, everybody in that society has those backward ideas in their head -‘ The ruling ideas in any society are those of the ruling class’  - however under control they may be. Just because you are on the central committee of a revolutionary organisation, that in itself does not shield you, free you, exempt you, from holding those notions. And, always, there exists the possibility that you could act, however involuntarily, on them. You can recognise their backwardness and guard yourself against them and fight against people who are overtly racist  or sexist or homophobic (and that is not an exhaustive list) etc, but you cannot obliterate the notions themselves. This is not to excuse any racist, sexist, homophobic, behaviour, but to recognise the existence of  the ideas, and the danger they represent.
One of the first books I was read as a child was blatantly racist with racist stories and pictures and words; and for many years as I was growing up, homosexuality was an illegal practice; my mother was, as a great many women were (and still even now are) casually treated a bit like a modern slave. Racist, homophobic and sexist ideas are in peoples’ heads. How could they not be? We have been brought up with them. Young people have had a different experience, but the main point still applies.

My conclusion is that we have to build our party in a defensive way. In such a way that, if and when a leading member fails to live up to the highest revolutionary standards, that it doesn’t bring the whole project crashing down. We must not allow that kind of vulnerability to arise. 
We need a discussion on the best way forward – on how to build a more robust organisation or set of organisations. I think we need a looser structure. The ‘slate’ method of leadership is problematical.  We can only vote for the slate and the slate votes for itself.  This tends to perpetuate the vulnerability and increases the likelihood of further trouble in the future. There is a history of leadership worship leading to the collapse of left parties. We need to be wary of leadership worship. Leaders often let us down. And if they are the head of the single ‘vanguard’ party that is asking for trouble.

When I was in RS21 I suggested that we should have an open discussion –both within RS21 and then with Socialist Worker and within the working class as a whole about the kind of party that we need.
Unfortunately my suggestion was not taken seriously.

This leads me on to my thoughts on RS21.
What does it mean anyway.
 It means arse to anyone.
(See what I did there? Lol)
(When I resigned from RS21, my anger had reached white heat, so, apologies if my use of that four letter word offends anyone).
The anger came from many things. 
There used to be an organisation in the eighties and early 90s called the RCP. They had a magazine called Living Marxism. They were not an organisation that tried to build.  Their name implied revolutionary communism, but I had no idea what they were trying to do. They were just there. They had this nice shiny magazine with the picture of their leader on it. I forget how they disappeared, but before they did they changed the name of their magazine to LM.   It meant nothing. They weren’t trying to build.  RS21 is like that.
In Socialist Worker,  I knew why I was selling the paper. We were trying to build a revolutionary party and use the paper to help us in that work.
I couldn’t bring myself to even try selling the RS21 magazine because I didn’t know what it was for. It had some good articles and looked nice and shiny, but that was it. We might just as well have tried selling the Daily Mirror or the New Scientist.
When I was in that outfit, only a core group would automatically get their writing published. I never felt it was my magazine. There was a hierarchy; it was a two tier organisation even though there had been no proper discussion of this.
From the outset, and actually from before I joined, when it was still a faction within SW, I sensed that the organisation was undemocratic. I hoped this would change, but I was to be disappointed.

There was what I called an ‘undeclared social faction’ in existence. At the first National meeting event in Brixton, a posse of members left the pub we were gathered in after the event, and, with no announcement, marched out en masse leaving us, the remainder, to socialise among ourselves. Nice.
There are a lot of very decent and lovely people in RS21, just as there were in SW. I do not have a beef really with any particular people. I do have a beef with how the organisation works. But that of course is tied up with those same people.

So this is how I characterise some of this group.
Some of the new RS21 group had been full timers with the party. On leaving, they now found themselves unemployed professional revolutionaries. Professional revolutionaries without a job. And, to boot, professional revolutionaries who were used to carrying out the ‘centralism’ part of the ‘democratic centralism’ organisational method that SW functions by. They carried out the dirty work of centralism – the bending of the stick – the persuasion of those who were deemed to be not helpful to toe the line. A lot of them were crap at it, but they tried to crack the centralist whip. (In a nutshell democratic centralism is an organisational concept meaning decisions are arrived at democratically by the whole organisation, and then, once the policy is decided on, that policy is implemented across the organisation by the central leadership)
Adding to that, the leadership tends to select its successors from the full timers – from those who proved themselves compliant to the leadership and who were trained and in the habit of giving out orders. The professional revolutionaries saw themselves as the leadership in waiting.
They had a little bit of power and it would not be surprising if they felt the loss of that little bit of power when they resigned after building the opposition faction.
It was as if hey felt a sense of entitlement, stemming from their habitual roles in the old organisation. 

Those habits were carried over the new organisation, RS21. It always felt to me like a two tier organisation, when it could and should have been flat. We needed a true party of leaders, not another party of leaders and followers.  Instead, we got, for one example, the appointment, with hardly any discussion on the pros and cons of it of a middle aged (for RS21!) white academic male  as a paid worker. For me, we’ve had enough of  posh academics running the show into the ground in SW. We don’t need a re run of that. It sends out the wrong message.  A lot of people I spoke to about that appointment over their heads were disappointed with that important policy change. This is because he who pays the piper calls the tune. The friends of the full timer control interventions and policy.

So the problem of RS21 is that it is a chip off the old block. All the problems of Socialist Worker are there in embryo in RS21.
But the strengths of Socialist Worker – its clear sense of direction and purpose for example, are just not there. There are good things about RS21. They have tried. That’s good. They have tried to come up with some new political analyses – not amounting to much for me though, and in fact, I have sensed, at least in one Youtube video I have seen, which was presented by one of the self appointed leaders -  a sense of despair – a questioning of whether the working class has the actual power or ability to change the world. Oh dear.  A general cannot prepare to go into battle discussing defeat.

I think we need a revolutionary socialist organisation. But we need one that is capable of  winning the hundreds of thousands of new people that are joining the Labour party. I think that party could well have been Socialist Worker if it had been able to make a change to its ossified leadership methodology. Alas that is too late right now. But they will still have a part to play.  That party is full of brilliant class fighters.  It needs to drop the thuggish centralism and remake itself.
Tony Cliff did point us in the right direction. Again alas, he died too soon.
Something he said sticks in my mind. Unusually, the analysis isn’t taken to its conclusion (or more probably, I missed it) so:

Cliff said the revolution will be led by a 19 year old black lesbian.

Actually, Cliff, if writing today, would have said that the revolution will be led by a 19 year old black, disabled Moslem lesbian. Why? They have the most to win. But that isn’t my point.
Cliff was the leader of the party which, although this is not normally explicitly stated, sees itself as the vanguard party - the vanguard of the coming revolution when it happens. But this leaves us with a gaping hole. Because the party is not and (given the current stranglehold on leadership by the current CC, will never be)  led by that 19 year old. There is not a mechanism currently as the SWP is set up for, for any such person to emerge within the leadership of the SWP,
 A different structure, a more loose form of Democratic centralism is needed.

Why am I joining Labour then?
One of the things drummed in to me in my SW days is the maxim - you cannot be a socialist by yourself. In other words, you need to work with other socialists; you need to be in an organisation of some sort. I still agree with that. By yourself, you can maybe change some things, but you cannot change the world all by yourself.  The question then – what organisation, or what kind of organisation, do I need to be in - presents itself to anyone who concludes that - because of what they know is happening to billions of people and to the earth itself - that major political change is needed if we want a safe planet.
I think that the working class needs a revolutionary organisation  – one that argues for and builds towards a revolutionary change going beyond capitalism. However, in my opinion now, based on my experience in the two groups I have been a member of and which do argue for that kind of change, an organisation capable of building has yet to be formed.

In the absence of the existence of that organisation, right now seems to be a good time for a socialist without a party to join Labour. Why?  Because it has hundreds of thousands of new people joining and has a left wing MP beating the right wing, hands down, in the leadership contest. Although I have joined with an open mind and open heart it is also with no illusions. A leopard cannot change its spots. But I think its better to be in a party full of people that want to see change and to work together with them to try to achieve that change, than not to be in any group - even if you think that some of the basic political analysis of the party is wrong. Labour is now moving in the right direction – even if it does not have the fuel to carry us to the final destination.

* and ** This refers to the SW central committee member at the eye of the storm during the SWP crisis 2012/ 2013 I have a little bit to say about that crisis but am going to leave it to another post.