The links between financialization and relativism…

As one of my New Year resolutions that I actually hope to keep, I am aiming to increase the frequency and regularity of my blogging!

In the 1940s, the Bretton Woods system developed as countries attempted to regulate international finance after the problems the Great Depression and laissez-faire economics had caused the international system. However, since the 1970s after the Nixon Shock, there was the growth of high risk finance and deregulated markets that coincided with the rise of neoliberal ideology that has the strategic aim of furthering the capitalist project.

Free-flowing capital gained dominance as capital controls were reduced and removed, deregulation accelerated, and profit for the rich increased as social welfare and safety nets were removed, debt – especially private debt (including financial debt and household debt) – and credit cards grew so that capitalism and the markets could expand more and more. The system has grown increasingly more unsustainable as the bailouts of the financial sector rose in the 1980s onwards, especially, alongside getting bigger and bigger with the recent crisis resulting in a £1.5 trillion bank bailout in the UK alone!

This expansion of capitalism relates to the growth of an individualism logic that emphasises consumption, consumerism and false needs where people are told they ‘need’ things for their identity to be complete. They ‘need’ to consume things to feel ‘whole’. This is especially key for the rise of private debt to be enough to sustain the high leveraged finance sector. What develops is a culture of disposability, where part-time flexible, low-paid, long hour jobs increase – with the promotion of a ‘dog eat dog’ world where everyone is out for themselves and anyone on benefits is deemed a ‘scrounger’. This climate of fear is responsible for approximately 1.8 million not applying for benefits when they are entitled to.

The growth of individualism relates to the increasing primacy of individual ‘freedom’ over equality, something I discussed in my dissertation with reference to the work of John Rawls:

In trying to construct a morally just social order Rawls advocates a ‘justice of fairness’, where operating behind a ‘veil of ignorance’, representatives of citizens take part in an ‘original position’ (thought experiment) to construct a social contract where fairness/equality prevails as the representatives are unaware of the specific characteristics of those they represent. Two essential principles guide Rawls’s theory; firstly, the principle that everyone should have maximum liberty without impeding upon others; and secondly, social and economic goods are easily accessed and to the advantage of everyone. However, Rawls puts the first before the second.

For me, these sociopolitical and related ideational changes relate to the development of post modernist and relativist views that argue everyone is right and wrong, just with different starting points. This argument relates to this conception of letting everyone do what they want because everyone’s argument is right and wrong and so respect for absolutes are diluted. I faced this argument a lot recently in regards to my support and commitment to veganism, where absolute truths of respect for life, fairness, compassion and morality are diluted and people use the argument “live and let live” to ironically justify the murder of approximately 58 billion animals a year through meat, egg and dairy production. Jay Baker will be challenging some of these issues soon in a vlog, and Jay and I will be tackling them again in a vegan focused podcast for the Break-In Project.

For me, there are some things that are just wrong. Torturing, murdering and eating dead animals and their produce, for me, is wrong. Creating a culture of stigma where people don’t want to claim for benefits because they feel that they are a ‘scrounger’, is wrong. Promoting individual freedom over respect for equality, for me is, wrong. The finance market expanding more and more, as the system grows through indebtedness whilst people lose their jobs, have their wages cut and can’t afford to meet basic needs whilst the 1% get richer, is wrong. There is no relativist get out of jail card here. It’s wrong. calvin-and-hobbes-on-postmodernism

The relativist argument is a capitalist dream. There is nothing wrong with other people having different opinions, I have argued in favour of providing groups and parties such as the BNP a platform to show the real ignorance underlying their political views. But, using the relativist argument of ‘everyone is entitled to do what they want’ without defending your position is an easy way out of saying I am not prepared to let my views and values be challenged by any new information. That’s why the vegan argument gets so many people’s back up. It is a question of lifestyle, people often don’t want to think about this too much and cast any evidence to the contra as ‘biased’ or ‘unscientific’.

Whatever your opinion on veganism is, the point is relativism has no place in progressive politics that strives for real change. It’s a nice academic tool, but not one based in a political project that has fundamental truths about what is right and wrong and what needs to change.

‘Liveable’ and ‘unliveable’ lives; this government’s disrespect for ethics…

In 2010, I wrote a blog post discussing ethics and welfare for Public Sociology, a blog affiliated to the University of Leeds.  I find reciting this blog post very timely given my recent readings regarding the power of capital flows to destabilise economies, nationally and internationally, and the safety nets that institutions such as the IMF have created for incompetent private creditors/investors, as taxpayers – especially those belonging to stigmatised and vulnerable groups – take the brunt for greedy investors’ mistakes. This is alongside the increasing clampdown on welfare claimants in the UK as Iain Duncan Smith goes all China-style in proposing the state limit how many children someone can own and still receive certain benefits.

Essentially, it draws on the work of Judith Butler and her analysis of ethics and her related concepts of ‘liveable’ and ‘unliveable’ lives:

Butler purports that we have certain assumptions about what constitutes a ‘liveable life’, that everyone is interrelated by varying degrees of vulnerability, and that this ethical interrelationship is key to making lives bearable i.e. ‘liveable’. However, the vulnerability of those who are seen as having ‘unliveable lives’ is ignored, consequently, so are ethical obligations.

With welfare claimants paying the price for a £1.5 billion bank bailout as private debt is turned into public debt, as the blog makes note of, claimants are also associated with negative, misrepresentative discourses. So-called ‘facts’ are utilised to support a neoliberal, back to basics nasty ideology that puts the blame of the market onto the public sector and those seen as ‘unliveable’ – namely defined by whether they are in work, and if they are in work how much money they are earning alongside if they claim any form of assistance. Corporate assistance is judged as meriting a ‘liveable’ life whereas any form of assistance, such as child benefit or disability living allowance, that helps ordinary people work and survive, is often viewed as a reason to define someone as ‘unliveable’ with their vulnerability and associated rights ignored and trounced on by a cabinet of millionaires:

Butler’s acknowledgement of the interrelatedness and shared experience of vulnerability is important when analysing the welfare changes from a sociological critique. Everyone is vulnerable; it is an ethical obligation for us to acknowledge this. When this vulnerability is ignored, this is when ethics are discounted. The government’s welfare proposals are clearly ignoring the vulnerability that certain groups face, as they construct their lives as ‘unliveable’ mainly because they aren’t working.  When people rightfully protest against these ideological, shock-doctrine inspired cuts, people are protesting to be listened to and for this government to consider them ethically. Of course, people may not frame it like this – but utilising Butler’s arguments, you can see the clear link between ethics, respect and the right to self-determination and a life that isn’t destroyed by the ‘right’ of the State to dictate work as equating to ‘worth’.

This could be clearly shown in the recent proposals by Smith to limit child related benefits to those who have two kids. As I facetiously commented when hearing the news, unsurprisingly, the cap is ideological and inspired by the nuclear family, dogmatic back to basics rubbish. It is also demonstrates a pathological hatred towards helping those who need it, whilst rewarding those who got us in this mess. Hypothetically, what about triplets? Should the family abort? Or would it be their fault because of Social Darwinist reasons?

Again, it all comes back to this central question of whose life is valued. Pathologically, a private creditor that makes risky investments due to free capital movements (which is more than can be said about labour movement) and then capitalising on crises they help create by utilising a bailout to make money back from their bonds as taxpayers take the fall is given more worth, more respect and rights to having a ‘liveable’ life than an ordinary person trying their best to get along in a system. This system that discourages full employment, encourages false needs, endless consumption, greed and profit at the expense of comfortable, diverse and flexible employment where wages are higher and all people – irrespective of their social background – have their rights and vulnerability respected through ethical considerations of public good – not private good. As a note here, I am hoping to do a blog post soon on the idea of a bail-in that has recently risen to prominence given the cost to taxpayers from the global financial crisis.

Russian Protests: Yeltsin, Putin and Democracy…

In Moscow, protesters are demanding new elections after fraudulent presidential and parliamentary elections, alongside the electorate feeling cheated by the Granita style pact between Putin, who was recently inaugurated for a third term presidency, and former president, now prime minister, Medvedev.

But what about Russia and its history: politically, economically and socially? How does this relate to current events? After the fall of the Soviet Union, Westernised Russian Chicago Boys under Yeltsin’s guidance plundered the country into desperation and devastation. Russia, according to democracy rating agencies such as Freedom House (close to USA foreign policy), was considered a ‘democracy’ in the 1990s- despite fraudulent elections, inequality and a rampant decrease in living standards, as the collapse of the Union was considered a victory for liberal democracy alongside being ‘the end of history’.

Only when the harm and reality of what Yeltsin and his advisers had done throughout the 1990s became apparent did the West then start blaming the Russian system, rather than capitalism per se. It was said to be the Russian Soviet Style structures that undermined any chance of capitalism and a free market. Gorbachev was considered by many to be a pariah after many blamed him for the Soviet Union’s collapse, whilst also longing for a Soviet Union era of stability but with more freedom and equality; something Gorbachev was moving towards before he was ousted by Yeltsin – after standing on a tank and joining forces with two other Soviet Republics – and his free marketers.

I recently completed an essay for my Masters regarding democratisation and Russia; I controversially argued that Russia has not transitioned into a democracy, whether assessed minimally (so through free and fair elections) or more substantially. Drawing on Freedom House’s definition of democracy, which is a substantial definition, I illustrated that whilst Freedom House rated Russia as an electoral democracy (‘partly free’) in the 1990s, using their criteria this analysis is inconsistent especially with their recent (2009) downgrading of Russia, no longer rating them as a democracy. Most argue that Russia transitioned to a democracy through Yeltsin’s dual transitional approach to democratisation – through economic and democratic reforms – however, I argue this did not happen, as the economic reforms undermined and prevented democratic development. In fact, democracy was seen as a hinder to economic reform.

Gorbachev attempted to bring in democratic reforms through uskorenie (acceleration), glasnost (openness) and perestroika (restructuring). For instance, 1988 electoral changes, alongside a 1990 amendment ushered in a multi-party system and electoral competition. These electoral changes were halted through the 1993 Constitutional Crisis, as Yeltsin battled with Congress in his bid to ensure prominent presidential powers for himself. Decree no.1400 is a notable misuse of Yeltsin’s power, dissolving the Constitution and parliament, surrounding parliament with troops to set it on fire, as people/protesters were injured, killed and arrested – illustrating the clear dis-juncture between democracy and Yeltsin’s economic programme, as the source of the conflict was parliament’s repelling of Yeltsin’s decree powers to deal with the economic crisis because of the destruction and sadism endemic within the proposals. The West, however, supported Yeltsin.

Naomi Klein’s shock doctrine analysis is a well known and very comprehensive report of what happened to Russia in the 1990s, after the public were still in a state of shock after the collapse of the Union. This allowed Yeltsin to push through his radical reforms quickly and painfully. In 1998, the economy collapsed with real incomes shrinking quickly and living standards at unprecedented lows; there was 74 million, compared to 2 million in 1989, living in poverty, alongside mass unemployment, rapidly increasing substance abuse with the population levels drastically decreasing. The UN Human Development Plan called this “a human crisis of monumental proportions”.

Importantly, Putin ushered in a successful period of growth and success. After the Yeltsin era, many argue, persuasively, that Putin’s success and ability to become more authoritarian was due to the instability and insecure nature of Yeltsin’s tenure. Gorbachev was bringing in slow but progressive change – Yeltsin brought in chaos. The public “were ready to settle for a mild dose of authoritarianism providing further stability and steady economic growth, rather than opting for a Yeltsin-type liberal order that had aroused their expectations but largely excluded them from the hoped-for benefits” (Desai 2005:91). Furthermore, the absence of a civil society in the 1990s, the civil society many in the West now champion against Putin, was key in enabling the West to hammer through its privatisation, liberalisation of prices and free trade policies that plundered the country into mayhem. World Value Surveys illustrate the distrust and detrimental effects Yeltsin’s reforms had on people’s opinion of democracy in Russia.

Whilst these protests are focused on demanding new elections, electoral corruption is nothing new in Russia. Yeltsin utilised 33 times more funding than allowed in the 1996 election, significantly biased media coverage alongside a corruption riddled ‘loans for shares’ scheme to win the 1996 election, after debating whether to cancel it due to the unpopularity of his economic reforms. Putin replaced Yeltsin in 1999, arguably unconstitutionally, providing Yeltsin with legal immunity. Putin is criticised for cracking down on internationally funded NGOs in Russia. However, as authors have illustrated through the creation of the Civic Chamber, Putin has increased state funding to NGOs, after the abysmal record of NGO support from ‘democratic’ Yeltsin, with anti-government NGOs such as the Moscow Helsinki Group even receiving funding. Nevertheless, this was central, if not the driving reason, for why Freedom House downgraded Russia’s democratic rating.

As many authors have also argued, the protests against Putin are originating largely from the big cities such as Moscow – as shown by this recent protest – the areas where more middle class, intellectuals are forming/existent and who are now demanding liberal rights after Putin brought in more economic security. Many outside Moscow see Putin as key for stability – arguably a product from the Yeltsin times. Even with the League of Voters’ projections, a civil society group formed after the fraudulent elections, Putin would have still become president even without electoral fraud.

This isn’t to deny that Putin does undemocratic, unnerving things – Russia’s continual support for Syria is one of these – however, it does highlight the authoritarian tendencies of Russia now are related to the West’s imposition of capitalist neoliberal reforms in the 1990s, where people became scared about the meaning of liberal democracy, and democratic values – nostalgic for Soviet Russia and more stable forms of living. Putin provided that, and only now are we beginning to see real cracks forming as the people who achieved stability now want more. His authoritarian ways therefore gained support, as people yearned for stability alongside rebuilding Russia as a great super power.

To ignore the context would be to ignore the damaging effects this capitalist system causes. For Freedom House to rate Yeltsin’s regime as a democracy, just because it was enacting neoliberal reforms, links to the problems of the current European obsession with neoliberal economics. We need to keep highlighting these inconsistencies and understand the context and influences placed upon different countries and regimes.

The political and economic motivations behind the re-branding of capitalism…

Transition studies regarding democracy are politically motivated, separating politics from economics when defining democracy in order to marginalise calls for economic redistribution to be associated with democratisation. In a similar vein, Cameron and Miliband’s re-branding of capitalism is an attempt to humanise the reality of capitalism, so there is more focus upon agents/individuals like in transition approaches, to distract attention from the deeply unequal practices and aspects of capitalism. Essentially, transition democracy and also Cameron and Miliband still officially sign up to the liberal democracy philosophy, which I wrote about recently, where capitalism and democracy are seen as inevitably linked.

Both Cameron’s ‘moral capitalism’, or so-called ‘popular capitalism’, and Miliband’s ‘responsible capitalism’ are attempts to humanise the markets, focus on individual responsiblity and actions whilst taking attention away from the wider structural context and constraints. Both speeches are based on rhetoric, ignoring the endemic unfairness in a system where there are excessive cuts to social services, benefits, welfare, health care (one trust is considering bringing in the army to stop them from closing down their A&E services at night due to the cuts), to name a few; where changes are focused on tinkering around the edges. Utilising a neoliberal capitalism driven economic policy, there is no wonder they want to focus on the political elements of any economic decision rather than the economic decisions themselves. Therefore, the specific economy details such as spending and cutting are skirted over, as we are lambasted with soundbites of different forms of capitalism. This ignores the fact that capitalism needs debt, unemployment, depression and conflict to sustain itself – if we concentrated on the practical reality of capitalism then it wouldn’t be so easy to dress it up with flowery concepts such as moral, popular and responsible; all oxymorons when placed beside capitalism.

This isn’t a new thing. Everyday there are personal vicious attacks on the most vulnerable in society, as attention is taken away from the corrupt nature of a system based on profit, greed and conflict. Boris Johnson was only saying yesterday that young people in Britain lack a ‘work ethic'; that pays no consideration to the lack of jobs, when people who spend money getting into debt come out with a degree and have to work at a supermarket; that is hardly breeding a responsible working attitude. We then turn on the news and see some more rubbish about excessive bankers’ bonuses or cuts to working people and think, why? It doesn’t make people feel valued nor nurture self-respect; especially attacking those unemployed when unemployment is at its highest in 18 years.

Sadly, in the case of Labour, their pandering to the right is a product of a system where media right-wing monopolies and an international system obsessed with neoliberal cutting preside; this makes any attack upon capitalism harder. To be fair to Labour, their attack against capitalism is a lot more systematic than the Tories, and I can’t imagine Ed Miliband coming out in an all and out attack upon capitalism. But more and more people around the country are starting to connect the dots, though sadly our political system doesn’t enable a consistent mainstream representation of these views. Labour’s leadership and mass base are too disconnected. This is where local democracy and alternative political movements and dissemination of information is important; we have to remember the realities of a system that has had liberal democracy as the core philosophy for many years and the constraints upon Labour after a Blair reign.

Sometimes you may find yourselves wondering why you’re bothering. Why you’re fighting an uphill battle against a group of small manipulative people. Why you put so much energy into fighting for causes that often find you preaching to the converted, as people close, and not so close, around you sometimes don’t always get why you’re so passionate about social justice. The clever manipulation and re-branding of capitalism, an inherently unequal political, social and economic formation, is one of those battles. People think you’re being too negative, ignoring the positives of the government. Well my response is that any positives you can find are seriously undermined by all the negatives, and the day we stop fighting to make sure every ounce of injustice in the world is removed, is the day our souls die.

Inconclusive Wars: a political and economic reality…

“War against a foreign country only happens when the moneyed classes think they are going to profit from it. Every war when it comes, or before it comes, is represented not as a war but as an act of self-defense against a homicidal maniac.” – George Orwell

Many weeks ago, I attended a lecture – Inconclusive Wars – by Mary Kaldor where she discussed the changing nature of war; essentially criticising an orthodox Clausewitzean position when discussing contemporary wars. For Kaldor, war is organised violence between two sides framed by political factors, with a focus on inconclusive, persistent progress. Kaldor emphasised the production of extreme identities due to wars and conflict. Furthermore, she highlights the economic gains of war, making people ‘trust’ in the state and its power (Bush and USA after 9/11, for instance), arguing that a war isn’t a war without a political motive.

The good work Gaddafi did in Libya for instance (which isn’t to deny the corruption), and his close relationship with the West, like Mubarak’s, is all nicely swept under the carpet when invasions and revolutions occur. That’s not to say that the USA still don’t have power, as they pretty much control the Egyptian army, who are practically a military junta clamping down and attacking protesters, whilst controlling and undermining the constitution and elections. All the USA do is announce fluffy sound bites.

Kaldor discussed the War on Terror, highlighting how the United States needed a long war to justify their own role of supposed promotion of political ‘democracy’, ensuring that dodgy self-interested military, defence and infrastructural contracts were signed and implemented (as well illustrated by Michael Moore in Fahrenheit 911). On the other hand, terrorists needed a long war to justify their terrorism; the very presence of Western forces often turns the public against what they see as colonial oppressors coming into their country to enforce their codes and customs (which is so often the case). We often end up legitimatising say the segregation of Palestine because of our own actions and responsibilities regarding the conflict and area.

Essentially, for Kaldor, war is a mutual enterprise. Consequently, Kaldor, without providing a lot of detail, advocates the creation of new political dimensions/spaces, with a focus upon international law/justice. I personally, advocate the creation of political units/space/assemblies where people are able to have real collective power and their views help form decisions. International law needs to be strengthened. We only have to look at Syria to see the abuse by Syrian officials of the Arab League and the obvious buying of time while they conduct more atrocities. Interestingly, Kaldor believed that the Arab Spring was the democratic political answer to the War on Terror.

There are reservations I have with Kaldor’s lecture, namely her desire of silencing/marginalising certain people without outlining and recognising the problems with how we choose these people, what methods we use and the retroactive, undemocratic nature of such techniques. Nevertheless, her lecture was illuminating when considering the War on Terror and the potential problems with future Iranian conflict. We badger Iran for having nuclear weapons, something they have denied, whilst we proudly have our own and host arms fairs in the middle of the Arab Spring in their backyard, place sanctions on Iran and then are surprised when they hit back.

Interestingly, it is only recently that Philip Hammond and Leon Panetta have been speaking about how the ‘debt crisis’ aka the capitalism crisis is resulting in their defence budgets being cut:

“Without strong economies and stable public finances it is impossible to build and sustain, in the long-term, the military capability required to project power and maintain defence.That is why today the debt crisis should be considered the greatest strategic threat to the future security of our nations. The fact is, in this era of austerity … not even the United States can afford the astronomical resource commitment required to deal with every threat from every source.” – Hammond.

However, really, there should be no problem with defence being cut; but it is so often the wrong things being cut as nuclear weapons and the arms trade are extended and invested in. Most expenses are purely politically motivated, and often dated say in the Cold War era (Trident for instance). However, if done properly, the idea that a cut defence budget is a security risk ignores the fact that the real risk is the idea that there is a ‘debt problem’. This ignores the reality of a capitalist system reliant upon debt. Capitalism itself is the problem.

There should be consideration of the underlying reasons for why these conflicts and dis-juncture occur – as explored briefly above. Our economic system is riddled with inequality, greed and divisions. Capitalism needs poorer and richer countries to promote its social Darwinistic economic and political policies, as exploitation where limited union, working and labour movement rights exist to produce mass cheap products for limited labour costs, alongside tax havens, corporate and military control, dumping of drugs all in the aid of profit and unsustainable greed and ‘false needs’. Wars too often intend to capitalise on these divisions for money, profit and also reinforcing the capitalist relations that rich countries rely upon.

I watched An Inconvenient Truth last night, and it reminded me of how dangerous inconclusive wars are. Developing countries produce significantly less pollution than developed countries, but the latter are exploited and invaded whilst disproportionately experiencing more of global warmings’ effects.  The evidence is all there, more carbon dioxide from heavily intensified industrial production increases the temperature, which melts ice, raising sea levels, disrupting natural weather systems, increasing the velocity of hurricanes, also creating droughts and general destruction. We have to put our energy into tackling this environmental crisis that, rather than debt, is a security threat alongside being an important moral issue that is largely again due to capitalism and its related debt – which is partly related to the destruction caused by endless politically and economically motivated wars and conflicts. This relates to the need to decommission weapons and move away from arms trading – all of which have featured as important parts of recent conflicts say with Iraq, the Arab Spring and the brewing dispute with Iran. We need to move towards localised, cooperatively produced renewable energy.

The elite promote the idea of ‘insecurity’ to attempt to justify their own political and economic goals of domination and profit; when really they create the insecurity and resulting conflict, destruction and division partly through politically and economically motivated wars. The social, political and economic capitalist relations need to be fundamentally challenged,with a focus on the causes of conflict and divisions such as intensive capitalist production and senseless out-dated, profit motivated arms deals and nuclear power.

Liam Byrne, welfare and capitalism…

“Capitalism is a social cancer. It has always been a social cancer. It is a disease of society. It is the malignancy of society”. – Murray Bookchin.

Whilst it puzzles me that so many Labour activists would spend so long every day lambasting their leader, rather than spending energy into criticising the coalition, there are rightful grievances, especially when it comes to Liam Byrne’s recent article regarding welfare.

Byrne utilises the Beveridge Report to focus his attack upon the unemployed, supposed ‘idleness’ whilst ignoring the realities of capitalist relations. For instance, he refers to Beveridge’s support for full employment. Full employment was associated with Keynesian economics. Under the current capitalist system, the idea of full employment is a farce. As many influential thinkers have shown, full employment is impossible in a capitalist system, as we always need some sort of reserve army of labour in order to keep the system ticking over. Whether that be called the lumpen proletariat, NEETS or the underclass, these so-called parasites of the system are actually required to keep the capitalist neoliberal system in the balance.

Think of it this way. These people keep the competition for jobs and the ability for low wages alive. If full employment was achieved, which is possible if jobs were shared out and working hours were reduced to say a 21 hour week (as the NEF recommends), then we would have a healthier economy, a living wage and more time for creative endeavour. However, the catch is that for the economy to achieve full employment, for those who can work that is, there needs to be a removal of capitalist economics such as the profit motive, competition, greed and neoliberal ‘ideals’ of productivity.

The focus on the long-term unemployed Byrne has in his article ignores the realities of capitalism in another important way, as well. This is in terms of the problems with job creation, when the economy goes through a recession alongside the falling rate of profit endemic within capitalism and the self destructive dialectical nature of the capitalist system. In other words, as capitalism tries to adapt, we see more and more workers losing their jobs, as technology is often used to replace and downsize the workforce. In consequence, the ability for employees to reduce workers’ wages is reduced, thus to increase and maintain profit they have to increase the products costs due to the increasing capital costs. But because of the decreasing job rate, more people are unable to afford the rising product cost, therefore creating an even worse economic situation.

This is related to the increasing reliance on credit. Something Cameron said was a problem in terms of the economy’s recovery. That’s right, a capitalist criticising one of the very mechanisms capitalism relies upon. As train fares, bus fares, food, heating, water and so on all rise, as more and more people lose their jobs, as the gap between the rich and the poorest goes up – the leading parties look for someone to blame. Those with the least ability to kick back, to get their views represented in the parasitic media and tackle the misleading lies and information regarding them as people, are the ones targeted – like Byrne’s attack upon welfare claimants.

What do these people think benefit claimants are doing? Do they think all of them aren’t actively looking for a job? Do they ignore the fact that only £1bn of welfare fraud occurs, and that £16bn worth of benefits goes unclaimed every year? Do they ignore the fact that so many jobs don’t pay enough to survive adequately? Do they know how it feels like to lose their job and have little hope of finding an adequate replacement, as those at the top earn ridiculous amounts of money and receive knighthoods and £850bn of taxpayers money to make sure they don’t fail after nearly collapsing the country after their excessive risk taking and profit making activities?

Whilst attempting to defend disability benefits, Byrne still advocates some level of reform to disability benefit. The details of which are ignored. Yes, let’s not forget that Labour brought in ESA, used ATOS and still haven’t turned their back on this. There’s a long way to go before we have adequate mainstream representation within parliament fighting for groups such as disabled people. Too much focus on those with the money. Corrupt and perverse. Furthermore, there is a focus upon those trying to do the ‘decent’ thing and save up money. What about those who can’t afford to save up money? Those who will have to choose out of cutting down their food or leaving their house because of the housing benefit changes?

In sum, it’s the same tireless attack upon benefit claimants, the ignorance of capitalist social and production relations and the deflection of blame and responsibility from those at the top and those in power.

Reading the Riots Conference Review…

It was only last week that Iain Duncan Smith was yet again forming a correlation, not causation, with the occurrence of the riots. This time, Smith argued that X-Factor was partly the cause of the riots. That’s right. The cause. Now, when I was younger, I was rather glued to the television when X-Factor came on. But now, I see it for what it really is. It’s glorified mass consumption, that removes the talent and meaning behind music to rather commodity, sometimes at the expense of the contestant, representing our instant gratification culture of excess, capital and agonising over becoming a millionaire. For me, rather, X-Factor, like the riots, is a product of a society and culture that has been consistently eroded by successive governments over the last few decades. Whilst Smith was correct in some of his statements regarding X-Factor’s vacuous nature, his analysis was skewed, getting things the wrong way around, as usual.

I wrote at the time of the riots regarding the racism, poverty, social segregation that many people taking parts in the riots experienced. The government wanted to take a different stance, however. They promoted the line that this was a subsection of the population, a small ‘uncivilized’ group of thugs, they advanced a crack down on gangs and social media – two things that The Guardian and LSE study into the riots, Reading the Riots, have found were rather trivial in terms of the cause of the riots.

The Guardian and the LSE hosted a conference regarding the Reading the Riots part 1 publication, with Theresa May and Ed Miliband amongst the attendants. The report is the first real in-depth sociological study into the riots. Whilst Cameron was busy arguing that the riots were a result of ‘pure criminality’ and the justice system became dis-proportional with the Court of Appeal arguing that sentences had to be a lot stricter than normal sentences in order to ‘deter’ others, with the recent Sentencing Committee for England and Wales legal guidelines review becoming stricter due to the riots and the potential for curfews to be placed onto areas in case there are future riots, all illustrate the backlash and law and order response the government had/has.Rather than sitting down, talking and listening ultimately to understand why such events could occur, we had the media and politicians teaming up to stigmatise those taking part. They were placed onto a scrap heap of so-called ‘degenerates’.

This heavy law and order, punishment approach was criticised by the report. The Reading the Riots report on the other hand managed to interview 270 people involved in the riots and talk to them about their reasons, experiences – as their voice has been consistently shut out by mainstream channels. With the use of methodological triangulation (qualitative and quantitative methods), the research offers initial data on understanding, not stigmatising, the rioters. For instance, the conference highlighted that despite David Cameron’s assertions that poverty had nothing to do with the riots, the data showed substantial evidence for a casual, not correlative, relationship. Poverty and desperation for wealth given the numerous amounts of constraints and lack of opportunities within society for people not as connected are often reasons many people try their luck on X-Factor, as well.

Paul Lewis talked about the opportunism of the riots – this is something again that relates to the desperation related to X-Factor and its instant gratification culture, encouraged by a society with a ruling elite based on greed, amorality, lies and corruption. Obviously, there are those critical voices of the Daily Mail and such forth that denounce the report as “left-wing claptrap”. Well hardly a surprise. To give the people they base their factitious hyperbole headlines on a voice would produce evidence to the contra and undermine their purely sickening ideological agenda.

Theresa May’s speech was framed by the usual rhetoric of the rioters’ being ‘irrational’ and ‘thieves’. She then claims to be using the study as a way to understand the riots, but you can’t call the rioters ‘irrational’ if you are willing to try to understand their rationalisation – the point of the study. It’s a prior undermining of the study’s findings! She annoyed the audience when claiming “The riots weren’t about protests, unemployment, cuts … They were about instant gratification.” Well, as I have been trying to illustrate with the X-Factor example, instant gratification culture relates to aspects such as protests and unemployment through the sheer ideological callous nature of this government’s economic political policies that are destroying the communities, mainly of the poorest. Instant gratification has been nurtured by a world in where bankers receive excessive bonuses for screwing over the country. A culture where people spend a few months in a talent contest and receive a million pound record deal. These are therefore surface events that reflect an underlying structural deficiency in democracy, fairness and equality. In other words, by blaming instant gratification May ignores the reasons for why we have such a culture; social and economic neoliberal policies, that is.

Regarding Theresa May’s announcement of a review into Stop and Search powers, it’s hardly going to be a revelation given the amount of criticism over years the powers have received, alongside promises from various politicians that the powers will be dropped, or restricted. As has been widely reported, there was a great deal of anti-police sentiment amongst the rioters. May pretty much defended the Stop and Search powers in her poor speech. One wonders why she even bothered turning up – she could have simply submitted an earlier speech on the topic, as the findings of the study clearly mean nothing to her and her millionnaire out of touch friends. She even went against the study’s findings that gangs had NO significant effect upon the riots, arguing that we should be listening to victims not rioters (going against the entire meaning of the study) and that the government will press ahead with their anti-gang strategy, alongside supporting the court’s tough punishments. I repeat; why the hell did she even bother to go? She learnt nothing. The government learnt nothing. They don’t care. As long as they have their millionaire bubble. As Julia Urwin said, “if we say that any understanding of why people did it is only an excuse, we are really missing the point.”As the conference also pointed out; what about rioters as daily victims themselves of a political and economic agenda?

Jokingly referring to Theresa May as a ‘warm-up act’, Ed Miliband was better when it came to the content and tone of his speech alongside accepting questions at the end of it. Miliband criticised the view purported by the government that the riots were a result of ‘pure criminality. There was a lot of emphasis upon values and morality, what this means in practice is hard to tell. Furthermore, he also backed the harsh sentences of the rioters. Whilst he addressed issues such as a living wage, as expected there is a genuine inability to connect the dots across the mainstream political channels. These riots are a consequence of a system that is beset with corruption, greed, conflict and where the ruling elite perpetrate their ruling agenda and ideology to the detriment of the mass majority. The study is a good building block to illustrating these problems, and I look forward to phase two of the study.