Tag Archives: crisis

Glints of light in our governance gloom

Attractive young Greek people used to make a politics article more enticing.  Photograph: Orhan Tsolak/Alamy

Attractive young Greek people used to make a politics article more enticing. Photograph: Orhan Tsolak/Alamy

Paul Mason is one of the few regular journalists I make a point of watching out for. He does a neat summary of the state of alternative politics in Greece and elsewhere in a comment piece featured in today’s Guardian edition.

It’s certainly worth a read, and a comment if you’re so inclined.

Good work, as always, from Paul Mason though he doesn’t take the question far enough in IMHO.The last paragraph is the important one:

“…we will know that a real new left has emerged when we begin to see its thinkers prioritise the redesign of institutions inherited from the 20th century, and the invention of new ones centred on the self, identity and structured to survive incessant change.”

I’m not that interested in terms such as “left” or “right”, they’re too exclusive for a planet of human beings.

I do totally agree that thinkers everywhere need to focus on radically redesigning institutions, not just those of the 20th century but all the way back to the 18th – when James Madison and friends emasculated notions of “democracy” to mean something very different from power in the hands of the people.

Funny that we should be coming full circle back to the Greeks, who invented the term and other governance variants such as oligarchy, aristocracy, monarchy and kleptocracy.

Their city states were undoubtedly bastions of the elite – women, the poor, the slaves and the foreign were not allowed any part in the governance system.

Nevertheless, those same elites had some cracking ideas about the dangers of elections – doomed to favour the rich, the beautiful and the most educated as opposed to the best governors or governance system – and some remedies in the form of lottery/sortition to choose political representatives at random from the eligible populous.

People are working on these ideas today – experimenting with governance systems that go way beyond elections. Syriza and friends are in the vanguard but they are not alone.

This is an all-too-rare place of hope

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Not voting is neither stupid nor disrespectful – it’s a tactic

Danzig shot

Below is my answer Jon Danzig’s challenge to respond to his post suggesting Russell Brand’s electoral advice to not bother voting was dumb and disrespectful to those who fought for our right to the ballot. I’d have posted it in the comments thread of his piece but got chucked off for reasons I couldn’t fathom.

Hi Joe – so here’s an answer that’s slightly longer than Twitter’s 140 characters. I said that I get but reject your logic about voting or abstaining, suggesting that you’d missed Russell Brand’s points in the Paxman interview.

How do I get your logic?

– People all over the world have fought over the centuries for universal suffrage – the right of almost all qualifying adults to choose their leaders from a restricted list of candidates in periodic elections.

– Because those people fought, some died, for our right to vote, a person’s decision to vote disrespects their memory and sacrifice.

I don’t in any way disrespect these people’s efforts – in fact, I both venerate them and am hugely grateful for what they did and some still do. I don’t think that’s an argument for me voting or not voting in UK elections.

So how is it that I reject your logic suggesting that I should exercise my right to vote?

For the record, I happen to be resident in France so am ineligible to vote in UK general elections. I do get to vote in communal, regional and EU elections here but not national ones. That’s not my point though.

If I were a British resident – as I have been in the past – I would almost certainly not exercise my right to vote in UK national elections. For the vast majority of UK constituencies where one of the main parties is the likely winner – Conservative, Labour, LibDem – I don’t think there’s any point in voting. There are marginal differences between the three but when it comes for example to economic policy – the bedrock of all policies – they are all variously but solidly pro-austerity. Throw in the UKIP EU dissidents and there’s still no change on that question. So for the vast majority of UK voters, what’s on offer involves choosing between parties who collectively subscribe to pro-austerity thinking – regardless of the fact that these policies aren’t working, that they heap the costs of the financial crisis on ordinary, poorer people when it was speculative capital and over-extended banks that got us into that crisis (NB we bailed out the banks – the real benefits scroungers/cheats in this debate) and because the reality is that “austerity” is in any case a cover for dismantling the public sphere and the welfare state in favour of private interests. That’s to say nothing of these parties’ failure to question the notion of economic growth as a sensible way to run the planet – it’s a recipe for ruining it more like.

I might be persuaded to vote in constituencies where there was a chance for an upset to pro-austerity thinking – perhaps where there were strong Green candidates and chances of their election or SNP candidates in Scotland (though for the latter, it is highly questionable whether the SNP would veer much from the pro-austerity model).

Choosing not to vote for any of these candidates is a political choice or tactic. It is not at all a suggestion that people disengage politically but rather that they ignore or minimise their engagement with the hulabaloo of elections and concentrate their energies elsewhere. Occasionally it might be tactically astute to vote – I wouldn’t hold my breath though.

We need radical political reform in the UK, at the EU level and globally. Nation-state representative democracy has had its time – a few decades of glory for citizens in Western countries in the aftermath of WW2, I’d suggest, but not any more. Real power has long left national parliaments – witness Syriza’s mauling by the German finance minister in the latest round of debt restructuring talks.

This interview with the Spain’s podemos leader Pablo Iglesias is highly instructive on what the future might possibly look like – though no one can say for sure.
For a UK perspective – the 2004 Power Inquiry was an intelligent stab at the question of why people didn’t vote. Though the inquiry failed to get much traction, it left us with a useful account of the then state of alternative democratic experiments around the world.
The work-in-progress bringing up to date of that report is here.
If you speak French – I interviewed a man called Charlie Bauer a few years back. He makes the case for radical democratic reform very powerfully, as you can see at the bottom of this post.
As a fellow journalist – a huge barrier to radical reform are the conventional expressions of our chosen profession. I tackle this in detail in Fraudcast News, which you more about here.

That’s way more than 140 characters.

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Wrist slaps for rich, jail for the poor – suits you democracy

Five major banks have been fined £2bn for rigging foreign exchange markets. Photograph: Damir Sagolj/Reuters. Thanks Reuters.

Five major banks have been fined £2bn for rigging foreign exchange markets. Photograph: Damir Sagolj/Reuters. Thanks Reuters.

This is not a complicated post to write, nor need it be very long.

The basic premise is how the UK legal system treats criminal behaviour differently depending on who’s behaviour it is – somewhat at odds with Magna Carta notions of due process – an idea that dates from, err, just a tadge under 800 years ago – not to mention Ancient Greek principles of equality before the law – from 2,500 years ago.

Exhibit A – a powerfully argued Guardian Comment is Free post by columnist Aditya Chakrabortty. The author describes today’s Britain as a place where the poor are forced to steal or beg from food banks while MPs, some of whom fiddled thousands of pounds in expenses at little expense to themselves, create a system where the hungry go to jail.

I can’t disagree with his arguments.

Exhibits B and C – respectively referring to some piffling fines levied against HSBC, Royal Bank of Scotland, UBS, JP Morgan and Citigroup for cheating their customers and rigging foreign exchange markets, and the serial fraudlence-without-jail of too-big-to-jail poster child J P Morgan.

For all the breathless “record fines headlines” – the penalties levied are so much pocket change for these banks, expunged in a moment’s trading of their shares. And, more important still, no one goes to jail, I mean, how could they?

I will host a local screening of The Corporation this Friday – a film that describes the psychopathic behaviour of companies operating to the inexorable growth demands required under capitalism. Fuelling this machine necessitates the subordination of our systems of mock democracy – the latest US mid-term elections being the latest perfect storm. This promises to be an ongoing story as things stand.

The ancient Greeks nailed this problem too, describing it as oligarchy not democracy. The UK’s Russell Brand has a far keener grasp on this than do his detractors, even if he hasn’t yet identified much in the way of possible solutions. This site – participedia – seems closer to the mark with its listing of experiments in new forms of participatory politics and governance around the world.

And my, don’t we need those?

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Comment faire face au fascisme?

Yannis Youlountas parle de son film “Ne vivons plus comme des esclaves” – un documentaire qui fait le tour des actions, des journaux alternatifs, des radios rebelles et lieux d’occupation et d’autogestion qui se multiplient dans une Grèce en crise.

Pourquoi une mise en ligne gratuite? Youlountas souhaite que l’accès gratuit au film participera à faire réfléchir les gens et contribue à étendre le débat sur la nécessité de rompre avec la marchandisation du monde et de l’humain.

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Crisis? What crisis? Yeah, right.

Franco-Greek film director and philospher Yannis Youlantas meets his audience
Franco-Greek film director and philospher Yannis Youlountas meets his audience

Franco-Greek film director and philospher Yannis Youlountas meets his audience

Yannis Youlountas talks about ‎Greece‬, the meaning of ‪‎crisis‬, ‪‎fascism‬ and people’s coping responses after a recent screening of “Ne vivons plus comme des esclaves” (Rough translation: ‘Let’s no longer live like slaves’).

The rights-free documentary is due for internet release on September 25th via http://nevivonspluscommedesesclaves.net/

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Résistances – not your average documentary film festival

Frenchman François Manceaux, director of a documentary on the financial crisis in Portugal, explains what makes the annual Résistances film festival unique among its peers.

By placing questions of money and marketing behind overall content and coherence, the organisers produce an event that makes people think deeply about the realities of modern-day politics.

Manceaux’s film “Portugal, l’europe de l’incertitude” played during the 8-day event in a section dedicated to the exercise of power.

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July 15, 2013 · 3:27 pm

Slaves no more – lessons from the Greek crisis

Franco-Greek Film director Yannis Youlountas talks about his film “Ne vivons plus comme des esclaves” (Let us be slaves no more), a rough cut of which was screened during the Résistances film festival in Foix, southwest France on July 10. The documentary, which will be free-to-download and view on the internet on September 25, 2013, explores how ordinary Greeks have coped with the crisis despite having lost all power over conventional politics in their country. Free food, free medical care, free workshops, clothes exchange stores, anti-fascist actions and more. Amidst the crisis – inspiring examples abound of social re-invention and rediscovery – a contrast to the usual doom presented by conventional mass media.

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July 12, 2013 · 4:22 pm