Archive for the ‘News from Abroad’ Category

Why do Israelis do what they do?

July 22, 2014 1 comment

The most striking things about the commentary on the ongoing bloodshed in Gaza is the broad failure to ask why the Israeli government/military, backed by a large percentage of the Israeli population, is behaving like this.

Maybe the conflict has gone on so long that few people feel the need to ask this fairly basic question: what are the roots of Israel’s need to kill hundred of defenseless civilians in an act of “self-defence”, when any reasonably rational assessment of the actions suggests these actions a) constitute cold-blooded murder of children and other non-combatants, and b) feed an increasing hostility on the part of the Palestinian (and wider Middle-East) population, this decreasing the long-term chances of peace?

Perhaps the failure to ask that basic question, especially at times like this especially, is because the answer is at so obvious.  Or perhaps – much worse for any possible resolution to the conflict in the long-term – it’s been forgotten by outside observers, and internalised by Israelis to such an extent that it is no longer utterable.

But I think the answer bears repeating: the root of the murder of Palestinian children today is simple: the holocaust.

The State of Israel came about because of the holocaust, and the national identity not just of Israeli Jews, but also – until relatively recently – the vast bulk of American Jews, is inextricably linked to it.  After an initial period in which those creating the new, deeply militarized Israel built their identity around the Sabra, the very real threat to the new state’s existence in 1967, and the implied/inferred threat of a further genocide, led to very rapid formation a of national identity based on what Daniel Navon calls the “embracing of victimhood” and in consequence a “paradoxical perception of military superiority and existential anxiety” (p.10).  Moreover, this national identity became shared not just in Israel but in the United States, to the extent that in many ways to be an American Jew was to be an Israeli living in America.

Ultimately, it is the fear of a new holocaust, however remote it might seem to outside observers but very real and very near in the days leading up to the 1967 war, which created the path-dependent institutions which we see in Israel and America (think Wall Street Journal) today, in which there is no escaping the internalised logic of “self-defence” born of victimhood.

It seems to be that until outside observers start to remember/learn all of this for the first time – perhaps starting by taking American Jewish and Israeli scholarship more seriously than it is “allowed” – then the chances of a long term resolution remain slight, since even the welcome generational shift amongst American Jews away from their parents and grandparents emotional link to Israel and to victimhood (and back towards the kind of relationship being developed in the 1947-67 period) may not have enough weight to counteract 50 years of institutional path dependency.

Of course none of this stops children being killed today, or tomorrow, or next year.  But maybe it’s better to promulgate some kind of informed hope for the future, based on some kind of understanding of the past, than it is to simply regard the Israel/Palestine conflict as an elemental hatred between peoples.



How Labour should outflank Cameron on the Juncker question

It is starting to look like Cameron will fail in his quest for someone other than Jean-Claude Juncker to be President of the European Commission.  John Major being wheeled out to argue that the whole anti-Juncker thing is a gambit to ensure greater UK influence by another route certainly suggests the Tories know the game is up.

It’s good that Cameron will have egg all over his face, and it is to be hoped that, as Juncker takes up his position (assuming a yes vote in the European parliament) at least some of the press will start to ask questions like:

Why did Cameron take the Tories out of the EPP political grouping, leading it to have no say in the Spitzenkandidat process which was completed in March?

Why didn’t Cameron speak up about the Spitzenkandidat process back in 2012 when it was first worked up by the two main European parliament groupings?  Why is it only now that he thinks the process is an insult to democracy?  Did he simply not understand what was going on across Europe?

Even if these questions are asked though, and Cameron’s absurd EU-illiteracy is exposed for it is, the news cycle is such that it’ll be old news come the Autumn – unless, that is, Labour keep it there.  Fortunately, Labour can do just that,  and in  a way which not only keeps the heat on Cameron through the winter, but which -more importantly – is good for the citizens of the EU as well.  It goes like this:

1) Article 234 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union allow for a motion of censure of the Commission President, which if passed by a two thirds majority, forces the resignation of the President and his commissioners (whom he will have appointed).

2) Labour MEPs, operating in collaboration with their SPD colleagues should make a specific set of social-democratic demands on Juncker early in his presidency (e.g. that Juncker should organize the repealing of the anti-Keynesian six-pack pushed through by the right in 2011, in favour an agreement focused on social and economic stability, or that Juncker should bring forward Lisbon-consistent ways of balancing richer nation states’ desire for temporary restrict freedom of movement of people with the interests of poor countries in restricting some freedom of movement of goods and services).

3) If Juncker and his Commission complies, then it’s a win for the left.  If not, they should go about campaigning for his censure, across the political groups.  Tory MEPs, in their new political grouping, would be embarrassed at the very least if they had to vote for a continuation of a Juncker presidency, and UKIP’s votes, abstentions or strategic absence would also be spotlighted.

4) Overall, this would be cast as Labour taking socialist action through its validly elected representatives, set against the Cameron ego-trip.

At the moment, the Labour strategy is wrong.  Glenys Kinnock and Miliband have been foolishly advised, and committed MEPs to a vote against Juncker on the first occasion, when he up for election following the European Council’s nomination (in accordance with 17(7) of the Treaty of the European Union.   This may seem an attractive anti-Juncker position, but it is very short-term, destined to failure because the rest of the SPD and the EPP is committed to maintaining the legitimacy of the Spitzenkandidat process, and is therefore an insult to SPD colleagues across Europe, who are disappointed in the first place that UK Labour did not embrace Martin Schulz as the SPD candidate.

There is still time for Labour to change course, and both reintegrate itself with the SPD following its Schulz mistake and be seen as a leading mover for proper reform within the EU.  But that time is short.


Law breaking for legitimacy: the thin end of the euro-wedge

It’s beginning to look like Jean-Claude Juncker will not become President of the European Commission after all.  Paul Mason from the left seems pleased, and Ambrose Evans-Pritchard from the sane wing of conservatism will not, I think, be shedding any tears.

But Jurgen Habermas has a different view, worth listening to.  He thinks that leaders of member states coming together to block Juncker’s election as Commission President by the European Parliament is very bad news indeed.

On the whole, I agree.

This is not because I think Juncker will be a good President – on this I agree with Mason and Evans-Pritchard that he is a  member of a self-serving elite devoted to a massively counterproductive continuation of austerity.

It’s because I don’t like the idea of state leaders thinking they can ignore the rule of law as a means of bolstering their political fortunes.

Let’s be clear what’s going on here.

If a Juncker Presidency is not recommended to the European Parliament by the heads of state at the forthcoming European Council, then these heads of state will have deliberately and knowingly breached article 17 (7) of the Treaty of European Union [1], which requires that the European Council takes into account the results of the European elections.  They may be able to talk their way round it if Junker decides, as seems likely, to withdraw his candidature before the European Council as a way to save face, but this will only be a technicality.

The Spitzenkandidat process – whereby the main European parliamentary grouping have selected their preferred candidates (Juncker for the EPP, Schulz for the SPD) as their part of the implementation of the treay – has been very clear for many months now, and it is only at this very late stage that national governments have started to suggest that “taking account” of the election results, in which the EPP gained the upper hand, might involve simply discounting them in favour of ‘candidates’ who have been nowhere near the process to date.

Moreover, there is a legal mechanism within the Treaty of the Functioning of the EU (article 234) for the European Parliament to make the President and his Commission resign should they lose the confidence of the Parliament,  meaning that national governments could work with others in their political groupings to put an end to a Juncker presidency if he turned out to be the disaster they’ve suddenly worked out he might be.  Indeed, They could even persuade enough MEPs to vote against Juncker after the European Council itself has proposed him – a bit odd-looking, but perfectly legal.

But that route has been ignored in favour of a bigger states vs. European Parliament powerplay, which prefers simply to ignore the rule of law in this case. (In Cameron’s detail-lite case, he possibly simply doesn’t know, just as he probably didn’t know that by taking the Tories out of the EPP, he removed himself from any influence on which Spitzenkandidat the EPP went for at its Dublin meeting in March).

What this likely breach of law is really all about is the panic of members states at the rise of the populist anti-EU right in the recent EU parliamentary elections.   Cameron, and now it seems Merkel (I reserve judgment on Renzi) are desperate to show that they are on the side of ‘their’ peoples, and thereby bolster their own legitimacy as democratic representatives.  But breaking the law is not a good way to do that.

Of course law shouldn’t be set in stone, and Habermas is very clear [3] that there needs to be a healthy tension between legality and legitimacy, with a space for forms of civil disobedience in cases where the law loses legitimacy, in a way which creates a process for the renewal and relegitimation of law . But this is the preserve of civil society, not the existing elite.  If demonstrations erupt against a Juncker presidency, linked to a wider movement against austerity, then the European Council might have a legitimate part to play in meeting the expressed will of the people, and reforming the treaties as appropriate (though as  noted, the scope for the Council to dismiss the Commission creates a legal route to meet that will anyway).*   For national elites to seek their own legitimacy in the eyes of their people by ignoring international law  is the thin end of a very big wedge.

If the anti-Juncker plan is carried through by Merkel, Cameron and others, I do hope the European Parliament will stand its ground and vote against their recommendation for President, wohever that may be, as an act of principle.  Sadly, I can’t see it happening.

Shame the Labour party stopped me being an MEP.  I’d have stood with Jurgen for a socialist AND democratic Europe.


[1] Article 17 (7) of the Treaty of European Union reads:

Taking into account the elections to the European Parliament and after having held the appropriate consultations, the European Council, acting by a qualified majority, shall propose to the European Parliament a candidate for President of the Commission. This candidate shall be elected by the European Parliament by a majority of its component members. If he does not obtain the required majority, the European Council, acting by a qualified majority, shall within one month propose a new candidate who shall be elected by the European Parliament following the same procedure.

[2] Article 234 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union reads:

If a motion of censure on the activities of the Commission is tabled before it, the European Parliament shall not vote thereon until at least three days after the motion has been tabled and only by open vote.

If the motion of censure is carried by a two-thirds majority of the votes cast, representing a majority of the component Members of the European Parliament, the members of the Commission shall resign as a body and the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy shall resign from duties that he or she carries out in the Commission. They shall remain in office and continue to deal with current business until they are replaced in accordance with Article 17 of the Treaty on European Union. In this case, the term of office of the members of the Commission appointed to replace them shall expire on the date on which the term of office of the members of the Commission obliged to resign as a body would have expired.


[3] Its interesting to see Habermas, in his interview with the Allgemeine Zeitung, positively welcome the rise of the populist vote in the European elections as a shock to the governing elite:

Der Rechtspopulismus erzwingt die Umstellung vom bisherigen Elitemodus auf die Beteiligung der Bürger.  Das kann dem europäischen Parlament und seinem Einfluss auf die europäische Gesetzgebung nur guttun

[Rightwing populism requires the adjustment of hitherto elite modes of governance toward citizen participation.  That can only be a good thing for rhe Europen Parliament and its influence on European lawmaking]


For further reading, see Bruce Miller’s useful post, including some useful translation of Habermas and others, and more generally Matthew G Specter’s Habermas: An intellectual biography, kindly sent my way by Chris Brooke.


D-Day poetry

I’ve long been fascinated by the choice of poem – Verlaine’s 1876 Chanson d’Automne – as the code signal broadcast by the BBC to alert the Resistance to the fact that D-Day was on, and that the planned sabotage actions should commence.

Was it simply chosen because of its brevity?  Because it had nothing at all to do with the matter at hand, being a melancholic yearning for ‘the old days’, and so less likely to raise suspicion that it was code?

Or was there some deeper meaning behind the choice?  Was the choice of Verlaine, a drug-addicted poet who wouldn’t have lasted long in Nazi society, a deliberate gesture of French defiance?  Was “quand/Sonne l’heure” seen as significant?  Is its quiet and pained yearning, in contrast to the tumult that it was set to announce, deliberately paradoxical.

I don’t know, but the poem, because of the context in which its recitation is now for ever set, is strangely moving.  Read it aloud to get the full sense of onomatopeia and the gulp-like stuntedness of the finale stanza.  In memory of D-Day, I’ll be reading the last stanza (with my liberal translation) at my parkrun event tomorrow.


Les saglots longs
Des violons
De l’automne
Blessent mon coeur
D’une langueur

Tout suffocant
Et blême, quand
Sonne l’heure,
Je me souviens
Des jours anciens
Et je pleure;

Et je m’en vais
Au vent mauvais
Qui m’emporte
Deçà, delà,
Pareil à la
Feuille morte.

Categories: News from Abroad

On tribal segregation and liberal hypocrisy

January 13, 2014 1 comment

Amongst those interested in the South Sudan turmoil, this picture of upfront tribal segregation in a UN refugee camp has caused some debate:

View image on Twitter

My first reaction was one of concern, similar to that of  Sudan/South Sudan-focused journalist Bec Hamilton (@bechamilton) who tweeted:

Ethnicity is used readily enough by unscrupulous elites right now. No need for the UN to add to it……..The UN has a choice. A choice not to reinforce harmful &, more to the point, inaccurate divisions.

But perhaps it’s not that simple, I thought then, and emailed the photo to my wife – who has worked in (pre-independence) South Sudan* and also managed a large refugee camp operation during and after the Rwanda genocide of 1995.

Her response when she got home was salutary, and went something along the lines of:

Yes, I can understand exactly why they’ve done that, and while I don’t know the details, I may well have done exactly the same.  You have to understand, you liberal, wishy-washy buffoon, that this place is catering, at short notice and on a make-it-up-as-you-go-along basis, for women and children who are traumatized by the recent carnage and may have walked for several days to find this makeshift security and shelter.  What they want and need is immediate shelter, water and food, free from fear of violence, and if the best way to do that is via temporary segregation, so be it. And here are you worrying about whether the UN is reinforcing tribal division stereotypes, you total numptie.  Have you never bleeding read Maslowe’s hierarchy?

That’s not to say that there shouldn’t be efforts at inter-tribal communication and as needs be reconciliation, via a safe central area, given that until a month ago the Dinka and Nuer lived quite happily alongside each other**, and to this extent Bec Hamilton is probably right to point out that the current ethnic violence has been stirred up by self-interested elites within and around the new government structures, but the immediate priorities of shelter and security clearly come first.  I mean, are you on fuckin’ acid, or what, you bleedin’ hippie?

Well, I paraphrase somewhat, but that was the general gist.

Somewhat chastened, I reflected on how, in very different circumstances, the debate about immigration is going in the UK, and about my take on it.  My take on it goes roughly along the lines of: economically and philosophically, free movement of people is clearly a good thing, but we do have to take on board the fact that the British working class has for a long time now been subject to a virulent anti-immigrant EU discourse, and it is therefore entirely appropriate – in order not to come over counter-productively as an elite ‘expert’ to find a route through which takes expressions feelings of insecurity as legitimate, and to seek to negotiate a new settlement for the long term.  Here’s one I made earlier.

Yet, on the other hand, I find myself unprepared – at least as a first instinct – to take on board the need for immediate security of South Sudanese women and children because. if I do so, they might fall into some long-term error of tribal distrust.

Really, I’m surprised at myself.

* Strangely, it’s not out of the question she may find herself back in South Sudan soon, as with he kids big enough to look after me now, she’s going on the International Emergency and Trauma Register, ready to fly off a a day’s notice to the next trouble spot, and given her experience in South Sudan, I guess she might get the call, in which case expect more blogging on this subject.

** Depressingly, the comments under the line of the New York Times article I link to above focus on the fact that the Dinka and Nuer have ‘traditionally’ had a war-based relationship, reflective of a pre-market pastoral society in which cattle-raiding is a key economic activity.  EE Evans-Pritchard 1940′s seminal study The Nuer even gets a mention.  It seems to me that arguing that tribal segregration is justified on the basis of a study of society three generations ago is a bit like arguing that we should restrict EU-migration because, you know, the second world war.

Categories: News from Abroad

William Hague vs the French military

February 12, 2013 Leave a comment

A couple of weeks ago in a radio interview, William Hague defended the UK intervention in Libya, with reference to Mali:

Well we were involved, if you recall, in saving lives in Libya, not in…..Ghadaffi was overthrown by his own people, and I think actually if we hadn’t been doing that, because what we did, really, shortened the Libyan conflict, these problems would have been even greater. If the conflict had gone on for longer there would have been an even greater flow of weapons and an even greater opportunity for extremists to take hold in Libya. So while the Libyan situation may well have contributed to what’s happened in Mali, I think that the action that the Western world took in Libya, if anything, mitigated that.

It’s worth comparing that with what French military strategists are now saying about the Libyan intervention.  According to Isabelle Lasserre in Le Figaro ($):

Des stratèges militaires considèrent que l’intervention au Mali est une conséquence directe de la guerre en Libye, qui, parce qu’elle a fait l’économie de troupes au sol, n’a pas été menée à son terme. Avec la chute de Kadhafi, l’ordre politique s’est effondré sans être remplacé par une nouvelle autorité digne de ce nom. Les mercenaires touaregs qui combattaient aux côtés de Kadhafi ont rejoint leur Mali d’origine. La Libye est devenue un arsenal à ciel ouvert pillé par les groupes armés du Sahel. Aujourd’hui, Benghazi a été évacué de tous ses ressortissants étrangers. Quant au sud du pays, il est devenu, selon le même haut responsable français, « une nouvelle région de déstabilisation ». Et, pour Paris, « un vrai sujet de préoccupation ».

[Military strategists are of the view that the intervention in Mali is a direct consequence of the war in Libya which, because this was conducted with few ground troops, was not carried through to completion.  With the fall of Khadaf, political order collapsed without being replaced by any authority worthy of the name.  The Tuareg mercenaries who had fought for Khadafi went home to Mail.  Libya became an open-air arsenal pillaged by the armed groups of the Sahel.  Today, Benghazi is totally clear of its foreign nationals.  As for the south of the country, it has become, according to the same senior French source, "a new region of instability.  And, for Paris, a real subject of preoccupation.]

So, for Hague, the swift end to the war brought about by Western  bombing indicates success.  For French military experts, now involved in picking up the pieces in Mali, it’s the very opposite.  I know who I believe.

And so it goes on.

French intervention in Mali means that jihadists are now in southern Libya itself,  with calls starting for further international intervention there (see same article above), while recent reports suggested up to 200 heavily armed vehicles have crossed Niger and Chad and are now in Darfur, Western Sudan.  Unintended consequence maybe, but no less real for the people of Darfur.

Of course I empathise with James Bloodworth’s humanitarian instincts over Mali, just as I empathised with Carl’s over Libya.   Sadly, it doesn’t mean they are right (though, to be fair to James, he is probably more right than Carl was).

For a wider discussion of how the Left might get to grips with the intractable problem of humanitarianism vs. the problems with interventionism see my recent essay here.

Categories: News from Abroad

The British anti-war left and Mali

January 16, 2013 3 comments

Since Friday, when white people started fighting there, it seems anyone who’s anyone in the mainstream media is an expert on Mali.  Funny that.

I’m no expert, but back in April 2012, I wrote:

Meanwhile in Africa, a nascent democracy has fallen, a large part of the country is in the hands of a different number of armed groups with differing levels of affiliation to Al Qaeida, trouble is spilling over into neighbouring countries and refugees are on the move.  All this is happening as a direct result of the UK’s last major military intervention.

I speak, of course, of Mali, and the vast desert area referred to as Azawad by those Tourags who seek its independence.  Over the weekend the major town Timbuktu and Gao have fallen to Touareg rebels, taking strategic advantage of the recent coup d’etat.  This coup d’etat was itself undertaken by a section of the army supposedly as a reaction to the civilian government’s inability to deal with armed rebellion in the North, and that armed rebellion was fuelled by the massive overspill of weaponry from Libya via Niger into the desert regions of Mali.

In the mix are various groups, with confused and confusing allegiance, and including the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA), the (Islamist) Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa (MUJWA) , the (Islamist) Ansar al-Din and of course Al Qaeida Middle East (AQIM), present in one form or another (from bases in Southern Algeria).

More details are here, courtesy of the very excellent Kal at The Moor Next Door. There’s a handy map here.  I don’t pretend to out-analyse Kal on the specifics of what are and what will be in the region, but simply ask the questions: do Cameron and Hague now accept that what seemed like a nice Boys’ Own Adventure is turning out to have very nasty consequences not just for the millions now directly affected (Mali’s population is 16 million to Libya’s 6 million) but potentially for the much of the Sahel and into the West African states?

Nine months on, we know a few more details of those “nasty consequences”.  There is open war in Mali. Ansaru in Nigeria are explicitly linking their activities to Mali.  Senegal is scared of what may be coming.  Mauritania, in its fragile state, is unable to restrict the movements of jihadists through its territories and prey to attack on its own towns, and Niger – already beset by major ecnonomic and environmental problems, will only suffer more from the growing regional instability.

Now if I, from a backroom in Lancashire, armed with nothing more than an internet connection and a keen sense of the unintended consequence, was able nine months ago to predict pretty well  how things would pan out, then it must all have been pretty damn predictable.  You’d have thought, in such circumstances, the anti-war left would have had something to say in the way of prevention.

Yet by and large, none of the people or organisations now so desperate to comment on what are, by any yardstick, serious, bloody events with huge consequences for the people of the Sahel region and beyond, had anything to say as, little by little over the summer months, the groups who had been fighting for territorial independence ceded ground and towns to those with more Jihadi aims, and it became clearer that the assault on human freedoms in Northern Malian desert towns would soon be in assaults in Central Mali.

In the end, I can’t help feeling that while what is happening now in Mali is actually quite welcome news for some on the left, who are happy to use it to reinforce their anti-imperial narrative or whatever, the energies and resources now devoted to commenting on the war, might have been better used more proactively few months ago.

Of course it’s a big ‘if’, but if leftie commentators, journos and politicos had been demanding answers from the government back in the summer about how it intended to deal with what was unfolding in Mali, then it might just have hit the Cabinet agenda, and it might just have kickstarted an international process of support for regional intervention.  As it was, it was December by the time ECOWAS came to a tentative agreement on use of its regional forces to support the Malian government, and by that time it was too late; French military intelligence clearly saw both that the route South was open to the jihadists, and that the jihadists had the capability and desire to take that road, and that if it didn’t strike now Bamako itself would be under threat (of course it may still be, but in a different way).

Of course the anti-war left is not responsible for what’s going on now – Cameron and co must bear some responsibility for that given that we now know how well briefed they were, or at least should have been, on the likely consequences for its southern neighbours of a changed regime in Libya.

But if the anti-war left is going to get serious about anti-imperialism/promoting the long-term advisability of stopping these continued interventions – we can be  sure enough there’ll be another one along in the non-too-distant future - it had better start by getting serious about its analysis.

Rape and Indian culture

December 31, 2012 13 comments

The appalling gang rape and murder of a young woman in Delhi has created the usual, and somewhat predictable, divisions in the left commentariat.

On the one hand you have Owen Jones:

But, in the West, Damini’s death has triggered a different response: a sense that this is an Indian-specific problem. “The crime has highlighted the  prevalence of sex attacks in India,” says the Daily Telegraph; “India  tries to move beyond its rape culture,” says Reuters. Again, it’s comforting to think that this is someone else’s problem, a particular scandal that afflicts a  supposedly backward nation. It is an assumption that is as wrong as it is dangerous.

On the other there’s Sunny Hundal:

I despair with well-meaning people who say India’s endemic violence against women doesn’t have cultural roots. Desperate attempt to be PC. The debate will go on into the night.  Nothing will be resolved, mostly because both are (only) half-right.

Owen is right to state the obvious – that violence against women remains a massive, under-recognised problem in Western Europe, but Sunny’s argument – that to ‘dilute’ the issue by suggesting that India is no worse than the UK, does a disservice to Indian women – is also reasonable.  (Like Sunny, I’ve spent plenty of time in Indian (and Bangladeshi) houses/shanties/huts and support his view that, quite simply, women have a lower status in many households).  Sunny’s probably also right to suggest a reluctance to pin the blame on Indian ‘culture’ stems, at least in part, from a wariness on the part of lefties of being taken as making racist assumptions about the cultural norms of brown people.

The problem with Sunny’s argument, though, comes in his essentialist use of the word ‘culture’.   For Sunny, culture appears to be a thing, which you have, or you don’t have.  Such a conception leads almost inevitably to the conclusion that, if the position of women in India is to be improved, Indians must lose a bit of their culture.   That, I suggest, doesn’t lead us very far.  Indeed it creates the condition in which the PC-gone-mad lefties like me, and maybe Owen, are tempted to reach for the safety of the ‘violence is everywhere’ argument.

I have a different conception of culture, and one which I think helps us through the current analytical impasse.

For me, culture is the product of a historical process of power struggle.  It is dynamic, and consistently evolving in response to those power struggles.   The biggest power struggle in the history of modern India was British Imperial rule, and this colonial rule had a very large impact on the position of women in India today.  The best analysis of this that I know of is in Varsha Chitnis and Danaya Wright, The Legacy of Colonialism: Law and Women’s Rights in India, 64 Wash. & Lee L. Rev. 1315 (2007), in which the authors argue that the unequal status of women in India today has its roots in the power struggle between

the native elites and the colonialists [which] was fought on the backs of Indian women because it was the alleged degraded position of Indian women and the barbaric actions of Indian men that justified the colonial mission in the first place. This brings into the picture a third group, British feminists, who claimed a moral imperative to reclaim for Indian women the dignity and rights of Western women (p.1318).

As a consequence, argue the authors:

The condition of the Indian woman, particularly within the home, became the battleground on which the contests of power between Indian and British men and between British men and women were fought…… [O]ne of the post-independence legacies of this complex tussle for power is that even secular laws for women today are either protectionist and patriarchal, or else modem Indian women are not in a position to exercise their legal rights in meaningful ways. Victorian notions of womanhood (chastity, innocence, self-effacement, and passiveness) continue to pervade some laws, and certainly the traditional training of lawmakers and judges in the British legal system allows them to bring their often patriarchal understanding of the historical foundations of these laws to bear as precedents and jurisprudential principles, even when the laws are facially egalitarian (p.1319).

Of course, blaming the unequal position of women in India on colonialism doesn’t get us very far in itself.  India has been independent for 70 years, and while the effects of colonialism are certainly longlasting and path-dependent, there are of course many other influences.  My point is simply that, if people in Britain are to support in any way, shape or form, the liberation of women in India and elsewhere in South Asia, it will be important to engage in any such action not on the basis of judgment about the inadequacy of Indian culture when compared to Western freedoms for women – that would be, after all, neo-colonialism writ large – but on the basis that we’re doing what we can to help Indian women gain the power Britain arguably denied them in the first place.


Has the IMF changed the rules?

December 5, 2012 Leave a comment

The FT’s Alan Beattie is right to point out to the importance of recent IMF staff paper on the potential for temporary capital controls in times of economic crisis:

The International Monetary Fund has  cemented a substantial ideological shift by accepting the use of direct controls  to calm volatile cross-border capital flows, as employed by emerging market countries in recent years.

Although the fund continued to warn that such controls should be “targeted,  transparent, and generally temporary”, the policy, announced in a staff  paper released on Monday, is a sharp change from the fund’s enthusiasm for  liberalising capital accounts during the 1990s.

This is an interesting enough step back from the IMF’s liberalisation fundamentalism in itself,, but I wonder if it might be the prelude to something bigger, namely a recognition that free trade itself may not be all it’s cracked up to be when it’s between countries with massive imbalances, including within Europe.

Oddly, I hope this might be the case is because of what the paper IMF gets slightly wrong, when it says:

[T]he Treaty on the functioning of the European Union (EU) has established free capital movements as a bind obligation among EU members and between EU members and third countries (p.8).

This is the truth, but not the whole truth.  Article 63 of the [Lisbon] Treaty of the Functioning of the EU (TFEU) does indeed prohibit restrictions on capital flow within member states, but the much-maligned Brussels bureaucracy have sensibly inserted a get-out at Article 64 (para. 3) in respect of capital flows beyond the EU.

Notwithstanding paragraph 2, only the Council, acting in accordance with a special legislative procedure, may unanimously, and after consulting the European Parliament, adopt measures which constitute a step backwards in Union law as regards the liberalisation of the movement of capital to or from third countries.

It’s reasonable to assume that, as and when the new IMF view on the advisability of temporary capital controls in times of crisis gains traction amongst Euro-policymakers, this existing get–out clause may become increasingly attractive (e.g. to stop flows into non-EU safe havens;  indeed, the comments below the line of the FT article are full of (somewhat sarcastic) commentary on how the IMF’s move might be deliberately geared to the next phase of the Eurozone crisis (and what was portrayed part of the problem for developing countries is now magically transformed into part of the solution for Europe).

And if  Euro-policymakers become ready (even keen) - now that the IMF has broken the taboo – to consider this “step back” from the ideals set out in the Lisbon Treaty and its predecessors, then perhaps it’s reasonable to assume that they’ll also start to take note of the other great reversible in the Treaty, namely free movement of goods and services.

As I’ve set out previously, Article 30 of the TFEU sets out the prohibition of customs duties within the single market but Article 32 (d) provides the get-out clause:

In carrying out the tasks entrusted to it under this Chapter the Commission shall be guided by…..the need to avoid serious disturbances in the economies of Member States and to ensure rational development of production and an expansion of consumption within the Union.

Given the choice between the drastic-sounding idea of capital controls as short-term crisis management and the longer term rebalancing effects of allowing export subsidies/import duties, it may well be that the latter is the route chosen*.

Exactly a year ago, blog-economists Chris Dillow and Duncan Weldon pointed out the potential for such ‘artificial devaluation’ within the Eurozone, but both felt it unworkable within the confines of the single market.  Back then, it probably was, but maybe, just maybe, the IMF are changing the rules of the game, with a little help from the Brussels bureaucracy.

The IMF as saviours of Greece; who’d have thought it?


* It is easy to forget, for example, that in the UK capital controls were only abolished in 1979, and what a massive impact that had on investment levels in the crucial deindustrialisation years in the 1980s.  By 1982, for example, British capital outflow was running at three times the rates of inward investment (p.360).  Nevertheless, it is more difficult to conceive of a sudden return to capital controls (anyone remember the Foreign Travel Allowance of £50 per person stoutly defended by Eric Heffer in 1969?) than it is to accept the idea of import duties as a means of ecomomic restructuring over time.




How to establish Labour’s credibility on Europe

November 23, 2012 1 comment

It has suddenly become very fashionable in Labour wonk circles to be a pro-EU-but-very-critical-of-it-in-its-current-guise.  David Clarke, ex-Robin Cook SpAd, is the latest to jump on the bandwagon.

So just by way of establishing my own credibility as a Europe-getting-leftie, here’s what I said back in early 2010:

The issue for here is that a process of technocratic economic management signed into law under the Maastricht treaty, under a particular set of economic conditions which the then policy makers assumed would last for ever, is now adding to an already considerable burden on people who did not make the crisis, and did not gain from the booms that caused it.

As a result there is a real possibility of major social unrest in many European countries, including explosions of racial hatred as workers take it out on themselves; this is the antithesis of what the European Union is supposed to be about.

That, fundamentally, is the stupidity at the heart of the European Union, and reflects the key problem with it.

The European Union is wholly based on the entrenchment of neoliberal norms of which the validity is now widely questioned, but which are set out in permanent form in the Lisbon Treaty and the treaties which preceded it.

Ah, if only the Labour wonkery had listened then, Labour would be in a much better place now; rather than looking opportunistic around the EU budget negotiations, it might look as though we’d thought it all through earlier.

But we are where we are, and David is quite right to follow in my footsteps:

Little thought was given to how the free movement provisions [I assume David means of both capital and people] designed for six countries at similar levels of economic development would work after the EU incorporated the impoverished countries of Central and Eastern Europe. The idea of a social Europe, envisaged by Jacques Delors as a balance to the single market, has been the casualty of a headlong rush towards liberalisation for its own sake.

The reason this is better than some of the other bandwagon stuff is that it’s about the fundamentals of the EU, not about the budget froth, which I’ve already covered in my critique of Will Straw’s IPPR pamphlet.  Labour needs to focus on the fundamentals of European reform.

The key question, though, is how Labour can cut through the media fog to present an proper, fundamental alternative which actually gets heard.  Vague generalities about the need to build a new social Europe for new times, or whatever, are going to cut no ice with an electorate fed a steady diet of Brussels eurocrats, straight bananas, and French farmers living it large from handouts.

There are two specific areas – both headline-worthy, both off the Tory radar – on which Labour should focus its media firepower.  Being wise and all-knowing about Europe, I have already covered both in detail.

First, there’s the obstacle the single market puts in the way of economic convergence between the richer and poorer EU states in a Eurozone situation where currency devaluation is not possible, but where the break-up of the Eurozone would create even more havoc for the poorer states.

As I’ve set out here, the Lisbon Treaty does in fact make provision (Article 32) for the temporary suspension of the single market, and the creation of export subsidy/import substitution mechanisms, such that convergence can occur even within the Eurozone and without recourse to self-defeating ‘structural reform’ of the type imposed on Greece.  While that level of detail may not be very headline-drawing, Labour can sell such proposals simply on the basis of its creativity – using stuff that’s already in the Lisbon Treaty – just as the Tories are thinking of doing on free movement of people, but with a mind to the benefit of the whole of Europe, not just as a populist, face-saving anti-migrant measure.

Second, and more headline-attracting than the first, Labour should promise that, on coming to power, it will work with like-minded governments for the abolition of the Stability and Growth Pact six-pack regulations and the parallel Fiscal Compact bundled together in panic by Merkel and Sarkozy in the doomed attempt to save the Merkozy hegemony.   As IPPR’s Will Straw said in his reply to my most recent piece on Europe:

As it happens the Six Pack includes provisions for a 0.5% deficit cap which is ludicrous and would effectively outlaw Keynesianism.

In fact, the six-pack regulations already outlaw Keynesianism, as they become European law in December 2011.  A campaign Labour for the abolition of these regulations therefore makes economic sense, but it can also be sold on the basis of the sovereignty argument – that the EU should not be telling member states that the only available economic policy open to it is one which embeds neoliberalism.

Taken together, these two initiatives could be game-changes for Labour’s credibility on Europe.

Trust me, I’ve been credible on Europe for ages.


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