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Axis of Evil or Access to Diesel? Reflections on the Iraq War

By Andreas Bieler.

How can we understand the dynamics underlying the Iraq war in 2003? My latest article with Adam David Morton, entitled ‘Axis of Evil or Access to Diesel? Spaces of New Imperialism and the Iraq War’ is now published in the journal Historical Materialism and attempts to address this question.

In our analysis, we argue that the Iraq war did not simply reflect the unitary decision by the U.S. state to assert its interests in the global political economy, nor was it the result of co-operation by a group of allied capitalist countries to secure access to oil in the Middle East. Equally, we reject the notion that the use of military force reflected the interests of an emerging transnational state. Following on from our International Studies Quarterly article and in contrast to the above positions, our main focus is to assert the philosophy of internal relations as the hallmark of historical materialism. Thus, transnational capital is not understood as externally related to states, engaged in competition over authority in the global economy. Instead our focus shifts to class struggles over the extent to which the interests of transnational capital have become internalised or not within concrete forms of state and here in particular the U.S. form of state.

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Class struggle in times of crisis: conceptualising agency of resistance.

By Andreas Bieler.

While movements of resistance against neo-liberal globalization have increasingly become subject of analysis, there is little agreement on how to conceptualize such agency. In my recent article Class struggle in times of crisis: conceptualising agency of resistance, published in the on-line, open access academic journal Spectrum: Journal of Global Studies, I argue that a historical materialist analysis is necessary to capture the historical specificity of capitalism (see also Analysing exploitation and resistance). Nevertheless, a focus on class struggle does not imply a reductionist, economic determinist account.

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The Heirs of Tyndale

By Vanessa Pupavac.

In the last week we have witnessed the incredible dignity of the families and congregation of the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina as they mourn nine members of their bible study group killed in a horrific terrorist attack by a lone racist young gunman on 17 June 2015.

Just two days before there had been the 800th anniversary of the signing of the Magna Carta in 1215, a crucial document in the history of civil freedoms. When the terrorist killed the Charleston bible study members, he also attacked one of the most important historically won civil freedoms – that of spiritual freedom.

The spiritual freedom represented in the Charleston bible study group may be traced back half a millennium to pioneering bible translators such as William Tyndale. Tyndale’s 1525 translation of the bible enfranchised people spiritually, and is as significant for the history of civil freedoms as the Magna Carta, although less well known.

Tyndale’s decision to translate the bible was a courageous assertion of religious independence against the authority of the church and the monarchy, because translation of the bible was a capital offence in the religious hierarchical societies of sixteenth century Europe. In order to carry his law-breaking work, Tyndale sought out Martin Luther in Wittenberg who had translated the bible into German.  In 1525 his translation of the New Testament was printed, but accusations of heresy forced him into hiding. Continue reading

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General Election 2015: Voters wrong, but still revealing

By Philip Cowley.

As part of the preparation for The British General Election of 2015, I have been playing around with the latest wave of the British Election Study data, which is from the short campaign.

There is a question about whether a party had a ‘real chance’ of being in government or not, ‘either forming a government by itself or as part of a coalition’. The question isn’t brilliantly worded – it rules out other ways in which parties might be involved in government, such as confidence and supply agreements – but for all its flaws, responses to the question are still revealing.

The question asked about parties that had ‘no real chance’ of being in government. The figure for both Labour and Conservative was 3%. Almost everyone could see they had a chance. For the Lib Dems, it was 18%. Most people thought they had a chance.

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The Many Faces of Social Media: Challenging the Social Media Democracy Nexus

By Ignas Kalpokas

The conventional narrative about social media and political change tends to be a rather simplistic one: a relatively strong causal relationship between the use of modern communication technologies and democratic change is presumed. Although on some occasions this causation (or, at least, correlation) might hold, there is a different side to social media as well: one of facilitator to non-democratic regimes or instigator of violence. In fact, social media do not have intrinsic qualities of their own but are, instead, dependent on offline conditions. Having established that, the post then moves to the application of social media for influence operations as part of hybrid warfare.

To begin with, social media are usually said to have added a new tool to the social movement repertoire. The new media allow them to access and share information that is not available on mainstream media either because of economic or political pressure or because it simply relates to an issue that is not (yet) high enough on the agenda. Moreover, social media enable instant sharing of new and grievances and, coupled with smartphones, tablets, and other devices capable of capturing and instantly uploading images, allow the development of a new type of activist – an engaged ‘citizen journalist’ who is usually more effective in timing, access, and the immediacy of the cause than any representative of conventional media can be. These developments by themselves help democratise the public sphere and change the way in which citizens relate to it: instead of being passive users, they now become crucial influencers. Social media also have the potential of shifting the balance of power: instead of vertical public communication dominated by heavyweight political and media actors (which, not uncommonly, are one and the same), they can create multidirectional flows of communication.

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Devolution, austerity and community leadership in English Local Government

By Alison Gardner.

The ‘Cities and Local Government Devolution Bill’ published at the end of May 2015 provided the cornerstone for the new government’s flagship decentralisation agenda.  Yet as Professor Robin Hambleton has recently argued, rather than granting increased power to local government, the bill’s focus on a new layer of sub-regional, combined authorities will actually move power further away from local communities.  This problem has potential to be exacerbated by the erosion of local authorities’ ‘community leadership’ role, due to financial pressures associated with austerity.

During the early 1990s, academics and practitioners championed a role for English local government ‘not just to deliver certain services well but to steer a community to meet the full range of its needs’.  Although the idea of community leadership has deep historic roots, the 1990s saw a resurgence of interest in the contribution of local government to the strategic development and wellbeing of a locality, through its capacity to connect fragmented layers of governance in an increasingly fractured service delivery landscape.

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Labour should forget ‘Saint’ David Miliband – he fluffed his chance

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By Steven Fielding 

One of the many problems faced by Harold Wilson after he became Labour leader in 1963 was heading a team dominated by supporters of his immediate predecessor. Hugh Gaitskell had died suddenly, leaving his political friends understandably bereft.

Wilson was one of Gaitskell’s most prominent opponents and, as things went from bad to worse during his 1964-70 government, arch-Gaitskellites spent their evenings wishing Saint Hugh, the Man of Principle, was alive to save Labour from disaster. It was hard for Wilson to compete with a man whose qualities became ever more superhuman after his passing.

In the same way, Ed Miliband’s leadership of the Labour party was dogged by the reputation of his brother David from the start. David was the candidate supported by most of the shadow cabinet when the two took each other on in the 2010 leadership race.

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Life under austerity shows why Syriza are fighting it so hard

by Jamie Jordan.

Greece has been a key talking point at the G7 summit of economic powers. The current impasse in negotiations between the Syriza-led government and the country’s creditors comes down to some significant differences in opinion over austerity. While Angela Merkel says time is running out for Greece to accept the reforms required for its bailout funds, Syriza continue to question conditions that require cuts to the country’s pensions, civil service and VAT reform.

Alexis Tsipras’s firm stance against austerity has led to the Greek government being labelled as intransigent throughout negotiations. The analogy that has become common is that Greece is a patient that refuses to take its medicine. But the irony of this is that the country’s healthcare system has borne the brunt of austerity measures – the extent of which has become evident to me while carrying out my PhD fieldwork, focusing on the restructuring taking place to Greece’s political economy and welfare state.

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The Future of the Left – Where next for Britain’s labour movement?

By Andreas Bieler

‘The Conservatives are not invincible – splits over the forthcoming EU referendum and their small majority in parliament are only two signs of their weakness. Together, the Left can stem the tide of austerity’, these were the words of the TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady. In front of a full lecture theatre with 300 people, she delivered the first Ken Coates memorial lecture, organised by the Bertrand Russell Peace Foundation and co-hosted by the Centre for the Study of Social and Global Justice (CSSGJ) and the local University and College Union (UCU) association. In this post, I will draw out some of her key points.

Labour’s defeat in the general elections

Frances O’Grady heavily contested the idea that Labour had lost the elections because its programme had been too far on the left. Any Labour party programme has to focus on constructing homes, ensuring jobs and safeguarding the NHS. If at all the elections had been lost because the party had conceded too much to austerity. Moreover, the Conservative tactics of scaremongering the public of a minority Labour government depending on SNP support had worked. While she was supportive of the SNP’s anti-austerity stance, however, Frances O’Grady pointed out that the politics of place, as pursued by the SNP in Scotland, is an inadequate response to austerity. Workers in England will always have more in common with workers in Scotland than with bankers in London.

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Gesture Politics

By Sue Pryce 

On June 9th 2015, the House of Lords will have its first opportunity to debate a new set of drugs laws. The Psychoactive Substances Bill, will introduce a ‘blanket’ ban on all legal highs. Legal highs, also referred to as New Psychoactive Substances (NPSs) are legal concoctions of drugs that mimic illegal drugs. Vertex for example is a kind of synthetic cannabis. It is sold widely and cheaply, but in contrast to prohibited cannabis, it appears to be implicated in several health scares. Methedrone became the first of such substances to be banned (2010) after it became a ‘chart buster’ legal alternative to ecstasy in 2007. The media fuss it attracted and its eventual ban did little to curb the market, it simply went underground and on-line.

The government’s proposed ban can be little more than gesture politics – being seen to be doing something, anything, about the growing public fuss about the dangers of these substances. Yes they are dangerous, some more so than others and some more so than those drugs prohibited by the 1971 Misuse of Drugs Act. But it is prohibition itself that drives the market for legal highs.

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