Tuesday, 15 February 2011

This blog has moved!

I have decided to move my blog over onto www.rednaylor.co.uk. This blog will be left like every revolution, neglected, abandoned and rubbish!

Thursday, 3 February 2011

SP Lead In: Struggles In Africa

Heres a lead in I gave for the SP Debate, focused on socialism, anticapitalism and struggles in Africa. I was tasked this before Christmas, and obviously recent developments forced me to switch it up a bit, which is probably why its a disjointed mess.

Class struggle and general struggle has always been an underlying theme within Africa. Since the time of colonisation, Africa has been in constant conflict. The conditions that heighten dissatisfaction and anger within Africa are on the rise. Poverty is rising in sub-Saharan Africa, with 288 million people living on less than $1 a day in 1980, rising to 516 million by 2001. However, it is always good to have a historical understanding of leftism within Africa when tackling how anger is shaped there. One interesting example of Marxism flaring within Africa is the case of Thomas Sankara and Burkina Faso in the mid-80s.

Thomas Sankara, in western circles, is not very well known or recognised. However within Africa he is viewed as a charismatic and iconic revolutionary, often being referred to “Africa’s Che Guevara”. In 1983, he seized power in a popular coup from French colonial power, hoping to eliminate corruption and to embark on "the most ambitious program for social and economic change ever attempted on the African continent”. He we staunchly anti-imperialist and opposed French colonial powers to the point where he even renamed the country from the Upper Volta to Burkina Faso, meaning the Land of Upright Man. His philosophy was one of autonomy and rebirth, often refusing to be tied to foreign aid, stating “he who feeds you, controls you”, and to push away the influence of neoliberal organisations such as the IMF. Through land reform and solidarity campaigns, he sought to end poverty and to unite the country. His popularity rose through these Solidarity with the Poor initiatives, one of which was the highly popular move of selling off the government fleet of Mercedes cars and instead replacing the official service car of the ministers the Renault 5, the cheapest car sold in the country at the time. He also reduced the salaries of government officials, including his own, and forbade government officials to use chauffeurs and 1st class tickets.

Sankara also combined many other philosophies into his own, including that of pan-africanism, environmentalism and feminism. He argued for a united Africa to fight against neoliberal influences and to correct the terrible poverty and income inequality present in Africa. He also planted 10 million trees to try and halt desertification, while embarking on radical land reformation projects. His fights for womens' rights within Burkina Faso are also notable, as this led him to outlaw female genital mutilation, forced marriages and polygamy; while appointing females to high governmental positions and encouraging them to work outside the home and stay in school even if pregnant. One of his well known quotes on this issue is:

"The revolution and women’s liberation go together. We do not talk of women’s emancipation as an act of charity or because of a surge of human compassion. It is a basic necessity for the triumph of the revolution. Women hold up the other half of the sky."

His attitudes to healthcare were greatly progressive, embarking his government on a vaccination program of 2.5 million children against meningitis, yellow fever and measles. Sankara's administration was also the first African government to publicly recognize the AIDS epidemic as a major threat to Africa."

However, the threat of French colonial retaliation often forced Sankara to take authoritarian methods to achieve these goals, often restricting the role of unions and free press. In the end, French powers did retaliate and was overthrown and assassinated by the by the French-backed Blaise Compaoré on October 15, 1987. A week before his execution he declared that, "While revolutionaries as individuals can be murdered, you cannot kill ideas."

However, the revolutions and struggles that are springing up all over north Africa take on a different characteristic from those in Burkina Faso. Rather than a straight Marxist revolution headed by a leader with popular support, these revolutions seem to be a somewhat leaderless and spontaneous outburst of people power. The case of Egypt’s ongoing revolution is somewhat different to Tunisia’s, but there are connecting threads between them. Egypt’s movement seems to be focused on Hosni Mubarak and his dictatorial 30 year presidency, whereas Tunisia’s uprising was begun by both the self immolation of the 26 year old street vendor and through the general anger over unemployment and poverty. Although these uprisings both different in initial characteristic, one of the main themes about them seems to be a rejection of American ideals. After all, Mubarak was an ally of the US and the US supported him, both publicly and through trade. We all know that America likes to champion democracy at every possible opportunity, except when it inconveniences them. This was made clear from the very milquetoast statements from America which AJE reporters described as supporting both sides at the same time, mainly because while they cant be seen to not support people’s crys for genuine democracy they at the same time must not lose the support of Mubarak, often hiding behind vague and silly notions of stability.

However, violence in Egypt has escalated recently greatly. A few days ago, the million man march in Egypt was relatively peaceful. However today and yesterday pro-mubarak protesters and forces have come out to violently counter-protest. This violence began as knives, machetes and quickly elevated to guns and molotovs. However, there are suggestions that this pro-Mubarak counterdemonstration was not as spontaneous as it seems, especially after one BBC reporter asked a pro-Mubarak protestor about his support. He revealed that he was not a supporter and was, in fact, being paid £5 and a chicken to protest. The CNN is quoted as saying:

"As battles raged between the two sides, some pro-Mubarak protesters were captured by his opponents. Some were terrified to be caught and begged for their lives, screaming that the government had paid them to come out and protest. Others turned out to be carrying what seemed to be police identification, though they were dressed in plain clothes." - Source

These tactics are not new to both Mubarak’s regime and to the uprisings in Northern Africa in general. The state will use its arms to suppress people’s movements wherever they are found, as was demonstrated in Tunisia with police shooting at protesters randomly and looting shops. The main reason for this is that in a Dictatorial regime like that of Egypt and of Tunisia, the police are used to suppress the people and squash any genuine feelings of anger against the government. This is often done through, in comparison to the average wages, ludicrous wages for the police to keep them on the governments side. However, this same level of attention is not given to the army, as it is viewed less essential to maintaining the stability of a regime. This is why we find, curiously, that the army in both Egypt and Tunisia has come out in support and defence of the protesters, although they are still obliged to enforce curfews etc. However, one must be cautious and conclude whether the army are supporting the protesters out of genuine conviction or in an attempt to weaken the government for a coup, as was feared in Tunisia. Personally, I would say its a mix of the 2, but its a situation that must be kept in check by the protesters.

One of the main worries, especially in America, is that when the governments are ousted the people will naturally side with the Muslim Brotherhood rather than birthing their own secular moderate democracy. For example, Steven Fish in Islam and Authoritarianism written in 2002 conducted research and found that the the assumption that religion is consistently more important to Muslims than it is to adherents of other faiths and that this difference is clearly reflected in social and political life is open to doubt. I would personally think that the protesters would not allow a theocracy to form, and would instead deny it through continued demonstration.

Now, what does this mean for Socialism in Africa? Although the protests are generally anti-government, they also take on an air of rejection of American interference and that of neoliberalism, instead favouring workers rights. This is evident in Egypt, as Mubarak has been criticised constantly for favouring big business over the rights and conditions of workers. While there is a general feeling of anti-neoliberalism within these protests, small sections of radical leftism have emerged, with workers taking over and controlling 2 factories in Tunisia the last week. This dissatisfaction of both American backed dictatorships and of declining economic and social conditions are pushing feelings of perhaps not outright socialism, but definitely feelings of anti-neoliberalism. With rumblings of uprisings in Algeria, where the president is planning to lift the 19 year state of emergency in order to stave off unrest, and Libya, where AJE has been blocked in order to prevent a repeat of Tunisia, we may well see an almost domino effect amongst north African countries, of protesters unwilling to accept the meagre scraps thrown to them by desperate governments.

What remains to be seen is whether these uprisings are limited to the Arabic African countries, as it looks now. While socialist and class struggle continues in places like South Africa, where workers took over factories last year, and trade unions continue to strike, it is unclear whether they will be influenced by the uprisings in Northern Africa. Perhaps the philosophy of pan-africanism that Thomas Sankara so passionately spoke about will grip the people of Africa once again, and a call of a united Africa will spread dissatisfaction with governments, poverty, income inequality and economic systems that cause them.

Socialist Students Talk: The NHS

Heres a quick talk I gave at the Socialist Students meeting to kickstart off a debate/talk about the NHS in its current form and what the reform of the White Paper means for it:

First a quick history of the NHS. In the aftermath of WW2, the UK was in shambles. A system was proposed to deal with this which we call a “cradle-to-the-grave” welfare system, i.e a welfare system that covers a citizen from birth until death, as proposed by the Beveridge Report. This report was created by an economist and social reformist known as William Beveridge. One of the most fundamental assumptions of this report was the establishment of a National Health Service. This task fell to Clement Attlee’s Labour government and his Secretary of State for Health, Nye Bevan.  Prior to the NHS’ establishment, the healthcare system in the UK was provided by a mishmash of private, municipal and charity entities. Upon seeing the regional inequalities generated by this system, Bevan decided that the way forward for healthcare should a national system, wherein each citizen would be signed up to a GP as the point of entry, and would have access to any kind of treatment free at the point of use. Over time, the whole concept of “free at the point of use” was shaken as the cost of the NHS hit government finances and we saw the introduction of paying for prescription charges and dental treatment, something we’re familiar with today. These introductions caused a split in the party when Bevan resigned from the Cabinet over them, leading to the defeat of Labour in 1951.

Now currently NHS money is spent on a variety of different sectors. You have, roughly, 48% on Hospitals and acute care, 9% on GPs, 10% on prescriptions, 10% on mental health, 15% on community services like district nurses, 5% on dentists opticians and pharmacies, and finally 3% on Management. Management is known as commissioning. These are the people who look at the providers in your area, look at the money thats provided and decide who is going to provide which services. Some NHS services are provided by private providers. GPs are private businesses for example, as are dentists, opticians and pharmacies. Under the government’s proposals, which i believe were voted on a day or so ago, GPs will be given control of most of this budget. Few GPs will not want to do this commissioning, however. 4 in 5 don’t want to do it, and who can blame them? It isn’t their job, they don’t have the time or training to do this effectively. So instead, they will buy in the commissioning from services from the private sector. This is, essentially, the privatisation of commissioning. However, the government also wants to create the “largest social enterprise sector in the world”, out of the NHS. A social enterprise is a private, not-for-profit business. It is not publicly owned. It is not publicly run. The public have no say in how a Social Enterprise is run. This means that hospitals will be taken out of public ownership, alongside community services, continuing care and mental health services. NHS Trusts will be abolished. Social Enterprises will be the only option for most NHS providers. The result of this is that none of the NHS will be publicly owned. However, many find it hard to object to non-for-profit businesses running healthcare. But the government also wants the private sector to provide many more services. What does this mean? Over time the private sector will provide more and more services for SEs. In some cases, they will take over SEs. The meaning of this is that there will be no publicly owned or run services. Some services are SEs, but some services are provided by for-profit businesses. This represents the privatisation of the NHS. This was the result of the NHS White Paper last year.

The curious thing is that the public doesn’t seem to support this. Heres a bit from the Guardian debunking the notion that the Modernisation Of The NHS is a popular idea:
“The YouGov survey found that only 27% of people back moves to allow profit-making companies to increase their role the NHS.” 
“Overall, 50% of the 1,892 respondents opposed the policy. But hostility was more evident among Lib Dem voters, 56% of whom said they were against, with just 30% in favour. Conservative supporters were also split: while 46% backed the use of private firms, 32% were against.” 
“The poll also reveals that half the public oppose the new GP consortiums that will emerge across England, using private management groups to help them with finance, planning and management. Lib Dem voters are even more hostile to this, with 57% against, while among Tory voters, 40% back it with 38% against.”  - Source

However, this poll was commissioned by Unison, so obviously there will be a bit of bias in here.

Now you will hear that, as we heard from Cameron during the televised debates, that modernisation of the NHS is needed because “our health outcomes lag behind the rest of Europe”. This isn’t limited to just the conservatives, but also spreads to tabloids when they’ve run of nonsense about immigrants stealing swans. But much of this is nonsense. Healthcare statistics require context and cannot be pulled out of a report and thrown into a debate. They need context to give them meaning. For example, if i just quote the cancer mortality rate of the UK off the bat (which is 147 per 100,000). The same report that gave this figure, the WHO’s World Health Statistics Report 2009, also gives the figure of 91 out of 100,000 for Namibia cancer mortality, 107 per 100,000 for Bangladesh and 95 per 100,000 for north korea. Surely, the NHS cant provide worse healthcare than North Korea?

We must remember at all times that Britain has the most equitable access to healthcare in the entire world, with multiple screening programs for various cancers and pre-cancer conditions. Couple this with strong post-mortem requirements and a highly skilled pathologists. North Korea does not have these. Patients with cancer there may lack a doctor to diagnose them before dying at home and being buried without a post-mortem. Inevitably, the access to screening programs inflates mortality statistics artificially, making the NHS look worse. Cancer is also a disease of the old generally, with the average age of diagnosis for breast cancer being 65. The average life expectancy in Namibia is 60, so people do not live long enough to contract cancer, instead dying is easily preventable infections etc. We must also remember that cancer is not a universal disease. Comparing the survival rates for stomach cancer for Japan and Britain makes us look rather bad. However, Japan has a higher incidence of stomach cancer than Britain, leading to very strong nation-wide screening programs. These programs would not be cost effective here, compared to screening for other cancers that are more common.

Finally, cancer statistics are by definition out of date by the time they’re published. The EUROCARE-4 statistics involve patients diagnosed with cancer between 1995 and 1999, who were followed through to 2002 before the data was published. But in 2000 the NHS Cancer Plan was published, changing the uncoordinated mess that was British cancer care at the time into a formal, structured system with a greater emphasis on screening and on preventative programs to stop cancers from developing in the first place.  The results of this plan will take years to be observed because of the time lag between a cancer first developing and eventually being diagnosed, making it meaningless to use statistics from before the plan was implemented to criticise the current system. 

Finally, we move onto NICE, the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence. This organisation, in a simplified sense, used to conduct research into the efficiency and cost-effectiveness of treatments on the NHS. However, NICE has recently been neutered. They have been turned from an authority into a consultancy. They make recommendations now, but have no control at all whether GPs follow their advice. What this will probably mean is that we will see funding move from efficient, cost effective treatments and instead will begin to middle-england’s obsession with ludicriously expensive cancer drugs that give very little benefit or longevity of life that the Daily Mail et al so love to rant about.
We are standing on the precipice of the destruction of the NHS. We will slide back to a post-code lottery system for treatments. In the name of choice, and fairness and all those neoliberal buzzwords have been used to force the private sector to further entrench itself into the NHS. And we will probably not wrestle it back.
Special thanks to NHSSense for the cancer statistics clearup.