Critical reading

A blog
  • The Torturing of Mentally Ill Prisoners

    The horrific realities of the American gulag. There is a follow-up report here. --PG

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    Source: The New Yorker

    May 2, 2016

    In Florida prisons, mentally ill inmates have been tortured, driven to suicide, and killed by guards.

    By Eyal Press

  • Joel Geier explains the global economy

    Why the world economy is headed for a new recession. --PG

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    Pigs at the trough of the economic crisis: an interview with Joel Geier

    Source: Red Flag

    Ben Hillier
    11 March 2016

    Red Flag editor Ben Hillier speaks with US socialist Joel Geier, associate editor of the International Socialist Review, about the causes of the ongoing economic stagnation in Western economies, and the potential for a new world recession.

    ­“You want to know what people are like in there? They’re pigs. No matter how much money they make, they want to steal some more. [The impulse] comes out of their class background.”

    Joel Geier is explaining to me the finer points of economics and the moral character of those at the centre of US capital-trading markets. “They think that entitlements – social welfare, Medicare, pensions – should be cut, taxes should be cut, the government should be small. It’s just more money in their pockets. And it is presented by good chunks of capitalist economists as a solution to the crisis facing everyone else”, he says.

  • Why the Democrats don't deserve your support

    Sarah Grey on why we should put our energies into building grassroots movements, not the Democratic Party. --PG

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    To Move Forward, We Must Stop Enabling The Democratic Party

    Source: The Establishment

    OP-ED February 23, 2016

    by Sarah Grey

    This story is part of The Establishment’s ongoing series exploring the political dialogue surrounding the democratic presidential candidates, progressivism, and feminism.


    Just say you’ll vote for the Democratic nominee. Just SAY it.

    Why do you have to rock the boat in an election year? This election is too important.

    Just help us get Democrats into office, and THEN you can call them out on their problems.

    I know the system is messed up, but we have to be realistic.

    If you don’t shut up, we’ll end up with President Trump!


    If you’ve ever criticized the Democratic Party from the left, as I recently did, chances are good you’ve heard all of this and more. It’s everywhere. It’s unavoidable.

    And it’s wrong.

  • Middle East crisis not due to religious divisions

    Corey Oakley refutes the claim that the Middle East's descent into chaos is the result of long-standing religious divisions, rather than imperialist interventions. --PG

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    Sectarianism not the root cause of Middle East chaos

    Source: Red Flag

    17 January 2016 | Corey Oakley

    For the vast majority of commentators and politicians, who neither anticipated nor wanted the unruly democratic uprising of the masses that was the 2011 Arab revolt, the region’s subsequent descent into sectarian violence has been a welcome relief.

    It appears to them a vindication of all the stale orientalist tropes with which they deny the possibility of a Middle East ruled by its people rather than colonialists or vicious local despots.

    “See?”, they say. “The Arabs were never cut out for democracy. Their archaic religion is the antithesis of the revolutionary demands of equality and self-rule that animated the protests from Tahrir Square to Damascus in 2011. The Arab world is wracked by ancient prejudices that if not held in check by a strong state will lead to the complete collapse of social order.”

  • In memory of Ellen Meiksins Wood

    Vivek Chibber outlines the significant contributions of the Marxist scholar Ellen Meiksins Wood, who died of cancer at the age of 73 on January 14. For an excellent collection of Wood's writings, check out The Ellen Meiksins Wood Reader (Haymarket Books, 2013). --PG

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    Remembering Ellen Meiksins Wood

    Source: Jacobin


    Ellen Meiksins Wood showed so many of us what it means to be a committed intellectual.

    by Vivek Chibber

    Ellen Meiksins Wood passed away yesterday after a long struggle with cancer. Wood was a thinker of extraordinary range, writing with authority on ancient Greece, early modern political thought, contemporary political theory, Marxism, and the structure and evolution of modern capitalism.

    But even more importantly, she was one of those enchanted few from the New Left who never relented in their commitment to socialist politics. In fact, it was with her 1986 book The Retreat from Class that she burst onto the stage as a major presence on the intellectual left.

  • Donna Murch on the real MLK

    Rutgers history professor Donna Murch refutes some myths about MLK. More on the real MLK here and here. --PG

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    Five myths about Martin Luther King

    Source: Washington Post

    By Donna Murch January 15

    The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. is a historical figure every school child knows, one of the few from American history sculpted into a monument on the Mall. Yet much of his activism is misunderstood, even by some who seek to honor him. In the midst of protests by young African Americans in cities and on campuses across the country, King’s life and legacy remain profoundly relevant. As the holiday bearing his name approaches, here are five myths about the civil rights icon.

    1. King believed in a color-blind society.

  • Chris Williams on the fight to save the Gila River

    Must-read essay by ecosocialist Chris Williams on the fight to stop a $1billion river diversion project in the upper reaches of the last free-running river in New Mexico. Just including the opening paragraphs here, because you need to visit the original to see the accompanying photos. --PG

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    The Battle to Save New Mexico's Last Wild River

    Source: Truthout

    Thursday, 07 January 2016 00:00

    By Chris Williams

    "Somehow the watercourse is to dry country what the face is to human beauty. Mutilate it and the whole is gone."—Aldo Leopold, Conservationist in Mexico, 1937

    "… these subsidized water projects, they're not really intended to serve growth, or to meet growth, they're intended to create it."—interview with M.H. "Dutch" Salmon, author of ¡Gila Libre!, August 2015

    New Mexico's Gila is not a big river. At least, once it has left the state, along its lower reaches, it's not a big river anymore: Once it wends its dammed and diverted way through Arizona, it becomes a dry, sandy-bottomed reminder of a once living, powerful water course several miles wide - the epicenter of human cultures stretching back millennia. But now a new threat, closer to its source in New Mexico, has returned.

  • Why the Paris Talks Won't Stop Climate Disaster

    To keep global warming to no more than 2 degrees Celsius would require leaving most fossil fuels in the ground. That means taking on the immense power of the fossil fuel corporations, something that the United States and the governments of other major economies are not willing to do. Unless we are able to build a mass climate justice movement that can force them to take meaningful action, we are going off the climate cliff. --PG

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    Paris Climate Talks Avoid Scientists’ Idea of ‘Carbon Budget’

    Source: New York Times

    By JUSTIN GILLIS NOV. 28, 2015

    After two decades of talks that failed to slow the relentless pace of global warming, negotiators from almost 200 countries are widely expected to sign a deal in the next two weeks to take concrete steps to cut emissions.

    The prospect of progress, any progress, has elicited cheers in many quarters. The pledges that have already been announced “represent a clear and determined down payment on a new era of climate ambition from the global community of nations,” said Christiana Figueres, executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, in a statement a month ago.

    Yet the negotiators gathering in Paris will not be discussing any plan that comes close to meeting their own stated goal of limiting the increase of global temperatures to a reasonably safe level.

  • Understanding Trump's right-wing bigotry

    Good analysis of Donald Trump's politics. It is not accurate to call Trump a fascist, but his toxic brew of xenophobia, racism, and bigotry is nonetheless extremely dangerous. --PG

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    Corporate Press Fails to Trump Bigotry

    Source: FAIR

    Sep 17, 2015

    By Chip Berlet

    The outlandish rhetoric of Republican presidential wildcard Donald Trump has left many journalists at a loss for words—words such as bigotry, xenophobia, racism, sexism and demagoguery.

    Some media outlets raised these issues. Yet many reporters (or perhaps their editors) still seem reluctant to move past the aphasic and simplistic sports-reporting model, in which ideological content analysis is renounced.

    An example of a typical article is the piece on Trump’s stump speech by Michael Finnegan and Kurtis Lee in the Los Angeles Times (9/15/15). It is well-written, colorful and even includes the obligatory single sentence from an anti-Trump protester. Yet there is little serious political or historic context.

  • Lessons from Alabama Communists in the 1930s

    Fascinating interview with historian Robin Kelley on the 25th anniversary of Hammer and Hoe, his classic study of Communists in the U.S. South during the Great Depression. More from Kelley here. --PG

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    What a Band of 20th-Century Alabama Communists Can Teach Black Lives Matter and the Offspring of Occupy

    Source: The Nation

    On the 25th anniversary of the groundbreaking history, Hammer and Hoe, author Robin D.G. Kelley discusses the lessons Alabama’s forgotten black communists can offer today’s activists.

    By Sarah Jaffe
    August 31, 2015

    When historian Robin D. G. Kelley began work in the 1980s on what would become his classic work of radical history, Hammer and Hoe: Alabama Communists During the Great Depression, he was surrounded by activism. There was an uprising against police violence in Liberty City, Florida; multiracial coalitions propelled Harold Washington to the mayor’s office in Chicago; and the presidential campaign of Jesse Jackson was gathering steam. As a young activist and campus organizer, Kelley was part of the movement that pushed the University of California system to divest from its holdings in South Africa, but he was also discovering a tradition of black radical organizing closer to home—that of the Communist Party in Alabama.

  • Why racism and specieism can't be equated

    Very good article by Sarah Grey and Joe Cleffie. A lot of critics misrepresent Singer's views—they take on what he actually says and show what's wrong with it. --PG

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    Peter Singer’s Race Problem

    Source: Jacobin


    We can’t equate the horrendous treatment of animals with the oppression of people.

    by Sarah Grey & Joe Cleffie

    On May 27, 2015, as the US Supreme Court deliberated about the marriage rights of same-sex couples and the legacy of the Voting Rights Act, a New York Times interview with utilitarian bioethicist Peter Singer, famous for his philosophical work on animal liberation, asked us to consider another kind of bias: speciesism.

    Speciesism, as Singer defines it, is “an attitude of bias against a being because of the species to which it “belongs” — in short, discrimination against nonhuman animals. “Humans show speciesism,” he explains, “when they give less weight to the interests of nonhuman animals than they give to the similar interests of human beings.”

    Singer does not think it is speciesist to think human life is more important than that of nonhuman animals in some instances. It is only speciesist to say human life is always more important.

  • Greece: the struggle continues

    After pushing brutal austerity measures through parliament on Wednesday, Greek prime minister Alexis Tsipras has now sacked left-wing members of the cabinet who opposed him. But the fight against the new Memorandum imposed by Greece's European creditors is continuing both inside and outside parliament. --PG

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    New battle lines drawn in Greece

    Source: Red Flag

    17 July 2015 | Colleen Bolger

    The post-referendum political turmoil has reset the political situation in Greece.

    On one hand, the betrayal of the 61 percent who voted against the 26 June draft agreement has undone the pre-referendum momentum. The working class again has been demobilised.

    On the other, the beleaguered Tsipras now faces a revolt inside Syriza – precisely the situation he called the referendum to avoid. The mutiny began last weekend, when two MPs, Ioanna Gaitani and Elena Psarea from the Red Network in the Left Platform of Syriza, voted against giving the prime minister the authority to broker a capitulation to the country’s creditors. More than half a dozen others abstained, including parliamentary speaker Zoe Konstantopoulou. By doing so, they laid down the gauntlet; from there, opposition hardened among Left Platform MPs.

  • Unraveling the Greek crisis

    Very helpful analysis of the latest developments in Greece from Red Flag, newspaper of Socialist Alternative in Australia. --PG

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    Ruptures in Syriza, Greece and Europe

    Source: Red Flag

    12 July 2015 | Colleen Bolger

    In the early hours of Friday morning, the prime minister of Greece, Alexis Tsipras, won the consent of the Hellenic Parliament to pay off the blackmailers.

    He gave up the pensioners. He gave up the public servants still with jobs. He gave up the people who will not be able to afford food and coffee when the VAT is increased to 23 percent. He has given in and when he did, he gave up 61 percent of the population who resoundingly voted no to austerity in the 5 July referendum to an agreement that arguably is better than what he has proposed this weekend.

    German chancellor Angela Merkel and European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker were livid after the no vote. They moved to tighten the strangulation of the Greek banking system and threaten Grexit – to punish the Greek people and to increase the pressure on Tsipras to buckle. It has worked.

    However, it is not clear that the European establishment will accept a Greek surrender. German finance minister Wolfgang Schäuble has called for a “time out”, a temporary Grexit.

  • The fight for water rights in Kenya

    Analysis of an environmental struggle in Kenya by Chris Williams. Go to the original for the accompanying photo essay by Maria Davis. --PG

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    Damming the future

    Source: Truthout

    The struggle to protect Kenya's Ewaso Ngiro river

    Wednesday, 17 June 2015 00:00
    By Chris Williams, Truthout | News Analysis

    "Had the local district officer not had a swimming pool filled with clean water, maybe there would have been more for us to drink."

    - Bildad Kaggia, Kenyan trade union leader and Central Committee member of the Mau Mau. Prisoner, 1952-61, Lokitaung, British isolation camp for political prisoners convicted of using, "their power and influence over the less educated Africans [to implement] this foul scheme of driving Europeans from Kenya." (1)

    "The future of Kenya is entirely in the hands of the indigenous people."

    - Kaunga, indigenous rights activist, organizer of the Camel Caravan

  • Sam Farber assesses the Cuban revolution

    Sam Farber on the accomplishments and limitations of the Cuban revolution. Also see Sam's recent reflections on whether Cuba should remain a one-party state. --PG

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    Cuba's Challenge

    Source: Jacobin


    What did the Cuban Revolution accomplish and where can it go from here?

    by Samuel Farber

    When in the 1950s, along with many of my high school classmates, I became involved in the struggle against Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista, one of our teachers remarked that we had no real reason to criticize the state of our country because so many other nations in the region — such as Bolivia and Haiti — were much worse off than us.

    His description of Cuba’s comparative position was accurate, but incomplete. On the eve of the 1959 Revolution, Cuba had the fourth highest per capita income in Latin America, after Venezuela, Uruguay, and Argentina.

    And although average per capita income is an insufficient, and sometimes misleading, indicator of general economic development, other indicators support his picture of the pre-revolutionary Cuban economy: in 1953, Cuba also ranked fourth in Latin America according to an average of twelve indexes covering such items as percentage of labor force employed in mining, manufacturing, and construction, percentage of literate persons, per capita electric power, newsprint, and caloric food consumption.

  • New evidence on origin of women's oppression

    A new study provides support for the Marxist view that sex inequality is not natural. More here. The study itself is here. --PG

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    Early men and women were equal, say scientists

    Source: The Guardian

    Study shows that modern hunter-gatherer tribes operate on egalitarian basis, suggesting inequality was an aberration that came with the advent of agriculture

    Hannah Devlin Science correspondent

    Thursday 14 May 2015 17.58 EDT
    Last modified on Friday 15 May 2015 03.46 EDT

    Our prehistoric forebears are often portrayed as spear-wielding savages, but the earliest human societies are likely to have been founded on enlightened egalitarian principles, according to scientists.

    A study has shown that in contemporary hunter-gatherer tribes, men and women tend to have equal influence on where their group lives and who they live with. The findings challenge the idea that sexual equality is a recent invention, suggesting that it has been the norm for humans for most of our evolutionary history.

    Mark Dyble, an anthropologist who led the study at University College London, said: “There is still this wider perception that hunter-gatherers are more macho or male-dominated. We’d argue it was only with the emergence of agriculture, when people could start to accumulate resources, that inequality emerged.”

  • Mumia gravely ill—call prison & governor asap!

    Please call right away. More background here. --PG

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    Mumia's condition grave: Take Action

    Source: Prison Radio

    Dateline: Friday April 24th, 8:45pm

    Mumia Abu-Jamal was seen today by his wife and his condition has worsened. He, is gravely ill. We are asking everyone to call the prison. Right now. It may be late, but call whenever you get this.

    Mumia needs 24 hour care and supervision. He can not be in this condition in general population. In this state he may not be able ask for help, he may lose consciousness. He is too weak. (He was released from the infirmary two days ago).

    His condition: He is extremely swollen in his neck, chest, legs, and his skin is worse than ever, with open sores. He was not in a wheelchair, but can only take baby steps. He is very weak. He was nodding off during the visit. He was not able to eat- he was fed with a spoon. These are symptoms that could be associated with hyper glucose levels, diabetic shock, diabetic coma, and with kidney stress and failure.

    Please call these numbers, and any other numbers you have for the Prison and the Governor.

    Demand that Mumia Abu-Jamal see a doctor ASAP. Right Now!
    Demand that the prison officials call his wife Wadiya Jamal and his lawyer Bret Grote immediately.

  • What next for Greece?

    Important analysis by Stathis Kouvelakis. --PG

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    Greece: The Noose Tightens

    Source: Jacobin


    There are only three options remaining for the Syriza government.

    by Stathis Kouvelakis

    Events in Greece have taken a dramatic turn, and insolvency is at the gates. On April 20, the Greek government issued a decree forcing local authorities to place cash reserves at the Bank of Greece.

    Two days later, Dimitris Mardas, the deputy minister of finance in charge of state revenue, declared that €400 million were missing to pay for pensions and salaries at the end of the month. A few hours later, he said the money was found and that he was now trying to constitute cash reserves. But according to sources, Mardas informed Syriza members of parliament at a meeting that same day that the state reserves wouldn’t be able to make all payments in May.

    And that’s despite, in terms of debt payments, May being a relatively “easy” month, with only €750 million due to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), plus another 400 million in interest payments.

  • Eric Foner on Reconstruction

    Excellent summary of the importance of Reconstruction by the pre-eminent historian of the period. Foner is interviewed here "about growing up in a politically active family (both his father and uncle were blacklisted American historians), his encounters and interactions with figures from Paul Robeson and W. E. B. DuBois to Richard Hofstadter and Eugene Genovese, and his thoughts on contemporary politics." There is another recent interview here and here. --PG

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    Why Reconstruction Matters

    Source: New York Times

    By ERIC FONER MARCH 28, 2015

    THE surrender of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee at Appomattox Court House, 150 years ago next month, effectively ended the Civil War. Preoccupied with the challenges of our own time, Americans will probably devote little attention to the sesquicentennial of Reconstruction, the turbulent era that followed the conflict. This is unfortunate, for if any historical period deserves the label “relevant,” it is Reconstruction.

    Issues that agitate American politics today — access to citizenship and voting rights, the relative powers of the national and state governments, the relationship between political and economic democracy, the proper response to terrorism — all of these are Reconstruction questions. But that era has long been misunderstood.

  • Chomsky on the role of racism in U.S. history

    Interview with Noam Chomsky on the deep historical roots of racism in U.S. society. --PG

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    Noam Chomsky on the Roots of American Racism

    Source: New York Times

    March 18, 2005

    This is the eighth in a series of interviews with philosophers on race that I am conducting for The Stone. This week’s conversation is with Noam Chomsky, a linguist, political philosopher and one of the world’s most prominent public intellectuals. He is the author of many books, including, most recently, “On Western Terrorism: From Hiroshima to Drone Warfare,” with Andre Vltchek.

    – George Yancy

    George Yancy: When I think about the title of your book “On Western Terrorism,” I’m reminded of the fact that many black people in the United States have had a long history of being terrorized by white racism, from random beatings to the lynching of more than 3,000 black people (including women) between 1882 and 1968. This is why in 2003, when I read about the dehumanizing acts committed at Abu Ghraib prison, I wasn’t surprised. I recall that after the photos appeared President George W. Bush said that “This is not the America I know.” But isn’t this the America black people have always known?

  • Bolivia's fight against capitalism

    Excellent article by Chris Williams and Marcela Olivera on Bolivia. Check the original site for the photographs that accompany it. --PG

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    Can Bolivia chart a sustainable path away from capitalism?

    Source: Truthout

    Wednesday, 28 January 2015 10:04

    By Chris Williams and Marcela Olivera, Truthout | News Analysis

    As through so much of its history, the small Andean nation of Bolivia sits at the center of a whirlwind of political, social and climatological questions. Arguably, no other country thus far in the 21st century raises the question of an "exit strategy" from neoliberal capitalism more concretely, and with greater possibility and hope, than Bolivia. That hope is expressed specifically in the ruling party, MAS, or Movement Toward Socialism. The country's leader, former coca farmer and union organizer Evo Morales - South America's first indigenous leader since pre-colonial times - was overwhelmingly elected to his third term of office in 2014. Morales has broadly popularized the Quechua term pachamama, which denotes a full commitment to ecological sustainability, and public hopes remain high that he'll guide the country toward realizing that principle.

  • Explaining the U.S.-Cuba agreement

    Good analysis of developments in Cuba and what lies behind the recent shift in U.S.-Cuban relations. --PG

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    Cuba: coming in from the cold?

    Source: rs21

    February 2, 2015

    After 17 Cuban prisoners were freed by the US in December, Mike Gonzalez charts the recent deal between Washington and Havana and asks if this really is the end of an era with the lifting of the embargo

    As an internationally recognized artist, you would expect Leonardo Padura Fuentes, Cuba’s outstanding contemporary writer, to be aware of major changes in his own country. So it was odd to read in an interview with a Chilean newspaper that the announcement of an agreement between Washington and Havana came as a complete surprise to him, as it did to most Cubans, and indeed most Latin Americans. Even Cuba’s most important ally, Venezuela, was caught unawares, though it is now living through the extremely damaging repercussions of the deal.

  • Ian Birchall on secularism

    This article, written in 2005 by the British socialist Ian Birchall, is an excellent summary of a Marxist approach to religion and secularism, highly relevant to the discussions that have been taking place in the aftermath of the Charlie Hebdo killings. --PG

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    So what is secularism?

    Source: Grim and Dim

    This article appeared in What Next? No. 30, in response to Andrew Coates’s article “In Defence of Militant Secularism” in No. 29 Coates’s reply. “An Enlightened Response to Ian Birchall” appeared in No. 31

    Andrew Coates’ article ‘In Defence of Militant Secularism’ (What Next 29) calls for a reply. In attempting to produce one, I shall try to avoid the polemical style which Coates has adopted. Thus he puts the word ‘Islamophobia’ in inverted commas, as though no such phenomenon existed. (Anyone who doubts that Islamophobia as a phenomenon distinct from, though not unrelated to, racism, might consult

  • Spain: The rise of Podemos

    This is the first part of an analysis of Podemos, the new left-wing party in Spain. Part Two and Part Three are on the Left Flank website. --PG

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    Understanding Podemos (1/3): 15-M & counter-politics

    Source: Left Flank

    November 5, 2014

    By Luke Stobart

    What Podemos’s present success reveals is the breakdown, the crisis or the collapse (choose the term you prefer) of the Spanish party system. Because in reality the Transition regime is sinking like the Titanic and Podemos is merely the iceberg that caused this. So as soon as the cock crowed on 25-M, all the captains aboard began to jump ship: firstly [PSOE leader] Rubalcaba, then the King, later [the Catalan conservative] Durán, … It is a regime crisis because its previous dominant coalition, until now formed by an imperfect three-party set (PSOE, PP and [regional nationalists]), has lost the ability to impose its cultural hegemony.

    —Podemos critic Enrique Gil Calvo in El País, 18 August 2014

    Three years ago, the PSOE and the PP said to the people in the squares with 15-M that they should stand in the elections, and they don’t say this any more.

  • January elections in Greece

    Greece is heading to the polls in late January after its parliament failed to elect a new national president, with a strong chance that the radical left, anti-austerity SYRIZA coalition will win the most seats and form the next government. As Owen Jones explains in this article published before the election was called, the pressures on a SYRIZA government by Greek capitalists, the European Union, and international finance to abandon its program will be immense, and its success or failure will have a big impact on the prospects of the left internationally. More commentary from Costas Lapavitsas here. --PG

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    Greece’s radical left could kill off austerity in the EU

    Source: The Guardian

    Owen Jones

    If Syriza wins a possible snap poll in the new year, positive repercussions could be felt across Europe

    Monday 22 December 2014 01.00 EST

    Another war looms in Europe: waged not with guns and tanks, but with financial markets and EU diktats. Austerity-ravaged Greece may well be on the verge of a general election that could bring to power a government unequivocally opposed to austerity. Momentous stuff: that has not happened in the six years of cuts and falling living standards that followed the collapse of Lehman Brothers.

    But if the radical leftist party Syriza does indeed triumph in a possible snap poll in the new year, there will undoubtedly be a concerted attempt to choke the experiment at birth. That matters not just for Greece, but for all of us who want a different sort of society and a break from years of austerity.

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