Monthly Archives: September 2019

Book review. Insurgent Empire: Anticolonial Resistance and British Dissent by Priyamvada Gopal

Book review. Insurgent Empire: Anticolonial Resistance and British Dissent by Priyamvada Gopal
by Ian Sinclair
Peace News
October-November 2019

Written by University of Cambridge Reader Priyamvada Gopal, Insurgent Empire confronts the now infamous 2014 YouGov poll which found 59 percent of Britons thought the British empire was “something to be proud of”.

Resistance to empire was frequent, she notes, with connections formed between critics of imperialism based in the UK and rebels in the colonies. Furthermore, she argues a form of “reverse tutelage” took place, with insurgents and the movements they led shaping the discussion back in the UK: “the resistance of the periphery helped radicalise sections of the metropole.”

Rather than a comprehensive narrative history of this opposition, the book focusses on specific, influential crises, with Gopal conducting close analytical readings of primary sources, including speeches, pamphlets, books and newspaper reports. The case studies range from the well-known (the so-called Indian Mutiny of 1857 and the Mau Mau uprising in Kenya) to largely forgotten conflicts – in Britain at least – such as the 1865 revolt in Morant Bay, Jamaica and the British invasion of Egypt in 1882. Overlaying this are fascinating portraits of dissidents like Chartist Ernest Jones, Wilfred Blunt, Communist MP Shapurji Saklatvala and anti-war activist Fenner Brockway.

With over 90 pages of references and a huge bibliography, Insurgent Empire is a tour de force likely to shape the debate on empire for years to come. However, its academic tone, especially in the introduction, means peace and anti-imperialism activists may not find it the most accessible or directly useful read.

Despite this, I think it’s an important activist resource for at least three reasons. First, by showcasing contemporary critics of British colonialism it demolishes the apologist argument that contemporary critics are judging the British empire by 21st century moral standards.

Second, the book highlights episodes which shows establishment propaganda today has a long historical pedigree. For example, Gopal highlights how prior to the British invasion, the British “press and official sources had taken a virulent pleasure in painting [leading Egyptian nationalist] Urabi, as a ‘military oppressor’ and ‘dictator’”. Elsewhere a 1907 article from Indian philosopher Aurobondo Ghose is cited, noting how the English are happy to hear tales of Russian tyranny but seem impervious to hearing “home truths about England’s dominion in Hindusthan.”

Most of all, as Gopal concludes, “these lines of resistance and genealogies of dissent” will “give heart and hope to those who look toward a more fully decolonised future for both Britain and the postcolonial world.”

Insurgent Empire: Anticolonial Resistance and British Dissent by Priyamvada Gopal is published by Verso, priced £25.

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First we stop London City Airport, then Heathrow

First we stop London city Airport, then Heathrow
by Ian Sinclair
Morning Star
21 August 2019

On a muggy evening last month over 100 people attended a public meeting in a school hall in Wanstead, east London to hear about the proposed expansion of London City Airport (LCY).

Opened in 1987, the airport primarily services business travellers and the City, handling approximately 80,000 flights and 4.8 million passengers in 2018 (there is an annual cap of 111,000 flights).

The airport’s new masterplan proposes a maximum of 151,000 flights and 11 million passengers a year by 2035, and more flights early in the morning and late at night (night flights are not allowed). In addition the airport proposes dropping the weekend break that is currently in place for residents living under the airport’s flight paths – there are no flights from 12:30 on Saturdays to 12:30 on Sundays.

These would be “modest changes”, said Sean Bashforth, Director of Quod, LCY’s planning advisors since 2006. “We are committing to no noisier aircraft than fly at the moment.”

This attempt to placate opposition mirrors the airport’s slick public relations campaign, which is full of assurances about the expansion. “This is not going to be significant or uncontrolled growth”, Robert Sinclair, Chief Executive of LCY, told the BBC recently. “It will be done in a way that is very, very sustainable and responsible, and incremental.”

In contrast, John Stewart, Chair of HACAN East, a campaign group giving a voice to residents impacted by the airport, told the meeting “City Airport’s assurances in the past have not been good”.

“We were told it would be a small airport” when it was first built, he explained. “Then a series of planning applications went through and it got bigger and bigger, so the size of the airport now is a totally different beast to the one that was promised… I think that’s why there is mistrust and there is anxiety about the future”.

The proposed expansion would likely lead to nearly double the number of flights at the airport. “The density of the population around London City exceeds that of any other airport in the UK”, noted a briefing paper from HACAN East. Therefore, LCY “impacts more people than any UK airport bar Heathrow and Manchester”, with 74,000 people living within its “noise zone”, as defined by the EU.

“Major studies and reviews have concluded that aircraft noise is negatively affecting health and quality of life”, a 2016 report from the NGO Aviation Environment Federation (AEF) observed. “Exposure to aircraft noise can lead to short-term responses such as sleep disturbance, annoyance, and impairment of learning in children, and long-term exposure is associated with increased risk of high blood pressure, heart disease, heart attack, stroke and dementia.”

“There is evidence to suggest that aircraft noise may also lead to long-term mental health issues”, the AEF added.

Speaking at the meeting John Cryer, Labour MP for Leyton and Wanstead, said he has written to the government asking for an inquiry into the effects of air and noise pollution on communities living close to airports: “There has never been a government inquiry into this and I think it’s about time that we had that.”

In addition to noise levels, climate change is increasingly a concern for many people. In April the Guardian noted “Worldwide, aviation is one of the fastest growing sectors for greenhouse gas emissions, which increased by 76.1% between 1990 and 2012, according to the UN’s climate body.” Paying lip-service to the ongoing shift in public opinion on climate change engendered by Extinction Rebellion (XR) and the student climate strikes, Liam McKay, the Director of Corporate Affairs at LCY, told the meeting “Carbon is very important… The airport is committed to being net-zero by 2050”.

A young woman in the audience wasn’t impressed. “I am a Mum. I’m going to have two little girls who are going to be living in this country and this world in 70, 80, 100 years’ time. And you are talking about continuing to expand the ruination of our environment.” To applause she directly asked the representatives from LCA “Do you have children? Do you care about what happens to their future?”

And LCY’s impressive-sounding commitment to be “net-zero by 2050”? Turns out this refers to the airport estate itself – not the hundreds of thousands of flights in and out of the airport, of course.

There are indications the government is waking up to aviation’s key role in exacerbating the climate crisis. In its report recommending the adoption of a net-zero carbon target by 2050, the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) raises the possibility of constraining aviation demand, noting they plan to write to the government about “its approach to aviation” later this year.

Similarly in May 2019 the BBC News website reported that a senior civil servant from the Department of Transport had said it may be necessary to review the UK’s expected aviation growth in light of the CCC’s report.

Interviewed by the Morning Star earlier this month, Dr Declan Finney, a post-doctoral researcher at the University of Leeds, and Dr Giulio Mattioli, a research associate at TU-Dortmund in Germany, were blunter in their analysis: “expanding airports is not a neutral technical measure, it’s a political choice with important consequences. And it flies in the face of the Climate Emergency declaration passed by the House of Commons.”

Stewart, as readers may be aware, has form when it comes to opposing airport expansion, having led the campaign which stopped the proposed Third Runway at Heathrow in 2010 – one of the biggest and most important wins for grassroots activism in post-war UK history.

In his inspiring pamphlet Victory Against All The Odds: The Story Of How The Campaign To Stop A Third Runway At Heathrow Was Won, Stewart highlights the central role played by direct action activists – Plane Stupid – in this victory. “As well as dramatizing the issue, it put real pressure on the Government and frightened the construction industry in a way that conventional campaigning on its [own] could not have done”, Stewart explains about the direct action undertaken in the 1990s opposing road building, and why he was so happy when Plane Stupid started campaigning on Heathrow.

On LCY’s proposed expansion, it is possible Stewart will, once again, be joined in his campaign by direct action activists. In a newly published memo discussing XR’s strategy and tactics moving forward, Rupert Read, a member of the group’s political strategy team, discusses focussing on aviation. “Target London City Airport, rather than Heathrow”, he suggests, arguing the fight to stop LCY expansion is “more easily winnable” than stopping Heathrow expansion.

“Because London City is overwhelmingly used by business people and the rich, and offers little benefit to the local community” Read believes “it would be a perfect opportunity to land the message that, while we all have a responsibility to prevent ecocide together, it is big business, the super-rich and the City that bears the heaviest responsibility.”

“If we stopped London City Airport expansion, we could then move onto Heathrow afterwards”, he concludes.

Let’s hope, for the sake of the young woman with two children, local residents and, indeed, the entire planet, that Extinction Rebellion turns its attention to aviation, including the expansion of London City Airport, very soon.

Visit http://www.hacaneast.org.uk for more information about the campaign. Follow Ian on Twitter @IanJSinclair

Book review. Systems Change Not Climate Change: A Revolutionary Response To Environmental Crisis edited by Martin Empson

Book review. Systems Change Not Climate Change: A Revolutionary Response To Environmental Crisis edited by Martin Empson
by Ian Sinclair
Morning Star
2 September 2019

Systems Change Not Climate Change is a collection of eleven essays from members of the Socialist Workers Party (SWP) and other socialist authors.

Writing in the introduction Martin Empson argues the multiple environmental crises which pose an existential threat to humanity – including climate change and biodiversity loss – are caused by “the nature of capitalist society.” Therefore “those who argue that we should change our individual lifestyles – giving up cars or flying, changing to a vegan or vegetarian diet – are missing the point”, he maintains. “We need to challenge the very existence of those fossil fuel corporations and the system that needs them.”

Ian Rappel’s critique of the increasingly neoliberal idea of “natural capital” is thought-provoking, as is Camilla Royle’s discussion of the politics surrounding the concept of the Anthropocene. I was particularly struck by Amy Leather’s point that “nothing sums up the irrationality of capitalism more than” single use plastics – “materials that can last practically forever are used to make products designed to be thrown away.”

As much as the book is a sign the SWP is now making the climate crisis a priority in terms of campaigning it is very welcome.

However, I found myself deeply frustrated by many of the authors’ cult-like reverence for Karl Marx and Frederick Engels. Incredibly smart political philosophers they might have been, but how useful are their nineteenth century writings in terms of understanding climate change today? In addition, the book seems to have come out of a closed, small circle of peer review and citation – a huge red flag in serious academic research. For example, Royle’s chapter cites Canadian socialist Ian Angus and Monthly Review editor John Bellamy Foster, Judith Orr and Chris Harman from the SWP, and “benefitted from feedback” from Rappel and Empson and the SWP’s Alex Callinicos and Joseph Choonara.

Accordingly, the reader is repeatedly told “we must replace capitalism with a socialist system” to solve the climate and environmental crises. How this admirable goal sits with the March 2019 statement from the United Nations explaining the world has “just over a decade… to stop irreversible damage from climate change”, and experts warning deep emissions cuts need to happen in the next few years, is never explored. Indeed, this incredibly short timescale strongly suggests activists in the UK and beyond will almost certainly have to work out how to force radical action from within the existing capitalist system.

Systems Change Not Climate Change: A Revolutionary Response To Environmental Crisis is published by Bookmarks, priced £8.