Wednesday, December 24, 2008

A Happy Soviet Christmas To One and All !

'A bit of fun for the time of year thats in it, and of course wishing all the regular readers of Unrepentant' a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year in 2009, thanks also to those who nominated this blog into the top 100 political blogs here , I have no idea who ran the chart and was unaware of its existence until someone told me about it, but thanks anyway. The blog is regularly attracting a goodly amount of traffic from around the globe, and thanks for all those of you have commented on the variety of postings put up by my angelic self over the year.

Its sometimes forgotten that in the USSR there was a whole festive period focussed around the New Year, this is further complicated by the fact the Russian Orthodox 'Christmas' is of course celebrated later than the western worlds.But this is not simply a product of official atheism under of Soviet times -- even in tsarist times, New Year's was the day associated with decorated trees, ''Santa,'' and the exchanging of gifts, because Christmas was not a festive holy day for Russian Orthodox Christianity. (Which, of course, observes Christmas in early January, since Eastern Orthodoxy never switched from the Julian to the Gregorian calendar.)

I'm not sure when the "New Year's Tree" custom developed in Russia, though it wouldn't surprise me if, like most non-Germans, they got the idea via Queen Victoria, who popularized what had been a strictly German custom in honor of her German husband.

I did receive quite a few Soviet Christmas/New year cards in the 1980's, but I like most other people I suppose dumped them. I was interested to find that there is now a band of Soviet christmas memorabilia collectors, who make a hobby of collecting the old Soviet Christmas cards of the past. I can understand why, they were always well designed, beautifully coloured and were as full of christmassy kitsch as anything on offer in the West. One such collector is Boris Glazer lives in Ekaterinburg, Russia. When asked how he began his soviet christmas card collection he said

"As always, it began in childhood. New Year in the Soviet Union was the only official holiday not connected with communist ideology. In those days, it was the main winter holiday--a mix of Christmas and New Year. The Christmas Tree was substituted with New Year Tree. The star on its top was considered as the small sister of the Kremlin stars. But it did not spoil an atmosphere of a holiday, fun, kindness, and hope. In those days, when even telephone was not in each family, people congratulated each other with postcards. My grandmother had a lot of relatives in all corners of the USSR and they actively exchanged congratulations. When she passed away, there were few hundreds cards left after her which gave a start to my collection. The collection gradually grew and replenished, and later, when I was engaged in graphic design and programming, one of my projects consist in creation of a mosaic from New Year's cards. The part from these scanned cards can be seen on my site....My favorite cards are from '50s. It is the time of blossoming of socialist realism in the USSR. I very much like these detailed realistic images. And my wife loves cards from '60s when images became more abstract and flat. These were the times of the Iron Curtain and the first space flights. The postcards of that period combine a nice (sometimes "international" looking) drawing style with Russian national fairytale characters and impudent Soviet propaganda. Good old soviet kitsch!..."
Interesting to see that the New Year was a time for children and families greeting each other in the USSR too , fulfilling a similar role as Christmas in the western world today, also interesting to observe that as was the case with many many aspects of Soviet life, there was space given for fun and festivities in contrast to the image of unremitting gloom which is the stereotypical image of Soviet life we are all expected to believe to this day....

Have a Wonderful Christmas and a Peaceful 2009 !

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Brian Cowen Does NOT Respect the Irish Peoples Choice on Lisbon

Taoiseach Brian Cowen's hypocrisy in pretending to "respect" the people's referendum vote on Lisbon is now evident, for not a jot or tittle of Lisbon will be altered when he forces the people to vote on it a second time next year.
Political Declarations or promises regarding future Treaties that are not yet even drafted will not alter a comma of the Lisbon Treaty.If people vote Yes in Lisbon Two to exactly the same Treaty which they voted No to last June they will be changing the Irish Constitution so as to recognise the supremacy of the law of the new Union which Lisbon would establish over anything contrary, whether in the Irish Constitution or in political Declarations and promises that might be tacked on to Lisbon.

No political Declarations or promises about commitments and even Protocols in future EU Treaties can change Lisbon or the supremacy of the EU Court of Justice in interpreting that Treaty's provisions. These will have come into force well before any further EU Treaty or Treaties will even be negotiated.

If the Irish media and public opinion allow themselves to be taken in by the kind of presentational trickery Taoiseach Cowen and his Government are now planning, they could be making themselves the laughing stock of Europe.

A promise by the 27 EU Governments that each Member State can keep a Commissioner permanently under Lisbon is valueless in the light of that Treaty's provision that from 2014 Member States will lose their right to decide who their national commissioner will be.

For under Lisbon (Article 17.7, amended Treaty on European Union) a Government's present right to decide would be replaced by a right to make "suggestions" only, for the incoming Commission President to decide (See notes below elaborating on this point).

Under the present Nice Treaty arrangements Member States would retain permanently their right to decide who their national Commissioner is - a right which they would lose under Lisbon.

The Nice Treaty requires that the number of Commissioners should be fewer than the number of Member States from 2009, but by an unspecified number to be agreed unanimously.

This requirement of the present Nice-based Treaties can be abided by, and Ireland and the other States can keep a national Commissioner permanently, by the simple expedient of reducing the number of Commissioners from 27 to 26 and permitting whoever holds the job of "High Representative for EU Foreign and Security Policy" - currently Spain's Javier Solana - to attend Commission meetings instead of being formally titled a Commissioner from that State.

This can and should be done under the Nice Treaty. This would mean that the Commission arrangements would continue virtually unchanged from the present. Ireland woud retain a Commissoner permanently except in the unlikely event of an Irish person being given the even more important job of High Representative.

Taoiseach Cowen and his Government have deliberately sought to isolate and put pressure on their own people by failing to say after the Lisbon referendum last June that Ireland would not ratify Lisbon in view of the people's No vote.

If the Taoiseach had done that, continued ratification by the other EU States would have been pointless, for Lisbon requires ratification by all 27 States before it can come into force for anyone.

Such a stand would have led to the Lisbon Treaty being opened and a chance created for a more democratic rather than less democratic EU through a better Treaty.

The prudent stand now for the Government and for the EU is to wait for the UK general election and the likely advent to office in Britain of a Conservative Government which will be committed to holding a referendum on Lisbon in the UK and recommending a No vote to it, as long as we Irish do not alter our No vote before then.

That would put paid to the attempted isolation of Ireland, which its own Government has connived at.

It would also give our fellow countrymen and women in Northern Ireland a chance to vote on this Treaty-cum-Constitution which would make them real citizens for the first time of an EU that would have the constitutional form of a supranational Federal State run on most undemocratic lines under Franco-German hegemony.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Understanding the Roots of the Great Slump of 2008

The capitalist system has proved very adaptable since Marx described in details its workings in the mid-19th century, not least because the state has become critical to ensuring the survival of capitalism at critical points in recent economic history. Now in 2008, we see the state being rehabilitated once again by the apologists for the free market system, the very people who denounced the role of the state in the economy a few years back. since in many cases throughout the world today, the state is being deployed using tax payers money to bail out the busted financial system.
The thirty years after 1945, saw the dominance of Keynesian economics in the western world, whenever the western economies slowed the state could intervene with an injection of liquidity. For thirty years the business cycle was smoothed and business grew in scope and scale, a process known now as globalisation. With the oil crisis of the 1970's, prompted by the assertion of some control over production by oil producing states, and a huge growth in inflation driven largely by organised labour in the western world seeking a more eqitable share in the wealth created , we see Keynesianism becoming discredited and elbowed aside as the ruling economic orthodoxy by the aggressively right-wing pro-big business approach of monetarism/neo liberal economics.
The advent of neo-liberalism was characterised by FOUR key features,

Firstly;- a direct attack on the bargaining power of organised labour through the demoralisation and fear that arose from mass unemployment. This was expressed by increased legal controls on trade unionism, and the parallel creation of a 'flexible' casualised labour force.

Secondly:- the privatisation of utilities and public services, creating a new and certain stream of income to private corporations.

Thirdly:-the freeing up of capital movements globally, allowing capital to be directed to areas of the world with the most profitable rates of exploitation.The City of London became the primary world centre for currency and commodity speculation, while the UK economy was steadily de-industrialised.

Fourthly:- workers savings for pensions, insurance and housing were transferred into the private sector. With mutuals such as building societies being transformed into plc's.

This 'financialisation' provided a new and critically important mechanism for the extraction of super-normal profit. The bulk of capital in public companies and high street banks now derives from the pension funds and and the savings of both employees and the greatly reduced non-monopoly strata . These funds earn a low and sometimes negative rate of real interest. However, around them lay clustered a complex array of financial vehicles for the very wealthy. Merchant Banks in the 1980's, hedge funds in the 1990's, and private equity and commodity index investors in the 2000's. These operate off-shore, do not pay tax, and secure immense profits. Hedge funds had ana average annual return of 19% throughout the 1990's, and they used our savings for leverage.
This system w as no more immune to capitalisms contradictions than its predecessors. The accelerated accumulation of capital placed pressure on average profit, and the export of capital to countries such as India and China generated huge imbalances in trade and currency reserves . Fatally the system fell prey to the inequality and poverty that itself had created. Workers could no longer afford to buy all the goods produced .
So to keep the casino wheels spinning, governments and banks between themselves colluded in the creation of massive levels of sanctioned debt, above all in mortgages. In the hands of finace capitals investment specialists this became the credit required for one last round of leveraged speculationin property, commodities, and private equity buy-outs.
Then the bubble burst, leaving working people the world over facing unemployment and repossession.
So this current, rapidly deepening world recession, is not about bonuses or the "culture of greed". It is all about recognising that the state for the past 30 years and more has been utilised throughout the western world to facilitate an increased rate of exploitation. Now the state must be rescued from being the handmaid of capital, to being a servant of all the people. For this it is essential that instead of being a sugar-daddy to the corporate sector, the state must take control of savings, pensions, and insurance. When this is achieved it will be possible to direct investment towards the truly productive economy and away from the parasitic economy of the financial sector. Speculative capital transactions must be stopped, tax havens scrapped, and wealth taxed.

When all this is understood, it becomes clear that once again the role of the state in the modern economy is up for serious discussion , and for that reason, the hegemony of neo-liberalism is drawing rapidly to an end, since it is the champions of unregulated capitalism, red in tooth and claw, who are looking increasingly out of touch with the new zeit-geist sweeping all before it.