Thursday, August 13, 2009

Check out my new blog.

I'm not necessarily going to abandon this (although with my lack of posts it would seem that I have already) but I've formed a new blog where I'll be trying to cover the Norwegian election up to when it takes place in the middle of next month so that's where most of my activity is likely to be in the immediate future.

Monday, June 08, 2009

Mixed picture for European radical left

Here's the share of the vote received by all of the main parties of the radical left across Europe in the recent EU parliament elections:

Progressive Party of Working People - 34.9% (+7.0), 2/6 seats (±0)

Czech Republic: Communist Party - 14.2% (-6.1) 4/22 seats (-2)

Denmark: Socialist People’s Party - 15.9% (+7.9), 2/13 seats (+1)
People’s Movement Against the EU - 7.2% (+2.0), 1/13 seats (±0)

Finland: Left Alliance - 5.9% (-3.2), 0/13 seats (-1)

France: Left Front (includes PCF) - 6.3% (+0.4), 5/72 seats (+2)
New Anticapitalist Party - 4.8% (+2.6), 0/72 seats (±0)

Germany: The Left - 7.6% (+1.5), 8/99 seats (+1)

Greece: Communist Party - 8.3% (-1.1%), 2/22 seats (-1)
Coalition of the Radical Left - 4.7% (+0.5), 1/22 seats (±0)

Ireland: Sinn Féin - 11.2% (+0.1), 0/12 seats (-1)
Socialist Party - 2.8% (+1.5), 1/12 seats (+1)

Italy: Refounded Communists/Italian Communists - 3.3% (-5.1%), 0/72 seats (-7)
Left and Freedom - 3.2% (+0.7%), 0/72 seats (-2) compared to Greens last time

Luxembourg: The Left - 3.2% (+1.5), 0/6 seats (±0)

Netherlands: Green Left - 8.9% (+1.5), 3/25 seats (+1)
Socialist Party - 7.1% (+0.1), 2/25 seats (±0)

Portugal: Left Bloc - 10.7% (+5.8%), 3/22 seats (+2)
Communist Party/Green Party - 10.7% (+1.6), 2/22 seats (±0)

Scotland: Scottish Socialist Party - 0.9% (-4.3%), 0/6 seats (±0)

United Left/United & Alternative Left/Catalan Greens - 3.7% (-1.0), 2/50 seats (±0)
Republican Left of Catalonia/Galician Nationalist Bloc/Basque Solidarity/Aralar - 2.5% (+0.1), 1/50 seats (±0)

Sweden: Left Party - 5.6% (-7.1%), 1/18 seats (-1)
Feminist Initiative - 2.2% (+2.2), 0/18 seats (±0)

Overall then an advance compared to last time in Cyprus, Denmark, France, Germany, Ireland, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and Portugal - although in Germany and France the left will be disappointed not to have achieved anything like as much as some recent polls had predicted and the Dutch Socialists are down considerably on the 17% they received in the last national election. The biggest success stories are Denmark and Portugal where the Socialist People's Party and Left Bloc have made huge gains respectively. The differences between both parties are quite stark though with the Socialist People's Party having abandoned much of their radical roots in recent years and instead focussed on cooperation with the Social Democrats and Radical Liberals.

The left meanwhile has less reason to be cheerful in the Czech Republic, Finland, Greece, Italy, Scotland, Spain and Sweden. In Italy especially the defeat is crushing with a loss of all 9 of the MEPs the radical left won last time. However a combined share of 6.7% is nevertheless an improvement on the 3.1% received by the now defunct Left Rainbow coalition in last year's national election. Since then the Refounded Communists have split with the reformist wing breaking off and forming the new Left and Freedom coalition together with Greens and radical Social Democrats. Both received just over 3% which is under the new threshold of 4% required for representation. Further north in Sweden and Finland the left parties also went back considerably and each lost a seat. The Swedish Left Party did do unusually well last time and their result yesterday is roughly the same as what they got in the 2006 parliamentary election. In addition the newly formed Pirate Party has won strong support among young people and has, as a result, undoubtedly dented the Left Party's support.

Here in Scotland the SSP has lost more than 80% of its support compared to last time and while 0.9% is an increase on the 0.6% we received for the Scottish Parliament in 2007 it's hardly anything to celebrate when you get beaten by Nazis and Christian fundamentalists and receive the same vote as an independent who noone's ever heard of. The party's resources are extremely limited and while some people (like myself) could perhaps have done more to help the campaign I really don't think there's anything that would have made too much of a difference. I'd like to be optimistic about the future of the left in Scotland but at the moment we just don't seem to have the political culture to support a proper multiparty system or the sort of popular engagement in politics which is required to get people thinking about issues and ideology rather than about a politician's personality and charisma (which is in turn dependent on them being able to win coverage from the capitalist media).

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Left victory in Iceland but Left Greens do worse than expected

Social Democrats: 29.8% (+3.0), 20 seats (+2)
Independence Party: 23.7% (-12.9), 16 seats (-9)
Left Greens: 21.7% (+7.4), 14 seats (+5)
Progressive Party: 14.8% (+3.1), 9 seats (+2)
Citizen’s Movement: 7.2% (+7.2), 4 seats (+4)
Liberal Party: 2.2% (-5.1), 0 seats (-4)

On the left we’ve basically got the moderate pro-EU Social Democrats, the radical leftist, feminist, environmentalist Left Greens and the Citizen’s Movement which arose out of the recent protest movement and was only formed 9 weeks ago. The main party of the right is the Independence Party who have been in government almost continually for as long as anyone can remember but have lost a huge amount of support over the country’s economic collapse which was caused by the neoliberal economic policies they pushed through over the last 2 decades. The Progressive Party are supposedly a centrist, agrarian party but are probably closer to the right on many policy issues. The Liberal Party (now out of parliament) are populists who have strongly pushed the issue of fishing rights and have been accused of making various xenophobic remarks in recent years.

Now on to the results. The major surprises are the failure of the Left Greens to do as well as most had expected together with the strong showing for the newly founded Citizen’s Movement. That the Left Greens would be the biggest party, as some polls had predicted, seemed to me to be too good to be true and I remembered from the last election in 2007 when again the Left Greens didn’t do nearly as well on election day as many of the polls had predicted. But 22% (an increase from 14% last time) is still not bad and leaves them as perhaps the strongest party of the radical left in Europe. The main reasons I can see for why they didn’t do as well as they could of is the growth of the Citizen’s Movement together with Social Democrat leader Johanna Sigurdardottir’s short time as Prime Minister which gave her party more of a chance to set the agenda than it might have otherwise.

The Social Democrats have been trying to portray their success as an endorsement of the EU and the Left Greens have apparently said they would now be willing to back a referendum on Icelandic membership even if they continue to remain strongly opposed. However according to the polls a majority of people would reject membership so unless the fishing issue gets sorted out I don’t think the pro-EU side should be particularly optimistic that they can win any potential vote on the matter.

Overall, despite my disappointment that the Left Greens didn’t do better, I think there’s plenty to be positive about. For a start the once dominant Independence Party has been severely weakened, losing at least a third of their support, and Iceland will now see its first every left-wing majority government. The Citizen’s Movement which will remain outside government (almost certainly a Social Democrat/Left Green coalition) and has strong links to the protest movement will also, I think, help ensure the new government listens to the people and remains true to the spirit of the revolution which swept away the nation’s corrupt neoliberal government. Most of their voters are in addition people who would probably have otherwise supported the Left Greens. We should also remember that Prime Minister Johanna Sigurdardottir is from the left of the Social Democrats and the very thing about her that appeals most to people, according to the New York Times, is that she comes across as being the complete opposite of everything which characterised the so-called ‘New Vikings’ who ruled the country and brought it to a state of ruin with their reckless neoliberalism.

43% of new MPs women

According to my count of the newly elected MPs 27 out of 63 are women (43%) - a significant increase from the last parliament in which women made up 33% of MPs. This now gives Iceland the second highest percentages of female MPs in Europe (Sweden comes first with 47%). It’s also almost certain that Social Democrat leader Johanna Sigurdardottir will remain in office as the country's first woman Prime Minister and the world’s first openly lesbian national leader. Here’s the figures by party:

Social Democrats: 10/20 (50%)
Left Greens: 7/14 (50%)
Citizen’s Movement: 2/4 (50%)
Progressive Party: 3/9 (33.3%)
Independence Party: 5/16 (31.3%)

Friday, April 24, 2009

ANC wins 66% - why?

Latest results (2004 figures in brackets)

African National Congress: 66.15% (69.69%)
Democratic Alliance: 16.32% (12.37%)
Congress of the People: 7.46% (n/a - ANC split)
Inkatha Freedom Party: 4.59% (6.97%)
Independent Democrats: 0.92% (1.70%)
United Democratic Movement: 0.86% (2.28%)
Vryheidsfront Plus: 0.85% (0.89%)
African Christian Democratic Party: 0.79% (1.60%)
United Christian Democratic Party: 0.39% (0.75%)
Pan Africanist Congress of Azania: 0.28% (0.73%)
Azanian People’s Organisation: 0.22% (0.25%)
Minority Front: 0.22% (0.35%)
African People’s Convention: 0.21% (n/a - PAC split)

The ANC’s failure to deliver

For a party that has delivered so little over the past 17 years it seems astonishing that the ANC should have taken 66% of the vote in the recent South African election and may retain the two-thirds majority it needs to single-handedly alter the constitution. The main opposition party, the Democratic Alliance, have grown slightly to take 16% while the ANC breakaway (set up by supporters of former leader Thabo Mbeki) won a relatively unimpressive 7-8%. Most of the smaller parties have been hit quite badly and the former Black liberation movements, the Pan African Congress of Azania and the Azanian People’s Organisation (two of the only parties which represent a left alternative to the ANC), could lose the 4 seats they currently hold in the South African parliament.

Why is it that the ANC remains so popular when the average South African dies at the age of 49 and when the country’s infant mortality rate stands at a shockingly high 44 in every 1,000 births. South Africa is not a poor country - in GDP per capita terms it’s equivalent to Costa Rica (life expectancy: 78, infant mortality: 9) and Serbia (life expectancy: 74, infant mortality: 7). We can’t of course forget the role of apartheid in all this and South Africa has been left with a terrible legacy of racial segregation and impoverishment of its Black population. What is so shocking is the fact that over the last 17 years there has been no significant improvement in the lives of ordinary people. In fact in some ways things seem to be getting worse - in 1994 for example the average life expectancy was 60.

At the root of the misery faced by ordinary South Africans is of course the ANC’s refusal to take any real steps to redistribute the country’s land and wealth (with a Gini coefficient of 0.58 it’s currently among the world’s ten most unequal countries) and their outrageous mismanagement of the HIV/Aids crisis (denial being the only appropriate word with which to describe the approach of former President Thabo Mbeki). Some articles by John Pilger which I would really recommend can be found here:

Among other things he discusses the compromises which the ANC leadership made with the white elite, which made their ultimate rise to power far more palatable to the old apartheid state, and their utter collusion with big business to betray the goals of the Freedom Charter which back in 1955 had declared that South Africa belonged to “all who live in it” and pledged to share out the land, transfer industry and resources to the people and provide housing and medical services to all.

For the ANC to get another huge majority of this size is, I think, extremely unhealthy for South Africa and will do nothing to promote a more open and democratic culture. Neither will it reduce the ruling party’s complacency or force them to take any more account of the needs of ordinary people, not least the impoverished majority as the enter into the financial crisis with an unemployment rate of 40%, an Aids crisis which shows no sign of going away and with very little chance of ever entering the new ‘Black middle-class’ which the ANC seems so keen to promote.

Jacob Zuma: a tragedy for South Africa?

Here’s a few of the statements made by South Africa’s new President (and ANC leader) Jacob Zuma:

“God expects us to rule this country because we are the only organisation which was blessed by pastors when it was formed. It is even blessed in Heaven. That is why we will rule until Jesus comes back. We should not allow anyone to govern our city when we are ruling the country.”

Same-sex marriage is "a disgrace to the nation and to God": "When I was growing up, an ungqingili (a homosexual) would not have stood in front of me. I would knock him out."

“In Zulu culture, you cannot leave a woman if she is ready... To deny her sex, that would have been tantamount to rape” (said during rape trial against him).

Taking a shower after sex "cuts the risk of contracting HIV".

Jacob Zuma enjoys immense support across South Africa and has the strong backing of the South African Communist Party and the Congress of South African Trade Unions. He’s also a highly controversial figure who has faced (but has never been found guilty of) charges of rape and corruption. In the rape trial against him he ridiculed the sex life of his accuser, a 31 year old woman now living abroad, while his supporters chanted slogans and burned photos of her outside the court, throwing stones at another woman they mistook to be her. He admitted to having sex with her but ultimately was able to convince the court that it was consensual. According to the prosecution the woman didn’t openly resist his sexual advances as she was in a state of shock at the time but he was acquitted nevertheless. Here’s an article which discusses further the gender dynamics of the case:

There are very real reasons to fear for the future of South Africa and its democracy with a man like Zuma in charge who so often resorts to the worst type of populism and is of such questionable character. That so many South Africans, especially those who are materially disadvantaged, have put their faith in him to such a large degree is perhaps a symptom of the despair which so many feel over the lack of progress since the end of apartheid. But it’s a misplaced faith and one which will ultimately serve noone. What we need most of all is of course a strong left-wing opposition (something which at the moment completely non-existent) but in the absence of that surely anything to check the ANC’s power can only be a good thing.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Iceland: sex purchase bill passed, strip club ban fails - for the moment

iI haven't read about it anywhere else but according to an article (English translation) in the Norwegian paper Klassekampen the bill to ban the purchase of sex was passed by the Icelandic parliament on Friday (and has come into effect immediately), the day before it broke up for the election. At the same time the proposal to remove the current exemptions allowing the operation of strip clubs in the country was rejected, which is a shame but I don't think should in any way be cause for despair. The left still only has a minority in the Icelandic parliament but things are likely to change dramatically on Saturday when the Social Democrats and Left Greens are expected to receive up to 60%+ of the votes there. As the poll I posted recently shows most Icelanders are highly supportive of a ban on stripping so I think we could easily see it happening in the not too distant future.

The article's centred around an interview with Guðrún Jónsdóttir of Stígamót, an organisation which runs women's shelters and campaigns against male violence in Iceland. Interestingly she points out that with Iceland becoming the third out of five Nordic countries to ban the purchase of sex (only Denmark and Finland have still to do so) we can now talk about a 'Nordic model' on prostitution. In Iceland itself the feminist movement had been pushing strongly for a change in the law for 10 years and is entirely united in its opposition to prostitution. A poll in 2007 found that 82% of women and 57% of men wanted to criminalise the purchase of sex while only 8% of Icelanders were completely opposed to the measure.

According to
Guðrún Jónsdóttir prostitution has always been hidden in Iceland - "we live in a micro-society where everything happens in secret" - and that it'll be another thing getting the law to be properly enforced. However it's still an extremely important symbolic victory in terms of having a law which clearly defines prostitution as a form of violence against women and places the responsibility firmly on those who use their money to perpetuate it. There's also a new action plan against human trafficking and hopefully new resources will be made available to help women leave the industry. What we need now is for them to shut down the strip clubs and on paper at least Iceland should be fully sex industry free. In the meantime let's celebrate the fact that Iceland is the second country in less than 6 months (along with Norway) to make the purchase of sex a crime. It's been a full ten years ten years since Sweden did so so let's hope the progress of the struggle against prostitution is accelerating and that it won't be long before other countries consider similar legislation.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Strong support for stripping ban in Iceland

Support for ban:

Everyone - 58%
Women - 73.8%
Men - 42.7%
Social Democrat/Left Green supporters - 70%
Progressive Party supporters - 56%
Independence Party supporters - 36%

This is according to a poll today in Frettabladid. I haven't heard anything yet on the progress of the proposed new law I wrote about a few weeks ago and it's perhaps going to wait until after the election on the 25th but it certainly doesn't look like there's going to be too much opposition from the public. I find it interesting that Icelanders take such a negative view towards an industry which most people in other countries seem to see as nothing other than a form of harmless fun (or so they've been led to believe by the patriarchal capitalist media). How we replicate it here, I don't know, but it shows that having a strong and united feminist movement and a political left which takes the issues of gender inequality and oppression seriously is something which really can help to change common understandings and attitudes throughout society regardless of the interests of the ruling classes.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

No place for the sex industry in Iceland

'Prostitution is violence' - Icelandic feminists in 2005

I’ve been writing rather a lot about Iceland lately but this is just too good not to mention. The new left-wing government has decided, in an attempt to eliminate all human trafficking into Iceland, to fully outlaw both the purchase of sex and the running of strip clubs. Describing human trafficking as “the most disgusting form of international and organized crime that exists in the world” Social Affairs Minister Ásta Ragnheiður Jóhannesdóttir drew up a 25 point action plan which includes the two measures and it is hoped that as much of it as possible can be implemented in time for the new elections in late April.

With stripping banned too this will take Iceland further than both Norway and Sweden and, since pornography is still illegal (at least according to Iceland Review), will in effect mean that the sex industry is more or less completely outlawed. This is a huge victory for the Icelandic feminist movement which is proportionately quite strong and has long been fighting to shut down the few strip clubs that exist as well as campaigning to get the purchase of sex criminalised.

Iceland of course has a history of strong feminists - on the 24th of October 1975 90% of the country's women went on strike for a day, marching out of their workplaces and refusing to cook, clean or look after children. For a time also there was a women's party represented in parliament with many former leading members now involved in the governing social-democratic Alliance and Left Greens.

Under the decades of right-wing rule progress towards gender equality and female liberation was in many ways held back but with capitalism thoroughly discredited, the left in the ascendancy, and for the first time ever, a female Prime Minister and a gender balanced cabinet the feminist movement can hopefully again march forward and take back what should rightfully be theirs. And can act as an inspiration to their sisters and supporters elsewhere.

There's some more stuff in English about Icelandic feminism here if anyone's interested: