James Connolly

This week was the 104th Anniversary of James Connolly’s death at the hands of the British State and I thought it would be worth looking into why this man is still seen as a hero to many in both the UK and Ireland, while others say his name with venom on their tongues.

 

There’s a lot that’s been said about James Connolly; that he was a hero of the international working class, that he was a radical thinker and reformer and a brave man that would put himself in the line of fire before any of the men under him. Yet others view him differently, believing him a traitor, a deserter, a failed rebel, and- worst of all- a Hibs fan. You’ll be hard pressed to find a neutral voice that speaks about the man these days.

 

Connolly’s story starts in Edinburgh, in 1868. Born in Cowgate to two Irish immigrants, James didn’t have an easy start to life. He was born into poverty, Cowgate at that time being little better than a slum (how things change) and only had formal education at the local Catholic School until the age of 11, when he left school to look for work. At the age of 14 James, like his older brother before him, signed up with the British Army, lying about his age in an attempt to escape the economic conditions he had been born into. 

 

For the next 6 years James served in the Royal Scots Regiment, spending most of his military career in Ireland. This wasn’t an easy time for folk in Ireland (When has it ever been when British troops were marching through it?), especially in the rural communities outside of the city, where the majority of the Irish population at the time lived. Rents were high, and by design of the British more and more Irish land fell into fewer and fewer hands. Most of these landlords were also absentees, not even living in the land that they taxed so heavily. This meant that the money taken out of these communities weren’t reinvested in the hamlets, most of the time this rent money left Ireland all together. By the time Connolly was serving in Ireland the people of the hamlets had had enough of being treated like a tax farm and the Land War had begun. 

 

The Land War was Connolly’s first introduction into Irish politics, and even as a young British soldier, he found himself arguing for the cause of the tenant farmers. This confrontation with the realities of British policy in Ireland might have served as a catalyst not only for his political development but also for his growing bitterness with the British Army. When it came out that his regiment would be redeployed to India, to do much of the same work that he did in Ireland, Connolly deserted, preferring this to acting as a lackey for British landlords. 

 

Though his time in the army was over Connolly left with two important lessons. First of all he learned that he was a good soldier, secondly that he fucking hated the British armed forces.  

 

When James returned to Edinburgh he brought with him his new wife Lillie and they soon tried to settle into a quiet life. James took up a job as a cobbler but patched it after a few months, as he had no talent for the job. It was about this time as well that he again followed in his older brother’s footsteps and became politically active, joining the Scottish Socialist Federation and like his brother before him, he eventually became the party secretary. The party would eventually merge and be absorbed into the Independent Labour Party. Connolly, however, headed back to Ireland, this time to take up a paid role within the Dublin Socialist Club rather than as part of an occupying army. Here he transformed the club into the Irish Socialist Republican Party turning the group from a couple of people meeting in pubs every so often to discuss politics over pints into Ireland’s first socialist party. This party would go on to run in elections, print its own paper and even represent Ireland at the Second International. While the party was never large and would eventually fall into political infighting, it marked an important stage in Irish politics and showcased Connolly’s skills as an organiser. 

 

Connolly would, through a mixture of frustration at his own party and economic need eventually leave Ireland again, this time for America. Here he joined the IWW and was most active in pushing his syndicalist ideology. Syndicalism is a brand of socialism that focuses on workplace democracy and autonomous organisations. Aiming to bring his ideology into action he worked with both the Irish and Italian American communities to agitate for better working conditions, making sure to bring in as many different communities in New York together as part of his internationalist ideology that hammered home the need for a united struggle, across ethnic and nationalist lines. To this end, he founded groups like the Irish Socialist Federation, which aimed to raise class consciousness in immigrant communities through education and material help.

 

After nearly 7 years in America, Connolly once again returned to Ireland, organising workplaces and- in what was now becoming a lifelong habit- founding yet another political organisation in the Irish Labour Party in 1912. In 1913, in response to the Dublin Lockout, James gathered other former officers and soldiers from the British army and formed the Irish Citizen Army. A small but well disciplined and regimented group of workers who tasked themselves with defending strikers from the Dublin Met. This hardened corps of radical workers eventually formed the nexus of a growing organisation that would expand its aims from simply the improvement of working conditions for Irish workers to an Independent Socialist Republic. Soon, this group would have their chance at this goal, as WW1 broke out and distracted the British Empire. 

 

James was adamantly against this war, arguing it was just imperialism being played out. He didn’t want the sons of England or son’s of Germany dying in a pointless war, and he certainly didn’t want sons of Ireland dying for England’s pointless war. Under a call of “Neither King nor Kaiser” James decided now was the time to organise for freedom. Along with nationalist groups like the Irish Volunteers and Irish Republican Brotherhood, Connolly plotted a rebellion. In the ultimately doomed Easter Uprising Connolly’s organisational prowess came to the forefront again. As Commandant of the Dublin Brigade, he had a massive sway over the entire rising. Not only did he show genius in planning but he again and again put his life at risk to make sure his men were safe. With only 9 men in his garrison actually dying, his efforts were not for nothing. But despite these valiant efforts James himself was fatally wounded. Out of commission while getting treatment for his wound, he nevertheless remained the brains behind the uprising, organising patrols, reinforcements and resupplies even as doctors worked on him.

 

Eventually the writing was on the wall, and James, along with the other leaders of the rebellion agreed to a surrender. Unwilling to continue a doomed fight that would cost the lives of his men he would say his line “Don’t worry. Those of us that signed the proclamation will be shot. But the rest of you will be set free”.

 

A few days later, on the 12th of May 1916 the British state executed Connolly by firing squad. So afraid of what he represented they would tie a dying man to a chair, shoot him and then bury him in an unmarked mass grave. This act would turn many who had been neutral on the issue against the British state, both in Ireland and the rest of the world. James Connolly never lived to see his life’s work, but eventually Dublin would be free from British rule, and the role James played as an organiser and his martyrdom were important steps on that long path to freedom.

 

How do we judge James’s impact? When we look at Connolly’s legacy do we look to Ireland today as a measure of the man? Nationalism, or at least national liberation, was a big part of the man’s outlook on the world. Considering he gave his life for this cause it’s fair to say it was something he held deeply. This is not to say his syndicalist, internationalist ideals meshed with this part of his politics easily. He flirted with Esperanto, a communal European language, and did believe in the need for a universal language. While he did support the reintroduction of the Irish language he viewed capitalism as a far more pressing threat to the Irish than the English language, after all, he said “You cannot teach starving men Gaelic”. Further still he painted Daniel O’Connell, widely held as a hero by nationalists not as a liberator of the Irish but instead an enemy of the working class. 

 

Ireland, at least part of it, stands independent, but you cannot argue that James achieved the syndicalist paradise he had envisaged all those years ago. After his death figures like Éamon de Valera rose to prominence, and left a much deeper impact on the Irish political landscape than Connolly would have liked. Courageous Syndicalism instead was replaced by cynical Conservatism, with the Republic being left to choose between two different cheeks of the same Tory arse in Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil. A quote that always sticks with me from Connolly is “Nationalism without Socialism is only national recreancy. It would be a declaration that our oppressors had succeeded in inoculating us with their perverted conceptions of justice and morality, and no longer needed an army to force them upon us.”. Looking at Dublin’s transformation into a petty kingdom of landlord despots, it’s hard to imagine Connolly being happy with the state of Ireland today. 

 

James, I would argue, left a far deeper mark on the traditions of the European left. He stands as a rare figure broadly praised by all major branches of leftist tradition, somewhat like Rosa Luxemburg. Lenin, on greeting James’s son after his father’s death, said that he had held Connolly as head and shoulders above the rest of his contemporaries in the European socialist movement, and Glasgow’s own James McLean cited Connolly as an inspiration for his own trade unionist movement.

Why We Need To Keep The Lockdown

The U.K now, officially, has over 30,000 people dead as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. This puts us 2nd in the entire world for death rate, only being beaten by the calamity that is the United States. It seems in spite of this the Tory government have seen fit to add to their already confusing message about the pandemic response by implying that they plan on announcing an easing of the lockdown restrictions.

This is the latest in a series of poor messaging and bad decisions by the Government, which began with the disastrous “Herd Immunity” strategy, that meant a slow reaction to the virus has ensured a scenario much worse than it needed to be. This is obvious to see when you compare the response even to other capitalist countries such as New Zealand. They had 1,144 confirmed cases of the virus and only 21 deaths. Compare this to the U.K’s 215,000 confirmed cases and 31,587 deaths as of the time of writing. The Prime Minister of New Zealand, Jacinda Ardern, had this to say –

“There were some countries who initially talked about herd immunity as a strategy. In New Zealand we never ever considered that as a possibility ever. Herd immunity would have meant tens of thousands of New Zealanders dying and I simply would not tolerate that, and I don’t think any New Zealander would.”

A far cry from Boris Johnsons message during an appearance on This Morning –

“One of the theories is, that perhaps you could take it on the chin, take it all in one go and allow the disease, as it were, to move through the population, without taking as many draconian measures. I think we need to strike a balance, I think it is very important, we’ve got a fantastic NHS, we will give them all the support that they need, we will make sure that they have all preparations, all the kit that they need for us to get through it.”

This one did not age particularly well. The NHS has struggled constantly for PPE and instead of doing everything they can to help, the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care has behaved terribly. Firstly he suggested that NHS staff were over using PPE and that it should be treated as a “precious resource” and more recently in the house of commons, when confronted by A&E Doctor Rosena Allin-Khan on the governments response he simply responded that she “might do well to take a leaf out of the shadow secretary of state’s book in terms of tone.”

A real class act.

Another facet of the confusing messaging has been the actions of a lot of the mainstream media outlets. At the first hint of a slight relaxing of the lockdown measures many newspapers were running headlines that made it seem like the lockdown is being lifted entirely. Headlines such as –

The Daily Mail – ‘HURRAH! LOCKDOWN FREEDOM BECKONS

The Sun – ‘HAPPY MONDAY GO OUT AND EXERCISE ALL YOU LIKE’

It should go without saying that lifting the lockdown while so many people are still catching the virus is an awfully bad idea. Understandably people are frustrated and afraid for their financial future, but the answer is not to ease the lockdown. The failing here is on the Government and the lack of support for ordinary workers. Everything announced has been about protecting business owners and landlords in the hopes that they will pass on some good will to the people that they employ or rent from them.

Here in Scotland, where the message has been a clear deviation from England in that the lockdown has been extended another 3 weeks, there has been no talk of easing it until we are out of the woods. It was announced that there will be “a £5,000,000 fund to offer interest free loans to landlords whose tenants are having difficulty paying rent during the coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis.” The idea being that they will not evict tenants if they can cover the rent with this loan. As we have seen so far in this crisis, many landlords simply do not care about the people that rent from them, as many stories have come out of landlords evicting tenants that no longer have the ability to pay rent.

The government has now announced a change in slogan from “Stay Home, Save Lives, Protect the NHS” to “Stay Alert, Control the Virus, Save Lives”. A decision rejected by both the Scottish and Welsh devolved governments as it yet again muddy’s the waters and causes confusion, evidenced in all the footage shown on VE day of people having street parties in clear violation of the lockdown order. It is clear that the government has handled the pandemic terribly and are directly responsible for many unnecessary deaths. With social media replete with calls for warlike unity in a time of crisis, we would do well to remember those responsible for the scale of this disaster. They should absolutely be held to account for their actions.

Audrey and the Dutch Resistance

Audrey Hepburn. The name alone conjures up images of elegance and the romance of old Hollywood. Being one of the few people to win an Emmy, a Grammy, an Oscar and a Tony award there is no question why Audrey is so tied to the golden age of American Cinema.

But before she was a world famous actress Audrey lived another, altogether quite different life providing support for the Dutch resistance during The Second World War.

In 1939, when Audrey was just 10 years old, Britain declared war on Germany and soon Hepburn and her mother were fleeing to the Netherlands from their native Belgium. Hoping that this war would play out like the Great War before it, where the Dutch managed to maintain their neutrality, Audrey and her mother set up shop in Arnhem. This plan to avoid the war would unfortunately fall apart, as the Nazis invaded the Netherlands less than a year later.

By all accounts, this occupation was brutal. Audrey herself said that “had we known that we were going to be occupied for five years, we might have all shot ourselves”, going on to say that the only thing that kept them motivated was the belief that the war was constantly just a few weeks from ending.

Audrey’s family, being privileged Dutch aristocrats were not spared from Nazi cruelty; her half brother was be deported to a Berlin work camp and in 1942 her uncle would be assassinated by the Germans for his support of the nascent resistance movement. This would prove to be a pivotal moment for Audrey and her mother, and both fought desperately against giving in to nihilism, leading them to take up their uncles cause and support the resistance from that moment on.

This was a surprising change of heart for Audrey’s mother especially, who had previously openly supported fascism; she wrote columns in support of Mosley’s Union of Fascists in paper “The Black Shirt”, joined the far right movement and even personally met with Hitler. This was all done alongside Audrey’s father, who had abandoned the family years before the war. He had also been an avid supporter of the far right ideology, but for him there would be no redemption or renunciation. He spent the entire war in prison for his support of the Third Reich. 

 

Audrey eventually fell in with Dr. Visser ’t Hooft, a charismatic and intelligent leader of the local resistance. Taking the young rebel under his wing, he later described her as his star pupil. It was under the doctor’s encouragement and urging that Audrey, who had studied ballet in England, would have her strange entrance into the performing arts. In an attempt to raise morale and funds for the resistance, Audrey set up the “Black Evenings”, secret dance shows and charity evenings. These were highly illegal and if caught, the audience, performers and organisers would all likely be facing down a Nazi rifle squad. To hide the events they were often performed in basements, with blacked out windows, thus the name, and audiences weren’t allowed to cheer or clap. Audrey said later in life say “the best audiences I ever had made not a single sound at the end of my performance”.

This is an image that stuck with me after reading on the subject: a young girl with barely enough food in her belly to keep the pangs of hunger away, dancing her heart out to a silent audience, hidden away from the prying eyes of the evil occupying force. A young girl that, during peacetime, should have been in school instead literally pushed onto centre stage through grief and loss to put on performances in an attempt to keep the flicker of hope alive.

These funds were sorely needed by the resistance, who had been carrying out various anti German acts, one of the most famous being the bombing of a public records office by Willem Arondeus, who hoped to protect Dutch Jews by making it much harder for the Nazis to track them down. Among their other activities was an underground railroad for escaping Dutch Jews, dissidents and captured allied airmen. Audrey would play a part here too; the resistance made use of young members to pass around messages and supplies as children and teenagers could get around without provoking the notice of the occupiers. In 1944, Audrey- playing the part of messenger for the resistance- supplied food to downed airmen hiding in the Dutch woods under cover of night. 

 

In that same year, Nazis would subject the Netherlands to their worst cruelty yet: aiming to punish the Dutch for helping the allies, the Germans cut off food supplies to the already impoverished and starving country. The Dutch Winter of Hunger had begun. Starvation swept the nation and millions were affected, Audrey among them. At this time she was just a teenager and the lack of food severely affected her development throughout the rest of her life. The young girl who danced for silent audiences would never grow up to be the ballerina she had dreamed of being when she had started to dance all those years ago in England. 

As we know, Audrey still found success, albeit as an actress instead of a dancer. Her acting career brought her the chance to meet a fellow survivor of the occupation, Otto Frank, father of Anne Frank. Otto met with Audrey hoping to convince her to play Anne in a film about the Dutch girl’s life. He had been inspired by the role Audrey had played during those long years of struggle, although ultimately Audrey turned down the offer. She said she had felt connected to the young girl after reading her diaries, saying that “it’s a little bit as if this had happened to my sister”. She wouldn’t be able to give Anne the performance she deserved, feeling she would be overcome with grief. 

Outside of her incredible acting career, Audrey became a UNICEF ambassador, travelling the world even as she suffered from cancer. Peace was important to her, in the way that it often is for survivors of war.

On the evening of 20 January 1993, in her home in Switzerland, Audrey Hepburn passed away peacefully in her sleep. 

I find it strange, especially so after researching more on the topic of her life, that Audrey Hepburn- so emblematic of the glamour of the movies- inspires me more by the story of her own life than by any story she starred in on the silver screen. Audrey is rightfully remembered as one of the greatest actors to have ever lived, but I think we should also remember her as the young girl, who refused to give into fear, dancing to a silent audience.

Corruption, Bribery and Sports Entertainment

As an outside spectator it can be baffling to look at what is happening in the United States in regards to the Covid-19 outbreak; there has been corruption and incompetence at every turn. From senators selling stocks ahead of the virus hitting while at the same time reassuring citizens that this won’t be a big deal, to Trump predictably making more and more outlandish claims at briefings, that are then eaten up by his cult of followers, as though he were an embattled messianic figure protesting against the lockdown measures that have been put in place to save their lives. The stories that come out of the states have been so ridiculous and unbelievable that many of them are talked about at the time and then forgotten.  Encapsulating the corruption at the heart of U.S governance, exposing their system as nothing more than an oligarchy, has been the news of the WWE’s involvement in the state of Florida.

On the 3rd of April Florida became one of the last few states to issue a stay-at-home order to protect people from the pandemic. Many argued this came far too late, especially when people were still allowed to travel to the state for their spring break holidays even after the first cases had been reported in the U.S. Originally when the lock down was instated the sport of Professional Wrestling, quite rightly, did not make the list of “Essential Media”. This was reserved for news outlets and radio, anything that could help inform people on the latest news and developments with the virus.

Not long after, Ron DeSantis the Republican governor of Florida decided to change his mind and deemed the WWE an “essential business”. A strange decision, but one that he defended in a press briefing; here is his rambling explanation word for word –

“I think people are chomping at the bit. I mean, if you think about it, we’ve never had a period like this in modern American history where you’ve had such little new content, particularly in the sporting realm. I mean, people are watching, we’re watching, like, reruns from the early 2000’s, watching Tom Brady do the Super Bowl then, which is neat because he’s gonna be in Tampa and I think they have a chance to win a Super Bowl this year. But I think people, to be able to have some light at the tunnel, see that things may get back on a better course – I think from just a psychological perspective I think is a good thing.”

He really sounds like someone that has his priorities right. God forbid you get bored of the telly while avoiding a horrible respiratory disease.

The legitimacy of this decision has been brought into question, not only for its obvious stupidity, but because it came after a Super-Pac chaired by Vince McMahon’s wife Linda that supports Donald Trump pledged to spend $18.5 million in the state of Florida. Amongst the decision, that I’m sure had nothing to do with the very generous donation from the Trump supporting Super-PAC, it was also revealed that a member of staff at WWE had also tested positive for the virus. Anywhere else this would be enough to close the business and send all staff into self-isolation but not at WWE. The show, it would seem, must go on.

If the political ties between Trump and the McMahons weren’t obvious enough, Trump then named Vince McMahon as one of a number of business leaders now part of a group that would advise Trump on how to relax social distancing measures and get the economy back up and running. Really think about that. The government of the United States is taking advice on when to relax social distancing measures from business owners. The people that stand to make the most money for the least amount of risk to themselves if the stay-at-home orders are lifted.

So, the WWE is declared essential and the employees are then compelled to travel and flout social distancing rules so as to still earn their wages. What next?

On the 15th of April WWE announced that as part of necessary cost reductions due to the coronavirus they will be firing a lot of talent and furloughing a large proportion of their behind the scenes crew. This was announced at the same time they made the following statement –

“WWE has substantial financial resources, both available cash and debt capacity, which currently total more than $0.5 billion, to manage the challenges ahead. The fundamentals of the Company’s business remain strong… Management continues to believe the Company is well positioned to take full advantage of the changing media landscape and increasing value of live sports rights over the longer term.”

To understand the extent to which this is a slimy decision on behalf of the WWE management you first need to understand that for years WWE has been signing as much talent as they can to contracts to keep them from working at other companies. Now that they might take a slight hit to their profit margins- and despite they’re huge wealth reserves- they have decided to fire these wrestlers at a time when there is nowhere else for them to go for work, all while the staff that they did keep on have to risk their lives to produce a televised product.

The chain of events here definitely tells a story. One of corporate greed, bribery and downright apathy to the well being of employees. One story amongst many that paint the Trump administration as even more incompetent and spiteful than before. A true oligarchy that has constantly put profits ahead of the well being of its people and has just enough fascist characteristics that Trump has built a cult of personality around himself with followers that will do whatever he says. With Trump now suggesting that perhaps we should inject people with disinfectant we can only hope that at least some of his acolytes may begin to question his judgement.

Scotland and the Black Death

Recently we’ve focused a lot on Covid-19 and the ramifications it’s already having for our society but this week I thought we would take a step back from the ongoing pandemic and instead focus on something a bit lighter – the Black Death

Our story starts in 1348, when the Black Death first arrived in England. 1348, simply put, was not a great time to live in Britain. The Second War of Scottish independence had already been  raging for over a decade, and England had been embroiled in the Hundred Years’ War for nearly as long. On top of this, the common people of the towns and villages were also suffering under high taxes, little food and failed harvests. Life was pretty bleak, but it was about to get a lot worse. 

It was Bristol that would be first hit. A vibrant trading port that had until that time remained untouched by war or famine; instead it was the third horseman of the apocalypse, pestilence, that would leave its mark here. Before the plague Bristol was the second largest city in England, taking silver place only to London, but when the plague hit, Henry Knighton, a monk who recorded the history of the plague described the city as being devastated, saying “almost the whole strength of the town perished” and transforming, almost over night from a city full of life and joy and trade, to a city of corpses where the few survivors didn’t have the strength or numbers to bury the deceased. This, unfortunately, was only a taste of things to come for the rest of the Isles. 

By 1349 London would follow in Bristol’s grim footsteps, and alongside the Back Death, Pneumonic Plague would also ravage the city. This outbreak would take thousands upon thousands of lives, the plague would also break up Parliament and take the lives of at least three Archbishops of Canterbury greatly weakening the English Kingdom’s feudal management.

All this chaos was not unnoticed in the court of King David the Second of Scotland, and many argued the plague was God’s wrath on the English for… well being English. It’s not hard to see how the calamity could be seen to have had a hand of the divine, wherever the plague went it left biblical destruction. Further still, the Scottish nobility argued that because Scotland had remained untouched, this showed that God had picked a side in the war, the Scottish side. It was decided that rather than lay back and watch the southern kingdom burn Scotland would take an active hand in the chaos, and push its advantage to win the war. After all, god had clearly decreed the end times for England, it was their Christian duty to see his will acted. 

The Scots at this point were resurgent, they had already pushed Edward the Third’s armies out of Perth and Fife, and now a great host assembled to invade England itself. When news of this approaching army reached Durham the plague stricken town burst into riots. This incursion, however, was ultimately doomed and the Scots were routed in battle, soon the Scottish army was in full retreat back home. To add to the misery of defeat, among the fleeing soldiers and levies the plague lurked and soon Scotland would be hit with the same divine wrath that the English had suffered. 

Though Scotland was less vulnerable than England, lacking the centralised population centres that England had developed in the centuries prior, the pestilence still took a dire toll. Exact numbers aren’t recorded but what is known is that cities like Edinburgh were devastated, losing nearly half of their population. By the end of the outbreak some estimate almost half the population of the Island would succumb to the disease.

So, you might be asking, why have I chosen to bring to attention this particular part of history? Well I think it conveys a very important message. Even if you think God is telling you to invade England, please, please stay in doors, save lives.  

Keir Starmer: King of The Ashes

As of April, the Labour party now has a new leader in Sir Keir Starmer and a new Shadow Cabinet appointed by him. Starmer won the leadership contest with 56% of the vote on a wave of sentiments such as “electability”, “moderate” and “sensible” and has been a staunch Remainer in the Brexit debate. Starmer was instrumental in his role as Shadow Brexit secretary in tempering Labour’s position on Brexit and forcing Corbyn to support a second referendum going into the 2019 general election. This, for many, was the death knell for Labour as they alienated millions of working-class voters that voted for Brexit and pushed them towards the Conservatives, leaving the UK in a strange place with the Conservative party now having a larger working class base of support, at least in England.

The appointment of Sir Keir Starmer, a Knight Commander of the Order of the Bath, has also alienated the members of the Labour party that still believed in Labour as a left-wing party that would push for meaningful, socialist changes to society. He has been compared to Tony Blair and many believe he will steer the party back towards a “New Labour” way of working that operates more in the mythical centre of the political spectrum and tries to strike a balance between the left and right wings of the party. Something that has been applauded by members of the Conservative party such as the architect of austerity himself, George Osborne, who tweeted –

“Keir Starmer’s reshuffle is impressive – the Marxist nutters are out; moderate left are in. When this crisis is eventually over, and politics is resumed, the Tories are going to find that the 5 years when there was no opposition and no alternative has come to an abrupt end”

A bold statement but one that has very little meaning coming from someone that should be a political enemy of the Labour movement, especially when you look at the people that Starmer has appointed to his Shadow Cabinet. At a time where the Conservative government have clearly, seriously mishandled the Covid-19 crisis amid false scientific claims of the validity of “herd immunity”, a failure to provide clarity and protections for the people most at risk and a wilful dismissal of a report in 2016 that predicted what would happen in a pandemic situation; new Shadow Foreign Secretary Lisa Nandy claimed in an interview that “this wasn’t a foreseeable crisis” despite the fact that the Government had foresaw a crisis like this happening four years ago. A statement that Starmer would be proud of as he himself stated that now is “not the time” to ask if the Government has been too slow in responding to this crisis. A strong opposition indeed.

To anyone who denounces criticism of the government in a time like this as trying to politicise a tragedy I would like to say this to you specifically – Whether you like it or not, everything is political. It was a political choice to suppress the 2016 report on pandemic response from the public. It was a political choice to not heed the warning of countries like China and Italy when it came to the lax response to the pandemic. These political choices have caused a lot of unnecessary strain, suffering, deaths and the government must be held accountable for that.

As to the rest of the Shadow Cabinet, we have Ian Murray who failed in his bid for the Deputy Leader position but is being kept on as Shadow Secretary of State for Scotland. He claimed to have been “honoured” by an endorsement from Tony Blair and Gordon Brown and has been a vocal critic of Corbyn and his policies.

Appointed as Shadow Minister for Domestic Violence and Safeguarding is Jess Phillips; a person that has been caught out bragging about telling MP Diane Abbot to “fuck off” during a parliamentary meeting, a claim that turned out to be a complete lie, and has a worrying track record of supporting transphobic groups and diminishing the rights of sex workers. Oh and Jess was also was one of Corbyn’s loudest critics and was quoted in an interview with the Guardian as saying to Corbyn “The day that… you are hurting us more than you are helping us, I won’t knife you in the back, I’ll knife you in the front”.

In at the position of Shadow Exchequer Secretary is Wes Streeting, a man that doxxed a person on twitter over a doctored picture and has taken every opportunity to attack Jeremy Corbyn over the claims of anti-Semitism in the Labour party but who also told a campaigner against anti-Semitism to “fuck off” when he pointed out he was defending proven anti-Semite Ali Milani. He also seems very comfortable working with his colleague Rachel Reeves who has also been awarded a place in the Shadow Cabinet; a woman that has admitted her admiration for the first ever sitting woman MP Nancy Astor, a known anti-Semite and avid supporter of Adolf Hitler. Another example of a worrying trend in British politics where people like to pretend the first female MP was a Nazi sympathiser and brush over the Irish Socialist Constance Markievicz. British politics is grim, but maybe Labour shouldn’t be the party working to erase Socialism from British politics and fawning over fash?  

You may be wondering why I have made an effort to point out that Starmers new Shadow Cabinet seems to be propped up by the people in the party that were the most critical of Jeremy Corbyn as leader. It has recently been announced that the internal report entitled “The work of the Labour Party’s Governance and Legal Unit in relation to antisemitism, 2014 – 2019” will not be submitted to the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) on the advice of the Party’s lawyers as they fear it could harm the Party. This story was broken by Sky News who claimed to have seen the 860 – page report and stated that it “concluded factional hostility towards Jeremy Corbyn amongst former senior officials contributed to a ‘litany of mistakes’ that hindered the effective handling of the issue”. A polite way of describing many of Keir’s supporters and shadow cabinet as fifth columnists.

The report has since been leaked online and is very damning for those involved.Through thorough examination of more than 10,000 emails and thousands of WhatsApp messages it was discovered that a faction inside the Labour party that were doing everything they could to make sure Corbyn lost the election in 2017. This included deliberately mishandling work, sabotaging anyone they believed to be a ‘trot’ (a Trot being anyone to the left of Brown) and lying to manipulate outcomes that they wanted. There is a lot in the report but some of the worst revelations from the WhatsApp messages include –

  • Conversations which show senior staff hid information from the leader’s office about digital spending and contact details for MPs and candidates during the election
  • A discussion about how to prevent Corbyn ally Rebecca Long-Bailey gaining a seat on the party’s governing body in 2017
  • Constant references to Corbyn – supporting staff as “trots”
  • Conversations in which the same group refers to Corbyn’s former chief of staff Karie Murphy as “medusa”, a “crazy woman” and a “bitch face cow” that would “make a good dartboard”
  • A discussion in which a member of the group said they “hope” that a young pro-Corbyn Labour activist, who they acknowledge had mental health problems, “dies in a fire”

One of the more damning paragraphs that show the level to which members of this group were trying to sabotage Corbyn is the following about Emilie Oldknow who is now the COO of the Unison trade union. It states –

‘WhatsApp discussions among senior Labour HQ staff show that LOTO (Leader of The Opposition) was unhappy with the NCC panel’s decision to suspend Ken Livingston for another year rather than expel him. Emilie Oldknow wrote that “Karie has been telling Shadow Cabinet members that I’ve orchestrated the Ken situation so… Tom got his people on the panel to make a soft decision, all in order to embarrass JC and create a crisis.”

Sir Keir Starmer claims that he wants a more moderate party that bridges the left-wing/right-wing divide so as to win back the trust of voters. This reconciliation is as convincing as Keir pishing into my ear and telling me it’s raining. What we really see is a group of moderates that never liked how popular the policies of Jeremy Corbyn were and did everything in their power to purge the party of the further left leaning people involved. Forcing Corbyn to soften his stance on Brexit, purposely sabotaging the Party and colluding to bully members they believed to be too far left and then accusing Corbyn of losing two elections all by himself because he was so unpopular and had bad ideas. It is the same type of Neo-Liberal machinations that were set on Bernie Sanders over in America and it makes it clear that whether here in the UK or over in the US there will never really be an opportunity to have any real choice in government. Neither in the UK or the US is there a party structure that can make a home for the Left. They all wear different colours but campaign for slight variations of the same formula. Keir Starmer is being hailed as the electable saviour for the Labour Party, but I would argue the Labour Party is now so far removed from where it was supposed to be that he now has nothing worth saving.

I’d like to leave you with a quote from the legend of the Labour Party Tony Benn. “We are not just here to manage capitalism but to change society and to define its finer values.”

He said this in response to the push for Labour to adopt more right-wing ideas in the 80s. A task completed by Tony Blair and now furthered by the ghoulish machinations of the right leaning members of the Labour Party. Sir Keir Starmer has been propelled to leadership of a Party that his supporters have eroded from the inside. Keir is not the saviour of the Labour party, but it’s undertaker.

Pandemic Perspective: Community Response in Vietnam

As the coronavirus pandemic affects nations across the globe, we should continue to consider the circumstances which have helped or hindered countries in handling the situation. With this in mind, friend of the ACU Ian sheds light on Vietnam’s response measures.

Ask anyone what comes to mind when you mention Vietnam and they will probably respond with one of two words: war, or communism. Vietnam’s civil war began in 1955 between the communist led North Vietnam, officially the Democratic Republic of Vietnam(DRV) and South Vietnam, officially the Republic of Vietnam. The USA provided support to the South Vietnamese from the beginning. This was part of US efforts to curb the spread of communism worldwide, efforts that would eventually lead to a ground invasion of Vietnam in March 1963, which didn’t end until 1973 when all US personnel were withdrawn from the country. 2 years after this withdrawal the North Vietnamese and their southern Việt Minh allies captured Sai Gon in the south, bringing an end to the 20 year conflict known in Vietnamese as Kháng chiến chống Mỹ cứu nước (“Anti-American Resistance War for National Salvation”).

North and South Vietnamese governments finally united in 1976 forming the modern Socialist Republic of Vietnam and this new united government was immediately faced with the task of rebuilding the country after a devastating war in which an estimated 1,353,000 Vietnamese were killed. The war itself was over, but with countless people wounded or suffering from the effects of America’s use of poisonous chemicals such as Agent Orange, the aftershock would be felt for many years afterwards. Other damage from the war included villages and arable land being littered with mines and unexploded bombs, an economy in ruins and the destruction of critical infrastructure. Rebuilding efforts were made even more difficult by a trade embargo imposed on Vietnam by the USA in an attempt to economically isolate the fledgling nation that had so valiantly fought for its independence. This embargo lasted for 19 years.

Despite all of the challenges the nation has faced, Vietnam has persevered and in recent years has become one of the fastest growing economies in the world. Since 2010, Vietnam’s GDP growth has been at least 5% per year, and in 2017 it peaked at 6.8%. With such rapid economic growth, the country grew from one of the poorest countries to a comfortably middle-income one. Whereas its GDP per capita was barely $230 in 1985, it was more than ten times that in 2017 ($2,343).

Vietnam has experienced almost miraculous success in the face of adversity, and this article will address another situation in which the country has been incredibly successful – the 2020 world coronavirus pandemic.

We’ve all seen by now that with few exceptions, the coronavirus pandemic has expanded at an alarming rate, particularly among western countries. The U.S government, much like the UK, has been strongly criticised for its lack of coherent nationwide response measures, with many commenting that eventual implementation of response measures have been too little, too late. As a result of the Trump administration’s dysfunctional handling of the pandemic, federal scientists have predicted that the U.S is likely to see millions of people infected, with a sobering prediction of over 100,000 deaths.

By contrast, the number of COVID-19 cases in Vietnam, according to the government’s figures, is staggeringly low.

So far the South East Asian nation has reported just 245 cases of the disease, with 95 recoveries and, almost unbelievably, zero recorded deaths. They have only 2.99% of the number of cases it’s neighbour China has, and 0.072% of the cases of the nation with the highest recorded cases (the USA). The mortality rate of 0% is incredible compared to countries (Spain and the U.K) which are experiencing rates of over 10% and in addition to this, on April 4th Vietnam reported no new cases of the virus for the first time in over a month.

Vietnam’s first case was recorded on January 23rd when a Chinese national from Wuhan who had travelled to Ha Noi to visit his son tested positive for COVID-19. Since then Vietnam has averaged only 3.6 new cases per day – in complete contrast with the USA’s 4,432. I have no doubt that by now you must be wondering how it’s possible that Vietnam, a country which shares such strong ideological ties, a 1444km land border, and counts China as its largest trading partner, can possibly have been so successful in controlling the spread of the coronavirus pandemic despite being so closely associated country from which the virus emanated.

How exactly has Vietnam managed to keep its numbers so low?

On January 24th, one day after the first confirmed case of COVID-19, Vietnam’s Deputy Prime Minister and acting Minister of Health Vũ Đức Đam held an emergency meeting with the World Health Organisation and the Steering Committee for Emerging Disease Prevention. At this meeting the Deputy Prime minister ordered the activation of the Covid-19 Centers for Disease Prevention and Control. He also declared that the government had many measures prepared to prevent the proliferation of the new coronavirus threat. The government made good on these declarations and wasted no time implementing these emergency measures.

Authorities immediately started to pursue a strategy of identification, isolation and testing. Anyone who had come into direct contact with infected individuals were found, quarantined, and tested for COVID-19, with those testing negative being released. These measures were originally considered to be drastic by WHO recommendations, however they proved to be extremely successful, with the WHO praising Vietnam for “doing a good job in monitoring and quarantining those suspected of contracting the virus and in treating infected patients, ever since the nation detected the first infection cases”.

On January 24th the Civil Aviation Authority announced a ban on flights both to and from Wuhan, China. A week later this ban was extended to include all flights to and from China. Vietnam also stopped issuing tourist visas to Chinese nationals from epidemic stricken areas in order to reduce the chance of other outbreaks.

In the first week of February and just over two weeks after the first recorded Covid-19 case educational authorities throughout the country announced the closure of schools and universities. On February 14th these closures were extended until February 23rd. This has been extended until the present and at present a date for them to re-open has yet to be announced.

On Thursday 13th of February, provincial authorities in Vinh Phuc Province quarantined Son Loi Commune after seven people tested positive for the virus, including a 3 month old child. A total of 311 people were quarantined, with a total of 10 eventually testing positive for COVID-19. Provincial authorities established disease checkpoints, distributed free face masks, established mobile food shops and provided a daily monetary food allowance for those in quarantine.

As of Tuesday 25th of February there had been 16 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Vietnam, and just over a month after the first case the Deputy Prime Minister announced in an online meeting that “With all modesty and eagerness to learn, Vietnam has so far controlled the Covid-19 epidemic well”. Vietnam went through a period of 20 days without seeing any new infections until March 6th, when an Englishman returning to the country tested positive. This was the start of a second wave of infections, which Vietnam had hoped to prevent with its use of targeted travel bans. By this point however the epidemic was turning into a pandemic, and it was becoming increasingly difficult to prevent new arrivals carrying the illness coming into the nation as the virus has already spread over most of the globe.

On the 18th of March Vietnam stopped issuing visas to foreigners trying to enter the country. Those with visa exemption status were required to submit documentation proving they had tested negative for COVID-19. People arriving from the U.S., European countries, and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) were also required to stay in quarantine camps for 14 days. These precautions again proved justified when it was found that of the 68 new COVID-19 patients, 59 had returned from abroad.

By March 27th, the number of cases increased to 163. In response to this the Prime Minister rolled out new measures to strengthen COVID-19 prevention and control. These measures include: cancellation of events attended by more than 20 people, and the banning of gatherings of more than 10 people in public places. Religious ceremonies and cultural, sporting and entertainment events were suspended. All non-essential businesses and services were also ordered to close. Four days later on March 31st the government announced yet further measures to limit the spread of the virus. They demanded the implementation of social distancing throughout the entire country. Public gatherings of more than 2 people are banned, with citizens being required to keep a minimum distance of 2 metres in social interactions. Everyone is requested to stay at home and only go out when absolutely necessary, such as trips for food, medicine, emergency care or for working at essential businesses, factories, and services that have been allowed to continue operating.

“Households are advised to keep a distance from households, villages from villages, communes from communes, districts from districts, and provinces from provinces,” according to the directive.

In addition to these measures, the Ministry of Health (Bộ Y tế) has been sending regular texts to everyone in the country with updates on the situation, advice on how to prevent the spread of the disease and with messages of encouragement to help fight the pandemic. To give you an idea of the content, here is the first message, sent on February 4th.

For those of us not fluent in Vietnamese, Google Translate provides this:

Another Ministry of Health text(translated using Google), also sent on February 4th, reads:

In Vietnam we see a national government treating the virus seriously from the very first case, coordinating with the WHO and designing a quarantine that would provide support, both financial and material, to those affected.

Although an extensive array of measures have been employed, Vietnam’s success in fighting coronavirus lies not only in the government’s response, but in the communist nation’s culture. Simply put, Vietnam is a collectivistic society which manifests in a close long-term commitment to the “member” group, such as a family, extended family or extended relationships. Loyalty in a collectivist culture is paramount and informs most other societal rules and norms. Such a society fosters strong relationships, where everyone takes responsibility for fellow members of their group, whether it’s your family or your neighbourhood. The coronavirus crisis seems to have reignited the collectivism that still exists at the heart of Vietnamese society, which seemed to be diminishing as a result of Westernisation and the rise of Neoliberal individualism that follows on the coattails of Westernisation. Vietnamese citizens from all walks of life have united and are determined to beat the disease. Put simply, Vietnamese people have a greater tendency to care not only about their own health, but the health of the wider community.

In addition to being collectivist, Vietnamese society also prides itself on its pragmatism. In pragmatic societies, people believe that truth depends very much on situation, context and time. They show an ability to adapt traditions easily to changed conditions and a strong propensity to persevere to achieve desired results. Vietnam’s measures to control the spread of COVID-19 have been criticised by several Western media outlets as being “aggressive” or even “authoritarian” but despite this criticism, the pragmatism of Vietnamese society has contributed to Vietnam’s citizens ability to adapt their behaviour and lifestyles so swiftly to cooperate with the governments’ directives, and has certainly been a major factor in what has been an incredible effort from government employees and officials, healthcare workers and ordinary citizens in combating a potentially devastating pandemic.

I would like to end the article by sharing a personal anecdote which I believe reflects the pride that the Vietnamese people feel for their nations’ collective effort in inhibiting the spread of COVID-19. At the end of my online class on April 4th, one of my students, 12 year old Justin (his chosen name), asked me not to leave the class yet- he had some good news he wanted to share with me. He then told me that various media outlets had reported that Vietnam had recorded zero new cases of coronavirus. I said that was incredible news and I asked how he felt about this. He said, “I’m very happy for everyone in Vietnam that we can stop coronavirus together”. I believe his attitude is reflective of the majority of vietnamese in this difficult time, and is one of many factors which has led to Vietnam being so triumphant in its approach to the fight against the disease which is currently ravaging nations across the globe. Vietnam is a nation where people take pride in their community, a nation born from a long 20 year struggle, and despite the onslaught of westernisation and neoliberal individualism, has managed to preserve and stoke the communal fire in this time of crisis.

Coronavirus And The Neoliberal Agenda

Not gonna lie, it’s been a pretty bad few weeks.

The COVID-19 pandemic has escalated rapidly, and we’ve all watched as world leaders and scientists frantically scramble to get a foothold on the management of this global crisis. From the initial outbreak in Wuhan, China, to Europe being declared the epicentre of the pandemic by The WHO, the response by governments world-wide has been varied in both strategy and (with some speculation) effectiveness. While China and South Korea continue to report fewer cases day by day as their focussed efforts take effect, European countries have been seemingly paralyzed into inaction, with much less drastic measures being taken, often much later than health experts are recommending. 

But what exactly are the actions that countries like China and South Korea have taken in response to this crisis, and why are we in Europe- and particularly the UK- not following their example?

In this article we won’t recap the details of how COVID-19 developed, or speculate on how it may develop, or tell you to wash your hands again (seriously though, do it); we’re looking instead at the varied response strategies by governments and what they tell us about the western hegemony, which for the last forty-odd years has been characterised by its own disease of the soul- neoliberalism.

The term neoliberalism refers to a set of economic principles which- to varying degrees in different countries- serve as the fundamental characteristics of a capitalist economy; the freer the market, the freer the people; governments should not interfere with markets; a free market is the best mechanism for the distribution of resources; public life should largely mimic the private sector, and often should subsidise its operations- i.e. markets are better equipped to deal with the operation and functioning of everyday life, including travel, infrastructure and healthcare. Under neoliberalism, all of the above are privatised. Under neoliberalism, the market is God.

In the UK, the rise of neoliberalism as the dominant ideology is most associated with the Thatcher era of British politics, which was characterised by the deregulation and privatisation of industry on a massive scale, widening economic disparity and the hollowing out of the public sphere as a result of major tax reductions. While Labour opposed these policies, by the time Tony Blair’s New Labour came to power in 1997 this battle was largely conceded, and little has been done to reverse the havoc wreaked ever since.

In fact, so thoroughly has the ideology of neoliberalism taken root in our society that its callous machinations, for many, appear simply as the result of unavoidable material shortcomings and a Wheel of Fortune without prejudice: there just isn’t enough to go around and that’s life.

The truth of the matter is that scarcity is often artificial, and is a political choice. Economic saving in the short term comes at the expense of improving lives in the long term; conscious efforts are made to “balance the books” instead of preparing for an eventual crisis, which works well enough when things are ticking along as normal- but there is always, always a coming crisis. Around every ten years our global economic system collapses in on itself and neoliberalism is left trying to maintain an economic system that booms and busts like clockwork, all the while imposing a social system where people are left to fend for themselves whenever the music stops.

The UK’s approach to Covid is a stunning and shocking example of this policy put into practice. Despite being able to look into our own future by simply watching events unfolding in the rest of Europe and Asia, we have instead frittered away precious time hand-wringing over tax-avoiding multinationals going under and delaying lockdown measures. The UK lockdown- such that it is- began on the 23rd of March, a full two weeks after Italy went into full lockdown following their failed partial lockdown strategy which had begun on the 21st February. The lockdown in Wuhan had come on 23rd January, and at the end of that month the first two cases of coronavirus were reported in the UK. Warnings by nations ahead of us in the outbreak cycle continued to fall on deaf ears.

While it might seem that this inaction is only the result of some misplaced sense of British exceptionalism (and no doubt these delusions were at play), the truth of it is that modelling and data gathering about an eventual pandemic has been underway a lot longer than the Covid-19 outbreak. In 2016 the government carried out “Exercise Cygnus”- essentially a practice run to see how the UK would cope if a flu epidemic hit- and the results were terrifying. Within the NHS, local authorities and every government department taking part in the drill, massive service failures were found to exist. The exercise showed that the NHS was already stretched to breaking point, and would not be able to properly supply protective gear to its staff, never mind dealing with any surge in service use. 

What is the neoliberal answer to such a report? Suppression. The report, until very recently did not see the light of day. Deeming its contents “too terrifying” for the general public, the government instead chose informed inaction. When actually hit with this nightmare scenario- of which the government wilfully and knowingly left the UK underprepared- the official government policy was to seek out “Herd immunity”, where the disease would “burn through the population all in one go”, as the PM had put it, and infect 60% of the population. A policy that would have left hundreds of thousands dead, even with low fatality estimates of 1.5%.

Neoliberalism is the pursuit of profit over people, and hundred of thousands dead is acceptable collateral to people so committed in preserving the status quo that they would rather you die than risk business interests being put down the priority list. 

Why is it then that China and South Korea have coped better? At the start of this China and South Korea were respectively the first and second worst hit nations by this pandemic. South Korea, for its part, didn’t even enforce a lock down; instead they made testing easy, accessible and available on a massive scale. Anyone who tested positive had their contacts traced, were asked what venues they had gone to and who they met. Anyone they had met was tested as well and anywhere they went was closed for two weeks and sanitised. Testing was also made quick and simple, with tests in the hospital quickly being replaced and moved to drive ins and single person booths. An app was also released nationwide that let people volunteer information about where they had visited if they tested positive for Covid-19, this let people make informed decisions about where to go, and what venues to keep open, limiting the impact this had on day to day life in South Korea. 

In China the policy instead embraced self isolation, social distancing and a focus on hand and respiratory hygiene. Transport services were limited, schools were moved online and local services such as food delivery services were supported. The Chinese government, supported by the World Health Organisation also made an effort to provide education on infection prevention and controls, and is looking into ways to integrate these practices into day to day life, with a long term aim of preventing something like this happening again. The Chinese government also took a very direct role in encouraging people to focus on their own health in the coming days, and to put it in the words of Dr Gauden Galea, the WHO representative to China “Staying healthy over the next phase of COVID-19 is everybody’s business.” 

One difficulty however in discussing China’s response to the outbreak is that, funnily enough, there isn’t one Chinese response. Despite often being accused of authoritarianism and over centralisation, the Chinese government’s approach has been one of deferring to local authorities on policy; the more stringent lockdown in Wuhan has been in contrast to the response in Shanghai or Chengdu, where the local authorities have focused on the availability of health education and hygiene products. The WHO have also provided a big support to people in China, with their educational materials on social media, according to their own numbers, reaching 1 billion people. 

In summary, the response in South Korea has been one of an active government making testing available, as well as helping people coordinate around the pandemic without requiring a complete lockdown and China has instead focused on deferring local responses, supported by social distancing, moving services online when able, making education on the matter easily available and taking advice from international organisations like the WHO. The UK’s response was ignoring reports of service failures and until very recently, inaction.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak has had praise heaped upon him across the media and public discourse for lending just a shred of credibility to the Tories despite their cruel ineptitude, and for producing a budget which, at least in theory, will support the vast swathes of people now finding themselves in precarious economic circumstances, although there remains questions about whether these measures go far enough. With increased spending and support being announced and with the crisis itself being such an overwhelming situation, it can be tempting to absolve leaders of past actions and instead focus on the positive steps being taken in the here and now. But we would all do well to remember that these are the same people who, through their negligence have cost hundreds, if not thousands of lives, and have left us without the social infrastructure to deal with the present crisis as a consequence of years of austerity. 

This new found generosity will not last. Dominic Cummings deflecting questions around NHS pay rises is evidence enough for any who need it that this sudden change in values is on a strictly temporary basis, unless we demand manifest change.

(Collaboration by Ryan Wilson and Alex Osbourne)

Pandemic Perspective: The Cuban Healthcare Effort

It has been interesting to see how the different governing bodies across the world have responded to the outbreak of a global pandemic. Some have handled it better than others, and despite what your government has been telling you, the worst responses have come from some of the most “developed” countries in the world. So concerned with maintaining capital that measures have been slow and relaxed, and when compared to more socialised countries such as Cuba and Vietnam it really highlights some of the glaring issues with the structure of countries like the U.S and the U.K regardless of some of the helpful policies that have been introduced.

If the only information you have about Cuba has come from a mainstream western media perspective, it wouldn’t be surprising if you thought of them as a country ruined by a brutal communist dictator in Fidel Castro, a nation that can’t look after its people. Western reporting on Cuba has been very selective since the success of the revolution on January 1st 1959. Castro and his revolutionaries overthrew the President (Dictator) Fulgencio Batista, a man backed by the United States, who had turned Cuba in to a police state, stripping the people of all of their rights and causing the death of around 20,000 Cubans over the course of 7 years. A higher percentage of the Cuban population than what was lost by the United States in both World Wars.

There has also been a lot of criticism of the new government in Cuba. They have shown a propensity for violence in maintaining control and within the country the people that oppose them call themselves ‘Dissidents’, advocating for capitalist systems to return to the country and pointing to the governments own restriction on civil liberties. Many outside news sources do point to facts but very rarely give any context (such as Cuba being constantly under attack by a large aggressive power in the United States, who has shown it will go to extreme lengths to overthrow unfriendly regimes.) They also give Dissidents more of a voice than they seem to hold with average Cuban civilians. This is evident in one of the many U.S cables released by Wikileaks that stated “We see very little evidence that the mainline dissident organisations have much resonance among ordinary Cubans.” This seems evident in this really interesting article from Al Jazeera reporter Ed Augustin written just after the death of Castro, he writes, “Even Cubans who hate the Castros joke that the first thing the Ladies in White (Dissident human rights protesters) do after their weekly protest is go to the shopping mall to spend the money they’ve been sent from Miami.”

Indeed coverage of Cuba has always been through a political lens but lets bring it back to the modern day, the pandemic we face, and lets simply look at the facts of the situation. You may be wondering why Cuba seems so well equipped to help with this global outbreak. It all started after a bad outbreak of the dengue virus in 1981 on the island. In spite of the trade embargo placed on Cuba by the United States they were still able to send doctors out to other countries to do medical research and soon started developing in the biotech industry. More specifically they began producing Interferons. Interferons are ‘signalling’ proteins released by cells in response to infection to warn other cells to heighten their anti-viral defenses. Through the years a lot of research has been done on these proteins and they have been shown to drastically reduce the effects of viruses and even attack tumours in mice.

So after successfully minimising the dengue outbreak and decades of top quality research and practice, the Cuban medical sector is most likely the best equipped in the world to deal with a pandemic. They have not only looked after their own people but have a policy of wanting to unite the people of the world, especially in the face of this crisis. They have been working closely with China and Italy has been one of the first countries to accept their help in trying to stem the spread of Covid-19 and the small Caribbean nation have offered many more countries aid in battling the virus. They even allowed a British cruise ship to dock on their shores after the U.S refused it sanctuary. There was no Cubans on board and allowing the ship to dock put the Cuban people at risk but they acted selflessly in an effort to help those that need it. They continue to be world leaders in battling the spread of the virus and now have doctors in many countries along with China and Russia to do whatever they can to help the world.

It is clear that the capital obsessed super powers of this world are trying to downplay the severity of the virus and, in the case of America, are even trying to convince their workers to put themselves at risk for the sake of the man made construct known as the “economy”. We should instead look to countries such as Cuba that have been a guiding light in dark times, to show us that as the human race we are capable of denying the ‘dog eat dog’ mentality of capitalist society and should put more importance on the value of every life over the unrealistic necessity of capitalism of constant economic growth and profit motives of the few that own the means of production.

Covid-19

You would have to be living under a rock to not have noticed the impacts Covid-19 is already having on daily life. Businesses are closing, vital services are tightening up and we are being advised to avoid social contact as much as possible. Across Scotland, at the time of writing, the total number of positive cases for the illness are 416 and the total fatalities have now unfortunately hit 10 With both figures likely to rise. We thought this would be a good time to look at Covid-19, its impacts and what you can do during the crisis. 

Covid-19 is an illness caused by the Coronavirus that attacks your lungs and airways and is spread by bodily fluids. The symptoms include dry coughing fits, a high fever and shortness of breath. The virus causes these symptoms by turning our own immune systems against us, aggravating our immune cells to the point that they do damage to our bodies. By damaging the lung tissue and making the body vulnerable to other infections, particularly bacterial illness, Covid-19 can put people at risk of pneumonia or even losing their lives. People with underlying vulnerabilities are especially at risk, like those with a compromised immune system or pre-existing lung damage who are less able to fight against the illness.

Luckily there are still things that can be done. At the moment there isn’t much in the way of treatment for the viral infection itself but we can treat the symptoms that make the condition life threatening. If you are fit and healthy and catch the bug the symptoms can range from next to no symptoms to a particularly bad flu. (Although in some of the worst areas hit, like Italy, younger people are starting to become much more ill) The question then turns to what we can do for people who might suffer worse than ourselves if we catch the virus, that’s where social distancing comes in. By cutting out unneeded exposure we limit the chance that someone we care about might catch the illness and go through worse than we might. 

Social distancing is being taken up by most of Ayrshire already, even before the government ordered the closure of pubs and restaurants most people had decided to stay in last weekend, with reports of record low turnout. Schools have also been closed, and public transport has reduced running times. On top of this hospital visiting hours have been reduced and some churches across Ayrshire have even closed services in order to limit people’s chance of exposure. 

All of this is of course having an impact; businesses are struggling and people are struggling just the same. Less work means less pay and even with the government’s recent announcement that they will cover some worker’s pay for unto 80% of lost wages people have already been laid off. Luckily the government has revised their Covid-19 response plan from an internationally condemned approach of herd immunity, which even in the best case scenario would have killed hundreds of thousands, to one of taking an active role in stemming the crisis.

While the government revises its plans what can we do in the meantime? The best advice is to try and self isolate and avoid unneeded social contact. If you can, work from home. Try and only go for your messages once a week, and try not to panic buy. Ask yourself if you really need 18 boxes of baby wipes and 14 boxes of hand sanitizer. On top of this try and help the vulnerable as much as possible, there has been a massive effort to set up mutual aid groups across Scotland, if you can help please click this link to find where your local group is located and help if you can. 

It’s not nice and it can be difficult but try and limit exposure to your vulnerable family, this might mean dropping off shopping to them once a week and it might leave you a bit empty but even if you feel fine that doesn’t mean you can’t spread the illness. With people testing positive showing as asymptomatic this is always something to keep in mind.

Here at ACU we will continue to provide regular content that will hopefully be of interest in these strange times. As new developments and advice becomes available we will do what we can to share useful information on our social media.

Stay safe, be sensible, and we can all get through this.

Below is a couple of links to sites you may want to check to stay updated on the situation.

https://www.north-ayrshire.gov.uk/coronavirus/Coronavirus.aspx

https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/coronavirus-covid-19/