Monday, 22 April 2013

More on 'Primitive Accumulation'

Some years ago, I found a wonderful book by Michael Perelman entitled The Invention of Capitalism: Classical Political Economy and the Secret History of Primitive Accumulation (Duke University Press, 2000).  Now I see that Perelman has a splendid article on Counterpunch, giving a whistle-stop tour of his arguments.  He bears out David Harvey's suggestion that 'primitive' accumulation is here with us now, and works via many means - from versions of 'enclosure' as I wrote here on April 6 in regard to Coillte, to the failure to regulate the banking and financial sectors of the economy - to transfer wealth from the many to the few.

Part of the pleasure, or grimness, to be derived from reading Perelman lies in being reminded of how in the mid-nineteenth century, Ireland, with its clachan settlements and rundale mode of land-use, and the potato economy, was the target of neo-classical economic reformers like David Ricardo.  In the lead-up to the Great Famine, Ricardo advocated not only the re-organisation of the rural economy, but also the disciplining of the Irish peasant workforce to the rigours of wage-labour.  The brilliant Irish critic David Lloyd, in his most recent book Irish Culture and Colonial Modernity: The Transformation of Oral Space 1800-2000 (Cambridge UP, 2011) gives a searing account of the transformations advocated by the likes of Ricardo, and by contemporary administrators such as Trevelyan, which while they certainly did not 'cause' the Famine considerably worsened its effects.

Here's a link to Michael Perelman's article:

 A Short History of Primitive Accumulation


Tuesday, 16 April 2013

For the Boy with a Stone facing the Tank: Amira Hass, Palestinian Resistance, and the Critique of Israel

Amira Hass is one of Israel's most distinguished and radical journalists.  She's a columnist for Ha'aretz, and is one of the very few Israeli or Western journalists who has lived for prolonged periods of time both in the Gaza Strip, and on the West Bank.  Her book Drinking the Sea at Gaza: Days and Nights in a Land Under Siege (2000) is a wonderful, and wrenching, account of life in the Strip.

On April 3 last, she published an article with Ha'aretz entitled 'The Inner Syntax of Palestinian Stone-Throwing', in which she defended the Palestinian right to resist occupation by stone-throwing - indeed it must be noted that the right to resist occupation  by violent means is recognised in the Geneva Conventions.

Unsurprisingly, her article was greeted with an avalanche of criticism in Israel.  On the splendid leftwing website Counterpunch started by the late great Alexander Cockburn, and still run by Jeffrey St Clair, Lawrence Davidson has an excellent article explaining Hass's piece, analyzing her critics, and showing the wider implications of such debate. 

In Defense of Amira Hass

Amira Hass's writing and courage put her in front of the tank with the boy with a stone, whose image is captured and honoured at the head of this blog.  Would that there were more like her.


Saturday, 6 April 2013

Noam Chomsky on Violence and Dignity in the Middle East

Noam Chomsky, retired MIT University Professor of Linguistics and lifelong libertarian socialist, needs no introduction as a famous leftwing American public intellectual.  Since the 1960s, when he was active in protests against the invasion and occupation of Vietnam, Chomsky has maintained a relentless critique of American foreign policy, as tending to 'deter democracy' and to promote corporate profit over people.

One of his greatest books is The Fateful Triangle: The United States, Israel and the Palestinians, first published in 1984 - an extraordinary catalogue of Israel's violence in its catastrophic invasion of Lebanon in the summer of 1982, and an even more extraordinary expose of the malfeasance of the mainstream American media in covering up or failing to acknowledge that violence.  Chomsky has, in fact, for a very long time been a severe critic of Israel and of American support of the 'Jewish state' - as Christopher Hitchens once noted, 'seldom a prudent course for those who seeking the contemplative life'.

Chomsky continues, in his mid-eighties, to keep up a level of activity and work that would break the strength of people half his age. He was recently in Dublin giving the inaugural Frontline Defenders' Annual Lecture (and was awarded the Ulysses Medal by UCD), and in London, giving the Edward Said Memorial Lecture.  The London Review of Books has put up a podcast of that talk, which is free for anyone to listen to.

The annual Edward W Said London Lecture is part of a series of cultural events and exhibitions programmed in association with The Mosaic Rooms ( and the A M Qattan Foundation ( to improve cultural and intellectual understanding of the Arabic world, and provide a platform for discourse and debate. The lecture is sponsored by The London Review of Books (

Violence and Dignity on the Middle East · 18 March 2013

Ireland and the enclosure of the commons

It's high time that this blog tackled an issue in addition to the travails of Israel/Palestine, which it does not cover half as much as it should.  Starting this blog last April - nearly a year ago! - I said that I'd write about political and cultural issues as they took my attention, not only pertaining to the Middle East but also to Ireland in the Bad New Days.

Last January I climbed Djouce Mountain, in Co. Wicklow, with my old friend and comrade Andrew.  We went up by the Barr and White Hill, and on to Djouce summit.  It was a beautiful day of hard frost, and the hills retained a dusting of snow.  It's a magnificent, easy hike.  Cresting the Barr, where we passed the memorial to JB Malone, the view down to Lough Tay and Luggala, over to Fancy and Knocknaclohoge, and beyond to Lough Dan and Scarr, was superb.  Snows fringed the rim of the great cliffs above the lake, backed by pale azure skies.  Every blade of grass bore its own banner of hoarfrost.

The walk is deceptively easy, as much of it is now 'boardwalked'.  By this I mean that the path had been becoming severely eroded, and some combination of agencies - the Wicklow National Park, perhaps, and Coillte, and Mountain Meitheal - came together to lay a pathway over the soft heather and bog, made of old CIE railway sleepers bound together, and laid in pairs end to end, in steps or stretching out over the moors.  For once, a decent and environmentally-sound intrusion has been made into the over-pressured Wicklow hills.

But a much bigger problem is in the making, and has been for some time.  Andrew and I parked the car at the entrance and carpark of a state forest on the east side of the Sally Gap-Luggala road, a Coillte forest that drapes the southern flanks of Djouce and White Hill.   These forests, which litter Wicklow, and are present all over Ireland, are mostly composed of fast-growing lodgepole pine and sitka spruce and other unprepossessing conifers, that can cope with rugged or boggy or otherwise marginal land.  They are planted very densely, and in ugly boxed formations that lap up the mountainsides.  They are planted so closely, in fact, that in the resultant darkness there is no undergrowth, and much the ground beneath them becomes sterile.  Very little wildlife can survive in these forests once they are mature, though some species like the plantations when the trees are young.   The pine needles and other detritus from these trees, which are grown mostly for pulp, not  for quality timber, cause acidification of the soils, such as they are.  When Coillte decides to fell a certain crop of trees, the procedures used are extraordinarily destructive and ugly.  'Clearfelling' involves simply smashing down all the trees in a designated area.   They may be felled by axe and chainsaw, or they may be pulled down by some kind of pulley machinery.  Either way, the result is a blasted landscape of grey deadwood, resembling some dismal blend of Flanders in 1916 and Tunguska in 1908.

Be all of this as it may, Coillte has maintained amenity access to these forests for the Irish public, except when felling is taking place.  Coillte forests cover 7% of the land area of Ireland.  Many of them, as in Wicklow, guard the routes onto some of the most dramatic and superb mountain landscapes in Ireland - Glendalough in Wicklow, or Glen Inagh on the eastern rim of the Twelve Bens are two areas I know well, but there are many others.

As part of its suite of 'austerity' policies to re-balance the state finances, but also to pay back stupendous debts, under the aegis of the 'troika' of the EU, the IMF, and the ECB, the current Fine Gael/Labour coalition government proposes to sell the harvesting rights to these forests.  Not, they say, the land itself, not the forests themselves, but the right to cut trees and sell timber. This idea, which is of questionable constitutionality, has extraordinary implications.

It seems highly unlikely that any corporation that would seriously wish to invest in such 'harvesting rights' would not wish also to obtain a large degree of control over the landscapes where those rights would be exercised.  This would mean that any such investor, such as IFS Asset Managers, which the ludicrous and disgraceful Bertie Ahern joined as an executive in 2011, would eventually wish to control access to these forests, would wish to push new roads into the forests, would likely seek to cut off or restrict public amenity access to the forests at certain times, might baulk at issues pertaining to insurance liability, might wish to change species planted, might change the routine of felling, might change methods of felling, might wish to put certain kinds of permanent installations on forest land (buildings, carparks, machinery), might use chemicals or other materials hitherto unused.   Doubtless other problems of this kind would arise, should such a sale go ahead.

The sale is being contemplated under the terms of the bail-out programme organised by the EU, ESB and IMF.  However, it's important to note that the 'troika' does not specify that forestry - as a 'non-strategic' state asset - be sold off, in part or in its entirety.  The move towards a  break-up and sale of Coillte comes from our own government and politicians.

The sale of harvesting rights may turn out to  be highly unwise, in market-capitalist terms.  Economist Peter Bacon - he of the famous reports on the coming crisis in the Irish housing market of 1998 and 1999 which were ignored - has argued that the sale of Coillte harvesting rights 'cannot be justified'  in economic terms.  In a report commissioned by the Coillte branch of IMPACT and published  on January 28, 2013, Bacon and his colleagues have declared that the sale of harvesting rights as currently planned would leave the state with costs of up to 1.3 billion euros, or, to put it otherwise, the sale of harvesting assets would have to be made at prices very substantially higher than can be supported by the market.   Bacon says that the current proposals would effectively destroy Coillte as a viable commercial entity, stripping it of its valuable features, and leaving it to maintain and run assets of lower value - the classic risk of privatisation of state assets.  Bacon's report also deals with the risks to amenity access and thereby to the tourist economy - such risks are hard to quantify,  but very real nevertheless.

The Assistant Secretary-General of IMPACT, Johnny Fox responded to the release of the Bacon report thus: 'IMPACT and many other organisations have expressed concerns that the sale of Coillte harvesting rights would drastically limit public access to the countryside, undermine the quality and character of our woods, and damage our world-class forestry and environmental standards.  In response we were told that the policy is necessary on economic grounds. Peter Bacon’s report has now fundamentally undermined the only rationale the Government has put forward for this reckless and damaging policy'.

The reader of this blog might then ask, Is there any connection between this argument about public forestry in Ireland, and the Israel/Palestine question?  Well, in fact there is a strong connection.  To understand it, we need to go back to Marx.

At the conclusion of the first volume of Capital, Marx discusses the point of initiation of capitalism.  For capital to be accumulated, a pool must be created of workers that lack capital, that lack control of the means of production, and that can only sell their labour-power.  So he describes how, in the late Middle Ages and early Renaissance era, the process of enclosure  began, whereby small peasant proprietors were flung - frequently with violence - off their land, and the great estates of modern England began to appear.  The former small farmers were now available as a rural proletariat, and the process of capital accumulation could move ahead.   The great Welsh cultural and literary critic Raymond Williams wrote about this process - which went on for hundreds of years - and its literary representations, even in writers as apparently apolitical as Jane Austen, in his masterpiece The Country and the City (1973).

The privatisation of state assets represents but the latest stage of this long and grim story.   The geographer David Harvey summarises Marx's arguments on this as follows:  the process requires the commodification and privatisation of land and the expulsion by force of peasant populations; the conversion into exclusive private property rights of various ownership rights (common, state, collective); the suppression of rights to the commons; the commodification of labour power and the suppression of alternative modes of production and consumption; colonial, neo-colonial and imperial processes of appropriation of assets (including natural resources); the monetization of exchange and taxation, particularly of land; the slave trade; and usury, the national debt and ultimately the credit system as radical means of primitive accumulation.  The state, with its monopoly of legitimate violence and of legality has a crucial role in backing and promoting this process.

Harvey's treatment of this issue comes as part of his argument in The New Imperialism (2003) that the term 'primitive accumulation' is, in fact, a misnomer, in that it suggests that what Marx calls the 'original sin' of capitalism only took place deep in the historical past, and has nothing to do with the processes of neoliberal capitalism today.  But the American war in Iraq suggests otherwise, suggests that we should really refer to 'accumulation by dispossession', and that the American interventions in the Middle East, which are concerned principally with influencing the control, regulation and monetization of oil resources, should be seen as part of the wider history of the privatisation of the commons.  The Israeli occupation of the West Bank can be seen as part of the same process.  Over the last 46 years, the occupation has shifted from  being primarily a military operation, justified in strategic terms, to something broader, involving a substantial part of the Israeli economy, the state-sponsored theft and control of crucial resources (land and water), and the proletarianisation of the Palestinian population.  The threatened privatisation of Irish forestry, of a major national material and cultural asset, held by the state in trust for the Irish people, is a seemingly undramatic outrider of the same process.

Arundhati Roy tells us, in her Power Politics (2001), that privatisation is essentially 'the transfer of productive public assets from the state to private companies.  Productive assets include natural resources.  Earth, forest, water, air.  These are the assets that the state holds in trust for the people it represents ... To snatch these away and sell them as stock to private companies is a process of barbaric dispossession on a scale that has no parallel in history'.


Thursday, 4 April 2013

Significant victory for the BDS campaign in Ireland

Teachers Union of Ireland calls for Academic Boycott of Israel in unanimous vote; first academic union in Europe to do so

Ireland-Palestine Solidarity Campaign – Press Release, Thursday 4th April 2013, 2.30pm

At its Annual Congress, the Teachers’ Union of Ireland (TUI) became the first academic union in Europe to endorse the Palestinian call for an academic boycott of Israel. The motion, which refers to Israel as an “apartheid state”, calls for “all members to cease all cultural and academic collaboration with Israel, including the exchange of scientists, students and academic personalities, as well as all cooperation in research programmes” was passed by a unanimous vote during today’s morning session.

The motion further calls on the Irish Congress of Trade Unions to “step up its campaign for boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) against the apartheid state of Israel until it lifts its illegal siege of Gaza and its illegal occupation of the West Bank, and agrees to abide by International law and all UN Resolutions against it”, and on the TUI to conduct an awareness campaign amongst members on the need for BDS. The motion was a composite motion proposed by the TUI Executive Committee and TUI Dublin Colleges Branch. It was presented by Jim Roche, a lecturer in the DIT School of Architecture and member of the TUI Dublin Colleges Union branch, and seconded by Gerry Quinn, Vice President of the TUI.

Speaking after the successful passage of the motion, Jim Roche said: “I am very pleased that this motion was passed with such support by TUI members, especially coming the day after Israeli occupation forces shot and killed two Palestinian teenagers in the West Bank yesterday. BDS is a noble non-violent method of resisting Israeli militarism, occupation and apartheid, and there is no question that Israel is implementing apartheid policies against the Palestinians. Indeed, many veterans of the anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa have said that it’s worse than what was experienced there.”

Mr. Roche pointed to the desperate situation of Palestinian education under occupation saying that: “Palestinians are struggling for the right to education under extremely difficult conditions. They are eager for it, as shown by the large numbers of students in third level education inside and outside the occupied Palestinian territories. Education has always been a target of the Israeli occupation, seeing forced closures of universities, disruption under checkpoint, closure and curfew regimes, and arrests, beatings and killing of both students and teachers. Sometimes, such as during the 2008-09 attack on Gaza, educational institutions have been militarily attacked. In fact I have just returned from a solidarity visit to Gaza where I had the opportunity to hear first-hand from Palestinian educators and students about their difficulties. The unanimous passage of this motion that shows that the Palestinian struggle for freedom, of which academic freedom is a key part, resonates with TUI members and sends a strong message of solidarity to their counterparts in Palestine".

Mr. Roche concluded: “We proposed this motion as we believe that, as with South Africa, the trade union movement has a vital role to play in helping apply pressure to end Israeli apartheid and occupation. I am proud that the TUI has taken a clear stand, and now support a full academic boycott of Israel in line with the Palestinian call for BDS”.

Dr. David Landy, a member of the Ireland-Palestine Solidarity Campaign and founder member of Academics for Palestine welcomed the motion saying: “This is an historic precedent, being the first such motion in Europe to explicitly call for an academic boycott of Israel. We congratulate the TUI and call on all Irish, British and European academic unions to move similar motions. Undoubtedly apologists for Israeli apartheid will complain that such motions stifle academic freedom, but this is nonsense. The Palestinian call for an academic boycott of Israel is an institutional boycott, not a boycott of individuals. Ironically, those that will jump to complain about this motion will have no words of condemnation for the de facto boycott imposed on Palestinian education by Israel, nor for its continuing attacks on Palestinian education, students and educators”.


The TUI Motion in full reads:

241. Executive Committee/Dublin Colleges(x4)
TUI demand that ICTU step up its campaign for boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) against the apartheid state of Israel until it lifts its illegal siege of Gaza and its illegal occupation of the West Bank, and agrees to abide by International law and all UN Resolutions against it.
Congress instructs the Executive Committee to:
(a) Conduct an awareness campaign amongst TUI members on the need for BDS
(b) Request all members to cease all cultural and academic collaboration with Israel, including the exchange of scientists, students and academic personalities, as well as all cooperation in research programmes. (ENDS)
The Palestinian Call for a Cultural and Academic Boycott of Israel can be read here: