Joseph Choonara

Interview: 'People are searching for ideas to explain the system'

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Camilla Royle spoke to Joseph Choonara, author of a new guide to Capital, about the relevance of Marx’s great work to the world today.

This year is the 150th anniversary of the publication of Capital volume 1. As you say in your book, the 50th anniversary was the year of the Russian Revolution and the 100th anniversary was right before the events of 1968 such as the civil rights movement and the general strike in France. How relevant is Capital today?

Can the left shape Brexit?

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Now that Britain’s exit from the European Union has been triggered, there will be a battle over terms. Joseph Choonara assesses the strengths of the different forces at play.

Theresa May has enacted Article 50. Her letter has been despatched, and so the two-year process of Britain leaving the European Union has begun. Where does British politics stand on this occasion? Not quite, perhaps, where some had expected. A few days before the referendum, one left-wing blogger spoke of a Leave vote paving the way for an “incoming government headed by Johnson, Gove, IDS [Iain Duncan Smith], and Farage”. Such claims were commonplace in the run-up to the vote.

If robots took our jobs, could they do them?

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The Science Museum’s major new Robots exhibition is hailed as the ‘greatest collection of humanoids ever assembled’, but it fails to take up the question everyone is asking: will a robot take my job? Joseph Choonara looks at the reality of automation under capitalism.

Robots are taking over. At least that is the impression given by the mainstream media. Headlines in recent weeks include: “Robots Could Replace 250,000 Public Sector Workers” (Independent), “Amazon To Open A Giant ROBOT-Run Supermarket Staffed By Just Three Humans” (Daily Mail) and “Give Robots ‘Personhood’ Status, EU Committee Argues” (Guardian).

Brexit wounds

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The prime minister’s commitment to both nationalism and neoliberalism is the worst of both worlds.

Theresa May has delivered her long-awaited speech on her Brexit strategy — knowledge of which was hitherto limited to the handwritten note spotted on the pad of a hapless Tory aide: “Have cake and eat it.”

May is pushing for a “hard Brexit”. Britain will leave the single market and the customs union governing trade between EU states. Instead she envisages a deal covering specific areas of the economy allowing “frictionless” tariff-free trade with the EU.

A bad year for the extreme centre

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With further elections coming this year in Europe, socialists must organise against racism and for alternatives to neoliberal politics.

If the year just ended had a single guiding theme, it was the accelerating crisis of what Tariq Ali dubs the “extreme centre”: mainstream political parties and institutions that have become addicted to the neoliberal status quo.

December was a fitting end to a year that had already seen Britain reject the EU and the US reject Hillary Clinton. In Austria, where the annulled presidential election run-off was restaged, an independent candidate from the Green Party defeated the far-right Freedom Party of Austria (FPÖ) candidate.

Is this the end of the neoliberal consensus?

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The Brexit vote in the UK and Donald Trump's victory in the US have both damaged the neoliberal project of the past three decades. Joseph Choonara questions the depth of neoliberalism's crisis and advocates continuing struggle against capitalism armed with clear socialist politics.

The global neoliberal order has suffered two wounding blows this year. First the Brexit vote removed from the European Union its second biggest economy. The howls from large capitalist firms, who overwhelmingly advocated a Remain vote, still echo. Now Donald Trump has won the US presidential election on the back of a campaign that promised to reverse the country’s longstanding commitment to free trade and to enact a major economic stimulus package.

May is heading for maximum pain

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The Tory party's pronouncements on refugees and "hard Brexit" fuel racism, but the political picture is more complex than a simple rightward shift.

Is Britain lurching to the right in the wake of the referendum vote? That was the impression given by the Conservative Party conference. Not only did Theresa May embrace a “hard Brexit”, designed to restrict migration, but Home Secretary Amber Rudd proposed forcing companies to reveal how many foreign workers they employ — before being made to backtrack.

The gig economy and collective action

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The supposedly endless rise of precarity is not as straightforward as it seems.

Growing use of zero hours contracts (ZHCs) and the “gig economy”, in which people scrape together a living from fragments of work without being formally employed, are, we are often told, leading us on an endless march towards precarity and undermining workers’ capacity to fight.

But right now things look rather different. In April this year, following protests organised by Fast Food Rights and the Bfawu union, McDonald’s offered all its employees the option of moving off ZHCs.

After the leave vote: we can beat back racism and austerity

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The British state, its ruling class, its economy and its political system have all been thrown into chaos by the vote to leave the EU.

Some 52 percent opted for exit, on a turnout of 72 percent, higher than any general election since 1992. They did so in the face of opposition from three quarters of MPs, the leadership of all three of the biggest parliamentary parties — the Conservatives, Labour and the Scottish National Party — the overwhelming bulk of British industry and almost every major capitalist institution, from the Bank of England to the International Monetary Fund.

Down with miserablism

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Both sides in the official EU referendum debate were excelling themselves in their hideousness as Socialist Review went to press.

In late May, Vote Leave launched a racist poster with the headline “Turkey (population 76 million) is Joining the EU” and a picture of a British passport. The Stay campaign hit back with another dodgy dossier from the UK Treasury predicting a year-long recession if we leave — this from the geniuses who forecast 2.5 to 3 percent growth in the recession year of 2008.


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