Venezuela in Crisis

Nicolás Maduro was elected President of Venezuela in 2013, winning a second term in May 2018 with 67.7% of the vote. From the start, the US has mounted a relentless campaign against him, calling openly for regime change and threatening military intervention. Trump’s government recognized Juan Guaidó, of the conservative opposition, as ‘interim president’ in January, and backed his spectacularly ill-conceived coup attempt at the end of April. Venezuela is heavily dependent on its oil revenues and relies on these to import food and medicines. The collapse of global oil prices in 2014 accelerated the country’s profound economic crisis. From 2017 Trump’s policy has been to impose severe economic sanctions on the country, hitting the petroleum industry as hard as possible, including preventing the state’s energy company—PDVSA — from receiving payments for its export of petroleum products. By one estimate, the US sanctions have contributed to the deaths of 40,000 Venezuelan civilians between 2017 and 2018

Alongside anti-imperial opposition to violations of Venezuelan sovereignty, socialists must also offer a full analysis of the class character and nature of the Maduro regime and an assessment of its role in the crisis. It is not at all self-evident that the Maduro administration represents the interests of Venezuela’s lower orders, with the economic and political power of the military, a self-enriching state bureaucracy, and sections of private capital growing considerably under his watch. In some ways, the present conflict between the right-wing opposition and the Maduro government is a political confrontation between different fractions of Venezuelan capital, the former backed by the imperial power of the United States and international financial markets, and the latter backed by the Venezuelan state (and to some extent, Chinese and Russian imperialism), which has retained its rentier-capitalist character throughout the Chávez and Maduro eras. The difficult but necessary task facing independent socialists has been to navigate an independent struggle against imperial intervention, total separation from the Venezuelan right, and simultaneous independence from the Maduro government. 

Jeffery Webber will discuss this situation with us. He is a Senior Lecturer in International Political Economy at Goldsmiths, and has written and spoken internationally on Latin American Politics, international relations and social theory.  He sits on the editorial board of Historical Materialism  and writes regularly for non-academic  publications, including JacobinViewpoint, and NACLA Report on the Americas. The most recent of his five books The Last Day of Oppression, and the First Day of the Same: The Politics and Economics of the New Latin American Left was published in 2017.

7th October 2019


Racism and Capitalism – two sides of the same coin?

Racism is outwardly condemned as an evil in our purportedly ‘liberal’ societies, yet it is inextricably linked to capitalism through violent histories of racist expropriation, and centuries of slavery and empire. Modern capitalism is built upon these histories, and Gargi Bhattacharyya argues that it is only by tracking the interconnections between its changing development and racism that we can hope to address the most urgent challenges of social injustice today. She is Professor of Sociology at the University of East London, where her research interests lie in the areas of ‘race’ and racisms, sexualities, global cultures, the ‘War on Terror’, austerity and racial capitalism. She has written widely on all these issues, and her most recent bookRethinking Racial Capitalism: Questions of Reproduction and 3rd Survival, was published by Rowman and Littlefield last year. 

3rd June 2019


Reforming the Drug Laws to Improve Health

The destructive consequences of drug abuse and addiction are a matter of grave concern. They cause great individual suffering and societal damage, and punitive regulations and legislation have been imposed in an effort to control the problem. Professor Nutt will argue that although the drug laws are designed to reduce drugs use and harms, they do neither – if anything, prohibition based approaches increase harms. Moreover they have had a nearly fatal impact in stopping research into many important brain treatments. His talk will cover these topics and reveal more rational and evidence based approaches to the problem of the use of alcohol and other drugs. David Nutt is currently the Edmond J. Safra Professor of Neuropsychopharmacology in the Division of Brain Sciences at Imperial College London. He is also Chair of DrugScience (formally the Independent Scientific Committee on Drugs (ISCD). He is a Fellow of the Academy of Medical Sciences and a member of the International Centre for Science in Drug Policy. David broadcasts widely to the general public both on radio and television. He has edited the Journal of Psychopharmacology for over two decades and has published over 500 original research papers, a similar number of reviews and book chapters, eight government reports on drugs, and 32 books, including Drugs Without the Hot Air (UIT press) which won the Transmission Prize for Communicating Science in 2014.

29th April 2019

 


Security, Conflict and Exploitation in Congo

The  Democratic Republic of Congo  (DRC) is one of the largest countries in Africa and has experienced intense human and resource exploitation and violence throughout its history. This talk explores the links between violence, resources and political power, and the effects that these have had on development and migration. The recent presidential elections have seen a relatively peaceful handover of power, and the emergence of a new form of political opposition. These have taken place alongside a marked continuation in the destitution suffered by majority of the population, and a critical lack of service provision, which is evident in the responses made to the on-going Ebola outbreak  in the east of the country. 

 Zoe Marriage is a Reader in Development Studies at SOAS  and a member of the Centre on Conflict, Rights and Justice.  She has researched extensively in countries affected by conflict in Africa and has focused on the relationship between security and development in the DRC publishing on demobilisation and the imposition and pursuit of security  (Formal Peace and Informal War, Routledge 2013).  She will talk about the current situation in the DRC and the prospects for development and security.

Marriage, Zoe (2018) ‘The Elephant in the Room: Off-shore companies, liberalisation and extension of presidential power in DR Congo.  Third World Quarterly, 39 (5). pp. 889-905.

You can follow Zoe on twitter here: https://twitter.com/VCDatSOAS

15th April 2019

 


Saudi Arabia & the West: the Future of a Toxic Relationship

The war in Yemen and the Khashoggi murder have highlighted the ruthless and brutal nature of the Saudi regime and the extent to which it has been supported over many years by the west. The need for petrodollars and access to the sovereign wealth of Saudi Arabia to ease western current account  deficits  has led to western connivance with the Saudi regime in its regional objectives in the Middle East generally and specifically in the Yemen, where western arms and military advisors are used by the Saudi regime to fight a war that is resulting in a humanitarian disaster.

David Wearing is a teaching fellow in International Relations at Royal Holloway, University of London,  and has studied relations between the West  and Saudi Arabia over many years.  He has provided expert comment and analysis on numerous occasions for Sky News and BBC tv and radio, as well as writing regularly for outlets such as the Guardian, the Independent, CNN, New Humanist, the New Statesman, London Review of Books, openDemocracy and Le Monde Diplomatique. In September 2017 he published ‘AngloArabia: Why Gulf Wealth Matters  to Britain’. He will look at the nature of the Saudi regime and its foreign policy under the Crown Prince and how far it will be possible for western policymakers to change, recalibrate and disentangle existing relationships which are so dependent on the flow of Saudi money to the west.   See all Guardian articles.  See David on Twitter.

1st April 2019


Plastics & Us: A Relationship Gone Bad?

Plastic is an extraordinarily versatile material. It is cheap, durable, low-weight and versatile, and our building and construction industry, industrial and agricultural machinery, transportation, electrical goods, textiles, medical supplies and packaging are all dependent on its various forms. The accumulative amount produced since mass production began in the 1950s – 8.3 billion tonnes – is roughly equivalent to the entire weight of the human beings living on the planet, and almost half the items made from it are for single use. This results in huge amounts of detritus, which is polluting our landmasses and contaminating our oceans, affecting over 700 marine species. More recently, the presence of minute ‘microplastics’, less than 5 mm across and often invisible to the human eye, has been causing grave concern. These are ubiquitous in habitats as diverse as the deep Indian Ocean floor to Arctic sea ice. They can cause harm to marine invertebrates if ingested, and potentially carry a cocktail of chemicals. Recently, their presence in foods destined for human consumption has prompted concern regarding possible human health effects, which are still unknown. Tonight’s speaker Stephanie Wright is an environmental health scientist, researching this particular aspect of the problem in the Analytical, Environmental and Forensic Sciences Department of King’s College London. She will discuss the whole issue with us, including what can be done to limit the damage and re-align our relationship with plastic through smarter use and better waste disposal of this essential material. 

Dr Stephanie Wright – 18.45 on Monday 25th February


The Impact of Foreign Interventions in Africa

Western involvement in Africa extends from massive corporate investment in mineral extraction and technology, to direct government aid and a network of programmes  run by NGOs. In addition China is now also heavily involved in investment in Africa. But the impact of these interventions may produce either different outcomes from those intended or be detrimental to the economic, social and political development of the countries concerned.

Alastair Fraser lectures at SOAS in the Department of Politics and International Studies and he is on the Editorial Working Group of the Review of African Political Economy. His research includes: the politics of ‘call-in’ radio and television; the privatisation of the copper mining industry, including relations between workers, the state and Western and Chinese investors; the strategies African states deploy to negotiate with foreign aid donors; the ideological effects on trade unions and NGOs of ties to the international development industry; and the relationships between technocracy, democratisation and populist modes of political mobilisation. He will look at how foreign aid donors, international NGOs and multinational companies promote their preferred economic and social agendas in Africa, and how African elites and citizens respond to these influences. See full academic biography

4th February 2019


The Threat of Surveillance in an age of Technology

In recent years, the British state has spied on law-abiding environmental activists, democratically elected politicians, victims of torture and police brutality, and hundreds of journalists. With the development of new and emerging technologies, this often lawless use of sophisticated surveillance is becoming increasingly alarming. In 2016 a law called the Investigatory Powers Act was passed in the UK, enabling the British state indiscriminately to hack, intercept, record, and monitor the communications and internet use of the entire population, making it the most intrusive system of any democracy in history. The prospect of a free trade agreement in mass surveillance between the UK and the US has exacerbated the situation, with the US President committed to monitoring all mosques, investigating Black Lives Matter activists, and deporting two to three million people. Silkie Carlo will discuss this critical issue with us. She is the Director of Big Brother Watch, a non-party, non-profit organisation dedicated to protecting privacy and civil liberties in the UK. She is a passionate campaigner for the protection of human rights and freedom, and after working for Edward Snowden’s official defence fund, became the Senior Advocacy Officer  at Liberty, where she led a programme on Technology and Human Rights, and launched a legal challenge to the Investigatory Powers Act.   She co-wrote the handbook “Information Security for Journalists” which was commissioned by the Centre for Investigative Journalism.  See also article on Apple´s monopoly on free speech.

21st January 2019

 


The Challenge of National Populism

Across the west, there is a rising tide of people who feel excluded, alienated from mainstream politics, and increasingly hostile  towards minorities,immigrants and neo-liberal economics. Elections in America and across Europe have shown that many of these people have turned to national populist movements in a revolt against liberal democracy and the rationalism of the enlightenment. Their ideas can be seen as anti democratic and in some cases fascist, but support for this right wing populism has grown inexorably over the last five years. How should we engage with and respond to a set of ideas and values which which appear so alien to mainstream political thinking in the west in the post war decades?

Matthew Goodwin is Professor of Politics at Rutherford College, University of Kent and a Senior Visiting Fellow at Chatham House.  He is the leading authority on nationalist and far right politics and has written extensively on this topic.  In 2015 he won the Paddy Power Political book of the year for ‘Revolt on the Right’. His most recent book ‘National Populism: The Revolt Against Liberal Democracy’is due to be published in October and signed copies will be available to purchase on the evening of his talk.  He will look at the background  and ideas of national populism, the challenge that it presents to western democratic systems and will suggest ways in which we should respond to that challenge.

Monday 3rd December 2018


Incarceration as a Weapon of War

Detention and confinement, both of combatants and large groups of civilians, have become fixtures of asymmetric wars over the course of the last century, with a huge increase in the employment of detention camps, internment centres, and the enclosure or isolation of groups of people. Laleh Khalili is professor of Middle East Politics at SOAS, and will discuss this development with us. She has written and lectured widely on the politics and political economy of war with specific focus on the Middle East, and her most recent book Time in the Shadows: Confinement in Counterinsurgencies investigates the two major liberal counterinsurgencies of our day – the Israeli occupation of Palestine and the U.S. War on Terror. She argues that although practices of incarceration have been defended by the assertion that they constitute measures to “protect” populations against violence and terrorism, liberal states have in fact consistently acted illiberally in their confinements, and that this has increasingly encouraged policymakers willingly to choose to wage wars.

19th November 2018