The French Insurgency: What is the significance of the Gilets Jaunes?

The ‘Yellow Vests’ or ‘Gilets Jaunes’ are a movement of protest in France that since it started in November 2018 has operated outside the framework of political parties and trade-union organisation and has shaken the political establishment. It has brought together waged workers, the self-employed and other popular strata in a protest against the state and has highlighted the injustices and exploitation of French society. Surprisingly it has maintained high levels of popular support throughout months of confrontation with the state, in spite of escalating levels of police repression and it has succeeded in extracting concessions from the government. However, this movement appears as inherently contradictory. Some of its demands and its discourses  seem to have elements of the programme of the far-right (nationalism, belief in conspiracy theories and anti-migrant feelings) as well as an emphasis on justice and redistribution of wealth associated with the left.

Dr Stathis Kouvelakis is a Reader in Political theory in the Department of French at Kings College, London. In his research interests he specialises in Marx’s political thought, contemporary French politics and the history of social protest in France. His recent publications include an article in the New Left Review: The French insurgency: Political Economy of The Gilets Jaunes.(110/ May 2019).  He will look at the background to the ‘Gilets Jaunes’ protest,  the key elements of their programme and  their impact on the French political system and the Macron government.

18th November 2019


Iran & the West: A conflict without resolution?

The relationship between Iran and the West appears to have reached a new low point. The nuclear agreement with Iran is on the point of collapse following US reimposition of  sanctions and the naval build up and the standoff over oil supplies in the Strait of Hormuz is dangerous. The potential for  armed conflict is very real and there are powerful interests in the US and elsewhere, keen to promote such a conflict. But  the history of the fraught relationship between Iran and the West is complex and goes back a long way. The present situation must be seen against this background.

Yassamine Mather is the Acting Editor of the Academic Journal ‘Critique’ and is a regular contributor to  TV and radio  programmes on BBC Persian. She is a member of the Senior Common Room of St. Anthony”s College, Oxford and undertakes research within the Middle East Centre at Oxford. Her research interests encompass the Middle East with particular emphasis on Iranian politics. She will look at the background to the current crisis both from the perspective inside Iran and the geopolitical forces at play in western policy towards Iran. She will also discuss how the present crisis could be resolved and prospects for developing a  future more positive relationship between Iran and the West.

28th October 2019

 


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