27 Sept 2017



It is with deep sadness and horror that we learn of the death of Mehmet Aksoy who has been killed in the fight against Islamic State (ISIS) on 26 September 2017.

A dynamic Kurdish activist and talented young film maker, Mehmet died while working in Raqqa where he had journeyed in order to record the experiences of the Kurdish fighters in their resistance to ISIS.

His death is a tremendous loss: it is not simply a terrible and grievous personal loss to his family, friends and comrades, with whom we mourn, but it is a great loss to the Kurdish movement.

Mehmet was totally dedicated to the cause of Kurdish freedom which he expressed in all his activities and in the choices he made.

He was a capable leader who could inspire others by his transparent integrity and honest commitment. Leading by example he was successful in galvanising Kurdish youth to take action to demonstrate their opposition to ISIS and in support of the people of Kobane.

He touched the lives of all who knew him and contributed immensely to the eventual liberation of his people and to the building of a better world for everyone.

He will be remembered for his intelligence, cheerful and affable nature and by his total dedication.

Mehmet Aksoy was exceptionally talented and at just 32 years of age when he was slain he had the potential for a long career ahead of him in the political leadership of his people; in fact, in no matter what career path he would have chosen he would have excelled.

Tragically that potential has now all been abruptly cut short. But while he will be greatly missed he will never be forgotten.

Peace in Kurdistan wishes to convey its condolences to Mehmet's family and friends.

We salute him.
Peace in Kurdistan Campaign for a political solution of the Kurdish QuestionEmail: estella24@tiscali.co.uk <mailto:estella24@tiscali.co.uk>
Contacts Estella Schmid 020 7586 5892 & Melanie Gingell - Tel: 020 7272 7890

Patrons: John Austin, Christine Blower, NUT International Secretary, Prof Bill Bowring, Julie Christie, Noam Chomsky, Jeremy Corbyn MP,  Prof Mary Davis, Lord Dholakia, Simon Dubbins, UNITE International Director,  Jill Evans MEP, Lindsey German, Convenor STWC, Melanie Gingell, Nick Hildyard, Dafydd Iwan, Former President Plaid Cymru, James Kelman, Bruce Kent, Jean Lambert MEP, Elfyn Llwyd, Mike Mansfield QC, Doug Nicholls, General Secretary, GFTU, Sinn Fein MLA Conor Murphy, Dr Thomas Jeffrey Miley, Kate Osamor MP, Margaret Owen OBE, Gareth Peirce, Maxine Peake, Lord Rea, Joe Ryan, Stephen Smellie, Dr Tove Skutnabb-Kangas, Dr Tom Wakeford, Dr Derek Wall, Julie Ward MEP, Hywel Williams MP. 

19 Sept 2017



Samir is a friend and Pluto Press regularly publish my books, so I must admit a conflict of interest, nonetheless with this warning I hope my brief review will be useful.
It is generally acknowledged that the UK housing market is broken.  More and more, especially young people are either homeless or suffering from high rents, on the other side of the equation landlords are growing richer.
Own property and your income and in turn your wealth in property tends to grow.  Fail to own property and you pay more and more in rent.  Rent controls are seen as anti-market, rent controls that limit rent increases are thought to discourage landlords from renting, restrict the quantity of rent accommodation and make shortages worse.

Walker and Jeraj challenge this view.  Landlords can make enormous amounts of money by renting, so tend to buy up housing, this crowds out potential homeowners and, in turn, pushes up rents.  The Rent Trap shows how with the decline of council housing, marketizing the housing stock has led to increasing inequality in Britain.
The book is vividly written with lots of real life horror stories of landlords evicting tenants illegally, charging high rents and failing to carry out repairs.  As the authors note while must dog owners are compassionate to their pets, animal welfare laws are still necessary.  Thus, while perhaps most landlords are ethical, stronger safeguards are necessary.  Even where the law protects tenants, often they cannot afford to act to defend their rights, or both tenants and landlords are ignorant of the law.
As well as cataloguing a major source of inequality, The Rent Trap has a lot of good advice for tenants, including a guide ‘How to take your landlord to court’.
The deeper message is we need more safeguards and a huge investment in social housing including social housing as well community land trusts and housing cooperatives.
It is an illustration of the pathologies of the market, where speculation and luck distort the price mechanism.  It is also a reminder that the young increasingly feel excluded and put upon, the rent trap, along with zero-hour contracts and student debt, has fuelled supported for Jeremy Corbyn.
Jeremy has been a long-term advocate for those who rent and there is an interesting interview with him from 2015 a few days before he took the decision to run as Labour Party leader.  It is instructive that until recently rental abuse was off the political agenda, it is also interesting that a third of MPs are landlords.
I think my only criticism of the book is that it could have collected policy suggestions into a neat conclusion but otherwise it is well researched, well written, persuasive and illustrates an often forgotten (by the media and politicians) problem.

The Rent Trap is one of a series of books for the Left Book Club.

Some scary stats
11 million private renters in UK.
Many 16-18 spend 80% of their income on rent.
1 in 12 renters too scared to ask landlords for repairs because they fear eviction.

And some scary stories
One renter threatened at gunpoint.
Organised crime moving into renting.
Parents with young children moving from one home to another because of powers of eviction.

7 Sept 2017

How to Teach Quantum Physics to Your Dog

My wife, noting my interest in but poor understanding of mathematics, borrowed How to Teach Quantum Physics to Your Dog, for me from Bracknell Library.  It is in the genre of light physics and mathematics, I have also recent enjoyed Simon Singh's The Simpsons and Their Mathematical Secrets (which incidentally is very good).

The conceit of the quantum physics book of explaining to the dog is stupid but fun too.

Much of this I don't understand but I guess if I keep reading something  will rub off.

More seriously it fits with my more lengthy posts recently on epistemology, the question of how do we know what we know, here and here.

Clearly while I am committed to both rationality and materialism, what we mean by matter is up for debate and any one with any kind of mathematics knows that things get seriously weird quite quickly when rationality based upon mathematical formalism comes into play.  So while we should eschew anything goes relativism (if that is really a thing rather than an accusation) rationality ain't what it used to be either.

Quantum  uncertainty is a fundamental limit on what can be known, arising from the fact that quantum objects have both particle and wave properties.
Uncertainty is also the first place where quantum physics coincides with philosophy.  The idea of fundamental limits to measurement runs directly counter to the goals and foundations of classical physics. Dealing with quantum uncertainty requires a complete rethinking of the basis of physics,
(Orzel 2013: 46)
Looking forward to gradually eroding my ignorance by reading the rest of this title!  And just because its science doesn't mean that it is certain.

6 Sept 2017

Statement condemning the international arms fair in London

Peace in Kurdistan condemns the Defence and Security Equipment International arms fair being held at the ExCel Centre in London’s Docklands from 11th to 14 September 2017. It is the world’s biggest arms fair and will host guests from among the world’s most oppressive regimes, including from Turkey. This exhibition, promoting the wares sold by the merchants of death, will be addressed by British government ministers. Britain is the world’s second largest, and Europe’s largest, arms exporter. Over half of the weapons that British companies sell go to the Middle East. British companies and politicians share responsibility for the murder and mayhem inflicted on the Middle East for decades. There are some 9,000 arms companies in the UK, including smaller businesses. These firms seek to profit from the war being waged by the Turkish state against the Kurdish people.  This must be stopped.
Kurdish people have a legitimate right to self-determination and their representatives, including their gaoled leader Abdullah Ocalan, have persistently sought a peaceful solution to the Kurdish question. Their pleas and proposals for peace have been rejected by Ankara with no serious pressure coming from Westminster. The Turkish government, headed by President Erdogan, has used military means to try and suppress any manifestation of the Kurds and their democratic aspirations. The Kurds are confronting a war of extermination. With at least six Turkish arms companies attending the exhibition and the British government issuing export licences for arms sales to Turkey worth £466 million from July 2013 to June 2016, Britain is facilitating and encouraging the Turkish state’s war on the Kurds and equipping it with the means to kill more ruthlessly. In 2017, Britain’s biggest arms company, BAE Systems, signed lucrative deals, worth over $100 million, with Turkish arms companies to develop fighter jet production in Turkey and to sell it fighter aircraft. This increases the potential for escalating war against the Kurds and, given President Erdogan’s regional ambitions, spreading destruction across the Middle East – all for the benefit of corporate profits.
In February 2017 the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights issued a report on human rights in the predominantly Kurdish south-east Turkey covering the period between July 2015 and December 2016. The report says some 2,000 people were killed in security operations, including 800 state forces. It details ‘enforced disappearances; torture; destruction of housing and cultural heritage; incitement to hatred; prevention of access to emergency medical aid, food, water and livelihoods; violence against women; and severe curtailment of the right to freedom of opinion and expression as well as political participation.’ There has been not a single investigation into unlawful killings of hundreds of people. ‘A series of laws … has created an atmosphere of “systematic immunity” for security forces.’ The number of displaced persons in south-east Turkey is put at 355,000 to half a million people. In towns and villages, state killings are followed by ‘mass displacement of the survivors and the destruction of their homes and local cultural monuments’. ‘The centres of towns and cities across south-east Turkey have been described as empty moonscapes and vast parking lots’ with much ‘damage due to the use of heavy weapons and, possibly, air-dropped munitions … systematically demolishing entire neighbourhoods.’ By selling arms to Turkey and by giving its government political and diplomatic support, Britain shares a responsibility for this slaughter and destruction. Turkey being a NATO member, selling weapons to its government is legitimised by the US, British and other European governments. This is unacceptable: Turkey must be condemned and ostracised as an international pariah, not armed to the teeth.
Since the 15 July 2016 failed coup attempt, the Turkish government has arrested, fired or suspended from work some 190,000 people. Approximately 50,000 people have been gaoled, including 13 People’s Democratic Party (HDP) MPs. Central government has taken direct control of 82 municipalities in predominantly Kurdish areas of the country, suspended democratically elected co-mayors and gaoled 90 of them on terrorism charges. 178 journalists are in Turkey’s prisons and over 150 media outlets have been shut down. President Erdogan and his Justice and Development Party (AKP) government have imposed a dictatorship on the Turkish people. Any manifestation of criticism of the regime is ruthlessly suppressed; even the director and chair on Amnesty International’s Turkish branch have been arrested and gaoled accused of supporting terrorism for speaking out on the flagrant and systematic rights abuses.
The Kurdish people continue to resist and demand recognition of their rights. Erdogan and his government are currently threatening to escalate their war against the Kurds by launching an all-out attack on Rojava, the autonomous and predominantly Kurdish part of northern Syria. In his determination to subdue the Kurds, wherever they may be, President Erdogan has shown he is willing to mobilise and arm jihadi groups, including the so-called Islamic State and Al-Qaeda-linked jihadists. People in Britain must speak out by demanding that their government opposes the warmongering of President Erdogan, stop arming the Turkish state terrorists and their auxiliaries, and support the cause of democracy and rights for the Kurds. Halt the war machine and end the UK's profits of death.
For information contact:
Peace in Kurdistan
Campaign for a political solution of the Kurdish Question
Contacts Estella Schmid 020 7586 5892 & Melanie Gingell - Tel: 020 7272 7890

Join the protest on 10 September, 2017, 1-6pm
Stop UK Arms Sales to Turkey. Stop Genocide against the Kurds!

5 Sept 2017

Gaston Bachelard

Gaston Bachelard by Roch C. Smith, Twayne Publishers: Boston. 1982

One reason I keep my hand in with university teaching is library access, working at a University of London college, means I can borrow books from Senate House Library.  Its an impressive building rather brutalist and soviet but in a kind of good way!  While my academic experience is around political economy I have long had an interest in the methodology of science.  A key figure in this area is the great and provocative French thinker Gaston Bachelard. I don't read French and his texts on scientific method are often untranslated.  I have found Roch Smith's book entitled, quite simply, Gaston Bachelard useful and since borrowing it from Senate House have read it quickly.

It is not a recent title and is short but I feel I understand more about Bachelard than I did last week before reading it.  Bachelard, he of the splendid beard, combined a resolute rationalism in examining science methodology with an expansive and subjective view of literature.  It as if there were two Bachelard's.  Number one is a French rationalist and part of the ensemble with Jean Cavaillès and Georges Canguilhem.

All three were in turn influenced, I think, by Léon Brunschvicg.  Bachelard number two is a mystical figure who embraced a vivid impressionistic approach to literature.  Smith, I guess, like everyone else struggles to explain the relationship between the resolutely rational Bachelard and the mystical Bachelard.  He does note that those of us who simply read Bachelard's work on science, only take a part of what he did.

My interest, rightly or wrongly, is in the rationalist Bachelard.  Bachelard argued that in science our investigations are conditioned by everyday life understanding which is not enough to gain an understanding of phenomena which we do not experience directly.  Chemistry and physics often involved the investigation of aspects of reality that we cannot directly observe.  Thus positivism based on what we can measure and empiricism based on evidence can be misleading.  The pursuit of rationalism, understanding based on logical relations, puts us on firmer foundations

For when science, particularly physics and chemistry, explores the world of the atom, it deals with a different order of experience, one that is outside the realm of everyday observation. As Bachelard repeatedly indicates throughout his epistemological works, this microphenomenal world may require systems of thought that, in some ways, contradict the logic of everyday experience [...] Bachelard reminds us, a discrepancy between the exactness of mathematics, which can be viewed as absolute, and the necessary imperfections of any attempt at exactness when dealing with concrete reality. Our knowledge of reality can be made relatively precise, but never absolutely exact. (Smith 1982: 10)

French continental theory, starting with Althusser, takes Bachelard's rationalism to criticise empiricism, noting that evidence is limited and logical analysis is the true scientific method.  Smith suggests this is a partial misreading, Bachelard has some time for empiricism and notes that a purely rationalist approach may need to be supplemented with observation.  While I don't fully understand Bachelard's approach, I get the superficial impression, that he does not construct an entirely rationalist view of science.  Such an approach provides a fully logical investigation but risks remaining separate from 'reality'.

However clearly as science moves further way from what we directly observe in everyday life, rationalism (in the sense of a mathematical approach based on logic relationships) becomes more significant.

In dealing with the newness of Einsteinian theories, Bachelard's central preocccupation is with the revolutionary role of mathematics, which he had previously identified as the hallmark of contemporary science.  He points out that in Einsteinian physics the mathematics of discovery does not proceed deductively from certain quantified laws based on prior observation and experiment.  Rather, the calculus of relativity initially generalizes in order to account for all variables.  It is synthetic, or inductive, rather than analytic, or deductive, in its initial approach.  Mathematics is not used merely to describe reality in quantitative terms, through its constructive processes, it has become a means of discovering reality.  'We are thus led to oppose to the simplifying role of mathematical information, the constructive role of mathematical induction' (VIR, 84-85) (Smith 1982: 17)
Observation Bachelard noted was conditioned by theory and theory by metaphor.  The notion of an epistemological break, that science proceeds not by gradual accumulation of knowledge but the sharp reject of a particular way of looking at reality, can be derived from this view.  However important as this is, it does not exhaust the imagination of Bachelard, the rest of the Smith's book describes how his thought took flight into many varied and exciting areas.

4 Sept 2017

Farming, Fascism and Ecology

Farming, Fascism and Ecology: A life of Jorian Jenks by Philip M. Coupland, Routledge 2016.

Philip Coupland was kind enough to send me a copy of his book on Jorian Jenks last year. What with one thing and another, including helping to organise the Global Greens Congress, finishing my own book on Elinor Ostrom and that episode with Mrs May, I have only just got around to reading it.

Jenks (1899-1963) was both a leading fascist and a founder member of the Soil Association.  His story is part of a picture of ecofascism.  While the current Green Party is on the left, picking up votes from those disillusioned with Blairism and now competing with Jeremy Corbyn, green politics has not always been on the left.

If we take the key pillars of green politics often described as 'ecology, social justice, non violence and grassroots democracy' this describes an ideology which is indeed left.  However the union of politics and ecology has in the past been on the right.

The Green Party, was originally set up as PEOPLE in the early 1970s, and founding members included former Conservative Party members.  In the late 1960s and 70s, ecological politics had a Malthusian tinge, concern with over population and demands to restrict human action to save the environment.  Indeed, a lot of my recent academic work, has been putting forward Elinor Ostrom's arguments for local cooperative management of resources rather than state or market control in all cases.

The Soil Association, Britain's leading organic farming network, was founded in 1946.  Jorian was a founding member and in an editorial and organisation role was highly significant in the organisation.  He had been a member of the British Union of Fascists, advised them on farming matters, and was a BUF parliamentary candidate in Sussex.  He was interned in the Ascot camp during the Second World War, seen like many BUF as part of a potential fifth column.

The Soil Association today has no links with far right and have tended to distance themselves from Jenks.

During the 1930s there was a definite ecofascist ideology and Jenks was friendly with the likes of Rolf Gardiner and other far right environmentalists.  I briefly examined ecofascism for Red Pepper, a while back.

Jenks had an appalling ideology but is portrayed in human detail in Coupland's biography.  Coupland has done a huge amount of research and has had access to mountains of primary documents, he clears up a number of myths about Jenks.  For example, often thought to be of 'Yeoman farmer stock', he was born of liberal urban parents and his turn to the far right is complex.  I might add this was not dishonesty on Jenks' part; he seems a pretty modest person and avoided personal myth-making.

Jorian often comes across sympathetically but its worth remembering he was only a couple of degrees of separation from the SS.  Fascism grows slowly, not all its manifestations are obvious and sympathetic human beings can promote monster-like acts.

If you are interested in the history of organic agriculture movements or the British far right, this is worth reading.  It is well written, very detailed indeed and a beautifully produced book.  The theory and larger dynamics are somewhat obscured in places but it's a powerful contribution.

3 Sept 2017

Communication Theory: Epistemological Foundations

I am a great visitor of charity shops in search of books, I picked up Communication Theory: Epistemological Foundations by James Anderson, for 75p in the Red Cross shop in Blandford Street, Sunderland.  Every penny was well spent!

The book is aimed at students taking communication studies of various kinds and looks at the various assumption behind research in this area.  However it would be useful for any student interested in the basis of knowledge claims in the social sciences and, has something to say to those working in the natural sciences too.

Epistemology is a big bad word but its meaning is straightforward, it is the study of how we know things, it is about truth claims,  How do we know that something to put it bluntly and simplistically is true or false.  From the moon landings to climate change to the theory of evolution to debates in politics about the effects of benefit cuts, truth can be highly contested.  So while this is a rather technical book dealing with research methodology, its subject matter matters potentially to all of us.

Its also very good!

Of course there is an argument that this all rather obscure and irrelevant nonsense.  Indeed it is true that many truth claims are straightforward and not much debate or theory is need to distinguish the incorrect from the obvious.  I noted this from twitter which puts this quite nicely.

No argument with Matt Wallace on this.

However, all academic research, whether in social sciences like sociology or even the natural sciences like chemistry, rests on epistemological foundations.  By this I mean a set of assumptions about how we decide what is true or what is false.

Again, it has been argued that there is nothing much to see, truth can be tasted like coffee, what holds practically is true and we don't need to engage in complex discussion or to read books on epistemology.

Anderson argues that we used to have a straight forward epistemology based on a notion of science where proof was possible.  To some extent this might include both social and natural sciences:

The question in epistemology (in fact the only question) is that of certainty. How do we know what we know? The standard answer to this question has been the progressive development of Baconian empiricism and Cartesian rationality [...] The scientific method , in fact all proper epistemology within this argument, is seen as a combination of good empirical protocols of evidence gathering and the right cannons of logic. (Anderson 1996: 4) 

He notes this led to Newtonian physics and Darwinian evolution, a trusted method led to a secure scientific product.  However, the 20th century saw a major assault on such an approach to epistemology:

There were a number of reasons for its subsequent decline.  The mechanical insights of Newtonian physics provided unsatisfactory answers to the questions of the 20th century. The human sciences could not be contained in the physical science model and failed to coalesce around a common epistemology. The trustworthiness of experience was undermined in studies on perception, the mind, culture, and language.  Our observational evidence was shown to be corrupted by theories. Theory itself was shown to be better explained by sociological rather than evidentiary practices.  And the evidence we did generate was shown to be promiscuous rather than faithful.  The conclusions were stunnding: observations are arguments, theories are sociopolitical practices, and truth is plural.  (Anderson 1996: 4) 

Thus we are in a very uncomfortable position.  To rely on classic science method is problematic, certainty is challenged.  Yet the postmodern condition described by Anderson is also problematic, to make a claim that truth is multiple is still to make a truth claim.  Postmodernism and allied approaches, as broadly advocated by Anderson, tend to eat themselves.

Anderson, whose postmodern position, is not one, at least in a pure version, I share, does in this book carefully describe and criticise different approaches to methodology.  While I don't endorse his methodological position, I certainly endorse his book as a very useful, clear and concise guide.  Moving beyond naive certainty and chaos, isn't easy, personally my rough view is that reality exists (ontological realism) it is very difficult to catalogue so a degree of both rigour and pluralism is necessary (epistemological pluralism).  Broadly Althusser and Ostrom inform this approach, I have especially been finding the discussions of Gaston Bachelard useful for understanding how scientific method in the natural sciences is more up for challenge than we might think at first.

Imperialism Is the Arsonist: Marxism’s Contribution to Ecological Literatures and Struggles

Derek Wall ’s article entitled  Imperialism Is the Arsonist: Marxism’s Contribution to Ecological Literatures and Struggles , argues that Ma...