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Does BDS have a Chance in Germany?

Boycott Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) is a powerful international movement for Palestine in every country – but Germany. What are the chances of a successful BDS campaign here?


23/06/2022

I grew up politically in Great Britain in the 1980s. During this time, activists engaged in two main campaigns: domestic and/or international. The domestic fight was aimed against the Thatcher government–which included campaigns against unemployment, in defence of trade unions, and anti-war. While the international focus opposed the racist Apartheid régime in South Africa.

The Boycott Campaign against South Africa

To set the scene, Nelson Mandela was still in jail and the Thatcher government was a proud supporter of the Apartheid government. Conservative activists wore badges which read “Hang Nelson Mandela”. Many of these conservative activists later went on to become MPs for the British government.

The central focus of our activities in Europe was the boycott campaign called by the ANC (African National Congress), which targeted corporations that supported the Apartheid. Our goal was to promote public awareness about the corporate Apartheid support. We organised regular picket lines outside Barclays Bank locations. We made frequent visits to the supermarkets, where we featured South African products (such as oranges), and covered them with leaflets which read “don’t buy racist fruit”.

What’s the point of this history lesson? There are two main reasons. First, an effective campaign must start somewhere. In the 1980s there was no certainty that people would support a campaign against racism in South Africa. At that point Thatcher had won three elections, although she stood clearly on the side of the oppressor.

Nonetheless, we were able to build a campaign which made a small contribution towards freeing Nelson Mandela. In London, there were two large concerts for Mandela – for his 70th birthday in 1988 and in 1990, after he was finally released. By the end of the 1980s, only hardcore racists were against Mandela and the ANC. A few years earlier, it was quite different.

There’s a second reason why our fight using BDS back then, is still just as important now. We must be clear about the deliberate decision Palestinian civil society made by choosing a boycott campaign as its main international demand. In Germany, BDS is often wrongly compared to the “Kauf nicht bei Juden” (don’t buy from Jews) campaign by the German Nazis in the 1930s. At best this comparison involves a misunderstanding, at worst a lie. The BDS campaign is an intentional attempt to reproduce the successful international campaign against Apartheid South Africa.

The initiative for BDS came from Palestine – from all relevant organisations from Civil Society. From the very beginning, veterans of the campaign against Apartheid in South Africa were also part of the Palestinian BDS campaign. People like Ronnie Kasrils, one of the few white and Jewish ministers in Nelson Mandela’s first government. It is noteworthy to mention that Post-Apartheid South Africa remains one of the loudest supporters of the BDS campaign.

But isn’t Germany different?

Well the answer is: Germany is different, but it also isn’t. Some might say Germany is clearly different because of apparent German responsibility towards Israel. Yes, absolutely. However, due to this German responsibility, it directly affects the possibility of building a successful mass movement here to boycott Israel. But I believe that we need to make a clear distinction between strategic and moral decisions.

A moral argument says, for example: because I don’t like the Chinese (or Sudanese, or US, or who knows which) government, I will stop buying products from these countries. To be clear, I don’t like any of these governments, but my decision as an individual not to buy particular products would be ineffective substitutionism.

It may be that it makes me feel good when I buy (or don’t buy) certain products–but without a mass campaign, this has little political effect. The Chinese (or other) economy will not be endangered, when myself and a few of my friends decide against buying certain products.

This why the article’s title: “Does BDS have a chance in Germany?” is not really the central question. Instead, I believe the question that demands our attention should be: “how can we change the underlying conditions and the public discourse so that BDS is possible here as a mass campaign, a campaign which goes far beyond the small circle of people who currently stand in solidarity with Palestinians?”

The Strategic Argument

In Germany, this dilemma is ambivalent. On the one hand, a mass campaign exists–but on an international level. Important trade unions, cities and also companies have made honourable commitments – following pressure from below – that they will no longer buy Israeli products.

At the same time, such a mass campaign would be difficult in Germany. Exactly because of German history – and the false interpretation of this history by supporters of Israel – I don’t believe at the moment we are able to create a mass BDS campaign in Germany.

Allow me to demonstrate my point by exploring two areas where I am currently politically active. The LINKE Berlin Internationals, the group of which I am co-speaker, which organises non-German activists in Berlin, and die LINKE Wedding, where I’m an ordinary member.

In the LAG Internationals, everyone is clearly for BDS. This is not unimportant. When people say, there is no one in Germany who supports BDS, our group is a good counter-example. And yet, within the “German German” Left, you can’t get around any discussion related to the topic of German responsibility.

In Wedding, our LINKE branch holds half-way decent positions on Palestine – against the demo ban on Nakba Day, against police repression, and recognition of the oppression of Palestinians by the Israeli State. This summer we plan to continue discussions regarding further possible positions and actions.

But one thing is certain–die LINKE Wedding will not call for BDS. Why not? Because some argue BDS can make it harder to open up a conversation with others who do not yet stand on the side of the Palestinians. I won’t say more about this here, as I’m speaking at a conference focused on how we can shift the discussion in Germany. What remains especially noteworthy here are the current state of things in Germany, even in the most progressive part of the German Left.

What can be done?

Doing nothing is certainly not a solution. First, we are faced with an important defensive fight. The experiences of Nakba Day demonstrate that the German government – and the Berliner Senat under Franziska Giffey – are increasingly ready to ban all actions which help support Palestinians.

The BDS Resolution in the Bundestag had no legal relevance. And yet the resolution has led to an unprecedented amount of speakers being “uninvited” and a noticeable rise of even more censorship. Demonstration bans, the sacking of 7 Palestinian journalists at Deutsche Welle, or the witch hunt against Palestinian academics like Anna-Esther Younes–all reflect the impact of silence taken by the German Left, which has allowed the German right wing to go onto the offensive.

Furthermore, allow me to share one example among many. In Berlin, the LINKE Internationals, Palästina Spricht and the Jüdische Stimme planned to organise a meeting on the subject “How much is it possible to talk about Israel/Palestine in Germany?”. However, our question was answered loud and clear when the venue where the meeting should’ve taken place, told us that if our meeting occurred, the venue would lose their funding from the Berliner Senat.

That wasn’t even the end of it. The cancelled meeting should have been part of the anti-racist festival “Offenes Neukölln”. The organisers of the event uninvited us from participating in the festival because “it might be possible that antisemitic statements would be made”. Despite our inclusion of Wieland Hoban, a board member of the Jewish Voice for just peace in the Middle East, who was a planned speaker for our meeting.

All attempts to criminalise BDS only help the right wing, and those who crave more control in the State. Even if you are not convinced that you must support the struggle of the Palestinians, you should nevertheless fight against all forms of criminalisation. As German Pastor Martin Niemöller nearly said, “first they came for the Palestinians, and then there was no-one left to speak out for me.”

What can we do concretely? (1) Unambiguous fight against bans

What is clearly evident is that repression is on the rise, and BDS is often used as justification for this. As a reaction to this, some Leftist have said, “Of course we’re against repression and room bans, but BDS does sound like ‘Kauf nicht bei Juden!” This reaction is – shall we say – insufficient.

I remember the reaction of some Leftists in the British Labour Party when an “antisemitism crisis” was fabricated. They apologised for cases of antisemitism that never happened. They accepted the argument that Labour was particularly antisemitic, although all statistics spoke against this argument.

The hope was that the apologies would cause the attacks to disappear. The problem was their attackers were not motivated to fight antisemitism, instead sought any attempt to break Jeremy Corbyn – possibly the only truly left-wing leader Labour has ever had. The more Labour apologised, the more it fuelled accusations of antisemitism.

What we are witnessing now, is a similar attack on BDS in Germany. It’s not about antisemitism – if it were there would be similar bans for the AfD, and other true antisemites. Instead, the attack on BDS in Germany is actually about destroying solidarity for Palestine.

This is why we must declare, with conviction, that BDS is a legitimate strategy that has been and is practised across the world. If it’s good enough for Desmond Tutu, it’s good enough for us. It is necessary but not sufficient to merely oppose meeting room bans because of a liberal worry about censorship. Refusing rooms to people on the grounds that they support BDS is an attack that can in the future be used against other left-wing meetings.

What can we do concretely? (2) Heidelberg Cement and the German Army

What else can we do? We must also fight against all forms of support of the Apartheid State. And this fight requires boycotts, disinvestment and sanctions, even when many people do not want to use the term “BDS”.

Let’s take Heidelberg Cement for example. Through its subsidiary, Hanson Israel, Heidelberg Cement owns the environmentally dangerous Nahal Raba quarry, which steals Palestinian land and deals with illegal settlements. Heidelberg Cement is also involved in building the Apartheid wall, as are other German companies like Siemens.

Personally I don’t buy cement, but I absolutely support any campaign which makes clear Heidelberg Cement’s support of Apartheid and calls on societies to divest. This is no mass campaign, but something that is possible in Germany on a low-level.

Even more important is to apply pressure on the German government and German industry to stop military support for Israel. End the delivery of submarines. Cease the joint manoeuvres. It is not Germany’s reason of state to arm and support an army of occupation.

What can we do concretely? (3) Support the International Campaign

The BDS campaign will continue on the international level, irrespective of what happens in Germany. The German Left must recognise and welcome this.

We internationals in Germany have a special role, to demonstrate that another way is possible. But we can’t manage this on our own. We need a change of belief and practise in the German Left so that we are able to come out of a defensive position.

When musicians like Young Fathers, Brian Eno and Gwenno boycott the Pop-Kultur festival because of the involvement of the Israeli embassy, this should be a signal to the German Left that something strange is going on here, and that BDS is a growing international campaign.

We must – slowly but surely – import this campaign into Germany. Let us work together to avoid Germany, once more, standing on the wrong side of history.

This is a rough translation of a speech that I made at a panel at the Marxismuss conference in Berlin on 5th June 2022. A video of the meeting is available on the Public Solidarity website.

On Sunday, 26th June, Farah Marqara, one of the 7 journalists sacked by Deutsche Welle will be speaking at the LINKE Internationals Summer Camp about “The fear of criticising Israel. Is the German media free?”.

Questions Arising From David Walters: ‘Fighting Climate Change with Fission Energy, A Marxist Perspective…’

We cannot entrust capitalism to provide safe nuclear power


22/06/2022

David Walters concisely, and passionately calls on leftists and progressives to reconsider their opposition to the use of nuclear generation of energy. The current threat to all species on Earth including humans is obvious. The elimination of near complete reliance on fossil fuel is one of the biggest challenges. But is nuclear power the best alternative pathway? And moreover, even under capitalist state control? I do not ask rhetorically. I honestly am uncertain, and I agree with David that the left must debate this urgent question.

David makes three points, beginning with a “failure of renewable energy” to date. He then labels “two false premises” – equating nuclear weapons with nuclear power energy production; and an unwarranted fear of radiation. My queries fall into four groups.

1) Is the Infrastructure under Capitalist Control Safe Enough?

David states that in the Fukushima event “no one died”. This presumably means from direct radiation. But people did die in ‘excess’ from trauma. Japanese psychiatrists points out that the event:

“produced not only mental health problems such as depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), alcohol misuse, and suicide, but also sociopsychological issues such as public stigma and self-stigma of evacuees… more than 80 people have already been officially certified as disaster-related suicidal cases through rigorous decision process” [1]

Perinatal mortality rates in Fukushima rose by 10.6% relative to prior years, consistent with data of Chernobyl effects on Germany. In 2011-12 deaths from pneumonia rose statistically significantly by 2.49 times of prior periods, for 3 months [2]. Finally sudden cardiac deaths rose in Fukushima as well [3].

This is only to say that regardless of direct radiation, other consequences of nuclear ‘mishaps’ occur. It is relevant, since capitalism routinely under-services infrastructure maintenance on grounds of cost-profit. If roads, railways, sewers, bridges, buildings etc. are not safely maintained, why should we assume capital will safely ensure nuclear stations? The Boris Johnson UK government stated:

“The cornerstone of Britain’s plan is an increase to nuclear capacity… up to eight reactors this decade… aiming to increase capacity to 24 gigawatts of nuclear power by 2050, or a quarter of estimated electricity demand.”

Right! The same government that ran the NHS finally into the ground, allows drinking water to be unsafe, and has done precious little to prevent further Grenfell Tower disasters. Perhaps a leftist should conclude that this technology is more suitable for after the revolution under direct democratic control from below?

2) Does Nuclear Offer Indisputedly Better Grid Stability?

Is the alternative to nuclear, a Nero fiddling while the world burns up from greenhouse gases? After all to remind ourselves of the task:

“Every second humans globally consume roughly 15,000 gigawatts (GW) of power, in oil, coal, gas, nuclear, and renewables all added together.1 To put it another way, it means that, on average, we use 15,000 gigajoules (GJ) of energy every second of every day. That is an enormous number, equivalent to switching on 5 billion electric kettles.” [4]

But real issues confront current nuclear alternatives: effects of sourcing and mining for adequate supplies of Uranium; upgrading involves decommissioning older reactors in an expensive way; disposal of spent rods safely requires storage for over 10,000 years. These figures are drawn from Derek Abbott [4], and are in contrast to David’s. Personally I do not know who is right. But such discrepancies need resolution for the left.

The argument that supply is intermittent to the grid is maybe less with nuclear than with alternatives. But clearly even with nuclear it is not a negligible issue. For example, planned shutdowns for rod changes and maintenance. But in addition, perhaps the alternatives are not quite so weak:

“Nuclear lobbyists create a further false dilemma by suggesting renewables make a false dilemma… First, nuclear power is not required because controllable renewable sources (with synchronous generation, such as solar thermal, hydroelectric power, and pumped hydro) already stabilise the grid. It is true that other renewable sources do give rise to grid management issues, but this is bread and butter for grid engineers.” [4]

Abbott states also that in Australia there are adequate plateaus available for pumping of seawater enabling energy storage. Others give copious data that the same holds for Europe – concluding that:

“Conservative technology choices (such as dispatchable capacity for the peak load, grid expansion and synchronous compensators for ancillary services) are not only technically feasible, but also have costs which are a magnitude smaller than the total system costs. More cost-effective solutions that use variable renewable generators intelligently are also available.” [5]

Brown points out that so-called “black-starting” or restarting electricity systems after total blackout is more problematic for nuclear than alternatives:

“Nuclear, is a problem for black-starting, since most designs need a power source at all times, regardless of blackout conditions, to circulate coolant in the reactor and prevent meltdown conditions. This will only exacerbate the need for backup generation in a total blackout. Nuclear is sometimes not used to provide primary reserves either, particularly in older designs, because fast changes in output present operational and safety concerns.”

3) Are There Newer Technologies to Consider?

Let us concede for a moment, that arguments of Abbott and Wilson cited above, are untenable. Even then there are further considerations.

There are indications that even better potential resolutions to current limitations of non-nuclear technology are possible. Consider for instance storage devices and battery technology. For instance ‘supercapacitators’:

“electrochemical energy storage devices … (similar to – HK) rechargeable batteries than electrostatic capacitors. These… are devices of choice for future electrical energy storage needs due to their outstanding performance characteristics.” [6]

Another consideration: most wind generation is currently land based. Moving to off-shore generation has higher likelihood of constancy, but is limited currently to European sites:

“The winds out in the ocean are much stronger and consistent that the winds on land… Many more countries now make use of offshore wind farms since its initial introduction in Denmark… most of the offshore farms are still found in Europe. .. (by –HK) Global Wind statistics in 2014, Europe holds around 90% of these offshore wind farms.”

Dating from the 11th century at minimum, tidal mills used tidal wave power. Generated by the sun and moon’s gravitational pull with the earth’s rotation, in some areas sea levels rise and fall substantial heights. This technology is being further explored.

Finally the matter of ‘fusion’ energy generation versus ‘fission’ energy needs further re-visiting. The author of this guardedly optimistic review points out: “The joke about fusion energy is that it’s 30 years away and always will be”. However there appears to be a definite possibility of translation into reality of fusion based energy generation on a public scale.

Marxists do not dispute that under capitalism the drive for profits over-rides the goals of sane development. Any scientific advance is spun into profitable enterprises, or is warped under capital. Moreover frequently mould-breaking research is frequently underfunded publicly. Short of revolutionary change, there should be more public pressure for increased funding for socially responsible sciences. The last section discusses a potential vehicle for this.

But first the most potentially fraught issue – largely because it is so complex.

4) What Are the Estimated Direct Radiation Effects?

David rightly points to environmental radiation: “Background radiation runs from approximately 1 mSv (milisevert) to 3 mSv globally.”

Even the next statement is likely true, despite a little poetic license:

“There are places on the planet where such natural background radiation is 100 times that number and, no, there are no ill effects on human, plant or animal life because of it.”

Again all this is generally likely true, with caveats around some mining areas; and of course the role of solar UV radiation and cancers is rightly well known. [7]

If I say all this, why do I hold back fully endorsing David’s points about safety?

Returning to Fukishima, David referred to ‘no deaths’, and I teased this out above. But now consider only direct radiation deaths. Some health scientists agree with David:

“In Fukushima, no one has died from radiation exposure, and the UN Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation report in 2013 stated that substantial changes in future cancer statistics attributed to radiation exposure are not expected to be observed, although the committee also noted “a theoretical increased risk of thyroid cancer among most exposed children” and recommended they be “closely followed”. [8]

or:

“The apparent increase in thyroid cancer prevalence that results from screening has caused public concern about the health effects of radiation. However, thyroid cancer is slowly progressive and has a good prognosis and considerable latency. Therefore, attention should be given to the bias of screening effects and possibility of overdiagnosis.” [9]

In reality the “theoretical increased risk of thyroid cancer’ is minimized, and a rather furious controversy arose in Japan – after a report showing: “an excess Incidence Rate Ratio was observed (12, 95% CI = 5.1, 23).” [10]

Or, more simply expressed as an:

“20–61-fold excess thyroid cancer cases, which cannot be explained by the screening effect or over-diagnosis.” [11]

In Japan a huge controversy continues, both sides alleging unethical standards of the other. Tsuda points to one important underlying issue of an arbitrary ‘safe’ radiation level below 100 mSv recommended by the 2007 The International Commission on Radiological Protection (ICRP). He then goes on to attack fundamental concepts of risk by the ICRP – which many have also attacked. Full discussion goes beyond the scope of this article, and it is sufficient to provide selected key references. [12]

Where scientists stand on these issues is intensely mirrored by political beliefs.

5) How to Move Forward?

Undoubtedly David will put me right, on these questions. But this is only one very small part of a dialogue that the left participates in. It seems obvious that many left and progressive sub-specialist expert opinions are required – to sensibly anchor left policies.

One need would be to engage with the myriad environmentalist groups, for instance ‘Friday for Future’ activists. Perhaps such approaches have already happened or are planned. If I only show my ignorance here, I would be delighted to be told of these.

There are some previous models. I am thinking along the lines of the ‘Science for the People’. That always took a broad united front approach in its heyday. It is still functioning of course, see for example Kate Brown (April 4th 2022). Perhaps the journal ‘Climate and Capitalism’ is poised to serve as a modern catalyst.

References:

1. Masaharu M; “Mental Health After Fukushima”; Asia Pacific Journal of Public Health 2017, Vol.29(2S) 36S–46S

2. Shibata Y, “Pneumonia deaths after earthquake and tsunami”; BMJ Open 2016;6:e009190.

3. Körblein A; “Perinatal mortality after Fukushima”; J. Radiol. Prot. 39 (2019) 1021–1030

4. Derek Abbott, ‘Nuclear Power – the game is up”; Australian Quarterly; No.4 2016; 8-16

5. T.W.Brown; ‘Feasibility of 100% renewable-electricity systems’; Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews; Vol 92; September 2018, p.834-847

6. Abdul Ghani Olabi; “Supercapacitors as next generation energy storage devices: Properties and applications”; In Energy 1 June 2022; 248

7. “Solar Ultraviolet Radiation, Radon And Fine Particulate Matter Are Largest Contributors To Environmental Burden Of Cancer In Ontario”; 2016 Cancer Care Ontario.. Alberto Modenese; “Solar Radiation Exposure and Outdoor Work: An Underestimated Occupational Risk”; Int J Environ Res Public Health; 2018 Sep 20;15(10):2063

8. Michael R. Reich; “Towards long-term responses in Fukushima”; Lancet Vol 386, Issue 9992, 2015; 498

9. Akira Ohtsuru; “From Hiroshima and Nagasaki to Fukushima 3. Nuclear disasters and health: lessons learned, challenges, and proposals”; Lancet 2015; 386

10. Tsuda T, ‘Thyroid Cancer Detection by Ultrasound Residents 18 Years and Younger in Fukushima,: 2011 to 2014. Epidemiology. 2016;27(3):316

11. Toshihide Tsuda, “Ethical… Promotion of a “100 mSv Threshold Assumption after Fukushima”; Curr Envir Health Rpt (2017) 4:119–129

12. Edward J. Calabrese; “LNT and cancer risk assessment: Its flawed foundations part 1: Radiation and leukemia: Where LNT began”; Environmental Research 197 (2021) 111025, Christopher Busby; ‘Ionizing radiation and cancer: The failure of the risk model’; Cancer Treatment and Research Communications 31 (2022) 100565]

 

Fighting Climate Change with Fission Energy. A Marxist Perspective…

Renewable energy is a failure. The Left must embrace science and support nuclear power

In the West (Europe, North America, Japan), that is, the advanced Imperialist countries, the Marxist left, under influence from the broader “Left”, has abandoned, generally, an understanding of science, and energy systems. Previously at various times, it was the champion of science. We have also seen this in areas of medicine as well, with sections of the self-proclaimed Marxist Left opposed vaccination programs.

The purpose of this contribution is defend the use of nuclear energy and science in the fight against ignorance and cultural momentum that has infected the far left for decades. This largely results from the rise of the New Left in response to the U.S. war against the people of Vietnam in the 1960s, a salient event in radicalizing those that came of age in the 1960s and 1970s. My hope in this very brief essay is simply to initiate a discussion about energy and science in light of climate change as a truly frightful threat to our species and all life on the planet. I have no wish in this essay to address every single question regarding nuclear energy and climate change.

What follows below is really a small update to the Climate and Capitalism discussion on nuclear energy here, where socialists both for and against nuclear energy chime in. This debate was over 10 years ago, in the wake of the Fukushima event (where no one died). So, with time, one can and should adjust one’s views. The Breakthrough Institute (a pro-development and very pro-capitalist blog of “Ecomodernists” published my first piece on this titled “A Socialist Case for Nuclear Energy” here. Published it 2013 though it was written in 2011 shortly after the Fukushima earthquake and tsunami.

The basis of the anti-nuclear movement as it came of age in the 1970s was based on two false premises. Firstly that there is a direct connection between the production of nuclear weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and nuclear power generation; and secondly a fear of radiation focused largely on “waste” from nuclear power plants. I will address both below. However, I will start off with my views on renewable energy first.

As I have agreed to make this a short conversation…with longer replies if a debate gets going…Several things need to be addressed. Supporting evidence will follow in the discussion.

Renewable energy is an unmitigated failure

By “Renewable Energy” or “RE”, I mean *specifically* solar and wind energy. I do not mean hydroelectric energy which provides for some countries, such as Norway, almost all their generation needs. Hydroelectricity requires another discussion, well worth having, but as most hydroelectric resources are already built out leaving no available rivers at higher elevations untapped, I want to address actual RE proposals and not all and every aspect of energy generation.

A grid requires instant access to electricity. In fact, it is an aspect of the physics of generation that no electricity is actually produced until someone flips a light switch. That is, creates for demand for it. The electricity is created as needed. It is not something that sits around on the grid waiting to be used. When a person flips on a light switch this increases the load (electrical engineering terminology for “use”). When this happens generators in the system slightly increase the generators’ torque which allows the electrons to flow into the system to that light bulb energized by the light switch. RE can’t provide this sort of generation because there is no real flexibility in the system to allow for that. Yes, generation from RE does in fact power large parts of the grid for periods of time during a 24 hour period, but it has to be supplemented by on demand generation every instance of the day. Not just when the sun is shining and the wind is blowing. Thus, a country like Germany has to keep their coal plants firing or their new gas turbines spinning using Russian provided methane gas to make up that short fall which occurs every day (when Russia decides to sell it).

RE advocates believe “on demand” is a synonym for “fossil fuels”. It is not. The massive build out of gas turbines and continual strip-mining of coal is totally a function of being wedded to the failed policies of renewable energy.

Battery storage is the last great hope for RE. Examples of large, expensive set-ups in Australia and proposals to build more battery storage have been making their way around the web for some time. In every case, to really provide storage for excessively cloudy days, actually weeks at a time in some winter locations – dropping solar energy to almost nothing – batteries would have to power a grid at full load for days at a time. Nothing short of that is acceptable. It means building out many times the solar capacity from what is available at any given time, and building truly expensive battery storage “cities” that would run into the multi-trillions of Euros. Battery power can provide for some hours of power when there is enough storage (taken from RE or the grid in general which is not used for load or demand). Beyond that there is simply no financial scenario that would make this at all cheap, in fact it would make just a simply “24 hour” battery prohibitive in almost all locations in the world. Batteries can work to *mitigate* the rapid load swings from a large RE penetration of the grid, the little ups and downs of demand and generation. But doing so for *all* of peak load, the highest in the day when there usually is zero solar energy, is all but impossible. To do it for more than one cloudy day when there is almost no solar energy, is ridiculously expensive. Batteries do not generate a single watt of energy. It has to be generated and “not used” by the grid, but siphoned to the energy storage device. This lowers the capacity of generators on the grid to provide power.

It would be necessary to overbuild the amount of RE at least 3 times what it can provide the grid at any given time just to allow for storage. In Germany solar energy is only available at ‘name plate capacity’ some of the time. For example if a solar panel has ‘name plate capacity’ (think of as a maximal capacity) of 200 watts, this can only generated for around 15% of the day – when the sun is at its peak, i.e. when ideal conditions are met. In Germany, this is less the further north one goes, and more the further south. It is also much less in winter. Similar considerations apply to wind generation – wind blows adequately around 30% (range 25%-40%) of the day. Hence the grid would never get that “1 MW” capacity over any period of time.

And all of this is so unnecessary if we developed a true nuclear grid!

Military WMD and the waste…

There is a wide spread myth that the nuclear weapons are derived from ‘Spent Nuclear Fuel’ (SNF). With very few exceptions this never happens. It is far cheaper to build what is euphemistically cited “Research & Development” reactors, essentially “piles” to create the needed plutonium for nuclear weapons. Every single country with nuclear WMD uses these “R & D” reactors to make nuclear weapons. There are no exceptions. While India may of have used some SNF or what the world colloquially knows as “nuclear waste”, to make their original nuclear bomb, everyone uses the far cheaper R & D reactors, or task specific reactors to make bomb grade material.

It is impractical to make bombs from “nuclear waste”, nearly all “nuclear waste” (SNF)  is reactor fuel that has been sitting in a reactor for 1 or 2 or more years. The plutonium 239 in it is worthless for making bombs, because it is hopelessly contaminated with Pu 240, which cannot be removed effectively by any known means.  As for the U235 in spent fuel… well… yes… there is about 1% U235 in SNF, but it’s mixed with 99% U238.  [SNF is about 95 to 97% overall uranium … mostly 238… and about 2% fission products… along with some plutonium and small amounts of assorted actinides of greater atomic number than plutonium, such as curium and americium.] As such, the uranium in spent fuel is 1% or so U235, a content not much different from uranium in uranium ore (which is 0.7% U235).  Both require hugely expensive, complex, high tech centrifuge complexes to make the very highly enriched U235 [90% and more] to make a crude simple-to-build bomb.

Nuclear waste is simply too difficult to extract the needed plutonium (or residual U235 that is used in nuclear fuel) to garner enough to make a bomb. It can be done, yet no one does this. It is a false issue from this point of view.

There IS a military connection however in two areas. The closest analogy there is to this is the passenger airline. All passenger airlines can trace their ancestry back to the development of strategic bombers, most notably the WWII era B-29 and the soon developed B-52. The same is true for many of the pilots and technicians who fly and service large and small passenger airliners: many are trained by military airforces to do this. The origin and relationship from an engineering and personnel perspective is extremely close and starts with the military. The exact same relationship exists in the world nuclear industry. Primarily U.S. and Soviet era navies developed nuclear energy as a propulsion mechanism for submarines (and later surface ships). It is here where that relationship existed between the military and civilian commercial nuclear energy (though both were developed in parallel and didn’t necessarily have one flow from the other). Most anti-nuclear activists, simply because they really don’t care, always miss this latter point and often lie about the WMD issue of SNF.

and the waste thing?

So “waste” is the one of the first question folks ask about when first delving into the issue of nuclear energy specifically and what clean generation tools exist to address climate change.

Let us begin by understanding what nuclear waste is. There are two basic levels of nuclear waste that regulatory authorities in this area name ‘Low Level Waste’ (“LLW”) and ‘High Level Waste’ (HLW). There is also an intermediate “Medium Level Waste”. The basis of this classification is the amount of radioactive isotopes in the waste. The greatest amount of this waste is LLW and is amazingly broad in scope, basically anything that shows a higher than normal “background radiation” level. Background radiation runs from approximately 1 mSv (milisevert) to 3 mSv globally. There are places on the planet where such natural background radiation is 100 times that number and, no, there are no ill effects on human, plant or animal life because of it. I will return to this issue, obviously, perhaps in a later essay specifically on “radiophobia”.

Ergo, anything “produced by humans” that has a higher background radiation is automatically regulated as “waste” with the LLW designation. It varies from country to country but they are basically the same.

HLW comes from some medical radiation therapy and imaging facilities; usually deemed as “Intermediate Level Waste” depending on a nations regulatory regime. But in this essay, “HLW” really refers to Spent Nuclear Fuel or “SNF” produced in nuclear power plants. While regulated as “waste”, the term SNF is more accurate, because it doesn’t have to be waste – as it can be used as feedstock for advanced fast reactors currently under development in over a dozen countries.

In the US, there is approx. 80,000 tons of this waste. That is very, very little by volume. If you put all 80k tons of it together it would not fill up a giant box store like Costco or Kaufland. Nuclear fuel is very, very dense and thus the amount of it is limited. And, we know where every gram of it is at any given time. Eighty thousand tons (imperial units) is almost the same amount of coal waste generated by the brand, spanking new coal plant that the supposedly climate conscious German government allowed to be built in Cologne. That coal waste doesn’t have a half life and doesn’t get safer in time. Most SNF ceases to be significantly dangerous after 300 years and, as noted above, will be used as fuel for the generation of reactors coming on line in a few decades. SNF is solid and stored in stainless steel concrete casks. It cannot “flow” out if a crack develops (which none have).

Nuclear can provide 100% of energy needs and do so cheaper than all other forms of energy generation. The infrastructure baggage for other sources, be it wind or solar or natural gas, when talking about lifetime costs, are staggeringly high. Such expenses swamp needs for any industrial society. Even one that seeks to transform society by workers revolution, from an increasingly senile and militaristic Imperialism to one based on the freeing of the productive forces in a socialist one.

This article represents the view of the author and not the whole theleftberlin editorial board. We welcome your feedback and articles in response. Please contact us at team@theleftberlin.com

Three Takeaways from Socialism in Our Time

Last week, hundreds of socialists gathered in Berlin for Socialism in Our Time, a conference hosted by Jacobin and Transform Europe and headlined by Jeremy Corbyn. Here are three crucial points about the state of the Left and what we do next.


21/06/2022

It’s been four months since socialist magazine Jacobin declared that the Left was in purgatory. Indeed, there are plenty of reasons for socialists to have a bleak assessment of our political moment. In the past few years, right-wing autocrats have gained a foothold at the helm of several major countries, the climate crisis is intensifying, and income inequality is only increasing, helped along by a global pandemic in its third year. And yet, the Left is making electoral gains in Latin America and France, and militant labor action at Starbucks and Amazon is rocking the US labor landscape. In this decidedly mixed moment, it’s incumbent on socialists to assess our current conditions and formulate strategies for how we can build power.

That’s exactly what the conference Socialism in Our Time in Berlin sought to do. Hosted by  Jacobin and Transform! Europe, and headlined by former British Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn, the conference drew several hundred socialists to the Oyoun cultural center in Neukölln on June 10 and 11. The organizers posed a central challenge: “Bernie Sanders’ first presidential campaign inspired millions and put socialism back on the map. Seven years later, Trump, COVID-19 and the Ukraine War helped the powers that be regain the upper hand. How can the Left break out of its impasse, organize the broad majority and inspire a vision for social transformation?”

The conference’s speakers, leading thinkers from North America and Europe, offered nuanced and sometimes conflicting answers. However, a common thread emerged: the Left’s urgent task is to merge with the working class. What does this mean, and how does it intersect with other pressing issues like climate and war? Here are three main takeaways. (Note that this article reports on the English-language panels, although a few others were also held in German. Due to space constraints, we can’t report on every speaker, but we encourage readers to check out the conference program and look up their work.)

On war: We need an immediate ceasefire and negotiations in Ukraine, and a positive Left vision for a new security order.

The war in Ukraine loomed large over many speakers’ analysis of the political moment. Jeremy Corbyn dedicated much of his keynote speech to the urgency of ending the Ukraine war. Speakers were quick to point out, however, that that war is one among many – and to make clear that, despite their Left critiques of NATO, Russia’s offensive is illegal and wrong. The panel “Every War Is a Defeat” sought to address the question, “Can we build an anti-war movement fit for the times?”

Corbyn acknowledged that winning any anti-war demands will take a broad-based peace movement that can exert leverage over governments. “Are we just going to be spectators and watch tens of thousands die,” he asked, “or will we skip the killing phase and go to the talking phase? Surely, it’s up to us to put all the political pressure we have.” 

What would such a movement demand in 2022? Several speakers, including Corbyn and Transform! Europe board member Walter Baier, gave the same prescription for the war in Ukraine: an immediate ceasefire, peace negotiations, a reimagined security order in Europe, and a reduction of nuclear threat. Corbyn called for an outright ban on nuclear weapons. “Those of us who have declared nuclear weapons an abomination have been declared weak, because we’re not willing to destroy half the world’s population,” he said. “But any nuclear weapon set off will beget another weapon, and another after that, and that will result in universal destruction.” 

Baier put forward a vision of a Europe without NATO. “Can NATO become a system of collective security in Europe, as some people believe? NATO can never be part of the solution because it’s part of the problem,” he said. “Any collective system which provides security needs to be universal….Otherwise it’s a military alliance, which NATO undoubtedly is.” And military alliances, he said, rather than leading to peace, usually lead to war. Corbyn echoed this idea, pointing out that a system of military alliances, set off by one triggering event, is what plunged Europe into World War I over a century ago.

What might a new security order look like? Volodymyr Ishchenko, researcher at Freie Universität Berlin, pointed out that the Left has no consensus on a positive vision for international strategy, nor even a robust discussion about it – and this is a glaring omission. “We don’t have our own camp in international policies, our own vision of how the international system should be transformed,” he said. He called for a more sophisticated and concrete strategy for how the Left moves from a world with wars and nuclear weapons to a world without them. 

Finally, it wouldn’t be a Left discussion of war without the acknowledgment of the centrality of class. Özlem Demirel, a Member of European Parliament for die Linke, said, “Wars are a result of a weak peace movement, so we have to organize. If we don’t, I don’t see that my children will have the same opportunity I had not to live with wars near them.” The brunt of these wars will affect the working class, who will experience higher inflation and suffering. In these “rich men’s wars, it is always the blood of the poor,” she said. “We need to organize the poor against the wars of the rich.”

On class: It’s still central to our project.

Most speakers brought up class struggle, but the panel most focused on it was “Contemporary Capitalism and Its Gravediggers,” which sought to describe the conditions of capitalism in this political moment, and to answer the question: “What does the global working class look like today, and how can it fight back?” 

For New York University professor Vivek Chibber, author of The Class Matrix and The ABCs of Capitalism, conditions may look different, but our project hasn’t changed. “Unless the socialist Left embeds itself in the lives of working people again, there’s no hope for socialism,” he said. A merger between the Left and the working class is still the only way to challenge capital. Critics from inside and outside the Left claim that Marxists focus too heavily on blue-collar workers, at the expense of other segments of the working class, but Chibber said this is a “myth created by the aging New Left.” He defined the working class as anyone who works for a wage in a non-supervisory position, including people in the service sector, factories, and even in banking and finance. As for the fixation on blue-collar workers, he argued, unions and communist or socialist parties at the time of peak labor militancy – the 1930s and 1940s – focused on that sector of the working class because of the conditions of the time, namely a huge manufacturing industry.

What is Chibber’s prescription for labor organizing in 2022? He described today’s capitalism as slow-growth, deindustrialized, and globalized, and today’s workers as more atomized and precarious – and therefore taking on a higher risk if they attempt to organize. Labor organizing, he said, will have to be done outside of manufacturing, in the service sector and in small shops, and it may not be centered on collective bargaining the way it was in the past, but rather in collective agreements in the informal sector, which is harder to organize and doesn’t have the institutional protections that manufacturing had in the 1940s. 

He encouraged today’s still-marginal Left not to fall into the assumption that it has the power to map the labor landscape and then go organize in it. The union movement is on the defensive in the Atlantic world, he said, and the Left’s job is to find out where the energy is in organizing in the working class and embed itself there; Starbucks, he said, was an example. Only after doing this can a Left-labor formation figure out where it has leverage against capital (like at Amazon) and fight on that terrain.

On climate: We’ve got to resist the ideology of individual actions and build a movement that’s rooted in the working class.

The climate crisis is inseparable from the other crises capitalism has created, and the conference dedicated a panel to it called “Their Planet and Ours,” featuring British commentator Grace Blakeley and French researcher Gala Kabbaj. 

For Blakeley, the question of whether Leftists should focus their efforts on using the state to tackle climate change, or building power outside the state, is a false dichotomy. Liberals tell us politics and economics are separate realms, and the state is a tool for making minimal, market-based interventions to prevent climate change – but, Blakeley said, this ideology can’t stop the climate crisis. “There isn’t this clear distinction between politics and economy, between social movements and the state,” she said. “If we’re going to deliver a Green New Deal, we need to do it now,” by building the community organizations that will be there if and when the Left is able to wield power using the state. 

Blakeley did not prescribe just one right course of action for a left-oriented climate movement. Instead, she called for a “multiplicity of projects” and a broad vision that encompassed strategies from disruption and direct action to engaging in elections. “We need to show people that a different way of organizing society is possible. We need to show people it’s possible to win political power…. And everyone will have a different space on that spectrum based on their preferences, based on their background, and that’s fine.” 

Kabbaj, meanwhile, named another liberal ideology that our movement will have to counter if we want to stand a chance against climate crisis: the individualization of ecology. The insistence that every person must lead an ethical life based on their consumer choices – “how should I live? Should I keep on taking planes?” – comes straight from the ruling class, she said. Furthermore, this individualization allows the ruling class to stigmatize working-class lifestyles. Instead, our central task is to find a way for the climate movement to connect with the “popular classes” – only then can it wield economic and electoral leverage. In France, she noted, the Greens put forward a vision centered on an individualized, bourgeois ecology, whereas Melenchon’s Left program proposed a project of society that articulated ecology, feminism, anti-racism, and questions of economic equality together. Unsurprisingly, it was this second vision that garnered votes from the working class.

So, how should socialists respond when people ask, “What can I do to stop climate change?” Blakeley’s answer was simple: forget your carbon footprint and join a movement.

Parliamentary election results in France. Bad blow for Macron, mixed news for the Left

The Left made gains in yesterday’s elections, but so did the fascist Right. We still have plenty of work to do


20/06/2022

“France can’t be governed” sobbed right-wing newspaper headlines as the results of the French parliamentary elections came in on Sunday night. Several pundits worried that Macron’s government would be “paralyzed”. The main Paris regional newspaper Le Parisien was obliged to conclude that the left-wing Popular Union (NUPES) had “won a semi-victory”, but noted at the same time “a historic breakthrough” for the far right.

Macron, recently re-elected present, has lost around a hundred seats compared with five years ago. He is 43 seats short of an overall majority and to get his laws passed, he will need to negotiate ad hoc alliances with the right (who got 64 seats) or with the fascists (89 seats).

Other reasons for celebration included the defeat of a number of Macron’s star ministers, including Blanquer, a mad Islamophobe convinced that French universities are controlled by what he calls “islamoleftists”, Castaner, the butcher who organized brutal repression of the Yellow Vests (dozens of demonstrators lost eyes or hands from rubber bullets), and Montchalin, Minister of the environment, who hit the headlines last week when she attacked her local left-wing opponent, who is Jewish, as a Russia-loving antisemitic left wing anarchist.

The Left, still very much a minority in the assembly, grew from 64 MPs to around 150. In addition, the 64 elected in 2017 were in general elected on far less radical platforms than the one of the Popular Union left alliance set up last month. The appetite for “spectacular change” as Mélenchon terms it, is very real. Good news too in some particular regions. In the French overseas territories of the West Indies, eight out of nine elected MPs are attached to the radical left alliance, Popular Union; in Reunion island, six out of seven are. In the Seine Saint Denis department, grouping together multi-ethnic working class suburbs around Paris, all twelve MPs elected are part of the radical left alliance.

The polarization also led to a huge rise in the number of MPs from Marine Le Pen’s Rassemblement National, which grew from eight seats to 89. Three million people voted RN at the legislatives in 2017, in the first round. 4.2 million voted RN this time, a rise of forty per cent. The electoral system favours bigger parties and this has very much magnified the advance of the RN in terms of the number of seats.

The rise in the RN is very much the fault of Emmanuel Macron. Mélenchon pointed out that Macron and Le Pen were performing “a duet and not a duel”, and certainly Macron’s series of Islamophobic laws, meant to divert attention from his vicious austerity programmes, have helped Le Pen no end. In addition, this week many of those Macronist candidates eliminated in the first round refused to call for a vote for left wing candidates in those towns where they faced fascists in the second round. All this after Macron had promised in 2017 “to do everything to make sure” that those who voted RN “would no longer have any reason to do so” after he had been in power for five years.

The mass media has also played its part over recent years, inviting well-dressed fascists to join debates and chat shows every day of the week. The Left must also bear some responsibility, though, as most organizations have been very weak indeed at organizing antifascist campaigning, often considering fascism as an inevitable result of austerity and poverty.

The RN now claims to have 80,000 members. With its 89 members of parliament and the large quantities of new funding permitted by this new situation, it is to be feared that they will be able to build solid party structures at a local level in hundreds of towns, which has been their main weakness so far.

So is the glass half full or half empty ? People can choose to be optimistic or pessimistic, but what is clear is that polarization continues. Macron is weakened, but determined to push forward his Thatcherite reforms. Faced with mass strikes, he failed to smash the pension scheme in 2019, but he is determined to start over, and aims at raising the standard pension age from 62 to 65. He has said that students should pay far more to go to university (at present they pay “only” around £250 a year), and he wants to continue to slash public sector jobs and taxes for the rich. The tremendous combativity that French workers have shown over the last twenty five years means we can be sure there will be massive struggles, and soon. The new left MPs, elected through a dynamic, even insurgent, campaign, must throw themselves into supporting extra-parliamentary struggle as well as doing their job in the assembly.

There is plenty of work to do on the Left. The fight against Islamophobia is still often avoided by most Left organizations (most recently very quiet about the racist banning of full-body swimsuits). The braking role of the Trade Union leaderships on the strike movements will have to be challenged, and anti-fascist campaigning needs to become a national habit.

John Mullen is a Marxist activist in the Paris region and a supporter of the France Insoumise. His political website is here