Marxism and imperialism
Lenin’s theory has been turned into dogma
By Martin Thomas
(First published in 1996)
We are not a government party; we are the party of irreconcilable opposition…. Our tasks… we realize not through the medium of bourgeois governments… but exclusively through the education of the masses through agitation, through explaining to the workers what they should defend and what they should overthrow. Such a ‘defence’ cannot give immediate miraculous results. But we do not even pretend to be miracle workers. As things stand, we are a revolutionary minority. Our work must be directed so that the workers on whom we have influence should correctly appraise events, not permit themselves to be caught unawares, and prepare the general sentiment of their own class for the revolutionary solution of the tasks confronting us.
By the end of the ’60s, what had once been ‘the pride’ of Marxism – the theory of imperialism – had become a ‘Tower of Babel’, in which not even Marxists knew any longer how to find their way.
Giovanni Arrighi 
There is not, nor can there be, such a thing as a ‘negative’ Social-Democratic slogan that serves only to ‘sharpen proletarian consciousness against imperialism’ without at the same time offering a positive answer to the question of how Social-Democracy will solve the problem when it assumes power. A ‘negative’ slogan unconnected with a definite positive solution will not sharpen, but dull, consciousness, for such a slogan is a hollow phrase, meaningless declamation.
V I Lenin 
If European capitalism needed colonies in the first half of this century, why has it not collapsed without them in the second half? If early 20th century imperialism marked ‘the highest stage of capitalism’, the ‘epoch of capitalist decay’ – as revolutionary Marxists wrote at the time – what is the late 20th century?
To answer these questions we must first clear away much confusion. Though Lenin’s famous pamphlet on imperialism is one of the finest polemics in the whole of Marxist politics, the ‘Leninist orthodoxy’ which made it, or rather a garbled version of it, into the master-textbook of twentieth-century world politics and economics has confused rather than clarified. The concepts of ‘export of capital’, ‘finance capital’, or ‘monopoly capital’ as the essence of the matter are – so I shall argue – neither special theoretical innovations of Lenin, nor adequate keys for an understanding of imperialism in a broader view of history.
Imperialism and high finance: Kautsky builds on Engels to answer Bernstein
Maybe the first big classical-Marxist statement on imperialism was by Karl Kautsky, in 1899, replying to Eduard Bernstein’s call for a ‘Revision’ of the perspective of Marx and Engels.
In the 1890s Engels had identified monopolies, cartels, credit and high finance as expressions that classic individual capitalism was decaying and becoming ‘socialistic’, but in an upside-down way which sharpened plunder, swindling, and crises. Colonialism was a profit-making venture of the new financial aristocracy. 
Bernstein argued, on the contrary, that the new trends made capitalism more open to peaceful and piecemeal progress. Credit gave the system more flexibility. Industrial cartels (associations of companies bound together by agreements on production levels, prices and sales) gave the capitalists more conscious control. They could avoid overproduction by mutual agreement. The growth of the world market, and improvements in communications and transport, also made the system more flexible. Capitalism could probably postpone ‘general commercial crises’ for a long time.
Bernstein criticised the way the German government pursued its imperialist policy, but argued that the trend was towards peace and harmony between nations. ‘The workman who has equal rights as a voter… who… is a fellow owner of the common property of the nation, whose children the community educates, whose health it protects, whom it secures against injury, has a fatherland…’, and so should oppose Germany being ‘repressed in the council of the nations’. Moreover: ‘Onlya conditional right of savages to the land occupied by them can be recognised. The higher civilisation ultimately can claim a higher right.'
Bernstein’s scenario of peace and free trade was an illusion, replied Kautsky. ‘Protective tariffs are easier introduced than abolished, especially in a period of such raging competition on the world market… Free trade! For the capitalists that is an ideal of the past.’ Bernstein claimed that speculation was a disease of capitalism’s infancy. But infant capitalism was being promoted across the world by the ‘overflowing capitals of the older countries… Argentinian and Transvaal speculation holds its ‘wildest orgies’ not only in Buenos Aires and Johannesburg, but equally in the venerable City of London.’
And colonialism, Kautsky insisted, was inseparable from militarism and the despoiling of colonial peoples for the benefit of ‘the modern kings of finance [who] dominate nations directly through cartels and trusts and subject all production to their power’. 
‘The financier,’ Kautsky went on to argue, ‘finds militarism and a strong active governmental policy, both external and internal, very agreeable. The kings of finance need not fear a strong governmental power, independent of people and Parliament, because they can rule such a power directly either as bondholders [i.e., as people who lend money to the government], or else through personal and social influences. In militarism, war and public debts they have a direct interest, not only as creditors, but also as government contractors…
‘It is wholly different with industrial capital. Militarism, war and public debts signify high taxes… War signifies besides this… a break in trade… A strong governmental power arouses anxiety in [the industrial manager] because he cannot directly control it… he inclines rather to liberalism… [But] The opposition between finance and industry continually decreases… finance ever more and more dominates industry.'
Much of Kautsky’s argument was a Marxist conversion of ideas which were to be summed up with great verve by the English radical liberal, J A Hobson, in a book motivated by the Boer War (Imperialism, 1902).
‘The Imperialism of the last three decades,’ wrote Hobson, ‘is clearly condemned as a business policy, in that at enormous expense it has procured a small, bad, unsafe increase of markets, and has jeopardised the entire wealth of the nation in rousing the strong resentment of other nations.’ But imperialism continued because, ‘the business interests of the nation as a whole are subordinated to those of certain sectional interests.’
Arms contractors, some exporters, the shipping trade, the military, and those who wanted jobs for their sons in the Indian Civil Service, all had an interest in imperialism. But ‘the governor of the imperial engine’ was ‘the great financial houses’, which were investing abroad at such a rate.
‘The economic taproot of Imperialism’ was overproduction and glut of capital. ‘Messrs Rockefeller, Pierpoint Morgan [etc.] need Imperialism because they desire to use the public resources of their country to find profitable employment for the capital which would otherwise be superfluous.’
Imperialism was also parasitic. ‘To a larger extent every year Great Britain is becoming a nation living upon tribute from abroad, and the classes who enjoy this tribute have an ever-increasing incentive to employ the public policy, the public purse and the public force to extend the field of their private investments, and to safeguard and improve their existing investments. This is, perhaps, the most important fact in modern politics.'
The overproduction and glut were due to inequality of income. The workers could not consume much because of low wages; the capitalists could not possibly use all of their huge incomes on luxuries, and thus had vast amounts left seeking investment. Balance should be restored through social reform, higher wages, more spending on public services. This would lead to more balanced national economies and less searching for markets abroad.
Kautsky saw a similar permanent glut. ‘If the capitalist mode of production raises the mass production of goods to the utmost, it also limits to a minimum the mass consumption of the workers who produce these goods, and therefore produces an ever greater surplus of goods for personal consumption…' He differed from Hobson in arguing that this glut would be resolved by the collapse of capitalism and the socialist revolution, rather than by ‘social reform’, and in contending that finance-capital dominated, rather than being only a ‘sectional interest’ counterposed to ‘the business interests of the nation as a whole’.
Another difference was that Hobson used the word ‘imperialism’, where the German Marxists at this stage would use a term like ‘world policy’. ‘Imperialism’ was not special Marxist jargon: on the contrary. The Marxists took over the term from the common usage of British bourgeois politics – where some, like Rosebery, called themselves ‘Liberal Imperialists’, others, like Hobson, anti-imperialists. They used it in the same sense as common usage – the new aggressive colonial and world-economic policy of the big powers – and sought to uncover its economic roots in the rise of high finance.
Many of the core ideas of the whole literature were already expressed by 1902: militarism, colony-grabbing, conflict and an authoritarian state as the political trends; high finance, economic decadence and glut, and export of capital, as the economic underpinnings.
But what exactly was finance capital? This question was never properly resolved. And the recurrent idea of metropolitan capitalism having become ‘glutted’ would also cause confusion.
Effective demand depends not only on consumption but also on investment; and, in fact, fluctuations in demand for investment goods are generally the prime movers in crises. Demand for those investment goods can soar while final consumption stagnates – and, vice versa, the run-up to a crisis is generally a period of unusually high working-class consumption but sagging investment.
‘Overproduction’ is not a permanent condition; capitalism constantly sheds overproduction through crises and then builds it up again. The relation between supply and demand for money-capital is determined by the tempo of self-expansion of capital. It is a relation between profits accumulated from past capitalist exploitation, and profits available from present capitalist exploitation. The spasmodic nature of capitalist development means that this supply-and-demand relation is constantly falling out of balance and generating ‘surpluses’ of money-capital. But those surpluses are a function of the cycle of boom and slump, not of any absolute level at which an economy becomes ‘full up’ of capital.
The notion of an absolute level after which a capitalist economy will become permanently ‘glutted’ and awash with surplus capital is a recurrent theme in mainstream economics, from Adam Smith to Keynes. It has been attractive to socialists because it seems to show that capitalism must inevitably break down. It is misleading.
The Berlin Wall, erected in 1961 by the East German state, was a symbol of the totalitarian Stalinist systems. The wall was a monstrosity and we are glad it was torn down by Berliners on the night of 9 November 1989. The collapse of Stalinism was a victory for freedom. Despite a wave of capitalist triumphalism that followed, the workers of the former Stalinist states are now able to meet, discuss and form their own organisations. Here, an editorial in Workers’ Liberty magazine of July 1990 examines the reasons behind Stalinism’s collapse in Eastern Europe.
For over 60 years the typical totalitarian Stalinist society — in the USSR, in the USSR’s East European satellites, in Mao’s China, or in Vietnam — has presented itself to the world as a durable, congealed, frozen system, made of a hitherto unknown substance.
Now the Stalinist societies look like so many ice floes in a rapidly warming sea — melting, dissolving, thawing, sinking and blending into the world capitalist environment around them.
To many calling themselves Marxists or even Trotskyists, Stalinism seemed for decades to be “the wave of the future”. They thought they saw the future and — less explicably — they thought it worked.
The world was mysteriously out of kilter. Somehow parts of it had slipped into the condition of being “post-capitalist”, and, strangely, they were among the relatively backward parts, those which to any halfway literate Marxist were least ripe for it. Now Stalin’s terror turns out to have been, not the birth pangs of a new civilisation, but a bloodletting to fertilise the soil for capitalism.
Nobody foresaw the way that East European Stalinism would collapse. But the decay that led to that collapse was, or should have been, visible long ago.
According to every criterion from productivity and technological dynamism through military might to social development, the world was still incontestably dominated by international capitalism, and by a capitalism which has for decades experienced consistent, though not uninterrupted, growth.
By contrast, the Stalinist states, almost all of which had begun a long way down the world scale of development, have for decades now lurched through successive unavailing efforts to shake off creeping stagnation.
The Stalinist systems have become sicker and sicker. The bureaucracies tried to run their economies by command, and in practice a vast area of the economic life of their societies was rendered subterranean, even more anarchic than a regular, legal, recognised market-capitalist system.
The ruling class of the model Stalinist state, the USSR, emerged out of the workers’ state set up by the October 1917 revolution by way of a struggle to suppress and control the working class and to eliminate the weak Russian bourgeoisie that had come back to life in the 1920s. It made itself master of society in a series of murderous if muffled class struggles. Its state aspired to control everything to a degree and for purposes alien to the Marxism whose authority it invoked. And it did that in a backward country.
In the days of Stalin’s forced collectivisation and crash industrialisation, the whole of society could be turned upside down by a central government intent on crude quantitative goals and using an immense machinery of terror as its instrument of control, motivation, and organisation.
When the terror slackened off — and that is what Khrushchev’s denunciation of Stalin essentially meant: he told the members of his bureaucratic class that life would be easier from then on — much of the dynamism of the system slackened off too.
To survive, the bureaucracy had to maintain its political monopoly. It could not have democracy because it was in a sharp antagonism with most of the people, and in the first place with the working class.
So there was a “compromise formation”, neither a self-regulating market system nor properly planned, dominated by a huge clogging bureaucratic state which could take crude decisions and make them good, but do little else. State repression was now conservative, not what it was in the “heroic” days either in intensity or in social function.
The USSR slowed down and began to stagnate. And then the rulers of the USSR seemed to suffer a collapse of the will to continue. They collapsed as spectacularly as the old German empire collapsed on 11 November 1918.
Initiatives from the rulers in the Kremlin, acting like 18th century enlightened despots, triggered the collapse of the Russian empire in Eastern Europe. But it was a collapse in preparation for at least quarter of a century.
The Stalinists had tried nearly 30 years before to make their rule more rational, flexible and productive by giving more scope to market mechanisms. Now, it seems, the dominant faction in the USSR’s bureaucracy has bit the bullet: they want full-scale restoration of market capitalism. Some of the bureaucrats hope to become capitalists themselves. But with its central prop — its political monopoly — gone, the bureaucracy is falling apart.
The fundamental determinant of what happened in Eastern Europe in the second half of 1989 was that the Kremlin signalled to its satraps that it would not back them by force: then the people took to the streets, and no-one could stop them.
It is an immense triumph for the world bourgeoisie — public self-disavowal by the rulers of the Stalinist system, and their decision to embrace market capitalism and open up their states to asset-stripping.
We deny that the Stalinist system had anything to do with socialism or working-class power. Neither a workers’ state, nor the Stalinist states in underdeveloped countries, could ever hope to win in economic competition with capitalism expanding as it has done in recent decades The socialist answer was the spreading of the workers’ revolution to the advanced countries; the Stalinists had no answer.
The Stalinist system was never “post capitalist”. It paralleled capitalism as an underdeveloped alter ego. Socialists have no reason to be surprised or dismayed about Stalinism losing its competition with capitalism.
The bourgeoisie has triumphed over the Stalinists, but it has not triumphed over socialism. And genuine socialism receives the possibility of rebirth as a mass movement from the events in Eastern Europe.
AWL statement: Solidarity with democratic and socialist forces resisting ISIS! Mobilise for 1 November!
Above: Muayad Ahmed, secretary of the Worker-communist Party of Iraq
From the Workers Liberty website:
Solidarity with democratic, workers’ and socialist forces in the Middle East resisting ISIS! Mobilise for 1 November!
The Alliance for Workers’ Liberty conference (London, 25-6 October) sends solidarity to democratic, working-class and socialist forces resisting ISIS in Kurdistan, Syria and Iraq, including our comrades in the Worker-communist Parties of Kurdistan and Iraq.
We support the people of Kurdistan in their fight for self-determination and self-rule. More broadly, people in Kobane and elsewhere are fighting a life and death battle to defend basic human freedoms, particularly freedom for women.
We are supporting and mobilising for the international day of action on 1 November. We call on the British and international left to get off the fence and support these mobilisations.
Even when they may aid a liberation struggle, we do not endorse or have trust in bombing or the sending of ground forces by the US and its allies, or by Iran. The US has bombed ISIS units attacking Kobane; but it helped create the conditions for the rise of ISIS; it continues to ally with a variety of reactionary regimes and forces in the region; and by its very nature it acts for reasons that have nothing to do with democracy or liberation.
We protest against the Turkish government’s undermining of the fight against ISIS, motivated by fear of a challenge to its rule in Kurdistan.
We call for the free movement of refugees, including their right to come to the UK.
We will build solidarity with democratic forces in the region – but particularly working-class and socialist organisations. We will continue to work with our comrades in the Worker-communist Parties of Kurdistan, Iraq and Iran; the Iranian Revolutionary Marxists’ Tendency; and Marksist Tutum in Turkey – and the workers’ and people’s organisations they are building. We invite others on the left and in the labour movement to work with us to build solidarity with these comrades and with the class-struggle left throughout the Middle East.
By Rhodri Evans (in the Workers Liberty paper Solidarity)
A “common sense” which has dominated much left thinking since the late 1980s or early 1990s is now breaking down. That’s a good thing.
The old line was to support whomever battled the USA. By opposing the USA, they were “anti-imperialist”, and therefore at least half-revolutionary.
So many leftists backed the Taliban. They sided with Khomeiny’s Iran. They claimed “we are all Hezbollah”.
But Syria’s dictator, Assad? Some leftists have taken the US support for the Syrian opposition, and the US threats to bomb Syria, as mandating them to side with Assad. Most find that too much to swallow.
And ISIS? Leftists who have backed the Taliban are not now backing ISIS. Not even “critically”.
The outcry about ISIS ceremonially beheading Western captives has, reasonably enough, deterred leftists. So has the threat from ISIS to the Kurds, whose national rights most leftists have learned to support.
And so, probably, has the fact that other forces previously reckoned “anti-imperialist” — Iran and its allies, for example — detest ISIS as much as the US does.
The Taliban converted Kabul’s football stadium into a site for public executions, and chopped hands and feet off the victims before killing them. The Taliban persecuted the Hazara and other non-Sunni and non-Pushtoon peoples of Afghanistan.
Now the media coverage of ISIS has focused thinking. But leftists who now don’t back ISIS must be aware that their criteria have shifted.
The old “common sense” was spelled out, for example, by the SWP in a 2001 pamphlet entitled No to Bush’s War.
It portrayed world politics as shaped by a “drive for global economic and military dominance” by a force interchangeably named “the world system”, “globalisation”, “imperialism”, “the West”, or “the USA”.
All other forces in the world were mere “products” of that drive. They were examples of the rule that “barbarity bred barbarity”, “barbarism can only cause more counter-barbarism”, or they were “terrorists the West has created”.
The pamplet promoted a third and decisive idea, that we should side with the “counter-barbarism” against the “barbarism”.
It was nowhere as explicit as the SWP had been in 1990: “The more US pressure builds up, the more Saddam will play an anti-imperialist role… In all of this Saddam should have the support of socialists… Socialists must hope that Iraq gives the US a bloody nose and that the US is frustrated in its attempt to force the Iraqis out of Kuwait” (SW, 18 August 1990).
But the idea in the 2001 pamphlet was the same. The SWP talked freely about how “horrifying” the 11 September attacks in the USA were. It refused to condemn them.
“The American government denounces the Taliban regime as ‘barbaric’ for its treatment of women”, said the pamphlet. A true denunciation, or untrue? The SWP didn’t say. Its answer was: “It was the Pakistani secret service, the Saudi royal family and American agents… that organised the Taliban’s push for power”.
Bin Laden was behind the 11 September attacks? Not his fault. “It was because of the rage he felt when he saw his former ally, the US, bomb Baghdad and back Israel”.
Now Corey Oakley, in the Australian socialist paper Red Flag, which comes from the same political culture as the SWP, criticises “leftists [for whom] ‘imperialism’ simply means the US and its Saudi and Israeli allies.
“Syria, Iran and even Russia, whose strategic interests brought them into conflict with the US, are portrayed as playing a progressive role…
“Events in Iraq… leave such ‘anti-imperialist’ fantasies in ruins. The Saudis are conspiring with the Russians while US diplomats negotiate military tactics with their Iranian counterparts… Israel tries to derail a US alliance with Iran while simultaneously considering whether it needs to intervene in de facto alliance with Iran in Jordan.
“If your political approach boils down to putting a tick wherever the US and Israel put a cross, you will quickly find yourself tied in knots. The driving force behind the misery… is not an all-powerful US empire, but a complex system of conflict and shifting alliances between the ruling classes of states big and small…
“The British, Russian, French and US imperialists are no longer the only independent powers in the region. Iran, Saudi Arabia and Egypt – though all intertwined in alliances with other countries big and small – are powerful capitalist states in their own right, playing the imperialist game, not mere clients of bigger powers…” (1 July 2014).
The shift signifies an opening for discussion, rather than a reaching of new conclusions.
On ISIS, a frequent leftist “line” now is to deplore ISIS; say that the 2003 US invasion of Iraq contributed to the dislocation from which ISIS surged (true); express no confidence or trust in US bombing as a way to push back ISIS (correct); and slide into a “conclusion” that the main imperative is to campaign against US bombing.
The slide gives an illusion of having got back to familiar “auto-anti-imperialist” ground. But the illusion is thin.
The old argument was that if you oppose the US strongly enough, then you oppose the root of all evil, and hence you also effectively combat the bad features of the anti-imperialist force. But no-one can really believe that the US created ISIS, or that there were no local reactionary impulses with their own local dynamic and autonomy behind the rise of ISIS.
Our statement of basic ideas, in this paper, says: “Working-class solidarity in international politics: equal rights for all nations, against imperialists and predators big and small”. We have a new opening to get discussion on that approach.
I ran into Comrade Clive Bradley over the weekend, and he was warm in his praise for the film Pride, which depicts (albeit in “feel-good” style à la The Full Monty and Made in Dagenham) the role of Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners (LGSM) during the great 1984-5 strike.
Clive was a prominent member of LGSM at the time, although he’s not portrayed in the film.
Here’s an interview that Workers Liberty’s paper Solidarity did with Clive a couple of weeks ago, just after the film’s release. There is also a review of the film, which I haven’t republished, but which can be read here.
“The miners needed solidarity”
Solidarity: What was LGSM and what did it do?
Clive: It was a group that was set up of lesbians and gay men set up to support the miner’s strike. It has to be said it was initially mainly gay men, but more and more women got involved over the time. Practically it raised money for the miners who were on strike for a year. Mainly by standing outside lesbian and gay pubs rattling buckets, it raised quite a lot of money. This was sent to a particular mining community in south Wales, in the Dulais valley, with which connections had been made.
Solidarity: Why did this get started, and how did you get involved?
Clive: It was the idea of two people in particular, Mark Ashton and Mike Jackson. Both are dramatised in the movie. They put out a call at Pride in ‘84 and organised a meeting at “Gay Is the Word” bookshop in London. At that time I was just moving to London from Manchester and was a member of Socialist Organiser [forerunner of the AWL]. It’s not rocket science to see how I got involved.
I went to the second ever meeting of LGSM. I was active in supporting the miners and thought it was a brilliant initiative. It proved to have a very powerful effect on lesbian and gay men and on the miners. The NUM went on to lead the pride demonstration in August 1985. The NUM, a traditional union, not famous for its view on matters such as lesbian and gay rights, became quite prominent in the changing policy on gay rights in the Labour Party.
Solidarity: What impact did it have in the gay community, and what arguments did LGSM make about why gay people should support the miners?
Clive: The strike lasted for a whole year and divided the country, divided everybody. A lot of people supported the miners and didn’t need to be persuaded, but we argued that we needed the miners to win. If the miners lost then the Tory government would be going for everybody, and these lesbian and gay communities would be an easy target. People would put a lot of money into the bucket to show solidarity — presumably a lot of money they didn’t have in many cases. LGSM was the first really concrete example of how an “autonomous” movement of the “specially oppressed” (as we used to say) could struggle alongside the organised working class, and transform working-class consciousness in the process.
Solidarity: Were other left groups involved in LGSM? What was their attitude to it?
Clive: Some members of different left groups were personally involved, even members of Militant [forerunner of the Socialist Party] and the SWP, whose organisations were more hostile to the project. Militant , for example, generally argued that any kind of autonomous organisation was necessarily divisive. LGSM and Women Against Pit Closures, etc. showed that quite the reverse was true.
Solidarity: How was LGSM received in the mining communities?
Clive: The film does this quite cleverly. It is basically a rom com between two communities. The film shows you both acceptance and hostility, but a growing acceptance. That isn’t far off what actually happened.
I went to South Wales twice, the second time when the strike was actually finishing in March ‘85. That was very emotional for all of us. My own experience was that people couldn’t really have been more welcoming.
The first time we went down, there was a minibus load of us, we were being put up in people’s houses, that was the deal. We all went down to the miner’s welfare in the evening to sing songs and get drunk. It was completely fine, no hostility at all.
The reality was we were raising money for them. The miners needed solidarity, and I’m sure if people were at first dubious about where the solidarity came from, need overcame that. And, of course, as you make contact with people you realise that you have more in common than you initially thought. Why the suspicions broke down, as I’m sure there were some, is no mystery. It was the nature of people meeting each other and the power of solidarity.
Solidarity: What do you think members of LGSM learnt from the experience?
Clive: For many people it was their first time going to that sort of working-class community, though certainly not for everyone. We were a mixed group and certainly there were people from working-class backgrounds, it was not all middle class lefties. The vast majority were just people who wanted to do something.
When you have a big confrontation between a section of the working class and the government you have to take sides, more than just in your head.
There have been reunions [of LGSM] recently and many people still seem to hold broadly the same views that they used to. You can tell for many people in LGSM it was an absolutely formative experience in their lives, and very important to them.
Solidarity: Do you think there was rolling back after the defeat of the dispute, both in the gay community and in the mining community?
Clive: The miners were beaten and most of them lost their jobs. Generally speaking in the class struggle, the defeat of the miners had a hugely bad effect. We’re still living with the consequences of it.
I doubt miners’ attitudes rolled back too much with regards lesbian and gay rights. You started to get stories of miners coming out. At reunions we get visits from miners. We often hear “it turns out my son is gay”.
Ex-miners and their families came up from south Wales for the film premiere.
In the lesbian and gay community, struggle wasn’t rolled back. You got growth of the lesbian and gay movement after 1985. Not long after was “Section 28” [the Tory law which prevented the “promotion of homosexual lifestyles”] against which you had enormous demonstrations. The pride parades in the early ‘80s were relatively small, but by the late ‘80s and certainly the early ‘90s they were enormous.
Solidarity: What do you think about the film?
Clive: It gets an awful lot incredibly right. It’s in the broad ball park of something like The Full Monty, but much more political. Over the credits you have someone singing Solidarity Forever. It takes for granted that the strike was right. It’s absolutely about the importance of class struggle and solidarity between communities. The portrayals of the real people are very close and a good tribute.
Its good that for the anniversary of the strike, this particular act of solidarity will be remembered.
By Dale Street (cross-posted from Workers Liberty):
“Don’t mention the war!” — that well-known line from an episode of the 1970s sitcom “Fawlty Towers” — should have been the header for the emergency motion entitled “Situation in Ukraine” passed by last week’s TUC congress. (1)
The motion ignored Russia’s ongoing political and military attack on Ukraine’s right to self-determination. It misrepresented the (real but limited) influence exerted by fascist organisations in Ukraine. And its concluding demands sounded left-wing but were in fact politically incoherent.
The motion noted comments by the NATO General Secretary that its recent summit in Wales had been held “in a dramatically changed security environment”. It further noted that this statement came only a day after a Pentagon announcement that 200 US troops were being sent to Ukraine for “training exercises”.
But there is a deliberate triple omission here. The “dramatically changed security environment” is the fact that for the first time since the Second World War the territory of a European country has been seized by that of a neighbouring big power.
In March Russia annexed Crimea. This was followed by Russia supplying separatist forces in south-east Ukraine with weapons, munitions, “volunteer” fighters, military instructors, and political leadership.
In August, with the separatists staring eventual defeat in the face, Russia launched an invasion of south-east Ukraine. It still has troops there. All of this has been omitted from the motion.
The second omission is that the “training exercises” now underway are indeed “training exercises”, and were planned long before Russia launched its campaign of military aggression against Ukraine.
The final omission is that while the motion condemns the presence of 200 US troops in Ukraine it fails to mention the tens of thousands of troops and hundreds of tanks periodically concentrated by Russia at the border with Ukraine.
After briefly expressing concerns about the human suffering caused by the conflict, the motion expressed further concerns about “attacks on trade unionists and the empowering of fascist groups, including the Odessa Massacre which saw that city’s trade union centre burned to the ground.”
The fact that the Odessa trade union centre was not “burned to the ground” is a side issue. More issue is the misrepresentation. Trade unionists should indeed oppose attacks on trade unionists and the empowering of fascist groups. And there are organised Ukrainian-fascist groups in Ukraine, even if they currently enjoy only very limited support: in last May’s presidential elections their candidates each secured only around 1% of the vote.
But there are also pro-Russian and ethnic-Russian fascist organisations in Ukraine. These organisations figure prominently in the separatist leadership, which includes members of the fascist “think tank” Izborsky Club. Russian and French fascists have also been identified in the ranks of the separatist armed forces. (2)
The motion concluded with three demands.
The General Council should consider how best to support those fighting for trade union rights and against fascism in “the Ukraine”.
But this would mean support for Ukrainian trade unions, whose leaders have repeatedly condemned the separatist movement and Russia’s attacks on their country. In fact, given the role played by fascists amongst the separatists, it amounts to a call for support for the Ukrainian military!
There should be an immediate permanent ceasefire and a peaceful negotiated settlement.
But this would require willingness on both sides. As the TUC adopted this motion separatist leaders declared that they were not bound by the terms of the ceasefire agreed in Minsk (3) and that their goal was to sieze the bulk of Ukrainian territory in order to create “Novorossiya”. (4)
And the use of British forces in the Ukrainian conflict should be opposed.
Given that there are no proposals to use British troops in the “Ukrainian conflict”, the purpose of such a clause is – at first sight — unclear.
In fact, the clause fits into the overall politics of the motion.
A few Dave-Spart left-wing truisms (support for trade unionists, anti-fascism, opposition to NATO) grafted onto a Basil-Fawlty attitude of “don’t mention the war” (no mention of Russian troops, Russian weaponry, Russian fascists, or Russian invasions).
Trade unionists should argue for their unions to adopt policy based on events in the real world: Russia, Hands Off Ukraine!; Ukrainian-Russian workers unity against oligarchs and neo-liberalism in both countries; Against fascism — both Ukrainian and Russian!
NB: Eric Lee adds
Borders divide the working class more than they divide capital. That is the core socialist argument for voting no to separation in Scotland’s referendum on 18 September.
The core argument can be overruled where one nation is conquered and ruled to ruin by another. Then, the national oppression creates divisions as evil as any border. Separation lifts the oppression. Workers are better united by a common struggle in which the workers of the oppressor nation side against their own ruling class’s sway over others.
But Scotland has been an equal partner in British capitalism for centuries. Scottish capitalists were equal partners with English in ruling the British Empire, not victims of it. The core argument applies.
Already Scottish workers will stand outside the big strike on 14 October, because public sector pay terms are a shade different in Scotland.
Some will say that’s all right, because Scottish terms are a shade better than England. But a united struggle could win much better than that shade of not-quite-as-bad.
It is still true today, as when Marx wrote the Communist Manifesto, that “the struggle of the proletariat [working class] with the bourgeoisie is at first a national struggle”.
The first move in workers’ struggles is almost always against conditions, settlements, and laws within the borders where they live. Working-class liberation can be won only by a struggle which unites workers across the world around common aims, transcending those local details. Each new border creates a new hurdle to jump in the effort to unite workers globally. It can be jumped; but it is a new hurdle.
Global capital, however, flows across borders easily. It uses borders to its advantage, by imposing a race to the bottom. Governments compete to win and keep global capitalist investment, by offering lower and lower tax rates for the rich and for business, easier and easier regulation, and more and more beaten-down workforces.
Individual workers move across borders. But often with difficulty: look at Calais, a border within the EU! Even where individual workers can move easily, whole working classes can’t move.
Working classes cannot threaten a government with losing its working class to a neighbour unless it cedes better conditions to workers. Yet global capitalists threaten governments with capital-flight unless they match their neighbours’ sweeteners.
The Scottish National Party promises that in a separate Scotland the NHS will be safer and the Trident nuclear submarines will have to be moved to England.
But it makes no sense to set up a new national frontier on the strength of those promises. It makes no sense to rank such unstable promises above the fundamental, long-term truth that the working class benefits from borders being reduced and removed.
The SNP used to promise that a separate Scotland would join the “arc of prosperity” of small states on the edge of Europe: Iceland, Ireland, Norway, Finland.
Then Iceland, Ireland, and Finland were among the hardest-hit by the 2008 world economic crash and its sequels. Norway is better off only because of its huge oil reserves. Separation will not stop the decline of the North Sea Scottish-British oil reserves, or make the exploitation of declining reserves eco-friendly.
Scottish separatists used to mock socialists who opposed separation on the grounds that we were implicitly defending the British monarchy, NATO, and the British financial system.
Now the SNP says that its separate Scotland will still have the British monarchy, NATO, and the British financial system. Socialists and democrats who oppose separation do not defend the status quo.
Our arguments — against increased nationalism and creating borders — are a world away from the official “no” camp. We have no truck with UKIP types who want to keep the status quo and the Act of Union out of “patriotic” commitment to the United Kingdom.
Will Hutton, no socialist but clear-headed on this issue, put it well in the Observer of 7 September:
“If Britain can’t find a way of sticking together, it is the death of the liberal enlightenment before the atavistic forces of nationalism and ethnicity — a dark omen for the 21st century…
“[But the only alternative is] to trump half-cock quasi-federalism with a proper version… a federal Britain… a wholesale recasting of the British state…
“The first casualty would be the Treasury, which would… become a humbler finance ministry. The next casualty would be the House of Lords…”
For united working-class struggle within a democratic federal Britain, within a democratic federal united Europe! Read the rest of this entry »