Guest post by Pink Prosecco
Above: Lib Dem idiot David Ward
Early Day Motion 739 is a call for the freedom of movement of Palestinian journalists. Its primary sponsor is Jeremy Corbyn, who once invited Raed Salah, a promoter of the blood libel, to Parliament, and it is being supported by many other usual suspects: George Galloway, who refused to debate with a student at Oxford once he realized he was Israeli, David Ward, who bemoaned the fact Jews hadn’t learned more of a lesson from the Holocaust and Bob Russell, who has drawn a false equivalence between the Holocaust and the suffering of the Palestinians.
However those of us who are inclined to defend Israel from disproportionate scrutiny and exaggerated, even racist, criticism will sometimes find ourselves on the same ‘side’ as people with views just as deplorable – eg: Israel supporters who deny the Palestinians’ right to self-determination, and assert that they are a “made up people” with only themselves to blame. So it doesn’t seem rational to dismiss this EDM just because supporting it will put one in some unwelcome company. Here is the full text.
That this House notes that, on a daily basis, Israeli authorities restrict journalists’ movements and there are hundreds of military checkpoints that constrain or forbid journalists’ movements; further notes that despite the long standing campaigning by journalists and civil rights organisations, the Israeli authorities continue to reject identity cards, accreditation and press cards, including the International Federation of Journalists press card, when carried by Palestinian journalists; condemns the continuous attacks by Israeli soldiers on Palestinian news gatherers, in particular photographers and camera crews, the level of attacks has increased during the first half of 2013, in 2012 the attacks involved rubber coated steel bullets, tear grenades and stun grenades; and reaffirms that freedom of movement is a central tenet of independent professional journalism and, in restricting such a right, Israeli authorities are in breach of international covenants and the right to report.
There would seem to be two possible objections to the EDM. First, the claims may be exaggerated; secondly, even someone who is, or seems to be, a journalist may still pose a threat. Here’s a link to a story about a clearcut example of this, a newsreader who dropped off a terrorist before going to work to report on the bombing: http://www.nytimes.com/2007/06/27/arts/television/27genz.html?_r=1&adxnnl=1&adxnnlx=1386088156-piyAlCJHUvKKlpjcZCsThg
Yet security concerns don’t justify the apparently brutal treatment some Palestinian journalists have experienced, as documented here:
Trying to establish whether the EDM is reasonable or not, like most lines of enquiry relating to Israel/Palestine, has the same bewildering effect as looking at this ambiguous picture:
Is the journalist featured in this story (link below), Mohamed Jamal Abu Khdeir, a victim of Israeli heavy handedness or a real security threat?
While looking up recent news stories about Palestinian journalists I found an example of one unfortunate man, George Canawati, who had been beaten up for mere “slander and abuse” - making derogatory remarks about a police officer. However in this case the violence was carried out, not by Israeli forces, but by the Palestinian Authority:
However, even though one might wryly note that some sections of the media won’t be so quick to report on this attack on press freedom as on Israel’s shortcomings, that doesn’t mean those shortcomings aren’t real. The monitoring organisation Reporters without Borders doesn’t have the kind of profile one would associate with reflexive Israel-bashing, yet it seems increasingly critical of Israel’s treatment of Palestinian journalists:
So, whether or not one goes along with every element of the EDM, it certainly seems to highlight a genuine cause for concern in a year which has seen Israel’s press freedom ranking fall sharply:
From the Dockland & East London Advertiser:
Artist ‘censored’ by Tower Hamlets Council at Bangladeshi exhibition
Above: Saif Osami with some of his work at the Brady Arts Centre
By Adam Barnett, Reporter
A Bangladeshi artist has criticised the Council after he was told some of his work was too controversial for public display
Above: one of the pieces deemed “too controversial” by Tower Hamlets Council
Saif Osmani, 32, who was born in Whitechapel, was invited to show his work at the Brady Arts Centre in Hanbury Street as part of a season of Bangladeshi drama and art.
But when Mr Osmani arrived on November 2 he says he was told by a council arts officer that four of his pieces, which combine the Pakistani and Bangladeshi flags, might anger “hardliners” and would not be shown.
Mr Osmani, who lives in Stratford, said: “I was told that due to the political situation in Bangladesh I was unaware of what this series of paintings could trigger with the ‘hardliners’.
“I can’t see why these events happening thousands of miles away have started dictating this exhibition here in the UK.”
Tower Hamlets Council declined to say who its arts officer meant by “hardliners”.
Mr Osmani said the rest of his work was moved to a corner of the room near the toilet and was later hidden by a pull-up banner.
Akhtar Hussain, of art group Avid Art Agency, said: “It is an absolute disgrace that this level of censoring is taking place in the name of political correctness at an event which was supposed to celebrated British and Bangladeshi arts, but instead curtails the content of the art on display.”
A spokesman for the council said: “We are clear that there has been no censorship in relation to this exhibition.
“As with any public space the council does have the right to decide what is exhibited and in this case the pictures chosen were fully discussed and agreed between the artist and a member of the council arts team.”
The exhibition runs until November 22 at the Brady Arts and Community Centre in Hanbury Street.
Assuming that the article is accurate, this would appear to be an outrageous act of censorship. But what exactly are the political motives that lie behind it? And who are these “hardliners” who might be angered by the paintings? Any information from readers would be most welcome.
The kneejerk reaction to violent crime often seems to be a call for illiberal restrictions on freedoms. Arguing against such responses can be difficult, particularly when the crime is the sickening murder of a small child. But the message in the Guardian editorial (31.05.13 in print edition) does, I think, need to be firmly resisted.
“Internet pornography is usually abusive and often violent. Mark Bridger, convicted yesterday of the murder of April Jones, had compiled a store of it. Pornography is easily and freely accessible, and at most requires only a credit card.”
The editorial goes on to describe the apparent link between pornography and violence. There are correlations between all kinds of activities and negative outcomes, but that doesn’t mean a ban is always the answer. Pornography comes in many different forms. Either the content or the production may be exploitative, certainly. It would be good to tackle the factors which drive people to seek work which exploits them – which is not to say that all who are involved in the industry are exploited (or exploiting). To claim that pornography, all pornography, is an ‘incitement to hate’ seems over the top. (Otherwise surely there’d be a lot more hate around the place.)
Taking measures to prevent children accessing pornography is fine, and obviously child pornography should be clamped down on ruthlessly. But measures such as those suggested in the Guardian’s editorial – such as preventing UK credit cards being used to view pornography on line – seem like a massive over-reaction.
NB: since the print version of the Guardian editorial appeared, it has been amended online, and the following addendum has been posted:
• This article was amended on 31 May 2013 to clarify that the intention of the editorial was to propose restrictions on violent and abusive pornography, as opposed to pornography in general. The original also incorrectly stated that it was Dutch members of the Pirate party who brought down attempts to insert a proposed ban on pornography into European equal rights legislation.
Tonight at 10.35 something extraordinary will happen: a TV programme will call into question the competence and integrity of its own Chief Editor.
BBC Panorama will air the fact that BBC Newsnight journalists (notably reporter Liz MacKean and producer Meirion Jones) do not accept the explanation given by the Corporation’s top brass for having pulled Newsnight‘s Savile exposé in December of last year. The clear implication will be that pressure was brought to bear from the very top of the Corporation to pull the film.
Those who heard Newsnight editor Peter Rippon trying to explain away the decision, or who read his original blog account (now amended) of the reasoning behind the decision, already know that his ’explanation’ stinks. But for nearly three weeks the Beeb’s official line on the matter held firm in its denial and compacency – which makes Rippon’s ”decision” (allegedly forced on him by the new director general George Entwistle) to “stand aside” today and the admission that his account was “inaccurate or incomplete” all the more remarkable.
In tonight’s Panorama, Liz MacKean will state that she knew at the time the Newsnight report was nearing completion on 30th November of last year, that the previously supportive Rippon had changed his mind and would not be prepared to see the film aired. She does not, it seems, offer any explanation as to why Rippon backed down, and Panorama has no proof that any pressure was brought to bear on Rippon.
It’s hard to escape the obvious explanation: the BBC had a number of grovelling “tribute” shows scheduled to celebrate the national treasure, tireless charity worker and serial paedophile Savile over the Christmas period. The Newsnight exposé would have been, to say the least, a bit embarrassing.
But now comes the most interesting bit: what did the new BBC director general (at the time head of BBC TV) George Entwistle, know about the allegations against Savile and the Newsnight report in the period immediately before the film was pulled?
According to Panorama, Helen Boaden (head of BBC news), warned Entwistle in December that something was about to be broadcast on Newsnight, that might cause him to have to re-think his planned Savile tributes over Christmas. Entwistle acknowledges that this conversation happened, but insists that he didn’t ask Boaden for further details – something that I am not alone in finding difficult to believe.
What we know for sure is that shortly after that convesation, Rippon pulled the programme and later gave reasons for doing so that have now been withdrawn as untrue (sorry: “inaccurate or incomplete”).
Naturally, the Murdoch press, the Mail and the Tories are having a field-day at the Beeb’s expense over the Savile affair as a whole, the Newsnight business in particular, and the BBC’s monumental mishandling of the whole fiasco. And it has to be admitted that the Corporation’s compacency, dishonesty and ineptitude has played into the hands of its enemies. If today’s reports that BBC has been briefing against its own Newsnight journalists are true, then heads will have to roll, starting with Enwistle’s.
But it must be borne in mind that tonights’s Panorama will be something that no commercial broadcaster would ever allow: a devastating and potentially career-threatening attack upon its own senior management. It was encroaching commercialism (ie: the imperative to protect Savile’s reputation during and after his life) within the BBC that got it into this mess in the first place. It’s the public service ethos (to be demonstrated by Panorama tonight) that may yet save it.
The Chávez victory in Venezuela’s presidential election last week, has been greeted with unbridled enthusiasm by some on the Stalinist-influenced left, and by a quiet gnashing of teeth and subdued wailing on the right. Others have taken a more nuanced view. There can be no denying that Chávez’s social programmes have brought real benefits to the poor. But the endemic corruption amongst the Chávista ruling elite, the lack of anything remotely resembling workers’ control of industry, Chávez’s unpleasant (but all too common amongst Stalinoid populists) penchant for antisemitism and some truly foul international alliances, mean that the regime cannot be considered ‘socialist’ except in the most debased and meaningless sense of the word. It is, perhaps, social democracy sui generis. The Chávez regime is also, quite clearly, what educated Marxists call ’Bonapartist‘ (to be precise, in the case of Chávez, “petty-bourgeois-democratic Bonapartism“).
Some Trots are very keen on Chávez, others slightly less so. Some are very critical indeed. But what would the Old Man himself have had to say? Well, we don ‘t need to speculate. Between Januay 1937 and his assassination at the hands of a Stalinist agent in August 1940, Trotsky lived in Mexico under the government of Lazaro Cárdenas - a regime very similar to that of Chávez’s. To pre-empt one obvious question about Trotsky’s generally charitable assessment of the Cárdenas regime: yes, of course, Trotsky was dependent upon the Mexican government for his survival and wasn’t about to do or say anything to piss them off. But Trotsky’s undertaking to Cárdenas not to “intervene in the domestic or foreign politics of this country” also meant that he was under no obligation to praise the regime: he could simply have stayed schtum.
As it was, Trotsky ventured some praise for the Cárdenas regime - and also some friendly criticism. But the crucial point is that he never recognises or describes the regime as ‘socialist.’ On the contrary, he writes:“it is not our state and we must be independent of the state. In this sense we are not opposed to state capitalism in Mexico; but the first thing we demand is our own representation of workers before this state. We cannot permit the leaders of the trade unions to become functionaries of the state. To attempt to conquer the state in this way is absolute idiocy. It is not possible in this manner peacefully to conquer power. It is a petty bourgeois dream…”
The article below is adapted and modified by Jim Denham, from an unattributed piece on the Workers Liberty website:
Above: Trotsky thanking the Cárdenas government (accompanied by cockerels)
Trotsky had been expelled from the USSR by Stalin in 1929, and spent the rest of his life trying to find a country which would let him live in exile. He arrived in Mexico on 9 January 1937.
Thanks to the efforts of Mexican Trotskyists, such as the renowned artist Diego Rivera, the Cárdenas government granted Trotsky asylum on the condition that he would not interfere in Mexico’s domestic affairs. Trotsky accepted this condition, in a statement on his arrival, promising “complete and absolute non-intervention in Mexican politics and no less complete abstention from actions that might prejudice the relations between Mexico and other countries”. (Writings 1936-37 p.86)
Trotsky was forced to break with the Mexican “Trotskyist” organisation, the LCI, after six months in the country, when the Mexican Trots (the LCI) issued a manifesto calling for “direct action” against the high cost of living, implying that workers should attack shops. Coming at the time of the Moscow trials and the attacks on Trotsky by the Stalinists in Mexico, this call by the LCI was particularly stupid. After Trotsky’s intervention, the LCI dissolved itself for the remainder of 1937.
Trotsky publicly supported Cárdenas’ expropriation of the oil industry. On 23 April 1938 he wrote to the Daily Herald in Britain, pointing to the hypocrisy of the British government and defending the nationalisation of oil of the grounds of national economic development and independence. He argued that the Labour Party should set up a commission to investigate how much of the “living sap of Mexico” had been “plundered” by British capital. (Writings 1937-38 p.324)
He also criticised some of his Mexican supporters. On 15 April 1938 Trotsky wrote to his closest collaborator, the US Trotskyist leader James P. Cannon: “Galicia, in the name of the revived League [LCI], published a manifesto in which he attacked Cárdenas for his policy of compensating the expropriated capitalists, and posted this manifesto principally on the walls of the Casa del Pueblo. This is the ‘policy’ of these people.” (Writings 1937-38 p.314)
Trotsky characterised the oil expropriation as a matter of self-determination. He wrote: “Semi-colonial Mexico is fighting for its national independence, political and economic. This is the basic meaning of the Mexican revolution at this stage… expropriation is the only effective means of safeguarding national independence and the elementary conditions of democracy.” (Writings 1937-38 p.359)
He compared “this courageous and progressive measure of the Mexican government” to the work of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln in the United States, adding that, “if Mexico should find itself forced to sell liquid gold to fascist countries, the responsibility for this act would fall fully and completely upon the governments of the imperialist ‘democracies’.” (ibid p.360)
He summed up his attitude thus: “Without succumbing to illusions and without fear of slander, the advanced workers will completely support the Mexican people in their struggle against the imperialists. The expropriation of oil is neither socialism nor communism. But it is a highly progressive measure of national self-defence.”
He reiterated his support, without losing sight of the character of the Mexican government: “The international proletariat has no reason to identify its programme with the programme of the Mexican government. Revolutionists have no need of changing colour, adapting themselves, and rendering flattery in the manner of the GPU school of courtiers, who in a moment of danger will sell out and betray the weaker side. Without giving up its own identity, every honest working class organisation of the entire world, and first of all in Great Britain, is duty-bound—to take an irreconcilable position against the imperialist robbers, their diplomacy, their press, and their fascist hirelings.” (Writings 1937-38 p.361)
A particularly important article of Trotsky’s, in the light of the current situation, is one on freedom of the press, which he published in the first issue of Clave magazine (October 1938).
In the summer of 1938 a Stalinist agent within the Cárdenas regime, Lombardo Toledano, began a campaign against the reactionary press in Mexico, intent on placing it under “democratic censorship” or banning it altogether. Trotsky was unequivocal in opposing this drive. He wrote: “Both theory and historical experience testify that any restriction of democracy in bourgeois society is, in the final analysis, invariably directed against the proletariat… Consequently, any working class ‘leader’ who arms the bourgeois state with special means for controlling public opinion in general and the press in particular is, precisely, a traitor.” (Writings 1937-38 p.417)
“Even though Mexico is a semi-colonial country, it is also a bourgeois state, and in no way a workers’ state. However, even from the standpoint of the interests of the dictatorship of the proletariat, banning bourgeois newspapers or censoring them does not in the least constitute a ‘programme’, or a ‘principle’ or an ideal set up. Measures of this kind can only be a temporary, unavoidable evil…
“It is essential to wage a relentless struggle against the reactionary press. But workers cannot let the repressive fist of the bourgeois state substitute for the struggle that they must wage through their own organisations and their own press… The most effective way to combat the bourgeois press is to expand the working class press… The Mexican proletariat has to have an honest newspaper to express its needs, defend its interests, broaden its horizon, and prepare the way for the socialist revolution in Mexico.” (ibid pp.418, 419-420)
Trotsky began to write about developments in the unions in mid-1938. Before a Stalinist-organised “Pan-American Trade Union Congress” in Mexico City in September 1938, which set up the Confederation of Latin American Workers (CTAL), he wrote (in the name of Diego Rivera) to denounce Toledano’s links with Stalin. He wrote that Toledano was “a ‘pure’ politician, foreign to the working class, and pursuing his own aims”. His ambition was “to climb to the Mexican presidency on the backs of the workers” and in pursuit if that aim had “closely intertwined his fate with the fate of the Kremlin oligarchy”. (Writings 1937-38 p.426)
His attitude seems to have hardened after the CTAL conference, when Trotskyists were excluded for their politics. He was also prompted by the increased attacks on him by the Stalinist bureaucrats in the unions. After Lombardo Toledano presented a dossier to the (Stalinist) Mexican trade union congress (CTM) in 1938, it voted “unanimously” for the expulsion of Trotsky from Mexico.
Then the August 1938 issue of the CTM magazine Futuro carried an attack on him by Lombardo, accusing him of organising a general strike against Cárdenas during the oil expropriations.
Trotsky distinguished between leaders and the unions: “Toledano of course will repeat that we are ‘attacking’ the CTM. No reasonable worker will believe this rubbish. The CTM, as a mass organisation, as a mass organisation, has every right to our respect and support. But just as the democratic state is not identical with its minister at any given time, so a trade union organisation is not identical with its secretary.” (Writings 1938-9, p.22)
Other attacks followed. The Mexican Communist Party (PCM) leader Hernan Laborde accused Trotsky of having links with General Cedillo (who had led an abortive coup against the government). The Stalinist agent Lombardo also claimed that Trotsky had met with fascists during a summer holiday trip. Trotsky’s response was to offer to participate in a public investigation into Lombardo’s charges.
Trotsky also sought to galvanise an opposition to the Stalinists, drafting a statement intended for publication. It stated: “[In Mexico] the unions, unfortunately, are directly dependent on the state” and “posts in the union bureaucracy are frequently filled from the ranks of the bourgeois intelligentsia, attorneys, engineers etc”.
He described the way these bureaucrats gave themselves a left cover by becoming “friends of the USSR”. He described how they kept control of the unions: “they ferociously trample on workers’ democracy and stifle any voice of criticism, acting as outright gangsters towards organisations that fight for the revolutionary independence of the proletariat from the bourgeois state and from foreign imperialism.” (Writings 1938-39 p.83)
Trotsky went further in November 1938, arguing that the trade unions in Mexico were “constitutionally statified”. He told his closest collaborators that, “they incorporate the workers, the trade unions, which are already stratified. They incorporate them in the management of the railroad, the oil industry, and so on, in order to transform the trade union leadership into government representatives… In that sense, when we say ‘the control of production by the workers’, it cannot mean control of production by the stratified bureaucrats of the trade unions, but control by the workers of their own bureaucracy and to fight for the independence of the trade unions from the state.” (Writings supplement 1934-40, p.791)
“In Mexico, more than anywhere, the struggle against the bourgeoisie and the government consists above all in freeing the trade unions from dependence on the government… the class struggle in Mexico must be directed towards winning the independence of the trade unions from the bourgeois state.”
He made it clear that revolutionaries would continue to work in the unions, even though they were partially integrated into the Mexican state. (Writings 1938-39 p.146)
He criticised the Cárdenas government’s second six-year plan in March 1939 for a participation proposal which “threatens to incorporate a bureaucratic hierarchy of the unions etc, without precise delimitation, into the bureaucratic hierarchy of the state”. He went as far as to characterise the unions as “totalitarian”. (Writings 1938-39 p.222, p.227)
This advocacy of intervention in even the most reactionary unions remained in all Trotsky’s articles until the end of his life. For example Clave carried articles in 1940 on the first congress of the STERM teachers’ union and on the 7th national council of the CTM, both characterised by little democracy.
Trotsky made few remarks on the nature of the Mexican regime in the first eighteen months of his asylum, and when he did, these were brief allusions. For example in the article on the freedom of the press in August 1938 he described Mexico’s democracy as “anaemic”.
He argued that “a semi-democratic, semi-Bonapartist state… now exists in every country in Latin America, with inclinations towards the masses”, adding that, “in these semi-Bonapartistic-democratic governments the state needs the support of the peasants and through the weight of the peasants disciplines the workers. That is more or less the situation in Mexico”. (Writings supplement 1934-40, pp.784-785)
What did Trotsky mean by Bonapartism? He had employed the concept to understand the regime in Germany before Hitler and to describe the situation in France in the mid-1930s. He summed it up succinctly in March 1935: “By Bonapartism we mean a regime in which the economically dominant class, having the qualities necessary for democratic methods of government, finds itself compelled to tolerate – in order to preserve its possessions – the uncontrolled command of a military and police apparatus over it, of a crowned ‘saviour’. This kind of situation is created in periods when the class contradictions have become particularly acute; the aim of Bonapartism is to prevent explosions.” (Writings 1934-35 pp.206-07)
In his discussion with comrades in November 1938, he explained: “We see in Mexico and the other Latin American countries that they skipped over most stages of development. It began in Mexico directly by incorporating the trade unions in the state. In Mexico we have a double domination. That is, foreign capital and the national bourgeoisie, or as Diego Rivera formulated it, a ‘sub-bourgeoisie’ – a stratum which is controlled by foreign capital and at the same time opposed to the workers; in Mexico a semi-Bonapartist regime between foreign capital and national capital, foreign capital and the workers… They create a state capitalism which has nothing to do with socialism. It is the purest form of state capitalism.” (Writings supplement 1934-40, pp.790-791)
Discussing the ruling party’s second six year plan in March 1939 (which had been endorsed by the CTM) Trotsky described how “the government defends the vital resources of the country, but at the same time it can grant industrial concessions, above all in the form of mixed corporations, i.e. enterprises in which the government participates (holding 10%, 25%, 51% of the stock, according to the circumstances) and writes into the contracts the option of buying out the rest after a certain period of time”.
Summing up he wrote: “The authors of the programme [i.e. the plan] wish to completely construct state capitalism within a period of six years. But nationalisation of existing enterprises is one thing; creating new ones is another… The country we repeat is poor. Under such conditions it would be almost suicidal to close the doors to foreign capital. To construct state capitalism, capital is necessary.” (Writings 1938-39 pp.226-227)
Trotsky never equivocated on the nature of the ruling party, including the character of the PRM (the “Mexican Revolutionary Party” created by Cárdenas). In his discussion with comrades in November 1938 he argued: “The Guomindang in China, the PRM in Mexico, and the APRA in Peru are very similar organisations. It is a people’s front in the form of a party… our organisation does not participate in the APRA, Guomindang, or PRM, that it preserves absolute freedom of action and criticism.” (Writings supplement 1934-40, p.785)
At the beginning of 1939, prospective candidates in the PRM resigned their posts and began to campaign for the presidency, which would take place in July 1940.
At the outset the candidates were Francisco Mujica on the “left”, Manuel Ávila Camacho in the centre and Juan Andreu Almazán on the right. The PCM and Lombardo threw their support behind Ávila Camacho, calling for “unity behind the only candidate that can defeat reaction”.
Trotsky condemned the support for Ávila Camacho offered by the CGT, and wrote: “At the present time there is no workers party, no trade union that is in the process of developing independent class politics and that is able to launch an independent candidate. Under these conditions, our only possible course of action is to limit ourselves to Marxist propaganda and to the preparation of a future independent party of the Mexican proletariat.” (Writings 1938-39 p.176)
Later he registered his attitude toward Diego Rivera, who had broken with the (Trotskyist) Fourth International and briefly supported Mujica. Trotsky wrote: “You can imagine how astonished I was when Van accidentally met the painter [Rivera], in company with Hidalgo, leaving the building of the Pro-Mujica Committee carrying bundles of pro-Mujica leaflets which they were loading into the painter’s station wagon. I believe that was the first we learned of the new turn, or the passing of the painter from ‘third period anarchism’ to ‘people’s front politics’. The poor Casa del Pueblo followed him on all these steps.” (Writings 1938-39 p.293).
Despite Mexico’s relative economic backwardness in the 1930s, Trotsky did not rule out the possibility that its workers might seize power – even before their counterparts in the US. (Writings supplement 1934-40, p.785) However he was concerned about a mechanical interpretation of permanent revolution as applied to Mexico by some of the LCI.
“The Fourth International will defend… [Mexico] against imperialist intervention… But as the Mexican section of the Fourth International, it is not our state and we must be independent of the state. In this sense we are not opposed to state capitalism in Mexico; but the first thing we demand is our own representation of workers before this state. We cannot permit the leaders of the trade unions to become functionaries of the state. To attempt to conquer the state in this way is absolute idiocy. It is not possible in this manner peacefully to conquer power. It is a petty bourgeois dream…
“I believe we must fight with the greatest energy this idea that the state can be seized by stealing bits of the power. It is the history of the Guomindang. In Mexico the power is in the hands of the national bourgeoisie, and we can conquer power only by conquering the majority of the workers and a great part of the peasantry, and then overthrowing the bourgeoisie. There is no other possibility.” (Writings supplement 1934-40, p.792, p.793).
Trotsky’s evaluation of developments in Mexico went through a series of stages and modifications, as the battle between the state and the working class was played out. In the last eighteen months of his life, in discussions with Mexican socialists, he further clarified his views on the nature of the regime and the ruling party, its relationship to the unions and on workers’ administration.
The first collaboration of note was with Francisco Zamora, a member of the editorial board of Clave who had also sat on the Dewey Commission. He was a professor of economics at the National University of Mexico and a member of the first committee of the CTM. Between October 1938 and May 1939 Zamora published a series of articles in the magazine Hoy, which contain some ideas influenced by Trotsky.
Zamora criticised the CTM and CGT leaders and pointed to how their bourgeois politics had accommodated with the Mexican state. He argued that the Mexican revolution, particularly in its agrarian relations, was unfinished. However he predicted that Ávila Camacho would not continue the work of Cárdenas, but rather destroy it.
Zamora also discussed the way the state represented the interests of the dominant class, although during periods of stalemate allowed the state “a certain momentary independence” – alluding to the idea of Bonapartism.
Around the same time Trotsky held discussions with the Mexican Marxist Octavio Fernández on the nature of the Mexican revolution. Between February and April 1939, Fernández published three articles in Clave with a wealth of statistical material dealing concretely with the Mexican social formation and in particular with the peasantry and the working class.
Fernández distinguished between the military-police form of Bonapartism of the Calles period and the “petty-bourgeois-democratic Bonapartism” of Cárdenas. He also argued that the expropriation of the oil industry was made possible by the international crisis of relations between the imperialist powers. He believed that further expropriations were unlikely as long as a bourgeois government was in power in Mexico. He nevertheless urged workers to push the nationalisations as far as possible, to press the government not to pay compensation, to set up control committees in factories and for price control committees. (León Trotsky, Escritos Latinamericanos 1999 pp.233-234)
In a later article in Clave, ‘Qué ha sido y adónde va la revolución mexicana’ (November-December 1939), Fernández warned that in Mexico, everyone was a “revolutionary” and for “the revolution”. This was because the Mexican revolution (1910-20) was “aborted”, in the sense of an unfinished bourgeois revolution – but in a country where the working class was increasingly becoming an independent factor.
Probably Trotsky’s most important discussion took place with Rodrigo García Treviño, an official at the CTM. Following the exchange, Trotsky wrote a paper on whether revolutionaries should participate in the workers’ administration established in the nationalised rail and oil industries (reprinted here). The key passage is this:
“The nationalization of railways and oil fields in Mexico has of course nothing in common with socialism. It is a measure of state capitalism in a backward country which in this way seeks to defend itself on the one hand against foreign imperialism and on the other against its own proletariat. The management of railways, oil fields, etcetera, through labor organizations has nothing in common with workers’ control over industry, for in the essence of the matter the management is effected through the labor bureaucracy which is independent of the workers, but in return, completely dependent on the bourgeois state. This measure on the part of the ruling class pursues the aim of disciplining the working class, making it more industrious in the service of the common interests of the state, which appear on the surface to merge with the interests of the working class itself. As a matter of fact, the whole task of the bourgeoisie consists in liquidating the trade unions as organs of the class struggle and substituting in their place the trade union bureaucracy as the organ of the leadership over the workers by the bourgeois state. In these conditions, the task of the revolutionary vanguard is to conduct a struggle for the complete independence of the trade unions and for the introduction of actual workers’ control over the present union bureaucracy, which has been turned into the administration of railways, oil enterprises and so on.”
García Treviño wrote an article quoting (anonymously) passages from Trotsky’s document – including on Bonapartism sui generis and the concluding emphasis on the need for a revolutionary party. He praised the workers’ administration as just as efficient as under the previous management — for example by centralising production — and rejecting the hostility of the Stalinists towards it.
But he pointed out that in the rail industry, workers had also been saddled with the old debts of the company. He criticised the form of control because it could not break out of the laws of the bourgeois economy, the firm was bankrupt and because compensation was paid. He said that although workers had a bigger say in the industries, the state remained in control and pointed out that cooperatives could be a “cruel and merciless” form of exploitation of the working class.
Trotsky was unable to add much over the next year. The world was sucked into another global war and as hostilities began, a huge faction fight took place in the Trotskyist organisation in the United States, the SWP. On top of that, the Stalinists in Mexico stepped up their attacks on Trotsky’s asylum and prepared the ground for the GPU assassins to do their work.
For example PCM leader Laborde accused Trotsky of involvement in a rail crash in its paper La Voz de Mexico in April 1939. Lombardo’s press, including Futuro magazine and the daily paper El Popular slandered him during the early months on 1940. Trotsky again proposed a public commission of investigation of the charges.
On 24 May 1940 a serious attempt was made to murder Trotsky, with the Stalinist painter David Siqueiros leading an armed assault on his house at night.
Accused of slandering the Stalinists, Trotsky offered to take the matter to court. He identified the role of the GPU, which had begun making plans to kill him from April 1939. These plans were stepped up by Vittorio Cordovilla, a Stalinist agent who arrived in Mexico in late 1939 and organised a purge of the party (including its leaders Laborde and Campa) for not prosecuting the anti-Trotsky campaign hard enough. Within months of this intervention, Trotsky’s life was ended by a Stalinist ice axe to the head.
On Trotsky’s desk at the time of his death was an unfinished manuscript from April 1940 on the trade unions, with a valuable assessment of the relationship between the state and the working class in Mexico and similar countries. Entitled Trade Unions in the Epoch of Imperialist Decay, it once more characterised the Cárdenas regime as Bonapartist.
Trotsky also distinguished between different forms of Bonapartism, with some leaning “in a democratic direction, seeking support among workers and peasants”, while others “install a form close to military-police dictatorship”.
He criticised the nationalisation of the railways and oil fields as aimed simultaneously at foreign capital and the workers – and registered that these industries were run by the union bureaucracy for the bourgeois state.
Trotsky also repeated his assessment that the Mexican trade unions had been transformed into semi-state institutions – but maintained that Marxists still had the possibility of working inside them. But he emphasised the need for workers’ organisations to assert their own independent politics, from the state and the labour bureaucracy, and to fight for trade union democracy.
One thing is clear from comparing Mexico in the late 1930s with the situation today (especially in Venezuela), and that is that Mexico’s history anticipated present political issues of strategy and tactics in almost every case — the nationalisations, workers’ participation, coup attempts, union splits, the press, the creation of a ruling party etc, — as part of the creation of a Bonapartist regime. And in almost every case, Trotsky set out a clear position for how Marxists would navigate in these circumstances.
Of course, we cannot read off mechanically from the past what to say and do in the present. For one thing, Venezuela and Mexico today are much more industrially developed than in Trotsky’s time, and the form of domination by the US is different today than it was in the 1930s. And the Venezuelan UNT trade union federation is not today incorporated in the state but is an independent movement with some militant and longstanding rank and file forces.
But our tradition is an anchor – it demands a critical stance. Other Marxists, including Trotskyists in Mexico and elsewhere in Latin America, have used Trotsky’s comments to develop their analysis of the Mexican regime in terms of Bonapartism – and applied to to other cases, such as Peron in Argentina and Velasco in Peru. Events in Venezuela under Chávez should be assessed on their own terms: but much can be learned from the attitude that Trotsky took to comparable developments.
I think it’s worth drawing your attention this little tidbit, dear reader.
Yesterday evening [the day before yesterday, now - JD] an article appeared on the Guardian website supposedly written by prominent Russian tycoon and politician, Mikhail Prokhorov. You can read it here if you are so inclined. It is pretty desperate stuff however.
Prokhorov is an extremely dodgy man indeed with longstanding links to the Kremlin and has been guilty of some frankly unbelievable things in his attempts to enrich himself over the years, just check this out, and it is bewildering that he is being given column inches by a publication that claims to be a great believer in democracy and liberal values. The man is a Kremlin stooge and part of a generation of gangsters who enriched themselves enormously at the expense of ordinary Russians, many of whom were impoverished by the wave of privatizations of the Yeltsin years. His possible candidacy for the Russian presidency next year is fairly obviously a ploy by the Kremlin to deflect liberal anger into a safe cul-de-sac and thus ensure a Putin re-election.
Naturally the article, and the bare-faced hypocrisy of its contents and past record of it’s author drew a rapid, righteous and abusive response on the comment pages. Many valid points were made about his record and the ridiculousness of such a man being given a platform by the Guardian of all people. I joined in with my usual mixture of biting wit and searing political commentary, and made the point that sadly the Russian opposition was fairly weak, and linked to my earlier article on the sad state of the Russian Communist Party.
And then the comment fuction was promptly shut down with no explanation. A large number of the critical comments were deleted. They contained nothing that normally invokes the ire of the moderators, just honest, left-wing political criticism of the man and his appalling record.
Why was this? What were they so worried about?
It was then re-opened the following morning and has been ever since. But instead of being blocked subsequent critical comments have just vanished. I put my comment back in mid-morning (it was a quiet day at work……) and a short while later it had completely gone, along with numerous other comments backing me up. Normally the entry is there but the contents have been blocked. These have just vanished. There is a gap between 1105 and 1305 of no comments at all.
All very mysterious. Why did the Guardian do this? Are they really trying to protect this man from criticism? Have they lost their minds? Or is something else going on here?
It’s sad indeed that even the Telegraph allows basically a free-for-all in its discussions but the Guardian runs a section called “Comment is Free” that is moderated in such a crass and anti-democratic fashion.
This is a major development that the bourgeois press are too frightened to cover. Thank goodness for Nooman and the fearless ‘Socialist Unity’ site:
This article appeared in the most recent edition of ‘Solidarity’, paper of the AWL, and also on the AWL website. I presume it’s a “discussion” piece and not a statement of the group’s position (the AWL tends not to take “positions” on such matters). The author is an old friend and comrade, but on this he’s completely wrong, imho. Still, it’s a stimulating article, and (if you visit the AWL’s website) you’ll see that it has provoked a considerable debate.
It is rare to find an issue that unites all of the press — left, right and centre. Still harder when that issue is considered controversial, involving complex moral and legal issues. How then to explain the unanimity of the press? The matter under discussion is the use of so-called “super-injunctions” to prevent the publication of sex scandal stories involving celebrities.
The daily diet of the British tabloids is stodgy with tales of which premiership footballer slept with which model and which C-list soap star is having it off with which “Big Brother” housemate. Hence the outrage that they can be “gagged” by the courts.
But the problem with premiership footballers, famous actors and performers is that they are rich and can call on great resources when they are desperate to defend their reputations or hold their relationships and families together under the strain of infidelity. Although they are victims of tabloid culture, they are also one of the very few social groups powerful enough to prevent the papers from printing exactly what they want regardless of the consequences.
According to the Telegraph, at least 80 celebrities have obtained what that paper calls “gagging orders” in British courts over the last six years.
Does any of this matter to socialists? The way in which this debate is being framed encourages us to think of it as a conflict between free speech and freedom of the press on the one hand and the power of the rich and famous on the other. All other things being equal, a libertarian socialist would be for the right of the press to print stories irrespective of whether we agree with them or are comfortable with the content.
The Mirror emphasised this side of the debate with a survey showing that “eight out of 10 people believe the use of ‘super-injunctions’ against the press shows there is one law for the rich, another for the rest of us.” It turns out that the survey was paid for by the Mirror! Nonetheless, they are sure that the result will “fuel the furore over the gagging orders which wealthy celebrities use to hide their indiscretions”.
I don’t have the breadth and diversity of friends that would keep me in touch with all of the feelings of readers of the Sun, Mirror and Telegraph, but I get around a bit most weeks and I haven’t detected any furore at all about super-injunctions.
On a personal level I would like to see many, many more court orders preventing the publication of accounts of the sexual indiscretions of celebrities. Their privacy would be protected and, no matter how rich, I think they have rights too. But that would not be the only gain. It might also mean that some of these celebrities will get less casual sex than they do now!
If there was little chance of selling salacious (though usually tired and predictable) details to the press that would be a good thing. These stories are “bread and circuses” of the worst kind, demeaning their readers almost as much as their victims. They, and celebrity gossip in general, have been a huge factor in the evolution of a mass newspaper market which barely deals in news and politics at all.
There is nothing natural or inevitable about this evolution. I was brought up in a council house by working-class parents neither of whom had an education beyond 16. Newspapers were, nevertheless, a sacred part of every day and silence descended on our front room when the news came on the TV or radio. It may not have been a typical household on our estate, but it wasn’t particularly rare either. Interest in the world is as likely and can be as enthusiastic in working-class homes as in those of the wealthy and more privileged or formally educated.
In recent decades newspapers produced for the mass market have moved decisively downmarket. The replacement of news by celebrity scandal is a significant factor in disarming and sedating our class. And it is this exclusion of our class from politics — much more than freedom of the press — that is at stake in this debate.
And the broadsheet press, which itself occasionally dips a voyeuristic toe into celeb culture, is entirely comfortable with a class division of labour within which they provide serious news to the people who need it while the rest make do with comics.
The serious case that they make against injunctions — that they can be used by big corporations to block stories about corrupt practices — could be taken care of by a far better, clearer law.
You can see how much the British press really values free speech by observing their reaction to the breaching of court orders on Twitter, social networks and blogs.
Anarchy! they cry. Let us print this stuff or it will get out but in the most unreliable and damaging way.
What worries them is that rumours and gossip are circulated without the chance for anyone to profit by it. What is the point of paying reporters to collect dirt only to find it published by freelance gossips on platforms they do not control and from which they cannot profit?
I would like to think that the future of celebrity gossip is to be published that way so that it becomes indecipherable noise which no-one listens to properly.
As ever the media barons are less interested in genuine press freedom than in maintaining their power to shape what is considered news and what is judged to be in the “public interest”. The fact that there is a challenge to this agenda, even if it comes from some wealthy footballers and actors, is on the whole a good thing.
Above: Ryan Giggs
The dangerous homicidal maniac Brooker has issued a terrifying threat, menacing in its content and obviously so. It could not be more clear. Any ordinary person reading this would see it that way and be alarmed:
“The moment I’ve finished typing this, I’m going to walk out the door and set about strangling every single person on the planet. Starting with you, dear reader. I’m sorry, but it has to be done, for reasons that will become clear in a moment.
“And for the sake of transparency, in case the powers-that-be are reading: this is categorically not a joke. I am 100% serious. Even though I don’t know who you are or where you live, I am going to strangle you, your family, your pets, your friends, your imaginary friends, and any lifelike human dummies with haunted stares and wipe-clean vinyl orifices you’ve got knocking around, perhaps in a secret compartment under the stairs. The only people who might escape my wrath are the staff and passengers at Sheffield’s Robin Hood airport, because they’ve been granted immunity by the state.”
Read the entire blood-curdling communication here.
I’m sure you will agree with me, Judge Jacqeline Davies, Yasmin Alibhai-Brown and , indeed, all right-thinking folk, that such bloodthirsty maniacs as Brooker, Paul Chambers and Councillor Gareth Compton must be arrested and banged up immediately. The usual “civil liberties” lobbyist will bleat on about ”draconian measures”, etc, but the safety of the nation depends upon it.
“Would you approve of your young sons, young daughters – because girls can read as well as boys -reading this book? Is it a book that you would have lying around in your own house? Is it a book that you would even wish your wife or your servants to read?” – Mervyn Griffith-Jones, prosecuting counsel.
Fifty years ago (Friday October 21 1960), the case of The Crown -v- Penguin Books began in the Old Bailey. It was arguably the single most important British trial of the entire twentieth century. Prior to the “Chatterley trial”, all British cultural life was strictly censored and anything considered likely to “deprave and corrupt” (as in the case of Lawrence’s book) would simply not see the light of day - because the publishers knew it would be banned outright.
However in 1959 the new Obscene Publications Act had (thanks to a young Labour MP called Roy Jenkins) allowed for the publication of works that might otherwise be considered obscene, on the grounds of “literary merit.” This was the loophole that Penguin Books used in order to publish Lady Chatterley’s Lover, written by Lawrence in the 1920′s but unpublished in Britain because of its explicit sexual descriptions and use of “obscene” language including “fuck” and “cunt.”
The trial itself was an extraordinary affair, derided by some as a “circus” but regarded by many people on both sides of the argument as a crucial moral, cultural and political battle. History has proven those who took the trial seriously to have been correct.
The defence produced an impressive array of literary and cultural figures including Cecil Day-Lewis, EM Forster and Rebecca West, all of whom emphasised the bvook’s literary merit. But it was the relatively obscure Midlands academic Richard Hoggart who made the greatest impression, and moved the argument on from one of pure literary merit, to one of freedom of speech (though that phrase was, to the best of my knowledge, never usede during the trial. Kenneth Tynan writing in The Observer of 6 November 1960 commented:
“Looking back, I think I can isolate the crucial incident. It occurred on the third morning during the testimony of Richard Hoggart, who had called Lawrence’s novel ‘puritanical’. Mr Hoggart is a short, dark, young Midlands teacher of immense scholarship and fierce integrity. From the witness box he uttered a word that we had formerly heard only on the lips of Mr Griffith-Jones; he pointed out how Lawrence had striven to cleanse it of its furtive, contemptuous and expletive connotations, and to use it ‘in the most simple, natural way: one fucks’. There was no reaction of shock in the court, so calmly was the word pronounced, and so literally employed.
“‘Does it gain anything’ asked Mr Gardiner, ‘by being printed ‘f-’? ‘Yes’, said Mr Hoggart, ‘it gains a dirty suggestiveness.’
“Rising in cross-examination, Mr Griffith-Jones wanted to know what Mr Hoggart meant by ‘puritanical’, receiving an answer to the effect that a puritan was a man who felt a profound sense of responsibility to his own conscience. Counsel then read out a series of excerpts from the novel. It must have been by chance that he chose the most impressive passages, the most solemnly ecstatic, the ones about, ‘the primeval roots of true beauty’ and, ‘the sons of men and the daughters of women’; but slowly, as he recited them, one realised that he genuinely thought them impure and revolting. With every defiling inflection he alienated some part of his audience, seemingly unaware that what he had intended for our scorn was moving us in a way he had never forseen; yet still he continued, bland and derisive. Having finished, he triumphantly asked the witness whether a puritan would feel such ‘reverence for a man’s balls’. ‘Indeed, yes’, said Mr Hoggart, almost with compassion.”
Hoggart’s impressive evidence was crucial to the outcome; but so too were the class-prejudiced comments (anachronistic even in 1960) from Griffith-Jones, quoted at the top of this post. It was clear to everyone (including the jury) that this was essentially a battle between progress and reaction, openness and repression, truth and hypocrisy, hygiene and infection.
And, of course, the left of 1960 was in no doubt at all as to which side it took in the battle .
But since the shameful role of sections of the “left” over The Satanic Verses and the Danish cartoons, could we be so sure about much of today’s “left”, especially if Islamic forces were involved? Actually, remembering what happened over The Satanic Verses there’s no need to ask that question, is there?