The Left must face the truth about UKIP’s working class support

June 8, 2014 at 4:12 pm (AWL, class, elections, Europe, immigration, labour party, populism, posted by JD, unions, workers)

Words of wisdom from Dave Kirk at Workers Liberty:

Pointing the finger: the Ukip poster for the European elections has caused controversy

Above: UKIP’s appeal to angry British workers

In the left’s comments on UKIP “surge” there is much about anger and disenchantment with mainstream politics.

It is true that there is an understandable revulsion against the politicians and parties whose policies and ideology accelerated the effects of the greatest economic crisis since the 1930s.

Tom Walker talks about that anger in his article for Left Unity.

Walker sees UKIP’s support as primarily a repository for anger with the mainstream that is channelled against migrants, minorities and Europe by UKIP. He argues that a strong “populist” party of the left could channel that anger to progressive ends.

Other left commentators have argued a similar thing about the nearly two thirds of voters who abstained in the election. That many of them could be won over by a convincing left party, if it existed.

I think this is dangerous wishful thinking that ignores ideology. Neo-liberal, pro-austerity and anti-migrant ideas are the ruling and largely unchallenged ideas of the age. It would be patronising and wrong to think those working-class voters who voted UKIP were duped into voting for a neo-liberal anti-migrant party. They must to some degree be convinced by, share and reproduce those ideas.

We would also be kidding ourselves if we thought that non-voters shared a form of left wing anti-austerity politics rather then reflecting the balance of ideology amongst those who do vote.

We can win these people to independent working class politics, but we must face facts squarely. Those who vote UKIP or are so despairing that they do not vote are much further from socialism then most Labour voters or Green voters.

Anger is not enough to win people to socialism. We must consciously build a socialist mass movement, a socialist press, a system of socialist education.

To do this the fight to transform the existing organisations of the working class, the unions, is key. It will also require a fight in the political organisation most left-wing workers still look to, the Labour Party.

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Photos from the Miners’ Strike

June 7, 2014 at 7:08 am (Art and design, class, cops, good people, posted by JD, solidarity, unions, workers)

My old friend and comrade John Harris invites us all to visit his exhibition of photos from the miners’ strike.

John took the famous photo featured in the flyer below, and the cop on the horse took a swipe at him a moment later:

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For workers’ unity across Europe: not an inch to “No to EU” populism!

May 26, 2014 at 8:39 am (capitalist crisis, class, elections, Europe, fascism, France, Greece, internationalism, Jim D, populism, Racism, Socialist Party, solidarity, stalinism, UKIP, workers)

French far-right leader of the National Front Party, Marine Le Pen

French far-right leader of the Front National, Marine Le Pen Photo: AP

Ukip came top of the Europolls in Britain on 22 May. The Front National, which has a clear-cut fascist lineage, won in France. Populist and racist anti-European parties did well in other countries.

In Germany, the new, right-wing, and anti-euro AfD is at 7% scarcely a year after being launched, while in Denmark the far-right Danish Peoples’ Party gained three seats.

Greece, the country which has suffered most with cuts plans from the European Union and European Central Bank, is a partial exception to the rise of the anti-EU far-right.

There, the left-wing party Syriza for the first time ran clearly ahead of the main right-wing party, New Democracy. Syriza rejects the EU leaders’ cuts plans and proposes Europe-wide solidarity to break them rather than advocating “get Greece out” as an answer.

Alarmingly, the neo-Nazi (and anti-EU) Golden Dawn party came third with 9.4 of the vote, winning three seats. The other group gaining ground is a new party, To Potami, which is vague but leftish and not anti-Europe.

Greece shows that the left can provide answers to the social discontent, but only with an effort.

If the left goes halfway with the nationalists by endorsing “get out of the EU” as an attempt to jump on a populist badwagon, that will only help the right. Fanciful footnotes from idiots like the Morning Star and other supporters of the pathetic No2EU, which speculate that the re-raising of economic barriers between countries will somehow push towards socialism, are simply reactionary nonsense – and reactionary nonsense that achieved a derisory vote.

Voters persuaded that re-raising national barriers is the first step will inevitably drift to the serious, powerful barrier-raisers: the nationalist right.

“No to the EU” agitation, whether from right or idiot-”left”, threatens the position of millions of workers who have crossed EU borders to seek jobs.

We should instead seek to unite workers across the borders for a common cross-European fight against the cross-European plans of capital and of the EU leaders. Anti-EU populism, whatever “leftist” slogans may be tacked on, can make no useful contribution to that fight.

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James P. Cannon: A Blood Transfusion

April 25, 2014 at 6:05 pm (Anti-Racism, class, history, James P. Cannon, posted by JD, Racism, socialism, solidarity, United States, workers)

Claiming rights as Americans

Back in March, the sometime-socialist Seymour posted this piece of far-right apologia (and rank anti-Semitism) on his blog. He has since received a resounding rebuke, and replied – characteristically- with childish, yah-boo petulance  predicated upon the idea that long words equal serious thought. If I thought it would do this buffoon any good, I’d dedicate the following elementary lesson in the socialist attitude to race, to him:

The veteran Trotskyist James P. Cannon, writing in the US Socialist Workers Party’s paper The Militant, in May 1947:

Things are not exactly what they used to be in South Carolina. The mob of 31 white men who lined the Negro Willie Earl, and admitted it with ample detail in signed statements, were put to the inconvenience of a trial in court. That is something new. But it turned out to be a very small point, for the lynchers were all triumphantly acquitted and the dead man is still dead. That’s the same old story. Lynch law is still riding high; the courtroom “trial” only added a touch of mockery.

Well, that’s one way of handling the race problem and advertising the American way of life to the benighted peoples of the world, who were looking in and listening in through the press and the radio, and it may be safely assumed that the lesson will not be lost on them.

But I have seen it done another way — here in America too — and perhaps it would be timely now to report it as a footnote to the South Carolina affair. This incident occurred at Sandstone prison during our sojourn there in the fall of 1944. I wrote about it at the time in a letter, as fully as I could in the rigidly restricted space of the one sheet of paper allowed for prison correspondence. This left room only for the bare facts, a strictly news report without amplification. But I believe the factual story speaks well enough for itself as then reported, without any additional comment.

Here is the letter:

“I have seen a triumph of medical science which was also a triumph of human solidarity here at Sandstone. When I went up to the hospital at ‘sick call’ one day to have my sore toes dressed, I immediately sensed that something was missing, something was wrong. There were no nurses in evidence; the door of the doctor’s office was locked; and the other convicts on sick call were standing in the corridor in oppressive silence. The reason soon became manifest. Through the glass door of the record office, and beyond that through the glass door of the operating room, we could see the masked doctors and nurses moving back and forth around the operating table. Not a sound reached us through the double door. Now a doctor, now a nurse, moved in and out of view, only their heads, rather their drawn faces, showing, like figures on a silent movie screen.

“The word was passed along the ‘line’ in hushed whispers: a colored man was dying. A desperate emergency operation was failing; the poor black convict’s life was slipping out of the doctor’s hands like a greased thread. But we could see that the doctors were still working, still trying, and one could sense the unspoken thought of all the men on the line; their concern, their sympathy, and in spite of everything, their hope for their comrade on the operating table.

“After what seemed an endless time, the prison pharmacist who was assisting in the operation came out through the double door into the corridor. His face was a picture of exhaustion, of defeat and despair. There would be no ‘sick call’ he said: the doctors would not be free for some time. The case of the colored man was apparently hopeless, but the doctors were going to make one final desperate effort. They were sewing up the abdominal wound on the slender, practically non-existent chance that by blood transfusions, they could keep the man alive and then build up his strength for the shock of another stage of the complicated and drawn-out operation.

“Then came a new difficulty. The sick man’s blood was hard to ‘type’. The blood of the first colored fellow-convicts who volunteered was unsuitable. But the sick Negro got the blood he needed just the same. The white convicts rose up en masse to volunteer for transfusions. I think every man in our dormitory offered to give his blood. The sick man hung between life and death for weeks; but the life-giving fluid of the white convicts, steadily transfused into his body, eventually gave the strength for a second, and successful, operation.

“I sae him line up with the rest of us for the yard count yesterday, this Negro with the blood of white men coursing through his veins, and I thought: The whites, over the centuries, have taken a lot of blood from the blacks; it is no more than right that one of them should get a little of it back.”

(NB The US Socialist Workers Party, of which Cannon was leader, has nothing to do with the UK group of the same name).  

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30 years since the start of the miners’ strike

March 13, 2014 at 8:33 pm (AWL, class, cops, history, posted by JD, solidarity, Thatcher, Tory scum, TUC, unions, women, workers)

By Sean Matgamna and Martin Thomas (from the Workers Liberty website):

In the small hours of Monday March 12 1984, hundreds of Yorkshire miners moved across the border from Yorkshire into Nottinghamshire. Their destination was Harworth pit, and by the evening shift they had picketed it out.

Over the next few days, hundreds of Yorkshire pickets came down over the border again and spread out across the Notts coalfield. Their mission was to persuade Nottinghamshire’s miners to join them in a strike to stop the pit closures announced by the National Coal Board chief, Ian MacGregor. Their tactic was to picket Notts to a standstill.

In the great miners’ strikes of 1972 and 1974, miners had picketed coke depots and power stations. In 1984, for reasons which we examine, it had to be miners picketing out miners. That fact dominated and shaped the course of the strike.

Within hours, 1000 extra police had been thrown into Nottinghamshire against the picketing miners. Within days there would be 8000 extra police – highly mobile, centrally-controlled, semi-militarised police -moving – around the coalfields of Nottinghamshire.

The state had spent a dozen years preparing for this strike and everything had been made ready. Plans to beat mass picketing had been refined; police had been trained; special equipment had been assembled; and a national police nerve centre had been prepared and readied for action.

The Tory government had manoeuvred for years to avoid a premature battle with the miners. In 1981 sweeping pit closures were announced, and then withdrawn when a wave of strikes swept the coalfields. The Tories were determined that the battle would come when the government was ready and thought the time right. In 1981 they weren’t ready. The labour movement had not been softened up enough. So Thatcher backed off from a showdown with the NUM.

In 1984 they were ready. Now they would provoke the miners to fight back by giving them the alternative of surrendering and letting the NCB do as it liked with the industry. Read the rest of this entry »

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Ukraine: for independent working class action!

February 27, 2014 at 9:49 am (class, Guest post, history, liberation, national liberation, revolution, Russia, solidarity, stalinism, USSR, workers)

Ukraine Russia Protests

Guest post by George Mellor

Events in Ukraine are shaping up to be a re-run of what happened to Eastern Europe at the end of WW11 - one hopes with a very different conclusion. Then, a struggle took place over whether these countries would be assimilated into the orbit of either Western or Soviet Imperialism. The tragedy was that betrayal by the West (at Teheran, Yalta and the ‘percentages agreement’ between Stalin and Churchill in Moscow in October 1944) allowed the GPU and the `red army’ to place their jackboot on the necks of the workers, and these countries became vassals of Stalinism for nearly 50 years.

Then (as now) the question was (and is) how to build independent working class activity, and here we can see a difference between the imperialisms of East and West: the former crushed and atomised civil society. The norms of bourgeois democracy, the rule of law, pluralism - all the building blocks on which a free and independent labour movement could exist, were extinguished. This repression was met with sporadic revolts, all branded ‘counter-revolutionary acts’ put down by the Russians providing ‘fraternal assistance’ to the local Stalinist ruling classes.

While the Eastern European states, as well as the Ukraine, obtained independence with the collapse of the Soviet Union, all had been shaped by their experience of subjugation by Russia. For over 50 years the national question (once banished as a political question in Europe and raised by Trotsky specifically  around the Ukraine  in 1939) has shaped the body politic of these countries. Recovering from this subjugation some of these countries have fared well in nation building, others – mainly those infected by the gangster capitalism of Russia (look at the pictures of Yanukovych’s palace – the amassing by an individual of state sanctioned plunder) have not.

Russia is of course still a major power and is intent on rebuilding its empire through the mechanism of the Eurasian Union. For sure outside of a successful workers’ revolution nations will either be drawn into the orbit of either the West or Russia . For the Ukraine – which has the potential of being an important economic power- a precondition for embracing the Eurasian Union was to the need for an autocratic state seen in the centralising of power in the President.

Yanukovych’s support for Ukraine’s integration back into  Russia’s orbit  triggered the Euromaidan, a response which would not have been out of place in 1848. A movement of over 1m who have shown great fortitude and discipline in the face of continual attacks by the riot police. Far from acting like a mob ‘the people’ have organised the control of public buildings, and refused to be bowed by their so-called leaders or their ‘saviours’ the EU. This incoherent mass from the far right through to the far left linked by the single ill-defined idea of national sovereignty and independence. The idea that this civic protest could have been shaped by anything  other than nationalism would be naïve.

Russia is then faced with a mass movement of dissent from the path it has chosen for the Ukraine. So behind the scenes they will be sowing the seeds of dissention playing on the fears of  the Russian speaking regions.

In the West most of this propaganda war is being run by the successors to Stalinism, the neo-Stalinists, echoing their predecessors’ propaganda which accompanied the assimilation of Eastern Europe into the Stalinist Empire. Then the Stalinist lie was based on a false premise that Russia was exporting socialism. Today our neo-Stalinists continue to play the role of the border guards to a capitalist Russia.

However the propaganda is the same: all living movements such as we see in Ukriane are branded fascist or reactionary. Unless one wishes to be a functionary in such a Russian dominated regime the socialist who argues such a view will only succeed in cutting themselves off from any influence on the Euromaidan.

I am sure sections - I do not know what proportion - of the Euromaidan are fascists or semi-fascists: how could this be otherwise? The job of socialists is to organise against them at the same time supporting Ukrainian right to self determination including independence from Russia, arguing for maximum democracy including the right of the CP to organise and most importantly organising independent working class action.

Between now and the election in May we can only watch how events unfold; how far Putin will be able to destabilise the situation, how far the Ukrainians are going to find real leaders and weed out the false messiahs (as the election approaches workers will be faced with more false messiahs than the Catholic Church has saints.) will in part be down to how socialists intervene. However I wonder how far workers will be open to socialist ideas when their lived experience has been that of actually existing socialism  i.e. Stalinism.

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US revolutionary cartoons revisited

January 17, 2014 at 9:34 pm (anti-fascism, Art and design, AWL, civil rights, class, From the archives, history, Marxism, posted by JD, Shachtman, trotskyism, United States, workers)

Between the 1930s and 1950s the revolutionary socialist (ie Trotskyist and, later, Shachtmanite) press in the USA made use of the wit and skill of talented cartoonists such as ‘Carlo’ (Jesse Cohen). In an Era of Wars and Revolutions, a new collection of their work, gives a snapshot history of the times: the rise of the mass industrial union movement in the USA, the great strike wave of 1945-6, the fight against ‘Jim Crow’ racism, World War Two, the imposition of Stalinism on Eastern Europe, and more.

Sean Matgamna (editor of In an Era of Wars and Revolutions) writes:

That “one picture can be worth a thousand words” is true, but only up to a point. A photograph or a painting cannot properly nail down, explain or explore ideas. A complicated piece of writing has no visual equivalent.

Yet a well-done cartoon is a powerful political weapon. A few bold strokes by an artist can convey an idea more vividly and fix it more firmly in the viewer’s mind than would an editorial or an article.

A cartoon is drawn to convey an idea, a point of view, an interpretation of what it depicts, and its meaning. Cartoons by their nature simplify, caricature, exaggerate, lampoon, and play with archetypal images.

A cartoon is highly subjective, yet it draws on commonly recognised symbols. The image, idea, interpretation fuse in the drawing. Drawn to convey an idea of people, things, institutions, classes, states, and of their inter-relationships, a cartoon distills the artist’s conception of what is essential in those people, events, entities, institutions, relationships.

The cartoonist is licensed to distort everyday reality so as to bring out a view, a “seeing”, analysis, critique, historical perspective of it. Its ciphers, emblems, archetypes vary to allow for the artist’s individual slant (like, in this collection, Carlo’s characteristic rendition of the top hat-fat archetypical bourgeois laughing at the gullibility or helplessness of workers).

All of a cartoon, all its details and references, are consciously or subconsciously chosen to convey a point of view, a nailed-down perception, a historical perspective. In old socialist cartoons the worker is always bigger and stronger than his enemies. He needs only to be awakened to an awareness of his strength.

It is almost always a “he”. The socialists who drew these cartoons were, themselves and their organisations, militant for women’s rights, but little of that is in their work.

One of the difficulties with old socialist cartoons for a modern viewer is that the stereotype-capitalist wears a top hat and is stout or very fat. In some early 20th century British labour movement cartoons he is named, simply, “Fat”. Fat now, in our health-conscious days, is seen as a characteristic of lumpenised workers and other “lower orders” people.

Much contemporary comedy is a hate-ridden depiction of the poor, the disadvantaged, the excluded, the badly educated, by physical type – fat and slobby. Where most of the old racial and national caricatures have been shamed and chased into the underbrush, no longer tolerable to decent people of average good will, the old social-Darwinian racism against the poor is rampant still, unashamed and not often denounced.

Even so, the old symbols, the fat capitalist and the big powerful worker, are still intelligible. They depict truths of our times as well as of their own. These cartoons still live.

They portray US politics, governments, the class struggle, the labour movement, America’s “Jim Crow” racism, Stalinism at its zenith, Roosevelt’s New Deal, Harry Truman’s “Fair Deal”, Senator Joe McCarthy, McCarthyism. They present clean and stark class-struggle socialist politics, counterposed to both capitalism and Stalinism.

A few are from the 1920s, but mainly they cover the quarter century after the victory of Hitler in Germany in 1933. and the definitive consolidation of Stalinism in the USSR.

Across the decades, they still carry the emotional hostility to the master class and solidarity with their victims that they were drawn to convey; the socialists’  abhorrence of the Stalinist atrocities that discredited and disgraced the name of socialism (they themselves were often among the targets); the desire, hope and drive for a re-made world — a socialist world. They blaze with anger and hatred against the horrors of America’s all-contaminating Jim Crow racism.

These cartoons were of their time, and what their time and earlier times led socialists to expect of the future. They were often mistaken. Government repression during World War Two was less fierce than the severe persecution of socialists and militant trade unionists in World War One and afterwards, led them to expect.

In the later 1940s, like most observers, they saw World War Three looming. In fact, the world settled into a prolonged “balance of terror” after Russia developed an atom bomb in 1949 and the USA and Russia fought a proxy war on Korean soil which ended in stalemate. The economic collapse which the experience of the 1930s led them to expect did not come (though in fact the long capitalist upswing took off only with the Korean war boom of 1950-3). Plutocratic democracy in the USA, during the war and after it, proved far less frail than the Marxists feared it would.

Over many years I have collected photocopies of these cartoons, buried as they were in files of old publications for six, seven or eight decades. I think others will be moved by them too.

What Peadar Kearney wrote fifty years after their time of the Fenians, the left-wing Irish Republicans of the 1860s and 70s, speaks to the socialists of the era covered by this book as well:

“Some fell by the wayside

Some died ‘mid the stranger,

And wise men have told us

That their cause was a failure;

But they stood by old Ireland

And never feared danger.

Glory O, glory O,

To the bold Fenian men!”

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One hundred years ago: the Dublin lock-out

December 30, 2013 at 11:34 am (Catholicism, children, class, history, Human rights, internationalism, Ireland, posted by JD, religion, republicanism, solidarity, unions, workers)

Not very much attention has been paid to the centenary of the Dublin lock-out, which was reaching its tragic denouement this time in 1913, as near-starvation, together with the TUC’s failure to organise solidarity strike action, began to drive the trade unionists back to work, which often also involved having to sign pledges renouncing union membership.

Thanks to Terry Glavin (via Facebook) for drawing my attention to Des Geraghty’s splendid documentary. Terry writes, “To the blessed memory of Big Jim Larkin and the centenary of the 1913 Frithdhúnadh Mór Baile-Átha-Cliath, the 1913 workers’ uprising in Dublin. An hour well spent, splendid documentary film-making here”:

Below: Sean Matgamna describes events, with particular emphasis on the role of the Catholic church in sabotaging efforts to move the starving children of the locked-out workers to England where they would be fed:

Dublin 1913: Against the priests and the bosses

By Sean Matgamna

In the years before the First World War, the great Jim Larkin organised the savagely oppressed workers of Ireland’s capital city and made them a power in Ireland.

Organisation, labour solidarity, the sympathetic strike by workers not directly in dispute—these were their weapons. These weapons began to mark them out as no longer a driven rabble but a class, women and men increasingly conscious of a common interest, a common identity and common goals.

The bosses organised a ‘union’ too and fought back.

Their leader was WM Murphy, one of Ireland’s biggest capitalists, and a prominent Home Rule nationalist politician. In August1913, they locked out their employees, intent on using starvation to get them to submit and foreswear “Larkinism”. The British state in Ireland backed them, sending hordes of police to attack strikers, some of whom were beaten to death. It turned into a war of attrition.

Here, fighting impoverished workers with no reserves, all the advantages were with the employers. The workers’ chance of victory depended on two things: on an adequate supply of food or money from sympathisers, and on an industrial solidarity that would tie up the whole trade of Dublin. It was to the British labour movement that Dublin’s workers had to look for help.

Magnificent help came. Ships full of food for the strikers came up the Liffey, and all over Britain the labour movement rallied, collecting money and food. But industrial action did not come, and that was decisive: money and food would keep Dublin’s workers in the fight, but only industrial action in Britain —by the NUR and the Seamen’s Union, for example—would allow them to win.

In Britain, militants argued for industrial action, even for a general strike, in support of Dublin. But the trade union leaders—who held a special conference in December 1913 on Dublin—would not agree to take action.

The strike dragged on 8 months, and then, beaten but not crushed, the union, whose destruction had been the bosses’ prime aim still intact, the last workers went back to work, or accepted that they had been sacked.

What follows is the story of an episode in this struggle, the attempt to move starving Dublin children to homes in Britain where they would be fed. It is told as much as possible in the words of Dora B Montefiore, who—62 years-old and in frail health—organised it.

In mid October 19l3, two months into the strike, Dora Montefiore spoke in the Memorial Hall, London—one  of many enormous meetings being held all over Britain to build support for the Transport Workers’ Union. As she sat on the platform listening to Larkin talk of Dublin, Montefiore remembered what had been done to save the children of strikers during bitter battles in Belgium and in the USA.

When Larkin sat down she passed a note along the table suggesting that the starving children of working-class Dublin should be evacuated from the labour-war zone, to be looked after by the British labour movement for the duration of the strike. Would he, she asked, back such a scheme?

Larkin passed a reply back along the table: yes, he would. He thought it was a fine idea.

Montefiore then passed a note to another of the speakers, the Countess of Warwick — an unlikely but genuine socialist — asking if she would be the Treasurer. Warwick replied: Yes. So a committee was set up.

Next day, Dora Montefiore explained her plan in the Daily Herald. Soon they had offers of 350 places for children, and more were coming all the time. Labour movement bodies, trade union branches and trades councils offered to take the responsibility for one or more children. So did sections of the militant suffragettes, the WSPU. It was not as critics said and the Stalinist historian Desmond Greaves repeats in the official history of the ITGWU, an irresponsible stunt by busy-bodies, but a properly organised part of the effort of British labour to help Dublin. Dora Montefiore reported to the readers of the Daily Herald on 14 October:

“From Glasgow, Liverpool, London and a dozen other places, come the welcome offers, and I know that if the Dublin mothers could read  some of the letters, it would do their hearts good to know the sort of mothers and fathers who are planning these temporary homes for their little ones.

“Several Roman Catholics have written and one friend offers ‘travelling, lodging and board expenses for two Dublin children while the strike lasts’, and suggests ‘boarding them for a time in a convent in Liverpool or London”‘.

And on 17 October she wrote:

“…Plymouth friends offered to house 40 children and 5 mothers, and they wired later that they were in communication with the Catholic parish priest and Catholic medical officer re the care of the ‘kiddies”‘.

On 17 October, Dora Montefiore, Lucille Rand and Grace Neal, a TU organiser who acted as secretary, went to Dublin to organise the migration of the children.

They were given a room at Liberty Hall, the Transport Union HQ and a meeting of wives of strikers was called. These mothers of hungry children eagerly grasped at this offer of help.

“Meetings of wives of the locked-out workers were then called, and we three delegates from the English and Scottish workers gave our message and laid the scheme before them. As a result Grace Neal was kept busy Tuesday and Wednesday registering the names of mothers who were anxious to take advantage of our offer. The passage leading to our room was blocked ’til evening with women and children. We tried to let them in only one at a time, but each time the door opened the crush was so great that often two or three mothers forced their way in….

“When the work of registration was over, 50 children were selected to meet Lucille Rand at the Baths, where a trained woman had been engaged to clean their heads and bodies [of lice, which were endemic]… Grace Neal presided over a batch of volunteer workers at our room in Liberty Hall, who were sewing on to the children’s new clothing labels bearing their names and addresses, and small rosettes of green and red ribbon.”

But if the strikers saw Montefiore’s plan as the rescue it was, so too did the bosses and their friends. They resented this attempt to deprive them of one of their traditional weapons—the power to weaken and break the spirit of strikers and their wives by forcing them to  watch while their children starved and wasted. More: they saw the chance to whip up a political and sectarian scandal as a weapon to undermine “Larkin” by lining up Catholic lreland against him. Read the rest of this entry »

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EP Thompson on Methodist ‘psychic masturbation’

December 27, 2013 at 5:26 pm (Christianity, class, good people, Guardian, history, intellectuals, Jim D, literature, Marxism, religion, workers)

EP Thompson

Above: EP Thompson 

Today’s Graun quite rightly praises EP Thompson’s magisterial The Making of the English Working Class, on what may or may not be the exact fiftieth anniversary of its publication. But whether the book was first published in November or December 1963 is of little importance: as the Graun states, “No historian of British society has since produced a book to match [it]…Through 900-odd pages the book crackles with energy, as it uses scraps of evidence such as popular songs and workshop rituals to paint a picture of workers’ lived ‘experience.’”

It is, however, depressingly significant that the Graun‘s one criticism is of Thompson’s negative and entirely disrespectful attitude towards religion, and Methodism in particular: “[Thompson's political commitment] led to some poor judgements (Methodism as ‘psychic masturbation’).” Such a robust attitude to religion is, of course, in stark contrast to the grovelling stance adopted by much of today’s liberal-’left’, typified by the Graun and the New Statesman.

Such pro-religion criticisms were made during Thompson’s lifetime and it’s interesting to note that in the preface to the 1980 edition, he makes a point of stating “I remain unrepentant as to my treatment of Methodism.” For those readers who do not have a copy of the book to hand, here’s a flavour of what Thompson wrote about Methodism. It’s worth noting that he attacks it not just because of its baleful effect on industrial militancy, but also because of its repression of human personality, spirit and sexuality (noting also that the two go very well together):

“Nothing was more often remarked by contemporaries of the workaday Methodist character, or of Methodist home-life, than, than its methodical, disciplined and repressed disposition. It is the paradox of a ‘religion of the heart’ that it should be notorious for the inhibition of all spontaneity. Methodism sanctioned ‘workings of the heart’ only upon the occasions of the Church; Methodists wrote hymns but no secular poetry of note; the idea of a passionate Methodist lover in these years [the late Eighteenth and early Nineteenth Centuries - JD] is ludicrous. (‘Avoid all manner of passions’, advised Wesley.) The word is unpleasant; but it is difficult not to see in Methodism in these years a ritualised form of psychic masturbation. Energies and emotions which were dangerous to social order, or which were merely unproductive (in Dr Ure’s sense) were released in the harmless in the harmless form of sporadic love-feasts, watch-nights, band-meetings or revivalist campaigns” – excerpted from Chapter 11, ‘The Transforming Power of the Cross.’

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The Universality of Marx

December 1, 2013 at 2:20 am (class, Marxism, posted by JD, reactionay "anti-imperialism", socialism)

A comrade has drawn my attention to the following piece, which is an excellent critique of ‘identity’ politics – a problem, even in the 1980′s, when this piece (in part, a review of ‘Eurocentrism ‘, book by the Egyptian Marxist Samir Amin) was written. Matters are, of course, much worse now

(The following article originally appeared in New Politics , 1989)

The Universality of Marx
By Loren Goldner

A strange anomaly dominates the current social, political and cultural climate. World capitalism has for over fifteen years been sinking into its worst systemic crisis since the 1930′s, and one which in its biospheric dimensions is much worse than the 1930′s. At the same time, the social stratum which calls itself the left in Europe and the U.S. is in full retreat. In many advanced capitalist countries, and particularly in the U.S., that stratum increasingly suspects the world outlook of Karl Marx, which postulates that capitalism brings such crises as storm clouds bring the rain, of being a “white male” mode of thought. Stranger still is the fact that the relative eclipse of Marx has been carried out largely in the name of a “race/gender/class” ideology that can sound, to the uninitiated, both radical and vaguely Marxian. What this “discourse” (to use its own word) has done, however, is to strip the idea of class of exactly that element which, for Marx, made it radical: its status as a universal oppression whose emancipation required (and was also the key to) the abolition of all oppression.
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This question of the status of universality, whether attacked by its opponents as “white male”, or “Eurocentric”, or a “master discourse”, is today at the center of the current ideological debate, as one major manifestation of the broader world crisis of the waning 20th century.
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The writings of Marx and Engels include assertions that the quality of relations between men and women is the surest expression of the humanity of a given society, that the communal forms of association of peoples such as the North American Iroquois were anticipations of communism, and that the suppression of matriarchal by patriarchal forms of kinship in ancient Greece was simultaneous with the generalization of commodity production, that is, with proto-capitalism. Marx also wrote, against the Enlightenment’s simple-minded linear view of progress that, short of the establishment of communism, all historical progress was accompanied by simultaneous retrogressions. But most of this is fairly well known; this is not what bother contemporaries. What bothers them is that the concept of universality of Marx and Engels was ultimately grounded neither in cultural constructs or even in relations of “power”, which is the currency in which today’s fashion trades.
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The universalism of Marx rests on a notion of humanity as a species distinct from other species by its capacity to periodically revolutionize its means of extracting wealth from nature, and therefore as free frim the relatively fixed laws of population which nature imposes on other species. “Animals reproduce only their own nature”, Marx wrote in the 1844 Manuscripts, “but humanity reproduces all of nature”. Nearly 150 years later, the understanding of ecology contained in that line remains in advance of most of the contemporary movements known by that name. Human beings, in contrast to other species, are not fixed in their relations with the environment by biology, but rather possess an infinite capacity to create new environments and new selves in the process. Human history, in this view, is the history of these repeated revolutions in nature and thus in “human nature”.
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What bothers contemporary leftist opinion about Marx is that the latter presents a formidable (and, in my opinion, unanswerable) challenge to the currently dominant culturalism, which is so pervasive that it does not even know its own name.
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Today, the idea that there is any meaningful universality based on human beings as a species is under a cloud, even if the opponents of such a view rarely state their case in so many words (or are even aware that this is the issue). For them, such an idea, like the idea that Western Europe from the Renaissance onward was a revolutionary social formation unique in history, that there is any meaning to the idea of progress, or that there exist criteria from which one can jdge the humanity or inhumanity of different “cultures”, are “white male” “Eurocentric” constructs designed to deny to women, peoples of color, gays or ecologists the “difference” of their “identity”.
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Edward Said, for example, has written a popular book called Orientalism which presents the relations between the West and the Orient (and implicitly between any two cultures) as the encounter of hermetically-sealed “texts” which inevitably distort and degrade. In this encounter, according to Said, the West from early modern times counterposed a “discourse” of a “dynamic West” to a “decadent, stagnant” Orient. Since Said does not even entertain the possibility of world-historical progress, the idea that Renaissance Europe represented an historical breakthrough for humanity, which was, by the 15th century, superior to the social formations of the Islamic world is not even worth discussing. Such a view not only trivializes the breakthrough of Renaissance Europe; it also trivializes the achievements of the Islamic world, which from the 8th to the 13th centuries towered over the barbaric West, as well as the achievements of T’ang and Sung China, which during the same centuries probably towered over both of them. One would also never know, reading Said, that in the 13th century the flower of Islamic civilization was irreversibly snuffed out by a “text” of Mongol hordes (presumably also Oriental) who levelled Bagdad three times.
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Were Said somehow transported back to the wonder that was Islamic civilization under the Abbasid caliphate, the Arabs and Persians who helped lay the foundations for the European Renaissance would have found his culturalism strange indeed, given the importance of Plato and Aristotle in their philosophy and of the line of prophets from Moses to Jesus in their theology. Said’s text- bound view of the hermetically-sealed relations between societies and in world history (which for him does not meaningfully exist) is the quintessential statement of a culturalism that, which a pretense of radicalism, has become rampant in the past two decades. Read the rest of this entry »

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