“Monbiot also overlooks the fact that the Scottish Parliament which legislated for the referendum on 18th September owes rather a lot to the “no brigade” (i.e. its creation by the last Labour government) and was created by the very British state…” A truly horrible article, but this last point reveals the author’s true intention. That Scots should be for ever grateful to the generosity of the British State. It’s a very them and us scenario, we give and you receive, which is why so many Scots want to leave the Union. We don’t receive, we give a lot more than we get back. We have nothing to thank the UK or Labour Party for, the Scottish people created their Parliament, Labour and the UK merely granted us a concession. This article thinks we are subservient, and should remain subservient to UK rule, to parties not elected by us. I’d consider myself an internationalist, but given thats not an option on the table, all socialists should want to see power devolved to local people, should want to see a written constitution enshrining the protection of the NHS, should want to see the decommissioning of nuclear weapons. This article offers no hope for the future. It just wants Scots to go back, cap in hand to their overlords and thank them for everything they give us.
My friend Victor
Guest post by Mick Rice
Above: Saltley Gates mass picket, 1972
Vic Collard was a friend of mine. We met in the late 1960’s when the heady days of revolt embraced the young. I was a “child of 1968” when the French events demonstrated that different politics were possible. Vic was 10 years older than me and a worker intellectual of the finest calibre. As well as being widely read he was also an AEU Shop Steward! There could have only been a handful of AEU Shop Stewards who knew about Marshall McLuhan never mind being conversant with his theories. Vic knew about the Frankfurt School. He was deeply interested in philosophy and psychology. He knew about Wilhelm Reich and Herbert Marcuse.
How much different the world might have been if the Left had concentrated on perfecting the “Orgone Box”! It has, unfortunately, so far, been singularly unsuccessful in promoting world revolution.
Vic once confessed to me about his role in the Second World War. I thought I was going to be entertained by a humorous Spike Milligan type – Adolf Hitler-My role in his Downfall – story. But Vic was ashamed of his behaviour. He had gone out, with a relative, for a walk by the canal. He must have been 5 or 6 years old. Alongside the towpath a group of German prisoners-of-war were clearing overgrown vegetation. Vic, our intrepid Brit, took a run at the first German POW and kicked him in the shins. No doubt thinking the juvenile equivalent of: “Take that you dirty Hun!” The Dandy and other boys’ comics of the time have a lot to answer for as they, of course, were bastions of British Imperialism. Vic had not yet read Marx.
The poor prisoner was probably just a conscripted German worker. However, if Vic felt that he had something to atone for, he certainly made up for it in later years. In the early 1970s the Birmingham East District Committee of the AEU was considering submitting motions to the union’s National Committee. One branch had sent in a motion supporting the boycott of goods to Pinochet’s Chile. If I remember right a Scottish factory with AEU members had already blocked the export of vehicles. Ted Williams, the leading right-winger, was pouring scorn on the motion. “These do-gooders want to interfere with international trade”, he thundered. “They risk putting in jeopardy AEU jobs”. Normally the later point was the ace that floored left-wing opposition as “AEU jobs” was paramount.
Vic played a blinder which completely changed the meeting. “No doubt”, said Vic, “If Brother Williams had been a member of this committee in the 1930s’ he would have been in favour of exporting Gas Chambers to Hitler’s Germany so long as they were made by AEU members”. Yes Vic was great with words and great at thinking on his feet.
Another time the full time officer was singing the praises of equality as he proudly told us he had negotiated an agreement to allow women to work night shifts! Vic had to point out that we wanted equality up and not equality down as working nightshifts was bad for men. It could not be regarded as a giant leap forward for womankind that they were going to be subjected to the same anti-social, unhealthy working patterns!
In the mid 1960’s Vic and his friend Geoff Johnson, were members of the “Labour Loyalist” group. They would go around meetings campaigning for an end to Incomes Policy which had been introduced by the Labour Government. Of course their intention was to be entirely disloyal to the Labour Government of the day. Calling themselves “Labour Loyalists” confused their opponents and, as they explained to me, it was really the Labour Government that wasn’t being loyal to the workers! A neat strategy that put Labour apparatchiks on the back foot! Read the rest of this entry »
A fascinating exchange over at Socialism First (“The real alternative to Scottish independence”), following their publication of Dale Street’s critique of George Monbiot’s pro-independence article in the Guardian (DS’s critique also published here at Shiraz, three posts ago): fascinating because of what it tells you about the irrationality, dishonesty and near-hysteria that seems to characterise much of the pro-independence ‘left':
Why do so many ‘yes’ advocates have such a problem understanding the simplest of arguments and plain statements of fact?
It is no more than a statement of fact that the last (thoroughly right-wing) Labour government introduced legislation to stage a referendum in Scotland, and that this subsequently resulted in the creation of a Scottish Parliament.
The only reason this is mentioned in the article is to counter Monbiot’s simplistic (not to say ignorant) attempts to portray ‘no’ supporters as the forces of darkness and ‘yes’ supporters as the forces of sweetness and light.
But Bob knows better!
The sentence, he writes, “reveals the author’s true intention. That Scots should be forever grateful to the generosity of the British state.”
(Isn’t it amazing how many ‘yes’ advocates are able to uncover the hidden, inner, deeper, subterranean and subconscious meanings of words and actions? Indeed, the ‘yes’ campaign has created a veritable cottage industry of cod-psychology. It could be called: Monbiot Mindreaders Inc.)
Having read something into the article that simply isn’t there, Bob can then retreat further into a parallel universe of his own creation: “The article thinks we are subservient, and should remain subservient to UK rule. … It (the article) just wants Scots to go back, cap in hand, to their overlords and thank them for everything they give us.”
This is obviously contradicted by the paragraph in the article which states the exact opposite:
“Broken, corrupt, dysfunctional, retentive: you want to be part of this? asks Monbiot with a rhetorical flourish. No, socialists don’t want to be part of it.”
But then we get to Bob’s own politics, encapsulated in the sentence: “We don’t receive, we give a lot more than we get back.”
Let’s not quibble about figures. For the sake of argument, let’s just accept this as a statement of fact. Because the conclusion which Bob draws from it (vote ‘yes’) sums up the difference between nationalism and socialism.
Socialism is, in part, about the redistribution of wealth between rich and poor. That’s why socialists support progressive taxation. That’s why socialists support rich EU states paying money into the EU, for example, so that the EU can then pay grants to poor EU states and regions. (It’s the strings we’re against, not the redistributive grants themselves.)
Nationalism and nationalist/regionalist separatism are about something different. Their basic approach is: “We are rich here. We don’t receive, we give a lot more than we get back. Let’s go our own way.”
Bob’s statement could just as easily have emanated from a member of the Lega Nord. It is, after all, exactly what they say. (And at one time their battlecry was “Roma ladrona” – “Rome: big thief”. The SNP and their supporters have simply replaced “Rome” by “Westminster”.)
Or, in relation to the European Union, Bob’s statement could have been uttered by a member of UKIP: “We don’t receive, we give a lot more than we get back.”
But if Scotland were independent, runs the obvious counter-argument, then within its borders Scotland could carry out progressive policies to reduce inequalities. The problem with that counter-argument is:
– A promise to cut corporation tax and a refusal to raise income tax (remind me again: which party is it that opposes a top tax-rate of even 50p?) is not a promising start to reducing inequalities.
– Socialists are generally in favour of ‘bigger units’ (i.e. the creation of states covering a greater area) because the bigger the state, the greater the resources which can be redistributed to challenge inequalities.
– Capitalism is an economic and social system which, by its very nature, generates inequality. Attacking inequality means attacking the rule of capital – not creating yet another border in the world.
– The agency of any such attack on the rule of capital is the working class organized as the labour movement. But the pro-independence campaign replaces a political discourse based on class by one based on national identity: “We (Scots) don’t receive, we give a lot more than we get back.” It therefore weakens the only agency capable of challenging the rule of capital.
Bob writes that he considers himself an internationalist but that that is not an option on the table.
In fact, being an internationalist is an option every day of the week. And on 18th September there’s certainly nothing internationalist about adding another border to the world.
The point about giving more than we receive was to counter the idea that runs through the original article and the entire British media, that Scots should be thankful for all the concessions bestowed upon them by the British State and Labour Party. It is not England’s gifts to give, and those who think like that have misunderstood the whole point of what the union was supposed to be, equal partners. Scots have been repeatedly told that they owe everything to England, including even devolution according to the author. Devolution was not some great generosity bestowed upon us by lovely Labour. It was a cynical attempt to quash the West Lothian Question once and for all.
The Labour Party are not the magnanimous agents of change here, they are not the answer to Scotland’s social issues, they are the problem. They’re failure to deliver social equality is the driver behind Scottish nationalism. And incidentally, the SNP are not the progressive party who have designs on cutting corporate tax to woo business. As I said, given that we are not in the throes of a worldwide socialist revolution, Scottish people deserve the opportunity to build a society on social democratic principals, rather than the neoliberal values of Westminster. Asking them to submit to more austerity (promised by both Labour and the Conservatives), the bedroom tax (unopposed by Labour), and divert money from social services to fund redundant nuclear weapons (again Labour Policy), complemented by the occasional foray into an illegal war (Labour Labour Labour), is not Socialism by any stretch of the imagination, it’s asking them to prop up a system based on elitism, privilege and cronyism – House of Lords anyone? Should we have opposed the self determination of all the former colonies of The British Empire for some misplaced sentiment about borders? Should we be trying to bring Australia, Jamaica, Fiji, Kenya et al back into the fold since the author so opposes any form of self determination for anyone? Like the rest of the BT campaign, this author offers no hope for the future, only more of the same bleak misery. Maybe he should go and talk to some people queuing at a Foodbank, or the terminally ill forced back into work, or the disabled who have lost their homes due to the bedroom tax all about Milliblands plans to continue austerity, about the Conservatives promising to make Scotland pay, about the probability of being pulled out of Europe by a UKIP campaign. Maybe he should talk to the parents of any soldier who died in Blair’s war. Now compare that to the idea of paying for a childcare revolution on the back of weapons of mass destruction. There is hope one way, there is only misery the other.
Empty tedious bombast. (From beginning to end)
Cheap and transparent attempts at emotional blackmail. (“Why don’t you go and talk to …”)
Factual inaccuracies (“the bedroom tax (unopposed by Labour”))
Total misrepresentation of what is being argued. (“The author so opposes any form of self determination for anyone.”)
Logical incoherence. (Socialism is not on the agenda. So let’s collapse into Scottish nationalism. As if the latter could ever be some kind of surrogate for the former.)
The case for a ‘yes’ vote on 18th September in a nutshell.
Bob’s latest contribution sums up what’s wrong with the case for ‘yes’ better than I ever could.
Words of wisdom from Dave Kirk at Workers Liberty:
Above: UKIP’s appeal to angry British workers
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.
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:
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 »
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.
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!”