After the referendum: Scottish left falls in behind SNP

October 3, 2014 at 7:25 am (Cross-post, left, posted by JD, reactionay "anti-imperialism", scotland, Sheridan, Socialist Party, SWP, unions)

bag piper in kilt with rippled Scottish flag Illustration Stock Photo - 3474908

By Dale Street
Cross-posted from Workers Liberty

The working class voted “yes”. The Labour Party is finished. And we need a new mass socialist party.

To one degree or another, and in one form or another, these have been the three main responses of the pro-independence left to the result of the 18 September referendum.

The first element has some degree of truth to it. Three of the four regions which had a “yes” majority (even if not a very large one) are traditional Labour strongholds. The fourth (Dundee) used to be a Labour stronghold, until New Labour decided the sitting Labour MP John McAllion was a liability.

But it is also true that large sections of the working class voted “no”. In any case nationalist separatism stands at odds with the basic labour movement principle of uniting people of different nationalities and national identities.

Any socialist welcoming “the working-class ‘yes’ vote” is welcoming the divisive poison of nationalism penetrating into working-class politics. To try to build on that basis — as the pro-independence left is now attempting — amounts to adding another dose of the same poison.

The demise of Labour? According to the Socialist Party (Scotland):

“13% of USDAW members in Scotland have resigned from the union in protest. Unite is receiving many requests from members looking to cancel their membership because it is affiliated to the Labour Party. Unison is also reporting a series of resignations as workers’ anger over Labour’s role escalates.”
Unlike the SPS, the Scottish Socialist Party (SSP) has pointed out that resigning from a trade union is not a good idea. The SSP Industrial Organiser proposes a different way to “punish” Labour:

“We should organise mass withdrawal from payment of members’ fees to Labour in those unions affiliated to Labour. Demand instead that the unions make the break from Labour and help build a mass, working-class socialist party.”

So members of the CWU — which polled its members in Scotland and then adopted policy in favour of a “no” vote at its national conference — should demand that their union disaffiliate from the Labour Party because Labour took the same position on the referendum as their union?

And so too should members of USDAW and GMB who took democratic decisions in favour of “no”?

Labour advocated a “no” vote. The majority of the electorate took the same position and voted against independence. The usual name for something being decided and implemented on the basis of a majority vote is “democracy”.

The call for unions to disaffiliate from Labour because of Labour’s support for a ‘no’ vote amounts to a divisive nationalist attack on the workers’ movement.

No “no” supporter would support disaffiliation on that basis. And it elevates the nationalist demand for an independent Scotland over and above the right of trade unions to base their policy on internal decision-making processes.

The SWP boasts that “we have sold thousands of copies of Socialist Worker and recruited dozens of people.” The SPS makes similar claims. The SSP boasts that “2,200 (at the time of writing, over a mere five days) have applied to join the SSP”!

That’s nothing compared to the 18,000 new members claimed by the SNP. Not to worry about that. An article on the SPS website explains: They join the SNP. They discover that it does not have a Marxist programme. They quit in disgust. They join the mass socialist party which the SPS is building.

In terms of building something broader than their own organisations, the SPS advocates building its Trade Union and Socialist Coalition:

“TUSC represents the best opportunity to ensure that anti-cuts, pro-trade-union and socialist candidates stand in the elections in Scotland next May.”

The SWP calls for a new, broader party to bring together “yes” supporters: “It can agree on a basic set of anti-capitalist policies, be democratic, grass-roots-based and centred on activity. It would stand in elections but not be obsessed about them.”

Generously, the SWP would allow “no” supporters into such a party. That people voted ‘no’ “doesn’t mean they are scabs.”

But the last attempt to build a united left party in Scotland collapsed when the SWP and SPS split the SSP by backing Sheridan after he walked out of the SSP. And the political fallout from that split continues today.

The SWP gets round this issue by simply declaring: “This party (i.e. the new party) cannot be defined by the splits in the Scottish Socialist Party a decade ago or about splits in the left at some point.”

The SSP has not put forward any proposals for a broad party of the left. This is because they think that they already are that party, presumably because they are hoping for many more recruits.

The “yes” campaign provided a natural home, playing a leading role in the new mass workers party. Both the SWP and the SPS look forward to Tommy Sheridan for Sheridan’s bandstanding demagogy.

According to the SPS: “If a political figure with a mass base of support among the working class like Tommy Sheridan made such a call, backed by leading trade unionists, socialists, etc., a new working-class party would become a force of thousands within a couple of weeks.”

The problem for the SWP and SPS scenario is that Sheridan has come out in favour of a vote for the SNP in next year’s general election:

“I suggest that we in the Yes movement promote continued unity by backing the most likely independence-supporting candidate at next May’s election. In concrete terms, that means advocating an SNP vote to try and unseat as many pro-No supporters as possible.”

Despite the entrenched hostility between the SSP and Sheridan, the SSP Industrial Organiser, who carries some weight within the SSP, has come out with a similar position:

“In the 2015 Westminster elections, I personally would support the idea of a Yes Alliance, a pro-independence slate of candidates (whatever the exact name) embracing the three parties that were in Yes Scotland – SNP, SSP and Greens – and others who were part of that coalition.”

That’s one of the things about abandoning class-based politics and selling out to nationalism: it develops a dynamic of its own.

The SSP Industrial Organiser is equally enthusiastic about the prospects for the 2016 Holyrood elections:

“All those tens of thousands who fought for a Yes vote could fix their sights on winning an absolute majority of pro-independence MSPs in 2016.

“Referenda are but one means of winning independence. The democratic election of a majority of MSPs who favour independence in 2016 would surely be equally a mandate for Scottish independence?”

Despite its aversion to an electoral alliance with the SNP, the SPS shares the SSP’s perspectives for 2016:

“If the 2016 Scottish Parliament elections resulted in an overwhelming majority for parties that back independence, it could also be a trigger for a mandate for independence… Or it could lead to an immediate referendum in 2016 or 2017.”

Despite the 55%/45% vote against independence in the referendum a fortnight ago, the pro-independence left wants to keep the issue of independence centre-stage, seeks to win trade union disaffiliation from the Labour Party on that basis, and proposes an electoral alliance with the SNP.

And while denouncing the Labour Party for supposedly “denying the Scottish people democracy”, it also looks forward to, and advocates, independence for Scotland in the absence of any further referendum.

Is the pro-independence left now politically dead and beyond resuscitation?

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ISIS horror forces a culture shift on the left

September 28, 2014 at 9:22 am (AWL, imperialism, internationalism, Iran, iraq, islamism, kurdistan, left, Middle East, posted by JD, reactionay "anti-imperialism", SWP, Syria, terror, United States, war)

By Rhodri Evans (in the Workers Liberty paper Solidarity)

A “common sense” which has dominated much left thinking since the late 1980s or early 1990s is now breaking down. That’s a good thing.

The old line was to support whomever battled the USA. By opposing the USA, they were “anti-imperialist”, and therefore at least half-revolutionary.

So many leftists backed the Taliban. They sided with Khomeiny’s Iran. They claimed “we are all Hezbollah”.

But Syria’s dictator, Assad? Some leftists have taken the US support for the Syrian opposition, and the US threats to bomb Syria, as mandating them to side with Assad. Most find that too much to swallow.

And ISIS? Leftists who have backed the Taliban are not now backing ISIS. Not even “critically”.

The outcry about ISIS ceremonially beheading Western captives has, reasonably enough, deterred leftists. So has the threat from ISIS to the Kurds, whose national rights most leftists have learned to support.

And so, probably, has the fact that other forces previously reckoned “anti-imperialist” — Iran and its allies, for example — detest ISIS as much as the US does.

The Taliban converted Kabul’s football stadium into a site for public executions, and chopped hands and feet off the victims before killing them. The Taliban persecuted the Hazara and other non-Sunni and non-Pushtoon peoples of Afghanistan.

Now the media coverage of ISIS has focused thinking. But leftists who now don’t back ISIS must be aware that their criteria have shifted.

The old “common sense” was spelled out, for example, by the SWP in a 2001 pamphlet entitled No to Bush’s War.

It portrayed world politics as shaped by a “drive for global economic and military dominance” by a force interchangeably named “the world system”, “globalisation”, “imperialism”, “the West”, or “the USA”.

All other forces in the world were mere “products” of that drive. They were examples of the rule that “barbarity bred barbarity”, “barbarism can only cause more counter-barbarism”, or they were “terrorists the West has created”.

The pamplet promoted a third and decisive idea, that we should side with the “counter-barbarism” against the “barbarism”.

It was nowhere as explicit as the SWP had been in 1990: “The more US pressure builds up, the more Saddam will play an anti-imperialist role… In all of this Saddam should have the support of socialists… Socialists must hope that Iraq gives the US a bloody nose and that the US is frustrated in its attempt to force the Iraqis out of Kuwait” (SW, 18 August 1990).

But the idea in the 2001 pamphlet was the same. The SWP talked freely about how “horrifying” the 11 September attacks in the USA were. It refused to condemn them.

“The American government denounces the Taliban regime as ‘barbaric’ for its treatment of women”, said the pamphlet. A true denunciation, or untrue? The SWP didn’t say. Its answer was: “It was the Pakistani secret service, the Saudi royal family and American agents… that organised the Taliban’s push for power”.

Bin Laden was behind the 11 September attacks? Not his fault. “It was because of the rage he felt when he saw his former ally, the US, bomb Baghdad and back Israel”.

Now Corey Oakley, in the Australian socialist paper Red Flag, which comes from the same political culture as the SWP, criticises “leftists [for whom] ‘imperialism’ simply means the US and its Saudi and Israeli allies.

“Syria, Iran and even Russia, whose strategic interests brought them into conflict with the US, are portrayed as playing a progressive role…

“Events in Iraq… leave such ‘anti-imperialist’ fantasies in ruins. The Saudis are conspiring with the Russians while US diplomats negotiate military tactics with their Iranian counterparts… Israel tries to derail a US alliance with Iran while simultaneously considering whether it needs to intervene in de facto alliance with Iran in Jordan.

“If your political approach boils down to putting a tick wherever the US and Israel put a cross, you will quickly find yourself tied in knots. The driving force behind the misery… is not an all-powerful US empire, but a complex system of conflict and shifting alliances between the ruling classes of states big and small…

“The British, Russian, French and US imperialists are no longer the only independent powers in the region. Iran, Saudi Arabia and Egypt – though all intertwined in alliances with other countries big and small – are powerful capitalist states in their own right, playing the imperialist game, not mere clients of bigger powers…” (1 July 2014).

The shift signifies an opening for discussion, rather than a reaching of new conclusions.

On ISIS, a frequent leftist “line” now is to deplore ISIS; say that the 2003 US invasion of Iraq contributed to the dislocation from which ISIS surged (true); express no confidence or trust in US bombing as a way to push back ISIS (correct); and slide into a “conclusion” that the main imperative is to campaign against US bombing.

The slide gives an illusion of having got back to familiar “auto-anti-imperialist” ground. But the illusion is thin.

The old argument was that if you oppose the US strongly enough, then you oppose the root of all evil, and hence you also effectively combat the bad features of the anti-imperialist force. But no-one can really believe that the US created ISIS, or that there were no local reactionary impulses with their own local dynamic and autonomy behind the rise of ISIS.

Our statement of basic ideas, in this paper, says: “Working-class solidarity in international politics: equal rights for all nations, against imperialists and predators big and small”. We have a new opening to get discussion on that approach.

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The Anti-Anti-Semitism of Fools

September 2, 2014 at 5:17 pm (Anti-Racism, anti-semitism, left, posted by JD)

Cross post By Eric Lee

I have just come back from attending a large demonstration in central London [on Sunday -JD] protesting the rise of anti-Semitism in the UK.

The demonstration was organised by a new group called the Campaign Against Antisemitism. It was backed by all the major Jewish organisations in Britain, including the Board of Deputies, the Jewish Leadership Council, and many others. Nearly a thousand people signed up to attend the demo on Facebook; it looked to me like there at least that number there. The crowd seemed overwhelmingly Jewish.

Now if this had been a demonstration against racism, organized by the leadership of the Black communities in Britain, I can guarantee you that a wide range of Left groups would have been there to show their solidarity. You would have found assorted Trotskyists and others selling their newspapers, handing out leaflets and showing that they stood shoulder-to-shoulder with an ethnic minority group struggling against racist assaults, while busily trying to recruit new members.

But at this demonstration, I didn’t see a single left group of any kind with an obvious presence. There may have been individual socialists – like myself – there; but there were no banners, newspapers, or flyers.

The Jewish community seemed to be very much on its own. As if it alone could sense the danger.

On the face of it, this is odd. The rise of anti-Semitism in Britain and across Europe is well documented. Even the Muslim Council of Britain seems to acknowledge this problem in the joint declaration it issued last week together with the Board of Deputies calling for a joint fight against anti-Semitism and Islamophobia.

The eloquent Owen Jones addressed the problem in a recent column for the Guardian. Entitled “Anti-Jewish hatred is rising – we must see it for what it is”, Jones wrote that “there really is plenty of antisemitism that must be confronted.” And he then went on to point to rising anti-Semitism on the far Right in Greece. And Jew-hatred among the far-Rightists in Hungary. And of course anti-Semitism on the French far Right, in the form of the National Front.

But not a word about anti-Semitism in the UK. And of course no mention of anti-Semitism in Muslim communities, or the Left.

Jones is possibly unaware of the long history of anti-Semitism on the Left, a history that goes back to very earliest days of our movement. August Bebel, the great leader of German Social Democracy, famously called anti-Semitism “the socialism of fools”. (Some scholars think that the quote is wrongly attributed to Bebel, but no matter – it was widely known more than a century ago.)

Classic anti-Semitic ideas like exaggerated notions of Jewish power and wealth grew in the fertile soil of the Left long before the Palestinian issue ever arose. Left anti-Semitism pre-dates the recent Gaza war by at least a century. It may flare up when the guns are firing in Gaza, but it is always there, a low flame that doesn’t extinguish.

People like Owen Jones, and many of those on the British Left who were so notably absent from today’s demonstration, seem prepared to see anti-Semitism everywhere but in front of their noses.

Their opposition to Jew-hatred may be called the “anti-anti-Semitism of fools” as it has nothing in common with a real fight against anti-Semitism.

As a result, they leave the Jewish community alone – or drive it into the arms of right-wing demagogues who are happy for any excuse to bash the Muslim community or the Left.

And it doesn’t have to be that way.

The Left should be in the forefront of the fight against anti-Semitism, should embrace that fight and claim it as our own. We should be helping to build widespread public support for that fight, and providing it with analysis and programme.

Instead, the Left sits by the sidelines, its head in the sand, muttering about “Golden Dawn” in Greece rather than actually fighting the poison of anti-Semitism here in the UK, and here on the Left.

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UKIP candidate’s “anti-Zionism”

May 21, 2014 at 6:20 pm (anti-semitism, conspiracy theories, israel, left, populism, posted by JD, Racism, UKIP, zionism)

Readers may not  have noticed this article about the latest bad thing that a UKIP candidate has said.

Below: a sample of Crampton’s opinions:

Further extreme conspiracy theorist comments that the UKIP candidate made

The offending comment this time is not about floods, gays, women or Romanians, but about Jews:  the candidate says that Zionist Jews colluded with the Nazis in orchestrating the holocaust so that through the ‘sacrifice’ of 6 million people, Israel could be created.

This is a horrible slur and obviously people on the internet and in real life are rightly very angry about it.

I think it’s interesting, and worth remembering, that these conspiracy theory ideas – or a more-carefully-expressed version of them – are common currency on the WRP/SWP-influenced part of the UK far left. Younger readers may not remember the 1987 “Perdition Affair”, about a play written by a UK Trotskyist, and slated to be directed by Ken Loach. The AWL’s Sean Matgamna wrote about it extensively at the time, in some articles and exchanges that remain essential reading on the subject.

Yet another reminder of what a nasty, racist shower UKIP really are  … and also a reminder that ‘absolute anti-Zionism’ is common ground shared by the extreme right and substantial sections of the left.

H/t: Ed M

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The left on Ukraine: third camp or no camp?

March 26, 2014 at 9:50 am (AWL, imperialism, internationalism, left, national liberation, posted by JD, Russia, stalinism, Stop The War, SWP)

Above: SW’s “no camp” stance
.
By Martin Thomas (at the Workers Liberty website):

Many responses from the left to the Ukraine crisis have ignored, sidestepped, or downplayed the right to self-determination of the Ukrainian people.

Yet Ukraine is one of the longest-oppressed large nations in the world. In an article of 1939 where he raised Ukraine’s right to self-determination as an urgent question, Leon Trotsky wrote: “The Ukrainian question, which many governments and many ‘socialists’ and even ‘communists’ have tried to forget or to relegate to the deep strongbox of history, has once again been placed on the order of the day and this time with redoubled force”.

The same is true today. If the right of nations to self-determination is important anywhere, it is important in Ukraine. If the axiom that peace and harmony between nations is possible only through mutual recognition of rights to self-determination is valid anywhere, it is valid in Ukraine.

Only a few currents on the left side with Putin, and even those a bit shamefacedly: Counterfire and Stop The War, No2EU, the Morning Star.

Others propose a “plague on all houses” response. The US Socialist Worker (which used to be linked with the British SWP, but has been estranged from it, for unclear reasons, since 2001) puts it most crisply: “Neither Washington nor Moscow, neither Kiev nor Simferopol, but international socialism”.

For sure socialists side with Ukrainian leftists in their fight against the right-wing government in Kiev. But as between Ukraine being dominated by Moscow, and Ukraine being ruled by a government based in Kiev and among the people of Ukraine, our response should not be “neither… nor”. We support Ukraine’s national rights.

Nations’ right to self-determination does not depend on them having a congenial governments. The governments under which most of Britain’s colonies won independence were authoritarian and corrupt. The socialist who responded with the slogan “Neither London nor New Delhi”, or “Neither London nor Cairo”, or “Neither London nor Dublin”, would be a traitor.

The even-handed “plague on all houses” response also leads to a skewed picture of reality. Thus, the official statement from the SWP’s international network includes no call for Ukrainian self-determination, for Russian troops out, or for cancellation of Ukraine’s debt; but it declares:

“The anti-Russian nationalism that is strongest in western Ukraine has deep roots. Russia has dominated Ukraine since independence in 1991…” And for centuries before that!

“The memory of Russian oppression within the USSR is still vivid and reaches even earlier to the independence struggles of the first half of the 20th [century]”. Stalin’s deliberately-sustained mass famine in eastern Ukraine killed millions in 1932-3. There is a deep historical basis to Ukrainian nationalism in eastern Ukraine, and among Russian-speaking Ukrainians, as well as in the West.

“On the other side, many of the millions of Russian speakers identify with Russia”. And many don’t. On the evidence of the referendum in 1991, where 92% of the people, and at least 84% even in the most easterly regions, voted to separate from Russia, most do not.

“One of the first acts of the new Ukrainian government after the fall of Yanukovych was to strip Russian of its status as an official language. This encouraged mass protests in the east of the country”. The parliament voted to reverse the 2012 law making Russian an official language. That was undemocratic — and stupid. The new president vetoed the measure, and it was dropped. Even if passed, it would not have applied in Crimea. Russian had not been an official language in Ukraine (outside Crimea) between 1991 and 2012. The protests in the east (often violent, but not, by most reports, “mass”) were generated by Russian interference, not by the language question.

The “plague on all houses” response is an addled version of the “Third Camp” attitude which AWL has advocated on many issues; but a very addled version.

Usually the SWP argues for “two camps”. Really to oppose US imperialism and its allies, they say, you must to some degree support the US’s adversaries, whether it be the Taliban in Afghanistan, Hamas in Israel-Palestine, Saddam Hussein and then the sectarian Islamist “resistance” in Iraq, or Milosevic in Kosova. To do otherwise is to be “pro-imperialist”. Support for an independent working-class “third force”, against both the US and allies, and their reactionary opponents, is ruled out.

On Ukraine (as also on Syria) they break from that “two camps” approach, but to an approach which is more “no camp” than “third camp”. (The “no camp” stance has precedents in SWP history, in the wars for independence of Croatia and Bosnia, for example).

Our slogans of Russian troops out and cancelling Ukraine’s debt to the West seek to support the Ukrainian people as a “third camp”. We solidarise with the East European leftists who, on the LeftEast website, call for “the third position [opposed to both Yanukovych and the new Kiev regime]… namely a class perspective”, and appeals to Ukraine’s left “to form a third pole, distinct from today’s Tweedledums and Tweedledees… You are the only ones who can give meaning to the deaths and wounds of the [occupied square in Kiev]”.

Our position is defined primarily by its positive support for those “third poles” — the people of Ukraine, as against Putin’s troops or the IMF and Western government imposing neo-liberal measures; the working-class left in Ukraine, as against the oligarchs and the chauvinists. When we use negative “neither, nor” slogans, we use them as consequences, expressions, or summaries of that positive alignment; and they do not stop us assessing the other “poles” in the political situation in their varied realities.

The “no camp” stance, instead, offers only abstract ultimate aims (international socialism) as an evasion.

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What the Brit left’s saying about Ukraine

March 4, 2014 at 4:14 pm (Europe, imperialism, internationalism, James Bloodworth, labour party, left, political groups, reblogged, Russia, stalinism, trotskyism)

By James Bloodworth (reblogged from Left Foot Forward)

Labour shadow foreign secretary Douglas Alexander has just delivered his response in the House of Commons to foreign secretary William Hague’s statement on the crisis in Ukraine. The statements from both sides were fairly predictable – both condemned Russian provocations – but the Labour foreign secretary was right to press the government on what action it plans to take in order to pressure Russia into pulling back from Crimea. This was especially important considering the revelations yesterday evening that the coalition is seeking to protect the City of London from any punitive EU action against Russia.

But what about the rest of the British left? Well, here we find a wide range of positions, from the Stop the War Coalition’s apparent attempt to pin the entire blame for the Crimea affair on the West to Left Unity’s somewhat abstract and blanket opposition to “foreign military intervention” and “foreign political and economic intervention”.

The Labour Party

Douglas Alexander told the House of Commons that there could be “no justification for this dangerous and unprovoked military incursion”. In terms of resolving the crisis, he insisted that firm measures were needed to apply pressure to Russia, saying that the international community needed to “alter the calculus of risk in the minds of the Russian leaders by…making clear to the Russians the costs and consequences of this aggression”.

The shadow foreign secretary also mentioned the coalition’s apparent unwillingness to upset the City for the sake of Ukrainian territorial integrity, saying he was “afraid the United Kingdom’s words will count for little without more credence being given to these options and a willingness at least to countenance their use in the days and weeks ahead”.

The Stop the War Coalition/Countefire – 10 Things to Remember About the Crisis in Ukraine and Crimea

Lindsey German of the Stop the War Coalition and Counterfire has written a lengthy 10-point post in which she tries to paint the Russian invasion of Ukraine as a rational response to NATO/EU provocations. There is a lot that’s wrong with the piece, and you could do worse than read this take down of German’s article in the Economist.

“Who is the aggressor? The obvious answer seems to be that it is Russia, but that is far from the whole picture…Ever since the end of the Cold War in 1991, the European Union (EU) and Nato have been intent on surrounding Russia with military bases and puppet regimes sympathetic to the West, often installed by ‘colour revolutions’.”

The Socialist Workers’ Party – Putin Raises the Stakes in Imperialist Crimea Crisis

Much clearer in its stance has been the Socialist Workers’ Party (surprisingly perhaps), which has condemned much of what has been taken as read by Stop the War Coalition and Counterfire as “Moscow propaganda”:

“Those who claim Yanukovych’s overthrow was a “fascist coup” are parroting Moscow propaganda. He fell because the section of the oligarchy who had previously backed him withdrew their support…Putin claims to be acting in defense of Ukraine’s Russian speakers—a majority in Crimea and widespread in southern and eastern Ukraine. But beyond a parliamentary vote in Kiev to strip Russian of its status as an official language, there is little evidence of any real threat to Russian speakers.” – Alex Callinicos, Socialist Worker

The Alliance for Workers Libery – Russian Trade Unionists and Leftists Oppose Invasion of Ukraine

The Alliance of Workers’ Liberty has published a statement on its website from the University of Russian University Workers, which is unequivocal in its denunciation of Russian aggression:

“Declaration of the central council of the ‘University Solidarity’ union of Russian university workers:

“The central council of the “University Solidarity” union expresses its concern at the situation caused by the decision of the Federation Council of the Federal Assembly of Russia on 1 March 2014, granting the president of Russia the right to use Russian armed force on the territory of Ukraine.

“We believe that this decision does not help the defense of the Russian-speaking population of Ukraine and that it promises grave consequences. Support to the Russian-speaking citizens of Ukraine can be given by other means, by the means of state and popular diplomacy, by economic cooperation, by human rights.”

International Viewpoint (Fourth International) – No War with Ukraine

Encouragingly, the Fourth International has also condemned what it calls the “foreign policy adventurism of the current regime” in Moscow:

“War has begun. With the aim of protecting and increasing the assets of the oligarchs in Russia and in Yanukovich’s coterie, Russia’s leadership has undertaken an invasion of Ukraine. This aggression threatens catastrophic consequences for the Ukrainian and Russian peoples – most especially for the population of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and Ukraine’s southeastern industrial regions…Today, the struggle for freedom in Russia is a struggle against the foreign policy adventurism of the current regime, which seeks collusion in forestalling its own end. The RSD calls on all sincere left and democratic forces to organize anti-war protests.” – Statement from the Russian Socialist Movement

Left Unity – Against Nationalism, Corruption, Privatisation and War

Left Unity is an interesting one, and appears to draw a (false) moral equivalence between unwanted Russian military intervention in Ukraine and economic assistance requested by the Ukrainian government to support its ailing economy:

“The continuing political and economic crisis in Ukraine is taking a dangerous military turn.

“Left Unity takes the position that there can only be a political solution to this crisis and that neither foreign military intervention nor foreign political and economic intervention provide the answers to Ukraine’s complex problems.

“Whether under the flag of US, NATO, Russia or the European Union, military intervention only ever makes the situation many times worse. So it is in Ukraine. The West’s hypocrisy in condemning Russia for breaking international law is breathtaking: nevertheless, Russian troops hold no solution to the crisis.”

Communist Party – Solidarity with the Communist Party of Ukraine

At the more extreme end, the Communist Party takes the Moscow line that the Ukrainian Euromaidan movement is ‘fascist’:

“The failure of  EU leaders to uphold the 21 February Agreement on early elections has given sanction to a coup d’etat against a democratically elected government that threatens to destabilise the country and sets dangerous precedents for the future. The open involvement of US, EU and NATO leaders in the build up to the coup exposes it as part of the drive  to change the geo-political balance in Europe in ways that threaten security and peace in Europe and the World… The Communist Party of Britain pledges its support to the Communist Party of Ukraine in its resistance to fascism, predatory capitalism and  imperialism.” – Robert Griffiths, CP general secretary

Workers’ Power – Neither Moscow nor Berlin – for workers’ internationalism

…as does Workers’ Power:

“The bourgeois nationalist parties have taken power in an anti-democratic coup, using the fascist paramilitaries and rebellious police forces. Workers should make it clear they do not recognize the legitimacy of this government, its orders, the laws, and decisions of the counter-revolutionary Rada…The working class should not wait for outside intervention from Russia, nor allow the reactionary, undemocratic new regime to consolidate its power with the May 25 elections, held at gunpoint.”

As for the Twittersphere:

Gallowayj

OJj

Mehdij

Seamusj

And on the right…

Liamj

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Sokal – the hoaxer who made a serious point – speaks at UCL

February 24, 2014 at 6:51 pm (academe, intellectuals, Jim D, left, philosophy, relativism, satire, science, socialism, spoofs, truth)

postmodernism_foot_on_neck

Do you remember the so-called ‘Sokal hoax’? For those who don’t (or whose memories have faded), here’s a good article explaining what happened and why it was – and still is – of significance. I say “still is” because of the recent nonsense on sections of the UK left concerning “intersectionality” and the like.

Anyway, Alan Sokal spoke at a packed Left Forum meeting in UCL on 12th February – here’s the recording:

http://leftforum.podomatic.com/entry/2014-02-12T08_46_15-08_00

The sound quality’s not great (especially when it comes to contributions and questions from the audience), but Sokal’s opening talk is easy to follow, and well worth listening to.

I think it’s particularly important to note that Sokal describes himself as “an unabashed old leftist who never quite understood how ‘deconstruction’ helps the working class.”

Well done to Omar and the other comrades at UCL for pulling this off!

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Intersectionality: “perpetual outrage and hair-trigger offense”

February 1, 2014 at 4:14 pm (Feminism, left, middle class, post modernism, posted by JD, strange situations)

In view of the recent denunciations of both Richard Seymour and Laurie Penny for (alleged) offences against so-called so-called “intersectionality” (excellent description and analysis here), and the rise within sections of the left of this kind of vindictive ultra identity politics, this recent article by Michelle Goldberg at The Nation gives some timely background. As always, when we re-blog an article from elsewhere, it should not be assumed that Shiraz agrees with every last dot and comma:

Image

Above: if only it were that simple…

Feminism’s Toxic Twitter Wars

In the summer of 2012, twenty-one feminist bloggers and online activists gathered at Barnard College for a meeting that would soon become infamous. Convened by activists Courtney Martin and Vanessa Valenti, the women came together to talk about ways to leverage institutional and philanthropic support for online feminism. Afterward, Martin and Valenti used the discussion as the basis for a report, “#Femfuture [1]: Online Revolution,” which called on funders to support the largely unpaid work that feminists do on the Internet. “An unfunded online feminist movement isn’t merely a threat to the livelihood of these hard-working activists, but a threat to the larger feminist movement itself,” they wrote.

#Femfuture was earnest and studiously politically correct. An important reason to put resources into online feminism, Martin and Valenti wrote, was to bolster the voices of writers from marginalized communities. “Women of color and other groups are already overlooked for adequate media attention and already struggle disproportionately in this culture of scarcity,” they noted. The pair discussed the way online activism has highlighted the particular injustices suffered by transgender women of color and celebrated the ability of the Internet to hold white feminists accountable for their unwitting displays of racial privilege. “A lot of feminist dialogue online has focused on recognizing the complex ways that privilege shapes our approach to work and community,” they wrote.

The women involved with #Femfuture knew that many would contest at least some of their conclusions. They weren’t prepared, though, for the wave of coruscating anger and contempt that greeted their work. Online, the Barnard group—nine of whom were women of color—was savaged as a cabal of white opportunists. People were upset that the meeting had excluded those who don’t live in New York (Martin and Valenti had no travel budget). There was fury expressed on behalf of everyone—indigenous women, feminist mothers, veterans—whose concerns were not explicitly addressed. Some were outraged that tweets were quoted without the explicit permission of the tweeters. Others were incensed that a report about online feminism left out women who aren’t online. “Where is the space in all of these #femfuture movements for people who don’t have internet access?” tweeted [2] Mikki Kendall, a feminist writer who, months later, would come up with the influential hashtag #solidarityisforwhitewomen [3].

Martin was floored. She’s long believed that it’s incumbent on feminists to be open to critique—but the response was so vitriolic, so full of bad faith and stubborn misinformation, that it felt like some sort of Maoist hazing. Kendall, for example, compared #Femfuture to Rebecca Latimer Felton, a viciously racist Southern suffragist who supported lynching because she said it protected white women from rape. “It was really hard to engage in processing real critique because so much of it was couched in an absolute disavowal of my intentions and my person,” Martin says.

Beyond bruised feelings, the reaction made it harder to use the paper to garner support for online feminist efforts. The controversy was all most people knew of the project, and it left a lasting taint. “Almost anyone who asks us about it wants to know what happened, including editors that I’ve worked with,” says Samhita Mukhopadhyay, an activist and freelance writer who was then the editor of Feministing.com. “It’s like you’ve been backed into a corner.”

Though Mukhopadhyay continues to believe in the empowering potential of online feminism, she sees that much of it is becoming dysfunctional, even unhealthy. “Everyone is so scared to speak right now,” she says. Read the rest of this entry »

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Mark Fisher exits ‘Vampire Castle’

November 27, 2013 at 1:38 am (anarchism, class, left, posted by JD, reblogged, sexism, socialism, solidarity)

Is this the same Mark Fis(c)her who was until quite recently, a leading light of the CPGB/Weekly Worker group? A BTL commenter (below) thinks not.  I wouldn’t necessarily agree with everything Fisher  writes here (I think he’s excessively enthusiastic about Russell Brand, for instance), but it’s an interesting piece, well worth serious consideration and discussion. Fisher’s comments on the rise of self-righteous identity politics and the concomitant decline of class politics, certainly ring true:

The article first appeared on the North Star website:

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Exiting the Vampire Castle
By Mark Fisher

This summer, I seriously considered withdrawing from any involvement in politics. Exhausted through overwork, incapable of productive activity, I found myself drifting through social networks, feeling my depression and exhaustion increasing.

‘Left-wing’ Twitter can often be a miserable, dispiriting zone. Earlier this year, there were some high-profile twitterstorms, in which particular left-identifying figures were ‘called out’ and condemned. What these figures had said was sometimes objectionable; but nevertheless, the way in which they were personally vilified and hounded left a horrible residue: the stench of bad conscience and witch-hunting moralism. The reason I didn’t speak out on any of these incidents, I’m ashamed to say, was fear. The bullies were in another part of the playground. I didn’t want to attract their attention to me.

The open savagery of these exchanges was accompanied by something more pervasive, and for that reason perhaps more debilitating: an atmosphere of snarky resentment. The most frequent object of this resentment is Owen Jones, and the attacks on Jones – the person most responsible for raising class consciousness in the UK in the last few years – were one of the reasons I was so dejected. If this is what happens to a left-winger who is actually succeeding in taking the struggle to the centre ground of British life, why would anyone want to follow him into the mainstream? Is the only way to avoid this drip-feed of abuse to remain in a position of impotent marginality?

One of the things that broke me out of this depressive stupor was going to the People’s Assembly in Ipswich, near where I live. The People’s Assembly had been greeted with the usual sneers and snarks. This was, we were told, a useless stunt, in which media leftists, including Jones, were aggrandising themselves in yet another display of top-down celebrity culture. What actually happened at the Assembly in Ipswich was very different to this caricature. The first half of the evening – culminating in a rousing speech by Owen Jones – was certainly led by the top-table speakers. But the second half of the meeting saw working class activists from all over Suffolk talking to each other, supporting one another, sharing experiences and strategies. Far from being another example of hierarchical leftism, the People’s Assembly was an example of how the vertical can be combined with the horizontal: media power and charisma could draw people who hadn’t previously been to a political meeting into the room, where they could talk and strategise with seasoned activists. The atmosphere was anti-racist and anti-sexist, but refreshingly free of the paralysing feeling of guilt and suspicion which hangs over left-wing twitter like an acrid, stifling fog.

Then there was Russell Brand. I’ve long been an admirer of Brand – one of the few big-name comedians on the current scene to come from a working class background. Over the last few years, there has been a gradual but remorseless embourgeoisement of television comedy, with preposterous ultra-posh nincompoop Michael McIntyre and a dreary drizzle of bland graduate chancers dominating the stage.

The day before Brand’s now famous interview with Jeremy Paxman was broadcast on Newsnight, I had seen Brand’s stand-up show the Messiah Complex in Ipswich. The show was defiantly pro-immigrant, pro-communist, anti-homophobic, saturated with working class intelligence and not afraid to show it, and queer in the way that popular culture used to be (i.e. nothing to do with the sour-faced identitarian piety foisted upon us by moralisers on the post-structuralist ‘left’). Malcolm X, Che, politics as a psychedelic dismantling of existing reality: this was communism as something cool, sexy and proletarian, instead of a finger-wagging sermon.

The next night, it was clear that Brand’s appearance had produced a moment of splitting. For some of us, Brand’s forensic take-down of Paxman was intensely moving, miraculous; I couldn’t remember the last time a person from a working class background had been given the space to so consummately destroy a class ‘superior’ using intelligence and reason. This wasn’t Johnny Rotten swearing at Bill Grundy – an act of antagonism which confirmed rather than challenged class stereotypes. Brand had outwitted Paxman – and the use of humour was what separated Brand from the dourness of so much ‘leftism’. Brand makes people feel good about themselves; whereas the moralising left specialises in making people feed bad, and is not happy until their heads are bent in guilt and self-loathing.

The moralising left quickly ensured that the story was not about Brand’s extraordinary breach of the bland conventions of mainstream media ‘debate’, nor about his claim that revolution was going to happen. (This last claim could only be heard by the cloth-eared petit-bourgeois narcissistic ‘left’ as Brand saying that he wanted to lead the revolution – something that they responded to with typical resentment: ‘I don’t need a jumped-up celebrity to lead me‘.) For the moralisers, the dominant story was to be about Brand’s personal conduct – specifically his sexism. In the febrile McCarthyite atmosphere fermented by the moralising left, remarks that could be construed as sexist mean that Brand is a sexist, which also meant that he is a misogynist. Cut and dried, finished, condemned.

It is right that Brand, like any of us, should answer for his behaviour and the language that he uses. But such questioning should take place in an atmosphere of comradeship and solidarity, and probably not in public in the first instance – although when Brand was questioned about sexism by Mehdi Hasan, he displayed exactly the kind of good-humoured humility that was entirely lacking in the stony faces of those who had judged him. “I don’t think I’m sexist, But I remember my grandmother, the loveliest person I‘ve ever known, but she was racist, but I don’t think she knew. I don’t know if I have some cultural hangover, I know that I have a great love of proletariat linguistics, like ‘darling’ and ‘bird’, so if women think I’m sexist they’re in a better position to judge than I am, so I’ll work on that.”

Brand’s intervention was not a bid for leadership; it was an inspiration, a call to arms. And I for one was inspired. Where a few months before, I would have stayed silent as the PoshLeft moralisers subjected Brand to their kangaroo courts and character assassinations – with ‘evidence’ usually gleaned from the right-wing press, always available to lend a hand – this time I was prepared to take them on. The response to Brand quickly became as significant as the Paxman exchange itself. As Laura Oldfield Ford pointed out, this was a clarifying moment. And one of the things that was clarified for me was the way in which, in recent years, so much of the self-styled ‘left’ has suppressed the question of class.

Class consciousness is fragile and fleeting. The petit bourgeoisie which dominates the academy and the culture industry has all kinds of subtle deflections and pre-emptions which prevent the topic even coming up, and then, if it does come up, they make one think it is a terrible impertinence, a breach of etiquette, to raise it. I’ve been speaking now at left-wing, anti-capitalist events for years, but I’ve rarely talked – or been asked to talk – about class in public.

But, once class had re-appeared, it was impossible not to see it everywhere in the response to the Brand affair. Brand was quickly judged and-or questioned by at least three ex-private school people on the left. Others told us that Brand couldn’t really be working class, because he was a millionaire. It’s alarming how many ‘leftists’ seemed to fundamentally agree with the drift behind Paxman’s question: ‘What gives this working class person the authority to speak?’ It’s also alarming, actually distressing, that they seem to think that working class people should remain in poverty, obscurity and impotence lest they lose their ‘authenticity’.

Someone passed me a post written about Brand on Facebook. I don’t know the individual who wrote it, and I wouldn’t wish to name them. What’s important is that the post was symptomatic of a set of snobbish and condescending attitudes that it is apparently alright to exhibit while still classifying oneself as left wing. The whole tone was horrifyingly high-handed, as if they were a schoolteacher marking a child’s work, or a psychiatrist assessing a patient. Brand, apparently, is ‘clearly extremely unstable … one bad relationship or career knockback away from collapsing back into drug addiction or worse.’ Although the person claims that they ‘really quite like [Brand]‘, it perhaps never occurs to them that one of the reasons that Brand might be ‘unstable’ is just this sort of patronising faux-transcendent ‘assessment’ from the ‘left’ bourgeoisie. There’s also a shocking but revealing aside where the individual casually refers to Brand’s ‘patchy education [and] the often wince-inducing vocab slips characteristic of the auto-didact’ – which, this individual generously says, ‘I have no problem with at all’ – how very good of them! This isn’t some colonial bureaucrat writing about his attempts to teach some ‘natives’ the English language in the nineteenth century, or a Victorian schoolmaster at some private institution describing a scholarship boy, it’s a ‘leftist’ writing a few weeks ago.

Where to go from here? It is first of all necessary to identify the features of the discourses and the desires which have led us to this grim and demoralising pass, where class has disappeared, but moralism is everywhere, where solidarity is impossible, but guilt and fear are omnipresent – and not because we are terrorised by the right, but because we have allowed bourgeois modes of subjectivity to contaminate our movement. I think there are two libidinal-discursive configurations which have brought this situation about. They call themselves left wing, but – as the Brand episode has made clear – they are many ways a sign that the left – defined as an agent in a class struggle – has all but disappeared. Read the rest of this entry »

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Old comrades

November 24, 2013 at 5:07 pm (good people, James P. Cannon, Jim D, left, Marxism, political groups, revolution, sectarianism, Shachtman, socialism, solidarity, song, trotskyism)

I’ve just returned from a get-together with some old comrades – in a couple of cases (well, three to be exact), people I’ve known more or less since first getting involved with the serious left in the early-to-mid seventies. It dawned on me that as well as being comrades they’re some of my oldest and closest friends. And one of them, at least, I rate amongst the most admirable and principled people I’ve ever known.

I also learned a new (well, new to me) sectarian song that some readers might enjoy:

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