I spent most of yesterday in a room full of British trade unionists, all of whom would regard themselves as (to varying degrees) on the political left. To a person, every one of them that I spoke to, or overheard, expressed pleasure and relief at the US election result.
In fact, I find it inconceivable that any socialist or, indeed, liberal, wouldn’t feel that way. I do not include deranged anti-Americans of the Pilger/Counterpunch variety.
Of course, a general sense of pleasure and/or relief at the outcome need not, necessarily, be predicated upon having advocated a vote for Obama. And there is, of course, a long-standing leftist (specifically Trotskyist) argument against advocating a vote for the US Democrats, which I’ll come on to in a moment.
But even those of us who have never had any great illusions in Obama, need to recognise what his presidency represents for Afro-Americans and other minorities (notably Hispanics), and just what a blow to their morale and self-confidence a Romney victory would have been. It is also a fact that, rightly or wrongly, the majority of unions in the US backed Obama. All reports suggest, as well, that the mass of ordinary people outside the US, feared that a Romney victory would make the world as a whole a more dangerous place.
Now, of course, the orthodox (and not-so-orthodox) Trotskyist position has always been that the Democrats are simply a bosses’ party (in a way, for instance, that the UK Labour Party, being a “bourgeois workers’ party”, isn’t) and so a vote for them is impermissible. Instead, we should advocate the creation of a US ’labor party’. The great American Trotskyist leader James P. Cannon (of whom I am a considerable, though not uncritical, admirer), wrote extensively on this subject, and his articles repay study. Unfortunately, they are not readily available these days.
James P. Cannon
Here’s an excerpt from a 1954 article entitled “A New Declaration of Independence”. I had better explain that Cannon regarded McCarthyism as “American fascism in incipient form.” Whether or not he was correct about that (and, indeed, whether such an analysis of the Tea Party movement would be appropriate today), is not the central issue here.
Cannon argued that:
“[T]he myopic policy of the liberals and the labor leaders is concentrated on the congessional elections next fall, and the presidential election to follow in 1956. A Democratic victory is counted on to deal a death blow to the McCarthy aberration. ‘McCarthyism is becoming a danger all right, and it begins to look like a fascist movement; but all we need is a general mobilisation at the polls to put the Democrats back in power.’ Such are the arguments we already hear from the Democratic high command, the literary liberals, the labor leaders and – skulking in the rear of the caravan, with their tails between their legs — the Stalinists.
“This would really be laughable if humor were in place where deadly serious matters are concerned. The Roosevelt New Deal, under far more favourable conditions, couldn’t find a way to hold back the economic crisis without a war. A Stevensonian version of the same policy, under worse conditions, could only be expected to fail more miserably. A Democratic victory might arrest the hitherto unobstructed march of McCarthyism while it re-forms its ranks. It might even bring a temporary moderation of the fury of the witch-hunt. But that’s all.
“The fascist movement would probably begin to grow again with the growth of the crisis. It would probably take on an even more militant character, if it is pushed out of the administration and compelled to develop as an unofficial movement. Under conditions of a serious crisis, an unofficial fascist movement would grow all the more stormily, to the extent that the labor movement would support the Democratic administration, and depend on it to restrain the fascists by police measures.
“Such a policy, as the experience of Italy and Germany has already shown, would only paralyze the active resitance of the workers themselves, while giving the fascist gangs a virtually free reign. Moreover, by remaining tied to the Democratic administration, the labor movement would take upon itself a large part of the responsibility for the economic crisis and feed the flames of fascist demagogy around the question.
“That would be something to see: The fascists howling about the crisis, and stirring up the hungry and desperate people with the most extravagent promises, while the labor leaders defend the administration. The official labor leaders are fully capable of such idiocy, as they demonstrated in the last presidential election. But with the best will in the world to help the democratic administration, they couldn’t maintain such a position very long.
“The workers will most probably accept the recommendation of the labor leaders to seek escape from the crisis by replacing Republican rascals by Democratic scoundrels in the next election. But when the latter become officially responsible for the administration, and prove powerless to cope with the crisis, the workers will certainly draw some conclusions from their unfortunate experiences. The deeper the crisis and the more brutal the fascist aggression fed by the crisis, the more insistent will be the demand for a radical change of policy and a more adequate leadership.
From all indications, the workers’ discontent will be concentrated, at first, in the demand for a labor party of their own. This will most probably be realized. It will not yet signify the victory over fascism — not by a long shot — but it will represent the beginning of a counter-movement which will have every chance to end in victory.”
I have to say that I find most of Cannon’s case unconvincing and (ironically for an outspoken anti-Stalinist) verging upon Third Period Stalinism. Just at a factual level, I don’t think it’s accurate to dismiss the New Deal as something that could not have succeeded without a war, or to suggest such a policy in the 1950′s was doomed to “fail miserably”. Certainly, Cannon produces no evidence to back up that claim. His argument against illusions in the Democrats and the dangers of being seen to defend a Democratic administration are fair enough, but do not amount to a coherent case against even voting for the Democratic Party – any more than the danger of sewing illusions in the UK Labour Party and giving uncritical support to a Labour government, are arguments against a Labour vote.
In fact Cannon, it seems to me, fundamentally undermines his own argument by concluding that workers’ discontent with a Democratic administration at that time would result in the demand for a labor party, which “will most probably be realised.” That would seem to be an argument in favour of getting the Democrats elected, not against it.
I have quoted Cannon’s argument at some length so as not to risk the charge of having taken him out of context. And I decided to quote Cannon in the first place because his writings on the US labor movement are generally of a high standard, and because his arguments are still, essentially, the arguments put forward by serious people who oppose a Democrat vote.
(NB: “A New Declaration of Independence” was published in The Militant of April 12 1954, republished in Notebook of an Agitator, pub: Pathfinder Press 1958 & 1973)
Dave Quayle, Chair of Unite’s National Political Comittee, was recently interviewed by Solidarity, paper of the AWL, on the subject of Unite’s strategy for the Labour Party.
You can read the article here.
Now The Sun has picked up on it:
Union’s vow to go left
HARDLINE union bosses have vowed to drag Labour further to the left before the next General Election — sparking civil war in the party.
Dave Quayle, a leading figure in Labour’s biggest financial backers Unite, issued the chilling warning in an interview. He said: “We want a firmly class-based and left-wing general election campaign in 2015.
“We’ve got to say that Labour is the party of and for workers, not for neo-liberals, bankers and the free market. That might alienate some people — but that’s tough.”
Mr Quayle, who is chairman of Unite’s national political committee, added: “We want to shift the balance in the party away from middle class academics.”
His comments are further evidence of the union’s plot to take over the party — as revealed by The Sun in March. General Secretary Len McCluskey has said he wants Labour to have more “working class” candidates.
But figures on the right of the party fear more left-wingers will be elected — and drag Labour back to the 1980s, when they lost two general elections.
Labour leader Ed Miliband, who visited Corby, Northants, yesterday, was urged to act.
A source said: “This is a test of the party leadership to see if they’re serious about being a modern party capable of winning.”
…something that cannot be said of the Blairite Labour Uncut website, which really is a classic. It also seems likely that Labour Uncut tipped off the Tory press about Quale’s interview.
Dave Quayle has since been leant on by “senior figures” from the Party about the article, but is standing firm. Here is what he posted on the United Left email list:
“First of all apologies to comrades for having to read this in the Scum/Sun [...] I’m a former hot metal newspaper printer who did his time on picket [duty] outside Wapping so won’t buy or even read under normal circumstances any of Murdoch’s publications.
“I attach a copy of the publication in question so you can read it all. I was asked to do the interview by ‘Solidarity’ the newspaper of the AWL. I have no problem doing this but it has become an issue in itself. Now I think the article is a balanced view of our Political Strategy which was overwhelmingly endorsed at the recent Policy Conference and I stand by every word of it.
“The article was picked up by the uber Blairite blog site ‘Labour Uncut’ who went hysterical in denouncing me and UNITE, check it out it’s a good laugh! For example the piece under the denunciation of me/us is about the need to come clean and tell people about how much we ‘need’ to cut the NHS by. I kid you not.
“Then the mainstream right wing press picked up on the the blog, which was also [reported] in the Daily Telegraph.
“Now at least a good many of our activists and members know about our strategy!
“I have been contacted by, shall we say, senior figures in thge Labour party, very off the record saying they have no major problems with the article but please don’t do any more interviews for Trot papers (their words not mine). So ever onwards!”
OK, I couldn’t resist: another Galloway moment. I think it’s been over a week since the last one. Regrettably, I did not see Question Time on Thursday night, but the Raincoat Optimist over at Though Cowards Flinch reports:
Question Time was a real treat last night. Yvette Cooper kicking Theresa May when she was down, as Baroness (portfolio of nothing) Warsi tried and failed to defend her honour, while Tim Farron was a hoot, trying to hold the inharmonious position as comic and reluctant defender of the coalition government.
Of course the main event was George Galloway and David Aaronovitch, head to head.
Scarcely a few moments had passed until the pair were at each others neck, and the attempts to de-legitimise Aaronovitch’s arguments were quite familiar.
Instead of answering questions Galloway instead made reference to Aaronovitch’s previously held Communist convictions.
He did this, too, to Christopher Hitchens in that famous debate back in 2005, in New York. Unprepared to tackle the issues, he appealed to the lowest form of argument: the ad hominem.
You will remember the lines:
“What Mr Hitchens has done is unique in natural history; the first-ever metamorphosis from a butterfly back into a slug. I mention ‘slug’ purposefully, because the one thing a slug does leave behind it is a trial of slime”.
On Question Time, Galloway made mention of the fact that in the way he believes in God, Aaronovitch believes in Stalin.
These “blows” were used instead of engaging with the point raised that Galloway has done nothing by way of condemning the behaviour of Assad – in fact, going so far as to “flatter” him
Read the rest here; the comments are good as well.
NB: Galloway’s attempt to smear Aaronovitch as an ex-Stalinist is truly breathtaking when you bear in mind that Galloway actually is a variety of Stalinist (and was throughout his membership of the Labour Party), who regularly writes for the ‘tankie’ Morning Star, whereas Aaronovitch was on the social democratic (in the modern sense) Euro-Communist wing of the old CP. But then, Galloway’s known for his “honesty” and “straight talking” isn’t he?
H-t: Faster Pussycat Miaow! Miaow! Miaow!
12 Angry Men:
From the BBC’s online obituary:
In a directing career lasting more than half a century, Sidney Lumet enjoyed a reputation for examining justice and integrity in films ranging from 12 Angry Men to Dog Day Afternoon.
Born in Philadelphia in 1924, the child of two actors of the Yiddish Theatre, Lumet had trod the boards himself at a tender age, moved from stage school to Broadway and formed a theatre group that included the actors Yul Brynner and Eli Wallach.
After wartime service in the Pacific and study at Columbia University, Lumet served his directing apprenticeship in the 1950s factory of live television drama.
His lifelong mission to see justice upheld was demonstrated during the McCarthy era when he helped to protect the identity of blacklisted writers.
New York Times obit here
Even the Murdoch press finds Gove preposterous:
…and they should know: he used to work for them.
Jimmy Carter is often an idiot. He talked irresponsible nonsense when he compared Israel with apartheid South Africa, for instance.
But he’s surely correct when he says:
“Those kind of things are not just casual outcomes of a sincere debate on whether we should have a national programme on healthcare. It’s deeper than that. I think an overwhelming portion of the intensely demonstrated animosity toward President Barack Obama is based on the fact that he is a black man … That racism inclination still exists. And I think it’s bubbled up to the surface because of the belief among many white people, not just in the South but around the country, that African-Americans are not qualified to lead this great country.”
And, of course, Obama – a master bourgeois politician and natural-born statesman - was very wise (from his own point of view) to disavow Carter’s analysis.
Watch the extraordinary piece of film at the bottom of this post. It generally confirms Carter’s contention, but also contains some wonderful, unexpected moments – like when the black guy defends Mississippi and denounces the “New York liberal” who’s making the film!
Also: it’s clear that McCain was embarrassed by Sarah Palin’s thinly-disguised racism. He’s a conservative, but not a racist.
Nonetheless: there can be little doubt that the hysteria surrounding Obama’s health care plans, and the heckling he received from the Confererate Good Ol’ Boy Joe Wilson in Congress last week, was classic Deep South racism [Youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xpQ4nWqUGFM&feature=related
Long-time readers will be aware that this blog has historically been critical of prominent pro-war left site Harry’s Place, whilst nevertheless continuing to link to it and regarding it as an important part of the political blogging landscape. We have attracted criticism from members of the SWP and others for that stance, and I for one do not envisage it changing. That having been said, I cannot let some of their recent output pass without comment.
Harry’s Place has for a long time had very obviously different politics amongst its various posters, as indeed we do here. There is nothing wrong with that – blogging is not like party politics, still less like hard-left party politics, and there is no need for any one blog to have a set political “line” on any one issue. However, Harry’s Place at its inception had carved itself out a very deliberate niche as an advocate for the use of military force to ensure workers’ rights around the world. Whilst I do not agree with them over the war in Iraq, I do not think that anyone could deny the power of the single, raised ink-stained finger picture that marked the first Iraqi general election, nor the righteous fury of the writing which underlay it. It’s in the archive on their site, somewhere.
So, what has happened recently? In place of all this, we have increasingly bilious attacks on essentially random individuals who oppose Israel’s gross and nauseating military actions in Gaza, which do not even make the pretence of protecting democracy for the Palestinian people. We have attacks on the protests against those military actions and in my view, intimations of anti-semitism. I have attended three such demonstrations in the past fortnight, one in London, one in Coventry and one in Birmingham, and the idea that their tone was an anti-semitic one is quite simply arrant nonsense. I myself was sickened by the “We are all Hezbollah” chants that could be heard on London demonstrations against Israel’s war in the Lebanon – the protests that I have been on categorically did not have that tone, and anyone who says that they did was either watching something else, is desperate to fill out a pre-existing narrative or is simply an outright liar. Further, as people who constantly ask why Israel is held to different standards than other democracies (a contention which is often spurious: imagine what would have happened if the UK launched air strikes against the Shankhill Road in the 1980s), perhaps these supporters of Israel’s actions would like to explain why they seem always to be automatically willing to offer any Israeli administration a blank cheque to do anything at all when it is attacking Arab civilians?
Another thing, which has been particularly galling, is the recent descent into red-baiting. I have already blogged about the bizarre McCarthyism which surrounded the apparent attempt to get Owen Hatherley sacked from the New Statesman for writing a review of Lenny Seymour’s book that didn’t accord with David T’s (or Oliver “I’m left-wing, honest” Kamm’s) opinions. I fully endorsed Lenny Seymour’s comments at the time, and I gladly do so again here. For those who do not remember what they were, this summarises them quite well:
Describing the reviewer, Owen Hatherley, as the “Dilpazier Aslam” of the New Statesman (recalling a case in which a trainee journalist was fired from The Guardian, having written an article that included praise for Hizb Ut-Tahrir while he was a member of said organisation), the post on Harry’s Place claims that Owen Hatherley is a member of the Socialist Workers’ Party. He is not, and never has been. But it is on the basis of this single fabrication that the author of the post launches a lengthy diatribe effectively demanding that the New Statesman publish a correction and fire the reviewer. It is a small irony that, while in effect demanding a purge on the basis of an invention, David T fantasises that it is SWP members who are ‘totalitarian’.
More recently there was this, with an even more blantant exhibition of the most disgusting red-baiting from one “Lucy Lips”. In reference to people of “far left” views getting democratically elected to positions and putting their politics up for discussion, she says:
This is why the far Left needs to be kicked out of all elected positions in the Union movement. They’ve no interest in pay and conditions. They’re happy to wreck a union, as long as it helps them to recruit. They’re waiting for the Revolution, after all.
If that isn’t a classic 1950s-era “reds under the bed” style tissue of lies and paranoia then I don’t know what is. Political arguments aside, as someone virtually whose entire family in some way was born, bred and worked on the left of the labour movement, I find it personally insulting to see some superannuated metropolitan middle-class tosser (forgive me if you’re a destitute M & S worker Lucy, but somehow I doubt it) chooses to tell me what our movement can and cannot discuss in our own forums. And if you don’t like your union officials then vote them out without indulging in McCarthy-style ideological purges. Anyone who does not support that basic level of labour movement democracy is scum pure and simple, and that is the impression which the author gives to me in that post.
And finally we have the ultimate descent into utter Bullingdon crap, with a post taking the piss out of a middle-aged woman’s looks. “LOL TROTZ!”. Jeezus, next week it’ll be “Hey, that Roosevelt, get him and his funny wheelchair!”, “LOL HAWKING!” and “Pavarotti was fat! LOL OPERASINGERZ!”. Either that or a guest post by Roy “Chubby” Brown – hey don’t laugh, I’m sure he probably wants to Defend Freedom too.
Maybe it’s a case of watching Shachtman’s descent (from fascinating dissident left-winger to outright supporter of the political right) in fast-forward from the comfort of my living room. Or maybe they just always were the political equivalent of American Dad mixed up with Beavis and Butthead. Either way I won’t pretend that it isn’t deeply disturbing to see a group of people engaging in tactics worthy of the lowest form of witch-hunting pondlife whilst claiming overtly that they are doing so in the interests of pursuing a progressive political agenda.
Guys, I hope this recent spate of behaviour represents a loss of political bearings and not a display of your true colours. Sort your shit out.