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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The most laughable, preposterous and irrelevant left-wing faction fight … ever

January 29, 2014 at 9:21 pm (Beyond parody, comedy, ex-SWP, fantasy, gloating, good honest filth, James P. Cannon, jerk, Jim D, middle class, perversity, political groups, Pornography, Racism, strange situations, surrealism, wankers)

I was going to put a question-mark at the end of that headline, but on reflection decided not to. I think we can be unequivocal about this.

When I was a callow young Trotskyist and James P. Cannon fan, older, more experienced comrades told me that Cannon’s organisation, the American SWP (no relation to the Brit group of the same name) had gone off the rails very badly in the 1950’s, when Cannon began to take a back seat and handed the reins over to lesser figures like Joseph Hansen. Evidence of this petty bourgeois degeneration, I was told, was a ludicrous faction fight over the question of women’s cosmetics that threatened to tear the SWP apart. In the end, good ol’ James P. came out of semi-retirement to bang heads together and tell Hansen and the comrades to get a grip and stop arguing about such irrelevant nonsense. Anyway, that’s how I remember being told about it.

As you can imagine, I never (until now) took the trouble to investigate the matter in any detail, but if you’re interested, quite a good account is given here, and you can even read some of the contemporaneous internal documents here, if you scroll down to No. A-23, October 1954. On the other hand, like myself when I was first told about the Great Cosmetics Faction Fight (GCFF), you may feel that life’s too short…

The point being, that I’ve always carried round in the back of my mind a vague recollection of the GCFF as a prime example of petty bourgeois leftist irrelevance, and probably the most ridiculous and laughable left-group factional dispute of all time.

Until now.

The recent row within the International Socialist Network, resulting in the resignations of some of its most prominent members, makes the SWP’s GCFF look quite down to earth and sensible. If you ever wanted an example of why serious, socialist-inclined working class people all too often regard the far left as a bunch of irrelevant, posturing tossers, this is it. Don’t ask me what it’s all about, or what “race play” is. Comrade Coatesy gives some helpful background here and here. More detail for the serious connoisseur (aka “more discerning customer” wink, wink, reaching under the counter) here and here.

I’ll simply add, for now, that this preposterous business does appear to be genuine (rather than, as some might reasonably suspect, an exercise in sitautionist performance art and/or anti-left political satire) and is also one of those rather pleasing situations in which no-one in their right mind cares who wins: both sides are unspeakably awful self-righteous jerks. Actually, the ISN majority strike me as, if anything, even worse than Seymour, Miéville and their friend “Magpie” – if that’s possible. Still, it’s hard not to endulge in just a little schadenfreude at the discomfiture of Richard “Partially Contingent” Seymour, a character who’s made a minor career out of sub-Althussarian pretentiousness and “anathematising” others on the left for their real or imagined transgressions against “intersectionality“, and now falls victim to it himself.

Those who live by intersectionality, die by intersectionality.

Or, as Seymour himself put it in his seminal postgraduate thesis  Patriarchy and the capitalist state:

“My suggestion is that as an analytic, patriarchy must be treated as one type of the more general phenomena of gender projects which in certain conjunctures form gender formations. What is a gender formation? I am drawing a direct analogy with Omi and Winant’s conception of racial formations, which comprises “the sociohistorical process by which racial categories are created, inhabited, transformed, and destroyed … historically situated projects in which human bodies and social structures are represented and organized.” This is connected “to the evolution of hegemony, the way in which society is organized and ruled,” in the sense that racial projects are linked up with wider repertoires of hegemonic practices, either enabling or disrupting the formation of broad ruling or resistant alliances. A gender formation would thus be a ’sociohistorical process’ in which gender categories are ‘created, inhabited, transformed, and destroyed’ through the interplay and struggle of rival gender projects. From my perspective, this has the advantage of grasping the relational, partially contingent and partially representational nature of gendered forms of power, and providing a means by which patriarchy can indeed be grasped in relation to historical materialism.”

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Maoist cult behind London ‘slavery’ case

November 25, 2013 at 8:08 pm (Beyond parody, conspiracy theories, crime, Jim D, mental health, political groups, stalinism)

Those of us old enough to have been active on the student and petty-bourgeois left in the 1970’s will remember the various Maoist sects who then infected that milieu. Us Trotskyists may sometimes have looked and sounded a bit wacky, and one or two of the ‘Trot’ sects (ie: the WRP and the Sparts) were downright sinister. But it was the various ultra-Stalinist Maoist sects (whose names invariably ended with the initials ‘M L’) who really brought the left into disrepute with their ludicrous slogans, bizarre posturing and denunciations of “revisionists,” “social fascists,” “running dogs of imperialism” etc, etc (believe me: I am not joking).

As Comrade Coatesy points out, the “slavery” case is in many respects a dreadful tragedy. There is also, of course, the risk that it will put serious young people off the idea of becoming involved with the organised left. And the idea that these Maoist lunatics had anything to do with Marxism is, of course, preposterous.

Some reactions today from comrades who remember these crackpots:

* “These people were total fruitcakes (if I may use that term). I recall them appearing at a Tim Wohlforth meeting where their speaker said that Chairman Hua, Mao’s successor, could control the weather and was responsible for blizzards then raging on the coast of the USA. They also claimed the British fascist police unjustly persecuted one of their members driving through a red light (red meant go on Chinese roads during the Cultural Revolution). As Coatesy says, tragic and also dangerous for the rest of the left after Martin Smith, etc.”

* “Oh, the Workers Institute of Marxism-Leninism Mao Zedong Thought … I had actually concluded, looking back on them, that they must have been a joke. Aside from a leaflet I was once handed promising that the ‘day of revolutionary victory is nigh’ because the Chinese CP was digging a tunnel from which the Red Army would triumphantly emerge (soon) in London, I remember a campaign in defence of ‘Comrade Norman Rajeeb’ (maybe this was the guy who drove through the traffic light). As I recall he denounced not only the imperialists but ‘revisionists of all hues’ from the dock, and you could ‘literally see the representatives of the fascist imperialist state quaking in their shoes.’ Okay, these are quotes from memory and it was a long time ago, but, well, I laughed so long and hard it sort of stuck, I think.”

* “I presume they split from the CPE(ML) because of the Albanian turn of the latter. I think the avant garde composer Cornelius Cardew may have had something to do with them at one point.  Cardew himself (who wrote the legendary book ‘Stockhausen Serves Imperialism’) moved away from Maoism towards the end, and then was killed in a road accident, which of course fuelled all sorts of conspiracy theories on the Maoist ‘left.'”

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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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Grangemouth: the left’s unserious response

November 16, 2013 at 7:31 pm (AWL, ex-SWP, left, political groups, posted by JD, scotland, Socialist Party, SWP, unions, Unite the union, workers)

Given the importance of the Grangemouth dispute, the scale of the defeat and the implictions for British trade unionism, we make no apology for returning yet again to the subject. This article by Dale Street, analysing the pathetically inadequate, self-deluding and unserious response of much of the British left, first appeared in the AWL‘s paper Solidarity.

Stevie Deans inside Unite's office at the Grangemouth facility, September 2013.

Above: Stevie Deans in his Grangemouth office

The Unite union’s defeat by Ineos at the Grangemouth oil refinery and petrochemicals plant in Scotland merits serious analysis and discussion by socialist organisations. We need to understand what happened and draw appropriate lessons in order to minimise the risk of such defeats in future.

Much of the left press has been desperate to spin a narrative of a militant workforce champing at the bit to take radical action, but being held back (and, ultimately, stitched up and sold out) by a capitulatory bureaucracy.

Workers Power told us: “The workers and their shop stewards, who bravely campaigned for a ‘No’ vote (i.e. rejection of the new terms and conditions), refused to be blackmailed.” By contrast, “McCluskey shamefully fled the battlefield at the first threat from Ineos billionaire boss, Jim Ratcliffe.”

The WP version of reality continued: “What followed (after Ineos announced closure) was an utter disgrace to trade unionism and a total betrayal of the loyalty of the workforce to its union. So-called socialist general secretary and darling of most of the left, Len McCluskey, not only accepted all of Ineos’ demands but ‘embraced’ a deal that extended the strike ban for three years.”

A common pattern. But is it what happened in this case? A statement by Ineos Unite convenor Mark Lyon said: “I made the call to accept the company terms and it was not at all easy. The decision was made by me but with the full endorsement of our stewards and our members. I make no apology to anyone for this decision.

“It is our judgement that they (Ineos) were prepared to close the site down and our members preferred to keep their jobs and take a hit on terms with the plan to work our way back.”

“Len McCluskey came to Grangemouth to give us support and solidarity. He did that but did not make this decision… we did.”

The eventual deal at Grangemouth represents a huge setback for workers, but it is simply not consistent with facts to suggest it was foisted on an unwilling workforce from above by Unite’s national leadership.

Both Socialist Worker and the International Socialist Network paint a similar picture, with both deeming Unite’s affiliation to the Labour Party a central cause. Socialist Worker said: “Despite McCluskey’s often fiery rhetoric, his strategy rests on winning a Labour election victory, not on workers’ struggle.” And, according to the ISN, “Unite’s leadership was still distracted, playing games in the Labour Party. Not only did they lose those games, they took their eyes off what was happening to their actual members.”

The SWP and ISN’s starting point is not an analysis of the actual events at Grangemouth, but their own position on the Labour Party (that it is an irrelevance and a diversion, and that no struggle against its leaders using the existing Labour-union link is possible). The facts are then interpreted to justify the preconceived position.

Such an approach entails ignoring events in the real world which contradict that “analysis”. Thus, when Mark Lyon’s statement was posted on the ISN website over a week ago, the response from the ISN was… not to respond at all.

This was despite the fact that the person who posted Mark Lyon’s statement was the author of the article which it contradicted! But what did reality matter for the ISN when compared with an opportunity for (inaccurate) denunciation?

And if events at Grangemouth unfolded as claimed by the SWP and the ISN, then one would expect no shortage of Unite members in Grangemouth to be criticising their leadership (at plant, Scottish and national level).

But neither the SWP nor the ISN articles (or any other article written from the same angle) carry any quotes from Unite members in Grangemouth criticising their leaders for having sold them out.

In fact, the best that the SWP could come up with by way of a Unite activist providing the obligatory statements about “bullying bastard bosses” and “what was needed was to occupy the plant” was a Unite convenor in Donnington in Shropshire (who has been providing similar on-cue and on-message quotes to the SWP for over a decade).

The ISN’s references to “playing games in the Labour Party” and Unite taking its eyes off “what was happening to their actual members” merit particular attention.

The mainstream media, the Tory leadership, and Tory strategists like Lynton Crosby have launched countless attacks on Unite’s alleged activities in Falkirk Labour Party, using them as their central conduit for their attacks on the Labour Party.

But the ISN majestically dismisses the focus of those attacks (i.e. Unite’s involvement in the local Labour Party) as a mere case of Unite “playing games”.

ISN is right to insist that Unite focus on what’s happening “to their actual members”. But one of those “actual members” is Stevie Deans.

When Unite defended him — not just in Ineos against management’s attacks. but also in the Labour Party against attacks by party officials — it was not getting bogged down in “playing games in the Labour Party”. It was defending one of its “actual members” — which is what trade unions are meant to do.

In contrast to the above analyses, the Socialist Party (SP) focused heavily and sympathetically on the dilemma facing shop stewards in the plant itself. But it too approached the situation by looking for opportunities to justify its own dogmatic and sectarian position on Labour. Labour’s pro-capitalist policies, the SP said, were “holding the union back,” Labour “does not support workers in struggle,” and Unite should therefore “come out clearly in favour of a new mass workers party.”

In other words: Unite should pull out of the Labour Party in exchange for… the SP’s spectacularly unsuccessful Trade Union and Socialist Coalition.

The other curiosity about the SP’s analysis was what was not in it: a call for a general strike.

This was not an oversight. The SP leaflet distributed at the rally in Grangemouth on 20 October also made no mention of a general strike. Nor did the SP’s model motion for union branch meetings, drafted in response to Ineos’ announcement of closure of the plant.

For the SP, a general strike is something to demand in motions to TUC congresses and trade union conferences or when Cameron suffers a defeat in Parliament (e.g. over Syria). But when a potential major industrial and political dispute looms on the horizon — the call for a general strike suddenly disappears. Perhaps the reason is that it’s a sloganistic article-of-faith designed to catch a mood, rather than a serious strategy proposal.

What characterises much of the left analysis of Unite’s defeat in Grangemouth is:

• Substituting a simplistic notion of workers-want-to-fight-but-leaders-sell-out for serious analysis (and, even if that simplistic notion were true, failing to explain how the leaders managed to get away with selling out such a highly organised workforce).

• Adapting their analysis in order to fit in with their own pet themes and hobbyhorses.

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Bayard Rustin: the forgotten man behind the 1963 march

August 26, 2013 at 5:27 pm (Anti-Racism, civil rights, gay, good people, history, homophobia, political groups, protest, Shachtman, trotskyism, United States)

Above: Bayard Rustin

As the world gears up for the fiftieth anniversary of the great 1963 March for Jobs and Freedom, the Social Democrats USA remember the crucial role of Bayard Rustin, and the “Shachtmanite” organisation, of which he was a member: their role has been figuratively airbrushed out of official histories. Rustin was the key figure linking the Civil Rights movement and the unions:

By David Hacker

The 50th anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington is [this coming Wednesday]. Everyone knows about Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech that he delivered at the rally outside the Lincoln Memorial for this event. What most do not know is that the entire march was conceived and planned by the Shachtmanites. A Philip Randolph conceived it. But Max Shachtman also had a hand in the idea for the march. He also chose Rustin to be the main organizer for the march. When Rustin was caught and arrested for homosexual conduct in a men’s room in Washington, Shachtman (though he was a homophobe) outlined for Bayard a defense of his action. Randolph was being pressured to fire Rustin and Southern Senators, such as Strom Thurmond, were attacking him on the issue of immorality. But as a result of Shachtman’s defense, Rustin continued to be the main organizer of the march (though his official position was downgraded a bit.), and he hired many Shachtmanites such as Norman Hill and Tom Kahn to assist him. At the same time, Bogdan Denitch organized the West Coast version of the march in California. At the rally itself, Kahn wrote the controversial speech by SNCC chair John Lewis in which the advanced text contained attacks on the Kennedy Administration and stated that “the revolution is at hand. We will take matters in our own hands and create a source of power, outside of any national structure that could and would assure us a victory…If any radical social, political and economic changes are to take place in our society, the people, the masses, must bring them about.” Then Att. Gen. Robert F. Kennedy said that Lewis shouldn’t be allowed to deliver his speech at the March. Patrick Cardinal O’Boyle, the Catholic prelate of Washington protested that he wouldn’t deliver the invocation for the rally if Lewis delivered his speech. Randolph, King, Rustin, Kahn and Lewis and other leaders of SNCC argued about revising the speech while the rally had already started. Finally, Lewis agreed to a rewritten speech and he was allowed to address the masses gathered at the Lincoln Memorial. (Lewis is now a Democratic congressman from Atlanta.)

What most history books do not tell you about is the Socialist Party conference that was held in Washington after the rally was over. It was entitled, “Socialist Party National Conference on the Civil Rights Revolution”. This was a 2 day affair held at the Burlington Hotel from Thursday August 29-Friday August 30, 1963. (The SP had a party for Marchers and Conference participants on the evening of August 28th after the conclusion of the March on Washington and rally.) The first session was Thursday morning with the theme: “Toward Full Equality in a Progressive America. Chairman of the session was Richard Parrish ( who was the chairman of the Civil Rights Committee of the United Federation of Teachers, Vice President of the American Federation of Teachers and Treasurer of the Negro-American Labor Council. Parrish was also running on the SP line for a special election for NYC Councilmember at Large in Manhattan and was supported enthusiastically by all factions of the SP.) Speakers were Norman Thomas, Floyd McKissick, Chairman of CORE (spoke in place of James Farmer, who was in jail in Louisiana), A. Philip Randolph and Congressman William Fitts Ryan (D-NY), a leader of the reform Democrats. Special remarks by Samuel H. Friedman, SP VP candidate in 1952 and 1956 and former editor of the Socialist Call. The afternoon session was entitled: “The New Phase: A Prospectus for Civil Rights.” Chairman of the session was long time SP activists Seymour Steinsapir. Speakers were Bayard Rustin, Deputy Director March on Washington. Responding to Rustin’s address were Robert Moses, Field Secretary, Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee, Ike Reynolds, Task Force, CORE and Tom Kahn, Staff, March on Washington. The evening sessions theme was “A Political Strategy for Civil Rights. The sessions’s chairman was Eleanor Holmes, now DC Congressional Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton. She introduced the conference’s keynote speaker, Max Shachtman, who spoke on the topic, “Drive Out Dixiecrats For Jobs and Freedom.” Responding to Shachtman’s address were Ernest Calloway, President, St Louis Chapter of the Negro-American Labor Council, and Wiloughby Abner, Vice-President, NALC, National Staff, UAW. The final session of the Conference took place on Friday morning. It’s subject was “Fair Employment-Full Employment. The chairman of the meeting was Warren Morse (a name I am unfamiliar with). Speakers were Lewis Carliner, Assistant to the Director, International Affairs Dept., UAW, Norman Hill, Assistant Program Director, CORE, Cleveland Robinson, Secretary Treasurer, District 65 RWDSU, Co-Chairman of March, Herman Roseman, Economist. Closing Remarks and Summary by Norman Thomas.

Thus, well known figures took part in this conference. such as leaders of CORE, SNCC, Randolph, Rustin, Norman Thomas, Norm Hill, Kahn, prominent folk singers like Joan Baez, etc. But my main point is that the Shachtmanites, militant civil rights leaders, labor, were all united seemingly in the same broad realignment movement of the democratic Left. SDS was still also a part of this coalition, despite of Harrington’s tirade against them over the Port Huron Statement, the year before. As long as the Shachtmanite-militant civil rights alliances continued, it would be counter-productive for SDS to seem to be against this realignment coalition. This is the very positive aspect of the Shachtmanites activities in the SP that too many are unfortunately not aware of. Harrington was not at the March. He was in Paris writing his second book, The Accidental Century.

David Hacker is Vice Chair of Social Democrats USA.  The above article is excerpted from a book he is writing about Max Shachtman.  Historical note: The Socialist Party in existence in 1963 would be renamed Social Democrats, USA in 1972.  Harrington chose to leave the organization at that time.  But organized labor stayed and so did Bayard Rustin, becoming National Chairman.

**********************************************************************************************************

More on Rustin’s role in the Civil Rights Movement, and his subsequent political evolution, here

Gary Younge in the Gruan doesn’t even mention Rustin’s Shachtmanism

H/t: Bruce

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ISN and other no-hopers issue statement: phrases tacked together like the sections of a prefabricated henhouse

July 24, 2013 at 9:15 pm (Champagne Charlie, ex-SWP, political groups, statement of the bleedin' obvious)

The sheer banality of these people knows no bounds…

This joint statement was agreed by the International Socialist Network, Anticapitalist Initiative, and Socialist Resistance delegations to recent unity talks. They met to discuss the formation of a united revolutionary tendency.

Delegates from Socialist Resistance, the Anticapitalist Initiative and the International Socialist Network came together on Sunday 7th July to discuss the next steps on the road to forming a united, plural and heterodox revolutionary tendency on the left in Britain.

These discussions were born out of the recent crisis and split in the Socialist Workers Party, which led to the formation of the International Socialist Network, and also inspired debate all across the left in Britain and internationally on how we should move away from the top down and monolithic conception of revolutionary organisation that has proven so damaging in recent years. All of the delegations agreed that they were committed to building an open, democratic and radical left, which encourages free thinking, is built from below and can reach out to a new generation. Wherever necessary delegates tried to make clear the terrain of the debate within their own organisation to the other delegations. This was important for encouraging an open and honest culture in the discussions. It also made clear that the groups participating were not, and did not want to be, monolithic in their approach to revolutionary politics, but even in our own groups we were already attempting to practice pluralism.

Initially discussion focused on a document from Simon Hardy and Luke Cooper (ACI), ‘what kind of radical organisation?’. Discussion was wide-ranging but focused on the questions of building new left parties, trade union and social movement activism, and democratic organisation. Alan Thornett (SR) had produced a response to the document that focused on the difference between a broad party project and a revolutionary Marxist tendency, as well as raising some differences over how the question of democratic organisation was put across in the document.

After two delegate-based discussions of revolutionary unity it was agreed that the debate must be opened out to our wider networks and memberships, and a date for a joint national meeting was agreed for October. There was also a useful discussion of practical collaboration: plans floated for a joint 12 page publication, a common perspective for student and youth work in the autumn, working together to make Left Unity a success, and developing a joint BME caucus. For more information on these discussions then contact any one of the three different organisations involved, SR, ACI, and the IS Network.

*******************************

A Comrade comments:

They want to build a “heterdox” open and democratic left which “encourages free thinking”, unless you’re free thinking about their distinctly orthodox position on imperialism in which case, comrade, you’re shit out of luck. 
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I don’t see how this is building an organisation “from below” – is such a thing even possible? What does it mean? – when it’s a meeting of sect veteran Alan Thornett, former Workers Power hacks Simon Hardy and Luke Cooper, and whoever was sent from the ISN steering committee (former SWP hack and noted imbecile Tim Nelson/former SWP bigwigs China Meiville and Richard Seymour, etc.)
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It’s a unity talk conducted “from above”, i.e. by the leadership of SR and ISN and the de facto leadership of the ACI. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, it’s just nonsensical to claim this is in any sense “from below”.
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It’s not surprising that the three groups could agree this joint statement: it’s comprised entirely of ambiguous rhetoric about democracy and vague buzzwords. Reading it I was reminded of Orwell’s “Politics and the English Language:”
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“This mixture of vagueness and sheer incompetence is the most marked characteristic of modern English prose, and especially of any kind of political writing. As soon as certain topics are raised, the concrete melts into the abstract and no one seems able to think of turns of speech that are not hackneyed: prose consists less and less of words chosen for the sake of their meaning, and more and more of phrases tacked together like the sections of a prefabricated henhouse.”
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On a more positive note, I suppose it’s a step forward that they’re being “open and honest” about the debates within their own organisations and it’s good that there’s going to be some sort of wider organisational debate and some sort of joint conference, it’ll be interesting to see if the conference will be all-member or delegate based.

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Left Unity and back-to-front politics

June 26, 2013 at 9:42 pm (elections, ex-SWP, fantasy, labour party, left, political groups, RMT, socialism, Socialist Party)

Left Unity

Comrade DK writes:

Ted:  Shouldn’t we wait until Eddie Van Halen joins the band before shooting the video?
Bill:  This video will make Eddie Van Halen want to join the band
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There is an article (linked below) on the Left Unity website which sums up much of the back to front politics and fantasy that increasingly dominates it http://leftunity.org/24746/
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The author asks whether the mass working class party should be formed by fusing with TUSC or can only be built separately at first and then TUSC and the RMT will join later.
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There seems no doubt in the author’s mind that a mass party can be achieved. But then again if his definition of mass party doing well is a limited relationship with one medium sized union and getting 3-5% of the vote in the places it stands then it probably wouldn’t be too much of a stretch.
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The labour movement already has a 6 million trade unionists, the Labour Party has about 200,000 members and gets the vote of between 8 to 9 million voters at its lowest ebb. Surely the question the left needs to ask is what needs to be done to win over these masses to class struggle and the fight for working class power? Organisational questions flow from this. There is a debate to be had about how socialists use elections, how we achieve workers’ representation and the need for left unity.  But that debate is not being had by many members of Left Unity which presupposes the working class will flock to a tiny broad left party if they build it.
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Dream on, comrades.

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International Socialist Network: politics or therapy?

June 9, 2013 at 9:48 am (AWL, left, political groups, reblogged, socialism, SWP)

By Martin Thomas at the Workers Liberty website:

ISN yet to work out politics

IS Network

On 8 June the International Socialist Network – the group formed by some of the 200 to 400 people who quit the SWP after the SWP’s special conference in March – held its public launch meeting in London.

About 50 people, maybe 70 at the peak, were at the meeting: ISNers; people from the two groups with whom it is discussing unity, the Anti-Capitalist Initiative (a group mainly of ex Workers’ Power people) and Socialist Resistance (remnants of the old “Mandelite” group); and leftists who came from curiosity.

The meeting was organised in three sessions, one after the other – fighting oppression; anti-cuts; and where next for the left?

The speaker panels were:

First: Toni Mayo (ISN), Laurie Penny (Independent and New Statesman journalist), and Brenna Bhandar (a law lecturer at QMUL).

Second: Ian Llewellyn (ISN) and Sarah Murdock (a former SWP full-timer who quit recently, but introduced as representing PCS).

Third: Simon Hardy (ACI), Terry Conway (SR), and Richard Seymour (ISN).

Toni Mayo described the ISN’s stance as: “We’ll set up a network and work out what we are about after that”. Laurie Penny lauded “network politics”, by which she meant chatting with like-minded people on blogs and other web forums as distinct from activity in workplaces, door-to-door, etc. The internet, she announced, makes all “party lines” impossible, and newspapers “defunct”.

Toni Mayo also placed great stress on opposing sexism, homophobia, prejudice against disabled people, etc., though it was not clear what this opposition would involve other than people telling each other over the web how pro-liberation they were.

Other speakers questioned some of these themes. But they set the tone for the meeting, together with China Miéville’s introduction in which he located the failing of the “traditional left” as not being sufficiently keyed in to “angry young bloggers”, “Laurie Penny’s constituency”.

Another tone-setting contribution was the first from the floor, a “Generation Y” type speech in which an ISNer said how glad she was to be free of the SWP and declared that for her, “politics has always been about what my needs are”.

I thought the most substantial contribution was Richard Seymour’s. He argued against facile optimism.

Neo-liberalism, he said, is now stronger than we think – woven into the fabric of everyday experience. To understand that, we should read Michel Foucault and Stuart Hall. (Hall was the first editor of New Left Review in 1960, and then a staple of the Eurocommunist Marxism Today in the 1980s).

The left has had much of its infrastructure cut away by the “increasing privatisation of life”. “Network politics” is not an answer: it provides only a “short-term buzz”. Nor is the invocation of “new social movements”. Unlike other ISN speakers, he saw “serious difficulties” in the People’s Assembly approach of rally after rally, “top-down”.

A couple of speakers from the floor questioned Seymour’s praise for Hall, and instinctively I sympathised with them. Maybe I am “sectarian” from memory of the polemics of the 1980s, and looking back at them I would find valuable ideas in Hall’s writings under the rightward-moving Eurocommunist politics. I don’t know.

To my mind, Seymour’s contribution pointed to the need for systematic, consistent socialist propagandist activity in workplaces and working-class communities. I don’t know whether any such conclusion is in his mind. He said only that we need a “convivial democratic organisation or system of organisations with a mass base“.

That would be nice. What a small band of socialists can achieve now he didn’t say. Whether he is privately drifting to the conclusion that it can do nothing I don’t know.

Brenna Bhandar’s speech also had substance, though from a political stance distant from AWL’s. As a model of where the left has done well, she cited India, on the grounds that the Communist Parties there have been in government.

She explained, however, why Laurie Penny’s “network politics” are inadequate. Social media circulate information fast. But real change comes from consistent organising, which requires “thicker and deeper” connections.

Bhandar centred much of her speech around a denunciation of a seminar she had attended on 6 June at Birkbeck College, addressed by socialist-feminist academics Nancy Fraser, Lynne Segal and Nina Power. All of them are white, she said. That shows that socialist feminists are way behind non-socialist feminists on addressing issues of racism.

Speakers from the floor took up the theme. No doubt, they indignantly declared, the panel had also failed to include disabled women, lesbians, etc… I don’t know what Fraser, Segal, and Power said, but I think they were entitled to discuss without including representatives of all oppressed groups in their panel, and I don’t think it possible for an individual to “represent” all the world’s billions of non-white women in a theoretical discussion.

Somewhat on the same wavelength, one ACI speaker said that “lots of people” (including himself, he suggested) saw the Woolwich murder as a reasonable “act of war”, and young people smashing up their neighbours’ houses or nearby corner shops in the 2011 riots as the sort of political action that “the left has to engage with”.

After the meeting, a socialist who is friendly with ISN members said to me: “It was more like a therapy session than a political meeting”.

Cruel, but true. In many hours of talk, no-one spoke about plans for active interventions by the ISN in workplaces or in campaigns.

Apart from Sarah Murdock and Ian Llewellyn (from Sussex University), almost no-one spoke of recent struggles in which they’d been active or of events in their workplace.

No-one spoke of the political basis for ISN-ACI-SR unity. Simon Hardy of the ACI said: “We [ACI, SR, ISN] haven’t really talked about politics yet, and we have to do that”. He said he was confident that there was much agreement, but cited as agreed only the idea that they all want a democratic left that doesn’t burn people out.

Within Left Unity, ACI people back Nick Wrack’s push for an explicitly socialist and working-class platform, and SR backs the plan of Andrew Burgin and Kate Hudson for a “softer” political programme akin to Die Linke in Germany. There were echoes from that dispute in the 8 June meeting, but there was no arguing-out.

No-one proposed specific ISN policies (many seemed to think that anything like that would be the dreaded “party line”).

The activists quitting the SWP recently were mostly young, but few people in the meeting looked under 30. The ISN has picked up a few older people who left the SWP long ago, or were never in the SWP. Despite much proclamation of feminist virtue, the meeting was no less male-dominated than other left meetings.

Though you would expect ACI and SR to be excited about the prospects of merger with ISN, few of them turned up apart from their platform speakers. A scattering of other leftists (including at least a couple of SWPers) were there from curiosity, but no-one other from us AWLers sold literature. We sold only a little: refusals to buy our papers and pamphlets were often not the courteous “no, thanks” we get on the streets or door-to-door, but instead “no chance!”, “absolutely not!”, etc.

I spoke from the floor, near the end, about the ISN’s letter to the AWL refusing to discuss with us on the grounds that the differences are too big. If ISN doesn’t want to talk with AWL, I said, too bad. AWL has plenty else to do. But if ISN insists that “big differences” rule out discussion, then it has cut its own intellectual throat.

The person who refuses even to discuss ideas very different from her or his own, and remains content with general enthusiasm for “networking”, will never progress politically.

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Left unity: AWL proposes a “transitional organisation”

May 10, 2013 at 7:22 am (AWL, capitalist crisis, history, left, political groups, socialism)

From the Alliance for Workers Liberty:

Left Unity

The letter below has been sent to SWP, SP, Left Unity, ISN, ACI, Counterfire, Socialist Resistance, Workers’ Power, and Weekly Worker.

Click here to download as pdf.

Hi comrades,

We believe that the best way to get a good result from the current discussions about left unity would be to start talks for the establishment of a transitional organisation – a coalition of organisations and individuals, organised both nationally and in each locality, which worked together on advocating the main ideas of socialism, working-class struggle, democracy, and welfare provision; in support of working-class struggles; and in such campaigns as it could agree on (against bedroom tax? against cuts?), while also giving space to debate differences.

We’ve written the explanation below, and invite your comment and response.


Since 2008 global capitalism has been lurching through a long depression, with some countries in outright slump, and no end in sight. Millions of workers have lost their jobs or their homes.

In 2008 even governments like George W Bush’s in the USA felt obliged to impose large measures of “socialism” to avert chaos. It was socialism for the rich. Banks and insurance companies were nationalised, but left to bankers to run, on the same old criteria of private profit.

Vast sums of public money and credit were poured into the financial system to “socialise losses”, and governments have organised things since then to “privatise gains” yielded by the patches and flurries of economic recovery.

The economic tumult makes visible to all the need for social regulation of economic life; and also visible to all, the fact that the present system is regulated only in the interests of the wealthy.

The workings of capitalism itself are providing ample evidence why we need a different social regulation of economic life — a democratic social regulation exercised through public ownership of the main concentrations of productive wealth, workers’ control, and a thoroughgoing, flexible, responsive democracy in government.

But to go from evidence to conclusions requires argument. Argument in the teeth of the consensus which has dominated political life for the last two decades or more. Argument in defiance of the daily barrage from the mass media. And the argument requires people to argue it: socialists. Read the rest of this entry »

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