Pete Radcliff writes:
There are some particularly unpleasant sectarians in important positions on the left, in Nottingham and elsewhere, who vilely denounce my friends in the AWL (as well as me) as ‘Zionist’ or ‘pro-imperialists’ – because whilst supporting the Palestinians they advocate a 2 states solution for Israel/ Palestine – or they accuse the AWL of being ‘racists’ because they have always criticised ‘Political Islamism’.
There was a recent attempt by student union officers, under the influence of a group called the ‘Student Broad Left’ in UCL, to ‘no platform the AWL’. They basically argued that the AWL was a physical threat to Muslims because the AWL supported a motion to the NEC of the NUS written by a Kurdish student officer from Edinburgh. It is pretty bizarre stuff – to support a campaign against ISIS makes you Islamophobic and a physical threat to Muslims. Here is my friend and comrade Omar Raii‘s response: http://uclu.org/blogs/omar-raii/rejoinder-to-awls-detractors
The latest edition of Socialist Worker carries an extraordinary appeal for far-left unity, closing with the following observations:
The problem is the extreme fragmentation of the radical left, compounded by the mutual hostility that exists among these fragments. This is, if anything, worse in Scotland than it is in England and Wales. Wallowing in the rights and wrongs of these divisions is futile and self-destructive.
The combination of the Scottish referendum and Ukip’s rise demands that we change.
We have to shake off the petty narcissism of our different projects and work together to create united left wing alternatives to neoliberalism both sides of the border.
History will judge us very harshly if we fail.
Those of us who, over the years, have witnessed the SWP’s unique combination of self-important bombast, ultra-sectarianism towards others on the left, opportunistic grovelling to the likes of Galloway, intolerance of internal dissent and regular expulsions of oppositionists, will have difficulty suppressing our laughter – especially at the stuff about “wallowing in the rights and wrongs of these divisions” and the wonderful phrase “petty narcissism’ which just about sums up the present SWP leadership and much of its middle cadre.
Unity on the far left would be a wonderful thing, but at the moment it looks further away than ever. And it seems (to put it mildly) highly unlikely that the SWP will have any positive role to play in the process of honest accounting and open debate that will be necessary in order to eventually achieve this desirable but elusive objective.
In the meanwhile, serious socialists would be better advised to devote their energies to work in the labour and trade union movement.
Pro-Russia separatists in Eastern Ukraine: our enemy’s enemies are our friends?
|Guest post by Dave McGuire|
Since the break-up of Yugoslavia the British left has been split along the following lines; one side of the divide has come to fetishise imperialism becoming uber anti-imperialists on the other side are the third camp socialists. Here I consider the consequences of the ubers approach to some of the major events of the last two decades.
One of their most striking characteristics has been the reworking of the Stalinists framework for viewing the world. The Stalinists divided the world between the socialist and imperialist camp. Behind this division was the idea that Stalin’s Russia was building socialism and so was progressive in relation to capitalism. In the 1930s much Marxist literature including that of the Trotskyists, was devoted to showing the superiority of the planned economy.
This was always a monstrous calumny against the idea of workers power and socialism, Stalin’s Russia was the victory of the counter revolution and a regression from capitalism. By the early post war years this was plain to see to anyone who cared to look – what society could be called an advance on capitalism were slave labour was integral to its economy?
Today the Uber anti-imperialists look at the world through a similar bi-polar lens. The division however is no longer based on the positive, if erroneous, view that the Stalinist states were an advance on capitalism. Rather they divide the world solely on the negative; opposition to whatever the imperialists and `their stooges’ (such as the Maidan revolt, the Iraqi trade unions and the Kurds) do, and support for nearly anyone who is seen to be opposing them. In this redrawn view of the world there is no need for any concrete analysis of the forces ‘fighting imperialism’ - whether these forces are progressive, reactionary or working class – all are lumped together into a single undifferentiated mass, the “anti-imperialist” camp. Most powerful of those aligned against the West is Russia and its satellites and allies, such as the mass murderer Assad. From the struggles in Eastern Europe, through the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, into the Arab spring and now around the Ukraine, almost all international confrontations all are understood through this bi-polar analysis – either one is in the imperialist or anti-imperialist camp. Even the struggle against the barbarians of Isis is seen by some through this lens.
The most significant consequence of the Ubers’ view is that they lose the centrality of the working class both as the driving force in history and as the focus for socialists. Filling this vacuum is not there abstract catch all notion of anti-imperialism but the political results of their campist view nihilism. They have switched tracks from being consistent democrats, supporters of labour movements and advocates of socialism to being cheer-leaders for countries and movements who are against the West and in many instances against progress itself.
The starting point for this regression is their assertion that any military intervention by the west is always wrong. While socialists should never give positive support to their governments, and in most instances should be against interventions … “most” does not mean not “all.” In some cases the rule should be broken, for example NATO bombing in Kosovo, and Libya to name two, in both instances the consequence of non-intervention would have led to massacres and the enhancement of Serb nationalism/imperialism (Kosovo) and Gaddafi (Libya). So why would one be against intervention in principle? For sure the Ubers would be sorry to see massacres happen, but they simply have to oppose anything the West does, as the ‘principle’ of non-intervention transcends all other considerations. Read the rest of this entry »
From the AWL’s paper Solidarity and the Workers Liberty website:
Which “us”, which “them”?
“There are five million of us in Scotland, but sixty million in the rest of Britain. We’ll always be in a minority. That’s why we’ll never get the government we want.”
That’s the SNP case for a ‘yes’ vote on 18 September. Anyone who has attended referendum debates will have heard this argument – word-for-word – from SNP MSPs.
Even if not always expressed in exactly the same terms, that’s also the argument being fired back on the doorsteps by people who are saying that they will vote ‘yes’ on Thursday of next week.
That argument also explains why socialists should oppose a ‘yes’ vote.
“We in Scotland”, from a socialist perspective, are not in a minority.
The “we” that counts for socialists are the working class: people who work, the unemployed, those retired after a life of work, and their families. They are the majority of the population in Scotland, and they are the majority of the population in the rest of Britain.
This is not a coincidence or some transient state of affairs. Capitalism, by definition, is a society based on massive inequalities of wealth and power. A small minority lives off the wealth created by the majority of the population.
That is why, for socialists, it makes no sense to say that “we” are in a minority or to accept that argument from other people. In England, in Scotland, in Britain, “we” are the overwhelming majority of the population.
We might not, and do not, get the government we want.
But that is not because we live in a state called Britain. It is because of the checks and controls over elected government which exist in every capitalist country (and which would also operate in an independent Scotland). Read the rest of this entry »
But today’s ‘Great Lives’ on BBC Radio 4, introduced by the former Tory MP Matthew Parris (a good broadcaster, despite his politics) gave the life and thought of Antonio Gramsci affair hearing.
Dr Tom Shakespeare, a disability activist and former Euro-Communist, supported by Professor Anne Sassoon (‘expert witness’) presented a sympathetic and generally fair profile of Gramsci that is well worth listening to, here.
Naturally, I don’t agree with the Euro-Communist slant of the presentation, but that doesn’t detract (much) from the quality of the case put forward by Shakespeare and Sassoon, which will, hopefully, introduce a lot of new people to the ideas of this heroic figure and giant socialist intellect.
Once you’ve listened, you could do a lot worse than move on to this…
Please forward on to union brothers and sisters.
Dear Friends, Comrades and Family,
As you know, Tom died on the afternoon of Tuesday 5 August 2014. The funeral will be held at Clandon Wood Natural Burial Reserve, at 2pm on Thursday 14th August (details of how to get there below). It will be a secular celebration, followed by a natural burial, in the woodland. The reception will be held at the Fox and Hounds, Surbiton from approximately 5 p.m
Dress however you feel most appropriate, please bear in mind the burial will take place in woodland, so you should wear shoes which are relatively easy to walk in.
Flowers: We ask that if you would like to bring / send flowers, they be hand-tied rather than wreaths (no plastic, please). Tom was not a man who would have been hugely concerned with his own funeral but would have approved of flowers; if you would prefer to recognise the occasion in another way, you might like to make a donation to Keep Our NHS Public or the Doncaster Care UK strikers, as Tom was passionately committed to public healthcare and we appreciate all that the health professionals did for him toward the end of his life.
Thank you to everybody who has already contacted us to send love, solidarity and support, it really is appreciated.
With love and solidarity,
Johnnie Byrne and the Cashman Family
If you have any questions, please email firstname.lastname@example.org
Getting to Clandon Wood Natural Burial Reserve
Clandon Wood Natural Burial Reserve,
Set Sat Nav to Epsom Road, GU4 7TT
Parking available at the Burial Reserve
By Public Transport
Nearest train station is Clandon, which is served by trains from London Waterloo and Guildford.
478 GUILDFORD to LEATHERHEAD – Operated by Reptons Coaches
462 / 463 GUILDFORD to WOKING – Operated by Arriva
479 / 489 GUILDFORD to EPSOM – Operated by Excetera
It is a thirty minute walk from Clandon Station to the burial ground, unless you prefer to walk we will be arranging to collect people from The Onslow Arms, a pub on The Steet, West Clandon, very close to the station. Click here for map of The Onlow Arms
Getting to the reception at Fox and Hounds.
60 Portsmouth Rd
Parking: Small car park at rear of pub, free street parking from 4pm locally, if both are full there are a number of local public car parks.
We hope to arrange to drive, all or most people travelling by public transport, to the reception. Please speak to Alastair, on the day, if you have space in your car.
By Public Transport:
Nearest train station is Surbiton (5 mins walk), trains run direct from Clandon.
We hope to arrange to drive, all or most people travelling by public transport, to the reception. Please speak to Alastair, on the day, if you do not have a car.
This article by Jon Lansman was written before this weekend’s Labour Policy Forum and first appeared at Left Futures . We think it makes some very important points about the present state of the Labour-union link:
Doubts about this weekend’s meeting of Labour’s national policy forum have already been raised by Jon Cruddas’s comments (£) about the “dead hand” of central control, which I argued remained a problem because of mistakes by Ed Miliband. Of course, party managers have ensured that Cruddas and policy forum chair, Angela Eagle, attempt to present a picture of Labour “united by a single desire” for “big reform, not big spending.” Press commentators at the Independent and Guardian reveal the truth – that party managers are set on preventing commitments to necessary, financially prudent and popular reforms like taking railways back into the state sector at the end of current franchises. As Patrick Wintour puts it:
Ed Miliband is facing a weekend of battles behind closed doors to persuade Labour party activists to back his manifesto, which faces grassroots challenges over railway renationalisation, welfare caps and labour regulation.
Note the reference to “party activists” and “grassroots challenges“. In spite of all the rows in recent years about the “power of the trade unions”, reaching a climax in the Collins report earlier this year, the pressure for a radical bold programme comes not from ‘union barons’ but from party activists. And there is every prospect that the trade unions will this time, as on almost every occasion in the party’s history, allow Labour’s leadership to get its way. Read the rest of this entry »
I didn’t know Fran Broady, though I’m sure our paths must have crossed once or twice, as we were both members of the I-CL (International-Communist League, forerunner of the AWL) in the mid-1970s. I certainly knew her by repute, and was aware of the respect she seemed to inspire in many comrades. She was one of a number of working class autodidacts who joined the Trotskyist and semi-Trotskyist movement in the UK in the 1970s, but are all too rare in the ranks of what passes for the far-left today. Comrades like Fran, and the contribution they made, deserve to be remembered. We republish an appreciation by the AWL’s Martin Thomas, followed by extracts from an article by Fran on Eleanor Marx:
Fran Broady, who was a leading member of our organisation in the 1970s, died on 18 May at the age of 75.
Fran met us in 1970, when we were an opposition tendency in IS (forerunner of, but very much more open than, today’s SWP). The IS/SWP expelled our tendency in December 1971, because of our campaign against the switch of line to “No to the Common Market” from advocating European workers’ unity. Fran chose our small expelled group without hesitation.
I remember a conversation with a student member of another left group in 1972, when we were labouring to get a circulation for our new, small, primitively-produced newspaper.
He liked the paper because it combined activist reporting with more theoretical articles, obviously (he said) by well-read writers. The article he pointed to was one by Fran (“Slaves of the slaves”, Workers’ Fight 11, 23/07/72).
“In the family, the man is the boss and the woman the worker… We have a long struggle ahead of us to establish our rights as human beings. Laws alone will never do that. We will have to do it ourselves…
“It is not enough to confine ourselves to fighting for women’s rights. We must take up our place in the working class and fight on all fronts, the economic, the political, and the ideological”.
Yet Fran’s formal education had been limited. She was working in a factory when she first met us; she later worked in other jobs, including for many years for Manchester City Council in a women’s hostel.
I remember her telling me about her first laborious effort to read the Communist Manifesto. The unfamiliar word “proletarians” was in the first section heading. Fran looked it up in a dictionary: “Someone who owns nothing but their children”.
She quickly educated herself in Marxism. Characteristic, also, was her first excursion to sell a socialist newspaper (Socialist Worker, it would have been). She sold some copies at a factory gate, but had one left as she travelled home. So she buttonholed the bus driver and sold it to him.
She was active in the lively women’s movement of the early 1970s, and part of setting up one of the first women’s refuges in Britain, in Manchester in 1972.
Her leaning was to ebullient polemic rather than subtle tactics. In 1976, this made her part of a dispute inside the women’s fraction of our organisation (then called I-CL), with Fran and Marian Mound regarding the others (Pat Longman, Michelle Ryan, Juliet Ash) as tending to political self-effacement in the name of movement-building, and the others regarding Fran and Marian as abstractly declamatory.
The dispute was transcended (with no dead-end aftermath) by the “transitional slogan” of a working-class-based women’s movement.
Fran’s domestic life was not smooth. Her husband Dave Broady, for whom I wrote an obituary in Solidarity just last month, was an angry, unsettled character.
Eventually Fran drifted out of activity. But her ideas, and her special admiration for Frederick Engels above other Marxist writers, didn’t change. She was active in the union; read our paper; donated money from time to time.
Her last years, after retiring from work, were difficult. Her health was poor: hypothyroidism, diabetes, arthritis. Her son David died suddenly in 2012, at the age of 47. Her ex-husband Dave was jailed for manslaughter in 2008, and then died in unclear circumstances. Relations with her daughters Karen and Rachel were not easy.
In January 2014, Fran collapsed at home and was taken to hospital and diagnosed with pneumonia. At first she mended well: she was interested and pleased when I took her a copy of our new book of cartoons from the US socialist press, 1930s to 1950s. But after the pneumonia was cured, she remained weak and declined towards death.
We send our condolences to Fran’s family and friends, and especially to her daughter Karen who works with AWL in Manchester.
I-CL National Committee, 1975: Fran is second from left at the front (with scarf)
* Karen Broady adds: Fran’s funeral will be on Friday 30 May at Manchester Crematorium, Barlow Moor Road, M21 7GZ at 3.30pm in the New Chapel.
Fran on Eleanor Marx
Eleanor Marx was born into the workshop and armoury of scientific socialism on the 16 January 1855.
Her father Karl Manx was immersed in the economic research for his great work, Capital. Volume 1 of Capital, which appeared in 1867, was to be decisive in transforming socialism from a moral ideal to a theory based on the most exact analysis of capitalist society and the contradictions driving towards its overthrow.
Meanwhile, the Marx family was plagued by illness and abject poverty. They had been forced into exile in Britain after Karl Marx’s active participation in the German revolution of 1848, and Marx was keeping his family through journalistic work supplemented by help from his friend and comrade, Friedrich Engels.
Eleanor was the Marx’s sixth child. They had already lost two sons and a daughter and were left with three girls, Jenny, Laura and Eleanor.
Eleanor Marx, more notably then either of her sisters, was to grow into a dedicated fighter for socialism. She organised and led the unskilled workers of the East End of London, and was for decades one of the foremost fighters in the British labour movement for the cause of working class socialist internationalism.
We republish, below, an important article by long-standing Labour and Unite leftist, Jon Lansman, from the Left Futures blog. Jon Seems to share my misgivings about the proposed merger/’transfer’ between PCS and Unite:
Above: McCluskey and Serwotka discuss a new union … and party?
Discussions are, we hear, proceeding apace between Unite and civil service union, PCS, about what has until now been described within PCS as a merger but at the recent Unite executive (at which Len McCluskey got its backing for formal talks) was described as a “transfer of engagements“, aka “a takeover“. Many details remain to be discussed, but what has already been agreed is that, if it happens, PCS would in January 2015 become part of Unite, under the existing Unite rulebook, with its current Labour Party affiliation arrangements.
It is clear that both Len McCluskey and Mark Serwotka are personally very committed to it. As an active Unite member, I’ve been a strong supporter of Len McCluskey in both elections he has fought for General Secretary. I also admire Mark Serwotka, who is an excellent communicator, with progressive and non-sectarian politics, and who is clearly popular with a very large section of his members. But I’m unconvinced of the case for bringing the two unions together, for which there seems to be little industrial logic.
The main motivation for merger talks, according to the pre-conference briefing recently produced for PCS members, is “the creation of a new, powerful force in the public sector adapted to today’s changing industrial circumstances that can deliver more for members.” But Unite is predominantly a private sector union. Whilst it has important groups of workers in health, local government and education, it is a relatively small player in those sectors. The vast majority of PCS members would join Unite’s relatively tiny number of civil service members (mainly in the MoD) in a new civil service sector. But Len McCluskey, interviewed in the same briefing, says:
If you did decide to join us, you would bring invaluable experience. In my opinion it could be the catalyst to creating a very powerful public sector force, linking central and local government, health, and education, to build a much stronger coalition.”
My interpretation of this is that there is no pretence that there is necessarily an industrial logic for a merger today. But creating “the second largest public sector union” today, “a fighting-back union” unafraid of backing workers prepared to take strike action to defend pubic services and their jobs, could be a “catalyst” to becoming the largest public sector union sometime soon.
Certainly, that’s the way some people in Unison see it. It is “a statement of intent to launch a competitive challenge to UNISON in the public services” says the Unison Active website. Some may see that as sour grapes for failing to achieve what Unison Active describes as the”impeccable trade union industrial logic” for the creation of “a single public service union” with the merger of PCS and Unison (never mind Unite & the GMB, but did they forget the teachers? – Ed). Others argue that Unison has brought it upon itself. Jon Rogers, left member of Unison’s executive, argues that “friends in UNISON need to reflect upon why no other union … ever wants to consider merging with us“.
Back in March, the sometime-socialist Seymour posted this piece of far-right apologia (and rank anti-Semitism) on his blog. He has since received a resounding rebuke, and replied – characteristically- with childish, yah-boo petulance predicated upon the idea that long words equal serious thought. If I thought it would do this buffoon any good, I’d dedicate the following elementary lesson in the socialist attitude to race, to him:
The veteran Trotskyist James P. Cannon, writing in the US Socialist Workers Party’s paper The Militant, in May 1947:
Things are not exactly what they used to be in South Carolina. The mob of 31 white men who lined the Negro Willie Earl, and admitted it with ample detail in signed statements, were put to the inconvenience of a trial in court. That is something new. But it turned out to be a very small point, for the lynchers were all triumphantly acquitted and the dead man is still dead. That’s the same old story. Lynch law is still riding high; the courtroom “trial” only added a touch of mockery.
Well, that’s one way of handling the race problem and advertising the American way of life to the benighted peoples of the world, who were looking in and listening in through the press and the radio, and it may be safely assumed that the lesson will not be lost on them.
But I have seen it done another way — here in America too — and perhaps it would be timely now to report it as a footnote to the South Carolina affair. This incident occurred at Sandstone prison during our sojourn there in the fall of 1944. I wrote about it at the time in a letter, as fully as I could in the rigidly restricted space of the one sheet of paper allowed for prison correspondence. This left room only for the bare facts, a strictly news report without amplification. But I believe the factual story speaks well enough for itself as then reported, without any additional comment.
Here is the letter:
“I have seen a triumph of medical science which was also a triumph of human solidarity here at Sandstone. When I went up to the hospital at ‘sick call’ one day to have my sore toes dressed, I immediately sensed that something was missing, something was wrong. There were no nurses in evidence; the door of the doctor’s office was locked; and the other convicts on sick call were standing in the corridor in oppressive silence. The reason soon became manifest. Through the glass door of the record office, and beyond that through the glass door of the operating room, we could see the masked doctors and nurses moving back and forth around the operating table. Not a sound reached us through the double door. Now a doctor, now a nurse, moved in and out of view, only their heads, rather their drawn faces, showing, like figures on a silent movie screen.
“The word was passed along the ‘line’ in hushed whispers: a colored man was dying. A desperate emergency operation was failing; the poor black convict’s life was slipping out of the doctor’s hands like a greased thread. But we could see that the doctors were still working, still trying, and one could sense the unspoken thought of all the men on the line; their concern, their sympathy, and in spite of everything, their hope for their comrade on the operating table.
“After what seemed an endless time, the prison pharmacist who was assisting in the operation came out through the double door into the corridor. His face was a picture of exhaustion, of defeat and despair. There would be no ‘sick call’ he said: the doctors would not be free for some time. The case of the colored man was apparently hopeless, but the doctors were going to make one final desperate effort. They were sewing up the abdominal wound on the slender, practically non-existent chance that by blood transfusions, they could keep the man alive and then build up his strength for the shock of another stage of the complicated and drawn-out operation.
“Then came a new difficulty. The sick man’s blood was hard to ‘type’. The blood of the first colored fellow-convicts who volunteered was unsuitable. But the sick Negro got the blood he needed just the same. The white convicts rose up en masse to volunteer for transfusions. I think every man in our dormitory offered to give his blood. The sick man hung between life and death for weeks; but the life-giving fluid of the white convicts, steadily transfused into his body, eventually gave the strength for a second, and successful, operation.
“I sae him line up with the rest of us for the yard count yesterday, this Negro with the blood of white men coursing through his veins, and I thought: The whites, over the centuries, have taken a lot of blood from the blacks; it is no more than right that one of them should get a little of it back.”
(NB The US Socialist Workers Party, of which Cannon was leader, has nothing to do with the UK group of the same name).