The Stop The War Coalition and the rise of neo-Stalinism

March 5, 2014 at 8:35 pm (apologists and collaborators, capitalism, class collaboration, democracy, Europe, ex-SWP, Guest post, history, Human rights, imperialism, internationalism, John Rees, Lindsey German, Marxism, national liberation, Shachtman, socialism, stalinism, Stop The War, trotskyism, USSR)

Above: neo-Stalinists Rees, Murray and Galloway

Guest post by George Mellor

“The attempt of the bourgeoisie during its internecine conflict to oblige humanity to divide up into only two camps is motivated by a desire to prohibit the proletariat from having its own independent ideas. This method is as old as bourgeois society, or more exactly, as class society in general. No one is obliged to become a Marxist; no one is obliged to swear by Lenin’s name. But the whole of the politics of these two titans of revolutionary thought was directed towards this, the fetishism of two camps would give way to a third, independent, sovereign camp of the proletariat, that camp upon which, in point of fact, the future of humanity depends” - Leon Trotsky (1938)

Many readers will be familiar with the concept of the ‘Third Camp’ – independent working class politics that refuses to side with the main ruling class power blocs (or ‘camps’) of the world. At the outbreak of WW2 the majority of would-be revolutionary socialists (and quite a few reformists as well) supported Russia, seeing it as some form of socialist state. However a minority (the ‘Third Camp’ socialists, mainly grouped around Max Shachtman) disagreed, viewing it as imperialist – of a different type to Western imperialism, but imperialist nevertheless.

Some on the left who came out of the Third Camp tradition (and, remember, the SWP was once part of that current and over Ukraine has shown signs of returning to it) now come to the defence of capitalist Russia. In doing so these acolytes of Putin – the neo-Stalinists – use the same framework to defend Russian imperialism as their predecessors did to defend ‘Soviet’ imperialism.

The basic framework they take from the arsenal of Stalinism is the view of the world as divided into two camps: on the one hand the peace-loving countries who supported Stalin’s USSR and on the other, the enemies of peace, progress and socialism. In the period of the Popular Front (1934-39) this found Russia aligned with the bourgeois democracies of the West, but between 1939 and ’41 that policy was superseded by an alliance with Hitler and the Axis powers. The consequence of both policies (and the intellectual zig-zagging required of Comintern loyalists) was that communist politics were subordinated to Stalin’s foreign policy, effectively cauterising the revolution in the inter-war years and disorientating socialists for over a generation.

For today’s neo-Stalinist the world is divided into Western imperialism on the one hand and China, Russia and other states (like Iran and Venezuela) that broadly identify with them against the ‘West’ on the other. Their conclusion is that socialists must stand up for China, Russia, or, indeed, any state or movement (eg the Taliban) that finds itself in conflict with ‘The West’. Seeing the world through this lens has led them to support Russian imperialism against Western imperialism, turning them into Putin’s Foreign Legion.

With the advent of the Ukraine crisis the neo-Stalinists were faced with the following problem: Russia invaded (using traditional Stalinist / Fascist methods) another county, after the people of that country overthrew the incumbent, corrupt, government. From what bourgeois - let alone socialist - principle does Russia have the right to invade an independent country? Of course there is none and so the neo-Stalinists have to invent one or two: the Stop the War Coalition (StWC) ten point statement is just such an invention.

The StWC statement provides a rationale which adds up to telling us the fact Russia has invaded a sovereign country is not as important as the new cold war (I feel a moral panic or, perhaps, political panic coming on as StWC functionaries stalk the land warning us of the dangers of ‘the new cold war’). Woven through the ‘ten points’ is the continual attempt to demonise the 1 million-plus movement which overthrew the Ukrainian government. They claim the movement is fascist / neo-con / in collusion with the European Union – in fact every bad thing one can think of. Such demonization is straight out of the Stalinist playbook, a classic example of blaming the victim. The character of the Ukraine movement has been largely shaped by its experience of greater Russia chauvinism: the idea that a pure democratic let alone socialist movement would spring fully formed out of the Euromaidan was never a possibility. For sure fascist and ultra-nationalist forces played a prominent role, and maybe even paid agents of the EU were present: the point is how should socialists relate to the million-strong movement and how can we seek to influence it? This is simply not an issue for the neo-Stalinists because they have written off the Ukrainian rebels as one reactionary mass not worth a second look.

In truth the StWC statement is neither here nor there, (a blogger at The Economist has taken apart the non sequiturs, half-truths and downright lies of the neo-Stalinists in a point by point rebuttal): it is simply a particularly crude example of the ‘campist’ world view.

For the neo-Stalinists the `hard headed’ geopolitical realties of the need to defend Russia against the ‘West’ always trumps the truth, morality, political principle and consistency: just as they support the invasion of the Ukraine and fit the facts around this, so they support the butcher Assad (crimes against humanity, mass murder, poison gas user, indiscriminate use of barrel bombs, starvation, state-sponsored terror, wholesale torture) and in that case, support for sheer barbarism.

Of course socialists are unlikely to affect events in the Ukraine, let alone Syria: however even if we can only proclaim it, we have a right – and a duty - to say we support neither Western or Russian imperialism but fight for independent working class action.

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

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

postmodernism_foot_on_neck

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Eight reasons to still be against the Collins report

February 19, 2014 at 12:31 am (labour party, posted by JD, socialism, unions, workers)

Ed Miliband

By Jon Lansman, re-blogged from Left Futures:

At the special conference on 1 March, Ed Miliband may well have the “Clause IV moment” his advisors sought, though Labour’s enemies are saying unions will have too much power as they probably always will. His proposals, made in the wake of a Falkirk “scandal” that never was, have lost their rationale. If he wins the day, as now looks almost certain, it is not because trade unions and constituency parties are enthusiastic about them, or even agree with them. Nor is it because the consultation responses – which have been totally ignored in the report – favoured them… they didn’t. It is because the trade unions and constituency parties are instinctively loyal to him and want him to win in 2015. But this is not the way to make the most radical changes ever in the relationship between the trade unions and the party they founded over a century ago, so here are eight reasons still to vote against the Collins report.

  1. The opt-in scheme proposed for trade union levy-payers will result, when union affiliations become tied in five years time to the numbers opting-in, in a drastic cut in party funding. Few trade union leaders seriously expect more than 10% to become “affiliated supporters”, which would mean the loss of £7million a year in affiliation fees, roughly a quarter of total party expenditure.
  2. This “opt-in” scheme is presented as more democratic, but it isn’t. Members will pay the levy either way. What would we think if trade union members had to tick a box to say they wanted to vote in union elections, and only got a ballot if they’d done so? Or if they had to say they, individually, supported the union’s political campaigns on the NHS or the Living Wage, and money could be spent on those campaigns only if it could be attributed to those who’d ticked a box? Or if members had to say that they, individually, wanted to take part in strike ballots? “Opt-in” will reduce union affiliation numbers even if their members’ support for Labour rises. Many leading Labour MPs admit that they plan to use that reduction to cut union votes within the Party, which would be to the advantage of the Party machine, not of individual trade union or CLP members.
  3. “Registered supporters” of the party have up to now paid nothing. So few have been recruited (their numbers are secret) that they are to be ignored and recruitment is to start again. ‘Progress’ has always called for their involvement but they were supposed not to be involved in leadership elections until 50,000 were recruited. Nevertheless, they are to be given votes in both leadership elections and a London primary with immediate effect, equivalent to the votes of individual members of the party who pay £45 a year.
  4. Some constituency members may be alarmed about a possible reduction in the value of their votes in leadership elections, as large numbers of trade union levy payers could in theory be recruited as “affiliated supporters” with a vote equal to party members. However, most trade union levy payers, including many who have voted in the past, will lose their right to vote entirely because they won’t have previously ‘opted in’. And unlike registered supporters, they will continue to pay roughly a levy of £7 a year on average, often for most of their working lives. Almost all that money funds the Labour Party.
  5. We may be relieved that the higher threshold proposed in the leadership elections – 15% rather than the current 12.5% – isn’t higher still, as was originally proposed. However, it still would have meant that two out of the last five Labour Party leaders would have been elected unopposed (John Smith as well as Gordon Brown), and perhaps Tony Blair too. The elections that did take place would have had fewer candidates (two not four when Neil Kinnock was elected and probably just two in the most recent election, both called Miliband).
  6. The primary proposed to select a Mayoral candidate for London in 2015 (against the wishes of the London Labour Party) will virtually exclude trade unionists (who currently have 50% of an electoral college) because there will not be time to recruit many affiliated supporters with a general election in between. “Registered supporters” will be included, however, which is a recipe for electoral fraud and manipulation by the party’s opponents.
  7. The administrative problems of this package of proposals cannot be over-estimated. Is there any sense in having, effectively, four tiers of party membership or pseudo-membership: (1) Individual members. (2) Trade unionists who are “affiliated supporters”. (3) Trade unionists who are box-tickers but not “affiliated supporters”, which could happen for many reasons (administrative error or failure to pass on details; inaccurate details on the union database; people with more than one address; people eligible but not on electoral roll like 6m others). (4) “Registered supporters” who pay a minimal one-off “administration fee”. Ensuring that the Labour Party’s database is consistent with each of 14 union membership systems when people change address or jobs will be a permanent problem. This will be a constant source of ammunition for a hostile media when people get a ballot paper and shouldn’t or vice versa. It is hard enough for unions to keep track of home addresses for their internal purposes, as they normally relate to members in their workplace.
  8. If you were prepared to take financial risks and wanted a mass party with a working class base, the right approach would have been to slash membership fees from £45 – well above the reach of many of our voters – and make sure that our policies are much more attractive to trade unions and working class people. As it is, the offer to trade unionists is not very attractive – to get a vote they already have and be allowed to attend meetings (never Labour’s greatest attraction) without a vote. No real influence. No real democracy – unlike in their own unions where conferences and executives still do make policy.

The Collins report proposes two rules changes as well as its recommendations. They are on two separate subjects (Leadership elections and Primaries) and deal with different chapters. Normal practice in the Labour Party is to have separate votes on separate rule changes. This would allow you to decide your views and vote separately on each proposal. This may not happen because the NEC were told by the General Secretary that the procedure was up to the Conference Arrangements Committee (CAC) whilst the CAC were told that the NEC had decided to have only one vote! Is this contradiction an unfortunate coincidence or deliberate misinformation? Readers will have to make up their own minds – delegates may wish to enquire when the Special conference opens. In the meantime, you might want to consider proposing that your constituency party to send this emergency motion to the NEC & CAC:

This CLP urges the NEC/CAC to ensure that there are separate votes at the Special Conference on 1 March on the report and on each rule change in line with normal procedure.”

You can download a leaflet comprising these reasons for opposing the Collins report here - ideal for distribution at Regional “briefing” meetings for delegates or at constituency meetings to decide how to mandate delegates.

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South Africa’s biggest union breaks with ANC and CP

February 15, 2014 at 6:29 pm (africa, posted by JD, reblogged, socialism, stalinism, unions, workers)

Strictly speaking, the Metalworkers’ union NUMSA hasn’t yet completely broken with the “Triple Alliance” of the ANC, the South African Communist Party and the COSATU trade union federation - but it’s been obvious for some time that the union is firmly set on that course. This a tremendously important development in South African politics, in which the ANC and the CP have, traditionally, more or less taken for granted the right to lead the working class and the trade union movement. At its special congress in December, NUMSA announced that it will not campaign for, or finance the ANC, though individual members remain free to do so “in their own time and using their own resources.” It also called upon COSATU to take a more independent, pro-worker approach. Interestingly and encouragingly, NUMSA’s leadership seems to be quite resistant to the blandishments coming from expelled ANC youth leader Julius Malema, noting his role as a “tenderpreneur” capitalist.

This speech, by NUMSA’s general secretary Irvin Jim was first published in The Bullet. Readers should not assume that Shiraz agrees with everything in the speech:

NUMSA General Secretary Irvin Jim. [Photo: NUMSA]

“Manifestos and Reality”

A Presentation to the Cape Town Press Club by NUMSA General Secretary

Irvin Jim

I speak to you today with a powerful and united mandate from 341,150 metalworkers. They made their views extremely clear in our workers’ parliament in December last year – the parliament we called the NUMSA Special National Congress. In that parliament there was vigorous debate. Every delegate knew that they would have to account to their constituency. We are justifiably proud of our democratic heritage. We know that what we decide has the backing of our members. We don’t have to change decisions after the Congress has spoken, as some do, even though there are those who would urge us to “come to our senses” and take NUMSA in another direction from the decisions of that Congress.

And we are also justifiably proud of our militant heritage. Our union, right back from its beginning, has taken the side of the working-class and the poor. We have always been a union that champions shop-floor struggles as well as the struggles of working-class communities. We have always understood that workers come from communities and live in communities. Community struggles are workers’ struggles. So, as metalworkers we fight for policies and strategies that will create jobs. We want more working people from our communities to have jobs. We fight for water. We fight for houses. We fight for the safety of our communities. We fight against a police force which kills our people when they protest because they don’t have water. Because they don’t have houses.

We are also a union that has been in the trenches with revolutionary forces within the liberation alliance led by the ANC (African National Congress) and SACP (South African Communist Party). Yet when we speak out clearly in defence of the working-class and the poor, our allies attack us. They call us oppositionists because we reject the policies of the ANC and SACP which attack the interests of our members. They call us ultra-leftists suffering from infantile disorders because we refuse to betray the interests of the working-class and support an ANC and SACP whose leadership has consistently attacked the working-class.

Taking Sides, Splitting with Old Allies

We are not just talking about labour brokers. We are not just talking about e-tolls. We are talking about an ANC and SACP leadership which has clearly and unequivocally taken sides with international capital against us. There is no other way to look at it. The examples stare us in the face. At Marikana, the armed forces of the state mowed down workers who were demanding a living wage from an international mining company, Lonmin. The same happened during the farmworkers strike in the Western Cape. The same is happening now in Mothuthlung and Sebokeng and other communities across the country too numerous to count.

Our people are protesting because they have no water – that most basic of necessities. And the State… that very same state which failed to supply them with water… kills them for their protest.

Underneath all of this is a harsh material fact. The South African economy has not fundamentally changed. The structure remains the same as it was under apartheid… the same dependence on exporting raw minerals, the same enslavement to the Minerals Energy Finance complex. Far from an increase in the manufacturing sector – the sector which can really produce jobs – we have a rapid process of deindustrialization. We are not gaining jobs, we are losing them. In 2004 there were 3.7 million unemployed people in our country. Last year that had risen to 4.1 million. More unemployed, not less.

This will not stop until we fundamentally change direction. We, as a union, have understood that the ANC and SACP will not lead that change. It is the ANC and SACP which gave us GEAR (Growth, Employment and Redistribution). It is the ANC and SACP which has given us the NDP (National Development Plan). It is the ANC and SACP which is investing in improving the rail lines to Richards Bay so that more of our minerals can be exported.

We know that the current leadership, the very same leadership that calls itself anti-imperialist, is in a lucrative alliance with international capital. It has accepted its shares in the mining industry, but those shares were not given for nothing. They had a price, and the price is being paid by the working-class and the poor of our country. The price is a macro-economic strategy which focuses on maintaining profit, not jobs. This fact cannot be changed by a fig leaf called the Employment Tax Incentive Act. A fig leaf which claims to be about creating jobs whilst actually it is yet another attack on the working-class.

I want to say this very clearly and very straightforwardly. There is only one way to create the number of jobs that are needed in South Africa – the number the NDP dreams about. That is to harness the profits of the mining and financial sectors and use them to build manufacturing industry. That is why we call for the nationalization of the mines and the financial sector. It is not some dogma from the past. It is an immediate and urgent requirement to save our nation.

The Star newspaper last week said “A Nation burns.” That headline said more than it knew. It is the nation that is burning. It is burning because it is being ruthlessly looted by international capital.

For the investors in London and New York and Berlin, South Africa is just another possible investment destination. They don’t care about the working-class and the poor of South Africa and we don’t expect them to. But now our political leadership has aligned itself with the global looters. Our political leadership is no longer able to represent the nation because it has a conflict of interest. Its real, material interest in the profitability of the mining and financial sectors prevents it from looking after the interests of the nation. The interest of building our manufacturing industry. The leadership’s interest in the profits of global capital prevents them from being the leadership that the nation needs – the leadership that Hugo Chavez represented in Venezuela, for example, or that Evo Morales has represented in Bolivia. Read the rest of this entry »

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Mike Kyriazopoulos: “Live life to the fullest, make a better world”

January 22, 2014 at 12:11 am (AWL, good people, love, posted by JD, RIP, socialism, solidarity, trotskyism, truth, unions)

Mike Kyriazopoulos died on Saturday night (18th January) at his home in Auckland, New Zealand. His wife Joanne was at his side to the end.

Here’s what he wrote to friends and comrades in the AWL in April 2013, when he knew that time was running out:

________________________________________________________________________

Early this year I was diagnosed with Motor Neurone Disease. It appears as though the “progress” of the disease (oddly Stalinist terminology) is quite rapid. So I wanted to thank all of you who know me for your political guidance, solidarity, friendship and love over the years.

I first came across the AWL at York University Labour Club. But I realised the group was serious when I joined an occupation because Janine Booth was stood on the balcony of the Central Hall with a megaphone, urging students to join the protest against grant cuts.

When I graduated, I got a job on the Post, in line with the group’s policy on “colonisation”, or “inside organising”. Those days were among the most vivid memories of my political life, so forgive me if I reminisce a little. The seven years I spent in the industry taught me heaps of lessons in the sometimes bitter realities of the class struggle. I was thrust in the deep end, finding myself a rep within a few months, because the previous guy had been sacked, and no one else wanted to do the job.

Pretty soon I attracted the attention of management. First they tried to get me to become a governor, then they tried to sack me — twice. Both disciplinaries were related to organising wildcat action. The first time, they stuffed up the process, and I got off scot-free. The next time I copped a final warning and two day’s suspension.

During a week-long wildcat strike involving many London offices, I remember being on a picket line of one. One does not make a virtue or a habit of such a thing, but sometimes it is a necessity. Most of our office scabbed because they were scared of the strike being sold out (which it eventually was). Only a handful of us struck, and one morning I was the only one who turned up for the picket line duty. Some of the strikebreakers implored me to come back to work, because they were convinced I would be sacked, in which case, they assured me, they would go on strike to get me reinstated! I was not sacked.

I was fortunate to be in a left-wing union branch. I joined the branch executive as political officer, where I worked with other socialists to secure the branch’s support for Ken Livingstone and the Socialist Alliance in the London elections of 2000.

The decision was robustly debated at a meeting of rank and file reps. The branch secretary voiced a prophetic word of caution about not knowing how long this alliance would last. Our branch paid a heavy price, having all its funds frozen by an unelected bureaucrat in head office, but they didn’t back down. To me, it highlighted how the Socialist Alliance had begun to build something in the labour movement, only to have that opportunity criminally squandered by the key players within the Alliance.

The greatest success we had at Finsbury Park Delivery Office was winning extra jobs, night duties, following an unofficial overtime ban. Management always intended to claw the duties back eventually, but we managed to hold off the revisions for a good few years.

In retrospect, I was hampered by being isolated in a sub delivery office. I never made much progress towards establishing a rank and file movement. But then, such a movement usually requires a great upsurge in militancy to establish it, so there’s an element of Catch-22.

In 2007, I emigrated to New Zealand, essentially for personal reasons. Comrades, I’m sorry if it felt like I turned my back on you. I never turned my back on the struggle.

I joined the Workers’ Party (now Fightback) because that was the most open and democratic group going. Unfortunately, it was controlled by a clique whose political background was soft Maoist and kitsch Trotskyist. They encouraged a culture of avoiding tricky historical questions. I was remiss in going with the flow, taking the line of least resistance for a while.

Perhaps subconsciously I thought that the insights of Third Camp socialism on the corrosive effects of Stalinism were not so relevant in the 21st century. It was only when the leadership clique abruptly walked out of the party, and retired to the blogosphere, that I did some rethinking.

After some discussions with Martin Thomas I published a number of internal bulletins on Stalinism, the fighting propaganda group, Maori liberation, Third Camp socialism and Maoism. I hope that I have had a positive effect on the trajectory of the group, which now explicitly defines itself as anti-Stalinist.

I do believe the AWL has something precious in its fragmented Third Camp tradition. Not in the sense of a socialist “holy Grail”, or a “historico-philosophical master key”, but as a method of training revolutionaries to think critically.

I don’t need to tell any of you what’s wrong with Michel Pablo. He did, however, have the best motto: “The meaning of life is life itself, to live as fully as you can.”

Comrades, most of you will be blessed with decades of life ahead of you. Live them to the fullest making a better world. Aroha nui (all my love),

Mike

___________________________________________________________________________

* Mike’s account of dinner with Tony Cliff and Chanie Rosenburg is also well worth reading.

* Our condolences to Mike’s wife, Joanne.

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Dave Renton (ex-SWP): ‘To my comrades of any party or none’

December 19, 2013 at 2:28 pm (ex-SWP, misogyny, posted by JD, reblogged, sectarianism, socialism, SWP)

Apologies to all those readers who are by now thoroughly bored with the long-running car-crash/soap opera that is the disintegration of the SWP. This will probably be the last post here on the subject for some time; but Dave Renton’s account of his SWP membership and his decison to resign, is exceptionally insightful and at times shocking and moving: well worth a read:

On Sunday evening, after conference had ended, I resigned from the SWP. I will explain why I have left, but before I do that, I first want to explain why for so many years I stayed with the party even while I often criticised it.

I first joined the SWP in 1991; at a meeting in the Sol’s Arms pub near Warren Street. A couple of days before, I had been stopped in the street by a man selling Socialist Worker. After I had bought a paper, the seller, John Walker, invited me to a meeting. “I’m not interested in buying one”, I told him, “I am much more left-wing than you are.” It was not a wise thing to have said. John had come into the SWP after years in the libertarian Marxist group Solidarity and knew his left history far better than I did. After half an hour of standing on the street losing an argument, I agreed to go to the meeting where I eventually filled in a membership form. It was assumed that I would pay by cash and there was a grid on the back of my membership card which could be used to check that I was paying my each month’s subs.

The SWP was the third left-wing party whose meetings I had attended in less than a year. After a few months in Slough Constituency Labour Party, I had resigned in disappointment at Labour’s timid response to the then Iraq War. Before then, I had spent a couple of unhappy months on the edges of the Revolutionary Communist Party (Living Marxism), from whom I had learned habits of ultra-leftism and contrarianism, a combination expressed in my premature, fighting words to John. If it had not been the SWP in 1991 it might have been any one of the left-wing parties.

It was easy to join the SWP, since I already considered myself a socialist, and in fact had done so for more than five years. The real bravery had come much earlier, even before I reached my teens, when I had first begun to identify with the left, a decision which had set me off into a perpetual civil war with my family, my teachers, and almost every one of my contemporaries at my school. My reasons for sticking with the SWP were more significant.

In my first few months, I considered leaving at several stages. I did not have a worked out criticism of the SWP and some of my complaints seem daft to me in retrospect. The group seemed impossibly old to me, with an average age of approximately 27 or 28 (I was just 18). Soon enough, I was selling the paper, but I was genuinely perplexed by the way in my fellow sellers would shout what sounded to me like reformist slogans “stop the war”, “beat the Tories”. Weren’t we supposed to be revolutionaries? I found the meetings dull and the contributions defensive. I tired of the way in which after the speaker had finished, there would be a long pause, and then whoever filled the silence would face 40 minutes of speaker after the speaker from the floor correcting them for some imagined deviation from the party “line”.

Yet one of the things I liked about the SWP was that, despite the branch culture which I have just described, there were also comrades who were self-effacing, articulate and principled. I think of well-known figures such as Duncan Hallas and Paul Foot, but the real strength of the SWP was far below, in the branches, almost every one of which had an autodidact Marxist, a worker who had never gone to university, a person who would quote obscure ideas of Marx or Lenin and use them to relate events happening in the world outside and to the tradition of the workers’ movement.

Over the past 20 years the self-taught workers have almost all left, while the party-liners have multiplied. Read the rest of this entry »

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The Universality of Marx

December 1, 2013 at 2:20 am (class, Marxism, posted by JD, reactionay "anti-imperialism", socialism)

A comrade has drawn my attention to the following piece, which is an excellent critique of ‘identity’ politics – a problem, even in the 1980′s, when this piece (in part, a review of ‘Eurocentrism ‘, book by the Egyptian Marxist Samir Amin) was written. Matters are, of course, much worse now

(The following article originally appeared in New Politics , 1989)

The Universality of Marx
By Loren Goldner

A strange anomaly dominates the current social, political and cultural climate. World capitalism has for over fifteen years been sinking into its worst systemic crisis since the 1930′s, and one which in its biospheric dimensions is much worse than the 1930′s. At the same time, the social stratum which calls itself the left in Europe and the U.S. is in full retreat. In many advanced capitalist countries, and particularly in the U.S., that stratum increasingly suspects the world outlook of Karl Marx, which postulates that capitalism brings such crises as storm clouds bring the rain, of being a “white male” mode of thought. Stranger still is the fact that the relative eclipse of Marx has been carried out largely in the name of a “race/gender/class” ideology that can sound, to the uninitiated, both radical and vaguely Marxian. What this “discourse” (to use its own word) has done, however, is to strip the idea of class of exactly that element which, for Marx, made it radical: its status as a universal oppression whose emancipation required (and was also the key to) the abolition of all oppression.
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This question of the status of universality, whether attacked by its opponents as “white male”, or “Eurocentric”, or a “master discourse”, is today at the center of the current ideological debate, as one major manifestation of the broader world crisis of the waning 20th century.
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The writings of Marx and Engels include assertions that the quality of relations between men and women is the surest expression of the humanity of a given society, that the communal forms of association of peoples such as the North American Iroquois were anticipations of communism, and that the suppression of matriarchal by patriarchal forms of kinship in ancient Greece was simultaneous with the generalization of commodity production, that is, with proto-capitalism. Marx also wrote, against the Enlightenment’s simple-minded linear view of progress that, short of the establishment of communism, all historical progress was accompanied by simultaneous retrogressions. But most of this is fairly well known; this is not what bother contemporaries. What bothers them is that the concept of universality of Marx and Engels was ultimately grounded neither in cultural constructs or even in relations of “power”, which is the currency in which today’s fashion trades.
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The universalism of Marx rests on a notion of humanity as a species distinct from other species by its capacity to periodically revolutionize its means of extracting wealth from nature, and therefore as free frim the relatively fixed laws of population which nature imposes on other species. “Animals reproduce only their own nature”, Marx wrote in the 1844 Manuscripts, “but humanity reproduces all of nature”. Nearly 150 years later, the understanding of ecology contained in that line remains in advance of most of the contemporary movements known by that name. Human beings, in contrast to other species, are not fixed in their relations with the environment by biology, but rather possess an infinite capacity to create new environments and new selves in the process. Human history, in this view, is the history of these repeated revolutions in nature and thus in “human nature”.
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What bothers contemporary leftist opinion about Marx is that the latter presents a formidable (and, in my opinion, unanswerable) challenge to the currently dominant culturalism, which is so pervasive that it does not even know its own name.
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Today, the idea that there is any meaningful universality based on human beings as a species is under a cloud, even if the opponents of such a view rarely state their case in so many words (or are even aware that this is the issue). For them, such an idea, like the idea that Western Europe from the Renaissance onward was a revolutionary social formation unique in history, that there is any meaning to the idea of progress, or that there exist criteria from which one can jdge the humanity or inhumanity of different “cultures”, are “white male” “Eurocentric” constructs designed to deny to women, peoples of color, gays or ecologists the “difference” of their “identity”.
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Edward Said, for example, has written a popular book called Orientalism which presents the relations between the West and the Orient (and implicitly between any two cultures) as the encounter of hermetically-sealed “texts” which inevitably distort and degrade. In this encounter, according to Said, the West from early modern times counterposed a “discourse” of a “dynamic West” to a “decadent, stagnant” Orient. Since Said does not even entertain the possibility of world-historical progress, the idea that Renaissance Europe represented an historical breakthrough for humanity, which was, by the 15th century, superior to the social formations of the Islamic world is not even worth discussing. Such a view not only trivializes the breakthrough of Renaissance Europe; it also trivializes the achievements of the Islamic world, which from the 8th to the 13th centuries towered over the barbaric West, as well as the achievements of T’ang and Sung China, which during the same centuries probably towered over both of them. One would also never know, reading Said, that in the 13th century the flower of Islamic civilization was irreversibly snuffed out by a “text” of Mongol hordes (presumably also Oriental) who levelled Bagdad three times.
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Were Said somehow transported back to the wonder that was Islamic civilization under the Abbasid caliphate, the Arabs and Persians who helped lay the foundations for the European Renaissance would have found his culturalism strange indeed, given the importance of Plato and Aristotle in their philosophy and of the line of prophets from Moses to Jesus in their theology. Said’s text- bound view of the hermetically-sealed relations between societies and in world history (which for him does not meaningfully exist) is the quintessential statement of a culturalism that, which a pretense of radicalism, has become rampant in the past two decades. Read the rest of this entry »

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Mark Fisher exits ‘Vampire Castle’

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

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

The article first appeared on the North Star website:

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Exiting the Vampire Castle
By Mark Fisher

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Old comrades

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

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

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

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Unite and the Labour link

October 20, 2013 at 5:21 pm (class, labour party, posted by JD, socialism, unions, Unite the union, workers)

Unite and the Collins Report
By Jim Kelly, Chair, London & Eastern Region, Unite (personal capacity)

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By choosing to answer the question "who runs Labour?"

Above: Len McCluskey

Just as the Falkirk affair was put to bed, we were faced with a much bigger challenge; Miliband’s call to individualise party membership and end (or severely downgrade) the link between unions and Party. Unions from the GMB to USDAW are united against it, while the UL (The United Left group within Unite, who have a majority on the union’s Executive -JD) met and voted 60 to 1 to oppose it. There is a majority both within the unions and Party to maintain the link. So while it would be a major defeat for the unions if Miliband’s reforms were to go through as is, this will only happen if we support change, or if unions are divided. Unions have almost half the votes at Labour’s conference, the more unified we are the firmer we are about the dangers of Miliband’s position the less damaging will be any changes. The precondition for getting the best possible outcome is a united approach by all unions.

Within all of this I am unsure as to Len’s position. I thought his presentation to the Unite delegation at LP conference at our first meeting was a little subdued and appeared to me to say we are up for trading influence on structures for policy shifts from Miliband. I hear he made a rousing speech defending the link at the Mirror fringe meeting, which many of us could not get in to, after Kenny’s tub thumping “no surrender” speech on the Monday. Yet he has welcomed Miliband’s proposals and along with other comrades, has argued `… the link is not working’; although true, the main reason it is broken is largely down to the unions and it can be mended.

Just this week Len is reported as saying, at the Jimmy Reid Commemoration Lecture that we would fund Labour in 2015, regardless of affiliation numbers.

More importantly while we can all agree with Miliband that we should aim for a mass party, it is only the spin Miliband puts on building a mass membership that demands an ending or downgrading the link. Keeping the Link as is, and building a mass party are in no way mutually exclusive. So the argument about the Link not working and the idea you cannot have the Link and a mass party simply does not stack up.

Ending of the Labour – union link or its downgrading is the most important issue the movement has faced in many decades.

The link is so important to us because, apart from collective bargaining, the only, way unions can progress members’ interests is through Parliament by extending legal support for workers. The only party in a position to perform this role is the Labour Party. For any union, regardless of the political character of its leadership, that leadership’s duty is to press Labour to support worker friendly legislation.

So change does not support unions’ immediate interests. A reformed party would also be another milestone in the disintegration of the labour movement, marking a further step in the direction of neo-liberalism. Politics like nature abhors a vacuum and removing the unions’ collective voice has been the long-term goal of sections of the right, which many want to fill it by a merger with sections of the Liberal Party, forming a left of centre party of do-gooders (Guardian readers). Only a fantasist would believe that out of such a defeat a new workers party will spring from the ashes.

If we want to try to reach an agreement with Miliband, and I think it is essential the unions do, it could include his proposal to encourage individual levy-payers to opt into a form of individual membership provided that:

1. The collective voice of Unite and other unions continue to be represented – allowing our representatives to speak at every level within the party structure on behalf of the whole membership, representing the policies and aspirations of the union as decided through our democratic processes.

2. The level of representation and votes to which the union is entitled is sustained at the current level, and is not dependent on recruiting any particular number of individual members.

3. The union is not required to make any changes to our rule book as a condition of continued affiliation to and support for the Labour Party.

The union should respond to the Collins interim report consistently with these principles, which should also serve as our bottom line in any discussions with the party leadership.

Finally, we should not accept the proposal to introduce primaries as a basis of selecting Labour candidates for public office. Our members who support the Labour Party should be able to participate in these selections on the basis that they contribute financially to the Labour Party, as should individual members of the Labour Party., There is no support from any quarter of the Labour movement (other than the Blairites in their mis-named organisation Progress) to involve people in these selection who do not support the party and who do not make a financial contribution to it.

The last London TULO was informed that Alan Olive, the Labour Organiser in London, will be running trial primaries in Croydon South in March next year. When Unite and GMB pointed out that this pre- empted the Collins Report and was outside the Rule Book he simply ignored our opposition. I am unaware if this issue was raised at the London Labour Board meeting, but it is a signal the apparatchiks’, as opposed to Progress, intent to push ahead with attacks on our collective participation in the party regardless of any agreement on the Collins Report.

Silencing a working class voice in politics has been the dream of the rich and powerful since the Chartists and then the formation of the party, Unite should defend our voice in the Labour Party with no fudging. The UL should pursue these points both through the regional structure and ensue they are endorsed by the EC.

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