From the Alliance for Workers Liberty:
The letter below has been sent to SWP, SP, Left Unity, ISN, ACI, Counterfire, Socialist Resistance, Workers’ Power, and Weekly Worker.
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 »
Now that Fergie has announced his retirement after 26 extraordinary years at the helm of Manchester United, we take a look at his political stance:
By Hyder Jawad (first published at Football.com, October 2012)
Above: Fergie with his pal Alastair Campbell
I have long thought of Sir Alex Ferguson’s left-wing politics as being principles of the heart, not of the mind. That is not to impugn his beliefs but, rather, to propose that his politics are a product of his background, upbringing and formative experiences.
How else can a Glasgow toolmaker, so inspired for so long by the workers’ unions, become so supportive of, and so friendly with, neoliberals such as Tony Blair and Gordon Brown? Could Ferguson not see the ideological chasm between the Labour Party for which he campaigned so enthusiastically in 2010, and to which he donated so much money, and the dictums of his Lanarkshire socialism, which so invigorated him in the Fifties and Sixties?
Having read his Managing My Life, and found barely a reference to his “strong political views”, I came to regard Ferguson as less a political animal than a professional pragmatist. I saw the proof on Saturday when the Manchester United manager criticised Rio Ferdinand’s refusal to wear a “Kick It Out” T-shirt prior to the match against Stoke City at Old Trafford. “It is embarrassing for me,” Ferguson said, after confirming that he expected all of his players to wear the T-shirt as a mark of respect for the “Kick Racism out of Football” campaign.
Ferdinand wanted no part of the ritual, in spite of Ferguson’s insistence that every Manchester United player wear the T-shirt. Like many black players, Rio Ferdinand has become disillusioned with how little the football community is doing to tackle the scourge of racism. What good is a few hundred players wearing a T-shirt once a year when a player’s punishment for racist abuse is a few weeks off work and the penalty of a couple of weeks’ wages? “Kick It Out” needs to be as good at pressing for appropriate punishment as it is at distributing T-shirts.
Rio Ferdinand has felt the frustration more than most. His brother, Anton, the Queens Park Rangers defender, was the victim of racial abuse committed by John Terry, the Chelsea captain, on October 23, 2011. The Football Association banned Terry for four matches and fined him £220,000, but Westminster Magistrates’ Court cleared the former England international centre back of the offence.
The belief that Terry’s punishment went nowhere near to fitting the nature of the indiscretion transcended the game and went on to the front pages of newspapers. Black players everywhere brooded darkly, with much justification, and suddenly the “Kick it Out” campaign became vulnerable to charges of impotence. Just because something appears so utopian in principle does not mean it will work well in practice. In the fight against racism, football is no longer winning.
It is easy to feel sorry for the “Kick It Out” campaign, for this organisation only means well. Its raison d’être, according to its website, is this: “Kick It Out is football’s equality and inclusion campaign. The brand name of the campaign – Let’s Kick Racism Out of Football – was established in 1993 and Kick It Out established as a body in 1997. ‘Kick It Out’ works throughout the football, educational and community sectors to challenge discrimination, encourage inclusive practices and work for positive change.”
To challenge? That is too weak a word for me. We need to do more than merely challenge. We need to fight such primitive behaviour with every fibre in our bodies. We need to ban the unreconstructed slopsuckers, like those in Serbia during the match against England Under-21, from our football stadiums. We need to change the culture that allows racism to thrive. We need education. We need radicals.
Anton Ferdinand was one of eight players who chose not to wear the T-shirts prior to QPR’s match against Everton on Sunday. Shaun Wright-Phillips, Nedum Onouha, Djibril Cisse and Junior Hoilett, Anton Ferdinand’s teammates, also joined the protest, as did Victor Anichebe, Sylvain Distin and Steven Pienaar of Everton.
Just as Rio Ferdinand refused to wear a T-shirt at Old Trafford, so Jason Roberts, the Reading forward, refused to wear one prior to the match at Anfield against Liverpool on the same day. Roberts had already stated the day before his intention not to wear the T-shirt, which gave Ferguson the chance to railroad Ferdinand into playing ball.
“I have to disagree with Jason Roberts; he is making the wrong point,” Ferguson said. “Everyone should be united. All the players in the country wearing the warm-up tops. Yes, all my players will wear it. I think all the players will be wearing it. I only heard that Jason Roberts is different. He is very different. He plays his game and is in the studio 20 minutes after it. It’s a great privilege.”
Quite apart from Ferguson’s unfair condemnation of Roberts, the comments were a brazen – and, as it happened, unsuccessful – attempt to coerce Ferdinand. Ferguson’s egalitarian principles should have led him to believe that free speech in the political sphere is essential for healthy discourse. As a former radical, who, during his days as an engineering union shop steward, led apprentices out on strike, Ferguson should have better understood Rio Ferdinand’s dichotomy. Inexplicably, however, the United manager felt that his right to protect the club’s reputation in the fight against racism outweighed Ferdinand’s right to criticise the “Kick It Out” campaign.
Ferguson is no longer the radical. The status quo suited him better. And his experience of racism is different – manifestly different – from that of Rio Ferdinand (although both men have, in their own way, been enthusiastic advocates of anti-racist movements).
It is encouraging that Clarke Carlisle, the Chairman of the Professional Footballers’ Association, emphasised the need for players to take their own political stances. “Sir Alex Ferguson is continual in his unwavering support for the ‘Kick It Out’ campaign, which is commendable and what we all want to see, but you can’t vilify or coerce any individual for making a stand,” Carlisle told BBC Radio 5 Live. “Everyone has a right to free speech – just like you can’t coerce anyone into shaking hands, you can’t make somebody wear a T-shirt; although I do, personally, believe that joining in with the campaign is the best way forward.”
It certainly used to be the best way forward – in those days of yore, when the fight against racism in football was making great strides. Recently, however, there has been a worrying trend: not only of an increase in racism but of the football community’s inability to deal with the issue. You can see it in Rio Ferdinand’s eyes that he is frustrated with football’s failure to move into the Twenty-first Century. You could see it in Jason Roberts’ eyes.
The refusal of many black players to wear the T-shirts is, hopefully, the next step in the backlash against the ineptitude of the authorities. After the racism shown by Serbia’s supporters last week, Uefa, the game’s European governing body, knows it must deal with the matter appropriately. Never again can Uefa leave itself open to suggestions that it cares more about protecting its sponsors than about the uncivilised treatment of non-white players. When players are victims on racism on the pitch, Uefa should encourage them to walk off and abandon the match. It is the most symbolic way to take the matter seriously.
Sir Alex Ferguson should have known better. During his interview on Saturday evening with MUTV, the club’s official channel, he struggled to keep his anger in check. “I am disappointed. I said [on Friday] that the players would be wearing [the T-shirts] in support of the PFA, and that every player should adhere to it. And he [Rio Ferdinand] goes and lets us down. We will deal with it, don’t worry.”
Ferdinand let nobody down. He made what he believed to be an important protest. He believed he had a right to make that protest. His protest gave the “Kick It Out” campaign more publicity than it could ever have received on its own merits. Some would see Ferdinand’s intervention as radical, but he no doubt took the Martin Luther King mantra: “When you are right you cannot be too radical; when you are wrong, you cannot be too conservative”.
And by being so wrong, Ferguson turned himself into that rare bird: the conservative socialist.
NB: some “frivolous nitpicking” about Ferguson from Representing the Mambo, an excellent blog that, sadly, now seems to be moribund
“I can’t write a song unless it has meaning” – Yip Harburg (songwriter, lyricist, poet, b: April 8 1896 – d: March 5 1981)
An entirely unintended, but very welcome, consequence of That Funeral, has been the publicity it’s brought to the work of songwriter Yip Harburg. I have no intention here of going into the debate about whether the protesters’ use of ‘Ding Dong The Witch Is Dead’ was in any way sexist: quite clearly the song itself is a celebration of the defeat of tyranny, as represented by the Wicked Witch of the East in The Wizard of Oz (a film full of political symbolism, by the way). As lyricist of the song (the music was by Harold Arlen), Harburg intended it that way: he was a committed socialist who went on to be blacklisted as a communist sympathiser in the 1950s. In fact he was never a member of the Party, but he was heavily involved in the Popular Front movement and, like many leftists of the time, appears to have combined libertarianism with a degree of sympathy towards the Soviet Union and Stalinism. He supported the semi-Stalinist Monthly Review magazine until his death. His exact politics were unclear – possibly even to himself. But much of his work is explicitly socialist, including his “masterpiece,” the show Finian’s Rainbow (1947) which deals in its way with commodity fetishism (!) It was also probably the first Broadway show with a racially integrated chorus line.
Harburg wrote the lyrics to many standard tunes including ‘It’s Only A Paper Moon’, ‘April In Paris’, ‘Down With Love’ and (of course) ‘Over The Rainbow.’ But the one that gets to me every time is this great anthem of the depression, written with the composer Jay Gornay and given probably its most powerful rendition in this 1932 version by Bing Crosby:
Yip explained later: “It was a terrible period. You couldn’t walk along the street without crying, without seeing people who’d been wealthy, begging: ‘Can you spare a dime?’…
“When Jay played me the tune he had, I thought of that phrase, ‘Can you spare a dime?’ It kept running through my head as I was walking the streets. And by putting the word ‘brother’ to the line, I got started on it.
“But I thought that lyric out very carefully. I didn’t make it a maudlin lyric of a guy begging. I made it into a commentary. That may sound rhetorical, but it’s true. It was about a fellow who works, a fellow who builds, who makes the railroads and the houses — and he’s left empty-handed. How come? How did this happen? Didn’t I fight the wars, didn’t I bear the gun, didn’t I plow the earth? In other words, the fellow who produced is the fellow who’s left empty handed at the end.”
The Yip Harburg foundation’s website, here
April 15, 2013 at 5:33 pm (AWL, capitalism, capitalist crisis, class, Conseravative Party, elections, From the archives, history, Jim D, labour party, Marxism, socialism, Thatcher, Tory scum, trotskyism, unions, workers)
From the archives:
Following Thatcher’s third election victory in 1987, Workers Liberty magazine carried this editorial (unattributed at the time, but actually written by Sean Matgamna).
Above: Thatcher and sidekick Tebbit triumphant in 1987
No, socialism is not dying!
Labour gained ground slightly during the 1987 British general election campaign — the first time it had done so since 1959. But the Tories still won. The central lesson — Neil Kinnock said it and he was right — is that you don’t win an election in four weeks.
The failure of the Labour leaders to campaign (except against Labour’s own left wing) over the last four years, their terrible political timidity, and their efforts to pull Labour back from its leftism of the early leftism of the early 1980s to bourgeois respectability, meant that Labour started at a disadvantage and on the defensive.
But between 1945 and 1970 Labour always got at least 43% of the vote, even when it lost elections. This time we got only 30.8% — the lowest share, apart from 1983, since 1931. Since 1974 Labour has never scored above 39%. Obviously, there are longer-term problems.
The vainglorious Tory press says that socialism is dying, and that Thatcher’s third term will see it off. They are wrong. There is political decay not of working-class socialism, but of something else which has passed for socialism for too long.
In creating the Labour Party, the British working class went beyond pure and simple trade unionism; but not far beyond it. The Labour Party, in its fundamental politics, has always been no more than trade unionism extended to parliamentary politics. But the trade unions bargain within capitalism on the basis of market relations. They start from the existing relations of labour and capital, and do deals on that basis. They are bourgeois organisations. In periods of depression they may well collude in cuts in workers’ living standards. Essentially the same is true of the Labour Party.
The 1945 Labour government was not a break from that capitalist framework: the fundamentals of the policy of nationalisations and the welfare state were part of a national consensus created under the wartime coalition government. The Labour government left capitalism healthier than it found it.
When Labour returned to office in 1964 it presented itself as the party that would modernise Britain. The big-business magazine ‘The Economist’ , which today is Thatcherite, backed Labour. But Labour’s modernisation effort failed — primarily because of the strength of the working class, which saw off Wilson’s anti-union legislation. Labour turned against its own working-class base. This marked a basic point of decline in Labour’s history.
By the 1960s the long boom which had underpinned a relatively easy consensus in British politics was visibly decaying. Britain’s growth was grievously lagging behind other big capitalist countries. British capitalism needed to reorganise itself, to adjust to the loss of its empire, to replace old and stagnant industries by more modern enterprise, and to deal with its special problem — a too-mighty trade union movement.
The history of the last quarter-century is one of repeated attempts by governments, Tory and Labour, to carry out that restructuring of British capitalism; great struggles by the working class which thwarted them; but — and this is fundamental — a failure by the working class to create its own political alternative; and thus, finally, the victory (to an extent, and for now) of a radical ruling-class alternative, Thatcherism. Read the rest of this entry »
A comrade wrote this to me recently:
“I’ve only just read this article. Really really awful.
And the Weekly Worker‘s extraordinary, ignorant and frankly embarrassing, misogyny (in the name of “Marxism”!) continued:
Now, someone has got their act together and replied. It’s pretty devastating:
The man doth protest too much, methinks….
Poor old Paul Demarty. You gotta sympathise with him, he writes a piss-poor article on feminism and the SWP and he’s shocked by the tsunami of criticism. Poor lamb. Though he provides me with much comedy. Alas, poor Demarty, a fellow of infinite jest. Your flashes of merriment were wont to set Comrade Harpster a roar!
There is nothing in feminism as a core set of ideas that contradicts Marxism. Demarty, in this rather over-the-top shtick claims that the relationship between feminism and Marxism has “tortured the far left” since “at least’ the 1970s. No, comrade, it’s tortured workerists who fail to understand feminism. If you take an essentialist view in your analysis, i.e. radical feminism locates women’s oppression in patriarchy, understanding it as a monolithic entity without seeing the relationship between capitalism & patriarchy. There’s a mirror image between what Demarty is arguing and radical feminism… essentialism. Demarty’s essentialism is workerism. Or to use the phrase Barbara Ehrenreich used back in those “tortured 1970s” … Mechanical Marxism.
And Demarty is shocked I say, shocked due to the comments that ranged from supportive to mildly irked, to downright hostile.
What does he expect?
Demarty is sloppy in his analysis but also dishonest. He fails to understand the power relationships between men and women in a capitalist patriarchal society, which is also reflected on the Left. People are angry precisely because the SWP dealt with a rape allegation appallingly, it also reflects those power dynamics between men and women, it is about the abuse of power. Something that Demarty is incapable of understanding due to his workerist politics.
Just how pathetic and insulting is this statement: As for “other violence”, the comrades Grahl ought to try selling theWeekly Worker outside the Marxism festival, especially when things are generally tense, as they will be this July. It increases your chances of intimidation and assault a great deal more effectively than merely having a vagina.
Say what, Demarty? Merely having a vagina…
Demarty sez this about Comrade Whittle (er, that’s me): I believe she is playing dumb, but this paragraph is a little needlessly jargon-heavy, so I will spell it out.
Demarty wrote in his previous piece: Rape – and domestic violence – are not conducted, by and large, by people who explicitly hold women in contempt, but are rather symptoms of an underlying social psychopathology, a deformed consciousness that does not manifest itself in a way that it can, as the writers of the statement imagine, be “confronted” or “challenged” in a direct way.
Again, I say… Huh? I don’t have a clue regarding this. Not playing dumb just don’t have a scooby-do!
Where’s the empirical and rational basis for this? Psychobabble nonsense mixed with this “deformed consciousness”… Where does this fit in with a rigorous Marxist analysis, which I am sure Demarty is keen to display. And it still stands, he can still be accused of “highfalutin’ verbiage” which once picked away you are left with… empty arguments.
Oh, and “safe space” policies… Does Demarty actually understand what is meant by that because I believe he hasn’t got a … clue. Actually does he believe in the opposite, “unsafe spaces”? Safe spaces aren’t just about physical safety but about psychological safety i.e. not demeaned, not being sneered at, not undermined nor bullied. Is that such a hard concept for him to grasp? It should be a safe place where comrades can challenge each others ideas. It’s also about showing solidarity to women who have experienced violence. Again, what is so difficult for him to comprehend?
A reader’s understanding of feminism: “I have always thought of feminism as simply the belief that the liberation of women from oppression is a priority, that this oppression seeps into all the pores of our society and finds expression in multitudinous ways, and that those at the sharp end of that oppression should play a leading role in combating it.
Demarty’s understanding of the above: There are two problems with this definition. The first is that it is at a very high level of generality, which fails to tell us anything useful about what feminism does. A definition of Christianity might be offered – the belief in the divinity of Jesus Christ. No more precise formulation would avoid excluding one group or another of Christians. Not all believe Jesus was the son of God. Not all accept the biblical accounts. There are Trinitarians, Unitarians and all the rest.
Again, let me reiterate, say what? Sometimes you do talk about things in a general level, it’s to be as succinct as possible about a complex and dynamic form of ideas. That’s perfectly acceptable. If you didn’t go into more depth that would be a problem but the reader is giving a general indication of what they believe feminism is about. So far so good. Demarty tries to explain the problems with generalising by using Christianity as an example. It doesn’t work….
Insultingly… On the basis of the actual history of feminism as a movement, more fissile than Trotskyism and Maoism put together, this claim is transparently false, but it is still a serious motive force.
Demarty argues again in an essentialist manner. And with essentialism you hit the skids quickly.
Finally (as to be honest…. reading through this article was like wading for treacle…)
So here is the “line in the sand”. It is necessary for Marxists to fight for the class solidarity of women and men, to oppose all oppression of women and all expressions of sexist ideology, be they religious or secular, explicit or implicit. Failure to do so is a dereliction of duty. Feminists, on the other hand, fight for the unity of women as women. The Weekly Worker is unequivocally on the former side of the line. The two positions are not compatible. There are no doubt many self-described ‘Marxist feminists’ who are also on our side of the line. That is all well and good, but in that case their feminism is adding nothing to their Marxism, and they may as well drop it, for clarity’s sake.
Here we go… feminism and Marxism are not compatible! Demarty and Co. have a real fear of feminism, because it’s alternative power structure, an alternative source of organisational strength. Ooh scary. To explain in simple terms to him and the rest of the anti-feminist WW crew about socialist feminism.
A socialist feminist perspective takes the position that the patriarchy is not a separate or superior form of oppression to class oppression. Rather it is a phenomenon that has developed alongside and intertwined with class society and with class oppression. As political activists we are confronted by the question of what are we going to do about the issues that we face? Do we struggle against oppression or do we shrug our shoulders? Is our cause strengthened by challenging oppression or is it better to decide as the reformists are prone to do which things we can be bothered to face. Historical materialism developed as a recognition that the capacity of things to be changed through struggle. It is part and parcel of Marx’s dicta about our role being to change things as opposed to merely understand them. Patriarchy is based on men perceiving a benefit in, for example, having household skivvies around who are also sexually available to them. Many working class men may decide (very often do decide) that this advantage outweighs the conflicting interest they have in fighting for a society of equals. Is it not to be open to women to organise against such matters?
As Heidi Hartmann argued in her essay, “The Unhappy marriage of Marxism and feminism”, We must understand the contradictions among social phenomena, the sources of dynamism and the likely directions of changes, learning from our inevitable mistakes and keeping on with the struggle.
The forms of struggle that we take must reflect this dynamic complexity or the organisations that are supposed to combat oppression will end up causing it.
Unfortunately most of Demarty’s article is insulting, patronising and offensive to women. And if he wanted an honest debate around feminism he’s scuppered it with his incoherent and nasty rhetoric (you aint winning any points comrade…). Language that says, “great collective shriek” which is no doubt aimed at those “left feminists and their blind rage”…
Boy, Demarty just can’t handle angry feminists. Men.. they can get angry but not women. Yes, there’s a lot of anger around and it’s very understandable. Yet he finds these debates have distinctive features: repugnant, laughable, paranoid and hypocritical.
Bit like Demarty’s writing style….
Finally… and this is the kicker: Given that this all started with a provocative headline, let me end with another provocation: this is all sound and fury, signifying nothing. The trolls scream only because they have nothing to say.
And who are the trolls, feminists perchance?! Well, this troll is unimpressed if this is all WW can muster regarding arguments against feminism.
When it comes to his writings he is no wordsmith, no crafting of any cogent arguments and no elegance. If Demarty was a gunslinger he would take aim yet fire from the hip in all directions, missing his targets in this stream of consciousness manner. He’s no sharpshooting gunslinger. When he shoots from the pistol in his left hand his aim is dictated by the recoil from the shot he’s just fired from the pistol in his right hand. In other words, he can’t carry an argument rather he blunders, blathers and babbles.
Weekly Worker… you are going to have to raise your game.
[NB: the Weekly Worker/ "CPGB" people have collected the responses together and posted it all up on one page. http://www.cpgb.org.uk/home/weekly-worker/online-only/join-the-debate-feminism]
From the AWL website and Solidarity newspaper:
Unity must be linked to real action
The crises and splits in the Socialist Workers Party (SWP) and Respect have spurred more talk about left unity. The left needs systematic unity in action where we agree, and honest dialogue where we differ, in order to reinstate socialist ideas as an option in the working class.
On 26 March the Coalition of Resistance (within which the key force is the SWP splinter Counterfire) held a press conference to promote a “People’s Assembly Against Austerity” for 22 June (previously announced in a letter to the Guardian on 5 February). Workers’ Liberty supports all such gatherings; but, worryingly, the press release described the event as a “rally” rather than a conference.
There is a back-story. In late 2010 and early 2011, as anti-cuts campaigns flourished in the first angry response to the Tory/ Lib-Dem government, a number of left groups called conferences to try to make themselves the hub of the anti-cuts movement. The SWP called one (Right to Work, since morphed into Unite the Resistance), and the SP called one (National Shop Stewards’ Network). Counterfire’s effort, the Coalition of Resistance, was the biggest.
More than 1,000 people attended the Coalition of Resistance conference on 27 November 2010. Listening to many platform speeches from celebrities calling for militancy against the cuts, including from Unite leader Len McCluskey (who also backs the June event), some of those thousand must have felt they were in on the start of a real new movement.
But not much came of it. CoR has run an informative website, and some useful stunts; but for local anti-cuts committees usually the best contribution that CoR has been able to make is to refrain from organising CoR local groups as rivals to the main committees (and CoR has not always refrained).
The CoR conference was dominated by top-table speakers, 20-odd of them in the opening and closing plenaries. Little came of most workshops. At the workshop billed as dealing with political representation, speakers were a Green Party councillor; Liz Davies, who declared herself a critical supporter of the Green Party; Billy Bragg, whose speech was a straight plea to vote yes in the May 2011 referendum on AV; and Guardian contributor Laurie Penny. It was chaired by a Green Party member and allowed little debate.
The conference applauded a call from the platform for a week of action from 14 February 2011, but there was little action that week. CoR faded.
There is also a back-story to the “People’s Assembly” trope with which Counterfire hopes to revive CoR. They did it first on 12 March 2007, as a People’s Assembly Against War, when the people who now run Counterfire were in the leadership of the SWP. That event drew a good crowd, too — 1,000 or more — but its contribution to unity in action or to serious dialogue on differences was smaller than the attendance. There were almost 40 celebrities speaking from the top table.
On 25 March, film-maker Ken Loach and writer Gilbert Achcar co-signed a letter to the Guardian promoting the “Left Unity” initiative started in December 2012 by Andrew Burgin and Kate Hudson after they had quit George Galloway’s Respect movement. The initiative’s website claims that 3000 people have signed up on the web to back Ken Loach on this. No conference has been announced, but the website reports on local groups.
If those local groups can act as left forums, bringing the left together in joint action where we agree and honest debate where we disagree, then they will make a contribution.
Again, there is a back-story. Burgin had previously been active in Gerry Healy’s Workers’ Revolutionary Party as well as Respect; Hudson, in the Communist Party of Britain before she joined Respect. Loach was close to the Workers’ Revolutionary Party, and then in Respect.
There have been quite a few other unity initiatives in recent years. A weary shrug (“not another one!”) would be wrong; but so would the idea that we need not think about and learn from why they didn’t work.
In 2009, both AWL and SWP made proposals for left unity (only, it turned out that the SWP’s idea of left unity didn’t include talking with AWL…) The Convention of the Left, launched in September 2008 by John Nicholson (previously Labour deputy leader of Manchester City Council, and then in the Socialist Alliance) won wider endorsement than any of the current efforts — Morning Star, Red Pepper, LRC, Respect, Labour Briefing and Socialist Worker, as well as Workers’ Liberty. It agreed to set up local left forums. Trouble is, the forums never really got going, and the “convention” turned into a series of conferences, of diminishing vitality.
The Left Unity Liaison Committee, set up by activists from the Socialist Alliance, brought together different groups to discuss, but also petered out (in the end, AWL was the only one of the activist groups attending regularly). According to the Socialist Party, their electoral vehicle, the Trade Union and Socialist Coalition, is the best hope for left unity. AWL was able to get a loose alliance with the SP and the Alliance for Green Socialism — the Socialist Green Unity Coalition —up to 2008-9, but the SP and AGS then pulled out in favour of No2EU and what became TUSC.
The Anti-Capitalist Initiative, in which the main force is splinters from the Workers’ Power group, also promotes itself as the way to left unity.
None of these, not even CoR which was perhaps the best effort, has had enough substance of agreed united action or of real open debate.
Paradoxically, it often happens that the smaller and more splintered the group which proposes itself as the hub for left unity, the better the initial response it gets. But it’s not necessarily easy sailing from there on!
If an activist group with a known record of political activity makes a call for unity, then people judge it partly according to their opinion of that record. If a splinter of a split of a splinter (just two people initially, as with Burgin and Hudson, or a few dozen, as with Counterfire) makes an appeal, and puts it in the vaguest terms — Burgin and Hudson suggest no more political definition than “rejects austerity and war, advocates a greater democratisation of our society and institutions, and poses a new way of organising everyday life” — then everyone can read into it what they want.
Everyone who wants to build a socialist organisation, but is unsure about how to do it, and so holds back from joining any of the existing groups, can believe they have found a short cut. Just a click on a website, or a “like” on Facebook, and they’re already part of the big movement they want!
Burgin and Hudson cite Syriza in Greece and Die Linke in Germany as their models. But neither of those dropped from the sky in response to a few activists writing a letter to the Guardian, or doing a press conference. Syriza builds on a long political tradition — that of the Greek Communist Party, since the 1920s the main force in the Greek workers’ movement – and on sharp political battles which separated Syriza’s core both from the old Stalinists and from the soft reformists now in Greece’s Democratic Left. Die Linke rests on having been able to take over a chunk of what was the old ruling party in East Germany.
Also, neither of them is adequate. If Syriza did not have organised left groupings like DEA and Kokkino battling within it against its mainstream leadership, then there would be no hope for it doing anything other than collapsing into reformist adaptation. Die Linke is more Keynesian than socialist, and has supported cuts where it is in provincial coalition governments.
Unity is good. But talk about unity will be just a way of floating yet another left splinter unless it is translated into specific unity in action and specific dialogue about differences.
To the credit of Burgin and Hudson, they have posted on their website a thoughtful contribution from SWPer (or ex-SWPer?) Keith Flett. “However, and however frustrating some may find it, there is no way of by-passing the weight of Labour and perhaps in particular Labour activists in the unions and localities in all this…. The electoral support of Labour and its impact can’t be ignored.
“It may be argued that membership is hardly what it was in the 1950s but that is true of all political parties. It may also be argued that the hold of Labour’s approach to political change is less, but it is an argument not an historical fact.
“Even if we accept time scales change with context, historically it has taken time to build left parties.”
Not just time, but effort, argument, education. And politics! Talk of unity is good, but only if it leads to specific united action and specific dialogue. Not if it becomes only a way to float yet another left splinter making its claim as being the one which is really for unity…
AWL will work with the Left Unity forums, and the People’s Assembly, on that basis.
Far left groups implode from time to time (eg the SWP at the moment and, back in 1985, the WRP). And not infrequently, new far left groups are formed (sometimes out of the wreckage of the implosions). What is very rare is for a far left group to simply jack it in, give up the ghost, voluntarily disband. I believe the US Independent Socialist League (the ‘Shachtmanites‘) did it in 1957 or ’58, but off hand, that’s the only example [I have been corrected - see comments below - JD] I can think of. Until now:
Permanent Revolution – dissolution statement
Permanent Revolution was established in 2006 following the expulsion of a
number of members of Workers Power in July 2006. The original intention of
the organisation was to continue to try and build an organisation based on
the core principles of revolutionary Trotskyism that we had all long
adhered to while still members of Workers Power.
During the following seven years we produced 24 issues of a journal that we
think made a significant contribution to debates within the far left, that
attempted to develop Marxist theory to address new issues and that offered
coherent programmatic answers to key issues facing the international
working class. As a consequence the journal developed a significant
audience and our ideas won a hearing across the left and the labour
This literary contribution was matched by the activity of our comrades who
led struggles in a number of areas and a variety of arenas – union,
community, anti-cuts, anti-racist and so on.
However, with the development of a number of new campaigns, networks and
organisations, combined with the decline of the established far left
groups, we recognise the need for the left to organise itself in radically
different ways. As a result we have now decided to cease publication of our
journal and website.
Instead we will direct our efforts and resources to building those
initiatives, regionally, locally and nationally, that we believe offer a
way forward that is more effective than the maintenance of ourselves as a
distinct group – for example, the Anti-Capitalist Initiative, Marxist
Networks and radical trade union and campaigning organisations that are
working to renew the labour movement and the left in working class
We would like to thank you all for your support over the past seven years
and we know that we will continue to work with you in common struggles in
the years to come.
From the CLR James Legacy Project:
The CLR James Legacy Project will be hosting our first conference in London on Saturday April 13 and we would love to see you there. The event will be preceded the evening before with the CLR James Annual Lecture (‘The Importance of the Black Vote’) at the Dalston CLR James Library. Details of this and other CLR James-related events, here.
As ever, please get in touch if you have articles/news for our website or want to offer your services to keep the legacy of CLR James thriving. We are at present working on very limited resources – both human and financial – so could do with the active help of supporters. Please email firstname.lastname@example.org if you feel you can help.
The Life & Legacy of CLR James – London Legacy Conference
Saturday April 13 11am-6pm
Venue: WEA, 96-100 Clifton Street EC2A 4TP
This free conference is organised by the CLR James Legacy Project in partnership with the Workers’ Educational Association (WEA).
The conference will involve a day of discussions, workshops and performance around CLR James’ life and his relevance today. Confirmed speakers include Darcus Howe (broadcaster, writer and activist), Mike Dibb (film maker) and Selwyn Cudjoe (Wellesley College and co-editor of ‘CLR James: His Intellectual Legacies’). There will also be contributions from Ngoma Bishop (BEMA) and Andrea Enisuoh (Hackney Unites) who led the campaign to keep the name of CLR James on the Dalston Library when the local council threatened to drop it. Friends and comrades of CLR will also be presenting and contributing to the discussions on the day.
Bookings: click here
Above: the final scene of the greatest Western of them all
I’ve always had great respect for the late Eric Hobsbawm as a historian, but less for his politics. I’ve warmed to the old Stalinist/Euro, though, having read that his last book, ‘Fractured Times: Culture and Society in the Twentieth Century’ deals with (amongst other things), cowboys and the Western in literature, mythology and film. Here’s a little taste:
It is clear that many white protagonists of the original wild west epic are in some sense misfits in, or refugees from, “civilisation”, but that is not, I think, the main essence of their situation. Basically they are of two types: explorers or visitors seeking something that cannot be found elsewhere – and money is the very last thing they seek; and men who have established a symbiosis with nature, as it exists in its human and non-human shape, in these wilds.
In terms of literary pedigree, the invented cowboy was a late romantic creation. But in terms of social content, he had a double function: he represented the ideal of individualist freedom pushed into a sort of inescapable jail by the closing of the frontier and the coming of the big corporations. As a reviewer said of Frederic Remington’s articles, illustrated by himself in 1895, the cowboy roamed “where the American may still revel in the great red-shirted freedom which has been pushed so far to the mountain wall that it threatens soon to expire somewhere near the top”. In hindsight, the west could seem thus, as it seemed to that sentimentalist and first great star of movie westerns William S Hart, for whom the cattle and mining frontier “to this country … means the very essence of national life … It is but a generation or so since virtually all this country was frontier. Consequently its spirit is bound up in American citizenship.” As a quantitative statement this is absurd, but its significance is symbolic. And the invented tradition of the west is entirely symbolic, inasmuch as it generalises the experience of a comparative handful of marginal people. Who, after all, cares that the total number of deaths by gunshot in all the major cattle towns put together between 1870 and 1885 – in Wichita plus Abilene plus Dodge City plus Ellsworth – was 45, or an average of 1.5 per cattle-trading season, or that local western newspapers were not filled with stories about bar-room fights, but about property values and business opportunities?
John Wayne in The Searchers. Photograph: AP Photo/Warner Bros
But the cowboy also represented a more dangerous ideal: the defence of the native Waspish American ways against the millions of encroaching immigrants from lower races. Hence the quiet dropping of the Mexican, Indian and black elements, which still appear in the original non-ideological westerns – for instance, Buffalo Bill’s show. It is at this stage and in this manner that the cowboy becomes the lanky, tall Aryan. In other words, the invented cowboy tradition is part of the rise of both segregation and anti-immigrant racism; this is a dangerous heritage. The Aryan cowboy is not, of course, entirely mythical. Probably the percentage of Mexicans, Indians and black people did diminish as the wild west ceased to be essentially a south-western, even a Texan, phenomenon, and at the peak of the boom it extended into areas like Montana, Wyoming and the Dakotas. In the later periods of the cattle boom the cowboys were also joined by a fair number of European dudes, mainly Englishmen, with eastern-bred college-men following them.
Read the rest (courtesy the Graun) here.
I trust that in this last book, Hobsbawm has also written more about his love of jazz.
Cross-posted from the United Left website
By Jim Kelly,
Chair London & Eastern Region Unite the Union (personal capacity)
Above: Jerry Hicks
I am putting this note forward to challenge the claim of Jerry Hicks and his confederates that somehow he is the candidate of the left and Len McCluskey just another bureaucrat. It is time to go beyond the hallmark of Hicks and his cohort ‘s infantile attempt to see all those in official positions as the same, and to see McCluskey as someone whose occupation is selling out the R&F (Rank and File). The starting point for unravelling all of this is to consider Hicks’ claim to be the candidate of the R&F. We need first to consider who the R&F are.
So who are the R&F? The main plank of Hicks’ campaign is that he presents himself as the champion of the R&F, indeed their self anointed leader in waiting. There have been no meetings of this “R&F group” to democratically decide on a candidate; Jerry didn’t even attend the last Grassroots Left national AGM in November in Birmingham. He just elbowed any potential alternatives out of the race in late December, by anointing himself. Even the Catholic Church has to go through the ritual of an election by a conclave of Cardinals, but apparently not our “R&F”
Now, while any trade unionist worth their salt will identify with the R&F, who does Jerry Hicks speak for, and what does he mean by the R&F?
One thing I share in common with Jerry Hicks is that I joined a union in 1976. I joined the old UPW, I went on to join the SWP in 1976. I became a rep in one of the largest and most militant sorting office in the country, and went on to help found the Rank & File Post Office Worker Group with other SWP activists.
Our R&F group was one of a number at the time, R&F Docker, Teacher, Building Worker to name a few. While they were called R&F groups in fact all they were, was the SWP and its periphery, with no independent political life of their own. Once the SWP decided to close them down they struggled to survive.
The point is that all of these R&F groupings, like the SWP of the late ‘70s and Jerry Hick’s Grassroots Left (GRL) are constituted by either one or more political organisation, or groups of and populated by the organisation’s membership and contacts. The fact that the GRL is comprised of people in different and no political organisations does not invalidate its political nature. Read their organisational structure clearly; it is a political formation with its own discipline and committee structure. Its political character is, I think shown rather neatly by the following piece of idiocy:
“For the right of the rank and file to veto all management decisions and workers control over all aspects of production, including hiring and firing, for workers’ control over and nationalisation without compensation of all firms sacking workers in the interests of profit.”
Call me old fashioned if you will but to me this demand is a call for dual power and rather than being appropriate slogans for a union, they are demands for workers’ councils (soviets)linked to the formation of a workers’ government. Now is it that the Unite bureaucracy is stopping the members making this demand realisable (the bastards) or maybe is it a bit of an aspiration? … and by the way this will not be a right – as if in a state of dual power these rights would be given to workers, rather being prizes we will struggle for and take.
So do they represent the authentic voice of the R&F? Well only in a post modernist sense where asserting something makes it real. What Hicks and the political organisations supporting him have in common is rather than being part of the R&F they appropriate the term R&F as a label for their political project. Read the rest of this entry »