By James Bloodworth (reblogged from Left Foot Forward)
Labour shadow foreign secretary Douglas Alexander has just delivered his response in the House of Commons to foreign secretary William Hague’s statement on the crisis in Ukraine. The statements from both sides were fairly predictable – both condemned Russian provocations – but the Labour foreign secretary was right to press the government on what action it plans to take in order to pressure Russia into pulling back from Crimea. This was especially important considering the revelations yesterday evening that the coalition is seeking to protect the City of London from any punitive EU action against Russia.
But what about the rest of the British left? Well, here we find a wide range of positions, from the Stop the War Coalition’s apparent attempt to pin the entire blame for the Crimea affair on the West to Left Unity’s somewhat abstract and blanket opposition to “foreign military intervention” and “foreign political and economic intervention”.
The Labour Party
Douglas Alexander told the House of Commons that there could be “no justification for this dangerous and unprovoked military incursion”. In terms of resolving the crisis, he insisted that firm measures were needed to apply pressure to Russia, saying that the international community needed to “alter the calculus of risk in the minds of the Russian leaders by…making clear to the Russians the costs and consequences of this aggression”.
The shadow foreign secretary also mentioned the coalition’s apparent unwillingness to upset the City for the sake of Ukrainian territorial integrity, saying he was “afraid the United Kingdom’s words will count for little without more credence being given to these options and a willingness at least to countenance their use in the days and weeks ahead”.
Lindsey German of the Stop the War Coalition and Counterfire has written a lengthy 10-point post in which she tries to paint the Russian invasion of Ukraine as a rational response to NATO/EU provocations. There is a lot that’s wrong with the piece, and you could do worse than read this take down of German’s article in the Economist.
“Who is the aggressor? The obvious answer seems to be that it is Russia, but that is far from the whole picture…Ever since the end of the Cold War in 1991, the European Union (EU) and Nato have been intent on surrounding Russia with military bases and puppet regimes sympathetic to the West, often installed by ‘colour revolutions’.”
Much clearer in its stance has been the Socialist Workers’ Party (surprisingly perhaps), which has condemned much of what has been taken as read by Stop the War Coalition and Counterfire as “Moscow propaganda”:
“Those who claim Yanukovych’s overthrow was a “fascist coup” are parroting Moscow propaganda. He fell because the section of the oligarchy who had previously backed him withdrew their support…Putin claims to be acting in defense of Ukraine’s Russian speakers—a majority in Crimea and widespread in southern and eastern Ukraine. But beyond a parliamentary vote in Kiev to strip Russian of its status as an official language, there is little evidence of any real threat to Russian speakers.” – Alex Callinicos, Socialist Worker
The Alliance of Workers’ Liberty has published a statement on its website from the University of Russian University Workers, which is unequivocal in its denunciation of Russian aggression:
“Declaration of the central council of the ‘University Solidarity’ union of Russian university workers:
“The central council of the “University Solidarity” union expresses its concern at the situation caused by the decision of the Federation Council of the Federal Assembly of Russia on 1 March 2014, granting the president of Russia the right to use Russian armed force on the territory of Ukraine.
“We believe that this decision does not help the defense of the Russian-speaking population of Ukraine and that it promises grave consequences. Support to the Russian-speaking citizens of Ukraine can be given by other means, by the means of state and popular diplomacy, by economic cooperation, by human rights.”
Encouragingly, the Fourth International has also condemned what it calls the “foreign policy adventurism of the current regime” in Moscow:
“War has begun. With the aim of protecting and increasing the assets of the oligarchs in Russia and in Yanukovich’s coterie, Russia’s leadership has undertaken an invasion of Ukraine. This aggression threatens catastrophic consequences for the Ukrainian and Russian peoples – most especially for the population of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and Ukraine’s southeastern industrial regions…Today, the struggle for freedom in Russia is a struggle against the foreign policy adventurism of the current regime, which seeks collusion in forestalling its own end. The RSD calls on all sincere left and democratic forces to organize anti-war protests.” – Statement from the Russian Socialist Movement
Left Unity is an interesting one, and appears to draw a (false) moral equivalence between unwanted Russian military intervention in Ukraine and economic assistance requested by the Ukrainian government to support its ailing economy:
“The continuing political and economic crisis in Ukraine is taking a dangerous military turn.
“Left Unity takes the position that there can only be a political solution to this crisis and that neither foreign military intervention nor foreign political and economic intervention provide the answers to Ukraine’s complex problems.
“Whether under the flag of US, NATO, Russia or the European Union, military intervention only ever makes the situation many times worse. So it is in Ukraine. The West’s hypocrisy in condemning Russia for breaking international law is breathtaking: nevertheless, Russian troops hold no solution to the crisis.”
At the more extreme end, the Communist Party takes the Moscow line that the Ukrainian Euromaidan movement is ‘fascist’:
“The failure of EU leaders to uphold the 21 February Agreement on early elections has given sanction to a coup d’etat against a democratically elected government that threatens to destabilise the country and sets dangerous precedents for the future. The open involvement of US, EU and NATO leaders in the build up to the coup exposes it as part of the drive to change the geo-political balance in Europe in ways that threaten security and peace in Europe and the World… The Communist Party of Britain pledges its support to the Communist Party of Ukraine in its resistance to fascism, predatory capitalism and imperialism.” – Robert Griffiths, CP general secretary
…as does Workers’ Power:
“The bourgeois nationalist parties have taken power in an anti-democratic coup, using the fascist paramilitaries and rebellious police forces. Workers should make it clear they do not recognize the legitimacy of this government, its orders, the laws, and decisions of the counter-revolutionary Rada…The working class should not wait for outside intervention from Russia, nor allow the reactionary, undemocratic new regime to consolidate its power with the May 25 elections, held at gunpoint.”
As for the Twittersphere:
And on the right…
Between the 1930s and 1950s the revolutionary socialist (ie Trotskyist and, later, Shachtmanite) press in the USA made use of the wit and skill of talented cartoonists such as ‘Carlo’ (Jesse Cohen). In an Era of Wars and Revolutions, a new collection of their work, gives a snapshot history of the times: the rise of the mass industrial union movement in the USA, the great strike wave of 1945-6, the fight against ‘Jim Crow’ racism, World War Two, the imposition of Stalinism on Eastern Europe, and more.
Sean Matgamna (editor of In an Era of Wars and Revolutions) writes:
That “one picture can be worth a thousand words” is true, but only up to a point. A photograph or a painting cannot properly nail down, explain or explore ideas. A complicated piece of writing has no visual equivalent.
Yet a well-done cartoon is a powerful political weapon. A few bold strokes by an artist can convey an idea more vividly and fix it more firmly in the viewer’s mind than would an editorial or an article.
A cartoon is drawn to convey an idea, a point of view, an interpretation of what it depicts, and its meaning. Cartoons by their nature simplify, caricature, exaggerate, lampoon, and play with archetypal images.
A cartoon is highly subjective, yet it draws on commonly recognised symbols. The image, idea, interpretation fuse in the drawing. Drawn to convey an idea of people, things, institutions, classes, states, and of their inter-relationships, a cartoon distills the artist’s conception of what is essential in those people, events, entities, institutions, relationships.
The cartoonist is licensed to distort everyday reality so as to bring out a view, a “seeing”, analysis, critique, historical perspective of it. Its ciphers, emblems, archetypes vary to allow for the artist’s individual slant (like, in this collection, Carlo’s characteristic rendition of the top hat-fat archetypical bourgeois laughing at the gullibility or helplessness of workers).
All of a cartoon, all its details and references, are consciously or subconsciously chosen to convey a point of view, a nailed-down perception, a historical perspective. In old socialist cartoons the worker is always bigger and stronger than his enemies. He needs only to be awakened to an awareness of his strength.
It is almost always a “he”. The socialists who drew these cartoons were, themselves and their organisations, militant for women’s rights, but little of that is in their work.
One of the difficulties with old socialist cartoons for a modern viewer is that the stereotype-capitalist wears a top hat and is stout or very fat. In some early 20th century British labour movement cartoons he is named, simply, “Fat”. Fat now, in our health-conscious days, is seen as a characteristic of lumpenised workers and other “lower orders” people.
Much contemporary comedy is a hate-ridden depiction of the poor, the disadvantaged, the excluded, the badly educated, by physical type – fat and slobby. Where most of the old racial and national caricatures have been shamed and chased into the underbrush, no longer tolerable to decent people of average good will, the old social-Darwinian racism against the poor is rampant still, unashamed and not often denounced.
Even so, the old symbols, the fat capitalist and the big powerful worker, are still intelligible. They depict truths of our times as well as of their own. These cartoons still live.
They portray US politics, governments, the class struggle, the labour movement, America’s “Jim Crow” racism, Stalinism at its zenith, Roosevelt’s New Deal, Harry Truman’s “Fair Deal”, Senator Joe McCarthy, McCarthyism. They present clean and stark class-struggle socialist politics, counterposed to both capitalism and Stalinism.
A few are from the 1920s, but mainly they cover the quarter century after the victory of Hitler in Germany in 1933. and the definitive consolidation of Stalinism in the USSR.
Across the decades, they still carry the emotional hostility to the master class and solidarity with their victims that they were drawn to convey; the socialists’ abhorrence of the Stalinist atrocities that discredited and disgraced the name of socialism (they themselves were often among the targets); the desire, hope and drive for a re-made world — a socialist world. They blaze with anger and hatred against the horrors of America’s all-contaminating Jim Crow racism.
These cartoons were of their time, and what their time and earlier times led socialists to expect of the future. They were often mistaken. Government repression during World War Two was less fierce than the severe persecution of socialists and militant trade unionists in World War One and afterwards, led them to expect.
In the later 1940s, like most observers, they saw World War Three looming. In fact, the world settled into a prolonged “balance of terror” after Russia developed an atom bomb in 1949 and the USA and Russia fought a proxy war on Korean soil which ended in stalemate. The economic collapse which the experience of the 1930s led them to expect did not come (though in fact the long capitalist upswing took off only with the Korean war boom of 1950-3). Plutocratic democracy in the USA, during the war and after it, proved far less frail than the Marxists feared it would.
Over many years I have collected photocopies of these cartoons, buried as they were in files of old publications for six, seven or eight decades. I think others will be moved by them too.
What Peadar Kearney wrote fifty years after their time of the Fenians, the left-wing Irish Republicans of the 1860s and 70s, speaks to the socialists of the era covered by this book as well:
“Some fell by the wayside
Some died ‘mid the stranger,
And wise men have told us
That their cause was a failure;
But they stood by old Ireland
And never feared danger.
Glory O, glory O,
To the bold Fenian men!”
Above: Bayard Rustin
As the world gears up for the fiftieth anniversary of the great 1963 March for Jobs and Freedom, the Social Democrats USA remember the crucial role of Bayard Rustin, and the “Shachtmanite” organisation, of which he was a member: their role has been figuratively airbrushed out of official histories. Rustin was the key figure linking the Civil Rights movement and the unions:
By David Hacker
The 50th anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington is [this coming Wednesday]. Everyone knows about Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech that he delivered at the rally outside the Lincoln Memorial for this event. What most do not know is that the entire march was conceived and planned by the Shachtmanites. A Philip Randolph conceived it. But Max Shachtman also had a hand in the idea for the march. He also chose Rustin to be the main organizer for the march. When Rustin was caught and arrested for homosexual conduct in a men’s room in Washington, Shachtman (though he was a homophobe) outlined for Bayard a defense of his action. Randolph was being pressured to fire Rustin and Southern Senators, such as Strom Thurmond, were attacking him on the issue of immorality. But as a result of Shachtman’s defense, Rustin continued to be the main organizer of the march (though his official position was downgraded a bit.), and he hired many Shachtmanites such as Norman Hill and Tom Kahn to assist him. At the same time, Bogdan Denitch organized the West Coast version of the march in California. At the rally itself, Kahn wrote the controversial speech by SNCC chair John Lewis in which the advanced text contained attacks on the Kennedy Administration and stated that “the revolution is at hand. We will take matters in our own hands and create a source of power, outside of any national structure that could and would assure us a victory…If any radical social, political and economic changes are to take place in our society, the people, the masses, must bring them about.” Then Att. Gen. Robert F. Kennedy said that Lewis shouldn’t be allowed to deliver his speech at the March. Patrick Cardinal O’Boyle, the Catholic prelate of Washington protested that he wouldn’t deliver the invocation for the rally if Lewis delivered his speech. Randolph, King, Rustin, Kahn and Lewis and other leaders of SNCC argued about revising the speech while the rally had already started. Finally, Lewis agreed to a rewritten speech and he was allowed to address the masses gathered at the Lincoln Memorial. (Lewis is now a Democratic congressman from Atlanta.)
What most history books do not tell you about is the Socialist Party conference that was held in Washington after the rally was over. It was entitled, “Socialist Party National Conference on the Civil Rights Revolution”. This was a 2 day affair held at the Burlington Hotel from Thursday August 29-Friday August 30, 1963. (The SP had a party for Marchers and Conference participants on the evening of August 28th after the conclusion of the March on Washington and rally.) The first session was Thursday morning with the theme: “Toward Full Equality in a Progressive America. Chairman of the session was Richard Parrish ( who was the chairman of the Civil Rights Committee of the United Federation of Teachers, Vice President of the American Federation of Teachers and Treasurer of the Negro-American Labor Council. Parrish was also running on the SP line for a special election for NYC Councilmember at Large in Manhattan and was supported enthusiastically by all factions of the SP.) Speakers were Norman Thomas, Floyd McKissick, Chairman of CORE (spoke in place of James Farmer, who was in jail in Louisiana), A. Philip Randolph and Congressman William Fitts Ryan (D-NY), a leader of the reform Democrats. Special remarks by Samuel H. Friedman, SP VP candidate in 1952 and 1956 and former editor of the Socialist Call. The afternoon session was entitled: “The New Phase: A Prospectus for Civil Rights.” Chairman of the session was long time SP activists Seymour Steinsapir. Speakers were Bayard Rustin, Deputy Director March on Washington. Responding to Rustin’s address were Robert Moses, Field Secretary, Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee, Ike Reynolds, Task Force, CORE and Tom Kahn, Staff, March on Washington. The evening sessions theme was “A Political Strategy for Civil Rights. The sessions’s chairman was Eleanor Holmes, now DC Congressional Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton. She introduced the conference’s keynote speaker, Max Shachtman, who spoke on the topic, “Drive Out Dixiecrats For Jobs and Freedom.” Responding to Shachtman’s address were Ernest Calloway, President, St Louis Chapter of the Negro-American Labor Council, and Wiloughby Abner, Vice-President, NALC, National Staff, UAW. The final session of the Conference took place on Friday morning. It’s subject was “Fair Employment-Full Employment. The chairman of the meeting was Warren Morse (a name I am unfamiliar with). Speakers were Lewis Carliner, Assistant to the Director, International Affairs Dept., UAW, Norman Hill, Assistant Program Director, CORE, Cleveland Robinson, Secretary Treasurer, District 65 RWDSU, Co-Chairman of March, Herman Roseman, Economist. Closing Remarks and Summary by Norman Thomas.
Thus, well known figures took part in this conference. such as leaders of CORE, SNCC, Randolph, Rustin, Norman Thomas, Norm Hill, Kahn, prominent folk singers like Joan Baez, etc. But my main point is that the Shachtmanites, militant civil rights leaders, labor, were all united seemingly in the same broad realignment movement of the democratic Left. SDS was still also a part of this coalition, despite of Harrington’s tirade against them over the Port Huron Statement, the year before. As long as the Shachtmanite-militant civil rights alliances continued, it would be counter-productive for SDS to seem to be against this realignment coalition. This is the very positive aspect of the Shachtmanites activities in the SP that too many are unfortunately not aware of. Harrington was not at the March. He was in Paris writing his second book, The Accidental Century.
David Hacker is Vice Chair of Social Democrats USA. The above article is excerpted from a book he is writing about Max Shachtman. Historical note: The Socialist Party in existence in 1963 would be renamed Social Democrats, USA in 1972. Harrington chose to leave the organization at that time. But organized labor stayed and so did Bayard Rustin, becoming National Chairman.
More on Rustin’s role in the Civil Rights Movement, and his subsequent political evolution, here
Gary Younge in the Gruan doesn’t even mention Rustin’s Shachtmanism
From the Workers Liberty archives:
Like a brilliant gleam of light in the gathering darkness of the post-war years, the rising of the German working class has already shattered myths and shamed despair. It has already answered a host of questions that had been passed by those who became panic-stricken before the seemingly invincible strength of Stalinist tyranny.
These June days may well go down in history as the beginning of the workers’ revolt against Stalinism — the beginning, in the historical view, quite apart from any over-optimistic predictions about the immediate aftermath to be expected from this action itself.
Is the Iron Curtain empire monolithic? Have the workers of East Europe been so duped by Stalinism as to become cowed creatures, hypnotised, straightjacketed by the Stalinist ‘mystique’? Has the working class lost its revolutionary dynamism? Is the Russian power so solid, or all-intimidating, within that there is no hope of stopping its menace except by Western military might and the third world war? The German working class has given an answer, and it is the answer we Independent Socialists have looked to.
Beginning as a spontaneous, peaceful mass demonstration against the latest speed-up decree increasing work norms, in 24 hours it necessarily became a battle with the real power in the country, the Russian troops. Beginning as a movement for economic demands, it was at bottom, and quickly became overtly, a political demonstration.
Five hours after it began at 9 am on June 16, the regime had already capitulated on the immediate issue of speed-up, withdrawing its ukase.
On the second day of the action, Russian tanks, armoured cars, artillery and soldiery had taken over from the East German police, who had refrained from blocking the riotous demonstrators.
In the vanguard of the march, and apparently its inspirers, were several hundred construction workers…
(Hal Draper, Labor Action, 22 June 1953)
For the full article by Hal Draper, and more by Max Shachtman and others…
This is from Amandla! magazine. Achcar is associated with the ‘Mandelite’ United Secretariat of the Fourth International, but tends to have saner views on ‘imperialism’ than the majority of that tendency. He didn’t, for instance, simply denounce the Libyan rebels for calling for and accepting western support. In this interview on Syria he’s good against conspiracy-style ‘anti-imperialism’ on the left, the difficulties of post-civil war state formation owing to the centrifugal nature of the uprisings, and the reactionary character of the Muslim Brotherhood. He seems to think that Islamism will have difficulty becoming hegemonic because of its lack of socio-economic solutions. Let’s hope he’s right about that. http://www.amandla.org.za/amandla-magazine/current-issue/1706-amandla
H/t: Liam McN
Interview with Gilbert Achcar, academic, writer, and activist, Professor at the Development Studies Department at the School of African and Oriental Studies in London (SOAS).
Amandla!: What would you say to those who argue that the Syrian uprising may be an opening for imperialist interests in the region?
GA: We have to distinguish between two aspects of the question. One aspect hints at the kind of conspiracy theory among those that call themselves anti-imperialist and tend to see the hand of imperialism behind everything. But believing that the United States is behind this massive uprising in the region is senseless. The fact is that the US has been confronted with a major dilemma: recent events came at a point when US influence in the region was at its lowest since the first war on Iraq in 1991, and at a time when it the US was preparing for its final withdrawal from Iraq without having accomplished any of the invasion’s goals. On top of that, uprisings overthrew faithful allies of Washington, including Egypt’s Mubarak, a key strategic partner in the region. To think Washington would have wished for this is ridiculous.
Actually, these events were so overwhelming that Washington rapidly understood it couldn’t oppose the tide; it had to pretend to welcome it in the name of the ‘democratic values’ to which it supposedly adheres. It had no choice but to renew the old alliance with the Muslim Brotherhood that existed until the 1990s, on which it now bets today, in the same way that it relies on the Emir of Qatar to play the go-between.
In Syria, we see Washington’s great quandary. As in Libya, it refuses to deliver weapons to the insurgency despite insistent requests (although it intervened directly in Libya, by bombing). The result is a total disproportion in weaponry and training between the regime’s forces and the insurgency, even though the insurgency encompasses a much larger section of the population. The truth is that the war has dragged on much longer than it might have had the insurgency received weapons. And the cost is terrible and tragic because of the loss of thousands and thousands of lives. The war is devastating Syria to the point that the insurgents are convinced – for good reason – that Washington and the western powers are happy with the conflict because ultimately it will create a weak, post-Assad Syria, which the US and Israel believe to be in their interests.
A!: What are the specific formations that are acting in Syria right now? Is there a class basis to the uprising?
GA: It’s not a class uprising in the sense that it has any form of clear-cut class consciousness. But the uprising started with a peripheral movement in poor rural towns, and the poorest, most downtrodden sections of the population were the insurgency’s initial force. The bourgeoisie as a whole is very afraid of the whole movement and the chaos that it creates. So there is no doubt that the uprising is a popular movement.
But because of the historical failure of the left in the region, we have a massive uprising without any capable left-wing leadership. It’s a very decentralised type of uprising with all sorts of groups waging a common fight against the regime. Read the rest of this entry »