Joe Columbo, the Mafia and ethnically-based politics

April 25, 2015 at 4:50 pm (AWL, communalism, crime, history, Italy, multiculturalism, populism, posted by JD, religion, strange situations)

Organized crime boss Joseph Anthony Colombo Sr. in 1971.

By Sean Matgamna (2006; very minor changes and additions made by JD, April 2015):

The story of Joe Columbo, the Mafia boss who briefly turned ethnic politician, is one of the most frightening stories I’ve come across. An instructive story, too. It sheds some light on [certain recent events in Tower Hamlets ]

Perhaps significantly, the year is 1970. In the USA there is a huge anti-Vietnam-war movement. The USA has also experienced the black civil rights movement and the black ghetto uprisings. It is a highly political period in American history.

When the gangster Joe Columbo, boss of one of the Mafia “Families” feels the pursuing FBI breathing down his neck, he reacts “politically”. He starts the “Italian-American Civil Rights League” (IACRL) to campaign against the FBl’s “harassment” of Italian-Americans!

IACRL’s message is simple and clear cut, the lie big and direct. The Mafia does not exist. There is no such thing as the Mafia. There never was. The Mafia is a myth invented by a racist police force less concerned with justice or with fighting real criminals than with self-publicity. The FBI has invented the Mafia and thus stigmatised and smeared the entire Italian-American community.

The Mafia myth is a burden and an affliction for every Italian-American, and it is time to fight back, says the mafioso Joe Columbo. The Italian-American Civil Rights League exists with Joe Columbo as its leading personality, to fight for justice, truth and the Italian-American way. It slots easily into the American system of ethnic politics, and it mushrooms into a powerful movement able to get tens of thousands to demonstrate on the streets.

They boldly picket the FBI, demanding that it should stop victimising and persecuting good Italian-Americans like Joe Columbo. They demand such things as more public recognition that it was an Italian who first discovered America for Europe, Christopher Columbus. The image of the Italian-American has to be changed.

Politicians, judges, entertainers, flock to get a piece of Columbo’s action. At $10 per member, the Italian American Civil Rights League becomes a nice little earner for Joe Columbo and his Mafia friends.

The IACRL is a political force for about a year, and then one day in 1971, just as Joe Columbo is starting to speak to a big audience of thousands of demonstrating Italian-Americans, to tell them once again that the mafia does not exist, a mafia guman shoots him in the head, blowing part of his brain away. The gunman is immediately killed by Columbo’s Mafioso bodyguards.

You see, the other Mafiosi hadn’t had Joe Columbo’s faith in the power of the big bold lie to protect them. Columbo had broken their traditional modus operandi of anonymous, background manipulation, and as little publicity as possible. They thought Columbo’s political operation would only get the FBI to intensify the heat on them. So they had him shot.

They didn’t quite kill Joe Columbo outright: he survived for seven years, incapacitated. What they did kill was the Italian American Civil Rights League. One irony of this strange all-American tale is that what Columbo said — the mafia is a myth — was what FBI Chief J Edgar Hoover had said for decades, until the late 50s. Hoover hadn’t wanted to admit that there were criminals and a criminal network too big for the FBI to bring down.

Joe Columbo would be the basis of one of the characters in Francis Ford Coppola’s Godfather Part 3 (1990) He had, it seems, paid a visit to the Producer of the first of the 3 Godfather films,”The Godfather”, to threaten him out of too-close an identification of the film’s charaacters with their Italian background.

The story of Joe Columbo and his Italian-American Civil Rights League illustrates the ease with which politics can be faked and vast numbers of people fooled and led by their noses — the power of pseudo-political demagogy to drum up unreasoning movements around real grievances.

Marx said truly that ideas become a material force when they grip the masses. A big problem for socialists and people concerned to promote rational politics in general is that all sorts of ideas can grip the masses.

There are no political or ideological vacuums: it has to be either the ideas of the ruling class, even if in some “wild” varient like Columbo’s, or the ideas of Marxism, that prevail.

More than that: the emotion of resentment and rebellion can be hooked to many different ideas about the world in general — about what’s wrong with it and what needs to be done about that.

Democratic political processes are routinely corrupted and perverted not only by ruling-class political machines, but also by radical and pseudo-radical demagogues. Isn’t that what fascism — with its pretend anti-capitalism and its vicious scapegoating of Jews, black people, Muslims (in Britain now) and others — is all about: focusing the resentment of poor and ignorant people on nationalist and racist and cultural myths, and in binding them to the status quo by way of political mysticism and irrational leader cults?

Isn’t that what Stalinism was, with its reduction of the Marxist critique of bourgeois society to mere negativism, to “absolute anti-capitalism”, and its substitution for the democratic socialist Marxist alternative to the capitalism it criticised of advocacy for the totalitarian Russian Stalinist system?

Isn’t that what we see now in the bizarre combination by the SWP [and others on the] kitsch left with a supposedly “Marxist” critique of bourgeois society, combined with — to put it at it mildest — softness towards Islamist clerical-fascism?

One thing the Joe Columbo episode shows is the way that the expansion of democracy has separated the techniques of mass agitation and organisation from any necessary connection with serious politics or sincerely held ideas.

This deadly decadence of politics is nowhere more plain than in America, where politics is to a serious extent a branch of show business. In the years of Tony Blair’s “Presidential” premiership, Britain has taken giant strikes in the wake of the USA.

When he was accused back in 1900 of exaggerating the power of socialist ideas to shape events, Lenin replied that the difference between the then Catholic trade unions of Italy and the class-conscious trade union movement of Germany was that in Italy the workers’ instinctive drive to combine together and fight for better wages and conditions had been corrupted and taken over by priests, who, naturally, brought to that workers movement, not the consciousness of socialists, but “the consciousness of priests”.

One and the same instinctive drive could produce either a fighting socialist working class movement, given ‘the consciousness of Marxists’, or, given the consciousness of priests, a sectarian, class-colaborationist working class based movement. The decisive thing is the battle to make ‘the consciousness of Marxists’ central to the labour movement and to movements of those —like many of the Italian-Americans who rallied to Columbo’s fake League — who feel themselves to be oppressed.

Examples of Lenin’s principle are very numerous. One is the emergence of the “revolutionary” Irish Republican movement,the Provisional IRA, which is now sinking into its natural place as part of the spectrum of Irish bourgeois nationalist politics.

If there: had been a sizeable Marxist movement in Ireland in the late 60s, when the Provisional IRA began to emerge, the consciousness of traditional physical-force Republicans, which permeated the Northern Irish Catholic community, kept alive in legend, reminiscences, songs and popular verse, would not have dominated and shaped the Catholic revolt; and that revolt would not have entered the blind alley of the Provo-war on the Northern Irish protestants and on Britain.

The existence and activity of a socialist group can make all the difference. The creation, education in authentic Marxism, and maintenance of such a force is the decisive immediate, practical question for serious socialists.

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The dishonesty and incoherence of the SNP

April 25, 2015 at 1:55 pm (AWL, class collaboration, elections, populism, posted by JD, scotland, truth)

Steve Bell's If ... Steve Bell’s If … © Steve Bell

By Dale Street (of Workers Liberty)

“Neither Nicola Sturgeon nor her deputy (Stewart Hosie) are saying austerity can be avoided. Instead, it’s being re-badged and re-profiled, or spread out for longer. …”

“The defiant refusal to accept more austerity, which won power for Syriza in Greece last month, is not being offered here. Instead, a serious bid for a share of power in Britain requires a message that won’t spook the markets.”

That was the verdict of BBC Scotland’s business and economy editor Douglas Fraser, and it is about right.

The fact that the SNP are saying that more austerity is unavoidable is at odds with the SNP’s message on the doorstep (and in television debates): that the SNP is the only Scottish party with an anti-austerity agenda.

This kind of incoherence — and dishonesty — permeates the SNP general election campaign. In fact the SNP is not running one election campaign but a collection of mutually exclusive campaigns.

SNP leaders says that this election is not about independence for Scotland but about austerity. In fact, as far as the SNP is concerned, everything is about independence, including this election.

Although both Salmond and Sturgeon previously described last September’s referendum as a “once-in-a generation” event, both of them — just seven months later — are now refusing to rule out another referendum after the Holyrood elections of 2016.

SNP election activists are far more honest and describe the general election as “a stepping stone” (sic) to another referendum and independence. (So too do the SNP’s “socialist” bag-carriers. But not even the SNP takes them seriously.)

SNP leaders claim that they want to help Ed Miliband into 10 Downing Street. But they don’t actually want anyone to vote Labour! Instead, Scotland should vote for the SNP, Wales for Plaid Cymru, and England for the Greens.

Again, SNP election activists are more honest and want Scots to vote SNP and the Welsh to vote Plaid Cymru because they cannot conceive of voting on any basis other than national identity, and because there is no such thing as an English National Party, they cannot work out how the English should vote.

Unlike the public face of the SNP, they are also refreshingly honest in declaring that they really don’t care if the Tories win the general election because a Tory victory would be just an additional reason for another referendum and independence. Read the rest of this entry »

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Yves Coleman: Anti-Semitism and anti-Muslim racism in Europe

April 17, 2015 at 9:55 pm (Anti-Racism, anti-semitism, AWL, conspiracy theories, Europe, fascism, France, Greece, Islam, islamism, israel, populism, posted by JD, Racism, thuggery)

The French revolutionary socialist Yves Coleman (of the group Ni patries, ni frontières), has written a lengthy and detailed piece on anti-Semitism and anti-Muslim racism in Europe. This is one of the most comprehensive and important articles on these closely interconnected subjects to have been published so far this century. It appears in a 12-page pull-out in the present edition of the AWL’s paper Solidarity. Comrade Coatesy has already commented on supplementary article by Coleman that also appears in Solidarity: About the ambiguities of the “Islamophobia” concept.  We reproduce Coleman’s main article in full below:


Protest in Greece in memory of a Pakistani immigrant murdered by ‘Golden Dawn’ fascists

Anti-Semitism and anti-Muslim racism in Europe

Around 1.1 millions Jews live in the European Union and 19 million Muslims. It’s obviously very difficult to compare the situation of an ethnic/cultural/religious minority living in Europe for centuries with the situation of religious and/or national minorities whose importance has massively grown after the Second World War, and in some cases only during the last 40 years.

Nevertheless, many militants (inspired by left academic researchers) compare anti-Semitism in the 30s to the situation of Muslims in Europe today.

This comparison is flawed1, for many reasons, but it remains a fact that the anti-Islam paranoia which dominates Western media, and the long and complex relations between the Islamic world and Western powers nourish extended racist discrimination and social exclusion against Muslim workers, “alien” or not, living in Europe.

For definitions of anti-Semitism and anti-Muslim racism this text mainly uses those provided by the European Fundamental rights Agency (FRA) with a few additions. Obviously they have not been conceived by so-called “revolutionaries” and do not have a great theoretical significance. They are clearly focused on discrimination: this legalistic and multiculturalist perspective deliberately neglects, or even completely erases, social inequalities, the division of society into classes, and refuses to take into account discriminations if they are not based on ethnic, racial, religious, or gender pecularities.

In addition, if you study in detail, from a historical and anthropological point of view, anti-Semitism and all the issues linked to the cultural, religious, economic and military contacts between Islam and the “Christian West”, contacts which have given birth to today’s anti-Muslim racism in Europe, then the differences between anti-Muslim racism and anti-Semitism appear so huge that you can no longer engage in any comparison – or only so from a purely demagogic angle. The too famous “competing memories” can lead you to compare the statistical figures of the Armenian, Jewish, Gypsy, Cambodian, Tutsi genocides with the number of victims of the transatlantic slave trade or the number of victims of colonialism; and then you will be inevitably led to establish a dangerous hierarchy between these evils. Or you can even go as far as suggesting that capitalist Europe is preparing a “muslimicide” analogous to Hitler’s Judeocide, as if European Muslims in 2015 are in a similar position to European Jews in the mid 30s …

This article deliberately takes a minimalist focus: the issue of democratic rights for all human beings, whatever are their origins and philosophical or religious beliefs. In this limited frame, the great advantage of the FRA definitions is that they focus on concrete, identifiable, phenomena, which we want to fight and defeat today, even if they don’t cover their more general socio-economic causes.

The polemics which have been launched between social scientists – and by extension between radical left activists – around the content of these two definitions often hide ideological issues (“Zionists” against “anti-Zionists”, secular Republicans against supporters of “multiculturalism”, sectarian atheists against intellectually dishonest believers, partisans of a binational State in Palestine and supporters of two separate states, etc.) and their main effect is to divide and paralyse the militants concerned with an efficient struggle against all forms of racism, here and now.

Anti-Semitism is an ideology based on the conscious, or unconscious, hostility to the “Jews”2 for religious, social, national, racial and/or economic motives. “Jews” may be actually Jewish by religion or culture or not. It does not matter for the anti-Semite; what matters for him is to attribute them negative or even sometimes positive qualities3 in order to discriminate and exclude them.

To this very general definition, one can add that anti-Zionism can sometimes, not always, lead to anti-Semitic conclusions4: when Jews are accused of exaggerating the Holocaust; when they are denied the right to self-determination, granted to all the other peoples living on this planet; when classic anti-Judaic and anti-Semitic clichés are used to characterise Israel or Israelis; when Israeli policy is systematically compared to that of the Nazis; when Jews are considered as a “fifth column”, a “lobby” of “cosmopolitan” people who are only loyal to Israel, etc.

Anti-Muslim racism (“Islamophobia” for the European Union and Organisation of Islamic Cooperation) is an ideology which sees Islam as a “monolithic bloc”, sharing “no common values with other cultures”, “inferior to the West and barbaric”, more “sexist” than all the other religions, “supportive of terrorism” and of an agressive politics leading to military conflicts and war.

Anti-Muslim racists justify “discriminatory practices towards Muslims and their exclusion from mainstream society”, practices which they want to enshrine in laws.

To the elements of this FRA definition, one can add that anti-Muslim racism is often mixed to (and fuses with) anti-Asian, anti-African, anti-Arab or anti-Turkish racism, up to the point it’s difficult to distinguish between them.

Today in the Western world, anti-Jew racism and anti-Muslim racism are not, most of the time, religiously motivated. They can mobilise “anti-capitalist” or “anti-imperialist” plot theories which denounce the role of “the Jews”, or present Islam as the main threat to human civilisation today. Anti-Semites and anti-Muslim racists hide their political agenda behind all sorts of radical, leftish or pseudo-humanist reasoning: some pretend they are particularly moved by the sufferings of the Palestinians; others that they only want to defend women’s rights and democracy; some pretend European Muslims should not be blamed for what happens in the Middle East and North Africa, but constantly blame European or American Jews for what happens in Israel; some consider Europeans Muslims should spend all their time condemning Daesh (ISIS), Boko Haram or al-Qaeda, but defend any military aggression of Tsahal, any “targeted murders” with their inevitable “collateral damages5”, or find lousy excuses for racist Israeli settlers or Israeli far right politicians. It’s rather easy to unmask these discourses, including in our own ranks, provided we open our eyes and are ready to lose… some “friends” or “comrades”.

Before analysing these phenomenon and their extent today, one has to recall some of the important political changes which started in the mid-1970’s and set the context for anti-Semitism and Muslim racism today. Read the rest of this entry »

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AWL statement on the general election

March 30, 2015 at 5:38 pm (AWL, democracy, elections, labour party, posted by JD, reformism, unions)

Cover Photo

Socialist Campaign for a Labour Victory
Above: the AWL supports the Socialist Campaign for a Labour Victory (SCLV)

This statement, in Q&A format, appears in the present edition of the AWL paper, Solidarity and on the Workers Liberty website. We reproduce it here for the information of readers, but please note that not everyone associated with Shiraz is a member, or even supporter, of the AWL:

In almost every constituency, Workers’ Liberty favours a Labour vote in the general and council elections in 2015. But the Labour Party is committed to maintaining austerity, just like the Tories. Why vote Labour?

It’s not true that there’s no difference. While Labour’s current policy would leave the framework of neo-liberal austerity intact, the Labour Party has been forced to shift on issues like the NHS, zero-hours contracts, the Bedroom Tax, and even public ownership of the railways. On all of those issues, its policy is far less radical than socialists would like, but it is not “just like the Tories”. The Tories are committed to extending anti-union laws; Labour aren’t.

A left that insists there’s no material difference between a government committed to at least partially reversing NHS privatisation and one committed to extending it is a left disconnected from the reality of working-class life.

Those policy differences are empty promises. We’ve been here before.

Working-class social pressure is the key factor. If they do not feel under any pressure, Labour’s leaders won’t implement even the minimal policy commitments it has already made. If there is enough pressure from their trade-union base, they will move. A bit.

Only a tiny bit. Democrats are a lesser evil than the Republicans in the US; Chirac was a lesser evil than the fascist Le Pen in the French presidential run off in 2002. Workers’ Liberty doesn’t favour a vote for the Democrats, and criticised those on the French far-left that supported a vote for Chirac in 2002. Why is this different?

Although its leaders have always had pro-capitalist politics, Labour is not just a capitalist, or “bourgeois”, party. It has historic roots as an attempt by a section of the industrial labour movement to create a political wing that would act for workers in politics as the Liberal and Tory parties acted for employers, and a continuing structural link to the majority of unions in the country.

The Labour-affiliated unions (most of the big ones) can at will change Labour policy by putting proposals to Labour conference and voting them through. Mostly they don’t. Or they do, but stay quiet when Labour leaders ignore the policy. But we should call for the unions to use that political clout, not to walk away and give up.

The US Democrats, or the French UMP (Tories), are, by contrast, straightforwardly capitalist parties. Although the Democrats enjoy funding and activist support from large sections of the US trade union movement, there is no structural link through which rank-and-file trade unionists could even hope to hold Democratic politicians to account or influence the Democrats’ political direction.

The Labour leaders have contempt for the unions. They’re happy to take union money, but won’t do anything in return.

Labour’s leaders want us to see the relationship in purely financial terms : “You (the unions) give us (the Labour Party) money, and we’ll give you a slightly-less-bad set of policies than the Tories.” That’s the relationship the US Democrats have with the unions in the USA; and it’s the way many union leaders see it. But we should change that, rather than passively accept it.

Some on the left like to imagine that the history of the past few decades has been one of Labour-affiliated unions struggling hard for working-class policies, but finding themselves blocked at every turn by the pro-capitalist Labour leaders. In fact, union leaders have blocked themselves by consistently failing to stand up for their own policies within the Labour Party.

In one recent example, Unite delegates to Labour’s National Policy Forum helped defeat a resolution that would have committed Labour to an anti-austerity platform. All the major unions supported the “Collins Review”, which will make Labour Party structures less democratic. Union delegates on the Labour Party Executive, including the RMT’s Mick Cash (now the union’s general secretary), failed to vote against the launching of the Iraq War in 2003.

Surely it’s better to give up on Labour and try to build something new?

Severing, or reforming out of practical existence, the link between the Labour Party and the unions is a long-held dream of the Blairites. Why allow them to fulfil it without a fight?

Our perspective is to transform the entire labour movement. That is, to make our unions fighting, democratic organisations controlled from below, which are responsive to our day-to-day struggles at work and in the community. If it’s possible to make our unions more industrially combative, then it’s possible to make them more assertive in the political sphere too.

The never-affiliated unions are in general no more left-wing or militant than the affiliated ones. Demanding that the unions disaffiliate, rather than demanding that the union leaders fight using every avenue available to them, lets the bureaucrats off the hook.

In the AWL, we are building something new! Only, we do that within the struggle to change the whole labour movement, not by opting out.

Labour leaders have progressively chipped away at union and grassroots influence within the party. The recommendations of the Collins Review, due to come into effect in 2019, will be the final nail in the coffin. The game is up.

If the recommendations of the Collins Review come into effect and are allowed to bed down, the nature of the Labour Party and its relationship to the unions may have to be reassessed. But five years is a long time, and a lot could be done between now and then.

If the unions asserted themselves seriously, the Labour leaders would just expel them, just like they expelled the RMT in 2004.

Possibly. To be honest, the RMT more or less chose expulsion; and if a number of unions asserting themselves politically as a bloc, the Labour leaders could not just expel them.

Maybe the Blairite core of the Labour machine would hive off, perhaps to fuse with the Lib Dems or even the Tories. Maybe the Labour leaders would sever the union link. Labour would split, with the unions taking some left-wing MPs, dissident CLPs, and a minority of grassroots activists with them.
Through a campaign of consistent political self-assertion backed up with industrial direct action, we strive to push the relationship between the Labour Party and the unions to its absolute limits. A split that resulted from such a campaign would provide an immeasurably more favourable platform for the refounding of a labour-movement political party than individual unions disaffiliating one-by-one without any kind of fight.

Even if you want a Labour government, why not at least encourage people to vote for socialist candidates like TUSC and Left Unity (LU) where they can?

Our attitude to Labour is determined by its structural link to the fundamental organisations of our class — trade unions. We have different criteria for assessing far-left propaganda efforts.

Socialist propaganda candidacies are important in building up the activist minority which can then act as a lever to transform the wider labour movement. But then they have be judged on the basis of the quality of their propaganda, whether they do build up a minority, and whether that minority is a positive factor in the movement. TUSC and LU candidates will not so much be making propaganda for working-class socialism as for lowest-common-denominator anti-austerity politics.

If TUSC or Left Unity were:

•meaningfully democratic, with functioning local groups
•explicitly working-class socialist, foregrounding policies about expropriation, social ownership, and working-class rule
•open about their function as propaganda candidacies aimed at raising the profile of radical socialist ideas, rather than pretending to be mass-parties-in-waiting
•clear about the need to get a Labour government to kick out the Tories, and therefore did not stand in marginal seats

… then Workers’ Liberty would be involved. We helped initiate the Socialist Alliance from 1999, and attempted to resist it being sidelined by the SWP when it cooked up the “Respect” project with George Galloway. Some TUSC and LU candidates tick some of those boxes. But, on the whole, their campaigns fall short.

You’re telling left-minded people to vote against their own beliefs, for a Labour Party with neo-liberal politics.

People also vote on the basis of what kind of government they want. A Labour vote for many working-class people on 7 May will not be a vote for Labour’s neo-liberal agenda, but a vote against the Tories, for a party they see as at least minimally connected, if only in a historical sense, to working-class people and our interests. We should not be cynical, or stay aloof from, that entirely legitimate aspiration to kick the Tories out.

True, defeats and setbacks have led increasing numbers of us to see politics (which, for many people, is basically reduced to elections) as an essentially individual, atomised process, a consumer choice.

We want to change that. We want politics — not just elections, but the entire processes of how society is organised and governed — to be a collective experience, which people engage in in a permanent and collective way, through mass organisations. Fundamentally for working-class people those organisations will be trade unions — the only genuinely “mass” organisations in British society, and the only ones which organise workers, as workers, at the point of production.

Getting a Labour government on 8 May will be the beginning, not the end, of a renewed fight for working-class political representation. If, in the campaign to win that government and kick out the Tories, socialists have been able to build up a caucus of workplace and community activists who want to push Labour much further than its neo-liberal leadership wishes to go, we will have used the election time to good purpose.

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Scottish Labour: Murphy’s squalid nationalist opportunism

March 14, 2015 at 11:33 am (AWL, class, labour party, plonker, populism, posted by JD, scotland)

By Anne Field (Workers Liberty)

On Saturday 6 March a special conference of the Scottish Labour Party voted by 69% to 31% for a constitutional amendment declaring it to be a party which “works for the patriotic interest of the people of Scotland.”

The bulk of the opposing votes came from Unite and Unison, plus a scattering of local parties. According to unconfirmed reports, the GMB voted for the amendment, and the CWU and ASLEF abstained.

Winning a third of the conference to a vote against the amendment was no small achievement.

Local parties and affiliated organisations had been subject to the emotional blackmail of the need to be seen backing the leadership in the run-up to the general election.

Eight of the nine speakers called from the floor to speak on the proposed amendment spoke in favour of it.

To create the right “atmosphere” at the conference, a thousand people were in attendance, but only a small minority were actually voting delegates.

The constitutional amendment also contained all manner of references to “the Scottish people” and things Scottish and had been presented by the leadership as the way to undercut support for the SNP.

Anyone on the left — apart from those who have pitched their tent in the pro-independence camp —will share that aim of defeating the SNP, but this will not help.

Modelled on Blair’s re-writing of the party’s Clause Four, which had committed the party to the “common ownership” of industry, the amendment was meant to be newly-elected leader Jim Murphy’s very own “Clause Four moment”.

As Murphy put it last December: “It’s the biggest change in Scottish Labour’s history… I want to rewrite Clause Four of Scottish Labour to bring us closer to the centre of Scottish life.”

Blair’s rewriting of the Clause Four was a genuine political statement — it was part of his mission to destroy the Labour Party as the political wing of the workers’ movement. His actions dominated news headlines for months.

Murphy was not even amending Clause Four! He was amending Clause Two of the Scottish Labour constitution, nothing more than a sentence stuck in between Clause One and Clause Three.

Murphy’s announcement created no more than a ripple of media coverage.

Most media coverage mentioned the constitutional amendment only as a footnote to its coverage of the conference. (That includes the party’s own website reports of the conference.) The remaining media coverage (including LabourList) did not mention it at all.

Murphy’s re-writing was a transparent exercise in squalid opportunism.

Despite losing the referendum, the SNP is on course to wipe out Labour in the general election. So, runs Murphy’s logic, the party needs to be more Scottish than the SNP. Yet only a few months earlier Murphy’s Chief of Staff John McTernan had warned that “you can’t out-nat the nats”.

(McTernan himself is hardly best placed to “out-nat the nats”. In 2002 he e-mailed a Labour MSP about to visit Sweden: “I think you’ll really like it. It’s the country Scotland would be if it wasn’t narrow, Presbyterian, racist, etc., etc.)

The new “Clause Four” is irrelevant to reversing Labour’s fortunes.

Insofar as anyone takes it seriously the commitment to “the patriotic interest of the people of Scotland” will be positively damaging.

The SNP lost last September’s referendum. But its great achievement in the referendum campaign, apart from thoroughly poisoning political debate in Scotland, was to push class and social issues to the sidelines of political argument, and replace them with “Scotland’s national interests”.

Instead of poverty and inequality being identified as a product of class and capitalist oppression, they were presented as the product of “Westminster rule” and a distant “Westminster establishment”.

Murphy seeks to challenge the SNP on its own territory: which party is best placed and most suited to representing Scotland’s national and patriotic interests. Given the nature of the SNP as a narrow Scottish-nationalist party, the answer to that question will always be: the SNP.

Apart from reinforcing the nationalist element in Scottish political discourse (and, consequently, the SNP’s electoral prospects), Murphy’s attempt to put patriotism centre-stage is also a challenge to the rationale for Scottish Labour’s existence.

As the one anti-amendment speaker called at last Saturday’s conference put it:

“Patriotism is an essential tool in presenting class interest — the ruling class interest — as the interest of all of us.

“The primary purpose of the Scottish Labour Party should be precisely the opposite of that. It should be exposing the class nature of Scottish society. It should be attacking austerity. It should be increasing redistribution of wealth. It should be promoting equality.

“On the basis of this kind of programme we should be fighting tooth and nail to halt the nationalist offensive.

“So let’s stop talking about about patriotic interest and start talking about the class interest instead.”

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PCS: hold the Socialist Party and Serwotka to account!

February 12, 2015 at 6:57 pm (AWL, democracy, elections, posted by JD, Socialist Party, unions)

PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka speaking at the union's 2012 annual conference

Above: Mark Serwotka

By James Marine (at the Workers Liberty website)

The Socialist Party (SP) has defended the PCS civil service union’s decision to “suspend” national and Group elections for up to a year. (Groups are the major sub-parts of the union.)

The SP headlined its article: “PCS: Safeguarding its future in the face of vicious Tory attacks”.

“Faced with a temporary but very sharp drop in income as a result of check-off ending, the PCS National Executive Committee (NEC) has had to make difficult decisions to cut expenditure, including suspending for one year the union’s annual elections”.

This is nonsense. Yes, the PCS is facing a financial tough time but not so bad that it cannot afford elections. (Even Greece can afford to vote).

The elections would cost about £650,000 to run yet the union’s magazine costs £700,000 a year to produce. Instead of putting that publication online for a year, the NEC choose to keep it whilst dumping elections.

Then there are full time officer wages. PCS is being colonised by SP members. If they lived up the SP’s policy of full time officers (FTOs) being paid a workers’ wage, then we could “afford” democracy.

The union is selling its headquarters for £25 million. A big chunk of that will plug the hole in one of the union’s pension schemes. Yet there will be more than enough left over to run several elections, let alone just one this year.

Our affiliation to the TUC costs nearly £650,000. In a choice between members having a vote on who represents them or paying hundreds of thousands to the TUC and subsidising Francis O’Grady’s lifestyle, having a vote wins hands down.

In other words there are plenty of ways to afford democracy but the SP doesn’t want them.

By suspending the elections the SP using a real crisis to avoid being judged by the members. There is a good chance this year that the SP would lose seats on the Executive. That could mean putting a proposed merger with Unite in danger.

The Socialist Party and PCS general secretary, Mark Serwotka, must be condemned across the labour movement. Their actions are disgraceful. If the right wing did this then there would be howls of indignation from the left; because it is Mark Serwotka [known as a leftist and presently in very poor health – JD], the criticism is muted at best. The SP, and Mark Serwotka, have crossed a fundamental line and must be held to account.

But course the best method of accounting, national elections, has been denied members for the time being. When the time comes, then the SP and Mark Serwotka must be driven out of office.

Addendum: in a further article in The Socialist, John McInally (PCS vice president and Socialist Party member) launches into what can only be described as a near-hysterical rant against Unison and critics on the left. At one point (towards the end of the piece) McInally even compares PCS’s refusal to hold elections with the NUM’s decision not to ballot its members in 1984 – a ludicrous comparison with a union that (rightly or wrongly) took a tactical decision in the heat of a major industrial dispute. It’s bizarre, desperate stuff that may well be a sign that the SP feels under pressure – maybe from some within its own ranks – JD

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The present and future state of the US labor movement

January 19, 2015 at 8:46 pm (AWL, class, posted by JD, unions, United States, women, workers)

Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis, shown speaking Aug. 28 at Trinity All Nations Church in Chicago, is known for her bold style.
Above: Karen Lewis

By Ira Berkovic (from the Workers Liberty website, with very minor adaptions):

Before the tragic discovery that she has a brain tumour, Chicago Teachers Union president Karen Lewis, the public figurehead of the CTU’s 2012 strike against the city’s Democratic mayor Rahm Emanuel, was preparing a mayoral campaign for the 2015 election. Lewis’s national union, the American Federation of Teachers (the country’s biggest), had pledged $1 million. A Chicago Tribune poll from August 2014 put her ahead of Emanuel by 43 to 39%. Her victory, or even, perhaps, her campaign, would have been the most significant act of self-assertion by US labour in the political sphere for decades.

In a September 2014 article in Salon, Edward McClelland argues that Lewis typifies the contemporary US labour movement, which, since the 1970s, has become “feminised, professionalised, politicised and regionalised.” McClelland writes: “According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the most unionised job category is ‘education, training and library occupations’ at 35.4 percent. That’s a field dominated by women, many with master’s degrees. (In fact, the Center for Economic and Policy Research predicts that by 2020, a majority of union members will be women.)”.

He argues that deindustrialisation, and the relocation of heavy industrial manufacturing to America’s south, “a region hostile to unionism”, has meant that the archetypal unionist of yesteryear – a white man working a “blue-collar” industrial job – is now more likely to be anti-union. The archetypal trade unionist of 2014 -15 is a graduate, a woman, probably black (unionisation rates amongst black workers are higher than those amongst whites), and in a “white-collar”, “professional” job.

McClelland also cites a political shift and realignment from the 1970s onwards; where unionised, working-class voters in America’s industrial heartland provided a base of support for Richard Nixon’s 1972 landslide victory (in which he ran what he called a “blue-collar strategy”), now membership of and support for unions is “just another blue state [Democratic] trait”.

The statistics in McClelland’s article are stark. In early 2014, in a Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga, Tennessee, the United Auto Workers (UAW) lost a ballot for something akin to union recognition by 712 votes to 626. In a separate campaign amongst graduate workers in administrative jobs at New York University, UAW won the ballot 620-10. McClelland’s article is an observation extrapolated from those statistics, and not a comprehensive study. But even as an observational sketch, there are some important details missing from the picture. Read the rest of this entry »

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Scots, Wha Hae Wi Murphy bled!

January 15, 2015 at 7:52 pm (AWL, labour party, posted by JD, reformism, scotland)

Jim Murphy claims the Prime Minister behaves like a 'foreign dignitary' on his visits to Scotland

By Anne Field (from the AWL’s Solidarity newspaper)

Newly elected Scottish Labour Party (SLP) leader Jim  Murphy has produced his own version of a new Clause  Four for the Labour Party in Scotland.

To be more accurate: he claims that it is all his own work.  In fact, it reads like an entry in a primary school competition (“Write your own clause four and win a gold star!”) which has been pulled out of a hat at random.

The first part of the new, Scottish, Clause Four is the verbose and vacuous Blairite Clause Four adopted by the Labour Party in 1995, albeit with a reference to Scottish  Labour and “the people of Scotland” thrown in.

A succession of additional clauses adds to the verbosity and vacuousness of the original version, peppered by all manner of references to things Scottish.

Thus, the SLP “works for  the patriotic interest of the  people of Scotland.” It will  work for “the advancement of Scotland’s interests.”  It will work “with
the Scottish people to create policy in Scotland for a just society.”

“On the basis of these  principles” (! — Murphy probably had to consult a  dictionary to learn how to spell the word), the SLP “seeks the trust of the Scottish  people to govern.”

The SLP will seek to achieve its aims “with trade unions and the co-operative movement, and also with voluntary organisations, consumer groups and other representative bodies.” For “other representative bodies” read: the Scottish CBI.

In his spare moments between rewriting Clause Four in his own image, Murphy has found time to give jobs to his friends.

The right-wing nonentity Brian Roy (whose main connection to politics is the fact that his father is an MP) has been appointed SLP General Secretary. the political corpse of John McTernan (formerly Blair’s Political Secretary) has been exhumed and appointed SLP chief of staff.

And Kieron Higgins has been brought in to deal with the media. Higgins was one of the architects of the disastrous “Better Together” campaign, which succeeded in frittering away a 20 point lead in the run-up to last year’s referendum.

More likely than not, Murphy’s strategy to reverse the collapse in electoral support for the SLP will simply give another boost to the spiral of decline.

Appealing to “Scottish patriotism” will play into the hands of the SNP. Giving jobs to Blairites and wasters from “Better Together” will remind ex-Labour-voters why they stopped voting Labour. And so too will Murphy’s contempt for democracy.

No amendments will be permitted to the new Scottish Clause Four. The role of the special conference to be held in the spring will simply be to rubber-stamp it (on the basis that a defeat for the SLP leadership would supposedly undermine the SLP’s credibility on the eve of a general election).

“Go back to your constituencies and prepare for government!”  was David Steel’s message to the Lib-Dem party conference in 1981.

Murphy’s message to SLP members at last month’s rally where the result of the SLP leadership contest was announced should have been: “Go back to your constituencies and prepare for oblivion!”

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Greece: the coming crisis

January 5, 2015 at 9:21 pm (AWL, capitalist crisis, economics, Europe, Greece, posted by JD)

SYRIZA

Above: Prime Minister Samaras and Syriza leader Tsipras

According to protothema news.com the main Greek opposition Radical Left Coalition (SYRIZA) party continues to be ahead in the opinion polls following an opinion poll by Rass polling agency for last Sunday’s issue of Eleftheros Typos: SYRIZA would gather 30.4% of the votes if elections were held now, followed by the conservative New Democracy (ND) leadership that would gather 27.3% of the votes.  This puts SYRIZA 3.1 points ahead, down from 3.4 units that had been shown in the previous poll.

The Greek Communist Party (KKE) follows in third place, gathering 4.8% of the votes, marginally ahead of To Potami with 4.7%. Ultra-nationalist Golden Dawn follows with 3.8%, socialist PASOK with 3.5%, rightist anti-austerity Independent Greeks (ANEL) with 2.5% and ANDARSYA with 1.4%. Democratic Left (DIMAR) is not recorded.

3.8% of respondents said they would vote for another party whereas 2.6% would cast an invalid ballot and the undecided vote gathers 15.2%.

Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras has the highest approval rating with 7.6% ahead of SYRIZA leader Alexis Tsipras when respondents were asked about who would be a better prime minister. Mr. Samaras gathered 41% and Mr. Tsipras gathered 33.4% approval.

A majority of people (74.2%) believe that Greece should remain within the euro area at whatever cost. 41% fear the prospect of Mr. Tsipras being elected Prime Minister and 38.1% says it gives them hope.

Only 6.1% said they trust former prime minister George Papandreou and his plan to form a new party.

On Monday 29 December, the Greek parliament failed to elect a new President for the third time. The result is parliamentary elections at the end of January, elections which it looks probable that SYRIZA will win. Shortly before the vote, Workers’ Liberty member Theodora Polenta – who is based in Greece – wrote this:

***

Where is Greece going?

This Christmas story does not have a beginning and we do not know the end yet. Will we get the present the majority of the combat working class movement and all progressive/libertarian forces are long awaiting for: a government of the Left, not as the final aim and not as an end in itself, but as a starting point towards another route and another narrative that we are going to be the protagonists and the story-makers of our own destiny?

My story, although it covers a very short period (shorter than the British extended celebration Christmas period) has it all: the heroes and the villains, the omnipotent external forces, bribery, corruption, blackmailing, backstabbing … as well as bravery, dignity and resilience. It is not an ‘objective story’. The heroes and the villains are interchangeable, dependent upon which side of the fence one is sitting. I am going to attempt to tell this story from a very class biased way, from the perspective of the working class interest.

However, paraphrasing Orwell, within the context of capitalism in crisis describing reality is a revolutionary act of itself and I will commence by stating the facts.

The context

Resurgence of the class struggle and the combat working class movement with sectoral strikes and occupations with the public sector workers in “reserve employment” in the vanguard, increased militancy of the student/university students movement with on-going occupations and demonstrations resisting the further business orientation of the education and the government’s vision of an education that fits the needs of the Greece under continuing austerity and memoranda.

The uncompromised hunger strike of the anarchist Nikos Romanos defending his self-evident right to life and education and the enormousness of the erupted movement that encompassed not only the usual suspects but broader layers of the Greek society.

The spread of the Greek virus to the very epicentre of the EU/Eurozone with militant protests and strikes in Belgium and Italy.

The disclosing of the farce of the Government’s “success story” and the balanced budgets, and the end of the memorandum and austerity…

The total mismatch between the Greek population’s wishes and political beliefs, and the existing balance of forces within the parliament. The continuing fragmentation of the two party coalition government of Samaras Venizelos and the decimation of the once all powerful two party political system.

The grim future of another memorandum and Troika’s pressure to the Government to speed up the austerity reforms, with the banks confiscating “bad/debtors” (i.e. working class people that have become unemployed and/or their income is diminishing) people’s homes.

The Presidential election

Panicked and deadlocked, the government rushed, hurriedly, to announce the launch, conduct and completion of the procedures for electing the President of the Republic in December, before the end of the year (which were previously scheduled to take place in February). Three elections were to take place for the parliament to elect the President of the Republic: 17th of December, 23rd of December and 29th of December. Read the rest of this entry »

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Christmas, Christianity and the rise in antisemitism

December 22, 2014 at 5:16 pm (anti-semitism, AWL, Christianity, Christmas, Islam, israel, Judaism, Middle East, New Statesman, palestine, posted by JD, religion, stalinism, zionism)

A Palestinian man wearing a Santa Claus costume is confronted by an Israeli soldier during a demonstration in village near Bethlehem, 19 December. Photo: Getty

A Palestinian wearing a Santa Claus costume is confronted by an Israeli soldier at a demo near Bethlehem

Christmas is, at its best, a time of good will to all peoples regardless of creed. But it is also, unfortunately, an excuse for antisemitism – a form of bigotry that Christianity has fostered for over 2000 years and successfully passed on to Islam.

Mehdi Hasan (who I do not believe is consciously antisemitic), for instance, uses Christmas as an opportunity to launch into one-sided and in some respects, factually inaccurate attack on Israel (tracing its original sin back to its creation in 1948),  in an article for the Huffington Post (where he is political editor), also carried in the current New Statesman.

Sean Matgamna wrote about this sort of Christian-inspired antisemitism fifteen years ago, in a piece introducing an excerpt from Karl Kautsky’s The Foundations of Christianity. I reproduce Sean’s 1999 piece below:

2000 years of anti-Jewish lies

In the last few years, undisguised anti-semitism has again become a force in Europe, especially in Russia and the east. It has re-emerged both in its racist, zoological, 19th century form, and in its earlier Christian, “native Russian”, form.

Why does this happen? Why, again and again, in one form or another, time after time, does Jew-baiting become a force in history? There are always “immediate” historical reasons, but one central, continuous, underlying “cultural” reason is this: anti-semitism is threaded into the very fabric of Europe’s 2000-year-old Christian civilisation.

Christianity is saturated with anti-semitism. The Christian New Testament is one of the main documents of historical anti-semitism.

As the classic Marxist writer Karl Kautsky shows in the excerpt from his book The Foundations of Christianity […] the New Testament writers set out, deliberately and systematically, to demonise the Jews and foment hatred against them as the murderers of Christ. They did it by inventing fantastic and self-contradictory tales about the death of Christ.

The events he analyses are set 2000 years ago in Roman-occupied Judea. The vast Roman Empire united Europe, much of North Africa, and parts of Asia. The Judeans resisted Roman rule fiercely. While the upper classes tended to make peace, the people refused. The Jews were divided into parties and factions – Sadducees, Pharisees, Zealots. Eventually, in 70 AD, the Romans razed the city of Jerusalem to the ground, completing the dispersal of the Jews, who already had settlements all over the empire.

The early Christians were one sect of Jews, feeling sectarian hatred towards the others. As time wore on, the dominant Christian faction, led by Paul of Tarsus, ceased to be Jews, no longer, for example, requiring converts to be circumcised. By the time the four gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John were written, decades after the events they purport to depict, the antagonism between Christian and Jew was very bitter.

Christianity grew stronger in the next 300 years, until it became a mighty power in the ossifying Roman Empire. At the beginning of the fourth century Christianity became the official religion of the empire, and its priesthood merged with the immensely powerful bureaucracy of the Roman state. Over time it got to the position of not having to tolerate other religions, or Christian factions other than the dominant one.

Thereafter, the New Testament and its stories, ideas and motifs became, for well over a thousand years, the main subject of art and literature.

Many dozens of generations of children were drilled in the New Testament’s malignant tales, presented as the word of God. “Who condemned Jesus Christ to death?” went the question in the Catholic catechism which, until recently, children from the age of five or six learned by heart. The answer? “Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor, did it at the desire of the Jews.” Recently the Catholic Church has “exonerated” the Jews of guilt for Jesus Christ’s death – 2000 years and many millions of victims too late. An imaginary parallel will make the point clearer. Suppose that our own civilisation has broken down, as that of Rome did in the fifth and sixth centuries in Western Europe. Most of the survivors regress to subsistence farming. Literacy is almost lost, becoming the special expertise of ideologising monks and priests.

Most of our great books of learning and science are lost. Those we have saved acquire great authority in a world where scientific observation and experimentation have gone out of fashion, and where venerable authority is again, as in the Middle Ages, considered sufficient. One of the books which survives, preserved by its devotees, is The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. This book purports to be a Jewish account of Jewish plans to take over the world. It was forged early this century by the Okhrana, the political police of ultra-Christian Tsarist Russia.

It recast the traditional Christian Jew-hatred, with which Tsarist Russia was saturated, into a venomous modern political fantasy. It has had immense influence in this century. It has rightly been called a “warrant for genocide”.

Suppose then that in our imaginary world, thrown back to the level of barbarism, a new religion takes shape, a sort of primitive evangelical neo-Christianity, organised by a powerful caste of priests. It worships, as one of its central “holy books”, the Protocols of the Elders of Zion.

And then, as society evolves and develops over many hundreds of years, slowly redeveloping a civilisation, generation after generation would learn the divine truth concocted by the Okhrana policemen. It would form the subject of paintings and literature and drama. When a new Enlightenment arose, and drove this nonsense off the highways of intellectual life, it would survive as prejudice and folk-wisdom. Living Jews and their behaviour would be judged not according to everybody else’s standards, but according to the patterns of malevolence outlined in the Protocols.

This fiction is horribly close to the true story of our civilisation and its development. The New Testament – with whose vicious anti-Jewish libels we are so familiar that they can and do go unnoticed – has down the centuries been the warrant for generations and ages of anti-semitism in Eastern Europe and Russia.

The Stalinist rulers did not fight anti-semitism but fomented it. They took Christian anti-semitism and wove it into their “Protocols”, according to which the great evil conspiracy is not Jewish exactly, but “Zionist”, and centred on Israel. Many on the left, misled by their justified and proper sympathy with the Palestinian Arabs who are in conflict with the Jewish state of Israel, uncritically accept this Stalinist reworking of the old anti-Semitism.

Karl Kautsky’s detailed analysis of the anti-semitism threaded into the New Testament, and therefore at the heart of 2000 years of European civilisation, is part of the necessary antidote to this poison, which, in its “anti-Zionist” mask, still infects much of the left today.

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