Michael Rosen on the SWP crisis

July 27, 2013 at 7:56 pm (blogging, celebrity, ex-SWP, Jim D, misogyny, SWP)

For many years the writer Michael Rosen has been a fairly uncritical fellow-traveller of the  SWP. Now, he’s broken with them over the ‘Comrade Delta’ affair, and has had this exchange with SWP loyalist John Rose and others:

Michael Rosen (above) writes

My old friend John Rose has asked me to put this letter up on my blog. Here it is:

You and I have been good friends for years – more or less since that great year of ’68. You have not only been a trusted friend – but a trusted comrade as well, even if your disagreement with our ‘Leninist’ model of organising inhibited you from joining us. Your close and critical reading of all of the chapters before publication for my book The Myths of Zionism helped guarantee its success.We recently spoke together at the Bookmarks Holocaust Day event at Bookmarks, the Socialist Bookshop on the subject of the 70th anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising. Bookmarks tell me that you have kindly offered to help promote the new 70th anniversary edition The Ghetto Fights by Marek Edelman which I/we launched at our Marxism Festival last week. Over the last few months you and I have had furious e mail and text exchanges about the swp’s internal developments. More recently in the light of important changes that are now underway in the organisation which address all the issues that you raise, I offered to meet you and discuss them. I pointed out to you that only a face to face discussion can clarify matters in a way that is simply not possible by relying on e mail and text exchanges, given the proper necessity of respecting principles of confidentiality. For reasons best known to yourself, you have felt unable to do so, but I be obliged if you would let readers of your blog know that that my offer remains open. Many thanks John

My reply: Hi John
Thanks for this.
The problem here is that I’ve become the story. I’m not the story. The story is a) the mishandling of a dispute b) the mishandling of the mishandling c) the lack of an open approach to your friends and allies in what we call the ‘movement’.
As you’ve asked for this letter to be made public, I can only think that you feel that some part of it makes a point to the outside world. I’m guessing that this is the part where you ask me, in effect, why I haven’t discussed this matter whilst ‘respecting principles of confidentiality’.  Aha – surely this shows that Rosen has not been totally honest in his open letters…he could have heard the whole truth…he would then have not needed to go public about all this…etc etc.
I can explain. It is precisely because you wanted to have a ‘confidential’ talk about this that I found myself resisting your suggestion.  I’ll be blunt, I don’t want to be the recipient or owner of any confidences in this matter.  That’s the last thing in the world I want.  The dispute has been played out in various kinds of public forums. The consequence is that many of us who’ve been involved in eg Marxism, LMHR, UAF, Respect, ANL, Stop the War etc etc feel that we are entitled to be told what’s going on  – but not in terms of confidences – only in terms of why a proper procedure wasn’t followed, why the SWP couldn’t have admitted that it should have followed a proper procedure, why it couldn’t have admitted that its committees were the inappropriate means by which this dispute was heard, why it hasn’t hurried to put a proper procedure in place and why the person we call Delta went on being involved in LMHR and UAF long after the dispute was underway. And, I hasten to add, this is not because I am prejudging him as guilty. I repeat: I am not prejudging him as guilty. It is because this would have been the right way to proceed – for the benefit of all parties: the accusers, the accused, the SWP and the rest of us on the outside. I repeat, the SWP has set out its stall in relation to sexual oppression, liberation and equality. It can hardly complain if people on the outside ask how this dispute matches the principles and analysis that the SWP has put before us.
You mention ‘The Ghetto Fights’.  In fact, my offer was more than the one you mention. I said to Bookmarks that if they wrote an appeal I would kick off some crowd-funding with a contribution.

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Interview with Alex Gibney, director of ‘We Steal Secrets’: Assange as “puppet master”

July 17, 2013 at 12:20 am (celebrity, cinema, Civil liberties, conspiracy theories, Free Speech, Human rights, internet, Jim D, libertarianism, mental health, misogyny, protest, snooping, terror)

From Flavorwire

Flavorwire Interview: ‘We Steal Secrets’ Director Alex Gibney on Julian Assange and the Wikileaks Backlash to His Film

By Jason Bailey on May 22, 2013

In his riveting new documentary We Steal Secrets: The Story of Wikileaks, director Alex Gibney (the prolific Oscar winner behind Taxi to the Dark Side, Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room, and Client 9: The Rise and Fall of Elliot Spitzer) tells two stories: the thriller-like ascendency of the organization and the troubling questions it asks about government transparency, and the crumbling of Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, which plays like something out of Greek tragedy — the transformation of an admirable idealist to a paranoid propagandist, injecting his own legal woes into the lofty aims of his organization, and conflating them. Gibney was unable to procure an interview with Assange; “Julian wanted money,” Gibney explains in the film, though Assange was willing to exchange his interview for information on the other people Gibney was talking to. (UPDATE: The organization has disputed this claim. Mr. Gibney notes that they’re working from an “incomplete and inaccurate transcript based on non-final version.”) The filmmaker refused, and We Steal Secrets has been under fire from Wikileaks supporters since it was unveiled at Sundance last January. I asked Gibney about that backlash, the importance of the story, and related troubling matters of transparency in the Obama administration

Flavorwire: When and how did you first become aware of Assange and Wikileaks, and when did you decide you wanted to make this film?

Gibney: I first became aware of him through the collateral murder thing when it was posted on the website before the Afghan and Iraq war logs, and I took note of it as a kind of cool new publishing mechanism for this kind of material. I thought, “Wow, that’s interesting.” I read the piece by Raffi Khatchadourian in The New Yorker and then it really exploded, obviously, when the Afghan and Iraq war logs broke, and then the state department cables. It was after that that [producer] Marc Shmuger called me and said, “Would you be interested?” Frankly, I was busy doing some other things. I was just following it as a civilian because I was interested in it and I couldn’t resist. I said, “Yeah, sure. If you can raise the money, I will do it.” Then he went to Universal and we got the money, and off we went.

I really admire the fairness of the film — it champions what Wikileaks is about, while being deservedly critical of Assange himself, or at least the recent iteration of him. How closely does the evolution of the narrative within the film mirror how your own feelings evolved about the story?

I think it did evolve and it did change, and frankly, while we were following the story, the story changed. When we came onto it, Assange was still living in the Norfolk mansion, not yet in self-imposed exile in the Ecuadorian embassy in London, so a lot of things were yet to happen. Based on Raffi’s piece in The New Yorker and my first meeting with Assange, I liked him a lot, and I thought it was a pretty simple David and Goliath story. At the same time, it was kind of peculiar because when I came into the story, in media terms, he was becoming a kind of Goliath, he meaning Assange. He was surrounded with a number of lawyers and agents and press people that I had to wade through. It was like trying to talk to a movie star, and so that I think also was tough. I wish I’d met him when he was in Iceland.

Walk me through your communications with Assange during the production — and if you’ve had any since.

One of my executive producers, Jemima Khan, put up some of the bail money for Assange, and so that helped to plug me into his group. And so from the very start, I approached him and told him I wanted to talk to him. I think I may have put him off in the sense that most people [who] were coming to him wanted to make some kind of a deal, like, “Give me access and I’ll go raise the money to make a film about you,” and then Julian would put conditions on the access. I came to him and told him that I was making the film whether he participated or not. I didn’t put it in a crude way — I just said, “I’m doing the film now, I hope you’ll participate.”

I don’t think he liked that very much. He likes to have control. He likes to feel like he’s the puppet master, so nevertheless, I hung on and kept trying over the course of time. You know, he did agree — I have a number of emails saying, “Yeah, sure, we agree to the interview, let’s do it,” and then later on, he decided not to agree. I kept going, so I kept making the film even as I kept trying to get him to talk and [it] was very late in the game when we were close to finishing that I tried one last time and he said, “Well, let’s talk about it.” So I flew over from New York to England and went and visited him at this Norfolk estate that is owned by Vaughan Smith and we had this six-hour conversation where we explored whether or not he would do the interview.

I walked through it, but he wanted certain guarantees, like he wanted to know if he could see cuts. I said, “Look, I don’t do that. That’s not how it works. I don’t work for you.” And then he responded huffily, “Well, I don’t work for you either.” I said, “Yeah, I know, I get it!” I think he wanted a spin doctor. He wanted to be able to say or believe that he could control the message and the messenger. And while I told him that I really wanted his unvarnished views about these issues and really wanted him to dig into detail into the story… ultimately, editorial control rested with me. End of story.

Have you heard anything from him or anyone that’s still in the organization since? Read the rest of this entry »

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Fish-heid’s Wimbledon triumph

July 8, 2013 at 8:24 am (celebrity, jerk, Jim D, scotland, sport)

Enjoy your little moment of shameless piggy-backing, Fish-heid…


…before it all goes “tits up”:

From The Scotsman (31/03/13):

HE FEARS for his country. Tennis star Andy Murray yesterday warned Scots not to make an emotional snap decision on going independent because it might go “tits up”.

 The World No 3 made his colourful intervention in the independence debate in a wide-ranging interview.

But although the Dunblane-raised sportsman did not indicate which way he will vote in next year’s referendum, he made clear that his head would rule his heart.

“You need to figure out what’s best for the country and then come to an opinion,” he said. “I want to read more about the issue. I don’t think you should judge the thing on emotion, but on what is best economically for Scotland. You don’t want to come to a snap decision and then see the country go tits up.”


P.S; Murray’s words yesterday:

“I understand how much everyone else wanted to see a British winner at Wimbledon, so I hope you guys enjoyed that. I tried my best.”

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Galloway may stand for London Mayor “versus a Transvestite”

June 11, 2013 at 2:58 pm (apologists and collaborators, Asshole, Beyond parody, celebrity, comedy, Galloway, jerk, populism, reblogged, Respect, strange situations)

Reblogged from Tendance Coatsey:

Galloway for London Mayor: “Real Labour versus a Transvestite.”

George Galloway has announced on Russia Today (where else?) that he intends to fight Boris Johnson for the job of Mayor of London, despite the present incumbent already insisting he will not stand for a third term.

The Respect MP for Bradford West  said he had a team of people looking into the idea.

More on the Huffington Post.

He has also  said,

“Labour, I understand, is contemplating selecting a transvestite comedian, Eddie Izzard, which would also be an interesting contest. Real Labour versus a transvestite.”

There is, as yet, no word on the Respect Party website on this important battle.

But the International Business Times cites Galloway’s first ideas,

Galloway said it was too early to discuss any specific policies but insisted that alongside his ‘real Labour’ stance: “I would also have an internationalist relationship – ensuring for example that London has a relationship with China, giving China a base in the West.

“China doesn’t have that because many countries fear them but London doesn’t fear them. I’d want Chinese investment as a basis [for my policies].”

We learn that Galloway has just backtracked on this significant initiative – Here.

But a spokesman (that is, not the man himself) for Mr Galloway yesterday told the Telegraph & Argus it was a “not-too-serious response to a rather facetious question”.

“George is committed to Bradford, to fighting the seat in 2014, helping the Bradford East candidate (not yet selected) defeat David Ward, and in the meantime assisting in getting a serious number of councillors elected in 2014 to be the official opposition and holding the balance of power,” he added.


Bradford West Labour councillor Shakeela Lal added: “He’s only been an MP here just over a year but already George Galloway’s bored of Bradford and looking for his next challenge. He’s more interested in running for Mayor of London than standing up for his constituents.”

“We hardly ever see Mr Galloway in Bradford anyway so this hardly comes as a surprise.”

Ilkley Conservative MP Kris Hopkins said: “To be fair to George, the London Mayoral election is not due to held until 2016, the year after the next General Election.

“A lot could happen between now and then and, knowing George, it probably will.”

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More on Hawking, Israel … and the truth about BDS

May 14, 2013 at 11:09 am (academe, anti-semitism, celebrity, civil rights, Human rights, intellectuals, internationalism, israel, Jim D, New Statesman, palestine, protest)

Matt Hill, writing at the New Statesman website, makes some very interesting comments on the Hawking “boycott” and the BDS movement in general. It’s well worth reading the entire article, but this section is especially telling:

The problem with the BDS campaign is that the message it sends Israel is anything but clear – and, as a result, it risks being counterproductive. In his letter to the conference’s organisers, Hawking wrote about his concerns about “prospects for a peace settlement”, saying that “the policy of the present Israeli government is likely to lead to disaster”. But Israel’s supporters claim that the BDS movement has little to do with the occupation, peace, and government policy, and is instead intended to bring into question the Jewish state’s right to exist.

It’s true that Israel’s supporters throw the word ‘delegitimisation‘ around to portray fair-minded criticism of Israel as invidious and sinister. But when it comes to BDS, the fact is that they have a point. The BDS movement doesn’t have a single leadership with stated goals, but most of the biggest groups within it make little secret of their preferred outcome to the conflict. Instead of a two-state solution, they support a single, Palestinian-majority state that would mean the end of Israel’s existence. Don’t take my word for it. Norman Finkelstein, the heroic pro-Palestinian author and activist, recently launched a blistering attack on the BDS movement, telling an interviewer: “[The Israelis] say ‘They’re not talking about rights. They want to destroy Israel.’ And in fact, I think they’re right. . . . There’s a large segment of the movement that wants to eliminate Israel.”

And just in case any readers haven’t yet seen the clip of Finkelstein (someone this blog would not describe as “heroic”) accusing the BDS movement of fundamental dishonesty about Israel, here it is:

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Charles Ramsey: star, hero…or racial stereotype?

May 11, 2013 at 11:02 am (celebrity, class, crime, culture, funny, Guardian, Jim D, language, media, Racism, strange situations)

Aisha Harris, writing at Slate, is worried by the media coverage of Charles Ramsey:

“Charles Ramsey, the man who helped rescue three Cleveland women presumed dead after going missing a decade ago, has become an instant Internet meme. It’s hardly surprising—the interviews he gave yesterday provide plenty of fodder for a viral video, including memorable soundbites (“I was eatin’ my McDonald’s”) and lots of enthusiastic gestures. But as Miles Klee and Connor Simpson have noted, Ramsey’s heroism is quickly being overshadowed by the public’s desire to laugh at and autotune his story, and that’s a shame. Ramsey has become the latest in a fairly recent trend of “hilarious” black neighbors, unwitting Internet celebrities whose appeal seems rooted in a ‘colorful’ style that is always immediately recognizable as poor or working-class…

“…It’s difficult to watch these videos and not sense that their popularity has something to do with a persistent, if unconscious, desire to see black people perform. Even before the genuinely heroic Ramsey came along, some viewers had expressed concern that the laughter directed at people like Sweet Brown plays into the most basic stereotyping of blacks as simple-minded ramblers living in the ‘ghetto, socially out of step with the rest of educated America. Black or white, seeing Clark and Dodson merely as funny instances of random poor people talking nonsense is disrespectful at best. And shushing away the question of race seems like wishful thinking.”

Perhaps surprisingly, Gary Younge at the Guardian takes the opposite view:

Millions in America talk like him. But rarely do we hear them unless they are on Maury, Jerry Springer or America’s Most Wanted, the butt of some internet joke or testifying to a shooting in their neighbourhoods. Working-class African Americans are generally wheeled on as exemplars of collective dysfunction. So when Ramsey emerges as heroic, humane, empathetic, funny, compelling, generous and smart, there is a moment of cognitive dissonance on a grand scale. Here is a man with a criminal past and a crime-fighting present…

“…Unvarnished and un-selfconscious, charming and compelling, he reminds me of none so much as Muhammad Ali in his prime, who said: I am America. I am the part you won’t recognise. But get used to me. Black, confident, cocky.

“I’m looking forward to getting used to Charles Ramsey.”

If you’re one of the few people who hasn’t yet seen the film of Mr Ramsey in full flow, you can judge for yourself:

P.S: now there’s a song as well.

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Hawking boycotts Israel

May 9, 2013 at 4:58 pm (celebrity, Guest post, Human rights, intellectuals, israel, Middle East, palestine, Pink Prosecco, science)

Guest post by Pink Prosecco

Stephen Hawking, explaining his decision to boycott the Shimon Peres Presidential Conference in Israel, describes what he had planned to say:

“Had I attended, I would have stated my opinion that the policy of the present Israeli government is likely to lead to disaster.”

That is a strong statement, but it’s not an eccentric or hateful view – and you certainly don’t have to be an enemy of Israel to share it.  Yet although I can understand why some (particularly Palestinians) have urged Hawking to boycott this event, I very much regret his final decision.  There are many countries which would not have allowed him to strike his planned dissenting note – and where requests for solidarity from those considering themselves oppressed could not even have been articulated.  Here is Omar Barghouti’s response:

But Palestinians welcomed Hawking’s decision. “Palestinians deeply appreciate Stephen Hawking’s support for an academic boycott of Israel,” said Omar Barghouti, a founding member of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement. “We think this will rekindle the kind of interest among international academics in academic boycotts that was present in the struggle against apartheid in South Africa.”

I believe Barghouti is still registered as a PhD student at Tel Aviv University. That doesn’t mean that he can’t speak out against the injustices of occupation, checkpoints, detention or any other topic, or indeed call for boycott.  Clearly he can.  And that fact in itself might make one wonder, not whether Israel should be protected from robust criticism over its policies, but whether it is really the one country in the world which deserves to be the focus of such a very concerted boycott campaign.

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The politics of Hugo Chavez – in his own words

March 8, 2013 at 12:02 am (celebrity, Guardian, Jim D, Latin America, politics, populism, Socialist Party, truth)

Chavez ali

Who’s that, talking to Tariq Ali?
That preening narcissist and ex-revolutionary Tariq Ali writes about his friend, ‘the Commandante’ in the Graun G2. Predictably, the piece is as much about Mr Ali as it is about its supposed subject. However, the article does contain a genuinely revealing statement from Chavez, about himself and his politics, which Ali quotes with obvious approval:
 ”I don’t believe in the dogmatic postulates of Marxist revolution. I don’t accept that we are living in a period of proletarian revolutions. All that must be revised. Reality is telling us that every day. Are we aiming in Venezuela today for the abolition of private property or a classless society? I don’t think so. But if I’m told that because of that reality you can’t do anything to help the poor, the people who have made this country rich through their labour – and never forget that some of it was slave labour – then I say: ‘We part company.’ I will never accept that there can be no redistribution of wealth in society. Our upper classes don’t even like paying taxes. That’s one reason they hate me. We said: ‘You must pay your taxes.’ I believe it’s better to die in battle, rather than hold aloft a very revolutionary and very pure banner, and do nothing … That position often strikes me as very convenient, a good excuse … Try and make your revolution, go into combat, advance a little, even if it’s only a millimetre, in the right direction, instead of dreaming about utopias.”
Now, that seems to me remarkably like a classic reformist “the inch we live in” /”dented shield”-type statement. A much more realistic and honest (self-) assessment that all the guff about a supposed Venezuelan “revolution” trumpeted by Chavez’s more deluded “Marxist” cheer-leaders.

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Chávez: death of a charismatic Bonaparte

March 6, 2013 at 12:00 am (celebrity, Jim D, Latin America, Marxism, populism, RIP, trotskyism)

Hugo Chávez, president of Venezuela, dies in Caracas

Death comes 21 months after it was revealed he had a tumour: he will be given a state funeral in the capital of Venezuela.

Guardian obit here.

“By Bonapartism we mean a regime in which the economically dominant class, having the qualities necessary for democratic methods of government, finds itself compelled to tolerate – in order to preserve its possessions – the uncontrolled command of a military and police apparatus over it, of a crowned ‘saviour’. This kind of situation is created in periods when the class contradictions have become particularly acute; the aim of Bonapartism is to prevent explosions” – Leon Trotsky, Again on the question of Bonapartism, March 1935, in Writings 1934-35

“I said this before becoming president… Venezuela is a kind of a bomb. We are going to begin to deactivate the mechanism of that bomb. And today, it’s not that it is totally deactivated, but I am sure that it is much less likely that this bomb explode today” Hugo Chávez to Venezuelan and US business representatives, 6 July 2005

Bonapartism in Venezuela

Adapted by Jim Denham from a 2005 article by Paul Hampton

How do Marxists analyse a regime like the one established by Hugo Chávez in Venezuela, where capitalism is still the dominant mode of production but the old bourgeois parties no longer control the state?

Marxists believe that the essence of capitalist society is the extraction of surplus labour from the waged working class. The working class produces the wealth and the capitalists expropriate profit from workers, because these bosses own and control the means of production (the businesses, the factories and mines — the basic industry).

But this is not sufficient to explain the role of the state or the character of politics. At a fundamental level, the state is the executive committee for managing the affairs of the whole bourgeoisie, as Marx and Engels put it in the Communist Manifesto.

But they also understood that under capitalism, politics and economics were not fused in the same way as in many pre-capitalist societies — such as feudalism. On the contrary, they argued that the state had a “semblance of independence” in relation to the contending classes it stood over. They came to the conclusion that it was not necessary for the bourgeoisie to govern politically in order to rule socially.

They also understood that in periods of crisis, where the class struggle had reached a stalemate — it was possible for a military regime — “the rule of the praetorians” — often led by a strongman, to rule in the long term interests of the capitalist system while remaining above some sections of capital and the labour movement.

The classic form of this kind of regime analysed by Marx and Engels was the rule of Louis Napoléon Bonaparte in France (1852-70). In February 1848 king Louis Philippe was disposed. In June 1848 the working class movement was viciously put down. But the bourgeois parties were unable to consolidate their rule. Louis Napoléon was elected president of the new republic in December 1848, but the constitution allowed the president only one term. After unsuccessfully attempting to change the law, Bonaparte staged a coup in December 1852.

He established a military regime that concentrated power in its own hands at the expense of parliament and intervened in finance and industry to hothouse capitalist development while repressing the workers’ movement. Bonaparte organised his own forces, “the Society of the 10 December”, and appealed directly to peasants and workers. In the Eighteenth Brumaire Louis Bonaparte (1852) Marx brilliantly outlined this form of rule.

For Marx and Engels Bonapartism was not simply a term of abuse or derision. It characterised the tendencies and direction of a peculiar regime and armed the working class with a clear, critical attitude towards it. Many radicals and socialists at the time, such as Proudhon wrote admiringly about Louis Napoléon, while the regime cultivated workers through construction projects and an imperial foreign policy. Marx and Engels remained unremittingly critical.

They also extended their analysis of Bonapartism to other societies – for example to Bismarck in Germany and to Simon Bolívar (see Solidarity 3/54, 24 June 2004: http://www.workersliberty.org/publications/solidarity/solidarity-354-24-june-2004 ).

During the 1930s the Russian revolutionary Leon Trotsky further developed this conception of Bonapartism, applying it to China, Germany and France. But Trotsky’s most significant extension of Bonapartism was to Mexico. His analysis is particularly pertinent to our understanding of Venezuela today.


Hugo Chávez was elected president of Venezuela in 1998 as the old mode of rule was in an advanced state of decomposition. After 1958 Venezuela had a stable, formally democratic state that was in fact a polyarchy of two parties, AD and COPEI. This regime — known as puntofijismo — was maintained by the huge rents derived from the country’s oil industry.

This system broke down after 1983 and the country went through two decades of economic contraction. The response of the two ruling parties was neoliberalism, which only made the situation worse. It also undermined the legitimacy of their mode of rule.

Chávez was elected because he pledged to end the old political system — through holding a constituent assembly and recasting the state. He summed up his role soon after coming to power: “Venezuela is a ticking time bomb and I’m here to defuse it.”

Chávez replaced the old regime with his own distinctive form of Bonapartist rule.

Essential to any Bonapartist regime is the role of the army. Chávez was a career soldier and this conditions his outlook and politics. This is not simply because he tried to seize power in 1992 through a military coup. It is widely recognised that Chávez militarised politics in Venezuela.

Chávezs made it clear in interviews with sympathetic journalists such as Marta Harnecker and the hero-worshipping Richard Gott  that a reconstructed “civilian-military alliance” was the key to his politics. His organisation, the MBR-200, formed in the early 1980s, was made up largely of middle level officers, with others in a secondary role.

The armed forces have been central from the beginning of Chávez’s rule. In the Constituent Assembly in 1999, 26 out of 131 delegates were military officers, all from Chávez’s “Patriotic Pole” slate. There are a large number of military personnel in civilian positions. One estimate has 800 senior government jobs and nine state governors (out of 23) held by officers.

The new constitution substantially increased the role of the army in politics and society. It gives the army an increased role in maintaining “internal order” and demands it be “an active participant in national development”.

What this meant in practice was demonstrated by the various “Plans”. Plan Pais, inaugurated in February 1999, involved tens of thousands of military personnel from all four forces in tackling problems in education, health and infrastructure.

Similarly Plan Bolívar, a scheme launched in 2000, involved massive funds for public works channelled through the army to repair schools and hospitals, set up medical clinics, clean up projects and even low cost food distribution.

The National Plan for Citizen Security, instituted in May 1999, gave the National Guard — part of the armed forces — responsibility for crime — and effective control of the police.

Giving the military a public role did not end corruption. Millions of dollars were paid to non-existent companies and allegations of human rights abuses by the DISIP security service followed the floods in 1999. And although the army has not yet been used to suppress genuine workers’ struggles, it has played a repressive role against indigenous people and environmentalists fighting plans to construct power lines into Brazil.

The relationship between Chávez and the armed forces was also demonstrated by the coup in April 2002. Only two senior officers, and only 200 other officers out of 8,000 (plus some retired personnel) joined the attempt to overthrow him. And after the coup, Chávez was able to purge those elements hostile to his rule, by retiring generals and admirals.

Hypertrophic executive 

The inflated status of the executive is also a sign of Chávez’s Bonapartism. As Venezuelan-based academic Steve Ellner put it, the new Constitution created a “powerful executive whose authority is unchecked by other state institutions”.

For example the Constitution extends the presidential term from five to six years and allows for immediate re-election, which was previously barred. The president appoints his own vice-president and has no prime minister. He has sole power over military promotions and a significant say in the appointment of judges. For example earlier this year Chávez appointed 12 extra Supreme Court judges, giving him a majority in the court.

Gregory Wilpert, editor of the Venezuelanalysis website and generally sympathetic to Chávez, acknowledges this facet of his regime. He wrote: “Another area of criticism of the 1999 constitution is that it has centralized presidential power even more than the already somewhat presidentialist constitution of 1961. The increased presidential powers include the ability to dissolve the National Assembly, following three votes of non-confidence by two thirds of the National Assembly, declare a state of emergency, freely name ministers and their area of responsibility, the extension of the president’s term from five to six years, and allowing for an immediate consecutive re-election.” (Venezuela’s New Constitution 2003)

After coming to power, Chavez pursued generally conservative economic policies, while increasing the role of the state in the economy.

The key to his rule was the re-establishment of control over the state-owned oil company PDVSA after the defeat of the December 2002-January 2003 lockout. PDVSA says it will make $70 billion this year [2005], providing $10 billion to the treasury – or over one-third (35%) of the federal budget. The role of the state in economic life has increased dramatically since Chávez came to power. Government spending has grown from 19% of GDP to 31% last year.

Chávez continued to honour contracts with US and other international oil companies. Venezuela is the United States’ leading foreign supplier of crude oil. According to Fortune magazine, in the first half of 2005, it supplied one-seventh of the US’s imported oil.

And Chávez continued to encourage foreign investment. He told Fortune that; “foreign corporations should rest assured and have faith in our laws and in our government. We’re doing very good business with them. Almost all the oil companies in the world are in Venezuela — Chevron, Exxon Mobil, Conoco-Phillips, Petrobras, Statoil, Shell.” (3 October 2005)

The windfall from higher oil prices gave Chávez the funds to spend the oil money on social programmes. These reforms have benefited some of the poorest sections of Venezuelan society – but also helped cement his rule in the manner of US Tammany Hall-style politics.

Relations with civil society

Chávez talked about the “sovereignty” of the people as the “protagonists” in his regime and about “participatory democracy”. His attack on the old system went as far as repudiating the old parties and other social organisations such as the CTV trade union federation that were integrated into the old regime.

The Chavistas claim a special relationship with social movements, and the constitution opens some opportunities for these movements and ad hoc organisations to participate in state structures.

Yet his own party, the Movement for the Fifth Republic (MVR) is hardly a model of democracy. Even MVR members have complained that sections of the old elite that have been elected on the MVR slate, and that the party has little internal democracy or internal life.

In 2001, Chávez proposed re-establishing the MBR-200 and revived the idea of Bolivarian circles, local cells first organised by the MBR-200 in 1994. These groups, with government backing and pledged to the constitution, grew rapidly at the time of the coups. They have become the backbone of his social welfare programmes, rather independent organisations with much distance from his regime.

Chávez supporters in the unions also pushed for a new union federation to replace the CTV. The formation of the UNT in 2003, after the CTV was discredited by its involvement in the coup attempts was certainly welcomed by the government. However the UNT is not simply an instrument of the regime — though it faces real pressures of co-option (see article in the next Solidarity).

In classic Bonapartist fashion, Chávez appealed over the heads of organisations, directly to the masses of people — using for example his weekly TV show, Alo Presidente. However he did not managed to fully institutionalise his relationship to civil society or to the mass of ordinary Venezuelans.

There are real dangers for the UNT and other social movements faced with the Bonapartist regime. The first danger is the readiness to resort to repression in the face of a progressive struggle. The other danger is co-option — incorporation into the structures of the regime, providing it with a radical veneer — but at the cost of destroying the potential of an independent movement.

For all the rhetoric against neoliberalism and about “twenty first century socialism”, Chávez established a Bonapartist form of rule and set about sinking roots in Venezuelan society. This process is unfinished — unlike similar Latin American populists Chávez did not have fully institutionalised party or structures such as dependent trade unions to prop up his role.

But he continued to rule in favour of capital — mainly Venezuelan national capital without being completely hostile to multinational capital. This must be the starting point for developing a working class assessment of this charismatic populist and the regime he established.

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Duke Ellington in London, 1933

February 4, 2013 at 8:29 pm (BBC, black culture, celebrity, history, jazz, Jim D, London, Monarchy, music, strange situations)

Tonight’s opening episode (9pm, BBC 2) of Stephen Poliakoff’s Dancing On The Edge promises to usher in a great series, with a cast including John Goodman, Chiwetel Ejiofor and Jacqueline Bissett. Apparently, it’s about the tribulations of a black jazz band feted by the upper class in 1933 London and very loosely “inspired” by what happened to the Duke Ellington band when they visited Britain that year.

Here’s what the Duke himself (always rather impressed by royalty and the the British upper classes) wrote about that visit in his book Music is My Mistress (published in the UK in 1974):

We were absolutely amazed at how well informed people were in Britain about us and our records. They had magazines and reviews far ahead  of what we had here and everywhere we went we were confronted with facts we had forgotten and questions we couldn’t always answer. Nevertheless, the esteem our music was held in was very gratifying. A broadcast we did for the BBC provoked a lot of comment, most of it favourable. Constant Lambert, the most distinguished British composer of that period, had written an appeciation of our early records years before.

Lord Beaverbrook, who owned one of the most important London newspapers, threw a big party to which the Prince of Wales and the Duke of Kent were invited. We were invited too and Jack Hylton’s Empress Club band played until we got through at the Palladium. It was all very colourful and splendid. Members of the nobility, Members of Parliament and delegates to the imperial conferences, all in informal dress, mingled happily. There was a generous buffet and the champagne flowed freely.

Prince George, the Duke of Kent, requested ‘Swampy River’, a piano solo I had a hard time remembering, but I was flattered, especially to have him leaning over the piano as I played it.

Later, the Prince of Wales had some kind words to say to us. When he suggested we had a drink together I was surprised to find he was drinking gin. I had always thought gin as rather a low kind of drink, but from that time on I decided it was rather grand. He liked to play drums, so he paid Sonny Greer a lot of attention, too. This is how Sonny remembers the evening:

‘As soon as we got the band set up, the Prince of Wales came over and sat down beside me Indian fashion. He said he knew how to play drums, so I said “Go ahead!” he played a simple Charleston beat, and he stayed right by me and the drums throughout most of the evening. People kept coming up and calling him “Your Highness” but he wouldn’t move. We both began to get high on whatever it was we were drinking. He was calling me “Sonny” and I was calling him “The Wale”.’

I think the Prince of Wales really did like us, because he came to hear us again at Liverpool, when he was up in that area for the races at Aintree. He was loved by the day people and the night people, rich and poor, the celebrities and the nonentities. He was truly the Billy Strayhorn of the Crown princes.

Here’s the band slightly earlier (1930, to be precise), playing ‘Old Man Blues’:

Incidentally, does anyone recognise the chord sequence?

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