Coatesy on Trump on Brexit

November 8, 2016 at 4:58 pm (Andrew Coates, anti-fascism, Anti-Racism, anti-semitism, Democrats, Galloway, misogyny, populism, Republican Party, United States)

Comrade Coatesy writes:

Donald Trump, “Mr Brexit”: Today is ‘gonna be Brexit plus, plus, plus’.

Image result for trump brexit

Mr Brexit.

Speaking in North Carolina, Republican candidate Mr Trump – who called himself ‘Mr Brexit’ during the campaign – promised that today was ‘gonna be Brexit plus, plus, plus’. reports the Daily Mail.

The view of this Blog is that Trump is a disgusting pile of cack.

Beyond this we have not commented on his Presidential Bid.

But in evoking Brexit he has strayed into our Manor.

We wonder what those who relished Brexit, such as Susan Watkins, Editor of New Left Review, who said, “Critics of the neoliberal order have no reason to regret these knocks to it, against which the entire global establishment—Obama to Abe, Merkel to Modi, Juncker to Xi—has inveighed”, Tariq Ali, who was “Pleased’ Brexit Has Given EU  “Big Kick’ up ‘Backside‘”, those who believed it was a sign of the actuality of the revolution (Counterfire), a time to mobilise for a “People’s Brexit” (People’s Assembly), or a working-class ‘revolt’ against ‘elites’ (SWP and Socialist Party) think of Trump’s claims.

Actually we don’t give a toss.

For us the Republican Candidate is the Brexit Carnival of Reaction incarnate.

 Tendance Coatesy will not go into details about the problems about his contender.

For the moment we sincerely wish Hillary Clinton success – come what may.

Tariq Ali meanwhile has other ideas, ” Tariq Ali: Is Trump Any Worse Than Clinton? I’d Vote For Jill Stein.

If Ali’s stentorian voice is not enough to convince people that Hillary is the only option we would wish for, Galloway broadcast this yesterday:

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A State Jew? – David A. Bell on Léon Blum: Prime Minister, Socialist, Zionist by Pierre Birnbaum

November 3, 2015 at 4:05 pm (Andrew Coates, anti-semitism, Democrats, France, history, humanism, internationalism, reblogged, republicanism, secularism, socialism, zionism)

By Andrew Coates (at Tendance Coatesy),_1932,_2.jpg

Blum: a Generous Humanist Socialist, not a “State Jew”.

A State Jew. David A. Bell. Review of Léon Blum: Prime Minister, Socialist, Zionist by Pierre Birnbaum, translated by Arthur Goldhammer.

London Review of Books.

Thanks Jim D.

Bell begins  his review with this, which should give some pause for reflection,

The newspaper Action française habitually referred to Léon Blum, France’s Socialist leader, as the ‘warlike Hebrew’ and the ‘circumcised Narbonnais’ (he represented a constituency in Narbonne). On 13 February 1936, Blum was being driven away from the National Assembly when he encountered a group of ultra-right-wing militants who had gathered at the intersection of the rue de l’Université and the boulevard Saint-Germain for the funeral procession of Jacques Bainville, one of the founders of Action française, a reactionary political movement as well as a newspaper. Glimpsing Blum through the car windows, the militants began shouting: ‘Kill Blum!’, ‘Shoot Blum!’ They forced his car to stop and began rocking it back and forth. Blum’s friend Germaine Monnet, sitting with him in the back, tried to shield him with her body. Her husband, Georges, who had been driving, ran to look for police. But one of the militants managed to tear a fender off the car, used it to smash the rear window, and then beat Blum repeatedly over the head. Only the arrival of two policemen saved his life. They dragged him to a nearby building, where the concierge gave him first aid. The next day pictures of Blum, his head heavily bandaged, appeared in newspapers around the world.

We halt there.

To internationalist socialists Blum is above all known not for his Jewish identity – despite the book – but for his socialist humanist republicanism.

Blum defended French democratic republicanism, from the Dreyfus affair onwards. He was profoundly affected by the “synthesis” of socialism, including the Marxist view of class struggle, with democratic republicanism, that marked the life and work of one of our greatest martyrs, Jean Jaurès, assassinated in 1914 by a sympathiser of the far-right,  for his opposition to the outbreak of the Great War. Blum did not, however, play a part in the anti-War left.

That is the context in which we would take the shouts of “kill Blum”.  Political, not ethnic.

Blum was a leading figure amongst the minority of the French Socialists, the SFIO (Section Française de l’Internationale Ouvrière), who opposed what became in the 1920s the French Communist Party, the PCF. He was one of those who opposed affiliating the party to the Third International at the Congrès de Tours (SFIO).

Speech at the Socialist Party Congress at Tours, 27 December 1920 (best known under its French title, Pour La Veille Maison).

This is the crucial objection from the ‘reformist’ (but at this point, still Marxist) democratic socialists to the Third International – the Leninist one.

You are right to declare that the whole party press, central or local, should be in the hands of pure communists and pure communist doctrine. You are certainly right to submit the works published by the Party to a kind of censorship. All that is logical. You want an entirely homogeneous party, a party in which there is no longer free thought, no longer different tendencies: you are therefore right to act as you have done. This results – I am going to prove it to you – from your revolutionary conception itself. But you will understand that envisioning that situation, considering it, making the comparison of what will be tomorrow with what was yesterday, we all had the same reaction of fright, of recoil, and that we said: is that the Party that we have known? No! The party that we knew was the appeal to all workers, while the one they want to found is the creation of little disciplined vanguards, homogeneous, subjected to a strict structure of command – their numbers scarcely matter, you will find that in the theses – but all kept under control, and ready for prompt and decisive action. Well, in that respect as in the others, we remain of the Party as it was yesterday, and we do not accept the new party that they want to make.

To show how radical Blum was at this point, this is how he defended the dictatorship of the proletariat,

Dictatorship exercised by the Party, yes, but by a Party organized like ours, and not like yours. Dictatorship exercised by a Party based on the popular will and popular liberty, on the will of the masses, in sum, an impersonal dictatorship of the proletariat. But not a dictatorship exercised by a centralized party, where all authority rises from one level to the next and ends up by being concentrated in the hands of a secret Committee. … Just as the dictatorship should be impersonal, it should be, we hold, temporary, provisional. … But if, on the contrary, one sees the conquest of power as a goal, if one imagines (in opposition to the whole Marxist conception of history) that it is the only method for preparing that transformation, that neither capitalist evolution nor our own work of propaganda could have any effect, if as a result too wide a gap and an almost infinite period of time must be inserted between taking power as the precondition, and revolutionary transformation as the goal, then we cease to be in agreement.

Bear this in mind: these words are memorised almost by heart by many on the left.

The minority, for which Blum spoke, opposed to the Third International, retained the name, French Section of the Workers’ International, was significant: it referred to a claim to continue the traditions of the Second International, of Marxist, if moderate and reformist,  inspiration.

Blum offered social reform on this foundation. He led, during the Front Populaire (1936 -38)  a government (as President du conseil) of socialists and radical-socialists, backed by communists from the ‘outside’ and a vast movement of factory occupations and protests,  to implement some of them, on paid holidays, bargaining rights limiting the working week. He had great limitations – one that cannot be ignored is that his government did not give women the right to vote – and his role in not effectively helping the Spanish Republic remains a matter of controversy to this day. Indeed the absence of feminism – as well as a rigorous anti-colonialism (the FP “dissolved” the North African, l’Étoile nord-africaine of Messali Hadj –  in the Front Populaire, is something which should cause a great deal of critical investigation.

The review in the LRB is about a book, and this is what he has to say specifically about it:

Birnbaum, a well-known historian and sociologist of French Jewry, has written a short biography that focuses on Blum’s identity as a Jew, as the series requires. It cannot substitute for the more substantial studies by Joel Colton, Ilan Greilsammer and Serge Berstein, but it’s lively, witty and draws effectively on Blum’s massive and eloquent correspondence. Arthur Goldhammer has, as usual, produced a lucid, engaging English text. Birnbaum seems to have written the book in some haste: he repeats facts and quotations, and makes a few historical slips – France was not a ‘largely peasant nation’ in 1936; Hitler did not annex the Sudetenland in the summer of 1938, before the Munich Agreement. The chapters proceed thematically, highlighting Blum the writer, Blum the socialist, Blum the lawyer, Blum the Zionist and so forth, which produces occasional confusion as Birnbaum leaps backwards and forwards in time. But overall, the book offers a knowledgeable and attractive portrait. If there is a serious criticism to be levelled at it, it doesn’t concern the portrait itself, so much as the way Birnbaum draws on it to make a broader argument about French Jewish identity.

But there are issues of much wider importance in that broader argument.

Bell makes two points about his legacy as described in Birnbaum’s book,

As Birnbaum himself repeatedly notes, despite his ‘quintessential’ Frenchness, Blum always expressed pride in his Jewish heritage, often in the highly racialised language of the day. ‘My Semite blood,’ he wrote as a young man, ‘has been preserved in its pure state. Honour me by acknowledging that it flows unmixed in my veins and that I am the untainted descendant of an unpolluted race.’ While he could speak disparagingly of Jewish ritual, he recognised and respected a Jewish ethical tradition. In 1899, in the midst of the Dreyfus Affair, he insisted that ‘the Jew’s religion is justice. His Messiah is nothing other than a symbol of Eternal Justice.’ He went on to identify ‘the spirit of socialism’ with ‘the ancient spirit of the race’ and to comment: ‘It was not a lapse on the part of Providence that Marx and Lassalle were Jews.’ Blum, in short, thought the Jews could change the French Republic for the better by drawing on their own traditions to push it towards socialism.

This attempt to bring up Blum’s references to his Jewish background, even in terms more democratic than Disraeli’s novels, voiced above all by the character Sidonia, owes more to pre-1930s racial romanticism to racialism.

Does this prove Bell’s point that, “The republican model allows strikingly little space for what immigrant communities can contribute to a nation. Visitors to France can see at a glance just how much immigrants have brought to its music, literature, sport and even cuisine. But the republican model treats difference primarily as a threat to be exorcised in the name of an unbending, anachronistic ideal of civic equality. Even in the heyday of the Third Republic, many committed republicans recognised that different ethnic and religious groups could strengthen the republic.”

Yes it does: secularism is freedom for difference, not the imposition of homogeneity.

Blum could be rightly proud of his cultural heritage,as indeed in a ‘globalised’ world of migration many other people from different backgrounds should be, and are, within the democratic framework of secular equality.

There is little doubt that the spirit of nit-picking secularism can be as unable to deal with these backgrounds, as say, state multiculturalism, which treats ‘diversity’ as if this were a value in itself. If the first tends to be hyper-sensitive to, say, reactionary  Islamic dress codes, the second abandons the issue entirely.

But there are far deeper problems than superficial insistence on  Laïcité

The first is ‘Sovereigntist’ efforts to claim secularist universalism for French particularism. This is the rule amongst the supporters of the far-right Front National, historians and writers like Éric Zemmour bemoaning France’s ‘decline’ , though we should underline, not the novelist Houellebecq, who expresses disdain for things, not hate). There are those who call for all Muslims to be expelled from Europe, those  to those milder nationalists of right and left who commemorate “le pays et les morts” (and not anybody else – a return to the culturalist (not to say, racial)  themes of Action française to Maurice Barrès and to Charles Maurras. This is indeed “communalism”.

It is the major threat to French republicanism.

There is also the issue of anti-Semitism in France, woven into another kind of ‘communitarianism’. Alain Soral, his close friend the comedian Dieudonné, popular amongst young people from the banlieue and the more refined inheritors of the Marrausian tradition, the partisans of the  Indigènes de la République, (including those associated in the English speaking world) rant at thephilosémitisme d’Etat” in France.

It takes all the effort of refined ‘discursive analysis’ from academics to ignore that at its heart this is a current  which indulges in Jew baiting. The mind-set of these people was classically described by Sartre, “« Si le juif n’existait pas, l’antisémite l’inventerait.» (Réflexions sur la question juive 1946). They indeed spent an enormous amount of time ‘inventing’ the presence of Jews in politics, and giving them influence ‘behind the scenes’.

In words which might have been designed to pander to the world-view of the  Indigènes, Bell cites Léon Blum: Prime Minister, Socialist, Zionist,

Blum ‘the first of a new type of state Jew interested in giving greater weight to democratic sentiment within the framework of a socialist project.’ One wonders, though, what Birnbaum might say about a French Muslim politician today justifying an ideological position by reference to Muslim tradition and ethics (or sharia law). Would he have quite so favourable an  opinion? Or might he see the move as a ‘communitarian’ threat to ‘the unifying logic of the nation’ and to ‘French exceptionalism’? It is well past time to recognise that a nation can have many different unifying logics, and that a political model forged under the Third Republic fits the France of the Fifth Republic very badly.

Blum celebrated his Jewish heritage. It is hardly a secret. Nor is his post-war Zionism, or support for Israel, a stand shared in the immediate aftermath of the conflict by the USSR.

But did he become a  man of the  ‘state’ because he was a ‘Jew’, and does this aspect of his person matter politically – that is in terms of the state?

For us Léon Blum is only one of the sources of a generous humanist secularism, but a significant one. That he did not tackle issues like feminism, anti-colonialism, and a host of other issues, goes without saying. But it would be a great shame if his legacy was reduced to being a “State Jew”.

And it could equally be said that republican secularism has many strands, that it is being transformed by the views of secularists from North Africa, the threat of the Islamist genociders of Deash, the mounting oppression in Erdogan’s Turkey, backed by his Islamist AK party, and – no doubt – Israel’s evident failings. Every one of these cases shows that religious law is not any part of a “tradition” that socialists – believers in equality – would recognise.

The logic at work here binds us to our French sisters and brothers, binds internationalists across the globe, in the way that the Je Suis Charlie moment briefly melded our hearts and minds together.

That is perhaps the real ‘end’ of all exceptionalisms.

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Lauren Bacall and Hoagy Carmichael: How Little We Know

August 16, 2014 at 1:35 pm (cinema, Civil liberties, Democrats, film, good people, jazz, Jim D, mccarthyism, RIP, song, theatre, United States)

Lauren Bacall (1924-2014) and Humphrey Bogart lead a march to the Capitol in Washington, DC to protest against Senator McCarthy's witch hunt of communists and alleged communists, 1947.

The death of Lauren Bacall (pictured above with husband Humphrey Bogart leading a 1947 march against McCarthy’s witch hunt of leftists and liberals) robs us of the last great star from Hollwood’s ‘golden age’ and a brave liberal – in the best sense of the word. She described herself to TV host Larry King, in 2005, as “anti-Republican and a liberal. The L-word. Being a liberal is the best thing on earth you can be. You are welcoming to everyone when you’re a liberal. You do not have a small mind.”

I can’t resist the opportunity to show you a clip of Bacall in her first film, Howard Hawks’ 1944 ‘To Have And Have Not’, in which she sings the Hoagy Carmichael/Johnny Mercer number ‘How Little We Know’, accompanied by Hoagy himself at the piano. For many years it was thought that Bacall’s singing was dubbed by the young Andy Williams, but Hawks confirmed (in Joseph McBride’s book ‘Hawks on Hawks’) that although Williams’ voice was recorded, it was not used because he (Hawks) decided Bacall’s voice was good enough.

RIP Betty

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Tom Lehrer: not quite forgotten at 85

April 13, 2013 at 3:30 pm (comedy, Democrats, intellectuals, Jim D, music, song, United States)

Tom Lehrer was 85 on Tuesday. I was going to write something at the time, but events overtook me.

Lehrer was one of the wittiest, most intelligent and musically talented of all the 1950s and ’60s entertainers, yet somehow he never came to terms with either showbiz (he disliked appearing in public) or the ‘New Left’ of the 1960’s (despite his own left-liberal views). He was a humourist first and a political satirist second, saying. “If the audience applauds they’re just showing they agree with me. They’re not being amused by it. I’m sure in 1968, I could have gotten up and said something like ‘Cops are pigs,’ and they’d applaud.. But that’s not humor. So I dropped out just in time.”

Lehrer is the originator of the famous quote to the effect that satire died when Henry Kissinger was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize (in 1973), but he had already more or less given up songwriting and performing years before then, and returned to the world of mathematics (he had an MA from Harvard and taught at MIT, Harvard and Wellesley). And, in any case, he’s always been highly sceptical about mixing politics with entertainment, saying in a 2000 interview “I don’t think this kind of thing has an impact on the unconverted, frankly. It’s not even preaching to the unconverted, frankly. It’s not even preaching to the converted; it’s titillating the converted…I’m fond of quoting Peter Cook, who talked about the satirical Berlin kabaretts of the 1930s, which did so much to stop the rise of Hitler and prevent the Second World War.”

[See his Wikipedia entry and Jeremy Mazner’s Tom Lehrer: The Political Musician That Wasn’t]

Anyway, it’s good that the great man is still with us, even if he rarely performs and is not nearly well enough remembered. Happily, though, he’s been quite extensively recorded and filmed over the years:

Werner von Braun:

Poisoning Pigeons in the Park (warning: not political, just anti-pigeon – JD):

I Wanna Go Back To Dixie:

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A Change Is Gonna Come?

January 19, 2009 at 10:24 pm (Civil liberties, Democrats, history, Jim D, music, United States)

I didn’t advocate a vote for him. And it’s a safe bet that he’ll disappoint most of his supporters sooner or later. But there’s no denying the importance of this moment, especially for Afro-Americans. I’ll be only too happy to be proved wrong about him…

Sam Cooke’s great song “A Change Is Gonna Come” (Obama’ s unofficial campaign anthem) has been virtually removed from Youtube in its original version (for “copyright” reasons)…but I found it eventually… pity that the old shyster and criminal  Teddy Kennedy is the first thing you see…


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Spend the night with Strops

November 5, 2008 at 12:21 am (blogging, Champagne Charlie, Democrats, left, politics, Republican Party, United States)

Here’s an invitation that it’s difficult to refuse:

I plan to stay up as late as I can and watch the results. I may be doing some blogging over at Liberal Conspiracy, but mainly here.

I am aware that some people think I have a poor grasp of socialist ideas ( I do though have a politics degree, so have a bit of a clue !). Others think this is a lifestyle blog or even that all I offer here is ‘tits and fishnets’. Hmmm, perhaps posts about fisting, fucking and fishnets might have sullied my reputation:-)

Pah, this is a serious political blog. Well OK, not always. So I’m not going to be poe faced. In fact I intend to have some assistance from my cats. Tonight I will be in Brighton with them, some JD (the drink not Mr Denham), my laptop , coffee and snacks. I plan to chat with fellow bloggers and play a few moves on facebook scrabble with Jim J and who knows perhaps Mr Pottins , my regular fellow addicts.
Back to the cats. I plan to upload pics of them as the results come in. Well you didn’t expect them to type did you. Nope, they are purely decorative.

So live cat blogging on the US Elections…

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Studs Terkel: man of the people

November 2, 2008 at 10:31 pm (Democrats, good people, history, Jim D, literature, music, United States)

“Hog Butcher for the world / Tool-maker, Stacker of Wheat / Player with Railroads and the Nation’s Freight Handler / Stormy, husky, brawling / City of the Big Shoulders…”

(From ‘Chicago’, by Carl Sandburg; a favourite poem of Studs Terkel).

Studs Terkel, who has died aged 96, was many things: master oral historian, inveterate talker and arguer, smoker and drinker, pioneer disc jockey, occasional actor, proud Chicagoan born in New York, lover of jazz and blues, radio host, interviewer, life-long radical, New Deal supporter, civil rights activist, friend of the unions, defier of McCarthy…but most of all he was a humanist:

“I’ll end with a story. I’m taking this train, changing planes, at Atlanta airport, going from one concourse to another, and there’s silence in the train. The doors are about to close. A robotic voice, very deliberate, says: ‘Concourse one: Dallas, Fort Worth. Concourse two. Some other place.’ But mechanical. Total silence. And just as the doors start to close this young couple rush in, hold the doors, they stay open again. And the voice doesn’t miss a beat. ‘Because of late entry we are delayed thirty seconds.’ And everybody’s now looking at the young couple. And this couple is shrinking, you know. Now I’m there, and I’ve had a couple of martinis. And so I holler out, I put my hands to my mouth, and I say ‘George Orwell, your time has come and gone.’ And no one laughed. Dead silence. They just looked at me. And I’m saying to myself, no more sound of the human voice. But just then there’s a baby sitting down there, a couple of feet awy. She’s a Mexican, and I lean towards the baby – and I hold my hand over her mouth because my breath is 100 per cent proof, and I say to the baby: ‘Sir or madam, what is your opinion of the human species?’ And of course the baby starts giggling. And when I hear the baby giggling, I say, ‘Thank God. A human voice. There’s still hope.’ Hope dies last. There, I think we got it.'”

Studs was, unsurprisingly, an enthusiastic supporter of Barack Obama and had spent his final days and hours fighting to stay alive long enough to witness an Obama victory. Whatever the rights and wrongs of left-wing support for Obama, I’m sure you’d agree that it was very sad that Studs was denied that final satisfaction.

He wrote many fine books, most of which are still available: noteably ‘Working’, ‘Hard Times’ and ‘The Good War’, which earned him the Pulitzer Prize in 1985. But his first ever book, ‘Giants of Jazz’ (1957), 12 wonderful, moving essays on jazz pioneers including Joe Oliver, Louis Armstrong, Bessie Smith, Bix Beiderbecke and Duke Ellington, is long out of print. Someone should bring it out again.

For more about Studs, visit

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Why the left should back Obama

September 3, 2008 at 2:40 am (Champagne Charlie, Democrats, left, unions, United States)

(Abridged from an article by Eric Lee in Solidarity No. 137)

Progressives, trade unionists and even socialists in the US have welcomed Obama’s candidacy. Obama was not the first choice for most unions – John Edwards was.  But once the dust of the primary battles settled, every union in the US has thrown its weight behind Obama.

Of course you will all know a socialist here or a radical there who isn’t backing the Democrats in 2008. Some will be voting Green and some for the independent Ralph Nadar. Some will vote for the Socialist Party (quick – name that candidate!) and some will find other, even more obscure, micro-parties to vote for.

Collectively, the entire constituency “to the left of Obama” would comfortably fit into a London taxi.

There have been times in the past when the American left was truly divided about its choice for the presidency. Back in 1932 and even 1936, significant sections of the unions still backed  Socialist and Communist candidates, even as the majority swung behind Roosevelt. In 1948, there may still have been some trade unions not in the Truman camp, some remaining under Communist influence and backing Henry Wallace.

But since 1948, there has not been a single  election in which the union vote was divided, with some going to the left of the Democrats. Not one.

Part of the reason for the enthusiasm among trade unionists for Obama today is not just the usual liberal stuff, like wanting to end the war in Iraq, provide health care for all, or reduce tax handouts to the super-rich (as if those are minor things!)

Unions have a very specific reason for hoping for both a Democratic victory in the Presidential election and, equally important, in Congress.

Obama is committed, as is his party, to enacting the Employee Free Choice Act. Not since the 1930’s have the Democrats found themselves backing labour law reform that would actually benefit unions. But this time they are. Reforms that were proposed back in the 1970’s (but never enacted) may open up the door to union organising drives on a scale not seen since the days of the CIO.

To understand why this will happen, one has to know something about the American working class. The US remains a county – possibly the only Western democracy where this is true – where joining a trade union is an act of personal courage. Employers routinely crush union organising drives , sack organisers and ordinary workers  who’ve made the mistake of signing a union card.

Union organisation takes place in a climate of terror. The Employee Free Choice Act aims to put an end to that terror.

Things have gotten so bad for trade unions in the US that well over 90% of the private sector is now union-free. And this in spite of public opinion polls that show most non-union workers would join a union – if there was no danger of being sacked for having done so.

If you want a powerful trade union movement in America (and socialists surely want that), and recognise that the only possible way a future labor party could ever emerge would be from such a movement, then at the very least you have to pass this law. One would think it would be our top lrgislative priority. It certainly is for the unions.

When you look back at Roosevelt’s New Deal, much of it is only a fading memory. Many of the federal programs to create work, such as the National recovery Administration (NRA) are long gone.

But the impact of the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), signed into law on 5 July 1935, is still being felt. Before the NLRA, unions had no legal right to exist. Ther NLRA was a huge step forward and unions seized the initiative. For nearly four decades after the enactment of that law, unions continued to grow with union density peaking in the early 1970’s.

And that was in spite of the enactment of other, more anti-union laws, designed to curtail union power, such as the infamous Taft-Hartley law.

The election of Obama to the White house  and a Democratic majority in Congress (including a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate) opens up the possibility for a 1930’s style resurgence for the organised working class.

The job of socialists is to be part of the movement that is going to bring that about.

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The Politics of Showbiz

August 25, 2008 at 10:43 am (Democratic Party, Democrats, elections, Obama, United States, voltairespriest)

Race for the White HouseGripped as we all have been by the important, world-altering matter of the AWL’s recent internal dispute over Iran-Israel, it may have escaped your attention that this week also holds the Democratic National Convention in Denver, Colorado. Given that the likelihood of a Broder-Matgamna youth and experience ticket has receded in recent weeks, it looks like we’ll just have to deal with Obama-Biden instead.

As I’m in a small minority on the left in the UK for advocating any kind of support for Obama, I probably batted more of an eyelid than most when he made his VP pick and chose Joe Biden. It’s a bit of a ho-hum choice as far as I’m concerned; Biden is known most over here for having nicked one of Neil Kinnock’s speeches during his failed 1988 Presidential run, thus effectively ending his ambitions for the White House. I’m not terribly sure what drove him (initially) to run this time; he was a no hoper from the beginning and (a couple of gaffes aside, which McCain has already leaped on) looked like an out-rider for Obama through most of the primaries until he dropped out. He’s a steady hand on the tiller in the main, and pretty much a formulaic choice by the Obama campaign given his foreign policy experience and Obama’s lack thereof.

I’d be surprised if anything much departs from the playbook this week; the Democrats have gotten a lot better at running tight conventions since Bill Clinton first took a grip on the fractious party in 1992. Even Hillary is unlikely to do much to disrupt it: she herself has employed a 40-strong team of whips to ensure that “her” delegates do no upset the Obama applecart.

This of course leads us to one of Obama’s problems – he’s so smooth that you never get to see him really looking like he’s connecting with the sort of people (non college educated Democrats) who he needs to mobilise in order to get a firm majority in November. They memorably swung behind Clinton – also previously seen as too smooth – when an attack on his wife in an early 1992 debate led to the candidate losing his temper on television and laying furiously into Jerry Brown, a primary opponent. Off-message this most certainly was, but it made the candidate “real” to those often socially conservative Democrats in a way that Obama has not (yet) managed. It will be interesting this week to see if Obama is sufficiently willing to take a risk and depart from the script laid out for him. I doubt it, but he needs to.

The other thing that I hope the Democrats finally do, is stop shutting up about the issue of race. It is infuriating to watch them flounder in front of Republican attack ads which insidiously seek to inject race into the debate, or even Rush Limbaugh openly stating that Obama is only the candidate because the Democrats didn’t have the guts to “criticise the little black-man child”. The reality is that McCain’s coalition is in part composed of open racist votes and racist backers, and everybody knows it. If Obama’s campaign really came out swinging on the issue, with a populist economic message and an anti-war, pro-engagement with the world foreign policy, and was unabashed about its message of a real new direction for the country and the world, then at least they’d be giving it a go. As it stands they risk playing the same “tacking” game that centre-left parties worldwide have been doing for over a decade, the same tired tactic that has seen the Labour Party here turn into a right-wing non entity with no core electorate at all.

Either way though, the convention will be spectacular. And besides, I don’t get a vote, so it’s only a bit of fun. Grab some popcorn and enjoy!

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Hillary’s out – so what’s next?

June 7, 2008 at 10:30 pm (Democratic Party, Democrats, Obama, United States, voltairespriest)

It’s the end of the beginning. Hillary “the Hillbilly’s friend” Clinton has endorsed Barack Obama, thus signalling the end of her campaign for the Democratic nomination for US President. God, that must have hurt – she clearly felt as entitled to a shot at the White House, as you or I do to our morning coffee.

I’ve already outlined on a few occasions (search the blog) the reasons why I think most of the UK left has it wrong about refusing to call for a Democrat vote in US elections. I therefore won’t revisit that argument, save to reiterate that I would call for a vote for Obama whereas I would not do so for Clinton, who started out as the establishment candidate. I’m glad to see that Jim is slowly coming around to my view, although he still clings to a bit of trot orthodoxy on the issue (or possibly paranoia about going the way of Max Shachtman) without actually thinking out why he still believes it to be true.

Anyway, one big discussion at the moment is whom exactly Obama will pick as his Vice-Presidential running mate, and whether it will make a difference. Polls suggest that most Democrats favour Clinton for this role, although closer examination shows that those figures are not as solid as they suggest, and furthermore her uncomfortably high unfavourables in national polls suggest that the voters at large are much less fond of her than Democrats are. Furthermore, it’s swing Independent and Republican voters (most of whom are not plastic-foetus-waving Minutemen supporters) who’ve tended to favour Obama more highly than many demographics within the Democratic Party. Selecting Clinton would hardly send them a message about national change and remewal, so much as remind them of one reason why they didn’t vote Democrat in the 1990s.

I personally very much hope that Obama does not go for a candidate of “experience”, i.e. some Washington veteran whom he hopes will bring gravitas to his ticket. I think he is more likely to bring on the new and disenfranchised voters that he needs if he brings someone on who represents that inangible sense of “change” which he wants his campaign to embody. A “canny” choice as some conventional pundits see it would be New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson, a south-western centrist with Hispanic roots who could thus cover two constituencies where Obama needs assistance. For similar reasons, some have mooted a VP candidate with a long foreign policy track record, like Joe Biden. Biden’s unlikely to carry a useful state on name alone (even if you do accept that a VP candidate can do this, Biden’s home state of Delaware is both tiny and Democratic). However he does bring a great deal of experience from his years on the Senate Foreign relations committee.

I hope Obama doesn’t play that game, though. Although it may sound counter-intuitive, I think he is more likely to succeed if he picks a VP candidate who represents the “resurgence” of the Democratic Party, one of the relative newcomers who post-date the Clinton era of triangulation politics. Probably the most well known progressive candidate, John Edwards, has unfortunately ruled himself out of the role, however I think Obama could do worse than select Virgina Governor Tim Kaine, his predecessor Mark Warner, Missouri Senator Claire McCaskill, or Montana Senator Jon Tester. None of these is “the candidate of experience”, but all represent change from the 1990s Clinton-Gingrich norm. Bearing in mind that the VP’s office is largely symbolic, the inclusion of such a candidate would be a largely symbolic matter.

But then, symbols do matter. Just ask Obama.

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