The global banking crisis – ten years on

August 9, 2017 at 8:25 am (banks, capitalism, capitalist crisis, economics, history, Marxism)

Ten years ago, the worst global financial crisis financial crisis since the 1930’s began. Major companies went bankrupt, people lost their homes on both side of the Atlantic, and the banks that were too big to fail, did fail – only to be rescued with taxpayers’ money.

Governments and their financial regulators were completely wrong-footed and found themselves lacking the regulatory framework to mitigate the crisis and to prevent it from spreading.

Martin Thomas surveys the path, the causes and the sequels of the crisis.


The story started in finance. In June 2005 mortgage interest rates in the USA started rising sharply. They levelled off and declined after July 2006, but in the meantime house prices had reversed their giddy rise of previous years. House prices would continue to fall until January 2012, when they would be on average 33% down on their May 2006 peak. From mid-2006 the proportion of deliquent mortgagees (those with payments seriously overdue) rose, and it would keep rising until early 2010.

By late 2015 around six million households would have their homes foreclosed (CoreLogic 2015). Unlike, for example, the UK house-price crash of 1989-92 (in which about 188,000 homes were repossessed), the US mortgage crash fed into a financial, industrial, and international crash. It revealed that “the bond bubble [had been] by no means limited to mortgages. It was ubiquitous”. Building on the mortgage bubble, “risk spreads were irrationally small”, i.e. small extra revenues had been needed to attract buyers to risky securities, and so once financiers realised those securities were risky, their prices were likely to drop sharply. (Blinder 2013, p.45-6, 90-1).

On 9 August 2007, a French bank, BNP, told holders of stakes in three of its investment funds that they could not have their money back. The bank held mortgage-backed securities — bits of paper which entitled holders to a slice of the income from payments on mortgages made in the USA — and now, as one financier put it, those “securities… simply [could]n’t be priced because there [was] no trading in them. There [were] no bids for them. Asset-backed securities, mortgage loans, especially subprime loans, [did]n’t have any buyers” (Bloomberg 2007). The freezing of credit flows between banks escalated.

On 14 September 2007 queues of people fearing collapse and wanting to get their money out formed at the branches of a British bank, Northern Rock; the British government nationalised the bank in February 2008. Read the rest of this entry »

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Matgamna’s picture of the revolutionary left in disarray

July 19, 2017 at 3:24 pm (AWL, left, liberation, Marxism, political groups, posted by JD, publications, reactionay "anti-imperialism", revolution, Shachtman, socialism, stalinism, trotskyism)

Paul Hampton of the AWL reviews The Left in Disarray by Sean Matgamna

Why is the revolutionary left in such a mess today, despite the economic problems of the last decade, the crises of many neoliberal states, the enormous size of the global waged working class, the potential power of the trade union movement and the signs of revival in left politics? The answers to why the Marxist left is in such a state are comprehensively hammered home in this collection of essays. The book is a tour de force history of the revolutionary left over the past one hundred years. The short answer is: Stalinism.

But the syphilis of Stalinism is not only about the states that were or still are ruled by Stalinists. It is also about how the ideology of Stalinism has taken root even among the anti-Stalinist and social democratic left. Sloughing off this Stalinism is an essential prerequisite for reviving the authentic Marxist left.

Why disarray? Matgamna tells the story of the degeneration of the revolutionary left with great verve. The revolutionary left that emerged from the 1917 Russian revolution was essentially healthy. It had opposed the First World War and arose triumphant to lead the Russian workers to power. These revolutionaries formed the Communist International, a school of revolutionary strategy that by the early 1920s had built mass communist parties made up of the finest working class militants internationally.

The principal blow came with the isolation of the Russian workers’ state, already depleted by three years of bitter civil war and compounded by the backwardness of the inherited Russian social formation. Concomitantly, no communist party was able to lead the workers to power outside Russia.

The result was the bureaucratisation of the Russian workers’ state. The bureaucratic tentacles strangled the organs of soviet democracy, the trade unions and finally the Bolshevik party — the last living mechanism through which the Russian workers could exercise their rule. The Stalinists “revolution from above” defeated the Left Opposition, imposed forced industrialisation and collectivisation, and destroyed democratic, national and civil rights. After 1928 the new bureaucratic ruling class held the levers of control over the surplus product and inaugurated a totalitarian semi-slave state. After that, the Communist Parties acted as the overseas agents of Russian foreign policy, as well as incipient bureaucratic ruling classes in places where they got a foothold.

The monstrous form of the Stalinist counter-revolution threw most of the revolutionary left back to a state of reactionary anti-capitalism, shorn of working class agency and of the consistently democratic programme they had once espoused. The tiny forces that coalesced around Trotsky put up a spirited rearguard action, keeping alive the flame of authentic Marxism during the 1920s and 1930s. But the Trotskyist movement itself was wrecked on the cusp of the Second World War, its main forces unable to explain the expansion of Stalinism outside of the USSR and later to understand the revival of capitalism in the post-war epoch. Most of the post-Trotsky Trotskyists embraced the Stalinist advance into Eastern Europe, China and beyond as somehow creating “workers’ states” (without the active intervention of workers), or painted despotic post-colonial regimes as somehow the embodiment of permanent revolution.

Matgamna itemises the bitter array of failures in the years after the Second World War. Among the litany of terrible errors were: • Support for North Korea’s war in 1950 • Failure to support the East German workers uprising in 1953 • Uncritical support for the Vietnamese Stalinists • Uncritical support for the Castro Stalinists in Cuba after 1960 • Soft backing for Mao’s Great Leap Forward and Cultural Revolution • Opposition to Israel’s right to exist after the 1967 war • Backing Catholic chauvinism in Northern Ireland • Opposition to the UK joining the European Union from 1971 • Fantasies about the murderous Khmer Rouge in Cambodia • Support for clerical-fascist theocracy in Iran from 1979 • Support for Russia’s murderous war in Afghanistan in 1980 • Support for Argentina’s invasion of the Falklands in 1982 • Backing Iran against Iraq in their sub-imperial conflict during the 1980s • Siding with Saddam Hussein after his invasion of Kuwait 1990-91 • Support for Serbia’s assault on the Kosovars in 1999 • Softness and refusing to condemn Al Qaeda in 2001 • Support for Saddam in the 2003 war • Uncritical backing of Islamist Sunni and Shia militias in Iraq, even as they slaughtered workers.

Matgamna eviscerates the justifications used by sections of the left for these stances. He is scathing about the “anti-imperialism of fools”, a species of “my enemy’s enemy is my friend” that leads to support for despotism under the cover of anti-Americanism. He also denounces “left antisemitism”, defined as the exceptional denial of fundamental national rights to Jewish people (including the right to their own state) and demonisation of all Jewish people for the crimes of the Israeli state.

Sloughing off these rationalisations for reactionary politics is essential for renewing the revolutionary left. Matgamna’s descriptions of the practices and ideologies of the post-Stalinist left are often thought-provoking. The left Stalinist embalming of Lenin is described as the work of a “Leninolator” and of “Lenin-olatry”. The Stalinist picture of the world is “totalitarian utopianism” and the former Trotskyists who capitulated to Stalin “self-depoliticised ex-Bolshevik social engineers”. Liberal interventionist are dubbed “mañana third campists”, their “socialism” always for the distant tomorrow.

The text also has engaging cultural references — tales of Prester John, Kim Philby, slaves crucified on the Appian Way, Marlon Brando and others. Avid followers of the left will enjoy Matgamna’s pen portraits of the principal leaders of the post-war Trotskyist groups in Britain.

Gerry Healy led the SLL and WRP until it exploded after his sexual abuse of members was made public in 1985. By then Healy had sold the organisation to the Libyan, Iraqi, and other Arab states, as an agency to spy on the left and refugees. The Healyites were characterised by their millenarian catastrophism, their frozen words of Trotsky used to justify political lurches, and by gangster politics.

Ernest Mandel was the principal theoretician of the post-Trotsky Fourth International, responsible for rationalising its adaptation to the Stalinist “workers’ states” in Eastern Europe, China, North Korea, Cuba and Vietnam. Mandel died in 1995, a few years after the collapse of Stalinism had destroyed his theoretical edifice, leaving a movement clinging to a venerable name while desperately wondering where the “revolutionary process” had gone.

Ted Grant spawned the current Socialist Party and Socialist Appeal. He redefined socialism as “nationalise the top 200 monopolies” and an enabling act. He peddled the fantasies of “proletarian Bonapartism”, the military substitutes for working-class agency under Stalinism, but also in Syria, Portugal and latterly Venezuela. Grant’s supporters eulogise the capitulation of Liverpool city council while evading concrete political questions with fantasy sloganeering. Grant did not teach his followers to think, but to do political parrot work.

Tony Cliff was a purveyor of toy-town Bolshevism, a man who bent the stick so far on the revolutionary party that the SWP came to represent a parody of third period Stalinist mono-factions. Cliff joked about trying to find your way around the London Underground with a map of the Paris metro, but the legacy he left was more akin to a map of the Moscow sewers. For the SWP, nothing is forbidden in pursuit of organisational advantage. This makes for an increasingly incoherent group that is now a galaxy away from the Marxism of its origins.

If the history of the left is so miserable, what examples of hope are there? There is much to learn from the small third camp Trotskyist tradition around Max Shachtman and Hal Draper which survived during the 1940s and 1950s. Some of the left have sobered up over Syria, where few socialists could support the Daesh terror even by implication, and where most recoiled from any support for the barbarous Assad regime. Similarly, the Brexit vote saw sections of the left abandon their previous nationalist positions. There is something of a revival in social democratic reformist projects.

The bigger picture includes some disarray among our main enemies, the ruling classes, as illustrated by Trump and May. Most of all, the politics of the AWL provides the most important embodiment of hope.

The AWL has forged a living tradition of rational Marxist politics, with realistic assessments of the great global events of the last half century and a series of interventionist political conclusions aimed at mobilising the working class and transforming the labour movement.

The AWL has renewed the great Marxist tradition from a century ago. We do not start from scratch. All is not lost. Much of the left may be in disarray, but the forces of independent, third camp Marxism are alive. With our help, the new generation of socialists will make this politics their watchword.

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Eric Lee debates the AWL on ‘1917: Freedom or Tyranny?’

July 4, 2017 at 3:57 pm (AWL, democracy, Eric Lee, history, Lenin, Marxism, posted by JD, revolution, Russia, stalinism, USSR)

From Eric’s blog:

Last night I participated in a debate with the Alliance for Workers Liberty in central London on the subject of “1917: Freedom or Tyranny?”. The following is the text of my opening remarks.

I want to begin by congratulating Paul (Hampton) and the AWL on the publication of this book. While we will disagree on some important things – which we will come to this evening – we agree on the enormous historic importance of the 1917 Russian revolution, and I welcome any attempts to grapple with the issues raised.

Paul’s book offers new insights, such as the critical discussion about Lenin’s “revolutionary defeatism”. And of course I welcome all the very positive references to Karl Kautsky and the German Social Democracy, which are often lacking in the writings of those who come from the Leninist tradition.

Let me very briefly comment on four of the questions that were posed for this evening’s debate:

Was the Bolshevik party of Trotsky and Lenin a conspiracy of elitist “professional revolutionaries”, or a mass movement organically rooted in the Russian working class?

Maybe it was both.

The Bolsheviks were elitist and conspiratorial and this was pointed out by such leading revolutionary Marxists of the time as Rosa Luxemburg and Trotsky himself.

Rosa Luxemburg wrote a blistering critique of Lenin’s view of the Party way back in 1904. She ended her essay, which had the catchy title of “Organizational Questions of the Russian Social Democracy” with this memorable sentence:

“Let us speak plainly. Historically, the errors committed by a truly revolutionary movement are infinitely more fruitful than the infallibility of the cleverest Central Committee.”

In that same year, Trotsky wrote this memorable critique of Lenin:

“these methods lead … to the Party organisation ‘substituting’ itself for the Party, the Central Committee substituting itself for the Party organisation, and finally the dictator substituting himself for the Central Committee.”

Yet thirteen years later, Trotsky joined Lenin’s Party, and tragically witnessed his own prophecy come true.

But it was not all about conspiratorial elites.

As the Provisional Government in 1917 failed to deal with the challenges facing the peoples of the Russian empire, in particular ending the war and dealing with the peasant hunger for land, the Bolsheviks picked up considerable support among workers in Petrograd and, most importantly, in the army garrison in the imperial capital.

In other parts of the empire, most notably in Georgia, the Bolsheviks had hardly any support at all.

In other words, there are aspects of the October revolution that resembled a popular uprising and others that look more a military coup.

There were elements of both. Read the rest of this entry »

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Matgamna vs Minogue: “Is Socialism Dead?”

July 1, 2017 at 12:39 am (AWL, class, From the archives, Marxism, posted by JD, USSR, workers)

I’ll be away this weekend, at the AWL’s Ideas For Freedom event. This seems like an appropriate moment to remember the AWL’s Sean  Matgamna debating the Thatcherite Kenneth Minogue at the AWL’s event in 1991. Click here to download pdf

Sean Matgamna

Sean Matgamna

We are discussing “Is Socialism Dead?” because of the collapse of Stalinism in the Soviet Union. The question there is: what, if anything, did the Soviet Union have to do with socialism? Yet there is a more immediate reason why we are discussing this issue in Britain. For ten years now the British working class has suffered a series of defeats. If we had not had those defeats we would not have the climate of ideas we now have, and we would not be discussing issues in this way. Quite likely, there would be euphoria in most of the labour movement about the collapse of Stalinism.

We are Trotskyists. We are in Trotsky’s tradition. Unfortunately, “Trotskyism” today means very little. You need more information other than the word itself. To us it means that we are with the people who stood against the rise of Stalinism. We are with the people who were in Siberia, in the labour camps. Who organised hunger strikes in Stalin’s prisons. Who tried to defend the Soviet working class against Stalinism. Who defended working-class freedom in the USSR in the 1920s. We are also with the people who made the Russian Revolution. We do not attempt to ingratiate ourselves with the bourgeoisie. We are with the people who shot the Tsar and who used the state against the capitalists. We stand for genuine Marxian socialism.

The idea that Stalinism has anything to do with socialism is based on a series of misrepresentations. We do not want state socialism. Marxists believe that ultimately society will be organised without coercion, without the state. The real roots of bureaucracy in British capitalist society and of bureaucratic tyranny in the USSR are in the fact that both these types of society are ruled by a minority. This minority cannot tolerate real democracy. At best it will concede — as in Britain — shallow forms of democracy. These societies cannot allow real self-rule by the people. Because real self-rule cannot be allowed, we get bureaucratic rule — although the levels of bureaucracy differ, sometimes greatly. Marxists believe that once the rule of the bourgeoisie is smashed and the self-rule of the people is a reality, we will not have a state in any of the old senses. We will not have the type of bureaucratism characteristic of Stalinism.

Marxist socialists believe socialism can only come out of advanced capitalism, that it can not come from anywhere else. Trotsky and Lenin did not believe that you could take a backward part of the world, the old Czarist empire, cordon it off and build a viable utopian socialist colony there. Marx laughed at people with basically similar ideas — people who wanted to build socialist colonies in America. The Russian Stalinists tried to build a vast quasi-utopian system counterposed to capitalism. That collapsed because it was not possible for a backward country to overtake and outstrip the power and the might and the wealth of the world bourgeoisie.

The Bolsheviks led a workers’ revolution in a country where socialism was not possible. They were right to take power. They wanted to see a European and a world movement of the workers taking power. They wanted advanced, capitalist Germany, which was ripe for socialism, to be taken by the workers. In 1917 socialists understood that socialism was not state tyranny: socialism was the elimination of the capitalist system, of wage slavery and the substitution of co-operatively organised society, with a real democracy.

One of the central criticisms Marxists make of capitalism is that it develops ideas it cannot make good on, cannot deliver. Capitalism suffers from a giant flaw: capitalism means private ownership of the social means of production, so real equality is impossible in capitalism.

We have formal equality — for example, equality before the law. But economic inequality disrupts and destroys the possibilities for social equality.

If, ten or 15 years ago, someone made a socialist speech like this, the speaker might well be saying that it does not matter if the democracy that existed in Britain were suppressed; that it would not be a bad thing to have a Stalinist system instead. I am not saying that. I think the sort of liberty we have in capitalist Britain would be worth defending against the “stormtroopers” of capitalism who, in all probability, at some time in the future, will come — as they came to Germany under Hitler and to Chile, in 1973, under Pinochet. Nevertheless, British democracy is a great deal short of real self-rule.

The Russian revolution was made by Marxists with the full knowledge that socialism could not be built amid Russian backwardness. The collapse of Russian Stalinism is a vindication of Marxism. That does not lessen the triumphalism of the bourgeoisie at the collapse, or lessen the pressure on fainthearted people.

Mr Minogue attacks the bureaucracy we find in Britain. Minogue attacks the waste of a welfare state, which of course is superimposed on the capitalist system. But to a considerable extent, when Minogue attacks these things, calling them socialism, what he is actually attacking is the evolution of capitalism itself. The sort of statism which has been attacked by the so-called libertarian right is itself the product of capitalism. Monopolies long ago developed across the capitalist world, and the state and industry began to combine — for war and the plundering of colonies — a century and more ago. Into this development have come the demands of the labour movement, for example, for welfare reforms. Desirable and good goals — like a welfare state — have been strangled with bureaucracy arising out of the conditions of the British capitalist class society. Much of what Minogue and people of his outlook attack is bureaucratic monopoly capitalism – for which they then blame the socialists. This is a species of ideological card-sharping.

And there is more cheating about the legacy of Stalinism. Stalinism did not exist in the world on its own. During the long period of Stalinist rule in various countries, the bourgeoisie was the dominant world force. They are now realising their fullest domination with the collapse of Stalinism. Throughout this period many of the horrors of Stalinism can be traced to capitalism. For example, there are few things more terrible than the rule of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia. They treated a large part of their own people as Hitler treated the Jews. Yet how were the Khmer Rouge produced? This psychotic social formation arose after the modern, democratic, bourgeois USA bombed Cambodia “into the Stone Age”. Stalinism cannot be taken in isolation from the capitalist world in which it existed. Even Stalinism in the Soviet Union did not happen in isolation from capitalism. Fourteen states, including Britain, invaded Soviet Russia between 1918 and 1921. That was one of the factors which, by its effects on the economy, led to the rise of Stalinism.

One argument we meet is this: despite all the imperfections of capitalism, nevertheless this system is the best we can get. “Anti-utopianism” is very fashionable now. If we want to achieve a better society we are “utopians”. And, comrades, “utopianism” is dangerous! Apparently it leads to Jacobin terror and Stalinism. Of course, Marxists do not condemn capitalism totally. The Communist Manifesto contains a great paean of praise, by Karl Marx, to the capitalist system. He truly says that the capitalists have done wonderful things.

Capitalism is progressive in history. It creates the conditions whereby capitalist ideals of liberty and equality can actually be realised – though the bourgeois class cannot do it. From this point of view, capitalism has been progressive. In previous epochs of history class society was necessary. In ancient Greece, when Aristotle argued in favour of slavery, he was arguing for a necessary condition for their actual civilisation.

I would concede that the capitalism we have in Britain is better than Stalinism. Indeed, it is nearer to socialism. Yet capitalism is still a dog-eat-dog system. Capitalism can work. It can continue for a long time. But in the 20th century it survived only by destroying large parts of the means of production in the Great Slump, creating mass unemployment, and by going into world wars. We hear about the horrors of Stalinism. I do not excuse them. But in this century we witnessed the near destruction of European civilisation — by forces arising from capitalism. If you walk down the streets from the London School of Economics, where Mr Minogue, you find people asleep in doorways. In Lincoln’s Inn Fields, nearby, there are hundreds of people camped. We live in a world where homelessness is nowadays considered almost normal. A world where culture is degraded to the lowest common denominator by the profit motive. Where the mass of the population is not educated to have the possibility of realising real self-rule. All these horrors are rooted in the fact that there is private, minority ownership of the means of production and everything is geared to exercising, justifying and maintaining the rule of that minority of big capitalists.

Capitalism has its horrors, too.

Right now, we can see the outlines of three great trade blocs emerging: America, Japan and Europe. If capitalism once again slows down, and there is no reason to presume it will not, eventually, there is the possibility of conditions something like those of the 1930s. The nightmare scenario of an eventual “1984” world with three great warring powers. Capitalism is not a stable system. Capitalism is progressive, historically, allowing the creation of a working class. But then the working class must seize its historic destiny and put itself in conscious control of society. The alternative will not always be a bourgeois democracy like the one we have in Britain now.

It is arguable that we can not completely do away with the market. Who needs to do such a thing? But what we can do is eliminate the private ownership of the means of production and the wage slavery that is inseparable from it, and introduce real, democratic self-control in all spheres of society, including the economic.

Is socialism dead? No, and it will not die until capitalism is dead. Socialism is a product of and an answer to capitalism. The capitalists can win victories in the class struggle, but they cannot eliminate the working class. The class struggle will continue and the workers’ movement will revive. Socialism will revive.

We are witnessing the purging of socialism of all the encrustations of Fabian statism and Stalinism. This is the purification of socialism. We are seeing the emergence of the opportunity for real socialism to expand. This is not the end of history. This is a new phase of history where real socialism will have a far better chance than it had when our heroic comrades took power in Russia in October 1917.

Kenneth Minogue

Kenneth Minogue

A lot depends on definitions. There are a lot of packaged words: capitalism, socialism, workers’ power, democracy. These have been shuffled like a packs of cards. When Sean Matgamna says “Stalinism was never what socialists believed to be socialism” he is simply wrong. This is a matter of historical fact. Great numbers of people fought for the defence of the Soviet Union as the homeland of socialism. It is only as the project has more obviously failed that they gave it up.

I was struck by a story from the Tiananmen Square episode. It was repeated in Moscow. In both cases some luckless person said: “Now I know what fascism really means”. Now why did these people choose the word “fascism”? These people were communists, not fascists. I think this illustrates one of the ways in which socialism is a type of perpetual virgin, never touched by experience. In Islam, the reward of warriors going to paradise is to meet women for ever reconstituted as virgins. Socialism is like this.

Sean Matgamna says that socialism is sometimes regarded as an ideal which is too good for us. It is a marvellous idea which we can not actually achieve. Matgamna believes it can bc achieved. I believe revolutionary workers’ socialism is pretty dead. All forms of socialism ought to be dead. I would like to see a stake through its heart. It has caused more death, unpleasantness and boredom than almost any other doctrine. Socialism involves a curious conception of society: a society in which there are no rich or poor; no aristocratic or bourgeois; no people dying for love or dreaming of getting rich; no scandal, gossip, monarchy — all the things which keep us enthused. We have little comrades slotted into a society where their needs are perfectly satisfied. This happens not to be the type of world I would like to live in.

If we ask: what is the opposite of socialism?, the obvious answer is capitalism. Capitalism is one of those packages containing everything. Capitalism contains the experiences in this hall, a type of socialism within capitalism. All over Britain you will find Hari Krishna people trying to worship at Stonehenge. You find a vast number of activities. The point about capitalism is that a great number of people do a vast number of different things with a great number of conflicting beliefs. This plurality distinguishes capitalism from socialism. You have to believe in socialism in order to live in a socialist society. You do not have to believe in capitalism to live in a capitalist society. According to quite respectable opinion you better not have a religion in a socialist society. The Russians set up the League of the Godless to remove all the nonsense from people’s minds. The contrast is therefore between socialism as a single way of life, right through society, and capitalism as immensely plural. Read the rest of this entry »

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AWL: Labour’s gains have put socialism back into politics

June 10, 2017 at 7:51 am (AWL, campaigning, class, democracy, elections, labour party, Marxism, posted by JD, reformism, trotskyism)

By Cathy Nugent at the Workers Liberty website:

The 2017 general election was a stunning success for the Labour Party and within the terms that Theresa May set for this election – to hugely increase her Parliamentary majority — a failure for the Tories.

At the start of the campaign, the Tory Party had a 20 percentage point lead on Labour in the opinion polls and was predicted to get a landslide victory. Labour’s result is partly down to a reaction against May’s arrogance and dismay with election issues such as the “dementia tax”, but it is much more.

Labour’s advance will prepare the way for renewed interest and commitment to explicitly socialist ideas. During the election John McDonnell explicitly spelled out his commitment to socialism. At the very least the election opens up is a chance to remake the Labour Party into a strong political voice for working-class people, for two reasons.

In its manifesto, despite a number of serious problems and limitations (e.g. no commitment to freedom of movement), Labour issued a clarion call against the ideologues of “capitalist realism” who say that poverty and inequality are inevitable, or even the fault of the people who are capitalism’s victims. As such, support for Labour, increasing their share of the vote to just under 41% with a net gain of 31 seats, is a truly remarkable achievement.

This election result sees politics once again polarising around class. In our society, there are two important classes. The Conservative Party represents the capitalist ruling class; the Labour Party is supposed to represent the working class. Labour lost support when Labour governments abandoned and even attacked working-class people, many of whom became alienated from politics, some of whom turned to minor parties, whether of the right (UKIP) or the apparently-left (the Greens). This election is a vindication of the idea that this approach was wrong. One of the most significant features of the election result is that support for those parties has shrunk to insignificance, and that the LibDems’ hoped-for rejuvenation has evaded them.

It is now clear – Labour can win elections when it fights on ideas that challenge ruling-class orthodoxy.

We have a Tory minority government, but how long May stays is not clear. As of now, the Tories will get a working majority in Parliament by relying on the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP). But there will be divisions between the Tories and the DUP and from within the Tory Party as the talks on Brexit proceed. The Tories are in deep trouble and Labour was right to immediately call for May to resign and to say that they are ready to form a minority government. The Tories may survive or rather they will only go down if Labour keeps up the public pressure.

Millions of people listened to Labour’s call and responded positively. Labour’s support included some people who have never voted before and former UKIP voters and this too is significant. That is why there is now a huge opportunity for the labour movement — which at is best has always been the guardian of a working-class moral authority against capitalist realism — to reassert itself in political life.

It is down to the left to solidify and expand on these gains. In achieving this, it is very important that Corbyn has increased his own personal standing. Die-hard Blarites in Labour will be forced to shut up — for now. It is to Corbyn’s great credit that he has faced those people down.

In success, just as much as in defeat, it is important to reflect on the new trends and opportunities and that is what revolutionary socialists should do now. We have some initial observations.

The increase in young voters is highly significant; it is a reversal of a long-term trend of young voters being turned off mainstream politics and participating in elections. The Corbyn team’s strategy of holding rallies in safe seats and using Corbyn’s facility for speaking “on the stump” and then building support through social media succeeded in the context of an election campaign. The strategy of turning a layer of new activists in Labour out to marginals made those 31 seat gains and helped to close the gap elsewhere. The gains for Labour in Scotland, while being distinctive political trends, also represents a significant breakthrough for Labour. What can be done to build on these things?

The Tory minority government may not survive for very long. But whether it stays for one year or five years Corbyn’s team, Momentum and the broader left have to do some things they have so far failed to do. We need to make a serious turn to building the organisational strength and reinvigorating the political culture of the labour movement.

Rallies are good in election campaigns, but we need solid local Momentum groups and Labour Party organisations, which meet regularly and take political debate seriously.

To do that, the left needs to step up the fight for an open, democratic Labour Party, against the still-strong old regime of bureaucratic manipulation and political purges. The leadership of Momentum made peace with that old regime; it must reverse that choice.

Social media is a powerful tool but we also need much more face-to-face campaigning — on the streets. Labour and the Labour left need both a vibrant social life and a serious turn outwards to political campaigning — fighting the cuts everywhere, continuing to argue for the best ideas in Labour’s manifesto on education, health and the minimum wage. Above all we need to be drawing much wider layers of Labour’s expanding membership into political activity.

Young people should not be a “stage army” on which Labour relies every time there is an election. The left needs to rebuild Labour’s youth wing so that young members have space to develop socialist ideas and can also take a central role in shaping the political life of the Party and the broader labour movement.

This election is a huge step forward for the “Corbyn surge”, for the constituency of people who want an end to austerity. The AWL exists, to paraphrase the Internationale, to bring “reason in revolt”, to forge the kind of class struggle socialism we believe can arm that movement and ensure its fight can grow and win.

If you want to discuss these ideas with us please come along to our Ideas for Freedom event on 1-2 July.

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AWL debates the situation in France

April 26, 2017 at 7:32 am (AWL, elections, fascism, France, identity politics, left, Marxism, populism, posted by JD, trotskyism)

Far-right presidential candidate Marine Le Pen speaks in Lyon, France. (Michel Euler, AP)

Should the left back Macron to stop her?

By Colin Foster

The first round of the French presidential election, on 23 April, confirmed that “Trump effects” are spreading.

The 2008 economic crash and the economic depression since then have discredited mainstream neoliberal politics, and so far right-wing nationalist, “identity politics”, demagogues have seized most of the gains.

The revolutionary socialist candidates, Philippe Poutou and Nathalie Arthaud, with 1.21% and 0.65%, did a bit better than in 2012, but still worse than in 2007 (4.08% and 1.33%).

Soft-left candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon got 19.43%. The great gainer, however, was the Front National’s Marine Le Pen, with 21.43%, up on 17.9% in 2012 and 10.44% for the FN candidate in 2007.

Le Pen won only 5% of the vote in Paris; 7% in Rennes, Nantes, Bordeaux; 9% in Lyon; 13% in the whole Ile-de-France region including Paris; but 24% in Marseille, 25% in Nice, and more in small towns and villages.

Just ahead of Le Pen, and favoured to win the second-round run-off on 7 May, was Emmanuel Macron, a former minister in the current government (led by the Socialist Party) who split off to form his own “centre” neo-liberal movement, with 23.86%.

The “mainstream” left, the Socialist Party, had its chance in 2012, when it won elections by a clear majority – with some leftish policies which it then trashed in favour of harsher neoliberalism.

The task now is to regroup the real left, and equip it to win a majority.

Not an easy task, but an urgent one. The lesson is that if the left dawdles and equivocates, in economic turmoil like today’s, then the right does not stand still.

The FN does not have the power to mobilise on the streets of a full-scale fascist movement. But Marine Le Pen herself is a fascist, surrounded by a cadre of fascists. France’s constitution gives the president great powers.

Even if Macron wins on 7 May, he promises worse than Hollande rather than better. Unless the left rebuilds as an independent force in time, the next presidential election will be even more scary.


French left takes stock

Groups on the French left have commented on the first-round presidential results, the second round coming on 7 May, and the parliamentary elections following on 11 and 18 June.

The Socialist Party and the Communist Party – and mainstream right candidate François Fillon – will vote on 7 May for Macron to stop Le Pen. Although his main base was the CP and other groups taking a similar attitude, Jean-Luc Mélenchon says he will consult his supporters about what to say about the second round.

Ensemble (left group, including some Trotskyists who split from the NPA in 2012, which supported Mélenchon)

Ensemble calls for mobilisation on the street on 1 May, and in voting against Le Pen on 7 May, to stop the far right gaining power.

At the same time, we will fight Emmanuel Macron’s project, Once Le Pen is eliminated, we must stop Macron constituting a majority in the National Assembly with the right wing of the Socialist Party and a section of the mainstream right around his ultra-neoliberal program, which will continue the policies of Hollande’s five years in worse form. Let’s pull together a left which stands up for itself.

NPA (New Anti-Capitalist Party, a successor to the Trotskyist LCR, which stood Philippe Poutou in the first round)

On Sunday 7 May, many people will want to block the FN by voting for Macron. We understand the desire to push back the mortal danger for all social progress and rights, especially for immigrants and those of immigrant origin, which the coming to power of Marine Le Pen would represent. But we insist that it is the policies of cuts and repression, especially when carried through by the supposed left in government, which are the cause of the rise of the FN and its disgusting ideas. Macron is not a barrier against the FN, and to push back that danger durably, there is no other answer than going back on the streets, against the far right, but also against all those who, like Macron, have introduced or want to introduce anti-social measures.

Nathalie Arthaud, candidate in the first round of the Trotskyist group Lutte Ouvrière

Politically-aware workers should reject voting for Marine Le Pen. But Macron, this former banker and minister, is just as much an enemy of the working class as Marine Le Pen…

As for me, I will cast a blank vote [on 7 May], giving my vote the meaning of a rejection of Marine Le Pen without endorsing Macron…

Some of my voters will cast a blank vote like me. Others will spoil their ballot papers. Yet others will abstain. Some, maybe, will choose to vote for Macron, believing, wrongly, that by doing that they oppose the rise of the FN.

The main thing is to be aware that, whatever the result of the vote, the exploited, the retired, and unemployed, will have an enemy in the presidential palace.

Arguments pour la lutte sociale (a revolutionary socialist newsletter with whose editors we have friendly links)

Neither Le Pen nor Macron: this orientation [on the second round] does not play into the hands of Le Pen as both the partisans of “national unity” and comrades who see an immediate fascist danger are going to say, sincerely or not, because the orientation has immediate points of concretisation.

First, independent social struggle. Hundreds of thousands of demonstrators should intervene on 1 May with the slogan of abrogation of the El Khomri law and all their other current demands…

And, in the same process, let us start the political struggle for unitary and democratic candidatures [of the labour movement] in the legislative elections…


Two views on the second round1: Martin Thomas

Marine Le Pen’s Front National does not have the mobilising power to install a fascist regime if she wins the presidency on 7 May.

But Le Pen’s politics, and the FN top cadre around her, are fascist. The presidency will give them huge power to impose discrimination, heavy police powers, union-bashing policies, and re-raised frontiers between nations which will ricochet across Europe.

The mainstream neoliberals pave the way for Le Pen. The whole of the French left will mobilise on the streets on 1 May, and, one way or another, will seek to secure left-wing representation in the new National Assembly elected on 11-18 June to limit whichever president wins on 7 May.

On 7 May itself, in my view, workers can best serve the continuing struggle by using the only option available on the ballot paper to block Le Pen: vote Macron.

Macron is bad, and the neoliberal policies of a Macron presidency not curbed by strong left-wing remobilisation will bring an even greater fascist danger in a few years’ time. Le Pen is worse, and Le Pen as president on 8 May is worse than a danger of Le Pen as president in some years’ time.

It is a principle for us in elections to seek the maximum independent working-class intervention.

On 7 May we cannot stand or support candidates of the labour movement. Sometimes we shrug because the differences between bourgeois candidates are small and speculative. Sometimes we say that the “lesser-evil” bourgeois candidate is bound to win anyway, and in any case we are strong enough to make blank votes a real gesture of working-class independence.

The outcome is not certain. The revolutionary left is not strong enough to raise blank votes visibly above the random level. It would be nihilistic disregard for bourgeois democracy and bourgeois cosmopolitanism to deny the big difference between Macron’s routine neoliberalism and Le Pen’s fascistic chauvinism.

There is no Marxist principle against voting for a lesser-evil bourgeois candidate when it is impossible to have a labour-movement candidate. When the German Social Democracy was a Marxist party, before World War One, it routinely advised a vote for liberals against loyalists of Germany’s bureaucratic monarchy in run-offs when the socialists themselves had been eliminated. Left-wingers like Rosa Luxemburg and Franz Mehring did not dissent.

We tell workers: Le Pen is worse than Macron. And do we then say: you must not vote Macron, however much you indict him and organise against him? Once you vote, you will forget your indictments?

Those workers could reply to us: if you are so unconfident of your own political firmness that you dare not make an unusual step for fear of falling over, so be it. But do not attribute your own weakness to us, or make us pay the price of a Le Pen presidency for that weakness of yours.

2: Ira Berkovic and Michael Johnson

A vote for Macron is not just, or even mostly, a vote for more open borders, a defence of Muslims and immigrants, and an expression of opposition towards protectionism and racism.

Macron is a former banker who wants to cut corporation tax to 25%, wants more flexible labour laws in the mold of the El Khomri Law, allowing companies to negotiate individual agreements with staff. His program is to reduce public spending by €60bn, cut 120,000 public sector jobs, and introduce greater “flexibility” in retirement age and the working week.

It is a continuation of the “liberalization” demanded by the French ruling-class which Francois Hollande’s Parti Socialiste was unable to deliver. Hence, the flocking of Hollande-Valls wing of the PS behind Macron, together with centrist François Bayrou and sections of the French centre-right.

Macron’s candidacy is a united front of the French establishment. Its neoliberal “reform” program will hit workers. A “critical” vote for this neoliberal programme will be indistinguishable from those who genuinely endorse Macron’s policy; both will be taken as legitimation for further attacks on our class, and will serve to undermine the credibility of the revolutionary left as it rallies a fightback.

A vote for Macron could drive workers further in to the arms of the “anti-establishment” Front Nationale, who will continue to prey on the fears and insecurities of those suffering under capitalism.

And it risks sowing illusions in the neoliberal center and its capacity to rescue us from a resurgent populist right. Lots of people who will vote Macron, people the revolutionary left needs to reach, will vote Macron not on the basis that he is a crook, but with enthusiasm and illusions.

It is only the labour movement which can combine a defence of the gains of the neoliberal period – cultural cosmopolitanism, freer movement, economic integration – with a fight against the poverty, alienation and social distress it inevitably creates.

As against Le Pen, Macron is a “lesser evil” but it is incumbent on Marxists to resolutely assert working-class independence and hostility to both. Even on the points on which we agree with Macron, our “Yes” is not his “Yes”. We say “Yes” to open borders, anti-racism and greater European integration but a resounding “No” to the capitalist nature of his programme, and even his capacity to defend those points on which we overlap.


Further discussion: Discussion document 1 (Martin Thomas)

Discussion document 2 (Ira Berkovic and Michael Johnson)

Discussion document 3 (Miles Darke)

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Deluded Stalinist fools still don’t get it as Article 50 is triggered

March 29, 2017 at 8:43 pm (CPB, Europe, fantasy, grovelling, Jim D, Marxism, nationalism, populism, Racism, reactionay "anti-imperialism", stalinism)

Brexit opens the way to progressive politics? Even the Stalinists now have doubts

On the day that Britain takes a great step backwards towards nationalism, isolationism and nativism, Tory backwoodsmen, Ukip and other and racists throughout England are celebrating.

Those on the left (and, indeed, liberal-left and Greens) who campaigned for internationalism and anti-racism against Brexit are divided between advocates of giving up in despair and those who vow to fight on to reverse this historic defeat.

But by far the most pathetic, incoherent and demoralised observers of the Article 50/Brexit debacle are the shower of supposed “leftists” who advocated Brexit on the grounds that it could magically turn into something progressive – a “people’s Brexit” or “Lexit” some fantasists called this mirage. Chief amongst these self-deluded idiots were the Stalinists of the CPB and Morning Star, though a few degenerate ex-Trots followed in their slipstream, bleating about how the vote was nothing to do with immigration, but all about opposition to neo-liberalism, austerity, etc, etc.

Most of these fools remain (in public, at least) in complete and utter denial – even in the face of sustained increases in racist incidents directly attributable to the Leave campaign and referendum result. The wretches of the Morning Star show some very slight signs of recognising the disastrous results of their pro-Brexit idiocy. Today’s editorial (which can be read in full here), includes the following admission:

“Since the result of the June 23 vote, almost everything has gone wrong, with the significant exception of the left’s success in mobilising even more Labour Party members to re-elect Jeremy Corbyn in 2016 than in the previous year.

“To those who see Brexit as a victory for narrow nationalism, this is hardly surprising.”

To which those of us who do, indeed, see Brexit as a victory for narrow nationalism, can only agree that we’re not surprised in the least. In fact, we predicted it.

The M. Star continues:

“The vote to leave the EU is interpreted as a triumph for the right which has predictably knocked the stuffing out of the left.

“But the risk is that assuming people voted to leave the EU for right-wing reasons, and that Britain will therefore lurch to the right in consequence, is becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy.”

Right! so the fault lies with those of us who warned about the inevitable consequences of a Leave vote, and “interpreted” it as “a triumph for the right” instead of deluding ourselves with the ridiculous reactionary socialist fantasies of the CPB and the Morning Star.

On this day of defeat and shame, serious socialists need to recall the words of a Marxist revolutionist who doesn’t meet with the approval of the Morning Star:

“To face reality squarely; not to seek the line of least resistance; to call things by their right names; to speak the truth to the masses, no matter how bitter it may be; not to fear obstacles; to be true in little things as in big ones; to base one’s programme on the logic of the class struggle; to be bold when the hour for action arrives — these are the rules of the Fourth International” – Leon Trotsky, The death agony of capitalism and the tasks of the fourth international, 1938.

NB: see also Comrade Coatesy, here

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Hungarian Right destroying and remaking history

February 20, 2017 at 1:31 pm (anti-fascism, history, Hungary, intellectuals, literature, Marxism, philosophy)

 Image result for picture Budapest statue of Georg Lukács

On 25 January the Metropolitan Council of Budapest decided (by 19 votes to 3) to remove the statue of the Marxist philosopher Georg Lukács from the 13th District and replace it with a statue of King Stephen, the founder of the Hungarian nation. The proposal was put by a member of the neo-fascist Jobbik Party, Marcell Tokody. Last year, despite opposition, Lukács’s house which has served as an open archive since his death in 1971 was closed by the authorities. The fate of the documents in the archive, many of which have yet to be translated in languages other than their original Hungarian or German, is unclear.

In the history of 20th century Marxism Lukács is a central figure. He is certainly not without his critics but some of his writings, particularly History and Class Consciousness, are seminal works of Marxism and have stood the test of time. We should not standby and allow the barbarians of the Hungarian right, and their odious leader Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, to destroy his legacy.

Please sign the petition:

www.petition24.com/protest_against_closing_down_the_lukacs_archive

John Cunningham

(the author of these few words lived in Hungary from 1991 to 2000 and is currently working on  a full length study of Lukács and his legacy)

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John Berger RIP

January 3, 2017 at 12:23 am (Art and design, culture, literature, Marxism, modernism, posted by JD)

Image result for picture John Berger

From: Felix Stalder
Date: 2 January 2017
Subject: <nettime> John_Berger (5 November 1926 – 2 January 2017)

John Berger is dead. He died today, at the age of 90. Obits are surely
being written right now. However, Sally Potter’s birthday thoughts
from last November seem a more apt and personal way of remembering.
“Ways of Seeing was, together with Robert Hughes’ “Shock of the New”,
one of the first books about art I read as teenager. It stayed with me
ever since.

As if as a testament to his continued relevance, the LA Review of
Books published today a long article on his theory of art.

That theory evolved considerably between the 1950s and the 2010s.
Yet two threads hold it together with the tenacity of spider silk: a
critique of the political economy of art and a sophisticated account
of its human value, each rooted in a committed but elastic Marxism.

A Marxist art criticism of any real subtlety has to be elastic,
because it must deal with a problem Marx himself diagnosed but
failed to solve. Berger puts it like this:

A question which Marx posed but could not answer: If art in the last
analysis is a superstructure of an economic base, why does its power
to move us endure long after the base has been transformed? Why,
asked Marx, do we still look towards Greek art as an ideal? He began
to answer the question […] and then broke off the manuscript and
was far too occupied ever to return to the question.

https://lareviewofbooks.org/article/a-smuggling-operation-john-bergers-theory-of-art/

H/t: Bruce R

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Fidel Castro’s legacy: Cuba as a class society

November 26, 2016 at 9:34 am (Cuba, history, Marxism, national liberation, posted by JD, revolution, stalinism, workers)

 Castro leads his victorious troops
Castro leads his victorious troops (photo: History Archive/Rex/Shutterstock)

Pablo Velasco and Sacha Ismail examine Castro’s legacy in an article written in early 2012, largely informed by  Cuba Since The revolution of 1959: A Critical Assessment, by Sam Farber.


The 1959 revolution that brought Fidel Castro and his 26 July Movement to power was a bourgeois revolution which smashed Fulgencio Batista’s dictatorship, but replaced it with their own Bonapartist regime.

Half driven by US hostility and half by choice, this government opted to become a Stalinist state in 1961, adopting the model of the USSR and similar states.

Farber calls this a “bureaucratic system of state collectivism”, in which society’s economic surplus “is not extracted in the form of profits from individual enterprise, nor is it realised through the market. Instead, it is obtained as a surplus product of the nation as a whole. The surplus is appropriated directly, through the state’s control of the economy”. Cuban workers and peasants received their means of subsistence in the form of largely non-monetary rations — low cost or free food, housing, education, health and other welfare facilities. However the surplus product pumped out of the direct producers is controlled and allocated by the ruling bureaucracy — “without any institutional constraints by unions or any other independent popular organisations”.

Cuba’s achievements and failures “resemble those of the Soviet Union, China and Vietnam before these countries took the capitalist road”. Part of this was Cuba’s receipt of “massive Soviet aid from the early sixties to the end of the eighties… even the most conservative estimates would place it well above Cuba’s calculated losses from US economic aggression during that period”. Between 1960 and 1990, Cuba received about 65 billion dollars of Soviet aid on very favourable terms.

The “systematic repressive nature of the Soviet-type regimes made it politically difficult to build enduring oppositions within those societies”. In Cuba there was “certainly no lack of physical brutality… particularly during the first twenty years of their rule. There were thousands of executions, and there was large-scale imprisonment, throughout the revolutionary period, of tens of thousands of people under typically very poor living conditions and physical mistreatment.”

Who rules Cuba?

The state bureaucracy that developed out of the revolution is still in power.

The state owns the means of production and the bureaucracy “owns” and controls the state. The “one-party state” is in fact a no-party state, since the bureaucracy rules directly through the myriad of state and state-sponsored “mass” organisations.

The bureaucracy has privileged access to consumer goods through special stores, separate hospitals, recreational villas, and trips abroad. The armed forces and security services have their own medical facilities. Since the two-tier economy of hard currency and pesos was legally established in 1993, more conventional inequality has been unleashed.

The political ideal of the Cuban elite has been summed up by current head of state Raúl Castro as “monolithic unity” (2009). Although there is enforced mass participation in Cuba’s polity, there is a complete absence of democratic control. Cuba has had a variety of ruling institutions, but none function democratically. The Communist Party was formed in 1965 and has only had six congresses in over 50 years. The Popular Power assemblies were not established until 1976 and allow only vetted candidates to stand on their biography, with those “elected” able only to rubber stamp decisions taken elsewhere by the bureaucrats.

Cuba does not have the kind of impersonal rule of law and citizens’ rights against the arbitrariness and capriciousness of the state which exist in some bourgeois societies. This is evident in the crimes of “social dangerousness”, and “antisocial behaviour”, and the use of imprisonment, electric shock treatment and psychiatric institutions for opponents. Fidel Castro has admitted that there have been 15-20,000 political prisoners in Cuba and Cuba currently has 531 prisoners per 100,000 people, the fifth highest rate worldwide.

What about the workers?

The idea that Cuba is ruled by its workers is laughable. In 1959, the Cuban working class “was not socialist in any meaningful sense of the term, nor did it lend its own distinctive character to the Cuban revolution”. Fidel Castro himself has admitted as much on numerous occasions.

The working class was certainly not passive during Batista’s dictatorship. Despite the shackles of the state and business-gangster trade unionism, sugar workers, rail workers and bank workers fought militant reformist struggles around pay and conditions. The 26 July Movement had its own trade unionists who did organise successful strikes on a number of occasions after the rebel leadership landed in Cuba in 1956. But the general strike they called in April 1958 was a failure and workers’ action only an adjunct to the main, guerrilla warfare strategy for taking power. Read the rest of this entry »

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