By Sean Matgamna (first published in 2012)
In a hugely symbolic moment on 27 June, during a royal visit to Northern Ireland to mark her jubilee, the former commander of the IRA shook hands with the Queen.
The man who commanded the force responsible for, amongst other things, the death of the Queen’s cousin Lord Mountbatten, exchanged a handshake with the woman whose armed forces murdered 14 innocent civil rights marchers in his hometown of Derry. This was, all proportions guarded, a real life instance of David Low’s famous cartoon “Rendezvous” in which Hitler (“the bloody assassin of the workers”) greets Stalin as “the scum of the earth”.
The response of the press, in Britain, Ireland and internationally, was very positive.
The Guardian thought “it underlined how far we have come since the Troubles”. The Mirror contained an unusually calm and rational article from Tony Parsons who described it as “the end of something — the decades of hatred, loathing and bloodshed” as well as “the beginning of something, too — when the raw wounds of the past can perhaps begin to heal”.
The Belfast Telegraph, traditionally a Unionist paper, hailed the handshake as “bridging a gulf that spanned centuries”. The southern Irish press was unreservedly impressed. The New York Times called it “a remarkable sign of reconciliation for both figures”.
The working-class socialist response to this would seem to be fairly straightforward. McGuinness claims still to be a republican in both important senses of the word. As a “capital R” Republican he appeared to make peace with the highest symbol of British rule while her state and government continue to “occupy” the northern part of Ireland and deny his people self-determination.
Even more objectionable is his apparent suspension of “lower case” republicanism — the rejection of rule by hereditary, unelected privilege. Contempt for such an institution should be taken for granted by even the mildest democrat.
Didn’t McGuinness, by shaking the Queen’s hand, acknowledge both her right to rule and her government’s sway in Ireland?
A glance at the fiercest critics of this historic handshake is a reminder that things are more complicated.
Before the meeting the Daily Mail advised the Queen to burn her gloves after carrying out her “distasteful duty”. The Sun’s front page headline declared “We don’t blame you for wearing gloves M’am”. The Times cartoonist provided an image of the Queen putting on four pairs of gloves before shaking the bloodstained hand of McGuinness.
The idea that there might be plenty of blood on the monarch’s hands too didn’t occur to any of them.
The Daily Mail was the one paper that didn’t deem the occasion to be worth a front page story. Inside, though, they brought us arch-militarist Max Hastings under the headline “I’m sorry, even in the name of peace, it was wrong to shake his blood-soaked hand”.
Hunting for evidence that McGuinness, the deputy prime minister and latter-day conciliator, remained “a fanatic”, Hastings alighted on his principled decision not to take his full ministerial salary (£71,000).
For me, that is evidence that Sinn Fein retains some connection with its mainly working-class base. For Hastings, it shows “certitude about his own moral compass” and this, he claims, is “the foremost requirement of a fanatic”.
On what appears to be the opposite side of the spectrum, McGuinness and Sinn Fein have been attacked by harder line Irish Republicans for yet another betrayal. Protests were held by dissident republicans, and senior SF councillor Alison Morris resigned in opposition to the event.
It’s important to register clearly what the critics are opposed to. On the republican side it isn’t seriously claimed that McGuinness or his party have become soft on the monarchy. For certain McGuinness and Sinn Fein have rapidly acclimatised to being part of the establishment and clearly enjoy being normal bourgeois politicians. What took place on 27 June was, however, more than just a further shift down that road.
The justification given by Sinn Fein had nothing to do with either the Queen or British rule. McGuinness described his move as “in a very pointed, deliberate and symbolic way offering the hand of friendship to unionists through the person of Queen Elizabeth for which many unionists have a deep affinity”. There is no reason not to take that rationale at face value. He went on to claim that this sort of symbolism had the potential to define “a new relationship between Britain and Ireland and between the Irish people themselves”.
That view can be criticised as naive. It can be attacked as a top-down way of managing the communal differences without challenging the fundamental causes. In common with most elements of the “peace process” it seems to reinforce rather than undercut cultural division. It’s a different matter, however, to criticise it for “going too far” towards the unionists. The least bad fault with modern-day SF is that they are insufficiently intransigent nationalists. Yet that is the criticism most commonly levelled at them from the left.
And it’s hard not to take some pleasure from the visible discomfort this event has caused to the British right. The fact that their Queen has felt it necessary to shake the hand of the former IRA commander has opened a very old sore for reactionaries.
The most reliable of these, Peter Hitchens, summed up the problem in the Mail on Sunday. After a few predictable and gratuitous personal swipes at McGuinness he compressed all his familiar anxieties into this short sentence: “If anyone doubted that the Good Friday Agreement was a humiliating surrender by a once-great country to a criminal gang, they can’t doubt it now.”
The sort of Tories whom Hitchens and Hastings write for spent their formative years insisting that those who took up arms to fight British rule anywhere in the world were no more than criminals. They said it too of Mandela and the ANC. Time and again they have seen these claims crumble to dust as the era of direct imperialist rule has given way to triumphant independence movements. And it hurts deeply.
Hitchens’ adult life has been blighted by one episode after another of “humiliating surrender” by his “once-great country” to movements fighting to free their countries from colonial or racist rule (or “criminal gangs” as he prefers to put it).
But the Irish people have not yet won a united independent state. The British have not surrendered and nor would it matter much if they did. The key to Irish territorial unity is, and has for decades been, democratic unity between its people. What Martin McGuinness did on 27 June offended the sensibilities of democrats and socialists because of our contempt for the institution of monarchy. However, his motive at least was progressive.
It was also republican in the sense defined by the founder of modern Irish republicanism Wolfe Tone — “to replace the name Protestant, Catholic and Dissenter with the common name Irishman”. We should be bold enough to point that out.
These are all genuine:
It’s odd. I voted in the Westminster & Holyrood elections. Can’t remember anyone offering to fuck my life up.
Politics today: Insert silver bullet into single chamber, spin revolver, place barrel on temple.
Like King Arthur, summoned from sleep when the realm is threatened, our heroes awake from slumber:
Sturgeon wants an indyref without a plan on the basis Brexit is happening without a plan.
Spent all day (and many prior) trying to grasp the idea that the answer to nationalism is more nationalism. It’s an inscrutable mindset.
I knew life expectancy in parts of Scotland was lower than the rest of the UK, but a generation lasting 5 years is pretty bleak #indyref2
As a 24 year old it is nice to know I have lived for six generations. Mightily impressive. #indyref2
Not even an hour since the announcement and I’m already sick of this shite #indyref2
WELCOME TO BRITAIN. ALL REFERENDUMS ALL THE TIME. WE ALL HATE EACH OTHER NOW. NEXT WEEK A REFERENDUM ON GRAVITY. SEND HELP.
BMG poll for Herald: 49 per cent of Scots do not want a 2nd independence referendum before Brexit; 39 per cent do; 13 per cent are unsure.
I’ve already seen an international publication photoshop Nicola Sturgeon’s face onto Mel Gibson’s body. Please, not again.
#Indyref1 was flag-wavers screaming at a passive majority. #Indyref2 will be two lots of flag-wavers screaming at each other. I can’t wait.
2017-19 was going to be longest stint without a major UK election in half a decade so at least #indyref2 is job creation for journalists.
As Scotland pushes for #IndyRef2, what would Europe look like if all independence movements won? #maps
Above: Dugdale and Corbyn
By Dale Street (also published at the Workers Liberty website)
Only a fortnight ago Kezia Dugdale summed up Scottish Labour’s opposition to a second referendum on Scottish independence:
“[At this weekend’s Scottish Labour annual conference] I set out Scottish Labour’s opposition to another independence referendum. Scotland is divided enough already, without yet another attempt to separate our country from the rest of the UK.
The people of Scotland do not want another independence referendum. It’s time for the Nationalists to listen to the voices of ordinary working people. [Given the levels of poverty in Scotland], it would be shameful to spend the next few years talking about independence.”
Although it counted for little more than gesture politics, Scottish Labour underlined its opposition to a second referendum by launching an online petition:
“Sign the pledge against a second independence referendum and join the fight for a stronger Scotland inside a reformed UK, with jobs and opportunities for all.”
But last weekend Jeremy Corbyn visited Glasgow and told the media: “If a referendum is held, then it is absolutely fine, it should be held. I don’t think it’s the job of Westminster or the Labour Party to prevent people holding referenda.”
“A spokesman for Corbyn” and “a source close to Corbyn” tried to minimise the damage.
According to the spokesman: “Jeremy reaffirmed our position today that if the Scottish Parliament votes for a referendum, it would be wrong for Westminster to block it. Labour continues to oppose a further referendum in the Scottish Parliament”.
But Labour has not taken a position that Westminster should agree to a referendum if Holyrood votes for it. And Corbyn’s argument that the Labour Party should not “prevent people from holding referenda” does not fit in with Scottish Labour’s opposition to a second referendum.
According to the “close source”: “Westminster blocking a second referendum would give the SNP exactly what they want – more grievance. Kezia Dugdale is absolutely right to oppose a second referendum at Holyrood and keep the pressure on Nicola Sturgeon to rule one out.”
But the SNP has an infinite supply of “more grievance” anyway. Their entire political life consists of conjuring up “more grievance”. And if Dugdale is right to “keep the pressure” on Sturgeon to rule one out, a second referendum could only be the result of a defeat for Scottish Labour – not something to be described as “absolutely fine”.
Corbyn, his spokesman and the close source all reaffirmed opposition to independence in the event of a second referendum.
But this faded into the background, overshadowed by (not entirely accurate) headlines along the lines of Corbyn: Second independence referendum should be held and Corbyn absolutely fine with a second Scottish referendum.
Corbyn’s opponents within the Labour Party were quick to exploit his statement: “Often asked why I resigned from Shadow Cabinet. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Jeremy Corbyn. He’s destroying the party that so many need”, tweeted Scotland’s only Labour MP.
For the viscerally anti-Corbyn MSP Jackie Baillie it was too good an opportunity to miss: “This is a misguided and irresponsible comment from Jeremy Corbyn that is an insult to the dedicated work of Scottish Labour MSPs, councillors and thousands of activists who have campaigned against a divisive second referendum”.
Of course, Corbyn’s factional opponents within the Labour Party will attempt to exploit the issue.
And it would be legitimate to argue that Corbyn’s core argument is correct, i.e. Scotland’s right to self-determination means not just the right to independence but also the right to hold a referendum without having to seek Westminster approval.
Even so, Corbyn’s statement was wrong on any number of levels.
Despite the attempted spin of the unnamed spokesman and close source, Corbyn’s layback attitude to the prospect of a possible second independence referendum cannot be reconciled with Scottish Labour policy.
Corbyn’s statement clearly came out of the blue and without advance warning: Corbyn had not described a second referendum as “absolutely fine” when he had spoken at the Scottish Labour conference just a fortnight ago.
Although Corbyn was referring to what position Labour in Westminster might or should adopt towards the demand for a second referendum, his statement read – even without the additional spin by the media – as an endorsement in principle of a second referendum.
The statement confused “people holding referenda” with the SNP’s campaign for a second referendum.
Opinion polls suggest there is no popular support for a second referendum (at least in the short term). The SNP demand for another referendum is the product of its own one-trick-pony nationalist politics, not a reflection of public opinion. The SNP wants to hold a referendum, not “people”.
By appearing to legitimise their demand for a second referendum, the statement played into the hands of the SNP. Sturgeon’s mocking response to Corbyn’s statement was to tweet: “Always a pleasure to have @jeremycorbyn campaigning in Scotland.”
The statement also played into the hands of the Tories, who have already overtaken Labour as the official opposition at Holyrood. It allowed them to present themselves as the only genuine opposition to Scottish independence (which, in turn, is a further gift to the SNP).
Corbyn’s statement was also an extension of what is wrong with his approach to Brexit.
For Corbyn, it seems that once a referendum appears on the political agenda, the specific interests of the labour movement no longer count for anything. Instead, the labour movement should either submit to the result and vote with the Tories (Brexit) or submit to the demand for one and vote with the SNP (Scotland).
Above all, it is not “absolutely fine” if a second referendum were to be held. Irrespective of the result, it would divide Scottish society and weaken the labour movement – in both cases, probably for more than a generation – to an even great degree than the 2014 referendum.
The 2014 referendum was a profoundly divisive event. Previously coexisting national identities were pitted again each other. By elbowing aside class-based politics and voting patterns in favour of national-identity politics, it also resulted in a collapse of electoral support for Labour.
A second referendum would take that process a stage further. In fact, the impact would be far worse than in 2014.
In 2014 the SNP did at least attempt to run a campaign which was based to some degree on economic arguments (however spurious those arguments may have been). But identity politics will be at the core of a second referendum: bad English/British (racist and pro-Brexit) and proud Scot (pro-EU and inclusive).
What was fundamentally wrong with Corbyn’s statement was not so much his off-the-cuff speculation about what position Labour in Westminster might take about a second referendum. It was his failure to understand the poisonous political impact of a second referendum, whatever its result.
Corbyn was wrong. And no-one on the left should feel obliged to defend the indefensible.
How the downfall of the Romanovs finally came about 100 years ago
By Carolyn Harris
SMITHSONIAN.COM (republished at the US website SocialistWorker.org)
“I can’t remember a single day when I didn’t go hungry…I’ve been afraid, waking, eating and sleeping…all my life I’ve trembled-afraid I wouldn’t get another bite…all my life I’ve been in rags-all through my wretched life – and why?”- Anna, wife of a locksmith in The Lower Depths (1903), Maxim Gorky
When we think of the Russian Revolution today, the most well-known event is the Bolshevik Revolution in November 1917 when Vladimir Lenin and the Bolshevik Party seized power, laying the foundation for the creation of the Soviet Union. But 1917 was a year of two revolutions in Russia. First came the February Revolution, which precipitated the collapse of the ruling Romanov dynasty and introduced new possibilities for the future of the Russian state. (Note that below we use the Gregorian calendar dates, even though Russia used the Julian calendar, which was 13 days behind. That’s why the revolution happened in March on the former calendar, but in the titular February on the latter.)
The eventful month brought a too-little-too-late realization on behalf of the Czar, Nicholas II, that three years of fighting in World War had depleted Russian infrastructure. Soldiers faced munitions shortages and the cities suffered through food scarcity. A particularly cold and punishing winter exacerbated the situation. On February 17, Nicholas wrote to his cousin and wartime ally, George V of the United Kingdom, “The weak state of our railways has long since preoccupied me. The rolling stock has been and remains insufficient and we can hardly repair the worn out engines and cars, because nearly all the manufactories and fabrics of the country work for the army. That’s why the question of transport of store and food becomes acute, especially in winter, when the rivers and canals are frozen.”
In his letter, Nicholas assured George that “everything is being done to ameliorate the state of things” but he seems to have hoped that the spring thaw and the eventual end to the hostilities would solve the problem.
His hopes were misplaced, however, as his problems were about to get much worse, especially with his female subjects.
In the country’s urban centers, with men on the battlefield, women took on new roles in the workforce, as they did throughout Europe during the war. Between 1914 and 1917, 250,000 more women began working outside the home for the first time. By the outbreak of the February Revolution, close to one million female workers lived in Russia’s cities, but were paid half the wages of men and endured substandard living conditions. The journalist Ariadna Tyrkova wrote, “Day by day, the war has changed attitudes about woman. It has become increasingly clear that the unseen effort of a woman and her labour often support the entire economy of a country.”
Like the French Revolution in 1789, a bread shortage in the capital precipitated unrest. After long shifts in the factories, female factory workers stood in bread lines alongside other women including domestic servants, housewives and soldiers’ widows. In these bread lines, news and rumors about planned rationing spread. When Saint Petersburg municipal authorities announced on March 4 that rationing would begin ten days later, there was widespread panic; bakeries were sacked, their windows broken and supplies stolen.
As he had throughout the previous months, Nicholas once again underestimated the extent of the unrest and again departed for military headquarters more than 400 miles away in Mogliev, which is now in Belarus, against the advice of his ministers. In the czar’s mind, leadership of the military took precedence during wartime, and he was concerned by the mass desertions occurring in the aftermath of munitions shortages and defeats at the hands of the Germans.
The next day, March 8, was the annual celebration of International Women’s Day. The weather had improved and comparatively warm 23 degrees Fahrenheit temperatures and bright sunshine seemed to encourage crowds to assemble in public spaces. Since 1913, Russian revolutionary factions, including the Bolsheviks, had encouraged women to celebrate the occasion as an opportunity to build solidarity. ..At the textile factories, women went on strike and marched to the metal works to persuade the men employed there to join them.
An employee of the Nobel Engineering works recalled, “We could hear women’s voices in the lane overlooked by the windows of our department: ‘Down with high prices! Down with hunger! Bread for the workers!’ I and several comrades rushed to the windows…Masses of women workers in a militant frame of mind filled the lane. Those who caught sight of us began to wave their arms, shouting ‘Come out! Stop work!’ Snowballs flew through the windows. We decided to join the demonstration.”
By the end of the day 100,000 workers went on strike, holding banners that said “Bread” and “Down with the Czar.” The number of demonstrators increased to 150,000 by the next day. The crowds were swelled by the presence of curious onlookers from all social backgrounds. Street theatres performed scenes from plays including Maxim Gorky’s The Lower Depths, which was widely viewed as an indictment of the treatment of the urban poor under czarist rule.
Nicholas and his wife, Empress Alexandra, who remained at the Alexander Palace just outside Saint Petersburg with their five children, continued to underestimate the seriousness of the discontent. Alexandra was dismissive of the protestors, writing to Nicholas at military headquarters, “The rows in town and strikes are more than provoking…It’s a hooligan movement, young boys and girls running about and screaming that they have no bread, only to excite – then the workmen preventing others from work – if it were very cold they would probably stay indoors. But this will all pass and quieten down – if the Duma would only behave itself – one does not print the worst speeches.”
The Duma, the representative assembly Nicholas reluctantly granted following unrest in 1905, struggled to maintain order as the strikes and demonstrations continued. Duma chairman Mikhail Rodzianko telegraphed Nicholas at military headquarters on March 11, “The government is completely paralyzed, and totally incapable of restoring order where it has broken down…Your Majesty, without delay summon a person whom the whole country trusts, and charge him with forming a government, in which the population can have confidence.” Instead, Nicholas placed his confidence in the military reserves stationed in Saint Petersburg to restore his authority.
Though in past moments of revolutionary sentiment, the military had stood by its czar, by 1917, the armed force was demoralized and sympathetic to the demonstrators’ cause. The presence of large groups of women among the demonstrators made soldiers particularly reluctant to fire on the crowds. When the soldiers joined the demonstrators, as opposed to firing upon them, the end of the Romanov dynasty was near.
In his history of the Russian Revolution, Leon Trotsky, who joined the Bolsheviks in September 1917 and became one of the party’s most prominent figures, wrote, “A great role is played by women workers in the relations between workers and soldiers. They go up to the cordons more boldly than men, take hold of the rifles, beseech, almost command, ‘Put down your bayonets; join us!’” Instead of suppressing the demonstrations, the regiments stationed in Saint Petersburg joined them, expressing their own grievances against the Czarist regime.
In exile in Switzerland, Vladimir Lenin followed events in Russia with interest but he distrusted the growing leadership role of Duma, fearing that the result of the unrest would be the replacement of one privileged elite with another, with the workers and peasants again excluded from any real influence.
The involvement of the military in demonstrations against his rule finally persuaded Nicholas to take the unrest seriously. In the early hours of March 13 , Nicholas departed military headquarters by train to address the collapse of his authority in Saint Petersburg. He would lose his throne over the course of the journey.
“We need every assistance from the government to give this sector a fighting chance. That absolutely includes committing now to securing access to the single market and customs union. This is the signal that the car industry needs in order to know that the UK government values this sector.”
06 March 2017
Reacting today (Monday) to the news that General Motors has sold its European car interests to the French PSA Group, including the UK sites at Ellesmere Port, Toddington and Luton, the country’s biggest union, Unite has said that the fight begins now to secure a future for our plants.
General Motors’ sale to the makers of Peugeot brings to an end 35 years of manufacturing in the UK, but, said Len McCluskey, the UK plants are the most productive in the company’s stable, earning them the right to a future under the new owners.
Commenting Unite general secretary Len McCluskey said: “This has obviously been a very difficult time for the workforce, but their union has been and will continue to work day and night to fight for their interests.
“Now that General Motors has disposed of its UK sites, our focus switches to working with the new owners to persuade them of the evident merits of our plants and this excellent, loyal workforce.
“I am determined that we can convince the new boss, Mr Tavares, that it makes sense for him to continue to build in Britain. Our plants are the most productive in the European operation, the brand is strong here, the market for the products is here, so the cars must be made here.
“But there is also a role for the government to play. The uncertainty caused by Brexit is harming the UK auto sector. Wednesday’s Budget is a perfect opportunity for the government to make is clear that it will preserve our trading arrangements and that it will invest for our auto sector’s future now, beginning with assistance for the reshoring of components.
“We need every assistance from the government to give this sector a fighting chance. That absolutely includes committing now to securing access to the single market and customs union. This is the signal that the car industry needs in order to know that the UK government values this sector.”
Commenting on the future of the GM pension scheme, Len McCluskey added: “I have sought and have received urgent assurances from the PSA Group and General Motors as to their intentions towards the pensions of the UK workforce.
“It is vital that those who have saved hard for their retirement receive the benefits to which they are entitled.
“Unite will not allow our members to lose out, not by a penny.”
For further information please contact Pauline Doyle on 07976 832 861
– See more at: http://www.unitetheunion.org/news/unite-on-sale-of-vauxhall-to-the-psa-group–now-we-need-to-secure-a-future-for-our-plants/#sthash.XtdHvx6T.dpuf
In a statement, the Commission said it is “shocked by the discovery” and its investigation is continuing.
- Human remains found at site of Bon Secours Mother and Baby Home in Tuam
- They were discovered in what appears to be some type of sewage container
- Scientific analysis puts the age of death between 35 foetal weeks and 2 to 3 years
- Radiocarbon dating confirms the remains are from the time the home was in operation – many are likely to be from the 1950s.
THE COMMISSION OF INVESTIGATION into Mother and Baby Homes has discovered a significant number of human remains in what appears to be a decommissioned sewage chamber in Tuam.
The Commission has completed two test excavations of the Galway site and today confirmed that “significant quantities of human remains have been discovered” in a structure which appears to be “related to the treatment/containment of sewerage and/or wastewater”.
The structure where the remains were found is long and divided into 20 chambers. The Commission is not yet clear if it was ever used for sewerage or wastewater.
There were remains found in at least 17 of the 20 chambers. A small number of the remains were recovered for testing. A scientific analysis has put the ages of the deceased at between 35 foetal weeks to two to three years old.
Radiocarbon dating suggests that they are from the time the Bon Secours home was in operation between 1925 and 1961. A number of the samples are likely to be from the 1950s.
A second structure discovered during excavations between November 2016 and February this year appeared to be a decommissioned septic tank which had been filled with rubble and debris and then covered with topsoil.
In a statement, the Commission said it is “shocked by the discovery” and its investigation is continuing “into who was responsible for the disposal of human remains in this way”.
State authorities have been asked to take responsibility for the appropriate treatment of the remains and the North Galway Coroner has been informed. He will determine if there is to be any garda involvement in further investigations.
Speaking today, Children’s Minister Katherine Zappone said the “sad and disturbing news” confirms rumours about the possibility of a mass grave at the site.
“Today is about remembering and respecting the dignity of the children who lived their short lives in this Home. We will honour their memory and make sure that we take the right actions now to treat their remains appropriately,” she added.
Decisions have yet to be taken on whether more excavations will be required at other mother and baby home sites.
The Commission was established following a 2014 report in the Irish Mail on Sunday that 800 children died in the home and were interred in a mass grave.
Local historian Catherine Corless has spent years researching the home, even obtaining death certificates for each child who died there, in the hope of rectifying an injustice.
In a statement today, the Bon Secours order said:
“The Bon Secours sisters are fully committed to the work of the Commission regarding the mother and baby home in Tuam. On the closing of the Home in 1961 all the records for the Home were returned to Galway County Council who are the owners and occupiers of the lands of the Home. We can therefore make no comment on today’s announcement, other than to confirm our continued cooperation with and support for the work of the Commission in seeking the truth about the home.”
Call for identification
The Adoption Rights Alliance (ARA) and Justice for Magdalenes Research (JFMR) said that they were saddened by the news.
They said that Tuam “is not an isolated case” and reiterated their call for an expansion of the Commission’s Terms of Reference to include all institutions, agencies and individuals that were involved with Ireland’s unmarried mothers and their children, and to include investigations of burial practices at all of these locations.
They said that they want the government to ensure that all children who died in Tuam,a nd all children and adults who died in institutional care or custody, are identified.
In addition, they urged an Garda Siochána to establish its own investigation, independent of the Commission of Investigation, into abuse, neglect and illegal separations of mothers and children in Mother and Baby Homes, County Homes, maternity hospitals, and through adoption agencies and similar entities.
We reiterate our concerns that the Commission’s Terms of Reference are not comprehensive enough, and stress that Tuam is but one institution in an ad hoc and almost entirely unregulated, State-funded system which had responsibility for the care of unmarried mothers and their children. Today’s disturbing statement from the Commission underscores that the State failed in its ‘duty of care’ towards these children and their mothers.
In the context of these revelations, and in the public interest, we also reiterate our call on Minister Zappone to publish the Commission’s second interim report without delay.
With reporting by Aoife Barry
Republished, with permission, from Jacobin; a very important piece, I think, about race, guilt, and class politics (albeit from a US perspective):
Guilt is a sad, passive emotion — and it won’t help us build a more diverse left.
It could be any meeting — an ad hoc general assembly, an emergency gathering for immigrant defense, a planning session for an upcoming strike. The speaker is usually white, but not always — and depending on this, their tone is guilty or accusatory.
On the rare occasion that this query is accompanied by a positive proposal, it is abstract, likely no more than a call for reflection. When the speaker is white, it often functions to absolve them of the need to actually do something about it.
Sometimes, on its face, the question is reasonable. Any political collectivity in the age of Trump which consists only of white people is an example of an abject failure — a failure of outreach, at the simplest level, but also a political failure, a failure to challenge the white supremacy which is threaded through American history.
But sometimes the question reveals nothing more than sanctimonious ignorance. It would be hard for me to count how many times I have sat in a meeting, often right next to several other people of color, and watched as someone righteously declared, “Everyone here is white.”
In the moment, it makes my blood boil. As a Muslim American, I have been detained at airports and verbally abused in public places. When I heard the news of Trump’s Muslim ban, I wondered whether I would be able to see my parents again. And I am one of the lucky ones.
Given the opportunity to cool down, I have to reflect on the strange psychology of these statements. Could it be simply the racist assumption that anyone who attends a political meeting and can speak English well must necessarily be white? It is hard for me to read it otherwise, and it is disturbing to imagine the potential consequences of this white practice of speaking for others. We should hope that this does not become a self-fulfilling prophesy, alienating and driving away people of color whose presence is erased by guilty whites.
The question is itself exclusionary, in its reliance on the empty abstraction of “people of color.” In your city, wherever it is, there is likely a young white male who is addicted to Vicodin, struggles to support his children on fast-food wages, and is on the verge of eviction. Where is he during this political meeting?
Middle-class activists are adept at deluding themselves with complicated explanations. But it is not a difficult question to answer. Like many people of color and many other whites, he is doing what he can to make it to the next day.
As Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor writes, “the privileges of white skin run very thin in a country where nineteen million white people languish in poverty.” Every day in a capitalist society is a struggle for the poor. Attending a meeting called by some unknown organization — and we all know how excruciating these meetings can be — will not put food on the table for your children. It will not help you recover from long hours of monotonous, draining work. It will not compel your landlord to fix your broken toilet. It will not stop the collection agency from calling.
This is not an appeal to holding up some mythical “white working class” as the abandoned core of the American masses. It is a simple recognition of lived reality of the working class, which contains white people and people of color, people of all genders and sexualities, the employed and the unemployed — a multitude of people irreducible to any single description.
Many socialists argue that across these differences, all of these people have a common interest — a point easily skewered by the identitarian liberal who asks how the young woman seeking an abortion and the evangelical protester, the undocumented immigrant and the salaried worker, can possibly have the same interest.
But this challenge is afflicted by the same condition it claims to diagnose. It mistakes the casual description of a shared trait with a claim about identity. We all have numerous interests, which are related to our identities but also where we work and where we live. To say that these different spheres of life interact and intersect is a banal truism which neither explains how our society is structured and reproduced, nor how we might formulate a strategy to change this structure.
A meaningful common interest does not somehow exist by default. We cannot reduce any group of people and the multitudes they contain to a single common interest, as though we were reducing a fraction. A common interest is constituted by the composition of these multitudes into a group. And this is a process of political practice.
White supremacy is the phenomenon whereby the plurality of interests of a group of people is reorganized into the fiction of a white race, whose very existence is predicated on the violent and genocidal history of the oppression of people of color. The self-organized struggles of oppressed people against white supremacy managed to significantly undermine, though not eliminate, this kind of organization. The likes of Trump, Steve Bannon, Richard Spencer, and Milo Yiannopoulos now attempt to restore its earlier strength.
Those of us who seek to change the world will have to fight against this effort, and this will require us to put forward an organization of resistance — one which collectively constitutes a common interest.
This common interest is beginning to take shape as the opposition to Trump. But it must be built further than that, to an opposition to the whole capitalist system. Because it is the structure of the capitalist system which prevents all people who are dispossessed of the means of production, regardless of their identities, from having control over their own lives, and thus from pursuing whatever interests they may have in all their particularity. Monsters like Trump only bring this ongoing tyranny of capital to the surface.
To merely criticize the composition of a political meeting is a defeatist practice. Yes, any anti-capitalist organization must reach out to the most disenfranchised and marginalized of our population. Yes, it is unacceptable if they are unable to speak for themselves.
But what is most important of all is that you are there, whoever you are. What is important is that in a society which steals our free time, leeches our energy, and crushes any hope for an alternative, you have decided to commit yourself to the revolutionary possibility of that alternative.
Guilt is a sad, passive emotion. Its foundation is the wish that the past was different, and the failure to recognize the possibility of acting to change the future.
It is crucial for all socialist organizations, which today find themselves experiencing rapid growth, to formulate means of incorporating the excluded, in all their forms. The current composition of many of our organizations is a result of our lack of a social base — it’s a problem that we must overcome through organizing. But this will mean going beyond guilt and constructing ways to meet the needs unfulfilled in capitalist society, and the means of asserting popular power.
You showed up. You are at a meeting. Your presence is an indication that it is possible to initiate the process of change. Do not allow yourself to be intimidated by guilt. Instead, sharpen your analysis and enhance your organization, until your ranks grow so large as to include everyone.
Jacobin: our next issue, “Journey to the Dark Side,” is out now. Subscribe for the first time at a discount.
By Andrew Coates at Tendance Coatesy
Above: Corbyn and Milne
“The hatred and contempt with which each side treats the others—as also the bewilderment and distress of the silent majority of Party loyalists—seems now to exceed that in the Labour Party at the height of Bennism. In the Eurocommunist camp, as then on the Labour Left, it is typically expressed in generational terms—‘Why don’t you just die?’ was the shout of one of the new wave ‘pluralists’ when, at a recent aggregate, an old-timer attempted to speak.
Whereas in previous Communist crises, such as those of 1939–40 or 1956, the factory branches remained solid or even increased in strength, while it was the ‘intellectuals’ who were then wracked by doubt, this time it is the industrial comrades who have been ready to put their Party loyalties in question. In their majority they seem to have rallied to the Morning Star. Trade unionists—‘white, male, middle-aged’, as they were recently characterized by the Party’s Industrial Organizer, after a week at the TUC—are no longer honoured in the Party but viewed with social and even sexual disgust.
As in other political formations of the Left, political disagreement has been exacerbated by sociological discomforts which it seems increasingly difficult for a unitary organization to contain, and although the outcome is different in the Communist and the Labour Party, it does not seem fanciful to discern the same fissiparous forces at work: a simultaneous break-up of both class and corporate loyalties.”
Raphael Samuel. The Lost World of British Communism. Part 3. New Left Review I/165, September-October 1987.
This, apparently, is the atmosphere that reigned in the party, the CPGB, that some of Jeremy Corbyn’s key staff, from Seumas Milne to the new deputy director of strategy and communications, Steve Howell, were involved with in their – relative – youth.
The faction, “Straight Left” appears to be a common tie,
The leading ideological force in the Straight Left faction was Fergus Nicholson, who had previously worked as the CPGB’s student organiser. According to Michael Mosbacher in Standpoint magazine, the faction was “a hard-line anti-reformist pro-Soviet faction within the Communist Party”. Unlike the leadership, they supported the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968 and Afghanistan in 1979. They also thought the party should concentrate its work in Trade Unions , and not in social movements such as feminism and environmentalism.
Because the CPGB’s rules banned the formation of factional groups, SL operated in secret. Members of the faction contributed funds to the organisation through significant monthly donations, which helped fund the groups educational gatherings, often referred to as camping weekends. Its meetings were not publicly announced, and writers in their newspaper Straight Left and their theoretical magazine Communist wrote under pseudonyms like Nicholson, whose pen-name was “Harry Steel”. The Straight Left faction also produced anonymous bulletins to try to influence CPGB Congresses usually under the heading “Congress Truth”.
The faction produced a dissident internal pamphlet entitled “The Crisis in Our Communist Party – Cause, Effect and Cure”, which was distributed nationally but not under its name. This was authored (in all likelihood in conjunction with others), by veteran miner and communist Charlie Woods, who was expelled from the CPGB for putting his name to the publication.
The reason for the sudden interest?
After Jeremy Corbyn’s campaigns chief Simon Fletcher quit his role earlier this month, it was branded a victory for Seumas Milne. Fletcher was known to have clashed with Corbyn’s director of strategy and communications on a range of issues, including the EU. Now, in a sign things are moving further in Milne’s favour, Steve Howell has been appointed as deputy director of strategy and communications.
Happily, the pair are unlikely to clash over their political views anytime soon. They are old comrades who were both involved with Straight Left, the monthly journal in the Eighties that became associated with the ‘Stalinist’, pro-Soviet, anti-Eurocommunist faction that eventually split from the Communist Party of Great Britain. Described by Standpoint magazine as ‘a hard-line anti-reformist pro-Soviet faction within the Communist Party’, the Straight Left movement was also where Milne met Andrew Murray, the first chair of the Stop the War campaign who previously called for solidarity with North Korea.
Introducing Corbyn’s new spinner: the Straight Left comrade who is Mandelson’s old communist chum. (Steerpike. Spectator).
This was also immediately noticed on the left, provoking it must be said some jealousy on the part of former members of rival factions within the defunct Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB).
Bob from Brockley posted,
Fletcher’s replacement is Steve Howell, brought in from a PR firm in South Wales. Howell has not been politically active for a while, as far as I can see, but does have history: like Milne and Andrew Murray he was active in the Stalinist faction Straight Left. Howell, then based in Sheffield, led its Yorkshire group. Their faction was called “the artists” – most of its key figures were Oxbridge types, in contrast to the salt of the earth workerists who led the main rival tankie faction, the Communist Campaign Group.
At that point in the 1980s, hardcore Stalinists (known as “tankies” for their support for the tanks sent in by the Soviets to crush dissent in its various satellites) were fighting to keep the Communist Party of Great Britain loyal to the memory of Uncle Joe Stalin, who was seen as something of an embarrassment by its Eurocommunist leadership. Straight Left sought to re-orient the party towards operating in the Labour Party and trade union movement.
Some of the denunciations of its tactics by rival Stalinists from the time are amusing, but also a bit sinister now it finally has achieved getting some of its activists into key positions in the Labour Party.
This is from the ultra-tankie Leninist newspaper (forerunner of the Weekly Worker) in 1983:
And this is about Straight Left’s strategy of covertly using the Labour Party rather than Communist Party as the vehicle for promoting Stalinism, a strategy the Leninist denounced as “liquidationism”:
I have no idea if Howell has, like Murray, remained true to his Stalinist roots. (His schoolmate and old comrade in Hendon Young Communists, Peter Mandelson, clearly hasn’t.)
Now the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty have offered their assessment.
Corbyn’s Leader’s Office is dominated by the former Guardian journalist Seumas Milne and by people close to Andrew Murray, chief of staff of the Unite union. Milne’s political formation was in the Stalinist sect “Straight Left”.
Another Straight Lefter was Andrew Murray… Milne, like Murray, is still a Stalinist. Writing for the Guardian, as he has done for many years, he puts his views in urbane double-negative form, but he is still a Stalinist… Operators used to snuggling into the established political and media machines, ideologically imbued with and trained over decades in ‘top-down’ politics, will not serve Jeremy Corbyn, John McDonnell, and us well in opening up and revitalising the Labour Party” (Solidarity 382, 28 October 2015).
“Stalinist ideas were drilled into swathes of labour movements and the left in decades when activists could see the USSR (or Cuba, China, Albania) as practical examples of the alternative to capitalism. Today we have a more demoralised Stalinists and Stalinoids: while sometimes loud in denunciation of Tory misdeeds, they generally see no further in positive policy than what were only stepping stones for Stalinism in its heyday: economic nationalism, bureaucratic state-directed economic development…
The Article 50 fiasco, and the Labour leaders’ waffle about a “People’s Brexit”, cannot but have been shaped by nationalist anti-EU prejudices in the Stalinist-influenced left. Stalinist bureaucratic manipulation fits with the Blairite heritage: “policy development” means not debate in the rank and file leading up to conference decisions, but formulas handed down by clever people in the Leader’s Office. The office’s response to the Copeland by-election has been to get another “Straight Left” old-timer, Steve Howell, seconded from the PR company he now owns….
Martin Thomas. The dangers of Stalinism in Labour. Alliance for Workers’ Liberty.
Of particular interest are the claims about the EU, “Fletcher was known to have clashed with Corbyn’s director of strategy and communications on a range of issues, including the EU” and “the Labour leaders’ waffle about a “People’s Brexit”.
This article, published by those Simon Fletcher is said to be close to (aka Socialist Action), which argues against the fantasy that there is a “People’s Brexit”, may help explain his departure.
There is no ‘People’s Brexit’ By Tom O’Leary. Socialist Economic Bulletin. (Published by Ken Livingstone, Simon Fletcher’s former employer)
There is no socialist or even ‘people’s Brexit’. Everyone operating in the UK will still be subject to the laws of the market. The problem will be that the market will suddenly be much smaller and less productive than the EU Single Market the UK has been participating in for the last 25 years. If the Tories continue to get their way, there will also be a stripping away of the workers’ environmental and consumer rights that were instituted under the EU’s ‘Social Chapter’. These have long been a Tory target for abolition in the UK. Post-Brexit, the economy will be operating behind a series of tariff and non-tariff barriers as others protect their markets. All of these will make the economy less competitive and will increase costs.
Of course, the pound could depreciate sharply again to offset these disadvantages, but this would lower living standards and real incomes even further. If currency devaluations alone were the answer then Britain would be an earthly paradise. In 1940 there were 5 US Dollars to the pound. Now there are 1.25. Over the same period the relative size of the UK in the world economy has shrunk dramatically in real terms, to less than one-third its proportion of world GDP, 2.3% now versus 7.3% in 1940.
There is a widespread notion on the right that Brexit will lead to ‘taking back control’ of the economy. Unfortunately, this is also shared by important sections of the left. It is a delusion. The 1930s saw a whole series of countries taking back control, in what might be called an early anti-globalisation movement. Although the authors of these policies are now widely and rightly derided their arguments will actually be very familiar.
It was said that other countries were taking our jobs, they are dumping their output on us causing our industries to fail and that those industries need protecting and government support, or state aid. Once we have done that, then we would be able to trade freely with the whole world. Of course, the more virulent version also included vile invective against foreigners, immigrants, Jews, gay men and others. When the economic policies went spectacularly wrong, the racist invective became policy.
The reason these policies failed spectacularly should be clear. Behind the protective barriers, costs rise, potential markets are closed off (especially as they respond with barriers of their own), industry becomes less not more productive, profits decline and workers are laid off. The economic crisis that ensued was finally resolved only by general rearmament.
Economics aside Milne, it is said, is equally no friend of the politics of the internationalist supporters of Another Europe is Possible.
And he has this in his file: Seumas Milne: Charlie Hebdo Had it Coming to them.
More detailed background:
WHAT WAS STRAIGHT LEFT? AN INTRODUCTION BY LAWRENCE PARKER
Straight Left’s origins lie in the left pro-Soviet oppositions that emerged in the Communist Party of Great Britain in the 1960s. In this period, a definite ‘party within a party’ emerged, with figures such as Sid French, district secretary of Surrey CPGB, becoming key leaders. The general critique that emerged from this faction was a concern over the CPGB leadership distancing itself from the Soviet Union (such as around the invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968) and other ‘socialist’ countries; a preference for a more ‘workerist’ identity (for example, the faction would have been happy with the CPGB’s paper remaining as the Daily Worker in 1966) and a concentration on workplaces/trade unions; and a sense that the party was squandering its resources in futile election contests and alienating the left of the Labour Party, with whom it was meant to be developing a close relationship on the British road to socialism (BRS), the CPGB programme. However, a significant part of the faction felt that the BRS was ‘reformist’ and ‘revisionist’ in all its guises from 1951, counter-posing a revolutionary path to the parliamentary road to socialism envisaged in the CPGB’s existing programme.
Read the rest of the article on A Hatful of History.
A Labour government led by Jeremy Corbyn will re-nationalise and restore our NHS, but it really is up to everyone to make sure there is an NHS left to restore. #OurNHS demo this Saturday marks the start of that movement.
Join the Momentum and Labour bloc:
This Saturday, 4th March
12pm, BMA House, 1 Tavistock Square
London WC1H 9JP
Coaches are coming from across the country. Click here to find out about coaches coming from your area. And if you’re able to help steward on the day or help make placards tomorrow, please email firstname.lastname@example.org
So bring your friends and family to join Momentum, Jeremy Corbyn, John McDonnell and many thousands of others to stand up for our NHS.
Nye Bevan famously said the NHS “will last as long as there are folk left with the faith to fight for it”. Now it’s time to fight.
A final report (for now) from Our Person in Stoke, Phil Burton-Cartledge (from his blog All That Is Solid):
On Labour’s Victorious Campaign in Stoke
While Copeland was important, the outcome didn’t dangle the possibility of an existential crisis. That exactly what was in play at the Stoke-on-Trent Central by-election. For UKIP and their empty cipher of a leader, a viable future was at stake. Both Nuttall and Nigel Farage had made much of UKIP’s need to become the party of the working class, and Stoke was seen as a test bed for this strategy. For Labour, a loss would have signalled a disastrous disengagement between the party and a core component of its electoral coalition. As the campaign wore on and Nuttall’s person was swamped by a tsunami of lies, Labour’s inability to win under those circumstances would have been nothing less than catastrophic.
It didn’t happen. After an awful year of grievous retreats, the line was held. And about bloody time. It’s the kippers who are now in disarray, and Labour lives to fight another day. The majority fell by a wee amount, and the Tories and UKIP put on small numbers of votes. But on the reduced turn out as per all by-elections, the proportions were roughly the same as the 2015 outing. Apart from the stakes and the media hype, including some truly stupid commentary bigging up UKIP’s prospects, was this a pretty dull by-election with very little to say about the state of national politics? Not in the slightest.
As we saw in Copeland, the Corbyn factor combined with the insecurity factor to the detriment of our chances. Did the same happen in Stoke Central? Yes, but with mixed results. During my moments on the doors, the Labour leader only came up the once. It was an old bloke just getting into his motor, and he was voting UKIP. This wasn’t because he hated immigrants or thought Labour was a pile of crap, it was a protest: he didn’t think Jeremy was any good. And nothing, not the NHS, not Nuttall’s lies were going to dissuade him. Having asked around quite a few comrades who worked intensively on the campaign, they found similar sentiments among too many older, white working class voters. These Jez sceptics were either voting for the kippers or abstaining. And yet this was balanced out by the very enthusiastic response he got in other quarters. In Penkhull and bits of Hartshill where there are more middle class and professional residents, and down in Shelton with its large student and Asian populations, Jeremy was a real motivator. When out with Gareth Snell around Shelton, one comrade tells me of how cars would suddenly stop to speak with him and have obligatory selfies taken. 2,500 new electors registered for the by-election, mostly in the student areas, and I would wager that an increased turn out here made up for the decline in the traditional support.
The additional Jeremy factor was evident in the campaign itself. UKIP have talked up its own support on the ground and the people working for it. The party even turned out regular paid-for coach loads from London to bus people in (I wonder if they will appear on their electoral returns?) But truly, the Labour effort was colossal and they were utterly swamped. Yes, plenty of old hands were about doing their bit. However, new members turned out in large numbers as well. For dozens, probably hundreds, The Potteries was their first taste of campaigning. Any analysis skipping the positive consequences of the 2015-16 Corbyn surge is one indifferent to the truth.
The actual campaign was impressive. Huge numbers ensured the entire constituency was covered multiple times. The party could have perhaps dispensed with a direct mail as there were folks enough to deliver them by hand. The strategy was spot on, too. The NHS, Brexit, and more, better jobs for Stoke were heavily featured. Gareth’s Plan for the Potteries with his first few months mapped out was exactly the sort of thing our campaign needed to see. Labour did put out one tabloid, The Potter’s Wheel, which craftily billed itself as the no spin guide to the by-election, and it spent its time doing over UKIP and Nuttall. It’s not often a party leaflet makes me laugh, but as negative campaigning goes its pun-tastic tones were the best way of doing it. The only criticism I would have, and this was evident in Copeland too, was the initial stand-offish approach taken toward the national media. Prioritising local radio, papers and telly is fine, but making it look as though candidates are hiding from reporters is not a good look. Remember, folks everywhere are more likely to follow national news and papers than the local equivalents.
What did annoy me was the constant barrage of claims on the right and the left that Stoke Central CLP had selected a “poor candidate”. Never mind the fact Gareth has a campaigning record that would be the envy of hyperactive Trots, never mind Labour Party people. Forget that his tenure as leader of Newcastle-under-Lyme Borough Council saw a no cuts budget (unless you want to get precious about perks for senior management), and increased funding for domestic and sexual violence services and preparing the council to uprate its lowest pay scales to the proper national living wage. Not one member of our national media did their job and properly investigated his record. Instead they lazily alighted upon tweets written a life time ago, including some apparently abusive criticisms of Jeremy that, in context, were crafted as warnings of being taken out of context. Irony. This occasioned a media carpet bombing of Gareth and should act as a warning for aspirant candidates to take the time and carefully clean up their social media now. And so Fleet Street dubbed our comrade rubbish on the basis of a string of 140 character missives. What a pathetic state of affairs. Ask anyone who knows anything about the Labour Party in North Staffordshire and they will tell you about his energy, his formidable organisational ability, his capacious memory for the minutiae of rules and procedure – a plus should he find himself facing an opponent across the dispatch box – and the fact he is Labour to the marrow. Gareth is among the best of us, as the rest of the Labour Party will see in due course.
The take homes from this then are the differential impacts Jeremy can have, and future by-election and local elections’ strategy need to bear this in mind. A campaign should have a small number of, easy-to-remember messages with the promise to do something about insecurity at their heart, and should avoid going into siege mode with the media. Yes, they will trash the party, it’s what they do. But resisting engagement is not a good look. There are other observations to be made about the UKIP, Tory and LibDem campaigns that have wider significance beyond Stoke, but they will have to wait.
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