Momentum: don’t break it!

December 5, 2016 at 5:30 pm (campaigning, Johnny Lewis, labour party, political groups, reformism, sectarianism, stalinism)

By Johnny Lewis

From Labour’s defeat in 2015 socialists were confronted with two tasks: organising for Labour to win the next election and – regardless of its outcome – establishing Labour as a social democratic party; in effect transforming the Labour Party. While it is possible to work for a Labour victory without working for Labour to become a social democratic party it is inconceivable that transforming Labour can be achieved outside of the campaign to win the next election. These tasks were equally applicable in the wake of the 2010 defeat, the major changes being that Corbyn has massively increased the possibility of achieving the second of these goals and Labour is much closer to fragmenting under the impact of the populist Right.

It may be this timeline is truncated by a snap election (a disaster) it may be the tempo of the class struggle changes demanding a change in approach but these are maybes and we need to work from where we are rather then speculate on what might be.

Rather than seeing these tasks as a `struggle for socialism’ they are concerned with class power as both an election victory and Labour becoming a stable left wing party are predicated on how far we are able to halt the competition between workers and develop the class as a whole both in its material well-being and organisational strength. This approach stands in contrast to the idea of a faction which sees the Party as a recruitment opportunity or as a vehicle for the politics of identity. In the latter case parties, movements or campaigns are an aggregation of identity based groups and individuals are understood by, and political activity is mediated through ascription.

The class-based approach can only be undertaken by a tendency which holds on tight to the Labour Party, and is concerned with putting down roots in the working class movement and through its activity bring into its orbit existing labour movement activists, radicals who have joined through Corbyn and most importantly the union rank and file. The Party membership provides fertile ground for such a tendency as a majority of long-term constituency members are on the left alongside the Corbynistas

The many thousands who have joined in support of Corbyn fall into two groups 58% (106,521) were never in a political party – of the 42% ‘retreads’ 31% (56,933) are re-joining the party, the other 11% coming from the Greens and the far left. While the dominant ideological trend among the `never beens’ is  heavily influenced by identity politics (something many of the retreads have also absorbed), their core views are rooted in various strands of neo-Stalinism: support of Stop the War, failure to understand the importance of bourgeois democracy and the view of Jackie Walker as a ‘victim’.

Some 20,000 of these Party members are now in Momentum and it is Momentum which should be the crucible in which this class tendency is formed. It would do so by combining three interlocking areas of activity:

  1. Winning over other Labour Party members and pursuing the internal struggle to democratise the party.
  2. Taking part in Labour’s policy debate not by putting forward a programme rather taking proposals for discussion and debate. The model here is the Fabians and the most pressing proposals need to focus on an economic alternative.
  3. Campaigning activity: the primary aim of such activity would be to decouple the white working class vote from the populist right, to develop class consciousness to a point where workers are ready to vote Labour. Such campaigning activity should be undertaken jointly with the unions and dictated by Labour and the unions rather than Momentum or non-Labour party campaigns or organisations.

It is these practical and common tasks that should bind Momentum together as a class tendency while its activity would transform the Party, reconfigure relations between Party and unions and ‘reset’ Labour’s relations to the working class.  

Momentum is very far from becoming that tendency. They show little interest in such prosaic matters, rather they are focused on the three way factional dispute between the organised left, the neo- Stalinists (animated around Walker’s removal) and the leadership. By all accounts this is a vituperative fight infused by identity politics and has effectively paralysed the organisation: it would be astonishing if it were to survive another six months in its present form.

Standing behind the immediate issues which generated this faction fight is the broader question of Momentum’s relationship to the Labour Party. Although a majority view themselves as Labour Party supporters, the organised left and the retreads have introduced the ‘New Party’ question: ie the formation  of a new party or social movement (I use the shorthand NP to cover both) to supersede Labour. It is this conflict between transforming Labour and the NP which underpins the faction fight.

The NP proposition came to prominence during the heyday of anti-austerity campaigning and should have died with the 2015 election results.  At first glance its representation inside Momentum seems absurd but many of the  Corbynistas are but a sub-set of anti-austerity movement transposed into the Labour Party, and for many of them NP ideas are deeply embedded in their political makeup. This ambivalence towards Labour is also reflected in Momentum’s structure with its adherence to social movements and the frankly bizarre notion that it should be open to non-party members.

There are two types of NP advocates – those who have a casual attitude to the LP, viewing it as a convenient staging post to some undefined alternative and those who argue Momentum should take programmatic positions on a range of issues. Whatever type of alternative they may wish to peruse the crux of the matter is they view Momentum as the embryo of the NP and so its focus is always something other than the Labour Party. NP ideas are wrong-headed for a number of reasons – most obviously the lack of a mass movement to which they can engage.

It was the depth of the recession that determined one of two types of working class response to the economic crisis. Where the crisis was severe in Europe, political and state institutions come under pressure from below. Witness Spain where some 8 million participated in the 15-M Movement or Ireland where around 17% of the population demonstrated – equivalent demonstrations in the UK would have mobilised 4 million on the streets. In these cases, as with Greece, mass movements fragmented existing left parties and a process begun of establishing new political formations which have yet to mature into political parties. A second permutation which was seen in the UK was one where the crisis was limited. In this instance while the anti-austerity movement drew many into political activity it never reached the scale where it constituted a mass, insurgent, or social movement. Without such a mass base there was no pressure from below to challenge Labour to the point where it would fragment. Instead political institutions have remained largely intact with right wing populism and left wing radicalism flowing into their respective parties which moved them away from the centre ground to the political poles. This is not to argue these political institutions are not undergoing a process of degeneration rather the tempo and character is very different from counties where the recession was deepest.

As important as the scale of the movement is its social composition: where mass movements emerged there was a definable working class element, but this was not the case in the UK. The social profile of the Corbynistas, (a proxy for the anti-austerity movement) shows them to be similar to the pre- Corbyn Labour Party membership except a tad more middle class, socially liberal, politically radical and older.

Whatever variant of the NP project some Momentum members might hold, without a mass movement attempts to will the NP into existence are futile. Such NP supporters are, `trapped’ within the confines of the Labour Party’s existing structures and routines, and it is this reality Momentum’s NP supporters refuse to acknowledge.

Non-acceptance of this reality is expressed through counterposing a NP belief to the actual struggle taking place within the Labour Party. In practice this ‘non acceptance’ can take a number of forms, for example refusing to support a Labour Party campaign because its demands are not radical enough or believing one should run a Momentum campaign separate from the Party because `your’ demands are more radical, or attempting to get Momentum to adopt ‘your’ programme. In this manner the NP advocates separate themselves off from the struggle in the Party: this represents another form of sect building, well described by Hal Draper. The practical consequences are to separate themselves off from Momentum members who disagree with their programme and stymie Momentum’s activity within the Party.

While sect building is as old as the left, what is an altogether new twist (at least outside of a Stalinist state) is how the left has substituted Corbyn for the mass anti-austerity movement and in so doing has raised him up as the personification of that movement. His deification obscures any understanding that it is the Labour Party which oxygenates both Him and the Corbynistas. Without the Labour Party you could not have Corbyn, and outside of the Party he would rapidly wither on the vine while the Corbynistas would find themselves thrown back onto another imagined mass movement, the People Assembly. However to grasp this point would mean facing the fact the Party is not the repository of a mass movement which Momentum can somehow lead to a life independent of the Party.

It may be Momentum can pull back from the brink, although I doubt it has either the collective will or for that matter the interest. While the consequence of a split will lead to rancor and recrimination among the combatants it will also provide an unpalatable lesson for NP proponents. A cold wind will blow around the would be masters of the universe as they find there is no mass movement for them to lead rather like Corbyn they draw sustenance from the Labour Party and that their relationship is first and foremost with the Party not the Corbynistas.

A split however will do so much more. One has to ask what lesson those outside the faction fight will draw when they see on the one hand the populists at the gates and on the other hand Momentum’s response – a faction fight. While the factional participants will rationalise ‘the struggle’ the lessons most will draw is the inability of the left to ‘make’ anything of value. However the real tragedy is that the potential for transforming Labour will at best be set back indefinitely, but all too likely lost altogether. Such an outcome will play no small part in letting the populist Right breach Labour’s walls.

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Charlie Kimber’s uneven consciousness

December 4, 2016 at 9:10 pm (Beyond parody, class collaboration, Europe, fantasy, left, plonker, populism, posted by JD, Racism, reactionay "anti-imperialism", stalinism, SWP)

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Left Leave

Above: rank idiocy, opportunism and self-delusion on the supposed “left”

By Liam Conway

The Brexit vote was “a bitter blow for the establishment, big business, the international financial institutions, the rich and the politicians” says Charlie Kimber, writing for International Socialism Journal.

This gives the impression, ″with minor exceptions″, that the ruling class was united in their support for remaining in the EU, which is clearly a fantasy. Cut through the pseudo sociology in Kimber’s analysis and you are left with two points. The leave vote was primarily a revolt against the establishment and was not dominated by racism or hostility to migrants. What evidence does Kimber give for either of these conclusions?

For the latter a little. For the former, none at all. Kimber quotes studies by professors and commentary by Labour politicians to justify the purely Kimber view that the leave vote was anti-establishment. Kimber writes that Professor Jennings of Southampton University found that “workers perceived politicians as arrogant, boorish, corrupt, creepy, devious, loathsome, lying, parasitical, pompous, shameful, sleazy, slippery, spineless, traitorous, weak and wet.” But how is this specifically related to the EU? Most of the sleeze that dominated the press was rooted in the British Parliament, not the European.

Kimber says that the Leave vote “was driven by such factors as the MPs’ expenses scandal, the decades-long sense that the political parties are now all the same, the widespread contempt for the ‘pillars of society’, the lies told to launch the Iraq war and the resentment that comes from sensing that a tiny group at the top of society are making millions while you’re suffering — and they are also laughing at you.”

But Kimber produces no evidence at all that the groups he cites as most likely to vote Leave — the poorest and least formally educated in society — did so because of class hostility to the elites in Britain. And even if the poorest of the poor were bitter and chaffing at the bit because of their mistreatment by the British establishment, why would they blame the EU? Dislocation Jennings’ study is nothing to do with the EU, it is about dislocation with British politics and politicians. Where is the sociological research that shows workers voted to leave because of ″lies told to launch the Iraq War″? This is just political wishful thinking to justify the line of the Socialist Workers′ Party (SWP).

Kimber re-states the three reasons for SWP support for leaving the EU. The EU is a ″capitalist club″. The EU is a racist fortress. The EU is part of the imperialist world order. What Kimber fails to do is explain how leaving the EU gets you out of the ″capitalist club″, undermines racism within Europe against EU nationals, or weakens the imperialist world order. Kimber accepts that racist incidents have risen since the referendum but there is no mention of EU nationals, such as Polish workers, seriously considering returning to their homelands because of increased racism after the referendum. Kimber tries to get around the clear rise in racism and anti-immigrant sentiment by banging on about the contradictory or uneven nature of working class consciousness, but he only succeeds in demonstrating the uneven nature of his own consciousness.

I suggest the SWP, and Kimber in particular, re-read the Communist Manifesto where they will find Karl waxing lyrical about the progressive, as well as the reactionary, nature of capitalism: “The bourgeoisie keeps more and more doing away with the scattered state of the population, of the means of production, and of property. It has agglomerated population, centralised the means of production, and has concentrated property in a few hands. The necessary consequence of this was political centralisation.

“Independent, or but loosely connected provinces, with separate interests, laws, governments, and systems of taxation, became lumped together into one nation, with one government, one code of laws, one national class-interest, one frontier, and one customs-tariff.”

What response did Marx recommend for this tendency in capitalism to break down ″independent or loosely connected provinces (nations)”? Was it a reversal of the process? Not at all.

“This union is helped on by the improved means of communication that are created by modern industry, and that place the workers of different localities in contact with one another. It was just this contact that was needed to centralise the numerous local struggles, all of the same character, into one national struggle between classes.”

Kimber replaces solidarity with the interests of the working class with pandering to the current consciousness (of some) on the EU.

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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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Unite supports free movement of people

November 21, 2016 at 9:05 pm (Anti-Racism, CPB, Europe, immigration, Jim D, stalinism, Unite the union, workers)

Image result for picture Unite logo

The following resolution was passed by the last Unite EC:

“On the back of the referendum vote to leave the European Union, the decisions taken by the British Government on the shape of Exit could have profound implications on this [union]’s members. Therefore we believe nationally and locally Unite should be campaigning on the following:
– To ensure at the very least all workers rights currently in EU law come into force in UK law.
– To ensure European works council structures are not affected and we continue and we continue to increase our co-operation and solidarity with our sister trade unionists in the EU.
– To defend the free movement of people as it currently exists including our right to work in the EU and European workers rights to do the same here. The best guard against employers using Brexit as an excuse to attack pay and Ts and Cs not putting up new borders but strong trade unions organising all workers regardless of where they are from.”

**

JD comments:

Given that Unite continues to fund the Morning Star, which advocates a withdrawal from the single market, perhaps the union should make its democratically decided view known a bit more clearly – especially to the CPB and  the Morning Star: and if the paper and the party continue with their reactionary stance, Unite should cease spending members’ money supporting them.

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Galloway and fellow Red-Brown scum welcome Trump victory

November 14, 2016 at 3:54 pm (apologists and collaborators, Beyond parody, class collaboration, conspiracy theories, fascism, Galloway, grovelling, misogyny, populism, posted by JD, Racism, reactionay "anti-imperialism", stalinism, Trump, wankers)


Above: Galloway and fellow Red-Brown dictator-lover Neil Clark on Putin’s TV channel

It had to happen: Red-Brown scum break cover to welcome the Trump victory; I presume that what these neanderthals mean by “an excessive focus on identity issues” is any concern about racism or misogyny.

Letter to the Morning Star (published Nov 12-13):

THE US Democratic Party has been defeated in the person of the most economically neoliberal and internationally neoconservative nominee imaginable. From the victory of Donald Trump, to the Durham teaching assistants’ dispute, the lessons need to be learned.

The workers are not the easily ignored and routinely betrayed base, with the liberal bourgeoisie as the swing voters to whom tribute must be paid.

The reality is the other way round. The EU referendum ought already to have placed that beyond doubt.

There is a need to move, as a matter of the utmost urgency, away from an excessive focus on identity issues, and towards the recognition that those existed only within the overarching and undergirding context of the struggle against economic inequality and in favour of international peace, including co-operation with Russia, not a new Cold War.

It is worth noting that working-class white areas that voted for Barak Obama did not vote for Hilary Clinton, that African-American turnout went down while the Republican share of that vote did not, and that Trump to 30 per cent of the Hispanic vote. Blacl Lives Matter meant remembering Libya, while Latino Lives Matter meant remembering Honduras.

The defeat of the Clintons by a purported opponent of neoliberal economic policy and of neoconservative foreign policy, although time will tell, has secured the position of Jeremy Corbyn, who is undoubtedly such an opponent.

It is also a challenge to Theresa May to make good her rhetoric about One Nation, about a country that works for everyone, and about being a voice for working people.
DAVID LINDSAY Lanchester council candidate, 2017
GEORGE GALLOWAY former MP for Glasgow Hillhead, Glasgow Kelvin, Bethnal Green & Bow and Bradford west
NEIL CLARK
RONAN DODDS
JAMES DRAPER
JOHN MOODY
MIETEK PADOWICZ
AREN PYM
ADAM YOUNG

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British CP and Morning Star go Third Period

November 10, 2016 at 9:32 pm (apologists and collaborators, CPB, Europe, fantasy, fascism, history, Jim D, left, misogyny, populism, Putin, Racism, reactionay "anti-imperialism", stalinism, Trump, United States, workers)

Image result for marine le pen Trump caricature

2017 Nightmare: Presidents Le Pen, Trump and Putin (Financial Times): big chance for the left?

In 1928 the Stalinised Communist International (Comintern) adopted the  “Third Period” line which led the German Communist Party to denounce the Social Democrats as “social fascists” and dismiss the threat of Hitler taking power: it said “fascism” was already in power, and another form of “fascism” could thus be no new threat; and anyway, “after Hitler, our turn next!”.

The reality of Nazi rule led the Comintern to drop the Third period approach in 1934 and seek alliances with bourgeois forces via the so-called “Popular Front.”

Historical analogies are never 100% accurate, but the similarities with the Third Period were apparent as the Communist Party of Britain and their follow ‘Left Exit’ fantasists tried to give the Tory/UKIP dominated Leave cause a left-wing figleaf during the referendum campaign. This has led to some extraordinary Daily Mail-style editorials in the Morning Star (the CPB’s de facto mouthpiece) culminating in a shameful attack on parliamentary democracy and the campaigners who brought the High Court case forcing the Tories to acknowledge parliamentary control over Brexit.

The CPB  and Morning Star have continued their lurch towards Third Periodism in their coverage of the US Presidential election. An article in August accused Clinton of “demonis[ing]” Trump and praised his “sensible comments about the anti-Russia, anti-Putin hysteria rampant among policy-makers of both parties.”

The suspicion that the Morning Star‘s formal neutrality between Clinton and Trump (in itself a respectable enough stance, taken for instance by most Trotskyists) wasn’t in reality quite so “neutral” as all that, has been confirmed by todays editorial, which (after a few words about Trump’s racism and misogyny) includes the following:

Some commentators highlight Trump’s different tone taken in his acceptance speech, with platitudes about being president for all Americans, as though willing Trump to come into line.

This desire regards political normalcy as the target for all politicians, although it lies in tatters today.

Trump’s election isn’t alone in pulverising this discredited thesis. Britain’s referendum decision to leave the EU has similar aspects.

Both campaigns were derided by Establishment politicians and liberal media outlets from the outset.

Those whose votes secured the election of a self-styled outsider as US president and said No to membership of an unaccountable, institutionally neoliberal, bureaucratic EU superstate were demeaned as racists, xenophobes and idiots by liberal elites unable to believe that their conventional wisdom had been spurned.

Polling organisations’ failure to foresee the result of either phenomenon illustrates an inability to identify or empathise with those who have had enough and want something better.

There will certainly have been racists, xenophobes and idiots involved in both campaigns just as there were backing Clinton and Remain.

Insulting voters for their temerity in disagreeing with a business-as-usual agenda in these terms breeds resentment and makes political revolt more likely.

When defamatory name-calling is conjoined with efforts to dress up the Establishment choice — whether Hillary Clinton or the EU — as the “progressive” alternative, self-delusion takes over and assumes Emperor’s New Clothes dimensions.

[…]

Millions of working-class US voters have seen closed factories, lost jobs and plummeting living standards as their material basis for voting Trump because of his pledge to overturn free trade deals championed by Clinton.

Will Trump honour this pledge or be able to carry it through Congress?

Time will tell, but the possibility exists that those who backed him on this issue will mobilise seriously to insist that there is no backtracking.

The genie of working-class revolt, albeit scarred with unattractive features, is out the bottle and may not be so easily restrained again.

Cross-party neoliberal consensus is crumbling in the US, in Britain and across Europe too, which demands a socialist intervention.

Or, to put it another way: “After Trump, our turn next!”

(NB: I should add that I don’t disagree with the need to understand why workers are attracted by ultra-right wing racist populism as exemplified by Brexit and Trump, and to then argue for a socialist alternative – but I do object to the stupid and dangerous delusion that these movements are somehow progressive and good for the left).

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When ‘Soviet’ tanks crushed the Hungarian uprising

November 4, 2016 at 10:02 am (history, Hungary, posted by JD, revolution, stalinism, tragedy)

Image result for pictures Russian tanks Hungary 1956
Russian tanks enter Budapest

At 03:00 on 4 November 1956, Russian tanks penetrated Budapest along the Pest side of the Danube in two thrusts: one up the Soroksári road from the south and the other down the Váci road from the north. Thus before a single shot was fired, the Soviets had effectively split the city in half, controlled all bridgeheads, and were shielded to the rear by the wide Danube river. Armoured units crossed into Buda and at 04:25 fired the first shots at the army barracks on Budaörsi Road. Soon after, Soviet artillery and tank fire was heard in all districts of Budapest. Operation Whirlwind combined air strikes, artillery, and the co-ordinated tank-infantry action of 17 divisions

Between 4 and 9 November, the Hungarian Army put up sporadic and disorganised resistance, with Marshal Zhukov reporting the disarming of twelve divisions, two armoured regiments, and the entire Hungarian Air Force. The Hungarian Army continued its most formidable resistance in various districts of Budapest and in and around the city of Pécs in the Mecsek Mountains, and in the industrial centre of Dunaújváros (then called Stalintown). Fighting in Budapest consisted of between ten and fifteen thousand resistance fighters, with the heaviest fighting occurring in the working-class stronghold of Csepel on the Danube River. Although some very senior officers were openly pro-Soviet, the rank and file soldiers were overwhelmingly loyal to the revolution and either fought against the invasion or deserted. The United Nations reported that there were no recorded incidents of Hungarian Army units fighting on the side of the Soviets.

At 05:20 on 4 November, Imre Nagy broadcast his final plea to the nation and the world, announcing that Soviet Forces were attacking Budapest and that the Government remained at its post. The radio station, Free Kossuth Rádió, stopped broadcasting at 08:07. An emergency Cabinet meeting was held in the Parliament but was attended by only three ministers. As Soviet troops arrived to occupy the building, a negotiated evacuation ensued, leaving Minister of State István Bibó as the last representative of the National Government remaining at his post. He wrote For Freedom and Truth, a stirring proclamation to the nation and the world.
(extracted and slightly adapted from Wikipedia).

CHRIS and BETTY BIRCH were British Communist Party members in Budapest during the uprising and the Russian invasion. Here they recall (for the Morning Star on 24 and 25 Oct 2016) the events; their eye-witness account is valuable for obvious reasons, but Shiraz Socialist wouldn’t agree with everything they say (eg that the uprising was “taken over by anti-communists”).


Sixty years ago a popular uprising in Hungary led to fighting on the streets, many deaths and huge political consequences.

It was started by communists, mainly writers and students, taken over by anti-communists and eventually ended, after 17 days, by Soviet tanks. We were there. Why did it happen? Have the lessons been learned?

We arrived in Budapest with our 19-month-old son in August 1955, and our daughter was born there in July 1956. We were part of a small international community but we had many Hungarian colleagues and friends.

On February 25 1956 Nikita Khrushchov delivered his secret speech at the 20th congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union in which he denounced the cult of the individual and Stalin’s crimes.

Some weeks later we were sent a copy of the Observer with the full text of the speech with a letter saying that the British party had no reason to think that the speech was inaccurate.

When we tried to discuss it with a Soviet friend, we were told that it was an internal Soviet party affair and none of our bloody business.

Like hell it wasn’t! That speech had enormous repercussions all over the world.

The British party held a national congress which criticised the Soviet party for keeping the speech secret instead of allowing a public discussion of how things had gone so horridly wrong.

In October we were in Poland and went to a political cabaret. One sketch involved a woman’s joy in hearing that her shoe shop had had a delivery of shoes of different sizes and styles. The punch line was: “Poor woman. She still believes in fairy tales!”

A week later Wladyslaw Gomulka was first secretary of the Polish party and initiated “the Polish thaw.” And things were moving in Hungary too.

At least half of the students were the sons and daughters of workers and peasants who would never have seen the inside of a university in pre-war Hungary.

While they were prepared to accept regimentation in thought and isolation from the West at the start of the cold war, they were no longer willing to accept it in 1956.

They were bitter about their inability to get Western and even Polish and Yugoslav books and magazines, and doubly bitter about restrictions on travel. The compulsory study of Marxism was a sore point.

These feelings provided fertile ground for students from middle-class families and reactionary professors.

All this was made worse by the fact that students were not allowed their own organisation; they had to belong to the all-embracing Democratic Federation of Hungarian Youth.

Many young people felt that they had no part to play in society, no say in what was going on, that politics had nothing for them — much the same as many young people feel in capitalist society.

The rigid bureaucracy in Hungary was unbelievable. Our son went to a creche. If any child was even a minute late, admission was refused, his mother had to take the child home and miss a day’s work.

All Hungarian children had to learn Russian at school, and the Soviet marking system was imposed on the schools.

This rigid bureaucracy infected the Hungarian Working People’s Party, which had grown from a few thousand in 1946 to more than 800,000 in 1956.

Many of those who joined the party were jumping on the bandwagon, covering up their past or seeking to secure jobs.

They were not communists by conviction or ideology. Some were enemies of the party. They only acted on directives from above and by giving orders to those below.

In the main, party officials opposed change. They were only too ready to persecute comrades who thought for themselves. The party had been reduced almost to political impotence.

It was widely believed that the Hungarian party was run by the Soviet party, and that all major decisions were made in Moscow.

Inside the party and also outside the idea was promoted that the Soviet Union could do no wrong.

This was propagated with such lying and hypocrisy that it produced the opposite result.

A member of the social democratic party in 1946-7 was recruited to the Working People’s Party as a result of party work in her factory.

At a party school in 1948 she was told that the Soviet Union received much help from Britain and the US in the war against fascism.

The next year the story was that the Soviet Union alone had defeated fascism. And the next time it was implied that Britain and the US were really on the side of the fascists.

[Continued]

In yesterday’s article, we explained that many of those who joined the Hungarian Working People’s Party in the years after the second world war did so because some jobs were dependent on party membership and being a communist came with privileges.

Top communists drove around in big cars with darkened windows and had access to special shops where they could buy goods from the West.

They even had their own party hospital which was clean and modern, while most of the others were old and dirty. And it operated a caste system.

Senior comrades: private room with telephone, radio and balcony (like the one where our daughter was born); lesser comrades: room shared with three others, no radio; other comrades: a room for eight.

Whatever the facts of the matter, and we do not know them, there was widespread belief that Hungary had become a Soviet colony.

Many workers felt that they were more exploited than they had been under capitalism.

As soon as they increased production, the norm was raised so that their wages stayed the same. They felt that the products of their labour were going to the Soviet Union, and this led to a brake on all attempts to win big increases in production.

Two of the demands put forward at the start of the uprising were “Hungarian uranium deposits to be used in Hungary’s interests” and “Publish all foreign trade agreements.”

Many workers were on very low wages of 800 forints a month. These low wages may well have been because of the need for capital development but this was never adequately explained. And sacrifice has to have a limit, and this limit comes all the more quickly if the workers feel that others are living at their expense.

Party functionaries, and there seemed to be thousands of them, earned 2,000 forints a month or more.

The churches were open to all but faced restrictions and were frowned on by the regime. Most Christians retreated into the closet. One friend of ours came out as a Catholic during the uprising.

Criticism of the regime was punished. Workers were under threat of losing their jobs if they failed to turn out for May Day parades.

Our Scottish friend Charlie Coutts visited Szeged with a young student as interpreter. She told him about the lack of freedom in her studies, and Charlie mentioned this to an official of the youth organisation. Charlie later learned that she had been arrested and was in prison.

The Khrushchov speech was never published in Hungary. Daily Worker reports on the rehabilitation of Laszlo Rajk, the leading Hungarian communist and minister of the interior who was executed after one of Matyas Rakosi’s show trials, were suppressed.

One could buy capitalist newspapers in Poland but not in Hungary. Naturally these things affected intellectuals much more than the working class, but the latter also felt that they had no power to decide anything.

By and large the trade unions fulfilled their role with regard to health, holidays etc, but the workers were not involved in factory management.

They felt they were there to carry out the party’s plans and directives without any say in those plans.

This is why the demand for workers’ councils was so strongly voiced during the uprising.

The press was a travesty of what one would have expected the press in a so-called people’s democracy to be.

If you had read the party paper Szabad Nep, you had read all the other newspapers as far as any important matter was concerned.

And it went further than that. A Hungarian journalist wrote an article on the need to abolish the death penalty, quoting the point of view of the British party.

No paper or magazine dared to publish it because the Hungarian party had not pronounced on the issue. This kind of thing even extended to articles on sport.

After the 1947 elections there were 150 members of the eight opposition parties in parliament, who had together polled 1,995,419 votes.

By the time of the 1949 elections none of these parties still existed. There had ben no edict banning them. They had simply disappeared. Political differences were often settled by the use of the security police. In fact the lack of democracy in the state, in the factories, in the party, in all aspects of society lay at the heart of the Hungarian problem.

A week after the end of the fighting, Janos Kadar, the Hungarian party’s new general secretary, told a meeting of party activists in Budapest: “The whole idea of socialism is now compromised in Hungary. The masses of workers now say: ‘We are not interested in socialism or capitalism. We just want to live better’.”

Socialism without democracy, without the full involvement of the people, is like an egg without a yolk. It has a fragile shell that is easily broken.

JD recommends some reading and resources:

Other recommended reading:

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Socialist Unity’s Kronstadt Moment

October 31, 2016 at 6:24 pm (reformism, Rosie B, sectarianism, solidarity, stalinism)

Via Howies Corner we have been informed of the split in Socialist Unity. John Wight has been ousted and the forces of the trade union left have taken over in the person of Comrade Andy Newman.

To follow the lead up to these events check out the comments section at the site. Nationalism vs socialist trade unionism was the root cause.

Note one disgraceful comment:-

John Wight has had his ‘jumping the shark’ moment and has increasingly descended into delusions of grandeur and with it all the hallmarks of a sociopath. Heaping abuse and smearing those who dare disagree with his increasingly bizarre statements as cowards or racists is beyond the pale.
He does have a home at Shiraz Socialist and they are welcome to him.

We totally deny this calumny. We at Shiraz join in the denunciations of John Wight. The personnel at Shiraz Socialist have been on Wight’s banning list for years. Indeed I can date my Kronstadt moment with Wight. It was 30th March 2012, the day after George Galloway won the Blackburn/West Bradford by-election. While Wight was exulting and gloating I said Gallows had run a terrible sectarian campaign, calling his opponent “a bad Muslim”.

That got me deleted, then exiled to Siberia.

gulag

Others writers and commenters at this blog would have had similar experiences. Please share if you do .

And your spell in the Gulag of being made an unperson by Wight is now at an end. Comrade Newman has lifted the banning order.

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Hungary 1956: revolution and Stalinist counter-revolution

October 22, 2016 at 4:56 pm (democracy, history, posted by JD, revolution, stalinism, tragedy, trotskyism)

Image result for pictures Hungary 1956

On October 23, a large group of unarmed students gathered outside the Budapest radio station and demanded that their 17-point programme of democratic demands be broadcast. After the police opened fire the government dominated by Erno Gero, a Kremlin stooge, called on the Soviet leadership to send in troops.

On October 24, Russian tanks and artillery fired on demonstrators in Budapest killing and wounding hundreds of men, women and children. It was this which sparked the armed resistance.

This response was published in November 1956 by the the British “orthodox” Trotskyists. The fact that in all likelihood it was written by the proven political gangster, thug and rapist Gerry Healy does not detract from its value, or from the essential truths it contains (in the face of persisting Stalinist lies about the uprising being “fascist”). The “orthodox” Trotskyist view of the world is reflected in the article’s repeated and excessive insistence upon denouncing “world imperialism and its agents” and warning against “capitalist elements” supposedly “in the ranks” of the Hungarian revolutionaries – indeed, even urging Hungarian Communist Party members (the majority of whom supported the revolution) to “stay in the Communist Party and fight it out.”


STALIN IS DEAD BUT STALINISM LIVES

That is the message spelt out in letters of blood by the Hungarian people.

The labour movement of the world is rightly shocked at the brutality and ruthlessness of the Soviet armed forces. But this fact must not permit us to be taken off guard for one moment by world imperialism and its agents. Stalinist rule has always been associated with persecution and murder, both inside and outside the Soviet Union. Eden and Eisenhower have never protested when revolutionary opponents of the regime have been smashed. They helped to whitewash and justify the Moscow trials through the book and film Mission to Moscow written by American ex-ambassador Joseph E. Davies. Both the British and American governments refused asylum to the great revolutionary Leon Trotsky when he was being hounded from one country to another by Stalin’s GPU.

If these gentlemen shed tears for Hungary today it is not for the workers and peasants who have borne the brunt of the fight against Stalinism but for their fascist and landlord friends.

What happened in Hungary, as we shall see, was a revolution for national independence and democratic rights. Connected with this was a series of demands passed by the trade unions.

1. Workers’ councils in every factory to establish workers’ management and radically transform the system of state central planning and directing.

2. Wages to be raised immediately by 10 to 15 per cent and a ceiling (about £106 a month) fixed for the highest salaries.

3. To abolish production norms except in factories where the workers or workers’ councils wish to keep them.

4. The 4 per cent bachelor and childless family tax to be abolished; the lowest retirement pensions to be increased; child allowances to be raised with special reference to the needs of large families.

5. Speed up house-building with the state, co-operatives and other organisations launching a powerful social movement to mass produce houses.

6. Negotiate with the governments of the Soviet Union and other countries in order to establish economic relations that will ensure mutual advantages by adhering to the principle of equality.

(Daily Worker, October 27).

The backbone of this movement was the demand for the withdrawal of all Soviet troops from Hungary.

The imperialists were against this type of revolution. On the same day, October 27, the New York Times -mouthpiece of American big business-declared: ‘The view prevailing among United States officials, it appeared, was that “evolution” towards freedom in Eastern Europe would be better for all concerned than “revolution”, though nobody was saying this publicly.’ The New York Times again returned to this theme the next day, October 28, when it declared that the problem of western imperialism is  ‘how to encourage the nationalist and libertarian spirit in the satellites without flaming it into a large scale revolt.’ As if not to be outdone by the New York Times the London Daily Worker, echoing Moscow, declared on October 25: ‘Only false friends resort to the gun. . . .’ Five days previously (October 22), John Foster Dulles speaking in Washington defended the legality of the presence of Soviet troops in Poland under the Warsaw agreement.

‘From the standpoint of international law and violation of treaties,’ he said, ‘I do not think you can claim that it would be a violation of a treaty.’ Mr. Dulles was fully aware at the time he made that statement that a revolution was under way in Hungary and Hungary was also a party to the Warsaw agreement.

Hot on the heels of Mr. Dulles came R. Palme Dutt of the British Communist Party.

‘The Soviet armed forces,’ he wrote, ‘were legally in Hungary by agreement under the Warsaw Pact.’ (Daily Worker,’November 10.) In a cable from Washington by its correspondent Philip Deane, the London Observer, November 11, 1956, reports that: ‘High Administration sources say that the United States has tried to let the Russians know, without being provocative, that Berlin and Austria will be defended by American forces. Hungary, meanwhile, has been officially and finally abandoned to its fate.’ And Basil Davidson, one of the last journalists to leave Hungary, reports that of the American financed propaganda station Free Europe Radio one revolutionary said: ‘I wish I could shut its ugly mouth. It lied to us just as the Russians lied to us.’ Neither the Soviet bureaucrats nor the imperialists and their representatives Palme Dutt and Foster Dulles care two hoots about the working people of Hungary. They were both, for different reasons, opposed to the revolution, and in each case supported their own particular agents and not the movement of the Hungarian people as a whole.

HOW THE REVOLUTION BEGAN

On October 23, a large group of unarmed students gathered outside the Budapest radio station and demanded that their 17-point programme of democratic demands be broadcast. After the police opened fire the government dominated by Erno Gero, a notorious Kremlin hack, promptly called for Soviet troops.

On Wednesday, October 24, Russian tanks and artillery fired on demonstrators in Budapest killing and wounding hundreds of men, women and children. It was these actions which sparked off the revolutionary armed resistance. During the next day, October 25, armed rebellion broke out. Workers on Csepel island in the Danube took up weapons against the security forces. Radio Budapest announced this as a rebellion of the working people: Absolutely no mention was made at that time that this was the work of armed gangs and the counter revolution. Read the rest of this entry »

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Chris Birch: eyewitness account of Hungary 1956

October 18, 2016 at 1:37 pm (CPB, history, liberation, posted by JD, protest, stalinism, students, tragedy, truth, USSR, workers, youth)

Image result for pictures Hungary 1956

As the 60th anniversary of the heroic anti-Stalinist uprising in Hungary approaches, Chris Birch – one of the few surviving eye-witnesses – replies to a request for further information in a letter to the Morning Star:

Chris Gould asks (M Star October 11) for an analysis of the 1956 Hungarian uprising and its effects. I was working in Budapest before, during and after the fighting and met Matyas Rakoski, the general secretary of the Hungarian Working People’s Party and the man largely responsible for the crimes and policy mistakes that led to the uprising in October 1956.

It started with a student demonstration at the Petofi memorial, demanding to be allowed to travel to Western countries. It had been banned, then the ban was lifted and I went to look.

During the afternoon the demonstration grew to immense proportions, and the party’s first secretary went on the radio to denounce the demonstrators, many of whom were communists, as “counter-revolutionaries.”

He said that the policies of the party and the government were correct and would not be changed. I was in Parliament Square listening to the broadcast, and the good humour of the crowd visibly turned to anger. A fortnight later I found myself trying to bandage Soviet soldiers.

Soon after my comrade Charlie Coutts and I returned to London, we had a meeting with Communist Party of Great Britian (CPGB) general secretary Johnny Gollan, and presented him with a 19-page document simply headed “HUNGARY: Charlie Coutts and Chris Birch.”

It covered our views on party democracy in Hungary, Hungarian and Soviet party relations, democracy and corruption. Gollan passed it on to the Soviet ambassador in London and he sent it on to the central committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union and to the Soviet foreign office in Moscow. It was eventually published in a Soviet journal.

John Callaghan in his “Cold War, Crisis and Conflict: The CPGB 1951-68” gives a brief account of what was happening in Hungary in 1956 and a fuller account of their effects on the British party. I hope the above may help Mr Gould.

CHRIS BIRCH London SW6

JD recommends some reading and resources:

1956: the Hungarian revolution – A short and clearly written history of the Hungarian workers’ revolution against the Communist dictatorship.

Other recommended reading

Other media

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