Tuesday 30 January 2007

Left Portal

I'm posting this tonight from Southpaw of Southpaw Punch fame. His blog is acting as the hub for the debate, discussion and organisation, so all interested parties should head in that direction. Needless to say, I endorse this project and urge every left blogger and reader to get involved.

Many blogging leftists need to think about they are trying to do with their blogs. I intend doing a critique, soonish, of mine - and others - but I also think that the left needs to develop an infrastructure that is beyond individual blogs.

I think the revolutionary left (and more) needs a portal.

(The ‘more’ is anyone looking to overthrow capitalism and replace it with something better - all forms of revolutionary socialists, anarchists, anarcho-syndicalists, etc.)

Some of the things I would love to have two clicks away include -

- a list of all strikes happening by postcode, location;

- listings of all left meetings happening this week or month in London or Lossiemouth.

- where I can read an USDAW branch publicity officer getting advice on better branch newsletters from an Amicus steward.

- a place where a dental nurse could ask, ‘How do I organise a trade union?’ and get an appropriate reply from an active nurse trade unionist.’

- a site where a school student could ask, ‘What is anarchism?’ and get good (and varied) answers.

Who would provide?

It’d be best if we had a communist party to do all this. It’d be more coherent.

The British National Party, as a party, are a lot more on the ball. For example, they will do a daily news release tearing apart some new government policy and are sussed enough to have the premium rate phone numbers, party shop etc to support all this (but don’t do all the other things I have listed).

Failing a party (some hope) it would be great if the SWP, SP, indies and more supported a portal site, maybe calling it something like www.socialist-tradeunion.org.uk But they’re too sectarian to do that, probably.

Failing that it’d be great if there were a red personality who could use their weight to run a portal, in the way that Richard Littlejohn could (and Rush Limbaugh does?).

My personal view is that I think a lot of credibility would be lost by having Labour supporters taking part in any such initiative. Many hate Blair - and Labour - for the right reasons. Likewise Greens and other forms of ‘alternative’ capitalist politicians would, I think, be beyond the pale. But I also think I would be in a minority about this.

What could it look like?

I’d imagine this sort of portal looking a little like the site that consumer journalist Martin Lewis does rather well on personal finance - full of facts, advice, news, bulletin boards.

www.libcom.org is good. It’s an organising (and more tool) produced by libertarian communists (a bit like anarcho-syndicalists).

It could be better. It needs to be more hierarchical (how apt) so that you could, for example, easily find details of meetings.

(On a sad point - libcom.com includes postings by many anarchists complaining about ‘Lennies’ [Leninists] and discussing how best to physically attack us. Who’s the enemy?)

www.urban75.com does the job a little but there’s a lot of lifestyle/cultural stuff on there (which is fine) but not so much agitational/organisational/propaganda content.


Any such left portal shouldn’t just be agitational/informative.

It’d be great to have the current blogs written by revolutionaries in such a portal - or at least linked and promoted through there e.g. Lenin (Lenins Tomb) writing his foreign news stuff; Socialist Unity with their art stuff and more; reports on public meetings, etc.

A left portal would also need a lot more - reporting, policy, debate, etc. - but could also do other innovative things to attract new people (and make money?) e.g. left lonely hearts?

There could be chat rooms.

If you book a coach for a demo, you could use online booking to fill the seats.

Photos - if you attend a demo you could upload photos so that they could be used by other activists (although maybe not, Special Branch would be monitoring).

A bigger portal

A portal could possibly even be an educational or even a cultural and social tool.

Any such further services would have some resonance to the Sozialdemokratische Partei Deutschlands (SPD) of a hundred years ago with their social and educational facilities or the CPGB influenced cycling clubs in the 30s (out from Manchester, into the Peak District).

There’d be dangers in providing services, especially on a commercial basis, for any lefts. All sorts of ‘short term’ exceptions can get made to keep up a revenue stream.

That route can just lead to becoming like the Co-op. There’s a danger in building parallel worlds and opting out.

Furthermore our primary task isn’t to provide to the needs of comrades but to rise up and destroy capitalism.

But all that’s running before even crawling. It could all be too big a task.

I know revolutionary socialists have established a presence at www.myspace.com.

We could exploit the usual capitalist channels but never in the way that we could if we ran the show.

But if libcom.com can do it, we could do it even better. And how useful it would be.

Monday 29 January 2007

Zombie Interlude

There was a bit of an undead fest on Channel 4 this weekend. We were treated to Star Trek: First Contact at Saturday tea-time. In case you're not a sad Trekkie this is the one where the cybernetic zombies known as the Borg go back in time in an attempt to assimilate the Earth. Luckily Picard and co follow them and soon put a stop to their evil machinations.

A lot of laughs were had later on in the evening with vampire flick Blade II , which was the funniest film I've seen in a long time. The action was over the top, the machismo utterly silly, and seeing Wesley Snipes getting kicked around by Luke Goss(!) is something I'll cherish for a long time. (Can anyone take Snipes seriously as an action hero after To Wong Foo?)

C4 served up Dawn of the Dead on Sunday night. Now, I freely admit I'm something of a wuss when it comes to zombie films. When I saw Day of the Dead at about the age of nine it terrified me. It was 11 years before I could bring myself to watch the original Dawn. It must have been the relentless shambling terror of a near indestructible enemy that struck fear deep into my delicate disposition. When I learned the remake (the version screened last night) featured zombies capable of running after you I thought there would be no way in hell I'd ever bring myself to watch it. Well, I did, and my what a bleak and miserable film it was. Whereas the original was loaded with satire and black comedy this was more of a conventional splatter horror with little in the way of social commentary and critique about it. Leaping acrobatic zombies might shit me up but I do like my make-believe to be a little bit plausible

Coincidentally I finished a novel on this very topic on Saturday. Having cooked up the spoof Zombie Survival Guide in 2004, Max Brooks came back last year with the super serious World War Z, a horror/sci-fi meditation on a post-zombie holocaust near future. Taking the standpoint of a globe-trotting journalist, the book mockuments a series of survivor stories - civilians, solidiers and politicians (bizarrely, Brooks claims Studs Terkel as an inspiration!). Unlike Romero's doom-laden tetralogy the living dead threaten but in the end fail to overwhelm humanity. After billions succumb and become the undead hordes, the US (of course) leads the way in developing strategies for dealing with 'zack', and slowly, brutally, the ghoulish menace is relentlessly whittled down to 'nuisance' levels.

In WWZ Brooks has thought about zombies from every possible angle. Not just in terms of how to fight them but has also had a stab at possible psychological and ecological impacts. Unlike Dawn zombies here are interested in all fresh meat, whether two-legged or four. The meditations on psychology are also quite intriguing for what is ultimately a pulpy novel. For instance alongside "normal" mental health issues related to the strains of war, he introduces 'quislings'; humans who've undergone a complete mental collapse and behave as if they were zombies themselves. Normal humans have trouble telling them apart but trust me, zack knows an easy lunch when it sees one.

There are a number of shortcomings. The characterisation is very ropey - it reads as if the same charcter is narrating different episodes of the war. When SFX reviewed it they gave it one star out of five for being tedious. As a long chain of very short slightly-samey vignettes it would be a chore to plough through in long sittings (I read it in snippets over a period of a couple of months). And last but not least the ridiculously common meme of redemption through recourse to the military permeates throughout. Though to be fair I doubt an appeal to class conscious zombies to turn their jaws on the real enemy would have much success.

Sunday 28 January 2007

Some Distractions from the Class Struggle

Sunday is the day when the AVPS tune of the week is changed. Normally it isn't much of a problem. Being exceedingly choosy only a couple of songs usually make the cut, but this week and the last I've been right royally torn on what to feature. This is because there's three really great efforts out there. First up is last week's tune, Golden Skans by Klaxons. This track tells you why they're one of, if not the leading New Rave trailblazers. It is to my eternal regret I was too young when rave exploded all them years ago. Instead I had to make do combing Derby indie record shops for old discs and tapes years after clubby stuff had become the corporate dance hegemon. So when I first saw the Klaxons vid for Atlantis to Interzone, it immediately took me back. The baggy shirts, the smileys, the erratic hand movements, the DIY sound; clearly Klaxons have studied their history and are happy to be doomed to repeat it. Golden Skans is simply sumptuous. It clearly marks the point when their record company have realised they've got a money spinner on their hands. The track is slickly delivered thanks to fancy studio jiggery-pokery and the video just oozes production values. The lyrics are of course pure nonsense ... almost the kind of gibberish you'd expect if writing under the influence of certain substances. But it doesn't matter, this is high energy indie disco at its best, and if it gets "the kids" checking out old skool rave, so much the better. The next track refuses to leave me alone. It's one of those that enters your consciousness and plays itself over and over when you're trying to make sense of Marx's reproduction schemas. Step forward Giddy Stratospheres courtesy of The Long Blondes. I am slightly biased toward this Sheffield outfit because they like Pulp, cite Stock, Aitken and Waterman(!) among their influences, and drip the kind of urban glamour to which this metro wannabe can only but aspire. Vocalist Kate Jackson's quite nice too, but that has nothing to do with it. Honest. GS is a perfect slice of indie pop, the sleaze-lite lyrics whip themselves around vigorous guitar work and threaten to blast us into low-earth orbit. Giddy stratospheres indeed. This was dead cert for track of the week ... until The Gossip crudely reminded me of what a monster Standing in the Way of Control is. One thing I loved about (gay) 80s electro pop was the uncompromising fuck you attitude. If you didn't like what they were and who they were having sex with, then tough shit. Openly gay stars today don't make an issue of their sexuality. They might be out the closet, but their private lives stay firmly within it. You could call this progress, but angry and politicised "gay music" is sadly amiss. If it's going to make a comeback, The Gossip will take some of the credit. Standing in the Way of Control is a pop punch against Bush's attack on the rights of LGBT people to adopt, and it's a bloody good track too. Beth Ditto's vocals and the underpolished drums and bass battle for the listener's attention, resulting in a cacophonous bulldozer of a record that refuses to take prisoners. It might be an older track than the other two but given the LGBT adoption controversy here this week, it is more timely for a UK audience now than when it was first released in October. For these reasons this is my tune of the week. While my attention from the class struggle is diverted, I might as well take this opportunity to let you know the latest Carnival of Socialism came out yesterday. Just stroll on over to Stroppyblog to see what the eponymous Stropps has put together. I've also added a few more blogs to the list. Badmatthew's blog offers us a regular commentary on the left press and assorted journals. SouthPaw Punch is one of those blogs that is a pillar of the UK left blogging community. He only links to a select few, and AVPS isn't one of them, not that it matters. I've got a lot of love to give and I don't need it reciprocating. Last but by no means least The Revolution Decides is the newest kid on the left blog block. I hope everyone will give Big_D a great welcome, not least cos he's another Stokie fighting the power!

Saturday 27 January 2007

Smoke and Mirrors

According to this morning's Guardian the US government is considering whether building giant space mirrors and pumping dust(!) into the atmosphere could be a viable means to combat global warming. The idea is these could reflect away around 1% of the sun’s rays, counteracting the heating effects of greenhouse gases.

This reminds me of the urban myth about the US and Soviet space programmes. Because conventional pens couldn't work in weightless environments, the US spent millions developing one that did. The Russians on the other hand just used a pencil.

And so it is with this latest technological fix. The administration stands prepared to spend billions undertaking complex engineering projects in near-Earth space but refuses to countenance the technically simpler measure of reducing emissions. We can't have business paying to clean up their mess can we? And yet tax dollars by the billions can be found to fund hare-brained schemes, such as these.

Am I being overly cynical to suggest the patent bonanza and potential spin-offs offer greater profitable opportunities than a concerted effort at waste reduction? There are more smoke and mirrors to this story than just the technology.

Friday 26 January 2007

Keeping it (Un)Real

What constitutes the British left these days? If asked current or ex-lefties are likely to point to the barely-functioning Labour left, the smattering of independent socialist activists, the Socialist Workers' Party, the Socialist Party, and the dozens of smaller groups.

In my opinion, these smaller groups make the British left a wonderful place to be. There's no experience like a good haranguing on the position your organisation took on the 1991 coup in the Soviet Union while you're marching in defence of the NHS. Whatever your proclivities may be there will be a group to suit - anarchist, Trot or Stalinist.

Yep, that's right, Stalinist. There are still hardcore Uncle Joe fans out there, and the Communist Party of Great Britain (Marxist-Leninist) are the most beautiful example of Stalin-love you're ever likely to come across.

The CPGB-ML website is priceless. Their latest statement, 'Saddam Hussein - Martyr of the Iraqi Resistance' is superb. There's a few points in there you wouldn't find out of place in any left wing publication; about the dubious nature of Hussein's trial, that life under his regime was better than it is at present, and that it should have been Blair and Bush in the dock. But strangely not a word on the despicable crimes of his regime. If the CPGB-ML was your sole news source you'd be forgiven for thinking all was sweetness and light in pre-invasion Iraq.

I'm not even going to mention their October release. It has to be seen to be believed.

Glancing at 'Why the CPGB-ML?', it turns out the organisation gestated in the belly of Arthur Scargill's Socialist Labour Party, an initiative whose promise was cruelly sacrificed at the altar of Scargill's personal vanity. The petty dictatorship Scargill built around his person has been extensively documented elsewhere, but given the politics of their organisation I'm not surprised founder CPGB-ML'ers stayed in the SLP long after Scargill had eradicated any semblance of democracy.

The statement goes on to highlight the absurd lengths Scargill was prepared to go to see off our tankie chums, some of which really beggars belief. But our comrades were left with a dilemma, what do hardcore Stalinists do when they haven't got a political home? Naturally first job was to "dismiss out of hand the counter-revolutionary Trots". No, there's absolutely nothing to learn from revolutionary working class organisations of greater members and influence. Like true sectarians their fealty to Stalin came first and so the Stalin-lite Communist Party of Britain and the Blair-loyal Stalinoids of the New Communist Party were looked at ... and dismissed for their "cretinous support for the imperialist Labour Party". Nice one. Even Galloway and Respect were considered for a moment and rejected because the gorgeous one apparently supported the break up of Yugoslavia. You would have thought Galloway's links to the previous Iraqi regime would have endeared him to them, but apparently not. I bet George felt hurt to learn these comrades had decided not to support Respect.

This is what justifies the CPGB-ML's existence, and not carry around huge portraits of Stalin on marches as I'd previously thought. But despite their distasteful views and downright lunacy the left would be a far gloomier place without them. I do hope the lack of recent activity on their website doesn't mean they've slipped quietly into the night.

Long live the CPGB-ML!

Thursday 25 January 2007

Branch Meeting: Annual General Meeting

Tonight was Stoke Socialist Party's AGM and it was down to yours truly to deliver a short lead off on branch strategy.

I kicked off with an overview of our fair city, noting along the way the disappearance of the pots and mines, the decline of manufacturing and Stoke's transition to a low wage service economy. This industry is not secure either, with the ever-present threat of outsourcing hanging over call centres, for instance. Looking at other West European states the trend toward post-industrial economies was manifest prior to the rise of neo-liberalism, but this process was accelerated in Britain by Thatcher's successful attacks on the labour movement. As a result that key section of the class prepared to fight for its interests in the past has declined and the balance of forces have temporarily shifted in the ruling class's favour. What this has meant in Stoke is wide layers of the class have lost confidence in their ability to make their destiny. On stalls for example, Stoke comrades often have people coming up, signing a petition, buying a paper and then wishing *us* good luck with the campaign. There is no appreciation that fights against hospital cuts, for instance, is their fight too.

But not all is gloomy in Stoke. Where there is capitalism there is struggle, and where there is struggle, groups of people will be prepared to fight. Stoke is a unique place in many ways, but it hasn’t defied this law of the class struggle. Like everywhere else spontaneously struggles can seemingly appear from nowhere, as Tuesday's walkout of 40 pupils from Berryhill School testify. In terms of industrial struggles postal workers came close to strike action last week in a dispute over working practices. This looks set to simmer as one of the union stewards has been suspended by Royal Mail and their branch have decided to stand up to this pathetic attempt at intimidation. At the end of this month civil servants will be taking to the picket lines again, and over the last 12 months we’ve seen council workers and health workers taking action. Even relatively privileged sections of the class have been compelled to take action, such as recent disputes at the colleges and universities.

We then concentrated more specifically on our party activity and what lessons we can draw from our 'routine work' of stalls, paper sales, and so on, our experiences in the local NHS campaign and the electoral intervention in Abbey Green. I then addressed how we can improve our work with trade unions, among young people and a number of other technical matters.

NB. This is a heavily condensed version of a document running to about 2,500 words, a comprehensive account of Stoke SP's 2006 will have to wait for a rainy day.

Then came the discussion. F opened on the necessity to keep our NHS work going because of the frustrations patients and staff are suffering as services are continually cut to the bone. Though resistance to the cuts is not as forthcoming at the hospital itself (primarily because of the role played by the unions) it is an issue that could spark anger and activity in the near future.

After explaining to L what the comrades involved in trade union work have in mind, N suggested we need to find ways of getting highly exploited and non-organised agency workers involved in the labour movement. M emphasised the need to be careful when carrying out such work because of the threat of victimisation. On trade unionism in general A noted that the lack of union organisation can present dangers along with opportunities. The lack of a workplace presence can mean a lack of decent representation and exacerbating the isolation of the trade union tops from the class. But on the other hand sporadic future struggles could explode and the unions not be in a position to derail them.

M spoke a little while about our interventions at the local universities and the plans we have building for the NUS day of action against top-up fees in February. I asked him about the friendly relationship we have with a group of independent student activists and it does look like there will be plenty of room for us to work together on many issues.

With the end of the discussion we moved to vote for a number of comrades responsible for certain areas of work. All nominations passed unopposed. With the branch reorganisation and with knowledge of what we want to achieve this year, Stoke SP is now in a position to make the best of whatever 2007 throws at it.

Tuesday 23 January 2007

A Day of Two Halves

My random thoughts is a blog run by fellow Socialist Party comrade, Scott. These three words are also the topic of today’s post.

My morning didn’t get off to the best start.

1) I was up late.
2) There was a puddle of cat diarrhoea in the litter tray.

Just what you need when you’re contemplating the first meal of the day. Nice.

Well I managed to get myself to university around 9.15, sat myself down with the mandatory cup of green tea and got stuck in.

Except I didn’t.

From a strict PhD perspective it was a singularly unproductive day. I emailed some people from the CANE conference, cancelled a coffee appointment for tomorrow (have to stay in for a delivery of pet food) and confirmed another for the afternoon. But that was it. I checked some happenings in blogland, caught up on the UKLN, and acquainted myself with Patience (or “Solitaire” as the US cultural imperialists at Microsoft insist on calling it). Take it from me, Google Earth isn’t a great remedy for procrastination either.

Things brightened up in the afternoon. At 2 I met up with S, another SP’er Keele resident. We chewed the fat about British Perspectives, the CNWP and what we as a collective can do to help rebuild the labour movement in North Staffs. I think what we came up with has promise but I’ll refrain blogging about it until more flesh has been put on the bare bones of coffee shop talk.

I then called it a day. As you may have already seen my travelling companion at the moment is The Custom of the Country by Edith Wharton. I am really enjoying this book. It follows the adventures in New York 'society' of one Undine Spragg, spoiled heiress to a nouveau riche fortune. This background is the source of much anxiety as Undine covets bourgeois respectability, and is cynically and ruthlessly prepared to do what's required to get it. I do love reading about how our masters live(d) and especially the lengths they go to to acquire and display their cultural capital.

That's quite enough Bourdieu for this post.

One guy on the bus home tickled me. This bloke was quite happily chatting to himself, that is until a young lad got on the bus. Abruptly the conversation ceased. The hand disappeared into the jacket ... and out came a mobile and charger. From civilian to Del Boy Trotter in one fell swoop, Superman would be envious at the speed of the transformation. Well, just before my stop the price had dropped substantially beneath the Argos going rate. I'm wonder if the kid took him up on it?

Just enough time for a quick tea before heading up to A&M's to talk over the business of the branch. As I've blogged elsewhere we're having our AGM this week and muggins here has volunteered to put together a lead off on strategy, so we had a bit of a talk about that, the state of play in Stoke and what S and I chatted about earlier in the day.

So there you have it. A day where my PhD sat in a corner of my mind, admonishing me for my lethargy, but still a few party matters got dealt with. All a bit dreary really.

Meanwhile, elsewhere in Stoke this happened.

Monday 22 January 2007

Bowing to the Inevitable

AVPS has been a Celebrity Big Brother free zone. Until now.

Lately I can't move about blogland for the sheer weight of comment on the "racist bullying" controversy. It's everywhere. It's leached into virtually every left blog. People are falling over themselves to offer analysis and opinion.

I'm no exception. Too many times I've found myself pondering Jade's relationship with Shilpa in other people's comment boxes. I hope by presenting some thoughts my compulsion will now abide.

Channel 4's board met earlier this afternoon to decide how to handle the CBB furore. Predictably they decided not to do much. C4 has released a statement apologising for "any offence caused" and announced a review of the programme. That's alright then, problem solved.

Well C4 were always bound to wriggle off the hook. After all it wasn't them who were guilty of the banal racism of Jade. They're only the ones who decided to broadcast the incidents, no doubt with an eye to generating publicity and ratings for what was shaping up to be a lacklustre installment of the franchise. And what of CBB's production company, Endemol? It has emerged unscathed. Just take a look at their website, there's nothing about the storm it's cynically whipped up. The concentrated press venom spat at Jade has seen both these faceless institutions get away virtually scot-free.

This should come as no surprise. The likes of The Sun are past masters at throwing stones in their tabloid glass house. But I am disappointed a lot of left-blogland comment has chosen to ape them. I've waded through reams and reams of text condemning Jade and her companions in crime, Jo and Danielle, and it strikes me a number of them appear to be revelling in the opportunity to put the boot in. Yes, Jade is dim, inarticulate, uneducated and uncultured. This is what made her famous and as such she is the epitome of the celebrity mediocracy built up by bourgeois multimedia interests. Still, this isn't an excuse for the abuse Jade has come in for.

You can take the woman out of the working class, but you can't take the working class out the woman. Jade has had, by her own admission, a rough upbringing. Before she found fame in BB3 a life of crap wages and bleak prospects stretched before her, as it does for millions of young working class women and men. As she's amply demonstrated on many occasions, her behaviour and outlook remains stamped by her formative experiences at the bottom rung of the class ladder. Add to this an unhealthy dose of insecurity dating from before she was famous and amplified by that self-same fame predicated on being the nation's laughing stock, is it any wonder the privileged and (apparently) talented Shilpa coaxed out her explosive inferiority complex?

Let me be clear. I'm not excusing Jade's comments, but I believe socialists would do well to reverse John Major's dictum: we should understand a little more and condemn a little less. The kind of banal bigotry and ignorance aired on CBB is common among our class. If we were to condemn such sentiments in the shrill and superior tone adopted by some on the U75 CBB thread for instance, we'll get nowhere. Or worse, help drive such sections of the class into the arms of the racists and xenophobes of the BNP.

Right that's it. No more Big Brother commentary for me.

Sunday 21 January 2007

CANE Conference, 20th January

Few people know how it feels to get up at twenty-to-four in the morning. I’m now one of them.

Yet neither this, nor the three-and-a-half hour car journey (kindly provided by GL) unduly impede my participation at the CANE conference of postgraduates, held at Newcastle University.

We should always be grateful for small mercies and by luck my paper was slotted into the schedule early on. My panel (‘Research and Education’) was up against the titans of ‘EU and European Studies’, and ‘Rural Economy and Fishing’.

The heavyweight competition crushed us. We attracted an audience of three.

Not to be daunted my fellow panellists gave fine and dandy presentations on the state of Higher Education in Putin’s Russia (Patricia Leon), and the issues and responsibilities arising from interviewing in politically contentious environments (Bryony Slater). In contrast I felt my own meditation on movement-relevant and liberal surveillance knowledge effects of studying socialist activists came across as a semi-coherent, vacuous ramble. This is despite the advantage of reading directly from the paper I prepared for the event (the others were PowerPoint whizzes).

What the audience lacked in quantity, they made up in quality. It came out in the discussion that Bryony and I encountered similar ethical and methodological issues. Her fieldwork is with the indigenous Blackfoot peoples of southern Alberta and locates it as a contribution to the effacement of cross-cultural misunderstandings. This work is important as the Canadian authorities, who historically have treated the Blackfoot as a colonised people, has now taken upon itself the responsibility of preserving their heritage. Yet despite this the Blackfoot are only employed by the relevant agencies at very low levels in the institutional hierarchy. You will find no Blackfoot people on the boards or in any decision making capacity. Despite the obvious differences I think we had an interesting exchange on reflexivity, knowledge effects, interviewing methods and the problems of being an ‘insider’ and ‘outsider’.

After the break there was only really one panel choice for me – ‘Approaches to Marxism and Imperialism’. David Hallinan gave a paper on Sartre’s relationship with Marxism and made the case for his continuing relevance. I can’t pretend I know much about old Jean-Paul but it seemed to me the framework proposed here was not a million miles away from Bourdieu’s philosophical anthropology. The second was by Foday Kabbah on liberal guilt, aid and anti-imperialism. This provoked lively discussion on the nature of contemporary changes in class composition, sublimation of middle class guilt and my enemy’s enemy mentality. Both panellists suggested that we should cautiously welcome the development of a ‘progressive’ middle class. I wouldn’t go as far as they did by suggesting this is the best hope for a socialist transformation.

Over dinner I got chance to network with a couple of people and catch up with NB, a former Keelite. After dinner we went to ‘Ecology and Environmentalism’ and listened to papers on ecological footprints (Pia Halme), justice and animals (Jennifer Clare Haywood) and ecological conflict between elephants and humans in NE Namibia (Lorraine Moore). I made a couple of contributions, reinforcing what a few others had said about the relationship between capitalism and environmental destruction, as it seemed Pia was advocating consumerist-type solutions. In fact she favoured far more radical action but was unable to elaborate further in the time allotted. I did like all these papers but by now I was seriously flagging and I’m sorry to admit I nodded off during the last one.

I didn’t fancy any panels in the final session and neither did GL, so we wandered around town for a while. Now, I freely admit I’m something of a country bumpkin. I come from a small village, and live in a city renowned for its parochialism. And bloody hell, didn’t Newcastle remind me of it! I was blown away by the sights of the quayside, the complex mishmash of building styles, the literal multi-layered character of the city and the sheer scale of the engineering. Walking over the Tyne Bridge and soaking in the riverside sprawl is a memory that will stay with me for a long time.Wish I'd brought a camera along :(

We got back with plenty of time to spare for the final keynote speech. This was given by Prof William Maloney on declining participation rates in parties and voluntary associations, and the rise of third sector organisations (Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth, etc.) marked by spectator activism. That is, a commitment not going beyond the opening of one's cheque book. For example, it is a sobering thought that the RSPB has more members than all of Britain’s political parties put together. He did not go into the reasons why this is the case, but rather dwelt on the problems it posed the functioning of liberal democracy and whether they help integrate members into the system. He suggests these organisations strive to represent an interest policy makers may otherwise ignore, but the membership is not empowered by the process. In fact most members have very little say over how their organisation(s) are run. Their role is to ensure a full time cadre of protestors, office staff, media people and researchers get on with the job. Members either accept as is or get out. This was the basic gist of the paper and a number of other issues were raised in the discussion, such as if a certain oppressed group was not mobilising around its interests, should we bemoan other people from taking them up? That’s something for me and others out there averse to hand-wringing politics to chew on.

CANE was the first I presented at and there are quite a few lessons I’ve drawn from the experience. It was heartening to see quite a few Marxists in attendance, and great to speak to other sociology PhDs for once! The organisation was spot on, and my heartfelt thanks goes to the CANE team.

Friday 19 January 2007

Being a Socialist Woman – An Activist’s Experience

As regular readers will know my PhD thesis is on the radicalisation and commitment of socialist activists. This means I’m spending a great deal of time undertaking intensive life history interviews with comrades from the Socialist Party and Socialist Workers’ Party.

As women’s liberation remains a key political question for all radical projects, I ask all my respondents for their views on the matter given the difficult historical relationship between feminism and socialism. Below is a small section of an interview I did with an SP member a couple of months ago. In the extract she responds to questions about her experience of being a woman and a revolutionary socialist; her involvement with the internal caucus, Socialist Women; and whether there are significant political issues arising from gendered dispositions and outlooks.

I hope all readers will find something interesting in the transcript, and if it gets some male comrades out there to be more sensitive to women comrade’s perceptions, so much the better.

For your information, I = Interviewer, and R = Respondent.

I: I know being a bloke this is quite a difficult question to ask, but do you think being a woman has meant being a socialist is somehow different to what it is for men? Do you think there are things expected of you as a socialist woman that isn’t expected of socialist men?
R: … Doing women’s meetings! (laughs). I guess there can be a little bit of, “you should be bringing women into the party”. Some times you get that, depending on the branch you’re in and what the situation is. The first lead off I did was a woman’s meeting-related lead off to a group of young men (laughs). That was interesting! I think some women feel the pressures of going into places that are perceived as “male environments”. I’ve always been perfectly happy with that but I know for other women it has been an issue. This can be reflected in where meetings are held. If a branch is mostly men they will be quite happy to meet in a rough bit of town in a backstreet pub. If you’re a woman you have to go along and be assertive about not being happy coming here on your own. Other women will feel the same so you’ve got to change it. But overall I wouldn’t say my gender has mattered too much. A lot of the leading members of the party are women so you have a lot of role models and also a lot of these women have families so you realise you can do it. It shows it’s possible to go full time and have a family. They also provide a support network so you can talk about how they do this and that.
I: Have you found the woman’s group in the party quite useful?
R: It hasn’t really taken off in a big way. They do have meetings but these generally take place in different parts of the country. The last one was in Yorkshire and I was living down south so it was hard for me to get to, so it’s been difficult for me to get involved. Other female comrades are very much into the women’s group. It is positive. I took some young women who weren’t party members but were interested from Brighton to one of the last women’s meetings in London. They were happier going to that than coming to the branch meeting, so the group is definitely a positive thing to have. One of the best I had was a South West regional meeting when I was living in Bristol. It was small but very good. The branch I was in at the time was male dominated, in fact I think it was nearly all men so it was nice to talk in a different way, because I think women tend to talk about politics in a different way to men. It is nice to be in such an environment, it can be more comfortable.
I: Have you come across any comrades in the organisation who might treat women members differently from the men?
R: Not that I can think of, in fact I think it might be more the other way. Often male comrades don’t think about things from a woman’s perspective, such as the desirability of meeting in a back alley pub. If a meeting is going to go on until late that might not think about whether the women are able to get home safely, things like that. This is apart from the “you must do the women’s meetings” you get sometimes (laughs). You do think though just because I’m the only woman in the branch, why should I do the women’s meetings? Apart from that it’s not been an issue.
I: Seeing as you’re pregnant at the moment how has that changed comrades’ perceptions toward you?
R: I think they expect me to collapse a lot! (laughs). They all look very worried to me! They’ve been very good about not asking me to do things; it’s been very much up to me what activity I’ve done. This is very good because I would not want to feel that pressure of doing a stall when in fact I wasn’t feeling very well. They’ve been very welcoming, very supportive. Being pregnant means I’ve done a lot less physical stuff such as stalls because I can’t stand for very long. I do stand I feel a bit off so that’s not much use really! I’ve done less of that sort of thing. I didn’t go on the student demo when normally I would have done. I’ve still gone to meetings though and that sort of thing and I’ve still been speaking, even if a little cloudy-headed and getting hot! (laughs).
I: (Laughs). Turning now to some of the ideas of feminism, do these tend to have currency among the women’s group? Or does the group tend to just provide a space where “women’s issues” can be discussed and reflected on in more depth?
R: More of the latter I think. People I’ve brought to meetings and other people who’ve come along as well don’t have illusions in strong feminist ideas. But women’s meetings I’ve been to are more about specific issues. For example, ‘What policy should we have on unionising sex workers?’ The way we discussed it was in more or less the same way we discuss all ideas in the party. It has been more like that than bringing in feminist ideas.
I: Also when you report back to branches about the women’s meetings you’ve been to, are you met with genuine interest? Or do some roll their eyes and you can tell they’re not that bothered really?
R: There has been a lot of interest, certainly on the one in London I went to. The branch in Brighton had quite a few young men and they were very interested, I think we actually had a separate branch meeting to discuss some of the issues that had come up.

Thursday 18 January 2007

Branch Meeting: British Perspectives

Just a short post tonight.

The good Socialist Party comrades of Stoke-on-Trent (well, some of them) held one of our pre-conference discussions on British Perspectives this evening.

M opened with an overview of the document, choosing to highlight the sections dealing with the yawning gulf between the rich and the rest, likelihood of a recession, Blair and Brown, NHS, low pay, immigration, and the Campaign for a New Workers' Party.

I came in on the importance constitutional issues are likely to assume this year (see yesterday's post, immediately below) and we had a short debate - the consensus seems to be whatever stance one has (whether pro-independence or left-unionist) this issue deserves more of an airing. We agreed we should spend more time on it at a future meeting - guess that's another lead off for me to do then, in addition to next weeks on branch strategy and one not long after reviewing Peter Taaffe's new book!

The CNWP got a look in too. In general terms we talked about how the campaign can be taken forward and the nuts and bolts of what we can do in Stoke. One suggestion was making sure a team in each branch is responsible for CNWP work, another key point was the need for the CNWP to attract a layer of activists who may not join the party, but are nevertheless in agreement with the aims of the campaign and for whom it is the primary focus of activity. Again more discussion is needed, but I suspect an amendment to BP may be forthcoming.

Finally, A summed up his overall impression of the perspectives. He argued the documents have been very similar in recent years because the struggle for basic conditions and rights constantly recur. The 1945-75 period was an aberration in the history of capitalism. Since then the nature of the attacks on working class people has seen capital come back for the reforms it once conceded. This is normal politics now and this is why it has been consistently reflected in BP.

Next week is the branch AGM. It should be quite interesting. We've recently been undergoing the process of sorting out the division of labour in the Stoke party so I hope comrades will find the meeting inspiring in a strange, almost navel-gazing way.

Wednesday 17 January 2007

Socialists and Constitutional Crisis

Tomorrow night Stoke Socialist Party’s branch meeting will be looking at our British Perspectives document. For those of you not familiar with the workings of the SP, this is one of three documents circulated in the run up to our annual conference. The idea is the membership discusses this material and puts in amendments, counter proposals and so on that will be debated and voted on at conference.

I hope no one will object if I take this opportunity to scratch out a few thoughts I’ve been having on Scottish independence. One thing BP doesn’t pick up on is the very real possibility of a serious constitutional crisis this year, so I think it's important it gets an airing in our pre-conference discussions.

A commissioned Channel 4 News poll suggested a majority of Scots are in favour of keeping the status quo, which flies in the face of previous polls showing a small majority in favour of Scottish independence.

Whatever the whys and wherefores of how they reached these results, this will grow into more of an issue as the Holyrood elections loom closer and closer. The pro-independence parties – the SNP, SSP, Solidarity and the Greens have promised to use their majority, if they win one, to organise a referendum. Likewise if the Tories, LibDems, and Labour secure the lion’s share of the seats, such a move will not see the light of day.

It would be folly for socialists south of the border to ignore this issue, suggest it has no relevance to the working class, or believe it’s an issue best left to Scottish socialists to deal with. The question of how the ruling class rules is of utmost interest to socialists, we can’t get far if we don’t keep an eye on how our masters organise against us!

This should govern our thinking when addressing issues of this kind. Normally socialists only advocate the setting up of new capitalist states if the status quo is prising apart the working class of different national groups on national lines. For example, any unity of the Israeli and Palestinian working class against their common enemy is next to impossible while the occupation remains a key political question of our time. Is the relationship between the Scottish and the English of a similar character? No, no where near. But this observation far from settles matters.

The UK state does not operate in a vacuum. Though much reduced in stature it remains one of the key linchpins of the international order. It has oft been noted that without the UK’s support, the US could not have gone ahead with the invasion of Iraq. Wherever the US goes, chances are the UK will alibi it. However, the dissolution of the UK might land a major body blow to not just the ruling class at home, but to its interests abroad. This could lead to a number of political opportunities in the long run, not least a potential weakening of the neo-liberal consensus and a decreased capacity to become embroiled in military adventures.

Please note, I said ‘might’ – independence may not automatically weaken the UK state. If there were strikes, occupations, demonstrations; if the Scottish working class was moving into activity en masse on the question of home rule, then winning independence would embolden the class and could open the road to socialism. But this is not the case. The class both sides of the border has very little political confidence, and this is reflected in the programme of the pro-independence parties. Theirs is independence by the only route available at the moment: constitutionalism.

Assuming the class does not move into action, the independence outcome most likely under present circumstances would be that which disturbs British capital the least. An independent Scotland with Elizabeth Windsor as head of state could be a possibility. A deal with London over retention of Faslane as a naval base is another prospect.

Scottish independence is no magical cure all. It could weaken the state, it might not as well. This is why socialists have to be at the heart of this struggle.

For us in England I would suggest we call for full powers for the Scottish parliament and Welsh Assembly, up to and including the power to decide their own fate. Likewise to head off the hegemony of little Englanders whose calls for an English parliament are likely to grow between now and May, this is something socialists have to think seriously about. Conceding the question of democracy to the right, even one as stilted as deformed as the Westminster system, is a serious mistake. Socialism is a more consistent, more meaningful form of democracy than anything capitalist politics can aspire to. I’m not going to be as bold to plot out a road map, but demands around the abolition of the monarchy, the lords, the secret state, and so on seem good places to begin.

Public Sociology

“Philosophers have only interpreted the world. The point is to change it.”

I wouldn’t like to think how many times I’ve heard these words from the Theses on Feuerbach. As someone on the cusp of what I hope to be a long and distinguished academic career, I try and keep it at the forefront of all the work I do. It has in fact become something of a badge of honour for me. While a good proportion of academics I know blend their career and activist interests, the same cannot be said of the field of sociology taken as a whole. In fact, it is striking that for all its concern with social life, comparatively few take part in fighting the ills that plague it.

Not anymore! Well, in the USA at least. After a huge meeting of the American Sociological Association in 2004, Michael Burawoy used his presidential address to argue for a new direction in sociology, one that reaches out to wider audiences beyond the exclusive academic public. In a discipline largely ignored by policy makers and having just overcome the twin traumas of ‘end of history’ thinking and postmodern attacks on the very possibility of social explanation, it’s easy to see why the call was heeded with infectious enthusiasm. For a discipline mired in staid routinism, public sociology promised the vision thing.

Sociologists generally are a contentious rabble, and soon some began grumbling. Mathieu Deflem is one of the leading naysayers. He argues public sociology is nothing more than a populist fad driven by a desire for publicity and the commercialisation of academia. He charges Burawoy with the crime of limiting sociology’s research agenda to inequalities, environmental destruction, and other social pathologies. In doing this public sociology stands accused of treating the standards of sociological knowledge in a cavalier fashion. The analysis of social processes instead is subordinated to a political agenda, when in fact rigorous sociological knowledge is revolutionary in itself.

You don’t have to believe sociology is in mortal danger to realise he has a point. The left regularly stands guilty of just this sort of thing. Answers often are manufactured to confirm shibboleths – the distorting and ignorance of features and facts that do not sit with a particular understanding of the Soviet Union is one such prominent example. But Deflem overplays his hand. Given the paucity of sociological investigation into issues that “matter”, public sociology can hardly be accused of narrowing the research agenda! In fact engaging with and producing knowledge about and for those at the sharp ends of society could breathe new life into the professional body. Some will not wish to sully their hands. That’s okay; the insights of this kind of research will keep them in papers and commentaries for years to come.

Neither does work directed at non-academic publics have to be dumbed down. Research made legible to a lay public can be done without compromising scientific rigour. After all if cosmologists, physicists, environmental scientists and biologists can do it, why not sociologists?

In fact one sociologist did - Marx. His work even now, 120 years after his death, still generates insights, research agendas and political interventions. Sociologists keen to get stuck into public sociology should also get stuck in to Marx to see how it can be done, and hopefully you’ll come away with more besides.

Monday 15 January 2007

Reasons to be Active – A reply to Dave Osler

Warning: very long post!

The decomposition of the revolutionary left is a depressing fact of our times.

Since the big battles of the 1980s, tens of thousands have passed out of our movement. With no apparent alternative to neo-liberal capitalism some have learned not just to live with the enemy, but to love to it too. Others who fancied themselves Marxist theoreticians retreated into academia, discovered theory for theory’s sake and have since joined the bourgeois choir in praise, or at the very least in the uncritical acceptance of, globalisation. Many more did neither. A few found solace in other forms of radical political activity, but for the vast majority, politics was abandoned to the politicians. It is no surprise that when the class started losing its belief in its capacity to manage its destiny, the revolutionary left declined along with it.

Dave Osler is one of those who stayed the course. Currently a revolutionary without a revolutionary group, he has chosen to put his efforts into the John McDonnell leadership campaign, for want of a better arena of socialist activity. His site is also one of the most read and commented-on sites on the left side of blogland – hundreds of activists and keyboard class warriors regularly log on to see what he has to say.

This is why his recent post on the state of revolutionary politics deserves a response. After summing up the baleful effects of Social Democracy and Stalinism on our movement, he notes;
The far left is more shrivelled, splintered and ineffective than it has been in decades. It has not succeeded in developing social roots, let alone mass membership, in one single country on the planet.

At the root of all this is a sustained erosion of class consciousness and even the most basic levels of class organisation worldwide. Socialist ideology, even in its most distorted forms, is no longer hegemonic in movements of the oppressed.

This is perhaps why there was little working class resistance anywhere to the transformation in the class nature of social democratic parties.
There can be little to dispute with here. The left has come a long way since the old Communist Party could command the support of hundreds of thousands of workers in shop floor struggles. The problem is it’s all been in the wrong direction.

The roots Militant once had in the class have been cut back. A layer of workers may have fond memories of the Militant-led Liverpool City Council but they are of little consequence to the Socialist Party today. It along with the Independent Working Class Association, the Scottish Socialist Party, Solidarity, and Respect only have a very small number of bases. On a planetary scale the outlook is equally as grim. Where Trotskyists had a mass base in the past, in Bolivia, Vietnam and Sri Lanka, it was either ruthlessly crushed by the Stalinists or pissed up the wall through incompetent leadership.

Looking at possible radical alternatives to socialism, Dave writes;
In as far as a new anti-capitalism can be said to exist at all – and let’s avoid the elementary mistake of conflating anti-globalisation with anti-capitalism, shall we? – it is on an eclectic ideological basis that dismisses socialism as just another species of ‘productivism’.
The global justice movement (which seems to be a more accurate term for it these days) is an eclectic beast and one a good number of Marxists has had difficulty understanding. It is possibly the most over-hyped radical movement of our time. Indeed can it really be called a movement given the diversity of forces and any lack of overall coherence beyond the notion that deregulated, unfettered capital is a bad thing?

It is easy to dismiss the GJM on this basis, which is precisely what many Marxists have done. This is mistaken in my view. While we in Britain tend only to associate it with carnivalesque displays and smashed-up Maccy D's, it has forged close international links with social movements in the semi-colonial, under-developed, and developing world. These are movements around land rights, water rights, slave labour, poverty and environmental despoliation. In other words they are movements of our class, movements by which it is becoming conscious of its interests independent of and against the predations of capital.

Taking socialist ideas into the GJM is one of the many tasks revolutionaries need to be engaged in. Why this hasn’t been pursued as seriously in the past requires some reflection, but the stakes are too high not to. Failure here does not run the risk of missing out on recruiting one or two middle class kids. Rather it gives those within the GJM – the protectionists, the neo-Keynesians, the UNists, the reformists, the NGO’s, etc. a free run of influencing real mass movements with real roots.

Turning to radical Islam, Dave writes;
There is a certain anti-imperialist content to political Islam. The trouble is, it is a reactionary anti-imperialist content.

Blinkered to the last, large sections of the left automatically consider all forms of anti-imperialism as implicitly progressive, as somehow on how side, and send their delegates to Cairo to seek an alignment with it.
Some of the left have tried to influence radical Islam by uncritically tailing and apologising for it. This has conjured up its mirror image of revolutionaries who display anything from mild antipathy to hysterical disavowal of Muslims who start getting active in politics as Muslims. Surely there is a third way between the two.

Indeed there is. Revolutionary socialists in Britain should extend the hand of friendship to socialist and communist parties in countries where radical Islam is a mass force. We should assist our sisters and brothers in building independent organisations of the class as and when we can (and not just sections of our own ‘internationals’).

With regard to radical Islamic movements themselves, none are monoliths. Neither do they operate in a vacuum. As movements consisting of Muslims from different walks of life, the contradictions of society will find a way of expressing themselves in these movements. Depending on the overall balance of forces some will be more open than others and may seek out allies in the imperialist countries themselves. The SWP didn’t crash the Cairo conference – they were invited. In my opinion this opportunity should have been used to demonstrate why the left are anti-imperialist and push socialist politics. Whether the SWP did this or not I’ll leave for others to judge.

In Britain, there is general agreement we need to win over Muslim sections of our class to socialist politics. Appealing to self-styled community leaders isn’t the answer, and neither is a constant blathering about how backward Islam is. I may not be au fait with my civil rights history but I’m pretty sure sections of the US left didn’t denounce those southern blacks who were motivated to struggle because of their faith. Socialists have to approach Muslims as sensitively as we would any oppressed group – but at the moment space prevents me from elaborating further.

Coming round to his conclusion, Dave notes;
Just to compound matters, the leadership of the remaining Marxist movement is almost to a man and woman far too stupid, far too backward-looking even to make an assessment of the world today and to seek the pathway to political renewal. As far as they are concerned, the old formulae work just fine.
No disagreement here, except to say the Socialist Party’s leadership is utterly perfect. It is the font from which contemporary Marxist wisdom flows ;)

I agree the revolutionary left can be very conservative. Much of what is exciting in Marxist research takes place outside its ranks. Often its literature is dull to the point of brain-numbing. The activities it engages in can be routinist. The culture of the left falls short of the socialist democracy we’re supposed to be the harbinger of.

On the other hand it is this self-same left that has kept the spark of revolutionary socialism alive. Seldom will you find activists as dedicated to the interests of our class, as keen to inflict defeats on our enemy and as willing to undertake the thankless tasks our politics demand. What’s more the conditions of its operation have undergone a significant change. Horizontal lines of communication between socialist activists have proliferated like never before. The ability to wall off memberships North Korean-style is a thing of the past. New leaders schooled in a revolutionary left more used to talking to each other do not have the same investments in the old ways of working as longer term activists do. They can learn from their own experiences that traditional practice fails to connect with our class. They will therefore be more likely to try new methods that will.

The left may have many problems but I firmly believe the seeds of renewal are there. It requires struggle, but then no one said revolutionary politics was an easy ride.

Finally, Dave writes,
There’s just one thing that stops me topping myself. For all the setbacks since the 1970s, global working class still possesses that unique combination of self-interest, capacity and social weight to provide the foundation for a rational, humanist and radical democratic politics.

And maybe - just maybe - enough of the left can somehow sober up in time to realise that if there is hope, it lies with the proles.
Amen to that.

The class now has more social weight and therefore potential power than at any other time in history. It will throw up organisations that represent its interests. It will engage in titanic battles in the years ahead. If the class is to be victorious, if we are to inflict a world historical defeat on capital and usher in the beginnings of a global socialist democracy.

What to do? Socialists in revolutionary organisations have a duty to make them fit for purpose. Those who aren’t should either join them to change them, or work where they think it’s the best place to promote socialist politics. All the time we need to keep talking to one another. The demands of the moment require we share ideas, knowledge and experiences, that the lessons one group or individual draws from their activist experiences be transmitted to others. We have no choice. We either act more cohesively, make ourselves relevant and assist the class in becoming self aware, or we carry on as normal. The choice between socialism and barbarism has never been so stark. We’d better get serious comrades. There isn’t much time left!

Sunday 14 January 2007

The BNP and The Ballerina

Another week, another BNP panic.

This time the liberal establishment and their allies are raising a stink about Simone Clarke, the ballerina outed as a BNP member in The Guardian's festive hatchet job. Unite Against Fascism were protesting outside Clarke's house and the London Coliseum, demanding she be sacked by the English National Ballet.

Am I the only one who thinks this is stupid?

In her interview in The Mail on Sunday (31st December) Elizabeth Sanderson writes,
Simone's explanation for why she decided to join the party last year - given here for the first time - cannot be simply brushed aside as a foolish error, let alone ignored.
The reason is summed up in one word: Immigration. It has, she told the undercover journalist who exposed her, "really got out of hand' - and today she maintains the BNP" are the only ones to take a stand' on the issue that she believes troubles the majority of voters, even though such views have led to her being branded a racist and a fascist. "Using the word immigration is now a greater crime than cold-blooded murder," she claims.
She goes on,
By her account at least, she was by no means brainwashed - in fact it was her foreign-born partner who spurred her to sign up.
"I joined about 18 months ago," she says. "Yat and I were watching the television. As usual I was moaning about something that I had seen on the news and he just said, "Well, stop moaning and do something about it."
"I didn't really know anything about the BNP but they had come up in conversation a few times because they had just won some local council seats.
"We went on to the computer and we looked them up and I read their manifesto. I'm not too proud to say that a lot of it went over my head but some of the things they mentioned were the things I think about all the time, mainly mass immigration, crime and increased taxes. Those three issues were enough to make me join so I paid my £25 there and then.
"I think the BNP are honest. They're not trying to dress up what they want, which is change on these issues."
Grant me leave to utter what amounts to a heresy for the UAF and its hangers on: while the BNP is a fascist party, not all BNP members are fascists. Like it or not immigration and crime *are* big issues among working class people. They are also issues the left prefers to avoid for some reason or another. Take crime or, more accurately, fear of crime. It just doesn't register on the radar as a live issue for most left groups. But if we're not out there putting socialist arguments on crime and punishment, is it any wonder the populist hang 'em and flog 'em sentiments whipped up by the press and exploited by the BNP is so readily accepted? Are we then to condemn anyone who, under these circumstances, find the quick fixes of the BNP attractive?

Surely the answer lies not in persecuting people like Clark. In fact it is disastrous. As I've argued previously you're not going to convince anyone more of the truth of their argument if you target and punish them for holding those views. Put yourself inside the head of a BNP sympathiser for a moment. If you see members and supporters of the organisation under attack by the establishment for speaking on immigration and multiculturalism, might you begin wondering whether the BNP are onto something?

Socialists should not be in the business of echoing these calls for Clarke's head. We need to be out there in the communities and workplaces arguing for positive answers to the concerns Clarke and millions like her have. If we continue to denounce and brush them under the carpet as UAF and others of its ilk have been doing, the BNP will continue to be seen as the radical alternative to New Labour's greed and cronyism. It is really that simple comrades.

Friday 12 January 2007


Okay, quick post tonight. It's time my blog underwent a make over. I think my template is the least garish of those available to us non-techies but it is wearing a little thin. So expect over the coming week to jump in and find my colour scheme varying between high camp and Gordon Brown dour.

I'll also be renovating my blog list by getting shot of blogs who've stopped functioning and including any interesting ones I come across. Tonight I've added the left-republican 1820, Rotten Elements (featuring an "inciteful" review of Jack Conrad's new book), the anti-SP axe grinder Splintered Sunrise, and the blog of UK Left Network mega-legend, Mike Pearn.

Following complaints from Dorothy during the week I'll be broadening out my links list. The socialist roll call will eventually comprise every lesser spotted Trotskyoid group you can think of. I haven't forgotten the small matter of organisations with a little more weight either. I'll also be cooking up a list of unions, campaigns, photoblogs and a miscellaneous galaxy of links.

If you've got a left and/or a sociology blog that's not listed please let me know about it in the comments.

Thursday 11 January 2007

Branch Meeting: Education

I was so tired at tonight's branch. Too much swimming and early mornings obviously. I hope then you'll appreciate my struggle to bring a flavour of Stoke Socialist Party's weekly meet to life for your perusal.

It didn't begin well. Comrade H sent her apologies, leaving us lead-off less. Oh no! Thankfully SP comrades possess a commodity rare on the revolutionary left - an ability to think independently and critically without reference to a holy screed.

Yours truly had scribbled down a few notes beforehand and was the first to plunge in. I began by asking what education is for. Mainstream parties would answer education should be concerned with providing the qualifications and skills that can be traded in for jobs. The more grades and certificates one accumulates the better the job is at the end. Socialists have an altogether different idea. For us capitalist education is stunted. Compulsory education furnishes the basic skill set required by employers, but that's as far as it goes. A socialist education is about developing the whole person. Education should be empowering and enabling, we are for an education that encourages a flowering of humanity's creative powers. The vision of schools, colleges and universities as assembly lines churning out unthinking drones is anathema to socialists.

I then moved onto the history of educational provision, noting until recent times it was almost the exclusive property of the ruling class. Historically education served to cohere this class as a class, and by-and-large the same applies today. Who can deny the top institutions bind the privileged together by inculcating a common culture and outlook befitting a class born to rule? The unspoken assumptions of this culture informs education policy in the state sector too. If one submits to the rules of the educational game then the road is open to social advancement - the accumulation of grades can be likened to an accumulation of (cultural) capital, which can be exchanged for economic capital (rates of exchange vary between types, or sub-species of cultural capital - an accountancy degree holder has different prospects to a sociologist, for instance). On the other hand if you refuse to abide by the rules of the educational game you won't get the qualifications and chances are a future of low waged, low status jobs await. The system thereby haphazardly meets the requirements of capital, albeit in a manner that is chaotic and riven with conflict.

N chipped in recalling his partner's job in Further Education and the strains she faces because of the government's mania to privatise everything in sight. G and M came in on the decisions about courses students have to make. The drive toward the vocationalisation of Higher Education means large numbers of students do not choose courses they're genuinely interested in. Instead their decision is informed by career prospects. Add ludicrous amounts of tuition debt to the mix then the pressure is on degree courses who do not deliver any appreciable vocational goods.

A spoke about his FE workplace. There the once lively college community had crumbled away since the administration suspended 'recreational' courses, that is programmes without 'progression' into a job-related outcome. This effectively amounts to an attack on working class people's right to creative self-expression. In addition, by accident or design the emptying out of class rooms erodes the cohesiveness of the communities that use them by robbing them of places where they can come and meet.

L, a former union official, pointed out his previous employers managed to secure European money to assist the retraining/reskilling of redundant workers. Though such efforts should not be sniffed at entirely, he argued it lets the union bureaucracy off the hook. They hold their hands up and cry 'globalisation!'. "There's nothing we can do to prevent overseas jobs outsourcing", they winge. The union is left to forlornly mop up the social devastation capital leaves in its wake, never once thinking it ought have fought 'globalising' moves in the first place. He also asked why don't the bosses have a responsibility to the workforces they abandon? If capital requires new skills then shouldn't it be the employers that pay for retraining, rather than the taxpayer? Instead the union is reduced to an agency recruiting workers to these courses, having abandoned its role as an organisation of working class self-defence.

Coming back on some of what had been said, A suggested education can raise expectations that cannot be met within the confines of capitalism. See for example the student revolts of the late 60s and early 70s in the West, coinciding with the expansion of higher educational provision. He also pointed out that not only is education presently limited, it can barely meet the requirements of capital, never mind what is really needed. It is impossible to adequately plan the types of skills needed at any one time because of the blind anarchy of market competition. Only under a democratic socialist plan of production can this mismatching of resources and attendant waste be overcome.

Finally M drew the discussion to a close by reminding everyone about the NUS's upcoming day of action over fees. That means we'll be sitting in the middle of Stoke Road again ...