Friday 31 July 2009

Branch Meeting: Art, Literature and Socialism

At Thursday night's branch meeting of Stoke Socialist Party, the talk by Brother C was something of a departure from our usual examination of past and present struggles. His lead off concentrated on socialism and culture via a discussion of literature. I reproduce his lead off below, followed by the branch discussion. I hope it will be of interest to readers.

"Poets are the hierophants of an unapprehended inspiration, the mirrors of the gigantic shadows which futurity casts upon the present ... the trumpets which sing to battle, and feel not what they inspire; the influence which is moved not, but moves. Poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world".

These are the ebullient concluding remarks of Percy Byshe Shelley in his Defence of Poetry. I include them here, at a gathering not of Romantics but of revolutionary socialists partly as a reminder of what we must not do with art, and more specifically with literature. This is not to say that Shelley should become some kind of idealist, Platonist whipping boy. After all, it was Shelley, who outraged upon hearing of the massacre of workers at St Peter's Field in Manchester, wrote in Mask of Anarchy:
Rise like lions after slumber
In unvanquishable number;
Shake your chains to earth like dew
Which in sleep had fallen on you -
Ye are many, they are few
At a time when most former Etonians and sons of aristocracy were quite happy to endorse counterrevolutionary terror against the 'swinish multitude', Shelley's persistent radicalism and sympathy for those oppressed is to be commended.

Still, it is difficult to share Shelley's view of working people at the time as in any way 'slumbering'. After all, they had not discovered their chains innocently, upon waking from some indolent rest. On the contrary, years of poverty, persecution and political struggle had taugt them much anout their manacles - both real and 'mind forged'. And likewise, perhaps more problematically, the agitational emotionalism of Mask of Anarchy's ending hints at Shelley's aforementioned idea of himself (along with all true poets) as the visionary herald of futurity, the inspiring influence and the legislator of the world. It is, for sure, a mystification to propose that good literature (or art) should present us with an ideal model of what society should be like, regardless of what the proponents of socialist realism once argued. This is because, as Raymond Williams reminds us, "the making of a community [i.e. the society of the future] is always a work of exploration". This is not to deny that language and literature have powerful determining effects on consciousness, but to explain that they cannot change human beings and society as a whole.

It is interesting that Shelley chooses the mirror as a metaphor for the way in which art presents us with is ideal. Indeed, it is this problematic theory of art/literature as reflection, a theory against which socialists can hardly be said to have been immune that I will turn to next. Of course for Shelley, the poem, in Platonic fashion, was mirroring the perfection if the future, whereas subsequent uses of the metaphor (including by those on the left) have inherited a realist or naturalist framework - making literature the reflection of the present. As we are in Stoke-on-Trent, it might be best to draw on Arnold Bennett as one example of this latter tradition, attempting as he did to record with photographic precision the multifarious external details of life.

Hegelian Marxists like Georg Lukacs, however, would argue that Bennett's mirror to the world is impoverished, refusing as it does to penetrate beneath the accidental surfaces to the so-called 'essences', 'essentials' and historical forces beneath. In short, writing for Lukacs must be a process of ordering and not a faithful rendering of the imperfections and distortions of bourgeois life. There are certainly problems with Lukacs' position (influenced as it is by Lenin) and the debate about what really constitutes realism in art will probably go on for some time. Yet his attempt to problematise the cruder notion (so evident in Shelley) of literature as passive mirror of reality is invaluable.

Leon Trotsky's theory of literary practice rejects the reflectionist theory altogether, claiming that artistic creation is a work of "deflection, a changing and transformation of reality, in accordance with the peculiar laws of art". As Terry Eagleton has pointed out, this "excellent formulation" of deflection, as opposed to reflection, has influenced the work of many 20th century Marxists, most notably Pierre Macherey. His Theory of Literary Production helps us to see writing as a product of labour. There are no inspired geniuses or humanist legislators in communion with muses or other mystical beings. Art, for Macherey, "is not man's creation, it is a product (and the producer is not a subject centered in his creation, he is an element in a situation or a system)". In this rather inhuman (E.P. Thompson might say Stalinist) theory, doubtless influenced by Louis Althusser, there is no room left for individual agency. To use Terry Eagleton's analogy, literature rolls off the production line like a new car. Certain materials (i.e. words - what we might call the real) have been brought together to make a new product. A transformation, rather than a passive mirroring, has taken place.

For all Macherey's and Althusser's anti-humanist bluster, however, there are perhaps points of contact between their own theories of literature and those of men like Shelley. These points of contact can be found, for instance, in the idea of literature's redemptive qualities. Certainly, Macherey and Althusser do not think that the artist is going to shine a poetic light on the future and thus lead us to our utopian realisation. Yet they do believe that literature and the analysis of literature are integral to our 'liberation from oppression'. Likewise, as Macherey himself points out when positing the writer as an element in a system as opposed to a creator, Plato (and, so, subsequently Shelley too) had already disposed the author of his work by having him 'inspired' by other forces.

So just how can literature help liberate the oppressed from capitalist domination? For Macherey, the literary product puts ideology (and let us remember that language is shot through with ideological assumptions) on stage. Rather than spontaneous lived experience which we take for granted or take as given, our conditions (whether revolutionary France in Dickens' Tale of Two Cities or the Chicago of migrant Lithuanian workers in Upton Sinclair's The Jungle) are placed before us as an object. Because the conditions of our existence are forced into view, we can at least begin to interrogate them, have knowledge of them and no longer let reality slip by innocently as naturalised 'life'.

But Macherey also emphasises the way in which literary works are made up of contradictions and absences, a kind of intrinsic and necessary disorder and disarray which must then be related to the conflicts, fissures and silences of our real world capitalist conditions. If the text is a mirror, then, it is one which is cracked, fragmented and manipulative.

To demonstrate how Macherey's theories can be put into practice, we might observe the stylistic contradictions between the machines in the film Terminator 2. One the one hand we have Arnold Schwarzenegger, the epitome of masculinity complete with Harley Davidson, shotgun and the squarest of square jaws. His antagonist, on the other hand, is characterised by protean femininity and fluidity (it is worth pointing out that in later films the 'baddie' terminator is actually replaced by a woman). What we have, therefore, is a stylistic conflict which we can relate to the shifts within capitalism taking place in the 1980s. I am of course talking about the neoliberal attack (characterised by fluidity and a more emasculated economy) against the post war consensus.


Brother F started off the discussion with the observation that interpretation and appreciation of art will differ because social being differs to greater and lesser degrees from person to person. To understand this Marxist analysis and criticism of art must have dialectical foundations. He also noted the official art associated with high Stalinism and Nazism cannot really be described as such, if we go with Trotsky's idea of art as deflection. It did not rise organically out of artists' experience but was rather made to order according to the aesthetic diktats of those regimes. Socialist realism and Nazi neo-classicism had the appearance of art, but really they were exercises in propaganda.

P picked up on the theme of contradictory cultural products - because capitalism is bedeviled with contradictions these will find expression to varying extents in its cultural artifacts. In addition to this capitalism as an anarchic system cannot systematically produce culture to meet its ideological needs. The entertainment industry has to compete for markets as much as any other economic sector and will seek to make money wherever it can, even if the messages it puts out are satirical and critical.

Moving onto books, F said he found Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451 a novel that helped his radicalisation, particularly the way how the protagonist gradually becomes aware of his real conditions. Sister M spoke about being the only person in her college class who read a critique of capitalism in Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray while at the same time finding Morris' News from Nowhere too romantic and utopian. For R, Zola's Germinal was subversive because it demonstrated how the capitalist class would much rather see their assets go to wrack and ruin than have them handed over to the workers.

For Brother A all art, including popular pulp fiction all reflect class society to a degree. But also because the ruling ideas in any epoch are those of the ruling class, it's unsurprising to find those ideas exerting a dominant hegemonic influence. But art can be emancipatory too. A recommended Sholokhov's And Quiet Flows the Don as a study in how revolutionary events can affect the consciousness and actions of even relatively privileged strata (the family featured in the story are Cossacks).

Summing up Brother C returned to F's point about dialectics. These lend themselves to an approach that brings out the produced over the reflective qualities of art. We should also reject approaches that unproblematically read culture as a byproduct of the economy. The relationship between economy and culture is one where the economy conditions and makes possible a whole host of social forms. To paraphrase Trotsky, in the beginning was not the word but the deed: the word is the deed's phonetic shadow. But we also need to be aware how art and literature can entrench the relationships that make them possible. C cited Said's Orientalism and the galvanising effect it had on stimulating work that exposed colonialist, racist and imperialist attitudes and ideas in received canonical work. It is also worth remembering that what often goes unsaid can be as significant as what is laid out on the page, for example in Austen's Mansfield Park the text casually observes the eponymous house was built from the proceeds of slavery - and leaves it at that.

But looking at the subversive qualities of literature we need to look at more than just the content. C highlighted Woolf's Mrs Dalloway. Content-wise it's nothing but a portrait of everyday bourgeois life, but as a work it was a revolutionary rupture with received formal styles. It junks the omniscient all-seeing author characteristic of 19th century novels for a narrative style that evokes the formless complexity of abstract ideological processes, and allow us a feel for them.

C's final point was the historical nature of interpretation. To illustrate, no one can read Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice after the Second World War and the Holocaust in the same way it was read before it. The dynamism of culture is such that the perceptibility and interpretation of contradictions in art are prey to vagaries of historical contexts. There is never one final interpretation, even if the text clearly tries to stamp itself with a favoured one. But this does not mean Marxist analyses of art and literature are not useful. By situating cultural products as historically bounded but socially produced artifacts we can not only unpick how hegemonic ideas are taken up and reproduced, but also how this changes over time.

Thursday 30 July 2009

How to Lose Friends and Alienate People

Lesson #4,944 is brought to you from the Conservative Party. Most readers of this blog will be aware David Cameron said on live radio yesterday morning "too many tweets make a twat". He wasn't having a go at Twitter as such but rather the tendency it has of encouraging off the cuff remarks, which is a big no no for politicians and party machines obsessed with media management. Still, it was noticeable how quiet the Tories were on Twitter yesterday.

But another new media gaffe AVPS readers may not have heard about came my way last night. It's worth quoting Conservative blogger,
Tory Politico verbatim:
Having heard the news that David Cameron had sent a letter to Gordon Brown asking for a clarification of Labour’s position on TV debates, I wanted to read it. So picking up the phone I had a rather painful conversation with said [Tory] press office.

This is now the conversation went:

Tory Politico: “Hi there I wonder if you can help me. I run the Conservative supporting blog Tory Politico at, and was wondering if you could send me a copy of the press release that’s just been issued about the letter send from David Cameron to the Prime Minister, seeking clarification on his position regarding TV debates.
Press Officer: “Who do you work for?”
TP: “”
PO: “So you're not a member of the media.”
TP: “No I am a Conservative party member and a blogger.”
PO: “Sorry I cant help you.”
TP: “Why not?”
PO: ”Bloggers don’t count as media so I cant send it to you.”
TP: “Right, so you don’t see blogs as important then, is that right?:
PO: “Yes.”
TP: “So what about the likes of Iain Dale and ConservativeHome, are they media? Are they seen as important?”
PO: “Yes we feel that they are representatives of the media, and yes we do see them as an important conduit.”
TP: “But you just said blogs don’t count as media.”
PO: “We see them as important conservative commentators not bloggers, we feel that independent bloggers do not provide an efficient means of communicating the Conservative message.”
TP: “Not efficient means of communicating the Conservative message - I'm a Conservative blogger, all I blog about is politics and the Conservative party, I think that’s evident from my blogs title.”
PO: “I'm sorry, but I have already told you that I cannot send you a copy of the press release you asked for.”
TP: “OK, can you add my details to the press release distribution list so that future releases and notices are sent to me?”
PO: “No.”
TP: “Because blogs are not important.”
PO: “Yes.”
The Cameroons might try to paint themselves as liberal touchy-feely types but it's good to see Tory snobbery and elitism alive and well in their press department.

Wednesday 29 July 2009

SWP and SP Debate Left Unity

It's good to see the SWP has printed a short reply to its open letter on left unity in the pages of Socialist Worker from Hannah Sell of the Socialist Party. She writes:
The Socialist Party has always supported genuine left unity, on open, pluralistic terms. An effective challenge in the general election is an urgent task facing the workers’ movement and the left, not least in order to combat the far-right British National Party (BNP).

To succeed, however, it is vital that, unlike previous attempts, it involves significant sections of the working class and young people, rather than simply being a coming together of existing left organisations.

The Socialist Workers Party (SWP) did not support the recent attempt by the rail workers’
RMT union, ourselves, the Communist Party of Britain and others to provide a left alternative in the European elections, No2EU – Yes to Democracy.

Yet this was the first time in a century that a national trade union had taken an electoral initiative on an all-Britain scale.

As the recent RMT conference showed, No2EU was supported, not just by the union tops, but the vast majority of its activists too.

No2EU candidates included leaders of the most militant struggles in 2009 to date – Visteon, Lindsey, and Linamar convenor and Socialist Party member Rob Williams.

The RMT is now discussing a trade union list for the general election (obviously not under the name No2EU).

This would be a serious step towards creating a mass political voice for the working class in Britain.

The best way forward would be for all socialist forces, including the SWP, to work to develop this initiative.

The SWP opposed No2EU as “nationalist”. No2EU had a limited programme but was not nationalist.

It called for “international solidarity of working class people” and opposed the bosses’ Lisbon Treaty from a left viewpoint, as the Socialist Party MEP Joe Higgins will do in the new Irish referendum.

The SWP also similarly condemned the first Lindsey strikes as nationalist. Yet these were militant strikes against the bosses’ attempt to undermine trade union rights – the BNP were chased off the picket lines.

This is not to deny the inevitable existence of nationalist sentiments.

However, the intervention of the Socialist Party, and other militant workers, ensured that nationalism was combated and the strike fought on a clear class basis, demanding the unionisation of migrant workers.

By June, three Socialist Party members were on the strike committee.

The SWP have made serious errors in 2009, both industrially and politically – seeing reaction where you should have seen important sections of the working class looking for a way to fight back.

This does not mean, however, that we cannot collaborate on an election challenge. One important condition for success though will be the organisational methods adopted. No2EU had a federal, umbrella approach.

The component organisations came together around core policies, but all had complete freedom to produce their own material in support of No2EU.

A similar approach is necessary now. But this is not the position the SWP took in the past, in both the Socialist Alliance and
Respect. The Open Letter does not say if you have since changed your approach.

The experience of ourselves and others on the left is not encouraging. But if you have reassessed and changed your methods, and are now willing to openly and seriously collaborate with others in a general election challenge, we welcome this.

We welcome this opportunity to put our views in
Socialist Worker, and are happy to reciprocate in the pages of The Socialist.
Hannah's reply is wrong on only one count. The SWP did not oppose No2EU, but neither did they endorse it. In fact they were almost silent about it, preferring instead to concentrate on anti-fascist propaganda during the lead up to the European elections. And this curious silence has continued afterwards. In my opinion, if you're serious about unity you need to concretely analyse the opportunities, the difficulties, and the lessons that can be drawn from the efforts of other organisations. While I wouldn't expect SWP members (or anyone else for that matter) to agree with the many pieces the SP has produced on the fortunes of the SA, Respect and now No2EU, few can argue the SP hasn't given them due consideration.

This is what the SWP have written in reply (
The desire for unity on the left is driven by the meltdown in Labour’s support, the lengthening dole queues and the election of two fascist British National Party (BNP) candidates to the European parliament.

If we fail to establish even the most minimal united challenge to Labour at the forthcoming general election we will not only harm ourselves. We will undermine the wider resistance.

Responding to the SWP’s open letter (A federal approach, 18 July), the Socialist Party’s Hannah Sell seems to focus on the issues which divide us rather than those that might unite the left.

The most recent walkouts in construction together with the victories at Visteon and the Vestas occupation show the way forward. But there are those desperate to turn discontent with Gordon Brown against migrants. The way the BNP seized on the “British jobs for British workers” slogan shows the danger.

Hannah is determined, against all evidence, to deny that this slogan was central to the first walkouts in construction at the start of this year. She also holds up the No2EU campaign in the European elections as a success story.

In truth it received 1 percent of the vote, trailed behind the moribund Socialist Labour Party and failed to create the local breakthroughs that Respect achieved in east London and Birmingham in the previous European elections.

We are well aware of the scars left by split in of Respect. We are not rushing to lay down one prescription or to claim we have all the answers – we are committed to talking to everyone who wishes to discuss with us, no matter past disputes.

In that situation Hannah’s determination to push through one “federalist” model seems misplaced.
This is a strange reply for several reasons. Firstly there is the nature of the Lindsey Oil Refinery dispute itself. I remember reading a good introductory book by the SWP's very own John Rees on dialectics many years ago. Among the many demonstrations of Marx's method, the comrade highlighted the distinction between essence and appearance. The SWP's analysis of the dispute gave the appearance of BJ4BW placards and Union flags the same undue prominence as the mainstream media. Had this been primarily a nationalist dispute it would not have been won round to traditional trade unionist and internationalist demands. It was not because in essence Lindsey was about Total's attempt to smash up existing collective agreements. Why the SWP - among others - continue to hold on to nationalist fairy tales about Lindsey is beyond me.

Second, the SWP completely miss the point Hannah was making about No2EU. Nowhere did she argue it was a "success story" or try and spin its one per cent of the vote (as anyone with a passing acquaintance with SP arguments knows, it has consistently put forward the position that No2EU's significance lay in the RMT's participation and not the vote it was likely to get). What Hannah actually argued was the organisational character of No2EU - where its components united around a basic platform but were free to produce and distribute their own material - is probably a smart way for an electoral coalition of the left to proceed.

For some reason the SWP seem unable to respond to the SP's arguments on federalism. Instead it (willfully?) distorts Hannah's argument about No2EU before accusing her of wanting to foist a federal model on any emerging coalition. The SWP might be agnostic when it comes to such things, but the SP is not prepared to be. Quite clearly when it comes to building unity among the disparate and fractious organisations of the far left how can this be achieved if its affiliates do not have the freedom to produce and distribute their own material?

Going from the arguments put by SWP comrades at last Tuesday's No2EU
regional meeting in Birmingham, it seems the leadership and cadre are so convinced of the urgency of the situation that a left unity conference has to be organised sooner rather than later. Fair enough, but as far as I can see the comrades are trying to run before they can walk. Yes, an autumn rally/conference with the right speeches and appearances from the likes of Mark Serwotka will warm the cockles of the party faithful hearts. But such an event founding a new organisation (will the Left List/Left Alternative be resurrected?) is likely to only attract the SWP's periphery and a gaggle of the smaller groups. This might help bolster their negotiating power vis the rest of the far left but will not solve the problem of building a lasting alliance with other significant organisations. You cannot short circuit the process.

Tuesday 28 July 2009

Support the Vestas Occupation!

My slow blogging status has meant not passing comment on news items and struggles I would have otherwise blogged on. One of those has been the magnificent struggle of workers at the Vestas wind turbine factory on the Isle of Wight. Having taken a leaf out of recent industrial occupations 20 or so workers occupied their workplace when it became clear their bosses wanted to close the factory and throw over 600 employees onto the dole. And it has proved an astute move. It has very steadily been accumulating wider media coverage and has slowly but methodically been working its way up the news agenda - not least because of its potential to embarrass the government on its green credentials.

This in itself demonstrates the efficacy of workplace occupations as a tactic at the present time. Had the workers not taken the initiative, it would have been a footnote in the news as just another unfortunate victim of the recession (despite Vestas posting record profits this last financial year!). The workers were also wise enough to take a wireless connection into the offices with them, and have been regularly updating
their blog throughout. Another significant aspect of the dispute so far is how for the first time in many years the labour movement and environmental movement has come together over common interests - definitely an alliance we need to see more of.

But back to the specifics of the struggle. Right now it looks like the struggle could be heading toward its denouement. 11 of the occupying workers identified by management were sacked earlier today. And tomorrow Vestas bosses will be seeking a court order to have the protesting workers forcibly removed ... with government acquiescence.

Ed Miliband, the minister for energy and climate change in his
reply to LabourList's Alex Smith (who supports the Vestas workers) has indicated the government will do nothing to support the workers, instead hiding behind the company's arguments concerning the slow growth of the UK market and blaming Tory councils for setting their noses against wind farms.

I don't think anyone was expecting anything else. Aside from once more demonstrating the utter bankruptcy of New Labour to the world, it shows how the market cannot be trusted to develop renewable energy sources.

See the RMT's Vestas page
here amd here for solidarity actions and protests tomorrow.

Edit: Also see the Ryde TUC blog for more comment and analysis.

Wed edit: Case has been adjourned because Vestas incorrectly filed their papers! Recommences on August 4th!

Saturday 25 July 2009

V is Back

In the 80s they came as jack booted fascists. In the 00s the Visitors come as sharp suited corporate executives:

Looks okay, even if the CGI leaves a little to be desired. As a re-imagining it appears tons better than the woeful sequel to the 1983 miniseries. But in these animal-loving times will the guinea pig swallowing be consigned to the past?

Friday 24 July 2009

No2EU: What Next?

The bones of No2EU have been picked over by practically everyone on the far left (except for the Socialist Workers' Party, who've maintained a conspicuous silence about it). But what's going to happen next? Will the coalition be scattered to the four winds, leaving each of its components to sort out their own arrangements for the general election? Or, as was hoped, No2EU would result in a commitment to working together to produce something that can be a pole of attraction for all the left?

Thankfully, the news Dave Nellist brought from Monday's national steering committee meeting to the West Midlands gathering of No2EU on Tuesday night was very positive.

At the steering committee all the components of the coalition endorsed further action. The
Communist Party said they were preparing to stand candidates as part of their Unity for Peace and Socialism alliance with members of other 'official' CPs domiciled in Britain but wanted to work with its No2EU partners and others.

In the immediate term the steering committee appointed a working group that will report back in September. Its remit is to come up with an alternative name and a basic programmatic document that can be added to later. In addition, another union besides the RMT will be present at the September meeting and committee members will be talking to the leaderships of a further four unions about their participation.

Dave finished his report by noting that our electoral challenge needs to be properly organised - we cannot afford to adopt a cavalier approach to these things. What is certain is millions of voters will be afloat thanks to the collapse of Labour's electoral support. If we are to claim some of that and start building a mass alternative we have to get out into communities with our socialist message now.

Unsurprisingly there was a good deal of discussion. Yours truly welcomed Dave's report after fearing the worst (I had heard mutterings the RMT were only going to be prepared to endorse certain candidates from the sidelines) and asked if the SWP had been approached or were in contact with No2EU. Pete McLaren of the rump Socialist Alliance felt enthused about the developments. He also called for the SWP to be involved because they are significant and said we should debate out the programme on the basis of a mutually acceptable platform. Its guiding method should be on the 80 per cent the far left agrees on and not let the 20 per cent or so we disagree about be a barrier to working together.

Dave Church of Walsall Democratic Labour Party argued we were in danger of going around in a circle if we just chase after elections. We need to be more consistent and seek roots in our communities. He also added that we need to be modest. We all know we'll be fighting to keep deposits rather than seats, but we need also be clear that regardless whether Labour or the Tories win the next election, the working class will lose.

Dave Griffiths of Coventry Socialist Party argued we need to be patient when we're working together. An open debate about the nature of the coalition and its programme is necessary and all left groups should be drawn into the process. But at this stage its
de facto federal character should be preserved, so no one component can dominate. Dave was also cautious about the SWP - in light of what happened in the SA and Respect, he hoped to see some more signs of cooperative intent from them first.

Replying to Dave, Clive from Coventry SWP said the presence of himself and another member showed their serious intent. Because Labour is dying on its feet, there is a degree of urgency to all our unity proceedings. He thought there was a wind of change blowing through the trade union movement and what we need to do is give it an electoral expression that in turn can feed into workplace struggles. Alastair from Birmingham SWP said his party found the No2EU name problematic but that our enemies are a greater danger than we are to each other.

Summing up Dave Nellist said the SWP and No2EU had not spoken directly, but bilateral talks between them and the SP had started. On the question of programme, the CPB signaled that the
People's Charter would be pushed by them as the core programme for the coalition (a programme few but only the most chemical pure "revolutionaries" would have problem with as the basis of a left alliance). Dave also said he would like to see the coalition sit down with localised defenders of public services who already have some representation - people like Wigan's Community Action Party and the Socialist Peoples Party in Barrow. But they're only going to come on board any sort of left formation if they feel they have a say in its development. For example, back in the (mark one) Socialist Alliance the SP took a maximum of 40% of its leading positions, despite having the numbers to run it as a straight front group. If we try to hector and dominate localised campaigns when they become part of the coalition, they'll be out the door in five minutes. Therefore we need to exercise self-denying ordinance.

In sum, it's certainly looking positive. There will be something concrete on the table by the end of the Summer, which will be open to debate and modification. There is a commitment to having a more open coalition. The RMT are still on board and at least one other union is interested.

No2EU may not have set the world of electoral politics alight. But as has been constantly pointed out on this blog from the beginning, regardless of its faults it was part of a process that was going to go beyond the European elections. What this meeting did was to offer a glimpse of the far left realignment to come. There have been better times to be a socialist, but the one we live in is going to get more interesting.

Monday 20 July 2009

More New Socialist Blogs

Blathering about established blogs and the Total Politics Top 100 has reminded me the last month has seen a load of new left bloggers enter into the fray. Shall we take a look?

Lansbury's Lido offers a view on the world from a Christian socialist standpoint. Chris Hall, the author writes "I'm slowly beginning to realise that this liberal parliamentary democracy we live in isn't quite so liberal or parliamentary and is definitely lacking in democracy." You can follow Chris on Twitter here.

The Polemical Report does exactly what it says on the tin. Kit offers a combination of aggregate commentary on the media and analysis of a wide range of issues, from everything to the role of the US in the Honduras coup to an analysis of UKIP's performance in Wales during the European elections, Definitely a blog that deserves a wider audience.

In my opinion some of the groups behind the Hands Off the People of Iran are nuttier than a box of frogs(!?) but on the whole HOPI I think it has had a positive influence on the anti-war movement. That it can be simultaneously attacked as a front for Iran's mullahs by the AWL and denounced as first campist cheer leaders of US imperialism by so-called anti-imperialists suggests to me they've got the balance about right. And now, HOPI has
launched a blog carrying news on the upheavals convulsing Iranian society. It says "This blog has been set up in order to keep Hands Off the People of Iran members, supporters and friends up to speed with the latest developments from inside Iran. HOPI members are in constant contact with leading activists in the Iranian workers’ movement and are in an excellent position to not only report on events but to actively intervene in them. In face of the crackdown on communications media inside Iran, it is vital for us to assist in publicising demonstrations, strikes and rallies as and when they unfold." Whatever one's opinion of HOPI is the news carried is of interest to politicos of all persuasions, not just socialists.

It's always a pleasure when a new
Socialist Party-supporting blog starts up. This last month I've come across Proper Tidy, a comrade who offers "a non-partisan review of socialism in Wrexham and throughout North East Wales." At present the content is a nice mix of original comment, media reports and SP material. You can follow Proper Tidy on Twitter here.

The next blog comes from Becky, a fellow lefty twitterer I bumped into during the Twitter coverage of the European elections. And she's started a blog too. Her
Socialism of the Heart is an eclectic mix of the political, the spiritual and the musical. You can also follow Becky on twitter here.

Lastly for this clutch of new blogs,
River's Edge offers "news and thoughts from Preston, Lancashire". And from much further afield too. On Twitter the blog's author has become a must follow for anyone interested in the events unfolding in Honduras, and that is reflected in the blog too, alongside a mix of the political and cultural. You can follow 'Ribblesider' on Twitter here.

Time for a few shouts out. Last month
The Commune got a bit shirty for not getting a mention. Well comrades, this is about new blogs. That said The Commune do run an excellent blog and deserves a regular visit IMO. Also the Leftwing Criminologist has recently returned from the Committee for a Workers' International summer camp. Read all about it here.

And that's the new blog round up for this month. If you know of any new socialist or feminist blogs that have started up lately then let me know. Until next time, red salute!

Sunday 19 July 2009

Get Them Voting Fingers Out

It's the time of year when most Brits are looking forward to their holidays, the summer takes a torrential turn ... and the King of Blogging hosts his annual top 100 poll of political blogs.

As lists go this has never been without controversy. The method of compilation has always come in for criticism. Before last year's poll voting was done through a straw poll of existing notable bloggers. And then in 2008 the polling was mainly conducted from Iain Dale's blog, a blog that is one of the main congregation points for Tories and sundry right wingers. Unsurprisingly this replicated the bias from previous years, one that heavily tilts toward the right. (
see for yourself). So this time the poll is now officially organised under the auspices of Iain's Total Politics magazine and is being run simultaneously from there, Iain's blog, Labour List and LibDem Voice. By covering the main haunts of mainstream political blogging that bias such be bleached out as more take part in the voting.

But that causes far left bloggers a bit of a problem. We will be squeezed. Last year there were only seven far left bloggers who made the top 100. This year there will be fewer who make the grade, unless our collective readership vote for them. The seven in last years list were
Lenin's Tomb, The Daily (Maybe), Obsolete, A Very Public Sociologist (who?), Socialist Unity, Dave's Part, and Stumbling and Mumbling.

There are of course loads of other excellent far left blogs. There is
Madam Miaow, Though Cowards Flinch, The Third Estate, Stroppyblog, Splintered Sunrise, Shiraz Socialist, The Commune, Another Green World, Boffy's Blog, Directionless Bones, Excuse Me Whilst I Step Outside, Harpymarx, Organised Rage, and Penny Red to name but 14.

How to vote and make sure genuine socialist voices are represented in this year's top 100? Here are the rules:
1. You must vote for your ten favourite blogs and rank them from 1 (your favourite) to 10 (your tenth favourite).
2. Your votes must be ranked from 1 to 10. Any votes which do not have rankings will not be counted.
3. You MUST include ten blogs. If you include fewer than ten your vote will not count.
4. Email your vote to
5. Only vote once.
6. Only blogs based in the UK, run by UK residents are eligible or based on UK politics are eligible.
7. Anonymous votes left in the comments will not count. You must give a name
8. All votes must be received by midnight on 31 July 2009. Any votes received after that date will not count.
Email your top ten blogs now to

Obviously I'd be chuffed to bits if everyone of my 300 or so daily visitors put A Very Public Sociologist as their number one :P

Wednesday 15 July 2009

More Slow Blogging

The end is near. Not for this blog, but for my PhD. In less than three months time it's looking like my thesis will be bound and submitted to the gatekeepers of academia who will then decide my fate after the dreaded oral exam. Will they give me the right to take up an abode in an ivory tower somewhere? Might I only be allowed to call myself Dr Phil after a number of corrections? Or am I likely to be laughed out of the room? Time will tell.

It does however mean I'm more or less withdrawing into myself. Political activity's only going to be allowed in the context of
Socialist Party, Keele UCU and North Staffs Trades Council meetings. It means blogging's going to be more sporadic too. Instead of jumping on the computer at night as soon as I get in to throw a post together I'm going to have to wind down with a good book. So when blogs do appear they will tend to be short, but hopefully sweet.

But it's only going to be for about three months. I just hope those months are going to be relatively quiet.

Saturday 11 July 2009

A Tale of Two Cases

The News of the World under the watch of David Cameron's media advisor, Andy Coulson, are accused of hacking into the voice mail of thousands of politicians and celebrities. Despite ample evidence and the fact Coulson resigned over the illegal hacking of phones in 2007, a case that led to the imprisonment of the NOTW's royal editor, the police have decided there is no case to answer. NOTW is owned by Rupert Murdoch.

Over July and August 2006, Tommy Sheridan, then one of two MSPs for
Solidarity fought a successful libel battle against NOTW and won £200,000 in damages. After a complaint was brought, Lothian and Borders Police spent 40,000 hours and at least £1.8 million pursuing a perjury case against Sheridan and his friendly witnesses. The Crown Office were put under pressure by the police to prosecute the case. The office gave it the green light and Tommy and Gail Sheridan will have a preliminary hearing on Monday. NOTW is owned by Rupert Murdoch.

I'm just saying ...

Edit: More here.

Thursday 9 July 2009

Those Norwich North Candidates

Here is the list of candidates for July 23rd's by-election in Norwich North:

Peter Baggs (Independent)
Thomas Burridge (Libertarian Party)
Anne Fryatt (None of The Above Party)
Bill Holden (Independent)
Laud Howling (The Official Monster Raving Loony Party)
Craig Murray (Put An Honest Man into Parliament)
Chris Ostrowski (Labour)
April Pond (Liberal Democrat)
Rupert Read (Green)
Chloe Smith (Conservative)
Glenn Tingle (UK Independence Party)
Robert West (British National Party)

All the smart money seems to be on the Tories taking the seat from Labour, with the LibDems and Greens scrapping for third place.

But - annoyingly - there is a glaring omission from this list, and that would happen to be a representative of the far left. Paraphrasing a dead Russian, vote catching may well be the lowest form of class struggle but they are an essential property of British political life. I'm sure it wouldn't have been beyond the ken of the far left as a collective to have fielded a candidate we could all rally around. But it hasn't happened, and so we can chalk it up as another missed by-election opportunity.

Wednesday 8 July 2009

Xinjiang Erupts

This piece by Vincent Kolo, one of the CWI's China correspondents takes a look at the background and events of the last several days in Xinjiang province.

A peaceful sit-down protest in the capital city Ürümqi by around 300 Uighurs, the Turkic-speaking minority that is the dominant population group in Xinjiang, was transformed by trigger-happy police into perhaps the most serious ethnic clashes seen in decades. Xinjiang, known as East Turkestan to many Uighurs, has seen ethnic tensions rise as a result of Chinese state repression that went into overdrive after “9/11” and the global “war on terror”, discrimination of non-Chinese speakers, and a yawning wealth gap that puts the indigenous population at the bottom.

The anger boiled over on Sunday 5 July as hundreds of riot police waded into what had been a peaceful protest by Uighurs, mostly youth. Xinhua News Agency report that around 1,000 Uighurs rioted, overturning police barriers, attacking bystanders and smashing vehicles. Witnesses quoted in Western media said that up to 3,000 rioters faced around 1,000 police and paramilitary police. Chinese media gave the figure of at least 140 people killed and 816 injured, warning that the death toll could rise. These reports state that 261 motor vehicles and around 200 shops were attacked or burned.

“The casualty toll, if confirmed, would make this the deadliest outbreak of violence in China in many years,” writes the New York Times. Already, this represents the most serious outbreak of violence in Xinjiang since 1997 and threatens to eclipse the horrific death toll in Tibetan areas last year. A total clampdown is now in force in Ürümqi with martial law declared and telephone and internet services cut. Dozens of casualties, from both Han and Uighur communities, have been taken to city hospitals.

China Central Television (CCTV) showed footage of Uighur protesters attacking and kicking people on the ground. Other people sat dazed with blood pouring down their faces. As with the rioting in Lhasa, the Tibetan capital, in March 2008, such images will inflame anti-Uighur sentiment among sections of the Han Chinese who make up 92 percent of China’s population. Indeed, this is the intention of China’s ruling elite, who undoubtedly want to seize upon events in Ürümqi to create a welcome popular diversion from the deepening economic crisis and growing discontent that threatens to spoil the ruling ‘communist’ party’s celebration of 60 years in power this October. Typically, the central thrust of official propaganda is that the violence in Xinjiang was fomented from outside by exile groups - the message being that all Chinese should unite behind “their” government to protest against “foreign interference”.

No one should be fooled by this ‘spin’ on the events in Xinjiang. Reports at this stage are fragmentary, but the peaceful character of the initial protest in Ürümqi seems clear. Associated Press report that: “Accounts differed over what happened next in Xinjiang’s capital of Ürümqi, but the violence seemed to have started when a crowd of protesters – who started out peaceful – refused to disperse.” An American eyewitness was quoted by this agency saying that police pushed the protesters back with tear gas, fire hoses and batons, and protesters replied by knocking over police barriers and smashing bus windows. “Every time the police showed some force, the people would jump the barriers and get back on the street. It was like a cat-and-mouse sort of game,” he told AP.

Racist clash at Guangdong factory
The protest was held to demand answers from officialdom over an incident in Guangdong, southern China, on 26 June. A horrendous communal (ethnic) clash between Han Chinese and Uighur migrant workers at a toy factory in the city of Shaoguan resulted in two Uighurs being killed (although there are reports the number could be higher) and 118 injured from both ethnic groups. The incident was started by a Han Chinese worker who had lost his job at Early Light, a private company, that until recently employed over 50,000 workers in southern China. Rather than blaming the boss – Hong Kong’s ‘toy billionaire’ Francis Choi – this worker vented his anger on the 600 Uighur workers brought to the province as cheap labour (even cheaper than Han). This worker, who has since been arrested, circulated a false story on the internet claiming six Uighur men had raped two Han women at the factory. Gangs of Han workers attacked the Uighur dormitories with knives and metal bars and the Uighurs defended themselves with the same means – a bloodbath ensued.

This incident is highly symptomatic of processes in China, as tensions reach breaking point over unemployment (at a post-1949 record), pay cuts (200m migrants have been pitched into a new ‘race to the bottom’ competing for fewer and fewer factory jobs) and official corruption that penetrates almost every sphere of human activity. With all protest channels closed down and workers’ self-organisation outlawed, anger against the state is rising but so too is racism, crime, drug abuse, suicide, and other expressions of hopelessness. As a footnote on the Shaoguan incident, Choi, the billionaire toymaker, is officially worth US$1 billion and boasts a mansion with over 30 sports cars in its car park. The minimum wage set by Shaoguan’s government, which is the norm for most migrant workers, is just 500 yuan a month (approximately US$73). Such are the extremes of the ‘two Chinas’ today: A migrant worker would have to work for 261 years, not spending one fen (cent) of his wage, in order to buy one of Mr Choi’s Ferraris; yet such abysmally low wages are being fought over sometimes with tragic and bloody consequences.

The outbreak of street fighting in Ürümqi represents a ‘feedback loop’ from the clashes in Guangdong. Reports have circulated that police also took part in attacking the Uighur workers in Shaoguan, that several Uighurs despite being victims were among those arrested, and there are rumours that the mobile phones of Uighurs in Shaoguan had been confiscated to prevent them speaking out. Angered by these reports, and suspicious of another official cover up, a crowd of Uighurs went to the streets of Ürümqi to demand answers and protest against what is obvious discriminatory treatment.

State racism
The Shaoguan incident, widely reported on the internet and even in official media, has undoubtedly aroused deep indignation among Uighurs who have seen millions of Han Chinese move into Xinjiang, dominating the growing private sector (the population of Ürümqi, 2.3m, is now 70% Han Chinese), while Uighurs who move to other parts of China face systemic discrimination and racism, are harassed by police and other authorities, and ostracised as ‘untrustworthy’ and ‘prone to violence’ by some layers of the Han Chinese population. Racist ideas in any society can be cultivated by rulers to further their own policy interests. So it was with the rise of antisemitism in Europe, and “white supremacist” ideology against Afro-Americans in the U.S. And so it has been for decades in China with official distrust of the Uighur minority and their stubborn adherence to their own language, culture and religion, which in the bureaucratic-mandarin mindset poses a threat to “national interests”.

These prejudices are much in evidence now in the official version of the Ürümqi events. The claim that exiled Uighur spokeswoman Rebiya Kadeer, based in the U.S., is behind the riot cannot be taken seriously. Xinjiang’s Governor Nuer Baikeli has stated that, “After the [Shaoguan] incident, the three forces [i.e. separatism, militant action, and religious extremism] abroad strived to beat this up and seized it as an opportunity to attack us, inciting street protests.”

This claim is no more plausible than the claims the Dalai Lama orchestrated the rioting in Tibet last year, at a time when he was pleading to be allowed to attend the Beijing Olympics, the target of an attempted boycott campaign by his own supporters. Similarly when Han Chinese and other groups of workers stage strikes and street protests, the regime routinely points to the “black hands” of radical intellectuals, human rights activists, leftists, or falun gong practitioners, who they allege must be behind such actions - as if workers are too stupid to struggle on their own account!

In Xinjiang, while support for independence runs deep among Uighurs and other minorities, this is not yet a universal trend, and in this particular case it does not seem to have been the motor force of the protests. Eyewitnesses report that some Uighur protesters carried the Chinese flag. This is quite logical given that the aim of their action was to secure basic rights and assurances for Uighurs working elsewhere in China, but also in the hope the flag would offer some protection against repression and precisely the sort of propaganda against “separatism” that is now raining down. Having spread from Guangdong to Xinjiang, there is now a very real danger of racist revenge attacks on Uighurs in other parts of China, aggravated by chauvinistic government propaganda to justify the crackdown.

Police fired shots
From what are still sketchy eyewitness accounts it seems the security forces, after issuing several warnings to clear the area, attacked the demonstrators with gas and reportedly also cattle-prods, thus transforming a peaceful if angry protest into the worst violence in more than a decade. Even without a full picture of events (which may never emerge) this scenario seems very plausible. Several witnesses reported hearing gunfire in the evening of 5 July, by which time the riot was in full swing. Why would a several hour-long sit-down protest suddenly and without provocation go on a rampage, especially in a city where Uighurs are the minority, and where police numbers are overwhelming? As The Times (UK) points out: “Ürümqi has for years been one of the most well-controlled cities in Xinjiang because of the high and rapidly growing population of Han and the large presence of security forces.”

Are the security forces capable of turning one of the “most well-controlled cities” into a bloodbath? To answer this question we only need to look at their record elsewhere in China, where heavy-handed policing is a well-known major cause of unrest and rioting. We can point to the Weng’an incident (Guizhou province) one year ago as an example, and the Shishou incident (Hubei province) last month as another. There are too many other examples to list here.

The ruling party’s influential Outlook News Weekly commented as recently as its 15 June issue: “Party officials must pay close attention to mass incidents without making mountains out of molehills and seeing them as colossal ‘political incidents.’ Treating these incidents as anti-government actions and subsequently suppressing them with strong force would be the precise method of exacerbating problems, and would have the direct result of aggravating the opposition between officials and civilians.”

This is not the first time central government organs have urged a sensitive approach, fearing that local protests can easily spin out of control because as the same article explains, “social contradictions have already formed certain foundations of society and the masses, creating a powder keg ready to explode at the first hint of a flame...” Yet despite these wiser counsels, so contradictory and unstable is the octopus of the Chinese state that while the head may urge caution, its tentacles proceed to do the exact opposite, clinging to what they understand best: brute force. This seems to have been the trigger for the latest eruption in Xinjiang.

Socialism and working class unity
A riot by its very nature is a blind and destructive action, an act of desperation. It is not a method for achieving conscious political demands; it does not follow a democratically agreed structure (which is outlawed and therefore very difficult in China), and in conditions like those in Xinjiang this can easily boil over into attacks on innocent civilians targeted for their ethnicity. Socialists in no way support or advocate rioting as a means of political struggle, but neither do we join the chorus – led by the Chinese dictatorship – that puts the blame upon the Uighur protesters for this turn of events. The responsibility for what happened lies with the Beijing regime and its security forces, whose zero tolerance towards public protests and any form of independent action and thought is creating social explosions all over China. This is exactly as socialists warned. One year ago, we warned on “Beneath this surface ‘calm’, however, Xinjiang remains a time bomb...” [The National Question in Xinjiang,, 15 January 2008]

Socialists are completely opposed to the Chinese regime’s policies in Xinjiang and the repression now underway in Ürümqi. The Chinese state acts in Xinjiang in the same way it acts over incidents of unrest elsewhere: to defend the interests of the moneyed elite and the untrammeled rule of the current dictatorship. An independent non-government enquiry should be established to look into the events of 5 July and 26 June, including representatives of the Uighur community chosen by themselves. Working class unity over religious and ethnic lines represents the only way out of this crisis. Full democratic rights, including an end to linguistic and ethnic discrimination at school and work, and the right of self-determination for national minorities, are an indispensable part of this struggle. Building a new socialist labour movement, based upon the bedrock of independent trade unions that organise all workers regardless of nationality, sex, religious beliefs, and hukou status, is the urgent task of our time.

Sunday 5 July 2009

Marching with the Shrewsbury 24

Yesterday a trio of Stoke Socialist Party comrades attended a march and rally organised by Shropshire and Telford trades council in solidarity with the Shrewsbury 24. For those not aware of this famous case, the campaign site takes it up:
After the 1972 Building Workers’ National Strike 24 Trade Unionists were tried at Shrewsbury in a hostile act perpetrated by a Tory Government to criminalise picketing. A number of these men were given severe prison sentences. Best known of them were Des Warren and Ricky Tomlinson, who became referred to as the “Shrewsbury 2.” Des died as a direct result of the treatment that was meted out to him during his lengthy incarceration. Successive Governments both Tory and Labour, have remained unresponsive to the calls for these perverse judgements to be set aside, and for these men to be cleared. There is now a renewal of the campaign, even after all this time, and the death of some of those involved, to secure justice for these Trade Union Comrades. The campaign is also calling for a Public Inquiry to expose the role of successive governments and the secret services in the events surrounding this important time in labour history.
This march was the first in what will be an annual event to mark the struggle of these comrades and will carry on until all their names have been cleared. About 200 assembled at the car park just by Shrewsbury Abbey and took off up the hill to the massive war memorial outside the Shropshire county council offices, which itself is a stone's throw from the very court that banged the Shrewsbury's pickets up. I don't know how long it had been since a demo last wound its way along one of the main routes into town but it was able to draw a lot of interest from residents, workers and passersby as well as pull some of them along in its wake.

At the memorial we were treated to a number from the ever green
Banner Theatre and then came the speeches. The first speaker (apols to the comrade, I didn't catch his name) spoke of the monstrous frame up the government and secret state concocted in an act of petty vengeance against a labour movement that had forced Heath's Tories onto the back foot. The next speaker was Unite convenor Rob Williams, fresh from the magnificent victory at Linamar where the workers saw off management's attempt to sack him. Rob spoke of the injustice of the anti-trade union laws, of how he could be sacked unlawfully and the company suffer no consequences, whereas the shift who came out in his support could have lost their jobs and worse for defying those laws. He talked about Visteon and the victory at Lindsey oil refinery, outlined in broad terms the way forward for our movement and got one of the biggest cheers of the day for calling on union leaderships to stop funding Labour.

Ricky Tomlinson talked about the recent attempts made to clear his name and described his correspondence with Jack Straw, the so-called justice minister. After much wrangling and petitions for the relevant files to be released under the 30 year rule (requests denied by Straw on grounds of 'national security'!) Ricky was finally allowed to see some pertaining to the case. He sat down in a room with a keeper of the records and began turning the pages ... only to find huge junks of the reports redacted. If these don't suggest a cover up, he didn't know what does. He also described the appalling treatment he and especially Dessie received inside, a treatment that saw Dessie serve his three years in no less than 17 prisons.

Arthur Scargill finished the day off with a call for workers to sweep away the anti-trade union laws and rally to the banner of socialism. We will keep on struggling until what he called the 'gleam of socialism' has been achieved.

Overall it was an excellent day - though more bar staff could have been done with laying on at the Salop Unison club for the social! Politically it was important as it linked the memory of past struggles to those erupting today. It was good this event came together after three victories for our movement - let us hope we meet again to mark the Shrewbury 24 this time next year under even more favourable circumstances.

Friday 3 July 2009

Branch Meeting: National Committee Report

In the Socialist Party the highest decision making body is the annual party conference. But obviously an assembly of the membership on a regular basis is impractical and would throw a huge burden onto our limited resources. Therefore decision making devolved to two bodies inbetween conferences. There is the executive committee which meets at the very least on a weekly basis, which is in turn immediately responsible to our national committee. This meets less frequently but is comprised of a mix of lay delegates from branches and full timers plus visitors. The EC is overseen by and is subordinate to this body. Meetings of our NC are therefore very important to the functioning of our party.

Brother A attended the last NC meeting over 20th-21st June on behalf of
Stoke branch and reported back at last night's meeting. There were seven items on the NC's packed agenda - where is Britain going?, prospects of a left challenge at the general election, the SP's approach to countering the BNP, problems around transitional demands in industrial disputes, the importance of trade union and workplace activity and finally, building the party. Given the length of proceedings A focused his contribution on two items - Britain and party building.

As tentative as it may be, it was the opinion of the NC that we could be seeing the re-emergence of a confident industrial working class. Though at the time of the meeting the Lindsey dispute hadn't been won, the unofficial action the oil workers took back in winter and recently - in conjunction with sympathy stoppages elsewhere - demonstrates the potentiality the industrial working class still possesses. In effect the anti-trade union laws do not exist when masses of workers start to move. There was also some discussion of the roles played by the SP at Lindsey, Visteon and Linamar. The latter demonstrates what can be achieved after very patient and consistent work. The reasons why Rob Williams became site convenor and was successfully defended by Linamar workers was on the basis of him being effective and giving workers a lead. In the cases of Visteon and Lindsey the SP was able to play the role it did because official union leadership was either lacking or non-existent.

Nevertheless it must be remembered that each of these disputes were of a defensive character. But there results, particularly Lindsey because it received some national media coverage could help embolden layers of workers well removed from the environs of the refinery and construction industry. These seeds of victory fall on a shifting ground of consciousness. The political crisis stemming from MP's expenses have established an inchoate but widespread anti-establishment feeling - sentiments that have been deepened because of the recession. There is also a general acceptance of the bosses argument that belts have to be tightened and jobs shed, a matter not helped by the absence of a mass independent working class voice. Again union leadership has been lacking at British Airways and Corus as wage freezes and job losses have been allowed through almost on the nod by the relevant trade unions.

Internationally there is increasing volatility to. The explosion in Iran over the presidential elections does not challenge capitalism, but it could be a foretaste of what is to come elsewhere.

When it came to party building, A told us about some of the workers who've recently joined the party off the back of our involvement in the aforementioned disputes. He said we're not recruiting hand over fist, but we are making good progress. The same number had joined in the first six months of this year as had in all but the last two months of last year. If the rate remains at least the same we'll pass the psychological target of 2,000 members. A new comrade recruited from the shop workers' union,
USDAW was reported as saying he'd joined the party after watching its activity for a long period of time - there could be hundreds of trade union activists doing the same thing.

During the discussion a number of points were made on consciousness,
Labour's backtracks on rail nationalisation, Royal Mail privatisation and ID cards and the situation in Honduras. C asked about the discussions around No2EU and a couple asked A how the position now compared with Militant at various points of its development.

I tried to have a stab at the latter. Militant's size and the things it did represent the pinnacle of Trotskyist influence in Britain. However, though it did have some industrial muscle its base was in the CLPs and Labour Party Young Socialists. Now where the SP makes its strength felt is in the trade unions. A agreed. During the Miners' Strike Militant nationally recruited some 500 miners but for the most part, the rest of the far left played important and constructive roles among the miners and in the solidarity movement. As the labour movement rallied around the distinctive parts played by each were lost amid the efforts of everyone else. But now the SP's trade union work stands out and offers a positive class struggle alternative - as Lindsey demonstrated. Thus there is a qualitative difference between Militant's and the SP's union base.

On the son of No2EU unfortunately little progress had been made. Despite the positive comments Bob Crow made in the aftermath of the election he now believes a challenge is only really worthwhile if more than one union can get involved. Furthermore, as far as comrades were aware the
Communist Party's executive does not meet until July 11th and so are waiting on what the comrades have to say.

But overall A reported a real mood of confidence at the NC in the SP's prospects. Undoubtedly, things are looking up.

Thursday 2 July 2009

Socialist Activism and Responsibility

At the moment I'm still working on the penultimate chapter of my PhD. The thesis is, among other things, looking at how a sample of activists from the Socialist Party and Socialist Workers' Party got involved and remained committed in what were tough times for socialist politics. That's not to say things now aren't difficult, but there are certainly more openings for our activism today than was the case for most of the 90s and a good chunk of this decade. I digress.

I thought I would share this short extract from an interview with one of my SP comrades. I asked what it meant to him to be a socialist and a member of our party, and I think his reply is possibly the best answer to the question I received. It might be of interest to readers:
I heard this question earlier on and I still haven’t prepared myself for it. Two different questions. What it is to be a socialist – I don’t think there’s an answer to it because often socialists come from different backgrounds and can have very different ideas and methods, principles, and come to them from very different places, so I’m not going to answer that. To me what it means to be a socialist ... it’s a difficult question to answer. It’s about not giving an inch. First and foremost not letting anyone else dictate where your life goes. It’s about taking responsibility for yourself. It’s about not letting yourself be exploited or being taken advantage of. About sticking two fingers up to the man, it’s about taking responsibility for your own life, where it’s going and not letting anyone get in your way or dictate where you’re going to end up ...
Whenever I hear quotes is something that brings to mind something said by Trotsky, which said “every revolutionist is a soldier in the proletarian army” Every time I read that I smirk. It’s about the place you have in the movement and the class struggle, and I think my place will change year in, year out. At the moment I seem to have designs on being the young, sharp Bolshevik who tells everyone else where they’re going wrong, but I’m sure that will evolve and change as I evolve and change. The reason why I’m not a soldier in the proletarian army … you know those guys who work for noodle houses, who stand in the street pointing signs in the direction of the nearest one, that’s me. My sign says ‘socialism: this way'. Being a SP member for me is quite similar to my first answer, the difference is being a SP member means taking responsibility for the party. I know it’s been a red thread through this interview. It’s every member’s responsibility to build the party, maintain the party, to recruit, educate and integrate new people, and most importantly at the moment, to develop themselves so all these things can be best achieved. Comrades who don’t so that, and so-called socialists and Marxists who don’t take any responsibility for the party have no grounds to dictate to the party how it should be built, or how things should be done differently. If every young comrade in the organisation develops themselves into an organiser, a cadre within the next year, we would double at least the number of capable, grass roots organisers. The number one attribute of being a party member is responsibility.

Wednesday 1 July 2009

Conspiracy Files: 7/7

We will never accurately know why Mohammad Sidique Khan, Germain Lindsay, Hassib Hussain and Shehzad Tanweer felt it necessary to blow themselves up. A conventional search for a scientific explanation might analyse their angry opposition to what they saw as a war against Islam. It would consider their adherence to a set of fundamentalist beliefs that morally justified their attacks. It would look into their individual biographies and try to divine how they came to hold such views. But unfortunately for some this complexity is too mundane, too tedious - they prefer simple and yet exotic answers.

Conspiracy Files: 7/7 examined some of the alternative "answers" proffered mainly by the conspiracy film 7/7 Ripple Effect. Like all conspiracy theories it picks on alleged inconsistencies in the official narrative, exposes them and spins off all kinds of conclusions - most usually in the complete absence of any evidence.

A typical example of conspiracy theorising comes courtesy of Dr Mohammad Naseem of
Birmingham Central Mosque. He, like a reported one in four British Muslims, doubts that four young Muslim men met at Luton station early on July 7th, 2005 and went on to murder 52 people and injure a further 780 between 8.50 and 9.50 that morning. One item that planted the seed of doubt in his mind (leaving aside, of course, the desire of wanting to believe the British government were behind the atrocities) was the retrieval of documents identifying the bombers from the scene. He reckoned these could not have withstood an explosive force responsible for the bomb damage. They had to be like the hijacker's passport recovered from the scene of the Twin Towers: planted evidence (yes, Dr Naseem is a 9/11 Truth'er too). That both attacks used similar documentation to establish the identities of the terrorists is too much of a coincidence - it had to be an inside job. The more sensible explanation that the bombers left documentation nearby identifying themselves (after all, they wanted the world to know what they had done) does not appear to trouble the good doctor.

A second string to the idea 7/7 was an inside job is Tony Blair's
statement, delivered eight hours after the bombings. He noted:
I welcome the statement put out by the Muslim Council who know that those people acted in the name of Islam but who also know that the vast and overwhelming majority of Muslims, here and abroad, are decent and law-abiding people who abhor this act of terrorism every bit as much as we do.
Did you see what Tony Blair did? He mentioned Islam before any evidence had been recovered implicating the four men. It might have been politically unwise to immediately and publicly assume Muslim extremists were behind the bombs, but nevertheless it was a reasonable assumption to make thanks to Blair's wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. However for Ripple Effect this was no heat of the moment slip but damning evidence he had foreknowledge of the attacks.

And so the charges go on. The official report originally claimed the bombers caught the 7:40 train from Luton, but it was later discovered not to have run. A miscommunication on the part of the police? Or evidence of a lazy cover story, as the Holocaust-denying
Nick Kollerstom likes to claim? And how about that dodgy CCTV? (drag down to the fourth chapter title). Are the railings that appear through the face and body of one of the bombers evidence of fakery - as Kollerstrom claims - or a result of taking stills from a low resolution camera?

Another absurdity spun by
Ripple Effect is its belief the bombs were planted beneath the train. This is based on eyewitness interviews with The Graun that claimed the explosions appeared to erupt from under the floor. The film argues these were set off remotely and the men then framed. There are a couple of problems with this thesis. First, according to the testimony of 7/7 survivor, Rachel North the trains were packed that morning - so much so two went by her before she could get on. Presumably our shadowy conspirators knew this too - so they must have had preternatural cunning to guess in advance which trains the "patsies" were going to board. Second, it turned out the eyewitness statements were contradicted by those closer to the explosion, who said the opposite. Plus all photos of the craters left behind show the direction of the explosions pointing downwards. But best not let the facts get in the way of the theory, eh?

These are just some of the theories comprehensively debunked in the documentary. Unfortunately, as I've
noted before programmes of this sort are required viewing for socialists because of the influence organised conspiracy-mongers try and exert in radical and anti-war politics. But this is not the only danger. Rachel North has taken a stand against the conspiratorial accounts of 7/7. Not only does she find it disgusting and upsetting to be told her experience is not valid and that criticising the truth'ers makes her a government stooge, an islamophobe and a zionist, she believes the conspiracy theories help legitimate the arguments of extremists in Muslim communities. Ripple Effect's claim 7/7 was orchestrated by the British government and/or MI5 and Mossad to demonise Muslims and win support for an unpopular war is music to extremist ears.

Everyone leaning toward the conspirtorial understanding of 7/7 should see this documentary. I'm pretty sure anyone who doesn't believe the evidence presented here by the BBC is
part of the cover up will find the case for the official account compelling.

Lenin once likened nationalism to the outer shell of an immature Bolshevism, and the same could be said of conspiracy theorising. Raising doubts and subjecting government pronouncements to detailed critique is welcome in as far as they illuminate what's really going on. Unfortunately the weaving of conspiracies on the flimsiest of pretexts wraps existing accounts and evidence in an extra layer of mystification, which can by association serve to discredit genuine criticisms of a government's or institution's actions over a particular matter. It also offers nothing but a council of despair. They conceive history not as a set of complex social processes as Marxists do, but as the outcomes of an unceasing sequence of manipulations by an all-powerful shadowy elite. If they can assassinate JFK, fake the moon landings and pull off the 9/11 attacks, what hope for their overthrow? As a radical and anti-establishment narrative, the conspiratorial view of history is risible, potentially dangerous and should be shown no quarter.