Sunday 29 November 2009

Split in Russian CWI

Eagle-eyed left watchers will have picked up on the news that the Committee for a Workers' International section in Russia has split. However, while others on the left prefer to pass over splits in silence while hoping no one notices, the CWI has a tradition of publishing relevant documents and commenting on these sorts of setbacks. After all, every difference, every split within the far left is pregnant with lessons for all revolutionary socialists. Below I reproduce the CWI's statement on the split (original here). Normal blogging will resume shortly.

Russia/Georgia War, capitalist crisis and the workers’ movement…
Vital debates for socialists

Statement from the CWI in Russia

For over twenty years, the Committee for a Workers’ International (CWI) in Russia and throughout the former Soviet Union has worked to build the forces of genuine socialism, with modest but significant successes - given the huge tasks ahead for socialists - which no other Trotskyist or serious left force has matched. This vital work has been conducted in extremely difficult material and political conditions, as a consequence of the collapse of Stalinism and the disastrous imposition of capitalism and authoritarian rule. The important steps forward we have made were only possible as a result of the CWI’s clear historical analysis of Stalinism and its demise in 1989-91, the maintenance of principled Marxist ideas and methods of work, and by developing clear analysis, perspectives, and socialist policies and programme.

One of the most pernicious legacies of Stalinism is the widespread ideological confusion in Russian society, coupled with an avalanche of capitalism propaganda and reactionary ideas. Inevitably, this ideological confusion finds expression in the developing workers’ movement and even in the ranks of the CWI, in a period when the working class has not yet decisively intervened into the political life of the country. For over 18 months, a sharply polarised debate has taken place inside the CWI in Russia. This culminated, last weekend, in the parting of the ways between the CWI and a grouping based around a three-person so called ‘Executive Committee’ of the Russian organization. This grouping has clearly shown, in words and deeds, that they do not even agree with some of the most basic elements of the CWI programme, methods of work or party democracy. This former opposition grouping has placed itself outside the ranks of the CWI.

The former opposition grouping rushed to publicized their completely disingenuous version of the outcome of last Saturday’s CWI meeting in Moscow, including on the ‘blogosphere’. Of course, they do not mention the real and fundamental political differences between us and try to spread all sorts of ridiculous falsehoods and personal attacks. In the process of building the CWI, we have previously parted ways with similar grouplets representing opportunist and reformist trends, a type of which unfortunately are found all too often in the developing workers’ movement in the former CIS.

We welcome the opportunity to put on public record the opposition groupings’ completely erroneous political positions on key issues, such as the Russia/Georgia War, the political programme required by workers’ today and on party democracy. We believe the workers’ movement in Russia and internationally can learn from this debate and it can help prepare socialists for the tasks ahead, as we enter a stormy period of capitalist crises, conflicts and workers’ struggles.

At a meeting organised by the International Secretariat (IS) of the CWI, held on 21 November 2009, in Moscow, an IS Statement was read out by visiting IS member, Peter Taaffe. This stated that it is now clear that the so-called Russian ‘Executive Committee’ and its supporters had broken from the CWI on crucial political and organisational principles. Peter went on to state that the Russian section of the CWI, with the support of the IS and the whole CWI, will continue to build and develop the forces of genuine Marxism and invited all those comrades who want to be part of this crucial task to get involved. Two thirds of those at the meeting expressed their support for the CWI.

Russia/Georgia War
This brings to an end a period of sharp disagreement within the Russian CWI. Months of growing differences over ideas, programme and methods amongst the leadership of the Russian CWI erupted throughout the entire Russian organisation during the Georgia-Russia War, in August 2008. Articles published on the organisation’s website and in its newspaper failed to put a clear socialist and class alternative to the bloody conflict that broke out between Russian imperialism and Georgia, backed by US imperialism. In fact, the opposition grouping capitulated to Russian chauvinism. Rather than demand the withdrawal of all troops from the region, for the unity of workers to resist the bloodshed and ethnic conflicts, for the overthrow of capitalism in the region and advocate the struggle to establish a free and democratic socialist federation of the Caucasus, these articles preferred to call for “friendship” between peoples and argued that only the Russian army could defend South Ossetia. They wrote: "In this situation the only force capable of defending the population of South Ossetia are the Russian troops". This incorrect position was repeated in articles on the Russian site, in written comments on the CWI members' forum and in discussions. To give just one more example, they claimed: “The Georgian aggression can only be resisted by Russian troops”.

These articles even went as far as praising the role of the reactionary ‘Narodni Opolchentsi’ militia in Abkazia and Ossetia at the beginning of the 1990s, “who succeeded in driving out the Georgian occupants”. In 2008, one of the opposition groupings’ leaders declared that it would be perfectly logical if today people rushed to join these opolchentsi to defend their “brother peoples” in South Ossetia. In the early 1990s, the Narodnii opolchentsi were involved in, and provided cover for, those conducting brutal ‘ethnic cleansing’ in Abkhazia. The ‘volunteers’ who were signed up in 2008 were, according to press reports, mainly from reactionary Cossack bands.

The call to join the ‘opolchentsi’, alone, would have served as grounds for immediate expulsion from the CWI. It was clear, however, that the majority of members of the Russian section were not fully aware of the significance of the arguments and therefore a discussion was opened up inside the Russian CWI on the question of the Russia/Georgia War. This is in line with the proud history of the CWI in Russia and internationally, in allowing full internal democratic debate and discussion. The opposition grouping was given ample opportunity to put forward its ideas to the Russian membership and an international audience. The IS was fully involved in this discussion, including corresponding with the leaders of the opposition grouping and organizing two visits by Niall Mulholland, on behalf of the IS, for meetings and discussions with all comrades in Russia. The IS strenuously opposed the shameful and undemocratic methods used by the opposition against those Russian comrades that supported the political position of the CWI, including the denial of faction rights.

After a period of intense debate in the Russian section, a Russian conference in June 2009 adopted a resolution rejecting the opposition grouping’s serious errors concerning the war and agreed a position on the war completely in line with the principled Marxist approach of the CWI. A new EC was elected by the conference that reflected the decisions of the conference and the position of the CWI.

It was therefore a great shock to many Russian comrades that during a meeting of the organisation’s Russian Committee (RC), in September 2009, the opposition grouping once again resorted to underhand, undemocratic methods to remove the EC elected by the June conference and to impose three supporters of the opposition as the new ‘EC’. This provoked a new period of intense debate inside the Russian organisation. The so-called ‘EC’ soon tried to steer the Russian organisation back to the opposition groupings’ completely wrong political positions. This can seen by a statement drafted by the ‘EC’ on 18/11/2009, which defended and praised the shameful position of the opposition grouping on the Russian-Georgian conflict, during which they capitulated before Russian nationalism. This was a clear rejection of the position adopted by the Russian Conference in 2009.

Consciousness of the working class
During the last year of debate, other political disagreements arose within the Russian organization, revealing how far the opposition grouping had moved from a Marxist position. The most important of these relates to an estimation of the mood and consciousness of the working class and the programme needed for the emerging workers’ movement. The current economic crisis has led to big attacks against the working and living conditions of the working class throughout the world. Although there have been some spectacular protests, and strikes and occupations in different countries, these have not yet taken on a generalized character. Despite the growth of a searing anti-banker and even anti-capitalist mood, this has not yet developed into a generalized socialist consciousness. But it is clear that the effects of the economic crisis will continue to be felt for years to come. There are five countries from the former USSR now in the list of “ten most likely” to default on their debts, with the Ukraine in first place, joined by Lithuania, Latvia, Russia and Kazakhstan. It is inevitable that protests and opposition will grow in the coming period. In some countries, including Russia, there could be dramatic social explosions. The CWI believes that in this situation it is necessary to present a programme that answers the day-to-day needs of the working class, around demands such as “no to job losses and wage cuts”, together with a strategy to fight for these demands. These demands have to be made in the wider context of the need for nationalization of the major parts of industry and the big banks, under workers’ control and management, for an alternative plan of production, and for a planned economy and a socialist government. There have already been examples of workers in Russia who have raised the demand for nationalization, seeing that as the only way to save their factory.

As the discussion inside the Russian CWI organization developed over the course of the last year, supporters of the opposition resisted demands such as our call ‘open the books’ and for nationalization, under workers’ control and management, just as they refused to call for a socialist federation of the Caucuses, during the 2008 war. As a result of the debate, several members were won over to the CWI’s position, and under this pressure the leaders of the opposition grouping grudgingly and disingenuously ‘accepted’ that such demands could be used as “propaganda”. However, their real position quickly resurfaced at the September 2009 meeting of the Russian Committee, when one of the groupings’ leaders spoke in favour of the “optimization of personnel” at the AvtoVaz car plant, i.e. he argued in support of job losses. Other supporters of the opposition began to support these proposals, only attempting to cover them up with left phraseology.

In a recent document produced by the so-called ‘EC’, it described the demand for a democratic planned economy and a workers’ government with a socialist programme as “stupid ultra-left sectarianism”. This is a complete rejection of the transitional approach outlined by Leon Trotsky. Trotsky described how it was necessary to present a programme of immediate demands to answer the direct needs of the working class, while, at the same time, presenting a series of transitional demands, whose aim were to build a bridge between the current consciousness of the working class and the need to for a socialist transformation of society, which entails campaigning to transform workers’ struggle into a fight for socialism.

What type of organisation do we need to build?
Naturally, the last few months’ internal debate also centred on the nature of the organization that we are trying to build. The structure of an organisation should reflect its political programme and tasks. We place a priority on the need to develop political clarity. If the structure does not correspond to the programme, then contradictions within the organisation grow. A Marxist organization operates on the basis of democratic centralism, which sees full and free discussion on perspectives, programme and tactics, to develop a politically unified organization, with a leadership and party structures that both develop and defend a Marxist position and which are capable of implementing tasks.

The rejection of democratic centralism by the former opposition grouping is perfectly in line with their political points of view and reformist trajectory. Their clear opposition to democratic centralism, as practiced by the CWI, was demonstrated by their article, “Democratic centralism, principles and political practice” in which they argued that “…Trotsky did not understand the principles of democratic centralism. Being a first rate personality, who won over the masses by his personal qualities, Trotsky in 1917 remained a lone genius. His unification with the Bolsheviks took place at the very moment when the principles of democratic centralism were already being replaced by administrative principles, which for Trotsky became characteristic of his style of leadership”.

It is clear that the former EC was, in words and deeds, following a non-Marxist, reformist political and organizational route.

The opposition grouping also attempted to hijack the media of the CWI in Russia, by publishing articles, for example, on the war, on ‘civil society’ and the national question that directly contradict the approach and programme of the CWI, while, at the same time, censoring material written by elected leaders of the CWI and refusing to publish the CWI section’s newspaper for months. This situation left the Moscow branch of the CWI with no option but to print its own newspaper, which is in line with the political position of the CWI and the Russian conference in June - a decision that was fully supported by the IS.

The former opposition grouping has chosen to put itself outside the CWI and to join the marsh of opportunism and reformism in Russia. For our part, we are confident to continue our task of building and developing the ideas of genuine socialism, of the CWI, in Russia. Even in the few days since our parting of the ways became public, we have been contacted by people in Russia, who had been watching the evolution of our organization with interest and who expressed their support for our principled political stand.

The world has changed over the past two years. There is now a more favorable situation for building support for socialist ideas. The workers’ movement in Russia may, for the moment, be relatively quiet, but as the masses of workers and youth move into action, which we believe is inevitable in the coming period, they will be looking for answers. We are confident that by developing the ideas and programme of the CWI in Russia, our overwhelmingly youthful and working class organization will grow significantly in the coming period.

Thursday 26 November 2009

PhD Abstract on British Trotskyism

When you open a copy of my thesis, 'A Reflexive and Value-Added Analysis of Contemporary Trotskyist Activism in Britain', this abstract will give you a snapshot of what it's all about.

Though neglected by social movement research and the burgeoning popular literature on global justice activism, Trotskyism is not just a persistent presence across a wide range of social movements but has often played an important role in initiating them. Nevertheless contemporary British politics has remained stubbornly resistant to widespread far left influence for a number of years, unlike France, Germany and Italy. This thesis explores Trotskyist activism in this largely unfavourable context by examining how Trotskyist activists became radicalised and how they have remained committed for long periods of time through the use of life history interviews with members of the Socialist Party (formerly Militant) and the Socialist Workers’ Party.

This thesis has three objectives. Addressing ongoing debates around the production of sociological knowledge, this thesis positions itself as an act of reflexive sociological practice. It locates sociology and sociologists within the configuration of prevailing power relations, discusses the positions in the relevant debates the discipline has adopted and, following Pierre Bourdieu, argues it is necessary for sociology to be open about the interests it has in the research it pursues. This is especially the case when one is studying social movements as some powerful interests may be (unwittingly) served by opening them up to public scrutiny. Conflicts between sociological interest and the interests of the movement are further illustrated with reference to the author’s position as a doctoral candidate and partisan of one of the organisations under study.

Secondly, intervening in current debates around the mobilisation of social movements the thesis develops a value-added model of individual radicalisation. This model ties together a number of processes identified by social movement research as being crucial for collective mobilisations, which in turn are modified and applied to the radicalising experiences of Trotskyist activists. This produces a non-linear but unified model that does not sacrifice detail and specificity to a single, overriding organisational principle.

Thirdly, a related but modified value-added model is developed to analyse individual experiences and strategies of Trotskyist commitment. This draws on existing social movement literature to a degree but involves some theoretical innovations of its own. It retains the non-linear and non-reductive advantages of its radicalisation counterpart. The thesis then interrogates the two models with general questions about their relationship to each other, the extent to which they can be applied beyond Trotskyist activism, whether they can be “up-scaled” for meso- and macro-level analysis, and the conceptual limits of the models.

Wednesday 25 November 2009

Caught Fibbing

I've only just got round to reading the SWP's Pre-Conference Bulletin and this sentence from the Central Committee's 'Building the Party' spiel sprang out like a frog on a trampoline. Recalling the Lindsey Oil Refinery strikes early on in the year, our unknown scribbler writes
... the SWP was right to make a political stand against the slogan 'British Jobs for British Workers' adopted by sections of construction workers. We started out in a minority on this question but we won over serious sections of the working class. [Emphasis mine]
Oh really? Funny, I remember the Socialist Party getting stuck into the dispute and turning it away from dodgy, nationalist slogans. And what was the SWP doing? Tailing the bourgeois press and portraying the 'BJ4BW' slogan as the defining feature of the dispute. Meanwhile the antics of its keyboard warriors who interpreted the equivocal position of non-support as a green light to denounce the strikers as racists did the SWP's wider reputation in the labour movement no good at all.

It's just sad and a little bit pathetic that so-called revolutionaries feel the need to tell fibs to their own members.

Saturday 21 November 2009

Blogging May Be Light ...

In just over a week's time my magnum opus, 'A Reflexive and Value-Added Analysis of the Life History of Trotskyist Activists' will be handed in. I won't say it's been an easy beast to write - but by far the hardest part has been overcoming a sense of directionless and keeping motivated. Occasional bouts of writer's block didn't help any either.

But all that's in the past. At this very moment I am half way through the final draft. Approximately 45,000 words lie behind me. A similar amount are still waiting revision. In addition I have to re-do the introduction and conclusion, put together my appendices, join it altogether in one giant document and then print the jocker. The final act is more traumatic than it sounds. The powers that be want THREE copies.

As there's still a bit of a distance to go, I imagine blogging's going to be very light this week. Which is a shame as there's plenty I want to talk about. I quite fancied saying a few things about
Stoke BNP quaking in their boots because Assed Baig, the president of Staffs Uni Student's Union, in a little-read article linked to a site listing addresses of local fash. According to local gauleiter, Michael Coleman, the home addresses of political opponents should be sacrosanct. Perhaps he should try telling that to BNP'ers all too happy to supply Redwatch with addresses and phone numbers of socialists and trade unionists.

There's also been a very interesting debate on a couple of blogs about the relationship of socialism to feminism.
Harpy and Dave have got the goods. I would have weighed in with some reflections on this debate in the classic Beyond the Fragments. I still might when all is done and dusted.

Well, I leave you with a slice of music from 1999. IMHO this is probably the best dance track ever. If you have an aversion to trance, turn away now.

Wednesday 18 November 2009

Prison Officers' Unofficial Walk Outs

Blink and you would have missed it. An unofficial walk out by prison officers at Liverpool Prison yesterday sparked secondary action across North West England today. Risley prison in Warrington, jails in Preston and Lancaster and young offenders' institutions in Lancaster (again) and Portland, Dorset all went out on unofficial action this morning and afternoon.

By the time of writing everyone has returned to work after a deal was hastily put together.

The outstanding issue at the heart of the dispute in Liverpool is, surprise, surprise, bullying management (details
here). That it provoked mass action suggests this is far from an isolated incident.

Some on the left would take a rather sniffy attitude toward this. Because screws are part of what Louis Althusser would call the 'repressive state apparatus', i.e. the armed bodies of men and women that, in the last analysis, will be called upon by the state to defend itself and the social system it protects, ultra-lefts typically argue the workers' movement should have nothing to do with them. So to back prison officers in a strike or, heaven forfend,
allow one of them to join your party is tantamount to class treachery.

A discussion of Marxist strategy and prison officers, the police and military can be found here.

But comrades who express indifference toward industrial relations in the prison service are being very short sighted indeed. Quite apart from the fact that disputes help erode the ideologies of service and loyalty the state relies upon, there are the wider, positive impacts wildcat actions can have on working class confidence.

Despite the economic crisis and the recession, generally speaking union strength and militancy remain at a low ebb. This is one reason why the wildcat strikes at Lindsey Oil Refinery and elsewhere earlier in the year were so important. After years of relative industrial peace - on the bosses' terms - the strikes demonstrated collective action not only works, but can be victorious too.

There's no reason why wildcat actions by the screws can't have the same effect, which is why - in addition to the justice of their grievances - another round of walkouts should receive the left's and labour movement's full support and solidarity.

Tuesday 17 November 2009

Has Compass Gone Wonky?

Just when you thought the Labour leadership question had been put to sleep until after the general election, it seems Compass (or at least some leading figures within it) are determined to tip it out of bed. According to this report in The Graun, Compass is planning on launching a coup to topple Gordon Brown and replace him with someone more to their political tastes. David Miliband and Alan Johnson are touted as people amenable to the centre left politics Compass espouses.

Much apparently hinges on the December 9 pre-budget report. If Darling dishes out the same neoliberal warm-ups (albeit with a garnish of palest pink social democracy), the daggers will be out.

Assuming the report is true, if Compass are serious about Labour winning the next general election (or at least want to avoid a wipe out), more leadership shenanigans this late in the game only serves to discredit Labour
even further among voters. Needless to say it also damages the standing of Compass within the party. Do the as yet unnamed figures behind the coup plot wish to go down in political history as those who wielded the knife as the Tories were at the gates?

You might ask why a member of the
Socialist Party gives a shit. After all our party's immediate strategic objective is the founding a new workers' party/new left formation that would re-enfranchise all those New Labour's love-in with big business has left out in the cold. Does it matter what clique ends up running a straight bosses party?

I think it matters very much. The choice at the next election might seem to be one between the devil and the deep blue sea, but for socialists and anyone who cares about the fate of the labour movement there are wider strategic considerations we need to take into account. Leaving aside the policy differences between the two and Cameron's seeming willingness to drag Britain into a so-called double dip recession, the fact remains another Labour government provides more favourable circumstances for building a viable left wing opposition to it - provided the parties to Labour's left are able to overcome their long-standing antipathies and seize the opportunities that present themselves.

Secondly, even if Labour loses it is still in our movement's interests that as many Labour MPs are returned to Westminster as possible. Why? The slimmer the Tory majority, the less able they are to push through their programme of attacks and cuts. It's that simple really.

Before anyone shoots me of course the left should support candidates from Respect, Son-of-No2EU, other "credible" lefts and the occasional Green and independent (depending on their politics). But everywhere else the labour movement should work to return a Labour MP. We are where we are and as much as it pains me to say it, it is in the immediate strategic interests of our movement that the Labour vote next year is as large as possible.

Which brings me back to Compass. Despite having politics a million times better than Brown's cabal of New Labourites, they are not looking at the big picture. Another leadership contest is a foolhardy circus at a time when all guns should be directed at the Tories.

Ged Robinson.

Monday 16 November 2009

Against the Odds

This, apparently, is going to be Labour's next party political broadcast:

Against the Odds was shown at Labour's conference in the Autumn and went down a storm with the party faithful. So much so that Ellie Gellard, well-known Labour twitterer and blogger launched an online campaign to get the film adopted as Labour's next PPB. According to the New Statesman, the powers that be have adopted it.

So, many congratulations to Ellie and her comrades.

But - and there's a very big but - Against the Odds is simply dreadful. It may warm the hearts of the New Labour faithful but there's simply no way this will resonate outside of the party's already-committed base. What works for the activists doesn't necessarily chime with the public. And especially in this case. Without a hint of irony Against the Odds spends all of its two-and-a-half minutes dressing the government up in the best labour movement traditions, while conveniently ignoring how Blair and Brown have crapped on the movement that sustained them. It really is distasteful hypocritical guff.

I think this chap in the YouTube comments box about sums it up best:
Labour should hang their heads in shame when watching this video. Workers rights? Don't make me laugh. Where were you when the CWU was on strike - oh I remember , telling us to get back to work , that our working conditions were just fine, and that Royal Mail is a wonderful employer. You lost my vote when you invaded Iraq, you'll not get it back until you return to the old and proper workers values!

Sunday 15 November 2009

Dr Who and the Waters of Mars

Thankfully, Dr Who and the Waters of Mars was not a disappointment. I mean, not even David Tennant's irritating overacting wrecked the episode.

Of course, the story's total poppycock. Set in a red tinted quarry in deepest darkest Wales, the first Mars colony (Bowie Base) taps into alien water that takes over people's bodies and turns them into zombies. Albeit zombies with a case of badly chapped lips. After a bit of chasing, a lot of water (who'd have thunk water could be sinister?) and some hairy moments, we are forced to ponder the fatalism of history. It turns out the base leader, Captain Adelaide Brooke (Lindsay Duncan), has a granddaughter who will invent light speed and open the galaxy for human colonisation. But here's the catch. In the timeline, Brooke and her crew die in a nuclear explosion that also destroys 'The Flood', and it is her death that inspires her granddaughter to pursue her career.

Aware of this the Doctor avoids intervening and is all set to leave them to die. But in a change of heart he brings back the TARDIS and whisks the survivors back to Earth just before the auto-destruct erm, destructs.

Then we're hit with the philosophy. The Doctor, with a glimmer of megalomania in his eye more or less proclaims himself God, realising that he can control the laws of time rather than being shaped by them. The "you die today" declarations he made earlier to Brooke are now blithely dismissed. He feels exhilarated that he's snatched a historical figure from her fate, after saying he'd only chosen "little people" of no consequence before. But he soon comes to his senses after Brooke returns to her house and shoots herself, ensuring only the details of the timeline and not their consequences are changed.

And that's it really. If you fancy a spot of ideology critique you could say that despite itself
The Waters of Mars reconfirms the 'great man' theory of history. Brooke herself may attack the Doctor at the end for arbitrarily deciding who is important and who is of little consequence, but still her suicide ensures the timeline plays out as it should (of course, you could say the Doctor himself is the very exemplar of such a great man, outside of history and yet possessing a greater knowledge of it than those who inhabit it, but I digress).

Wanky cultural readings aside, this episode was actually good and made up for the abomination that was
Dr Who and the Planet of the Dead. But whether the Christmas Special delivers the jollies remains to be seen. But whatever the case, no doubt this blog will cast an eye in its direction.

Sectarianism on the March

Every so often the state of the far left makes you wonder why you bother.

First we have the Glasgow North East by-election. I think everyone's seen the breakdown of the results by now. If not, there's
plenty of comment at Socialist Unity. Needless to say, a contest where you have three socialist candidates scrapping for micro percentages doesn't suggest socialist politics is a serious business. It makes us look like morons intent on a farcical repeat of a Monty Python sketch. But when the supposedly best-known politician in Scotland manages less than a thousand votes and is beaten by the Tories AND the BNP in a solidly working class constituency, there's nothing to laugh about.

It is very easy to condemn Solidarity, the SSP and SLP for criminal stupidity. But exasperation and criticism is not going to make them change their ways. Leaving aside the SLP, whose sole
raison d'etre is to stand spoiler candidates (and therefore deserved their miserable 47 votes), Scottish socialist politics remain poisoned by the Sheridan case, and are likely to remain so whether he goes down for perjury or not. Still, it says everything about the maturity of our movement when the actions of one of its "names" can piss years of hard work up the wall.

But whoever you agree with in this bitter dispute, at least there are real, substantive reasons why the Scottish far left cannot unite. The same cannot be said for
Respect, whose conference took place yesterday. According to this report from Derek Wall, apparently "... George Galloway, Salma Yaqoob, Ger Francis and a number of other members made a very big deal of supporting the Green Party in various different ways ...". So Respect are all sweetness and light when it comes to the Greens. But what about the rest of the far left, and in particular the (painfully) slow development of the so-called son of No2EU? The report continues
What i found really interesting was an emergency motion put forward by various members (in particular a former member of the SWP who shall remain nameless) to support the son of No2EU. Galloway absolutely hammered No2EU and in particular for standing against Peter Cranie in the North West (indeed he even began shaking with anger) and refused to entertain any talk of coalition with the son of No2EU. The emergency motion was defeated by 79-34 votes to be discussed at conference, however a very similar motion was debated. Ger Francis was very scathing of those who supported No2EU and there were a fair few cat calls between the two sides of the debate. [My emphasis]
And the reasoning? Well, there isn't any. Kremlinologists can speculate - perhaps they still blame No2EU for letting the BNP in (which is obviously untrue). Maybe Galloway and co are labouring under the delusion they have name recognition outside of parts of London and Birmingham? Perhaps the Gorgeous One is quite accustomed to being a big fish in a very small pond and doesn't want to share it with other names. Who knows? Whatever the reason, it looks like Respect is heading down a narrow sectarian path. An inspiring example for us all.

Last but not least the SWP expelled one of its longstanding activists on Tyneside yesterday. Alex Snowden was expelled for "factionalising" against the retreat into "party building". Alex was a supporter of John Rees who, for all his faults, favoured turning the SWP outwards. Coincidentally he was suspended just as Rees's 'Left Platform' was launched (the only time the SWP permits factions is in a three month period prior to conference). You can read Alex's critique of his treatment and the course the leadership has embarked upon
here. Considering how wrenching the experience must be he is remarkably free of rancour.

What does this say about the SWP? Well, not much. With its reputation already in tatters thanks to the shenanigans of the last two years, Alex's expulsion and its suspension of other dissenters will only act as a massive 'keep away' sign. Another stupid own goal.

With the retrenchment of sectarianism, it seems the majority of the far left are content with trudging along the road to irrelevance. What a shambles.

Thursday 12 November 2009

Go See This Show

Speaking of strange people ... fellow blogger, troll-eater and all-round good egg Daniel Hoffman-Gill has a new comedy show called Poles Apart coming out shortly. Daniel writes:
Poles Apart is about when me and my mate Mark went to Poland last year to get a job, in an effort to single-handedly reverse the immigration trend.

We spent two weeks as immigrants and ate a lot of lard, we came home and made a show about our adventures that includes traditional Polish dance, moustaches, jokes about Russians and Poland's leading avant-garde theatre co-operative re-enacting the Gdansk iron ore factory strike of 1963. It may also feature "BNP the sit-com..."

It's on at the Lowry, Manchester on the 26th November at 7:45pm and the RichMix on Bethnal Green Road, London as part of their immigration season on the 27th and 28th November at 7:30pm sharp and I think they are providing quality Polish vodka for the audience and some sausage.

More info on Poles Apart is here:

More info on the Richmix is here:
He adds
Hope to see you there and please spread the word in any way you can, perhaps giving us a plug on your blog as this is a good piece of theatre that tackles the lies spread about immigration head on.
Sounds good. Go see.

Wednesday 11 November 2009

Another Strange Person Writes

One of the hazards of being a moderately successful socialist blogger is the tendency to attract strange people. This blog has seen trolls of the fascist moonbat variety. There's been racists with bizarre grievances against other bloggers. And occasionally close comrades have been lucky enough to receive peculiar letters.

On Monday this fine tradition continued when an unsolicited email dropped into my inbox. Take a look for yourself:
Dear Phil

I am writing to send you the song 'Gordon Brown be my Angel', which fetched me a thank-you letter from the Prime Minister Gordon Brown.

Please listen to my song "Gordon Brown be my Angel" here.

Brahms Lullaby
Gordon Brown! Gordon Brown!
Will you be my angel?
Guardian angel is what I meant
Will you rescue my soul?
For you are in charge
Of these people I wrote to
Stephen Timms, Jack Straw
Let me place my trust in you
Gordon Brown! MP’s!
Let me sing out loud
For what you do, for my country
For my reproductive system
You right wrongs! My right’s been wronged
I am desperate for you
Not just you! There’s Jon Herring
I’m a violated woman
Gordon Brown, help me sleep!
Help me sleep like a baby
Will my babies ever come out?
Maternal desires!
I lost my womanhood
In a sinister curse
Gordon Brown! Bring it back!
You are perfect for that!
Gordon Brown, Gordon Brown
Chase the devil for me!!

Gordon Brown, Gordon Brown
We’re all thinking about you
All the time, day and night
You are here to help me!
Uphold justice, apply the law
Fill the gaps in the system
There’re loopholes, they ain’t good
I continue to suffer
Please act fast cos people forget things
My whole load of witnesses!
Go find out from your 8 MP’s
Human life can be tragic!!
Gordon Brown, lift my hope
Bless my country for now please!
Legal history will be made

Pseudonym ‘Eva Jo Frogster’

The song is about the sexual offence of procuring women by false pretenses, which was outlawed 124 years ago and is illegal under Sections 74 and 76 of the Sexual Offences Act (2003). In the 2006 Harvinder S Jheeta case, it was treated as rape by fraud when the criminal conviction was laid down.
I honestly don't know what to make of this!

Monday 9 November 2009

Socialism 2009 Round-Up

As comrades are aware, I wasn't able to make it to the Socialist Party's annual weekend school and rally, Socialism. But I know some folk who did. Going off reports I've heard the weekend was visited by over 1,000 people, over £25 grand was raised and all the speakers at the rally were well received (I'm told even Peter Taaffe was kept to 20 minutes!)

Later on in the week I should be receiving a blog post or two from comrades who were there. In the mean time I'll content myself with bringing you a round-up of Socialism's internet coverage.

Dave from Though Cowards Flinch gives his overview of Saturday's events.

Iain of
Leftwing Criminologist and And Now For Something Completely Sectarian has posted his experience of the weekend, including the delightful time he had in the hostel. Sounds pretty much like my experience last year - but at least he didn't fall asleep in any of the sessions!

The other Dave (this time from Devon SP) has his impressions here.

The party itself has some
photos from the rally on Saturday, but somehow they were posted on May 26th. Strange.

There will be more updates as I come across them. Meanwhile, why not follow the Socialist Party on Twitter

Also on Saturday there was the
RMT conference on working class political representation. Here's a report from 'Prianikoff' on Socialist Unity. Susan Press has this to say from her position on the conference's top table as a Labour Representation Committee member (she also uses her post to announce, sadly, that she's parking her blog). Lastly The Commune chime in with this very critical piece.

Thursday edit: Duncan's got round to posting his adventures at Socialism.

Sunday edit: Dave from Though Cowards Flinch has posted up loads more reports. There's this one on Taaffe's defence/appreciation of Leon Trotsky, some thoughts on the Vestas dispute, an interview with a Labour party member, and lastly a report on the closing rally.

Official reports and a video is now available here.

The cpgb's have produced a comprehensive set of reports too, on the rally, No2EU, building a new party, and the collapse of Stalinism.

Photo by Rob Emery.

Sunday 8 November 2009

Cadre Parties and Mass Parties

Following last week's foray into political science, I thought I'd post up a slightly rejigged presentation I gave five years back on cadre parties and mass parties. In the absence of blogging inspiration I hope at least some readers will find it of interest.

The formal structure of the majority of parties in West European liberal democracies is based on an extensive permanent organisation supported by a mass membership. However these party structures are a comparatively recent development, emerging relatively late as Europe was industrialising and coincident with the development of mass suffrage. In this presentation we will be tracing the roots of the mass party to social and political developments in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, looking at cadre parties, the relationship between the two, their respective structures and possible futures.
Max Weber in his famous lecture Politics as a Vocation, looked at party origins in elite politics and the subsequent “massification” of politics. Beginning his account with medieval Italian city-states, proto-party formations were essentially a personal followings of notables. As a loose association tied to their patron’s ambitions they did not espouse any kind of coherent politics independently of their master’s beliefs. For Weber this situation was also a common characteristic of Britain’s polity from the late medieval period up until the 1832 English Reform Act. For example, if an aristocrat or a ‘notable’ switched their allegiances, their party/retinue would automatically follow suit.

Following the Reform Act, the familial, ideological, and economic interests around which these groupings were organised gradually adopted a more permanent character. Under the impact of the struggles of the petit-bourgeoisie and emerging working class, a cohesive centre of gravity started developing around parliamentary representatives and their relationship with the notables that nominated/elected them. This relationship was mutually beneficial for a number of reasons. The representatives acted to secure their notable allies' interests through their privileged access to the state. In turn the notables would assist in their election (the absence of organisation outside the main cities meant the representative had to rely on friendly notables for political action in many locations). Eventually these arrangements assumed a more permanent character.

Despite this symbiotic relationship, for Weber the structural location of representatives predisposed them toward the professionalisation of politics. He argued, “members or parliament are interested in the possibility of inter-local electoral compromises, in vigorous and unified programmes endorsed by broad circles, and in a unified agitation throughout the country. In general, these interests form the driving force of a party organisation which becomes more and more strict” (The Advent of Plebiscitarian Democracy, in Mair, P. (ed.) 1990
The West European Party System, pp.33-4).

Initially this form assumed continuity with the past, and Weber uses the French Third Republic to illustrate his point. Here party structures relied on linkages between representatives and notables. Programmes were drafted by either candidates, patrons, or from cribbing together parliamentary resolutions – or sometimes all three.

If one was to take a strict institutional approach to these parties, it could be argued their party structure is best suited to a party system in which the masses are excluded from the political process, and where competitive politics is the preserve of elites.

Therefore a number of conclusions about early parties can be made from Weber’s arguments:

1) Parliamentary politics was primarily an elite affair. Parties were essentially just linkages between representatives and local elites (notables) that served their mutual interests.

2) Parties were more or less informal networks shaped by economic, ideological, and familial interests and affinities. Crucially they had no independent life outside the representative-notable nexus.

3) Despite the mutually beneficial relationships between the elites, parliamentary representatives had a clear interest in the institutionalisation of parties.
Maurice Duverger in his 1951 seminal work, The Political Parties explored the structure of this system in greater depth, teasing out the proto-party organisation that existed during the period of representative-notable domination. For Duverger parties here were federations of caucuses. In keeping with the relationships described by Weber, Duverger argued the caucus is a de facto autonomous group of notables: it has no formal membership, no desire to expand its numbers, and new “members” can only be co-opted or nominated. The power and influence of the caucus rests on the quality of its members, the composition of which depended on its political orientation. For example, conservative caucuses were made up of notables drawn from aristocratic, industrialist, banking, and ecclesiastical backgrounds. Liberal/radical caucuses on the other hand consisted of small business notables, journalists, lawyers, and so on. In organisational terms these caucuses provided the base for the representative’s electoral committees. When these committees began to sustain a permanent existence between elections, the caucuses also underwent transformation, becoming party caucuses. This point marked the birth of the cadre party.

Neumann (1956) classified these as parties of individual representation. But toward the end of the 19th century parties with a fundamentally different orientation were developing. These were, for the most part, organised outside of the parliamentary system and were concerned with representing groups (usually the working class or large religious minorities) locked out of the political process. This was the party of social integration, an organisation of permanent fees-paying members committed to achieving collective political objectives and, as a by-product, simultaneously socialised its adherents into set of political values and norms. As opposed to the cadre parties who had few members but made up for it from their "quality", the strength of the mass party rested on its numbers.

For Duverger the basic unit of the mass party lay in its branch structure. Unlike the caucus the branch has an extensive character. Its primary purpose is to recruit new members to the party, adding them to the overall resource pool available to the party. Further differences include its dependence on the wider (national) party, its geographical specificity (allowing it to keep in close contact with members and supporters in a given location), and its permanence. In contrast to a caucus that may only exist at election time, the branch is an institution carrying out a number of political activities at any one time.

In addition a number of mass parties – especially but not exclusively those Duverger labelled ‘devotee’ parties - complimented their branch structures with other basic units: cells and militias.

The ‘cell’ had a structure very similar to the caucus of the cadre party: its primary consideration was employing the quality of its adherents to achieve a set of political objectives in a given field of operation. Though only a mass party in terms of formal structure, the Communist Party in the 1930s built a number of cells in the Burnley cotton mills with the express purpose of increasing the general effectiveness of workplace organisation, issuing party propaganda, and recruiting workers to the local party branch (but not the cell). Cell membership was on the basis of formal co-option and comprised experienced activists and militants.

The ‘militia’ is the paramilitary wing of a party and tend only to emerge at times of generalised crisis and/or military struggle. For example, all the parties of inter-war Germany had militias attached to them.

In sum the basic distinction between cadre and mass parties lies in their structure. As Duverger puts it “what the mass party secures by numbers, the cadre party achieves by selection”. (cit Mair 1990, p.42). This is not to say the two types stand in absolute isolation from one another. For example the cadre party did not completely die out with the achievement of mass suffrage. In some countries the masses began working through the existing party system, giving the caucuses an opportunity to influence them. For Duverger such attempts inevitably led them to adopt mass-modes of organising, meaning the caucus was superseded by modern party organisation. Similarly other cadre parties opened their doors to mass membership but still primarily relied on its pre-existing caucus structure for finance and policy determination. Nevertheless the adoption of a branch system, a “contagion” mass socialist parties were responsible for in Duverger’s opinion, was necessary if a party was to survive in the long term.

The suggestion that the adoption of the mass party structure is primarily the result of working class political mobilisation has been the subject of some debate. Whereas Duverger labelled it “the contagion from the left”, others have seen the developments of party organisation in terms of electoral competition. For example
Leon Epstein in his 1967 book, Political Parties in Western Democracies viewed the American party system as the most perfect expression of electoral politics. The caucus-like structures of the Republicans and Democrats meant they were flexible enough to adapt to new modes of political communication the mass media offered. Their proven ability to attract funding from elites for the more expensive media-based campaigns has circumvented the need for a large party machine with its mass membership, This has resulted in a ‘contagion from the right’. Colin Crouch in his 2004 booklet, Post-Democracy agrees, pointing to the manifestation of a number of analogous features in British politics from the late 80s.

If these arguments are taken to their logical conclusion, mass parties could well turn out to be a passing phenomenon. Current trends seem to be favouring a hybrid form of party, similar the old cadre parties albeit with a (smaller) mass membership. Here the members are locked out of meaningful policy making decisions. If this is the case, will the experience of founding mass parties against those already part of the system have to be repeated?

Saturday 7 November 2009

Thursday 5 November 2009

Capitalism and Clowns

Here's another piece by Mark Featherstone lifted from Keele's Sociology and Criminology blog. (Original here).

On Thursday 22nd October eight million people watched Nick Griffin, the leader of the British National Party, appear on the BBC’s premier political debating programme,
Question Time. The immediate reaction to Griffin’s appearance in the national press may have led one to believe that it was a complete failure for the racist right – on Friday 23rd October The Daily Express explained that ‘BNP Leader Nick Griffin is...A Complete Disgrace to Humanity’ while The Independent wrote that ‘The BBC gave him the oxygen of publicity. He choked’ – but my own reaction to his moment in the full media glare was not so certain.

It is true that Griffin’s appearance was marked by confusion, irrationality, and illogical statements. Even his racism was not logically worked out. That is to say that even Griffin’s abhorrent racist belief that Britain should be maintained exclusively for the benefit of some mythological British people, primarily made up of a mythological white working class, collapsed at various points. These points, when he made the effort to hide his racism behind the veil of a brand of ultra-nationalism able to tolerate minorities, but not displaced peoples seeking asylum, were telling because what they illustrate is what we all know only too well. That is that the BNP are well aware that their racism, the core value of their politics, is beyond the pale and must be hidden from view and never explicitly spoken about if they are ever to achieve any kind of mainstream support.

In my view it was this fact, the fact that BNP must engage in a politics of deception, a politics of deception that cannot possibly work, that rendered Griffin a comic figure on
Question Time, a comic figure who had been pushed centre stage, and found himself in a situation he could not possibly cope with in the full glare of the mass media, primarily because he was forced to evade a truth everybody already knows.

However, I was also aware that Griffin’s comic appearance, his appearance as a fool, a clown, would appeal to a specific audience, simply because those already alienated from mainstream politics and turned on to the BNP were unlikely to be persuaded by a situation that could not help but show their man as a fool and the cynical discredited mainstream as a mocking audience, who were well aware of the truth their fool wanted to hide and therefore could not but appear to be to disdainful of their man. In this situation the mainstream parties really needed to resist the temptation to exploit the fool in order to confirm their own moral superiority, because this would, of course, only confirm their own bankruptcy rooted in recent events, such as the expenses scandal.

Unfortunately, I felt that this was a temptation that the mainstream parties could not resist. Herein, then, lay perhaps the main problem with Griffin’s appearance on
Question Time and possibly the key factor behind the shocking result of a YouGov poll carried out hours after the broadcast that showed that 22% of British people would ‘seriously consider’ voting BNP in a future local, general, or European election and perhaps more worryingly that ‘more than half of those polled said they agreed...the party had a point in speaking up for the interests of "indigenous, white British people"’ (BBC News, Saturday, 24th October).

That is to say that the main problem with Griffin’s appearance was that the mainstream parties appeared to want to confirm their own superiority by moralising against Griffin, rather than defeating him through rational argumentation. From the point of view of Griffin’s politics this was, of course, totally unnecessary because he was already defeated by his need to hide the truth of his own position, which resulted in ridiculous statements pertaining to the tolerance of the Ku Klux Klan. Unfortunately, though, I believe that the mainstream parties could not resist exploiting Griffin’s comic persona in order to confirm their own moral righteousness, with the result that they only confirmed their own moral bankruptcy.

In my view this was the main result of Griffin’s appearance on
Question Time. In other words, by over-playing their morality and tolerance and under-playing their arguments and policies, the mainstream parties have probably confirmed both their own moral bankruptcy and lack of political imagination in the eyes of those who were either alienated from or on the verge of being alienated from the political mainstream. But this begs the question, why would the mainstream parties adopt this approach to dealing with Griffin, the comedy fool?

I think that the answer to this question is that the mainstream parties wanted to simultaneously confirm, boost, or simulate their own tolerance, hide the bankruptcy of their own policies, and finally deflect attention away from the real nature of the political situation in Europe which, as sociologists such as
Zygmunt Bauman and Slavoj Žižek teach us, is already closing in on a form of friendly fascism that cannot speak its name. The truth is that the BNP are amateurs and that they will be defeated if our mainstream parties engage them in reasonable debate over policies, rather than employing empty moralising about the ‘tolerant’ nature of British culture and British politics.

Unfortunately, this is likely to be a lot harder than it sounds, since the empty moralising of the mainstream parties over the blindingly obvious racist nature of the BNP has a very particular purpose, which is to confirm their tolerance and hide their intolerance regarding the flows of homeless, displaced, refugees, and asylum seekers created by the form of globalisation sponsored and advanced by the generation of neo-liberals, including Brown, Sarkozy, and Berlusconi, and the master builders of the immigration architecture of Sangatte and the Schengen zone.

For Žižek (See his ‘Berlusconi in Tehran’, London Review of Books, 23rd July, 2009), Italy, the new front line of the European battle to control immigration, is dominated by a new form of authoritarian capitalism. In Žižek’s view, the popularity of the offensive comedy fool, Berlusconi, who praised Obama for his suntan, is not coincidental, since what Berlusconi and the new Italy exemplify is a new form of state organisation that is more than happy to exploit the poor workers of the global south for their labour, so that consumers can have cheap training shoes, but not allow them to penetrate its borders, where they would become legally liable for the benefits their labour warrants.

It is the struggle against this situation, the struggle against exploitation based on racial and ethnic inequality, that must be understood as the real front line of anti-racism in Europe today. We know the BNP are racists. But we must recognise that they have, in many respects, already missed the boat. It is not that we are threatened by racism to come, but rather that the racist situation is already upon us. Given this reality, I think that we must resist the temptation to use the abhorrent nature of the BNP to affirm the mythology of the tolerance of contemporary globalisation and instead recognise the racist intolerance already pervading Europe and our own society. It is this situation that we must address if we are to really save our tolerant ideals, rather than simply use the comic fools of the BNP to kid ourselves that we live in a society that is free of racism.

One way to start to achieve this would be to break the popular support for the BNP by illustrating to the alienated white minority who have turned to them in times of need that the problem of contemporary society is not one relating to race and ethnicity, but rather one rooted in the new form of neo-liberal capitalism that plunges everybody, regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, or age, into a precarious world, where everything is uncertain. The effect of this approach would be to dismantle the mythological connection between precariousness and race that enables the BNP and other parties of the far right to scapegoat minorities, and turn popular attention towards the real problem, the form of capitalism that turns people against each other like never before.

However, this approach presents a utopian challenge. It presents a utopian challenge because such an approach would, of course, require that our political, capitalist, elite really want to do away with the BNP, that they really want to do away with the comedy fools who allow them to simulate their own tolerance and maintain the brand of authoritarian capitalism rooted in exploitation, and that they really want to found a society free of exploitation and racist intolerance.

Wednesday 4 November 2009

RMT Conference on Political Representation


Publication Date: November 4 2009

In an important initiative aimed at shifting the political debate away from the cuts and pro-business agenda of the three main parties, transport union
RMT is convening a conference on the “Crisis in Working Class Representation” in London this Saturday (7th November).

The RMT-sponsored conference comes at a time of increasing industrial militancy and will look at harnessing rank and file anger at attacks on jobs, pay, conditions and pensions into a co-ordinated political voice. The event will also bring together climate activists, pensioners, students, anti-racists and campaigners from both Britain and Ireland continuing the fight against the issues at the core of the Lisbon Treaty.

Speakers at the conference will include Bob Crow from the RMT, Brian Caton from the
Prison Officers Association, Matt Wrack from the FBU, Susan Press from the Labour Representation Committee and Labour MP Jeremy Corbyn.

Bob Crow, RMT General Secretary, said:

“Saturday’s conference comes at a crucial time for working people in this country. The gap between rich and poor has never been greater, the BNP are on the streets and on the TV spreading their poison and seeking to exploit the political vacuum and yet the three main parties are all spouting the same pro-bosses mantra of public spending cuts and privatisation.

“We have seen from the transport sector, the firefighters, the postal workers, bin workers, BA and the construction industry that the working class is prepared to fight. People up and down the country are angry that they are being told to pay the price for the recession while the speculators who created it are bailed out to the tune of tens of billions and are gearing up for a bumper round of Christmas bonuses at our expense.

“Millions of working class people have been disenfranchised by the political establishment. Our aim is to give them a voice.”


Also at
Socialist Unity.

Tuesday 3 November 2009

South Korean Defects to the North

This was too superb not to share with the rest of the world. This press release came to me via the ever-dependable Leftist Trainspotters discussion list. When someone defects from the South to the North it's bound to be big news. Now, no sniggering at the translation. Just read, reflect and salute the Juche Idea!
S. Korean Resident Defects to DPRK

Pyongyang, October 27 (
KCNA) -- Kang Tong Rim, 30, who resided in Polgyo Township, Posong County, South Jolla Province of south Korea, Monday came over to the northern half of Korea by crossing the Military Demarcation Line in the eastern sector of the front.

According to him, he served in the First Platoon of the 9th Company under the 3rd Battalion of the 56th Regiment, the 22nd Division of the south Korean army, from September 2001 to November 2003. During the military service he made several attempts for defection with his longing for the northern half of Korea, but in vain.

After being discharged he worked at the Samsung Semiconductor Company as a worker and then left it. He was employed at a pig farm in Polgyo Township before defection.

He is pleased with the accomplishment of his desire for defection.

He is now under the warm care of a relevant organ.

Monday 2 November 2009

Party System Change

Not the sexiest blog title you'll ever read on this blog, but the changing relationship parties have with the electorate and each other goes to the heart of the malaise contemporary (mainstream) politics finds itself in. Can political science shine a much-needed light on the problem? Last Wednesday Gemma Loomes came to Keele to present her paper on developing a framework of analysis that can make sense of party system change.

Since the 1970s West European societies have undergone significant social change, which in turn has had a varying impact on their party systems. Dominant political parties have been come under increasing challenge from new rivals, election turnouts have fallen and everywhere disenchantment is on the rise. But while social change and electoral volatility has sped up party systems have proved more resistant to these developments. Why? Is it the case parties have responded to changes and therefore limited the impact social structural shifts have had on the party system? Are there other processes at work?

The existing political science literature on the topic falls into two broad perspectives. The first is the socio-structural perspective. This argues the
four main cleavages bisecting Western societies structured and made stable the party systems of these societies. However the changes in advanced capitalist societies from the 1970s on have undermined the saliency of these cleavages which in turn has upset the balance of party systems. In these approaches the line of causality runs from social change through to electoral change and then political change. Party systems are a dependent variable. They have next to no efficacy of their own.

The party-centric alternative is diametrically opposed to the determinist argument. This lays more weight on the actions and strategies parties can pursue as independent agents. As opposed to a causal relationship between electoral and party system change, between the two lies institutions and political parties themselves. Whatever is being "passed down" the line is always mediated by them. This suggests a number of things. First, in contrast to the determinist model, more than just socio-structural cleavages can shape party systems. Second, the strategies of parties can mitigate change by adapting to new developments and/or sheilding the system from its most radical effects. Third, state laws that govern and help structure party systems are always open to being modified by parties themselves.

Gemma argued the roots of these approaches can be found in political theory. For the classical liberal tradition, theory locates power and sovereignty in the electorate (this, for instance, is forcefully argued by J.S. Mill). This is linked with the socio-structural approach in that the normative biases of classical theory - that parties should be responsive to the demands of the electorate and represent their interests - finds expression in the party system literature's assumption that party systems are dependent variables mechanically determined by social change.

Modern political theory has a similar relationship to the party-centric argument. Observing more contemporary transformations in democratic political systems,
Joseph Schumpeter argued the conceptualisation of politics in terms of common good assumptions should be replaced. The normative idealisation of 'government by the people' should give way to a more realistic preference for 'government for the people'. Therefore parties are entitled to become rational actors in competition for votes, which of course is how the party-centric approach to party system change treats them. This does not mean parties are cut off from electorates. According to Richard Katz parties represent segments of society, but they can have independent agency vis a vis their base. They can develop strategies that improve their standing in party systems by accommodating the electorate's desires and attempt to shape them. But aside from vote seeking some parties can enhance their position and influence by securing a place in the state's institutional set up.

Therefore parties can adopt strategies that are vote-oriented or office-seeking. The former maximise their votes by developing attractive policies or new ideas. From this base they court sections of the electorate and establish relationships with other parties. The latter tries to influence electoral law, rules governing party finance, the media, etc.

In practice all significant parties engage in a mixture of both. For example, the recent MPs expenses crisis has seen the parties move as a collective to change the rules of the game so the most flagrant abuses won't occur in the future. But because these are strategies, party actions always run the risk of failure, regardless of the types of strategies they pursue.

Therefore, by way of a conclusion, the approach Gemma favoured is party-centered. How else to explain that after decades of rapid social change and the emergence of new parties, traditionally dominant parties have tended to retain their controlling positions?

In the questions and answers a number of issues came up. The first was regarding her treatment of the socio-structural tradition. There was a dispute over the extent to which parties as dependent variables possessed or lacked a strategy. Instead one can argue they pursue strategies suited to the social structures out of which they emerged. They cannot ever fully shake off these roots either. For example, New Labour may have distinguished itself by overtly reaching out to the so-called middle ground and brazenly courted British capital, but it never entirely abandoned the aspirations of its base - as several mild social-democratic measures testify.

Another problem is the role of individual political personalities. The party-centric approach tends to treat parties as discrete coherent entities who typically engage in disciplined action. But contemporary politics, perhaps more than ever, is driven by personalities. So, how to integrate this into the analysis of party system change? Should they be treated as a variable under the heading of electoral tactics?

As far as I was concerned the problem dogging the paper is common to political science as a whole: it proceeds from a high level of abstraction and is undergirded by functionalist assumptions other social sciences dispensed with decades ago. That isn't to say the discipline cannot generate insights, but as far as I'm concerned these will always be handicapped by the (unsaid) theoretical assumptions political science depends on. And so it is with this case. One can develop an ideal typical repertoire of strategies and behaviours parties can undertake, but can it provide analyses superior to the contributions of political sociology, which enmeshes together the influences of classes, class fractions, social movements, institutional actors and parties in its analysis of politics? I remain to be convinced.

Sunday 1 November 2009

New Blog Round-Up

Shall we take a look at the newest left blogs that have crossed my desk this last month?

The first of these is
21st Century Manifesto, a semi-official Communist Party blog. As such it appears most of the material comes from party publications, but overall it's worth following if you want to know what the CPB is thinking.

While we're on the CPB, another supporter has entered the fray.
Five Fingered Left Punch promises to "say what I like and I like what I bloody well say." It's been a fortnight since the comrade last posted, so perhaps an influx of traffic will persuade him to carry on?

PonderBoxes is unusual fare for my round-ups. It pretty much does what it says on the tin: people are invited to submit blog posts on their heart's desire and, well ... ponder. All the ponders so far are of a distinct lefty-liberal character (hence its inclusion here). You can follow the blog and its founder on Twitter here and here.

Alienated Left is the new joint project from Kit of The Polemical Report and Duncan of In Place of Fear. They say "Alienated Left looks for the facts behind the big-parties', governments' and big-media groups' propaganda. We ask whether the issues they focus on, and the questions they ask, are the right ones - and provide alternative ones from independent, left-liberal, left, socialist, anarchist and other viewpoints. We are bloggers who reject blind loyalty to any one party or politician, based on the realisation that if the majority don't question the propaganda-line they're fed, or lobby for their interests and the ideals they believe in, the big companies and the billionaires will always control government policy in their own interest - and against the interests of the majority. We want real democracy, not plutocracy. To get that, we need to provide the facts (as best we can determine them), not what too many people think they know just because the lies have been repeated so many times."

It's probably still the case LGBT issues don't get as much coverage on left wing blogs as racism and sexism, so it's good another blog has limbered up to fill the gap.
Academented promises to be "one queer girl's take on LGBT representation in the media." As a new PhD student expect a mix of this with reflections on academia too. You can follow the author, Han M on Twitter here.

Another is also helping overcome this unfortunate gap.
Soho Politico has rapidly become another must-read blog for lefties, not least because of his excellent take downs of Tory hypocrisy on LGBT matters. Definitely a blog to watch over the coming year. You can follow Soho Politico on Twitter here.

Malcolm Clarke's blog a new one might be stretching it a bit, seeing as it's been around since last December. But after an eight month hiatus he has returned to offer his take on internal Labour Party issues, what's going on around Durham way and of course, national news stories. You can follow Malcolm on Twitter here.

Do you think you can handle another CPB blog?
One from the Plough. Why this name? "In many ways the plough is an icon for ordinary working people thoughout history. The original symbol for the Soviet Union was a hammer crossed over with a plough. In our own Labour movement in Britain, those early pioneers, the Tolpuddle Martyrs, would have worked the plough in the fields of Dorset. The inspiration for the name of this blog came from a great man, George Mitchell, who was a leader of Agricultural workers during the Nineteenth century near Yeovil, Somerset. Our shared first name, George, is derived from the Greek 'Georgos' meaning worker of the earth. So when searching for a name for my blog I thought that nothing sounded quite as apt as George Mitchell's nickname-"one from the plough"". Again it's been a few days since something was last posted, which I hope will be remedied by a few extra visits.

Next is
Roots and Resilience. The author writes: "My main interest is in the establishment and protection of human rights, particularly the Middle East, and Southeast Asia (and Britain!). But I also have a deep interest in Latin America and central Africa. So my posts will echo this, but, will not be limited by it. I also have a focus on refugees, refugee law, and the asylum system, so it is likely that an emphasis on forced displacement, refugees, internally displaced persons and migrants will also come through."

And that's it for another month. Once again if you're starting up a new blog or know of other new lefty, socialist, communist, feminist, green, Labour etc. types who just have please let me know and they'll get a shout out in the next round-up.