Tuesday 31 August 2010

Diane Abbott for Labour Leader

After thinking long and hard about it, Diane Abbott will be receiving my first preference for Labour leader (despite Paul making a compelling case for Ed Balls). But this is not a ringing endorsement: I'll be voting for Abbott because of her policy platform. I think the powers that be in the Labour party need reminding that not only are socialist politics alive, but that they command wide support in and outside the party. Here's her final electoral email:

Dear Phil,

I hope you had a good bank holiday.

It's coming to the end of the Leadership campaign and our party will announce its new leader on September 25.

Ballots will start going out tomorrow (September 1) and you will finally be able to cast your vote to decide who will lead your party.

I want to ask you for your support one last time.

Thank you

It’s been a great campaign and I want to thank all of the party members I have met over the weeks and months, who have shown me incredible support and have reminded me of what a great party we are.

My campaign is going extremely well.

I do not have the financial capacity of my comrades, but what I do have is the will to succeed.

Polls suggest Labour would do well with me as Party Leader

Polls have indicated that I am a popular choice with voters.

I also have strong backing from those who did not vote Labour at the last election – so I am well placed to help us win back the trust we have lost.

The July poll of those who will vote in our Leadership election also put me in a strong third place position.

It showed that I have the support of party members and trade unionists, who will make up two thirds of this vote.

Since that poll more party members have had the opportunity to assess all the candidates and judge who is best able to correct the mistakes that have been made and rebuild our support.

I have a real chance of becoming your leader. Your vote will make all the difference.

No vote for me is a wasted vote.

Where I’ve been

Over the summer, I have spent time visiting members up and down the country.

I’ve been to Scotland, Nottingham, Luton, Birmingham, to name just a few, and have seen phenomenal support for my bid.

I’m heading to Liverpool, Exeter, Bristol, Norwich and Manchester over the final weeks and hope to meet as many of you as I can. Please email my team if you want to meet up diane4leader@hotmail.co.uk

If you haven’t as yet made your mind up, there’s still time.

New leaflet

This week I sent out thousands of copies of my brand new leaflet to CLPs around the country, setting out my vision for leadership of the party.

You can see the leaflet here or by contacting your CLP secretary who has several copies available.

But that’s not all.

Television debates

Over the next few days there will be televised debates on Channel 4 and Sky, culminating in a special Question Time on September 16.

I hope to be able to show you in these debates why I stand apart from the other candidates.

What I stand for

One way is in my response to the Coalition’s budget.

The Lib-Cons have made an unprecedented attack on the welfare State.

Even independent researchers such as the Institute of Fiscal studies agree that their budget will hit some of the poorest in our society the hardest

This is unacceptable and we need a strong leader, like me, who will ensure Cameron and Clegg's attacks are opposed by Labour.

What will I do as your Leader?

I want to stand up for the most vulnerable and protect those in need.

I want make changes that new and old members want to see.

I want to:


If you want to see these changes, I hope that you will be able to put me as your first preference

If you want to know more about the final stages of the campaign, you can visit my website www.diane4leader.co.uk

Or email me on diane4leader@hotmail.co.uk

Follow me on Twitter http://twitter.com/dianeforleader

Join my facebook group http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=105235839522326

Please forward this email to everyone you know

Yours in comradeship

Diane Abbott MP

UPDATE Those canny folk at The Third Estate have scooped an exclusive interview with Diane Abbott. Read it here.

Monday 30 August 2010


If you're interested in politics and you want to give Twitter a try, an essential must follow is @HouseofTwits. It's raison d'etre is retweeting useful updates from the 3,000 or so political folk the account follows. It sometimes means tolerating ignorant and right wing nonsense (not altogether uncomfortable bedfellows, going by many twitterings I receive) but it is still one of the best Twitter-related political resources going.

As part of a
series, I've been "twinterviewed" by HoT proprietor, Peel. You can view the short piece on site here, or alternatively carry on reading. The twinterview took place over direct messaging, hence the format:

@HouseOfTwits: Ready for your Twinterview?

@averyps: Sounds good to me! Will you be doing it via DM?

@HouseOfTwits: Yep, I'll ask the first question soon, once I've thought of something clever, pithy, amusing but not too pleased with itself...

@averyps: Cool. Fire when ready.

@HouseOfTwits: You joined the Labour Party from the Socialist Party before the election. Are any leadership candidates to the left of Brown?

@averyps: Diane is certainly to Brown's left. I would say Ed M is more social democratic too. Ed B is good on the economy, but awful on immigration.

@HouseOfTwits: ...

@averyps: It angers me that some leadership contenders think reconnecting with working class voters means bashing immigrants and benefits claimants.

@HouseOfTwits: If you could pick the leader, from all Labour MPs, who would it be?

@averyps: In an ideal world, John McDonnell. Unfortunately, we don't live in an ideal world.

@HouseOfTwits: I note you didn't refer to the attributes of D Miliband. Does he have Blair's talents?

@averyps: I'm not sure what Blair's talents were. I think David Miliband will be a competent Labour leader from the standpoint of politics as usual.

@HouseOfTwits: Will the left be able to get behind him if he's leader?

@averyps: I don't think the left will get behind him as in awarding him a ringing endorsement. But they will accept the ballot's outcome if he wins.

@HouseOfTwits: Re. Blair - getting Clause 4 removed must have required a talent of some sort?

@averyps: You have to look at the context. The 1992 election shattered the expectations of a lot of people...

@HouseOfTwits: ...

@averyps: Many on the left were willing to swallow it if it meant getting the Tories out.

@HouseOfTwits: Was it worth it?

@averyps: It got the Tories out, though it's debatable whether abolishing Clause 4 aided that. But what Blair brought in wasn't that different. It was neoliberalism with a smile.

@HouseOfTwits: How would a modern Socialist structure the tax system without disincentivising enterprise and wealth creation? In 140 characters ;)

@averyps: ...

@HouseOfTwits: I should probably rephrase 'wealth creation' - 'job creation' maybe less provocative for you ;)

@averyps: Ha! I am for progressive taxation, closure of loopholes, etc. I am also for placing large economic enterprises into the hands of the workers and consumers who use them.

@HouseOfTwits: Re-Nationalise everything that moves?

@averyps: No. Through cooperatives or other forms of workers' ownership. Britain's co-ops - with a turn over of £34bn - have little problem "incentivising".

@HouseOfTwits: What about the innovating risk takers?

@averyps: Who are these people? Seems to me most enterprises are very risk averse. And besides, it's often the workers who take on the real risks for them.

@averyps Would you rather risk your capital investing in a suspension bridge or risk your neck building it? Risk is a question of class.

@averyps Returning to the main point, socialism is at base economic democracy. Economic activity should not be about earning money for unaccountable shareholders.

@HouseOfTwits: But the shareholders have capitalised the growth of the enterprise, without which...

@averyps And that capital has been earned from the work of current and previous generations of workers. True, in a capitalist society there is a symbiotic relation between labour and capital.

@averyps The difference between the two is you can conceive an advanced industrial society without production for profit. But you cannot conceive any kind of capitalist society without the labour of workers.

@HouseOfTwits: Socialism has produced many successful, cogent thinkers, but very few successful nation States - fair?

@averyps: I don't think the states that claim to be socialist can in any meaningful sense be described as such. They're certainly not democratic.

@HouseOfTwits: The undemocratic success stories?

@averyps: I don't think you can have socialism without democracy. That said, it would be churlish to deny some of the successes of self-described socialist states.

@averyps China has seen the largest and fastest reduction of absolute poverty in world history. Cuba has one of the best healthcare systems in the world, easily eclipsing that of the USA.

@HouseOfTwits: The Revolution Will Not Be Tweeted!

@averyps: Definitely not, unless the revolution breaks out in the US and the internet's architecture is placed under workers' control!

@averyps But I think socialists can learn many things from the experience of the so-called socialist countries without apologising for their regimes.

@HouseOfTwits: How would Marx and Engels adjust their thinking in the light of the 20th Century? i.e. the failure of the pragmatic application of Socialism?

@averyps: Looking at how they polemicised against rival trends in the socialist movement of their day, they would have been scathing of the regimes

@averyps: If they were around today they'd be doing what any decent Marxist is already doing, such as analysing how capitalism has developed over the last century and trying to develop socialist strategies appropriate to the current situation.

@HouseOfTwits: Ok, I'd like to do a Part II one day, but that's all we have space for now... Thanks for your time, A Very Public Sociologist!

@averyps: Thanks

Top 100 Dance Songs of the 90s

Following the rip-roaring success of the AVPS Top 100 Dance Songs of the 00s at the tail end of last year, what better way to celebrate Britain's scorching weather than unleashing the definitive top 100 dance songs of the 1990s on this bank holiday? It really puts you in that summery mood. Like last time, 'dance' here is used as a short hand for all forms of electronic music, from handbag to euphoric trance, from old skool rave to trip hop. So forget sad sectarian Dave and his rock imperialism and wrap your ears around the best 1990s dance music has to offer.

Edit: Oh look, here are the top 100s for the 1970s and 1980s.

2nd edit: And here's the Top 100 of the 2010s too!

Something Goin' On by Todd Terry (1997)
Hey Boy, Hey Girl by The Chemical Brothers (1999)
Music Sounds Better With You by Stardust (1998)
Phorever People by The Shamen (1992)
Pearl River by Three n One presents Serial Diva (1999)
Higher State of Consciousness by Josh Wink (1995)
Nightmare by Brainbug (1996)
Hyperballad by Björk (1996)
Right in the Night by Jam and Spoon feat. Plavka (1993)
The Gift by Way Out West (1996)
Around the World by Daft Punk (1997)
Finally by CeCe Peniston (1991)
Playing With Knives by Bizarre Inc. (1991)
Cubik by 808 State (1990)
Insanity by Oceanic (1991)
Happiness Happening by Lost Witness (1999)
Infinity by Guru Josh (1990)
Trip to Trumpton by Urban Hype (1992)
Greece 2000 by Three Drives (1998)
Activ-8 (Come With Me) by Altern-8 (1991)
Your Woman by White Town (1996)
Original by Leftfield feat. Toni Halliday (1995)
Rhythm is a Dancer by Snap! (1992)
Everybody's Free (To Feel Good) by Rozalla (1991)
U Don't Know Me by Armand Van Helden (1999)
Can You Feel the Passion by Blue Pearl (1991)
Stella by Jam and Spoon (1992)
Charly by The Prodigy (1991)
Glory Box by Portishead (1995)
It's My Life by Dr Alban (1992)
Life is Sweet by The Chemical Brothers (1995)
Hardcore Heaven by DJ Seduction (1992)
Infiltrate 202 by Altern-8 (1991)
Offshore '97 by Chicane feat. Power Circle (1997)
The Box by Orbital (1996)
Go West by Pet Shop Boys (1992)
64) Liberation (Fly Like an Angel) by Matt Darey (1999)
JJ Tribute by Asha (1994)
Universal Nation by Push (1998)
Rhythm is a Mystery by K-Klass (1991)
Superstring (Rank 1 Remix) by Cygnus X (1999)
Kinetic by Golden Girls (1992)
Love U More by Sunscreem (1992)
Naked in the Rain by Blue Pearl (1990)
2√231 by Anticappella (1991)
Last Train to Transcentral by The KLF (1991)
A Juicy Red Apple by Skin Up (1992)
Carte Blanche by Veracocha (1999)
New York City Boy by Pet Shop Boys (1999)
Return to Innocence by Enigma (1993)
Saltwater by Chicane (1999)
Children by Robert Miles (1995)
Walhalla by Gouryella (1999)
Papua New Guinea by Future Sound of London (1991)
Satan by Orbital (1996)
Sweet Harmony by Liquid (1992)
Unfinished Sympathy by Massive Attack (1991)
Hold That Sucker Down by OT Quartet (1994)
No More Talk by Dubstar (1997)
El Niño by Agnelli and Nelson (1998)
Crucified by Army of Lovers (1991)
Show Me Love by Robin S (1993)
38) Your Loving Arms by Billie Ray Martin (1994)
It's a Fine Day by Opus III (1992)
Freed from Desire by Gala (1996)
Sadness Part 1 by Enigma (1990)
Age of Love by Age of Love (1990)
Stay by Sash! (1997)
Milk (Tricky Mix) by Garbage (1996)
Gamemaster by Lost Tribe (1997)
What is Love? by Haddaway (1993)
Out of Space by The Prodigy (1992)
Love Stimulation (Paul van Dyk's Love Club Mix) by Humate (1997)
For An Angel by Paul van Dyk (1994)
You're Not Alone by Olive (1996)
Let Me Be Your Fantasy by Baby D (1992)
Seven Cities by Solarstone (1999)
You Got the Love (Now Voyager Mix) by The Source feat. Candi Staton (1997)
Why Does My Heart Feel So Bad? by Moby (1999)
Not Over Yet by Grace (1995)
Revelation by Electrique Boutique (1999)
Enjoy the Silence by Depeche Mode (1990)
Better Off Alone by Alice Deejay (1999)
I Want You (Forever) by Carl Cox (1991)
Out of the Blue by System F (1999)
Killer by Adamski (1990)
Missing (Todd Terry Remix) by Everything but the Girl (1995)
No Good (Start the Dance) by The Prodigy (1994)
Don't You Want Me by Felix (1992)
1999 (Kaycee Mix) by Binary Finary (1999)
The Secret Wish by Boccaccio Life (1999)
Are You Ready to Fly? by Rozalla (1992)
Bullet in the Gun by Planet Perfecto (1999)
Windowlicker by Aphex Twin (1999)
The World '99 (Moonman Club Mix) by Pulp Victim (1999)
Gouryella by Gouryella (1999)
Airwave by Rank 1 (1999)
Roads by Portishead (1994)
Silence by Delerium feat. Sarah McLachlan (1999)

And number one? It's this ...

Saturday 28 August 2010

Ed Balls for Labour Leader

Some readers may have already seen this at Socialist Unity. Ed Balls will not get my first or second preference vote for a number of reasons, but I do think he's done the best job of all the candidates of savaging the Tories and their economic illiteracy. For this reason alone he will be very useful on Labour's front bench when the contest is over. That might be useful for Labour members to keep in mind when the elections to the shadow cabinet take place.

Dear Phil,

Ed Balls speaking The new Tory-Lib Dem government is fond of saying that there is ‘no alternative’ to their austerity programme of cuts to public services, attacks on our welfare state and unfair VAT rise. They say it is unavoidable.

But I believe they are wrong. And what Labour needs right now is strong and confident leadership to say loud and clear: there is an alternative.

Today’s growth figures show Labour’s policies to support the economy were working. But all the evidence shows that George Osborne’s emergency budget is having the opposite effect – undermining jobs and growth and risking a double-risk recession.

That’s what I set out in my speech this morning. You can read it on my website here: http://action.edballs4labour.org/alternativespeech

This will be the most important issue of the next few years. If we are to win the next election we have to win the argument with Cameron, Osborne and Clegg on the economy. And we have to challenge their view that cutting the deficit at all costs is the most urgent priority in Britain. It isn’t – the most urgent priority must be securing the recovery and boosting jobs and growth.

So we need a leader who has the experience, judgement and credibility to win the economic argument. But the whole party from the leader down to every activist, union member and councillor needs to be part of this task too.

I hope my speech will give you the key arguments to start winning this debate in your community too: http://action.edballs4labour.org/alternativespeech

But there is not just an alternative on the economy. I believe there is an alternative in this leadership election too. Some would have you believe this leadership election was over before it ever really began. And the media have been claiming for weeks that it’s a two-horse race.

Ed Balls and a pensioner knitting Not a single vote has been cast and over the next few days and weeks I will be holding events around the country to meet party and union members. I hope you will get the chance to come along – find out where I will be on my website here: http://action.edballs4labour.org/events

Many party and trade union members have said after my meetings that they are changing their minds and voting for me as their first preference. Over the last few weeks a number of MPs who nominated other candidates have decided to give their first preference vote to me instead.

And I’m pleased to have won the support of people from across our movement, including former London Mayor Ken Livingstone and the Communication Workers Union.

If you’d like to support my campaign too then please let me know by filling in the form here: http://action.edballs4labour.org/support

I’m fighting to win – to show there is a credible and radical alternative to the ConDems on the economy and a credible and radical alternative in this leadership election.

Best wishes,

Ed Balls

P.S. You can read Ken Livingstone’s letter on why he is giving me his first preference vote at http://action.edballs4labour.org/kenletter and you can see a video of my Q&A at Demos last night here: http://action.edballs4labour.org/demos

Thursday 26 August 2010

David Miliband for Labour Leader

Interestingly the final blanket email to Labour members for David Miliband comes not from him but Jon Cruddas, whose ever-so-surprising endorsement of Miliband the elder yesterday received a bit of traction in the media. Again, this is for information purposes.

Dear Phil

I want a better Labour Party. I want a party that listens to every member, and is on the front foot, working in every area of the country for all our people.

Having watched the leadership election closely, I am convinced that David Miliband is the candidate best placed to take on that task. David Miliband is someone who can lead a credible opposition to the Coalition Government and build a united Labour Party that will offer the hope of a better Britain.

Our party has such talent and energy – we can no longer be defined by division. Every part of our party must be brought together to fight for our common values. And together we will win back power and work to build a Good Society.

This is why I’m supporting David Miliband’s campaign for Leader of the Labour Party. And I’d like you to join David’s and my campaign to rebuild a united Labour Party now:


Labour is a broad church. All sections of our party will need to play a role in creating a movement that will stand up to the Coalition and help build towards the next Labour Government.

There are areas of policy where David and I differ, but we both understand the need for new leadership and a new start. A new leader isn’t the silver bullet to solve our problems. David won’t fix Labour on his own, we all have a role to play. But throughout the Leadership Contest David has shown the best understanding of the traditions of our Party and how best to combat the Coalition Government.

We share a vision of the Good Society. And his Keir Hardie lecture showed the vision to generate a common purpose throughout the Party. I look forward to working with David to renew the Labour Movement so that every member and supporter can play an active role.

Over the past weeks and months all of the candidates have shown a real commitment to Labour. They are all good people. By coming together, we are ready to transform the battleground of British politics – and once again emerge as the best hope of the British people.

Please show your support for a united Labour Party by signing up now. And then share this message with your friends – if Labour is to win again we need to reconnect with the supporters we have lost.


I have listened to the debate - I'm going to vote for David Miliband because I believe he will restore our credibility and rebuild Labour as an ethical and political force. I hope you will support him, too.

Best wishes,


Jon Cruddas MP
Labour MP for Dagenham and Rainham

P.S. This election is huge for our party. Whoever you want as leader, please do use your vote. You can use this page here to remind friends and work colleagues about their vote, too.


Wednesday 25 August 2010

Ed Miliband for Labour Leader

As the Labour leadership campaign enters the end game, each of the final leadership pitches of the five candidates are being sent out by email to members. As not everyone who reads this are Labour members but may nevertheless still be interested in what they have to say, I will be reproducing their statements here as I receive them.

Dear Phil,

Throughout this vital leadership election, I've said that Labour must change to win; that we should be discussing how to implement a living wage, how to reward good businesses, and how better to protect workers in the future, rather than merely defending the past.

Now, with just a few days left before our ballot papers arrive next week, I am asking for your first preference vote so that together we can make that change and win again for Labour.

Between 1997 and 2010, we lost five million votes. Our progressive majority fractured over time because we became technocrats of the state, and we lost touch with people's lives. We lost 1.7 million middle class voters, two thirds to the Lib Dems. I am the candidate who can win those voters back for Labour -- by placing liberty, equality and aspiration at the heart of our party's mission.

But what many in this leadership election choose to ignore is that Labour has lost too much support amongst people on lower incomes, and those struggling to get by. During our time in office, over 3 million working-class people abandoned New Labour as they felt New Labour abandoned them. The result was that our traditional "core vote" became the new "swing vote". Many people chose to vote Tory; too many others simply stayed home.

So we must have the courage to change, and to reshape the centre-ground again. We must reach out to those who have turned away from Labour since 1997. We must use this once in a generation realignment in British politics to draw new support from all those people across Britain who believe in fairness, hard work and opportunity. We must build an economy that works for people, create a more equal society with the space for everyone to flourish and forge a more accountable and more democratic state that works for everybody.

To do that, we need to escape the New Labour comfort zone. We must not go into the next election still as the party that defends the Iraq war or that says tuition fees and ID cards are here to stay. We cannot continue with the mantra that public is bad and private is good. We cannot fight the Tories arguing that low-wage, low-skill jobs are good enough or that we don't need to radically overhaul our banking sector.

To win back the five million voters we lost and to build a new progressive coalition for our century, Labour must change.

I'm campaigning to make that change: for a foreign policy based on our values; for a fairer system of funding for Higher Education; for a living wage; for rights at work; for a high pay commission; and for more active support for British industry. I'm offering change on how we campaign, so that every party member and every trade union member has a voice in our movement. And I'm offering change on style, pledging to put an end to the factionalism of the New Labour years and to unite our party for good.

Those are the values I've fought for in this leadership election. We've always said that while we may be out-spent in this election, we would not be out organised. And so it has been -- as our new video shows, over 4,000 people have signed up to volunteer to be part of the change and over 700 have given small donations to help drive our campaign. The result is that we are now neck and neck in the final days of this contest.

You can be part of the change we need to win again. Please click on the link below, watch our latest video and pledge to give me your first preference vote:


This is a defining leadership election -- together, we can be the change we need to win again.

Thank you,

Ed Miliband

Shock, Horror

A storm erupts as politics discovers that bears really do shit in the woods.

Tuesday 24 August 2010

Initial Problems with the Anti-Cuts Movement

There seems little point my writing up North Staffs TUC's successful public meeting against the cuts, which took place last Wednesday evening, simply because everyone else has already done it. Different reports are available on Boffy's Blog, PitsnPots, and Stoke Socialist Party. There are some big issues the anti-cuts movement need to address, such as alternative cuts, other means of tackling government debt, and contesting the hegemonic mystification of the deficit. But what I'm interested in are the strategic issues the Stoke meeting raised, which are likely to find themselves replicated elsewhere - and especially in those places where SP and SWP branches have a significant input into local campaigning bodies.

Firstly there is a difference in emphasis, which was brought out by Chris Bambery with his Right to Work hat on and Andy Bentley of Stoke SP (speaking under the fig leaf of Stoke UCU). Going first, Chris's speech broke no new ground and I suspect it will be one I'll hear many times again - the coalition has "no mandate" (actually, it does), this is a government of millionaires, they say cut back, etc. etc. But he was right on this: the government has Thatcherite ambitions, but the nature of the coalition means the Tories do not have the strength to prosecute the class warfare Thatcher oversaw in the 80s. Of course, what Chris didn't say was that while they are a weaker, so is the labour movement. This probably explains why he skirted over the issue and plugged instead a big demo outside the Tory party conference on October 3rd, attacked the TUC for "doing nothing" for 30 years (didn't he realise who organised the meeting he was speaking at?), and called for a general strike. In other words, leftist verbiage without any appreciation of the work that goes into activity.

The SP's approach is different. Andy's focus (apart from denouncing the cuts) was on building the campaign against them. While a couple of Chris's acolytes made vague pleas for unity from the floor, Andy talked about the need to set up an anti-cuts alliance as an immediate outcome of the meeting. His emphasis was on involving North Staffs TUC and other local union branches in such an organisation and, in contrast to the SWP, plugged the
September 12th National Shop Stewards' Network-backed lobby of the TUC General Council to get them to call a national anti-cuts demo in London.

Here we have two approaches favoured by the principal far left organisations in Britain. The SWP's approach sets themselves up as the hard left of the movement. Witness the very leftist-sounding language, bypassing of existing structures, and eagerness to repeat scenes from Greece on the streets of Britain. Theirs is all very "movementy" and radical. The SP's approach is much more sober and links the building of an effective anti-cuts campaign with rebuilding labour movement organisations - it is the kind of level headedness that attracted me to the SP in the first place. In reality, there shouldn't be any hard opposition between the two - building the labour movement's strength goes hand in hand with imaginative and well publicised actions and protests. But I fear that because one organisation is set on one perspective and the other another, there is a danger at this early stage the
beginning movement could be pulled in different directions.

The second problem is related to the SP's strategy and, if it persists, could store up trouble in Stoke and elsewhere. It may not have the same prominence in its propaganda as it once had, but the SP
remains committed to its new workers' party perspective (despite the fact the political space for a sizable formation to the left of Labour has snapped shut, but I digress). The comrades are perfectly entitled to argue for this but it could prove problematic for the anti-cuts movement.

At the meeting Andy argued that Labour representatives should be excluded from participating in the movement if they decide to vote through cuts in the council chamber. I would imagine their non-participation would be self-enforced anyway - councillors have a tendency to avoid meetings where they're likely to get a lot of stick. Nevertheless I can understand where the SP are coming from - it's a principled position. But it's pursuing this line of argument that will cause severe difficulty. As Stoke has all-out council elections next year (with 40 seats up for grabs) and with a Labour-led coalition council implementing cuts, Andy argued the anti-cuts organisation in The Potteries should support anti-cuts candidates and stand its own. In other words, the campaign is a means of trying to realise the SP's new workers' party perspective - and taking the campaign down this road is music to the ears of the former Labourites and ex-fascists in Stoke's
Community Voice. But at what price? Labour folk will find it very hard to remain involved - many of whom are the very trade unionists the campaign must attract. And potentially more damaging, Labour-affiliated unions would not be able to participate. Even if some separate anti-cuts entity is set up to pursue an electoralist course a split movement is still a split movement.

This is not a Stoke-specific issue - wherever the SP has an influence in the campaign and it is a Labour council making the cuts, if the comrades are successful in arguing for this line there will be a damaging split. So the SP needs to ask themselves a question: should unity among the labour movement be sacrificed for the sake of local electoral adventures? What matters the most?

Sunday 22 August 2010

Gender and Protest

American soldiers "leaving" Iraq. Labour on the verge of bankruptcy. Rumours of leftish LibDems quitting the party. The closest Australian election since the war. 83 folk at a North Staffs TUC public meeting. Yup, there's been no shortage of things to write about. But sadly I'm not really in a writing mood. Maybe next week, huh?

In the meantime I've come across a very interesting piece on gender and protest in the last 350 years. It's really quite good - who knew the BBC's online News Magazine could do thought-provoking? Here's an extract:
In the early 18th Century, labourers in Surrey rioted in women's clothes, and men disguised as women tore down the hated tollbooths and turnpike gates on the Gloucestershire border. Most notoriously, the so-called 'Rebecca riots' in Wales in the 1830s and 1840s, by farmers and agricultural workers against taxes and tolls, were led by gangs of noisy men in women's clothes.
Found out why here.

Wednesday 18 August 2010

Stephenie Meyer: Marxist

A guest post from Brother G on capitalism and vampires in Stephenie Meyer's Twilight. Fangs for the post comrade, this issue's been driving me batty.

Much has been said about the cultural phenomenon that is the
Twilight series. Literary critics have snubbed the books for their turgid, uninspired prose. Feminists have attacked the plot as demeaning claptrap which digs up the helpless damsel cliche to stand alongside its undead love interest. And horror fans bemoan the decline of the vampire from demonic creatures of the night to glittering, emo pansies. Despite the assaults that Stephenie Meyer’s novels attract from all sides, shelves continue to empty and cinemas fill up as hordes of teenage girls and the occasional adult who should know better lap up Hollywood's favourite inter-species love triangle.

But amongst all of this, there lies a possibility that remains unexplored. Many have been quick to attack such minor literary misdemeanors as writing style and plot, that the most important point has been lost. I speak, of course, of the fact that
Twilight is not merely a teenage gothic romance, but a deep and scathing allegorical critique of capitalist ideology.

It was Karl Marx himself who once said that ‘Capital is dead labour, which, vampire-like, lives only by sucking living labour, and lives the more, the more labour it sucks’. Like the nocturnal miscreants who feed off the inhabitants of Forks, capitalism preys upon the working class for their labour power in order to prolong its survival. It is through the reification of human beings, their descent into mere cogs in the machine (or mere flesh in the diet) that advanced capitalism reaches its exploitative apex.

However, capitalism has evolved significantly since the days of the industrial revolution. The creation of the welfare state, the erosion of collective industry and compact workplaces, all these factors have altered the dynamic of labour relations.
Paulo Virno, in A Grammar Of The Multitude describes this new dynamic of labour relations as post-Fordist. In the post-Fordist world of advanced capitalism, the division of life and production has become blurred to the point that in many ways life is the very outcome of production. This is exacerbated by the rise of immaterial labour, in which the ‘product’ of labour is no longer a physical product but rather immaterial products such as knowledge, information, a relationship or an emotional response.

One effect of this is to obscure the exploitation inherent to capitalism, by negating the traditional imagery of factories and mines for the soft, flexible labour relations of the 21st century. While theorists such as Virno and Negri have documented this transition within the narrow confines of academia, it was left to the genius of Stephenie Meyer to demonstrate this transformation in simple imagery.



After 100 days of a coalition government intent on slashing public services and reasserting the dominance of the ruling class, it is easy for socialists to be downhearted. But despite our woes, we can sleep easy in the knowledge that the shallow rhetoric of the Big Society will never grace the Teenage Bestseller chart of Waterstones. And as Stephenie Meyer takes her rightful place alongside Marx, Lenin et al., we in the Werewolf Labour movement can hold our heads high and know that we have the ideas and the literary mastery to bite back.

Join me again next week when I’ll be discussing the pros and cons of appointing Dan Brown as the new ambassador to the Vatican.

Tuesday 17 August 2010

Branch Meeting: Is Socialism Dated?

Last night my Labour party branch had its first lead off based discussion in a very long time. The talk I gave is below and went down well with the comrades present. As the surrounds were very different from a typical SP branch meeting (where you can expect agreement around the basic ideas of what socialism is), you can never take that for granted in Labour. So it's pitched at a level that assumes little acquaintance with the ins and outs of the different traditions that call themselves socialist. The discussion afterwards drew in the class nature of the Tory cuts, the relationship between the working class and socialism, the injustice of economic exploitation, how to relate socialism to the everyday concerns of Labour supporters and the wider constituency, and so on. In my summing up I said the reference to socialism needs to get off the back of our membership cards and be upfront in our manifesto - a cheesy line I'm rather proud of! Lastly, apologies to the purists for no mention of bloody revolution, references to class justice, and the "need" for a Leninist-Trotskyist combat party of the working class.

Is Socialism Dated?
Before we can answer this question, we have to ask what socialism is. As a political tradition there are very many definitions of socialism. For Andy Burnham ir's about meeting people's aspirations and offering real equalities of opportunity. For the Fabians socialism is identified with extending the state over greater areas of economic life. And for the supporters and admirers of the USSR, China, Cuba and North Korea, socialism equals the state's domination of the economy and the monopolisation of power by a so-called communist party.

The tradition of socialism I come from is something different. It is firstly about building a different kind of society to the one we have now. We in Britain enjoy political freedom and a democracy of sorts. A socialist Britain means improving both of these and extending democratic control to the economy. Instead of allowing people to make vast sums of money from producing the necessities of 21st century life, socialism is about putting that capacity into the hands of society - an economy of the people, for the people and by the people, if you like. Going hand in hand with economic democracy is the implementation of a democratic plan. Capitalist economies are anarchic and chaotic: to survive the law of the jungle is produce, produce, produce and hope the market rewards effort by returning a profit. On the one hand this war of all against all, this competition drives innovation and has given us many technologies that make life easier. But at the same time the market leads to large-scale waste and leaves untold masses of people without the necessities of life. While Europe and America have enjoyed grain mountains and wine lakes, millions in the global south face food shortages and uncertain water supplies. This would not happen if the economy was owned and democratically run by the people.

Now, this all sounds fine and dandy. Who wouldn't want to live in a society like this? Isn't socialism just a nice idea that fails in practice? We all know what happened to the Soviet Union.

I don't think so. Socialism is more than just a fine idea: it is based on concrete, actually existing trends in the capitalist societies of today. In short, socialism is a real possibility given how things stand. Right now modern societies are unconsciously evolving in a direction that makes socialism more possible. Despite the best efforts of Cameron's cutting crew, capitalism here and everywhere else in the advanced countries are in large measure dependent on public spending. The privatised railways couldn't run without government subsidy. Business relies on the state to ever greater degrees to plan, build and run the infrastructure it depends on. The responsibilities the state has assumed in terms of benefits, health care and much, much more exist partly because production for profit cannot even guarantee the most basic of existences. As capitalism has developed and grown ever more complex the state has had to take up more of the slack. Away from the state, the unconscious tendencies are asserting themselves in private economic activity as well: as markets mature there is the ever-present movement toward monopoly. Big companies collaborate in an attempt to drive out the uncertainty of competition, and production is planned by vast numbers of private bureaucracies - except the planning that takes place is for profit and not the public good.

But these trends will not automatically build a socialist society. It requires a conscious actor too. That's where the labour movement comes in. Under capitalism it is the workers (defined as anyone who relies on their wage or salary to survive) who makes all the wealth you see around us. And yet at the end of the month only a part of this wealth is returned to workers in the form of their wage. The majority of the wealth they produce accrues to their employers. It follows from this that while the employers have an interest in maintaining this state of affairs, working class people do not. The labour movement came together to defend the economic interests of workers, such as shorter work days and working weeks, higher wages, securing more control of their workplaces, challenging management's "right" to hire and fire. The logic of these sorts of demands and struggles point to another kind of society where production is socialised and exploitation - in the sense described above - ceases.

So there you have it. Not only do you have unconscious tendencies constantly developing the foundations of a socialist society, you have a movement - our movement - who, in fits and starts, can work toward this objective.

Returning to title of this talk, is socialism dated? I would say absolutely not. For as long as market considerations dominate the thinking of politicians, as long as business wield massive amounts of economic power without a hint of democratic checks and balances, for as long as workers do not receive the full value of their labour power, socialism is ever present on the horizon of possibility.

Monday 16 August 2010

North Staffs TUC Public Meeting

North Staffs TUC is organising a public meeting against the cuts 7pm this Wednesday (August 18th) at the Hope Centre, Garth Street, Hanley. Confirmed speakers are listed below. I'm told one of the speakers not trailed is a local Labour councillor who is prepared to vote against cuts in the council chamber. Interesting.

Speakers include:
Jason Hill (N Staffs TUC President)
Neil Singh (Communication Workers’ Union)
Tony Conway (Public and Commercial Services union)
Liat Norris (Youth Fight for Jobs)
Andy Bentley (UCU)
Chris Bambery (Right to Work)

All welcome.

Sunday 15 August 2010

Internal Class Divisions and the Party

As we have seen in previous pieces in the series on Gramsci's Selections from the Prison Notebooks, building a revolutionary party - the modern prince - is a vitally necessary precondition for the seizure of state power by the working class. But building the party is one thing, the path to power is another. It's not enough to proclaim a party (any bunch of misfits with a passing knowledge of Marxism can declare themselves the vanguard): the key political task is overcoming the divisions within the working class itself.

For Gramsci, in an abstract sense politics is about leaders and led. More concretely, by virtue of the different roles millions of individuals play in the division of labour, some sections of the class are more predisposed to leadership/intellectual/organising positions than others. However the existence of leaders and led does not mean the latter will automatically follow the former, especially when the locations they inhabit in the division of labour can put them at loggerheads. Often a departmental manager or supervisor is in conflict with their staff, the shop floor may resent the office, and on it goes. The authority one group has over the other is based on the lash of economic necessity.

The relatively privileged positions of some workers confer certain skills that lend themselves to most kinds of political organisation. But here lies a problem. The division of labour casts a cultural shadow over life outside the workplace: the language, culture, forms of activism, expectations of commitment and so on may not gel with the culture of the led. Similarly the mass can appear as a dark continent to the 'leaders', especially when the class stubbornly refuses to follow their lead or act in ways contrary to what is determined to be its interests. This is particularly problematic for existing Leninist organisations in Britain as they disproportionately draw its cadre from this layer. Marxist politics has to be sensitive to divisions within the working class and avoid compounding the problem by reducing every problem of proletarian politics to a question of leadership.

Class divisions among the opposition are worth paying attention to as well. In any given country, parties are divided along fundamental lines corresponding to classes. i.e. a bourgeois party, a workers' party, etc. More often than not the fundamental bourgeois party is split into factions for a variety of historical and ideological reasons. In Britain it is split between the Tories, LibDems and Labour (the latter itself an instantiation of a cross-class alliance between sections of capital and the labour movement). Following this line of thinking the main parties are really factions of the fundamental party of capital. Each of the factions are formally independent and may vigorously and bitterly oppose one another, but at times of crisis (sometimes during capitalist crisis but especially during a revolutionary crisis) the situation brings out their identity of interests. Existing differences are comparatively trivial set against what unites them. At times of crisis they can and do form united fronts and therefore become the
de facto ruling class party. Where the main workers' party has its feet in the ruling camp its organising nucleus can pass over to capital. This can lead to a temporary immobilisation as the workers' movement reels from the shock but it does prevent an opportunity for socialists to fill the vacuum. But it is an opportunity: there is no guarantee such an eventuality would set the class on the path to firmer consciousness. In addition to these, some sections of their class can exist apart from and appear to be independent of party politics. Monarchies and ceremonial presidents are typical examples, but so are "non-political" pressure groups and bosses' organisations.

Therefore Gramsci is arguing for a wider definition of a party, he's referring to the complex totality of how a class organises politically. It follows that writing a history of a political party is simultaneously charting the historical capacity of a class to act in its own interests. This is a difficult but necessary task for getting to grips with the political situation.

The political party of the working class - the organisational complex through which it acquires consciousness - is unlike the party of capital. Whereas the latter is formed and reformed as it preserves the system, as long as the working class party remains trapped by the confines of capitalism it is never fully developed. It incubates within the womb of capitalism and becomes conscious through action and learning from action. Today it's a protest, tomorrow a decisive election campaign, the next day forming the first socialist government. In line with received Marxist thinking on the subject, the full maturation of the revolutionary party only happens when the new society is being constructed. The complete party is the one that begins abolishing itself.

The revolutionary party begins formation at a certain level of historical development when it becomes "necessary", i.e. when the path to power is a real (objective) possibility. This requires three elements: the masses themselves; a "cohesive element" (a leadership) that can inspire the masses to follow them, place themselves under their discipline, innovate and seize opportunities when they arise, and learn the lessons of previous struggles; and a mediating element between the two, the sinews of the political party (conventionally defined).

Gramsci may have been writing in a very different context with mass communist parties and much greater levels of class consciousness, but his wider identification of the party with the organisational complex of a class seems useful for the predicament socialists find themselves in today. In the historical absence of a sizable revolutionary party and a Marxist left seriously interested in patching up its differences, and given the traditions of the workers' movement, it seems very unlikely a mass Leninist party will ever be built in this country - even at a moment of revolutionary crisis. This isn't a counsel of despair, just a realisation that the route to class consciousness will not conform to the vague Trotskyist blueprints that are knocking about. For Marx, the task for socialists is to organise the class as a political party, which implies he used 'party' in Gramsci's wider sense of the term. Despite the many problems plaguing the labour movement we still have the advantage that the institutions it has built remain and still organises masses of workers, economically and politically. Therefore socialists must work in them, build them, democratise them, and work to ensure our ideas come to the fore. It's not an easy task, but this seems the only realistic way of realising a Gramscian strategy in Britain today.

A list of posts in this series on the
Selections from the Prison Notebooks can be found here.

Friday 13 August 2010

Fancy a Neoliberal Mortgage?

Imagine receiving this from your bank.
Dear Sir/Madam

I'm writing to offer you a once in a lifetime mortgage opportunity.

With the shortage of suitable properties and prohibitive prices preventing many people from getting on the housing ladder, we are prepared to offer you one of our very special products. Because we value your custom, we will build you a bespoke house without a prior credit check or proof of income. It requires no deposit or down payment. And you can move in immediately.

All we require is you take out a mortgage repayable over 20, 30 or 40 years. The total monies you will pay will be approximately six times the value of the build. We think this is a reasonable deal, and no doubt you will too.

Don't hesitate to get in touch!

Such an offer was made to NHS bosses up and down the land in New Labour's early years. And it was an offer they could not refuse. Given the choice between taking out a rip-off mortgage for a new hospital, or muddling through with leaky, crumbling buildings from a century ago, few could blame them for taking the first choice.

I know many party members are proud of Labour's hospital-building programme. But would they have been had they'd known the mechanics of Private Finance Initiatives?

Still, it is annoying the great PFI rip off has only become
national news only now. From the beginning the left has called PFI for what it is: a means of transferring public funds to private coffers. One can speculate why the BBC have only just "discovered" this. Perhaps bosses think buying into the Tories' 'Labour's legacy' narrative will protect their positions from the axe. Note how supine the BBC has been reporting public sector cuts elsewhere. They wring hands while hammering home how painful but necessary it all is. Even Pravda during the period of high Stalinism showed more editorial independence.

But the NHS PFI scandal is only the tip of the iceberg. Blair and Brown insisted new school, community, public and council buildings be built under the same scheme (and some roads!). In their attempt to make New Labour the preferred party of British capital they saddled the public sector with mortgages a house buyer would be insane to take out. One wonders how many more billions will pour into construction company profits for the next 40 years?

Wednesday 11 August 2010

TUC Must Call Demo!

Tonight's meeting of North Staffs TUC decided to back this initiative of the National Shop Stewards' Network. With a national campaign against the cuts launched and trades councils making the running in many localities, it's time the TUC nationally took more responsibility for organising the resistance too. To this end, the NSSN is distributing a leaflet (text below) calling for a lobby of the TUC General Council on Sunday 12th September at 12 noon outside the Manchester Central Convention Complex. North Staffs TUC will be organising transport - if you're local and interested please get in touch via the website. If you're from outside the region but would like to know what the transport facilities are from your area, get in touch with the NSSN here.

TUC Must Call Demo
The Coalition government dominated by millionaires is driving a juggernaut over workers’ lives. They announce one lot of cuts after another. 25% becomes 40% cuts. Some schools could be privatised by September. The NHS is made ready for greedy private profiteers. Meanwhile profits keep rolling in for the banks and the rich. With each vicious attack on living standards workers ask what our trade unions are going to do about these threats. Unfortunately so far the TUC general council has been ominously quiet.

It’s time to break the silence. We cannot wait any longer – otherwise the government will draw the conclusion that we are buying into their idea of long-term poverty wages, unemployment and reduced pensions – and start piling on more cuts. We need a national demonstration to kick-start a mass campaign to stop this government in its tracks.

A national demonstration would serve two purposes. It would signal to the government that the organised unions will put up resistance; and it would act as a beacon to all workers that a fightback has begun.

• Demand that the TUC calls a national demonstration against the ConDem government's vicious cuts!
• Join the lobby of the TUC General Council: 12:00noon, Sunday 12th September, Manchester Central Convention Complex
• Come to the NSSN Fringe Meeting at the TUC: 5:30pm, Wednesday 15th September, Friends Meeting House, Mount Street, Manchester (5 mins walk from conference venue).

Speakers include Bob Crow, RMT general secretary

Fight ConDem Cuts!

Hundreds of trade unionists, along with unemployed and retired workers, community campaigners and young people, attended the National Shop Stewards Network (NSSN) Conference in June just a few days after the Coalition budget was announced; the following statement was put as a guide to action:

“800,000 public sector jobs to go; child benefits frozen and housing benefit cut; pay frozen for three years; VAT increased to 20%.

No matter how they try to dress it up as “fair” and “progressive” this is a massive attack on the working class by the rich. These cuts will axe jobs and reduce services. Cuts will impact upon the lives of millions of ordinary people in every community and workplace up and down the country.

We say the working class should not accept these cuts, and we the NSSN will organise to assist in the fightback.

The working class should not and will not pay for a crisis caused by the bankers and the capitalist system.”

We appeal for maximum unity in defence of the public sector and support the PCS call for a national demonstration on October 23rd, supported by CWU and NUT, and further endorsed by general secretaries of FBU. BFAWU, NAPO, NUJ, POA, RMT, and URTU.

However, the General Council has so far not gone for this initiative. Instead it has proposed a week of activities around the Comprehensive Spending Review including a lobby of parliament on 20th October. Whilst the NSSN will do everything to help make these events successful and lively, they are just not enough!

We need a national demo in London on a Saturday with all TUC affiliates giving it top priority.

A national demo could set the tone for a one-day public sector strike, marking the beginning of a serious fightback against these vicious cuts.
We urge trades unionists and campaigners everywhere to lobby the General Council with us at the start of TUC in Manchester Convention Centre on Sunday 12th September at 12 noon.

Also at
North Staffs TUC Blog