Thursday, July 27, 2006

Cuba in Marxist theory

It´s quite obvious from some of the comments on previous posts that wide sections of the British left are well disposed to Cuba. The friendly feelings seem to start on the Labour left and extend through to the Communist Party of Britain and the millieu influenced by the Morning Star.

As I understand it, some smaller groups such as the Communist League and the Revolutionary Communist Group pretty much regard this place as pretty much akin to what their idea of socialism would look like.

As a western Marxist, I stepped off the plane with some baggage. Not unfortunately baggage in the physical sense, as KLM managed to lose my suitcase. But political baggage, in the form of a preconceived analysis of what the country would be like.

It would be all too easy to come over all orthodox Trotskyist about this place. Indeed, I have been reading a copy of La Revolucion Traicionada I picked up in a flea market, and am struck by just how acute the Old Man´s general analysis of the economic problems of building socialism in one country remains to this day.

Yes, it is meaningful to talk about ´the gains of the revolution´. There is universal literacy, an absence of the shanty towns that scar most other third world capitals, and good healthcare too, if not up to the first world levels that AN seems to think they have reached. All of this strikes me as a pretty good way of organising things in a poor country.

But ... reality check. I have been using the time-honoured research methods of the journalistic profession to find out what the population think about this place. Yes, that has entailed extensive conversations with taxi drivers and the purchase of drinks for whichever pissheads are happy to give my street Spanish a work-out in exchange for a bevvy.

I think I deserve a pat on the back for all this. While the educated classes here speak a very pure form of the language, most locals have a strong, strong accent that only gets harder to understand once they start slurring their words.

What strikes me is that not one ordinary person has expressed support for the government. Sure, people aren´t stupid. You point out that they are better off than they would be in Haiti or Jamaica or Columbia, and yes, they know that.

But they are still ground down by the daily struggle to get by, the need to find some scam or other to earn the convertible currency required by the black market, where a small back of fish changes hands for more than a week´s wages. It is not really unreasonable to want to have toothpaste.

And where socialism doesn´t have mass popular support, it inevitably turns into its opposite.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Cuban journalism

Back in 2000, NUJ conference debated whether or not to ballot members on affiliation to the Cuba Solidarity Campaign. I voted against. How can a journalists' union meaningfully be in solidarity with a government that bangs up hacks with pro-US leanings?

Press freedom does seem to come at a premium here. The only newspaper I can get my hands on - and that with great difficulty - is Granma, published by the ruling CP. Imagine an eight-page daily edition of Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! and you kind of get the picture.

One item last week was slightly chilling. Apparently there was an annual press awards dinner in Havana. Presiding over the occasion was a certain Alberto Alvarino, vicejefe of the Ideological Department of the Central Committee. Hmmmm.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

First impressions of Cuba

I have now been in Cuba for four days. My bags may or may not be joining me shortly. Thanks a bundle, KL Effing M. Anybody know if I am entitled to compensation?

Normally, picking up some cheap replacement clothes to tide yourself over would not be much of problem. But this is sunshine Stalinism. It is hard actually to buy anything whatsoever.

I am staying with a family in what passes for a middle-class district in Havana. Vegetables and meat are more or less readily obtainable at a market nearby, although it isn't open every day.

Those who need such basics as bottled water, booze, chocolates, cigarettes, booze - oh, and did I mention alcohol? - face a 40 minute walk there and back to the nearest outlet.

Clothes and items for the home require a 30 minute taxi ride to central Havana. Even there, the choice is limited and of poor quality.

That said, there is a certain seductive character to this place. To quote Bobby
Dylan, there is music in the cafes at night and revolution in the air. All the constant invocations to Socialismo o Muerte have a pavlovian effect on this old heart of mine.

And the band at the main jazz club last night was absolutely cracking, although I suspect I am going to be all cubopped out by the end of the trip.

Anyway, I have now found an internet cafe within 40 minutes walk that only necessitates half an hour of queuing before you can get a terminal!! More on the spot blogging later, including some political verdicts when I have done a bit more research.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Summer in Cuba

By the time most of you read this, I will be in Cuba, where I am spending four weeks studying Spanish.

Blogging will be well down my list of priorities, but I do promise one or two posts.

In particular, I intend to visit the town of Guantanamo one weeked, so I try and give you a report back on what there is to see.

A few words on the Havana music scene may also be in the offing.

Best wishes to all readers, and if you are going away yourself ... enjoy.

Panorama goes for Lord Levy

Panorama is doing a docco on the Lord Cashpoint affair, for broadcast Saturday night. I've just done a prerecord for it. Might be worth a watch ...

[pic shamelessly half-inched from Theo Spark]

McDonnell: it's official


It is becoming increasingly apparent that Tony Blair will announce his resignation as Leader of the Labour Party over the next 12 -18 months.

Some have argued that instead of an open democratic election for the leader of the party, there should be a smooth transition or virtual coronation of his successor.

This would deny party members the opportunity of openly debating the issues facing our party and the future direction of the country.

An election for the Leader of the party will allow for a democratic debate on the future of Labour.

Therefore following increasing demands from various sections of the movement, I have decided to declare myself as a candidate for the leadership of the Labour Party as soon as the present incumbent retires. To be clear this is not a so-called “stalking horse” candidature but a serious challenge for the leadership of the party when a vacancy occurs.

I am standing to ensure that thousands of Labour Party members and supporters have the chance to participate in deciding not only who should be the next leader of our party but more importantly what policies the party should be pursuing.   

There are many that feel the party has lost its way. Many of the policies being pursued in Government have broken up the broad coalition of support Labour has relied upon throughout its history to bring it to power.

New Labour has systematically alienated section after section of our supporters – teachers, health workers, students, pensioners, public service workers, trade unionists and people committed to the environment, civil liberties and peace. Spin and allegations of sleaze are causing decent people to lose trust in our party. 

This is reflected in lost votes, lost elections, lost members and a Labour Prime Minister having to rely upon Conservative votes in Parliament to force through legislation.

There are growing calls from across the party for change. We need to rebuild a progressive consensus, inspiring and giving people hope that another world is possible.  We need those who have turned away from Labour to come back home.

For the first time in decades people no longer feel they have a political voice.  This campaign is a challenge to the present political consensus.

I will now seek support from all sections of the movement. At next Saturday’s conference of the Labour Representation Committee we will debate the policies needed by a real Labour government and the way in which we can reinvigorate democratic participation in the party.

From September this campaign will be travelling the country, convening meetings face to face with party members, supporters and the general public to discuss the issues facing us. We will be urging those thousands of Labour Party members who have left the party to rejoin and those who are no longer active supporters to re-engage.

We are launching a campaign web-site today and we will use every possible means of communication and new technology to stimulate this debate and get our message across.

The campaign will be waged in an open, comradely and friendly manner based upon a debate on the policies not personalities.

Let the debate begin.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Easy money

Latest political bets from William Hill:

Year in which Tony Blair leaves Office of Prime Minister: 11/10 - 2007, 2/1 - 2006, 3/1 - 2008, 9/1 - 2009, 20/1 2010 or beyond.

Tony Blair to beat Margaret Thatcher's tenure as Prime Minister: 1/20 No, 8/1 Yes.

4/6 Conservatives, 11/10 Labour, 80/1 Lib Dems.

1/4 Gordon Brown, 6/1 Alan Johnson, 8/1 David Miliband, 12/1 John Reid, 20/1 Alan Milburn, 33/1 Margaret Beckett, 33/1 Jack Straw, 40/1 Des Browne, 50/1 Peter Hain, 50/1 Hazel Blears, 66/1 Hilary Benn, 66/1 Charles Clarke, 66/1 Geoff Hoon, 80/1 John Prescott.

Shamefully for someone who fancies himself as a political pundit, I generally do better on the gee-gees than on my political bets. But at 2/1, I'm putting some of my modest flat season profits on Blair to go before the end of the year. That's value.

However ... 80/1 on Prezza as next Labour leader? Sorry. You'd be a mug punter to take that bet at 500/1. And sadly, it doesn't look as if they are even making a book on McDonnell.

[Hat tip: Iain Dale]

MG: made in Oklahoma

After the Phoenix Four spent their way through a £427m interest-free loan and then toddled off with £40m in their back pockets, what was left of MG Rover was last year flogged off to Nanjing Automobile Group, for an undisclosed consideration.

Meanwhile, around 6,000 workers were thrown on the dole, and about a third of them have still to find work. The picture left shows the last ever shift at Longbridge knocking off.

According to MG Rover’s administrator, the game plan at that time was to relocate the engine plant and some car production plant to China, while retaining some car production plant in the UK.

Now - in an announcement that has caused widespread surprise - the Chinese company says it is planning to assemble and then market a new MG TF Coupe from a plant in Ardmore, Oklahoma, for sale into both North American and Europe. Another model, the MG TF roadster, will be produced in Longbridge, albeit in rather smaller volumes.

What is especially interesting is this remark from Duke Hale, who will head up the US operation: 'We may have tax advantages in Ardmore that will allow us to build the car, believe it or not, almost as competitively as China.’

Given the huge disparity in manufacturing costs between China and the US, one can only presume that Nanjing is getting one hell of a tax break here. This is globalisation in action. A brand name staggers from country to country, locating wherever it can extract the most generous financial backing from the public purse.

And I suspect tax breaks might not be the whole story. I’d really like to know how little these new US employees will be paid if costs really are pared down to Chinese levels. My guess is that wages won’t even come close to those prevailing in unionised Detroit.

McDonnell: declaration tomorrow?

John McDonnell is set to make 'an important announcement on the future of the Labour Party' tomorrow morning. It will almost certainly be the formal declaration of his leadership candidacy. Good.

UPDATE: Newsnight’s Paul Mason has some excellent observations on all this:

‘Here is the lay of the land as I understand it:

‘The big four unions do not and will not support McDonnell's candidacy. They are not wedded to Gordon Brown though and are at present concentrating on policy demands for the post-Blair era. They are focusing their efforts through the official conduit, the Trade Union and Labour Party Liaison Organisation.

‘The left of the Parliamentary Labour Party was divided over whether Michael Meacher would stand or McDonnell. Meacher was seen as a way of dragging in some tacit support from the big unions but it became clear that he was not exactly seen as Mr Dynamite in the corridors of the big four.

‘A key moment in the coalescence of the forces that will publicly or tacitly get behind McDonnell was the rally to defend public services, held in Westminster Central Hall 27 June, with several hundred grass roots activists, and covered in depth by, er, nobody.

‘However: McDonnell's candidacy is not seen (by the Socialist Campaign Group or the Labour Representation Committee) as some kind of "stalking horse" to force Brown to stand. It is serious.

‘They believe they have the best part of 12 months to go on the stump within what is left of the labour party at Constituency Labour Party level and make a serious effort to win the leadership.’

If Paul is right, that implies a prospect of a protracted campaign that will raise leftwing ideas inside the structures of the Labour Party in a way not seen for two decades.

There is a dilemma here for those in Respect who are not totally wedded to the SWP conception of the project, as well as those (like me) that have signed the Campaign for a New Workers’ Party declaration. If something serious kicks off inside the Labour Party, there is at least an argument that it deserves full support. That implies carding up.

The thing is, have the Labour left in its current weakened state got either the numbers – or the balls, for that matter – to make such a strategy effective?

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Lord Levy arrested

Lord Levy - pictured left in a nice photoshop job nicked from Theo Spark - has been arrested in connection with the ‘loans for lordships’ affair. As some readers will know, I have written extensively about this man’s fundraising activities in my book, Labour Party plc. You can read the key chapter in two parts, here and here:

I’m just off to Millbank to do a short prerecords for BBC News at Ten O’Clock and C4, and may also appear on other broadcast outlets tonight.

At least I remembered to shave this morning and the shirt and jacket vaguely co-ordinate. But I am sadly overdue for a haircut.

More on the Tommy Sheridan libel trial

Here's The Scotsman with the Sheridan libel trial latest:

'Sheridan 'had group sex in flat then four of us headed south to swingers' club'

'THE Tommy Sheridan jury was told yesterday that the MSP enjoyed a session of group sex in a flat in Glasgow before going to a swingers' club in Manchester.

'It was also alleged that, after leaving the club, he visited a house and went upstairs with a barmaid, whose husband gave them his blessing.'

Bloody hell Tommy. Big respect.

The court also heard evidence by freelance journalist Anvar Khan, pictured above, who claimed she had an eight-year relationship with Sheridan, which continued after his marriage.

It seems that her website used to carry this assessment of her role in life, in her own words:

'As a self-confessed media whore, I am on call 24/7 to give my views on anything from why men cheat to why women stop having sex with their husbands. If I don’t have an opinion I’ll find one.'

But the quote seems mysteriously to have disappeared from the current version. Wonder why?

Socialist Worker on Somalia

So ... has Britain's largest revolutionary socialist organisation really adapted its politics to Islamism since establishing Respect?

Let's consider this portrayal of the recent takeover of Mogadishu by the Union of Islamic Courts, published in the latest Socialist Worker:

'For the first time for many years there is a sense of relief and hope among many people in Somalia,' we are told in the opening sentence, which pretty much sets the tone of the entire article. There is not one single word of critique, not one indication that this development is anything other than entirely positive.

True, it is incontestable that the UIC have considerable popular support. The SWP attributes this to what it sees as the organisation's quasi-social democratic politics. The UIC are depicted essentially as armed reformists, delivering pavement politics through the barrel of an AK-47:

'Key to the success of the UIC was the fact that it was already an established and accepted presence in local communities, with a demonstrated social welfare policy.

'Apart from bringing security to areas under its control, through its own militia and justice system, it had also set up farms, schools, water points, health clinics and orphanages.

'Although the UIC did not initially have strong popular support, there was a feeling that it upheld moral standards and discipline, and had a unifying and familiar ideology in Islam ...'

Read that again. Slowly. Upholding moral standards and discipline, eh? Sound chaps. Most rightwing Tories would approve. But is it truly the job of revolutionary socialists to cheerlead for such moral standards as forcing women to wear the veil and the amputation of the limbs of thieves?

It's also open to question whether or not the UIC are capable of mounting a challenge to the clan system, as the SWP maintains. All but one of the Islamic Courts are associated with one single clan, the Hawiye.

And class analysis is nowhere to be seen. What is the movement's social basis? In the interests of which classes does it operate? We are not told. An astonishing omission on the part of what still claims to be a Marxist publication.

Ultimately, the definitive evaluation of what the UIC represents, from a socialist perspective, will have to wait until it has been in power for some period of time. Let's just see what the future brings, although I have to say the portents don't look too promising.

But even as a preliminary assessment, the SWP's position is at the very least imbalanced. The article's final sentence explains why any sense of perspective has been lost:

'There is no doubt imperialism has suffered a blow.'

And that's all anyone needs to know.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Labour leadership: who will the Blairites run?

The Socialist Campaign Group’s commitment to running a leftwinger in the Labour leadership contest is very welcome. It should foster debate in the labour movement and could boost all sections of the left.

But nobody seriously expects the SCG’s nominee to win. The outcome will hinge on how the Blairites choose to play it, a point well made by Financial Times columnist Philip Stephens today:

‘The chancellor might always have expected, even welcomed, a token challenge from the hard left. A New Labour rival would be a far more dangerous prospect.’

He goes on to offer an assessment of likely runners and riders:

‘Those most frequently mentioned are John Reid, Charles Clarke and Alan Milburn. All are probably capable of running strong campaigns. Alan Johnson, another touted contender, stands apart. Mr Johnson's appeal lies in his life story - the ascent from postman to cabinet minister - rather than in his politics or record. His pitch is much the same as that of John Major in the 1990 battle for the Tory succession.

‘I would add another name to the list. John Hutton, the work and pensions secretary, is scarcely a household name. He is though among the most attractive of the New Labour torch-bearers and, increasingly, one determined that the flame be kept alight.’

The most obvious remark to make at this stage is that this is not an obviously impressive field. But given that Blairites make up a large portion of the active Labour Party membership, factional allegiance alone should guarantee them a substantial vote.

The lesser-evilist argument will then be made that socialists should back Brown to block the Blairite. Anyone tempted by that logic should remember that the prime minister recently – and quite correctly – described the chancellor as ‘New Labour to his fingertips’.

Socialist Campaign Group on the nuclear energy review

Here’s the latest press release from the Socialist Campaign Group:

John McDonnell MP, Chair of the Campaign Group, said:

"The Socialist Campaign Group of Labour MPs is opposed to a new build of nuclear power stations on the basis of high costs, safety and long term environmental impact.

"We're surrounded by sea, and climatic conditions that generate wind, and we live on an island of coal. So what we need is an energy policy based upon wind, wave, and clean coal which will enable us to avoid the huge risks and high costs of nuclear power.

"We now believe the energy review consultation process has been substantially undermined and pre-empted by the Prime Minister's and Chancellor of the Exchequer's statements in support of the nuclear option."

As I’ve said before, I am not opposed to nuclear power on principle. If it could be shown to be economically viable, and if there were ways to deal with the resultant waste, then nuclear electricity generation might prove a useful part of the energy mix as the world moves away from fossil fuel. It’s just that I’m not convinced that either of these two concerns can adequately be met.

I think there should be full discussion of all the options. But the SCG is right to warn that – like any other debate under New Labour – that the outcome of this one has been pre-arranged.

Crackdown on Labour left?

It seems like the Blairites are gearing up for a scrap with the Labour left:

‘Labour MPs have agreed to give the government whip the power to suspend colleagues who defy the party line.

‘The 'yellow card' gives Jacqui Smith
- pictured left - an option between a verbal reprimand and total withdrawal of the whip.

‘If suspended an MP would lose their privileges and access to meetings of the Parliamentary Labour Party.

‘But they would still be expected to vote with the government.’

Presumably, a suspended MP would be ineligible to stand in leadership and deputy leadership contests. Message to comrades McDonnell and Simpson. Watch your backs.

Monday, July 10, 2006

The future of Tommy Sheridan and the Scottish Socialist Party

Scottish editions of the Sunday Times yesterday featured an assessment of the prospects for the Scottish Socialist Party. Although most of the predictable 'Carry on Trotsky' gags were pretty unfunny, it is difficult to disagree with the conclusion:

‘Whatever the truth, the outcome of the trial will be largely immaterial as far as the future of the party is concerned. It has no future …

‘The fallout from the publicity generated by Sheridan’s trial is enough to ensure the SSP, at one time an emerging force that threatened to break Labour’s grip on the working-class vote in a number of Scottish constituencies, can now aspire to be nothing more than a footnote in the country’s political history.’

Sadly, I guess that’s just about right. And it’s not only a setback for the left in Scotland, it’s a setback for the left across the UK.

There’s been some speculation that Sheridan, backed by the SW Platform, could end up as the figurehead for the Scottish wing of Respect. Can anybody north of the border give any estimation of how likely that prognosis is? And what direction are the other wing likely to take?

Hillary Clinton goes to Wall Street

Just in case you needed it, a story in today’s FT offers a timely reminder of where the real power lies in US politics:

‘Hillary Clinton (pictured left, reporting for duty) has been cosying up to Wall Street in recent weeks with a series of meetings with top executives that could help her follow the path blazed by her husband ahead of his first presidential run.

‘People familiar with the meetings said they appeared intended to help Wall Street figures get to know the New York senator better as she coasts through an easy 2006 re-election campaign and paves the way for a possible Democratic presidential run in 2008 …

‘Some events, such as a recent gathering at Morgan Stanley that included chief executive John Mack, a big Republican donor, have been fundraisers for the Senate campaign.

‘Others, including a chat with executives at Lehman Brothers, are more policy-oriented. ‘Mrs Clinton is said to be planning meetings at Merrill Lynch and Credit Suisse, among others …

‘Political observers noted that Mrs Clinton faces little significant opposition in 2006. They said the Wall Street meetings could pay dividends in 2008 by helping reassure bankers that Mrs Clinton is a free market centrist, not the tax-and-spend, protectionist liberal some Republicans paint her to be.’

As reported earlier on this blog, Ms C already appears to enjoy endorsement from Rupert Murdoch.

US presidential elections usually generate a certain amount of somewhat abstract debate on the left. Majority opinion probably favours lesser evilism. Better vote Democrat or the nasty Republican gets in.

By contrast, Marxists have traditionally argued either for an abstention or a vote for a token far left candidate. But the last two times around, Ralph Nader has picked up a certain degree of support, even from organisations that in theory should brand him a bourgeois candidate. That stance seems to me entirely justified, given the sterility of the alternatives.

One thing’s for certain. The way the Clinton candidacy is shaping up, a Democrat vote is going to be hard to justify in 2008.

By the way, can any US readers tell me whatever happened to the Labor Party founded in 1996 around Tony Mazzochi of the Oil, Chemical, and Atomic Workers union? Is it still a going concern? Any chance of seeing it run any candidates any time soon?

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Labour left: challenge certain, says McDonnell

There is definitely to be a contest for the Labour leadership when Tony Blair steps down, a leading Campaign Group MP confirmed from a public platform yesterday.

John McDonnell was speaking at the annual Durham Miners' Gala on Saturday, in front of a audience of 50,000.

'He told the crowds: "Some are saying that there needs to be a smooth transition, a coronation, but that would mean no change because Gordon Brown is the architect of many current policies.

'"It will be Blair to Brown to Cameron because the Tories will be back ... There will be a number of us campaigning to insist there is an election for the next leader of the Labour Party ... There will be no coronation."'

Good. But still no word on who the left's candidate will be. Yet the extremely unscientific straw poll on the righthand side of this blog is anything to go by, McDonnell is clearly the activists' choice, with a four to one lead over the other potential leftish challenger, Michael Meacher.

The same message is coming through from other online forums were Labour left activists discuss such matters.

It's almost tempting to take out a card.

Aids in Africa: Can Bono, Buffett and Gates provide the solution?

Forget about the fight against Aids in Africa. Effective immediately, this pressing task has been outsourced to Bono’s Project Red and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Mr Radio Friendly Unit Shifter himself, the two richest men in the world, and a whole bunch of youth-oriented multinationals have got together in a loose popular front for the eradication of the killer disease.

So is there anything wrong with market-based solutions dressed up in wraparound shades? After all, nobody on the left can dismiss out of hand anything whatsoever if it saves people’s lives.

Why, Bono’s Product Red – effectively a brand name that is licensed out to companies such as Motorola, American Express, Gap, Nike and Converse - even cheekily appropriates socialism’s traditional colour scheme.

The beauty is, there’s no need to get involved in all that tedious activism malarkey. Just buy a Motoslvr L7 RED – handset and 12 month contract will set you back a minimum of £260 – and yes, a whole tenner will go towards combating Aids in Africa.

You could, of course, buy a cheaper phone and give £50 to the Terrence Higgins Trust instead. But that would be missing the point.

For the likes of Nike – desperate to convince the public that they have now stopped using sweatshop manufacturers, even though campaigners dispute this claim – signing up must have been a no-brainer.

Indeed, the premium price tag makes it a profitable proposition. Hundreds of thousands of African orphans can now be deployed to ensure liberal sports shoe buyers feel good about themselves, at no extra cost to the company.

The Sex Pistols famously sang about cheap holidays in other people’s misery. But thanks to Bono and Product Red, over-priced sweatshirts can now be marketed on precisely the same basis.

I don’t know just how far Product Red will set the fashionista woods alight. But clearly there is some sort of market out there. As its website breathlessly informs us: ‘There are already over 10, 500 people on the (PRODUCT) RED waiting list, itching to hear about the next great product to launch and where they can buy it. Excitement keeps building.’

Meanwhile, Berkshire Hathaway billionaire Warren Buffett - the second richest man on the planet - is to give away $31bn of his $44bn fortune. Most of the money will go to a foundation set up by Microsoft founder Bill Gates, the only inhabitant of this earth wealthier than Buffett himself. The two men are picture above, with Buffett on the left and Gates on the right.

The Gates Foundation, already endowed with an estimated $26.9bn before Buffett’s generosity, will be able to spend $3bn annually, on causes that include the search for a vaccine for HIV. That will significantly boost current research outlay, estimated at $682m a year, and can only be a good thing.

Yet it’s here the left needs to start raising questions. To begin with, how did Gates and Buffett come to be so wealthy in the first place, in a world where more than 3bn people still live on less than $2 a day?

Well, both were born into affluent families. Neither is a first generation millionaire. Like everyone else that has become super-rich, both made their current fortunes on the back of the surplus value created by the labour of others.

Gates has been guilty of unfair and anti-competitive monopolistic business practices, some of them ruled illegal in some countries. Buffett hasn’t scrupled at putting workers out of a job where and when that strategy has served the bottom line of Berkshire Hathaway.

The system that perpetrates poverty for most people in Africa and the system that generated the vast wealth of Gates and Buffett are two sides of the capitalist coin.

If these guys feel sufficiently guilt-tripped to undertake what is, in the scheme of things, a pretty minor ameliorative effort, then OK. But such a strategy leaves a host of crucial issues - from the limitations on the availability of condoms to the lack of basic health care across an entire continent – totally unexamined.

Meanwhile, because middle-aged business men still come near top of the uncool charts for most young people, a major rock star has been roped in as an apostle to exonerate exploitation, provided only that the exploiters offer some small pay-back:

‘Red is where desire meets virtue, where consumerism meets philanthropy, were shopping attempts to meet the need of a continent in crisis. … Big business is not bad. Big bad business is bad.’

If shopping really can meet the needs of a continent in crisis, politics is obsolete. All social welfare becomes a matter for the whims of the private sector, devoid of any form of democratic accountability.

Bear in mind that the Gates Foundation already provides 90% of the world budget for the attempted eradication of polio.

It looks like the richest man in the world, in league with the second richest man in the world, is set to become more powerful still.

Friday, July 07, 2006

Labour NEC elections: the Centre-Left Grassroots Alliance slate

Individual members of the Labour Party will shortly be getting ballot papers for the elections to the National Executive Committee.

The NEC, it has to be said, is not the power in the labour movement it once was. Like every other mechanism that once gave the ordinary membership at least a theoretical say in shaping policy, it has essentially been neutered.

The Blairites have all but eradicated any real internal democracy in New Labour, and you can be sure the party machinery will do everything it is capable of doing, short of outright ballot rigging, to ensure that their guys win.

I know both Mark Seddon and Liz Davies - the left’s standard bearers on the NEC in the 1990s - personally. I am fully aware that both of them found the meetings a frustrating experience.

Yet it is still important for the left to attempt to make an impact, especially as contests for both the leadership and deputy leadership are probably forthcoming soon.

This blog is calling for critical support for Walter Wolfgang, the pensioner turfed out of Labour Party conference last year for heckling Jack Straw. Wolfgang is, of course, vice chair of Labour CND, and vice president of CND.

Sure, I’ve got reservations about his politics. Deep reservations. But symbolism is important, and it would be sending the right message to Blair and Co if he topped the poll.

The other names to back are those on the Centre-Left Grassroots Alliance slate: Mohammed Azam, Ann Black, Gaye Johnston, Christine Shawcroft, and that loveable old git Pete Willsman.

Make every effort to mandate your conference delegate to vote for Ray Davison (East Devon CLP) for the national constitutional committee (CLP section); and John Boughton (T&G) for the conference arrangements committee (general section) vote

The ballot closes on Monday 31 July 2006 and the result is due on Friday 04 August 2006. In the mean time, check out Labour Against the War.

(Hat tip: Socialist Unity Blog)

Guido unmasked

Guido is one of the few British blogs that genuinely deserves the adjective 'indispensible'. His sources in all major parties are second to none. But who is the man behind the website?

Yesterday I noted that the Independent indentified him as a certain Paul Staines, referring to him simply as a former Tory activist. No surprises there, given the general tenor of his blog.

But it turns out that Staines' political track record is rather more interesting than that run-of-the-mill description implies. This is what Sourcewatch has to say about him:

'Paul Staines was the creator of Popular Propaganda, a libertarian marketing enterprise which produced T-shirts and posters.'

Indeed so. The picture shows the young Staines at the 1987 conference of the Libertarian Alliance, presenting a T-shirt glorifying the rightwing - sorry, 'anti-communist' - UNITA guerilla group in Angola to its UK representative. Thanks to commenter Bobbins for the link.

'In the Grip of the Sandinistas', his critical study of a decade of Marxist rule in Nicaragua, was published in 1989. He was a foreign policy analyst with the Committee for a Free Britain before becoming director of the Freedom to Party Campaign and later UK secretary-general of the International Society for Human Rights and editor of 'Human Rights Briefing.'

'Paul Staines is a former member of the radical right Committee for a Free Britain.

'Paul Staines was one of the people behind the Acid House craze of the early 90s and was involved with the "Sunrise" and "Back to the Future" M25 orbital raves that led the police on a merry dance. He features in the best selling "Altered State : The Story of Ecstasy Culture and Acid House " written by Matthew Collin, ex-editor of trend bible ID magazine.

'"Generation Ecstasy : Into the World of Techno and Rave" by Simon Reynolds describes him as "a Libertarian Conservative whose day job was as assistant to rabid freemarket ideologue David Hart, one of Thatcher's favorite advisors."

'David Hart masterminded the breaking of the miner's strike and was a favourite courtier of Thatcher. She would ask multi-millionaire Hart to make suggestions for her speeches. Staines as aides-de-camp was reputed to come up with the jokes. Hart and Staines shared a rightwing hippy libertarian outlook.

'Staines wrote a seminal chapter in Nicholas Saunder's classic "E for Ecstasy" where he admits to enjoying deliberately mixing politics, dance music and drugs.

'He is reputed to have made his later fortune in Asia from investing in technology companies via Bahamas based hedge fund, Mondial Global Investors LLC and the Tokyo based MGI Nihon Seicho Kabushiki Fund. Mondial Global Investors is now defunct.'

Now, as a former punk myself, I obviously see nothing wrong in organising events for the primary purpose of listening to loud music while under the influence of drugs, in the omnipresent hope of copping off with a member of your gender of choice. Even though I was too old to get into all those repetitive beats myself, I thought the Tory legislation to stop kids having a good time was definitely de trop.

But as a sometime Nicaragua Solidarity Campaign activist and ghost writer for Arthur Scargill, I reckon Guido definitely qualifies as the class enemy. I'll still be reading his blog, though.

[Hat tip: John Angliss]

Peugeot, Amicus and the TGWU: how not to fight a car plant closure

The KLF famously burned £1m in the name of art. Now Amicus and TGWU look set to repeat the stunt, in the name of heaven knows what.

This blog has previously been critical of the two unions for limiting their campaign against the closure of Peugeot’s plant in Ryton to shelling out that huge sum of members' subscriptions on an advertising campaign calling for a consumer boycott. That money looks like going straight on the media owners' bottom line.

Last month I predicted:

‘Few will take any notice, and the ‘campaign’ will quietly fold inside a few months, having achieved nothing. Nobody will even make the democratic socialist case for common ownership under workers’ control.’

So was I right or was I right? Here’s the Independent today. You don’t really need to read much beyond the headline to get the message:

'Peugeot sales surge as union boycott flops By Michael Harrison, Business Editor Published: 07 July 2006

‘A £1m trade union campaign to persuade motorists not to buy Peugeot cars in protest at the closure of its Ryton plant in Coventry appears to have flopped after the French car maker revealed yesterday that its UK sales surged last month.

‘The boycott, launched with a fanfare at the start of June with full-page newspaper adverts, urges the public to "think of England" if they intend buying a new car this summer. The Amicus union began the campaign after Peugeot bosses refused to reconsider their decision to close Ryton next year with the loss of 2,300 jobs.

‘However, the latest figures show sales of Peugeot models rose 17 per cent last month to 12,675, buoyed by the launch of the new 207 model, despite a 4 per cent decline in the overall new car market.’

Ironically, it’s even possible that the company benefited from the additional ad spend. Whatever the case, the chance of organising a fightback has been well and truly dissipated:

‘Peugeot said it has received 1,500 applications for the 1,000 redundancies that will result from the ending of the second shift as from this week.’

There are a plenty of better things that could have been done with a million quid, no?

Oliver Kamm: an apology

In an earlier post on this blog, I suggested that author and Times columnist Oliver Kamm ‘lifted’ material on the left wing of the pre-war French socialist party from a book by US writer Paul Berman. Such a suggestion of plagiarism is of course unwarranted and I withdraw the accusation unreservedly. Sincere apologies to Mr Kamm.

Wal-Mart: every day union busters

This clever animation satirises Wal-Mart and Garth Brooks simultaneously. And both of them richly deserve it, no?

Thursday, July 06, 2006

UKIP's Polish colleague

Maciej Giertych – MEP for Poland’s Liga Polskich Rodzin party – this week spoke in a European Parliament debate to mark the 70th anniversary of the outbreak of the Spanish civil war. His remarks were openly pro-fascist:

'Thanks to the Spanish army and Franco the communist attack on Catholic Spain was thwarted. The presence of such people in European politics as Franco guaranteed the maintenance of traditional values in Europe and we lack such statesmen today. Christian Europe is losing against atheistic socialists today and this has to change.'

Liga Polskich Rodzin, incidentally, forms part of the European Parliament’s Independence and Democracy group, known as Ind/Dem. British affiliate? Why, if it isn’t the United Kingdom Independence Party. What a surprise.

Labour deputy leadership contest

Rightwing blogger Guido - real name Paul Staines, apparently - has this to offer on the forthcoming contest for the nominal number two job in New Labour:

'Hain is the best organised and he’s in pole position, with lots of committed supporters, Martin Linton and Nick Palmer are organising for him.

'Harriet Harman (wearing Brown's colours) has Angela Eagle leading her campaign and is prepared to collect signatures from MPs to force out the DPM. The sisterhood are seething...

'The machiavellian Alan Johnson is prepared to back Hain under the right circumstances. A number of junior ministers and ambitious types are waiting to see who can help their careers.'

Despite being a former Tory activist, Guido is well plugged in, and his speculation is on the money nine times out of ten.

The only real question remaining is what the Campaign Group decide to do. Should they contest the post, or or concentrate on planning what to do when Blair finally goes?

In the latter case, should the Labour left back Hain 'with no illusions', as the old slogan goes, or simply abstain?

Any thoughts? Any hard info, even?

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Tommy Sheridan defamation case

Former Scottish Socialist Party leader Tommy Sheridan’s defamation action against the News of the World opened at the Court of Session in Edinburgh yesterday.

From this account in the Daily Record – the Scottish equivalent of the Daily Mirror – makes clear, there are widely differing accounts of what he Sheridan did, and more importantly from a political standpoint, what he said at a meeting of the SSP executive in November 2004.

Rationally speaking, of course it’s irrelevant how anybody gets their jollies. These days, most politicians survive allegations of routine extramarital nookie. Just ask John Major or John Prescott. But once its gets beyond plain vanilla, you’re almost certainly a goner. Just ask Ron Davies.

In the circumstances, it looks like the SSP executive was right to insist Sheridan to step down. It was the only rational choice. Whether or not the NoTW story stacks up, nobody can credibly lead a political party in the face of salacious talk on this grand a scale.

Sheridan’s honesty is also on trial. I have no way of knowing whether or not he told the truth to the executive. But equally I cannot see why the executive would want deliberately to concoct lies to discredit the SSP’s number one electoral asset.

Only one thing is for certain. The damage to socialist politics from this business – not just in Scotland, but in the UK as a whole – will be incalculable.



Legal team's drink and sex claim

By Gordon Mcilwraith

CHAMPAGNE-SIPPING Tommy Sheridan took part in a group sex orgy and visited a swingers' club, a jury heard yesterday.

It was alleged the former Scottish Socialist Party leader had sex with a woman in a hotel room while another man looked on.

And a senior party official claimed he had admitted visiting a swingers' club - but wanted to deny newspaper reports about his conduct.

Allison Kane, the party's national treasurer, said Sheridan told the party's executive he was confident there was no proof of his visit to the club.

Ms Kane, the first witness called in Sheridan's £200,000 defamation action against a Sunday tabloid, also said he was dumped, by the party's I executive when the allegations emerged - contrary to what he maintained.

At the start of the Court of Session hearing yesterday, Sheridan, who arrived with his wife Gail, was branded a "hypocrite and a swinger" by a lawyer for the paper.

Junior counsel Alistair Clark claimed what they wrote was "substantially true". He added: "He says he is not a hypocrite but we say he is.

"The articles which he complains of state that Mr Sheridan visited a swingers' club - a club where casual sexual activities take place.

"The articles say he participated in group casual activities and the articles say he committed adultery with various women and they mentioned he drank champagne."

Mr Clark said the newspaper intended to present their evidence in four chapters.

Cupid's - the Manchester swingers' club which Sheridan allegedly visited with friends, none of whom were his wife.

Mr Clark said: "You will hear quite a bit about the Cupid's chapter. You will hear evidence from people who were with Mr Sheridan and what they saw. Mr Sheridan denies he ever went to this club at the times mentioned."

The Moat House Hotel party - a private event at the Glasgow hotel in 2002.

Mr Clark said: "The evidence we will lead is he attended the party in a private suite and was seen by two independent witnesses having sex with a woman, not his wife, in a bedroom while another man was present in the room.

"Mr Sheridan's position is that he denies he was there and that the events occurred."

The other women - evidence from women who claimed Sheridan had sex with them, although he claimed to have no knowledge of one of them.

The meeting of November 9, 2004 - the date the SSP's executive decided to drop Sheridan.

Mr Clark continued: "Mr Sheridan is on record as saying that he resigned to spend more time with his wife and, at that stage, his forthcoming child.

"He says it's nonsense to say he was forced to resign. There will be evidence led by the defence that he was forced to stand down because of what was said about his private life at that meeting."

The trial would also hear how Sheridan said he was teetotal but drank champagne, Mr Clark added.

The newspaper's senior counsel Mike Jones QC said they published an article in October 2004 claiming an unnamed politician in the Scottish parliament had allegedly gone to a swingers' club and enjoyed threesomes and being spanked by lovers wearing red PVC gloves.

Party treasurer Ms Kane said officials were worried the mystery man was Sheridan and he was called to an executive committee meeting.

She claimed Sheridan spoke frankly at the meeting for 40 minutes.

Mr Jones then quoted from what Ms Kane said were the minutes of the meeting.

They read: "Tommy admitted he had twice visited the club in 1996 and 2002.

"He acknowledged this had been reckless behaviour and, in hindsight, a mistake.

"He asked for an opportunity to fight this and said he was confident there was no proof in existence he had visited the club.

"There was shock and sadness. No one was happy and it was devastating to be there. There were some people in tears.

"There was no support for Tommy's position because we felt it was untenable."

Ms Kane said all 19 people at the meeting voted unanimously for Sheridan to step down as party leader.

The meeting culminated with the executive agreeing to give Sheridan four days to resign so that he could speak to his family.

Richard Keen QC, for Sheridan, said six "honest and decent" executive members had a different recollection of the meeting.

He claimed Sheridan hadn't admitted visiting the swingers' club and that there was a cabal trying to oust him.

Ms Kane replied: "I don't believe there was a plot to bring down Tommy."

The trial continues.

John Prescott and the 1966 seafarers' strike

Forty years ago, British seafarers – then numbering 65,000 - mounted a six-week strike for better pay and a cut in working hours from 56 to 40 a week.

The political and economic impact was enormous. The UK’s already precarious balance of payments took a big hit, provoking a run on the pound.

The Labour government of the day declared a state of emergency, giving it the powers to cap food prices and to allow the Royal Navy to over ports. In the event, the powers were never used.

But prime Minister Harold Wilson attacked the strike leaders as "politically motivated men", implying that they were communists determined bring down his administration.

Nevertheless, the strikers’ cause was immensely popular in the labour movement. That was in no small part due to a pamphlet eloquently making the seafarers’ case, entitled ‘Not Wanted on Voyage’.

Today Britain’s ever-shrinking numbers of ratings – the non-officer grades – are represented by RMT, which has marked the anniversary of the stoppage by republishing this historic document.

It’s interesting to see the foreword. Militant stuff, blasting shipowners, a Labour government and ‘the timid official trade union leadership’ alike:

‘In this report, we hope and believe that you will find the weapons of struggle, of counterattack, which will bring the owners and the government before the court of social justice.

‘We fight a good fight, and we are proud to ask for the solidarity and support of the labour movement at this critical time.’

It is signed by two men, one of them a young union activist by the name of J. Prescott. Wonder what ever became of him?

John Prescott and Phil Anschutz

The DPM is in trouble again, this time for his links with American businessman Phil Anschutz who owns the Millenium Dome, and wants to develop it into Britain's first super-casino.

Let's see. This wouldn't be Phil Anschutz, the rightwing evangelical Christian that gave $1m to Republican presidential candidate Bob Dole's political library, and a further $100,000 to a Dole-linked rightwing think tank? You know, the same Phil Anschutz who backs a wide range of reactionary causes, including opposition to gay rights? The very same, I'm afraid.

Here's how the BBC reports the story, which is in all the broadsheets today anyway:

'The deputy prime minister and a small number of his civil servants stayed at Mr Anschutz's ranch in July last year as part of a nine-day trip to America.'

Two Shags had this to say:

'"My contact with Philip Anschutz relates solely to the use of the Dome post-sale in terms of the regeneration of the area and Mr Anschutz's interest in William Wilberforce, a former Hull MP and slavery abolitionist about whom Mr Anschutz is making a film as I am personally involved in the 2007 abolition bicentenary."

'Mr Prescott says he met Mr Anschutz seven times between 15 August 2002 and 22 July 2005. Officials were present on each occasion.'

But there are alternative takes on Anschutz's track record, which the British media doesn't seem to feel is worth mentioning:

'Named Fortune's "greediest executive" in 1999, the Denver resident is a generous supporter of anti-gay-rights legislation, intelligent design, the Bush administration and efforts to sanitize television. With a net worth of $5 billion, he is Forbes ' thirty-fourth richest American ...

'Anschutz heads a vast media empire whose assets include the Examiner chain [the remnants of the Hearst publishing empire - DO], twenty percent of the country's [the US - DO] movie screens, and a sizeable stake in Qwest Communications, the scandal-ridden telecom giant he formerly directed. (Anschutz was accused of helping falsely inflate Qwest profit reports, then making millions by selling his own shares in the company -- a claim he ultimately settled by paying millions to charity.)

'A heavy contributor to the Republican Party for decades, Anschutz helped fund Amendment 2, a ballot initiative to overturn a state law protecting gay rights, and helped stop another initiative promoting medical marijuana. More recently, he helped fund the Discovery Institute, a conservative Christian think tank that mounted a public relations campaign and financed "research" into intelligent design. He has also supported the Media Research Council, the group that generated nearly all the indecency complaints with the FCC [Federal Communications Commission, the US media regulator - DO] in 2003.'

Once again, we see a senior Labour figure kow-towing to an extremely wealthy - and extremely rightwing - businessman. Once upon a time, I would have been shocked.

PS: Graphic nicked from Guido, who probably nicked it from Tim Ireland, to whom credit is due.

What I said about Galloway in 2003

After the Daily Telegraph wrote what ultimately proved to be a libelous article accusing George Galloway of being in the pay of Saddam in April 2003, I wrote an article on the affair for the Weekly Worker. It has been causing controversy ever since.

Recently the Respect activist Ian Donovan - a former Spart and CPGBer - has raised the matter several times on the letters page of that publication, the most widely-read on the British far left. He has also popped up in the comments box of this blog, describing the piece as 'a wretched screed'.

M'kay Ian. In retrospect, perhaps I was a little harsh on the bloke. Perhaps. But not by much. I fully stand by the main political thrust of what I said three years ago, especially the wider points about the need to avoid backhanders from nasty authoritarian regimes trying to present themselves as somehow left wing.

But let this blog's readership be the judge. Here's the article in its entirety. You have the right of reply, Mr D.

Are you now or have you ever been in receipt of Moscow/Tripoli/Baghdad gold? Delete foreign capital as appropriate. In the latest version of a script all too frequently rewritten over the years, the Daily Telegraph is accusing George Galloway of feeding his serious Armani habit with £375,000 a year in Iraqi kickbacks, in return for public relations services to the regime. The Labour MP has hit back with libel action against the paper.

The trouble is, this man’s past record of Saddam-schmoozing makes it impossible even for his strongest supporters simply to dismiss the charges as preposterous or inconceivable. He is now paying the political price of openly saluting the tyrant’s “courage, power and indefatigability”. Accordingly, the glee of Galloway’s political opponents is uncontained. Finally got that bastard bang to rights, they enthuse.

Let us not rush to judgement. Natural justice - at this stage anyway - must allow him the benefit of the doubt. While the documentary evidence appears pretty damning, and the Daily Telegraph is way too smart for crude falsification, the case remains unproven.

In the eight decades since the Zinoviev letter, many socialists have been turned over by Fleet Street for being in the pay of various nasty Johnny Foreigners. Remember the Daily Mirror’s ‘Col. Gadaffi paid Scargill’s mortgage’ campaign? Remember the Sunday Times’ ridiculous attempt to smear Michael Foot as the KGB’s very own ‘Agent Boot’?

Britain’s best-selling broadsheet is not nicknamed the Daily Torygraph for nothing. Just reading the editorial the Telegraph published on the day it splashed material supposedly gleaned from the burnt-out bunkers of the Iraqi intelligence service underlines the political agenda at work.

Both the Labour Party and the Stop the War Coalition are explicitly branded guilty by association, while the entire anti-war movement is effectively dismissed as the provisional wing of the Ba’athist party. Hundreds of thousands of well-meaning peaceniks were personally duped by Gorgeous George, the leader writer maintained, and must now surely realise the error of their ways.

That is a simple non-sequitur, of course. Political arguments stack up - or not - on their own account. The revolutionary socialist case against what is happening in Iraq does not stand or fall by the belief systems of those that led the campaign against it. It is true that the Stop the War Coalition was led by an Uncle Joe nostalgia merchant in league with British exponents of islamic semi-fascism and Mick Jagger’s ex-wife, all united in a common endeavour to put the leader of the Liberal Democrats on a podium in Hyde Park.

It is even true that the British National Party was against the war. In Telegraphland, that logically makes the anti-war movement incipient fascists. Conversely, liberal and soft left commentators who supported the conflict must crudely be written off as de facto ultra rightists, because the intellectual inspiration for the atrocity has come from a clique of Washington neo-conservatives.

Unless it can be shown that Galloway divvied up the illicit cash between a million or so marchers - and that would have given them about the price of a packet of crisps apiece - then nobody who protested on February 15 is in any way complicit in whatever he may or may not have done.

When it comes to political funding, remember also that the Conservative Party under Margaret Thatcher - a close friend of Telegraph owner Conrad Black - was not adverse to accepting gifts from Greek fascists, businessmen on the run from the serious fraud office or Hong Kong billionaires in hock to less-than-democratic Beijing.

But such is the gravity of the accusations against Galloway that no publication still in possession of its marbles would go to press with such a sensational story unless it was pretty convinced it had got the basic facts straight. Let the truth be established. If he did take the money, the left should lead the condemnation.

For a start, it is primarily our comrades - and not the Iraqi capitalist class or the wealthy exiles - that so often lost their lives at the hands of Saddam. Disgracefully, parts of the British left have sometimes sped their path to the firing squad.

In the late seventies, Workers Revolutionary Party photographers took pictures of demonstrators outside the Iraqi embassy in London and then passed the photographs on to its paymasters sitting inside the building. The consequences could have been tantamount to a death sentence.

This must rank as one of the worst atrocities ever committed by an ostensibly socialist organisation in Britain. That incident won’t have done a whole lot of good for the prospects of any future Iraqi section.

When it comes to taking money from dictatorships, whole sections of the British left are hopelessly mired in a moral grey zone. The Communist Party of Great Britain - and the publishers of this newspaper present themselves as the current incarnation of that outfit, at least when it suits them - was extensively subsidised by suitcases full of cash from Moscow. It was hardly the only CP worldwide in that situation, either. Right or wrong? Wrong, because of the nature of what Stalinism represented.

There would be no problem with a healthy revolutionary international making those kinds of payments. Ultimately it was not the money that corrupted the ‘official’ CPGB; it was the politics. Of course, that assessment comes easier with hindsight.

Although Scargill did not personally benefit, the fact is that Libya did provide financial support to the National Union of Mineworkers during the great strike of 1984-85. Right or wrong? Given the human rights record of the Libyan state, it might have been preferable not to take the cash. In the concrete circumstances, the money was badly needed and the cause was just. At least half right, then.

Sundry tankie splinter groups reputedly relied on lucrative printing contracts from the odd people’s democracy or two, while Hoxha’s Albania was always good for a Marxist-Leninist hand-out in order to keep a few small fan clubs around the world afloat.

None of these outfits could quite be described as bought and paid for. They would have been quite happy to trumpet the latest triumphs of Czechoslovak collective farm tractor stations, even without the dosh. Yet the used fivers helped them sustain an artificial existence they did not properly deserve on the basis of their domestic support.

So where should the line be drawn? For a start, using any proceeds for personal rather than political purposes amounts to pure and simple bribery. That goes to the heart of the accusations against Galloway. If there were any ill-gotten gains, they do not appear to have been used for political purposes.

Then there are the political considerations. What if there is a political price tag attached, even if only a minor one? That is where the difficulties really kick in.

Probably the donor would not even need to specify that he did not expect to read any criticism of his government in the recipient’s press. Gooses, golden eggs, and all that stuff. Victory to the Arab revolution! Read Gadaffi’s Green book!

Deals like that are far too costly. The principle at stake at all times is independent working class politics. By that yardstick, taking money from repressive regimes is nearly always wrong. And putting a progressive political gloss on them is absolutely always wrong. Baksheesh Bolshevism has a nasty tendency to backfire.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Labour: left split on leadership challenge

The Labour left is apparently divided over who should mount the symbolic challenge to Gordon Brown when Blair finally does step down, according to the Sunday Telegraph:

'The Campaign Group has split into two factions. One is led by Alan Simpson, the MP for Nottingham South, and backs Michael Meacher, the former environment secretary, as its Left-wing challenger.

'The other group of "ultra Left-wingers" is backing John McDonnell, the MP for Hayes and Harlington and the campaign chairman. Mr McDonnell ... believes that Mr Meacher lacks Left-wing credibility because he failed to resign his government post over Iraq.'

The paper adds:

'Challengers will need the support of 45 MPs to stand. While Mr Meacher stands a better chance of garnering this number than Mr McDonnell, both candidates are likely to struggle.'

I can see the arguments for both potential candidates. Meacher could probably win wider support among both the PLP and constituency activists. But in my book, having nine homes kinda disqualifies anybody seeking to act as the standard bearer for the left.

McDonnell - pictured above - is much more the serious leftwinger. Given that whoever puts their name forward is in for a good hiding anyway, I don't see what there is to lose by him standing. And he really really wants to, you know.

British workers: the most exploited in Europe

More surplus value gets squeezed out of the British proletariat than any other working class in Europe, the Department of Trade and Industry has proudly announced.

OK, they didn't quite put it quite like that. Instead, the DTI each year produces something called the value-added scorecard. Here's how the FT reports the 2006 edition:

'The wealth created by the UK's largest companies - the value they add to the goods and services they buy in - increased 10 per cent last year, compared with rises of 7 per cent in Germany and 8 per cent in France.

'As a result, Britain has most businesses in the top European 700 by value-added - with 197 companies, compared with 96 in Germany and 91 in France.'

Woooah. Hold on a moment. The wealth created 'by the UK's largest companies'? What exactly does that mean, then? How can purely legal entities without corporeal existence create wealth?

Doesn't it take, well, human beings to do that? You know. Workers. The final paragraph of the article almost acknowledges the point. Almost, but not quite.

'Value-added is calculated by deducting the cost of bought-in materials components and services from sales. It measures the wealth created by what employees do with these inputs as a result of the company's investment in equipment, research and development and the like.'

Sounds about as good a proxy for surplus value as anything you'll find in bourgeois economics. Funnily enough, neither the DTI nor the FT seems to consider that elementary point to be one worth making. To get an understanding of what is going on in Britain in 2006, it seems you are still better off reading Karl Marx.

More on the Workers' Power split

The following statement has been issued by the group expelled from Workers' Power:

The Split in the LFI: expelled members respond

On 1 July the leadership of the League for the Fifth International (LFI) summarily expelled 33 members, mostly from the organisation’s British section, Workers Power but also comrades based in Australia and Ireland. Those expelled included the majority of Workers Power’s trade union activists, and a substantial proportion of its leading members and regular contributors to its paper.

The supposed pretext for the expulsions consisted of “leaked” emails that discussed the possibility of leaving the organisation either prior to or during the LFI’s congress later this month. The LFI leadership issued a very lengthy public statement branding the expelled members as “petit-bourgeois dilettantes”, who had succumbed to the “torpor of the labour aristocracy in Britain” and were seduced by “Chinamania”. Along with the ritualised abuse, the statement contains a number of inaccuracies and falsehoods that cannot be addressed here, but have already been answered in a statement from the expelled members (go to

The real reason for the expulsions stems from substantial political differences which had developed over two years and resulted in minority and majority factions being formed. The expulsions marked the culmination of a long-running battle within Workers Power and the LFI, which first saw the emergence of an organised tendency in Workers Power (Britain) early last year. In March 2006, came the formation of an international faction for the first time in the history of the LFI and its forerunners.

An increasingly bitter dispute had developed over perspectives since the LFI’s last congress in 2003. That congress adopted what those of us now expelled had characterised as a "catastrophist" outlook on the world economy. This view provided a justification of sorts for the notion of a global "pre-revolutionary period" characterized by capitalist stagnation and crisis. It was accompanied by a "new turn" towards mass agitation that seemed designed to feed younger members recruited through the youth group, Revolution, a diet of hyper-activism. Under pressure from the tendency/faction the leadership retreated from some of the language of 2003, but did not discard the substance.

Increasingly, schemas replaced concrete assessments of the balance of class forces in particular countries and regions. The need for a serious analysis of imperialist globalization, the impact on the world economy of the collapse of the Stalinist states and the opening up of these regions to capitalist exploitation, the rise of China as an economic and political power, was dismissed. In the mindset of the LFI leadership the World Social Forum/European Social Forum became the vehicle for the imminent creation of a 5th International to be formed “in months or years”. Every fightback, large or small, was evidence of the new pre revolutionary period internationally.

The call for a “new workers party” became a mantra in Britain and a slogan applicable throughout Europe. Using the critical support tactic towards the Labour Party in Britain was abandoned – electoral abstention became the order of the day, with the tactic of critical support categorically rejected, even in circumstances where the BNP posed a significant electoral threat.

Workers Power issued a blanket call on the unions to simply disaffiliate from Labour despite the absence of a credible alternative. The leadership directed the group to act as footsoldiers for the Socialist Party’s Campaign for a New Workers Party, a left reformist project that has had precious little resonance to date.

As in most every faction fight, comradely relations broke down and with them went the once healthy norms of the organisation’s internal democracy. The LFI leadership increasingly resorted to organisational measures to marginalise the influence of the tendency/faction. The British organisation on the eve of the expulsions was already effectively split into separate youth/adult branches – ones that represented different factions. This was done against our will and against the group’s constitution.

The majority refused representation on the Political Committee to faction supporters, reducing Workers Power’s executive body to a factional tool of the majority – disciplinary commissions were set up with ever wider remits to hunt faction members on trumped up charges of indiscipline.

The expulsions have only brought forward the inevitable. It had become clear to the minority that the LFI leadership had no intention of allowing the fight to go beyond this month’s planned congress, much less of attempting to reach a higher synthesis through collective working.

For us this is not a time for despair but for purposeful reflection and action. Our intention now is to launch a new organisation in the very near future – in Britain a new magazine Permanent Revolution will be on sale shortly – not least because we wish to defend and develop what was best in the tradition of Workers Power (Britain) and its international tendency. This includes a commitment to international regroupment of the revolutionary Marxist left through a process of dialogue, debate, splits and fusions.

Permanent Revolution steering group 2nd July 2006.

[Hat tip: Unknown Conscience]

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Stop press: League for the Fifth International splits

The international tendency around Workers' Power has split. Political grounds? The minority reportedly wants to see a return to work in the Labour Party, while arguing that the boom in China will underpin expansion in the world economy until 2015.

Just what the British left needs - another Trot splinter group. Oh well, never mind. There's always room for a Sixth International, right?

Gilad Atzmon and Jewish jazz

Jazz originated in the more impoverished black districts of New Orleans sometime in the late 19th century. Its dominant practitioners have largely been black Americans. But that's not to say it can accurately be described as intrinsically Afro-American music.

After all, jazz has been influenced by everything from Debussy to Bossa Nova. To argue that only black people can be its custodian is to reduce a universal art form into a mere localised tradition.

So it is at least arguable that Jews have contributed more than most other ethnic groups. Great Jewish jazz musicians include Benny Goodman, Artie Shaw, Stan Getz, Al Cohn and Zoot Sims. Blue Note founders Alfred Lion and Frank Wolff were both Jewish, as were the critics Leonard Feather and Nat Hentoff.

It's even said that Louis Armstrong always wore a Star of David round his neck, in remembrance of the Jewish family that lent him the money to buy his first cornet.

But how comfortable would top saxophonist Gilad Atzmon - who played to an audience of about three dozen at the Vortex jazz club in Dalston last night - feel to be described as as a latter-day product of the Jewish jazz heritage? Not very, one has to suspect.

Atzmon - an Israeli who has seen active service in the Israeli Defence Force - happily declares that he considers the Swedish/Russian fascist and holocaust denier Israel Shamir 'a unique and advanced thinker'. Not that Atzmon (pictured above) is a holocaust denier himself, he insists.

On at least two occasions, the Socialist Workers' Party has invited him to either speak or perform at its annual Marxism conference. Even in defending the decision, the SWP admits that Atzmon at times 'blurs the distinction' between anti-semitism and anti-zionism. Or, to put it less charitably, he often says things that can be interpreted in a racist fashion.

The SWP website still carries a statement from Atzmon that argues: 'For me, Zionism, being a racist expansionist movement, is no different from Nazi ideology.'

Sorry. Zionism is a very different entity to Nazism, as anyone familiar with Herzl's work can testify. There is not one single word of racial supremacism to be found anywhere in the entire text of The Jewish State.

Brutal and oppressive as the actions of the IDF in Palestine are, comparisons with Nazism - even from Jewish commentators - can only be advanced with the deliberate aim of causing offence.

The current impasse in Palestine is the result of specific historical developments that cannot now be undone, short of 'wiping Israel off the map'. The only viable solution is a democratic secular state, with full guarantees of freedom of expression for all confessional groups.

Yadda yadda yadda. What about the gig, Dave? Weeell ... Atzmon played soprano and alto sax, backed by a more-than-proficient stand-up bass and drums rhythm section and accompanied by a keyboardist who took some of the solo honours.

I've seen him in action before, opening for one of the jazz superstars - forget whether it was Zawinul or Corea - at the Barbican. As can be expected, the more intimate venue worked in Atzmon's favour.

It has to be said that he's an original stylist. Bog-standard hard bop pentatonic runs were very little in evidence, and were largely replaced by improvisations around harmonic minor scales with a pronounced Middle Eastern vibe, with a little bid of hot lick klezmer also on show. Yet somehow very few of the riffs hit home.

In short, it was sufficiently different for an entertaining evening's jazz, without being outstanding. Nice enough music ... shame about the dodgy politics.

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