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The French presidential elections, anticapitalism and class struggle in France

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Supporters of Sarkozy may be hoping that the recent horrific killings in the South West of France will indirectly help his flagging election campaign, by concentrating political debate on terrorism and law and order. But what is the general situation in France a month before the elections ? What does the race mean in terms of ordinary workers’ interests, and what should anticapitalist activists be pushing for ? John Mullen reports from France.

Sarkozy – the end of the Bling-bling president ?

The presidential race is on in France as all the candidates have now declared. On April 22nd the first round of voting will choose two candidates for the run-off two weeks later. Nicolas Sarkozy, ruling president and the right wing’s young and sharp man of action as was, looks to be under severe pressure. He has been able to update the style  of French Conservative leaders, previously more characterized by slow-speaking patrician tones. Even if he shocked many with his childish outbursts (“Sod off, you shit”, he famously answered a heckler on a factory visit), he managed for a while to unite Conservative opinion behind him. He has also carried off several significant victories for the employers’ class. He pushed through a major pension ‘reform’ (despite millions of people on one-day strikes) meaning that we all have to work longer, for less. He has taxed the rich far less than before, cut jobs in public services, encouraged police racism and clamped down on refugees and other immigrants. He has also been able to ‘reform ‘ universities, putting in place the first steps towards autonomous institutions, with funding and teaching priorities tailored much more closely to the ‘needs’ of big business.

Left activists, quite correctly, concentrate on the latest attacks by the government and employers on the living standards and public services of ordinary people. But if you take a step back, it is clear that working class resilience has meant that the ruling class in France has not been able to take neoliberal attacks anywhere near as far as in many other countries in Europe. Just to take a couple of examples, poverty among senior citizens is running at twice the level in the UK as it is in France, French railways are still nationalized and fees to spend a year at university, over £7000 in the UK, are around £200 in France. In quite a number of areas, France is where Britain was at before the worst of the neoliberal attacks hit. An average full-time employee works three hours a week less in France than in the UK. Schools in poorer areas still get smaller class sizes and a little more funding.

After four years of record unpopularity, and with a million more unemployed than when he was elected, Sarkozy will have a hard time winning this time round. At present he is desperately pulling a  new idea out of the hat every two days. He has clearly decided to play the racist card, and in particular to point to Muslims as a danger to French culture. He can do this a hundred times more easily than he would be able to if the Left or even the radical Left took fighting islamophobia seriously. So Guéant, his interior minister has declared that “Not all civilisations are of equal worth”, and has claimed that if foreign immigrants got the right to vote at local elections they would “make halal meat compulsory in school canteens”. He went on to blame immigrants for a disproportionate amount of crime. Sarkozy backed him up, saying that “the question of halal meat is the primary preoccupation of French people today”, as well as proposing to make it harder for non-French residents to receive welfare aid.

Hollande the “socialist Mr. nice-guy ”

Favourite to become next president, then, is Socialist Party candidate François Hollande, sometimes criticized by the image-obsessed media as lacklustre. He represents a compromise between different wings of the Socialist party. After Dominique Strauss Kahn’s withdrawal from the Socialist primaries, Hollande defeated Martine Aubry, a more Left-wing rival, to become the Socialist Party champion. He is trying to balance the demands of big business with the combativity of workers, and trying to keep on board the Left wing of his own party (which does still have one).

Hollande proposes higher taxes for the rich (up to 75% for the mega-rich) and for big firms, more help for small businesses, and says he will create 60 000 jobs in education. He says he will increase redundancy pay for workers sacked by firms who are making a profit, and stop excessive use of unpaid trainees, as well as introduce a less draconian policy on illegal immigrants (the previous Left government in 1997 gave papers to 70 000 illegal immigrants, about half those who asked). He also promises to gradually reduce the proportion of nuclear-generated electricity.

But he insists that international finance can have confidence in his presidency, and we can be sure that when it comes to the crunch, bank profits will count more for him than people’s living standards. He even boasted, “The left was in government for 15 years in which we liberalised the economy and opened up the markets to finance and privatisations. There is no reason to fear.”  “You could say Obama and I have the same advisers,” he added, hardly a guarantee of radicalism! And after all it is Socialist party governments imposing the fierce and cruel austerity in Greece. And Hollande has no plans to go back on a number of key changes brought in by Sarkozy –the full integration of France into NATO’s high command, and the continuing reduction of the number of civil servants, for example. His promise to give the right to vote at local elections to non-European immigrants provokes a certain scepticism, seeing that it was first a Socialist Party promise… in 1981!

Mélenchon : an impressive dynamic on the Left of the Left

Further to the Left there are three candidates who will interest anti-capitalists. Jean-Luc Mélenchon from the Left Front, Nathalie Artaud, candidate for the Trotskyist Lutte Ouvrière (Workers’ struggle) and Philippe Poutou, candidate of the New Anticapitalist Party (NPA), taking up the mantle previously worn by the media success Olivier Besancenot.

Lutte Ouvrière’s candidate is of the least interest. It is an economistic and abstract organization. It’s certainly useful to have an LO militant in your workplace to help take on the bosses, but on fights against racism, nuclear power or for gay rights, you won’t see them around (“the factories are what counts ”).

The runaway success of the campaign is the Left reformist approach  of Jean Luc Mélenchon. Over 8 000 people in some mass meetings, over 10% in some opinion polls. On 18 March, under the slogans “ Take power ” and “ Take the Bastille” he got well over 70 000 to a rally in Paris, with striking workers leading the march, and an impressive concentration on the idea that the elections are just the beginning, and that what is needed is mass radical action.

An ex-minister, Mélenchon split from the Socialist Party in 2008 to form the Left party, which calls for “ A Citizens’ revolution ” or “ Revolution through the ballot box ”. The Left party claims 8 000 members (though only a minority are activists). Mélenchon allied his party with the French Communist party and a couple of small far left groups to form a “ Left Front ”. The Communist Party no longer has the mass support it had, and it has very few young activists, but it still counts 13 MPs and several thousand local councillors around the country, as well as considerable influence in trade unions.  The dynamic of the Left Front has brought back into activity a fair number of ex-Communists.

Left Front demands include better pensions, a rise in the minimum wage, freezing rent levels, and  a legally enforced maximum income for French residents. Their programme calls for strict limits on the use of temporary work contracts, building social housing, opening hospitals rather than closing them, high taxes for the rich, as well as the setting up of a Ministry of Women’s Rights, a welcome to immigrants, and a thorough reform of the parliament and presidency. In foreign policy, the Left Front demands a renegotiation of European economic treaties in order to defend public services, withdrawal of French troops from Afghanistan and withdrawal of France from NATO. There are good reasons why the Front provokes widespread enthusiasm. Positive also is the idea that class struggle is important and a mass fightback need to be organized.

But Mélenchon’s mix includes ideas which are far from revolutionary. Just recently, he expressed his satisfaction that the Indian Army had chosen to buy dozens of fighter aircraft from France. He claims that the French Republic is not imperialist, but something to be proud of and his militant secularism makes fighting islamophobia very difficult. At his rallies both the Internationale and the Marseillaise are sung, and there is little clarity about how exactly his radical demands could be imposed.

The New Anticapitalist Party at a crossroads

The most important candidate on the revolutionary Left is Philippe Poutou of the New Anticapitalist Party (the NPA, of which I am a member). The NPA is generally made up of activists who understand the importance of opposing French imperialism, and who know that effective anti-capitalism will mean at some point a frontal assault on the forces of profit – a revolution, in short. For maintaining local groups of activists who do the legwork when a united campaign is needed against racism or against nuclear energy, for employment or for decent housing, the NPA is still the strongest force. But it has lost no doubt a third of its members over the last two years, and is very much a divided party. At the last conference no strategy got an overall majority, and horse-trading alliances dominate the leadership. The NPA election campaign, around  Philippe Poutou has been very weak, for a number of reasons. Firstly an excessive amount of concentration on the fact that “our candidate is a factory worker, not a professional politician”.

Secondly a tendency (inherited from the LCR) to write long lists of radical demands, whether or not they connect with what workers think is winnable (“Redundancies must be made illegal. ” “Nationalize all the banks and centralize them under the control of workers and citizens”, etc.) This can make mobilization difficult: as one old Marxist used to say about groups who had detailed and ultra-radical programmes : “  It’s better to have a big stick than a drawing of a machine gun. ”

Thirdly and much more serious is the sectarianism of a good section of the NPA (in the sense that they put at the centre of the analysis our party, rather than the working class). So the reaction to Mélenchon’s success by the majority leadership has been to only write and talk about his political weaknesses and faults. Regularly, the NPA paper has the tone “we are the only real Left”, and some comrades even believe that reformism can no longer exist today. Mélenchon is presented as someone who will inevitably betray and rejoin the Social-liberals he left.  The risk is that the NPA will have nothing to say to the tens of thousands of people at Mélenchon’s rallies. Indeed, on March 18,  at the biggest left electoral rally for several decades, NPA leafletters were absent with the exception of one or two individual initiatives ! Instead of starting with the points of agreement and debating strategy, ritual denunciation is the order of the day.

It would have been better, in my view, if the NPA had tried to get an electoral alliance with the Left front, based on a minimum programme, without keeping quiet about our revolutionary ideas. This might not have been accepted (there are sectarians in other parties too), but in the process revolutionary ideas and strategies could have been debated with tens of thousands of activists. Instead, for the moment, the NPA is condemned to repeating noble truths to small meetings of trusted comrades. This is a dreadful missed opportunity, because on everyday struggles, the NPA is generally not sectarian and is the most active force around the country in building united campaigns.

In the short term, the key problem for revolutionaries is how to relate to the workers attracted to Mélenchon, how to debate demands, joint struggles and illusions, and how to win new revolutionary activists. This debate has divided the NPA deeply. On one extreme there is the “Mélenchon ate my hamster ” brigade who cannot imagine anything positive about Mélenchon’s success and flood email lists with pathetic anecdotes showing him in a bad light. On the other extreme, a significant faction of comrades is talking of breaking away from the NPA soon, to set up a less sectarian grouping.

One of the most worrying elements of the millions-strong strikes of 2010 was that no radical Left party recruited large numbers of activists from them. Indeed the NPA did not emphasize the importance of recruitment at all. It may be that The Left Party and the Left Front are now able to build a dynamic radical Left force of activists, and revolutionaries will have to be on the ball concerning how to relate to it.

Racism

The other elephant in the room is islamophobia. Even before the terrible killings of mid-March, this presidential election campaign was shaping up to be the most racist in living memory. The fascist Front National party is running at over 15% in the polls, after Marine Le Pen, the media-savvy daughter of Jean-Marie Le Pen, took over the reins, running an anti-Muslim and anti-European Community campaign. She has a more acceptable image than her father, and many people have been convinced that the Front National has changed and is no longer “ really ” fascist. She is hoping to profit from the killings in Toulouse, and has already declared that the killer “felt more muslim than French”, and called for a referendum on capital punishment.

Muslims are the favourite targets for racists, because the Right can be sure that the Left will not unite in action to defend them, since it is itself severely infected with islamophobia, born from colonialist hangovers and manic and selective secularism. Indeed, a few months back a bill aimed at limiting the right of Muslim women who wear headscarves to work as childminders, even in their own homes, was pushed through the Senate by the Socialist Party! It may not actually become law, since the Socialists are divided, but the bill shows how widespread islamophobia is.

Further Left, there has been some progress on getting some  parties to oppose islamophobia, or at least it is no longer the case that no left wing organization will lift a finger on the issue. A recent public meeting to defend the right of Muslim mothers wearing a hijab to be allowed to accompany school trips on the same basis as other parents got active support from the New Anti-capitalist Party and from the Green party, as well as from assorted intellectuals. The Left Party and Lutte Ouvrière, are much harder nuts to crack. The Left party runs on a sort of Left Republican ideology, which is extremely suspicious of believers, Muslim or otherwise. In a context where Muslims are being designated as scapegoats, this plays into the hands of the racists. A local Left Party activist said to me recently that it was alright to support a campaign for equal treatment for muslim mothers at our local schools, provided that the local committee in question also campaigned on women’s rights in various Muslim countries !

The future

The general situation for French workers is characterized by a real combativity – regular massive strike movements over the last decade. Sometimes the movements have won victories, like the 2006 movement which scrapped a “First Employment Contract ” a few weeks after the law had been passed. Sometimes they have failed, like the millions-strong strike against Sarkozy’s new pension law in 2010. Other conflicts like the university lecturers strike of 2008 ended as semi-victories, with the government having to shelve half its neoliberal plans for this workforce. The most recent defeat of the workers’ movement, on pensions, has led millions to think that for the moment the ballot box is a better bet than striking. It will be an excellent start if Sarkozy can be thrown out, but rebuilding an anti-capitalist Left which takes seriously all struggles against oppression will require clarity about alliances, and about the strength of reformism.

John Mullen is a member of the New Anticapitalist Party in the Paris area

For those who read French :

Campaign site of Philippe Poutou of the New Anticapitalist Party http://poutou2012.org/

Home site of the New Anticapitalist Party http://www.npa2009.org/

Campaign site of Jean-Luc Mélenchon of the Left Front  http://www.placeaupeuple2012.fr/

My anticapitalist blog http://johnmullenagen.blogspot.fr/

 

This article was first published by Socialist Alternative (Australia).

 

14 points to consider for the 2014 referendum

George Mackin considers the approach the left should take to the 2014 referendum on Scottish independence.

Referendum consultation - press conference

1. The SNP as far as electoral politics goes, are at the moment the only show in town. 

“Something has fundamentally changed. Scottish Labour no longer holds exclusive rights to the votes of working class Scotland. People have had a lick of a different ice cream cone, and found it doesn’t taste of puppy dog tails.”     Jo Harvie, editor Scottish Socialist Voice

I have never tasted puppy dog’s tails but ah ken what Jo is on about. What does SNP ice cream taste like?  I think a little like the poisonous chocolate mousse offered to Rosemary in Rosemary’s baby. It’s creamy and yummy, but with a chalky under-taste to it. Delicious yet soporific.

Like all ‘isms’, Nationalism even the civic nationalism of the SNP has its potential threats. Nationalism as a state of yearning leads to the romantic pulling of heartstrings and can be intolerant of competing identities, the recent draconian football bigotry legislation being a case in point. Sing any song you like, display any symbol you like as long as it is Scottish.

The SNP strides the political scene as all other political parties wilt in general disarray under their revolutionary and all conquering slogan of ‘good governance’.

The SNP have learned from the New Labour experiment. They are a benchmark of political triangulation, just as New Labour were in their heyday. To borrow an old American saying they know how to politically work ‘both sides of the street’.

Pssst,  Tories want a council tax freeze, there ye go, middle class parents anxious about student tuition fees, look no further.  Hey if you are multi-national company and want a substantial cut on our Corporation Tax then buddy we can spare a billion or so.

There is a flip side to this largesse. For every spending commitment, there is an opportunity cost of lost social spending. The significant cuts in Further Education Sector, the drastic cuts and privatisation of local government services and subsequent job losses are all hidden from view. To even speak of them is to be slapped down as being a unionist as was my experience when discussing the fiasco that is the SNP/Liberal administration in Edinburgh.

The SNP may be politically defter, than the train crash that is the Scottish Labour Party but in reality they are two sides of the same coin.

2. You can’t chuck stones or half bricks 400 miles. 

One argument for independence that is not mentioned often but for me is a key one comes from the arch-unionist Walter Scott:  Ye cannae chuck stones 400 miles, or half bricks. Let no one fool you, Scottish bosses are no less malign than English ones but with independence they are closer to hand.

3. Middle Class Nationalism is not the worker’s friend

The SNP have no coherent political or economic philosophy. Once we have independence then we can have class politics they tell us, whilst draping a saltire around everything. Worker and bosses, we are pals here.  Come in your Majesty, ye will have hud yer tea, allow me to sit upon my bended knee. “Oh hello Donald Trump that is lovely head of hair on you, I didn’t know your relatives were from Scaatlaanndd”.

“Once we have independence then we can go for socialism”, I have been told  by an ex-SSP comrade now in the SNP; as if changing history was as easy as forgetting a shopping item and then going back to the shop because you forgot the frozen peas. Puuurrleease. Gonnae no say that.

The rightist Winnie Ewing famously said “stop the world, Scotland wants to get on”, to great applause year after year after year after year. In fact I think she gave the same speech at the SNP conference for nigh on a couple of decades to the enchanted faithful. Yet how can you stop the world as the world heats up and people starve and are in poverty in order to keep capitalism growing at the compound rate of 3%?

As James Conolly said in his article ‘Socialism and Irish Nationalism’:

(In this case replace Scotland with Ireland)

 “as a socialist I am prepared to do all one man can do to achieve our motherland her rightful heritage – independence; but if you ask me to abate one jot or title of the claims of social justice, in order to conciliate the privileged classes, then I must decline”


4.  We wish to see an end of the British State as much as we wish to see Scottish Independence. 

In many ways the Scottish National Party is a very British party – think of the ‘Save our Regiments‘ campaign, or its active and open support to retain the Queen and its deeply reticent attitude about speaking up about Ireland. For fear of giving offence they have one leg in the British and one leg out.  The much trumped Devo-Max as second favourite option, is in many ways reminiscent of Gladstone’s ‘Home Rule All Round’ slogan.

In Scotland, the SNP (who I voted for in the first ballot, this year) are keen to spin the line that the Queen is a harmless old lady. And we should keep the monarchy and only talk about Ireland. If we mention the ‘Celtic Tiger’ and since the banking collapse, we are not to discuss our sister country at all – like that mad wife in the Charlotte Bronte novel that is kept up in the attic and never discussed.

Now all the talk is back to us being Norway like in the Seventies! A confident wee nation at ease with ourselves, with no real divides between the haves and the have not’s. Yet still deeply disciplined in self-censorship. The Say Nothing Party.

A douce wee polite Jock-Brit nation. More tea and Battenburg cake Lizzy?
Such is the paranoia over the republican issue that the longstanding policy of a referendum on the retention of the royal family has been dropped and a Facebook page called Scottish Nationalist Republicans has been pressurised to drop its page from the social network system.

5. You can’t insult your way to socialism. Calling the SNP a ‘Tartan Tory’ party is inaccurate. 

The SNP like the Labour Party is a mass party with many talented people and decent people and like all  large political parties  blessed with the usual group of malcontents, miscreants, oddballs, arse-lickers and careerists. If you live in Scotland or have ever been witness to an election count, you will notice an almost Life of Brian hatred between the two main political parties. There is a visceral hatred which is certainly not healthy or conducive to political discourse. The narcissism of small differences.

6. Political parties are only the echo of the battle not the battle itself.  

Every week or so our hard-working SNP councillor pops through the door a new, well produced and well funded leaflet full of tired nationalist politicians and lots of saltires, so many saltires. Scotland this, Scotland that. Freedom and Scotland and yet more freedom and those nasty other parties that are denying Scotland’s destiny and not speaking for ‘us’ unlike Scotland’s party which truly speaks and stands up for Scotland. Fade and repeat. Same leaflet, week after week, slightly different format and pictures. The same text. More police, less council tax and yet more good governance.  The couthy, canny and canty party. Good for business, good for the people of Scotland. The sensible party. And the sensible party never use the C word – class. People who vote for the SNP = aspirational and people who do not and especially people who are not in the SNP fold are beyond the pale.  Not truly Scottish or even better, the catch all phrase a ‘unionist’.

Having said that, I like my councillor. To be honest I am ambivalent about the place of my birth, yet I hate the British state and I support independence (always have done) and will reluctantly vote for the Scottish National Party when there are no Green Party or SSP candidates. They are a broad church of people and on the whole I like them.  Some played an honest role when it came to the public sector strikes.  Mind you some of the Labour Party members also did.  Yet if I am honest about these political traditions, I feel alienated, disenfranchised and downright scunnered by them. The whole ‘show business for ugly people’ and the parsimonious democracy that is 21st century capitalism leaves me cold

7. Beware of the building up of the dichotomous sophistry of bourgeois nationalism. The war is with the outdated fetters of capitalism not with England and Paul.   

It seems that the whole of Scotland is to be parcelled out in Calvinist fashion into those who support independence or those who are in favour of the union. I have always hated and resented the building up of the dichotomous sophistry and this ‘with us or agin us’ political tactic annoys the crap out of me. Also Scotland is not Ireland so cut this nonsense out especially if you are a pro-monarchist, British Army and pro-multinational big business party.

8. Political parties that court favour with powerful elites when achieving power almost certainly will not stand up to power when in power. 

New Labour are a case in point. Obama in power, the same. How many examples would you like? They were never on the left.

Can you think of an example where a political party has been more radical than its stated objectives whilst out of power? I can think of a few, Thatcher and the like, all from the Right.

The SNP may be recruiting members by their thousands at the moment but more and more of them will be careerists rather thanidealists. Ever was it thus.

Independence is the repository of everyone’s wish lists like a child’s letter to Santa. Post independence tough choices will be made.  You can have lower Corporation Tax but do expect cuts in social welfare.

As Aneurin Bevan was oft to remark Socialism “is a religion of priorities“.

9. Scotland being independent opens up opportunities for the left. 

At the heart of this debate is what do we understand by the term internationalism? Are we seeking to build a truly democratic society from below – a politics that is based on decentralisation, diversity and cooperation?

Do we, like HG Wells, envisage replacing capitalist globalisation with a world government? Do we believe like the Morning Star that the left should be in favour of larger broader states and any break from this would be a regressive step since it would divide working class forces?

However, Alan McCombes in a recent article follows this logic to its logical conclusion-

Logically the same arguments should be applied to the development of the European Union. Those trying to push forward towards a European superstate represent historical progress; while those Swedish and Danish trade unionists and women’s organisations who successfully campaigned against the euro were putting their own narrow interests above the greater historical project of internationalism.

Moreover, socialists in Canada and Mexico – and the rest of Latin America too, for that matter – should be advocating union with the United States of America on the grounds that such a continental state would unite hundreds of millions of working people from the Amazonian jungle to the Arctic Circle. After all, a manual worker in Toronto or Guadalajara has more in common with a worker in a Detroit car factory than with a Canadian banker or a Mexican landowner.

Also to take this particular tact is to understand the key forces which created the United Kingdom. The British state was created to unite the ruling classes of the respective nation states and you only need to take a look at Ireland to realise that this particular historical project played in disuniting the working class of the constituent nation states.

Will socialism be achieved as the product of a single big bang, a simultaneous, world-wide revolt of the working class and the oppressed? Or, because of differing national conditions and traditions, will social change be more fragmented and disjointed? Will it tend to develop at local and national level first, before spreading outwards?

10.  The Radical Left should support independence in a non-sectarian and positive manner. No one likes a smart arse and no one has the monopoly of truth. 

The 2014 referendum presents an opportunity to energise the radical left forces in Scotland.

The Scottish Socialist Party and the radical left in general is in a beleaguered and fragmented state at present.  There is no use in pretending that it will be play the major role in campaigning for a yes vote. The Scottish National Party will dominate the agenda.

The left needs to organise a separate campaign outlining a radical vision of what an independent Scotland may look like, if we are willing to fight for it.

That is not to say that we do not help out in the main campaign and engage with the widest possible pro-yes constituency- to quote Jimmy Maxton if you cannot ride two circus horses at the same time, then you shouldn’t be in the circus.

11.  There is no such thing as a completely free nation. We are all Jock Tamson’s Bairns. We all share a common humanity.  

There is no such thing as a completely free nation- we are all economically and environmentally interdependent.  James Connolly over a century ago neatly encapsulates the dilemma of national liberation but not economic liberation. Again another Connolly quote – I make no apology for quoting him twice –   

 If you remove the English army to-morrow and hoist the green flag over Dublin Castle, unless you set about the organisation of the Socialist Republic your efforts would be in vain.

England would still rule you. She would rule you through her capitalists, through her landlords, through her financiers, through the whole array of commercial and individualist institutions she has planted in this country and watered with the tears of our mothers and the blood of our martyrs.

England would still rule you to your ruin, even while your lips offered hypocritical homage at the shrine of that Freedom whose cause you had betrayed.

Nationalism without Socialism – without a reorganisation of society on the basis of a broader and more developed form of that common property which underlay the social structure of Ancient Erin – is only national recreancy.

It would be tantamount to a public declaration that our oppressors had so far succeeded in inoculating us with their perverted conceptions of justice and morality that we had finally decided to accept those conceptions as our own, and no longer needed an alien army to force them upon us.

As a Socialist I am prepared to do all one man can do to achieve for our motherland her rightful heritage – independence; but if you ask me to abate one jot or tittle of the claims of social justice, in order to conciliate the privileged classes, then I must decline.

12. The key reason for the rise of nationalism in Scotland is a political revulsion against neo-liberalism. 

By the end of Second World War people from the British Isles fought together successfully to defeat Fascism. This brought a great sense of purpose and solidarity. The election of the Labour Party saw the delivery of the welfare state and the national health service – those two key reforms played a big part in putting a human face on the British State.

The break in the political consensus in the mid to the late nineteen seventies saw an attack on these institutions and were deeply unpopular with huge swathes of Scottish people, who in turn were anxious to maintain the benefits of the welfare state.

It was natural that people voted for the Scottish Labour party but rather than seeking to reverse Thatcher- ism in many ways New Labour picked up the neo-liberal baton and ran with it. Hence their current malaise.

The Scottish National Party after eighty or so years of immense hard work and self sacrifice were the main recipients of votes from an ever growing, angry, disenchanted Scottish electorate. Yet I would not write off all ordinary members of the Labour Party, especially the trade unionists. As for the leadership and Jim Murphy I am mindful of my granny’s quip, God rest – “ah ma wee torn-hole, the things ye see when you huvane goat a gun“.

13.  The Scottish radical left has a proud tradition of supporting the break up of the British State. Marx is central to our understanding of this historical epoch. Let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater. 

The mainstream middle class nationalist parties have only been around in the last 80 years or so the radical left in Scotland has a proud tradition for calling for a Scottish Republic, stretching at least back to Thomas Muir and Robert Burns in the late eighteenth century.

Scotland has also a proud Marxist tradition. James Connolly and John MacLean in particular and both from poor backgrounds, which is unusual – most of the main socialist theorists have been primarily bourgeois in origin.

Those particular thinkers have plenty to say about the current situation we are under; in particular the nature of the British State and how nationalism relates to internationalism.  Both were adamant in stressing that affluent elites should not define what constitutes nationhood and freedom.

I know the left in Scotland is in a mess and is deeply fragmented but Marxist ideas are still I believe pertinent for the here and now. Let’s not keep our mouths shut and rely on the well read, the well wed and well fed define for us our freedom for fear that we wake up to meet the new boss who is the same as old boss. This is a time for ‘Imagine’ but it is also, as many Irish people on the left would no doubt warn you, a time not to be fooled again.

Tradition only takes you so far in politics. In the last fifty years or so there has been a lot wrong with the radical left and in particular the vulgar Marxist tradition.

(I find it deeply regretful that a lot of younger people, some even within the SSP do not have a deeper understanding of Marx and his deep humanism).

At the risk of sounding like a posh third year drama student – what is needed  is a counter hegemonic project worldwide, not daft guys wi’ tartan trews singing Killiecrankie- although let it be noted for the record I’m not averse to a wee sing song, from time to time.

Whether Capitalism will resolve the problems and the injustices that the world faces remains to be seen. I don’t think it will fall through its own contradictions; it will need to be pushed.

Marx who famously decried that he was not a Marxist was asked by his beloved daughters in a family game what was his favourite maxim? He replied ‘nothing is alien to me’ and as for his favourite motto he replied ‘everything should be doubted’. Translated from Latin, naturally.

No-one has the monopoly of truth and nothin’ is alien. Although we may love aspects of the Scottish culture we are people of  multiple identities and we belong to this blue planet rather than some arbitrary boundary line.

We are fundamentally humanists caught up in the nexus of this world for such a very brief and wonderful time. Let us reject all smelly orthodoxies and all forms of primate dominance. We will be long gone of course. We are close to the dead and soon will be food for the worms. Yet what we do matters on this earth and we need to look at ourselves in the mirror and judge how we lived and what we did with our lives. Fundamentally socialism is matter of humanist ethics.

14. If Scottish people can run their own affairs. Scotland people can run their own industries.

We are the country who decided in the Sixteenth Century we had the right to pick our own church ministers. Democracy and mitigated scepticism is a central plank of the Scottish Enlightenment thinking and indeed Scottish Working people’s culture. The democratic intellect runs deep within Scottish culture.

All hail the Scottish Republic. We are citizens not subjects and we bend our knee to no one. Not only do we protest but demand a democratic future for our children’s children and for this blue planet and all living things upon it large and wee.

To quote, John Holloway in his book ‘Crack Capitalism’-

“We do protest and we do more. We do and we must. If only we protest, we allow the powerful to set the agenda. If all we do is oppose what they are trying to do, then we simply follow in their footsteps. Breaking means that we do more than that, that we seize the initiative, that we set the agenda.”

Let’s raise a glass to a far off time when there is no state, or flags or boundaries.
Get in tae them! We have a world to win.

 

Greece – the mirror of Europe’s future?

Murray Smith looks at the crisis in Greece and what it means for Europe.

Solidarity with Greece

On February 21, the second Greek “bail-out” was agreed by the Troika (1). The draconian conditions attached to it included:

– the minimum wage to be reduced by 22 per cent, from 740 to 590 euros (470 net). For young workers under 25 the reduction will amount to 32 per cent;

– the sacking of 150,000 public sector workers (out of a total of 750,000) over the next three years; in addition four out of five workers who retire will not be replaced;

– all pensions to be cut by 15 per cent, those above 1000 euros by 20 per cent;

– cuts in health spending amounting to a billion euros;

– 1.5 billion dollars of cuts in the education budget; already in 2010-11 the number of teachers was reduced by 10 per cent and over 1,000 schools have been closed;

– demands for 15 billion euros of privatizations.

 

These conditions were accepted by the Greek parliament and concretized in a series of votes beginning on February 12. They come on top of the measures already agreed as a result of the 2010 bail-out.  In fact, this is the eighth austerity programme in little over two years. Unemployment is now 21 per cent, twice the euro zone average, and youth unemployment has just passed the 50 per cent mark (51.1 per cent) (2) In other words, more young people between 15 and 24 are unemployed than working. This is unprecedented in Greece, and probably in Europe since 1945.

Recession

As a result of these policies, the country is now in recession for the fifth year running and permanent austerity means it is likely to remain so. Apart from the human cost, the loss of state revenues means that the proclaimed objective, of reducing the debt, is virtually unattainable. Secondly we are witnessing something close to a collapse of the social or welfare state. This is not a mechanical result of “the crisis”, but the consequence of conscious political policies choices made over the last two years by the Troika and the governments of the EU and in particular the eurozone – with very little resistance from Greek governments. These policies can be defined in two stages, not consecutive but overlapping. First of all there is the policy of austerity, meant to reduce public debt by cutting public spending, which involves the kind of savage cuts listed above.

Secondly, there is the application of a series of thoroughgoing economic and social reforms, or rather counter-reforms.  The cutting edge of these reforms is aimed at cheapening the cost of labour. The kind of wage cuts involved in the austerity programmes help, but they have to be backed up by more structural reforms: in particular weakening of job security by making it easier to sack workers and instituting wage bargaining at workplace level in place of collective agreements by industry. The insistence on deregulating many professions, from fairly well-off doctors, lawyers and pharmacists to taxi and lorry drivers, which may seem odd to people in other countries, fits into the general schema. The aim is to open up these professions and trades to capitalist firms in order to reduce the number of self-employed workers and replace them by wage workers. This represents an important sector of society in Greece, as it does also, for example, in Italy, where Monti’s attempts at deregulation have met serious opposition

The German Model

Up to now the brunt of these policies has fallen on the countries of the so-called periphery – those who have already received bail-outs (Greece, Portugal, Ireland) and two heavily indebted major countries, Spain and Italy. But the policies of cheapening labour costs, cutting the size of the public sector, privatizations, reducing welfare benefits and pension reform are meant for everywhere, and indeed are applied to various degrees in other countries. In this respect it is worth mentioning Germany, which is generally considered to be prosperous and is held up as a model by other countries, notably by Nicolas Sarkozy in the campaign for the presidential election in France. But a model of what? Not of the Welfare State and high wages – that lies in the past. What Germany is for Sarkozy and his peers is a model of competitiveness. This is the result of a transformation of the labour market that took place essentially under the social-democratic/Green government of Gerhard Schroeder (1998-2005), in particularly the Agenda 2010 programme and the Hartz Laws, enacted from 2003 to 2005 to deregulate and flexibilise the labour market and reduce social benefits – especially for the unemployed, to encourage, indeed force them to work for a pittance. The results are far from the image of a happy, prosperous Germany. The purchasing power of 80 per cent of workers has fallen by an average of 2.5 per cent since 2000, and much more for precarious workers. There is no minimum wage: 12 million Germans live below the poverty line (15 per cent of the population, including 70 per cent of the unemployed) – 500,000 of them are in full-time work; 7 million people live on the equivalent of Income Support. There are many more such statistics, and they prove that Germany is no model for the working classes of other countries, and that there are no exceptions to the plans that Europe’s leaders have for the European working class.

False argument of Austerity

The backdrop to the present situation is that we are today in the fifth year of an international crisis, financial and economic, and no one knows how or when it will end. Fundamentally it is a crisis of a model of accumulation centred for 25 years on the dominance of finance capital and a model of growth increasingly based on debt – of households, banks, states,. This house of cards began to collapse with the subprime crisis in 2007 and the interpenetration of the financial system and the multiplication of opaque financial instruments led to the European banks being sharply affected in their turn, creating the credit crunch, pushing the economy into recession and leading to costly plans for saving the banks with public money.

The whole argumentation in favour of austerity rests on the idea that the sovereign debt crisis in Europe is a result of excessive public spending. It is nothing of the sort. This opinion is not confined to the anti-capitalist Left. You can find it frequently in the pages of the financial press, for example in the Financial Times of March 9, 2012. Writing about the new fiscal treaty (see below), Alan Beattie, the paper’s international economy editor, writes: “The mainstay of the new framework is a fiscal pact that enshrines a misdiagnosis – that the crisis was all to do with profligate governments, not reckless lending and credit bubbles”.

In fact the sovereign debt crisis is a direct result of the money spent in 2008-09 to bail out the banks and more generally to inject liquidity into the economy. We might add that this came on top of a long-term diminution of revenue due to lowering taxes on the wealthy and on companies, an integral part of the neoliberal model.

The figures confirm this. Between 2007 and 2010 sovereign debt in the euro zone increased by 26 per cent, from 66 to 83.6 per cent of the zone’s GDP. But in Spain it increased by 72.1 per cent (from 36.2 per cent to 62.3) and in Ireland it rose from 25 per cent to 79.7, an increase of 218.8 per cent. (Source: Eurostat). Those two countries had in 2007 the lowest public debt among the eleven major countries of the euro zone. So the explosion of their public debt was not a cause of the crisis but an effect.

Bail Out

The second element of the programme, the structural reforms, may well be very desirable from a capitalist point of view. But the so-called rigidities and entitlements that they are meant to correct have nothing to do with the sovereign debt crisis and will not act to combat it.

Nor, specifically in the case of Greece, but it applies to other countries, will the much-trumpeted bail-out. In the first place, the bail-out is not a gift, though it is generally presented as such. It is a loan, with interest, and not the ultra-low one per cent interest at which the BCE lends to banks. Much emphasis has been put on the losses that have been imposed on private creditors. In fact, they got quite a good deal (3). They got rid of fairly worthless bonds, and obtained new ones, issued under English law, not Greek, and thus much harder for the Greek government to default on. Plus a cash payment worth 15 per cent of their initial holding. The Greek state has indeed had 107 billion euros wiped off its debt – but it has just accepted a bail-out loan of 130 billion euros. The immediate effect of the whole operation will be to reduce Greek public debt from 161 per cent to 159 per cent of GDP. And of the 130 billion euros of the bail-out, 30 billion will go in cash payments to those creditors who have agreed to exchange their old bonds for new ones, 35 billion more to buy back another part of the debt, and 25 billion will go to recapitalize the Greek banks – a total of 94 billion euros. Not much left for anything else. Theoretically, the end result is meant to be a level of public debt of 120 per cent of GDP in 2020. This is, as they say, a political figure, not based on verifiable economic reality. The reality is that Greece is still in recession, shows no sign of coming out of it, and is still highly indebted, but now most of the debt is owed to public bodies like the ECB, the IMF and European governments. And make no mistake about it, those bodies, and the remaining private creditors are making sure that any money that Greece receives Greece will go in priority to paying the interest on it.

The Working Class Will Pay

If it is so easy, including for bourgeois commentators, to punch holes in Merkelogic, why are the European leaders doing what they are doing? Well, there may well be an element of stupidity and ideological blinkers. But there is also a purpose to what is happening.

At a very basic level, from the beginning, as the crisis exploded in 2008, as far as the ruling classes were concerned the question of who was going to pay for it was a no-brainer – the answer was working people, ordinary people, pensioners, young people. Whether by cuts in social spending, tax increases, especially VAT, attacks on the public sector (wage cuts, lay-offs) or cuts in pensions.

But beyond the simple fact of who pays for the crisis lay the much more important idea of how to use the crisis. Emma Marchegaglia, president of the Italian employers’ association Confindustria, known as Italy’s Iron Lady, put it very clearly in 2009 when she urged the then Italian government “not to waste a good crisis”. Since then the same point has been made many times. And it is what inspires the thinking of Europe’s leaders.

Of course, none of what they are doing is entirely new. For more than 25 years there have been constant attacks, coordinated already on a European level. It was a sign that the European social model was proving too costly for the ruling class. But it was a war of attrition, with advances and sometimes retreats under popular pressure. Now what is underway is a frontal assault. In the intentions of the ruling class, there will be no going back. Whereas governments fall over themselves to point out that the banks they had to nationalize in the heat of the crisis will be privatized re as soon as feasible, no such guarantees are given in relation to the attacks on the public sector. The cuts in personnel and budgets are meant to be permanent, to pave the way for privatization of sectors like health and education. Pension reform has little to do with the real problem of an ageing population, for which solutions could be found in other sources of revenue. The reforms are situated in a medium-term perspective of phasing out state pensions for all but the very poorest and developing private pension funds (4). As for the reforms concerning the labour market they are what it says on the tin – structural. The aim is to cheapen the cost of Labour so that European capital will be competitive on a world scale.

Euro Zone

The sovereign debt crisis does not only affect the euro zone, as Britain demonstrates. But there is a specific crisis of the euro zone. A structural crisis that was latent since the creation of the single currency, but was unleashed by the sovereign debt crisis. It is possible to form a monetary union comprising countries with different levels of economic development and productivity. But on condition that action is taken to reduce these inequalities, which implies harmonizing not only questions of budget and tax but also prices, wages and social benefits. Which is not what has been done, far from it. It is incoherent to loudly proclaim your determination to go towards a federal Europe, towards economic and political union while refusing to correct these inequalities of development. Not to mention the problem of a (European) Central Bank which isn’t one, since it is forbidden by the Lisbon Treaty to lend to member states. The ECB is in fact an agency in the service of the financial markets, which has in the last three months lent over a trillion euros to banks at a rate of one per cent. Some of the money at least is being used to buy government debt at much higher rates of return. So far not much of it has found its way to the productive economy.

In the absence of a policy based on solidarity, it has been a case of the weakest to the wall. When countries have fallen victim to bursting bubbles, banking crises or accumulated deficits, the markets have taken advantage of the crisis to extort astronomic rates of interest and have driven three – for the moment – countries into accepting bail-outs.

Greece

Whereas Ireland and Spain were hit by the collapse of the property market and banking crises, Greece (and Italy) already had large deficits in 2007. Greece has a particular history. From 1946 it went through a civil war, followed by lasting repression against the Left and the workers’ movement by an authoritarian parliamentary regime and finally the seven-year dictatorship of the colonels from 1967 to 1974. It was therefore only after that that Greece acquired a welfare state, established modestly by the centre-right government from 1974 and more energetically by PASOK in its long period in power after 1981. Greece thus acquired the basis of a social-democratic welfare state at a time when the model was under attack just about everywhere else. This of course increased public spending. But the real problem was that not only did the big bourgeoisie not pay taxes (the Greek Communist Party estimates that Greek capitalists have salted away 600 billion euros, nearly twice the state debt, in Swiss banks). The middle classes also lived pretty well tax free. This was not simply, as it is generally portrayed, “tax evasion”. It was the maintenance of a system, a social contract between successive Greek regimes and the upper and middle classes who constituted its social base. PASOK left this system untouched. Public debt increased as Greece borrowed money from, especially, French and German banks, and used much of the credit to buy arms. Between 2005 and 2009 Greece bought 25 Mirage-2000 jets from France and 26 F-15 fighters from the USA.  That represented 40 per cent of the country’s total imports in the period (5).

Greece negotiated its way into the euro zone by massaging the level of its public debt with the help of Goldman Sachs, who are reputed to have made 600 billion euros out of the operation – with the cooperation of Lucas Papademos, then governor of the Greek Central Bank, now the country’s technocratic Prime Minister. But public debt remained high and it exploded in 2008-09 when the Greek government, like those elsewhere, chose to bail out the banks, just as the flow of cheap credit the country had been living on dried up. Reliable figures published by Eurostat in 2010 showed that Greece’s deficit for the year 2009 was 15.4 per cent of GDP, while its public debt came to 127 per cent of GDP. The supposed limits for the eurozone are respectively 3 per cent and 60 per cent, though in the aftermath of 2008, and even before, they were widely breached.

EU Tramples Democracy

As well as serving as a guinea pig for extreme austerity and structural reforms, Greece, like Italy, has also exemplified the attacks on democracy that now mark the EU. The EU itself is in fact an extremely undemocratic hierarchical construction, governed by the European Commission and the European Council, neither of which is elected and neither controlled by the European Parliament, which is elected but has limited powers. However, up until now the member states have had governments that are responsible before elected parliaments, even though the powers of those parliaments have been gradually whittled away by European directives, European law taking precedence over national laws.

That is changing under the pressure of the crisis. The most striking examples are in Italy and Greece, where Berlusconi and Papandreou were driven from office under EU pressure. In Italy the Berlusconi government was replaced by a government headed by former European Commissioner Mario Monti and composed entirely of technocrats – non-party people – though supported by a majority in parliament. In Greece PASOK Prime Minister Papandreou was forced to resign last November for having committed the heinous crime of envisaging a referendum to see if the Greek people approved of his acceptance of EU diktats. Greece now has Papademos presiding over a coalition between the two main parties. In both cases a parliamentary rubber stamp cannot efface the fact that these governments have no popular mandate.

But the attacks on democracy go beyond that. It is now becoming systematic for the EU to ask for guarantees in advance of elections from all parties likely to be in government, promising to respect programmes of austerity and restructuring. And in fact when elections do take place, as in Portugal and Spain last year they are treated as an irritating intrusion, interfering with business as usual. There have even been suggestions (notably, and repeatedly, from German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schauble) that elections in Greece, for the moment scheduled for April, should just be postponed for a year or eighteen months.

Of course most intelligent bourgeois analysts understand that it is better in general to have elected governments, because they have more legitimacy to rule. But they are finding that sometimes there are exceptions. This is entirely logical. Historically, capitalism has not usually been democratic outside Europe and North America, and even there, not always. In fact the association of democracy with capitalism is an ideologically useful by-product of Stalinism. There is always a tension, and sometimes an open contradiction, between capitalism, a system that rests on the exploitation of the majority of the population, and popular sovereignty. That can be masked in periods of relative prosperity. It is likely to become sharper in the coming period.

Stability Treaty

Equally, the latest Treaty on Stability, Coordination and Governance in the Economic and Monetary Union, signed by 25 of the 27 EU member states on March 1st -2nd , is a blatant attempt to impose austerity and German fiscal rules on the EU, riding roughshod over national parliaments. In fact most of the measures in this treaty were already contained in the”euro plus” pact in March 2011 and the so-called “six-pack” of measures in October, including a series of sanctions against those who infringe the rules set down. The purpose of the Treaty is political, to set these policies in stone and to make it very difficult for future governments to escape from them by demanding that they be inscribed in national legislation, preferably by amending the constitution.

In the policies imposed by the EU and on the question of democracy Greece is indeed the mirror of the future. Not in the sense that in the short term the whole of Europe will become like Greece, or that events will unfold in the same way everywhere. It is however quite possible that we will see something very similar in Portugal and perhaps above all in Spain, which although not in receipt of a bail-out is imposing under European pressure  policies of austerity and structural reforms, pushing the country into recession and provoking a powerful wave of opposition from the population. Which is why Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy announced, with the ink scarcely dry on his signature of the above-mentioned Treaty, that he would not respect this year the deficit level agreed with Europe, explicitly asserting Spain’s sovereignty, to the consternation of his European colleagues.

Elsewhere in Europe the pressure is less acute, but if we look at the situation country by country, the extent to which measures have been applied and the speed and the intensity of the attacks may differ according to the national situation, but the direction is the same everywhere. Even in tiny Luxembourg, one of the smallest but the richest member state by per capita GDP, a reform of pensions is underway and the government is slowly but quite surely sapping the bases of the social consensus with the unions by attacking the cornerstone of the so-called ‘Luxembourg  model’, the indexation of wages on inflation. In France, if Nicolas Sarkozy is re-elected he will launch a major offensive of austerity and structural reforms. If, as seems possible but not yet sure, Francois Hollande is elected he will come under considerable pressure to do likewise, the same sort of pressure that has already seen Socialist leaders buckle in Portugal, Greece and Spain.

Contagion

There was an audible sigh of relief in the financial world and in ruling class circles generally when Greece successfully negotiated the agreement with its private creditors, thus avoiding a disorderly default with unpredictable consequences for the international banking system. There were however few illusions that anything fundamental had been settled. It is just a matter of time until Greece needs a third bail-out. And a further write-down of debt is on the agenda. The titles of two articles in the Financial Times on March 13 summed up the prevailing sentiment: “Contagion from Greece still threatens single currency” and “Greek debt drama pauses for an interval”. Greece apart, it seems only a matter of time before Portugal needs a second bail-out, which would be financially feasible for the Troika. What really worries Europe’s leaders is the prospect of Italy or Spain requiring a bail-out, for which at present the financial resources, the so-called firewall, are not yet in place. And in spite of or because of German determination to steamroller the fiscal past through, more and more voices from within the ruling class are questioning the wisdom of such severe austerity, though not the structural reforms for which it prepares the way.

Resistance

The problem in Greece and elsewhere is that of an alternative to these policies. The argument reminiscent of Thatcher that “there is no alternative” (especially in the middle of a crisis, it is now added) may be overused. It nevertheless functions in the absence of a visible and credible alternative. There have been massive mobilizations – strikes, demonstrations, now occupations of workplaces – in Greece but also in Spain, Portugal, in France in 2010 and there will be more. This mass resistance is one part of the answer, a necessary starting point. But experience shows that though governments sometimes have to give way, or at least give ground, in the face of mass mobilizations, as long as they hang on to power they end up by regaining the initiative, or handing over to another government which will. No change of government in Europe in the last 30 years has produced a government ready to break with the neoliberal consensus.

On the level of policies it is not very complicated to produce a response to the immediate situation. Not just an end to austerity, but breaking the hold of finance over the economy by nationalizing the banks; an audit of public debt and refusal to pay debts contracted at extortionate rates or in order to buy arms, for example; a reorientation of the economy towards production of goods and services that serve social needs, including taking key sectors into public ownership. And while the Left should aim to provide an alternative on a European level, it might well be necessary for a country implementing such policies to abandon the euro. This is now a widely held view on the Greek Left.

United Front

The problem is that in Europe, the forces capable of carrying out such policies have the support of at best 10-15 per cent of the population, and in some countries much less. Most of the working class still supports left parties that are part of the problem rather than part of the answer. At the moment the exception is Greece, which seems to demonstrate that in a situation of severe crisis there can be a dramatic realignment of political forces. At present in opinion polls, PASOK, which won 44 per cent of the vote in the 2010 general election, is running on 9-11 per cent. The centre-right New Democracy is on 27-28 per cent. And for some time now the three main forces of the radical Left, the Greek Communist Party (KKE) the Syriza coalition whose main component is Synaspismos and the Democratic Left, a split to the right from Synaspismos, are credited between them with over 40 per cent. A couple of newly-created small parties resulting from left splits from PASOK might also get the 3 per cent necessary to get into parliament.

The problem is that the Greek Left is extremely divided. The KKE in particular is undoubtedly the most sectarian and Stalinist of major European communist parties. So it easier to argue for left unity than to realize it. But attempts are being made, and any kind of a Left Front would be a step forward not only in parliamentary terms but on a mass level. The alternative, which at present seems most likely, is that a divided Left would collectively have enough representation in Parliament to make the life of a PASOK-New Democracy government very difficult, and even to block certain measures, but not be capable of appearing as an alternative. That could rebound against the Left as a whole. A united front of even part of the Left would be better.

Murray Smith is a Scottish socialist currently living in Luxembourg and is a member of the editorial board of International Viewpoint.

13/03/12

Notes

1) Term commonly used to denote the European Union, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund.)

2) Athens News March 2012, quoting official Greek statistics.

3) See Nouriel Roubini, “Greece’s private creditors are the lucky ones”, Financial Times, March 7, 2012.

4) See “Pension reform fuels hopes of savings boom”, Financial Times February 26, 2012.

5) See Stathis Kouvelakis, “The Greek Cauldron”, New Left Review, November-December 2011.

 

 

 

Muhammad Ali – Black activist and 60’s icon

Bill Scott looks at a sporting star who played a significant role in the civil rights struggles of the US in the 1960’s and 70’s.

Muhammed Ali
Image: Olebrat on flickr under Creative Commons licence

“A Change Is Gonna Come”

I was born by the river in a little tent
And just like that river I’ve been running ever since
It’s been a long time coming
But I know a change is gonna come, oh yes it will
It’s been too hard living, but I’m afraid to die
Cos I don’t know what’s out there beyond the sky
It’s been a long, a long time coming
But I know a change is gonna come, oh yes it will

I go to the movie
And I go down town
somebody keep telling me don’t hang around
It’s been a long time coming
But I know a change is gonna come, oh yes it will

Then I go to my brother
And I say brother help me please
But he winds up knockin’ me
Back down on my knees

There were times when I thought I couldn’t last for long
But now I think I’m able to carry on
It’s been a long, a long time coming
But I know a change gone come, oh yes it will

Muhammad Ali is 70.  For those who did not see him box in his prime or hear his denunciations of the racist, white American state that might not mean much.  But for those who were witness to his personal struggle he remains much more than a great sportsman. He was an inspirational figure for a generation of activists.

Muhammad Ali was born Cassius Clay, in January 1942, to a poor, black working-class family in Louisville, Kentucky. Kentucky was in the upper South but scarred by the racist Jim Crow laws that prevented Black Americans from accessing decent homes, jobs and services or even drinking from the same water fountains as Whites. From his teenage years Clay strove to escape the poverty that the vast majority of Black Americans were destined to by becoming a boxer.  He proved a highly skilled one winning the Gold medal as a light heavyweight at the 1960 Olympics.

Racism

Clay then set out on a professional career.  But boxing and other sports had also been scarred by America’s racism. When Jack Johnson became the first black world heavyweight champion in 1908 white America was horrified. How could a cowardly “nigger” have beaten the flower of white manhood? Jim Jeffries, the ex-world champion, came out of retirement ‘for the sole purpose of proving that a white man is better than a Negro’.  Johnson reacted by giving Jeffries a boxing lesson and inflicting a crushing defeat, whilst the crowd chanted ‘kill the nigger!’ Blacks celebrated across the US, but racist reaction resulted in lynchings and white race riots. Johnson was eventually forced to flee the country after he was basically charged with sleeping with a white woman. There would not be another Black American permitted to fight for the heavyweight title until the “Brown Bomber”, Joe Louis, some 20 odd years later. But it was not only boxing where racism flourished. Baseball was segregated until after the Second World War and American Football imposed a ban on black players until the 1950s.

The price of being allowed to compete and win against whites was that the Black sporting champions had to show respect and deference to whites. No uppity Black sportsmen were tolerated. For example Jackie Robinson, the first Black baseball star, was forced to prove his loyalty to White America by testifying against Paul Robeson to the House Un-American Activities Committee. He was told that if he failed to do so his career would be over.

Civil Rights Struggle

This was the sporting world that Clay had entered.  But other things were happening in America during this period.  A black seamstress called Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat to a white man beginning the Montgomery bus boycott. From this struggle a new Black leader emerged in the form of a local minister, the Reverend Martin Luther King.  By 1956, the Montgomery buses were desegregated, and the boycott tactic spread into retail settings like restaurants and shops and even industry.

The young Cassius Clay was influenced by these events and attended a number of civil rights demonstrations but after a white woman soaked him on a march, he declared “that’s the last one of these I’m coming to”.

However Clay became attracted to another emerging Black movement in the form of the Nation of Islam. Its founder Elijah Muhammad taught that Blacks should have pride in themselves and that Whites were evil. Unsurprisingly Clay kept his interest in the Nation secret – otherwise he might never have been given a chance to fight the then world heavyweight champion, Sonny Liston. But his pride in his ethnicity was given an outlet.  He developed a bombastic, boastful, public persona which expressed itself in rhyming couplets such as “Float like a butterfly, Sting like a bee”. In fact he has a real claim to being the progenitor of Rap as his popularity and rhyming surely inspired others. Even in his early career Ali seemed the antithesis of his quiet, respectful predecessors – boxers such as Joe Louis and Floyd Paterson.

The Nation’s most popular spokesperson and radical leader was Malcolm X. Popular with young Blacks that is but reviled by the white press and media. Malcolm became a close friend of Ali’s.  On the night that Clay first won the world championship in 1964 he did not party the night away but instead spent his time discussing his and Black America’s future with Malcolm X and the singer and activist Sam Cooke.

Malcolm X

The next morning Cassius Clay met the press in the company of Malcolm X and told them that he was a member of the Nation of Islam and henceforth wished to be known by his free name of Muhammad Ali and not his slave name, Cassius Clay. This stunned and infuriated White America. Here was a Black champion not deferential and god-fearing like a good Coloured person who knew their place but instead proclaiming that he was not even Christian but a Muslim who disowned America’s racist slave heritage.

Elijah Muhammad vehemently opposed members of the Nation of Islam participating in the civil rights movement, calling instead for separation of blacks from ‘White’ America.  But events were already making Malcolm X question that stance and his loyalty to Elijah Muhammad.  In 1962 Los Angeles police invaded a Nation of Islam Mosque shooting and killing one of its members. Malcolm X quickly organised an alliance of black groups and workers’ organisations to defend Black Muslims from further attacks but was ordered by the Nation’s leadership to desist.

Malcolm X began to think that he and other Black radicals should become directly involved in the struggle for black rights and that economic justice for Black Americans might mean forming alliances with progressive white workers. Malcolm then expressed open criticism of Elijah Muhammad and the idea of black separation.  Malcolm X’s developing political ideas strained his close friendship with Mohammed Ali as Ali remained loyal to Elijah Muhammad. However Ali was devastated by Malcolm’s assassination in 1965. Probably an act colluded in, if not carried out by, the FBI and Nation of Islam.

Because of his loyalty to Elijah Muhammad Ali initially opposed the struggle for Civil Rights but over time his views changed.  The key issue in Ali’s evolving political consciousness was the Vietnam War.

Vietnam

The war was massively opposed by Black Americans who were disproportionately more likely to be drafted into the army and even more disproportionately represented at the frontline. Responding to this the young Black activists of the Civil Rights Movement, SNCC (Student Non Violent Coordinating Committee) came out against the war. So too did the Civil Rights Movement’s leader, Martin Luther King. He did so against the wishes of the rest of the Movement’s more moderate leadership who feared being seen as unpatriotic. It was only after he expressed his opposition to the war that King was described by arch-reactionary Edgar J. Hoover as “the most dangerous man in America”.

King like Malcolm X was being radicalized by events. Race riots erupted in America’s black inner city ghettos between 1964 and 1968. The repression of rioters was massive –  nearly 250 black protestors were killed, 10,000 were injured, and 60,000 were arrested. In the rubble left after the Los Angeles Watts riots in 1965, King declared this, ” …was a class revolt of the under-privileged against the privileged”. In 1967 he concluded: “We have moved into an era which must be an era of revolution…”

Early in 1966 Ali became eligible to be called up to fight but he refused to be conscripted, saying that he was a conscientious objector. His vocal response to the draft – “Man, I ain’t got no quarrel with them Vietcong.  They ain’t never called me nigger” – thrust him into the forefront of the infant anti-war movement. Ali then took part in speaking tours around the college campuses often sharing the same platform as Martin Luther King.

Ali was the best known and most eloquent opponent of the war and more influential amongst Black youth and  anti-war activists than any politician. In 1966 Ali came to Britain to fight Henry Cooper. But he also came to give his support to the infant British Black consciousness movement. He toured playgrounds and spoke to crowds of adoring black youngsters in Brixton and Notting Hill. He was also a source of pride to Britain’s growing Muslim population.

In 1967 Ali was sentenced to 5 years imprisonment and stripped of his title for refusing to be drafted. Ali refused to be cowed but instead continued to speak out against injustice.  He not only continued to speak on anti-war platforms but in 1968 also marched alongside his friend King and striking cleansing workers the day before King’s assassination. He faced death threats and hardship for his anti-war stance. He was at the very peak of his prowess as a boxer but was prevented from practicing his craft by the boxing authorities – losing millions of dollars in potential prize money. Because of his previous generosity Ali was not particularly wealthy and was quite quickly reduced to near poverty.  His future boxing opponent Joe Frazier generously helped him out financially during this period.

Back to Boxing

Eventually, in 1970, Ali’s conviction was overturned by the Supreme Court (which upheld his right to be a religious conscientious objector), and the World Boxing Association had to reinstate him. Ali by then had become a folk hero to Black America, genuinely the “People’s Champion”. Eventually allowed to box again, he fought his way back into contention for the official world title – though it was far from an easy process as several powerful, younger Black boxers such as Joe Frazier and Ken Norton had emerged during Ali’s hiatus.

In 1974 Ali became only the second heavyweight ever to recapture the heavyweight world title when he beat the apparently invincible and fearsome champion George Foreman.  He later became the only boxer ever to regain the world heavyweight title for a second time.

But like many other Black sportsmen Ali’s escape from poverty came at a bitter price.  Grueling contests with Frazier, Norton and Foreman damaged Ali’s brain and body.  Since 1984 he has suffered from Parkinson’s Syndrome brought on by repeated blows to his head and vital organs. For much of every day this extremely intelligent and articulate man is a voiceless prisoner of his own body. That is why so many of us who remember him in his prime shed a silent tear when he took faltering steps to light the Olympic flame in 1996.  His enduring pride and courage was there for all to see. At the end of 1999 Muhammad Ali was named the athlete of the century but he was, and is, so much more than that.

Sam Cooke: The enormously talented singer and song-writer Sam Cooke had 29 top-40 hits in the U.S. between 1957 and 1964 and is recognized as one of the founders and pioneers of Soul Music.  He was also very active in the Civil Rights Movement.  He was shot dead by his manager just months after Ali won his heavyweight title. “A Change is Gonna Come” is one of his most moving and political songs.

Whither the Scottish Labour Party?

Stephen Curran and Johann Lamont campaign in Glasgow Southside

Labour in Scotland have had the toughest days in their history, steamrollered by the SNP at the last Scottish elections and facing further losses in May’s council battle. Vince Mills, a left activist in the party takes a look at where the party finds itself.

Perhaps ‘wither the Scottish Labour Party‘ might seem like a better title for an article on the shape of the Scottish Labour Party (SLP) after its Spring conference in Dundee. Or at least such might be the impression on a neutral commentator looking at the half empty Caird Hall that was a persistent feature of the conference for most of the ordinary business of the gathering.  Mind you the Caird Hall looked like Vatican square on Easter Sunday compared to the remnants of the Liberal Democrats who huddled together in Inverness. The Caird Hall certainly filled up for Johann Lamont’s first speech as leader of the Scottish Labour Party on the Saturday afternoon of conference.

And with that new leader, who won with the full support of the unions and the left of the Party and, at least according the polls, with a position on devolution that is supported by most Scots, this conference seemed like the perfect time for the SLP to take back the centre left ground occupied by Salmond’s SNP.

Kremlinology

Did it? Here we are going to have to resort to Kremlinology.  The usual means of understanding shifts in political direction in Labour’s tradition –  debates pushing particular positions leading to changes in policy – these have long since gone. Managerialism has become embedded in the culture and indeed the very structures that could deliver positions for debate that might be embarrassing to the leadership have been stripped out.

So to understand whether there is a change taking place, at least in the Party’s upper echelons, you have to look at who the leader is promoting, what hints are being offered in key speeches and how the unions’ concerns are being treated. Let us start with promotions. Neil Findlay MSP for the Lothians and unapologetic leftist was given a role on the backbenches. This may seem unremarkable but would have been unheard of in previous regimes.  Such has been the strength of the right that there was no need to trouble itself with inclusion even if in the exclusion of, for example, Elaine Smith, now depute presiding officer, you excluded the MSP with the largest majority in Scotland, risking the obvious inferences from her Labour electorate.

The speech that Johann Lamont delivered also hinted that things could change. She said, for example:

“I know that many of our comrades in the trade union movement left us in May because they felt we had let them down. And so I will work with my trade union colleagues to re-engage with union members and demonstrate that our cause is a common cause.”

Independence Referendum

At this point of course you are entitled to ask what the cause is and how can it be delivered jointly. Here the managerialist response kicks in. Unite had considered proposing an emergency motion at conference the effect of which was to seek a special conference to debate the constitutional question. However to accept this may have looked like a challenge to the leader who, it is well known, favours a one question referendum with a flat ‘NO’ as the response.

Consequently the motion was withdrawn and in its place there was an executive statement briefed in advance to the press, announcing the creation of a commission to consider Labour’s response to the constitutional issue comprising MPs, MSPs, Trade Unionists and missing, as far as most leftist delegates could work out, party members. So too was the role of the party collectively, whose role in endorsing or rejecting the conclusions that the commission might come up with remains unclear.

Suspicions that minds were already made up and that party members real role was as supporting cast were not helped when in advance of, and subsequent to, the conference SLP members received a helpful reminder from the Party leadership that the Scottish government was having a consultation on the referendum. The message from Scottish Labour not only pointed you to the consultation; it filled the answers in for you. Here is part of the pre-written response:

“There should only be one question in order to give a definitive answer on whether or not Scotland remains part of the UK. I do not support attempts to muddy the water with further questions on other matters. I want the referendum sooner rather than later and do not see the need to wait almost three years.”

Whatever your position on this – I favour a second question – there has been no widespread discussion or debate in the SLP about it; there has only been the statements of the leadership.  Furthermore many in the Trade Union movement including those unions affiliated to Labour, are spread over a range of positions from independence on the one hand, a small but significant section, to  a variety of positions  up to and I suppose including the status quo, although few are actually articulating that position.

The Labour Left

The extent to which the new Scottish Labour leadership is really ready for dialogue and change in a way that would upset the SNP’s bandwagon is still in doubt.  The left response at conference at any rate was a clear desire for even greater unity.  At both the Campaign for Socialism‘s fringe meeting, comprising predominantly constituency activists  and that of Revitalise the Scottish Labour Party, which is an informal network of trade union and constituency activists, there was a stark acknowledgement that the left could only survive as an alliance between the trade union movement and individual activists and that they could only have an impact through serious organisation and democratic convergence on policy positions and support for left candidates.  Consequently there are moves to transform the informal Revitalise into a more formal and better resourced organisation.

Even supposing this succeeds and nudges Labour left, it will not be in time to stop some embarrassing defeats for the Party in May. Labour may well lose overall control in Glasgow and North Lanarkshire although the former is more likely than the latter.  Glasgow is riven with disputes and petty jealousies and an organized schism in Glasgow First, formed around a group of deselected councillors. However, in the absence of any electoral project that can offer a serious left alternative Labour setbacks may provide grist to the mill of those in the SLP trying to grind out a victory over Blair’s legacy  – a managerialist party machine imbued with neo-liberal politics.

For a Socially Just Scotland

Gregor Gall looks at what a socially just Scotland would look like and how that differs from the vision of the Scottish National Party.

Saltires on N30 strike demo
Saltires on N30 strike demo

The now unfolding public debate on independence in the run up to the referendum in late 2014 provides for a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to put the case for a socially just Scotland. So long as the debate is not parked in the cul-de-sac of constitutional politics and constitutional wrangles, it should be relatively easy to ask the mainstream political parties and opinion-formers just what is their vision for a socially just Scotland is. And, if they come up short, then use the occasion to put forward a radical vision of what is needed to achieve a socially just Scotland. This is because there is no point having the debate, the referendum or voting for independence (or ‘devo-max’ if it makes it on to the ballot paper) unless we can imagine a better, more socially justice and equal society in Scotland. So a lot is up for grabs.

“Progressive Beacon”?

The SNP in particular has a blind spot in any search for a socially just, independent Scotland because while it has some reflexes to the left on social issues, it is positively neo-liberal in its economic policies. And economics easily trumps social issues in the capitalist mainstream. So for Salmond to have recently pronounced that Scotland after independence – under the SNP – could become a ‘progressive beacon’ for other countries is, frankly, way off the mark. This is because the centre piece of the SNP politics is not so much an independent state under capitalism – which it is – but that through state-sponsored trickledown economics, the economy in Scotland can grow and everyone and their living standards will be levelled up in the process. The key policy in all this is to cut the rate of corporation tax to something like that of the Irish Republic. But we must recall the Republic became massively unequal despite the overall economic growth and such a pursuit of inward investment as part of a programme of economic deregulation created the conditions for the extended age of austerity that Irish citizens are now experiencing after the ‘boom’ turned to ‘bust’.

In economic terms, Salmond and the SNP take the view that all new jobs are good jobs regardless of their terms and conditions. This could be seen by Salmond’s welcoming on two recent occasions of Amazon’s investment in Scotland. He did not even think to attach any conditions – like those of union recognition or a living wage – to the receipt of public funds that Amazon received for making these investments. Jobs that create spending power to the SNP are the source of economic and social betterment. But it does matter what kind of jobs are created and how they are remunerated. It also matters that they are secure jobs. Equally, it matters that low paid jobs should not be subsidised by a social wage because, in effect, this means the taxpayer is subsidising employers and letting them off from paying a level of wages that requires no social wage prop up.

Social Justice

In other words, the notion of genuine and deep-seated social justice (never mind socialism) is absent from the SNP’s economic policy. Salmond wants to create economic growth and let others determine who benefits from it. In effect, this means the employers and existing power elites will make these decisions. That is probably why many employers are not fazed by independence and many are for it – especially if corporation tax is lowered.

It then seems that the SNP’s ability to win the ‘yes’ vote in the referendum is – all other things being equal – very much weakened but its inability, if not unwillingness, to demonstrate how and why an independent Scotland could and would be better for the mass of citizens in Scotland. This is not to say that the SNP is not a socialist party – clearly, it is not – but that it is hardly even a social democratic party either. Social democracy is defined not just as the search for social justice within capitalism but the willingness and ability to do so through progressive reforms where state intervention ameliorates the processes and outcomes of the market. In other words, reforms.

The vision on the left which supports independence should stress above all else the possibility of determining people’s own economic relations and, thus, social destiny. Whilst a republic should be part of this vision (especially as the SNP wants to maintain a constitutional monarchy), the key reason why citizens should vote at all and for independence will hinge upon whether they believe their living standards and those of their kids will be better in terms of jobs, health, education and so on.

But this in itself is not enough because a vision of this better life could be a neo-liberal one of growth and expansion as per the SNP. The two extra ingredients that are needed are a) a more just and equal society and b) an environmentally sustainable one.

Jock Tamson’s Bairns

The phrase ‘we are all Jock Tamson’s bairns’ still means a lot in Scotland and indicate that the political centre of gravity is to the left and essentially social democratic on many issues. In order to provide a representation and outlet for the values bound up with ‘Jock Tamson’s bairns’, the arguments for independence must comprise arguments for a redistribution of wealth – something that will scare many of the SNP’s business supporters. Equally well, we cannot allow the progressive vision of an independent Scotland to be one of economic growth at all costs – even assuming it was more fairly distributed – because of the environmental devastation that would create.

None of this makes an argument for or against independence as such. The key issue is whether the situation of independence is an opportunity to advance a radical left agenda. And it seems, there is far more of a possibility to do so in the run up to and under independence than under the status quo (whether of ‘devo-max’ or not). I use the term ‘possibility’ rather than ‘probability’ because the weakness of the left cannot suddenly be magically solved under independence. However, with the focus of debate likely to be on ‘what kind of Scotland do we want?’ and with more latitude to determine this in Scotland itself than ever before, the argument for independence seems substantially stronger than the argument against.

Gregor Gall is Professor of Industrial Relations, University of Hertfordshire

Resistance is Fertile

Coalition of Resistance
Coalition of Resistance marchers on STUC demo

A new wave of struggle has emerged since the 2008 crisis of capitalism began. New forms of organisation have also emerged as a new generation enters the struggle. Mhairi McAlpine looks at how the Coalition of Resistance has developed in Glasgow.

Anyone who has followed the trials and tribulations of the left over the past few years will know that Glasgow has not had an easy ride.  Our poster-boy, our leading MSP and great white hope turned out to be a sleazy hypocrite who would throw his comrades to the tabloids rather than be seen as anything other than a bourgeois family man.  Yet strangely theGlasgowleft is in the ascendancy.  There is a buzz in the air and raised spirits.  Partly this can be put down to the Hetherington Occupation last year, demonstrating the strength of the determined; partly to the emergence of the International Socialist Group (ISG), a Scottish breakaway from the SWP with new thinking and new ideas, partly down to the global upswing in resistance movements that we have witnessed and partly just down to the healing which occurred in the Glasgow left while our abuser was in gaol.

Coalition of Resistance emerges

One significant emergence in the last year has been the Glasgow Coalition of Resistance.  Since the initial meeting of around 150 people representing a remarkable diversity of Glasgow’s radical scene, Glasgow CoR has gone from strength to strength.  It has managed to attract an amazingly broad range of people and sustain a level of activity and vibrancy which hasn’t been seen since the early days of the Scottish Socialist Party.  Its diversity is remarkable.  Only a couple of years ago it would have been inconceivable for SWP members to sit next to SSP and anarchos next to the Labour Left; for trade unionists to be working with students and for community groups to be pivotal in building links across different aspects of resistance.  I hear anecdotally thatGlasgowis the strongest section of CoR and while it makes me very proud of what we have built, it is also rather sad that other areas don’t have the same support network.

Glasgow CoR operates primarily as a support structure for other actions – whether that be from organising a solidarity bus for the pickets on J30 and N30; publicising the STUC “There is a better way” demonstration on 1st October, or assisting the Save the Accord campaign with practicalities and moral support.  It has a strong activist focus.  The usual format of meetings is for people to divide up into medium sized groups to discuss and come up with a plan for either a specific action or an aspect of a larger action.  Actions required to make things happen are identified and responsibilities for tasks agreed between the members.   With only four elected positions, and elected more by consensus than by ballot, leadership emerges within the groups. Different people take responsibility for facilitation, note-taking and reporting back on each occasion, while the input from participants is controlled through a stack, whereby people notify their wish to speak in advance rather than rely on being chosen to respond, which makes for a more free-flowing and inclusive atmosphere.

This structure gives COR both a vibrancy and an openness – there is no top table, ownership of the projects are distributed giving members, especially new or infrequent attendees an opportunity to participate and take on responsibilities.  As people volunteer for things publically, there is an element of social accountability and awareness in task auctioning.  This encourages participants  to complete tasks that they have taken on,  not from an abstract sense of duty or loyalty, but from a concrete feeling of awareness of their role within a wider context and the awareness that other people are relying on their contribution to make their own. After the groupwork sessions, the room comes back together for feedback, to keep everyone in the loop on what has been discussed, and ask for general support for activities that require mass participation, such as promotion, or inform people of the practical arrangements that have been made.   The inclusion of people from within the trade unions and campaign groups supported is critical as taking a lead in determining what support is most effective.

Activism

While the meetings as described above are the norm, on occasions COR also organises slightly different meetings: generally in the lead up to a major event it will be agreed to postpone a regular meeting in favour of an “activity” meeting, where practical things – banner making or placard making for example will be the main purpose.  Although Fredrick Taylor would be turning in his grave at the inefficiencies of these production lines, they are nonetheless fantastic opportunities to build bonds and develop connections which aren’t usually possible in more structured environments.  The solidarity of the factory line is build over the shared activity to a common end and these practical sessions give COR participants a chance to discuss thinking, developments, activities in an informal manner with people that they are thrown together with on the “production line” that they would perhaps not naturally seek out.

Another alternative to the groupwork meetings that are held from time to time, are traditional top table speaking events.  Usually held in the aftermath of a demo or public activity, these are aimed at linking the activity in Glasgowto wider struggles – within Scotland, the UKor internationally.  Technology allows for live linkups with Occupy Wall Street and Syrian activists and speakers such as Owen Jones, the author of Chavs setting the activism in context and drawing links between the struggle here in Glasgow and wider national and international priorities.  Although there is theory in these session, they are not theoretical development sessions – more awareness raising of the different strands of thought and locuses of struggle.  It would be unfair to describe COR as non-theoretical, but theoretical development is not a major aim of COR.  Most participants in COR have a primary political identity outwith, whether as a member of a trade union, political party or campaign group – the theoretical challenge for COR then becomes less to actively develop members in line with a given theoretical understanding, than it is to overcome differences in theoretical understandings and ensure that these do not become barriers to activity, solidarity and support for radical causes.

UK Uncut and Occupy

Its worth comparing CoR with some of the other movements that have sprung up on the left over the last year or so.  The first, UKUncut was set up to embarrass, shame and ultimately economically damage companies which refused to pay the taxes that they owed.  In a time when people were being told the country was skint and that we would all have to tighten our belts, the revelation that multi-nationals were being let of billions of pound in tax, while terminally ill people were being thrown off incapacity benefit and instructed to seek work struck a strong chord with the public.  Locally organised demonstrations were held outside targets, loosely co-ordinated in that sometimes a particular target would be identified but lead on the ground by local activists and campaigners.  UKUncut was a star which burned brightly, but the campaign got scorched after the arrest of 148 activists who occupied Fortnum and Mason on March 25th.   Bogged down in legal challenges, a substantial section of activists under legal proceedings and a wider section of activists and supporters who now feared legal action being taken against them, UKUncut moved on from direct action to legal action against the companies involved.  While this is in many ways a very positive move – challenging these sweetheart deals through the courts is worthwhile, it is also more remote and tucked away than people challenging them on the high street – moving the locus of struggle away from the local and into the foostie chambers of court.

The other major movement to have emerged in the last year is Occupy.  Inspired by the occupations ofTahrir SquareandSyntagma Square, Occupy Wall Street sought to take the fight to the centre of power.  The movement spread acrossAmericaand when the call to Occupy made on 15th October reached theUK, three camps were established inScotland: Glasgow,Edinburghand …Paisley.  The Paisley experience was a portend of things to come.  After the camp had to be abandoned after only two nights when the occupier had been threatened and robbed, the vulnerability and naivety of the movement’s tactics were exposed.  Tales were emerging of racism, sexism, sexual abuse and violence from the Occupy Camps internationally.  When a rape occurred at Glasgow Occupy, the response of the camp was shocking – yet still it continued until an unexplained fire extinguished the protest and the now disbandedEdinburghcamp has also been associated with violence and misogyny.

Occupy generally attracted a less experienced and less active protester:  it inspired people who usually just shouted at the telly, but at the same time it also attracted people who struggled within the mainstream and sought an alternative many times out of necessity. Running a 24hour space in a public arena with an eclectic mix of people thrown together in a lifestyler protest is exhausting, mostUKcamps either imploded or dwindled.  With no clear sense of purpose, it became merely a spectacle.  Occupy as a political movement became a piece of theatre, yet within Occupy, the experience of communal living threw up issues of power, domination and exploitation.  Occupy moved into the occupation of physical space with the Bank of Ideas – a far better organised, more structured and more challenging form, but one not as open to the stray passer-by.  At the end of last month, with the eviction of both Occupy LSX and the Bank of Ideas, its future is uncertain.

UKUncut and Occupy were both ultimately rootless.  They came from the ether – emerging and capturing a mood, rather than rooted from within communities.  They both tried to challenge big things – multi-nationals and global finance respectively.  They both hit tactical problems and had to change their tactics to adapt.  Both matured into more effective, but less inclusive forms of resistance.  And ultimately – although the UKUncut legal challenge goes on, both have disappeared as activities that can be incorporated into local action.

Community Struggle

This contrasts strongly with CoR.  The primary basis of CoR is that it amalgamates existing struggles, lending support, expertise and wo/manpower to building for either distinct local campaigns, or local implementations of national struggles.  With a cross-section of people involved in such struggles through an existing political identity, it gives it a diversity, but at the same time a cohesion of shared understanding that other people may have expertise that they can draw from.  Rather than competing perspectives, it has overlapping ones.  While this can be problematic on occasion – with clashes of events, different priorities and variations in tactical approach, it avoids direct conflict for the most part, by recognising the authority and expertise of contributors, and allowing the struggles to be lead from within the struggle.  As such it has a base which can be built on, and a support network to be called on, which goes wider than any particular meeting, yet is not determined by gaining the approval of a particular official.  This allows for both open participation, but also effective challenge.

Like Occupy (the 99% are sick of being exploited by the 1%) and UKUncut (multi-nationals should pay the taxes they owe HMRC), it has a relatively simply simple message – that we refuse to accept the austerity being imposed on us, and will fight cuts.  There have been a variety of attempts to refine that message, however as with UKUncut and Occupy, its strength is in its universality.  How that pans out on the ground is very much up to the individual interests of participants.  Most members of CoR for example are opposed to nuclear weapons, and while the mission would encompass a demand not to cut Trident, it is unlikely that such a campaign would garner much support on an individual level within the organisation. CoR is amorphous, but at the same time rooted and able to call on resources beyond its own realm: financial backing from trade unions for support activity; political expertise from experienced activists; connections and communications that stretch beyond its direct participants.

Holarchy

In an earlier Frontline article, I discussed the nature of a holarchy – an entity made up of smaller units – each of which act autonomously and are in themselves made up of smaller units.  CoR fits this structure well, in that participants for the most part each belong to at least one other identifiable radical tradition, movement or school of thought, gaining support and sustenance from it.  The diffusion of control and devolution of responsibility to within dynamic groups allows for the development of a strong oppositional consciousness – where leadership is granted to those in the forefront of the relevant fight rather than being imposed from on-high ensuring that the tactics and strategy utilised are those most relevant to the fight at hand, increasing  its effectiveness.

The SSP was built by drawing together small disparate political groupings,  as well as individual socialists who had grown weary of political participation while remaining active within communities, trade unions and pressure groups.   It did this in two particular ways – firstly the pull of the charismatic leader cannot be underestimated.  For all the criticisms that existed ofSheridan, pre-2004, he was a major and well respected name on the left.  His leadership of the SSP gave it a gravitas that convinced the non-aligned that this was a project worth signing up to, while his media profile and the prospect of tangible power convinced left groupings that the SSP was the way forward.  The second critical aspect was the toleration and even encouragement of factions – with an agreement that the 20% of disagreements that existed between groupings on the left should be set aside in favour of the 80% we agreed with.  For a substantial period these twin pulls served the SSP well – the bright star ofSheridandazzled, while differences in approach were put on the back burner.  Ultimately it fell apart as it became evident that differences over personal behaviour, morality and the position of women in the party could not simply be shunted into the 20% that we agreed to disagree about, and that no leader, no matter how charismatic was worth abandoning the fundamental principles of socialism for. Yet the five years of growth for the SSP cannot simply be dismissed.

Strengths and Limitations

CoR demonstrates an alternative, which harnesses the strengths of the SSP: an ability to maintain theoretical perspectives while belonging to a wider organisation, and a visibility which provides gravitational pull, but at the same time avoids the difficulties of leadership embodiment by distributing practical leadership and eschewing formal leadership structures.  Differences of opinion on priorities and tactics are not voted for by a show of hands, but by foot, as people lend their weight to campaigns that they see as being worthwhile and determining their own personal priorities on the basis of where their skills can be best utilised and their own personal politics mesh with wider issues.

That is not to say that there is not conflict and disagreement, but it is resolved in a manner which tends not to polarise opinion, and makes it difficult for caucusing or tendencies within CoR to determine its direction, relying on the collective wisdom to shape the movement’s direction.  This grounding in existing struggle, coupled with the loose formation unites the best of the traditional structured left with the discourses of the emergent autonomous left, moreover it builds a cohesive culture of tolerance and appreciation of the diversity of methods, places and actions which can be productive in struggle, allowing for a cross-fertilisation of ideas, expertise and understanding.

The limitation of CoR, with its activist focus on practical solidarity and support does however limit its political intervention at a formal level.  With upcoming council elections inGlasgowand the dominant Labour party grouping in disarray, the conditions are ripe for a left political challenge.  There is however no credible left alternative capable of mounting a challenge.  While CoR’s tactics are well suited to agitation, they do not extend to establishing an electable and accountable political platform.  This vacuum is a major challenge that the Left must address prior to the next Holyrood elections.  While CoR is resolutely not the place for that to emerge from, the development of tolerance and shared culture that it has engendered among the disparate elements of the Glasgow Left must bring us some hope that such an emergence is possible

 

Take No Heroes

Review:

‘Tommy Sheridan: From Hero to Zero? A Political Biography’ by Gregor Gall (Welsh Academic Press)

‘Downfall: The Tommy Sheridan Story’ by Alan McCombes (Birlinn)

Sheridan books

Joanne Telfer reviews two recent books that cover the events around the resignation of Tommy Sheridan as convener of the Scottish Socialist Party and his subsequent imprisonment.


The Tommy Sheridan story, as narrated by Alan McCombes and by Gregor Gall will tell the reader much of what they want to know about the political career of Tommy Sheridan and will offer some interesting theories about the man behind the persona. What other reviews have done, in my opinion, is skirt around the issues and offered a critique of style rather than deal with the substance.

Let me explain my position, as the views of the writer often influence the writer’s bias. I sided with Solidarity in the split but never wholeheartedly and I heard the story of the separation from the Solidarity perspective.  Like most people who took sides, I wasn’t there, I didn’t hear or see these dramas unfold first-hand. I will say emphatically that reading Downfall by Alan McCombes made many things much clearer and made me decide, after five and a half years, to rejoin the SSP.

A general comparison

Alan McCombes worked very closely with Tommy Sheridan for twenty years, which included the development of the SSP project but also prior to that in the Scottish Socialist Alliance (SSA) and Scottish Militant Labour (SML). Gregor Gall on the other hand did not play a central role in events. His work is an academic study based upon many hours of taped interviews withSheridan and a host of people who worked alongside him and/or were involved in the two court cases.

Both approaches have their merits because with McCombes’ account the reader is placed inside the vital meetings and given a first hand narrative. On the other hand his account is more partial and clouded with more emotion. Gall placesSheridan within the context of the political movements of the times and there is a sharper contrast between Sheridan ‘on his way up’ compared to Sheridan ‘on his way down’. It would be almost impossible for McCombes, working so closely withSheridan to separate out his own influence on the making ofSheridan the hero, from the qualities of Sheridan himself. But in another way there is no substitute for being there in person as events unfold.

In Gregor Gall’s book you are taken through aspects ofSheridan’s early life and Gall pays particular attention toSheridan’s mother who believed he was very special. ThatSheridan was special is undoubtedly true but Gall tells us thatAlice considered his him almost Messianic. What Sheridan had was the ability to give rousing speeches and enthuse the people he was addressing.

Gall compares him with other orators in Scottish history and further a field and findsSheridan to be still quite exceptional. The first four chapters of Gall’s book are devoted to his formative years. Gall describes his involvement in fighting the poll tax and how he became aGlasgow councillor. It’s half way through the book and chapter six before Gall turns his attention to the News of the World and what would become a seven-year battle and a huge preoccupation beyond all other things.

McCombes’ chapters are shorter and though he covers similar ground he does so in less depth. We read in chapter five about what he learned from Keith Baldasara aboutSheridan’s secret life that was coming to light in 2003.  He describes this as “more akin to a 1970’s porn star than the leader of a socialist party challenging inequality and exploitation”.  He cites “live porn shows – with the boy wonder in the starring role, threesomes in a hotel and repeated visits to a seedyManchester sex club”.
Gregor Gall would have written his biography whatever the course of history because Sheridan was a man that would enter Scottish consciousness and be widely remembered. Alan McCombes on the other hand wrote his book, in my opinion to try to put the record straight. When I asked a Sheridan supporter recently about McCombes’ book he said he not read it but at the same time he expressed the opinion that to do so would be some kind of heresy. He thought McCombes had done it for the money but the actual sum received in royalties was actually a paltry amount for all the work that goes into writing such a book.

The shit hits the fan

What becomes inevitably the focus of attention in both biographies is the period from 2004-2011. This is a tale of two court cases, one of which Sheridan won and the other which he lost. Alan McCombes describes the EC meeting of 9 Nov 2004, in chapter 8 as “Showdown” and Gall describes it under a subheading in his chapter 6, simply as “The 9/11 meeting”. Crucially at this meeting Tommy Sheridan admitted to visiting Cupid’s swingers club on two occasions and being the married MSP (previously unnamed) mentioned in newspaper reports. He also stated that he would fight this on the basis that there would be no proof that the NOW could use to back up its story.

What Alan McCombes does particularly well is to document the series of events surrounding Sheridan’s resignation as SSP convenor and the series of events immediately preceding the defamation hearing in 2006. He does this in such a way that it is clear beyond doubt; the leadership of the SSP were firmly focussed on protecting Sheridan and the SSP not destroying him or the party.

The counter-narrative springs from the premise that Sheridan was forced to step down and this is absolutely true but what could not be made public at the time (or for that matter for years later) is that Sheridan could have returned in time to the position of party convenor had he taken the advice from several quarters to drop the court proceedings and ride out the media storm without becoming duplicitous.

As Gall quotes McCombes from the infamous EC meeting of 9/11/04: “People will forgive sexual misconduct but not the leader of a political party lying about it” – words which proved to be prophetic. Whatever political activists now believe, the image in the minds of the electorate of bothSheridan personally and the party that he lead, have suffered a crushing blow. Ironically truth has an historical potential to emerge from obscurity in time. Deception is only ever a temporary refuge for those that use this expedient.

Gall describes in Chapter 2 how Sheridan developed his media skills by approaching the right people in the right newspapers and giving the most appropriate sound bites, so by 2004 Sheridan had numerous contacts and willing ears to which to turn. Unfortunately in juxtaposition to the allegations, to which additional extra-marital affair had now been added,Sheridan had cultivated an image of clean living and monogamy. He also had a massive reputation for honesty and integrity making the situation even more explosive.
He made his own statement to the media, which astonished many party members by its clichéd nature, that he’d resigned to spend more time with his family.

McCombes recounts that he and Sheridan had spent hours preparing a carefully worded statement, which was sufficiently vague but would centre on the bare facts: that he was pursuing the defamation action on a personal basis and therefore not involving the party by stepping down as convenor.

What followed was a period of intense media speculation and further revelations about Sheridan’s sex life. According to McCombes; false information started circulating, concerning plots against Sheridan that implicated leading women in the party. He tells us that up until November 2004, Sheridan’s only political opponents were the CWI and SWP platforms that he allied with in forming Solidarity.

The quiet before the trial

Replacing Tommy Sheridan as SSP convenor meant that someone had to replace him and therefore an election in February 2005 between Colin Fox and Alan McCombes. Fox the outsider hadSheridan’s support and thus the perception of a division was created in the party where no real division existed. Gregor Gall describesSheridan’s tactics in this period in chapter 6 and McCombes, in chapter 12, describes it as “a game of poker”. During this period according to both authors,Sheridan was using his considerable popularity to forge his alliances with the CWI and SWP platforms, on the basis that he was taking on the despicable Murdoch Empire. This narrative would later become ubiquitous amongst his supporters.

Had the allegations about affairs and swingers clubs been false or had the newspaper been suing him, this might have made sense but with Sheridan’s formidable oratory skills, the logicality of the story was seemingly ignored by those who’s emotions had been stirred against a natural enemy. Fox was presented as Sheridan’s preference and won the election but this created the impression by simple logic that McCombes and company must be Sheridan’s political opponents.

The SSP policy of 50/50 representation (which Sheridan had supported) provided an additional smoke screen. This had never been popular amongst the more traditional Marxists. It did however become the vehicle of convenience to be woven into the fiction that a section of the party and leading women in particular, were pursuing a bourgeois feminist agenda against Sheridan.

Thus as Gregor Gall states in chapter 6, Sheridan “outmanoeuvred his opponents”. The theme was set of a story that included feminist conspirators and the evil Murdoch Empire and in the period after the defamation hearing would become an unholy alliance of co-conspirators in the minds of Sheridan’s supporters. Nevertheless this is a narrative that is mythological to its core. Because the authors can put all the events in their correct sequence, the mythological constructions are exposed.

The storm before the trial

Very few people knew that Alan McCombes had made a statement to the Herald back in 2004 about the infamous EC meeting, together with a sworn affidavit but shortly before the defamation hearing it became known that someone had. It was assumed that the statement included a copy of the minutes of that EC meeting but that was not the case.
Both McCombes and Gall explain in their books that this was a ploy in 2004 to placate the Herald and keep the lid on confidential matters and not an act of betrayal, as was assumed by Sheridan’s supporters. McCombes recounts how Colin Fox, visiting him in Saughton prison, told him about the affidavit but fully aware that he was the unnamed party official McCombes says in his book, “I decided this was not the time to burden Colin with that knowledge.

I think this is a point that McCombes fails to explain properly but a fuller explanation may be superfluous given that the Herald had been sitting on this for 18 months and it was a spiced up old story that contained no new information. The important point to remember is that McCombes was in Saughton prison possibly facing a two year stretch and this cannot have been some clever plot against Sheridan because McCombes was in there for refusing to hand over minutes which would potentially destroy Sheridan’s case.
Tommy Sheridan’s open letter is a matter of public record. In this letter he denounces amongst other things a “gender obsessed discussion group” as responsible for a plot against him (which would clearly be a reference to the women’s network). Alan McCombes alleges in chapter 14 that the open letter was worded, not by Sheridan, but by Steve Arnott the Highland regional organiser. The grounds for this are that Sheridan had not opposed the 50/50 debate in the SSP but Arnott had continued to oppose it long after the debate. Of course this is pure speculation on the part of McCombes but certainly plausible.

What matters is that this change of tack by Sheridan would suit his strategy for winning the defamation case: a plot against him by women who wanted to remove him as convenor to the point that they would falsify minutes and frame him for visits to a swingers’ club and possibly other allegations made by the Murdoch press. A call to arms against a class enemy, aided and abetted by gender obsessed political rivals. This was surely the perfect cover story.

The die was cast with the appearance of an alternative set of minutes and an appeal by Sheridan to release the official minutes and release Alan McCombes. The only feasible explanation for this precipitate change of strategy is written in the court records. Sheridan would argue that the official minutes were a forgery. He had already argued in his open letter that no such minutes existed but he must have realised that witnesses from the 9/11 EC meeting would have been cross-examined by NOW’s council if McCombes had remained in prison and the conspiracy defence would be stronger with a set of official minutes before the court.

The denial of the existence of minutes is indefensibly absurd: especially since an autonomous group the RCN platform had demanded they be circulated to the entire membership of the party in 2004; that minutes were always taken; that forged minutes were thrown into the mix at the eleventh hour and that subsequent EC and NC meetings of the party had signed for reading them.

Sheridan’s victory and the term ‘scab’

There’s an adage in human psychology that suggests that people faced with a difficult choice, will often back the perceived winners in a dispute.Sheridan had a field day with the media in the aftermath of the first court case. Alan McCombes in chapter 17 calls this “tabloids in paradise”. McCombes tells us how Bill Leckie reported in Murdoch’s Scottish Sun: “If he’s not a millionaire with his own chat show by the end of the year, I’ll eat a judge’s wig”. Splashed across the Daily Record the headline was: “I’ll destroy the scabs who tried to ruin me”.

Alan McCombes tells us that George McNeilage who had worked with Sheridan for 20 Years (and known him for 30) phoned Bob Bird of the News of the World “volcanic with rage” after reading the Daily Record article. The scab denunciation and the future perjury investigation suggested by the judge, created a tipping point for some of those who were at the end of their tether. Thus hand written notes of the 9/11 meeting were handed in at a police station and a taped confession videoed in 2004 was sold to the News of the World. These were clearly precipitous actions because if people were out to ‘get Sheridan’ they would have acted before the trial, not afterwards.

I originally thought the scab denunciation was a huge mistake but realistically Sheridan’s working relationship with McCombes and others in the SSP leadership was finished. He had to carry on where he’d left off in the courtroom. But by this action he ensured that people would act against him in reality rather than fantasy, which had two effects: it strengthened the ficticious narrative of Sheridan the victim but set wheels in motion that would lead to his exposure and disgrace in 2010.

Other questions that are addressed mainly by Gall are the ‘whys and wherefore’s’ of the sorry saga. McCombes’ conclusions are centred on the idea that Sheridan was never the real deal and was always a flawed character. Gall does a bit of amateur psychology and in my view some of this is too amateur. It’s a task that will interest those who want to know how the mind of a heroic leader operates under pressure because as a movement feeling it’s way towards creating a better society; we need to understand these things.

Gregor Gall also puts considerable effort into explaining and theorising about the various political factions over an extended period of history and raises questions about the consequences of departing from the Leninist party model, such as the lack of cadre development and over-centralised leadership. He suggests in chapter 9: “it is apparent from one aspect of Tommy’s conduct in the post 2004 period in relation to the SSP and the left that he practiced rather more of the centralist than the democratic centralism that Militant operated under”. Perhaps an issue that needs much more study is if we choose to replace a form of party organisation that has been in use since 1904, we need to think carefully about what we replace it with.

Whether you think this review has been informative or whether you think it is complete and utter garbage, what I would strongly recommend is that you read the books and discuss the issues. The SSP project back at its inception and for a number of years was a hugely ambitious and for a while very successful one in terms of left unity. The aspiration towards creating a mass socialist party and taking hold of the means of production for the benefit of all, necessitates that the left rediscovers this path to unity in Scotland (and indeed elsewhere). This will only be possible on the basis of a clear understanding of recent history to which I think both these books make a valuable contribution.

Review – Kicking Off Against Austerity

V mask at Occupy Edinburgh protest

Review

‘Why it’s Kicking Off Everywhere – The New Global Revolutions” by Paul Mason (Verso, 2012)

Alister Black reviews a new book examining the new wave of struggle

Paul Mason has become well known as the economics editor of Newsnight. He couldn’t have picked a better time to take up that post, he certainly has had no shortage of material. From the collapse of Lehman Brothers onwards, the crisis of capitalism has played out across the globe. But Mason hasn’t just stuck to stock prices and Bank of England statements. He has chased the story from the boardrooms to the streets. In this book he looks at the origins of the crisis and examines the wave of struggles erupting across the globe from Tahrir Square to Greece to the council estates of London. Finally he puts forward a thesis about the new layers involved in struggle, the new forms that this struggle is taking and the problems facing these worldwide rebellions.

Mason argues that post-2008 we are living in a new era. With the state stepping in to prop up banks on a vast scale, economically speaking the neo-liberal idea of the ‘small state’ is as dead as Stalinist Marxism.

The economic crisis has left a new generation of young people who had been co-opted by the system with promises of rising living standards, now facing unemployment and a poorer standard of living than their parents. Mason raises the spectre of new generations of bitter graduates plotting revolution from their bedsits, not unlike Paris in 1879  “but with one big difference, today in every garret is a laptop” (1)

This new generation has used the tools at their disposal to organise and take to the streets of Cairo, Tehran, Madrid, Athens, London, New York and beyond.

Mason is a little vague and contradictory about just how informed this new generation are, at times talking about the volumes of theory to be found around the typical student occupation and at other times saying that activists only want tweets or wiki summaries of theory. In likelihood elements of both are true.

Social Networks not Gunpowder

Speaking of the widespread use of the Guy Fawkes mask of his revolutionary anarchist character ‘V’ from the ‘V for Vendetta’ comic and movie, creator Alan Moore said

“Today’s response to similar oppressions seems to be one that is intelligent, constantly evolving and considerably more humane, and yet our character’s borrowed Catholic revolutionary visage and his incongruously Puritan apparel are perhaps a reminder that unjust institutions may always be haunted by volatile 17th century spectres, even if today’s uprisings are fuelled more by social networks than by gunpowder. Some ghosts never go away.” (2)

For Mason, the victory, albeit temporary, at Tahrir Square proves another pillar of his thesis, that the network will always beat the hierarchy. The network in this case means the flexible and responsive networks built through social media sites like Facebook and Twitter. Another example could be the V mask wearing ‘anonymous’ network who have used computer hacking to attack targets of greed and oppression from the banks to the security services.

But the network in itself is just a means of communication and coordination. It allows certain tactics that can be used to respond flexibly but it depends on access to those networks. The question of ownership of those networks is also key. Facebook has a business model that is built on selling your data. Oppressive governments can try to tap or block networks. But the network is just a tool, it is neither the solution nor the problem. Perhaps the next step will be to have new social media applications that are more decentralised and anonymous.

The struggles themselves are based on material conditions and class antagonisms. Networks can be useful but in a class struggle organisation such as a trade union or political party it is necessary to have structures that are accountable and transparent. Possibly some of the traditional organisations will need to look to the flexible tactics of the networks to survive and outmanoeuvre anti-trade union legislation and belligerent employers.

Diverging struggles

Mason looks at how the different groups who are involved in struggles relate to each other. On the one hand traditional organisations such as trade unions and political parties and on the other the new ‘horizontal’ groups such as arose from the student struggles, the ‘Occupy’ movement and the likes of UK Uncut and Anonymous.

The former, on paper at least, have more power. It was the trade unions on November 30th 2011 who put millions on the streets and shut down most of the public sector in the pensions dispute. The latter however have more élan and flexibility.

Whilst they have common interests they can quickly diverge in the realms of struggle. Mason gives the example of the large TUC anti-austerity demo on 26th March 2011 where the mass of trade unionists were entirely isolated from both the peaceful UK Uncut sit-ins and the violent Black Bloc mobilisation.

He writes

“it was an advanced preview of the problem which youthful, socially networked, horizontalist movements would have everywhere once things got serious: the absence of strategy, the absence of a line of communication through which to speak to the union-organized workers. The limits, in short, of ‘propaganda of the deed’. (3)”

As struggles escalate that divide becomes sharper. In Greece it ended up with police leaving Communist union stewards to fight off anarchist youth who were trying to attack the parliament.

Building useful links that enable these groups to leverage each others strengths productively is key. Groups like the Coalition of Resistance can play a role in that (see Mhairi Mcalpine’s article elsewhere in this issue) but there is plenty room to build a wider unity.

A New Society

Mason looks at the Marxist idea of alienation and how Marx changed his views (for a more detailed view on this, this link is a good starting point). Mason argues that humanity has started to use the internet to build a ‘connected life’ and break out of alienation. He goes on to argue that this connectedness and collaborative aspects of information technology such as open-source software points towards ways a new society could potentially organise for the common good. This section is really just sketched out but contains plenty of food for thought.

Mason is very good at combining journalism and analysis to outline the context of the current wave of struggle and to outline some of the problems that have arisen. It will be up to those engaging in that struggle to sort these problems out and look to create new forms of organising that can unite all sectors of the movement.

Notes

(1) Paul Mason, ‘Why It’s Kicking Off Everywhere – The New Global Revolutions’ page 73

(2) http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-16968689

(3) Paul Mason, Ibid, page 63