Histomat: Adventures in Historical Materialism

'Historical materialism is the theory of the proletarian revolution.' Georg Lukács

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Is Black and Red Dead?

This is a call for papers for an upcoming academic conference at the University of Nottingham from 7-8 September 2009, organized and supported by the PSA Anarchist Studies Network, the PSA Marxism Specialist Group,/Anarchist Studies/, /Capital & Class/, /Critique-Journal of Socialist Theory/, /Historical Materialism/ and /Studies in Marxism/:

Is Black and Red Dead?

"Crowned heads, wealth and privilege may well tremble should ever again the Black and Red unite!"
Otto Von Bismarck, upon hearing of the split in the First International

What is the political relevance of the ideological labels "anarchist" and "Marxist" in the contemporary geo-political climate? Despite recurrent crisis, the costs typically borne by the people, neoliberal capitalism continues to colonize the globe in a never ending quest for profit and new enclosures. Meanwhile, an effective political response from the left to the wars, ecological destruction, financial collapse and social problems created by capital and state has so far failed to garner the widespread support and influence it needs. Indeed, the sectarianism of the left may well have contributed to this failure. Still, despite fracture, there have always been borrowings across the left. Most recently, post-'68 radicalisms have contributed to a blurring of the divisions between the anarchist and Marxist traditions. Traditionally regarded as hostile and irreconcilable, many of these ideas find expression in the "newest social movements", taking inspiration from the Situationists, left communists, and social anarchist traditions. The anti-statist, libertarian currents within the socialist movement have repeatedly emerged during periods of acute political and economic crisis, from the council communists to revolutionary anarchism. Is this one such historical juncture in which dynamic reconciliation is not only welcomed but vital? To rephrase the question, what can we learn from 150 years of anti-statist, anti-capitalist social movements, and how might this history inform the formulation of a new social and political current, consciously combining the insights of plural currents of anarchism and Marxism in novel historical junctures? Indeed, to what extent have these traditional fault lines been constitutive of the political imagination? The modern feminist, queer, ecological, anti-racist and postcolonial struggles have all been inspired by and developed out of critiques of the traditional parameters of the old debates, and many preceded them. So, to what extent do capital and the state remain the key sites of struggle? We welcome papers that engage critically with both the anarchist and the Marxist traditions in a spirit of reconciliation. We welcome historical papers that deal with themes and concepts, movements or individuals. We also welcome theoretical papers with demonstrable historical or political importance. Our criteria for the acceptance of papers will be mutual respect, the usual critical scholarly standards and demonstrable engagement with both traditions of thought. Please send 350 word abstracts (as word documents), including full contact details, to: Dr Alex Prichard (ESML, University of Bath): a.prichard@bath.ac.uk

Monday, February 23, 2009

John Berger on mass demonstrations

[As the head of the London Met Police's public branch predicts a 'summer of rage' beginning with the looming 'Put People First' protests on March 28 and continuing on with anti-war protests on the 2 April during the meeting of the G20 summit, what better time to republish extracts from John Berger's classic 1968 article on 'The Nature of Mass Demonstrations']

Mass demonstrations should be distinguished from riots or revolutionary uprisings although, under certain (now rare) circumstances, they may develop into either of the latter. The aims of a riot are usually immediate (the immediacy matching the desperation they express): the seizing of food, the release of prisoners, the destruction of property. The aims of a revolutionary uprising are long-term and comprehensive: they culminate in the taking over of State power. The aims of a demonstration, however, are symbolic: it demonstrates a force that is scarcely used.

A large number of people assemble together in an obvious and already announced public place. They are more or less unarmed. They present themselves as a target to the forces of repression serving the State authority against whose policies they are protesting.

Theoretically demonstrations are meant to reveal the strength of popular opinion or feeling: theoretically they are an appeal to the democratic conscience of the State. But this presupposes a conscience which is very unlikely to exist.

If the State authority is open to democratic influence, the demonstration will hardly be necessary; if it is not, it is unlikely to be influenced by an empty show of force containing no real threat. (A demonstration in support of an already established alternative State authority – as when Garibaldi entered Naples in 1860 – is a special case and may be immediately effective.)

Demonstrations took place before the principle of democracy was even nominally admitted. The massive early Chartist demonstrations were part of the struggle to obtain such an admission. The crowds who gathered to present their petition to the Tsar in St Petersburg in 1905 were appealing – and presenting themselves as a target – to the ruthless power of an absolute monarchy. In the event – as on so many hundreds of other occasions all over Europe – they were shot down.

It would seem that the true function of demonstrations is not to convince the existing State authority to any significant degree. Such an aim is only a convenient rationalisation.

The truth is that mass demonstrations are rehearsals for revolution: not strategic or even tactical ones, but rehearsals of revolutionary awareness. The delay between the rehearsals and the real performance may be very long: their quality – the intensity of rehearsed awareness – may, on different occasions, vary considerably: but any demonstration which lacks this element of rehearsal is better described as an officially encouraged public spectacle.

A demonstration, however much spontaneity it may contain, is a created event which arbitrarily separates itself from ordinary life. Its value is the result of its artificiality, for therein lies its prophetic, rehearsing possibilities.

A mass demonstration distinguishes itself from other mass crowds because it congregates in public to create its function, instead of forming in response to one: in this, it differs from any assembly of workers within their place of work – even when strike action is involved – or from any crowd of spectators. It is an assembly which challenges what is given by the mere fact of its coming together.

State authorities usually lie about the number of demonstrators involved. The lie, however, makes little difference. (It would only make a significant difference if demonstrations really were an appeal to the democratic conscience of the State.) The importance of the numbers involved is to be found in the direct experience of those taking part in or sympathetically witnessing the demonstration. For them the numbers cease to be numbers and become the evidence of their senses, the conclusions of their imagination. The larger the demonstration, the more powerful and immediate (visible, audible, tangible) a metaphor it becomes for their total collective strength.

I say metaphor because the strength thus grasped transcends the potential strength of those present, and certainly their actual strength as deployed in a demonstration. The more people there are there, the more forcibly they represent to each other and to themselves those who are absent. In this way a mass demonstration simultaneously extends and gives body to an abstraction. Those who take part become more positively aware of how they belong to a class. Belonging to that class ceases to imply a common fate, and implies a common opportunity. They begin to recognise that the function of their class need no longer be limited: that it, too, like the demonstrations itself, can create its own function.

Revolutionary awareness is rehearsed in another way by the choice and effect of location. Demonstrations are essentially urban in character, and they are usually planned to take place as near as possible to some symbolic centre, either civic or national. Their ‘targets’ are seldom the strategic ones – railway stations, barracks, radio stations, airports. A mass demonstration can be interpreted as the symbolic capturing of a city or capital. Again, the symbolism or metaphor is for the benefit of the participants.

The demonstration, an irregular event created by the demonstrators, nevertheless takes place near the city centre, intended for very different uses. The demonstrators interrupt the regular life of the streets they march through or of the open spaces they fill. They cut off these areas, and, not yet having the power to occupy them permanently, they transform them into a temporary stage on which they dramatise the power they still lack.

The demonstrators’ view of the city surrounding their stage also changes. By demonstrating, they manifest a greater freedom and independence – a greater creativity, even although the product is only symbolic – than they can ever achieve individually or collectively when pursuing their regular lives. In their regular pursuits they only modify circumstances; by demonstrating they symbolically oppose their very existence to circumstances.

This creativity may be desperate in origin, and the price to be paid for it high, but it temporarily changes their outlook. They become corporately aware that it is they or those whom they represent who have built the city and who maintain it. They see it through different eyes. They see it as their product, confirming their potential instead of reducing it.

Finally, there is another way in which revolutionary awareness is rehearsed. The demonstrators present themselves as a target to the so-called forces of law and order. Yet the larger the target they present, the stronger they feel. This cannot be explained by the banal principle of ‘strength in numbers,’ any more than by vulgar theories of crowd psychology. The contradiction between their actual vulnerability and their sense of invincibility corresponds to the dilemma which they force upon the State authority.

Either authority must abdicate and allow the crowd to do as it wishes: in which case the symbolic suddenly becomes real, and, even if the crowd’s lack of organisation and preparedness prevents it from consolidating its victory, the event demonstrates the weakness of authority. Or else authority must constrain and disperse the crowd with violence: in which case the undemocratic character of such authority is publicly displayed. The imposed dilemma is between displayed weakness and displayed authoritarianism. (The officially approved and controlled demonstration does not impose the same dilemma: its symbolism is censored: which is why I term it a mere public spectacle.) Almost invariably, authority chooses to use force. The extent of its violence depends upon many factors, but scarcely ever upon the scale of the physical threat offered by the demonstrators. This threat is essentially symbolic. But by attacking the demonstration authority ensures that the symbolic event becomes an historical one: an event to be remembered, to be learnt from, to be avenged.

It is in the nature of a demonstration to provoke violence upon itself. Its provocation may also be violent. But in the end it is bound to suffer more than it inflicts. This is a tactical truth and an historical one. The historical role of demonstrations is to show the injustice, cruelty, irrationality of the existing State authority. Demonstrations are protests of innocence.

But the innocence is of two kinds, which can only be treated as though they were one at a symbolic level. For the purposes of political analysis and the planning of revolutionary action, they must be separated. There is an innocence to be defended and an innocence which must finally be lost: an innocence which derives from justice, and an innocence which is the consequence of a lack of experience.

Demonstrations express political ambitions before the political means necessary to realise them have been created. Demonstrations predict the realisation of their own ambitions and thus may contribute to that realisation, but they cannot themselves achieve them.

The question which revolutionaries must decide in any given historical situation is whether or not further symbolic rehearsals are necessary. The next stage is training in tactics and strategy for the performance itself.

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Sunday, February 22, 2009

Peak oil: Are we all doomed?

Well, yes and no, but mostly no:

Doomsters are animated by this ahistoric sense that the world has gone wrong and, unlike the previous 400 years of slavery, imperialism and colonialism, this time it will affect us. But if you want to see barbarism, go to Gaza, where there’s precious little water or food, and Israeli jets murder with impunity from the skies. Go to the Democratic Republic of Congo, where factions linked to resource capitalists have battled each other for years, killing millions. Try Iraq, Afghanistan or any of the other places ‘our’ troops have been slaughtering civilians and resistance movements. Yet faced with real, existing barbarism, the most the Doomsters can find to worry about is the eventual slackening off of oil supply. I’d argue this is myopic at best, and racist at worst.

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Eric Hobsbawm remembers Victor Kiernan

The recent death of Victor Kiernan (1913-2009), one of the twentieth century's outstanding Marxist historians in general, and of imperialism in particular, is very sad and a great loss to the left. I was fortunate enough to have some correspondence with him in his last years, and I will always remember his generous help and kindness - and I regret never meeting him in person to thank him personally for it. I have decided to reprint Eric Hobsbawm's tribute, HISTORIAN WITH A GLOBAL VISION OF EMPIRE, MARXISM, POLITICS AND POETRY on Histomat by way of a small tribute to a great intellectual.

Victor Kiernan, who has died aged 95, was a man of unselfconscious charm and staggeringly wide range of learning. He was also one of the last survivors of the generation of British Marxist historians of the 1930s and 1940s. If this generation has been seen by the leading German scholar HU Wehler as the main factor behind "the global impact of English historiography since the 1960s", it was largely due to Victor's influence. He brought to the debates of the Communist party historians' group between 1946 and 1956 a persistent, if always courteous, determination to think out problems of class culture and tradition for himself, whatever the orthodox position. He continued to remain loyal to the flexible, open-minded Marxism of the group to which he had contributed so much.

Most influential through his works on the imperialist era, he was also, almost certainly, the only historian who also translated 20th-century Urdu poets and wrote a book on the Latin poet Horace. The latter's works he, like the distinguished Polish Marxist historian Witold Kula, carried with him on his travels.

Like several of his contemporaries among the Marxist historians, including Christopher Hill, Rodney Hilton and Edward Thompson, he came from a nonconformist background. In his case it was a lower-middle-class, actively congregationalist family in Ashton-on-Mersey, though in his time as a fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge, he used his Irish name as an excuse to justify a lack of zeal for the British monarchy.

He came to Trinity College from Manchester grammar school in 1931 and remained there for the next seven years as an exceptionally brilliant undergraduate, research scholar and, from 1937, fellow. In 1934, the year of his graduation (double starred first in history), he joined the Communist party, in which he remained for the next 25 years. His first book, British Diplomacy in China 1880-1885 (1939) announced his consistent interest in the world outside Europe.

Unlike his Trinity comrade John Cornford, about whom he wrote with remarkable perception, his public profile among Cambridge Communist party members of the 1930s was low. Only those with special interests were likely to meet him, a boyish face emerging in a dressing-gown from among mountain ranges of books on the attic floor of Trinity Great Court. This was because he soon took over the officially non-existent "colonial group" from the Canadian EH Norman, later a distinguished historian of Japan, diplomat and eventual victim of the McCarthyite witch-hunt in the US, and first of a succession of communist (and later ex-communist) historians who looked after the "colonials" - overwhelmingly from south Asia - until 1939.

Marxism and the irresistible friendship of Indians moved Victor, in 1938, to use one year of his four-year Trinity fellowship to visit the subcontinent. This was nominally "to see the political scene at closer hand and with some schemes for historical study" and he also had a Comintern document for the Indian CP.

He was to stay there until 1946, mainly as a teacher at a Sikh college and, somewhat unexpectedly, at that stronghold of the raj and its rajahs, Aitchison college, both in Lahore. He returned, "reading Thucydides on the Peloponnesian war" in his cabin, with a cargo of friendships, a permanent passion for the great (and progressive) Urdu poets Iqbal and Faiz whom he translated, but with no apparent trace in his subsequent life of a short-lived marriage to Shanta Gandhi, whom he had got to know in London in 1938. Few of his British friends were even aware of it, or expected to see this quintessential bachelor don with a wife, before his fortunate second marriage in 1984 to Heather Massey.

He returned to Trinity, an unreconstructed, but always critical, communist with vast plans for a Marxist work on Shakespeare. His referee denounced his politics when he applied for posts at Oxford and Cambridge universities, but - such was Britain in 1948 - did not mind the charming subversive contaminating the history department at Edinburgh University. There he remained until retirement from a chair in 1977, to all appearances at ease with himself, though not, except for some science fiction, with the post-1945 cultural world. He returned from long bicycle rides across the Pentlands to a flat at the top of an austere staircase in the New Town, to write - not least the diary which he had kept since 1935 - and amaze students and admiring friends by his surprise that they did not know as much as he.

He settled down in the 1950s to publish on everything: from Wordsworth to Faiz, evangelicalism to mercenaries and absolute monarchy, Indo-Central Asian problems, Paraguay and the "war of the Pacific" of Chile, Peru and Bolivia, not forgetting a full-scale study of the Spanish revolution of 1854. In the 1960s he discovered his unique gift of asking historical questions, and suggesting answers, by bringing and fitting together an unparalleled range of erudition, constantly extended by one of the great readers of our time. He became the master of the perfectly chosen quotation inserted into a demure but uncompromising survey of a global scene. Nobody else could have produced the remarkable works on the era of western empires he wrote after the middle 1960s, and by which he will be chiefly remembered, notably The Lords of Human Kind: Black Man, Yellow Man and White Man in an Age of Empire (1969).

Age increased his output and the range of his writings. Co-editing A Dictionary of Marxist Thought (1984), he wrote entries on agnosticism, Christianity, empires in Marx's day, Hinduism, historiography, intellectuals, Paul Lafargue, nationalism, MN Roy, religion, revolution and war. Before the end of the 20th century he published books on State and Society in Europe 1550-1650 (1980), The Duel in European History (1989), Tobacco: A History (1991), Shakespeare Poet and Citizen (1992), Eight Tragedies of Shakespeare (1996) and Horace Poetics & Politics (1999) on his admired poet.

To mark his 90th birthday, the future general secretary of the Communist party (Marxist) of India edited Across Time and Continents, a selection of Victor's writings and reminiscences of the subcontinent which had been closer to his heart than any other part of the 20th-century world. His wife Heather survives him.

• Victor Gordon Kiernan, historian, born 4 September 1913; died 17 February 2009

Edited to add: Obituary by Tariq Ali

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Telling it like it is

'The importance that the city attaches to integrity and the highest standards in the provision of financial services is the enduring means by which London's reputation as one of the world's leading financial centres is secured, and indeed enhanced...What you, as the City of London, have achieved for financial services we, as a government, now aspire to achieve for the whole economy.'
Gordon Brown, Mansion House speech to City bankers, 2002.

'I understand and share people's anger towards the behaviour of some banks...Banks must act in the long-term interests of their shareholders and therefore of the economy as a whole, not in the short-term interests of bankers...We want to ensure that the new banking system...becomes the servant of our economy and society, never its master...We will put people first, not bankers'
Gordon Brown, 2009.

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Saturday, February 21, 2009

Interview with Giles Ji Ungpakorn

The first part of a recent interview with Prof Giles Ji Ungpakorn, the Thai socialist who was forced to flee to the UK from Thailand recently after 'insulting' their King is now online at New Mandala. See also his Red Siam Manifesto.

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Lenin on the Case for Nationalising Banks

From 'The Impending Catastrophe and How to Combat It', 1917.

The banks, as we know, are centres of modern economic life, the principal nerve centres of the whole capitalist economic system. To talk about "regulating economic life" and yet evade the question of the nationalisation of the banks means either betraying the most profound ignorance or deceiving the "common people" by florid words and grandiloquent promises with the deliberate intention of not fulfilling these promises.

It is absurd to control and regulate deliveries of grain, or the production and distribution of goods generally, without controlling and regulating bank operations. It is like trying to snatch at odd kopeks and closing one’s eyes to millions of rubles. Banks nowadays are so closely and intimately bound up with trade (in grain and everything else) and with industry that without "laying hands" on the banks nothing of any value, nothing “revolutionary-democratic”, can be accomplished.

But perhaps for the state to "lay hands" on the banks is a very difficult and complicated operation? They usually try to scare philistines with this very idea—that is, the capitalists and their defenders try it, because it is to their advantage to do so.

In reality, however, nationalisation of the banks, which would not deprive any “owner” of a single kopek, presents absolutely no technical or cultural difficulties, and is being delayed exclusively because of the vile greed of an insignificant handful of rich people. If nationalisation of the banks is so often confused with the confiscation of private property, it is the bourgeois press, which has an interest in deceiving the public, that is to blame for this widespread confusion.

The ownership of the capital wielded by and concentrated in the banks is certified by printed and written certificates called shares, bonds, bills, receipts, etc. Not a single one of these certificates would be invalidated or altered if the banks were nationalised, i.e., if all the banks were amalgamated into a single state bank. Whoever owned fifteen rubles on a savings account would continue to be the owner of fifteen rubles after the nationalisation of the banks; and whoever had fifteen million rubles would continue after the nationalisation of the banks to have fifteen million rubles in the form of shares, bonds, bills, commercial certificates and so on.

What, then, is the significance of nationalisation of the banks?

It is that no effective control of any kind over the individual banks and their operations is possible (even if commercial secrecy, etc., were abolished) because it is impossible to keep track of the extremely complex, involved and wily tricks that are used in drawing up balance sheets, founding fictitious enterprises and subsidiaries, enlisting the services of figureheads, and so on, and so forth. Only the amalgamation of all banks into one, which in itself would imply no change whatever in respect of ownership, and which, we repeat, would not deprive any owner of a single kopek, would make it possible to exercise real control—provided, of course, all the other measures indicated above were carried out. Only by nationalising the banks can the state put itself in a position to know where and how, whence and when, millions and billions of rubles flow. And only control over the banks, over the centre, over the pivot and chief mechanism of capitalist circulation, would make it possible to organise real and not fictitious control over all economic life, over the production and distribution of staple goods, and organise that "regulation of economic life" which otherwise is inevitably doomed to remain a ministerial phrase designed to fool the common people. Only control over banking operations, provided they were concentrated in a single state bank, would make it possible, if certain other easily-practicable measures were adopted, to organise the effective collection of income tax in such a way as to prevent the concealment of property and incomes; for at present the income tax is very largely a fiction.

Nationalisation of the banks has only to be decreed and it would be carried out by the directors and employees themselves. No special machinery, no special preparatory steps on the part of the state would be required, for this is a measure that can be effected by a single decree, "at a single stroke". It was made economically feasible by capitalism itself once it had developed to the stage of bills, shares, bonds and so on. All that is required is to unify accountancy. And if the revolutionary-democratic government were to decide that immediately, by telegraph, meetings of managers and employees should be called in every city, and conferences in every region and in the country as a whole, for the immediate amalgamation of all banks into a single state bank, this reform would be carried out in a few weeks. Of course, it would be the managers and the higher bank officials who would offer resistance, who would try to deceive the state, delay matters, and so on, for these gentlemen would lose their highly remunerative posts and the opportunity of performing highly profitable fraudulent operations. That is the heart of the matter. But there is not the slightest technical difficulty in the way of the amalgamation of the banks; and if the state power were revolutionary not only in word (i.e., if it did not fear to do away with inertia and routine), if it were democratic not only in word (i.e., if it acted in the interests of the majority of the people and not of a handful of rich men), it would be enough to decree confiscation of property and imprisonment as the penalty for managers, board members and big shareholders for the slightest delay or for attempting to conceal documents and accounts. It would be enough, for example, to organise the poorer employees separately and to reward them for detecting fraud and delay on the part of the rich for nationalisation of the banks to be effected as smoothly and rapidly as can be.

The advantages accruing to the whole people from nationalisation of the banks — not to the workers especially (for the workers have little to do with banks) but to the mass of peasants and small industrialists — would be enormous. The saving in labour would be gigantic, and, assuming that the state would retain the former number of bank employees, nationalisation would be a highly important step towards making the use of the banks universal, towards increasing the number of their branches, putting their operations within easier reach, etc., etc. The availability of credit on easy terms for the small owners, for the peasants, would increase immensely. As to the state, it would for the first time be in a position first to review all the chief monetary operations, which would be unconcealed, then to control them, then to regulate economic life, and finally to obtain millions and billions for major state transactions, without paying the capitalist gentlemen sky-high “commissions” for their “services”. That is the reason—and the only reason — why all the capitalists, all the bourgeois professors, all the bourgeoisie, and all the Plekhanovs, Potresovs and Co., who serve them, are prepared to fight tooth and nail against nationalisation of the banks and invent thousands of excuses to prevent the adoption of this very easy and very pressing measure...

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London seminar on Marxist economics

As The Economist noted recently of the British economy, 'jobs are evaporating, the pound is falling, banks may soon proceed from partial to full nationalisation. The politicians who boasted of their light-touch regulation denounce the “casino capitalism” they encouraged. And as the New York Times has noted, some economists and traders have begun to refer to London by an ominous moniker: Reykjavik-on-Thames. Like the Icelandic capital, London is home to a stricken financial industry that once underpinned the economy, and to banks whose liabilities dwarf national output. As in Iceland the banks’ collapse has catalysed a new recession and rising unemployment, and may well contribute to the fall of a prime minister—even if Gordon Brown’s defenestration is likely to be more decorous than that of his ousted Icelandic counterpart...'

It is therefore appropriate that in the heart of 'Reykjavik-on-Thames', at the London School of Economics no less, there is a seminar coming up on Marxist responses to the current crisis:

The current economic crisis has provoked a growing interest in Marxist political economy. But different Marxists have responded in different ways, with some, for instance, stressing the financial aspects and others rooting the financial crisis in deeper problems in the real economy. At this International Socialism journal seminar Joseph Choonara will survey a range of accounts of the crisis and consider their strengths and weaknesses.

⦁ 6.30pm, Friday 27 February. Room H102, Connaught Building, London School of Economics, Aldwych, central London.
Maps available here.
For more information phone 020 7819 1177 or email isj@swp.org.uk

A recording of last month's seminar, Alex Callinicos on the IS tradition in political economy, is available here

Some future dates for your diary:
⦁27 March 2009, ISJ seminar: Charlie Kimber on the balance of class forces in Britain
⦁24 April 2009, ISJ seminar: Gavin Capps on The Development of Capitalism in the Global South
Bookmarks are hosting a talk by István Mészáros, author of a classic text on the Marxist theory of alienation, Wednesday 25 February, 6:30pm, Bookmarks, 1 Bloomsbury St, WC1B 3QE. Phone 020 7637 1848 to reserve a place at this talk.

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Tuesday, February 17, 2009

State Capitalism in Brownite Britain

Owen Hatherley, fresh from writing an book review for the New Statesman on Stalinist culture, has just penned a timely article about culture under New Labour, epitomised by its draconian new Community Payback scheme. While Stalinist Russia exploited prisoners via mass forced labour in GULAGS, New Labour try to equally enforce obedience and citizenship of the poor through building new prisons and publicly shaming those sentenced to community work. To try and placate the rising anger of 'Hard Working British Families' in the midst of the crisis, the Brownite bureaucrats have begun 'Show Trials' too, of a 'gang of four' criminal bankers, but these have been tokenistic pathetic affairs up to now... Yet Brown still resists the full shift to taking over the banks and building up state capitalism in Britain on a major scale, despite the scale of the crisis of neoliberal models of capitalism. We are still waiting, also, and for some inexplicable reason, for a 'cult of the personality' to really get going around Gordon Brown...and it looks like we may be in for a bit of a further wait as all his apparent brilliance and genius for economic macro-management is currently going down the pan. In the apt words of one of Brown's cabinet ministers last month, 'The banks are fucked, we're fucked, the country's fucked.' Quite. Welcome to Brown's Britain.

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Anne Alexander on Palestinian liberation

Major article from the new Socialist Review online - which stresses the crucial role the wider Arab working class, particularly in Egypt, can (and indeed must) play in the cause of liberating Palestine from Zionist and imperialist oppression:

'[Egyptian] Workers can see the connection between the regime which starves their children and sends riot police to beat them off the streets, and the oppression of the Palestinians. Thus it has been in those sections of the workers' movement which have gone furthest in the economic struggle, such as the Mahalla textile workers and the tax collectors, where the call for solidarity with the Palestinians has found the strongest echo. One of the striking tax collectors interviewed by filmmaker Nora Younis in December 2007 put it like this: "We are going to hell, but our country is backing Israel and the US." Egyptian workers have long whispered such things in private, looking over their shoulders in fear of Mubarak's secret police. Spoken in public, in the midst of a strike by 55,000 tax collectors, during a ten-day occupation of a street in central Cairo round the corner from the cabinet offices, these words represent the potential for something not seen in Egypt since the 1940s: the coalescence of the anti-imperialist protest movement with the social power of the Egyptian working class.'

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Monday, February 16, 2009

Marx, Engels, Chartism and capitalist crisis

Marx is saying 'Revolutionaries should arm themselves with the ideas of Capital as well as a brick for the barricades.' Possibly.

Last September, just as Western capitalism began to go into economic crisis, the historian Tristram Hunt wrote a short piece for the Guardian about it (in part to cut the chances of himself personally suffering during the 'credit crunch' by shamelessly plugging his forthcoming biography of Engels, 'The Frock-coated Communist'):

"The American crash is superb and not yet over by a long chalk," Engels wrote in October 1857. "The repercussion in England would appear to have begun with the Liverpool Borough Bank. Tant mieux. That means that for the next three or four years, commerce will again be in a bad way. Nous avons maintenant de la chance." The conditions for revolution were ripe. With the capitalist mode of production in collapse, the working class would surely rise to the occasion. But two months into the crash the proletariat had still failed to realise its historic calling. "There are as yet few signs of revolution, for the long period of prosperity has been fearfully demoralising," Engels noted gloomily. And by the following spring, business had picked itself up again on the back of new markets in India and China.

Hunt's piece essentially seems written not only to give the impression Marx and Engels were given to expecting the final crisis of capitalism to hit every decade or so but also to reinforce the prevailing 'common sense' of our time - that the English working class will not fight during any economic downturn. Governments may fall in Iceland, general strikes may break out across France and Greece, and even factories may be occupied in Ireland but in England the proletariat simply will always somehow 'fail to realise its historic calling'. It is therefore timely by way of an antidote that the socialist historian Keith Flett, author of Chartism after 1848 is speaking in London on 16 March on 'Marx, Engels, Chartism and the capitalist crises of 1844 and 1858' at the Institute of Historical Research. For not only did both Marx and Engels feel vindicated by the way in which boom to slump seemed to be inherently built into the capitalist system as it developed, but, incidently, by the 1870s, Marx had already worked out that it was all but impossible to predict how deep and damaging any particular crisis of capitalism might be. Though the history of 'capitalist crisis' can be dated back to the 'tulip mania' of 1637, systemic crises were still a historically relatively novel phenomenon of capitalism in Marx's day, yet Marx could write to
to say he had 'resolved to give up for the time being' trying to 'determine mathematically the principal laws governing crises'.

As for an antidote to the 'common sense' ideas of the ingrained passivity of the English working class one does not have to look far to see the growing signs of a mood for a fightback in workplaces and offices. Socialist Worker has a video of the moment car workers at BMW's Mini plant heard earlier today they would lose 850 jobs (with next to no notice of these redundancies for agency staff). According to Union sources, 'workers booed and threw apples and oranges at managers after being told they were losing their jobs. Agency workers leaving Cowley this morning expressed their fury at being given just one hour's notice of the redundancies. 'Class Struggle - It's a mini adventure' might be one possible slogan if trade unionists do decide to organise action in the face of this latest jobs massacre...

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Friday, February 13, 2009

Robert Mugabe on love

With Valentine's Day just around the corner, where better to turn for thoughts on affairs of the heart than an early collection of the writing and speeches of the ever topical Zimbabwean tyrant Robert Mugabe, entitled 'Our War of Liberation: Speeches, Articles, Interviews 1976-79'? Asked to comment on the fact that Ian Smith's brutal racist regime (then in power) claimed it was 'fighting to defend Christianity against Communism' and asked what is ZANU's policy toward religion, Mugabe gave the following answer:

'I don't understand how the Christian Churches can be repelled by Marxism and Leninism. To tell you the truth I don't understand it. They may not accept perhaps what they call the godlessness of materialism, but the basis of organising society which brings people to work together to avoid rampant individualism seems to be in harmony at least with the Catholic Church...And then there is the aspect of love which comes into it. When they preach of love what do they mean? Is there love when Rockefeller exploits the whole society and purely by virtue of inheritance or his having speculated and built up capital he acquires property at the expense of society and exploits his labour. I don't think that's Christian love.'

It's beautifully evocative and poetic stuff, obviously, and I think it's a sentiment that has even more resonance today, over thirty years later. No one could ever surely today ask such as question as 'where is the love' in modern Zimbabwe - thank goodness they are now rid of any Rockefeller type robber barons who could ever be accused of exploiting labour to build up capital to acquire property at the expense of the whole society...

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Why is the Australian bush fire disaster so bad?

Good article from a member of Socialist Alternative (Australia):

At least 173 people lie dead (and it's feared there could be as many as 250) and many rural towns have been totally destroyed in this week's catastrophic Victorian bushfires.

The tragedy is twofold - firstly, there's the enormous loss of life, but secondly, there's the fact that most of the lives lost could have been saved if we lived in a society that didn't prioritise profit over human lives. Just as cost-cutting on levies left New Orleans unprepared for the catastrophe of Hurricane Katrina, leading to the deaths of 1300 people in the US a few years ago, cost-cutting and under-resourcing of emergency services is to blame for the carnage in Victoria.

The main problem is that under capitalism, profit is placed ahead of everything else. In the major cities, governments are prepared to fund some modest level of firefighting service (as they don't want their precious offices and factories to burn). But in rural areas, where there are only small amounts of property to protect and it's people's lives that are at risk rather than billions of dollars of capital, the ruling class simply aren't prepared to spend the money necessary for a decent fire service. As a result, over 99 per cent of the staff of the CFA (Victoria's rural fire brigade) are volunteers who have to work other jobs to pay their bills. This seriously limits the ability of the CFA to fight fires when they first start. In cities, when a fire is first reported, the local fire brigade can dispatch a truck in minutes or even seconds - in the country, volunteers may live an hour's drive from the site at which the fire truck is located, giving time for the fire to grow and get out of control. Additionally, few if any CFA volunteers can fly waterbombing aircraft or firespotter aircraft, in the rare occasions that these are even available.

It's not just cost-cutting in firefighting that's to blame, however. Despite the long history of devastating bushfires in South Australia, Victoria and New South Wales, there is no warning system in at-risk areas other than the privatised telephone system - and as someone that has worked for Telstra and heard complaints about long service downtimes from many a rural customer, I've got no faith whatsoever in the reliability of that service even when there isn't an emergency.

There's plenty of money available to governments, however, that waste it on other things. What Australia spends on the military in just one week (around $400 million) could easily fund one thousand full time firefighters for a year, plus many new fire brigades and fire trucks. What was spent on welcoming war criminal George Bush to Australia at APEC in 2007 (around $350 million) could have funded the purchase of a dozen high-tech waterbombing aircraft and the training of dozens of people in their use. And a mere 2 per cent of the $6.2 billion granted in handouts to the car industry could fund a national early warning system that would see aerial monitoring of fire danger areas during medium and high fire risk periods, and infrastructure built to set off alarms in rural towns when evacuations are recommended. But to the Australian government, profit and military competition are seen as more important than doing these things that would save lives.

Full article continues here


Monday, February 09, 2009

Unite to fight for jobs

The following petition to the Trades Union Congress has been launched - please sign here

To: Trades Union Congress

An injury to one is an injury to all - unite to save jobs.

Thousands of construction workers have been out on unofficial strike at major sites across Britain. As the jobs slaughter continues many working people are rightly worried for the future. The behaviour of the sub-contracting bosses, in housing Italian workers separately, adds to this fear and division.

Across the whole of Europe, including Britain, thousands of jobs are being lost every day with no end in sight. Governments have handed hundreds of billions of pounds to the bankers but have told working people that they must pay the price for the crisis. But there is resistance. Last week a million French workers were out on strike against Nicolas Sarkozy's "reforms", Greek workers and farmers have been fighting to defend their livelihoods, in Ireland 400 workers are occupying Waterford Glass. In all of these examples of a fightback, the anger needs to be focused on those responsible - the employers and bankers out to protect their profits, and their allies in government.

We oppose the spread of neoliberalism across Europe, and support the unity of all workers to defend jobs and living standards, equal pay, binding national agreements negotiated by trade unions, and equal legal status for all, regardless of nationality. We oppose the "contracting out" and privatisation system that uses competition to drive down wages and conditions.

We can sense the mood for a fightback in Britain. However, the slogan "British jobs for British workers" that has come to prominence around the dispute can only lead to deep divisions inside working class communities. The slogan, coined by Gordon Brown in his 2007 speech to Labour's conference, is being taking up by the right wing press and the Nazi BNP. These are forces that have always been bitterly hostile to the trade union movement.

That is why, while supporting action to defend jobs, we believe that the action has to be directed against the employers and the contracting firms, not against migrant workers. We congratulate those strikers who ejected the BNP from the picket line at Immingham, and we urge other strikers to do the same. We support the demands of the Lindsey Oil Refinery strike committee.

We need a massive drive to unionise all workers, and a campaign to defend all jobs and create new ones. Every worker will benefit from a campaign to unionise overseas workers in order to prevent employers from using them as a weapon against fellow workers. Most importantly, we have to have unity if we are to fight back against the effects of the most severe economic crisis since the 1930s. "British jobs for British workers" is a slogan that focuses on what divides working people not what can unite them.

Every worker is facing the same horrors in the face of recession. We can't let ourselves be divided. We should fight for well-paid jobs with decent conditions for all.

We support:

• The march for workers’ rights, and for global and environmental justice on 28 March in London on the eve of the G20 summit. This protest is supported by some 40 organisations including trade unions, the TUC, and campaigning groups. It is a protest against the neo-liberal policies that have encouraged "contracting out" and competitive wage cutting.
• The protest called by Stop the War, CND and others on 2 April at the G20 summit itself.

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Sunday, February 08, 2009

John Molyneux on Socialists and the Charity Question

From here:

About nine months ago it was suggested to me that I should write on where socialists stand on the question of giving to charity. I never got round to it because there always seemed something more important or more pressing to write about. Right now in Britain, however, the question of one particular charity has suddenly become the hottest political topic of the day, and every socialist, every revolutionary – indeed more or less everyone engaged in politics – has had to take a position on it.

How this came about I shall deal with in a while, but the episode has convinced me that the issue of charity is worth visiting after all. Posed in general terms the first point socialists have to make about charity is that, in most cases, it is manifestly unable to solve the very issues it is addressing. Take, for example, Oxfam, which aims to respond to world hunger and poverty. Oxfam is one the biggest, most successful and well known charities in Britain , if not the world. In the year 2007-8 it raised £299.7 million and spent £214.2 million. In itself this is quite a large sum but when it comes to solving world poverty it is no more than a drop in the ocean.

It is not that the problem of hunger is insoluble, or even very difficult to solve. It is well known that there is more than enough food in the world to provide a decent diet for everyone. It is just that when it is a matter of dealing with ANY major WORLD problem nothing is serious till we are talking about hundreds of billions not millions.

Children in Need, one of Britain’s best known charity events which receives a whole evening of BBC television coverage, raises about £20 million. The government bail-out for ONE bank, the Royal Bank of Scotland, was £20 billion (1000 times as much as Children in Need). According to Barack Obama the bonuses paid to Wall St bankers at the end of 2008 came to $20 billion. World arms spending in 2008 was $1.47 trillion with $711 billion contributed by the US, and so on.

Of course the advocates of charity have an obvious answer to this. They can simply say we know we are not solving the problem but we are doing something – every little helps. Well yes...but we wouldn’t think much of a fire service that responded to blazing buildings with water pistols ( at least they’d be doing something) or tried to tackle a forest fire with watering cans and garden hoses. And the truth is that many charitable efforts, however well intentioned, are closer to the water pistol than to proper fire engine.

And this is by no means the end of the story for there is more wrong with charity than it just not being enough. We also have to consider its political and ideological role. Charity can easily be used by our rulers either to suggest they are doing something about a problem when really they are not, or even when they are actively engaged in making the problem worse. For example, the British government, which has been craven in its support for the state of Israel in general and the assault on Gaza in particular, has pledged a pathetic £20 million (20 million again) in humanitarian aid.

Charitable and ‘voluntary’ efforts can be, and often are, used by governments to excuse their failure to meet their obligations in terms of education, health and welfare services. Every time I see a hospital launching an appeal for funds for some new piece of life saving equipment I find myself asking why the military don’t need to do this. How I wonder would the ‘Trident Appeal’ fare, with only £20 or so billion (billion again) needed to renew the nuclear submarine missile system?

Another problem with many charities is that they become businesses in their own right, involving substantial administrative overheads and supporting lucrative careers for many directors, fund raisers and marketing managers. Even where there is nothing strictly illegal or underhand going on, as there sometimes is, there something obnoxious about people on $100,000 salaries appealing for the poor and needy – America’s largest charity United Way is run by Brian Gallagher, salary $973.000 p.a. This problem becomes especially acute with NGOs operating in poor countries where the NGO agents receive incomes many hundreds of times greater than those of the local people they are supposed to be helping.

Then there are the fabulously wealthy celebrity charity merchants like Paul McCartney and Bono who stage concerts and suchlike urging ordinary people to give to good causes. For example Bono’s charity RED claims on its website to have raised $100 million for Aids in Africa in two years, but the truth is he could pay that out of his own pocket and still have more money than he could spend in a lifetime.

[Then there are] still the ideological problems inherent in its nature that it focuses on symptoms not causes of social and humanitarian issues and it tends to depict its beneficiaries as helpless passive victims, not people capable of resistance or self liberation. For Marxists and revolutionary socialists the conviction that the fundamental problems of poverty and human degradation can only be and will only be solved by the collective struggle of working people themselves is fundamental.

But despite the validity of all these criticisms this is not the end of the story, especially when we approach the question of charity not just in theory but as a matter of concrete day to day politics. For all its faults there is in the motivation that leads ordinary people to donate to charity an impulse socialists need to relate to and encourage and certainly not to dismiss or disparage. For example if someone comes round my canteen at work with a collecting tin for the homeless my inclination would be to make a small donation but combine it with a question about why we have homeless people in a rich country like Britain.

Then, of course, there are many individuals or groups who are not able to help themselves or to wage a collective struggle and many situations where people need emergency help. In such circumstances there is no Chinese Wall between charity or aid and solidarity, which socialists enthusiastically support; moreover the question of aid, or lack of it from governments, can become an issue of political solidarity.

Thus when the tsunami struck South East Asia in December 2004 the generous response from ordinary people (in Britain) embarrassed the British government into increasing its original miserly aid donation. Socialists needed to be part of that. Then with the Hurricane Katrina disaster in New Orleans in 2005, the appalling lack of help for the city’s black and poor, became a key event undermining the political credibility of George Bush.

Which brings me to the circumstance I referred to at the beginning of this column. It is hard to think of anyone in the world at this moment more in need of emergency aid than the besieged people of Gaza. Yet the BBC, obviously under direct Zionist influence, has refused to broadcast the (standard) Disaster Emergency Committee appeal for Gaza. This blatant partiality, coming on the back of sustained pro- Israel, pro-Zionist reporting, has made aid to Gaza a matter of international solidarity of crucial political importance.

Two general points in conclusion: first socialists have and need general theory and principles but the application of those principles to immediate practice does not always follow in a simple straight line and for Marxists truth is ultimately concrete. Second in the course of the overall struggle revolutionaries have to relate both to working people’s anger and their humanity and provide a political focus for both.

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Saturday, February 07, 2009

When two messiahs met

I want to thank my good friend Tony Blair for coming today, somebody who did it first and perhaps did it better than I will do. He has been an example for so many people around the world of what dedicated leadership can accomplish. And we are very grateful to him.
- Obama on Blair

'As you begin your leadership of this great country, Mr President, you are fortunate, as is your nation, that you have already shown in your life, courage in abundance.'
- Blair on Obama

Even before Blair and Obama met, John Pilger in a prophetic piece, warned us that 'there is a lot of bollocks about at the moment.' But the meeting between these two has seen the 'bollocks meter' hit an entirely new (and hitherto unsuspected) level. According to Guardian columnist Martin Kettle, 'Obama grasps that Blair's experience can have lessons for other centre-left leaders like himself who are trying to sustain coalitions of support and carry out effective political leadership...Obama met Blair because these are two very serious political leaders who never stop thinking about how progressive politicians can build support and solve political problems...if Obama treats Blair seriously, then, rather than the usual sneering, maybe the rest of us could make an effort to do so too.'

Still, in glorifying Blair as a 'progressive' and 'centre-left' politician instead of sneering at this power-tripping banker on account of his past lies and war crimes, at least Martin Kettle is fittingly upholding a longstanding family tradition of fervent support for mass murderers. His father, Dr. Arnold Kettle, was a Stalinist literary critic who defended the bloody suppression of the Hungarian Revolution by Russian tanks in 1956. Just as Kettle senior thought that the mandarins of Soviet imperial power could be a force for good, so Kettle junior champions the powerful new mandarins of the American Empire.

As Pilger notes, 'it is time the Obama lovers grew up. It is time those paid to keep the record straight gave us the opportunity to debate informatively. In the 21st century, people power remains a huge and exciting and largely untapped force for change, but it is nothing without truth. "In the time of universal deceit," wrote George Orwell, "telling the truth is a revolutionary act."'

Marxists have to go one step further, and point to another important truth in our age of propaganda - that the real power to change the world still ultimately lies where Marx first noticed it lay - with the international working class. What a pity neither Kettle senior nor junior ever grasped even something of this.

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Thursday, February 05, 2009

Debates of the Communist Party Historians Group

Ideology, Absolutism and the English Revolution:
Debates of the British Communist Historians, 1940-1956

David Parker

This book offers a fascinating insight into ideas in the making - a glimpse into some of the early debates inside the History Group of the Communist Party of Great Britain, whose members included Christopher Hill, Rodney Hilton and Eric Hobsbawm. The outstanding contribution to historical studies of these and other members of the group is now almost universally recognised. The debates they initiated formed the ground for academic research that is still continuing, in particular their work on the nature of English civil war and revolution in the seventeenth century, and on the development of capitalism in Britain. This book focuses on the debates of the sixteenth- and seventeenth-century section of the group and their work on ideology and absolutism. It reproduces original documentary material - single contributions, reports and minutes - from the debates, and also includes an informative introductory essay as well as useful notes and appendices.

Table of Contents:

Introduction: Ideology, Absolutism and the English Revolution: Debates of the British Communist Historians 1940-1956

Documents 1-16: Absolutism
1. Amended Draft: The English Revolution 1640 (R. Palme Dutt)
2. Absolutism in England (Christopher Hill)
3. The Pokrovsky Controversy (Christopher Hill and Brian Pearce)
4. Discussion on the Problem of Absolutism (Academic Board of the Institute of History of the Academy of Sciences of the USSR)
5. Theses for Discussion on Absolutism No 2: The Tudor State in English History (Victor Kiernan)
6. Theses for Discussion on Absolutism, 4: A note on Feudalism (Brian Pearce)
7.Comments on V. G. Kiernan's Theses on Absolutism as far as these discuss Feudalism (Rodney Hilton)
8. Note on Merchant Capital (Victor Kiernan)
9. Note in Reply to Kiernan on Merchant Capital (Maurice Dobb)
10. Note on the Origin of the Tudor State (Victor Kiernan)
11. Brief Definition of Feudalism (Rodney Hilton)
12. The Basis and Character of Tudor Absolutism (History Group discussion)
13. Discussion on Absolutism (Group Minutes July 1947)
14. Discussion on Absolutism (continued) (Minutes January 1948)
15. Postscript (Absolutism) (Victor Kiernan)
16. State and Revolution in Tudor and Stuart England (16th-17th century section)

Documents 17-26: Ideology
17. Some Notes on the Changes in the Mode of Production in the First Half of the Seventeenth Century (Maurice Dobb)
18. The English Bourgeois Revolution and Ideology (Christopher Hill)
19. Notes on Science and the Battle of Ideas in the English Revolution (Stephen Mason)
20. Notes on Science and the Battle of Ideas in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries (2) (Stephen Mason)
21. Bourgeois Ideology after 1660 (Christopher Hill)
22. Calvinism and the Bourgeoisie (Christopher Hill & G de N. Clark)
23. Calvinism and the Transition from Medieval to Modern (Victor Kiernan)
24. The role of ideology in the 16th and 17th centuries (Minutes of the 17th Century Section)
25. The German Reformation (Roy Pascal)
26. Notes on Religion and Class Struggles in France during the Sixteenth Century (Mervyn James)

Appendix 1: Note on the Organisation of the History Group
Appendix 2: Extant Papers and Minutes Relating to the 16th & 17th century section of the History Group
Appendix 3: Discussion Meetings of the 16th & 17th Centuries Section and Aggregate Meetings of all Sections 1947-1958
Appendix 4: Biographical Appendix of Contributors to the Discussions of the 16th & 17th Century Section

David Parker is Emeritus Professor of Early Modern History at the University of Leeds. His books include The Making of French Absolutism (1983); State and Class in Ancien Regime France. The Road to Modernity? (1996); and (as editor) Revolutions and the Revolutionary Tradition in the West, 1560-1991, Routledge, 2000.

Paperback, All Rights L&W
ISBN: 9781905007868

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Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Right kind of snow, wrong kind of strikes

I am sure there is a point that socialists in Britain could make regarding the way in which when we are hit by a sudden fall of snow as we have been that the whole transport network should not come to an almost total halt. And I am sure a critique of privatisation would be part of this, as would the point that under socialism, I am sure that we would have plenty of snowploughs etc lying around. But as someone called Snowball, it is worth noting that if it is going to snow, this definitely is the kind of snow you want - it is solid and heavy enough for kids to make snowmen, snowwomen and yes, snowballs. We haven't had 'the right kind of snow' in Britain for ages, and I thought global warming might mean we would never again have this kind of snow again - which shows how little I know about global warming and its consequences.

Unfortunately, Britain has also been hit over the last week by 'the wrong kind of strikes' - ie. not strikes against the power of capital or even against a particular multinational or national capitalist enterprise - but a strike against er, other workers. Genius. In other European countries the economic crisis is seeing general strikes and very high levels of class struggle break out (for example in Greece and France), while in Iceland workers have helped to bring down a government.

Yet in Britain, a section of the organised working class movement has decided that they are not going to take direct action in the face of the jobs massacre targetted at those responsible for the jobs massacre - ie those bosses wielding the knife - but against er, other European workers simply on the basis of their foreign nationality. You get a sense they are the 'wrong kind of strikes' because a) they have got massive media coverage and b) the media coverage is on the whole fair to the strikers.

It is important for socialists to understand why this has happened - and what we can try to do about it. The reasons why it has happened it seems to me are, firstly - the fact that New Labour has played the 'race and nation' card consistently since being in power and even more since the economic crisis began. I commented on Brown's 2007 speech where he called for 'British jobs for British workers' at the time, and also his 2008 speech where he called for 'A New British Century'. It is also worth recalling in this instance Brown's Immigration Minister Phil Woolas's recent comments about 'It's been too easy to get into this country in the past and it's going to get harder'. When racist scapegoating of migrant and foreign workers comes from the very top of the body politic, it is only a matter of time before the poison is seen as legitimate and spreads.

The second reason why these latest strikes have happened is because of the craven and cowardly nature of the British trade union bureaucracy in the face of the jobs massacre. The top of the official trade union movement have not even so far come together to organise one national demonstration to fight for the right to work - let alone led any other form of action. In part, this is because they don't want to rock the boat for Brown. However, in part they are prepared to back the recent strikes because they accept the strategy of protectionism and think the idea of a fight for 'British' workers' jobs is a good one.

What should socialists response to these strikes be? There are obviously a lot of contradictions at work here (was it Lenin or Trotsky who said 'every strike, rebellion and protest may not destroy the state, but it bears the germ of revolution'?) - and many of those striking will not be racists but simply concerned about fighting for their jobs and showing solidarity with other workers fighting for their jobs. We should not therefore join in with the Tories and New Labour in denouncing workers taking strike action. Our role should be to try and put socialist solutions to the capitalist crisis to the workers' taking such action, and try to challenge the racism and nationalism implicit in the strike. In 1968, when Enoch Powell made his racist 'Rivers of Blood' speech, socialists in Britain were confronted with a similar (if not quite so extreme) situation. As Simon Basketter notes, 'after [Powell's] speech racists took comfort, gained in confidence and pulled the political climate to the right – opening up the door to more racism from the state and the establishment. That is a cycle which continues until it is challenged.

While some dockers did march in support of Powell, the racism that Powell fuelled in the docks did not go unconfronted. The late Terry Barrett was a London docker active in the International Socialists, the forerunner of the Socialist Workers Party.

Together with a small group of socialists and others opposed to racism, he tried to dissuade dockers from marching by distributing a leaflet that read:

'Who is Enoch Powell? He is a right wing Tory opportunist who will stop at nothing to help his party and his class. He is a director of the vast National Discount Company (assets £224 million) which pays him a salary bigger than the £3,500 a year he gets as an MP. He lives in fashionable Belgravia and writes Greek verse. What does he believe in? Higher unemployment. He has consistently advocated a national average of 3 percent unemployed. Cuts in social services. He wants higher health charges, less council houses, charges for state education and lower unemployment pay. Mass sackings in the docks. Again and again he has argued that the docks are ‘grossly overmanned’.'

The current situation is not as bad as that - but if such socialist arguments are not put forward and basic class politics are not injected urgently into the body politic by the trade union movement, then the current political vacuum in Britain will instead be filled with such racist 'solutions' to the crisis akin to Powellism - that blame the victims of the capitalist system - other workers - for the crisis rather than those - overlords of international capital like bankers and politicians like Brown (loyal servants of international capital) - who are responsible for the crisis in the first place.

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