Monthly Archives: June 2008

China – Strike Capital of the World

China’s workers seem set to get the right to strike.

For the last 30 years haven’t had this right as apparently in China they had “eradicated problems between the proletariat and enterprise owners”. The breakneck industrialization of the last twenty years has certainly changed that.

Han Dongfang

Chinese rapid industrial growth has been based on making itself the workshop of the world producing cheap goods with cheap labour. Just as 200 years ago the industrial revolution Britain made this country the first “workshop of the world” it also produced a turbulent working class and the the first trade union movement; a labour movement that also had to fight long and hard for its legal existence. First outlawed by the Combination Acts and then harassed by other forms of legal, and illegal repression.

China is no different. there are no special chinese characteristics or Confucian ethic at work which make the Chinese working class more servile than anywhere else. Despite intense repression the Chinese working class is finding its voice.

According to a report on Global Labor Strategies there were some 96,000 recorded “major public disturbances” in China last year, many connected to industrial disputes.

In a report about the proposed labour reforms Han Dongfang claims that in the Pearl River industrial region (around Canton) there are workers protests nearly every day.

Han Dongfang set up the first fee trade union in China, the Beijing Workers Autonomous Federation, during the Tiananmen protests of 1989. Though crushed in the subsequent repression it made him one of he most wanted men in China. He was imprisoned but released and eventually ended up in Hong Kong from where he now runs the China Labour Bulletin, an organization which campaigns for workers’ rights in China.

Read an interview with Han in the New Left Review.

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Howard Zinn: An illustrated people’s history of the US empire

Howard Zinn is probably best known for his book A Peoples History of the United States. Having sold more 1.7 million copies world-wide it still apparently sells 100,000 copies a year.

It is a classic of “history from below” and tells the story of the US from the point of view rarely heard from, charting as it does the struggles of people from the Native Americans resisting European invasion and conquest to the struggle against slavery and the civil war up to the sixties and seventies and Rivil Rights, women’s liberation and a lot more in between.

Howard ZinnHe is not just an academic historian (despite a prodigious output) he has been active in progressive movements in the US for more than fifty years.

He was fired from his tenured professorship at Spelman College in Georgia in 1963 for Civil Rights activities. Active in the movement he was an advisor to SNCC. The Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee was the most militant wing of the Civil rights movement and lead the famous sit-ins against segregation in public amenities. It was also to be the seedbed for much of the new left, such as the SDS, that would emerge later in the sixties.

Zinn was also to become involved at early stage in the movement against Vietnam War and visited Hanoi during the Tet Offensive of 1968.

Daniel Ellsberg entrusted Zinn with a copy of the Pentagon Papers. He annotated them long with Noam Chomsky. It was this edition of the papers that came to be known as the Mike Gavel edition.

The story of the Pentagon Papaers is bizarre even by the standards of those turbulent times.

In 1967 Robert McNamara, then Secretary of Defence, and the one of the chief architects of the continuous military escalation in Vietnam, commissioned a secret report charting the US’s involvement in Vietnam from 1945 to 1967. It was compiled by a team of 36 and comprised more than 4,000 pages of documents.

Daniel Ellsberg, a military analyst, and one of the few people to have access to the whole set of documents had a Damascene conversion in shock at the cynicism of the US Government and military. The documents revealed that they had long since known that the war was unwinable and that the casualty count was going to be huge. The papers revealed that they had lied, and lied, and lied to the American people.

Ellsberg photocopied the whole set of documents and leaked them.

To cut a long and convoluted story short the Nixon Administration tried to suppress their publication by the New York Tines, but was only partially successful. But by that point the US establishment was tearing itself apart over the war. In order to circumvent these attempts at suppressing the papers Mike Gavel, a Senator for Alaska and an opponent of the war, exercised his immunity from prosecution for things said on the Senate floor to had 4,100 pages of papers read into the Senate record. This was the Zinn version.

The papers were a bombshell on the US establishment discrediting not only the Vietnam War and the Nixon administration but also the previous Democratic Administrations of Johnson and Kennedy.

Ellsberg himself was eventually prosecuted and faced life imprisons for his “crimes” charged as he was with theft, conspiracy and espionage. The trial spectacularly collapsed when it emerged that his psychiatrist had been burgled in search of material to smear him with. The burglary had been carried out by G Gordon Liddy and E Howard Hunt, who were of course two of Nixon’s “plumbers”, employed by him to stop leaks. Thus the whole affair became swept up in the Watergate Scandal.

Zinn is still active and continues to be a thorn in the side of the powers that be in the United States and long may he continue to be so.

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A Lenin for our times?

The disintegration of Social Democracy in Europe, both organizationally and as a political project, presents both opportunities and problems for socialists and revolutionaries.

The Labour Party in Britain, and Social Democratic parties elsewhere in Europe have politically dominated the working class and the the labour movement for a most of the last century. Where mass Communist Parties have existed, in countries such as Italy and France, they carried out the same function and became in the post-war period ideologically indistinguishable from the mass Social Democratic parties.

These parties, have in times of crisis, have been the greatest bulwark against radical change. Their demise the greatest opportunity for real socialist ideas to connect with the working class for a long, long time.

The responsibility on the left to carry out this task tough is a great one, but it presents a whole host new problems. It is a new turn in the class struggle that will require a re-examination of our political traditions in order to navigate it.

There is nothing new in this. Every generation of Marxist faced with such a change in the conditions around them have had to go through such process. Lenin had to face up to the inadequacy of Social Democracy, Trotsky had to address the degeneration of “Communism”, and the new left of the sixties had to deal with both.

Ideas were brushed off and refashioned, or they were dumped; new theory had to be created where the old was no longer “fit for purpose.”

Paul Le Blanc has written a number of challenging books and articles on the Marxist revolutionary tradition and in particular the politics of Lenin and Luxembourg.

In the May June edition of the International Socialist Review there are articles by Paul Le Blanc, Lars Lih and Helen Scott based on a panel discussion held in New York in March of this year.

In it he mentions, quite appositely, that

Lenin’s Bolshevik organization was part of a broad global working-class formation, part of a developing labor movement, and part of an evolving labor-radical subculture that embraced masses of people. Much experience of the U.S. Left demonstrates that an effort to create such an organization outside of such a context all too often degenerates into the construction of a political sect, with well-meaning activists penned up in a world of their own, separate and apart from the working class.

The development of a broad, numerically significant layer and subculture of socially conscious people who are part of the working class is essential for creating the kind revolutionary party that Lenin helped build. The accumulation of a significant percentage of activists who are part of that layer is the precondition for such a party. This can’t simply be proclaimed by a handful of would-be Leninists

He has written a number of fascinating books such as Marx, Lenin, and the Revolutionary Experience, A Short History of the U.S. Working Class and Rosa Luxemburg: Reflections and Writings.

For more on him you could read an interview (including some very interesting remarks on religion and “secularism”) in the Monthly Review

Also in this round table discussion is a contribution by Lars Lih. He has written what looks like a fascinating book Lenin Rediscovered: ‘What is to be Done?’ in Context on the said work and Lenin in 1900-1901. A monumental amount of scholarship seems to have gone into its production. Coming in at some 880 pages he seems to have read just about everything pertaining to this period.

Lih tries to put What is to be done? into the context of its times, and the circumstances of its making.

Though it contained ideas which were to have a fundamental importance for the development of Marxism as a revolutionary theory and practice, its importance has been much exaggerated over the years, both by Stalinism, which wanted to turn the works of Lenin into some form of holy revelation, and by bourgeois thinkers looking for the original sin of Bolshevism.

It was of course neither of those things. But neither was it a recipe book for revolution, ”just add cadre”.

Watch this space for a review of it here.

In the meantime there is a review of it by John Molyneux at

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Iranian workers strike for their rights

Film of strikers demonstrating in Shush, Khuzestan province, Southern Iran

On 16 June 2000 workers at the state-owned Haft Tapeh Sugar Mill met in a general meeting to form their own independent union. They have now been on stike for 42 days and despite mounting repression they remain unbowed.

This is the culmination of months of action at the factory. It was paralysed by a two week strike in October last year when 3,000 workers struck and marched on the Govenor of Shush province’s office, a march which ended in clashes with the police. In November strike leaders were arrested but relaesed on bail after further protests

On 5 May five were summoned to appear on various charges connected to the October strike.

On 6 May 3,000 went on all out strike demanding the payment of two months unpaid wages, the ending of the gathering of legal dossiers on workers and summons to court, the sacking of the factory director and management committee, anf the dismissal of the firm’s security chief.

By 10 May the strike had grown to 5,000 workers and had gathered the support of much of the town’s population and 10,000 marched on the Governers Office again (see video).

On 20 May virtual martial law was imposed with large numbers of securtiy forces entering the town and arresting strike leaders. This is did not succeed as on 26th there were further demonstrations and clashes with the police.

This is a side of Iran that no one wants us to see. The hawks in London and Washington may rail against the regime in Tehran, but have no interest in the real struggles of the Iranian people.

Nor do the “left” apologists have anything credible to say about these movements. The last few years have seen a revival of the workers’ and students’ movement and Iran is a society in ferment. The movement also knows that the current western war-drive against Iran can only benefit the most repressive elements in the regime.

The only force that can liberate the Iranian working class, is the Iranian working class

For more information and to find out how solidarity can be built visit the Iranian Workers Solidarity Network website

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Strikes Sweep South Korea

Who says the working class is dead? Certainly no one in South Korea. Following a million strong demonstration last week against his government, President Lee Myung-bak is now facing a massive strike wave. Despite being elected in a landslide last December his neo-liberal administration is already in deep trouble as resistance mounts to pension reform, his close relationship with the US and an environmentally damaging canal project. For more:

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The Tennis Court Oath – 20 June 1789

Continuing in our countdown to Mark Steel’s Vive la Revolution gig for Southwark Respect on 17th July we will be tracking the steps to the French Revolution.

For more information on the gig visit

To buy tickets|artist=Mark+Steel&e|promoter=6444&filler1=see

Following the Third Estate’s declaration on 17 June the King had prohibited the Third Estate from meeting. On 20 June 1789 they arrived to find that, on the Louis’s orders, the doors of their meeting place had been locked. Already fearful of a royal coup they decided to continue meeting. The weather being bad they decamped to a nearby indoor tennis court.

It was here that they swore the famous Tennis Court Oath:

We swear never to separate ourselves from the National Assembly, and to reassemble wherever circumstances require, until the constitution of the realm is drawn up and fixed upon solid foundations.

They had defied Louis, and sworn that it was they who would write a new constitution for France. It was direct defiance of the divine right of Kings. The gauntlet had been thrown down.

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David Harvey talk on “A Short History of Neoliberalism”

David Harvey’s A Short History of Neoliberalism is one of the best, if not the best, short introduction to the origins and nature of neolibearlsim. It’s concise and easy to read.

There is a talk he did on it on Youtube in five parts. The first is above.


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The Estates become the People – 17 June 1789

In the lead up to Mark Steel’s Vive la Revolution gig for Southwark Respect on 17th July we will tracking the steps to revolution.

For more information on the gig visit

To buy tickets|artist=Mark+Steel&e|promoter=6444&filler1=see

The King, Louis XIV, had called the Estates General together to resolve the country’s financial crisis. The population was represented by the three estates. the First Estate was the clergy, the Second Estate was the nobility, and Third Estate was everyone else (though was dominated by the bourgeoisie). They met seperately.

On 17th June 1789 the Third Estate met and declared itself to be the National Assembly representing the whole of the French people.

The scene was set for confrontation.

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David Harvey’s course on “Capital”

Professor David Harvey, anthropologist and geographer at City University of New York, and author of such excellent books as a Brief History of Neoliberalism and The New Imperialism, is putting his course on reading Capital on line.

The first two lecture are up already.

Apparently it’s very good.

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A song of rebellion – Contessa

In this Youtube video Paolo Pietrangeli sings his classic song of rebellion Contessa across the forty or so years since he wrote it.

It was one of the great hymns of the movement of workers and students that erupted in 1968-69 and was to shake Italian society for the next ten years.

He wrote it in May 1966 during the occupation of Rome University caused by the murder of a student, Paolo Rossi by fascists.

The inspiration for the lyrics was the overheard conversation of an old bourgeois lady in a Roman cafe in which she talked about the occupation of the university (and the presumed orgies that were going on there) and a strike by workers at a small factory in the city where the boss, one Aldo, had called the police on the striking workers who were picketing.

The first two verses are about the strike and describe how the workers wanted a rise and cried out against their exploitation.

The second verse describes how the police arrive, which causes them to scream yet louder, but the place ends up covered in blood.

The chorus is what stands out and makes the song such a classic song of rebellion and resistance.

Comrades, from the fields and from the factories,
Take your sickle, carry your hammer.
Go on to the streets, use these to fight.
Go on to the streets, turn over the system.

(a bit of a free translation. See below for the full lyrics in Italian).

The song was to gain new prominence in the 1990s as a new generation came into struggle Berlusconi, neo-liberalism and war.

Ironically there was also an attempt to sanitiese the song. It was covered by the Italian group Modena City Ramblers. They wrote to Paolo Pietrangeli in 2006 saying that they thought the chorus was too violent and should be changed, as it gave the wrong message to young people.

He replied that he didn’t agree that this was the case, and that it was a song of rebellion, but that he had always maintained that the song was without copyright and that he would not prevent them from changing it if they so wished.

He later wrote in Liberazione that he disagreed with what they had done and that he rejected this patronising attitude towards the audience.

He also wrote the classic Italian protest song Valle Giulia about the battle of Valle Giulia when the students of Rome University first clashed with the police in 1968 (outside of the architecture faculty!)

In the seventies he went on to have a career in film directing White and Black a film about neo-fascism and Pigs with Wings.

He also helped produce Flesh for Frankenstein and Blood for Dracula in the 1970s. Films which fit into a genre now often called exploitation, but which were at the time amongst a wave of Italian horror films which often had a radical political subtext.

In the 1980s he had a career in television. In 1996 he stood for parliament for Rifonadzione Comunista. In 2001 he produced a documentary film about the Genova protests “Genova. Per noi.”

“Che roba contessa, all’industria di Aldo
han fatto uno sciopero quei quattro ignoranti;
volevano avere i salari aumentati,
gridavano, pensi, di esser sfruttati.

E quando è arrivata la polizia
quei pazzi straccioni han gridato più forte,
di sangue han sporcato il cortile e le porte,
chissa quanto tempo ci vorrà per pulire…”.

Compagni, dai campi e dalle officine
prendete la falce, portate il martello,
scendete giù in piazza, picchiate con quello,
scendete giù in piazza, affossate il sistema.

Voi gente per bene che pace cercate,
la pace per far quello che voi volete,
ma se questo è il prezzo vogliamo la guerra,
vogliamo vedervi finir sotto terra,
ma se questo è il prezzo lo abbiamo pagato,
nessuno piu al mondo dev’essere sfruttato.

“Sapesse, mia cara che cosa mi ha detto
un caro parente, dell’occupazione
che quella gentaglia rinchiusa lì dentro
di libero amore facea professione…
Del resto, mia cara, di che si stupisce?
anche l’operaio vuole il figlio dottore
e pensi che ambiente che può venir fuori:
non c’è più morale, contessa…”

Se il vento fischiava ora fischia più forte
le idee di rivolta non sono mai morte;
se c’è chi lo afferma non state a sentire,
è uno che vuole soltanto tradire;
se c’è chi lo afferma sputategli addosso,
la bandiera rossa ha gettato in un fosso.

Voi gente per bene che pace cercate…


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