Monthly Archives: November 2009

Respect Conference – A Shift to the Right

A comment on the recent national conference of the Respect Party by Ian Donovan.

This year’s conference of Respect saw the organisation formally change its name from the original ‘Respect – the Unity Coalition’ to the simpler ‘Respect Party’. Unfortunately, it also signalled a significant political shift away from any attempt to unite the working-class left into a broad party. Instead, Respect now stands committed to a political strategy that involves alliances with forces whose commitment to the working class and any meaningful struggle against neo-liberalism is at best questionable.

Respect now sees the Green Party, and the semi-Blairite soft-left in Labour around Jon Cruddas and his Compass group as its allies, not left wing trade unions, or Socialists and Communists outside Labour. Respect’s leaders exhibit public hostility to labour movement initiatives like the ‘No2EU’ platform that was put together by the leadership of the RMT rail union and three socialist organisations for the European elections.

They display even more hostility to the fact that a broader, more overtly socialist, coalition is being put together to fight a significant number of seats in the General Election. Indeed, the logic of this is to also see the remaining hard left in Labour, such as it is, as similarly inimical to the alliances that Galloway, Salma Yaqoob and others want to put together, similarly ‘dogmatic’ and old-fashioned in their view of the working class.

Which Galloway for one now considers to have been ‘unmade’ – a reference to the title of E. P. Thompson’s famous work ‘The Making of the English Working Class’. Thus he writes off the British working class as a force for social change, and furiously denounces those in Respect who disagree.

The shift to the right was capped when George Galloway, replying to those in Respect that wanted to actively participate in building the new broad left coalition being initiated by The Socialist Party, The Communist Party of Britain, the RMT leadership and some prominent union leaders and militant trade unionists, badly stated that he was utterly opposed to any such alliances. Because ‘Communists and Trotskyists’ are an ‘electoral liability’ and a barrier to gaining the votes of many of those people that Respect need to win the elections they have set themselves, according to GG.

Unfortunately, though not surprisingly given that he is Respect’s best-known public figure and sole MP, his views won out in the most crucial vote at the conference, as the conference voted not to hear a resolution that called for positive co-operation with the new coalition.

Though a number of the resolutions actually passed talk in an hypothetical manner about the possibility of co-operation with such a coalition were it to be formed, now that that the coalition has publicly announced its formation the real effect of the vote against the supportive resolution means a public political snub to those involved in the new initiative.

Galloway’s remarks about not involving Respect with ‘Communists and Trotskyists’ is a repudiation of the original vision of Respect. Because Respect, when it was founded in 2004, was an electoral bloc between George Galloway, a Labour MP expelled for his outspoken and meaningful opposition to the Iraq war, the Socialist Workers Party (the largest Trotskyist organisation in Britain) and a whole layer of other people, including Muslim activists who had no problem uniting with Trotskyists.

In fact, much effort was spent by George Galloway and others in the original Respect coalition trying to persuade the Communist Party of Britain to join Respect. This effort failed at the time because the faction within the CPB that is completely committed to a strategy of ‘reclaiming’ the Labour Party was then strong enough to stop the CPB doing so. Things have improved on that front since then, but now George Galloway doesn’t want them anyway. This is a complete about face on left unity, and a major rightward shift.

Galloway, Salma Yaqoob and others among the leadership of Respect justify this refusal to co-operate with the new coalition by pointing to their struggle to preserve the Respect name after the split with the sectarian, bureaucratic leadership of the Socialist Workers Party two years ago. But this is an example of misusing past exploits and victories to justify current misdeeds.

It is rather obvious that if Respect were prepared to take the bull by the horns, to engage positively with the forces comprising the new coalition, then the publicity and momentum this would generate would more than make up for any compromise that might have to be reached about the unified coalition name, how it’s component parts might describe themselves, etc.

The issue of the Respect name is a red herring in this debate – Galloway let the cat out of the bag when he said that Communists and Trotskyists were an electoral liability and that he was opposed point blank to such alliances irrespective of the practicalities.

Underlying this turn to the right is the looming General Election. Respect was set up to offer an alternative to Labour at the electoral level, as part of a project to try to defeat the ‘triangulation’ strategy of New Labour, the arrogant assumption that no matter how much Labour moved to the right, how much it attacked the working class, how much it adopted openly capitalist and anti-union, free market policies usually associated with the Tories, the working class and other oppressed layers had nowhere else to go. The whole point of Respect was to break that down, to offer the working class ‘somewhere else’.

Now this has been abandoned also. The call has gone out from George Galloway to vote for New Labour in the overwhelming majority of seats in the country, save where there is a ‘credible’ left wing candidate – one who has a chance of winning outright in most cases. By this, he means the three Respect candidates – in areas of large Muslim population – and a couple of others including the odd Green candidate, and Dave Nellist in Coventry who as a former Labour/Militant MP is difficult to portray as lacking ‘credibility’.

In this, Galloway is using Dave Nellist in particular as a fig leaf for a rotten policy of support for New Labour in virtually all cases. Dave Nellist is likely to stand as a candidate of the new coalition, but Galloway makes it clear that he considers the coalition not ‘credible’ and is for votes to New Labour against it generally.

Galloway is not completely consistent about this; he has a tendency to see politics as about personalities, and not ideas or the collective action of party memberships, and this foible leads him to do things that sit uneasily with his main political thrust – like campaigning for Tommy Sheridan – who lost his deposit and was beaten by the BNP –  in the recent Glasgow North East by-election.

But these are incidental foibles – the main political line is clear – Galloway has now embraced lesser evil-ism in this coming General Election. This despite the fact that there is no real difference of policy on the things that count between New Labour and the Conservatives. On the question of cuts in public spending to pay for bailing out the banks, for instance, both main parties (and the Lib Dems as well) have made it quite clear that there will be a programme of savage cuts after the election. Both parties are firmly committed to the imperialist war in Afghanistan, to maintaining anti-union laws, and to numerous other common reactionary policies.

If anything, Labour is so slavish, and its reactionary and authoritarian instincts so pronounced, that it has allowed the Tories to posture to its left on some issues, notably civil liberties and ID cards. Campaigning to re-elect this government, as well as being a vain endeavour most likely, amounts to, no matter what those doing it may say, an endorsement of, or at the very least, a willingness to overlook, its rotten record and an abandonment of the desperate need for an alternative.

The argument that Labour is still some kind of workers party, that merely by dint of its origins a century ago as a party founded by the trade unions, that is used by some of the more theoretically-minded socialists today who justify refusing to write off Labour completely, is not the decisive issue here.

I consider this position mistaken today – I think that the bourgeois element in New Labour has been strengthened to the point that it has become a cross-class party, not a workers party with merely a pro-capitalist labour bureaucracy at the head of it. Nevertheless this position is not hegemonic on the socialist left and many good socialists do not currently draw that conclusion.

It would be perfectly possible for Respect to back a more general left-wing challenge to Labour, to participate an a joint campaign (even if informal and only appearing in election literature, not on the ballot paper) with the ‘son of No2EU’ coalition and still advocate votes to Labour where no left candidate was able to stand.

But this slavish line of Galloway and others in Respect is not merely a tactical reflection of a belief that there is still some working class element or potential left in Labour. Taken together with the denunciation of ‘communists and Trotskyists’ as a liability, this can only be seen as part of an attempt to ingratiate Respect, and Galloway in particular, hoping to gain some political benefit, perhaps like Ken Livingstone in securing re-admission to Labour at some point.

In a future article, I will try to go into more depth about some of the reasons for this rightward drift, and some of the problems, prefiguring this development, that have emerged in Respect since the split with the SWP. One thing’s for sure. This is a most unwelcome development, a real blow to those who seek to build a broad socialist alternative to New Labour that can develop roots in the working class and re-arm our class with its own independent political expression.

28 Comments

Filed under Broad Parties, Respect Party

Resolution on Left Unity

Below is the text of an emergency resolution on the new left coalition launched last weekend submitted to the Respect national conference.

The Conference Arrangements Commitee ruled it out of order as not constituting an emergency. This was contested and a vote taken. The decision of the conference was to uphold the ruling of the CAC and the resolution was not disscussed.

Below also is the text of a letter distributed to conference delegates in support of the motion.

Emergency Resolution on Left Unity

Conference notes the formation of a new left-wing coalition to stand candidates at the general election, which was announced at the RMT union’s conference on the crisis of working-class representation on Saturday 7 November 2009.

Conference notes that at this stage the coalition involves the Socialist Party, the Alliance for Green Socialism and the Communist Party of Britain and has the backing, in a personal capacity, of RMT general secretary Bob Crow and Prison Officers Association general secretary Brian Caton, and has called on everyone who wants a socialist, working-class and trade union alternative presented at the general election to get involved in the coalition.

Conference welcomes the formation of the coalition. It ensures that there will be more left candidates in the general election and contributes to the much needed challenge from the left to the right-wing policies of privatisation, cuts and unemployment supported by New Labour, the Tories and the Liberal Democrats.

Conference instructs the incoming National Committee and National Officers to write to the coalition organisers to seek joint work to promote support for left-wing candidates at the general election.

Conference encourages Respect members and supporters to support coalition candidates at the general election and to work together with coalition supporters where possible to build united action around left-wing policies.

Letter addressed to conference delegates

Dear Comrades, Sisters and Brothers

Many of you may have heard about the new coalition that was announced last week by former MP Dave Nellist at the RMT conference on working class representation.

The coalition has the backing of Bob Crow, General Secretary of the RMT, Brian Caton of the Prison Officers Association, national officers of the PCS civil servants’ union, and members of the national executives of the CWU, Unison, FBU and USDAW trade unions (all in a personal capacity).

It also has the backing of the Socialist Party, Communist Party of Britain and the Alliance for Green Socialism.

The coalition intends to stand against current and former cabinet ministers who have pushed through anti-working class policies. It has appealed for all those who want a working class, socialist and trade union alternative to be put forward in the election to get involved.

Labour has followed the agenda of big business for twelve years. It has pushed through reforms which have weakened the working class in this country. The few progressive policies it has implemented have nearly all failed to meet their targets.

Confronted by the recession it has chosen to maintain its neo-liberal course. If it wins the election it plans massive public spending cuts.

If a Tory government is elected things may be even worse. But if the Tories win the blame will lie entirely with Brown and his party. They had the perfect opportunity to turn away from Blair’s rotten policies. They did not take it.

From 1997 to 2005 Labour lost 3 million votes. It is set to lose more. The fact is that millions of working class people can no longer bring themselves to vote for Labour. They need a socialist alternative to vote for. We need to offer it to them.

Successful left wing campaigns across the country can only strengthen us in facing the struggles that are bound to come after the election.

We want to see left wing MPs elected, but Respect will only be standing in a handful of seats out of 650.

We ask Respect members to support candidates of the new coalition wherever they stand and to become involved in their campaigns.

A real alternative is desperately needed. The left standing together will be stronger.

Leave a comment

Filed under Broad Parties

Why we need a new workers’ party

For some time now there has been a page on this blog entitled Why We Need a New Workers’ Party. It hasn’t had much on it though.

This is partly because no one has got round to writing it. It is also because the project for a new party is a work in progress. It has taken time for the left to start to clarify its thinking on this subject.

But time is pressing, and so is the urgency of the question as Labour heads for electoral meltdown and the ruling class prepares a massive wave of attacks on the working class. The Labour Party is unlikely to be any use whatsoever in resisting them.

So here are some thought on the subject. To read them click here.

Leave a comment

Filed under Broad Parties

YOu couldn’t make it up (4) Rail company takes the coach

It has been reported by the BBC that Network Rail has booked coaches to take 200 of its staff from Reading to Coventry because the train was too expensive

Open rail tickets to take the staff to a conference would have set them back some £27,000, but that to take the coach would cost £2,400

Such is the absurdity of rail privatisation. The greater “effieciency” acheieved by the market means that whereas in 1994 the old nationalised British Railways recieved a subsidy £1.6 billion, by 2005 this had risen to £4.6 billion.

Britain now has one of the most expensive rail networks in the world.

Pause for thought as Labour announces yet another round of back door privatision of he NHS.

Patients are going to get the “right” to demand private treatment if not seen within a certain time.

So yet more money will be shovelled into the private sector, money that could have been on improving NHS services.

BBC article on Network Rail

BBC article on NHS

 

Leave a comment

Filed under "you couldn't make it up"

An interesting letter in the Morning Star

An interesting letter in today’s Morning Star:

Kevin Halpin’s letter (M Star October 26) must be treated with respect.

But it only repeats the old mantra that there is no alternative to a Labour government – except a Conservative one – and that we, the left, must use the unions that finance the Labour Party to change its policies.

The string of sickening right-wing, US-subservient steps this Labour government has taken over its 12 years in office proves that, unfortunately, there seems to be no way that it will change its ways – nor that the unions can or will force it to do so.

If lessons are to be learned, there are countries from which we can learn. An excellent example is Germany.

There the left within its Labour Party equivalent – the SPD – decided boldly to break away and join up with the remains of the PDS, a successor to the governing party in the east, to form Die Linke left party.

In September, Die Linke won nearly 12 per cent of the vote in elections and it is advancing rapidly.

The basis for a new left party in Britain exists. Several prominent unions are no longer attached to Labour and they are waiting for the appropriate moment to set one up or maybe join one that is set up.

There can be no doubt that other unions would follow, together with some of the more sensible left fragments.

The aim of such a left party would be to help produce a left government. Once the left party was of a reasonable size, it could apply to join the Labour Party because it would obviously be better to work within than outside.

But, of course, such an offer would be turned down.

In that event, the new left party could press ahead to establish itself as the only socialist party of consequence in the country.

At the age of 91, as a former trade union official and a member of the old Communist Party of Great Britain for over 50 years, history has taught me (a) that boldness is best and (b) that the British people are yearning for a new and better life that only socialism can bring and that only a socialist party can offer them.

Hyman Frankel
London SW4

As it appears on the Morning Star website.

Leave a comment

Filed under Broad Parties

Dave Nellist announces the new left coaliton at the Conference on politcal representation

Dave Nellist  announces the new coaliton of the left to fight the General Election at the conference on working class politcal representation held in London on 9th November.

For more on the coalition click here

Part 1

Part 2

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Bob Crow speaks at the RMT conference on Working Class Representation

Bob Crow, General Secretary of the RMT (Rail, Marine and Transportation Workers Union) speaks at the conference on working class politcal representation held in London on 9th November.

Part 1

Part 2

Leave a comment

Filed under Bob Crow, Broad Parties

Chris Harman, 1942-2009

Chris Harman, 1942-2009

A personal tribute by Alastair

(links at end of article)

It is with great sadness that I hear of the death of Chris Harman.

He died on the 6th November in Cairo. He was one of the most prominet Marxists in this country. He joined the International Socialists, the forerunner of today’s SWP, in the early 1960s and was to remain a leading member until his death. In his time he was editor of International Socialism Journal and Socialist Worker newspaper.

I am sure that over the next few days there will be many tributes to him in the blogosphere for in his forty plus years of militancy he made himself one of the most widely respected figures on the left. This is my tribute.

I cannot claim to have known him though I met him numerous times. Certainly he did not know me.

But looking back I have realised that his work has had more influence on my political development than I had ever really had cause to consider. and I am just one of many. This unsurprising given his stature an activist and thinker.

He was always one of my favourite writers and speakers. He was not it must be said a great orator. He lacked the rhetorical flourishes that so many embellish their speaking with. This was his strength though. He more than made up for these weaknesses with his enthusiasm and forensic argumentation. He always cut through straight to the heart of the matter and then applied his sharp analytical skills to it. There was nothing superfluous in what he said.

The first article I read in the first ISJ I bought, No. 37, was his Glasnost Before the Storm by him and Andy Zebrowski. His writings on the Soviet Union in the years of perestroika and the fall of the eastern bloc were among some of the best written. I think his analysis turned out to be a more realistic than most of the analysis produced by the left at the time which veered from dewy eyed optimism at the prospects of Gorbachev’s rule to paralysing depression at the collapse.

What I read probably contributed to my decision to study Russian at university and helped inoculate me against both the bourgeois triumphalasim and left wing retreat in that subject area.

His writings on the Eastern Bloc always had at their heart not just a analysis of the nature and structure of the soviet system but an unremitting focus on the fact that these were repressive societies that inevitably generated working class opposition to them. His Bureaucracy and Revolution in Eastern Europe, first published in 1974 and later reissued as Class Struggle in Eastern Europe, is almost without peer on this subject.

His analytical powers on this area can be seen for instance in his 1977 articles on Poland which fairly accurately predicted the crisis that erupted in 1980-81 and which nearly unseated the regime.

Though monstrously oppressed by one-party police states when the workers moved they moved far and fast. In Europe in the post-war period only twice did genuine movements of workers councils as an alternative system state power appear, in Hungary in 1956 and Poland in 1981. The story he told of the incredible struggles fought by the workers of Eastern Europe and their incredible revolutionary potential have no better telling than in this work.

The Eastern bloc is starting to pass into historical memory as a generation is now reaching adulthood that were born after the fall. But the story of so-called “socialism” in the Eastern bloc is central to understanding the twentieth century and its fate key to understanding where the working class and left is today.

Another seminal work on revolutionary history was his magisterial history Germany: The Lost Revolution. It is another work that is a must-read for anyone wanting to understand the history of socialism in the twentieth century.

But he didn’t just write such blockbusters. His pamphlet How Marxism Works is still to my mind the best short introduction to Marxist politics. It is another must-read for any young socialist.

These were among his works I read as a youngster. And while I was as university I also had the opportunity to read the entire back catalogue of old the series of International Socialism and the new series of the ISJ and the Socialist Review. He was a stalwart contributor to all these journals. It almost goes without saying that under his editorship Socialist Worker was probably the best paper on the left.

His last book was Zombie Capitalism, an analysis of the economic crisis.

He made a massive contribution to Marxist politics in this country. His literary output was prodigious. And all of it dedicated to the single task of developing Marxist thought and building a revolutionary organisation.

His loss is a great loss to the left in this country and internationally.

My condolences go out his partner, Talat, his family, friend and comrades.

Links

For a selection of his articles try the Chris Harman section of the Marxist Internet Archive. These include his 1967 article How the Revolution Was Lost (later published as a much read pamphlet) and Party and Class (1968).

Also here are his two articles from 1977 on the Polish regimes crisis (part 1, part 2) and the two artices by him on Gramsci which were later published as the pamphlet Gramci Versus Reformism (part 1, part 2)

There are also numerous other articles by him in the old series of International Socialism, of which he was editor of for a time: 1958-68, 1969-74, 1975-78.

Many of his writings for the second series of the ISJ are also on-line and can be found in the ISJ index. (There are still a number of articles by him such as The Myth of Market Socialism which are excellent and I hope go on line in the future) The index is a bit complicated so here are some links to some of the more notable articles:

Base and superstructure (1986) (.doc)

The state and capitalism today, ISJ 51 (1991)

The Return of the National Question ISJ 56 (1992)

The prophet and the proletariat, ISJ 64 (1994)


Anti-capitalism: theory and practice
ISJ 88 (2000)

Engels and the origins of human society, ISJ 65 (1994)

From Bernstein to Blair: one hundred years of revisionism ISJ 67 (1995)

The Crisis of Bourgeois Economics ISJ 71 (1996)

Globalisation: A Critique of a new Orthodoxy, ISJ 73 (1996)

Anti-capitalism: theory and practice

Beyond the boom, ISJ 90 (2001)

Argentina: rebellion at the sharp end of the world crisis
, ISJ 94 (2002)

The workers of the world, ISJ 96 (2002)

Analysing Imperialism, ISJ 99 (2003)

And from the third series:

The rise of capitalism, ISJ 102

China’s economy and Europe’s crisis (2006)

From the credit crunch to the spectre of global crisis (2008)

The slump of the 1930s and the crisis today (2009)

To buy some of his major books such as Lost Revolution-Germany 1918-23, How Marxism Works, he Fire Last Time: 1968 And After, Zombie Capitalism: Global Crisis And The Relevance Of Marx, go to the Bookmarks site and search “Chris Harman”

Class Struggles in Eastern Europe seems to be out of print you’ll have to try it here or here

3 Comments

Filed under Marxism

New coalition of the left is go

Nov 7 conf leaflet.qxd

Click picture to download leaflet

Here is the official launch leaflet for the new coalition to fight the general election.

There will probably be more news on the coalition at tomorrow’s conference on working class representation organsied by the RMT at the Camden Centre.

To download the leaflet as a PDF, click here.

2 Comments

Filed under Broad Parties, RMT

A left challenge in the General Election

It is hardly a secret that for the last few months talks have been going on regarding a united left wing challenge in the forthcoming general election. Involved have been the backers of the No2EU slate put up to fight the Euro elections, namely Bob Crow and the RMT, the Socialist Party, the Communist Party of Britain.

On the other hand not much has been said about the talks publicly… until now.

An statement by the Socialist Party’s Executive Committee has now posted on their website on precisly this subject.

Clearly the project is not yet the finished article, but it is to be welcomed.

Many have lamented the failure of the left to create an elctorally viable force during the last decade.

And the lack of a left alternative is now more obvious than ever. As the Labour Party’s base amongst ordinary working class people disintegrates the gainers have been a revivied Tory Party and even more worryingly the BNP.

This move to the right cannot be stopped by Labour, it is what started it. Labour politicians seem to be ever more determined to out Tory the Tories on everything from immigration to drugs.

In the economic sphere their rediscovery of “Social Democracy” is an illusion conjured up by those desperate that a Tory governement is just around the corner. It doesn’t stand up to any serious analysis.

The Labour Party is no longer a form of progressive anything in government. It has become merely “the human face of neo-liberalism”. As a party based in the working class, it is a dying force.

Here at the Junius Blog we maintain that what is needed is a new party of the working class based on the politics of socialism. This is the only way that not only can the increasingly reactionary path being taken by all the main parties can be opposed. It is also the key way that all those who still believe in class politcs can be brought together to support the coming struggles in defence of public services and workers’ living standards.

Electoral politics won’t be the way to stop the coming assault by the ruling class, only struggle can do that, but millions of people do still believe in the “democratic process”. Either we can stand in the election and use it as way to bring together all those who want a fairer society, or we can abandon them to the “lesser evil” of voting Labour.

There have been many false starts in the left’s attempts at esatblishing a credible electoral force over the last few years. This was entirely predictable given the the way that thirty years of neo-liberalsim have rolled the left back. It was also going to be a rocky ride breaking people away from the party that has had an almost totoal monoply on working class representaion for nearly a hundred years.

But that is no reason to give up. The new proposed alliance might not live up to expectations, or it mght be a great success. Which it is depends on whether we throw ourselves into building it or just sit and wait for something more to our particular liking magically appears.

To read the statement on the Socialist Party’s website, click here

2 Comments

Filed under Bob Crow, Broad Parties