Tuesday, 11 November 2014

Paul Mason - How did the First World War actually end?

Friday 01 Aug 2014 Channel 4 Blog

Quiz question: why did the first world war end? We’re about to witness a commemoration in which the human preference for restraint and dignity will be under pressure from the televisual tendency for wittering on without knowledge or feeling.
So one crucial piece of knowledge should be, for schoolchildren and for TV presenters alike: how and why did it actually end?
Well, on 24 October 1918, with the German army retreating and its discipline disintegrating, the right-wing aristocrats who ran the German navy launched a suicidal mass foray from the base in Kiel, where they’d been holed up. It was quite clear, rebel sailor Ernst Schneider later wrote, that this was to be a “death ride”.
But the sailors had other ideas. The crews of German battleships were drawn from the families of skilled, socialist working class. Since Easter 1916 the entire underground culture of the German ports – Hamburg, Kiel, Wilhelmshaven – had been pervaded by far-left agitation. There was a “whispering campaign”: under the cover of seamen’s yarns in the lower decks, in the lockers, the munition rooms, crow’s nests of the fighting masts – even in the lavatories – an underground organisation was built up, Schneider remembered.
The sailors’ organisation met in in the dark, kneeling between the stones of a war cemetery. This was no Potemkin-style, spontaneous outburst. With extreme order they took over the bridges, ran up red flags and pointed the guns of rebel ships at the hulls of those that did not rebel.
Mutinous sailors
On 4 November 1918 they armed themselves and set off, in their thousands, for the industrial centres of northern Germany. Jan Valtin, a participant, remembered: “That night I saw the mutinous sailors roll into Bremen on caravans of commandeered trucks – from all sides masses of humanity, a sea of swinging, pushing bodies and distorted faces were moving toward the centre of town. Many of the workers were armed with guns, with bayonets and with hammers.”

Friday, 7 November 2014

The centre cannot hold under austerity, in Britain or Europe: Seumas Milne, Guardian 6 November

Six years after the crash, the centre cannot hold. Crisis and austerity are delivering polarisation and political fragmentation, and it’s happening almost everywhere across Europe. In Britain the main parties’ share of the vote is shrinking, while Ukip’s rightwing populists are dragging the Tories towards them. At the same time, the Scottish National Party has mushroomed out of the independence referendum campaign as a self-proclaimed party of the left, commanding a level of support thatthreatens Labour’s chances at next year’s general election. And the radical Greens have overtaken the Liberal Democrats in the latest polls.
It’s a pattern reflected throughout the continent. In the wake of the 2008 meltdown, incumbents were ejected from office one after the other, regardless of political colour. As cuts in services and living standards were imposed in a fruitless attempt to escape the crisis, support for establishment parties plummeted or fractured to left and right.
The main radicalisation has been to the populist right. In mainland Europe, that process began well before the crash, as working-class living standards stagnated under the impact of neoliberal globalisation and the far-right preyed on anti-migrant insecurities. But it has accelerated sharply under austerity. In Hungary the violently anti-Roma and antisemitic Jobbik party took 20% of the vote in this year’s parliamentary elections, while the Front National and Ukip won the European elections in France and Britain.

Tuesday, 2 September 2014

The truth about UKIP and the Tory right

Phil Hearse examines what’s behind the continuing rise of UKIP (Left Unity site)
The defection of Clacton MP Douglas Carswell from the Tories gives the UK Independence Party (UKIP) the near certainty of getting their first MP. Opinion polls published on August 30 showed Carswell 44% clear of the Tories in the byelection campaign in Clacton caused by his defection. His defection has been reinforced by the stand-down decision of Chris Kelly, Tory MP for Dudley South. This tops off an astonishing surge by UKIP in 2014, following their major success in the European elections.

In May’s European elections UKIP won 27.5 percent of the vote, becoming the first party other than the two main parties to win a national election in 100 years. In the council elections in England UKIP won 163 seats (up 161), with about 17 percent of the national vote. UKIP’s vote damaged both Tories and Labour. While they cost the Tories control of several councils, they also polled well in some Labour territory, like Thurrock and Rotherham.

Wednesday, 23 July 2014

The return of George Orwell and Big Brother’s war on Palestine, Ukraine and the truth

John Pilger

11 July 2014

The other night, I saw George Orwells's '1984' performed on the London stage. Although crying out for a contemporary interpretation, Orwell's warning about the future was presented as a period piece: remote, unthreatening, almost reassuring. It was as if Edward Snowden had revealed nothing, Big Brother was not now a digital eavesdropper and Orwell himself had never said, "To be corrupted by totalitarianism, one does not have to live in a totalitarian country."

Acclaimed by critics, the skilful production was a measure of our cultural and political times. When the lights came up, people were already on their way out. They seemed unmoved, or perhaps other distractions beckoned. "What a mindfuck," said the young woman, lighting up her phone.

As advanced societies are de-politicised, the changes are both subtle and spectacular. In everyday discourse, political language is turned on its head, as Orwell prophesised in '1984'. "Democracy" is now a rhetorical device. Peace is "perpetual war". "Global" is imperial. The once hopeful concept of "reform" now means regression, even destruction. "Austerity" is the imposition of extreme capitalism on the poor and the gift of socialism for the rich: an ingenious system under which the majority service the debts of the few.

Tuesday, 24 June 2014

Transport and cultural workers strike in France

France continues to be hit by major strikes by rail and air traffic control workers. Rail unions are protesting transport ministry plans for the reform of SNCF, France’s national rail company. 

The government wants to unite it with RFF (French Rail Network) in a single holding company , which is a certain formula for job losses and cutbacks. The French government wants to make the railway companies 'leaner and fitter' in order to face competition from other European companies. In effect they are preparing privatisation of the rail network.

The rail strike has opened up a union split between the CFDT federation which supports the reforms, and the CGT and Sud-Rail that oppose them.

Air traffic control strikes forced the cancellation of hundreds of flights 24 June to and from France and other European countries. They are protesting government cutbacks to aviation spending that they say will result in cutbacks that put safety at risk.

Actors and other cultural workers have also been striking over plans to reform unemployment benefits on which many irregularly employed workers like actors rely.

Portugal Left Bloc: Afterthe European elections

Statement by Left Bloc (Bloco de Esquerda), Portugal; translated by Federico Fuentes.

 Following the [September 29, 2013] local elections, the Left Bloc developed its European program via a thorough programmatic debate involving many independent activists. That culminated at our February 2014 national conference.
The Left Bloc entered the campaign with a strong orientation, a clear, alternative program to the one proposed by the government, a candidate elected by consensus and an openness reflected in the quality of the list of candidates presented and the public support they received. The Left Bloc carried out a dynamic election campaign, throughout which it remained united and completely focused.
The Left Bloc received a bad election result [149,628 votes, 4.56%, down by 6.15% from 2009]. We were able to elect Marisa Matias, but were a long way away from electing a second deputy. We not only failed to turn around the losses suffered at the last legislative and municipal elections, but received an even lower vote this time around. The party must carry out a profound reflection on the political situation, the path we have taken to date and future options for the Left Bloc.

'Broad left parties': Murray Smith replies to Socialist Alternative's Mick Armstrong

By Murray Smith

 Mick Armstrong of Socialist Alternative, Australia, has written an article which sets out to criticise what I have written over the last 15 or so years on broad left parties ("A critique of the writings of Murray Smith on broad left partes" (PDF), Marxist Left Review, Summer 2014). I would like to reply to some of the points that he makes.
Mick Armstrong’s article starts off by saying that there has been a marked evolution in my views on the question over the last decade and that in his opinion this evolution has not been positive. So let me start by outlining how I began to approach the question and how my thinking has in fact evolved.

Up until the mid-1990s I had a very conventional Trotskyist view of the need to build the revolutionary party by starting with a (more or less depending on the circumstances) small nucleus armed with a revolutionary program. That did not exclude fusions with other revolutionary groups or entry into mass reformist parties (as practised very successfully by Militant in Britain).

Let us note in passing that in Europe, after several decades of experience in a number of countries, this method has never led to the creation of anything resembling a mass party. I came to consider that this was not an accident. I have argued elsewhere that for two or three decades after the Second World War the position of the mass social-democratic and Stalinist parties was so strong that there was very little space to their left. That began to change in the 1960s and even more so after 1989-91. Objective reasons for failure receded and subjective, political weaknesses became more evident.