Tuesday, 17 November 2015

Patrick Baker

By Phil Hearse

The news of Patrick's death at the ridiculously early age of 49 is terrible.

I knew Patrick from the days of Revo. In the early 1990s we worked together at the old ISG centre in Seven Sisters Rd on the newspaper format of Socialist Outlook, whose trying production weekends were prevented from going into meltdown mainly by the saint-like forbearance and energy of production supremo John Lister. Patrick overlapped as finance organiser in an organisation that was financially bankrupt and had the trying task of fighting off the bailiffs.

In addition to being a revolutionary activist and strong partisan of the Fourth International, Patrick was seriously interested in Marxist ideas and, most of all, a bon viveur. In the summer we went after work to pubs alongside Finsbury Park, where more often than not he would combine red wine with extremely strong French cigarettes. 

He was also a good linguist and he spoke fluent French and Spanish. When Kathy and I came back from Mexico in January 2000 he helped me get a job at Regent Language Training at Embankment, where we mixed with seriously rich Russian, German, Polish, French etc etc business people. Patrick got the job of several 2-week courses with Vietnamese business people, who were amazed he knew so much about the history of the Vietnam war.

He spent a couple of years with his sister and brother in law in Barcelona, working in English language schools. Barcelona, a city where people go out to eat at 11pm, was his kind of town. He only came back reluctantly. After Regent he worked at Red Pepper around the time of the second invasion of Iraq in 2003 and accompanied Hilary Wainwright on the speaking tour she made to boost her journal and promote her networking ideas. We were not entirely in agreement about this - small potatoes.

Patrick did a postgraduate degree with Peter Gowan at London Metropolitan University,  but had a long struggle to get into academia. The increasing brutal system of keeping most young academics on short term, part time, contracts impacted harshly on Patrick. But he persisted and was able to stabilise more regular employment. He had some hard knocks in his personal life, but in recent years found more stability and happiness there too.

Patrick was a critical Marxist, contemptuous of cant and hypocrisy. The sad truth is that the contribution he was able to make was limited by the checks and defeats we suffered in the fight to build a non-sectarian revolutionary organisation in Britain. But he would have been the last to say the fight was pointless, or that socialism doesn't have a future.

Wednesday, 7 October 2015

Captialism vs Democracy in Europe

Michel Löwy

LET US BEGIN with a quote from an essay on bourgeois democracy in Russia, written in 1906, after the defeat of the first Russian revolution:

“It is highly ridiculous to believe that there is an elective affinity between grand capitalism today, as it is presently imported into Russia, and well established in the United States (…) and ‘democracy’ or ‘liberty’ (in all the possible meanings of the word); the real question should be: how are these things even ‘possible,’ in the long term, under capitalist domination?”(1)

Who is the author of this insightful comment? Lenin, Trotsky or, perhaps, the early Russian Marxist Plekhanov? In fact, it is from Max Weber, the well-known bourgeois sociologist. Although Weber never developed this insight, he is suggesting here that there is an intrinsic contradiction between capitalism and democracy

The history of the 20th century seems to confirm this opinion: very often, when the power of the ruling classes seemed to be threatened by the people, democracy was pushed aside as a luxury that one couldn’t afford, and replaced by fascism — Europe in the 1920s and ’30s — or military dictatorship: Latin America in the 1960s and ’70s.

Fortunately enough, this is not the case of Europe today, but we have, particularly during the last decades, with the triumph of neoliberalism, a democracy of low intensity, a democracy without social content, which has become an empty shell.

Sure enough, we still have elections, but there seems to be only one party, the U.M.P., United Market Party, with two variants which have only limited differences: the right-wing neoliberal version, and the left-center social-liberal one.

The decline of democracy is particularly visible in the oligarchic functioning of the European Union, where the European Parliament has very little influence, while power is firmly in the hands of non-elected bodies, such as the European Commission, or the Central European Bank.

Tuesday, 29 September 2015

Turkey resumes its war against the Kurds

After two years of de facto ceasefire, Turkey has resumed its aerial attacks against the PKK (Kurdish Workers Party) fighters on its borders, but also launched a new wave of repression against the Kurdish population in the south east of the country. Phil Hearse asked SARAH PARKER, a long time Kurdish solidarity activist, to explain.
Since July the Turkish president Recep Erdoğan has ordered his air force to launch a huge assault on Kurdish fighters in Iraq, resulting according to some reports to up to 200 deaths. Repression against the Kurdish population inside Turkey has been intensified. What lies behind this turn?
According to the Telegraph, Turkish special forces are in Iraq to fight PKK
Since 2013 there had been a de facto ceasefire, and indeed the war had been been only intermittent since the late 90s, but the ceasefire was broken by Erdoğan and his Islamist AKP (‘Justice and Development’) party because of the outcome of the June general elections.

Erdoğan had been hoping to get an overall majority to amend the constitution to allow a more ‘presidentialist’ form of rule, giving him more power, but this was prevented by the rise of the HDP – the People’s Democratic Party – which got 14% of the vote and 80 MPs. The HDP is an alliance based on supporters of Kurdish rights, leftist groups, women’s organisations and other oppressed groups in Turkey such as Alevis, Armenians, and groups fighting for LGBQT rights.
The HDP’s 14% was an amazing result - for the first time a pro-Kurdish party got over the 10% barrier for parliamentary representation. The very high 10% threshold was deliberately designed to keep out pro-Kurdish and leftist parties.
Erdoğan was hoping not just for the AKP to return to power, but also a big majority to ensure greater presidential power, so he would have to pay even less attention to political opposition and civil society in general.
To try to reverse the defeat suffered by the AKP in June, a new election has been called for November and the AKP wants to relaunch strident Turkish nationalism to try to paint the HDP as linked to ‘terrorism’ to politically isolate it. This is not just on a propaganda basis – it includes organised pogrom-style attacks in many places, and more than 100 attacks on HDP buildings, presumably intended both to spread fear and impede election mobilisations.

Also it’s possible that anti-terror legislation will be used directly against the HDP to harass its leaders and potentially to declare the HDP illegal. This is a high risk strategy by Erdoğan because clearly a big majority of the Turkish population want peace. Also the HDP continues to campaign for peace, insisting that AKP return to the negotiating table, and working continually to build the peace movement.
The immediate excuse for re-launching the air war against ‘terrorists’ was the bombing of a left wing youth delegation at a press conference in the town of Suruç in July this year, on the Syrian border, in which 33 people were killed and more than 100 injured.

Sunday, 13 September 2015

Jeremy Corbyn's Victory Speech

Left Unity on Jeremy Corbyn's Victory

Jeremy Corbyn is the new leader of the Labour Party. Who could have imagined writing such a sentence only a few weeks ago? His victory shatters the austerity consensus that has dominated British politics for the last five years.

This is a victory for the movement as a whole. It is a victory for all those opposing the welfare cuts, for all those campaigning against war and racism, for all those fighting to defend our NHS and a host of other issues.

Jeremy’s election will have the effect of a dam breaking in British political life. It will shift the centre of political gravity to the left.

After Syriza

By Stathis Kouvlakis

Released on September 2  the manifesto of Popular Unity is signed by the fifteen organizations of the radical left that comprise this political front, which seeks a rupture with austerity and the eurozone.
Usually presented as a split from Syriza, Popular Unity actually includes a more varied blend of forces, from left social democrats and social movement activists to far-left currents. Some of these forces come from Syriza: the two components of the Left Platform (the Left Current, led by Panagiotis Lafazanis, and the Red Network around DEA/Workers Internationalist Left), which constitutes the backbone of the movement.
There’s also the Communist Tendency, which is affiliated with the International Marxist Tendency, and the Movement for the Radical Left, a network constituted by activists essentially working in the antiracist, pro-migrant, and LGBT movements previously part of the now-defunct tendency “53+”.
Other organizations come from Antarsya (The Left Recomposition/ARAN and the Left Anticapitalist Regroupment, the two historically Althusserian groups of the Greek far left) or from groups that have collaborated with Antarsya (Leftwing Intervention, Communist Renewal, and the Plan B, led by former Syriza president Alekos Alavanos).
Still more groups have roots in the KKE tradition (the Communist Group Reconstruction) or from layers of Pasok cadres who left the party either in the 1990s (the DIKKI-Socialist Left, a former component of Syriza) or in the last five years (Young Militant or the Left Socialists, a network of trade-union cadres controlling some important sectors of the labor movement).
Some prominent personalities and networks have also joined Popular Unity on a more independent basis, including Zoe Konstantopoulou, the outgoing president of parliament; Nadia Valavan, the former vice-minister of finance; and the network “the OXI lasts a long time,” which groups activists from a left Eurocommunist background around Eleni Portaliou.
What unites this diverse assemblage of groups, personalities, and tendencies is a commitment to replacing austerity with a progressive program of far-reaching social reform. “The alternative way forward that we are proposing,” Popular Unity insists, “will deprive Greece only of its chains.”

Myths of Ayn Rand

Phil Hearse (2009)
Most people outside the United States have probably never heard of Ayn Rand, and a brief introduction to her ultra pro-free market views would doubtless be enough to convince most of them they haven't missed anything. Yet 27 years after her death, Ayn Rand continues to be seriously debated in the US, her books sell hundreds of thousands each year, her views are propagated by right wing think tanks and foundations and - bizarrely - Charlize Theron is in discussions to turn Rand's 1088-page magnus opus Atlas Shrugged into a TV mini-series. The Times Educational Supplement claimed in July 2009  that the Ayn Rand revival is gathering pace on US campuses. According to the TES:
"The surge in interest has also been propelled by the millions of dollars given to 25 universities by the charitable foundation of banking giant BB&T, run by one of her adherents. But even this funding, handed out so institutions can teach and study Ms Rand and to establish centres for the advancement of American capitalism, has been controversial. The faculty at Meredith College in North Carolina rejected a $420,000 (£260,000) grant because it came on the condition that Ms Rand's work be taught there, and there was a similar uproar at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. Even many of the professors who now teach Rand, Dr McCaskey said, "will preface their presentations with, 'I don't agree with this, but you should hear it'". 

Friday, 11 September 2015

Brazil: Lula, Roussef, and the Workers Party establishment in power

By Dan La Botz
Originally published in New Politics

Wednesday, 9 September 2015

The debacle of the Workers Party in Brazil: Alfredo Saad-Filho

Hundreds of thousands of chiefly white middle class protesters took to the streets in Brazil on 15 March in an organised upsurge of hatred against the federal administration led by President Dilma Rousseff of the Workers’ Party (‘Partido dos Trabalhadores’, PT). These protests are far more cohesive and better organised than the previous wave of anti-government demonstrations, in 2013; their demands are unambiguously reactionary, and they include primarily the country’s elite.

The 2015 demonstrations erupted in the political vacuum created by the paralysis of Dilma’s administration because of its own ineptitude and Brazil’s worsening economy. Those difficulties were compounded by aggressive media reporting of the Lava Jato corruption scandal, focusing on a network of firms channelling vast sums to individuals and political parties through the state-owned oil company Petrobras. Readers should not underestimate this crisis and its devastating implications for the Brazilian left.
At a deeper level, the economic and political crises in Brazil are due to the achievements and limitations of the administrations led by Luís Inácio Lula da Silva (2003-06 and 2007-10) and Dilma Rousseff (2011-14 and 2015-present). They led a partial economic and social break with neoliberalism that has delivered significant gains in employment and distribution, but also entrenched poor economic performance and left Brazil vulnerable to the global downturn.