Sunday, 13 April 2014

Soft Left Alternative: Weak and Unworkable - Phil Hearse

Do the Tories really own the future?

April 12, 2014
Phil Hearse says the ‘soft left’ alternative put forward by John Harris in the Guardian is weak and unworkable

Within hours of the announcement of Tony Benn’s death, ex-Labour cabinet minister Clare Short was on BBC TV saying that “the problem with Tony” was that “he refused to acknowledge that the world had moved on” and that in particular “the world economy had moved on” – and thus he remained “stuck in the past”.

John Harris
John Harris in the Guardian recently said the same thing about the whole of the left, in which he includes everyone from the Labour leadership to Left Unity’s Ken Loach, who he patronises with the word “venerable”. His theme is that while the Tories own the future the left is stuck in the past. The Tories have understood the present and how to adapt to it; the left has not.

A flavour of what he regards as the left’s problem is the two demands he singles out for special attack: a massive national programme of housebuilding and the renationalisation of the railways (!) More popular demands capable of mobilising the enthusiasm of millions could hardly be imagined. John Harris regards these things as problematic because they involve a central role for the state, which in the era of neoliberal free enterprise and privatisation is a no-no. And Harris knows full well that the Labour leadership does not advocate such things: he is really attacking the militant left like Left Unity.

The rational part of what John Harris says is that we cannot go back to the old Keynesian welfare state model of capitalism, but the radical left has never been so minimalist in its ambitions. For us the future is not about adapting to neoliberal globalisation, or imagining that 1950s Labourism can be recaptured, but making a radical break with the whole logic of ‘turbo capitalism’.

Wednesday, 19 March 2014

South Africa – The New “TINA”?: NUMSA and its United Front

There is no alternative to discarding the theories and practices of capitalism, if we must save the Earth and its living systems. No amount of cosmetic reforms either in the centre of the global capitalist system nor anywhere in its periphery can hide the most obvious fact today: at a time when humanity has the most profound knowledge and technology, the world capitalist system of private greed risks all our lives and the very Earth we live on.”
“The State of the Class Struggle in South Africa,” Statement from the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA), March 2, 2014 [1]

Following the massacre of 34 striking miners at Marikana in August 2012, a political and organizational crisis erupted in COSATU (Congress of South African Trade Unions) and the ANC-led Tripartite Alliance. The recent statement by NUMSA in response to Jacob Zuma’s widely criticized State of the Nation Address both reflects and deepens this dual crisis. NUMSA’s call for political independence from the ANC and a “United Front” toward a “Movement for Socialism” is a stinging indictment of the “leadership of the national liberation movement,” the South African capitalist class (black and white), and the “stalled” transition to democracy that has left the black working class of the country mired in unemployment, malnutrition, illness, discrimination and, often, hopelessness.

The announcement is not merely “resolutionary socialism” or paper politics. If NUMSA can build connections among inchoate protesters, with new social movements, with restless and strike-ready workers across industries, and among existing trade unions, it has the opportunity to create the first nationally viable political opposition to the ANC. That it might do so on the basis of working-class and socialist politics represents a rumor and a hope that seemed incredible—in the sense of being beyond belief—to even the most optimistic forces on the South African left just two years ago.

Socialists have good reason to look on this development with interest and excitement. However, a close reading of NUMSA’s document elicits a note of caution. The authors place NUMSA as the standard-bearers of COSATU’s left wing—of lost revolutionary ideals sapped from the liberation struggle at the critical moment. Though it condemns the betrayal of the “property clauses” of the Freedom Charter by “ANC and SACP” leaders during the negotiated transition, the NUMSA statement doesn’t offer an explicit analysis of the causes of that betrayal. Nor does it consider the many subsequent moments in which various redistributive policies were abandoned and blocked in favor of policies that were more in line with Margaret Thatcher’s famous prophecy of a new neoliberal order, in which “there is no alternative” to privatization and free markets (an assertion later abbreviated as “TINA”).

But without a clear analysis of what factors lead to the betrayal and defeat of the South African working class of the early 1990’s, and the organizational, structural, and historical forces in play, NUMSA runs the risk of repeating that history. The focus on the redemption and resurrection of the ruined reputation of suspended COSATU General Secretary Zwelinzima Vavi is merely one example of a top-down and personality-driven style of politics that mirrors the approach of the “old” (and the “new”) SACP.

The similarities and differences between Vavi’s recent scandal and President Jacob Zuma’s 2005 rape trial are instructive. In both cases, mainstream media and spokesmen for both “sides” have framed the issue as “he-said-she-said” and in terms of political opportunism. Zuma, of course, was ultimately acquitted of raping the HIV-positive daughter of a deceased friend, on the basis of “consent” (as determined by the court). Unlike Zuma’s accuser, the woman who initially raised rape charges against Vavi later recanted, while Vavi admitted to an extramarital affair with a subordinate whom he seems to have hired for the purpose of proximity.

In both cases, the charges prompted a vigorous defense of the accused, complete with the usual sexist tropes about gold-digging, lying, female honeypots, which have received few criticisms outside of the world of South Africa’s gender justice NGOs. It’s easy to see how Vavi’s supporters—and indeed Zuma’s—viewed the accusations as politically motivated. What is less often considered by either “side” are the implications of so many powerful South African men having sexual relationships that at the very least reek of quid pro quo and sexualized abuse of power, in a nation with with some of the world’s strongest legal protections for women and for workers.

If the new South African left is to differentiate itself from the old South African left, a deeper reconsideration of movement, organizational, and institutional democracy is needed. It must avoid the pitfall of stopping at a reactive defense against selective enforcement, which reinforces misogynist stereotypes about the female half of of South Africa’s working class. Musing over the causes of Marikana, Vavi himself condemned the inevitable results of a top-down model of union leadership that elevates officials above the rank and file, finding a “social gap” between union leaders and members central to the discontent that erupted in the platinum mines in 2012. “Every leader stays in the white suburbs,” he commented. “Their kids go to former model-C schools. When they are sick, they go to private hospitals.”

Will the context of a “united front” provide the space and opportunity for democratic practices workshopped in South Africa’s new social movements over the last several decades to influence NUMSA and the trade union movement? Partisans of working-class democracy in South Africa will pay close attention to this political challenge, particularly around the definition and deployment of “leadership.”
Vavi claimed that workers want “new heroes.” That much seems obvious. But what seemed less obvious two years ago was that South African workers already had them, in the form of 34 striking platinum miners who gave their lives fighting for dignified work and better pay, their families, and the thousands of activists who have taken up and extended their fight. They couldn’t have known that they would spark a fresh hope for South African democracy.

[1] See on ESSF (article 31362), The State of the Class Struggle in South Africa.
* Some links are missing, but the link to the original article is not functioning at the time we post it online on our website. We’ll add them asap.
* Kate Doyle Griffiths-Dingani is a Ph.D. candidate in Anthropology at the CUNY Graduate Center and a member of Solidarity.

Saturday, 15 March 2014

Tony Benn: a vision to inspire and mobilise - Phil Hearse

First posted at Socialist Resistance

It is a bitter irony that Tony Benn has died in the very same week as Bob Crow, two giants of the labour movement who will be cruelly missed. Numerous instant obituaries and comments have concentrated on Benn’s determination, his speaking and writing talents, his humour and his personal kindness. Of course. But in celebrating his life the important thing for the left, especially the younger generation, is to make an assessment of Benn and Bennism as a political phenomenon, why it constituted such a threat to the existing powers that be (including in the trade unions and Labour Party) and why such an array of forces gathered together to attempt to put an end to it.
In the hours immediately after his death TV comments illustrated his importance and ideological challenge. Shirley Williams agreed that his intervention had made ordinary people suspicious and cynical about political leaders (surely not!) and Clare Short decried the fact that he had refused to face the facts about the new world order and accommodate himself to it, becoming an ‘impossibilist’. But being cynical about those in power and refusing to accommodate himself to the outrageous present order of things was exactly what characterised Benn and enabled him to make the contribution he did.

Friday, 14 March 2014

Oliver New, a former RMT exec member and supporter of Left Unity, pays tribute to BOB CROW

Bob’s dead.
I just can’t believe it.
It’s not just that he’s been a friend and comrade for 30 years, or that he was only 52, or even that he’s left such a huge hole to fill in RMT and working class politics. It’s just that he was always there, larger than life, leading from the front or supporting us.
He was always one of us and never considered himself anything else. He liked, supported, believed in and – whenever he could – empowered ordinary people. In his own mind he was a London Underground track worker doing a union job. Despite all the media poison, all their lies and attempts at character assassinations, most people were aware he didn’t have a flash lifestyle and his friends were other working people, not any sort of elite groups.
Because he was honest and true to himself and working people, the press always tried to suggest he was corrupt, or a bully, or out of touch. Apart from all the smears and venom, he had his life threatened many times. Once he was smashed on the head with an iron bar on his own doorstep. Another time reporters from the Scum newspaper blocked his way to work, stood on his feet and tried to provoke him, desperate to get an angry reaction they could misuse.
The press claimed he had a company car when he didn’t; they always, always lied about his wages. They followed him, they doorstepped him, they never admitted he was elected, or carried out instructions from the RMT, instead calling him a “union boss”. The truth is that strikes are discussed and called by the RMT’s elected executive (of which I was once a proud member) and Bob would not normally be involved or even present. But he fronted it up, that was the job. As far as Bob was concerned, all these lies and harassment were things he just had to put up with, it showed he (and the RMT) were doing things right.
Bob led from the front on politics. When the last Labour government started to carry on from where the Tories had left off, even privatising London Underground, RMT supported other socialist candidates and was expelled by Labour. RMT stopped sponsoring MPs like Prescott who were attacking our members, instead supporting only those MPs who agreed to back key union policies. Members understood this – after all, who wants to pay people to privatise you?
Bob got the RMT to support TUSC and No2EU. The EU has been and is directly organising privatisation of transport, restructuring of railways and reduction of safety standards along with enforcing contracting out and casualisation. So Bob’s view was to fight it.
For years Bob kept up a gruelling pace of visiting union meetings across Britain and around the world, while simultaneously staying on top of developments in the union organisation, dealing with internal and external conflicts and problems and loads of other stuff.
In the few hours since he died, hundreds of union members have been posting tributes and photos of Bob in their workplace or branch meeting. The same in the broader movement. Everyone has got a story to tell about our much loved and departed comrade.
With Labour adopting Tory policies and most union leaders being hesitant or hamstrung, Bob Crow was one of the few major figures to stand up for socialism. And now he’s left us a massive gap to fill. I have always been proud of RMT and we have some fantastic fighters and organisers, but I can’t see any one person filling that big gap. We will all have to try and do it together.
Olly New
Some Bobisms:
”Fear is contagious, but not as contagious as courage.”
“If you fight you may lose, if you don’t fight you will lose.”
“The only people who don’t make mistakes are people who don’t do anything.”

Sunday, 9 March 2014

Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera Visit Leon Trotsky in Mexico, 1938

Here is some very rare footage of the great Mexican painters Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo paying a visit to exiled Soviet revolutionary Leon Trotsky and his wife, Natalia Sedova, in Coyocoán, Mexico, in 1938. The Trotskys had arrived the year before, after Rivera petitioned the government of President Lázaro Cárdenas to grant the controversial Marxist leader and theorist sanctuary in Mexico. 

When the Trotskys arrived on a Norwegian oil tanker at the port city of Tampico in January of 1937, Rivera was not well, but Kahlo boarded the ship to welcome the Trotskys and accompanied them on an armored train to Mexico City. She invited the Trotskys to stay at her family home, La Casa Azul (the Blue House) in Coyocoán, now a section of Mexico City. By the time this footage was taken by a visiting American named Ivan Heisler, Trotsky and Kahlo had either had, or were about to have, a brief affair, and the friendship between the two couples would soon fall apart. In early 1939 Trotsky moved to another house in the same neighborhood, where he was assassinated in August of 1940.t:

Ernest Tate: Revolutionary Activism in the 1950s and '60s

 Excerpts from Ernie Tate's just-published two-volume memoirs,Revolutionary Activism in the 1950s & 60s. Links readers are urged to order a copy; to do so email
* * *
Preface by Phil Hearse
It’s a great pleasure to write the preface for Volume II of Ernie Tate’s memoirs of the 1950s and ’60s. I first met Ernie and his partner Jess MacKenzie in 1967, when I was part of a small group of young socialists from the London Borough of Ealing recruited to the International Marxist Group (IMG). So it’s the British part of the story that I know well.
Ernie and Jess were, together with Pat Jordan, the IMG full timers in London, working out of a cramped office and bookshop in Toynbee Street in the East End of London. This book is a vivid account of what were fateful days in establishing the modern revolutionary left in Britain and is full of valuable lessons. What grabs the reader’s attention is the creativity and sheer audacity of this tiny group of people, setting out to make a major political impact with almost no resources—and succeeding.
Until the middle 1960s the organised far left in Britain, such as it was, was dominated by Gerry Healy’s Socialist Labour League—itself only a few hundred members. The SLL was ultra-sectarian with hardly any notion of the united front; in fact it was the reflection of third period Stalinism inside the Trotskyist movement. And its internal norms were highly authoritarian, even by the standards of today’s ‘democratic centralist’ organisations. Against the SLL, the forerunners of the main organisations of the far left in Britain today were small and weak.
What started to change the situation was the new world and British context that developed in the mid-1960s. While the trade union movement was beginning to flex its muscles in the shop stewards movement, the militant socialist left had hardly any implantation among them. But the rise of a movement against the Vietnam War and the emergence of the student movement began to change things and lay the basis for a new kind of left. The role of the IMG in that was crucial.

Tansy Hoskins, author of Stitched Up, on the fashion industry (15Feb14)

Speech by Florian Wilde (Die Linke) on "Fight the Troika" meeting in Bilbao.

Tuesday, 4 March 2014

Daniel Bensaïd: Paris '68, 'When history breathed down our necks' -- excerpt from 'An Impatient Life: A Memoir'

Via Links, Journal of Socialist Renewal
Below is an excerpt from the late Daniel Bensaïd's memoir, An Impatient Life, just published by Verso. It was posted at Links  with the permission of Verso. Readers are urged to order a copy HERE

To read click the 'full screen' icon

Monday, 3 March 2014

Ukraine: the Haze of Propaganda

Timothy Snyder (New York Review of Books)

Jerome Sessini/Magnum Photos
Protesters in Kiev, Ukraine, February 19, 2014
From Moscow to London to New York, the Ukrainian revolution has been seen through a haze of propaganda. Russian leaders and the Russian press have insisted that Ukrainian protesters were right-wing extremists and then that their victory was a coup. Ukraine’s president, Viktor Yanukovych, used the same clichés after a visit with the Russian president at Sochi. After his regime was overturned, he maintained he had been ousted by “right-wing thugs,” a claim echoed by the armed men who seized control of airports and government buildings in the southern Ukrainian district of Crimea on Friday
Interestingly, the message from authoritarian regimes in Moscow and Kiev was not so different from some of what was written during the uprising in the English-speaking world, especially in publications of the far left and the far right. From Lyndon LaRouche’s Executive Intelligence Review through Ron Paul’s newsletter through The Nation and The Guardian, the story was essentially the same: little of the factual history of the protests, but instead a play on the idea of a nationalist, fascist, or even Nazi coup d’état.