Saturday, 2 January 2016

Why I Hate New Years Day

By Antonio Gramsci

Every morning, when I wake again under the pall of the sky, I feel that for me it is New Year’s day.
That’s why I hate these New Year’s that fall like fixed maturities, which turn life and human spirit into a commercial concern with its neat final balance, its outstanding amounts, its budget for the new management. They make us lose the continuity of life and spirit. You end up seriously thinking that between one year and the next there is a break, that a new history is beginning; you make resolutions, and you regret your irresolution, and so on, and so forth. This is generally what’s wrong with dates.
They say that chronology is the backbone of history. Fine. But we also need to accept that there are four or five fundamental dates that every good person keeps lodged in their brain, which have played bad tricks on history. They too are New Years’. The New Year’s of Roman history, or of the Middle Ages, or of the modern age.

Read rrest of asticle here

Friday, 1 January 2016

The right wing fight to ditch Corbyn is already underway

Another day, another sharp attack on Jeremy Corbyn in the Guardian, this time from Peter Mandelson. Mandelson heaps half-truths upon untruths and tops them up with venomous red baiting:

But Corbyn is now in a position to impose his views on the party, and he is doing so by very unconventional means. To secure his support base and grip within the party, Corbyn has created Momentum, a trade union-funded organisation run in conjunction with hard-left networks outside the party. This differentiates it from the moderates’ Progress organisation, which has no outside allegiances…..You would expect Corbyn to recruit loyalists to his office in parliament, but this is largely staffed from two further far left entities: Socialist Action, a Trotskyite group most closely associated with Ken Livingstone, and Labour Representation Committee, which was founded by John McDonnell, the shadow chancellor.” (1)

Mandelson accuses Corbyn of wanting total dominance of the party and a total marginalising of the centre and right. This may be part of the campaign to avert a reshuffle of the shadow cabinet, but it is symptomatic of something else: the campaign to remove Corbyn is already underway.

What Mandelson underestimates of course is that the Corbyn phenomenon is a function of something much bigger than the many thousands who've joined Labour or registered to vote in the election. It's a crystallisation of the opinions of hundreds of thousands, maybe millions of people, fed up with pro-austerity politicians including New Labour. This phenomenon will not go away with a successful leadership coup against Corbyn, but it can suffer an important political defeat.

Wednesday, 30 December 2015

Facing Opposition Onslaught, Chavismo must return to its roots

The United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) suffered a crushing defeat in Sunday’s National Assembly elections, winning just 55 of 167 seats. Formerly in opposition, the Venezuelan right took a two-thirds majority with 112 seats, gaining control of the South American country’s legislature for the first time in 17 years.

The outcome affords the Venezuelan right an unprecedented opportunity to roll back the gains of the Bolivarian Revolution by legal means, without having to resort to coups or other forms of extra-institutional violence. But will they succeed?

Counter-Revolution without Counter-Hegemony?

Under Venezuela’s democratic system, the single-house National Assembly holds enormous power: a two-thirds super-majority can pass or revoke organic constitutional laws, replace Supreme Court magistrates, appoint the heads of crucial public institutions such as the Public Prosecutor’s office and the National Electoral Council, and even convene a constituent assembly to rewrite the constitution.

In short, a two-thirds majority gives the opposition all of the institutional weapons necessary to reverse many of the key transformations of the Venezuelan state achieved by the Bolivarian Revolution over the last seventeen years.

They will now be empowered to revoke critical revolutionary legislation such as the Organic Law of Communes, the Organic Work and Workers’ Law (LOTTT), among numerous others, repeal international treaties such as the ALBA-TP and PetroCaribe, as well as pack the Supreme Court with an eye towards impeaching President Nicolas Maduro.

However, while the opposition has indeed won a super-majority and the concomitant legal power to pursue these changes, this does not necessarily mean that they have a popular mandate to carry out such a reactionary agenda.

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.”