Well, sort of. I’m so incredibly jealous right now.
Featuring Laurie Penny, China Mieville & Chris Nineham.
I’m glad Sandra isn’t here anymore to see how her party, the Socialist Workers Party, deals with accusations of sexual harassement and rape (as reported by Laurie Penney):
This week, it came to light that when allegations of rape and sexual assault were made against a senior party member, the matter was not reported to the police, but dealt with ‘internally’ before being dismissed. According to a transcript from the party’s annual conference earlier this month, not only were friends of the alleged rapist allowed to investigate the complaint, the alleged victims were subject to further harassment. Their drinking habits and former relationships were called into question, and those who stood by them were subject to expulsion and exclusion.
Lenny isn’t impressed either, both by the waqy the central committee handled the original accusations and now has tried to stop criticism of its attempts at covering it up:
This is the thing that all party members need to understand. Even on cynical grounds, the Central Committee has no strategy for how to deal with this. A scandal has been concealed, lied about, then dumped on the members in the most arrogant and stupid manner possible. The leadership is expecting you to cope with this. This isn’t the first time that such unaccountable practices have left you in the lurch. You will recall your pleasure on waking up to find out that Respect was collapsing and that it was over fights that had been going on for ages which no one informed you about. But this is much worse. They expect you to go to your activist circles, your union, your workplaces, and argue something that is indefensible
Richard Seymour is right to put this despicable affair in its proper context, that of a failing, undemocratic, unsocialist party ruled by a nomenklatura of central committee members and hacks, lurching from crisis to crisis, with no real answers to contemporary crisises other than what can be gleamed from the moldering manuscripts of the party’s founder, Tony Cliff. That the CC would cover up sexual assault was only a matter of time, as the leadership has been busy for years if not decades creating the very atmosphere in which these attacks thrive.
The SWP has always been dedicated to the principle of democratic centralism, in which policy and ideological decisions are supposed to be taken by the leadership as a whole, then directed by the central committee, with no room for base politics once these decisions have been made. This is of course rife to abuse and it has long since degenerated into a mockery of socialist democracy: the central leadership is free to think out and dictate policy on its own whim, with no democratic oversight whatsoever, as all room for debate has been removed from the party except for during ritualised conventions.
Sandra, though an active member of the SWP for years, was quite aware of these failings, summing them up as the party being ruled by a generation of professional activists convinced it’s still 1973 and the revolution is right around the corner, but she was equally convinced that flawed as it was, the SWP was one of the few, if not the only political organisation capable and willing to remake the inequalities in our society. But, no matter how cynical she was, I don’t think that she expected the leadership to be as clueless and evil as to coverup sexual assault; nor would she have wanted to stay in such a party.
Further confirmation that the supposed gap between the great mass of lawfully protesting DecentOrdinaryFolk and the StudentRadicals of UK Uncut is not as great as certain career opportunists might want us to think, here’s a letter of support for UK Uncut signed by various union and NGO bigwigs:
UK Uncut have played a significant part in changing the terms of debate around economic policy in the UK and have been praised by politicians and the media for doing so.
Indeed UK Uncut played a key role in ensuring that more people were at the march on Saturday than otherwise would have been. At all times they acted in a way which complemented and supported the TUC march.
However, in taking the type of peaceful action which UK Uncut routinely undertake on Saturday, targeting Fortnum and Mason on this occasion, they were treated in a political and deceptive manner by the police which sends an ominous message about the right to protest.
It would appear activists were misled by the police about not being arrested when asked to leave the Fortnum and Mason building, after which they were held for a significant length of time, their clothing was confiscated and they have been denied the right to protest in the near future.
This situation has now been seized on by the media and politicians to further threaten the right to protest. UK Uncut activists have been blamed for damage they did not cause and this story has become a substitute for discussion of the real issues raised by UK Uncut and the TUC march in general.
You could set your alarm by it, it’s so predicable: that moment in every large scale protest movement where the opportunists start to concern troll their more radical allies, usually echoing rightwing propaganda when doing so. With the 2001-2003 protests against the War on Afghanistan and the War on Iraq, it was ANSWER, a smallish antiwar organisation that had taken the lead in organising protests when most liberals were still wringing their hands on whether or not they could trust Bush to run their war, that suddenly was the bogeyman when more respectable organisations and people finally jointed the antiwar movement. It supposedly had ties to groups that supposedly had ties to groups that supposedly had ties to terrorists and there were some *gasp* communists amongst its members and of course the people attacking ANSWER were not McCarthyites, but surely we should not let such a controversial group lead our antiwar protests, think of what it would look like to Middle America… The result was a divided and weakened American antiwar movement that found it that much harder to oppose these wars, but at least various centrists and liberals had shown how serious they were.
In the fight against the ConDem cuts we’ve now reached the point where both the Labour Party and the TUC are on board and helping to organise mass demonstrations like the March 26 demos in London, which had some 500,000 people marching, as well as saw more radical groups repeating the same tactics that had been used in earlier protests, including the early student protest: attacking and occupying shops owned by tax cheats and other symbols of the economic order that had fucked up Britain and made the cuts “necessary”.
With Labour and the TUC now directly in the picture, it was therefore inevitable that the professional pearl clutchers would start to doubledown on condemning these “childish vandals” and Oxbridge student activists (an old favourite) and accusing them of trying to hijack the movement, contrasting them to the thousands of real working people trying to have a decent, peaceful, lawful protest and who disapproved mightely of these antics. None did so more pompously than Anthony Painter, who ended his sermon like this:
The group’s retail outlet of protest choice is TopShop. Instant gratification consumerism has a mirror image in instant gratification politics. The dopamine rush of credit card financed prêt-a-porter fashion finds its corollary in the jejune fantasies of the retail activist chic. Meanwhile, those who are really hit hard continue to suffer.
I hope the TUC continues marching. I hope it gives voice to the voiceless in every village, town, and city in the land. UK Uncut owes a lot of apologies. Without trading Martin Luther King quotes – a glib game as we have seen – better instead to respect and understand his legacy. We can overcome. But only if we are wise. A small minority were not only unwise on Saturday. They were downright dumb.
(Oddly enough this appeal to end senseless violence and concentrate on lawful ways of protest does nothing so much as make me want to punch his smug, fat face in — childish, I know.)
Thing is, as anybody not gripped by tabloid hysteria knows, this supposed divide between ordinary folk decently protesting and evil anarchists just does not exist. Take the eighties squatters riots in Amsterdam for example, huge violent affairs in which the city centre was the battlefield between hardcore anarchists and riot police, whole streets ripped up to throw at the police etc etc, yet support for the squatters movement was never greater. That’s because quite a few ordinary, non-political people could actually see for themselves that the squatters had a point, that it was a scandal that private landlords let buildings rot away when so many people could not find housing at all.
The same goes for UKUncut and its occupation of Fortnum: for all the tabloid hysteria, plenty of people have no problem seeing the same rich bastard that caused the crisis that might cost them their own jobs suffer a bit. You can’t split the uncut protestors into two groups of supposed vandals ruining it for everybody and decent, hardworking ordinary people just wanting to have a meaningful protest. Criticising a particular kind of protest is of course legitimate, but demonising them and the people who undertook them will only serve your opponents cause. What somebody like Painter does is helping to divide the anticuts movement, which doesn’t help anybody but the ConDems. If you worry more about policing what those on your side are doing than what you can do to put the pressure on the real enemy, you are the enemy.
So, to recap: last Saturday, at the end of the Right to Work Conference, coincidently held close to where British Airways was “negotiating” with the unions, several hundred or so people went from the conference to the negotiations to show their support for the airline workers and ended up shouting at BA boss Willy Walsh, with the union leaders looking on in annoyance, while . Cue much pearl clutching from Andy Newman and co, convienced that this would finally be the end of the SWP (joy!) but also mean the ultimate failure of the negotiations, union militacy in general, the socialist project and world revolution (oh noes!).
The whole controversy is remarkably silly, but to be expected from people for whom that bit from Life of Brian about the Judean People Front isn’t satire, but an instruction manual..
Back in the real world it’s clear this stunt didn’t matter much one way or another. It didn’t “disrupt” the negotiations as overblown rhetoeric had it immediately afterwards, but neither did it achieve anything else, other than provide a show of moral support that might have been better expressed differently. I do worry about the attitude of people who think a stunt like this is inherently wrong and counterproductive, or who worry too much about how “the rightwing media” or “the bosses” will spin this, or who get outraged at the “disrespect” shown to union bosses. It reminds me of those liberals who back in 2002/2003 were too good to join antiwar protests organised by giant puppet making hippies.
Dave’s Part on an all too common occurrence, as three socialist parties will stand in the Glasgow North East by-election:
The picture was complicated in 2005, as former Labour MP Michael Martin sought election as Speaker of the House of Commons. In accordance with convention, the ballot paper did not describe him as Labour, and neither the Tories nor the Lib Dems ran against him.
To general astonishment, the Socialist Labour Party secured 14.2%, an all-time high for the Scargillites, almost certainly thanks to confusion on the part of the electorate. The SSP tally came to an additional 4.9%.
But nothing can excuse the wilful display of light-mindedness the division flags up in neon lights to potentially sympathetic punters, just months ahead of a general election. Credible this is not.
The far left, both sides of the border, should remember that until it starts taking itself seriously, there is no reason why anyone else should do so.
That there will be three socialist parties with broadly the same ideology and policies standing in this by-election is silly, but it’s not the cause, nor even a sympton, of the socialist left’s irrelevance in UK politics. In fact, it’s the obsession with unity that shows how much the left has declined in the past three decades. Healthy parties do not bother with alliances and bpopular fronts; they rely on their own strengths. And as each of the various initiatives undertaken in the last ten years — Socialist Alliance, Respect, the Campaign for a New Workers Party etc — they don’t work: little electorial succes, no real gain in membership or activists and infighting soon ruining all of them. The most succesful of these projects is the SSP, which did go from an electorial alliance to being a real party, only to be nobbed by the whole Tommy Sheridan affair.
The differences on the left, between social democrats and socialists, socialists and communists, communists and trotskyists have alwas been there but didn’t matter when the left was healthy. If the left makes a turnaround it won’t be through desperate unity projects, but through hard slog and by confronting the realities of 21st century Britain. Some group or party will get it right, go their own way and become “the next Labour party” — maybe even the Labour party itself.
So I was wondering why the comment I left on Socialist Unity, linking to my post about the Bengali famine and who was responsible for it, seemed to have disappeared when I looked again on Sunday, but other matters interfered. It wasn’t until tonight that I learned that it hadn’t been an mistake on my part – - a comment left by Andy Newman on Louis Proyect’s blog reveals that I have been banned! Apparantly this ban is due to the “snide and destructive nature of [my] interventions” and has nothing to do with the comment I left, but rather with my “general impact on debate on the blog” — which is quite a compliment considering how rarely I actually commented there…
If it was true, that is. Because a Google search on my name at the Socialist Unity site reveals that my comment was posted and only removed afterwards, as there are several hits on “Martin Wisse on PERSONAL SLANDER SHOULD HAVE NO PLACE IN DEBATE”, which is the post I commented on…
Now I’m not going to cry censorship or something stupid like that, because it is Andy’s blog and he can do what he wants with it. But it does reveal a deep seated insecurity that you would ban somebody over a factual disagreement, then tell fibs about it when caught.
So Andy “Socialist Unity” Newham and Louis “Unrepentant Marxist” Proyect have gotten in an online cat fight, after Louis objected to what he saw as Andy’s glorification of Winston Churchill. In Louis’ view, and I’m inclined to partially agree with him, Andy praised Churchill too much, gave him too much credit in what circumstances forced him to do and neglected to mention the dark side of how he led the war, as for example with the starvation in India:
When I brought up the topic of 6 to 8 million Bengalis dying because of British wartime policies that caused a famine, I was treated like a skunk at a garden party by Newman and his supporters, including Paul Fauvet, a signer of the Euston Manifesto who wrote: “Louis Proyect’s tactic is to change the subject. He doesn’t want to talk about Churchill’s role in World War II, so he talks about the Bengal famine instead.” Meanwhile, Newman also chastised me for “prioritising the entirely secondary issue of India…”
To which Andy responded angrily. I’m not so much interested in the wider disagreement between the two and whether or not Andy was slandered by Louis or is too defensive, but in the argument Andy makes in the comments about the Bengali famine:
The bengal famine actually killed roughly two million people. There is no mileage to be gained by exagerating.
In Eastern Europe tens of millions of people died due to the war, including widespread famine.
To select one incident of famine being used as a deliberate wespon of murder, remember that in 1944 the Nazis deliberatly blocked all foodstuffs being transported to Western Holland as a form of collective punishment for a rail strike, and this left some 18000 dead.
The Bengal famine was not deliberate, but the result of callous incompetence, and an inaccurate model of economic understanding. Small consolation to the dead, but an important moral and political difference. My own maternal grandmother died of malnutrition in England in 1936, due to similar faulty economic theories. She was 26 years old. That dodn’t mean that the British tory government was as bad as Hitler, although I am sure it seemed like it to my granddad, my mum and her siblings.
Nor is it as straight forward as you make out in your simplistic statement that the rice went to British soldiers.
There was the loss of Burma to Japan, which had been a major rice exporter to Bengal, and then a major cyclone, and an outbreak of a disease in the rice plants. The crop was down, and there were less imports.
The British and Indian armies did buy a lot of rice, but the main cause of the famine seems to have been an unregulated market, so that the percieved drop of rice availability led to hoarding, price rises, putting rice out of reach of the poorest. the hoarding was mainly carried out by more prosperous bengalis.
There was undoubtedly racism and incompetence in the government that led to a slow administrative response; but the famine was arguably more due to faulty economic theory, which made the government slow to intervene to lower prices.
In the post itself Andy had justified his own omittance of the famine by saying that well respected histories of the Second World War, including Angus Calder’s, The People’s War often omit it as well, which doesn’t strike me as a particularly strong argument. That at the time people in England rarely cared or thought much about India is understandable, but more than sixty years onward and in the context of the war as a “People’s War”, things like the Bengali famine need to be mentioned and evaluated, as it shows how some peoples mattered more than others.
Moving on to the meat of Andy’s argument about the famine itself, what struck me was that, while he agrees with Louis on the reality of it (though not its importance, as mentioned), he (unconsciously) seems to want to lessen the crime of it, by coming up with all sorts of reasons as to why it wasn’t a crime as much as an accident. He compares it to deliberate acts of nazi terrorism (though the famine in Holland was due more to the liberation of most of its agrarian parts before the densely population of western Holland than to deliberate starvation), worse tragedies in Eastern Europe and finally argues it was caused by “callous incompetence” and “faulty economic theories” rather than design. These phrases may sound harsh, but their main effect is still to remove responsibility for the famine from those who administered Bengal and those who profited from the panic.
This idea that atrocities like the Bengali famine taking place under (imperialistic) capitalism are unintended side effects for which nobody can be held responsible is a widely used excuse for the crimes of capitalism, which are not tolerated when used to diminish responsibility for similar atrocities taking place under Stalinism, say. The famine in Bengal is like the famines in the Ukraine in the thirties, a foreseeable consequence of deliberate policies introduced without the consent of the people they affected; at best both these atrocities were treated as acceptable costs, at worst these were the intended outcomes of these policies. Let’s not forget that part of English colonial rule in India was the deliberate destruction of the old local, village based support networks that used to prevent or alliviate famine earlier and its replacement by a nation wide free market. It was in this context that the deliberate decision was made by the government to divert part of the harvest to English soldiers, to not interfere in the free market and let speculation continue that priced what was available out of reach of much of the population. The famine was not a tragic accident, but the unavoidable outcome of these decisions and hence as much a crime as if these people had been gunned down instead.
Capitalism as a system has avoided much of the guilt for its crimes because we are trained to only look at the goals the bosses in business and government want to achieve and to see the negative consequences of achieving those goals either as a natural part of the system or at worst as regrettable accidents. What we need to realise instead is that these consequences cannot be decoupled. If a water company is privatised and then raises its prices beyond the reach of the poorest third of the population, this means that deaths due to cholera caused by drinking unsafe water are as much a goal of the company as the increased profits, as the latter is not realisable without the former. Socialists should know this and not make excuses.
In this crisis and with the BNP victorious the left must unite says the SWP:
An open letter to the left from the Socialist Workers Party (SWP)
Labour’s vote collapsed to a historic low in last week’s elections as the right made gains. The Tories under David Cameron are now set to win the next general election.
The British National Party (BNP) secured two seats in the European parliament. Never before have fascists achieved such a success in Britain.
The result has sent a shockwave across the labour and anti-fascist movements, and the left.
The meltdown of the Labour vote and the civil war engulfing the party poses a question – where do we go from here?
The fascists pose a threat to working class organisations, black, Asian and other residents of this country – who BNP führer Nick Griffin dubs “alien” – our civil liberties and much else.
History teaches us that fascism can be fought and stopped, but only if we unite to resist it.
The SWP firmly believes that the first priority is to build even greater unity and resistance to the fascists over the coming months and years.
The BNP believes it has created the momentum for it to achieve a breakthrough. We have to break its momentum.
The success of the anti-Nazi festival in Stoke and the numbers of people who joined in anti-fascist campaigning shows the basis is there for a powerful movement against the Nazis.
The Nazis’ success will encourage those within the BNP urging a “return to the streets”.
This would mean marches targeting multiracial areas and increased racist attacks. We need to be ready to mobilise to stop that occurring.
Griffin predicted a “perfect storm” would secure the BNP’s success. The first part of that storm he identified was the impact of the recession.
The BNP’s policies of scapegoating migrants, black and Asian people will divide working people and make it easier to drive through sackings, and attacks on services and pensions.
Unity is not a luxury. It is a necessity. If we do not stand together we will pay the price for a crisis we did not cause.
The second lesson from the European elections is that we need a united fightback to save jobs and services.
If Cameron is elected he will attempt to drive through policies of austerity at the expense of the vast majority of the British people.
But the Tories’ vote fell last week and they are nervous about pushing through attacks.
Shadow chancellor George Osborne told business leaders, “After three months in power we will be the most unpopular government since the war.”
We need to prepare for battle.
But there is a third and vital issue facing the left and the wider working class. The crisis that has engulfed Westminster benefited the BNP.
The revelations of corruption, which cabinet members were involved in, were too much for many Labour voters, who could not bring themselves to vote for the party.
One answer to the problem is to say that we should swallow everything New Labour has done and back it to keep David Cameron, and the BNP, out.
Yet it would take a miracle for Gordon Brown to be elected back into Downing Street.
The danger is that by simply clinging on we would be pulled down with the wreckage of New Labour.
Mark Serwotka, the general secretary of the PCS civil service workers’ union, has asked how, come the general election, can we ask working people to cast a ballot for ministers like Pat McFadden.
McFadden is pushing through the privatisation of the post office.
Serwotka proposes that trade unions should stand candidates.
Those who campaigned against the BNP in the elections know that when they said to people, “Don’t vote Nazi” they were often then asked who people should vote for.
The fact that there is no single, united left alternative to Labour means there was no clear answer available.
The European election results demonstrate that the left of Labour vote was small, fragmented and dispersed.
The Greens did not make significant gains either. The mass of Labour voters simply did not vote. We cannot afford a repeat of that.
The SWP is all too aware of the differences and difficulties involved in constructing such an alternative.
We do not believe we have all the answers or a perfect prescription for a left wing alternative.
But we do believe we have to urgently start a debate and begin planning to come together to offer such an alternative at the next election, with the awareness that Gordon Brown might not survive his full term.
One simple step would be to convene a conference of all those committed to presenting candidates representing working class interests at the next election.
The SWP is prepared to help initiate such a gathering and to commit its forces to such a project.
We look forward to your response.
But with the examples of the Respect party and Socialist Alliance fresh in their memory, will the rest of the socialist left trust the SWP not sabotage any new regrouping again? Deservedly or not the party does have a reputation of using coalitions only for their own ends, ending them when they no longer seem to gain from them or they might lose control of it. The party needs to show that they’re serious about this open letter before anybody else will want to work with them on anything but a case by case basis.