Stand in the place where you are

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Taking this as a brief follow-on from the last post, I’ll tell you something I always liked about the Communist Party tradition (and, I suppose, the Cannon-Dobbs school of Trotskyism that approximated it in some ways). That was that the ideologues were kept in their place. The official communist parties attracted their fair share of smart intellectuals, in some notable cases genuinely brilliant intellectuals, but rarely would you find an intellectual being elevated to the secretaryship. In fact, if memory serves, Pollitt was insistent that the CPGB general secretary should be a worker and not an intellectual, which had the unfortunate effect of disqualifying Johnny Campbell – who, with no disrespect meant to Gollan, would probably have been a more convincing leader.

But it goes beyond that. Your classic CP secretary would be someone with experience as a mass worker, someone with a high regard for ideology but also a sense of proportion when it came to ideology. You didn’t want some intellectual brainstormer like Palme Dutt in the job. Moreover, an unadvertised part of the party secretary’s job would be to discreetly let the cadre know which products of the ideology department needed to be taken seriously, and which could safely be ignored.

This is where I think Trot groups tend to operate at a disadvantage, because more often than not they’re led by ideologues, either established or aspiring. (Which is not to say that the ideological production is of any quality. Read Studies in Dialectical Materialism by G Healy if you don’t believe me.) And if you have a group dominated by ideologues, then the chances are much greater of the group being swept along with some brainstorm. Or breaking apart over nothing that really matters – Workers Power, as a highly ideological group even by Trot standards, was always more likely to fall out over ideology than anything sordidly practical.

Of course, it varies from group to group. In the Militant tendency of blessed memory, the Perspective and its associated dogmata – deep entry, the Enabling Act, nationalising the top 200 monopolies – tended to have the status of revealed truth, but I met very few Millies who ever took Ted’s ruminations on chaos theory and time travel seriously. And even more so with the SWP. I think johng makes a very useful point in the previous discussion about the haphazard way in which many SWP members form their opinions, which goes against the idealisation of the monolithic party you find in the late Cliff, but is absolutely true to life.

The SWP does of course have its handful of shibbolethim, which is to say State Capitalism, the Permanent Arms Economy and Deflected Permanent Revolution. Of these, Cliff came close to discarding the last towards the end of his life, the second has had little obvious relevance for about thirty years, and as for the big daddy, lots of party members own Cliff’s book on Russia, but few have actually read it, fewer still understand it and not all of them agree with it.

What’s important to realise is that, unlike say in the Healy movement, there have never been authorised inquisitors or heresy hunts in the SWP. The “line”, such as it is – and it’s often makeshift – is disseminated through the paper. You can agree with it or not. If you don’t agree with it, you can write in to the paper saying that Chris Harman, or it may be Alex Callinicos, is talking out of his hole. This doesn’t happen as much as it used to, partly due to new generations of members with a more deferential approach to the permanent leadership, and partly because, if it doesn’t do much good to raise a disagreement, there isn’t much point.

But yes, a lot of the monolithism seen by outsiders has little parallel in fact. You’re perfectly free to disagree with the leadership. You can even have a diametrically opposed view, as I did over the Soviet intervention in Afghanistan. You can survive in the SWP for years while disagreeing with Cliff’s theory of Stalinism, as did several comrades of my acquaintance. Disagreement isn’t the issue. You can get away with that, as long as you don’t factionalise around it.

And as for the informal “lines” on all sorts of weird and wonderful issues, many of which are based on little more than the opinion of one CC member… One recalls, for example, Lindsey German’s introduction to the Redwords edition of Literature and Revolution, where Lindsey, evidently channelling Karl Radek at the 1935 Congress of Soviet Writers, comprehensively failed to understand what Trotsky was on about. Or Renaissance Man Chris Harman on anthropology. Frankly, if these come to be accepted as the party line – on issues where there should be no question of even having a line – it’s a problem of having a lot of strident nudniks around who are willing to swallow this stuff. Not a few of whom tend to end up in the apparat, but that’s another story.

My instinct is to hive off a lot of these brilliant intellectuals into a brains trust, and leave the practical stuff to the practical people. We could of course pay attention to what the ideologues had to say, but we wouldn’t have the situation of, for instance, some far-flung group in the international tendency making detailed tactical decisions based on something Alexander has read in the Financial Times. The right people in the right jobs would be a sensible line to pursue.

Ideologues and dissonance

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One of the late Tony Cliff’s more endearing features was his indomitable optimism. In particular, Cliff couldn’t possibly see a crisis in some other political tendency without suffering visions of getting member-rich quick at somebody else’s expense. It happened during the split in Militant, when Cliff entertained the possibility that the Taaffe faction, or a substantial part thereof, would admit that Cliff had been right after all about the Labour Party and would therefore join the SWP. Truth be told, there was never much chance of that. From time to time, he also thought a chunk of the Labour left would head our way. I draw your attention to the period after Mr Tony Blair’s elevation to the leadership, when Socialist Worker ran a “Leave the Labour Party” campaign, featuring weekly interviews with divers people on “Why I’ve left the Labour Party”. The trouble was, the collapse of the Labour left was a generational collapse, and these folks in their vast majority left the Labour Party and went home. On occasion they went directly to the retirement home.

What I was thinking of in this instance was the long slow death of the CPGB (the real one, not the Weekly Worker) back in the 1980s. Cliff reckoned that following the Soviet collapse he could fish in this pool. Possibly, but he got it all wrong. For one thing, although CP comrades would have been looking for answers about what went wrong in Russia, to take a line of “The Soviet Union has collapsed! Fuck yeah!” was maybe not the right tone. (I paraphrase of course, but the exaggeration is only slight.) The other big problem was that Cliff started approvingly quoting Professor Hobsbawm and Nina Temple, which was not a tactic guaranteed to win friends and influence people in the better parts of the CP milieu.

One problem, I suppose, is that the Eurocomms successfully framed the argument as one between dinosaur Stalinists and critical Marxists. They were helped along by some disingenuous quoting of Gramsci, and by genuine dinosaurs like Rothstein and Page Arnot surfacing to berate the young whippersnapper Hobsbawm. But there were ironies in this, as the “Stalinists” were fighting the battle for party democracy while it was the Euros who were running a draconian purge regime. Actually, not all that ironic, as the tankies generally had much better material, sociologically and, yes, ideologically. For all their deficiencies, they had some concept of class struggle politics and commitment to building a Marxist-Leninist party. The Euros didn’t. They were already well on their way to becoming a Kinnockite ginger group, and sociologically they were very similar to the black, gay and feminist entrepreneurs who a few years earlier had passed through the SWP on their way to sinecures in the GLC or Channel 4. Cliff should have had some idea that the likes of Temple, Jacques and Aaro (so light, so fluffy) were not the most promising material, but then hope springs eternal. Just not always in the right place.

One other thing that fed into this is the strong idealist streak in Trotskyism. Although supposedly we’re materialists, the Trots are often very reluctant to apply materialism to judging political tendencies. They like to judge (both others and themselves) not on their actions but on their formal ideological positions, their heresies and deviations in particular. Just look at the CPB/Morning Star and its Hibernian oppo, the CPI. If you didn’t know about their heritage, would they be recognisable as Stalinist parties in the classic sense? Don’t they look rather more like small left-Labour parties? Meanwhile, as Al Richardson pointed out, there are Trot groups that show remarkable affinities to anarcho-syndicalism, to social democracy and to Stalinism (of both Third Period and Pop Front varieties), more so than to the actual stances of Trotsky and the Left Opposition. (One classic counterfactual is why the Trots don’t like to refer to the economic programme of the Left Opposition. Possibly because it looks uncomfortably similar to that of the Chinese Communist Party.)

Yes, it’s one of those things that shouldn’t really surprise materialists, that people’s professed programmes – even those they sincerely believe in – are not always in accordance with their functional programmes. The old New Left Review, perhaps because of its divorce from practice, used to be a case study in this sort of thing. Perry said he was a Trotskyist, but he looked more like a Eurocomm to me. Norm used to say he was a Luxemburgist, but behind Norm’s praise of Luxemburgist spontaneity was an extremely elitist Marxism that’s been carried over into Norm’s Decent period. Very much like the pseudo-spontaneism of CLR James, although CLR was infinitely more attractive a guru than Norm.

It should be a basic materialist premise. You look at what the left does and then look at the dissonance with what it says. Strauss on Machiavelli doesn’t even begin to touch it.

The Governator’s kingdom goes belly up

Blimey, this crisis of capitalism is going great guns, isn’t it? It’s not just high street retailers that are falling like ninepins. Entire national economies are going kablooie.

All right, the Icelanders I might have expected, what with them building up a banking sector just too big for their currency to support. Whatever about the possibility of the Vikings being fast-tracked into the EU, dumping the króna for the euro now seems inevitable, if only to get a bigger umbrella. And why not? They’ll be in the good company of the Pirate Republic of Montenegro, which also uses the euro as a parallel currency with smuggled fags, having apparently given up on the idea of minting gold doubloons and pieces of eight bearing Milo Djukanović’s likeness. They may not seem to have much in common, but two small countries with buccaneering pasts can maybe learn from each other.

Then you’ve got the poor old Isle of Man, which did its image as an offshore financial centre no good at all by putting its money in, er, Iceland. Luckily the Manxmen are still in the sterling zone and don’t have a pound of their own to support, although as sterling goes down the dunny… they may like to consider their options.

And, just as those vacant Woolworths and Zavvi outlets are going to be snapped up by healthier retailers, it’s a good time for an enterprising government to pick up a few countries on the cheap. The Russians look to have Kyrgyzstan in the bag and are the lead bidders for poor old Iceland. China, meanwhile, not content with buying up much of Africa, will be increasing its stockholding in Pakistan (Mr 10% prop.) and is even splashing the cash in the West Indies. Having been watching Hu Jintao’s state visit to west Africa, it strikes me that, if our leaders are relying on Moneygall native Barack O’Bama to bail out the failing Irish economy, it wouldn’t do any harm to discover Mr Hu’s Irish ancestry, and maybe build an ancestral home. You know, a belt-and-braces strategy.

Meanwhile stateside, I’m startled to note that California has gone bust. One is tempted to say that, if you elect as governor a B-movie actor who waves a broom around and bellows “I vill clean haus” then you’re asking for trouble, but there are broader forces than Arnold at work. I saw an article the other day, where I don’t recall, predicting that a majority of the United States had unsustainable levels of debt and may have to look at filing for bankruptcy.

This, I presume, is what President O’Bama’s bailout programme adds up to, especially in the monies being made available to the states for public works. But, aside from building tunnels to New Zealand and trying to make I-95 less of a Malthusian nightmare, there’s a basic problem in that the federal government is basically bankrupt as well, but just won’t admit it. And this is where we enter the realms of voodoo economics. What we’re going to have is Bernanke printing shitloads of dollars, and never mind that cheap money – not least Bernanke printing shitloads of dollars – played an enormous role in getting us into this crisis in the first place. And, what might provoke a cat to laughter, the British government trying to create yet more cheap money.

Yes, if there’s any major economy heading up shit creek at a rate of knots, it’s the Brits. It helps, you know, to have something fundamentally sound you can fall back on. The Chinese and Japanese and Germans have economies that make stuff – there may not be many buyers, but they do still have the capacity. The Russians have their natural resources. The Yanks, if nothing else, have a currency everybody else wants.

And what does Gordon Brown have? On Radio Galloway you often hear George growling, “Brown’s got no balls. He’s got no balls except Ed Balls.” To be honest, he ain’t got much else in the way of industrial capacity or natural resources. That’s why all you’re getting from Alistair Darling, who obviously doesn’t remember much about crisis economics from his Marxist-Leninist days, can only come out with populist gestures on bank bonuses and crackpot schemes to reflate the housing bubble.

Ye gods, it’s depressing. You would really need an Ernest Mandel to make some sense of the situation, and look at what we’ve got. Just a load of pish and vinegar.

Weird science at Stormont

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Hullo Brian, hullo Sue. You know, in a very real sense, I’m slightly irritated by this campaign in the Grauniad to get secularists and atheists onto Thought for the Day. It may not be so bad, I suppose, if they were putting on serious thinkers with something to say who just happened to be atheists. But, all things being equal, opening the God slot to atheists means Radio 4 turning to whoever volunteers, which means evangelical atheists. And I would be not inconsiderably annoyed if those bozos at the National Secular Society managed to muscle in, since their whole purpose is to say “Religion! Boo!” They’re entitled to do that of course, as long as they do it on their own time. Trying to claim a quota of an already small amount of religious programming seems a bit off to me.

We’ve also got the Darwin anniversary at the moment. I really enjoyed Attenborough’s defence of Darwin the other week, but we can expect to see plenty of Professor Dawkins, who sort of encapsulates a lot of the problem I have with evangelical atheists. One thing that winds me up is his reliance on easy targets. I’ve never yet seen him debate a serious theologian, but he is extremely fond of heading over to Kentucky to wind up some inarticulate hillbillies. He also has this touching belief that the way to make the world a better place is to hector religious people and try to browbeat them into becoming atheists. Yeah, that really worked in the Soviet Union.

There’s also the evidential question, as in the vulgar materialist assumption that science has disproved religion. No it hasn’t. It may have made religion intellectually unnecessary, but as Attenborough understands and Dawkins doesn’t, science can’t prove or disprove a metaphysical assertion. No, where science does come into play, and where Dawkins is very good, is when religious fundamentalists make daft assertions about the physical world. This is trespassing on science’s territory, and science is perfectly within its rights to give the trespasser both barrels.

Which brings me to Stormont, where the occasional sighting of Jocko Homo should be of interest to evolutionary theorists. From today’s Tele:

A DUP Assemblyman has urged one of Northern Ireland’s biggest museums to ‘balance out’ a forthcoming exhibition on evolution with a display about creationism.

The Ulster Museum is to run a series later this year on evolution and fossils, which is expected to incorporate the work of naturalist Charles Darwin, whose birthday 200 years ago is currently being celebrated.

Darwin’s views on the theory of evolution and natural selection shocked the worlds of science and religion when first published.

However, North Antrim MLA Mervyn Storey has called for a creationist exhibition to be run alongside which explains the origin of life according to a literal reading of the Genesis account in the Bible.

“All I’m saying is that there should be a balance because there are other views out there,” Mr Storey said.

“There are people who have a different view to Darwin on creation.”

Mr Storey, himself a proponent of creationism, said that he was entitled to express his views on the subject.

“I believe in creationism and intelligent design, I don’t believe in the theory of evolution”, he said.

Mr Storey also said that a failure by the museum to reflect the views of “other people” could raise the possibility that a legal challenge may be launched under equality legislation.

The museum, which is due to reopen later this year following a major refurbishment programme, responded last night with a statement which read: “The Ulster Museum… will house galleries and exhibitions of international significance interpreted in line with excellent scholarship and research.

“Within the permanent science galleries we will explain the conventional scientific theories internationally accepted by scholars and scientists to describe life on earth from the earliest evidence of fossils.

“This is consistent with approaches taken by museums of renown across the world.”

Mervyn is chairman of the Assembly education committee.

In related news, the environment committee has passed a vote of no confidence in Sammy the Streaker, but the rules of the peace process mean the minister stays in situ until Robbo decides otherwise. But I’m very taken, not for the first time, with the comments boxes which are placed at the bottom of Telegraph articles and allow the Ulster populace to speak they’re brane. Here are a few genuine comments:

One day history will show us that ‘climate change’ and the whole CO2 bunkum is a farce. Bona fide science knows this already. Mr.Wilson is to be applauded for his views on the matter and for not following the morons who have fallen for the baised and skewed reporting of the true facts about the fallacy that is man-made climate changed which we have rammed down our throats by government.

At last a minister with a BRAIN, we should give him a medal as big as a frying pan.

Regardless of whether MMGW or AGW are fact (which I dont believe they are) Mr Wilson is to be commended. Why – well, for having the intellectual rigour and conviction to make a stand, for one. To me, the harsh reality is that these ‘climate’ issues are a stage for wanna-be communists, champange socialists and ultra-left liberals, who would like nothing more than to put severe restrictions on the daily lives of everyone, believers (of MMGW/AGW) and non-believers alike.

If we dont collectively waken up we may find ourselves under the cosh of a regime of our own making.

You disagree? Think about it, we’re already in a surveillance driven state, CCTV everywhere, fines for not having rubbish sorted, massive databases of personal information, an overbearing government, etc, etc, etc. Put the pieces together, what could be more perfect than the impending threat of climate carnage as a vehicle for society wide control, huh?

Think, think, think, people, or should that be sheople ?

On second thoughts, maybe we should bring Dawkins over here. Isn’t public understanding of science his job description?

Livni’s Foreign Legion ambushed in their own backyard

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One of the more endearing, or possibly aggravating, features of the Alliance for War and Liberalism is the spurious air of openness they promote. Way back when they were running the Workers’ Liberty journal, they would actively solicit contributions from people they disagreed with, only for those gullible enough to take the bait to end up submerged under a vast mountain of Matgamnite polemic. (Which made WL perversely readable, although this did not make up for the editor abusing his authority to fill the journal with his own poetry.) Another AWL trick is to invite you to one of their weekend schools, where you can listen to some interesting talks and sink a few pints with some intelligent people, just as long as you don’t mind being called an anti-Semite every ten minutes. At one AWL-sponsored event I managed the hat trick of being called a Stalinist, an anti-Semite and a Chetnik fascist within less than half an hour, an accomplishment of which I’m quite proud, although it maybe explains why I’m in no great hurry to go back.

Anyway, this tradition of pseudo-openness is carried on by the AWL’s practice of providing comments boxes on their website. This doesn’t lead to the visceral comedy of spEak You’re bRanes, but it does provide the odd chuckle nonetheless. I particularly enjoy Jane Ashworth’s occasional sorties there to upbraid her former comrades for not having the courage of their convictions and openly endorsing US-UK imperialism.

Increasingly, the contributions are coming from the Decent Left. This may be because most people on the real left (or the “kitsch left”, as Sean calls it) have long since lost patience with the AWL. But I’m also reminded of Trotsky’s complaint about the late Max Shachtman, that he was far too worried about whether Sidney Hook and Max Eastman had a good opinion of him. Shachtman’s would-be reincarnation, Sean Matgamna, is far too worried about renegades like Nick Cohen and Norman Geras having a good opinion of him. There’s a real kinship there.

So, the latest is a remarkably polite debate, by AWL standards, with Eric Lee, of Democratiya fame. Readers of Decentiya will know Eric’s articles for their Grandpa Simpson “Back in nineteen dickety two!” quality. This may seem patronising, but when you consider the horseshit that Alan (Not The Minister) Johnson fills his little journal with, Eric’s articles do stand out in that they invariably have a reasonable point at their core. It’s just that, to get there, you have to wade through about 100,000 words of dubious relevance on what Congressman Pipesucker had to say in the debate on the Tennessee Valley Authority.

So, here’s Eric:

The most recent issue of Solidarity features a number of articles about the conflict in Gaza. These articles do the AWL no credit.

Ira Berkovic’s “Who speaks for Jewish people in Britain?” reports on the rallies organised by the Jewish community in Britain without once mentioning the politics of those rallies. That’s extraordinary. More than that, it’s dishonest. As even the BBC reported, these rallies called for peace and an end to Hamas terror. They were not the mirror-image of the pro-Hamas rallies which – as you reported elsewhere in Solidarity – did call for the destruction of the Jewish state.

But to be fair, I think the comrades of the AWL may not be deliberately misrepresenting the Jewish community rallies. I think the article actually reveals the depth of your ignorance. You don’t actually know what the rally was about — because you weren’t there.

AWL members were busy getting their signs torn up at pro-Hamas rallies – rallies whose political leaders proclaimed slogans with which you completely disagree. But a rally whose demand was ‘Yes to peace, No to Hamas terror’ was somehow of no interest to you.

I fear Eric is being a little disingenuous here. The “End Hamas Terror” rallies were pro-peace in the sense that the speeches from the platform supported the forcible pacification of Gaza and clearly defended the IDF offensive. That such a stand was publicly taken by the Chief Rabbi and the Board of Deputies will have delighted every genuine anti-Semite in Britain. But Eric has a point, why didn’t the AWL go on a rally where they might have felt more at home than on the Stop the War rally?

Which brings me to Sean Matgamna’s article in the same issue. Sean blasts the Socialist Party for concealing its real views (the two-state solution) for fear of being unpopular, or provoking anger from pro-Hamas demonstrators. The question of political courage runs like a red thread in this article and Sean correctly writes that “the socialist who is afraid to be unpopular who cannot stand against the tide, or even the stream, is a poor little specimen indeed.”

Reading these articles, as well as the extensive coverage of the AWL’s brave efforts to get its message across to pro-Hamas demonstrators in Sheffield and elsewhere, I cannot help but wonder why the AWL doesn’t present that same message to a 15,000 strong rally in London? (And a decent sized one in Manchester as well.)

One would think that with your “third camp” politics, you’d be eager to hold up your placards with their “Down with Hamas, Down with the IDF” not only at pro-Hamas rallies, but even at pro-peace ones organised by the Jewish community?

But you don’t. I wonder why. Could it be that the Socialist Party is not the only group on Britain’s far left with a muddled message, lacking in political courage?

The question is its own answer. The SP’s formal line on Israel/Palestine is not a million miles removed from the formal line of the AWL. But the SP didn’t feel the need to go on antiwar rallies and behave like assholes. They thought it was more important to relate to the marchers. This clearly distinguishes them from the AWL, who go on these rallies precisely to behave like assholes. Indeed, Sean criticised the SP precisely on this point.

But back to Eric. I’m not going to get bogged down in all the tendentious points contained within Eric’s short missive. What is relevant is the shorter Eric: You guys are Zionists, so why don’t you just admit you’re Zionists, stop pissing around with the left and stand with your real comrades? I’m afraid, however, that Eric misses the point. One of the regular features of left meetings on the Middle East is that all the Jewish speakers are critical of Israel and all the AWL speakers call the Jewish speakers anti-Semites. You might ask who they are trying to convince, especially since nearly 25 years of putting out Israeli hasbara hasn’t altered their hideously goyishe membership profile. Nor would one expect it to. Jewish leftists who have gone through a lot to dissociate themselves from Zionism aren’t going to be attracted to a Marxist-Zionist group run by gentiles with a bad case of vicarious Israeli chauvinism. And Zionists generally have better options for political engagement than the AWL. The whole purpose of this aggressive contrarianism, as with the Sparts and the old RCP, is to shake loose one or two people from the orbit of other left groups and into the tender embrace of Uncle Sean.

And, speak of the devil, the Swami himself now responds to Eric:

Living in a political world that is crazedly “anti-Zionist” and anti-Israel, of course we defend Israel’s right to exist, try to explain the Israeli point of view, defend the “Two Nations, Two States” position, fight against the demonisation of Israel and “Zionism”. During the recent war,we reminded people of the Hamas rockets. For that, the Kitsch Left denounces us as “Zionists”, “pro-Imperialists”, and all the rest of it. That I can understand. To the allies of Islamic clerical fascism, people “high” on “anti-Imperialist” delirium and vicarious Arab-Islamic chauvinism, that is what we are. They want Israel wiped off the map. But nobody who bothers to read what we write, as I assume Eric does, can think that of us.

Now, how could anyone have got the idea that the AWL was a Zionist or pro-imperialist organisation? I would have thought that, to anyone familiar with the group’s neo-Hyndmanite positions, it would seem like simple common sense.

In principle AWL supports the right of the Palestinians to fight and drive out the Israeli occupation forces, whatever the politics of those leading the Palestinians at a given moment. That is complicated in practice by the political programme of, in this case, Hamas, which proclaims the goal of destroying Israel, and by the fact that they are allied with other reactionaries in the Arab-Islamic world who proclaim the same programme.

You’ll notice that Sean has just stated a broad, overarching principle, and then gone on to negate it in the very next sentence. Only a truly accomplished dialectician could be so bold.

In fact, on the London demo, we did shout on the loudspeaker “Down with Hamas”, etc. Because of the politics of the audience there, as in Sheffield, it was necessary and permissible to “bend the stick” a bit.

What’s that noise? Ah yes, that would be Tony Cliff spinning in his grave. Besides, and I know this has been pointed out a thousand times, the peace movement in Israel is not saying “Down with Hamas” but rather “Negotiate with Hamas”. One realises that, for British Zionist opinion, the right wing of the Meretz party is the dovish extreme of acceptable opinion, but the AWL doesn’t operate under the same social constraints and so doesn’t have the same excuses.

But in cold and considered expressions of our politics we do not put an equals sign between Israel and the Palestinians, not even because Hamas is politically so very reactionary.

Perhaps it isn’t terribly wise of Sean to draw attention to the often glaring gap between the Jesuitical articles appearing in the AWL press, which are designed to be difficult to raise objections to, and what the group says in the course of its agitation.

The Hamas rockets, etc., justified Israel in inflicting the massive carnage and destruction which it has just inflicted on the Palestinians in Gaza? In the existing circumstances that idea can be sustained from one point of view only — that of a steel-clad, asbestos-lined, paranoia-infected Israeli national egotism…

Those who are not reflex Israeli chauvinists will know when not to side with Israel. For myself, I take a friendly attitude to Israeli nationalism, and, in retrospect, to the pre-World War II movement for a Jewish state, believing that of all peoples, post-Holocaust Jews have a right to be nationalist. That is not the same thing as Israeli chauvinism…. Or the same as proclaiming the principle “Israel — right or wrong!”

Thusly does Sean belabour poor old Eric. As it happens, I do think Eric’s position is one of ironclad Israeli chauvinism, but even that doesn’t merit such a massive deployment of sophistry from Sean. Although note that Sean’s support for a post-Holocaust Jewish state is now read back into the pre-1939 period. That’s a bit of a departure, and I assume Borochov will soon be joining Shachtman in the AWL’s eclectic ideological tzimmes.

Well now, this provokes a rather incoherent response from one Ian Sternberg along the lines of “Israel! Yo!” Which has the unfortunate effect of bringing Sean back again:

The fundamental political case against Israel’s Gaza war is that there were better, far better, alternatives open to Israel: really and actively accepting the Two States position, negotiating a broad framework of settlement with the Arab League, something that seems now to be possible, and, within that framework, sorting out Hamas and its rocket war on Israel. Israel’s government chose instead to pulverise Palestinian society in Gaza. Instead, Israel went on a hi-tech Hamas-hunt from the air that could not but produce massive civilian casualties. For that reason alone the Israeli Government should be condemned.

You will notice the similarity and difference between this and Sean’s notorious “Bomb Iran” article. The similarity is that Sean, the great proponent of the Third Camp, starts not from the point of view of the oppressed masses but from the options open to the Israeli political-military leadership. The difference is that Sean actually does manage to work in the c-word. This marks a slight improvement over the Iran article with its “In the name of what alternative would we condemn” formulation – I don’t know, maybe the alternative of not bombing Iran? Ah well, we shouldn’t pass up even a flicker of rationality from this source.

Finally, AWL activist Sacha Ismail chips in. Sacha is a pleasant young chap who affects to believe that the AWL really does want to end the oppression of the Palestinians, which makes him either unbelievably naïve or unbelievably dishonest. I prefer to believe the former.

Clearly I don’t share the far left’s holy terror at the word; but I don’t see how socialists can call themselves Zionists. I am for Israel’s right to exist, but that doesn’t make me (or you) a Zionist, any more than being for Palestinian independence makes us Palestinian nationalists.

We shouldn’t go along with the ‘anti-Zionist’ outcry, but nor should we use language which potentially blurs the opposition to nationalism – as opposed to national rights – that all of us in the AWL agree is essential for international socialists.

You see the problem Sean has with his youth? This kitsch creep must be counteracted, and fast! Over to Sean:

The word “Zionist” is used in the Kitsch-Left as a near equivalent of “racist”. It encapsulates the demonisation of Israel and of Jewish people who support it. It sums up the grotesque, and originally Stalinist, misrepresentation of both the history of Zionism and of the Jews in the Twentieth Century, on which the “absolute anti-Zionists” erect their toxic nonsense. It is a tool of ideological terrorism on the “left”. The cleanest and simplest way of dealing with that is to accept it, in its proper, original, meaning, and wear it as a badge of political sanity.

Ahem. Since Sean likes to rehash the founding of Israel in 1948 at every possible occasion, I know for a fact that he’s aware of the young Israeli state’s receipt of Soviet diplomatic support and, perhaps more to the point, Czechoslovak arms. But perhaps we’re talking about “Stalinism” not in the historical sense but in the specialised sense of “stuff Sean Matgamna disagrees with”. On the racism point, Sean is also well aware of not only the Israeli state’s oppressive record in the occupied territories, but also of the legally enshrined second-class status of non-Jewish citizens of Israel. There is a reason for the latter, and this is why Avigdor Lieberman, boorish bigot that he is, is not exactly out of step with mainstream Zionist thought when he talks about “transfer” or about downgrading non-Jewish citizens to resident aliens.

And this is why, although I profoundly disagree with Eric Lee, I still think he has the better of the debate. Because he’s more honest, you see, and firmly identifies with the tradition of Labour Zionism. Sean Matgamna has been moving steadily away from Trotskyism for more years than I care to remember, but there’s still some sentimental imperative urging him to keep a foot in the far left camp. Really, the cleanest and simplest way of dealing with this contradiction would be to admit openly that the AWL is a rightwing, pro-imperialist sect. Sean might lose a few of his younger and more idealistic cadre, but he may well lose them anyway, and he can rest assured that the core of old codgers who have supported his twists and turns over the decades will continue to do so. Not least my old chum Martin Thomas, as the poor bastard has little to comfort himself with these days except the thought that “Once Tiberius is dead, I, Sejanus, will rule as emperor in Rome.” Always assuming Sean doesn’t find himself a young Caligula to take up the mantle, that is.

Shock news: Page Three stunna more clued up about climate change than Sammy Wilson

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It seems somebody at the Telegraph knows I can’t resist a cheap punchline. From today’s paper:

Environment Minister Sammy Wilson may have banned climate change ads but that hasn’t stopped Lucy Pinder from launching her own saucy campaign to save energy.

The 25-year-old glamour model sent temperatures soaring as she launched a drive help couples to save electricity on Valentine’s Day.

Lucy kicked off the Energy Saving Week campaign alongside the “energy love doctor” with a racy message to lovers: “Turn me on, turn it off.”

Lucy posed for several revealing photos and said that couples can turn the heat up around the house without using additional power.

The Celebrity Big Brother star’s top tips for lovers include;

  • turning the bedroom lights out in favour of candlelight,
  • sharing showers or baths and
  • cuddling up in bed while turning the heating down.

Rob Bell, “energy love doctor” at the Energy Saving Trust, said: “It appears the economic gloom has ruined romance for many this Valentine’s Day.

“But for those determined to spread a little love, home will truly be where the heart is on February 14 as people feeling the pinch due to the recession try to save cash.”

It seems that, apart from having appeared nude in the tabloids, our Lucy has little in common with Sammy Wilson. In fact, could we persuade her to come over here and be our environment minister? I don’t care if she is a Tory, she’d have to be more convincing than the incumbent.

Ministerial hot air

Sometimes you get one of those little periods where you feel that everything in the world is – well, not quite as it should be, but more or less as you might expect. Where dogs bite men and not vice versa, and everything in the news makes sense.

This, I feel, is one of those times. England have suffered a humiliating batting collapse in Jamaica, and somehow it feels comforting after a period of relative success. A bunch of middle-aged blokes at the Bafta have given an acting award to Kate Winslet’s naked arse, and that also makes sense, at least compared to some Bafta picks down the years. And then you’ve got that classic dog-bites-man standby, Sammy Wilson talking cobblers.

Last Friday, Sammy streaked into the headlines with this gem:

Angry teachers today hit back after Environment Minister Sammy Wilson accused schools of “mollycoddling” children after many closed due to the snow.

More than 30 schools closed their doors yesterday following heavy snowfall and another 15-20 have followed suit today, citing health and safety reasons for the decision.

Mr Wilson, a former teacher himself and the minister with responsibility for promoting road safety, said many people used the weather as an excuse to take the day off.

“Personally, I think it’s a lot of nonsense. It’s no more dangerous to go out in the snow than it is to go out in very wet weather, windy weather or in conditions of poor visibility like mist or fog,” he said.

“I know there are a lot of health and safety nuts out there who are trying to make people take no risks at all. If they had their way, we would all sit in the house all day tied to a chair and never move.”

This is straight out of one of those Richard Littlejohn columns in the Daily Mail about how “decent folk can’t hang paedo’s cos of elf ‘n’ safety”. But as a former teacher, Sammy, one would think, would be aware of the possibility of schools being sued the moment a child slips on some ice and splits its head open. This, I think is more plausible than a reference to unnamed “health and safety nuts” who, if they even exist, are under his aegis at the Roads Service – you know, the guys who advise against unnecessary journeys in extreme weather, only to find their own minister contradicting them. Still, anything for a cheap headline.

Then today Ulster’s answer to Jeremy Clarkson was back with this:

Environment Minister Sammy Wilson has banned government television adverts in Northern Ireland warning of the effects of climate change, it emerged today.

The DUP man said he was not prepared to allow “insidious New Labour propaganda” about the impact of climate change which would have been screened on UTV.

These were, as far as can be seen, ads promoting energy efficiency, something the Stormont Executive (and the DUP) are theoretically all in favour of. Sammy is, of course, on record as saying that man-made climate change is a big giant hoax, which is at least a distinctive position for an environment minister. Taken together with his culture of fear stuff, I wonder if Sammy spent too much of his youth reading Living Marxism. Or, perhaps more likely, as a middle-aged man he’s just spent too much time chilling out in front of Top Gear.

Anyway, I fear Sammy may be making trouble for himself with his claims that the climate change we’re currently experiencing is just a manifestation of long-term climatic cycles that work themselves out over millions of years. This won’t endear him to the Young Earth creationists in the DUP, who know perfectly well that the world is only 6000 years old. Memo to Sammy: if you’re going to do pseudo-science, it’s safer to go with the biblical option.

And again on Lindsey

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Portavogie is not what you’d call a very progressive place. Even in the early stages of the peace process, the villagers were inordinately proud of not having a single Catholic living there. Today, on the other hand, the majority of workers on the Portavogie fishing fleet are migrant workers, mostly East Europeans but including some thirty Filipinos. Due to some visa restriction, the Filipino trawlermen may not lodge on land but have to sleep on their boats. The locals are campaigning to get this changed. In a time when economic crisis is likely to stoke racism, it’s a little heartwarming story.

In a related note, the Lindsey strike has ended in a small victory for the workers, with the employment of some one hundred local workers on the construction contract in question, without this being at the expense of the Italian and Portuguese workers already in situ. I think this is probably the best outcome available. And, after all, it’s not like we see victories very often. Never underestimate the value of even a small one.

There have been a couple of aspects thrown up by this that I want to take a bit of a look at. The first is the question of protectionism, which Brown and Mandelson have had such a bee in their bonnet about. (By contrast with Alan Johnson, who didn’t endear himself to me as a union bureaucrat but who does actually realise that sometimes workers have legitimate grievances.) Actually, I don’t have a problem in principle with a little protectionism. One of the left’s big beefs with the European Single Market was opposition to open tendering for public services, and the enshrinement thereof in European law. And, if we were going to be consistent advocates of the global village, on what basis would we oppose the European Commission’s regular attempts to destroy Irish agriculture?

In fact, everybody is pretty realpolitik on this issue, but most people just don’t like to admit it. The free traders in government are all in favour of the free movement of capital, but, largely for electoral reasons, oppose the free movement of labour. One of the endearing things about the Economist is that, being in favour of genuinely open borders, it likes to twit the political class about this. On the other hand, the socialists also have an inbuilt contradiction in favouring the free movement of labour in the form of abolishing immigration controls, while wanting to restrict the movement of capital. Since movements of labour generally follow movements of capital, you’ve got some tensions either way.

Anyway, let’s take a look at the left again. There’s a basic issue in Marxism over the respective roles of conscious programme and spontaneous struggle. To put it another way, there is a particular elitist type of Marxism, usually rooted in a one-sided reading of What Is To Be Done?, that lays its main stress on the role of intellectuals in bringing socialist consciousness to the workers from the outside. You get a lot of this in Lukács, and you used to in Norman Geras, which might explain something about Normski’s latter-day Decency. On the other hand, there’s that side of the Marxist tradition, often associated with people like Luxemburg, or less consistently with Lenin’s stance after 1905, or with Draper or James amongst others, that stresses the spontaneous tendencies towards socialism of a working class in struggle. This is a gross simplification of course, and you have to talk at greater length of what you mean by spontaneity – the pseudo-spontaneism of James in particular is long overdue a deconstruction – but it’s a real tension.

One thing I found fascinating about the left’s responses to the Lindsey strike was that a clear dividing line arose, but with some people in juxtapositions that you wouldn’t necessarily expect from their formal politics. Basically, I would moot that you had a more ideological or propagandist corner (the SWP, Socialist Resistance, the AWL) for whom the BJ4BW slogan and the implications thereof were the key thing, as against a more workerist corner (the Socialist Party, George Galloway, the Morning Star) who weren’t thrilled about the slogan, but who laid more stress on the class dynamic behind the strike. Of course, you did have extreme positions, with Workers Power condemning the action outright as a reactionary nationalist strike, and on the other hand Arthur Scargill finding nothing wrong with the slogan whatsoever. But these absurdities are easily explained. Arthur is working from a paradigm of the British manual working class in the 1950s, while Workers Power are working from… well, some sort of total idealist disconnect from empirical reality, though I’m glad to see their capacity for sub-Maoist gobbledegook remains undiminished.

But between these extremes, there is quite a lot of ambiguity and overlap. The view I arrived at was one that critical support for the strike was necessary, and it was vital to muck in there and try to turn things around politically, steering the politics of the thing away from the potentially ugly aspects of the nationalist slogan. In this respect, I think the Socialist Party played a blinder. And actually, since they were lucky enough to have a couple of people on the ground, there was nothing else they could do – had their members taken an abstentionist line or even opposed the strike, they would have found it far more difficult to get a hearing. And it’s not least thanks to them that, as the demands were concretised, they took on a form that made the strike much more supportable by socialists.

Which is not to say that the flip side, the nationalist undercurrent, was not there. There were, I think, three aspects to this. There were some workers who, with a microphone or a reporter’s notepad thrust in front of them, expressed themselves in a not very intelligent way. There was the media’s determination to make this a race issue. And there was the right wing, notably the BNP, also trying to make this a race issue. It was heartening that this diminished as time went on, with the shop stewards changing the tone of their statements and the fash being chased off the picket line. The modulated line of the AWL at least shows they caught onto this dynamic even though, like most far left groups, they aren’t very good at admitting their position changed.

So I do think that it was necessary, particularly at the beginning of the strike, to point out the dangers. I don’t criticise the left groups who did so. Nor do I criticise the individuals who did so – I place particular weight on Madam Miaow, who has a track record of flagging up things that the white blokes on the left don’t pay enough attention to. These were things that needed to be said.

I have been scratching my head a little at the position of the SWP. I know that the original, quite abstract, statement was not universally popular with the party’s trade union cadre, and I expected that to be softened, although probably without acknowledgement. But this week’s coverage in SW marks, if anything, a hardening. Well, it’s not perhaps what we might have seen if John (“It’s British workers that count”) Rees was still at the helm, and for that we should be grateful. But all the same, it’s a bit puzzling when you remember that Cliff used to be the great promoter of spontaneity (just not within the ranks of the party) and was frankly contemptuous of formal programmatic statements. Whether he would have put quite so much weight on the slogan is doubtful.

I think there are a couple of elements to this. One is that for the last dozen years or so, the SWP had been operating a super-optimistic perspective. This has stubbed its toe on events, and is further discredited by its close association with the Rees-German camarilla. The culture of stick-bending being as entrenched as it is in the SWP, some people will take this to mean a return to the downturn and propagandism. There’s also the economic crisis, which, although the party has quietly dumped Cliff’s “30s in slow motion” perspective, will inevitably lead to a revival in catastrophology. This (along with the Respect and SSP splits) has led to a stress on the rivers of blood dividing reformists from revolutionaries, and a return to the “expose and denounce” school of dealing with official labour movement figures, except for Mark Serwotka who has the advantage of being a close personal friend of Martin Smith. (By contrast, the SP, which has a much more sectarian formal position, is a good bit more pragmatic in its practice.) There’s also the assumption that, if the BNP leaflet a picket line, workers will find the playing of the race card irresistible. One would hope Lindsey had put that one to bed. This will take a while to work out. There is of course an inbuilt tension between propagandism and catastrophology, and while Gerry Healy successfully combined the two for years, I think this will be resolved a bit quicker.

By the way, this is quite important, and I really hope the different sections of the left can draw up some honest balance sheets. We can expect some much uglier stuff round the corner, and this could be a very important learning experience.

I blame Julian Simmons

michael_grade

No I don’t really. Actually, I blame Michael Grade. Based on Grade’s track record, lots of folks were expecting great things when he took the helm at the third channel, but in fact his reign has been safe as milk, with no big initiatives worth the name.

Let’s be honest, ITV is in a bit of a bind, and the bind relates to what Newt was talking about the other week in terms of the local franchise. Enormously profitable in principle – notwithstanding long-term decline in the multichannel environment – but suffering a bit of a liquidity problem and a serious squeeze on profit margins. Much of this has to do with falling advertising revenues in a time of economic crisis, something that’s likely to get much worse before it gets better.

What makes a bad situation worse is that you’ve got a financial crisis occurring alongside what seems very close to a period of creative bankruptcy. Sometimes I look at the schedules and wonder if the schedulers are just going through the motions. Sometimes I look at the schedules and wonder if the schedulers are actively taking the piss. And the response to the financial squeeze is even more dispiriting. It looks very much as if this year is going to be a write-off.

What we’re going to see lots more of is reality shows, particularly from the Cowell stable. Dancing on Ice, currently gracing our screens, has been made longer. X Factor gets longer every year, and now has a running time of around four months. Britain’s Got Talent is being scheduled to run for twice as long this year as last. Throw in I’m A Celebrity, and that’s an enormous chunk of the year already taken up. And the reason for this is that reality shows, especially those with phone-in voting, are extremely cheap for the amount of airtime they occupy. It’s easy to blame Simon Cowell for destroying British TV, but he’s only acting according to the laws of supply and demand, and there’s plenty of demand for what he’s supplying.

This wouldn’t be so bad if there was plenty of variety on offer, but there is less and less. The sitcom is virtually dead in the water. You don’t, for some reason, get films in prime time any more. And so it goes. Light entertainment is reduced to producing new formats – or resurrecting old ones – for Ant and Dec to present. And, if the chirpy Geordie duo aren’t available, you can toss them to Vernon Kay, who’s nearly as good and a lot cheaper.

And if you thought light entertainment was bad, look at drama. One of the – possibly unintentional – effects of all these repeats on the digital channels is to remind you of just what a juggernaut ITV drama used to be. These days, its remit seems to be restricted to two things – a) producing Lynda La Plante’s latest crime drama, and b) finding something for Suranne Jones to star in. The logical next step in the credit crunch period should be for a Lynda La Plante drama starring Suranne Jones.

I’ll be honest, Lynda La Plante is not my cup of tea. Every one I see seems to have the same formula, with some vaguely topical crime as a mcguffin, but the spotlight being firmly on the feisty female detective with the sexist bosses and the failing relationship. But loads of people, especially women, lap this stuff up, so I can’t really complain.

Suranne Jones, on the other hand – I saw the recent Unforgiven, and thought that, though badly miscast, she put in a pretty good performance. I quite like Suranne Jones, given the right vehicle, but she’s indicative of something bigger. Let me take you back to a far-off age – well, the early nineties, anyway – when ITV paid a shitload of money to sign Phillip Schofield and Anthea Turner to five-year exclusive contracts, without any clear idea what to do with them. As a result, they ended up deploying their enormously expensive stars in one duff vehicle after another. Plenty of critics have told them on plenty of occasions that, with very few exceptions, it’s the format and not the frontman that sells a show. Yet, they just don’t learn. They sign Trinny and Susannah but they don’t own What Not To Wear. They sign David Dickinson but they don’t own Bargain Hunt. Etc. What’s more, this sort of thinking has also spread to the Beeb, although Thompson’s comments about salaries might also bring these golden handcuffs deals into question in the medium term. Until then, we can look forward to endless dramas starring Suranne Jones whether or not she’s the right actress for the part.

I’m also deeply disturbed at plans to downsize The Bill to one episode a week. This is being dressed up as a dedicated post-watershed slot, 52 weeks a year, at a more lucrative time for advertising. But, since The Bill is a very rare example for ITV of a show that’s both a critical and a ratings hit, I would have thought the sensible thing to do would be to leave the twice-weekly Bill as it was. But then, moving to the new format means you can lose half the cast as well as making various other savings.

If I was looking for savings, the first place I would look is the soaps, which have reached such a point of saturation as to prove to all but the most blinkered soap addict that sometimes less is more. If you remember the twice-weekly Corrie or Emmerdale – or EastEnders come to that – it can be a bit of a shock to cast an eye over what they’re like now that Corrie, for one, can run for six episodes a week. The writers have to choose between stretching stories well beyond their natural life, or putting in some half-baked idea and puffing it up as a major plot development. Some of the actors are visibly knackered. I suspect many fans are knackered trying to keep up. Trimming the soaps back to a sensible schedule would make both creative and economic sense. But then, of course, you’d need something to fill those gaping holes in the schedule.

Ah well, it’s not looking good. And with its share price heading down into the penny stocks, perhaps the only way out for ITV is to get itself a wealthy sponsor – maybe a Russian oligarch, or a sheikh of Araby, or possibly the Chinese Communist Party. It may just be time for Grade to start brushing up his Mandarin…

Thoughts on the Lindsey strike

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I’ve held off writing anything about the refinery strikes up until now, partly because there was good work being done elsewhere (Phil has been particularly good, and there’s lots of stuff as always at SU) and partly because I needed to get my own ideas clear on the dispute. Facts have become clearer, the situation has developed, so I’m just going to sketch out a few tentative thoughts.

To begin with, I had mixed feelings about the strike. Some of that, I’m sure, was just down to lack of information. But mainly it’s been this “British jobs for British workers” slogan that everybody has been so het up about. This derives of course from Gordon Brown’s speech at the 2007 Labour Party conference, at a time when the media were giving him lots of stick about his Scottishness (they still are) and as a result he could barely speak for five minutes without throwing in the word “British”. The adoption of a slogan that could have come straight out of the BNP playbook has certainly come back to haunt him now.

And this is the sort of thing that worried me. At a time when there’s been large-scale immigration over recent years, and now there’s a rapid rise in unemployment, you would expect to see all sorts of racist eruptions. Certainly, New Labour are well aware that racism can be a useful safety valve in a recession. It’s not that I was prepared to condemn the Lindsey strike out of hand as racist, but there was clearly a potential for it to develop in an ugly direction. It didn’t help that the media have been keen to flag up the migrant workers angle, or that an assortment of racist wingnuts (the BNP in particular) have sought to associate themselves with the strike to advance their agenda. At the very least, that potential was something to be wary of.

Now, while I’m sure that in a substantial workforce you can find someone with some backward ideas about immigration, there are two major causes behind this dispute. The underlying cause is insecurity in a time of economic crisis, and the fear that will breed in somewhere like Hull that wasn’t very prosperous in the first place. The proximate cause is undercutting. Even Labour minister Alan Johnson, who knows a thing or two about trade unionism, was quite good on this on Sunday’s Andrew Marr show.

You have to start with the European Single Market, which is supposed to guarantee free movement of labour as well as produce within the EU. This applies to Poles or Italians working in Britain, of course, but also the million or so Brits working in other EU countries. (Johnson raised the analogy of a British construction company winning a contract in Italy and not being allowed to use its skilled workforce. In those circumstances, one might assumed the Sun and the Mail would go apeshit.) So, whatever Gordon Brown might say in a flight of rhetoric or whatever Sammy Wilson might want, you can’t legislate a preference for British workers over EU citizens or non-EU workers who are legally part of the workforce.

And that’s what raises the danger of undercutting. There are regulations, notably the Posted Workers Directive, that are supposed to guard against this, but the ECJ judgements in the Viking and Laval cases have seriously weakened these. Finally the British government – or Alan Johnson at least – have figured out that something needs to be done to strengthen legal safeguards.

So, there were the grievances. But, as we know, there are right ways and wrong ways to go about tackling grievances. It’s a bit like those towns in Cornwall where eighty or ninety percent of the housing stock is taken up with holiday homes, and as a result the town is dead for nine months of the year. But how do you respond – do you try to lay out a campaigning strategy around social housing and sustainable communities, or do you try to blow up Jamie Oliver? Annoying as Jamie can be, the latter is plainly a wrong strategy.

And so it’s been pleasing to see that the Lindsey strike hasn’t radicalised to the right. In fact, as the workers have clarified their demands, you’ve seen good old trade unionist demands coming to the fore. And, best of all, the BNP getting short shrift with their interventions, which will surprise those on the left who imagine workers to be unable to resist the blandishments of the fash. This of course hasn’t happened spontaneously, but has had to be argued for. A great deal of credit must go to the Socialist Party, who have been lucky enough to have a presence on the ground, and who seem to have been doing exemplary work in preventing the strike sliding into what could have been dodgy territory. It just goes to show the good that the presence of a couple of socialists in one of these disputes can do.

Finally, and apropos of this, a bit of a word on the left. Some interesting alignments have sprung up, and a lot of this (unsurprisingly, with a left full of ideologues) has centred around whether a strike with the BJ4BW slogan so prominently displayed is supportable. Andy writes:

There have been attempts by both left and right to play the race card. Obviously the BNP have tried to intervene, but have actually been given short shrift by the strikers themselves. The AWL tried to organise a picket of Unite headquarters and invited migrant workers to attend it, trying to pit migrant workers against white workers for their own interests.

The strikers slogan obviously did strike a chord – it was catchy, and ironic against Gordon Brown; but could also be expropriated by racists. To a certain extent the reaction to the slogan was opportunist from right-wing populist newspapers who sought to misrepresent the dispute as being anti-foreigner, and to a certain extent there was a prurient frisson from middle class trendies who loved having their anti-working class prejudices confirmed by that interpretation. But in terms of the strikers themselves and the wider labour movement, the class aspect has become better understood as the dispute goes on. The Morning Star, and left MPs like Jon Cruddas have stood by the trade unionists, and fought their corner. And the Socialist Party have obviously played an absolutely brilliant role, that should be reflected in improved prestige for that organisation, and respect for its judgments.

I agree with a lot of this. It’s no surprise to see the AWL or Students Power declining to support an industrial action that isn’t “internationalist” enough. Maybe, in a Brechtian sense, it would be better if the vanguard abolished the working class and replaced it with a more advanced one. On the other hand, the SP has been very supportive of course, as have both left formations in Scotland. There is also, and not for the first time, some excellent commentary from Permanent Revolution (the sensible faction of Workers Power, not the crazy faction who kept the name), who are not a million miles from my own thinking.

Where I would depart slightly from Andy is in terms of his polemic against the SWP. I read the SWP statement on Saturday morning and thought “Hmm, this isn’t too bad. A bit abstract, but not bad.” I think the issue here was that the misgivings expressed by the SWP leadership were not too distant from my own early reservations, particularly when it came to the dangers inherent in the BJ4BW slogan. Now, obviously the SWP would have looked vindicated had the strike indeed radicalised in a Powellite direction, but what’s actually been happening makes their statement look a bit behind the curve. Not to mention that, whatever about all the care that evidently went into the statement, some of the SWP’s more enthusiastic supporters in blogland have been eager to bang on about the “racist strike” and to hell with nuance. I hear that the position is being revised and the agitational material now being produced is more positive. This is good.

Anyway, this is the most important thing going on in the industrial sphere about now. If we can’t turn this in a progressive direction, we really are in trouble.

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