Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Shine forth upon these clouded hills.


Back in 1990 I wrote a letter to Socialist Worker, along with my friend and comrade, Marcus Coyte, pointing out that for most working class people the World Cup is just about football. Our argument, as true now as it was then, is that it would be great for the sport of football if England were to win the world cup, and in fact even getting to the Semis proved to be a big boost for the game.

I’m sorry I didn’t keep the original, and cannot recall exactly what we wrote, but what a shit storm it started. Including the SWP putting on a special meeting at Marxism that year for Chris Bambury to denounce the heresy, and one leading full timer asked me whether I had been given a kicking yet (of course jokingly, but it was still intimidating). Most funnily the local North Bristol branch of the SWP put on a special meeting to discuss it with us, and held it on the same day as England played Germany in the semi-finals! Were we likely to be there?

The gist of our argument was that football is followed by millions of people, who follow the players in the premiership, and want to follow those same players at the highest international level. It should also be remembered that interest in the World Cup is also huge even when England don’t qualify.

The English national team (in 1990 as today) is multi-racial, with talented black players, and the team celebrates the multi-cultural nature of England today. In 1998 when France won the World Cup, the face of North African Arab, Zinadine Zidane was projected onto the Arc d’Triumphe, and the racist FN who had denounced the national team as mongrels had ash in their mouths.

It is also worth mentioning that the "sport as a rehersal for war" argument was tested within a year, and no-one I knew who had supported England in the World Cup in 1990 supported the British in the war against Iraq following the iinvasion of Kuwait.

Some will argue for supporting another team like Trinidad and Tobago, but with the exception of a few individuals like Dwight Yorke or Shaka Hislop, I don’t know the players, and in any event they will probably be eliminated in the qualifying stages. For the same reason most English fans have little affection for Owen Hargreaves, it doesn’t matter that he is English, the fact that he plays for Bayern means we don’t know enough about him, and cannot identify with him

And then there is the fact that England play the type of game we want to watch. The Premiership has a unique style of football: physical, constantly on the offensive, and never giving up. As Arsene Wenger has pointed out, this has nothing to do with the nationality of the players, and he never ceases to be amazed how South American and Continental European players start to play the English way after a few weeks. It is what the fans expect.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

The Weekend Open Thread

Stealing an idea from another blog, welcome to the first weekend open thread! Of course it will also be the last if it doesn't work and no one feels the urge to use it - but hey, no pain no gain.

Feel free to use this thread to talk about whatever you like - thoughts about the latest Galloway media frenzy, disagreeements with articles on the main site, the nicest breakfast you ever had - what ever you want to talk about it's your space, nothing is off topic, nothing too profund, profane or innane.

Friday, May 26, 2006

Caption competion

Obviously as sandle wearing hippy green socialists there can never be a winner of a competition but perhaps we should publish the results. Anyway - we've been running a caption competition in the CounterBlasts section of the Socialist Unity website - here's my pick of the suggestions we've had in so far - can you do better (Dear God I hope so!)
.
.
Ben suggests "Support the Education Bill or I crush your puny skull"
.
.
Charlie suggested "I'll tell the Blairs to go to the Scilly Islands this year".
.

.

Jim suggested

"Morales: Do you know US Imperialism is crushing my country"
"Rice: You hum it and I'll join in"

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Man... the old ones are the best.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

RAF Fairford ruled out of any Iran attack


The depth of anti war feeling in Britain has caused two changes in US policy, according to reports in yesterday’s Scottish Herald newspaper. A Pentagon official has confirmed that interceptor missiles for the US ‘Son of Star Wars’ missile defence system will not be sited in the UK. The official cited the strong domestic opposition to the ongoing occupation of Iraq as a primary reason for this decision. At the same time, participation of RAF Fairford just outside Swindon, has been ruled out of any possiblle attack on Iran, for the same reason.

RAF Fairford was the scene of a number of protests during the build up to the 2003 invasion of Iraq, including breaches of the perimeter fence, and while the bombing was in progress a very successful peace camp was established. On 20th March 2003 there was a national demonstration at Fairford of around 10000 people.

In response to the article in the Herald , Kate Hudson, Chair of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) said, “This is a strong indication of the growing power of peace campaigning in the UK... This is a victory for peace and democracy. The majority of the British people want no part in these preparations for further militarisation and war.

Unfortunately the government is still planning UK participation in the missile defence system, via the Fylingdales and Menwith Hill sites in Yorkshire. Ms Hudson said, “The widely accepted consequence of this missile defence system is that it provokes a new nuclear arms race as nations seek a way to get around it or through it. Any site that plays a part in this missile defence system will make that country a target for any potential enemy. Whilst it is a positive step that interceptors will not come to Britain, both Fylingdales and Menwith Hill are already allocated significant roles in a US missile defence system. This puts the people of Britain at risk - indeed it puts them on the front line in a future war. The US must end its dangerous and provocative plans for a missile defence system.”

Still in the fight after all these years


The BBC has reported that the wonderful Joan Baez has set up home in a tree in California to stop the demolition of a community garden.

The landowner wants to develop the space, she and her comrades want to maintain it as a community resource. While I am not personally a big fan of green spaces I am definitely supportive of such a campaign and it is brilliant to see Baez hasn't gone the same way as other 'radicals' of her generation (read dylan).

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Marxism 2006: A Festival of Resistance


Talking of going to big-name big-rhetoric events it's time to decide on going to Marxism 2006: A Festival of Resistance. It's on from Thursday, July 6th to Monday, July 10th - a timing to test the resolve of the more devoted football enthusiasts. Marxism used to run from Friday to Friday and last year's event made the shift to the long-weekend, justified in terms of its proximity to the Make Poverty History events in Edinburgh and the Gleneagles summit. Cynics suggested that there weren't going to be enough people around to keep it going through the week, and it certainly seemed a lot smaller than the Marxisms of just a few years ago. It was of course also a bit disrupted by the bombings of July 7th.

This year certainly has an attractive roster of big-name or interesting speakers. The opening rally line-up includes a former minister from Venezuela. Ken Loach will be introducing a showing of Land and Freedom. Gillo Pontecorvo will be introducing Battle of Algiers (reminds me of how good Martin Smith's talk about the film was a few years back) at the same time as Ken MacLeod is talking about Science Fiction, but that's a reminder that over the last few years the highpoint of Marxism have been the talks by the incredibly cool China Mieville, who just doesn't seem to be present this year - boo hoo.

Tony Benn is talking about planning, followed by George Galloway and John Rees doing a big Logan Hall forum on 'What Next for Respect' (always good to get the word), followed by Bernadette McAliskey and Michael Rosen among others talking about the 1960s. For us sad academics noted theorist Paul Gilroy is on with Weyman Bennett talking aabout multiculturalism, Terry Eagleton talking about his autobiographical memoir and Istvan Meszaros on alienation. So there's lots of goodies and I haven't even mentioned Tariq Ali or Hassan Jumaa yet, or the guaranteed scandal and controversy that will accompany Gilad Atzmon.

Is there a downside? Well there'll be a lot of hackier meetings and there'll be a lot of annoying shallow rhetoric and the efforts at recruitment will be aggravating, so I'm not denying a certain level of pain and masochism about being there, but it still looks good and maybe with time and good therapy I will recover again. And, you know, the SWP do attract a lot of people to a well-organised event that at its best does have a buzz about it. See you there?

SuperSize My Pay.


The UNITE union in New Zealand has made a tremendous breakthrough among young workers, with its supersize my pay campaign. They have already won big pay rises at Starbucks, KFC and Pizza Hut. In March 2006 a deal was struck with the chain “Restaurant Brands” that awarded an immediate pay rise of between 7.9% - 14.2% for KFC and Pizza Hut workers. Starbucks workers won an immediate extra 75 cents per hour, and call centre workers a 11.5% - 14.9% rise on basic. The deal also has another built in rise for next year.

But the most significant political victory is that Restaurant Brands has agreed to phase out lower pay for young workers. As a first step all workers under18 will move to 90% of the adult rate. This means wage increases for younger workers of up to 34.2%.

These advances are significant because New Zealand trade unions suffered terrible defeat in the 1990s with the Employment Contracts Act. From a situation where some 60 percent of the workforce was organised within a few years it was just over 20% overall and 12% in the private sector. Most workers in the service sectors, hotels, offices, retail, fast food and so on became deunionised. Unions held on only in the public sector and larger manufacturing sites. The background is covered in the following
interview with UNITE organiser Mike Treen.

Now UNITE are locked in a bitter fight with MacDonalds, who have threatened to “smash the UNITE union”. According to the
blog of UNITE organiser, Joe Carolan: “Our members and delegates have experienced severe victimisation and bullying, many workplace leaders having their hours cut, rosters changed to unsocial hours, or asked to find another job "if you don't like it here". Recently, they employed the services of a Kiwi arch union buster, who embarked on a policy of paying non union members more money in an attempt to destroy our membership on the shop floor.

Our members in McDonalds, bouyed by the victories we won at KFC, Starbucks and Pizza Hut, have now resolved to fight hard in the next few months. At the moment we have over 900 members in McDonalds stores in Auckland alone. But most of these trade unionists are on minimum wage, and are highly vulnerable
.”

UNITE are asking for international support. Joe Carolan recently visited the UK to speak to Mark Serwotka. Senior Organiser Mike Treen visited Venezuela and Bolivia, and Education Officer Chrissy Holland visited the LaborNotes Conference in Detroit.

It is an unequal battle, David against Goliath, but a victory against MacDonalds would be a huge boost for trade unionists everywhere. The most concrete support we can give is to
donate money. Please make an individual donation, and also raise it through your union branch.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Education Is Not For Sale


May 23rd has seen a series of events organised by NATFHE and AUT as part of the dispute with the employers over our pay claim. After a period of 'phoney war' and a burst of rival PR conflicts we seem to have reached a bit of a stalemate, but there are some victories - the management at Northumbria University has temporarily backed off from deducting 100% off salaries for not marking assignments, which will probably pt others attempting the same. The legal arguments about whether we can have our pay docked without specific disciplinary procedures will be a minefield. The mood of lecturers seems to be one of defianceIn Leeds the AUT and NATFHE had a joint and quite high-spirited rally this lunchtime, although the t-shirts with the slogan 'Make My Day, Dock My Pay' seemed a bit risky! At Leeds Metropolitan University there is still a bit of a phoney war war atmosphere, but things have already hotted up at Leeds University after their vice-chancellor threatened to dock 30% off wages for not marking assessed work.

This is in the background as NATFHE and the AUT merge into the new UCU for lecturers in the whole of higher and furhter education. To mark this the Rank and File left is organising a conference at London Metropolitan University to launch a left current in the new union. Speakers (invited, that is) include Stephen Rose, Tony Benn, Hilary Wainwright, Sheila Rowbotham, Alex Callinicos and many others. The line-up of workshops is wide-ranging and impressive, connecting political, educational and trade union issues in an imaginative manner. It looks good and should be of interest to anyone in NATFHE or the AUT. There's more information at the web-site, www.uculeft.org, so I hope to see people there.

Thought Crime will be punished.

The British government scored a major victory over the forces of terrorism today.

Fully paid up member of the Axis of Evil, Brian Haw, had been provocatively displaying photographs of dead and injured children who had been callously and deliberately placed by their parents at the sites of humane American and British bombing. Haw was especially guilty for displaying placards questioning the wisdom of the great helmsman himself, Tony Blair, within sight of the Houses of Parliament. Fortunately the police acted last night to counter this threat to democracy.

At 2:45 this morning 50 police officers turned up and started to load a container with all the placards and banners and almost all of Brian's personal possessions. Clearly an operation as dangerous as this needed large numbers of police, and had to be carried out under the cover of darkness. The belongings of haw's supporters who have been down in Parliament Square with him were also taken. It is highly likely that Weapons of Mass Destruction will be found, which will justify this necessary preemptive action by the police.

Brian has now got only one or two placards and a few personal possessions that he managed to retain. Three of Brian's supporters have been arrested - Maria, Barbara and Martin. They are being held at Charing Cross Police Station. Brian and supporters are still in the Square and there has been no attempt to move them. This police action has pre-empted a court hearing on 30 May to which Brian had been summonsed to attend relating to the conditions which the police have placed on his protest.


SOLIDARITY IS NEEDED TODAY IN PARLIAMENT SQUARE AND AT CHARING CROSS POLICE STATION.

If you can get down to the Square now or later today, please come along. Also people are needed to go to Charing Cross Police Station to support those inside. Please also check:
http://www.blogger.com/www.parliament-square.org.uk

Monday, May 22, 2006

Nineteen n-n-n-nineteen

The BBC finally catches up with Socialist Unity and has reported on the Armed Forces Bill.

There have been back bench calls to scrap the section that says deserters from the army are to face life imprisonment. LIFE for deserting! Jeez Loiuse!

Life for not killing people?!?

But we should all calm down because, according to the BBC, "Defence minister Tom Watson said life could apply only where desertion was "to avoid relevant service". " Unlike the deserting that allows you to go to Iraq and fight at same time?

This is grossly disproportionate and clearly part of cracking down on soldiers exercising their conscience.


Number of MPs that voted against life imprisonment = 19
Number of MPs that voted for life imprisonment = 442

When we have the list of 19 MPs we will be awarding medals...

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Blogging from the other side of the wire

The Observer today has a piece about Richard Tomlinson, ex-MI6 agent, sent to jail in '98 for breaching the official secrets acts after handing a draft copy of a book he'd written about his time in MI6 to a publisher in Australia. One of the key gripes Tomlinson has against MI6 is that when they sacked him after he became depressed he was denied the opportunity to take them to an industrial tribunal over unfair dismissal.

He now says that "If MI6 really don't want the hassle of going to an employment tribunal, they could just admit liability and apologise. Saying sorry won't cost them a thing." However, he also worried that
'If their past history of vindictively silencing me is anything to go by, MI6 will probably attempt to shut down this website, just as they previously succeeded in shutting down my old site. But just maybe, blogging may make a difference, and MI6 may try a different tactic this time. But I doubt it...'

Read the Observer piece
here. Read Richard Tomlinson's blog here

I'm sure lots of our readers will not feel absolute and 100% sympathy with Tomlinson but this kind of blog is well worth reading if only for an insight into the way people think. All too often we on the left tend to take our gut feelings as fact and it is useful to see things from the other side of the wire now and then. Not everyone who crosses over the lines is the wonderful
Craig Murray but they are worth reading none the less.

Some readers will have noticed the
Policeman's blog in our links. This is a genuinely interesting and well written by a reasonably high ranking UK police officer. Horrifically he is neither a baby chewing monster nor drooling imbecile, very worrying. In fact in the areas where an orthodox socialist will disagree with the opinions expressed it is also clear his views are part of the logic of the job rather than some genetic predisposition to being a tool of capitalist oppression.

There are lots of blogs like this out there. For instance, you can also read the
Magistrate's blog, the Lawyer's view, Memoir of a British Soldier, this Californian Social Work Zealot, NHS blog doctor, Ambulance driver, or Traffic warden - all of which help to show the employees of the state are human, if you didn't know that already. Check them out.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

A shot gun divorce



Montenegro will vote this weekend in a referendum whether they wish to stay part of the federation with Serbia. Montenegran prime minister Mr Djukanovic had been a key supporter of Slobodan Milosevic, but increasing international pressure has led to him now supporting independence. Thus the West consecrates their rape of Yugoslavia by a shot gun divorce.

During the 1999 war I was in Budapest for several weeks, a city suddenly awash with Serbian refugees fleeing the NATO bombing. I remember speaking to one Serb woman, herself an activist opponent of Milosevic, who described why her father remained a solid supporter of the Serb government. He had grown up in the mountains during the second world war, when ethnic cleansing and racist murders by Serb and Croatian fascists were an everyday occurrence, He was the seventh son of a peasant, and he was expecting a future of poverty, frustration and ignorance. But Tito ended the ethnic violence, by building unity around the demands ratified by the 1943 Jacje conference in Bosnia where the partisan forces gathered to discuss what a post-war Yugoslavia would look like. The proclamation of an end to ethnic discrimination and redistribution of the land strengthened the military struggle by giving it a firm foundation of support in the countryside. In Tito’s Yugoslavia her father was not a goat herd, but because a university professor.

What a lot of lies we were told. During the build up to the 1999 war, U.S. and British officials at various moments claimed 100,000, 250,000 and 500,000 Serb killings of Kosovo Albanians, along with the lavish use of the word "genocide. But only 4,000 bodies have been found in one of the most intense forensic searches in history, and that includes the bodies of Serbs killed by Albanians, and the victims of 78 days of intense NATO bombing. And much of the killing of Albanians in Kosovo started after the NATO bombing commenced. However tragic and apalling the killings were, the NATO involvement did nothing to halt them, and instead exacerbated the racial tension.

We heard so much of the Serb atrocities, but the media in Britain were almost silent when in March 2004, up to 50000 ethnic Albanian rioters launched a pogrom against their Serb and Roma (Gypsy) neighbours. The pogrom followed delibertely inflammatory and untruthful broadcasts that the tragic drowning of three Albanian boys at the village of Cabra was due to them being driven into a river by a mob of Serbs. An account that the well respected agency Human Rights Watch concluded was completely untrue.
The account of the following pogrom in 2004 by Human Rights Watch is truly shocking. As they report “Once the violence began, it swept throughout Kosovo with almost clinical precision: after two days of rioting, every single Serb, Roma, or Askaeli home had been burned in most of the communities affected by the violence, but neighboring ethnic Albanian homes were left untouched.” NATO troops took 6 hours to respond to calls for help by Serbs in Pristina, despite elderly defenceless and disabled people being attacked in their homes by the mob of Albanian extremists.
It is important to note that according to HRW the ethnic cleansing of minorities by the NATO backed KLA/UCK started immediately after the Serbs withdrew: “Before the 1999 war, some 350 Ashkali families lived in Vucitrn, many of them engaged in the butcher trade. After the war, many of the Ashkali were attacked by ethnic Albanians. At least five Ashkalis from the town were abducted and “disappeared” and more than a hundred Ashkali homes burned. Almost the entire Ashkali community of Vucitrn fled, with only ten to fifteen families deciding to stay.”
In 2004 the Albanian supremacists came to finish the job, watched and not hindered by NATO troops: “the Ashkali recalled the terror they felt when their homes were set on fire with their families inside and no-one came to help them. Nejib Cizmolli, a thirty-seven-year-old Ashkali [man], recalled being trapped on the second floor of his burning home with eleven people, including children aged three, eight, fourteen, fifteen, and sixteen”

If NATO was prepared to go to war with Serbia because of the alleged (and largely untrue) massacres of Albanians in Kosovo by the Serb army, then how could they collude in ethnic cleansing under their very noses, while they are administering the province themselves? In truth the war was always about dismantling Yugoslavia, and never about preventing ethnic cleansing. If the Milosevic government was truely promoting Serb racial supremacism, why did the large Hungarian minority in Vojvodnia stay loyal to Belgrade? Why were the Roma people in Kosovo protected by the Serbs but massacred by the KLA?

Edward Herman’s article in Z-Mag describes how the massacre claims about Srebrenica, were very convenient for the Clinton government, and the press were insufficiently sceptical about either the scale or the context of the massacre. Undoubtedly there were Moslems killed at Srebrenica, undoubtedly this was an appalling atrocity. Undoubtedly also, there were Serbian fascists involved in deliberate racists murders during the war, like Arkan's Tigers, and some Bosnian Serb commanders had a deliberate policy of atrocities.

But why do we never hear about the large scale and more indiscriminate massacre of Croatian Serbs in Krajina, including the killing of women, children and the infirm? Is this because the atrocities by Serbs could be pinned on those opposing the break up of Yugoslavia, and the Croatian fascists who murdered thousands and drove perhaps 200000 Serbs from their homes in Krajina, were in favour of a policy that suited western business interests?.

Bye Bye Bay


I'm sure I'm not alone in being absolutely ecstatic about the news there has been an uprising in the Guantanomo Bay torture camp.

The Times reports that "The camp commander, Rear Admiral Harry Harris, said that the prisoner was only pretending to hang himself to lure the guards into the room. “The detainees had slickened the floor of their block with faeces, urine and soapy water in an attempt to trick the guards,” he said. “They then assaulted the guards with broken light fixtures, fan blades and bits of metal.” here

There have been repeated suicides, hunger strikes and more minor acts of resisitance - but to my knowledge this is the first time there has been a well planned and executed mini-uprising in circumstances where organsiation must be nigh on impossible.

The UN has stated that this camp must be closed down. It's latest report states "The state party should cease to detain any person at Guantanamo Bay and close the detention facility," and repeated assurances from the US government that everything they are doing falls within US law (is indefinate detention mentioned in the statute books?) is hardly reasuuring, particularly when we consider the state of those prisons on the mainland. It's a standing joke about the brutality and inhumanity of the prison system that you can see in any number of US films and TV shows so accepted and uncontroversial is the barbarism of the US penal system.

Anyway, why do we have to take their word for this? Because they have repeatedly refused to allow independent inspectors to enter and verify what the hell is going on. It's not as if the UN will stop the US disappearing those it wishes to subject to unrestrained questioning - and it can't prevent the indefinate detention of these inmates either, no matter what they find out.

The Independent states that "The report demands the outlawing of other notorious practices including "water boarding" and "short shackling", as well as the use of dogs to terrify detainees. Water boarding is a technique in which a subject is made to think he is drowning. Short shackling involves shackling a detainee to a hook in the floor to limit movement. The US routinely denies the use of torture, but Mr Bush himself has left no doubt that for him the priority is protecting national security, whatever that takes."
here

Fact is these men are being given no options, no recourse to judicial process, no hope of ever being treated like a human being again. It's small, even doomed, acts of resistance like this that allow these people to reclaim some self respect - making your own choices in the most desperate of circumstances is what seperates those who still have life left in them to those who are dead before they've died.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Suharto 'Gravely Ill in hospital'!

Suharto - the Indoniesian Fascist who in coming to power murdered 500,000-1,000,000 communists and suspected communists has been described as 'gravely ill in hospital' :):):)

apparently "Some brain cells have died, which will be difficult to regenerate, and it has caused spasms," accordign to the doctor treating him

doctors stated that had suffered a deterioration in the tissues of his brain.

according to the BBC 'Fifty student demonstrators rallied in the Javan city of Yogyakarta on Friday, chanting "Hang Suharto" and "Try him!" and more protests are scheduled for the capital Jakarta.'

wouldnt it be nice if he died around the same time as Ariel Sharon.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

The Wind That Shakes the Barley


Reuters "Ken Loach's new film on the 1920 struggle for independence from Britain in rural Ireland teaches lessons on conflicts like today's war in Iraq, the director said as he showed the film in Cannes on Thursday. Loach, who has sparked controversy with his political films before, was greeted with much applause as he showed his historic tale "The Wind That Shakes the Barley" during the competition for the main Palme d'Or prize.

Loach said his story of two brothers fighting against British rule some 90 years ago shed light on a conflict that was not much talked about today, but which could help explain the current situation in Northern Ireland and conflicts elsewhere. "I think a story of a struggle for independence is a story that recurs and recurs and recurs ... There are all these armies of occupation somewhere in the world, being resisted by the people they are occupying," Loach told reporters.

"I don't need to tell anyone where the British now unfortunately and illegally have an army occupation. And the damage and the casualties and the brutalities that are emerging from that," the British director said in reference to the U.S.-led war in Iraq. "My view is that this was an illegal war ... It's an appalling scar on our government's record and clearly on the American's."

Loach said his film was not anti-British but showed people had more in common with those in the same social position in other countries than with those at the top of their own. "

I'm really looking forward to this. Whilst I thought 'Michael Collins' was excellent the fact that Loach's film will deal with the extraordinary ordinary people rather than the celebrated figures is a really welcome change - and one that was used to brilliant effect in Roddy Doyle's "Star named Henry" allowing the story to explore themes without the distraction of the personal foibles of the great men.


I'm also hoping it's going to spark some real debate about what's happening in Ireland today as most of the left seems to either be stuck in the dogmatic phrases of the past or completely ignor the situation as it stands now.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Fidel richer than the Queen


It seems as likely as claiming that Tony Blair has a second job as a gay porn star. But Forbes magazine has recently claimed that Fidel Castro is one of the richest men in the world, with $900 million in secret Swiss bank accounts, making him twice as rich as HRH Queen Elizabeth II.

In a remarkable twist Fidel has challenged them and promised to step down if they can prove it is true, according to the Granma news agency, Havana.

In exchange for just one shred of evidence, he said that he would offer them everything that they have tried and failed to do over almost half a century, during which time they have tried to destroy the Revolution and assassinate him via hundreds of conspiracies. "I’m giving you everything you’ve tried," he said, "and don’t come with your foolishness and wayside stories. Show me an account, of just one dollar," he emphasized.

"Why would I want money, if I’m soon to be 80 and I didn’t want it before?" Fidel asked, adding that during his life he had entrenched himself in principles and had never abandoned them.

The president added that Cuba is working on a program that will enable millions of Latin Americans to receive restorative eye surgery. Referring to the thousands of patients who have benefited from Operation Miracle, Fidel asked what those people would think when they read the newspapers talking about his personal wealth. "It is a campaign to make me look like a thief," he said, adding that it had a goal: to destroy Cuba, to make Castro look like a crook so that nobody will acknowledge anything that is done to benefit others, even though Cuba is a country that has some 25,000 health professionals working free of charge in a large number of countries.

"And that is because we have human capital, and we certainly can rely on $100 billion in human capital," he commented. He read what had been published by several media agencies echoing the libel published by Forbes, and noted that while deliberate lies were being published, nothing has been said about the almost 20,000 Latin American medical students studying in Cuba, or the fact that the country will be educating almost 100,000 doctors over the coming years.

Booming Oil Profits and the Social Programs - the truth

On March 14th The Times - the daily rag of choice for Tories who like trash - decided to publish an interview with Chavez's former mistress. In it the author described how 'Chavez arrived with a pocketful of booming Venezuelan oil profits and began what he called his evangelical “missions” to transform the lives of the poor.'

This comment is worth remarking on largely because it is unremarkable, because it has become an orthodoxy across the British and American press that investments made by the Bolivarian government in social welfare are fuelled by - indeed are absolutely bound up with - the rising oil prices that have sent us all into a fluster.

This version of events, though comfortable for those unwilling to give credit to Chavez, is hard to reconcile with the chronology of developements in Venezuela. This much you can see by clicking on my graph below (click again for a clearer image)

What this shows is that the most imprtant missions that have impacted on the welfare of poor Venezuelans were started in 2003. Mission Robinson which taught 1.5m Venezuelans how to read was started in July 2003; mision barrio adentro, responsible to providing healthcare in the mass of Venezuela which is impoverished started in March 2003, Mision Mercal (food subsidies)April 2003 and Mision Ribas (remedial high school education) November 2003. The point is that in this year oil prices hovered around the 30 dollar level - relatively good going by 1990s standards but just half of the current price of oil. More signifcantly, the year started with a massive act of managerial sabotage in full swing in the state oil company which resulted in a massive dip in oil production, with production levels taking time to recover once the action had been defeated.

The truth is that the transformation of ordinary people's lives in Venezuela cannot simply be understood in terms of the Chavez government getting lucky on the commodities market. Revenue has increased not just because of high oil prices but because Chavez had the cojones to ratchet up the duty paid by foreign companies extracting Venezuelan oil. The truth is that Mision Barrio adentro was extremely effective not as the result of enormous expenditure but because - in contrast to the chaotic suituation of GP allocation in Britain - thousands of Cuban doctors were sent where they were needed, into the pooorest communities in Venezuela. The truth is that change that Venezuela is experiencing cannot be explained merely in terms of prices and profits, but must be understood in terms of the kind of social innovation which makes Times' readers stomachs churn.

Reuben

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Happy Birthday to the Cultural Revolution













It is the 40th anniversary today of the start of the Cultural Revolution. An excellent starting place for any understanding of modern Chinese history is Nigel Harris’s “Mandate of Heaven” which has a chapter on the Cultural Revolution.

Obviously the book is 25 years old, and therefore makes no reference to the turn of the Chinese Communist party towards open free market capitalism, but it does provide an excellent understanding of how the CCP’s objectives were always to promote economic development and national independence, rather than advance socialism.

The Cultural Revolution followed the failure of the Great Leap Forward. Economic development seemed to be at an impasse, and Mao recognised that a new political superstructure had simply been grafted on to an essentially rural underdeveloped economic base that could not sustain fast economic development.

Mao wanted to break out of the stalemate, but could not simply purge the party without destroying his own power base. So instead he turned outside the Party for suppport. It all started almost comically when Mao’s wife, Chiang Ch’ing, claimed that in the autumn of 1965, a number of articles in literary criticism by Mao were refused publication in Peking and Mao was obliged to have them published in Shanghai. Possibly on the basis of this experience, he concluded: “The central Ministry of Propaganda is the palace of the Prince of Hell.” A Cultural Revolution was required. At the start Mao used it to eliminate opponents, such as P’eng Chen, deputy general secretary, Lu Ting-yi (Minister of Culture and chief of the Propaganda Department), and Lo Jui-ch’ing, PLA (the army) Chief of Staff.

The result was an explosion of student militancy aimed at all symbols of discipline, and of the past. Nearly all pre-1949 writers and music was banned. People were imprisoned for having collections of classical music records, or books by Balzac or Goethe

Eleven million students went on a violent rampage as Red Guards, who while using the intoxicating language of social revolution were in fact easily manipulated by different factions in the party. Lin Piao and his supporters (the “Left”, led by the Cultural Revolution group) saw the chance to remove their main rivals within the party, Mao’s heir Liu Shao-ch’i and general secretary Teng Hsiao-p’ing. Lin Piao would then stand close to inheriting the supreme leadership on the retirement of Mao. Secondly, the party cadres disgraced by Liu and his wife during the socialist education movement now had a chance to destroy Liu, and secure their rehabilitation.

Liu and Teng were obliged to accept the role of scapegoats to protect the party, saying that they alone were responsible for the changes introduced after the Great Leap Forward. Liu ceased to appear in public and retired to his State villa in Chung Nan Hai. Thus the head of State, central committee member, and heir to Mao, suddenly became a “capitalist roader”, the source of all ills for hundreds of millions of Chinese.

The politburo were desperately trying to back pedal, but by November millions of workers started strike action putting forward their own demands. This was too much for the party who blamed a “handful of party persons in authority taking the capitalist road”. “These capitalist roaders have been even fomenting strikes, instigating the masses who do not understand the actual situation to flock to the banks and withdraw their deposits by force.” During the course of 1967 the PLA gradually restored order, and Mao’s twin power bases, the PLA and the CCP remained intact.

Today there will be no discussion of the Cultural Revolution in China. The CCP are no more democratic than they were then, and because their objective was always to simply grow the economy to allow China to become a super-power, they have no problem with neo-liberalism. The last thing they want is a discussion of the anarchy their rule brought China to, nor to remind people that they once used to talk the language of human liberation.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Haiti's new leftist president


Haiti swears in a new president today, Rene Preval, an ally of ousted former leader Arsitide. I must confess to being no expert on the incredibly complex world of Haitian politics, but another left leader elected in the Caribean can only be a good thing.

Haiti seems to have divided the left internationally more than almost any issue I remember. With some (much of the US left, SWP(US) etc, ) stressing the essentially progressive nature of Aristide, redistribution to the poor, official language recognition of Creole for the first time and making Voodoo an officially recognised religion alongside Catholicism, etc.

Others have stressed Aristide's alleged capitulation to globalisation (promising privatisation – although crucially he never did privatise anything) and corruption (Chris Harman's position and the USFI)), a more balanced view comes from the American ISO of critical support for Aristide, but with no illusions in him. And there is a marvellous article from the CWI calling for a mass workers party in Haiti - it is a "one size fits all" theory that requires no adaptation for specific circumstances!

Interesting, that when Venezuela launched Telesur (their attempt to create a latino Al Jazeera), the very first programme was a documentary condemning Lula's imperialist intervention in Haiti, and how the Brazilian army are doing the dirty work for French, US and Canadian multinationals. Certainly one of the motivators behind the imperial intervention by UN troops seems to have been the demand by Aristide that France pay reparations to Haiti for Slavery.

So what will happen now? President Preval’s election is certainly an expression of the enduring power of Aristide’s movement among the poor. The US had originally sought to prevent any pro-Aristide candidate standing, which had resulted in several delays to the elections. President Chavez takes a strong personal interest in Haiti, and often refers to the copy of the “Black Jacobins” that was presented to him by Selma James, widow of the author C.L.R. James, and a strong supporter of the Bolivarian revolution.

Haiti has been punished for two centuries by the imperial powers for daring to overthrow the yoke of slavery under Toussaint L'Ouverture. Can the Venezuelan and Cuban governments combine to provide Haiti with the aid they need to turn back the tide of illiteracy, grinding poverty and lack of health care?

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Socialist Unity suggestion box

Hello,

with the election over it gives us a little time to give the
main site a spring clean. Which is a good opportunity to use this blog (and the fact it's easy to interact and discuss on it) to get some feed back about improvements people would like to see.

This blog itself came from a discussion about how to make the site more interactive and has been a real success I think, although personally I'd like to see a wider variety of posters and contributors.

Although political comments about the site's direction (or lack of it more likely) are welcome I'm really looking for thoughts on subjects we are not covering, sections we should commision and/or decomission, the kinds of contributors we host, the look and feel of the site, technical points - anything that you think would improve the site. Obviously we might ignore you, but more likely even if the idea itself is impractical there may be ways of adapting the suggestion into an idea that we can implement.

If you'd prefer to comment confidentially, that's fine, email me at
jimjepps@hotmail.com

Thursday, May 11, 2006

The state could not have prevented 7/7, but it could provoke it

I tend to agree with those who say MI5 could not have prevented the bombers blowing themselves, and large numbers of others, up on July 7th.

In hindsight I'm sure there are many lessons that can be learned about intellegence and all of the rest of it - but unless they keep us all under surveilance 24 hours a day it's just impossible. Sadly, they do not have the resources to control the actions of every living being on the planet, such are the imperfections of life. Let's hope Gordon Brown sorts them out with the cash to recruit half a million of us to spy on each other night and day.

Today's papers are full of reports about the inquiry into the 7/7 bombings, that took place four years to the day after the Bradford riots and during the G8 summit in Scotland.

Worryingly I agree with this government report when it says that "foreign policy was an element in the radicalisation of the bombers, but [the report] will not conclude that the Iraq war was the key contributory factor behind the attacks." because whilst it's easy for the left to say everything is about the war I think that analysis ignors some of the underlying reasons for the attacks.

The lead bomber gave us his own reasons on video (read about it here) Classroom assistant Mohammad Sidique Khan cited Iraq and Palestine and claimed that "We are at war and I am a soldier. Now you too will taste the reality of this situation." He praised Bin Laden and spoke of his opposition to the 'Crusaders'.

So it would be difficult to deny that Iraq and Palestine were to the fore in their minds when they choose to undertake their mission, but what turns those who oppose western imperialism into those who are willing to commit mass murder? I would say that part of the answer lies in the following...

"Our words have no impact upon you, therefore I'm going to talk to you in a language that you understand. Our words are dead until we give them life with our blood."

"Until we feel security, you will be our target."

Ultimately the one person each of the bombers knew they were going to kill was themselves - and maybe the war they were engaged in was partly a war against themselves. The two quotes above, to me, scream with impotence. How they have no impact, how they feel insecure, how their words are dead - and that not only did they wish to strike back at those they blamed for these feelings, and identified with others they could see taking extreme measures, but they also chose a method that seemed to be the only thing to give their lives meaning - a glorious death.

When Marx and Engels described religion as “the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world. It is the opium of the people.” It could not fit more closely with how this form of radical Islam fuses the soullessness of capitalism with the rage at its oppressive consequences.

The furious anti-Muslim response experienced, particularly after 9/11, was for many Asians their first real experience of racism in this country (see Salma Yaqoob in the ISJ for instance) and that to chose the anniversery of the massive Bradford riots to carry out these attacks may say more about how they viewed their own lives, here in the UK, than anger at events that were happening in far away countries.

The arrogant dismissal of the the mass anti-war movement by Blair and co was one the greatest blows against democracy this country has ever seen and left millions feeling utterly distraught and disenfranchised. For Asain Britains this feeling must have been ten times what it was for the rest of us.

The atrocious attacks of July 7th were not part of the Iraq war even if that war enfuriated these four young men, but I suspect it suited the bombers to see themselves as soldiers to give themselves identity, coherence and courage to take the final step of obliterating the lives of others and themselves. This was a nihilistic product of an alienated society where millions feel they have little significant control over their lives.

When I was a teenager it was my deepest desire for the USSR to invade the UK, and I genuinely used to daydream about Soviet tanks rolling down the high street greeted by red flag waving crowds. I may not have hit upon the most popular solution to Britain's problems but it was certainly a product of my hatred for everything that I felt the country stood for. When the IRA atempted to blow up the Tory cabinet in Brighton I whooped and danced for joy, playing Stiff Little Fingers 'suspect device' over and over - but whilst all of these were direct comments on the UK's foreign policy they had as much to do with my experience of what I felt was constant police harrassment, the degeneration of the lives of those I loved and the hopelessness I felt about my future.

Ultimately it is not just an end to the war that is key to all our problems but a fundamental shift in society away from the factors that create impoverished and alienated individuals. As it happens, if we take that shift we abolish war along the way.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Dave Renton on the ANL


There is an interesting interview with Dave Renton on the main Socialist Unity Network website.

I haven’t read his book about the ANL yet, but I have to say that from the tone of this interview I don’t really recognise my own experience.

Firstly, the discussion of the NF as a “combat organisation” seems to suggest that they were some sort of Michigan militia. I joined the SWP in 1978 when I was 17, but I had friends in the Front, and that wasn’t at all uncommon at the time. The Front were a much more deeply rooted organisation in popular culture than the BNP are today, and for young lads like me they had a bit of glamour. Because my parents and grandparents had a strong Labour Party and Communist party background I would never have been directly attracted to them. But I do remember in 1976, before Rock Against Racism had politicised punk, it was quite the thing to have swastika armbands – certainly Siouxsie wore them, and there was that openly anti-Semitic song from the Banshees, “Love in the Void”. Fascism was the ultimate taboo to my parents generation. I bought a swastika armband myself in an antique shop in Bath, and I remember the shop keeper asking me in a leery way whether I was interested in patriotic meetings. Even as a pimply youth I didn’t think supporting Hitler was very patriotic, given that my dad had fought in the war.

In particular I don’t agree with Dave’s argument that: “the NF's support for violence was strategic rather than tactical: it included attempts to march through black areas, as at Lewisham in 1977 - the left had no choice but to respond.”


In my view the Front’s marches were more of a territorial thing, designed to intimidate and impress. The left’s strategic objective of denying the NF the right to march or hold public meetings was designed to force the NF to show their true face by being violent. If it hadn’t been for us the NF would have preferred their marches to be ceremonial rather than a punch up. As the marches got smaller the skinheads became more prominent. I knew we had them beat when I heard a bunch of Fronters in Bristol start chanting "The National Front is a Nazi front, join the National Front"

Certainly it was a very scary time, and being in the SWP in 1978 and 1979 could involve actual fighting with Fronters and the police. But mainly there was no fighting just because we outnumbered them so much. I remember going to the picket of an NF public meeting in a school in Knowle, Bristol during the 1979 general Election (I think it is the school they film “Teachers” in today for TV). There must have been 2000 at the picket with 500 coppers, and only about 20 Front went in. I almost felt sorry for them.

Another gripe with Dave is his claim that: “Rock Against Racism was a very small network, primarily London-based of designers, actors, artists and a few musicians; the key players included Red Saunders, Roger Huddle, Dave Widgery, Ruth Gregory, Syd Shelton. Each of these networks was initiated by members of the SWP or by their allies: RAR was launched by Red Saunders, but then taken up by people who worked at the SWP print shop.” Without meaning to be rude to Dave, this seems like a typical London based political full-timer type comment. RAR was a grass roots explosion, because the brand was made available to anyone who wanted to use it. As I remember it almost nobody read the London based “Temporary Hoarding”. paper, or went to the nationaly organised Rhino tour. But loads of people round the country made their own local anti-racist leaflets, and the real strength was the legion small and local RAR gigs.

I also disagree that: “The ANL was launched by the SWP, and took off following events at Lewisham in summer 1977: for the next year, it was almost all that members of the SWP did.”. Yes the SWP launched the ANL, but in many parts of the country the ANL work was taken up by others, and as I remember we had a conscious policy of letting the MIGs do the committee work. And we did loads of other stuff. Not only did we have various parliamentary election campaigns that the SWP fought I this period, we also had Cliff’s launch of the SWP itself out of the IS – on the disastrously wrong perspective that we could quickly become a mass party. And the SWP was a much more deeply working class organisation than today, with scores of shop stewards and convenors active in rank and file trade unionism, and much of the Party’s activity was supporting this trade union base.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Whose in trouble?

Ooooooooo....... you're going home in a private ambulance!

Blair's reshuffle seems to have created more problems than it solved. Mr Gordon Brown for the first time has started making public statements about Blair's timetable for withdrawal. Backbenchers are rumbling Dave Osler has that letter and the Socialist Campaign Group is actually doing something! I know! It's that serious!

.

But let's take a look at that some of that reshuffle in depth.

Prescott; He keeps the titles but loses the power. He's a bit like the Queen now I suppose. A total embarressment to the PM so why is he getting paid so much for doing so little. I think it's pretty clear.

If the Deputy PM loses his cabinet post it is one step away from losing his position as Deputy Leader of the Party. Deputy Leader is an elected position and if he lost the post there would have to be a leadership eleection in the Labour Party - and if you're having one election, why not make it two?

If Blair had sacked Prescott he could have been setting the ball rolling for his own politcal demise - but his refusal to rid himself of this troublesome creature hands Blair's opponents a gift that just keeps on giving.

Daily Mail; Prescott ogled secretary from the day he began job

.

Straw; There are two theories as to why Straw was effectively sacked. Guardian; The two crucial mistakes that cost Straw his job

Theory one - Straw was for talking to Iran rather than bombing it. CBS News; Did Bush Force British Minister Out?

Theory two - Straw spoke to Gordon Brown. Telegraph; Outwardly loyal, but Straw kept his distance

Could be both, although number two seems like the hanging offence to me.

.

Dope Fiend Reid;

Bomber Reid has his reward, possibly he's Blair's dealer... I recieved this important message that I think bears repeating... "You know Dr John Reid has got really friendly eyes that shine with sincerity. If you were being tortured you'd want him to be in charge because you'd know he cared and didn't want to hurt yyou anymore and it would be so good to tell him everything and the pain would stop, but even better than that he'd be your friend, and even if he just shot you in the back of the head it wouldn't be so bad. You know, he'd make a good successor to Tony Blair."

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Charles Clarke;

Clarke is not a happy man. Sacked in the same week that Blair gave him unqualified and fulsome praise... such is life. Unfortunately whilst many on the left will be celebrating the axing of the latest in a long line of proto fascist home secretaries the fact he was sacked for not dealing with evil foreigners is not necessarily a good thing.

The worry is this is going to push the debate to the right (if that's possible) and into yet another attack on habeus corpus.

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Margaret Beckett;

Clearly a blow for women's liberation Washington Post; Britain Gets First Female Foreign Secretary but also it's a replacement of the disloyal Straw with an ultra loyal robot. Not good. Bland, bland, bland - but let's reward her for taking the nurses anger on the chin.

.

Blair has got real troubles - but looking at who he's putting in charge of that government I think his troubles pale in comparison to everyone else's.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Can Blair feel the heat?

I'm totally exhausted, having been tramping the streets in the baking heat all day on this reasonably important election day.

I've been doing psephological research and, although the results are not yet collated, I can say...

  • people don't want to admit to voting Labour, in the way that Tories used to be utterly invisible in the Tory years. This could mean a vote melt down or simply be a sign of collective shame.
  • the Cambridge Respect vote is going to be very respectable indeed and, all credit to them, this is definately down to their campaign because otherwise no one would have known who they were. Cambridge Respect blog
  • Lib Dem voters would rather vote Tory than Labour and, contrary to my previous thoughts, most Lib Dem voters are not voting for something hoping it's slightly more progressive than Labour, but that it is a more palattable Tory Party. Ouch.

The election has been dominated by racist ideas on crime and the greening of all the political parties.

The BNP could never have paid for the amount of election coverage that they have been getting and it's possible if the anti-fascist camapigners can't get the anti-BNP vote out there could be real trouble.

The Green Party has also been in the position of its core values being adopted by all the main stream parties and could, potnetially, benfit very strongly - although whether the Greens have the kind of activist base that can capitalise on the opportunity is something that remains to be seen.

The Socialist Party has been having a good couple of years and enters the election in confident mood - let's see what they make of their focused and disciplined camapign. Whilst Respect has been going hell for leather and all the signs are that its work is going to pay dividends - let's see if they can export the model out of their core areas and into fresh territory.

It'll all become clear soon enough.

p.s. I noticed that there is a Guardian election blog which may be a useful resource... if you spot anything similar let us know.

    Wednesday, May 03, 2006

    Labour vote in melt down?

    All the indicators seem to point towards a bad election for the scandal hit Labour Party on Thursday, with activists (the last remaining few) very despondent and admitting that the vote is very likely to be in free fall.

    Some Labour candidates round the country have been trying to distance themselves from the national Labour government. For instance, in Cambridge the Arbury candidate is describing himself on his leaflets as "Real Labour" in an obvious bid to curry favour with those disillusioned with the arrogant and rightist government.

    Although the nearby Romsey Labour Party have decided to go with an anti-recycling campaign as their big "vote winner". Get with the programme people!

    Socialist Unity will be covering the election from our
    Election 2006 resource page but we are going to need the help of our readers to get the information in and then out again as efficiently as possible. If you're involved in a left campaign let us know the results as soon as you can, if you get an interesting snippet of info tell us and we'll post it as a newswire item. We'll be the only site covering the election hoping that all the left do well rather than just our own little section and so we'll be the only site that you can come to for all your election info needs!

    Email us at
    this address to let us know what's going on - we'll be updating the site throughout Thursday night and again on Friday.

    Tuesday, May 02, 2006

    Gas is just the beginning


    BBC announces Morales nationalises the gas industry here and here

    Speaking at an oilfield in the south of the country on Monday, Bolivia's left-wing president called it an "historic day".


    "The pillage of our natural resources by foreign companies is over," he declared.

    About 100 soldiers peacefully took control of the Palmasola refinery in the south-eastern city of Santa Cruz, reported the news agency Associated press.

    The government said soldiers and engineers were sent to 56 locations around the country.


    Mr Morales said the gas fields were "just the beginning, because tomorrow it will be the mines, the forest resources and the land".


    Religious Hatred

    The controversy over the defeated Religious Hatred Bill seems to have died down somewhat now, but until very recently it pointed to some significant divisions amongst the left. Most noteably between Respect and George Galloway (who voted for the Bill in parliament), attempting to court the favour of Muslim voters on the one hand, and those fervently believing that religion is the opium of the masses and those concerned about restrictions on freedom of speech on the other. But these are not divisions that will go away with a simple vote, and with the cartoon controversy adding fuel to the fire, it seems that they will continue to arise.

    The division that has most troubled me, however, is my own. Until recently I have been in two minds on the issue. Certainly banning religious hatred would place a necessary restriction on the BNP, who are able to use the loophole to spew their racist bile legitimately by targetting Muslim populations. The word Paki can conveniently be replaced with the word Muslim, and there you have legitimised racism. The same goes for immigrants, asylum seekers and travellers. At the same time, however, religions should be criticised and such criticism must never be curtailed. Equally I support the right for the papers to publish the cartoons, whilst recognising that their publication is part of a phenomenon that I am fundamentally opposed to. They were used to victimise a vulnerable minority and formed part of a rising anti-immigrant backlash in many European countries. Ideologically, this is something that the left should be opposed to, irrespective of our opinions on freedom of speech. Yes, the papers should be free to publish the material, yes, I disagree with their publication, and yes, ideologically speaking, those papers are an enemy of mine.

    Two things, however, swayed my opinion towards opposing the Religious Hatred Bill. The first was a brilliant speech by Shami Chakrabarti at the Cambridge Union and the second, was interviewing Jill Paton Walsh, author of the Booker Prize nominated 'Knowledge of Angels', for Varsity back in February. You can find the interview here:

    http://www.varsity.co.uk/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=8772&Itemid=31

    or the more visually appealing version on page 21 of the paper (page 20 of the pdf document) here:

    http://www.varsity.co.uk/archive/634.pdf