Saturday, September 30, 2006

Turn off the oil

Following the Socialist Resistance AGM, which I attended as an observer, I was asked to write a short article for their paper about the war in Lebanon. Here is a sneak preview.

The recent war has been a disaster for Lebanon. Some 5000 dead, accompanied by destruction of the country’s economic infrastructure, an environmental catastrophe due to oil pollution, and the area south of the Litani river covered in cluster bombs. The responsibility for these atrocities lies with the Israeli Defense Force and its political masters. Nevertheless, Hezbollah also made political and military choices.

It has been transparent since 1973 that the USA will not allow Israel to suffer any catastrophic military defeat. Significant early advances by the Syrian and Egyptian armies during the Yom Kippur war were reversed by Israel only with massive US military support. What is more, there has also been a long tradition of guerrilla attacks on Israel being used to enhance the political and military prestige of competing Arab forces. For example, the promotion of guerrilla actions by Fatah during the 1960s, funded by Saudi Arabia, to undermine the Nasserite leadership of the PLO, and indirectly undermine the authority of pan-Arabism. There has also been a tradition, particularly during Yasser Arafat’s leadership of the PLO, of bargaining the suffering of civilian targets of Israeli aggression to gain diplomatic advantage.

The events of 12th July 2006 on the Israeli-Lebanon border will always be in dispute. It is entirely plausible that the IDF were anyway planning an attack on Lebanon. Nevertheless the nature, scale and ferocity of the Israeli response to Hezbollah’s military action would have been known to the Hezbollah leadership in advance. The fact that Hezbollah troops were dug in and had rockets deployed suggests that the action was a deliberate precipitation of war by Hezbollah.
The military defeat has created a political crisis for Ehud Olmert’s government, but it has not caused a general crisis of confidence in the Zionism, nor in a general questioning of the IDF’s capability. The confidence of Israel remains intact for the simple reason that the war did not undermine the central cornerstone of their defence, which is the backing of the USA.

No military or political struggle will prevail against Israel unless it also threatens the USA, which leads to a very simple question. Why was no voice raised in the Middle East calling for oil production to be halted? Even Hezbollah’s greatest ally, Iran, did not use its economic power.
In contrast, in 1973 the OPEC producers scaled production back 5%, then 10%, and then Abu Dhabi responded to President Nixon’s granting of $2.2 billion of military aid to Israel by initiating a total oil embargo. The embargo lasted for 6 months before Saudi Arabia broke the strike.
American domination of Middle East oil has rested on two pillars, unconditional support for both Israel, and the House of Saud. Having the Saudis as allies inside the Arab tent has decisively diverted the direction of Arab politics, but the House of Saud have also had to respond to their own pressures.

A crucial difference between 1973 and 2006 is that within the Arab world both the political left and Pan-Arabist nationalists have been substantially defeated. It was the Egyptian leader, Gamal Abdel Nasser who promoted the idea of "Arab oil for the Arab people", and was a constant threat to the Saudi monarchy. In 1955 there was an attempted uprising by pro-Nasser Saudi officers in Taif, and another attempt in 1956 in Dhahran, and in 1956 fifteen thousand oil workers went on strike in Arabia chanting Nasseite slogans. With CIA help the Saud family undermined Nasser both drawing him into a protracted proxy war in Yemen, and also undermining Nasser’s international prestige by promoting Fatah as leaders of the Palestinians.
Nevertheless, in 1973 King Faisal was under sufficient pressure from his own population, and was sufficiently fearful of Egypt’s new President Sadat reverting to Nasserism, that Arabia played a leading role in using the oil weapon to attack US support for Israel.

Pan-Arabism was historically defeated because it was predicated upon Arab states playing the super-powers, including Britain in the 1950s, off against each other; and this is no longer possible; also because of rivalry between the different Arab elites, for example between Nasser and Kassem of Iraq, about who would be the leader of the united Arabs. But most importantly, because the power of pan-Arabism lay in its ability to inspire the Arab workers and peasants that national unity would lead to solving their day to day impoverishment and misery. Yet awakening the working classes was the last thing the Nasserites or Ba’athists would ever do.
Zionism cannot be defeated without threatening the link between Israel the USA, and the key to isolating Israel is to use the economic power of the oil producers. Yet that oil is controlled by corrupt elites who depend on US support to survive. The task of the left is not to cheer lead for the Hezbollah, but to raise again the demand of Arab Oil for the Arab people, and to demand that the flow of oil be turned off in response to Zionist aggression.

Friday, September 29, 2006

Scottish Socialist Party alive and well

MSP Frances Curran's bill for a free nutritous meal for every Scottish school child is just starting its journey through parliament in Edinburgh. This exemplifies what the SSP is all about - a campaigning party that is looking not only to socialism some time in the future, but also campiagning for practical socialist measures now that will bring improvements to the lives and health of working class people here and now. If passed this bill will transform the health of Scottish children within one generation. To learn more about the details of the Bill, the consultation document produced in the run up is a good source of information. (PDF)

I will write more about the bill later, but it is worth looking at the state of the SSP after its recent difficulties . KEN FERGUSON - Convenor of Tay Coast SSP - wrote the following article in yesterday's Morning Star.

SINCE its formation as a unified socialist party, the SSP has inspired thousands not just in Scotland but in the movement across the world. Growing from several roots, the SSP was formed out of the Scottish Socialist Alliance and was a serious attempt to bring a range of different socialist traditions together in a left-wing version of "big tent" politics.

It attempted to combine parliamentary and extraparliamentary politics together in what was not either an electoralist or a vanguard party but what was described as a "combat party."
The SSP can be found opposing closures, supporting strikes, opposing motorways, backing communities against NHS and council cuts and fighting elections.

The process was given a major boost by the fact that, throughout the Thatcher years, Scotland resisted her agenda and, although this happened elsewhere, in Scotland, there was the added dimension of the national question. The savage attacks, from pit closures to the poll tax, which was trialled first in Scotland, had both a social aspect and, increasingly, a national dimension.
Put simply, parts of the left asked the question, if Britain wants Thatcher and we don't, why not back an independent Scotland?

Readers should understand that the call for a parliament dealing with Scottish affairs goes back to the pioneers of Keir Hardie's time and that the modern campaign was led by the STUC.
The victory of Tommy Sheridan in the first Scottish Parliament, followed four years later by that of six SSP members, was a direct consequence of the more democratic electoral system used in Edinburgh. This is similar to the list system used in Germany, which gives parties seats if they gain a certain percentage of votes across a region.

The events of this summer, with lurid sex headlines culminating not just in Sheridan's court victory but in an organised attempt to wreck the SSP, have put much of this at risk.
However, the initial evidence suggests that, despite highly opportunist backing from both the SWP and the CWI, the misnamed Solidarity looks likely to fail.

The vast majority of members stayed with the SSP, with organisation in the key central belt solid. The party is turning outwards and is about to table a key Scottish Parliament Bill for the provision of free school meals which has won widespread support from medical, educational and campaigning groups.

The latest post-split opinion poll put the SSP on 6 per cent, just one point below its winning level of 2003. The party is also showing signs of opening up education and policy making and this more open approach is likely to win support at the SSP conference in early October.

There is also the question of what direction the non-Labour radical forces will take, particularly in the current context of rising support for independence, with recent polls now showing a majority of Scots voters supporting it. The right-wing offensive inside the SNP has seen a considerable softening of its previous left positions, with the adoption of a heavily pro-business posture while retaining opposition to Trident and the Iraq war.

In an uncanny echo of the birth of new Labour, the "new" SNP has been vying with the new Labour/Liberal executive to prove who can manage the status quo most effectively.
The SNP leadership will also put independence on the back burner, with demands for an independence referendum now coming at the end of a SNP government's first term. The thinking seems to be that, if the voters see it running the devolved services first, they will trust it with an independent state.

With the Scottish Greens actively courting a place in any post-2007 election coalition with either the Scottish National Party or new Labour, left greens have much to ponder. They have to square working with a government which, on the one hand, proclaims its "green" credentials in support for renewable energy while, on the other, building motorways and bankrolling air travel growth.

The reality is, as the SSP argues, that you need to be red to be green. In other words, only a challenge to planet-trashing corporate power can lay the basis for green collective solutions on issues such as energy supply, public transport, health and housing.

Free school meals are a shining example of this approach.
A recent report showed that 10 years of healthy eating helplines, food tsars, advertising and advice on food content have had virtually no impact on Scotland's bad health record.
Yet, where a policy of providing free, nutritious school meals was adopted in Hull, the take-up rate went from 36 per cent to 64 per cent.

SSP MSP Frances Curran is piloting a Bill in the Holyrood parliament to introduce free school meals and it will be interesting to see how much support is forthcoming from the parties who daily lecture us about children's eating habits.

The politics of the period between now and 2007 - the 300th anniversary of the union treaty setting up the UK Parliament - will be highly fluid and unpredictable. Which way will the Lib Dems, the India rubber men of Scottish politics, jump? Can new Labour halt its current downward spiral with Blair at the helm?

For pro-independence socialists and radicals, 2007 can be the moment when we break the blood-stained imperialist British state, meeting the democratic needs of Scots and punching a hole in the current pro-war forces led by Bush and Blair.

However, to win this, they will have to put aside illusions about alliances or deals based on pro-market ideas, work patiently for an agreed way forward and for policies which challenge the pro-business, pro-war agenda of the current Scottish Executive.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Peterloo Rally of Resistance


Yesterday's Stop the Warmongers event in Manchester received an extreme police over-reaction. Stop the Warmongers was formed by Manchester peace activists partly in response to the national Stop the War Coalition's decision to overrule their preference for a Sunday national demonstration (the day Labour conference actually started), but then grew as an umbrella group organising a series of protests and events throughout the week of Labour party conference.

The brutal over-reaction of the police seemed to take a lot of people by surprise - even in the Orwellian new Britain that we now live in. There was a large number of journalists there (mostly after 2pm, when the protest had already informed the police that it was willing to disperse, but the police wouldnt let it). they were visibly shocked, especially the ones that the police wouldn’t let in or out of their cordons.

The police wanted the protest to take place in the confines of the "peace gardens" (an undefined area that they had decided extended to a point about 10 feet nearer the statue than we were gathered). Without any notification to us, they then blocked the way to this space, so it was no longer possible for the protest to move there.

Then they surrounded the protest (at the point when those with small children had left, there were at least 150 police officers and 46 protestors contained by them). the protest made the offer of dispersing at 2pm was relayed to the chief inspector, Stuart Barton. he immediately refused this offer and insisted that the protest remain there till 2.30. he also then had the legal observer removed from his presence (who had until then been virtually instructed by the police to talk to him on a regular basis).

The police appear to have arrested two people - one elderly, disabled woman, who was carrying a placard and may have been goaded by a woman police officer as she left, and another young man who was not part of the protest at all but had been shopping with a friend and walking through the square and may have been arrested for swearing at a police officer. there were a couple more incidents where people thought other police officers were trying to take their details or detain them further but these appear to have been by police not part of containing the protest (eg the "regular" presence on the trams etc).

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Before the Taliban

It is the tenth anniversary of Afghan capital. Kabul, falling to the Taliban. It is worth noting that the Taliban did not take power until seven years after the Russian withdrawal. By 1996, half of Kabul had already been destroyed by the mujahideen, who had been armed and supported by the USA. Tens of thousands were killed in fighting over the city.

Today Afghanistan is in the grip of warlordism and terror. Human Rights Watch has described the atrocities:: "committed by gunmen and warlords who were propelled into power by the United States and its coalition partners after the Taliban fell in 2001" and who have "essentially hijacked the country". The report describes army and police troops controlled by the warlords kidnapping villagers with impunity and holding them for ransom in unofficial prisons; the widespread rape of women, girls and boys; routine extortion, robbery and arbitrary murder.

The report by Human Rights Watch spells out a desperate situation for education in Afghanistan. “Schools are being shut down by bombs and threats, denying another generation of Afghan girls an education and the chance for a better life. Human Rights Watch found entire districts in Afghanistan where attacks had closed all schools and driven out the teachers and non-governmental organizations providing education. Insecurity, societal resistance in some quarters to equal access to education for girls, and a lack of resources mean that, despite advances in recent years, the majority of girls in the country remain out of school. Nearly one-third of districts have no girls’ schools. ”

Afghanistan is now the world’s largest producer of heroin, in 2004 it produced 90% of the world’s crop. No alternatives exist for farmers and the promised new roads and irrigations projects that would allow diversification have never materialised. The UN World Food Programme reports that: “over 50 percent of children are malnourished in Afghanistan, while one in three of people living in rural areas are unable to meet daily basic nutritional requirements.”

So imagine a different Afghanistan. Imagine an Afghanistan where the main crop is not Opium but wheat. Where 26% of land is growing wheat producing 3 million tonnes per annum. Imagine an Afghanistan where raisins and cotton are grown for export, Imagine an Afghanistan which exported 30000 tonnes of cotton fibre, and 57000 tonnes of raisins per year (the 4th biggest world producer of raisins). Imagine an Afghanistan with an intact and extensive irrigation system to support this agricultural diversity. Imagine an Afganistan with an extensive road system to allow agricultural produce to be taken to market. Imagine an Afghanistan where the main export was natural gas not narcotics. Imagine an Afghanistam with 120000 tourist visitors per year.

Imagine an Afghanistan with a functioning railway network, financed by Iran and with French technical expertise. Imagine an Afghanistan where women had full legal equality, where a quarter of the government’s budget was spent on education, and secular schools were opening in every village, for girls and boys. An Afghanistan where Kabul had a university, and where there were schools of medicine, science, pharmacy and engineering. (The picture shows a Russian built hydro-electric dam in Afghanistan)

Imagine an Afghanistan under Communist rule. This is not science fiction or an alternative reality, this is Afghanistan as it used to be. And remember that the Russian military intervention was at the request of the legitimate Afghan PDPA government to counter an Islamist insurgency being stoked up by the Americans, who cared not one jot for all this social progress. The Kremlin were very reluctant to intervene, and at first KGB secretary Andropov vetoed any intervention as against the USSR's interests.

This is the Afghanistan that the US destroyed by funding and arming the Islamist militias during the 1970s and 1980s. This is the Afghanistan to which the US recruited, trained and armed Osama Bin laden to commit terror atrocities against.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

The ghost haunting Blair

As publicity launches go, it did not get as much news coverage as the organisers may have hoped. On Sunday 24th September the bereaved relatives of British servicemen and women killed in Iraq launched their new SPECTRE political party.

There was a short article in theScottish paper, the
Herald, in the previous week that quoted Peter Brierley, whose son Shaun died in Iraq three years ago, explaining why they had launched the party: "We have called ourselves Spectre because we intend to hang over the government until they listen to us. We will definitely get votes and hopefully we can win some seats,"
Despite Mr Brierley’s optimism that SPECTRE may win parliamentary seats, the launch of SPECTRE did not even make the pages of the Morning Star, although they did find space to report the launching of a
new political party by former Punk singer Captain Sensible. The only report I found of the launch event was in the Turkish newspaper, Sabah.

As I wrote
before the launch, SPECTRE is being formed to pose the single question of the war at the ballot box, but will therefore presumably also be standing against other anti-war parties? The Green party? The Scottish Socialist party? Respect? This is further complicated by the fact that the political basis of SPECTRE is problematic. They say: “We would like to stress from the outset that we are not anti-military and we do indeed support our troops wherever they may serve as they have to fulfil their duties without question.”

Most left wing and peace movement activists will strongly disagree with the need to support the troops “wherever they may serve as they have to fulfil their duties without question.” With parachute regiment soldiers still at liberty despite their perpetrating a massacre on the streets of Derry in 1972, can we really be expected to support that statement? Left and progressive candidates cannot be expected to stand down in favour of candidates who are so uncritical of the role of the armed forces.

The choice of name seems eerily similar to RESPECT. In so far as RESPECT sought to be the political expression of the anti-war movement the very existence of SPECTRE suggests that RESPECT has failed in that objective. What is more the relatively right wing attitude of SPECTRE to the military illustrates the degree to which opposition to the war has not led to wider radicalisation. The only previous example of a political party based upon expressing the views of serving soldiers, sailors and airman, the Common Wealth, which won the 1943 Eddisbury by-election and the Chelmsford by-election in 1945, was an explicitly socialist party.

Will RESPECT be standing aside for SPECTE, and have the membership of Respect any opportunity to express a view on this? Is SPECTRE the electoral expression of the Military Families Against War, or is it a separate initiative? If it is part and parcel of the MFAW campaign, then the involvement of socialists like Andrew Burgin and Chris Nineham with MFAW sharply raises the question of what approach socialists should take to SPECTRE.

There is a difficulty in bringing this single issue campaign to the ballot box, where it inevitably compete with other political viewpoints and organisations that would otherwise be wholly sympathetic to the anti-war movement – even more so as these elections will be conducted under first past the post, and other organisations or parties may have candidates with better local standing that the bereaved families. By posing a single issue electoral challenge there is a danger that SPECTRE could actually prove divisive to the anti-war movement.

Same as the old boss

On the eve of the Labour Party conference, an ICM poll showed the Tories at 35% and Labour at only 32%. What is more worrying is that the poll showed almost two thirds of voters believe that Labour does not deserve to win the next election, that the government has “run out of steam” and it is “time for a change”.

Armed with this knowledge, it seems leadership front runner Gordon Brown would rather lose the next election than change direction.

In his leadership bid speech yesterday he lavished praise on Blair and Blairism. “Tony, from the first time we shared that office in 1983 to today, you taught our party, you saw it right, you saw it clearly and you saw it through – that we can’t just be for one section of society, we’ve got to be for all of society”

There will be more privatisation under Brown, who claims that (in his own words) the “renewal of New Labour” must be built upon “a flexible economy, reformed and personalised public services, public and private sectors, not at odds but working together

Brown also signed up to more wars, and uncritical support for George W Bush’s foreign policy. He claims Blair “taught us something else, and once again saw it right, you saw it clearly ands saw it through. That the world did change after September 11th. That no-one can be neutral in the fight against terrorism, never anti-Americanism.” He promised a Brown government would continue the occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan – Brown specifically praised “American values” in his speech.
Continuity of foreign policy means backing Tony Blair’s own self-delusional assessment of his legacy. In a question and answer session yesterday Blair said “getting rid of Saddam and getting rid of the Taliban are things I happen to be proud of”. The British soldiers currently fighting and dying in Helmand province might dispute just how much the Taliban have been “got rid of”. And the cost of getting rid of Saddam has become a brutal occupation mired in an implacable insurgency.

Despite the fact that brown is continuing on a suicidal course of continuing policies deeply unpopular with Labours’ core voters, the criticism from the unions leaders was so faint as to be inaudible. T&G general secretary, Tony Woodley, said it was “a visionary speech from a great Chancellor”, although Woodley did correctly say “carrying on as we are will not win the next election”.
Paul Kenny GMB, General Secretary gave a master-class in saying absolutely nothing: "Gordon Brown has been quite clear that he sees himself as the natural heir to lead the Labour Party. He has claimed his share of the successes in the past and has laid out his vision for the future.
It was a speech of great substance. Gordon Brown has more substance in this little finger than Cameron has in his whole body. "
Dave Prentiss of Unison bizarrely claims that “there seems to be less reliance on conviction and more on listening and learning. There was enough in this speech that he will listen about the direction of reforms”
Derek Simpson of Amicus took the biscuit, saying that Brown had “showed a willingness to listen to people, to unions and to colleagues. It was very uplifting

So the top union leaders are going to collude in a Brown coronation. With no change on direction, no policy commitments, and full steam ahead for more neo-liberalism and imperial war. This will lose the next election.

But it seems they would rather lose the election, and endure an even worse government, than open up a debate about the future direction of the party. Which would mean publicly backing John McDonnell (like 59% of TUC delegates did)– the only leadership candidate whose policies match those of their unions. Maybe if Labour adopted progressive policies it might still lose the next election - but as Eugene Debbs said many years ago: "It is better to vote for something you beleive in and not get it, than vote for something you don't want and get it".

Monday, September 25, 2006

Brilliant Socialist Theatre

Two years ago, Steve Trafford authored the really great play about Maykovsky, “A Cloud in Trousers”. I wrote a review of it at the time, and interveiwed Trafford. The interview is very interesting and worth reading.

It is therefore excellent news that Trafford has translated and adapted the classic Spanish play, “¡Ay Carmela!” by Josè Sanchis Sinisterra into English. It is currently playing in York, and the
reviews are good. Writing in the British Theatre Guide, Julie Atkinson says, “Sinisterra's two-hander … presented translator Steve Trafford with a challenge: how to do justice to the author's poetic yet colloquial style. Despite not being a fluent Spanish speaker (he freely admits to using a literal translation, a French translation and Spanish and French dictionaries), Trafford succeeds brilliantly. The ear quickly becomes attuned to picking up his clever but unobtrusive use of alliteration and internal rhymes, yet the dialogue never sounds contrived or self-consciously "poetic" - quite an achievement in a work so strongly influenced by the work of Samuel Beckett and the Latin American tradition of magic realism.
“Elizabeth Mansfield, who co-founded Ensemble with Steve Trafford, is ideally cast as Carmela. As well as giving a wonderfully funny and moving performance she also has a thrilling singing voice which is used to the full in several musical numbers. Robert Pickavance gives a tour de force performance as the harassed Paulino, in comparison with whom Basil Fawlty is positively laid-back. The couple perform their flamenco routine with real panache and their interaction, both "on-stage" and behind the scenes, has the easy familiarity born of long experience. It's easy to believe that these two have been working together for years.”

“¡Ay Carmela!” was filmed in 1991 starring Carmen Maura, and concerns the fate of a Republican theatre troupe who stray behind fascist lines during the Spanish Civil War. They are arrested, and fear a firing squad, but they receive a reprieve from an Italian Fascist commander who loves the theatre. He arranges a performance for his troops, bargaining with the actors that they stage a burlesque mocking the republic in exchange for their freedom.

This theme of the relationship of the individual artist to facsism is of course reminiscent of
István Szabó’s brilliant 1981 film, “Mephisto”, but the wider issues of artistic responsibility are also familiar territory for Trafford himself. He was a founder in the 1970’s of the Red Ladder theatre company but now earns his living writing for television. As he says: “We are in a … set of contradictions. Mayakovsky says "All art serves, either as we dream the world can be; or as the world is, contributing to more dust settling on our hopes." You are caught in that trap aren't you? What are you contributing? Attempting through your art to shift and shunt the way in which the world is moving? And artists today I think feel incredibly marginalised by commercial art.”

“A Cloud in Trousers” explored the difficult position of the explosive genius Mayakovsky and his responsibility to continue artistic rebellion even as the walls were closing in on him through Bolshevik conformity. ““¡Ay Carmela!” concerns itself with the closely related dilemma of whether artists should stay true to their beliefs or should bow to pressure and allow their talents to be used to serve reactionary goals.

These are serious questions, Trafford is a brilliant playwright, and the Ensemble company, including the extremely talented Elizabeth Mansfield, are performers of rare ability. It is a joy to see such first class socialist theatre being performed. Make sure you go and support this play.

“¡Ay Carmela!” is showing in York till 30th September, then Darlington, Bolton, Leicester, Farnham, Tunbridge Wells, Frome, Chipping Norton, Beetham, Shepperton, Taunton, Halesworth, London Shaw Theatre (7 to 18 November), Cardiff and Cheltenham.

Worth adding for those in London; The tour will include a gala evening on November 7th, at the start of the London run at the Shaw Theatre, in association with the International Brigade Memorial Trust, celebrating the heroism of men and women from all over the world who volunteered their lives in the fight against fascism.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Make Your Front Popular

Those nice people at Philosophy Football have produced a series of T-shirts to commemorate the Spanish Civil War.

As Mark Perryman says: “We've tried to break with all the sectarian nonsense around this period, whatever our views of the communists or anarchists these were men and women who gave their lives in the fight against fascism so the entire memory should be respected. We're hoping to raise some dosh for the International Brigade Memorial Trust.”

I think Mark is completely correct here. I recently watched that Ken Loach film “Land and Freedom” again and I was a bit weary of the caricature of the CP international brigaders. Not only was it bad history to only show one side of the story, it also reduced the dramatic power. For example the CP are only shown fighting other lefties, there was no hint, for example, of the immense role played by the Russian air force in preventing the fall of Madrid, and the fact that there was real substance to the CP’s argument that only a professionalised army could beat the fascists. In a bizarre twist of history the argument used by Trotsky for a professional army in the Russian Civil War was put forward by the official CP in Spain, while the semi Trotskyists of POUM echoed the position of Stalin’s supporters in the Russian Red Army, that there should be a proletarian militia.

In any event – the civil war was 70 years ago, and much of the historical baggage has simply got to be put to bed.

Philosophy Football have produced these shirts, because in Mark’s own words: “Seventy years ago in 1936 the Spanish Republic were joined by the International Brigade, thousands anti-fascist volunteers from around the world, in the battle for land and freedom. Their foe, Franco and his Fascists were backed by Hitler and Mussolini while the British and other governments shamefully hid behind so-called 'Non aggression' to starve the Republicans of supplies and munitions. The battle cry of the Republic was No Pasaran , 'They shall not pass', the heroism, solidarity and sacrifice in the face of Franco's overwhelming force has inspired anti-fascists ever since.”

The four shirts depict different forces united in Spain's battle. The flag of the Left Party of Catalonia, the Catalonians like the Galicians and Basques recognised the need to unite behind the Republic against Franco. The banner of the Tom Mann Centuria, formed by British volunteers in Barcelona this unit went on to become the basis of the British Battalion of the International Brigade. Tom Mann was a militant trade unionist and founder of the Communist Party of Great Britain. The banner of the POUM militia, the unit with which George Orwell famously served. And the banner of the anarcho-syndicalist CNT-FAI, critics of the Popular Front government but allies in the fight against fascism.

Apparently sales have been going very well, and people have been buying combinations of shirts in an encouragingly non-sectarian way. Although I am pleased to report that the Tom Mann shirt is the most popular!

Thursday, September 21, 2006

This Country Life


Last Saturday I debated “rural affairs” with North Swindon MP, Michael Wills, and Tory candidate Justin Tomlinson. This all came about because during the last general election some fox hunting supporters campaigned for Justin, as Wills is a firm supporter of the ban on hunting with dogs. Justin apparently insisted that if he was going to debate then I should be included – I don’t think this is entirely due to his admiration for my political debating skill, but because I usually give Wills a hard time. Wills then insisted that if I was going to be there, then the loony toons candidates for UKIP and a pensioner who campaigns against money should be on the platform as well. (I know some of you are thinking aren’t I also a loony toon – but you have to hear these guys!).

I had the invite in May, but never received any reminder. There would be two schools of thought about this, either Michael’s secretary remembered to invite the other candidates but forgot about me, or he didn’t want me there. The North Swindon constituency actually has a largish rural component, but in best New Labour form, Michael had organised the meeting in the heart of the town.

Anyway, there we were discussing rural affairs, being chaired by Nick Bent from the National Farmers Union, in front of about 40 people - many of the Labour and Tory activists. Strangely it turned out I was the only panellist from a rural background, and the only panellist to have been hunting. Before you start imagining me dressed in a red (or more technically pink) coat and downing a stirrup cup, I used to keep whippets and hunt rabbits with them.

I really am not very fond of these debates that are dominated by a single issue, because it raises the temperature, and neither side seem particularly interested in listening to the arguments.

Anyway, the discussion on rural housing was quite interesting, I told anecdotes of friends of mine whose families have been 600 years in the same village but now cannot afford to live there as the picturesque houses have been bought up by TV producers and stock brokers as weekend retreats. There was widespread support in the meeting for my view that there should be a change in planning law that meant people should need to apply for a change of use if they want a second home, and that there should be a presumption towards refusal. I also argued against the current ban on councils building council houses. Of course Michael Wills tried to weasel his way round that one by saying there was no ban on building council houses – this is technically true, but they are not allowed to fund building council houses in a cost effective way. And in any event the Registered Social Landlords (Housing Associations) are not being funded to pick up the shortfall.

How the crisis has come about is largely due to the Tory policy (continued by Labour) of discounted right to buy of rural council stock and the Tory policy (continued by Labour) of deregulated public transport, which has meant no effective bus service. There is now noaffordable housing for people who work in the country, and a disruption of family life as young people are forced to move away. Specific policies, such as removing some of the profitable services that kept rural sub-post offices going, or banning smoking in pubs that will no doubt see many rural pubs close, have even further hollowed out rural communities to becoming commuter dormitories.

What is more, in reality rural policy is decided more by the Supermarket chains than government, so we seen a disastrous fall in many farm incomes, particularly fruit and milk producers, as these products are often bought below their cost of production, as their is only a single buyer. While at the same time the centralised distribution networks drive food all over the country before it hits the shelves. Worse still is the incredible levels of wastage – only something like 20% of potatoes grown in the UK ever reach a plate, as most of them are rejected by the Supermarket buyers as being too small, too big, too blemished, too knobbly, etc. Similar levels of waste effect fruit and other products.

Part of the trouble with the debate was that both Wills and Tomlinson agreed with all these specific points, but the solution lies outside that available for market mechanisms. The Supermarket chains are acting rationally in the interests of their shareholders, and - in so far as people keep buying stuff from them – they could argue in the interests of their customers.

The solution lies in strong government intervention, including nationalisation and state control of the supermarkets. You cannot blame a wolf for being a wolf. They have too be given a different goal – not profitability - but healthy food and a sustainable rural economy. To take food distribution out of the market and profit drive requires social ownership.

All our food could be cheaper if we were prepared to buy – for example - carrots that were not all exactly the same length and smooth and straight. That is only achieved by throwing away more than half the crop. This needs people to become educated about food, growing fruit and vegetables at school, rearing and killing animals for food, every child given a free nutritious school meal from local produce, and there needs to be a ban on junk food advertising. Councils should also be given central government funding incentives to provide sufficient support for allotment holders in towns.

The animal rights debate was a bit tedious. I condemned the way the Countryside Alliance has sought to hijack the very real social problems in the country behind their sad and sorry single issue. I know of two tractor drivers personally opposed to hunting who were made by the employers to go on the Countryside Alliance march or lose their jobs. There is also much more invidious social pressure towards conformity in the country, which means that the pro-fox hunting lobby manages to present itself as the voice of the country, despite the fact that most rural people don’t support it. Not least because the hunts are snobby, elitist, and bad neighbours – spooking other peoples’ livestock and leaving gates open.

But equally, some of the anti hunting campaigners (and there are exceptions) don’t give a fig about any of the real issues in the country. I am sure being caught by the hounds is terrible for the fox, but otherwise most of them die a slow horrible death of starvation and disease anyway. And the ban also extends to coursing, which involves a quick clean death for the rabbit or hare, and they can be eaten afterwards. In fact the strongest argument against the ban is what will be next? If hounds are banned then is it ferrets next, and then shooting, and then falconry, and then fishing? Hunting is the largest participatory sport in the country, with something between 4 and 5 million regularly involved.

I have a great deal of respect for animal welfare campaigners, and for political vegetarianism. But at the same time the ban on hunting has not been won on the basis of an informed and consistent policy towards animal welfare. Battery chicken and factory pig production are by far the biggest animal welfare scandals. The aversion to hunting is at least partly due to a townie alienation of the actual reality of living and working with animals.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006


A judge at Bristol Crown Court has ordered a re-trial in the case of two peace activists charged with damaging military equipment to stop planes taking off. After a day and a half of debate, the jury failed to reach any clear verdict.Paul Milling and Margaret Jones are charged with conspiracy to commit criminal damage after disabling several dozen bomb carrying and fuel vehicles at RAF Fairford in March 2003. They were attempting to hinder take-off of 14 B-52 planes to bomb Iraq at the start of the 2003 invasion. Milling and Jones say this was a bid to delay the planes’ departure for Baghdad and give more people time to flee the city – thus protecting property and helping to prevent war crime.

In a prepared statement handed in when they were arrested at RAF Fairford after damaging two dozen vehicles, they wrote of the air base as ‘a launching pad for war crimes’, adding that if they could save ‘one life’ by their actions, they would consider them justified.

Bruce Houlder for the prosecution alleged the defendants ‘claimed a charter’ to act without reference to the law. If the defendants’ actions were taken to their logical conclusions, he told the jury at Bristol Crown Court, ‘one might as well tear up the laws of this country.’

This was ‘a unique case’ said Hugo Charlton, defending Margaret Jones. The law allowed for exceptional circumstances, and the threat to life in Iraq posed by the bombers at Fairford was one such situation. The burden of proof, he said, was ‘on the prosecution’. It was not necessary for the defendants to have been engaged in actually ‘stopping’ a crime. It was enough that they were seeking to ‘prevent’ it, and that they honestly believed that homes and property in Baghdad were in need of protection.

James Hines, representing Paul Milling, denied that the action taken was merely a symbolic ‘protest’. The defendants acted reasonably, he said, in the light of everything they had read and heard before the start of the war. Reminding the jury that the region now devastated by war is one of the cradles of civilisation, he asked them to imagine how they would react if 30 missiles, or even three, landed on their own city. He accepted that it was difficult for Westerners leading safe lives to imagine an existence where people struggle to survive without electricity or water, among unexploded cluster bombs, with sudden death an ever-present reality. These, he said, were conditions the defendants had been able to picture, and that they had done their best to address. Theirs had been a genuine attempt to save life.

During the previous week the court heard moving testimony from those who were in Baghdad during the bombing, including a young Iraq man who survived the cluster bombing of a residential area.
Phil Pritchard and Toby Olditch start their trial on Monday the 2nd of October (9.30 am at Bristol Crown Court). Charged with conspiracy to commit criminal damage for trying to reach and disable a B-52 bomber at Fairford. Please come and show solidarity.

Where are the good left blogs?

Dave Osler’s blog seems to be going from strength to strength. Recently highlighted by Channel 4’s web-page as one of the 20 most influential political blogs in Britain, and selected as #8 of pro-Labour (in the wider sense?) by Top Tory Blogger, Iain Dale.

Naturally all of us who blog are secretly motivated – at least partially - by vanity, so Dave naturally posted a piece about this on his blog, where he makes the following point: “Not bad going for six months’ work. Readership figures are picking up, boosted by the brilliant redesign courtesy of Will. And a few of the more leftist national newspaper journos and Westminster researchers are starting to email goss in to wouldn’t it be good to have a far left website that has the same sort of clout as Guido and Dale do on the right? For that, I need more inside track stuff. My hero Paul Foot always used to include an appeal to readers for information in his classic Daily Mirror columns. I’d love to continue that tradition.”

So obviously it would be good if people took Dave up on this, and helped him develop his blog in that direction. But why is there no really good left blog? This seems to me partly a reflection of how marginal the left is on British politics. There is also the widespread use of printed media by the political left that make some blogging redundant, it has occurred to me for a while that you could produce a very good blog just by reading the Morning Star! But the left has also developed a culture of privacy, for example all sorts of interesting information comes our way in the Socialist Unity Network on the basis that it is kept confidential.

Dave is running a poll on his site on what is the “second best leftwing blog in Britain”. When you look down the list of Dave’s candidates, well you cannot help think, yeah, but is that the best we can do?

Stroppyblog has become popular very fast. Not surprising as it is updated regularly, is informal and occasionally very funny. There are also some serious well researched pieces.

The General Theory of Rubbish is a bit terse and cryptic. Although well designed and regularly updated, it is a bit too idiosyncratic for my liking.

Shiraz Socialist. Seems to be mainly reaction pieces, from an AWL type perspective, to stuff going on. Well, if you like that sort of thing. … …

JBlog is a rather more serious effort from Janine Booth, also of the AWL. Well worth a regular look.

Gauche There is a lot of chaff, but some good wheat amongst it. Particularly useful is the archive links, allowing you to jump directly to the best posts from the past, organised by subject.

Random Pottins really is a great blog. Informative, and covering a diverse range of subjects. Particularly astute when covering Israel, Palestine and Zionism.

Normblog. Many years ago Norman Geras wrote a well received book about Marx and human nature. I could never be bothered to read it. He has developed an immensely self-satisfied bloated ego. The main point of the blog seems to be to eruditely explain that we are all stupid for opposing US foreign policy. Oh, and to remind us how immensely clever Professor Geras is.

Harry’s Place. Ahh bless. Imagine Norman Geras bitten by a rabid Dog. Harry’s place is home of “decency”. In the old days decency used to mean, well, being decent. Nowadays it means support for neo-colonialism, islamaphobia, and vitriolic distain for the hard left. The most remarkable thing about Harry’s place is the comments, where racist comments are not criticised, but leftist comments critical of the Harry team are sometimes altered. A shrill, nasty experience, best avoided.

Lenin’s Tomb. The unofficial official SWP blog. Written by verbose twenty somethings full of outrage at the world, and an uncomplicated faith that there are goodies and baddies. Actually this is its strength, and the Tomb is guaranteed to be entertaining, informative and committed. “Lenin” himself rather remarkably rejects the Marxist method, arguing that there is no underlying objective reality, and all that really exists is language. (This presumably makes it easier for him to support Tommy Sheridan). Worth checking occasionally, but the comments can become depressingly sectarian.

Dead Men Left. Another good SWP blog, but updated less frequently than Lenin’s Tomb, and a little more measured. Worth looking at regularly.

Drink Soaked Trots. If you like the General Theory of Rubbish, you will like this collective blog. Much too much space spent slagging of the left for my liking.

Socialist Unity Blog. Sister to the Socialist Unity Network site. The origin of our main website was that we felt there was a gap in the market for a left wing publication that promoted a serious discussion about the way forward for the left, that was not banging the drum for any particular organisation, and was open to different voices. The Socialist Unity Blog was started as a way of being a bit more interactive, and also a place for some more quirky pieces. If you like the blog, you should regularly check the web-site as well.

It is worth saying there are some other good leftie blogs from this island, and had I been doing a poll instead of Osler these might have made the cut: International Rooksbyism, Daily (Maybe), The Point Is Liam Mac Uaid, Matthew Sellwood , Kevin Williamson

Oh yeah, and now go and vote for the Socialist Unity blog in the poll on Dave Osler’s blog!

Monday, September 18, 2006

Set back in Germany

Bad result in Berlin's state election this weekend. (sorry for any inaccuracies in translating German to English - I am a little rusty) Note also that criticism in this posting about the Greens is specific to the German incarnation, which is increasingly right wing.

SPD (New Labour) 30,8%
CDU (Tory) 21,3%
Linke (real socialists) 13,4%
Grüne (right wing greens) 13,1%
FDP (more Tories) 7,6%

Remember that the PDS. die Linke have been just under 17% for several years, and their leader Gysi got 22% first preference last year. The PDS are a remarkable party, with around 68000 members, that they have rescued from the wreckage of the old ruling communist, SED. Remember that the SED had 2 million members, so the PDS membership is only that part who are really committed to socialism, and of course many new younger people have joined with no links to the old DDR state. PDS leader Gregor Gysi was a dissident in the old DDR, so the party embodies the progressive aspects of the DDR, and not the repressive parts.

The drop in their result is largely being blamed in the German press on the WASG standing against them in Berlin, Lucy Redler (SAV -CWI, affilate of the Socialist Party in England - formerly the Militant) got 3%, under the 5% hurdle to get into the state parliament. (Bear in mind that this 3% was not under the banner of the SAV itself, but standing as the WASG, a mainstream mass party already represented in parliamant, so it was an especially bad result for Redler)

The WASG are an important split from the SPD, led by former party big hitter (Think Tony Benn, if he had actually won the deputy leadrer election), with 10000 members, mainly in the West, and who did extremely well in last years eletion, particularly in the industrial belt of the Saarland (equivalent to Labour heartlands in North East England). Between them the PDS and WASG have 54 members of parliament

There is also already some self criticism that this set back may be due to their coalition with the SPD. Linkspartei-Bundesgeschäftsführer Dietmar Bartsch hat inzwischen eine "selbstkritische Analyse" in Aussicht gestellt. Die Wähler hätten die Linkspartei für ihre Arbeit im rot-roten Senat der Bundeshauptstadt "schwer bestraft", sagte Bartsch in der ARD. (The voters have severley punished the Links Partei for ther work in the red-red senate of the capital city, said Linkes Partie national secretary Dietmar Bartsch. )

The PDS have followed a “dented shield” policy of seeking to pull the SPD (Labour) to the left, and opposed as far as possible neo-liberalism. The following web broadcast is only in German, but is a good explanation of the PDS position. (In particular there have been difficult decisions, due to the low level of confidene in the working class for struggle,). The CWI make a lot of mileage about events at the Charité hospital, which the SPD wanted to privatise. In order to prevent privatisation, a reduction in service and a bonfire of workers rights, the PDS have worked with the unions to see there are ways of reducing the wage bill, to keep the service open and in public ownership. Obviously it would be better if the unions would fight and a campign could defend both the current wages, and the social ownership. But in reality there is no mood for a fight, there is much much less mood for a fight than when the Militant called off action in Liverpool. Sometimes you have to bend so you don't break.

Here is the rather shrill web broadcast by the CWI member, Lucy Redler. (unfortunately also only in German). the WASG stood against the PDS, against the wishes of the WASG party nationally, as this damages the prospects of fusion between the WASG and PDS next year (due to some federal legislation). The CWI have (yet again!) put narrow self-interest before the bigger picture of strengthening the whole socialist movement. The Greens are completely right wing, ambiguoss on the war on terror and embrace neo-liberalism The up shot is that there is likely to be a red-green coalition (SPD-Green), committed to neo-liberalism and privatisation. Thanks CWI !!!

Gregor Gysi, Linkspartei: "Das ist eine bittere Niederlage für uns in Berlin.Die Grünen sind hier so geil und scharf aufs Mitregieren, dass es mir schon ganz unheimlich ist." Gysi: "This is a bitter blow for us in Belin, the Greens here are so venal and focussed towards coallition government, that to me is completley obvious"

Petra Pau, Linkspartei: "Wir haben unser Ziel 17 plus X deutlich verfehlt. Es wird zu entscheiden sein, mit wem die SPD regieren wird." Pau: We have clearly failed to reach our goal of 17 plus per cent, it remains to be seen who will rule with the SPD"

Claudia Roth, Die Grünen: "Ein unglaublich tolles Ergebnis! Es gibt in Berlin einen Wahlgewinner – und das sind die Grünen. Ein eindeutiges Votum der Berliner für Rot-Grün in dieser Stadt. Und das mit Betonung auf Grün." Roth (Green). An unbelievably good result. In Berlin there was an election winner, and that is the greens. A doubtless vote for a Red-green coalition in this city, and that with the emphasis on the Greens"

Gysi sagt, die klare Erkenntnis dieser Wahl sei, dass es der Linkspartei und der WASG gleichermaßen schade, wenn sie gegeneinander antreten. "Die WASG kommt ohne uns nicht ins Parlament und wir verlieren unnötig drei Prozent." Gysi said that the clear realisation of this election was that the PDS and WASG are both damaged of the stand against each other. "The WASG wouldn't be in parliament without us, and we unnecessarily lost 3%"

OUTSIDE BERLIN: Really bad in Mecklenburg Vorpommern, where the nazi NPD got over 38% across one whole town, and after the election there was a savage attack on PDS members, the press reporting it was a marvel no one killed.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Socialist Alliance election result

The Socialist Alliance in Australia just contested a by-election in Brisbane, and received a very creditable 2.03% in the polls. You can read the official vote declaration here.

The electoral terrain in Australia is more unfavourable for the left than in much of Britain, due to compulsory voting which favours mainstream parties, and due to the very established electoral presence of the Green party.

This is a very good result, and one that the SA can build upon. The following is a thank you letter from Sam's campaign.

Dear friends,
A huge "Thank you" to everyone who supported or helped in the Socialist Alliance campaign for Sam Watson to take on Peter Beattie in Brisbane.
Our whirlwind 18-day campaign - without corporate backing, TV ads, mainstream media coverage, nor spin-doctored politics - saw a tremendous group of Socialist Alliance members, supporters and friends come together to put forward real alternatives to the horrific social problems that face people in Brisbane, across Queensland, and indeed globally.
Sam scored 1.95% of the vote, with more than 400 people casting a conscious vote for socialism, for changing the system. But the real successes were what we achieved on the ground, raising issues that the other parties ignore - from Aboriginal stolen wages to Black deaths in custody to homelessness and the prioritisation of corporate handouts over public health.
Election day saw over 60 SA members and supporters talking to people at almost every Brisbane booth. While all the other parties hid from political discussion, SA members proudly stood on our principles of justice and solidarity, anti-racism and socialism. Many people commented they loved our slogan "For the millions, not the millionaires". SA supporters challenged Beattie at every booth he turned up to, asking him why the Stolen wages were not being returned to Aboriginal people in full? Why he wasn't bringing racist cops to justice?
Many people who voted were impressed that, unlike the other parties, we have alternative media with Green Left Weekly, that SA is active all year round, and that we speak to people after they vote as well! Many people bought GLWs, badges, signed petitions, took leaflets for our film nights and left their name to be contacted.
The election night party reflected what Socialist Alliance is all about - incredibly diverse peoples coming together for a better future, which puts humanity and our environment ahead of profit. We heard from political punk rapper Scart, and some didgeridoo from Adrian, and the 50 people roared their support for our candidate Sam, declaring that while we may not be in George Street, the powers that be can expect to find us in every other street!
Over the 18 days, SA members and friends have letterboxed 15,000 leaflets highlighting real solutions to the problems the majority of people face; helped lead a rally against black deaths in custody and police violence; put out media calling for Cuban doctors to be sent in to Queensland to help address the health crisis; and done numerous campaign stalls across the area.
While the corporate parties receive millions from companies, SA had to rely on members and supporters - fantastically over $1000 was donated in such a short time to allow the campaign to go ahead.
Most important of all, today we have many new members of Socialist Alliance, many more friends and supporters, and so the forces for social change have been strengthened.
The SA campaign in Brisbane reverberated around the country and even beyond. We received support statements from many activists, from progressive unionists in WA and Victoria, and even radicals from New Zealand, Malaysia and Norway that were inspired by our campaign.
As Sam said to cheers at the election party, "only Socialist Alliance raises the issues of the oppressed majority, the homeless, the youth, Aboriginal people. We should be proud of what we've done, what we stand for."
Well done and thanks everyone for your efforts. Now the struggle continues - toward the federal election, and in the day-to-day struggle against every injustice that exists in this society.
Viva Socialist Alliance!
in solidarity,
Sam Watson

Paul Benedek
Brisbane Socialist Alliance

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Your years of plenty are over!


What a brilliant film! Last night in Swindon we showed “Die fetten Jahre sind vorbei” as part of our regular socialist film club screenings. It is marketed in English as “The Edukators”. About 19 or 20 people came along, with some younger folk, but also some established activists, and there was a good discussion afterwards. I cannot praise this film enough.

The first thing to say is that it is genuinely entertaining, with witty dialogue, an unusual storyline, and absolutely magical acting. You can view a trailer here (without subtitles) English language trailers (well subtitles anyway) can be seen here. The scenes in the mountains also remind you what a staggeringly beautiful country Germany is. The film deals with three young anti-capitalist activists, who have an imaginative and downright illegal way of waging the class struggle, based upon individual direct action. As they say: “Jedes Herz ist eine revolutionäre Zelle” (Every heart is a revolutionary cell.)

One of the good things about the movie is that is shows both the exhilaration and risk involved in direct action, but also reveals how the logic of events take the participants further than they want to go. It also interweaves an extremely moving and well acted love-triangle story, though I did get a literal sense of déjà vu seeing the brilliant Daniel Brühl playing exactly the same scene with a girl and bottle of wine on a Berlin rooftop as he did in “Goodbye Lenin!”

In an amusing example of life imitating art, the film has actually inspired direct action against the rich in Germany, as reported in Indymedia. (see also the report in the newspaper front page shown here)

There is also a peculiarly German theme developed about the changing role of generations, and the responsibility the older generation have for the world we live in. The obscenely rich businessman with whom they develop a relationship reveals that he used to be a leading member of the socialist SDS when he was a youth. This allows the film to include some quite convincing debate about the individual responsibility for capitalists for the state of the world, which comes over as genuine and uncontrived. (a very considerable achievement!)

9/11 remember the victims

On 11th September 1973, a brutal military coup was carried out in Chile by General Augusto Pinochet. A subsequent official government report has established that at least 3200 were murdered. Over the next three years a total of around 120000 were detained, often tortured.

The precise role of the US government is unknown, but certainly the coup had the blessing of President Nixon, and his National Security Advisor, Henry Kissinger. In 2003, General Colin Powell, at that time US Secretary of State admitted that the US government had played a role in the coup, telling Black Entertainment TV channel, "With respect to your earlier comments about Chile in the 1970s and what happened with Mr. Allende, it is not a part of American history that we're proud of."

For all the rhetoric of bringing those repsonsible for the 9/11 outrages to justice, both Kissinger and Pinochet are enjoying a life of luxury and freedom.

A week of resistance

in Manchester
Start the week with:
Saturday 23rd Sept - National Stop the War Demonstration - Albert Square – 1pm
followed by a Social – in the Basement – Lever Street
Sunday 24th - evening - Labour Against the War (with Tony Benn) - Friends Meeting House (FMH)
Monday 25th – lunch time – Hands off Venezuela – FMH
Monday 25th - evening - Road to Guantanamo Film - Manchester Victoria University
Tuesday 26th - lunch time - Palestinian Solidarity Campaign - FMH
Tuesday 26th - evening - civil liberties / international event, including Book Launch (Tariq Mehmood) – Green Room
Also Stop the War / CND meeting at Methodist Hall, Oldham St
And Burnage Defend Council Housing, Burnage Commty Centre
Wednesday 27th - 1pm Rally of Resistance, St Peters Square
Wednesday 27th – evening - Defend Council Housing, FMH
Thursday 28th - evening - Immigration Law Practitioners Association, Launch of “Standing on the Shoulders of Fascism” (Steve Cohen)
… and later on – Red Pepper Social – “Glad to See the Back of Them”
See: and

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Hang together or hang seperately?

What is going on? This week’s Socialist Worker has an article by Esme Choonara about the launch of Solidarity last weekend. (Don’t worry you don’t have to buy it, you can see a PDF of the page here, or just the text here)

The article is surprisingly critical.

For example: “Tommy Sheridan spoke towards the end of the meeting. …The opening of his speech seemed a little downbeat compared to the mood of the meeting. He said, "We may collectively as socialists never realise our dream. We may never deliver the type of society we have burning away in our hearts, but can we say in unison that we will fight with all our ability to discover that type of world regardless of the obstacles?"Dave Sherry, from the southside of Glasgow, …, "I was a little disappointed not to have heard Tommy Sheridan spell out more about what we need to do over the next few months."


"Akhter Khan, an activist with Friends of Lebanon, told Socialist Worker, "I came to the meeting with some friends. I have voted for the SSP but never joined them."I will probably join the new organisation. But it needs more young people and more creative thinking, and there need to be strong people around Tommy Sheridan who can challenge him."

It seems the SWP are putting some shots across the bows of Sheridan, letting him know that they may have perjured themselves in court to defend the fiction of his perfect family life, but they cannot be taken for granted. Towards the end of the article we read:
"Euan Dargie, a student from Dundee, said, “The meeting gives me hope that we can build something wide and open that makes a real difference to people’s lives.
“But I don’t want a new party to have too much bureaucracy or for it to hold back the grassroots members.”

This rather reads like code for there being no mechanism to make the SWP answerable to the membership of Solidarity. The difficultly for the SWP is that having lied in court and exposed their members to potential prison sentences, they have rather hitched themselves to Sheridan. It also means that they have to go on lying, to their own members, to the working class, and to the world.

By the way, I strongly recommend that you read the report by Jim Jepps of both the SSP and Solidarity rallies last weekend. Jim very sensible argues: “However terrible you might think Sheridan is, or Leckie or Fox - the fact of the matter is that the more mud that is slung the harder it will be to build unions, build campaigns and a political alternative to neo-liberalism. The past is important but the future more so and we need to assess where now rather than concentrate on where we came from. We have two socialist organisations with strengths and weaknesses that have good cadre in the class struggle. They can both play a valuable role in the struggle.”

I am sure Jim is mainly right, but there can be no reconciliation without truth. That means being frank about the fact that the SWP and CWI were always opposed to the model of pluralist party that the SSP represents. It also means recognising that the Sheridan camp slandered comrades in order to prop up the myths that the cult of Tommy depended upon. By their perjury they have also opened up the workers movement to investigation by the police. .

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Fairford "disarmers" first day in court

Yesterday I attended the solidarity protect outside Bristol Crown Court in support of Dr Margaret Jones and Paul Milling.

In March 2003 this courageous pair broke into RAF Fairford, being used by the USAF to bomb Iraq, with the aim of sabotaging the aircraft, and the tractors that take munitions to them. They were arrested by armed US troops.
Prosecutor Bruce Houlder QC told Bristol Crown Court that when she was arrested, Margaret replied: "The US are using this base as a launching pad for war crimes. It's my aim to prevent that to the best of my ability."
The court heard that Milling said: "The UK and US Governments are using this base in an act of war which is both illegal and immoral. I'm doing everything in my power to prevent it."
The case has already been to the House of Lords and back to test whether the defendants can use the argument of lawful excuse (they can’t). Margaret and Paul argue that they acted to prevent a crime taking place.
The protest outside the court had about 70 people there, including a woman who had come from Scotland, and delegations from Plymouth, Bridgewater and Swindon (you can just see me in the photo behind Paul’s ear, holding the yellow Swindon banner)

Bristol’s socialist choir, the Red Notes, were as always excellent, and gave a human and warm dimension to it. But sometimes their choices of songs are a bit inaccessible which prevents others joining in.

The composition of the protest was quite broad, including some younger people who had been at the Drax protest, and a number of religious folks. I recognised a number of people who I know to be active trade unionists. However the political left were conspicuous by their very low profile. There was one sheepish socialist worker seller, but he didn’t offer the paper to many people. Several people remarked to me upon their absence.