Saturday, October 21, 2006

‘Drunken Consent is Not Consent’ – an attack on women’s sexuality

In an Interview with the times last week Solicitor general Mike O’Brien once again raised the issue of making drunken sex into something that courts potentially class as rape. As tempted as I and all other socialists might be to support any measure capable of raising the woefully low conviction rate for rapes, this proposal is highly problematic, not simply for men engaged in consensual sex but for women.

As the discrimination moderator on the revolutionary left forums pointed out, such proposals ‘reduce women who drink to the legal status of a child’. She is absolutely right. Such proposals seem to assume that women could not possibly want to participate in the joys of drunken sex. It assumes that women, unlike men, could not possibly wish make such decisions in a state other than one of cool, sober rationality. In other words these proposals seek to impose upon women and men a narrow, idealised view of female sexuality. One might ask – at the risk of being pilloried - why such proposals would not apply to men who are drunkenly induced to consent to sex. On one level this might be put down to the obvious power differentials that exist between men and women, both on an individual and a societal level. Yet these proposals also betray a fundamentally conservative approach which views sex not as the collective endeavour of two individuals, but instead treats sex in terms of the woman giving something of herself and the man taking it away. This is why I ,as a socialist and a supporter of feminism oppose mike o'brien's proposals.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Aboriginal deaths in police custody

The following link shows a slide show of photographs of the campaign for justice for a young indiginous man, Mulrunji, killed in police custody. Please be pateint while the slide show loads:

As Dave Riley reported in Green Left Weekly:

Queensland Murris (Indigenous Australians) and their supporters marched on the state parliament on October 10. In a protest called to coincide with the first sitting day of the newly elected Labor government, the 600 demonstrators confronted Premier Peter Beattie with the demand that senior sergeant Chris Hurley be sacked.
A state deputy coroner’s report handed down on September 27 had found that Hurley had caused the death of Mulrunji, an Aboriginal man in his custody, at the Palm Island watch-house on November 19, 2004. The deputy coroner, Christine Clements, also found that senior police had conspired to cover up the circumstances of Mulrunji’s death.
It was an angry crowd that gathered at the parliament gates. Petitions demanding that Hurley be sacked were handed to the premier, who addressed the crowd amid catcalls and abuse. Cameron Doomadgee, Mulrunji’s brother, told Beattie, “I want you to do right by my brother”.
Beattie asked the crowd to respect “due process” but, as Indigenous speakers at the protest had already pointed out, Hurley had been allowed to work as a police officer for almost two years after the killing and while he was under investigation. Given the very clear findings handed down by the coronial inquest, the Indigenous community is adamant that Hurley be sacked and charged.
The rally and march had been organised at short notice, but drew protesters from Palm Island as well as parts of south-east Queensland. At the community meeting that followed the march, plans were made to hold another protest on November 19, the second anniversary of Mulrunji’s death.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

MoD forced to recognize Gulf War Syndrome

On 26 September, after a 10-year battle, veteran Alex Izett, 36, forced the Ministry of Defence to concede that he is suffering from Gulf War Syndrome.

In a precedent setting case, Mr Izett is the first veteran to be acknowledged as suffering from the syndrome even though he was never deployed to the Gulf. His victory opens the way for thousands of veterans suffering from ill health to claim war pensions and compensation for the way the Ministry of Defence (MoD) destroyed their health.

In 1991, in preparation for deployment to the Gulf war, Mr Izett received nine vaccinations in 24 hours. The war ended before his deployment, and his body started to disintegrate soon after. The former lance corporal tried to commit suicide twice after developing osteoporosis, paralysis, and kidney problems.

He now suffers from depression, walks with a stick, his teeth are falling out, and his bones are so weak he has broken his knee-cap, shoulder and ribs.

In 2004 Mr Izett, who lives in Bersenbruck, Germany, went on a 40-day hunger strike to force the MoD to hold a public inquiry into Gulf War Syndrome. Though the MoD refused, and tried to deny the existence of the syndrome, his hunger strike precipitated a campaign which won an independent (non-governmental) public inquiry.

Mr Izett said:
“My family, Gina, Christian and Sabrina, have suffered with me. Had it not have been for them then I am sure I would never have lived on to see this glorious day! I would like to thank them, as I do my mum, dad, sister and aunt for their continuous and appreciated help. I would also like to thank my dear friends at Payday who cared for me during the full duration of my 40-day hunger strike.”

The War Pensions Appeal Tribunal has now ruled that he has Gulf War Syndrome. The MoD’s denial of his condition meant that if he died, his wife Gina, 39, would get nothing.

Mr Izett further commented on his victory:
“The MoD have done nothing for me in the past 16 years. However, my dear friends and family gave me faith, more so strength to live on and carry on my battle for justice against the MoD.”

The ruling confirms that Gulf War Syndrome exists and establishes once and for all that vaccinations are clearly a cause. The price the MoD will have to pay for their criminal disregard of human life is not big: they must pay his dental bills, and the Veterans Agency will decide whether Mr Izett will be awarded the full £124-a-week pension, not a royal sum for causing continuing ill-health.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Action Against Global Warming

Calvin Jones recently asked us to advertise the global day of action for Climat change on 4th November. Pleased to oblige:

10.00am Cycle protest assembles at Lincoln's Inn Fields, South side (Holborn/Temple tube). Goes via ExxonMobil offices, Australian Embassy and Downing Street to arrive at US embassy at 11.30 am.

11.00am Rally opens : Messages from around the world, performance poetry & musical protest with "Seize the Day" and others.

12 noon Main Rally at US Embassy, Grovsenor Square. Speakers include George Monbiot, Colin Challen MP, Caroline Lucas MEP, Norman Baker MP, Zac Goldsmith.

1.00 pm March for Global Climate Justice from US embassy to Trafalgar Square

1.45 - 2.00 pm March joins i-Count's.. Mass Gathering in Trafalgar Square

1.00 - 3.00pm i-Count Mass Gathering in Trafalgar Square.

Stop climate chaos are limiting their activities to the UK but the march organizers, CCC, are keen on international solidarity, more on:

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Migrant workers exploited at Stansted

The problems facing migrant workers in Britain can be seen by looking at the example of the baggage handling company, Swissport, who refuse to directly employ their staff, and instead use an agency that takes a large cut of the migrant workers earnings for accommodation and fees.
The mainly male Polish workers are employed on the check-ins and baggage handling ramps at Stansted by Swissport. The company claims that they are “self employed”, and so the staff do not receive any sick pay, holiday pay or other normal items that the directly employed workers receive. This is reminiscent of the scam during the 1970s of unscrupulous building employers enforcing self employed status through the “lump” system, that was opposed by a long campaign from the construction unions.

The current situation is even worse as Swissport are exploiting a two tier work force, with directly employed British workers getting better conditions than the Poles. The workers union, the GMB is taking legal advice because it believes that as the migrants can work only for the single employer, and lose their accommodation if they leave the job with Swissport, then they cannot legally be classified as self-employed.

The migrant workers are supplied to Swissport by Labour Source Limited an agency operating out from Walthamstow, London which insists that they work as self-employed labour through another agency, Nova Corporate Services Ltd Leeds , which sets-up their self-employed status as an individual limited company and deals with tax and National insurance etc.. Confused – well that – presumably - is the idea. These Polish workers do not speak English as their first language, don’t know British employment law, and yet are employed through a legal maze of several different companies!

Yet another agency, Labour Source Ltd from Ruislip, Middlesex puts the migrant workers into accommodation and charges them £183 per week rent, an agency fee of £250 and takes a deposit of £1,650 which they lose if they leave the job. After paying their rent, utilities bills and other associated costs they are left with approximately £250 per month for food and personal living expenses.

A further problem facing these migrant workers is that the accommodation is in Takley, Essex and without transport the workers are forced to walk the three miles to the airport along unlit country lanes in the early hours of the morning.

As GMB Organiser, Gary Pearce, says: "GMB is asking Swissport to openly condemn the treatment of these migrant workers both at work and in their accommodation and to take them into directly employment with the company. In that way they will be entitled to the whole packed of pay and conditions that GMB has negotiated for the directly employed workforce. Self-employed people have the freedom to work where and when they want and so these works are losing out on both fronts. They have no freedom to keep the money they earn or the freedom to work and live where they want to. If Swissport did this these workers could then afford to arrange their own accommodation and cut out the money deducted by the agencies that are taking a cut of everything they earn."

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

I am Cuba

This Monday we showed Mikhail Kalatozov’s 1964 film, “Soy Cuba” (Я - Куба) at our Swindon Socialist Film Club. There were 18 people there, including some new faces, although I feel a bit guilty that we didn’t make enough effort to talk to people afterwards. I think we are al a bit tired at the moment, as there is so much political stuff going on.

Soy Cuba is probably the most visually beautiful film I have ever seen, certainly comparable to the best cinematography of Hollywood’s masters like James Wong Howe. The interplay of influence with Hollywood is also interesting, for example the famous 10 minutes single take from Hitchcock’s Rope (1948) was technically interesting but not artistically satisfying. The opening 10 minutes of “Soy Cuba” include the most extraordinary single take that sweeps from overhead through partying holiday makers and takes the shot underwater! Indeed the film is so visually rich that it is almost intoxicating. There is also a scene where three rebels are captured by Batista’a army, and in conscious tribute to Stanley Kubrick’s Spartacus, each says “I am Fidel!” Allegedly Scorcese watched Soy Cuba to learn techniques used in "Goodfellas", and the opening sequence of "Boogie Nights" would also seem to be influenced by it.

(Actually, not only was the film visually intoxicating, the event was in a pub so it was literally intoxiciating as well. In tribute to the film's theme I thought the occasion merited breaking out a Romeo y Julieta Churchill, which i think is the best smoke of its size)

Soy Cuba uses the technique of four almost wordless short stories. The first of which is extremely clever – showing a glamorous and lusciously decadent nightclub, and allowing us to enjoy it long enough before revealing that it is a brothel, and then taking us into the life of one of the prostitutes. In a brilliant touch the American businessman who buys the girl also insists on buying her crucifix, against her wishes, a rape of her cultural identity. As the Sex Pistols said, “Cheap holidays in other peoples’ misery” (Brilliant and worth watching)

The other three stories concern a peasant farmer evicted from his land, urban student revolutionaries, and finally the process that leads a peasant to join Fidel’s army. The film concludes with a sweeping march of Fidel’s army.

It is certainly a great film, but I am not sure how satisfying it was as a political event, It is a bit long and too arty for some tastes, and some people went to the bar for the second half. Some other people complained it was a bit propagandistic. But in truth it is no more propaganda than most Hollywood fare, but it cuts against the grain of our common sense expectations. What is more, the picture it paints of Batista’s Cuba and the crying need for social justice was true

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

More on those Sheridan tapes

By the way - I refer everyone to the best account of the issues I have read, by Martin Wicks.

Joaquín Bustelo has published a quite lengthy rebuttal on the Marx Mail list refuting my arguments about the Sheridan tape. It seems that some people find his arguments very convincing, and so here is a first draft of my response. I may amend and refine this as other comrades point out any shortfalls in my arguments.

Firstly I should express my stand point, I have never been, nor do I ever expect to be, a member of the SSP. I have no personal or political relationship with any of the individuals or factions within the SSP. However I do support the principle of broad socialist parties. I would be interested in why Bustelo is so partisan in favour of Sheridan.

Bustelo identifies the main axis of conflict as between Sheridan and the Murdoch press, with a seeming sub-text that the News of the World (NOTW) was engaged in an operation to destroy a socialist politician because he was a socialist.

This interpretation of events has a bearing on how appropriate it was for Sheridan to engage in court action. So we need to examine it.

Firstly the tabloid press in Scotland, Wales and England is indiscriminate, and has attacked the reputations of politicians from all parties. Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott; Leader of the Welsh labour party, Ron Davies; Leader of the Liberal Democrats Paddy Ashdown; former Chair of the Conservative Party, Jeffrey Archer.

Politicians have responded differently, Paddy Ashdown responded by saying it was none of the press’s business, and came out with his reputation enhanced. Conservative minister David Mellor cashed in on his notoriety to become a sports commentator. David Blunkett disastrously denied substantially true allegations and had his reputation destroyed, Jeffrey Archer and another conservative politician Jonathan Aitkin went to prison for perjury. And truth can also be liberating, as Ron Davies says in the interview I did with him: "Events have freed me up to be truer to my own beliefs"

Not only does the press attack politicians of all parties, but court action is not necessarily the best political response, and if the press allegations are true then it can be disastrous.

There is another question that engaging in court action exposes the Labour movement to judicial interference. When the Daily Mirror libelled miners’ leader Arthur Scargill, Scargill quite correctly relied upon a labour movement campaign of public meetings and publications refuting the claims. To have done otherwise would not only have exposed the NUM’s reputation to potential defeat in court, but also opened the books of the NUM to outside scrutiny, while they will probably have quite justifiably engaged in some (morally and ethically correct but legally dubious) financial obfuscation during their year long strike

Arthur Scargill has also been extremely careful during his career to give no unnecessary personal pretext to the press to attack him. Tommy Sheridan’s personal life is his own, but whatever political judgement we may make about swingers clubs and three in a bed sex, anyone who wishes to make those lifestyle choices should perhaps consider a less high profile political career. This may not be true in other countries or cultures, but in Scotland, Wales and England the press can and will relentlessly pursue a prurient agenda about sex, that is likely to overwhelm any other political message coming from that individual or his party.

So even had the NOTW allegations been entirely untrue, it is dubious that a court action was necessarily the best response. The advice of the party was for Sheridan to brave it out.

However, once Sheridan decided to initiate libel action this could not just be an action between Sheridan and the NOTW, it also inevitably entailed another dynamic – which was a conflict within the SSP. I find the argument that there was prior conspiracy against Sheridan totally unconvincing and unsupported by any evidence. However, given that there was a feeling within the party that Sheridan should not proceed, and given that a substantial minority at least believed there was some truth in the story, then proceeding with the libel action would inevitably damage the party.

Bustelo makes the remarkable claim that the evidence of the tape is that: “SHERIDAN DOES NOT ADMIT THE TRUTH OF THE NEWS OF THE WORLD CHARGES. On the contrary, he point-by-point refutes them. In this, the transcript is largely consistent with what Sheridan said in court” (Emphasis in the original)

The main thrust of Bustelo’s intervention in the debate is that the Sheridan tape supports Sheridan’s own account of the 9th November Executive Committee meeting, and that 15 members of the EC present who recall a different story are subject to some sort of cognitive dissonance due to factional hostility to Sheridan: “Basically, a majority of the NEC members had already whipped themselves up into a frenzy over this, convicted Sheridan in their own minds, and took whatever recognition of past indiscretions Sheridan laid before them at the meeting as an admission on his part that the first NotW article was true. Again, they could not or would not understand that Sheridan was saying that while indeed he had done some embarrassing and foolish things, the allegations in News of the World were not them.

This is the contention that needs to be addressed.

It is hard to refute Bustelo’s arguments because of the confused way he presents them. In general Bustelo’s article is hard to follow, because he does not set out his arguments and then marshal evidence to support those propositions, instead he jumbles up evidence and argument. But an important issue seems to be that he believes that because the NOTW article contained inaccuracies and specific lies, then this means that Sheridan is vindicated.

This seems to assume that Scottish libel law is the same as in America. Whereas in Scotland the defence of substantial truth can be used, which in fact is closer to the political reality. Politically it doesn’t matter if that or that detail is incorrect, if the overall thrust of the allegations is founded.

This perhaps explains why Bustelo (with no obvious context) introduces an account of how Anver Khan admits exaggerating her story, and also includes lengthy insert from another supporter of Sheridan describing the Fiona McGuire testimony, that are not directly relevant to the issue under discussion. Suddenly introducing a lot of detail gives an impression of rigour, but he does not incorporate the evidence to support his argument. Supporters of the SSP have never defended nor stood by the NOTW story. Yet Bustelo bases a lot of his argument on the idea that the inaccuracies in the NOTW article somehow wrong foot Sheridan’s opponents – this reveals his failure to distinguish between the two dynamics: Sheridan v NOTW, and Sheridan v the SSP.

The same approach of introducing a lot of technical evidence about the mechanics of tape forgery seems to give extra credibility to his discussion of the tape, but is not really relevant. At one stage he claims the tape supports Sheridan’s account, at another that the tape has been “sexed up”, and because he did not wait for the second instalment he is quiet over the tape’s dealing with Katrine Trolle’s evidence – that completely refutes his argument that the tape supports Sheridan’s account of events. Bustelo rather confusingly produces evidence that doubts the veracity and provenance of the tape, and then uses the same tape as evidence to support his argument.

Specifically Bustelo argues that Sheridan only admitted to previous sexual activity before he was married, and that the tape supports his claim that his visit to Cupids in 2002 did not happen. There are several problems with Bustelo’s account here:

i) He totally discounts the evidence of Katrine Trolle that supports the claim of the visit to Cupids in 2002. When he wrote his article Bustelo would have been unaware that the second instalment of the tape would include support of Trolle’s testimony, but he should have been aware that Trolle’s account given in Court was supported by evidence from her flat mates and her phone records. Her evidence is simply inconvenient and so it is ignored. This is consistent with Sheridan admitting to the meeting on 9th November that the story was true, as remembered by 15 of the 19 people there, but disputed by Joaquín Bustelo who was in another continent at the time.

ii) In the tape, referring to his earlier sexual activity, Sheridan says: “I've admitted that. That's out in the open. That's a matter of public record. ”, but when he described what he said to the EC he says: “I then make the biggest mistake of my life by confessing something in front of 19 f ***** g, what am I doing confessing in front of these c **** ?" ” had he only been repeating what in his own words was already in the public domain, why would he describe it as a confession and a mistake? Yet what Bustelo argues is that the EC majority confused an admission of previous activity with an admission that there was some substance to the NOTW story. He then claims that the EC may have “consciously distorted the written record of the meeting to depict Sheridan as having admitted the truth of the NotW article even though he was insisting they were false. ”

iii) Sheridan’s argument for why he should go to court are consistent with the EC majority’s claim that he intended to perjure himself. He says on the tape: “'I guarantee you if I am presented with incontrovertible evidence ? video tapes, CCTV, something of that character ? I'll put my hand up and say ?I'm sorry'...and I'll walk away. ”. Note that he is not denying that such incontrovertible evidence could be produced. Surely if the NOTW story was a pack of lies he would have said, there cannot be any evidence because it isn’t true.

iv) Why did the four comrades who subsequently remembered Sheridan denying the NOTW accusations vote for him to step down as convenor?

v) Given that the meeting was lengthy, and attended by 19 people plus Sheridan, it is inconceiveble that no-one would have sought clarification of exactly what Sheridan was admitting to. Yet this is what Bustelo would have us believe.

vi) Bustelo’s account simply fails on the basis of Occam’s razor. Instead of believing the most economical and credible account, to believe Sheridan means we have to accept the most far fetched and inclusive conspiracy, including Sheridan’s closest friends, the party leadership, et al.

With regard to the circumstances of the tape’s production and why it is only now in the public domain, Bustelo again asserts a conspiracy: “. Basically McNeilage, who was one of the three best men at his wedding, sandbagged and betrayed Sheridan, and is now running guns to the most despicable of lying bourgeois media outlets to use against a rival in the socialist movement. Do I believe this person did this all on his own initiative, independently of the anti-Sheridan faction in the leadership? Sure, I also believe in the tooth fairy and Santa Claus. ”

I don’t know George McNeilage, so cannot give any account of why he made the tape, but had the recording of the tape been part of a wider factional fight within the SSP, then the conspirators would surely have deployed it at an earlier stage which would have been to their greater advantage. It is entirely plausible that McNeilage made this tape at is own initiative. If we cast our minds back to that time there was intense speculation about what was happening in the SSP, and if McNeilage suspected that Sheridan was intending to perjure himself in such a way that the party would be damaged, he may have felt that he should record the conversation without being clear about his motives. Remember that Jeffrey Archer’s perjury was also revealed by a friend, Ted Francis, and his assistant Angele Peppiat, had been secretly recording evidence of Archer’s deceit. Again Bustelo prefers the melodramatic conspiracy explanation.

It is of course regrettable that McNeilage and now Katrine Trolle have cooperated with the NOTW. But remember that the Sheridan case has created enormous animosity, many of Sheridan’s closest friends feel a deep sense of betrayal, and Trolle herself was treated like shit in court, and is regarded as a non-person by Sheridan’s supporters who would rather ignore her evidence. The ill feeling and indiscipline in speaking to the tabloids is a consequence of Sheridan’s disgraceful behaviour, and in particular the hubris of his after court antics.

Finally, Bustelo puts a lot of smoke round the issue of whether or not the tape is reliable evidence. I don’t know and neither does he. However McNeilage vouches for the tape, and it is consistent with the evidence of 15 of the 19 people who attended the EC meeting, and it is consistent with Katrine Trolle’s evidence. What is more, the NOTW having already been stung with one lost libel action felt confident enough to publish it.

Monday, October 09, 2006

No one is illegal

The well-known slogan “Workers of the world unite” means what it says. It does not mean “Only workers with the correct immigration status unite”




Opposing deportations and immigration detention is legitimate trade union activity. However fighting immigration controls is not charity. Controls weaken the labour movement itself.

* They split workers between “legal”/“illegal”, undermining wages/conditions
* They criminalise bosses for hiring undocumented workers and turn employers into Home Office spies. They bring controls into the workplace - encouraging immigration service raids
* They turn trade unionists into immigration officers demanding the immigration status of other workers. This happens in personnel offices at recruitment. It goes further. Most welfare – housing, hospital treatment, non contributory benefits – is linked to immigration status. So workers within local authorities, the NHS and benefit agencies must check immigration documents.

No One Is Illegal is a group of trade unionists long active in anti-deportation campaigns. We have produced with trade unions the pamphlet Workers Control Not Immigration Controls.

We want a conference based on open debate. We also think it important to discuss: * the amnesty proposals * how unions can campaign for recruitment of the undocumented *how the undocumented include more than refugees * what absence of controls would mean.

We ask union organisations to sponsor (give their name to) the conference and send delegates. Admission/ sponsorship free - donations welcome (cheques to No One Is illegal). Workers Control Not Immigration Controls can be obtained by donation (or downloaded at ). We can provide a speaker.

Initial sponsors :
Trades Councils: Tameside, Oxford ,Bury, Waltham Forest. Union branches: Bolton NUT, Manchester Unison Community Health,

No One Is Illegal 16 Wood St, Bolton BL2 IDR, Email

Friday, October 06, 2006

Organising Migrant Workers

UPDATE - over 70 Polish Migrant workers attended the launch meeting of the branch.

Given the racist hysteria recently in the press about migrant workers, it is good to see that the unions are responding in exctly the right way. During the otherwise unfortunate stewardship of Kevin Curran the GMB showed exemplary leadership in the Somerset town of Chard in organising both white british and Portuguse migrant workers at the Oscar Meyer factory, in the process undermining a racist campaign in the town.

There is a danger that empoloyers will use migrant workers to undermine wages and conditions, and it is the unions job to send a clear message that migrant workes are all welcome here; and we will not tolerate bosses employing them on worse terms and conditions. That can only be aceived in one way - shop floor organisation and directly recruiting migrant workers into our unions so that we can stand together.

The GMB has now passed an another importnat milestone and is launching its first trade union Branch dedicated to the needs of migrant workers in Southampton tonight. At present the Branch is mainly catering for Polish workers employed in the security industry in but will be extended to cover the estimated 30,000 polish workers in and around Southampton. The Branch will provide language training, job training and work placements.

According to Alan Frazer, GMB Organiser, “We have been representing migrant workers more and more in recent years. We have found that need different things from native workers and so this dedicated Branch will provide that service. GMB will be extending this initiative across the south east and nationally..

The GMB also organises Polish workers at The American Dry Cleaning Company in Colindale London; and in the East Midlands where two fulltime GMB Organisers (who are themselves migrant workers) recruit and organise migrant labour in horticulture, farming poultry and food processing.

The GMB has also negotiated and signed two national agreements in the off-shore industry with CAPE Industrial Services and AMEC which ensure that migrant workers, nearly all who are Polish are paid the national agreement rate for the job, have the correct training and skills levels and are not discriminated against over any element covered by the national agreement rates and terms.

The T&G is also making efforts to organise migrant workers - particularly in the agricultural sector.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Statement by Colin Fox on behalf of SSP

After accusing the SSP executive of fabricating minutes and orchestrating "the mother of all frame-ups", Tommy Sheridan is now accusing the party of colluding with News of the World and MI5 to produce a fake video confession.This is an absurd and fantastical allegation that will be treated with astonishment by most people in Scotland. In fact, the tape is clearly authentic and blows apart Tommy's preposterous allegations against his old party comrades. The tape establishes, from Tommy's own mouth, that our 11 comrades, who were forced under threat of imprisonment to give evidence to the Court of Session, told the truth.
Contrary to the latest chapter in Tommy Sheridan's science fiction novel, the SSP had no involvement in the production of this tape. George McNeilage is an SSP member, but holds no position within the party. He taped this conversation as a private individual and as a former close personal friend of Tommy Sheridan.
The SSP does not advocate or practise the secret taping of conversations. The SSP had no knowledge of or role in the production of this tape.We have sought to build a political movement based on mutual trust - though we also recognise, with the benefit of hindsight, that Tommy Sheridan has been prepared to trample all trust into the dirt for his own personal ends.
Nor is it true, as has been falsely claimed by supporters of Tommy Sheridan, that the SSP handed this tape over to News of the World. The SSP EC has never had possession of this tape; nor did the SSP have any involvement in passing the tape to the newspaper. Neither the SSP nor any of its office-bearers have received or will receive a single penny from News of the World or from any other media company - unlike Tommy Sheridan, who was recently paid £30,000 by the New Labour-supporting media corporation, Trinity Mirror, for denouncing his then comrades as "scabs", "liars", "rats" and "perjurers".
We believe that events are now rapidly approaching a conclusion that will have seriously damaging consequences for Tommy Sheridan and his breakaway political organisation, Solidarity, founded on the basis of a lie and fraud.History will judge Tommy Sheridan's libel action as one of the biggest political misjudgements of modern times and will vindicate the judgement of the 2004 SSP EC, who advised a different course of action.
With a perjury investigation now underway, we are confident that the good name of the SSP will be restored 100 per cent. We can now start to draw a line under the past and move forward, establishing new branches, recruiting new members and winning support by engaging in the many campaigns for social and economic justice emerging across Scotland.
We have in recent weeks renewed our commitment to the anti-war movement and to the rapidly developing struggle for Scottish independence.We will continue our campaign against nuclear power and nuclear weapons.
Our party was built and will grow further around the principle of showing practical solidarity to workers and communities in struggle. We believe that if the SSP continues to look outward and engage with working people in their day-to-day struggles we can quickly recover any ground we have lost as result of the calamitous actions of Tommy Sheridan.

Latin America still steering left

The advance of the left in South America continues. On the main Socialist Unity Website there are two interesting articles. One by Hal Weitzman in Latacunga, Ecuador, reports the progress of the hard left presidential campaign of Rafael Correa, who he quotes as saying: “The political and economic elites have stolen everything from us, but they cannot steal our hope … We will take back our oil, our country, our future.” With less than two weeks to go until the October 15 elections, Mr Correa’s support has risen quickly to 33 per cent, against 22 per cent for León Roldós, the centre-left winger who is his nearest rival.

Also very significant is the strong showing for hard left candidate Heloisa Helena, in the recent Brazilian election. Jim Jepps, wrote the following very interesting article.

The first round of the Brazilian elections has just taken place and, as long as you read Portugese you can see a detailed breakdown of results
Lula's scandal hit presidency failed to get the required 50% to win outright this Sunday, he did still maintain a convincing lead that may give his camp confidence that he will win the Presidency in the second round but although Lula only needs to gain an extra 1.4%, there are no guarantees that voters for other parties will turn to him next. After all it is not so long ago that polls put his lead at over 20% and his camp was confident they would win in the first round of the ballot.

Lula set the tone early in his Presidency by slashing pensions for public-sector workers by 30 percent, cutting spending for health and education by 5 percent, and pushing through legislation making it easier to fire workers. The government has been characterised by neo-liberal policies and a succession of scandals, including those of political corruption, but many still see Lula as the 'lesser evil' because of his background as a factory worker, the government's programme of relief for the very poorest and the Worker's Party's (PT) roots in social movements. Movements they have long since abandoned.

The top three Presidential candidates were:
Lula 48.61% PT President running a scandal hit neo-liberal government
Alckmin 41.64% From the traditional right
Heloisa Helena 6.85% Hard left P-SOL candidate

Alckmin, who campaigns wearing designer clothes and makes much of his friendly relationship with business elites, was not expected to perform so well at the polls - but his election propaganda in the last few weeks has begun focusing on the corruption of the current government and to some extent has played upon Alckmin's bland image as a counter to the flamboyant, but "corrupt" Lula. This was further bolstered when two weeks before polling several campaign aids to Lula were arrested on charges connected with bribery.
This approach has worked, despite some of the more alarming aspects of Alckmin's programme like promising a "management shock" to slim down the federal government, funding massive tax cuts by reducing public spending and more "market friendly" policies. His campaign was also hit by organised and violent attacks in Sao Paulo where around 200 people were killed.
A big winner of this election was Heloisa Helena of P-SOL who was one of the senators expelled from Lula's Workers' Party (PT) in 2003 for speaking out against its neo-liberal policies. Helena, a former nurse, has refused to support Lula in the second round, after all when the choice is between two pro-market candidates it's difficult to come out and 'support' one against the other.
She said "That would be ripping 12 years of history and political fight against the neo-liberal project of the PSDB and against the party clique that Lula's government has turned into. Our voters are free men and women. They do not need our indications to choose who to vote for."
P-SOL managed to gain the support of the main left groupings in Brazil in the run up to the election and it is hoped that this will see the start of a more long term re-groupment on the left, a hope bolstered by the relatively good result. Whilst Helena's campaign has lacked the funds and the media coverage of her rivals it also stands in a tradition that potentially speaks to millions in Brazil.
She recently told an interviewer that "What we want is the democratization of the wealth, culture, health and education. We are not heirs of the tradition of totalitarian European socialism. I do not defend socialism by decree. I do not want totalitarian socialism, nor only capitalist thinking. In Brazil, capitalism has been very ugly, cruel and violent."
Over six and half million people voted for Helena in this election a truly outstanding achievement for a candidate of the hard left.
Within this result there are some interesting points. Helena performed most poorly in the Lula strongholds, rather than bastions of the right, so for instance in Ceara, Maranhao and Pernambuco, all areas where Lula polled more than 70%, Helena polled 3.79, 2.86, and 3.74 of the vote respectively. Considering these are the three lowest results for a far left candidate in the entire country it's not at all bad.
On the other side there were some very good areas. In Algoaes (where she was a senator for several years) she polled 13.3%, in Amapa, Distrito Federal and Roraima she polled 10%, 12.3% and 11.7% respectively whilst in Rio De Janeiro she polled an impressive 17.1% which is about 1 in 6 of those who voted.
The achievement of this election campaign lies not only in creating the head of steam required for large sections of the population to give you a hearing, or gaining the support of so many millions at the ballot box but also in the successes in bringing together core sections of the left in one unified campaign that articulated the demands of the social movements and those who call for an socialist alternative to the free market dogma that dominates Brazil, as it does the rest of the planet.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

the philosophical roots of sectarianism

If you remember a while back, I referred to a debate on Dave Osler’s Blog whereby leading SWP blogger, Lenin, rejected the idea that objective truth exists, or rather that it can be approximately knowable. This is a fundamental rejection of a key tenet of Marxism. There has been a contribution to a similar debate in last week’s Weekly Worker, but sadly the article by "Chris Knight" in defence of science is a bit disappointing. Thanks to Matthew at The point is, for bringing the article to my attention.

The argument becomes a bit technical, but worth persevering with, as it is relevant to the whole situation we are in with competing left groups all proclaiming they are the way, the truth and the life.

Knight says: "In the final analysis, no doubt, the proof of the pudding is in the eating. What happens when we try out a new hypothesis? Does it prove to be empowering? Does it lessen mental effort in solving intellectual problems? In other words, does the hypothesis add to the power - be it purely intellectual or practical as well - of scientists in the relevant field? If it does, then everyone should ultimately come to recognise the fact. Assuming intellectual efficiency to be our criterion (and we will not be scientists otherwise), support for the theory will spread. Internal coherence (agreement between the theory’s parts) will find expression in widespread social agreement. Such a capacity to produce agreement is the ultimate social test of science."

This type of argument in defence of scientific realism was dealt a body blow by Laudan's theory of "pessimistic induction". Laudan basically points out that using tests like the one by Kuhn approvingly quoted here, lots of false theories like the phlogiston theory of chemistry or the caloric theory of heat, were accepted as truth.

To say that "capacity to produce agreement" is the arbiter of truth-likeness, is a dangerous concession to the idea that truth is only what we agree it to be. Indeed “Chris Knight” concludes: “ if Marxism is genuine science, it ought to be possible to demonstrate this potential in purely theoretical terms in advance.” Thus he rejects not only the philosphical position of scientific realism that the predictive powers of theories must be empirically established, but also the actual practice of working scienctists that hypotheses are not accepted unless they are repeatably verified by experiment

Before we go any further it is worth stating what the scientific realist philosophical position, (which is defended by but not exclusive to Marxists) actually is. In a nut shell we argue that currently successful scientific theories are approximately true. In the evocative image by the philosopher, Sellars, scientific theories are “cutting the world at its joints”

This is worth looking at because if a prolific writer in the SWP, like the blogger “Lenin” argues that the truth of concepts such as atoms is unknowable, then all truth is unknowable, and all we have is language. In which case we are in the very scary world where the truth is determined by power relations, and where the ends totally justify the means. Only recently in the comments box of the Sheridan story in this blog, SWP blogger Snowball referred to "the truth” in question marks. As Ed correctly says in reply: “the position you're taking here is reminiscent of those references to 'revolutionary truth' (ie what it is politically expedient to promote as the 'truth') as opposed to 'bourgeois truth' (as in what actually happened) which have unfortunate historical associations”

(skip the next two paragraphs if you are not interested in philosophy) Laudan actually made an important contribution to the defence of scientific realism by attacking a weak chink in some interpretations of it, and therefore refining how we interpret evidence. Laudan correctly points out that when it comes to observing scientific theories, observing their consequences is neither necessary nor sufficient for empirical support. That is not all logical consequences of a hypothesis are supportive (for example quick recovery from a cold after prayer would not prove the hypothesis of the power of prayer), and conversely a hypothesis can be supported by evidence not among its logical consequences (If a theory T entailed some evidence E, then if T was part of a wider theory H, then E indirectly supports H, even though E is not entailed by H)

Thus Laudan challenges naïve empiricists who would argue that if there are two theories T and T’ that both explain the evidence E, then the best we can do is argue that the theories are empirically adequate, and we cannot distinguish if either is approximately true. In defence of scientific realism (supported here by Laudan) we must say that theories that explain the empirical evidence must also conform to theoretical virtues, such as coherence with other established theories, completeness, unifying power and the capacity to generate novel predictions.

So is Marxism a science? To which I would answer it could be, but usually isn’t. If we mean by Marxism a social theory that seeks to establish its own approximate truth through examination of the evidence, and through self-critical evaluation of its own theoretical virtues, including coherence, then Marxism is a science. However, there must be a number of caveats. Firstly, that the development of evidence involves the art of seeking to change the world though political activity, and it is extremely hard to evaluate the impact of such activity, and what evidence is gathered is subjective . Secondly, the research resources of the Marxist left, including academics, are puny compared to the complexity of the society we are seeking to understand, so any theories we develop are likely to be only highly flawed approximations to the truth; thirdly the problem of organisational conservatism on defending false aspects of theories. When we take these caveats into account we can see the inadequacy of all those arguments that start: “As Marxists we should, or as Marxists we must … “

The last factor I mention, organisational conservatism is perhaps the most important. Precisely because the empirical evidence is sparse, or subject to other interpretations that are equally consistent with the evidence, then the question of “theoretical virtues” are of elevated importance. Alex Callinicos includes a useful discussion of this in his short book on Trotskyism, discussing the question of progressive and regressive problem shifts derived from Lakatos. If the consequence of a theory entails evidence consistent with an unrelated theory then this is a progressive problem shift, that supports a presumption towards truth-likeness. If however, defence of a theory involves rejection of parts of other mature ands established theories, then we are involved in a regressive problem shift (That doesn’t necessarily mean it is wrong as all theories are only truth approximations and can be refined – but a regressive problem shift should raise a presumption of truth-unlikeness requiring further research.)

Yet the various Leninist groups, the SWP, CWI, USFI etc, all derive their justification for separateness by defining themselves as having a coherent world vision based upon a unique or semi unique interpretation of Marxism, often deriving from very partial and incomplete evidence. How could it be different? How could a few amateur researchers, with scarcely any access to evidence, really develop theories that were sufficiently supported empirically; and sufficiently theoretically virtuous in the technical sense; to explain social phenomenon as complex as the degeneration of the Soviet Union? Yet on the basis of these differing interpretations, each of these groups has developed a distinct Weltanshauung that is largely hermetically sealed. For example, if we look at the theoretical writings of the IS tendency, they only refer to works within their own “tradition”, or to the old grey beards. The same can be said of the Mandelite tradition, or the Taafeites. In other words, the left groups deliberately eschew an attempt to develop a scientific exposure of their theories to a discussion of their theoretical virtues – again in the technical sense of what degree they are consistent, consilient, lacking ad hoc features, etc.

This is because each of these groups endeavour to establish that their theoretical tradition, and their reason for separateness, is and always has been correct. What is more there is a belief that the tactical decisions of the leadership bodies are always correct or defensible – but why should that be so? This is not a scientific realist approach, and inevitably involves regressive problem shifts, and increasing cognitive dissonance.

How insane we must look from the outside. A tiny number of dedicated socialists, spilt into multiple organisations, each of which believe they are the only ones with access to the truth.

Monday, October 02, 2006

A nation once again?

There is a very interesting report on Kevin Williamson’s blog about the march in Edinburgh last Saturday in support of Independence. It includes a You Tube video of the demonstration. Note in addition to the SSP banners and placards a big “Solidarity” banner.

It is worth reading the important article by Murray Smith on the National Question in western Europe, where he explains why support for independence is not nationalist:

“The support for Scottish independence seems to be stronger rather than weaker, the difference being that no one party can any longer claim to be the sole representative of independence. In Wales, the leadership of Plaid Cymru was always a bit bashful about independence, resorting to circumlocutions like 'full national status'. But after the setbacks the party experienced in the May elections a new leadership has taken over and the recent conference of the party came out massively and noisily for independence. At the same time Plaid denounced Labour for having abandoned "all its old socialist values in favour of creeping privatisation".
"There are certainly reasons inherent in the Welsh situation which help to explain this evolution, in particular the shift to the left of the Welsh Labour Party. But if the support for independence is stronger and Plaid has moved to the left it is also because of the example of Scotland, where the situation is more advanced. And in coming out clearly for independence and taking up a position to the left of Labour, Plaid is following the example of the SSP rather than the SNP, which is now abandoning such a position in favour of neoliberal policies.
"The question that is posed, and posed very concretely in Scotland at the moment, is not just the issue of independence, but of what independence. It is posed for those who are already in favour of independence, but it is also vital for winning over those who are not yet convinced. It is worth recalling at this point that 'independence /national movement' does not equal 'nationalism'. That would be to confuse a political objective with an ideology. Miroslav Hroch explains: "the current tendency to speak of them (national movements, MS) as 'nationalist' leads to serious confusion. Because nationalism in the strict sense is something else: namely, that outlook which gives an absolute priority to the values of the nation over all other values and interests" (emphasis in the original)

"Independence is always concrete. It leads to the creation of states and states have a class character. That is why it is when independence becomes a real possibility that national movements begin to crystallise into different currents, as is happening in Scotland today. The SNP is a nationalist party, which is furthermore in the process of seriously watering down its commitment to independence, in the framework of its rightward evolution. The SSP is a party that rejects nationalist ideology, which is internationalist but which aims to be the best fighter for Scottish independence, while giving that independence a socialist content. It is from this position of strength that the SSP can support the idea of a pole for independence in the shape of the Independence Convention, which will put the SNP leadership in contradiction with part of its own supporters."

Sheridan's web of deceit

Yesterday’s release by the News of the World of an audio tape of Tommy Sheridan admitting that he told the SSP executive on 9th November 2004 that the allegations against him by NOTW were substantially true comes as a bombshell, not only for Sheridan but also for his supporters in the SWP and CWI. The denials by Sheridan and claims that the tape is a forgery seem far fetched.

Of course it is regrettable that this tape has ended up in the hands of the NOTW, and questions need to be asked about how this happened. But we must resist attempts to blow smoke around the political issues, as the questions of whether the tape is genuine, and how it ended up with the NOTW are side shows.

The real issue is that the tape confirms the evidence given by the 11 SSP witnesses who reluctantly testified at Sheridan’s libel action. Sheridan also confirms in the tape that he stated his intention to deny the allegations, because he believed the NOTW had no proof.

This is at the heart of the dispute that has led to the split in the SSP. The party recommended that Sheridan ride out the storm, but instead he was determined to sue the NOTW, despite the fact that this would involve perjury. The Executive Committee meeting on 9th November unanimously voted to ask Sheridan to step down as convenor, because this was a disastrously risky course of action for the party. The only SWP member at the meeting, Pat Smith, voted for the decision to ask for Sheridan’s resignation, but has subsequently changed her mind.

The SWP admits in the latest IST document (PDF) to concerns by the SSP leadership about "the way in which Sheridan intended to defend himself in court could have had damaging implications for the party as a whole.". Which gives further credence that the SWP do not substantially challenge the facts.

Instead the SWP argue that the comrades had a class duty to back Sheridan in court. But this was a very risky strategy, not least because it would forever hold the party hostage. On the Sunday 18 June 2006 the EC voted that those SSP members now cited as witnesses in the libel action should go to court under protest but neither perjure themselves nor place themselves in contempt of court. These were witnesses that had opposed the libel action being commenced, and were being reluctantly called by the NOTW. Two SWP EC members voted against this policy on 18th June, but offered no alternative strategy. Let us run that by again. The SWP EC members voted against telling the truth in court! Of course they didn't propose an alternative strategy, as this would have been a prejudicial admission that they might be intending to commit a criminal offence – of conspiracy to pervert the course of justice.

What is more, in order to contradict the evidence of the 11 SSP witnesses who told the truth about what was said on 9th November, Sheridan and his supporters have been required to invent the political slander of a “conspiracy” against Sheridan.

As we now hear on the tape, Sheridan admits “I then make the biggest mistake of my life by confessing something in front of 19 f ***** g, what am I doing confessing in front of these c **** ?”

But this is what SWP member, Pat Smith, who was at the 2004 meeting testified in court. When asked by Sheridan (representing himself in court) whether he had denied visiting the Cupids night club, Pat Smith, said: "You were very, very clear about that." When asked why 11 other witnesses remembered Sheridan saying it, Smith replied "I can only think it was done for negative reasons."

Why am I concentrating only on the SWP witness, and not on the other 3 witnesses who backed Sheridan’s account of the meeting? Well, because of the issue of democratic accountability, Pat Smith would not have been acting alone, her decision to testify in the way she did will have been made by the SWP leadership. Indeed, why else call upon A-list SWP cadre Mike Gonzales to testify in support of Sheridan – when he hadn’t even been at the November meeting. Because Gonzales was not at the 9th November meeting he probably did not perjure himself, and his testimony was largely irrelevant, but he did give moral and political support to Pat Smith by testifying.

A political decision was made by the SWP to back Sheridan’s court action, against the interests and expressed wishes of the SSP. What is more, the political basis of the court action was entirely reactionary. It was not a defence of Sheridan’s privacy, but an attempt to defend a false image of Sheridan as a perfect family man – Victorian double standards.

Having decided that they would continue with that position up to the point of perjury, the SWP supported the claim of a conspiracy. In contrast, one other pro-Sheridan witness, Rosemary Byrne MSP, when asked in the Witness box whether MSPs Colin Fox, Carolyn Leckie and Rosie Kane — were lying, she replied: "I'm very, very wary of calling people liars.". She stepped back from accusing them in court of perjury, but Pat Smith had no reluctance to say in court that the 11 witnesses were lying, recklessly exposing the 11 to prosecution for perjury and a potential prison term. (In answer to the question, aren’t I dong the same thing – well the established fact is that 11 witnesses gave evidence on way, 4 gave evidence the other, so the fact of perjury is undeniable and already in the public domain, the responsibility for which lies with Sheridan and his supporters who did not need to go to court in the first place. There can be no progress without truth, so there does need to be a serious discussion about the politics behind the decision to lie in court.)

Having embarked on a course of perjury and false accusations of conspiracy against the SSP leadership, the SWP and CWI are hoist by their own petard. They can never admit the truth, either publicly or to their own members, without further exposing their own comrades to criminal prosecution. This disregard for the truth is morally and politically corrupting. This trap could have been avoided, and the leaderships of the SWP and CWI were reckless in exposing not only their opponents in the SSP, but also themselves and their own organisation.

On a more encouraging note, it seems that the RMT affiliation is staying with the SSP, and not going to Solidarity.