Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Congratulations to Green Left Weekly


Green Left Weekly has just published its 700th edition. You can read messages of support fro around the world here.

The paper now gets 36000 online hits per week, making it the best read English language socialist publication in the world, including a wide audience among young people. It is a tribute to the DSP that they have managed to produce such an excellent paper along with their comrades in the Socialist Alliance. I think part of its success has been the excellent international coverage.

Here are what some people say about GLW:

John Pilger: "I am a passionate supporter of Green Left Weekly because of its principles and because there is quite simply no other newspaper in Australia that so comprehensively reports and analyses the critical issues that touch all our lives. Warm congratulations on reaching 700!” ,

Briggs Bomba, International Socialist Organisation, Zimbabwe: “In this era of intensifying contradictions in the global capitalist system which have unleashed worldwide anti-capitalist resistance, I want to salute the Green Left Weekly for holding high the torch of progressive and revolutionary politics and for being a reliable fountain of progressive ideas. Information has become a key battlefield and it is through the consistent and persistent work of revolutionary papers like the Green Left Weekly that the dream of a people-centred alternative world remain alive. “In particular I want to register appreciation for your enlightening coverage of the revolutionary wave currently sweeping across Latin America. In many ways you have helped activists and progressive forces internationally appreciate the struggles in Latin America from a fresh and forward looking perspective. Regards to the Green Left team and may I add my voice in congratulating you on the occasion of the 700th issue. Aluta!”

Scottish Socialist Voice editorial team: "Congratulations and a very happy birthday to Green Left Weekly. We know the blood, sweat and occasional tears that are poured into producing an alternative newspaper every week, but we know the rewards too. At 700 editions old, we look to you as our big sister of the left press! Green Left Weekly does not hammer a party line — it’s much more important than that. As a source of news which is independent of the influence of corporate power, Green Left provides a torrent of information, experience and ideas from outside the mainstream, each week confirming the conclusion that another way of living and organising is not only possible, it’s necessary.” -

Farooq Tariq, General secretary, Labour Party Pakistan: "For me, reading Green Left Weekly is a habit and a healthy one. It brings all the news and views that we need to read. This helps in preparation of a good fight against the capitalist system. It is keenly waited by all the leading members of Labour Party Pakistan. Sometimes translated into Urdu for our weekly Mazdoor Jeddojuhd (Workers Struggle), a paper that has learnt a lot from Green Left Weekly as well.
“One of the most successful campaigns for our paper to raise funds, during the last three months of 2006, was in fact a carbon copy of the campaign of Green Left Weekly to raise $100,000.
“Keep it up till the socialist revolution.”

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Milosevic - "officially" Not Guilty!


Yesterday’s ruling of the UN International Court of Justice in The Hague that the Serbian state was not directly responsible for any genocide in Bosnia has a very clear implication.

Had President Slobodan Milosevic not died in custody he would have been acquitted, and found not guilty of the charges brought against him.

As Harold Pinter, Nobel Prize laureate for Literature 2005 said: “The US/NATO court trying Slobodan Milosevic was always totally illegitimate. It could never be taken seriously as a court of justice. Milosevic's defense is powerful, convincing, persuasive and impossible to dismiss.”

The probability of Milosevic’s acquitall had already been noted, even by some who supported the show trial, despite the fact that in the highly politicised context of this trial the presumption of innocence had already been discarded. In July 2004, James Gow, an “expert” on war crimes, and a cheer-leader for the prosecution told BBC Newsnight that he thought it would be better if Milosevic died in the dock, because if the trial ran its course he might be sentenced for only relatively minor charges.

As reported in the Spectator: “Since the trial started in February 2002, the prosecution has wheeled out more than 100 witnesses, and it has produced 600,000 pages of evidence. Not a single person has testified that Milosevic ordered war crimes. Whole swaths of the indictment on Kosovo have been left unsubstantiated, even though Milosevic’s command responsibility here is clearest. And when the prosecution did try to substantiate its charges, the result was often farce. Highlights include the Serbian ‘insider’ who claimed to have worked in the presidential administration but who did not know what floor Milosevic’s office was on; ‘Arkan’s secretary’, who turned out to have worked only as a temp for a few months in the same building as the notorious paramilitary; the testimony of the former federal prime minister, Ante Markovic, dramatically rumbled by Milosevic, who produced Markovic’s own diary for the days when he claimed to h ave had meetings with him; the Kosovo Albanian peasant who said he had never heard of the KLA even though there is a monument to that terrorist organisation in his own village; and the former head of the Yugoslav secret services, Radomir Markovic, who not only claimed that he had been tortured by the new democratic government in Belgrade to testify against his former boss, but who also agreed, under cross-examination by Milosevic, that no orders had been given to expel the Kosovo Albanians and that, on the contrary, Milosevic had instructed the police and army to protect civilians. And these, note, were the prosecution witnesses.”

It has been very hard to follow the story of Milosevic’s trial in the British press. Is that because the narrative provided by the evidence did not support the cosy but mendacious case that the Serbian state were responsible for war crimes, while NATO’s allies were as pure as the driven snow. The myth of the innocent Bosnian Muslims was dealt a blow when Eve-Ann Prentice, a journalist who has written for the Guardian and the Times, testified in court that in November 1994, while she was waiting in Izetbegovic's foyer both she, and a journalist from Der Speigel, saw Osama bin Laden being escorted into Izetbegovic's office.

The popular perception of Serbia being the villain in Yugoslavia remains unshaken. Yet it has recently been established that the first war crime in modern Yugoslavia was the illegal execution of three prisoners of war (two Serbs and a Croat) in Slovenia in 1991, yet the Slovenian government declines to prosecute, and is feted as a model democracy by the EU.

It should be noted that the Serbian state has been found guilty of failing to prevent genocide at Srebrinica in 1995, where perhaps 7000 Muslims were murdered by Bisnian Serb militias. These are serious charges, but note that Milosevic is widely credited with having had the dangerous Serb fascist Arkan assassinated due to his role in Ethnic cleansing (he was too powerful to have dealt with by lawful process), and General Farkas, chief of the Security Dept. of the Yugoslav Army in 1999, gave testimony in The Hague that when Milosevic learned of crimes committed by reserve policemen who had associated with Slobodan Medic "Boca," he became extremely angry. He demanded an explanation of how the Skorpions commander could have been active in Kosovo, then he demanded that the perpetrators be prosecuted and that nothing like that be permitted to happen in the future.

The people really guilty of failing to prevent genocide in Srebrenica were the craven cowards of the Dutch UN peacekeeping force. Yet Dutch Colonel Tom Karremans was not in the dock in The Hague. Around 5000 Bosnian Muslims had taken sanctuary in the UN base, protected by 600 Dutch troops, but Colonel Karremans handed them to Bosnian Serb militiamen, indifferent to their almost certain fate, in return for safe conduct for himself and his men. They even left their weapons behind.

Milosevic may have been guilty of many things. But he was not a war criminal. The Jugoslav state was broken up over a period of years because that suited the interests of the western powers. Serbia stood against that disintegration and also sought to defend parts of its planned economy. That is why there has been a propaganda war to paint the Serbs as the villains. (The wider context of this is explained quite well by Richard at Lenin’s Tomb.)

Monday, February 26, 2007

Private equity: asset strippers of the world unite.....


New Labour is strapped for cash but that doesn’t stop them from taking the cash off private equity tycoons. So step forward Sir Ronald Cohen who is one of Gordon Brown’s closest political allies. During the past couple of months private equity groups have been in the media. The trade union GMB has been waging a campaign exposing the grubby dealings of your average private equity tycoon indulging in asset stripping and demanding that Brown impose tighter tax rules. I mean, even Will Hutton is complaining about the lack of corporate accountability with private equity.

It is not just Sir Ron Cohen, New Labour have been receiving money from hedge-fund manager Nigel Doughty. But hey, it has never stopped New Labour taking cash from dodgy geezers who engage in asset stripping and screwing workers' rights before.

Now step forward prospective deputy leader
Peter Hain who hasn’t got a problem with money being donated by asset strippers. “I think that it is right that we accept donations from people who want to contribute”.

While Paul Kenny (GMB) argues: “Only in the last few weeks has the GMB campaigning put names and faces to the multi-millionaire elite who run the private equity industry and made clear what they do”.

Have no illusions private equity is nothing more than asset stripping and tax evasion. So no wonder it is littered with millionaires. A £10bn private equity consortium is bidding for Sainsburys. They borrow heavily and their interest payments can be set against profits for tax purposes. But the borrowings must be repaid. To do this and to reward themselves for “risk” the private equity investors must act like a plague of locusts. Sainsburys is said to be a target as its property holdings could be sold at an undervalue to separate companies which then charge Jamie Oliver’s favourite corporate capitalists very high rents.

To pay for this Sainsburys will have to become “efficient”; that is the company will need to slash staff numbers, raid the pension fund etc etc. That is what will happen to whichever bit of the private sector, and soon public sector as well, which pays your wages is targeted by the private investors.

Currently, private equity is not allowed, for example, to buy social housing but don’t despair… New Labour may relax the rules.

Apollo, is a property services group specialising in refurbishing social housing, schools and hospitals is being targeted by private equity groups. Its order book exceeds £500m. It also means that private equity groups get a foothold in the public sector.

If this happens then the public sector will be raided, asset stripped and private equity groups will make astronomical profits on the backs of the working class.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Culture of dependency: the big nasty lie

The latest phrase to rear its ugly head again in the lexicography of New Labour is “culture of dependency”. This particular popular but pernicious phrase has been used by the likes of American right-winger Charles Murray, Labour MP Frank Field and now recently, head honcho at right-wing think- tank Civitas, David Green

It boils down to the fact that the so-called feckless unemployed are bleeding the welfare state dry and this is breeding some kind of dependency. It has got that Victorian whiff about it with images of “wastrels” being carted off to the Work House are conjured up. At the end of the day it is all about “thrift”, “hard work” “responsibility” and “self-reliance”.

The theory does have a kind of dishonest genius about it though. Everyone in society will be dependent on something or another. A rentier capitalist will be dependent on dividends from the stock market, a buy-to-let landlord will be dependent on there being a chronic and severe housing shortage, an NHS worker will be dependent on there being a political consensus that there should be health care available to all. Thus a charge of dependency culture can be made against anyone you like or perhaps rather anyone you don’t like. Right wing morality of course is aimed at the less powerful in society so it is hard to imagine the various kinds of rentiers being singled out for this kind of scorn.

Reading Green’s report it is glaringly apparent he hasn’t looked at the fine print when he asserts that one in three households in Britain are dependent on state benefits for at least half its income. What he does not explain is that majority of these households on benefits are pensioners and people on very low pay or are lone parents. But Green doesn't give a damn who they are.

Instead he resists showing any understanding for people who are living on the poverty line and that welfare
“provision treats people as perpetual children incapable of providing for themselves”.

Many of the people “dependent” on the state for benefits are pensioners who have spent their working lives paying National Insurance…if they are dependent on anything it is their own hard work! Most of the others will be lone parents or will be people that bosses will not employ due to discriminatory attitudes towards people with disabilities. Nearly all of these people have lives that are a daily struggle: they could tell the average right-wing think-tanker a lot about facing huge obstacles just to get through the day.

Green’s conclusion states:
“The idea of belonging is central to any viable society. Unfortunately, it has been manipulated by collectivists to deceive many into accepting ‘command and control’ in public services”.

This language of people being either infantilised or
enslaved entities precisely because of the welfare state finds resonance in Frank Field’s attack on welfare reform (he happens to think New Labour isn’t being strict enough on these reforms and incidentally, is backing David Miliband for leader of the LP….!!)

“The benefit rules wickedly make serfs of claimants. It is time the Government set the serfs free”.

The common thread throughout these arguments is that obviously people are reliant on the welfare state and need to be liberated from this experience. For your average right-winger this means more poverty.

Murray and Field come from two different ideological frameworks but connect on the issue of “culture of dependency”.

Murray’s latest argument is to scrap the welfare state in America and replace it with "the Plan" for want of a catchier label--makes a $21,000 annual grant to all American citizens who are not incarcerated, beginning at age 21, of which $3,000 a year must be used for health care.” (
In our hands: a plan to replace the Welfare State)

John Hills, LSE professor in his recent well publicised
report looked at the social impact of housing and the government’s £13b invested in it.

This report voiced similar concerns although expressed in different language. Social housing is seen as a “trap” (it stops you achieving the state of grace of being an owner-occupier). The tenor of the report is what effect does social housing have on ordinary peoples’ behaviour. This is the underlying concern of the cultural dependency theorists.

The assumptions are that ordinary people are only of value if they are making themselves available for the labour market. They get a pat on the head for being owner-occupiers of their homes, as this makes them kinda like mini-capitalists.This is not taken too far of course as most of the them are, or plan to become in the future, dependent on some kind of pension arrangement.

NB: Proposals for sanctions regarding Housing Benefit claimants who have been evicted for "anti-social behaviour" and fail to co-operate with the "efforts of local authorities to rehabilitate them" were originally put forward by...... Frank Field in a private members' bill in 2002. He failed. Unfortunately these proposals are back on the agenda......

Saturday, February 24, 2007

War: what is it good for...



Thousands of people marched today against war and scrapping that useless but expensive pile of metal called Trident. I marched behind a CND banner there were lots of other banners from the peace movement, Greens, anti-war, trade unions, and shock! horror! even Labour Party ones.

By the middle of the demo I seemed to be marching with singin' and dancin' hippies (one teenager I heard mutter, "I can't stand hippies"!). Hurrying along, I ended up in the spliff and trance section with lots of young hip gunslingers. Unfortunately the spliff didn't end up in my direction (maybe 'cos I looked like someone who remembered the 1980s..). I ended up going off to the pub (cheers, mine is a double vodka) as opposed to going to the rally (sorry... it was an abdication of comradely duty!)....

I am sure there are plenty of committed politicos who are made of sterner stuff than me who did listen to the speakers in Trafalgar Square. Oh and the weather was rainy and muddy indeed.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Housing crisis: Exploitation! Exploitation! Exploitation..!

We have seen various attacks on the welfare state under the guise of welfare reform. It seems like now that social housing is next on the agenda for attack. The post written by Martin Wicks illustrates the myths written about social housing by the likes of Will Hutton.

But what also troubles me is the fact that private rented accommodation is kinda left out of the equation by the Left. Council housing is much more homogenous, more collective and better organised (Defend Council Housing) unlike the private rented sector which is much more diverse, varied and has less rights. You can be booted out on a whim by an unscrupulous landlord! It is of course, the buy-to-let brigade along with the banks that are pricing young workers out of owner-occupiership and into the grasping embrace of the private landlords.

The rented sector is the smallest in the western world and accounting for 10% of the housing stock. And it contains some of the worst housing conditions in Britain with 10% of households living in unfit homes. Around 43% are in serious disrepair. It also exposes security of tenure, homelessness, tenancy agreements, deposits, restrictions on housing benefits, fair rents and conditions at worst end of the sector. Lone parents with children, for example, are more likely to rent their property than own it, 50% are rented from the public sector and 15% rented privately. In 2003/2004 owner occupation was highest in the South East (75%) and lowest in London (58%). London had by far the highest proportion rented from the private sector (17 per cent).

But by far the biggest scandal is the “buy- to -let” scam and what an unhealthy scam it is! The Council of Mortgage Lenders released figures for 2006 estimating that 330,000 mortgages were for buy to let properties and therefore £38.4billion was taken in 2006.

“With evidence from other sources of strong tenant demand, rising rents and falling void periods, buy-to-let looks set to continue to remain popular and successful."

The solution (short of revolution)? Must be in the extention of council housing. This could be funded out of right to buy receipts and loans based on the rental income that would be coming through. The advantage of this would be high quality affordable homes with good security of tenure. The “disadvantage” is that no one would be getting rich on the backs of ordinary people (which is what would make such a scheme affordable).

What seems to be on offer for young workers is renting from a buy-to-let landlord. Buy-to-let is the most extreme form of the parasitic “something for nothing” ideology that surrounds and distorts the property market. What new housing do buy-to-let landlords provide? None. How much value do owner-occupiers provide for the increase in the value of there homes? Same answer. What protection is there for ordinary people if the market crashes? Same answer. How much extra housing will Ruth Kelly’s proposals provide for the vulnerable in society? Same answer.

Sports owner bids for Knesset


I note with interest reports that Arkadi Gaidamak, whose son Alexandre owns Portsmouth FC, is to form a new right wing political party in Israel, expecting to win 20 to 25 seats in the Knesset. I have written about Gaidamak before, both in connection with his ownership of football club Beitar Jerusalem and when his son, Alexandre bought Premiership club, Portsmouth FC.

Only days after his son bought the football club, Arkadi was question by Israeli police about a money laundering scandal. According to the Israeli news organisation http://www.ynetnews.com/ Guidamak withdrew all his funds just before police planned to freeze all of his accounts in Hapoalim Bank following an undercover investigation against him. The police allegedly made the request to freeze the money due to suspicions that Gaidamak's fortune may not have been made legally. In a press conference Gaidamak senior said that he was the target of improper behaviour and did not understand why he was being treated in such a manner.

The same week Alexandre bought into Portsmouth FC, Russian billionaire Lev Leviev purchased a 75% stake in rival Jerusalem team, Hapoel Tel Aviv. The blog, http://www.onejerusalem.com/ documented in detail the long relationship between Gaidamak and Leviev. Although they are now rivals, much of Lev Leviev’s vast wealth comes from his Angolan diamond interests, which were allegedly established with the assistance of Arkadi Gaidamak. In December I was phoned by a journalist on an Israeli newpaper following up the story abiut why these Russian businessmen are buying into football clubs.

Having led a camera-shy and reclusive past, Gaidamak has became very high profile in the last few years. Not only did he buy top Israeli club Bekar Jerusalem, has also bought the liberal and critical Russian paper Moskovskiye Novosti, which turned into a paper supporting Vladimir Putin’s government (he also purchased the English edition, Moscow News, thus silencing one of the critical voices accessible to non-Russian speakers - a considerable favour to Putin). Gaidamak also gets about a bit and allegedly has French, Canadian, Israeli and Angolan passports, as well as his original Russian citizenship. As the local newspaper of the small Israeli town where he lives commented: “in one day [he] simply moved from the crime pages to the sport pages."”

According to the Independent, During the Lebanon war last summer Arkadi Gaidamak paid about £7m to house northerners seeking refuge from the Katyusha rockets in two "tent cities" on the Mediterranean coast. And in November he funded a week-long trip to the Red Sea resort for residents of Sderot, the Israeli town worst affected by Qassam rockets from Gaza.

Now Gaidamak senior is an interesting character. In 2000, the French put out an international warrant for his arrest in connection with the Angolan arms-for-oil scandal, for which the son of former French President Francois Mitterrand was briefly jailed on charges of receiving kickbacks from Gaidamak business partner Pierre Falcone. Gaidamak and Falcone allegedly arranged for shipments of Russian arms that were to have been paid for with Angolan oil contracts. There was an international ban on weapon sales to Angola at the time. In fact Gaidamak has always maintained that the oil-for-arms deal and his involvement in it was a legitimate transaction between the governments of Angola and Russia. Maybe it was.

The Angolan connection is very strong. Lev Leviev overturned De Beer’s monopoly in Angola, and according to the Economist this connection made Leviev an estimated $850 million per year. Today, Gaidamak seems to be involved with Angola’s Sunland Mining, also one of the official buyers of rough diamonds from Angolan state company Sodiam.

There is no suggestion that either Leviev’s or Gaidamak’s diamond trading in Angola are illegal. However, in a report for BBC’s “Focus on Africa”, Lara Pawson exposed how some of Leviev’s employees freely admitted to buying diamonds from UNITA – Dr Jonas Savimbi’s fascist rebel army.

But the biggest scandal is that these vast fortunes are being extracted from Angola, which remains one of the world’s poorest nations. According to the United Nations: One in three children in Angola dies before age 5. Half the children are underweight. Fewer than half have ever been in school, and the majority of the adult population are illiterate. The vast majority of Angolans face a critical shortage of healthcare. But Leviev has no ethical objection to making money out of human misery, and has recently been awarded a contract to build and run Israel’s first private prison near Be'er Sheva.

So why is there this interest in sports ownership?

When Roman Abramovich bought into Chelsea in 2003 he paid out a mere £140 million. Given that Abramovich recently sold his share of Sibneft to Gazprom for $13 billion, his investments in Chelsea are not a significant part of his fortune. Yet through his football investment he has become a household name in Britain, and has been able to draw a line under the controversy of how he made his fortune. All he needed to do was pass the Premiership's fit and proper person test: little more than a self declaration that he has never been convicted of fraud and theft.
Given the enormous status and interest in football, the current obsession with celebrity culture, and the precarious financial position of many cubs, a relatively small investment can purchase a reputation that could later be invaluable in building a business empire in the West with money plundered during the rape of the Soviet Union, or in the case of Gaidmak, alledgedly dodgy deals in Angola. What is more the fan base of the individual clubs concerned may prove a valuable asset – as they invariably react favourably to large cash injections whatever the source.

Newspaper and TV companies with an eye to their readerships amongst fans are less likely to probe deeply and critically into these businessmen than they would have been if they had attempted to buy a bank or manufacturing company.

Football has become a huge industry – it needs to be careful it doesn’t present itself as a money laundering operation.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Solidarity


A couple of weeks ago I attended that editorial board meeting of “Solidarity – the Trade Union magazine” (this has no connection to any other publication or organisation using the same name!)

There was an impressive attendance, including Martin Wicks (the editor), Gregor Gall (a Professor of Industrial relations), Sheila Cohen (former editor of Trade Union News), Kim Moody (a former editor of the US magazine Labor Notes), and about 15 other experienced militants from across the major unions and industries.

Gregor led off a political discussion about the state of the union movement today. He made the point that unions are in a better position than they have been for quite a while, membership has stopped falling, most unions have moved to the left, the strike defeats of the 1980s are behind us, and some new supportive legislation exists.

But there is a problem with the “insurance policy” model of membership, and Gregor argues that 30% and not 5% of physical and financial resources need to be dedicated to recruitment, retention and organising, currently the TGWU is the only major union to be approaching that level of support for organising.

Gregor made the point that the unions face huge political challenges. Whether affiliated to the Labour party or not, unions need to fully mobilise to bring about political and legislative change. We need repeal of the anti-TU laws, removal of the restrictions on union recognition, better workplace rights from day one of employment, and the end to PFI and contracting out.

He argued that the key to such changes lies not with working through the Labour Party, where the structures are now designed to prevent grassroots influence, but in the industrial sphere. As he says: “Organising and mobilising the membership throughout Britain in extra-parliamentary activity is critical to the unions’ strength to pressure the Labour government (or any government). Access through Labour may make it easier to channel leverage. But a ready made channel cannot substitute for the source of the leverage itself” Key to this is winning back collective confidence in our power.

So what role can socialists play? Gregor argues that so serious is the decline on union presence and power that all socialists must give their trade union work particular attention and do so in specific ways. We must increase the influence of class struggle ideas among the small but growing band of trade unionists who are becoming more self confident. We all have to work to increase union membership, membership participation and do what we can to rebuild confidence. That means initiating as well as supporting union led campaigns and participation in the union structures at every level.

Most importantly an even handed and nuanced understanding is needed. The unions have been pushed back badly, but they are recovering. However, the recovery should not be overstated – to consolidate the recovery socialists have a key role, but that is not achieved by orienting only on the few strikes taking place, but rather by some mundane leg-work and hard slog.

There was a serious discussion and a general agreement with Gregor’s position. There are friendly disagreements within the editorial group, and some difference over understanding perhaps the relationship between the lay activists and the officials. But this is a healthy debate and tension, and the publication and the editorial groups can embrace plurality.

Solidarity is only a modest publication and obviously on its own is not going to transform workplace organisation. Nevertheless, it can be a smaller cog moving larger cogs. It can inform the discussions as we network together the important layer of workplace militants participating in the recovery.

The current issue of the magazine includes a valuable editorial on rebuilding workplace organisation, a fascinating appraisal from Gregor Gall of the differences between the Respect union conference, and the RMT national shop stewards conference. There is coverage of the unfolding struggle within Royal Mail over Team Working, (and Solidarity has been the only publication to highlight the defeat that the Royal mail workforce has suffered through the CWU accepting “Shaping Our Future”), there are articles on Health and Safety, discrimination against Filipino off-shore workers, and organising Arab workers in Israel.

Solidarity is a valuable magazine. The widening of the editorial board provides potential, but it will require the support of readers writing for it, and selling it.

It is well worth getting a subscription for £6 for four issues: send cheques to Solidarity, PO Box 1219, Swindon, SN3 2WA.

Living in the Ghetto?


I did not realise it but I live in a ghetto. Will Hutton, that doyen of the English middle class ‘progressive’ liberals says so. It must be true. Even worse I inhabit a ‘living tomb’.

“The truth is that council housing is a living tomb. You dare not give up the house because you might never get another, but staying is to be trapped in a ghetto of both place and mind.”

The context of these wild assertions of Hutton is the debate sparked by the spate of teenage murders in South London and the UNICEF report which put Britain at the bottom of the ‘league’ for children’s well-being. Step forward Hutton for the prosecution. The cause of these social problems is, according to him, the Council housing estate.

Curiously Hutton fails to even broach the question of why Council estates have ended up the way they have today, in contrast to what they were before Thatcher’s assault on them. If you visited a Council estate up to the 1970s you would have met a cross-section of working class life, from the engineering worker to the shop or office worker. Unemployment was very unusual then amongst tenants. This was a world in which people generally treated each other with respect. The degeneration of many estates dates from the time that Thatcher sought to launch her social engineering project. She wanted to undermine the electoral base of support for Labour which most council estates were. She introduced ‘the right to buy’, combined with an end to the building of new council houses.The result was that the better-off Council tenants bought their houses at give away prices. Councils were left with the worst stock. The only people who did not buy were those who were too poor to afford even the low prices offered and the small minority of people who refused on principle to buy their house because they considered it collective, socially owned property.In the absence of new housing being built, over time only the poorest people were left in Council housing, many with social problems.

Hence something like 75% of tenants are eligible for benefit of one sort or another. To accumulate the points necessary to qualify for the decreasing number of units, applicants have to have large families, serious health problems, and/or serious levels of social deprivation. That is why there are 1.5 million people on Council housing waiting lists.

Despite this, Hutton’s generalisation that Council estates are ghettos is too sweeping. The area I live in has its problems but I do not feel like a prisoner and I do not want to be ‘freed’. It is a quiet area. It is certainly no Peckham. On the only occasion when somebody tried to rob our house in the past 23 years, they escaped only with a pair of gloves, evidently disgusted that they did not find a TV or a coin metre for gas or electric. The rumour that they left a £10 note because they felt sorry for us is apocryphal.

Hutton bemoans the fact that the “aspirations and expectations of the rest of society are not for you” if you live in a Council estate. On the contrary it is the “aspirations” which Thatcher encouraged and Blair views through the same prism as the “Iron Lady” in which resides the problem. Council housing was a collective solution to a social problem – poor and overcrowded private accommodation for those who could not afford to buy a house. Some of the post second world war council housing was neither well built nor well-planned. But for many of the generation of people who grew up before the Second World War, Council housing was a liberation. It provided them with cheap and decent accommodation in place of the poor and often unhealthy conditions that many working class people had to suffer. It did not have double-glazing or central heating but not much British housing did then.

Hutton wants me and other tenants to be freed from a ‘living tomb’. For what; the privilege of having a mortgage that I cannot afford in order to fulfil the ‘aspiration’ of being a home owner? There is nothing natural in the desire to own a home, as many other European countries show. They do not share the seeming British infatuation with home ownership. Contrary to myth, such an aspiration is a social phenomenon which has been engineered.

The Blair government’s contempt for Council housing and Council tenants is part and parcel of their abandonment of the collectivist outlook of the labour movement. It rests on the same prejudices as those of Thatcher who famously said there was no thing as society. The ‘aspirations’ which the Blairites worship are those of the self-interested individual who wants to ‘get on’ and is disinterested in the collective interests of working people. That is why for them any conception of a working class movement is completely alien.

For the middle and upper classes housing became very much an ‘investment’ rather than a place to live. From the 1980’s the rocketing prices meant that small and large fortunes were made as people moved from house to house, to take advantage of the inflated values. But current unprecedented levels of debt are the inevitable product of these inflated values. Millions of people struggle month to month to earn enough money to pay mortgages which they cannot realistically afford, at least without working themselves into the ground. The banks used to lend individuals around two and a half times their wages for a mortgage. Today they lend five times or more. This is unsustainable. It causes stress and illness amongst wide swathes of the population.Many people who would previously have put their name on a Council house waiting list are today forced to take out a mortgage because they have no chance of getting council accommodation. In pre-Thatcher times there was no social stigma to living in a Council house. Today you are seen as a ‘failure’ if you live in Council accommodation. That is partly because the absence of new building means that less people live in them. For many people their view of Council estates is produced by what they read in the newspapers or see on the TV. If Hutton wants to visit this one he might recognise that his vision of a ‘tomb’ is preposterous.

He might also consider this question. Why if life is so uniformly appalling on Council estates have we seen the repeated experience of Council tenants voting against having their housings sold off, rejecting the propaganda of the government that breaking the link with a Council landlord will remarkably transform their lives? It is not because they love their Council. They often have problems with bureaucratic structures. It is because they fear private landlords or ‘not for profit’ Housing Associations, because of historical and more recent experience.

Hutton offers one ‘controversial option’, repeating the idea which Ruth Kelly has floated, allowing tenants to own ‘a fraction of the value of their home’. Ten per cent was the figure that Kelly suggested. This is presented as ‘the first step on the housing ladder’. Currently you can ‘buy’ as little as 25% of your home.If up to 75% of tenants are on benefit how are they going to afford to pay a part-mortgage, on top of their rent. What would the motivation be?

How could it be a first step when the chances are that even if the individuals concerned are working, often in part-time work, they are going to be earning low wages. As one mortgage broker quoted in the Observer says:

“You have to ask whether someone who can only afford a 10% stake should be getting on the property ladder in the first place. The whole point is that you increase your stake over time, with the aim that you eventually own the property outright. That is a struggle if you initially buy a 25% stake; it is near impossible with a 10% stake.”

The housing crisis in Britain results from the lack of what is called ‘affordable housing’. The ‘market’ so beloved of Blair will not deliver housing which low income families can afford to buy. For Kelly to propose a 10% stake in Council housing is remarkably stupid. Moreover, if you live in a ‘ghetto’ why would you buy 10% of your house? The government has failed to address the lack of ‘affordable housing’ because of its ideological prejudice against Council housing. Why does a government for whom ‘choice’ is a mantra deny Councils the right to invest directly in Council housing even when tenants have rejected government policy and voted to stay with their Council landlord? I suspect that to a large extent this is because if there was a major Council house building programme embarked upon this would tend to drag the price of private houses down because there would be less pressure on people to take out a mortgage.

Thanks Will and Ruth, but I don’t want to own 10% of my Council house; nor 100% for that matter. When I shuttle off this mortal coil I know that somebody who needs it (that’s different to demand in the market – human needs as opposed to the ability to pay) will become the new tenant. Indeed I have a friend who could afford to buy a house and decided to buy one because he and his partner thought they earned too much to justify living in a Council flat. So instead of earning a fast buck by buying it from the Council at a give-away price, they did the right thing and gave it back to the Council to put in a new tenant who needed it. They put this principle above their personal interests, a sentiment which is unimaginable for Blairites.

Like my friend I consider this house as social property which was not built to enrich individuals but as public provision in response to social need. That’s why I would not buy one on principle even though it might be in my interest to do so, if I was solely self-interested. Ironically, if Will were to wander around our estate, he would see that quite a few of the worst houses were one’s bought under ‘the right to buy’. It was too good an offer for some to refuse. It was cheaper to buy than to pay the rent. Yet many tenants did not think it through. They did not think about the cost of the upkeep of their house, of the cost of repairs, never mind the cost of modernisation.That was what Thatcher wanted – tenants to see them selves as individuals with no other consideration than their personal interests. One of the founding tenets of Blairism was that the Labour Party had been wrong to oppose ‘the right to buy’. Blair consciously transformed Labour into the Party of the aspiring individual.

Hutton finishes his piece by saying that it is not ‘British civilisation that ails’. It is British Council estates. “We made them. Now we need to unmake them.” This is a staggering summation, for Hutton appears to have forgotten even some of the things which he himself has written. Council housing was not responsible for mass unemployment. It was not responsible for the worship of success, of the encouragement of naked self-interest. It was not responsible for the Blair government copying their beloved American economic and social template.

What is needed is not the destruction of Council housing but investment in it; investment in social facilities. The partial atomisation of the working class, which was conscious policy on the part of Thatcher, produced social conditions whereby sections of the poorest within society war against each other rather than seeing that their collective interests require building a labour movement which defends those interests. Individuals can ‘get on’; some can escape from their ‘ghetto’. Yet as America has shown, the free market solutions which are worshipped at the shrine of Blair (and Brown) allow individual success but cannot disguise the reality that in a competition of each against all, for each successful individual there any many more who are thrown into an impoverished existence, both materially and culturally. That is what the labour movement was formed to address.

Addressing the social problems which Hutton refers to requires collective solutions, of which Council housing is one. We can discuss its weaknesses on the basis of experience, the need for greater tenant involvement and so on, but Hutton’s ‘solution’ is nothing more than a variant on the Thatcher/Blair outlook. It is out of the camp of rampant individualism, where everybody survives by their individual initiative, often at the expense of others.

http://martinwicks.blogspot.com

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Labour party, controversy revisited!

Arguments about the Labour Party seem to be all over the blogs at the moment. Not only has Louise made a very spirited argument in favour of socialists being in the LP in this blog, but former member of the Socialist Resistance editorial board, Tami, has joined the Labour party. Louise is correct to point out that there are many socialists networking together in the LP, in for example the John4Lleader campaign, labour Against the War, etc. It is the policy of this blog to recognise and support the efforts of all socialists and encourage cooperation. We dio recognise and support the efforts of our friends and comrades in the Labour Party to oppose Blairism, right in the belly of the beast so to speak!

But what is really going on with the Labour party? Liam has responded to Tami. But I think the discussion does need to look in more detail at what is going on the LP.

Firstly, Sorry, the cartoon is not easy to read, but I like it anyway, and think it is worth persevering with. The sign on the top board says "socialism" and the cautious bloke is the Labour Party. This appeared in Socialst Worker in 1974, the year I joined Keynsham Labour Party as a precocious 13 year old. Part of the reason I reproduce the cartoon is to remind ourselves that there was a time when significant numbers of workers actually thought that the LP would one day bring about socialism. In those days most party members would have described themselves a socialists, even if they may not have all agreed what it meant!




I think that the decision of hard left MP, Alan Simpson to resign his seat at the next election is a serious blow to the labour left, and also shows the limits of the John McDonnell leadership campaign. Simpson is likeable, consistently left wing, has impeccable green credentials and is a regular correspondent for the Morning Star.

I have argued before that McDonnell’s campaign is extremely important: “The task facing the left is a very difficult one. Firstly, we must do all we can to strengthen McDonnell’s campaign, to put ourselves in the best tactical position. But we also need to further the debate within the unions that New Labour is now a different creature, and one no longer deserving the support of organised workers.”

But also that the left noises from Jon Cruddas may well block McDonnell’s candidature, given the dynamics of the Labour party: “If the deputy leadership contest looks like taking on the characteristics of a real debate about the legacy of New Labour, and the future direction of the party, then this may reduce support for an actual challenge to Brown. What is more, the argument of whether or not Brown becoming leader unopposed will be seen as a coronation is likely to be overtaken by media attention to the deputy leadership, which will become a leadership contest by proxy, in the same way that the Healey/Benn contest was.”

Recently the Australian socialist Dave Riley asked that someone should give an assessment of just how significant McDonnell’s campaign is, and he raised the comparison with the way Jesse Jackson’s campaign for the Democratic nomination galvanised support way beyond the Democratic Party. This was also true of the 1981 Benn for Deputy Leader campaign that dominated political life in this country, and had a deep base of support in the unions, and the women’s, gay and black liberation movements.

Even the most cursory glance at McDonnell’s campaign shows it has none of this resonance. I wish it did but it doesn’t. Even Simpson was not overtly backing him, and was linked with the Meacher leadership bid.

The strongest argument being put forward by those socialists who think we should all be in the LP, is that there is no viable option outside in England and Wales. Well they are not wrong there! But there are very deep seated structural problems with forming an alternative to Labour, not least of which the FTP electoral system, the British disease of trot groups on the Healy/Grant/Cliff model, general disillusionment with electoral politics, and cynicism, all of which reinforced by the historical legacy of the defeats of the last 20 years.

The relevance of this is that most of these factors also militate against a revival of the Labour left, but with the added obstacle of the overwhelming crushing victory of the neo-liberal right within the party, who have irreversibly and structurally embedded their victory into the party’s DNA. The rules and constitution have been changed to eliminate the levers that the left used to exercise influence, the conference is a meaningless rally, the social composition of the membership has shifted hugely towards managerial types, the neo-liberal and imperialist policies mean that outside blogland and the bizarro anachronisms of places like Hackney where all the ex-Trots live, no activists under 30 would look at the party as anything remotely progressive. Ward meetings are sparce and poorly attended, and the party apparatus is an empty shell in most of the country. Millbank prevents left candidates being selected and what is more the reduced powers of local authorities have removed the base from which the left has in the past built support from the bottom up.

The union link now exists more in form than in content. Whereas in the past union branches used to send delegates to GMC meetings in each CLP this practice has almost disappeared, lay activists and even full timers are much, much less likely to be LP members than they ever were before. The most striking thing about the last few LP conferences, has been how the big four unions have almost intervened in the conference rather than participated in it - pursuing their own agenda without participating in the wider issues like Iraq, not even pursuing their own unions polices. The only concession won by the affiliated unions was the sop of the Warwick agreement before the election, none of which polices have been implemented.

Meanwhile the LP link with Unison is certainly impeding that union in resisting privatisation. Compare the RMT (non-affiliated) - who continue to campaign for a publicly owned rail service, with the capitulation of the CWU (affiliated) over Post Office privatisation around "Shaping the Future".

The trickle of socialists into the LP – and it is no more than a trickle exaggerated by the Internet- is I believe based upon desperation. When Brown is elected leader there will be need for calm reflection.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Scrap Trident

I attended a conference on Trident today organised by Labour Against the War, Labour Action for Peace and Labour CND. There were speakers from the LP to the trade union movement to single issue campaigns though all united in their opposition to Trident. I won't go through the speakers individually as many reiterated the same points instead I will give a broad brushstroke of the afternoon. Trident, is said to cost, £25billion. The truer figure is more like £70billion.

A public debate has been denied on Trident, the launching of the so-called consultation made in haste and now the vote in March. There was no debate at LP conference and no vote is "envisaged" to take place at the PLP (Parliamentary Labour Party) either. Debate is being stifled. Barry Camfield and Keith Sonnet from T&G and Unison spoke about the important role of the trade union movement in the opposition against Trident (though to be honest their speeches especially Sonnet's were muted, luke warm and piss-poor.......).

Kate Hudson (CND) and Jeremy Corbyn spoke about NPT (Non-Proliferation Treaty) and the double-standards and contradictions. Britain is a signatory to the NPT yet it aint stopping them from replacing Trident. For New Labour it is a case of semantics, Trident is a "deterrent" but in regards to other countries they don't like they are "weapons of mass destruction".

Countries like South Africa post-apartheid has got rid of its nukes and many other countries have done the same. Yet countries like India and Pakistan (who are not NPT signatories) have been ignored and Israel who kinda admits to having nukes but no spotlight is thrown on them. And there's Iran who is only charged with breach of the (voluntary) additional protocol of the NPT yet will probably be suffering air strikes in the next couple of months. But don't despair George Bush has announced that he has "evidence" that Iran is up to no good so another "dodgy dossier" is on its way....


One of the most interesting speakers was Roudabeh Shafie (Campaign Iran). She spoke about the military build up in the Gulf region by the Americans, that there is no evidence that fighters in Iraq have received support from Iran and the weaponry has been bought on the "black" market. But that hasn't stopped imperialist sabre rattling. There won't be the same ground attacks like Iraq but air strikes. Military and weapon installations will be taken out and many of those plants are concentrated near cities. The impact and devastation on human life will be immense and also the destruction to the environment. The irony is that work done to expose human rights abuses in Iran will be lost as people will rally behind the government if they are attacked.

Christine Shawcroft (Labour Against the War and NEC member) asked the question to Des Browne about where was this perceived terrorist threat and he replied that there wasn't one. BUT there may be one in the future!

The biggest threat to Britain and to the whole world is global warming. If the Antarctic ice cap starts to melt seriously sea levels could rise many metres and it could potentially flood cities by the sea. So... £70billion could be wisely spent on combatting global warming such as energy efficiency. Well, with the increase in sea levels the Trident submarine will have more ocean to steam around in...........And of course future generations will have a piece of expensive scrap metal as a deterrent.

The discussion also looked at ways to mobilise our discontent and anger such as the usual writng letters to MPs and passing resolutions at TU and LP meetings. Next week's demo was flagged up as well (so see you all there!) and much was made of what Greenpeace has done over nuclear power and whether there can be a similar legal challenge to the way New Labour has failed to consult properly over Trident.

There were other discussions over the politics of the Cold War, the history of the nuclear industry and other nuclear nasties like plutonium and depleted uranium.

Update: 53 musicians/bands are saying no to Trident replacement (press release from CND)

Friday, February 16, 2007

An Ode to Hazel Blears

Hazel Blears will announce shortly whether she will stand for deputy leader of the Labour Party. She argues that a lurch to the left "will help David Cameron". Well, I coulda written a post criticising her for being a foolish right-wing non-entity, but here's an ode instead.....

Hazel Blears/
all the cabinet consider
their careers/

The rest of us
do not fret about
a lurch to the left/

What you say would
still be wrong,
even if
you set it to song/

Indeed it would confound
Cameron/
If you were deputy, the man from
Eton
Would surely say, "Bring it on"!

Learning from the past


According to the 2004 Workplace Employment Relations Survey (PDF), there are some 320000 workplace representatives: 230000 shop stewards, the rest being health and safety and learning reps. “Union representatives tend to be male (56 per cent are male), relatively old (78 per cent are 40 or over, and the average age is 46) and work full-time (92 per cent are full time employees).”

The key statistic here is that the average age is 46. Perhaps the biggest difference I have with today’s revolutionary left groups is that I believe any broad left wing alternative to Labour cannot by-pass or ignore this layer, by looking for fresh new radicalised people - whether yoof or Muslims!

These tens of thousands of activists have developed their political understanding of the world over a long period of time, and a small but very significant layer have been informed by experience of the far left.

Therefore, in order to understand te politics of the activists of the unions we cannot start with a blank sheet of paper, we also need to learn from the past.

Over the next few weeks I will be writing more about the history of the SWP’s industrial policy. But before I start I wish to thank Mike Pearn for sending me a copy of Roger Cox’s seminal article on organising in the workplace from July 1983 – that was representative of a major and disastrous turn in the SWP away from the established activists. I also wish to thank “Grouchy” for sendng me a copy of his very interesting article: “Socialist Worker – paper with a purpose” published in Media Culture and Society (1985). This provides a useful review of changes in the paper, and also extracts from an interview with Roger Protz (editor of SW n the early 1970s) that makes some insightful observations.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Why Socialists should be in the Labour Party.....


Currently there is a debate raging about whether it is the correct strategy to be in the Labour Party. There have been arguments which state that it is not and that the Labour Left is dead as a dodo. As a Labour Party member and a supporter of the John4Leader campaign I want to put forward my position which argues that Socialists should indeed be in the LP and campaigning for John McDonnell.

Comparisons have been made with the challenge to deputy leader by Tony Benn in 1981. There was a high groundswell of support for the Benn and figures (not precise) were around 40,000-80,000 militant activists who joined the LP and who were interested in the class struggle and supported an orientation to the labour movement.

My political background is the fourth international and during that historical period the IMG (International Marxist Group) took a position to work as entryists within the LP. The IMG took a long time to get into the LP in the early 1980’s. When it did it kinda fell in: the line did not change as the result of a conference decision and the IMG ended splitting over whether to go into the LP with a view to linking with the labour left. Certainly the tendency around Brian Grogan that wanted to have the membership to all get jobs in “industry” i.e. factories was extremely hostile to work in the LP.

The IMG thus paid with its political existence with its original ultra-left take on working in the LP. The take that the IMG had on the LP during the late 70’s and the very early 80’s was the usual one that it was a reformist dead end and that what was needed was something called a “revolutionary pole of attraction”…maybe this is a term from quantum mechanics it had little practical use in orientating or indeed attracting any of the many people coming into leftwing politics at the time.

Maybe, to jump a political era or two, Respect is what a revolutionary pole of attraction is like. The IMG, which prided itself, usually with a good deal of justification, as a political group that could analyse the political dynamics of a situation with Leninist objectivity fell into the trap that many who refuse to have anything to do with the LP do. This mistake is that because the LP is such disaster for the class we must keep ourselves pure and have nothing to do with it. This is the logic that has always underlined the position of the SWP towards the LP, although the SWP strangely likes to support left campaigns within the LP such as the Benn-Heffer campaign in the late 80’s and currently supports the John4leader campaign.

What the IMG and some of it’s successors came to realise was that the best place to challenge the politics of the LP was from within the LP, as Walter Wolfgang managed to do with one superbly timed word this is the best place from which to directly challenge LP whether in its equally rotten old or new varieties.

Within the LP there was a political space to argue for socialist politics. What I would also argue is that the Left did have an influence on the structure of the LP such as support for self-organisation and autonomous campaigns such as Women’s sections, Black sections and lesbian and gay rights. And the Left were light years ahead over these issues than the Left groups outside the Labour Party

The political situation is absolutely different but the arguments are the same. There isn’t the same large number of LP members with an orientation to the class struggle but that means the Left has to fight for change. Yes, that involves a hard slog and the long haul but the LP is an important springboard. If you go away from the Labour Movement you are striking out into nowhere fast. Again, look at Respect and the CNWP.

Figures show Labour's membership fell slightly in 2005 to 198,026, half the number of members in 1997. But so is Respect membership falling and why aren’t disillusioned LP members running into the arms of Respect or even the CNWP? They aren’t…

I don’t have the number regarding how many people have rejoined the LP due to the John4Leader campaign or whether it has regenerated LP activity. I can only use anecdotal evidence. On a personal level, the campaign has increased my interest and energised me into doing something positive. It is also worth reiterating that (yes, it was unofficial) 59% of TUC delegates at last year’s conference voted for John McDonnell as leader.

The Labour Party is still the bourgeois workers party but it does still have the link with the trade union movement though the Blairites would dearly love to wriggle free of that commitment (putting a cap on political donations which would include the trade unions).
That is why it is necessity to work within the trade union movement and the LP and preserve that link.

In conclusion, the question I want to ask socialists who are hostile to rejoining the LP is, what exactly are you doing instead? I get criticised for being a member of the “pro-war”, “neo-liberal” LP but I reject these politics and the politics of Blairism and many others do as well. I do feel like a political dissident in the LP but where else is there to go?

I am not simply arguing that it is the LP or nothing but there is a solid challenge to Blairism. To take a position that says the campaign is a dead end as McDonnell aint gonna win is daft as we know that BUT the John4Leader campaign can precisely act as a springboard and re-energise the Labour Left. Yes, the fallout from the Labour leadership challenge could have negative repercussions on the left but equally it could also be the start of something new. Something positive and dynamic maybe?

Why hang around outside when you could be inside fighting with other socialists and making a big noise in British politics?

Why we should defy the 2006 Terrorism Act

A while ago I posted about the Terrorism Act 2006 and advocated defiance of the law was necessary in order to defend basic democratic freedoms. This is the very poorly drafted legislation that criminalises the "glorification" of past, future or current terrorism. Perhaps the intention of the law was quite narrow, but in its broadest interpretation, the actual words of the statute are very wide reaching.

Unfortunately, my discussion of terrorism in that post was a bit injudicious, and caused offence to some comrades who I respect, and one of the other administrators of this blog got cold feet and deleted it!

The issue has arisen again in a debate over on Dave Osler’s blog. A pseudonymous “Trotskist” called SouthpawPunch decided to let the slogan of “military but not political support” out for a run, despite that fact that it was so old and tired it could hardly stand up.

This is the relevant part of the exchange:

SouthPaw: “Communists obviously never offer political support for the Taliban but offer military support in this period.”

Myself: “How exactly are you offering military support to the Taliban? This sounds very rrrr-revolutionary in words, but in practice, what do you do?”

Southpaw: “Military support would mean just that. If comrades were in Iraq or Afghanistan they would seek to attack coalition troops in as part of the 'Resistance'.”

Myself: “your position of military and not political support is just funny, if you mean that the content of it is that some non-existent Iraqi trots should be fighting the occupiers. Actually the British army is here in Britain, the troops are flown out from Brize Norton, and the logistics from RAF Lyneham. If you are offering military support couldn't you at least be sabotaging these bases?”

SouthPaw: “Brize Norton - that question is a provocation, although I sure that wasn't your intention.”

Myself: “what on earth do you mean by "Brize Norton - that question is a provocation, although I sure that wasn't your intention" If you support military support for the Iraqi resistance it is a simple question whether you advocate sabotage of military bases in the UK. Is it your position that you cannot answer that because it would be an offence under the new terrorism act? That would strike me as a bit wussy because simply advocating trots to attack UK troops in Iraq has already crossed that line.”

SouthPaw: “It can be hard to ignore provocations - intended or accidental, but sometimes it's necessary to do so. I don't think anyone is consciously acting for the state (and I'm not thinking of AN whatsoever) but some of their comments only play into the hands of the oppressors. So some things need remain unanswered.”

SouthPawPunch subsequently wrote to Dave Osler and myself. He has insisted that this is a prvate communication, so whereas I originally quoted from it, I have now deleted that reference: but the gist of it is that SouthPaw considers that I am aiding the state by expressing the opinion that what he said may be an offence under the Terrorism Act 2006: a rather po faced response to a flippant comment of mine.

Now let us make something absolutely clear. I think that given Britain is at war, then those fighting for the national independence of Iraq and Afghanistan would be entirely justified in sabotage against these bases, or other military action against the British armed forces, both in the UK and overseas. As defined by section 2, b(ii) of the Terrorism Act 2006, I am “reckless as to whether members of the public will be directly or indirectly encouraged or otherwise induced by [this] statement to commit, prepare or instigate such acts or offences.”

What is more, the military defeat of the US and UK is the better outcome in Iraq and Afghanistan, and although I regret the tragic loss of life for our service men and women, I believe that the Iraqi insurgents fighting them are justified in fighting for their national independence. They draw on a long and “glorious” tradition of brave and heroic anti-colonial struggle, including the fight by the Vietnamese people, the Algerians, the Mau Mau in Kenya, and even George Washington! I use the word glorious advisedly, as it is the term used in sections 3 a, and 3 b of the Terrorism Act 2006. I do glorify (as prohibited by section 3 a of the act) those who have fought for the independence of their countries in the past, and I would argue (as prohibited by section 3 b of the act) that those whose homelands are occupied today are justified in emulating those freedom fighters of the past.

Of course the situation in Iraq is problematic, and alongside the insurgency against the occupation armies there is sectarian violence, and to a certain degree the Sunni militias are fighting as much against a Shia dominated Iraq as they are against the Americans. Similarly there clearly have been anti-Sunni pogroms by Shia militias, including the Badr brigade and Mehdi army. But the continued presence of unwelcome foreign troops is exacerbating not calming those tensions. We should also recognise that military action is not the only way, or necessarily always the best way of opposing the occupation.

I think Southpaw is engaged in futile verbal posturing. The task of the British left is not to offer “military support” to the Iraqis and Afghans, but to build the political pressure for the earliest possible withdrawal of British troops, and a decoupling of British and American foreign policy.
But with regard to the censorship enacted by the 2006 Act, we must resist its broadest interpretation and continue to freely discuss the rights and wrongs of national liberation struggles, this includes the argument that oppressed peoples have a right to fight back in which ever way they choose, although not everyone will acept that. We should not pander to the law and self-police ourselves and ask for people to read between the lines. There are times when armed struggle is morally and politically justifiable, and we should not accept a criminalisation of the discussion of what those moral and political limits are.

SouthPaw seems to be accepting the censorship, and modifying what he is prepared to say and thus diminishing the scope of debate upon the left. I utterly reject the idea that asking comrades to say what they actually mean is playing into the hands of the state! I am sure that MI5 and Special Branch have better things to do with their time.

All war is terror. It is the use of violence to impose a political outcome upon your opponents. What is more the morality of war is different from the morality of peacetime. Because normal people are justly horrified by the brutality of war we try to impose arbitrary limits upon the logic of war – for example fetishising the acceptability of “military” but not “civilian” targets. In reality of course our own British and NATO armies define as military targets such civilian institutions as telecommunications, electricity generation, bridges and even jouranlists, and accept "collatoral damage" -which is what the call the charnel house carnage that they unleash upon the innocents. The British government is contemplating renewing Trident, a weapon that could indiscriminalatly incinerate millions.

Civilians have been killed in their thousands in Iraq and Afghanistan, either directly by British and American troops, or indirectly by the way our soldiers have smashed the infrastructure of that country.

War grows its own morality, and as the imperial power has wrecked carnage on the women, children and men of these occupied countries, then we should not be surprised when that same coin is paid back to us by bombs on trains and aircraft. The responsibility lies with those whose deceit and vanities forced us into these futile wars.

Israelis invade school


Statement by Abdul Wahab Sabbah, Abu Dis, 14th February 2007

I was rung at about 11 o’clock this morning by the head teacher of the Abu Dis Boys’ School who was asking for help as something very terrible was happening in his school. I got there as soon as I could and when I got to the school it was terrible, there was a real crisis. The school gate was broken, there were people from Abu Dis (parents) coming in, kids and teachers in crisis, the head teacher upset as he had rung the Palestinian Ministry of Education and was feeling blamed for not protecting his children.

I was told that a jeep full of Israeli soldiers (6 of them) had burst into the school. There is a guard at the school but he did not manage to stop them. The students were on break but they ran into their classrooms to hide. The soldiers went into one classroom after another (grades 7, 8 and 9) and started beating the boys. The teachers stood in front to try to protect the boys but the soldiers pushed them away. The soldiers hit the boys with batons . The boys put their hands over their heads to try and protect themselves and their hands got hit – they were badly hurt, we think that some of them have their hands broken.

I was told that everyone was scared as the Israeli soldiers had threatened to come back and repeat this beating.

Many of the students were beaten and hurt but 6 of them have serious injuries. Along with two people - a teacher from the school and the father of one of the children who had been beaten - I took these boys in a Ford Transit to the Al Muqassed clinic, to see Dr Abdullah – an army jeep followed us the whole way.

Dr Abdullah said that the boys needed an X ray which can’t be done in Abu Dis so he took them to Azariyeh – These are the boys he took with him:

Ahmed Khalid Mohsen (12 years old) (possibly 2 of his left fingers broken)
Abdul Rahim Ahmed Halabiye (14 years old) (beaten badly all over his body by three soldiers and his left elbow possibly broken)
Ahmed Mohammad Mahmoud Saireh (14 years old) (started this school 2 days ago) (his left hand possibly broken)
Mohammed Qasim Rabiye (15 years old) (his right side hurting near his kidneys, his right hand possibly broken)
Ali Yussuf Bader (14 years old) (his left hand possibly broken)
One more boy was scared and left the clinic.

I was told that everyone was scared as the Israeli soldiers had threatened to come back and repeat this beating.

(The picture is a library one from Reuters, not of this specific incident)

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

An Inconvenient Truth



Some 80+ people packed the pub back room last night for our Socialist Film Club, who had joined up with the Swindon Climate Action Network (SCAN) to screen “An Inconvenient Truth”. Interestingly, it was our socialist group who organised this, with the help of SCAN, and not the Green Party, who in my experience are an entirely electoral organisation.

The film was much better than I was expecting, and quite alarming to learn that if the Greenland ice sheet melts sea levels will go up 20 feet, flooding the homes of over 100 million people world wide, and goodbye London.

I was also surprised at how likeable Al Gore came over, he has a patrician charm about him, and it is easy to see that he is related to Gore Vidal.

What I thought was excellent was the way the film set up a compelling case for urgent and immediate action, but carefully explained that there was no need for panic. The technology and measures to halt climate change already exist, and what is missing is the political will. It also showed that the cumulative effect of small individual actions (such as unplugging your phone charger when not in use, and turning of your PC overnight) do actually make a difference.

About 20 people stayed behind afterwards for a discussion, and there was an interesting exchange of views about lifestylism, and a healthy recognition that for many working people using cars is essential. There were some very optimistic young people who confident that over the next ten years we can totally change common sense views about energy use, and make a neutral carbon footprint a completely normal expectation.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Jim Murphy: on the attack yet again......


Jim Murphy, Minister of State for Employment and Welfare Reform, is continuing his attacks on the usual suspects. On his blog (yeah, I read his blog...) he is writing about the speech he gave today at the Work Foundation and the discussion centred around skills.

Man of the people Murphy argues that: "It’s shocking to think that well over half of Pakistani and Bangladeshi children in the UK live in poverty". And then hones in on the, "Fifteen percent of unemployed ethnic minorities – 40,000 people – say lack of language skills is one of their main barriers to finding work".

But here's the sting in the fine print: "I’ve asked Jobcentre Plus to place much greater emphasis on helping people to improve their English. We can help individuals address poor language skills as part of their Jobseekers Agreement".

So, in other words, if a claimant doesn't "obey" their agreement then they could indeed lose their benefits. Again the emphasis as ever from New Labour is compulsion. He's victimising the poorest in this society which will have a racist effect.

Instead of putting more resouces into supporting claimants, what Jim fails to mention is that ministers cut back the English for Speakers of Other Languages schemes a couple of months ago. It is a case of driving people further into poverty if they don't comply with the rules.

Hey Jim, here's a comment for your precious moderated blog, what about supporting people on their own terms......?

No Refuge But In Audacity


"Crime once exposed had no refuge but in audacity," commented Tacitus. With Tacitus in mind, surely, Bush and his neocon handlers are finding new refuges in all manner of audacious crimes. Pushing for an attack on Iran, the inadvertent dismantlers of the US Empire are regurgitating last year's audacious lie that Iraq's insurgents are in possession of Iranian supplied improvised explosive devices (IEDs) - military jargon for booby traps.

One leading Bushie remarked that ''We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you're studying that reality - judiciously, as you will - we'll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that's how things will sort out." And so Iranian IEDs exist because the neocons have "created this reality".

For those of a less deranged nature - and living on planet Earth - the following Reuters report from last year may be of some interest:

"The top U.S. military officer said on Tuesday the United States does not have proof that Iran's government is responsible for Iranians smuggling weapons and military personnel into Iraq.

"President George W. Bush said on Monday components from Iran were being used in powerful roadside bombs used in Iraq, and Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said last week that Iranian Revolutionary Guard personnel had been inside Iraq.

"Asked whether the United States has proof that Iran's government was behind these developments, Marine Corps Gen. Peter Pace, Chairman of the military's Joint Chiefs of Staff, told a Pentagon briefing, 'I do not, sir'."

Pace's comments, no doubt, will disappear into the ether as refuge is found in audacity.

Blessed Are The Dizzy


Desmond Swayne, Tory MP for New Forest West and David Cameron’s trusted bag carrier, is a modern chap. He typifies the new-look, new-views, new-newness New Tory Party. He is, as I say, trusted with Dave’s bag (or even bags). Important chap this Desmond. No one’s ever heard of him. But that’s just tickety-boo. After all, he’s new.

He "served" in Iraq with the TA. Amidst all the carnage and death, Desmond could only think about his waistline: he boasts about the new and lean Desmond whipped into shape in the heat of Iraq. Once a fat man, he is not only a new man but a lean one too. Except for the odd summer day in which Desmond can be seen driving an open-topped Morris Minor with a huge union jack proudly sported (surely there must be a by-law against this?), he is newness personified.

The new man’s local constituency paper, the Lymington Times, reported Desmond’s views on the “gay adoption” controversy. Trying the best he could to be new, Desmond, the Lymington Times reports, insists that there should be no “exemption for Christians”. Although on to a new newness winner, Desmond rather spoils it all by remarking that it would be unacceptable for a “B&B sign” with the commentary “no pooftahs”. One imagines that his first draft referred to arse bandits.

Whether Desmond is a Christian or not is somewhat difficult to fathom, but the Lymington Times reports that he “warned Christians that before making martyrs of themselves over the new regulations, to be absolutely sure that this really was the issue on which the Holy Spirit was calling them to make their stand in a struggle with a secular world. He ended by asking how Jesus might have voted.” (First draft: “Did the Lamb of God endure crucifixion so as to allow ‘little ones’ to be raised by fags?”)

Interesting question, Des. Does Dizzy Des vote according to how he believes Jesus would have voted? Perhaps Dizzy Des consulted his heart to find out whether Jesus would have carried Dave’s bag? Presumably, Jesus would have voted to invade Iraq and privatise its oil resources. Blessed are the dizzy of mind, for they shall inherit a safe parliamentary seat (majority a mere 17,285).

Commemorate those who fought fascism.

Philosophy Football have just produced this excellent T-shirt to commemorate the comrades of the British battalion of the International brigade.

Seventy years ago this week the British battalion fought in their first battle at Jarama. Volunteers from the British Isles totalled 2,300, of whom 525 died in Spain.

The 16th British Battalion was formed in December 1936 from new arrivals plus veterans of the battle for Madrid. It comprised volunteers from Britain, Ireland and from various Commonwealth countries and beyond.


The battalion was formally integrated into the Spanish Republican Army in January 1937 as part of the 15th International Brigade, itself part of the 35th Division. Initially it was named the Saklatvala battalion, after the Indian Communist MP for Battersea, but the name never caught on and it was known in Spain as ‘el batall√≥n ingles’. From November 1937, following a reorganisation of the Republican Army the British Battalion became the 57th Battalion. It was withdrawn in October 1938.

The anniversary T-shirt features a superb reproduction of the British Battalion's original banner, the slogan reads 'Freedom, Democracy, Peace' with battle honours listed including Jarama, Brunete and Ebro.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Free the Grenada Thirteen


One of the more astute strategic decisions of the socialist government that ruled Grenada between 1979 and 1883 was not to challenge the constitutional position of Queen Elizabeth as head of state. This is what allowed the rather paradoxical hearing last week of English Law Lords sitting as the Privy Council in London to rule upon the fate of 13 socialist revolutionaries, who have been in gaol for the last 23 years.

They are incarcerated in a 17th century prison, and were tortured for the first nine years. The only woman prisoner, Phyllis Coard, was released early due to resulting mental health issues.

The thirteen are former ministers of the People’s Revolutionary Government (PRG) or officers of Grenada’s People’s Army, they were tried by a kangaroo court following the US invasion in 1983. Their trial was widely regarded as a travesty, with the proceedings being organised and paid for by the American government, the prosecution being allowed to choose the jurors, and the defence being denied access to the documents that could establish their innocence. Amnesty International published a damning report of the proceedings.

Nevertheless, the essential tragedy of the Grenadan revolution is that despite the enormous and lasting progress that the country made under the brief rule of the PRG, the period ended with Prime Minister Maurice Bishop dead, and his childhood friend and comrade, Bernard Coard (pictured), in prison for his murder. What went wrong?

Before we examine this, we need to understand the circumstances that led the new Jewel Movement coming to power. During the 1970s, Grenada was ruled by the frankly nutty, UFO enthusiast, Eric Gairy and his Grenada United Labour Party, who won an election in 1976, widely considered to have been completely rigged. The New Jewel Movement (NJM) was leading a popular campaign against illiteracy, poverty and economic under-development. Grenada is only a very small island, with a population of about 110000, and historically very poor.

It was widely known that from 1977 Gairy began receiving advice from General Augusto Pinochet of Chile and the Grenadan police and military were receiving "counter insurgency" training from the Chileans. In 1979 a rumour began circulating that Gairy planned to use his "Mongoose Gang" to assassinate leaders of the New Jewel Movement while he was out of the country. So in March that year, the NJM took over the nation's radio station and assumed the government without a shot being fired.

What followed was a remarkable four years of progress. A new airport was constructed to establish a tourism base for the economy, and huge strides were made in education and housing. As Bernard Coard, former Minister of Finance, explained in an interview from prison in 1994: “"You can generate a lot of support from people through their pocketbooks. We set in place a mass housing program, often benefitting the poorest people in Grenada, the people in Gairy's base, which influenced thousands of people, especially in a country where one house fits six or seven. We also relied heavily on the educational aspects of our mass rallies. … These mass rallies, usually led by Maurice Bishop, combined the spirit of the revolution with the basic information, economic factors local, national and international, that the people needed to understand their lives and surroundings. So these rallies were a new form of literacy which built political consciousness and support for the revolution.”

Significant numbers of Cuban and Russian doctors and teachers came to the island, and the level of illiteracy was halved during the four years. Even the nuns welcomed them. For the first time ever the Granadan government paid for students, often from modest backgrounds, to go overseas to study. Coard was himself an educationalist, a former academic at Sussex University, and a specialist in how black children were failed by British schools in the 1960s.

The plan was that the income from the airport, combined with a skilled workforce, could allow the island to break out of economic dependency. As Coard explained: "It's a very small island. You can have 10,000 people here unemployed and call that 40% unemployment. Figures here get magnified. But five factories of industries could wipe that out. Our plan was to use the money from the airport to recreate the nature of work in Grenada, to have fully high- tech employment based on the next stage of the education program, vocational-technological education. We put education first to develop the human resource, which should be seen as constant capital, for national economic development".

The difficulty was that although the NJM had no choice but to assume power, and had wide passive support, the social base that it stood on was very narrow. The NJM was largely the party of the educated and privileged elite, and the tiny island Granada simply didn’t have a workers movement, and most of the population were culturally impoverished. The NJM had no choice other than to rule Granada without participatory democracy. Neverterless, the NJM government permitted much greater levels of debate and political freedom than ever before seen in Grenada.

Given less unfavourable circumstances the NJM could have survived, but the right wing government of Ronald Reagan was determined to destabilise Grenada, through sanctions, sabotage, and military threats. The government therefore had a terrible strategic choice of appeasement to Washington which would mean rolling back the social programmes, and stopping the planned for industrialisation, to become a tourist led economic dependency of the USA; or alternatively turning toward the USSR.

Accounts of the NJM often paint Coard as a Stalinist, but this is a crude misreading of the sitiation. Firstly, the alignment of Grenada with the USSR was forced upon them by the Americans, although as a former member of the British Communist Party Coard was probably warmly disposed to it. But most crucially, the NJM was a democratic party, and most of the party membership and the leadership were in favour of industrialisation, and seeking the aid of the USSR was simply pragmatic. Had they been around today they would probably have turned to Venezuela.

This is when the split with Maurice Bishop occurred. Bishop wanted to appease the Americans, and although his support in the party was tiny, he was much more popular outside the party, because the NJM had promoted him as a figurehead. The appalling tragedy of 1983 was that the Coard faction of the NJM placed Bishop under house arrest, fearing that Bishop was planning a populist stunt to oust the party leadership in order to steer a course more acceptable to Washington.

According to US academic, Rich Gibson, who has spent some time with the prisoners: “All concerned could easily see that a split in the party would only prompt a US invasion, with the likely death of every militant. Yet that tragedy happened anyway, and the ground work for it was not simply created by the failures of the NJM leadership (among them the sheer exhaustion of the leadership who took on too much themselves, and the denial of the key vision of the women in the party who saw this coming but whose voices were not really heard), but also laid by problems inherent in what was the socialist project. The relationship of internal problems to external US pressure (which was incessant and ranged from direct violence to subtle sabotage), is important to understand.”

Bishop was released from house arrest by a large crowd of people. There was violence, and Bishop was executed. I give this account very tersely not to be evasive but because we don’t really know what happened. It is not clear whether or not Bishop was planning a coup, and it is not clear whether his death was premeditated, and if so by whom. The Cuban government condemned the execution of Bishop. Yet Coard has many international supporters, and supporters within Grenada, who claim he had no part in Bishop’s death.

Having done so much to create these tensions, the USA invaded. The Americans have subsequently created a myth that there were Cuban and even Russian troops in Grenada. This is hogwash, they ran into determined military resistance from the Grenadan People’s Army. Defending the glimpse of a better life they had had under the NJM, the young men and women of the GPA fought ferociously to defend Granada and for the vision of mankind’s socialist future. The Empire was briefly stopped in its tracks, and only subdued Granada after six days, after committing an extra 7000 troops, equivalent to an army of 4,500,000 invading Britain. (No one who saw it will ever forget the bizarre spectacle of Enoch Powell’s impassioned support for Grenada on BBC’s Newnight! And ITV realy did have viewers ringing to ask whether Coronation Street would be affected (it is made by Granada television))

Both Maurice Bishop and Bernard Coard, were principled, good men, who achieved much. The NJM government transformed Grenada: the airport is now operational,, and the literacy improvements have been maintained. They were victims of terrible circumstances, intolerable pressure from outside, and simply insufficient human and physical resources to prevail.

It is fantastic news that the Privy Council has declared that the cases should be sent back the Grenada’a High Court for re-sentancing. Hopefully the thirteen will soon be free, their incarceration has been a vindictive and spiteful one, whereby the US have sought to make an example to all who challenge its power. Let us hope that Bernard Coard and his comrades find some peace at last.